The Life of Cesare Borgia
Part 6 out of 7
Macchiavelli's wonder increased. But the subject of it now was that the
condottieri should be hoodwinked by a document in such terms, and well
may he have bethought him then of those words which Cesare had used to
him a few days earlier.
RAMIRO DE LORQUA
It really seemed as if the condottieri were determined to make their
score as heavy as possible. For even whilst Paolo Orsini had been on his
mission of peace to Cesare, and whilst they awaited his return, they had
continued in arms against the duke. The Vitelli had aided Guidobaldo to
reconquer his territory, and had killed, in the course of doing so,
Bartolomeo da Capranica, Cesare's most valued captain and Vitelli's
brotherin-arms of yesterday. The Baglioni were pressing Michele da
Corella in Pesaro, but to little purpose; whilst the butcher Oliverotto
da Fermo in Camerino--of which he had taken possession with Gianmaria
Varano--was slaughtering every Spaniard he could find.
On the other side, Corella in Pesaro hanged five men whom he caught
practising against the duke's government, and, having taken young Pietro
Varano--who was on his way to join his brother in Camerino in view of the
revolt there--he had him strangled in the market-place. There is a story
that, with life not yet extinct, the poor youth was carried into church
by the pitiful crowd. But here a friar, discovering that he still lived,
called in the soldiers and bade them finish him. This friar, going later
through Cagli, was recognized, set upon by a mob, and torn to pieces--in
which, if the rest of the tale be true, he was richly served.
Into the theatre of bloodshed came Paolo Orsini from his mission to
Valentinois, bringing with him the treaty for signature by the
condottieri. Accustomed as they were to playing fast and loose, they
opined that, so far as Urbino was concerned, enough changes of government
had they contrived there already. Vitelli pointed out the unseemliness
of once again deposing Guidobaldo, whom they had just reseated upon his
throne. Besides, he perceived in the treaty the end of his hopes of a
descent upon Florence, which was the cause of all his labours. So he
But Valentinois had already got the Orsini and Pandolfo Petrucci on his
side, and so the confederacy was divided. Another factor came to
befriend the duke. On November 2 he was visited by Antonio Galeazzo
Bentivogli, sent by his father Giovanni to propose a treaty with him--
this state of affairs having been brought about by the mediation of
Ercole d'Este. From the negotiations that followed it resulted that, on
the 13th, the Orsini had word from Cesare that he had entered into an
alliance with the Bentivogli--which definitely removed their main
objection to bearing arms with him.
It was resigning much on Cesare's part, but the treaty, after all, was
only for two years, and might, of course, be broken before then, as they
understood these matters. This treaty was signed at the Vatican on the
23rd, between Borgia and Bentivogli, to guarantee the States of both.
The King of France, the Signory of Florence, and the Duke of Ferrara
guaranteed the alliance.
Inter alia, it was agreed between them that Bologna should supply Cesare
with 100 lances and 200 light horse for one or two enterprises within the
year, and that the condotta of 100 lances which Cesare held from Bologna
by the last treaty should be renewed. The terms of the treaty were to be
kept utterly secret for the next three months, so that the affairs of
Urbino and Camerino should not be prejudiced by their publication.
The result was instantaneous. On November 27 Paolo Orsini was back at
Imola with the other treaty, which bore now the signatures of all the
confederates. Vitelli, finding himself isolated, had swallowed his
chagrin in the matter of Florence, and his scruples in the matter of
Urbino, abandoning the unfortunate Guidobaldo to his fate. This came
swiftly. From Imola, Paolo Orsini rode to Fano on the 29th, and ordered
his men to advance upon Urbino and seize the city in the Duke of
Valentinois's name, proclaiming a pardon for all rebels who would be
Guidobaldo and the ill-starred Lord of Faenza were the two exceptions in
Romagna--the only two who had known how to win the affections of their
subjects. For Guidobaldo there was nothing that the men of Urbino would
not have done. They rallied to him now, and the women of Valbone--like
the ladies of England to save Coeur-de-Lion--came with their jewels and
trinkets, offering them that he might have the means to levy troops and
resist. But this gentle, kindly Guidobaldo could not subject his country
to further ravages of war; and so he determined, in his subjects'
interests as much as in his own, to depart for the second time.
Early in December the Orsini troops are in his territory, and Paolo,
halting them a few miles out of Urbino, sends to beg Guidobaldo's
attendance in his camp. Guidobaldo, crippled by gout and unable at the
time to walk a step, sends Paolo his excuses and begs that he will come
to Urbino, where he awaits him. There Guidobaldo makes formal surrender
to him, takes leave of his faithful friends, enjoins fidelity to
Valentinois and trust in God, and so on December 19 he departs into
exile, the one pathetic noble figure amid so many ignoble ones. Paolo,
taking possession of the duchy, assumes the title of governor.
The Florentines had had their chance of an alliance with Cesare, and had
deliberately neglected it. Early in November they had received letters
from the King of France urging them to come to an accord with Cesare, and
they had made known to the duke that they desired to reoccupy Pisa and to
assure themselves of Vitelli; but, when he pressed that Florence should
give him a condotta, Macchiavelli--following his instructions not to
commit the Republic in any way--had answered "that his Excellency must
not be considered as other lords, but as a new potentate in Italy, with
whom it is more seemly to make an alliance or a friendship than to grant
him a condotta; and, as alliances are maintained by arms, and that is the
only power to compel their observance, the Signory could not perceive
what security they would have when three-quarters or three-fifths of
their arms would be in the duke's hands." Macchiavelli added
diplomatically that "he did not say this to impugn the duke's good faith,
but to show him that princes should be circumspect and never enter into
anything that leaves a possibility of their being put at a
1 See the twenty-first letter from Macchiavelli on this legation.
Cesare answered him calmly ("senza segno d'alterazione alcuna") that
without a condotta, he didn't know what to make of a private friendship
whose first principles were denied him. And there the matter hung, for
Macchiavelli's legation had for only aim to ensure the immunity of
Tuscany and to safeguard Florentine interests without conceding any
advantages to Cesare--as the latter had perceived from the first.
On December 10 Cesare moved from Imola with his entire army, intent now
upon the conquest of Sinigaglia, which State Giuliano della Rovere had
been unable to save for his nephew, as king and Pope had alike turned a
deaf ear upon the excuses he had sought to make for the Prefetessa,
Giovanna da Montefeltre--the mother of the young prefect--who had aided
her brother Guidobaldo in the late war in Urbino.
On the morrow Valentinois arrived in Cesena and encamped his army there
for Christmas, as in the previous year. The country was beginning to
feel the effects of this prolonged vast military occupation, and although
the duke, with intent to relieve the people, had done all that was
possible to provision the troops, and had purchased from Venice 30,000
bushels of wheat for the purpose, yet all had been consumed. "The very
stones have been eaten," says Macchiavelli.
To account for this state of things--and possibly for certain other
matters--Messer Ramiro de Lorqua, the Governor-General, was summoned from
Pesaro; whilst to avert the threatened famine Cesare ordered that the
cereals in the private granaries of Cesena should be sold at reduced
prices, and he further proceeded, at heavy expense, to procure grain from
without. Another, less far-seeing than Valentinois, might have made
capital out of Urbino's late rebellion, and pillaged the country to
provide for pressing needs. But that would have been opposed to Cesare's
policy, of fostering the goodwill of the people he subjected.
On December 20 three of the companies of French lances that had been with
Cesare took their leave of him and returned to Lombardy, so that Cesare
was left with only one company. There appears to be some confusion as to
the reasons for this, and it is stated by some that those companies were
recalled to Milan by the French governor. Macchiavelli, ever inquisitive
and inquiring, questioned one of the French officers in the matter, to be
told that the lances were returning because the duke no longer needed
them, the inference being that this was in consequence of the return of
the condottieri to their allegiance. But the astute secretary did not at
the time account this convincing, arguing that the duke could not yet be
said to be secure, nor could he know for certain how far he might trust
Vitelli and the Orsini. Presumably, however, he afterwards obtained more
certain information, for he says later that Valentinois himself dismissed
the French, and that the dismissal was part of the stratagem he was
preparing, and had for object to reassure Vitelli and the other
confederates, and to throw them off their guard, by causing them to
suppose him indifferently supported.
But the departure of the French did not take place without much
discussion being provoked, and rumour making extremely busy, whilst it
was generally assumed that it would retard the Sinigaglia conquest.
Nevertheless, the duke calmly pursued his preparations, and proceeded now
to send forward his artillery. There was no real ground upon which to
assume that he would adopt any other course. Cesare was now in
considerable strength, apart from French lances, and even as these left
him he was joined by a thousand Swiss, and another six hundred Romagnuoli
from the Val di Lamone. Moreover, as far as the reduction of Sinigaglia
was concerned, no resistance was to be expected, for Cardinal Giuliano
della Rovere had written enjoining the people to surrender peacefully to
What matters Cesare may have found in Cesena to justify the arrest of his
Governor-General we do not know to the full with absolute certainty. On
December 22 Ramiro de Lorqua, coming from Pesaro in response to his
master's summons, was arrested on his arrival and flung into prison. His
examination was to follow.
Macchiavelli, reporting the arrest, says: "It is thought he [Cesare] may
sacrifice him to the people, who have a very great desire of it."
Ramiro had made himself detested in Romagna by the ruthlessness of his
rule, and a ruthless servant reflects upon his master, a matter which
could nowise suit Borgia. To all who have read The Prince it will be
clear that upon that ground alone--of having brought Valentinois's
justice into disrepute by the harshness which in Valentinois's name he
practised--Macchiavelli would have approved the execution of Ramiro. He
would have accounted it perfectly justifiable that Ramiro should be
sacrificed to the people for no better reason than because he had
provoked their hatred, since this sacrifice made for the duke's welfare.
He does, as a matter of fact, justify this execution, but upon much
fuller grounds than these. Still, had the reasons been no better than
are mentioned, he would still have justified it upon those. So much is
clear; and, when so much is clear, much more will be clear to you
touching this strange epoch.
There was, however, more than a matter of sacrificing the Governor-
General to the hatred of the people. There was, for one thing, the
matter of that wheat which had disappeared. Ramiro was charged with
having fraudulently sold it to his own dishonest profit, putting the duke
to the heavy expense of importing fresh supplies for the nourishment of
the people. The seriousness of the charge will be appreciated when it is
considered that, had a famine resulted from this peculation, grave
disorder might have ensued and perhaps even a rebellion against a
government which could provide no better.
The duke published the news of the governor's arrest throughout Romagna.
He announced his displeasure and regret at the harshnesses and corrupt
practices of Ramiro de Lorqua, in spite of the most urgent admonishings
that he should refrain from all undue exactions and the threat of grave
punishment should he disobey. These frauds, corruption, extortion, and
rapine practised by the governor were so grave, continuous and general,
stated the duke in his manifesto, that "there is no city, country-side,
or castle, nor any place in all Romagna, nor officer or minister of the
duke's, who does not know of these abuses; and, amongst others, the
famine of wheat occasioned by the traffic which he held against our
express prohibition, sending out such quantities as would abundantly have
sufficed for the people and the army."
He concludes with assurances of his intention that, in the future, they
shall be ruled with justice and integrity, and he urges all who may have
charges to prefer against the said governor to bring them forward
It was freely rumoured that the charges against Ramiro by no means ended
there, and in Bologna--and from Bologna the truth of such a matter might
well transpire, all things considered--it was openly said that Ramiro had
been in secret treaty with the Bentivogli, Orsini, and Vitelli, against
the Duke of Valentinois: "Aveva provixione da Messer Zoane Bentivogli e
da Orsini e Vitelozo contro el duca," writes Fileno della Tuate, who, it
will be borne in mind, was no friend of the Borgia, and would be at no
pains to find justification for the duke's deeds.
But of that secret treaty there was, for the moment, no official mention.
