Lucretia Borgia - According to Original Documents and Correspondence of Her Day
by Ferdinand Gregorovius
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First published New York 1904 Reissued 1968 by Benjamin Blom, Inc. 10452

Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 68-20226

Manufactured in the United States of America


MY HONORED DUKE: I am induced to dedicate this work to you by the historical circumstances of which it treats and also by personal considerations.

In it you will behold the founders of your ancient and illustrious family. The Borgias were mortal enemies of the Gaetani, who narrowly escaped the fate prepared for them by Alexander VI and his terrible son. Beautiful Sermoneta and all the great fiefs in the Maremma fell into the maw of the Borgias, and your ancestors either found death at their hands or were driven into exile. Donna Lucretia became mistress of Sermoneta, and eventually her son, Rodrigo of Aragon, inherited the estates of the Gaetani.

Centuries have passed, and a beautiful and unfortunate woman may be forgiven for this confiscation of the appanages of your house. Moreover, it was not long before your family was reinstated in its rights by a bull of Julius II, which is now preserved—a precious jewel—in your family archives. To your house has descended the fame of its founders, but to yourself is due the position which the Gaetani now again enjoy.

The survival of historical tradition in things and men exercises an indescribable charm on every student of civilization. To recognize in the ancient and still nourishing families of modern Rome the descendants of the great personalities of other times, and to enjoy daily intercourse with them, made a profound impression on me. The Colonna, the Orsini, and the Gaetani are my friends, and all afforded me the greatest assistance. These families long ago vanished from the stage of Roman history, but the day came, illustrious Duke, when you were to make a place again for your ancient race in the history of the Imperial City; the day when—the temporal power of the popes having passed away, a power which had endured a thousand years—you carried to King Victor Emmanuel in Florence the declaration of allegiance of the Roman populace. This episode, marking the beginning of a new era for the city, will live, together with your name, in the annals of the Gaetani, and will preserve it forever in the memory of the Romans.


ROME, March 9, 1874.









































































Lucretia Borgia, from a portrait attributed to Dosso Dossi Frontispiece

Trajan's Forum, Rome 16

Church of S. Maria del Popolo, Rome 20

Vittoria Colonna 30

The Farnese Palace, Rome 36

Alexander VI 44

Church of Ara Coeli, Rome 58

Tasso 82

Charles VIII 88

Savonarola 94

Macchiavelli 100

Caesar Borgia 148

Guicciardini 176

Ercole d'Este, Duke of Ferrara 206

Castle of S. Angelo, Rome 210

Ariosto 248

Castle Vecchio, Ferrara 270

Benvenuto Garofalo 278

Facsimile of a letter from Alexander VI to Lucretia 281

Cardinal Bembo 290

Julius II 298

Facsimile of a letter from Lucretia to Marquis Gonzaga 301

Alfonso d'Este, Duke of Ferrara 304

Aldo Manuzio 328

Leo X 338

Lucretia Borgia, after a painting in the Musee de Nimes 360


Lucretia Borgia is the most unfortunate woman in modern history. Is this because she was guilty of the most hideous crimes, or is it simply because she has been unjustly condemned by the world to bear its curse? The question has never been answered. Mankind is ever ready to discover the personification of human virtues and human vices in certain typical characters found in history and fable.

The Borgias will never cease to fascinate the historian and the psychologist. An intelligent friend of mine once asked me why it was that everything about Alexander VI, Caesar, and Lucretia Borgia, every little fact regarding their lives, every newly discovered letter of any of them, aroused our interest much more than did anything similar concerning other and vastly more important historic characters. I know of no better explanation than the following: the Borgias had for background the Christian Church; they made their first appearance issuing from it; they used it for their advancement; and the sharp contrast of their conduct with the holy state makes them appear altogether fiendish. The Borgias are a satire on a great form or phase of religion, debasing and destroying it. They stand on high pedestals, and from their presence radiates the light of the Christian ideal. In this form we behold and recognize them. We view their acts through a medium which is permeated with religious ideas. Without this, and placed on a purely secular stage, the Borgias would have fallen into a position much less conspicuous than that of many other men, and would soon have ceased to be anything more than representatives of a large species.

We possess the history of Alexander VI and Caesar, but of Lucretia Borgia we have little more than a legend, according to which she is a fury, the poison in one hand, the poignard in the other; and yet this baneful personality possessed all the charms and graces.

Victor Hugo painted her as a moral monster, in which form she still treads the operatic stage, and this is the conception which mankind in general have of her. The lover of real poetry regards this romanticist's terrible drama of Lucretia Borgia as a grotesque manifestation of the art, while the historian laughs at it; the poet, however, may excuse himself on the ground of his ignorance, and of his belief in a myth which had been current since the publication of Guicciardini's history.

Roscoe, doubting the truth of this legend, endeavored to disprove it, and his apology for Lucretia was highly gratifying to the patriotic Italians. To it is due the reaction which has recently set in against this conception of her. The Lucretia legend may be analyzed most satisfactorily and scientifically where documents and mementos of her are most numerous; namely, in Rome, Ferrara, and Modena, where the archives of the Este family are kept, and in Mantua, where those of the Gonzaga are preserved. Occasional publications show that the interesting question still lives and remains unanswered.

The history of the Borgias was taken up again by Domenico Cerri in his work, Borgia ossia Alessandro VI, Papa e suoi contemporanei, Turin, 1858. The following year Bernardo Gatti, of Milan, published Lucretia's letters to Bembo. In 1866 Marquis G. Campori, of Modena, printed an essay entitled Una vittima della storia Lucrezia Borgia, in the Nuova Antologia of August 31st of that year. A year later Monsignor Antonelli, of Ferrara, published Lucrezia Borgia in Ferrara, Sposa a Don Alfonso d'Este, Memorie storiche, Ferrara, 1867. Giovanni Zucchetti, of Mantua, immediately followed with a similar opuscule: Lucrezia Borgia Duchessa di Ferrara, Milano, 1869. All these writers endeavored, with the aid of history, to clear up the Lucretia legend, and to rehabilitate the honor of the unfortunate woman.

Other writers, not Italians, among them certain French and English authors, also took part in this effort. M. Armand Baschet, to whom we are indebted for several valuable publications in the field of diplomacy, announced in his work, Aldo Manuzio, Lettres et Documents, 1494-1515, Venice, 1867, that he had been engaged for years on a biography of Madonna Lucretia Borgia, and had collected for the purpose a large mass of original documents.

In the meantime, in 1869, there was published in London the first exhaustive work on the subject: Lucrezia Borgia, Duchess of Ferrara, a Biography, illustrated by rare and unpublished documents, by William Gilbert. The absence of scientific method, unfortunately, detracts from the value of this otherwise excellent production, which, as a sequel to Roscoe's works, attracted no little attention.

The swarm of apologies for the Borgias called forth in France one of the most wonderful books to which history has ever given birth. Ollivier, a Dominican, published, in 1870, the first part of a work entitled Le Pape Alexandre VI et les Borgia. This production is the fantastic antithesis of Victor Hugo's drama. For, while the latter distorted history for the purpose of producing a moral monster for stage effect, the former did exactly the same thing, intending to create the very opposite. Monks, however, now are no longer able to compel the world to accept their fables as history, and Ollivier's absurd romance was renounced even by the strongest organs of the Church; first by Matagne, in the Revue des questions historiques, Paris, April, 1871, and January, 1872, and subsequently by the Civilta Cattolica, the organ of the Jesuits, in an article dated March 15, 1873, whose author made no effort to defend Alexander's character, simply because, in the light of absolutely authentic historical documents, it was no longer possible to save it.

This article was based upon the Saggio di Albero Genealogico e di Memorie su la familia Borgia specialmente in relazione a Ferrara, by L. N. Cittadella, director of the public library of that city, published in Turin in 1872. The work, although not free from errors, is a conscientious effort to clear up the family history of the Borgias.

At the close of 1872 I likewise entered into the discussion by publishing a note on the history of the Borgias. This followed the appearance of the volume of the Geschichte der Stadt Rom im Mittelalter, which embraced the epoch of Alexander VI. My researches in the archives of Italy had placed me in possession of a large amount of original information concerning the Borgias, and as it was impossible for me to avail myself of this mass of valuable details in that work, I decided to use it for a monograph to be devoted either to Caesar Borgia or to his sister, as protagonist.

