- Raphael Sabatini
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 VI. Rimini and Pesaro
- Raphael Sabatini
In the autumn of 1500, fretting to take the field again, Cesare was occupied in raising and equipping an army—an occupation which received an added stimulus when, towards the end of August, Louis de Villeneuve, the French ambassador, arrived in Rome with the articles of agreement setting forth the terms upon which Louis XII was prepared further to assist Cesare in the resumption of his campaign. In these it was stipulated that, in return for such assistance, Cesare should engage himself, on his side, to aid the King of France in the conquest of Naples when the time for that expedition should be ripe. Further, Louis XII was induced to make representations to Venice to the end that the Republic should remove her protection from the Manfredi of Faenza and the Malatesta of Rimini.
Venice being at the time in trouble with the Turk, and more anxious than ever to conciliate France and the Pope, was compelled to swallow her reluctance and submit with the best grace she could assume. Accordingly she dispatched her ambassadors to Rome to convey her obedience to the Pope's Holiness, and formally to communicate the news that she withdrew her protection from the proscribed fiefs.
Later in the year—in the month of October—the Senate was to confer upon Cesare Borgia the highest honour in her gift, the honour of which the Venetians were jealous above all else—the honour of Venetian citizenship, inscribing his name in the Golden Book, bestowing upon him a palace in Venice and conferring the other marks of distinction usual to the occasion. One is tempted to ask, Was it in consequence of Paolo Capello's lurid Relation that the proud Republic considered him qualified for such an honour?
To return, however, to the matter of the Republic's removal of her shield from Rimini and Faenza, Alexander received the news of this with open joy and celebrated it with festivities in the Vatican, whilst from being angry with Venice and from declaring that the Republic need never again look to him for favour, he now veered round completely and assured the Venetian envoys, in a burst of gratitude, that he esteemed no Power in the world so highly. Cesare joined in his father's expressions of gratitude and appreciation, and promised that Alexander should be succeeded in St. Peter's Chair by such a Pope as should be pleasing to Venice, and that, if the cardinals but remained united, the Pontificate should go to none but a Venetian.
Thus did Cesare, sincerely or otherwise, attempt to lessen the Republic's chagrin to see him ride lance-on-thigh as conqueror into the dominions which she so long had coveted.
France once more placed Yves d'Allègre at Cesare's disposal, and with him went six hundred lances and six hundred Swiss foot. These swelled the forces which already Cesare had assembled into an army some ten thousand strong. The artillery was under the command of Vitellozzo Vitelli, whilst Bartolomeo da Capranica was appointed camp-master. Cesare's banner was joined by a condotta under Paolo Orsini—besides whom there were several Roman gentlemen in the duke's following, including most of those who had formed his guard of honour on the occasion of his visit to France, and who had since then continued to follow his fortunes. Achille Tiberti came to Rome with a condotta which he had levied in the Romagna of young men who had been moved by Cesare's spreading fame to place their swords at his disposal. A member of the exiled Malvezzi family of Bologna headed a little troop of fellow-exiles which came to take service with the duke, whilst at Perugia a strong body of foot awaited him under Gianpaolo Baglioni.
In addition to these condotte, numerous were the adventurers who came to offer Cesare their swords; indeed he must have possessed much of that personal magnetism which is the prime equipment of every born leader, for he stirred men to the point of wild enthusiasm in those days, and inspired other than warriors to bear arms for him. We see men of letters, such as Justolo, Calmeta, Sperulo, and others throwing down their quills to snatch up swords and follow him. Painters, and sculptors, too, are to be seen abandoning the ideals of art to pursue the ugly realities of war in this young condottiero's train. Among these artists, bulks the great Pietro Torrigiani. The astounding pen of his brother-sculptor, Benvenuto Cellini, has left us a sharp portrait of this man, in which he speaks of his personal beauty and tells us that he had more the air of a great soldier than a sculptor (which must have been, we fancy, Cellini's own case). Torrigiani lives in history chiefly for two pieces of work widely dissimilar in character—the erection of the tomb of Henry VII of England, and the breaking of the nose of Michelangelo Buonarroti in the course of a quarrel which he had with him in Florence when they were fellow-students under Masaccio. Of nothing that he ever did in life was he so proud—as we may gather from Cellini—as of having disfigured Michelangelo, and in that sentiment the naïve spirit of his age again peeps forth.
We shall also see Leonardo da Vinci joining the duke's army as engineer—but that not until some months later.
Meanwhile his forces grew daily in Rome, and his time was consumed in organizing, equipping, and drilling these, to bring about that perfect unity for which his army was to be conspicuous in spite of the variety of French, Italian, Spanish, and Swiss elements of which it was composed. So effectively were his troops armed and so excellent was the discipline prevailing among them, that their like had probably never before been seen in the peninsula, and they were to excite—as much else of Cesare's work—the wonder and admiration of that great critic Macchiavelli.
So much, however, was not to be achieved without money, and still more would be needed for the campaign ahead. For this the Church provided. Never had the coffers of the Holy See been fuller than at this moment. Additional funds accrued from what is almost universally spoken of as "the sale of twelve cardinals' hats."
In that year—in September—twelve new cardinals were appointed, and upon each of those was levied, as a tax, a tithe of the first year's revenues of the benefices upon which they entered. The only justifiable exception that can be taken to this lies in the number of cardinals elected at one time, which lends colour to the assumption that the sole aim of that election was to raise additional funds for Cesare's campaign. Probably it was also Alexander's aim further to strengthen his power with the Sacred College, so that he could depend upon a majority to ensure his will in all matters. But we are at the moment concerned with the matter of the levied tax.
It has been dubbed "an atrocious act of simony;" but the reasoning that so construes it is none so clear. The cardinals' hats carried with them vast benefices. These benefices were the property of the Church; they were in the gift and bestowal of the Pope, and in the bestowing of them the Pope levied a proportionate tax. Setting aside the argument that this tax was not an invention of Alexander's, does such a proceeding really amount to a "sale" of benefices? A sale presupposes bargaining, a making of terms between two parties, an adjusting of a price to be paid. There is evidence of no such marketing of these benefices; indeed one cardinal, vowed to poverty, received his hat without the imposition of a tax, another was Cesare's brother-in-law, Amanieu d'Albret, who had been promised the hat a year ago. It is further to be borne in mind that, four months earlier, the Pope had levied a similar decima, or tax, upon the entire College of Cardinals and every official in the service of the Holy See, for the purposes of the expedition against the Muslim, who was in arms against Christianity. Naturally that tax was not popular with luxurious, self-seeking, cinquecento prelates, who in the main cared entirely for their own prosperity and not at all for that of Christianity, and you may realize how, by levying it, Alexander laid himself open to harsh criticism.
The only impugnable matter in the deed lies, as has been said, in the number of cardinals so created at a batch. But the ends to be served may be held to justify, if not altogether, at least in some measure, the means adopted. The Romagna war for which the funds were needed was primarily for the advancement of the Church, to expunge those faithless vicars who, appointed by the Holy See and holding their fiefs in trust for her, refused payment of just tribute and otherwise so acted as to alienate from the Church the States which she claimed for her own. Their restoration to the Church—however much it might be a means of founding a Borgia dynasty in the Romagna—made for the greater power and glory of the Holy See. Let us remember this, and that such was the end which that tax, levied upon those newly elected cardinals, went to serve. The aggrandizement of the House of Borgia was certainly one of the results to be expected from the Romagna campaign, but we are not justified in accounting it the sole aim and end of that campaign.
Alexander had this advantage over either Sixtus IV or Innocent VIII—not to go beyond those Popes whom he had served as Vice-Chancellor, for instances of flagrant nepotism—that he at least served two purposes at once, and that, in aggrandizing his own family, he strengthened the temporal power of the Church, whereas those others had done nothing but undermine it that they might enrich their progeny.
And whilst on this subject of the "sale" of cardinals' hats, it may not be amiss to say a word concerning the "sale" of indulgences with which Alexander has been so freely charged. Here again there has been too loud an outcry against Alexander—an outcry whose indignant stridency leads one to suppose that the sale of indulgences was a simony invented by him, or else practised by him to an extent shamefully unprecedented. Such is very far from being the case. The arch-type of indulgence-seller—as of all other simoniacal practices—is Innocent VIII. In his reign we have seen the murderer commonly given to choose between the hangman and the purchase of a pardon, and we have seen the moneys so obtained providing his bastard, the Cardinal Francesco Cibo, with the means for the luxuriously licentious life whose gross disorders prematurely killed him.
To no such flagitious lengths as these can it be shown that Alexander carried the "sale" of the indulgences he dispensed. He had no lack of precedent for the practice, and, so far as the actual practice itself is concerned, it would be difficult to show that it was unjustifiable or simoniacal so long as confined within certain well-defined bounds, and so long as the sums levied by it were properly employed to the benefit of Christianity. It is a practice comparable to the mulcting of a civil offender against magisterial laws. Because our magistrates levy fines, it does not occur to modern critics to say that they sell pardons and immunity from gaol. It is universally recognized as a wise and commendable measure, serving the two-fold purpose of punishing the offender and benefiting the temporal State against which he has offended. Need it be less commendable in the case of spiritual offences against a spiritual State? It is more useful than the imposition of the pattering of a dozen prayers at bedtime, and since, no doubt, it falls more heavily upon the offender, it possibly makes to an even greater extent for his spiritual improvement.
Thus considered, this "sale" of indulgences loses a deal of the heinousness with which it has been invested. The funds so realized go into the coffers of the Church, which is fit and proper. What afterwards becomes of them at the hands of Alexander opens up another matter altogether, one in which we cannot close our eyes to the fact that he was as undutiful as many another who wore the Ring of the Fisherman before him. Yet this is to be said for him: that, if he plunged his hands freely into the treasury of the Holy See, at least he had the ability to contrive that this treasury should be well supplied; and the circumstance that, when he died, he left the church far wealthier and more powerful than she had been for centuries, with her dominions which his precursors had wantonly alienated reconsolidated into that powerful State that was to endure for three hundred years, is an argument to the credit of his pontificate not lightly to be set aside.
Imola and Forli had, themselves, applied to the Pontiff to appoint Cesare Borgia their ruler in the place of the deposed Riarii. To these was now added Cesena. In July disturbances occurred there between Guelphs and Ghibellines. Swords were drawn and blood flowed in the streets, until the governor was constrained to summon Ercole Bentivogli and his horse from Forli to quell the rioting. The direct outcome of this was that—the Ghibellines predominating in council—Cesena sent an embassy to Rome to beg his Holiness to give the lordship of the fief to the Duke of Valentinois. To this the Pope acceded, and on August 2 Cesare was duly appointed Lord Vicar of Cesena. He celebrated his investiture by remitting a portion of the taxes, abolishing altogether the duty on flour, and by bringing about a peace between the two prevailing factions.
By the end of September Cesare's preparations for the resumption of the campaign were completed, and early in October (his army fortified in spirit by the Pope's blessing) he set out, and made his first halt at Nepi. Lucrezia was there, with her Court and her child Roderigo, having withdrawn to this her castle to mourn her dead husband Alfonso; and there she abode until recalled to Rome by her father some two months later.
Thence Cesare pushed on, as swiftly as the foul weather would allow him, by way of Viterbo, Assisi, and Nocera to cross the Apennines at Gualdo. Here he paused to demand the release of certain prisoners in the hill fortress of Fossate, and to be answered by a refusal. Angered by this resistance of his wishes and determined to discourage others from following the example of Fossate, he was swift and terrible in his rejoinder. He seized the Citadel, and did by force what had been refused to his request. Setting at liberty the prisoners in durance there, he gave the territory over to devastation by fire and pillage.
That done he resumed his march, but the weather retarded him more and more. The heavy and continuous rains had reduced the roads to such a condition that his artillery fell behind, and he was compelled to call a halt once more, at Deruta, and wait there four days for his guns to overtake him.
In Rimini the great House of Malatesta was represented by Pandolfo—Roberto Malatesta's bastard and successor—a degenerate so detested by his subjects that he was known by the name of Pandolfaccio (a contumelious augmentative, expressing the evil repute in which he was held).
Among his many malpractices and the many abuses to which he resorted for the purposes of extorting money from his long-suffering subjects was that of compelling the richer men of Rimini to purchase from him the estates which he confiscated from the fuorusciti—those who had sought in exile safety from the anger provoked by their just resentment of his oppressive misrule. He was in the same case as other Romagna tyrants, and now that Venice had lifted from him her protecting aegis, he had no illusions as to the fate in store for him. So when once more the tramp of Cesare Borgia's advancing legions rang through the Romagna, Pandolfaccio disposed himself, not for battle, but for surrender on the best terms that he might succeed in making.
He was married to Violante, the daughter of Giovanni Bentivogli of Bologna, and in the first week of October he sent her, with their children, to seek shelter at her father's Court. Himself, he withdrew into his citadel—the famous fortress of his terrible grandfather Sigismondo. The move suggested almost that he was preparing to resist the Duke of Valentinois, and it may have prompted the message sent him by the Council to inquire what might be his intention.
Honour was a thing unknown to this Pandolfaccio—even so much honour as may be required for a dignified retreat. Since all was lost it but remained—by his lights—to make the best bargain that he could and get the highest possible price in gold for what he was abandoning. So he replied that the Council must do whatever it considered to its best advantage, whilst to anticipate its members in any offer of surrender, and thus seek the favour and deserve good terms at the hands of this man who came to hurl him from the throne of his family, he dispatched a confidential servant to Cesare to offer him town and citadel.
In the meantime—as Pandolfo fully expected—the Council also sent proposals of surrender to Cesare, as well as to his lieutenant-general of Romagna, Bishop Olivieri, at Cesena. The communications had the effect of bringing Olivieri immediately to Rimini, and there, on October 10, the articles of capitulation were signed by the bishop, as the duke's representative, and by Pandolfo Malatesta. It was agreed in these that Malatesta should have safe-conduct for himself and his familiars, 3,000 ducats and the value—to be estimated—of the artillery which he left in the citadel. Further, for the price of 5,500 ducats he abandoned also the strongholds of Sarsina and Medola and the castles of the Montagna.
His tyranny thus disposed of, Pandolfaccio took ship to Ravenna, where the price of his dishonour was to be paid him, and in security for which he took with him Gianbattista Baldassare, the son of the ducal commissioner.
On the day of his departure, to celebrate the bloodless conquest of Rimini, solemn High Mass was sung in the Cathedral, and Bishop Olivieri received the city's oath of allegiance to the Holy See, whither very shortly afterwards Rimini sent her ambassadors to express to the Pope her gratitude for her release from the thraldom of Pandolfaccio.
Like Rimini, Pesaro too fell without the striking of a blow, for all that it was by no means as readily relinquished on the part of its ruler. Giovanni Sforza had been exerting himself desperately for the past two months to obtain help that should enable him to hold his tyranny against the Borgia might. But all in vain. His entreaties to the emperor had met with no response, whilst his appeal to Francesco Gonzaga of Mantua—whose sister, it will be remembered, had been his first wife—had resulted in the Marquis's sending him a hundred men under an Albanian, named Giacopo.
What Giovanni was to do with a hundred men it is difficult to conceive, nor are the motives of Gonzaga's action clear. We know that at this time he was eagerly seeking Cesare's friendship, sorely uneasy as to the fate that might lie in store for his own dominions, once the Duke of Valentinois should have disposed of the feudatories of the Church. Early in that year 1500 he had asked Cesare to stand godfather for his child, and Cesare had readily consented, whereby a certain bond of relationship and good feeling had been established between them, which everything shows Gonzaga most anxious to preserve unsevered. The only reasonable conclusion in the matter of that condotta of a hundred men is that Gonzaga desired to show friendliness to the Lord of Pesaro, yet was careful not to do so to any extent that might be hurtful to Valentinois.
As for Giovanni Sforza of whom so many able pens have written so feelingly as the constant, unfortunate victim of Borgia ambition, there is no need to enter into analyses for the purpose of judging him here. His own subjects did so in his own day. When a prince is beloved by all classes of his people, it must follow that he is a good prince and a wise ruler; when his subjects are divided into two factions, one to oppose and the other to support him, he may be good or bad, or good and bad; but when a prince can find none to stand by him in the hour of peril, it is to be concluded that he has deserved little at the hands of those whom he has ruled. The latter is the case of Giovanni Sforza—this prince whom, Yriarte tells us, "rendered sweet the lives of his subjects." The nobility and the proletariate of Pesaro abhorred him; the trader classes stood neutral, anxious to avoid the consequences of partisanship, since it was the class most exposed to those consequences.
On Sunday, October 11—the day after Pandolfo Malatesta had relinquished Rimini—news reached Pesaro that Ercole Bentivogli's horse was marching upon the town, in advance of the main body of Cesare's army. Instantly there was an insurrection against Giovanni, and the people, taking to arms, raised the cry of "Duca!" in acclamation of the Duke of Valentinois, under the very windows of their ruler's palace.
Getting together the three hundred men that constituted his army, Giovanni beat a hasty retreat to Pesaro's magnificent fortress, and that same night he secretly took ship to Ravenna accompanied by the Albanian Giacopo, and leaving his half-brother, Galeazzo Sforza di Cotignola, in command of the citadel. Thence Giovanni repaired to Bologna, and, already repenting his precipitate flight, he appealed for help to Bentivogli, who was himself uneasy, despite the French protection he enjoyed. Similarly, Giovanni addressed fresh appeals to Francesco Gonzaga; but neither of these tyrants could or dared avail him, and, whilst he was still imploring their intervention his fief had fallen into Cesare's power.
Ercole Bentivogli, with a small body of horse, had presented himself at the gates of Pesaro on October 21, and Galeazzo Sforza, having obtained safe-conduct for the garrison, surrendered.
Cesare, meanwhile, was at Fano, where he paused to allow his army to come up with him, for he had outridden it from Fossate, through foul wintry weather, attended only by his light horse. It was said that he hoped that Fano might offer itself to him as other fiefs had done, and—if Pandolfo Collenuccio is correct—he had been counselled by the Pope not to attempt to impose himself upon Fano, but to allow the town a free voice in the matter. If his hopes were as stated, he was disappointed in them, for Fano made no offer to him, and matters remained for the present as they were.
On the 27th, with the banners of the bull unfurled, he rode into Pesaro at the head of two thousand men, making his entrance with his wonted pomp, of whose dramatic values he was so fully aware. He was met at the gates by the Council, which came to offer him the keys of the town, and, despite the pouring rain under which he entered the city, the people of Pesaro thronged the streets to acclaim him as he rode.
He took up his lodgings at the Sforza Palace, so lately vacated by Giovanni—the palace where Lucrezia Borgia had held her Court when, as Giovanni's wife, she had been Countess of Pesaro and Cotignola. Early on the morrow he visited the citadel, which was one of the finest in Italy, rivalling that of Rimini for strength. On his arrival there, a flourish of trumpets imposed silence, while the heralds greeted him formally as Lord of Pesaro. He ordered one of the painters in his train to draw up plans of the fortress to be sent to the Pope, and issued instructions for certain repairs and improvements which he considered desirable.
Here in Pesaro came to him the famous Pandolfo Collenuccio, as envoy from the Duke of Ferrara, to congratulate Cesare upon the victory. In sending Collenuccio at such a time Ercole d'Este paid the Duke of Valentinois a subtle, graceful compliment. This distinguished poet, dramatist, and historian was a native of Pesaro who had been exiled ten years earlier by Giovanni—which was the tyrant's way of showing his gratitude to the man who, more than any other, had contributed to the bastard Sforza's succession to his father as Lord of Pesaro and Cotignola.
Collenuccio was one of the few literary men of his day who was not above using the Italian tongue, treating it seriously as a language and not merely as a debased form of Latin. He was eminent as a juris-consult, and, being a man of action as well as a man of letters, he had filled the office of Podestá in various cities; he had found employment under Lorenzo dei Medici, and latterly under Ercole d'Este, whom we now see him representing.
Cesare received him with all honour, sending the master of his household, Ramiro de Lorqua, to greet him on his arrival and to bear him the usual gifts of welcome, of barley, wine, capons, candles, sweet-meats, etc., whilst on the morrow the duke gave him audience, treating him in the friendliest manner, as we see from Collenuccio's own report to the Duke of Ferrara. In this he says of Cesare: "He is accounted valiant, joyous, and open-handed, and it is believed that he holds honest men in great esteem. Harsh in his vengeance, according to many, he is great of spirit and of ambition, athirst for eminence and fame."
Collenuccio was reinstated by Cesare in the possessions of which Giovanni had stripped him, a matter which so excited the resentment of the latter that, when ultimately he returned to his dominions, one of his first acts was to avenge it. Collenuccio, fearing that he might not stand well with the tyrant, had withdrawn from Pesaro. But Giovanni, with all semblance of friendliness, treacherously lured him back to cast him into prison and have him strangled—a little matter which those who, to the detriment of the Borgia, seek to make a hero of this Giovanni Sforza, would do well not to suppress.
A proof of the splendid discipline prevailing in Cesare's army is afforded during his brief sojourn in Pesaro. In the town itself, some two thousand of his troops were accommodated, whilst some thousands more swarmed in the surrounding country. Occupation by such an army was, naturally enough, cause for deep anxiety on the part of a people who were but too well acquainted with the ways of the fifteenth-century men-at-arms. But here was a general who knew how to curb and control his soldiers. Under the pain of death his men were forbidden from indulging any of the predations or violences usual to their kind; and, as a consequence, the inhabitants of Pesaro had little to complain of.
Justolo gives us a picture of the Duke of Valentinois on the banks of the River Montone, which again throws into relief the discipline which his very presence—such was the force of his personality—was able to enforce. A disturbance arose among his soldiers at the crossing of this river, which was swollen with rains and the bridge of which had been destroyed. It became necessary to effect the crossing in one small boat—the only craft available—and the men, crowding to the bank, stormed and fought for precedence until the affair grew threatening. Cesare rode down to the river, and no more than his presence was necessary to restore peace. Under that calm, cold eye of his the men instantly became orderly, and, whilst he sat his horse and watched them, the crossing was soberly effected, and as swiftly as the single craft would permit.
The duke remained but two days in Pesaro. On the 29th, having appointed a lieutenant to represent him, and a captain to the garrison, he marched out again, to lie that night at Cattolica and enter Rimini on the morrow.
There again he was received with open arms, and he justified the people's welcome of him by an immediate organization of affairs which gave universal satisfaction. He made ample provision for the proper administration of justice and the preservation of the peace; he recalled the fuorusciti exiled by the unscrupulous Pandolfaccio, and he saw them reinstated in the property of which that tyrant had dispossessed them. As his lieutenant in Rimini, with strict injunctions to preserve law and order, he left Ramiro de Lorqua, when, on November 2, he departed to march upon Faenza, which had prepared for resistance.
What Cesare did in Rimini was no more than he was doing throughout the Romagna, as its various archives bear witness. They bear witness no less to his vast ability as an administrator, showing how he resolved the prevailing chaos into form and order by his admirable organization and suppression of injustice. The same archives show us also that he found time for deeds of beneficence which endeared him to the people, who everywhere hailed him as their deliverer from thraldom. It would not be wise to join in the chorus of those who appear to have taken Cesare's altruism for granted. The rejection of the wild stories that picture him as a corrupt and murderous monster, utterly inhuman, and lay a dozen ghastly crimes to his account need not entail our viewing Cesare as an angel of deliverance, a divine agent almost, rescuing a suffering people from oppression out of sheer humanitarianism.
He is the one as little as the other. He is just—as Collenuccio wrote to Ercole d'Este—"great of spirit and of ambition, athirst for eminence and fame." He was consumed by the desire for power and worldly greatness, a colossus of egotism to whom men and women were pieces to be handled by him on the chess-board of his ambition, to be sacrificed ruthlessly where necessary to his ends, but to be husbanded and guarded carefully where they could serve him.
With his eyes upon the career of Cesare Borgia, Macchiavelli was anon to write of principalities newly-acquired, that "however great may be the military resources of a prince, he will discover that, to obtain firm footing in a province, he must engage the favour and interest of the inhabitants."
That was a principle self-evident to Cesare—the principle upon which he acted throughout in his conquest of the Romagna. By causing his new subjects to realize at once that they had exchanged an oppressive for a generous rule, he attached them to himself.
Chapter VII. The Siege of Faenza
- Raphael Sabatini
The second campaign of the Romagna had opened for Cesare as easily as had the first. So far his conquest had been achieved by little more than a processional display of his armed legions. Like another Joshua, he reduced cities by the mere blare of his trumpets. At last, however, he was to receive a check. Where grown men had fled cravenly at his approach, it remained for a child to resist him at Faenza, as a woman had resisted him at Forli.
His progress north from Pesaro was of necessity slow. He paused, as we have seen, at Rimini, and he paused again, and for a rather longer spell, at Forli, so that it was not until the second week of November that Astorre Manfredi—the boy of sixteen who was to hold Faenza—caught in the distance the flash of arms and the banners with the bull device borne by the host which the Duke of Valentinois led against him.
At first it had been Astorre's intent to follow the examples set him by Malatesta and Sforza, and he had already gone so far as to remove his valuables to Ravenna, whither he, too, meant to seek refuge. But he was in better case than any of the tyrants so far deposed inasmuch as his family, which had ruled Faenza for two hundred years, had not provoked the hatred of its subjects, and these were now ready and willing to stand loyally by their young lord. But loyalty alone can do little, unless backed by the might of arms, against such a force as Cesare was prepared to hurl upon Faenza. This Astorre realized, and for his own and his subjects' sake was preparing to depart, when, to his undoing, support reached him from an unexpected quarter.
Bologna—whose ruler, Giovanni Bentivogli, was Astorre's grandfather—in common with Florence and Urbino, grew daily more and more alarmed at the continual tramp of armed multitudes about her frontiers, and at the steady growth in numbers and in capacity of this splendid army which followed Casare—an army captained by such enemies of the Bentivogli as the Baglioni, the Orsini, and the exiled Malvezzi.
Bentivogli had good grounds for his anxiety, not knowing how long he might depend upon the protection of France, and well aware that, once that protection was removed, there would be no barrier between Bologna and Cesare's manifest intentions concerning her.
Next to Cesare's utter annihilation, to check his progress was the desire dearest just then to the heart of Bentivogli, and with this end in view he dispatched Count Guido Torella to Faenza, in mid-October, with an offer to assist Astorre with men and money.
Astorre, who had succeeded Galeotto Manfredi in the tyranny of Faenza at the age of three, had been and still continued under the tutelage of the Council which really governed his territories. To this Council came Count Torella with Bentivogli's offer, adding the proposal that young Astorre should be sent to Venice for his personal safety. But to this the Council replied that it would be useless, if that course were adopted, to attempt resistance, as the people could only be urged to it by their affection for their young lord, and that, if he were removed from their midst, they would insist upon surrender.
News of these negotiations reached Rome, and on October 24 Alexander sent Bentivogli his commands to refrain, under pain of excommunication, from interfering in the affairs of Faenza. Bentivogli made a feeble attempt to mask his disobedience. The troops with which he intended to assist his grandson were sent ostensibly to Castel Bolognese, but with instructions to desert thence and make for Faenza. This they did, and thus was Astorre strengthened by a thousand men, whilst the work of preparing his city for resistance went briskly forward.
Meanwhile, ahead of Cesare Borgia, swept Vitellozzo Vitelli with his horse into Astorre's dominions. He descended upon the valley of the Lamone, and commenced hostilities by the capture and occupation of Brisghella on November 7. The other lesser strongholds and townships offered no resistance to Cesare's arms. Indeed they were induced into ready rebellion against their lord by Dionigio di Naldo—the sometime defender of Imola, who had now taken service with Cesare.
On November 10 Cesare himself halted his host beneath the walls of Faenza and called upon the town to surrender. Being denied, he encamped his army for the siege. He chose the eastern side of the town, between the rivers Lamone and Marzano, and, that his artillery might have free play, he caused several houses to be demolished.
In Faenza itself, meanwhile, the easy conquest of the valley had not produced a good effect. Moreover, the defenders had cause to fear treachery within their gates, for a paper had been picked up out of the moat containing an offer of terms of surrender. It had been shot into the castle attached to an arbalest-bolt, and was intended for the castellan Castagnini. This Castagnini was arrested, thrown into prison, and his possessions confiscated, whilst the Council placed the citadel in the hands of four of its own members together with Gianevangelista Manfredi—Astorre's half-brother, and a bastard of Galeotto's. These set about defending it against Cesare, who had now opened fire. The duke caused the guns to be trained upon a certain bastion through which he judged that a good assault might be delivered and an entrance gained. Night and day was the bombardment of that bastion kept up, yet without producing visible effect until the morning of the 20th, when suddenly one of its towers collapsed thunderously into the moat.
Instantly, and without orders, the soldiers, all eager to be among the first to enter, flung themselves forward in utter and fierce disorder to storm the breach. Cesare, at breakfast—as he himself wrote to the Duke of Urbino—sprang up at the great noise, and, surmising what was taking place, dashed out to restrain his men. But the task was no easy one, for, gathering excitement and the frenzy of combat as they ran, they had already gained the edge of the ditch, and thither Cesare was forced to follow them, using voice and hands to beat back again.
At last he succeeded in regaining control of them, and in compelling them to make an orderly retreat, and curb their impatience until the time for storming should have come, which was not yet. In the affair Cesare had a narrow escape from a stone-shot fired from the castle, whilst one of his officers—Onorio Savelli—was killed by a cannon-ball from the duke's own guns, whose men, unaware of what was taking place, were continuing the bombardment.
Hitherto the army had been forced to endure foul weather—rain, fogs, and wind; but there was worse come. Snow began to fall on the morning of the 22nd. It grew to a storm, and the blizzard continued all that day, which was a Sunday, all night, and all the following day, and lashed the men pitilessly and blindingly. The army, already reduced by shortness of victuals, was now in a miserable plight in its unsheltered camp, and the defenders of Faenza, as if realizing this, made a sortie on the 23rd, from which a fierce fight ensued, with severe loss to both sides. On the 25th the snow began again, whereupon the hitherto unconquerable Cesare, defeated at last by the elements and seeing that his men could not possibly continue to endure the situation, was compelled to strike camp on the 26th and go into winter quarters, no doubt with immense chagrin at leaving so much work unaccomplished.
So he converted the siege into a blockade, closing all roads that lead to Faenza, with a view to shutting out supplies from the town; and he distributed troops throughout the villages of the territory with orders constantly to harass the garrison and allow it no rest.
He also sent an envoy with an offer of terms of surrender, but the Council rejected it with the proud answer that its members "had agreed, in general assembly, to defend the dominions of Manfredi to the death."
Thereupon Cesare withdrew to Forli with 150 lances and 2,500 foot, and here he affords a proof of his considerateness. The town had already endured several occupations and the severities of being the seat of war during the siege of the citadel. Cesare was determined that it should feel the present occupation as little as possible; so he issued an order to the inhabitants upon whom his soldiers were billeted to supply the men only with bed, light, and fire. What more they required must be paid for, and, to avoid disputes as to prices of victuals and other necessaries, he ordered the Council to draw up a tariff, and issued an edict forbidding his soldiers, under pain of death, from touching any property of the townsfolk. Lest they should doubt his earnestness, he hanged two of his soldiers on December 7—a Piedmontese and a Gascon—and on the 13th a third, all from the windows of his own palace, and all with a label hanging from their feet proclaiming that they had been hanged for taking goods of others in spite of the ban of the Lord Duke, etc.
He remained in Forli until the 23rd, when he departed to Cesena, which was really his capital in Roomagna, and in the huge citadel of which there was ample accommodation for the troops that accompanied him. In Forli he left, as his lieutenants, the Bishop of Trani and Don Michele da Corella—the "Michieli" of Capello's Relation and the "Michelotto" of so many Borgia fables. That this officer ruled the soldiers left with him in Forli in accordance with the stern example set him by his master we know from the chronicles of Bernardi.
In Cesena the duke occupied the splendid palace of Malatesta Novello, which had been magnificently equipped for him, and there, on Christmas Eve, he entertained the Council of the town and other important citizens to a banquet worthy of the repuation for lavishness which he enjoyed. He was very different in this from his father, whose table habits were of the most sparing—to which, no doubt, his Holiness owed the wonderful, almost youthful vigour which he still enjoyed in this his seventieth year. It was notorious that ambassadors cared little for invitations to the Pope's table, where the meal never consisted of more than one dish.
On Christmas Day the duke attended Mass at the Church of San Giovanni Evangelista with great pomp, arrayed in the ducal chlamys and followed by his gentlemen. With these young patricians Cesare made merry during the days that followed. The time was spent in games and joustings, in all of which the duke showed himself freely, making display of his physical perfections, fully aware, no doubt, of what a short cut these afforded him to the hearts of the people, ever ready to worship physical beauty, prowess, and address.
Yet business was not altogether neglected, for on January 4 he went to Porto Cesenatico, and there published an edict against all who had practised with the fuorusciti from his States, forbidding the offence under pain of death and forfeiture of possessions.
He remained in winter quarters until the following April, from which, however, it is not to be concluded that Faenza was allowed to be at peace for that spell. The orders which he had left behind him, that the town was constantly to be harassed, were by no means neglected. On the night of January 21, by arrangement with some of the inhabitants of the beleaguered city, the foot surrounding Faenza attempted to surprise the garrison by a secret escalade. They were, however, discovered betimes in the attempt and repulsed, some who had the mischance—as it happened—to gain the battlements before the alarm was raised being taken and hanged. The duke's troops, however, consoled themselves by capturing Russi and Solarolo, the last two strongholds in the valley that had held for Astorre.
Meanwhile, Cesare and his merry young patricians spent the time as agreeably as might be in Cesena during that carnival. The author of the Diario Cesenate is moved by the duke's pastimes to criticize him severely as indulging in amusements unbecoming the dignity of his station. He is particularly shocked to know that the duke should have gone forth in disguise with a few companions to repair to carnival festivities in the surrounding villages and there to wrestle with the rustics. It is not difficult to imagine the discomfiture suffered by many a village Hercules at the hands of this lithe young man, who could behead a bull at a single stroke of a spadoon and break a horseshoe in his fingers. The diary in question, you will have gathered, is that of a pedant, prim and easily scandalized. So much being obvious, it is noteworthy that Cesare's conduct should have afforded him no subject for graver strictures than these, Cesare being such a man as has been represented, and the time being that of carnival when licence was allowed full play.
