1503 was to be a momentous year for the Borgia family; Lucrezia began a long affair with her brother-in-law Francesco II Gonzaga, Marquess of Mantua[i]. She also had an affair with the poet Pietro Bembo. For Cesare life was to be far more exciting.
The 1st January 1503 was the last day of life for the traitors Euffreducci & Vitelli, both garrotted by Michelotto. Later that day Cesare marched his troops out of Senigallia and accompanying them were three of the Orsini, Paolo, Roberto and the young Francesco, Duke of Gravina. Paolo’s young son Fabio managed to escape.
The three Orsini were in chains and their kin in Rome were being rounded up by Rodrigo’s troops. Cardinal Orsini was arrested on 3rd January;
|Torre di Nona|
‘The cardinal rode to the Vatican….He himself entered the Sala del Pappagallo, only to find himself surrounded by armed men, and in great fear was escorted to the Bishop of Carinola’s apartment at the prison of the Torre di Nona[ii].’[iii]
The Archbishop of Florence Rinaldo Orsini was arrested later in the day along with Jacopo di Santa Croce and Bernardino Orsini, the Abbot of Alviano.
Attacks and Counter-attacks
Within three days of leaving Senigallia Cesare was master of the Vitelli stronghold Città di Castello along with the Euffreducci town of Fermo. Baglioni fled Perugia which fell uncontested into Cesare’s hands.
Meanwhile the Orsini family had rallied and from a number of family strongholds planned a counter-offensive against Rome. The men that Cesare left in the city turned the Orsini attack back at the Ponte Nomentano and the Orsini withdrew, taking with them Cardinal Ippolito d’Esté, who had recently added Cesare’s mistress Fiametta and Joffré’s wife Sancha to his long list of conquests. He left;
‘To avoid the anger of Duke Cesare….the cardinal was having an affair with the princess [Sancha] who was married to Cesare’s brother and that the duke himself was also having an affair with this woman.’[iv]
A frightened Rodrigo demanded the return of Cesare’s army to Rome.
On 18th, as his troops entered the foothills of northern Tuscany, Cesare had Paolo and Francesco strangled by Michelotto. At the same time he released Roberto Orsini for reasons unknown. Cesare signed an alliance with the Bentivoglio of Bologna on 20th January. Three days later the news reached Rome that Cesare’s troops had taken Chiusi, Pienza, Sarteano and San Quirico d’Orcia.
Outside Siena Cesare’s men prepared to besiege the city; Cesare offered the local tyrant Pandolfo Petrucci free passage out of the city. But when Petrucci left he was wily enough to beware Cesare’s offer and escaped to take refuge in Lucca. Cesare and his men turned towards Rome, stopping to regroup at Viterbo.
A Family Quarrel
A breach appeared in the family; Rodrigo who wanted to turn the papal troops against the last few remaining Orsini strongholds at Bracciano, Ceri[v], Cerveteri and Pitigliano. Cesare disagreed, believing that such attacks could turn friends into enemies. Louis regarded the Orsini lords of Bracciano and Pitigliano[vi] as friends, while Venice employed Niccolò Orsini as a condotta.
On 7th February Rodrigo declared the Orsini rebels against the church[vii] and despatched artillery to besiege Bracciano. When Cesare objected Rodrigo threatened his son with the loss of all his fiefs. Reluctantly Cesare ordered his men into the fray, but chose the less well defended Ceri to attack.
Cesare returned to Rome in time to enjoy the pre-Lent carnival and spent much time indulging in carnal pursuits.
The 15th February saw the Venetian ambassador reporting that Cardinal Orsini had become delirious; he was dead by 22nd, possibly poisoned, as rumour had it, by Cesare or Rodrigo. Rodrigo informed his cardinals that Cardinal Orsini had offered 25,000 ducats[viii] in return for his freedom; his reply had been
‘To urge the cardinal to be of good spirits and to take care only for his health. He [Rodrigo] had told him that all other matters would be dealt with as soon as he was strong again. All the doctors who could provide the cardinal with the best attention for his recovery had been sent to him.’[ix]The Balance of Power Tips
In late February Pisa offered to make the city subject to Cesare in return for assistance in its fight to free itself from the overlordship of Florence. Louis, worried that Cesare would become too powerful, set up a league between of Florence, Lucca, Bologna and Siena. He made the cities his allies and wards and therefore safe from Cesare’s roving eyes. This only served to exacerbate the differences between Rodrigo and his son.
