- John Leslie Garner
- The Project Gutenberg
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 Jofrè 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.
Zurita, Anales de Aragon, v. 36.
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.
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.
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.
Raynaldus, 1460. No. 31.
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 eloquenc. 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."
Statura procerus, colore medio, nigris oculis, ore paululum pleniore. Hieron. Portius, Commentarius, a rare publication of 1493, in the Casanatense in Rome.
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."
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.
Gianandrea Boccaccio to the duke, Rome, February 25 and March 11, 1493. State archives of Modena.
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.
Sanuto, Diar. v. i, 258.
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.
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, Giuffrè, 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.
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, Giuffrè, 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.
See Adinolfi's notice quoted by the author in his Geschichte der Stadt Rom im Mittelalter. 2d Aufl. vii, 312.
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 Carlo, 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 Carlo, who, appreciating the work of the faint-hearted poet, was endeavoring to encourage him.
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.
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, Carlo 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.
In the archives of Mantua there is a letter from the Marchesa Isabella to Carlo Canale, dated December 4, 1499.
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 Carlo 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 Carlo'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.
Lodovico Gonzaga to Bartolomeo Erba, Siamo contenti contrahi in nome nro. compaternità cum M. Carolo Carlo, et cussi per questa nostra ti commettiamo et constituimo nostro Procuratore. Note by Affò in his introduction to the Orfeo, p. 113.
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."
Ma Adriana Ursina, la quale è 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.
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.
Jacobus Burgomensis de claris mulieribus, Paris, 1521.
Rarely do we find this word used by Italians in the sense in which we now employ it,—namely, termagant 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.
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 Cibò 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.
Accedit studium illud tuum et perquam fertile bonarum litterarum in quo hac in aetate seris.... Non deerit surgenti tuæ virtuti commodus aliquando et idoneus praeco.—At tu Caesar profecto non parum laudandus es; qui in hac aetate tam facile senem agis. Perge nostri temporis Borgiæ familiæ spes et decus. Introduction to the Syllabica. Rome, 1488. Gennarelli's Edition of Burchard's Diary.
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, Giuffrè, 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."
Regarding Caesar's studies at Pisa, see Angelo Fabroni, Hist. Acad. Pisan. i, 160, 201.
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 Giuffrè, 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.
On June 16, 1491, some changes were made in this contract, which Beneimbene has noted in the same protocol-book.
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 Giuffrè 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.
In spite of the rejection of her first affianced, the Centelles family appears to have remained on good terms with the Borgias, for, later, when Rodrigo became Pope, a certain Gulielmus de Centelles is to be found among his most trusted chamberlains, while Raymondo of the same house was prothonotary and treasurer of Perugia.
On July 25, 1492, occurred the event to which the Borgias had long eagerly looked forward, the death of Innocent VIII. Above all the other candidates for the Papacy were four cardinals: Rafael Riario and Giuliano della Rovere—both powerful nephews of Sixtus IV—Ascanio Sforza, and Rodrigo Borgia.
Before the election was decided there were days of feverish expectation for the cardinal's family. Of his children only Lucretia and Giuffrè were in Rome at the time, and both were living with Madonna Adriana. Vannozza was occupying her own house with her husband, Carlo, who for some time had held the office of secretary of the penitentiary court. She was now fifty years old, and there was but one event to which she looked forward, and upon it depended the gratification of her greatest wish; namely, to see her children's father ascend the papal throne. What prayers and vows she and Madonna Adriana, Lucretia, and Giulia Farnese must have made to the saints for the fulfilment of that wish!
Early on the morning of August 11th breathless messengers brought these women the news from the Vatican—Rodrigo Borgia had won the great prize. To him, the highest bidder, the papacy had been sold. In the election, Cardinal Ascanio Sforza had turned the scale, and for his reward he received the city of Nepi; the office of vice-chancellor, and the Borgia palace, which ever since has borne the name Sforza-Cesarini.
On the morning of this momentous day, when Alexander VI was carried from the conclave hall to S. Peter's there to receive the first expressions of homage, his joyful glance discovered many of his kinsmen in the dense crowd, for thither they had hastened to celebrate his great triumph. It was a long time since Rome had beheld a pope of such majesty, of such beauty of person. His conduct was notorious throughout the city, and no one knew him better in that hour than that woman, Vannozza Catanei, who was kneeling in S. Peter's during the mass, her soul filled with the memories of a sinful past.
Borgia's election did not cause all the Powers anxiety. In Milan, Ludovico il Moro celebrated the event with public festivals; he now hoped to become, through the influence of his brother Ascanio, a "half pope." While the Medici expected much from Alexander, the Aragonese of Naples looked for little. Bitterly did Venice express herself. Her ambassador in Milan publicly declared in August that the papacy had been sold by simony and a thousand deceptions, and that the signory of Venice was convinced that France and Spain would refuse to obey the Pope when they learned of these enormities.
Cum simonia et mille ribalderie et inhonestate si è venduto il Pontificato che è cose ignominiosa et detestabile. Despatch of Giacomo Trotti, Ambassador of Ferrara in Milan, to the Duke Ercole, August 28, 1492, in the archives of Modena.
In the meantime, Alexander VI had received the professions of loyalty of all the Italian States, together with their profuse expressions of homage. The festival of his coronation was celebrated with unparalleled pomp, August 26th. The Borgia arms, a grazing steer, was displayed so generally in the decorations, and was the subject of so many epigrams, that a satirist remarked that Rome was celebrating the discovery of the Sacred Apis. Subsequently the Borgia bull was frequently the object of the keenest satire; but at the beginning of Alexander's reign it was, naïvely enough, the pictorial embodiment of the Pope's magnificence. To-day such symbolism would excite only derision and mirth, but the plastic taste of the Italian of that day was not offended by it.
When Alexander, on his triumphal journey to the Lateran, passed the palace of his fanatical adherents, the Porcari, one of the boys of the family declaimed with much pathos some stanzas which concluded with the verses:
Vive diu bos, vive diu celebrande per annos,
Inter Pontificum gloria prima choros.
These stanzas were written by Hieronymus Porcius, who printed them in Hieronym. Porcius Patritius Romanus Rotæ Primarius Auditor.... Commentarius; a rare publication of Eucharius Silber, Rome, September 18, 1493. The stanzas of Michele Ferno of Milan conclude:
Borgia stirps: bos: atque Ceres transcendit Olympo,
Cantabunt nomen sæcula cuncta suum; which turned out to be a true prophecy. See Michæl Fernus Historia nova Alexandri VI ab Innocentii obitu VIII; an equally rare publication of the same Eucharius Silber, A. 1493.
The statements of Michele Ferno and of Hieronymus Porcius regarding the coronation festivities and the professions of loyalty of the ambassadors from the various Italian Powers must be read to see to what extremes flattery was carried in those days. It is difficult for us to imagine how imposing was the entrance of this brilliant pope upon the spectacular stage of Rome at the time when the papacy was at the zenith of its power—a height it had attained, not through love of the Church, nor by devotion to religion, which had long been debased, but by dazzling the luxury-loving people of the age and by modern politics; in addition to this, the Church had preserved since the Middle Ages a traditional and mystic character which held the respect of the faithful.
Ferno remarks that the history of the world offered nothing to compare with the grandeur of the Pope's appearance and the charm of his person,—and this author was not a bigoted papist, but a diligent student of Pomponius Laetus. Like all the romanticists of the classic revival, however, he was highly susceptible to theatrical effects. Words failed him when he tried to describe the passage of Alexander to S. Maria del Popolo: "These holiday swarms of richly clad people, the seven hundred priests and cardinals with their retinues, these knights and grandees of Rome in dazzling cavalcades, these troops of archers and Turkish horsemen, the palace guards with long lances and glittering shields, the twelve riderless white horses with golden bridles, which were led along, and all the other pomp and parade!" Weeks would be required for arranging a pageant like this at the present time; but the Pope could improvise it in the twinkling of an eye, for the actors and their costumes were always ready. He set it in motion for the sole purpose of showing himself to the Romans, and in order that his majesty might lend additional brilliancy to a popular holiday.
Ferno depicted the Pope himself as a demi-god coming forth to his people. "Upon a snow-white horse he sat, serene of countenance and of surpassing dignity; thus he showed himself to the people, and blessed them; thus he was seen of all. His glance fell upon them and filled every heart with joy. And so his appearance was of good augury for everyone. How wonderful is his tranquil bearing! And how noble his faultless face! His glance, how frank! How greatly does the honor which we feel for him increase when we behold his beauty and vigor of body!" Alexander the Great would have been described in just such terms by Ferno. This was the idolatry which was always accorded the papacy, and no one asked what was the inner and personal life of the glittering idol.
On the occasion of his coronation Alexander appointed his son Caesar, a youth of sixteen, Bishop of Valencia. This he did without being sure of the sanction of Ferdinand the Catholic, who, in fact, for a long time did endeavor to withhold it; but he finally yielded, and the Borgias consequently got the first bishopric in Spain into their hereditary possession. Caesar was not in Rome at the time his father received the tiara. On the twenty-second of August, eleven days after Alexander's election, Manfredi, ambassador from Ferrara to Florence, wrote the Duchess Eleonora d'Este: "The Pope's son, the Bishop of Pamplona, who has been attending the University of Pisa, left there by the Pope's orders yesterday morning, and has gone to the castle of Spoleto."
The fifth of October Caesar was still there, for on that date he wrote a letter to Piero de' Medici from that place. This epistle to Lorenzo's son, the brother of Cardinal Giovanni, shows that the greatest confidence existed between him and Caesar, who says in it that, on account of his sudden departure from Pisa, he had been unable to communicate orally with him, and that his preceptor, Juan Vera, would have to represent him. He recommended his trusted familiar, Francesco Romolini, to Piero for appointment as professor of canon law in Pisa. The letter is signed, "Your brother, Cesar de Borja, Elector of Valencia."
Ex arce Spoletina, die v. Oct. (Di propria mano). Vr. vti fr. Cesar de Borja Elect. Valentin. Published by Reumont in Archiv. Stor. Ital. Serie 3, T. xvii, 1873. 3 Dispensa.
By not allowing his son to come to Rome immediately, Alexander wished to give public proof of what he had declared at the time of his election; namely, that he would hold himself above all nepotism. Perhaps there was a moment when the warning afforded by the examples of Calixtus, Sixtus, and Innocent caused him to hesitate, and to resolve to moderate his love for his offspring. However, the nomination of his son to a bishopric on the day of his coronation shows that his resolution was not very earnest. In October Caesar appeared in the Vatican, where the Borgias now occupied the place which the pitiable Cibòs had left.
On September 1st the Pope made the elder Giovanni Borgia, who was Bishop of Monreale, a cardinal; he was the son of Alexander's sister Giovanna. The Vatican was filled with Spaniards, kinsmen, or friends of the now all-powerful house, who had eagerly hurried thither in quest of fortune and honors. "Ten papacies would not be sufficient to satisfy this swarm of relatives," wrote Gianandrea Boccaccio in November, 1492, to the Duke of Ferrara. Of the close friends of Alexander, Juan Lopez was made his chancellor; Pedro Caranza and Juan Marades his privy chamberlains; Rodrigo Borgia, a nephew of the Pope, was made captain of the palace guard, which hitherto had been commanded by a Doria.
Alexander immediately began to lay the plans for a more brilliant future for his daughter. He would no longer listen to her marrying a Spanish nobleman; nothing less than a prince should receive her hand. Ludovico and Ascanio suggested their kinsman, Giovanni Sforza. The Pope accepted him as son-in-law, for, although he was only Count of Cotognola and vicar of Pesaro, he was an independent sovereign, and he belonged to the illustrious house of Sforza. Alexander had entered early into such close relations with the Sforza that Cardinal Ascanio became all-powerful in Rome. Giovanni, an illegitimate son of Costanzo of Pesaro, and only by the indulgence of Sixtus IV and Innocent VIII his hereditary heir, was a man of twenty-six, well formed and carefully educated, like most of the lesser Italian despots. He had married Maddalena, the beautiful sister of Elisabetta Gonzaga, in 1489, on the very day upon which the latter was joined in wedlock to Duke Guidobaldo of Urbino. He had, however, been a widower since August 8, 1490, on which date his wife died in childbirth.
Sforza hastened to accept the offered hand of the young Lucretia before any of her other numerous suitors could win it. On leaving Pesaro he first went to the castle of Nepi, which Alexander VI had given to Cardinal Ascanio. There he remained a few days and then came quietly to Rome, October 31, 1492. Here he took up his residence in the cardinal's palace of S. Clement, erected by Domenico della Rovere in the Borgo. It is still standing, and in good preservation, opposite the Palazzo Giraud. The Ferrarese ambassador announced Sforza's arrival to his master, remarking, "He will be a great man as long as this pope rules." He explained the retirement in which Sforza lived by stating that the man to whom Lucretia had been legally betrothed was also in Rome.
Era venuto il primo marito de la dicta nepote, qual fu rimesso a Napoli, non visto da niuno.... Despatch of Gianandrea Boccaccio, Bishop of Modena, Rome, November 2, 1492, and November 5 and 9. Archives of Modena.
The young Count Gasparo had come to Rome with his father to make good his claim to Lucretia, through whom he hoped to obtain great favor. Here he found another suitor of whom he had hitherto heard nothing, but whose presence had become known, and he fell into a rage when the Pope demanded from him a formal renunciation. Lucretia, at that time a child of only twelve and a half years, thus became the innocent cause of a contest between two suitors, and likewise the subject of public gossip for the first time. November 5th the plenipotentiary of Ferrara wrote his master, "There is much gossip about Pesaro's marriage; the first bridegroom is still here, raising a great hue and cry, as a Catalan, saying he will protest to all the princes and potentates of Christendom; but will he, will he, he
will have to submit." On the ninth of November the same ambassador wrote, "Heaven prevent this marriage of Pesaro from bringing calamities. It seems that the King (of Naples) is angry on account of it, judging by what Giacomo, Pontano's nephew told the Pope the day before yesterday. The matter is still undecided. Both the suitors are given fair words; both are here. However, it is believed that Pesaro will carry the day, especially as Cardinal Ascanio, who is powerful in deeds as well as in words, is looking after his interests."
In the meantime, November 8th, the marriage contract between Don Gasparo and Lucretia was formally dissolved. The groom and his father merely expressed the hope that the new alliance would reach a favorable consummation, and Gasparo bound himself not to marry within one year. Giovanni Sforza, however, was not yet certain of his victory; December 9th the Mantuan agent Fioravante Brognolo, wrote the Marchese Gonzaga, "The affairs of the illustrious nobleman, Giovanni of Pesaro, are still undecided; it looks to me as if the Spanish nobleman to whom his Highness's niece was promised would not give her up. He has a great following in Spain, consequently the Pope is inclined to let things take their own course for a time, and not force them to a conclusion."
Despatch of that date in the archives of Mantua. Lucretia was still sometimes designated as the Pope's niece.
Even as late as February, 1493, there was talk of a marriage of Lucretia with the Spanish Conde de Prada, and not until this project was relinquished was she betrothed to Giovanni Sforza.
Gianandrea Boccaccio to Duke Ercole, Rome, February 25, 1493.
In the meantime Sforza had returned to Pesaro, whence he sent his proxy, Nicolo de Savano, to Rome to conclude the marriage contract. The Count of Aversa surrendered his advantage and suffered his grief to be assuaged by the payment to him of three thousand ducats. Thereupon, February 2, 1493, the betrothal of Sforza and Lucretia was formally ratified in the Vatican, in the presence of the Milanese ambassador and the intimate friends and servants of Alexander, Juan Lopez, Juan Casanova, Pedro Caranza, and Juan Marades. The Pope's daughter, who was to be taken home by her husband within one year, received a dowry of thirty-one thousand ducats.
When the news of this event reached Pesaro, the fortunate Sforza gave a grand celebration in his palace. "They danced in the great hall, and the couples, hand in hand, issued from the castle, led by Monsignor Scaltes, the Pope's plenipotentiary, and the people in their joy joined in and danced away the hours in the streets of the city."
Ms. Memoirs of Pesaro, by Pietro Marzetti and Ludovico Zacconi, in the Bibl. Oliveriana of Pesaro.
Alexander had a residence furnished for Lucretia close to the Vatican; it was a house which Cardinal Battista Zeno had built in 1483, and was known after his church as the Palace of S. Maria in Portico. It was on the left side of the steps of S. Peter's, almost opposite the Palace of the Inquisition. The building of Bernini's Colonnade has, however, changed the appearance of the neighborhood so that it is no longer recognizable.
The youthful Lucretia held court in her own palace, which was under the management of her maid of honor and governess, Adriana Orsini. Alexander had induced this kinswoman of his to leave the Orsini palace and to take up her abode with Lucretia in the palace of S. Maria in Portico, where we shall frequently see them and another woman who was only too close to the Pope.
Vannozza remained in her own house in the Regola quarter. Her husband had been made commandant or captain of the Torre di Nona, of which Alexander shortly made him warden, a position of great trust, and Carlo gave himself up eagerly to his important and profitable duties. From this time Vannozza and her children saw each other but little, although they were not completely separated. They continued to communicate with each other, but the mother profited only indirectly by the good fortune and greatness of her offspring. Vannozza never allowed herself, nor did Alexander permit her, to have any influence in the Vatican, and her name seldom appears in the records of the time.
Donna Lucretia was now beginning to maintain the state of a great princess. She received the numerous connections of her house, as well as the friends and flatterers of the now all-powerful Borgia. Strange it is that the very man who, after the stormy period of her life, was to take her to a haven of rest should appear there about the time of her betrothal to Sforza, and while the contract was being contested by Don Gasparo.
Among the Italian princes who at that period either sent ambassadors or came in person to Rome to render homage to the new Pope was the hereditary prince of Ferrara. In all Italy there was no other court so brilliant as that of Ercole d'Este and his spouse Eleonora of Aragon, a daughter of King Ferdinand of Naples. She, however, died about this time; namely, October 11, 1493. One of her children, Beatrice, had been married in December, 1490, to Ludovico il Moro, the brilliant monster who was Regent of Milan in place of his nephew Giangaleazzo; her other daughter, Isabella, one of the most beautiful and magnificent women of her day, was married in 1490, when she was only sixteen years of age, to the Marchese Francesco Gonzaga of Mantua. Alfonso was heir to the title, and on February 12, 1491, when he was only fifteen years old, he married Anna Sforza, a sister of the same Giangaleazzo.
In November, 1492, his father sent him to Rome to recommend his state to the favor of the Pope, who received the youthful scion of the house of Sforza,—into which his own daughter was to marry,—with the highest honors. Don Alfonso lived in the Vatican, and during his visit, which lasted for several weeks, he not only had an opportunity, but it was his duty to call on Donna Lucretia. He was filled with amazement when he first beheld the beautiful child with her golden hair and intelligent blue eyes, and nothing was farther from his mind than the idea that the Sforza's betrothed would enter the castle of the Este family at Ferrara, as his own wife, nine years later.
The letter of thanks which the prince's father wrote to the Pope shows how great were the honors with which the son had been received. The duke says:
Most Holy Father and Lord, my Honored Master: I kiss your Holiness's feet and commend myself to you in all humility. What honor and praise was due your Holiness I have long known, and now the letters of the Bishop of Modena, my ambassador, and also of others, not alone those of my dearly beloved first born, Alfonso, but of all the members of his suite, show how much I owe you. They tell me how your Highness included us all, me and mine, within the measure of your love, and overwhelmed all with presents, favors, mercy, and benevolence on my son's arrival in Rome and during his stay there. Therefore I acknowledge that I have for a long time been indebted to your Holiness, and now am still more so on account of this. My obligation is more than I can ever repay, and I promise that my gratitude shall be eternal and measureless like the world. As your most
dutiful servant I shall always be ready to perform anything which may be acceptable to your Holiness, to whom I recommend myself and mine in all humility. Your Holiness's son and servant,
Duke of Ferrara.
[Ferrara, January 3, 1493.]
The letter shows how great was the duke's anxiety to remain on good terms with the Pope.
He was a vassal in Ferrara of the Roman Church, which was endeavoring to transform itself into a monarchy. The princes, as well as the republicans of Italy,—at least those whose possessions were close to the sphere of action of the Holy See or were its vassals,—studied every new pope with suspicion and fear, and also with curiosity to see in what direction nepotism would develop under him. How easily Alexander VI might have again taken up the plans of the house of Borgia where they had been interrupted by the death of his uncle Calixtus, and have followed in the footsteps of Sixtus IV!
Moreover, it was only ten years since the last named pope had, in conjunction with Venice, waged war on Ferrara.
Ercole had maintained friendly relations with Alexander VI when he was only a cardinal; Rodrigo Borgia had even been godfather to his son Alfonso when he was baptized. For his other son, Ippolito, the duke, through his ambassador in Rome, Gianandrea Boccaccio, endeavored to secure a cardinal's cap. The ambassador applied to the most influential of Alexander's confidants, Ascanio Sforza, the chamberlain Marades, and Madonna Adriana. The Pope desired to make his son Caesar a cardinal, and Boccaccio hoped that the youthful Ippolito would be his companion in good fortune. The ambassador gave Marades to understand that the two young men, one of whom was Archbishop of Valencia, the other of Gran, would make a good pair. "Their ages are about the same; I believe that Valencia is not more than sixteen years old, while our Strigonia (Gran) is near that age." Marades replied that this was not quite correct, as Ippolito was not yet fourteen, and the Archbishop of Valencia was in his eighteenth year.
Boccaccio's despatches, Rome, February 25, March 11, 1493.
The youthful Caesar was stirred by other desires than those for spiritual honors. He assumed the hated garb of the priest only on his father's command. Although he was an archbishop he had only the first tonsure. His life was wholly worldly. It was even said that the King of Naples wanted him to marry one of his natural daughters and that if he did so he would relinquish the priesthood. The Ferrarese ambassador called upon him March 17, 1493, in his house in Trastevere, by which was probably meant the Borgo. The picture which Boccaccio on this occasion gave Duke Ercole of this young man of seventeen years is an important and significant portrait, and the first we have of him.
"I met Caesar yesterday in the house in Trastevere; he was just on his way to the chase, dressed in a costume altogether worldly; that is, in silk,—and armed. He had only a little tonsure like a simple priest. I conversed with him for a while as we rode along. I am on intimate terms with him. He possesses marked genius and a charming personality; he bears himself like a great prince; he is especially lively and merry, and fond of society. Being very modest, he presents a much better and more distinguished appearance than his brother, the Duke of Gandia, although the latter is also highly endowed. The archbishop never had any inclination for the priesthood. His benefices, however, bring him in more than sixteen thousand ducats annually. If the projected marriage takes place, his benefices will fall to another brother (Giuffrè), who is about thirteen years old."
Magni et excellentis ingenii et preclare indolis; præ se fert speciem fillii magni Principis, et super omnia ilaris et jocundus, e tutto festa: cum magna siquidem modestia est longe melioris et prestantioris aspectus, quam sit dux Candie germanus suus. Anchora lue è dotato di bone parte. Despatch of March 19, 1493.
It will be seen that the ambassador specially mentions Caesar's buoyant nature. This was one of Alexander's most characteristic traits, and both Caesar and Lucretia who was noted for it later, had inherited it from him. So far as his prudence was concerned, it was proclaimed six years later by a no less distinguished man than Giuliano della Rovere, who afterwards became pope under the name of Julius II.
The Duke of Gandia was in Rome at this time, but it was his intention to set out for Spain to see his spouse immediately after the celebration of the marriage of Sforza and Lucretia. Lucretia's wedding was to take place on S. George's day, but was postponed, as it was found impossible for the bridegroom to arrive in time. Alexander took the greatest pleasure in making the arrangements for setting up his daughter's establishment. Her happiness—or, what to him was the same thing, her greatness—meant much to him. He loved her passionately, superlatively, as the Ferrarese ambassador wrote his master.
Mai fù visto il più carnale homo; l'hama questa madona Lucrezia in superlativo gradu. Boccaccio's Despatch, Rome, April 4, 1493. The word carnale is to be taken only in the sense of nepotism, as it is plainly so used elsewhere by the ambassador.