The Pope accounted that the check endured by Cesare before Faenza was due not so much to the foul weather by which his army had been beset as to the assistance which Giovanni Bentivogli had rendered his grandson Astorre, and bitter were the complaints of it which he addressed to the King of France. Alarmed by this, and fearing that he might have compromised himself and jeopardized the French protection by his action in the matter, Bentivogli made haste to recall his troops, and did in fact withdraw them from Faenza early in December, shortly after Cesare had gone into winter quarters. Nevertheless, the Pope's complaints continued, Alexander in his secret, crafty heart no doubt rejoicing that Bentivogli should have afforded him so sound a grievance. As Louis XII desired, for several reasons, to stand well with Rome, he sent an embassy to Bentivogli to express his regret and censure of the latter's intervention in the affairs of Faenza. He informed Bentivogli that the Pope was demanding the return of Bologna to the States of the Church, and, without expressing himself clearly as to his own view of the matter, he advised Bentivogli to refrain from alliances with the enemies of the Holy See and to secure Bologna to himself by some sound arrangement. This showed Bentivogli in what danger he stood, and his uneasiness was increased by the arrival at Modena of Yves d'Allègre, sent by the King of France with a condotta of 500 horse for purposes which were not avowed but which Bentivogli sorely feared might prove to be hostile to himself.
At the beginning of February Cesare moved his quarters from Cesena to Imola, and thence he sent his envoys to demand winter quarters for his troops in Castel Bolognese. This flung Bentivogli into positive terror, as he interpreted the request as a threat of invasion. Castel Bolognese was too valuable a stronghold to be so lightly placed in the duke's hands. Thence Bentivogli might, in case of need, hold the duke in check, the fortress commanding, as it did, the road from Imola to Faenza. He had the good sense, however, to compromise the matter by returning Cesare an offer of accommodation for his men with victuals, artillery, etc., but without the concession of Castel Bolognese. With this Cesare was forced to be content, there being no reasonable grounds upon which he could decline so generous an offer. It was a cunning concession on Bentivogli's part, for, without strengthening the duke's position, it yet gave the latter what he ostensibly required, and left no cause for grievance and no grounds upon which to molest Bologna. So much was this the case that on February 26 the Pope wrote to Bentivogli expressing his thanks at the assistance which he had thus given Cesare in the Faenza emprise.
It was during this sojourn of Cesare's at Imola that the abduction took place of Dorotea Caracciolo, the young wife of Gianbattista Caracciolo, a captain of foot in the Venetian service. The lady, who was attached to the Duchess of Urbino, had been residing at the latter's Court, and in the previous December Caracciolo had begged leave of the Council of Ten that he might himself go to Urbino for the purpose of escorting her to Venice. The Council, however, had replied that he should send for her, and this the captain had done. Near Cervia, on the confines of the Venetian territory, towards evening of February 14, the lady's escort was set upon by ten well-armed men, and rudely handled by them, some being wounded and one at least killed, whilst the lady and a woman who was with her were carried off.
The Podestá of Cervia reported to the Venetian Senate that the abductors were Spaniards of the army of the Duke of Valentinois, and it was feared in Venice—according to Sanuto—that the deed might be the work of Cesare.
The matter contained in that Relation of Capello's to the Senate must by now have been widespread, and of a man who could perpetrate the wickednesses therein divulged anything could be believed. Indeed, it seems to have followed that, where any act of wickedness was brought to light, at once men looked to see if Cesare might not be responsible, nor looked close enough to make quite sure. To no other cause can it be assigned that, in the stir which the Senate made, the name of Cesare was at once suggested as that of the abductor, and this so broadly that letters poured in upon him on all sides begging him to right this cruel wrong. So much do you see assumed, upon no more evidence than was contained in that letter from the Podestá of Cervia, which went no further than to say that the abductors were "Spaniards of the Duke of Valentinois' army." The envoy Manenti was dispatched at once to Cesare by the Senate, and he went persuaded, it is clear, that Cesare Borgia was the guilty person. He enlisted the support of Monsieur de Trans (the French ambassador then on his way to Rome) and that of Yves d'Allègre, and he took them with him to the Duke at Imola.
There, acting upon his strong suspicions, Manenti appears to have taken a high tone, representing to the duke that he had done an unworthy thing, and imploring him to restore the lady to her husband. Cesare's patience under the insolent assumption in justification of which Manenti had not a single grain of evidence to advance, is—guilty or innocent—a rare instance of self-control. He condescended to take oath that he had not done this thing which they imputed to him. He admitted that he had heard of the outrage, and he expressed the belief that it was the work of one Diego Ramires—a captain of foot in his service. This Ramires, he explained, had been in the employ of the Duke of Urbino, and in Urbino had made the acquaintance and fallen enamoured of the lady; and he added that the fellow had lately disappeared, but that already he had set on foot a search for him, and that, once taken, he would make an example of him.
In conclusion he begged that the Republic should not believe this thing against him, assuring the envoy that he had not found the ladies of the Romagna so difficult that he should be driven to employ such rude and violent measures.
The French ambassador certainly appears to have attached implicit faith to Cesare's statement, and he privately informed Manenti that Ramires was believed to be at Medola, and that the Republic might rest assured that, if he were taken, exemplary justice would be done.
All this you will find recorded in Sanuto. After that his diary entertains us with rumours which were reaching Venice, now that the deed was the duke's, now that the lady was with Ramires. Later the two rumours are consolidated into one, in a report of the Podestá of Cervia to the effect that "the lady is in the Castle of Forli with Ramires, and that he took her there by order of the duke." The Podestá says that a man whom he sent to gather news had this story from one Benfaremo. But he omits to say who and what is this Benfaremo, and what the source of his information.
Matters remaining thus, and the affair appearing in danger of being forgotten, Caracciolo goes before the Senate on March 16 and implores permission to deal with it himself. This permission is denied him, the Doge conceiving that the matter will best be dealt with by the Senate, and Caracciolo is ordered back to his post at Gradisca. Thence he writes to the Senate on March 30 that he is certain his wife is in the citadel of Forli.
After this Sanuto does not mention the matter again until December of 1503—nearly three years later—when we gather that, under pressure of constant letters from the husband, the Venetian ambassador at the Vatican makes so vigorous a stir that the lady is at last delivered up, and goes for the time being into a convent. But we are not told where or how she is found, nor where the convent in which she seeks shelter. That is Sanuto's first important omission.
And now an odd light is thrown suddenly upon the whole affair, and it begins to look as if the lady had been no unwilling victim of an abduction, but, rather, a party to an elopement. She displays a positive reluctance to return to her husband; she is afraid to do so—"in fear for her very life"—and she implores the Senate to obtain from Caracciolo some security for her, or else to grant her permission to withdraw permanently to a convent.
The Senate summons the husband, and represents the case to him. He assures the Senate that he has forgiven his wife, believing her to be innocent. This, however, does not suffice to allay her uneasiness—or her reluctance—for on January 4, 1504, Sanuto tells us that the Senate has received a letter of thanks from her in which she relates her misfortunes, and in which again she begs that her husband be compelled to pledge security to treat her well ("darli buona vita") or else that she should be allowed to return to her mother. Of the nature of the misfortunes which he tells us she related in her letter, Sanuto says nothing. That is his second important omission.
The last mention of the subject in Sanuto relates to her restoration to her husband. He tells us that Caracciolo received her with great joy; but he is silent on the score of the lady's emotions on that occasion.
There you have all that is known of Dorotea Caracciolo's abduction, which later writers—including Bembo in his Historiae—have positively assigned to Cesare Borgia, drawing upon their imagination to fill up the lacunae in the story so as to support their point of view.
Those lacunae, however, are invested with a certain eloquence which it is well not to disregard. Admitting that the construing of silence into evidence is a dangerous course, all fraught with pitfalls, yet it seems permissible to pose the following questions:
If the revelation of the circumstances under which she was found, the revelations contained in her letters to the Senate, and the revelations which one imagines must have followed her return to her husband, confirm past rumours and convict Cesare of the outrage, how does it happen that Sanuto—who has never failed to record anything that could tell against Cesare—should be silent on the matter? And how does it happen that so many pens that busied themselves greedily with scandal that touched the Borgias should be similarly silent? Is it unreasonable to infer that those revelations did not incriminate him—that they gave the lie to all the rumours that had been current? If that is not the inference, then what is?
It is further noteworthy that on January 16—after Dorotea's letter to the Senate giving the details of her misfortunes, which details Sanuto has suppressed—Diego Ramires, the real and known abductor, is still the object of a hunt set afoot by some Venetians. Would that be the case had her revelations shown Ramires to be no more than the duke's instrument? Possibly; but not probably. In such a case he would not have been worth the trouble of pursuing.
Reasonably may it be objected: How, if Cesare was not guilty, does it happen that he did not carry out his threat of doing exemplary justice upon Ramires when taken—since Ramires obviously lay in his power for years after the event? The answer to that you will find in the lady's reluctance to return to Caracciolo, and the tale it tells. It is not in the least illogical to assume that, when Cesare threatened that vengeance upon Ramires for the outrage which it was alleged had been committed, he fully intended to execute it; but that, upon taking Ramires, and upon discovering that here was no such outrage as had been represented, but just the elopement of a couple of lovers, he found there was nothing for him to avenge. Was it for Cesare Borgia to set up as a protector and avenger of cuckolds? Rather would it be in keeping with the feelings of his age and race to befriend the fugitive pair who had planted the antlers upon the brow of the Venetian captain.
Lastly, Cesare's attitude towards women may be worth considering, that we may judge whether such an act as was imputed to him is consistent with it. Women play no part whatever in his history. Not once shall you find a woman's influence swaying him; not once shall you see him permitting dalliance to retard his advancement or jeopardize his chances. With him, as with egotists of his type, governed by cold will and cold intellect, the sentimental side of the relation of the sexes has no place. With him one woman was as another woman; as he craved women, so he took women, but with an almost contemptuous undiscrimination. For all his needs concerning them the lupanaria sufficed.
Is this mere speculation, think you? Is there no evidence to support it, do you say? Consider, pray, in all its bearings the treatise on pudendagra dedicated to a man of Cesare Borgia's rank by the physician Torella, written to meet his needs, and see what inference you draw from that. Surely such an inference as will invest with the ring of truth—expressing as it does his intimate nature, and confirming further what has here been said—that answer of his to the Venetian envoy, "that he had not found the ladies of Romagna so difficult that he should be driven to such rude and violent measures."
Chapter VIII. Astorre Manfredi
- Raphael Sabatini
On March 29 Cesare Borgia departed from Cesena—whither, meanwhile, he had returned—to march upon Faenza, resume the attack, and make an end of the city's stubborn resistance.
During the past months, however, and notwithstanding the presence of the Borgia troops in the territory, the people of Faenza had been able to increase their fortifications by the erection of out-works and a stout bastion in the neighbourhood of the Osservanza Hospital, well beyond the walls. This bastion claimed Cesare's first attention, and it was carried by assault on April 12. Thither he now fetched his guns, mounted them, and proceeded to a steady bombardment of the citadel. But the resistance continued with unabated determination—a determination amounting to heroism, considering the hopelessness of their case and the straits to which the Faentini were reduced by now. Victuals and other necessaries of life had long since been running low. Still the men of Faenza tightened their belts, looked to their defences, and flung defiance at the Borgia. The wealthier inhabitants distributed wine and flour at prices purely nominal, and lent Astorre money for the payment of his troops. It is written that to the same end the very priests, their patriotism surmounting their duty to the Holy Father in whose name this war was waged, consented to the despoiling of the churches and the melting down of the sacred vessels.
Even the women of Faenza bore their share of the burden of defence, carrying to the ramparts the heavy stones that were to be hurled down upon the besiegers, or actually donning casque and body-armour and doing sentry duty on the walls while the men rested.
But the end was approaching. On April 18 the Borgia cannon opened at last a breach in the walls, and Cesare delivered a terrible assault upon the citadel. The fight upon the smoking ruins was fierce and determined on both sides, the duke's men pressing forward gallantly under showers of scalding pitch and a storm of boulders, launched upon them by the defenders, who used the very ruins of the wall for ammunition. For four hours was that assault maintained; nor did it cease until the deepening dusk compelled Cesare to order the retreat, since to continue in the failing light was but to sacrifice men to no purpose.
Cesare's appreciation of the valour of the garrison ran high. It inspired him with a respect which shows his dispassionate breadth of mind, and he is reported to have declared that with an army of such men as those who held Faenza against him he would have conquered all Italy. He did not attempt a second assault, but confined himself during the three days that followed to continuing the bombardment.
Within Faenza men were by now in desperate case. Weariness and hunger were so exhausting their endurance, so sapping their high valour that nightly there were desertions to the duke's camp of men who could bear no more. The fugitives from the town were well received, all save one—a man named Grammante, a dyer by trade—who, in deserting to the duke, came in to inform him that at a certain point of the citadel the defences were so weak that an assault delivered there could not fail to carry it.
This man afforded Cesare an opportunity of marking his contempt for traitors and his respect for the gallant defenders of Faenza. The duke hanged him for his pains under the very walls of the town he had betrayed.
On the 21st the bombardment was kept up almost without interruption for eight hours, and so shattered was the citadel by that pitiless cannonade that the end was in sight at last. But the duke's satisfaction was tempered by his chagrin at the loss of Achille Tiberti, one of the most valiant of his captains, and one who had followed his fortunes from the first with conspicuous devotion. He was killed by the bursting of a gun. A great funeral at Cesena bore witness to the extent to which Cesare esteemed and honoured him.
Astorre, now seeing the citadel in ruins and the possibility of further resistance utterly exhausted, assembled the Council of Faenza to determine upon their course of action, and, as a result of their deliberations, the young tyrant sent his ambassadors to the duke to propose terms of surrender. It was a belated proposal, for there was no longer on Cesare's part the necessity to make terms. The city's defences were destroyed, and to talk of surrender now was to talk of giving something that no longer existed. Yet Cesare met the ambassadors in a spirit of splendid generosity.
The terms proposed were that the people of Faenza should have immunity for themselves and their property; that Astorre should have freedom to depart and to take with him his moveable possessions, his immoveables remaining at the mercy of the Pope. By all the laws of war Cesare was entitled to a heavy indemnity for the losses he had sustained through the resistance opposed to him. Considering those same laws and the application they were wont to receive in his day, no one could have censured him had he rejected all terms and given the city over to pillage. Yet not only does he grant the terms submitted to him, but in addition he actually lends an ear to the Council's prayer that out of consideration for the great suffering of the city in the siege he should refrain from exacting any indemnity. This was to be forbearing indeed; but he was to carry his forbearance even further. In answer to the Council's expressed fears of further harm at the hands of his troopers once these should be in Faenza, he actually consented to effect no entrance into the town.
We are not for a moment to consider Cesare as actuated in all this by any lofty humanitarianism. He was simply pursuing that wise policy of his, in refraining from punishing conquered States which were to be subject henceforth to his rule, and which, therefore, must be conciliated that they might be loyal to him. But it is well that you should at least appreciate this policy and the fruit it bore when you read that Cesare Borgia was a blood-glutted monster of carnage who ravaged the Romagna, rending and devouring it like some beast of prey.
On the 26th the Council waited upon Cesare at the Hospital of the Osservanza—where he was lodged—to tender the oath of fealty. That same evening Astorre himself, attended by a few of his gentlemen, came to the duke.
To this rather sickly and melancholy lad, who had behind him a terrible family history of violence, and to his bastard brother, Gianevangelista, the duke accorded the most gracious welcome. Indeed, so amiable did Astorre find the duke that, although the terms of surrender afforded him perfect liberty to go whither he listed, he chose to accept the invitation Cesare extended to him to remain in the duke's train.
It is eminently probable, however, that the duke's object in keeping the young man about him was prompted by another phase of that policy of his which Macchiavelli was later to formulate into rules of conduct, expedient in a prince:
"In order to preserve a newly acquired State particular attention should be given to two points. In the first place care should be taken entirely to extinguish the family of the ancient sovereign; in the second, laws should not be changed, nor taxes increased."
Thus Macchiavelli. The second point is all that is excellent; the first is all that is wise—cold, horrible, and revolting though it be to our twentieth-century notions.
Cesare Borgia, as a matter of fact, hardly went so far as Macchiavelli advises. He practised discrimination. He did not, for instance, seek the lives of Pandolfaccio Malatesta, or of Caterina Sforza-Riario. He saw no danger in their living, no future trouble to apprehend from them. The hatred borne them by their subjects was to Cesare a sufficient guarantee that they would not be likely to attempt a return to their dominions, and so he permitted them to keep their lives. But to have allowed Astorre Manfredi, or even his bastard brother, to live would have been bad policy from the appallingly egotistical point of view which was Cesare's—a point of view, remember, which receives Macchiavelli's horribly intellectual, utterly unsentimental, revoltingly practical approval.
So—to anticipate a little—we see Cesare taking Astorre and Gianevangelista Manfredi to Rome when he returned thither in the following June. A fortnight later—on June 26—the formidable amazon of Forli, the Countess Sforza-Riario, was liberated, as we know, from the Castle of Sant' Angelo, and permitted to withdraw to Florence. But the gates of that grim fortress, in opening to allow her to pass out, opened also for the purpose of admitting Astorre and Gianevangelista, upon whom they closed.
All that is known positively of the fate of these unfortunate young men is that they never came forth again alive.
The record in Burchard (June 9, 1502) of Astorre's body having been found in the Tiber with a stone round his neck, suffers in probability from the addition that, "together with it were found the bodies of two young men with their arms tied, a certain woman, and many others."
The dispatch of Giustiniani to the effect that: "It is said that this night were thrown into Tiber and drowned the two lords of Faenza together with their seneschal," was never followed up by any other dispatch confirming the rumour, nor is it confirmed by any dispatch so far discovered from any other ambassador, nor yet does the matter find place in the Chronicles of Faenza.
But that is of secondary importance. The ugliest feature of the case is not the actual assassination of the young men, but the fact that Cesare had pledged himself that Astorre should go free, and yet had kept him by him—at first, it would seem, in his train, and later as a prisoner—until he put an end to his life. It was an ugly, unscrupulous deed; but there is no need to exaggerate its heinousness, as is constantly done, upon no better authority than Guicciardini's, who wrote that the murder had been committed "saziata prima la libidine di qualcuno."
Of all the unspeakable calumnies of which the Borgias have been the subject, none is more utterly wanton than this foul exhalation of Guicciardini's lewd invention. Let the shame that must eternally attach to him for it brand also those subsequent writers who repeated and retailed that abominable and utterly unsupported accusation, and more particularly those who have not hesitated to assume that Guicciardini's "qualcuno" was an old man in his seventy-second year—Pope Alexander VI.
Others a little more merciful, a little more careful of physical possibilities (but no whit less salacious) have taken it that Cesare was intended by the Florentine historian.
But, under one form or another, the lie has spread as only such foulness can spread. It has become woven into the warp of history; it has grown to be one of those "facts" which are unquestioningly accepted, but it stands upon no better foundation than the frequent repetition which a charge so monstrous could not escape. Its source is not a contemporary one. It is first mentioned by Guicciardini; and there is no logical conclusion to be formed other than that Guicciardini invented it. Another story which owes its existence mainly, and its particulars almost entirely, to Guicciardini's libellous pen—the story of the death of Alexander VI, which in its place shall be examined—provoked the righteous anger of Voltaire. Atheist and violent anti-clerical though he was, the story's obvious falseness so revolted him that he penned his formidable indictment in which he branded Guicciardini as a liar who had deceived posterity that he might vent his hatred of the Borgias. Better cause still was there in this matter of Astorre Manfredi for Voltaire's indignation, as there is for the indignation of all conscientious seekers after truth.
Chapter IX. Castel Bolognese and Piombino
- Raphael Sabatini
To return to the surrender of Faenza on April 26, 1501, we see Cesare on the morrow of that event, striking camp with such amazing suddenness that he does not even pause to provide for the government of the conquered tyranny, but appoints a vicar four days later to attend to it.
He makes his abrupt departure from Faenza, and is off like a whirlwind to sweep unexpectedly into the Bolognese territory, and, by striking swiftly, to terrify Bentivogli into submission in the matter of Castel Bolognese.
This fortress, standing in the duke's dominions, on the road between Faenza and Imola, must be a menace to him whilst in the hands of a power that might become actively hostile.
Ahead of him Cesare sent an envoy to Bentivogli, to demand its surrender.
The alarmed Lord of Bologna, having convened his Council (the Reggimento), replied that they must deliberate in the matter; and two days later they dispatched their ambassador to lay before Cesare the fruits of these deliberations. They were to seek the duke at Imola; but they got no farther than Castel S. Pietro, which to their dismay they found already in the hands of Vitellozzo Vitelli's men-at-arms. For, what time Bentivogli had been deliberating, Cesare Borgia had been acting with that promptness which was one of his most salient characteristics, and, in addition to Castel S. Pietro he had already captured Casalfiuminense, Castel Guelfo, and Medecina, which were now invested by his troops.
When the alarming news of this swift action reached Bologna it caused Bentivogli to bethink him at last of Louis XII's advice, that he should come to terms with Cesare Borgia, and he realized that the time to do so could no longer be put off. He made haste, therefore, to agree to the surrender of Castel Bolognese to the duke, to concede him stipend for one hundred lances of three men each, and to enter into an undertaking to lend him every assistance for one year against any power with which he might be at war, the King of France excepted. In return, Cesare was to relinquish the captured strongholds and undertake that the Pope should confirm Bentivogli in his ancient privileges. On April 29 Paolo Orsini went as Cesare's plenipotentiary to Bologna to sign this treaty.
It was a crafty arrangement on Bentivogli's part, for, over and above the pacification of Cesare and the advantage of an alliance with him, he gained as a result the alliance also of those famous condottieri Vitelli and Orsini, both bitter enemies of Florence—the latter intent upon the restoration of the Medici, the former impatient to avenge upon the Signory the execution of his brother Paolo. As an instalment, on account of that debt, Vitelli had already put to death Pietro da Marciano—the brother of Count Rinuccio da Marciano—when this gentleman fell into his hands at Medicina.
Two days before the treaty was signed, Bentivogli had seized four members of the powerful House of Marescotti. This family was related to the exiled Malvezzi, who were in arms with Cesare, and Bentivogli feared that communications might be passing between the two to his undoing. On that suspicion he kept them prisoners for the present, nor did be release them when the treaty was signed, nor yet when, amid public rejoicings expressing the relief of the Bolognese, it was published on May 2.
Hermes Bentivogli—Giovanni's youngest son—was on guard at the palace with several other young Bolognese patricians, and he incited these to go with him to make an end of the traitors who had sought to destroy the peace by their alleged plottings with Bentivogli's enemies in Cesare's camp. He led his companions to the chamber where the Marescotti were confined, and there, more or less in cold blood, those four gentlemen were murdered for no better reason—ostensibly—than because it was suspected they had been in communication with their relatives in the Duke of Valentinois's army. That was the way of the Cinquecento, which appears to have held few things of less account than human life.
In passing, it may be mentioned that Guicciardini, of course, does his ludicrous best to make this murder appear—at least indirectly, since directly it would be impossible—the work of Cesare Borgia.
As for Castel Bolognese itself, Cesare Borgia sent a thousand demolishers in the following July to raze it to the ground. It is said to have been the most beautiful castle in the Romagna; but Cesare had other qualities than beauty to consider in the matter of a stronghold. Its commanding position rendered it almost in the nature of a gateway controlling, as we know, the road from Faenza to Imola, and its occupation by the Bolognese or other enemies in time of disturbance might be of serious consequence to Cesare. Therefore he ruthlessly ordered Ramiro de Lorqua to set about its demolition.
The Council of Castel Bolognese made great protest, and implored Ramiro to stay his hand until they should have communicated with the duke petitioning for the castle's preservation; but Ramiro—a hard, stern man, and Cesare's most active officer in the Romagna—told them bluntly that to petition the duke in such a matter would be no better than a waste of time. He was no more than right; for Cesare, being resolved upon the expediency of the castle's destruction, would hardly be likely to listen to sentimental reasonings for its preservation. Confident of this, Ramiro without more ado set about the execution of the orders he had received. He pulled down the walls and filled up the moat, until nothing remained so much as to show the place where the fortress had stood.
Another fortress which shared the fate of Castel Bolognese was the Castle of Sant' Arcangelo, and similarly would Cesare have disposed of Solarolo, but that, being of lesser importance and the inhabitants offering, in their petition for its preservation, to undertake, themselves, the payment of the Castellan, he allowed it to remain.
Scarcely was the treaty with Bologna signed than Cesare received letters from the Pope recalling him to Rome, and recommending that he should not molest the Florentines in his passage—a recommendation which Alexander deemed very necessary considering the disposition towards Florence of Vitelli and Orsini. He foresaw that they would employ arguments to induce Valentinois into an enterprise of which all the cost would be his, and all the possible profit their own.
The duke would certainly have obeyed and avoided Tuscany, but that—precisely as the shrewd Pope had feared—Vitelli and Orsini implored him to march through Florentine territory. Vitelli, indeed, flung himself on his knees before Cesare in the vehemence of his supplications, urging that his only motive was to effect the deliverance from his unjust imprisonment of Cerbone, who had been his executed brother's chancellor. Beyond that, he swore he would make no demands upon Florence, that he would not attempt to mix himself in the affairs of the Medici, and that he would do no violence to town or country.
Thus implored, Cesare gave way. Probably he remembered the very circumstances under which Vitelli had joined his banner, and considered that he could not now oppose a request backed by a promise of so much moderation; so on May 7 he sent his envoys to the Signory to crave leave of passage for his troops through Florentine territory.
Whilst still in the Bolognese he was sought out by Giuliano de' Medici, who begged to be allowed to accompany him, a request which Cesare instantly refused, as being contrary to that to which he had engaged himself, and he caused Giuliano to fall behind at Lojano. Nor would he so much as receive in audience Piero de' Medici, who likewise sought to join him in Siennese territory, as soon as he perceived what was toward. Yet, however much the duke protested that he had no intention to make any change in the State of Florence, there were few who believed him. Florence, weary and sorely reduced by the long struggle of the Pisan war, was an easy prey. Conscious of this, great was her anxiety and alarm at Cesare's request for passage. The Signory replied granting him the permission sought, but imposing the condition that he should keep to the country, refraining from entering any town, nor bring with him into Florentine territory Vitelli, Orsini, or any other enemy of the existing government. It happened, however, that when the Florentine ambassador reached him with this reply the duke was already over the frontier of Tuscany with the excluded condottieri in his train.
It was incumbent upon him, as a consequence, to vindicate this high-handed anticipation of the unqualified Florentine permission which had not arrived. So he declared that he had been offended last year by Florence in the matter of Forli, and again this year in the matter of Faenza, both of which cities he charged the Signory with having assisted to resist him, and he announced that, to justify his intentions so far as Florence was concerned, he would explain himself at Barberino.
There, on May 12, he gave audience to the ambassador. He declared to him that he desired a good understanding with Florence, and that she should offer no hindrance to the conquest of Piombino, upon which he was now bound; adding that since he placed no trust in the present government, which already had broken faith with him, he would require some good security for the treaty to be made. Of reinstating the Medici he said nothing; but he demanded that some satisfaction be given Vitelli and Orsini, and, to quicken Florence in coming to a decision, he pushed forward with his army as far as Forno dei Campi—almost under her very walls.
The Republic was thrown into consternation. Instantly she got together what forces she disposed of, and proceeded to fling her artillery into the Arno, to the end that she should be constrained neither to refuse it to Cesare upon his demand, nor yet to deliver it.
Macchiavelli censures the Signory's conduct of this affair as impolitic. He contends that the duke, being in great strength of arms, and Florence not armed at all, and therefore in no case to hinder his passage, it would have been wiser and the Signory would better have saved its face and dignity, had it accorded Cesare the permission to pass which he demanded, rather than have been subjected to behold him enforce that passage by weight of arms. But all that now concerned the Florentines was to be rid of an army whose presence in their territory was a constant menace. And to gain that end they were ready to give any undertakings, just as they were resolved to fulfil none.
Similarly, it chanced that Cesare was in no less a hurry to be gone; for he had received another letter from the Pope commanding his withdrawal, and in addition, he was being plagued by Vitelli and Orsini—grown restive—with entreaties for permission to go into either Florence or Pistoja, where they did not lack for friends. To resist them Cesare had need of all the severity and resolution he could command; and he even went so far as to back his refusal by a threat himself to take up arms against them if they insisted.
On the 15th, at last, the treaty—which amounted to an offensive and defensive alliance—was signed. By the terms of this, Florence undertook to give Cesare a condotta of 300 lances for three years, to be used in Florentine service, with a stipend of 36,000 ducats yearly. How much this really meant the duke was to discover two days later, when he sent to ask the Signory to lend him some cannon for the emprise against Piombino, and to pay him the first instalment of one quarter of the yearly stipend before he left Florentine territory. The Signory replied that, by the terms of the agreement, there was no obligation for the immediate payment of the instalment, whilst in the matter of the artillery they put him off from day to day, until Cesare understood that their only aim in signing the treaty had been the immediate one of being rid of his army.
The risk Florence incurred in so playing fast-and-loose with such a man, particularly in a moment of such utter unfitness to resist him, is, notwithstanding the French protection enjoyed by the Signory, amazing in its reckless audacity. It was fortunate for Florence that the Pope's orders tied the duke's hands—and it may be that of this the Signory had knowledge, and that it was upon such knowledge, in conjunction with France's protection, that it was presuming. Cesare took the matter in the spirit of an excellent loser.
Not a hint of his chagrin and resentment did he betray; instead, he set about furnishing his needs elsewhere, sending Vitelli to Pisa with a request for artillery, a request to which Pisa very readily responded, as much on Vitelli's account as on the duke's. As for Florence, if Cesare Borgia could be terribly swift in punishing, he could also be formidably slow. If he could strike upon the instant where the opening for a blow appeared, he could also wait for months until the opening should be found. He waited now.
It would be at about this time that young Loenardo da Vinci sought employment in Cesare Borgia's service. Leonardo had been in Milan until the summer of 1500, when he repaired to Florence in quest of better fortune; but, finding little or no work to engage him there, he took the chance of the duke of Valentinois's passage to offer his service to one whose liberal patronage of the arts was become proverbial. Cesare took him into his employ as engineer and architect, leaving him in the Romagna for the present. Leonardo may have superintended the repairs of the Castle of Forli, whilst he certainly built the canal from Cesena to the Porto Cesenatico, before rejoining the duke in Rome.
On May 25 Cesare moved by the way of the valley of Cecina to try conclusions with Giacomo d'Appiano, Tyrant of Piombino, who with some Genoese and some Florentine aid, was disposed to offer resistance to the duke. The first strategic movement in this affair must be the capture of the Isle of Elba, whence aid might reach Piombino on its promontory thrusting out into the sea. For this purpose the Pope sent from Civita Vecchia six galleys, three brigantines, and two galleons under the command of Lodovico Mosca, captain of the papal navy, whilst Cesare was further reinforced by some vessels sent him from Pisa together with eight pieces of cannon. With these he made an easy capture of Elba and Pianosa. That done, he proceeded to lay siege to Piombino, which, after making a gallant resistance enduring for two months, was finally pressed to capitulate.
Long before that happened, however, Cesare had taken his departure. Being awaited in Rome, he was unable to conduct the siege operations in person. So he quitted Piombino in June to join the French under d'Aubigny, bound at last upon the conquest of Naples, and claiming—as their treaty with him provided—Cesare's collaboration.
Chapter X. The End of the House of Aragon
- Raphael Sabatini
Cesare arrived in Rome on June 13. There was none of the usual pomp on this occasion. He made his entrance quietly, attended only by a small body of men-at-arms, and he was followed, on the morrow, by Yves d'Allègre with the army—considerably reduced by the detachments which had been left to garrison the Romagna, and to lay siege to Piombino.
Repairing to his quarters in the Vatican, the duke remained so close there for the few weeks that he abode in Rome on this occasion
that, from now onward, it became a matter of the utmost difficulty to obtain audience from him. This may have been due to his habit of turning night into day and day into night, whether at work or at play, which in fact was the excuse offered by the Pope to certain envoys sent to Cesare from Rimini, who were left to cool their heels about the Vatican ante-chambers for a fortnight without succeeding in obtaining an audience.
Cesare Borgia was now Lord of Imola, Forli, Rimini, Faenza and Piombino, warranting his assumption of the inclusive title of Duke of Romagna which he had taken immediately after the fall of Faenza.
As his State grew, so naturally did the affairs of government; and, during those four weeks in Rome, business claimed his attention and an enormous amount of it was dispatched. Chiefly was he engaged upon the administration of the affairs of Faenza, which he had so hurriedly quitted. In this his shrewd policy of generosity is again apparent. As his representative and lieutenant he appointed a prominent citizen of Faenza named Pasi, one of the very members of that Council which had been engaged in defending the city and resisting Cesare. The duke gave it as his motive for the choice that the man was obviously worthy of trust in view of his fidelity to Astorre.
And there you have not only the shrewdness of the man who knows how to choose his servants—which is one of the most important factors of success—but a breadth of mind very unusual indeed in the Cinquecento.
In addition to the immunity from indemnity provided for by the terms of the city's capitulation, Cesare actually went so far as to grant the peasantry of the valley 2,000 ducats as compensation for damage done in the war. Further, he supported the intercessions of the Council to the Pope for the erection of a new convent to replace the one that had been destroyed in the bombardment. In giving his consent to this—in a brief dated July 12, 1501—the Pope announces that he does so in response to the prayers of the Council and of the duke.
Giovanni Vera, Cesare's erstwhile preceptor—and still affectionately accorded this title by the duke—was now Arch-biship of Salerno, Cardinal of Santa Balbina, and papal legate in Macerata, and he was chosen by the Pope to go to Pesaro and Fano for the purpose of receiving the oath of fealty. With him Cesare sent, as his own personal representative, his secretary, Agabito Gherardi, who had been in his employ in that capacity since the duke's journey into France, and who was to follow his fortunes to the end.
