Sunday, 31 March 2013

St Peter ~ Fact vs Faith

St Peter as Pope by Rubens

Happy Easter everyone! I hope you're all having a lovely weekend and eating lots of chocolate. Given the theme of the day and my love of Papal history, I thought I'd do a piece on the supposed first Pope of Rome - St. Peter. Just a warning, given who he is this post will inevitably have to contain some very religious imagery and bible quotes - however it is my aim to provide a post that concentrates more on who he was, and the theories over both how he died, and whether or not he was actually in Rome. It should be said also that there are many more questions than answers when it comes to St Peter - however the theories that surround his life and death are incredibly fascinating.

Religious tradition dictates that Peter, or Simon as he was known before Jesus gave him the name of Peter, was one of Jesus' 12 apostles. He was the first apostle to be chosen by Jesus, and pretty much his best friend and right hand man. Tradition also tells us that Peter was a fisherman from Galilee and introduced to Jesus through his brother Andrew. According to Roman Catholic tradition, Peter ended up coming to Rome after the crucifixion of Jesus and founding the Catholic church that we know today - indeed there are portraits of him everywhere, and the seat of Christendom in Rome is even named after him. But why is this? 

Who was Peter? Did he really go to Rome? Was he the first Pope? 

So why does the Catholic faith consider Peter to be their first Pope? The answer is really very simple here - In the gospel of Matthew (XVI, 18-9), Jesus says to Peter:

"Thou art Peter, and on this rock I will build my church...I give unto thee the keys to the kingdom of Heaven"

These few words, inscribed around the top of St Peter's basilica in Rome, have been the subject of much debate over the centuries. When these words were uttered, Peter was not a name at all but the Aramaic word kephas translated into Greek as Petros - whick means rock or stone. However, there are differences between the gospels about whether this was uttered at all - Mark and John both mention it, however John's is mentioned much later, suggesting that it was added in at a much later date. Matthew is the only one who puts a particular reason into the words stated while the other gospels disagree about whether this actually happened or not. 

It seems then, that the tradition that the church was founded on a rock (aka Peter) is pretty unlikely. Or is it? Tradition (I'm mentioning this word a lot, but there are reasons for it) states that Peter founded the church and so the Popes we know today are an infinite line of his successors. 

In the New Testament, Peter becomes somewhat of an enigma after the death of Jesus. Indeed it mentions relatively little of either his fate or the fate of St Paul. Early tradition states that they were both in Rome when the Great Fire raged through the city in AD64. Following the fire, Nero wanted to find someone to blame, and so blamed the Christians - he was well known for his hatred and persecution of Christians, and is particularly famous for his special human candles. Tacitus tells us that after the great fire, Christian's were covered with animal skins and torn apart by dogs, nailed to crosses or set on fire. It is said that both Peter and Paul were killed during these persecutions but the Acts of the Apostles are really quiet on this subject. St Luke, who we know went with Paul to Rome, doesn't even mention Paul's martyrdom. Surely he would have done if they were working together? All Luke mentions, in the last few lines, is that he stayed in Rome for two years. Peter disappears from the story half way through chapter XII when we are told that he "departed, and went to another place". So if both Peter and Paul were martyred, why doesn't Luke mention it. Yet again, more questions than answers come out of this. 

So Peter and Rome, then. Peter certainly had good reason to go to Rome, having been given his mission to spread the word of Jesus to the Jews. At the time he would have been in Rome, the majority of the Roman church was made up of Jews with 30-40,000 Jewish people living in the city at the time. But yet again, there is no evidence that Peter even went to Rome in the New Testament. When Paul wrote his epistle to the Romans in AD58, he didn't mention Peter at all and when, at the end he writes a list of names to who he's giving his greetings there's no mention of Peter. At all. So if he was in Rome, he can't have been there for very long. And those few years, if he was there, means that he wasn't there long enough to found the Roman Church which in any case has already existed for a good few years! As well as this, there is no contemporary reference to Peter being a bishop, or indeed of there being any bishop in Rome before the second century AD.

The Denial of St Peter by Caravaggio

What evidence is there though, that Peter was in Rome and met his fate at the hands of Nero's persecutors? The two most compelling pieces come from both Peter's own epistle, and a letter written by Clement (normally third or fourth in the list of Popes). In Peter's epistle, the penultimate verse states:

"She (the church) that is in Babylon...saluteth you."

