Monday, 31 December 2012

Happy New Year

Just a little something from me to say both Happy New Year, and thank you for all of your support. With a special guest appearance from Cesare the stretching chinchilla.


Friday, 28 December 2012

The Election and Coronation of Pope Leo X

Leo X by Peter Paul Rubens

In 1513, Pope Julius II died. Julius is probably better known as Giuliano della Roverre, the arch nemesis of Pope Alexander VI and his son Cesare Borgia - yet he really was a rather brilliant Pope and brought us such wonders as St Peter's Basilica (which we see today) and the beautiful ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. As well as this, he was known as The Warrior Pope, wrestling Rome from Borgia influence and bringing the Papal states back into the arms of the Church. During Julius' reign, murders were less frequent and bodies were found less frequently on the streets than ever before; and he practically stamped out simony in the Roman Catholic church even going so far as to issue a papal bull on his deathbed which made it so any future simoniacal elections were completely invalid. And remembering what had happened in previous elections, he made arrangements so that all of the treasure that he had was locked in the Castel Sant'Angelo to prevent plundering, strict orders being given to make sure that it was only handed over to his successor. Following his death, on March 4th 1513 the Papal conclave began. 

Dejan Cukic as Giuliano della Roverre (Pope Julius II) in Borgia: Faith & Fear

This conclave was virtually unanimous in the fact that they wanted the complete opposite to the reign of Julius. In essence, they wanted things a bit more laid back than the way Julius had run things - he had been the complete opposite to his (almost) predecessor Alexander VI, strict and completely against most vices. Not only that, the college of Cardinals were fed up of the way Julius forced them to march across Italy and the way he bullied them. Life would be much simpler if they elected an easygoing Pope who cared little for such restrictions and a man who would die quickly enough to bring in another Pope. It took the conclave a week to agree on the best candidate - Cardinal Giovanni de Medici.

John Bradley as Giovanni de Medici (Leo X) in Borgia: Faith & Fear

Giovanni de Medici was the son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, born in 1475 and a contemporary of Cesare Borgia during their time at University. When he was elected as Pope in 1513 he was just just thirty seven years old; despite his wealth and being the son of the ruling family of Florence, his age meant that if he was elected then the older cardinals in the conclave would likely never get a change at becoming Supreme Pontiff. Giovanni's young age wasn't really all that much of a problem though as his health was exceptionally poor. To even be able to attend the conclave in 1513 he had to bring his physician in with him thanks to the open ulcer on his leg - and during the conclave the ulcer in question troubled the young man so much that the Cardinal's realised that his health wouldn't hold out for long anyway. And so, on March 11th Cardinal Giovanni de Medici became Pope Leo X.

And it seemed from the outset that the Conclave had made the right decision. The reign of Pope Leo would be a reign of pleasure although not the sort of pleasure that defined the reigns of previous Popes. There would be no orgies, no bullfights and he himself would not endorse murders. But rather it would be civilised, and he would enjoy the pleasures of art, scholasticism and the pleasures of the table. He would even get himself a pet elephant! In fact, when Leo was elected as Pope he wrote to his brother, "God has given us the Papacy - let us enjoy it!"

When young Giovanni was made a Cardinal in 1492, his father Lorenzo wrote him a letter detailing how he should behave - that he should avoid the corruption that the rest of the college took part in, and that because of his youth the others would use it to drag him down; that he should spend his money wisely on books, keeping a good array of distinguished servants and by eating at home rather than eating out; that he encircle himself with a select group of learned men and that he take plenty of exercise and look after his health. For the most part Giovanni did exactly as his father told him and even refused to give Rodrigo Borgia his vote in the conclave of 1492. And as Borgia ran his papacy, Giovanni de Medici sat back and absorbed what was going on. And what he learned in his early days as a Cardinal would come full circle to affect his own papacy.

By the time Leo was crowned as Pope, most of Old St Peter's Basilica was in ruins. The previous Pope, Julius II, had begun the renovations of the old basilica and the beginnings of the basilica that we see today had only recently been started. The coronation therefore was held in a tent erected outside the basilica. And at the coronation in the tent, he was presented with the huge triple layered tiara and approached by the Master of Ceremonies who held a lit torch in front of him speaking the words, "And so passes the glory of the world". A slave also stood behind the Pope during his triumphal parade repeating the phrase "Remember, thou art but a man" and the Master of Ceremonies then stood in front of the new Pope reminding Leo, "Thou shalt never see the years of Peter!" - a reminder of the first Pope's long reign. Following the coronation in the tent Leo went in a grand procession to the Lateran palace, which was once an important part of the Roman Catholic church but has long since been taken over by the Vatican. At any rate it was an incredibly important part of the ceremony. And Leo's procession to the Lateran was magnificent, far surpassing the splendour of previous reigns - Leo X was a Medici after all, and he knew how to throw a party. The route was lined with marble statues recently excavated, and triumphal arches were built for the occasion while the houses that lined the route of the procession hung laurels and banners coloured with the Medici red and gold from their windows. In the procession walked soldiers, and the families of each cardinal, the gonfalons (banner men) of each ancient region, the five gonfalons of the Holy See. They themselves were followed by white mules, the Roman barons, bankers, merchants and soldiers. After all of them was the new Pope, Leo X with a detachment of Swiss Guards walking just ahead of him. These soldiers were brought to Rome by Julius II and were incredibly tough and used to guard the Vatican. The Swiss Guard still Guard Vatican City today although their position is now entirely ceremonial, and the colourful uniforms that they wear have remained largely unchanged.

The Swiss Guard, on duty at the Vatican

Finally came Leo, the new Holy Father. He was a funny looking man with a very large head and a hugely obese body. His legs were apparently so spindly that instead of walking it was like he scuttled about (I always imagine this as something like a bug scuttling about), and his eyes were protubing in his red, chubby face. In the procession he rode upon a beautiful Arabian white stallion, while officials held a cloth of silk to offer the Pope some protection from the intense heat - despite this, accounts of the procession state that he was sweating massively beneath the weight of the Pontifical robes and jewels yet that he showed little sign of minding, riding well despite his ulcer. The ulcer that plagued him must have been very painful, yet according to witnesses he smiled and greeted the cheering crowds with brilliant majesty. And as he rode, his clamberlains carried two huge chests of coins which they would reach into and throw to the waiting crowds.

In total, the procession and first few days of celebration alone cost Leo X over 100,000 ducats. This huge amount amounted to well over a third of the amount that his predecessor had stashed away in the Castel Sant'Angelo. It was really a marker of just how much money Leo would waste away on frivolities over his reign as Supreme Pontiff - and he spent a hell of a lot!