However the people of Fano may have refrained from offering themselves to the duke's dominion when, in the previous October, he had afforded them by his presence the opportunity of doing so, their conduct now hardly indicated that the earlier abstention had been born of reluctance, or else their minds had undergone, in the meanwhile, a considerable change. For, when they received the brief appointing him their lord, they celebrated the event by public rejoicings and illuminations; whilst on July 21 the Council, representing the people, in the presence of Vera and Gherardi, took oath upon the Gospels of allegiance to Cesare and his descendants for ever.
In the Consistory of June 25 of that year the French and Spanish ambassadors came formally to notify the Holy Father of the treaty of Granada, entered into in the previous November by Louis XII of the one part, and Ferdinand and Isabella of the other, concerning the conquest and division of the Kingdom of Naples. The rival claimants had come to a compromise by virtue of which they were to undertake together the conquest and thereafter share the spoil—Naples and the Abruzzi going to France, and Calabria and Puglia to Spain.
Alexander immediately published his Bull declaring Federigo of Naples deposed for disobedience to the Church, and for having called the Turk to his aid, either of which charges it would have taxed Alexander's ingenuity—vast though it was—convincingly to have established; or, being established, to censure when all the facts were considered. The charges were no better than pretexts for the spoliation of the unfortunate king who, in the matter of his daughter's alliance with Cesare, had conceived that he might flout the Borgias with impunity.
On June 28 d'Aubigny left Rome with the French troops, accompanied by the bulk of the considerable army with which Cesare supported his French ally, besides 1,000 foot raised by the Pope and a condotta of 100 lances under Morgante Baglioni. As the troops defiled before the Castle of Sant' Angelo they received the apostolic benediction from the Pope, who stood on the lower ramparts of the fortress.
Cesare himself cannot have followed to join the army until after July 10, for as late as that date there is an edict indited by him against all who should offer injury to his Romagna officers. At about the same time that he quitted Rome to ride after the French, Gonsalo de Cordoba landed a Spanish army in Calabria, and the days of the Aragon dominion in Naples were numbered.
King Federigo prepared to face the foe. Whilst himself remaining in Naples with Prospero Colonna, he sent the bulk of his forces to Capua under Fabrizio Colonna and Count Rinuccio Marciano—the brother of that Marciano whom Vitelli had put to death in Tuscany.
Ravaging the territory and forcing its strongholds as they came, the allies were under the walls of Capua within three weeks of setting out; but on July 17, when within two miles of the town, they were met by six hundred lances under Colonna, who attempted to dispute their passage. It was Cesare Borgia himself who led the charge against them. Jean d'Auton—in his Chronicles of Louis XII—speaks in warm terms of the duke's valour and of the manner in which, by words and by example, he encouraged his followers to charge the Colonna forces, with such good effect that they utterly routed the Neapolitans, and drove them headlong back to the shelter of Capua's walls.
The allies brought up their cannon, and opened the bombardment. This lasted incessantly from July 17—which was a Monday—until the following Friday, when two bastions were so shattered that the French were able to gain possession of them, putting to the sword some two hundred Neapolitan soldiers who had been left to defend those outworks. Thence admittance to the town itself was gained four days later—on the 25th—through a breach, according to some, through the treacherous opening of a gate, according to others. Through gate or breach the besiegers stormed to meet a fierce resistance, and the most horrible carnage followed. Back and back they drove the defenders, fighting their way through the streets and sparing none in the awful fury that beset them. The defence was shattered; resistance was at an end; yet still the bloody work went on. The combat had imperceptibly merged into a slaughter; demoralized and panic-stricken in the reaction from their late gallantry, the soldiers of Naples flung down their weapons and fled, shrieking for quarter. But none was given. The invader butchered every human thing he came upon, indiscriminant of age or sex, and the blood of some four thousand victims flowed through the streets of Capua like water after a thundershower. That sack of Capua is one of the most horrid pages in the horrid history of sacks. You will find full details in d'Auton's chronicle, if you have a mind for such horrors. There is a brief summary of the event in Burchard's diary under date of July 26, 1501, which runs as follows:
"At about the fourth hour last night the Pope had news of the capture of Capua by the Duke of Valentinois. The capture was due to the treason of one Fabrizio—a citizen of Capua—who secretly introduced the besiegers and was the first to be killed by them. After him the same fate was met by some three thousand foot and some two hundred horse-soldiers, by citizens, priests, conventuals of both sexes, even in the very churches and monasteries, and all the women taken were given in prey to the greatest cruelty. The total number of the slain is estimated at four thousand."
D'Auton, too, bears witness to this wholesale violation of the women, "which," he adds, "is the very worst of all war's excesses." He informs us further that "the foot-soldiers of the Duke of Valentinois acquitted themselves so well in this, that thirty of the most beautiful women went captive to Rome," a figure which is confirmed by Burchard.
"What an opportunity was not this for Guicciardini! The foot-soldiers of the Duke of Valentinois acquitted themselves so well in this, that thirty of the most beautiful women went captive to Rome."
Under his nimble, malicious, unscrupulous pen that statement is re-edited until not thirty but forty is the number of the captured victims taken to Rome, and not Valentinois's foot, but Valentinois himself the ravisher of the entire forty! But hear the elegant Florentine's own words:
"It was spread about [divulgossi]" he writes, "that, besides other wickednesses worthy of eternal infamy, many women who had taken refuge in a tower, and thus escaped the first fury of the assault, were found by the Duke of Valentinois, who, with the title of King's Lieutenant, followed the army with no more people than his gentlemen and his guards.
He desired to see them all, and, after carefully examining them [consideratele diligentemente] he retained forty of the most beautiful."
Guicciardini's aim is, of course, to shock you; he considers it necessary to maintain in Cesare the character of ravenous wolf which he had bestowed upon him. The marvel is not that Guicciardini should have penned that utterly ludicrous accusation, but that more or less serious subsequent writers—and writers of our own time even—instead of being moved to contemptuous laughter at the wild foolishness of the story, instead of seeking in the available records the germ of true fact from which it was sprung, should sedulously and unblushingly have carried forward its dissemination.
Yriarte not only repeats the tale with all the sober calm of one utterly destitute of a sense of the ridiculous, but he improves upon it by a delicious touch, worthy of Guicciardini himself, when he assures us that Cesare took these forty women for his harem!
It is a nice instance of how Borgia history has grown, and is still growing.
If verisimilitude itself does not repudiate Guicciardini's story, there are the Capuan chronicles to do it—particularly that of Pellegrini, who witnessed the pillage. In those chronicles from which Guicciardini drew the matter for this portion of his history of Italy, you will seek in vain for any confirmation of that fiction with which the Florentine historian—he who had a pen of gold for his friends and one of iron for his foes—thought well to adorn his facts.
If the grotesque in history-building is of interest to you, you may turn the pages of the Storia Civile di Capua, by F. Granata, published in 1752. This writer has carefully followed the Capuan chroniclers in their relation of the siege; but when it comes to these details of the forty ladies in the tower (in which those chroniclers fail him) he actually gives Guicciardini as his authority, setting a fashion which has not lacked for unconscious, and no less egregious, imitators.
To return from the criticism of fiction to the consideration of fact, Fabrizio Colonna and Rinuccio da Marciano were among the many captains of the Neapolitan army that were taken prisoners. Rinuccio was the head of the Florentine faction which had caused the execution of Paolo Vitelli, and Giovio has it that Vitellozzo Vitelli, who had already taken an instalment of vengeance by putting Pietro da Marciano to death in Tuscany, caused Rinuccio's wounds to be poisoned, so that he died two days later.
The fall of Capua was very shortly followed by that of Gaeta, and, within a week, by that of Naples, which was entered on August 3 by Cesare Borgia in command of the vanguard of the army. "He who had come as a cardinal to crown King Federigo, came now as a condottiero to depose him."
Federigo offered to surrender to the French all the fortresses that still held for him, on condition that he should have safe-conduct to Ischia and liberty to remain there for six months. This was agreed, and Federigo was further permitted to take with him his moveable possessions and his artillery, which latter, however, he afterwards sold to the Pope.
Thus the last member of the House of Aragon to sit upon the throne of Naples took his departure, accompanied by the few faithful ones who loved him well enough to follow him into exile; amongst these was that poet Sanazzaro, who, to avenge the wrong suffered by the master whom he loved, was to launch his terrible epigrams against Alexander, Cesare, and Lucrezia, and by means of those surviving verses enable the enemies of the House of Borgia to vilify their memories through centuries to follow.
Federigo's captains Prospero and Fabrizio Colonna, upon being ransomed, took their swords to Gonzalo de Cordoba, hoping for the day when they might avenge upon the Borgia the ruin which, even in this Neapolitan conquest they attributed to the Pope and his son.
And here, so far as Naples is concerned, closes the history of the House of Aragon. In Italy it was extinct; and it was to become so, too, in Spain within the century.
Chapter XI. The Letter to Silvio Savelli
- Raphael Sabatini
By September 15 Cesare was back in Rome, the richer in renown, in French favour, and in a matter of 40,000 ducats, which is estimated as the total of the sums paid him by France and Spain for the support which his condotta had afforded them.
During his absence two important events had taken place: the betrothal of his widowed sister Lucrezia to Alfonso d'Este, son of Duke Ercole of Ferrara, and the publication of the Bull of excommunication (of August 20) against the Savelli and Colonna in consideration of all that they had wrought against the Holy See from the pontificate of Sixtus IV to the present time. By virtue of that Bull the Pope ordered the confiscation of the possessions of the excommunicated families, whilst the Caetani suffered in like manner at the same time.
These possessions were divided into two parts, and by the Bull of September 17 they were bestowed, one upon Lucrezia's boy Roderigo, and with them the title of Duke of Sermoneta; the other to a child, Giovanni Borgia (who is made something of a mystery) with the title of Duke of Nepi and Palestrina.
The entire proceeding is undoubtedly open to grave censure, since the distribution of the confiscated fiefs subjects to impeachment the purity of the motives that prompted this confiscation. It was on the part of Alexander a gross act of nepotism, a gross abuse of his pontifical authority; but there is, at least, this to be said, that in perpetrating it he was doing no more than in his epoch it was customary for Popes to do. Alexander, it may be said again in this connection, was part of a corrupt system, not the corrupter of a pure one.
Touching the boy Giovanni Borgia, the mystery attaching to him concerns his parentage, and arises out of the singular circumstance that there are two papal Bulls, both dated September 1, 1501, in each of which a different father is assigned to him, the second appearing to supplement and correct the first.
The first of these Bulls, addressed to "Dilecto Filio Nobili Joanni de Borgia, Infanti Romano," declares him to be a child of three years of age, the illegitimate son of Cesare Borgia, unmarried (as Cesare was at the time of the child's birth) and of a woman (unnamed, as was usual in such cases) also unmarried.
The second declares him, instead, to be the son of Alexander, and runs: "Since you bear this deficiency not from the said duke, but from us and the said woman, which we for good reasons did not desire to express in the preceding writing."
That the second Bull undoubtedly contains the truth of the matter is the only possible explanation of its existence, and the "good reasons" that existed for the first one are, no doubt, as Gregorovius says, that officially and by canon law the Pope was inhibited from recognizing children. (His other children, be it remembered, were recognized by him during his cardinalate and before his elevation to St. Peter's throne.) Hence the attempt by these Bulls to circumvent the law to the end that the child should not suffer in the matter of his inheritance.
Burchard, under date of November 3 of that year, freely mentions this Giovanni Borgia as the son of the Pope and "a certain Roman woman" ("quadam Romana").
On the same date borne by those two Bulls a third one was issued confirming the House of Este perpetually in the dominion of Ferrara and its other Romagna possessions, and reducing by one-third the tribute of 4,000 ducats yearly imposed upon that family by Sixtus IV; and it was explicitly added that these concessions were made for Lucrezia and her descendants.
Three days later a courier from Duke Ercole brought the news that the marriage contract had been signed in Ferrara, and it was in salvoes of artillery that day and illuminations after dark that the Pope gave expression to the satisfaction afforded him by the prospect of his daughter's entering one of the most ancient families and ascending one of the noblest thrones in Italy.
It would be idle to pretend that the marriage was other than one of convenience. Love between the contracting parties played no part in this transaction, and Ercole d'Este was urged to it under suasion of the King of France, out of fear of the growing might of Cesare, and out of consideration for the splendid dowry which he demanded and in the matter of which he displayed a spirit which Alexander contemptuously described as that of a tradesman. Nor would Ercole send the escort to Rome for the bride until he had in his hands the Bull of investiture in the fiefs of Cento and Pieve, which, with 100,000 ducats, constituted Lucrezia's dowry. Altogether a most unromantic affair.
The following letter from the Ferrarese ambassador in Rome, dated September 23, is of interest in connection with this marriage:
"MOST ILLUSTRIOUS PRINCE AND MOST NOBLE LORD,
"His Holiness the Pope, taking into consideration such matters as might occasion displeasure not only to your Excellency and to the Most Illustrious Don Alfonso, but also to the duchess and even to himself, has charged us to write to your Excellency to urge you so to contrive that the Lord Giovanni of Pesaro, who, as your Excellency is aware, is in Mantua, shall not be in Ferrara at the time of the nuptials. Notwithstanding that his divorce from the said duchess is absolutely legitimate and accomplished in accordance with pure truth, as is publicly known not only from the proceedings of the trial but also from the free confession of the said Don Giovanni, it is possible that he may still be actuated by some lingering ill-will; wherefore, should he find himself in any place where the said lady might be seen by him, her Excellency might, in consequence, be compelled to withdraw into privacy, to be spared the memory of the past. Wherefore, his Holiness exhorts your Excellency to provide with your habitual prudence against such a contingency."
Meanwhile, the festivities wherewith her betrothal was celebrated went merrily amain, and into the midst of them, to bear his share, came Cesare crowned with fresh laurels gained in the Neapolitan war. No merry-makings ever held under the auspices of Pope Alexander VI at the Vatican had escaped being the source of much scandalous rumour, but none had been so scandalous and disgraceful as the stories put abroad on this occasion. These found a fitting climax in that anonymous Letter to Silvio Savelli, published in Germany—which at the time, be it borne in mind, was extremely inimical to the Pope, viewing with jaundiced eyes his ever-growing power, and stirred perhaps to this unspeakable burst of venomous fury by the noble Este alliance, so valuable to Cesare in that it gave him a friend upon the frontier of his Romagna possessions.
The appalling publication, which is given in full in Burchard, was fictitiously dated from Gonzola de Cordoba's Spanish camp at Taranto on November 25. A copy of this anonymous pamphlet, which is the most violent attack on the Borgias ever penned, perhaps the most terrible indictment against any family ever published—a pamphlet which Gregorovius does not hesitate to call "an authentic document of the state of Rome under the Borgias"—fell into the hands of the Cardinal of Modena, who on the last day of the year carried it to the Pope.
Before considering that letter it is well to turn to the entries in Burchard's diary under the dates of October 27 and November 11 of that same year. You will find two statements which have no parallel in the rest of the entire diary, few parallels in any sober narrative of facts. The sane mind must recoil and close up before them, so impossible does it seem to accept them.
The first of these is the relation of the supper given by Cesare in the Vatican to fifty courtesans—a relation which possibly suggested to the debauched Regent d'Orléans his fêtes d'Adam, a couple of centuries later.
Burchard tells us how, for the amusement of Cesare, of the Pope, and of Lucrezia, these fifty courtesans were set to dance after supper with the servants and some others who were present, dressed at first and afterwards not so. He draws for us a picture of those fifty women on all fours, in all their plastic nudity, striving for the chestnuts flung to them in that chamber of the Apostolic Palace by Christ's Vicar—an old man of seventy—by his son and his daughter. Nor is that all by any means. There is much worse to follow—matter which we dare not translate, but must leave more or less discreetly veiled in the decadent Latin of the Caerimoniarius:
"Tandem exposita dona ultima, diploides de serico, paria caligarum, bireta ed alia pro illis qui pluries dictas meretrices carnaliter agnoscerent; que fuerunt ibidem in aula publice carnaliter tractate arbitrio presentium, dona distributa victoribus."
Such is the monstrous story!
Gregorovius, in his defence of Lucrezia Borgia, refuses to believe that she was present; but he is reluctant to carry his incredulity any further.
"Some orgy of that nature," he writes, "or something similar may very well have taken place. But who will believe that Lucrezia, already the legal wife of Alfonso d'Este and on the eve of departure for Ferrara, can have been present as a smiling spectator?"
Quite so. Gregorovius puts his finger at once upon one of the obvious weaknesses of the story. But where there is one falsehood there are usually others; and if we are not to believe that Lucrezia was present, why should we be asked to believe in the presence of the Pope? If Burchard was mistaken in the one, why might he not be mistaken in the other? But the question is not really one of whom you will believe to have been present at that unspeakable performance, but rather whether you can possibly bring yourself to believe that it ever took place as it is related in the Diarium.
Gregorovius says, you will observe, "Some orgy of that nature, or something similar, may very well have taken place." We could credit that Cesare held "some orgy of that nature." He had apartments in the Vatican, and if it shock you to think that it pleased him, with his gentlemen, to make merry by feasting a parcel of Roman harlots, you are—if you value justice—to be shocked at the times rather than the man. The sense of humour of the Cinquecento was primitive, and in primitive humour prurience plays ever an important part, as is discernible in the literature and comedies of that age. If you would appreciate this to the full, consider Burchard's details of the masks worn at Carnival by some merry-makers ("Venerunt ad plateam St. Petri larvati...habentes nasos lungos et grossos in forma priaporum") and you must realize that in Cesare's conduct in this matter there would have been nothing so very abnormal considered from the point of view of the Cinquecento, even though it were to approach the details given by Burchard.
But even so, you will hesitate before you accept the story of that saturnalia in its entirety, and before you believe that an old man of seventy, a priest and Christ's Vicar, was present with Cesare and his friends. Burchard does not say that he himself was a witness of what he relates. But the matter shall presently be further considered.
Meanwhile, let us pass to the second of these entries in the diary, and (a not unimportant detail) on the very next page of it, under the date of November 11. In this it is related that certain peasants entered Rome by the Viridarian Gate, driving two mares laden with timber; that, in crossing the Square of St. Peter's, some servants of the Pope's ran out and cut the cords so that the timber was loosened and the beasts relieved of their burden; they were then led to a courtyard within the precincts of the palace, where four stallions were loosed upon them. "Ascenderunt equas et coierunt cum eis et eas graviter pistarunt et leserunt," whilst the Pope at a window above the doorway of the Palace, with Madonna Lucrezia, witnessed with great laughter and delight, the show which it is suggested was specially provided for their amusement.
The improbabilities of the saturnalia of the fifty courtesans pale before the almost utter impossibility of this narrative. To render it possible in the case of two chance animals as these must have been under the related circumstances, a biological coincidence is demanded so utterly unlikely and incredible that we are at once moved to treat the story with scorn, and reject it as a fiction. Yet not one of those many writers who have retailed that story from Burchard's Diarium as a truth incontestable as the Gospels, has paused to consider this—so blinded are we when it is a case of accepting that which we desire to accept.
The narrative, too, is oddly—suspiciously—circumstantial, even to the unimportant detail of the particular gate by which the peasants entered Rome. In a piece of fiction it is perfectly natural to fill in such minor details to the end that the picture shall be complete; but they are rare in narratives of fact. And one may be permitted to wonder how came the Master of Ceremonies at the Vatican to know the precise gate by which those peasants came. It is not—as we have seen—the only occasion on which an excess of detail in the matter of a gate renders suspicious the accuracy of a story of Burchard's.
Both these affairs find a prominent place in the Letter to Silvio Savelli. Indeed Gregorovius cites the pamphlet as one of the authorities to support Burchard, and to show that what Burchard wrote must have been true; the other authority he cites is Matarazzo, disregarding not only the remarkable discrepancy between Matarazzo's relation and that of Burchard, but the circumstance that the matter of that pamphlet became current throughout Italy, and that it was thus—and only thus—that Matarazzo came to hear of the scandal.
The Letter to Silvio Savelli opens by congratulating him upon his escape from the hands of the robbers who had stripped him of his possessions, and upon his having found a refuge in Germany at the Emperor's Court. It proceeds to marvel that thence he should have written letters to the Pope begging for justice and reinstatement, his wonder being at the credulity of Savelli in supposing that the Pope—"betrayer of the human race, who has spent his life in betrayals"—will ever do any just thing other than through fear or force. Rather does the writer suggest the adoption of other methods; he urges Savelli to make known to the Emperor and all princes of the Empire the atrocious crimes of that "infamous wild beasts" which have been perpetrated in contempt of God and religion. He then proceeds to relate these crimes. Alexander, Cesare, and Lucrezia, among others of the Borgia family, bear their share of the formidable accusations. Of the Pope are related perfidies, simonies, and ravishments; against Lucrezia are urged the matter of her incest, the supper of the fifty courtesans, and the scene of the stallions; against Cesare there are the death of Biselli, the murder of Pedro Caldes, the ruin of the Romagna, whence he has driven out the legitimate lords, and the universal fear in which he is held.
It is, indeed, a compendium of all the stories which from Milan, Naples, and Venice—the three States where the Borgias for obvious reasons are best hated—have been disseminated by their enemies, and a more violent work of rage and political malice was never uttered. This malice becomes particularly evident in the indictment of Cesare for the ruin of the Romagna. Whatever Cesare might have done, he had not done that—his bitterest detractor could not (without deliberately lying) say that the Romagna was other than benefiting under his sway. That is not a matter of opinion, not a matter of inference or deduction. It is a matter of absolute fact and irrefutable knowledge.
To return now to the two entries in Burchard's Diarium when considered in conjunction with the Letter to Silvio Savelli (which Burchard quotes in full), it is remarkable that nowhere else in the discovered writings of absolute contemporaries is there the least mention of either of those scandalous stories. The affair of the stallions, for instance, must have been of a fairly public character. Scandal-mongering Rome could not have resisted the dissemination of it. Yet, apart from the Savelli letter, no single record of it has been discovered to confirm Burchard.
At this time, moreover, it is to be remembered, Lucrezia's betrothal to Alfonso d'Este was already accomplished; preparations for her departure and wedding were going forward, and the escort from Ferrara was daily expected in Rome. If Lucrezia had never been circumspect, she must be circumspect now, when the eyes of Italy were upon her, and there were not wanting those who would have been glad to have thwarted the marriage—the object, no doubt, of the pamphlet we are considering. Yet all that was written to Ferrara was in praise of her—in praise of her goodness and her modesty, her prudence, her devoutness, and her discretion, as presently we shall see.
If from this we are to conclude—as seems reasonable—that there was no gossip current in Rome of the courtesans' supper and the rest, we may assume that there was no knowledge in Rome of such matters; for with knowledge silence would have been impossible. So much being admitted, it becomes a matter of determining whether the author of the Letter to Silvio Savelli had access to the diary of Burchard for his facts, or whether Burchard availed himself of the Letter to Silvio Savelli to compile these particular entries. The former alternative being out of the question, there but remains the latter—unless it is possible that the said entries have crept into the copies of the "Diarium" and are not present in the original, which is not available.
This theory of interpolation, tentatively put forward, is justified, to some extent at least, by the following remarkable circumstances: that two such entries, having—as we have said—absolutely no parallel in the whole of the Diarium, should follow almost immediately the one upon the other; and that Burchard should relate them coldly, without reproof or comment of any kind—a most unnatural reticence in a writer who loosed his indignation one Easter-tide to see Lucrezia and her ladies occupying the choir of St. Peter's, where women never sat.
The Pope read the anonymous libel when it was submitted to him by the Cardinal of Modena—read it, laughed it to scorn, and treated it with the contempt which it deserved, yet a contempt which, considering its nature, asks a certain greatness of mind.
If the libel was true it is almost incredible that he should not have sought to avenge it, for an ugly truth is notoriously hurtful and provocative of resentment, far more so than is a lie. Cesare, however, was not of a temper quite as long-suffering as his father. Enough and more of libels and lampoons had he endured already. Early in December a masked man—a Neapolitan of the name of Mancioni—who had been going through Rome uttering infamies against him was seized and so dealt with that he should in future neither speak nor write anything in any man's defamation. His tongue was cut out and his right hand chopped off, and the hand, with the tongue attached to its little finger, was hung in sight of all and as a warning from a window of the Church of Holy Cross.
And towards the end of January, whilst Cesare's fury at that pamphlet out of Germany was still unappeased, a Venetian was seized in Rome for having translated from Greek into Latin another libel against the Pope and his son. The Venetian ambassador intervened to save the wretch, but his intervention was vain. The libeller was executed that same night.
Costabili—the Ferrara ambassador—who spoke to the Pope on the matter of this execution, reported that his Holiness said that more than once had he told the duke that Rome was a free city, in which any one was at liberty to say or write what he pleased; that of himself, too, much evil was being spoken, but that he paid no heed to it.
"The duke," proceeded Alexander, "is good-natured, but he has not yet learnt to bear insult." And he added that, irritated, Cesare had protested that, "However much Rome may be in the habit of speaking and writing, for my own part I shall give these libellers a lesson in good manners."
The lesson he intended was not one they should live to practise.
Chapter XII. Lucrezia's Third Marriage
- Raphael Sabatini
At about the same time that Burchard was making in his Diarium those entries which reflect so grossly upon the Pope and Lucrezia, Gianluca Pozzi, the ambassador of Ferrara at the Vatican, was writing the following letter to his master, Duke Ercole, Lucrezia's father-in-law elect:
"This evening, after supper, I accompanied Messer Gerardo Saraceni to visit the Most Illustrious Madonna Lucrezia in your Excellency's name and that of the Most Illustrious Don Alfonso. We entered into a long discussion touching various matters. In truth she showed herself a prudent, discreet, and good-natured lady."
The handsome, athletic Cardinal Ippolito d'Este, with his brothers Sigismondo and Fernando, had arrived in Rome on December 23 with the imposing escort that was to accompany their brother Alfonso's bride back to Ferrara.
Cesare was prominent in the welcome given them. Never, perhaps, had he made greater display than on the occasion of his riding out to meet the Ferrarese, accompanied by no fewer than 4,000 men-at-arms, and mounted on a great war-horse whose trappings of cloth of gold and jewels were estimated at 10,000 ducats.
The days and nights that followed, until Lucrezia's departure a fortnight later, were days and nights of gaiety and merry-making at the Vatican; in banquets, dancing, the performance of comedies, masques, etc., was the time made to pass as agreeably as might be for the guests from Ferrara, and in all Cesare was conspicuous, either for the grace and zest with which he nightly danced, or for the skill and daring which he displayed in the daily joustings and entertainments, and more particularly in the bull-fight that was included in them.
Lucrezia was splendidly endowed, to the extent, it was estimated, of 300,000 ducats, made up by 100,000 ducats in gold, her jewels and equipage, and the value of the Castles of Pieve and Cento. Her departure from Rome took place on January 6, and so she passes out of this chronicle, which, after all, has been little concerned with her.
Of the honour done her everywhere on that journey to Ferrara, the details are given elsewhere, particularly in the book devoted to her history and rehabilitation by Herr Gregorovius. After all, the real Lucrezia Borgia fills a comparatively small place in the actual history of her house. It is in the fictions concerning her family that she is given such unenviable importance, and presented as a Maenad, a poisoner, and worse. In reality she appears to us, during her life in Rome, as a rather childish, naïve, and entirely passive figure, important only in so far as she found employment at her father's or brother's hands for the advancement of their high ambitions and unscrupulous aims.
In the popular imagination she lives chiefly as a terrific poisoner, an appalling artist in venenation. It is remarkable that this should be the case, for not even the scandal of her day so much as suggests that she was connected—directly or even indirectly—with a single case of poisoning. No doubt that popular conception owes its being entirely to Victor Hugo's drama.
Away from Rome and settled in Ferrara from the twenty-second year of her age, to become anon its duchess, her life is well known and admits of no argument. The archives of the State she ruled show her devout, god-fearing, and beloved in life, and deeply mourned in death by a sorrowing husband and a sorrowing people. Not a breath of scandal touches her from the moment that she quits the scandalous environment of the Papal Court.
Cesare continued at the Vatican after her departure. His duchess was to have come to Rome in that Easter of 1502, and it had been disposed that the ladies and gentlemen who had gone as escort of honour with Lucrezia should proceed—after leaving her in Ferrara—to Lombardy, to do the like office by Charlotte d'Albret, and, meeting her there, accompany her to Rome. She was coming with her brother, the Cardinal Amanieu d'Albret, and bringing with her Cesare's little daughter, Louise de Valentinois, now two years of age. But the duchess fell ill at the last moment, and was unable to undertake the journey, of which Cardinal d'Albret brought word to Rome, where he arrived on February 7.
Ten days later Cesare set out with his father for Piombino, for which purpose six galleons awaited them at Civita Vecchia under the command of Lodovico Mosca, the captain of the Pontifical navy. On these the Pope and his son embarked, upon their visit to the scene of the latest addition to Cesare's ever-growing dominions.
They landed at Piombino on February 21, and made a solemn entrance into the town, the Pope carried in state in the Sedia Gestatoria, under a canopy, attended by six cardinals and six singers from the Sixtine Chapel, whilst Cesare was accompanied by a number of his gentlemen.
They abode four days in Piombino, whence they crossed to Elba, for the purpose of disposing for the erection there of two fortresses—a matter most probably entrusted to Leonardo da Vinci, who continued in the ducal train as architect and engineer.
On March 1 they took ship to return to Rome; but they were detained at sea for five days by a tempest which seems to have imperilled the vessels. The Pope was on board the captain's galley with his cardinals-in-waiting and servants, and when these were reduced by the storm and the imminent danger to a state of abject terror, the Pope—this old man of seventy-one—sat calm and intrepid, occasionally crossing himself and pronouncing the name of Jesus, and encouraging the very sailors by his example as much as by his words.
In Piombino Cesare had left Michele da Corella as his governor. This Corella was a captain of foot, a soldier of fortune, who from the earliest days of Cesare's military career had followed the duke's fortunes—the very man who is alleged to have strangled Alfonso of Aragon by Cesare's orders. He is generally assumed to have been a Spaniard, and is commonly designated as Michelotto, or Don Miguel; but Alvisi supposes him, from his name of Corella, to have been a Venetian, and he tells us that by his fidelity to Cesare and the implicit manner in which he executed his master's orders, he earned—as is notorious—considerable hatred. He has been spoken of, indeed, as the âme damnée of Cesare Borgia; but that is a purely romantic touch akin to that which gave the same designation to Richelieu's Father Joseph.
The Romagna was at this time administered for Cesare Borgia by Ramiro de Lorqua, who, since the previous November, had held the office of Governor in addition to that of Lieutenant-General in which he had been earlier invested. His power in the Romagna was now absolute, all Cesare's other officers, even the very treasurers, being subject to him.
He was a man of some fifty years of age, violent and domineering, feared by all, and the dispenser of a harsh justice which had at least the merit of an impartiality that took no account of persons.
Bernardi gives us an instance of the man's stern, uncompromising, pitiless nature. On January 29, 1502, two malefactors were hanged in Faenza. The rope suspending one of them broke while the fellow was alive, and the crowd into which he tumbled begged for mercy for him at first, then, swayed by pity, the people resolved to save him in spite of the officers of justice who demanded his surrender. Preventing his recapture, the mob bore him off to the Church of the Cerviti. The Lieutenant of Faenza came to demand the person of the criminal, but he was denied by the Prior, who claimed to extend him sanctuary.
But the days of sanctuary were overpast, and the laws of the time held that any church or consecrated place in which a criminal took refuge should ipso facto be deemed unconsecrated by his pursuers, and further, that any ecclesiastic sheltering such a fugitive did so under peril of excommunication from his bishop. This law Ramiro accounted it his duty to enforce when news was carried to him at Imola of what had happened.
He came at once to Faenza, and, compelling the Prior by actual force to yield up the man he sheltered, he hanged the wretch, for the second time, from a window of the Palace of the Podestá. At the same time he seized several who were alleged to have been ringleaders of the fellow's rescue from the hands of the officers, and made the citizens of Faenza compromise for the lives of these by payment of a fine of 10,000 ducats, giving them a month in which to find the money.
The Faentini sent their envoys to Ramiro to intercede with him; but that harsh man refused so much as to grant them audience—which was well for them, for, as a consequence, the Council sent ambassadors to Rome to submit the case to the Pope's Holiness and to the Duke of Valentinois, together with a petition that the fine should be remitted—a petition that was readily granted.
Harsh as it was, however, Ramiro's rule was salutary, its very harshness necessary in a province where lawlessness had become a habit through generations of misgovernment. Under Cesare's dominion the change already was remarkable. During his two years of administration—to count from its commencement—the Romagna was already converted from a seething hell of dissensions, disorders and crimes—chartered brigandage and murder—into a powerful State, law-abiding and orderly, where human life and personal possessions found zealous protection, and where those who disturbed the peace met with a justice that was never tempered by mercy.
A strong hand was wanted there, and the duke, supreme judge of the tools to do his work, ruled the Romagna and crushed its turbulence by means of the iron hand of Ramiro de Lorqua.
It was also under the patronage of Valentinois that the first printing-press of any consequence came to be established in Italy. This was set up at Fano by Girolamo Sancino in 1501, and began the issue of worthy books. One of the earliest works undertaken (says Alvisi) was the printing of the Statutes of Fano for the first time in January of 1502. And it was approved by the Council, civil and ecclesiastical, that Sancino should undertake this printing of the Statutes "Ad perpetuam memoriam Illmi. Domini nostri Ducis."
Chapter XIII. Urbino and Camerino
- Raphael Sabatini
It may well be that it was about this time that Cesare, his ambition spreading—as men's ambition will spread with being gratified—was considering the consolidation of Central Italy into a kingdom of which he would assume the crown.
It was a scheme in the contemplation of which he was encouraged by Vitellozzo Vitelli, who no doubt conceived that in its fulfilment the ruin of Florence would be entailed—which was all that Vitelli cared about. What to Cesare would have been no more than the means, would have been to Vitelli a most satisfactory end.