But what does it mean? At the time, Babylon was a symbolic name for Rome and was used no less than four times in the Book of Revelation. The second piece of evidence comes from the letter written by Pope Clement in AD96 to the Church of Corinth. It seems that Clement knew Peter personally:

"Let us set before our eyes our good apostle Peter, who because of unrighteous jealousy suffered not one or two but many trials, and having thus given his testimony went to the glorious place which was his due."

Whilst written in a very roundabout way, this points to the fact that Peter suffered; that he was martyred - it doesn't mention the way it happened. Was he crucified? That's certainly what tradition (there's that word again) states that he was crucified upside down due to believing he wasn't worthy to die in the same way as Jesus. Clement then goes on to mention Paul in almost the same breath, and mentions Paul's martyrdom (beheading) which suggests that they met a similar fate. Alas, we will never be certain of how this happened. All we can be sure of is that by the middle of the second century AD, it was accepted that both Peter and Paul had been martyred in Rome. There were even two sites connected with their martyrdom. The one we are interested in is Vatican Hill, where Peter was said to have been martyred.

The Liberation of St Peter by Honthorst

In around 320AD, Emperor Constantine built the first St Peter's basilica upon Vatican Hill. Why? He was determined to build it there, on the site of an open cemetery that was full of bodies and ancient catacombs. As the basilica was being built, these graves and necropolis were destroyed. And all because Constantine wanted to build over the site where he was sure St Peter's bones lay. There is evidence too that suggests he was right! This is a piece of contemporary evidence from about AD200 in which the Roman historian Eusebius (quoting a Roman priest by the name of Gaius):

"If you go to the Vatican or to the Ostian Way, there you find the trophies (tropaia) of those who founded this church."

"Those who founded this church" is quite clear really, and it is the Vatican part of it we are interested in. We know Paul was executed on the Ostian Way so for the intents of this piece we can ignore it. The word tropaia refers to some sort of memorial to Peter that would have been visible on Vatican Hill. Excavations that took place after the Second World War at the Vatican actually found a two tiered three nieched construction known as an aedicula (normally used to hold sarcophagi), in front of which were earlier burials. This is actually incredibly significant. No sarcophagi were held in the aedicula so we have no way of knowing whether the burials were christian or pagan - what we do know is that bodies in Rome at that point were normally cremated, something which Christians did not do at the time. The aedicula held interred burials, human remains; in a corner of the cemetery which points to the fact it was an area of the cemetery reserved for those with different beliefs - probably Christians. There were also an unusually large number of votive coins found there, suggesting that this was a significant pilgrimage site. This is now believed to be the trophy mentioned by Gaius, and in the 1950's Pope Pius XII announced with confidence that this was the site of St Peter's burial. However there are some significant objections to this too:
  • Peter was an uneducated fisherman from Galilee - and special burial was saved for important prisoners. As a man, not a member of the gentry, his body would have been thrown into the Tiber along with the other common criminals. Thus his body would have been very difficult to get hold of.
  • If he did indeed meet his death during Nero's persecutions; given how Christians were executed at that time, his remains were even less likely to have survived.
So, does that mean this aedicula was more of a memorial than a mausoleum? Or were some of the human remains found actually the bones of Peter? And if so, was he buried there because of his work with Jesus even though he wasn't exactly highly sophisticated? If the remains did belong to Peter, then Matthew's testimony was correct - Peter really was a foundation stone of the church. Indeed the Roman Catholic Church believes it so wholeheartedly that they insist the line of Popes represent an uninterrupted line from St Peter even though, as we have already seen, Peter wasn't in Rome long enough to found the church and there's no evidence that says he was even a bishop.

The Crucifixion of St Peter by Caravaggio

It really is difficult to come to any sort of solid conclusions with the information that we have. We can be fairly certain that he went to Rome and that he was probably martyred upon Vatican Hill and buried there somewhere. It can also be concluded that the site of his burial was marked by the shrine that grew into the massively lavish basilica that we know today. We can also be certain that Peter did not found the Roman church and nor could he have possibly been a bishop - at least in the sense that we think of the bishop of Rome today. Given the evidence, Peter seems to have been in Rome for a very short time before his execution. It seems too that the reason the Church calls him the first Pope is when, in the second century AD the Roman church took primacy over the rest of the other churches, it looked for justification for its position of the head church. And sitting right there was Matthew XVI, 18 stating that Peter would be the rock upon which the church was built. And the church never looked back.

