Book I. The House of the Bull
Chapter II. The Reigns of Sixtus IV and Innocent VIII
Chapter III. Alexander VI
Chapter IV. Borgia Alliances
Book II. The Bull Pascant
Chapter II. The Pope and the Supernatural
Chapter III. The Roman Barons
Chapter IV. The Murder of the Duke of Gandia
Chapter V. The Renunciation of the Purple
Book III. THE Bull Rampant
Chapter II. The Knell of the Tyrants
Chapter III. Imola and Forli
Chapter IV. Gonfalonier of the Church
Chapter V. The Murder of Alfonso of Aragon
Chapter VI. Rimini and Pesaro
Chapter VII. The Siege of Faenza
Chapter VIII. Astorre Manfredi
Chapter IX. Castel Bolognese and Piombino
Chapter X. The End of the House of Aragon
Chapter XI. The Letter to Silvio Savelli
Chapter XII. Lucrezia's Third Marriage
Chapter XIII. Urbino and Camerino
Chapter XIV. The Revolt of the Condottieri
Chapter XV. Macchiavelli's Legation
Chapter XVI. Ramiro de Lorqua
Chapter XVII. "The Beautiful Stratagem"
Chapter XVIII. The Zenith
Book IV. The Bull Cadent
Chapter II. Pius III
Chapter III. Julius II
Chapter IV. Atropos
This is no Chronicle of Saints. Nor yet is it a History of Devils. It is a record of certain very human, strenuous men in a very human, strenuous age; a lustful, flamboyant age; an age red with blood and pale with passion at white-heat; an age of steel and velvet, of vivid colour, dazzling light and impenetrable shadow; an age of swift movement, pitiless violence and high endeavour, of sharp antitheses and amazing contrasts.
To judge it from the standpoint of this calm, deliberate, and correct century—as we conceive our own to be—is for sedate middle-age to judge from its own standpoint the reckless, hot, passionate, lustful humours of youth, of youth that errs grievously and achieves greatly.
So to judge that epoch collectively is manifestly wrong, a hopeless procedure if it be our aim to understand it and to be in sympathy with it, as it becomes broad-minded age to be tolerantly in sympathy with the youth whose follies it perceives. Life is an ephemeral business, and we waste too much of it in judging where it would beseem us better to accept, that we ourselves may come to be accepted by such future ages as may pursue the study of us.
But if it be wrong to judge a past epoch collectively by the standards of our own time, how much more is it not wrong to single out individuals for judgement by those same standards, after detaching them for the purpose from the environment in which they had their being? How false must be the conception of them thus obtained! We view the individuals so selected through a microscope of modern focus. They appear monstrous and abnormal, and we straight-way assume them to be monsters and abnormalities, never considering that the fault is in the adjustment of the instrument through which we inspect them, and that until that is corrected others of that same past age, if similarly viewed, must appear similarly distorted.
Hence it follows that some study of an age must ever prelude and accompany the study of its individuals, if comprehension is to wait upon our labours. To proceed otherwise is to judge an individual Hottentot or South Sea Islander by the code of manners that obtains in Belgravia or Mayfair.
Mind being the seat of the soul, and literature being the expression of the mind, literature, it follows, is the soul of an age, the surviving and immortal part of it; and in the literature of the Cinquecento you shall behold for the looking the ardent, unmoral, naïve soul of this Renaissance that was sprawling in its lusty, naked infancy and bellowing hungrily for the pap of knowledge, and for other things. You shall infer something of the passionate mettle of this infant: his tempestuous mirth, his fierce rages, his simplicity, his naïveté, his inquisitiveness, his cunning, his deceit, his cruelty, his love of sunshine and bright gewgaws.
To realize him as he was, you need but to bethink you that this was the age in which the Decamerone of Giovanni Boccaccio, the Facetiae of Poggio, the Satires of Filelfo, and the Hermaphroditus of Panormitano afforded reading-matter to both sexes. This was the age in which the learned and erudite Lorenzo Valla—of whom more anon—wrote his famous indictment of virginity, condemning it as against nature with arguments of a most insidious logic. This was the age in which Casa, Archbishop of Benevento, wrote a most singular work of erotic philosophy, which, coming from a churchman's pen, will leave you cold with horror should you chance to turn its pages. This was the age of the Discovery of Man; the pagan age which stripped Christ of His divinity to bestow it upon Plato, so that Marsilio Ficino actually burnt an altar-lamp before an image of the Greek by whose teachings—in common with so many scholars of his day—he sought to inform himself.
It was an age that had become unable to discriminate between the merits of the Saints of the Church and the Harlots of the Town. Therefore it honoured both alike, extolled the carnal merits of the one in much the same terms as were employed to extol the spiritual merits of the other. Thus when a famous Roman courtesan departed this life in the year 1511, at the early age of twenty-six, she was accorded a splendid funeral and an imposing tomb in the Chapel Santa Gregoria with a tablet bearing the following inscription:
"IMPERIA CORTISANA ROMANA QUAE DIGNA TANTO NOMINE, RARAE INTER MORTALES FORMAE SPECIMEN DEDIT."
It was, in short, an age so universally immoral as scarcely to be termed immoral, since immorality may be defined as a departure from the morals that obtain a given time and in a given place. So that whilst from our own standpoint the Cinquecento, taken collectively, is an age of grossest licence and immorality, from the standpoint of the Cinquecento itself few of its individuals might with justice be branded immoral.
For the rest, it was an epoch of reaction from the Age of Chivalry: an epoch of unbounded luxury, of the cult and worship of the beautiful externally; an epoch that set no store by any inward virtue, by truth or honour; an epoch that laid it down as a maxim that no inconvenient engagement should be kept if opportunity offered to evade it.
The history of the Cinquecento is a history developed in broken pledges, trusts dishonoured and basest treacheries, as you shall come to conclude before you have read far in the story that is here to be set down.
In a profligate age what can you look for but profligates? Is it just, is it reasonable, or is it even honest to take a man or a family from such an environment, for judgement by the canons of a later epoch? Yet is it not the method that has been most frequently adopted in dealing with the vast subject of the Borgias?
To avoid the dangers that must wait upon that error, the history of that House shall here be taken up with the elevation of Calixtus III to the Papal Throne; and the reign of the four Popes immediately preceding Roderigo Borgia—who reigned as Alexander VI—shall briefly be surveyed that a standard may be set by which to judge the man and the family that form the real subject of this work.
The history of this amazing Pope Alexander is yet to be written. No attempt has been made to exhaust it here. Yet of necessity he bulks large in these pages; for the history of his dazzling, meteoric son is so closely interwoven with his own that it is impossible to present the one without dealing at considerable length with the other.
The sources from which the history of the House of Borgia has been culled are not to be examined in a preface. They are too numerous, and they require too minute and individual a consideration that their precise value and degree of credibility may be ascertained. Abundantly shall such examination be made in the course of this history, and in a measure as the need arises to cite evidence for one side or for the other shall that evidence be sifted.
Never, perhaps, has anything more true been written of the Borgias and their history than the matter contained in the following lines of Rawdon Brown in his Ragguagli sulla Vita e sulle Opere di Marino Sanuto: "It seems to me that history has made use of the House of Borgia as of a canvas upon which to depict the turpitudes of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries."
Materials for the work were very ready to the hand; and although they do not signally differ from the materials out of which the histories of half a dozen Popes of the same epoch might be compiled, they are far more abundant in the case of the Borgia Pope, for the excellent reason that the Borgia Pope detaches from the background of the Renaissance far more than any of his compeers by virtue of his importance as a political force.
In this was reason to spare for his being libelled and lampooned even beyond the usual extravagant wont. Slanders concerning him and his son Cesare were readily circulated, and they will generally be found to spring from those States which had most cause for jealousy and resentment of the Borgia might—Venice, Florence, and Milan, amongst others.
No rancour is so bitter as political rancour—save, perhaps, religious rancour, which we shall also trace; no warfare more unscrupulous or more prone to use the insidious weapons of slander than political warfare. Of this such striking instances abound in our own time that there can scarce be the need to labour the point. And from the form taken by such slanders as are circulated in our own sedate and moderate epoch may be conceived what might be said by political opponents in a fierce age that knew no pudency and no restraint. All this in its proper place shall be more closely examined.
For many of the charges brought against the House of Borgia some testimony exists; for many others—and these are the more lurid, sensational, and appalling covering as they do rape and murder, adultery, incest, and the sin of the Cities of the Plain—no single grain of real evidence is forthcoming. Indeed, at this time of day evidence is no longer called for where the sins of the Borgias are concerned. Oft-reiterated assertion has usurped the place of evidence—for a lie sufficiently repeated comes to be credited by its very utterer. And meanwhile the calumny has sped from tongue to tongue, from pen to pen, gathering matter as it goes. The world absorbs the stories; it devours them greedily so they be sensational, and writers well aware of this have been pandering to that morbid appetite for some centuries now with this subject of the Borgias. A salted, piquant tale of vice, a ghastly story of moral turpitude and physical corruption, a hair-raising narrative of horrors and abominations—these are the stock-in-trade of the sensation-monger. With the authenticity of the matters he retails such a one has no concern. "Se non é vero é ben trovato," is his motto, and in his heart the sensation-monger—of whatsoever age—rather hopes the thing be true. He will certainly make his public so believe it; for to discredit it would be to lose nine-tenths of its sensational value. So he trims and adjusts his wares, adds a touch or two of colour and what else he accounts necessary to heighten their air of authenticity, to dissemble any peeping spuriousness.
A form of hypnosis accompanies your study of the subject—a suggestion that what is so positively and repeatedly stated must of necessity be true, must of necessity have been proved by irrefutable evidence at some time or other. So much you take for granted—for matters which began their existence perhaps as tentative hypotheses have imperceptibly developed into established facts.
Occasionally it happens that we find some such sentence as the following summing up this deed or that one in the Borgia histories: "A deal of mystery remains to be cleared up, but the Verdict of History assigns the guilt to Cesare Borgia."
Behold how easy it is to dispense with evidence. So that your tale be well-salted and well-spiced, a fico for evidence! If it hangs not overwell together in places, if there be contradictions, lacunae, or openings for doubt, fling the Verdict of History into the gap, and so strike any questioner into silence.
So far have matters gone in this connection that who undertakes to set down to-day the history of Cesare Borgia, with intent to do just and honest work, must find it impossible to tell a plain and straightforward tale—to present him not as a villain of melodrama, not a monster, ludicrous, grotesque, impossible, but as human being, a cold, relentless egotist, it is true, using men for his own ends, terrible and even treacherous in his reprisals, swift as a panther and as cruel where his anger was aroused, yet with certain elements of greatness: a splendid soldier, an unrivalled administrator, a man pre-eminently just, if merciless in that same justice.
To present Cesare Borgia thus in a plain straightforward tale at this time of day, would be to provoke the scorn and derision of those who have made his acquaintance in the pages of that eminent German scholar, Ferdinand Gregorovius, and of some other writers not quite so eminent yet eminent enough to serve serious consideration. Hence has it been necessary to examine at close quarters the findings of these great ones, and to present certain criticisms of those same findings. The author is overwhelmingly conscious of the invidious quality of that task; but he is no less conscious of its inevitability if this tale is to be told at all.
Whilst the actual sources of historical evidence shall be examined in the course of this narrative, it may be well to examine at this stage the sources of the popular conceptions of the Borgias, since there will be no occasion later to allude to them.
Without entering here into a dissertation upon the historical romance, it may be said that in proper hands it has been and should continue to be one of the most valued and valuable expressions of the literary art. To render and maintain it so, however, it is necessary that certain well-defined limits should be set upon the licence which its writers are to enjoy; it is necessary that the work should be honest work; that preparation for it should be made by a sound, painstaking study of the period to be represented, to the end that a true impression may first be formed and then conveyed. Thus, considering how much more far-reaching is the novel than any other form of literature, the good results that must wait upon such endeavours are beyond question. The neglect of them—the distortion of character to suit the romancer's ends, the like distortion of historical facts, the gross anachronisms arising out of a lack of study, have done much to bring the historical romance into disrepute. Many writers frankly make no pretence—leastways none that can be discerned—of aiming at historical precision; others, however, invest their work with a spurious scholarliness, go the length of citing authorities to support the point of view which they have taken, and which they lay before you as the fruit of strenuous lucubrations.
These are the dangerous ones, and of this type is Victor Hugo's famous tragedy Lucrezia Borgia, a work to which perhaps more than to any other (not excepting Les Borgias in Crimes Célèbres of Alexandre Dumas) is due the popular conception that prevails to-day of Cesare Borgia's sister.
It is questionable whether anything has ever flowed from a distinguished pen in which so many licences have been taken with the history of individuals and of an epoch; in which there is so rich a crop of crude, transpontine absurdities and flagrant, impossible anachronisms. Victor Hugo was a writer of rare gifts, a fertile romancer and a great poet, and it may be unjust to censure him for having taken the fullest advantages of the licences conceded to both. But it would be difficult to censure him too harshly for having—in his Lucrezia Borgia—struck a pose of scholarliness, for having pretended and maintained that his work was honest work founded upon the study of historical evidences. With that piece of charlatanism he deceived the great mass of the unlettered of France and of all Europe into believing that in his tragedy he presented the true Lucrezia Borgia.
"If you do not believe me," he declared, "read Tommaso Tommasi, read the Diary of Burchard."
Read, then, that Diary, extending over a period of twenty-three years, from 1483 to 1506, of the Master of Ceremonies of the Vatican (which largely contributes the groundwork of the present history), and the one conclusion to which you will be forced is that Victor Hugo himself had never read it, else he would have hesitated to bid you refer to a work which does not support a single line that he has written.
As for Tommaso Tommasi—oh, the danger of a little learning! Into what quagmires does it not lead those who flaunt it to impress you!
Tommasi's place among historians is on precisely the same plane as Alexandre Dumas's. His Vita di Cesare Borgia is on the same historical level as Les Borgias, much of which it supplied. Like Crimes Célèbres, Tommasi's book is invested with a certain air of being a narrative of sober fact; but like Crimes Célèbres, it is none the less a work of fiction.
This Tommaso Tommasi, whose real name was Gregorio Leti—and it is under this that such works of his as are reprinted are published nowadays—was a most prolific author of the seventeenth century, who, having turned Calvinist, vented in his writings a mordacious hatred of the Papacy and of the religion from which he had seceded. His Life of Cesare Borgia was published in 1670. It enjoyed a considerable vogue, was translated into French, and has been the chief source from which many writers of fiction and some writers of "fact" have drawn for subsequent work to carry forward the ceaseless defamation of the Borgias.
History should be as inexorable as Divine Justice. Before we admit facts, not only should we call for evidence and analyse it when it is forthcoming, but the very sources of such evidence should be examined, that, as far as possible, we may ascertain what degree of credit they deserve. In the study of the history of the Borgias, we repeat, there has been too much acceptance without question, too much taking for granted of matters whose incredibility frequently touches and occasionally oversteps the confines of the impossible.
One man knew Cesare Borgia better, perhaps, than did any other contemporary, of the many who have left more or less valuable records; for the mind of that man was the acutest of its age, one of the acutest Italy and the world have ever known. That man was Niccolô Macchiavelli, Secretary of State to the Signory of Florence. He owed no benefits to Cesare; he was the ambassador of a power that was ever inimical to the Borgias; so that it is not to be dreamt that his judgement suffered from any bias in Cesare's favour. Yet he accounted Cesare Borgia—as we shall see—the incarnation of an ideal conqueror and ruler; he took Cesare Borgia as the model for his famous work The Prince, written as a grammar of statecraft for the instruction in the art of government of that weakling Giuliano de' Medici.
Macchiavelli pronounces upon Cesare Borgia the following verdict:
"If all the actions of the duke are taken into consideration, it will be seen how great were the foundations he had laid to future power. Upon these I do not think it superfluous to discourse, because I should not know what better precept to lay before a new prince than the example of his actions; and if success did not wait upon what dispositions he had made, that was through no fault of his own, but the result of an extraordinary and extreme malignity of fortune."
In its proper place shall be considered what else Macchiavelli had to say of Cesare Borgia and what to report of events that he witnessed connected with Cesare Borgia's career.
Meanwhile, the above summary of Macchiavelli's judgement is put forward as a justification for the writing of this book, which has for scope to present to you the Cesare Borgia who served as the model for The Prince.
Before doing so, however, there is the rise of the House of Borgia to be traced, and in the first two of the four books into which this history will be divided it is Alexander VI, rather than his son, who will hold the centre of the stage.
If the author has a mercy to crave of his critics, it is that they will not impute it to him that he has set out with the express aim of "whitewashing"—as the term goes—the family of Borgia. To whitewash is to overlay, to mask the original fabric under a superadded surface. Too much superadding has there been here already. By your leave, all shall be stripped away. The grime shall be removed and the foulness of inference, of surmise, of deliberate and cold-blooded malice, with which centuries of scribblers, idle, fantastic, sensational, or venal, have coated the substance of known facts.
But the grime shall be preserved and analysed side by side with the actual substance, that you may judge if out of zeal to remove the former any of the latter shall have been included in the scraping.
The author expresses his indebtedness to the following works which, amongst others, have been studied for the purposes of the present history:
Alvisi, Odoardo, Cesare Borgia, Duca di Romagna. Imola, 1878.|
Auton, Jean d', Chroniques de Louis XII (Soc. de l'Hist. de France). Paris, 1889.
Baldi, Bernardino, Della Vita e Fatti di Guidobaldo. Milano, 1821.
Barthélemy, Charles, Erreurs et Mensonges Historiques. Paris, 1873.
Bernardi, Andrea, Cronache Forlivese, 1476-1517. Bologna, 1897.
Bonnaffé, Edmond, Inventaire de la Duchesse de Valentinois, Paris, 1878.
Bonoli, Paolo, Istorie della Città di Forli. Forli, 1661.
Bourdeilles, Pierre, Vie des Hommes Illustres. Leyde, 1666.
Brown, Rawdon, Ragguagli Sulla Vita e sulle Opere di Marino Sanuto. Venezia, 1837.
Buonaccorsi, Biagio, Diario. Firenze, 1568.
Burchard, Joannes, Diarium, sive Rerum Urbanarum Commentarii. (Edited by L. Thuasne.) Paris, 1885.
Burckhardt, Jacob, Der Cultur der Renaissance in Italien. Basel, 1860.
Castiglione, Baldassare, Il Cortigiano. Firenze, 1885.
Chapelles, Grillon des, Esquisses Biographiques. Paris, 1862.
Cerri, Domenico, Borgia. Tonino, 1857.
Clementini, Cesare, Raccolto Istorico delle Fondatione di Rimino. Rimini, 1617.
Corio, Bernardino, Storia di Milano. Milano, 1885.
Corvo, Baron, Chronicles of the House of Borgia. London, 1901.
Espinois, Henri de l', Le Pape Alexandre VI (in the Revue des Questions Historiques, Vol. XXIX). Paris, 1881.
Giovio, Paolo, La Vita di Dicenove Uomini Illustri. Venetia, 1561.
Giovio, Paolo, Delle Istorie del Suo Tempo. Venetia, 1608.
Giustiniani, Antonio, Dispacci, 1502-1505. (Edited by Pasquale Villari.) Firenze, 1876.
Granata, F., Storia Civile di Capua. 1752.
Gregorovius, Ferdinand, Geschichte der Stadt Rom im Mittelalter. Stuttgart, 1889.
Gregorovius, Ferdinand, Lacrezia Borgia (Italian translation). Firenze, 1855.
Guicciardini, Francesco, Istoria d'Italia. Milan, 1803.
Guingené, P. L., Histoire Littéraire d'Italie. Milano, 1820.
Infessura, Stefano, Diarum Rerum Romanum. (Edited by 0. Tommassini.) Roma, 1887.
Leonetti, A., Papa Alessandro VI. Bologna, 1880.
Leti, Gregorio ("Tommaso Tommasi"), Vita di Cesare Borgia, Milano, 1851.
Lucaire, Achille, Alain le Grand, Sire d'Albret. Paris, 1877.
Macchiavelli, Niccolô, Il Principe. Torino, 1853.
Macchiavelli, Niccolô, Le Istorie Fiorentine. Firenze, 1848.
Macchiavelli, Niccolô, Opere Minori. Firenze, 1852.
Matarazzo, Francesco, Cronaca della Città di Perugia, 1492-1503. (Edited by F. Bonaini and F. Polidori.) In Archivio Storico Italiano, Firenze, 1851.
Panvinio, Onofrio, Le Vite dei Pontefici. Venezia, 1730.
Pascale, Aq., Racconto del Sacco di Capova. Napoli, 1632.
Righi, B., Annali di Faenza. Faenza, 1841.
Sanazzaro, Opere. Padua, 1723.
Sanuto Marino, Diarii, Vols. I to V. (Edited by F. Stefani.) Venice, 1879.
Tartt, W. M., Pandolfo Collenuccio, Memoirs connected with his life. 1868.
"Tommaso Tommasi" (Gregorio Leti), Vita di Cesare Borgia. 1789.
Varchi, Benedetto, Storia Fiorentina. Florence, 1858.
Visari, Gustavo, Vita degli Artefici.
Villari, Pasquale, La Storia di Girolamo Savonarola, etc. Florence, 1861.
Villari, Pasquale, Niccolò Machiavelli e I suoi Tempi. Milano, 1895.
Yriarte, Charles, La Vie de César Borgia. Paris, 1889.
Yriarte, Charles, Autour des Borgia. Paris, 1891.
Zurita, Geronimo, Historia del Rey Don Hernando el Catolico (in Anales). Çaragoça, 1610.
Chapter I. The Rise of the House of Borgia
Although the House of Borgia, which gave to the Church of Rome two popes and at least one saint,(1) is to be traced back to the eleventh century, claiming as it does to have its source in the Kings of Aragon, we shall take up its history for our purposes with the birth at the city of Xativa, in the kingdom of Valencia, on December 30, 1378, of Alonso de Borja, the son of Don Juan Domingo de Borja and his wife Doña Francisca.
|1 St. Francisco Borgia, S.J.—great-grandson of Pope Alexander VI, born at Gandia, in Spain, in 1510.|
To this Don Alonso de Borja is due the rise of his family to its stupendous eminence. An able, upright, vigorous-minded man, he became a Professor and Doctor of Jurisprudence at the University of Lerida, and afterwards served Alfonso I of Aragon, King of Naples and the Two Sicilies, in the capacity of secretary. This office he filled with the distinction that was to be expected from one so peculiarly fitted for it by the character of the studies he had pursued.
He was made Bishop of Valencia, created Cardinal in 1444, and finally—in 1455—ascended the throne of St. Peter as Calixtus III, an old man, enfeebled in body, but with his extraordinary vigour of mind all unimpaired.
Calixtus proved himself as much a nepotist as many another Pope before and since. This needs not to be dilated upon here; suffice it that in February of 1456 he gave the scarlet hat of Cardinal-Deacon of San Niccoló, in Carcere Tulliano, to his nephew Don Roderigo de Lanzol y Borja.
Born in 1431 at Xativa, the son of Juana de Borja (sister of Calixtus) and her husband Don Jofrè de Lanzol, Roderigo was in his twenty-fifth year at the time of his being raised to the purple, and in the following year he was further created Vice-Chancellor of Holy Church with an annual stipend of eight thousand florins. Like his uncle he had studied jurisprudence—at the University of Bologna—and mentally and physically he was extraordinarily endowed.
From the pen-portraits left of him by Gasparino of Verona, and Girolamo Porzio, we know him for a tall, handsome man with black eyes and full lips, elegant, courtly, joyous, and choicely eloquent, of such health and vigour and endurance that he was insensible to any fatigue. Giasone Maino of Milan refers to his "elegant appearance, serene brow, royal glance, a countenance that at once expresses generosity and majesty, and the genial and heroic air with which his whole personality is invested." To a similar description of him Gasparino adds that "all women upon whom he so much as casts his eyes he moves to love him; attracting them as the lodestone attracts iron;" which is, it must be admitted, a most undesirable reputation in a churchman.
A modern historian(1) who uses little restraint when writing of Roderigo Borgia says of him that "he was a man of neither much energy nor determined will," and further that "the firmness and energy wanting to his character were, however, often replaced by the constancy of his evil passions, by which he was almost blinded." How the constancy of evil passions can replace firmness and energy as factors of worldly success is not readily discernible, particularly if their possessor is blinded by them. The historical worth of the stricture may safely be left to be measured by its logical value. For the rest, to say that Roderigo Borgia was wanting in energy and in will is to say something to which his whole career gives the loud and derisive lie, as will—to some extent at least—be seen in the course of this work.
|1 Pasquale Villari in his Machiavelli i suoi Tempi|
His honours as Cardinal-Deacon and Vice-Chancellor of the Holy See he owed to his uncle; but that he maintained and constantly improved his position—and he a foreigner, be it remembered—under the reigns of the four succeeding Popes—Pius II, Paul II, Sixtus IV, and Innocent VIII—until finally, six-and-twenty years after the death of Calixtus III, he ascended, himself, the Papal Throne, can be due only to the unconquerable energy and stupendous talents which have placed him where he stands in history—one of the greatest forces, for good or ill, that ever occupied St. Peter's Chair.
Say of him that he was ambitious, worldly, greedy of power, and a prey to carnal lusts. All these he was. But for very sanity's sake do not let it be said that he was wanting either in energy or in will, for he was energy and will incarnate.
Consider that with Calixtus III's assumption of the Tiara Rome became the Spaniard's happy hunting-ground, and that into the Eternal City streamed in their hundreds the Catalan adventurers—priests, clerks, captains of fortune, and others—who came to seek advancement at the hands of a Catalan Pope. This Spanish invasion Rome resented. She grew restive under it.
Roderigo's elder brother, Don Pedro Luis de Lanzol y Borja, was made Gonfalonier of the Church, Castellan of all pontifical fortresses and Governor of the Patrimony of St. Peter, with the title of Duke of Spoleto and, later, Prefect of Rome, to the displacement of an Orsini from that office. Calixtus invested this nephew with all temporal power that it was in the Church's privilege to bestow, to the end that he might use it as a basis to overset the petty tyrannies of Romagna, and to establish a feudal claim on the Kingdom of Naples.
Here already we see more than a hint of that Borgia ambition which was to become a byword, and the first attempt of this family to found a dynasty for itself and a State that should endure beyond the transient tenure of the Pontificate, an aim that was later to be carried into actual—if ephemeral—fulfilment by Cesare Borgia.
The Italians watched this growth of Spanish power with jealous, angry eyes. The mighty House of Orsini, angered by the supplanting of one of its members in the Prefecture of Rome, kept its resentment warm, and waited. When in August of 1458 Calixtus III lay dying, the Orsini seized the chance: they incited the city to ready insurgence, and with fire and sword they drove the Spaniards out.
Don Pedro Luis made haste to depart, contrived to avoid the Orsini, who had made him their special quarry, and getting a boat slipped down the Tiber to Civita Vecchia, where he died suddenly some six weeks later, thereby considerably increasing the wealth of Roderigo, his brother and his heir.
Roderigo's cousin, Don Luis Juan, Cardinal-Presbyter of Santi Quattro Coronati, another member of the family who owed his advancement to his uncle Calixtus, thought it also expedient to withdraw from that zone of danger to men of his nationality and name.
Roderigo de Lanzol y Borja alone remained—leastways, the only prominent member of his house—boldly to face the enmity of the majority of the Sacred College, which had looked with grim disfavour upon his uncle's nepotism. Unintimidated, he entered the Conclave for the election of a successor to Calixtus, and there the chance which so often prefers to bestow its favours upon him who knows how to profit by them, gave him the opportunity to establish himself as firmly as ever at the Vatican, and further to advance his interests.
It fell out that when the scrutiny was taken, two cardinals stood well in votes—the brilliant, cultured Enea Silvio Bartolomeo de' Piccolomini, Cardinal of Siena, and the French Cardinal d'Estouteville—though neither had attained the minimum majority demanded. Of these two, the lead in number of votes lay with the Cardinal of Siena, and his election therefore might be completed by Accession—that is, by the voices of such cardinals as had not originally voted for him—until the minimum majority, which must exceed two-thirds, should be made up.
The Cardinal Vice-Chancellor Roderigo de Lanzol y Borja led this accession, with the result that the Cardinal of Siena became Pontiff—as Pius II—and was naturally enough disposed to advance the interests of the man who had been instrumental in helping him to that eminence. Thus, his position at the Vatican, in the very face of all hostility, became stronger and more prominent than ever.
A letter written two years later from the Baths at Petriolo by Pius II to Roderigo when the latter was in Siena—whither he had been sent by his Holiness to superintend the building of the Cathedral and the Episcopal and Piccolomini palaces—is frequently cited by way of establishing the young prelate's dissolute ways. It is a letter at once stern and affectionate, and it certainly leaves no doubt as to what manner of man was the Cardinal Vice-Chancellor in his private life, and to what manner of unecciesiastical pursuits he inclined. It is difficult to discover in it any grounds upon which an apologist may build.
"When four days ago, in the gardens of Giovanni de Bichis, were assembled several women of Siena addicted to worldly vanity, your worthiness, as we have learnt, little remembering the office which you fill, was entertained by them from the seventeenth to the twenty-second hour. For companion you had one of your colleagues, one whom his years if not the honour of the Holy See should have reminded of his duty. From what we have heard, dancing was unrestrainedly indulged, and not one of love's attractions was absent, whilst your behaviour was no different from that which might have been looked for in any worldly youth. Touching what happened there, modesty imposes silence. Not only the circumstance itself, but the very name of it is unworthy in one of your rank. The husbands, parents, brothers, and relations of these young women were excluded, in order that your amusements should be the more unbridled. You with a few servants undertook to direct and lead those dances. It is said that nothing is now talked of in Siena but your frivolity. Certain it is that here at the baths, where the concourse of ecclesiastics and laity is great, you are the topic of the day. Our displeasure is unutterable, since all this reflects dishonourably upon the sacerdotal estate and office. It will be said of us that we are enriched and promoted not to the end that we may lead blameless lives, but that we may procure the means to indulge our pleasures. Hence the contempt of us entertained by temporal princes and powers and the daily sarcasms of the laity. Hence also the reproof of our own mode of life when we attempt to reprove others. The very Vicar of Christ is involved in this contempt, since he appears to countenance such things. You, beloved son, have charge of the Bishopric of Valencia, the first of Spain; you are also Vice-Chancellor of the Church; and what renders your conduct still more blameworthy is that you are among the cardinals, with the Pope, one of the counsellors of the Holy See. We submit it to your own judgement whether it becomes your dignity to court young women, to send fruit and wine to her you love, and to have no thought for anything but pleasure. We are censured on your account; the blessed memory of your uncle Calixtus is vituperated, since in the judgement of many he was wrong to have conferred so many honours upon you. If you seek excuses in your youth, you are no longer so young that you cannot understand what duties are imposed upon you by your dignity. A cardinal should be irreproachable, a model of moral conduct to all. And what just cause have we for resentment when temporal princes bestow upon us titles that are little honourable, dispute with us our possessions, and attempt to bend us to their will? In truth it is we who inflict these wounds upon ourselves, and it is we who occasion ourselves these troubles, undermining more and more each day by our deeds the authority of the Church. Our guerdon is shame in this world and condign punishment in the next. May your prudence therefore set a restraint upon these vanities and keep you mindful of your dignity, and prevent that you be known for a gallant among married and unmarried women. But should similar facts recur, we shall be compelled to signify that they have happened against our will and to our sorrow, and our censure must be attended by your shame. We have always loved you, and we have held you worthy of our favour as a man of upright and honest nature. Act therefore in such a manner that we may maintain such an opinion of you, and nothing can better conduce to this than that you should lead a well-ordered life. Your age, which is such as still to promise improvement, admits that we should admonish you paternally."
"PETRIOLO, June 11, 1460."
Such a letter is calculated to shock us in our modern notions of a churchman. To us this conduct on the part of a prelate is scandalous beyond words; that it was scandalous even then is obvious from the Pontiff's letter; but that it was scandalous in an infinitely lesser degree is no less obvious from the very fact that the Pontiff wrote that letter (and in such terms) instead of incontinently unfrocking the offender.
In considering Roderigo's conduct, you are to consider—as has been urged already—the age in which he lived. You are to remember that it was an age in which the passions and the emotions wore no such masks as they wear to-day, but went naked and knew no shame of their nudity; an age in which personal modesty was as little studied as hypocrisy, and in which men, wore their vices as openly as their virtues.
No amount of simple statement can convey an adequate notion of the corrupt state of the clergy at the time. To form any just appreciation of this, it is necessary to take a peep at some of the documents that have survived—such a document, for instance, as that Bull of this Pope Pius II which forbade priests from plying the trades of keeping taverns, gaming-houses, and brothels.
Ponder also that under his successor, Sixtus IV, the tax levied upon the courtesans of Rome enriched the pontifical coffers to the extent of some 20,000 ducats yearly. Ponder further that when the vicar of the libidinous Innocent VIII published in 1490 an edict against the universal concubinage practised by the clergy, forbidding its continuation under pain of excommunication, all that it earned him was the severe censure of the Holy Father, who disagreed with the measure and who straightway repealed and cancelled the edict.(1)
|1 See Burchard's Diarium, Thuasne Edition, Vol. II. p.442 et seq. Alexander VI, born at Gandia, in Spain, in 1510.|
All this being considered, and man being admittedly a creature of his environment, can we still pretend to horror at this Roderigo and at the fact that being the man he was—prelate though he might be—handsome, brilliant, courted, in the full vigour of youth, and a voluptuary by nature, he should have succumbed to the temptations by which he was surrounded?
One factor only could have caused him to use more restraint—the good example of his peers. That example he most certainly had not.
Virtue is a comparative estate, when all is said; and before we can find that Roderigo was vile, that he deserves unqualified condemnation for his conduct, we must ascertain that he was more or less exceptional in his licence, that he was less scrupulous than his fellows. Do we find that? To find the contrary we do not need to go beyond the matter which provoked that letter from the Pontiff. For we see that he was not even alone, as an ecclesiastic, in the adventure; that he had for associate on that amorous frolic one Giacopo Ammanati, Cardinal-Presbyter of San Crisogno, Roderigo's senior and an ordained priest, which—without seeking to make undue capital out of the circumstance—we may mention that Roderigo was not. He was a Cardinal-Deacon, be it remembered.(1) We know that the very Pontiff who admonished these young prelates, though now admittedly a man of saintly ways, had been a very pretty fellow himself in his lusty young days in Siena; we know that Roderigo's uncle—the Calixtus to whom Pius II refers in that letter as of "blessed memory"—had at least one acknowledged son.(2) We know that Piero and Girolamo Riario, though styled by Pope Sixtus IV his "nephews," were generally recognized to be his sons.(3) And we know that the numerous bastards of Innocent VIII—Roderigo's immediate precursor on the Pontifical Throne—were openly acknowledged by their father. We know, in short, that it was the universal custom of the clergy to forget its vows of celibacy, and to circumvent them by dispensing with the outward form and sacrament of marriage; and we have it on the word of Pius II himself, that "if there are good reasons for enjoining the celibacy of the clergy, there are better and stronger for enjoining them to marry."
1 He was not ordained priest until 1471, after the electionof Sixtus IV.|
2 Don Francisco de Borja, born at Valencia in 1441.
3 Macchiavelli, Istorie Fiorentine.
What more is there to say? If we must be scandalized, let us be scandalized by the times rather than by the man. Upon what reasonable grounds can we demand that he should be different from his fellows; and if we find him no different, what right or reason have we for picking him out and rendering him the object of unparalleled obloquy?
If we are to deal justly with Roderigo Borgia, we must admit that, in so far as his concessions to his lusts are concerned, he was a typical churchman of his day; neither more nor less—as will presently grow abundantly clear.
It may be objected by some that had such been the case the Pope would not have written him such a letter as is here cited. But consider a moment the close relations existing between them. Roderigo was the nephew of the late Pope; in a great measure Pius II owed his election, as we have seen, to Roderigo's action in the Conclave. That his interest in him apart from that was paternal and affectionate is shown in every line of that letter. And consider further that Roderigo's companion is shown by that letter to be equally guilty in so far as the acts themselves are to be weighed, guilty in a greater degree when we remember his seniority and his actual priesthood. Yet to Cardinal Ammanati the Pope wrote no such admonition. Is not that sufficient proof that his admonition of Roderigo was dictated purely by his personal affection for him?
In this same year 1460 was born to Cardinal Roderigo a son—Don Pedro Luis de Borja—by a spinster (mulier soluta) unnamed. This son was publicly acknowledged and cared for by the cardinal.
Seven years later—in 1467—he became the father of a daughter—Girolama de Borja—by a spinster, whose name again does not transpire. Like Pedro Luis she too was openly acknowledged by Cardinal Roderigo. It was widely believed that this child's mother was Madonna Giovanna de' Catanei, who soon became quite openly the cardinal's mistress, and was maintained by him in such state as might have become a maîtresse en titre. But, as we shall see later, the fact of that maternity of Girolama is doubtful in the extreme. It was never established, and it is difficult to understand why not if it were the fact.