Before, however, going so far there was still the work of subjugating the States of the Church to be completed, as this could not be so considered until Urbino, Camerino, and Sinigaglia should be under the Borgia dominion.
For this, no doubt, Cesare was disposing during that Easter of 1502 which he spent in Rome, and during which there were heard from the south the first rumblings of the storm of war whereof ill-starred Naples was once more—for the third time within ten years—to be the scene. The allies of yesterday were become the antagonists of to-day, and France and Spain were ready to fly at each other's throats over the division of the spoil, as a consequence of certain ill-definitions of the matter in the treaty of Granada. The French Viceroy, Louis d'Armagnac, and the great Spanish Captain, Gonzalo de Cordoba, were on the point of coming to blows.
Nor was the menace of disturbance confined to Naples. In Florence, too, the torch of war was alight, and if—as he afterwards swore—Cesare Borgia had no hand in kindling it, it is at least undeniable that he complacently watched the conflagration, conscious that it would make for the fulfilment of his own ends. Besides, there was still that little matter of the treaty of Forno dei Campi between Cesare and Florence, a treaty which the Signory had never fulfilled and never intended to fulfil, and Cesare was not the man to forget how he had been fooled.
But for the protection of France which she enjoyed, Florence must long ere this have been called to account by him, and crushed out of all shape under the weight of his mailed hand. As it was she was to experience the hurt of his passive resentment, and find this rather more than she could bear.
Vitellozzo Vitelli, that vindictive firebrand whose original motive in allying himself with Cesare had been the hope that the duke might help him to make Florence expiate his brother's blood, finding that Cesare withheld the expected help, was bent at last upon dealing, himself, with Florence. He entered into plots with the exiled Piero de' Medici to restore the latter to his dominion; he set intrigues afoot in Pisa, where his influence was vast, and in Siena, whose tyrant, Pandolfo Petrucci, was ready and willing to forward his designs, and generally made so disturbing a stir in Tuscany that the Signory became gravely alarmed.
Cesare certainly took no apparent active part in the affair. He lent Vitelli no aid; but neither did he attempt to restrain him or any other of the Borgia condottieri who were allied with him.
The unrest, spreading and growing sullenly a while, burst suddenly forth in Arezzo on June 4, when the cries of "Medici!" and "Marzocco!" rang in its streets, to announce that the city was in arms against the government of Florence. Arezzo followed this up by summoning Vitelli, and the waiting, watchful condottiero was quick to answer the desired call. He entered the town three days later at the head of a small body of foot, and was very shortly afterwards followed by his brother Giulio Vitelli, Bishop of Città di Castello, with the artillery, and, presently, by Gianpaolo Baglioni with a condotta of horse.
A few days later Vitelli was in possession of all the strongholds of the Val di Chiana, and panic-stricken Florence was speeding ambassadors hot-foot to Rome to lay her complaints of these matters before the Pope.
Alexander was able to reply that, far from supporting the belligerents, he had launched a Bull against them, provoked by the poisoning of the Bishop de'Pazzi.
Cesare looked on with the inscrutable calm for which Macchiavelli was presently to find him so remarkable. Aware as he was of the French protection which Florence enjoyed and could invoke, he perceived how vain must ultimately prove Vitelli's efforts, saw, perhaps, in all this the grave danger of ultimate ruin which Vitelli was incurring. Yet Vitelli's action served Cesare's own purposes, and, so that his purposes were served, there were no other considerations likely to weigh with that cold egotist. Let Vitelli be caught in the toils he was spinning, and be choked in them. Meanwhile, Florence was being harrowed, and that was all to Cesare's satisfaction and advantage. When sufficiently humbled, it might well befall that the Republic should come on her knees to implore his intervention, and his pardon for having flouted him.
While matters stood so in Arezzo, Pisa declared spontaneously for Cesare, and sent (on June 10) to offer herself to his dominion and to announce to him that his banner was already flying from her turrets—and the growth of Florence's alarm at this is readily conceived.
To Cesare it must have been a sore temptation. To accept such a pied-à-terre in Tuscany as was now offered him would have been the first great step towards founding that kingdom of his dreams. An impulsive man had surely gulped the bait. But Cesare, boundless in audacity, most swift to determine and to act, was not impulsive. Cold reason, foresight and calculation were the ministers of his indomitable will. He looked ahead and beyond in the matter of Pisa's offer, and he perceived the danger that might await him in the acceptance. The time for that was not yet. To take what Pisa offered might entail offending France, and although Cesare was now in case to dispense with French support, he was in no case to resist her opposition.
And so, the matter being considered and determined, Cesare quitted Rome on the 12th and left it for the Pope to give answer to the Pisan envoys in the Consistory of June 14—that neither his Holiness nor the Duke of Valentinois could assent to the proposals which Pisa made.
From Rome Cesare travelled swiftly to Spoleto, where his army, some ten thousand strong, was encamped. He was bent at last upon the conquest of Camerino, and, ever an opportunist, he had seized the moment when Florence, which might have been disposed to befriend Varano, Tyrant of Camerino, was over-busy with her own affairs.
In addition to the powerful army awaiting him at Spoleto, the duke had a further 2,000 men in the Romagna; another 1,000 men held themselves at his orders between Sinigaglia and Urbino, and Dionigio di Naldo was arming yet another 1,000 men at Verucchio for his service. Yet further to increase this force, Cesare issued an edict during his brief sojourn at Spoleto ordering every house in the Romagna to supply him with one man-at-arms.
It was whilst here—as he afterwards wrote to the Pope—that news reached him that Guidobaldo da Montefeltre, Duke of Urbino, was arming men and raising funds for the assistance of Camerino. He wrote that he could not at first believe it, but that shortly afterwards—at Foligni—he took a chancellor of Camerino who admitted that the hopes of this State were all founded upon Urbino's assistance; and later, a messenger from Urbino falling into his hands, he discovered that there was a plot afoot to seize the Borgia artillery as it passed through Ugubio, it being known that, as Cesare had no suspicions, the guns would be guarded only by a small force. Of this treachery the duke strongly expressed his indignation in his letter to the Pope.
Whether the matter was true—or whether Cesare believed it to be true—it is impossible to ascertain with absolute conviction. But it is in the highest degree unlikely that Cesare would have written such a letter to his father solely by way of setting up a pretext. Had that been his only aim, letters expressing his simulated indignation would have been in better case to serve his ends had they been addressed to others.
If Guidobaldo did engage in such an act, amounting to a betrayal, he was certainly paid by Cesare in kind and with interest. If the duke had been short of a pretext for carrying a drawn sword into the dominions of Guidobaldo, he had that pretext now in this act of enmity against himself and the Holy See.
First, however, he disposed for the attack upon Camerino. This State, lying on the Eastern spurs of the Apennines, midway between Spoleto and Urbino, was ruled by Giulio Cesare Varano, an old war-dog of seventy years of age, ruthless and bloodthirsty, who owed his throne to his murder of his own brother.
He was aided in the government of his tyranny by his four sons, Venanzio, Annibale, Pietro, and Gianmaria.
Several times already had he been menaced by Cesare Borgia, for he was one of the Vicars proscribed for the non-payment of tribute due to the Holy See, and at last his hour was come. Against him Cesare now dispatched an army under the command of Francesco Orsini, Duke of Gravina, and Oliverotto Eufreducci, another murderous, bloody gentleman who had hitherto served the duke in Vitelli's condotta, and who, by an atrocious act of infamy and brigandage, had made himself Lord of Fermo, which he pretended—being as sly as he was bloody—to hold as Vicar for the Holy See.
This Oliverotto Eufreducci—hereafter known as Oliverotto da Fermo—was a nephew of Giovanni Fogliano, Lord of Fermo. He had returned home to his uncle's Court in the early part of that year, and was there received with great honour and affection by Fogliano and his other relatives. To celebrate his home-coming, Oliverotto invited his uncle and the principal citizens of Fermo to a banquet, and at table contrived to turn the conversation upon the Pope and the Duke of Valentinois; whereupon, saying that these were matters to be discussed more in private, he rose from table and begged them to withdraw with him into another room.
All unsuspecting—what should old Fogliano suspect from one so loved and so deeply in his debt?—they followed him to the chamber where he had secretly posted a body of his men-at-arms. There, no sooner had the door closed upon this uncle, and those others who had shown him so much affection, than he gave the signal for the slaughter that had been concerted. His soldiers fell upon those poor, surprised victims of his greed, and made a speedy and bloody end of all.
That first and chief step being taken, Oliverotto flung himself on his horse, and, gathering his men-at-arms about him, rode through Fermo on the business of butchering what other relatives and friends of Fogliano might remain. Among these were Raffaele della Rovere and two of his children, one of whom was inhumanly slaughtered in its mother's lap.
Thereafter he confiscated to his own uses the property of those whom he had murdered, and of those who, more fortunate, had fled his butcher's hands. He dismissed the existing Council and replaced it by a government of his own. Which done—to shelter himself from the consequences—he sent word to the Pope that he held Fermo as Vicar of the Church.
Whilst a portion of his army marched on Camerino, Cesare, armed with his pretext for the overthrow of Guidobaldo, set himself deliberately and by an elaborate stratagem to the capture of Urbino. Of this there can be little doubt. The cunning of the scheme is of an unsavoury sort, when considered by the notions that obtain to-day, for the stratagem was no better than an act of base treachery. Yet, lest even in this you should be in danger of judging Cesare Borgia by standards which cannot apply to his age, you will do well to consider that there is no lack of evidence that the fifteenth century applauded the business as a clever coup.
Guidobaldo da Montefeltre was a good prince. None in all Italy was more beloved by his people, towards whom he bore himself with a kindly, paternal bonhomie. He was a cultured, scholarly man, a patron of the arts, happiest in the splendid library of the Palace of Urbino. It happened, unfortunately, that he had no heir, which laid his dominions open to the danger of division amongst the neighbouring greedy tyrants after his death. To avoid this he had adopted Francesco Maria della Rovere, hereditary Prefect of Sinigaglia, his sister's child and a nephew of Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere's. There was wisdom and foresight in the adoption, considering the favour enjoyed in Rome and in France by the powerful cardinal.
From Nocera Cesare sent Guidobaldo a message calculated to allay whatever uneasiness he may have been feeling, and to throw him completely off his guard. The duke notified him that he was marching upon Camerino—which was at once true and untrue—and begged Guidobaldo to assist him in this enterprise by sending him provisions to Gubbio, which he should reach on the morrow—since he was marching by way of Cagli and Sassoferrato. Further—and obviously with intent that the Duke of Urbino should reduce the forces at his disposal—he desired Guidobaldo to send Vitelli the support of a thousand men, which the latter had earlier solicited, but which Guidobaldo had refused to supply without orders from the Pope. Cesare concluded his letter with protestations of brotherly love—the Judas' kiss which makes him hateful to us in this affair.
It all proved very reassuring to Guidobaldo who set his mind at ease and never bethought him of looking to his defences, when, from Nocera, Cesare made one of those sudden movements, terrible in their swiftness as the spring of a tiger—enabling him to drive home his claws where least expected. Leaving all baggage behind him, and with provisions for only three days, he brought his troops by forced marches to Cagli, within the Urbino State, and possessed himself of it almost before the town had come to realize his presence.
Not until the citadel, taken entirely by surprise, was in Cesare's hands did a messenger speed to Guidobaldo with the unwelcome tidings that the Duke of Valentinois was in arms, as an enemy, within the territory. Together with that message came others into the garden of the Zoccolanti monastery—that favourite resort of Guidobaldo's—where he was indulging his not unusual custom of supping in the cool of that summer evening. They brought him word that, while Valentinois was advancing upon him from the south, a force of 1,000 men were marching upon Urbino from Isola di Fano in the east, and twice that number through the passes of Sant' Angelo and Verucchio in the north—all converging upon his capital.
The attack had been shrewdly planned and timed, and if anything can condone the treachery by which Guidobaldo was lulled into his false security, it is the circumstance that this conduct of the matter avoided bloodshed—a circumstance not wholly negligible, and one that was ever a part of Cesare Borgia's policy, save where punishment had to be inflicted or reprisals taken.
Guidobaldo, seeing himself thus beset upon all sides at once, and being all unprepared for resistance, perceived that nothing but flight remained him; and that very night he left Urbino hurriedly, taking with him the boy Francesco Maria, and intending at first to seek shelter in his Castle of S. Leo—a fortress that was practically impregnable. But already it was too late. The passes leading thither were by now in the hands of the enemy, as Guidobaldo discovered at dawn. Thereupon, changing his plans, he sent the boy and his few attendants to Bagno, and, himself, disguised as a peasant, took to the hills, despite the gout by which he was tormented. Thus he won to Ravenna, which was fast becoming a home for dethroned princes.
Urbino, meanwhile, in no case to resist, sent its castellan to meet Cesare and to make surrender to him—whereof Cesare, in the letter already mentioned, gives news to the Pope, excusing himself for having undertaken this thing without the Pope's knowledge, but that "the treachery employed against me by Guidobaldo was so enormous that I could not suffer it."
Within a few hours of poor Guidobaldo's flight Cesare was housed in Urbino's splendid palace, whose stupendous library was the marvel of all scholars of that day. Much of this, together with many of the art-treasures collected by the Montefeltri, Cesare began shortly afterwards to transfer to Cesena.
In addition to publishing an edict against pillage and violence in the City of Urbino, Cesare made doubly sure that none should take place by sending his soldiers to encamp at Fermignano, retaining near him in Urbino no more than his gentlemen-at-arms. The capital being taken, the remainder of the duchy made ready surrender, all the strongholds announcing their submission to Cesare with the exception of that almost inaccessible Castle of S. Leo, which capitulated only after a considerable resistance.
From Urbino Cesare now entered into communication with the Florentines, and asked that a representative should be sent to come to an agreement with him. In response to this request, the Republic sent him Bishop Soderini as her ambassador. The latter arrived in Urbino on June 25 and was immediately and very cordially received by the duke. With him, in the subordinate capacity of secretary, came a lean, small-headed, tight-lipped man, with wide-set, intelligent eyes and prominent cheek-bones—one Niccolò Macchiavelli, who, in needy circumstances at present, and comparatively obscure, was destined to immortal fame. Thus did Macchiavelli meet Cesare Borgia for the first time, and, for all that we have no records of it, it is not to be doubted that his study of that remarkable man began then in Urbino, to be continued presently, as we shall see, when Macchiavelli returns to him in the quality of an ambassador himself.
To Soderini the duke expounded his just grievance, founded upon the Florentines' unobservance of the treaty of Forno dei Campi; he demanded that a fresh treaty should be drawn up to replace the broken one, and that, for the purpose, Florence should change her government, as in the ruling one, after what had passed, he could repose no faith. He disclaimed all associations with the affair of Vitelli, but frankly declared himself glad of it, as it had, no doubt, led Florence to perceive what came of not keeping faith with him. He concluded by assuring Soderini that, with himself for their friend, the Florentines need fear no molestation from any one; but he begged that the Republic should declare herself in the matter, since, if she did not care to have him for her friend, she was, of course, at liberty to make of him her enemy.
So impressed was Soderini by Cesare Borgia that on that same night he wrote to the Signory:
"This lord is very magnificent and splendid, and so spirited in feats of arms that there is nothing so great but that it must seem small to him. In the pursuit of glory and in the acquisition of dominions he never rests, and he knows neither danger nor fatigue. He moves so swiftly that he arrives at a place before it is known that he has set out for it. He knows how to make himself beloved of his soldiers, and he has in his service the best men of Italy. These things render him victorious and formidable, and to these is yet to be added his perpetual good fortune. He argues," the Florentine envoy proceeds, "with such sound reason that to dispute with him would be a long affair, for his wit and eloquence never fail him" ("dello ingegno e della lingua si vale quanto vuole").
You are to remember that this homage is one of the few surviving impressions of one who came into personal contact with Cesare, and of one, moreover, representing a Government more or less inimical to him, who would therefore have no reason to draw a favourable portrait of him for that Government's benefit. One single page of such testimony is worth a dozen volumes of speculation and inference drawn afterwards by men who never knew him—in many cases by men who never began to know his epoch.
The envoy concludes by informing the Signory that he has the duke's assurances that the latter has no thought of attempting to deprive Florence of any of her possessions, as "the object of his campaign has not been to tyrannize, but to extirpate tyrants."
Whilst Cesare awaited the Florentines' reply to their ambassador's communication, he withdrew to the camp at Fermignano, where he was sought on July 6 by a herald from Louis XII. This messenger came to exhort Cesare to embark upon no enterprise against the Florentine Republic, because to offend Florence would be to offend the Majesty of France. Simultaneously, however, Florence received messages from the Cardinal d'Amboise, suggesting that they should come to terms with Valentinois by conceding him at least a part of what had been agreed in the Treaty of Forno dei Campi.
As a consequence, Soderini was able to inform Cesare that the Republic was ready to treat with him, but that first he must withdraw Vitelli from Arezzo, and compel him to yield up the captured fortresses. The duke, not trusting—as he had frankly avowed—a Government which once already had broken faith with him, and perceiving that, if he whistled his war-dogs to heel as requested, he would have lost the advantages of his position, refused to take any such steps until the treaty should be concluded. He consented, however, to enforce meanwhile an armistice.
But now it happened that news reached Florence of the advance of Louis XII with an army of 20,000 men, bound for Naples to settle the dispute with Spain. So the Republic—sly and treacherous as any other Italian Government of the Cinquecento—instructed Soderini to temporize with the duke; to spend the days in amiable, inconclusive interviews and discussions of terms which the Signory did not mean to make. Thus they counted upon gaining time, until the arrival of the French should put an end to the trouble caused by Vitelli, and to the need for any compromise.
But Cesare, though forced to submit, was not fooled by Soderini's smooth, evasive methods. He too—having private sources of information in France—was advised of the French advance and of the imminence of danger to himself in consequence of the affairs of Florence. And it occasioned him no surprise to see Soderini come on July 19 to take his leave of him, advised by the Signory that the French vanguard was at hand, and that, consequently, the negotiations might now with safety be abandoned.
To console him, he had news on the morrow of the conquest of Camerino.
The septuagenarian Giulio Cesare Varano had opposed to the Borgia forces a stout resistance, what time he sent his two sons Pietro and Gianmaria to Venice for help. It was in the hope of this solicited assistance that he determined to defend his tyranny, and the war opened by a cavalry skirmish in which Venanzio Varano routed the Borgia horse under the command of the Duke of Gravina. Thereafter, however, the Varani had to endure a siege; and the old story of the Romagna sieges was repeated. Varano had given his subjects too much offence in the past, and it was for his subjects now to call the reckoning.
A strong faction, led by a patrician youth of Camerino, demanded the surrender of the State, and, upon being resisted, took arms and opened the gates to the troops of Valentinois. The three Varani were taken prisoners. Old Giulio Cesare was shut up in the Castle of Pergola, where he shortly afterwards died—which was not wonderful or unnatural at his time of life, and does not warrant Guicciardini for stating, without authority, that he was strangled. Venanzio and Annibale were imprisoned in the fortress of Cattolica.
In connection with this surrender of Camerino, Cesare wrote the following affectionate letter to his sister Lucrezia—who was dangerously ill at Ferrara in consequence of her delivery of a still-born child:
"Most Illustrious and most Excellent Lady, our very dear Sister,—Confident of the circumstance that there can be no more efficacious and salutary medicine for the indisposition from which you are at present suffering than the announcement of good and happy news, we advise you that at this very moment we have received sure tidings of the capture of Camerino. We beg that you will do honour to this message by an immediate improvement, and inform us of it, because, tormented as we are to know you so ill, nothing, not even this felicitous event, can suffice to afford us pleasure. We beg you also kindly to convey the present to the Illustrious Lord Don Alfonso, your husband and our beloved Brother-in-law, to whom we are not writing to-day."
Chapter XIV. The Revolt of the Condottieri
- Raphael Sabatini
The coincidence of the arrival of the French army with the conquest of Urbino and Camerino and the Tuscan troubles caused one more to be added to that ceaseless stream of rumours that flowed through Italy concerning the Borgias. This time the envy and malice that are ever provoked by success and power gave voice in that rumour to the thing it hoped, and there ensued as pretty a comedy as you shall find in the pages of history.
The rumour had it that Louis XII, resentful and mistrustful of the growth of Cesare's might, which tended to weaken France in Italy and became a menace to the French dominions, was come to make an end of him. Instantly Louis's Court in Milan was thronged by all whom Cesare had offended—and they made up by now a goodly crowd, for a man may not rise so swiftly to such eminence without raising a rich crop of enemies.
Meanwhile, however, Valentinois in the Montefeltre Palace at Urbino remained extremely at ease. He was not the man to be without intelligences. In the train of Louis was Francesco Troche, the Pope's confidential chamberlain and Cesare's devoted servant, who, possessed of information, was able to advise Valentinois precisely what were the intentions of the King of France. Gathering from these advices that it was Louis's wish that the Florentines should not be molested further, and naturally anxious not to run counter to the king's intentions, Cesare perceived that the time to take action had arrived, the time for passivity in the affairs of Florence was at an end.
So he dispatched an envoy to Vitelli, ordering his instant evacuation of Arezzo and his withdrawal with his troops from Tuscany, and he backed the command by a threat to compel Vitelli by force of arms, and to punish disobedience by depriving him of his state of Città di Castello—"a matter," Cesare informed him, "which would be easily accomplished, as the best men of that State have already offered themselves to me."
It was a command which Vitelli had no choice but to obey, not being in sufficient force to oppose the duke. So on July 29, with Gianpaolo Baglioni, he relinquished the possession of Arezzo and departed out of Tuscany, as he had been bidden. But so incensed was he against the duke for this intervention between himself and his revenge, and so freely did he express himself in the matter, that it was put about at once that he intended to go against Cesare.
And that is the first hint of the revolt of the condottieri.
Having launched that interdict of his, Cesare, on July 25, in the garb of a knight of St. John of Jerusalem, and with only four attendants, departed secretly from Urbino to repair to Milan and King Louis. He paused for fresh horses at Forli on the morrow, and on the 28th reached Ferrara, where he remained for a couple of hours to visit Lucrezia, who was now in convalescence. Ahead of him he dispatched, thence, a courier to Milan to announce his coming, and, accompanied by Alfonso d'Este, resumed his journey.
Meanwhile, the assembly of Cesare's enemies had been increasing daily in Milan, whither they repaired to support Louis and to vent their hatred of Cesare and their grievances against him. There, amongst others, might be seen the Duke of Urbino, Pietro Varano (one of the sons of the deposed Lord of Camerino), Giovanni Sforza of Pesaro, and Francesco Gonzaga of Mantua—which latter was ever ready to turn whichever way the wind was blowing, and was now loudest in his denunciations of Cesare and eagerly advocating the formation of a league against him.
Louis received the news of Cesare's coming, and—endowed, it is clear, with a nice sense of humour—kept the matter secret until within a few hours of the duke's actual arrival. On the morning of August 5, according to Bernardi,
he whispered the information in Trivulzio's ear—and whispered it loudly enough to be overheard by those courtiers who stood nearest.
Whatever check their satisfaction at the supposed state of things may have received then was as nothing to their feelings a few hours later when they witnessed the greeting that passed between king and duke. Under their uneasy eyes Louis rode forth to meet his visitor, and gave him a glad and friendly welcome, addressing him as "cousin" and "dear relative," and so, no doubt, striking dismay into the hearts of those courtiers, who may well have deemed that perhaps they had expressed themselves too freely.
Louis, in person, accompanied Valentinois to the apartments prepared for him in the Castle of Milan, and on the morrow gave a banquet and commanded merry-makings in his visitor's honour.
Conceive the feelings of those deposed tyrants and their friends, and the sudden collapse of the hopes which they had imagined the king to be encouraging. They did, of course, the only thing there was to do. They took their leave precipitately and went their ways—all save Gonzaga, whom the king retained that he might make his peace with Cesare, and engage in friendship with him, a friendship consolidated there and then by the betrothal of their infant children: little Francesco Gonzaga and Louise de Valentinois, aged two, the daughter whom Cesare had never beheld and was never to behold.
Two factors were at work in the interests of Valentinois—the coming war in Naples with the Spaniard, which caused Louis to desire to stand well with the Pope; and the ambition of Louis's friend and counsellor, the Cardinal d'Amboise, to wear the tiara, which caused this prelate to desire to stand well with Cesare himself, since the latter's will in the matter of a Pope to succeed his father should be omnipotent with the Sacred College.
Therefore, that they might serve their interests in the end, both king and cardinal served Cesare's in the meantime.
The Duke of Valentinois's visit to Milan had served to increase the choler of Vitelli, who accounted that by this action Cesare had put him in disgrace with the King of France; and Vitelli cried out that thus was he repaid for having sought to make Cesare King of Tuscany. In such high dudgeon was the fierce Tyrant of Città di Castello that he would not go to pay his court to Louis, and was still the more angry to hear of the warm welcome accorded in Milan to the Cardinal Orsini. In this he read approval of the Orsini for having stood neutral in the Florentine business, and, by inference from that, disapproval of himself.
Before accusing Valentinois of treachery to his condottieri, before saying that he shifted the blame of the Tuscan affair on to the shoulders of his captains, it would be well to ascertain that there was any blame to shift—that is to say, any blame that must originally have fallen upon Cesare. Certainly he made no effort to restrain Vitelli until the King of France had arrived and he had secret information which caused him to deem it politic to intervene. But of what avail until that moment, would any but an armed intervention have been with so vindictive and one-idea'd a man, and what manner of fool would not Cesare have been to have spent his strength in battle with his condottieri for the purpose of befriending a people who had never shown themselves other than his own enemies?
Like the perfect egotist he was, he sat on the fence, and took pleasure in the spectacle of the harassing of his enemies by his friends, prepared to reap any advantages there might be, but equally prepared to avoid any disadvantages.
It was not heroic, it was not noble; but it was extremely human.
Cesare was with the King of France in Genoa at the end of August, and remained in his train until September 2, when finally he took his leave of him. When they heard of his departure from the Court of Louis, his numerous enemies experienced almost as much chagrin as that which had been occasioned them by his going thither. For they had been consoling themselves of late with a fresh rumour; and again they were believing what it pleased them to believe. Rumours, you perceive, were never wanting where the Borgias were concerned, and it may be that you are beginning to rate these voces populi at their proper value, and to apprehend the worth of many of those that have been embalmed as truths in the abiding records.
This last one had it that Louis was purposely keeping Cesare by him, and intended ultimately to carry him off to France, and so put an end to the disturbances the duke was creating in Italy. What a consolation would not that have been to those Italian princelings to whose undoing he had warred! And can you marvel that they believed and circulated so readily the thing for which they hoped so fondly? By your appreciation of that may you measure the fresh disappointment that was theirs.
So mistaken were they, indeed, as it now transpired, that Louis had actually, at last, removed his protection from Bologna, under the persuasion of Cesare and the Pope. Before the duke took his departure from King Louis's Court, the latter entered into a treaty with him in that connection to supply him with three hundred lances: "De bailler au Valentinois trois cents lances pour l'aider à conquérir Bologne au nome de l'Eglise, et opprimer les Ursins, Baillons et Vitelozze."
It was a double-dealing age, and Louis's attitude in this affair sorted well with it. Feeling that he owed Bologna some explanation, he presently sent a singularly lame one by Claude de Seyssel. He put it that the Bentivogli personally were none the less under his protection than they had been hitherto, but that the terms of the protection provided that it was granted exclusively of the rights and authority of the Holy Roman See over Bologna, and that the king could not embroil himself with the Pope. With such a shifty message went M. de Seyssel to make it quite clear to Bentivogli what his position was. And on the heels of it came, on September 2, a papal brief citing Bentivogli and his two sons to appear before the Pontiff within fifteen days for the purpose of considering with his Holiness the matter of the pacification and better government of Bologna, which for so many years had been so disorderly and turbulent. Thus the Pope's summons, with a menace that was all too thinly veiled.
But Bentivogli was not taken unawares. He was not even astonished. Ever since Cesare's departure from Rome in the previous spring he had been disposing against such a possibility as this—fortifying Bologna, throwing up outworks and erecting bastions beyond the city, and levying and arming men, in all of which he depended largely upon the citizens and particularly upon the art-guild, which was devoted to the House of Bentivogli.
Stronger than the affection for their lord—which, when all is said, was none too great in Bologna—was the deep-seated hatred of the clergy entertained by the Bolognese. This it was that rallied to Bentivogli such men as Fileno della Tuate, who actually hated him. But it was a choice of evils with Fileno and many of his kidney. Detesting the ruling house, and indignant at the injustices it practised, they detested the priests still more—so much that they would have taken sides with Satan himself against the Pontificals. In this spirit did they carry their swords to Bentivogli.
Upon the nobles Bentivogli could not count—less than ever since the cold-blooded murder of the Marescotti; but in the burghers' adherence he deemed himself secure, and indeed on September 17 he had some testimony of it.
On that date—the fortnight's grace expiring—the brief was again read to the Reggimento; but it was impossible to adopt any resolution. The people were in arms, and, with enormous uproar, protested that they would not allow Giovanni Bentivogli or his sons to go to Rome, lest they should be in danger once they had left their own State.
Italy was full of rumours at the time of Cesare's proposed emprise against Bologna, and it was added that he intended, further, to make himself master of Città di Castello and Perugia, and thus, by depriving them of their tyrannies, punish Vitelli and Baglioni for their defection.
This was the natural result of the terms of Cesare's treaty with France having become known; but the part of it which regarded the Orsini, Vitelli, and Baglioni was purely provisional. Considering that these condottieri were now at odds with Cesare, they might see fit to consider themselves bound to Bentivogli by the Treaty of Villafontana, signed by Vitelli and Orsini on the duke's behalf at the time of the capitulation of Castel Bolognese. They might choose to disregard the fact that this treaty had already been violated by Bentivogli himself, through the non-fulfilment of the terms of it, and refuse to proceed against him upon being so bidden by Valentinois.
It was for such a contingency as this that provision was made by the clause concerning them in Cesare's treaty with Louis.
The Orsini were still in the duke's service, in command of troops levied for him and paid by him, and considering that with them Cesare had no quarrel, it is by no means clear why they should have gone over to the alliance of the condottieri that was now forming against the duke. Join it, however, they did. They, too, were in the Treaty of Villafontana; but that they should consider themselves bound by it, would have been—had they urged it—more in the nature of a pretext than a reason. But they chose a pretext even more slender. They gave out that in Milan Louis XII had told Cardinal Orsini that the Pope's intention was to destroy the Orsini.
To accept such a statement as true, we should have to believe in a disloyalty and a double-dealing on the part of Louis XII altogether incredible. To what end should he, on the one side, engage to assist Cesare with 300 lances to "oppress" the Orsini—if necessary, and among others—whilst, on the other, he goes to Orsini with the story which they attribute to him? What a mean, treacherous, unkingly figure must he not cut as a consequence! He may have been—we know, indeed, that he was—no more averse to double-dealing than any other Cinquecentist; but he was probably as averse to being found out in a meanness and made to look contemptible as any double-dealer of our own times. It is a consideration worth digesting.
When word of the story put about by the Orsini was carried to the Pope he strenuously denied the imputation, and informed the Venetian ambassador that he had written to complain of this to the King of France, and that, far from such a thing being true, Cesare was so devoted to the Orsini as to be "more Orsini than Borgian."
It is further worth considering that the defection of the Orsini was neither immediate nor spontaneous, as must surely have been the case had the story been true. It was the Baglioni and Vitelli only who first met to plot at Todi, to declare that they would not move against their ally of Bologna, and to express the hope that they might bring the Orsini to the same mind. They succeeded so well that the second meeting was held at Magione—a place belonging to the powerful Cardinal Orsini, situated near the Baglioni's stronghold of Perugia. Vitellozzo was carried thither on his bed, so stricken with the morbo gallico—which in Italy was besetting most princes, temporal and ecclesiastical—that he was unable to walk.
Gentile and Gianpaolo Baglioni, Cardinal Gianbattista Orsini, Francesco Orsini, Duke of Gravina, Paolo Orsini, the bastard son of the Arch-bishop of Trani, Pandolfo Petrucci—Lord of Siena—and Hermes Bentivogli were all present. The last-named, prone to the direct methods of murder by which he had rid Bologna of the Marescotti, is said to have declared that he would kill Cesare Borgia if he but had the opportunity, whilst Vitelli swore solemnly that within a year he would slay or capture the duke, or else drive him out of Italy.
From this it will be seen that the Diet of Magione was no mere defensive alliance, but actually an offensive one, with the annihilation of Cesare Borgia for its objective.
They certainly had the power to carry out their resolutions, for whilst Cesare disposed at that moment of not more than 2,500 foot, 300 men-at-arms, and the 100 lances of his Caesarean guard of patricians, the confederates had in arms some 9,000 foot and 1,000 horse. Conscious of their superior strength, they determined to strike at once, before Cesare should be further supported by the French lances, and to make sure of him by assailing him on every side at once. To this end it was resolved that Bentivogli should instantly march upon Imola, where Cesare lay, whilst the others should possess themselves of Urbino and Pesaro simultaneously.
They even approached Florence and Venice in the matter, inviting the Republics to come into the league against Valentinois.
The Florentines, however, could not trust such enemies of their own as Vitelli and the Orsini, nor dared they join in an enterprise which had for scope to make war upon an ally of France; and they sent word to Cesare of their resolve to enter into no schemes against him.
The Venetians would gladly have moved to crush a man who had snatched the Romagna from under their covetous eyes; but in view of the league with France they dared not. What they dared, they did. They wrote to Louis at length of the evils that were befalling Italy at the hands of the Duke of Valentinois, and of the dishonour to the French crown which lay for Louis in his alliance with Cesare Borgia. They even went so far—and most treacherously, considering the league—as to allow their famous captain, Bartolomeo d'Alviano, to reconduct Guidobaldo to Urbino, as we shall presently see.
Had the confederates but kept faith with one another Cesare's knell had soon been tolled. But they were a weak-kneed pack of traitors, irresolute in their enmity as in their friendships. The Orsini hung back. They urged that they did not trust themselves to attack Cesare with men actually in his pay; whilst Bentivogli—treacherous by nature to the back-bone of him—actually went so far as to attempt to open secret negotiations with Cesare through Ercole d'Este of Ferrara.
