|Borgia coat of arms|
Rumours AboundThe stories about Borgia depravity and of the orgies held in the Vatican may have been just that, stories and many seem to have circulated after the death of Rodrigo. There is evidence to show that famous orgy scenes from Burchard may have been inserted at a later date[i]. It is highly possible that this was at the orders of Rodrigo’s successor to the papacy, Cardinal della Rovere.
One Venetian envoy informed the Senate in Venice that Rodrigo led an orderly life and did not do what had been said (si dice) of him. Alexander was well aware of the slanders but, unlike Cesare and others before and after him, rarely attempted to enforce his own version of events. In late January 1502 action was taken while Rodrigo was out of the city;
‘The brother of Don Giovanni Lorenzi was arrested on the charge of having been furnished with letters written in Greek by Don Giovanni against the pope and Don Cesare Borgia, and of having transcribed them into Latin for the Venetians.’[ii]
The Signoria requested Don Lorenzi’s return on 31st January but Rodrigo politely declined their request; Don Lorenzi had been strangled and thrown in the Tiber, retribution possibly being ordered by Cesare.
The Despoliation of the Kingdom of Naples
Rodrigo ordered that all assistance was to be given to the French army victuallers. The French had been taking what they wanted rather than paying for it making them exceedingly unpopular. The French left Rome on 29th 1501 June and papal troops followed on 3rd July; on 4th August the French commander, Yves d’Aubigny entered Naples by agreement with Frederick;
‘The French commander was to take possession of all the fortresses of Naples, whilst King Federigo was to be allowed to reside in Ischia for six months, during which time he could defend himself if he received arms and men from anyone to help him.’[iii]
Frederick was then allowed to retire to Anjou where he spent the last three years of his life peacefully[iv].
In the meantime Rodrigo had been touring the lands formerly owned by the Colonna family visiting Sermoneta, Genazzano and Frascati. He had been accompanied by Cardinals Serra[v], Ludovico and Francesco Borgia. During his absence Lucrezia had Rodrigo’s authority to deal his correspondence.
On 31st December 1501 Lucrezia was wed again, this time to Alfonso d’Esté, eldest son of the Duke of Ferrara. The negotiations with Duke Ercole had been lengthy; Lucrezia had refused at least one suitor on her return to Rome and had shut herself up in a convent.
Rodrigo paid out 100,000 gold ducats[vi] to the bridegroom’s brothers as part of Lucrezia’s dowry; a further 75,000 ducats[vii] was spent on clothes, jewels, silver and other goods and Rodrigo forced his cardinals to agree to a lowering of Ferrara’s tribute to the church.
‘The pope held a secret consistory on the Friday, and in it, with the consent of all the cardinal’s present, he remitted the annual payment of four thousand ducats[viii] made by the Duke of Ferrara to the Apostolic Chamber, cancelling it for the duke and his successors to the third generation, leaving only a nominal sum of one hundred ducats[ix] to be paid each year.’[x]
The marriage agreement was signed at the Vatican on 26th August; the dickering over the dowry between Rodrigo and Duke Ercole had been ongoing since December.
The bridegroom had only been persuaded to marry a woman whose reputation was greatly sullied[xi], by being informed that if Alfonso failed to step up to the mark his father would have to marry Lucrezia.
On 24th January 1502, at a secret consistory Cardinal da Costa and the proctor for Cardinal della Rovere both resigned the perpetual administration of the church in Bologna. Rodrigo removed the two fortresses of Cento and Pieve di Cento and added them to Lucrezia’s dowry. Cardinal Giovanni Stefano Ferrero[xii] was then made Bishop of Bologna.
Lucrezia had to leave her small son Rodrigo in Rome when she left for Ferrara; a separation that was very painful for the pair of them and Lucrezia apparently was never reconciled to the loss of her child. She frequently wrote to his guardians and made attempts to see her son after her departure from Rome. The two year old Rodrigo was given an allowance of 15,000 ducats[xiii].
