The Life of Cesare Borgia
Part 5 out of 7
Repairing to his quarters in the Vatican, the duke remained so close
there for the few weeks that he abode in Rome on this occasion(1) that,
from now onward, it became a matter of the utmost difficulty to obtain
audience from him. This may have been due to his habit of turning night
into day and day into night, whether at work or at play, which in fact
was the excuse offered by the Pope to certain envoys sent to Cesare from
Rimini, who were left to cool their heels about the Vatican ante-chambers
for a fortnight without succeeding in obtaining an audience.
1 "Mansit in Palatio secrete," says Burchard.
Cesare Borgia was now Lord of Imola, Forli, Rimini, Faenza and Piombino,
warranting his assumption of the inclusive title of Duke of Romagna which
he had taken immediately after the fall of Faenza.
As his State grew, so naturally did the affairs of government; and,
during those four weeks in Rome, business claimed his attention and an
enormous amount of it was dispatched. Chiefly was he engaged upon the
administration of the affairs of Faenza, which he had so hurriedly
quitted. In this his shrewd policy of generosity is again apparent. As
his representative and lieutenant he appointed a prominent citizen of
Faenza named Pasi, one of the very members of that Council which had been
engaged in defending the city and resisting Cesare. The duke gave it as
his motive for the choice that the man was obviously worthy of trust in
view of his fidelity to Astorre.
And there you have not only the shrewdness of the man who knows how to
choose his servants--which is one of the most important factors of
success--but a breadth of mind very unusual indeed in the Cinquecento.
In addition to the immunity from indemnity provided for by the terms of
the city's capitulation, Cesare actually went so far as to grant the
peasantry of the valley 2,000 ducats as compensation for damage done in
the war. Further, he supported the intercessions of the Council to the
Pope for the erection of a new convent to replace the one that had been
destroyed in the bombardment. In giving his consent to this--in a brief
dated July 12, 1501--the Pope announces that he does so in response to
the prayers of the Council and of the duke.
Giovanni Vera, Cesare's erstwhile preceptor--and still affectionately
accorded this title by the duke--was now Archbiship of Salerno, Cardinal
of Santa Balbina, and papal legate in Macerata, and he was chosen by the
Pope to go to Pesaro and Fano for the purpose of receiving the oath of
fealty. With him Cesare sent, as his own personal representative, his
secretary, Agabito Gherardi, who had been in his employ in that capacity
since the duke's journey into France, and who was to follow his fortunes
to the end.
However the people of Fano may have refrained from offering themselves to
the duke's dominion when, in the previous October, he had afforded them
by his presence the opportunity of doing so, their conduct now hardly
indicated that the earlier abstention had been born of reluctance, or
else their minds had undergone, in the meanwhile, a considerable change.
For, when they received the brief appointing him their lord, they
celebrated the event by public rejoicings and illuminations; whilst on
July 21 the Council, representing the people, in the presence of Vera and
Gherardi, took oath upon the Gospels of allegiance to Cesare and his
descendants for ever.
In the Consistory of June 25 of that year the French and Spanish
ambassadors came formally to notify the Holy Father of the treaty of
Granada, entered into in the previous November by Louis XII of the one
part, and Ferdinand and Isabella of the other, concerning the conquest
and division of the Kingdom of Naples. The rival claimants had come to a
compromise by virtue of which they were to undertake together the
conquest and thereafter share the spoil--Naples and the Abruzzi going to
France, and Calabria and Puglia to Spain.
Alexander immediately published his Bull declaring Federigo of Naples
deposed for disobedience to the Church, and for having called the Turk to
his aid, either of which charges it would have taxed Alexander's
ingenuity--vast though it was--convincingly to have established; or,
being established, to censure when all the facts were considered. The
charges were no better than pretexts for the spoliation of the
unfortunate king who, in the matter of his daughter's alliance with
Cesare, had conceived that he might flout the Borgias with impunity.
On June 28 d'Aubigny left Rome with the French troops, accompanied by the
bulk of the considerable army with which Cesare supported his French
ally, besides 1,000 foot raised by the Pope and a condotta of 100 lances
under Morgante Baglioni. As the troops defiled before the Castle of
Sant' Angelo they received the apostolic benediction from the Pope, who
stood on the lower ramparts of the fortress.
Cesare himself cannot have followed to join the army until after July 10,
for as late as that date there is an edict indited by him against all who
should offer injury to his Romagna officers. At about the same time that
he quitted Rome to ride after the French, Gonsalo de Cordoba landed a
Spanish army in Calabria, and the days of the Aragon dominion in Naples
King Federigo prepared to face the foe. Whilst himself remaining in
Naples with Prospero Colonna, he sent the bulk of his forces to Capua
under Fabrizio Colonna and Count Rinuccio Marciano--the brother of that
Marciano whom Vitelli had put to death in Tuscany.
Ravaging the territory and forcing its strongholds as they came, the
allies were under the walls of Capua within three weeks of setting out;
but on July 17, when within two miles of the town, they were met by six
hundred lances under Colonna, who attempted to dispute their passage. It
was Cesare Borgia himself who led the charge against them. Jean d'Auton
--in his Chronicles of Louis XII--speaks in warm terms of the duke's
valour and of the manner in which, by words and by example, he encouraged
his followers to charge the Colonna forces, with such good effect that
they utterly routed the Neapolitans, and drove them headlong back to the
shelter of Capua's walls.
The allies brought up their cannon, and opened the bombardment. This
lasted incessantly from July 17--which was a Monday--until the following
Friday, when two bastions were so shattered that the French were able to
gain possession of them, putting to the sword some two hundred Neapolitan
soldiers who had been left to defend those outworks. Thence admittance
to the town itself was gained four days later--on the 25th--through a
breach, according to some, through the treacherous opening of a gate,
according to others. Through gate or breach the besiegers stormed to
meet a fierce resistance, and the most horrible carnage followed. Back
and back they drove the defenders, fighting their way through the streets
and sparing none in the awful fury that beset them. The defence was
shattered; resistance was at an end; yet still the bloody work went on.
The combat had imperceptibly merged into a slaughter; demoralized and
panic-stricken in the reaction from their late gallantry, the soldiers of
Naples flung down their weapons and fled, shrieking for quarter. But
none was given. The invader butchered every human thing he came upon,
indiscriminant of age or sex, and the blood of some four thousand victims
flowed through the streets of Capua like water after a thundershower.
That sack of Capua is one of the most horrid pages in the horrid history
of sacks. You will find full details in d'Auton's chronicle, if you have
a mind for such horrors. There is a brief summary of the event in
Burchard's diary under date of July 26, 1501, which runs as follows:
"At about the fourth hour last night the Pope had news of the capture of
Capua by the Duke of Valentinois. The capture was due to the treason of
one Fabrizio--a citizen of Capua--who secretly introduced the besiegers
and was the first to be killed by them. After him the same fate was met
by some three thousand foot and some two hundred horse-soldiers, by
citizens, priests, conventuals of both sexes, even in the very churches
and monasteries, and all the women taken were given in prey to the
greatest cruelty. The total number of the slain is estimated at four
D'Auton, too, bears witness to this wholesale violation of the women,
"which," he adds, "is the very worst of all war's excesses." He informs
us further that "the foot-soldiers of the Duke of Valentinois acquitted
themselves so well in this, that thirty of the most beautiful women went
captive to Rome," a figure which is confirmed by Burchard.
What an opportunity was not this for Guicciardini! The foot-soldiers of
the Duke of Valentinois acquitted themselves so well in this, that thirty
of the most beautiful women went captive to Rome."
Under his nimble, malicious, unscrupulous pen that statement is re-edited
until not thirty but forty is the number of the captured victims taken to
Rome, and not Valentinois's foot, but Valentinois himself the ravisher of
the entire forty! But hear the elegant Florentine's own words:
"It was spread about [divulgossi]" he writes, "that, besides other
wickednesses worthy of eternal infamy, many women who had taken refuge in
a tower, and thus escaped the first fury of the assault, were found by
the Duke of Valentinois, who, with the title of King's Lieutenant,
followed the army with no more people than his gentlemen and his
guards.(1) He desired to see them all, and, after carefully examining
them [consideratele diligentemente] he retained forty of the most
1 This, incidentally, is another misstatement. Valentinois had with
him, besides the thousand foot levied by the Pope and the hundred lances
under Morgante Baglioni, an army some thousands strong led for him by
Guicciardini's aim is, of course, to shock you; he considers it necessary
to maintain in Cesare the character of ravenous wolf which he had
bestowed upon him. The marvel is not that Guicciardini should have
penned that utterly ludicrous accusation, but that more or less serious
subsequent writers--and writers of our own time even--instead of being
moved to contemptuous laughter at the wild foolishness of the story,
instead of seeking in the available records the germ of true fact from
which it was sprung, should sedulously and unblushingly have carried
forward its dissemination.
Yriarte not only repeats the tale with all the sober calm of one utterly
destitute of a sense of the ridiculous, but he improves upon it by a
delicious touch, worthy of Guicciardini himself, when he assures us that
Cesare took these forty women for his harem!
It is a nice instance of how Borgia history has grown, and is still
If verisimilitude itself does not repudiate Guicciardini's story, there
are the Capuan chronicles to do it--particularly that of Pellegrini, who
witnessed the pillage. In those chronicles from which Guicciardini drew
the matter for this portion of his history of Italy, you will seek in
vain for any confirmation of that fiction with which the Florentine
historian--he who had a pen of gold for his friends and one of iron for
his foes--thought well to adorn his facts.
If the grotesque in history-building is of interest to you, you may turn
the pages of the Storia Civile di Capua, by F. Granata, published in
1752. This writer has carefully followed the Capuan chroniclers in their
relation of the siege; but when it comes to these details of the forty
ladies in the tower (in which those chroniclers fail him) he actually
gives Guicciardini as his authority, setting a fashion which has not
lacked for unconscious, and no less egregious, imitators.
To return from the criticism of fiction to the consideration of fact,
Fabrizio Colonna and Rinuccio da Marciano were among the many captains of
the Neapolitan army that were taken prisoners. Rinuccio was the head of
the Florentine faction which had caused the execution of Paolo Vitelli,
and Giovio has it that Vitellozzo Vitelli, who had already taken an
instalment of vengeance by putting Pietro da Marciano to death in
Tuscany, caused Rinuccio's wounds to be poisoned, so that he died two
The fall of Capua was very shortly followed by that of Gaeta, and, within
a week, by that of Naples, which was entered on August 3 by Cesare Borgia
in command of the vanguard of the army. "He who had come as a cardinal
to crown King Federigo, came now as a condottiero to depose him."
Federigo offered to surrender to the French all the fortresses that still
held for him, on condition that he should have safe-conduct to Ischia and
liberty to remain there for six months. This was agreed, and Federigo
was further permitted to take with him his moveable possessions and his
artillery, which latter, however, he afterwards sold to the Pope.
Thus the last member of the House of Aragon to sit upon the throne of
Naples took his departure, accompanied by the few faithful ones who loved
him well enough to follow him into exile; amongst these was that poet
Sanazzaro, who, to avenge the wrong suffered by the master whom he loved,
was to launch his terrible epigrams against Alexander, Cesare, and
Lucrezia, and by means of those surviving verses enable the enemies of
the House of Borgia to vilify their memories through centuries to follow.
Federigo's captains Prospero and Fabrizio Colonna, upon being ransomed,
took their swords to Gonzalo de Cordoba, hoping for the day when they
might avenge upon the Borgia the ruin which, even in this Neapolitan
conquest they attributed to the Pope and his son.
And here, so far as Naples is concerned, closes the history of the House
of Aragon. In Italy it was extinct; and it was to become so, too, in
Spain within the century.
THE LETTER TO SILVIO SAVELLI
By September 15 Cesare was back in Rome, the richer in renown, in French
favour, and in a matter of 40,000 ducats, which is estimated as the total
of the sums paid him by France and Spain for the support which his
condotta had afforded them.
