The fever that racked Cesare Borgia's body in those days can have been as nothing to the fever that racked his mind, the despairing rage that must have whelmed his soul to see the unexpected—the one contingency against which he had not provided—cutting the very ground from underneath his feet.
As he afterwards expressed himself to Macchiavelli, and as Macchiavelli has left on record, Cesare had thought of everything, had provided for everything that might happen on his father's death, save that in such a season—when more than ever he should have need for all his strength of body and of mind—he should, himself, be lying at the point of death.
Scarce was Alexander's body cold than the duke's enemies began to lift their heads. Already by the 20th of that month—two days after the Pope had breathed his last—the Orsini were in arms and had led a rising, in retort to which Michele da Corella fired their palace on Montegiordano.
Venice and Florence bethought them that the protection of France had been expressly for the Church and not for Cesare personally. So the Venetians at once supplied Guidobaldo da Montefeltre with troops wherewith to reconquer his dominions, and by the 24th he was master of S. Leo. In the city of Urbino itself Ramires, the governor, held out as long as possible, then beat a retreat to Cesena, whilst Valentinois's partisans in Urbino were mercilessly slaughtered and their houses pillaged.
Florence supported the Baglioni in the conquest of Magione from the Borgias, and they aided Giacopo d'Appiano to repossess himself of Piombino, which had so gladly seen him depart out of it eighteen months ago.
From Magione, Gianpaolo Baglioni marches his Florentine troops to Camerino to aid the only remaining Varano to regain the tyranny of his fathers. The Vitelli are back in Città di Castello, carrying a golden calf in triumph through the streets; and so by the end of August, within less than a fortnight, all the appendages of the Romagna are lost to Cesare, whilst at Cesare's very gates the Orsini men-at-arms are clamouring with insistent menace.
The Duke's best friend, in that crisis, was his secretary Agabito Gherardi. For it is eminently probable—as Alvisi opines—that it was Gherardi who urged his master to make an alliance with the Colonna, Gherardi himself being related to that powerful family. The alliance of these old enemies—Colonna and Borgia—was in their common interests, that they might stand against their common enemy, Orsini—the old friends of the Borgias.
On August 22 Prospero Colonna came to Rome, and terms were made and cemented, in the usual manner, by a betrothal—that of the little Rodrigo—(Lucrezia's child)—to a daughter of the House of Colonna. On the same day the Sacred College confirmed Cesare in his office of Captain-General and Gonfalonier of the Church, pending the election of a new Pope.
Meanwhile, sick almost to the point of death, and scarce able to stir hand or foot, so weak in body had he been left by the heroic treatment to which he had submitted, Cesare continued mentally a miracle of energy and self-possession. He issued orders for the fortifying of the Vatican, and summoned from Romagna 200 horse and 1,000 foot to his aid in Rome, bidding Remolino, who brought these troops, to quarter himself at Orvieto, and there await his further orders.
Considering that the Colonna were fighting in Naples under the banner of Gonzalo de Cordoba, it was naturally enough supposed, from Cesare's alliance with the former, that this time he was resolved to go over to the side of Spain. Of this, M. de Trans came to protest to Valentinois on behalf of Louis XII, to be answered by the duke's assurances that the alliance into which he had entered was strictly confined to the Colonna, that it entailed no treaty with Spain; nor had he entered into any; that his loyalty to the King of France continued unimpaired, and that he was ready to support King Louis with the entire forces he disposed of, whenever his Majesty should desire him so to do. In reply, he was assured by the French ambassador and Cardinal Sanseverino of the continued protection of Louis, and that France would aid him to maintain his dominions in Italy and reconquer any that might have seceded; and of this declaration copies were sent to Florence, Venice, and Bologna on September 1, as a warning to those Powers not to engage in anything to the hurt of Valentinois.
Thus sped the time of the novendiali—the nine days' obsequies of the dead Pope—which were commenced on September 4.
As during the conclave that was immediately to follow it was against the law for armed men to be in Rome, Cesare was desired by the Sacred College to withdraw his troops. He did so on September 2, and himself went with them.
Cardinal Sanseverino and the French ambassador escorted him out of Rome and saw him take the road to Nepi—a weak, fever-ravaged, emaciated man, borne in a litter by a dozen of his halberdiers, his youth, his beauty, his matchless strength of body all sapped from him by the insidious disease which had but grudgingly spared his very life.
