Even though Grand Duke Gian Gastone de’ Medici tried hard to lead an isolated life, he always found himself in the spotlight of scandals. He survived a chaotic family and a nightmarish marriage—but his penchant for partying landed him in the worst kind of trouble.
Gian Gastone de’ Medici was born on a spring day in 1671. His parents, Grand Duke Cosimo III and Marguerite Louise d’Orléans, were delighted by the birth of their youngest son. However, his birthday was an unlucky day—it was the first year anniversary of de’ Medici’s grandfather’s demise. Not surprisingly, Gian Gastone remained an unlucky child.
As long as Gian Gastone could remember, his parents always quarreled. The household was so troublesome and disturbing that in 1675—just after he turned four—his mother and father decided to separate. Little Gian Gastone didn’t understand what this separation meant, but it was a pivotal event that changed his life in a heart-wrenching way.
The same year, Louise d’Orléans made an agreement to live in confinement in a church and surrender her rights as a Royal Princess in exchange for separation and going back to France. The consequences were devastating. His mother happily abided by these conditions and abandoned Gian Gastone and his siblings in the blink of an eye.
Gian Gastone went to live with his grandmother—and this is where his tumultuous destiny began to unfold.
As a child, Gian Gastone really looked up to a particular church historian—Cardinal Henry Noris. He tutored Gian Gastone for a while, who was reportedly so in awe of the Cardinal that he hardly left his presence. Being a curious and motivated student, he filled his resume with many skills. He showed interest in the arts, literature, and science, and even learned more than six languages.
Sounds like a perfect daddy’s boy, right? Well, that wasn’t exactly the case.
Gian Gastone and his father clashed endlessly. Therefore, no matter how intellectual or well-rounded he seemed, he never received any encouragement or applause. Instead, Cosimo III often isolated him from his life, rarely granting Gian Gastone the same privileges that his other children enjoyed.
Gian Gastone never had court benefits, an allowance, or even a say in his own life. But this was only the beginning.
When Gian Gastone was a teenager, Peter II of Portugal made him an offer too good to refuse—only he didn't have the power to accept it. Peter II wanted Gian Gastone to marry his only daughter, Isabel Luisa, Princess of Beria. There was only one requirement in order for the marriage to go forward, but it was not an easy one.
To marry the princess, Gian Gastone needed to convince his father to give him an allowance of "adequate stature". He thought his father would agree to this since the marriage would strengthen the family’s ties with Portugal. However, Cosimo III was an inconceivable man who didn’t respect anything to do with Gian Gastone—so he denied the request.
Feeling very lonely, the young man found solace in an unexpected place.
In the household, Gian Gastone managed to connect with the other scarred soul who suffered under the dominion of a man: his sister-in-law Duchess Violante Beatrice of Bavaria. This was the beginning of a very long-lasting alliance. Gian Gastone spent his time trying to cheer up the Duchess, who her husband found extremely dull and ugly.
However, Gian Gastone himself clearly had demons of his own.
At that time, it was clear that Gian Gastone was becoming severely depressed—and his melancholy behavior didn't go unnoticed. Cardinal Francesco Maria often organized events and festivities to make him feel better, yet at the end of most nights, Gian Gastone went back to his room and cried all night. But this was all about to change.
As of 1697, Gian Gastone's family still hadn't produced an heir that could succeed Cosimo III. As both his sister and brother had failed in the baby-making department, the ball was now in his court. His father knew it, so he didn’t waste any time and began searching for a suitable bride for his least-favorite son.
In no time at all, he pinpointed a match—but this was not a match made in heaven.
When Gian Gastone met Anna Maria Franziska, it wasn't love at first sight, nor was there any spark. To make matters worse, everyone described her as “more like a Bohemian peasant than a princess". She was a widow and potential heiress of the Duchy of Saxe-Lauenburg—and he definitely didn't want to marry her. Unfortunately, he had no choice in the matter.
Due to his father’s demands, 26-year-old Gian Gastone married Franziska on July 2, 1697. The marriage took place in Düsseldorf. This might have been a lovely place to get married—but sadly, the bride and groom looked far from magical. Described as “appalling and immensely fat," Franziska did not enjoy the respect she deserved on her wedding day.