During his absence two important events had taken place: the betrothal of
his widowed sister Lucrezia to Alfonso d'Este, son of Duke Ercole of
Ferrara, and the publication of the Bull of excommunication (of August
20) against the Savelli and Colonna in consideration of all that they had
wrought against the Holy See from the pontificate of Sixtus IV to the
present time. By virtue of that Bull the Pope ordered the confiscation
of the possessions of the excommunicated families, whilst the Caetani
suffered in like manner at the same time.
These possessions were divided into two parts, and by the Bull of
September 17 they were bestowed, one upon Lucrezia's boy Roderigo, and
with them the title of Duke of Sermoneta; the other to a child, Giovanni
Borgia (who is made something of a mystery) with the title of Duke of
Nepi and Palestrina.
The entire proceeding is undoubtedly open to grave censure, since the
distribution of the confiscated fiefs subjects to impeachment the purity
of the motives that prompted this confiscation. It was on the part of
Alexander a gross act of nepotism, a gross abuse of his pontifical
authority; but there is, at least, this to be said, that in perpetrating
it he was doing no more than in his epoch it was customary for Popes to
do. Alexander, it may be said again in this connection, was part of a
corrupt system, not the corrupter of a pure one.
Touching the boy Giovanni Borgia, the mystery attaching to him concerns
his parentage, and arises out of the singular circumstance that there are
two papal Bulls, both dated September 1, 1501, in each of which a
different father is assigned to him, the second appearing to supplement
and correct the first.
The first of these Bulls, addressed to "Dilecto Filio Nobili Joanni de
Borgia, Infanti Romano," declares him to be a child of three years of
age, the illegitimate son of Cesare Borgia, unmarried (as Cesare was at
the time of the child's birth) and of a woman (unnamed, as was usual in
such cases) also unmarried.
The second declares him, instead, to be the son of Alexander, and runs:
"Since you bear this deficiency not from the said duke, but from us and
the said woman, which we for good reasons did not desire to express in
the preceding writing."
That the second Bull undoubtedly contains the truth of the matter is the
only possible explanation of its existence, and the "good reasons" that
existed for the first one are, no doubt, as Gregorovius says, that
officially and by canon law the Pope was inhibited from recognizing
children. (His other children, be it remembered, were recognized by him
during his cardinalate and before his elevation to St. Peter's throne.)
Hence the attempt by these Bulls to circumvent the law to the end that
the child should not suffer in the matter of his inheritance.
Burchard, under date of November 3 of that year, freely mentions this
Giovanni Borgia as the son of the Pope and "a certain Roman woman"
On the same date borne by those two Bulls a third one was issued
confirming the House of Este perpetually in the dominion of Ferrara and
its other Romagna possessions, and reducing by one-third the tribute of
4,000 ducats yearly imposed upon that family by Sixtus IV; and it was
explicitly added that these concessions were made for Lucrezia and her
Three days later a courier from Duke Ercole brought the news that the
marriage contract had been signed in Ferrara, and it was in salvoes of
artillery that day and illuminations after dark that the Pope gave
expression to the satisfaction afforded him by the prospect of his
daughter's entering one of the most ancient families and ascending one of
the noblest thrones in Italy.
It would be idle to pretend that the marriage was other than one of
convenience. Love between the contracting parties played no part in this
transaction, and Ercole d'Este was urged to it under suasion of the King
of France, out of fear of the growing might of Cesare, and out of
consideration for the splendid dowry which he demanded and in the matter
of which he displayed a spirit which Alexander contemptuously described
as that of a tradesman. Nor would Ercole send the escort to Rome for the
bride until he had in his hands the Bull of investiture in the fiefs of
Cento and Pieve, which, with 100,000 ducats, constituted Lucrezia's
dowry. Altogether a most unromantic affair.
The following letter from the Ferrarese ambassador in Rome, dated
September 23, is of interest in connection with this marriage:
"MOST ILLUSTRIOUS PRINCE AND MOST NOBLE LORD,
"His Holiness the Pope, taking into consideration such matters as might
occasion displeasure not only to your Excellency and to the Most
Illustrious Don Alfonso, but also to the duchess and even to himself, has
charged us to write to your Excellency to urge you so to contrive that
the Lord Giovanni of Pesaro, who, as your Excellency is aware, is in
Mantua, shall not be in Ferrara at the time of the nuptials.
Notwithstanding that his divorce from the said duchess is absolutely
legitimate and accomplished in accordance with pure truth, as is publicly
known not only from the proceedings of the trial but also from the free
confession of the said Don Giovanni, it is possible that he may still be
actuated by some lingering ill-will; wherefore, should he find himself in
any place where the said lady might be seen by him, her Excellency might,
in consequence, be compelled to withdraw into privacy, to be spared the
memory of the past. Wherefore, his Holiness exhorts your Excellency to
provide with your habitual prudence against such a contingency."
Meanwhile, the festivities wherewith her betrothal was celebrated went
merrily amain, and into the midst of them, to bear his share, came Cesare
crowned with fresh laurels gained in the Neapolitan war. No merry-
makings ever held under the auspices of Pope Alexander VI at the Vatican
had escaped being the source of much scandalous rumour, but none had been
so scandalous and disgraceful as the stories put abroad on this occasion.
These found a fitting climax in that anonymous Letter to Silvio Savelli,
published in Germany--which at the time, be it borne in mind, was
extremely inimical to the Pope, viewing with jaundiced eyes his ever-
growing power, and stirred perhaps to this unspeakable burst of venomous
fury by the noble Este alliance, so valuable to Cesare in that it gave
him a friend upon the frontier of his Romagna possessions.
The appalling publication, which is given in full in Burchard, was
fictitiously dated from Gonzola de Cordoba's Spanish camp at Taranto on
November 25. A copy of this anonymous pamphlet, which is the most
violent attack on the Borgias ever penned, perhaps the most terrible
indictment against any family ever published--a pamphlet which
Gregorovius does not hesitate to call "an authentic document of the state
of Rome under the Borgias"--fell into the hands of the Cardinal of
Modena, who on the last day of the year carried it to the Pope.
Before considering that letter it is well to turn to the entries in
Burchard's diary under the dates of October 27 and November 11 of that
same year. You will find two statements which have no parallel in the
rest of the entire diary, few parallels in any sober narrative of facts.
The sane mind must recoil and close up before them, so impossible does it
seem to accept them.
The first of these is the relation of the supper given by Cesare in the
Vatican to fifty courtesans--a relation which possibly suggested to the
debauched Regent d'Orléans his fêtes d'Adam, a couple of centuries later.
Burchard tells us how, for the amusement of Cesare, of the Pope, and of
Lucrezia, these fifty courtesans were set to dance after supper with the
servants and some others who were present, dressed at first and
afterwards not so. He draws for us a picture of those fifty women on all
fours, in all their plastic nudity, striving for the chestnuts flung to
them in that chamber of the Apostolic Palace by Christ's Vicar--an old
man of seventy--by his son and his daughter. Nor is that all by any
means. There is much worse to follow--matter which we dare not
translate, but must leave more or less discreetly veiled in the decadent
Latin of the Caerimoniarius:
"Tandem exposita dona ultima, diploides de serico, paria caligarum,
bireta ed alia pro illis qui pluries dictas meretrices carnaliter
agnoscerent; que fuerunt ibidem in aula publice carnaliter tractate
arbitrio presentium, dona distributa victoribus."
Such is the monstrous story!
Gregorovius, in his defence of Lucrezia Borgia, refuses to believe that
she was present; but he is reluctant to carry his incredulity any
"Some orgy of that nature," he writes, "or something similar may very
well have taken place. But who will believe that Lucrezia, already the
legal wife of Alfonso d'Este and on the eve of departure for Ferrara, can
have been present as a smiling spectator?"
Quite so. Gregorovius puts his finger at once upon one of the obvious
weaknesses of the story. But where there is one falsehood there are
usually others; and if we are not to believe that Lucrezia was present,
why should we be asked to believe in the presence of the Pope? If
Burchard was mistaken in the one, why might he not be mistaken in the
other? But the question is not really one of whom you will believe to
have been present at that unspeakable performance, but rather whether you
can possibly bring yourself to believe that it ever took place as it is
related in the Diarium.
Gregorovius says, you will observe, "Some orgy of that nature, or
something similar, may very well have taken place." We could credit that
Cesare held "some orgy of that nature." He had apartments in the
Vatican, and if it shock you to think that it pleased him, with his
gentlemen, to make merry by feasting a parcel of Roman harlots, you are--
if you value justice--to be shocked at the times rather than the man.
The sense of humour of the Cinquecento was primitive, and in primitive
humour prurience plays ever an important part, as is discernible in the
literature and comedies of that age. If you would appreciate this to the
full, consider Burchard's details of the masks worn at Carnival by some
merry-makers ("Venerunt ad plateam St. Petri larvati...habentes nasos
lungos et grossos in forma priaporum") and you must realize that in
Cesare's conduct in this matter there would have been nothing so very
abnormal considered from the point of view of the Cinquecento, even
though it were to approach the details given by Burchard.
But even so, you will hesitate before you accept the story of that
saturnalia in its entirety, and before you believe that an old man of
seventy, a priest and Christ's Vicar, was present with Cesare and his
friends. Burchard does not say that he himself was a witness of what he
relates. But the matter shall presently be further considered.
Meanwhile, let us pass to the second of these entries in the diary, and
(a not unimportant detail) on the very next page of it, under the date of
November 11. In this it is related that certain peasants entered Rome by
the Viridarian Gate, driving two mares laden with timber; that, in
crossing the Square of St. Peter's, some servants of the Pope's ran out
and cut the cords so that the timber was loosened and the beasts relieved
of their burden; they were then led to a courtyard within the precincts
of the palace, where four stallions were loosed upon them. "Ascenderunt
equas et coierunt cum eis et eas graviter pistarunt et leserunt," whilst
the Pope at a window above the doorway of the Palace, with Madonna
Lucrezia, witnessed with great laughter and delight, the show which it is
suggested was specially provided for their amusement.
The improbabilities of the saturnalia of the fifty courtesans pale before
the almost utter impossibility of this narrative. To render it possible
in the case of two chance animals as these must have been under the
related circumstances, a biological coincidence is demanded so utterly
unlikely and incredible that we are at once moved to treat the story with
scorn, and reject it as a fiction. Yet not one of those many writers who
have retailed that story from Burchard's Diarium as a truth incontestable
as the Gospels, has paused to consider this--so blinded are we when it is
a case of accepting that which we desire to accept.
The narrative, too, is oddly--suspiciously--circumstantial, even to the
unimportant detail of the particular gate by which the peasants entered
Rome. In a piece of fiction it is perfectly natural to fill in such
minor details to the end that the picture shall be complete; but they are
rare in narratives of fact. And one may be permitted to wonder how came
the Master of Ceremonies at the Vatican to know the precise gate by which
those peasants came. It is not--as we have seen--the only occasion on
which an excess of detail in the matter of a gate renders suspicious the
accuracy of a story of Burchard's.
Both these affairs find a prominent place in the Letter to Silvio
Savelli. Indeed Gregorovius cites the pamphlet as one of the authorities
to support Burchard, and to show that what Burchard wrote must have been
true; the other authority he cites is Matarazzo, disregarding not only
the remarkable discrepancy between Matarazzo's relation and that of
Burchard, but the circumstance that the matter of that pamphlet became
current throughout Italy, and that it was thus--and only thus--that
Matarazzo came to hear of the scandal.(1)
1 The frequency with which the German historian cites Matarazzo as an
authority is oddly inconsistent, considering that when he finds
Matarazzo's story of the murder of the Duke of Gandia upsetting the
theory which Gregorovius himself prefers, by fastening the guilt upon
Giovanni Sforza, he devotes some space to showing--with perfect justice--
that Matarazzo is no authority at all.