On the ambassador's suggestion the Duke of Ferrara sent as a wedding gift a pair of large silver hand basins with the accompanying vessels, all of the finest workmanship. Two residences were proposed for the young pair; the palace of S. Maria in Portico and the one near the castle of S. Angelo, which had belonged to the Cardinal Domenicus Porta of Aleria, who died February 4, 1493. The former, in which Lucretia was already living, was chosen.
At last Sforza arrived. June 9th he made his entry by way of the Porta del Popolo, and was received by the whole senate, his brothers-in-law, and the ambassadors of the Powers. Lucretia, attended by several maids of honor, had taken a position in a loggia of her palace to see her bridegroom and his suite on their way to the Vatican. As he rode by, Sforza greeted her right gallantly, and his bride returned his salutation. He was most graciously received by his father-in-law.
Sforza was a man of attractive appearance, as we may readily discover from a medal which he had struck ten years later, which represents him with long, flowing locks and a full beard. The mouth is sensitive, the under lip slightly drawn; the nose is somewhat aquiline; the forehead smooth and lofty. The proportions of his features are noble, but lacking in character.
Three days after his arrival, that is, June 12th, the nuptials were celebrated in the Vatican with ostentatious publicity. Alexander had invited the nobility, the officials of Rome, and the foreign ambassadors to be present. There was a banquet, followed by a licentious comedy, which is described by Infessura.
To corroborate the short account given by this Roman, and at the same time to render the picture more complete, we reproduce, word for word, the description which the Ferrarese ambassador, Boccaccio, sent his master in a communication dated June 13th:
Yesterday, the twelfth of the present month, the union was publicly celebrated in the palace, with the greatest pomp and extravagance. All the Roman matrons were invited, also the most influential citizens, and many cardinals, twelve in number, stood near her, the Pope occupying the throne in their midst. The palace and all the apartments were filled with people, who were overcome with amazement. The lord of Pesaro celebrated his betrothal to his wife, and the Bishop of Concordia delivered a sermon. The only ambassadors present, however, were the Venetian, the Milanese and myself, and one from the King of France.
Cardinal Ascanio thought that I ought to present the gift during the ceremony, so I had some one ask the Pope, to whom I remarked that I did not think it proper, and that it seemed better to me to wait a little while. All agreed with me, whereupon the Pope called to me and said, "It seems to me to be best as you say"; consequently it was arranged that I should bring the present to the palace late in the evening. His Holiness gave a small dinner in honor of the bride and groom, and there were present the Cardinals Ascanio, S. Anastasia, and Colonna; the bride and groom, and next to him the Count of Pitigliano, captain of the Church; Giuliano Orsini; Madonna Giulia Farnese, of whom there is so much talk (de qua est tantus sermo); Madonna Teodorina and her daughter, the Marchesa of Gerazo; a daughter of the above named captain, wife of Angelo Farnese, Madonna Giulia's brother. Then came a younger brother of Cardinal Colonna and Madonna Adriana Ursina. The last is mother-in-law of the above mentioned Madonna Giulia. She had the bride educated in her own home, where she was treated as a niece of the Pope. Adriana is the daughter of the Pope's cousin, Pedro de Mila, deceased, with whom your Excellency was acquainted.
When the table was cleared, which was between three and four o'clock in the morning, the bride was presented with the gift sent by the illustrious Duke of Milan; it consisted of five different pieces of gold brocade and two rings, a diamond and a ruby, the whole worth a thousand ducats. Thereupon I presented your Highness's gift with suitable words of congratulation on the marriage and good wishes for the future, together with the offer of your services. The present greatly pleased the Pope. To the thanks of the bride and groom he added his own expressions of unbounded gratitude. Then Ascanio offered his present, which consisted of a complete drinking service of silver washed with gold, worth about a thousand ducats. Cardinal Monreale gave two rings, a sapphire and a diamond—very beautiful—and worth three thousand ducats; the prothonotary Cesarini gave a bowl and cup worth eight hundred ducats; the Duke of Gandia a vessel worth seventy ducats; the prothonotary Lunate a vase of a certain composition like jasper, ornamented with silver, gilded, which was worth seventy to eighty ducats. These were all the gifts presented at this time; the other cardinals, ambassadors, etc., will bring their presents when the marriage is celebrated, and I will do whatever is necessary. It will, I think, be performed next Sunday, but this is not certain.
In conclusion, the women danced, and, as an interlude, a good comedy was given, with songs and music. The Pope and all the others were present. What shall I add? There would be no end to my letter. Thus we passed the whole night, and whether it was good or bad your Highness may decide.
Lucretia's marriage with Giovanni Sforza confirmed the political alliance which Alexander VI had made with Ludovico il Moro. The Regent of Milan wanted to invite Charles VIII of France into Italy to make war upon King Ferdinand of Naples, so that he himself might ultimately gain possession of the duchy, for he was consumed with ambition and impatience to drive his sickly nephew, Giangaleazzo, from the throne. The latter, however, was the consort of Isabella of Aragon, a daughter of Alfonso of Calabria and the grandson of Ferdinand himself.
The alliance of Venice, Ludovico, the Pope, and some of the other Italian nobles had become known in Rome as early as April 25th. This league, clearly, was opposed to Naples; and its court, therefore, was thrown into the greatest consternation.
Nevertheless, King Ferdinand congratulated the Lord of Pesaro upon his marriage. He looked upon him as a kinsman, and Sforza had likewise been accepted by the house of Aragon. June 15, 1493, the king wrote to him from Capua as follows:
Illustrious Cousin and Our Dearest Friend: We have received your letter of the twenty-second of last month, in which you inform us of your marriage with the illustrious Donna Lucretia, the niece of his Holiness our Master. We are much pleased, both because we always have and still do feel the greatest love for yourself and your house, and also because we believe that nothing could be of greater advantage to you than this marriage. Therefore we wish you the best of fortune, and we pray God, with you, that this alliance may increase your own power and fame and that of your State.
Cod. Aragon, ii, 2.67, ed Trinchera.
Eight days earlier the same king had sent his ambassador to Spain a letter, in which he asked the protection of Ferdinand and Isabella against the machinations of the Pope, whose ways he described as "loathsome"; in this he was referring, not to his political actions, but to his personal conduct. Giulia Farnese, whom Infessura noticed among the wedding guests and described as "the Pope's concubine," caused endless gossip about herself and his Holiness. This young woman surrendered herself to an old man of sixty-two whom she was also compelled to honor as the head of the Church. There is no doubt whatever about her years of adultery, but we can not understand the cause of her passion; for however powerful the demoniac nature of Alexander VI may have been, it must by this time have lost much of its magnetic strength. Perhaps this young and empty-headed creature, after she had once transgressed and the feeling of shame had passed, was fascinated by the spectacle of the sacred master of the world, before whom all men prostrated themselves, lying at her feet—the feet of a weak child.
There is also the suspicion that the cupidity of the Farnese was the cause of the criminal relations, for Giulia's sins were rewarded by nothing less than the bestowal of the cardinal's purple on her brother Alessandro. The Pope had already designated him, among others, for the honor, but the nomination was delayed by the opposition of the Sacred College, over which Giuliano della Rovere presided. King Ferdinand also encouraged this opposition, and on the very day on which Lucretia's marriage to Pesaro was celebrated he placed his army at the disposal of the cardinals who refused to sanction the appointment.
Her consort, Sforza, was now a great man in Rome, and intimate with all the Borgias. June 16th he was seen by the side of the Duke of Gandia, decked in costly robes glittering with precious stones, as if "they were two kings," riding out to meet the Spanish ambassador. Gandia was preparing for his journey to Spain. He had been betrothed to Doña Maria Enriquez, a beautiful lady of Valencia, shortly before his father ascended the papal throne; there is a brief of Alexander's dated October 6, 1492, in which he grants his son and his spouse the right to obtain absolution from any confessor whatsoever. The high birth of Doña Maria shows what brilliant connections the bastard Giovanni Borgia was able to make as a grandee of Spain, for she was the daughter of Don Enrigo Enriquez, High-Treasurer of Leon, and Doña Maria de Luna, who was closely connected with the royal house of Aragon. Don Giovanni left Rome, August 4, 1493, to board a Spanish galley in Civitavecchia. According to the report of the Ferrarese agent, he took with him an incredible number of trinkets, with whose manufacture the goldsmiths of Rome had busied themselves for months.
Of Alexander's sons there now remained in Rome, Caesar, who was to be made a cardinal, and Giuffrè, who was destined to be a prince in Naples, for the quarrel between the Pope and King Ferdinand had been settled through the intermediation of Spain. She caused Alexander to break with France, and to sever his connection with Ludovico il Moro. This surprising change was immediately confirmed by the marriage of Don Giuffrè, a boy of scarcely thirteen, and Donna Sancia, a natural daughter of Duke Alfonso of Calabria. August 16, 1493, the marriage was performed by proxy in the Vatican, and the wedding took place later in Naples.
Caesar himself became cardinal, September 20, 1493, the stain of his birth having been removed by the Cardinals Pallavicini and Orsini, who had been charged with legitimating him. February 25, 1493, Gianandrea Boccaccio wrote to Ferrara regarding the legitimating of Caesar, ironically saying, "They wish to remove the blot of being a natural son, and very rightly; because he is legitimate, having been born in the house while the woman's husband was living. This much is certain: the husband was sometimes in the city and at others traveling about in the territory of the Church and in her interest." The ambassador, however, never mentions the name of this man, which, however, Infessura says was Domenico d'Arignano.
Ippolito d'Este and Alessandro Farnese were made cardinals the same day. To his sister's adultery this young libertine owed his advancement in the Church, a fact so notorious that the wits of the Roman populace called him the "petticoat cardinal." The jubilant kinsmen of Giulia Farnese saw in her only the instrument of their advancement. Girolama Farnese, Giulia 's sister, wrote to her husband, Puccio, from Casignano, October 21, 1493, "You will have received letters from Florence before mine reaches you and have learned what benefices have fallen to Lorenzo, and all that Giulia has secured for him, and you will be greatly pleased."
Carte Strozziane, filz 343. In the archives of Florence.
Even the Republic of Florence sought to profit by Alexander's relations with Giulia; for Puccio, her brother-in-law, was sent to Rome as plenipotentiary. The Florentines had despatched this famous jurist to the papal city immediately after Alexander's accession to the throne, to swear allegiance, and later he was her agent for a year in Faenza, where he conducted the government for Astorre Manfredi, who was a minor. At the beginning of the year 1494 he went as ambassador to Rome, where he died in August.
Lelia Ursina de Farnesio congratulated him on his appointment, January 13, 1494. Ibidem.
His brother, Lorenzo Pucci, subsequently attained to eminence in the Church under Leo X, becoming a powerful cardinal.
The Farnese and their numerous kin were now in high favor with the Pope and all the Borgias. In October, 1493, they invited Alexander and Caesar to a family reunion at the castle of Capodimonte, where Madonna Giovanella, Giulia's mother, was to prepare a banquet. Whether or not this really took place we are ignorant, although we do know that Alexander was in Viterbo the last of October.
In 1492 Giulia gave birth to a daughter, who was named Laura. The child officially passed as that of her husband, Orsini, although in reality the Pope was its father. The Farnese and the Pucci knew the secret and shamelessly endeavored to profit by it. Giulia cared so little for the world's opinion that she occupied the palace of S. Maria in Portico, as if she were a blood relation of Lucretia. Alexander himself had put her there as a lady of honor to his daughter. Her husband, Orsini, preferred, or was compelled, to live in his castle of Bassanello, or to stay on one of the estates which the Pope had presented to him, the husband of Madonna Giulia, "Christ's bride," as the satirists called her, instead of remaining in Rome to be a troublesome witness of his shame.
A remarkable letter of Lorenzo Pucci to his brother Giannozzo, written the 23d and 24th of December, 1493, from Rome, discloses these and other family secrets. He shows us the most private scenes in Lucretia's palace. Lorenzo had been invited by Cardinal Farnese to go with him to Rome to witness the Christmas festivities. He accompanied him from Viterbo to Rignano, where the barons of the Savelli house, kinsmen of the cardinal, formally received them, after which they continued their journey on horseback to Rome. Lorenzo repeated to his brother the confidential conversation which he had enjoyed with the cardinal on the way. Even as early as this there was talk of finding a suitable husband for Giulia's little daughter. The cardinal unfolded his idea to Lorenzo. Piero de' Medici wished to give his own daughter to the youthful Astorre Manfredi of Faenza, but Farnese desired to bring about an alliance between Astorre and Giulia's daughter. He hoped to be able to convince Piero that this union would be advantageous for both himself and the Republic of Florence, and would strengthen his relations with the Holy See. The affair would be handled so that it would appear that it was entirely due to the wishes of the Pope and of Piero. In this the cardinal counted on the consent of both Alexander and Giulia, and on the influence of Madonna Adriana.
Lorenzo Pucci replied to the cardinal's confidence as follows: "Monsignor, I certainly think that our Master (the Pope) will give a daughter to this gentleman (Astorre), for I believe that this child is the Pope's daughter, just as Lucretia is, and your Highness's niece."
In the earlier edition of this work I found some difficulty in the passage: "Chredo che questa puta sia figlia del Papa, como Madonna Luchretia è nipote di S. R. Signoria." I am now convinced that the è is an error of the writer or the copyist and should be simply the conduction e. Lorenzo Pucci's brother Giannozzo was married to Lucrezia Bini, a Florentine, who is mentioned later in this same letter.
In his letter Lorenzo does not say whether the cardinal made any reply to this audacious statement, which would have brought a blush to the face of any honorable man. Probably it only caused Alessandro Farnese a little smile of assent. The bold Pucci repeated his opinion in the same letter, saying, "She is the child of the Pope, the niece of the cardinal, and the putative daughter of Signor Orsini, to whom our Master intends to give three or four more castles near Bassanello. In addition, the cardinal says that in case his brother Angelo remains without heir, this child will inherit his property, as she is very dear to him, and he is already thinking of this; and by this means the illustrious Piero will obtain the support of the cardinal, who will be under everlasting obligations to him." Lorenzo did not overlook himself in these schemes; he
openly expressed the wish that his brother Puccio would come to Rome—as ambassador of the Republic, which he did—and that he might secure through the influence of Madonna Adriana and Giulia a number of good places.
Lorenzo continued his letter December 24th, describing a scene in Lucretia's palace, and his narrative shows her, and especially Giulia, as plainly as if they stood before us.
Giannozzo Mine: Yesterday evening I wrote you as above. To-day, which is Easter evening, I rode with Monsignor Farnese to the papal palace to vespers, and before his Eminence entered the chapel I called at the house S. Maria in Portico to see Madonna Giulia. She had just finished washing her hair when I entered; she was sitting by the fire with Madonna Lucretia, the daughter of our Master, and Madonna Adriana, and they all received me with great cordiality. Madonna Giulia asked me to sit by her side; she thanked me for having taken Jeronima (Girolama) home, and said to me that I must, by all means, bring her there again to please her. Madonna Adriana asked, 'Is it true that she is not allowed to come here any more than she was permitted to go to Capodimonte and Marta?' I replied that I knew nothing about that, and it was enough for me if I had made Madonna Giulia happy by taking her home, for in her letters she had requested me to do so, and now they could do as they pleased. I wanted to leave it to Madonna Giulia, who was alive to all her opportunities, to meet her as she saw fit, as she wanted her to see her magnificence just as much as Jeronima (Girolama) herself wanted to see it. Thereupon Madonna Giulia thanked me warmly and said I had made her very happy. I then reminded her how greatly I was beholden to her Highness by what she had done for me, and that I could not show my gratitude better than by taking Madonna Jeronima (Girolama) home. She answered that such a trifle deserved no thanks. She hopes to be of still greater help to me, and says I shall find her so at the right time. Madonna Adriana joined in saying I might be certain that it was through neither the chancellor, Messer Antonio, nor his deputy, but owing to the favor of Madonna Giulia herself, that I had obtained the benefices.
In order not to contradict, I replied that I knew that, and I again thanked her Highness. Thereupon Madonna Giulia asked with much interest after Messer Puccio and said, "We will see to it that some day he will come here as ambassador; and although, when he was here, we, in spite of all our endeavors, were unable to effect it, we could now accomplish it without any difficulty." She assured me also that the cardinal had mentioned to her the previous evening the matter we had discussed on the road, and she urged me to write; she thought if the affair were handled by yourself, the illustrious Piero would be favorably disposed toward it. Thus far has the matter progressed. Giulia also wanted me to see the child; she is now well grown, and, it seems to me, resembles the Pope, adeo ut vere ex ejus semine orta dici possit. Madonna Giulia has grown somewhat stouter and is a most beautiful creature. She let down her hair before me and had it dressed; it reached down to her feet; never have I seen anything like it; she has the most beautiful hair. She wore a head-dress of fine linen, and over it a sort of net, light as air, with gold threads interwoven in it. In truth it shone like the sun! I would have given a great deal if you could have been present to have informed yourself concerning that which you have often wanted to know. She wore a lined robe in the Neapolitan fashion, as did also Madonna Lucretia, who, after a little while, went out to remove it. She returned shortly in a gown almost entirely of violet velvet. When vespers were over and the cardinals were departing, I left them.
The close association with Giulia, to whose adulterous relations with her father Lucretia was the daily witness, if not a school of vice for her, at least must have kept her constantly in contact with it. Could a young creature of only fourteen years remain pure in such an atmosphere? Must not the immorality in the midst of which she was forced to live have poisoned her senses, dulled her ideas of morality and virtue, and finally have penetrated her own character?
By the end of the year 1493 Alexander had amply provided for all his children. Caesar was a cardinal, Giovanni was a duke in Spain, and Giuffrè was soon to become a Neapolitan prince. The last, the Pope's youngest son, was united in marriage, May 7, 1494, in Naples, to Donna Sancia the same day on which his father-in-law, Alfonso, ascending the throne as the successor of King Ferdinand, was crowned by the papal legate, Giovanni Borgia. Don Giuffrè remained in Naples and became Prince of Squillace. Giovanni also received great fiefs in that kingdom, where he called himself Duke of Suessa and Prince of Teano.
For some time longer Lucretia's spouse remained in Rome, where the Pope had taken him into his pay in accordance with an agreement with Ludovico il Moro under whom Sforza served. His position at Alexander's court, however, soon became ambiguous. His uncles had married him to Lucretia to make the Pope a confederate and accomplice in their schemes which were directed toward the overthrow of the reigning family of Naples. Alexander, however, clung closely to the Aragonese dynasty; he invested King Alfonso with the title to the kingdom of Naples, and declared himself opposed to the expedition of Charles VIII.
Sforza thereby was thrown into no slight perplexity, and early in April, 1494, he informed his uncle Ludovico of his dubious position in the following letter:
Yesterday his Holiness said to me in the presence of Monsignor (Cardinal Ascanio), "Well, Giovanni Sforza! What have you to say to me?" I answered, "Holy Father, every one in Rome believes that your Holiness has entered into an agreement with the King of Naples, who is an enemy of the State of Milan. If this is so, I am in an awkward position, as I am in the pay of your Holiness and also in that of the State I have named. If things continue as they are, I do not know how I can serve one party without falling out with the other, and at the same time I do not wish to offend. I ask that your Holiness may be pleased to define my position so that I may not become an enemy of my own blood, and not act contrary to the obligations into which I have entered by virtue of my agreement with your Holiness and the illustrious State of Milan." He replied, saying that I took too much interest in his affairs, and that I should choose in whose pay I would remain according to my contract. And then he commanded the above-named monsignor to write to your Excellency what you will learn from his lordship's letter. My lord, if I had foreseen in what a position I was to be placed I would sooner have eaten the straw under my body than have entered into such an agreement. I cast myself in your arms. I beg your Excellency not to desert me, but to give me help, favor, and advice how to resolve the difficulty in which I am placed, so that I may remain a good servant of your Excellency. Preserve for me the position and the little nest which, thanks to the mercy of Milan, my ancestors left me, and I and my men of war will ever remain at the service of your Excellency.
Rome, April, 1494.
The letter plainly discloses other and deeper concerns of the writer; such, for example, as the future possession of his domain of Pesaro. The Pope's plans to destroy all the little tyrannies and fiefs in the States of the Church had already been clearly revealed.
This letter is printed in Atti e Memorie Modenesi, i. 433.
Shortly after this, April 23d, Cardinal della Rovere slipped away from Ostia and into France to urge Charles VIII to invade Italy, not to attack Naples, but to bring this simoniacal pope before a council and depose him.
At the beginning of July Ascanio Sforza, now openly at strife with Alexander, also left the city. He went to Genazzano and joined the Colonna, who were in the pay of France. Charles VIII was already preparing to invade Italy. The Pope and King Alfonso met at Vicovaro near Tivoli, July 14th.
In the meantime important changes had taken place in Lucretia's palace. Her husband had hurriedly left Rome, as he could do as a captain of the Church, in which capacity he had to join the Neapolitan army, now being formed in Romagna under the command of the Duke Ferrante of Calabria. By his nuptial contract he was bound to take his bride with him to Pesaro. She was accompanied by her mother, Vannozza, Giulia Farnese, and Madonna Adriana. Alexander himself, through fear of the plague, which had appeared, commanded them to depart. The Mantuan ambassador in Rome reported this to the Marchese Gonzaga, May 6th, and also wrote him on the fifteenth as follows: "The illustrious Lord Giovanni will certainly set out Monday or Tuesday accompanied by all three ladies, who, by the Pope's order, will remain in Pesaro until August, when they will return."
Despatch of Giorgio Brognolo to the Marchese, Rome, May 6 and 15, 1494. Archives of Mantua.
Sforza's departure must have taken place early in June, for on the eleventh of that month a letter from Ascanio was sent to his brother in Milan informing him that the lord of Pesaro with his wife and Madonna Giulia, the Pope's mistress, together with the mother of the Duke of Gandia, and Giuffrè, had set out from Rome for Pesaro, and that his Holiness had begged Madonna Giulia to come back soon.
Despatch of Jacomo Trotti to Duke Ercole, Milan, June 11, 1494. May 1st the women were still in Rome, for on that date Madonna Adriana wrote a letter from there to the Marchesa of Mantua recommending a friend to her. The letter is in the Mantuan archives.
Alexander had returned to Rome from Vicovaro, July 18th, and on the 24th he wrote his daughter the following letter:
Alexander VI, Pope; by his own hand.
Donna Lucretia, Dearest Daughter: For several days we have had no letter from you. Your neglect to write us often and tell us how you and Don Giovanni, our beloved son, are, causes us great surprise. In future be more heedful and more diligent. Madonna Adriana and Giulia have reached Capodimonte, where they found the latter's brother dead. His death caused the cardinal and Giulia such distress that both fell sick of the fever. We have sent Pietro Caranza to look after them, and have provided physicians and everything necessary. We pray to God and the glorious Madonna that they will soon be restored. Of a truth Don Giovanni and yourself have displayed very little thought for me in this departure of Madonna Adriana and Giulia, since you allowed them to leave without our permission; for you should have remembered—it was your duty—that such a sudden departure without our knowledge would cause us the greatest displeasure. And if you say that they did so because Cardinal Farnese commanded it, you ought to have asked yourself whether it would please the Pope. However, it is done; but another time we will be more careful, and will look about to see where our interest lies. We are, thanks to God and the glorious Virgin, very well. We have had an interview with the illustrious King Alfonso, who showed us no less love and obedience than he would have shown had he been our own son. I cannot tell you with what satisfaction and contentment we took leave of each other. You may be certain that his Majesty stands ready to place his own person and every thing he has in the world at our service.
We hope that all differences and quarrels in regard to the Colonna will be completely laid aside in three or four days. At present I have nothing more to say than to warn you to be careful of your health and constantly to pray to the Madonna. Given in Rome in S. Peter's, July 24, 1494.
The letter is published in Ugolino's Storia dei Conti e Duchi d'Urbino, II. Document No. 13. I saw the original in the state archives of Florence; only the address is in Alexander's hand, the rest is written by the Chancellor Juan Lopez, who signs himself Jo. Datarius.