I decided on Madonna Lucretia for various reasons, among which was the following: in the spring of 1872 I found in the archives of the notary of the Capitol in Rome the protocol-book of Camillo Beneimbene, who for years was the trusted legal adviser of Alexander VI. This great manuscript proved to be an unexpected treasure; it furnished me with a long series of authentic and hitherto unknown documents. It contained all the marriage contracts of Donna Lucretia as well as numerous other legal records relating to the most intimate affairs of the Borgias. In November, 1872, I delivered a lecture on the subject before the class in history at the Royal Bavarian Academy of Sciences in Munich, which was published in the account of the proceedings. These records cast new light on the history of the Borgias, whose genealogy had only just been published by Cittadella.

There were other reasons which induced me to write a book on Donna Lucretia. I had treated the political history of Alexander VI and Caesar at length, and had elucidated some of its obscure phases, but to Lucretia Borgia I had devoted no special attention. Her personality appeared to me to be something full of mystery, made up of contradictions which remained to be deciphered, and I was fascinated by it.

I began my task without any preconceived intention. I purposed to write, not an apology, but a history of Lucretia, broadly sketched, the materials for which, in so far as the most important period of her life, her residence in Rome, was concerned, were already in my possession. I desired to ascertain what manner of personality would be discovered by treating Lucretia Borgia in a way entirely different from that in which she had hitherto been examined, but at the same time scientifically, and in accordance with the original records.

I completed my data; I visited the places where she had lived. I repeatedly went to Modena and Mantua, whose archives are inexhaustible sources of information regarding the Renaissance, and from them I obtained most of my material. My friends there, as usual, were of great help to me, especially Signor Zucchetti, of Mantua, late keeper of the Gonzaga archives, and Signor Stefano Davari, the secretary.

The state archives of the Este family of Modena, however, yielded me the greatest store of information. The custodian was Signor Cesare Foucard. As might have been expected of Muratori's successor, this distinguished gentleman displayed the greatest willingness to assist me in my task. In every way he lightened my labors; he had one of his young assistants, Signor Ognibene, arrange a great mass of letters and despatches which promised to be of use to me, lent me the index, and supplied me with copies. Therefore, if this work has any merit, no small part of it is due to Signor Foucard's obligingness.

I also met with unfailing courtesy and assistance in other places—Nepi, Pesaro, and Ferrara. To Signor Cesare Guasti, of the state archives of Florence, I am indebted for careful copies of important letters of Lorenzo Pucci, which he had made for me.

The material of which I finally found myself in possession is not complete, but it is abundant and new.

The original records will serve as defense against those who endeavor to discover a malicious motive in this work. No such interpretation is worthy of further notice, because the book itself will make my intention perfectly clear, which was simply that of the conscientious writer of history. I have substituted history for romance.

In the work I have attached more importance to the period during which Lucretia lived in Rome than to the time she spent in Ferrara, because the latter has already been described, though not in detail, while the former has remained purely legendary. As I had to base my work entirely on original information, I endeavored to treat the subject in such a way as to present a picture truly characteristic of the age, and animated by concrete descriptions of its striking personalities.





The Spanish house of Borja (or Borgia as the name is generally written) was rich in extraordinary men. Nature endowed them generously; they were distinguished by sensuous beauty, physical strength, intellect, and that force of will which compels success, and which was the source of the greatness of Cortez and Pizarro, and of the other Spanish adventurers.

Like the Aragonese, the Borgias also played the part of conquerors in Italy, winning for themselves honors and power, and deeply affecting the destiny of the whole peninsula, where they extended the influence of Spain and established numerous branches of their family. From the old kings of Aragon they claimed descent, but so little is known of their origin that their history begins with the real founder of the house, Alfonso Borgia, whose father's name is stated by some to have been Juan, and by others Domenico; while the family name of his mother, Francesca, is not even known.

Alfonso Borgia was born in the year 1378 at Xativa, near Valencia. He served King Alfonso of Aragon as privy secretary, and was made Bishop of Valencia. He came to Naples with this genial prince when he ascended its throne, and in the year 1444 he was made a cardinal.

Spain, owing to her religious wars, was advancing toward national unity, and was fast assuming a position of European importance. She now, by taking a hand in the affairs of Italy, endeavored to grasp what she had hitherto let slip by,—namely, the opportunity of becoming the head of the Latin world and, above all, the center of gravity of European politics and civilization. She soon forced herself into the Papacy and into the Empire. From Spain the Borgias first came to the Holy See, and from there later came Charles V to ascend the imperial throne. From Spain came also Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the most powerful politico-religious order history has ever known.

Alfonso Borgia, one of the most active opponents of the Council of Basle and of the Reformation in Germany, was elected pope in 1455, assuming the name Calixtus III. Innumerable were his kinsmen, many of whom he had found settled in Rome when he, as cardinal, had taken up his residence there. His nearest kin were members of the three connected Valencian families of Borgia, Mila (or Mella), and Lanzol. One of the sisters of Calixtus, Catarina Borgia, was married to Juan Mila, Baron of Mazalanes, and was the mother of the youthful Juan Luis. Isabella, the wife of Jofre Lanzol, a wealthy nobleman of Xativa, was the mother of Pedro Luis and Rodrigo, and of several daughters. The uncle adopted these two nephews and gave them his family name,—thus the Lanzols became Borgias.

In 1456 Calixtus III bestowed the purple upon two members of the Mila family: the Bishop Juan of Zamora, who died in 1467, in Rome, where his tomb may still be seen in S. Maria di Monserrato, and on the youthful Juan Luis. Rodrigo Borgia also received the purple in the same year. Among other members of the house of Mila settled in Rome was Don Pedro, whose daughter, Adriana Mila, we shall later find in most intimate relations with the family of her uncle Rodrigo.

Of the sisters of this same Rodrigo, Beatrice was married to Don Ximenez Perez de Arenos, Tecla to Don Vidal de Villanova, and Juana to Don Pedro Guillen Lanzol.[1] All these remained in Spain. There is a letter extant, written by Beatrice from Valencia to her brother shortly after he became pope.

Rodrigo Borgia was twenty-six when the dignity of cardinal was conferred upon him, and to this honor, a year later, was added the great office of vice-chancellor of the Church of Rome. His brother, Don Pedro Luis, was only one year older; and Calixtus bestowed upon this young Valencian the highest honors which can fall to the lot of a prince's favorite. Later we behold in him a papal nepot-prince in whom the Pope endeavored to embody all mundane power and honor; he made him his condottiere, his warder, his body-guard, and, finally, his worldly heir. Calixtus allowed him to usurp every position of authority in the Church domain and, like a destroying angel, to overrun and devastate the republics and the tyrannies, for the purpose of founding a family dynasty, the Papacy being of only momentary tenure, and not transmittable to an heir.

Calixtus made Pedro Luis generalissimo of the Church, prefect of the city, Duke of Spoleto, and finally, vicar of Terracina and Benevento. Thus in this first Spanish nepot was foreshadowed the career which Caesar Borgia later followed.

During the life of Calixtus the Spaniards were all-powerful in Rome. In great numbers they poured into Italy from the kingdom of Valencia to make their fortune at the papal court as monsignori and clerks, as captains and castellans, and in any other way that suggested itself. Calixtus III died on the sixth of August, 1458, and a few days later Don Pedro Luis was driven from Rome by the oppressed nobility of the country, the Colonna and the Orsini, who rose against the hated foreigner. Soon afterwards, in December the same year, death suddenly terminated the career of this young and brilliant upstart, then in Civitavecchia. It is not known whether Don Pedro Luis Borgia was married or whether he left any descendants.[2]

Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia lamented the loss of his beloved and, probably, only brother, and inherited his property, while his own high position in the Curia was not affected by the change in the papacy. As vice-chancellor, he occupied a house in the Ponte quarter, which had formerly been the Mint, and which he converted into one of the most showy of the palaces of Rome. The building encloses two courts, where may still be seen the original open colonnades of the lower story; it was constructed as a stronghold, like the Palazzo di Venizia, which was almost contemporaneous with it. The Borgia palace, however, does not compare in architectural beauty or size with that built by Paul II. In the course of the years it has undergone many changes, and for a long time has belonged to the Sforza-Cesarini.

Nothing is known of Rodrigo's private life during the pontificate of the four popes who followed Calixtus—Pius II, Paul II, Sixtus IV, and Innocent VIII—for the records of that period are very incomplete.

Insatiable sensuality ruled this Borgia, a man of unusual beauty and strength, until his last years. Never was he able to cast out this demon. He angered Pius II by his excesses, and the first ray of light thrown upon Rodrigo's private life is an admonitory letter written by that pope, the eleventh of June, 1460, from the baths of Petriolo. Borgia was then twenty-nine years old. He was in beautiful and captivating Siena, where Piccolomini had passed his unholy youth. There he had arranged a bacchanalian orgy of which the Pope's letter gives a picture.