The Letter to Silvio Savelli opens by congratulating him upon his escape
from the hands of the robbers who had stripped him of his possessions,
and upon his having found a refuge in Germany at the Emperor's Court. It
proceeds to marvel that thence he should have written letters to the Pope
begging for justice and reinstatement, his wonder being at the credulity
of Savelli in supposing that the Pope--"betrayer of the human race, who
has spent his life in betrayals"--will ever do any just thing other than
through fear or force. Rather does the writer suggest the adoption of
other methods; he urges Savelli to make known to the Emperor and all
princes of the Empire the atrocious crimes of that "infamous wild beasts"
which have been perpetrated in contempt of God and religion. He then
proceeds to relate these crimes. Alexander, Cesare, and Lucrezia, among
others of the Borgia family, bear their share of the formidable
accusations. Of the Pope are related perfidies, simonies, and
ravishments; against Lucrezia are urged the matter of her incest, the
supper of the fifty courtesans, and the scene of the stallions; against
Cesare there are the death of Biselli, the murder of Pedro Caldes, the
ruin of the Romagna, whence he has driven out the legitimate lords, and
the universal fear in which he is held.
It is, indeed, a compendium of all the stories which from Milan, Naples,
and Venice--the three States where the Borgias for obvious reasons are
best hated--have been disseminated by their enemies, and a more violent
work of rage and political malice was never uttered. This malice becomes
particularly evident in the indictment of Cesare for the ruin of the
Romagna. Whatever Cesare might have done, he had not done that--his
bitterest detractor could not (without deliberately lying) say that the
Romagna was other than benefiting under his sway. That is not a matter
of opinion, not a matter of inference or deduction. It is a matter of
absolute fact and irrefutable knowledge.
To return now to the two entries in Burchard's Diarium when considered in
conjunction with the Letter to Silvio Savelli (which Burchard quotes in
full), it is remarkable that nowhere else in the discovered writings of
absolute contemporaries is there the least mention of either of those
scandalous stories. The affair of the stallions, for instance, must have
been of a fairly public character. Scandal-mongering Rome could not have
resisted the dissemination of it. Yet, apart from the Savelli letter, no
single record of it has been discovered to confirm Burchard.
At this time, moreover, it is to be remembered, Lucrezia's betrothal to
Alfonso d'Este was already accomplished; preparations for her departure
and wedding were going forward, and the escort from Ferrara was daily
expected in Rome. If Lucrezia had never been circumspect, she must be
circumspect now, when the eyes of Italy were upon her, and there were not
wanting those who would have been glad to have thwarted the marriage--the
object, no doubt, of the pamphlet we are considering. Yet all that was
written to Ferrara was in praise of her--in praise of her goodness and
her modesty, her prudence, her devoutness, and her discretion, as
presently we shall see.
If from this we are to conclude--as seems reasonable--that there was no
gossip current in Rome of the courtesans' supper and the rest, we may
assume that there was no knowledge in Rome of such matters; for with
knowledge silence would have been impossible. So much being admitted, it
becomes a matter of determining whether the author of the Letter to
Silvio Savelli had access to the diary of Burchard for his facts, or
whether Burchard availed himself of the Letter to Silvio Savelli to
compile these particular entries. The former alternative being out of
the question, there but remains the latter--unless it is possible that
the said entries have crept into the copies of the "Diarium" and are not
present in the original, which is not available.
This theory of interpolation, tentatively put forward, is justified, to
some extent at least, by the following remarkable circumstances: that two
such entries, having--as we have said--absolutely no parallel in the
whole of the Diarium, should follow almost immediately the one upon the
other; and that Burchard should relate them coldly, without reproof or
comment of any kind--a most unnatural reticence in a writer who loosed
his indignation one Easter-tide to see Lucrezia and her ladies occupying
the choir of St. Peter's, where women never sat.
The Pope read the anonymous libel when it was submitted to him by the
Cardinal of Modena--read it, laughed it to scorn, and treated it with the
contempt which it deserved, yet a contempt which, considering its nature,
asks a certain greatness of mind.
If the libel was true it is almost incredible that he should not have
sought to avenge it, for an ugly truth is notoriously hurtful and
provocative of resentment, far more so than is a lie. Cesare, however,
was not of a temper quite as long-suffering as his father. Enough and
more of libels and lampoons had he endured already. Early in December a
masked man--a Neapolitan of the name of Mancioni--who had been going
through Rome uttering infamies against him was seized and so dealt with
that he should in future neither speak nor write anything in any man's
defamation. His tongue was cut out and his right hand chopped off, and
the hand, with the tongue attached to its little finger, was hung in
sight of all and as a warning from a window of the Church of Holy Cross.
And towards the end of January, whilst Cesare's fury at that pamphlet out
of Germany was still unappeased, a Venetian was seized in Rome for having
translated from Greek into Latin another libel against the Pope and his
son. The Venetian ambassador intervened to save the wretch, but his
intervention was vain. The libeller was executed that same night.
Costabili--the Ferrara ambassador--who spoke to the Pope on the matter of
this execution, reported that his Holiness said that more than once had
he told the duke that Rome was a free city, in which any one was at
liberty to say or write what he pleased; that of himself, too, much evil
was being spoken, but that he paid no heed to it.
"The duke," proceeded Alexander, "is good-natured, but he has not yet
learnt to bear insult." And he added that, irritated, Cesare had
protested that, "However much Rome may be in the habit of speaking and
writing, for my own part I shall give these libellers a lesson in good
The lesson he intended was not one they should live to practise.
LUCREZIA'S THIRD MARRIAGE
At about the same time that Burchard was making in his Diarium those
entries which reflect so grossly upon the Pope and Lucrezia, Gianluca
Pozzi, the ambassador of Ferrara at the Vatican, was writing the
following letter to his master, Duke Ercole, Lucrezia's father-in-law
"This evening, after supper, I accompanied Messer Gerardo Saraceni to
visit the Most Illustrious Madonna Lucrezia in your Excellency's name and
that of the Most Illustrious Don Alfonso. We entered into a long
discussion touching various matters. In truth she showed herself a
prudent, discreet, and good-natured lady."(1)
1 See Gregorovius's Lucrezia Borgia.
The handsome, athletic Cardinal Ippolito d'Este, with his brothers
Sigismondo and Fernando, had arrived in Rome on December 23 with the
imposing escort that was to accompany their brother Alfonso's bride back
Cesare was prominent in the welcome given them. Never, perhaps, had he
made greater display than on the occasion of his riding out to meet the
Ferrarese, accompanied by no fewer than 4,000 men-at-arms, and mounted on
a great war-horse whose trappings of cloth of gold and jewels were
estimated at 10,000 ducats.
The days and nights that followed, until Lucrezia's departure a fortnight
later, were days and nights of gaiety and merry-making at the Vatican; in
banquets, dancing, the performance of comedies, masques, etc., was the
time made to pass as agreeably as might be for the guests from Ferrara,
and in all Cesare was conspicuous, either for the grace and zest with
which he nightly danced, or for the skill and daring which he displayed
in the daily joustings and entertainments, and more particularly in the
bull-fight that was included in them.
Lucrezia was splendidly endowed, to the extent, it was estimated, of
300,000 ducats, made up by 100,000 ducats in gold, her jewels and
equipage, and the value of the Castles of Pieve and Cento. Her departure
from Rome took place on January 6, and so she passes out of this
chronicle, which, after all, has been little concerned with her.
Of the honour done her everywhere on that journey to Ferrara, the details
are given elsewhere, particularly in the book devoted to her history and
rehabilitation by Herr Gregorovius. After all, the real Lucrezia Borgia
fills a comparatively small place in the actual history of her house. It
is in the fictions concerning her family that she is given such
unenviable importance, and presented as a Maenad, a poisoner, and worse.
In reality she appears to us, during her life in Rome, as a rather
childish, naïve, and entirely passive figure, important only in so far as
she found employment at her father's or brother's hands for the
advancement of their high ambitions and unscrupulous aims.
In the popular imagination she lives chiefly as a terrific poisoner, an
appalling artist in venenation. It is remarkable that this should be the
case, for not even the scandal of her day so much as suggests that she
was connected--directly or even indirectly--with a single case of
poisoning. No doubt that popular conception owes its being entirely to
Victor Hugo's drama.
Away from Rome and settled in Ferrara from the twenty-second year of her
age, to become anon its duchess, her life is well known and admits of no
argument. The archives of the State she ruled show her devout, god-
fearing, and beloved in life, and deeply mourned in death by a sorrowing
husband and a sorrowing people. Not a breath of scandal touches her from
the moment that she quits the scandalous environment of the Papal Court.
Cesare continued at the Vatican after her departure. His duchess was to
have come to Rome in that Easter of 1502, and it had been disposed that
the ladies and gentlemen who had gone as escort of honour with Lucrezia
should proceed--after leaving her in Ferrara--to Lombardy, to do the like
office by Charlotte d'Albret, and, meeting her there, accompany her to
Rome. She was coming with her brother, the Cardinal Amanieu d'Albret,
and bringing with her Cesare's little daughter, Louise de Valentinois,
now two years of age. But the duchess fell ill at the last moment, and
was unable to undertake the journey, of which Cardinal d'Albret brought
word to Rome, where he arrived on February 7.
Ten days later Cesare set out with his father for Piombino, for which
purpose six galleons awaited them at Civita Vecchia under the command of
Lodovico Mosca, the captain of the Pontifical navy. On these the Pope
and his son embarked, upon their visit to the scene of the latest
addition to Cesare's ever-growing dominions.
They landed at Piombino on February 21, and made a solemn entrance into
the town, the Pope carried in state in the Sedia Gestatoria, under a
canopy, attended by six cardinals and six singers from the Sixtine
Chapel, whilst Cesare was accompanied by a number of his gentlemen.
They abode four days in Piombino, whence they crossed to Elba, for the
purpose of disposing for the erection there of two fortresses--a matter
most probably entrusted to Leonardo da Vinci, who continued in the ducal
train as architect and engineer.
On March 1 they took ship to return to Rome; but they were detained at
sea for five days by a tempest which seems to have imperilled the
vessels. The Pope was on board the captain's galley with his cardinals-
in-waiting and servants, and when these were reduced by the storm and the
imminent danger to a state of abject terror, the Pope--this old man of
seventy-one--sat calm and intrepid, occasionally crossing himself and
pronouncing the name of Jesus, and encouraging the very sailors by his
example as much as by his words.
In Piombino Cesare had left Michele da Corella as his governor. This
Corella was a captain of foot, a soldier of fortune, who from the
earliest days of Cesare's military career had followed the duke's
fortunes--the very man who is alleged to have strangled Alfonso of Aragon
by Cesare's orders. He is generally assumed to have been a Spaniard, and
is commonly designated as Michelotto, or Don Miguel; but Alvisi supposes
him, from his name of Corella, to have been a Venetian, and he tells us
that by his fidelity to Cesare and the implicit manner in which he
executed his master's orders, he earned--as is notorious--considerable
hatred. He has been spoken of, indeed, as the âme damnée of Cesare
Borgia; but that is a purely romantic touch akin to that which gave the
same designation to Richelieu's Father Joseph.
The Romagna was at this time administered for Cesare Borgia by Ramiro de
Lorqua, who, since the previous November, had held the office of Governor
in addition to that of Lieutenant-General in which he had been earlier
invested. His power in the Romagna was now absolute, all Cesare's other
officers, even the very treasurers, being subject to him.
He was a man of some fifty years of age, violent and domineering, feared
by all, and the dispenser of a harsh justice which had at least the merit
of an impartiality that took no account of persons.
Bernardi gives us an instance of the man's stern, uncompromising,
pitiless nature. On January 29, 1502, two malefactors were hanged in
Faenza. The rope suspending one of them broke while the fellow was
alive, and the crowd into which he tumbled begged for mercy for him at
first, then, swayed by pity, the people resolved to save him in spite of
the officers of justice who demanded his surrender. Preventing his
recapture, the mob bore him off to the Church of the Cerviti. The
Lieutenant of Faenza came to demand the person of the criminal, but he
was denied by the Prior, who claimed to extend him sanctuary.
