single portrait of Lucrezia Borgia captures her contradictory nature
more than an allegorical painting by Titian that hangs in the Borghese
Gallery in Rome. The painting shows Lucrezia on one edge of a small
pool, a naked Venus on the other, and a small cupid between them. The
allegory is intended to represent sacred love (Lucrezia) and profane
love (Venus). Such is the historical paradox of Lucrezia Borgia.
the daughter of Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia and his mistress, Vannozza de
Cattanei. By the age of eleven, she had been betrothed twice, but both
times Rodrigo had rescinded the betrothals. After Rodrigo became Pope
Alexander VI, he married her off to Giovanni Sforza, thus establishing
an alliance with that powerful Milanese family. The marriage was by
proxy, and for four months after her marriage, until the arrival of
her new husband in Rome, Lucrezia lived in a handsome palace next to
the Vatican with the Pope's new mistress, Guilia Farnese. (Guilia's
husband was conveniently away in the Pope's service.) The house was
next to the Vatican palace, and Alexander could easily come and go,
visiting his daughter and mistress unobserved. A formal wedding ceremony
was held shortly after Sforza's arrival, with 500 ladies attending the
bride, led by the Pope's mistress. A sumptuous wedding banquet was held,
with a work by the ancient Roman playwright Plautus performed, a comedy
about libertines, mistresses, and pimps. It was a scandalous event,
but not much more opulent than many Renaissance celebrations.
spending two years as the Countess of Pesaro, located in the region
where the Pope had sent his son-in-law on a military expedition, Lucrezia
returned to Rome with her husband. She served as her father's hostess
at diplomatic receptions. Soon, Giovanni Sforza's presence in the papal
court meant nothing, since the Borgias no longer needed the Sforzas.
New political alliances made the link to the Sforza family no longer
of significance to the pope. Lucrezia, informed by her brother Cesare
that Giovanni was to be murdered, warned her husband, and he fled Rome.
This may have been a ploy on the part of Cesare and Lucrezia to drive
her husband away. Lucrezia was delighted to be rid of her boring husband,
and Alexander and Cesare even more delighted with the prospect of arranging
another profitable marriage for Lucrezia. Of course, they first had
to get rid of Giovanni Sforza.
swung into action. He asked Giovanni's uncle, Cardinal Ascanio Sforza,
to get his nephew to agree to a divorce. Giovanni refused, and turned
to others in his powerful Milanese family. They, however, were reluctant
to quarrel with the Pope, and knowingly suggested the defense of Giovanni's
proving his manhood by sleeping with Lucrezia while observed by members
of the Borgia and Sforza families. Giovanni rejected the proposal ---
as his relatives knew he would --- and counterattacked. He accused Lucrezia
of incest with her father and her brothers, Cesare and Giovanni, the
Second Duke of Gandia.
Pope used the only valid argument for annulment, the non-consummation
of the marriage, and he offered his son-in-law all of his daughter's
dowry. The head of the Sforza family threatened to withdraw his protection
if his nephew refused the Pope's offer. Giovanni Sforza had no choice,
and signed a confession of impotence and the documents of annulment
much for husband number one. He was actually quite fortunate to escape
with his life.
the bargaining over the divorce, Lucrezia retired to a nearby convent,
her only communication with her father during her enforced stay being
messages brought by a young chamberlain, Perotto. Six months later,
pregnant from a liaison with Perotto, Lucrezia participated in a ceremony
in which Vatican judges attested that she was intacta, that is, a virgin.
Giovanni Sforza gave sworn testimony to this fact, and the divorce was
discovering his sister's pregnancy, was furious. He made a run at the
young Perotto with drawn sword, stabbing him as he knelt before the
papal throne, splashing Perotto's blood on his father. Perotto survived
the attack, but was thrown into prison. A few days later, Burchard reported
that Perotto "had fallen into the Tiber against his will."