However, the marriage itself would prove even more disappointing than the lackluster nuptials.
After the two became husband and wife, Franziska began spouting some serious demands. She wanted Gian Gastone to leave the court and the city so that they could live happily ever after in her Bohemian residences—Ploskovice Castle and Reichstadt. At that time, Gian Gastone was basically a golden-retriever groom, following his wife wherever she went.
Everything changed for Gian Gastone when he and his new wife moved to god-knows-where. He was living the little village life—isolated from intellectual circles and with no friends or family. The worst part? He began noticing that Franziska had some disturbing habits. He knew that she was capricious, but he wasn't quite prepared for just how deranged she could be.
Franziska acted like she was going crazy which scared the living you-know-what out of Gian Gastone. As he observed his unpredictable wife, he noticed that she talked with the horses—having heartfelt conversations with them about how she would have rather stayed a widow. This devastated de’ Medici, and he sought relief by engaging in a dangerous habit.
Gian Gastone looked for ways to escape his reality and slowly but surely, he took up drinking and gambling. It became an issue for him very quickly because he felt like drinking numbed his pain, so he never stopped—even when he gained a lot of weight and his health deteriorated. Desperate, Gian Gastone decided to concoct a real escape plan.
The escape plan went smoothly: Gian Gastone abandoned his lunatic wife in the little village of boredom and went back to Paris. And, at first, it was smooth sailing…until his beloved dad commanded him to go back. This wasn’t a request, it was an order. To his horror, Gian Gastone had no choice but to return to the life he despised above all else.
Gian Gastone—his tail between his legs—returned home to Reichstadt. Although his wife was rageful about his escape, she actually put her best foot forward and welcomed him. But this was short-lived. Her chilly demeanor reared its ugly head as soon as Gian Gastone mentioned he wanted to go to Prague for winter.
However, this time, he wouldn't accept "no" for an answer.
Finally, Gian Gastone got his fresh start in a brand new city, Prague. He didn’t let anyone know his whereabouts. It was only him and his favored attendant, Giuliano Dami. As of 1707, the two of them were like two college besties living life in the big city. But like all reckless runaway tales, things got out of control fast.
Gian Gastone and Giuliano Dami had had a weird dynamic. Guiliano acted as Gian Gastone's personal assistant in the morning—but had a more sketchy role later at night. Allegedly, Dami helped organize little soirees for his master, introducing him to numerous young men whom he had scandalous affairs with.
Their lives became an endless party...until Gian Gastone's health took a serious hit.
Before all this, Gian Gastone had an amazing complexion and a sublime figure, but he was ruining his fine physique by his partying and not taking care of himself. In addition to looks, he seriously damaged his health. He was always blotchy and bloated. To make matters worse, his psychological problems accompanied some mental ones, as well as another filthy habit.
In addition to the non-stop drinking and partying, Gian Gastone also began gambling. His life resembled the classic tale of a spoiled kid squandering his money. In fact, he gambled so much and so often that his debts were bigger than his daddy issues. But it was only a matter of time before news of Gian Gastone's behavior reached his father's ears. A reckoning was certainly on the horizon.
Not long after his debt became problematic, Gian Gastone faced his father. Cosimo III was rageful, and he wanted a decent explanation. In an effort to save himself, Gian Gastone started piling up reasons for his conduct, and most of them were about his wife. He blamed his wife’s "capriciousness, peevish faces and sharp words" for his actions. But this wasn't exactly the smartest move to make.
Of all people, Franziska was the most disappointed by Gian Gastone's words. However, she had some secrets about him too—and she didn't hesitate to bring them out of the closet. Although she didn’t say anything on the record, she implied that Gian Gastone's problems were so horrendous that he even pawned some of her jewels to gamble more.
After all that jazz, the family still pressured them to solve their marital issues.
Both Franziska and Gian Gastone had to make compromises, but unfortunately, Franziska was very insistent on staying in her little village. Nothing could convince her to move to Florence—Gian Gastone's city of choice. And so, upon the request of the Holy Roman Emperor and Empress, he decided to give Reichstadt another chance.