But the days of sanctuary were overpast, and the laws of the time held
that any church or consecrated place in which a criminal took refuge
should ipso facto be deemed unconsecrated by his pursuers, and further,
that any ecclesiastic sheltering such a fugitive did so under peril of
excommunication from his bishop. This law Ramiro accounted it his duty
to enforce when news was carried to him at Imola of what had happened.
He came at once to Faenza, and, compelling the Prior by actual force to
yield up the man he sheltered, he hanged the wretch, for the second time,
from a window of the Palace of the Podestá. At the same time he seized
several who were alleged to have been ringleaders of the fellow's rescue
from the hands of the officers, and made the citizens of Faenza
compromise for the lives of these by payment of a fine of 10,000 ducats,
giving them a month in which to find the money.
The Faentini sent their envoys to Ramiro to intercede with him; but that
harsh man refused so much as to grant them audience--which was well for
them, for, as a consequence, the Council sent ambassadors to Rome to
submit the case to the Pope's Holiness and to the Duke of Valentinois,
together with a petition that the fine should be remitted--a petition
that was readily granted.
Harsh as it was, however, Ramiro's rule was salutary, its very harshness
necessary in a province where lawlessness had become a habit through
generations of misgovernment. Under Cesare's dominion the change already
was remarkable. During his two years of administration--to count from
its commencement--the Romagna was already converted from a seething hell
of dissensions, disorders and crimes--chartered brigandage and murder--
into a powerful State, law-abiding and orderly, where human life and
personal possessions found zealous protection, and where those who
disturbed the peace met with a justice that was never tempered by mercy.
A strong hand was wanted there, and the duke, supreme judge of the tools
to do his work, ruled the Romagna and crushed its turbulence by means of
the iron hand of Ramiro de Lorqua.
It was also under the patronage of Valentinois that the first printing-
press of any consequence came to be established in Italy. This was set
up at Fano by Girolamo Sancino in 1501, and began the issue of worthy
books. One of the earliest works undertaken (says Alvisi) was the
printing of the Statutes of Fano for the first time in January of 1502.
And it was approved by the Council, civil and ecclesiastical, that
Sancino should undertake this printing of the Statutes "Ad perpetuam
memoriam Illmi. Domini nostri Ducis."
URBINO AND CAMERINO
It may well be that it was about this time that Cesare, his ambition
spreading--as men's ambition will spread with being gratified--was
considering the consolidation of Central Italy into a kingdom of which he
would assume the crown.
It was a scheme in the contemplation of which he was encouraged by
Vitellozzo Vitelli, who no doubt conceived that in its fulfilment the
ruin of Florence would be entailed--which was all that Vitelli cared
about. What to Cesare would have been no more than the means, would have
been to Vitelli a most satisfactory end.
Before, however, going so far there was still the work of subjugating the
States of the Church to be completed, as this could not be so considered
until Urbino, Camerino, and Sinigaglia should be under the Borgia
For this, no doubt, Cesare was disposing during that Easter of 1502 which
he spent in Rome, and during which there were heard from the south the
first rumblings of the storm of war whereof ill-starred Naples was once
more--for the third time within ten years--to be the scene. The allies
of yesterday were become the antagonists of to-day, and France and Spain
were ready to fly at each other's throats over the division of the spoil,
as a consequence of certain ill-definitions of the matter in the treaty
of Granada. The French Viceroy, Louis d'Armagnac, and the great Spanish
Captain, Gonzalo de Cordoba, were on the point of coming to blows.
Nor was the menace of disturbance confined to Naples. In Florence, too,
the torch of war was alight, and if--as he afterwards swore--Cesare
Borgia had no hand in kindling it, it is at least undeniable that he
complacently watched the conflagration, conscious that it would make for
the fulfilment of his own ends. Besides, there was still that little
matter of the treaty of Forno dei Campi between Cesare and Florence, a
treaty which the Signory had never fulfilled and never intended to
fulfil, and Cesare was not the man to forget how he had been fooled.
But for the protection of France which she enjoyed, Florence must long
ere this have been called to account by him, and crushed out of all shape
under the weight of his mailed hand. As it was she was to experience the
hurt of his passive resentment, and find this rather more than she could
Vitellozzo Vitelli, that vindictive firebrand whose original motive in
allying himself with Cesare had been the hope that the duke might help
him to make Florence expiate his brother's blood, finding that Cesare
withheld the expected help, was bent at last upon dealing, himself, with
Florence. He entered into plots with the exiled Piero de'Medici to
restore the latter to his dominion; he set intrigues afoot in Pisa, where
his influence was vast, and in Siena, whose tyrant, Pandolfo Petrucci,
was ready and willing to forward his designs, and generally made so
disturbing a stir in Tuscany that the Signory became gravely alarmed.
Cesare certainly took no apparent active part in the affair. He lent
Vitelli no aid; but neither did he attempt to restrain him or any other
of the Borgia condottieri who were allied with him.
The unrest, spreading and growing sullenly a while, burst suddenly forth
in Arezzo on June 4, when the cries of "Medici!" and "Marzocco!" rang in
its streets, to announce that the city was in arms against the government
of Florence. Arezzo followed this up by summoning Vitelli, and the
waiting, watchful condottiero was quick to answer the desired call. He
entered the town three days later at the head of a small body of foot,
and was very shortly afterwards followed by his brother Giulio Vitelli,
Bishop of Città di Castello, with the artillery, and, presently, by
Gianpaolo Baglioni with a condotta of horse.
A few days later Vitelli was in possession of all the strongholds of the
Val di Chiana, and panic-stricken Florence was speeding ambassadors hot-
foot to Rome to lay her complaints of these matters before the Pope.
Alexander was able to reply that, far from supporting the belligerents,
he had launched a Bull against them, provoked by the poisoning of the
Cesare looked on with the inscrutable calm for which Macchiavelli was
presently to find him so remarkable. Aware as he was of the French
protection which Florence enjoyed and could invoke, he perceived how vain
must ultimately prove Vitelli's efforts, saw, perhaps, in all this the
grave danger of ultimate ruin which Vitelli was incurring. Yet Vitelli's
action served Cesare's own purposes, and, so that his purposes were
served, there were no other considerations likely to weigh with that cold
egotist. Let Vitelli be caught in the toils he was spinning, and be
choked in them. Meanwhile, Florence was being harrowed, and that was all
to Cesare's satisfaction and advantage. When sufficiently humbled, it
might well befall that the Republic should come on her knees to implore
his intervention, and his pardon for having flouted him.
While matters stood so in Arezzo, Pisa declared spontaneously for Cesare,
and sent (on June 10) to offer herself to his dominion and to announce to
him that his banner was already flying from her turrets--and the growth
of Florence's alarm at this is readily conceived.
To Cesare it must have been a sore temptation. To accept such a pied-à-
terre in Tuscany as was now offered him would have been the first great
step towards founding that kingdom of his dreams. An impulsive man had
surely gulped the bait. But Cesare, boundless in audacity, most swift to
determine and to act, was not impulsive. Cold reason, foresight and
calculation were the ministers of his indomitable will. He looked ahead
and beyond in the matter of Pisa's offer, and he perceived the danger
that might await him in the acceptance. The time for that was not yet.
To take what Pisa offered might entail offending France, and although
Cesare was now in case to dispense with French support, he was in no case
to resist her opposition.
And so, the matter being considered and determined, Cesare quitted Rome
on the 12th and left it for the Pope to give answer to the Pisan envoys
in the Consistory of June 14--that neither his Holiness nor the Duke of
Valentinois could assent to the proposals which Pisa made.
From Rome Cesare travelled swiftly to Spoleto, where his army, some ten
thousand strong, was encamped. He was bent at last upon the conquest of
Camerino, and, ever an opportunist, he had seized the moment when
Florence, which might have been disposed to befriend Varano, Tyrant of
Camerino, was over-busy with her own affairs.
In addition to the powerful army awaiting him at Spoleto, the duke had a
further 2,000 men in the Romagna; another 1,000 men held themselves at
his orders between Sinigaglia and Urbino, and Dionigio di Naldo was
arming yet another 1,000 men at Verucchio for his service. Yet further
to increase this force, Cesare issued an edict during his brief sojourn
at Spoleto ordering every house in the Romagna to supply him with one
It was whilst here--as he afterwards wrote to the Pope--that news reached
him that Guidobaldo da Montefeltre, Duke of Urbino, was arming men and
raising funds for the assistance of Camerino. He wrote that he could not
at first believe it, but that shortly afterwards--at Foligni--he took a
chancellor of Camerino who admitted that the hopes of this State were all
founded upon Urbino's assistance; and later, a messenger from Urbino
falling into his hands, he discovered that there was a plot afoot to
seize the Borgia artillery as it passed through Ugubio, it being known
that, as Cesare had no suspicions, the guns would be guarded only by a
small force. Of this treachery the duke strongly expressed his
indignation in his letter to the Pope.
Whether the matter was true--or whether Cesare believed it to be true--it
is impossible to ascertain with absolute conviction. But it is in the
highest degree unlikely that Cesare would have written such a letter to
his father solely by way of setting up a pretext. Had that been his only
aim, letters expressing his simulated indignation would have been in
better case to serve his ends had they been addressed to others.
If Guidobaldo did engage in such an act, amounting to a betrayal, he was
certainly paid by Cesare in kind and with interest. If the duke had been
short of a pretext for carrying a drawn sword into the dominions of
Guidobaldo, he had that pretext now in this act of enmity against himself
and the Holy See.
First, however, he disposed for the attack upon Camerino. This State,
lying on the Eastern spurs of the Apennines, midway between Spoleto and
Urbino, was ruled by Giulio Cesare Varano, an old war-dog of seventy
years of age, ruthless and bloodthirsty, who owed his throne to his
murder of his own brother.
He was aided in the government of his tyranny by his four sons, Venanzio,
Annibale, Pietro, and Gianmaria.
Several times already had he been menaced by Cesare Borgia, for he was
one of the Vicars proscribed for the non-payment of tribute due to the
Holy See, and at last his hour was come. Against him Cesare now
dispatched an army under the command of Francesco Orsini, Duke of
Gravina, and Oliverotto Eufreducci, another murderous, bloody gentleman
who had hitherto served the duke in Vitelli's condotta, and who, by an
atrocious act of infamy and brigandage, had made himself Lord of Fermo,
which he pretended--being as sly as he was bloody--to hold as Vicar for
the Holy See.
This Oliverotto Eufreducci--hereafter known as Oliverotto da Fermo--was a
nephew of Giovanni Fogliano, Lord of Fermo. He had returned home to his
uncle's Court in the early part of that year, and was there received with
great honour and affection by Fogliano and his other relatives. To
celebrate his home-coming, Oliverotto invited his uncle and the principal
citizens of Fermo to a banquet, and at table contrived to turn the
conversation upon the Pope and the Duke of Valentinois; whereupon, saying
that these were matters to be discussed more in private, he rose from
table and begged them to withdraw with him into another room.
All unsuspecting--what should old Fogliano suspect from one so loved and
so deeply in his debt?--they followed him to the chamber where he had
secretly posted a body of his men-at-arms. There, no sooner had the door
closed upon this uncle, and those others who had shown him so much
affection, than he gave the signal for the slaughter that had been
concerted. His soldiers fell upon those poor, surprised victims of his
greed, and made a speedy and bloody end of all.
That first and chief step being taken, Oliverotto flung himself on his
horse, and, gathering his men-at-arms about him, rode through Fermo on
the business of butchering what other relatives and friends of Fogliano
might remain. Among these were Raffaele della Rovere and two of his
children, one of whom was inhumanly slaughtered in its mother's lap.
Thereafter he confiscated to his own uses the property of those whom he
had murdered, and of those who, more fortunate, had fled his butcher's
hands. He dismissed the existing Council and replaced it by a government
of his own. Which done--to shelter himself from the consequences--he
sent word to the Pope that he held Fermo as Vicar of the Church.
