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Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia

Cesare Borgia

Portrait of Cesare Borgia by Altobello Melone

In 1475 Rodrigo Borgia was a cardinal. He already had four children by a selection of mistresses and Cesare was the first of four others he would father by Vannozza Catanei. Cesare was Rodrigo's favourite son. He even persuaded Pope Sixtus IV to pronounce Cesare legitimate so that he could hold an office in the Church. When Roderigo was elected as Pope Alexandre VI in 1492, Cesare became an archbishop and was made a cardinal one year later. He was also given the title of Duke and placed in charge of the Church armies.

Cesare was hardly cardinal material. He enjoyed hunting, wearing fashionable clothes and having affairs. He became extremely jealous of his younger brother, Juan, when he was given the title of Duke of Gandia. Cesare considered that this title should have been his. In 1497 Juan was killed under mysterious circumstances. Three years later Cesare was involved in the murder of his brother-in-law, Alfonso.

In 1498 Cesare joined the forces of the King of Navarre. He married the king's sister, Charlotte d'Albret. King Louis XII of France gave him the title Duke of Valentinois. Everything seemed to be going very well for him until his father died in 1502. Cesare had made many enemies, amongst them the new Pope Julius II. Cesare lost all of his Church titles and, on returning to Italy, he was arrested by the Spanish ambassador and spent two years in a Spanish prison. He finally escaped and rejoined the King of Navarre but he was killed in battle in 1507. He was only thirty two years old when he died.

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.

Lucrezia Borgia

Portrait thought to be of Lucrezia Borgia (artist unknown)

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.

Her 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 died.

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© Shirley Burchill, Nigel Hughes, Richard Gale, Peter Price and Keith Woodall 2014

Footnote : As far as the Open Door team can ascertain the images shown on this page are in the Public Domain.