Cesare Borgia

Orfeas Katsoulis | Sep 8, 2022

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Cesare Borgia († March 12, 1507 near Viana, Navarre), 1st Duke of Valentinois (called as such il Valentino) and of Romagna, Prince of Andria and of Venafro, Count of Diois, Lord of Piombino, Camerino, and Urbino, Gonfaloniere, and Field Captain of the Church, was an Italian Renaissance prince, general, cardinal, and archbishop. Cesare Borgia was the illegitimate son of Rodrigo Borgia, later Pope Alexander VI.

Cesare Borgia was the first-born son, but only since the assassination of his brother Juan Borgia from June 1497, the leading descendant among the children Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia had with his long-time mistress Vanozza de' Cattanei, wife of Domenico Giannozzo da Rignano. Officially, the couple were considered Cesare's parents, which spared him the stigma of illegitimate origin. The exact date of Cesare's birth is not known, but historical sources refer both to September 15, 1475 and to an April day in 1476. His younger siblings were Juan, Lucrezia and Jofré Borgia. Rodrigo Borgia was descended from the Valencian Borgia family. The Borgia family had come to Italy a few decades earlier and, with the election of Rodrigo's uncle Alfonso Borgia as Pope Calixt III, had established itself as a competitor for the papacy alongside the local Italian noble families. For many Italians, the Borgias were hated upstarts and were often defamingly referred to as Marrans - baptized Spanish Jews who remained true to their faith.

Although Cesare Borgia grew up in Italy, his father's Spanish roots had a strong influence on him. For example, he spoke Spanish with the family, always used the Spanish version of his name - César - surrounded himself with Spanish servants throughout his life and, to the amazement of the Italians, mastered bullfighting. A bullfight in St. Peter's Square in 1500 is historically documented:

Both Juan and Cesare are described as above average height and athletic. They both had a dark complexion and dark hair that had a tinge of redness. They were considered handsome, though Cesare's face was later disfigured by marks and scars. The reason given in most sources is a syphilis disease.

Early years and education

As the illegitimate child of a married woman and a high clergyman, Cesare Borgia's existence was treated with discretion, and accordingly little is known about his childhood, but he grew up in Rome like a prince's son, well provided for by his father.

He probably first lived with his siblings in their mother's household in the palace near the Vatican in the Piazza Pizzo di Merlo in Rome, possibly later he was also housed like his sister Lucrezia with Adriana de Mila, a daughter of Rodrigo Borgia's cousin Don Pedro de Milà. What is certain is that he shared a household with his brother Juan and received a comprehensive, contemporary education from Spanish tutors such as Spaniolo di Maiorca and later Juan Vera de Ercilla. This included the study of French, Greek and Latin, in addition to music, drawing, arithmetic and Euclidean geometry. He became an exceptionally skilled horseman thanks to intensive physical training.

Cesare was a brilliant student and showed great talent and thirst for knowledge. In 1488, due to his eagerness to study, a textbook (Syllabica) was dedicated to him, in which he was praised as the "ornament and hope" of the House of Borgia, who was yet to rise to high dignities. The boy, who was interested in many things, also once addressed a catalog of questions to his father's steward, the humanist Lorenz Beheim, in which he asked him, among other things, about cipher writing, poisons and fortress construction and wanted to know whether it was possible to create an artificial memory, to breathe under water, to make a skull speak or whether one could invent apparatuses to speak from one castle to another.

Student and bishop

His father planned a church career for Cesare at a very early age. The first of many ecclesiastical benefices were conferred on him when he was seven years old - in March 1482 he was appointed Apostolic Protonotary of the Church by Pope Sixtus IV, and that same year he received a canonry in the Cathedral of Valencia.

Cesare began studying law at the University of Perugia around 1489 when he was about fourteen years old, and was granted the bishopric of Pamplona in Spain by Pope Innocent VIII on September 12, 1491-much to the outrage of the local population and even though he had not yet been ordained as a priest at that time. The ecclesiastical benefices were used as stipends for study. In the fall of 1491, Cesare transferred with his two fellow Spanish students and minions of his father, Francesco Romolini of Ilerda and Juan Vera of Arcilla in the Kingdom of Valencia, to the University of Pisa, where, under Fillipo Decio, he "took such advantage of his studies that he discussed with erudition and with an instinctive mind the questions of civil and ecclesiastical law" that were posed to him when he obtained his doctorate. Paolo Giovio, who was critical of him, was also later to praise his outstanding abilities in both canon law and civil law. In Pisa, Cesare also made the acquaintance of Giovanni, the second son of Lorenzo de' Medici, who also studied there and would later become pope himself. Cesare was a gifted and eager student, but was also conspicuous for his luxurious life and his waste of money.

