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Paperback review: The Deadly Sisterhood, By Leonie Frieda

Behind every dynasty there's a dangerous woman

A network of city states governed by complicated alliances and enmities, run by princes, popes and condottieri, Renaissance Italy was a man's world.

But certain women wielded considerable power behind the scenes, and Frieda recounts the fascinating stories of eight of them, including Lucrezia Borgia, Isabella d'Este, and the fearless Caterina Sforza, who wore a breastplate, carried a scimitar and once disconcerted enemies by hoisting her skirts to expose herself. These women commissioned buildings, foiled coups, and influenced the rise and fall of powerful men. Frieda's account of this "dangerous and exhilarating" time is enhanced by portraits of the major players by such artists as Mantegna, Leonardo, Raphael and Titian.