Chapter XV. Macchiavelli's Legation
- Raphael Sabatini
On October 2 news of the revolt of the condottieri and the diet of Magione had reached the Vatican and rendered the Pope uneasy. Cesare, however, had been informed of it some time before at Imola, where he was awaiting the French lances that should enable him to raid the Bolognese and drive out the Bentivogli.
Where another might have been paralyzed by a defection which left him almost without an army, and would have taken the course of sending envoys to the rebels to attempt to make terms and by concessions to patch up a treaty, Cesare, with characteristic courage, assurance, and promptitude of action, flung out officers on every side to levy him fresh troops.
His great reputation as a condottiero, the fame of his wealth and his notorious liberality, stood him now in excellent stead. The response to his call was instantaneous. Soldiers of fortune and mercenaries showed the trust they had in him, and flocked to his standard from every quarter. One of the first to arrive was Gasparo Sanseverino, known as Fracassa, a condottiero of great renown, who had been in the Pontifical service since the election of Pope Alexander. He was a valuable acquisition to Cesare, who placed him in command of the horse. Another was Lodovico Pico della Mirandola, who brought a small condotta of 60 lances and 60 light horse. Ranieri della Sassetta rode in at the head of 100 mounted arbalisters, and Francesco de Luna with a body of 50 arquebusiers.
Valentinois sent out Raffaele dei Pazzi and Galeotto Pallavicini, the one into Lombardy to recruit 1,000 Gascons, the other to raise a body of Swiss mercenaries. Yet, when all is said, these were but supplementary forces; the main strength of Cesare's new army lay in the troops raised in the Romagna, which, faithful to him and confident of his power and success, rallied to him now in the hour of his need. Than this there can be no more eloquent testimony to the quality of his rule. In command of these Romagnuoli troops he placed such Romagnuoli captains as Dionigio di Naldo and Marcantonio da Fano, thereby again affording proof of his wisdom, by giving these soldiers their own compatriots and men with whom they were in sympathy for their leaders.
With such speed had he acted, and such was the influence of his name, that already, by October 14, he had assembled an army of upwards of 6,000 men, which his officers were diligently drilling at Imola, whilst daily now were the French lances expected, and the Swiss and Gascon mercenaries he had sent to levy.
It may well be that this gave the confederates pause, and suggested to them that they should reconsider their position and ask themselves whether the opportunity for crushing Cesare had not slipped by whilst they had stood undecided.
It was Pandolfo Petrucci who took the first step towards a reconciliation, by sending word to Valentinois that it was not his intention to take any measures that might displease his Excellency. His Excellency will no doubt have smiled at that belated assurance from the sparrow to the hawk. Then, a few days later, came news that Giulio Orsini had entered into an agreement with the Pope. This appeared to give the confederacy its death-blow, and Paolo Orsini was on the point of setting out to seek Cesare at Imola for the purpose of treating with him—which would definitely have given burial to the revolt—when suddenly there befell an event which threw the scales the other way.
Cesare's people were carrying out some work in the Castle of S. Leo, in the interior of which a new wall was in course of erection. For the purposes of this, great baulks of timber were being brought into the castle from the surrounding country. Some peasants, headed by one Brizio, who had been a squire of Guidobaldo's, availed themselves of the circumstance to capture the castle by a stratagem. Bringing forward some great masses of timber and felled trees, they set them down along the drawbridge in such a manner as to prevent its being hoisted. That done, an attack in force was directed against the fortress. The place, whose natural defences rendered it practically impregnable, was but slightly manned; being thus surprised, and unable to raise the bridge, it was powerless to offer any resistance, so that the Montefeltre peasants, having killed every Borgia soldier of the garrison, took possession of it and held it for Duke Guidobaldo.
This capture of S. Leo was as a spark that fired a train. Instantly the hardy hillmen of Urbino were in arms to reconquer Guidobaldo's duchy for him. Stronghold after stronghold fell into their hands, until they were in Urbino itself. They made short work of the capital's scanty defenders, flung Cesare's governor into prison, and finally obtained possession of the citadel.
It was the news of this that caused the confederates once more to pause. Before declaring themselves, they waited to see what action Venice would take, whilst in the meantime they sought shelter behind a declaration that they were soldiers of the Church and would do nothing against the will of the Pontiff. They were confidently assured that Venice would befriend Guidobaldo, and help him back to his throne now that his own people had done so much towards that end. It remained, however, to be seen whether Venice would at the same time befriend Pesaro and Rimini.
Instantly Cesare Borgia—who was assailed by grave doubts concerning the Venetians—took his measures. He ordered Bartolomeo da Capranica, who was chief in command of his troops in Urbino, to fall back upon Rimini with all his companies, whilst to Pesaro the duke dispatched Michele da Corella and Ramiro de Lorqua.
It was a busy time of action with the duke at Imola, and yet, amid all the occupation which this equipment of a new army must have given him, he still found time for diplomatic measures, and, taking advantage of the expressed friendliness of Florence, he had replied by desiring the Signory to send an envoy to confer with him. Florence responded by sending, as her representative, that same Niccolò Macchiavelli who had earlier accompanied Soderini on a similar mission to Valentinois, and who had meanwhile been advanced to the dignity of Secretary of State.
Macchiavelli has left us, in his dispatches to his Government, the most precious and valuable information concerning that period of Cesare Borgia's history during which he was with the duke on the business of his legation. Not only is it the rare evidence of an eye-witness that Macchiavelli affords us, but the evidence, as we have said, of one endowed with singular acumen and an extraordinary gift of psychological analysis. The one clear and certain inference to be drawn, not only from those dispatches, but from the Florentine secretary's later writings, is that, at close quarters with Cesare Borgia, a critical witness of his methods, he conceived for him a transcending admiration which was later to find its fullest expression in his immortal book The Prince—a book, remember, compiled to serve as a guide in government to Giuliano de' Medici, the feeble brother of Pope Leo X, a book inspired by Cesare Borgia, who is the model prince held up by Macchiavelli for emulation.
Does it serve any purpose, in the face of this work from the pen of the acknowledged inventor of state-craft, to describe Cesare's conquest of the Romagna by opprobrious epithets and sweeping statements of condemnation and censure—statements kept carefully general, and never permitted to enter into detail which must destroy their own ends and expose their falsehood?
(a) "Cesare departed from Rome to resume his bloody work in the Romagna."
(b) "...the frightful deeds performed by Cesare on both sides of the Apennines. He assumes the semblance of an exterminating angel, and performs such hellish iniquities that we can only shudder at the contemplation of the evil of which human nature is capable."
And now, pray, consider and compare with those the following excerpt from the very next page of that same monumental work:
"Before him [Cesare] cities trembled; the magistrates prostrated themselves in the dust; sycophantic courtiers praised him to the stars. Yet it is undeniable that his government was energetic and good; for the first time Romagna enjoyed peace and was rid of her vampires. In the name of Cesare justice was administered by Antonio di Monte Sansovino, President of the Ruota of Cesena, a man universally beloved."
It is almost as if the truth had slipped out unawares, for the first period hardly seems a logical prelude to the second, by which it is largely contradicted. If Cesare's government was so good that Romagna knew peace at last and was rid of her vampires, why did cities tremble before him? There is, by the way, no evidence of such trepidations in any of the chronicles of the conquered States, one and all of which hail Cesare as their deliverer. Why, if he was held in such terror, did city after city—as we have seen—spontaneously offer itself to Cesare's dominion?
But to rebut those statements of Gregorovius's there is scarce the need to pose these questions; sufficiently does Gregorovius himself rebut them. The men who praised Cesare, the historian tells us, were sycophantic courtiers. But where is the wonder of his being praised if his government was as good as Gregorovius admits it to have been? What was unnatural in that praise? What so untruthful as to deserve to be branded sycophantic? And by what right is an historian to reject as sycophants the writers who praise a man, whilst accepting every word of his detractors as the words of inspired evangelists, even when their falsehoods are so transparent as to provoke the derision of the thoughtful and analytic?
As l'Espinois points out in his masterly essay in the Revue des Questions Historiques, Gregorovius refuses to recognize in Cesare Borgia the Messiah of a united Central Italy, but considers him merely as a high-flying adventurer; whilst Villari, in his Life and Times of Macchiavelli, tells you bluntly that Cesare Borgia was neither a statesman nor a soldier but a brigand-chief.
These are mere words; and to utter words is easier than to make them good.
"High-flying adventurer," or "brigand-chief," by all means, if it please you. What but a high-flying adventurer was the wood-cutter, Muzio Attendolo, founder of the ducal House of Sforza? What but a high-flying adventurer was that Count Henry of Burgundy who founded the kingdom of Portugal? What else was the Norman bastard William, who conquered England? What else the artillery officer, Napoleon Bonaparte, who became Emperor of the French? What else was the founder of any dynasty but a high-flying adventurer—or a brigand-chief, if the melodramatic term is more captivating to your fancy?
These terms are used to belittle Cesare. They achieve no more, however, than to belittle those who penned them; for, even as they are true, the marvel is that the admirable matter in these truths appears to have escaped those authors.
What else Gregorovius opines—that Cesare was no Messiah of United Italy—is true enough. Cesare was the Messiah of Cesare. The well-being of Italy for its own sake exercised his mind not so much as the well-being of the horse he rode. He wrought for his own aggrandisement—but he wrought wisely; and, whilst the end in view is no more to be censured than the ambition of any man, the means employed are in the highest degree to be commended, since the well-being of the Romagna, which was not an aim, was, nevertheless, an essential and praiseworthy incident.
When it can be shown that every other of those conquerors who cut heroic figures in history were purest altruists, it will be time to damn Cesare Borgia for his egotism.
What Villari says, for the purpose of adding rhetorical force to his "brigand-chief"—that Cesare was no statesman and no soldier—is entirely of a piece with the rest of the chapter in which it occurs
—a chapter rich in sweeping inaccuracies concerning Cesare. But it is staggering to find the statement in such a place, amid Macchiavelli's letters on Cesare, breathing an obvious and profound admiration of the duke's talents as a politician and a soldier—an admiration which later is to go perilously near to worship. To Macchiavelli, Cesare is the incarnation of a hazy ideal, as is abundantly shown in The Prince. For Villari to reconcile all this with his own views must seem impossible. And impossible it is; yet Villari achieves it, with an audacity that leaves you breathless.
No—he practically tells you—this Macchiavelli, who daily saw and spoke with Cesare for two months (and during a critical time, which is when men best reveal their natures), this acute Florentine—the acutest man of his age, perhaps—who studied and analysed Cesare, and sent his Government the results of his analyses, and was inspired by them later to write The Prince—this man did not know Cesare Borgia. He wrote, not about Cesare himself, but about a creation of his own intellect.
That is what Villari pretends. Macchiavelli, the representative of a power unfriendly at heart under the mask of the expedient friendliness, his mind already poisoned by all the rumours current throughout Italy, comes on this mission to Valentinois. Florence, fearing and hating Valentinois as she does, would doubtless take pleasure in detractory advices. Other ambassadors—particularly those of Venice—pander to their Governments' wishes in this respect, conscious that there is a sycophancy in slander contrasted with which the ordinary sycophancy of flattery is as water to wine; they diligently send home every scrap of indecent or scandalous rumour they can pick up in the Roman ante-chambers, however unlikely, uncorroborated, or unconcerning the business of an ambassador.
But Macchiavelli, in Cesare Borgia's presence, is overawed by his greatness, his force and his intellect, and these attributes engage him in his dispatches. These same dispatches are a stumbling-block to all who prefer to tread the beaten, sensational track, and to see in Cesare Borgia a villain of melodrama, a monster of crime, brutal, and, consequently, of no intellectual force. But Villari contrives to step more or less neatly, if fatuously, over that formidable obstacle, by telling you that Macchiavelli presents to you not really Cesare Borgia, but a creation of his own intellect, which he had come to admire. It is a simple, elementary expedient by means of which every piece of historical evidence ever penned may be destroyed—including all that which defames the House of Borgia.
Macchiavelli arrived at Imola on the evening of October 7, 1502, and, all travel-stained as he was, repaired straight to the duke, as if the message with which he was charged was one that would not brook a moment's delay in its deliverance. Actually, however, he had nothing to offer Cesare but the empty expressions of Florence's friendship and the hopes she founded upon Cesare's reciprocation. The crafty young Florentine—he was thirty-three at the time—was sent to temporize and to avoid committing himself or his Government.
Valentinois listened to the specious compliments, and replied by similar protestations and by reminding Florence how he had curbed the hand of those very condottieri who had now rebelled against him as a consequence. He showed himself calm and tranquil at the loss of Urbino, telling Macchiavelli that he "had not forgotten the way to reconquer it," when it should suit him. Of the revolted condottieri he contemptuously said that he accounted them fools for not having known how to choose a more favourable moment in which to harm him, and that they would presently find such a fire burning under their feet as would call for more water to quench it than such men as these disposed of.
Meanwhile, the success of those rustics of Urbino who had risen, and the ease of their victories, had fired others of the territory to follow their example. Fossombrone and Pergola were the next to rebel and to put the Borgia garrisons to the sword; but, in their reckless audacity, they chose their moment ill, for Michele da Corella was at hand with his lances, and, although his orders had been to repair straight to Pesaro, he ventured to depart from them to the extent of turning aside to punish the insurgence of those towns by launching his men-at-arms upon them and subjecting them to an appalling and pitiless sack.
When Cesare heard the news of it and the details of the horrors that had been perpetrated, he turned, smiling cruelly, to Macchiavelli, who was with him, and, "The constellations this year seem unfavourable to rebels," he observed.
A battle of wits was toward between the Florentines' Secretary of State and the Duke of Valentinois, each mistrustful of the other. In the end Cesare, a little out of patience at so much inconclusiveness, though outwardly preserving his immutable serenity, sought to come to grips by demanding that Florence should declare whether he was to account her his friend or not. But this was precisely what Macchiavelli's instructions forbade him from declaring. He answered that he must first write to the Signory, and begged the duke to tell him what terms he proposed should form the treaty. But there it was the duke's turn to fence and to avoid a direct answer, desiring that Florence should open the negotiations and that from her should come the first proposal.
He reminded Macchiavelli that Florence would do well to come to a decision before the Orsini sought to patch up a peace with him, since, once that was done, there would be fresh difficulties, owing, of course, to Orsini's enmity to the existing Florentine Government. And of such a peace there was now every indication, Paolo Orsini having at last sent Cesare proposals for rejoining him, subject to his abandoning the Bologna enterprise (in which, the Orsini argued, they could not bear a hand without breaking faith with Bentivogli) and turning against Florence. Vitelli, at the same time, announced himself ready to return to Cesare's service, but first he required some "honest security."
Well might it have pleased Cesare to oblige the Orsini to the letter, and to give a lesson in straight-dealing to these shuffling Florentine pedlars who sent a nimble-witted Secretary of State to hold him in play with sweet words of barren meaning. But there was France and her wishes to be considered, and he could not commit himself. So his answer was peremptory and condescending. He told them that, if they desired to show themselves his friends, they could set about reconquering and holding Urbino for him.
It looked as if the condottieri agreed to this, for on October 11 Vitelli seized Castel Durante, and on the next day Baglioni was in possession of Cagli.
In view of this, Cesare bade the troops which he had withdrawn to advance again upon the city of Urbino and take possession of it. But suddenly, on the 12th, a messenger from Guidobaldo rode into Urbino to announce their duke's return within a few days to defend the subjects who had shown themselves so loyal to him. This, the shifty confederates accounted, must be done with the support of Venice, whence they concluded that Venice must have declared against Valentinois, and again they treacherously changed sides.
The Orsini proceeded to prompt action. Assured of their return to himself, and counting upon their support in Urbino, Cesare had contented himself with sending thither a small force of 100 lances and 200 light horse. Upon these fell the Orsini, and put them to utter rout at Calmazzo, near Fossombrone, capturing Ugo di Moncada, who commanded one of the companies, but missing Michele da Corella, who contrived to escape to Fossombrone.
The conquerors entered Urbino that evening, and, as if to put it on record that they burnt their boats with Valentinois, Paolo Orsini wrote that same night to the Venetian Senate advices of the victory won. Three days later—on October 18—Guidobaldo, accompanied by his nephews Ottaviano Fregioso and Gianmaria Varano, re-entered his capital amid the cheers and enthusiasm of his loyal and loving people.
Vitelli made haste to place his artillery at Guidobaldo's disposal for the reduction of Cagli, Pergola, and Fossombrone, which were still held for Valentinois, whilst Oliverotto da Fermo went with Gianmaria Varano to attempt the reconquest of Camerino, and Gianpaolo Baglioni to Fano, which, however, he did not attempt to enter as an enemy—an idle course, seeing how loyally the town held for Cesare—but as a ducal condottiero.
Fired by Orsini's example, Bentivogli also took the offensive, and began by ordering the canonists of Bologna University to go to the churches and encourage the people to disregard the excommunications launched against the city. He wrote to the King of France to complain that Cesare had broken the Treaty of Villafontana by which he had undertaken never again to molest Bologna—naïvely ignoring the circumstance that he himself had been the first to violate the terms of that same treaty, and that it was precisely upon such grounds that Cesare was threatening him.
Thus matters stood, the confederates turning anxious eyes towards Venice, and, haply, beginning to wonder whether the Republic was indeed going to move to their support as they had so confidently expected, and realizing perhaps by now their rashness, and the ruin that awaited them should Venice fail them. And fail them Venice did. The Venetians had received a reply from Louis XII to that letter in which they had heaped odium upon the Borgia and shown the king what dishonour to himself dwelt in his alliance with Valentinois. Their criticisms and accusations were ignored in that reply, which resolved itself into nothing more than a threat that "if they opposed themselves to the enterprise of the Church they would be treated by him as enemies," and of this letter he sent Cesare a copy, as Cesare himself told Macchiavelli.
So, whilst Valentinois in Imola was able to breathe more freely, the condottieri in Urbino may well have been overcome with horror at their position and at having been thus left in the lurch by Venice. None was better aware than Pandolfo Petrucci of the folly of their action and of the danger that now impended, and he sent his secretary to Valentinois to say that if the duke would but reassure them on the score of his intentions they would return to him and aid him in recovering what had been lost.
Following upon this message came Paolo Orsini himself to Imola on the 25th, disguised as a courier, and having first taken the precaution of obtaining a safe-conduct. He left again on the 29th, bearing with him a treaty the terms of which had been agreed between himself and Cesare during that visit. These were that Cesare should engage to protect the States of all his allied condottieri, and they to serve him and the Church in return. A special convention was to follow, to decide the matter of the Bentivogli, which should be resolved by Cesare, Cardinal Orsini, and Pandolfo Petrucci in consultation, their judgment to be binding upon all.
Cesare's contempt for the Orsini and the rest of the shifty men who formed that confederacy—that "diet of bankrupts," as he had termed it—was expressed plainly enough to Macchiavelli.
"To-day," said he, "Messer Paolo is to visit me, and to-morrow there will be the cardinal; and thus they think to befool me, at their pleasure. But I, on my side, am only dallying with them. I listen to all they have to say and bide my own time."
Later, Macchiavelli was to remember those words, which meanwhile afforded him matter for reflection.
As Paolo Orsini rode away from Imola, the duke's secretary, Gherardi, followed and overtook him to say that Cesare desired to add to the treaty another clause—one relating to the King of France. To this Paolo Orsini refused to consent, but, upon being pressed in the matter by Gherardi, went so far as to promise to submit the clause to the others.
On October 30 Cesare published a notice in the Romagna, intimating the return to obedience on the part of his captains.
Macchiavelli was mystified by this, and apprehensive—as men will be of the things they cannot fathom—of what might be reserved in it for Florence. It was Gherardi who reassured him, laughing in the face of the crafty Florentine, as he informed him that even children should come to smile at such a treaty as this. He added that he had gone after Paolo Orsini to beg the addition of another clause, intentionally omitted by the duke.
"If they accept that clause," concluded Messer Agabito, "it will open a window; if they refuse it, a door, by which the duke can issue from the treaty."
Macchiavelli's wonder increased. But the subject of it now was that the condottieri should be hoodwinked by a document in such terms, and well may he have bethought him then of those words which Cesare had used to him a few days earlier.
Chapter XVI. Ramiro de Lorqua
- Raphael Sabatini
It really seemed as if the condottieri were determined to make their score as heavy as possible. For even whilst Paolo Orsini had been on his mission of peace to Cesare, and whilst they awaited his return, they had continued in arms against the duke. The Vitelli had aided Guidobaldo to reconquer his territory, and had killed, in the course of doing so, Bartolomeo da Capranica, Cesare's most valued captain and Vitelli's brother-in-arms of yesterday. The Baglioni were pressing Michele da Corella in Pesaro, but to little purpose; whilst the butcher Oliverotto da Fermo in Camerino—of which he had taken possession with Gianmaria Varano—was slaughtering every Spaniard he could find.
On the other side, Corella in Pesaro hanged five men whom he caught practising against the duke's government, and, having taken young Pietro Varano—who was on his way to join his brother in Camerino in view of the revolt there—he had him strangled in the market-place. There is a story that, with life not yet extinct, the poor youth was carried into church by the pitiful crowd. But here a friar, discovering that he still lived, called in the soldiers and bade them finish him. This friar, going later through Cagli, was recognized, set upon by a mob, and torn to pieces—in which, if the rest of the tale be true, he was richly served.
Into the theatre of bloodshed came Paolo Orsini from his mission to Valentinois, bringing with him the treaty for signature by the condottieri. Accustomed as they were to playing fast and loose, they opined that, so far as Urbino was concerned, enough changes of government had they contrived there already. Vitelli pointed out the unseemliness of once again deposing Guidobaldo, whom they had just reseated upon his throne. Besides, he perceived in the treaty the end of his hopes of a descent upon Florence, which was the cause of all his labours. So he rejected it.
But Valentinois had already got the Orsini and Pandolfo Petrucci on his side, and so the confederacy was divided. Another factor came to befriend the duke. On November 2 he was visited by Antonio Galeazzo Bentivogli, sent by his father Giovanni to propose a treaty with him—this state of affairs having been brought about by the mediation of Ercole d'Este. From the negotiations that followed it resulted that, on the 13th, the Orsini had word from Cesare that he had entered into an alliance with the Bentivogli—which definitely removed their main objection to bearing arms with him.
It was resigning much on Cesare's part, but the treaty, after all, was only for two years, and might, of course, be broken before then, as they understood these matters. This treaty was signed at the Vatican on the 23rd, between Borgia and Bentivogli, to guarantee the States of both. The King of France, the Signory of Florence, and the Duke of Ferrara guaranteed the alliance.
Inter alia, it was agreed between them that Bologna should supply Cesare with 100 lances and 200 light horse for one or two enterprises within the year, and that the condotta of 100 lances which Cesare held from Bologna by the last treaty should be renewed. The terms of the treaty were to be kept utterly secret for the next three months, so that the affairs of Urbino and Camerino should not be prejudiced by their publication.
The result was instantaneous. On November 27 Paolo Orsini was back at Imola with the other treaty, which bore now the signatures of all the confederates. Vitelli, finding himself isolated, had swallowed his chagrin in the matter of Florence, and his scruples in the matter of Urbino, abandoning the unfortunate Guidobaldo to his fate. This came swiftly. From Imola, Paolo Orsini rode to Fano on the 29th, and ordered his men to advance upon Urbino and seize the city in the Duke of Valentinois's name, proclaiming a pardon for all rebels who would be submissive.
Guidobaldo and the ill-starred Lord of Faenza were the two exceptions in Romagna—the only two who had known how to win the affections of their subjects. For Guidobaldo there was nothing that the men of Urbino would not have done. They rallied to him now, and the women of Valbone—like the ladies of England to save Coeur-de-Lion—came with their jewels and trinkets, offering them that he might have the means to levy troops and resist. But this gentle, kindly Guidobaldo could not subject his country to further ravages of war; and so he determined, in his subjects' interests as much as in his own, to depart for the second time.
Early in December the Orsini troops are in his territory, and Paolo, halting them a few miles out of Urbino, sends to beg Guidobaldo's attendance in his camp. Guidobaldo, crippled by gout and unable at the time to walk a step, sends Paolo his excuses and begs that he will come to Urbino, where he awaits him. There Guidobaldo makes formal surrender to him, takes leave of his faithful friends, enjoins fidelity to Valentinois and trust in God, and so on December 19 he departs into exile, the one pathetic noble figure amid so many ignoble ones. Paolo, taking possession of the duchy, assumes the title of governor.
The Florentines had had their chance of an alliance with Cesare, and had deliberately neglected it. Early in November they had received letters from the King of France urging them to come to an accord with Cesare, and they had made known to the duke that they desired to reoccupy Pisa and to assure themselves of Vitelli; but, when he pressed that Florence should give him a condotta, Macchiavelli—following his instructions not to commit the Republic in any way—had answered "that his Excellency must not be considered as other lords, but as a new potentate in Italy, with whom it is more seemly to make an alliance or a friendship than to grant him a condotta; and, as alliances are maintained by arms, and that is the only power to compel their observance, the Signory could not perceive what security they would have when three-quarters or three-fifths of their arms would be in the duke's hands." Macchiavelli added diplomatically that "he did not say this to impugn the duke's good faith, but to show him that princes should be circumspect and never enter into anything that leaves a possibility of their being put at a disadvantage."(1)
Cesare answered him calmly ("senza segno d'alterazione alcuna") that without a condotta, he didn't know what to make of a private friendship whose first principles were denied him. And there the matter hung, for Macchiavelli's legation had for only aim to ensure the immunity of Tuscany and to safeguard Florentine interests without conceding any advantages to Cesare—as the latter had perceived from the first.
On December 10 Cesare moved from Imola with his entire army, intent now upon the conquest of Sinigaglia, which State Giuliano della Rovere had been unable to save for his nephew, as king and Pope had alike turned a deaf ear upon the excuses he had sought to make for the Prefetessa, Giovanna da Montefeltre—the mother of the young prefect—who had aided her brother Guidobaldo in the late war in Urbino.
On the morrow Valentinois arrived in Cesena and encamped his army there for Christmas, as in the previous year. The country was beginning to feel the effects of this prolonged vast military occupation, and although the duke, with intent to relieve the people, had done all that was possible to provision the troops, and had purchased from Venice 30,000 bushels of wheat for the purpose, yet all had been consumed. "The very stones have been eaten," says Macchiavelli.
To account for this state of things—and possibly for certain other matters—Messer Ramiro de Lorqua, the Governor-General, was summoned from Pesaro; whilst to avert the threatened famine Cesare ordered that the cereals in the private granaries of Cesena should be sold at reduced prices, and he further proceeded, at heavy expense, to procure grain from without. Another, less far-seeing than Valentinois, might have made capital out of Urbino's late rebellion, and pillaged the country to provide for pressing needs. But that would have been opposed to Cesare's policy, of fostering the goodwill of the people he subjected.
On December 20 three of the companies of French lances that had been with Cesare took their leave of him and returned to Lombardy, so that Cesare was left with only one company. There appears to be some confusion as to the reasons for this, and it is stated by some that those companies were recalled to Milan by the French governor. Macchiavelli, ever inquisitive and inquiring, questioned one of the French officers in the matter, to be told that the lances were returning because the duke no longer needed them, the inference being that this was in consequence of the return of the condottieri to their allegiance. But the astute secretary did not at the time account this convincing, arguing that the duke could not yet be said to be secure, nor could he know for certain how far he might trust Vitelli and the Orsini. Presumably, however, he afterwards obtained more certain information, for he says later that Valentinois himself dismissed the French, and that the dismissal was part of the stratagem he was preparing, and had for object to reassure Vitelli and the other confederates, and to throw them off their guard, by causing them to suppose him indifferently supported.
But the departure of the French did not take place without much discussion being provoked, and rumour making extremely busy, whilst it was generally assumed that it would retard the Sinigaglia conquest. Nevertheless, the duke calmly pursued his preparations, and proceeded now to send forward his artillery. There was no real ground upon which to assume that he would adopt any other course. Cesare was now in considerable strength, apart from French lances, and even as these left him he was joined by a thousand Swiss, and another six hundred Romagnuoli from the Val di Lamone. Moreover, as far as the reduction of Sinigaglia was concerned, no resistance was to be expected, for Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere had written enjoining the people to surrender peacefully to the duke.
What matters Cesare may have found in Cesena to justify the arrest of his Governor-General we do not know to the full with absolute certainty. On December 22 Ramiro de Lorqua, coming from Pesaro in response to his master's summons, was arrested on his arrival and flung into prison. His examination was to follow.
Macchiavelli, reporting the arrest, says: "It is thought he [Cesare] may sacrifice him to the people, who have a very great desire of it."
Ramiro had made himself detested in Romagna by the ruthlessness of his rule, and a ruthless servant reflects upon his master, a matter which could nowise suit Borgia. To all who have read The Prince it will be clear that upon that ground alone—of having brought Valentinois's justice into disrepute by the harshness which in Valentinois's name he practised—Macchiavelli would have approved the execution of Ramiro. He would have accounted it perfectly justifiable that Ramiro should be sacrificed to the people for no better reason than because he had provoked their hatred, since this sacrifice made for the duke's welfare. He does, as a matter of fact, justify this execution, but upon much fuller grounds than these. Still, had the reasons been no better than are mentioned, he would still have justified it upon those. So much is clear; and, when so much is clear, much more will be clear to you touching this strange epoch.
There was, however, more than a matter of sacrificing the Governor-General to the hatred of the people. There was, for one thing, the matter of that wheat which had disappeared. Ramiro was charged with having fraudulently sold it to his own dishonest profit, putting the duke to the heavy expense of importing fresh supplies for the nourishment of the people. The seriousness of the charge will be appreciated when it is considered that, had a famine resulted from this peculation, grave disorder might have ensued and perhaps even a rebellion against a government which could provide no better.
The duke published the news of the governor's arrest throughout Romagna. He announced his displeasure and regret at the harshnesses and corrupt practices of Ramiro de Lorqua, in spite of the most urgent admonishings that he should refrain from all undue exactions and the threat of grave punishment should he disobey. These frauds, corruption, extortion, and rapine practised by the governor were so grave, continuous and general, stated the duke in his manifesto, that "there is no city, country-side, or castle, nor any place in all Romagna, nor officer or minister of the duke's, who does not know of these abuses; and, amongst others, the famine of wheat occasioned by the traffic which he held against our express prohibition, sending out such quantities as would abundantly have sufficed for the people and the army."
He concludes with assurances of his intention that, in the future, they shall be ruled with justice and integrity, and he urges all who may have charges to prefer against the said governor to bring them forward immediately.
It was freely rumoured that the charges against Ramiro by no means ended there, and in Bologna—and from Bologna the truth of such a matter might well transpire, all things considered—it was openly said that Ramiro had been in secret treaty with the Bentivogli, Orsini, and Vitelli, against the Duke of Valentinois: "Aveva provixione da Messer Zoane Bentivogli e da Orsini e Vitelozo contro el duca," writes Fileno della Tuate, who, it will be borne in mind, was no friend of the Borgia, and would be at no pains to find justification for the duke's deeds.
But of that secret treaty there was, for the moment, no official mention. Later the rumour of it was to receive the fullest confirmation, and, together with that, we shall give, in the next chapter, the duke's obvious reasons for having kept the matter secret at first. Matter enough and to spare was there already upon which to dispose of Messer Ramiro de Lorqua and disposed of he was, with the most summary justice.
On the morning of December 26 the first folk to be astir in Cesena beheld, in the grey light of that wintry dawn, the body of Ramiro lying headless in the square. It was richly dressed, with all his ornaments upon it, a scarlet cloak about it, and the hands were gloved. On a pike beside the body the black-bearded head was set up to view, and so remained throughout that day, a terrible display of the swift and pitiless justice of the duke.
Macchiavelli wrote: "The reason of his death is not properly known" ("non si sa bene la cagione della sua morte") "beyond the fact that such was the pleasure of the prince, who shows us that he can make and unmake men according to their deserts."
The Cronica Civitas Faventiae, the Diariurn Caesenate, and the Cronache Forlivese, all express the people's extreme satisfaction at the deed, and endorse the charges of brutality against the man which are contained in Cesare's letter.
Chapter XVII. "The Beautiful Stratagem"
- Raphael Sabatini
Cesare left Cesena very early on the morning of December 26—the morning of Ramiro's execution—and by the 29th he was at Fano, where he received the envoys who came from Ancona with protestations of loyalty, as well as a messenger from Vitellozzo Vitelli, who brought him news of the surrender of Sinigaglia. The citadel itself was still being held by Andrea Doria—the same who was afterwards to become so famous in Genoa; this, it was stated, was solely because Doria desired to make surrender to the duke himself. The Prefectress, Giovanna da Montefeltre, had already departed from the city, which she ruled as regent for her eleven-year old boy, and had gone by sea to Venice.
The duke returned answer to Vitelli that he would be in Sinigaglia himself upon the morrow, and he invited the condottieri to receive him there, since he was decided to possess himself of the citadel at once, whether Doria chose to surrender it peacefully or not; and that, to provide for emergencies, he would bring his artillery with him. Lastly, Vitelli was bidden to prepare quarters within the new town for the troops that would accompany Cesare. To do this it was necessary to dispose the soldiers of Oliverotto da Fermo in the borgo. These were the only troops with the condottieri in Sinigaglia; the remainder of their forces were quartered in the strongholds of the territory at distances of from five to seven miles of the town.
On the last day of that year 1502 Cesare Borgia appeared before Sinigaglia to receive the homage of those men who had used him so treacherously, and whom—with the exception of Paolo Orsini—he now met face to face for the first time since their rebellion. Here were Francesco Orsini, Duke of Gravina, with Paolo and the latter's son Fabio; here was Oliverotto, the ruffianly Lord of Fermo, who had won his lordship by the cold-blooded murder of his kinsman, and concerning whom a rumour ran in Rome that Cesare had sworn to choke him with his own hands; and here was Vitellozzo Vitelli, the arch-traitor of them all.
Gianpaolo Baglioni was absent through illness—a matter less fatal to him than was their health to those who were present—and the Cardinal and Giulio Orsini were in Rome.