At Nepi he was awaited by his brother Giuffredo, who had preceded him thither from Rome. A shadowy personage this Giuffredo, whose unimportant personality is tantalizingly elusive in the pages where mention is made of him. His incontinent wife, Doña Sancia, had gone to Naples under the escort of Prospero Colonna, having left the Castle of Sant' Angelo where for some time she had been confined by order of her father-in-law, the Pope, on account of the disorders of her frivolous life.
And now the advices of the fresh treaty between Cesare Borgia and the King of France were producing their effect upon Venice and Florence, who were given additional pause by the fierce jealousy of each other, which was second only to their jealousy of the duke.
From Venice—with or without the sanction of his Government—Bartolomeo d'Alviano had ridden south into the Romagna with his condotta immediately upon receiving news of the death of Alexander, and, finding Pandolfaccio Malatesta at Ravenna, he proceeded to accompany him back to that Rimini which the tyrant had sold to Cesare. Rimini, however, refused to receive him back, and showed fight to the forces under d'Alviano. So that, for the moment, nothing was accomplished. Whereupon the Republic, which at first had raised a feeble, make-believe protest at the action of her condottiero, now deemed it as well to find a pretext for supporting him. So Venice alleged that a courier of hers had been stripped of a letter, and, with such an overwhelming cause as that for hostilities, dispatched reinforcements to d'Alviano to the end that he might restore Pandolfaccio to a dominion in which he was abhorred. Further, d'Alviano was thereafter to proceed to do the like office for Giovanni Sforza, who already had taken ship for Pesaro, and who was restored to his lordship on September 3.
Thence, carrying the war into the Romagna itself, d'Alviano marched upon Cesena. But the Romagna was staunch and loyal to her duke. The governor had shut himself up in Cesena with what troops he could muster, including a thousand veterans under the valiant Dionigio di Naldo, and there, standing firm and resolute, he awaited the onslaught of the Venetians.
D'Alviano advanced rapidly and cruelly, a devastator laying waste the country in his passage, until to check him came suddenly the Borgia troops, which had ventured upon a sally. The Venetians were routed and put to flight.
On September 16 the restored tyrants of Rimini, Pesaro, Castello, Perugia, Camerino, Urbino, and Sinigaglia entered into and signed at Perugia a league, whose chiefs were Bartolomeo d'Alviano and Gianpaolo Baglioni, for their common protection.
Florence was invited to join the allies. Intimidated, however, by France, not only did the Signory refuse to be included, but—in her usual manner—actually went so far as to advise Cesare Borgia of that refusal and to offer him her services and help.
On the same date the Sacred College assembled in Rome, at the Mass of the Holy Spirit, to beseech the grace of inspiration in the election of the new Pontiff. The part usually played by the divine afflatus in these matters was so fully understood and appreciated that the Venetian ambassador received instructions from the Republic(1) to order the Venetian cardinals to vote for Giuliano della Rovere, whilst the King of France sent a letter—in his own hand—to the Sacred College desiring it to elect his friend the Cardinal d'Amboise, and Spain, at the same time, sought to influence the election of Carvajal.
The chances of the last-named do not appear ever to have amounted to very much. The three best supported candidates were della Rovere, d'Amboise, and Ascanio Sforza—who made his reappearance in Rome, released from his French prison at last, in time to attend this Conclave.
None of these three factions was strong enough to ensure the election of its own candidate, but any two were strong enough to prevent the election of the candidate of the third. Wherefore it happened that, as a result of so much jealousy and competition, recourse was had to temporizing by electing the oldest and feeblest cardinal in the College. Thus there should presently be another election, and meantime the candidates would improve the time by making their arrangements and canvassing their supporters so as to control the votes of the College at that future Conclave. Therefore Francesco Piccolomini, Cardinal of Siena (nephew of Pius II), a feeble octogenarian, tormented by an ulcer, which, in conjunction with an incompetent physician, was to cut his life even shorter than they hoped, was placed upon the throne of St. Peter, and assumed with the Pontificate the name of Pius III.
The new Pope was entirely favourable to Cesare Borgia, and confirmed him in all his offices, signifying his displeasure to Venice at her attempt upon the Romagna, and issuing briefs to the allied tyrants commanding them to desist from their opposition to the will of the Holy See.
