It is known that she was the daughter of Baldassarre, Count of Sàntena (of Chieri) and Anna della Rovere, but nothing is known about her childhood. She was met, at the age of about 20, on her way to Spain as maid of honour and friend of Elisabeth of France (whom the Spanish would later call Isabella), betrothed to the great king, Philip II.
Ferrante, present at the court in Madrid with the title and office of 'gentleman' to the king, was struck with admiration for the queen's 'favourite bridesmaid' and, although he could choose from the sovereign's most direct relatives, he persisted in his fondness to the point of asking her to marry him. Marta Tana lived a long life, combining in her great qualities of fidelity, virility, patience in docilely following the restless life of her husband and the ability to make demanding decisions when necessary.
She was a constant point of reference for Ferrante, an affectionate husband and father, but an incorrigible gambler, never content to travel and unable to refuse even onerous assignments. Marta Tana cared for her offspring, supported the fortunes of the marquisate in difficult times; she followed her husband on diplomatic missions and assisted him in his death. For the family, she endured hardship and did her utmost in peacemaking mediation. She cherished the joy, at the end of her life, of the imminent beatification of her son Louis, and this compensated for the countless sufferings she almost miraculously survived, due to the death of no less than 6 of her 8 children. Marta Tana died on 26 April 1605 and her body rested for a long time in the quiet of the convent of St. Mary. Today, we rightly see her buried at the foot of the central altar of the parish church, the Duomo.
Son of Luigi Alessandro Gonzaga and Caterina Anguissola of Piacenza, he was born on 28 July 1543second of three brothers. He spent his youth between Piacenza and Parma, under the guidance of his uncle Giovanni Anguissola. At the age of 16, he went to Flanders, beginning his long service in the retinue of King Philip II of Spain. He tried to emulate the chivalric exploits of his father and grandfather, but did so with little conviction. After intervening in some military campaigns, he laid down his arms.
Ferrante was a dynamic character, rich in gifts both as a condottiere and as a diplomat. He worked mainly in the service of Philip II of Spain, but he did not spare the emperor any services, who praised him for his diplomacy, and he lent himself with generosity, not always adequately recognised, to the numerous tasks entrusted to him by Duke William of Mantua, his highest-ranking relative. He was judged to be one of the best among the Gonzaga who ruled Castiglione. It seems, in fact, that relations between him and his subjects had always been more or less good. There were, however, two thorns in him that rarely left him alone: a passion for gambling and gout. Although he was a 'task gentleman, versed in business', he was also an 'unrepentant gambler who often lost large sums', for which he was forced at times to 'usury loans'. The marquisate's finances at the time of his death were by no means reassuring: this was a sad legacy left to Rudolf
The gout that had haunted him for most of his life accompanied him to his grave.
Ferrante's illness became more and more worrying, leading him to radical changes in his life. He had always been a practising Catholic, but in the few days he still had left to live, he became much stricter with himself. He gave up all frivolous occupations, all forms of leisure, including gambling, and turned his spirit to God whom he now felt was near. Locked in his room, assisted by his wife and faithful servant Clement Ghisoni, he had the crucifix Louis had left him brought to him and asked God's forgiveness for his sins.
On 13 February 1586, he rendered his soul to God, assisted by his relative Father Francesco Gonzaga. The body arrived in Castiglione on the evening of the 15th and was temporarily placed in the small church of the convent of San Pietro. The funeral was celebrated the next day in a sober and discreet manner in the parish church. On the morning of 17 February, Rodolfo accompanied his father on his last journey to Mantua where, according to his will, he was dressed in the Franciscan habit and buried in the church of San Francesco.
Rodolfo had not turned 17 when the burden of governing Castiglione fell on his shoulders. His father, before his death, had placed his wife and brother Alfonso, lord of Castel Goffredo, at his side as guardians. The diligence and scrupulousness with which he fulfilled his father's wishes regarding the burial, the commitments he made in writing to do his best for the good government of the marquisate had at first given the idea that the young man was well disposed to accept the advice of his superiors with docility. Later, it was above all his relative Vincenzo, Duke of Mantua, who realised that he could not easily dictate to him.
