House of Borgia
Ana Francisca de Borja y Doria (1640–1706)
The Borgia family (aka Borja, Borjia and Borges) became prominent during the Renaissance in Italy. They were from Valencia, the name coming from the family fief of Borja, then in the kingdom of Aragon, in Spain.
The Borgias became prominent in ecclesiastical and political affairs in the 15th and 16th centuries, producing two popes, Alfons de Borja who ruled as Pope Calixtus III during 1455–1458 and Rodrigo Lanzol Borgia, as Pope Alexander VI, during 1492–1503.
Especially during the reign of Alexander VI, they were suspected of many crimes, including adultery, simony, theft, rape, bribery, incest, and murder (especially murder by arsenic poisoning). Because of their grasping for power, they made enemies of the Medici, the Sforza, and the Dominican friar Savonarola, among others. They were also patrons of the arts who contributed to the Renaissance.
Today they are remembered for their corrupt rule, and the name has become a synonym for treachery and poisoners.
The Borja or Borgia emerged from Valencia in Spain. There were numerous unsubstantiated claims that the family was of Jewish origin. These underground rumours were propagated by, among others, Giuliano della Rovere, and the family was frequently described as marranos by political opponents. The rumours have persisted in popular culture for centuries, listed in the Semi-Gotha of 1912.
Alfons de Borja was a professor of law at the University of Lleida, then a diplomat for the Kings of Aragon before becoming a cardinal. He was elected Pope Callixtus III in 1455, at an advanced age, as a compromise candidate and reigned as Pope for just 3 years.
Rodrigo Borgia (1431–1503), one of Alfonso’s nephews, was born in Xàtiva, also in the Kingdom of Valencia to Isabel de Borja y Cavanilles and Jofré Llançol i Escrivà. He studied law at Bologna and was appointed as cardinal by his Uncle Alfonso Borgia, Pope Callixtus III. He was elected Pope in 1492 under the name of Pope Alexander VI. While a cardinal, he maintained a long-term illicit relationship with Vanozza dei Cattanei of the House of Candia, with whom he had four children: Giovanni; Cesare; Lucrezia; and Gioffre. Rodrigo also had children by other women, including one daughter with his mistress, Giulia Farnese.
As Alexander VI, Rodrigo was recognized as a skilled politician and diplomat, but was widely criticized during his reign for his over-spending, sale of Church offices (simony), lasciviousness, and nepotism. As Pope, he struggled to acquire more personal and papal power and wealth, often ennobling and enriching the Borgia family directly. He appointed his son, Giovanni, as captain-general of the papal army, his foremost military representative, and established another son, Cesare, as a cardinal. Alexander used the marriages of his children to build alliances with powerful families in Italy and Spain. At the time, the Sforza family, which comprised the Milanese faction, was one of the most powerful in Europe, so Alexander united the two families by marrying Lucrezia to Giovanni Sforza. He also married Gioffre, his youngest son from Vannozza, to Sancia of Aragon of the Kingdom of Aragon and Naples. He established a second familial link to the Spanish royal house through Giovanni's marriage during what was a period of on-again/off-again conflict between France and Spain over the Kingdom of Naples.
Pope Alexander VI died in Rome in 1503 after contracting a disease, generally believed to have been malaria.
Cesare was Rodrigo Borgia's second son with Vannozza dei Cattanei. Cesare's education was precisely planned by his father: he was educated by tutors in Rome until his 12th birthday. He grew up to become a charming man skilled at war and politics. He studied law and the humanities at the University of Perugia, then went to the University of Pisa to study theology. As soon as he graduated from the university, his father made him a cardinal.
Cesare was suspected of murdering his brother Giovanni, but there is no clear evidence to confirm this. However, Giovanni’s death cleared the path for Cesare to become a layman and gain the honors his brother received from their father, Pope Alexander VI. Although Cesare had been a cardinal, he left the holy orders to gain power and take over the position Giovanni once held: a condottiero. He was finally married to French princess Charlotte d'Albret.
After Alexander’s death in 1503, Cesare affected the choice of a next Pope. He needed a candidate who would not threaten his plans to create his own principality in Central Italy. Cesare’s candidate did become Pope, but he died a month after the selection. Cesare was now forced to support Giuliano della Rovere. The cardinal promised Cesare that he could keep all of his titles and honors. Later, della Rovere betrayed him and became his fiercest enemy.