DEAR SON: We have learned that your Worthiness, forgetful of the high office with which you are invested, was present from the seventeenth to the twenty-second hour, four days ago, in the gardens of John de Bichis, where there were several women of Siena, women wholly given over to worldly vanities. Your companion was one of your colleagues whom his years, if not the dignity of his office, ought to have reminded of his duty. We have heard that the dance was indulged in in all wantonness; none of the allurements of love were lacking, and you conducted yourself in a wholly worldly manner. Shame forbids mention of all that took place, for not only the things themselves but their very names are unworthy of your rank. In order that your lust might be all the more unrestrained, the husbands, fathers, brothers, and kinsmen of the young women and girls were not invited to be present. You and a few servants were the leaders and inspirers of this orgy. It is said that nothing is now talked of in Siena but your vanity, which is the subject of universal ridicule. Certain it is that here at the baths, where Churchmen and the laity are very numerous, your name is on every one's tongue. Our displeasure is beyond words, for your conduct has brought the holy state and office into disgrace; the people will say that they make us rich and great, not that we may live a blameless life, but that we may have means to gratify our passions. This is the reason the princes and the powers despise us and the laity mock us; this is why our own mode of living is thrown in our face when we reprove others. Contempt is the lot of Christ's vicar because he seems to tolerate these actions. You, dear son, have charge of the bishopric of Valencia, the most important in Spain; you are a chancellor of the Church, and what renders your conduct all the more reprehensible is the fact that you have a seat among the cardinals, with the Pope, as advisors of the Holy See. We leave it to you whether it is becoming to your dignity to court young women, and to send those whom you love fruits and wine, and during the whole day to give no thought to anything but sensual pleasures. People blame us on your account, and the memory of your blessed uncle, Calixtus, likewise suffers, and many say he did wrong in heaping honors upon you. If you try to excuse yourself on the ground of your youth, I say to you: you are no longer so young as not to see what duties your offices impose upon you. A cardinal should be above reproach and an example of right living before the eyes of all men, and then we should have just grounds for anger when temporal princes bestow uncomplimentary epithets upon us; when they dispute with us the possession of our property and force us to submit ourselves to their will. Of a truth we inflict these wounds upon ourselves, and we ourselves are the cause of these troubles, since we by our conduct are daily diminishing the authority of the Church. Our punishment for it in this world is dishonor, and in the world to come well deserved torment. May, therefore, your good sense place a restraint on these frivolities, and may you never lose sight of your dignity; then people will not call you a vain gallant among men. If this occurs again we shall be compelled to show that it was contrary to our exhortation, and that it caused us great pain; and our censure will not pass over you without causing you to blush. We have always loved you and thought you worthy of our protection as a man of an earnest and modest character. Therefore, conduct yourself henceforth so that we may retain this our opinion of you, and may behold in you only the example of a well ordered life. Your years, which are not such as to preclude improvement, permit us to admonish you paternally.

PETRIOLO, June 11, 1460.[3]

A few years later, when Paul II occupied the papal throne, the historian Gasparino of Verona described Cardinal Borgia as follows: "He is handsome; of a most glad countenance and joyous aspect, gifted with honeyed and choice eloquence. The beautiful women on whom his eyes are cast he lures to love him, and moves them in a wondrous way, more powerfully than the magnet influences iron."

There are such organizations as Gasparino describes; they are men of the physical and moral nature of Casanova and the Regent of Orleans. Rodrigo's beauty was noted by many of his contemporaries even when he was pope. In 1493 Hieronymus Portius described him as follows: "Alexander is tall and neither light nor dark; his eyes are black and his lips somewhat full. His health is robust, and he is able to bear any pain or fatigue; he is wonderfully eloquent and a thorough man of the world."[4]

The force of this happy organization lay, apparently, in the perfect balance of all its powers. From it radiated the serene brightness of his being, for nothing is more incorrect than the picture usually drawn of this Borgia, showing him as a sinister monster. The celebrated Jason Mainus, of Milan, calls attention to his "elegance of figure, his serene brow, his kingly forehead, his countenance with its expression of generosity and majesty, his genius, and the heroic beauty of his whole presence."


[1] Zurita, Anales de Aragon, v. 36.

[2] Zurita (iv, 55) says he died sin dexar ninguna sucesion. Notwithstanding this, Cittadella, in his Saggio di Albero Genealogico e di memorie su la Familia Borgia (Turin, 1872), ascribes two children to this Pedro Luis, Silvia and Cardinal Giovanni Borgia, the younger.

[3] Raynaldus, 1460. No. 31.

[4] Statura procerus, colore medio, nigris oculis, ore paululum pleniore. Hieron. Portius, Commentarius, a rare publication of 1493, in the Casanatense in Rome.



About 1466 or 1467 Cardinal Rodrigo's magnetism attracted a woman of Rome, Vannozza Catanei. We know that she was born in July, 1442, but of her family we are wholly ignorant. Writers of that day also call her Rosa and Catarina, although she named herself, in well authenticated documents, Vannozza Catanei. Paolo Giovio states that Vanotti was her patronymic, and although there was a clan of that name in Rome, he is wrong. Vannozza was probably the nickname for Giovanna—thus we find in the early records of that age: Vannozza di Nardis, Vannozza di Zanobeis, di Pontianis, and others.

There was a Catanei family in Rome, as there was in Ferrara, Genoa, and elsewhere. The name was derived from the title, capitaneus. In a notarial document of 1502 the name of Alexander's mistress is given in its ancient form, Vanotia de Captaneis.

Litta, to whom Italy is indebted for the great work on her illustrious families—a wonderful work in spite of its errors and omissions—ventures the opinion that Vannozza was a member of the Farnese family and a daughter of Ranuccio. There is, however, no ground for this theory. In written instruments of that time she is explicitly called Madonna Vannozza de casa Catanei.

None of Vannozza's contemporaries have stated what were the characteristics which enabled her to hold the pleasure-loving cardinal so surely and to secure her recognition as the mother of several of his acknowledged children. We may imagine her to have been a strong and voluptuous woman like those still seen about the streets of Rome. They possess none of the grace of the ideal woman of the Umbrian school, but they have something of the magnificence of the Imperial City—Juno and Venus are united in them. They would resemble the ideals of Titian and Paul Veronese but for their black hair and dark complexion,—blond and red hair have always been rare among the Romans.

Vannozza doubtless was of great beauty and ardent passions; for if not, how could she have inflamed a Rodrigo Borgia? Her intellect too, although uncultivated, must have been vigorous; for if not, how could she have maintained her relations with the cardinal?

The date given above was the beginning of this liaison, if we may believe the Spanish historian Mariana, who says that Vannozza was the mother of Don Pedro Luis, Rodrigo's eldest son. In a notarial instrument of 1482 this son of the cardinal is called a youth (adolescens), which signified a person fourteen or fifteen years of age. In what circumstances Vannozza was living when Cardinal Borgia made her acquaintance we do not know. It is not likely that she was one of the innumerable courtesans who, thanks to the liberality of their retainers, led most brilliant lives in Rome at that period; for had she been, the novelists and epigrammatists of the day would have made her famous.

The chronicler Infessura, who must have been acquainted with Vannozza, relates that Alexander VI, wishing to make his natural son Caesar a cardinal, caused it to appear, by false testimony, that he was the legitimate son of a certain Domenico of Arignano, and he adds that he had even married Vannozza to this man. The testimony of a contemporary and a Roman should have weight; but no other writer, except Mariana—who evidently bases his statement on Infessura—mentions this Domenico, and we shall soon see that there could have been no legal, acknowledged marriage of Vannozza and this unknown man. She was the cardinal's mistress for a much longer time before he himself, for the purpose of cloaking his relations with her and for lightening his burden, gave her a husband. His relations with her continued for a long time after she had a recognized consort.

The first acknowledged husband of Vannozza was Giorgio di Croce, a Milanese, for whom Cardinal Rodrigo had obtained from Sixtus IV a position as apostolic secretary. It is uncertain at just what time she allied herself with this man, but she was living with him as his wife in 1480 in a house on the Piazzo Pizzo di Merlo, which is now called Sforza-Cesarini, near which was Cardinal Borgia's palace.

Even as early as this, Vannozza was the mother of several children acknowledged by the cardinal: Giovanni, Caesar, and Lucretia. There is no doubt whatever about these, although the descent of the eldest of the children, Pedro Luis, from the same mother, is only highly probable. Thus far the date of the birth of this Borgia bastard has not been established, and authorities differ. In absolutely authentic records I discovered the dates of birth of Caesar and Lucretia, which clear up forever many errors regarding the genealogy and even the history of the house. Caesar was born in the month of April, 1476—the day is not given—and Lucretia on the eighteenth of April, 1480. Their father, when he was pope, gave their ages in accordance with these dates. In October, 1501, he mentioned the subject to the ambassador of Ferrara, and the latter, writing to the Duke Ercole, said, "The Pope gave me to understand that the Duchess (Lucretia) was in her twenty-second year, which she will complete next April, in which month also the most illustrious Duke of Romagna (Caesar) will be twenty-six."