On Sunday, 3 January 1593, Rodolfo was killed with an arquebus as he went to mass in the parish church of Castel Goffredo with his wife and the eldest of his four daughters, Cinzia. His body, dragged on a heap of earth in the middle of the square, was subjected to unspeakable outrage and vituperation; his palace in Castel Goffredo was ransacked; his wife was separated from his daughters (the eldest was 4 years old and the youngest, Gridonia, 3 months) and put in prison with the late marquis' loyal collaborators. On the very day of the assassination, 40 knights and 200 foot soldiers sent 'by the duke' arrived on the scene with astonishing promptness to ensure public order. It was only after five days that Rodolfo's body was handed over to his mother, who had unsuccessfully travelled to Castel Goffredo to get it. The funeral took place on 8 January.
Rodolfo's rehabilitation finally took place on 2 December 1599 and was carried out in a solemn ceremony on 14 January 1600. It was mainly due to Francesco, on the diplomatic level, and to his mother whose faith and strength of spirit were well known even beyond the borders of Mantua. Perhaps Rodolfo deserves a less severe judgement than history has attributed to him. Let us not forget that the first portrait that was circulated of him was the one painted by the Duke of Mantua, who had no interest in using delicate colours.
He was the third son of the house of Gonzaga, joyfully welcomed on 15 April 1570 as confirmation that the worries over the succession of the marquisate were destined to disappear. Marta Tana therefore renewed with great gratitude her desire to have a son consecrated to God.
It was then customary for noble families with several children that at least one of them embrace a career in the Church. Ferdinand did not live long. At the age of 7, his life was cut short by one of the frequent infectious diseases for which, unfortunately, no effective remedies were known. On the day of his death, 9 May 1577, he was buried in the church of San Sebastiano in Castello. "Vivat felix in aeternum!' (Baptismal act)
Charles was born on 19 July 1572, while the work on the Rocca and the Castle was in progress and Marquis Ferrante's initiative to move his residence to a building with larger and more comfortable rooms, located at the foot of the hill, was being implemented. This was probably the palace, later called 'del Principe', the current Magistrate's Court, located in Via Pretorio. For less than a year, Castiglione had been raised to marquisate status and the dominus deserved a more worthy residence.
Charles died on 23 August 1574 when he was only two years old, probably due to an epidemic, from which Ferrante was unable to fully preserve Castiglione, despite the wise orders given. The suspicion of an epidemic is dictated by the fact that the child was buried within hours of his death, around sunset of the same day, almost certainly in the church of San Sebastiano in Castello.
In the Gonzaga household, the grief over the death of little Carlo was overcome by a new birth. After less than two months, Marta Tana gave birth to Isabella, the first girl after four boys and the only daughter of the Gonzaga family. In donna Marta Tana, the affection for the good Queen Isabella (Elisabeth of Valois), whom she had assisted until the birth of her first-born daughter: Isabella Clara Eugenia, was still alive. The past was therefore decisive in the choice of name for the newborn. Linked to the past was also an ambitious hope: that of uniting the fate of the daughter with that of the descendants of the beloved queen. This emerges from what is written in the baptismal record and from the events that subsequently occurred. The infant Isabella C. E. was thus asked to be 'commadre' (godmother) of the little Isabella. In the name of the ancient bond of affection she accepted and was represented 'for this office' by the most illustrious Ippolita, wife of Alfonso Gonzaga Lord of Castel Goffredo, who, therefore, 'was received regularly'.
When Isabella Gonzaga with the whole family went to Spain in 1582, her fate turned out to be in accordance with the hopes cultivated for years by her parents. Isabella became damsel (she was only 8 years old) to the Infante Isabella C. E. and served in this capacity until her death. In 1584, before they left for Castiglione, she said goodbye to her mother and siblings for the last time. She died surrounded by affection, but far away from her family and with anguish in her soul over the tragic end of her brother Rodolfo, the fate of her family and the survival of her peak feud. She was buried at l'Escorial in October 1593.
On 8 February 1593, about a month after the murder of his brother Rudolf, the young Marquis Francesc, born on 27 April 1577 at a relatively quiet time for Ferrante and his family, finally arrived in Castiglione late in the evening. From the age of 12, Francesc lived in Prague as a page to the emperor, to be initiated into a diplomatic career. Today, the statue is kept in the atrium of Palazzo Bondoni.
