The Life of Cesare Borgia
Part 3 out of 7
who tells us that Cesare stabbed the chamberlain Perrotto in the Pope's
very arms; he adds the details that the man had fled thither for shelter
from Cesare's fury, and that the blood of him, when he was stabbed,
spurted up into the very face of the Pope. Where he got the story is not
readily surmised--unless it be assumed that he evolved it out of his
feelings for the Borgias. The only contemporary accounts of the death of
this Perrotto--or Pedro Caldes, as was his real name--state that he fell
by accident into the Tiber and was drowned.
Burchard, who could not have failed to know if the stabbing story had
been true, and would not have failed to report it, chronicles the fact
that Perrotto was fished out of Tiber, having fallen in six days earlier
--"non libenter." This statement, coming from the pen of the Master of
Ceremonies at the Vatican, requires no further corroboration. Yet
corroboration there actually is in a letter from Rome of February 20,
1498, quoted by Marino Sanuto in his Diarii. This states that Perrotto
had been missing for some days, no one knowing what had become of him,
and that now "he has been found drowned in the Tiber."
We mention this, in passing, with the twofold object of slaying another
calumny, and revealing the true value of Capello, who happens to be the
chief "witness for the prosecution" put forward by Gregorovius. "Is it
not of great significance," inquires the German historian, "that the fact
should have been related so positively by an ambassador who obtained his
knowledge from the best sources?"
The question is frivolous, for the whole trouble in this matter is that
there were no sources at all, in the proper sense of the word--good or
bad. There was simply gossip, which had been busy with a dozen names
MACCHIAVELLI includes a note in his Extracts from Letters to the Ten, in
which he mentions the death of Gandia, adding that "at first nothing was
known, and then men said it was done by the Cardinal of Valencia."
There is nothing very conclusive in that. Besides, incidentally it may
be mentioned, that it is not clear when or how these extracts were
compiled by Macchiavelli (in his capacity of Secretary to the Signory of
Florence) from the dispatches of her ambassadors. But it has been shown
--though we are hardly concerned with that at the moment--that these
extracts are confused by comments of his own, either for his own future
use or for that of another.
MATARAZZO is the Perugian chronicler of whom we have already expressed
the only tenable opinion. The task he set himself was to record the
contemporary events of his native town--the stronghold of the blood-
dripping Baglioni. He enlivened it by every scrap of scandalous gossip
that reached him, however alien to his avowed task. The authenticity of
this scandalmongering chronicle has been questioned; but, even assuming
it to be authentic, it is so wildly inaccurate when dealing with matters
happening beyond the walls of Perugia as to be utterly worthless.
Matarazzo relates the story of the incestuous relations prevailing in the
Borgia family, and with an unsparing wealth of detail not to be found
elsewhere; but on the subject of the murder he has a tale to tell
entirely different from any other that has been left us. For, whilst he
urges the incest as the motive of the crime, the murderer, he tells us,
was Giovanni Sforza, the outraged husband; and he gives us the fullest
details of that murder, time and place and exactly how committed, and all
the other matters which have never been brought to light.
It is all a worthless, garbled piece of fiction, most obviously; as such
it has ever been treated; but it is as plausible as it is untrue, and, at
least, as authoritative as any available evidence assigning the guilt to
SANUTO we accept as a more or less careful and painstaking chronicler,
whose writings are valuable; and Sanuto on the matter of the murder
confines himself to quoting the letter of February 1498, in which the
accusation against Cesare is first mentioned, after having given other
earlier letters which accuse first Ascanio and then Orsini far more
positively than does the latter letter accuse Cesare.
On the matter of the incest there is no word in Sanuto; but there is
mention of Doña Sancia's indiscretions, and the suggestion that, through
jealousy on her account, it was rumoured that the murder had been
committed--another proof of how vague and ill-defined the rumours were.
PIETRO MARTIRE D'ANGHIERA writes from Burgos, in Spain, that he is
convinced of the fratricide. It is interesting to know of that
conviction of his; but difficult to conceive how it is to be accepted as
If more needs to be said of him, let it be mentioned that the letter in
which he expresses that conviction is dated April 1497--two months before
the murder took place! So that even Gregorovius is forced to doubt the
authenticity of that document.
GUICCIARDINI is not a contemporary chronicler of events as they happened,
but an historian writing some thirty years later. He merely repeats what
Capello and others have said before him. It is for him to quote
authorities for what he writes, and not to be set up as an authority. He
is not reliable, and he is a notorious defamer of the Papacy, sparing
nothing that will serve his ends. He dilates with gusto upon the
accusation of incest.
Lastly, PANVINTO is in the same category as Guicciardini. He was not
born until some thirty years after these events, and his History of the
Popes was not written until some sixty years after the murder of the Duke
of Gandia. This history bristles with inaccuracies; he never troubles to
verify his facts, and as an authority he is entirely negligible.
In the valuable Diarium of Burchard there is unfortunately a lacuna at
this juncture, from the day after the murder (of which he gives the full
particulars to which we have gone for our narrative of that event) until
the month of August following. And now we may see Gregorovius actually
using silence as evidence. He seizes upon that lacuna, and goes so far
as to set up the tentative explanation that Burchard "perhaps purposely
interrupted his Diary that he might avoid mentioning the fratricide."
If such were the case, it would be a strange departure from Burchard's
invariable rule, which is one of cold, relentless, uncritical chronicling
of events, no matter what their nature. Besides, any significance with
which that lacuna might be invested is discounted by the fact that such
gaps are of fairly common occurrence in the course of Burchard's record.
Finally it remains to be shown that the lacuna in question exists in the
original diaries, which have yet to be discovered.
So much for the valuable authorities, out of which--and by means of a
selection which is not quite clearly defined--Gregorovius claims to have
proved that the murderer of the Duke of Gandia was his brother Cesare
Borgia, Cardinal of Valencia.(1)
1 It is rather odd that, in the course of casting about for a possible
murderer of Gandia, public opinion should never have fastened upon
Cardinal Alessandro Farnese. He had lately been stripped of the
Patrimony of St. Peter that the governorship of this might be bestowed
upon Gandia; his resentment had been provoked by that action of the
Pope's, and the relations between himself and the Borgias were strained
in consequence. Possibly there was clear proof that he could have had no
connection with the crime.
Now to examine more closely the actual motives given by those authorities
and by later, critical writers, for attributing the guilt to Cesare.
In September of the year 1497, the Pope had dissolved the marriage of his
daughter Lucrezia and Giovanni Sforza, and the grounds for the
dissolution were that the husband was impotens et frigidus natura--
admitted by himself.(2)
2 "El S. de Pesaro ha scripto qua de sua mano non haverla mai
cognosciuta et esser impotente, alias la sententia non se potea dare. El
prefato S. dice pero haver scripto cosi per obedire el Duca de Milano et
Aschanio" (Collenuccio's letter from Rome to the Duke of Ferrara, Dec.
If you know anything of the Italy of to-day, you will be able to conceive
for yourself how the Italy of the fifteenth century must have held her
sides and pealed her laughter at the contemptible spectacle of an
unfortunate who afforded such reason to be bundled out of a nuptial bed.
The echo of that mighty burst of laughter must have rung from Calabria to
the Alps, and well may it have filled the handsome weakling who was the
object of its cruel ridicule with a talion fury. The weapons he took up
wherewith to defend himself were a little obvious. He answered the
odious reflections upon his virility by a wholesale charge of incest
against the Borgia family; he screamed that what had been said of him was
a lie invented by the Borgias to serve their own unutterable ends.(1)
Such was the accusation with which the squirming Lord of Pesaro
retaliated, and, however obvious, yet it was not an accusation that the
world of his day would lightly cast aside, for all that the perspicacious
may have rated it at its proper value.
1 "Et mancho se e curato de fare prova de qua con Done per poterne
chiarire el Rev. Legato che era qua, sebbene sua Excellentia tastandolo
sopra cio gli ne abbia facto offerta." And further: "Anzi haverla
conosciuta infinite volte, ma chel Papa non geiha tolta per altro se non
per usare con lei" (Costabili's letter from Milan to the Duke of Ferrara,
June 23, 1497).
What is of great importance to students of the history of the Borgias is
that this was the first occasion on which the accusation of incest was
raised. Of course it persisted; such a charge could not do otherwise.
But now that we see in what soil it had its roots we shall know what
importance to attach to it.
Not only did it persist, but it developed, as was but natural. Cesare
and the dead Gandia were included in it, and presently it suggested a
motive--not dreamed of until then--why Cesare might have been his
Then, early in 1498, came the rumour that Cesare was intending to abandon
the purple, and later Writers, from Capello down to our own times, have
chosen to see in Cesare's supposed contemplation of that step a motive so
strong for the crime as to prove it in the most absolutely conclusive
manner. In no case could it be such proof, even if it were admitted as a
motive. But is it really so to be admitted? Did such a motive exist at
all? Does it really follow--as has been taken for granted--that Cesare
must have remained an ecclesiastic had Gandia lived? We cannot see that
it does. Indeed, such evidence as there is, when properly considered,
points in the opposite direction, even if no account is taken of the fact
that this was not the first occasion on which it was proposed that Cesare
should abandon the ecclesiastical career, as is shown by the Ferrarese
ambassador's dispatches of March 1493.
It is contended that Gandia was a stumbling-block to Cesare, and that
Gandia held the secular possessions which Cesare coveted; but if that
were really the case why, when eventually (some fourteen months after
Gandia's death) Cesare doffed the purple to replace it by a soldier's
harness, did he not assume the secular possessions that had been his
His dead brother's lands and titles went to his dead brother's son,
whilst Cesare's career was totally different, as his aims were totally
different, from any that had been Gandia's, or that might have been
Gandia's had the latter lived. True, Cesare became Captain-General of
the Church in his dead brother's place; but for that his brother's death
was not necessary. Gandia had neither the will nor the intellect to
undertake the things that awaited Cesare. He was a soft-natured,
pleasure-loving youth, whose way of life was already mapped out for him.
His place was at Gandia, in Spain, and, whilst he might have continued
lord of all the possessions that were his, it would have been Cesare's to
become Duke of Valentinois, and to have made himself master of Romagna,
precisely as he did.
In conclusion, Gandia's death no more advanced, than his life could have
impeded, the career which Cesare afterwards made his own, and to say that
Cesare murdered him to supplant him is to set up a theory which the
subsequent facts of Cesare's life will nowise justify.
It is idle of Gregorovius to say that the logic of the crime is
inexorable--in its assigning the guilt to Cesare--fatuous of him to
suppose that, as he claims, he has definitely proved Cesare to be his
There is much against Cesare Borgia, but it never has been proved, and
never will be proved, that he was a fratricide. Indeed the few really
known facts of the murder all point to a very different conclusion--a
conclusion more or less obvious, which has been discarded, presumably for
no better reason than because it was obvious.
Where was all this need to go so far afield in quest of a probable
murderer imbued with political motives? Where the need to accuse in turn
every enemy that Gandia could possibly possess before finally fastening
upon his own brother?
Certain evidence is afforded by the known facts of the case, scant as
they are. It may not amount to much, but at least it is sufficient to
warrant a plausible conclusion, and there is no justification for
discarding it in favour of something for which not a particle of evidence
There is, first of all, the man in the mask to be accounted for. That he
is connected with the crime is eminently probable, if not absolutely
It is to be remembered that for a month--according to Burchard--he had
been in the habit of visiting Gandia almost daily. He comes to
Vannozza's villa on the night of the murder. Is it too much to suppose
that he brought a message from some one from whom he was in the habit of
He was seen last on the crupper of Gandia's horse as the latter rode away
towards the Jewish quarter.(1) Gandia himself announced that he was
bound on pleasure--going to amuse himself. Even without the knowledge
which we possess of his licentious habits, no doubt could arise as to the
nature of the amusement upon which he was thus bound at dead of night;
and there are the conclusions formed in the morning by his father, when
it was found that Gandia had not returned.