If the correctness of the father's statement of the age of his own children is questioned, it may be confirmed by other reports and records. In despatches which a Ferrarese ambassador sent to the same duke from Rome much earlier, namely, in February and March, 1483, the age of Caesar at that time is given as sixteen to seventeen years, which agrees with the subsequent statement of his father.[5] The son of Alexander VI was, therefore, a few years younger than has hitherto been supposed, and this fact has an important bearing upon his short and terrible life. Mariana, therefore, and other authors who follow him, err in stating that Caesar, Rodrigo's second son, was older than his brother Giovanni. In reality, Giovanni must have been two years older than Caesar. Venetian letters from Rome, written in October, 1496, describe him as a young man of twenty-two; he accordingly must have been born in 1474.[6]

Lucretia herself came into the world April 18, 1480. This exact date is given in a Valencian document. Her father was then forty-nine and her mother thirty-eight years of age. The Roman or Spanish astrologers cast the horoscope of the child according to the constellation which was in the ascendancy, and congratulated Cardinal Rodrigo on the brilliant career foretold for his daughter by the stars.

Easter had just passed; magnificent festivities had been held in honor of the Elector Ernst of Saxony, who, together with the Duke of Brunswick and Wilhelm von Henneberg had arrived in Rome March 22d. These gentlemen were accompanied by a retinue of two hundred knights, and a house in the Parione quarter had been placed at their disposal. Pope Sixtus IV loaded them with honors, and great astonishment was caused by a magnificent hunt which Girolamo Riario, the all-powerful nepot, gave for them, at Magliana on the Tiber. These princes departed from Rome on the fourteenth of April.

The papacy was at that time changing to a political despotism, and nepotism was assuming the character which later was to give Caesar Borgia all his ferocity. Sixtus IV, a mighty being and a character of a much more powerful cast than even Alexander VI, was at war with Florence, where he had countenanced the Pazzi conspiracy for the murder of the Medici. He had made Girolamo Riario a great prince in Romagna, and later Alexander VI planned a similar career for his son Caesar.

Lucretia was indeed born at a terrible period in the world's history; the papacy was stripped of all holiness, religion was altogether material, and immorality was boundless. The bitterest family feuds raged in the city, in the Ponte, Parione, and Regola quarters, where kinsmen incited by murder daily met in deadly combat. In this very year, 1480, there was a new uprising of the old factions of Guelph and Ghibbeline in Rome; there the Savelli and Colonna were against the Pope, and here the Orsini for him; while the Valle, Margana, and Santa Croce families, inflamed by a desire for revenge for blood which had been shed, allied themselves with one or the other faction.


[5] Gianandrea Boccaccio to the duke, Rome, February 25 and March 11, 1493. State archives of Modena.

[6] Sanuto, Diar. v. i, 258.



Lucretia passed the first years of her childhood in her mother's house, which was on the Piazza Pizzo di Merlo, only a few steps from the cardinal's palace. The Ponte quarter, to which it belonged, was one of the most populous of Rome, since it led to the Bridge of S. Angelo and the Vatican. In it were to be found many merchants and the bankers from Florence, Genoa, and Siena, while numerous papal office-holders, as well as the most famous courtesans dwelt there. On the other hand, the number of old, noble families in Ponte was not large, perhaps because the Orsini faction did not permit them to thrive there. These powerful barons had resided in this quarter for a long time in their vast palace on Monte Giordano. Not far distant stood their old castle, the Torre di Nona, which had originally been part of the city walls on the Tiber. At this time it was a dungeon for prisoners of state and other unfortunates.

It is not difficult to imagine what Vannozza's house was, for the Roman dwelling of the Renaissance did not greatly differ from the ordinary house of the present day, which generally is gloomy and dark. Massive steps of cement led to the dwelling proper, which consisted of a principal salon and adjoining rooms with bare flagstone floors, and ceilings of beams and painted wooden paneling. The walls of the rooms were whitewashed, and only in the wealthiest houses were they covered with tapestries, and in these only on festal occasions. In the fifteenth century the walls of few houses were adorned with pictures, and these usually consisted of only a few family portraits. If Vannozza decorated her salon with any likenesses, that of Cardinal Rodrigo certainly must have been among the number. There was likewise a shrine with relics and pictures of the saints and one of the Madonna, the lamp constantly burning before it.

Heavy furniture,—great wide beds with canopies; high, brown wooden chairs, elaborately carved, upon which cushions were placed; and massive tables, with tops made of marble or bits of colored wood,—was ranged around the walls. Among the great chests there was one which stood out conspicuously in the salon, and which contained the dowry of linen. It was in such a chest—the chest of his sister—that the unfortunate Stefano Porcaro concealed himself when he endeavored to escape after his unsuccessful attempt to excite an uprising on the fifth of January, 1453. His sister and another woman sat on the chest, better to protect him, but the officers pulled him out.

Although we can only state what was then the fashion, if Vannozza had any taste for antiquities her salon must have been adorned with them. At that time they were being collected with the greatest eagerness. It was the period of the first excavations; the soil of Rome was daily giving up its treasures, and from Ostia, Tivoli, and Hadrian's Villa, from Porto d'Anzio and Palestrina, quantities of antiquities were being brought to the city. If Vannozza and her husband did not share this passion with the other Romans, one would certainly not have looked in vain in her house for the cherished productions of modern art—cups and vases of marble and porphyry, and the gold ornaments of the jewelers. The most essential thing in every well ordered Roman house was above all else the credenza, a great chest containing gold and silver table and drinking vessels and beautiful majolica; and care was taken always to display these articles at banquets and on other ceremonious occasions.

It is not likely that Rodrigo's mistress possessed a library, for private collections of books were at that time exceedingly rare in bourgeois houses. A short time after this they were first made possible in Rome by the invention of printing, which was there carried on by Germans.

Vannozza's household doubtless was rich but not magnificent. She must occasionally have entertained the cardinal, as well as the friends of the family, and especially the confidants of the Borgias: the Spaniards, Juan Lopez, Caranza, and Marades; and among the Romans, the Orsini, Porcari, Cesarini, and Barberini. The cardinal himself was an exceedingly abstemious man, but magnificent in everything which concerned the pomp and ceremonial of his position. The chief requirement of a cardinal of that day was to own a princely residence and to have a numerous household.

Rodrigo Borgia was one of the wealthiest princes of the Church, and he maintained the palace and pomp of a great noble. His contemporary Jacopo of Volterra, gave the following description of him about 1486: "He is a man of an intellect capable of everything and of great sense; he is a ready speaker; he is of an astute nature, and has wonderful skill in conducting affairs. He is enormously wealthy, and the favor accorded him by numerous kings and princes lends him renown. He occupies a beautiful and comfortable palace which he built between the Bridge of S. Angelo and the Campo dei Fiore. His papal offices, his numerous abbeys in Italy and Spain, and his three bishoprics of Valencia, Portus, and Carthage yield him a vast income, and it is said that the office of vice-chancellor alone brings him in eight thousand gold florins. His plate, his pearls, his stuffs embroidered with silk and gold, and his books in every department of learning are very numerous, and all are of a magnificence worthy of a king or pope. I need not mention the innumerable bed hangings, the trappings for his horses, and similar things of gold, silver, and silk, nor his magnificent wardrobe, nor the vast amount of gold coin in his possession. In fact it was believed that he possessed more gold and riches of every sort than all the cardinals together, with the exception of one, Estouteville."

Cardinal Rodrigo, therefore, was able to give his children the most brilliant education, while he modestly maintained them as his nephews. Not until he himself had attained greatness could he bring them forth into the full light of day.

In 1482 he did not occupy his house in the Ponte quarter, perhaps because he was having it enlarged. He spent more of his time in the palace which Stefano Nardini had finished in 1475 in the Parione quarter, which is now known as the Palazzo del Governo Vecchio. Rodrigo was living here in January, 1482, as we learn from an instrument of the notary Beneimbene,—the marriage contract of Gianandrea Cesarini and Girolama Borgia, a natural daughter of the same Cardinal Rodrigo. This marriage was performed in the presence of the bride's father, Cardinals Stefano Nardini and Gianbattista Savelli, and the Roman nobles Virginius Orsini, Giuliano Cesarini, and Antonio Porcaro.