Leo X's reign would indeed prove to be a "Golden Age", but not for the good he did. Rather it was called this later as a bit of a joke at the sheer amount of money he would spend. Indeed, Leo X's reign is far from golden in the history of the Roman Catholic Church - and during his years as Pope, Leo would have to survive the birth of Protestantism, and Martin Luther would prove to be a thorn in his side.

Further Reading


Tuesday, 25 December 2012

A Little Christmas Message

I just wanted to drop in amongst the Christmas madness and wish you all a very Merry Christmas. Thank you all for joining me on the incredible journey that this blog has been through and I hope you'll all join me as I share more history joy in the months and (hopefully) years to come.

I hope you're all having a fantastic day with your friends and family, eating lots and drinking enough booze to sink a battleship. I'll be spending my day with "Borgia" and "Los Borgia" as my fantastic partner really knows me far too well...


I'll see you lot in a few days for the next instalment of Renaissance madness.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Rome: A History of the Eternal City


I started watching this a couple of weeks ago after seeing a conversation on twitter. I watched the first couple of episodes of Rome: A History of the Eternal City and loved them from the outset. The first episode told the story of Ancient Rome and it's emperors with the introduction of Christianity and the second episode dealt with early Christianity and the beginnings of the Roman Catholic church. I will be honest and say I enjoyed the second episode much more as it was starting to get more into my area of interest and I may have had a bit of a moment when the presenter mentioned the Theophylact popes. And that's because as you're all aware, I have a little bit of a thing for the history of the Catholic church and have started spending more and more time reading about it. I'll also admit that when I read "The Bad Popes" by Russell Chamberlin (which also spoke about the Theophylact Popes as well as my favourite renaissance bad boys Alexander VI and Julius II) I may have had one heck of an internal flail about how much I love the history and corruption of the church. Any way, I'm going off on a tangent and I should probably should get back on track.

The series is presented by the brilliant Simon Sebag Montefiore (please do go follow him on twitter, cuz he's a top bloke!), author of such books as Jerusalem and "Catherine the Great and Potemkin". In the series, Montefiore goes to Rome both as historian and tourist to spread some light on the history of religion in the City, and he does an absolutely outstanding job. As a presenter Monterfiore is engaging and, unlike some presenters I've seen on historical documentaries, brings the subject to life. It was refreshing to actually sit down and watch a historical documentary and not be bored completely to tears.

The third and final episode in the series concentrated mainly on the Renaissance Popes, and watching it I was completely in my element. The episode starts in around 1350, with the city of Rome turned from a bustling city to a dirty little backwater. Rome now had no Pope, they had fled to Avignon where the Papacy came under the control of the French King, resulting in a succession of French Popes. And with no Pope in Rome, crime ran rife as the city came under the control of two families who would become well known in Renaissance history: The Orsini and the Colonna. And as these two families ruled the city, the poet Petrarch wrote that the city had become "the rubbish heap of history". Montefiore gave some interesting figures in the first few minutes of the episode - in the mid fourteenth century the population of Rome was just a mere 30,000 residents as opposed to nearly a million during the time of Imperial Rome. Yet Rome was rescued by a woman by the name of St Catherine of Sienna. In 1370, at the age of 23 and completely heartbroken at the downfall of Rome, believing that the Pope had betrayed Christianity by abandoning the City. And so she bombarded Avignon with letters, yet despite the letters he showed no signs of returning and so she went to Avignon herself to beg him to return. In 1377, the Pope returned to Rome after 70 years of his predecessor's exile.


Montefiore then goes on to show the audience the largest private palace in Rome, and a palace that is still owned by the Colonna family (I had thought they were all gone, but it seems I was wrong) and has been for the past 700 years. This family, who at one point had been one of the two major warring families in the city (and in all honesty still were, the feud with the Orsini was incredibly long standing) ended up helping to fully restore the papacy to greatness in 1417. And they did so by having one of their own family members elected to the Papacy. An interesting thing I never knew until watching was that in the Colonna palace there is a chair which sits in the throne room, a mark of respect to the family Popes - when a member of their family is Pope, it gets turned to face the correct way. When someone else is Pope, the chair faces the wall.


The main reason I got very overexcited about this episode was the sheer fact that the Borgia family would be mentioned. And as soon as I saw the defaced insignia of Alexander VI on the side of the Castel Sant'Angelo I might have squeaked out loud. 



Montefiore starts the Borgia story with the story of Calixus III, or Alfonso Borgia who was elected in 1455. He was the man who raised his nephew, Rodrigo Borgia, to the cardinalate. And Rodrigo Borgia would go on to be known as one of the most corrupt Pope's in history.


The majority of the segment on the Borgia family was taken up with the infamous Cesare Borgia (my lovely lovely Cesare, completely vilified and totally not as evil as he's made out to be).


There were a couple of moments in the parts about Cesare that made me go "hmmm, really?"
  • That he "probably murdered his brother". The rumours that Cesare murdered Juan didn't surface until over a year after Juan's death, and they spread from Venice where many friends of the Orsini family were based. The Orsini were the most likely perpetrators, and Cesare wasn't even thought of as a suspect until long after it happened.
  • That Cesare's victims were found dead in the Tiber every morning. Erm, ok. I'd love to know where this came from, as all told Cesare didn't really kill all that many people. Those he did kill either really peed him off (Alfonso of Aragon any one?) or killed as part of his takeover of the Romagna. I have only come across a couple of stories about Cesare having people killed and chucked in the river - Lucrezia's lover Perotto and her maiden Pantisilea; and a second story which I can't remember off the top of my head but will update when I do remember (It's late, and I'm tired, forgive me?)
I was however very impressed at the amount of Borgia information crammed into such a short segment. You had the story of Cesare being used as the model for Machiavelli's Prince (great book, everyone needs to read it) and my most favourite story of Borgia debauchery - the Ballet of Chestnuts, in which a number of er...courtesans were brought into the Vatican, chestnuts were scattered on the ground and the women had to pick them up in their mouths. The men were then let loose among them, and the man who performed the best was given a rather expensive pair of gloves as a prize. Excellent!

The remainder of the the episode concentrated on the Renaissance artists and the further Popes such as Julius II. I really loved the part on Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel, and one day would love to stand in an empty chapel as Montefiore did, just to look at those magnificent frescoes. And the final aspect of the programme concentrated on Rome leading up to the modern day, it's affect on the Papacy and how the Vatican ended up becoming the world's smallest country of just 0.2 square miles.

All in all an absolutely astounding series and I'm really glad I sat down and watched it. I am highly impressed with the history shown in the programme and I certainly learnt a lot from watching it. If you can, then please do catch up with this brilliant little series on Iplayer.

Also, visit Simon Montefiore's website and twitter.


