|Portrait of a man believed be Cesare Borgia|
The Loss of a Cardinal
Over the past six years Cesare had been working on his father in his attempts to discard his role as a prince of the church. In August 1498 Rodrigo finally agreed to release Cesare from the cardinalate and his priestly vows. On 14th August Cesare appeared before the sacred college in full regalia, robes he very rarely wore, and asked for his release from his vows.
‘Thus now in God’s church everything is upside down’[i]
wrote one Venetian diarist. Cesare could forge a new career and reputation for himself as the soldier he had always wanted to be.
But to allay Ferdinand and Isabella’s wrath Alexander gave them increased authority over the church in Spain, freeing them to use their Inquisition as they pleased, with tragic consequences for Spanish Jews, Muslims and even suspect Christians. In return Ferdinand and Isabella allowed Rodrigo his choice of nominee for the Archbishopric of Valencia, vacant following Cesare’s resignation. Rodrigo, always looking to further Borgia interests, gave the post to Juan de Borgia the younger.
Following the death of Charles VIII in April 1498, the new king of France Louis XII[ii] applied for an annulment of his marriage to his wife Jeanne[iii]. Louis had his eye on the widowed queen, Anne, Duchess of Brittany; marriage to her would confirm the annexation of Brittany as part of the kingdom of France[iv]. As an inducement to Rodrigo, Louis was moved to bestow on Cesare the title of Duke of Valentinois[v].
Cesare travelled to France with the coveted annulment and a dispensation for Louis to marry Anne[vi]. He arrived;
‘Mounted on a great charger richly harnessed with a robe of parti-coloured red satin and gold brocade and bordered with many pearls. In his bonnet in two rows there were five or six rubies as large as beans…..at the edge of his biretta he also had a large quantity of jewels down to his boots.’[vii]
The French court found the excessive display of wealth ridiculous.
The royal marriage took place on 1st January 1499 with Cesare present. He discussed with Louis the projected invasion of Italy to be supported by the papacy. Cesare had his eye on Carlotta of Aragon as a bride; Carlotta was the daughter of Ferrante of Naples and a ward at Louis’ court.
The projected marriage with Carlotta fell through as the princess had an aversion to Cesare that could not be overcome[viii]. Cesare was already showing the marks of secondary stage of the French disease as it was known in Italy, or syphilis, on his face. Even so he was still very attractive to women; perhaps his reputation put her off.
Cesare stayed at the court at Chinon, almost a hostage. Louis appeared to like Cesare, seeming to enjoy his company and wanting to help him. After all Cesare enjoyed the same bright good nature as his father and sister. Even so, he was urgent to leave knowing that he depended entirely upon his father’s goodwill.
|Chateau de Blois|
Cesare married Charlotte d’Albret; the beautiful daughter of Alain, Count of Graves and Castres. Charlotte’s brother was King John III[ix] of Navarre. The bride was not eager for the match, but was persuaded by Louis, the new queen and her own family. But Rodrigo’s bribe of 200,000 ducats[x] could not be gainsaid.
The couple were married on 10th May 1499 in the queen’s apartments in the chateau of Blois. According to Louis there could be no doubt that the marriage had been consummated; Cesare had ‘broken his lance’ no fewer than eight times on the wedding night.
‘A courier arrived from France………announcing that he [Cesare] had….contracted a marriage to Charlotte d’Albret and that the marriage had been consummated on the Sunday of the same month, 12 May, when he had managed to give her eight proofs of his virility. Another courier arrived at Pentecost, on 19th May, to say that the king had admitted the duke to the Order of St Michael[xi].’[xii]
Rodrigo was overjoyed by the marriage, so much so, that he endorsed Louis’ claim to Milan.