Six days later, Perotto's body was fished out of the river, along with
that of Lucrezia's chambermaid, who, it was believed, had facilitated
child from this liaison was born in secret, and, when he was finally
recognized, was called the infans Romanus. He was named Giovanni, and
is a somewhat mysterious figure in the Borgia history. This child did
not surface until three years after his birth, when Alexander declared
that he was indeed the infans Romanus, the child of Rome, and was the
offspring of Cesare and an unknown woman. This first papal bull was
followed by a second, which acknowledged that the child was the son
of the pope himself, even though the pope would have been sixty-seven
at the time of the child's conception. The purpose of the papal bulls
was to give Alexander the excuse to name the young Giovanni the heir
to the duchy of Nepi, a property important to the Borgia family. This
subterfuge to legitimize the infans Romanus simply led people to assume
that the boy was the child of Lucrezia and Alexander, or of Lucrezia
and Cesare. The historian Potigliotti suggests that Lucrezia insisted
on the two papal bulls because she didn't know which of her two lovers,
her father or her brother, had actually fathered the child. Giovanni
was passed from guardian to guardian, eventually ending up with Lucrezia
in Ferrara as "her half brother." The unfortunate Giovanni
never inherited his titles, and, after a lifetime of serving as a minor
functionary in the courts of the Vatican and France, died relatively
unknown in 1548. The rumor of incest as his origin was begun with Lucrezia's
first husband's attack on his former in-laws, and has persisted to this
day. It may be true, or it may be that he was the offspring of Lucrezia's
indiscretion with Perotto.
that year, Lucrezia was married to the seventeen-year-old Prince of
Aragon, Alfonso, in Naples, allowing Alexander to forge another alliance
with a second important kingdom. Alfonso was the Duke of Bisceglie,
an important principality in the Kingdom of Naples. The second wedding
feast was as sumptuous as the first, and the two seventeen-year-olds
were plainly happy.
was so often the case at that period of history, political allegiances
began to reform, to change, so that ally became adversary. Alfonso,
Duke of Bisceglie, suddenly found himself and his family out of favor,
as Alexander turned his support to the enemies of Naples. While the
Pope assured his son-in-law that he was still in favor --- even giving
the young couple a castle, along with the city and lands of Nepi ---
Alfonso knew that all was not well. For one thing, Alexander had given
the governorship of Spoleto and Foligno, an office usually reserved
for cardinals, to Lucrezia, essentially rendering Alfonso as a non-functioning
consort. Lucrezia, although only nineteen, was not a mere figurehead,
and administered the city well. After a few months, the Pope persuaded
his daughter and her husband to return to Rome, to await the birth of
the couple's first child, who would be named after her father, Rodrigo.
long after, Alfonso, crossing St. Peter's Square, was set upon by a
group of armed men. He was seriously wounded and left for dead, but
brought into the Vatican apartments to be attended by his wife, Lucrezia.
Lucrezia was genuinely distraught, and stayed by her husband's bedside,
fully realizing that her brother, Cesare, was behind the attack. Under
his wife's tender care, Alfonso almost recovered. Unfortunately, he
was visited by his brother-in-law, who ordered Lucrezia, his sister-in-law,
Sancia, and the servants out of the room. According to accounts, Cesare
ordered his principal henchman to strangle Alfonso. Alexander, seeing
his daughter and daughter-in-law fleeing the bedroom in terror, sent
his chamberlains to try to prevent the murder. By the time they arrived,
it was too late. As Burchard reported, "Since Don Alfonso refused
to die of his wounds, he was strangled in his bed."
much for husband number two. He had not been as fortunate as husband
year later, while surveying his new acquisitions resulting from the
defeat of Alfonso's father, Federigo, King of Naples, Alexander left
the administration of the Vatican and the Church in the hands of Lucrezia.
A woman of twenty-one, acting as the head of Christendom, did not shock
the cardinals of the Curia, accustomed as they were to the excesses
of the papacy of Alexander. The Pope was busy amassing money to finance
the military adventures of Cesare, and to obtain a grand dowry for Lucrezia,
whom he hoped to marry off to a third husband, this time, if possible,
made the selection. The Prince and heir to the duchy of Ferrarra ---
a city-state adjacent to Cesare's province of Romagna --- was available.