This letter is the first of the few extant written by Alexander to his daughter. His reproof was due to the sudden departure of his mistress—contrary to his original instructions—from Pesaro before August. From there Giulia went to Capodimonte to look after her sick brother Angiolo. According to a Venetian letter written by Marino Sanuto, she had left Rome chiefly for the purpose of attending the wedding of one of her kinsmen, and the writer describes her in this place as "the Pope's favorite, a young woman of great beauty and understanding, gracious and gentle."
Alexander's letter shows us that his mistress remained in communication with him after her departure from Rome.
The storm which suddenly broke upon Alexander did not disturb Lucretia, for on the eighth of June, 1494, she and her spouse entered Pesaro. In a pouring rain, which interrupted the reception festivities, she took possession of the palace of the Sforza, which was now to be her home.
The history of Pesaro up to that time is briefly as follows:
Ancient Pisaurum, which was founded by the Siculi, received its name from the river which empties into the sea not far from the city, and which is now known as the Foglia. In the year 570 of Rome the city became a Roman colony. From the time of Augustus it belonged to the fourth department of Italy, and from the time of Constantine to the province of Flaminia. After the fall of the Roman Empire it suffered the fate of all the Italian cities, especially in the great war of the Goths with the Eastern emperor. Vitiges destroyed it; Belisarius restored it.
After the fall of the Gothic power, Pesaro was incorporated in the Exarchate, and together with four other cities on the Adriatic—Ancona, Fano, Sinigaglia, and Rimini—constituted the Pentapolis. When Ravenna fell into the hands of the Lombard King Aistulf, Pesaro also became Lombard; but later, by the deed of Pipin and Charles, it passed into the possession of the Pope.
The subsequent history of the city is interwoven with that of the Empire, the Church and the March of Ancona. For a long time imperial counts resided there. Innocent III invested its title in Azzo d'Este, the Lord of the March. During the struggles of the Hohenstaufen with the papacy it first was in the possession of the emperor and later in that of the Pope, who held it until the end of the thirteenth century, when the Malatesta became podestas, and subsequently lords of the city. This famous Guelph family from the castle of Verrucchio, which lies between Rimini and S. Marino, fell heir to the fortress of Gradara, in the territory of Pesaro, and by degrees extended its power in the direction of Ancona. In 1285 Gianciotto Malatesta became lord of Pesaro, and on his death, in 1304, his brother Pandolfo inherited his domain.
From that time the Malatesta, lords of nearby Rimini, controlled not only Pesaro, but a large part of the March which they appropriated to themselves when the papacy was removed to Avignon. They secured themselves in the possession of Rimini, Pesaro, Fano, and Fossombrone by an agreement made during the life of the famous Gil d'Albornoz, confirming them in their position there as vicars of the Church. A branch of this house resided in Pesaro until the time of Galeazzo Malatesta. Threatened by his kinsman Sigismondo, the tyrant of Rimini, and unable to hold Pesaro against his attack, he sold the city in 1445 for twenty thousand gold florins to Count Francesco Sforza, and the latter gave it as a fief to his brother Alessandro, the husband of a niece of Galeazzo. Sforza was the great condottiere who, after the departure of the Visconti, ascended the throne of Milan as the first duke of his house. While he was there establishing the ducal line of Sforza, his brother Alessandro became the founder of the ruling house of Pesaro.
This brave captain took possession of Pesaro in March, 1445; two years later he received the papal investiture of the fief. He was married to Costanza Varano, one of the most beautiful and intellectual women of the Italian Renaissance.
To him she bore Costanzo and also a daughter, Battista, who later, as the wife of Federico of Urbino, won universal admiration by her virtues and talents. The neighboring courts of Pesaro and Urbino were connected by marriage, and they vied with each other in fostering the arts and sciences. Another illegitimate daughter of Alessandro's was Ginevra Sforza—a woman no less admired in her day—celebrated, first as the wife of Sante and then as that of Giovanni Bentivoglio, Lord of Bologna.
After the death of his wife, Alessandro Sforza married Sveva Montefeltre, a daughter of Guidantonio of Urbino. After a happy reign he died April 3, 1473, leaving his possessions to his son.
A year later Costanzo Sforza married Camilla Marzana d'Aragona, a beautiful and spirituelle princess of the royal house of Naples. He himself was brilliant and liberal. He died in 1483, when only thirty-six, leaving no legitimate heirs, his sons Giovanni and Galeazzo being natural children. His widow Camilla thenceforth conducted the government of Pesaro for herself and her stepson Giovanni until November, 1489, when she compelled him to assume entire control of it.
Such was the history of the Sforza family of Pesaro, into which Lucretia now entered as the wife of this same Giovanni.
The domain of the Sforza at that time embraced the city of Pesaro and a number of smaller possessions, called castles or villas; for example, S. Angelo in Lizzola, Candelara, Montebaroccio, Tomba di Pesaro, Montelabbate, Gradara, Monte S. Maria, Novilara, Fiorenzuola, Castel di Mezzo, Ginestreto, Gabicce, Monteciccardo, and Monte Gaudio. In addition, Fossombrone was taken by the Sforzas from the Malatesta.
The principality belonged, as we have seen, for a long time to the Church, then to the Malatesta, and later to the Sforza, who, under the title of vicars, held it as a hereditary fief, paying the Church annually seven hundred and fifty gold ducats. The daughter of a Roman pontiff must, therefore, have been the most acceptable consort the tyrant of Pesaro could have secured under the existing circumstances, especially as the popes were striving to destroy all the illegitimate powers in the States of the Church. When Lucretia saw how small and unimportant was her little kingdom, she must have felt that she did not rank with the women of Urbino, Ferrara, and Mantua, or with those of Milan and Bologna; but she, by the authority of the Pope, her own father, had become an independent princess, and, although her territory embraced only a few square miles, to Italy it was a costly bit of ground.
Pesaro lies free and exposed in a wide valley. A chain of green hills sweeps half around it like the seats in a theater, and the sea forms the stage. At the ends of the semicircle are two mountains, Monte Accio and Ardizio. The Foglia River flows through the valley. On its right bank lies the hospitable little city with its towers and walls, and its fortress on the white seashore. Northward, in the direction of Rimini, the mountains approach nearer the water, while to the south the shore is broader, and there, rising out of the mists of the sea, are the towers of Fano. A little farther Cape Ancona is visible.
The sunny hills and their smiling valley under the blue canopy of heaven, and near the shimmering sea, form a picture of entrancing loveliness. It is the most peaceful spot on the Adriatic. It seems as if the breezes from sea and land wafted a lyric harmony over the valley, expanding the heart and filling the soul with visions of beauty and happiness. Pesaro is the birthplace of Rosini, and also of Terenzio Mamiani, the brilliant poet and statesman who devoted his great talents to the regeneration of Italy.
The passions of the tyrants of this city were less ferocious than were those of the other dynasties of that age, perhaps because their domain was too small a stage for the dark deeds inspired by inordinate ambition—although the human spirit does not always develop in harmony with the influences of nature. One of the most hideous of evil doers was Sigismondo Malatesta of mild and beautiful Rimini. The Sforzas of Pesaro, however, seem generous and humane rulers in comparison with their cousins of Milan. Their court was adorned by a number of noble women whom Lucretia may have felt it her duty to imitate.
If, when Lucretia entered Pesaro, her soul—young as she was—was not already dead to all agreeable sensations, she must have enjoyed for the first time the blessed sense of freedom. To her, gloomy Rome, with the dismal Vatican and its passions and crimes, must have seemed like a prison from which she had escaped. It is true everything about her in Pesaro was small when compared with the greatness of Rome, but here she was removed from the direct influence of her father and brother, from whom she was separated by the Apennines and a distance which, in that age, was great.
The city of Pesaro, which now has more than twelve thousand, and with its adjacent territory over twenty thousand inhabitants had then about half as many. It had streets and squares with substantial specimens of Gothic architecture, interspersed, however, even then, with numerous palaces in the style of the Renaissance. A number of cloisters and churches, whose ancient portals are still preserved, such as S. Domenico, S. Francesco, S. Agostino, and S. Giovanni, rendered the city imposing if not beautiful.
Pesaro's most important structures were the monuments of the ruling dynasty, the stronghold on the seashore and the palace facing the public square. The last was begun by Costanzo Sforza in 1474 and was completed by his son Giovanni. Even to-day his name may be seen on the marble tablet over the entrance. The castle with its four low, round towers or bastions, all in ruin, and surrounded by a moat, stands at the end of the city wall near the sea, and whatever strength it had was due to its environment; in spite of its situation it appears so insignificant that one wonders how, even in those days when the science of gunnery was in its infancy, it could have had any value as a fortress.
The Sforza palace is still standing on the little public square of which it occupies one whole side. It is an attractive, but not imposing structure with two large courts. The Della Rovere, successors of the Sforza in Pesaro, beautified it during the sixteenth century; they built the noble façade which rests upon a series of six round arches. The Sforza arms have disappeared from the palace, but in many places over the portals and on the ceilings the inscription of Guidobaldus II, duke, and the Della Rovere arms may be seen. Even in Lucretia's day the magnificent banquet hall—the most beautiful room in the palace—was in existence, and its size made it worthy of a great monarch. The lack of decorations on the walls and of marble casings to the doors, like those in the castle of Urbino, which fill the beholder with wonder, show how limited were the means of the ruling dynasty of Pesaro. The rich ceiling of the salon, made of gilded and painted woodwork, dates from the reign of Duke Guidobaldo. All mementos of the time when Lucretia occupied the palace have disappeared; it is animated by other memories—of the subsequent court life of the Della Rovere family, when Bembo, Castiglione, and Tasso frequently were guests there. Lucretia and the suite that accompanied her could not have filled the wide rooms of the palace; her mother, Madonna Adriana, and Giulia Farnese remained with her only a short time. A young Spanish woman in her retinue, Doña Lucretia Lopez, a niece of Juan Lopez, chancellor and afterward cardinal, was married in Pesaro to Gianfrancesco Ardizio, the physician and confidant of Giovanni Sforza.
In the palace there were few kinsmen of her husband besides his younger brother Galeazzo, for the dynasty was not fruitful and was dying out. Even Camilla d'Aragona, Giovanni's stepmother, was not there, for she had left Pesaro for good in 1489, taking up her residence in a castle near Parma.
In summer the beautiful landscape must have afforded the young princess much delight. She doubtless visited the neighboring castle of Urbino, where Guidobaldo di Montefetre and his spouse Elisabetta resided, and which the accomplished Federico had made an asylum for the cultivated. At that time Raphael, a boy of twelve, was living in Urbino, a diligent pupil in his father's school.
In summer Lucretia removed to one of the beautiful villas on a neighboring hill. Her husband's favorite abode was Gradara, a lofty castle overlooking the road to Rimini, whose red walls and towers are still standing in good preservation. The most magnificent country place, however, was the Villa Imperiale, which is a half hour's journey from Pesaro, on Monte Accio, whence it looks down far over the land and sea. It is a splendid summer palace worthy of a great lord and of people of leisure, capable of enjoying the amenities of life. It was built by Alessandro Sforza in the year 1464, its corner-stone having been laid by the Emperor Frederic III when he was returning from his coronation as Emperor of Rome; hence it received the name Villa Imperiale. It was enlarged later by Eleonora Gonzaga, the wife of Francesco Maria della Rovere, the heir of Urbino, and Giovanni Sforza's successor in the dominion of Pesaro. Famous painters decorated it with allegoric and historical pictures; Bembo and Bernardo Tasso sang of it in melodious numbers, and there, in the presence of the Della Rovere court, Torquato read his pastoral Aminta. This villa is now in a deplorable state of decay. Pesaro offered but little in the way of entertainment for a young woman accustomed to the society of Rome. The city had no nobility of importance. The houses of Brizi, of Ondedei, of Giontini, Magistri, Lana, and Ardizi, in their patriarchal existence, could offer Lucretia no compensation for the inspiring intercourse with the grandees of Rome. It is true the wave of culture which, thanks to the humanists, was sweeping over Italy
did reach Pesaro. The manufacture of majolica, which, in its perfection, was not an unworthy successor of the pottery of Greece and Etruria, flourished there and in the neighboring cities on the Adriatic, and as far as Umbria. It had reached a considerable development in the time of the Sforza. One of the oldest pieces of majolica in the Correro Museum in Venice, Solomon worshiping the idol, bears the date 1482. As early as the fourteenth century this art was cultivated in Pesaro, and it was in a very nourishing condition during the reign of Camilla d'Aragona. There are still some remains of the productions of the old craftsmen of the city in the State-house of Pesaro.
There, too, the intellectual movement manifested itself in other fields, fostered by the Sforza or their wives, in emulation of Urbino and Rimini, where Sigismondo Malatesta gathered about him poets and scholars whom he pensioned during their lives, and for whom, when dead, he built sarcophagi about the outer wall of the church. Camilla interested herself especially in the cultivation of the sciences. In 1489 she invited a noble Greek, Giorgio Diplovatazio, of Corfu, a kinsman of the Laskaris and the Vatazes, who, fleeing from the Turks, had come to Italy, and taken up his abode in Pesaro, where were living other Greek exiles of the Angeli, Komnenen, and Paleologue families. Diplovatazio had studied in Padua. Giovanni Sforza made him state's advocate of Pesaro in 1492, and he enjoyed a brilliant reputation as a jurisprudent until his death in 1541.
Memorie di Tommaso Diplovatazio Patrizio Constantinopolitano e Pesarese, da Annibale Olivieri. Pesaro, 1771.
Lucretia, consequently, found this illustrious man in Pesaro and might have continued her studies under him and other natives of Greece if she was so disposed. A library, which the Sforzas had collected, provided her with the means for this end. Another scholar, however, no less famous, Pandolfo Collenuccio, a poet, orator, and philologist, best known by his history of Naples, had left Pesaro before Lucretia took up her abode there. He had served the house of Sforza as secretary and in a diplomatic capacity, and to his eloquence Lucretia's husband, Costanzo's bastard, owed his investiture of the fief of Pesaro by Sixtus IV and Innocent VIII. Collenuccio, however, fell under his displeasure and was cast into prison in 1488 and subsequently banished, when he went to Ferrara, where he devoted his services to the reigning family. He accompanied Cardinal Ippolito to Rome, and here we find him in 1494 when Lucretia was about to take up her residence in Pesaro. In Rome she may have made the acquaintance of this scholar.
Regarding Collenuccio see the works of his compatriot Giulio Perticari, Opp. Bologna, 1837. Vol. ii, 52 sqq.
Nor was the young poet Guido Posthumus Silvester in Pesaro during her time, for he was then a student in Padua. Lucretia must have regretted the absence from her court of this soulful and aspiring poet, and her charming personality might have served him for an inspiration for verses quite different from those which he later addressed to the Borgias.
Sforza's beautiful consort was received with open arms in Pesaro, where she immediately made many friends. She was in the first charm of her youthful bloom, and fate had not yet brought the trouble into her life which subsequently made her the object either of horror or of pity. If she enjoyed any real love in her married life with Sforza she would have passed her days in Pesaro as happily as the queen of a pastoral comedy. But this was denied her. The dark shadows of the Vatican reached even to the Villa Imperiale on Monte Accio. Any day a despatch from her father might summon her back to Rome. Her stay in Pesaro may also have become too monotonous, too empty for her; perhaps, also, her husband's position as condottiere in the papal army and in that of Venice compelled him often to be away from his court.
Events which in the meantime had convulsed Italy took Lucretia back to Rome, she having spent but a single year in Pesaro.
Early in September, 1494, Charles VIII marched into Piedmont, and the affairs of all Italy suffered an immediate change. The Pope and his allies Alfonso and Piero de' Medici found themselves almost defenseless in a short time. As early as November 17th the King entered Florence. Alexander was anxious to meet him with his own and the Neapolitan troops at Viterbo, where Cardinal Farnese was legate; but the French overran the Patrimonium without hindrance, and even the Pope's mistress, her sister Girolama, and Madonna Adriana, who were Alexander's "heart and eyes," fell into the hands of a body of French scouts.
The Mantuan agent, Brognolo, informed his master of this event in a despatch dated November 29, 1494: "A calamity has happened which is also a great insult to the Pope. Day before yesterday Madonna Hadriana and Madonna Giulia and her sister set out from their castle of Capodimonte to go to their brother the cardinal, in Viterbo, and, when about a mile from that place, they met a troop of French cavalry by whom they were taken prisoners, and led to Montefiascone, together with their suite of twenty-five or thirty persons."
The French captain who made this precious capture was Monseigneur d'Allegre, perhaps the same Ivo who subsequently entered the service of Caesar. "When he learned who the beautiful women were he placed their ransom at three thousand ducats, and in a letter informed King Charles whom he had captured, but the latter refused to see them. Madonna Giulia wrote to Rome saying they were well treated, and asking that their ransom be sent."
This information is given by Marino Sanuto, Venuta di Carlo VIII, in Italia; original in the Paris library, also a copy in the Marciana. He calls Giulia "favorita del Pontefice, di età giovane, et bellissima savia accorda et mansueta."
The knowledge of this catastrophe caused Alexander the greatest dismay. He immediately despatched a chamberlain to Marino, where Cardinal Ascanio was to be found in the headquarters of the Colonna, and who, on his urgent request, had returned November 2d, and had had an interview with King Charles. He complained to the cardinal of the indignity which had been put upon him, and asked his cooperation to secure the release of the prisoners. He also wrote to Galeazzo of Sanseverino, who was accompanying the king to Siena, and who, wishing to please the Pope, urged Charles VIII to release the ladies. Accompanied by an escort of four hundred of the French, they were led to the gates of Rome, where they were received December 1st by Juan Marades, the Pope's chamberlain.
According to one of Brognolo's despatches (Mantuan archives) Giulia and Adriana returned December 1st, on which date Pandolfo Collenuccio, who was in Rome, wrote, "Una optima novella ce è per alcuno. Che Ma Julia si è recuperata, et andò Messer Joan Marrades per Lei. Et è venuta in Roma: e dicesi, che Domenica de nocte allogiò in Palazzo." Archives of Modena.
This romantic adventure caused a sensation throughout all Italy. The people, instead of sympathizing with the Pope, ridiculed him mercilessly. A letter from Trotti, the Ferrarese ambassador at the court of Milan, to Duke Ercole, quotes the words which Ludovico il Moro, the usurper of the throne of his nephew, whom he had poisoned, uttered on this occasion concerning the Pope.
"He (Ludovico) gravely reproved Monsignor Ascanio and Cardinal Sanseverino for surrendering Madonna Giulia, Madonna Adriana, and Hieronyma to his Holiness; for, since these ladies were the 'heart and eyes' of the Pope, they would have been the best whip for compelling him to do everything which was wanted of him, for he could not live without them. The French, who captured them, received only three thousand ducats as ransom, although the Pope would gladly have paid fifty thousand or more simply to have them back again. The same duke received news from Rome, and also from Angelo in Florence, that when the ladies entered, his Holiness went to meet them arrayed in a black doublet bordered with gold brocade, with a beautiful belt in the Spanish fashion, and with sword and dagger. He wore Spanish boots and a velvet biretta, all very gallant. The duke asked me, laughing, what I thought of it, and I told him that, were I the Duke of Milan, like him, I would endeavor, with the aid of the King of France and in every other way—and on the pretext of establishing peace—to entrap his Holiness, and with fair words, such as he himself was in the habit of using, to take him and the cardinals prisoners, which would be very easy. He who has the servant, as we say at home, has also the wagon and the oxen; and I reminded him of the verse of Catullus: 'Tu quoque fac simile: ars deluditur arte.'"
Despatch of Giacomo Trotti, Milan, December 21, 1494. Archives of Modena.
Ludovico, the worthy contemporary of the Borgias, once an intimate friend of Alexander VI, hated the Pope when he turned his face away from him and France, and he was especially embittered by the treacherous capture of his brother Ascanio. December 28th the same ambassador wrote to Ercole, "The Duke Ludovico told me that he was hourly expecting the arrival of Messer Bartolomeo da Calco with a courier bringing the news that the Pope was taken and beheaded."
Che li pareva ogni hora vedere messer Bartolomeo da Calche venire a Sua Eccia cum una staffetta, chel papa fosse preso, e li fosse taliata la testa.
I leave it to the reader to decide whether Ludovico, simply owing to his hatred of the Pope, was slandering him and indulging in extravagances concerning him when he had this conversation with Trotti, and also when he publicly stated to his senate that "the Pope had allowed three women to come to him; one of them being a nun of Valencia, the other a Castilian, the third a very beautiful girl from Venice, fifteen or sixteen years of age." "Here in Milan," continued Trotti in his despatch, "the same scandalous things are related of the Pope as are told in Ferrara of the Torta."
Trotti to the Duke of Ferrara, Milan, December 24, 1494.
Elsewhere we may read how Charles VIII, victorious without the trouble of winning battles, penetrated as far as Rome and Naples. His march through Italy is the most humiliating of all the invasions which the peninsula suffered; but it shows that when states and peoples are ready for destruction, the strength of a weak-headed boy is sufficient to bring about their ruin. The Pope outwitted the French monarch, who, instead of having him deposed by a council, fell on his knees before him, acknowledged him to be Christ's vicar, and concluded a treaty with him.
After this he set out for Naples, which shortly fell into his hands. Italy rose, a league against Charles VIII was formed, and he was compelled to return. Alexander fled before him, first in the direction of Orvieto, and then toward Perugia. While there he summoned Giovanni Sforza, who arrived with his wife, June 16, 1495, remained four days, and then went back to Pesaro.
This is the date given by Marino Sanuto in his Ms. History of the Invasion of Charles VIII, fol. 470.
The King of France succeeded in breaking his way through the League's army at the battle of the Taro, and thus honorably escaped death or capture.
Having returned to Rome, Alexander established himself still more firmly in the holy chair, about which he gathered his ambitious bastards, while the Borgias pushed themselves forward all the more audaciously because the confusion occasioned in the affairs of Italy by the invasion of Charles VIII made it all the easier for them to carry out their intentions.
Lucretia remained a little longer in Pesaro with her husband, whom Venice had engaged in the interests of the League. Giovanni Sforza, however, does not appear to have been present either at the battle of the Taro or at the siege of Novara. When peace was declared in October, 1495, between France and the Duke of Milan, whereby the war came to an end in Northern Italy, Sforza was able to take his wife back to Rome. Marino Sanuto speaks of her as having been in that city at the end of October, and Burchard gives us a picture of Lucretia at the Christmas festivities.
While in the service of the League Sforza commanded three hundred foot soldiers and one hundred heavy horse. With these troops he set out for Naples in the spring of the following year, when the united forces lent the young King Ferrante II great assistance in the conflicts with the French troops under Montpensier. Even the Captain-general of Venice, the Marchese of Mantua, was there, and he entered Rome, March 26, 1496. Sforza with his mercenaries arrived in Rome, April 15th, only to leave the city again April 28th. His wife remained behind. May 4th he reached Fundi.
These dates are from the Diary of Marino Sanuto, vol. i. fol. 55, 58, 85.
Alexander's two sons, Don Giovanni and Don Giuffrè, were still away from Rome. One, the Duke of Gandia, was also in the pay of Venice, and was expected from Spain to take command of four hundred men which his lieutenant, Alovisio Bacheto, had enlisted for him. The other, Don Giuffrè, had, as we have seen, gone to Naples in 1494, where he had married Donna Sancia and had been made Prince of Squillace. As a member of the house of Aragon he shared the dangers of the declining dynasty in the hope of inducing the Pope not to abandon it. He accompanied King Ferrante on his flight, and also followed his standard when, after the retreat of Charles VIII, he, with the help of Spain, Venice, and the Pope, again secured possession
of his kingdom, entering Naples in the summer of 1495.
Not until the following year did Don Giuffrè and his wife come to Rome. In royal state they entered the Eternal City, May 20, 1496. The ambassadors, cardinals, officers of the city, and numerous nobles went to meet them at the Lateran gate. Lucretia also was there with her suite. The young couple were escorted to the Vatican. The Pope on his throne, surrounded by eleven cardinals, received his son and daughter-in-law. On his right hand he had Lucretia and on his left Sancia, sitting on cushions. It was Whitsuntide, and the two princesses and their suites boldly occupied the priests' benches in S. Peter's, and, according to Burchard, the populace was greatly shocked.