Monday, 17 December 2012

My Top Ten Historical Books of 2012

It's getting to that time of year again. You know what I mean I'm sure. That time when I go through all of the books I've read this year and pick out my top ten. Now, considering as how this is a history blog it seems pretty obvious that I'll be picking out the best historical books of the year. I also made it my goal to read 60 books by December 31st and as we speak I've read 59...with just 30% left of the one I'm reading at the moment. That's a heck of a lot of words! It makes me tired just thinking about it. So anyway, here we go!

The Artist, The Philosopher & The Warrior by Paul Strathern


This book is a must read for any one with an interest in Renaissance Italy and follows the lives of three men who were all connected to each other - Leonardo Da Vinci, Niccolo Machiavelli and Cesare Borgia. I'd read some of Strathern's work before reading this and was highly impressed; this book certainly did not disappoint and is a fantastic introduction to three men who changed the face of the Renaissance.

A Gambling Man by Jenny Uglow


This book has quickly become my bible on the early years of Charles II's life. It covers the first ten years of his reign and I have to say, Uglow does a fantastic job. Her writing style is almost flawless and she can make even the most dull political event in Charles' government seem exciting. Most biography's of Charles concentrate either on his entire reign, or certain events in it such as his relationship with George Villiers or his escape from Worcester and the fact that Uglow concentrates on the first 10 years actually works really well. A fantastic overview of his early reign and a must read for any one interested in Charles II.

Prince Rupert: The Last Cavalier by Charles Spencer


Prince Rupert has long been a favourite of mine, just because he was so...flouncy. The perfect Cavalier really to be honest with his long hair, big hat and rather flouncy clothes. He was also a rather good solider (well, when his troops of horse didn't muck stuff up in the English Civil War), a pirate, an artist and a scientist. Was there anything this man couldn't do? This book by Charles Spencer is a really good read and a good overview of a fascinating man.

Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel


The majority of you will know that right now I'm not the biggest fan of the Tudors right now. However, I read Wolf Hall last year and absolutely LOVED it, so when this came out I just knew I had to read it. It was also the very first book I ever downloaded onto my kindle. This book is a fantastic read for anyone who loves a bit of historical fiction - I'm not normally a reader of much historical fiction, but this is just a work of genius. Mantel's writing style isn't for everyone, but to me the way she weaves the words across the page is nothing short of breathtaking. She tells the story of Cromwell so well, tells us through her brilliant storytelling that he wasn't as bad a bloke as everyone makes out and in this book we are introduced to Anne Boleyn - and her portrayal of Anne was brilliant, the way Mantel played the characters off against one another was just brilliant. I'm using the word brilliant a lot here, but trust me, this book is...well, it's brilliant and a must read!

My Dearest Minette by Ruth Norrington


This book is, quite simply, the letters written between Charles II and his sister Minette. And it's wonderful - the way they wrote to each other both personally and in business terms often had me reaching for the tissues. An excellent book, and perfect for anyone looking to research the relationship between Charles and Minette.

The Tigress of Forli by Elizabeth Lev


Up until I read this, I had only ever read snippets about Caterina Sforza's life. And reading this gave me a new respect for this brilliant woman. She was a wife, a mother and a warrior - she was a woman who would not put up with stupidity and she even took on the infamous Borgia family. Lev even goes so far as to debunk the rumours that in 1488 she raised her skirts above her head and cried that she could make ten more sons! A good read that sheds so much light on a very interesting woman!

The Monmouth Summer by Tim Vicary


This has to be one of the best historical fiction books I have read this year, if ever. It tells the story of a young woman whose lover ends up fighting for the King in the Monmouth rebellion in 1685 while her father, brother and betrothed fight for James, Duke of Monmouth. It's a fantastic story of how the Monmouth rebellion split friends and family right down the middle. Not only that, mixed in with the politics and the sadness there is a most beautiful love story woven through it. A fantastic book and really well written, highly recommended.

The Bad Popes by Russell Chamberlin


Interested in the history and corruption of the Roman Catholic church? Then this book is for you. Chamberlin gives an overview of a selection of Popes throughout history and just why they were considered bad. And his selection ranges from the earliest popes of the 10th Century (The Theophylact Popes and the infamous Marozia who made sure her family kept the Papal crown and then ended up being locked up in the Castel Sant'Angelo) through to the corruption, Simony and nepotism of the Renaissance Popes (Innocent VIII and Alexander VI being the main ones here). This book really is an eye opener to the corruption of the early church and it's certainly made me hungry to learn more!

Death in Florence by Paul Strathern


I read this book as a research project for my novel on Savonarola and from the moment I picked it up I was hooked. Yet again Strathern has written a masterpiece, telling the story of Girolamo Savonarola in a gripping and engaging manner. Whilst I have read other books on Savonarola this year none of them have come close to this one. Strathern doesn't just tell the story of the mad monk, he tells the story of the individuals connected with him and the wider stage in which Savonarola lived and he does it in such an outstanding manner.

The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli


This is a book that everyone needs to read. In a nut shell, it's Machiavelli's guide on how to gain power and keep it. It's definitely not all kittens and rainbows (and to be honest, Machiavelli is the most kittens and rainbows guys in the whole renaissance) - and he makes it clear that if your people start being a bit idiotic after you take power then a bit of cruelty won't hurt matters. And if they hate you after it, then who cares because they'll be too scared of you to keep on being idiots. I loved this book, and thought it was a really insightful look into the world of fifteenth century politics. Plus, it kind of made me love Machiavelli even more than I already do.

So there we go. I have read some fantastic books this year and wish I could have listed them all. But these ones have to be my favourites and I shall certainly be going back to many of them. I hope that in 2013 I will read even more brilliant historic books...I just need to find more space on the bookshelves for them...Now I'm off to finish reading Sharon Kay's "Phantom" - not a book I would normally read but I can't put it down!

Sunday, 9 December 2012

The Donkey At Bracciano

The Donkey in Juan's tent, from Canal+'s "Borgia"

Juan Borgia, 2nd Duke of Gandia, was never really cut out to be a soldier. He was arrogant and self centred, and failed more than succeeding at anything. Yet Pope Alexander VI wanted one son in the church and another in the military, giving Cesare the Cardinal's robes and Juan the armour. As we already know, Cesare wasn't best pleased with this and would much rather have been the one out on the battle field. If he had been made a soldier from the outset then none of the failures that Juan instigated would likely never have happened. But of course it didn't happen like that, and Juan Borgia was really a big failure and really quite unpopular. His arrogance made him unpopular with his troops and the butt of some rather nasty practical jokes - one such example being at the battle of Bracciano in October 1496.