Peter himself seems to have lead an interesting life. It can be deduced from the gospels that he wasn't exactly hugely sure of himself, and he was rather inclined for violence, being the one who cut the ear off a guard during the arrest of his Master. It's also recorded that he often rowed with his fellow apostles. His denial of his Master could have been the end of his career, and even after this he remained unsure of himself. However, Peter was the main apostle, one of the first that Jesus chose and he was even the acknowledged leader of the disciples. His name is indeed always mentioned first out of all the group. He doesn't seem to have been hugely educated, no more educated than his colleagues and it is said that he had great difficulty in learning Greek later on in his life. He began his life as a simple fisherman from Galilee and was chosen by one of the most charismatic men history has ever known (Son of God or not, Jesus of Nazareth would have been an astonishing teacher ~ and it's generally accepted these days by historians that he did exist). It was Peter who first took Christianity to the gentiles, baptising them without forcing them to convert to Judaism. He was also imprisoned by Herod, although this was never properly explained. After he escaped, he left leadership of the church to James and took his mission to Asia Minor, ending up in Rome at some stage between AD60-65, where he is said to have been martyred by being executed upside down upon Vatican Hill. Why upside down? He didn't believe himself worthy to die in the same way as his Master. 

I'm not religious in the slightest, however I find the life of St Peter hugely fascinating. Whilst the theories over his life and death give more questions than answers, it's so interesting to compare fact and faith. Peter seems to have been an incredibly charismatic man, a man who was unsure of himself and lacked self belief, yet he overcame it and did great things for a man he considered his best friend. That best friend being Jesus, who whether he was the Son of God and a miracle worker or not, was one of the most charismatic teachers of his time. I didn't write this blog to spark religious debate, but I hope I've at least gone into some of the theories over St Peter's life and his death and I hope you find it as interesting as I do.

Further Reading

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

And Now For Something Completely Different...

It's taken me a while to get to this, due to various bits and pieces going on. I woke up this morning and found a comment from the lovely Anna Belfrage nominating me for a blogger award. This has put a massive smile on my face after a particularly difficult few weeks. The premise of the whole thing is to nominate inspiring blogs for the award, and answer a few questions about yourself in the process. Thank you for nominating me, Anna - here we go!

1. Display the logo on your blog. 
2. Link back to the person who nominated you. 
3. State 7 things about yourself. 
4. Nominate 15 other bloggers for the award. 
5. Notify your nominees.

I've done the first two, so on with the seven random facts.
  1. I have type 1 diabetes, and we're coming up to the 18th anniversary of my diagnoses.
  2. I really regret my decision to not carry on with history while I was doing my degree. In my first year I did a joint honours with archaeology but alas when it came to the second year, I decided to go for single honours archaeology.
  3. I am thus, a trained archaeologist. I've done loads of awesome digs both for research and commercial contract purposes - two Roman villas, a leper hospital, Tudor House in Southampton and a random building site - my commercial contracts were the best jobs I've ever had.
  4. I used to be in a rock band. We were truly awful, but playing in front of two packed auditoriums and a pub packed to the rafters was absolutely amazing!
  5. As well as the diabetes, I also have coeliac disease and diabetic nueropathy. Because of all this, I take enough tablets to make my stomach rattle!
  6. I adore wine and consider myself something of a connoisseur of the stuff. I completely blame my parents for this as they're wine nuts themselves (and that I blame on their impending move to Portugal where the wine is amazing, and super cheap!).
  7. I'm a tad obsessed with Monty Python, and can quote both Life of Brian and The Holy Grail almost word for word.
I'm now supposed to nominate 15 blogs who deserve this award. But if I'm honest every blog I read deserves it, as they're all inspirational in their own right. I would like to mention a few blogs that are my particular inspirations:
  • Three Pipe Problem - This blog is absolutely amazing, and all about the Renaissance and art history. Please do check it out as it's one of my favourite blogs out there!
  • Madame Guillotine - Does Melanie need any other introduction? She's just brilliant!
  • The frenetic fox - I consider Claire one of my best friends, and her blog is brilliant! Although not history related, it's certainly worth a read!