Three months later, August 10, 1496, Alexander's eldest son, Don Giovanni, Duke of Gandia, entered Rome, where he remained, his father having determined to make him a great prince.
Il di de S. Laurentio il Duca de Gandia figliuolo del Papa, intrò in Roma accompagnato dal Card. de Valentia, et tutta la corte con grandissima pompa. Despatch of Ludovico Carissimi to the Duke of Ferrara, Rome, August 15, 1496. Archives of Modena.
It is not related whether he brought his wife, Donna Maria, with him.
For the first time Alexander had all his children about him, and in the Borgo of the Vatican there were no less than three nepot-courts. Giovanni resided in the Vatican, Lucretia in the palace of S. Maria in Portico, Giuffrè in the house of the Cardinal of Aleria near the Bridge of S. Angelo, and Caesar in the same Borgo.
They all were pleasure-loving upstarts who were consumed with a desire for honors and power; all were young and beautiful; except Lucretia, all were vicious, graceful, seductive scoundrels, and, as such, among the most charming and attractive figures in the society of old Rome. For only the narrowest observer, blind to everything but their infamous deeds, can paint the Borgias simply as savage and cruel brutes, tiger-cubs by nature. They were privileged malefactors, like many other princes and potentates of that age. They mercilessly availed themselves of poison and poignard, removing every obstacle to their ambition, and smiled when the object was attained.
If we could see the life which these unrestrained bastards led in the Vatican, where their father, conscious now of his security and greatness, was enthroned, we should indeed behold strange things. It was a singular drama which was being enacted in the domain of S. Peter, where two young and beautiful women held a dazzling court, which was always animated by swarms of Spanish and Italian lords and ladies and the elegant world of Rome. Nobles and monsignori crowded around to pay homage to these women, one of whom, Lucretia, was just sixteen, and the other, Sancia, a little more than seventeen years of age.
We may imagine what love intrigues took place in the palace of these young women, and how jealousy and ambition there carried on their intricate game, for no one will believe that these princesses, full of the passion and exuberance of youth, led the life of nuns or saints in the shadows of S. Peter's. Their palace resounded with music and the dance, and the noise of revels and of masquerades. The populace saw these women accompanied by splendid cavalcades riding through the streets of Rome to the Vatican; they knew that the Pope was in daily intercourse with them, visiting them in person and taking part in their festivities, and also receiving them, now privately, and now with ceremonious pomp, as befitted princesses of his house. Alexander himself, much as he was addicted to the pleasures of the senses, cared nothing for elaborate banquets. Concerning the Pope, the Ferrarese ambassador wrote to his master in 1495 as follows:
He partakes of but a single dish, though this must be a rich one. It is, consequently, a bore to dine with him. Ascanio and others, especially Cardinal Monreale, who formerly were his Holiness's table companions, and Valenza too, broke off this companionship because his parsimony displeased them, and avoided it whenever and however they could.
Boccaccio to Ercole, March 24, 1495.
The doings in the Vatican furnished ground for endless gossip, which had long been current in Rome. It was related in Venice, in October, 1496, that the Duke of Gandia had brought a Spanish woman to his father, with whom he lived, and an account was given of a crime which is almost incredible, although it was related by the Venetian ambassador and other persons.
The report is given in Diar. Marino Sanuto, vol. i, 258, and is reprinted in part in the Civiltà Cattolica, March 15, 1873, p. 727. The entire passage is as follows: Da Roma per le lettere del orator nostro se intese et etiam de private persone cossa assai abominevole in la chiesa di Dio che al papa erra nato un fiolo di una dona romana maridata ch'el padre l'havea rufianata e di questa il marito invitò il suocero ala vigna el lo uccise tagliandoli el capo ponendo quello sopra uno legno con letere che dicera questo e il capo de mio suocero che a rufianato sua fiola al papa et che inteso questo il papa fece metter el dito in exilio di Roma con Taglia. Questa nova vene per letere particular etiam si godea con la sua spagnola menatali di spagna per suo fiol duca di Gandia novamente li venuto.
It was not long before Donna Sancia caused herself to be freely gossiped about. She was beautiful and thoughtless; she appreciated her position as the daughter of a king. From the most vicious of courts she was transplanted into the depravity of Rome as the wife of an immature boy. It was said that her brothers-in-law Gandia and Caesar quarreled over her and possessed her in turn, and that young nobles and cardinals like Ippolito d'Este could boast of having enjoyed her favors.
Savonarola may have had these nepot-courts in mind when, from the pulpit of S. Marco in Florence, he declaimed in burning words against the Roman Sodom.
Even if the voice of the great preacher, whose words were filling all Italy, did not reach Lucretia's ears, from her own experience she must have known how profligate was the world in which she lived. About her she saw vice shamelessly displayed or cloaked in sacerdotal robes; she was conscious of the ambition and avarice which hesitated at no crime; she beheld a religion more pagan than paganism itself, and a church service in which the sacred actors,—with whose conduct behind the scenes she was perfectly familiar,—were the priests, the cardinals, her brother Caesar, and her own father. All this Lucretia beheld, but they are wrong who believe that she or others like her saw and regarded it as we do now, or as a few pure-minded persons of that age did; for familiarity always dulls the average person's perception of the truth. In that age the conceptions of religion, of decency, and of morality were entirely different from those of to-day. When the rupture between the Middle Ages and its ascetic Church and the Renaissance was complete, human passions threw off every restraint. All that had hitherto been regarded as sacred was now derided. The freethinkers of Italy created a literature never equaled for bold cynicism. From the Hermaphroditus of Beccadeli to the works of Berni and Pietro Aretino, a foul stream of novelle, epigrams, and comedies, from which the serious Dante would have turned his eyes in disgust, overflowed the land.
Even in the less sensual novelle, the first of which was Piccolomini's Euryalus, and the less obscene comedies, adultery and derision of marriage are the leading motives. The harlots were the Muses of belles-lettres during the Renaissance. They boldly took their place by the side of the saints of the Church, and contended with them for fame's laurels. There is a manuscript collection of poems of the time of Alexander VI which contains a series of epigrams beginning with a number in praise of the Holy Virgin and the Saints, and then, without word or warning, are several glorifying the famous cyprians of the day; following a stanza on S. Pauline is an epigram on Meretricis Nichine, a well-known courtesan of Siena, with several more of the same sort. The saints of heaven and the priestesses of Venus are placed side by side, without comment, as equally admirable women.
Epitaphia clarissimarum mulierum que virtute: arte: aut aliqua nota claruerunt. Codex Hartmann Schedel in the State Library of Munich.
No self-respecting woman would now attend the performance of a comedy of the Renaissance, whose characters frequently represented the popes, the princes, and the noble women of the day; and their presentation, even before audiences composed entirely of men, would now be prohibited by the censor of the theater in every land.
The naturalness with which women of the South even now discuss subjects which people in the North are careful to conceal excites astonishment; but what was tolerated by the taste or morals of the Renaissance is absolutely incredible. We must remember, however, that this obscene literature was by no means so diffused as novels are at the present time, and also that Southern familiarity with whatever is natural also served to protect women. Much was external, and was so treated that it had no effect whatever upon the imagination. In the midst of the vices of the society of the cities there were noble women who kept themselves pure.
To form an idea of the morals of the great, and especially of the courts of that day, we must read the history of the Visconti, the Sforza, the Malatesta of Rimini, the Baglione of Perugia, and the Borgias of Rome. They were not more immoral than the members of the courts of Louis XIV and XV and of August of Saxony, but their murders rendered them more terrible. Human life was held to be of little value, but criminal egotism often was qualified by greatness of mind (magnanimitas), so that a bloody deed prompted by avarice and ambition was often condoned.
Egotism and the selfish use of conditions and men for the profit of the individual were never so universal as in the country of Macchiavelli, where unfortunately they still are frequently in evidence. Free from the pedantic opinions of the Germans and the reverence for condition, rank, and birth which they have inherited from the Middle Ages, the Italians, on the other hand, always recognized the force of personality—no matter whether it was that of a bastard or not—but they, nevertheless, were just as likely to become the slaves of the successful. Macchiavelli maintains that the Church and the priests were responsible for the moral ruin of the peninsula—but were not the Church and these priests themselves products of Italy? He should have said that characteristics which were inherent in the Germanic races were foreign to the Italians. Luther could never have appeared among them.
While our opinion of Alexander VI and Caesar is governed by ethical considerations, this was not the case with Guicciardini, and less still with Macchiavelli. They examined not the moral but the political man, not his motives but his acts. The terrible was not terrible when it was the deed of a strong will, nor was crime disgraceful when it excited astonishment as a work of art. The terrible way in which Ferdinand of Naples handled the conspiracy of the nobles of his kingdom made him, in the eyes of Italy, not horrible but great; and Macchiavelli speaks of the trick with which Caesar Borgia outwitted his treacherous condottieri at Sinigaglia as a "masterstroke," while the Bishop Paolo Giovio called it "the most beautiful piece of deception." In that world of egotism where there was no tribunal of public opinion, man could preserve himself only by overpowering power and by outwitting cunning with craft. While the French regarded, and still regard, "ridiculous" as the worst of epithets, the Italian dreaded none more than that of "simpleton."
Macchiavelli, in a well-known passage in his Discorsi (i. 27), explains his theory with terrible frankness, and his words are the exact keynote of the ethics of his age. He relates how Julius II ventured into Perugia, although Giampolo Baglione had gathered a large number of troops there, and how the latter, overawed by the Pope, surrendered the city to him. His comment is verbatim as follows: "People of judgment who were with the Pope wondered at his foolhardiness, and at Giampolo's cowardice; they could not understand why the latter did not, to his everlasting fame, crush his enemy with one blow and enrich himself with the plunder, for the Pope was accompanied by all his cardinals with their jewels. They could not believe that he refrained on account of any goodness or any conscientious scruples, for the heart of a wicked man, who committed incest with his sister, and destroyed his cousins and nephews so he might rule, could not be accessible to any feelings of respect. So they came to the conclusion that there are men who can neither be honorably bad nor yet perfectly good, who do not know how to go about committing a crime, great in itself or possessing a certain splendor. This was the case with Giampolo; he who thought nothing of incest and the murder of his kinsmen did not know how, or rather did not dare, in spite of the propitious moment, to perform a deed which would have caused every one to admire his courage, and would have won for him an immortal name. For he would first have shown the priests how small men are in reality who live and rule as they do, and he would have been the first to accomplish a deed whose greatness would have dazzled every one, and would have removed every danger which might have arisen from it."
Is it any wonder that in view of such a prostitution of morals to the conception of success, fame, and magnificence, as Macchiavelli here and in Il Principe advocates, men like the Borgias found the widest field for their bold crimes? They well knew that the greatness of a crime concealed the shame of it. The celebrated poet Strozzi in Ferrara placed Caesar Borgia, after his fall, among the heroes of Olympus; and the famous Bembo, one of the first men of the age, endeavors to console Lucretia Borgia on the death of the "miserable little" Alexander VI, whom he at the same time calls her "great" father.
No upright man, conscious of his own worth, would now enter the service of a prince stained by such crimes as were the Borgias, if it were possible for such a one now to exist, which is wholly unlikely. But then the best and most upright of men sought, without any scruples whatever, the presence and favors of the Borgias. Pinturicchio and Perugino painted for Alexander VI, and the most wonderful genius of the century, Leonardo da Vinci, did not hesitate to enter the service of Caesar Borgia as his engineer, to erect fortresses for him in the same Romagna which he had appropriated by such devilish means.
The men of the Renaissance were in a high degree energetic and creative; they shaped the world with a revolutionary energy and a feverish activity, in comparison with which the modern processes of civilization almost vanish. Their instincts were rougher and more powerful, and their nerves stronger than those of the present race. It will always appear strange that the tenderest blossoms of art, the most ideal creations of the painter, put forth in the midst of a society whose moral perversity and inward brutality are to us moderns altogether loathsome. If we could take a man such as our civilization now produces and transfer him into the Renaissance, the daily brutality which made no impression whatever on the men of that age would shatter his nervous system and probably upset his reason.
Lucretia Borgia lived in Rome surrounded by these passions, and she was neither better nor worse than the women of her time. She was thoughtless and was filled with the joy of living. We do not know that she ever went through any moral struggles or whether she ever found herself in conscious conflict with the actualities of her life and of her environment. Her father maintained an elaborate household for her, and she was in daily intercourse with her brothers' courts. She was their companion and the ornament of their banquets; she was entrusted with the secret of all the Vatican intrigues which had any connection with the future of the Borgias, and all her vital interests were soon to be concentrated there.
Never, even in the later years of her life, does she appear as a woman of unusual genius; she had none of the characteristics of the viragos Catarina Sforza and Ginevra Bentivoglio; nor did she possess the deceitful soul of an Isotta da Rimini, or the spirituelle genius of Isabella Gonzaga. If she had not been the daughter of Alexander VI and the sister of Caesar Borgia, she would have been unnoticed by the historians of her age or, at most, would have been mentioned only as one of the many charming women who constituted the society of Rome. In the hands of her father and her brother, however, she became the tool and also the victim of their political machinations, against which she had not the strength to make any resistance.
After the surrender of the remnant of the French forces in the fall of 1496, Giovanni Sforza returned from Naples. There is no doubt that he went to Rome for the purpose of taking Lucretia home with him to Pesaro, where we find him about the close of the year, and where he spent the winter. The chroniclers of Pesaro, however, state that he left the city in disguise, January 15, 1497, and that Lucretia followed him a few days later for the purpose of going to Rome.
Lod. Zacconi, Hist. di Pesaro, Ms. in the Bibl. Oliveriana; also Pietro Marzetti.
Both were present at the Easter festivities in the papal city.
Sforza was now a worn-out plaything which Alexander was preparing to cast away, for his daughter's marriage to the tyrant of Pesaro promised him nothing more, the house of Sforza having lost all its influence; moreover, the times were propitious for establishing connections which would be of greater advantage to the Borgias. The Pope was unwilling to give his son-in-law a command in the war against the Orsini, which he had begun immediately after the return of his son Don Giovanni from Spain, for whom he wanted to confiscate the property of these mighty lords. He secured the services of Duke Guidobaldo of Urbino, who likewise had served in the allied armies of Naples, and whom the Venetians released in order that he might assume supreme command of the papal troops.
This noble man was the last of the house of Montefeltre, and the Borgias already had their eyes on his possessions. His sister Giovanna was married in 1478 to the municipal prefect, Giovanni della Rovere, a brother of Cardinal Giuliano, and in 1490 she bore him a daughter, Francesca Maria, a child who was looked upon as heir of Urbino. Guidobaldo did not disdain to serve as a condottiere for pay and in the hope of winning honors; he was also a vassal of the Church. Fear of the Borgias led him to seek their friendship although he hated them.
In the war against the Orsini the young Duke of Gandia was next in command under Guidobaldo, and Alexander made him the standard-bearer of the Church and Rector of Viterbo, and of the entire Patrimonium after he had removed Alessandro Farnese from that position. This appears to have been due to a dislike he felt for Giulia's brother. September 17, 1496, the Mantuan agent in Rome, John Carolus, wrote to the Marchioness Gonzaga: "Cardinal Farnese is shut up in his residence in the Patrimonium, and will lose it unless he is saved by the prompt return of Giulia."
The same ambassador reported to his sovereign as follows: "Although every effort is made to conceal the fact that these sons of the Pope are consumed with envy of each other, the life of the Cardinal of S. Giorgio (Rafael Riario) is in danger; should he die, Caesar would be given the office of chancellor and the palace of the dead Cardinal of Mantua, which is the most beautiful in Rome, and also his most lucrative benefices. Your Excellency may guess how this plot will terminate."
Letters in the Gonzaga archives in Mantua.
The war against the Orsini ended with the ignominious defeat of the papal forces at Soriano, January 23, 1497, whence Don Giovanni, wounded, fled to Rome, and where Guidobaldo was taken prisoner. The victors immediately forced a peace on most advantageous terms.
Not until the conclusion of the war did Lucretia's husband return to Rome. We shall see him again there, for the last time, at the Easter festivities of 1497, when, as Alexander's son-in-law, he assumed his official place during the celebration in S. Peter's, and, standing near Caesar and Gandia, received the Easter palm from the Pope's hand. His position in the Vatican had, however, become untenable; Alexander was anxious to dissolve his marriage with Lucretia. Sforza was asked to give her up of his own free will, and, when he refused, was threatened with extreme measures.
Flight alone saved him from the dagger or poison of his brothers-in-law. According to statements of the chroniclers of Pesaro, it was Lucretia herself who helped her husband to flee and thus caused the suspicion that she was also a participant in the conspiracy. It is related that, one evening when Jacomino, Lord Giovanni's chamberlain, was in Madonna's room, her brother Caesar entered, and on her command the chamberlain concealed himself behind a screen. Caesar talked freely with his sister, and among other things said that the order had been given to kill Sforza. When he had departed, Lucretia said to Jacomino: "Did you hear what was said? Go and tell him." This the chamberlain immediately did, and Giovanni Sforza threw himself on a Turkish horse and rode in twenty-four hours to Pesaro, where the beast dropped dead.
Battista Almerici I, and Pietro Marzetti, Memorie di Pesaro, Ms. in the Oliveriana. These chronicles are often confusing as to dates and full of mistakes.
According to letters of the Venetian envoy in Rome, Sforza fled in March, in Holy Week. Under some pretext he went to the Church of S. Onofrio, where he found the horse waiting for him.
Marino Sanuto, Diar. vol. i, 410. March, 1497.
The request for the divorce was probably not made by Lucretia, but by her father and brothers, who wished her to be free to enter into a marriage which would advance their plans. We are ignorant of what was now taking place in the Vatican, and we do not know that Lucretia made any resistance; but if she did, it certainly was not of long duration, for she does not appear to have loved her husband. Pesaro's escape did not please the Borgias. They would have preferred to have silenced this man forever; but now that he had gotten away and raised an objection, it would be necessary to dissolve the marriage by process of law, which would cause a great scandal.
Shortly after Sforza's flight a terrible tragedy occurred in the house of Borgia—the mysterious murder of the Duke of Gandia. On the failure of Alexander's scheme to confiscate the estates of the Orsini and bestow them on his dearly beloved son, he thought to provide for him in another manner. He made him Duke of Benevento, thereby hoping to prepare the way for him to reach the throne of Naples. A few days later, June 14th, Vannozza invited him and Caesar, together with a few of their kinsmen, to a supper in her vineyard near S. Pietro in Vinculo. Don Giovanni, returning from this family feast, disappeared in the night, without leaving a trace, and three days later the body of the murdered man was found in the Tiber.
According to the general opinion of the day, which in all probability was correct, Caesar was the murderer of his brother. From the moment Alexander VI knew this crime had been committed, and assumed responsibility for its motives and consequences, and pardoned the murderer, he became morally accessory after the fact, and fell himself under the power of his terrible son. From that time on, every act of his was intended to further Caesar's fiendish ambition.
None of the records of the day say that Don Giovanni's consort was in Rome when this tragedy occurred. We are therefore forced to assume that she was not there when her husband was murdered. It is much more likely that she had not left Spain, and that she was living with her two little children in Gandia or Valencia, where she received the dreadful news in a letter written by Alexander to his sister Doña Beatrice Boria y Arenos. This is rendered probable by the court records of Valencia. September 27, 1497, Doña Maria Enriquez appeared before the tribunal of the governor of the kingdom of Valencia, Don Luis de Cabaineles, and claimed the estate, including the duchy of Gandia and the Neapolitan fiefs of Suessa, Teano, Carinola, and Montefoscolo, for Don Giovanni's eldest son, a child of three years. The duke's death was proved by legal documents, among which was this letter written by Alexander, and the tribunal accordingly recognized Gandia's son as his legal heir.
This document is given in part by Amati in Strozzi's Periodico di Numismatica, Anno III, part ii, p. 73. Florence, 1870.
Doña Maria also claimed her husband's personal property in his house in Rome, which was valued at thirty thousand ducats, and which on the death of Don Giovanni, had been transferred by Alexander VI, to the fratricide Caesar to administer for his nephew, as appears from an official document of the Roman notary Beneimbene, dated December 19, 1498.
At this time Lucretia was not in her palace in the Vatican. June 4th she had gone to the convent of S. Sisto on the Appian Way, thereby causing a great sensation in Rome. Her flight doubtless was in some way connected with the forced annulment of her marriage. While her father himself may not have banished her to S. Sisto, she, probably excited by Pesaro's departure, and perhaps angry with the Pope, had doubtless sought this place as an asylum. That she was angry with him is shown by a letter written by Donato Aretino from Rome, June 19th, to Cardinal Ippolito d'Este: "Madonna Lucretia has left the palace insalutato hospite and gone to a convent known as that of S. Sisto; where she now is. Some say she will turn nun, while others make different statements which I can not entrust to a letter."
In the archives of Modena. Letters of Donato Aretino from Rome.
We know not what prayers and what confessions Lucretia made at the altar, but this was one of the most momentous periods of her life. While in the convent she learned of the terrible death of one of her brothers, and shuddered at the crime of the other. For she, like her father and all the Borgias, firmly believed that Caesar was a fratricide. She clearly discerned the marks of his inordinate ambition; she knew that he was planning to lay aside the cardinal's robe and become a secular prince; she must have known too that they were scheming in the Vatican to make Don Giuffrè a cardinal in Caesar's place and to marry the latter to the former's wife, Donna Sancia, with whom, it was generally known, he was on most intimate terms.
Alexander commanded Giuffrè and his young wife to leave Rome and take up their abode in his princely seat in Squillace, and he set out on August 7th for that place. It is stated the Pope did not want his children and nepots about him any longer, and that he also wished to banish his daughter Lucretia to Valencia.
Letter of Ludovico Carissimi, Rome, August 8, 1497. Archives of Modena.
In the meantime, in July, Caesar had gone to Capua as papal legate, where he crowned Don Federico, the last of the Aragonese, as King of Naples. September 4th he returned to Rome.
Alexander had appointed a commission under the direction of two cardinals for the purpose of divorcing Lucretia from Giovanni Sforza. These judges showed that Sforza had never consummated the marriage, and that his spouse was still a virgin, which, according to her contemporary Matarazzo of Perugia, set all Italy to laughing. Lucretia herself stated she was willing to swear to this.
During these proceedings her spouse was in Pesaro. Thence he subsequently went in disguise to Milan to ask the protection of Duke Ludovico and to get him to use his influence to have his wife, who had been taken away, restored to him. This was in June. He protested against the decision which had been pronounced in Rome, and which had been purchased, and Ludovico il Moro made the naive suggestion that he subject himself to a test of his capacity in the presence of trustworthy witnesses, and of the papal legate in Milan, which, however, Sforza declined to do.
Et mancho se è curato de fare prova de se qua con Done per poterne chiarire el Rmo. Legato che era qua, sebbene S. Extia tastandolo sopra ciò gli ne habia facto offerta. Despatch from the Ferrarese ambassador in Milan, Antonio Costabili, to Duke Ercole, Milan, June 23, 1497. Archives of Modena.
Ludovico and his brother Ascanio finally induced their kinsman to yield, and Sforza, intimidated, declared in writing that he had never consummated his marriage with Lucretia.
Concerning this, Pandolfo Collenuccio, a member of Cardinal Ippolito's suite in Rome, wrote to the Duke of Ferrara, December 25, 1498 (1497), as follows: El S. de Pesaro ha scripto qua de sua mano: non haverla mai cognosciuta ... et esser impotente, alias la sententia non se potea dare.... El prefato S. dice però haver scripto così per obedire el Duca de Milano et Aschanio. The autographic letter is in the archives of Modena.
The formal divorce, therefore, took place December 20, 1497, and Sforza surrendered his wife's dowry of thirty-one thousand ducats.