Thanks to his serious and competent diplomatic work at the Holy See as Caesar's envoy, Francesco was able to increase the honour of the family and the prestige of the marquisate. On 26 September 1605, he was beatified by his brother Louis. He promoted the foundation of the Noble College of the Virgins of Jesus, modelled on the College of Hall near Innsbruch, according to the wishes of his niece Cinzia.
In 1608, work began on the construction of the Jesuit College (today's seat of the Town Hall), which had been called to provide spiritual guidance to the 'ladies', according to their explicit wish. At the time, the order of St Ignatius was struggling with various difficulties due to their expulsion from the Veneto region; inviting them to Castiglione was the hoped-for solution to some of the serious problems. Attached to the Jesuit College, the Sanctuary of St. Louis was erected, consecrated by Pope Paul V in 1610, the year in which the precious relic of the Blessed arrived in Castiglione and was displayed in this church for public veneration.
Francesco's brilliant political-diplomatic career brought him various satisfactions: he was awarded the prestigious title of Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece; he received the title of 'Prince' of Castiglione delle Stiviere with relative privileges and prerogatives (10/4/1610) and the title of 'City' for Castiglione (23/10/1612) from Emperor Matthias.
During his frequent stays at the imperial court to resolve the dispute over Castel Goffredo, Francesco learned the art of diplomacy, of weaving plots with infinite patience and perseverance. His skills enabled him not only to overcome the precarious conditions of the feud, but also to oppose the fierce Duke of Mantua with 'equal' resistance, in a struggle that would have exhausted a veteran of court diplomacy.
The emperor, who had had the opportunity to appreciate his skills as a negotiator, after putting him to the test in a number of missions, judged him capable of carrying out tasks of great trust. He therefore appointed him ambassador, first extraordinary and then ordinary, to the papal court.
At the age of almost 40, he ended his busy life, crushed by an illness that afflicted him and to which he no longer had the strength to react. His body was buried in a Capuchin habit, next to that of his wife in the Franciscan church in Castiglione.
When Cristierno was born, the marquis, his father, did not obtain permission from Duke William to leave Monferrato, where even the slightest weakening of the guard was enough for the situation to explode. In return, the duke granted his son Vincent II to be the baptiser's companion. "Sit felix, atque Deo semper placens !" is the wish that we find written in the baptismal act.
Cristierno really needed this augury, because his life was stingy with the joys that normally sustain it, that is, the esteem of relatives, the affection of family members, the cordiality of neighbours; and this, almost certainly because of his incorrigible character. He was ambitious and distrustful; one contemporary described him as 'suspicious'; he was hated by his subjects, who made several attempts on his life, and by his own family. He took over the government of Solferino in 1602. However, the small town did not give him much to do, and he did not try to fruitfully occupy his freedom from government duties.
Cristierno, in fact, was not a shrewd governor. From his father he inherited the disease of gout, the bad habit of gambling, but not the ability to make himself well liked by the people. With the exception of the restoration of the fortress, no other major works are attributed to him, despite his 28 years of rule. From the beginning, his violent and despotic methods alienated him from the sympathies of the people of Solferino, which did not change over the years.
The last child of the Gonzaga family was born during the expensive journey undertaken by the entire family in l581 to accompany the Empress of Austria on a visit to her brother Philip II of Spain.
While Ferrante managed to happily resolve the economic affairs, for which he had taken on such hard work, and tried to join the sovereigns in Lisbon, his wife Marta Tana remained in their rented lodgings in Madrid, next to their children engaged as 'court pages'. Here Diego was born in September 1582. The family returned to Castiglione in 1584, in the last days of May, after an absence of three years, festively welcomed by their subjects.
When his father died, little Diego was not yet four years old. The mother jealously guarded this son, entrusted to her custody until he reached the age of 16. She lavished all her affection and consolation on him for the many events that made her suffer: the death of her husband, the death of Louis, planted twice by a false announcement, the tragic end of Rudolf, the death of Isabella far from home, the separation from Francis and Cristierno, who had been educated at various courts. But it was Diego with whom she experienced the greatest tragedy, which tore her mother's heart to pieces. Diego was buried on 7 September 1597, in the church of San Sebastiano in Castello when he was only 15 years old.