1 The Ghetto was not yet in existence. It was not built until 1556,
under Paul IV.
Is it so very difficult to conceive that Gandia, in the course of the
assignation to which he went, should have fallen into the hands of an
irate father, husband, or brother? Is it not really the obvious
inference to draw from the few facts that we possess? That it was the
inference drawn by the Pope and clung to even some time after the crime
and while rumours of a different sort were rife, is shown by the
perquisition made in the house of Antonio Pico della Mirandola, who had a
daughter whom it was conceived might have been the object of the young
duke's nocturnal visit, and whose house was near the place where Gandia
was flung into the Tiber.
We could hazard speculations that would account for the man in the mask,
but it is not our business to speculate save where the indications are
Let us consider the significance of Gandia's tied hands and the wounds
upon his body in addition to the mortal gash across his throat. To what
does this condition point? Surely not to a murder of expediency so much
as to a fierce, lustful butchery of vengeance. Surely it suggests that
Gandia may have been tortured before his throat was cut. Why else were
his wrists pinioned? Had he been swiftly done to death there would have
been no need for that. Had hired assassins done the work they would not
have stayed to pinion him, nor do we think they would have troubled to
fling him into the river; they would have slain and left him where he
The whole aspect of the case suggests the presence of the master, of the
personal enemy himself. We can conceive Gandia's wrists being tied, to
the end that this personal enemy might do his will upon the wretched
young man, dealing him one by one the ten or fourteen wounds in the body
before making an end of him by cutting his throat. We cannot explain the
pinioned wrists in any other way. Then the man on the handsome white
horse, the man whom the four others addressed as men address their lord.
Remember his gold spurs--a trifle, perhaps; but hired assassins do not
wear gold spurs, even though their bestriding handsome white horses may
Surely that was the master, the personal enemy himself--and it was not
Cesare, for Cesare at the time was at the Vatican.
There we must leave the mystery of the murder of the Duke of Gandia; but
we leave it convinced that, such scant evidence as there is, points to an
affair of sordid gallantry, and nowise implicates his brother Cesare.
THE RENUNCIATION OF THE PURPLE
At the Consistory of June 19, 1497 the Sacred College beheld a broken-
hearted old man who declared that he had done with the world, and that
henceforth life could offer him nothing that should endear it to him.
"A greater sorrow than this could not be ours, for we loved him
exceedingly, and now we can hold neither the Papacy nor any other thing
as of concern. Had we seven Papacies, we would give them all to restore
the duke to life." So ran his bitter lament.
He denounced his course of life as not having been all that it should
have been, and appeared to see in the murder of his son a punishment for
the evil of his ways. Much has been made of this, and quite
unnecessarily. It has been taken eagerly as an admission of his
unparalleled guilt. An admission of guilt it undoubtedly was; but what
man is not guilty? and how many men--ay, and saints even--in the hour of
tribulation have cried out that they were being made to feel the wrath of
God for the sins that no man is without?
If humanity contains a type that would not have seen in such a cause for
sorrow a visitation of God, it is the type of inhuman monster to which we
are asked to believe that Alexander VI belonged. A sinner unquestionably
he was, and a great one; but a human sinner, and not an incarnate devil,
else there could have been no such outcry from him in such an hour as
He announced that henceforth the spiritual needs of the Church should be
his only care. He inveighed against the corruption of the ecclesiastical
estate, confessing himself aware of how far it had strayed from the
ancient discipline and from the laws that had been framed to bridle
licence and cupidity, which were now rampant and unchecked; and he
proclaimed his intention to reform the Curia and the Church of Rome. To
this end he appointed a commission consisting of the Cardinal-Bishops
Oliviero Caraffa and Giorgio Costa, the Cardinal-Priests Antonietto
Pallavicino and Gianantonio Sangiorgio, and the Cardinal-Deacons
Francesco Piccolomini and Raffaele Riario.
There was even a suggestion that he was proposing to abdicate, but that
he was prevailed upon to do nothing until his grief should have abated
and his judgement be restored to its habitual calm. This suggestion,
however, rests upon no sound authority.
Letters of condolence reached him on every hand. Even his arch-enemy,
Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, put aside his rancour in the face of the
Pope's overwhelming grief--and also because it happened to consort with
his own interests, as will presently transpire. He wrote to Alexander
from France that he was truly pained to the very soul of him in his
concern for the Pope's Holiness--a letter which, no doubt, laid the
foundations to the reconciliation that was toward between them.
Still more remarkable was it that the thaumaturgical Savonarola should
have paused in the atrabilious invective with which he was inflaming
Florence against the Pope, should have paused to send him a letter of
condolence in which he prayed that the Lord of all mercy might comfort
his Holiness in his tribulation.
That letter is a singular document; singularly human, yielding a singular
degree of insight into the nature of the man who penned it. A whole
chapter of intelligent speculation upon the character of Savonarola,
based upon a study of externals, could not reveal as much of the
mentality of that fanatical demagogue as the consideration of just this
The sympathy by which we cannot doubt it to have been primarily inspired
is here overspread by the man's rampant fanaticism, there diluted by the
prophecies from which he cannot even now refrain; and, throughout, the
manner is that of the pulpit-thumping orator. The first half of his
letter is a prelude in the form of a sermon upon Faith, all very trite
and obvious; and the notion of this excommunicated friar holding forth to
the Pope's Holiness in polemical platitudes delivered with all the
authority of inspired discoveries of his own is one more proof that at
the root of fanaticism in all ages and upon all questions, lies an utter
lack of a sense of fitness and proportion. Having said that "the just
man liveth in the Lord by faith," and that "the Lord in His mercy passeth
over all our sins," he proclaims that he announces things of which he is
assured, and for which he is ready to suffer all persecutions, and begs
his Holiness to turn a favourable eye upon the work of faith in which he
is labouring, and to give heed no more to the impious, promising the Holy
Father that thus shall the Lord bestow upon him the essence of joy
instead of the spirit of grief. Having begun, as we have seen, with an
assurance that "the Lord in His mercy passeth over all our sins," he
concludes by prophesying, with questionable logic, that "the thunders of
His wrath will ere long be heard." Nor does he omit to mention--with an
apparent arrogance that again betrays that same want of a sense of
proportion--that all his predictions are true.
His letter, however, and that of Cardinal della Rovere, among so many
others, show us how touched was the world by the Pope's loss and
overwhelming grief, how shocked at the manner in which this had been
The commission which Alexander had appointed for the work of reform had
meanwhile got to work, and the Cardinal of Naples edited the articles of
a constitution which was undoubtedly the object of prolonged study and
consideration, as is revealed by the numerous erasures and emendations
which it bears. Unfortunately--for reasons which are not apparent--it
was never published by Alexander. Possibly by the time that it was
concluded the aggrandizement of the temporal power was claiming his
entire attention to the neglect of the spiritual needs of the Holy See.
It is also possible--as has been abundantly suggested--that the stern
mood of penitence had softened with his sorrow, and was now overpast.
Nevertheless, it may have been some lingering remnant of this fervour of
reform that dictated the severe punishment which fell that year upon the
flagitious Bishop of Cosenza. A fine trade was being driven in Rome by
the sale of forged briefs of indulgence. Raynaldus cites a Bull on that
score addressed by Alexander, in the first year of his pontificate, to
the bishops of Spain, enjoining them to visit with punishment all who in
that kingdom should be discovered to be pursuing such a traffic. On
September 4, 1497, Burchard tells us, three servants of the Pontifical
Secretary, the Archbishop of Cosenza (Bartolomeo Florido) were arrested
in consequence of the discovery of twenty forged briefs issued by them.
In their examination they incriminated their master the archbishop, who
was consequently put upon his trial and found guilty. Alexander deposed,
degraded, and imprisoned him in Sant' Angelo in a dark room, where he was
supplied with oil for his lamp and bread and water for his nourishment
until he died. His underlings were burnt in the Campo di Fiori in the
The Duke of Gandia left a widow and two children--Giovanni, a boy of
three years of age, and Isabella, a girl of two. In the interests of her
son, the widowed duchess applied to the Governor of Valencia in the
following September for the boy's investiture in the rights of his
deceased father. This was readily granted upon authority from Rome, and
so the boy Giovanni was recognized as third Duke of Gandia, Prince of
Sessa and Teano, and Lord of Cerignola and Montefoscolo, and the
administration of his estates during his minority was entrusted to his
uncle, Cesare Borgia.
The Lordship of Benevento--the last grant made to Giovanni Borgia--was
not mentioned; nor was it then nor ever subsequently claimed by the
widow. It is the one possession of Gandia's that went to Cesare, who was
confirmed in it by the King of Naples.
The Gandia branch of the Borgia family remained in Spain, prospered and
grew in importance, and, incidentally, produced St. Francis de Borgia.
This Duke of Gandia was Master of the Household to Charles V, and thus a
man of great worldly consequence; but it happened that he was so moved by
the sight of the disfigured body of his master's beautiful queen that he
renounced the world and entered the Society of Jesus, eventually becoming
its General. He died in 1562, and in the fulness of time was canonized.
Cesare's departure for Naples as legate a latere to anoint and crown
Federigo of Aragon was naturally delayed by the tragedy that had assailed
his house, and not until July 22 did he take his leave of the Pope and
set out with an escort of two hundred horse.
Naples was still in a state of ferment, split into two parties, one of
which favoured France and the other Aragon, so that disturbances were
continual. Alexander expressed the hope that Cesare might appear in that
distracted kingdom in the guise of an "angel of peace," and that by his
coronation of King Federigo he should set a term to the strife that was
The city of Naples itself was now being ravaged by fever, and in
consequence of this it was determined that Cesare should repair instead
to Capua, where Federigo would await him. Arrived there, however, Cesare
fell ill, and the coronation ceremony again suffered a postponement until
August 10. Cesare remained a fortnight in the kingdom, and on August 22
set out to return to Rome, and his departure appears to have been a
matter of relief to Federigo, for so impoverished did the King of Naples
find himself that the entertainment of the legate and his numerous escort
had proved a heavy tax upon his flabby purse.
On the morning of September 6 all the cardinals in Rome received a
summons to attend at the Monastery of Santa Maria Nuova to welcome the
returned Cardinal of Valencia. In addition to the Sacred College all the
ambassadors of the Powers were present, and, after the celebration of the
Mass, the entire assembly proceeded to the Vatican, where the Pope was
waiting to receive his son. When the young cardinal presented himself at
the foot of the papal throne Alexander opened his arms to him, embraced,
and kissed him, speaking no word.
This rests upon the evidence of two eye-witnesses,(1) and the
circumstance has been urged and propounded into the one conclusive piece
of evidence that Cesare had murdered his brother, and that the Pope knew
it. In this you have some more of what Gregorovius terms "inexorable
logic." He kissed him, but he spake no word to him; therefore, they
reason, Cesare murdered Gandia. Can absurdity be more absurd, fatuity
more fatuous? Lucus a non lucendo! To square the circle should surely
present no difficulty to these subtle logicians.
1 Non dixit verbum Pape Valentinus, nec Papa sibi, sed eo deosculato,
descendit de solio" (Burchard's Diarium, and "Solo lo bació," in letter
from Rome in Sanuto's Diarii)
It was, as we have seen, in February of 1498 that it was first rumoured
that Cesare intended to put off the purple; and that the rumour had ample
foundation was plain from the circumstance that the Pope was already
laying plans whose fulfilment must be dependent upon that step, and
seeking to arrange a marriage for Cesare with Carlotta of Aragon, King
Federigo of Naples's daughter, stipulating that her dowry should be such
that Cesare, in taking her to wife, should become Prince of Altamura and
But Federigo showed himself unwilling, possibly in consideration of the
heavy dowry demanded and of the heavy draft already made by the Borgias--
through Giuffredo Borgia, Prince of Squillace--upon this Naples which the
French invasion had so impoverished. He gave out that he would not have
his daughter wedded to a priest who was the son of a priest and that he
would not give his daughter unless the Pope could contrive that a
cardinal might marry and yet retain his hat.
