Elisabetta Lucia Portinari
12th Night, January 4th, 2014
|Resides: Concordia of the Snows|
|Awards: Order of Precedence|
Gules, an owl and on a chief argent a rose proper between two arches sable.
|Award & Office Badges|
A self-described book nerd and history enthusiast, Donna Elisabetta Lucia Portinari (commonly known as "Betta") became enthralled with the SCA since attending her first event in 2011. Her special area of interest is the Italian Renaissance, her persona being the daughter of an expatriate Florentine merchant living between the late 15th Century and early 16th Century. She finds nearly every element of history to be fascinating, but is particularly drawn to topics such as fashion, garb-making, needlework, sewing, jewelry and accessory making, heraldry, bookbinding, music, poetry, period literature, art, cooking, and the history of Christianity.
She received her Award of Arms on January 4th, 2014 at 12th Night, which made her realize she had truly found her home within the SCA.
Though she can be somewhat shy and awkward, Betta enjoys meeting new people and cherishes her friends. She can often be seen wandering an event site, stopping to hang out with friends or to oogle gorgeous garb.
She is fond of owls, cats, roses (especially red and pink ones), obscure literary and historical allusions, bad jokes, and almost anything that is pink or red.
Betta is currently making her first homemade garb, and has strenuously resisted her friends' good-natured efforts to "Norse-ify" her.
Birth and Childhood
Elisabetta Lucia Portinari was born in the city-state of Florence to a Medici-allied merchant Lorenzo Portinari and his wife Caterina. She was the third of their four surviving children and their second daughter. The exact year of her birth is unknown, but most scholars agree that she was most likely born somewhere between 1477-1480. In her writings she referred to being born on the Ides of March.
Elisabetta (or “Betta” as her family would call her) had a largely uneventful childhood. Her parents ensured that she received a thorough Humanist education, which was unusual at the time as it was generally considered unnecessary to educate girls beyond what was needed to prepare them to run their own household. She excelled in reading and writing and was said by her tutors to be highly intelligent, though somewhat bashful around those outside her immediate family.
When she was six years old she was presented to Lorenzo “Il Magnifico” de’ Medici, the de facto Gran Maestro of Florence and a close personal friend of her father, during which she recited a sonnet by Petrarch. “Il Magnifico” was pleased by her talent and modesty, and promised her father to secure an advantageous marriage for her once she was of age. Commonly consulted by families seeking favorable marriages for their sons and daughters, Lorenzo de’ Medici would later attempt to arrange a marriage between Elisabetta and one of his cousins, whose identity has been lost.
Flight, and The Fall of the Medici
The Portinari family fortunes took a drastic turn when Lorenzo de’ Medici died on April 9th 1492, leaving his son Piero as heir to the Medici’s great wealth and political influence. Piero was arrogant and lacked his father’s charisma, generosity, intelligence, and political cunning, and immediately the Medici hold upon Florence and Europe itself weakened. Lorenzo Portinari felt that Piero was a poor substitute for his father, but remained loyal to him, though his loyalty was strained when Piero married Elisabetta’s potential husband to another young woman and suggested a less worthy match for Elisabetta herself, which was immediately refused.
Realizing that the Medici and those allied with them would soon be toppled from power, and fearing the approaching armies of Charles VIII of France, Lorenzo made hasty preparations for the family to leave Florence. Taking all that they could, the Portinaris left the city just as the French army had entered Pisa on November 8th 1494, and fled south to Rome. It was soon proved to be a wise decision, as Piero de’ Medici’s political ineptitude ensured that France would take Florence’s port in Pisa, several vital defensive fortresses, and leave the city-state entirely at Charles VIII’s mercy. Outraged, the people of Florence revolted against the Medicis and their supporters, banishing them and looting their properties.
Elisabetta is believed to have been in her mid-teens when the Portinaris arrived in Rome. She was heartbroken to leave her beloved Florence, but marveled at the beauties of the revived ancient city. The family did not stay long, intending to sail to the East Kingdom, but remained long enough to become the honored guests of Pope Alexander VI. In her private writings, Elisabetta found the Pope to be most kind and gracious. Though she could not pretend that he was without sin, she believed him to be intelligent, cultured, and generous. She seems to have made a favorable impression upon the Borgia Pontiff, as along with other gifts given to the Portinaris there is a record of “a length of purple silk for Monna Elisabetta.”
Elisabetta also mentions meeting two of the Pope’s children, Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia. She found Lucrezia to be “lovely and full of grace.” The two young women formed a friendship during the Portinaris’ short stay in Rome, continuing to write to each other until Lucrezia’s death in 1519. Cesare, Elisabetta wrote, was handsome, intelligent, and charismatic, but that “there [was] a sleeping viper in his eyes.”
The East Kingdom
The Portinaris set sail from the port of Civitavecchia before the French army closed in on the Papal States. The journey to the East Kingdom was perilous, but Elisabetta fortunately proved to be, in the words of her father, “a good sailor and free of sickness.” Arriving at the port of Concordia, Elisabetta took in her first sight of the East Kingdom with wonder: “It seemed to contain a thousand nations in one span. Dwellings of every kingdom throughout history stood side by side as though its ancient enemies were its dearest friends. So discordant, yet concordant, this Concordia.”
The family settled in the Palazzo Portinari, where Lorenzo worked to reestablish himself in the merchant trade. His business prospered, and though his two sons and eldest daughter left to form their own businesses and households, Elisabetta remained to aid her father as needed. She was apparently a good judge of quality, and took particular pleasure in examining the books and bolts of fabric they imported. It was unusual for a daughter to be so involved in her father’s business, but the greater freedom the East Kingdom offered allowed her to pursue her interests.