Meanwhile Paul II—Pietro Barbo, Cardinal of Venice—had succeeded Pius II in 1464, and in 1471 the latter was in his turn succeeded by the formidable Sixtus IV—Cardinal Francesco Maria della Rovere—a Franciscan of the lowest origin, who by his energy and talents had become general of his order and had afterwards been raised to the dignity of the purple.
It was Cardinal Roderigo de Lanzol y Borja who, in his official capacity of Arch-deacon of Holy Church, performed the ceremony of coronation and placed the triple crown on the head of Pope Sixtus. It is probable that this was his last official act as Arch-deacon, for in that same year 1471, at the age of forty, he was ordained priest and consecrated Bishop of Albano.
Chapter II. The Reigns of Sixtus IV and Innocent VIII
The rule of Sixtus was as vigorous as it was scandalous. To say—as has been said—that with his succession to St. Peter's Chair came for the Church a still sadder time than that which had preceded it, is not altogether true. Politically, at least, Sixtus did much to strengthen the position of the Holy See and of the Pontificate. He was not long in giving the Roman factions a taste of his stern quality. If he employed unscrupulous means, he employed them against unscrupulous men—on the sound principle of similia similibus curantur—and to some extent they were justified by the ends in view.
He found the temporal throne of the Pontiffs tottering when he ascended it. Stefano Porcaro and his distinguished following already in 1453 had attempted the overthrow of the pontifical authority, inspired, no doubt, by the attacks that had been levelled against it by the erudite and daring Lorenzo Valla.
This Valla was the distinguished translator of Homer, Herodotus, and Thucydides, who more than any one of his epoch advanced the movement of Greek and Latin learning, which, whilst it had the effect of arresting the development of Italian literature, enriched Europe by opening up to it the sources of ancient erudition, of philosophy, poetry, and literary taste. Towards the year 1435 he drifted to the court of Alfonso of Aragon, whose secretary he ultimately became. Some years later he attacked the Temporal Power and urged the secularization of the States of the Church. "Ut Papa," he wrote, "tantum Vicarius Christi sit, et non etiam Coesari." In his De falso credita et ementita Constantini Donatione, he showed that the decretals of the Donation of Constantine, upon which rests the Pope's claim to the Pontifical States, was an impudent forgery, that Constantine had never had the power to give, nor had given, Rome to the Popes, and that they had no right to govern there. He backed up this terrible indictment by a round attack upon the clergy, its general corruption and its practices of simony; and as a result he fell into the hands of the Inquisition. There it might have gone very ill with him but that King Alfonso rescued him from the clutches of that dread priestly tribunal.
Meanwhile, he had fired his petard. If a pretext had been wanting to warrant the taking up of arms against the Papacy, that pretext Valla had afforded. Never was the temporal power of the Church in such danger, and ultimately it must inevitably have succumbed but for the coming of so strong and unscrupulous a man as Sixtus IV to stamp out the patrician factions that were heading the hostile movement.
His election, it is generally admitted, was simoniacal; and by simony he raised the funds necessary for his campaign to reestablish and support the papal authority. This simony of his, says Dr. Jacob Burckhardt, "grew to unheard-of proportions, and extended from the appointment of cardinals down to the sale of the smallest benefice."
Had he employed these means of raising funds for none but the purpose of putting down the assailants of the Pontificate, a measure of justification (political if not ecclesiastical) might be argued in his favour. Unfortunately, having discovered these ready sources of revenue, he continued to exploit them for purposes far less easy to condone.
As a nepotist Sixtus was almost unsurpassed in the history of the Papacy. Four of his nephews and their aggrandizement were the particular objects of his attentions, and two of these—as we have already said—Piero and Girolamo Riario, were universally recognized to be his sons.
Piero, who was a simple friar of twenty-six years of age at the time that his father became Pope, was given the Arch-bishopric of Florence, made Patriarch of Constantinople, and created Cardinal to the title of San Sisto, with a revenue of 60,000 crowns.
We have it on the word of Cardinal Ammanati(1)—the same gentleman who, with Roderigo de Lanzol y Borja made so scandalously merry in de Bichis' garden at Siena—that Cardinal Riario's luxury "exceeded all that had been displayed by our forefathers or that can even be imagined by our descendants"; and Macchiavelli tells us(2) that "although of very low origin and mean rearing, no sooner had he obtained the scarlet hat than he displayed a pride and ambition so vast that the Pontificate seemed too small for him, and he gave a feast in Rome which would have appeared extraordinary even for a king, the expense exceeding 20,000 florins."
|1 In a letter to Francesco Gonzaga.|
2 Istorie Florentine.
Knowing so much, it is not difficult to understand that in one year or less he should have dissipated 200,000 florins, and found himself in debt to the extent of a further 60,000.
In 1473, Sixtus being at the time all but at war with Florence, this Cardinal Riario visited Venice and Milan. In the latter State he was planning with Duke Galeazzo Maria that the latter should become King of Lombardy, and then assist him with money and troops to master Rome and ascend the Papal Throne—which, it appears, Sixtus was quite willing to yield to him—thus putting the Papacy on a hereditary basis like any other secular State.
It is as well, perhaps, that he should have died on his return to Rome in January of 1474—worn out by his excesses and debaucheries, say some; of poison administered by the Venetians, say others—leaving a mass of debts, contracted in his transactions with the World, the Flesh, and the Devil, to be cleared up by the Vicar of Christ.
His brother Girolamo, meanwhile, had married Caterina Sforza, a natural daughter of Duke Galeazzo Maria. She brought him as her dowry the City of Imola, and in addition to this he received from his Holiness the City of Forli, to which end the Ordelaffi were dispossessed of it. Here again we have a papal attempt to found a family dynasty, and an attempt that might have been carried further under circumstances more propitious and had not Death come to check their schemes.
The only one of the four "nephews" of Sixtus—and to this one was imputed no nearer kinship—who was destined to make any lasting mark in history was Giuliano della Rovere. He was raised by his uncle to the purple with the title of San Pietro in Vincoli, and thirty-two years later he was to become Pope (as Julius II). Of him we shall hear much in the course of this story.
Under the pontificate of Sixtus IV the position and influence of Cardinal Roderigo were greatly increased, for once again the Spanish Cardinal had made the most of his opportunities. As at the election of Pius II, so at the election of Sixtus IV it was Cardinal Roderigo who led the act of accession which gave the new Pope his tiara, and for this act Roderigo—in common with the Cardinals Orsini and Gonzaga who acceded with him—was richly rewarded and advanced, receiving as his immediate guerdon the wealthy Abbey of Subiaco.
At about this time, 1470, must have begun the relations between Cardinal Roderigo and Giovanna Catanei, or Vannozza Catanei, as she is styled in contemporary documents—Vannozza being a corruption or abbreviation of Giovannozza, an affectionate form of Giovanna.
Who she was, or whence she came, are facts that have never been ascertained. She is generally assumed to have been a Roman; but there are no obvious grounds for the assumption, her name, for instance, being common to many parts of Italy. And just as we have no sources of information upon her origin, neither have we any elements from which to paint her portrait. Gregorovius rests the probability that she was beautiful upon the known characteristics and fastidious tastes of the cardinal. Since it is unthinkable that such a man would have been captivated by an ugly woman or would have been held by a stupid one, it is fairly reasonable to conclude that she was beautiful and ready-witted.
All that we do know of her up to the time of her liaison with Cardinal Roderigo is that she was born on July 13, 1442, this fact being ascertainable by a simple calculation from the elements afforded by the inscription on her tomb in Santa Maria del Popolo:
Vix ann. LXXVI m. IV d. XII Objit anno MDXVIII XXVI, Nov.
And again, just as we know nothing of her family origin, neither have we any evidence of what her circumstances were when she caught the magnetic eye of Cardinal Roderigo de Lanzol y Borja—or Borgia as by now his name, which had undergone italianization, was more generally spelled.
Infessura states in his diaries that Roderigo desiring later—as Pope Alexander VI—to create cardinal his son by her, Cesare Borgia, he caused false witness to be borne to the fact that Cesare was the legitimate son of one Domenico d'Arignano, to whom he, the Pope, had in fact married her. Guicciardini(1) makes the same statement, without, however, mentioning name of this d'Arignano.
|1 Istoria d'Italia.|
Now, bastards were by canon law excluded from the purple, and it is probably upon this circumstance that both Infessura and Guicciardini have built the assumption that some such means as these had been adopted to circumvent the law, and—as so often happens in chronicles concerning the Borgias—the assumption is straightway stated as a fact. But there were other ways of circumventing awkward commandments, and, unfortunately for the accuracy of these statements of Infessura and Guicciardini, another way was taken in this instance. As early as 1480, Pope Sixtus IV had granted Cesare Borgia—in a Bull dated October 1(1)—dispensation from proving the legitimacy of his birth. This entirely removed the necessity for any such subsequent measures as those which are suggested by these chroniclers.
|1 See the supplement to the Appendix of Thuasne's edition of Burchard's Diarium.|
Moreover, had Cardinal Roderigo desired to fasten the paternity of Cesare on another, there was ready to his hand Vannozza's actual husband, Giorgio della Croce.(2) When exactly this man became her husband is not to be ascertained. All that we know is that he was so in 1480, and that she was living with him in that year in a house in Piazza Pizzo di Merlo (now Piazza Sforza Cesarini) not far from the house on Banchi Vecchi which Cardinal Roderigo, as Vice-Chancellor, had converted into a palace for himself, and a palace so sumptuous as to excite the wonder of that magnificent age.
|2 D'Arignano is as much a fiction as the rest of Infessura's story.|
This Giorgio della Croce was a Milanese, under the protection of Cardinal Roderigo, who had obtained for him a post at the Vatican as apostolic secretary. According to some, he married him to Vannozza in order to afford her an official husband and thus cloak his own relations with her. It is an assumption which you will hesitate to accept. If we know our Cardinal Roderigo at all, he was never the man to pursue his pleasures in a hole-and-corner fashion, nor one to bethink him of a cloak for his amusements. Had he but done so, scandalmongers would have had less to fasten upon in their work of playing havoc with his reputation. What is far more likely is that della Croce owed Cardinal Roderigo's protection and the appointment as apostolic secretary to his own complacency in the matter of his wife's relations with the splendid prelate. However we look at it, the figure cut in this story by della Croce is not heroic.
Between the years 1474 and 1476, Vannozza bore Roderigo two sons, Cesare Borgia (afterwards Cardinal of Valencia and Duke of Valentinois), the central figure of our story, and Giovanni Borgia (afterwards Duke of Gandia).
Lucrezia Borgia, we know from documentary evidence before us, was born on April 19, 1479.
But there is a mystery about the precise respective ages of Vannozza's two eldest sons, and we fear that at this time of day it has become impossible to establish beyond reasonable doubt which was the firstborn; and this in spite of the documents discovered by Gregorovius and his assertion that they remove all doubt and enable him definitely to assert that Giovanni was born in 1474 and Cesare in 1476.
Let us look at these documents. They are letters from ambassadors to their masters; probably correct, and the more credible since they happen to agree and corroborate one another; still, not so utterly and absolutely reliable as to suffice to remove the doubts engendered by the no less reliable documents whose evidence contradicts them.
The first letters quoted by Gregorovius are from the ambassador Gianandrea Boccaccio to his master, the Duke of Ferrara, in 1493. In these he mentions Cesare Borgia as being sixteen to seventeen years of age at the time. But the very manner of writing—"sixteen to seventeen years"—is a common way of vaguely suggesting age rather than positively stating it. So we may pass that evidence over, as of secondary importance.
Next is a letter from Gerardo Saraceni to the Duke of Ferrara, dated October 26, 1501, and it is more valuable, claiming as it does to be the relation of something which his Holiness told the writer. It is in the post-scriptum that this ambassador says: "The Pope gave me to understand that the said Duchess [Lucrezia Borgia] will complete twenty-two years of age next April, and at that same time the Duke of Romagna will complete his twenty-sixth year."(1)
|1 "Facendomi intendere the epsa Duchessa é di etá di anni ventidui, li quali finiranno a questo Aprile; in el qual tempo anche lo Illmo. Duca di Romagna fornirá anni ventisei."|
This certainly fixes the year of Cesare's birth as 1476; but we are to remember that Saraceni is speaking of something that the Pope had recently told him; exactly how recently does not transpire. An error would easily be possible in so far as the age of Cesare is concerned. In so far as the age of Lucrezia is concerned, an error is not only possible, but has actually been committed by Saraceni. At least the age given in his letter is wrong by one year, as we know by a legal document drawn up in February of 1491—Lucrezia's contract of marriage with Don Juan Cherubin de Centelles.(2)
|2 A contract never executed.|
According to this protocol in old Spanish, dated February 26, 1491, Lucrezia completed her twelfth year on April 19, 1491,(3) which definitely and positively gives us the date of her birth as April 19, 1479.
|3 "Item mes attenent que dita Dona Lucretia a XVIIII de Abril prop. vinent entrará in edat de dotze anys."|
A quite extraordinary error is that made by Gregorovius when he says that Lucrezia Borgia was born on April 18, 1480, extraordinary considering that he made it apparently with this very protocol under his eyes, and cites it, in fact (Document IV in the Appendix to his Lucrezia Borgia) as his authority.
To return, however, to Cesare and Giovanni, there is yet another evidence quoted by Gregorovius in support of his contention that the latter was the elder and born in 1474; but it is of the same nature and of no more, nor less, value than those already mentioned.
Worthy of more consideration in view of their greater official and legal character are the Ossuna documents, given in the Supplement of the Appendix in Thuasne's edition of Burchard's Diary, namely:
(a) October 1, 1480.—A Bull from Sixtus IV, already mentioned, dispensing Cesare from proving his legitimacy. In this he is referred to as in his sixth year—"in sexto tuo aetatis anno."
This, assuming Boccaccio's letter to be correct in the matter of April being the month of Cesare's birth, fixes the year of his birth as 1475.
(b) August 16, 1482.—A Bull of Sixtus IV, appointing Roderigo Borgia administrator of Cesare's benefices. In this he is mentioned as being seven years of age (i.e., presumably in his eighth year), which again gives us his birth-year as 1475.
(c) September 12, 1484.—A Bull of Sixtus IV, appointing Cesare treasurer of the Church of Carthage. In this he is mentioned as in his ninth year—"in nono tuo aetatis anno." This is at variance with the other two, and gives us 1476 as the year of his birth.
To these evidences, conflicting as they are, may be added Burchard's mention in his diary under date of September 12, 1491, that Cesare was then seventeen years of age. This would make him out to have been born in 1474.
Clearly the matter cannot definitely be settled upon such evidence as we have. All that we can positively assert is that he was born between the years 1474 and 1476, and we cannot, we think, do better for the purposes of this story than assume his birth-year to have been 1475.
We know that between those same years, or in one or the other of them, was born Giovanni Borgia; but just as the same confusion prevails with regard to his exact age, so is it impossible to determine with any finality whether he was Cesare's junior or senior.
The one document that appears to us to be the most important in this connection is that of the inscription on their mother's tomb. This runs:
FAUSTIAE CATHANAE, CESARE VALENTINAE, JOHANNAE CANDIAE, JUFFREDO SCYLATII, ET LUCRETIA FERRARIAE DUCIB. FILIIS NOBILI PROBITATE INSIGNI, RELIGIONE EXIMIA, ETC., ETC.
If Giovanni was, as is claimed, the eldest of her children, why does his name come second? If Cesare was her second son, why does his name take the first place on that inscription?
It has been urged that if Cesare was the elder of these two, he, and not Giovanni, would have succeeded to the Duchy of Gandia on the death of Pedro Luis—Cardinal Roderigo's eldest son, by an unknown mother. But that does not follow inevitably; for it is to be remembered that Cesare was already destined for an ecclesiastical career, and it may well be that his father was reluctant to change his plans.
Meanwhile the turbulent reign of Sixtus IV went on, until his ambition to increase his dominions had the result of plunging the whole of Italy into war.
Lorenzo de' Medici had thwarted the Pope's purposes in Romagna, coming to the assistance of Città di Castello when this was attacked in the Pope's interest by the warlike Giuliano della Rovere. To avenge himself for this, and to remove a formidable obstacle to his family's advancement, the Pope inspired the Pazzi conspiracy against the lives of the famous masters of Florence. The conspiracy failed; for although Giuliano de' Medici fell stabbed to the heart—before Christ's altar, and at the very moment of the elevation of the Host—Lorenzo escaped with slight hurt, and, by the very risk to which he had been exposed, rallied the Florentines to him more closely than ever.
Open war was the only bolt remaining in the papal quiver, and open war he declared, preluding it by a Bull of Excommunication against the Florentines. Naples took sides with the Pope. Venice and Milan came to the support of Florence, whereupon Milan's attentions were diverted to her own affairs, Genoa being cunningly set in revolt against her.
In 1480 a peace was patched up; but it was short-lived. A few months later war flared out again from the Holy See, against Florence this time, and on the pretext of its having joined the Venetians against the Pope in the late war. A complication now arose, created by the Venetians, who seized the opportunity to forward their own ambitions and increase their territories on the mainland, and upon a pretext of the pettiest themselves declared war upon Ferrara. Genoa and some minor tyrannies were drawn into the quarrel on the one side, whilst on the other Florence, Naples, Mantua, Milan, and Bologna stood by Ferrara. Whilst the papal forces were holding in check the Neapolitans who sought to pass north to aid Ferrara, whilst the Roman Campagna was being harassed by the Colonna, and Milan was engaged with Genoa, the Venetians invested Ferrara, forced her to starvation and to yielding-point. Thereupon the Pope, perceiving the trend of affairs, and that the only likely profit to be derived from the campaign would lie with Venice, suddenly changed sides that he might avoid a contingency so far removed from all his aims.
He made a treaty with Naples, and permitted the Neapolitan army passage through his territories, of which they availed themselves to convey supplies to Ferrara and neutralize the siege. At the same time the Pope excommunicated the Venetians, and urged all Italy to make war upon them.
In this fashion the campaign dragged on to every one's disadvantage and without any decisive battle fought, until at last the peace of Bagnolo was concluded in August of 1484, and the opposing armies withdrew from Ferrara.
The news of it literally killed Sixtus. When the ambassadors declared to him the terms of the treaty he was thrown into a violent rage, and declared the peace to be at once shameful and humiliating. The gout from which he suffered flew to his heart, and on the following day—August 12, 1484—he died.
Two things he did during his reign to the material advantage of the Church, however much he may have neglected the spiritual. He strengthened her hold upon her temporal possessions and he enriched the Vatican by the addition of the Sistine Chapel. For the decoration of this he procured the best Tuscan talent of his day—and of many days—and brought Alessandro Filipeppi (Botticelli), Pietro Vannuccio (Il Perugino), and Domenico Bigordi (IL Ghirlandajo) from Florence to adorn its walls with their frescoes.(1)
|1 The glory of the Sistine Chapel, however, is Michelangelo's "Last Judgement," which was added later, in the reign of Pope Julius II (Giuliano della Rovere).|
In the last years of the reign of Pope Sixtus, Cardinal Roderigo's family had suffered a loss and undergone an increase.
In 1481 Vannozza bore him another son—Giuffredo Borgia, and in the following year died his eldest son (by an unknown mother) Pedro Luis de Borgia, who had reached the age of twenty-two and was betrothed at the time of his decease to the Princess Maria d'Aragona.
In January of that same year, 1482, Cardinal Roderigo had married his daughter Girolama—now aged fifteen—to Giovanni Andrea Cesarini, the scion of a patrician Roman house. The alliance strengthened the bonds of good feeling which for some considerable time had prevailed between the two families. Unfortunately the young couple were not destined to many years of life together, as in 1483 both died.
Of Cesare all that we know at this period is what we learn from the Papal Bulls conferring several benefices upon him. In July 1482 he was granted the revenues from the prebendals and canonries of Valencia; in the following month he was appointed Canon of Valencia and apostolic notary. In April 1484 he was made Provost of Alba, and in September of the same year treasurer of the Church of Carthage. No doubt he was living with his mother, his brothers, and his sister at the house in the Piazza Pizzo di Merlo, where an ample if not magnificent establishment was maintained.
By this time Cardinal Roderigo's wealth and power had grown to stupendous proportions, and he lived in a splendour well worthy of his lofty rank. He was now fifty-three years of age, still retaining the air and vigour of a man in his very prime, which, no doubt, he owed as much as to anything to his abstemious and singularly sparing table-habits. He derived a stupendous income from his numerous abbeys in Italy and Spain, his three bishoprics of Valencia, Porto, and Carthage, and his ecclesiastical offices, among which the Vice-Chancellorship alone yielded him annually eight thousand florins.(1)
|1 The gold florin, ducat, or crown was equal to ten shillings of our present money, and had a purchasing power of five times that amount.|
Volterra refers with wonder to the abundance of his plate, to his pearls, his gold embroideries, and his books, the splendid equipment of his beds, the trappings of his horses, and other similar furnishings in gold, in silver, and in silk. In short, he was the wealthiest prince of the Church of his day, and he lived with a magnificence worthy of a king or of the Pope himself.
Of the actual man, Volterra, writing in 1586, says: "He is of a spirit capable of anything, and of a great intelligence. A ready speaker, and of distinction, notwithstanding his indifferent literary culture; naturally astute, and of marvellous talent in the conduct of affairs."
In the year in which Volterra wrote of Cardinal Roderigo in such terms Vannozza was left a widow by the death of Giorgio della Croce. Her widowhood was short, however, for in the same year—on June 6—she took a second husband, possibly at the instance of Roderigo Borgia, who did not wish to leave her unprotected; that, at least, is the general inference, although there is very little evidence upon which to base it. This second husband was Carlo Canale, a Mantovese scholar who had served Cardinal Francesco Gonzaga in the capacity of chamberlain, and who had come to Rome on the death of his patron.
The marriage contract shows that by this time Vannozza had removed her residence to Piazza Branchis. In addition to this she had by this time acquired a villa with its beautiful gardens and vine-yards in the Suburra near S. Pietro in Vincoli. She is also known to have been the proprietor of an inn—the Albergo del Leone—in Via del Orso, opposite the Torre di Nona, for she figures with della Croce in a contract regarding a lease of it in 1483.
With her entrance into second nuptials, her relations with Cardinal Roderigo came to an end, and his two children by her, then in Rome—Lucrezia and Giuffredo—went to take up their residence with Adriana Orsini (née de Mila) at the Orsini Palace on Monte Giordano. She was a cousin of Roderigo's, and the widow of Lodovico Orsini, by whom she had a son, Orso Orsini, who from early youth had been betrothed to Giulia Farnese, the daughter of a patrician family, still comparatively obscure, but destined through this very girl to rise to conspicuous eminence.
For her surpassing beauty this Giulia Farnese has been surnamed La Bella—and as Giulia La Bella was she known in her day—and she has been immortalized by Pinturicchio and Guglielmo della Porta. She sat to the former as a model for his Madonna in the Borgia Tower of the Vatican, and to the latter for the statue of Truth which adorns the tomb of her brother Alessandro Farnese, who became Pope Paul III.
Here in Adriana Orsini's house, where his daughter Lucrezia was being educated, Cardinal Roderigo, now at the mature age of some six-and-fifty years, made the acquaintance and became enamoured of this beautiful golden-headed Giulia, some forty years his junior. To the fact that she presently became his mistress—somewhere about the same time that she became Orso Orsini's wife—is due the sudden rise of the House of Farnese. This began with her handsome, dissolute brother Alessandro's elevation to the purple by her lover, and grew to vast proportions during his subsequent and eminently scandalous occupation of the Papal Throne as Paul III.
In the year 1490 Lucrezia was the only one of Roderigo's children by Vannozza who remained in Rome.
Giovanni Borgia was in Spain, whither he had gone on the death of his brother Pedro Luis, to take posession of the Duchy of Gandia, which the power of his father's wealth and vast influence at the Valencian Court had obtained for that same Pedro Luis. To this Giovanni now succeeded.
Cesare Borgia—now aged fifteen—had for some two years been studying his humanities in an atmosphere of Latinity at the Sapienza of Perugia. There, if we are to believe the praises of him uttered by Pompilio, he was already revealing his unusual talents and a precocious wit. In the preface of the Syllabica on the art of Prosody dedicated to him by Pompilio, the latter hails him as the hope and ornament of the Hous of Borgia—"Borgiae familiae spes et decus."
From Perugia he was moved in 1491 to the famous University of Pisa, a college frequented by the best of Italy. For preceptor he had Giovanni Vera of Arcilla, a Spanish gentleman who was later created a cardinal by Cesare's father. There in Pisa Cesare maintained an establishment of a magnificence in keeping with his father's rank and with the example set him by that same father.
It was Cardinal Roderigo's wish that Cesare should follow an ecclesiastical career; and the studies of canon law which he pursued under Filippo Decis, the most rated lecturer on canon law of his day, were such as peculiarly to fit him for that end and for the highest honours the Church might have to bestow upon him later. At the age of seventeen, while still at Pisa, he was appointed prothonotary of the Church and preconized Bishop of Pampeluna.
Sixtus IV died, as we have seen, in August 1482. The death of a Pope was almost invariably the signal for disturbances in Rome, and they certainly were not wanting on this occasion. The Riario palaces were stormed and looted, and Girolamo Riario—the Pope's "nepot"—threw himself into the castle of Sant' Angelo with his forces.
The Orsini and Colonna were in arms, "so that in a few days incendiarism, robbery, and murder raged in several parts of the city. The cardinals besought the Count to surrender the castle to the Sacred College, withdraw his troops, and deliver Rome from the fear of his forces; and he, that he might win the favour of the future Pope, obeyed, and withdrew to Imola."(1)
|1 Macchiavelli, Istorie Fiorentine.|
The cardinals, having thus contrived to restore some semblance of order, proceeded to the creation of a new Pontiff, and a Genoese, Giovanni Battista Cibo, Cardinal of Malfetta, was elected and took the name of Innocent VIII.
Again, as in the case of Sixtus, there is no lack of those who charge this Pontiff with having obtained his election by simony. The Cardinals Giovanni d' Aragona (brother to the King of Naples) and Ascanio Sforza (brother of Lodovico, Duke of Milan) are said to have disposed of their votes in the most open and shameless manner, practically putting them up for sale to the highest bidder. Italy rang with the scandal of it, we are told.
Under Innocent's lethargic rule the Church again began to lose much of the vigour with which Sixtus had inspired it. If the reign of Sixtus had been scandalous, infinitely worse was that of Innocent—a sordid, grasping sensualist, without even the one redeeming virtue of strength that had been his predecessor's. Nepotism had characterized many previous pontificates; open paternity was to characterize his, for he was the first Pope who, in flagrant violation of canon law, acknowledged his children for his own. He proceeded to provide for some seven bastards, and that provision appears to have been the only aim and scope of his pontificate.
Not content with raising money by the sale of preferments, Innocent established a traffic in indulgences, the like of which had never been seen before. In the Rome of his day you might, had you the money, buy anything, from a cardinal's hat to a pardon for the murder of your father.
The most conspicuous of his bastards was Francesco Cibo—conspicuous chiefly for the cupidity which distinguished him as it distinguished the Pope his father. For the rest he was a poor-spirited fellow who sorely disappointed Lorenzo de' Medici, whose daughter Maddalena he received in marriage. Lorenzo had believed that, backed by the Pope's influence, Francesco would establish for himself a dynasty in Romagna. But father and son were alike too invertebrate—the one to inspire, the other to execute any such designs as had already been attempted by the nepots of Calixtus III and Sixtus IV.
Under the weak and scandalous rule of Innocent VIII Rome appears to have been abandoned to the most utter lawlessness. Anarchy, robbery, and murder preyed upon the city. No morning dawned without revealing corpses in the streets; and if by chance the murderer was caught, there was pardon for him if he could afford to buy it, or Tor di Nona and the hangman's noose if he could not.
It is not wonderful that when at last Innocent VIII died Infessura should have blessed the day that freed the world of such a monster.
But his death did not happen until 1492. A feeble old man, he had become subject to lethargic or cataleptic trances, which had several times already deceived those in attendance into believing him dead. He grew weaker and weaker, and it became impossible to nourish him upon anything but woman's milk. Towards the end came, Infessura tells us, a Hebrew physician who claimed to have a prescription by which he could save the Pope's life. For his infusion(1) he needed young human blood, and to obtain it he took three boys of the age of ten, and gave them a ducat apiece for as much as he might require of them. Unfortunately he took so much that the three boys incontinently died of his phlebotomy, and the Hebrew was obliged to take to flight to save his own life, for the Pope, being informed of what had taken place, execrated the deed and ordered the physician's arrest. "Judeus quidem aufugit, et Papa sanatus not est," concludes Infessura.
|1 The silly interpretation of this afforded by later writers, that this physician attempted transfusion of blood—silly, because unthinkable in an age which knew nothing of the circulation of the blood—has already been exploded.|
Innocent VIII breathed his last on July 25, 1492.
Chapter III. Alexander VI
The ceremonies connected with the obsequies of Pope Innocent VIII lasted—as prescribed—nine days; they were concluded on August 5, 1492, and, says Infessura naïvely, "sic finita fuit eius memoria."
The Sacred College consisted at the time of twenty-seven cardinals, four of whom were absent at distant sees and unable to reach Rome in time for the immuring of the Conclave. The twenty-three present were, in the order of their seniority: Roderigo Borgia, Oliviero Caraffa, Giuliano della Rovere, Battista Zeno, Giovanni Michieli, Giorgio Costa, Girolamo della Rovere, Paolo Fregosi, Domenico della Rovere, Giovanni dei Conti, Giovanni Giacomo Sclafetani, Lorenzo Cibo, Ardicino della Porta, Antoniotto Pallavicino, Maffeo Gerardo, Francesco Piccolomini, Raffaele Riario, Giovanni Battista Savelli, Giovanni Colonna, Giovanni Orsini, Ascanio Maria Sforza, Giovanni de' Medici, and Francesco Sanseverino.
On August 6 they assembled in St. Peter's to hear the Sacred Mass of the Holy Ghost, which was said by Giuliano della Rovere on the tomb of the Prince of the Apostles, and to listen to the discourse "Pro eligendo Pontefice," delivered by the learned and eloquent Bishop of Carthage. Thereafter the Cardinals swore upon the Gospels faithfully to observe their trust, and thereupon the Conclave was immured.
According to the dispatches of Valori, the Ferrarese ambassador in Rome, it was expected that either the Cardinal of Naples (Oliviero Caraffa) or the Cardinal of Lisbon (Giorgio Costa) would be elected to the Pontificate; and according to the dispatch of Cavalieri the ambassador of Modena, the King of France had deposited 200,000 ducats with a Roman banker to forward the election of Giuliano della Rovere. Nevertheless, early on the morning of August 11 it was announced that Roderigo Borgia was elected Pope, and we have it on the word of Valori that the election was unanimous, for he wrote on the morrow to the Council of Eight (the Signory of Florence) that after long contention Alexander VI was created "omnium consensum—ne li manco un solo voto."
The subject of this election is one with which we rarely find an author dealing temperately or with a proper and sane restraint. To vituperate in superlatives seems common to most who have taken in hand this and other episodes in the history of the Borgias. Every fresh writer who comes to the task appears to be mainly inspired by a desire to emulate his forerunners, allowing his pen to riot zestfully in the accumulation of scandalous matter, and seeking to increase if possible its lurid quality by a degree or two. As a rule there is not even an attempt made to put forward evidence in substantiation of anything that is alleged. Wild and sweeping statement takes the place that should be held by calm deduction and reasoned comment.
"He was the worst Pontiff that ever filled St. Peter's Chair," is one of these sweeping statements, culled from the pages of an able, modern, Italian author, whose writings, sound in all that concerns other matters, are strewn with the most foolish extravagances and flagrant inaccuracies in connection with Alexander VI and his family.
To say of him, as that writer says, that "he was the worst Pontiff that ever filled St. Peter's Chair," can only be justified by an utter ignorance of papal history. You have but to compare him calmly and honestly—your mind stripped of preconceptions—with the wretched and wholly contemptible Innocent VIII whom he succeeded, or with the latter's precursor, the terrible Sixtus IV.
That he was better than these men, morally or ecclesiastically, is not to be pretended; that he was worse—measuring achievement by opportunity—is strenuously to be denied. For the rest, that he was infinitely more gifted and infinitely more a man of affairs is not to be gainsaid by any impartial critic.
If we take him out of the background of history in which he is set, and judge him singly and individually, we behold a man who, as a churchman and Christ's Vicar, fills us with horror and loathing, as a scandalous exception from what we are justified in supposing from his office must have been the rule. Therefore, that he may be judged by the standard of his own time if he is to be judged at all, if we are even to attempt to understand him, have we given a sketch of the careers of those Popes who immediately preceded him, with whom as Vice-Chancellor he was intimately associated, and whose examples were the only papal examples that he possessed.
That this should justify his course we do not pretend. A good churchman in his place would have bethought him of his duty to the Master whose Vicar he was, and would have aimed at the sorely needed reform. But we are not concerned to study him as a good churchman. It is by no means clear that we are concerned to study him as a churchman at all. The Papacy had by this time become far less of an ecclesiastical than a political force; the weapons of the Church were there, but they were being employed for the furtherance not of churchly, but of worldly aims. If the Pontiffs in the pages of this history remembered or evoked their spiritual authority, it was but to employ it as an instrument for the advancement of their temporal schemes. And personal considerations entered largely into these.
Self-aggrandizement, insufferable in a cleric, is an ambition not altogether unpardonable in a temporal prince; and if Alexander aimed at self-aggrandizement and at the founding of a permanent dynasty for his family, he did not lack examples in the careers of those among his predecessors with whom he had been associated.
That the Papacy was Christ's Vicarage was a fact that had long since been obscured by the conception that the Papacy was a kingdom of this world. In striving, then, for worldly eminence by every means in his power, Alexander is no more blameworthy than any other. What, then, remains? The fact that he succeeded better than any of his forerunners. But are we on that account to select him for the special object of our vituperation? The Papacy had tumbled into a slough of materialism in which it was to wallow even after the Reformation had given it pause and warning. Under what obligation was Alexander VI, more than any other Pope, to pull it out of that slough? As he found it, so he carried it on, as much a self-seeker, as much a worldly prince, as much a family man and as little a churchman as any of those who had gone immediately before him.
By the outrageous discrepancy between the Papacy's professed and actual aims it was fast becoming an object of execration, and it is Alexander's misfortune that, coming when he did, he has remained as the type of his class.
The mighty of this world shall never want for detractors. The mean and insignificant, writhing under the consciousness of his shortcomings, ministers to his self-love by vilifying the great that he may lessen the gap between himself and them. To achieve greatness is to achieve enemies. It is to excite envy; and as envy no seed can raise up such a crop of hatred.
Does this need labouring? Have we not abundant instances about us of the vulgar tittle-tattle and scandalous unfounded gossip which, born Heaven alone knows on what back-stairs or in what servants' hall, circulates currently to the detriment of the distinguished in every walk of life? And the more conspicuously great the individual, the greater the incentive to slander him, for the interest of the slander is commensurate with the eminence of the personage assailed.
Such to a great extent is the case of Alexander VI. He was too powerful for the stomachs of many of his contemporaries, and he and his son Cesare had a way of achieving their ends. Since that could not be denied, it remained to inveigh loudly against the means adopted; and with pious uplifting of hands and eyes, to cry, "Shame!" and "Horror!" and "The like has never been heard of!" in wilful blindness to what had been happening at the Vatican for generations.
Later writers take up the tale of it. It is a fine subject about which to make phrases, and the passion for phrase-making will at times outweigh the respect for truth. Thus Villari with his "the worst Pontiff that ever filled St. Peter's Chair," and again, elsewhere, echoing what many a writer has said before him from Guicciardini downwards, in utter and diametric opposition to the true facts of the case: "The announcement of his election was received throughout Italy with universal dismay." To this he adds the ubiquitous story of King Ferrante's bursting into tears at the news—"though never before known to weep for the death of his own children."
Let us pause a moment to contemplate the grief the Neapolitan King. What picture is evoked in your minds by that statement of his bursting into tears at Alexander's election? We see—do we not?—a pious, noble soul, horror-stricken at the sight of the Papacy's corruption; a truly sublime figure, whose tears will surely stand to his credit in heaven; a great heart breaking; a venerable head bowed down with lofty, righteous grief, weeping over the grave of Christian hopes. Such surely is the image we are meant to see by Guicciardini and his many hollow echoers.
Turn we now for corroboration of that noble picture to the history of this same Ferrante. A shock awaits us. We find, in this bastard of the great and brilliant Alfonso a cruel, greedy, covetous monster, so treacherous and so fiendishly brutal that we are compelled to extend him the charity of supposing him to be something less than sane. Let us consider but one of his characteristics. He loved to have his enemies under his own supervision, and he kept them so—the living ones caged and guarded, the dead ones embalmed and habited as in life; and this collection of mummies was his pride and delight. More, and worse could we tell you of him. But—ex pede, Herculem.