Son of the Pope and Cardinal

In 1492 Rodrigo Borgia won the election as pope, but Cesare, according to his father's will, did not attend the coronation ceremonies on August 11. On August 31, 1492, Cesare was appointed Archbishop of Valencia. Cesare's appearance as archbishop was reported by the Ferrarese envoy Giandrea Boccaccio in March 1493:

On September 23, 1493, a year after his father ascended the Holy See as Pope Alexander VI, the latter elevated the 17-year-old Cesare and twelve other minions to cardinals. Cesare became cardinal deacon of Santa Maria Nuova. These elevations, especially Cesare's, met with great opposition among the cardinals. Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere (later Pope Julius II), even threw one of his infamous tantrums over this and refused to take on the ceremonial role due to him at the investiture of the new cardinals.

Since persons born out of wedlock were not allowed to hold church offices, Alexander VI issued a public papal bull on September 20, 1493, designating Cesare as the legitimate son of Vannozza and her first husband, Domenico da Rignano. However, in a second, secret bull, Pope Alexander recognized Cesare as his own son. On October 17, 1493, the pope's son entered Rome as the new Cardinal of Valencia (a former title of his father). In reference to his rich diocese, Cesare was henceforth called Valentino. The cardinalate was not considered a spiritual office, but an administrative post with the right to elect the pope. He thus held the role of cardinal nepot until his return to the secular state. During his time as cardinal, he was not ordained a priest, did not celebrate religious services, and did not feel obligated to provide pastoral care. Furthermore, he was papal administrator of the Cistercian monastery of Valldigna (since August 31, 1492), the Benedictine monastery of Abondance, the diocese of Geneva, of Szent Márton de Pannonie, the diocese of Győr in Hungary, of San Vittore in Milan, the diocese of Nantes in France (from August 9.  August 1493 to November 4, 1493), of Elne (from January 20, 1495 to September 6, 1499), and of Coria (from 1495 to July 22, 1497).

Hostage of the French King

Cesare lived in the Vatican as a cardinal and, as an advisor and confidant of his father, was privy to all important events. Politically, the pope became increasingly isolated. In 1494, the French King Charles VIII undertook a campaign to Italy to assert his Angevin claim to the Kingdom of Naples. To this end, he allied himself with Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan. Thus, under the leadership of Charles VIII, the French advanced into Italy with a well-equipped army with many German and Swiss mercenaries. After the French army entered Rome on December 31, 1494, Alexander and his son retreated to Castel Sant'Angelo. Among Alexander's enemies during this period were the influential Colonna and della Rovere families. Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, who had fled to France and accompanied the French to Rome, and several other cardinals demanded a council to depose the pope for his simonistic election.

During a personal meeting between Alexander VI and Charles VIII, a reconciliation took place under certain conditions, among which that Cesare should accompany the French king to Naples as a hostage. After two days at a rest in Velletri, the good horseman Cesare escaped, disguised as a groom. Later it became known that Cesare had loaded the seventeen mules he was carrying with chests filled with sand and bricks. This spectacular escape can be seen as the starting point for his reputation as a cunning and unpredictable tactician. During this time Cesare contracted syphilis, also called Frenchman's disease or Gallic disease.

After the conquest of Naples by Charles' troops, Pope Alexander VI organized a defensive military alliance, driving Charles and the French troops out of Italy. After the French left Italy, Cesare continued to live as a cardinal in the Vatican and enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle:

The first signs of syphilis disease in the form of increased formation of spots and scars on Cesare's body were also mentioned shortly after his return to Rome:

On June 9, 1497, Alexander VI had his son Cesare declared his deputy in Naples to perform the coronation of Frederick of Aragon on his behalf. On June 15, 1497, Cesare and Juan were scheduled to leave for Naples to carry out the coronation act and then be personally enfeoffed with Neapolitan dominions by the Neapolitan king. On the evening of June 14, 1497, Vannozza held a small feast in her vineyard near the church of San Pietro in Vincoli, attended by Cesare, Juan, and Cardinal Juan Borgia of Monreale, among several other guests. After Juan Borgia was pulled out of the Tiber River in the afternoon of June 16, 1497, dead and covered with numerous stab wounds in a fishing net near the church of San Maria del Popolo, Cesare was also accused, among others, of complicity in the murder of his brother Juan, Duke of Benevento and Gandía. In July 1497, Cesare, as papal legate, crowned Frederick of Aragon king of Naples. On August 17, 1498, he had Pope Alexander VI and the College of Cardinals relieve him of his ecclesiastical offices so that he could devote himself entirely to the reconquest of the Papal States. In justification, he said, "that from early childhood he had always been inclined with all his soul to the secular state, but that his father had wanted him to devote himself to the ecclesiastical state and he had believed that he could not oppose his will. Since, however, his thoughts and aspirations and his inclination are now directed to the worldly life, he asks His Holiness Our Lord to condescend, with special indulgence, to grant him a dispensation so that, after he has laid aside his spiritual dignity and vestments, he may return to the secular state and enter into marriage. He now asks the reverend cardinals to readily give their consent to such a dispensation." On October 1, 1498, he arrived at the French court as papal legate.