The Venetians had meanwhile been checked by a letter from Louis from lending further assistance to the allies. The latter, however, continued their hostilities in spite of that. They had captured Sinigaglia, and now they made an attempt on Fano and Fermo, but were repulsed in both places by Cesare's loyal subjects. At the same time the Ordelaffi—who in the old days had been deposed from the Tyranny of Forli to make room for the Riarii—deemed the opportunity a good one to attempt to regain their lordship; but their attempt, too, was frustrated.
Cesare sat impotent in Rome, no doubt vexed by his own inaction. He cannot have lacked the will to go to the Romagna to support the subjects who showed him such loyalty; but he lacked the means. Owing to the French and Spanish dispute in Naples, his army had practically melted away. The terms of his treaty with Louis compelled him to send the bulk of it to the camp at Garigliano to support the French, who were in trouble. The force that Remolino had quartered at Orvieto to await the duke's orders he had been unable to retain there. Growing uneasy at their position, and finding it impossible either to advance or to retreat, being threatened on the one side by the Baglioni and on the other by the Orsini, these troops had steadily deserted; whilst most of Cesare's Spanish captains and their followers had gone to the aid of their compatriots under Gonzalo de Cordoba in response to that captain's summons of every Spaniard in the peninsula.
Thus did it come about that Cesare had no force to afford his Romagna subjects. His commissioners in the north did what was possible to repair the damage effected by the allies, and they sent Dionigio di Naldo with six hundred of his foot, and, further, a condotta of two hundred horse, against Rimini. This was captured by them in one day and almost without resistance, Pandolfaccio flying for his life to Pesaro.
Next the allies, by attempting to avenge the rout they had suffered at Cesena, afforded the ducal troops an opportunity of scoring another victory. They prepared a second attack against Cesare's capital, and with an army of considerable strength they advanced to the very walls of the stronghold, laying the aqueduct in ruins and dismantling what other buildings they found in their way. But in Cesena the gallant Pedro Ramires lay in wait for them. Issuing to meet them, he not only put them to flight and drove them for shelter into the fortress of Montebello, but laid siege to them there and broke them utterly, with a loss, as was reputed, of some three hundred men in slain alone.
The news of this came to cheer Valentinois, who, moreover, had now the Pope and France to depend upon. Further, and in view of that same protection, the Orsini were already treating with him for a reconciliation, despite the fact that the Orsini blood was scarce dry upon his hands. But he had a resolute, sly, and desperate enemy in Venice, and on October 10 there arrived in Rome Bartolomeo d'Alviano and Gianpaolo Baglioni, who repaired to the Venetian ambassador and informed him that they were come in quest of the person of Valentinois, intending his death.
To achieve their ends they united themselves to the Orsini, who were now in arms in Rome, their attempted reconciliation with Cesare having aborted. Valentinois's peril became imminent, and from the Vatican he withdrew for shelter to the Castle of Sant' Angelo, going by way of the underground passage built by his father.
Thence he summoned Michele da Corella, who was at Rocca Soriana with his foot, and Taddeo della Volpe (a valiant captain and a great fighter, who had already lost an eye in Cesare's service) and Baldassare Scipione, who were in the Neapolitan territory with their men-at-arms. He was gathering his sinews for a spring, when suddenly the entire face of affairs was altered and all plans were checked by the death of Pius III on October 18, after a reign of twenty-six days.
Once more there was an end to Cesare's credit. No man might say what the future held in store. Giustiniani, indeed, wrote to his Government that Cesare was about to withdraw to France, and that he had besought a safe-conduct of the Orsini—which report is as true as many another communication from the same Venetian pen, ever ready to write what it hoped might be true; and it is flatly contradicted by the better-informed Macchiavelli, who was writing at the same time:
"The duke is in Sant' Angelo, and is more hopeful than ever of accomplishing great things, presupposing a Pope according to the wishes of his friends."
But the Romagna was stirred once more to the turbulence from which it had scarcely settled. Forli and Rimini were lost almost at once, the Ordelaffi succeeding in capturing the former in this their second attempt, whilst Pandolfaccio once more sat in his palace at Rimini, having cut his way to it through a sturdy resistance. Against Imola Bentivogli dispatched a force of two thousand foot; but this was beaten off.
The authority of France appeared to have lost its weight, and in vain did Cardinal d'Amboise thunder threats in the name of his friend King Louis, and send envoys to Florence, Venice, Bologna, and Urbino, to complain of the injuries that were being done to the Duke of Valentinois.