Later the rumour of it was to receive the fullest confirmation, and,
together with that, we shall give, in the next chapter, the duke's
obvious reasons for having kept the matter secret at first. Matter
enough and to spare was there already upon which to dispose of Messer
Ramiro de Lorqua and disposed of he was, with the most summary justice.
On the morning of December 26 the first folk to be astir in Cesena
beheld, in the grey light of that wintry dawn, the body of Ramiro lying
headless in the square. It was richly dressed, with all his ornaments
upon it, a scarlet cloak about it, and the hands were gloved. On a pike
beside the body the black-bearded head was set up to view, and so
remained throughout that day, a terrible display of the swift and
pitiless justice of the duke.
Macchiavelli wrote: "The reason of his death is not properly known" ("non
si sa bene la cagione della sua morte") "beyond the fact that such was
the pleasure of the prince, who shows us that he can make and unmake men
according to their deserts."
The Cronica Civitas Faventiae, the Diariurn Caesenate, and the Cronache
Forlivese, all express the people's extreme satisfaction at the deed, and
endorse the charges of brutality against the man which are contained in
"THE BEAUTIFUL STRATAGEM"
Cesare left Cesena very early on the morning of December 26--the morning
of Ramiro's execution--and by the 29th he was at Fano, where he received
the envoys who came from Ancona with protestations of loyalty, as well as
a messenger from Vitellozzo Vitelli, who brought him news of the
surrender of Sinigaglia. The citadel itself was still being held by
Andrea Doria--the same who was afterwards to become so famous in Genoa;
this, it was stated, was solely because Doria desired to make surrender
to the duke himself. The Prefectress, Giovanna da Montefeltre, had
already departed from the city, which she ruled as regent for her eleven-
year old boy, and had gone by sea to Venice.
The duke returned answer to Vitelli that he would be in Sinigaglia
himself upon the morrow, and he invited the condottieri to receive him
there, since he was decided to possess himself of the citadel at once,
whether Doria chose to surrender it peacefully or not; and that, to
provide for emergencies, he would bring his artillery with him. Lastly,
Vitelli was bidden to prepare quarters within the new town for the troops
that would accompany Cesare. To do this it was necessary to dispose the
soldiers of Oliverotto da Fermo in the borgo. These were the only troops
with the condottieri in Sinigaglia; the remainder of their forces were
quartered in the strongholds of the territory at distances of from five
to seven miles of the town.
On the last day of that year 1502 Cesare Borgia appeared before
Sinigaglia to receive the homage of those men who had used him so
treacherously, and whom--with the exception of Paolo Orsini--he now met
face to face for the first time since their rebellion. Here were
Francesco Orsini, Duke of Gravina, with Paolo and the latter's son Fabio;
here was Oliverotto, the ruffianly Lord of Fermo, who had won his
lordship by the cold-blooded murder of his kinsman, and concerning whom a
rumour ran in Rome that Cesare had sworn to choke him with his own hands;
and here was Vitellozzo Vitelli, the arch-traitor of them all.
Gianpaolo Baglioni was absent through illness--a matter less fatal to him
than was their health to those who were present--and the Cardinal and
Giulio Orsini were in Rome.
Were these captains mad to suppose that such a man as Cesare Borgia could
so forget the wrong they had done him, and forgive them in this easy
fashion, exacting no amends? Were they mad to suppose that, after such
proofs as they had given him of what manner of faith they kept, he would
trust them hereafter with their lives to work further mischief against
him? (Well might Macchiavelli have marvelled when he beheld the terms of
the treaty the duke had made with them.) Were they mad to imagine that
one so crafty as Valentinois would so place himself into their hands--the
hands of men who had sworn his ruin and death? Truly, mad they must have
been--rendered so by the gods who would destroy them.
The tale of that happening is graphically told by the pen of the admiring
Macchiavelli, who names the affair "Il Bellissimo Inganno." That he so
named it should suffice us and restrain us from criticisms of our own,
accepting that criticism of his. To us, judged from our modern
standpoint, the affair of Sinigaglia is the last word in treachery and
iscariotism. But you are here concerned with the standpoint of the
Cinquecento, and that standpoint Macchiavelli gives you when he describes
this business as "the beautiful stratagem." To offer judgment in despite
of that is to commit a fatuity, which too often already has been
Here, then, is Macchiavelli's story of the event:
On the morning of December 31 Cesare's army, composed of 10,000 foot and
3,000 horse,(1) was drawn up on the banks of the River Metauro--some five
miles from Sinigaglia--in accordance with his orders, awaiting his
arrival. He came at daybreak, and immediately ordered forward 200 lances
under the command of Don Michele da Corella; he bade the foot to march
after these, and himself brought up the rear with the main body of the
1 This is Macchiavelli's report of the forces; but, it appears to be an
exaggeration, for, upon leaving Cesena, Cesare does not appear to have
commanded more than 10,000 men in all.
In Sinigaglia, as we have seen, the condottieri had only the troops of
Oliverotto--1,000 foot and 150 horse--which had been quartered in the
borgo, and were now drawn up in the market-place, Oliverotto at their
head, to do honour to the duke.
As the horse under Don Michele gained the little river Misa and the
bridge that spanned it, almost directly opposite to the gates of
Sinigaglia, their captain halted them and drew them up into two files,
between which a lane was opened. Through this the foot went forward and
straight into the town, and after came Cesare himself, a graceful,
youthful figure, resplendent in full armour at the head of his lances.
To meet him advanced now the three Orsini and Vitellozzo Vitelli.
Macchiavelli tells us of the latter's uneasiness, of his premonitions of
evil, and the farewells (all of which Macchiavelli had afterwards heard
reported) which he had taken of his family before coming to Sinigaglia.
Probably these are no more than the stories that grow up about such men
after such an event as that which was about to happen.
The condottieri came unarmed, Vitelli mounted on a mule, wearing a cloak
with a green lining. In that group he is the only man deserving of any
respect or pity--a victim of his sense of duty to his family, driven to
his rebellion and faithlessness to Valentinois by his consuming desire to
avenge his brother's death upon the Florentines. The others were poor
creatures, incapable even of keeping faith with one another. Paolo
Orsini was actually said to be in secret concert with Valentinois since
his mission to him at Imola, and to have accepted heavy bribes from him.
Oliverotto you have seen at work, making a holocaust of his family and
friends under the base spur of his cupidity; whilst of the absent ones,
Pandolfo Petrucci alone was a man of any steadfastness and honesty.
The duke's reception of them was invested with that gracious friendliness
of which none knew the art better than did he, intent upon showing them
that the past was forgiven and their offences against himself forgotten.
As they turned and rode with him through the gates of Sinigaglia some of
the duke's gentlemen hemmed them about in the preconcerted manner, lest
even now they should be taken with alarm. But it was all done
unostentatiously and with every show of friendliness, that no suspicions
should be aroused.
From the group Cesare had missed Oliverotto, and as they now approached
the market-square, where the Tyrant of Fermo sat on his horse at the head
of his troops, Cesare made a sign with his eyes to Don Michele, the
purport of which was plain to the captain. He rode ahead to suggest to
Ohiverotto that this was no time to have his men under arms and out of
their lodgings, and to point out to him that, if they were not dismissed
they would be in danger of having their quarters snatched from them by
the duke's men, from which trouble might arise. To this he added that
the duke was expecting his lordship.
Oliverotto, persuaded, gave the order for the dismissal of his troops,
and the duke, coming up at that moment, called to him. In response he
went to greet him, and fell in thereafter with the others who were riding
In amiable conversation with them all, and riding between Vitelli and
Francesco Orsini, the duke passed from the borgo into the town itself,
and so to the palace, where the condottieri disposed to take their leave
of him. But Cesare was not for parting with them yet; he bade them in
with him, and they perforce must accept his invitation. Besides, his
mood was so agreeable that surely there could be nought to fear.
But scarce were they inside when his manner changed of a sudden, and at a
sign from him they were instantly overpowered and arrested by those
gentlemen of his own who were of the party and who came to it well
schooled in what they were to do.
Buonaccorsi compiled his diary carefully from the letters of Macchiavelli
to the Ten, in so far as this and other affairs are concerned; and to
Buonaccorsi we must now turn for what immediately follows, which is no
doubt from Macchiavelli's second letter of December 31, in which the full
details of the affair are given. His first letter no more than briefly
states the happening; the second unfortunately is missing; so that the
above particulars--and some yet to follow--are culled from the relations
which he afterwards penned ("Del modo tenuto," etc.), edited, however, by
the help of his dispatches at the time in regard to the causes which led
to the affair. Between these and the actual relation there are some
minor discrepancies. Unquestionably the dispatches are the more
reliable, so that, where such discrepancies occur, the version in the
dispatches has been preferred.
To turn for a moment to Buonaccorsi, he tells us that, as the Florentine
envoy (who was, of course, Macchiavelli) following the Duke of
Valentinois entered the town later, after the arrest of the condottieri,
and found all uproar and confusion, he repaired straight to the palace to
ascertain the truth. As he approached he met the duke, riding out in
full armour to quell the rioting and restrain his men, who were by now
all out of hand and pillaging the city. Cesare, perceiving the
secretary, reined in and called him.
"This," he said, "is what I wanted to tell Monsignor di Volterra
[Soderini] when he came to Urbino, but I could not entrust him with the
secret. Now that my opportunity has come, I have known very well how to
make use of it, and I have done a great service to your masters."
And with that Cesare left him, and, calling his captains about him, rode
down into the town to put an end to the horrors that were being
Immediately upon the arrest of the condottieri Cesare had issued orders
to attack the soldiers of Vitelli and Orsini, and to dislodge them from
the castles of the territory where they were quartered, and similarly to
dislodge Oliverotto's men and drive them out of Sinigaglia. This had
been swiftly accomplished. But the duke's men were not disposed to leave
matters at that. Excited by the taste of battle that had been theirs,
they returned to wreak their fury upon the town, and were proceeding to
put it to sack, directing particular attention to the wealthy quarter
occupied by the Venetian merchants, which is said to have been plundered
by them to the extent of some 20,000 ducats. They would have made an end
of Sinigaglia but for the sudden appearance amongst them of the duke
himself. He rode through the streets, angrily ordering the pillage to
cease; and, to show how much he was in earnest, with his own hands he cut
down some who were insolent or slow to obey him; thus, before dusk, he
had restored order and quiet.
As for the condottieri, Vitelli and Oliverotto were dealt with that very
night. There is a story that Oliverotto, seeing that all was lost, drew
a dagger and would have put it through his heart to save himself from
dying at the hands of the hangman. If it is true, then that was his last
show of spirit. He turned craven at the end, and protested tearfully to
his judges--for a trial was given them--that the fault of all the wrong
wrought against the duke lay with his brother-in-law, Vitellozzo. More
wonderful was it that the grim Vitelli's courage also should break down
at the end, and that he should beg that the Pope be implored to grant him
a plenary indulgence and that his answer be awaited.
But at dawn--the night having been consumed in their trial--they were
placed back to back, and so strangled, and their bodies were taken to the
church of the Misericordia Hospital.
The Orsini were not dealt with just yet. They were kept prisoners, and
Valentinois would go no further until he should have heard from Rome that
Giulio Orsini and the powerful cardinal were also under arrest. To put
to death at present the men in his power might be to alarm and so lose
the others. They are right who say that his craft was devilish; but what
else was to be expected of the times?