Stanley Weber as Juan Borgia in Canal+'s "Borgia"

Bracciano was, and is, a small town just to the north of Rome and in the 1490's was held by the powerful Orsini family and the town itself was overlooked by a huge fortress. When Charles VIII had invaded Italy, him and his army stopped at Bracciano as they headed towards Rome. This of course really annoyed the Pope and lead to him excommunicating the Orsini family, which only made the long standing feud between Orsini and Borgia even worse. The long standing hatred between the two families meant that even though Alexander was Pope, the Orsini family could prove to be a huge threat to the Papacy. And so something had to be done. Not only had Alexander excommunicated them for helping the French in 1494, but in July of 1496 he had Virginio Orsini and his son thrown into the dungeons of Castel Dell'Uvo in Naples. Now, he would take their towns and their castles.

The Orsini Castle at Bracciano

Pope Alexander chose Guidobaldo de Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino to command the expedition to take the Orsini lands. Juan Borgia was made second in command despite being completely inexperienced. It really was a tragedy waiting to happen. At any rate, on 26th October, Juan and Montefeltro entered St Peter's basilica and Juan was given the title of Gonfalonier and Captain General of the Church. The next day, the two men left Rome at the head of their army to lay siege to the Orsini strongholds.

The campaign was a success to start with and they met little resistance. The strongholds of Sacrofano, Galeria, Campagnano and Anguillara were all taken without any trouble, and over 10 castles were taken in two months, but they knew when it came to Bracciano that things would be a bit more difficult. To make matters worse, flags flaunting the French colours were hung from the walls of the castle.

Bracciano castle itself was held by Bartolomea Orsini, Virginio's sister and wife of Bartolomeo D'Alviano - a highly esteemed Orsini captain. Borgia and Montefeltro arrived in Bracciano in mid december and things started to go wrong from the outset. Montefeltro was wounded early in the siege, leaving Gandia to take control. Gandia of course had little success and the Orsini soldiers climbed the walls and shouted insults at Juan. They then played a particularly cruel joke on the young man, sending a donkey into the papal camp with a sign around his neck which read "I am the ambassador of the Duke of Gandia" and a rather rude note shoved up the poor donkey's backside.

The sign around the Donkey's neck from "Borgia" - in history it actually read "I am the ambassador of the Duke of Gandia"

The note from the Donkey's bottom in "Borgia"

Alexander VI did not take the news of this slight well and the disappointment in his son made him so unwell that he did not attend Mass on Christmas day. Juan tried two assaults on the castle, both of which failed, and  then news reached him that a backup force was on its way to help the Orsini under the captaincy of Carlo Orsini. Upon hearing the news, Juan realised that it was futile and he broke the siege, marching north to intercept the enemy. His army was defeated on 24th January at Soriano. Juan himself was wounded and only escaped death by running away, and 500 of his men were killed in the fighting.

It was one of the last mistakes that Juan Borgia would ever make. By June that year, Juan would be dead and his shoes would be filled by his brother Cesare who would go on to be one of the greatest military commanders of his day.

Further Reading

Sarah Bradford - Cesare Borgia: His Life & Times
Sarah Bradford - Lucrezia Borgia
Mary Hollingsworth - The Borgias: History's Most Notorious Dynasty

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

The Marriage of Lucrezia Borgia and Alfonso of Aragon

Holliday Grainger and Sebastian De Souza as Lucrezia and Alfonso in Showtime's The Borgias

Think of Lucrezia Borgia, and the majority of people will say that she was a seductress who had a ring filled with deadly poison and committed incest with her brother. They certainly would not think of an innocent young lady in love. But that is exactly what happened to Lucrezia Borgia in 1498 when she married the handsome young Alfonso of Aragon. The match was, of course, a political one but it was soon very clear that the couple were very much in love with each other. Few could have realised that this seemingly perfect marriage would soon end in tragedy for Lucrezia.

At the end of 1497, Lucrezia was divorced from her first husband Giovanni Sforza. The two had been married since 1493 as a political arrangement between the Borgia and Sforza families but Pope Alexander VI soon tired of the match between them and began to look for other avenues that would help bring the Borgia family more power. The Sforza match had been one big let down for him from the start. And so, the marriage was dissolved on the grounds of Sforza's apparent impotence. The news was unwelcome throughout Italy, everyone knew that the alleged impotence was a falsehood conducted by Alexander so he could dissolve his daughters marriage. And besides how could Sforza be impotent when his previous wife had died in childbirth? And as previously mentioned, Sforza was so angry at the allegations that he said the only reason Alexander was dissolving the marriage was so he could sleep with his daughter himself! According to Bradford, the Italian chronicler Matarazzo wrote that the idea of Lucrezia being a Virgin was:

"a conclusion that set all Italy laughing...it was common knowledge that she had been and was then the greatest whore there ever was in Rome."

Not exactly the most favourable of assessments on the situation, but Matarazzo was hugely anti-Borgia. At any rate, the marriage was annulled on the basis of impotence and non consummation, leaving Lucrezia free to marry again. The only problem with that was that Lucrezia managed to bring her reputation into disrepute not long afterwards - she became involved with a handsome young groom in the Papal household by the name of Pedro Calderon (more commonly known to history as Perotto). On the 14th February 1498, his body was pulled from the Tiber and according to Johannes Burchard he "fell, not of his own will, into the Tiber". It is said that the body of one of Lucrezia's serving girls called Pantisilea was found with Perotto. Shortly before his body was found, Perotto's disappearance was muttered to be because he had been locked up for getting Lucrezia pregnant and it seems likely that this could be why Lucrezia went into seclusion at the convent of San Sisto. Many associate Cesare's name with the murders of Perotto and Pantisilea and if I'm honest (in this case at least) he does seem the most likely to have done it. The affair would get in the way of the plans he and his father had for Lucrezia, and anyone with knowledge of the affair had to go.

Following the affair with Perotto, Alexander began looking into getting a new husband for his daughter and his eyes fell on the Kingdom of Naples, and in particular the illegitimate son of the Duke of Calabria. Alfonso was also the brother of Sancia, Princess of Squillace who was married to the youngest Borgia son - Jofre. King Federigo of Naples began making life difficult having gotten what he wanted out of the Pope and wasn't exactly all that eager for any more Borgia marriages. The Pope decided to pretend that Lucrezia would be marrying an Orsini and then, Federigo capitulated. On 15th July 1498, Alfonso of Aragon arrived in Rome. The visit was supposed to be a secret but everyone knew he was there. On the 16th, Cesare Borgia invited his future brother in law up to his apartments and greeted him affectionately with a meeting on the 17th between Alfonso, Pope Alexander, Cesare and Lucrezia. Four days later, the two were married in a private ceremony and the marriage was consummated that very night, with celebrations continuing on for days afterwards. During one of the celebrations, held in the Borgia apartments, seven dancers walked in dressed as different animals and danced about the room. One of them was Cesare, dressed as a Unicorn - the symbol of chastity. The other celebrations included dancing and bullfights.