Although we may assume that Alexander compelled his daughter to consent to this separation, it does not render our opinion of Lucretia's part in the scandalous proceedings any less severe; she shows herself to have had as little will as she had character, and she also perjured herself. Her punishment was not long delayed, for the divorce proceedings made her notorious and started terrible rumors regarding her private life. These reports began to circulate at the time of the murder of Gandia and of her divorce from Sforza; the cause of both these events was stated to have been an unmentionable crime. According to a reliable witness of the day it was the lord of Pesaro himself, injured and exasperated, who first—and to the Duke of Milan—had openly uttered the suspicion which was being whispered about Rome. By permitting himself to do this, he showed that he had never loved Lucretia.
In the same despatch from Milan, June 23, 1497, the Ferrarese Ambassador Costabili stated that Sforza had said to the Duke Ludovico: Anzi haverla conosciuta infinite volte, ma chel Papa non gelha tolta per altro se non per usare con Lei. Extendendose molto a carico di S. Beatno.
Alexander had dissolved his daughter's marriage for political reasons. It was his purpose to marry Lucretia and Caesar into the royal house of Naples. This dynasty had reestablished itself there after the expulsion of the French, but its position had been so profoundly shaken that its fall was imminent; and it was this very fact that made Alexander hope to be able to place his son Caesar on the throne of Naples. The most terrible of the Borgias now appropriated the place left vacant by the Duke of Gandia, to which he had long aspired, and only for the sake of appearances did he postpone casting aside the cardinal's robe. The Pope, however, was already scheming for his son's marriage; for him he asked King Federico for the hand of his daughter Carlotta, who had been educated at the court of France as a princess of the house of Savoy. The king, an upright man, firmly refused, and the young princess in horror rejected the Pope's insulting offer. Federico, in his anxiety, made one sacrifice to the monster in the Vatican; he consented to the betrothal of Don Alfonso, Prince of Salerno, younger brother of Donna Sancia and natural son of Alfonso II, to Lucretia. Alexander desired this marriage for no other reason than for the purpose of finally inducing the king to agree to the marriage of his daughter and Caesar.
Even before Lucretia's new betrothal was settled upon it was rumored in Rome that her former affianced, Don Gasparo, was again pressing his suit and that there was a prospect of his being accepted. Although the young Spaniard failed to accomplish his purpose, Alexander now recognized the fact that Lucretia's betrothal to him had been dissolved illegally.
In a brief dated June 10, 1498, he speaks of the way his daughter was treated—without special dispensation for breaking the engagement, in order that she might marry Giovanni of Pesaro, which was a great mistake—as illegal. He says in the same letter that Gasparo of Procida, Count of Almenara, had subsequently married and had children, but not until 1498 did Lucretia petition to have her betrothal to him formally declared null and void. The Pope, therefore, absolved her of the perjury she had committed by marrying Giovanni Sforza in spite of her engagement to Don Gasparo, and while he now, for the first time, declared her formal betrothal to the Count of Procida to have been dissolved, he gave her permission to marry any man whom she might select.
The original of this letter is in the archives of Modena.
Thus did a pope play fast and loose with one of the holiest of the sacraments of the Church.
When Lucretia had in this way been protected against the demands of all pretenders to her hand, she was free to enter into a new alliance, which she did June 20, 1498, in the Vatican. If we were not familiar with the character of the public men of that age we should be surprised to learn that King Federico's proxy on this occasion was none other than Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, who had been instrumental in bringing about the marriage of his nephew and Lucretia, and who had consented in Sforza's name to the disgraceful divorce. Thus were he and his brother Ludovico determined to retain the friendship of the Borgias at any price.
Lucretia received a dowry of forty thousand ducats, and the King of Naples bound himself to make over the cities of Quadrata and Biselli to his nephew for his dukedom.
Bisceglie, formerly pronounced and written Biseglia or Biselli. Quadrata is now Corato, near Andria.
The young Alfonso accordingly came to Rome in July to become the husband of a woman whom he must have regarded at least as unscrupulous and utterly fickle. He doubtless looked upon himself as a sacrifice presented by his father at the altar of Rome. Quietly and sorrowfully, welcomed by no festivities, almost secretly, came this unhappy youth to the papal city. He went at once to his betrothed in the palace of S. Maria in Portico. In the Vatican, July 21st, the marriage was blessed by the Church. Among the witnesses to the transaction were the Cardinals Ascanio, Juan Lopez, and Giovanni Borgia. In obedience to an old custom a naked sword was held over the pair by a knight, a ceremony which in this instance was performed by Giovanni Cervillon, captain of the papal guard.
Lucretia, now Duchess of Biselli, had been living since July, 1498, with a new husband, a youth of seventeen, she herself having just completed her eighteenth year. She and her consort did not go to Naples, but remained in Rome; for, as the Mantuan agent reported to his master, it was expressly agreed that Don Alfonso should live in Rome a year, and that Lucretia should not be required to take up her abode in the kingdom of Naples during her father's lifetime.
Despatch of Joh. Lucidus Cataneus, Rome, August 8, 1498. Gonzaga archives.
The youthful Alfonso was fair and amiable. Talini, a Roman chronicler of that day, pronounced him the handsomest young man ever seen in the Imperial City. According to a statement made by the Mantuan agent in August, Lucretia was really fond of him. A sudden change in affairs, however, deprived her of the calm joys of domestic life.
The moving principle in the Vatican was the measureless ambition of Caesar, who was consuming with impatience to become a ruling sovereign. August 13, 1498, he flung aside the cardinal's robes and prepared to set out for France; Louis XII, who in April had succeeded Charles VIII, having promised him the title of Duke of Valentinois and the hand of a French princess. Alexander provided for his son's retinue with regal extravagance.
It happened one day that a train of mules laden with silks and cloth of gold on the way to Caesar in Rome was plundered by the people of Cardinal Farnese and of his cousin Pier Paolo in the forest of Bolsena, whereupon the Pope addressed some vigorous communications to the cardinal, in whose territory, he stated, the robbery had been committed.
The briefs are in the state archives of Venice.
In the service of the Farnese were numerous Corsicans, some as mercenaries and bullies, some as field laborers, and these people, who were universally feared, probably were the guilty ones, for it is difficult to believe that Cardinal Alessandro would have undertaken such a venture on his own account. It seems, however, that the relations of the Borgias and the Farnese were somewhat strained during this period. The cardinal spent most of his time on his family estates, and at this juncture little was heard of his sister Giulia. It is not even known whether or not she was living in Rome and continuing her relations with the Pope, although, from subsequent revelations, it appears that she was. April 2, 1499, we find the cardinal and his sister again in Rome, where a nuptial contract was concluded in the Farnese palace between Laura Orsini, Giulia's seven-year-old daughter, and Federico Farnese, the twelve-year-old son of the deceased condottiere Raimondo Farnese, a nephew of Pier Paolo. Laura's putative father, Orsino Orsini, was present at the ceremony.
The instrument is in Beneimbene's protocol-book.
It was probably Adriana and Giulia who were endeavoring to bring about a reconciliation between the house of Orsini and the Borgias. In the spring of 1498 these barons, having issued victorious from their war with the Pope, began a bitter contest with their hereditary foes, the Colonna, which, however, ended in their own defeat. These houses made peace with each other in July, a fact which caused Alexander no little anxiety, for upon the hostility of these, the two mightiest families of Rome, depended the Pope's dominion over the city; his greatest danger lay in their mutual friendship. He therefore endeavored again to set them at loggerheads, and he succeeded in attaching the Orsini to himself,—which they subsequently had reason to regret. He accomplished his purpose so well that they intermarried with the Borgias; Paolo Orsini, Giambattista's brother, uniting his son Fabio with Girolama, a sister of Cardinal Giovanni Borgia the younger, September 8, 1498. The marriage contract was concluded in the presence of the Pope and a brilliant gathering in the Vatican, and one of the official witnesses was Don Alfonso of Biselli, who held the sword over the young couple.
The instrument is in Beneimbene's protocol-book.
Shortly afterwards, October first, Caesar Borgia set sail for France, where he was made Duke of Valentinois, and where, in May, 1499, he married Charlotte d'Albret, sister of the King of Navarre. At this court he met two men who were destined later to exercise great influence upon his career—George of Amboise, Archbishop of Rouen, to whom he had brought the cardinal's hat, and Giuliano della Rovere. The latter, hitherto Alexander's bitterest enemy, now suffered himself, by the intermediation of the King of France, to be won over to the cause of the Borgias; he permitted himself even to become Caesar's stepping-stone to greatness.
The reconciliation was sealed by a marriage between the two families; the city prefect, Giovanni della Rovere, Giuliano's brother, betrothing his eighteen-year-old son Francesco Maria to Angela Borgia, September 2, 1500.
Angela's father, Giuffrè, was a son of Giovanni, sister of Alexander VI, and of Guglielmo Lanzol. Giovanni Borgia the younger, Cardinal Ludovico, and Rodrigo, captain of the papal guard, were her brothers. Her sister Girolama, as above stated, was married to Fabio Orsini. The ceremony of Angela's betrothal took place in the Vatican in the presence of the ambassador of France.
For the purpose of driving Ludovico il Moro from Milan, Louis XII had concluded an alliance with Venice, which the Pope also joined on the condition that France would help his son to acquire Romagna.
Ascanio Sforza, who was unable to prevent the loss of Milan, and who knew that his own life was in danger in Rome, fled July 13, 1499, to Genazzano and subsequently to Genoa.
His example was followed by Lucretia's youthful consort. We do not know what occurred in the Vatican to cause Don Alfonso quietly to leave Rome, where he had spent but a single year with Lucretia. We can only say that his decision must have been brought about by some turn which the Pope's politics had taken. The object of the expedition of Louis XII was not only the overthrow of the Sforza dynasty in Milan, but also the seizure of Naples; it was intended to be a sequel to the attempt of Charles VIII, which was defeated by the great League. The young prince was aware of the Pope's intention to destroy his uncle Federico, who had deeply offended him by refusing to grant Caesar the hand of his daughter Carlotta. After this occurrence the relations of Lucretia's husband with the Pope had altogether changed.
Ascanio was the only friend the unfortunate prince had in Rome, and it was probably he who advised him to save himself from certain death by flight, as Lucretia's other husband had done. Alfonso slipped away August 2, 1499. The Pope sent some troopers after him, but they failed to catch him. It is uncertain whether Lucretia knew of his intended flight. A letter written in Rome by a Venetian, August 4th, merely says: "The Duke of Biseglia, Madonna Lucretia's husband, has secretly fled and gone to the Colonna in Genazzano; he deserted his wife, who has been with child for six months, and she is constantly in tears."
Diary of Marino Saruto, ii, 751.
She was in the power of her father, who, highly incensed by the prince's flight, banished Alfonso's sister Donna Sancia to Naples.
Lucretia's position, owing to these circumstances, became exceedingly trying. Her tears show that she possessed a heart. She loved, and perhaps for the first time. Alfonso wrote her from Genazzano, urgently imploring her to follow him, and his letters fell into the hands of the Pope, who compelled her to write her husband and ask him to return. It was doubtless his daughter's complaining that induced Alexander to send her away from Rome. August 8th he made her Regent of Spoleto. Hitherto papal legates, usually cardinals, had governed this city and the surrounding territory; but now the Pope entrusted its administration to a young woman of nineteen, his own daughter, and thither she repaired.
He gave her a letter to the priors of Spoleto which was as follows:
Dear Sons: Greeting and the Apostolic Blessing! We have entrusted to our beloved daughter in Christ, the noble lady, Lucretia de Borgia, Duchess of Biseglia, the office of keeper of the castle, as well as the government of our cities of Spoleto and Foligno, and of the county and district about them. Having perfect confidence in the intelligence, the fidelity, and probity of the Duchess, which We have dwelt upon in previous letters, and likewise in your unfailing obedience to Us and to the Holy See, We trust that you will receive the Duchess Lucretia, as is your duty, with all due honor as your regent, and show her submission in all things. As We wish her to be received and accepted by you with special honor and respect, so do We command you in this epistle—as you value Our favor and wish to avoid Our displeasure—to obey the Duchess Lucretia, your regent, in all things collectively and severally, in so far as law and custom dictate in the government of the city, and whatever she may think proper to exact of you, even as you would obey Ourselves, and to execute her commands with all diligence and promptness, so that your devotion may receive due approbation. Given in Rome, in St. Peter's, under the papal seal, August 8, 1499.
This brief is in the state archives of Spoleto.
Lucretia left Rome for her new home the same day. She set out with a large retinue, and accompanied by her brother Don Giuffrè; Fabio Orsini, now the consort of Girolama Borgia, her kinswoman; and a company of archers. She left the Vatican mounted on horseback, the governor of the city, the Neapolitan ambassador, and a number of other gentlemen forming an escort to act as a guard of honor, while her father took a position in a loggia over the portal of the palace of the Vatican to watch his departing daughter and her cavalcade. For the first time he found himself in Rome deprived of all his children.
Lucretia made the journey partly on horseback and partly in a litter, and the trip from Rome to Spoleto required not less than six days. At Porcaria, in Umbria, she found a deputation of citizens of Spoleto waiting to greet her, and to accompany her to the city, which had been famous since the time of Hannibal, and which had been the seat of the mighty Lombard dukes. The castle of Spoleto is very ancient, its earliest portions dating from the Dukes Faroald and Grimoald. In the fourteenth century it was restored by the great Gil d'Albornoz, the contemporary of Cola di Rienzi, and it was completed shortly afterwards by Nicholas V. It is a magnificent piece of Renaissance architecture, overlooking the old city and the deep ravine which separates it from Monte Luco. From its high windows one may look out over the valley of the Clitunno and that of the Tiber, the fertile Umbrian plain, and, on the east, to the Apennines.
August 15th Lucretia Borgia received the priors of the city, to whom she presented her papal appointment, whereupon they swore allegiance to her. Later the commune gave a banquet in her honor.
Lucretia's stay in Spoleto was short. Her regency there was merely intended to signify the actual taking possession of the territory which Alexander desired to bestow upon his daughter.
In the meantime her husband Alfonso had decided, unfortunately for himself, to obey Alexander's command and return to his wife—perhaps because he really loved her. The Pope ordered him to go to Spoleto by way of Foligno, and then to come with his spouse to Nepi, where he himself intended to be. The purpose of this meeting was to establish his daughter as sovereign there also.
Nepi had never been a baronial fief, although the prefects of Vico and the Orsini had held the place at different times. The Church through its deputies governed the town and surrounding country. When Alexander was a cardinal his uncle Calixtus had made him governor of the city, and such he remained until he was raised to the papal throne, when he conferred Nepi upon Cardinal Ascanio Sforza. The neatly written parchment containing the municipal statute confirming Ascanio's appointment, which is dated January 1, 1495, is still preserved in the archives of the city. At the beginning of the year 1499, however, Alexander again assumed control of Nepi by compelling the castellan, who commanded the fortress for the truant Ascanio, to surrender it to him. He now invested his daughter with the castle, the city, and the domain of Nepi.
The Bull of Investiture, written on parchment, is dated Rome, 1499, Non. (the month is not given). It is an absolute donum. The document is now in the archives of Modena.
September 4, 1499, Francesco Borgia, the Pope's treasurer, who was also Bishop of Teano, took possession of the city in her name.
September 25th Alexander himself, accompanied by four cardinals, went to Nepi. In the castle, which he had restored, he met Lucretia and her husband, and also her brother Don Giuffrè. He returned to Rome almost immediately—October 1st. On the tenth he addressed a brief from there to the city of Nepi, in which he commanded the municipality thenceforth to obey Lucretia, Duchess of Biselli, as their true sovereign. On the twelfth he sent his daughter a communication in which he empowered her to remit certain taxes to which the citizens of Nepi had hitherto been subject.
Both briefs are preserved in the archives of the State-house of Nepi.
Lucretia, therefore, had become the mistress of two large domains—a fact which clearly shows that she stood in high favor with her father. She did not again return to Spoleto, but entrusted its government to a lieutenant. Although Alexander made Cardinal Gurk legate for Perugia and Todi early in October, he reserved Spoleto for his daughter. Later, August 10, 1500, he made Ludovico Borgia—who was Archbishop of Valencia—governor of this city, without, however, impairing his daughter's rights to the large revenue which the territory yielded.
As early as October 14th Lucretia returned to Rome. November 1, 1499, she gave birth to a son, who was named, in honor of the Pope, Rodrigo. Her firstborn was baptized with great pomp November 11th in the Sistine Chapel—not the chapel now known by that name, but the one which Sixtus IV had built in S. Peter's. Giovanni Cervillon held the child in his arms, and near by were the Governor of Rome and a representative of the Emperor Maximilian. All the cardinals, the ambassadors of England, Venice, Naples, Savoy, Siena, and the Republic of Florence were present at the ceremony. The governor of the city held the child over the font. The godfathers were Podocatharo, Bishop of Caputaqua, and Ferrari, Bishop of Modena.
In the meantime, October 6th, Louis XII had taken possession of Milan, Ludovico Sforza having fled, on the approach of the French forces, to the Emperor Maximilian. In accordance with his agreement with Alexander, the king now lent troops to Caesar Borgia to enable him to seize the Romagna, where it was proclaimed that the vassals of the Church, the Malatesta of Rimini, the Sforza of Pesaro, the Riario of Imola and Forli, the Varano of Camerino, and the Manfredi of Faenza had forfeited their fiefs to the Pope.
Caesar went to Rome, November 18, 1499. He stayed in the Vatican three days and then set forth again to join his army, which was besieging Imola. It was his intention first to take this city and then attack Forli, in the castle of which the mistress of the two cities, Catarina Sforza, had established herself for the purpose of resisting him.
While he was engaged in his campaigns in Romagna, his father was endeavoring to seize the hereditary possessions of the Roman barons. He first attacked the Gaetani. From the end of the thirteenth century this ancient family had held large landed estates in the Campagna and Maritima. It had divided into several branches, one of which was settled in the vicinity of Naples. There the Gaetani were Dukes of Traetto, Counts of Fundi and Caserta, and likewise vassals and favorites of the crown of Naples.
Sermoneta, the center of the domain of the Gaetani family in the Roman Campagna, was an ancient city with a feudal castle, situated in the foothills of the Volscian mountains. Above it and to one side were the ruins of the great castle of Norba; below were the beautiful remains of Nymsa; while at its foot, extending to the sea, lay the Pontine marshes. The greater part of this territory, which was traversed by the Appian Way, including the Cape of Circello, was the property of the Gaetani, to whom it still belongs.
At the time of which we are speaking it was ruled by the sons of Honoratus II, a powerful personality, who had raised his house from ruin. He died in the year 1490, leaving a widow, Catarina Orsini, and three sons—Nicola the prothonotary; Giacomo, and Guglielmo. His daughter Giovanella was the wife of Pierluigi Farnese and mother of Giulia. Nicola, who had married Eleonora Orsini, died in the year 1494; consequently, next to the prothonotary Giacomo, Guglielmo Gaetani was head of the house of Sermoneta.
Alexander lured the prothonotary to Rome and, having confined him in the castle of S. Angelo, began a process against him. Guglielmo succeeded in escaping to Mantua, but Nicola's little son Bernardino was murdered by the Borgia hirelings. Sermoneta was besieged, and its inhabitants surrendered without resistance.
As early as March 9, 1499, Alexander compelled the apostolic chamber to sell his daughter the possessions of the Gaetani for eighty thousand ducats. He stated in a document, which was signed by eighteen cardinals, that the magnitude of the expenditures which he had recently made in the interests of the Holy See compelled him to increase the Church property; and for this purpose there were Sermoneta, Bassiano, Ninfa and Norma, Tivera, Cisterna, San Felice (the Cape of Circello), and San Donato, which, owing to the rebellion of the Gaetani, might be confiscated. This transaction was concluded in February, 1500, and Lucretia, who was already mistress of Spoleto and Nepi, thus became ruler of Sermoneta.
The documents concerning this sale, dated February 11 to 15, 1500, are preserved in the archives of Modena.
In vain did the unfortunate Giacomo Gaetani protest from his prison; July 5, 1500, he was poisoned. His mother and sisters buried him in S. Bartolomeo, which stands on an island in the Tiber, where the Gaetani had owned a palace for a great many years.
Giulia Farnese, therefore, was unable to save her own uncle. She was reminded that Giacomo and Nicola had stood beside her when she was married to the youthful Orsini in 1489 in the Borgia palace. We do not know whether Giulia was living in Rome at this time. We occasionally find her name in the epigrams of the day, and it appears in a satire, Dialogue between Death and the Pope, sick of a Fever, in which he called upon Giulia to save him, whereupon Death replied that his mistress had borne him three or four children. As the satire was written in the summer of 1500, when Alexander was suffering from the fever, it is probable that his relations with Giulia still continued.
Caesar, who had taken Imola, December 1, 1499, was far from pleased when he saw the great estates of the Gaetani, whose revenues he himself could use to good advantage, bestowed upon his sister; and, as he himself wished absolutely to control the will of his father, her growing influence in the Vatican caused him no little annoyance. He had sinister plans for whose execution the time was soon to prove propitious.
Lucretia certainly must have been pleased by her brother's long absence; the Vatican was less turbulent. Besides herself only Don Giuffrè and Donna Sancia, who had effected her return, maintained a court there.
We might avail ourselves of this period of quiet to depict Lucretia's private life, her court, and the people about her; but it is impossible to do this, none of her contemporaries having left any description of it. Even Burchard shows us Lucretia but rarely, and when he does it is always in connection with affairs in the Vatican. Only once does he give us a fleeting view of her palace—on February 27, 1496—when Giovanni Borgia, Juan de Castro, and the recently created Cardinal Martinus of Segovia were calling upon her.
None of the foreign diplomatists of that time, so far as we may learn from their despatches, made any reports regarding Lucretia's private life. We have only a few letters written by her during her residence in Rome, and there is not a single poem dedicated to her or which mentions her; therefore it is due to the malicious epigrams of Sannazzaro and Pontanus that she has been branded as the most depraved of courtesans. If there ever was a young woman, however, likely to excite the imagination of the poet, Lucretia Borgia in the bloom of her youth and beauty was that woman. Her connection with the Vatican, the mystery which surrounded her, and the fate she suffered, make her one of the most fascinating women of her age. Doubtless there are buried in various libraries numerous verses dedicated to her by the Roman poets who must have swarmed at the court of the Pope's daughter to render homage to her beauty and to seek her patronage.
In Rome, Lucretia had an opportunity to enjoy, if she were so disposed, the society of many brilliant men, for even during the sovereignty of the Borgias the Muses were banished neither from the Vatican nor from Rome. It can not be denied, however, that the daughters of princely houses were allowed to devote themselves to the cultivation of the intellect more freely at the secular courts of Italy than they were at the papal court. Not until Lucretia went to Ferrara to live was she able to endeavor to emulate the example of the princesses of Mantua and Urbino. While living in Rome she was too young and her environment too narrow for her to have had any influence upon the literary and aesthetic circles of that city, although, owing to her position, she must have been acquainted with them.
Her father was not incapable of intellectual pleasures; he had his court minstrels and poets. The famous Aurelio Brandolini, who died in 1497, was wont to improvise to the strains of the lute during banquets in the Vatican and in Lucretia's palace. Caesar's favorite, Serafino of Aquila, the Petrarch of his age, who died in Rome in the year 1500, still a young man, aspired to the same honor.
Caesar himself was interested in poetry and the arts, just as were all the cultivated men and tyrants of the Renaissance. His court poet was Francesco Sperulo, who served under his standard, and who sang his campaigns in Romagna and in the neighborhood of Camerino.
Manuscript in the Vatican, No. 5205.
A number of Roman poets who subsequently became famous recited their verses in the presence of Lucretia, among them Emilio Voccabella and Evangelista Fausto Maddaleni. Even at that time the three brothers Mario, Girolamo, and Celso Mellini enjoyed great renown as poets and orators, while the brothers of the house of Porcaro—Camillo, Valerio, and Antonio—were equally famous. We have already noted that Antonio was one of the witnesses at the marriage of Girolama Borgia in the year 1482, and that he subsequently was Lucretia's proxy when she was betrothed to Centelles in 1491. These facts show how closely and how long the Porcaro were allied to the Borgias.