Duke of Valentinois

After the death of the French King Charles VIII on April 7, 1498, his successor Louis XII formed an alliance with the Republic of Venice directed against the Duchy of Milan. He also needed ecclesiastical dispensation to dissolve his childless marriage to Jeanne, Charles VIII's sister, so that he could subsequently marry his widow Anne de Bretagne. In return for the annulment of the marriage by Alexander VI, Cesare received the enfeoffment of the Duchy of Valentinois in Provence and considerable income in gold francs. Furthermore, he was appointed commander of French troops and assured of a force of 100 lances (400 men) maintained by the French king. Moreover, after the conquest of Milan, Cesare was to be given the dominion of Asti and he was to be admitted to the Order of St. Michael. Louis XII also promised to work for Cesare's marriage to a French noblewoman. As wives, Cesare was offered Anne de Foix-Candale, daughter of Count Gaston II de Foix-Candale and cousin of Anne de Bretagne, and Charlotte d'Albret, niece of King Louis XII and sister of King John of Navarre, with Cesare opting for the latter.

Cesare finally received the duchy (an ancient French countryside with Valence as its capital) in 1498, the French king was divorced from his wife, and the pope ended the alliance with the king of Naples. Although Louis XII had already agreed to a matrimonial union between Cesare and his niece in the treaty with Alexander VI, Cesare was not considered an equal by the d'Albret family. During the tough negotiations, which dragged on into 1499, Cesare stayed at the French court. The marriage contract in April 1499 provided that Charlotte's father Alain d'Albret would receive 200,000 ducats from Alexander VI and that Charlotte's brother would be elevated to cardinal. On May 12, 1499, the marriage was contracted and consummated, with an impressive account of the consummation of the marriage in the afternoon and evening:

A special French courier reported the marriage at the Vatican on May 23. Cesare spent a few weeks with his wife, during which Charlotte became pregnant with his legitimate daughter Luisa. After returning to Italy, he had several relationships with various women, including Dorothea Carracciolo and the famous courtesan Fiammetta de' Michelis, and fathered two illegitimate children, Camilla and Gerolamo. In France, the French king appointed Cesare Count of Diois and Lord of Issoudun and admitted him to the Order of St. Michael, the highest French order. Louis XII promised Cesare that after the conquest of Milan he would provide him with sufficient troops for his own plans of conquest in Romagna. As early as mid-July 1499, Louis and Cesare at his side advanced across the Alps into Italy with French and Swiss troops to enforce the French crown's alleged rights to Milan. Ludovico il Moro was completely isolated militarily and politically, since Venice, Genoa, Florence, and the Papal States were allied with France, and the other major principalities and city-states of northern Italy were gradually joining this alliance. Machiavelli stated:

On October 6, 1499, Louis XII entered Milan without a fight because Ludovico and Ascanio Sforza had fled into exile in Austria and the Milanese swore an oath of allegiance to him. Louis returned to France after the swift capture of Milan and placed Milan under the command of his condottiere Gian Giacomo Trivulzio. He also commissioned Stuart d'Aubigny to conquer Naples and gave Cesare a force of 400 lances to establish his own feudal rule in Romagna on the condition that his conquests should not interfere with the alliance between Venice and France.

Commander in Romagna (1499-1502)

On November 21, 1499, at the head of French and papal troops, Cesare began the first of three campaigns into Italy and recaptured lost territories of the Papal States, seeking the establishment of a unified kingdom in central Italy consisting of his father's Papal States and other conquests. In his further conquests from October 1, 1500, he occupied with 10,000 men the cities of Pesaro, Rimini, Faenza, the Principality of Piombino in central Italy and the island of Elba, parts of the Marches and Umbria, and assumed the title of Count of Urbino, of Camerino and Piombino. However, he was unable to take Bologna and Florence. The aim of Cesare's campaigns from 1500 onwards was to bring the Duchy of Romagna, newly formed from various papal fiefdoms, into family possession, restoring the feudal relationship between the cities and their regents and the Pope as their liege lord in the Papal States and collecting tribute payments. He gradually overthrew the city rulers in each conquered city through treason or military action (including Pandolfo Malatesta in Rimini in 1500, Giovanni Sforza in Pesaro in 1500, Astorre Manfredi in Faenza in 1501, Guidobaldo da Montefeltro and Elisabetta da Montefeltro in Urbino on 21.  June 1502 and Giulio Cesare da Varano in Camerino in the Marches on July 20, 1502), expropriated them and reorganized the administration.

A Venetian report of a conversation between Juan Borgia, Cardinal of Monreale, and a Venetian representative describes Cesare's plans regarding the conquest of Romagna:

Although Imola and Forlì were part of the Papal States, the local feudal lords who ruled there had not seemed to fulfill their feudal obligations to the Pope as their liege lord for some time. After Pope Alexander VI declared the Sforza-Riario vicariate in Forlì and Imola extinct in March 1499, he transferred it to Cesare. In November 1499, Cesare attacked the two cities with a force of 10,000 men after his French and Swiss contingents joined his Italian-Spanish troops at Cesena. Imola surrendered without a fight on November 27, 1499, and Forlì was taken after a two-month siege on January 12, 1500, with the vicar of Forlì, Caterina Sforza, taken prisoner. On January 26, 1500, Cesare had to abandon his first campaign, as most of his troops, led by Yves de'Allegre and the Bailli of Dijon, marched back to Milan in support of the French troops standing in the north. After the conquest of Imola and Forlì, he solemnly entered Rome on February 26, 1500 with Caterina Sforza, Girolamo Riario's widow and Ludovico Sforza's niece, as his prisoner. On Sunday, March 29, 1500, Pope Alexander VI appointed him Gonfaloniere and supreme commander of the papal troops.