It all sounded as if he were actuated by nice scruples and high
principles; but the opinion is unfortunately not encouraged when we find
him, nevertheless, giving his consent to the marriage of his nephew
Alfonso to Lucrezia Borgia upon the pronouncement of her divorce from
Giovanni Sforza. The marriage, let us say in passing, was celebrated at
the Vatican on June 20, 1498, Lucrezia receiving a dowry of 40,000
ducats. But the astute Alexander saw to it that his family should
acquire more than it gave, and contrived that Alfonso should receive the
Neapolitan cities of Biselli and Quadrata, being raised to the title of
Prince of Biselli.
Nevertheless, there was a vast difference between giving in marriage a
daughter who must take a weighty dowry out of the kingdom and receiving a
daughter who would bring a handsome dowry with her. And the facts
suggest that such was the full measure of Federigo's scruples.
Meanwhile, to dissemble his reluctance to let Cesare have his daughter to
wife, Federigo urged that he must first take the feeling of Ferdinand and
Isabella in this matter.
While affairs stood thus, Charles VIII died suddenly at Amboise in April
of that year 1498. Some work was being carried out there by artists whom
he had brought from Naples for the purpose, and, in going to visit this,
the king happened to enter a dark gallery, and struck his forehead so
violently against the edge of a door that he expired the same day--at the
age of twenty-eight. He was a poor, malformed fellow, as we have seen,
and "of little understanding," Commines tells us, "but so good that it
would have been impossible to have found a kinder creature."
With him the Valois dynasty came to an end. He was succeeded by his
cousin, the Duke of Orleans, who, upon his coronation at Rheims, assumed
the title of King of France and the Two Sicilies and Duke of Milan--a
matter which considerably perturbed Federigo of Aragon and Lodovico
Sforza. Each of these rulers saw in that assumption of his own title by
Louis XII a declaration of enmity, the prelude to a declaration of open
war; wherefore, deeming it idle to send their ambassadors to represent
them at the Court of France, they refrained from doing so.
Louis XII's claim upon the Duchy of Milan was based upon his being the
grandson of Valentina Visconti, and, considering himself a Visconti, he
naturally looked upon the Sforza dominion as no better than a usurpation
which too long had been left undisturbed. To disturb it now was the
first aim of his kingship. And to this end, as well as in another
matter, the friendship of the Pope was very desirable to Louis.
The other matter concerned his matrimonial affairs. No sooner did he
find himself King of France than he applied to Rome for the dissolution
of his marriage with Jeanne de Valois, the daughter of Louis XI. The
grounds he urged were threefold: Firstly, between himself and Jeanne
there existed a relationship of the fourth degree and a spiritual
affinity, resulting from the fact that her father, Louis XI, had held him
at the baptismal font--which before the Council of Trent did constitute
an impediment to marriage. Secondly, he had not been a willing party to
the union, but had entered into it as a consequence of intimidation from
the terrible Louis XI, who had threatened his life and possessions if not
obeyed in this. Thirdly, Jeanne laboured under physical difficulties
which rendered her incapable of maternity.
Of such a nature was the appeal he made to Alexander, and Alexander
responded by appointing a commission presided over by the Cardinal of
Luxembourg, and composed of that same cardinal and the Bishops of Albi
and Ceuta, assisted by five other bishops as assessors, to investigate
the king's grievance. There appears to be no good reason for assuming
that the inquiry was not conducted fairly and honourably or that the
finding of the bishops and ultimate annulment of the marriage was not in
accordance with their consciences. We are encouraged to assume that all
this was indeed so, when we consider that Jeanne de Valois submitted
without protest to the divorce, and that neither then nor subsequently at
any time did she prefer any complaint, accepting the judgement, it is
presumable, as a just and fitting measure.
She applied to the Pope for permission to found a religious order, whose
special aim should be the adoration and the emulation of the perfections
of the Blessed Virgin, a permission which Alexander very readily accorded
her. He was, himself, imbued with a very special devotion for the Mother
of the Saviour. We see the spur of this special devotion of his in the
votive offering of a silver effigy to her famous altar of the Santissima
Nunziata in Florence, which he had promised in the event of Rome being
freed from Charles VIII. Again, after the accident of the collapse of a
roof in the Vatican, in which he narrowly escaped death, it is to Santa
Maria Nuova that we see him going in procession to hold a solemn
thanksgiving service to Our Lady. In a dozen different ways did that
devotion find expression during his pontificate; and be it remembered
that Catholics owe it to Alexander VI that the Angelus-bell is rung
thrice daily in honour of the Blessed Virgin.
To us this devotion to the Mother of Chastity on the part of a churchman
openly unchaste in flagrant subversion of his vows is a strange and
incongruous spectacle. But the incongruity of it is illumining. It
reveals Alexander's simple attitude towards the sins of the flesh, and
shows how, in common with most churchmen of his day, he found no
conscientious difficulty in combining fervid devotion with perfervid
licence. Whatever it may seem by ours, by his lights--by the light of
the examples about him from his youth, by the light of the precedents
afforded him by his predecessors in St. Peter's Chair--his conduct was a
normal enough affair, which can have afforded him little with which to
In the matter of the annulment of the marriage of Louis XII it is to be
conceded that Alexander made the most of the opportunity it afforded him.
He perceived that the moment was propitious for enlisting the services of
the King of France to the achievement of his own ends, more particularly
to further the matter of the marriage of Cesare Borgia with Carlotta of
Aragon, who was being reared at the Court of France. Accordingly
Alexander desired the Bishop of Ceuta to lay his wishes in the matter
before the Christian King, and, to the end that Cesare might find a
fitting secular estate awaiting him when eventually he emerged from the
clergy, the Pope further suggested to Louis, through the bishop's agency,
that Cesare should receive the investiture of the counties of Valentinois
and Dyois in Dauphiny.
On the face of it this wears the look of inviting bribery. In reality it
scarcely amounted to so much, although the opportunism that prompted the
request is undeniable. Yet it is worthy of consideration that in what
concerned the counties of Valentinois and Dyois, the Pope's suggestion
constituted a wise political step. These territories had been in dispute
between France and the Holy See for a matter of some two hundred years,
during which the Popes had been claiming dominion over them. The claims
had been admitted by Louis XI, who had relinquished the counties to the
Church; but shortly after his death the Parliament of Dauphiny had
restored them to the crown of France. Charles VIII and Innocent VIII had
wrangled over them, and an arbitration was finally projected, but never
Alexander now perceived a way to solve the difficulty by a compromise
which should enrich his son and give the latter a title to replace that
of cardinal which he was to relinquish. So his proposal to Louis XII was
that the Church should abandon its claim upon the territories, whilst the
king, raising Valentinois to the dignity of a duchy, should so confer it
upon Cesare Borgia.
Although the proposal was politically sound, it constituted at the same
time an act of flagrant nepotism. But let us bear in mind that Alexander
did not lack a precedent for this particular act. When Louis XI had
surrendered Valentinois to Sixtus IV, this Pope had bestowed it upon his
nephew Girolamo, thereby vitiating any claim that the Holy See might
subsequently have upon the territory. We judge it--under the
circumstances that Louis XI had surrendered it to the Church--to be a far
more flagrant piece of nepotism than was Alexander's now.
Louis XII, nothing behind the Pope in opportunism, saw in the concession
asked of him the chance of acquiring Alexander's good-will. He
consented, accompanying his consent by a request for a cardinal's hat for
Georges d'Amboise, Bishop of Rouen, who had been his devoted friend in
less prosperous times, and the sharer of his misfortunes under the
previous reign, and was now his chief counsellor and minister. In
addition he besought--dependent, of course, upon the granting of the
solicited divorce--a dispensation to marry Anne of Brittany, the
beautiful widow of Charles VIII. This was Louis's way of raising the
price, as it were, of the concession and services asked of him; yet, that
there might be no semblance of bargaining, his consent to Cesare's being
created Duke of Valentinois was simultaneous with his request for further
With the Royal Patents conferring that duchy upon the Pope's son, Louis
de Villeneuve reached Rome on August 7, 1498. On the same day the young
cardinal came before the Sacred College, assembled in Consistory, to
crave permission to doff the purple.
After the act of adoration of the Pope's Holiness, he humbly submitted to
his brother cardinals that his inclinations had ever been in opposition
to his embracing the ecclesiastical dignity, and that, if he had entered
upon it at all, this had been solely at the instances of his Holiness,
just as he had persevered in it to gratify him; but that, his
inclinations and desires for the secular estate persisting, he implored
the Holy Father, of his clemency, to permit him to put off his habit and
ecclesiastical rank, to restore his bat and benefices to the Church, and
to grant him dispensation to return to the world and be free to contract
marriage. And he prayed the very reverend cardinals to use their good
offices on his behalf, adding to his own their intercessions to the
Pope's Holiness to accord him the grace he sought.
The cardinals relegated the decision of the matter to the Pope. Cardinal
Ximenes alone--as the representative of Spain--stood out against the
granting of the solicited dispensation, and threw obstacles in the way of
it. In this, no doubt, he obeyed his instructions from Ferdinand and
Isabella, who saw to the bottom of the intrigue with France that was
toward, and of the alliance that impended between Louis XII and the Holy
See--an alliance not at all to the interests of Spain.
The Pope made a speedy rout of the cardinal's objections with the most
apostolic and irresistible of all weapons. He pointed out that it was
not for him to hinder the Cardinal of Valencia's renunciation of the
purple, since that renunciation was clearly become necessary for the
salvation of his soul--"Pro salutae animae suae"--to which, of course,
Ximenes had no answer.
But, with the object of conciliating Spain, this ever-politic Pope
indicated that, if Cesare was about to become a prince of France, his
many ecclesiastical benefices, yielding some 35,000 gold florins yearly,
being mostly in Spain, would be bestowed upon Spanish churchmen, and he
further begged Ximenes to remember that he already had a "nephew" at the
Court of Spain in the person of the heir of Gandia, whom he particularly
commended to the favour of Ferdinand and Isabella.
Thus was Cesare Borgia's petition granted, and his return to the world
accomplished. And, by a strange chance of homonymy, his title remained
unchanged despite his change of estate. The Cardinal of Valencia, in
Spain, became the Duke of Valence--or Valentinois--in France and in Italy
Valentino remained Valentino.
THE BULL RAMPANT
"Cum numine Caesaris omen."
(motto on Cesare Borgia's sword.)
THE DUCHESS OF VALENTINOIS
King Louis XII dispatched the Sieur de Sarenon by sea, with a fleet of
three ships and five galleys, to the end that he should conduct the new
duke to France, which fleet was delayed so that it did not drop its
anchors at Ostia until the end of September.
Meanwhile, Cesare's preparations for departure had been going forward,
and were the occasion of a colossal expenditure on the part of his sire.
For the Pope desired that his son, in going to France to assume his
estate, and for the further purposes of marrying a wife, of conveying to
Louis the dispensation permitting his marriage with Anne of Brittany, and
of bearing the red hat to Amboise, should display the extraordinary
magnificence for which the princes of cultured and luxurious Italy were
at the time renowned.
His suite consisted of fully a hundred attendants, what with esquires,
pages, lacqueys and grooms, whilst twelve chariots and fifty sumpter-
mules were laden with his baggage. The horses of his followers were all
sumptuously caparisoned with bridles and stirrups of solid silver; and,
for the rest, the splendour of the liveries, the weapons and the jewels,
and the richness of the gifts he bore with him were the amazement even of
that age of dazzling displays.