On the morrow--January 1, 1503--the duke issued dispatches to the Powers
of Italy giving his account of the deed. It set forth that the Orsini
and their confederates, notwithstanding the pardon accorded them for
their first betrayal and revolt, upon learning of the departure of the
French lances--and concluding that the duke was thereby weakened, and
left with only a few followers of no account--had plotted a fresh and
still greater treachery. Under pretence of assisting him in the taking
of Sinigaglia, whither it was known that he was going, they had assembled
there in their full strength, but displaying only one-third of it, and
concealing the remainder in the castles of the surrounding country. They
had then agreed with the castellan of Sinigaglia, that on that night they
should attack him on every side of the new town, which, being small,
could contain, as they knew, but few of his people. This treachery
coming to his knowledge, he had been able to forestall it, and, entering
Sinigaglia with all his troops, he had seized the traitors and taken the
forces of Oliverotto by surprise. He concluded by exhorting all to
render thanks unto God that an end was set to the many calamities
suffered in Italy in consequence of those malignant ones.(1)
1 See this letter in the documents appended to Alvisi's Cesare Borgia,
For once Cesare Borgia is heard giving his own side of an affair. But
are the particulars of his version true? Who shall say positively? His
statement is not by any means contrary to the known facts, although it
sets upon them an explanation rather different to that afforded us by
Macchiavelli. But it is to be remembered that, after all, Macchiavelli
had to fall back upon the inferences which he drew from what he beheld,
and that there is no scrap of evidence directly to refute any one of
Cesare's statements. There is even confirmation of the statement that
the condottieri conceived that he was weakened by the departure of the
French lances and left with only a few followers of no account. For
Macchiavelli himself dwells upon the artifice with which Cesare broke up
his forces and disposed of them in comparatively small numbers here and
there to the end that his full strength should remain concealed; and he
admires the strategy of that proceeding.
Certainly the duke's narrative tends to increase his justification for
acting as he did. But at best it can only increase it, for the actual
justification was always there, and by the light of his epoch it is
difficult to see how he should be blamed. These men had openly sworn to
have his life, and from what has been seen of them there is little reason
to suppose they would not have kept their word had they but been given
In connection with Cesare's version, it is well to go back for a moment
to the execution of Ramiro de Lorqua, and to recall the alleged secret
motives that led to it. Macchiavelli himself was not satisfied that all
was disclosed, and that the governor's harshness and dishonesty had been
the sole causes of the justice done upon him. "The reason of his death
is not properly known," wrote the Florentine secretary. Another envoy of
that day would have filled his dispatches with the rumours that were
current, with the matters that were being whispered at street corners.
But Macchiavelli's habit was to disregard rumours as a rule, knowing
their danger--a circumstance which renders his evidence the most valuable
which we possess.
It is perhaps permissible to ask: What dark secrets had the torture of
the cord drawn from Messer Ramiro? Had these informed the duke of the
true state of affairs at Sinigaglia, and had the knowledge brought him
straight from Cesena to deal with the matter?
There is justification for these questions, inasmuch as on January 4 the
Pope related to Giustiniani--for which see his dispatches--that Ramiro de
Lorqua, being sentenced to death, stated that he desired to inform the
duke of certain matters, and informed him that he had concerted with the
Orsini to give the latter the territory of Cesena; but that, as this
could not now be done, in consequence of Cesare's treaty with the
condottieri, Vitelli had arranged to kill the duke, in which design he
had the concurrence of Oliverotto. They had planned that a crossbow-man
should shoot the duke as he rode into Sinigaglia, in consequence of which
the duke took great care of himself and never put off his armour until
the affair was over. Vitellozzo, the Pope said, had confessed before he
died that all that Ramiro had told the duke was true, and at the
Consistory of January 6, when the Sacred College begged for the release
of the old Cardinal Orsini--who had been taken with the Archbishop of
Florence, Giacomo di Santacroce, and Gianbattista da Virginio--the Pope
answered by informing the cardinals of this plot against the duke's life.
These statements by Cesare and his father are perfectly consistent with
each other and with the events. Yet, for want of independent
confirmation, they are not to be insisted upon as affording the true
version--as, of course, the Pope may have urged what he did as a pretext
to justify what was yet to follow.
It is readily conceivable that Ramiro, under torture, or in the hope
perhaps of saving his life, may have betrayed the alleged plot to murder
Cesare. And it is perfectly consistent with Cesare's character and with
his age that he should have entered into a bargain to learn what Ramiro
might have to disclose, and then have repudiated it and given him to the
executioner. If Cesare, under such circumstances as these, had learnt
what was contemplated, he would very naturally have kept silent on the
score of it until he had dealt with the condottieri. To do otherwise
might be to forewarn them. He was, as Macchiavelli says, a secret man,
and the more dangerous for his closeness, since he never let it be known
what he intended until he had executed his designs.
Guicciardini, of course, has called the Sinigaglia affair a villainy
("scelleragine") whilst Fabio Orsini and a nephew of Vitelli's who
escaped from Sinigaglia and arrived two days later at Perugia, sought to
engage sympathy by means of an extraordinary tale, so alien to all the
facts--apart from their obvious reasons to lie and provoke resentment
against Cesare--as not to be worth citing.
Andrea Doria did not remain to make formal surrender of the citadel of
Sinigaglia to the duke--for which purpose, be it borne in mind, had
Cesare been invited, indirectly, to come to Sinigaglia. He fled during
the night that saw Vitelli and Oliverotto writhing their last in the
strangler's hands. And his flight adds colour to the versions of the
affair that were afforded the world by Cesare and his father. Andrea
Doria, waiting to surrender his trust, had nothing to fear from the duke,
no reason to do anything but remain. Andrea Doria, intriguing against
the duke's life with the condottieri, finding them seized by the duke,
and inferring that all was discovered, had every reason to fly.
The citadel made surrender on that New Year's morning, when Cesare
summoned it to do so, whilst the troops of the Orsini and Vitelli lodged
in the castles of the territory, being taken unawares, were speedily
disposed of. So, there being nothing more left to do in Sinigaglia,
Cesare once more marshalled his men and set out for Città di Castello--
the tyranny of the Vitelli, which he found undefended and of which he
took possession in the name of the Church. Thence he rushed on towards
Perugia, for he had word that Guidobaldo of Urbino, Fabio Orsini,
Annibale and Venanzio Varano, and Vitelli's nephew were assembled there
under the wing of Gianpaolo Baglioni, who, with a considerable condotta
at his back, was making big talk of resisting the Duke of Romagna and
Valentinois. In this, Gianpaolo persevered most bravely until he had
news that the duke was as near as Gualdo, when precipitately he fled--
leaving his guests to shift for themselves. He had remembered, perhaps,
at the last moment how narrow an escape he had had of it at Sinigaglia,
and he repaired to Siena to join Pandolfo Petrucci, who had been equally
fortunate in that connection.
To meet the advancing and irresistible duke came ambassadors from Perugia
with smooth words of welcome, the offer of the city, and their thanks for
his having delivered them of the tyrants that oppressed them; and there
is not the slightest cause to suppose that this was mere sycophancy, for
a more bloody, murderous crew than these Baglioni--whose feuds not only
with the rival family of the Oddi, but among their very selves, had more
than once embrued the walls of that city in the hills--it would be
difficult to find in Italy, or anywhere in Europe. The history of the
Baglioni is one record of slaughter. Under their rule in Perugia human
blood seems commonly to have flowed anywhere more freely than in human
veins. It is no matter for wonder that the people sent their ambassador
to thank Cesare for having delivered them from the yoke that had
Perugia having rendered him her oath of fealty, the duke left her his
secretary, Agabito Gherardi, as his commissioner, whilst sending Vincenzo
Calmeta to Fermo--Oliverotto's tyranny--another State which was very
fervent in the thanks it expressed for this deliverance.
Scarcely was Cesare gone from Perugia when into the hands of his people
fell the person of the Lady Panthasilea Baglioni d'Alviano--the wife of
the famous Venetian condottiero Bartolomeo d'Alviano--and they, aware of
the feelings prevailing between their lord and the Government of Venice,
bethought them that here was a valuable hostage. So they shut her up in
the Castle of Todi, together with her children and the women who had been
with her when she was taken.
As in the case of Dorotea Caracciolo, the rumour is instantly put about
that it was Cesare who had seized her, that he had taken her to his camp,
and that this poor woman had fallen a prey to that lustful monster. So--
and in some such words--ran the story, and such a hold did it take upon
folks' credulity that we see Piero di Bibieno before the Council of Ten,
laying a more or less formal charge against the duke in rather broader
terms than are here set down. So much, few of those who have repeated
his story omit to tell you. But for some reason, not obviously apparent,
they do not think it worth while to add that the Doge himself--better
informed, it is clear, for he speaks with finality in the matter--
reproved him by denying the rumour and definitely stating that it was not
true, as you may read in the Diary of Marino Sanuto. That same diary
shows you the husband--a person of great consequence in Venice--before
the Council, clamouring for the enlargement of his lady; yet never once
does he mention the name of Valentinois. The Council of Ten sends an
envoy to wait upon the Pope; and the Pope expresses his profound regret
and his esteem for Alviano, and informs the envoy that he is writing to
Valentinois to demand her instant release--in fact, shows the envoy the
To that same letter the duke replied on January 29 that he had known
nothing of the matter until this communication reached him; that he has
since ascertained that the lady was indeed captured and that she has
since been detained in the Castle of Todi with all the consideration due
to her rank; and that, immediately upon ascertaining this he had
commanded that she should be set at liberty, which was done.
And so the Lady Panthasilea returned unharmed to her husband.
In Assisi Cesare received the Florentine ambassador Salviati, who came to
congratulate the duke upon the affair of Sinigaglia and to replace
Macchiavelli--the latter having been ordered home again. Congratulations
indeed were addressed to him by all those Powers that had received his
official intimation of the event. Amongst these were the felicitations
of the beautiful and accomplished Isabella d'Este, Marchioness of
Gonzaga--whose relations with him were ever of the friendliest, even when
Faenza by its bravery evoked her pity--and with these she sent him, for
the coming carnival, a present of a hundred masks of rare variety and
singular beauty, because she opined that "after the fatigues he had
suffered in these glorious enterprises, he would desire to contrive for
Here in Assisi, too, he received the Siennese envoys who came to wait
upon him, and he demanded that, out of respect for the King of France,
they should drive out Pandolfo Petrucci from Siena. For, to use his own
words, "having deprived his enemies of their weapons, he would now
deprive them of their brain," by which he paid Petrucci the compliment of
accounting him the "brain" of all that had been attempted against him.
To show the Siennese how much he was in earnest, he leaves all baggage
and stores at Assisi, and, unhampered, makes one of his sudden swoops
towards Siena, pausing on January 13 at Castel della Pieve to publish, at
last, his treaty with Bentivogli. The latter being now sincere, no doubt
out of fear of the consequences of further insincerity, at once sends
Cesare 30 lances and 100 arbalisters under the command of Antonio della
It was there in Assisi, on the morning of striking his camp again, that
Cesare completed the work that had been begun at Sinigaglia by having
Paolo Orsini and the Duke of Gravina strangled. There was no cause to
delay the matter longer. He had word from Rome of the capture of
Cardinal Orsini, of Gianbattista da Virginio, of Giacomo di Santacroce,
and Rinaldo Orsini, Archbishop of Florence.
On January 27, Pandolfo Petrucci being still in Siena, and Cesare's
patience exhausted, he issued an ultimatum from his camp at Sartiano in
which he declared that if, within twenty-four hours, Petrucci had not
been expelled from the city, he would loose his soldiers upon Siena to
devastate the territory, and would treat every inhabitant "as a Pandolfo
and an enemy."
Siena judged it well to bow before that threatening command, and Cesare,
seeing himself obeyed, was free to depart to Rome, whither the Pope had
recalled him and where work awaited him. He was required to make an end
of the resistance of the barons, a task which had been entrusted to his
brother Giuffredo, but which the latter had been unable to carry out.
In this matter Cesare and his father are said to have violently
disagreed, and it is reported that high words flew between them; for
Cesare--who looked ahead and had his own future to consider, which should
extend beyond the lifetime of Alexander VI--would not move against Silvio
Savelli in Palombara, nor Gian Giordano in Bracciano, alleging, as his
reason for the latter forbearance, that Gian Giordano, being a knight of
St. Michael like himself, he was inhibited by the terms of that
knighthood from levying war upon him. To that he adhered, whilst
disposing, however, to lay siege to Ceri, where Giulio and Giovanni
Orsini had taken refuge.
