Like every era, the Renaissance brims with stories. In this book Robert Davis and Beth Lindsmith highlight dozens of notable lives from between 1400 and 1600. They include the aristocratic matriarch Alessandra Strozzi, who sneaked around Florence to spy on potential brides for her sons; the notorious criminal Catena, who wasn’t satisfied with murdering his enemy but also hamstrung his victim’s goats; Isotta Nogarola, a promising young writer who was mortified to have a critic sneer at her that ‘an eloquent woman is never chaste’; the fierce warrior-duke Federico da Montefeltro, who liked to wander through his capital without a guard, stopping for jovial chats with local merchants; and the Inquisition’s Heinrich Kramer, who insisted that witches could remove men’s penises and hide them in birds’ nests.
Through these brief biographies, over-arching patterns of the Renaissance emerge. The return to Roman Republican values, the rebirth of Classical art and literature, the growing momentum of religious reform – such great themes underpin each narrative. Some names are famous – Leonardo, Luther, Lorenzo de’ Medici and Machiavelli all feature – but many others will be new to general readers. In Renaissance People, Davis and Lindsmith bring to life wily politicans, eccentric scientists, fiery rebels and stolid reactionaries, as well as a pornographer, an acrobat, an actress, a star comedian and at least one very fretful mother. The stories of these and others – 94 in all – remind us that history is more than dates and abstract concepts: it also arises from the lives of countless individual men and women.