Thursday, 31 January 2013

The Borgia Apartments In The Vatican

The Disputation of St Catherine - Pinturicchio

After Rodrigo Borgia became Pope in 1492, he planned a whole new set of rooms for his personal use. These rooms still exist today, and in them survive a fascinating insight into the Borgia mindset. The walls are covered in frescoes of the Borgia bull, and the entire set of apartments show the Spanish roots of the new Pope - the floor tiles were imported especially from Spain, giving the rooms a completely Spanish look, and mixed in with the frescoes of the Borgia bull are are representations of the Aragonese double crown, to which they added sun rays or flames mixed in a grazing bull.

The Borgia Bull, Borgia Apartments (picture by me)

The Borgia Bull and the Aragonese Crown, Borgia Apartments (picture by me)

Spanish Tiles, Borgia Apartments (picture by me)

Borgia Coat of Arms, Borgia Apartments (picture by me)

As can be seen from the pictures above, Pope Alexander made sure the family device was everywhere - gilded Borgia bulls on the ceiling in a repeated pattern with the Aragonese arms, Spanish tiles all over the floors as well as gilded stucco frames around the frescoes. The entire space was created to reflect the pride Alexander felt in his family name, pride at their Spanish origins and the huge ambition that he had for himself and his family.

Quite possibly, the most impressive monument to the Borgia family surviving in those set of rooms hidden away in the Vatican (and used to house a contemporary art gallery, I wasn't too impressed with that!) are the frescoes that surround the walls of the main room.

The Disputation of St Catherine, Pinturicchio (Picture by me)

After his election to the Chair of St Peter in 1492, Pope Alexander hired Bernadino di Betto di Biagio (better known as Pinturicchio) to paint his new apartments. Pinturicchio was an incredibly talented artist from Sienna, and one of the most sought after artists in his day and had even assisted in the painting of the Sistine Chapel. And whilst some weren't all that impressed with his works, the Pope certainly was.

The most famous fresco is the one shown above: The Disputation of St Catherine. And it is the biggest testament to the Borgia family in the room, simply because it contains images of the Borgia family. Most are dressed in the Turkish fashion whilst St Catherine (Said to be an image of Lucrezia, and I have to say I agree wholeheartedly) argues against the Pagan emperor. 

The entire image is full of imagery - in the centre stands a triumphal arch based on the Arch of Constantine and sat atop it is the Borgia bull. The arch of Constantine is an incredible monument to Christianity - the arch itself (still standing outside the Colosseum) was built as a celebration of Constantine's victory at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge which established Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire. In essence, it's place in the painting is saying that the Borgia family are as important to Christianity as Constantine was - reinforced by the Borgia bull sat right on top of said arch. And not only are members of Alexander's family depicted (Lucrezia, Cesare, Juan, Joffre and Sancia) but also other members of the papal entourage and it is said, though I haven't yet found a source for this and will update as and when I do, that the man sat in the chair is actually a self portrait of Pinturicchio himself.

As for the imagery of the family, the main figure in the painting is St Catherine. She is portrayed as blonde, the known hair colour of Lucrezia Borgia, and this image has long been traditionally held as an image of Lucrezia although there is, of course, no certainty of this.

Detail of St Catherine showing the supposed figures of Lucrezia and Cesare (Picture by me)

The figure behind her, dressed in Turkish robes and glaring out, is said to be an image of Cesare Borgia while the figure on the left hand side (the right as we look at it) is traditionally held to be an image of Juan Borgia, second Duke of Gandia.

Detail of the figure said to be Juan Borgia in The Disputation of St Catherine

The two diminutive figures at the front of the painting are said to be of Joffre Borgia and his wife, Sancia of Aragon.