Were these captains mad to suppose that such a man as Cesare Borgia could so forget the wrong they had done him, and forgive them in this easy fashion, exacting no amends? Were they mad to suppose that, after such proofs as they had given him of what manner of faith they kept, he would trust them hereafter with their lives to work further mischief against him? (Well might Macchiavelli have marvelled when he beheld the terms of the treaty the duke had made with them.) Were they mad to imagine that one so crafty as Valentinois would so place himself into their hands—the hands of men who had sworn his ruin and death? Truly, mad they must have been—rendered so by the gods who would destroy them.
The tale of that happening is graphically told by the pen of the admiring Macchiavelli, who names the affair "Il Bellissimo Inganno." That he so named it should suffice us and restrain us from criticisms of our own, accepting that criticism of his. To us, judged from our modern standpoint, the affair of Sinigaglia is the last word in treachery and iscariotism. But you are here concerned with the standpoint of the Cinquecento, and that standpoint Macchiavelli gives you when he describes this business as "the beautiful stratagem." To offer judgment in despite of that is to commit a fatuity, which too often already has been committed.
Here, then, is Macchiavelli's story of the event:
On the morning of December 31 Cesare's army, composed of 10,000 foot and 3,000 horse,(1) was drawn up on the banks of the River Metauro—some five miles from Sinigaglia—in accordance with his orders, awaiting his arrival. He came at daybreak, and immediately ordered forward 200 lances under the command of Don Michele da Corella; he bade the foot to march after these, and himself brought up the rear with the main body of the horse.
In Sinigaglia, as we have seen, the condottieri had only the troops of Oliverotto—1,000 foot and 150 horse—which had been quartered in the borgo, and were now drawn up in the market-place, Oliverotto at their head, to do honour to the duke.
As the horse under Don Michele gained the little river Misa and the bridge that spanned it, almost directly opposite to the gates of Sinigaglia, their captain halted them and drew them up into two files, between which a lane was opened. Through this the foot went forward and straight into the town, and after came Cesare himself, a graceful, youthful figure, resplendent in full armour at the head of his lances. To meet him advanced now the three Orsini and Vitellozzo Vitelli. Macchiavelli tells us of the latter's uneasiness, of his premonitions of evil, and the farewells (all of which Macchiavelli had afterwards heard reported) which he had taken of his family before coming to Sinigaglia. Probably these are no more than the stories that grow up about such men after such an event as that which was about to happen.
The condottieri came unarmed, Vitelli mounted on a mule, wearing a cloak with a green lining. In that group he is the only man deserving of any respect or pity—a victim of his sense of duty to his family, driven to his rebellion and faithlessness to Valentinois by his consuming desire to avenge his brother's death upon the Florentines. The others were poor creatures, incapable even of keeping faith with one another. Paolo Orsini was actually said to be in secret concert with Valentinois since his mission to him at Imola, and to have accepted heavy bribes from him. Oliverotto you have seen at work, making a holocaust of his family and friends under the base spur of his cupidity; whilst of the absent ones, Pandolfo Petrucci alone was a man of any steadfastness and honesty.
The duke's reception of them was invested with that gracious friendliness of which none knew the art better than did he, intent upon showing them that the past was forgiven and their offences against himself forgotten. As they turned and rode with him through the gates of Sinigaglia some of the duke's gentlemen hemmed them about in the preconcerted manner, lest even now they should be taken with alarm. But it was all done unostentatiously and with every show of friendliness, that no suspicions should be aroused.
From the group Cesare had missed Oliverotto, and as they now approached the market-square, where the Tyrant of Fermo sat on his horse at the head of his troops, Cesare made a sign with his eyes to Don Michele, the purport of which was plain to the captain. He rode ahead to suggest to Ohiverotto that this was no time to have his men under arms and out of their lodgings, and to point out to him that, if they were not dismissed they would be in danger of having their quarters snatched from them by the duke's men, from which trouble might arise. To this he added that the duke was expecting his lordship.
Oliverotto, persuaded, gave the order for the dismissal of his troops, and the duke, coming up at that moment, called to him. In response he went to greet him, and fell in thereafter with the others who were riding with Valentinois.
In amiable conversation with them all, and riding between Vitelli and Francesco Orsini, the duke passed from the borgo into the town itself, and so to the palace, where the condottieri disposed to take their leave of him. But Cesare was not for parting with them yet; he bade them in with him, and they perforce must accept his invitation. Besides, his mood was so agreeable that surely there could be nought to fear.
But scarce were they inside when his manner changed of a sudden, and at a sign from him they were instantly overpowered and arrested by those gentlemen of his own who were of the party and who came to it well schooled in what they were to do.
Buonaccorsi compiled his diary carefully from the letters of Macchiavelli to the Ten, in so far as this and other affairs are concerned; and to Buonaccorsi we must now turn for what immediately follows, which is no doubt from Macchiavelli's second letter of December 31, in which the full details of the affair are given. His first letter no more than briefly states the happening; the second unfortunately is missing; so that the above particulars—and some yet to follow—are culled from the relations which he afterwards penned ("Del modo tenuto," etc.), edited, however, by the help of his dispatches at the time in regard to the causes which led to the affair. Between these and the actual relation there are some minor discrepancies. Unquestionably the dispatches are the more reliable, so that, where such discrepancies occur, the version in the dispatches has been preferred.
To turn for a moment to Buonaccorsi, he tells us that, as the Florentine envoy (who was, of course, Macchiavelli) following the Duke of Valentinois entered the town later, after the arrest of the condottieri, and found all uproar and confusion, he repaired straight to the palace to ascertain the truth. As he approached he met the duke, riding out in full armour to quell the rioting and restrain his men, who were by now all out of hand and pillaging the city. Cesare, perceiving the secretary, reined in and called him.
"This," he said, "is what I wanted to tell Monsignor di Volterra [Soderini] when he came to Urbino, but I could not entrust him with the secret. Now that my opportunity has come, I have known very well how to make use of it, and I have done a great service to your masters."
And with that Cesare left him, and, calling his captains about him, rode down into the town to put an end to the horrors that were being perpetrated there.
Immediately upon the arrest of the condottieri Cesare had issued orders to attack the soldiers of Vitelli and Orsini, and to dislodge them from the castles of the territory where they were quartered, and similarly to dislodge Oliverotto's men and drive them out of Sinigaglia. This had been swiftly accomplished. But the duke's men were not disposed to leave matters at that. Excited by the taste of battle that had been theirs, they returned to wreak their fury upon the town, and were proceeding to put it to sack, directing particular attention to the wealthy quarter occupied by the Venetian merchants, which is said to have been plundered by them to the extent of some 20,000 ducats. They would have made an end of Sinigaglia but for the sudden appearance amongst them of the duke himself. He rode through the streets, angrily ordering the pillage to cease; and, to show how much he was in earnest, with his own hands he cut down some who were insolent or slow to obey him; thus, before dusk, he had restored order and quiet.
As for the condottieri, Vitelli and Oliverotto were dealt with that very night. There is a story that Oliverotto, seeing that all was lost, drew a dagger and would have put it through his heart to save himself from dying at the hands of the hangman. If it is true, then that was his last show of spirit. He turned craven at the end, and protested tearfully to his judges—for a trial was given them—that the fault of all the wrong wrought against the duke lay with his brother-in-law, Vitellozzo. More wonderful was it that the grim Vitelli's courage also should break down at the end, and that he should beg that the Pope be implored to grant him a plenary indulgence and that his answer be awaited.
But at dawn—the night having been consumed in their trial—they were placed back to back, and so strangled, and their bodies were taken to the church of the Misericordia Hospital.
The Orsini were not dealt with just yet. They were kept prisoners, and Valentinois would go no further until he should have heard from Rome that Giulio Orsini and the powerful cardinal were also under arrest. To put to death at present the men in his power might be to alarm and so lose the others. They are right who say that his craft was devilish; but what else was to be expected of the times?
On the morrow—January 1, 1503—the duke issued dispatches to the Powers of Italy giving his account of the deed. It set forth that the Orsini and their confederates, notwithstanding the pardon accorded them for their first betrayal and revolt, upon learning of the departure of the French lances—and concluding that the duke was thereby weakened, and left with only a few followers of no account—had plotted a fresh and still greater treachery. Under pretence of assisting him in the taking of Sinigaglia, whither it was known that he was going, they had assembled there in their full strength, but displaying only one-third of it, and concealing the remainder in the castles of the surrounding country. They had then agreed with the castellan of Sinigaglia, that on that night they should attack him on every side of the new town, which, being small, could contain, as they knew, but few of his people. This treachery coming to his knowledge, he had been able to forestall it, and, entering Sinigaglia with all his troops, he had seized the traitors and taken the forces of Oliverotto by surprise. He concluded by exhorting all to render thanks unto God that an end was set to the many calamities suffered in Italy in consequence of those malignant ones.(1)
For once Cesare Borgia is heard giving his own side of an affair. But are the particulars of his version true? Who shall say positively? His statement is not by any means contrary to the known facts, although it sets upon them an explanation rather different to that afforded us by Macchiavelli. But it is to be remembered that, after all, Macchiavelli had to fall back upon the inferences which he drew from what he beheld, and that there is no scrap of evidence directly to refute any one of Cesare's statements. There is even confirmation of the statement that the condottieri conceived that he was weakened by the departure of the French lances and left with only a few followers of no account. For Macchiavelli himself dwells upon the artifice with which Cesare broke up his forces and disposed of them in comparatively small numbers here and there to the end that his full strength should remain concealed; and he admires the strategy of that proceeding.
Certainly the duke's narrative tends to increase his justification for acting as he did. But at best it can only increase it, for the actual justification was always there, and by the light of his epoch it is difficult to see how he should be blamed. These men had openly sworn to have his life, and from what has been seen of them there is little reason to suppose they would not have kept their word had they but been given the opportunity.
In connection with Cesare's version, it is well to go back for a moment to the execution of Ramiro de Lorqua, and to recall the alleged secret motives that led to it. Macchiavelli himself was not satisfied that all was disclosed, and that the governor's harshness and dishonesty had been the sole causes of the justice done upon him. "The reason of his death is not properly known," wrote the Florentine secretary. Another envoy of that day would have filled his dispatches with the rumours that were current, with the matters that were being whispered at street corners. But Macchiavelli's habit was to disregard rumours as a rule, knowing their danger—a circumstance which renders his evidence the most valuable which we possess.
It is perhaps permissible to ask: What dark secrets had the torture of the cord drawn from Messer Ramiro? Had these informed the duke of the true state of affairs at Sinigaglia, and had the knowledge brought him straight from Cesena to deal with the matter?
There is justification for these questions, inasmuch as on January 4 the Pope related to Giustiniani—for which see his dispatches—that Ramiro de Lorqua, being sentenced to death, stated that he desired to inform the duke of certain matters, and informed him that he had concerted with the Orsini to give the latter the territory of Cesena; but that, as this could not now be done, in consequence of Cesare's treaty with the condottieri, Vitelli had arranged to kill the duke, in which design he had the concurrence of Oliverotto. They had planned that a crossbow-man should shoot the duke as he rode into Sinigaglia, in consequence of which the duke took great care of himself and never put off his armour until the affair was over. Vitellozzo, the Pope said, had confessed before he died that all that Ramiro had told the duke was true, and at the Consistory of January 6, when the Sacred College begged for the release of the old Cardinal Orsini—who had been taken with the Arch-bishop of Florence, Giacomo di Santacroce, and Gianbattista da Virginio—the Pope answered by informing the cardinals of this plot against the duke's life.
These statements by Cesare and his father are perfectly consistent with each other and with the events. Yet, for want of independent confirmation, they are not to be insisted upon as affording the true version—as, of course, the Pope may have urged what he did as a pretext to justify what was yet to follow.
It is readily conceivable that Ramiro, under torture, or in the hope perhaps of saving his life, may have betrayed the alleged plot to murder Cesare. And it is perfectly consistent with Cesare's character and with his age that he should have entered into a bargain to learn what Ramiro might have to disclose, and then have repudiated it and given him to the executioner. If Cesare, under such circumstances as these, had learnt what was contemplated, he would very naturally have kept silent on the score of it until he had dealt with the condottieri. To do otherwise might be to forewarn them. He was, as Macchiavelli says, a secret man, and the more dangerous for his closeness, since he never let it be known what he intended until he had executed his designs.
Guicciardini, of course, has called the Sinigaglia affair a villainy ("scelleragine") whilst Fabio Orsini and a nephew of Vitelli's who escaped from Sinigaglia and arrived two days later at Perugia, sought to engage sympathy by means of an extraordinary tale, so alien to all the facts—apart from their obvious reasons to lie and provoke resentment against Cesare—as not to be worth citing.
Chapter XVIII. The Zenith
- Raphael Sabatini
Andrea Doria did not remain to make formal surrender of the citadel of Sinigaglia to the duke—for which purpose, be it borne in mind, had Cesare been invited, indirectly, to come to Sinigaglia. He fled during the night that saw Vitelli and Oliverotto writhing their last in the strangler's hands. And his flight adds colour to the versions of the affair that were afforded the world by Cesare and his father. Andrea Doria, waiting to surrender his trust, had nothing to fear from the duke, no reason to do anything but remain. Andrea Doria, intriguing against the duke's life with the condottieri, finding them seized by the duke, and inferring that all was discovered, had every reason to fly.
The citadel made surrender on that New Year's morning, when Cesare summoned it to do so, whilst the troops of the Orsini and Vitelli lodged in the castles of the territory, being taken unawares, were speedily disposed of. So, there being nothing more left to do in Sinigaglia, Cesare once more marshalled his men and set out for Città di Castello—the tyranny of the Vitelli, which he found undefended and of which he took possession in the name of the Church. Thence he rushed on towards Perugia, for he had word that Guidobaldo of Urbino, Fabio Orsini, Annibale and Venanzio Varano, and Vitelli's nephew were assembled there under the wing of Gianpaolo Baglioni, who, with a considerable condotta at his back, was making big talk of resisting the Duke of Romagna and Valentinois. In this, Gianpaolo persevered most bravely until he had news that the duke was as near as Gualdo, when precipitately he fled—leaving his guests to shift for themselves. He had remembered, perhaps, at the last moment how narrow an escape he had had of it at Sinigaglia, and he repaired to Siena to join Pandolfo Petrucci, who had been equally fortunate in that connection.
To meet the advancing and irresistible duke came ambassadors from Perugia with smooth words of welcome, the offer of the city, and their thanks for his having delivered them of the tyrants that oppressed them; and there is not the slightest cause to suppose that this was mere sycophancy, for a more bloody, murderous crew than these Baglioni—whose feuds not only with the rival family of the Oddi, but among their very selves, had more than once embrued the walls of that city in the hills—it would be difficult to find in Italy, or anywhere in Europe. The history of the Baglioni is one record of slaughter. Under their rule in Perugia human blood seems commonly to have flowed anywhere more freely than in human veins. It is no matter for wonder that the people sent their ambassador to thank Cesare for having delivered them from the yoke that had oppressed them.
Perugia having rendered him her oath of fealty, the duke left her his secretary, Agabito Gherardi, as his commissioner, whilst sending Vincenzo Calmeta to Fermo—Oliverotto's tyranny—another State which was very fervent in the thanks it expressed for this deliverance.
Scarcely was Cesare gone from Perugia when into the hands of his people fell the person of the Lady Panthasilea Baglioni d'Alviano—the wife of the famous Venetian condottiero Bartolomeo d'Alviano—and they, aware of the feelings prevailing between their lord and the Government of Venice, bethought them that here was a valuable hostage. So they shut her up in the Castle of Todi, together with her children and the women who had been with her when she was taken.
As in the case of Dorotea Caracciolo, the rumour is instantly put about that it was Cesare who had seized her, that he had taken her to his camp, and that this poor woman had fallen a prey to that lustful monster. So—and in some such words—ran the story, and such a hold did it take upon folks' credulity that we see Piero di Bibieno before the Council of Ten, laying a more or less formal charge against the duke in rather broader terms than are here set down. So much, few of those who have repeated his story omit to tell you. But for some reason, not obviously apparent, they do not think it worth while to add that the Doge himself—better informed, it is clear, for he speaks with finality in the matter—reproved him by denying the rumour and definitely stating that it was not true, as you may read in the Diary of Marino Sanuto. That same diary shows you the husband—a person of great consequence in Venice—before the Council, clamouring for the enlargement of his lady; yet never once does he mention the name of Valentinois. The Council of Ten sends an envoy to wait upon the Pope; and the Pope expresses his profound regret and his esteem for Alviano, and informs the envoy that he is writing to Valentinois to demand her instant release—in fact, shows the envoy the letter.
To that same letter the duke replied on January 29 that he had known nothing of the matter until this communication reached him; that he has since ascertained that the lady was indeed captured and that she has since been detained in the Castle of Todi with all the consideration due to her rank; and that, immediately upon ascertaining this he had commanded that she should be set at liberty, which was done.
And so the Lady Panthasilea returned unharmed to her husband.
In Assisi Cesare received the Florentine ambassador Salviati, who came to congratulate the duke upon the affair of Sinigaglia and to replace Macchiavelli—the latter having been ordered home again. Congratulations indeed were addressed to him by all those Powers that had received his official intimation of the event. Amongst these were the felicitations of the beautiful and accomplished Isabella d'Este, Marchioness of Gonzaga—whose relations with him were ever of the friendliest, even when Faenza by its bravery evoked her pity—and with these she sent him, for the coming carnival, a present of a hundred masks of rare variety and singular beauty, because she opined that "after the fatigues he had suffered in these glorious enterprises, he would desire to contrive for some recreation."
Here in Assisi, too, he received the Siennese envoys who came to wait upon him, and he demanded that, out of respect for the King of France, they should drive out Pandolfo Petrucci from Siena. For, to use his own words, "having deprived his enemies of their weapons, he would now deprive them of their brain," by which he paid Petrucci the compliment of accounting him the "brain" of all that had been attempted against him. To show the Siennese how much he was in earnest, he leaves all baggage and stores at Assisi, and, unhampered, makes one of his sudden swoops towards Siena, pausing on January 13 at Castel della Pieve to publish, at last, his treaty with Bentivogli. The latter being now sincere, no doubt out of fear of the consequences of further insincerity, at once sends Cesare 30 lances and 100 arbalisters under the command of Antonio della Volta.
It was there in Assisi, on the morning of striking his camp again, that Cesare completed the work that had been begun at Sinigaglia by having Paolo Orsini and the Duke of Gravina strangled. There was no cause to delay the matter longer. He had word from Rome of the capture of Cardinal Orsini, of Gianbattista da Virginio, of Giacomo di Santacroce, and Rinaldo Orsini, Arch-bishop of Florence.
On January 27, Pandolfo Petrucci being still in Siena, and Cesare's patience exhausted, he issued an ultimatum from his camp at Sartiano in which he declared that if, within twenty-four hours, Petrucci had not been expelled from the city, he would loose his soldiers upon Siena to devastate the territory, and would treat every inhabitant "as a Pandolfo and an enemy."
Siena judged it well to bow before that threatening command, and Cesare, seeing himself obeyed, was free to depart to Rome, whither the Pope had recalled him and where work awaited him. He was required to make an end of the resistance of the barons, a task which had been entrusted to his brother Giuffredo, but which the latter had been unable to carry out.
In this matter Cesare and his father are said to have violently disagreed, and it is reported that high words flew between them; for Cesare—who looked ahead and had his own future to consider, which should extend beyond the lifetime of Alexander VI—would not move against Silvio Savelli in Palombara, nor Gian Giordano in Bracciano, alleging, as his reason for the latter forbearance, that Gian Giordano, being a knight of St. Michael like himself, he was inhibited by the terms of that knighthood from levying war upon him. To that he adhered, whilst disposing, however, to lay siege to Ceri, where Giulio and Giovanni Orsini had taken refuge.
In the meantime, the Cardinal Gianbattista Orsini had breathed his last in the Castle of Sant' Angelo.
Soderini had written ironically to Florence on February 15: "Cardinal Orsini, in prison, shows signs of frenzy. I leave your Sublimities to conclude, in your wisdom, the judgment that is formed of such an illness."
It was not, however, until a week later—on February 22—that he succumbed, when the cry of "Poison!" grew so loud and general that the Pope ordered the cardinal's body to be carried on a bier with the face exposed, that all the world might see its calm and the absence of such stains as were believed usually to accompany venenation.
Nevertheless, the opinion spread that he had been poisoned—and the poisoning of Cardinal Orsini has been included in the long list of the Crimes of the Borgias with which we have been entertained. That the rumour should have spread is not in the least wonderful, considering in what bad odour were the Orsini at the Vatican just then, and—be it remembered—what provocation they had given. Although Valentinois dubbed Pandolfo Petrucci the "brain" of the conspiracy against him, the real guiding spirit, there can be little doubt, was this Cardinal Orsini, in whose stronghold at Magione the diet had met to plot Valentinois's ruin—the ruin of the Gonfalonier of the Church, and the fresh alienation from the Holy See of the tyrannies which it claimed for its own, and which at great cost had been recovered to it.
Against the Pope, considered as a temporal ruler, that was treason in the highest degree, and punishable by death; and, assuming that Alexander did cause the death of Cardinal Orsini, the only just censure that could fall upon him for the deed concerns the means employed. Yet even against that it might be urged that thus was the dignity of the purple saved the dishonouring touch of the hangman's hands.
Some six weeks later—on April 10—died Giovanni Michieli, Cardinal of Sant' Angelo, and Giustiniani, the Venetian ambassador, wrote to his Government that the cardinal had been ill for only two days, and that his illness had been attended by violent sickness. This—and the reticence of it—was no doubt intended to arouse the suspicion that the cardinal had been poisoned. Giustiniani adds that Michieli's house was stripped that very night by the Pope, who profited thereby to the extent of some 150,000 ducats, besides plate and other valuables; and this was intended to show an indecent eagerness on the Pope's part to possess himself of that which by the cardinal's death he inherited, whereas, in truth, the measure would be one of wise precaution against the customary danger of pillage by the mob.
But in March of the year 1504, under the pontificate of Julius II (Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere) a subdeacon, named Asquino de Colloredo, was arrested for defaming the dead cardinal ("interfector bone memorie Cardinalis S. Angeli").(1) What other suspicions were entertained against him, what other revelations it was hoped to extract from him, cannot be said; but Asquino was put to the question, to the usual accompaniment of the torture of the cord, and under this he confessed that he had poisoned Cardinal Michieli, constrained to it by Pope Alexander VI and the Duke of Valentinois, against his will and without reward ("verumtamen non voluisse et pecunias non habuisse").
Now if Asquino defamed the memory of Cardinal Michieli it seems to follow naturally that he had hated the cardinal; and, if we know that he hated him, we need not marvel that, out of that hatred, he poisoned him. But something must have been suspected as a motive for his arrest in addition to the slanders he was uttering, otherwise how came the questions put to him to be directed so as to wring from him the confession that he had poisoned the cardinal? If you choose to believe his further statement that he was constrained to it by Pope Alexander and the Duke of Valentinois, you are, of course, at liberty to do so. But you will do well first to determine precisely what degree of credit such a man might be worth when seeking to extenuate a fault admitted under pressure of the torture—and offering the extenuation likeliest to gain him the favour of the della Rovere Pope, whose life's task—as we shall see—was the defamation of the hated Borgias. You will also do well closely to examine the last part of his confession—that he was constrained to it "against his will and without reward." Would the deed have been so very much against the will of one who went about publishing his hatred of the dead cardinal by the slanders he emitted?
Upon such evidence as that the accusation of the Pope's murder of Cardinal Michieli has been definitely established—and it must be admitted that it is, if anything, rather more evidence than is usually forthcoming of the vampirism and atrocities alleged against him.
Giustiniani, writing to his Government in the spring of 1503, informs the Council of Ten that it is the Pope's way to fatten his cardinals before disposing of them—that is to say, enriching them before poisoning them, that he may inherit their possessions. It was a wild and sweeping statement, dictated by political animus, and it has since grown to proportions more monstrous than the original. You may read usque ad nauseam of the Pope and Cesare's constant practice of poisoning cardinals who had grown rich, for the purpose of seizing their possessions, and you are very naturally filled with horror at so much and such abominable turpitude. In this matter, assertion—coupled with whorling periods of vituperation—have ever been considered by the accusers all that was necessary to establish the accusations. It has never, for instance, been considered necessary to cite the names of the cardinals composing that regiment of victims. That, of course, would be to challenge easy refutation of the wholesale charge; and refutation is not desired by those who prefer the sensational manner.
The omission may, in part at least, be repaired by giving a list of the cardinals who died during the eleven years of the pontificate of Alexander VI. Those deaths, in eleven years, number twenty-one—representing, incidentally, a percentage that compares favourably with any other eleven years of any other pontificate or pontificates. They are:
Ardicino della Porta . .In 1493, at Rome
Giovanni de'Conti. . . In 1493, at Rome
Domenico della Rovere . .In 1494, at Rome
Gonzalo de Mendoza. . . In 1495, in Spain
Louis André d'Epinay . .In 1495, in France
Gian Giacomo Sclafetano. .In 1496, at Rome
Bernardino di Lunati . .In 1497, at Rome
Paolo Fregosi. . . . In 1498, at Rome
Gianbattista Savelli . .In 1498, at Rome
Giovanni della Grolaye . .In 1499, at Rome
Giovanni Borgia . . . In 1500, at Fossombrone
Bartolomeo Martini. . . In 1500, at Rome
John Morton. . . . In 1500, in England
Battista Zeno. . . . In 1501, at Rome
Juan Lopez . . . . In 1501, at Rome
Gianbattista Ferrari . .In 1502, at Rome
Hurtado de Mendoza. . . In 1502, in Spain
Gianbattista Orsini. . .In 1503, at Rome
Giovanni Michieli. . . In 1503, at Rome
Giovanni Borgia (Seniore). . In 1503, at Rome
Federico Casimir . . . In 1503, in Poland
Now, search as you will, not only such contemporary records as diaries, chronicles, and dispatches from ambassadors in Rome during that period of eleven years but also subsequent writings compiled from them, and you shall find no breath of scandal attaching to the death of seventeen of those cardinals, no suggestion that they died other than natural deaths.
Four remain: Cardinals Giovanni Borgia (Giuniore), Gianbattista Ferrari (Cardinal of Modena), Gianbattista Orsini, and Giovanni Michieli, all of whom the Pope and Cesare have, more or less persistently, been accused of poisoning.
Giovanni Borgia's death at Fossombrone has been dealt with at length in its proper place, and it has been shown how utterly malicious and groundless was the accusation.
Giovanni Michieli's is the case that has just been reviewed, and touching which you may form your own conclusions.
Gianbattista Orsini's also has been examined. It rests upon rumour; but even if that rumour be true, it is unfair to consider the deed in any but the light of a political execution.
There remains the case of the Cardinal of Modena, a man who had amassed enormous wealth in the most questionable manner, and who was universally execrated. The epigrams upon his death, in the form of epitaphs, dealt most terribly with "his ignominious memory"—as Burchard has it. Of these the Master of Ceremonies collected upwards of a score, which he gives in his Diarium. Let one suffice here as a fair example of the rest, the one that has it that the earth has the cardinal's body, the bull (i.e. the Borgia) his wealth, and hell his soul.
The only absolutely contemporary suggestion of his having been poisoned emanated from the pen of that same Giustiniani. He wrote to the Venetian Senate to announce the cardinal's death on July 20. In his letter he relates how his benefices were immediately distributed, and how the lion's share fell to the cardinal's secretary, Sebastiano Pinzone, and that it was said ("é fama") that this man had received them as the price of blood ("in premium sanguinis"), "since it is held, from many evident signs, that the cardinal died from poison" ("ex veneno").
Already on the 11th he had written: "The Cardinal of Modena lies ill, with little hope of recovery. Poison is suspected" ("si dubita di veleno").
That was penned on the eighth day of the cardinal's sickness, for he was taken ill on the 3rd—as Burchard shows. Burchard, further, lays before us the whole course of the illness; tells us how, from the beginning, the cardinal refused to be bled or to take medicine of any kind, tells us explicitly and positively that the cardinal was suffering from a certain fever—so prevalent and deadly in Rome during the months of July and August; he informs us that, on the 11th (the day on which Giustiniani wrote the above-cited dispatch), the fever abated, to return on the 16th. He was attended (Burchard continues) by many able physicians, who strove to induce him to take their medicines; but he refused persistently until the following day, when he accepted a small proportion of the doses proposed. On July 20—after an illness of seventeen days—he finally expired.
Those entries in the diary of the Master of Ceremonies constitute an incontrovertible document, an irrefutable testimony against the charges of poisoning when taken in conjunction with the evidence of fact afforded by the length of the illness.
It is true that, under date of November 20, 1504 (under the pontificate of Julius II), there is the following entry:
"Sentence was pronounced in the 'Ruota' against Sebastiano Pinzone, apostolic scribe, contumaciously absent, and he was deprived of all benefices and offices in that he had caused the death of the Cardinal of Modena, his patron, who had raised him from the dust."
But not even that can shake the conviction that must leap to every honest mind from following the entries in the diary contemporary with the cardinal's decease. They are too circumstantial and conclusive to be overthrown by this recorded sentence of the Ruota two years later against a man who was not even present to defend himself. Besides, it is necessary to discriminate. Burchard is not stating opinions of his own when he writes "in that he caused the death of the Cardinal of Modena," etc.; he is simply—and obviously—recording the finding of the Tribunal of the Ruota, without comment of his own. Lastly, it is as well to observe that in that verdict against Pinzone—of doubtful justice as it is—there is no mention made of the Borgias.
The proceedings instituted against Sebastiano Pinzone were of a piece with those instituted against Asquino de Colloredo and others yet to be considered; they were set on foot by Giuliano della Rovere—that implacable enemy of the House of Borgia—when he became Pope, for the purpose of heaping ignominy upon the family of his predecessor. But that shall be further dealt with presently.
Another instance of the unceasing growth of Borgia history is afforded in connection with this Sebastiano Pinzone by Dr. Jacob Burckhardt (in Der Cultur der Renaissance in Italien) who, in the course of the usual sweeping diatribe against Cesare, mentions "Michele da Corella, his strangler, and Sebastiano Pinzone, his poisoner." It is an amazing statement; for, whilst obviously leaning upon Giustiniani's dispatch for the presumption that Pinzone was a poisoner at all, he ignores the statement contained in it that Pinzone was the secretary and favourite of Cardinal Ferrari, nor troubles to ascertain that the man was never in Cesare Borgia's service at all, nor is ever once mentioned anywhere as connected in any capacity whatever with the duke. Dr. Burckhardt felt, no doubt, the necessity of linking Pinzone to the Borgias, that the alleged guilt of the former may recoil upon the latter, and so he accomplished it in this facile and irresponsible manner.
Now, notwithstanding the full and circumstantial evidence afforded by Burchard's Diarium of the Cardinal of Modena's death of a tertian fever, the German scholar Gregorovius does not hesitate to write of this cardinal's death: "It is certain that it was due to their [the Borgias'] infallible white powders."
Oh the art of writing history in sweeping statements to support a preconceived point of view! Oh that white powder of the Borgias!
Giovio tells us all about it. Cantarella, he calls it—Cantharides. Why Cantarella? Possibly because it is a pleasing, mellifluous word that will help a sentence hang together smoothly; possibly because the notorious aphrodisiac properties of that drug suggested it to Giovio as just the poison to be kept handy by folk addicted to the pursuits which he and others attribute to the Borgias. Can you surmise any better reason? For observe that Giovio describes the Cantarella for you—a blunder of his which gives the lie to his statement. "A white powder of a faint and not unpleasing savour," says he; and that, as you know, is nothing like cantharides, which is green, intensely acrid, and burning. Yet who cares for such discrepancies? Who will ever question anything that is uttered against a Borgia? "Cantarella—a white powder of a faint and not unpleasing savour," answers excellently the steady purpose of supporting a defamation and pandering to the tastes of those who like sensations in their reading—and so, from pen to pen, from book to book it leaps, as unchallenged as it is impossible.
Whilst Cesare's troops were engaged in laying siege to Ceri, and, by engines contrived by Leonardo da Vinci, pressing the defenders so sorely that at the end of a month's resistance they surrendered with safe-conduct, the inimical and ever-jealous Venetians in the north were stirring up what trouble they could. Chafing under the restraint of France, they but sought a pretext that should justify them in the eyes of Louis for making war upon Cesare, and when presently envoys came to lay before the Pope the grievance of the Republic at the pillage by Borgian soldiery of the Venetian traders in Sinigaglia, Cesare had no delusions concerning their disposition towards himself.
Growing uneasy lest they should make this a reason for assailing his frontiers, he sent orders north recommending vigilance and instructing his officers to deal severely with all enemies of his State, whilst he proceeded to complete the provisions for the government of the Romagna. To replace the Governor-General he appointed four seneschals: Cristoforo della Torre for Forli, Faenza and Imola; Hieronimo Bonadies for Cesena, Rimini, and Pesaro; Andrea Cossa for Fano, Sinigaglia, Fossombrone, and Pergola; and Pedro Ramires for the duchy of Urbino. This last was to find a deal of work for his hands; for Urbino was not yet submissive, Majolo and S. Leo still holding for Guidobaldo.
Ramires began by reducing Majolo, and then proceeded to lay siege to S. Leo. But the Castellan—one Lattanzio—encouraged by the assurances given him that the Venetians would render Guidobaldo assistance to reconquer his dominions, resisted stubbornly, and was not brought to surrender until the end of June, after having held the castle for six months.
If Venice was jealous and hostile in the north, Florence was scarcely less so in mid-Italy—though perhaps with rather more justification, for Cesare's growing power and boundless ambition kept the latter Republic in perpetual fear of being absorbed into his dominions—into that kingdom which it was his ultimate aim to found. There can be little doubt that Francesco da Narni, who appeared in Tuscany early in the March of that year, coming from the French Court for the purpose of arranging a league of Florence, Bologna, Siena, and Lucca—the four States more or less under French protection—had been besought by Florence, to the obvious end that these four States, united, might inter-defend themselves against Valentinois. And Florence even went so far as to avail herself of this to the extent of restoring Pandolfo Petrucci to the lordship of Siena—preferring even this avowed enemy to the fearful Valentinois. Thus came about Petrucci's restoration towards the end of March, despite the fact that the Siennese were divided on the subject of his return.