This man shed tears we are told. Not another word. It is left to our imagination to paint for us a picture of this weeping; it is left to us to conclude that these precious tears were symbolical of the grief of Italy herself; that the catastrophe that provoked them must have been terrible indeed.
But now that we know what manner of man was this who wept, see how different is the inference that we may draw from his sorrow. Can we still imagine it—as we are desired to do—to have sprung from a lofty, Christian piety? Let us track those tears to their very source, and we shall find it to be compounded of rage and fear.
Ferrante saw trouble ahead of him with Lodovico Sforza, concerning a matter which shall be considered in the next chapter, and not at all would it suit him at such a time that such a Pope as Alexander—who, he had every reason to suppose, would be on the side of Lodovico—should rule in Rome.
So he had set himself, by every means in his power, to oppose Roderigo's election. His rage at the news that all his efforts had been vain, his fear of a man of Roderigo's mettle, and his undoubted dread of the consequences to himself of his frustrated opposition of that man's election, may indeed have loosened the tears of this Ferrante who had not even wept at the death of his own children. We say "may" advisedly; for the matter, from beginning to end, is one of speculation. If we leave it for the realm of fact, we have to ask—Were there any tears at all? Upon what authority rests the statement of the Florentine historian? What, in fact, does he say?
"It is well known that the King of Naples, for all that in public he dissembled the pain it caused him, signified to the queen, his wife, with tears—which were Unusual in him even on the death of his children—that a Pope had been created who would be most pernicious to Italy."
So that, when all is said, Ferrante shed his kingly tears to his wife in private, and to her in private he delivered his opinion of the new Pontiff. How, then, came Guicciardini to know of the matter? True, he says, "It is well known"—meaning that he had those tears upon hearsay. It is, of course, possible that Ferrante's queen may have repeated what passed between herself and the king; but that would surely have been in contravention of the wishes of her husband, who had, be it remembered, "dissembled his grief in public." And Ferrante does not impress one as the sort of husband whose wishes his wife would be bold enough to contravene.
It is surprising that upon no better authority than this should these precious tears of Ferrante's have been crystallized in history.
If this trivial instance has been dealt with at such length it is because, for one reason, it is typical of the foundation of so many of the Borgia legends, and, for another, because when history has been carefully sifted for evidence of the "universal dismay with which the election of Roderigo Borgia was received" King Ferrante's is the only case of dismay that comes through the mesh at all. Therefore was it expedient to examine it minutely.
That "universal dismay"—like the tears of Ferrante—rests upon the word of Guicciardini. He says that "men were filled with dread and horror by this election, because it had been effected by such evil ways [con arte si brutte]; and no less because the nature and condition of the person elected were largely known to many."
Guicciardini is to be read with the greatest caution and reserve when he deals with Rome. His bias against, and his enmity of, the Papacy are as obvious as they are notorious, and in his endeavours to bring it as much as possible into discredit he does not even spare his generous patrons, the Medicean Popes—Leo X and Clement VII. If he finds it impossible to restrain his invective against these Pontiffs, who heaped favours and honours upon him, what but virulence can be expected of him when he writes of Alexander VI? He is largely to blame for the flagrant exaggeration of many of the charges brought against the Borgias; that he hated them we know, and that when he wrote of them he dipped his golden Tuscan pen in vitriol and set down what he desired the world to believe rather than what contemporary documents would have revealed to him, we can prove here and now from that one statement of his which we have quoted.
Who were the men who were filled with dismay, horror, or dread at Roderigo's election?
The Milanese? No. For we know that Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, the Duke of Milan's brother, was the most active worker in favour of Roderigo's election, and that this same election was received and celebrated in Milan with public rejoicings.
The Florentines? No. For the Medici were friendly to the House of Borgia, and we know that they welcomed the election, and that from Florence Manfredi—the Ferrarese ambassador—wrote home: "It is said he will be a glorious Pontiff" ("Dicesi che sará glorioso Pontefice").
Were Venice, Genoa, Mantua, Siena, or Lucca dismayed by this election? Surely not, if the superlatively laudatory congratulations of their various ambassadors are of any account.
Venice confessed that "a better pastor could not have been found for the Church," since he had proved himself "a chief full of experience and an excellent cardinal."
Genoa said that "his merit lay not in having been elected, but in having been desired."
Mantua declared that it "had long awaited the pontificate of one who, during forty years, had rendered himself, by his wisdom and justice, capable of any office."
Siena expressed its joy at seeing the summit of eminence attained by a Pope solely upon his merits—"Pervenuto alla dignitá pontificale meramente per meriti proprii."
Lucca praised the excellent choice made, and extolled the accomplishments, the wisdom, and experience of the Pontiff.
Not dismay, then, but actual rejoicing must have been almost universal in Italy on the election of Pope Alexander VI. And very properly—always considering the Pontificate as the temporal State it was then being accounted; for Roderigo's influence was vast, his intelligence was renowned, and had again and again been proved, and his administrative talents and capacity for affairs were known to all. He was well-born, cultured, of a fine and noble presence, and his wealth was colossal, comprising the archbishoprics of Valencia and Porto, the bishoprics of Majorca, Carthage, Agria, the abbeys of Subiaco, the Monastery of Our Lady of Bellefontaine, the deaconry of Sancta Maria in Via Lata, and his offices of Vice-Chancellor and Dean of Holy Church.
We are told that he gained his election by simony. It is very probable that he did. But the accusation has never been categorically established, and until that happens it would be well to moderate the vituperation hurled at him. Charges of that simony are common; conclusive proof there is none. We find Giacomo Trotti, the French ambassador in Milan, writing to the Duke of Ferrara a fortnight after Roderigo's election that "the Papacy has been sold by simony and a thousand rascalities, which is a thing ignominious and detestable."
Ignominious and detestable indeed, if true; but be it remembered that Trotti was the ambassador of France, whose candidate, backed by French influence and French gold, as we have seen, was della Rovere; and, even if his statement was true, the "ignominious and detestable thing" was at least no novelty. Yet Guicciardini, treating of this matter, says: "He gained the Pontificate owing to discord between the Cardinals Ascanio Sforza and Giuliano di San Pietro in Vincoli; and still more because, in a manner without precedent in that age [con esempio nuovo in quella etá] he openly bought the votes of many cardinals, some with money, some with promises of his offices and benefices, which were very great."
Again Guicciardini betrays his bias by attempting to render Roderigo's course, assuming it for the moment to be truly represented, peculiarly odious by this assertion that it was without precedent in that age.
Without precedent! What of the accusations of simony against Innocent VIII, which rest upon a much sounder basis than these against Alexander, and what of those against Sixtus IV? Further, if a simoniacal election was unprecedented, what of Lorenzo Valla's fierce indictment of simony—for which he so narrowly escaped the clutches of the Inquisition some sixty years before this date?
Simony was rampant at the time, and it is the rankest hypocrisy to make this outcry against Alexander's uses of it, and to forget the others.
Whether he really was elected by simony or not depends largely—so far as the evidence available goes—upon what we are to consider as simony. If payment in the literal sense was made or promised, then unquestionably simony there was. But this, though often asserted, still awaits proof. If the conferring of the benefices vacated by a cardinal on his elevation to the Pontificate is to be considered simony, then there never was a Pope yet against whom the charge could not be levelled and established.
Consider that by his election to the Pontificate his Arch-bishoprics, offices, nay, his very house itself—which at the time of which we write it was customary to abandon to pillage—are vacated; and remember that, as Pope, they are now in his gift and that they must of necessity be bestowed upon somebody. In a time in which Pontiffs are imbued with a spiritual sense of their office and duties, they will naturally make such bestowals upon those whom they consider best fitted to use them for the greater honour and glory of God. But we are dealing with no such spiritual golden age as that when we deal with the Cinquecento, as we have already seen; and, therefore, all that we can expect of a Pope is that he should bestow the preferment he has vacated upon those among the cardinals whom he believes to be devoted to himself. Considering his election in a temporal sense, it is natural that he should behave as any other temporal prince; that he should remember those to whom he owes the Pontificate, and that he should reward them suitably. Alexander VI certainly pursued such a course, and the greatest profit from his election was derived by the Cardinal Sforza who—as Roderigo himself admitted—had certainly exerted all his influence with the Sacred College to gain him the Pontificate. Alexander gave him the vacated Vice-Chancellorship (for which, when all is said, Ascanio Sforza was excellently fitted), his vacated palace on Banchi Vecchi, the town of Nepi, and the bishopric of Agri.
To Orsini he gave the Church of Carthage and the legation of Marche; to Colonna the Abbey of Subiaco; to Savelli the legation of Perugia (from which he afterwards recalled him, not finding him suited to so difficult a charge); to Raffaele Riario went Spanish benefices worth four thousand ducats yearly; to Sanseverino Roderigo's house in Milan, whilst he consented that Sanseverino's nephew—known as Fracassa—should enter the service of the Church with a condotta of a hundred men-at-arms and a stipend of thirteen thousand ducats yearly.
Guicciardini says of all this that Ascanio Sforza induced many of the cardinals "to that abominable contract, and not only by request and persuasion, but by example; because, corrupt and of an insatiable appetite for riches, he bargained for himself, as the reward of so much turpitude, the Vice-Chancellorships, churches, fortresses [the very plurals betray the frenzy of exaggeration dictated by his malice] and his [Roderigo's] palace in Rome full of furniture of great value."
What possible proof can Guicciardini have—what possible proof can there be—of such a "bargain"? It rests upon purest assumption formed after those properties had changed hands—Ascanio being rewarded by them for his valuable services, and, also—so far as the Vice-Chancellorship was concerned—being suitably preferred. To say that Ascanio received them in consequence of a "bargain" and as the price of his vote and electioneering services is not only an easy thing to say, but it is the obvious thing for any one to say who aims at defaming.
It is surprising that we should find in Guicciardini no mention of the four mule-loads of silver removed before the election from Cardinal Roderigo's palace on Banchi Vecchi to Cardinal Ascanio's palace in Trastevere. This is generally alleged to have been part of the price of Ascanio's services. Whether it was so, or whether, as has also been urged, it was merely removed to save it from the pillaging by the mob of the palace of the cardinal elected to the Pontificate, the fact is interesting as indicating in either case Cardinal Roderigo's assurance of his election.
M. Yriarte does not hesitate to say: "We know to-day, by the dispatches of Valori, the narrative of Girolamo Porzio, and the Diarium of Burchard, the Master of Ceremonies, each of the stipulations made with the electors whose votes were bought."
Now whilst we do know from Valori and Porzio what benefices Alexander actually conferred, we do not know, nor could they possibly have told us, what stipulations had been made which these benefices were insinuated to satisfy.
Burchard's Diarium might be of more authority on this subject, for Burchard was the Master of Ceremonies at the Vatican; but, unfortunately for the accuracy of M. Yriarte's statement, Burchard is silent on the subject, for the excellent reason that there is no diary for the period under consideration. Burchard's narrative is interrupted on the death of Innocent VIII, on July 12, and not resumed until December 2, when it is not retrospective.
There is, it is true, the Diarium of Infessura. But that is of no more authority on such a matter than the narrative of Porzio or the letters of Valori.
Lord Acton—in his essay upon this subject—has not been content to rest the imputation of simony upon such grounds as satisfied M. Yriarte. He has realized that the only testimony of any real value in such a case would be the actual evidence of such cardinals as might be willing to bear witness to the attempt to bribe them. And he takes it for granted—as who would not at this time of day, and in view of such positive statements as abound?—that such evidence has been duly collected; thus, he tells us confidently that the charge rests upon the evidence of those cardinals who refused Roderigo's bribes.
That it most certainly does not. If it did there would be an end to the matter, and so much ink would not have been spilled over it; but no single cardinal has left any such evidence as Lord Acton supposes and alleges. It suffices to consider that, according to the only evidences available—the Casanatense Codices(1) and the dispatches of that same Valori(2) whom M. Yriarte so confidently cites, Roderigo Borgia's election was unanimous. Who, then, were these cardinals who refused his bribes? Or are we to suppose that, notwithstanding that refusal—a refusal which we may justifiably suppose to have been a scandalized and righteously indignant one—they still afforded him their votes?
1 "...essendo concordi tutti i cardinali, quasi da contrari voti rivolti tutti in favore di uno solo, crearono lui sommo ponteflce" (Casanatense MSS). See P. Leonetti, Alessandro VI.|
2 "Fu pubblicato il Cardinale Vice-Cancelliere in Sommo Pontefice Alessandro VI(to) nuncupato, el quale dopo una lunga contentione fu creato omnium consensum—ne ii manco un solo voto" (Valori's letter to the Otto di Pratica, August 12, 1492). See Supplement to Appendix in E. Thuasne's edition of Burchard's Diarium.
This charge of simony was levelled with the object of making Alexander VI appear singularly heinous. So much has that object engrossed and blinded those inspired by it, that, of itself, it betrays them. Had their horror been honest, had it sprung from true principles, had it been born of any but a desire to befoul and bespatter at all costs Roderigo Borgia, it is not against him that they would have hurled their denunciations, but against the whole College of Cardinals which took part in the sacrilege and which included three future Popes.(1)
|1 Cardinals Piccolomini, de' Medici, and Giuliano della Rovere.|
Assuming not only that there was simony, but that it was on as wholesale a scale as was alleged, and that for gold—coined or in the form of benefices—Roderigo bought the cardinal's votes, what then? He bought them, true. But they—they sold him their sacred trust, their duty to their God, their priestly honour, their holy vows. For the gold he offered them they bartered these. So much admitted, then surely, in that transaction, those cardinals were the prostitutes! The man who bought so much of them, at least, was on no baser level than were they. Yet invective singles him out for its one object, and so betrays the aforethought malice of its inspiration.
Our quarrel is with that; with that, and with those writers who have taken Alexander's simony for granted—eagerly almost—for the purpose of heaping odium upon him by making him appear a scandalous exception to the prevailing rule.
If, nevertheless, we hold, as we have said, that simony probably did take place, we do so, not so much upon the inconclusive evidence of the fact, as upon the circumstance that it had become almost an established custom to purchase the tiara, and that Roderigo Borgia—since his ambition clearly urged him to the Pontificate—would have been an exception had he refrained.
It may seem that to have disputed so long to conclude by admitting so much is no better than a waste of labour. Not so, we hope. Our aim has been to correct the adjustment of the focus and properly to trim the light in which Roderigo Borgia is to be viewed, to the end that you may see him as he was—neither better nor worse—the creature of his times, of his environment, and of the system in which he was reared and trained. Thus shall you also get a clearer view of his son Cesare, when presently he takes the stage more prominently.
During the seventeen days of the interregnum between the death of Innocent and the election of Alexander the wild scenes usual to such seasons had been taking place in Rome; and, notwithstanding the Cardinal-Chamberlain's prompt action in seizing the gates and bridges, and the patrols' endeavours to maintain order, crime was unfettered to such an extent that some 220 murders are computed to have taken place—giving the terrible average of thirteen a day.
It was a very natural epilogue to the lax rule of the lethargic Innocent. One of the first acts of Alexander's reign was to deal summarily with this lawlessness. He put down violence with a hard hand that knew no mercy. He razed to the ground the house of a murderer caught red-handed, and hanged him above the ruins, and so dealt generally that such order came to prevail as had never before been known in Rome.
Infessura tells us how, in the very month of his election, he appointed inspectors of prisons and four commissioners to administer justice, and that he himself gave audience on Tuesdays and settled disputes, concluding, "et justitiam mirabili modo facere coepit."
He paid all salaries promptly—a striking departure, it would seem, from what had been usual under his predecessor—and the effect of his improved and strenuous legislation was shortly seen in the diminished prices of commodities.
He was crowned Pope on August 6, on the steps of the Basilica of St. Peter, by the Cardinal-Arch-deacon Piccolomini. The ceremony was celebrated with a splendour worthy of the splendid figure that was its centre. Through the eyes of Michele Ferno—despite his admission that he is unable to convey a worthy notion of the spectacle—you may see the gorgeous procession to the Lateran in which Alexander VI showed himself to the applauding Romans; the multitude of richly adorned men, gay and festive; the seven hundred priests and prelates, with their familiars the splendid cavalcade of knights and nobles of Rome; the archers and Turkish horsemen, and the Palatine Guard, with its great halberds and flashing shields; the twelve white horses, with their golden bridles, led by footmen; and then Alexander himself on a snow-white horse, "serene of brow and of majestic dignity," his hand uplifted—the Fisherman's Ring upon its forefinger—to bless the kneeling populace. The chronicler flings into superlatives when he comes to praise the personal beauty of the man, his physical vigour and health, "which go to increase the veneration shown him."
Thus in the brilliant sunshine of that Italian August, amid the plaudits of assembled Rome, amid banners and flowers, music and incense, the flash of steel and the blaze of decorations with the Borgian arms everywhere displayed—or, a grazing steer gules—Alexander VI passes to the Vatican, the aim and summit of his vast ambition.
Friends and enemies alike have sung the splendours of that coronation, and the Bull device—as you can imagine—plays a considerable part in those verses, be they paeans or lampoons. The former allude to Borgia as "the Bull," from the majesty and might of the animal that was displayed upon their shield; the latter render it the subject of much scurrilous invective, to which it lends itself as readily. And thereafter, in almost all verse of their epoch, writers ever say "the Bull" when they mean the Borgia.
Chapter IV. Borgia Alliances
At the time of his father's election to the throne of St. Peter, Cesare Borgia—now in his eighteenth year—was still at the University of Pisa.
It is a little odd, considering the great affection for his children which was ever one of Roderigo's most conspicuous characteristics, that he should not have ordered Cesare to Rome at once, to share in the general rejoicings. It has been suggested that Alexander wished to avoid giving scandal by the presence of his children at such a time. But that again looks like a judgement formed upon modern standards, for by the standards of his day one cannot conceive that he would have given very much scandal; moreover, it is to be remembered that Lucrezia and Giuffredo, at least, were in Rome at the time of their father's election to the tiara.
However that may be, Cesare did not quit Pisa until August of that year 1492, and even then not for Rome, but for Spoleto—in accordance with his father's orders—where he took up his residence in the castle. Thence he wrote a letter to Piero de' Medici, which is interesting, firstly, as showing the good relations prevailing between them; secondly, as refuting a story in Guicciardini, wherewith that historian, ready, as ever, to belittle the Borgias, attempts to show him cutting a poor figure. He tells us(1) that, whilst at Pisa, Cesare had occasion to make an appeal to Piero de' Medici in the matter of a criminal case connected with one of his familiars; that he went to Florence and waited several hours in vain for an audience, whereafter he returned to Pisa "accounting himself despised and not a little injured."
|1 Istoria d'Italia, tom. V.|
No doubt Guicciardini is as mistaken in this as in many another matter, for the letter written from Spoleto expresses his regret that, on the occasion of his passage through Florence (on his way from Pisa to Spoleto), he should not have had time to visit Piero, particularly as there was a matter upon which he desired urgently to consult with him. He recommends to Piero his faithful Remolino, whose ambition it is to occupy the chair of canon law at the University of Pisa, and begs his good offices in that connection. That Juan Vera, Cesare's preceptor and the bearer of that letter, took back a favourable answer is highly probable, for in Fabroni's Hist. Acad. Pisan we find this Remolino duly established as a lecturer on canon law in the following year.
The letter is further of interest as showing Cesare's full consciousness of the importance of his position; its tone and its signature—"your brother, Cesar de Borgia, Elect of Valencia"—being such as were usual between princes.
The two chief aims of Alexander VI, from the very beginning of his pontificate, were to re-establish the power of the Church, which was then the most despised of the temporal States of Italy, and to promote the fortune of his children. Already on the very day of his coronation he conferred upon Cesare the bishopric of Valencia, whose revenues amounted to an annual yield of sixteen thousand ducats. For the time being, however, he had his hands very full of other matters, and it behoved him to move slowly at first and with the extremest caution.
The clouds of war were lowering heavily over Italy when Alexander came to St. Peter's throne, and it was his first concern to find for himself a safe position against the coming of the threatening storm. The chief menace to the general peace was Lodovico Maria Sforza, surnamed Il Moro,(1) who sat as regent for his nephew, Duke Gian Galeazzo, upon the throne of Milan. That regency he had usurped from Gian Galeazzo's mother, and he was now in a fair way to usurp the throne itself. He kept his nephew virtually a prisoner in the Castle of Pavia, together with his young bride, Isabella of Aragon, who had been sent thither by her father, the Duke of Calabria, heir to the crown of Naples.
|1 Touching Lodovico Maria's by-name of "Il Moro"—which is generally translated as "The Moor," whilst in one writer we have found him mentioned as "Black Lodovico," Benedetto Varchi's explanation (in his Storia Fiorentina) may be of interest. He tells us that Lodovico was not so called on account of any swarthiness of complexion, as is supposed by Guicciardini, because, on the contrary, he was fair; nor yet on account of his device, showing a Moorish squire, who, brush in hand, dusts the gown of a young woman in regal apparel, with the motto, "Per Italia nettar d'ogni bruttura"; this device of the Moor, he tells us, was a rébus or pun upon the word "moro," which also means the mulberry, and was so meant by Lodovico. The mulberry burgeons at the end of winter and blossoms very early. Thus Lodovico symbolized his own prudence and readiness to seize opportunity betimes.|
Gian Galeazzo thus bestowed, Lodovico Maria went calmly about the business of governing, like one who did not mean to relinquish the regency save to become duke. But it happened that a boy was born to the young prisoners at Pavia, whereupon, spurred perhaps into activity by this parenthood and stimulated by the thought that they had now a son's interests to fight for as well as their own, they made appeal to King Ferrante of Naples that he should enforce his grandson-in-law's rights to the throne of Milan. King Ferrante could desire nothing better, for if his grandchild and her husband reigned in Milan, and by his favour and contriving, great should be his influence in the North of Italy. Therefore he stood their friend.
Matters were at this stage when Alexander VI ascended the papal throne.
This election gave Ferrante pause, for, as we have seen, he had schemed for a Pope devoted to his interests, who would stand by him in the coming strife, and his schemes were rudely shaken now. Whilst he was still cogitating the matter of his next move, the wretched Francesco Cibo (Pope Innocent's son) offered to sell the papal fiefs of Cervetri and Anguillara, which had been made over to him by his father, to Gentile Orsini—the head of his powerful house. And Gentile purchased them under a contract signed at the palace of Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, on September 3, for the sum of forty thousand ducats advanced him by Ferrante.
Alexander protested strongly against this illegal transaction, for Cervetri and Anguillara were fiefs of the Church, and neither had Cibo the right to sell nor Orsini the right to buy them. Moreover, that they should be in the hands of a powerful vassal of Naples such as Orsini suited the Pope as little as it suited Lodovico Maria Sforza. It stirred the latter into taking measures against the move he feared Ferrante might make to enforce Gian Galeazzo's claims.
Lodovico Maria went about this with that sly shrewdness so characteristic of him, so well symbolized by his mulberry badge—a humorous shrewdness almost, which makes him one of the most delightful rogues in history, just as he was one of the most debonair and cultured. He may indeed be considered as one of the types of the subtle, crafty, selfish politician that was the ideal of Macchiavelli.
You see him, then, effacing the tight-lipped, cunning smile from his comely face and pointing out to Venice with a grave, sober countenance how little it can suit her to have the Neapolitan Spaniards ruffling it in the north, as must happen if Ferrante has his way with Milan. The truth of this was so obvious that Venice made haste to enter into a league with him, and into the camp thus formed came, for their own sakes, Mantua, Ferrara, and Siena. The league was powerful enough thus to cause Ferrante to think twice before he took up the cudgels for Gian Galeazzo. If Lodovico could include the Pope, the league's might would be so paralysing that Ferrante would cease to think at all about his grandchildren's affairs.
Foreseeing this, Ferrante had perforce to dry the tears Guicciardini has it that he shed, and, replacing them by a smile, servile and obsequious, repaired, hat in hand, to protest his friendship for the Pope's Holiness.
And so, in December of 1492, came the Prince of Altamura—Ferrante's second son—to Rome to lay his father's homage at the feet of the Pontiff, and at the same time to implore his Holiness to refuse the King of Hungary the dispensation the latter was asking of the Holy See, to enable him to repudiate his wife, Donna Leonora—Ferrante's daughter.
Altamura was received in Rome and sumptuously entertained by the Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere. This cardinal had failed, as we have seen, to gain the Pontificate for himself, despite the French influence by which he had been supported. Writhing under his defeat, and hating the man who had defeated him with a hatred so bitter and venomous that the imprint of it is on almost every act of his life—from the facilities he afforded for the assignment to Orsini of the papal fiefs that Cibo had to sell—he was already scheming for the overthrow of Alexander. To this end he needed great and powerful friends; to this end had he lent himself to the Cibo-Orsini transaction; to this end did he manifest himself the warm well-wisher of Ferrante; to this end did he cordially welcome the latter's son and envoy, and promise his support to Ferrante's petition.
But the Holy Father was by no means as anxious for the friendship of the old wolf of Naples. The matter of the King of Hungary was one that required consideration, and, meanwhile, he may have hinted slyly there was between Naples and Rome a little matter of two fiefs to be adjusted.
Thus his most shrewd Holiness thought to gain a little time, and in that time he might look about him and consider what alliances would suit his interests best.
At this Cardinal della Rovere, in high dudgeon, flung out of Rome and away to his Castle of Ostia to fortify—to wield the sword of St. Paul, since he had missed the keys of St. Peter. It was a shrewd move. He foresaw the injured dignity of the Spanish House of Naples, and Ferrante's wrath at the Pope's light treatment of him and apathy for his interests; and the cardinal knew that with Ferrante were allied the mighty houses of Colonna and Orsini. Thus, by his political divorcement from the Holy See, he flung in his lot with theirs, hoping for red war and the deposition of Alexander.
But surely he forgot Milan and Lodovico Maria, whose brother, Ascanio Sforza, was at the Pope's elbow, the energetic friend to whose efforts Alexander owed the tiara, and who was therefore hated by della Rovere perhaps as bitterly as Alexander himself.
Alexander went calmly about the business of fortifying the Vatican and the Castle of Sant' Angelo, and gathering mercenaries into his service. And, lest any attempt should be made upon his life when he went abroad, he did so with an imposing escort of men-at-arms; which so vexed and fretted King Ferrante, that he did not omit to comment upon it in scathing terms in a letter that presently we shall consider. For the rest, the Pope's Holiness preserved an unruffled front in the face of the hostile preparations that were toward in the kingdom of Naples, knowing that he could check them when he chose to lift his finger and beckon the Sforza into alliance. And presently Naples heard an alarming rumour that Lodovico Maria had, in fact, made overtures to the Pope, and that the Pope had met these advances to the extent of betrothing his daughter Lucrezia to Giovanni Sforza, Lord of Pesaro and cousin to Lodovico.
So back to the Vatican went the Neapolitan envoys with definite proposals of an alliance to be cemented by a marriage between Giuffredo Borgia—aged twelve—and Ferrante's granddaughter Lucrezia of Aragon. The Pope, with his plans but half-matured as yet, temporized, was evasive, and continued to arm and to recruit. At last, his arrangements completed, he abruptly broke off his negotiations with Naples, and on April 25, 1493, publicly proclaimed that he had joined the northern league.
The fury of Ferrante, who realized that he had been played with and outwitted, was expressed in a rabid letter to his ambassador at the Court of Spain.
"This Pope," he wrote, "leads a life that is the abomination of all, without respect for the seat he occupies. He cares for nothing save to aggrandize his children, by fair means or foul, and this is his sole desire. From the beginning of his Pontificate he has done nothing but disturb the peace, molesting everybody, now in one way, now in another. Rome is more full of soldiers than of priests, and when he goes abroad it is with troops of men-at-arms about him, with helmets on their heads and lances by their sides, all his thoughts being given to war and to our hurt; nor does he overlook anything that can be used against us, not only inciting in France the Prince of Salerno and other of our rebels, but befriending every bad character in Italy whom he deems our enemy; and in all things he proceeds with the fraud and dissimulation natural to him, and to make money he sells even the smallest office and preferment."
Thus Ferrante of the man whose friendship he had been seeking some six weeks earlier, and who had rejected his advances. It is as well to know the precise conditions under which that letter was indited, for extracts from it are too often quoted against Alexander. These conditions known, and known the man who wrote it, the letter's proper value is at once apparent.
It was Ferrante's hope, and no doubt the hope of Giuliano della Rovere, that the King of Spain would lend an ear to these grievances, and move in the matter of attempting to depose Alexander; but an event more important than any other in the whole history of Spain—or of Europe, for that matter—was at the moment claiming its full attention, and the trifling affairs of the King of Naples—trifling by comparison—went all unheeded. For this was the year in which the Genoese navigator, Cristofero Colombo, returned to tell of the new and marvellous world he had discovered beyond the seas, and Ferdinand and Isabella were addressing an appeal to the Pope—as Ruler of the World—to establish them in the possession of the discovered continent. Whereupon the Pope drew a line from pole to pole, and granted to Spain the dominion over all lands discovered, or to be discovered, one hundred miles westward of Cape Verde and the Azores.
And thus Ferrante's appeal to Spain against a Pope who showed himself so ready and complaisant a friend to Spain went unheeded by Ferdinand and Isabella. And what time the Neapolitan nursed his bitter chagrin, the alliance between Rome and Milan was consolidated by the marriage of Lucrezia Borgia to Giovanni Sforza, the comely weakling who was Lord of Pesaro and Cotignola.
Lucrezia Borgia's story has been told elsewhere; her rehabilitation has been undertaken by a great historian(1) among others, and all serious-minded students must be satisfied at this time of day that the Lucrezia Borgia of Hugo's tragedy is a creature of fiction, bearing little or no resemblance to the poor lady who was a pawn in the ambitious game played by her father and her brother Cesare, before she withdrew to Ferrara, where eventually she died in child-birth in her forty-first year. We know that she left the duke, her husband, stricken with a grief that was shared by his subjects, to whom she had so deeply endeared herself by her exemplary life and loving rule.(2)
1 Ferdinand Gregorovius, Lucrezia Borgia.|
2 See, inter alia, the letters of Alfonso d'Este and Giovanni Gonzaga on her death, quoted in Gregorovius, Lucrezia Borgia.
Later, in the course of this narrative, where she crosses the story of her brother Cesare, it will be necessary to deal with some of the revolting calumnies concerning her that were circulated, and, in passing, shall be revealed the sources of the malice that inspired them and the nature of the evidence upon which they rest, to the eternal shame alike of those pretended writers of fact and those avowed writers of fiction who, as dead to scruples as to chivalry, have not hesitated to make her serve their base melodramatic or pornographic ends.
At present, however, there is no more than her first marriage to be recorded. She was fourteen years of age at the time, and, like all the Borgias, of a rare personal beauty, with blue eyes and golden hair. Twice before, already, had she entered into betrothal contracts with gentlemen of her father's native Spain; but his ever-soaring ambition had caused him successively to cancel both those unfulfilled contracts. A husband worthy of the daughter of Cardinal Roderigo Borgia was no longer worthy of the daughter of Pope Alexander VI, for whom an alliance must now be sought among Italy's princely houses. And so she came to be bestowed upon the Lord of Pesaro, with a dowry of 30,000 ducats.
Her nuptials were celebrated in the Vatican on June 12, 1493, in the splendid manner worthy of the rank of all concerned and of the reputation for magnificence which the Borgia had acquired. That night the Pope gave a supper-party, at which were present some ten cardinals and a number of ladies and gentlemen of Rome, besides the ambassadors of Ferrara, Venice, Milan, and France. There was vocal and instrumental music, a comedy was performed, the ladies danced, and they appear to have carried their gaieties well into the dawn. Hardly the sort of scene for which the Vatican was the ideal stage. Yet at the time it should have given little or no scandal. But what a scandal was there not, shortly afterwards, in connection with it, and how that scandal was heaped up later, by stories so revolting of the doings of that night that one is appalled at the minds that conceived them and the credulity that accepted them.
Infessura writes of what he heard, and he writes venomously, as he betrays by the bitter sarcasm with which he refers to the fifty silver cups filled with sweetmeats which the Pope tossed into the laps of ladies present at the earlier part of the celebration. "He did it," says Infessura, "to the greater honour and glory of Almighty God and the Church of Rome." Beyond that he ventures into no great detail, checking himself betimes, however, with a suggested motive for reticence a thousand times worse than any formal accusation. Thus: "Much else is said, of which I do not write, because either it is not true, or, if true, incredible."(1)
|1 "Et multa alia dicta sunt; que hic non scribo, que aut non sunt; vel si sunt, incredibilia" (Infessura, Diarium).|
It is amazing that the veil which Infessura drew with those words should have been pierced—not indeed by the cold light of fact, but by the hot eye of prurient imagination; amazing that he should be quoted at all—he who was not present—considering that we have the testimony of what did take place from the pen of an eye-witness, in a letter from Gianandrea Boccaccio, the ambassador of Ferrara, to his master.
At the end of his letter, which describes the proceedings and the wedding-gifts and their presentation, he tells us how the night was spent. "Afterwards the ladies danced, and, as an interlude, a worthy comedy was performed, with much music and singing, the Pope and all the rest of us being present throughout. What else shall I add? It would make a long letter. The whole night was spent in this manner; let your lordship decide whether well or ill."
Is not that sufficient to stop the foul mouth of inventive slander? What need to suggest happenings unspeakable? Yet it is the fashion to quote the last sentence above from Boccaccio's letter in the original—"totam noctem comsumpsimus; judicet modo Ex(ma.) Dominatio vestra si bene o male"—as though decency forbade its translation; and at once this poisonous reticence does its work, and the imagination—and not only that of the unlettered—is fired, and all manner of abominations are speculatively conceived.
Infessura, being absent, says that the comedies performed were licentious ("lascive"). But what comedies of that age were not? It was an age which had not yet invented modesty, as we understand it. That Boccaccio, who was present, saw nothing unusual in the comedy—there was only one, according to him—is proved by his description of it as "worthy" ("una degna commedia.")
M. Yriarte on this same subject(1) is not only petty, but grotesque. He chooses to relate the incident from the point of view of Infessura, whom, by the way, he translates with an amazing freedom,(2) and he makes bold to add regarding Gianandrea Boccaccio that: "It must also be said that the ambassador of Ferrara, either because he did not see everything, or because he was less austere than Infessura, was not shocked by the comedies, etc." ("soit qu'il n'ait pas tout vu, soit qu'il ait été moins austère qu'Infessura, n'est pas choqué....")
1 La Vie de César Borgia.|
2 Thus in the matter of the fifty silver cups tossed by the Pope into the ladies' laps, "sinum" is the word employed by Infessura—a word which has too loosely been given its general translation of "bosom," ignoring that it equally means "lap" and that "lap" it obviously means in this instance. M. Yriarte, however, goes a step further, and prefers to translate it as "corsage," which at once, and unpleasantly, falsifies the picture; and he adds matter to dot the I's to an extent certainly not warranted even by Infessura.
M. Yriarte, you observe, does not scruple to opine that Boccaccio, who was present, did not see everything; but he has no doubt that Infessura, who was not present, and who wrote from "hearsay," missed nothing.
Alas! Too much of the history of the Borgias has been written in this spirit, and the discrimination in the selection of authorities has ever been with a view to obtaining the more sensational rather than the more truthful narrative.
Although it is known that Cesare came to Rome in the early part of 1493—for his presence there is reported by Gianandrea Boccaccio in March of that year—there is no mention of him at this time in connection with his sister's wedding. Apparently, then, he was not present, although it is impossible to suggest where he might have been at the time.
Boccaccio draws a picture of him in that letter, which is worthy of attention, "On the day before yesterday I found Cesare at home in Trastevere. He was on the point of setting out to go hunting, and entirely in secular habit; that is to say, dressed in silk and armed. Riding together, we talked a while. I am among his most intimate acquaintances. He is man of great talent and of an excellent nature; his manners are those of the son of a great prince; above everything, he is joyous and light-hearted. He is very modest, much superior to, and of a much finer appearance than, his brother the Duke of Gandia, who also is not short of natural gifts. The archbishop never had any inclination for the priesthood. But his benefice yields him over 16,000 ducats."
It may not be amiss—though perhaps no longer very necessary, after what has been written—to say a word at this stage on the social position of bastards in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, to emphasize the fact that no stigma attached to Cesare Borgia or to any other member of his father's family on the score of the illegitimacy of their birth.
It is sufficient to consider the marriages they contracted to perceive that, however shocking the circumstances may appear to modern notions, the circumstance of their father being a Pope not only cannot have been accounted extraordinarily scandalous (if scandalous at all) but, on the contrary, rendered them eligible for alliances even princely.