Gian Gastone didn’t want to let down his people, not to mention the Roman Emperor or his father. However, he couldn't endure his marriage any longer, especially not in a village he despised. Though he tried to make a life with Franziska, their obvious lack of chemistry had doomed them from the start. In October 1703, Gian Gastone abandoned his wife for the last time. He never saw her again.
Though Gian Gastone had given up, his father had not. He was completely flabbergasted by Franziska's stubbornness and asked the Archbishop of Prague to reason with her. Her response was brutal. She told him there was simply no point in joining Gian Gastone in Florence because he was "absolutely impotent". It was the final nail in the coffin.
But though Gian Gastone had finally rid himself of the life he hated, the worst was yet to come.
People always knew that Gian Gastone's brother—the Grand Prince Ferdinando—was supposed to be the Grand Duke's successor. Unfortunately, tragedy disrupted these plans. Ferdinando had syphilis and it was only a matter of time before the disease claimed his life. However, this also meant that all eyes shifted to Gian Gastone.
During this time, he felt crushed beneath the mounting pressure. He was never strong on the mental health front, but his looming responsibilities dragged him into an even deeper hole.
Gian Gastone spent most of his time in his room, alone. Reportedly, he drank and stared up at the moon for hours. Indeed, a French adventurer named Guyot de Merville took the liberty to describe his state of mind: "He carries [apathy] so far that it is said he never opens a letter, to avoid having to answer”.
Gian Gastone—the most melancholy man imaginable—was the next in line to rule Tuscany...and so everyone was in crisis mode.
In October 1713, Gian Gastone's brother died, but the mess he left behind was there to stay. There were many opinions about the royal titles: Gian Gastone was the only option to become Grand Duke, and yet Cosimo III did everything in his power to strip him of any authority. Instead, Cosimo petitioned for Gian Gastone's sister Anna Maria Luisa to be the next in line.
Gian Gastone didn’t abide by that idea—and luckily, he was not alone.
In 1717, Anna Maria returned to Florence, possibly to babysit her brother. However, Violante Beatrice of Bavaria—the sister-in-law and a strong ally of Gian Gastone flew into action as well. Following the demise of her husband, she left the grand ducal court and became the governor of Siena.
The fight for being the right hand of Gian Gastone had begun.
Gian Gastone had two powerful women in his service: Anna Maria who was now the First Lady of Tuscany, and Beatrice who was the governor. On paper, both of them were his sisters, yet Gian Gastone despised his biological sister and loved his sister-in-law. The reason behind this hatred was a big one—Anna Maria was one of the people who'd arranged his marriage to Franziska.
Every time Gian Gastone remembered this, his hatred for his sister only grew—and it wasn't long before he made her pay for her actions.
There was someone else in Gian Gastone's circle who shared the same feelings toward Anna Maria. Beatrice, who had a miserable life because of the de' Medici family, despised every member except for our guy Gian Gastone. And just like him, she was more than eager to take down the Electress, Anna Maria.
Gian Gastone knew all his sister’s soft spots. He took action by repealing policies that his sister supported, while never missing a chance to upset her with his own liberal agenda. He was an extravagant personality, and everybody feared his unpredictable actions. Anna Maria couldn’t take it anymore—but Gian Gastone was just getting started.
Anna Maria knew that her only option was to abandon her apartment and move far away from her wrathful brother. She realized that Gian Gastone would never forgive her for engineering his nightmarish marriage. Right then and there, he made the final move: He banished his sister to Villa La Quiete, somewhere far away from the royal court.
But this was the least of his problems.
Gian Gastone was so preoccupied with family drama that he didn’t realize the doomy situation of his city. In 1723, Florence was a city that looked like a post-apocalyptic dystopia—no money, no political power, and no hope. He knew that a depressed, flaky man like himself couldn’t rise up as the savior—but he could hire someone to do the job for him.
To handle the day-to-day duties of a leader, Gian Gastone called on his best buddy—Governor Violante Beatrice. The two worked smoothly like a well-oiled machine. The governor had unprecedented decision-making power over the Tuscan society, and Gian Gastone had all the time in the world to spend relaxing.
Of course, his idea of relaxing was a little controversial.