Cesare died in 1507, at Viana Castle in Navarre, Spain while besieging the rebellious army of Count de Lerin. The castle was held by Louis de Beaumont at the time it was besieged by Cesare Borgia and King John's army of 10,000 men in 1507. In order to attempt to breach the extremely strong, natural fortification of the castle, Cesare counted on a desperate surprise attack. Not only did he fail to take the castle, he was killed during the battle.
Lucrezia was born in Subiaco, Italy to Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia and Roman mistress Vanozza Catanei. Lucrezia before the age of 13 was engaged to two Spanish princes, but after her father became Pope she was married to Giovanni Sforza in 1493 at the age of 13. It was a typical political marriage to improve Alexander's power; however, when Pope Alexander VI did not need the Sforzas any more, the marriage was annulled in 1497, on the dubious grounds that it had never been consummated.
Shortly afterwards she was involved in a scandal involving her alleged relationship with a Pedro Calderon, a Spaniard generally known as Perotto. His body was found in the Tiber on February 14, 1498 along with the body of one of Lucrezia's ladies. It is likely that Cesare had them killed as an affair would have damaged the negotiations being conducted for another marriage. During this time rumours were also spread suggesting that a child born at this time, Giovanni Borgia, also known as the Infans Romanus (child of Rome) was Lucrezia's.
Lucrezia’s second marriage, to wealthy young Prince Alfonso of Aragon, allowed the Borgias to form an alliance with another powerful family. However, this relationship did not last long either. Cesare wished to strengthen his relations with France and completely break with the Kingdom of Naples. As Alfonso's father was the ruler of the Kingdom of Naples, the young husband was in great danger. Although the first attempt at murder did not succeed, Alfonso was eventually strangled in his own quarters.
Lucrezia's third and final husband was Alfonso I d'Este, Duke of Ferrara. After her father died in 1503, she lived a life of freedom in Ferrara with her husband and children. Unfortunately, her pregnancies were difficult and she lost several babies after birth. She died in 1519, 10 days after the birth and death of her last child, Isabella Maria. She was buried in a tomb with Isabella and Alfonso.
Other Notable Borjas/Borgias
The Borgian era, or the time period when the Borgia family had its greatest influence, started in the early 16th century, about the time of the death of Lucrezia in 1519. The Borgia family had influence during the age of the Renaissance and the beginning of the Age of Discovery. This was the era of many artists, writers and rulers who have influenced the modern age.
Gioffre Borgia (1482-1516), son of Pope Alexander VI and younger brother of Cesare Borgia and Lucrezia Borgia, married Sancia (Sancha) of Aragon, daughter of Alfonso II of Naples, obtaining as dowry both the Principality of Squillace (1494) and the Duchy of Alvito (1497).
Although Gioffre was deprived of Alvito after the death of Sancia in 1506, he managed to retain Squillace. He subsequently married Maria de Mila, and passed it on to their son Francesco Borgia.
The Borgia Princes were: Gioffre, Francesco, Giovanni, Pietro and finally Anna e Donna Antonia Borgia D’Aragona on whose death, in 1735, it passed to Bourbon Kings of the Two Sicilies. Living either in Naples or Spain the Borgias ruled their fief through governors.
Not all of the Borgias were corrupt or violent. Francis Borgia (1510–1572), a great-grandson of Pope Alexander VI, did not follow his relatives. He had fathered a number of children and after his wife died, Francisco determined to enter the Society of Jesus, recently formed by Saint Ignatius of Loyola. As a reward for his efforts, the Church canonized the Jesuit Francisco on 20 June 1670.
Another Borgian who lived after the Borgian era was Gaspar de Borja y Velasco (1580–1645). Unlike many of his relatives, Gaspar preferred to use the Spanish spelling of Borgia: Borja. He was born at Villalpando in Spain. He was related to both Pope Callixtus III and Pope Alexander VI, and some historians believe that Gaspar wished, like his relatives, to become Pope. He served as Primate of Spain, Archbishop of Seville, and Archbishop and Viceroy of Naples.