The instrument of January, 1482, is the earliest authentic document we possess regarding the family life of Cardinal Borgia. In it he acknowledges himself to be the father of the "noble demoiselle Hieronyma," and she is described as the sister of the "noble youth Petrus Lodovicus de Borgia, and of the infant Johannes de Borgia." As these two, plainly mentioned as the eldest sons, were natural children, it would have been improper to name their mother. Caesar also was passed by, as he was a child of only six years.

Girolama was still a minor, being only thirteen years of age, and her betrothed, Giovanni Andrea, had scarcely reached manhood. He was a son of Gabriello Cesarini and Godina Colonna. By this marriage the noble house of Cesarini was brought into close relations with the Borgia, and later it derived great profit from the alliance. Their mutual friendship dated from the time of Calixtus, for it was the prothonotary Giorgio Cesarini who, on the death of that pope, had helped Rodrigo's brother Don Pedro Luis when he was forced to flee from Rome. Both Girolama and her youthful spouse died in 1483. Was she also a child of the mother of Lucretia and Caesar? We know not, but it is regarded as unlikely. Let us anticipate by saying that there is only a single authentic record which mentions Rodrigo's children and their mother together. This is the inscription on Vannozza's tomb in S. Maria del Popolo in Rome, in which she is named as the mother of Caesar, Giovanni, Giuffre, and Lucretia, while no mention is made of their older brother, Don Pedro Luis, nor of their sister Girolama.

Rodrigo, moreover, had a third daughter, named Isabella, who could not have been a child of Vannozza. April 1, 1483, he married her to a Roman nobleman, Piergiovanni Mattuzi of the Parione quarter.[7]


[7] Abstract of the marriage contract in the archives of the Capitol. Cred. xiv, T. 72. From an instrument of the notary Agostino Martini.



The cardinal's relations with Vannozza continued until about 1482, for after the birth of Lucretia she presented him with another son, Giuffre, who was born in 1481 or 1482.

After that, Borgia's passion for this woman, who was now about forty, died out, but he continued to honor her as the mother of his children and as the confidant of many of his secrets.

Vannozza had borne her husband, a certain Giorgio di Croce, a son, who was named Octavian—at least this child passed as his. With the cardinal's help she increased her revenues; in old official records she appears as the lessee of several taverns in Rome, and she also bought a vineyard and a country house near S. Lucia in Selci in the Subura, apparently from the Cesarini. Even to-day the picturesque building with the arched passageway over the stairs which lead up from the Subura to S. Pietro in Vincoli is pointed out to travelers as the palace of Vannozza or of Lucretia Borgia. Giorgio di Croce had become rich, and he built a chapel for himself and his family in S. Maria del Popolo. Both he and his son Octavian died in the year 1486.[8]

His death caused a change in Vannozza's circumstances, the cardinal hastening to marry the mother of his children a second time, so that she might have a protector and a respectable household. The new husband was Carlo Canale, of Mantua.

Before he came to Rome he had by his attainments acquired some reputation among the humanists of Mantua. There is still extant a letter to Canale, written by the young poet Angelo Poliziano regarding his Orfeo; the manuscript of this, the first attempt in the field of the drama which marked the renaissance of the Italian theater, was in the hands of Canale, who, appreciating the work of the faint-hearted poet, was endeavoring to encourage him.[9] At the suggestion of Cardinal Francesco Gonzaga, a great patron of letters, Poliziano had written the poem in the short space of two days. Carlo Canale was the cardinal's chamberlain. The Orfeo saw the light in 1472. When Gonzaga died, in 1483, Canale went to Rome, where he entered the service of Cardinal Sclafetano, of Parma. As a confidant and dependent of the Gonzaga he retained his connection with this princely house.[10] In his new position he assisted Ludovico Gonzaga, a brother of Francesco when he came to Rome in 1484 to receive the purple on his election as Bishop of Mantua.

Borgia was acquainted with Canale while he was in the service of the Gonzaga, and later he met him in the house of Sclafetano. He selected him to be the husband of his widowed mistress, doubtless because Canale's talents and connections would be useful to him.

Canale, on the other hand, could have acquiesced in the suggestion to marry Vannozza only from avarice, and his willingness proves that he had not grown rich in his former places at the courts of cardinals.

The new marriage contract was drawn up June 8, 1486, by the notary of the Borgia house, Camillo Beneimbene, and was witnessed by Francesco Maffei, apostolic secretary and canon of S. Peter's; Lorenzo Barberini de Catellinis; a citizen, Giuliano Gallo, a considerable merchant of Rome; Burcardo Barberini de Carnariis, and other gentlemen. As dowry Vannozza brought her husband, among other things, one thousand gold florins and an appointment as sollicitator bullarum. The contract clearly referred to this as Vannozza's second marriage. Would it not have been set down as the third, or in more general terms as new, if the alleged first marriage with Domenico d'Arignano had really been acknowledged?

In this instrument Vannozza's house on the Piazza de Branchis, in the Regola quarter, where the marriage took place, is described as her domicile. The piazza still bears this name, which is derived from the extinct Branca family. After the death of her former husband she must, therefore, have moved from the house on the Piazza Pizzo di Merlo and taken up her abode in the one on the Piazza Branca. This house may have belonged to her, for her second husband seems to have been a man without means, who hoped to make his fortune by his marriage and with the protection of the powerful cardinal.

From a letter of Ludovico Gonzaga, dated February 19, 1488, we learn that this new marriage of Vannozza's was not childless. In this epistle, the Bishop of Mantua asks his agent in Rome to act as godfather in his stead, Carlo Canale having chosen him for this honor. The letter gives no further particulars, but it can mean nothing else.[11]

We do not know at just what time Lucretia, in accordance with the cardinal's provision, left her mother's house and passed under the protection of a woman who exercised great influence upon him and upon the entire Borgia family.

This woman was Adriana, of the house of Mila, a daughter of Don Pedro, who was a nephew of Calixtus III, and first cousin of Rodrigo. What position he held in Rome we do not know.

He married his daughter Adriana to Ludovico, a member of the noble house of Orsini, and lord of Bassanello, near Civita Castellana. As the offspring of this union, Orsino Orsini, married in 1489, it is evident that his mother must have entered into wedlock at least sixteen years before. Ludovico Orsini died in 1489 or earlier. As his wife, and later as his widow, Adriana occupied one of the Orsini palaces in Rome, probably the one on Monte Giordano, near the Bridge of S. Angelo, this palace having subsequently been described as part of the estate which her son Orsino inherited.

Cardinal Rodrigo maintained the closest relations with Adriana. She was more than his kinswoman; she was the confidant of his sins, of his intrigues and plans, and such she remained until the day of his death.

To her he entrusted the education of his daughter Lucretia during her childhood, as we learn from a letter written by the Ferrarese ambassador to Rome, Gianandrea Boccaccio, Bishop of Modena, to the Duke Ercole in 1493, in which he remarks of Madonna Adriana Ursina, "that she had educated Lucretia in her own house."[12] This doubtless was the Orsini palace on Monte Giordano, which was close to Cardinal Borgia's residence.

According to the Italian custom, which has survived to the present day, the education of the daughters was entrusted to women in convents, where the young girls were required to pass a few years, afterwards to come forth into the world to be married. If, however, Infessura's picture of the convents of Rome is a faithful one, the cardinal was wise in hesitating to entrust his daughter to these saints. Nevertheless there certainly were convents which were free from immorality, such, for example, as S. Silvestre in Capite, where many of the daughters of the Colonna were educated, and S. Maria Nuova and S. Sisto on the Appian Way. On one occasion during the papacy of Alexander, Lucretia chose the last named convent as an asylum, perhaps because she had there received her early spiritual education.

Religious instruction was always the basis of the education of the women of Italy. It, however, consisted not in the cultivation of heart and soul, but in a strict observance of the forms of religion. Sin made no woman repulsive, and the condition of even the most degraded female did not prevent her from performing all her church duties, and appearing to be a well-trained Christian. There were no women skeptics or freethinkers; they would have been impossible in the society of that day. The godless tyrant Sigismondo Malatesta of Rimini built a magnificent church, and in it a chapel in honor of his beloved Isotta, who was a regular attendant at church. Vannozza built and embellished a chapel in S. Maria del Popolo. She had a reputation for piety, even during the life of Alexander VI. Her greatest maternal solicitude, like that of Adriana, was to inculcate a Christian deportment in her daughter, and this Lucretia possessed in such perfection that subsequently a Ferrarese ambassador lauded her for her 'saintly demeanor.'