This Roman family had been made famous in the history of the city by the fate of Stefano, Cola di Rienzi's successor. The Porcaro claimed descent from the Catos, and for this reason many of them adopted the name Porcius. Enjoying friendly relations with the Borgias, they claimed them as kinsmen, stating that Isabella, the mother of Alexander VI, was descended from the Roman Porcaro, who somehow had passed to Spain. The similarity of sound in the Latin names Borgius and Porcius gave some appearance of truth to this pretension.
Next to Antonio, Hieronymus Porcius was one of the most brilliant retainers of the house of Borgia. Alexander, upon his election to the papal throne, made him auditor of the Ruota (the Papal Court of Appeals). He was the author of a work printed in Rome in September, 1493, under the title Commentarius Porcius, which was dedicated to the King and Queen of Spain. In it he describes the election and coronation of Alexander VI, and quotes portions of the declarations of loyalty which the Italian envoys addressed to the Pope. Court flattery could not be carried further than it was in this case by Hieronymus, an affected pedant, an empty-headed braggart, a fanatical papist. Alexander made him Bishop of Andria and Governor of the Romagna. In 1497 Hieronymus, then in Cesena, composed a dialogue on Savonarola and his "heresy concerning the power of the Pope." The kernel of the whole thing was the fundamental doctrine of the infallibilists; namely, that only those who blindly obey the Pope are good Christians.
Collocutores itinerantes Tuscus et Remus, Romæ in Campo Floræ, 1497.
Porcius also essayed poetry, celebrating the magnificence of the Pope and Cardinal Caesar, whom, in his verses on the Borgia Steer, he described as his greatest benefactor. Apparently he was also the author of the elegy on the death of the Duke of Gandia, which is still preserved.
Phædra Inghirami, the famous student of Cicero, whom Erasmus admired and whom Raphael rendered immortal by his portrait, doubtless made the acquaintance of the Borgias and of Lucretia through the Porcaro. Even as early as this he was attracting the attention of Rome. Inghirami delivered an oration at the mass which the Spanish ambassador had said for the Infante Don Juan, January 16, 1498, in S. Jacopo in Navona, which was greatly admired. He also made a reputation as an actor in Cardinal Rafael Riario's theater.
The drama was then putting forth its first fruits, not only at the courts of the Este and Gonzaga families, but also in Rome. Alexander himself, owing to his sensuous nature, was especially fond of it, and had comedies and ballets performed at all the family festivities in the Vatican. The actors were young students from the Academy of Pomponius Laetus, and we have every reason to believe that Inghirami, the Mellini, and the Porcaro took part in these performances whenever the opportunity was offered. Carlo Canale, Vannozza's consort, must also have lent valuable assistance, for he had been familiar with the stage in Mantua; and no less important was the aid of Pandolfo Collenuccio, who had repeatedly been Ferrara's ambassador in Rome, where he enjoyed daily intercourse with the Borgias.
The celebrated Pomponius, to whom Rome was indebted for the revival of the theater, spent his last years, during the reign of Alexander, in the enjoyment of the highest popular esteem. Alexander himself may have been one of his pupils, as Cardinal Farnese certainly was. Pomponius died June 6, 1498, and the same pope who had sent Savonarola to the stake had his court attend the obsequies of the great representative of classic paganism, which were held in the Church of Aracoeli, a fact which lends additional support to the belief that he was personally known to the Borgias. Moreover, one of his most devoted pupils, Michele Ferno, had for a long time been a firm adherent of Alexander. Although the Pope in 1501 issued the first edict of censorship, he was not an enemy of the sciences. He fostered the University of Rome, several of whose chairs were at that time held by men of note; for example, Petrus Sabinus and John Argyropulos. One of the greatest geniuses—one whose light has blessed all mankind—was for a year an ornament of this university and of the reign of Alexander; Copernicus came to Rome from far away Prussia in the jubilee year 1500, and lectured on mathematics and astronomy.
Among Alexander's courtiers there were many brilliant men whose society Lucretia must have had an opportunity to enjoy. Burchard, the master of ceremonies, laid down the rules for all the functions in which the Pope's daughter took part. He must have called upon her frequently, but she could scarcely have foreseen that, centuries later, this Alsatian's notes would constitute the mirror in which posterity would see the reflections of the Borgias. His diary, however, gives no details concerning Lucretia's private life—this did not come within his duties.
Never did any other chronicler describe the things about him so clearly and so concisely, so dryly, and with so little feeling—things which were worthy of the pen of a Tacitus. That Burchard was not friendly to the Borgias is proved by the way his diary is written; it, however, is absolutely truthful. This man well knew how to conceal his feelings—if the dull routine of his office had left him any. He went through the daily ceremonial of the Vatican mechanically, and kept his place there under five popes. Burchard must have seemed to the Borgias a harmless pedant; for if not, would they have permitted him to behold and describe their doings and yet live? Even the little which he did write in his diary concerning events of the day would have cost him his head had it come to the knowledge of Alexander or Caesar. It appears, however, that the diaries of the masters of ceremony were not subjected to official censorship. Caesar would have spared him no more than he did his father's favorite, Pedro Calderon Perotto, whom he stabbed, and Cervillon, whom he had killed—both of whom frequently performed important parts in the ceremonies in the Vatican.
Nor did he spare the private secretary, Francesco Troche, whom Alexander VI had often employed in diplomatic affairs. Troche, according to a Venetian report a Spaniard, was, like Carlo, a cultivated humanist, and like him, he was also on friendly terms with the house of Gonzaga. There are still in existence letters of his to the Marchioness Gonzaga, in which he asks her to send him certain sonnets she had composed. She likewise writes to him regarding family matters, and also asks him to find her an antique cupid in Rome. There is no doubt but that he was one of Lucretia's most intimate acquaintances. In June, 1503, Caesar had also this favorite of his father strangled.
Besides Burchard and Lorenz Behaim, there was another German who was familiar with the family affairs of the Borgias, Goritz of Luxemburg, who subsequently, during the reigns of Julius II and Leo X, became famous as an academician. Even in Alexander's time the cultivated world of Rome was in the habit of meeting at Goritz's house in Trajan's Forum for the purpose of engaging in academic discussions. All the Germans who came to Rome sought him out, and he must have received Reuchlin, who visited that city in 1498, and subsequently Copernicus, Erasmus, and Ulrich von Hutten, who remembered him with gratitude; it is also probable that Luther visited his hospitable home. Goritz was supplicant referent, and as such he must have known Lucretia personally, because the influential daughter of the Pope was the constant recipient of petitions of various sorts. He had ample opportunity to observe events in the Vatican, but of his experiences he recorded nothing; or, if he did, his diary was destroyed in the sack of Rome in 1527, when he lost all his belongings.
Among Lucretia's personal acquaintances was still another man, one who was in a better position than any one else to write the history of the Borgias. This was the Nestor of Roman notaries, old Camillo Beneimbene, the trusted legal adviser of Alexander and of most of the cardinals and grandees of Rome. He knew the Borgias in their private as well as in their public character; he had been acquainted with Lucretia from her childhood; he drew up all her marriage contracts. His office was on the Lombard Piazza, now known as S. Luigi dei Francesi. Here he worked, drawing up legal documents until the year 1505, as is shown by instruments in his handwriting.
See the author's essay, Das Archiv der Notare des Capitols in Rom, and the protocol-book of the Notary Camillus de Beneimbene, 1457 to 1505. Proceedings of k. bayr. Akademie der Wissenschaften zu München, 1872. Part iv.
A man who had been the official witness and legal adviser in the most important family affairs of the Borgias for so long a time, and who, therefore, was familiar with all their secrets, must have occupied, so far as their house, and especially Lucretia, were concerned, the position of a close friend. Beneimbene records none of his personal experiences, but his protocol-book is still preserved in the archives of the notary of the Capitol.
Adriano Castelli of Corneto, a highly cultivated humanist, and privy-secretary to Alexander, who subsequently made him a cardinal, was very close to the Borgias. As the Pope's secretary he must have frequently come in contact with Lucretia. Among her intimate acquaintances were also the famous Latinist, Cortesi; the youthful Sardoleto, the familiar of Cardinal Cibò; young Aldo Manuzio; the intellectual brothers Rafael and Mario Maffei of Volterra; and Egidio of Viterbo, who subsequently became famous as a pulpit orator and was made a cardinal. The last maintained his connection with Lucretia while she was Duchess of Ferrara. He exercised a deep influence upon the religious turn which her nature took during this the second period of her life.
The youthful Duchess of Biselli certainly enjoyed the lively society of the cultured and gallant ecclesiastics about her—Cardinals Medici, Riario, Orsini, Cesarini, and Farnese—not to mention the Borgias and the Spanish prelates. We may look for her, too, at the banquets in the palaces of Rome's great families, the Massimi and Orsini, the Santa Croce, Altieri, and Valle, and in the homes of the wealthy bankers Altoviti, Spanocchi, and Mariano Chigi, whose sons Lorenzo and Agostino—the latter eventually became famous—enjoyed the confidence of the Borgias.
Lucretia was able in Rome to gratify a taste for the fine arts. Alexander found employment for the great artists of the day in the Vatican, where Perugino executed some paintings for him, and where, under the picture of the holy Virgin, Pinturicchio, who was his court artist, painted the portrait of the adulteress, Giulia Farnese. He also painted portraits of several members of the Borgia family in the castle of S. Angelo.
"In the castle of S. Angelo," says Vasari, "he painted many of the rooms a grotesche; but in the tower below, in the garden, he depicted scenes from the life of Alexander VI. There he painted the Catholic Queen Isabella; Niccolò Orsini, Count of Pitigliano; Giangiacomo Trivulzio; and many other kinsmen and friends of the Pope, and especially Caesar Borgia and his brother and sisters, as well as numerous great men of the age." Lorenz Behaim copied the epigrams which were placed under six of these paintings in the "castle of S. Angelo, below in the papal gardens." All represented scenes from the critical period of the invasion of Italy by Charles VIII, and they were painted in such a way as to make Alexander appear as having been victorious. One showed the king prostrating himself at the Pope's feet in this same garden of the castle of S. Angelo; another represented Charles declaring his loyalty before the consistory; another, Philip of Sens and Guillaume of S. Malo receiving the cardinal's hat; another, the mass in S. Peter's at which Charles VIII assisted; the subject of another was the passage to S. Paul's, with the king holding the Pope's stirrup; and, lastly, a scene depicting the departure of Charles for Naples, accompanied by Caesar Borgia and the Sultan Djem.
In the Codex Hartmann Schedel in the state library of Munich.
These paintings are now lost, and with them the portraits of the members of the Borgia family. Pinturicchio doubtless painted several likenesses of the beautiful Lucretia. Probably many of the figures in the paintings of this master resemble the Borgias, but of this we are not certain. In the collections of antiquaries, and among the innumerable old portraits which may be seen hanging in rows on the discolored walls in the palaces of Rome and in the castles in Romagna, there doubtless are likenesses of Lucretia, of Caesar, and of his brothers, which the beholder never suspects as such. It is well known that there was a faithful portrait of Alexander VI and his children above the altar of S. Lucia in the Church of S. Maria del Popolo, the work of Pinturicchio. Later, when Alexander restored this church, the painting was removed to the court of the cloister, and eventually it was lost.
Piazza (Gerarchia Cardinalizia) states that he saw it as late as 1712.
Of the famous artists of the day, Lucretia must likewise have known Antonio di Sangallo, her father's architect, and also Antonio Pollajuolo, the most renowned sculptor of the Florentine school in Rome during the last decades of the fifteenth century. He died there in 1498.
But the most famous of all the artists then in Rome was Michael Angelo. He appeared there first in 1498, an ambitious young man of three and twenty. At that time the city of Rome was an enchanting environment for an artistic nature. The boundless immorality of her great past, speaking so eloquently from innumerable monuments of the pagan and Christian worlds; her majesty and holy calm; the sudden breaking loose of furious passions—all this is beyond the imaginative power of modern men, just as is the wickedly secular nature of the papacy and the spirit of the Renaissance which swept over these ruins. We are unable to comprehend in their entirety the soul-activities of this great race, which was both creative and destructive. For to the same feeling which impelled men to commit great crimes do we owe the great works of art of the Renaissance. In those days evil, as well as good, was in the grand style. Alexander VI displayed himself to the world, for whose opinion he had supreme contempt, as shamelessly and fearlessly as did Nero.
The Renaissance, owing to the violent contrasts which it presents, now naïvely and now in full consciousness of their incongruity, and also on account of the fiendish traits by which it is characterized, will always constitute one of the greatest psychologic problems in the history of civilization.
All virtues, all crimes, all forces were set in motion by a feverish yearning for immaterial pleasures, beauty, power, and immortality. The Renaissance has been called an intellectual bacchanalia, and when we examine the features of the bacchantes they become distorted like those of the suitors in Homer, who anticipated their fall; for this society, this Church, these cities and states—in fine, this culture in its entirety—toppled over into the abyss which was yawning for it. The reflection that men like Copernicus, Michael Angelo, and Bramante, Alexander VI and Caesar Borgia could live in Rome at one and the same time is well nigh overpowering.
Did Lucretia ever see the youthful artist, subsequently the friend of the noble lady, Vittoria Colonna, whose portrait he painted? We know not; but there is no reason to doubt that she did. The curiosity of the artist and of the man would have induced Michael Angelo to endeavor to gain a glimpse of the most charming woman in Rome. Although only a beginner, he was already recognized as an artist of great talent. As he had just been taken up by Gallo the Roman and Cardinal La Grolaye, it is altogether probable that he would have been the subject also of Lucretia's curiosity.
Affected by the recent tragedies in the house of Borgia—for example, the murder of the Duke of Gandia—Michael Angelo was engaged upon the great work which was the first to attract the attention of the city, the Pietà, which Cardinal La Grolaye had commissioned him to paint. This work he completed in 1499, about the time the great Bramante came to Rome. The group should be studied with the epoch of the Borgias for background; the Pietà rises supreme in ethical significance, and in the moral darkness about her she seems a pure sacrificial fire lighted by a great and earnest spirit in the dishonored realm of the Church. Lucretia stood before the Pietà, and the masterpiece must have affected this unhappy daughter of a sinful pope more powerfully than the words of her confessor or than the admonitions of the abbesses of S. Sisto.
The jubilee year 1500 was a fortunate one for Caesar, but an unhappy one for Lucretia. She began it January 1st with a formal passage to the Lateran, whither she went to make the prescribed pilgrimage to the Roman churches. She rode upon a richly caparisoned jennet, her escort consisting of two hundred mounted nobles, men and women. On her left was her consort, Don Alfonso; on her right one of the ladies of her court; and behind them came the captain of the papal guard, Rodrigo Borgia. While she and her retinue were crossing over the Bridge of S. Angelo, her father stood in a loggia of the castle, feasting his eyes upon his beloved daughter.
The new year brought Alexander only good news—if we except that of the death of the Cardinal-legate Giovanni Borgia, Bishop of Melfi and Archbishop of Capua, who was known as the "younger," to distinguish him from another cardinal of the same name. He died in Urbino, January 8, 1500, of a fever, according to a statement made by Elisabetta, consort of Guidobaldo, to her brother Gonzaga, in a letter written from Fossombrone on the same day.
In the Gonzaga archives.
Caesar was in Forli when he received the news of the cardinal's death, the very morning—January 12th—on which the stronghold surrendered to him. He at once conveyed the information to the Duke of Ferrara in a letter, in which he said that Giovanni Borgia had been called to Rome by the Pope, and having set out from Forli, had died suddenly in Urbino of a flux. The fact that he had been in Caesar's camp, and that, according to Elisabetta's letter, he had been taken sick in Urbino, lent some probability to the suspicion that he had been poisoned.
It is worthy of note that Caesar, in his letter to the duke, speaks of the deceased as his brother;
In questa mattina ho hauto lo adviso de la morte del Rmo Card. Borgia mio fratre passato de questa vita in Urbino. Forli, January 16, 1500. Archives of Modena.
and Ercole, in offering him his condolences, January 18th, on the death of the cardinal, also called him Caesar's brother. Are we thereby warranted in concluding that the younger Giovanni Borgia was a son of Alexander VI? Further, the Ferrarese chronicler Zambotto, speaking of the cardinal's death, uses the expression, "son of Pope Alexander."
A. 1500, Jan. 22 (this is incorrect), mori il Carle Borgia fiolo de Papa Alexo a Orbino. Silva Cronicarum Bernardini Zambotti. Ms. in the library of Ferrara.
If this was the case, the number of Alexander's children must be increased, for Ludovico Borgia was also his son. This Borgia, who succeeded to Giovanni's benefices, was Archbishop of Valencia and subsequently cardinal. He reported his promotion to the Marchioness Gonzaga in a letter in which he everywhere speaks of the deceased as "his brother," just as Caesar had done.
La bona memoria del Cardinale Borgia mio fratre. Rome, July 30, 1500. Gonzaga archives.
These statements, however, do not refute the hitherto generally accepted opinion regarding the descent of Giovanni Borgia, "the younger," and Zambotta certainly was in error—the word fratre, which he uses in his letter means merely "dear cousin," fratello cugino.
Cittadella's opinion that Giovanni Borgia, junior, was a son of Pierluigi, Alexander's brother, is also incorrect.
January 14th news reached the Vatican that Caesar had taken the castle of Forli. After a brave resistance Catarina Sforza Riario, together with her two brothers, was compelled to surrender. The grandchild of the great Francesco Sforza of Milan, the natural daughter of Galeazzo Maria and the illegitimate sister of Blanca, wife of Emperor Maximilian, was the ideal of the heroic women of Italy, who were found not only in Bojardo's and Ariosto's poems, but also in real life. Her nature exceeded the feminine and verged on caricature. To understand the evolution of such personalities, in whom beauty and culture, courage and reason, sensuality and cruelty
combined to produce a strange organism, we must be familiar with the conditions from which they sprang. Catarina Sforza's experiences made her the amazon that she was.
At an early age she was married to the rude nephew of Sixtus IV, Girolamo Riario, Count of Forli. Shortly afterwards her terrible father met a tyrant's death in Milan. Then her husband fell beneath the daggers of the conspirators, who flung his naked body from a window of the stronghold of Forli. Catarina, however, with determined courage, succeeded in keeping the castle for her children, and she avenged her husband's death with ferocious cruelty. Subsequently she was known—to quote Marino Sanuto's words—as "a courageous woman and cruel virago."
Femina quasi virago crudelissima et di gran animo. Venuta di Carlo VIII, p. 811, Ms. Virago here means amazon.
Six years later she saw her brother Giangaleazzo die of poison administered by Ludovico il Moro, while before her very eyes her second, but not openly recognized, husband, Giacomo Feo of Savona, was slain in Forli by conspirators. She immediately mounted her charger, and at the head of her guard pursued the murderers to their quarter, where she had every living being—men, women, and children—hacked to pieces. She buried a third lover, Giovanni Medici, in 1497.
With cunning and force this amazon ruled her little domain until she herself finally fell into Caesar's hands. Few lamented her fate. When the news reached Milan that she was in the duke's power, and consequently also in that of Pope Alexander, the celebrated General Giangiacomo Trivulzio made a jesting remark which clearly shows how little her fate grieved the people. According to the stories of the day, Caesar led her to Rome in golden chains, like another Queen of Palmyra. He entered the city in triumph, February 26th, and the Pope assigned the Belvedere to the captive for her abode.
The city was filled at that time with the faithful, who had come to receive absolution for their sins, this the jubilee year,—and from a Borgia. Among the number was Elisabetta Gonzaga, consort of Guidobaldo of Urbino. The pilgrimage of this famous woman was a dangerous experiment, the Pope having secretly placed Urbino on the list of proscribed cities included in the Church fiefs. Caesar already looked upon it as his property. The thought of meeting this Borgia in Rome must have been exceedingly painful to her. How easily might he have found a pretext for keeping her prisoner! Her brother, Francesco Gonzaga, warned her against her decision, but on her way to Rome she wrote him a letter so remarkable and so amiable that we quote it at length:
Illustrious Prince and Lord, Honored Brother: I have left Urbino and set out for Rome for the purpose of receiving absolution, this the jubilee year. Several days ago I informed your Excellency of my prospective journey. Only to-day, in Assisi, did I receive your letter; I understand from what you write that you wish me to abandon this journey—perhaps thinking that I have not yet set out—which grieves me greatly, and causes me unspeakable pain, because I wish in this as in all other things to do your Majesty's will, having always looked upon you as my most honored father, and never having had any thought or purpose but to follow your wishes. However, as I have said, I am now on the way and am out of the country. With the help of Fabritius (Colonna) and Madonna Agnesina, my honored sister-in-law and sister, I have made arrangements for a residence in Rome, and for whatever may be necessary for my comfort. I have also informed them that I would be in Marino four days hence, and consequently Fabritius has gone to the trouble of securing an escort for me; further, my departure and journey have been noised about; therefore, I see no way to abandon this pilgrimage without affecting my honor and that of my husband—since the thing has gone so far—the more so as the journey was undertaken with the full knowledge and consent of my lord, and all and everything carefully considered. Your Majesty must not be distressed or annoyed by this, my journey, and in order that you may know everything, I will tell you that I am first going to Marino, and thence, accompanied by Madonna Agnesina, and incognito, shall go to Rome for the purpose of receiving absolution at this the holy jubilee of the Church. I need not see any one there, for during my stay in Rome I shall live in the palace of the deceased Cardinal Savelli. The house is a good one, and is exactly what I want, and it is within reach of the Colonna. It is my intention to return soon to Marino, there to spend the greater part of the time. Your Majesty, therefore, need have no further anxiety about my journey, and must not be displeased by it. Although these reasons are sufficient to induce me not only to continue the journey, but to begin it, if I had not already set out I would relinquish it, not on account of any fear of anything unpleasant that might attend my pilgrimage, but simply to comply with the wish expressed in your Majesty's letter, as I desire to do always. But as I am now here, and as your Excellency will soon receive this letter, I am sure you will approve of my course. I earnestly beg you to do so, and to assure me by letter, addressed to Rome, that you are not displeased, so that I may receive absolution in greater peace and tranquillity. If you do not I shall suffer great anxiety and grief. I commend myself to your Excellency's merciful benevolence as your Majesty's youngest sister,
Assisi, March 21, 1500.
Agnesina di Montefeltre mentioned in the letter, Guidobaldo's soulful sister, was married to Fabritius Colonna, who subsequently became one of Italy's greatest captains. She was then twenty-eight years of age. She and her husband lived at the castle of Marino in the Alban mountains, where, in 1490, she bore him Vittoria Colonna, the future ornament of her house. Elisabetta found this beautiful child already betrothed to Ferrante d'Avalos, son of Marquis Alfonso of Pescara; Ferdinand II of Naples having brought about the betrothal of the two children as early as 1495 for the purpose of winning over the Colonna, the retainers of the house of Aragon.
The Duchess of Urbino actually went to Rome for the purpose of protecting her noble kinswoman, whom she kept incognito. She remained there until Easter. On her way to S. Peter's she directed anxious glances toward the Belvedere, where the bravest woman of Italy, a prisoner, was grieving her life away, Catarina Sforza having been confined there since Caesar's return, February 26th, as is attested by a letter of that date written by the Venetian ambassador in Rome to his Signory. Elisabetta's feelings must have been rendered still more painful by the fact that her own husband, as well as her brother Gonzaga, both of whom were in the service of France, had given the princess up for lost.
She had scarcely left Rome when Catarina received news that her uncles Ludovico and Ascanio had fallen into the hands of the King of France. Having, with the aid of Swiss troops, again secured possession of Milan in 1500, they were ignominiously betrayed by the mercenaries at Novara, April 10th. Ludovico was carried away to France, where he died in misery, having spent ten years a prisoner in the tower of Loches; the once powerful cardinal was likewise taken a captive to France. A great tragedy had occurred in the house of Sforza. What must have been Catarina's distress when she, in her prison, learned that fate had overthrown all her race! Could one transport himself to that environment he would breathe the oppressive atmosphere with which Shakespeare enveloped his characters.