In the meantime, the Cardinal Gianbattista Orsini had breathed his last
in the Castle of Sant' Angelo.
Soderini had written ironically to Florence on February 15: "Cardinal
Orsini, in prison, shows signs of frenzy. I leave your Sublimities to
conclude, in your wisdom, the judgment that is formed of such an
It was not, however, until a week later--on February 22--that he
succumbed, when the cry of "Poison!" grew so loud and general that the
Pope ordered the cardinal's body to be carried on a bier with the face
exposed, that all the world might see its calm and the absence of such
stains as were believed usually to accompany venenation.
Nevertheless, the opinion spread that he had been poisoned--and the
poisoning of Cardinal Orsini has been included in the long list of the
Crimes of the Borgias with which we have been entertained. That the
rumour should have spread is not in the least wonderful, considering in
what bad odour were the Orsini at the Vatican just then, and--be it
remembered--what provocation they had given. Although Valentinois dubbed
Pandolfo Petrucci the "brain" of the conspiracy against him, the real
guiding spirit, there can be little doubt, was this Cardinal Orsini, in
whose stronghold at Magione the diet had met to plot Valentinois's ruin--
the ruin of the Gonfalonier of the Church, and the fresh alienation from
the Holy See of the tyrannies which it claimed for its own, and which at
great cost had been recovered to it.
Against the Pope, considered as a temporal ruler, that was treason in the
highest degree, and punishable by death; and, assuming that Alexander did
cause the death of Cardinal Orsini, the only just censure that could fall
upon him for the deed concerns the means employed. Yet even against that
it might be urged that thus was the dignity of the purple saved the
dishonouring touch of the hangman's hands.
Some six weeks later--on April 10--died Giovanni Michieli, Cardinal of
Sant' Angelo, and Giustiniani, the Venetian ambassador, wrote to his
Government that the cardinal had been ill for only two days, and that his
illness had been attended by violent sickness. This--and the reticence
of it--was no doubt intended to arouse the suspicion that the cardinal
had been poisoned. Giustiniani adds that Michieli's house was stripped
that very night by the Pope, who profited thereby to the extent of some
150,000 ducats, besides plate and other valuables; and this was intended
to show an indecent eagerness on the Pope's part to possess himself of
that which by the cardinal's death he inherited, whereas, in truth, the
measure would be one of wise precaution against the customary danger of
pillage by the mob.
But in March of the year 1504, under the pontificate of Julius II
(Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere) a subdeacon, named Asquino de Colloredo,
was arrested for defaming the dead cardinal ("interfector bone memorie
Cardinalis S. Angeli").(1) What other suspicions were entertained
against him, what other revelations it was hoped to extract from him,
cannot be said; but Asquino was put to the question, to the usual
accompaniment of the torture of the cord, and under this he confessed
that he had poisoned Cardinal Michieli, constrained to it by Pope
Alexander VI and the Duke of Valentinois, against his will and without
reward ("verumtamen non voluisse et pecunias non habuisse").
1 Burchard's Diarium, March 6, 1504.
Now if Asquino defamed the memory of Cardinal Michieli it seems to follow
naturally that he had hated the cardinal; and, if we know that he hated
him, we need not marvel that, out of that hatred, he poisoned him. But
something must have been suspected as a motive for his arrest in addition
to the slanders he was uttering, otherwise how came the questions put to
him to be directed so as to wring from him the confession that he had
poisoned the cardinal? If you choose to believe his further statement
that he was constrained to it by Pope Alexander and the Duke of
Valentinois, you are, of course, at liberty to do so. But you will do
well first to determine precisely what degree of credit such a man might
be worth when seeking to extenuate a fault admitted under pressure of the
torture--and offering the extenuation likeliest to gain him the favour of
the della Rovere Pope, whose life's task--as we shall see--was the
defamation of the hated Borgias. You will also do well closely to
examine the last part of his confession--that he was constrained to it
"against his will and without reward." Would the deed have been so very
much against the will of one who went about publishing his hatred of the
dead cardinal by the slanders he emitted?
Upon such evidence as that the accusation of the Pope's murder of
Cardinal Michieli has been definitely established--and it must be
admitted that it is, if anything, rather more evidence than is usually
forthcoming of the vampirism and atrocities alleged against him.
Giustiniani, writing to his Government in the spring of 1503, informs the
Council of Ten that it is the Pope's way to fatten his cardinals before
disposing of them--that is to say, enriching them before poisoning them,
that he may inherit their possessions. It was a wild and sweeping
statement, dictated by political animus, and it has since grown to
proportions more monstrous than the original. You may read usque ad
nauseam of the Pope and Cesare's constant practice of poisoning cardinals
who had grown rich, for the purpose of seizing their possessions, and you
are very naturally filled with horror at so much and such abominable
turpitude. In this matter, assertion--coupled with whorling periods of
vituperation--have ever been considered by the accusers all that was
necessary to establish the accusations. It has never, for instance, been
considered necessary to cite the names of the cardinals composing that
regiment of victims. That, of course, would be to challenge easy
refutation of the wholesale charge; and refutation is not desired by
those who prefer the sensational manner.
The omission may, in part at least, be repaired by giving a list of the
cardinals who died during the eleven years of the pontificate of
Alexander VI. Those deaths, in eleven years, number twenty-one--
representing, incidentally, a percentage that compares favourably with
any other eleven years of any other pontificate or pontificates. They
Ardicino della Porta . . In 1493, at Rome
Giovanni de'Conti . . . In 1493, at Rome
Domenico della Rovere . . In 1494, at Rome
Gonzalo de Mendoza . . . In 1495, in Spain
Louis André d'Epinay . . In 1495, in France
Gian Giacomo Sclafetano . . In 1496, at Rome
Bernardino di Lunati . . In 1497, at Rome
Paolo Fregosi. . . . In 1498, at Rome
Gianbattista Savelli . . In 1498, at Rome
Giovanni della Grolaye . . In 1499, at Rome
Giovanni Borgia . . . In 1500, at Fossombrone
Bartolomeo Martini . . . In 1500, at Rome
John Morton . . . . In 1500, in England
Battista Zeno. . . . In 1501, at Rome
Juan Lopez . . . . In 1501, at Rome
Gianbattista Ferrari . . In 1502, at Rome
Hurtado de Mendoza . . . In 1502, in Spain
Gianbattista Orsini. . . In 1503, at Rome
Giovanni Michieli . . . In 1503, at Rome
Giovanni Borgia (Seniore). . In 1503, at Rome
Federico Casimir . . . In 1503, in Poland
Now, search as you will, not only such contemporary records as diaries,
chronicles, and dispatches from ambassadors in Rome during that period of
eleven years but also subsequent writings compiled from them, and you
shall find no breath of scandal attaching to the death of seventeen of
those cardinals, no suggestion that they died other than natural deaths.
Four remain: Cardinals Giovanni Borgia (Giuniore), Gianbattista Ferrari
(Cardinal of Modena), Gianbattista Orsini, and Giovanni Michieli, all of
whom the Pope and Cesare have, more or less persistently, been accused of
Giovanni Borgia's death at Fossombrone has been dealt with at length in
its proper place, and it has been shown how utterly malicious and
groundless was the accusation.
Giovanni Michieli's is the case that has just been reviewed, and touching
which you may form your own conclusions.
Gianbattista Orsini's also has been examined. It rests upon rumour; but
even if that rumour be true, it is unfair to consider the deed in any but
the light of a political execution.
There remains the case of the Cardinal of Modena, a man who had amassed
enormous wealth in the most questionable manner, and who was universally
execrated. The epigrams upon his death, in the form of epitaphs, dealt
most terribly with "his ignominious memory"--as Burchard has it. Of
these the Master of Ceremonies collected upwards of a score, which he
gives in his Diarium. Let one suffice here as a fair example of the
rest, the one that has it that the earth has the cardinal's body, the
bull (i.e. the Borgia) his wealth, and hell his soul.
"Hac Janus Baptista jacet Ferrarius urna,
Terra habuit corpus, Bos bona, Styx animam."
The only absolutely contemporary suggestion of his having been poisoned
emanated from the pen of that same Giustiniani. He wrote to the Venetian
Senate to announce the cardinal's death on July 20. In his letter he
relates how his benefices were immediately distributed, and how the
lion's share fell to the cardinal's secretary, Sebastiano Pinzone, and
that it was said ("é fama") that this man had received them as the price
of blood ("in premium sanguinis"), "since it is held, from many evident
signs, that the cardinal died from poison" ("ex veneno").
Already on the 11th he had written: "The Cardinal of Modena lies ill,
with little hope of recovery. Poison is suspected" ("si dubita di
That was penned on the eighth day of the cardinal's sickness, for he was
taken ill on the 3rd--as Burchard shows. Burchard, further, lays before
us the whole course of the illness; tells us how, from the beginning, the
cardinal refused to be bled or to take medicine of any kind, tells us
explicitly and positively that the cardinal was suffering from a certain
fever--so prevalent and deadly in Rome during the months of July and
August; he informs us that, on the 11th (the day on which Giustiniani
wrote the above-cited dispatch), the fever abated, to return on the 16th.
He was attended (Burchard continues) by many able physicians, who strove
to induce him to take their medicines; but he refused persistently until
the following day, when he accepted a small proportion of the doses
proposed. On July 20--after an illness of seventeen days--he finally
Those entries in the diary of the Master of Ceremonies constitute an
incontrovertible document, an irrefutable testimony against the charges
of poisoning when taken in conjunction with the evidence of fact afforded
by the length of the illness.
It is true that, under date of November 20, 1504 (under the pontificate
of Julius II), there is the following entry:
"Sentence was pronounced in the 'Ruota' against Sebastiano Pinzone,
apostolic scribe, contumaciously absent, and he was deprived of all
benefices and offices in that he had caused the death of the Cardinal of
Modena, his patron, who had raised him from the dust."
But not even that can shake the conviction that must leap to every honest
mind from following the entries in the diary contemporary with the
cardinal's decease. They are too circumstantial and conclusive to be
overthrown by this recorded sentence of the Ruota two years later against
a man who was not even present to defend himself. Besides, it is
necessary to discriminate. Burchard is not stating opinions of his own
when he writes "in that he caused the death of the Cardinal of Modena,"
etc.; he is simply--and obviously--recording the finding of the Tribunal
of the Ruota, without comment of his own. Lastly, it is as well to
observe that in that verdict against Pinzone--of doubtful justice as it
is--there is no mention made of the Borgias.
The proceedings instituted against Sebastiano Pinzone were of a piece
with those instituted against Asquino de Colloredo and others yet to be
considered; they were set on foot by Giuliano della Rovere--that
implacable enemy of the House of Borgia--when he became Pope, for the
purpose of heaping ignominy upon the family of his predecessor. But that
shall be further dealt with presently.
Another instance of the unceasing growth of Borgia history is afforded in
connection with this Sebastiano Pinzone by Dr. Jacob Burckhardt (in Der
Cultur der Renaissance in Italien) who, in the course of the usual
sweeping diatribe against Cesare, mentions "Michele da Corella, his
strangler, and Sebastiano Pinzone, his poisoner." It is an amazing
statement; for, whilst obviously leaning upon Giustiniani's dispatch for
the presumption that Pinzone was a poisoner at all, he ignores the
statement contained in it that Pinzone was the secretary and favourite of
Cardinal Ferrari, nor troubles to ascertain that the man was never in
Cesare Borgia's service at all, nor is ever once mentioned anywhere as
connected in any capacity whatever with the duke. Dr. Burckhardt felt,
no doubt, the necessity of linking Pinzone to the Borgias, that the
alleged guilt of the former may recoil upon the latter, and so he
accomplished it in this facile and irresponsible manner.
Now, notwithstanding the full and circumstantial evidence afforded by
Burchard's Diarium of the Cardinal of Modena's death of a tertian fever,
the German scholar Gregorovius does not hesitate to write of this
cardinal's death: "It is certain that it was due to their [the Borgias']
infallible white powders."