Whilst a portion of his army marched on Camerino, Cesare, armed with his
pretext for the overthrow of Guidobaldo, set himself deliberately and by
an elaborate stratagem to the capture of Urbino. Of this there can be
little doubt. The cunning of the scheme is of an unsavoury sort, when
considered by the notions that obtain to-day, for the stratagem was no
better than an act of base treachery. Yet, lest even in this you should
be in danger of judging Cesare Borgia by standards which cannot apply to
his age, you will do well to consider that there is no lack of evidence
that the fifteenth century applauded the business as a clever coup.
Guidobaldo da Montefeltre was a good prince. None in all Italy was more
beloved by his people, towards whom he bore himself with a kindly,
paternal bonhomie. He was a cultured, scholarly man, a patron of the
arts, happiest in the splendid library of the Palace of Urbino. It
happened, unfortunately, that he had no heir, which laid his dominions
open to the danger of division amongst the neighbouring greedy tyrants
after his death. To avoid this he had adopted Francesco Maria della
Rovere, hereditary Prefect of Sinigaglia, his sister's child and a nephew
of Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere's. There was wisdom and foresight in
the adoption, considering the favour enjoyed in Rome and in France by the
From Nocera Cesare sent Guidobaldo a message calculated to allay whatever
uneasiness he may have been feeling, and to throw him completely off his
guard. The duke notified him that he was marching upon Camerino--which
was at once true and untrue--and begged Guidobaldo to assist him in this
enterprise by sending him provisions to Gubbio, which he should reach on
the morrow--since he was marching by way of Cagli and Sassoferrato.
Further--and obviously with intent that the Duke of Urbino should reduce
the forces at his disposal--he desired Guidobaldo to send Vitelli the
support of a thousand men, which the latter had earlier solicited, but
which Guidobaldo had refused to supply without orders from the Pope.
Cesare concluded his letter with protestations of brotherly love--the
Judas' kiss which makes him hateful to us in this affair.
It all proved very reassuring to Guidobaldo who set his mind at ease and
never bethought him of looking to his defences, when, from Nocera, Cesare
made one of those sudden movements, terrible in their swiftness as the
spring of a tiger--enabling him to drive home his claws where least
expected. Leaving all baggage behind him, and with provisions for only
three days, he brought his troops by forced marches to Cagli, within the
Urbino State, and possessed himself of it almost before the town had come
to realize his presence.
Not until the citadel, taken entirely by surprise, was in Cesare's hands
did a messenger speed to Guidobaldo with the unwelcome tidings that the
Duke of Valentinois was in arms, as an enemy, within the territory.
Together with that message came others into the garden of the Zoccolanti
monastery--that favourite resort of Guidobaldo's--where he was indulging
his not unusual custom of supping in the cool of that summer evening.
They brought him word that, while Valentinois was advancing upon him from
the south, a force of 1,000 men were marching upon Urbino from Isola di
Fano in the east, and twice that number through the passes of Sant'
Angelo and Verucchio in the north--all converging upon his capital.
The attack had been shrewdly planned and timed, and if anything can
condone the treachery by which Guidobaldo was lulled into his false
security, it is the circumstance that this conduct of the matter avoided
bloodshed--a circumstance not wholly negligible, and one that was ever a
part of Cesare Borgia's policy, save where punishment had to be inflicted
or reprisals taken.
Guidobaldo, seeing himself thus beset upon all sides at once, and being
all unprepared for resistance, perceived that nothing but flight remained
him; and that very night he left Urbino hurriedly, taking with him the
boy Francesco Maria, and intending at first to seek shelter in his Castle
of S. Leo--a fortress that was practically impregnable. But already it
was too late. The passes leading thither were by now in the hands of the
enemy, as Guidobaldo discovered at dawn. Thereupon, changing his plans,
he sent the boy and his few attendants to Bagno, and, himself, disguised
as a peasant, took to the hills, despite the gout by which he was
tormented. Thus he won to Ravenna, which was fast becoming a home for
Urbino, meanwhile, in no case to resist, sent its castellan to meet
Cesare and to make surrender to him--whereof Cesare, in the letter
already mentioned, gives news to the Pope, excusing himself for having
undertaken this thing without the Pope's knowledge, but that "the
treachery employed against me by Guidobaldo was so enormous that I could
not suffer it."
Within a few hours of poor Guidobaldo's flight Cesare was housed in
Urbino's splendid palace, whose stupendous library was the marvel of all
scholars of that day. Much of this, together with many of the art-
treasures collected by the Montefeltri, Cesare began shortly afterwards
to transfer to Cesena.
In addition to publishing an edict against pillage and violence in the
City of Urbino, Cesare made doubly sure that none should take place by
sending his soldiers to encamp at Fermignano, retaining near him in
Urbino no more than his gentlemen-at-arms. The capital being taken, the
remainder of the duchy made ready surrender, all the strongholds
announcing their submission to Cesare with the exception of that almost
inaccessible Castle of S. Leo, which capitulated only after a
From Urbino Cesare now entered into communication with the Florentines,
and asked that a representative should be sent to come to an agreement
with him. In response to this request, the Republic sent him Bishop
Soderini as her ambassador. The latter arrived in Urbino on June 25 and
was immediately and very cordially received by the duke. With him, in
the subordinate capacity of secretary, came a lean, small-headed, tight-
lipped man, with wide-set, intelligent eyes and prominent cheek-bones--
one Niccolò Macchiavelli, who, in needy circumstances at present, and
comparatively obscure, was destined to immortal fame. Thus did
Macchiavelli meet Cesare Borgia for the first time, and, for all that we
have no records of it, it is not to be doubted that his study of that
remarkable man began then in Urbino, to be continued presently, as we
shall see, when Macchiavelli returns to him in the quality of an
To Soderini the duke expounded his just grievance, founded upon the
Florentines' unobservance of the treaty of Forno dei Campi; he demanded
that a fresh treaty should be drawn up to replace the broken one, and
that, for the purpose, Florence should change her government, as in the
ruling one, after what had passed, he could repose no faith. He
disclaimed all associations with the affair of Vitelli, but frankly
declared himself glad of it, as it had, no doubt, led Florence to
perceive what came of not keeping faith with him. He concluded by
assuring Soderini that, with himself for their friend, the Florentines
need fear no molestation from any one; but he begged that the Republic
should declare herself in the matter, since, if she did not care to have
him for her friend, she was, of course, at liberty to make of him her
So impressed was Soderini by Cesare Borgia that on that same night he
wrote to the Signory:
"This lord is very magnificent and splendid, and so spirited in feats of
arms that there is nothing so great but that it must seem small to him.
In the pursuit of glory and in the acquisition of dominions he never
rests, and he knows neither danger nor fatigue. He moves so swiftly that
he arrives at a place before it is known that he has set out for it. He
knows how to make himself beloved of his soldiers, and he has in his
service the best men of Italy. These things render him victorious and
formidable, and to these is yet to be added his perpetual good fortune.
He argues," the Florentine envoy proceeds, "with such sound reason that
to dispute with him would be a long affair, for his wit and eloquence
never fail him" ("dello ingegno e della lingua si vale quanto vuole").
You are to remember that this homage is one of the few surviving
impressions of one who came into personal contact with Cesare, and of
one, moreover, representing a Government more or less inimical to him,
who would therefore have no reason to draw a favourable portrait of him
for that Government's benefit. One single page of such testimony is
worth a dozen volumes of speculation and inference drawn afterwards by
men who never knew him--in many cases by men who never began to know his
The envoy concludes by informing the Signory that he has the duke's
assurances that the latter has no thought of attempting to deprive
Florence of any of her possessions, as "the object of his campaign has
not been to tyrannize, but to extirpate tyrants."
Whilst Cesare awaited the Florentines' reply to their ambassador's
communication, he withdrew to the camp at Fermignano, where he was sought
on July 6 by a herald from Louis XII. This messenger came to exhort
Cesare to embark upon no enterprise against the Florentine Republic,
because to offend Florence would be to offend the Majesty of France.
Simultaneously, however, Florence received messages from the Cardinal
d'Amboise, suggesting that they should come to terms with Valentinois by
conceding him at least a part of what had been agreed in the Treaty of
Forno dei Campi.
As a consequence, Soderini was able to inform Cesare that the Republic
was ready to treat with him, but that first he must withdraw Vitelli from
Arezzo, and compel him to yield up the captured fortresses. The duke,
not trusting--as he had frankly avowed--a Government which once already
had broken faith with him, and perceiving that, if he whistled his war-
dogs to heel as requested, he would have lost the advantages of his
position, refused to take any such steps until the treaty should be
concluded. He consented, however, to enforce meanwhile an armistice.
But now it happened that news reached Florence of the advance of Louis
XII with an army of 20,000 men, bound for Naples to settle the dispute
with Spain. So the Republic--sly and treacherous as any other Italian
Government of the Cinquecento--instructed Soderini to temporize with the
duke; to spend the days in amiable, inconclusive interviews and
discussions of terms which the Signory did not mean to make. Thus they
counted upon gaining time, until the arrival of the French should put an
end to the trouble caused by Vitelli, and to the need for any compromise.
But Cesare, though forced to submit, was not fooled by Soderini's smooth,
evasive methods. He too--having private sources of information in
France--was advised of the French advance and of the imminence of danger
to himself in consequence of the affairs of Florence. And it occasioned
him no surprise to see Soderini come on July 19 to take his leave of him,
advised by the Signory that the French vanguard was at hand, and that,
consequently, the negotiations might now with safety be abandoned.
To console him, he had news on the morrow of the conquest of Camerino.
The septuagenarian Giulio Cesare Varano had opposed to the Borgia forces
a stout resistance, what time he sent his two sons Pietro and Gianmaria
to Venice for help. It was in the hope of this solicited assistance that
he determined to defend his tyranny, and the war opened by a cavalry
skirmish in which Venanzio Varano routed the Borgia horse under the
command of the Duke of Gravina. Thereafter, however, the Varani had to
endure a siege; and the old story of the Romagna sieges was repeated.
Varano had given his subjects too much offence in the past, and it was
for his subjects now to call the reckoning.
A strong faction, led by a patrician youth of Camerino, demanded the
surrender of the State, and, upon being resisted, took arms and opened
the gates to the troops of Valentinois. The three Varani were taken
prisoners. Old Giulio Cesare was shut up in the Castle of Pergola, where
he shortly afterwards died--which was not wonderful or unnatural at his
time of life, and does not warrant Guicciardini for stating, without
authority, that he was strangled. Venanzio and Annibale were imprisoned
in the fortress of Cattolica.
In connection with this surrender of Camerino, Cesare wrote the following
affectionate letter to his sister Lucrezia--who was dangerously ill at
Ferrara in consequence of her delivery of a still-born child:
"Most Illustrious and most Excellent Lady, our very dear Sister,--
Confident of the circumstance that there can be no more efficacious and
salutary medicine for the indisposition from which you are at present
suffering than the announcement of good and happy news, we advise you
that at this very moment we have received sure tidings of the capture of
Camerino. We beg that you will do honour to this message by an immediate
improvement, and inform us of it, because, tormented as we are to know
you so ill, nothing, not even this felicitous event, can suffice to
afford us pleasure. We beg you also kindly to convey the present to the
Illustrious Lord Don Alfonso, your husband and our beloved Brother-in-
law, to whom we are not writing to-day."
THE REVOLT OF THE CONDOTTIERI
The coincidence of the arrival of the French army with the conquest of
Urbino and Camerino and the Tuscan troubles caused one more to be added
to that ceaseless stream of rumours that flowed through Italy concerning
the Borgias. This time the envy and malice that are ever provoked by
success and power gave voice in that rumour to the thing it hoped, and
there ensued as pretty a comedy as you shall find in the pages of
The rumour had it that Louis XII, resentful and mistrustful of the growth
of Cesare's might, which tended to weaken France in Italy and became a
menace to the French dominions, was come to make an end of him.