Catarina's jailers were the two most dreaded men of the age—the Pope and his son. The very thought of what surrounded her must have filled her with terror. In the Belvedere she was in constant dread of Caesar's poison, and it is indeed a wonder that she did escape it. She made an unsuccessful attempt at flight, whereupon Alexander had her removed to the castle of S. Angelo. However, certain French gentlemen in the service of the one who was bent on her destruction—especially Ivo d'Allegre—interceded for her; and the Pope, after she had spent a year and a half in captivity, allowed her to choose Florence for her asylum. He himself commended her to the Signory in the following letter:
Unto my Beloved Sons: Greeting and the Apostolic Blessing. Our beloved daughter in Christ, the noble lady Catarina Sforza, is on her way to you. She, as you are aware, having for good reasons been held a prisoner by Us for a time, has again become the object of Our mercy. We, according to Our custom and to Our pastoral duties, have not only exercised mercy with regard to this Catarina, but also, so far as We with God's help were able, have looked with paternal solicitude after her welfare; therefore We deem it proper to write you for the purpose of commending this Catarina to your protection, so that she, having full confidence in Our good will towards you, and returning, so to speak, into her own country, may not be deluded in her expectations and by Our recommendation. We, therefore, shall be glad to learn that she has been well received and treated by you, in gratitude to her for having chosen your city for her abode, and owing to your feelings toward Us. Given at Rome, in S. Peter's, under the Apostolic seal, July 13, 1501. In the ninth year of our pontificate.
Catarina Sforza died in a convent in Florence in 1509. In her fatherland she left a son of the same mettle as herself, Giovanni Medici, the last of the great condottieri of the country, who became famous as leader of the Black Bands. There is a seated figure in marble of this captain, of herculean strength, with the neck of a centaur, near the church of S. Lorenzo in Florence.
After the fall of the Riario, of Imola, and Forli, all the tyrants in the domain of the Church trembled before Caesar; and greater princes, like those of the Gonzaga and Este families, who were either entirely independent or were semi-independent vassals of the Church, courted the friendship of the Pope and his dreaded son. Caesar, as an ally of France, had secured for himself the services of these princes, and since 1499 they had helped him in his schemes in the Romagna. He engaged in a lively correspondence with Ercole d'Este, whom he treated as his equal, as his brother and friend, although he was a young and immature man. To him he reported his successes, and in return received congratulations, equally confidential in tone, all of which consisted of diplomatic lies inspired by fear. The correspondence between Caesar and Ercole, which is very voluminous, is still preserved in the Este archives in Modena. It began August 30, 1498, when Caesar was still a cardinal. In this letter, which is written in Latin, he announces to the duke that he is about to set out for France, and asks him for a saddle horse.
Caesar engaged in an equally confidential correspondence with Francesco Gonzaga, with whom he entered into intimate relations which endured until his death. In the archives of the Gonzaga family in Mantua there are preserved forty-one letters written by Caesar to the marquis and his consort Isabella. The first is dated October 31, 1498, from Avignon; the second, January 12, 1500, from Forli; the third is as follows:
Illustrious Sir and Honored Brother: From your Excellency's letter we have learned of the birth of your illustrious son, which has occasioned us no less joy than we would have felt on the birth of an heir to ourselves. As we, owing to our sincere and brotherly goodwill for you, wish you all increase and fortune, we willingly consent to be godfather, and will appoint for our proxy anyone whom your Excellency may choose. May he in our stead watch over the child from the moment of his baptism. We earnestly pray to God to preserve the same to you.
Your Majesty will not fail to congratulate your illustrious consort in our name. She will, we hope, through this son prepare the way for a numerous posterity to perpetuate the fame of their illustrious parents. Rome, in the Apostolic Palace, May 24, 1500.
Caesar Borgia of France, Duke of Valentinois,
Gonfallonier, and Captain-General
of the Holy Roman Church.
This son of the Marquis of Mantua was the hereditary Prince Federico, born May 17, 1500. Two years later, when Caesar was at the zenith of his power, Gonzaga requested the honor of the betrothal of this son and the duke's little daughter Luisa.
Caesar remained in Rome several months to secure funds for carrying out his plans in Romagna. All his projects would have been wrecked in a moment if his father had not escaped, almost unharmed, when the walls of a room in the Vatican collapsed, June 27, 1500. He was extricated from the rubbish only slightly hurt. He would allow no one but his daughter to care for him. When the Venetian ambassador called, July 3d, he found Madonna Lucretia, Sancia, the latter's husband, Giuffrè, and one of Lucretia's ladies-in-waiting, who was the Pope's "favorite," with him. Alexander was then seventy years of age. He ascribed his escape to the Virgin Mary, just as Pius IX did his own when the house near S. Agnese tumbled down. July 5th Alexander held a service in her honor, and on his recovery he had himself borne in a procession to S. Maria del Popolo, where he offered the Virgin a goblet containing three hundred ducats. Cardinal Piccolomini ostentatiously scattered the gold pieces over the altar before all the people.
The saints had saved a great sinner from the falling walls in the Vatican, but they refrained from interfering eighteen days later to prevent a hideous crime—the attempted murder of a guiltless person. In vain had the youthful Alfonso of Biselli been warned by his own premonitions and by his friends during the past year to seek safety in flight. He had followed his wife to Rome like a lamb to the slaughter, only to fall under the daggers of the assassins from whom she was powerless to save him. Caesar hated him, as he did the entire house of Aragon, and in his opinion his sister's marriage to a Neapolitan prince had become as useless as had been her union with Sforza of Pesaro; moreover, it interfered with the plans of Caesar, who had a matrimonial alliance in mind for his sister which would be more advantageous to himself. As her marriage with the Duke of Biselli had not been childless, and, consequently, could not be set aside, he determined upon a radical separation of the couple.
July 15, 1500, about eleven o'clock at night, Alfonso was on his way from his palace to the Vatican to see his consort; near the steps leading to S. Peter's a number of masked men fell upon him with daggers. Severely wounded in the head, arm, and thigh, the prince succeeded in reaching the Pope's chamber. At the sight of her spouse covered with blood, Lucretia sank to the floor in a swoon.
Alfonso was carried to another room in the Vatican, and a cardinal administered the extreme unction; his youth, however, triumphed, and he recovered. Although Lucretia, owing to her fright, fell sick of a fever, she and his sister Sancia took care of him; they cooked his food, while the Pope himself placed a guard over him. In Rome there was endless gossip about the crime and its perpetrators. July 19th the Venetian ambassador wrote to his Signory: "It is not known who wounded the duke, but it is said that it was the same person who killed the Duke of Gandia and threw him into the Tiber. Monsignor of Valentinois has issued an edict that no one shall be found with arms between the castle of S. Angelo and S. Peter's, on pain of death."
Caesar remarked to the ambassador, "I did not wound the duke, but if I had, it would have been nothing more than he deserved." His hatred of his brother-in-law must have been inspired also by personal reasons of which we are ignorant. He even ventured to call upon the wounded man, remarking on leaving, "What is not accomplished at noon may be done at night."
The days passed slowly; finally the murderer lost patience. At nine o'clock in the evening of August 18th, he came again; Lucretia and Sancia drove him from the room, whereupon he called his captain, Micheletto, who strangled the duke. There was no noise, not a sound; it was like a pantomime; amid a terrible silence the dead prince was borne away to S. Peter's.
The affair was no longer a secret. Caesar openly stated that he had destroyed the duke because the latter was seeking his life, and he claimed that by Alfonso's orders some archers had shot at him when he was strolling in the Vatican gardens.
Nothing so clearly discloses the terrible influence which Caesar exercised over his wicked father as this deed, and the way in which the Pope regarded it. From the Venetian ambassador's report it appears that it was contrary to Alexander's wishes, and that he had even attempted to save the unfortunate prince's life. After the crime had been committed, however, the Pope dismissed it from his mind, both because he did not dare to bring Caesar—whom he had forgiven for the murder of his brother—to a reckoning, and because the murder would result in offering him opportunities which he desired. He spared himself the trouble of directing useless reproaches to his son, for Caesar would only have laughed at them. Was the care with which Alexander had his unfortunate son-in-law watched merely a bit of deceit? There are no grounds for believing that the Pope either planned the murder himself or that he consented to it.
Never was bloody deed so soon forgotten. The murder of a prince of the royal house of Naples made no more impression than the death of a Vatican stable boy would have done. No one avoided Caesar; none of the priests refused him admission to the Church, and all the cardinals continued to show him the deepest reverence and respect. Prelates vied with each other to receive the red hat from the hand of the all-powerful murderer, who offered the dignity to the highest bidders. He needed money for carrying out his schemes of confiscation in the Romagna. His condottieri, Paolo Orsini, Giuliano Orsini, Vitellozzo Vitelli, and Ercole Bentivoglio were with him during these autumn days. His father had equipped seven hundred heavy men at arms for him, and, August 18th, the Venetian ambassador reported to the Signory that he had been requested by the Pope to ask the Doge to withdraw their protection from Rimini and Faenza. Negotiations were in progress with France to secure her active support for Caesar. August 24th the French ambassador, Louis de Villeneuve, made his entry into Rome; near S. Spirito a masked man rode up and embraced him. The man was Caesar. However openly he committed his crimes, he frequently went about Rome in disguise.
The murder of the youthful Alfonso of Aragon was by far the most tragic deed committed by the Borgias, and his fate was more terrible than even that of Astorre Manfredi. If Lucretia really loved her husband, as there is every reason to suppose she did, his end must have caused her the greatest anguish; and, even if she had no affection for him, all her feelings must have been aroused against the murderer to whose fiendish ambition the tragedy was due. She must also have rebelled against her father, who regarded the crime with such indifference.
None of the reports of the day describe the circumstances in which she found herself immediately after the murder, nor events in the Vatican just preceding it. Although Lucretia was suffering from a fever, she did not die of grief, nor did she rise to avenge her husband's murder, or to flee from the terrible Vatican.
She was in a position similar to that of her sister-in-law, Doña Maria Enriquez, after Gandia's death; but while the latter and her sons had found safety in Spain, Lucretia had no retreat to which she could retire without the consent of her father and brother.
It would be wrong to blame the unfortunate woman because at this fateful moment of her life she did not make herself the subject of a tragedy. Of a truth, she appears very weak and characterless. We must not look for great qualities of soul in Lucretia, for she possessed them not. We are endeavoring to represent her only as she actually was, and, if we judge rightly, she was merely a woman differentiated from the great mass of women, not by the strength, but by the graciousness, of her nature. This young woman, regarded by posterity as a Medea or as a loathsomely passionate creature, probably never experienced any real feeling. During the years she lived in Rome she was always subject to the will of others, for her destiny was controlled, first, by her father, and subsequently by her brother. We know not how much of an effort, in view of the circumstances by which she was trammeled, she could make to maintain the dignity of woman. If Lucretia, however, ever did possess the courage to assert her individuality and rights before those who injured her, she certainly would have done so when her husband was murdered. Perhaps she did assail her sinister brother with recriminations and her father with tears. She was troublesome to Caesar, who wished her away from the Vatican, consequently Alexander banished her for a time; and apparently she herself was not unwilling to go. The Venetian ambassador Paolo Capello refers to some quarrel between Lucretia and her father. He departed from Rome, September 16, 1500, and on his return to Venice made a report to his government on the condition of affairs, in which he says: "Madonna Lucretia, who is gracious and generous, formerly was in high favor with the Pope, but she is so no longer."
August 30th, Lucretia, accompanied by a retinue of six hundred riders, set out from Rome for Nepi, of which city she was mistress. There, according to Burchard, she hoped to recover from the perturbation which the death of the Duke of Biselli had caused her.
Travelers from Rome to Nepi, then as now, followed the Via Cassia, passing Isola Farnese, Baccano, and Monterosi. The road consisted in part of the ancient highway, but it was in the worst possible condition. Near Monterosi the traveler turned into the Via Amerina, much of the pavement of which is still preserved, even up to the walls of Nepi.
Like most of the cities of Etruria, Nepi (Nepe or Nepete) was situated on a high plain bordered by deep ravines, through which flowed small streams, called rii. The bare cliffs of tuff constituted a natural means of defense, and where they were low, walls were built.
The southern side of the city of Nepi, where the Falisco River flows and empties into a deep chasm, was in ancient times fortified with high walls built of long, square blocks of tuff laid upon each other without mortar, like the walls of neighboring Falerii. Some remains of Nepi's walls may still be seen near the Porta Romana, although much of the material has been used in constructing the castle and for the high arches of the Farnese aqueduct.
The castle defended the weakest side of Nepi, where, in the old days, stood the city fortress. In the eighth century it was the seat of a powerful duke, Toto, who made a name for himself also in the history of Rome. Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia gave it the form it now has, rebuilding the castle and enlarging the two great towers inside the walls, the larger of which is round and the smaller square. Later the castle was restored and furnished with bastions by Paul III and his son, Pierluigi Farnese, the first Duke of Castro and Nepi.
Over the Porta Romana and on the bastions may still be seen the colossal arms of Paul III and those of his son carved in stone. The inscription reads:
P. ALOISIVS FARNESIVS DVX I. CASTRI ET NEPETE MVNIMENTVM HOC AD TVTELAM CIVITATIS EXSTRVXIT. MDXL.
In 1500 this castle was as strong as that of Civitacastellana, which Alexander VI rebuilt. Unfortunately, it is now in ruins. The remains of the castle-palace and all the outer walls are covered with thick ivy. Time has spared nothing but the two great towers.
On the side toward the city the ruined stronghold is entered through a gateway above which is inscribed in the fair characters of the Renaissance, YSV VNICVS CVSTOS. PROCVL HINC TIMORES. YSV. This leads into a rectangular court surrounded by walls now in ruins. The beholder is confronted by the façade of the castle, a two-storied structure in the style of the Renaissance, with windows whose casements are made of peperino (cement). The inscription P. LOISIVS FAR DVX PRIMVS CASTRI on the door frame shows that this was also the work of the Farnese.
The interior is a mass of ruins, all the walls having fallen in. This notable monument of the past has been suffered to go to decay; it was only eighty years ago that the walls of the last remaining salon fell in. The only room left is an upper chamber, reached by climbing a ladder. The place where the hearth was is still discernible, as is also the paneled ceiling found in so many of the buildings of the early Renaissance. The ends of the rafters are supported by beautifully carved consoles. All the woodwork is stained dark brown, and here and there on the ceiling are wooden shields, on which are painted the Borgia arms in colors.
In various places in the interior, and also without, on the towers of the stronghold, the same arms may be seen carved in stone. There are also two stones, with the arms very carefully chiseled, set in the walls of the entrance hall of the town house of Nepi, which were originally in the castle where they had been placed by Lucretia's orders. The Borgia arms and those of the house of Aragon, which Lucretia, as Duchess of Biselli, had adopted, are united under a ducal crown.
Lonely Nepi, which now has only 2,500 inhabitants, had but few more in the year 1500. It was a little town in Campagna, whose streets were bordered by Gothic buildings, with a few old palaces and towers belonging to the nobles, among the most important of whom were the Celsi. There is a small public square, formerly the forum, on which the town hall faces, and also an old church, originally built upon the ruins of the temple of Jupiter. There were a few other ancient churches and cloisters, such as S. Vito and S. Eleuterio, and other remains of antiquity, which have now disappeared. There are only two ancient statues left—the figures of two of Nepi's citizens whose names are now unknown—they are on the façade of the palace, a beautiful building dating from the late Renaissance. Owing to the topography of the region and the general decadence peculiar to all Etruria, the country about Nepi is forbidding and melancholy. The dark and rugged chasms, with their huge blocks of stone and steep walls of black and dark red tuff, with rushing torrents in their depths, cause an impression of grandeur, but also of sadness, with which the broad and peaceful highlands and the idyllic pastures, where one constantly hears the melancholy bleating of the sheep, and the sad notes of the shepherds' flutes are in perfect accord.
Here and there dark oak forests may still be seen, but four hundred years ago, in the neighborhood of Nepi, they were more numerous and denser than they are to-day; in the direction of Sutri and Civitacastellana they are well cleared up; but there are still many fine groves. From the top of the castle may be seen a magnificent panorama, which is even more extensive than that which greets the eye from the castle of Spoleto. There on the horizon are the dark volcano of Bracciano and Monte di Rocca Romana, and here the mountains of Viterbo, on whose wide slopes the town of Caprarola, which belonged to the Farnese, is visible. On the other side rises Soracte. Towards the north the plateau slopes gently down to the valley of the Tiber, across which, in the misty distance, the blue chain of the Sabine mountains stands out boldly, with numerous fortresses scattered about the declivities.
August 31st Alfonso's young widow went to the castle of Nepi, taking with her part of her court and her child Rodrigo. These knights and ladies, all generally so merry, were now either oppressed by a real sorrow or were required by court etiquette to renounce all pleasures. In this lonely stronghold Lucretia could lament, undisturbed, the taking-off of the handsome youth who had been her husband for two years, and together with whom she had dwelt in this same castle scarcely a twelve-month before. There was nothing to disturb her melancholy brooding; but, instead, castle, city, and landscape all harmonized with it.
Some of Lucretia's letters written during her stay at the castle of Nepi are still in existence, and they are especially valuable, being the only ones we have which date from what is known as the Roman period of the life of the famous woman. Lucretia addressed them to her trusted servant in Rome, Vincenzo Giordano; some are in her own handwriting, and others in that of her secretary, Cristoforo. She signs herself "the most unhappy Princess of Salerno," although she herself afterwards struck out the words, principessa de Salerno, and left only the words, La infelicissima. In only a single letter—and this one has no date—did she allow the whole signature to stand.
The first letters, dated September 15th and October 24, 1500, "in our city of Nepi," are devoted to domestic affairs, especially clothes, of which she was in need. Two days later she states that she had written to the Cardinal of Lisbon, her godfather, in the interest of the bearer of the letter, Giovanni of Prato. October 28th she directs Vincenzo to have certain clothes made for the little Rodrigo and to send them to her immediately by a courier. She also orders him to have prayers said for her in all the convents "on account of this, my new sorrow." October 30th she wrote as follows:
Vincenzo: As we have decided that the memorial service for the soul of his Lordship, the duke, my husband—may the glory of the saints be his—shall be held, you will, with this end in view, go to his Eminence the Lord Cardinal of Colenzo, whom we have charged with this office, and will do whatever his Eminence commands you, both in regard to paying for the mass and also for performing whatever his Majesty directs; and you will keep account of what you spend of the five hundred which you have, for I will see that you are reimbursed, so it will be necessary. From the castle of Nepi, next to the last day of October, 1500.
The Unhappy Princess of Salerno.
There is an undated letter written by Lucretia which, apparently, belongs to the same period, because it is written in a melancholy tone, and in it she asks Heaven to watch over her bed. The last dated letters, which are of October 31st and November 2d, are devoted to unimportant domestic affairs; they show that Lucretia was in Nepi as late as November. Another undated letter to the same Vincenzo Giordano refers to her return to Rome; it purposely contains obscurities which it is now impossible to decipher and fictitious names which had been agreed upon with her servant. Even the signature is a conventional sign. The epistle is word for word as follows: "I am so filled with misgivings and anxiety on account of my returning to Rome that I can scarcely write—I can only weep. And all this time when I found that Farina neither answered nor wrote to me I was able neither to eat nor sleep, and wept continually. God forgive Farina, who could have made everything turn out better and did not do so. I will see whether I can send him Roble before I set out—for I wish to send him. No more for the present. Again look well to that matter, and on no account let Rexa see this letter."
Lucretia, it appears, wished to leave Nepi and return to Rome, for which her father at first might refuse his permission. Perhaps Rexa in this letter means Alexander, and the name Farina may signify Cardinal Farnese, upon whose intermediation she counted. Vincenzo finally wrote her that he had spoken to the Pope himself, and Lucretia, in an undated letter, showed her servant how pleased she was because everything had turned out better than she had expected. This is the only letter in which the signature, "The unhappy Princess of Salerno" is not stricken out.
We do not know how long Lucretia remained in Nepi, where, in summer, the moisture rising from the rocky chasms caused deadly fevers, and still renders that place and Civitacastellana unhealthful. Her father recalled her to Rome before Christmas, and received her again into his favor as soon as her brother left the city. Only a few months had passed when Lucretia's soul was again filled with visions of a brilliant future, before which the vague form of the unfortunate Alfonso sank into oblivion. Her tears dried so quickly that, on the expiration of a year, no one would have recognized in this young and frivolous woman the widow of a trusted consort who had been foully murdered. From her father Lucretia had inherited, if not inexhaustible vitality, at least the lightness of mind which her contemporaries, under the name of joy of living, discovered in her and in the Pope.
Towards the end of September, Caesar entered Romagna with seven hundred heavy men at arms, two hundred light horsemen, and six thousand foot soldiers. First he advanced against Pesaro for the purpose of driving out his former brother-in-law. Sforza, on hearing of the terrible fate of his successor as husband of Lucretia, had good reason to congratulate himself on his escape. He was literally consuming with hate of all the Borgias, but, instead of being able to avenge himself for the injury they had done him, he found himself threatened with another, a greater and almost unavoidable one. He had been informed by his representative in Rome and by the ambassador of Spain, who was friendly to him, of the preparations his enemy was making, a fact proved by his letter to Francesco Gonzaga, the brother of his first wife, Maddalena.
His correspondence with Gonzaga is preserved in the archives of Mantua.
September 1, 1500, he informed the Marquis of Caesar's intention to attack Pesaro, and asked him to endeavor to interest the Emperor Maximilian in his behalf. On the twenty-sixth he wrote an urgent appeal for help. This the marquis did not refuse, but he sent him only a hundred men under the command of an Albanian. Thus do we see how these illegitimate dynasties of Italy were in danger of being overthrown by every breath. Faenza was the only place where the people loved their lord, the young and fair Astorre Manfredi, and remained true to him. In all the other cities of Romagna, however, the regime of the tyrants was detested. Sforza himself could be cruel and exacting, and not in vain had he been a pupil of the Borgias in Rome.
Never was throne so quickly overturned as his, or, rather, so promptly abandoned before it was attacked. Caesar was some distance from Pesaro when there was a movement in his favor among the people; a party hostile to the Sforza was formed, while the whole populace, excited by the thought of what might follow the storming of the city by the heartless enemy, was anxious to make terms with him. In vain did the poet, Guido Posthumus, who had recently returned from Padua to his fatherland, urge his fellow citizens, in ardent verses, to resist the enemy.
Ad. Pisaurenses: Guidi Posthumi Silvestris Pisaurensis Elegiarum Librii ii, p. 33. Bonon, 1524.
The people rose Sunday, October 11th, even before Caesar had appeared under the city walls. What then happened is told in Sforza's letter to Gonzaga:
Illustrious Sir and Honored Brother-in-Law: Your Excellency doubtless has learned ere this how the people of Pesaro, last Sunday morning, incited by four scoundrels, rose in arms, and how I, with a few who remained faithful, was forced to retire to the castle as best I could. When I saw that the enemy was approaching, and that Ercole Bentivoglio, who was near Rimini, was pressing forward, I left the castle at night to avoid being shut in—this was on the advice and with the help of the Albanian Jacomo. In spite of the bad roads and great obstacles, I escaped to this place, for which I have, first of all, to thank your Excellency—you having sent me Jacomo—and next, to thank him for bringing me through safely. What I shall now do, I know not; but if I do not succeed in getting to your Excellency within four days, I will send Jacomo, who will tell you how everything happened, and what my plans are. In the meantime I wish you to know that I am safe, and that I commend myself to you. Bologna, October 17, 1500. Your Excellency's Brother-in-Law and Servant,
Johannes Sforza of Aragon, Count of Cotignola and Pesaro.
October 19th he again wrote from Bologna, saying he was going to Ravenna, and intended to return from there to Pesaro, where the castle was still bravely holding out; he also asked the marquis to send him three hundred men. Three days later, however, he reported from Ravenna that the castle had capitulated.