By the time Cesare renounced his cardinal's vows in 1498 and left to go to Spain for his own marriage, Lucrezia was pregnant. In February 1499 she miscarried and although she was pregnant again soon after she had no idea that the internal goings on in her family would stop her from living a long and happy life with the husband whom she was so in love with. News came to Rome from France that Cesare had consummated his marriage with his wife (six times!) and was on his way back...and he would be accompanying King Louis of France. This was the start of a new pro-french alliance that sent those who were more of a Spanish mindset fleeing from the city of Rome. This alliance could also seriously affect the Kingdom of Naples, the French King believing he was the rightful heir. In a panic, Alfonso fled the city leaving Lucrezia heavily pregnant and it is said, in floods of tears. He wrote her letters from his exile, but these fell into the Pope's hands and he forced Lucrezia to write back, demanding Alfonso's return. He also sent spies and emissaries to try and convince the King of Naples to send his son in law back to Rome. In September the young couple were reunited and joined the rest of the family at Nepi, returning to Rome in the October. All of this was conducted in the background of some huge political manoeuvres in Italy, particularly King Louis of France and his taking over of Milan.

On the 1st November, Lucrezia gave birth to a little boy whom she named Rodrigo. And at this point, her husband was still held in high favour by the Pope and Cesare was too busy in the Romagna. But throughout the first half of 1500, something obviously changed. Cesare had started to become successful in his Romagna campaign and had helped bring about a French alliance, and it was something that would have made Alfonso and his Aragonese family and sympathies somewhat unwelcome. Could it be that, like with Giovanni Sforza, Alfonso had 'outstayed his welcome'?

On Wednesday 15th July, Alfonso was attacked on the steps of St Peter's by an unknown group of people. According to a report sent back to Florence he was stabbed three times. Burcard reported that as the men attacking Alfonso fled, they were surprised by the city guards, and other reports state that they were caught trying to drag Alfonso's body to the Tiber. The wounded Alfonso was taken to apartments above the Pope's own where he was nursed, and by all reports Lucrezia found herself with a fever the next day thanks to the worry. Rumours once more flooded the city, as they had when Juan had been found murdered and yet again Cesare's name was mentioned. Thankfully, Alfonso began to recover and within a few days he was sat up in bed. Still, Cesare's name kept being mentioned and he apparently said:

"I did not wound the Duke, but if I had, it would have been no more than he deserved."

If these words were true, then it seems somewhat obvious that Cesare had some sort of ill feeling against his brother in law. However, had Cesare himself ordered this attack then it is likely that Alfonso would be already dead. His men, and particularly Micheletto, did not fail. Lucrezia was leaving nothing to chance however - she made his food herself in case his food was laced with poison, and allowed only the doctor sent from Naples to attend him. Just one month after the initial attack he was almost fully recovered and as he was sat up talking to his wife and sister, the doors to his rooms burst open and a group of men entered headed by the infamous Micheletto de Corella. Lucrezia and Sancia demanded to know from Micheletto what on earth he was playing at and Micheletto responded by saying that he was only obeying the will of others and if they wanted an answer then they should go to the Pope to get a reprieve for Alfonso and the others who had been arrested. The two of them rushed to the Pope, but when they returned to the apartment they found armed guards outside the doors who refused to let them in, stating that Alfonso was dead. There was no doubt who had committed the deed - Micheletto, Cesare's finest executioner. And there is really no doubt at all who ordered the murder...Cesare himself, determined that the Aragonese faction within the Vatican should be dealt with as it would affect his own plans with France. Not only that but Cesare was exceptionally close to his sister (one of the reasons it is said they were involved incestuously) and never seemed to love as a woman as much as he loved his sister. Was it jealousy that drove him to it? Did he see how in love the couple were and want it stopped?

The Funeral of Alfonso - Los Borgia

The excuse was given that Alfonso died because he had tried to shoot Cesare with a crossbow and it was the excuse used to persuade the Pope that Alfonso had to be gotten rid of. Alexander had initially been very upset when Alfonso was attacked, yet accepted this excuse when no one else in the family, or even the city did.

Lucrezia went into deep mourning for the handsome husband whom she doted on, and disbelieved her father and brother when they told her the reason for the killing of Alfonso. Her grief and upset against them irritated her father and he packed her off to the castle at Nepi, Alfonso was buried with almost indecent haste and following the funeral (at which Lucrezia was not present), Cesare visited his sister at Nepi. Did she forgive him straight away? Whatever the case, the two still remained exceptionally close for the rest of their lives.

For me, the marriage of Lucrezia and Alfonso is one of the saddest parts of Lucrezia's life. It is obvious that she doted on him, and he on her. That her brother could not see past this, caring only for his politics and his own jealousy is utterly heartbreaking. Whilst he may have loved his sister unequivocally, I honestly believe that the fact he could hurt his beloved sister so much shows that he believed politics and his own path to power was more important than her happiness. Whatever the case though, the murder of Alfonso only cemented the belief that Cesare Borgia was well on his way to becoming the most feared man in the whole of Italy.

Further Reading

Sarah Bradford - Lucrezia Borgia: Life, Love & Death in Renaissance Italy
Sarah Bradford - Cesare Borgia: His Life & Times
Johannes Burchard - At The Court Of The Borgia
Mary Hollingsworth - The Borgias: History's Most Notorious Dynasty
Christopher Hibbert - The Borgias & Their Enemies

Friday, 30 November 2012

Caterina Sforza Part 6 - The Siege of Forli

Gina Mckee as Caterina Sforza at the Siege of Forli

My last entry on Caterina Sforza was a while ago, and for that I apologise. The Renaissance in general has just taken over my life recently, and in particular the goings on in Florence as well as general Borgia stuff. So today, I thought I would combine Caterina Sforza and my most favourite of Borgia men - Cesare Borgia. Today's post is a rather big jump in time from my last entry which covered the events of 1488, the death of her husband and her holding of the fortress of Ravaldino against the Orsi family. Today we jump forward to 1499, and in particular December of that year, when Cesare Borgia rode into Forli and began to besiege the town.

On 19th December 1499, Cesare Borgia rode into the main square of Forli sat upon a white horse, his men carrying the banner of the Borgia Bull. Borgia had previously been a Cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church but after the unfortunate and untimely death of his brother Juan in June 1497 he was released from his vows. In 1498 he had travelled to France where he married Charlotte D'Albret and was given the Dukedom of Valentinois, which earned him the nickname of "Valentino". By the time Cesare had reached Forli in December 1499, he had already begun his quest to take over the States of the Romagna. The taking of Imola and Forli was the first step in this, and Imola proved no obstacle to Cesare. He took it without a problem on 11th December before riding to Forli which would prove an obstacle to the Captain General of the Papal armies. Why? Because Caterina Sforza was not going to give up her town without a fight. 