Instantly Louis's Court in Milan was thronged by all whom Cesare had
offended--and they made up by now a goodly crowd, for a man may not rise
so swiftly to such eminence without raising a rich crop of enemies.
Meanwhile, however, Valentinois in the Montefeltre Palace at Urbino
remained extremely at ease. He was not the man to be without
intelligences. In the train of Louis was Francesco Troche, the Pope's
confidential chamberlain and Cesare's devoted servant, who, possessed of
information, was able to advise Valentinois precisely what were the
intentions of the King of France. Gathering from these advices that it
was Louis's wish that the Florentines should not be molested further, and
naturally anxious not to run counter to the king's intentions, Cesare
perceived that the time to take action had arrived, the time for
passivity in the affairs of Florence was at an end.
So he dispatched an envoy to Vitelli, ordering his instant evacuation of
Arezzo and his withdrawal with his troops from Tuscany, and he backed the
command by a threat to compel Vitelli by force of arms, and to punish
disobedience by depriving him of his state of Città di Castello--"a
matter," Cesare informed him, "which would be easily accomplished, as the
best men of that State have already offered themselves to me."
It was a command which Vitelli had no choice but to obey, not being in
sufficient force to oppose the duke. So on July 29, with Gianpaolo
Baglioni, he relinquished the possession of Arezzo and departed out of
Tuscany, as he had been bidden. But so incensed was he against the duke
for this intervention between himself and his revenge, and so freely did
he express himself in the matter, that it was put about at once that he
intended to go against Cesare.
And that is the first hint of the revolt of the condottieri.
Having launched that interdict of his, Cesare, on July 25, in the garb of
a knight of St. John of Jerusalem, and with only four attendants,
departed secretly from Urbino to repair to Milan and King Louis. He
paused for fresh horses at Forli on the morrow, and on the 28th reached
Ferrara, where he remained for a couple of hours to visit Lucrezia, who
was now in convalescence. Ahead of him he dispatched, thence, a courier
to Milan to announce his coming, and, accompanied by Alfonso d'Este,
resumed his journey.
Meanwhile, the assembly of Cesare's enemies had been increasing daily in
Milan, whither they repaired to support Louis and to vent their hatred of
Cesare and their grievances against him. There, amongst others, might be
seen the Duke of Urbino, Pietro Varano (one of the sons of the deposed
Lord of Camerino), Giovanni Sforza of Pesaro, and Francesco Gonzaga of
Mantua--which latter was ever ready to turn whichever way the wind was
blowing, and was now loudest in his denunciations of Cesare and eagerly
advocating the formation of a league against him.
Louis received the news of Cesare's coming, and--endowed, it is clear,
with a nice sense of humour-kept the matter secret until within a few
hours of the duke's actual arrival. On the morning of August 5,
according to Bernardi,(1) he whispered the information in Trivulzio's
ear-and whispered it loudly enough to be overheard by those courtiers
who stood nearest.
1 Cronache Forlivesi.
Whatever check their satisfaction at the supposed state of things may
have received then was as nothing to their feelings a few hours later
when they witnessed the greeting that passed between king and duke.
Under their uneasy eyes Louis rode forth to meet his visitor, and gave
him a glad and friendly welcome, addressing him as "cousin" and "dear
relative," and so, no doubt, striking dismay into the hearts of those
courtiers, who may well have deemed that perhaps they had expressed
themselves too freely.
Louis, in person, accompanied Valentinois to the apartments prepared for
him in the Castle of Milan, and on the morrow gave a banquet and
commanded merry-makings in his visitor's honour.
Conceive the feelings of those deposed tyrants and their friends, and the
sudden collapse of the hopes which they had imagined the king to be
encouraging. They did, of course, the only thing there was to do. They
took their leave precipitately and went their ways--all save Gonzaga,
whom the king retained that he might make his peace with Cesare, and
engage in friendship with him, a friendship consolidated there and then
by the betrothal of their infant children: little Francesco Gonzaga and
Louise de Valentinois, aged two, the daughter whom Cesare had never
beheld and was never to behold.
Two factors were at work in the interests of Valentinois--the coming war
in Naples with the Spaniard, which caused Louis to desire to stand well
with the Pope; and the ambition of Louis's friend and counsellor, the
Cardinal d'Amboise, to wear the tiara, which caused this prelate to
desire to stand well with Cesare himself, since the latter's will in the
matter of a Pope to succeed his father should be omnipotent with the
Therefore, that they might serve their interests in the end, both king
and cardinal served Cesare's in the meantime.
The Duke of Valentinois's visit to Milan had served to increase the
choler of Vitelli, who accounted that by this action Cesare had put him
in disgrace with the King of France; and Vitelli cried out that thus was
he repaid for having sought to make Cesare King of Tuscany. In such high
dudgeon was the fierce Tyrant of Città di Castello that he would not go
to pay his court to Louis, and was still the more angry to hear of the
warm welcome accorded in Milan to the Cardinal Orsini. In this he read
approval of the Orsini for having stood neutral in the Florentine
business, and, by inference from that, disapproval of himself.
Before accusing Valentinois of treachery to his condottieri, before
saying that he shifted the blame of the Tuscan affair on to the shoulders
of his captains, it would be well to ascertain that there was any blame
to shift--that is to say, any blame that must originally have fallen upon
Cesare. Certainly he made no effort to restrain Vitelli until the King
of France had arrived and he had secret information which caused him to
deem it politic to intervene. But of what avail until that moment, would
any but an armed intervention have been with so vindictive and one-idea'd
a man, and what manner of fool would not Cesare have been to have spent
his strength in battle with his condottieri for the purpose of
befriending a people who had never shown themselves other than his own
Like the perfect egotist he was, he sat on the fence, and took pleasure
in the spectacle of the harassing of his enemies by his friends, prepared
to reap any advantages there might be, but equally prepared to avoid any
It was not heroic, it was not noble; but it was extremely human.
Cesare was with the King of France in Genoa at the end of August, and
remained in his train until September 2, when finally he took his leave
of him. When they heard of his departure from the Court of Louis, his
numerous enemies experienced almost as much chagrin as that which had
been occasioned them by his going thither. For they had been consoling
themselves of late with a fresh rumour; and again they were believing
what it pleased them to believe. Rumours, you perceive, were never
wanting where the Borgias were concerned, and it may be that you are
beginning to rate these voces populi at their proper value, and to
apprehend the worth of many of those that have been embalmed as truths in
the abiding records.
This last one had it that Louis was purposely keeping Cesare by him, and
intended ultimately to carry him off to France, and so put an end to the
disturbances the duke was creating in Italy. What a consolation would
not that have been to those Italian princelings to whose undoing he had
warred! And can you marvel that they believed and circulated so readily
the thing for which they hoped so fondly? By your appreciation of that
may you measure the fresh disappointment that was theirs.
So mistaken were they, indeed, as it now transpired, that Louis had
actually, at last, removed his protection from Bologna, under the
persuasion of Cesare and the Pope. Before the duke took his departure
from King Louis's Court, the latter entered into a treaty with him in
that connection to supply him with three hundred lances: "De bailler au
Valentinois trois cents lances pour l'aider à conquérir Bologne au nome
de l'Eglise, et opprimer les Ursins, Baillons et Vitelozze."
It was a double-dealing age, and Louis's attitude in this affair sorted
well with it. Feeling that he owed Bologna some explanation, he
presently sent a singularly lame one by Claude de Seyssel. He put it
that the Bentivogli personally were none the less under his protection
than they had been hitherto, but that the terms of the protection
provided that it was granted exclusively of the rights and authority of
the Holy Roman See over Bologna, and that the king could not embroil
himself with the Pope. With such a shifty message went M. de Seyssel to
make it quite clear to Bentivogli what his position was. And on the
heels of it came, on September 2, a papal brief citing Bentivogli and his
two sons to appear before the Pontiff within fifteen days for the purpose
of considering with his Holiness the matter of the pacification and
better government of Bologna, which for so many years had been so
disorderly and turbulent. Thus the Pope's summons, with a menace that
was all too thinly veiled.
But Bentivogli was not taken unawares. He was not even astonished. Ever
since Cesare's departure from Rome in the previous spring he had been
disposing against such a possibility as this--fortifying Bologna,
throwing up outworks and erecting bastions beyond the city, and levying
and arming men, in all of which he depended largely upon the citizens and
particularly upon the art-guild, which was devoted to the House of
Stronger than the affection for their lord--which, when all is said, was
none too great in Bologna--was the deep-seated hatred of the clergy
entertained by the Bolognese. This it was that rallied to Bentivogli
such men as Fileno della Tuate, who actually hated him. But it was a
choice of evils with Fileno and many of his kidney. Detesting the ruling
house, and indignant at the injustices it practised, they detested the
priests still more--so much that they would have taken sides with Satan
himself against the Pontificals. In this spirit did they carry their
swords to Bentivogli.
Upon the nobles Bentivogli could not count--less than ever since the
cold-blooded murder of the Marescotti; but in the burghers' adherence he
deemed himself secure, and indeed on September 17 he had some testimony
On that date--the fortnight's grace expiring--the brief was again read to
the Reggimento; but it was impossible to adopt any resolution. The
people were in arms, and, with enormous uproar, protested that they would
not allow Giovanni Bentivogli or his sons to go to Rome, lest they should
be in danger once they had left their own State.
Italy was full of rumours at the time of Cesare's proposed emprise
against Bologna, and it was added that he intended, further, to make
himself master of Città di Castello and Perugia, and thus, by depriving
them of their tyrannies, punish Vitelli and Baglioni for their defection.
This was the natural result of the terms of Cesare's treaty with France
having become known; but the part of it which regarded the Orsini,
Vitelli, and Baglioni was purely provisional. Considering that these
condottieri were now at odds with Cesare, they might see fit to consider
themselves bound to Bentivogli by the Treaty of Villafontana, signed by
Vitelli and Orsini on the duke's behalf at the time of the capitulation
of Castel Bolognese. They might choose to disregard the fact that this
treaty had already been violated by Bentivogli himself, through the non-
fulfilment of the terms of it, and refuse to proceed against him upon
being so bidden by Valentinois.
It was for such a contingency as this that provision was made by the
clause concerning them in Cesare's treaty with Louis.
The Orsini were still in the duke's service, in command of troops levied
for him and paid by him, and considering that with them Cesare had no
quarrel, it is by no means clear why they should have gone over to the
alliance of the condottieri that was now forming against the duke. Join
it, however, they did. They, too, were in the Treaty of Villafontana;
but that they should consider themselves bound by it, would have been--
had they urged it--more in the nature of a pretext than a reason. But
they chose a pretext even more slender. They gave out that in Milan
Louis XII had told Cardinal Orsini that the Pope's intention was to
destroy the Orsini.
To accept such a statement as true, we should have to believe in a
disloyalty and a double-dealing on the part of Louis XII altogether
incredible. To what end should he, on the one side, engage to assist
Cesare with 300 lances to "oppress" the Orsini--if necessary, and among
others--whilst, on the other, he goes to Orsini with the story which they
attribute to him? What a mean, treacherous, unkingly figure must he not
cut as a consequence! He may have been--we know, indeed, that he was--no
more averse to doubledealing than any other Cinquecentist; but he was
probably as averse to being found out in a meanness and made to look
contemptible as any double-dealer of our own times. It is a
consideration worth digesting.
When word of the story put about by the Orsini was carried to the Pope he
strenuously denied the imputation, and informed the Venetian ambassador
that he had written to complain of this to the King of France, and that,
far from such a thing being true, Cesare was so devoted to the Orsini as
to be "more Orsini than Borgian."
It is further worth considering that the defection of the Orsini was
neither immediate nor spontaneous, as must surely have been the case had
the story been true. It was the Baglioni and Vitelli only who first met
to plot at Todi, to declare that they would not move against their ally
of Bologna, and to express the hope that they might bring the Orsini to
the same mind. They succeeded so well that the second meeting was held
at Magione--a place belonging to the powerful Cardinal Orsini, situated
near the Baglioni's stronghold of Perugia. Vitellozzo was carried
thither on his bed, so stricken with the morbo gallico--which in Italy
was besetting most princes, temporal and ecclesiastical--that he was
unable to walk.