Cesare was now Gonfaloniere of the papal troops, Duke of Valence, Count of Diois, Lord of Issoudun, Forlì and Imola, and member of the Order of St. Michael. After an unsuccessful attempt to regain his dominion over Milan, Ludovico Sforza fell into captivity with the French through treachery on April 10, 1500. Since the Pope and Cesare Borgia had allied with the French against Spain and Naples, serious conflicts arose with his son-in-law and brother-in-law. Alfonso of Aragon, Duke of Bisceglie and second husband of Lucrezia Borgia, was finally strangled after an unsuccessful assassination attempt on him on July 15, 1500 between St. Peter's Square and the Palazzo Santa Maria in Portico, on August 18, 1500 probably by Micheletto Corella on behalf of Cesare or the Pope. After Venice abandoned its resistance to a second campaign by Cesare into Romagna, Cesare set out on October 1, 1500 with more than 10,000 men and moved on from Nepi to Pesaro via Fano. After Giovanni Sforza had fled from Pesaro and Pandolfaccio Malatesta from Rimini, Cesare moved into the two cities in October 1500. On November 7, 1500, Cesare scored another success when the di Naldo family, wealthy in the Val di Lamone, joined Cesare and put their eleven castles at his disposal. Meanwhile, Cesare continued to march along the Via Flaminia from Rimini to Faenza via Fano.

While Pesaro and Rimini fell into Cesare's hands without resistance, the Manfredi did not want to surrender without a fight. Cesare was therefore forced, as a commander of troops, to besiege a city himself for the first time. After three days of shelling the city, part of the city walls collapsed and mercenaries were able to enter Faenza through the breach. However, the citizens of Faenza repulsed the mercenaries and inflicted considerable losses on Cesare's troops. The siege had to be interrupted during the winter and did not lead to success until the next spring. In the process, Cesare Borgia took up a suggestion made by Leonardo da Vinci, who briefly advised him, and had a massive ramp tower built. The besieged hastily piled more stones on the top of the wall, overloading the foundation walls, which had not been further strengthened. This allowed Cesare to blast a breach in the fortifications. On April 25, 1501, the people of Faenza surrendered, weakened by the winter blockade and the constant bombardment of Cesare's artillery. There was no revenge, no executions, no plundering and no tributes for the population. Contrary to the surrender agreements, Cesare Astorre had Manfredi and his older half-brother Ottaviano, who had been promised free passage, arrested and imprisoned in Castel Sant'Angelo in 1501. The following year the two were pulled out of the Tiber, strangled. Their fate was recorded by John Burchard in his Liber notarum:

Immediately after the conquest of Faenza, Cesare ordered part of his troops, led by Vitellozzo Vitelli and Paolo Orsini, to march north. Their first objective was the powerful Castel Bolognese, which was an enclave between Imola and Faenza. Although Bologna was a de jure papal fief and belonged to the Papal States, Giovanni Bentivoglio, the ruler of Bologna, was under the special protection of the French king. After Giovanni Bentivoglio of Bologna came to an agreement with Cesare, Paolo Orsini was able to take possession of the fort for Cesare on April 28, 1501. In addition, Bentivoglio still undertook to provide Cesare with 100 lances for a period of three years. In return, Cesare contractually agreed not to make any further claims against Bentivoglio, with Vitellozzo Vitelli and Paolo and Giulio Orsino also signing this contract. On May 15, Cesare was appointed Duke of Romagna by Pope Alexander VI and thus hereditary ruler over the territories he had conquered, initiating the secularization of the Papal States.

After concluding the treaty with Bentivoglio, Cesare marched through Tuscany to Florence, which was actually under the protection of the French king. The people of Florence, in the Treaty of Campi of May 15, 1501, granted Cesare a condotta with a payment of 36,000 gold ducats and undertook not to prevent Cesare from conquering Piombino, hitherto under their protection, and to provide him with 300 lances for support. When Cesare received the French king's order to leave Tuscany, he was already on his way to Piombino on the Tyrrhenian Sea. Cesare left his troops encamped outside Piombino under the command of Gian Paolo Bagnoli and appeared in Rome on June 17, 1501, after his father had ordered him to return. As a French duke, he was obliged to support the French king when the city of Capua, defended by Fabrizio and Prospero Colonna on behalf of the Neapolitan king, was shelled with artillery under the leadership of French captains d'Aubigny and d'Allegre and eventually stormed. Alexander eventually outlawed the Colonna, Savelli, and Gaetani families, confiscating their estates and distributing them to the youngest Borgia descendants. Lucrezia's eldest son Rodrigo was given the duchies of Sermoneta, Albano, Nettuno, Ardea, Ninfa and Norma, and Giovanni Borgia was allotted the duchies of Nepi and Palestrina. Jacopo d'Appiano was expelled from Piombino and the town was immediately elevated to the status of episcopal see.