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Cesare Borgia's Sword Scabbard - And A Trip To The British Museum

It's long been a dream of mine to look upon Cesare Borgia's sword and the scabbard that went with it. And when I found out that the scabbard was on display at the Victoria & Albert museum in London, I knew I had to go. Yesterday morning, after three and a half hours sleep, I got up and dragged myself and my partner off to London. Let me tell you now, wandering around London on just three and a half hours of sleep isn't a good idea, I was completely exhausted and could barely keep my eyes open. But then, when we got to the Victoria & Albert and saw the scabbard; everything was worth it.

When I saw it, I will admit that I squeaked rather loudly. I'd say it was embarrassing but really, I honestly didn't care. And it seemed to amuse the gallery attendant as I knelt in front of the case examining this beautiful artifact and wiped away my tears. Now I know you'll all think me incredibly sad but sitting in front of this beautiful piece of leather work made me really emotional - the thought that this had been made for Cesare Borgia, and that he had likely held it in his hands was just completely overwhelming. Some will wonder why I get so emotional over a man who had been so ruthless, but having studied him and his family for so long I have the utmost respect for the man who was so ruthless that he took over the whole of the Romagna with ease, yet loved his family more than life itself (But not in THAT way!). And seeing it there, something that was his, something that belonged to a man who I have found interesting for so long and read so much about, it was just simply amazing.

The scabbard itself is beautifully decorated:

On the front there are a number of images. At the top you can see a triumphal arch, under which a group of worshippers sacrifice a ram to either Venus or the Goddess of Peace. At the top of the Triumphal Arch there is an inscription in Latin: "Materium Superabit Opus" which means "Toil will tame the material" - a motto which really fits Cesare, the man who overtook the Romagna with ease, and tamed the people of each city he took over by being both ruthless and fair (Read The Prince by Machiavelli to understand exactly how this worked with Cesare). Beneath this you can see an Imperial Eagle, flanked with scrolls. This points back to Cesare's respect and love for his namesake Caesar (Julius Caesar). The Imperial decoration continues and you can see where it was marked out however this was unfinished. On the reverse, not easily seen in the museum, there are the monograms of Caesar as well as groups of three flames which was the personal impressa of Cesare. There is also a damaged coat of arms (very likely the Borgia coat of arms) flanked by cupids and the Goddess of Peace. 

Image from the Victoria & Albert Museum

The symbolism on the scabbard blew me away. Each image would have been placed there to reflect the mindset of its owner, that mindset being of the ruthless Cesare Borgia. I was completely stunned by the amount of Imperial imagery on the sword, reflecting the personal motto of Cesare; "Aut Caesar, Aut Nihil" - he had the utmost respect for Julius Caesar, and it seems almost hero worshipped him; from all my readings on Cesare it really seems as though he aspired to the same level of brilliance as Caesar.

I wish I could have spent more time with the scabbard, examining it in detail. Unfortunately, due to how fragile the piece is it would have been impossible to handle it (and I did ask when I emailed the museum a few months back). You can really see how fragile it is when you look at it, the back is split, as is the top, and this is likely why it was unfinished. During my research I found something interesting - after it was brought by the museum in 1869 it was described in a report to the Science and Art board as the "finest piece of art in leather ever known" and I can really see now how true that is. I don't think I've seen such a beautiful piece of leather work! Alas, due to what is likely a defect in the leather (the splits in the back) it never would have been worn by Cesare - had it been, it would have been a ceremonial scabbard. As he was a nobleman, Cesare would have worn a sword at most times (his sword, inscribed with his motto is currently in Rome), and such lavishly decorated scabbards would have been a usual sight in the noble courts of Rome. What's funny about this though is that the scabbard suits the shorter blade of the Cinquedea sword, which was a sword much more suited to combat - and indeed his sword is a short bladed Cinquedea. Is this Cesare once more showing the people that he's not a man to be messed with in any situation? It's certainly interesting to think about, I only wish that I could have found a little more information on this piece in the museum book shop. Alas, I could find nothing - I'll have to keep trawling online!

Looking a little emotional there...