It is wrong to regard this bearing simply as a mask; for that would presuppose an independent consideration of religious questions or a moral process which was altogether foreign to the women of that age, and is still unknown among the women of Italy. There religion was, and still is, a part of education; it consisted in a high respect for form and was of small ethical worth.

The daughters of the well-to-do families did not receive instruction in the humanities in the convents, but probably from the same teachers to whom the education of the sons was entrusted. It is no exaggeration to say that the women of the better classes during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were as well educated as are the women of to-day. Their education was not broad; it was limited to a few branches; for then they did not have the almost inexhaustible means of improvement which, thanks to the evolution of the human mind during the last three hundred years, we now enjoy. The education of the women of the Renaissance was based upon classical antiquity, in comparison with which everything which could then be termed modern was insignificant. They might, therefore, have been described as scholarly. Feminine education is now entirely different, as it is derived wholly from modern sources of culture. It is precisely its many-sidedness to which is due the superficiality of the education of contemporary woman when compared with that of her sister of the Renaissance.

The education of women at the present time, generally,—even in Germany, which is famous for its schools,—is without solid foundation, and altogether superficial and of no real worth. It consists usually in acquiring a smattering of two modern tongues and learning to play the piano, to which a wholly unreasonable amount of time is devoted.

During the Renaissance the piano was unknown, but every educated woman performed upon the lute, which had the advantage that, in the hands of the lady playing it, it presented an agreeable picture to the eyes, while the piano is only a machine which compels the man or the woman who is playing it to go through motions which are always unpleasant and often ridiculous. During the Renaissance the novel showed only its first beginnings; and even to-day Italy is the country which produces and reads the fewest romances. There were stories from the time of Boccaccio, but very few. Vast numbers of poems were written, but half of them in Latin. Printing and the book trade were in their infancy. The theater likewise was in its childhood, and, as a rule, dramatic performances were given only once a year, during the carnival, and then only on private stages. What we now call universal literature or culture consisted at that time in the passionate study of the classics. Latin and Greek held the place then which the study of foreign languages now occupies in the education of women. The Italians of the Renaissance did not think that an acquaintance with the classics, that scientific knowledge destroyed the charm of womanliness, nor that the education of women should be less advanced than that of men. This opinion, like so many others prevalent in society is of Teutonic origin. The loving dominion of the mother in the family circle has always seemed to the Germanic races to be the realization of the ideal of womanliness. For a long time German women avoided publicity owing to modesty or a feeling of decorum. Their talents remained hidden except in cases where peculiar circumstances—sometimes connected with affairs of court or of state—compelled them to come forth. Until recently the history of German civilization has shown a much smaller number of famous female characters than Italy, the land of strong personalities, produced during the Renaissance. The influence which gifted women in the Italian salons of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and later in those of France, exercised upon the intellectual development of society was completely unknown in England and Germany.

Later, however, there was a change in the relative degree of feminine culture in Teutonic and Latin countries. In the former it rose, while in Italy it declined. The Italian woman who, during the Renaissance, occupied a place by man's side, contended with him for intellectual prizes, and took part in every spiritual movement, fell into the background. During the last two hundred years she has taken little or no part in the higher life of the nation, for long ago she became a mere tool in the hands of the priests. The Reformation gave the German woman greater personal freedom. Especially since the beginning of the eighteenth century have Germany and England produced numbers of highly cultivated and even learned women. The superficiality of the education of woman in general in Germany is not the fault of the Church, but of the fashion, of society, and also of lack of means in our families.

A learned woman, whom men are more apt to fear than respect, is called, when she writes books, a blue-stocking. During the Renaissance she was called a virago, a title which was perfectly complimentary. Jacopo da Bergamo constantly uses it as a term of respect in his work, Concerning Celebrated Women, which he wrote in 1496.[13] Rarely do we find this word used by Italians in the sense in which we now employ it,—namely, termigant or amazon. At that time a virago was a woman who, by her courage, understanding, and attainments, raised herself above the masses of her sex. And she was still more admired if in addition to these qualities she possessed beauty and grace. Profound classic learning among the Italians was not opposed to feminine charm; on the contrary, it enhanced it. Jacopo da Bergamo specially praises it in this or that woman, saying that whenever she appeared in public as a poet or an orator, it was above all else her modesty and reserve which charmed her hearers. In this vein he eulogizes Cassandra Fedeli, while he lauds Ginevra Sforza for her elegance of form, her wonderful grace in every motion, her calm and queenly bearing, and her chaste beauty. He discovers the same in the wife of Alfonso of Aragon, Ippolita Sforza, who possessed the highest attainments, the most brilliant eloquence, a rare beauty, and extreme feminine modesty. What was then called modesty (pudor) was the natural grace of a gifted woman increased by education and association. This modesty Lucretia Borgia possessed in a high degree. In woman it corresponded with that which in man was the mark of the perfect cavalier. It may cause the reader some astonishment to learn that the contemporaries of the infamous Caesar spoke of his 'moderation' as one of his most characteristic traits. By this term, however, we must understand the cultivation of the personality in which moderation in man and modesty in woman were part and manifestations of a liberal education.

It is true that in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries emancipated women did not sit on the benches of the lecture halls of Bologna, Ferrara, and Padua, as they now do in many universities, to pursue professional studies; but the same humane sciences to which youths and men devoted themselves were a requirement in the higher education of women. Little girls in the Middle Ages were entrusted to the saints of the convents to be made nuns; during the Renaissance parents consecrated gifted children to the Muses. Jacopo da Bergamo, speaking of Trivulzia of Milan, a contemporary of Lucretia, who excited great amazement as an orator when she was only fourteen years of age, says, "When her parents noticed the child's extraordinary gifts they dedicated her to the Muses—this was in her seventh year—for her education."

The course of study followed by women at that time included the classic languages and their literature, oratory, poetry, or the art of versifying, and music. Dilettanteism in the graphic and plastic arts of course followed, and the vast number of paintings and statues produced during the Renaissance inspired every cultivated woman in Italy with a desire to become a connoisseur.

Even philosophy and theology were cultivated by women. Debates on questions in these fields of inquiry were the order of the day at the courts and in the halls of the universities, and women endeavored to acquire renown by taking part in them. At the end of the fifteenth century the Venetian, Cassandra Fedeli, the wonder of her age, was as well versed in philosophy and theology as a learned man. She once engaged in a public disputation before the Doge Agostino Barbarigo, and also several times in the audience hall of Padua, and always showed the utmost modesty in spite of the applause of her hearers. The beautiful wife of Alessandro Sforza of Pesaro, Costanza Varano, was a poet, an orator, and a philosopher; she wrote a number of learned dissertations. "The writings of Augustinus, Ambrosius, Jerome, and Gregory, of Seneca, Cicero, and Lactantius were always in her hands." Her daughter, Battista Sforza, the noble spouse of the cultivated Federico of Urbino, was equally learned. So, too, it was related that the celebrated Isotta Nugarola of Verona was thoroughly at home in the writings of the fathers and of the philosophers. Isabella Gonzaga and Elisabetta of Urbino were likewise acquainted with them, as were numerous other celebrated women, such as Vittoria Colonna and Veronica Gambara.

These and other names show to what heights the education of woman during the Renaissance attained, and even if the accomplishments of these women were exceptional, the studies which they so earnestly pursued were part of the curriculum of all the daughters of the best families. These studies were followed only for the purpose of perfecting and beautifying the personality. Conversation in the modern salon is so excessively dull that it is necessary to fill in the emptiness with singing and piano playing. Still the symposiums of Plato were not always the order of the day in the drawing-rooms of the Renaissance, and it must be admitted that their social disputations would cause us intolerable weariness; however, tastes were different at that time. In a circle of distinguished and gifted persons, to carry on a conversation gracefully and intelligently, and to give it a classic cast by introducing quotations from the ancients, or to engage in a discussion in dialogue on a chosen theme, afforded the keenest enjoyment. It was the conversation of the Renaissance which attained later to such aesthetic perfection in France. Talleyrand called this form of human intercourse man's greatest and most beautiful blessing. The classic dialogue was revived, with only the difference that cultivated women also took part in it. As samples of the refined social intercourse of that age, we have Castiglione's Cortegiano and Bembo's Asolani, which was dedicated to Lucretia Borgia.