Within barely three years, Alexander and Cesare had seized the estates of the Roman barons - with the exception of the Orsini - as well as the dominion over Imola, Castell Bolognese, Faenza, Forli, Cesena, Rimini, Pesaro and Piombino. However, within the Papal States, the Borgia did not yet rule over Bologna, Urbino, Camerino and Senigallia, as well as over the territories ruled by Cesare's condottieri. In early June 1502, Cesare began his third and final campaign in Romagna, moving first with 10,000 men and his excellent artillery up the ancient Via Flaminia through Spoleto to Foligno. However, on June 20, 1502, Cesare suddenly swung from the Via Flaminia with 2,000 men toward Urbino to the fortress of San Leo, and at the same time other contingents of Cesare marched into the duchy from San Marino in the north and Fano in the east to cut off Guidobaldo of Montefeltro's escape routes. Shortly after the expulsion of the Duke of Urbino, Camerino was also conquered for the Borgia by Cesare's condottieri Oliverotto Effreducci and Francesco Orsini. Giulio Cesare Varano, the previous lord of Camerino, fell into captivity. He was strangled two and a half months later - probably by Michelotto.

With his second and third campaigns in Romagna, where again with a small army of mercenaries he expelled or murdered the feudal lords of the Papal States in a short time, he achieved military success and considerable power. Already appointed hereditary duke of Romagna by his father in May 1501, he did not gain full rule over the region between the Apennines and the Adriatic until 1502, however, after the capture of the cities of Urbino on June 21, 1502, and Camerino in the Marches on July 20, 1502, and the expulsion of the previous regents Guidobaldo da Montefeltro and Elisabetta da Montefeltro from Urbino and Giulio Cesare da Varano from Camerino.

The court of Montefeltre in Urbino, where Cesare had taken up residence, became a meeting place for famous personalities. In Cesare's entourage was Leonardo da Vinci, who had entered Cesare's service during 1500 or 1501 and in May 1501 had drawn up plans for Cesare to drain the marshes near Piombino. Then, in July, he assisted Cesare's condottieri in a revolt against Florence instigated in Arezzo with maps, some of which are now in the Royal Library at Windsor. It is disputed, however, whether Leonardo's chalk study of a head in three views in Turin depicts Cesare Borgia. In Urbino, Leonardo made the acquaintance of Niccolo Machiavelli, who had come to Cesare's court as an envoy from Florence. On August 18, 1502, he managed to hire the cash-strapped Leonardo da Vinci as a military engineer for his army for ten months. Leonardo now traveled to the Marches and Romagna as architect and general engineer, devoting himself to the study of fortifications and the defense of the territory. During this time he drew maps of the city of Imola and of Tuscany and the Chiana Valley for Cesare Borgia.

After Cesare's condottieri Baglioni and Oliverotto had stirred up unrest throughout Tuscany from the Chiana Valley and turned it against Florence, Cesare justified himself to the Florentine envoys Machiavelli and Piero Soderini by saying that Florence had not honored the Treaty of Forno di Campi. The looming fear of Cesare's invasion of Florence ended only when the French king sent auxiliary troops to Florence from Asti. Envoys from Venice as well as the della Rovere, a son of Bentivoglio of Bologna, Francesco Gonzaga of Mantua, Giovanni Sforza of Pesaro, and Guidobaldo of Montefeltre sought out Louis and complained about Cesare's conquering moves. After secretly leaving Fermignano disguised as a knight of the Order of St. John, Cesare arrived at the French court in Milan on August 5, 1502, after brief stays in Forli and at the court of Ferrara. His reception was reported by an envoy:

The results of the friendly negotiations were that Cesare should withdraw from Florence and recall his condottieri Baglioni and Vitellozzo from Tuscany. Although Cesare had to renounce Tuscany, he was able to retain the Duchy of Urbino. Moreover, Bentivoglio of Bologna was no longer under the protection of the French king.

The fear of the other feudal lords of central Italy of the Borgia conquests grew after the expulsion of the Duke of Urbino and the destruction of the Varanos of Camerino. While Cesare Borgia drew the French king all the way back to the pope's side in the summer of 1502, opponents of the Borgia conspired at Magione on Lake Trasimeno in the fall of 1502. In addition to Cesare's five condottieri (Francesco Orsini, Duke of Gravina, Paolo Orsini, Count of Palombara, and the artillery specialists Vitelli, Fermo, and Baglioni), envoys from the Duke of Urbino, Bentivoglio of Bologna, and Pandolfo Petrucci, the Lord of Siena, also attended the October 1502 meeting. After a week, the meeting at La Magione ended on October 9 without the people involved agreeing on a common strategy. However, the participants concluded a kind of mutual assistance pact, assuring mutual help in case of attack.