In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries we see the bastard born of a noble, as noble as his father, displaying his father's arms without debruisement and enjoying his rank and inheritance unchallenged on the score of his birth, even though that inheritance should be a throne—as witness Lucrezia's husband Giovanni, who, though a bastard of the house of Sforza, succeeded, nevertheless, his father in the Tyranny of Pesaro and Cotignola.
Later we shall see this same Lucrezia, her illegitimacy notwithstanding, married into the noble House of Este and seated upon the throne of Ferrara. And before then we shall have seen the bastard Cesare married to a daughter of the royal House of Navarre. Already we have seen the bastard Francesco Cibo take to wife the daughter of the great Lorenzo de' Medici, and we have seen the bastard Girolamo Riario married to Caterina Sforza—a natural daughter of the ducal House of Milan—and we have seen the pair installed in the Tyranny of Imola and Forli. A score of other instances might be added; but these should suffice.
The matter calls for the making of no philosophies, craves no explaining, and, above all, needs no apology. It clears itself. The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries—more just than our own more enlightened times—attributed no shame to the men and women born out of wedlock, saw no reason—as no reason is there, Christian or Pagan—why they should suffer for a condition that was none of their contriving.
To mention it may be of help in visualizing and understanding that direct and forceful epoch, and may even suggest some lenience in considering a Pope's carnal paternity. To those to whom the point of view of the Renaissance does not promptly suggest itself from this plain statement of fact, all unargued as we leave it, we recommend a perusal of Gianpietro de Crescenzi's Il Nobile Romano.
The marriage of Lucrezia Borgia to Giovanni Sforza tightened the relations between the Pope and Milan, as the Pope intended. Meanwhile, however, the crafty and mistrustful Lodovico, having no illusions as to the true values of his allies, and realizing them to be self-seekers like himself, with interests that were fundamentally different from his own, perceived that they were likely only to adhere to him for just so long as it suited their own ends. He bethought him, therefore, of looking about him for other means by which to crush the power of Naples. France was casting longing eyes upon Italy, and it seemed to Lodovico that in France was a ready catspaw. Charles VIII, as the representative of the House of Anjou, had a certain meagre claim upon the throne of Naples; if he could be induced to ride south, lance on thigh, and press that claim there would be an end to the dominion of the House of Aragon, and so an end to Lodovico's fears of a Neapolitan interference with his own occupation of the throne of Milan.
To an ordinary schemer that should have been enough; but as a schemer Lodovico was wholly extraordinary. His plans grew in the maturing, and took in side-issues, until he saw that Naples should be to Charles VIII as the cheese within the mouse-trap. Let his advent into Italy to break the power of Naples be free and open; but, once within, he should find Milan and the northern allies between himself and his retreat, and Lodovico's should it be to bring him to his knees. Thus schemed Lodovico to shiver, first Naples and then France, before hurling the latter back across the Alps. A daring, bold, and yet simple plan of action. And what a power in Italy should not Lodovico derive from its success!
Forthwith he got secretly to work upon it, sending his invitation to Charles to come and make good his claim to Naples, offering the French troops free passage through his territory.(1) And in the character of his invitation he played upon the nature of malformed, ambitious Charles, whose brain was stuffed with romance and chivalric rhodomontades. The conquest of Naples was an easy affair, no more than a step in the glorious enterprise that awaited the French king, for from Naples he could cross to engage the Turk, and win back the Holy Sepulchre, thus becoming a second Charles the Great.
|1 See Corlo, Storia di Milano, and Lodovico's letter to Charles VIII, quoted therein, lib. vii.|
Thus Lodovico Maria the crafty, to dazzle Charles the romantic, and to take the bull of impending invasion by the very horns.
We have seen the failure of the appeal to Spain against the Pope made by the King of Naples. To that failure was now added the tightening of Rome's relations with Milan by the marriage between Lucrezia Borgia and Giovanni Sforza, and Ferrante—rumours of a French invasion, with Naples for its objective being already in the air—realized that nothing remained him but to make another attempt to conciliate the Pope's Holiness. And this time he went about his negotiations in a manner better calculated to serve his ends, since his need was grown more urgent. He sent the Prince of Altamura again to Rome for the ostensible purpose of settling the vexatious matter of Cervetri and Anguillara and making alliance with the Holy Father, whilst behind Altamura was the Neapolitan army ready to move upon Rome should the envoy fail this time.
But on the terms now put forward, Alexander was willing to negotiate, and so a peace was patched up between Naples and the Holy See, the conditions of which were that Orsini should retain the fiefs for his lifetime, but that they should revert to Holy Church on his death, and that he should pay the Church for the life-lease of them the sum of 40,000 ducats, which already he had paid to Francesco Cibo; that the peace should be consolidated by the marriage of the Pope's bastard, Giuffredo, with Sancia of Aragon, the natural daughter of the Duke of Calabria, heir to the throne of Naples, and that she should bring the Principality of Squillace and the County of Coriate as her dowry.
The other condition demanded by Naples—at the suggestion of Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere—was that the Pope should disgrace and dismiss his Vice-Chancellor, Ascanio Sforza, which would have shattered the pontifical relations with Milan. To this, however, the Pope would not agree, but he met Naples in the matter to the extent of consenting to overlook Cardinal della Rovere's defection and receive him back into favour.
On these terms the peace was at last concluded in August of 1493, and immediately afterwards there arrived in Rome the Sieur Peron de Basche, an envoy from the King of France charged with the mission to prevent any alliance between Rome and Naples.
The Frenchman was behind the fair. The Pope took the only course possible under the awkward circumstances, and refused to see the ambasssador. Thereupon the offended King of France held a grand council "in which were proposed and treated many things against the Pope and for the reform of the Church."
These royal outbursts of Christianity, these pious kingly frenzies to unseat an unworthy Pontiff and reform the Church, follow always, you will observe, upon the miscarriage of royal wishes.
In the Consistory of September 1493 the Pope created twelve new cardinals to strengthen the Sacred College in general and his own hand in particular.
Amongst these new creations were the Pope's son Cesare, and Alessandro Farnese, the brother of the beautiful Giulia. The grant of the red hat to the latter appears to have caused some scandal, for, owing to the Pope's relations with his sister, to which it was openly said that Farnese owed the purple, he received the by-name of Cardinal della Gonella—Cardinal of the Petticoat.
That was the first important step in the fortunes of the House of Farnese, which was to give dukes to Parma, and reach the throne of Spain (in the person of Isabella Farnese) before becoming extinct in 1758.
Chapter I. The French Invasion
You see Cesare Borgia, now in his nineteenth year, raised to the purple with the title of Cardinal-Deacon of Santa Maria Nuova—notwithstanding which, however, he continues to be known in preference, and, indeed, to sign himself by the title of his archbishopric, Cardinal of Valencia.
It is hardly necessary to mention that, although already Bishop of Pampeluna and Arch-bishop of Valencia, he had received so far only his first tonsure. He never did receive any ecclesiastical orders beyond the minor and revocable ones.
It was said by Infessura, and has since been repeated by a multitude of historians, upon no better authority than that of this writer on hearsay and inveterate gossip, that, to raise Cesare to the purple, Alexander was forced to prove the legitimacy of that young man's birth, and that to this end he procured false witnesses to swear that he was "the son of Vannozza de' Catanei and her husband, Domenico d'Arignano." Already has this been touched upon in an earlier chapter, here it was shown that Vannozza never had a husband of the name of d'Arignano, and it might reasonably be supposed that this circumstance alone would have sufficed to restrain any serious writer from accepting and repeating Infessura's unauthoritative statement.
But if more they needed, it was ready to their hands in the Bull of Sixtus IV of October 1, 1480—to which also allusion has been made—dispensing Cesare from proving his legitimacy: "Super defectum natalium od ordines et quoecumque beneficia."
Besides that, of what avail would any false swearing have been, considering that Cesare was openly named Borgia, that he was openly acknowledged by his father, and that in the very Bull above mentioned he is stated to be the son of Roderigo Borgia?
This is another instance of the lightness, the recklessness with which Alexander VI has been accused of unseemly and illicit conduct, which it may not be amiss to mention at this stage, since, if not the accusation itself, at least the matter that occasioned it belongs chronologically here.
During the first months of his reign—following in the footsteps of predecessors who had made additions to the Vatican—Alexander set about the building of the Borgia Tower. For its decoration he brought Perugino, Pinturicchio, Volterrano, and Peruzzi to Rome. Concerning Pinturicchio and Alexander, Vasari tells us, in his Vita degli Artefici, that over the door of one of the rooms in the Borgia Tower the artist painted a picture of the Virgin Mary in the likeness of Giulia Farnese (who posed to him as the model) with Alexander kneeling to her in adoration, arrayed in full pontificals.
Such a thing would have been horrible, revolting, sacrilegious. Fortunately it does not even amount to a truth untruly told; and well would it be if all the lies against the Borgias were as easy to refute. True, Pinturicchio did paint Giulia Farnese as the Madonna; true also that he did paint Alexander kneeling in adoration—but not to the Madonna, not in the same picture at all. The Madonna for which Giulia Farnese was the model is over a doorway, as Vasari says. The kneeling Alexander is in another room, and the object of his adoration is the Saviour rising from His tomb.
Yet one reputable writer after another has repeated that lie of Vasari's, and shocked us by the scandalous spectacle of a Pope so debauched and lewd that he kneels in pontificals, in adoration, at the feet of his mistress depicted as the Virgin Mary.
In October of that same year of 1493 Cesare accompanied his father on a visit to Orvieto, a journey which appears to have been partly undertaken in response to an invitation from Giulia Farnese's brother Alessandro.
Orvieto was falling at the time into decay and ruin, no longer the prosperous centre it had been less than a hundred years earlier; but the shrewd eye of Alexander perceived its value as a stronghold, to be used as an outpost of Rome or as a refuge in time of danger, and he proceeded to repair and fortify it. In the following summer Cesare was invested with its governorship, at the request of its inhabitants, who sent an embassy to the Pope with their proposal,—by way, no doubt, of showing their gratitude for his interest in the town.
But in the meantime, towards the end of 1493, King Ferrante's uneasiness at the ever-swelling rumours of the impending French invasion was quickened by the fact that the Pope had not yet sent his son Giuffredo to Naples to marry Donna Sancia, as had been contracted. Ferrante feared the intrigues of Milan with Alexander, and that the latter might be induced, after all, to join the northern league. In a frenzy of apprehension, the old king was at last on the point of going to Milan to throw himself at the feet of Lodovico Sforza, who was now his only hope, when news reached him that his ambassadors had been ordered to leave France.
That death-blow to his hopes was a death-blow to the man himself. Upon receiving the news he was smitten by an apoplexy, and upon January 25, 1494, he departed this life without the consolation of being able to suppose that any of his schemes had done anything to avert the impending ruin of his house.
In spite of all Alexander's intercessions and representations, calculated to induce Charles VIII to abandon his descent upon Italy; in spite, no less, of the counsel he received at home from such far-seeing men as had his ear, the Christian King was now determined upon the expedition and his preparations were well advanced. In the month of March he assumed the title of King of Sicily, and sent formal intimation of it to Alexander, demanding his investiture at the hands of the Pope and offering to pay him a heavy annual tribute. Alexander was thus given to choose between the wrath of France and the wrath of Naples, and—to put the basest construction on his motives—he saw that the peril from an enemy on his very frontiers would be more imminent than that of an enemy beyond the Alps. It is also possible that he chose to be guided by his sense of justice and to do in the matter what he considered right. By whatever motive he was prompted, the result was that he refused to accede to the wishes of the Christian King.
The Consistory which received the French ambassador—Peron de Basche—became the scene of stormy remonstrances, Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, of course, supporting the ambassador and being supported in his act of insubordination by the Vice-Chancellor Ascanio Sforza (who represented his brother Lodovico in the matter) and the Cardinals Sanseverino, Colonna, and Savelli, all attached to French interests. Peron de Basche so far presumed, no doubt emboldened by this support, as to threaten the Pope with deposition if he persisted in his refusal to obey the King of France.
You see once more that kingly attitude, and you shall see it yet again presently and be convinced of its precise worth. In one hand a bribe of heavy annual tribute, in the other a threat of deposition; it was thus they conducted their business with the Holy Father. In this instance his Holiness took the threat, and dismissed the insolent ambassador. Della Rovere, conceiving that in France he had a stouter ally than in Naples, and seeing that he had once more incurred the papal anger by his open enmity, fled back to Ostia; and, not feeling safe there, for the pontifical forces were advancing upon his fortress, took ship to Genoa, and thence to France, to plot the Pope's ruin with the exasperated Charles; and, the charge of simony being the only weapon with which they could attack Alexander's seat upon the papal throne, the charge of simony was once more brandished.
His Holiness took the matter with a becoming and stately calm. He sent his nephew, Giovanni Borgia, to Naples to crown Alfonso, and with him went Giuffredo Borgia to carry out the marriage contract with Alfonso's daughter, and thus strengthen the alliance between Rome and Naples.
By the autumn Charles had crossed the Alps with the most formidable army that had ever been sent out of France, full ninety thousand strong. And so badly was the war conducted by the Neapolitan generals who were sent to hold him in check that the appearance of the French under the very walls of Rome was almost such as to take the Pope by surprise. Charles's advance from the north had been so swift and unhindered that Alexander contemptuously said the French soldiers had come into Italy with wooden spurs and chalk in their hands to mark their lodgings.
Charles had been well received by the intriguing Lodovico Sforza, with whom he visited the Castle of Pavia and the unfortunate Gian Galeazzo, who from long confinement, chagrin, and other causes was now reduced to the sorriest condition. Indeed, on October 22, some days after that visit, the wretched prince expired. Whether or not Lodovico had him poisoned, as has been alleged—a charge, which, after all, rests on no proof, nor even upon the word of any person of reliance—his death most certainly lies at his ambitious uncle's door.
Charles was at Piacenza when the news of Gian Galeazzo's death reached him. Like the good Christian that he accounted himself, he ordered the most solemn and imposing obsequies for the poor youth for whom in life he had done nothing.
Gian Galeazzo left a heart-broken girl-widow and two children to succeed him to the throne he had never been allowed to occupy—the eldest, Francesco Sforza, being a boy of five. Nevertheless, Lodovico was elected Duke of Milan. Not only did he suborn the Parliament of Milan to that end, but he induced the Emperor to confirm him in the title. To this the Emperor consented, seeking to mask the unscrupulous deed by a pitiful sophism. He expounded that the throne of Milan should originally have been Lodovico's, and never Galeazzo Maria's (Gian Galeazzo's father), because the latter was born before Francesco Sforza had become Duke of Milan, whereas Lodovico was born when he already was so.
The obsequies of Gian Galeazzo completed, Charles pushed on. From Florence he issued his manifesto, and although this confined itself to claiming the kingdom of Naples, and said no word of punishing the Pope for his disobedience in crowning Alfonso and being now in alliance with him, it stirred up grave uneasiness at the Vatican.
The Pope's position was becoming extremely difficult; nevertheless, he wore the boldest possible face when he received the ambassadors of France, and on December 9 refused to grant the letters patent of passage through the Pontifical States which the French demanded. Thereupon Charles advanced threateningly upon Rome, and was joined now by those turbulent barons Orsini, Colonna, and Savelli.
Alexander VI has been widely accused of effecting a volte-face at this stage and betraying his Neapolitan allies; but his conduct, properly considered, can hardly amount to that. What concessions he made to France were such as a wise and inadequately supported man must make to an army ninety thousand strong. To be recklessly and quixotically heroic is not within the function of Popes; moreover, Alexander had Rome to think of, for Charles had sent word that, if he were resisted he would leave all in ruins, whereas if a free passage were accorded him he would do no hurt nor suffer any pillage to be done in Rome.
So the Pope did the only thing consistent with prudence: he made a virtue of necessity and gave way where it was utterly impossible for him to resist. He permitted Charles the passage through his territory which Charles was perfectly able to take for himself if refused. There ensued an interchange of compliments between Pope and King, and early in January Charles entered Rome in such warlike panoply as struck terror into the hearts of all beholders. Of that entrance Paolo Giovio has left us an impressive picture.
The vanguard was composed of Swiss and German mercenaries—tall fellows, these professional warriors, superb in their carriage and stepping in time to the beat of their drums; they were dressed in variegated, close-fitting garments that revealed all their athletic symmetry. A fourth of them were armed with long, square-bladed halberts, new to Italy; the remainder trailed their ten-foot pikes, and carried a short sword at their belts, whilst to every thousand of them there were a hundred arquebusiers. After them came the French infantry, without armour save the officers, who wore steel corselets and head-pieces. These, again, were followed by five thousand Gascon arbalisters, each shouldering his arbalest—a phalanx of short, rude fellows, not to be compared with the stately Swiss. Next came the cavalry, advancing in squadrons, glittering and resplendent in their steel casings; 2,500 of these were in full heavy armour, wielding iron maces and the ponderous lances that were usual also in Italy. Every man-at-arms had with him three horses, mounted by a squire and two valets (four men going to the lance in France). Some 5,000 of the cavalry were more lightly armed, in corselets and head-piece only, and they carried long wooden bows in the English fashion; whilst some were armed with pikes, intended to complete the work of the heavier cavalry. These were followed by 200 knights—the very flower of French chivalry for birth and valour—shouldering their heavy iron maces, their armour covered by purple, gold-embroidered surcoats. Behind them came 400 mounted archers forming the bodyguard of the king.
The misshapen monarch himself was the very caricature of a man, hideous and grotesque as a gargoyle. He was short of stature, spindle-shanked, rachitic and malformed, and of his face, with its colossal nose, loose mouth and shallow brow, Giovio says that "it was the ugliest ever seen on man."
Such was the person of the young king—he was twenty-four years of age at the time—who poured his legions into Rome, and all full-armed as if for work of immediate destruction. Seen, as they were, by torchlight and the blaze of kindled bonfires—for night had fallen long before the rearguard had entered the city—they looked vague, fantastic, and terrifying. But the most awe-inspiring sight of all was kept for the end; it consisted of the thirty-six pieces of artillery which brought up the rear, each piece upon a carriage swiftly drawn by horses, and the longest measuring eight feet, weighing six thousand pounds, and discharging an iron ball as big as a man's head.
The king lay in the Palace of San Marco, where a lodging had been prepared for him, and thither on the day after his entrance came Cesare Borgia, with six Cardinals, from the Castle of Sant' Angelo, whither the Pope had withdrawn, to wait upon his Christian Majesty. Charles immediately revealed the full and exigent nature of his demands. He required the Pope's aid and counsel in the conquest of Naples, upon which he was proceeding; that Cesare Borgia be delivered into his hands as a hostage to ensure the Pope's friendliness; and that the Castle of Sant' Angelo be handed over to him to be used as a retreat in case of need or danger. Further, he demanded that Prince Djem—the brother of Sultan Bajazet, who was in the Pope's hands—should be delivered up to him as a further hostage.
This Djem (Gem, or Zizim, as his name is variously spelled) was the second son of Mahomet II, whose throne he had disputed with his brother Bajazet on their father's death. He had raised an army to enforce his claim, and had not lacked for partisans; but he was defeated and put to flight by his brother. For safety he had delivered himself up to the Knights of Rhodes, whom he knew to be Bajazet's implacable enemies. They made him very welcome, for d'Aubusson, the Grand Master of Rhodes, realized that the possession of the prince's person was a very fortunate circumstance for Christianity, since by means of such a hostage the Turk could be kept in submission. Accordingly d'Aubusson had sent him to France, and wrote: "While Djem lives, and is in our hands, Bajazet will never dare to make war upon Christians, who will thus enjoy great peace. Thus is it salutary that Djem should remain in our power." And in France Djem had been well received and treated with every consideration due to a person of his princely rank.
But he appears to have become a subject of contention among the Powers, several of which urged that he could be of greater service to Christianity in their hands than in those of France. Thus, the King of Hungary had demanded him because, being a neighbour of Bajazet's, he was constantly in apprehension of Turkish raids. Ferdinand of Spain had desired him because the possession of him would assist the Catholic King in the expulsion of the Moors. Ferrante of Naples had craved him because he lived in perpetual terror of a Turkish invasion.
In the end he had been sent to Rome, whither he went willingly under the advice of the Knights of Rhodes, whose prisoner he really considered himself. They had discovered that Bajazet was offering enormous bribes to Charles for the surrender of him, and they feared lest Charles should succumb to the temptation.
So Prince Djem had come to Rome in the reign of Pope Innocent VIII, and there he had since remained, Sultan Bajazet making the Pope an annual allowance of forty thousand ducats for his brother's safe custody. He was a willing prisoner, or rather a willing exile, for, far from being kept a prisoner, he was treated at Rome with every consideration, associating freely with those about the Pontifical Court, and being frequently seen abroad in company with the Pope and the Duke of Gandia.
Now Charles was aware that the Pope, in his dread of a French invasion, and seeing vain all his efforts to dissuade Charles from making his descent upon Italy, had appealed for aid to Bajazet. For so doing he has been severely censured, and with some justice, for the picture of the Head of Christianity making appeal to the infidel to assist him against Christians is not an edifying one. Still, it receives some measure of justification when we reflect what was the attitude of these same Christians towards their Head.
Bajazet himself, thrown into a panic at the thought of Djem falling into the hands of a king who proposed to make a raid upon him, answered the Pope begging his Holiness to "have Djem removed from the tribulations of this world, and his soul transported to another, where he might enjoy a greater peace." For this service he offered the Pope 300,000 ducats, to be paid on delivery of the prince's body; and, if the price was high, so was the service required, for it would have ensured Bajazet a peace of mind he could not hope to enjoy while his brother lived.
This letter was intercepted by Giovanni della Rovere, the Prefect of Sinigaglia, who very promptly handed it to his brother, the Cardinal Giuliano. The cardinal, in his turn, laid it before the King of France, who now demanded of the Pope the surrender of the person of this Djem as a further hostage.
Alexander began by rejecting the king's proposals severally and collectively, but Charles pressed him to reconsider his refusal, and so, being again between the sword and the wall, the Pope was compelled to submit. A treaty was drawn up and signed on January 15, the king, on his side, promising to recognize the Pope and to uphold him in all his rights.
On the following day Charles made solemn act of veneration to the Pontiff in Consistory, kissing his ring and his foot, and professing obedience to him as the kings of France, his forbears, had ever done. Words for deeds!
Charles remained twelve days longer in Rome, and set out at last, on January 28, upon the conquest of Naples. First he went solemnly to take his leave of the Pope, and they parted with every outward mark of a mutual esteem which they most certainly cannot have experienced. When Charles knelt for the Pope's blessing, Alexander raised him up and embraced him; whilst Cesare completed the show of friendliness by presenting Charles with six beautiful chargers.
They set out immediately afterwards, the French king taking with him his hostages, neither of which he was destined to retain for long, with Cesare riding in the place of honour on his right.
The army lay at Marino that night, and on the following at Velletri. In the latter city Charles was met by an ambassador of Spain—Antonio da Fonseca. Ferdinand and Isabella were moved at last to befriend their cousins of Naples, whom all else had now abandoned, and at the same time serve their own interests. Their ambassador demanded that Charles should abandon his enterprise and return to France, or else be prepared for war with Spain.
It is eminently probable that Cesare had knowledge of this ultimatum to Charles, and that his knowledge influenced his conduct. However that may be, he slipped out of Velletri in the dead of that same night disguised as a groom. Half a mile out of the town, Francesco del Sacco, an officer of the Podestá of Velletri, awaited him with a horse, and on this he sped back to Rome, where he arrived on the night of the 30th. He went straight to the house of one Antonio Flores, an auditor of the Tribunal of the Ruota and a person of his confidence, who through his influence and protection was destined to rise to the eminence of the archbishopric of Avignon and Papal Nuncio to the Court of France.
Cesare remained at Flores's house, sending word to the Pope of his presence, but not attempting to approach the Vatican. On the following day he withdrew to the stronghold of Spoleto.
Meanwhile Rome was thrown into a panic by the young cardinal's action and the dread of reprisals on the part of France. The quaking municipality sent representatives to Charles to assure him that Rome had had nothing to do with this breach of the treaty, and to implore him not to visit it upon the city. The king replied by a special embassy to the Pope, and there apparently dropped the matter, for a few days later Cesare reappeared at the Vatican.
Charles, meanwhile, despite the threats of Spain, pushed on to accomplish his easy conquest.
King Alfonso had already fled the kingdom (January 25), abdicating in favour of his brother Federigo. His avowed object was to withdraw to Sicily, retire from the world, and do penance for his sins, for which no doubt there was ample occasion. The real spur was probably—as opined by Commines—cowardice; for, says that Frenchman, "Jamais homme cruel ne fut hardi."
Federigo's defence of the realm consigned to him was not conspicuous, for the French entered Naples almost without striking a blow within twenty days of their departure from Rome.
Scarcely had Charles laid aside his armour when death robbed him of the second hostage he had brought from the Vatican. On February 25, after a week's illness, Prince Djem died of dysentery at the Castle of Capua, whither Charles had sent him.
Rumours that he had been poisoned by the Pope arose almost at once; but, considering that twenty-eight days had elapsed since his parting from Alexander, it was, with the best intentions in the world, rather difficult to make that poisoning credible, until the bright notion was conceived, and made public, that the poison used was a "white powder" of unknown components, which did its work slowly, and killed the victim some time after it had been administered. Thus, by a bold and brazen invention, an impossible falsehood was made to wear a possible aspect.
And in that you have most probably the origin of the famous secret poison of the Borgias. Having been invented to fit the alleged poisoning of Prince Djem, which it was desired to fasten upon the Pope by hook or by crook, it was found altogether too valuable an invention not to be used again. By means of it, it became possible to lay almost any death in the world at the door of Alexander.
Before proceeding to inquire further into this particular case, let us here and now say that, just as to-day there is no inorganic toxin known to science that will either lie fallow for weeks in the human system, suddenly to become active and slay, or yet to kill by slow degrees involving some weeks in the process, so none was known in the Borgian or any other era. Science indeed will tell you that the very notion of any such poison is flagrantly absurd, and that such a toxic action is against all the laws of nature.
But a scientific disquisition is unnecessary. For our present needs arguments of common sense should abundantly suffice. This poison—this white powder—was said to be a secret of the Borgias. If that is so, by what Borgia was the secret of its existence ever divulged? Or, if it never was divulged, how comes it to be known that a poison so secret, and working at such distances of time, was ever wielded by them?
The very nature of its alleged action was such as utterly to conceal the hand that had administered it; yet here, on the first recorded occasion of its alleged use, it was more or less common knowledge if Giovio and Guicciardini are to be believed!
Sagredo(1) says that Djem died at Terracina three days after having been consigned to Charles VIII, of poison administered by Alexander, to whom Bajazet had promised a large sum of money for the deed. The same is practically Giovio's statement, save that Giovio causes him to die at a later date and at Gaeta; Guicciardini and Corio tell a similar story, but inform us that he died in Naples.
|1 In Mem. Storiche dei Monarchi Ottomani.|
It is entirely upon the authority of these four writers that the Pope is charged with having poisoned Djem, and it is noteworthy that in the four narratives we find different dates and three different places given as the date and place of the Turk's death, and more noteworthy still that in not one instance of these four is date or place correctly stated.
Now the place where Djem died, and the date of his death, were public facts about which there was no mystery; they were to be ascertained—as they are still—by any painstaking examiner. His poisoning, on the other hand, was admittedly a secret matter, the truth of which it was impossible to ascertain with utter and complete finality. Yet of this poisoning they know all the secrets, these four nimble writers who cannot correctly tell us where or when the man died!
We will turn from the fictions they have left us—which, alas! have but too often been preferred by subsequent writers to the true facts which lay just as ready to their hands, but of course were less sensational—and we will consider instead the evidence of those contemporaries who do, at least, know the time and place of Djem's decease.
If any living man might have known of a secret poison of the Borgias at this stage, that man was Burchard the Caeremoniarius, and, had he known of it, not for a moment would he have been silent on the point. Yet not a word of this secret poison shall you find in his diaries, and concerning the death of Djem he records that "on February 25 died at the Castle of Capua the said Djem, through meat or drink that disagreed with him."
Panvinio, who, being a Neapolitan, was not likely to be any too friendly to the Pope—as, indeed, he proves again and again—tells us positively that Djem died of dysentry at Capua.(1)
|1 Vitis Pontif. Rom.|
Sanuto, writing to the Council of Ten, says that Djem took ill at Capua of a catarrh, which "descended to his stomach"; and that so he died.
And now mark Sanuto's reasoning upon his death, which is the very reasoning we should ourselves employ finally to dispose of this chatter of poisoning, did we not find it awaiting quotation, more authoritative therefore than it could be from us, and utterly irrefutable and conclusive in its logic. "This death is very harmful to the King of France, to all Italy, and chiefly to the Pope, who is thereby deprived of 40,000 ducats yearly, which was paid him by his [Djem's] brother for his custody. And the king showed himself greatly grieved by this death, and it was suspected that the Pope had poisoned him, which, however, was not to be believed, as it would have been to his own loss."
Just so—to his own infinite loss, not only of the 40,000 ducats yearly, but of the hold which the custody of Djem gave him upon the Turks.
The reason assigned by those who charged Alexander with this crime was the bribe of 300,000 ducats offered by Bajezet in the intercepted letter. The offer—which, incidentally, had never reached the Pope—was instantly taken as proof of its acceptance—a singular case of making cause follow upon effect, a method all too prevalent with the Borgian chroniclers. Moreover, they entirely overlooked the circumstance that, for Djem's death in the hands of France, the Pope could make no claim upon Bajazet.
Finally—though the danger be incurred of becoming tedious upon this point—they also forgot that, years before, Bajazet had offered such bribes to Charles for the life of Djem as had caused the Knights of Rhodes to remove the Turk from French keeping. Upon that circumstance they might, had it sorted with their inclinations, have set up a stronger case of poisoning against Charles than against the Pope, and they would not have been put to the necessity of inventing a toxin that never had place in any earthly pharmacopoeia.
It is not, by this, suggested that there is any shadow of a case against Charles. Djem died a perfectly natural death, as is established by the only authorities competent to speak upon the matter, and his death was against the interests of everybody save his brother Bajazet; and against nobody's so much as the Pope's.
Chapter II. The Pope and the Supernatural
By the middle of March of that year 1495 the conquest of Naples was a thoroughly accomplished fact, and the French rested upon their victory, took their ease, and made merry in the capital of the vanquished kingdom.
But in the north Lodovico Sforza-now Duke of Milan de facto, as we have seen—set about the second part of the game that was to be played. He had a valuable ally in Venice, which looked none too favourably on the French and was fully disposed to gather its forces against the common foe. The Council of Ten sent their ambassador, Zorzi, to the Pope to propose an alliance.
News reached Charles in Naples of the league that was being formed. He laughed at it, and the matter was made the subject of ridicule in some of the comedies that were being performed for the amusement of his Court. Meanwhile, the intrigue against him went forward; on March 26 his Holiness sent the Golden Rose to the Doge, and on Palm Sunday the league was solemnly proclaimed in St. Peter's. Its terms were vague; there was nothing in it that was directly menacing to Charles; it was simply declared to have been formed for the common good. But in the north the forces were steadily gathering to cut off the retreat of the French, and suddenly Lodovico Sforza threw aside the mask and made an attack upon the French navy at Genoa.
At last Charles awoke to his danger and began to care for his safety. Rapidly he organized the occupation of Naples, and, leaving Montpensier as Viceroy and d'Aubigny as Captain-General, he set out for Rome with his army, intent upon detaching the Pope from the league; for the Pope, being the immediate neighbour of Naples, would be as dangerous as an enemy as he was valuable as an ally to Charles.
He entered Rome on June 1. The Pope, however, was not there to receive him. Alexander had left on May 28 for Orvieto, accompanied by Cesare, the Sacred College, 200 men-at-arms, and 1,000 horse and 3,000 foot, supplied by Venice. At Orvieto, on June 3, the Pontiff received an ambassador from the Emperor, who had joined the league, and on the 4th he refused audience to the ambassador of France, sent to him from Ronciglione, where the King had halted. Charles, insistent, sent again, determined to see the Pope; but Alexander, quite as determined not to see the king, pushed on to Perugia with his escort.
There his Holiness abode until the French and Italians had met on the River Taro and joined battle at Fornovo, of which encounter both sides claimed the victory. If Charles's only object was to win through, then the victory undoubtedly was his, for he certainly succeeded in cutting a way through the Italians who disputed his passage. But he suffered heavily, and left behind him most of his precious artillery, his tents and carriages, and the immense Neapolitan booty he was taking home, with which he had loaded (says Gregorovius) twenty thousand mules. All this fell into the hands of the Italian allies under Gonzaga of Mantua, whilst from Fornovo Charles's retreat was more in the nature of a flight. Thus he won back to France, no whit the better for his expedition, and the only mark of his passage which he left behind him was an obscene ailment, which, with the coming of the French into Italy, first manifested itself in Europe, and which the Italians paid them the questionable compliment of calling "the French disease"—morbo gallico, or il mal francese.
During the Pope's visit to Perugia an incident occurred which is not without importance to students of his character, and of the character left of him by his contemporaries and others.
There lived in Perugia at this time a young nun of the Order of St. Dominic, who walked in the way of St. Catherine of Siena, Colomba da Rieti by name. You will find some marvellous things about her in the Perugian chronicles of Matarazzo, which, for that matter, abound in marvellous things—too marvellous mostly to be true.
When he deals with events happening beyond the walls of his native town Matarazzo, as an historian, is contemptible to a degree second only to that of those who quote him as an authority. When he deals with matters that, so to speak, befell under his very eyes, he is worthy, if not of credit at least of attention, for his "atmosphere" is valuable.
Of this Sister Colomba Matarazzo tells us that she ate not nor drank, save sometimes some jujube fruit, and even these but rarely. "On the day of her coming to Perugia (which happened in 1488), as she was Crossing the Bridge of St. Gianni some young men attempted to lay hands upon her, for she was comely and beautiful; but as they did so, she showed them the jujube fruit which she carried in a white cloth, whereupon they instantly stood bereft of strength and wits."
Next he tells us how she would pass from life for an hour or two, and sometimes for half a day, and her pulse would cease to beat, and she would, seem all dead. And then she would quiver and come to herself again, and prophesy the future, and threaten disaster. And again: "One morning two of her teeth were found to have fallen out, which had happened in fighting with the devil; and, for the many intercessions which she made, and the scandals which she repaired by her prayers, the people came to call her saint."
Notwithstanding all this, and the fact that she lived without nourishment, he tells us that the brothers of St. Francis had little faith in her. Nevertheless, the community built her a very fine monastery, which was richly endowed, and many nuns took the habit of her Order.
Now it happened that whilst at Perugia in his student days, Cesare had witnessed a miracle performed by this poor ecstatic girl; or rather he had arrived on the scene—the Church of St. Catherine of Siena—to find her, with a little naked boy in her lap, the centre of an excited, frenzied crowd, which was proclaiming loudly that the child had been dead and that she had resurrected him. This was a statement which the Prior of the Dominicans did not seem disposed unreservedly to accept, for, when approached with a suggestion that the bells should be rung in honour of the event, he would not admit that he saw any cause to sanction such a course.
In the few years that were sped since then, however, sister Colomba had acquired the great reputation of which Matarazzo tells us, so that, throughout the plain of Tiber, the Dominicans were preaching her fame from convent to convent. In December of 1495 Charles VIII heard of her at Siena, and was stirred by a curiosity which he accounted devotional—the same curiosity that caused one of his gentlemen to entreat Savonarola to perform "just a little miracle" for the King's entertainment. You can picture the gloomy fanatic's reception of that invitation.
The Pope now took the opportunity of his sojourn in Perugia to pay Colomba da Rieti a visit, and there can be no doubt that he did so in a critical spirit. Accompanied by Cesare and some cardinals and gentlemen of his following, he went to the Church of St. Dominic and was conducted to the sister's cell by the Prior—the same who in Cesare's student-days had refused to have the bells rung.
Upon seeing the magnificent figure of the Pontiff filling the doorway of her little chamber, Sister Colomba fell at his feet, and, taking hold of the hem of his gown, she remained prostrate and silent for some moments, when at last she timidly arose. Alexander set her some questions concerning the Divine Mysteries. These she answered readily at first, but, as his questions grew, she faltered, became embarrassed, and fell silent, standing before him white and trembling, no doubt a very piteous figure. The Pope, not liking this, turned to the Prior to demand an explanation, and admonished him sternly: "Caveto, Pater, quia ego Papa sum!"
This had the effect of throwing the Prior into confusion, and he set himself to explain that she was in reality very wonderful, that he himself had not at first believed in her, but that he had seen so much that he had been converted. At this stage Cesare came to his aid, bearing witness, as he could, that he himself had seen the Prior discredit her when others were already hailing her as a saint, wherefore, if he now was convinced, he must have had very good evidence to convince him. We can imagine the Prior's gratitude to the young cardinal for that timely word when he saw himself in danger perhaps of being called to account for fostering and abetting an imposture.