The Fall of Urbino
By late spring Cesare was ready for a third campaign to tighten his grip on the Romagna. He withdrew 54,000 ducats[xiv] from the papal treasury in May to pay his troops; the papal treasury paid out 3,320 ducats[xv] on gunpowder for the months May to July.
On 4th June the city of Arezzo rebelled against its Florentine overlords. The town was immediately occupied by Cesare’s captain Vitellozzo Vitelli; he and his men were welcomed by the citizens. Louis was deeply unimpressed and sent unequivocal orders for Vitelli and his men to pull out of Arezzo. Without consulting Cesare, Vitelli refused.
|Rocca del Borgia, Camerino|
On 5th June Rodrigo excommunicated Giulio Cesare Varano[xvi], the Lord of Camerino, accusing him of giving help to the church’s enemies. Varano had also failed to pay his annual tribute to the Vatican and besides was deeply unpopular with his people.
On 13th June Cesare finally left Rome with an army of 8,000 men and artillery. He asked permission to cross Urbino lands on his way north. He left behind him two dead; the Lord of Faenza and his half-brother were found in the Tiber, hands and feet both bound. There was no-one legally positioned to contest Cesare’s control of Faenza.
|Palazzo Ducale, Urbino|
On 21st June 1502 instead of passing through the lands of the Montefeltre, Cesare took Urbino forcing the Duke to flee.
‘Duke Cesare……asked Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, for the loan of his infantry and artillery, which he was given. So Duke Cesare , escorted by some of his cavalry went immediately to the fortress and the contract was signed. One of the Duke of Urbino’s secretaries then advised his master to flee, and Duke Cesare seized the fortress.’[xvii]
The Duke took refuge with his brother-in-law Duke Ercole of Ferrara at Monisterolo, he then travelled on to Mantua to join his wife. Cesare had the treasures of Urbino packed up and taken to his base at Cesena, commanded by his captain Ramiro de Lorqua[xviii]. Cesare claimed that Duke Guidobaldo was assisting the excommunicated Varano of Camerino.
n late June
1502 Cesare was to meet a man upon whom he made a deep and lasting impression, Niccolo Machiavelli who was acting as a negotiator for
the city of Florence over the vexed question of Arezzo. He accompanied the Bishop of Volterra, Francesco Soderini, to Urbino. Cesare told the envoys;
‘I know your city is not well-minded towards me but would abandon me like an assassin. If you refuse me for a friend you shall know me for an enemy.’[xix]
The envoys requested that Cesare’s troops withdraw from Arezzo; Machiavelli was fascinated by Cesare and reported;
‘This Duke is so enterprising that nothing is too great to be discounted by him. For the sake of glory and the enlarging of his dominions, he deprives himself of rest, yielding to no fatigue, no danger….and he has constant good luck.’[xx]
Cesare did not care for the city’s republic form of government and demanded either that it be changed, or that they pay him the promised 36,000 ducats. In return Soderini and Machiavelli played their trump card, the promise from Louis XII to protect the Florence from any attack.
Cesare was not intimidated by the threat and told the two envoys;
‘I know better than you what the king has in mind; you will be deceived.’[xxi]
The following day two of his henchmen threatened the envoys again with an implicit promise to attack Florence. The Florentine envoys returned home at the end of June; Machiavelli rode ahead of Soderini to request for further instructions. In fact Cesare was looking for an alliance with the city, but in view of Florentine intransigence he created another option for himself.
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
Leonardo da Vinci – Charles Nicholl, Penguin Books 2005
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] They show evidence of clumsy inaccuracies of a kind that Burchard normally did not make
[ii] At the Court of the Borgia - Burchard
[iii] At the Court of the Borgia - Burchard
[v] Tutor to Giovanni Borgia
[x] At the Court of the Borgia - Burchard
[xi] There were plenty of rumours to the effect that Lucrezia had slept with her brothers
[xii] His father was Louis XII’s treasurer
[xvii] The Borgias – Hollingsworth
[xviii] A veteran of the Reconquista in Spain, he was a long time associate of Cesare’s
[xix] Leonardo da Vinci - Nicholl
[xxi] Niccolo’s Smile - Viroli