Gentile and Gianpaolo Baglioni, Cardinal Gianbattista Orsini, Francesco
Orsini, Duke of Gravina, Paolo Orsini, the bastard son of the Archbishop
of Trani, Pandolfo Petrucci--Lord of Siena--and Hermes Bentivogli were
all present. The last-named, prone to the direct methods of murder by
which he had rid Bologna of the Marescotti, is said to have declared that
he would kill Cesare Borgia if he but had the opportunity, whilst Vitelli
swore solemnly that within a year he would slay or capture the duke, or
else drive him out of Italy.
From this it will be seen that the Diet of Magione was no mere defensive
alliance, but actually an offensive one, with the annihilation of Cesare
Borgia for its objective.
They certainly had the power to carry out their resolutions, for whilst
Cesare disposed at that moment of not more than 2,500 foot, 300 men-at-
arms, and the 100 lances of his Caesarean guard of patricians, the
confederates had in arms some 9,000 foot and 1,000 horse. Conscious of
their superior strength, they determined to strike at once, before Cesare
should be further supported by the French lances, and to make sure of him
by assailing him on every side at once. To this end it was resolved that
Bentivogli should instantly march upon Imola, where Cesare lay, whilst
the others should possess themselves of Urbino and Pesaro simultaneously.
They even approached Florence and Venice in the matter, inviting the
Republics to come into the league against Valentinois.
The Florentines, however, could not trust such enemies of their own as
Vitelli and the Orsini, nor dared they join in an enterprise which had
for scope to make war upon an ally of France; and they sent word to
Cesare of their resolve to enter into no schemes against him.
The Venetians would gladly have moved to crush a man who had snatched the
Romagna from under their covetous eyes; but in view of the league with
France they dared not. What they dared, they did. They wrote to Louis
at length of the evils that were befalling Italy at the hands of the Duke
of Valentinois, and of the dishonour to the French crown which lay for
Louis in his alliance with Cesare Borgia. They even went so far--and
most treacherously, considering the league--as to allow their famous
captain, Bartolomeo d'Alviano, to reconduct Guidobaldo to Urbino, as we
shall presently see.
Had the confederates but kept faith with one another Cesare's knell had
soon been tolled. But they were a weak-kneed pack of traitors,
irresolute in their enmity as in their friendships. The Orsini hung
back. They urged that they did not trust themselves to attack Cesare
with men actually in his pay; whilst Bentivogli--treacherous by nature to
the back-bone of him--actually went so far as to attempt to open secret
negotiations with Cesare through Ercole d'Este of Ferrara.
On October 2 news of the revolt of the condottieri and the diet of
Magione had reached the Vatican and rendered the Pope uneasy. Cesare,
however, had been informed of it some time before at Imola, where he was
awaiting the French lances that should enable him to raid the Bolognese
and drive out the Bentivogli.
Where another might have been paralyzed by a defection which left him
almost without an army, and would have taken the course of sending envoys
to the rebels to attempt to make terms and by concessions to patch up a
treaty, Cesare, with characteristic courage, assurance, and promptitude
of action, flung out officers on every side to levy him fresh troops.
His great reputation as a condottiero, the fame of his wealth and his
notorious liberality, stood him now in excellent stead. The response to
his call was instantaneous. Soldiers of fortune and mercenaries showed
the trust they had in him, and flocked to his standard from every
quarter. One of the first to arrive was Gasparo Sanseverino, known as
Fracassa, a condottiero of great renown, who had been in the Pontifical
service since the election of Pope Alexander. He was a valuable
acquisition to Cesare, who placed him in command of the horse. Another
was Lodovico Pico della Mirandola, who brought a small condotta of 60
lances and 60 light horse. Ranieri della Sassetta rode in at the head of
100 mounted arbalisters, and Francesco de Luna with a body of 50
1 The arquebus, although it had existed in Italy for nearly a century,
was only just coming into general use.
Valentinois sent out Raffaele dei Pazzi and Galeotto Pallavicini, the one
into Lombardy to recruit 1,000 Gascons, the other to raise a body of
Swiss mercenaries. Yet, when all is said, these were but supplementary
forces; the main strength of Cesare's new army lay in the troops raised
in the Romagna, which, faithful to him and confident of his power and
success, rallied to him now in the hour of his need. Than this there can
be no more eloquent testimony to the quality of his rule. In command of
these Romagnuoli troops he placed such Romagnuoli captains as Dionigio di
Naldo and Marcantonio da Fano, thereby again affording proof of his
wisdom, by giving these soldiers their own compatriots and men with whom
they were in sympathy for their leaders.
With such speed had he acted, and such was the influence of his name,
that already, by October 14, he had assembled an army of upwards of 6,000
men, which his officers were diligently drilling at Imola, whilst daily
now were the French lances expected, and the Swiss and Gascon mercenaries
he had sent to levy.
It may well be that this gave the confederates pause, and suggested to
them that they should reconsider their position and ask themselves
whether the opportunity for crushing Cesare had not slipped by whilst
they had stood undecided.
It was Pandolfo Petrucci who took the first step towards a
reconciliation, by sending word to Valentinois that it was not his
intention to take any measures that might displease his Excellency. His
Excellency will no doubt have smiled at that belated assurance from the
sparrow to the hawk. Then, a few days later, came news that Giulio
Orsini had entered into an agreement with the Pope. This appeared to
give the confederacy its death-blow, and Paolo Orsini was on the point of
setting out to seek Cesare at Imola for the purpose of treating with him
--which would definitely have given burial to the revolt--when suddenly
there befell an event which threw the scales the other way.
Cesare's people were carrying out some work in the Castle of S. Leo, in
the interior of which a new wall was in course of erection. For the
purposes of this, great baulks of timber were being brought into the
castle from the surrounding country. Some peasants, headed by one
Brizio, who had been a squire of Guidobaldo's, availed themselves of the
circumstance to capture the castle by a stratagem. Bringing forward some
great masses of timber and felled trees, they set them down along the
drawbridge in such a manner as to prevent its being hoisted. That done,
an attack in force was directed against the fortress. The place, whose
natural defences rendered it practically impregnable, was but slightly
manned; being thus surprised, and unable to raise the bridge, it was
powerless to offer any resistance, so that the Montefeltre peasants,
having killed every Borgia soldier of the garrison, took possession of it
and held it for Duke Guidobaldo.
This capture of S. Leo was as a spark that fired a train. Instantly the
hardy hillmen of Urbino were in arms to reconquer Guidobaldo's duchy for
him. Stronghold after stronghold fell into their hands, until they were
in Urbino itself. They made short work of the capital's scanty
defenders, flung Cesare's governor into prison, and finally obtained
possession of the citadel.
It was the news of this that caused the confederates once more to pause.
Before declaring themselves, they waited to see what action Venice would
take, whilst in the meantime they sought shelter behind a declaration
that they were soldiers of the Church and would do nothing against the
will of the Pontiff. They were confidently assured that Venice would
befriend Guidobaldo, and help him back to his throne now that his own
people had done so much towards that end. It remained, however, to be
seen whether Venice would at the same time befriend Pesaro and Rimini.
Instantly Cesare Borgia--who was assailed by grave doubts concerning the
Venetians--took his measures. He ordered Bartolomeo da Capranica, who
was chief in command of his troops in Urbino, to fall back upon Rimini
with all his companies, whilst to Pesaro the duke dispatched Michele da
Corella and Ramiro de Lorqua.
It was a busy time of action with the duke at Imola, and yet, amid all
the occupation which this equipment of a new army must have given him, he
still found time for diplomatic measures, and, taking advantage of the
expressed friendliness of Florence, he had replied by desiring the
Signory to send an envoy to confer with him. Florence responded by
sending, as her representative, that same Niccolò Macchiavelli who had
earlier accompanied Soderini on a similar mission to Valentinois, and who
had meanwhile been advanced to the dignity of Secretary of State.
Macchiavelli has left us, in his dispatches to his Government, the most
precious and valuable information concerning that period of Cesare
Borgia's history during which he was with the duke on the business of his
legation. Not only is it the rare evidence of an eye-witness that
Macchiavelli affords us, but the evidence, as we have said, of one
endowed with singular acumen and an extraordinary gift of psychological
analysis. The one clear and certain inference to be drawn, not only from
those dispatches, but from the Florentine secretary's later writings, is
that, at close quarters with Cesare Borgia, a critical witness of his
methods, he conceived for him a transcending admiration which was later
to find its fullest expression in his immortal book The Prince--a book,
remember, compiled to serve as a guide in government to Giuliano
de'Medici, the feeble brother of Pope Leo X, a book inspired by Cesare
Borgia, who is the model prince held up by Macchiavelli for emulation.
Does it serve any purpose, in the face of this work from the pen of the
acknowledged inventor of state-craft, to describe Cesare's conquest of
the Romagna by opprobrious epithets and sweeping statements of
condemnation and censure--statements kept carefully general, and never
permitted to enter into detail which must destroy their own ends and
expose their falsehood?
Gregorovius, in this connection, is as full of contradictions as any man
must be who does not sift out the truth and rigidly follow it in his
writings. Consider the following scrupulously translated extracts from
his Geschichte der Stadt Rom:
(a) "Cesare departed from Rome to resume his bloody work in the
(b) "...the frightful deeds performed by Cesare on both sides of the
Apennines. He assumes the semblance of an exterminating angel, and
performs such hellish iniquities that we can only shudder at the
contemplation of the evil of which human nature is capable."
And now, pray, consider and compare with those the following excerpt from
the very next page of that same monumental work:
"Before him [Cesare] cities trembled; the magistrates prostrated
themselves in the dust; sycophantic courtiers praised him to the stars.
Yet it is undeniable that his government was energetic and good; for the
first time Romagna enjoyed peace and was rid of her vampires. In the
name of Cesare justice was administered by Antonio di Monte Sansovino,
President of the Ruota of Cesena, a man universally beloved."
It is almost as if the truth had slipped out unawares, for the first
period hardly seems a logical prelude to the second, by which it is
largely contradicted. If Cesare's government was so good that Romagna
knew peace at last and was rid of her vampires, why did cities tremble
before him? There is, by the way, no evidence of such trepidations in
any of the chronicles of the conquered States, one and all of which hail
Cesare as their deliverer. Why, if he was held in such terror, did city
after city--as we have seen--spontaneously offer itself to Cesare's
But to rebut those statements of Gregorovius's there is scarce the need
to pose these questions; sufficiently does Gregorovius himself rebut
them. The men who praised Cesare, the historian tells us, were
sycophantic courtiers. But where is the wonder of his being praised if
his government was as good as Gregorovius admits it to have been? What
was unnatural in that praise? What so untruthful as to deserve to be
branded sycophantic? And by what right is an historian to reject as
sycophants the writers who praise a man, whilst accepting every word of
his detractors as the words of inspired evangelists, even when their
falsehoods are so transparent as to provoke the derision of the
thoughtful and analytic?
As l'Espinois points out in his masterly essay in the Revue des Questions
Historiques, Gregorovius refuses to recognize in Cesare Borgia the
Messiah of a united Central Italy, but considers him merely as a high-
flying adventurer; whilst Villari, in his Life and Times of Macchiavelli,
tells you bluntly that Cesare Borgia was neither a statesman nor a
soldier but a brigand-chief.
These are mere words; and to utter words is easier than to make them
"High-flying adventurer," or "brigand-chief," by all means, if it please
you. What but a high-flying adventurer was the wood-cutter, Muzio
Attendolo, founder of the ducal House of Sforza? What but a high-flying
adventurer was that Count Henry of Burgundy who founded the kingdom of
Portugal? What else was the Norman bastard William, who conquered
England? What else the artillery officer, Napoleon Bonaparte, who became
Emperor of the French? What else was the founder of any dynasty but a
high-flying adventurer--or a brigand-chief, if the melodramatic term is
more captivating to your fancy?
