Rodrigo the Man
Rodrigo was a hard working churchman who rarely missed a consistory; he was also learned in the scriptures being;
‘So familiar with Holy Writ, that his speeches were fairly sparkling with well-chosen texts of the Sacred Books.’[i]
Although a religious conservative Rodrigo was nevertheless tolerant of those who held less orthodox beliefs than his own. He did not take slurs personally, shrugging off the slanders of those such as Savonarola who claimed that in Rodrigo.
‘The bestiality and savagery of Nero and Caligula are surpassed.’[ii]
Rodrigo had a childish love of ceremony and pomp, agreeing that it was a cardinal’s duty to maintain the dignity of the College of Cardinals and to ensure that Rome was the most magnificent city in the world.
Rodrigo was almost unsurpassed in his prodigal display of wealth, but he was almost abstemious when it came to the food he ate. Guests at his table were presented with plain fare, so much so that it was not a pleasure to dine with him; indeed the ambassador from Ferrara described the experience as ‘disagreeable’.
Innocent died in July 1492; his successor was not Giuliano della Rovere, as might have been expected, but his opponent Rodrigo di Borgia. The historian Francesco Guicciardini claimed of Rodrigo’s election[iii] that;
‘With money, offices, benefices, promises, and all his power and resources he suborned and bought the votes of the cardinals and the College.’[iv]
In reality Rodrigo was a beneficiary of the collapsing power structure in Italy. The moderate Lorenzo de’ Medici had died in April and his son Piero[v] was no politician. Piero cast the treaty with the Sforzas of Milan adrift, leaving Ludovico Sforza[vi] searching for new allies.
Giuliano della Rovere entered the conclave the favoured candidate of Ferrante of Naples and of Charles VIII of France[vii] who made 200,000 ducats[viii] available for Giuliano’s expenses, a further 100,000 ducats were donated by the city of Genoa. He was also favoured by Venice, not to mention all his cousins. The first ballot, of the twenty three cardinals in the conclave, found della Rovere with five votes; his share of the vote did not rise through subsequent ballots, although Rodrigo’s share did.
The cardinal leading the ballots, although without sufficient votes to win outright, was Cardinal Oliviero Carafa with nine votes. His support came from either side of the political divide; Naples and Milan. The Sforzas refused to accept della Rovere as pope and he, in his turn, would not accept a puppet controlled by Milan.
Enter the compromise candidate; the Spaniard. Sforza decided to back Rodrigo[ix], and the Sforza votes were added to Rodrigo’s tally, and so eventually did della Rovere, the cardinal with the money to bribe his fellow cardinals. Ferrante of Naples was most put out by Rodrigo’s ascension to the throne of St Peter.
A New Beginning
Rodrigo’s reign as Pope Alexander VI began on 11th August 1492; his election led the young Cardinal Giovanni de’ Medici[x] to proclaim;
‘Flee, we are in the hands of a wolf.’[xi]
|Cardinal Ascanio Sforza|
At the end of the month Rodrigo held the customary consistory to give away all the benefices he had collected during his career. Most of the cardinals benefitted; the young Ascanio Sforza was made Vice-Chancellor in Rodrigo’s place. The only cardinal created was one Juan di Borgia Lanzol[xii], the first of ten members of the Borgia family to be so elevated.
Following the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in the spring of 1492, by Ferdinand and Isabella; some 9,000 impoverished Iberian Jews arrived at the borders of the Papal States in the summer[xiii]. Rodrigo welcomed them into Rome, declaring that they were;
‘Permitted to lead their life, free from interference from Christians, to continue in their own rites, to gain wealth, and to enjoy many other privileges.’[xiv]
Rodrigo also allowed the immigration of Jews expelled from Portugal in 1497 and from Provence in 1498. Della Rovere, a man well-known for his lack of tolerance, claimed that Rodrigo was a marrano.
|St Peter's Square|
In contrast to his humanity towards the Jews, Rodrigo celebrated the reverse side of the Alhambra Decree, the expulsion of the Moors from Spain, with a bullfight in the Piazza San Pietro.
Innocent had failed to keep law and order in Rome and Rodrigo cracked down; on 3rd September, less than a month after his elevation, two notorious murderers were hanged and their houses pulled down. Numerous lesser criminals were housed in the Castel Sant’Angelo and a new force of watchmen and constables were employed to keep the peace; twenty one were employed to enforce justice on the bridges over the Tiber.