After initial successes, they were forced to surrender by Cesare's mercenary troops. On December 31, 1502, under the pretext of a reconciliation, Cesare met with some members of the conspiracy, the four condottiere Vitellozzo Vitelli, Oliverotto of Fermo and Paolo and Francesco Orsini, in Senigallia. Cesare surprisingly had the conspirators Oliverotto of Fermo and Vitellozzo Vitelli arrested, as well as Cardinal Giovanni Battista Orsini and his brothers Paolo and Francesco Orsini. Vitellozzo Vitelli and Oliverotto of Fermo were murdered the same night. The Orsini brothers were strangled at the Castello della Pieve on January 18, 1503 by Michelotto and Marco Romano on behalf of Cesare, two weeks after the arrest of Cardinal Giovanni Battista Orsini on January 3, 1503. The cardinal finally died in the dungeon of the Castello Sant'Angelo on February 22, 1503, with a poison attack suspected as the cause of death. After the execution of Oliverotto and Vitellozzo, Cesare subdued their towns of Fermo and Città di Castello. On January 5, 1503, Cesare took without a fight the city of Perugia, which Gian Paolo Baglioni had already abandoned before Cesare's arrival.

At the beginning of 1503, the Borgia family ruled Romagna, Marche, Umbria and Lazio. The Borgia had defeated the powerful Roman noble families of the Colonna, Savelli and Gaetani. The most important heads of the Orsini, such as Cardinal Giambattista and the Condottieri Paolo, as well as the Duke of Gravina, were in the grip of the Borgia and were not to live much longer. The Marches were in the possession of the Borgia family after the murder of the most important members of the House of Varano of Camerino and of Oliverotto da Fermo. Umbria, too, was now in the Borgia domain after the murder of Vitellozzo and the expulsion of the Montefeltre from Urbino and the Baglioni from Perugia. In Romagna and along the Adriatic coast, the Borgia had assassinated the Manfredi of Faenza, seized the Sforza cities of Imola, Forli, and Pesaro, and expelled the Malatesta from Rimini. On January 1, 1503, Senigallia had also surrendered. The territories on the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea, the Principality of Piombino and the island of Elba, were already ruled by the Borgia family, and only Ferrara, where Lucrezia Borgia was married to the duke's eldest son, and Bologna had been able to maintain their independent position in the Papal States. The position of the papacy outside the Papal States was critical, however, since of the four Italian powers (the Duchy of Milan, the Republics of Venice and Florence in the north, and the Kingdom of Naples in the south) that had determined the Italian balance of power alongside the Papal States, only Venice remained as a real power. Naples had ceased to be an independent kingdom after the Treaty of Granada and was now within the sphere of influence of France and Spain. Milan and Florence were dependent on French policy.

As part of his further plans to conquer Tuscany, the conquest of Siena and the expulsion of Pandolfo Petrucci in January 1503 led to conflicts with the French king, who expressed his own interest in Tuscany and did not want to further support a further violation of Cesare into Tuscany. Shortly after capturing the cities of Sinigallia, Perugia, Chiusi, Acquapendente, and Orvieto, Cesare arrived in Rome in February 1503. During this time Leonardo da Vinci left Cesare's entourage and returned to Florence. After several battles between the Borgia and members of the Orsini family, who wanted to regain their lost territories, a treaty was reached between the Borgia and the Orsini on April 8, 1503, in the presence of French mediators. Although the provisions contained therein significantly limited the power of the Orsini in the Campagna di Roma, they did not have the result hoped for by the Borgia family of the annihilation of the dynasty. On May 31, 1503, in the course of the elevation of several Spanish cardinals to cardinals by Pope Alexander VI, a rapprochement between the Borgia family and the Spanish crown took place.


On August 12, 1503, Alexander and Cesare fell ill almost simultaneously with a mysterious illness, and a poison attack was also suspected. The core of this rumor is a banquet that Cardinal Adriano Castello de Corneto had given on August 5 or 6 in one of his vineyards, and that Alexander and Cesare had attended, along with numerous cardinals. Today's research also increasingly cites an infection with malaria as the reason for the sudden illness of father and son. While Cesare recovered, Alexander's health deteriorated after a brief period of improvement.

He finally died on August 18, 1503, with Burchard reporting on the events immediately following Alexander's death:

On August 22, 1503, he still swore the oath of obedience to the Sacred College of Cardinals and was confirmed as Captain General. Although Cesare Borgia had gained experience as both a statesman and a general, he did not succeed in fully securing his rule before the death of his father and patron Pope Alexander VI on August 18, 1503. Many of the deposed city lords, including Gian Paolo Baglioni in Perugia, Jacopo de'Appiano in Piombino, the nephews of Vitellozzo in Città de Castello, who had been murdered by Cesare, and members of the Varano family in Camerino, resumed rule over the conquered territories, and there were revolts in Rome by the Colonna and Orsini families. After Cesare had locked himself up in the heavily fortified Vatican with other members of the Borgia family and all the cardinals, a settlement was reached on September 1. Cesare and the Colonna and Orsini families pledged to leave Rome within three days and to stay away from the city until a new pope was elected. The envoys of Spain and Maximilian vouched for Cesare and the Colonna and the envoys of France and Venice for the Orsini.

