Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia – Brother and Sister of History’s most vilified family, Samantha Morris

Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia – Brother and Sister of History’s most vilified family, Samantha Morris

The stated aim of this book is to restore the reputation of the most famous of the Borgias, the brother and sister Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia. Their lives have become notorious for corruption, with tales of incest, poison, murder and betrayal swirling around them. The aim of this book is to examine the evidence for their actual lives, and put it in the context of the complex period of the Italian Wars, where many of their proven actions weren’t that unusual.

We begin with a general background of the Borgia family, from their fairly obscure origins in Spain to their rise to the papacy, providing two Popes in the second half of the fifteenth century – the only none Italian popes from that period still acknowledged by the Catholic Church. We then move on to a look at Rodrigo Borgia’s family life and children and his election as Pope Alexander VI, the point at which his children suddenly became major players in Italian politics, Lucrezia as a potential wide and Cesare first as a Cardinal and then as a general.

The case for Lucrezia Borgia is rather stronger than that for Cesare. Almost all of the evidence for the more scandalous stories associated with Lucrezia come from hostile rumours, mainly spread by the family’s political enemies. The last stage of her life, as the wife of Alfonso d’Este actually saw her become a respected and trusted member of the ruling family of Ferrara, often left in charge of the city when her husband was absent. There is some evidence of affairs, or at least of romances, but this wasn’t unusual for the period.

In contrast many of the accustations levelled against Cesare are very well documented (apart from those associated with his relationship with his sister). There is no real doubt that he murdered Lucrezia’s second husband, Alfonso, duke of Bisceglie. His military campaigns saw him turn against many of his own allies, perhaps most famously when he arrested and executed three of his leading condottiere at Singigallia. His attitude to warfare and politics was so unusual and so noteworthy that it attracted the attention of Machiavelli, who put a great deal of effort into justifying Cesare’s behaviour. I’m also not convinced by the idea that only Cesare’s being seriously ill when his father Pope Alexander died prevented him from securing control of his duchy of the Romagna. His claim to this area was so tightly connected to his father’s control of the church that I find it hard to imagine it surviving for any length of time under any strong pope.

Overall I found this a very entertaining and generally convincing look at the lives and times of one of the most infamous families in European history, key figures in the renaissance and the early Italian Wars.

1 – The Rise of the Borgias: A Background
2 – The Borgia Bastards
3 – The Papal Conclave
4 – The Cardinal and the Duchess
5 – ‘The Duke of Gandia is Dead’
6 – Throwing off the Crimson
7 – The Bull and the Tigress
8 – The Third Marriage
10 – Machiavelli’s Prince
11 – The Tide Turns
12 – Aut Caesar Aut Nihil
13 – ‘The more I try to submit myself to God, the more he sends to try me’
14 – War and Tragedy
15 – Endings
16 – Cesare and Lucrezia in Modern Day Media
17 - Epilogue

Author: Samantha Morris
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 182
Publisher: Pen & Sword History
Year: 2020

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