Figures said to be of Jofre Borgia and Sancia of Aragon from The Disputation of St Catherine

Pope Alexander himself is not shown in the Disputation of St Catherine. He is however shown in the fresco "Resurrection", in which he witnesses the Resurrection of Christ during a moment of prayer. He has his hands clasped in prayer, dressed in embroidered robes and his papal tiara on the floor before him. Pinturicchio also painted another portrait of Alexander above a doorway adoring a beautiful virgin who, according to Vasari was given the face of Giulia Farnese. This portrait however was destroyed when the room it was in, was destroyed for other building works.

The Resurrection by Pinturicchio

Detail of Pope Alexander VI, Pinturicchio

In all then, the Borgia apartments are a testament to the sheer self belief of the Borgia family, their belief in unbridled power and the pride that Alexander felt in his family origins. 

And one last picture from my visit last year, though this could have been carved at an point throughout the room's history - a gaming board carved into a windowsill which I found to be incredibly interesting. I have no idea how the game was played but it certainly looks interesting!

Random gaming board in the Borgia Apartments (Picture by me)

Further reading

Sunday, 27 January 2013

100,000 page views giveaway extravaganza!

I'm getting rather excited by the fact that we're inching ever closer to hitting 100,000 page views. And so, I thought I would announce a bit of a giveaway! I'm not only giving away one thing, oh no. Not one thing, but two! You lucky lot!

First of all, I shall be giving away a copy of "The Deadly Sisterhood" by Leonie Frieda - I've recently started reading this brilliant tale of women in the Renaissance and I have to say, it's absolutely brilliant! Frieda concentrates on a handful of women who lived during the Renaissance, all of whom had power and influence - Lucrezia Tournabuoni, The D'Este sisters, Lucrezia Borgia and Caterina Sforza. A fantastic read for anyone interested in the women of Renaissance Italy.

As well as this, I shall also be giving away a beautiful silver plated pendant featuring Lucrezia Borgia and a portion of a love letter written to her from Pietro Bembo. I found this beautiful pendant whilst browsing Etsy, and the person who made this lovely pendant has also made a huge selection of other ones too. Please do check out the shop. Now, I have just ordered this pendant but as it's coming from the United States it may take a while - but as soon as I receive it I shall pop it right back in the post for the lucky winner.

So what do you have to do to be in with a chance of winning? 

All you have to do is like the facebook page here! And once we've rolled over the magic 100,000 pageviews mark, I shall use a random number generator to pick the winner! Good luck!

There's also another very special announcement coming, I hope, very soon. Watch this space for details! I'm absolutely bursting to tell you all what it is but I've been sworn to secrecy!

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Cesare Borgia's Spanish Imprisonment

The castle of Chinchilla, Spain

Towards the end of 1503, after the death of his father and a particularly virulent illness, Cesare Borgia found himself faced with the election of one of his family's worst enemies as Pope. Giuliano della Roverre was elected to the chair of St Peter's in the October of 1503 and took the name of Pope Julius II. And Cesare had a decision to make - was he to support the new Pope, or would he continue with the enmity? Indeed, Borgia made a last minute decision during the conclave of 1503 to support della Roverre's election as Pope which he has received criticism for by many both at the time but there really wasn't much he could have done; the majority of the cardinal's in the conclave supported della Roverre and even had Borgia tried to block his election, it would have had little to no effect at all. Cesare tried to make a sensible move, extract promises out of the man who would be Pope before his election to ensure his safety and to keep hold of his lands and titles, knowing that della Roverre was a man who kept to his word.

It was probably the biggest mistake that Cesare Borgia ever made.

In the early months of his reign as Pope, Julius made an outward show of cordiality towards Cesare which the young Duke Valentino took at face value, needing to believe that every word Julius spoke was sincere. And to start with it seemed as if Cesare had made the right decision as two days after his election, Julius wrote to the people of Faenza asking them to obey Cesare as their leader. Cesare believed that the Pope was desperate to recover the states of the Romagna, to bring them back into the Papal fold after all hell had broken lose during Cesare's illness - and more importantly Cesare still held several key fortresses in the Romagna, which he knew would be incredibly important to the Pope. Borgia believed that this would keep him safe, and in the Pope's good books. Moreover, the people who lived in the towns where Cesare still held onto his fortress were still loyal to him. He began to make plans to leave for the Romagna as soon as Julius has reinvested him as Gonfalonier of the Papal armies. Julius, however, held back - he knew Cesare could easily cause a lot of trouble for him despite the fact he was considered as one of the greatest soldiers of the time. And by the second week of November 1503, Cesare began to notice that Julius' attitude towards him was hardening.