What was Alexander's opinion of her in the end we do not know; but we do know that he was not readily credulous. When, for instance, he heard that the stigmata were alleged to have appeared upon the body of Lucia di Narni he did what might be expected of a sceptic of our own times rather than of a churchman of his superstitious age—he sent his physicians to examine her.
That is but one instance of his common-sense attitude towards supernatural manifestations. His cold, calm judgement caused him to seek, by all available and practical means, to discriminate between the true and the spurious in an age in which men, by their credulity, were but too ready to become the prey of any impostor. It argues a breadth of mind altogether beyond the times in which he had his being. Witches and warlocks, who elsewhere—and even in much later ages, and in Protestant as well as Catholic States—were given to the fire, he contemptuously ignored. The unfortunate Moors and Jews, who elsewhere in Europe were being persecuted by the Holy Inquisition and burnt at the stake as an act of faith for the good of their souls and the greater honour and glory of God, found in Alexander a tolerant protector and in Rome a safe shelter.
These circumstances concerning him are not sufficiently known; it is good to know them for their own sake. But, apart from that, they have a great historical value which it is well to consider. It is not to be imagined that such breadth of views could be tolerated in a Pope in the dawn of the sixteenth century. The times were not ripe for it; men did not understand it; and what men do not understand they thirst to explain, and have a way of explaining in their own fashion and according to their own lights.
A Pope who did such things could not be a good Pope, since such things must be abhorrent to God—as men conceived God then.
To understand this is to understand much of the bad feeling against Alexander and his family, for this is the source of much of it. Because he did not burn witches and magicians it was presently said that he was himself a warlock, and that he practised black magic. It was not, perhaps, wanton calumny; it was said in good faith, for it was the only reason the times could think of that should account for his restraint. Because he tolerated Moors and Jews it was presently said by some that he was a Moor, by others that he was a Jew, and by others still that he was both.
What wonder, then, if the rancorous Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere venomously dubbed him Moor and Jew, and the rabid fanatic Savonarola screamed that he was no Pope at all, that he was not a Christian, nor did he believe in any God?
Misunderstood in these matters, he was believed to be an infidel, and no crime was too impossible to be fastened upon the man who was believed to be that in the Italy of the Cinquecento.
Alexander, however, was very far from being an infidel, very far from not being a Christian, very far from not believing in God, as he has left abundant evidence in the Bulls he issued during his pontificate. It is certainly wrong to assume—and this is pointed out by l'Espinois—that a private life which seems to ignore the commandments of the Church must preclude the possibility of a public life devoted to the service of the Church. This is far from being the case. Such a state of things—such a dual personality—is by no means inconsistent with churchmen of the fifteenth, or, for that matter, of the twentieth century.
The whole truth of the matter is contained in a Portuguese rhyme, which may roughly be translated:
|Soundly Father Thomas preaches. Don't do as he does; do as he teaches.|
A debauchee may preach virtue with salutary effect, just as a man may preach hygiene without practising the privations which it entails, or may save you from dyspepsia by pointing out to you what is indigestible without himself abstaining from it.
Such was the case of Alexander VI, as we are justified in concluding from the evidence that remains.
Let us consider the apostolic zeal revealed by his Bull granting America to Spain. This was practically conceded—as the very terms of it will show—on condition that Spain should employ the dominion accorded her over the New World for the purpose of propagating the Christian faith and the conversion and baptism of the heathen. This is strictly enjoined, and emphasized by the command that Spain shall send out God-fearing men who are learned in religion and capable of teaching it to the people of the newly discovered lands.
Thus Alexander invented the missionary.
To King Manuel the Fortunate (of Portugal), who sought his authority for the conquest of Africa, he similarly enjoined that he should contrive that the name of the Saviour be adored there, and the Catholic faith spread and honoured, to the end that the king "might win eternal life and the blessing of the Holy See."
To the soldiers going upon this expedition his Holiness granted the same indulgences as to those who fought in the Holy Land, and he aided the kings of Spain and Portugal in this propagation of Christianity out of the coffers of the Church.
He sent to America a dozen of the children of St. Francis, as apostles to preach the Faith, and he invested them with the amplest powers.
He prosecuted with stern rigour the heretics of Bohemia, who were obscenely insulting Church and Sacraments, and he proceeded similarly against the "Picards" and "Vaudois." Against the Lombard demoniacs, who had grown bold, were banding themselves together and doing great evil to property, to life, and to religion, Alexander raised his mighty arm.
Then there is his Bull of June 1, 1501, against those who already were turning to evil purposes the newly discovered printing-press. In this he inveighed against the printing of matter prejudicial to healthy doctrine, to good manners, and, above all, to the Catholic Faith or anything that should give scandal to the faithful. He threatened the printers of impious works with excommunication should they persist, and enlisted secular weapons to punish them in a temporal as well as a spiritual manner. He ordered the preparation of indexes of all works containing anything hurtful to religion, and pronounced a ban of excommunication against all who should peruse the books so indexed.
Thus Alexander invented the Index Expurgatorius.
There is abundant evidence that he was a fervid celebrant, and of his extreme devotion to the Blessed Virgin—in whose honour he revived the ringing of the Angelus Bell—shall be considered later.
Whatever his private life, it is idle to seek to show that his public career was other than devoted to the upholding of the dignity and honour of the Church.
Chapter III. The Roman Barons
Having driven Charles VIII out of Italy, it still remained for the allies to remove all traces of his passage from Naples and to restore the rule of the House of Aragon. In this they had the aid of Ferdinand and Isabella, who sent an army under the command of that distinguished soldier Gonzalo de Cordoba, known in his day as the Great Captain.
He landed in Calabria in the spring of 1496, and war broke out afresh through that already sorely devastated land. The Spaniards were joined by the allied forces of Venice and the Church under the condotta of the Marquis Gonzaga of Mantua, the leader of the Italians at Fornovo.
Lodovico had detached himself from the league, and again made terms with France for his own safety's sake. But his cousin, Giovanni Sforza, Tyrant of Pesaro—the husband of Lucrezia Borgia—continued in the pontifical army at the head of a condotta of 600 lances. Another command in the same ranks was one of 700 lances under the youthful Giuffredo Borgia, now Prince of Squillace and the husband of Doña Sancia of Aragon, a lady of exceedingly loose morals, who had brought to Rome the habits acquired in the most licentious Court of that licentious age.
The French lost Naples even more easily than they had conquered it, and by July 7 Ferdinand II was able to reenter his capital and reascend his throne. D'Aubigny, the French general, withdrew to France, whilst Montpensier, the Viceroy, retired to Pozzuoli, where he died in the following year.
Nothing could better have suited the purposes of Alexander than the state of things which now prevailed, affording him, as it did, the means to break the power of the insolent Roman barons, who already had so vexed and troubled him. So in the Consistory of June 1 he published a Bull whereby Gentile Virginio Orsini, Giangiordano Orsini, and his bastard Paolo Orsini and Bartolomeo d'Alviano, were declared outlawed for having borne arms with France against the Church, and their possessions were confiscated to the State. This decree was to be enforced by the sword, and, for the purposes of the impending war, the Duke of Gandia was recalled to Rome. He arrived early in August, having left at Gandia his wife Maria Enriquez, a niece of the Royal House of Spain. It was Cesare Borgia who took the initiative in the pomp with which his brother was received in Rome, riding out at the head of the entire Pontifical Court to meet and welcome the young duke.
In addition to being Duke of Gandia, Giovanni Borgia was already Duke of Sessa and Prince of Teano, which further dignities had been conferred upon him on the occasion of his brother Giuffredo's marriage to Donna Sancia. To these the Pope now added the governorship of Viterbo and of the Patrimony of St. Peter, dispossessing Cardinal Farnese of the latter office to bestow it upon this well-beloved son.
In Venice it was being related, a few months later,—in October—that Gandia had brought a woman from Spain for his father, and that the latter had taken her to live with him. The story is given in Sanuto, and of course has been unearthed and served up by most historians and essayists. It cannot positively be said that it is untrue; but it can be said that it is unconfirmed. There is, for instance, no word of it in Burchard's Diarium, and when you consider how ready a chronicler of scandalous matter was this Master of Ceremonies, you will no doubt conclude that, if any foundation there had been for that Venetian story, Burchard would never have been silent on the subject.
The Pope had taken into his pay that distinguished condottiero, Duke Guidobaldo of Urbino, who later was to feel the relentless might of Cesare. To Guidobaldo's command was now entrusted the punitive expedition against the Orsini, and with him was to go the Duke of Gandia, ostensibly to share the leadership, in reality that, under so able a master, he might serve his apprenticeship to the trade of arms. So on October 25 Giovanni Borgia was very solemnly created Gonfalonier of the Church and Captain-General of the pontifical troops. On the same day the three standards were blessed in St. Peter's—one being the Papal Gonfalon bearing the arms of the Church and the other two the personal banners of Guidobaldo and Gandia. The two condottieri attended the ceremony, arrayed in full armour, and received the white truncheons that were the emblems of their command.
On the following day the army set out, accompanied by the Cardinal de Luna as papal legate a latere, and within a month ten Orsini strongholds had surrendered.
So far all had been easy for the papal forces; but now the Orsini rallied in the last three fortresses that remained them—Bracciano, Trevignano, and Anguillara, and their resistance suddenly acquired a stubborn character, particularly that of Bracciano, which was captained by Bartolomeo d'Alviano, a clever, resourceful young soldier who was destined to go far. Thus the campaign, so easily conducted at the outset, received a check which caused it to drag on into the winter. And now the barons received further reinforcements. Vitellozzo Vitelli, the Tyrant of Città di Castello, came to the aid of the Orsini, as did also the turbulent Baglioni of Perugia, the della Rovere in Rome, and all those who were inimical to Alexander VI. On the other hand, however, the barons Colonna and Savelli ranged themselves on the side of the Pope.
Already Trevignano had fallen, and the attack of the pontifical army was concentrated upon Bracciano. Hard pressed, and with all supplies cut off, Bartolomeo d'Alviano was driven to the very verge of surrender, when over the hills came Carlo Orsini, with the men of Vitellozzo Vitelli, to take the papal forces by surprise and put them to utter rout. Guidobaldo was made prisoner, whilst the Duke of Gandia, Fabrizio Colonna, and the papal legate narrowly escaped, and took shelter in Ronciglione, the Pope's son being slightly wounded in the face.
It was a severe and sudden conclusion to a war that had begun under such excellent auspices for the Pontificals. Yet, notwithstanding that defeat, which had left guns and baggage in the hands of the enemy, the Pope was the gainer by the campaign, having won eleven strongholds from the Orsini in exchange for one battle lost.
The barons now prepared to push home their advantage and complete the victory; but the Pope checkmated them by an appeal to Gonzalo de Cordoba, who promptly responded and came with Prospero Colonna to the aid of the Church. He laid siege to Ostia, which was being held for the Cardinal della Rovere, and compelled it to a speedy surrender, thereby bringing the Orsini resistance practically to an end. For the present the might of the barons was broken, and they were forced to pay Alexander the sum of 50,000 ducats to redeem their captured fortresses.
Gonzalo de Cordoba made a triumphal entry into Rome, bringing with him Monaldo da Guerra, the unfortunate defender of Ostia, in chains. He was received with great honour by the Duke of Gandia, accompanied by his brother-in-law, Giovanni Sforza, and they escorted him to the Vatican, where the Pope awaited him.
This was but one of the many occasions just then on which Giovanni Sforza was conspicuous in public in close association with his father-in-law, the Pope. Burchard mentions his presence at the blessing of the candles on the Feast of the Purification, and shows him to us as a candle-bearer standing on the Pope's right hand. Again we see him on Palm Sunday in attendance upon Alexander, he and Gandia standing together on the steps of the pontifical throne in the Sixtine Chapel during the Blessing of the Palms. There and elsewhere Lucrezia's husband is prominently in the public eye during those months of February and March of 1497, and we generally see him sharing, with the Duke of Gandia, the honour of close attendance upon the Pontiff, all of which but serves to render the more marked his sudden disappearance from that scene.
The matter of his abrupt and precipitate flight from Rome is one concerning which it is unlikely that the true and complete facts will ever be revealed. It was public gossip at this time that his marriage with Lucrezia was not a happy one, and that discord marred their life together. Lucrezia's reported grievance upon this subject reads a little vaguely to us now, whatever it may have conveyed at the time. She complained that Giovanni "did not fittingly keep her company,"(1) which may be taken to mean that a good harmony did not prevail between them, or, almost equally well, that there were the canonical grounds for complaint against him as a husband which were afterwards formally preferred and made the grounds for the divorce. It is also possible that Alexander's ambition may have urged him to dissolve the marriage to the end that she might be free to be used again as a pawn in his far-reaching game.
|1 "Che non gli faceva buona compagnia."|
All that we do know positively is that, one evening in Holy Week, Sforza mounted a Turkish horse, and, on the pretext of going as far as the Church of Sant' Onofrio to take the air, he slipped out of Rome, and so desperately did he ride that, twenty-four hours later, he was home in Pesaro, his horse dropping dead as he reached the town.
Certainly some terrible panic must have urged him, and this rather lends colour to the story told by Almerici in the Memorie di Pesaro. According to this, the Lord of Pesaro's chamberlain, Giacomino, was in Lucrezia's apartments one evening when Cesare was announced, whereupon, by Lucrezia's orders, Giacomino concealed himself behind a screen. The Cardinal of Valencia entered and talked freely with his sister, the essence of his conversation being that the order had been issued for her husband's death.
The inference to be drawn from this is that Giovanni had been given to choose in the matter of a divorce, and that he had refused to be a party to it, whence it was resolved to remove him in a still more effective manner.
Be that as it may, the chroniclers of Pesaro proceed to relate that, after Cesare had left her, Lucrezia asked Giacomino if he had heard what had been said, and, upon being answered in the affirmative, urged him to go at once and warn Giovanni. It was as a consequence of this alleged warning that Giovanni made his precipitate departure.
A little while later, at the beginning of June, Lucrezia left the Vatican and withdrew to the Convent of San Sisto, in the Appian Way, a step which immediately gave rise to speculation and to unbridled gossip, all of which, however, is too vague to be worthy of the least attention. Aretino's advices to the Cardinal Ippolito d'Este suggest that she did not leave the Vatican on good terms with her family, and it is very possible, if what the Pesaro chroniclers state is true, that her withdrawal arose out of her having warned Giovanni of his danger and enabled him to escape.
At about the same time that Lucrezia withdrew to her convent her brother Gandia was the recipient of further honours at the hands of his fond father. The Pope had raised the fief of Benevento to a dukedom, and as a dukedom conferred it upon his son, to him and to his legitimate heirs for ever. To this he added the valuable lordships of Terracina and Pontecorvo.
Cesare, meanwhile, had by no means been forgotten, and already this young cardinal was—with perhaps the sole exception of the Cardinal d'Estouteville—the richest churchman in Christendom. To his many other offices and benefices it was being proposed to add that of Chamberlain of the Holy See, Cardinal Riario, who held the office, being grievously ill and his recovery despaired of. Together with that office it was the Pope's avowed intention to bestow upon Cesare the palace of the late Cardinal of Mantua, and with it, no doubt, he would receive a proportion of the dead cardinal's benefices.
Cesare was twenty-two years of age at the time; tall, of an athletic slenderness, and exceedingly graceful in his movements, he was acknowledged to be the handsomest man of his age. His face was long and pale, his brow lofty, his nose delicately aquiline. He had long auburn hair, and his hazel eyes, large, quick in their movements, and singularly searching in their glance, were alive with the genius of the soul behind them. He inherited from his father the stupendous health and vigour for which Alexander had been remarkable in his youth, and was remarkable still in his old age. The chase had ever been Cesare's favourite pastime, and the wild boar his predilect quarry; and in the pursuit of it he had made good use of his exceptional physical endowments, cultivating them until—like his father before him—he was equal to the endurance of almost any degree of fatigue.
In the Consistory of June 8 he was appointed legate a latere to go to Naples to crown King Federigo of Aragon—for in the meanwhile another change had taken place on the Neapolitan throne by the death of young Ferdinand II, who had been succeeded by his uncle, Federigo, Prince of Altamura.
Cesare made ready for his departure upon this important mission, upon which he was to be accompanied by his brother Giovanni, Duke of Gandia. They were both to be back in Rome by September, when Gandia was to return to Spain, taking with him his sister Lucrezia.
Thus had the Pope disposed; but the Borgia family stood on the eve of the darkest tragedy associated with its name, a tragedy which was to alter all these plans.
Chapter IV. The Murder of the Duke of Gandia
On June 14, 1497, the eve of Cesare and Giovanni Borgia's departure for Naples, their mother Vannozza gave them a farewell supper in her beautiful vineyard in Trastevere. In addition to the two guests of honour several other kinsmen and friends were present, among whom were the Cardinal of Monreale and young Giuffredo Borgia. They remained at supper until an advanced hour of the night, when Cesare and Giovanni took their departure, attended only by a few servants and a mysterious man in a mask, who had come to Giovanni whilst he was at table, and who almost every day for about a month had been in the habit of visiting him at the Vatican.
The brothers and these attendants rode together into Rome and as far as the Vice-Chancellor Ascanio Sforza's palace in the Ponte Quarter. Here Giovanni drew rein, and informed Cesare that he would not be returning to the Vatican just yet, as he was first "going elsewhere to amuse himself." With that he took his leave of Cesare, and, with one single exception—in addition to the man in the mask—dismissed his servants. The latter continued their homeward way with the cardinal, whilst the Duke, taking the man in the mask upon the crupper of his horse and followed his single attendant, turned and made off in the direction of the Jewish quarter.
In the morning it was found that Giovanni had not yet returned, and his uneasy servants informed the Pope of his absence and of the circumstances of it. The Pope, however, was not at all alarmed. Explaining his son's absence in the manner so obviously suggested by Giovanni's parting words to Cesare on the previous night, he assumed that the gay young Duke was on a visit to some complacent lady and that presently he would return.
Later in the day, however, news was brought that his horse had been found loose in the streets, in the neighbourhood of the Cardinal of Parma's palace, with only one stirrup-leather, the other having clearly been cut from the saddle, and, at the same time, it was related that the servant who had accompanied him after he had separated from the rest had been found at dawn in the Piazza della Giudecca mortally wounded and beyond speech, expiring soon after his removal to a neighbouring house.
Alarm spread through the Vatican, and the anxious Pope ordered inquiries to be made in every quarter where it was possible that anything might be learned. It was in answer to these inquiries that a boatman of the Schiavoni—one Giorgio by name—came forward with the story of what he had seen on the night of Wednesday. He had passed the night on board his boat, on guard over the timber with which she was laden. She was moored along the bank that runs from the Bridge of Sant' Angelo to the Church of Santa Maria Nuova.
He related that at about the fifth hour of the night, just before daybreak, he had seen two men emerge from the narrow street alongside the Hospital of San Girolamo, and stand on the river's brink at the spot where it was usual for the scavengers to discharge their refuse carts into the water. These men had looked carefully about, as if to make sure that they were not being observed. Seeing no one astir, they made a sign, whereupon a man well mounted on a handsome white horse, his heels armed with golden spurs, rode out of that same narrow street. Behind him, on the crupper of his horse, Giorgio beheld the body of a man, the head hanging in one direction and the legs in the other. This body was supported there by two other men on foot, who walked on either side of the horseman.
Arrived at the water's edge, they turned the horse's hind-quarters to the river; then, taking the body between them, two of them swung it well out into the stream. After the splash, Giorgio had heard the horseman inquire whether they had thrown well into the middle, and had heard him receive the affirmative answer—"Signor, Si." The horseman then sat scanning the surface a while, and presently pointed out a dark object floating, which proved to be their victim's cloak. The men threw stones at it, and so sank it, whereupon they turned, and all five departed as they had come.
Such is the boatman's story, as related in the Diarium of Burchard. When the Pope had heard it, he asked the fellow why he had not immediately gone to give notice of what he had witnessed, to which this Giorgio replied that, in his time, he had seen over a hundred bodies thrown into the Tiber without ever anybody troubling to know anything about them.
This story and Gandia's continued absence threw the Pope into a frenzy of apprehension. He ordered the bed of the river to be searched foot by foot. Some hundreds of boatmen and fishermen got to work, and on that same afternoon the body of the ill-fated Duke of Gandia was brought up in one of the nets. He was not only completely dressed—as was to have been expected from Giorgio's story—but his gloves and his purse containing thirty ducats were still at his belt, as was his dagger, the only weapon he had carried; the jewels upon his person, too, were all intact, which made it abundantly clear that his assassination was not the work of thieves.
His hands were still tied, and there were from ten to fourteen wounds on his body, in addition to which his throat had been cut.
The corpse was taken in a boat to the Castle of Sant' Angelo, where it was stripped, washed, and arrayed in the garments of the Captain-General of the Church. That same night, on a bier, the body covered with a mantle of brocade, the face "looking more beautiful than in life," he was carried by torchlight from Sant' Angelo to Santa Maria del Popolo for burial, quietly and with little pomp.
The Pope's distress was terrible. As the procession was crossing the Bridge of Sant' Angelo, those who stood there heard his awful cries of anguish, as is related in the dispatches of an eye-witness quoted by Sanuto. Alexander shut himself up in his apartments with his passionate sorrow, refusing to see anybody; and it was only by insistence that the Cardinal of Segovia and some of the Pope's familiars contrived to gain admission to his presence; but even then, not for three days could they induce him to taste food, nor did he sleep.
At last he roused himself, partly in response to the instances of the Cardinal of Segovia, partly spurred by the desire to avenge the death of his child, and he ordered Rome to be ransacked for the assassins; but, although the search was pursued for two months, it proved utterly fruitless.
That is the oft-told story of the death of the Duke of Gandia. Those are all the facts concerning it that are known or that ever will be known. The rest is speculation, and this speculation follows the trend of malice rather than of evidence.
Suspicion fell at first upon Giovanni Sforza, who was supposed to have avenged himself thus upon the Pope for the treatment he had received. There certainly existed that reasonable motive to actuate him, but not a particle of evidence against him.
Next rumour had it that Cardinal Ascanio Sforza's was the hand that had done this work, and with this rumour Rome was busy for months. It was known that he had quarrelled violently with Gandia, who had been grossly insulted by a chamberlain of Ascanio's, and who had wiped out the insult by having the man seized and hanged.
Sanuto quotes a letter from Rome on July 21, which states that "it is certain that Ascanio murdered the Duke of Gandia." Cardinal Ascanio's numerous enemies took care to keep the accusation alive at the Vatican, and Ascanio, in fear for his life, had left Rome and fled to Grottaferrata. When summoned to Rome, he had refused to come save under safe-conduct. His fears, however, appear to have been groundless, for the Pope attached no importance to the accusation against him, convinced of his innocence, as he informed him.
Thereupon public opinion looked about for some other likely person upon whom to fasten its indictment, and lighted upon Giuffredo Borgia, Gandia's youngest brother. Here, again, a motive was not wanting. Already has mention been made of the wanton ways of Giuffredo's Neapolitan wife, Doña Sancia. That she was prodigal of her favours there is no lack of evidence, and it appears that, amongst those she admitted to them, was the dead duke. Jealousy, then, it was alleged, was the spur that had driven Giuffredo to the deed; and that the rumour of this must have been insistent is clear when we find the Pope publicly exonerating his youngest son.
Thus matters stood, and thus had public opinion spoken, when in the month of August the Pope ordered the search for the murderer to cease. Bracci, the Florentine ambassador, explains this action of Alexander's. He writes that his Holiness knew who were the murderers, and that he was taking no further steps in the matter in the hope that thus, conceiving themselves to be secure, they might more completely discover themselves.
Bracci's next letter bears out the supposition that he writes from inference, and not from knowledge. He repeats that the investigations have been suspended, and that to account for this some say what already he has written, whilst others deny it; but that the truth of the matter is known to none.
Later in the year we find the popular voice denouncing Bartolomeo d'Alviano and the Orsini. Already in August the Ferrarese ambassador, Manfredi, had written that the death of the Duke of Gandia was being imputed to Bartolomeo d'Alviano, and in December we see in Sanuto a letter from Rome which announces that it is positively stated that the Orsini had caused the death of Giovanni Borgia.
These various rumours were hardly worth mentioning for their own values, but they are important as showing how public opinion fastened the crime in turn upon everybody it could think of as at all likely to have had cause to commit it, and more important still for the purpose of refuting what has since been written concerning the immediate connection of Cesare Borgia with the crime in the popular mind.
Not until February of the following year was the name of Cesare ever mentioned in connection with the deed. The first rumour of his guilt synchronized with that of his approaching renunciation of his ecclesiastical career, and there can be little doubt that the former sprang from the latter. The world conceived that it had discovered on Cesare's part a motive for the murder of his brother. That motive—of which so very much has been made—shall presently be examined. Meanwhile, to deal with the actual rumour, and its crystallization into history. The Ferrarese ambassador heard it in Venice on February 12, 1498. Capello seized upon it, and repeated it two and a half years later, stating on September 28, 1500: "etiam amazó il fratello."
And there you have the whole source of all the unbridled accusations subsequently launched against Cesare, all of which find a prominent place in Gregorovius's Geschichte der Stadt Rom, whilst the rumours accusing others, which we have mentioned here, are there slurred over.
One hesitates to attack the arguments and conclusions of the very eminent author of that mighty History of Rome in the Middle Ages, but conscience and justice demand that his chapter upon this subject be dealt with as it deserves.
The striking talents of Gregorovius are occasionally marred by the egotism and pedantry sometimes characteristic of the scholars of his nation. He is too positive; he seldom opines; he asserts with finality the things that only God can know; occasionally his knowledge, transcending the possible, quits the realm of the historian for that of the romancer, as for instance—to cite one amid a thousand—when he actually tells us what passes in Cesare Borgia's mind at the coronation of the King of Naples. In the matter of authorities, he follows a dangerous and insidious eclecticism, preferring those who support the point of view which he has chosen, without a proper regard for their intrinsic values.
He tells us definitely that, if Alexander had not positive knowledge, he had at least moral conviction that it was Cesare who had killed the Duke of Gandia. In that, again, you see the God-like knowledge which he usurps; you see him clairvoyant rather than historical. Starting out with the positive assertion that Cesare Borgia was the murderer, he sets himself to prove it by piling up a mass of worthless evidence, whose worthlessness it is unthinkable he should not have realized.
"According to the general opinion of the day, which in all probability was correct, Cesare was the murderer of his brother."
Thus Gregorovius in his Lucrezia Borgia. A deliberate misstatement! For, as we have been at pains to show, not until the crime had been fastened upon everybody whom public opinion could conceive to be a possible assassin, not until nearly a year after Gandia's death did rumour for the first time connect Cesare with the deed. Until then the ambassadors' letters from Rome in dealing with the murder and reporting speculation upon possible murderers never make a single allusion to Cesare as the guilty person.
Later, when once it had been bruited, it found its way into the writings of every defamer of the Borgias, and from several of these it is taken by Gregorovius to help him uphold that theory.
Two motives were urged for the crime. One was Cesare's envy of his brother, whom he desired to supplant as a secular prince, fretting in the cassock imposed upon himself which restrained his unbounded ambition. The other—and no epoch but this one under consideration, in its reaction from the age of chivalry, could have dared to level it without a careful examination of its sources—was Cesare's jealousy, springing from the incestuous love for their sister Lucrezia, which he is alleged to have disputed with his brother. Thus, as l'Espinois has pointed out, to convict Cesare Borgia of a crime which cannot absolutely be proved against him, all that is necessary is that he should be charged with another crime still more horrible of which even less proof exists.
This latter motive, it is true, is rejected by Gregorovius. "Our sense of honesty," he writes, "repels us from attaching faith to the belief spread in that most corrupt age." Yet the authorities urging one motive are commonly those urging the other, and Gregorovius quotes those that suit him, without considering that, if he is convinced they lie in one connection, he has not the right to assume them truthful in another.
The contemporary, or quasi-contemporary writers upon whose "authority" it is usual to show that Cesare Borgia was guilty of both those revolting crimes are: Sanazzaro, Capello, Macchiavelli, Matarazzo, Sanuto, Pietro Martire d'Anghiera, Guicciardini, and Panvinio.
A formidable array! But consider them, one by one, at close quarters, and take a critical look at what they actually wrote:
SANAZZARO was a Neapolitan poet and epigrammatist, who could not—his times being what they were—be expected to overlook the fact that in these slanderous rumours of incest was excellent matter for epigrammatical verse. Therefore, he crystallized them into lines which, whilst doing credit to his wit, reveal his brutal cruelty. No one will seriously suppose that such a man would be concerned with the veracity of the matter of his verses—even leaving out of the question his enmity towards the House of Borgia, which will transpire later. For him a ben trovato was as good matter as a truth, or better. He measured its value by its piquancy, by its adaptability to epigrammatic rhymes.
Conceive the heartlessness of the man who, at the moment of Alexander's awful grief at the murder of his son—a grief which so moved even his enemies that the bitter Savonarola, and the scarcely less bitter Cardinal della Rovere, wrote to condole with him—could pen that terrible epigram:
Piscaris notum retibus ecce tuum.
Consider the ribaldry of that, and ask yourselves whether this is a man who would immolate the chance of a witticism upon the altar of Truth.
It is significant that Sanazzaro, for what he may be worth, confines himself to the gossip of incest. Nowhere does he mention that Cesare was the murderer, and we think that his silence upon the matter, if it shows anything, shows that Cesare's guilt was not so very much the "general opinion of the day," as Gregorovius asks us to believe.
CAPPELLO was not in Rome at the time of the murder, nor until three years later, when he merely repeated the rumour that had first sprung up some eight months after the crime.
The precise value of his famous "relation" (in which this matter is recorded, and to which we shall return in its proper place) and the spirit that actuated him is revealed in another accusation of murder which he levels at Cesare, an accusation which, of course, has also been widely disseminated upon no better authority than his own. It is Capello who tells us that Cesare stabbed the chamberlain Perrotto in the Pope's very arms; he adds the details that the man had fled thither for shelter from Cesare's fury, and that the blood of him, when he was stabbed, spurted up into the very face of the Pope. Where he got the story is not readily surmised—unless it be assumed that he evolved it out of his feelings for the Borgias. The only contemporary accounts of the death of this Perrotto—or Pedro Caldes, as was his real name—state that he fell by accident into the Tiber and was drowned.
Burchard, who could not have failed to know if the stabbing story had been true, and would not have failed to report it, chronicles the fact that Perrotto was fished out of Tiber, having fallen in six days earlier—"non libenter." This statement, coming from the pen of the Master of Ceremonies at the Vatican, requires no further corroboration. Yet corroboration there actually is in a letter from Rome of February 20, 1498, quoted by Marino Sanuto in his Diarii. This states that Perrotto had been missing for some days, no one knowing what had become of him, and that now "he has been found drowned in the Tiber."
We mention this, in passing, with the twofold object of slaying another calumny, and revealing the true value of Capello, who happens to be the chief "witness for the prosecution" put forward by Gregorovius. "Is it not of great significance," inquires the German historian, "that the fact should have been related so positively by an ambassador who obtained his knowledge from the best sources?"
The question is frivolous, for the whole trouble in this matter is that there were no sources at all, in the proper sense of the word—good or bad. There was simply gossip, which had been busy with a dozen names already.
MACCHIAVELLI includes a note in his Extracts from Letters to the Ten, in which he mentions the death of Gandia, adding that "at first nothing was known, and then men said it was done by the Cardinal of Valencia."
There is nothing very conclusive in that. Besides, incidentally it may be mentioned, that it is not clear when or how these extracts were compiled by Macchiavelli (in his capacity of Secretary to the Signory of Florence) from the dispatches of her ambassadors. But it has been shown—though we are hardly concerned with that at the moment—that these extracts are confused by comments of his own, either for his own future use or for that of another.
MATARAZZO is the Perugian chronicler of whom we have already expressed the only tenable opinion. The task he set himself was to record the contemporary events of his native town—the stronghold of the blood-dripping Baglioni. He enlivened it by every scrap of scandalous gossip that reached him, however alien to his avowed task. The authenticity of this scandalmongering chronicle has been questioned; but, even assuming it to be authentic, it is so wildly inaccurate when dealing with matters happening beyond the walls of Perugia as to be utterly worthless.
Matarazzo relates the story of the incestuous relations prevailing in the Borgia family, and with an unsparing wealth of detail not to be found elsewhere; but on the subject of the murder he has a tale to tell entirely different from any other that has been left us. For, whilst he urges the incest as the motive of the crime, the murderer, he tells us, was Giovanni Sforza, the outraged husband; and he gives us the fullest details of that murder, time and place and exactly how committed, and all the other matters which have never been brought to light.
It is all a worthless, garbled piece of fiction, most obviously; as such it has ever been treated; but it is as plausible as it is untrue, and, at least, as authoritative as any available evidence assigning the guilt to Cesare.
SANUTO we accept as a more or less careful and painstaking chronicler, whose writings are valuable; and Sanuto on the matter of the murder confines himself to quoting the letter of February 1498, in which the accusation against Cesare is first mentioned, after having given other earlier letters which accuse first Ascanio and then Orsini far more positively than does the latter letter accuse Cesare.
On the matter of the incest there is no word in Sanuto; but there is mention of Doña Sancia's indiscretions, and the suggestion that, through jealousy on her account, it was rumoured that the murder had been committed—another proof of how vague and ill-defined the rumours were.
PIETRO MARTIRE D'ANGHIERA writes from Burgos, in Spain, that he is convinced of the fratricide. It is interesting to know of that conviction of his; but difficult to conceive how it is to be accepted as evidence.
If more needs to be said of him, let it be mentioned that the letter in which he expresses that conviction is dated April 1497—two months before the murder took place! So that even Gregorovius is forced to doubt the authenticity of that document.
GUICCIARDINI is not a contemporary chronicler of events as they happened, but an historian writing some thirty years later. He merely repeats what Capello and others have said before him. It is for him to quote authorities for what he writes, and not to be set up as an authority. He is not reliable, and he is a notorious defamer of the Papacy, sparing nothing that will serve his ends. He dilates with gusto upon the accusation of incest.
Lastly, PANVINTO is in the same category as Guicciardini. He was not born until some thirty years after these events, and his History of the Popes was not written until some sixty years after the murder of the Duke of Gandia. This history bristles with inaccuracies; he never troubles to verify his facts, and as an authority he is entirely negligible.
In the valuable Diarium of Burchard there is unfortunately a lacuna at this juncture, from the day after the murder (of which he gives the full particulars to which we have gone for our narrative of that event) until the month of August following. And now we may see Gregorovius actually using silence as evidence. He seizes upon that lacuna, and goes so far as to set up the tentative explanation that Burchard "perhaps purposely interrupted his Diary that he might avoid mentioning the fratricide."
If such were the case, it would be a strange departure from Burchard's invariable rule, which is one of cold, relentless, uncritical chronicling of events, no matter what their nature. Besides, any significance with which that lacuna might be invested is discounted by the fact that such gaps are of fairly common occurrence in the course of Burchard's record. Finally it remains to be shown that the lacuna in question exists in the original diaries, which have yet to be discovered.
So much for the valuable authorities, out of which—and by means of a selection which is not quite clearly defined—Gregorovius claims to have proved that the murderer of the Duke of Gandia was his brother Cesare Borgia, Cardinal of Valencia.(1)
|1 It is rather odd that, in the course of casting about for a possible murderer of Gandia, public opinion should never have fastened upon Cardinal Alessandro Farnese. He had lately been stripped of the Patrimony of St. Peter that the governorship of this might be bestowed upon Gandia; his resentment had been provoked by that action of the Pope's, and the relations between himself and the Borgias were strained in consequence. Possibly there was clear proof that he could have had no connection with the crime.|
Now to examine more closely the actual motives given by those authorities and by later, critical writers, for attributing the guilt to Cesare.
In September of the year 1497, the Pope had dissolved the marriage of his daughter Lucrezia and Giovanni Sforza, and the grounds for the dissolution were that the husband was impotens et frigidus natura—admitted by himself.(2)
|2 "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 pero haver scripto cosi per obedire el Duca de Milano et Aschanio" (Collenuccio's letter from Rome to the Duke of Ferrara, Dec. 25, 1497).|
If you know anything of the Italy of to-day, you will be able to conceive for yourself how the Italy of the fifteenth century must have held her sides and pealed her laughter at the contemptible spectacle of an unfortunate who afforded such reason to be bundled out of a nuptial bed. The echo of that mighty burst of laughter must have rung from Calabria to the Alps, and well may it have filled the handsome weakling who was the object of its cruel ridicule with a talion fury. The weapons he took up wherewith to defend himself were a little obvious. He answered the odious reflections upon his virility by a wholesale charge of incest against the Borgia family; he screamed that what had been said of him was a lie invented by the Borgias to serve their own unutterable ends.(1) Such was the accusation with which the squirming Lord of Pesaro retaliated, and, however obvious, yet it was not an accusation that the world of his day would lightly cast aside, for all that the perspicacious may have rated it at its proper value.
|1 "Et mancho se e curato de fare prova de qua con Done per poterne chiarire el Rev. Legato che era qua, sebbene sua Excellentia tastandolo sopra cio gli ne abbia facto offerta." And further: "Anzi haverla conosciuta infinite volte, ma chel Papa non geiha tolta per altro se non per usare con lei" (Costabili's letter from Milan to the Duke of Ferrara, June 23, 1497).|
What is of great importance to students of the history of the Borgias is that this was the first occasion on which the accusation of incest was raised. Of course it persisted; such a charge could not do otherwise. But now that we see in what soil it had its roots we shall know what importance to attach to it.