Paz Vega as Caterina Sforza in "Los Borgia"

Yet when Cesare entered the town on 19th December, he was so assured of victory that he rode with his lance at rest, a symbol of the victory he had supposed. He knew that Caterina would hold the castle, but the town proved to be no issue at all. He allowed his soldiers to do as they wished - plundering and raping - he made no effort to stop them despite the pleas from the townspeople, using the excuse that the soldiers were under the control of the King of France so he had no right to try and stop them. Instead, he promised the citizens of Forli that if he survived the upcoming battle with Caterina and her soldiers, he would give them back anything that they had lost due to the looting soldiers. 

But what were the reasons behind Cesare taking these cities? Not only did Cesare want these lands for himself, as a building block for his own principality but the Pope wanted to stamp out the resistance to papal rule. These lands were part of the Papal states and as such their rulers were required to pay an annual tithe to the Papal coffers. Alexander VI began to make out that these rulers hadn't been paying their tithes, and needed sorting out. Add into this an incident which would have turned rather nasty, and it ended up as a recipe for disaster. When Caterina first learnt that Pope Alexander was planning to confiscate her lands, she is said to have sent a messenger to Rome by the name of Tomasino de Forli. Johannes Burchard reported:

"On that evening (that Cesare left Rome), a certain Tomasino of Forli, one of the Pope's musicians, was seized with a companion and taken to the Castel Sant' Angelo where they were both imprisoned. Tomasino had come to Rome with some poisoned letters which he had rolled up in a reed to present to the Pope, on the excuse that they were petitions from the citizens of Forli seeking some reconciliation with His Holiness. Had the pope accepted the letters, he would, after a few days or even hours, with no hope of remedy, have succumbed and died...But the details of the conspiracy came to the pope's ears. On his orders, the two men were arrested and questioned, and they plainly confessed the whole plan."

Probably not Caterina's greatest moment, but she still refused to give up. And she had managed to rebuff Cesare on at least two occasions from the battlements of Ravaldino. On December 27th, having become frustrated by Caterina's refusal to listen to his demands and the growing respect that his troops were gaining for her, he ordered a tunnel be dug under the moat to the castle walls. He then ordered cannon to be placed around the keep of Ravaldino. He had had enough, and he would blast her out if he had to. 

Being given the poisoned letters in "Los Borgia"

On 28th December, Cesare gave the orders to begin bombarding the fortress of Ravaldino. The first phase of bombardment destroyed one of the fortresses defencive towers but Caterina still stood firm. She moved into the main keep and began returning fire, which devastated Cesare's troops and killed his artillery expert Constantino de Bologna. The death of this man really shook the morale of the troops and the french soldiers cried out that their king would give 10,000 ducats to bring Bologna back to life again. In the end, Cesare grew so desperate that he began offering a thousand ducats to any man who could bring him the corpse of Caterina's own artillery expert, or two thousand if the man was brought to him alive.

In a very clever ruse one January morning, a group of men dressed in cloaks came chanting through Cesare's camp. They said they were pilgrims on their way to Rome to celebrate the Holy Year and promised that they would pray for any who let them pass through in safety. The men made their way towards Ravaldino, the drawbridge came down and they went inside, giving Caterina another 40 men to defend the fortress. By now, the situation was getting dire for Cesare - he was waiting for money from his father to pay his troops and had received word that Giovanni Sforza had almost intercepted the chests of money. In response he concentrated all his firepower on the weakest section of the walls, the southernmost edge facing the mountains and he spent two days building trenches and fortifications to make sure he breached the wall. And as soon as the troops who had been inside the city returned from celebrating the feast of the epiphany, the assault began again. He battered the walls of the castle day and night, and slowly the walls began to crumble. But Caterina still held her ground, sending her men to try and repair the breaches as best as they could and worked at destroying the morale of Cesare's troops - even going so far as to paint insults on their own canon balls. But pieces of the walls kept on falling, creating a pathway across the moat.

On January 12th, the pay for his men had arrived and morale had stepped up when he offered incentives to his men if they worked harder to take the fortress. They threw everything they had at the now super weak wall, tearing a massive breach. The debris that fell from the widening hole in the wall made it too difficult for the defenders to repair it, as did well timed and well placed shots from Cesare's own cannon. Following a lunch with his commanders in which he boasted he would soon have Caterina in his hands, he issued an order to take the fortress. And as his men poured into the fortress, no shots greeted them, and the defenders did not even dare to greet Cesare's men head on. They had begun to desert their countess, and one brave man climbed to the top of the fortress to replace Caterina's standard with that of the Borgia bull. Forli now belonged to Cesare Borgia.

But Caterina still would not be beaten. She strode out of her keep and fought side by side with her remaining men. As her commanders fell around her, she fought her way back to the keep and locked the doors behind her. And she began to prepare for a siege. Cesare however, now fully confident of his victory had his trumpet signalled, calling Caterina out to him for the third and final time. He acted concerned, begged her to stop this madness. She replied that if he was so concerned he should show mercy to her townspeople. But before she could say anything more, a hand fell on her shoulders and she was told that she was now a prisoner of the lord of Dijon. She had been betrayed by men who had been inside the walls of her own keep. 

Cesare now bided his time before entering the keep properly, waiting for the last remnants of his enemies to be subdued. But once he entered, the french captain demanded his reward from Cesare for capturing the countess. Cesare ordered that the man be paid 2000 ducats but the captain replied that Cesare had publicly promised 10,000 ducats. The captain then threatened to slice Caterina's throat if the full amount was not paid. Yves D' Allegre also pointed out that under French law no woman could be held as a prisoner of war which was what she would be if she was handed over to the Borgia. Cesare insisted however that she be handed over to him for safe-keeping and promised that she would be kept safe. Once she had been handed over however, Borgia bustled her out of the keep and through the carnage surrounding her castle.

She would then be taken to Rome where she would be held as prisoner but not before, it is said at any rate, Cesare held her in the castle of a local nobleman and raped her. This part of her history, along with her imprisonment in Rome, however is the next part of her story. But for now, the famous Tigress of Forli had been beaten by the Borgia Bull.

Further Reading


Thursday, 29 November 2012

Borgia Season 1


As I sit here this morning, I am feeling rather sorry for myself. For the past two days I've been off work with a nasty sicky bug and so am sat here wrapped up in my PJs with a massive mug of tea. It's not helping much and I feel like I should still be hugging the bowl I was hugging for the entirety of yesterday. Now, I realise that's really too much information but it has a point. As I was curled up on the sofa last night, hugging my bowl and running off to the toilet every so often to make best friends with it, I decided to finish watching Borgia. Before I started watching this series, I will admit I was a little put off by some of the reviews I'd read and the things people told me - "don't watch it Sam, it's really inaccurate", "It has Cesare and Lucrezia incest". I wish I had gone into watching the series with my eyes open as when I started watching it, I really wanted to hate it. However, after a few episodes it really did begin to grow on me and a few episodes after that I really started to enjoy it.