Alexander's daughter did not occupy a preeminent place among the Italian women renowned for classical attainments, her own acquirements not being such as to distinguish her from the majority; but, considering the times, her education was thorough. She had received instruction in the languages, in music, and in drawing, and later the people of Ferrara were amazed at the skill and taste which she displayed in embroidering in silk and gold. "She spoke Spanish, Greek, Italian, and French, and a little Latin, very correctly, and she wrote and composed poems in all these tongues," said the biographer Bayard in 1512. Lucretia must have perfected her education later, during the quiet years of her life, under the influence of Bembo and Strozzi, although she doubtless had laid its foundation in Rome. She was both a Spaniard and an Italian, and a perfect master of these two languages. Among her letters to Bembo there are two written in Spanish; the remainder, of which we possess several hundred, are composed in the Italian of that day, and are spontaneous and graceful in style. The contents of none of them are of importance; they display soul and feeling, but no depth of mind. Her handwriting is not uniform; sometimes it has strong lines which remind us of the striking, energetic writing of her father; at others it is sharp and fine like that of Vittoria Colonna.

None of Lucretia's letters indicate that she fully understood Latin, and her father once stated that she had not mastered that language. She must, however, have been able to read it when written, for otherwise Alexander could not have made her his representative in the Vatican, with authority to open letters received. Nor were her Hellenic studies very profound; still she was not wholly ignorant of Greek. In her childhood, schools for the study of Hellenic literature still flourished in Rome, where they had been established by Chrysoleras and Bessarion. In the city were many Greeks, some of whom were fugitives from their country, while others had come to Italy with Queen Carlotta of Cyprus. Until her death, in 1487, this royal adventuress lived in a palace in the Borgo of the Vatican, where she held court, and where she doubtless gathered about her the cultivated people of Rome, just as the learned Queen Christina of Sweden did later. It was in her house that Cardinal Rodrigo made the acquaintance, besides that of other noble natives of Cyprus, of Ludovico Podocatharo, a highly cultivated man, afterwards his secretary. He it was, probably, who instructed Borgia's children in Greek.

In the cardinal's palace there was also a humanist of German birth, Lorenz Behaim, of Nurenburg, who managed his household for twenty years. As he was a Latinist and a member of the Roman Academy of Pomponius Laetus, he must have exercised some influence on the education of his master's children. Generally there was no lack of professors of the humane sciences in Rome, where they were in a nourishing condition, and the Academy as well as the University attracted thither many talented men. In the papal city there were numerous teachers who conducted schools, and swarms of young scholars, ambitious academicians, sought their fortune at the courts of the cardinals in the capacity of companions or secretaries, or as preceptors to their illegitimate children. Lucretia, also, received instruction in classic literature from these masters. Among the poets who lived in Rome she found teachers to instruct her in Italian versification and in writing sonnets, an art which was everywhere cultivated by women as well as men. She doubtless learned to compose verses, although the writers on the history of Italian literature, Quadrio and Crescimbeni, do not place her among the poets of the peninsula. Nowhere do Bembo, Aldus, or the Strozzi speak of her as a poet, nor are there any verses by her in existence. It is not certain that even the Spanish canzoni which are found in some of her letters to Bembo were composed by her.


[8] See Adinolfi's notice quoted by the author in his Geschichte der Stadt Rom im Mittelalter. 2d Aufl. vii, 312.

[9] The letter, with the inscription "A Messer Carlo Canale," is printed in the edition of Milan, 1808. Angelo Poliziano, Le Stanze e l'Orfeo ed altre poesie.

[10] In the archives of Mantua there is a letter from the Marchesa Isabella to Carlo Canale, dated December 4, 1499.

[11] Lodovico Gonzaga to Bartolomeo Erba, Siamo contenti contrahi in nome nro. compaternita cum M. Carolo Canale, et cussi per questa nostra ti commettiamo et constituimo nostro Procuratore. Note by Affo in his introduction to the Orfeo, p. 113.

[12] Ma Adriana Ursina, la quale e socera de la dicta madona Julia (Farnese), che ha sempre governata essa sposa (Lucrezia) in casa propria per esser in loco de nepote del Pontifice, la fu figliola de messer Piedro de Mila, noto a V. Ema Sigria, cusino carnale del Papa. Despatch from the above named to Ercole, Rome, June 13, 1493, in the state archives of Modena. And again she is mentioned in a despatch of May 6, 1493, as madona Adriana Ursina soa governatrice figliola che fu del quondam messer Pietro del Mila.

[13] Jacobus Burgomensis de claris mulieribus, Paris, 1521.



It is not difficult to imagine what emotions were aroused in Lucretia when she first became aware of the real condition of her family. Her mother's husband was not her father; she discovered that she and her brothers were the children of a cardinal, and the awakening of her conscience was accompanied by a realization of circumstances which—frowned on by the Church—it was necessary to conceal from the world. She herself had always hitherto been treated as a niece of the cardinal, and she now beheld in her father one of the most prominent princes of the Church of Rome, whom she heard mentioned as a future pope.

The knowledge of the great advantages to be derived from these circumstances certainly must have affected Lucretia's fancy much more actively than the conception of their immorality. The world in which she lived concerned itself but little with moral scruples, and rarely in the history of mankind has there been a time in which the theory that it is proper to obtain the greatest possible profit from existing conditions has been so generally accepted. She soon learned how common were these relations in Rome. She heard that most of the cardinals lived with their mistresses, and provided in a princely way for their children. They told her about those of Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere and those of Piccolomini; she saw with her own eyes the sons and daughters of Estouteville, and heard of the baronies which their wealthy father had acquired for them in the Alban mountains. She saw the children of Pope Innocent raised to the highest honors; to her were pointed out his son Franceschetto Cibo and his illustrious spouse Maddalena Medici. She knew that the Vatican was the home of other children and grandchildren of the Pope, and she frequently saw his daughter Madonna Teodorina, the consort of the Genoese Uso di Mare, going and coming. She was eight years old when his daughter Donna Peretta was married in the Vatican to the Marchese Alfonso del Carretto with such magnificent pomp that it set all Rome to talking.

Lucretia first became conscious of the position to which she and her brothers might be called by their birth when she learned that her eldest brother, Don Pedro Luis, was a Spanish duke. We do not know when the young Borgia was raised to this dignity, but it was some time after 1482. The strong ties which existed between the cardinal and the Spanish court doubtless enabled him to have his son created Duke of Gandia in the kingdom of Valencia. As Mariana remarks, he bought this dukedom for his son.

Don Pedro Luis, however, when still a young man, died in Spain, for a document of the year 1491 speaks of him as deceased, and mentions a legacy left by his will to his sister Lucretia. The duchy of Gandia passed to Rodrigo's second son, Don Giovanni, who hastened to Valencia to take possession of it.

Meanwhile the fancy of the licentious cardinal had turned to other women. In May, 1489, when Lucretia was nine years old, appears for the first time the most celebrated of his mistresses, Giulia Farnese, a young woman of extraordinary beauty, to whose charms the cardinal and future pope, who was growing old, yielded with all the ardor of a young man.

It was the adulterous love of this Giulia which first brought the Farnese house into the history of Rome, and subsequently into that of the world; for Rodrigo Borgia laid the foundation of the greatness of this family when he made Giulia's brother Alessandro a cardinal. In this manner he prepared the way to the papacy for the future Paul III, the founder of the house of Farnese of Parma, a distinguished family which died out in 1758 in the person of Queen Elisabeth, who occupied the throne of Spain.

The Farnese, up to the time of the Borgias, were of no importance in Rome, where two of the most beautiful buildings of the Renaissance have since helped to make their name immortal. They did not even live in Rome, but in Roman Etruria, where they owned a few towns—Farneto, from which, doubtless, their name was derived, Ischia, Capracola, and Capodimonte. Some time later, though just when is not known, they were temporarily in possession of Isola Farnese, an ancient castle in the ruins of Veii, which from the fourteenth century had belonged to the Orsini.

The origin of the Farnese family is uncertain, but the tradition, according to which they were descended from the Lombards or the Franks, appears to be true. It is supported by the fact that the name Ranuccio, which is the Italian form of Rainer, is of frequent occurrence in the family. The Farnese became prominent in Etruria as a small dynasty of robber barons, without, however, being able to attain to the power of their neighbors, the Orsini of Anguillara and Bracciano, and the famous Counts of Vico, who were of German descent and who ruled over the Tuscan prefecture for more than a hundred years, until that country was swallowed up by Eugene IV. While these prefects were the most active Ghibellines and the bitterest enemies of the popes, the Farnese, like the Este, always stood by the Guelphs. From the eleventh century they were consuls and podestas in Orvieto, and they appeared later in various places as captains of the Church in the numerous little wars with the cities and barons in Umbria and in the domain of S. Peter. Ranuccio, Giulia's grandfather, was one of the ablest of the generals of Eugene IV, and he had been a comrade of the great tyrant-conqueror Vitelleschi, and through him his house had won great renown. His son, Pierluigi, married Donna Giovanella of the Gaetani family of Sermoneta. His children were Alessandro, Bartolomeo, Angiolo, Girolama, and Giulia.