After the initial culture shock of living in so free a land compared to their native Florence, the Portinaris flourished and made many friends, as did Elisabetta. At liberty to socialize and pursue her passions, she gained greater confidence in herself and became more easy with strangers, though she would continue to be known for her shyness. In time she became sufficiently well regarded to be called on January 4th, 48 AS before King Kenric II and Queen Avelina II, who with great kindness granted her an Award of Arms. Overwhelmed with emotion, Elisabetta would later describe the event as one of the happiest in her life, as she felt that she had truly been embraced by her new home.
More research into the life of Elisabetta is forthcoming.
The "Borgia Assassin" Controversy
In 1985, Nigel Pembrooke, Professor of Renaissance Studies at Crumbhorn University, claimed to have found evidence that Elisabetta had been a secret agent of the Borgias, possibly even their hired assassin, with familial ties to the mysterious female poisoner "La Bella Donna". Pembrooke believed that he had found a hidden code within the existing letters between Elisabetta and Lucrezia Borgia, and claimed to have identified a hollow 15th century ring in the university's collection as having belonged to Elisabetta. He cited a portrait of Elisabetta wearing a similar-looking ring in support of his theory.
Most scholars have dismissed Pembrooke's theory as pure invention, finding no evidence that Elisabetta had a secret association with the Borgias or "La Bella Donna", nor that the ring was the same which she wore in the portrait. As she did not travel extensively after settling in the East Kingdom, and remained largely with her family, it is unlikely that she would have made a valuable agent, and, as no suspicious deaths occurred when and where she was known to be present, it is even less likely that she was an assassin.
In spite of the lack of evidence supporting his theory, Pembrooke went on to publish a book entitled "Poisonous Poetess: The Secret Life of Elisabetta Portinari". The book was largely lampooned as a work of "scholarly pulp fiction", though it briefly reignited public interest in Elisabetta and the Borgias.
In 2006, the hollow ring was tested and revealed no trace of any poisonous substance, further discrediting Pembrooke's claim that it was used as an instrument of murder.
Though it is generally accepted that Pembrooke's theory is false, the image of Elisabetta as a possible assassin has endured, and she has occasionally appeared as a minor character in works of fiction featuring the Borgia family, portrayed variously as a cold-hearted murderess, a confidante, or a victim.
Device: Gules, an owl and on a chief argent a rose proper between two arches sable.
Primary Badge: (Fieldless) Within and conjoined to an arch sable a rose proper.
Secondary Badge: (Fieldless) On an owl argent maintaining in its beak a rose fesswise slipped and leaved proper, an arch sable.
Motto: "Omnia vestra in caritate fiant." ("Let all that you do be done with love.") (1 Corinthians 16:14, Latin Vulgate)
(Elisabetta's device and badges are meant to be a pun (or cant) on her family name, as "Portinari" is believed to derived from the Italian "porta neri" or "black doors.")
- The Italian Renaissance
- Period Fashion
- Jewelry and Accessory-Making
- Period Literature
- Period Fighting Techniques
- War History & Strategy
- Siege Engines
- Period Art
- Cooking (Especially Baking)
- The History of Christianity
- Mythology (Especially Greek, Roman, and Norse)
- Period Sumptuary Laws
- Italian Renaissance Politics
- English History & Culture (Particularly the Henrician Period)
- Ancient Roman History & Culture
- Anthroponymy (The Study of Names and Their Origins)
- Etymology (The Study of Words and Their Origins)
- The Symbolism & Use of Color During the Renaissance
- Period Flowers & Plants and their Symbolism & Uses
- Owl Symbolism & Mythology
- Period Poisons and Toxicology
Poetry & Songs
- Exposure: A Sonnet
- Fear: A Sonnet
- With Mirth and Laughter Let Old Wrinkles Come: A Sonnet
- Once Did I Love: A Petrarchan Sonnet
- Subject of the East Kingdom.
- Subject of the Barony of Concordia of the Snows.
Honors & Awards
- Award of Arms: Granted by Kenric II and Avelina II on the occasion of Twelfth Night - January 4th, 2014.
- Dayboard Assistant: Metalsmiths' Symposium 10 and King & Queen's Champions of Arms - October 7th, 2011
- Minion: The War of the Roses XXXVII - May 29th, 2016
- Set-Up Crew/General Volunteer: Arts and Sciences Salon - September 24, 2016
Quotes, Comments, & Stories
"If life gives you lemons, freeze them and launch them at your enemies with a trebuchet."
"There's no such thing as too many owls!"
"I'm not an Italian, but I play one in the SCA."
"Never trust a Norseman bearing citrus."
(Feel free to add your own quotes, comments, and/or stories of Betta here.)
Trivia & Randomness
- Betta chose "Portinari" for her surname as a tribute to Beatrice Portinari, Dante Alighieri's love interest and muse.
- When asked to choose between the houses of Lancaster and York (such as at Concordia's annual "The War of the Roses" event), Betta invariably chooses York, largely because she has a fondness for Richard III, but also because she enjoys rooting for the underdog.
- When emblazoning her secondary badge, Betta usually (but not always) depicts the owl as a Barn Owl.
In Case of Court
Betta prefers the Italian title "Donna" over "Lady" if possible, but either is fine.
If she is to be surprised, Betta would prefer it to be at an occasion where some of her friends are present, as she can be nervous if surrounded entirely by unfamiliar faces.