So, Borgia itself is a French/German production that was shown in 2011 on Channel + and stars Mark Ryder as Cesare Borgia, Stanley Weber as Juan Borgia, Isolde Dychauk as Lucrezia Borgia and John Doman as Rodrigo Borgia. The story itself is, of course obvious - it is the story of the Borgia family, from Rodrigo Borgia's election to the Papacy in 1492 and onwards (I hope in future series) to the Pope's death and Cesare's own imprisonment and death. When I first began to watch the series I was a little unsure about the casting of the show, and the first thing that really got to me was the huge mix of accents - Rodrigo was American, Cesare was English (with the odd lilt of Irish coming through), Lucrezia German and Juan was French. It was kind of off putting for a while, but a few episodes in I was able to look past it. Other than this though, after a few episodes as well I found myself really liking some of the characters and really hating others - as you would expect in such a television programme. I had exactly the same issue when I watched The Borgias and Los Borgia, and I think when actors manage to make their viewers love the characters or hate them to such an extreme, then they are doing a good job.

Mark Ryder as Cesare

Mark Ryder is the young man playing Cesare Borgia (and I'm allowed to say young because I'm a little bit older than him!) and right from the get go you can really see that Ryder has done his utmost to step into Cesare's shoes and get right into the man's psyche. A consequent conversation with Mark Ryder on twitter the other evening lead to a discussion on books about Cesare which was awesome. Anyway, even in the first episode you can see the extreme emotions that haunt Cesare - one moment he can be having a laugh and the next he can be in a murderous rage, and these extremes get even worse as the series goes on, finishing up in Cesare committing murder right in front of his father and the college of Cardinal's and claiming that his name will echo throughout history and shouting that he is "CESARE BORGIA!" whilst just moments before he had been in floods of tears with his sister. In history, Cesare was well known for these extremes of emotion, I thought that Ryder did a really excellent job of showing this side of Borgia's personality. 

Isolde Dychauk as Lucrezia

Lucrezia is played by Isolde Dychauk. The character of Lucrezia in this was one that I started out really disliking, probably because her parts of the story were really quite inaccurate. Saying that though, by the end of the series I had begun to like her - you see Lucrezia go from this innocent young girl to a woman with her own thoughts and minds, to a woman who will do anything to protect her family. Although her story was hugely inaccurate, I really loved how the script showed her change. Plus, when you compare Isolde to the representation of Lucrezia in Pintruccio's murals, they really did a very good job in casting her. 

Marta Gastini as Giulia Farnese

The character of Giulia Farnese is the character who I probably hated the most in the whole series and right from the get go. Played by Marta Gastini, Giulia was shown as a nasty, manipulative little girl who came across as obsessed with keeping Pope Alexander to herself. In all of my reading on the Borgia family, I have come across very little on Giulia but what I did read pointed out that Giulia was actually quite a nice person and friends with Lucrezia. I have also never ready that Giulia used Pantisilea to try and manipulate Lucrezia and gain more love from Rodrigo. However Gastini did a really good job as coming across as nasty and manipulative and even though I despised her character, it takes a really good actress to make a viewer hate them quite that much.

John Bradley as Giovanni de Medici

Cardinal Giovanni de Medici played by John Bradley (Sam Tarley in Game of Thrones). I loved this casting from the outset. Giovanni de Medici was the son of Lorenzo the Magnificent and made a cardinal in 1492 and was known as a man who loved the pleasures of the table. Top notch casting here, and Bradley is a top notch actor too!

Mark Ryder as Cesare and Stanley Weber as Juan

Played by French actor Stanley Weber, I absolutely despised Juan Borgia in this adaptation. And I really think I was supposed to. Whereas in The Borgias I felt quite sorry for Juan, in Borgia I hated the man with a passion and thought he was the world's biggest derp. And it was awesome. Why? Because in history, Juan Borgia 2nd Duke of Gandia was a massive derp and a bit of a failure. There is no doubt that Cesare was the better man that he, and that if anyone should have been the one in Cardinal's robes, it was Juan. However, the series dealt with Juan's death really very well and (almost) sticks to the facts - you see him ride off in search of further pleasures with another man; and he is never seen again. His horse returns with the saddles cut, and a search begins in earnest. When they find his body floating in the Tiber with 9 stabs wounds and a slit throat, Pope Alexander flies into a paroxysm of grief and investigations begin into who killed Juan. Alright so in history we won't ever know who killed Juan, but historical investigation shows that the most likely candidate was the Orsini family who Juan really managed to piss off. It wasn't likely to have been Cesare but rumours abounded due to the apparent jealousy between the siblings; and whilst I was rather pleased they did not show Cesare offing his brother I was a little shocked that they showed Lucrezia as the guilty party. Still, well done to Weber for getting into the character of Juan and in my opinion, doing a damned good job of it!

John Doman as Rodrigo Borgia and Isolde Dychauk as Lucrezia

The last character I want to discuss in a bit more detail is Rodrigo Borgia/Alexander VI played by John Doman. When I first started watching the series I was a little taken aback by their portrayal of Rodrigo, mainly because of the whole accent thing. But like with many of the other characters, I soon found myself really liking their portrayal of him. He certainly looks a lot more like Pope Alexander than Jeremy Irons (although I adore Jeremy Irons as Pope Alexander and he's become affectionately known as "Pope Irons"). Yet again, the extremes of emotion showed by Doman were second to none and I particularly loved his show of grief after the death of Juan - it was so well done that it almost moved me to tears.

The sets during the show were also top notch. I was particularly impressed with their depiction of the Sistine Chapel:

The Sistine Chapel

Having been to the Sistine Chapel I was really rather impressed in the set used here. They even got the ceiling correct, which in 1492 hadn't been worked on my Michelangelo, rather it was painted blue with stars. The detail shown in the chapel was just stupendous. In fact, the majority of the sets were done in such a way right down to the CGI of what Rome would have been like in 1492.

A brilliant CGI rendering of Rome as it would have been in 1492

The old basillica of St Peters, not the one that exists today

Beautiful set pieces

Alessandro Farnese at Orvieto

The churches and chapels were superbly done

Another brilliant CGI rendering of the approach to Rome

The Colosseum

Laocoon and His Sons - this wasn't excavated until much later (and Michelangelo was present) but I thought it interesting they put this in the show. And the copy of this amazing work is second to none!

