Dedicated to Duke Alfonso II d’Este, Giaches de Wert’s Ottavo libro de madrigali a cinque voci went to press in the late summer of 1586. In many ways its publication marked the apogee of a heady and optimistic period of creativity and splendor at the Ferrarese court. Although the Este had nurtured their artistic establishments throughout the century, the musical culture had burgeoned with new direction and enthusiasm after the duke’s third marriage in 1579, to Margherita Gonzaga, Princess of Mantua. Yet even as the court glittered in the sixteenth-century equivalent of a celebrity spotlight, with ambassadors’ reports flowing back to foreign princes eager to tell of Ferrarese society and chic—and particularly of Ferrarese music-making—a grimmer reality was waiting to emerge. In the seventh year of marriage and still without a direct male heir, the ageing duke lived daily with the knowledge that Ferrara was destined to revert to the Papal States upon his death. It could be that the lavishness of Alfonso’s court reflected the increasing likelihood that there would be no need to protect the patrimony; yet, as we shall see, at this stage Alfonso had not quite given up hope. 1