With the single exception of Camerino, where disturbances still continued, all was quiet in the States of the Church by that summer of 1503.
This desirable state of things had been achieved by Cesare's wise and liberal government, which also sufficed to ensure its continuance.
He had successfully combated the threatened famine by importing grain from Sicily. To Sinigaglia—his latest conquest—he had accorded, as to the other subjected States, the privilege of appointing her own native officials, with, of course, the exception of the Podestà (who never could be a native of any place where he dispensed justice) and the Castellan. In Cesena a liberal justice was measured out by the Tribunal of the Ruota, which Cesare had instituted there, equipping it with the best jurisconsults of the Romagna.
In Rome he proceeded to a military organization on a new basis, and with a thoroughness never before seen in Italy—or elsewhere, for that matter—but which was thereafter the example all sought to copy. We have seen him issuing an edict that every house in the Romagna should furnish him one man-at-arms to serve him when necessary. The men so levied were under obligation to repair to the market-place of their native town when summoned thither by the ringing of the bells, and it was estimated that this method of conscription would yield him six or seven thousand men, who could be mobilized in a couple of days. He increased the number of arquebusiers, appreciating the power and value of a weapon which—although invented nearly a century earlier—was still regarded with suspicion. He was also the inventor of the military uniform, putting his soldiers into a livery of his own, and causing his men-at-arms to wear over their armour a smock, quartered red and yellow with the name CESARE lettered on the breast and back, whilst the gentlemen of his guard wore surcoats of his colours in gold brocade and crimson velvet.
He continued to levy troops and to arm them, and it is scarcely over-stating the case to say that hardly a tyrant of the Romagna would have dared to do so much for fear of the weapons being turned against himself. Cesare knew no such fear. He enjoyed a loyalty from the people he had subjected which was almost unprecedented in Italy. The very officers he placed in command of the troops of his levying were, for the most part, natives of the Romagna. Is there no inference concerning him to be drawn from that!
For every man in his service Cesare ordered a back-and-breast and headpiece of steel, and the armourers' shops of Brescia rang busily that summer with the clang of metal upon metal, as that defensive armour for Cesare's troops was being forged. At the same time the foundries were turning out fresh cannon in that season which saw Cesare at the very height and zenith of his power, although he himself may not have accounted that, as yet, he was further than at the beginning.
But the catastrophe that was to hurl him irretrievably from the eminence to which in three short years he had climbed was approaching with stealthy, relentless foot, and was even now upon him.
Chapter I. The Death of Alexander VI
- Raphael Sabatini
Unfortunate Naples was a battle-field once more. France and Spain were engaged there in a war whose details belong elsewhere.
To the aid of France, which was hard beset and with whose arms things were going none too well, Cesare was summoned to fulfil the obligations under which he was placed by virtue of his treaty with King Louis.
Rumours were rife that he was negotiating secretly with Gonzalo de Cordoba, the Great Captain, and the truth of whether or not he was guilty of so base a treachery has never been discovered. These rumours had been abroad since May, and, if not arising out of, they were certainly stimulated by, an edict published by Valentinois concerning the papal chamberlain, Francesco Troche. In this edict Cesare enjoined all subjects of the Holy See to arrest, wherever found, this man who had fled from Rome, and whose flight "was concerned with something against the honour of the King of France."
Francesco Troche had been Alexander's confidential chamberlain and secretary; he had been a diligent servant of the House of Borgia, and when in France had acted as a spy for Valentinois, keeping the duke supplied with valuable information at a critical time, as we have seen.
Villari says of him that he was "one of the Borgias' most trusted assassins." That he has never been so much as alleged to have murdered anyone does not signify. He was a servant—a trusted servant—of the Borgias; therefore the title of "assassin" is, ipso facto, to be bestowed upon him.
The flight of a man holding such an intimate position as Troche's was naturally a subject of much speculation and gossip, but a matter upon which there was no knowledge. Valentinois was ever secret. In common with his father—though hardly in so marked a degree, and if we except the case of the scurrilous Letter to Silvio Savelli—he showed a contemptuous indifference to public opinion on the whole which is invested almost with a certain greatness. At least it is rarely other than with greatness that we find such an indifference associated. It was not for him to take the world into his confidence in matters with which the world was not concerned. Let the scandalmongers draw what inferences they pleased. It was a lofty and dignified procedure, but one that was fraught with peril; and the Borgias have never ceased to pay the price of that excessive dignity of reserve. For tongues must be wagging, and, where knowledge is lacking, speculation will soon usurp its place, and presently be invested with all the authority of "fact."
Out of surmises touching that matter "which concerned the honour of the King of France" grew presently—and contradictorily—the rumour that Troche was gone to betray to France Valentinois's intention of going over to the Spanish side. A motive was certainly required to account for Troche's action; but the invention of motives does not appear ever to have troubled the Cinquecentist.
It was now said that Troche was enraged at having been omitted from the list of cardinals to be created at the forthcoming Consistory. It is all mystery, even to the end he made; for, whereas some said that, after being seized on board a ship that was bound for Corsica, Troche in his despair threw himself overboard and was drowned, others reported that he was brought back to Rome and strangled in a prison in Trastevere.
The following questions crave answer:
If it was Troche's design to betray such a treachery of the Borgias against France, what was he doing on board a vessel bound for Corsica a fortnight after his flight from Rome? Would not his proper goal have been the French camp in Naples, which he could have reached in a quarter of that time, and where not only could he have vented his desire for vengeance by betraying Alexander and Valentinois, but he could further have found complete protection from pursuit?
It is idle and unprofitable to dwell further upon the end of Francesco Troche. The matter is a complete mystery, and whilst theory is very well as theory, it is dangerous to cause it to fill the place of fact.
Troche was drowned or was strangled as a consequence of his having fled out of motives that were "against the honour of the King of France." And straightway the rumour spread of Valentinois's intended treachery, and the rumour was kept alive and swelled by Venice and Florence in pursuit of their never-ceasing policy of discrediting Cesare with King Louis, to the end that they might encompass his expedient ruin.
The lie was given to them to no small extent by the Pope, when, in the Consistory of July 28, he announced Cesare's departure to join the French army in Naples with five hundred horse and two thousand foot assembled for the purpose.
For this Cesare made now his preparations, and on the eve of departure he went with his father—on the evening of August 5—to sup at the villa of Cardinal Adriano Corneto, outside Rome.
Once before we have seen him supping at a villa of the Suburra on the eve of setting out for Naples, and we know the tragedy that followed—a tragedy which he has been accused of having brought about. Here again, in a villa of the Suburra, at a supper on the eve of setting out for Naples, Death was the unseen guest.
They stayed late at the vineyard of Cardinal Corneto, enjoying the treacherous cool of the evening, breathing the death that was omnipresent in Rome that summer, the pestilential fever which had smitten Cardinal Giovanni Borgia (Seniore) on the 1st of that month, and of which men were dying every day in the most alarming numbers.
On the morning of Saturday 12, Burchard tells us, the Pope felt ill, and that evening he was taken with fever. On the 15th Burchard records that he was bled, thirteen ounces of blood being taken from him. It relieved him somewhat, and, seeking distraction, he bade some of the cardinals to come and sit by his bed and play at cards.
Meanwhile, Cesare was also stricken, and in him the fever raged so fierce and violently that he had himself immersed to the neck in a huge jar of ice-cold water—a drastic treatment in consequence of which he came to shed all the skin from his body.
On the 17th the Pope was much worse, and on the 18th, the end being at hand, he was confessed by the Bishop of Culm, who administered Extreme Unction, and that evening he died.
That, beyond all manner of question, is the true story of the passing of Alexander VI, as revealed by the Diarium of Burchard, by the testimony of the physician who attended him, and by the dispatches of the Venetian, Ferrarese, and Florentine ambassadors. At this time of day it is accepted by all serious historians, compelled to it by the burden of evidence.
The ambassador of Ferrara had written to Duke Ercole, on August 14, that it was no wonder the Pope and the duke were ill, as nearly everybody in Rome was ill as a consequence of the bad air ("Per la mala condictione de aere").
Cardinal Soderini was also stricken with the fever, whilst Corneto was taken ill on the day after that supper-party, and, like Cesare, is said to have shed all the skin of his body before he recovered.
Even Villari and Gregorovius, so unrestrained when writing of the Borgias, discard the extraordinary and utterly unwarranted stories of Guicciardini, Giovio, and Bembo, which will presently be considered. Gregorovius does this with a reluctance that is almost amusing, and with many a fond, regretful, backward glance—so very apparent in his manner—at the tale of villainy as told by Guicciardini and the others, which the German scholar would have adopted but that he dared not for his credit's sake. This is not stated on mere assumption. It is obvious to any one who reads Gregorovius's histories.
Burchard tells us—as certainly matter for comment—that, during his last illness, Alexander never once asked for Cesare nor ever once mentioned the name of Lucrezia. So far as Cesare is concerned, the Pope knew, no doubt, that he was ill and bedridden, for all that the gravity of the duke's condition would, probably, have been concealed from him. That he should not have mentioned Lucrezia—nor, we suppose, Giuffredo—is remarkable. Did he, with the hand of Death already upon him, reproach himself with this paternity which, however usual and commonplace in priests of all degrees, was none the less a scandal, and the more scandalous in a measure as the rank of the offender was higher? It may well be that in those last days that sinful, worldly old man bethought him of the true scope and meaning of Christ's Vicarship, which he had so wantonly abused and dishonoured, and considered that to that Judge before whom he was summoned to appear the sins of his predecessors would be no justification or mitigation of his own. It may well be that, grown introspective upon his bed of death, he tardily sought to thrust from his mind the worldly things that had so absorbed it until the spiritual were forgotten, and had given rise to all the scandal concerning him that was spread through Christendom, to the shame and dishonour of the Church whose champion he should have been.
Thus may it have come to pass that he summoned none of his children in his last hours, nor suffered their names to cross his lips.
When the news of his father's death was brought to Cesare, the duke, all fever-racked as he was, more dead than living, considered his position and issued his orders to Michele da Corella, that most faithful of all his captains, who so richly shared with Cesare the execration of the latter's enemies.
Of tears for his father there is no record, just as at no time are we allowed to see that stern spirit giving way to any emotion, conceiving any affection, or working ever for the good of any but himself. Besides, in such an hour as this, the consciousness of the danger in which he stood by virtue of the Pope's death and his own most inopportune sickness, which disabled him from taking action to make his future secure, must have concerned him to the exclusion of all else.
Meanwhile, however, Rome was quiet, held so in the iron grip of Michele da Corella and the ducal troops. The Pope's death was being kept secret for the moment, and was not announced to the people until nightfall, by when Corella had carried out his master's orders, including the seizure of the Pope's treasure. And Burchard tells us how some of Valentinois's men entered the Vatican—all the gates of which were held by the ducal troops—and, seizing Cardinal Casanova, they demanded, with a dagger at his throat and a threat to fling his corpse from the windows if he refused them, the Pope's keys. These the cardinal surrendered, and Corella possessed himself of plate and jewels to the value of some 200,000 ducats, besides two caskets containing about 100,000 ducats in gold. Thereafter the servants of the palace completed the pillage by ransacking the wardrobes and taking all they could find, so that nothing was left in the papal apartments but the chairs, a few cushions, and the tapestries of the walls.
All his life Alexander had been the victim of the most ribald calumnies. Stories had ever sprung up and thriven, like ill weeds, about his name and reputation. His sins, great and scandalous in themselves, were swelled by popular rumour, under the spur of malice, to monstrous and incredible proportions. As they had exaggerated and lied about the manner of his life, so—with a consistency worthy of better scope—they exaggerated and lied about the manner of his death, and, the age being a credulous one, the stories were such that writers of more modern and less credulous times dare not insist upon them, lest they should discredit—as they do—what else has been alleged against him.
Thus when, in his last delirium, the Pope uttered some such words as: "I am coming; I am coming. It is just. But wait a little," and when those words were repeated, it was straightway asserted that the Devil was the being he thus addressed in that supreme hour. The story grew in detail; that is inevitable with such matter. He had bargained with the devil, it was said, for a pontificate of twelve years, and, the time being completed, the devil was come for him. And presently, we even have a description of Messer the Devil as he appeared on that occasion—in the shape of a baboon. The Marquis Gonzaga of Mantua, in all seriousness, writes to relate this. The chronicler Sanuto, receiving the now popularly current story from another source, in all seriousness gives it place in his Diarii, thus:
"The devil was seen to leap out of the room in the shape of a baboon. And a cardinal ran to seize him, and, having caught him, would have presented him to the Pope; but the Pope said, 'Let him go, let him go. It is the devil,' and that night he fell ill and died."(1)
That story, transcending the things which this more practical age considers possible, is universally rejected; but it is of vast importance to the historical student; for it is to be borne in mind that it finds a place in the pages of those same Diarii upon the authority of which are accepted many defamatory stories without regard to their extreme improbability so long as they are within the bounds of bare possibility.
After Alexander was dead it was said that water boiled in his mouth, and that steam issued from it as he lay in St. Peter's, and much else of the same sort, which the known laws of physiology compel so many of us very reluctantly to account exaggerations. But, again, remember that the source of these stories was the same as the source of many other exaggerations not at issue with physiological laws.
The circumstances of Alexander's funeral are in the highest degree scandalous, and reflect the greatest discredit upon his age.
On the morrow, as the clergy were chanting the Libera me, Domine in St. Peter's, where the body was exposed on a catafalque in full pontificals, a riot occurred, set on foot by the soldiers present for reasons which Burchard—who records the event—does not make clear.
The clerics fled for shelter to the sacristy, the chants were cut short, and the Pope's body almost entirely abandoned.
But the most scandalous happening occurred twenty-four hours later. The Pope's remains were removed to the Chapel of Santa Maria delle Febbre by six bearers who laughed and jested at the expense of the poor corpse, which was in case to provoke the coarse mirth of the lower classes of an age which, setting no value upon human life, knew no respect for death. By virtue of the malady that had killed him, of his plethoric habit of body, and of the sweltering August heat, the corpse was decomposing rapidly, so that the face had become almost black and assumed an aspect grotesquely horrible, fully described by Burchard:
"Factus est sicut pannus vel morus nigerrimus, livoris totus plenus, nasus plenus, os amplissimum, lingua duplex in ore, que labia tota implebat, os apertum et adeo horribile quod nemo viderit unquam vel esse tale dixerit."
Two carpenters waited in the chapel with the coffin which they had brought; but, either through carelessness it had been made too narrow and too short, or else the body, owing to its swollen condition, did not readily fit into this receptable; whereupon, removing the mitre, for which there was no room, they replaced it by a piece of old carpet, and set themselves to force and pound the corpse into the coffin. And this was done "without candle or any light being burned in honour of the dead, and without the presence of any priest or other person to care for the Pope's remains." No explanation of this is forthcoming; it was probably due to the panic earlier occasioned the clergy by the ducal men-at-arms.
The story that he had been poisoned was already spreading like a conflagration through Rome, arising out of the appearance of the body, which was such as was popularly associated with venenation.
But a Borgia in the role of a victim was altogether too unusual to be acceptable, and too much opposed to the taste to which the public had been educated; so the story must be edited and modified until suitable for popular consumption. The supper-party at Cardinal Corneto's villa was remembered, and upon that a tale was founded, and trimmed by degrees into plausible shape.
Alexander had intended to poison Corneto—so ran this tale—that he might possess himself of the cardinal's vast riches; in the main a well-worn story by now. To this end Cesare had bribed a butler to pour wine for the cardinal from a flask which he entrusted to him. Exit Cesare. Exit presently the butler, carelessly leaving the poisoned wine upon a buffet. (The drama, you will observe, is perfectly mechanical, full of author's interventions, and elementary in its "preparations"). Enter the Pope. He thirsts, and calls for wine. A servant hastens; takes up, of course, the poisoned flask in ignorance of its true quality, and pours for his Beatitude. Whilst the Pope drinks re-enters Cesare, also athirst, and, seating himself, he joins the Pope in the poisoned wine, all unsuspicious and having taken no precautions to mark the flask. Poetic justice is done, and down comes the curtain upon that preposterous tragi-farce.
Such is the story which Guicciardini and Giovio and a host of other more or less eminent historians have had the audacity to lay before their readers as being the true circumstances of the death of Alexander VI.
It is a noteworthy matter that in all that concerns the history of the House of Borgia, and more particularly those incidents in it that are wrapped in mystery, circumstantial elucidation has a habit of proceeding from the same quarters.
You will remember, for instance, that the Venetian Paolo Capello (though not in Rome at the time) was one of those who was best informed in the matter of the murder of the Duke of Gandia. And it was Capello again who was possessed of the complete details of the scarcely less mysterious business of Alfonso of Aragon. Another who on the subject of the murder of Gandia "had no doubts"—as he himself expressed it—was Pietro Martire d'Anghiera, in Spain at the time, whence he wrote to inform Italy of the true circumstances of a case that had happened in Italy.
It is again Pietro Martire d'Anghiera who, on November 10, 1503, writes from Burgos in Spain to inform Rome of the true facts of Alexander's death—for it is in that letter of his that the tale of the flask of wine, as here set down, finds place for the first time.
It is unprofitable to pursue the matter further, since at this time of day even the most reluctant to reject anything that tells against a Borgia have been compelled to admit that the burden of evidence is altogether too overwhelming in this instance, and that it is proved to the hilt that Alexander died of the tertian fever then ravaging Rome.
And just as the Pope's death was the subject of the wildest fictions which have survived until very recent days, so too, was Cesare's recovery.
Again, it was the same Pietro Martire d'Anghiera who from Burgos wrote to inform Rome of what was taking place in the privacy of the Duke of Valentinois's apartments in the Vatican. Under his facile and magic pen, the jar of ice-cold water into which Cesare was believed to have been plunged was transmuted into a mule which was ripped open that the fever-stricken Cesare might be packed into the pulsating entrails, there to sweat the fever out of him.
But so poor and sexless a beast as this seeming in the popular mind inadequate to a man of Cesare's mettle, it presently improved upon and converted it into a bull—so much more appropriate, too, as being the emblem of his house.
Nor does it seem that even then the story has gone far enough. Facilis inventis addere. There comes a French writer with an essay on the Borgias, than which—submitted as sober fact—nothing more amazingly lurid has been written. In this, with a suggestive cleverness entirely Gallic, he causes us to gather an impression of Cesare in the intestinal sudatorium of that eventrated bull, as of one who is at once the hierophant and devotee of a monstrous, foul, and unclean rite of some unspeakable religion—a rite by comparison with which the Black Mass of the Abbé Gribourg becomes a sweet and wholesome thing.
But hear the man himself:
"Cet homme de meurtres et d'inceste, incarné dans l'animal des hécatombes et des bestialités antiques en évoque les monstrueuses images. Je crois entendre le taureau de Phalaris et le taureau de Pasiphaë répondre, de loin, par d'effrayants mugissements, aux cris humains de ce bucentaure."
That is the top note on this subject. Hereafter all must pale to anti-climax.
Chapter II. Pius III
- Raphael Sabatini
The fever that racked Cesare Borgia's body in those days can have been as nothing to the fever that racked his mind, the despairing rage that must have whelmed his soul to see the unexpected—the one contingency against which he had not provided—cutting the very ground from underneath his feet.
As he afterwards expressed himself to Macchiavelli, and as Macchiavelli has left on record, Cesare had thought of everything, had provided for everything that might happen on his father's death, save that in such a season—when more than ever he should have need for all his strength of body and of mind—he should, himself, be lying at the point of death.
Scarce was Alexander's body cold than the duke's enemies began to lift their heads. Already by the 20th of that month—two days after the Pope had breathed his last—the Orsini were in arms and had led a rising, in retort to which Michele da Corella fired their palace on Montegiordano.
Venice and Florence bethought them that the protection of France had been expressly for the Church and not for Cesare personally. So the Venetians at once supplied Guidobaldo da Montefeltre with troops wherewith to reconquer his dominions, and by the 24th he was master of S. Leo. In the city of Urbino itself Ramires, the governor, held out as long as possible, then beat a retreat to Cesena, whilst Valentinois's partisans in Urbino were mercilessly slaughtered and their houses pillaged.
Florence supported the Baglioni in the conquest of Magione from the Borgias, and they aided Giacopo d'Appiano to repossess himself of Piombino, which had so gladly seen him depart out of it eighteen months ago.
From Magione, Gianpaolo Baglioni marches his Florentine troops to Camerino to aid the only remaining Varano to regain the tyranny of his fathers. The Vitelli are back in Città di Castello, carrying a golden calf in triumph through the streets; and so by the end of August, within less than a fortnight, all the appendages of the Romagna are lost to Cesare, whilst at Cesare's very gates the Orsini men-at-arms are clamouring with insistent menace.
The Duke's best friend, in that crisis, was his secretary Agabito Gherardi. For it is eminently probable—as Alvisi opines—that it was Gherardi who urged his master to make an alliance with the Colonna, Gherardi himself being related to that powerful family. The alliance of these old enemies—Colonna and Borgia—was in their common interests, that they might stand against their common enemy, Orsini—the old friends of the Borgias.
On August 22 Prospero Colonna came to Rome, and terms were made and cemented, in the usual manner, by a betrothal—that of the little Rodrigo—(Lucrezia's child)—to a daughter of the House of Colonna. On the same day the Sacred College confirmed Cesare in his office of Captain-General and Gonfalonier of the Church, pending the election of a new Pope.
Meanwhile, sick almost to the point of death, and scarce able to stir hand or foot, so weak in body had he been left by the heroic treatment to which he had submitted, Cesare continued mentally a miracle of energy and self-possession. He issued orders for the fortifying of the Vatican, and summoned from Romagna 200 horse and 1,000 foot to his aid in Rome, bidding Remolino, who brought these troops, to quarter himself at Orvieto, and there await his further orders.
Considering that the Colonna were fighting in Naples under the banner of Gonzalo de Cordoba, it was naturally enough supposed, from Cesare's alliance with the former, that this time he was resolved to go over to the side of Spain. Of this, M. de Trans came to protest to Valentinois on behalf of Louis XII, to be answered by the duke's assurances that the alliance into which he had entered was strictly confined to the Colonna, that it entailed no treaty with Spain; nor had he entered into any; that his loyalty to the King of France continued unimpaired, and that he was ready to support King Louis with the entire forces he disposed of, whenever his Majesty should desire him so to do. In reply, he was assured by the French ambassador and Cardinal Sanseverino of the continued protection of Louis, and that France would aid him to maintain his dominions in Italy and reconquer any that might have seceded; and of this declaration copies were sent to Florence, Venice, and Bologna on September 1, as a warning to those Powers not to engage in anything to the hurt of Valentinois.
Thus sped the time of the novendiali—the nine days' obsequies of the dead Pope—which were commenced on September 4.
As during the conclave that was immediately to follow it was against the law for armed men to be in Rome, Cesare was desired by the Sacred College to withdraw his troops. He did so on September 2, and himself went with them.
Cardinal Sanseverino and the French ambassador escorted him out of Rome and saw him take the road to Nepi—a weak, fever-ravaged, emaciated man, borne in a litter by a dozen of his halberdiers, his youth, his beauty, his matchless strength of body all sapped from him by the insidious disease which had but grudgingly spared his very life.
At Nepi he was awaited by his brother Giuffredo, who had preceded him thither from Rome. A shadowy personage this Giuffredo, whose unimportant personality is tantalizingly elusive in the pages where mention is made of him. His incontinent wife, Doña Sancia, had gone to Naples under the escort of Prospero Colonna, having left the Castle of Sant' Angelo where for some time she had been confined by order of her father-in-law, the Pope, on account of the disorders of her frivolous life.
And now the advices of the fresh treaty between Cesare Borgia and the King of France were producing their effect upon Venice and Florence, who were given additional pause by the fierce jealousy of each other, which was second only to their jealousy of the duke.
From Venice—with or without the sanction of his Government—Bartolomeo d'Alviano had ridden south into the Romagna with his condotta immediately upon receiving news of the death of Alexander, and, finding Pandolfaccio Malatesta at Ravenna, he proceeded to accompany him back to that Rimini which the tyrant had sold to Cesare. Rimini, however, refused to receive him back, and showed fight to the forces under d'Alviano. So that, for the moment, nothing was accomplished. Whereupon the Republic, which at first had raised a feeble, make-believe protest at the action of her condottiero, now deemed it as well to find a pretext for supporting him. So Venice alleged that a courier of hers had been stripped of a letter, and, with such an overwhelming cause as that for hostilities, dispatched reinforcements to d'Alviano to the end that he might restore Pandolfaccio to a dominion in which he was abhorred. Further, d'Alviano was thereafter to proceed to do the like office for Giovanni Sforza, who already had taken ship for Pesaro, and who was restored to his lordship on September 3.
Thence, carrying the war into the Romagna itself, d'Alviano marched upon Cesena. But the Romagna was staunch and loyal to her duke. The governor had shut himself up in Cesena with what troops he could muster, including a thousand veterans under the valiant Dionigio di Naldo, and there, standing firm and resolute, he awaited the onslaught of the Venetians.
D'Alviano advanced rapidly and cruelly, a devastator laying waste the country in his passage, until to check him came suddenly the Borgia troops, which had ventured upon a sally. The Venetians were routed and put to flight.
On September 16 the restored tyrants of Rimini, Pesaro, Castello, Perugia, Camerino, Urbino, and Sinigaglia entered into and signed at Perugia a league, whose chiefs were Bartolomeo d'Alviano and Gianpaolo Baglioni, for their common protection.
Florence was invited to join the allies. Intimidated, however, by France, not only did the Signory refuse to be included, but—in her usual manner—actually went so far as to advise Cesare Borgia of that refusal and to offer him her services and help.
On the same date the Sacred College assembled in Rome, at the Mass of the Holy Spirit, to beseech the grace of inspiration in the election of the new Pontiff. The part usually played by the divine afflatus in these matters was so fully understood and appreciated that the Venetian ambassador received instructions from the Republic(1) to order the Venetian cardinals to vote for Giuliano della Rovere, whilst the King of France sent a letter—in his own hand—to the Sacred College desiring it to elect his friend the Cardinal d'Amboise, and Spain, at the same time, sought to influence the election of Carvajal.
The chances of the last-named do not appear ever to have amounted to very much. The three best supported candidates were della Rovere, d'Amboise, and Ascanio Sforza—who made his reappearance in Rome, released from his French prison at last, in time to attend this Conclave.
None of these three factions was strong enough to ensure the election of its own candidate, but any two were strong enough to prevent the election of the candidate of the third. Wherefore it happened that, as a result of so much jealousy and competition, recourse was had to temporizing by electing the oldest and feeblest cardinal in the College. Thus there should presently be another election, and meantime the candidates would improve the time by making their arrangements and canvassing their supporters so as to control the votes of the College at that future Conclave. Therefore Francesco Piccolomini, Cardinal of Siena (nephew of Pius II), a feeble octogenarian, tormented by an ulcer, which, in conjunction with an incompetent physician, was to cut his life even shorter than they hoped, was placed upon the throne of St. Peter, and assumed with the Pontificate the name of Pius III.
The new Pope was entirely favourable to Cesare Borgia, and confirmed him in all his offices, signifying his displeasure to Venice at her attempt upon the Romagna, and issuing briefs to the allied tyrants commanding them to desist from their opposition to the will of the Holy See.
Cesare returned to Rome, still weak on his legs and ghastly to behold, and on October 6 he received in St. Peter's his confirmation as Captain-General and Gonfalonier of the Church.
The Venetians had meanwhile been checked by a letter from Louis from lending further assistance to the allies. The latter, however, continued their hostilities in spite of that. They had captured Sinigaglia, and now they made an attempt on Fano and Fermo, but were repulsed in both places by Cesare's loyal subjects. At the same time the Ordelaffi—who in the old days had been deposed from the Tyranny of Forli to make room for the Riarii—deemed the opportunity a good one to attempt to regain their lordship; but their attempt, too, was frustrated.
Cesare sat impotent in Rome, no doubt vexed by his own inaction. He cannot have lacked the will to go to the Romagna to support the subjects who showed him such loyalty; but he lacked the means. Owing to the French and Spanish dispute in Naples, his army had practically melted away. The terms of his treaty with Louis compelled him to send the bulk of it to the camp at Garigliano to support the French, who were in trouble. The force that Remolino had quartered at Orvieto to await the duke's orders he had been unable to retain there. Growing uneasy at their position, and finding it impossible either to advance or to retreat, being threatened on the one side by the Baglioni and on the other by the Orsini, these troops had steadily deserted; whilst most of Cesare's Spanish captains and their followers had gone to the aid of their compatriots under Gonzalo de Cordoba in response to that captain's summons of every Spaniard in the peninsula.
Thus did it come about that Cesare had no force to afford his Romagna subjects. His commissioners in the north did what was possible to repair the damage effected by the allies, and they sent Dionigio di Naldo with six hundred of his foot, and, further, a condotta of two hundred horse, against Rimini. This was captured by them in one day and almost without resistance, Pandolfaccio flying for his life to Pesaro.
Next the allies, by attempting to avenge the rout they had suffered at Cesena, afforded the ducal troops an opportunity of scoring another victory. They prepared a second attack against Cesare's capital, and with an army of considerable strength they advanced to the very walls of the stronghold, laying the aqueduct in ruins and dismantling what other buildings they found in their way. But in Cesena the gallant Pedro Ramires lay in wait for them. Issuing to meet them, he not only put them to flight and drove them for shelter into the fortress of Montebello, but laid siege to them there and broke them utterly, with a loss, as was reputed, of some three hundred men in slain alone.
The news of this came to cheer Valentinois, who, moreover, had now the Pope and France to depend upon. Further, and in view of that same protection, the Orsini were already treating with him for a reconciliation, despite the fact that the Orsini blood was scarce dry upon his hands. But he had a resolute, sly, and desperate enemy in Venice, and on October 10 there arrived in Rome Bartolomeo d'Alviano and Gianpaolo Baglioni, who repaired to the Venetian ambassador and informed him that they were come in quest of the person of Valentinois, intending his death.
To achieve their ends they united themselves to the Orsini, who were now in arms in Rome, their attempted reconciliation with Cesare having aborted. Valentinois's peril became imminent, and from the Vatican he withdrew for shelter to the Castle of Sant' Angelo, going by way of the underground passage built by his father.
Thence he summoned Michele da Corella, who was at Rocca Soriana with his foot, and Taddeo della Volpe (a valiant captain and a great fighter, who had already lost an eye in Cesare's service) and Baldassare Scipione, who were in the Neapolitan territory with their men-at-arms. He was gathering his sinews for a spring, when suddenly the entire face of affairs was altered and all plans were checked by the death of Pius III on October 18, after a reign of twenty-six days.
Once more there was an end to Cesare's credit. No man might say what the future held in store. Giustiniani, indeed, wrote to his Government that Cesare was about to withdraw to France, and that he had besought a safe-conduct of the Orsini—which report is as true as many another communication from the same Venetian pen, ever ready to write what it hoped might be true; and it is flatly contradicted by the better-informed Macchiavelli, who was writing at the same time:
"The duke is in Sant' Angelo, and is more hopeful than ever of accomplishing great things, presupposing a Pope according to the wishes of his friends."
But the Romagna was stirred once more to the turbulence from which it had scarcely settled. Forli and Rimini were lost almost at once, the Ordelaffi succeeding in capturing the former in this their second attempt, whilst Pandolfaccio once more sat in his palace at Rimini, having cut his way to it through a sturdy resistance. Against Imola Bentivogli dispatched a force of two thousand foot; but this was beaten off.
The authority of France appeared to have lost its weight, and in vain did Cardinal d'Amboise thunder threats in the name of his friend King Louis, and send envoys to Florence, Venice, Bologna, and Urbino, to complain of the injuries that were being done to the Duke of Valentinois.
Chapter III. Julius II
- Raphael Sabatini
Giuliano della Rovere, Cardinal of S. Pietro in Vincoli, had much in his character that was reminiscent of his terrible uncle, Sixtus IV. Like that uncle of his, he had many failings highly unbecoming any Christian—laic or ecclesiastic—which no one has attempted to screen; and, incidentally, he cultivated morality in his private life and observed his priestly vows of chastity as little as did any other churchman of his day. For you may see him, through the eyes of Paride de Grassi,(1) unable one Good Friday to remove his shoes for the adoration of the cross in consequence of his foot's affliction—ex morbo gallico. But with one great and splendid virtue was he endowed in the eyes of the enemies of the House of Borgia—contemporary, and subsequent down to our times—a most profound, unchristian, and mordacious hatred of all Borgias.
Roderigo Borgia had defeated him in the Conclave of 1492, and for twelve years had kept him out of the coveted pontificate. You have seen how he found expression for his furious jealousy at his rival's success. You have seen him endeavouring to his utmost to accomplish the deposition of the Borgia Pope, wielding to that end the lever of simony and seeking a fulcrum for it, first in the King of France and later in Ferdinand and Isabella; but failing hopelessly in both instances. You have seen him, when he realized the failure of an attempt which had made Rome too dangerous for him and compelled him to remain in exile, suddenly veering round to fawn and flatter and win the friendship of one whom his enmity could not touch.
This man who, as Julius II, was presently to succeed Pius III, has been accounted a shining light of virtue amid the dark turpitude of the Church in the Renaissance. An ignis fatuus, perhaps; a Jack-o'-lanthorn begotten of putrescence. Surely no more than that.
Dr. Jacob Burckhardt, in that able work of his to which reference already has been made, follows the well-worn path of unrestrained invective against the Borgias, giving to the usual empty assertions the place which should be assigned to evidence and argument. Like his predecessors along that path, he causes Giuliano della Rovere to shine heroically by contrast—a foil to throw into greater relief the blackness of Alexander. But he carries assertion rather further than do others when he says of Cardinal della Rovere that "He ascended the steps of St. Peter's Chair without simony and amid general applause, and with him ceased, at all events, the undisguised traffic in the highest offices of the Church."