On 6th April, following mounting threats from his father, Cesare left the fleshpots of Rome and made his way to Ceri. En route he was met by the news that Giulio Orsini had surrendered the town, the defences having been battered to bits by Cesare’s artillery. Giulio had received a letter from Louis urging him to give up. Giulio agreed to give up the family possessions nearest Rome and he and his family were allowed safe passage to Niccolo Orsini’s base at Pitigliano.
|Cordoba after the battle|
Louis was worried about the situation in Naples; his accord with the Spanish was breaking down and clashes between the two armies were increasing along the agreed borders of their territories. By April the situation was becoming dire and the 28th April 1503 saw the French and Spanish armies fight it out at the Battle of Cerignola; the Spanish, led by Gonzalo de Cordoba, fought a larger French army and won.
Dreaming of Naples
Rodrigo did not want the Spanish to have a foothold on the Italian peninsula. He was not on good terms with King Ferdinand and Cesare’s hold on power in the Romagna was underwritten by the French. To help fund Cesare’s military endeavours on 31st May Rodrigo created another nine cardinals[x]; the Venetian ambassador calculated;
|Louis de la Tremoille|
‘All paid generously for their titles…..120,000 to 130,000[xi] ducats; and if we add the 64,000 ducats raised from the sale of posts in the Curia, and the legacy of Cardinal Michiel[xii], we have a large sum…Pope Alexander shows us that a pope’s income can be as high as he wants.’[xiii]
Louis’ hunger for Naples was undiminished and, despite his losses in April, he created a new army in Parma under the leadership of Louis de la Trémoille. To win the prize he coveted Louis estimated that he needed Borgia assistance and now he found the Borgias demanding a heavy price for their involvement. The price was too high and ended with an uneasy neutrality; the Spanish took Naples in mid-May, replacing France as the dominant power in Europe.
Death of a Pater Familias
The weather in Rome that summer was unseasonably hot and saw an outbreak of malaria. Rome had a new governor – Michelotto, who used his position to extort monies from wealthy Spanish citizens, accusing them of being marrani[xiv]. He also forced Jews to pay for protection from harassment.
Rodrigo’s fifty year old (and fat) nephew Cardinal Juan Borgia died on 5th August; he was sick with syphilis but it was believed that he died from a fever. The same day Rodrigo and Cesare attended a party given by Adriano Castelli da Corneto, a one-time secretary of Rodrigo’s.
|Death of St Sebastien, detail from Borgia apartments in the Vatican|
On 7th the Venetian ambassador paid a visit to Rodrigo and found him enveloped in a shawl, despite the overwhelming heat. On 11th August Castelli fell ill; the following day Rodrigo rose. After saying mass he took breakfast and then retired to bed after vomiting. Cesare, who was about to leave Rome, fell sick about the same time. He managed to return to his quarters before collapsing.
‘Fourteen ounces of blood were taken from him [Rodrigo] three days later and tertiary fever[xv] set in. Early on August 17th he was given some medicine, but he worsened and at about six o’clock, on the following morning, he made his confession…..he expired in the presence of the datary, the bishop [of Carinola] and the attendants standing by.’[xvi]
Burchard informs us that Cesare then sent Michelotto to secure the pope’s apartments; his men seized all the silver and two coffers containing 100,000 ducats[xvii].
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
A Renaissance Tapestry – Kate Simon, Harrap 1988
The March of Folly – Barbara Tuchman, Cardinal 1990
Niccolo’s Smile – Maurizio Viroli, IB Tauris & Company Ltd 2001
[i] The passionate affair ended when Francesco contracted syphilis
[ii] Formerly an Orsini stronghold and at this time used as a papal prison
[iii] At the Court of the Borgia - Burchard
[iv] The Borgias - Hollingsworth
[vii] Thereby incurring automatic excommunication
[ix] At the Court of the Borgia - Burchard
[x] Giving him 70% of the college
[xi] The value of £184,000 0s 0d in Income or Wealth , in 1503 there are three choices. In 2013 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £119,700,000.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £3,425,000,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £47,780,000,000.00 www.measuringworth.com
[xii] A nephew of Pope Paul II and a prisoner in Castel Sant’Angelo who died after two days of violent vomiting
[xiii] The Borgias - Hollingsworth
[xiv] Muslims claiming to have converted to Christianity
[xvi] At the Court of the Borgia - Burchard