After tearing myself away, ever so emotional, we decided to head to the British Museum for the afternoon. After a rather nice lunch in the little pub just opposite the museum we headed over there, and as we were walking in we spotted musician Gareth Malone! I think I might have scared him a little when I squeaked "It's that bloke from the telly!" - we didn't stop him, instead I stuck my head down and shuffled past embarrassed. Oops. 

Below are a few photos of my favourite pieces from the British Museum:

The Rosetta Stone - I spent a while stood here, explaining to my partner just how important this artifact is.

This beautiful statue of Venus once belonged to Sir Peter Lely (court painter of Charles II)

This isn't a very good picture, but this is basically a carved piece of Ivory dating to the thirteenth century. It shows images of the Passion, and Christ's crucifixion.

These are little reliquary boxes dating to the C13/14 - build to hold tiny relics such as sherd's of the True Cross, or a Holy Thorn.

The famous image of Christ from Hinton St Mary. Behind him you can see the Chi-Ro symbol, an early symbol of Christianity.

Ginger, the predynastic mummy. I love this guy, having spent a lot of time researching him at University. He's basically a natural mummy, the heat of the sand from his grave naturally dessicating his skin and giving him remarkable preservation.

Pieces from the Sutton Hoo ship burial.

Turquoise snake from the Aztec exhibition.

All in all, a fantastic day. And I might have spent a fortune in the B.M book shop. Oops!

Cesare's scabbard is currently on display in Room 62 of the Victoria & Albert Museum, South Kensington, London.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Review: The Chalice by Nancy Bilyeau

In the next novel from Nancy Bilyeau after her acclaimed debut The Crown, novice Joanna Stafford plunges into an even more dangerous conspiracy as she comes up against some of the most powerful men of her era. In 1538, England is in the midst of bloody power struggles between crown and cross that threaten to tear the country apart. Joanna Stafford has seen what lies inside the king’s torture rooms and risks imprisonment again, when she is caught up in a shadowy international plot targeting the King. As the power plays turn vicious, Joanna understands she may have to assume her role in a prophecy foretold by three different seers, each more omniscient than the last. Joanna realises the life of Henry VIII as well as the future of Christendom are in her hands—hands that must someday hold the chalice that lays at the centre of these deadly prophecies…

A while ago I read Bilyeau's debut novel "The Crown" and was hugely impressed, which was a bit of a big thing for someone who was suffering with Tudor Fatigue. So when I was approached to review her second book, I jumped at the chance. The Chalice follows on with Joanna Stafford's story, and is set during the torrid period of the Reformation.

I don't want to give too much away and spoil the story for people (because if there's one thing I myself don't like, it's spoilers!), but Joanna finds herself involved in yet more conspiracies to try and bring the True Faith back to England. It involves visits to famous seers - and I will mention just one name; Sister Elizabeth Barton - and yet again prophecy plays a huge role in the story. It really is a story full of both political and religious twists which prove for riveting reading. We see the return of characters we have both loved (Joanna Stafford, the monks and nuns of Dartford priory and everyone's favourite constable, Geoffrey) and hated (Gardiner) as well as many new faces including Catherine Howard!

As in The Crown, Bilyeau's writing style means that the story reads almost flawlessly. The narrative really makes the reader throw themselves into the story, and makes it so the book is really difficult to put down. I was really very impressed with Bilyeau's writing (As I was in The Crown), and honestly can't recommend this book highly enough. There is just one thing about the story that really niggled me though, and that was the constant mention of the Borgias and their poisoning technique - as it would do, considering as how that family are my specialism and I'm always found fighting their corner - it was really difficult for me to put myself in the situation that those in the sixteenth century would have been in. Anti-Borgia propaganda would have been prevalent back then, and the myths that the family were corrupt poisoners would have been rife. Still, every mention of their evil riled me up a little (a lot), but I can let it pass given how people would have thought back then (I know its a niggly point, but I can't help it).

All in all, an absolutely fantastic read and one I would wholeheartedly recommend! Please do check it out! I'll be looking out for her next book with interest!

The Chalice can be found on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Please do follow Nancy on twitter, and also check out her website.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

The Death of Cesare Borgia

Cesare Borgia

506 years ago today, one of the greatest military commanders that Italy had ever seen was killed at the Siege of Viana. On 12th March 1507, Cesare Borgia rode to his death following a life of extraordinary feats - son (possibly, please see this post for more information on that) of a Pope, the first man ever to resign from the College of Cardinals, Gonfalonier and commander of the Papal armies; he died as he had spent most of the final years of his life, alone. As I'm sure many of my readers are aware, I have the greatest respect for Cesare Borgia and am a huge advocate of dismissing the terrible rumours that surround his life - and so today I will write about his death, the circumstances surrounding it and how its wider effects.

