Zaneta Lucia Zorzi secretly reads science books while her mother pushes etiquette lessons. But on the eve of her sixteenth birthday, an arranged marriage changes everything.
I’ve always been intrigued by arranged marriages. They were very common in the Renaissance, when marriage could make or break a family. Marriage was much too serious to leave up to young people—the institution was a business transaction designed to unite two families.
In 1391, Buonaccorso Pitti decided to marry, but instead of choosing a wife, he chose a family: “Since Guido del Palagio was the most respected and influential man in the city, I decided to put the matter in his hands and leave the choice of bride up to him, provided he picked her from among his own relatives.” Pitti was explicit about this strategic choice. “For I calculated that if I were to become a connection of his and could win his good will, he would be obliged to help me obtain a truce with the Corbizi family.”
And when Lorenzo de Medici married Roman Clarice Orsini in the mid-fifteenth century, it was seen as an insult to other Florentine families. Lorenzo’s choice declared that no one in Florence was worthy of an alliance with the Medici, so he was forced to go to Rome to find a bride.
But marriage was not always an option. In the late sixteenth century, over 60% of Venetian patrician women were put in convents. Rising dowry costs and a closed patrician class created a crisis, where patrician fathers could not find suitable partners for their daughters.
In this world, daughters had very few choices—in Italy, they would often be married or in a convent before their twentieth birthday. When I imagined the strict life of a Venetian patrician daughter, a character began to emerge: a girl who rejected those choices to pursue her true passion, the study of nature.
follows Zaneta Lucia Zorzi as she flees her life in Venice to enroll at the University of Padua. Zaneta Lucia, disguised as a boy, moves in to Galileo’s boarding house—yes, that Galileo! He actually did run a boarding house at the University of Padua, and my fictional Galileo, along with crafty tutor Paolo Serravalle, help Zaneta Lucia pursue her dream.
I found myself rooting for Zaneta Lucia on her journey. And I loved writing about a woman pursuing an education at a time when women did not attend universities. also allowed me to write about the history of science, which is a passion of mine. So if you’ve ever wondered about Galileo’s astronomical discoveries, but you’d also like to read about a courageous young woman, this is the book for you!
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About the Author
Sylvia Prince is a historian and an author. Sylvia holds a PhD in history—and loves the bizarre but true stories she has encountered over the years working as a history professor. Did you know, for example, that in 1492 the pope received a blood transfusion by literally drinking the blood of three young boys? (It didn’t work—the pope and the boys all died.) You can follow her on twitter @sprincebooks, find her on Facebook and visit her website, where she also blogs: .