Other writers in plenty have suggested this, but none has quite so plainly and resoundingly thrown down the gauntlet, which we will make bold to lift.
That Dr. Burckhardt wrote in other than good faith is not to be imputed. It must therefore follow that an entry in the Diarium of the Caerimoniarius under date of October 29, 1503, escaped him utterly in the course of his researches. For the Diarium informs us that on that day, in the Apostolic Palace, Giuliano della Rovere, Cardinal of S. Pietro in Vincoli, concluded the terms of an agreement with the Duke of Valentinois and the latter's following of Spanish cardinals, by which he undertook that, in consideration of his receiving the votes of these Spanish cardinals and being elected Pope, he would confirm Cesare in his office of Gonfalonier and Captain-General, and would preserve him in the dominion of the Romagna. And, in consideration of that undertaking, the Spanish cardinals, on their side, promised to give him their suffrages.
Here are the precise words in which Burchard records the transaction:
"Eadem die, 29 Octobris, Rmus. D. S. Petri ad Vincula venit in palatio apostolico cum duce Valentino et cardinalibus suis Hispanis et concluserunt capitula eorum per que, inter alia, cardinalis S. Petri ad Vincula, postquam esset papa, crearet confalonierium Ecclesiae generalem ducem ac ei faveret et in statibus suis (relinqueret) et vice versa dux pape; et promiserunt omnes cardinalis Hispani dare votum pro Cardinali S. Petri ad Vincula ad papatum."
If that does not entail simony and sacrilege, then such things do not exist at all. More, you shall hunt in vain for any accusation so authoritative, formal and complete, regarding the simony practised by Alexander VI on his election. And this same Julius, moreover, was the Pope who later was to launch his famous Bull de Simoniaca Electione, to add another stain to the besmirched escutcheon of the Borgia Pontiff.
His conciliation of Cesare and his obtaining, thus, the support of the Spanish cardinals, who, being Alexander's creatures, were now Cesare's very faithful servants, ensured the election of della Rovere; for, whilst those cardinals' votes did not suffice to place him in St. Peter's Chair, they would abundantly have sufficed to have kept him out of it had Cesare so desired them.
In coming to terms with Cardinal della Rovere, Cesare made the first great mistake of his career, took the first step towards ruin. He should have known better than to have trusted such a man. He should have remembered the ancient bitter rancour; should have recognized, in the amity of later times, the amity of the self-seeker, and mistrusted it. But della Rovere had acquired a reputation for honesty and for being a man of his word. How far he deserved it you may judge from what is presently to follow. He had acquired it, however, and Cesare, to his undoing, attached faith to that reputation. He may, to some extent, have counted upon the fact that, of Cardinal della Rovere's bastard children, only a daughter—Felice della Rovere—survived. Raffaele, the last of his bastard boys, had died a year ago. Thus, Cesare may have concluded that the cardinal having no sons whose fortunes he must advance, would lack temptation to break faith with him.
From all this it resulted that, at the Conclave of November 1, Giuliano della Rovere was elected Pope, and took the name of Julius II; whilst Valentinois, confident now that his future was assured, left the Castle of Sant' Angelo to take up his residence at the Vatican, in the Belvedere, with forty gentlemen constituting his suite.
On November 3 Julius II issued briefs to the Romagna, ordering obedience to Cesare, with whom he was now in daily and friendliest intercourse.
In the Romagna, meanwhile, the disturbances had not only continued, but they had taken a fresh turn. Venice, having reseated Malatesta on the throne, now vented at last the covetousness she had ever, herself, manifested of that dominion, and sent a force to drive him out again and conquer Rimini for the Republic.
Florence, in a spasm of jealous anger at this, inquired was the Pope to become the chaplain of Venice, and dispatched Macchiavelli to bear the tale of these doings to Julius.
Under so much perpetual strife the strength of the Romagna was gradually crumbling, and Cesare, angry with Florence for never going beyond lip-service, expressed that anger to Macchiavelli, informing the ambassador that the Signory could have saved the Romagna for him with a hundred men-at-arms.
The duke sent for Giustiniani, the ambassador of Venice, who, however, excused himself and did not go. This within a week of the new Pope's election, showing already how men discerned what was in store for Valentinois. Giustiniani wrote to his Government that he had not gone lest his going should give the duke importance in the eyes of others.(1) The pettiness and meanness of the man, revealed in that dispatch, will enable you to attach to Giustiniani the label that belongs to him.
To cheer Valentinois in those days of depression came news that his subjects of Imola had successfully resisted an attack on the part of the Venetians. So stimulated was he that he prepared at once to go, himself, into the Romagna, and obtained from the Pope, from d'Amboise, and from Soderini, letters to Florence desiring the Signory to afford him safe-conduct through Tuscany for himself and his army.
The Pope expressed himself, in his letter, that he would count such safe-conduct as a great favour to himself, and urged the granting of it out of his "love for Cesare," owing to the latter's "great virtues and shining merits."(2) Yet on the morrow of dispatching that brief, this man, who was accounted honest, straightforward, and imbued with a love of truth, informed Giustiniani—or else Giustiniani lied in his dispatches—that he understood that the Venetians were assailing the Romagna, not out of enmity to the Church, but to punish the demerits of Cesare, and he made it plain to Giustiniani that, if he complained of the conduct of the Venetians, it was on his own behalf and not on Cesare's, as his aim was to preserve the Romagna, not for the duke, but for the Church.
With the aim we have no quarrel. It was laudable enough in a Pontiff. But it foreshadows Cesare's ruin, in spite of the love-protesting letter to Florence, in spite of the bargain struck by virtue of which Julius had obtained the pontificate. Whether the Pope went further in his treachery, whether, having dispatched that brief to Florence, he sent other communications to the Signory, is not ascertainable; but the suspicion of some such secret action is inspired by what ensued.
On November 13 Cesare was ready to leave Rome; but no safe-conduct had arrived. Out of all patience at this, he begged the Pope that the captain of the pontifical navy should prepare him five galleons at Ostia, by which he could take his foot to Genoa, and thence proceed into Romagna by way of Ferrara.
Macchiavelli, at the same time, was frenziedly importuning Florence to grant the duke the desired safe-conduct lest in despair Cesare should make a treaty with Venice—"or with the devil"—and should go to Pisa, employing all his money, strength, and influence to vent his wrath upon the Signory. But the Signory knew more, perhaps, than did Macchiavelli, for no attention was paid to his urgent advice.
On the 19th Cesare left Rome to set out for Genoa by way of Ostia, and his departure threw Giustiniani into alarm—fearing that the duke would now escape.
But there was no occasion for his fears. On the very day of Cesare's departure Julius sent fresh briefs to the Romagna, different indeed from those of November 3. In these he now expressed his disapproval of Alexander's having conferred the vicarship of the Romagna upon Cesare Borgia, and he exhorted all to range themselves under the banner of the Church, under whose protection he intended to keep them.
Events followed quickly upon that. Two days later news reached the Pope that the Venetians had captured Faenza, whereupon he sent a messenger after Valentinois to suggest to the latter that he should surrender Forli and the other fiefs into pontifical hands. With this Cesare refused to comply, and, as a result, he was detained by the captain of the navy, in obedience to the instructions from Julius. At the same time the Pope broke the last link of the treaty with Cesare by appointing a new Governor of Romagna in the person of Giovanni Sacchi, Bishop of Ragusa. He commanded the latter to take possession of the Romagna in the name of the Church, and he issued another brief—the third within three weeks—demanding the State's obedience to the new governor.
On November 26, Remolino, who had been at Ostia with Cesar; came to Rome, and, throwing himself at the feet of the Pontiff, begged for mercy for his lord, whom he now accounted lost. He promised Julius that Cesare should give him the countersigns of the strongholds, together with security for their surrender. This being all that the Pope could desire, he issued orders that Cesare be brought back to Rome, and in Consistory advised the Sacred College—by way, no doubt, of exculpating himself to men who knew that he was refusing to pay the price at which he had bought the Papacy—that the Venetians in the Romagna were not moving against the Church, but against Cesare himself—wherefore he had demanded of Cesare the surrender of the towns he held, that thus there might be an end to the war.
It was specious—which is the best that can be said for it.
As for putting an end to the war, the papal brief was far indeed from achieving any such thing, as was instantly plain from the reception it met with in the Romagna, which persisted in its loyalty to Cesare in despite of the very Pope himself. When that brief was read in Cesena a wild tumult ensued, and the people ran through the streets clamouring angrily for their duke.
It was very plain what short work would have been made of such men as the Ordelaffi and the Malatesta had Cesare gone north. But Cesare was fast at the Vatican, treated by the Pope with all outward friendliness and consideration, but virtually a prisoner none the less. Julius continued to press for the surrender of the Romagna strongholds, which Remolino had promised in his master's name; but Cesare persisted obstinately to refuse, until the news reached him that Michele da Corella and della Volpe, who had gone north with seven hundred horse to support his Romagnuoli, had been cut to pieces in Tuscany by the army of Gianpaolo Baglioni.
Cesare bore his burning grievance to the Pope. The Pope sympathized with him most deeply; then went to write a letter to the Florentines to thank them for what had befallen and to beg them to send him Michele da Corella under a strong escort—that redoubtable captain having been taken prisoner together with della Volpe.
Corella was known to be fully in the duke's confidence, and there were rumours that he was accused of many things perpetrated on the duke's behalf. Julius, bent now on Cesare's ruin, desired to possess himself of this man in the hope of being able to put him upon his trial under charges which should reflect discredit upon Cesare.
At last the duke realized that he was betrayed, and that all was lost, and so he submitted to the inevitable, and gave the Pope the countersigns he craved. With these Julius at once dispatched an envoy into the Romagna, and, knowing the temper of Cesare's captains, he insisted that this envoy should be accompanied by Piero d'Orvieto, as Cesare's own commissioner, to demand that surrender.
But the intrepid Pedro Ramires, who held Cesena, knowing the true facts of the case, and conceiving how his duke had been constrained, instead of making ready to yield, proceeded further to fortify for resistance. When the commissioners appeared before his gates he ordered the admission of Piero d'Orvieto. That done, he declared that he desired to see his duke at liberty before he would surrender the citadel which he held for him, and, taking d'Orvieto, he hanged him from the battlements as a traitor and a bad servant who did a thing which the duke, had he been at liberty, would never have had him do.
Moncalieri, the papal envoy, returned to Rome with the news, and this so inflamed the Pope that the Cardinals Lodovico Borgia and Francesco Remolino, together with other Borgia partisans, instantly fled from Rome, where they no longer accounted themselves safe, and sought refuge with Gonzalo de Cordoba in the Spanish camp at Naples, imploring his protection at the same time for Cesare.
The Pope's anger first vented itself in the confiscation of the Duke of Valentinois's property wherever possible, to satisfy the claims of the Riarii (the Pope's nephews) who demanded an indemnity of 50,000 ducats, of Guidobaldo, who demanded 200,000 ducats, and of the Florentine Republic, which claimed the same. The duke's ruin was by now—within six weeks of the election of Julius II—an accomplished fact; and many were those who chose to fall with him rather than abandon him in his extremity. They afford a spectacle of honour and loyalty that was exceedingly rare in the Italy of the Renaissance; clinging to their duke, even when the last ray of hope was quenched, they lightened for him the tedium of those last days at the Vatican during which he was no better than a prisoner of state.
Suddenly came news of Gonzalo de Cordoba's splendid victory at Garigliano—a victory which definitely broke the French and gave the throne of Naples to Spain. Naturally this set Spanish influence once more, and mightily, in the ascendant, and the Spanish cardinals, together with the ambassador of Spain, came to exert with the Pope an influence suddenly grown weighty.
As a consequence, Cesare, escorted by Carvajal, Cardinal of Santa Croce, was permitted to depart to Ostia, whence he was to take ship for France. Leastways, such was the understanding upon which he left the Vatican. But the Pope was not minded, even now, to part with him so easily, and his instructions to Carvajal were that at Ostia he should await further orders before sailing.
But on December 26, news reaching the Spanish cardinal that the Romagna fortresses—persuaded that Cesare had been liberated—had finally surrendered, Carvajal took it upon himself to allow Cesare to depart, upon receiving from him a written undertaking never to bear arms against Pope Julius II.
So the Duke of Valentinois at last regained his freedom. Whether, in repairing straight to Naples, as he did, he put a preconceived plan into execution, or whether, even now, he mistrusted his enlargement, and thought thus to make himself secure, cannot be ascertained. But straight to Gonzalo de Cordoba's Spanish camp he went, equipped with a safe-conduct from the Great Captain, obtained for Cesare by Cardinal Remolino.
There he found a court of friends already awaiting him, among whom were his brother Giuffredo and the Cardinal Lodovico Borgia, and he received from Gonzalo a very cordial welcome.
Spain was considering the invasion of Tuscany with the ultimate object of assailing Milan and driving the French out of the peninsula altogether. Piero de' Medici—killed at Garigliano—had no doubt been serving Spain with some such end in view as the conquest of Florence, and, though Piero was dead, there was no reason why the plan should be abandoned; rather, all the more reason to carry it forward, since now Spain would more directly profit by it. Bartolomeo d'Alviano was to have commanded the army destined for that campaign; but Cesare, by virtue of his friends and influence in Pisa, Siena, and Piombino, was so preferable a captain for such an expedition that Gonzalo gave him charge of it within a few days of his arrival at the Spanish camp.
To Cesare this would have been the thin end of a mighty edge. Here was a chance to begin all over again, and, beginning thus, backed by Spanish arms, there was no saying how far he might have gone. Meanwhile, what a beginning! To avenge himself thus upon that Florentine Republic which, under the protection of France, had dared at every turn to flout him and had been the instrument of his ultimate ruin! Sweet to him would have been the poetic justice he would have administered—as sweet to him as it would have been terrible to Florence, upon which he would have descended like another scourge of God.
Briskly and with high-running hopes he set about his preparations during that spring of 1504 what time the Pope's Holiness in Rome was seeking to justify his treachery by heaping odium upon the Borgias. Thus he thought to show that if he had broken faith, he had broken faith with knaves deserving none. It was in pursuit of this that Michele da Corella was now pressed with questions, which, however, yielded nothing, and that Asquino de Colloredo (the sometime servant of Cardinal Michaeli) was tortured into confessing that he had poisoned his master at the instigation of Alexander and Cesare—as has been seen—which confession Pope Julius was very quick to publish.
But in Naples, it may well be that Cesare cared nought for these matters, busy and hopeful as he was just then. He dispatched Baldassare da Scipione to Rome to enlist what lances he could find, and Scipione put it about that his lord would soon be returning to his own and giving his enemies something to think about.
And then, suddenly, out of clearest heavens, fell a thunderbolt to shiver this last hope.
On the night of May 26, as Cesare was leaving Gonzalo's quarters, where he had supped, an officer stepped forward to demand his sword. He was under arrest.
Julius II had out-manoeuvred him. He had written to Spain setting forth what was his agreement with Valentinois in the matter of the Romagna—the original agreement which was the price of the Pontificate, had, of course, been conveniently effaced from the pontifical memory. He addressed passionate complaints to Ferdinand and Isabella that Gonzalo de Cordoba and Cardinal Carvajal between them were affording Valentinois the means to break that agreement, and to undertake matters that were hostile to the Holy See. And Ferdinand and Isabella had put it upon Gonzalo de Cordoba, that most honourable and gallant captain, to do this thing in gross violation of his safe-conduct and plighted word to Valentinois. It was a deed under the shame of which the Great Captain confessedly laboured to the end of his days, as his memory has laboured under it ever since. For great captains are not afforded the immunity enjoyed by priests and popes jointly with other wearers of the petticoat from the consequences of falsehood and violated trust.
Fierce and bitter were Valentinois's reproaches of the Great Captain for this treachery—as fierce and bitter as they were unavailing. On August 20, 1504, Cesare Borgia took ship for Spain—a prisoner bound for a Spanish dungeon. Thus, at the early age of twenty-nine, he passed from Italy and the deeds that well might have filled a lifetime.
Conspicuous amid those he left behind him who remained loyal to their duke was Baldassare Scipione, who published throughout Christendom a cartel, wherein he challenged to trial by combat any Spaniard who dared deny that the Duke of Valentinois had been detained a prisoner in Naples in spite of the safe-conduct granted him in the name of Ferdinand and Isabella, "with great shame and infamy to their crown."(1)
This challenge was never taken up.
Amongst other loyal ones was that fine soldier of fortune, Taddeo della Volpe, who, in his Florentine prison, refused all offers to enter the service of the Signory until he had learnt that his lord was gone from Italy.
Fracassa and Mirafuente had held Forli until they received guarantees for Cesare's safety (after he had left Ostia to repair to the Spanish camp). They then rode out, with the honours of war, lance on thigh. Dionigio di Naldo, that hardy captain of foot, entered the service of Venice; but to the end he wore the device of his dear lord, and imposed the same upon all who served under his banner.
Don Michele da Corella was liberated by Julius II after an interrogatory which can have revealed nothing defamatory to Cesare or his father; as it is unthinkable that a Pope who did all that man could do to ruin the House of Borgia and to befoul its memory, should have preserved silence touching any such revelations as were hoped for when Corella was put to torture. That most faithful of all Cesare's officers—and sharer of the odium that has been heaped upon Cesare's name—entered the service of the Signory of Florence.
Chapter IV. Atropos
- Raphael Sabatini
Vain were the exertions put forth by the Spanish cardinals to obtain Cesare's enlargement, and vainer still the efforts of his sister Lucrezia, who wrote letter after letter to Francesco Gonzaga of Mantua—now Gonfalonier of the Church, and a man of influence at the Vatican—imploring him to use his interest with the Pope to the same end.
Julius II remained unmoved, fearing the power of Cesare Borgia, and resolved that he should trouble Italy no more. On the score of that, no blame attaches to the Pope. The States which Borgia had conquered in the name of the Church should remain adherent to the Church. Upon that Julius was resolved, and the resolve was highly laudable. He would have no duke who controlled such a following as did Cesare, using those States as stepping-stones to greater dominions in which, no doubt, he would later have absorbed them, alienating them, so, from the Holy See.
In all this Julius II was most fully justified. The odious matter in his conduct, however, is the abominable treachery it entailed, following as it did upon the undertaking by virtue of which he gained the tiara.
For some months after his arrival in Spain, Cesare was confined in the prison of Chinchilla, whence—as a result, it is said, of an attempt on his part to throw the governor bodily over the battlements—he was removed to the fortress of Medina del Campo, and kept well guarded by orders of the Pope.
Rumours that he had been liberated by the King of Spain overran the Romagna more than once, and set the country in a ferment, even reaching the Vatican and shaking the stout-hearted Julius into alarm.
One chance of regaining his ancient might, and wreaking a sweet and terrific vengeance upon his betrayers came very close to him, but passed him by. This chance occurred in 1505, when—Queen Isabella being dead—King Ferdinand discovered that Gonzalo de Cordoba was playing him false in Naples. The Spanish king conceived a plan—according to the chronicles of Zurita—to employ Cesare as a flail for the punishment of the Great Captain. He proposed to liberate the duke, set him at the head of an army, and loose him upon Naples, trusting to the formidable alliance of Cesare's military talents with his hatred of Gonzalo—who had betrayed him—to work the will of his Catholic Majesty.
Unfortunately for Cesare, there were difficulties. Ferdinand's power was no longer absolute in Castille now that Isabella was dead. He sought to overcome these difficulties; but the process was a slow one, and in the course of it, spurred also by increased proofs of his lieutenant's perfidy, Ferdinand lost patience, and determined—the case having grown urgent—to go to Naples in person to deal with Gonzalo.
Plainly, Cesare's good fortune, which once had been proverbial, had now utterly deserted him.
He had received news of what was afoot, and his hopes had run high once more, only to suffer cruel frustration when he learnt that Ferdinand had sailed, himself, for Naples. In his despair the duke roused himself to a last effort to win his freedom.
His treatment in prison was fairly liberal, such as is usually measured out to state prisoners of consideration. He was allowed his own chaplain and several attendants, and, whilst closely guarded and confined to the Homenaje Tower of the fortress, yet he was not oppressively restrained. He was accorded certain privileges and liberties; he enjoyed the faculty of corresponding with the outer world, and even of receiving visits. Amongst his visitors was the Count of Benavente—a powerful lord of the neighbourhood, who, coming under the spell of Cesare's fascination, became so attached to him, and so resolved to do his will and effect his liberation, that—says Zurita—he was prepared even to go the length of accomplishing it by force of arms should no other way present itself.(1)
Another way, however, did present itself, and Benavente and the duke hatched a plot of evasion in which they had the collaboration of the chaplain and a servant of the governor's, named Garcia.
One September night a cord was let down from the crenels of the tower, and by this the duke was to descend from his window to the castle ditch, where Benavente's men awaited him. Garcia was to go with him since, naturally, it would not be safe for the servants to remain behind, and Garcia now let himself down that rope, hand over hand, from the terrible height of the duke's window. It was only when he had reached the end of it that he discovered that the rope was not long enough, and that below him there was still a chasm that might well have appalled even desperate men.
To return was impossible. The duke above was growing impatient. Garcia loosed his hold, and dropped the remainder of the distance, breaking both his legs in the fall. Groaning, he lay there in the ditch, whilst hand over hand now came the agile, athletic duke, unconscious of his predecessor's fate, and of what awaited him at the end. He reached it, and was dangling there, perhaps undecided whether or not to take that daring leap, when suddenly his doubts were resolved for him. His evasion was already discovered. The castle was in alarm, and some one above him cut the rope and precipitated him into the ditch.
Benavente's men—we do not know how many of them were at hand—ran to him instantly. They found him seriously injured, and that he, too, had broken bones is beyond doubt. They lifted him up, and bore him with all speed to the horses. They contrived, somehow, to mount him upon one, and, holding him in the saddle, they rode off as fast as was possible under the circumstances. There was no time to go back for the unfortunate Garcia. The castle was all astir by now to stop the fugitives, and to have returned would have been to suffer capture themselves as well as the duke, without availing the servant.
So poor Garcia was left to his fate. He was found by the governor where he had fallen, and he was immediately put to death.
If the people of Medina organized a pursuit it availed them nothing, for Cesare was carried safely to Benavente's stronghold at Villalon.
There he lay for some five or six weeks to recover from the hurts he had taken in escaping, and to allow his hands—the bones of which were broken—to become whole again. At last, being in the main recovered, though with hands still bandaged, he set out with two attendants and made for Santander. Thence they took ship to Castro Urdiales, Cesare aiming now at reaching the kingdom of Navarre and the protection of his brother-in-law the king.
At the inn at Santander, where, weary and famished, they sat down to dine after one of the grooms had made arrangements for a boat, they had a near escape of capture. The alcalde, hearing of the presence of these strangers, and his suspicions being aroused by the recklessly high price they had agreed to pay the owner of the vessel which they had engaged, came to examine them. But they had a tale ready that they were wheat-merchants in great haste to reach Bernico, that a cargo of wheat awaited them there, and that they would suffer great loss by delay. The tale was smooth enough to satisfy the alcalde, and they were allowed to depart. They reached Castro Urdiales safely, but were delayed there for two days, owing to the total lack of horses; and they were forced, in the end, to proceed upon mules obtained from a neighbouring convent. On these they rode to Durango, where they procured two fresh mules and a horse, and so, after further similar vicissitudes, they arrived at Pampeluna on December 3, 1506, and Cesare startled the Court of his brother-in-law, King Jean of Navarre, by suddenly appearing in it—"like the devil."
The news of his evasion had already spread to Italy and set it in a ferment, inspiring actual fear at the Vatican. The Romagna was encouraged by it to break out into open and armed insurrection against the harsh rule of Julius II—who seems to have been rendered positively vindictive towards the Romagnuoli by their fidelity to Valentinois. Thus had the Romagna fallen again into the old state of insufferable oppression from which Cesare had once delivered it. The hopes of the Romagnuoli rose in a measure, as the alarm spread among the enemies of Cesare—for Florence and Venice shared now the anxiety of the Vatican. Zurita, commenting upon this state of things, pays Cesare the following compliment, which the facts confirm as just:
"The duke was such that his very presence was enough to set all Italy agog; and he was greatly beloved, not only by men of war, but also by many people of Tuscany and of the States of the Church."
Cesare's wife—Charlotte d'Albret—whom he had not seen since that September of 1499, was at Bourges at the Court of her friend, the saintly, repudiated first wife of Louis XII. It is to be supposed that she would be advised of her husband's presence at her brother's Court; but there is no information on this score, nor do we know that they ever met.
Within four days of reaching Pampeluna Cesare dispatched his secretary Federico into Italy to bear the news of his escape to his sister Lucrezia at Ferrara, and a letter to Francesco Gonzaga, of Mantua, which was little more than one of introduction, the more important matters to be conveyed to Gonzaga going, no doubt, by word of mouth. Federico was arrested at Bologna by order of Julius II, after he had discharged his mission.
France was now Cesare's only hope, and he wrote to Louis begging his royal leave to come to take his rank as a prince of that country, and to serve her.
You may justly have opined, long since, that the story here set down is one never-ending record of treacheries and betrayals. But you will find little to surpass the one to come. The behaviour of Louis at this juncture is contemptible beyond words, obeying as it does the maxim of that age, which had it that no inconvenient engagement should be observed if there was opportunity for breaking it.
Following this detestable maxim, Louis XII had actually gone the length of never paying to Charlotte d'Albret the dot of 100,000 livres Tournois, to which he had engaged himself by written contract. When Cesare, in prison at Medina and in straits for money, had solicited payment through his brother-in-law of Navarre, his claim had been contemptuously disregarded.
But there was worse to follow. Louis now answered Cesare's request for leave to come to France by a letter (quoted in full by M. Yriarte from the Archives des Basses Pyrénées) in which his Very Christian Majesty announces that the duchy of Valentinois and the County of Dyois have been restored to the crown of France, as also the lordship of Issoudun. And then follows the pretext, of whose basely paltry quality you shall judge for yourselves. It runs:
"After the decease of the late Pope Alexander, when our people and our army were seeking the recovery of the kingdom of Naples, he [Cesare] went over to the side of our enemies, serving, favouring, and assisting them at arms and otherwise against ourselves and our said people and army, which resulted to us in great and irrecoverable loss."
The climax is in the deliberate falsehood contained in the closing words. Poor Cesare, who had served France at her call—in spite of what was rumoured of his intentions—as long as he had a man-at-arms to follow him, had gone to Naples only in the hour of his extreme need. True, he had gone to offer himself to Spain as a condottiero when naught else was left to him; but he took no army with him—he went alone, a servant, not an ally, as that false letter pretends. He had never come to draw his sword against France, and certainly no loss had been suffered by France in consequence of any action of his. Louis's army was definitely routed at Garigliano, with Cesare's troops fighting in its ranks.
But Pope Alexander was dead; Cesare's might in in Italy was dissipated; his credit gone. There lay no profit for Louis in keeping faith with him; there lay some profit in breaking it. Alas, that a king should stain his honour with base and vulgar lies to minister to his cupidity, and that he should set them down above his seal and signature to shame him through centuries still in the womb of Time!
Cesare Borgia, landless, without right to any title, he that had held so many, betrayed and abandoned on every side, had now nothing to offer in the world's market but his stout sword and his glad courage. These went to the first bidder for them, who happened to be his brother-in-law King Jean.
Navarre at the time was being snarled and quarrelled over by France and Spain, both menacing its independence, each pretending to claims upon it which do not, in themselves, concern us.
In addition, the country itself was torn by two factions—the Beaumontes and the Agramontes—and it was entrusted to Cesare to restore Navarre to peace and unity at home before proceeding—with the aid upon which he depended from the Emperor Maximilian—to deal with the enemies beyond her frontiers.
The Castle of Viana was being held by Louis de Beaumont—chief of the faction that bore his name—and refused to surrender to the king. To reduce it and compel Beaumont to obedience went Cesare as Captain-General of Navarre, early in February of 1507. He commanded a considerable force, some 10,000 strong, and with this and his cannon he laid siege to the citadel.
The natural strength of the place was such as might have defied any attempt to reduce it by force; but victuals were running low, and there was every likelihood of its being speedily starved into surrender. To frustrate this, Beaumont conceived the daring plan of attempting to send in supplies from Mendavia. The attempt being made secretly, by night and under a strong escort, was entirely successful; but, in retreating, the Beaumontese were surprised in the dawn of that February morning by a troop of reinforcements coming to Cesare's camp. These, at sight of the rebels, immediately gave the alarm.
The most hopeless confusion ensued in the town, where it was at once imagined that a surprise attack was being made upon the Royalists, and that they had to do with the entire rebel army.
Cesare, being aroused by the din and the blare of trumpets calling men to arms, sprang for his weapons, armed himself in haste, flung himself on a horse, and, without pausing so much as to issue a command to his waiting men-at-arms, rode headlong down the street to the Puerta del Sol. Under the archway of the gate his horse stumbled and came down with him. With an oath, Cesare wrenched the animal to its feet again, gave it the spur, and was away at a mad, furious gallop in pursuit of the retreating Beaumont rearguard.
The citizens, crowding to the walls of Viana, watched that last reckless ride of his with amazed, uncomprehending eyes. The peeping sun caught his glittering armour as he sped, so that of a sudden he must have seemed to them a thing of fire—meteoric, as had been his whole life's trajectory which was now swiftly dipping to its nadir.
Whether he was frenzied with the lust of battle, riding in the reckless manner that was his wont, confident that his men followed, yet too self-centred to ascertain, or whether—as seems more likely—it was simply that his horse had bolted with him, will never be known until all things are known.
Suddenly he was upon the rearguard of the fleeing rebels. His sword flashed up and down; again and again they may have caught the gleam of it from Viana's walls, as he smote the foe. Irresistible as a thunderbolt, he clove himself a way through those Beaumontese. He was alone once more, a flying, dazzling figure of light, away beyond that rearguard which he left scathed and disordered by his furious passage. Still his mad career continued, and he bore down upon the main body of the escort.
Beaumont sat his horse to watch, in such amazement as you may conceive, the wild approach of this unknown rider.
Seeing him unsupported, some of the count's men detached themselves to return and meet this single foe and oblige him with the death he so obviously appeared to seek.
They hedged him about—we do not know their number—and, engaging him, they drew him from the road and down into the hollow space of a ravine.
And so, in the thirty-second year of his age, and in all the glory of his matchless strength, his soul possessed of the lust of combat, sword in hand, warding off the attack that rains upon him, and dealing death about him, he meets his end. From the walls of Viana his resplendent armour renders him still discernible, until, like a sun to its setting, he passes below the rim of that ravine, and is lost to the watcher's view.
Death awaited him amid the shadows of that hollow place.
Unhorsed by now, he fought with no concern for the odds against him, and did sore execution upon his assailants, ere a sword could find an opening in his guard to combine with a gap in his armour and so drive home. That blade had found, maybe, his lungs. Still he swung his sword, swaying now upon his loosening knees. His mouth was full of blood. It was growing dark. His hands began to fail him. He reeled like a drunkard, sapped of strength, and then the end came quickly. Blows unwarded showered upon him now.
He crashed down in all the glory of his rich armour, which those brigand-soldiers already coveted. And thus he died—mercifully, maybe happily, for he had no time in which to taste the bitterness of death—that awful draught which he had forced upon so many.
Within a few moments of his falling, this man who had been a living force, whose word had carried law from the Campagna to the Bolognese, was so much naked, blood-smeared carrion—for those human vultures stripped him to the skin; his very shirt must they have. And there, a stark, livid corpse, of no more account than any dog that died last Saturday, they left Cesare Borgia of France, Duke of Romagna and Valentinois, Prince of Andria, and Lord of a dozen Tyrannies.
The body was found there anon by those who so tardily rode after their leader, and his dismayed troopers bore those poor remains to Viana. The king, arriving there that very day, horror-stricken at the news and sight that awaited him, ordered Cesare a magnificent funeral, and so he was laid to rest before the High Altar of Sainte Marie de Viane.
To rest? May the soul of him rest at least, for men—Christian men—have refused to vouchsafe that privilege to his poor ashes.
Nearly two hundred years later—at the close of the seventeenth century, a priest of God and a bishop, one who preached a gospel of love and mercy so infinite that he dared believe by its lights no man to have been damned, came to disturb the dust of Cesare Borgia. This Bishop of Calahorra—lineal descendant in soul of that Pharisee who exalted himself in God's House, thrilled with titillations of delicious horror at the desecrating presence of the base publican—had his pietist's eyes offended by the slab that marked Cesare Borgia's resting-place.(1)
which, more or less literally may be Englished as follows: "Here in a little earth, lies one whom all did fear; one whose hands dispensed both peace and war. Oh, you that go in search of things deserving praise, if you would praise the worthiest, then let your journey end here, nor trouble to go farther."
The pious, Christian bishop had read of this man—perhaps that life of him published by the apostate Gregorio Leti under the pen-name of Tommaso Tommasi, which had lately seen the light—and he ordered the tomb's removal from that holy place. And thus it befell that the ashes of Cesare Borgia were scattered and lost.
Charlotte d'Albret was bereft of her one friend, Queen Jeanne, in that same year of Cesare's death. The Duchess of Valentinois withdrew to La Motte-Feuilly, and for the seven years remaining of her life was never seen other than in mourning; her very house was equipped with sombre, funereal furniture, and so maintained until her end, which supports the view that she had conceived affection and respect for the husband of whom she had seen so little.
On March 14, 1514, that poor lady passed from a life which appears to have offered her few joys.
Louise de Valentinois—a handsome damsel of the age of fourteen—remained for three years under the tutelage of the Duchess of Angoulême—the mother of King Francis I—to whom Charlotte d'Albret had entrusted her child. Louise married, at the age of seventeen, Louis de la Trémouille, Prince de Talmont and Vicomte de Thouars, known as the Knight Sans Peur et Sans Reproche. She maintained some correspondence with her aunt, Lucrezia Borgia, whom she had never seen, and ever signed herself "Louise de Valentinois." At the age of thirty—Trémouille having been killed at Pavia—she married, in second nuptials, Philippe de Bourbon-Busset.
Lucrezia died in 1519, one year after her mother, Vanozza de'Catanei, with whom she corresponded to the end.