In Cesare's train went Ramiro de Lorqua, the Master of his Household;
Agabito Gherardi, his secretary; and his Spanish physician, Gaspare
Torella--the only medical man of his age who had succeeded in discovering
a treatment for the pudendagra which the French had left in Italy, and
who had dedicated to Cesare his learned treatise upon that disease.
As a body-guard, or escort of honour, Cesare took with him thirty
gentlemen, mostly Romans, among whom were Giangiordano Orsini, Pietro
Santa Croce, Mario di Mariano, Domenico Sanguigna, Giulio Alberini,
Bartolomeo Capranica, and Gianbattista Mancini--all young, and all
members of those patrician families which Alexander VI had skilfully
attached to his own interest.
The latest of these was the Orsini family, with which an alliance was
established by the marriage celebrated at the Vatican on September 28 of
that same year between Fabio Orsini and Girolama Borgia, a niece of the
Cesare's departure took place on October 1, in the early morning, when he
rode out with his princely retinue, and followed the Tiber along
Trastevere, without crossing the city. He was mounted on a handsome
charger, caparisoned in red silk and gold brocade--the colours of France,
in which he had also dressed his lacqueys. He wore a doublet of white
damask laced with gold, and carried a mantle of black velvet swinging
from his shoulders. Of black velvet, too, was the cap on his auburn
head, its sable colour an effective background for the ruddy effulgence
of the great rubies--"as large as beans"--with which it was adorned.
Of the gentlemen who followed him, the Romans were dressed in the French
mode, like himself, whilst the Spaniards adhered to the fashions of their
He was escorted as far as the end of the Banchi by four cardinals, and
from a window of the Vatican the Pope watched the imposing cavalcade and
followed it with his eyes until it was lost to view, weeping, we are
told, for very joy at the contemplation of the splendour and magnificence
which it had been his to bestow upon his beloved son--"the very heart of
him," as he wrote to the King of France in that letter of which Cesare
was the bearer.
On October 12 the Duke of Valentinois landed at Marseilles, where he was
received by the Bishop of Dijon, whom the king had sent to meet him, and
who now accompanied the illustrious visitor to Avignon. There Cesare was
awaited by the Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere. This prelate was now
anxious to make his peace with Alexander--and presently we shall look
into the motives that probably inspired him, a matter which has so far,
we fancy, escaped criticism for reasons that we shall also strive to make
apparent. To the beginnings of a reconciliation with the Pontiff
afforded by his touching letter of condolence on the death of the Duke of
Gandia, he now added a very cordial reception and entertainment of
Cesare; and throughout his sojourn in France the latter received at the
hands of della Rovere the very friendliest treatment, the cardinal
missing no opportunity of working in the duke's interests and for the
advancement of his ends.
The Pope wrote to the cardinal commending Cesare to his good graces, and
the cardinal replied with protestations which he certainly proceeded to
Della Rovere was to escort Cesare to the king, who was with his Court
then at Chinon, awaiting the completion of the work that was being
carried out at his Castle of Blois, which presently became his chief
residence. But Cesare appears to have tarried in Avignon, for he was
still there at the end of October, nor did he reach Chinon until the
middle of December. The pomp of his entrance was a thing stupendous. We
find a detailed relation of it in Brantôme, translated into prose form
some old verses which, he tells us, that he found in the family treasury.
He complains of their coarseness, and those who are acquainted with the
delightful old Frenchman's own frankness of expression may well raise
their brows at that criticism of his. Whatever the coarse liberties
taken with the subject--of which we are not allowed more than an
occasional glimpse--and despite the fact that the relation was in verse,
which ordinarily makes for the indulgence of the rhymer's fancy--the
description appears to be fairly accurate, for it corresponds more or
less with the particulars given in Sanuto.
At the head of the cavalcade went twenty-four sumpter-mules, laden with
coffers and other baggage under draperies embroidered with Cesare's arms
--prominent among which would be the red bull, the emblem of his house,
and the three-pointed flame, his own particular device. Behind these
came another twenty-four mules, caparisoned in the king's colours of
scarlet and gold, to be followed in their turn by sixteen beautiful
chargers led by hand, similarly caparisoned, and their bridles and
stirrups of solid silver. Next came eighteen pages on horseback, sixteen
of whom were in scarlet and yellow, whilst the remaining two were in
cloth of gold. These were followed by a posse of lacqueys in the same
liveries and two mules laden with coffers draped with cloth of gold,
which contained the gifts of which Cesare was the bearer. Behind these
rode the duke's thirty gentlemen, in cloth of gold and silver, and
amongst them came the duke himself.
Cesare was mounted on a superb war-horse that was all empanoplied in a
cuirass of gold leaves of exquisite workmanship, its head surmounted by a
golden artichoke, its tail confined in a net of gold abundantly studded
with pearls. The duke was in black velvet, through the slashings of
which appeared the gold brocade of the undergarment. Suspended from a
chain said by Brantôme's poet to be worth thirty thousand ducats, a
medallion of diamonds blazed upon his breast, and in his black velvet cap
glowed those same wonderful rubies that we saw on the occasion of his
departure from Rome. His boots were of black velvet, laced with gold
thread that was studded with gems.
The rear of the cavalcade was brought up by more mules and the chariots
bearing his plate and tents and all the other equipage with which a
prince was wont to travel.
It is said by some that his horse was shod with solid gold, and there is
also a story--pretty, but probably untrue--that some of his mules were
shod in the same metal, and that, either because the shoes were loosely
attached of intent, or because the metal, being soft, parted readily from
the hoofs, these golden shoes were freely cast and left as largesse for
those who might care to take them.
The Bishop of Rouen--that same Georges d'Amboise for whom he was bringing
the red hat--the Seneschal of Toulouse and several gentlemen of the Court
went to meet him on the bridge, and escorted him up through the town to
the castle, where the king awaited him. Louis XII gave him a warm and
cordial welcome, showing him then and thereafter the friendliest
consideration. Not so, however, the lady he was come to woo. It was
said in Venice that she was in love with a young Breton gentleman in the
following of Queen Anne. Whether this was true, and Carlotta acted in
the matter in obedience to her own feelings, or whether she was merely
pursuing the instructions she had received from Naples, she obstinately
and absolutely refused to entertain or admit the suit of Cesare.
Della Rovere, on January i8, wrote to the Pope from Nantes, whither the
Court had moved, a letter in which he sang the praises of the young Duke
"By his modesty his readiness, his prudence, and his other virtues he has
known how to earn the affections of every one." Unfortunately, there was
one important exception, as the cardinal was forced to add: "The damsel,
either out of her own contrariness, or because so induced by others,
which is easier to believe, constantly refuses to hear of the wedding."
Della Rovere was quite justified in finding it easier to believe that
Carlotta was acting upon instructions from others, for, when hard pressed
to consent to the alliance, she demanded that the Neapolitan ambassador
should himself say that her father desired her to do so--a statement
which, it seems, the ambassador could not bring himself to make.
Baffled by the persistence of that refusal, Cesare all but returned a
bachelor to Italy. So far, indeed, was his departure a settled matter
that in February of 1489, at the Castle of Loches, he received the king's
messages for the Pope. Yet Louis hesitated to let him go without having
bound his Holiness to his own interests by stronger bonds.
In the task of tracing the annals of the Borgias, the honest seeker after
truth is compelled to proceed axe in hand that he may hack himself a way
through the tangle of irresponsible or malicious statements that have
grown up about this subject, driving their roots deep into the soil of
history. Not a single chance does malignity, free or chartered, appear
to have missed for the invention of flagitious falsehoods concerning this
family, or for the no less flagitious misinterpretation of known facts.
Amid a mass of written nonsense dealing with Cesare's sojourn in France
is the oft-repeated, totally unproven statement that he withheld from
Louis the dispensation enabling the latter to marry Anne of Brittany,
until such time as he should have obtained from Louis all that he desired
of him--in short, that he sold him the dispensation for the highest price
he could extract. The only motive served by this statement is once more
to show Alexander and his son in the perpetration of simoniacal
practices, and the statement springs, beyond doubt, from a passage in
Macchiavelli's Extracts from Dispatches to the Ten. Elsewhere has been
mentioned the confusion prevailing in those extracts, and their
unreliability as historical evidences. That circumstance can be now
established. The passage in question runs as follows:
"This dispensation was given to Valentinois when he went to France
without any one being aware of its existence, with orders to sell it
dearly to the king, and not until satisfied of the wife and his other
desires. And, whilst these things were toward, the king learnt from the
Bishop of Ceuta that the dispensation already existed, and so, without
having received or even seen it the marriage was celebrated, and for
revealing this the Bishop of Ceuta was put to death by order of
Now, to begin with, Macchiavelli admits that what passed between Pope and
duke was secret. How, then, does he pretend to possess these details of
it? But, leaving that out of the question, his statement--so abundantly
repeated by later writers--is traversed by every one of the actual facts
of the case.
That there can have been no secret at all about the dispensation is made
plain by the fact that Manfredi, the Ferrarese ambassador, writes of it
to Duke Ercole on October 2--the day after Cesare's departure from Rome.
And as for the death of Fernando d'Almeida Bishop of Ceuta, this did not
take place then, nor until two years later (on January 7, 1499) at the
siege of Forli, whither he had gone in Cesare's train--as is related in
Bernardi's Chronicles and Bonoli's history of that town.
To return to the matter of Cesare's imminent departure unwed from France,
Louis XII was not the only monarch to whom this was a source of anxiety.
Keener far was the anxiety experienced on that score by the King of
Naples, who feared that its immediate consequence would be to drive the
Ho1y Father into alliance with Venice, which was paying its court to him
at the time and with that end in view. Eager to conciliate Alexander in
this hour of peril, Federigo approached him with alternative proposals,
and offered to invest Cesare in the principalities of Salerno and
Sanseverino, which had been taken from the rebel barons. To this the
Pope might have consented, but that, in the moment of considering it,
letters reached him from Cesare which made him pause.
Louis XII had also discovered an alternative to the marriage of Cesare
with Carlotta, and one that should more surely draw the Pope into the
alliance with Venice and himself.
Among the ladies of the Court of Queen Anne--Louis had now been wedded a
month--there were, besides Carlotta, two other ladies either of whom
might make Cesare a suitable duchess. One of these was a niece of the
king's, the daughter of the Comte de Foix; the other was Charlotte
d'Albret, a daughter of Alain d'Albret, Duc de Guyenne, and sister to the
King of Navarre. Between these two Cesare was now given to choose by
Louis, and his choice fell upon Charlotte.
She was seventeen years of age and said to be the most beautiful maid in
France, and she had been reared at the honourable and pious Court of
Jeanne de Valois, whence she had passed into that of Anne of Brittany,
which latter, says Hilarion de Coste,(1) was "a school of virtue, an
academy of honour."
1 Éloges et vies des Reynes, Princesses, etc.
Negotiations for her hand were opened with Alain, who, it is said, was at
first unwilling, but in the end won over to consent. Navarre had need of
the friendship of the King of France, that it might withstand the
predatory humours of Castille; and so, for his son's sake, Alain could
not long oppose the wishes of Louis. Considering closely the pecuniary
difficulties under which this Alain d'Albret was labouring and his
notorious avarice, one is tempted to conclude that such difficulties as
he may have made were dictated by his reduced circumstances, his
impossibility, or unwillingness, to supply his daughter with a dowry
fitting her rank, and an unworthy desire to drive in the matter the best
bargain possible. And this is abundantly confirmed by the obvious care
and hard-headed cunning with which the Sieur d'Albret investigated
Cesare's circumstances and sources of revenue to verify their values to
be what was alleged.
Eventually he consented to endow her with 30,000 livres Tournois (90,000
francs) to be paid as follows: 6,000 livres on the celebration of the
marriage, and the balance by annual instalments of 1,500 livres until
cleared off. This sum, as a matter of fact, represented her portion of
the inheritance from her deceased mother, Françoise de Bretagne, and it
was tendered subject to her renouncing all rights and succession in any
property of her father's or her said deceased mother's.