Sergio Peris-Mancheta as Cesare in Los Borgia

Having escaped from his imprisonment in Spain, Cesare headed to Navarre where he joined forces with his father in law Jean D'Albret. There, he spent his time fighting with Jean and helping the King of Navarre besiege various towns. There is a fantastic story in which an old man remembered Cesare passing through the town of Mendigorria at the head of a massive army. The old man spoke of how Cesare was, "a big man, strong, handsome, and soro" (Soro is an untranslatable word used to describe young falcons). It is said that Cesare carried a particular weapon which is incredibly unusual, but mentioned many times by other chroniclers who described Cesare's time in Navarre - a short, thick, double pointed lance. Cesare Borgia, a man who had been imprisoned and suffered great hardship since 1503, was back in the saddle and at the height of health and fitness.

During the first week of March, Cesare joined up with King Jean of Navarre at the town of Viana. The plan was to besiege and take the town from Luis de Beaumonte, a man who held the town on behalf of the Spanish monarchs. Considering as how this town was in the kingdom of Navarre, King Jean wanted the town back in his control and Cesare, the man who had made the Romagna fall to his knees, would have found the town and its castle an easy target. It seems however that Cesare was overconfident and the wariness he was so famous for when it came to warfare had relaxed. In a way, the events of the next few days were somewhat inevitable, given the overconfidence of Borgia, and the lack of experience he had in commanding a fully trained army rather than paid mercenaries.

Mark Ryder as Cesare in Borgia: Faith & Fear

On the night of 11th March, Cesare withdrew his troops into the safety of the town due to a harsh rainstorm. He didn't think that Beaumonte would attack during such bad weather, but this was a mistake and Beaumonte had been waiting for Cesare to make such a move. Under the cover of darkness, Beaumonte lead mules into the town - they were loaded with flour and bread and escorted by 200 lances. They entered the castle unnoticed. At dawn the next day, they noticed a body of cavalry approaching and thought they were reinforcements and so raised their cry. As the words "Beaumonte, Beaumonte!" were cried, the alarm was raised in the town.

Despite the confusion, Cesare leapt onto his horse dressed in light armour and rode out of the town with seventy horseman and his squire, Grasica. He left a note for King Jean to follow. Accounts of what happened during the next few hours conflict quite a lot, but it seems as Cesare galloped out of the Solana gate his horse slipped in the mud and almost fell. Cesare gained control of the horse and rode out of the town shouting:

"Where is he, this little Count?"

Cesare out rode his men, and caught sight of the Beaumonte soldiers as they were retreating to where Beaumonte waited for them. And Cesare Borgia, who had out ridden his men, did not realise he was alone. And as Beaumonte observed the lone horseman galloping forward with his unusual double pointed lance, he sent forward three of his best knights. These men included Garcia de Agreda and Pedro de Allo as well as some foot soldiers. These men waited in ambush, and as Cesare approached they fell upon him. As Cesare raised his arm to strike, Ximenes Garcia stabbed him with a lance under the arm, at the point unprotected by his armour.

Cesare fell from his horse, mortally wounded, yet he still had hold of his lance. He fought desperately, something that is shown fantastically in the Spanish movie "Los Borgia", but it wasn't long until he fell, completely overwhelmed by his attackers.

Cesare's death: Los Borgia

Cesare's death: Los Borgia

Cesare's death: Los Borgia

As he lay there, dead of his wounds, Cesare Borgia was stripped of his armour and left there naked and bleeding. One of the men, it is unknown which, had the decency to cover his genitals with a rock. Later, when his body was examined, at least twenty five stab wounds were found. It was just three days short of the Ides of March when he died, the day that had proven to be fateful to his hero Caesar. It seems that the men who attacked him were completely unaware that it was Cesare Borgia whom they had killed. Cesare's squire, Juanito grasica was found desperately searching for his master and when he was shown the armour that was taken, he burst into tears. It was at that moment that the attackers realised who they had killed. Beaumonte erupted in a rage. He had lost a valuable prize, for the price that was on the head of Duke Valentino alive was a high one. But nothing could be done, and so Beaumonte lead the squire to where Cesare's corpse lay. King Jean of Navarre had Cesare's body carried to Viana.