Alessandro Farnese, born February 28, 1468, was a young man of intellect and culture, but notorious for his unbridled passions. He had his own mother committed to prison in 1487 under the gravest charges, whereupon he himself was confined in the castle of S. Angelo by Innocent VIII. He escaped from prison, and the matter was allowed to drop. He was a prothonotary of the Church. His elder sister was married to Puccio Pucci, one of the most illustrious statesmen of Florence, a member of a large family which was on terms of close friendship with the Medici.

On the twentieth of May, 1489, the youthful Giulia Farnese, together with the equally youthful Orsino Orsini, appeared in the "Star Chamber" of the Borgia palace to sign their marriage contract. It is worthy of note that this occurred in the house of Cardinal Rodrigo. His name appears as the first of the witnesses to this document, as if he had constituted himself the protector of the couple and had brought about their marriage. This union, however, had been arranged when the betrothed were minors, by their parents, Ludovico Orsini, lord of Bassanello, and Pierluigi Farnese, both of whom had died before 1489. In those days little children were often legally betrothed, and the marriage was consummated later, as was the custom in ancient Rome, where frequently boys and girls only thirteen years of age were affianced. Giulia was barely fifteen, May 20, 1489, and she was still under the guardianship of her brothers and her uncles of the house of Gaetani; while the young Orsini was under the control of his mother, Adriana, who was Adriana de Mila, the kinswoman of Cardinal Rodrigo, and Lucretia's governess. This, therefore, sufficiently explains the part, personal and official, which the cardinal took in the ceremony of Giulia's betrothal.

The witnesses to the marriage contract, which was drawn up by the notary Beneimbene, were, in addition to the cardinal, Bishop Martini of Segovia, the Spanish Canons Garcetto and Caranza, and a Roman nobleman named Giovanni Astalli. The bride's brothers should have supported her, but only the younger, Angiolo, was present, Alessandro remaining away. His failure to attend such an important family function in the Borgia palace is strange, although it may have been occasioned by some accident. The bride's uncles, the prothonotary Giacomo, and his brother Don Nicola Gaetani were present. Giulia's dowry consisted of three thousand gold florins, a large amount for that time.

The civil marriage of the young couple took place the following day, May 21st, in this same palace of the Borgias. Many great nobles were present, among whom were specially mentioned the kinsmen of the groom, Cardinal Gianbattista Orsini and Raynaldo Orsini, Archbishop of Florence. The young couple, as the season was charming, may have gone to Castle Bassanello, or, if not, may have taken up their abode in the Orsini palace on Monte Giordano.

Before her marriage Cardinal Rodrigo must have known, and often seen Giulia Farnese in the palace of Madonna Adriana, the mother of the young Orsini. There, likewise, Lucretia, who was several years younger, made her acquaintance. Like Lucretia, Giulia had golden hair, and her beauty won for her the name La Bella. It was in Adriana's house that this tender, lovely child became ensnared in the coils of the libertine Rodrigo. She succumbed to his seductions either shortly before or soon after her marriage to the young Orsini. Perhaps she first aroused the passion of the cardinal, a man at that time fifty-eight years old, when she stood before him in his palace a bride in the full bloom of youth. Be that as it may, it is certain that two years after her marriage Giulia was the cardinal's acknowledged mistress. When Madonna Adriana discovered the liason she winked at it, and was an accessory to the shame of her daughter-in-law. By so doing she became the most powerful and the most influential person in the house of Borgia.

Two of the three sons of the cardinal, Giovanni and Caesar, had in the meantime reached manhood. In 1490 neither of them was in Rome; the former was in Spain, and the latter was studying at the University of Perugia, which he later left for Pisa. As early as 1488 Caesar must have attended one of these institutions, probably the University of Perugia, for in that year Paolo Pompilio dedicated to him his Syllabica, a work on the art of versification. In it he lauded the budding genius of Caesar, who was the hope and ornament of the house of Borgia, his progress in the sciences, and his maturity of intellect—astonishing in one so young—and he predicted his future fame.[14]

His father had intended him for the Church, although Caesar himself felt for it nothing but aversion. From Innocent VIII he had secured his son's appointment as prothonotary of the Church and even as Bishop of Pamplona. He appears as a prothonotary in a document of February, 1491, and at the same time the youngest of Rodrigo's sons, Giuffre, a boy of about nine years, was made Canon and Archdeacon of Valencia.

Caesar went to Pisa, probably in 1491. Its university attracted a great many of the sons of the prominent Italian families, chiefly on account of the fame of its professor of jurisprudence, Philippo Decio of Milan. At the university the young Borgia had two Spanish companions, who were favorites of his father, Francesco Romolini of Ilerda and Juan Vera of Arcilla in the kingdom of Valencia. The latter was master of his household, as Caesar himself states in a letter written in October, 1492, in which he also calls Romolini his "most faithful comrade."[15] Francesco Romolini was more than thirty years of age in 1491. He was a diligent student of law, and became deeply learned in it. He is the same Romolini who afterwards conducted the prosecution of Savonarola in Florence. In 1503 Alexander made him a cardinal, to which dignity Vera had been raised in 1500. His father's wealth enabled the youthful Caesar to live in Pisa in princely style, and his connections brought him into friendly relations with the Medici.

The cardinal was still making special exertions to further the fortunes of his children in Spain. Even for his daughter Lucretia he could see no future more brilliant than a Spanish marriage; and he must indeed have regarded it as a special act of condescension for the son of an old and noble house to consent to become the husband of the illegitimate daughter of a cardinal. The noble concerned was Don Cherubino Juan de Centelles, lord of Val d'Ayora in the kingdom of Valencia, and brother of the Count of Oliva.

The nuptial contract was drawn up in the Valencian dialect in Rome, February 26 and June 16, 1491. The youthful groom was in Valencia, the young bride in Rome, and her father had appointed the Roman nobleman Antonio Porcaro her proxy. In the marriage contract it was specified that Lucretia's portion should be three hundred thousand timbres or sous in Valencian money, which she was to bring Don Cherubino as dowry, part in coin and part in jewels and other valuables. It was specially stated that of this sum eleven thousand timbres should consist of the amount bequeathed by the will of the deceased Don Pedro Luis de Borgia, Duke of Gandia, to his sister for her marriage portion, while eight thousand were given her by her other brothers, Caesar and Giuffre, for the same purpose, presumably also from the estate left by the brother. It was provided that Donna Lucretia should be taken to Valencia at the cardinal's expense within one year from the signing of the contract, and that the church ceremony should be performed within six months after her arrival in Spain.[16]

Thus Lucretia, when only a child eleven years of age, found her hand and life happiness subjected to the will of another, and from that time she was no longer the shaper of her own destiny. This was the usual fate of the daughters of the great houses, and even of the lesser ones. Shortly before her father became pope it seemed as if her life was to be spent in Spain, and she would have found no place in the history of the papacy and of Italy if she and Don Cherubino had been married. However, the marriage was never performed. Obstacles of which we are ignorant, or changes in the plans of her father, caused the betrothal of Lucretia to Don Cherubino to be annulled. At the very moment this was being done for her by proxy, her father was planning another alliance for his daughter.

The husband he had selected, Don Gasparo, was also a young Spaniard, son of Don Juan Francesco of Procida, Count of Aversa. This family had probably removed to Naples with the house of Aragon. Don Juan Francesco's mother was Donna Leonora de Procida y Castelleta, Countess of Aversa. Gasparo's father lived in Aversa, but in 1491 the son was in Valencia, where, probably, he was being educated under the care of some of his kinsmen, for he was still a boy of less than fifteen years. In an instrument drawn by the notary Beneimbene, dated November 9, 1492, it is explicitly stated that on the thirtieth of April of the preceding year, 1491, the marriage contract of Lucretia and Gasparo had been executed by proxy with all due form, and that in it Cardinal Rodrigo had bound himself to send his daughter to the city of Valencia at his expense, where the church ceremony was to be performed. However, since the marriage contract between Lucretia and the young Centelles had been legally executed on the twenty-sixth of February of the same year, 1491, and was recognized as late as the following June, there is room for doubt regarding the correctness of the date; but both the instrument in Beneimbene's protocol-book, and an abstract of the same in the archives of the Hospital Sancta Sanctorum in Rome, give the last of April as the date of the marriage contract of Lucretia and Don Gasparo. In these proceedings her proxies were, not Antonio Porcaro, but Don Giuffre Borgia, Baron of Villa Longa, the Canon Jacopo Serra of Valencia, and the vicar-general of the same place, Mateo Cucia. Hence follows the curious fact that Lucretia was the betrothed at one and the same time of two young Spaniards.

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