A Falling Out with Spain
|Alexander and possibly Giulia Farnese as the Virgin|
Rodrigo’s alliance with France, on Cesare’s behalf, lost him the support of Spain. When Ferdinand learned of the French-Venetian treaty he recalled his ambassadors from Venice and Rome. Ferdinand took the position that Rodrigo’s election was invalid and that a council must be called to rectify matters. In response
‘Alexander threatened to have him [the Spanish envoy] thrown into the Tiber, and scolded the Spanish King and Queen in insulting terms for their interference.’[xiii]
In an attempt to appease Ferdinand, who was also objecting to the huge amounts of church revenue being used to enrich the Borgia family, Rodrigo restored papal rule in Benevento, removing the duchy from the rule of his young 5 year old grandson Juan.
To address concerns that his children were directing papal policy Rodrigo ordered Lucrezia and Jofré to leave Rome and take up residence in Spoleto, which they duly did on 8th August. Lucrezia was installed as governor of the city. Alfonso was not as biddable as Lucrezia and had left Rome six days earlier to join his father, without Rodrigo’s permission. Six days after his children’s departure Giulia Farnese was reinstalled as Rodrigo’s mistress.
The Fall of Milan
|Gian Giacomo Trivulzio|
Like his predecessor Louis XII had his eye on Milan, to which Louis had a claim through his grandmother Valentina Visconti[xiv]. In February 1499 Louis came to an agreement with Venice to dismember the duchy of Milan.
By early summer Louis had an army on the march en-route to Milan; led by a former Sforza employee, Gian Giacomo Trivulzio, a man who felt he had something to prove. His army was followed more leisurely by Louis, who had not only Cesare but also Cardinal della Rovere in his train.
The Orsini and the Colonna were so concerned about the implications of the French alliance with the papacy that they ceased their vicious squabbling and along with Naples, allied themselves with Milan. Alexander assured the allies that his agreement with Louis was a personal matter to help Cesare find his way in the world.
In early September Ludovico Sforza fled Milan with his two sons and Cardinal Ascanio and joined his brother-in-law Emperor Maximilian, taking with him a fortune in gold and jewels. Trivulzio took possession of the city on 11th September and Louis made his official entrance into Milan in early October.
The After Shock
Louis’s invasion of Italy increased his standing in Europe; Ferdinand of Spain made haste to make protestations of friendship to France[xv]. This, coupled with Louis’ friendship to Cesare and his appreciation of Rodrigo’s help, led Louis to become a patron of the Borgias. This gave Rodrigo a freedom of action that he had not had hitherto.
On 14th October Lucrezia and Alfonso returned to Rome. Just over a year after Lucrezia’s marriage to Alfonso she presented him with an heir, Rodrigo who was born on 1st November. On 11th November Rodrigo was baptised in the Pope Sixtus chapel in St Peter’s Basilica.
‘On arriving at the door of Pope Sixtus’s Chapel, Cervillon gave the child to Don Francisco Borgia[xvi]…..Cardinal Caraffa came to the door, catechized the child, and then had him brought into the chapel….Cardinal Podocathro[xvii] of Capaccio, and the datary, Cardinal Ferrari placed their hands on the child’s head as Godfathers.’
At the Court of the Borgia – Johan Burchard, Folio Society 1990
Lucrezia Borgia – Rachel Erlanger, Michael Joseph 1979
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
The March of Folly – Barbara Tuchman, Cardinal 1990
Niccolo’s Smile – Maurizio Viroli, IB Tauris & Company Ltd 2001
[i] The March of Folly - Tuchman
[iii] Who was incapable of bearing a child due to her heavy disabilities; the couple had been forcibly married by Charles VIII in an attempt to eliminate this cadet branch of the royal family
[vi] Louis was forbidden to marry Anne, the widow of his brother Charles
[vii] Lucrezia Borgia - Erlanger
[xii] The Borgias - Hollingsworth
[xiii] The March of Folly - Tuchman
[xiv] Daughter of Gian Galeazzo Visconti, the first Duke of Milan; Valentina’s two brothers had inherited the title from their father, both dying without issue. Valentina’s marriage contract with the Duke of Orleans stipulated that in failure of male heirs, she would inherit the Visconti dominions. The title was, after a short lived republic, assumed by Francesco, the first of the Sforza dukes
[xv] And as Rodrigo was Louis’ ally, to put aside his grievances about Rodrigo and his family