Oh the art of writing history in sweeping statements to support a
preconceived point of view! Oh that white powder of the Borgias!
Giovio tells us all about it. Cantarella, he calls it--Cantharides. Why
Cantarella? Possibly because it is a pleasing, mellifluous word that
will help a sentence hang together smoothly; possibly because the
notorious aphrodisiac properties of that drug suggested it to Giovio as
just the poison to be kept handy by folk addicted to the pursuits which
he and others attribute to the Borgias. Can you surmise any better
reason? For observe that Giovio describes the Cantarella for you--a
blunder of his which gives the lie to his statement. "A white powder of
a faint and not unpleasing savour," says he; and that, as you know, is
nothing like cantharides, which is green, intensely acrid, and burning.
Yet who cares for such discrepancies? Who will ever question anything
that is uttered against a Borgia? "Cantarella--a white powder of a faint
and not unpleasing savour," answers excellently the steady purpose of
supporting a defamation and pandering to the tastes of those who like
sensations in their reading--and so, from pen to pen, from book to book
it leaps, as unchallenged as it is impossible.
Whilst Cesare's troops were engaged in laying siege to Ceri, and, by
engines contrived by Leonardo da Vinci, pressing the defenders so sorely
that at the end of a month's resistance they surrendered with safe-
conduct, the inimical and ever-jealous Venetians in the north were
stirring up what trouble they could. Chafing under the restraint of
France, they but sought a pretext that should justify them in the eyes of
Louis for making war upon Cesare, and when presently envoys came to lay
before the Pope the grievance of the Republic at the pillage by Borgian
soldiery of the Venetian traders in Sinigaglia, Cesare had no delusions
concerning their disposition towards himself.
Growing uneasy lest they should make this a reason for assailing his
frontiers, he sent orders north recommending vigilance and instructing
his officers to deal severely with all enemies of his State, whilst he
proceeded to complete the provisions for the government of the Romagna.
To replace the Governor-General he appointed four seneschals: Cristoforo
della Torre for Forli, Faenza and Imola; Hieronimo Bonadies for Cesena,
Rimini, and Pesaro; Andrea Cossa for Fano, Sinigaglia, Fossombrone, and
Pergola; and Pedro Ramires for the duchy of Urbino. This last was to
find a deal of work for his hands; for Urbino was not yet submissive,
Majolo and S. Leo still holding for Guidobaldo.
Ramires began by reducing Majolo, and then proceeded to lay siege to S.
Leo. But the Castellan--one Lattanzio--encouraged by the assurances
given him that the Venetians would render Guidobaldo assistance to
reconquer his dominions, resisted stubbornly, and was not brought to
surrender until the end of June, after having held the castle for six
If Venice was jealous and hostile in the north, Florence was scarcely
less so in mid-Italy--though perhaps with rather more justification, for
Cesare's growing power and boundless ambition kept the latter Republic in
perpetual fear of being absorbed into his dominions--into that kingdom
which it was his ultimate aim to found. There can be little doubt that
Francesco da Narni, who appeared in Tuscany early in the March of that
year, coming from the French Court for the purpose of arranging a league
of Florence, Bologna, Siena, and Lucca--the four States more or less
under French protection--had been besought by Florence, to the obvious
end that these four States, united, might inter-defend themselves against
Valentinois. And Florence even went so far as to avail herself of this
to the extent of restoring Pandolfo Petrucci to the lordship of Siena--
preferring even this avowed enemy to the fearful Valentinois. Thus came
about Petrucci's restoration towards the end of March, despite the fact
that the Siennese were divided on the subject of his return.
With the single exception of Camerino, where disturbances still
continued, all was quiet in the States of the Church by that summer of
This desirable state of things had been achieved by Cesare's wise and
liberal government, which also sufficed to ensure its continuance.
He had successfully combated the threatened famine by importing grain
from Sicily. To Sinigaglia--his latest conquest--he had accorded, as to
the other subjected States, the privilege of appointing her own native
officials, with, of course, the exception of the Podestà (who never could
be a native of any place where he dispensed justice) and the Castellan.
In Cesena a liberal justice was measured out by the Tribunal of the
Ruota, which Cesare had instituted there, equipping it with the best
jurisconsults of the Romagna.
In Rome he proceeded to a military organization on a new basis, and with
a thoroughness never before seen in Italy--or elsewhere, for that matter
--but which was thereafter the example all sought to copy. We have seen
him issuing an edict that every house in the Romagna should furnish him
one man-at-arms to serve him when necessary. The men so levied were
under obligation to repair to the market-place of their native town when
summoned thither by the ringing of the bells, and it was estimated that
this method of conscription would yield him six or seven thousand men,
who could be mobilized in a couple of days. He increased the number of
arquebusiers, appreciating the power and value of a weapon which--
although invented nearly a century earlier--was still regarded with
suspicion. He was also the inventor of the military uniform, putting his
soldiers into a livery of his own, and causing his men-at-arms to wear
over their armour a smock, quartered red and yellow with the name CESARE
lettered on the breast and back, whilst the gentlemen of his guard wore
surcoats of his colours in gold brocade and crimson velvet.
He continued to levy troops and to arm them, and it is scarcely over-
stating the case to say that hardly a tyrant of the Romagna would have
dared to do so much for fear of the weapons being turned against himself.
Cesare knew no such fear. He enjoyed a loyalty from the people he had
subjected which was almost unprecedented in Italy. The very officers he
placed in command of the troops of his levying were, for the most part,
natives of the Romagna. Is there no inference concerning him to be drawn
For every man in his service Cesare ordered a back-and-breast and
headpiece of steel, and the armourers' shops of Brescia rang busily that
summer with the clang of metal upon metal, as that defensive armour for
Cesare's troops was being forged. At the same time the foundries were
turning out fresh cannon in that season which saw Cesare at the very
height and zenith of his power, although he himself may not have
accounted that, as yet, he was further than at the beginning.
But the catastrophe that was to hurl him irretrievably from the eminence
to which in three short years he had climbed was approaching with
stealthy, relentless foot, and was even now upon him.
THE BULL CADENT
"Cesar Borgia che era della gente Per armi e per virtú tenuto un sole,
Mancar dovendo andó dove andar sole Phebo, verso la sera, al Occidente.
THE DEATH OF ALEXANDER VI
Unfortunate Naples was a battle-field once more. France and Spain were
engaged there in a war whose details belong elsewhere.
To the aid of France, which was hard beset and with whose arms things
were going none too well, Cesare was summoned to fulfil the obligations
under which he was placed by virtue of his treaty with King Louis.
Rumours were rife that he was negotiating secretly with Gonzalo de
Cordoba, the Great Captain, and the truth of whether or not he was guilty
of so base a treachery has never been discovered. These rumours had been
abroad since May, and, if not arising out of, they were certainly
stimulated by, an edict published by Valentinois concerning the papal
chamberlain, Francesco Troche. In this edict Cesare enjoined all
subjects of the Holy See to arrest, wherever found, this man who had fled
from Rome, and whose flight "was concerned with something against the
honour of the King of France."
Francesco Troche had been Alexander's confidential chamberlain and
secretary; he had been a diligent servant of the House of Borgia, and
when in France had acted as a spy for Valentinois, keeping the duke
supplied with valuable information at a critical time, as we have seen.
Villari says of him that he was "one of the Borgias' most trusted
assassins." That he has never been so much as alleged to have murdered
anyone does not signify. He was a servant--a trusted servant--of the
Borgias; therefore the title of "assassin" is, ipso facto, to be bestowed
The flight of a man holding such an intimate position as Troche's was
naturally a subject of much speculation and gossip, but a matter upon
which there was no knowledge. Valentinois was ever secret. In common
with his father--though hardly in so marked a degree, and if we except
the case of the scurrilous Letter to Silvio Savelli--he showed a
contemptuous indifference to public opinion on the whole which is
invested almost with a certain greatness. At least it is rarely other
than with greatness that we find such an indifference associated. It was
not for him to take the world into his confidence in matters with which
the world was not concerned. Let the scandalmongers draw what inferences
they pleased. It was a lofty and dignified procedure, but one that was
fraught with peril; and the Borgias have never ceased to pay the price of
that excessive dignity of reserve. For tongues must be wagging, and,
where knowledge is lacking, speculation will soon usurp its place, and
presently be invested with all the authority of "fact."
Out of surmises touching that matter "which concerned the honour of the
King of France" grew presently--and contradictorily--the rumour that
Troche was gone to betray to France Valentinois's intention of going over
to the Spanish side. A motive was certainly required to account for
Troche's action; but the invention of motives does not appear ever to
have troubled the Cinquecentist.
It was now said that Troche was enraged at having been omitted from the
list of cardinals to be created at the forthcoming Consistory. It is all
mystery, even to the end he made; for, whereas some said that, after
being seized on board a ship that was bound for Corsica, Troche in his
despair threw himself overboard and was drowned, others reported that he
was brought back to Rome and strangled in a prison in Trastevere.
The following questions crave answer:
If it was Troche's design to betray such a treachery of the Borgias
against France, what was he doing on board a vessel bound for Corsica a
fortnight after his flight from Rome? Would not his proper goal have
been the French camp in Naples, which he could have reached in a quarter
of that time, and where not only could he have vented his desire for
vengeance by betraying Alexander and Valentinois, but he could further
have found complete protection from pursuit?
It is idle and unprofitable to dwell further upon the end of Francesco
Troche. The matter is a complete mystery, and whilst theory is very well
as theory, it is dangerous to cause it to fill the place of fact.
Troche was drowned or was strangled as a consequence of his having fled
out of motives that were "against the honour of the King of France." And
straightway the rumour spread of Valentinois's intended treachery, and
the rumour was kept alive and swelled by Venice and Florence in pursuit
of their never-ceasing policy of discrediting Cesare with King Louis, to
the end that they might encompass his expedient ruin.
The lie was given to them to no small extent by the Pope, when, in the
Consistory of July 28, he announced Cesare's departure to join the French
army in Naples with five hundred horse and two thousand foot assembled
for the purpose.
For this Cesare made now his preparations, and on the eve of departure he
went with his father--on the evening of August 5--to sup at the villa of
Cardinal Adriano Corneto, outside Rome.
Once before we have seen him supping at a villa of the Suburra on the eve
of setting out for Naples, and we know the tragedy that followed--a
tragedy which he has been accused of having brought about. Here again,
in a villa of the Suburra, at a supper on the eve of setting out for
Naples, Death was the unseen guest.
They stayed late at the vineyard of Cardinal Corneto, enjoying the
treacherous cool of the evening, breathing the death that was omnipresent
in Rome that summer, the pestilential fever which had smitten Cardinal
Giovanni Borgia (Seniore) on the 1st of that month, and of which men were
dying every day in the most alarming numbers.
On the morning of Saturday 12, Burchard tells us, the Pope felt ill, and
that evening he was taken with fever. On the 15th Burchard records that
he was bled, thirteen ounces of blood being taken from him. It relieved
him somewhat, and, seeking distraction, he bade some of the cardinals to
come and sit by his bed and play at cards.
Meanwhile, Cesare was also stricken, and in him the fever raged so fierce
and violently that he had himself immersed to the neck in a huge jar of
ice-cold water--a drastic treatment in consequence of which he came to
shed all the skin from his body.
On the 17th the Pope was much worse, and on the 18th, the end being at
hand, he was confessed by the Bishop of Culm, who administered Extreme
Unction, and that evening he died.
That, beyond all manner of question, is the true story of the passing of
Alexander VI, as revealed by the Diarium of Burchard, by the testimony of
the physician who attended him, and by the dispatches of the Venetian,
Ferrarese, and Florentine ambassadors. At this time of day it is
accepted by all serious historians, compelled to it by the burden of
The ambassador of Ferrara had written to Duke Ercole, on August 14, that
it was no wonder the Pope and the duke were ill, as nearly everybody in
Rome was ill as a consequence of the bad air ("Per la mala condictione de
Cardinal Soderini was also stricken with the fever, whilst Corneto was
taken ill on the day after that supper-party, and, like Cesare, is said
to have shed all the skin of his body before he recovered.