Thus is it set forth in the contract drawn up by Alain at Castel-Jaloux
on March 23, 1499, which contract empowers his son Gabriel and one
Regnault de St. Chamans to treat and conclude the marriage urged by the
king between the Duke of Valentinois and Alain's daughter, Charlotte
d'Albret. But that was by no means all. Among other conditions imposed
by Alain, he stipulated that the Pope should endow his daughter with
100,000 livres Tournois, and that for his son, Amanieu d'Albret, there
should be a cardinal's hat--for the fulfilment of both of which
conditions Cesare took it upon himself to engage his father.
On April 15 the treaty between France and Venice was signed at Blois. It
was a defensive and offensive alliance directed against all, with the
sole exception of the reigning Pontiff, who should have the faculty to
enter into it if he so elected. This was the first decisive step against
the House of Sforza, and so secretly were the negotiations conducted that
Lodovico Sforza's first intimation of them resulted from the capture in
Milanese territory of a courier from the Pope with letters to Cesare in
France. From these he learnt, to his dismay, not only of the existence
of the league, but that the Pope had joined it. The immediate
consequence of this positive assurance that Alexander had gone over to
Sforza's enemies was Ascanio Sforza's hurried departure from Rome on July
In the meantime Cesare's marriage had followed almost immediately upon
the conclusion of the treaty. The nuptials were celebrated on May 12,
and on the 19th he received at the hands of the King of France the
knightly Order of St. Michael, which was then the highest honour that
France could confer. When the news of this reached the Pope he
celebrated the event in Rome with public festivities and illuminations.
Of Cesare's courtship we have no information. The fact that the marriage
was purely one of political expediency would tend to make us conceive it
as invested with that sordid lovelessness which must so often attend the
marriages of princes. But there exists a little data from which we may
draw certain permissible inferences. This damsel of seventeen was said
to be the loveliest in France, and there is more than a suggestion in Le
Feron's De Gestis Regnum Gallorum, that Cesare was by no means
indifferent to her charms. He tells us that the Duke of Valentinois
entered into the marriage very heartily, not only for the sake of its
expediency, but for "the beauty of the lady, which was equalled by her
virtues and the sweetness of her nature."
Cesare, we have it on more than one authority, was the handsomest man of
his day. The gallantry of his bearing merited the approval of so
fastidious a critic in such matters as Baldassare Castiglione, who
mentions it in his Il Cortigiano. Of his personal charm there is also no
lack of commendation from those who had his acquaintance at this time.
Added to this, his Italian splendour and flamboyance may well have
dazzled a maid who had been reared amid the grey and something stern
tones of the Court of Jeanne de Valois.
And so it may well be that they loved, and that they were blessed in
their love for the little space allotted them in each other's company.
The sequel justifies in a measure the assumption. Just one little summer
out of the span of their lives--brief though those lives were--did they
spend together, and it is good to find some little evidence that, during
that brief season at least, they inhabited life's rose-garden.
In September--just four short months after the wedding-bells had pealed
above them--the trumpets of war blared out their call to arms. Louis's
preparations for the invasion of Milan were complete and he poured his
troops through Piedmont under the command of Giangiacomo Trivulzio.
Cesare was to accompany Louis into Italy. He appointed his seventeen-
year-old duchess governor and administrator of his lands and lordships in
France and Dauphiny under a deed dated September 8, and he made her
heiress to all his moveable possessions in the event of his death.
Surely this bears some witness, not only to the prevailing of a good
understanding between them, but to his esteem of her and the confidence
he reposed in her mental qualities. The rest her later mourning of him
Thus did Cesare take leave of the young wife whom he was never to see
again. Their child--born in the following spring--he was never to see at
all. The pity of it! Ambition-driven, to fulfil the destiny expected of
him, he turned his back upon that pleasant land of Dauphiny where the one
calm little season of his manhood had been spent, where happiness and
peace might have been his lifelong portion had he remained. He set his
face towards Italy and the storm and stress before him, and in the train
of King Louis he set out upon the turbulent meteoric course that was to
sear so deep and indelible a brand across the scroll of history.
THE KNELL OF THE TYRANTS
In the hour of his need Lodovico Sforza found himself without friends or
credit, and he had to pay the price of the sly, faithless egotistical
policy he had so long pursued with profit.
His far-reaching schemes were flung into confusion because a French king
had knocked his brow against a door, and had been succeeded by one who
conceived that he had a legal right to the throne of Milan, and the
intent and might to enforce it, be the right legal or not. It was in
vain now that Lodovico turned to the powers of Italy for assistance, in
vain that his cunning set fresh intrigues afoot. His neighbours had
found him out long since; he had played fast and loose with them too
often, and there was none would trust him now.
Thus he found himself isolated, and in no case to withstand the French
avalanche which rolled down upon his duchy. The fall of Milan was a
matter of days; of resistance there was practically none. Town after
town threw up its gates to the invaders, and Lodovico, seeing himself
abandoned on all sides, sought in flight the safety of his own person.
Cesare took no part in the war, which, after all, was no war--no more
than an armed progress. He was at Lyons with the King, and he did not
move into Italy until Louis went to take possession of his new duchy.
Amid the acclamations of the ever-fickle mob, hailing him as its
deliverer, Louis XII rode triumphantly into Milan on October 6, attended
by a little host of princes, including the Prince of Savoy, the Dukes of
Montferrat and Ferrara, and the Marquis of Mantua. But the place of
honour went to Cesare Borgia, who rode at the king's side, a brilliant
and arresting figure. This was the occasion on which Baldassare
Castiglione--who was in the Marquis of Mantua's suite--was moved to such
praise of the appearance and gallant bearing of the duke, and of the
splendid equipment of his suite, which outshone those of all that little
host of attendant princes.
From this time onward Cesare signs himself "Cesare Borgia of France," and
quarters on his shield the golden lilies of France with the red bull of
the House of Borgia.
The conditions on which Alexander VI joined the league of France and
Venice became apparent at about this time. They were to be gathered from
the embassy of his nephew, the Cardinal Giovanni Borgia, to Venice in the
middle of September. There the latter announced to the Council of Ten
that the Pope's Holiness aimed at the recovery to the Church of those
Romagna tyrannies which originally were fiefs of the Holy See and held by
her vicars, who, however, had long since repudiated the Pontifical
authority, refused the payment of their tributes, and in some instances
had even gone so far as to bear arms against the Church.
With one or two exceptions the violent and evil misgovernment of these
turbulent princelings was a scandal to all Italy. They ruled by rapine
and murder, and rendered Romagna little better than a nest of brigands.
Their state of secession from the Holy See arose largely out of the
nepotism practised by the last Popes--a nepotism writers are too prone to
overlook when charging Alexander with the same abuse. Such Popes as
Sixtus IV and Innocent VIII had broken up the States of the Church that
they might endow their children and their nephews. The nepotism of such
as these never had any result but to impoverish the Holy See; whilst, on
the other hand, the nepotism of Alexander--this Pope who is held up to
obloquy as the archetype of the nepotist--had a tendency rather to enrich
it. It was not to the States of the Church, not by easy ways of
plundering the territories of the Holy See, that he turned to found
dominions and dynasties for his children. He went beyond and outside of
them, employing princely alliances as the means to his ends. Gandia was
a duke in Spain; Giuffredo a prince in Naples, and Cesare a duke in
France. For none of these could it be said that territories had been
filched from Rome, whilst the alliances made for them were such as tended
to strengthen the power of the Pope, and, therefore, of the Church.
The reconsolidation of the States of the Church, the recovery of her full
temporal power, which his predecessors had so grievously dissipated, had
ever been Alexander's aim; Louis XII afforded him, at last, his
opportunity, since with French aid the thing now might be attempted.
His son Cesare was the Hercules to whom was to be given the labour of
cleaning out the Augean stable of the Romagna.
That Alexander may have been single-minded in his purpose has never been
supposed. It might, indeed, be to suppose too much; and the general
assumption that, from the outset, his chief aim was to found a powerful
State for his son may be accepted. But let us at least remember that
such had been the aims of several Popes before him. Sixtus IV and
Innocent VIII had similarly aimed at founding dynasties in Romagna for
their families, but, lacking the talents and political acuteness of
Alexander and a son of the mettle and capacity of Cesare Borgia, the
feeble trail of their ambition is apt to escape attention. It is also to
be remembered that, whatever Alexander's ulterior motive, the immediate
results of the campaign with which he inspired his son were to reunite to
the Church the States which had fallen away from her, and to re-establish
her temporal sway in the full plenitude of its dominion. However much he
may have been imbued with the desire to exalt and aggrandize his children
politically, he did nothing that did not at the same time make for the
greater power and glory of the Church.
His formidable Bull published in October set forth how, after trial, it
had been found that the Lords or Vicars of Rimini, Pesaro, Imola, Forli,
Camerino and Faenza, with other feudatories of the Holy See (including
the duchy of Urbino) had never paid the yearly tribute due to the Church,
wherefore he, by virtue of his apostolic authority, deprived them of all
their rights, and did declare them so deprived.
It has been said again and again that this Bull amounting to a
declaration of war, was no more than a pretext to indulge his rapacity;
but surely it bears the impress of a real grievance, and, however
blameable the results that followed out of it, for the measure itself
there were just and ample grounds.
The effect of that Bull, issued at a moment when Cesare stood at arms
with the might of France at his back, ready to enforce it, was naturally
to throw into a state of wild dismay these Romagna tyrants whose
acquaintance we shall make at closer quarters presently in the course of
following Cesare's campaign. Cesare Borgia may have been something of a
wolf; but you are not to suppose that the Romagna was a fold of lambs.
Giovanni Sforza--Cesare's sometime brother-inlaw, and Lord of Pesaro--
flies in hot haste to Venice for protection. There are no lengths to
which he will not go to thwart the Borgias in their purpose, to save his
tyranny from falling into the power of this family which he hates most
rabidly, and of which he says that, having robbed him of his honour, it
would now deprive him of his possessions. He even offers to make a gift
of his dominions to the Republic.
There was much traders' blood in Venice, and, trader-like, she was avid
of possessions. You can surmise how she must have watered at the mouth
to see so fine a morsel cast thus into her lap, and yet to know that the
consumption of it might beget a woeful indigestion. Venice shook her
head regretfully. She could not afford to quarrel with her ally, King
Louis, and so she made answer--a thought contemptuously, it seems--that
Giovanni should have made his offer while he was free to do so.
The Florentines exerted themselves to save Forli from the fate that
threatened it. They urged a league of Bologna, Ferrara, Forli, Piombino,
and Siena for their common safety--a proposal which came to nothing,
probably because Ferrara and Siena, not being threatened by the Bull, saw
no reason why, for the sake of others, they should call down upon
themselves the wrath of the Borgias and their mighty allies.
Venice desired to save Faenza, whose tyrant, Manfredi, was also attainted
for non-payment of his tributes, and to this end the Republic sent an
embassy to Rome with the moneys due. But the Holy Father refused the
gold, declaring that it was too late for payment.
Forli's attempt to avert the danger was of a different sort, and not
exerted until this danger--in the shape of Cesare himself--stood in arms
beneath her walls. Two men, both named Tommaso--though it does not
transpire that they were related--one a chamberlain of the Palace of
Forli, the other a musician, were so devoted to the Countess Sforza-
Riario, the grim termagant who ruled the fiefs of her murdered husband,
Girolamo Riario, as to have undertaken an enterprise from which they
cannot have hoped to emerge with their lives. It imported no less than
the murder of the Pope. They were arrested on November 21, and in the
possession of one of them was found a hollow cane containing a letter "so
impregnated with poison that even to unfold it would be dangerous." This
letter was destined for the Holy Father.