Not only did it persist, but it developed, as was but natural. Cesare and the dead Gandia were included in it, and presently it suggested a motive—not dreamed of until then—why Cesare might have been his brother's murderer.
Then, early in 1498, came the rumour that Cesare was intending to abandon the purple, and later Writers, from Capello down to our own times, have chosen to see in Cesare's supposed contemplation of that step a motive so strong for the crime as to prove it in the most absolutely conclusive manner. In no case could it be such proof, even if it were admitted as a motive. But is it really so to be admitted? Did such a motive exist at all? Does it really follow—as has been taken for granted—that Cesare must have remained an ecclesiastic had Gandia lived? We cannot see that it does. Indeed, such evidence as there is, when properly considered, points in the opposite direction, even if no account is taken of the fact that this was not the first occasion on which it was proposed that Cesare should abandon the ecclesiastical career, as is shown by the Ferrarese ambassador's dispatches of March 1493.
It is contended that Gandia was a stumbling-block to Cesare, and that Gandia held the secular possessions which Cesare coveted; but if that were really the case why, when eventually (some fourteen months after Gandia's death) Cesare doffed the purple to replace it by a soldier's harness, did he not assume the secular possessions that had been his brother's?
His dead brother's lands and titles went to his dead brother's son, whilst Cesare's career was totally different, as his aims were totally different, from any that had been Gandia's, or that might have been Gandia's had the latter lived. True, Cesare became Captain-General of the Church in his dead brother's place; but for that his brother's death was not necessary. Gandia had neither the will nor the intellect to undertake the things that awaited Cesare. He was a soft-natured, pleasure-loving youth, whose way of life was already mapped out for him. His place was at Gandia, in Spain, and, whilst he might have continued lord of all the possessions that were his, it would have been Cesare's to become Duke of Valentinois, and to have made himself master of Romagna, precisely as he did.
In conclusion, Gandia's death no more advanced, than his life could have impeded, the career which Cesare afterwards made his own, and to say that Cesare murdered him to supplant him is to set up a theory which the subsequent facts of Cesare's life will nowise justify.
It is idle of Gregorovius to say that the logic of the crime is inexorable—in its assigning the guilt to Cesare—fatuous of him to suppose that, as he claims, he has definitely proved Cesare to be his brother's murderer.
There is much against Cesare Borgia, but it never has been proved, and never will be proved, that he was a fratricide. Indeed the few really known facts of the murder all point to a very different conclusion—a conclusion more or less obvious, which has been discarded, presumably for no better reason than because it was obvious.
Where was all this need to go so far afield in quest of a probable murderer imbued with political motives? Where the need to accuse in turn every enemy that Gandia could possibly possess before finally fastening upon his own brother?
Certain evidence is afforded by the known facts of the case, scant as they are. It may not amount to much, but at least it is sufficient to warrant a plausible conclusion, and there is no justification for discarding it in favour of something for which not a particle of evidence is forthcoming.
There is, first of all, the man in the mask to be accounted for. That he is connected with the crime is eminently probable, if not absolutely certain.
It is to be remembered that for a month—according to Burchard—he had been in the habit of visiting Gandia almost daily. He comes to Vannozza's villa on the night of the murder. Is it too much to suppose that he brought a message from some one from whom he was in the habit of bringing messages?
He was seen last on the crupper of Gandia's horse as the latter rode away towards the Jewish quarter.(1) Gandia himself announced that he was bound on pleasure—going to amuse himself. Even without the knowledge which we possess of his licentious habits, no doubt could arise as to the nature of the amusement upon which he was thus bound at dead of night; and there are the conclusions formed in the morning by his father, when it was found that Gandia had not returned.
|1 The Ghetto was not yet in existence. It was not built until 1556, under Paul IV.|
Is it so very difficult to conceive that Gandia, in the course of the assignation to which he went, should have fallen into the hands of an irate father, husband, or brother? Is it not really the obvious inference to draw from the few facts that we possess? That it was the inference drawn by the Pope and clung to even some time after the crime and while rumours of a different sort were rife, is shown by the perquisition made in the house of Antonio Pico della Mirandola, who had a daughter whom it was conceived might have been the object of the young duke's nocturnal visit, and whose house was near the place where Gandia was flung into the Tiber.
We could hazard speculations that would account for the man in the mask, but it is not our business to speculate save where the indications are fairly clear.
Let us consider the significance of Gandia's tied hands and the wounds upon his body in addition to the mortal gash across his throat. To what does this condition point? Surely not to a murder of expediency so much as to a fierce, lustful butchery of vengeance. Surely it suggests that Gandia may have been tortured before his throat was cut. Why else were his wrists pinioned? Had he been swiftly done to death there would have been no need for that. Had hired assassins done the work they would not have stayed to pinion him, nor do we think they would have troubled to fling him into the river; they would have slain and left him where he fell.
The whole aspect of the case suggests the presence of the master, of the personal enemy himself. We can conceive Gandia's wrists being tied, to the end that this personal enemy might do his will upon the wretched young man, dealing him one by one the ten or fourteen wounds in the body before making an end of him by cutting his throat. We cannot explain the pinioned wrists in any other way. Then the man on the handsome white horse, the man whom the four others addressed as men address their lord. Remember his gold spurs—a trifle, perhaps; but hired assassins do not wear gold spurs, even though their bestriding handsome white horses may be explainable.
Surely that was the master, the personal enemy himself—and it was not Cesare, for Cesare at the time was at the Vatican.
There we must leave the mystery of the murder of the Duke of Gandia; but we leave it convinced that, such scant evidence as there is, points to an affair of sordid gallantry, and nowise implicates his brother Cesare.
Chapter V. The Renunciation of the Purple
At the Consistory of June 19, 1497 the Sacred College beheld a broken-hearted old man who declared that he had done with the world, and that henceforth life could offer him nothing that should endear it to him.
"A greater sorrow than this could not be ours, for we loved him exceedingly, and now we can hold neither the Papacy nor any other thing as of concern. Had we seven Papacies, we would give them all to restore the duke to life." So ran his bitter lament.
He denounced his course of life as not having been all that it should have been, and appeared to see in the murder of his son a punishment for the evil of his ways. Much has been made of this, and quite unnecessarily. It has been taken eagerly as an admission of his unparalleled guilt. An admission of guilt it undoubtedly was; but what man is not guilty? and how many men—ay, and saints even—in the hour of tribulation have cried out that they were being made to feel the wrath of God for the sins that no man is without?
If humanity contains a type that would not have seen in such a cause for sorrow a visitation of God, it is the type of inhuman monster to which we are asked to believe that Alexander VI belonged. A sinner unquestionably he was, and a great one; but a human sinner, and not an incarnate devil, else there could have been no such outcry from him in such an hour as this.
He announced that henceforth the spiritual needs of the Church should be his only care. He inveighed against the corruption of the ecclesiastical estate, confessing himself aware of how far it had strayed from the ancient discipline and from the laws that had been framed to bridle licence and cupidity, which were now rampant and unchecked; and he proclaimed his intention to reform the Curia and the Church of Rome. To this end he appointed a commission consisting of the Cardinal-Bishops Oliviero Caraffa and Giorgio Costa, the Cardinal-Priests Antonietto Pallavicino and Gianantonio Sangiorgio, and the Cardinal-Deacons Francesco Piccolomini and Raffaele Riario.
There was even a suggestion that he was proposing to abdicate, but that he was prevailed upon to do nothing until his grief should have abated and his judgement be restored to its habitual calm. This suggestion, however, rests upon no sound authority.
Letters of condolence reached him on every hand. Even his arch-enemy, Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, put aside his rancour in the face of the Pope's overwhelming grief—and also because it happened to consort with his own interests, as will presently transpire. He wrote to Alexander from France that he was truly pained to the very soul of him in his concern for the Pope's Holiness—a letter which, no doubt, laid the foundations to the reconciliation that was toward between them.
Still more remarkable was it that the thaumaturgical Savonarola should have paused in the atrabilious invective with which he was inflaming Florence against the Pope, should have paused to send him a letter of condolence in which he prayed that the Lord of all mercy might comfort his Holiness in his tribulation.
That letter is a singular document; singularly human, yielding a singular degree of insight into the nature of the man who penned it. A whole chapter of intelligent speculation upon the character of Savonarola, based upon a study of externals, could not reveal as much of the mentality of that fanatical demagogue as the consideration of just this letter.
The sympathy by which we cannot doubt it to have been primarily inspired is here overspread by the man's rampant fanaticism, there diluted by the prophecies from which he cannot even now refrain; and, throughout, the manner is that of the pulpit-thumping orator. The first half of his letter is a prelude in the form of a sermon upon Faith, all very trite and obvious; and the notion of this excommunicated friar holding forth to the Pope's Holiness in polemical platitudes delivered with all the authority of inspired discoveries of his own is one more proof that at the root of fanaticism in all ages and upon all questions, lies an utter lack of a sense of fitness and proportion. Having said that "the just man liveth in the Lord by faith," and that "the Lord in His mercy passeth over all our sins," he proclaims that he announces things of which he is assured, and for which he is ready to suffer all persecutions, and begs his Holiness to turn a favourable eye upon the work of faith in which he is labouring, and to give heed no more to the impious, promising the Holy Father that thus shall the Lord bestow upon him the essence of joy instead of the spirit of grief. Having begun, as we have seen, with an assurance that "the Lord in His mercy passeth over all our sins," he concludes by prophesying, with questionable logic, that "the thunders of His wrath will ere long be heard." Nor does he omit to mention—with an apparent arrogance that again betrays that same want of a sense of proportion—that all his predictions are true.
His letter, however, and that of Cardinal della Rovere, among so many others, show us how touched was the world by the Pope's loss and overwhelming grief, how shocked at the manner in which this had been brought about.
The commission which Alexander had appointed for the work of reform had meanwhile got to work, and the Cardinal of Naples edited the articles of a constitution which was undoubtedly the object of prolonged study and consideration, as is revealed by the numerous erasures and emendations which it bears. Unfortunately—for reasons which are not apparent—it was never published by Alexander. Possibly by the time that it was concluded the aggrandizement of the temporal power was claiming his entire attention to the neglect of the spiritual needs of the Holy See. It is also possible—as has been abundantly suggested—that the stern mood of penitence had softened with his sorrow, and was now overpast.
Nevertheless, it may have been some lingering remnant of this fervour of reform that dictated the severe punishment which fell that year upon the flagitious Bishop of Cosenza. A fine trade was being driven in Rome by the sale of forged briefs of indulgence. Raynaldus cites a Bull on that score addressed by Alexander, in the first year of his pontificate, to the bishops of Spain, enjoining them to visit with punishment all who in that kingdom should be discovered to be pursuing such a traffic. On September 4, 1497, Burchard tells us, three servants of the Pontifical Secretary, the Arch-bishop of Cosenza (Bartolomeo Florido) were arrested in consequence of the discovery of twenty forged briefs issued by them. In their examination they incriminated their master the archbishop, who was consequently put upon his trial and found guilty. Alexander deposed, degraded, and imprisoned him in Sant' Angelo in a dark room, where he was supplied with oil for his lamp and bread and water for his nourishment until he died. His underlings were burnt in the Campo di Fiori in the following month.
The Duke of Gandia left a widow and two children—Giovanni, a boy of three years of age, and Isabella, a girl of two. In the interests of her son, the widowed duchess applied to the Governor of Valencia in the following September for the boy's investiture in the rights of his deceased father. This was readily granted upon authority from Rome, and so the boy Giovanni was recognized as third Duke of Gandia, Prince of Sessa and Teano, and Lord of Cerignola and Montefoscolo, and the administration of his estates during his minority was entrusted to his uncle, Cesare Borgia.
The Lordship of Benevento—the last grant made to Giovanni Borgia—was not mentioned; nor was it then nor ever subsequently claimed by the widow. It is the one possession of Gandia's that went to Cesare, who was confirmed in it by the King of Naples.
The Gandia branch of the Borgia family remained in Spain, prospered and grew in importance, and, incidentally, produced St. Francis de Borgia. This Duke of Gandia was Master of the Household to Charles V, and thus a man of great worldly consequence; but it happened that he was so moved by the sight of the disfigured body of his master's beautiful queen that he renounced the world and entered the Society of Jesus, eventually becoming its General. He died in 1562, and in the fulness of time was canonized.
Cesare's departure for Naples as legate a latere to anoint and crown Federigo of Aragon was naturally delayed by the tragedy that had assailed his house, and not until July 22 did he take his leave of the Pope and set out with an escort of two hundred horse.
Naples was still in a state of ferment, split into two parties, one of which favoured France and the other Aragon, so that disturbances were continual. Alexander expressed the hope that Cesare might appear in that distracted kingdom in the guise of an "angel of peace," and that by his coronation of King Federigo he should set a term to the strife that was toward.
The city of Naples itself was now being ravaged by fever, and in consequence of this it was determined that Cesare should repair instead to Capua, where Federigo would await him. Arrived there, however, Cesare fell ill, and the coronation ceremony again suffered a postponement until August 10. Cesare remained a fortnight in the kingdom, and on August 22 set out to return to Rome, and his departure appears to have been a matter of relief to Federigo, for so impoverished did the King of Naples find himself that the entertainment of the legate and his numerous escort had proved a heavy tax upon his flabby purse.
On the morning of September 6 all the cardinals in Rome received a summons to attend at the Monastery of Santa Maria Nuova to welcome the returned Cardinal of Valencia. In addition to the Sacred College all the ambassadors of the Powers were present, and, after the celebration of the Mass, the entire assembly proceeded to the Vatican, where the Pope was waiting to receive his son. When the young cardinal presented himself at the foot of the papal throne Alexander opened his arms to him, embraced, and kissed him, speaking no word.
This rests upon the evidence of two eye-witnesses,(1) and the circumstance has been urged and propounded into the one conclusive piece of evidence that Cesare had murdered his brother, and that the Pope knew it. In this you have some more of what Gregorovius terms "inexorable logic." He kissed him, but he spake no word to him; therefore, they reason, Cesare murdered Gandia. Can absurdity be more absurd, fatuity more fatuous? Lucus a non lucendo! To square the circle should surely present no difficulty to these subtle logicians.
|1 "Non dixit verbum Pape Valentinus, nec Papa sibi, sed eo deosculato, descendit de solio" (Burchard's Diarium, and "Solo lo bació," in letter from Rome in Sanuto's Diarii)|
It was, as we have seen, in February of 1498 that it was first rumoured that Cesare intended to put off the purple; and that the rumour had ample foundation was plain from the circumstance that the Pope was already laying plans whose fulfilment must be dependent upon that step, and seeking to arrange a marriage for Cesare with Carlotta of Aragon, King Federigo of Naples's daughter, stipulating that her dowry should be such that Cesare, in taking her to wife, should become Prince of Altamura and Tarentum.
But Federigo showed himself unwilling, possibly in consideration of the heavy dowry demanded and of the heavy draft already made by the Borgias—through Giuffredo Borgia, Prince of Squillace—upon this Naples which the French invasion had so impoverished. He gave out that he would not have his daughter wedded to a priest who was the son of a priest and that he would not give his daughter unless the Pope could contrive that a cardinal might marry and yet retain his hat.
It all sounded as if he were actuated by nice scruples and high principles; but the opinion is unfortunately not encouraged when we find him, nevertheless, giving his consent to the marriage of his nephew Alfonso to Lucrezia Borgia upon the pronouncement of her divorce from Giovanni Sforza. The marriage, let us say in passing, was celebrated at the Vatican on June 20, 1498, Lucrezia receiving a dowry of 40,000 ducats. But the astute Alexander saw to it that his family should acquire more than it gave, and contrived that Alfonso should receive the Neapolitan cities of Biselli and Quadrata, being raised to the title of Prince of Biselli.
Nevertheless, there was a vast difference between giving in marriage a daughter who must take a weighty dowry out of the kingdom and receiving a daughter who would bring a handsome dowry with her. And the facts suggest that such was the full measure of Federigo's scruples.
Meanwhile, to dissemble his reluctance to let Cesare have his daughter to wife, Federigo urged that he must first take the feeling of Ferdinand and Isabella in this matter.
While affairs stood thus, Charles VIII died suddenly at Amboise in April of that year 1498. Some work was being carried out there by artists whom he had brought from Naples for the purpose, and, in going to visit this, the king happened to enter a dark gallery, and struck his forehead so violently against the edge of a door that he expired the same day—at the age of twenty-eight. He was a poor, malformed fellow, as we have seen, and "of little understanding," Commines tells us, "but so good that it would have been impossible to have found a kinder creature."
With him the Valois dynasty came to an end. He was succeeded by his cousin, the Duke of Orleans, who, upon his coronation at Rheims, assumed the title of King of France and the Two Sicilies and Duke of Milan—a matter which considerably perturbed Federigo of Aragon and Lodovico Sforza. Each of these rulers saw in that assumption of his own title by Louis XII a declaration of enmity, the prelude to a declaration of open war; wherefore, deeming it idle to send their ambassadors to represent them at the Court of France, they refrained from doing so.
Louis XII's claim upon the Duchy of Milan was based upon his being the grandson of Valentina Visconti, and, considering himself a Visconti, he naturally looked upon the Sforza dominion as no better than a usurpation which too long had been left undisturbed. To disturb it now was the first aim of his kingship. And to this end, as well as in another matter, the friendship of the Pope was very desirable to Louis.
The other matter concerned his matrimonial affairs. No sooner did he find himself King of France than he applied to Rome for the dissolution of his marriage with Jeanne de Valois, the daughter of Louis XI. The grounds he urged were threefold: Firstly, between himself and Jeanne there existed a relationship of the fourth degree and a spiritual affinity, resulting from the fact that her father, Louis XI, had held him at the baptismal font—which before the Council of Trent did constitute an impediment to marriage. Secondly, he had not been a willing party to the union, but had entered into it as a consequence of intimidation from the terrible Louis XI, who had threatened his life and possessions if not obeyed in this. Thirdly, Jeanne laboured under physical difficulties which rendered her incapable of maternity.
Of such a nature was the appeal he made to Alexander, and Alexander responded by appointing a commission presided over by the Cardinal of Luxembourg, and composed of that same cardinal and the Bishops of Albi and Ceuta, assisted by five other bishops as assessors, to investigate the king's grievance. There appears to be no good reason for assuming that the inquiry was not conducted fairly and honourably or that the finding of the bishops and ultimate annulment of the marriage was not in accordance with their consciences. We are encouraged to assume that all this was indeed so, when we consider that Jeanne de Valois submitted without protest to the divorce, and that neither then nor subsequently at any time did she prefer any complaint, accepting the judgement, it is presumable, as a just and fitting measure.
She applied to the Pope for permission to found a religious order, whose special aim should be the adoration and the emulation of the perfections of the Blessed Virgin, a permission which Alexander very readily accorded her. He was, himself, imbued with a very special devotion for the Mother of the Saviour. We see the spur of this special devotion of his in the votive offering of a silver effigy to her famous altar of the Santissima Nunziata in Florence, which he had promised in the event of Rome being freed from Charles VIII. Again, after the accident of the collapse of a roof in the Vatican, in which he narrowly escaped death, it is to Santa Maria Nuova that we see him going in procession to hold a solemn thanksgiving service to Our Lady. In a dozen different ways did that devotion find expression during his pontificate; and be it remembered that Catholics owe it to Alexander VI that the Angelus-bell is rung thrice daily in honour of the Blessed Virgin.
To us this devotion to the Mother of Chastity on the part of a churchman openly unchaste in flagrant subversion of his vows is a strange and incongruous spectacle. But the incongruity of it is illumining. It reveals Alexander's simple attitude towards the sins of the flesh, and shows how, in common with most churchmen of his day, he found no conscientious difficulty in combining fervid devotion with perfervid licence. Whatever it may seem by ours, by his lights—by the light of the examples about him from his youth, by the light of the precedents afforded him by his predecessors in St. Peter's Chair—his conduct was a normal enough affair, which can have afforded him little with which to reproach himself.
In the matter of the annulment of the marriage of Louis XII it is to be conceded that Alexander made the most of the opportunity it afforded him. He perceived that the moment was propitious for enlisting the services of the King of France to the achievement of his own ends, more particularly to further the matter of the marriage of Cesare Borgia with Carlotta of Aragon, who was being reared at the Court of France. Accordingly Alexander desired the Bishop of Ceuta to lay his wishes in the matter before the Christian King, and, to the end that Cesare might find a fitting secular estate awaiting him when eventually he emerged from the clergy, the Pope further suggested to Louis, through the bishop's agency, that Cesare should receive the investiture of the counties of Valentinois and Dyois in Dauphiny. On the face of it this wears the look of inviting bribery. In reality it scarcely amounted to so much, although the opportunism that prompted the request is undeniable. Yet it is worthy of consideration that in what concerned the counties of Valentinois and Dyois, the Pope's suggestion constituted a wise political step. These territories had been in dispute between France and the Holy See for a matter of some two hundred years, during which the Popes had been claiming dominion over them. The claims had been admitted by Louis XI, who had relinquished the counties to the Church; but shortly after his death the Parliament of Dauphiny had restored them to the crown of France. Charles VIII and Innocent VIII had wrangled over them, and an arbitration was finally projected, but never held.
Alexander now perceived a way to solve the difficulty by a compromise which should enrich his son and give the latter a title to replace that of cardinal which he was to relinquish. So his proposal to Louis XII was that the Church should abandon its claim upon the territories, whilst the king, raising Valentinois to the dignity of a duchy, should so confer it upon Cesare Borgia.
Although the proposal was politically sound, it constituted at the same time an act of flagrant nepotism. But let us bear in mind that Alexander did not lack a precedent for this particular act. When Louis XI had surrendered Valentinois to Sixtus IV, this Pope had bestowed it upon his nephew Girolamo, thereby vitiating any claim that the Holy See might subsequently have upon the territory. We judge it—under the circumstances that Louis XI had surrendered it to the Church—to be a far more flagrant piece of nepotism than was Alexander's now.
Louis XII, nothing behind the Pope in opportunism, saw in the concession asked of him the chance of acquiring Alexander's good-will. He consented, accompanying his consent by a request for a cardinal's hat for Georges d'Amboise, Bishop of Rouen, who had been his devoted friend in less prosperous times, and the sharer of his misfortunes under the previous reign, and was now his chief counsellor and minister. In addition he besought—dependent, of course, upon the granting of the solicited divorce—a dispensation to marry Anne of Brittany, the beautiful widow of Charles VIII. This was Louis's way of raising the price, as it were, of the concession and services asked of him; yet, that there might be no semblance of bargaining, his consent to Cesare's being created Duke of Valentinois was simultaneous with his request for further favours.
With the Royal Patents conferring that duchy upon the Pope's son, Louis de Villeneuve reached Rome on August 7, 1498. On the same day the young cardinal came before the Sacred College, assembled in Consistory, to crave permission to doff the purple.
After the act of adoration of the Pope's Holiness, he humbly submitted to his brother cardinals that his inclinations had ever been in opposition to his embracing the ecclesiastical dignity, and that, if he had entered upon it at all, this had been solely at the instances of his Holiness, just as he had persevered in it to gratify him; but that, his inclinations and desires for the secular estate persisting, he implored the Holy Father, of his clemency, to permit him to put off his habit and ecclesiastical rank, to restore his hat and benefices to the Church, and to grant him dispensation to return to the world and be free to contract marriage. And he prayed the very reverend cardinals to use their good offices on his behalf, adding to his own their intercessions to the Pope's Holiness to accord him the grace he sought.
The cardinals relegated the decision of the matter to the Pope. Cardinal Ximenes alone—as the representative of Spain—stood out against the granting of the solicited dispensation, and threw obstacles in the way of it. In this, no doubt, he obeyed his instructions from Ferdinand and Isabella, who saw to the bottom of the intrigue with France that was toward, and of the alliance that impended between Louis XII and the Holy See—an alliance not at all to the interests of Spain.
The Pope made a speedy rout of the cardinal's objections with the most apostolic and irresistible of all weapons. He pointed out that it was not for him to hinder the Cardinal of Valencia's renunciation of the purple, since that renunciation was clearly become necessary for the salvation of his soul—"Pro salutae animae suae"—to which, of course, Ximenes had no answer.
But, with the object of conciliating Spain, this ever-politic Pope indicated that, if Cesare was about to become a prince of France, his many ecclesiastical benefices, yielding some 35,000 gold florins yearly, being mostly in Spain, would be bestowed upon Spanish churchmen, and he further begged Ximenes to remember that he already had a "nephew" at the Court of Spain in the person of the heir of Gandia, whom he particularly commended to the favour of Ferdinand and Isabella.
Thus was Cesare Borgia's petition granted, and his return to the world accomplished. And, by a strange chance of homonymy, his title remained unchanged despite his change of estate. The Cardinal of Valencia, in Spain, became the Duke of Valence—or Valentinois—in France and in Italy Valentino remained Valentino.
Chapter I. The Duchess of Valentinois
King Louis XII dispatched the Sieur de Sarenon by sea, with a fleet of three ships and five galleys, to the end that he should conduct the new duke to France, which fleet was delayed so that it did not drop its anchors at Ostia until the end of September.
Meanwhile, Cesare's preparations for departure had been going forward, and were the occasion of a colossal expenditure on the part of his sire. For the Pope desired that his son, in going to France to assume his estate, and for the further purposes of marrying a wife, of conveying to Louis the dispensation permitting his marriage with Anne of Brittany, and of bearing the red hat to Amboise, should display the extraordinary magnificence for which the princes of cultured and luxurious Italy were at the time renowned.
His suite consisted of fully a hundred attendants, what with esquires, pages, lacqueys and grooms, whilst twelve chariots and fifty sumpter-mules were laden with his baggage. The horses of his followers were all sumptuously caparisoned with bridles and stirrups of solid silver; and, for the rest, the splendour of the liveries, the weapons and the jewels, and the richness of the gifts he bore with him were the amazement even of that age of dazzling displays.
In Cesare's train went Ramiro de Lorqua, the Master of his Household; Agabito Gherardi, his secretary; and his Spanish physician, Gaspare Torella—the only medical man of his age who had succeeded in discovering a treatment for the pudendagra which the French had left in Italy, and who had dedicated to Cesare his learned treatise upon that disease.
As a body-guard, or escort of honour, Cesare took with him thirty gentlemen, mostly Romans, among whom were Giangiordano Orsini, Pietro Santa Croce, Mario di Mariano, Domenico Sanguigna, Giulio Alberini, Bartolomeo Capranica, and Gianbattista Mancini—all young, and all members of those patrician families which Alexander VI had skilfully attached to his own interest.
The latest of these was the Orsini family, with which an alliance was established by the marriage celebrated at the Vatican on September 28 of that same year between Fabio Orsini and Girolama Borgia, a niece of the Pope's.
Cesare's departure took place on October 1, in the early morning, when he rode out with his princely retinue, and followed the Tiber along Trastevere, without crossing the city. He was mounted on a handsome charger, caparisoned in red silk and gold brocade—the colours of France, in which he had also dressed his lacqueys. He wore a doublet of white damask laced with gold, and carried a mantle of black velvet swinging from his shoulders. Of black velvet, too, was the cap on his auburn head, its sable colour an effective background for the ruddy effulgence of the great rubies—"as large as beans"—with which it was adorned.
Of the gentlemen who followed him, the Romans were dressed in the French mode, like himself, whilst the Spaniards adhered to the fashions of their native Spain.
He was escorted as far as the end of the Banchi by four cardinals, and from a window of the Vatican the Pope watched the imposing cavalcade and followed it with his eyes until it was lost to view, weeping, we are told, for very joy at the contemplation of the splendour and magnificence which it had been his to bestow upon his beloved son—"the very heart of him," as he wrote to the King of France in that letter of which Cesare was the bearer.
On October 12 the Duke of Valentinois landed at Marseilles, where he was received by the Bishop of Dijon, whom the king had sent to meet him, and who now accompanied the illustrious visitor to Avignon. There Cesare was awaited by the Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere. This prelate was now anxious to make his peace with Alexander—and presently we shall look into the motives that probably inspired him, a matter which has so far, we fancy, escaped criticism for reasons that we shall also strive to make apparent. To the beginnings of a reconciliation with the Pontiff afforded by his touching letter of condolence on the death of the Duke of Gandia, he now added a very cordial reception and entertainment of Cesare; and throughout his sojourn in France the latter received at the hands of della Rovere the very friendliest treatment, the cardinal missing no opportunity of working in the duke's interests and for the advancement of his ends.
The Pope wrote to the cardinal commending Cesare to his good graces, and the cardinal replied with protestations which he certainly proceeded to make good.
Della Rovere was to escort Cesare to the king, who was with his Court then at Chinon, awaiting the completion of the work that was being carried out at his Castle of Blois, which presently became his chief residence. But Cesare appears to have tarried in Avignon, for he was still there at the end of October, nor did he reach Chinon until the middle of December. The pomp of his entrance was a thing stupendous. We find a detailed relation of it in Brantôme, translated into prose form some old verses which, he tells us, that he found in the family treasury. He complains of their coarseness, and those who are acquainted with the delightful old Frenchman's own frankness of expression may well raise their brows at that criticism of his. Whatever the coarse liberties taken with the subject—of which we are not allowed more than an occasional glimpse—and despite the fact that the relation was in verse, which ordinarily makes for the indulgence of the rhymer's fancy—the description appears to be fairly accurate, for it corresponds more or less with the particulars given in Sanuto.
At the head of the cavalcade went twenty-four sumpter-mules, laden with coffers and other baggage under draperies embroidered with Cesare's arms—prominent among which would be the red bull, the emblem of his house, and the three-pointed flame, his own particular device. Behind these came another twenty-four mules, caparisoned in the king's colours of scarlet and gold, to be followed in their turn by sixteen beautiful chargers led by hand, similarly caparisoned, and their bridles and stirrups of solid silver. Next came eighteen pages on horseback, sixteen of whom were in scarlet and yellow, whilst the remaining two were in cloth of gold. These were followed by a posse of lacqueys in the same liveries and two mules laden with coffers draped with cloth of gold, which contained the gifts of which Cesare was the bearer. Behind these rode the duke's thirty gentlemen, in cloth of gold and silver, and amongst them came the duke himself.
Cesare was mounted on a superb war-horse that was all empanoplied in a cuirass of gold leaves of exquisite workmanship, its head surmounted by a golden artichoke, its tail confined in a net of gold abundantly studded with pearls. The duke was in black velvet, through the slashings of which appeared the gold brocade of the undergarment. Suspended from a chain said by Brantôme's poet to be worth thirty thousand ducats, a medallion of diamonds blazed upon his breast, and in his black velvet cap glowed those same wonderful rubies that we saw on the occasion of his departure from Rome. His boots were of black velvet, laced with gold thread that was studded with gems.
The rear of the cavalcade was brought up by more mules and the chariots bearing his plate and tents and all the other equipage with which a prince was wont to travel.
It is said by some that his horse was shod with solid gold, and there is also a story—pretty, but probably untrue—that some of his mules were shod in the same metal, and that, either because the shoes were loosely attached of intent, or because the metal, being soft, parted readily from the hoofs, these golden shoes were freely cast and left as largesse for those who might care to take them.
The Bishop of Rouen—that same Georges d'Amboise for whom he was bringing the red hat—the Seneschal of Toulouse and several gentlemen of the Court went to meet him on the bridge, and escorted him up through the town to the castle, where the king awaited him. Louis XII gave him a warm and cordial welcome, showing him then and thereafter the friendliest consideration. Not so, however, the lady he was come to woo. It was said in Venice that she was in love with a young Breton gentleman in the following of Queen Anne. Whether this was true, and Carlotta acted in the matter in obedience to her own feelings, or whether she was merely pursuing the instructions she had received from Naples, she obstinately and absolutely refused to entertain or admit the suit of Cesare.
Della Rovere, on January 18, wrote to the Pope from Nantes, whither the Court had moved, a letter in which he sang the praises of the young Duke of Valentinois.
"By his modesty his readiness, his prudence, and his other virtues he has known how to earn the affections of every one." Unfortunately, there was one important exception, as the cardinal was forced to add: "The damsel, either out of her own contrariness, or because so induced by others, which is easier to believe, constantly refuses to hear of the wedding."
Della Rovere was quite justified in finding it easier to believe that Carlotta was acting upon instructions from others, for, when hard pressed to consent to the alliance, she demanded that the Neapolitan ambassador should himself say that her father desired her to do so—a statement which, it seems, the ambassador could not bring himself to make.
Baffled by the persistence of that refusal, Cesare all but returned a bachelor to Italy. So far, indeed, was his departure a settled matter that in February of 1489, at the Castle of Loches, he received the king's messages for the Pope. Yet Louis hesitated to let him go without having bound his Holiness to his own interests by stronger bonds.
In the task of tracing the annals of the Borgias, the honest seeker after truth is compelled to proceed axe in hand that he may hack himself a way through the tangle of irresponsible or malicious statements that have grown up about this subject, driving their roots deep into the soil of history. Not a single chance does malignity, free or chartered, appear to have missed for the invention of flagitious falsehoods concerning this family, or for the no less flagitious misinterpretation of known facts.
Amid a mass of written nonsense dealing with Cesare's sojourn in France is the oft-repeated, totally unproven statement that he withheld from Louis the dispensation enabling the latter to marry Anne of Brittany, until such time as he should have obtained from Louis all that he desired of him—in short, that he sold him the dispensation for the highest price he could extract. The only motive served by this statement is once more to show Alexander and his son in the perpetration of simoniacal practices, and the statement springs, beyond doubt, from a passage in Macchiavelli's Extracts from Dispatches to the Ten. Elsewhere has been mentioned the confusion prevailing in those extracts, and their unreliability as historical evidences. That circumstance can be now established. The passage in question runs as follows:
"This dispensation was given to Valentinois when he went to France without any one being aware of its existence, with orders to sell it dearly to the king, and not until satisfied of the wife and his other desires. And, whilst these things were toward, the king learnt from the Bishop of Ceuta that the dispensation already existed, and so, without having received or even seen it the marriage was celebrated, and for revealing this the Bishop of Ceuta was put to death by order of Valentinois."
Now, to begin with, Macchiavelli admits that what passed between Pope and duke was secret. How, then, does he pretend to possess these details of it? But, leaving that out of the question, his statement—so abundantly repeated by later writers—is traversed by every one of the actual facts of the case.
That there can have been no secret at all about the dispensation is made plain by the fact that Manfredi, the Ferrarese ambassador, writes of it to Duke Ercole on October 2—the day after Cesare's departure from Rome. And as for the death of Fernando d'Almeida Bishop of Ceuta, this did not take place then, nor until two years later (on January 7, 1499) at the siege of Forli, whither he had gone in Cesare's train—as is related in Bernardi's Chronicles and Bonoli's history of that town.
To return to the matter of Cesare's imminent departure unwed from France, Louis XII was not the only monarch to whom this was a source of anxiety. Keener far was the anxiety experienced on that score by the King of Naples, who feared that its immediate consequence would be to drive the Holy Father into alliance with Venice, which was paying its court to him at the time and with that end in view. Eager to conciliate Alexander in this hour of peril, Federigo approached him with alternative proposals, and offered to invest Cesare in the principalities of Salerno and Sanseverino, which had been taken from the rebel barons. To this the Pope might have consented, but that, in the moment of considering it, letters reached him from Cesare which made him pause.
Louis XII had also discovered an alternative to the marriage of Cesare with Carlotta, and one that should more surely draw the Pope into the alliance with Venice and himself.
Among the ladies of the Court of Queen Anne—Louis had now been wedded a month—there were, besides Carlotta, two other ladies either of whom might make Cesare a suitable duchess. One of these was a niece of the king's, the daughter of the Comte de Foix; the other was Charlotte d'Albret, a daughter of Alain d'Albret, Duc de Guyenne, and sister to the King of Navarre. Between these two Cesare was now given to choose by Louis, and his choice fell upon Charlotte.