Even Villari and Gregorovius, so unrestrained when writing of the
Borgias, discard the extraordinary and utterly unwarranted stories of
Guicciardini, Giovio, and Bembo, which will presently be considered.
Gregorovius does this with a reluctance that is almost amusing, and with
many a fond, regretful, backward glance--so very apparent in his manner--
at the tale of villainy as told by Guicciardini and the others, which the
German scholar would have adopted but that he dared not for his credit's
sake. This is not stated on mere assumption. It is obvious to any one
who reads Gregorovius's histories.
Burchard tells us--as certainly matter for comment--that, during his last
illness, Alexander never once asked for Cesare nor ever once mentioned
the name of Lucrezia. So far as Cesare is concerned, the Pope knew, no
doubt, that he was ill and bedridden, for all that the gravity of the
duke's condition would, probably, have been concealed from him. That he
should not have mentioned Lucrezia--nor, we suppose, Giuffredo--is
remarkable. Did he, with the hand of Death already upon him, reproach
himself with this paternity which, however usual and commonplace in
priests of all degrees, was none the less a scandal, and the more
scandalous in a measure as the rank of the offender was higher? It may
well be that in those last days that sinful, worldly old man bethought
him of the true scope and meaning of Christ's Vicarship, which he had so
wantonly abused and dishonoured, and considered that to that Judge before
whom he was summoned to appear the sins of his predecessors would be no
justification or mitigation of his own. It may well be that, grown
introspective upon his bed of death, he tardily sought to thrust from his
mind the worldly things that had so absorbed it until the spiritual were
forgotten, and had given rise to all the scandal concerning him that was
spread through Christendom, to the shame and dishonour of the Church
whose champion he should have been.
Thus may it have come to pass that he summoned none of his children in
his last hours, nor suffered their names to cross his lips.
When the news of his father's death was brought to Cesare, the duke, all
fever-racked as he was, more dead than living, considered his position
and issued his orders to Michele da Corella, that most faithful of all
his captains, who so richly shared with Cesare the execration of the
Of tears for his father there is no record, just as at no time are we
allowed to see that stern spirit giving way to any emotion, conceiving
any affection, or working ever for the good of any but himself. Besides,
in such an hour as this, the consciousness of the danger in which he
stood by virtue of the Pope's death and his own most inopportune
sickness, which disabled him from taking action to make his future
secure, must have concerned him to the exclusion of all else.
Meanwhile, however, Rome was quiet, held so in the iron grip of Michele
da Corella and the ducal troops. The Pope's death was being kept secret
for the moment, and was not announced to the people until nightfall, by
when Corella had carried out his master's orders, including the seizure
of the Pope's treasure. And Burchard tells us how some of Valentinois's
men entered the Vatican--all the gates of which were held by the ducal
troops--and, seizing Cardinal Casanova, they demanded, with a dagger at
his throat and a threat to fling his corpse from the windows if he
refused them, the Pope's keys. These the cardinal surrendered, and
Corella possessed himself of plate and jewels to the value of some
200,000 ducats, besides two caskets containing about 100,000 ducats in
gold. Thereafter the servants of the palace completed the pillage by
ransacking the wardrobes and taking all they could find, so that nothing
was left in the papal apartments but the chairs, a few cushions, and the
tapestries of the walls.
All his life Alexander had been the victim of the most ribald calumnies.
Stories had ever sprung up and thriven, like ill weeds, about his name
and reputation. His sins, great and scandalous in themselves, were
swelled by popular rumour, under the spur of malice, to monstrous and
incredible proportions. As they had exaggerated and lied about the
manner of his life, so--with a consistency worthy of better scope--they
exaggerated and lied about the manner of his death, and, the age being a
credulous one, the stories were such that writers of more modern and less
credulous times dare not insist upon them, lest they should discredit--as
they do--what else has been alleged against him.
Thus when, in his last delirium, the Pope uttered some such words as: "I
am coming; I am coming. It is just. But wait a little," and when those
words were repeated, it was straightway asserted that the Devil was the
being he thus addressed in that supreme hour. The story grew in detail;
that is inevitable with such matter. He had bargained with the devil, it
was said, for a pontificate of twelve years, and, the time being
completed, the devil was come for him. And presently, we even have a
description of Messer the Devil as he appeared on that occasion--in the
shape of a baboon. The Marquis Gonzaga of Mantua, in all seriousness,
writes to relate this. The chronicler Sanuto, receiving the now
popularly current story from another source, in all seriousness gives it
place in his Diarii, thus:
"The devil was seen to leap out of the room in the shape of a baboon.
And a cardinal ran to seize him, and, having caught him, would have
presented him to the Pope; but the Pope said, 'Let him go, let him go.
It is the devil,' and that night he fell ill and died."(1)
1 "Il diavolo sarebbe saltato fuori della camera in forma di babuino, et
un cardinale corso per piarlo, e preso volendolo presentar al papa, il
papa disse lasolo, lasolo ché ii diavolo. E poi la notte si amaló e
morite."--Marino Sanuto, Diarii.
That story, transcending the things which this more practical age
considers possible, is universally rejected; but it is of vast importance
to the historical student; for it is to be borne in mind that it finds a
place in the pages of those same Diarii upon the authority of which are
accepted many defamatory stories without regard to their extreme
improbability so long as they are within the bounds of bare possibility.
After Alexander was dead it was said that water boiled in his mouth, and
that steam issued from it as he lay in St. Peter's, and much else of the
same sort, which the known laws of physiology compel so many of us very
reluctantly to account exaggerations. But, again, remember that the
source of these stories was the same as the source of many other
exaggerations not at issue with physiological laws.
The circumstances of Alexander's funeral are in the highest degree
scandalous, and reflect the greatest discredit upon his age.
On the morrow, as the clergy were chanting the Libera me, Domine in St.
Peter's, where the body was exposed on a catafalque in full pontificals,
a riot occurred, set on foot by the soldiers present for reasons which
Burchard--who records the event--does not make clear.
The clerics fled for shelter to the sacristy, the chants were cut short,
and the Pope's body almost entirely abandoned.
But the most scandalous happening occurred twenty-four hours later. The
Pope's remains were removed to the Chapel of Santa Maria delle Febbre by
six bearers who laughed and jested at the expense of the poor corpse,
which was in case to provoke the coarse mirth of the lower classes of an
age which, setting no value upon human life, knew no respect for death.
By virtue of the malady that had killed him, of his plethoric habit of
body, and of the sweltering August heat, the corpse was decomposing
rapidly, so that the face had become almost black and assumed an aspect
grotesquely horrible, fully described by Burchard:
"Factus est sicut pannus vel morus nigerrimus, livoris totus plenus,
nasus plenus, os amplissimum, lingua duplex in ore, que labia tota
implebat, os apertum et adeo horribile quod nemo viderit unquam vel esse
Two carpenters waited in the chapel with the coffin which they had
brought; but, either through carelessness it had been made too narrow and
too short, or else the body, owing to its swollen condition, did not
readily fit into this receptable; whereupon, removing the mitre, for
which there was no room, they replaced it by a piece of old carpet, and
set themselves to force and pound the corpse into the coffin. And this
was done "without candle or any light being burned in honour of the dead,
and without the presence of any priest or other person to care for the
Pope's remains." No explanation of this is forthcoming; it was probably
due to the panic earlier occasioned the clergy by the ducal men-at-arms.
The story that he had been poisoned was already spreading like a
conflagration through Rome, arising out of the appearance of the body,
which was such as was popularly associated with venenation.
But a Borgia in the rôle of a victim was altogether too unusual to be
acceptable, and too much opposed to the taste to which the public had
been educated; so the story must be edited and modified until suitable
for popular consumption. The supper-party at Cardinal Corneto's villa
was remembered, and upon that a tale was founded, and trimmed by degrees
into plausible shape.
Alexander had intended to poison Corneto--so ran this tale--that he might
possess himself of the cardinal's vast riches; in the main a well-worn
story by now. To this end Cesare had bribed a butler to pour wine for
the cardinal from a flask which he entrusted to him. Exit Cesare. Exit
presently the butler, carelessly leaving the poisoned wine upon a buffet.
(The drama, you will observe, is perfectly mechanical, full of author's
interventions, and elementary in its "preparations"). Enter the Pope.
He thirsts, and calls for wine. A servant hastens; takes up, of course,
the poisoned flask in ignorance of its true quality, and pours for his
Beatitude. Whilst the Pope drinks re-enters Cesare, also athirst, and,
seating himself, he joins the Pope in the poisoned wine, all unsuspicious
and having taken no precautions to mark the flask. Poetic justice is
done, and down comes the curtain upon that preposterous tragi-farce.
Such is the story which Guicciardini and Giovio and a host of other more
or less eminent historians have had the audacity to lay before their
readers as being the true circumstances of the death of Alexander VI.
It is a noteworthy matter that in all that concerns the history of the
House of Borgia, and more particularly those incidents in it that are
wrapped in mystery, circumstantial elucidation has a habit of proceeding
from the same quarters.
You will remember, for instance, that the Venetian Paolo Capello (though
not in Rome at the time) was one of those who was best informed in the
matter of the murder of the Duke of Gandia. And it was Capello again who
was possessed of the complete details of the scarcely less mysterious
business of Alfonso of Aragon. Another who on the subject of the murder
of Gandia "had no doubts"--as he himself expressed it--was Pietro Martire
d'Anghiera, in Spain at the time, whence he wrote to inform Italy of the
true circumstances of a case that had happened in Italy.
It is again Pietro Martire d'Anghiera who, on November 10, 1503, writes
from Burgos in Spain to inform Rome of the true facts of Alexander's
death--for it is in that letter of his that the tale of the flask of
wine, as here set down, finds place for the first time.
It is unprofitable to pursue the matter further, since at this time of
day even the most reluctant to reject anything that tells against a
Borgia have been compelled to admit that the burden of evidence is
altogether too overwhelming in this instance, and that it is proved to
the hilt that Alexander died of the tertian fever then ravaging Rome.
And just as the Pope's death was the subject of the wildest fictions
which have survived until very recent days, so too, was Cesare's
Again, it was the same Pietro Martire d'Anghiera who from Burgos wrote to
inform Rome of what was taking place in the privacy of the Duke of
Valentinois's apartments in the Vatican. Under his facile and magic pen,
the jar of ice-cold water into which Cesare was believed to have been
plunged was transmuted into a mule which was ripped open that the fever-
stricken Cesare might be packed into thc pulsating entrails, there to
sweat the fever out of him.
But so poor and sexless a beast as this seeming in the popular mind
inadequate to a man of Cesare's mettle, it presently improved upon and
converted it into a bull--so much more appropriate, too, as being the
emblem of his house.
Nor does it seem that even then the story has gone far enough. Facilis
inventis addere. There comes a French writer with an essay on the
Borgias, than which--submitted as sober fact--nothing more amazingly
lurid has been written. In this, with a suggestive cleverness entirely
Gallic, he causes us to gather an impression of Cesare in the intestinal
sudatorium of that eventrated bull, as of one who is at once the
hierophant and devotee of a monstrous, foul, and unclean rite of some
unspeakable religion--a rite by comparison with which the Black Mass of
the Abbé Gribourg becomes a sweet and wholesome thing.
But hear the man himself:
"Cet homme de meurtres et d'inceste, incarné dans l'animal des hécatombes
et des bestialités antiques en évoque les monstrueuses images. Je crois
entendre le taureau de Phalaris et le taureau de Pasiphaë répondre, de
loin, par d'effrayants mugissements, aux cris humains de ce bucentaure."