The story reads like a gross exaggeration emanating from men who, on the
subject of poisoning, display the credulity of the fifteenth century, so
ignorant in these matters and so prone to the fantastic. And our minds
receive a shock upon learning that, when put to the question, these
messengers actually made a confession--upon which the story rests--
admitting that they had been sent by the countess to slay the Pope, in
the hope that thus Forli might be saved to the Riarii. At first we
conclude that those wretched men, examined to the accompaniment of
torture, confessed whatever was required of them, as so frequently
happened in such cases. Such, indeed, is the very explanation advanced
by more than one writer, coupled with the suggestion, in some instances,
that the whole affair was trumped up by the Pope to serve his own ends.
They will believe the wildest and silliest of poisoning stories (such as
those of Djem and Cardinal Giovanni Borgia) which reveal the Borgias as
the poisoners; but, let another be accused and the Borgias be the
intended victims, and at once they grow rational, and point out to you
the wildness of the statement, the impossibility of its being true. Yet
it is a singular fact that a thorough investigation of this case of the
Countess Sforza-Riario's poisoned letter reveals it to be neither wild
nor impossible but simply diabolical. The explanation of the matter is
to be found in Andrea Bernardi's Chronicles of Forli. He tells us
exactly how the thing was contrived, with a precision of detail which we
could wish to see emulated by other contemporaries of his who so lightly
throw out accusations of poisoning. He informs us that a deadly and
infectious disease was rampant in Forli in that year 1499, and that,
before dispatching her letter to the Pope, the Countess caused it to be
placed upon the body of one who was sick of this infection--thus hoping
to convey it to his Holiness.(1)
1 "Dite litre lei le aveva fate tocare et tenere adose ad uno nostro
infetado."--Andrea Bernardi (Cronache di Forli).
Alexander held a thanksgiving service for his escape at Santa Maria della
Pace, and Cardinal Raffaele Riario fled precipitately from Rome, justly
fearful of being involved in the papal anger that must fall upon his
By that time, however, Cesare had already taken the field. The support
of Louis, conqueror of Milan, had been obtained, and in this Cardinal
Giuliano della Rovere had once more been helpful to the Borgias.
His reconciliation with the Pope, long since deserved by the services he
had rendered the House of Borgia in forwarding Cesare's aims, as we have
seen, was completed now by an alliance which bound the two families
together. His nephew, Francesco della Rovere, had married Alexander's
niece, Angela Borgia.
There is a letter from Giuliano to the Pope, dated October 12, 1499, in
which he expresses his deep gratitude in the matter of this marriage,
which naturally redounded to the advantage of his house, and pledges
himself to exert all the influence which he commands with Louis XII for
the purpose of furthering the Duke of Valentinois' wishes. So well does
he keep this promise that we see him utterly abandoning his cousins the
Riarii, who were likely to be crushed under the hoofs of the now charging
bull, and devoting himself strenuously to equip Cesare for that same
charge. So far does he go in this matter that he is one of the sureties
--the other being the Cardinal Giovanni Borgia--for the loan of 45,000
ducats raised by Cesare in Milan towards the cost of his campaign.
This is the moment in which to pause and consider this man, who, because
he was a bitter enemy of Alexander's, and who, because earlier he had
covered the Pope with obloquy and insult and is to do so again later, is
hailed as a fine, upright, lofty, independent, noble soul.
Not so fine, upright, or noble but that he can put aside his rancour when
he finds that there is more profit in fawning than in snarling; not so
independent but that he can become a sycophant who writes panegyrics of
Cesare and letters breathing devotion to the Pope, once he has realized
that thus his interests will be better served. This is the man,
remember, who dubbed Alexander a Jew and a Moor; this the man who
agitated at the Courts of France and Spain for Alexander's deposition
from the Pontificate on the score of the simony of his election; this the
man whose vituperations of the Holy Father are so often quoted, since--
coming from lips so honest--they must, from the very moment that he
utters them, be merited. If only the historian would turn the medal
about a little, and allow us a glimpse of the reverse as well as of the
obverse, what a world of trouble and misconceptions should we not be
Della Rovere had discovered vain his work of defamation, vain his
attempts to induce the Kings of France and Spain to summon a General
Council and depose the man whose seat he coveted, so he had sought to
make his peace with the Holy See. The death of Charles VIII, and the
succession of a king who had need of the Pope's friendship and who found
a friend in Alexander, rendered it all the more necessary that della
Rovere should set himself to reconquer, by every means in his power, the
favour of Alexander.
And so you see this honourable, upright man sacrificing his very family
to gain that personal end. Where now is that stubbornly honest
conscience of his which made him denounce Alexander as no Christian and
no Pope? Stifled by self-interest. It is as well that this should be
understood, for this way lies the understanding of many things.
The funds for the campaign being found, Cesare received from Louis three
hundred lances captained by Yves d'Allègre and four thousand foot,
composed of Swiss and Gascons, led by the Bailie of Dijon. Further
troops were being assembled for him at Cesena--the one fief of Romagna
that remained faithful to the Church--by Achille Tiberti and Ercole
Bentivogli, and to these were to be added the Pontifical troops that
would be sent to him; so that Cesare found himself ultimately at the head
of a considerable army, some ten thousand strong, well-equipped and
supported by good artillery.
Louis XII left Milan on November 7--one month after his triumphal
entrance--and set out to return to France, leaving Trivulzio to represent
him as ruler of the Milanese. Two days later Cesare's army took the
road, and he himself went with his horse by way of Piacenza, whilst the
foot, under the Bailie of Dijon, having obtained leave of passage through
the territories of Ferrara and Cremona, followed the Po down to Argenta.
Thus did Cesare Borgia--personally attended by a caesarian guard, wearing
his livery--set out upon the conquest of the Romagna. Perhaps at no
period of his career is he more remarkable than at this moment. To all
trades men serve apprenticeships, and to none is the apprenticeship more
gradual and arduous than to the trade of arms. Yet Cesare Borgia served
none. Like Minerva, springing full-grown and armed into existence, so
Cesare sprang to generalship in the hour that saw him made a soldier.
This was the first army in which he had ever marched, yet he marched at
the head of it. In his twenty-four years of life he had never so much as
witnessed a battle pitched; yet here was he riding to direct battles and
to wrest victories. Boundless audacity and swiftest intelligence welded
into an amazing whole!
IMOLA AND FORLI
Between his departure from Milan and his arrival before Imola, where his
campaign was to be inaugurated, Cesare paid a flying visit to Rome and
his father, whom he had not seen for a full year. He remained three days
at the Vatican, mostly closeted with the Pope's Holiness. At the end of
that time he went north again to rejoin his army, which by now had been
swelled by the forces that had joined it from Cesena, some Pontifical
troops, and a condotta under Vitellozzo Vitelli.
The latter, who was Lord of Castello, had gone to Milan to seek justice
at the hands of Louis XII against the Florentines, who had beheaded his
brother Paolo--deservedly, for treason in the conduct of the war against
Pisa. This Vitellozzo was a valuable and experienced captain. He took
service with Cesare, spurred by the hope of ultimately finding a way to
avenge himself upon the Florentines, and in Cesare's train he now
advanced upon Imola and Forli.
The warlike Countess Caterina Sforza-Riario had earlier been granted by
her children full administration of their patrimony during their
minority. To the defence of this she now addressed herself with all the
resolution of her stern nature. Her life had been unfortunate, and of
horrors she had touched a surfeit. Her father, Galeazzo Sforza, was
murdered in Milan Cathedral by a little band of patriots; her brother
Giangaleazzo had died, of want or poison, in the Castle of Pavia, the
victim of her ambitious uncle, Lodovico; her husband, Girolamo Riario,
she had seen butchered and flung naked from a window of the very castle
which she now defended; Giacomo Feo, whom she had secretly married in
second nuptials, was done to death in Forli, under her very eyes, by a
party of insurrectionaries. Him she had terribly avenged. Getting her
men-at-arms together, she had ridden at their head into the quarter
inhabited by the murderers, and there ordered--as Macchiavelli tells us--
the massacre of every human being that dwelt in it, women and children
included, whilst she remained at hand to see it done. Thereafter she
took a third husband, in Giovanni di Pierfrancesco de'Medici, who died in
1498. By him this lusty woman had a son whose name was to ring through
Italy as that of one of the most illustrious captains of his day--
Giovanni delle Bande Nere.
Such was the woman whom Sanuto has called "great-souled, but a most cruel
virago," who now shut herself into her castle to defy the Borgia.
She had begun by answering the Pope's Bull of attainder with the
statement that, far from owing the Holy See the tribute which it claimed,
the Holy See was actually in her debt, her husband, Count Girolamo
Riario, having been a creditor of the Church for the provisions made by
him in his office of Captain-General of the Pontifical forces. This
subterfuge, however, had not weighed with Alexander, whereupon, having
also been frustrated in her attempt upon the life of the Pope's Holiness,
she had proceeded to measures of martial resistance. Her children and
her treasures she had dispatched to Florence that they might be out of
danger, retaining of the former only her son Ottaviano, a young man of
some twenty years; but, for all that she kept him near her, it is plain
that she did not account him worthy of being entrusted with the defence
of his tyranny, for it was she, herself, the daughter of the bellicose
race of Sforza, who set about the organizing of this.
Disposing of forces that were entirely inadequate to take the field
against the invader, she entrenched herself in her fortress of Forli,
provisioning it to withstand a protracted siege and proceeding to fortify
it by throwing up outworks and causing all the gates but one to be built
Whilst herself engaged upon military measures she sent her son Ottaviano
to Imola to exhort the Council to loyalty and the defence of the city.
But his mission met with no success. Labouring against him was a mighty
factor which in other future cases was to facilitate Cesare's subjection
of the Romagna. The Riarii--in common with so many other of the Romagna
tyrants--had so abused their rule, so ground the people with taxation, so
offended them by violence, and provoked such deep and bitter enmity that
in this hour of their need they found themselves deservedly abandoned by
their subjects. The latter were become eager to try a change of rulers,
in the hope of finding thus an improved condition of things; a worse,
they were convinced, would be impossible.
So detested were the Riarii and so abhorred the memory they left behind
them in Imola that for years afterwards the name of Cesare Borgia was
blessed there as that of a minister of divine justice ("tanquam minister
divina justitiae") who had lifted from them the harsh yoke by which they
had been oppressed.
And so it came to pass that, before ever Cesare had come in sight of
Imola, he was met by several of its gentlemen who came to offer him the
town, and he received a letter from the pedagogue Flaminio with
assurances that, if it should be at all possible to them, the inhabitants
would throw open the gates to him on his approach. And Flaminio
proceeded to implore the duke that should he, nevertheless, be
constrained to have recourse to arms to win admittance, he should not
blame the citizens nor do violence to the city by putting it to pillage,
assuring him that he would never have a more faithful, loving city than
Imola once this should be in his power.
The duke immediately sent forward Achille Tiberti with a squadron of
horse to demand the surrender of the town. And the captain of the
garrison of Imola replied that he was ready to capitulate, since that was
the will of the people. Three days later--on November 27--Cesare rode in
The example of the town, however, was not followed by the citadel. Under
the command of Dionigio di Naldo the latter held out, and, as the duke's
army made its entrance into Imola, the castellan signified his resentment
by turning his cannon upon the town itself, with such resolute purpose
that many houses were set on fire and demolished. This Naldo was one of
the best reputed captains of foot of his day, and he had seen much
service under the Sforza; but his experience could avail him little here.
On the 28th Cesare opened the attack, training his guns upon the citadel;
but it was not until a week later that, having found a weak spot in the
walls on the side commanding the town, he opened a breach through which
his men were able to force a passage, and so possess themselves of a
half-moon. Seeing the enemy practically within his outworks, and being
himself severely wounded in the head, Naldo accounted it time to parley.
He begged a three-days' armistice, pledging himself to surrender at the
end of that time should he not receive reinforcements in the meanwhile;
and to this arrangement the duke consented.
