|Lucrezia to left and Alfonso to right|
Lucrezia’s husband hated his brother-in-law and his influence over Lucrezia; Cesare returned the compliment. The political reasons behind the marriage to the Duke of Bisceglie had vanished and Alfonso was now a non-person in the family power struggles.
On 15th July 1500 Alfonso was returning from a dinner engagement at the Vatican, where Lucrezia was nursing a convalescent Rodrigo[i] along with her sister-in-law Sancha. Alfonso was on his way home when he and his two men were set upon; Alfonso was beaten unconscious by a group of armed men.
Alfonso was carried back, by his men, to the Vatican where Rodrigo arranged for 16 soldiers to be stationed outside his sickroom. Cesare announced that anyone found carrying arms in the area would be summarily executed. Lucrezia and Sancha stayed with Alfonso night and day trying to ward off further assassination attempts. They even prepared his food, fearing poison.
Alfonso was beginning to recover from his injuries, but on 18th August;
‘He [Alfonso] was strangled in his bed at about eleven o’clock, and later on that same evening, his body was carried to the basilica of Saint Peter……..the doctors who had attended the dead man were seized and sent to the Castel Sant’Angelo…..they were soon released for they were innocent, and the man who had ordered the deed was well known.’[ii]
All Rome believed that Cesare had masterminded the attacks, jealous of the attention Lucrezia bestowed upon Alfonso. A letter from Alfonso’s tutor named the killer as Michelotto Corella , the most feared and hated of all Cesare’s henchmen. Michelotto had been a friend of Cesare’s since the pair were children and was known as ‘Valentino’s executioner’.
|Castello Borgia, Nepi|
After Alfonso’s death Lucrezia left Rome to mourn her husband at Nepi, where she stayed for four months as Cesare paraded round Rome dressed in black.
‘The pope is in bad humour, possibly because of what happened, possibly because of the King of Naples, or possibly because his daughter is in despair’.[iii]
wrote Gian Lucido Cattanei, a correspondent of Isabella d’Esté[iv], soon to become Lucrezia’s sister-in-law. The only visitor that Lucrezia received at Nepi was Cesare; it would seem that she did not share Roman certainties about her husband’s killer.
Back to War
Rodrigo spent much of the autumn of 1500 raising funds for Cesare; he sold 13 cardinal’s hats, raising 160,000 ducats[v]. A further 80 posts were established in the Curia and sold off for 780 ducats each[vi]. And the monies from the pilgrim’s chest were probably also diverted into Cesare’s funds.
It is also possible that some, if not all, of a tithing that Rodrigo pressed upon the cardinals, ostensibly to fight the infidel who had taken the Venetian port of Modon[vii] in the Adriatic, was subverted to Cesare’s war chest. The fortune of Cardinal Giovanni Michele, who died suddenly after two days violent illness, was seized. He was popularly believed to have been poisoned by Cesare for his money.
Cesare rode out from Rome n 2nd October at the head of 10,000 men.
‘Duke Cesare Valentino, son of Pope Alexander VI, has……taken Rimini and the Lord of Rimini has fled, and they have taken Cesena and Pesaro….and because of this the Bolognese are taking up their arms and Giovanni Bentivoglio has surrounded himself with a large armed guard for fear of being driven out of Bologna.’[viii]
On 11th November 1500 Louis of France and Ferdinand of Spain signed the Treaty of Granada, dividing the Kingdom of Naples between their two countries and Venice. This document invited Spain to join France in the dismemberment of an Italian state.
Rodrigo was to give the treaty his seal of approval in June 1501 when he announced that King Frederick was stripped of his authority and his kingdom and that the throne was now given to Louis XII, king of France. The King of Spain was invested with the Duchy of Calabria.
Campaigning in the Romagna
Following the fall of Rimini Cesare retired to spend the winter in Cesena to plan the attack on Faenza, whose ruler Astorre III Manfredi had no intention of capitulating peacefully. January saw French troops march to Faenza to assist Cesare in his siege of the city. En route the French passed through Reggio doing much damage to the surrounding countryside and refusing to pay for their food.
In February the beautiful Dorotea Caracciola, lady in waiting to the Duchess of Urbino Elizabetta Gonzaga, was abducted en route to her wedding, by 20 riders in Cesare’s lands.
The Duke of Urbino asked Cesare to have her released
but Cesare denied all knowledge.
|Duke of Urbino|
Faenza finally fell in April and its Lord was taken to the Castel Sant’Angelo where he mysteriously died the following year[ix]. The Castel Bolognese fell a few days later and Cesare moved his troops on to Capua which he sacked in July when one of its citizens admitted Cesare’s troops into the town.
Rodrigo made Cesare Duke of the Romagna in May; he ordered his son to return to Rome. Cesare complied, but came the indirect route, via Florence. His march on Florence stopped ten miles out of the city where the Florentine emissaries met him with a proposal. They offered to hire Cesare and his troops, many of whom were French[x], for the sum of 36,000 ducats per annum[xi] over a three year period.
Cesare quickly accepted as it had never been his intention to besiege Florence and come under attack from his patron. He then moved on and on 4th June prepared to besiege Piombino. Before he could add to his list of conquests Cesare was ordered by Louis to come to the assistance of the French in the conquest of Naples. He left Vitellozzo Vitelli, one of Italy’s first experts in the use of artillery, in charge of the siege of Piombino.
‘He [Cesare] is displeased and uncertain because his affairs are held in the air. If the French win, they will not take him into account; if they lose and others defeat the French he will be in a bad way’[xii]
wrote one correspondent who spoke to Cesare when he was in Rome.
Cesare’s was depressed not only by his dependence on the fickle Louis and this was heightened by his syphilis which seems to have flared up in July 1501. He was suffering from pains in the groin and had to summons two doctors to attend him. Cesare was now wearing a mask, to hide the pustules on his face, most of the time and conducted most of his business at night.
Cesare’s upside down hours exasperated Rodrigo when Cesare lived at the Vatican; with him resided a small boy believed to have been his son, Giovanni[xiii]. Rumour also referred to Lucrezia and Rodrigo as Giovanni’s parents. Others believed that Giulia Farnese was Giovanni’s mother. On 18th September Giovanni was made Duke of Nepi; at the same time his nephew, Lucrezia and Alfonso’s son Rodrigo was made Duke of Sermonetta.
At the Court of the Borgia – Johan Burchard, Folio Society 1990
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
The March of Folly – Barbara Tuchman, Cardinal 1990
[i] He suffered from fainting fits, and this one had been particularly bad
[ii] At the Court of the Borgia - Burchard
[iii] Lucrezia Borgia - Erlanger
[vii] Now Methoni in Greece
[viii] The Borgias - Hollingsworth
[ix] It is assumed that Cesare ordered his death
[x] Louis had promised to protect Florence, but the attack on Naples was taking all his attention
[xii] Lucrezia Borgia - Erlanger
[xiii] Known as the Infans Romanus in a bull issued by Rodrigo on 1st September 1501, the bull stated that Cesare was the child’s father and failed to name the mother