That is the top note on this subject. Hereafter all must pale to anti-
The fever that racked Cesare Borgia's body in those days can have been as
nothing to the fever that racked his mind, the despairing rage that must
have whelmed his soul to see the unexpected--the one contingency against
which he had not provided--cutting the very ground from underneath his
As he afterwards expressed himself to Macchiavelli, and as Macchiavelli
has left on record, Cesare had thought of everything, had provided for
everything that might happen on his father's death, save that in such a
season--when more than ever he should have need for all his strength of
body and of mind--he should, himself, be lying at the point of death.
Scarce was Alexander's body cold than the duke's enemies began to lift
their heads. Already by the 20th of that month--two days after the Pope
had breathed his last--the Orsini were in arms and had led a rising, in
retort to which Michele da Corella fired their palace on Montegiordano.
Venice and Florence bethought them that the protection of France had been
expressly for the Church and not for Cesare personally. So the Venetians
at once supplied Guidobaldo da Montefeltre with troops wherewith to
reconquer his dominions, and by the 24th he was master of S. Leo. In the
city of Urbino itself Ramires, the governor, held out as long as
possible, then beat a retreat to Cesena, whilst Valentinois's partisans
in Urbino were mercilessly slaughtered and their houses pillaged.
Florence supported the Baglioni in the conquest of Magione from the
Borgias, and they aided Giacopo d'Appiano to repossess himself of
Piombino, which had so gladly seen him depart out of it eighteen months
From Magione, Gianpaolo Baglioni marches his Florentine troops to
Camerino to aid the only remaining Varano to regain the tyranny of his
fathers. The Vitelli are back in Città di Castello, carrying a golden
calf in triumph through the streets; and so by the end of August, within
less than a fortnight, all the appendages of the Romagna are lost to
Cesare, whilst at Cesare's very gates the Orsini men-at-arms are
clamouring with insistent menace.
The Duke's best friend, in that crisis, was his secretary Agabito
Gherardi. For it is eminently probable--as Alvisi opines--that it was
Gherardi who urged his master to make an alliance with the Colonna,
Gherardi himself being related to that powerful family. The alliance of
these old enemies--Colonna and Borgia--was in their common interests,
that they might stand against their common enemy, Orsini--the old friends
of the Borgias.
On August 22 Prospero Colonna came to Rome, and terms were made and
cemented, in the usual manner, by a betrothal--that of the little
Rodrigo--(Lucrezia's child)--to a daughter of the House of Colonna. On
the same day the Sacred College confirmed Cesare in his office of
Captain-General and Gonfalonier of the Church, pending the election of a
Meanwhile, sick almost to the point of death, and scarce able to stir
hand or foot, so weak in body had he been left by the heroic treatment to
which he had submitted, Cesare continued mentally a miracle of energy and
self-possession. He issued orders for the fortifying of the Vatican, and
summoned from Romagna 200 horse and 1,000 foot to his aid in Rome,
bidding Remolino, who brought these troops, to quarter himself at
Orvieto, and there await his further orders.
Considering that the Colonna were fighting in Naples under the banner of
Gonzalo de Cordoba, it was naturally enough supposed, from Cesare's
alliance with the former, that this time he was resolved to go over to
the side of Spain. Of this, M. de Trans came to protest to Valentinois
on behalf of Louis XII, to be answered by the duke's assurances that the
alliance into which he had entered was strictly confined to the Colonna,
that it entailed no treaty with Spain; nor had he entered into any; that
his loyalty to the King of France continued unimpaired, and that he was
ready to support King Louis with the entire forces he disposed of,
whenever his Majesty should desire him so to do. In reply, he was
assured by the French ambassador and Cardinal Sanseverino of the
continued protection of Louis, and that France would aid him to maintain
his dominions in Italy and reconquer any that might have seceded; and of
this declaration copies were sent to Florence, Venice, and Bologna on
September 1, as a warning to those Powers not to engage in anything to
the hurt of Valentinois.
Thus sped the time of the novendiali--the nine days' obsequies of the
dead Pope--which were commenced on September 4.
As during the conclave that was immediately to follow it was against the
law for armed men to be in Rome, Cesare was desired by the Sacred College
to withdraw his troops. He did so on September 2, and himself went with
Cardinal Sanseverino and the French ambassador escorted him out of Rome
and saw him take the road to Nepi--a weak, fever-ravaged, emaciated man,
borne in a litter by a dozen of his halberdiers, his youth, his beauty,
his matchless strength of body all sapped from him by the insidious
disease which had but grudgingly spared his very life.
At Nepi he was awaited by his brother Giuffredo, who had preceded him
thither from Rome. A shadowy personage this Giuffredo, whose unimportant
personality is tantalizingly elusive in the pages where mention is made
of him. His incontinent wife, Doña Sancia, had gone to Naples under the
escort of Prospero Colonna, having left the Castle of Sant' Angelo where
for some time she had been confined by order of her father-in-law, the
Pope, on account of the disorders of her frivolous life.
And now the advices of the fresh treaty between Cesare Borgia and the
King of France were producing their effect upon Venice and Florence, who
were given additional pause by the fierce jealousy of each other, which
was second only to their jealousy of the duke.
From Venice--with or without the sanction of his Government--Bartolomeo
d'Alviano had ridden south into the Romagna with his condotta immediately
upon receiving news of the death of Alexander, and, finding Pandolfaccio
Malatesta at Ravenna, he proceeded to accompany him back to that Rimini
which the tyrant had sold to Cesare. Rimini, however, refused to receive
him back, and showed fight to the forces under d'Alviano. So that, for
the moment, nothing was accomplished. Whereupon the Republic, which at
first had raised a feeble, make-believe protest at the action of her
condottiero, now deemed it as well to find a pretext for supporting him.
So Venice alleged that a courier of hers had been stripped of a letter,
and, with such an overwhelming cause as that for hostilities, dispatched
reinforcements to d'Alviano to the end that he might restore Pandolfaccio
to a dominion in which he was abhorred. Further, d'Alviano was
thereafter to proceed to do the like office for Giovanni Sforza, who
already had taken ship for Pesaro, and who was restored to his lordship
on September 3.
Thence, carrying the war into the Romagna itself, d'Alviano marched upon
Cesena. But the Romagna was staunch and loyal to her duke. The governor
had shut himself up in Cesena with what troops he could muster, including
a thousand veterans under the valiant Dionigio di Naldo, and there,
standing firm and resolute, he awaited the onslaught of the Venetians.
D'Alviano advanced rapidly and cruelly, a devastator laying waste the
country in his passage, until to check him came suddenly the Borgia
troops, which had ventured upon a sally. The Venetians were routed and
put to flight.
On September 16 the restored tyrants of Rimini, Pesaro, Castello,
Perugia, Camerino, Urbino, and Sinigaglia entered into and signed at
Perugia a league, whose chiefs were Bartolomeo d'Alviano and Gianpaolo
Baglioni, for their common protection.
Florence was invited to join the allies. Intimidated, however, by
France, not only did the Signory refuse to be included, but--in her usual
manner--actually went so far as to advise Cesare Borgia of that refusal
and to offer him her services and help.
On the same date the Sacred College assembled in Rome, at the Mass of the
Holy Spirit, to beseech the grace of inspiration in the election of the
new Pontiff. The part usually played by the divine afflatus in these
matters was so fully understood and appreciated that the Venetian
ambassador received instructions from the Republic(1) to order the
Venetian cardinals to vote for Giuliano della Rovere, whilst the King of
France sent a letter--in his own hand--to the Sacred College desiring it
to elect his friend the Cardinal d'Amboise, and Spain, at the same time,
sought to influence the election of Carvajal.
1 See Sanuto's Diarrii.
The chances of the last-named do not appear ever to have amounted to very
much. The three best supported candidates were della Rovere, d'Amboise,
and Ascanio Sforza--who made his reappearance in Rome, released from his
French prison at last, in time to attend this Conclave.
None of these three factions was strong enough to ensure the election of
its own candidate, but any two were strong enough to prevent the election
of the candidate of the third. Wherefore it happened that, as a result
of so much jealousy and competition, recourse was had to temporizing by
electing the oldest and feeblest cardinal in the College. Thus there
should presently be another election, and meantime the candidates would
improve the time by making their arrangements and canvassing their
supporters so as to control the votes of the College at that future
Conclave. Therefore Francesco Piccolomini, Cardinal of Siena (nephew of
Pius II), a feeble octogenarian, tormented by an ulcer, which, in
conjunction with an incompetent physician, was to cut his life even
shorter than they hoped, was placed upon the throne of St. Peter, and
assumed with the Pontificate the name of Pius III.
The new Pope was entirely favourable to Cesare Borgia, and confirmed him
in all his offices, signifying his displeasure to Venice at her attempt
upon the Romagna, and issuing briefs to the allied tyrants commanding
them to desist from their opposition to the will of the Holy See.
Cesare returned to Rome, still weak on his legs and ghastly to behold,
and on October 6 he received in St. Peter's his confirmation as Captain-
General and Gonfalonier of the Church.
The Venetians had meanwhile been checked by a letter from Louis from
lending further assistance to the allies. The latter, however, continued
their hostilities in spite of that. They had captured Sinigaglia, and
now they made an attempt on Fano and Fermo, but were repulsed in both
places by Cesare's loyal subjects. At the same time the Ordelaffi--who
in the old days had been deposed from the Tyranny of Forli to make room
for the Riarii--deemed the opportunity a good one to attempt to regain
their lordship; but their attempt, too, was frustrated.
Cesare sat impotent in Rome, no doubt vexed by his own inaction. He
cannot have lacked the will to go to the Romagna to support the subjects
who showed him such loyalty; but he lacked the means. Owing to the
French and Spanish dispute in Naples, his army had practically melted
away. The terms of his treaty with Louis compelled him to send the bulk
of it to the camp at Garigliano to support the French, who were in
trouble. The force that Remolino had quartered at Orvieto to await the
duke's orders he had been unable to retain there. Growing uneasy at
their position, and finding it impossible either to advance or to
retreat, being threatened on the one side by the Baglioni and on the
other by the Orsini, these troops had steadily deserted; whilst most of
Cesare's Spanish captains and their followers had gone to the aid of
their compatriots under Gonzalo de Cordoba in response to that captain's
summons of every Spaniard in the peninsula.
Thus did it come about that Cesare had no force to afford his Romagna
subjects. His commissioners in the north did what was possible to repair
the damage effected by the allies, and they sent Dionigio di Naldo with
six hundred of his foot, and, further, a condotta of two hundred horse,
against Rimini. This was captured by them in one day and almost without
resistance, Pandolfaccio flying for his life to Pesaro.
Next the allies, by attempting to avenge the rout they had suffered at
Cesena, afforded the ducal troops an opportunity of scoring another
victory. They prepared a second attack against Cesare's capital, and
with an army of considerable strength they advanced to the very walls of
the stronghold, laying the aqueduct in ruins and dismantling what other
buildings they found in their way. But in Cesena the gallant Pedro
Ramires lay in wait for them. Issuing to meet them, he not only put them
to flight and drove them for shelter into the fortress of Montebello, but
laid siege to them there and broke them utterly, with a loss, as was
reputed, of some three hundred men in slain alone.
The news of this came to cheer Valentinois, who, moreover, had now the
Pope and France to depend upon. Further, and in view of that same
protection, the Orsini were already treating with him for a
reconciliation, despite the fact that the Orsini blood was scarce dry
upon his hands. But he had a resolute, sly, and desperate enemy in
Venice, and on October 10 there arrived in Rome Bartolomeo d'Alviano and
Gianpaolo Baglioni, who repaired to the Venetian ambassador and informed
him that they were come in quest of the person of Valentinois, intending
To achieve their ends they united themselves to the Orsini, who were now
in arms in Rome, their attempted reconciliation with Cesare having
aborted. Valentinois's peril became imminent, and from the Vatican he
withdrew for shelter to the Castle of Sant' Angelo, going by way of the
underground passage built by his father.
Thence he summoned Michele da Corella, who was at Rocca Soriana with his
foot, and Taddeo della Volpe (a valiant captain and a great fighter, who
had already lost an eye in Cesare's service) and Baldassare Scipione, who
were in the Neapolitan territory with their men-at-arms. He was
gathering his sinews for a spring, when suddenly the entire face of
affairs was altered and all plans were checked by the death of Pius III
on October 18, after a reign of twenty-six days.