She was seventeen years of age and said to be the most beautiful maid in France, and she had been reared at the honourable and pious Court of Jeanne de Valois, whence she had passed into that of Anne of Brittany, which latter, says Hilarion de Coste,(1) was "a school of virtue, an academy of honour."
|1 Éloges et vies des Reynes, Princesses, etc.|
Negotiations for her hand were opened with Alain, who, it is said, was at first unwilling, but in the end won over to consent. Navarre had need of the friendship of the King of France, that it might withstand the predatory humours of Castille; and so, for his son's sake, Alain could not long oppose the wishes of Louis. Considering closely the pecuniary difficulties under which this Alain d'Albret was labouring and his notorious avarice, one is tempted to conclude that such difficulties as he may have made were dictated by his reduced circumstances, his impossibility, or unwillingness, to supply his daughter with a dowry fitting her rank, and an unworthy desire to drive in the matter the best bargain possible. And this is abundantly confirmed by the obvious care and hard-headed cunning with which the Sieur d'Albret investigated Cesare's circumstances and sources of revenue to verify their values to be what was alleged.
Eventually he consented to endow her with 30,000 livres Tournois (90,000 francs) to be paid as follows: 6,000 livres on the celebration of the marriage, and the balance by annual instalments of 1,500 livres until cleared off. This sum, as a matter of fact, represented her portion of the inheritance from her deceased mother, Françoise de Bretagne, and it was tendered subject to her renouncing all rights and succession in any property of her father's or her said deceased mother's.
Thus is it set forth in the contract drawn up by Alain at Castel-Jaloux on March 23, 1499, which contract empowers his son Gabriel and one Regnault de St. Chamans to treat and conclude the marriage urged by the king between the Duke of Valentinois and Alain's daughter, Charlotte d'Albret. But that was by no means all. Among other conditions imposed by Alain, he stipulated that the Pope should endow his daughter with 100,000 livres Tournois, and that for his son, Amanieu d'Albret, there should be a cardinal's hat—for the fulfilment of both of which conditions Cesare took it upon himself to engage his father.
On April 15 the treaty between France and Venice was signed at Blois. It was a defensive and offensive alliance directed against all, with the sole exception of the reigning Pontiff, who should have the faculty to enter into it if he so elected. This was the first decisive step against the House of Sforza, and so secretly were the negotiations conducted that Lodovico Sforza's first intimation of them resulted from the capture in Milanese territory of a courier from the Pope with letters to Cesare in France. From these he learnt, to his dismay, not only of the existence of the league, but that the Pope had joined it. The immediate consequence of this positive assurance that Alexander had gone over to Sforza's enemies was Ascanio Sforza's hurried departure from Rome on July 13.
In the meantime Cesare's marriage had followed almost immediately upon the conclusion of the treaty. The nuptials were celebrated on May 12, and on the 19th he received at the hands of the King of France the knightly Order of St. Michael, which was then the highest honour that France could confer. When the news of this reached the Pope he celebrated the event in Rome with public festivities and illuminations.
Of Cesare's courtship we have no information. The fact that the marriage was purely one of political expediency would tend to make us conceive it as invested with that sordid lovelessness which must so often attend the marriages of princes. But there exists a little data from which we may draw certain permissible inferences. This damsel of seventeen was said to be the loveliest in France, and there is more than a suggestion in Le Feron's De Gestis Regnum Gallorum, that Cesare was by no means indifferent to her charms. He tells us that the Duke of Valentinois entered into the marriage very heartily, not only for the sake of its expediency, but for "the beauty of the lady, which was equalled by her virtues and the sweetness of her nature."
Cesare, we have it on more than one authority, was the handsomest man of his day. The gallantry of his bearing merited the approval of so fastidious a critic in such matters as Baldassare Castiglione, who mentions it in his Il Cortigiano. Of his personal charm there is also no lack of commendation from those who had his acquaintance at this time. Added to this, his Italian splendour and flamboyance may well have dazzled a maid who had been reared amid the grey and something stern tones of the Court of Jeanne de Valois.
And so it may well be that they loved, and that they were blessed in their love for the little space allotted them in each other's company. The sequel justifies in a measure the assumption. Just one little summer out of the span of their lives—brief though those lives were—did they spend together, and it is good to find some little evidence that, during that brief season at least, they inhabited life's rose-garden.
In September—just four short months after the wedding-bells had pealed above them—the trumpets of war blared out their call to arms. Louis's preparations for the invasion of Milan were complete and he poured his troops through Piedmont under the command of Giangiacomo Trivulzio.
Cesare was to accompany Louis into Italy. He appointed his seventeen-year-old duchess governor and administrator of his lands and lordships in France and Dauphiny under a deed dated September 8, and he made her heiress to all his moveable possessions in the event of his death. Surely this bears some witness, not only to the prevailing of a good understanding between them, but to his esteem of her and the confidence he reposed in her mental qualities. The rest her later mourning of him shows.
Thus did Cesare take leave of the young wife whom he was never to see again. Their child—born in the following spring—he was never to see at all. The pity of it! Ambition-driven, to fulfil the destiny expected of him, he turned his back upon that pleasant land of Dauphiny where the one calm little season of his manhood had been spent, where happiness and peace might have been his lifelong portion had he remained. He set his face towards Italy and the storm and stress before him, and in the train of King Louis he set out upon the turbulent meteoric course that was to sear so deep and indelible a brand across the scroll of history.
Chapter II. The Knell of the Tyrants
In the hour of his need Lodovico Sforza found himself without friends or credit, and he had to pay the price of the sly, faithless egotistical policy he had so long pursued with profit.
His far-reaching schemes were flung into confusion because a French king had knocked his brow against a door, and had been succeeded by one who conceived that he had a legal right to the throne of Milan, and the intent and might to enforce it, be the right legal or not. It was in vain now that Lodovico turned to the powers of Italy for assistance, in vain that his cunning set fresh intrigues afoot. His neighbours had found him out long since; he had played fast and loose with them too often, and there was none would trust him now.
Thus he found himself isolated, and in no case to withstand the French avalanche which rolled down upon his duchy. The fall of Milan was a matter of days; of resistance there was practically none. Town after town threw up its gates to the invaders, and Lodovico, seeing himself abandoned on all sides, sought in flight the safety of his own person.
Cesare took no part in the war, which, after all, was no war—no more than an armed progress. He was at Lyons with the King, and he did not move into Italy until Louis went to take possession of his new duchy.
Amid the acclamations of the ever-fickle mob, hailing him as its deliverer, Louis XII rode triumphantly into Milan on October 6, attended by a little host of princes, including the Prince of Savoy, the Dukes of Montferrat and Ferrara, and the Marquis of Mantua. But the place of honour went to Cesare Borgia, who rode at the king's side, a brilliant and arresting figure. This was the occasion on which Baldassare Castiglione—who was in the Marquis of Mantua's suite—was moved to such praise of the appearance and gallant bearing of the duke, and of the splendid equipment of his suite, which outshone those of all that little host of attendant princes.
From this time onward Cesare signs himself "Cesare Borgia of France," and quarters on his shield the golden lilies of France with the red bull of the House of Borgia.
The conditions on which Alexander VI joined the league of France and Venice became apparent at about this time. They were to be gathered from the embassy of his nephew, the Cardinal Giovanni Borgia, to Venice in the middle of September. There the latter announced to the Council of Ten that the Pope's Holiness aimed at the recovery to the Church of those Romagna tyrannies which originally were fiefs of the Holy See and held by her vicars, who, however, had long since repudiated the Pontifical authority, refused the payment of their tributes, and in some instances had even gone so far as to bear arms against the Church.
With one or two exceptions the violent and evil misgovernment of these turbulent princelings was a scandal to all Italy. They ruled by rapine and murder, and rendered Romagna little better than a nest of brigands. Their state of secession from the Holy See arose largely out of the nepotism practised by the last Popes—a nepotism writers are too prone to overlook when charging Alexander with the same abuse. Such Popes as Sixtus IV and Innocent VIII had broken up the States of the Church that they might endow their children and their nephews. The nepotism of such as these never had any result but to impoverish the Holy See; whilst, on the other hand, the nepotism of Alexander—this Pope who is held up to obloquy as the archetype of the nepotist—had a tendency rather to enrich it. It was not to the States of the Church, not by easy ways of plundering the territories of the Holy See, that he turned to found dominions and dynasties for his children. He went beyond and outside of them, employing princely alliances as the means to his ends. Gandia was a duke in Spain; Giuffredo a prince in Naples, and Cesare a duke in France. For none of these could it be said that territories had been filched from Rome, whilst the alliances made for them were such as tended to strengthen the power of the Pope, and, therefore, of the Church.
The reconsolidation of the States of the Church, the recovery of her full temporal power, which his predecessors had so grievously dissipated, had ever been Alexander's aim; Louis XII afforded him, at last, his opportunity, since with French aid the thing now might be attempted.
His son Cesare was the Hercules to whom was to be given the labour of cleaning out the Augean stable of the Romagna.
That Alexander may have been single-minded in his purpose has never been supposed. It might, indeed, be to suppose too much; and the general assumption that, from the outset, his chief aim was to found a powerful State for his son may be accepted. But let us at least remember that such had been the aims of several Popes before him. Sixtus IV and Innocent VIII had similarly aimed at founding dynasties in Romagna for their families, but, lacking the talents and political acuteness of Alexander and a son of the mettle and capacity of Cesare Borgia, the feeble trail of their ambition is apt to escape attention. It is also to be remembered that, whatever Alexander's ulterior motive, the immediate results of the campaign with which he inspired his son were to reunite to the Church the States which had fallen away from her, and to re-establish her temporal sway in the full plenitude of its dominion. However much he may have been imbued with the desire to exalt and aggrandize his children politically, he did nothing that did not at the same time make for the greater power and glory of the Church.
His formidable Bull published in October set forth how, after trial, it had been found that the Lords or Vicars of Rimini, Pesaro, Imola, Forli, Camerino and Faenza, with other feudatories of the Holy See (including the duchy of Urbino) had never paid the yearly tribute due to the Church, wherefore he, by virtue of his apostolic authority, deprived them of all their rights, and did declare them so deprived.
It has been said again and again that this Bull amounting to a declaration of war, was no more than a pretext to indulge his rapacity; but surely it bears the impress of a real grievance, and, however blameable the results that followed out of it, for the measure itself there were just and ample grounds.
The effect of that Bull, issued at a moment when Cesare stood at arms with the might of France at his back, ready to enforce it, was naturally to throw into a state of wild dismay these Romagna tyrants whose acquaintance we shall make at closer quarters presently in the course of following Cesare's campaign. Cesare Borgia may have been something of a wolf; but you are not to suppose that the Romagna was a fold of lambs.
Giovanni Sforza—Cesare's sometime brother-in-law, and Lord of Pesaro—flies in hot haste to Venice for protection. There are no lengths to which he will not go to thwart the Borgias in their purpose, to save his tyranny from falling into the power of this family which he hates most rabidly, and of which he says that, having robbed him of his honour, it would now deprive him of his possessions. He even offers to make a gift of his dominions to the Republic.
There was much traders' blood in Venice, and, trader-like, she was avid of possessions. You can surmise how she must have watered at the mouth to see so fine a morsel cast thus into her lap, and yet to know that the consumption of it might beget a woeful indigestion. Venice shook her head regretfully. She could not afford to quarrel with her ally, King Louis, and so she made answer—a thought contemptuously, it seems—that Giovanni should have made his offer while he was free to do so.
The Florentines exerted themselves to save Forli from the fate that threatened it. They urged a league of Bologna, Ferrara, Forli, Piombino, and Siena for their common safety—a proposal which came to nothing, probably because Ferrara and Siena, not being threatened by the Bull, saw no reason why, for the sake of others, they should call down upon themselves the wrath of the Borgias and their mighty allies.
Venice desired to save Faenza, whose tyrant, Manfredi, was also attainted for non-payment of his tributes, and to this end the Republic sent an embassy to Rome with the moneys due. But the Holy Father refused the gold, declaring that it was too late for payment.
Forli's attempt to avert the danger was of a different sort, and not exerted until this danger—in the shape of Cesare himself—stood in arms beneath her walls. Two men, both named Tommaso—though it does not transpire that they were related—one a chamberlain of the Palace of Forli, the other a musician, were so devoted to the Countess Sforza-Riario, the grim termagant who ruled the fiefs of her murdered husband, Girolamo Riario, as to have undertaken an enterprise from which they cannot have hoped to emerge with their lives. It imported no less than the murder of the Pope. They were arrested on November 21, and in the possession of one of them was found a hollow cane containing a letter "so impregnated with poison that even to unfold it would be dangerous." This letter was destined for the Holy Father.
The story reads like a gross exaggeration emanating from men who, on the subject of poisoning, display the credulity of the fifteenth century, so ignorant in these matters and so prone to the fantastic. And our minds receive a shock upon learning that, when put to the question, these messengers actually made a confession—upon which the story rests—admitting that they had been sent by the countess to slay the Pope, in the hope that thus Forli might be saved to the Riarii. At first we conclude that those wretched men, examined to the accompaniment of torture, confessed whatever was required of them, as so frequently happened in such cases. Such, indeed, is the very explanation advanced by more than one writer, coupled with the suggestion, in some instances, that the whole affair was trumped up by the Pope to serve his own ends.
They will believe the wildest and silliest of poisoning stories (such as those of Djem and Cardinal Giovanni Borgia) which reveal the Borgias as the poisoners; but, let another be accused and the Borgias be the intended victims, and at once they grow rational, and point out to you the wildness of the statement, the impossibility of its being true. Yet it is a singular fact that a thorough investigation of this case of the Countess Sforza-Riario's poisoned letter reveals it to be neither wild nor impossible but simply diabolical. The explanation of the matter is to be found in Andrea Bernardi's Chronicles of Forli. He tells us exactly how the thing was contrived, with a precision of detail which we could wish to see emulated by other contemporaries of his who so lightly throw out accusations of poisoning. He informs us that a deadly and infectious disease was rampant in Forli in that year 1499, and that, before dispatching her letter to the Pope, the Countess caused it to be placed upon the body of one who was sick of this infection—thus hoping to convey it to his Holiness.(1)
|1 "Dite litre lei le aveva fate tocare et tenere adose ad uno nostro infetado."—Andrea Bernardi (Cronache di Forli).|
Alexander held a thanksgiving service for his escape at Santa Maria della Pace, and Cardinal Raffaele Riario fled precipitately from Rome, justly fearful of being involved in the papal anger that must fall upon his house.
By that time, however, Cesare had already taken the field. The support of Louis, conqueror of Milan, had been obtained, and in this Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere had once more been helpful to the Borgias.
His reconciliation with the Pope, long since deserved by the services he had rendered the House of Borgia in forwarding Cesare's aims, as we have seen, was completed now by an alliance which bound the two families together. His nephew, Francesco della Rovere, had married Alexander's niece, Angela Borgia.
There is a letter from Giuliano to the Pope, dated October 12, 1499, in which he expresses his deep gratitude in the matter of this marriage, which naturally redounded to the advantage of his house, and pledges himself to exert all the influence which he commands with Louis XII for the purpose of furthering the Duke of Valentinois' wishes. So well does he keep this promise that we see him utterly abandoning his cousins the Riarii, who were likely to be crushed under the hoofs of the now charging bull, and devoting himself strenuously to equip Cesare for that same charge. So far does he go in this matter that he is one of the sureties—the other being the Cardinal Giovanni Borgia—for the loan of 45,000 ducats raised by Cesare in Milan towards the cost of his campaign.
This is the moment in which to pause and consider this man, who, because he was a bitter enemy of Alexander's, and who, because earlier he had covered the Pope with obloquy and insult and is to do so again later, is hailed as a fine, upright, lofty, independent, noble soul.
Not so fine, upright, or noble but that he can put aside his rancour when he finds that there is more profit in fawning than in snarling; not so independent but that he can become a sycophant who writes panegyrics of Cesare and letters breathing devotion to the Pope, once he has realized that thus his interests will be better served. This is the man, remember, who dubbed Alexander a Jew and a Moor; this the man who agitated at the Courts of France and Spain for Alexander's deposition from the Pontificate on the score of the simony of his election; this the man whose vituperations of the Holy Father are so often quoted, since—coming from lips so honest—they must, from the very moment that he utters them, be merited. If only the historian would turn the medal about a little, and allow us a glimpse of the reverse as well as of the obverse, what a world of trouble and misconceptions should we not be spared!
Della Rovere had discovered vain his work of defamation, vain his attempts to induce the Kings of France and Spain to summon a General Council and depose the man whose seat he coveted, so he had sought to make his peace with the Holy See. The death of Charles VIII, and the succession of a king who had need of the Pope's friendship and who found a friend in Alexander, rendered it all the more necessary that della Rovere should set himself to reconquer, by every means in his power, the favour of Alexander.
And so you see this honourable, upright man sacrificing his very family to gain that personal end. Where now is that stubbornly honest conscience of his which made him denounce Alexander as no Christian and no Pope? Stifled by self-interest. It is as well that this should be understood, for this way lies the understanding of many things.
The funds for the campaign being found, Cesare received from Louis three hundred lances captained by Yves d'Allègre and four thousand foot, composed of Swiss and Gascons, led by the Bailie of Dijon. Further troops were being assembled for him at Cesena—the one fief of Romagna that remained faithful to the Church—by Achille Tiberti and Ercole Bentivogli, and to these were to be added the Pontifical troops that would be sent to him; so that Cesare found himself ultimately at the head of a considerable army, some ten thousand strong, well-equipped and supported by good artillery.
Louis XII left Milan on November 7—one month after his triumphal entrance—and set out to return to France, leaving Trivulzio to represent him as ruler of the Milanese. Two days later Cesare's army took the road, and he himself went with his horse by way of Piacenza, whilst the foot, under the Bailie of Dijon, having obtained leave of passage through the territories of Ferrara and Cremona, followed the Po down to Argenta.
Thus did Cesare Borgia—personally attended by a caesarian guard, wearing his livery—set out upon the conquest of the Romagna. Perhaps at no period of his career is he more remarkable than at this moment. To all trades men serve apprenticeships, and to none is the apprenticeship more gradual and arduous than to the trade of arms. Yet Cesare Borgia served none. Like Minerva, springing full-grown and armed into existence, so Cesare sprang to generalship in the hour that saw him made a soldier. This was the first army in which he had ever marched, yet he marched at the head of it. In his twenty-four years of life he had never so much as witnessed a battle pitched; yet here was he riding to direct battles and to wrest victories. Boundless audacity and swiftest intelligence welded into an amazing whole!
Chapter III. Imola and Forli
Between his departure from Milan and his arrival before Imola, where his campaign was to be inaugurated, Cesare paid a flying visit to Rome and his father, whom he had not seen for a full year. He remained three days at the Vatican, mostly closeted with the Pope's Holiness. At the end of that time he went north again to rejoin his army, which by now had been swelled by the forces that had joined it from Cesena, some Pontifical troops, and a condotta under Vitellozzo Vitelli.
The latter, who was Lord of Castello, had gone to Milan to seek justice at the hands of Louis XII against the Florentines, who had beheaded his brother Paolo—deservedly, for treason in the conduct of the war against Pisa. This Vitellozzo was a valuable and experienced captain. He took service with Cesare, spurred by the hope of ultimately finding a way to avenge himself upon the Florentines, and in Cesare's train he now advanced upon Imola and Forli.
The warlike Countess Caterina Sforza-Riario had earlier been granted by her children full administration of their patrimony during their minority. To the defence of this she now addressed herself with all the resolution of her stern nature. Her life had been unfortunate, and of horrors she had touched a surfeit. Her father, Galeazzo Sforza, was murdered in Milan Cathedral by a little band of patriots; her brother Giangaleazzo had died, of want or poison, in the Castle of Pavia, the victim of her ambitious uncle, Lodovico; her husband, Girolamo Riario, she had seen butchered and flung naked from a window of the very castle which she now defended; Giacomo Feo, whom she had secretly married in second nuptials, was done to death in Forli, under her very eyes, by a party of insurrectionaries. Him she had terribly avenged. Getting her men-at-arms together, she had ridden at their head into the quarter inhabited by the murderers, and there ordered—as Macchiavelli tells us—the massacre of every human being that dwelt in it, women and children included, whilst she remained at hand to see it done. Thereafter she took a third husband, in Giovanni di Pierfrancesco de' Medici, who died in 1498. By him this lusty woman had a son whose name was to ring through Italy as that of one of the most illustrious captains of his day—Giovanni delle Bande Nere.
Such was the woman whom Sanuto has called "great-souled, but a most cruel virago," who now shut herself into her castle to defy the Borgia.
She had begun by answering the Pope's Bull of attainder with the statement that, far from owing the Holy See the tribute which it claimed, the Holy See was actually in her debt, her husband, Count Girolamo Riario, having been a creditor of the Church for the provisions made by him in his office of Captain-General of the Pontifical forces. This subterfuge, however, had not weighed with Alexander, whereupon, having also been frustrated in her attempt upon the life of the Pope's Holiness, she had proceeded to measures of martial resistance. Her children and her treasures she had dispatched to Florence that they might be out of danger, retaining of the former only her son Ottaviano, a young man of some twenty years; but, for all that she kept him near her, it is plain that she did not account him worthy of being entrusted with the defence of his tyranny, for it was she, herself, the daughter of the bellicose race of Sforza, who set about the organizing of this.
Disposing of forces that were entirely inadequate to take the field against the invader, she entrenched herself in her fortress of Forli, provisioning it to withstand a protracted siege and proceeding to fortify it by throwing up outworks and causing all the gates but one to be built up.
Whilst herself engaged upon military measures she sent her son Ottaviano to Imola to exhort the Council to loyalty and the defence of the city. But his mission met with no success. Labouring against him was a mighty factor which in other future cases was to facilitate Cesare's subjection of the Romagna. The Riarii—in common with so many other of the Romagna tyrants—had so abused their rule, so ground the people with taxation, so offended them by violence, and provoked such deep and bitter enmity that in this hour of their need they found themselves deservedly abandoned by their subjects. The latter were become eager to try a change of rulers, in the hope of finding thus an improved condition of things; a worse, they were convinced, would be impossible.
So detested were the Riarii and so abhorred the memory they left behind them in Imola that for years afterwards the name of Cesare Borgia was blessed there as that of a minister of divine justice ("tanquam minister divina justitiae") who had lifted from them the harsh yoke by which they had been oppressed.
And so it came to pass that, before ever Cesare had come in sight of Imola, he was met by several of its gentlemen who came to offer him the town, and he received a letter from the pedagogue Flaminio with assurances that, if it should be at all possible to them, the inhabitants would throw open the gates to him on his approach. And Flaminio proceeded to implore the duke that should he, nevertheless, be constrained to have recourse to arms to win admittance, he should not blame the citizens nor do violence to the city by putting it to pillage, assuring him that he would never have a more faithful, loving city than Imola once this should be in his power.
The duke immediately sent forward Achille Tiberti with a squadron of horse to demand the surrender of the town. And the captain of the garrison of Imola replied that he was ready to capitulate, since that was the will of the people. Three days later—on November 27—Cesare rode in as conqueror.
The example of the town, however, was not followed by the citadel. Under the command of Dionigio di Naldo the latter held out, and, as the duke's army made its entrance into Imola, the castellan signified his resentment by turning his cannon upon the town itself, with such resolute purpose that many houses were set on fire and demolished. This Naldo was one of the best reputed captains of foot of his day, and he had seen much service under the Sforza; but his experience could avail him little here.
On the 28th Cesare opened the attack, training his guns upon the citadel; but it was not until a week later that, having found a weak spot in the walls on the side commanding the town, he opened a breach through which his men were able to force a passage, and so possess themselves of a half-moon. Seeing the enemy practically within his outworks, and being himself severely wounded in the head, Naldo accounted it time to parley. He begged a three-days' armistice, pledging himself to surrender at the end of that time should he not receive reinforcements in the meanwhile; and to this arrangement the duke consented.
The good faith of Naldo has been questioned, and it has been suggested that his asking for three days' grace was no better than a cloak to cover his treacherous sale of the fortress to the besieger. It seems, however, to be no more than one of those lightly-uttered, irresponsible utterances with which the chronicles of the time abound, for Naldo had left his wife and children at Forli in the hands of the Countess, as hostages for his good faith, and this renders improbable the unsupported story of his baseness.
On December 7, no reinforcements having reached him, Naldo made formal surrender of the citadel, safe-conduct having been granted to his garrison.
A week later there arrived at Imola Cesare's cousin, the Cardinal Giovanni Borgia, whom the Pope had constituted legate in Bologna and the Romagna in place of the Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, and whom he had sent to support Cesare's operations with ecclesiastical authority. Cardinal Giovanni, as the Pope's representative, received in the Church of San Domenico the oath of fealty of the city to the Holy See. This was pledged by four representative members of the Council of Thirty; and by that act the conquest and subjection of the town became a fully accomplished fact.
The lesser strongholds of the territory threw up their gates one by one before the advancing enemy, until only Forli remained to be taken. Cesare pushed forward to reduce it.
On his way he passed through Faenza, whose tyrant, Manfredi, deeming himself secure in the protection of Venice and in view of the circumstance that the republic had sent to Rome the arrears of tribute due from his fief, and anxious to conciliate the Pope, received and entertained Cesare very cordially.
At Forli the case of Imola was practically repeated. Notwithstanding that the inhabitants were under the immediate eye of the formidable countess, and although she sent her brother, Alessandro Sforza, to exhort the people and the Council to stand by her, the latter, weary as the rest of the oppressive tyranny of her family, dispatched their representatives to Cesare to offer him the town.
The Countess's valour was of the sort that waxes as the straits become more desperate. Since the town abandoned and betrayed her, she would depend upon her citadel, and by a stubborn resistance make Cesare pay as dearly as possible for the place. To the danger which she seems almost eager to incur for her own part, this strong-minded, comely matron will not subject the son she has kept beside her until now; and so she packs Ottaviano off to Florence and safety. That done, she gives her mutinous subjects a taste of her anger by attempting to seize half a dozen of the principal citizens of Forli. As it happened, not only did this intent miscarry, but it went near being the means of involving her in battle even before the duke's arrival; for the people, getting wind of the affair, took up arms to defend their threatened fellow-citizens.
She consoled herself, however, by seizing the persons of Nicolo Tornielli and Lodovico Ercolani, whom the Council had sent to inform her that their representatives had gone to Cesare with the offer of the town. Further, to vent her rage and signify her humour, she turned her cannon upon the Communal Palace and shattered the tower of it.
Meanwhile Cesare advanced. It was again Tiberti who now rode forward with his horse to demand the surrender of Forli. This was accorded as readily as had been that of Imola, whereupon Cesare came up to take possession in person; but, despite the cordial invitation of the councillors, he refused to enter the gates until he had signed the articles of capitulation.
On December 19, under a deluge of rain, Cesare, in full armour, the banner of the Church borne ahead of him, rode into Forli with his troops. He was housed in the palace of Count Luffo Nomaglie (one of the gentlemen whom Caterina had hoped to capture), and his men were quartered through the town. These foreign soldiers of his seem to have got a little out of hand here at Forli, and they committed a good many abuses, to the dismay and discomfort of the Citizens.
Sanuto comments upon this with satisfaction, accounting the city well served for having yielded herself up like a strumpet. It is a comment more picturesque than just, for obviously Forli did not surrender through pusillanimity, but to the end that it might be delivered from the detestable rule of the Riarii.
The city occupied, it now remained to reduce the fortress and bring its warrior-mistress to terms. Cesare set about this at once, nor allowed the Christmas festivities to interfere with his labours, but kept his men at work to bring the siege-guns into position. On Christmas Day the countess belatedly attempted a feeble ruse in the hope of intimidating them. She flew from her battlements a banner, bearing the device of the lion of St. Mark, thinking to trick Cesare into the belief that she had obtained the protection of Venice, or, perhaps, signifying thus that she threw herself into the arms of the republic, making surrender of her fiefs to the Venetians to the end that she might spite a force which she could not long withstand—as Giovanni Sforza had sought to do.
But Cesare, nowise disturbed by that banner, pursued his preparations, which included the mounting of seven cannons and ten falconets in the square before the Church of St. John the Baptist. When all was ready for the bombardment, he made an effort to cause her to realize the hopelessness of her resistance and the vain sacrifice of life it must entail. He may have been moved to this by the valour she displayed, or it may have been that he obeyed the instincts of generalship which made him ever miserly in the matter of the lives of his soldiers. Be that as it may, with intent to bring her to a reasonable view of the situation, he rode twice to the very edge of the ditch to parley with her; but all that came of his endeavours was that on the occasion of his second appeal to her, he had a narrow escape of falling a victim to her treachery, and so losing his life.
She came down from the ramparts, and, ordering the lowering of the bridge, invited him to meet her upon it that there they might confer more at their ease, having, meanwhile, instructed her castellan to raise the bridge again the moment the duke should set foot upon it. The castellan took her instructions too literally, for even as the duke did set one foot upon it there was a grind and clank of machinery, and the great structure swung up and clattered into place. The duke remained outside, saved by a too great eagerness on the part of those who worked the winches, for had they waited but a second longer they must have trapped him.
Cesare returned angry to Forli, and set a price upon Caterina's head—20,000 ducats if taken alive, 10,000 if dead; and on the morrow he opened fire. For a fortnight this was continued without visible result, and daily the countess was to be seen upon the walls with her castellan, directing the defences. But on January 12, Cesare's cannon having been concentrated upon one point, a breach was opened at last. Instantly the waiting citizens, who had been recruited for the purpose, made forward with their faggots, heaping them up in the moat until a passage was practicable. Over this went Cesare's soldiers to force an entrance.
A stubborn fight ensued within the ravelin, where the duke's men were held in check by the defenders, and not until some four hundred corpses choked that narrow space did the besieged give ground before them.
Like most of the Italian fortresses of the period, the castle of Forli consisted of a citadel within a citadel. In the heart of the main fabric—but cut off from it again by its own moat—arose the great tower known as the Maschio. This was ever the last retreat of the besieged when the fortress itself had been carried by assault, and, in the case of the Maschio of the Citadel of Forli, so stout was its construction that it was held to be practically invulnerable.
Had the countess's soldiers made their retreat in good order to this tower, where all the munitions and provisions were stored, Cesare would have found the siege but in the beginning; but in the confusion of that grim hour, besieged and besiegers, Borgian and Riarian, swept forward interlocked, a writhing, hacking, bleeding mob of men-at-arms. Thus they flung themselves in a body across the bridge that spanned the inner moat, and so into the Maschio, whilst the stream of Cesare's soldiers that poured uninterruptedly across in the immediate wake of that battling mass rendered it impossible for the defenders to take up the bridge.
Within the tower the carnage went on, and the duke's men hacked their way through what remained of the Forlivese until they had made themselves masters of that inner stronghold whither Caterina had sought her last refuge.
A Burgundian serving under the Bailie of Dijon was the first to come upon her in the room to which she had fled with a few attendants and a handful of men, amongst whom were Alessandro Sforza, Paolo Riario, and Scipione Riario—this last an illegitimate son of her first husband's, whom she had adopted. The Burgundian declared her his prisoner, and held her for the price that had been set upon her head until the arrival of Cesare, who entered the citadel with his officers a little while after the final assault had been delivered.
Cesare received and treated her with the greatest courtesy, and, seeing her for the moment destitute, he presented her with a purse containing two hundred ducats for her immediate needs. Under his escort she left the castle, and was conducted, with her few remaining servants, to the Nomaglie Palace to remain in the Duke's care, his prisoner. Her brother and the other members of her family found with her were similarly made prisoners.
After her departure the citadel was given over to pillage, and all hell must have raged in it if we may judge from an incident related by Bernardi in his chronicles. A young clerk, named Evangelista da Monsignane, being seized by a Burgundian soldier who asked him if he had any money, produced and surrendered a purse containing thirteen ducats, and so got out of the mercenaries' clutches, but only to fall into the hands of others, one of whom again declared him a prisoner. The poor youth, terrified at the violence about him, and eager to be gone from that shambles, cried out that, if they would let him go, he would pay them a ransom of a hundred ducats.
Thereupon "Surrender to me!" cried one of the soldiers, and, as the clerk was about to do so, another, equally greedy for the ransom, thrust himself forward. "No. Surrender to me, rather," demanded this one.
The first insisted that the youth was his prisoner, whereupon the second brandished his sword, threatening to kill Evangelista. The clerk, in a panic, flung himself into the arms of a monk who was with him, crying out for mercy, and there in the monk's arms he was brutally slain, "to put an end," said his murderer, "to the dispute."
Forlimpopoli surrendered a few days later to Yves d'Allègre, whom Cesare had sent thither, whilst in Forli, as soon as he had reduced the citadel, and before even attempting to repair the damage done, the duke set about establishing order and providing for the dispensation of justice, exerting to that end the rare administrative ability which not even his bitterest detractors have denied him.
He sent a castellan to Forlimpopoli and fetched from Imola a Podestà for Forli.(1) He confirmed the Council of Forty that ruled Forli—being ten for each quarter of the city—and generally made sound and wise provision for the town's well-being, which we shall presently see bearing fruit.
|1 It was customary throughout Italy that the Podestà, or chief magistrate, should never be a native of the town—rarely of the State—in which he held his office. Thus, having no local interests or relationships, he was the likelier to dispense justice with desirable single-mindedness.|
Next the repairing of the fortress claimed his attention, and he disposed for this, entrusting the execution of his instructions to Ramiro de Lorqua, whom he left behind as governor. In the place where the breach was opened by his cannon he ordered the placing of a marble panel bearing his arms; and there it is to be seen to this day: Dexter, the sable bars of the House of Lenzol; Sinister, the Borgia bull in chief, and the lilies of France; and, superimposed, an inescutcheon bearing the Pontifical arms.
All measures being taken so far as Forli was concerned, Cesare turned his attention to Pesaro, and prepared to invade it. Before leaving, however, he awaited the return of his absent cousin, the Cardinal Giovanni Borgia, who, as papal legate, was to receive the oath of fealty of the town; but, instead of the cardinal whom he was expecting, came a messenger with news of his death of fever at Fossombrone.
Giovanni Borgia had left Forli on December 28 to go to Cesena, with intent, it was said, to recruit to his cousin's army those men of Rimini, who, exiled and in rebellion against their tyrant Malatesta, had sought shelter in that Pontifical fief. Thence he had moved on to Urbino, where—in the ducal palace—he awaited news of the fall of Forli, and where, whilst waiting, he fell ill. Nevertheless, when the tidings of Cesare's victory reached him, he insisted upon getting to horse, to repair to Forli; but, discovering himself too ill to keep the saddle, he was forced to abandon the journey at Fossombrone, whilst the outcome of the attempt was an aggravation of the fever resulting in the cardinal's death.
Cesare appears to have been deeply grieved by the loss of Giovanni, and there is every cause to suppose that a sincere attachment prevailed between the cousins. Yet Cesare has been charged with his death, and accused of having poisoned him, and, amidst the host of silly, baseless accusations levelled against Cesare, you shall find none more silly or baseless than this. In other instances of unproven crimes with which he has been charged there may be some vestiges of matter that may do duty for evidence or be construed into motives; here there is none that will serve one purpose or the other, and the appalling and rabid unscrupulousness, the relentless malice of Borgian chroniclers is in nothing so completely apparent as in this accusation.
Sanuto mentions the advices received, and the rumours which say that Cesare murdered him through jealousy, knowing him beloved by the Pope, seeing him a legate, and fearing that he might come to be given the governorship of some Romagna fief.
When Gandia died and Cesare was accused of having murdered him, the motive advanced was that Cesare, a papal legate, resented a brother who was a duke. Now, Cesare, being a duke, resents a cousin's being a papal legate. You will observe that, if this method of discovering motives is pursued a little further, there is no man who died in Cesare's life-time whom Cesare could not be shown to have had motives for murdering.
Sillier even than Sanuto's is the motive with which Giovio attempts to bolster up the accusation which he reports: "He [Cesare] poisoned him because he [Giovanni] favoured the Duke of Gandia."
That, apparently, was the best that Giovio could think of. It is hardly intelligible—which is perhaps inevitable, for it is not easy to be intelligible when you don't quite know, yourself, what you mean, which must have been Giovio's case.
The whole charge is so utterly foolish, stupid, and malicious that it would scarcely be worth mentioning, were it not that so many modern writers have included this among the Borgia crimes. As a matter of fact—and as a comparison of the above-cited dates will show—eighteen days had elapsed between Giovanni Borgia's leaving Cesare at Forli and his succumbing at Urbino—which in itself disposes of the matter. It may be mentioned that this is a circumstance which those foolish or deliberately malicious calumniators either did not trouble to ascertain or else thought it wiser to slur over. Although, had they been pressed, there was always the death of Djem to be cited and the fiction of the slow-working poison specially invented to meet and explain his case.
The preparations for the invasion of Pesaro were complete, and it was determined that on January 22 the army should march out of Forli; but on the night of the 21st a disturbance occurred. The Swiss under the Bailie of Dijon became mutinous—they appear throughout to have been an ill-conditioned lot—and they clamoured now for higher pay if they were to go on to Pesaro, urging that already they had served the Duke of Valentinois as far as they had pledged themselves to the King of France.
