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500 years of influence: A 1533 edition of “Amadís de Gaula”, an old story which had been rewritten by Garci Rodriguez di Montalvo

One of the most international families in history were the Montalvos of Medina del Campo, in Castile. They were important in Florence in the golden days of the Medici. Another Montalvo inspired and rewrote one of Spain’s most famous novels, Amadís de Gaula. Finally, several Montalvos went to Cuba, where they were rich, influential and interesting in a country of which I once wrote a history.

Last year, I was walking in Florence in an easterly direction towards Santa Croce and its lovely Giottos. I was in the street known as the Borgo degli Albizi, which the guidebook describes as a “caracteristica strada fancheggiata da numerose belle costruzioni”. I had walked along this noble promenade some 50 yards before I came upon by chance a one-time palace of the Pazzi family, reconstructed in 1568 by the architect Ammanati for a favourite of the first Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo de’ Medici. And who was this favourite? A young Spaniard who had come to Florence as a page in the train of Eleonora di Toledo, the daughter of the viceroy of Naples, then under Spanish rule, who would marry the Grand Duke Cosimo. The page was Antonio Ramírez de Montalvo.

This young man was born in Arévalo, in Castile, in 1527, the son of Juan Ramírez and María Gómez Arévalo de  Montalvo. He probably began to work for the Cardinal de Toledo and then for his niece Eleonora, who became Grand Duchess of Florence and Tuscany after her marriage with Cosimo, the first Grand Duke. Antonio Ramírez de Montalvo was given the palazzo in the Borgi de Albizzi in the 1560s when the Grand Duke Cosimo was already quite elderly.

Other treasures fell to him: first a house just outside Florence near what is now Campi Bisenzio, now known as the Villa Montalvo, a handsome building on two storeys surrounded by a vineyard. It is now a public library. Then Montalvo was given a castle called Orlandi and land near Livorno in the tiny commune of Sassetta, where between 1563 and 1571 he built an ample palace. There he had in the end a large family, including Juan Anna, who became Duchess of Mondragone, and Garzia, a son who concerned himself with the education of the illegitimate children of the Grand Duke, such as Virginia and Pietro. Antonio himself died in 1581. The last Ramírez de Montalvo died in 1829.

Near Florence there is still a convent founded by a descendant of Ramírez de Montalvo, Eleonora, who died in 1659 (the Convento delle Montalve alla Quiete). This is close to Careggi, one of the finest Medicean villas. A friend of mine remembers hearing of “the little Montalvos”, girls from the convent school, being summoned thus by their teacher.

So courtiers and convents were the contribution of the Montalvos in Italy. What happened to them in Spain?

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