Looking after the Family
Cesare was just 18 when his father became pope; he was to learn firsthand how devoted the new pope was to his children. Cesare had become a priest at the age of seven, an indulgence to allow this was given by Sixtus[xv]; he studied at the universities of Perugia and Pisa and finally the Studium Urbis[xvi] in Rome.
ow on 20th
September 1493, much against his wish, Cesare was made a cardinal; what Cesare
wanted was to be a soldier. It took him nearly five years to persuade his
father otherwise. At the same time Giraloma’s brother-in-law Guiliano Cesarini junior[xvii] was also made a cardinal.
|Cardinal Guiliano Cesarini junior|
Three years after Cesare’s elevation, in 1496, Juan di Borja Lanzol the younger was made a cardinal. Four years later Pedro Luis di Borja Lanzol was similarly elevated along with Amanieu d’Albret, Cesare’s brother-in-law. Rodrigo’s nephew Francisco di Borja and another relative Juan de Vera were made cardinals six months later on 28th September 1500. And finally Juan Castellar y di Borja and Francisco Lloris y di Borja were elevated three years later.
In 1493 Lucrezia’s marriage to Giovanni Sforza[xviii] was celebrated with great pomp at the Vatican.
‘They first served the pope and the cardinals, then the bride, bridegroom and ladies, whilst others went to the clergy and the rest, and finally they flung what sweets remained amongst the people outside, in such abundance that I believe more than a hundred pounds of sweets were trampled underfoot.’[xix]
|Arms of Duchess of Gandia|
In August 1493 the Spanish, concerned to counter the Sforza alliance, pressed for Juan Borgia[xx] to come to Spain and marry his affianced; Maria Enriquez de Luna[xxi], a cousin of King Ferdinand. The wedding took place the following month.
Concerned about the succession of the throne of Naples, the aged Ferrante, now 70, was pressing for closer relations with the Vatican, while the French king[xxii] demanded that Rodrigo acknowledge his claim to the Neapolitan crown. Charles’ overtures were rebuffed as Rodrigo was reconciled with two of the leading supporters of Ferrante; della Rovere and Cardinal Orsini. With their support Rodrigo was able to have Cesare made a cardinal along with Alessandro Farnese, the brother of Rodrigo’s mistress Guilia Farnese[xxiii].
|Sancha of Aragon|
Ferrante died on 25th January 1494 and his throne was claimed by his son Alfonso as well as Charles VIII[xxiv]. Rodrigo supported Alfonso, but della Rovere changed sides to support Charles. The cardinals in consistory agreed to support Alfonso and the pope sent his Master of Ceremonies Johann Burchard to oversee Alfonso’s coronation on 8th May.
‘Once he had been invested with the staff, His Majesty kissed it and handed it to the Royal Chancellor, and then sat down on the faldstool[xxv] opposite the legate [Cardinal Giovanni Borgia] who then commenced the coronation service.’[xxvi]
The following day Alfonso made Joffre Borgia the Prince of Squillace[xxvii]. Joffre was married to Sancha of Aragon, Alfonso’s illegitimate daughter, to cement the alliance between the papacy and the throne of Naples. The couple lived in the Vatican for most of their married lives. Sancha made friends with Lucrezia and allegedly, keeping it all the family, had affairs with Juan and Cesare.
At the Court of the Borgia – Johan Burchard, Folio Society 1990
Italian Dynasties – Edward Burman, Equation 1989
Lucrezia Borgia – Rachel Erlanger, Michael Joseph 1979
Florence and the Medici – JR Hale, Phoenix Press 2001
The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici – Christopher Hibbert, Folio Society 2001
The Borgias – Mary Hollingsworth, Quercus Editions 2014
The Borgias – GJ Meyer, Bantam 2013
A History of Venice – John Julius Norwich, Penguin Books 1982
Absolute Monarchs – John Julius Norwich, Random House 2011
A Renaissance Tapestry – Kate Simon, Harrap 1988
The March of Folly – Barbara Tuchman, Cardinal 1990
[ii] The Borgias - Meyer
[iii] He was writing of events that happened when he was 9 years old and was viewing matters with 40 years worth of hindsight
[iv] The Borgias - Meyer
[v] Known as the Unfortunate
[vi] Who was to make himself Duke of Milan in 1495 after the suspicious death of his nephew Gian Galeazzo
[vii] Soon to make his mark on Italy
[ix] A marriage between one of the Sforza family and Lucrezia was agreed in February 1492
[x] The second son of Lorenzo de’ Medici was made a cardinal aged 14; he was later Pope Leo X
[xi] The March of Folly - Tuchman
[xii] Juan had been working in Rome for Rodrigo for some years
[xv] The church did not normally allow the illegitimate to become priests
[xvi] Now Sapienza University of Rome
[xix] At the Court of the Borgia - Burchard
[xx] Now Duke of Gandia following the death of Pedro Luis sometime after 1485
[xxi] Who had previously been engaged to Pedro Luis; the couple had two children
[xxiii] It is not known when Guilia became Rodrigo’s mistress, but at the very latest by November 1493
[xxv] A bishop’s portable folding chair used in church services
[xxvi] At the Court of the Borgia - Burchard