Towards the third hour of the night the Bailie himself, with these mutineers at his heels, presented himself at the Nomaglie Palace to demand that the Countess Sforza-Riario should be delivered into his hands. His claim was that she was his prisoner, since she had been arrested by a soldier of his own, and that her surrender was to France, to which he added—a thought inconsequently, it seems—that the French law forbade that women should be made prisoners. Valentinois, taken utterly by surprise, and without the force at hand to resist the Bailie and his Swiss, was compelled to submit and to allow the latter to carry the countess off to his own lodging; but he dispatched a messenger to Forlimpopoli with orders for the immediate return of Allègre and his horse, and in the morning, after Mass, he had the army drawn up in the market-place; and so, backed by his Spanish, French, and Italian troops, he faced the threatening Swiss.
The citizens were in a panic, expecting to see battle blaze out at any moment, and apprehensive of the consequences that might ensue for the town.
The Swiss had grown more mutinous than ever overnight, and they now refused to march until they were paid. It was Cesare's to quell and restore them to obedience. He informed them that they should be paid when they reached Cesena, and that, if they were retained thereafter in his employ, their pay should be on the improved scale which they demanded. Beyond that he made no concessions. The remainder of his harangue was matter to cow them into submission, for he threatened to order the ringing of the alarm-bells, and to have them cut to pieces by the people of Forli whom their gross and predatory habits had already deeply offended.
Order was at last restored, and the Bailie of Dijon was compelled to surrender back the countess to Cesare. But their departure was postponed until the morrow. On that day, January 23, after receiving the oath of fealty from the Anziani in the Church of San Mercuriale, the duke marched his army out of Forli and took the road to Pesaro.
Caterina Sforza Riario went with him. Dressed in black and mounted upon a white horse, the handsome amazon rode between Cesare Borgia and Yves d'Allègre.
At Cesena the duke made a halt, and there he left the countess in the charge of d'Allègre whilst he himself rode forward to overtake the main body of his army, which was already as far south as Cattolica. As for Giovanni Sforza, despite the fact that the Duke of Urbino had sent some foot to support him, he was far more likely to run than to fight, and in fact he had already taken the precaution of placing his money and valuables in safety and was disposing, himself, to follow them. But it happened that there was not yet the need. Fate—in the shape of his cousin Lodovico of Milan—postponed the occasion.
On the 26th Cesare lay at Montefiori, and there he was reached by couriers sent at all speed from Milan by Trivulzio. Lodovico Sforza had raised an army of Swiss and German mercenaries to reconquer his dominions, and the Milanese were opening their arms to receive him back, having already discovered that, in exchanging his rule for that of the French, they had but exchanged King Log for King Stork. Trivulzio begged for the instant return of the French troops serving under Cesare, and Cesare, naturally compelled to accede, was forced to postpone the continuance of his campaign, a matter which must have been not a little vexatious at such a moment.
He returned to Cesena, where, on the 27th, he dismissed Yves d'Allègre and his men, who made all haste back to Milan, so that Cesare was left with a force of not more than a thousand foot and five hundred horse. These, no doubt, would have sufficed him for the conquest of Pesaro, but Giovanni Sforza, encouraged by his cousin's return, and hopeful now of assistance, would certainly entrench himself and submit to a siege which must of necessity be long-drawn, since the departure of the French had deprived Cesare of his artillery.
Therefore the duke disposed matters for his return to Rome instead, and, leaving Ercole Bentivogli with five hundred horse and Gonsalvo de Mirafuente with three hundred foot to garrison Forli, he left Cesena with the remainder of his forces, including Vitelli's horse, on January 30. With him went Caterina Sforza-Riario, and of course there were not wanting those who alleged that, during the few days at Cesena he had carried his conquest of her further than the matter of her territories(1)—a rumour whose parent was, no doubt, the ribald jest made in Milan by Trivulzio when he heard of her capture.
|1 "Teneva detta Madona (la qual é belissima dona, fiola del Ducha Galeazo di Milan) di zorno e di note in la sna camera, con la quale—judicio omnium—si deva piacer" (Sanuto's Diarii).|
He conducted her to Rome—in golden chains, "like another Palmyra," it is said—and there she was given the beautiful Belvedere for her prison until she attempted an escape in the following June; whereupon, for greater safety, she was transferred to the Castle of Sant' Angelo. There she remained until May of 1501, when, by the intervention of the King of France, she was set at liberty and permitted to withdraw to Florence to rejoin her children. In the city of the lilies she abode, devoting herself to good works until she ended her turbulent, unhappy life in 1509.
The circumstance that she was not made to pay with her life for her attempt to poison the Pope is surely something in favour of the Borgias, and it goes some way towards refuting the endless statements of their fierce and vindictive cruelty. Of course, it has been urged that they spared her from fear of France; but, if that is admitted, what then becomes of the theory of that secret poison which might so well have been employed in such a case as this?
Chapter IV. Gonfalonier of the Church
Although Cesare Borgia's conquest of Imola and Forli cannot seriously be accounted extraordinary military achievements—save by consideration of the act that this was the first campaign he had conducted—yet in Rome the excitement caused by his victory was enormous. Possibly this is to be assigned to the compelling quality of the man's personality, which was beginning to manifest and assert itself and to issue from the shadow into which it had been cast hitherto by that of his stupendous father.
The enthusiasm mounted higher and higher whilst preparations were being made for his reception, and reached its climax on February 26, when, with overpowering pomp, he made an entrance into Rome that was a veritable triumph.
Sanuto tells us that, as news came of his approach, the Pope, in his joyous impatience and excitement, became unable to discharge the business of his office, and no longer would give audience to any one. Alexander had ever shown himself the fondest of fathers to his children, and now he overflowed with pride in this son who already gave such excellent signs of his capacity as a condottiero, and justified his having put off the cassock to strap a soldier's harness to his lithe and comely body.
Cardinals Farnese and Borgia, with an imposing suite, rode out some way beyond the gates of Santa Maria del Popolo to meet the duke. At the gate itself a magnificent reception had been prepared him, and the entire Pontifical Court, prelates, priests, ambassadors of the Powers, and officials of the city and curia down to the apostolic abbreviators and secretaries, waited to receive him.
It was towards evening—between the twenty-second and the twenty-third hours—when he made his entrance. In the van went the baggage-carts, and behind these marched a thousand foot in full campaign apparel, headed by two heralds in the duke's livery and one in the livery of the King of France. Next came Vitellozzo's horse followed by fifty mounted gentlemen-at-arms—the duke's Caesarean guard—immediately preceding Cesare himself.
The handsome young duke—"bello e biondo"—was splendidly mounted, but very plainly dressed in black velvet with a simple gold chain for only ornament, and he had about him a hundred guards on foot, also in black velvet, halbert on shoulder, and a posse of trumpeters in a livery that displayed his arms. In immediate attendance upon him came several cardinals on their mules, and behind these followed the ambassadors of the Powers, Cesare's brother Giuffredo Borgia, and Alfonso of Aragon, Duke of Biselli and Prince of Salerno—Lucrezia's husband and the father of her boy Roderigo, born some three months earlier. Conspicuous, too, in Cesare's train would be the imposing figure of the formidable Countess Sforza-Riario, in black upon her white horse, riding in her golden shackles between her two attendant women.
As the procession reached the Bridge of Sant' Angelo a salute was thundered forth by the guns from the castle, where floated the banners of Cesare and of the Church. The press of people from the Porta del Popolo all the way to the Vatican was enormous. It was the year of the Papal Jubilee, and the city was thronged, with pilgrims from all quarters of Europe who had flocked to Rome to obtain the plenary indulgence offered by the Pope. So great was the concourse on this occasion that the procession had the greatest difficulty in moving forward, and the progress through the streets, packed with shouting multitudes, was of necessity slow. At last, however, the Bridge of Sant' Angelo being crossed, the procession pushed on to the Vatican along the new road inaugurated for the Jubilee by Alexander in the previous December.
From the loggia above the portals of the Vatican the Pope watched his son's imposing approach, and when the latter dismounted at the steps his Holiness, with his five attendant cardinals, descended to the Chamber of the Papagallo—the papal audience-chamber, contiguous to the Borgia apartments—to receive the duke. Thither sped Cesare with his multitude of attendants, and at sight of him now the Pope's eyes were filled with tears of joy. The duke advanced gravely to the foot of the throne, where he fell upon his knees, and was overheard by Burchard to express to his father, in their native Spanish, all that he owed to the Pope's Holiness, to which Alexander replied in the same tongue. Then Cesare stooped and kissed the Pope's feet and then his hand, whereupon Alexander, conquered no doubt by the paternal instincts of affection that were so strong in him, raised his son and took him fondly in his arms.
The festivities in honour of Cesare's return were renewed in Rome upon the morrow, and to this the circumstance that the season was that of carnival undoubtedly contributed and lent the displays a threatrical character which might otherwise have been absent. In these the duke's victories were made the subject of illustration. There was a procession of great chariots in Piazza Navona, with groups symbolizing the triumphs of the ancient Caesar, in the arrangement of which, no doubt, the assistance had been enlisted of that posse of valiant artists who were then flocking to Rome and the pontifical Court.
Yriarte, mixing his facts throughout with a liberal leaven of fiction, tells us that "this is the precise moment in which Cesare Borgia, fixing his eyes upon the Roman Caesar, takes him definitely for his model and adopts the device 'Aut Caesar, aut nihil.'"
Cesare Borgia never adopted that device, and never displayed it. In connection with him it is only to be found upon the sword of honour made for him when, while still a cardinal, he went to crown the King of Naples. It is not at all unlikely that the inscription of the device upon that sword—which throughout is engraved with illustrations of the career of Julius Caesar—may have been the conceit of the sword-maker as a rather obvious play upon Cesare's name.(1) Undoubtedly, were the device of Cesare's own adoption we should find it elsewhere, and nowhere else is it to be found.
|1 The scabbard of this sword is to be seen in the South Kensington Museum; the sword itself is in the possession of the Caetani family.|
Shortly after Cesare's return to Rome, Imola and Forli sent their ambassadors to the Vatican to beseech his Holiness to sign the articles which those cities had drawn up and by virtue of which they created Cesare their lord in the place of the deposed Riarii.
It is quite true that Alexander had announced that, in promoting the Romagna campaign, he had for object to restore to the Church the States which had rebelliously seceded from her. Yet there is not sufficient reason to suppose that he was flagrantly breaking his word in acceding to the request of which those ambassadors were the bearers and in creating his son Count of Imola and Forli. Admitted that this was to Cesare's benefit and advancement, it is still to be remembered that those fiefs must be governed for the Church by a Vicar, as had ever been the case.
That being so, who could have been preferred to Cesare for the dignity, seeing that not only was the expulsion of the tyrants his work, but that the inhabitants themselves desired him for their lord? For the rest, granted his exceptional qualifications, it is to be remembered that the Pope was his father, and—setting aside the guilt and scandal of that paternity—it is hardly reasonable to expect a father to prefer some other to his son for a stewardship for which none is so well equipped as that same son. That Imola and Forli were not free gifts to Cesare, detached, for the purpose of so making them, from the Holy See, is clear from the title of Vicar with which Cesare assumed control of them, as set forth in the Bull of investiture.
In addition to his receiving the rank of Vicar and Count of Imola and Forli, it was in this same month of March at last—and after Cesare may be said to have earned it—that he received the Gonfalon of the Church. With the unanimous concurrence of the Sacred College, the Pope officially appointed him Captain-General of the Pontifical forces—the coveting of which position was urged, it will be remembered, as one of his motives for his alleged murder of the Duke of Gandia three years earlier.
On March 29 Cesare comes to St. Peter's to receive his new dignity and the further honour of the Golden Rose which the Pope is to bestow upon him—the symbol of the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant.
Having blessed the Rose, the Pope is borne solemnly into St. Peter's, preceded by the College of Cardinals. Arrived before the High Altar, he puts off his tiara—the conical, richly jewelled cap, woven from the plumage of white peacocks—and bareheaded kneels to pray; whereafter he confesses himself to the Cardinal of Benevento, who was the celebrant on this occasion. That done, he ascends and takes his seat upon the Pontifical Throne, whither come the cardinals to adore him, while the organ peals forth and the choir gives voice. Last of all comes Cesare, dressed in cloth of gold with ermine border, to kneel upon the topmost step of the throne, whereupon the Pope, removing his tiara and delivering it to the attendant Cardinal of San Clemente, pronounces the beautiful prayer of the investiture. That ended, the Pope receives from the hands of the Cardinal of San Clemente the splendid mantle of gonfalonier, and sets it about the duke's shoulders with the prescribed words: "May the Lord array thee in the garment of salvation and surround thee with the cloak of happiness." Next he takes from the hands of the Master of the Ceremonies—that same Burchard whose diary supplies us with these details—the gonfalonier's cap of scarlet and ermine richly decked with pearls and surmounted by a dove—the emblem of the Holy Spirit—likewise wrought in pearls. This he places upon Cesare's auburn head; whereafter, once more putting off his tiara, he utters the prescribed prayer over the kneeling duke.
That done, and the Holy Father resuming his seat and his tiara, Cesare stoops to kiss the Pope's feet, then rising, goes in his gonfalonier apparel, the cap upon his head, to take his place among the cardinals. The organ crashes forth again; the choir intones the "Introito ad altare Deum"; the celebrant ascends the altar, and, having offered incense, descends again and the Mass begins.
The Mass being over, and the celebrant having doffed his sacred vestments and rejoined his brother cardinals, the Cardinal of San Clemente repairs once more to the Papal Throne, preceded by two chamberlains who carry two folded banners, one bearing the Pope's personal arms, the other the arms of Holy Church. Behind the cardinal follows an acolyte with the censer and incense-boat and another with the holy water and the aspersorio, and behind these again two prelates with a Missal and a candle. The Pope rises, blesses the folded banners and incenses them, having received the censer from the hands of a priest who has prepared it. Then, as he resumes his seat, Cesare steps forward once more, and, kneeling, places both hands upon the Missal and pronounces in a loud, clear voice the words of the oath of fealty to St. Peter and the Pope, swearing ever to protect the latter and his successors from harm to life, limb, or possessions. Thereafter the Pope takes the blessed banners and gives the charge of them to Cesare, delivering into his hands the white truncheon symbolic of his office, whilst the Master of Ceremonies hands the actual banners to the two deputies, who in full armour have followed to receive them, and who attach them to the lances provided for the purpose.
The investiture is followed by the bestowal of the Golden Rose, whereafter Cesare, having again kissed the Pope's feet and the Ring of the Fisherman on his finger, has the cap of office replaced upon his head by Burchard himself, and so the ceremonial ends.
The Bishop of Isernia was going to Cesena to assume the governorship of that Pontifical fief, and, profiting by this, Cesare appointed him his lieutenant-general in Romagna, with authority over all his other officers there and full judicial powers. Further, he desired him to act as his deputy and receive the oath of fealty of the duke's new subjects.
Meanwhile, Cesare abode in Rome, no doubt impatient of the interruption which his campaign had suffered, and which it seemed must continue yet awhile. Lodovico Sforza had succeeded in driving the French out of his dominions as easily as he, himself, had been driven out by them a few months earlier. But Louis XII sent down a fresh army under La Trémouille, and Lodovico, basely betrayed by his Swiss mercenaries at Novara in April, was taken prisoner.
That was the definite end of the Sforza rule in Milan. For ten years the crafty, scheming Lodovico was left to languish a prisoner in the Castle of Loches, at the end of which time he miserably died.
Immediately upon the return of the French to Milan, the Pope asked for troops that Cesare might resume his enterprise not only against Pesaro, Faenza, and Rimini, but also against Bologna, where Giovanni Bentivogli had failed to support—as in duty bound—the King of France against Lodovico Sforza. But Bentivogli repurchased the forfeited French protection at the price of 40,000 ducats, and so escaped the impending danger; whilst Venice, it happened, was growing concerned to see no profit accruing to herself out of this league with France and Rome; and that was a matter which her trader spirit could not brook. Therefore, Venice intervened in the matter of Rimini and Faenza, which she protected in somewhat the same spirit as the dog protected the straw in the manger. Next, when, having conquered the Milanese, Louis XII turned his thoughts to the conquest of Naples, and called upon Venice to march with him as became a good ally, the Republic made it quite clear that she was not disposed to move unless there was to be some profit to herself. She pointed out that Mantua and Ferrara were in the same case as Bologna, for having failed to lend assistance to the French in the hour of need, and proposed to Louis XII the conquest and division of those territories.
Thus matters stood, and Cesare had perforce to await the conclusion of the Pisan War in which the French were engaged, confident, however, that, once that was at an end, Louis, in his anxiety to maintain friendly relations with the Pope, would be able to induce Venice to withdraw her protection from Rimini and Faenza. So much accomplished for him, he was now in a position to do the rest without the aid of French troops if necessary. The Jubilee—protracted for a further year, so vast and continuous was the concourse of the faithful, 200,000 of whom knelt in the square before St. Peter's on Easter Day to receive the Pope's blessing—was pouring vast sums of money into the pontifical coffers, and for money men were to be had in plenty by a young condottiero whose fame had been spreading ever since his return from the Romagna. He was now the hope of the soldiers of fortune who abounded in Italy, attracted thither from all quarters by the continual opportunities for employment which that tumultuous land afforded.
It is in speaking of him at about this time, and again praising his personal beauty and fine appearance, that Capello says of him that, if he lives, he will be one of Italy's greatest captains.
Such glimpses as in the pages of contemporary records we are allowed of Cesare during that crowded time of the Papal Jubilee are slight and fleeting. On April 13 we see him on horseback accompanying the Pope through Rome in the cavalcade that visited the four Basilicas to win the indulgence offered, and, as usual, he is attended by his hundred armed grooms in black.
On another occasion we behold him very differently engaged—giving an exhibition of his superb physical gifts, his strength, his courage, and his matchless address. On June 24, at a bull-fight held in Rome—Spanish tauromachia having been introduced from Naples, where it flourished under the Aragon dominion—he went down into the arena, and on horseback, armed only with a light lance, he killed five wild bulls. But the master-stroke he reserved for the end. Dismounting, and taking a double-handed sword to the sixth bull that was loosed against him, he beheaded the great beast at one single stroke, "a feat which all Rome considered great."
Thus sped the time of waiting, and meanwhile he gathered about him a Court not only of captains of fortune, but of men of art and letters, whom he patronized with a liberality—indeed, a prodigality—so great that it presently became proverbial, and, incidentally, by its proportions provoked his father's disapproval. In the brilliant group of men of letters who enjoyed his patronage were such writers as Justolo, Sperulo, and that unfortunate poet Serafino Cimino da Aquila, known to fame and posterity as the great Aquilano. And it would be, no doubt, during these months that Pier di Lorenzo painted that portrait of Cesare which Vasari afterwards saw in Florence, but which, unfortunately, is not now known to exist. Bramante, too, was of his Court at this time, as was Michelangelo Buonarroti, whose superb group of "Mercy," painted for Cardinal de Villiers, had just amazed all Rome. With Pinturicchio, and Leonardi da Vinci—whom we shall see later beside Cesare—Michelangelo was ever held in the highest esteem by the duke.
The story of that young sculptor's leap into fame may not be so widely known but that its repetition may be tolerated here, particularly since, remotely at least, it touches Cesare Borgia.
When, in 1496, young Buonarroti, at the age of twenty-three, came from Florence to Rome to seek his fortune at the opulent Pontifical Court, he brought a letter of recommendation to Cardinal Sforza-Riario. This was the time of the great excavations about Rome; treasures of ancient art were daily being rescued from the soil, and Cardinal Sforza-Riario was a great dilletante and collector of the antique. With pride of possession, he conducted the young sculptor through his gallery, and, displaying his statuary to him, inquired could he do anything that might compare with it. If the cardinal meant to use the young Florentine cavalierly, his punishment was immediate and poetic, for amid the antiques Michelangelo beheld a sleeping Cupid which he instantly claimed as his own work. Riario was angry; no doubt suspicious, too, of fraud. This Cupid was—as its appearance showed—a genuine antique, which the cardinal had purchased from a Milanese dealer for two hundred ducats. Michelangelo, in a passion, named the dealer—one Baldassare—to whom he had sent the statue after treating it, with the questionable morality of the cinquecentist, so as to give it the appearance of having lain in the ground, to the end that Baldassare might dispose of it as an antique.
His present fury arose from his learning the price paid by the cardinal to Baldassare, from whom Michelangelo had received only thirty ducats. In his wrath he demanded—very arbitrarily it seems—the return of his statue. But to this the cardinal would not consent until Baldassare had been arrested and made to disgorge the money paid him. Then, at last, Sforza-Riario complied with Michelangelo's demands and delivered him his Cupid—a piece of work whose possession had probably ceased to give any pleasure to that collector of the antique.
But the story was bruited abroad, and cultured Rome was agog to see the statue which had duped so astute a judge as Sforza-Riario. The fame of the young sculptor spread like a ripple over water, and it was Cesare Borgia—at that time still Cardinal of Valencia who bought the Cupid. Years later he sent it to Isabella d'Este, assuring her that it had not its equal among contemporary works of art.
Chapter V. The Murder of Alfonso of Aragon
We come now to the consideration of an event which, despite the light that so many, and with such assurance, have shed upon it, remains wrapped in uncertainty, and presents a mystery second only to that of the murder of the Duke of Gandia.
It was, you will remember, in July of 1498 that Lucrezia took a second husband in Alfonso of Aragon, the natural son of Alfonso II of Naples and nephew of Federigo, the reigning king. He was a handsome boy of seventeen at the time of his marriage—one year younger than Lucrezia—and, in honour of the event and in compliance with the Pope's insistence, he was created by his uncle Duke of Biselli and Prince of Salerno. On every hand the marriage was said to be a love-match, and of it had been born, in November of 1499, the boy Roderigo.
On July 15, 1500, at about the third hour of the night, Alfonso was assaulted and grievously wounded—mortally, it was said at first—on the steps of St. Peter's.
Burchard's account of the affair is that the young prince was assailed by several assassins, who wounded him in the head, right arm, and knee. Leaving him, no doubt, for dead, they fled down the steps, at the foot of which some forty horsemen awaited them, who escorted them out of the city by the Pertusa Gate. The prince was residing in the palace of the Cardinal of Santa Maria in Portico, but so desperate was his condition that those who found him upon the steps of the Basilica bore him into the Vatican, where he was taken to a chamber of the Borgia Tower, whilst the Cardinal of Capua at once gave him absolution in articulo mortis.
The deed made a great stir in Rome, and was, of course, the subject of immediate gossip, and three days later Cesare issued an edict forbidding, under pain of death, any man from going armed between Sant' Angelo and the Vatican.
News of the event was carried immediately to Naples, and King Federigo sent his own physician, Galieno, to treat and tend his nephew. In the care of that doctor and a hunchback assistant, Alfonso lay ill of his wounds until August 17, when suddenly be died, to the great astonishment of Rome, which for some time had believed him out of danger. In recording his actual death, Burchard is at once explicit and reticent to an extraordinary degree. "Not dying," he writes, "from the wound he had taken, he was yesterday strangled in his bed at the nineteenth hour."
Between the chronicling of his having been wounded on the steps of St. Peter's and that of his death, thirty-three days later, there is no entry in Burchard's diary relating to the prince, nor anything that can in any way help the inquirer to a conclusion; whilst, on the subject of the strangling, not another word does the Master of Ceremonies add to what has above been quoted. That he should so coldly—almost cynically—state that Alfonso was strangled, without so much as suggesting by whom, is singular in one who, however grimly laconic, is seldom reticent—notwithstanding that he may have been so accounted by those who despaired of finding in his diary the confirmation of such points of view as they happen to have chosen and of such matters as it pleased them to believe and propagate.
That same evening Alfonso's body was borne, without pomp, to St. Peter's, and placed in the Chapel of Santa Maria delle Febbre. It was accompanied by Francesco Borgia, Arch-bishop of Cosenza.
The doctor who had been in attendance upon the deceased and the hunchback were seized, taken to Sant' Angelo and examined, but shortly thereafter set at liberty.
So far we are upon what we may consider safe ground. Beyond that we cannot go, save by treading the uncertain ways of speculation, and by following the accounts of the various rumours circulated at the time. Formal and absolutely positive evidence of the author of Alfonso's murder there is none.
The Venetian ambassador, the ineffable, gossip-mongering Paolo Capello, whom we have seen possessed of the fullest details concerning the Duke of Gandia's death—although he did not come to Rome until two and a half years after the crime—is again as circumstantial in this instance. You see in this Capello the forerunner of the modern journalist of the baser sort, the creature who prowls in quest of scraps of gossip and items of scandal, and who, having found them, does not concern himself greatly in the matter of their absolute truth so that they provide him with sensational "copy." It is this same Capello, bear in mind, who gives us the story of Cesare's murdering in the Pope's very arms that Pedro Caldes who is elsewhere shown to have fallen into Tiber and been drowned, down to the lurid details of the blood's spurting into the Pope's face.
His famous Relazione to the Senate in September of 1500 is little better than an epitome of all the scandal current in Rome during his sojourn there as ambassador, and his resurrection of the old affair of the murder of Gandia goes some way towards showing the spirit by which he was actuated and his love of sensational matter. It has pleased most writers who have dealt with the matter of the murder of Alfonso of Aragon to follow Capello's statements; consequently these must be examined.
He writes from Rome—as recorded by Sanuto—that on July 16 Alfonso of Biselli was assaulted on the steps of St. Peter's, and received four wounds, "one in the head, one in the arm, one in the shoulder, and one in the back." That was all that was known to Capello at the time he wrote that letter, and you will observe already the discrepancy between his statement, penned upon hearsay, and Burchard's account—which, considering the latter's position at the Vatican, must always be preferred. According to Burchard the wounds were three, and they were in the head, right arm, and knee.
On the 19th Capello writes again, and, having stated that Lucrezia—who was really prostrate with grief at her husband's death—was stricken with fever, adds that "it is not known who has wounded the Duke of Biselli, but it is said that it was the same who killed and threw into Tiber the Duke of Gandia. My Lord of Valentinois has issued an edict that no one shall henceforth bear arms between Sant' Angelo and the Vatican."
On the face of it, that edict of Valentinois' seems to argue vexation at what had happened, and the desire to provide against its repetition—a provision hardly likely to be made by the man who had organized the assault, unless he sought, by this edict, to throw dust into the eyes of the world; and one cannot associate after the event and the fear of criticism with such a nature as Cesare's or with such a character as is given him by those who are satisfied that it was he who murdered Biselli.
The rumour that Alfonso had been assailed by the murderer of Gandia is a reasonable enough rumour, so long as the latter remains unnamed, for it would simply point to some enemy of the House of Borgia who, having slain one of its members, now attempts to slay another. Whether Capello actually meant Cesare when he penned those words on July 19, is not as obvious as may be assumed, for it is to be borne in mind that, at this date, Capello had not yet compiled the "relation" in which he deals with Gandia's murder.
On July 23 he wrote that the duke was very ill, indeed, from the wound in his head, and on the 28th that he was in danger owing to the same wound although the fever had abated.
On August 18 he announces Alfonso's death in the following terms: "The Duke of Biselli, Madonna Lucrezia's husband, died to-day because he was planning the death of the Duke [of Valentinois] by means of an arbalest-bolt when he walked in the garden; and the duke has had him cut to pieces in his room by his archers."
This "cutting-to-pieces" form of death is one very dear to the imagination of Capello, and bears some witness to his sensation-mongering proclivities.
Coming to matters more public, and upon which his evidence is more acceptable, he writes on the 20th that some servants of the prince's have been arrested, and that, upon being put to the question, they confessed to the prince's intent to kill the Duke of Valentinois, adding that a servant of the duke's was implicated. On the 23rd Capello circumstantially confirms this matter of Alfonso's attempt upon Cesare's life, and states that this has been confessed by the master of Alfonso's household, "the brother of his mother, Madonna Drusa."
That is the sum of Capello's reports to the Senate, as recorded by Sanuto. The rest, the full, lurid, richly-coloured, sensational story, is contained in his "relation" of September 20. He prefaces the narrative by informing the Senate that the Pope is on very bad terms with Naples, and proceeds to relate the case of Alfonso of Aragon as follows:
"He was wounded at the third hour of night near the palace of the Duke of Valentinois, his brother-in-law, and the prince ran to the Pope, saying that he had been wounded and that he knew by whom; and his wife Lucrezia, the Pope's daughter, who was in the room, fell into anguish. He was ill for thirty-three days, and his wife and sister, who is the wife of the Prince of Squillace, another son of the Pope's, were with him and cooked for him in a saucepan for fear of his being poisoned, as the Duke of Valentinois so hated him. And the Pope had him guarded by sixteen men for fear that the duke should kill him. And when the Pope went to visit him Valentinois did not accompany him, save on one occasion, when he said that what had not been done at breakfast might be done at supper.... On August 17 he [Valentinois] entered the room where the prince was already risen from his bed, and, driving out the wife and sister, called in his man, named Michieli, and had the prince strangled; and that night he was buried."
Now the following points must arise to shake the student's confidence in this narrative, and in Capello as an authority upon any of the othermatters that he relates:|
(i) "He was wounded near the palace of the Duke of Valentinois." This looks exceedingly like an attempt to pile up evidence against Cesare, and shows a disposition to resort to the invention of it. Whatever may not have been known about Alfonso's death, it was known by everybody that he was wounded on the steps of St. Peter's, and Capello himself, in his dispatches, had said so at the time. A suspicion that Capello's whole relation is to serve the purpose of heaping odium upon Cesare at once arises and receives confirmation when we consider that, as we have already said, it is in this same relation that the fiction about Pedro Caldes finds place and that the guilt of the murder of the Duke of Gandia is definitely fixed upon Cesare.
(ii) "He ran to the Pope ['Corse dal Papa'] saying that he had been wounded, and that he knew by whom." A man with a wound in his head which endangered his life for over a week would hardly be conscious on receiving it, nor is it to be supposed that, had he been conscious, his assailants would have departed. It cannot be doubted that they left him for dead. He was carried into the palace, and we know, from Burchard, that the Cardinal of Capua gave him absolution in articulo mortis, which abundantly shows his condition. It is unthinkable that he should have been able to "run to the Pope," doubtful that he should have been able to speak; and, if he did, who was it reported his words to the Venetian ambassador? Capello wisely refrains from saying.
(iii) Lucrezia and Sancia attempt to protect him from poison by cooking his food in his room. This is quite incredible. Even admitting the readiness to do so on the part of these princesses, where was the need, considering the presence of the doctor—admitted by Capello—sent from Naples and his hunchback assistant?
(iv) "The Pope had him guarded by sixteen men for fear the duke should kill him." Yet when, according to Capello, the duke comes on his murderous errand, attended only by Michieli (who has been generally assumed by writers to have been Don Michele da Corella, one of Cesare's captains), where were these sixteen guards? Capello mentions the dismissal only of Lucrezia and Sancia.
(v) "Valentinois...said that what had not been done at breakfast might be done at supper." It will be observed that Capello never once considers it necessary to give his authorities for anything that he states. It becomes, perhaps, more particularly noteworthy than usual in the case of this reported speech of Cesare's. He omits to say to whom Cesare addressed those sinister words, and who reported them to him. The statement is hardly one to be accepted without that very necessary mention of authorities, nor can we conceive Capello omitting them had he possessed them.
It will be seen that it is scarcely necessary to go outside of Capello's own relation for the purpose of traversing the statements contained in it, so far as the death of Alfonso of Aragon is concerned.
It is, however, still to be considered that, if Alfonso knew who had attempted his life—as Capello states that he told the Pope—and knew that he was in hourly danger of death from Valentinois, it may surely be taken for granted that he would have imparted the information to the Neapolitan doctor sent him by his uncle, who must have had his confidence.
We know that, after the prince's death, the physician and his hunchback assistant were arrested, but subsequently released. They returned to Naples, and in Naples, if not elsewhere, the truth must have been known—definite and authentic facts from the lips of eye-witnesses, not mere matters of rumour, as was the case in Rome. It is to Neapolitan writings, then, that we must turn for the truth of this affair; and yet from Naples all that we find is a rumour—the echo of the Roman rumour—"They say," writes the Venetian ambassador at the Court of King Federigo, "that he was killed by the Pope's son."
A more mischievous document than Capello's Relazione can seldom have found its way into the pages of history; it is the prime source of several of the unsubstantiated accusations against Cesare Borgia upon which subsequent writers have drawn—accepting without criticism—and from which they have formed their conclusions as to the duke's character. Even in our own times we find the learned Gregorovius following Capello's relation step by step, and dealing out this matter of the murder of the Duke of Biselli in his own paraphrases, as so much substantiated, unquestionable fact. We find in his Lucrezia Borgia the following statement: "The affair was no longer a mystery. Cesare himself publicly declared that he had killed the duke because his life had been attempted by the latter."
To say that Cesare "publicly declared that he had killed the duke" is to say a very daring thing, and is dangerously to improve upon Capello. If it is true that Cesare made this public declaration how does it happen that no one but Capello heard him? for in all other documents there is no more than offered us a rumour of how Alfonso died. Surely it is to be supposed that, had Cesare made any such declaration, the letters from the ambassadors would have rung with it. Yet they will offer you nothing but statements of what is being rumoured!
Nor does Gregorovius confine himself to that in his sedulous following of Capello's Relation. He serves up out of Capello the lying story of the murder of Pedro Caldes. "What," he says of Cesare, to support his view that Cesare murdered Alfonso of Aragon, "could be beyond this terrible man who had poignarded the Spaniard Pedro Caldes...under the Pope's very cloak, so that his blood spurted up into the Pope's face?" This in his History of Rome. In his Lucrezia Borgia he almost improves upon it when he says that "The Venetian ambassador, Paolo Capello, reports how Cesare Borgia stabbed the chamberlain Perotto, etc., but Burchard makes no mention of the fact." Of the fact of the stabbing, Burchard certainly makes no mention; but he does mention that the man was accidentally drowned, as has been considered. It is again—and more flagrantly than ever—a case of proving Cesare guilty of a crime of which there is no conclusive evidence by charging him with another, which—in this instance—there is actually evidence that he did not commit.
But this is by the way.
Burchard's entries in his diary relating to the assault upon Alfonso of Aragon can no more escape the criticism of the thoughtful than can Capello's relation. His forty horsemen, for instance, need explaining. Apart from the fact that this employment of forty horsemen would be an altogether amazing and incredible way to set about the murder of a single man, it is to be considered that such a troop, drawn up in the square before St. Peter's, must of necessity have attracted some attention. It was the first hour of the night, remember—according to Burchard—that is to say, at dusk. Presumably, too, those horsemen were waiting when the prince arrived. How then, did he—and why was he allowed—to pass them, only to be assailed in ascending the steps? Burchard, presumably, did not himself see these horsemen; certainly he cannot have seen them escorting the murderers to the Pertusa Gate. Therefore he must have had the matter reported to him. Naturally enough, had the horsemen existed, they must have been seen. How, then, does it happen that Capello did not hear of them? nor the Florentine ambassador, who says that the murderers were four, nor any one else apparently?
To turn for a moment to the Florentine ambassador's letters upon the subject, we find in this other Capello—Francesco Capello was his name—accounts which differ alike from Paolo Capello's and from Burchard' stories. But he is careful to say that he is simply repeating the rumours that are abroad, and cites several different versions that are current, adding that the truth of the affair is not known to anybody. His conclusions, however, particularly those given in cipher, point to Cesare Borgia as the perpetrator of the deed, and hint at some such motive of retaliation for an attempt upon his own life as that which is given by the ambassador of Venice.
There is much mystery in the matter, despite Gregorovius's assertion to the contrary—mystery which mere assertion will not dissipate. This conclusion, however, it is fair to draw: if, on Capello's evidence, we are to accept it that Cesare Borgia is responsible for the death of Alfonso of Aragon, then, on the same evidence, we must accept the motive as well as the deed. We must accept as equally exact his thrice-repeated statement in letters to the Senate that the prince had planned Cesare's death by posting crossbow-men to shoot him.(1)
|1 It is extremely significant that Capello's Relazione contains no mention of Alfonso's plot against Cesare's life, a matter which, as we have seen, had figured so repeatedly in that ambassador's dispatches from Rome at the time of the event. This omission is yet another proof of the malicious spirit by which the "relation" was inspired. The suppression of anything that might justify a deed attributed to Cesare reveals how much defamation and detraction were the aims of this Venetian.|
Either we must accept all, or we must reject all, that Capello tells us. If we reject all, then we are left utterly without information as to how Alfonso of Aragon died. If we accept all, then we find that it was as a measure of retaliation that Cesare compassed the death of his brother-in-law, which made it not a murder, but a private execution—justifiable under the circumstances of the provocation received and as the adjustment of these affairs was understood in the Cinquecento.