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Sforza was a ruling family of Renaissance Italy, based in Milan.
The dynasty was founded by Muzio Attendolo, called Sforza (from sforzare, to exert or force, 1369-1424) a condottiero from Romagna serving the Angevin kings of Naples. He was the most successful dynast of the condottieri.
His son Francesco I Sforza ruled Milan for the first half of the Renaissance era, acquiring the title of Duke of Milan from the extinct Visconti family in 1447. While there were many good rulers in the family, there were also a number of despots, many of which
were mentally unstable.
The family also held the seigniory of Pesaro, starting from Muzio Attendolo's second son, Alessandro (1409-1473). The Sforza held Pesaro until 1519, with the death of Galeazzo. Muzio's third son, Bosio (1411-1476), founded the branch of Santa Fiora, who held the title of count of Cotignola; the Sforza ruled the small county of Santa Fiora in southern Tuscany until 1624. Members of this family also held important ecclesiastical and political position in the Papal States,
and moved to Rome in 1674.
The Sforza would later join with the Borgia Family, through the arranged marriage of Lucrezia Borgia to Giovanni (the illegitimate son of Costanzo I of Pesaro).
Ludovico Sforza (also known as Ludovico il Moro, famous also for taking Leonardo da Vinci at his service) was defeated in 1500 by the French army of Louis XII of France - see also Italian Wars.
After the French were driven out by Imperial Swiss troops Maximilian Sforza, son of Ludovico, became Duke of Milan, until the French returned under Francis I of France and imprisoned him.