Whilst the historical accuracy of parts of this series leaves a lot to be desired, I have to say that I am very pleased that they got the chronology of what happened mostly correct. Of course, you need to leave room for dramatic license and I can understand this there were a couple of parts that made me shake my head. First of all, and probably the biggest crunch for me was Cesare leaving his young son on a mountainside to die - dramatic license yes, but I have no idea where the writers got this idea from. Secondly, Cesare being raped by Marc Antonio Colonna. Well done yes, and done for dramatic license but again, I have no idea where they got this from. In my opinion, it added nothing to the story as this never happened. In the same way, although this is a tad more understandable, they have Juan's death in 1493. This actually happened in 1497. I can however understand why they have done this and at least they didn't have it happen after events that Juan was never at anyway. Such as the Siege of Forli which happened in 1498 - although The Borgias had it happen much earlier with Juan at the head of the army. Didn't happen. These little things however are easily able to be overlooked and I am really glad that I decided to watch this show. I was rather disappointed by the make-out session between Cesare and Lucrezia though - although the script makes it clear that this is based on rumours so they might as well prove everyone right. Thankfully it didn't go very far but I was cringing throughout that entire scene (and as you will know I have fought the NO BORGIA INCEST fight for a while, so anything that shows it just makes me go all fhjsdkhfjsdfhsdkfdsk).

Excellent casting, beautiful costumes and a story that tries as best it can to stick to the historiography. I will most definitely be watching Season 2 when it comes out. If you're interested in the Borgia family and looking at watching something on the family for a bit of drama, then I would highly recommend this. It's not perfect of course, but they give it a damned good go. 7/10.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The Prince - Niccolo Machiavelli


I've had this sitting on my shelf for a while and never really gotten around to reading it until now. Honestly, I wish I'd sat down and read it before because this book is an absolute masterpiece. But first a little bit of background. The author of this work is one Niccolo Machiavelli, a Florentine diplomat and politician from the fifteenth century, born in 1469 and contemporary to such Renaissance greats as Lorenzo de Medici, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (more on him soon!) and Cesare Borgia. The Prince is a political treatise written by Machiavelli in around 1513 after his imprisonment and torture, which he began when he went into retirement at his farm near San Casciano. Shortly after his retirement here, in around 1520 he was commissioned to write a history of Florence by Cardinal Giovanni de Medici (later Pope Leo X) which was finished in 1525. Machiavelli died shortly after this, after a very brief return to public life, in 1527.


And so to this extraordinary work. I will be clear from the outset, The Prince is certainly not all kittens and rainbows. Far from it. It is in fact an essay on how a Prince should act to gain loyalty and keep it. He lists all the good points that Prince must have to gain his loyalty but then turns around and gives a list of points when a Prince must resort to cruelty to keep said loyalty; and he gives examples of both past and present (at least his contemporary) rulers and princes to back these points up. When this treatise was published (at least in the Penguin Classics version) it includes a letter of dedication to Lorenzo De Medici, aka "Il Magnifico" which states that:

"So, Your Magnificence, take this little gift in the spirit of which I send it; and if you read and consider it diligently, you will discover in it my urgent wish that you reach the eminence that fortune and your other qualities promise you."

When I read the Penguin Classics copy, I wondered how on earth Lorenzo could have dedicated the book to Lorenzo. Lorenzo de Medici when the man died in 1492. This comes across as a printing mistake, and it is more likely that Machiavelli dedicated it to Lorenzo de Piero de Medici, Pope Leo X's nephew and grandson of Lorenzo the Magnifence. 

The book itself, as previously mentioned is his summary of how Princes can gain and keep their power. And the great thing about this book is that Machiavelli bases his treatise on first hand experience. Many of his contemporary examples come from men who he has met in his own life and there is one man who crops up time and time again:

Cesare Borgia.


Cesare Borgia, son of Pope Alexander VI, would have been a well known entity to Machiavelli. During his life time, Machiavelli met and dealt with Cesare on many occasions and, it seems to me at the very least, held a hell of a lot of respect for Cesare Borgia. Machiavelli mentions Cesare at many points during his work and uses his example to justify his points. And throughout his work he makes the point that it is better for a man to be a risk taker to gain popularity, and also that if popularity is not gained then he should be a risk taker to remain respect. Cesare is used throughout the work to make this point.

"I will never fear to cite Cesare Borgia and his actions. The duke entered Romagna with auxiliary arms, leading wholly French troops, and with these he took Imola and Forlì. But, such arms not seeming secure to him, he turned to the mercenary ones, judging that there be less danger in them, and engaged both the Orsini and the Vitelli. Later, managing and finding them doubtful, unfaithful, and dangerous, he extinguished them and turned to his own. And one can easily see the difference between these arms, considering the difference between the duke's reputation, when he had only the French and when he had Orsini and Vitelli, and when he was left with his own soldiers and on his own: and always one will find it increased; never was he so esteemed as when everyone saw that he was the total owner of his arms"

Throughout the book you get constant mentions of Cesare and the method of "criminal virtue" that he used to gain his power. Alas, Machiavelli also mentions that Cesare - despite his brilliant methods of gaining and keeping power (such as taking the towns of the Romagna and taking power easily because the people hating their leaders) - failed because of a few very simple reasons; the death of his father Pope Alexander VI, and his trusting in the new Pope Julius II. Such a shame, had Cesare not trusted in Julis then he could have gone on and ruled the Romagna. Alas, his failure lead to his imprisonment and eventual death.

Of course, Machiavelli doesn't always use Cesare's example. Just most of the time. He also uses examples of other Italian rulers such as Caterina Sforza and also rulers from history - listing in turn what they did right and the methods that made them fall. And as I said earlier, he doesn't make it all kittens and rainbows. Oh no, he is really quite blunt with his conclusions. And for that I love him.

There is one other thing I want to mention before I wrap this review up - Machiavelli's "Prince" really did away with the morality of the time and pretty much gave instructions to those from his own time (and ours) of how to gain absolute power. Because of this, the man came to be thought of an an instrument of the devil. When you hear the phrase "Machiavellian tragedy" from Jacobean drama, this is what it points to - someone who endeavours to take absolute power, and because of this the man (despite his brilliance) was for a very long time regarded as an agent of the devil. Reading it myself however, I wonder why people thought this of him because his work makes a lot of sense to me - he recognised the complicated nature of the political life of the time and realised that life wasn't all kittens and rainbows. Machiavelli certainly was a man before his time, and I defy anyone to read this and reject his statements as his words reflect even to our present life.

The man was a genius, despite his own flaws, and his works should in my opinion be read by every one. It really is a masterpiece and a must read for anyone interest in the political happenings of Renaissance Italy.