On the same day, however, Cesare signed a secret treaty with the French ambassador de Trans with the obligation to support France both in the election of the pope and with his mercenaries in the fight against Spain. In return, the French king promised the protection of Cesare and the other members of the Borgia family, as well as the return or reconquest of all the territories controlled by Cesare at the death of Alexander. This power position of Cesare was also based on the fact that Cesare had the loyalty and votes of the twelve Spanish cardinals. Fleeing from his opponents, who had already rallied under Gian Paolo Baglioni in Perugia in mid-September, Cesare returned to Rome with 1,000 men on October 3, 1503, after a brief stay in the fortress of Nepi with the approval of the new pope, Pius III. Cesare, in failing health, entrenched himself in Castel Sant'Angelo and was besieged there by his enemies. The Spanish cardinals' attempt to help Cesare escape on October 15, 1503, disguised as a monk, failed.

After the short pontificate of Pius III, the ambitious Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere wanted to become pope and turned to Cesare to persuade the twelve Spanish cardinals to vote in his favor. Cesare agreed with him on October 29, 1503, that the Spanish cardinals would vote for della Rovere in the conclave and that he himself could remain ruler in Romagna and papal army commander in return. During the days of the papal election, Cesare also met with Niccolò Machiavelli, who had already visited Cesare's court as a Florentine envoy between October 7, 1502 and January 18, 1503. Although Machiavelli saw in Cesare an able military leader and modern politician, he judged the naïve faith in the new pope's promise as a fundamental mistake. He wrote in the 7th chapter of Il Principe:

After his successful election as pope, Julius II succeeded in ousting Cesare Borgia, who had conquered a closed territory in Romagna and central Italy with French support, and strengthened the Papal States by seizing this territory. Cesare initially fled to Ostia on November 19, 1503, after the new pope stripped him of the title of Gonfaloniere. Refusing to surrender the four fortresses of Forlì, Cesena, Forlimpopoli and Bertinoro to Julius II, Cesare was forced to return to Rome. There Cesare was deprived of all his offices and powers, and he was imprisoned in the Vatican until he surrendered all the castles and renounced all claims from the duchy. This led to a rift between the Pope and the French King Louis XII, who had conquered Milan and other northern Italian cities, thus gaining a position of power.

As a result of the agreement between Cesare and the Pope, concluded on January 24, 1504, he was placed in Ostia under the supervision of Cardinal Bernardino López de Carvajal.

Banishment and end

After Cesare fled to Naples on April 19, 1504, as a guest of the Spanish regent Gonsalvo de Córdoba, he was imprisoned under pressure from King Ferdinand and Julius II, tortured and exiled as a prisoner to Spain on May 27, 1504, where he spent a year in solitary confinement in the Castillo de Chinchilla de Montearagón.

After his transfer to the Spanish prison Castillo de La Mota in Medina del Campo, he managed a spectacular escape from the prison tower in October 1506 with the help of a silken cord. He was able to travel undetected to his brother-in-law Jean d'Albret, King of Navarre, in Pamplona, where he allied himself with him. As a soldier in the service of Navarre, on March 11, 1507, during the siege of the fortress of Viana, he was ambushed, which he recognized but ignored, and was killed in a hopeless battle with twenty armed horsemen.


Cesare was first buried in the Church of Santa María in Viana, in a marble tomb in front of the high altar. The original inscription read, "Here rests in less earth one who was feared by all, who held war and peace in his hands." On the orders of Alonso de Castilla Zúniga, Bishop of Calahorra, the tomb was destroyed in 1527. Cesare's remains were taken to an unconsecrated place outside the church, where his body was to be "trampled underfoot by men and animals" in payment for his sins.

His skeleton was accidentally exhumed in 1945 during reconstruction works and stored in a silver box in the Town Hall until his reburial in front of the church in 1953. In 1965, a bronze bust of Cesare was placed near the church of Santa María. It was not until 2007 that Fernando Sebastián Aguilar, the Archbishop of Pamplona, allowed Cesare to be reburied in the Church of Santa María five hundred years after his death.

His sword, which he had made when crossing the Rubicon near Rimini, bears the Latin engravings: Cum nomine Cesaris omen - iacta est alea - aut Caesar aut nihil ("With Caesar's name as an omen - The die is cast - Either Caesar or nothing"). It is exhibited today in the British Museum in London.

Cesare Borgia in 19th century philosophy and art

Representatives of an amoral aestheticism have often seen in Borgia the representative of a type of man who, although a cold-blooded man of power, achieves aesthetic greatness. Friedrich Nietzsche, for example, wrote in his book Ecce homo that one should imagine the superman as Cesare Borgia rather than as Parsifal. In Oscar Wilde's novel The Portrait of Dorian Gray, he is named as one of the historical figures whose misdeeds Dorian Gray reads about with enthusiasm. This romantic transfiguration largely ignores historical reality.