He was twenty-four, and a childless widower. Lucrezia, just twenty-one,
would be perfect for him. In return for a huge dowry and the repeal
of his papal tax, the Duke of Ferrarra agreed to the marriage. Lucrezia
had her third, and final, husband.
d'Este, the Prince of Ferrara, was a strong silent type, interested
in artillery, music and brothels, and was soon captivated by his new
wife. From this point
on, Lucrezia became a loving wife and admired mother.
for a few things. While she pleased her husband and had four children
by him, she carried on a romance with the poet Pietro Bembo. Whether
it was a physical affair or a platonic romance is not clear, but it
temporarily aroused the suspicions of her husband. After Bembo left
Ferrara for Venice, his letters to Lucrezia became more formal, and,
by 1505, the association was over. Curiously, her relationship with
Bembo conferred upon her an artistic sensibility that increased her
reputation in Ferrara.
sided with her brother in his various military adventures, and when
Cesare died, she was devastated. She set about establishing protection
for Rodrigo, her son by her second husband, and "her brother,"
the mysterious Giovanni, infans Romanus. Against her husband's wishes,
she brought them to Ferrara, where they joined the teeming household.
Eventually, the two young boys were sent to Isabella of Aragon, who
promised to see to their education. Rodrigo died in 1512, at the age
of thirteen, and Lucrezia retired in grief to a convent. After a time,
she returned to her husband.
giving birth to her fifth child while in Ferrara, who died shortly after
being born, Lucrezia contracted puerperal fever, and died on June 24,
1519. She was not quite thirty-nine years old.
Lucrezia, accused of participating in the murders carried out by her
father and brother, accused of incest with either her father or brother
(or both), died a pious and respected consort of the Duke of Ferrara.
One of her sons, Ercole, succeeded his father as Duke, and another,
Ippolito, became a cardinal. Both were known for their love of luxury,
and, as such, carried on the Borgia tradition of material excess.
Borgia was born in April 1480, the daughter of Rodrigo Borgia, who later
became pope Alexander VI. She was married, at the age of 13, to Giovanni
Sforza from Pesaro and then again, after the annulment of that first
wedding, to Alfonso d'Aragona, Duke of Bisceglie when she was 18. Her
second husband was murdered two years later by Lucretia's brother, Cesare
Borgia, the famous Valentino. Between the two weddings, she embarked
on a love affair with Pedro Calderon, a young papal legate. This relationship
was dramatically terminated by her family: Pedro was first stabbed and
later found dead in the Tiber with his hands and legs tied.
new wedding plans of the Borgias, Lucretia was married to Alphonse d'Este,
the son of Ercole I, duke of Ferrara, after lengthy negotiations on
her dowry. Accompanied by a large cortege, Lucretia left Rome and entered
Ferrara on February 2, 1502. She lived in the Este city for seventeen
years and her conduct was more subdued than it had been in Rome. Alphonse,
asked to meet with her before the marriage, fearing a woman who had
provoked so much gossip in her lifetime, a request which was highly
unusual for the time. She was a prolific mother (she bore seven children
between 1505 and 1519), prudent and patient with the Duke Ercole I-who
was always quick to lay claim to her dowry or to cut the expenses of
her retinue-and was highly esteemed for her religious devotion, her
spiritual retreats and her penitential devotions. During her stay in
Ferrara, she established relationships with famous dukes and princes,
prominent artists and men of letters of her time, particularly Pietro
Bembo, with whom she kept a long and intense correspondence.
Lucretia died in childbirth on June 24, 1519.Cesare's younger sister
Lucrezia was supposedly one of the most beautiful women of her time.
She was first married in 1493, when she was only thirteen years old,
to Giovanni Sforza. This marriage was annulled (cancelled) in 1497.
Next, only a year later, she married Alfonso, Duke of Bisceglie. He
was the husband Cesare is thought to have had killed.
There was much talk of scandal
at this time. Lucrezia's first husband had rumoured that the Borgias
were an incestuous family. It was also known that Lucrezia had attended
orgies in the Vatican. In any case, Lucrezia "disappeared"
for the public eye for a while and in 1501 she was seen with a small
child. This young boy was first claimed as the son of Cesare and later
as Pope Alexandre's son.
third marriage was to Alfonso d'Este. Lucrezia went to the court of
Ferrara with her husband. All of her marriages had been arranged for
political reasons. She was only freed from being used as a political
pawn when her father died. She lived quietly during the last few years
of her life and became very religious. She was thirty nine when she