The good faith of Naldo has been questioned, and it has been suggested
that his asking for three days' grace was no better than a cloak to cover
his treacherous sale of the fortress to the besieger. It seems, however,
to be no more than one of those lightly-uttered, irresponsible utterances
with which the chronicles of the time abound, for Naldo had left his wife
and children at Forli in the hands of the Countess, as hostages for his
good faith, and this renders improbable the unsupported story of his
On December 7, no reinforcements having reached him, Naldo made formal
surrender of the citadel, safe-conduct having been granted to his
A week later there arrived at Imola Cesare's cousin, the Cardinal
Giovanni Borgia, whom the Pope had constituted legate in Bologna and the
Romagna in place of the Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, and whom he had sent to
support Cesare's operations with ecclesiastical authority. Cardinal
Giovanni, as the Pope's representative, received in the Church of San
Domenico the oath of fealty of the city to the Holy See. This was
pledged by four representative members of the Council of Thirty; and by
that act the conquest and subjection of the town became a fully
The lesser strongholds of the territory threw up their gates one by one
before the advancing enemy, until only Forli remained to be taken.
Cesare pushed forward to reduce it.
On his way he passed through Faenza, whose tyrant, Manfredi, deeming
himself secure in the protection of Venice and in view of the
circumstance that the republic had sent to Rome the arrears of tribute
due from his fief, and anxious to conciliate the Pope, received and
entertained Cesare very cordially.
At Forli the case of Imola was practically repeated. Notwithstanding
that the inhabitants were under the immediate eye of the formidable
countess, and although she sent her brother, Alessandro Sforza, to exhort
the people and the Council to stand by her, the latter, weary as the rest
of the oppressive tyranny of her family, dispatched their representatives
to Cesare to offer him the town.
The Countess's valour was of the sort that waxes as the straits become
more desperate. Since the town abandoned and betrayed her, she would
depend upon her citadel, and by a stubborn resistance make Cesare pay as
dearly as possible for the place. To the danger which she seems almost
eager to incur for her own part, this strong-minded, comely matron will
not subject the son she has kept beside her until now; and so she packs
Ottaviano off to Florence and safety. That done, she gives her mutinous
subjects a taste of her anger by attempting to seize half a dozen of the
principal citizens of Forli. As it happened, not only did this intent
miscarry, but it went near being the means of involving her in battle
even before the duke's arrival; for the people, getting wind of the
affair, took up arms to defend their threatened fellow-citizens.
She consoled herself, however, by seizing the persons of Nicolo Tornielli
and Lodovico Ercolani, whom the Council had sent to inform her that their
representatives had gone to Cesare with the offer of the town. Further,
to vent her rage and signify her humour, she turned her cannon upon the
Communal Palace and shattered the tower of it.
Meanwhile Cesare advanced. It was again Tiberti who now rode forward
with his horse to demand the surrender of Forli. This was accorded as
readily as had been that of Imola, whereupon Cesare came up to take
possession in person; but, despite the cordial invitation of the
councillors, he refused to enter the gates until he had signed the
articles of capitulation.
On December 19, under a deluge of rain, Cesare, in full armour, the
banner of the Church borne ahead of him, rode into Forli with his troops.
He was housed in the palace of Count Luffo Nomaglie (one of the gentlemen
whom Caterina had hoped to capture), and his men were quartered through
the town. These foreign soldiers of his seem to have got a little out of
hand here at Forli, and they committed a good many abuses, to the dismay
and discomfort of the Citizens.
Sanuto comments upon this with satisfaction, accounting the city well
served for having yielded herself up like a strumpet. It is a comment
more picturesque than just, for obviously Forli did not surrender through
pusillanimity, but to the end that it might be delivered from the
detestable rule of the Riarii.
The city occupied, it now remained to reduce the fortress and bring its
warrior-mistress to terms. Cesare set about this at once, nor allowed
the Christmas festivities to interfere with his labours, but kept his men
at work to bring the siege-guns into position. On Christmas Day the
countess belatedly attempted a feeble ruse in the hope of intimidating
them. She flew from her battlements a banner, bearing the device of the
lion of St. Mark, thinking to trick Cesare into the belief that she had
obtained the protection of Venice, or, perhaps, signifying thus that she
threw herself into the arms of the republic, making surrender of her
fiefs to the Venetians to the end that she might spite a force which she
could not long withstand--as Giovanni Sforza had sought to do.
But Cesare, nowise disturbed by that banner, pursued his preparations,
which included the mounting of seven cannons and ten falconets in the
square before the Church of St. John the Baptist. When all was ready for
the bombardment, he made an effort to cause her to realize the
hopelessness of her resistance and the vain sacrifice of life it must
entail. He may have been moved to this by the valour she displayed, or
it may have been that he obeyed the instincts of generalship which made
him ever miserly in the matter of the lives of his soldiers. Be that as
it may, with intent to bring her to a reasonable view of the situation,
he rode twice to the very edge of the ditch to parley with her; but all
that came of his endeavours was that on the occasion of his second appeal
to her, he had a narrow escape of falling a victim to her treachery, and
so losing his life.
She came down from the ramparts, and, ordering the lowering of the
bridge, invited him to meet her upon it that there they might confer more
at their ease, having, meanwhile, instructed her castellan to raise the
bridge again the moment the duke should set foot upon it. The castellan
took her instructions too literally, for even as the duke did set one
foot upon it there was a grind and clank of machinery, and the great
structure swung up and clattered into place. The duke remained outside,
saved by a too great eagerness on the part of those who worked the
winches, for had they waited but a second longer they must have trapped
Cesare returned angry to Forli, and set a price upon Caterina's head--
20,000 ducats if taken alive, 10,000 if dead; and on the morrow he opened
fire. For a fortnight this was continued without visible result, and
daily the countess was to be seen upon the walls with her castellan,
directing the defences. But on January 12, Cesare's cannon having been
concentrated upon one point, a breach was opened at last. Instantly the
waiting citizens, who had been recruited for the purpose, made forward
with their faggots, heaping them up in the moat until a passage was
practicable. Over this went Cesare's soldiers to force an entrance.
A stubborn fight ensued within the ravelin, where the duke's men were
held in check by the defenders, and not until some four hundred corpses
choked that narrow space did the besieged give ground before them.
Like most of the Italian fortresses of the period, the castle of Forli
consisted of a citadel within a citadel. In the heart of the main
fabric--but cut off from it again by its own moat--arose the great tower
known as the Maschio. This was ever the last retreat of the besieged
when the fortress itself had been carried by assault, and, in the case of
the Maschio of the Citadel of Forli, so stout was its construction that
it was held to be practically invulnerable.
Had the countess's soldiers made their retreat in good order to this
tower, where all the munitions and provisions were stored, Cesare would
have found the siege but in the beginning; but in the confusion of that
grim hour, besieged and besiegers, Borgian and Riarian, swept forward
interlocked, a writhing, hacking, bleeding mob of men-at-arms. Thus they
flung themselves in a body across the bridge that spanned the inner moat,
and so into the Maschio, whilst the stream of Cesare's soldiers that
poured uninterruptedly across in the immediate wake of that battling mass
rendered it impossible for the defenders to take up the bridge.
Within the tower the carnage went on, and the duke's men hacked their way
through what remained of the Forlivese until they had made themselves
masters of that inner stronghold whither Caterina had sought her last
A Burgundian serving under the Bailie of Dijon was the first to come upon
her in the room to which she had fled with a few attendants and a handful
of men, amongst whom were Alessandro Sforza, Paolo Riario, and Scipione
Riario--this last an illegitimate son of her first husband's, whom she
had adopted. The Burgundian declared her his prisoner, and held her for
the price that had been set upon her head until the arrival of Cesare,
who entered the citadel with his officers a little while after the final
assault had been delivered.
Cesare received and treated her with the greatest courtesy, and, seeing
her for the moment destitute, he presented her with a purse containing
two hundred ducats for her immediate needs. Under his escort she left
the castle, and was conducted, with her few remaining servants, to the
Nomaglie Palace to remain in the Duke's care, his prisoner. Her brother
and the other members of her family found with her were similarly made
After her departure the citadel was given over to pillage, and all hell
must have raged in it if we may judge from an incident related by
Bernardi in his chronicles. A young clerk, named Evangelista da
Monsignane, being seized by a Burgundian soldier who asked him if he had
any money, produced and surrendered a purse containing thirteen ducats,
and so got out of the mercenaries' clutches, but only to fall into the
hands of others, one of whom again declared him a prisoner. The poor
youth, terrified at the violence about him, and eager to be gone from
that shambles, cried out that, if they would let him go, he would pay
them a ransom of a hundred ducats.
Thereupon "Surrender to me!" cried one of the soldiers, and, as the clerk
was about to do so, another, equally greedy for the ransom, thrust
himself forward. "No. Surrender to me, rather," demanded this one.
The first insisted that the youth was his prisoner, whereupon the second
brandished his sword, threatening to kill Evangelista. The clerk, in a
panic, flung himself into the arms of a monk who was with him, crying out
for mercy, and there in the monk's arms he was brutally slain, "to put an
end," said his murderer, "to the dispute."
Forlimpopoli surrendered a few days later to Yves d'Allègre, whom Cesare
had sent thither, whilst in Forli, as soon as he had reduced the citadel,
and before even attempting to repair the damage done, the duke set about
establishing order and providing for the dispensation of justice,
exerting to that end the rare administrative ability which not even his
bitterest detractors have denied him.
He sent a castellan to Forlimpopoli and fetched from Imola a Podestà for
Forli.(1) He confirmed the Council of Forty that ruled Forli--being ten
for each quarter of the city--and generally made sound and wise provision
for the town's well-being, which we shall presently see bearing fruit.
1 It was customary throughout Italy that the Podestà, or chief
magistrate, should never be a native of the town--rarely of the State--in
which he held his office. Thus, having no local interests or
relationships, he was the likelier to dispense justice with desirable
Next the repairing of the fortress claimed his attention, and he disposed
for this, entrusting the execution of his instructions to Ramiro de
Lorqua, whom he left behind as governor. In the place where the breach
was opened by his cannon he ordered the placing of a marble panel bearing
his arms; and there it is to be seen to this day: Dexter, the sable bars
of the House of Lenzol; Sinister, the Borgia bull in chief, and the
lilies of France; and, superimposed, an inescutcheon bearing the
All measures being taken so far as Forli was concerned, Cesare turned his
attention to Pesaro, and prepared to invade it. Before leaving, however,
he awaited the return of his absent cousin, the Cardinal Giovanni Borgia,
who, as papal legate, was to receive the oath of fealty of the town; but,
instead of the cardinal whom he was expecting, came a messenger with news
of his death of fever at Fossombrone.
Giovanni Borgia had left Forli on December 28 to go to Cesena, with
intent, it was said, to recruit to his cousin's army those men of Rimini,
who, exiled and in rebellion against their tyrant Malatesta, had sought
shelter in that Pontifical fief. Thence he had moved on to Urbino,
where--in the ducal palace--he awaited news of the fall of Forli, and
where, whilst waiting, he fell ill. Nevertheless, when the tidings of
Cesare's victory reached him, he insisted upon getting to horse, to
repair to Forli; but, discovering himself too ill to keep the saddle, he
was forced to abandon the journey at Fossombrone, whilst the outcome of
the attempt was an aggravation of the fever resulting in the cardinal's
Cesare appears to have been deeply grieved by the loss of Giovanni, and
there is every cause to suppose that a sincere attachment prevailed
between the cousins. Yet Cesare has been charged with his death, and
accused of having poisoned him, and, amidst the host of silly, baseless
accusations levelled against Cesare, you shall find none more silly or
baseless than this. In other instances of unproven crimes with which he
has been charged there may be some vestiges of matter that may do duty
for evidence or be construed into motives; here there is none that will
serve one purpose or the other, and the appalling and rabid
unscrupulousness, the relentless malice of Borgian chroniclers is in
nothing so completely apparent as in this accusation.