Caesar Borgia had taken the city of Pesaro, not only without resistance, but with the full consent of the people, and with public honors he entered the Sforza palace, where only four years before his sister had held her court. He took possession of the castle October 28th, summoned a painter and commanded him to draw a picture of it on paper for him to send the Pope. From the battlements of the castle of the Sforza twelve trumpeters sounded the glad tidings, and the heralds saluted Caesar as Lord of Pesaro. October 29th he set out for the castle of Gradara.
Pietro Marzetti, Memorie di Pesaro. Ms. in the Oliveriana.
Among those who witnessed his entry into Pesaro was Pandolfo Collenuccio. On receiving news of the fall of the city, Duke Ercole, owing to fear, and also on account of a certain bargain between himself and the Pope, of which we shall soon speak, sent this man, whom Sforza had banished, and who had found an asylum in Ferrara, to Caesar to congratulate him. Collenuccio gave the duke a report of his mission, October 29th, in the following remarkable letter:
Bartolomeo of Capranica, Field-Marshal.|
Piero Santa Croce.
Mario Don Marian de Stephano.
Jo. Baptista Mancini.
|All Noblemen of Rome.|
Bishop of Elna,|
Bishop of Sancta Sista,
Bishop of Trani, an Italian.|
A Neapolitan abbot.
Sigr Ramiro del Orca, Governor; he is the factotum.
Don Hieronymo, a Portuguese.
Messer Agabito da Amelio, Secretary.
Mesr Alexandro Spannocchia, Treasurer, who says that the duke since his departure from Rome up to the present time has spent daily, on the average, eighteen hundred ducats.
Collenuccio in his letter omits to mention the fact that he had addressed to Caesar, the new master of Pesaro, a complaint against its former lord, Giovanni Sforza, and that the duke had reinstated him in the possession of his confiscated property. He was destined a few years later bitterly to regret having taken this step. Guido Posthumus, on the other hand, whose property Caesar appropriated, fled to the Rangone in Modena. Sforza, expelled, reached Venice November 2d, where he endeavored, according to Malipiero, to sell the Republic his estates of Pesaro—in which attempt he failed. Thence he went to Mantua. At that time Modena and Mantua were the asylums of numerous exiled tyrants who were hospitably received into the beautiful castle of the Gonzaga, which was protected by the swamps of the Mincio.
After the fall of Pesaro, Rimini likewise expelled its hated oppressors, the brothers Pandolfo and Carlo Malatesta, whereupon Caesar Borgia laid siege to Faenza. The youthful Astorre, its lord, finally surrendered, April 25, 1501, to the destroyer, on the duke's promise not to deprive him of his liberty. Caesar, however, sent the unfortunate young man to Rome, where he and his brother Octavian, together with several other victims, were confined in the castle of S. Angelo. This was the same Astorre with whom Cardinal Alessandro Farnese wished to unite his sister Giulia in marriage, and the unfortunate youth may now have regretted that this alliance had not taken place.
During this time Lucretia, with her child Rodrigo, was living in the palace of S. Peter's. If she was inclined to grieve for her husband, her father left her little time to give way to her feelings. He had recourse to her thoughtlessness and vanity, for the dead Alfonso was to be replaced by another and greater Alfonso. Scarcely was the Duke of Biselli interred before a new alliance was planned. As early as November, 1500, there was talk of Lucretia's marrying the hereditary Prince of Ferrara, who, since 1497, had been a widower; he was childless, and was just twenty-four years of age. Marino Zorzi, the new Venetian ambassador, first mentioned the project to his signory November 26th. This union, however, had been considered in the Vatican much earlier—in fact while Lucretia's husband was still living. At the Christmas holidays of 1500 it was publicly stated that she was to marry the Duke of Gravina, an Orsini who, undeterred by the fate of Lucretia's former husbands, came to Rome in December to sue for her hand. Some hope was held out to him, probably with a view to retaining the friendship of his family.
Alexander himself conceived the plan of marrying Lucretia to Alfonso of Ferrara. He desired this alliance both on his beloved daughter's account and because it could not fail to prove advantageous to Caesar; it would not only assure to him the possession of Romagna, which Venice might try to wrest from him, but it would also increase his chances of consummating his plans regarding Bologna and Florence. At the same time it would bring to him the support of the dynasties of Mantua and Urbino, which were connected by marriage with the house of Ferrara. It would be the nucleus of a great league, including France, the Papacy, Caesar's States, Ferrara, Mantua, and Urbino, which would be sufficiently strong to defend Alexander and his house against all enemies.
If the King of France was to maintain his position in Italy he would require, above all else, the help of the Pope. He already occupied Milan, and he wished to seize half of the kingdom of Naples and hold it as a vassal of the Church; for France and Spain had already agreed upon the wicked partition of Naples, to which Alexander had thus far neither refused nor given his consent.
In order to win over the Duke of Ferrara to his bold scheme, Alexander availed himself, first of all, of Giambattista Ferrari of Modena, an old retainer of Ercole, who was wholly devoted to the Pope, and whom he had made datarius and subsequently a cardinal. Ferrari ventured to suggest the marriage to the duke, "on account," so he wrote him, "of the great advantage which would accrue to his State from it."
Compare Sannazzaro's epitaph on Alexander VI with the epigram of Guido Posthumus: In Tumulum Sexti.
This proposal caused Ercole no less embarrassment than King Federico of Naples had felt when he was placed in a similar position. His pride rebelled. His daughter, the noble Marchioness Isabella of Mantua, and her sister-in-law Elisabetta of Urbino, were literally beside themselves. The youthful Alfonso objected most vigorously. Moreover, there was a plan afoot to marry the hereditary duke to a princess of the royal house of France, Louise, widow of the Duke of Angoulême.
Cardinal Ferrari to Ercole, Rome, February 18, 1501. This is the first of the letters regarding this subject in the archives of Modena.
Ercole rejected the offer absolutely.
Alexander had foreseen his opposition, but he felt sure he could overcome it. He had the advantages of the alliance pointed out more clearly, and also the disadvantages which might result from a refusal; on one hand was Ferrara's safety and advancement, and on the other the hostility of Caesar and the Pope, and perhaps also that of France.
Ercole's letter to his ambassador in Florence, Manfredo Manfredi, April 25, 1501. Archives of Modena.
Alexander was so certain of his victory that he made no secret of the projected marriage, and he even spoke of it with satisfaction in the consistory, as if it were an accomplished fact.
Ferrari to Ercole, May 1, 1501.
He succeeded in winning the support of the French court, which, however, was not difficult, as Louis XII was then very anxious for the Pope to allow him to lead his army out of Tuscany, through the States of the Church, into Naples, which he could not do without the secret consent of his Holiness. Above all, the Pope counted on the help of Cardinal Amboise, to whom Caesar had taken the red hat when he went to France, and whose ambitious glances were directed toward the papal throne, which, with the aid of his friend Caesar and of the Spanish cardinals, he hoped to reach on the death of Alexander.
It is, nevertheless, a fact that Louis XII at first was opposed to the match, and even endeavored to prevent it. He himself was not only determinedly set against everything which would increase the power of Caesar and the Pope, but he was also anxious to enhance his own influence with Ferrara by bringing about the marriage of Alfonso and some French princess. In May Alexander sent a secretary to France to induce the king to use his influence to effect the alliance, but this Louis declined to do.
Girolamo Saerati to Ercole, Rome, May 8, 1501.
On the other hand, he was anxious to bring about the marriage of Don Ferrante, Alfonso's brother, with Lucretia, and secure for her, as portion, the territory of Piombino.
Bartolomeo de' Cavallieri, Ferrarese ambassador to France, to Ercole, Chalons, May 26, 1501.
He had also placed a check on Caesar's operations in Central Italy, in consequence of which the latter's attempts against Bologna and Florence had miscarried.
The whole scheme for the marriage would have fallen through if the subject of the French expedition against Naples had not just then come up. There is ground for believing that the Pope's consent was made contingent upon the King's agreeing to the marriage.
June 13, 1501, Caesar himself, now created Duke of Romagna by his father, came secretly to Rome, where he remained three weeks, exerting all his efforts to further the plan. After this, he and his men at arms followed the French Marshal Aubigny, who had set out from near Rome for Naples, to engage in a nefarious war of conquest, whose horrors, in the briefest of time, overwhelmed the house of Aragon.
As early as June the King of France yielded to the Pope's solicitations, and exerted his influence in Ferrara, as appears from a despatch of the Ferrarese ambassador to France, dated June 22d. He reported to Ercole that he had stated to the king that the Pope threatened to deprive the duke of his domain if he did not consent to the marriage; whereupon the king replied that Ferrara was under his protection and could fall only when France fell. The envoy feared that the Pope might avail himself of the question of the investiture of Naples—upon which the king was determined—to win him over to his side. He finally wrote the duke that Monsignor de Trans, the most influential person at the king's court, had advised him to agree to the marriage upon the conditional payment of two hundred thousand ducats, the remission of Ferrara's annual dues, and certain benefices for the house of Este.
At least such was the plan advocated by Monsignor de Trans, French ambassador in Rome. Letter of Aldovrandus de Guidonibus to Duke Ercole, Lugo, April 25, 1501. State archives of Modena.
Amboise sent the Archbishop of Narbonne and other agents to Ferrara to win over the duke; the King of France himself wrote and urged him to give his consent, and he now refused Don Alfonso the hand of the French princess. While the French ambassador was presenting his case to the duke, the Pope's messengers and Caesar's agents were also endeavoring to secure his consent. Caught in a network of intrigue, fear at last forced Ercole to yield.
July 8th he had Louis XII notified that he would do as he wished, if he and the Pope could agree upon the conditions.
Bartolomeo de' Cavallieri to Ercole, Lyons, June 22, 1501.
He yielded only to the demand of the king, who advised the marriage solely because he himself had need of the Pope. All the while he was urging Ercole to give his consent, he was also counselling him not to be in too great haste to send his son Don Ferrante to Rome to conclude the matter, but to hold him back as long as possible—until he himself should reach Lombardy, which would be in September. He even had Ercole informed that he would keep his promise to bestow the hand of Madonna d'Angoulême on Don Alfonso, and he made no effort to conceal the displeasure he felt on account of the projected alliance with Lucretia.
Ercole to Giovanni Valla, July 8, 1501. Ercole to the Cardinal of Rouen, July 8, 1501.
To the Ferrarese ambassador he remarked that he would consider the duke unwise if he allowed his son to marry the daughter of the Pope, for, on Alexander's death, he would no longer know with whom he had concluded the alliance, and Alfonso's position would become very uncertain.
Despatches of Bartolomeo de'Cavallieri, Ferrarese ambassador at the court of France, to Ercole, July 10, 14, and 21, 1501.
The duke did not hurry; it is true he sent his secretary, Hector Bellingeri, to Rome, but only for the purpose of telling the Pope that he had yielded to the king's wishes upon the condition that his own demands would be satisfied. The Pope and Caesar, however, urged that the marriage contract be executed at once, and they requested the Cardinal of Rouen, who was then in Milan, to induce Ercole to send his son Alfonso there (to Milan), so that the transaction might be concluded in the cardinal's presence. This the duke refused to do until the Pope agreed to the conditions upon which he had based his consent.
Despatch of the same, undated.
While these shameful negotiations regarding Lucretia were dragging on, Caesar was in Naples, and was the instrument and witness of the sudden overthrow of the hated house of Aragon, whose throne, however, was not to fall to his portion. Alexander used this opportunity to appropriate the property of the barons of Latium, especially that of the Colonna, the Savelli, and Estouteville, all of which, owing to the Neapolitan war, had been left without protection. The confiscation of this property was, as we shall soon see, part of the scheme which included the marriage. As early as June, 1501, he had taken possession of a number of cities belonging to these families. Alexander, accompanied by troops, horse and foot-soldiers, went to Sermoneta July 27th.
This was the time that—just before his departure—he made Lucretia his representative in the Vatican. Following are Burchard's words: "Before his Holiness, our Master, left the city, he turned over the palace and all the business affairs to his daughter Lucretia, authorizing her to open all letters which should come addressed to him. In important matters she was to ask advice of the Cardinal of Lisbon.
"When a certain matter came up—I do not know just what it was—it is said Lucretia went to the above-named cardinal and informed him of the Pope's instructions, and laid the matter before him. Thereupon he said to her, that whenever the Pope had anything to submit to the consistory, the vice-chancellor, or some other cardinal in his stead, would write it down together with the opinions of those present; therefore some one should now record what is said. Lucretia replied, 'I can write very well.' 'Where is your pen?' asked the cardinal. Lucretia saw that he was joking, and she laughed, and thus their conference had a fit ending."
What a scene for the Vatican! A young and beautiful woman, the Pope's own daughter, presiding over the cardinals in consistory. This one scene is sufficient to show to what depths the Church of Rome had sunk; it is more convincing than a thousand satires, than a thousand official reports. The affairs which the Pope entrusted to his daughter were—at least so we assume—wholly secular and not ecclesiastical; but this bold proceeding was entirely unprecedented. The prominence given Lucretia, the highest proof of favor her father could show her, was due to special reasons. Alexander had just been assured of the consent of Alfonso d'Este to the marriage with Lucretia, and in his joy he made her regent in the Vatican. This was to show that he recognized in her, the prospective Duchess of Ferrara, a person of weight in the politics of the peninsula. In doing this he was simply imitating the example of Ercole and other princes, who were accustomed, when absent from their domains, to confide state business to the women of their families.
The duke had found it difficult to overcome his son's objections, for nothing could offend the young prince so deeply as the determination to compel him to marry Lucretia; not because she was an illegitimate child, for this blot signified little in that age when bastards flourished in all Latin countries. Many of the ruling dynasties of Italy bore this stain—the Sforza, the Malatesta, the Bentivoglio, and the Aragonese of Naples; even the brilliant Borso, the first Duke of Ferrara, was the illegitimate brother of his successor, Ercole. Lucretia, however, was the daughter of a Pope, the child of a priest, and this, in the eyes of the Este, constituted her disgrace. Neither her father's licentiousness nor Caesar's crimes could have greatly affected the moral sense of the court of Ferrara, but not one of the princely houses of that age was so depraved that it was indifferent to the reputation of a woman destined to become one of its prominent members.
Alfonso was the prospective husband of a young woman whose career, although she was only twenty-one years of age, had been most extraordinary. Twice had Lucretia been legally betrothed, twice had she been married, and twice had she been made a widow by the wickedness or crimes of others. Her reputation, consequently, was bad, therefore Alfonso, himself a man of the world, never could feel sure of this young woman's virtue, even if he did not believe all the reports which were circulated regarding her. The scandalous gossip about everything which takes place at court passed from city to city just as quickly then as it does now. The duke and his son were informed by their agents of everything which actually occurred in the Borgia family, as well as of every story which was started concerning its members. The frightful reasons which the disgraced Sforza had given Lucretia's father in writing as grounds for the annulment of his marriage were at once communicated to the duke in Ferrara. The following year his agent in Venice informed him that "a report had come from Rome that the Pope's daughter had given birth to an illegitimate child."
Ercole to Giovanni Valla, his special envoy to the Cardinal of Rouen, in Milan, July 21 and 26, 1501.
Moreover, all the satires with which the enemies of the Borgias persecuted them—including Lucretia—were well known at the court of Ferrara, and doubtless maliciously enjoyed. Are we warranted in assuming that the Este considered these reports and satires as really well founded, and yet overcame their scruples sufficiently to receive a Thais into their house when they would have incurred much less danger by following the example of Federico of Naples, who had persisted in refusing his daughter's hand to Caesar Borgia?
It is now time to investigate the charges which were made against Lucretia; and, in view of what Roscoe and others have already proved, this will not occupy us long. The number of accusers among her contemporaries certainly is not small. The following—to name only the most important—charged her explicitly or by implication with incest: the poets Sannazzaro and Pontanus, and the historians and statesmen Matarazzo, Marcus Attilius Alexis, Petrus Martyr, Priuli, Macchiavelli, and Guicciardini, and their opinions have been constantly reiterated down to the present time. On the other side we have her eulogists among her contemporaries and their successors.
Here it should be noted that Lucretia's accusers and their charges can refer only to the Roman period of her life, while her admirers appear only in the second epoch, when she was Duchess of Ferrara. Among the latter are men who are no less famous than her accusers: Tito and Ercole Strozzi, Bembo, Aldo Manuzio, Tebaldeo, Ariosto, all the chroniclers of Ferrara, and the French biographer Bayard. All these bore witness to the uprightness of her life while in Ferrara, but of her career in Rome they knew nothing. Lucretia's advocate, therefore, can offer only negative proofs of her virtue. Even making allowance for the courtier's flattery, we are warranted in assuming that upright men like Aldo, Bembo, and Ariosto could never have been so shameless as to pronounce a woman the ideal character of her day if they had believed her guilty, or even capable, of the hideous crimes with which she had been charged only a short time before.
Among Lucretia's accusers only those who were actual witnesses of her life in Rome are worthy of attention; and Guicciardini, her bitterest enemy, is not of this number. The verdicts of all later writers, however, have been based upon his opinion of Lucretia, because of his fame as a statesman and historian. He himself made up his estimate from current gossip or from the satires of Pontanus and Sannazzaro—two poets who lived in Naples and not in Rome. Their epigrams merely show that they were inspired by a deep-seated hatred of Alexander and Caesar, who had wrought the overthrow of the Aragonese dynasty, and further with what crimes men were ready to credit evil-doers.
The words of Burchard, who was a daily witness of everything that occurred in the Vatican, must be considered as of much greater weight. Against him in particular has the spleen of the papists been directed, for by them his writings are regarded as the poisonous source from which the enemies of the papacy, especially the Protestants, have derived material for their slanders regarding Alexander VI. Their anger may readily be explained, for Burchard's diary is the only work written in Rome—with the exception of that of Infessura, which breaks off abruptly at the beginning of 1494—which treats of Alexander's court; moreover, it possesses an official character. Those, however, who attempt to palliate the doings of the papacy would feel less hatred for Burchard if they were acquainted with the reports of the Venetian envoys and the despatches of innumerable other ambassadors which have been used in this work.
Burchard is absolutely free from malice, making no mention whatever of Alexander's private conduct. He records only facts—never rumors—and these he glosses over or cloaks diplomatically. The Venetian ambassador Polo Capello reports how Caesar Borgia stabbed the chamberlain Perotto through the Pope's robe, but Burchard makes no mention of the fact. The same ambassador explicitly states, as does also a Ferrarese agent, that Caesar killed his brother Gandia; Burchard, however, utters not a word concerning the subject.
Da Roma accertasi, che la figliola del papa ha partorito.... Giov. Alberto della Pigna to the duke, Venice, March 15, 1498. Archives of Modena.
Nor does he say anything about the way Caesar despatched his brother-in-law Alfonso. The relations of the members of the Borgia family to each other and to strangers, such as the Farnese, the Pucci, and the Orsini; the intrigues at the papal court; the long series of crimes; the extortion of money; the selling of the cardinal's hat; and all the other enormities which fill the despatches of the ambassadors—regarding all this Burchard is silent. Even Vannozza he names but once, and then incorrectly. There are two passages in particular in his diary which have given the greatest offense: the report of the bacchanal of fifty harlots in the Vatican, and the attack made on the Borgias in the anonymous letter to Silvio Savelli. These passages are found in all the manuscripts and doubtless also in the original of the diary. That the letter to Silvio is a fabrication of neither Burchard nor of some malicious Protestant is proved by the fact that Marino Sanuto also reproduces it in his diary. Further, that neither Burchard nor any subsequent writer concocted the story of the Vatican bacchanal is proved by the same letter, whose author relates it as a well-known fact. Matarazzo of Perugia also confirms it; his account differs from that of Burchard, whose handwriting he could hardly have seen at that time, but it agrees with reports which he himself had heard. He remarks that he gave it full credence, "for the thing was known far and wide, and because my informants were not Romans merely, but were the Italian people, therefore have I mentioned it."
This remark indicates the source of the scandalous anecdote—it was common talk. It doubtless was based upon an actual banquet which Caesar gave in his palace in the Vatican. Some such orgy may have taken place there, but who will believe that Lucretia, now the legally recognized bride of Alfonso d'Este and about to set out for Ferrara, was an amused spectator of it?
This is the only passage in Burchard's diary where Lucretia appears in an unfavorable light; nowhere else has he recorded anything discreditable to her. The accusations of the Neopolitans and of Guicciardini are not substantiated by anything in his diary. In fact we find corroboration nowhere unless we regard Matarazzo as an authority, which he certainly was not. He states that Giovanni Sforza had discovered that criminal relations existed between his wife and Caesar and Don Giovanni, to which a still more terrible suspicion was added. Sforza, therefore, had murdered Gandia and fled from Rome, and in consequence Alexander had dissolved his marriage. Setting aside the monstrous idea that the young woman was guilty at one and the same time of threefold incest, Matarazzo's account contains an anachronism: Sforza left Rome two months before the murder of Gandia.
An authentic despatch of the Ferrarese ambassador in Milan, dated June 23, 1497, makes it clear that Lucretia's worthless consort was the one who started these rumors about her. Certainly no one could have known Lucretia's character and mode of life better than her husband. Nevertheless Sforza, before the tribunals of every age, would be precisely the one whose testimony would receive the least credit. Consuming with hate and a desire for revenge, this was the reason he ascribed to the evil-minded Pope for dissolving the marriage. Thus the suspicion he let drop became a rumor, and the rumor ultimately crystallized into a belief. In this connection, however, it is worthy of note that Guido Posthumus, Sforza's faithful retainer, who in epigrams revenged himself on Alexander for his master's disgrace, neither mentions this suspicion nor anywhere refers to Lucretia.
One of the first statements that Caesar was his brother's murderer is found in a despatch of the Ferrarese ambassador at Venice. De novo ho inteso, como de la morte del Duca di Candia fo causa el Cardinale suo fratello. Pigna's despatch to Ercole, Venice, February 22, 1498.
In none of the numerous despatches of the day is this suspicion mentioned, although in a private letter of Malipiero's, dated Rome, June 17, 1497, and in one of Polo Capello's reports, allusion is made to the "rumor" regarding the criminal relations of Don Giovanni and his sister.
The Malipiero letter (Archiv. Stor. It. VII, i, 490) contains the following: Si dice, que il sig. Giovanni Sforza ha fatto questo effetto (the murder of Gandia) perchè il Duca (di Gandia) usava con la sorella, sua consorte, la qual è fiola del Papa, ma d'un altra madre (which was incorrect). The Venetian ambassador, Polo Capello, refers to this rumor (si dice) in his well known Relation of September, 1500.
Could the fact that Lucretia never engaged in any love intrigue—at least she is not charged with having done so—with anyone else, when there were in Rome so many courtiers, young nobles, and great cardinals who were her daily companions, have given rise to these reports? It is a fact that nothing has been discovered which would indicate that this beautiful young woman ever did engage in any love affair. Even the report of the ambassador, who, writing to Ferrara, not from Rome but from Venice, states that Lucretia had given birth to a child stands alone. She had at that time been separated from her husband Sforza a whole year. But even if we admit that this rumor was well founded, and that Lucretia did engage in some illicit love affair, are not these relations and slips frequent enough in all societies and at all times? Even now nothing is more readily glossed over in the polite world.
It is difficult to believe that Lucretia, in the midst of the depravity of Rome, and in the environment in which she was placed, could have kept herself spotless; but just as little will any unprejudiced person believe that she was really guilty of that unmentionable crime. If it were possible to conceive that a young woman could have the strength—a strength beyond that of the most depraved and hardened man—to hide behind a joyous exterior the moral perturbation which the most loathsome crime in the world would certainly cause the subject, we should be forced to admit that Lucretia Borgia possessed a power of dissimulation which passed all human bounds. Nothing, however, charmed the Ferrarese so much as the never failing, graceful joyousness of Alfonso's young wife. Any woman of feeling can decide correctly whether—if Lucretia were guilty of the crimes with which she was charged—she could have appeared as she did, and whether the countenance which we behold in the portrait of the bride of Alfonso d'Este in 1502 could be the face of the inhuman fury described in Sannazzaro's epigram.