Cesare Borgia, Duke of Valentinois and the Romagna; ex cardinal and son of Pope Alexander VI was buried in the parish church of Santa Maria in Viana. He was just thirty one when he was killed, and by the time of his death had achieved more than most men of his age ever had. He was buried in an elaborate marble tomb with the inscription:

"Here, in a scant piece of earth, lies he whom all the world feared"

It has since been suggested that Cesare deliberately rode out to his death in a sort of suicidal charge. Historians have previously argued that it was the syphilis that made him do this, that it had affected his brain so much that it made him go mad. However, Bradford has argued that by the time of his death it is more than likely that he was cured of the disease thanks to the malarial fever that he suffered in 1503. Plus, the final stages of syphilis can take up to 25 years to appear, and when he died in 1503 it would have been just 9 years since he first contracted the disease. There is also no evidence of madness in the lead up to his death. Had Cesare given up hope and ridden to his own death? It is unlikely for even under the bleakest of circumstances he had never lost hope. So why should he have done so now? Yet it is impossible now to arrive at the real reasoning behind his death - had he just gotten carried away and ridden out faster than his men, or had he indeed gone mad? Was he bored of being stuck in a little war which he believed meant nothing? Indeed, Cesare died alone - mostly as he lived. He had spent so many years fighting the odds and succeeding, and he may well have succeeded here - for he had a huge sense of his own destiny and of fortuna. He had such a lust for power and was prepared to sacrifice everything to succeed. Yet despite his single handed desire to succeed, and to rule, he failed. He was blessed with his desire to succeed, he was ruthless and in many ways amoral but in the same way he was also bordering on genius. And had he lived, he could have ruled the whole of Italy, if not the world.

There were not many who mourned Cesare's passing. The main few were the three women in his life: Charlotte D'Albret, Lucrezia Borgia and Vanozza Cattanei. Charlotte ended up spending the rest of her life in mourning, dressing in black and replacing the decorations of her home with black hangings. Lucrezia also sank into a massive mourning process - the two had been exceptionally close and been subject to horrific rumours that they had been lovers. His mother, Vanozza, also mourned him deeply. Cesare had always respected his mother greatly and after his death ended up contributing charitably to various religious institutions - so much so that Pope Leo X, Cesare's fellow student at the University of Pisa, demanded that his entire court attend her funeral.

Cesare's body was moved outside the church of Viana after the Bishop of Calahorra destroyed his tomb. His body remained under a pavement until 27 August 1945 when a grave was opened in front of the steps of the church. There, a human body was found - it was incomplete and mixed with the bones of a child as well as domestic animals. The body was lifted out and the bones examined. Experts deduced that the skeleton was of a man aged between twenty five and forty years of age, and had lain in its grave for at least two hundred years. The bones showed clear evidence of a wound at least two centimetres in diameter which had happened while the man was still alive. It was deduced that the skeleton did indeed belong to Cesare Borgia, the lance wound fitting to the stories of his death. Shoulder wounds were also found on the skeleton, which fitted to his fall from when he escaped La Mota. In 1953, the bones were reinterred inside the church in Viana with considerable ceremony, permission having been given for Cesare Borgia's reburial.

Cesare Borgia, if indeed the bones do belong to him, was reburied in front of the main door of the church of Santa Maria. Above his grave lies a simple slab reading "Cesar Borgia, Generalisimo of the Navarrese and Pontifical armies died in the fields of Viana 12 March 1507". There he lies to this day, his simple grave still able to be viewed by the curious tourist. Next to the church is a bronze bust of Cesare which stands in the middle of a little park next to the church in Viana.

Cesare Borgia died alone, just three short days before the death of his hero, Caesar. Yet he lived by his motto "Aut Caesar, Aut Nihil", and it really rings true in the lead up to his death. "Either Caesar, Or Nothing". Whilst many still believe Cesare Borgia to be the big, bad villain; if you study his life in depth he really wasn't the monster that many still make out. 

Rest in peace Cesare Borgia, duca de Valentinois é la Romagna. I shall raise a glass of wine to you this evening.

Further Reading