These terms are used to belittle Cesare. They achieve no more, however,
than to belittle those who penned them; for, even as they are true, the
marvel is that the admirable matter in these truths appears to have
escaped those authors.
What else Gregorovius opines--that Cesare was no Messiah of United Italy
--is true enough. Cesare was the Messiah of Cesare. The well-being of
Italy for its own sake exercised his mind not so much as the well-being
of the horse he rode. He wrought for his own aggrandisement--but he
wrought wisely; and, whilst the end in view is no more to be censured
than the ambition of any man, the means employed are in the highest
degree to be commended, since the well-being of the Romagna, which was
not an aim, was, nevertheless, an essential and praiseworthy incident.
When it can be shown that every other of those conquerors who cut heroic
figures in history were purest altruists, it will be time to damn Cesare
Borgia for his egotism.
What Villari says, for the purpose of adding rhetorical force to his
"brigand-chief"--that Cesare was no statesman and no soldier--is entirely
of a piece with the rest of the chapter in which it occurs(1)--a chapter
rich in sweeping inaccuracies concerning Cesare. But it is staggering to
find the statement in such a place, amid Macchiavelli's letters on
Cesare, breathing an obvious and profound admiration of the duke's
talents as a politician and a soldier--an admiration which later is to go
perilously near to worship. To Macchiavelli, Cesare is the incarnation
of a hazy ideal, as is abundantly shown in The Prince. For Villari to
reconcile all this with his own views must seem impossible. And
impossible it is; yet Villari achieves it, with an audacity that leaves
1 In his Niccolò Machiavelli.
No--he practically tells you--this Macchiavelli, who daily saw and spoke
with Cesare for two months (and during a critical time, which is when men
best reveal their natures), this acute Florentine--the acutest man of his
age, perhaps--who studied and analysed Cesare, and sent his Government
the results of his analyses, and was inspired by them later to write The
Prince--this man did not know Cesare Borgia. He wrote, not about Cesare
himself, but about a creation of his own intellect.
That is what Villari pretends. Macchiavelli, the representative of a
power unfriendly at heart under the mask of the expedient friendliness,
his mind already poisoned by all the rumours current throughout Italy,
comes on this mission to Valentinois. Florence, fearing and hating
Valentinois as she does, would doubtless take pleasure in detractory
advices. Other ambassadors--particularly those of Venice--pander to
their Governments' wishes in this respect, conscious that there is a
sycophancy in slander contrasted with which the ordinary sycophancy of
flattery is as water to wine; they diligently send home every scrap of
indecent or scandalous rumour they can pick up in the Roman ante-
chambers, however unlikely, uncorroborated, or unconcerning the business
of an ambassador.
But Macchiavelli, in Cesare Borgia's presence, is overawed by his
greatness, his force and his intellect, and these attributes engage him
in his dispatches. These same dispatches are a stumbling-block to all
who prefer to tread the beaten, sensational track, and to see in Cesare
Borgia a villain of melodrama, a monster of crime, brutal, and,
consequently, of no intellectual force. But Villari contrives to step
more or less neatly, if fatuously, over that formidable obstacle, by
telling you that Macchiavelli presents to you not really Cesare Borgia,
but a creation of his own intellect, which he had come to admire. It is
a simple, elementary expedient by means of which every piece of
historical evidence ever penned may be destroyed--including all that
which defames the House of Borgia.
Macchiavelli arrived at Imola on the evening of October 7, 1502, and, all
travel-stained as he was, repaired straight to the duke, as if the
message with which he was charged was one that would not brook a moment's
delay in its deliverance. Actually, however, he had nothing to offer
Cesare but the empty expressions of Florence's friendship and the hopes
she founded upon Cesare's reciprocation. The crafty young Florentine--he
was thirty-three at the time--was sent to temporize and to avoid
committing himself or his Government.
Valentinois listened to the specious compliments, and replied by similar
protestations and by reminding Florence how he had curbed the hand of
those very condottieri who had now rebelled against him as a consequence.
He showed himself calm and tranquil at the loss of Urbino, telling
Macchiavelli that he "had not forgotten the way to reconquer it," when it
should suit him. Of the revolted condottieri he contemptuously said that
he accounted them fools for not having known how to choose a more
favourable moment in which to harm him, and that they would presently
find such a fire burning under their feet as would call for more water to
quench it than such men as these disposed of.
Meanwhile, the success of those rustics of Urbino who had risen, and the
ease of their victories, had fired others of the territory to follow
their example. Fossombrone and Pergola were the next to rebel and to put
the Borgia garrisons to the sword; but, in their reckless audacity, they
chose their moment ill, for Michele da Corella was at hand with his
lances, and, although his orders had been to repair straight to Pesaro,
he ventured to depart from them to the extent of turning aside to punish
the insurgence of those towns by launching his men-at-arms upon them and
subjecting them to an appalling and pitiless sack.
When Cesare heard the news of it and the details of the horrors that had
been perpetrated, he turned, smiling cruelly, to Macchiavelli, who was
with him, and, "The constellations this year seem unfavourable to
rebels," he observed.
A battle of wits was toward between the Florentines' Secretary of State
and the Duke of Valentinois, each mistrustful of the other. In the end
Cesare, a little out of patience at so much inconclusiveness, though
outwardly preserving his immutable serenity, sought to come to grips by
demanding that Florence should declare whether he was to account her his
friend or not. But this was precisely what Macchiavelli's instructions
forbade him from declaring. He answered that he must first write to the
Signory, and begged the duke to tell him what terms he proposed should
form the treaty. But there it was the duke's turn to fence and to avoid
a direct answer, desiring that Florence should open the negotiations and
that from her should come the first proposal.
He reminded Macchiavelli that Florence would do well to come to a
decision before the Orsini sought to patch up a peace with him, since,
once that was done, there would be fresh difficulties, owing, of course,
to Orsini's enmity to the existing Florentine Government. And of such a
peace there was now every indication, Paolo Orsini having at last sent
Cesare proposals for rejoining him, subject to his abandoning the Bologna
enterprise (in which, the Orsini argued, they could not bear a hand
without breaking faith with Bentivogli) and turning against Florence.
Vitelli, at the same time, announced himself ready to return to Cesare's
service, but first he required some "honest security."
Well might it have pleased Cesare to oblige the Orsini to the letter, and
to give a lesson in straight-dealing to these shuffling Florentine
pedlars who sent a nimble-witted Secretary of State to hold him in play
with sweet words of barren meaning. But there was France and her wishes
to be considered, and he could not commit himself. So his answer was
peremptory and condescending. He told them that, if they desired to show
themselves his friends, they could set about reconquering and holding
Urbino for him.
It looked as if the condottieri agreed to this, for on October 11 Vitelli
seized Castel Durante, and on the next day Baglioni was in possession of
In view of this, Cesare bade the troops which he had withdrawn to advance
again upon the city of Urbino and take possession of it. But suddenly,
on the 12th, a messenger from Guidobaldo rode into Urbino to announce
their duke's return within a few days to defend the subjects who had
shown themselves so loyal to him. This, the shifty confederates
accounted, must be done with the support of Venice, whence they concluded
that Venice must have declared against Valentinois, and again they
treacherously changed sides.
The Orsini proceeded to prompt action. Assured of their return to
himself, and counting upon their support in Urbino, Cesare had contented
himself with sending thither a small force of 100 lances and 200 light
horse. Upon these fell the Orsini, and put them to utter rout at
Calmazzo, near Fossombrone, capturing Ugo di Moncada, who commanded one
of the companies, but missing Michele da Corella, who contrived to escape
The conquerors entered Urbino that evening, and, as if to put it on
record that they burnt their boats with Valentinois, Paolo Orsini wrote
that same night to the Venetian Senate advices of the victory won. Three
days later--on October 18--Guidobaldo, accompanied by his nephews
Ottaviano Fregioso and Gianmaria Varano, re-entered his capital amid the
cheers and enthusiasm of his loyal and loving people.
Vitelli made haste to place his artillery at Guidobaldo's disposal for
the reduction of Cagli, Pergola, and Fossombrone, which were still held
for Valentinois, whilst Oliverotto da Fermo went with Gianmaria Varano to
attempt the reconquest of Camerino, and Gianpaolo Baglioni to Fano,
which, however, he did not attempt to enter as an enemy--an idle course,
seeing how loyally the town held for Cesare--but as a ducal condottiero.
Fired by Orsini's example, Bentivogli also took the offensive, and began
by ordering the canonists of Bologna University to go to the churches and
encourage the people to disregard the excommunications launched against
the city. He wrote to the King of France to complain that Cesare had
broken the Treaty of Villafontana by which he had undertaken never again
to molest Bologna--naïvely ignoring the circumstance that he himself had
been the first to violate the terms of that same treaty, and that it was
precisely upon such grounds that Cesare was threatening him.
Thus matters stood, the confederates turning anxious eyes towards Venice,
and, haply, beginning to wonder whether the Republic was indeed going to
move to their support as they had so confidently expected, and realizing
perhaps by now their rashness, and the ruin that awaited them should
Venice fail them. And fail them Venice did. The Venetians had received
a reply from Louis XII to that letter in which they had heaped odium upon
the Borgia and shown the king what dishonour to himself dwelt in his
alliance with Valentinois. Their criticisms and accusations were ignored
in that reply, which resolved itself into nothing more than a threat that
"if they opposed themselves to the enterprise of the Church they would be
treated by him as enemies," and of this letter he sent Cesare a copy, as
Cesare himself told Macchiavelli.
So, whilst Valentinois in Imola was able to breathe more freely, the
condottieri in Urbino may well have been overcome with horror at their
position and at having been thus left in the lurch by Venice. None was
better aware than Pandolfo Petrucci of the folly of their action and of
the danger that now impended, and he sent his secretary to Valentinois to
say that if the duke would but reassure them on the score of his
intentions they would return to him and aid him in recovering what had
Following upon this message came Paolo Orsini himself to Imola on the
25th, disguised as a courier, and having first taken the precaution of
obtaining a safe-conduct. He left again on the 29th, bearing with him a
treaty the terms of which had been agreed between himself and Cesare
during that visit. These were that Cesare should engage to protect the
States of all his allied condottieri, and they to serve him and the
Church in return. A special convention was to follow, to decide the
matter of the Bentivogli, which should be resolved by Cesare, Cardinal
Orsini, and Pandolfo Petrucci in consultation, their judgment to be
binding upon all.
Cesare's contempt for the Orsini and the rest of the shifty men who
formed that confederacy--that "diet of bankrupts," as he had termed it--
was expressed plainly enough to Macchiavelli.
"To-day," said he, "Messer Paolo is to visit me, and to-morrow there will
be the cardinal; and thus they think to befool me, at their pleasure.
But I, on my side, am only dallying with them. I listen to all they have
to say and bide my own time."
Later, Macchiavelli was to remember those words, which meanwhile afforded
him matter for reflection.
As Paolo Orsini rode away from Imola, the duke's secretary, Gherardi,
followed and overtook him to say that Cesare desired to add to the treaty
another clause--one relating to the King of France. To this Paolo Orsini
refused to consent, but, upon being pressed in the matter by Gherardi,
went so far as to promise to submit the clause to the others.
On October 30 Cesare published a notice in the Romagna, intimating the
return to obedience on the part of his captains.
Macchiavelli was mystified by this, and apprehensive--as men will be of
the things they cannot fathom--of what might be reserved in it for
Florence. It was Gherardi who reassured him, laughing in the face of the
crafty Florentine, as he informed him that even children should come to
smile at such a treaty as this. He added that he had gone after Paolo
Orsini to beg the addition of another clause, intentionally omitted by
"If they accept that clause," concluded Messer Agabito, "it will open a
window; if they refuse it, a door, by which the duke can issue from the
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