Once more there was an end to Cesare's credit. No man might say what the
future held in store. Giustiniani, indeed, wrote to his Government that
Cesare was about to withdraw to France, and that he had besought a safe-
conduct of the Orsini--which report is as true as many another
communication from the same Venetian pen, ever ready to write what it
hoped might be true; and it is flatly contradicted by the better-informed
Macchiavelli, who was writing at the same time:
"The duke is in Sant' Angelo, and is more hopeful than ever of
accomplishing great things, presupposing a Pope according to the wishes
of his friends."
But the Romagna was stirred once more to the turbulence from which it had
scarcely settled. Forli and Rimini were lost almost at once, the
Ordelaffi succeeding in capturing the former in this their second
attempt, whilst Pandolfaccio once more sat in his palace at Rimini,
having cut his way to it through a sturdy resistance. Against Imola
Bentivogli dispatched a force of two thousand foot; but this was beaten
The authority of France appeared to have lost its weight, and in vain did
Cardinal d'Amboise thunder threats in the name of his friend King Louis,
and send envoys to Florence, Venice, Bologna, and Urbino, to complain of
the injuries that were being done to the Duke of Valentinois.
Giuliano della Rovere, Cardinal of S. Pietro in Vincoli, had much in his
character that was reminiscent of his terrible uncle, Sixtus IV. Like
that uncle of his, he had many failings highly unbecoming any Christian--
laic or ecclesiastic--which no one has attempted to screen; and,
incidentally, he cultivated morality in his private life and observed his
priestly vows of chastity as little as did any other churchman of his
day. For you may see him, through the eyes of Paride de Grassi,(1)
unable one Good Friday to remove his shoes for the adoration of the cross
in consequence of his foot's affliction--ex morbo gallico. But with one
great and splendid virtue was he endowed in the eyes of the enemies of
the House of Borgia--contemporary, and subsequent down to our times--a
most profound, unchristian, and mordacious hatred of all Borgias.
1 Burchard's successor in the office of Master of Ceremonies.
Roderigo Borgia had defeated him in the Conclave of 1492, and for twelve
years had kept him out of the coveted pontificate. You have seen how he
found expression for his furious jealousy at his rival's success. You
have seen him endeavouring to his utmost to accomplish the deposition of
the Borgia Pope, wielding to that end the lever of simony and seeking a
fulcrum for it, first in the King of France and later in Ferdinand and
Isabella; but failing hopelessly in both instances. You have seen him,
when he realized the failure of an attempt which had made Rome too
dangerous for him and compelled him to remain in exile, suddenly veering
round to fawn and flatter and win the friendship of one whom his enmity
could not touch.
This man who, as Julius II, was presently to succeed Pius III, has been
accounted a shining light of virtue amid the dark turpitude of the Church
in the Renaissance. An ignis fatuus, perhaps; a Jack-o'-lanthorn
begotten of putrescence. Surely no more than that.
Dr. Jacob Burckhardt, in that able work of his to which reference already
has been made, follows the well-worn path of unrestrained invective
against the Borgias, giving to the usual empty assertions the place which
should be assigned to evidence and argument. Like his predecessors along
that path, he causes Giuliano della Rovere to shine heroically by
contrast--a foil to throw into greater relief the blackness of Alexander.
But he carries assertion rather further than do others when he says of
Cardinal della Rovere that "He ascended the steps of St. Peter's Chair
without simony and amid general applause, and with him ceased, at all
events, the undisguised traffic in the highest offices of the Church."
Other writers in plenty have suggested this, but none has quite so
plainly and resoundingly thrown down the gauntlet, which we will make
bold to lift.
That Dr. Burckhardt wrote in other than good faith is not to be imputed.
It must therefore follow that an entry in the Diarium of the
Caerimoniarius under date of October 29, 1503, escaped him utterly in the
course of his researches. For the Diarium informs us that on that day,
in the Apostolic Palace, Giuliano della Rovere, Cardinal of S. Pietro in
Vincoli, concluded the terms of an agreement with the Duke of Valentinois
and the latter's following of Spanish cardinals, by which he undertook
that, in consideration of his receiving the votes of these Spanish
cardinals and being elected Pope, he would confirm Cesare in his office
of Gonfalonier and Captain-General, and would preserve him in the
dominion of the Romagna. And, in consideration of that undertaking, the
Spanish cardinals, on their side, promised to give him their suffrages.
Here are the precise words in which Burchard records the transaction:
"Eadem die, 29 Octobris, Rmus. D. S. Petri ad Vincula venit in palatio
apostolico cum duce Valentino et cardinalibus suis Hispanis et
concluserunt capitula eorum per que, inter alia, cardinalis S. Petri ad
Vincula, postquam esset papa, crearet confalonierium Ecclesiae generalem
ducem ac ei faveret et in statibus suis (relinqueret) et vice versa dux
pape; et promiserunt omnes cardinalis Hispani dare votum pro Cardinali S.
Petri ad Vincula ad papatum."
If that does not entail simony and sacrilege, then such things do not
exist at all. More, you shall hunt in vain for any accusation so
authoritative, formal and complete, regarding the simony practised by
Alexander VI on his election. And this same Julius, moreover, was the
Pope who later was to launch his famous Bull de Simoniaca Electione, to
add another stain to the besmirched escutcheon of the Borgia Pontiff.
His conciliation of Cesare and his obtaining, thus, the support of the
Spanish cardinals, who, being Alexander's creatures, were now Cesare's
very faithful servants, ensured the election of della Rovere; for, whilst
those cardinals' votes did not suffice to place him in St. Peter's Chair,
they would abundantly have sufficed to have kept him out of it had Cesare
so desired them.
In coming to terms with Cardinal della Rovere, Cesare made the first
great mistake of his career, took the first step towards ruin. He should
have known better than to have trusted such a man. He should have
remembered the ancient bitter rancour; should have recognized, in the
amity of later times, the amity of the self-seeker, and mistrusted it.
But della Rovere had acquired a reputation for honesty and for being a
man of his word. How far he deserved it you may judge from what is
presently to follow. He had acquired it, however, and Cesare, to his
undoing, attached faith to that reputation. He may, to some extent, have
counted upon the fact that, of Cardinal della Rovere's bastard children,
only a daughter--Felice della Rovere--survived. Raffaele, the last of
his bastard boys, had died a year ago. Thus, Cesare may have concluded
that the cardinal having no sons whose fortunes he must advance, would
lack temptation to break faith with him.
From all this it resulted that, at the Conclave of November 1, Giuliano
della Rovere was elected Pope, and took the name of Julius II; whilst
Valentinois, confident now that his future was assured, left the Castle
of Sant' Angelo to take up his residence at the Vatican, in the
Belvedere, with forty gentlemen constituting his suite.
On November 3 Julius II issued briefs to the Romagna, ordering obedience
to Cesare, with whom he was now in daily and friendliest intercourse.
In the Romagna, meanwhile, the disturbances had not only continued, but
they had taken a fresh turn. Venice, having reseated Malatesta on the
throne, now vented at last the covetousness she had ever, herself,
manifested of that dominion, and sent a force to drive him out again and
conquer Rimini for the Republic.
Florence, in a spasm of jealous anger at this, inquired was the Pope to
become the chaplain of Venice, and dispatched Macchiavelli to bear the
tale of these doings to Julius.
Under so much perpetual strife the strength of the Romagna was gradually
crumbling, and Cesare, angry with Florence for never going beyond lip-
service, expressed that anger to Macchiavelli, informing the ambassador
that the Signory could have saved the Romagna for him with a hundred men-
The duke sent for Giustiniani, the ambassador of Venice, who, however,
excused himself and did not go. This within a week of the new Pope's
election, showing already how men discerned what was in store for
Valentinois. Giustiniani wrote to his Government that he had not gone
lest his going should give the duke importance in the eyes of others.(1)
The pettiness and meanness of the man, revealed in that dispatch, will
enable you to attach to Giustiniani the label that belongs to him.
1 "Per non dar materia ad altri che fazino un po di lui mazor estimazion
di quel che fanno quando lo vedessero in parte alcuna favorito."--
Giustiniani, Dispatch of November 6, 1503.
To cheer Valentinois in those days of depression came news that his
subjects of Imola had successfully resisted an attack on the part of the
Venetians. So stimulated was he that he prepared at once to go, himself,
into the Romagna, and obtained from the Pope, from d'Amboise, and from
Soderini, letters to Florence desiring the Signory to afford him safe-
conduct through Tuscany for himself and his army.
The Pope expressed himself, in his letter, that he would count such safe-
conduct as a great favour to himself, and urged the granting of it out of
his "love for Cesare," owing to the latter's "great virtues and shining
merits."(2) Yet on the morrow of dispatching that brief, this man, who
was accounted honest, straightforward, and imbued with a love of truth,
informed Giustiniani--or else Giustiniani lied in his dispatches--that he
understood that the Venetians were assailing the Romagna, not out of
enmity to the Church, but to punish the demerits of Cesare, and he made
it plain to Giustiniani that, if he complained of the conduct of the
Venetians, it was on his own behalf and not on Cesare's, as his aim was
to preserve the Romagna, not for the duke, but for the Church.
2 "In quo nobis rem gratissimam facietis ducis enim ipsum propter ejus
insignes virtutes et praeclara merita praecipuo affectur et caritate
praecipua complectimur."--Archivio di Stato, Firenze. (See Alvisi, Doct.
With the aim we have no quarrel. It was laudable enough in a Pontiff.
But it foreshadows Cesare's ruin, in spite of the love-protesting letter
to Florence, in spite of the bargain struck by virtue of which Julius had
obtained the pontificate. Whether the Pope went further in his
treachery, whether, having dispatched that brief to Florence, he sent
other communications to the Signory, is not ascertainable; but the
suspicion of some such secret action is inspired by what ensued.
On November 13 Cesare was ready to leave Rome; but no safe-conduct had
arrived. Out of all patience at this, he begged the Pope that the
captain of the pontifical navy should prepare him five galleons at Ostia,
by which he could take his foot to Genoa, and thence proceed into Romagna
by way of Ferrara.
Macchiavelli, at the same time, was frenziedly importuning Florence to
grant the duke the desired safe-conduct lest in despair Cesare should
make a treaty with Venice--"or with the devil"--and should go to Pisa,
employing all his money, strength, and influence to vent his wrath upon
the Signory. But the Signory knew more, perhaps, than did Macchiavelli,
for no attention was paid to his urgent advice.
On the 19th Cesare left Rome to set out for Genoa by way of Ostia, and
his departure threw Giustiniani into alarm--fearing that the duke would
But there was no occasion for his fears. On the very day of Cesare's
departure Julius sent fresh briefs to the Romagna, different indeed from
those of November 3. In these he now expressed his disapproval of
Alexander's having conferred the vicarship of the Romagna upon Cesare
Borgia, and he exhorted all to range themselves under the banner of the
Church, under whose protection he intended to keep them.
Events followed quickly upon that. Two days later news reached the Pope
that the Venetians had captured Faenza, whereupon he sent a messenger
after Valentinois to suggest to the latter that he should surrender Forli
and the other fiefs into pontifical hands. With this Cesare refused to
comply, and, as a result, he was detained by the captain of the navy, in
obedience to the instructions from Julius. At the same time the Pope
broke the last link of the treaty with Cesare by appointing a new
Governor of Romagna in the person of Giovanni Sacchi, Bishop of Ragusa.
He commanded the latter to take possession of the Romagna in the name of
the Church, and he issued another brief--the third within three weeks--
demanding the State's obedience to the new governor.
On November 26, Remolino, who had been at Ostia with Cesar; came to Rome,
and, throwing himself at the feet of the Pontiff, begged for mercy for
his lord, whom he now accounted lost. He promised Julius that Cesare
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