With his old friend Giuliano Dami back in his corner, Gian Gastone's life of revelry could begin again. Dami organized the parties and supplied the men and the booze, while Gian Gastone lied down and enjoyed the entertainment. This time, the two men had an entourage—a team of poor, good-looking men called the Ruspanti.
They were already a scandalous group—but Gian Gastone took them one step further.
Each and every night, Gian Gastone hung out with his rowdy troupe of lovers and friends. It was his way of having fun, but also his wicked way of getting revenge on the aristocracy. He hated the aristocracy and seized every chance to mock them. He started calling some of the young men of Ruspanti by the names of prominent Tuscan nobles.
But his troublemaking didn't end there.
While Gian Gastone was having the time of his life, the Governor was freaking out because of the deteriorating public image of The Grand Duke. People were aware of what was going on behind closed doors, therefore Beatrice decided to organize banquets in an attempt to lure Gian Gastone away from the Ruspanti.
This way, Gian Gastone would spend less time with his lovers, and more time showing people what a great leader he was.
Beatrice organized events and invited guests—and on the surface, everything seemed to play out like clockwork. Unfortunately, Gian Gastone didn’t have any intentions of meeting Beatrice halfway. During the banquet, he scared the guests and created chaos. He acted like a maniac: vomiting into his napkin, wiping his mouth with his wig, and telling rude jokes. Oh, but that wasn't all.
Following the disastrous night, Gian Gastone stayed in isolation for a long time. It was so long that there were crazy rumors about the Grand Duke. The public began mobilizing against him—some thought he'd gone away for good, and some thought he was deeply troubled and unfit. The Governor was getting more alarmed every day, so she came up with one last plan.
Shockingly, Beatrice asked for help from an unexpected person—Gian Gastone's sister, Anna Maria Luisa. The two “sisters” joined forces for the first time. Anna Maria talked Gian Gastone into behaving for once and convinced him to make an appearance on the feast day of John the Baptist.
He surprisingly agreed—but the feast day proved to be a verifiable nightmare.
On the feast day in 1729, Gian Gastone started the day on a good foot. However, his first glasses to ease his anxiety quickly turned into binge drinking. Not surprisingly, he was not feeling good. As the ceremony began, so did the vomiting. He vomited all through the ceremony until he passed out. Don’t worry, it gets worse.
Gian Gastone was a pitiful sight as he lay unconscious on the floor—and eventually, servants carried him back to his royal palace—Palazzo Pitti. Do you remember how he gained too much weight and suffered from constant bloating? Well, that made him pretty heavy and hard to carry, so the servants carried him on a litter. This last public appearance was a disaster, to say the least—miserable and humiliating.
Gian Gastone had been through a lot that night, but none of it was as critical as what happened in the years to come. In 1731, he suffered a life-altering injury—a sprained ankle. This was the old times guys, so a sprained ankle meant that you had to live confined to your bed—and that’s what Gian Gastone did.
He was bedridden, he smelled bad, and he often needed someone to clean his putrid bed. His sister-in-law and Governor—good ol' Beatrice—often handled the washing, but not for long.
That same year, Gian Gastone experienced a loss that hit him the hardest. His dear friend, the Governor of Sienna, Violante Beatrice passed, taking all of Gian Gastone's will to live with her. Already confined to his bedroom and unbelievably sad, he rarely saw a living soul.
Rumors began to circulate that he'd died too—but this wasn't exactly misinformation.
In 1737, Gian Gastone's condition was heartbreaking. He couldn't eat anything or even move, and it was apparent that he would soon pass. Despite all the hatred and betrayal between him and his sister, Anna Maria Luisa rushed to the palace to see her brother one last time. She had some important duties to attend to.
As soon as she made it to the palace, Anna Maria noticed that Gian Gastone lay dying in dirty, smelly sheets. She had to move him to a new bed so that his body would stay clean. For his soul, however, she had an even more difficult task on her hands. Gian Gastone was known as irreligious, but she still made him repent for his sins.
On a warm July day in 1737, Gian Gastone's diseased body finally failed him. Draped in "black velvet," the Grand Duke's remains found their final resting place in the Basilian of San Lorenzo. In spite of his shortcomings, his people greatly mourned his loss.
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