Sanuto mentions the advices received, and the rumours which say that
Cesare murdered him through jealousy, knowing him beloved by the Pope,
seeing him a legate, and fearing that he might come to be given the
governorship of some Romagna fief.
When Gandia died and Cesare was accused of having murdered him, the
motive advanced was that Cesare, a papal legate, resented a brother who
was a duke. Now, Cesare, being a duke, resents a cousin's being a papal
legate. You will observe that, if this method of discovering motives is
pursued a little further, there is no man who died in Cesare's life-time
whom Cesare could not be shown to have had motives for murdering.
Sillier even than Sanuto's is the motive with which Giovio attempts to
bolster up the accusation which he reports: "He [Cesare] poisoned him
because he [Giovanni] favoured the Duke of Gandia."
That, apparently, was the best that Giovio could think of. It is hardly
intelligible--which is perhaps inevitable, for it is not easy to be
intelligible when you don't quite know, yourself, what you mean, which
must have been Giovio's case.
The whole charge is so utterly foolish, stupid, and malicious that it
would scarcely be worth mentioning, were it not that so many modern
writers have included this among the Borgia crimes. As a matter of fact
--and as a comparison of the above-cited dates will show--eighteen days
had elapsed between Giovanni Borgia's leaving Cesare at Forli and his
succumbing at Urbino--which in itself disposes of the matter. It may be
mentioned that this is a circumstance which those foolish or deliberately
malicious calumniators either did not trouble to ascertain or else
thought it wiser to slur over. Although, had they been pressed, there
was always the death of Djem to be cited and the fiction of the slow-
working poison specially invented to meet and explain his case.
The preparations for the invasion of Pesaro were complete, and it was
determined that on January 22 the army should march out of Forli; but on
the night of the 21st a disturbance occurred. The Swiss under the Bailie
of Dijon became mutinous--they appear throughout to have been an ill-
conditioned lot--and they clamoured now for higher pay if they were to go
on to Pesaro, urging that already they had served the Duke of Valentinois
as far as they had pledged themselves to the King of France.
Towards the third hour of the night the Bailie himself, with these
mutineers at his heels, presented himself at the Nomaglie Palace to
demand that the Countess Sforza-Riario should be delivered into his
hands. His claim was that she was his prisoner, since she had been
arrested by a soldier of his own, and that her surrender was to France,
to which he added--a thought inconsequently, it seems--that the French
law forbade that women should be made prisoners. Valentinois, taken
utterly by surprise, and without the force at hand to resist the Bailie
and his Swiss, was compelled to submit and to allow the latter to carry
the countess off to his own lodging; but he dispatched a messenger to
Forlimpopoli with orders for the immediate return of Allègre and his
horse, and in the morning, after Mass, he had the army drawn up in the
market-place; and so, backed by his Spanish, French, and Italian troops,
he faced the threatening Swiss.
The citizens were in a panic, expecting to see battle blaze out at any
moment, and apprehensive of the consequences that might ensue for the
The Swiss had grown more mutinous than ever overnight, and they now
refused to march until they were paid. It was Cesare's to quell and
restore them to obedience. He informed them that they should be paid
when they reached Cesena, and that, if they were retained thereafter in
his employ, their pay should be on the improved scale which they
demanded. Beyond that he made no concessions. The remainder of his
harangue was matter to cow them into submission, for he threatened to
order the ringing of the alarm-bells, and to have them cut to pieces by
the people of Forli whom their gross and predatory habits had already
Order was at last restored, and the Bailie of Dijon was compelled to
surrender back the countess to Cesare. But their departure was postponed
until the morrow. On that day, January 23, after receiving the oath of
fealty from the Anziani in the Church of San Mercuriale, the duke marched
his army out of Forli and took the road to Pesaro.
Caterina Sforza Riario went with him. Dressed in black and mounted upon
a white horse, the handsome amazon rode between Cesare Borgia and Yves
At Cesena the duke made a halt, and there he left the countess in the
charge of d'Allègre whilst he himself rode forward to overtake the main
body of his army, which was already as far south as Cattolica. As for
Giovanni Sforza, despite the fact that the Duke of Urbino had sent some
foot to support him, he was far more likely to run than to fight, and in
fact he had already taken the precaution of placing his money and
valuables in safety and was disposing, himself, to follow them. But it
happened that there was not yet the need. Fate--in the shape of his
cousin Lodovico of Milan--postponed the occasion.
On the 26th Cesare lay at Montefiori, and there he was reached by
couriers sent at all speed from Milan by Trivulzio. Lodovico Sforza had
raised an army of Swiss and German mercenaries to reconquer his
dominions, and the Milanese were opening their arms to receive him back,
having already discovered that, in exchanging his rule for that of the
French, they had but exchanged King Log for King Stork. Trivulzio begged
for the instant return of the French troops serving under Cesare, and
Cesare, naturally compelled to accede, was forced to postpone the
continuance of his campaign, a matter which must have been not a little
vexatious at such a moment.
He returned to Cesena, where, on the 27th, he dismissed Yves d'Allègre
and his men, who made all haste back to Milan, so that Cesare was left
with a force of not more than a thousand foot and five hundred horse.
These, no doubt, would have sufficed him for the conquest of Pesaro, but
Giovanni Sforza, encouraged by his cousin's return, and hopeful now of
assistance, would certainly entrench himself and submit to a siege which
must of necessity be long-drawn, since the departure of the French had
deprived Cesare of his artillery.
Therefore the duke disposed matters for his return to Rome instead, and,
leaving Ercole Bentivogli with five hundred horse and Gonsalvo de
Mirafuente with three hundred foot to garrison Forli, he left Cesena with
the remainder of his forces, including Vitelli's horse, on January 30.
With him went Caterina Sforza-Riario, and of course there were not
wanting those who alleged that, during the few days at Cesena he had
carried his conquest of her further than the matter of her
territories(1)--a rumour whose parent was, no doubt, the ribald jest made
in Milan by Trivulzio when he heard of her capture.
1 "Teneva detta Madona (la qual é belissima dona, fiola del Ducha
Galeazo di Milan) di zorno e di note in la sna camera, con la quale--
judicio omnium--si deva piacer" (Sanuto's Diarii).
He conducted her to Rome--in golden chains, "like another Palmyra," it is
said--and there she was given the beautiful Belvedere for her prison
until she attempted an escape in the following June; whereupon, for
greater safety, she was transferred to the Castle of Sant' Angelo. There
she remained until May of 1501, when, by the intervention of the King of
France, she was set at liberty and permitted to withdraw to Florence to
rejoin her children. In the city of the lilies she abode, devoting
herself to good works until she ended her turbulent, unhappy life in
The circumstance that she was not made to pay with her life for her
attempt to poison the Pope is surely something in favour of the Borgias,
and it goes some way towards refuting the endless statements of their
fierce and vindictive cruelty. Of course, it has been urged that they
spared her from fear of France; but, if that is admitted, what then
becomes of the theory of that secret poison which might so well have been
employed in such a case as this?
GONFALONIER OF THE CHURCH
Although Cesare Borgia's conquest of Imola and Forli cannot seriously be
accounted extraordinary military achievements--save by consideration of
the act that this was the first campaign he had conducted--yet in Rome
the excitement caused by his victory was enormous. Possibly this is to
be assigned to the compelling quality of the man's personality, which was
beginning to manifest and assert itself and to issue from the shadow into
which it had been cast hitherto by that of his stupendous father.
The enthusiasm mounted higher and higher whilst preparations were being
made for his reception, and reached its climax on February 26, when, with
overpowering pomp, he made an entrance into Rome that was a veritable
Sanuto tells us that, as news came of his approach, the Pope, in his
joyous impatience and excitement, became unable to discharge the business
of his office, and no longer would give audience to any one. Alexander
had ever shown himself the fondest of fathers to his children, and now he
overflowed with pride in this son who already gave such excellent signs
of his capacity as a condottiero, and justified his having put off the
cassock to strap a soldier's harness to his lithe and comely body.
Cardinals Farnese and Borgia, with an imposing suite, rode out some way
beyond the gates of Santa Maria del Popolo to meet the duke. At the gate
itself a magnificent reception had been prepared him, and the entire
Pontifical Court, prelates, priests, ambassadors of the Powers, and
officials of the city and curia down to the apostolic abbreviators and
secretaries, waited to receive him.
It was towards evening--between the twenty-second and the twenty-third
hours--when he made his entrance. In the van went the baggage-carts, and
behind these marched a thousand foot in full campaign apparel, headed by
two heralds in the duke's livery and one in the livery of the King of
France. Next came Vitellozzo's horse followed by fifty mounted
gentlemen-at-arms--the duke's Caesarean guard--immediately preceding
The handsome young duke--"bello e biondo"--was splendidly mounted, but
very plainly dressed in black velvet with a simple gold chain for only
ornament, and he had about him a hundred guards on foot, also in black
velvet, halbert on shoulder, and a posse of trumpeters in a livery that
displayed his arms. In immediate attendance upon him came several
cardinals on their mules, and behind these followed the ambassadors of
the Powers, Cesare's brother Giuffredo Borgia, and Alfonso of Aragon,
Duke of Biselli and Prince of Salerno--Lucrezia's husband and the father
of her boy Roderigo, born some three months earlier. Conspicuous, too,
in Cesare's train would be the imposing figure of the formidable Countess
Sforza-Riario, in black upon her white horse, riding in her golden
shackles between her two attendant women.
As the procession reached the Bridge of Sant' Angelo a salute was
thundered forth by the guns from the castle, where floated the banners of
Cesare and of the Church. The press of people from the Porta del Popolo
all the way to the Vatican was enormous. It was the year of the Papal
Jubilee, and the city was thronged, with pilgrims from all quarters of
Europe who had flocked to Rome to obtain the plenary indulgence offered
by the Pope. So great was the concourse on this occasion that the
procession had the greatest difficulty in moving forward, and the
progress through the streets, packed with shouting multitudes, was of
necessity slow. At last, however, the Bridge of Sant' Angelo being
crossed, the procession pushed on to the Vatican along the new road
inaugurated for the Jubilee by Alexander in the previous December.
From the loggia above the portals of the Vatican the Pope watched his
son's imposing approach, and when the latter dismounted at the steps his
Holiness, with his five attendant cardinals, descended to the Chamber of
the Papagallo--the papal audiencechamber, contiguous to the Borgia
apartments--to receive the duke. Thither sped Cesare with his multitude
of attendants, and at sight of him now the Pope's eyes were filled with
tears of joy. The duke advanced gravely to the foot of the throne, where
he fell upon his knees, and was overheard by Burchard to express to his
father, in their native Spanish, all that he owed to the Pope's Holiness,
to which Alexander replied in the same tongue. Then Cesare stooped and
kissed the Pope's feet and then his hand, whereupon Alexander, conquered
no doubt by the paternal instincts of affection that were so strong in
him, raised his son and took him fondly in his arms.
The festivities in honour of Cesare's return were renewed in Rome upon
the morrow, and to this the circumstance that the season was that of
carnival undoubtedly contributed and lent the displays a threatrical
character which might otherwise have been absent. In these the duke's
victories were made the subject of illustration. There was a procession
of great chariots in Piazza Navona, with groups symbolizing the triumphs
of the ancient Caesar, in the arrangement of which, no doubt, the
assistance had been enlisted of that posse of valiant artists who were
then flocking to Rome and the pontifical Court.
Yriarte, mixing his facts throughout with a liberal leaven of fiction,
tells us that "this is the precise moment in which Cesare Borgia, fixing
his eyes upon the Roman Caesar, takes him definitely for his model and
adopts the device 'Aut Caesar, aut nihil.'"
Cesare Borgia never adopted that device, and never displayed it. In
connection with him it is only to be found upon the sword of honour made
for him when, while still a cardinal, he went to crown the King of
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