Currently, the only patrilineal family Borja or Borgia (Duke of Gandia, papal lineage straight from John Borja and Cattanei) is found in Ecuador and Chile. One of his prominent descendants is Dr. Rodrigo Borja Cevallos, former left-wing president of Ecuador (1988-1992).. Another branch of the family, the descendants of Cesare's illegitimate son, Girolamo Borgia can be found in Slovenia.
There are many controversies connected with Rodrigo. He was not only accused of simony and nepotism, but also of attending public orgies, along with his daughter Lucrezia. The "Banquet of Chestnuts" (also called the "Ballet of the Chestnuts") is considered one of the most disreputable balls of this kind. It was held on October 30, 1501. Not only was Pope Alexander VI present, but also two of his children, Lucrezia and Cesare.
Rodrigo is also remembered for other crimes, many of them including torture and execution. The famous Florentine preacher Savonarola was executed under Rodrigo's reign. He accused Alexander VI of corruption and called for his removal as Pope. Savonarola was tortured and then hanged and burned publicly. Alexander VI is also remembered for bringing his mistresses to the papal court. One of them, Vanozza Cattanei, gave him four children, and another two children were born by Giulia Farnese. Alexander took Giulia as his mistress when she was a fifteen-year-old girl and he was over 60.
After Cesare became a leading general of the French King Louis XII, he conquered a number of lands.
When Lucrezia’s second husband, Alfonso, the Duke of Bisceglie, was no longer important to the Borgias, Cesare strangled him (or had him strangled) when he was still recovering from another attempt of assassination on his life. The first attack was also most likely organised by Cesare and his men.
Between 1501 and 1503 Cesare hired Leonardo da Vinci as military architect and engineer, which means that Leonardo helped him conquer and then fortify fortresses. It is said that Leonardo invented war machines for Cesare and Leonardo received protection in return. Cesare allowed Leonardo to have full control over all planned and ongoing construction in his domain. Thanks to Leonardo’s merits, he received a vineyard from the family, which he later had to abandon, because of the fall of the Borgia empire. When Leonardo completed his work for Cesare, he had difficulties finding another patron in Italy. Finally, Francis I of France was able to convince him to enter his service, where Leonardo would work for the final three years of his life.
Some historians say that Cesare Borgia also murdered his brother Giovanni; however there is no clear evidence that he actually did. There is also the case of Perotto, Lucrezia's lover. When Cesare found out about Lucrezia’s pregnancy, he was so furious that he had the father of the child murdered. The body of Perotto (young chamberlain, the father of the child) was fished out of the Tiber. Also, the body of a chambermaid was found in the river; she had apparently been murdered for giving the lovers a chance to meet in secret. Both murders are believed to have been commissioned by Cesare. Johann Burchard, a contemporary of Alexander VI, who lived in the Vatican, states about Cesare:
One day he went so far as to have the square of St Peter enclosed by a palisade, into which he ordered some prisoners—men, women and children—to be brought. He then had them bound, hand and foot, and being armed and mounted on a fiery charger, commenced a horrible attack upon them. Some he shot, and others he cut down with his sword, trampling them under his horse's feet. In less than half-an-hour, he wheeled around alone in a puddle of blood, among the dead bodies of his victims, while his Holiness and Madam Lucrezia, from a balcony, enjoyed the sight of that horrid scene.
She was rumored to be a notorious poisoner and she became famous for her skill at political intrigue. However, recently historians have started to look at her in a more positive light: she is often seen as a victim of her family’s deceptions. It is believed that Cesare and Lucrezia committed incest.
Portraits of the Borja or Borgia
In popular culture
The Borgias were infamous in their time, and inspired numerous references in popular culture including novels, plays, operas, comics, films, television series and video games.