Today's view

To his contemporaries, Cesare Borgia was often considered a tyrant, notorious for his ruthlessness in dealing with his opponents. Thus, his brother-in-law, Alfonso of Aragon and Duke of Bisceglie, on August 18, 1500, and the four condottiere Vitellozzo Vitelli, Oliverotto of Fermo, and Paolo and Francesco Orsini, who had conspired unsuccessfully with other men against him in La Magione on Lake Trasimeno in the fall of 1502, are also said to have been murdered on his behalf by his captain Micheletto Corella, among others, in January 1503. In his treatise The Prince (Il Principe), Niccolò Machiavelli addressed Borgia's autocracy, describing it as exemplary of the government of a prince seeking to achieve his power-political goals. He explained how little squeamish a ruler must be when he wants to conquer territories and secure them in the long term. Machiavelli's unemotional descriptions of Cesare's deeds earned him a reputation for extraordinary cold-heartedness and ruthlessness.

The image that posterity has of the relationship between Alexander and Cesare today, however, is essentially shaped by Jacob Burckhardt's descriptions:

Borgia's reputation and standing are viewed in a nuanced way in contemporary historical research. Historical documents suggest that his bad reputation was partly based on exaggerations by his enemies. Evidence for this can be found in the generally bad reputation that the Borgia had in the eyes of the long-established Italian families due to their Spanish origin. The Borgia were seen as a kind of mafia, since they bought their way into offices and hierarchies and systematically brought their own relatives into important positions (nepotism). The accusations of favoritism, sexual debauchery, and cruelty made against Cesare were typical accompaniments of any feudal rule during the Renaissance and were not limited to the Borgia family. Another reason for the propaganda against Cesare Borgia was probably the military successes of Cesare, who, with the support of his papal father, set out to conquer Romagna, other parts of the Papal States and neighboring territories, causing many princes to fear for their possessions. However, historians agree that Cesare Borgia's rule in Romagna also had a positive influence. During his reign, Romagna, which was characterized by anomie, was unified, the administration was ordered and a legal system was introduced, so that peace and submission prevailed. Cesare's actions and his father's policies in Romagna were already considered positive by Machiavelli in the Discorsi and can be interpreted as the basis for the later development of an Italian nation-state idea:

This respect for Borgia's Romagna policy was also shared by the inhabitants of Romagna, who remained loyal to him when the latter had already been deprived of power. Thus, Forlì still stood by him when he was captured in Naples and would not open the gates to Julius II's troops. Finally, under torture, Cesare ordered his city commander Mirafuente to surrender. Cesare secured the goodwill of the people of Faenza by keeping his men, who had to camp because of the onset of winter, from looting and not harming the inhabitants.

Aus der Ehe mit Charlotte d'Albret († 11. May 1514), dame de Chalus, Tochter von Alain I. d'Albret, Graf von Albret, und Françoise de Châtillon-Limoges (auch Françoise de Blois-Bretagne, Comtesse de Périgord):

Luisa was Cesare Borgia's only legitimate child, but up to eleven other illegitimate children by unknown mothers are and were attributed to him. Two of them were recognized by Cesare:

It is worth mentioning Giovanni Borgia, born in 1498, called Infans Romanus (the child of Rome), around whose unexplained origin much speculation revolves, since it is not clearly known who his parents are. On September 1, 1501, two papal bulls were issued, a public one designating Giovanni as Cesare's son with an unmarried woman, and a secret one in which the pope himself admitted paternity. Since at the time of his birth it was reported that Lucrezia Borgia had allegedly given birth to a child, this led to later speculation that Giovanni might have sprung from an incestuous relationship between her and Cesare.

The figure of Machiavelli's principe nuovo had a successor and an application in Napoleon Bonaparte's rise to power. Indeed, Napoleon's legacy includes a copy of Il Principe with handwritten marginal notes.


  1. Cesare Borgia
  2. Cesare Borgia
  3. Joachim Brambach: Die Borgia – Faszination einer Renaissance-Familie. S. 93
  4. Alois Uhl: Papstkinder. Lebensbilder aus der Zeit der Renaissance. S. 80
  5. Ferdinand Gregorovius: Lucrezia Borgia. tredition, Hamburg 2011, ISBN 978-3-8424-1958-2, S. 23 eingeschränkte Vorschau in der Google-Buchsuche
  6. Joachim Brambach: Die Borgia – Faszination einer Renaissance-Familie. S. 11.
  7. В итальянском языке имя Че́заре произносится с ударением на первом слоге. Однако в русском языке встречаются два варианта — Че́заре и Чеза́ре. Вариант Чеза́ре рекомендуется в справочнике Р. С. Гиляревского и Б. А. Старостина «Иностранные имена и названия в русском тексте»[1]. Но при этом в более современном «Словаре собственных имен русского языка» Ф. Л. Агеенко это имя приводится с ударением на первом слоге[2].
  8. Правильная транскрипция имени — Сизер или Сезар (в зависимости от языка), но в русском языке укрепилось неправильное, транслитерированное прочтение Цезарь[1].
  9. El papa Borgia: Un inédito Alejandro VI liberado al fin de la leyenda negra
  10. Angela Ottino della Chiesa: The Complete Paintings of Leonardo da Vinci, ed. Penguin, 1967.
  11. ^ His other titles included: Duke of Romagna, Prince of Andria and Venafro, Count of Dyois, Lord of Piombino, Camerino and Urbino, Gonfalonier and Captain General of the Church.

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