- Borgia by Mickael Zevaco
- The Borgias by Alexandre Dumas, père
- The Borgias and Their Enemies by Christopher Hibbert
- Assassin's Creed: Renaissance by Oliver Bowden
- Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood by Oliver Bowden
- Prince of Foxes (1947) by Samuel Shellabarger
- The Antipope by Robert Rankin
- The Scarlet City (1952) by Hella Haasse
- The Borgia Bride by Jeanne Kalogridis
- The Medici Seal by Theresa Breslin
- The Family by Mario Puzo
- Queen of the Slayers by Nancy Holder
- Poison: A Novel of the Renaissance by Sara Poole
- The Borgia Betrayal by Sara Poole (sequel to "Poison")
- Francesca by Valentina Luellen
- I Borgia (Borgia), a comics tetralogy by Alejandro Jodorowsky (writer) and Milo Manara (artist)
- Cantarella, a manga by You Higuri
- Cesare by Fuyumi Soryo (manga)
- Lucrezia Borgia, by Victor Hugo
- Mirror, Mirror by Gregory Maguire
- Dinastia Borgia Eglise et Pouvoir à la Renaissance: Compilation of music associated with the Borgias. Hespèrion XXI, Jordi Savall
- Lucrezia Borgia (1833), by Gaetano Donizetti
- Prince of Foxes (1949), starring Orson Welles
- Bride of Vengeance (1949), starring Paulette Goddard, John Lund, Macdonald Carey
- Contes immoraux, (1974) French film by Walerian Borowczyk
- The Borgias (1981), BBC Two miniseries
- Los Borgia, (2006) Spanish film by Antonio Hernández
- The Conclave, (2006) film by Paul Donovan
- Assassin's Creed: Lineage (2009)
- Borgia (2011), Canal + series
- The Borgias (2011), Showtime series
- Assassin's Creed II (2009), Ubisoft
- Assassin's Creed II: Discovery (2009), Ubisoft
- Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (2010), Ubisoft
- Assassin's Creed: Revelations (2011), Ubisoft
See also↑Jump back a section
- Arsenic: A Murderous History. Dartmouth Toxic Metals Research Program, 2009
- The Menorah journal, Volumes 20-23, Intercollegiate Menorah Association, 1932, page 163
- The Borgias: or, At the feet of Venus, Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, P. Dutton & Co. Inc., 1930, pages 242, 313
- Lucrezia Borgia: Life, Love and Death in Renaissance Italy, by Sarah Bradford
- "Francis Borgia (1510–1572).". 2012Thames & Hudson Dictionary of the Italian Renaissance, The. London: Thames & Hudson, 2006.
- Bradford, Sarah (Reprint edition 2005). Lucrezia Borgia: Life, Love and Death in Renaissance Italy. Penguin. pp. 67–68. ISBN 978-0143035954.
- "Borgia, Lucrezia (1480–1519).". The Penguin Biographical Dictionary of Women. London: Penguin, 1998.
- "Francis Borgia (1510–1572).". Who's Who in Christianity, Routledge. London: Routledge, 2001.
- Lucrezia Borgia: A Biography. Rachel Erlanger, 1978
- Fusero, Clemete. The Borgias. New York, Praeger Publishers, 1966.
- Grun, Bernard. The Timetables of History. New York, Simon and Schusters, 1946, pp. 218, 220, 222.
- Hale, John R. Renaissance. New York, Time-Life Books, 1965, p. 85.
- "Mad Dogs and Spaniards: An Interview with Cesare Borgia." World and Image, 1996.
- Rath, John R. "Borgia." World Book Encyclopedia. 1994 edition. World Book Inc., 1917, pp. 499–500.
- Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 1. (Old Catholic Encyclopedia) New York, Robert Appleton Company (a.k.a. The Encyclopedia Press), 1907.
- 1494: How a Family Feud in Medieval Spain Divided the world in Half
- (Spanish) Borja o Borgia
- (Spanish) Francisco Fernández de Bethencourt - Historia Genealógica y Heráldica Española, Casa Real y Grandes de España, tomo cuarto
- (Spanish) Una rama subsistente del linaje Borja en América española, por Jaime de Salazar y Acha, Académico de Número de la Real Academia Matritense de Heráldica y Genealogía
- (Spanish) Boletín de la Real Academia Matritense de Heráldica y Genealogía
- (Spanish) La familia Borja: Religión y poder. Entrevista a Miguel Batllori
- (Spanish) La mirada sobre los Borja (Notas críticas para un estado de la cuestión)
- The Borja Family: Historiography, Legend and Literature by Eulàlia Duran, Institut d’Estudis Catalans