On the 11th November, in an interview with Giustinian, it became all too clear exactly how Julius felt towards Cesare Borgia and the Romagna:

"We do not wish that he [Cesare] should persuade himself that we will favour him, nor that he shall have even one rampart in the Romagna, and although we have promised him something, we intend that our promise should extend only to the security of his life and of the money, and goods which he has stolen".

As the political sands began to shift and fall away beneath his feet, the situation began to take its toll on his mental state - something which had never been all that stable to begin with. During a meeting with Cesare in the first week of November, Niccolo Machiavelli found a completely different man to the man he had known in the Romagna. Cesare Borgia was now uncertain of himself, no longer self controlled or masterful and would burst into fits of bitter, hysterical anger. According to Machiavelli, he burst out on a tirade against Florence, blaming the Florentines for not supporting him and said that Florence would be ruined and he would laugh at the city when it fell - Machiavelli recorded that, "He went on at length with words full of poison and anger".

On 9th November, Julius confirmed to Cesare that he would be re-investing him as Gonfalonier yet despite promising Cesare that he would bring it up in the consistory, he didn't say a word. Hiding his disappointment, Cesare began getting his troops together to leave for the Romagna. He had his troops and began trying to sort out safe conduct for him and his army. He needed safe conduct through Florence, but Florence were seriously terrified of the famous Valentino and had vowed never to let him into Tuscan territory ever again following his previous behaviour. They refused him safe conduct, and he received the news on the 14th and finally began to realise that Florence and Julius were working against him. The bubble of hope he had built up around himself was now completely shattered, and he fell into one of his famous depressions and it is likely that he had a serious breakdown - men who saw him during that period noticed the change in him. His own friend, the Cardinal of Elna told an envoy, "he believed the Duke to be out of his mind: not knowing what he wanted to do, he was confused and irresolute". It is said to that at this point, when Machiavelli heard about it, he wondered whether he had been wrong about Cesare Borgia all along, and asked whether the image of the strong Duke Valentino had been nothing more than a mirage and that he could not decide, "whether he was so by nature or whether these blows from Fortune have stunned him, and since he in unaccustomed to receive them, his mind is confused". Indeed his behaviour in another interview with Machiavelli only proved his fragile state of mind. Cesare raged against Machiavelli, threatening Florence with employing all the friends he had left to do the city harm.

The once confident Duke was now on a road that he saw no other way of getting out of, blundering his way down it because he could see no other way out. He needed to get to the Romagna, and had already sent his cavalry ahead through Tuscan territory despite not having safe conduct. Without self conduct, the way through Tuscany was blocked to him and that route was the only feasible way to get there across land and he certainly couldn't go through Urbino. The best idea would have been to stop planning altogether, but he didn't. He hadn't given up his will to fight and couldn't bear to think of letting go of his lands in the Romagna. And so, he made the decision to make the trip by sea, and thus headed to Ostia.

Yet as he was there waiting to take his boat, news reached Rome that made Julius realise the Romagnol lands needed to be placed into the hands of the church. Faenza had fallen to the Venetians, and the Pope needed those lands in his control. On 21st, a message was sent to Cesare ordering him not to leave and on 22nd Cardinal's Soderini and Remolines arrived in Ostia, demanding that Cesare give up his fortresses. Cesare, of course, refused - it threw Julius into one of his famous rages and he sent a message demanding Cesare's arrest.

By 29th November, Cesare was back in Rome under heavy guard. He was lodged in the apartments that had once been his own (now the famous Raphael rooms) and it was to be the start of a long game of cat and mouse in which Julius would demand Cesare's fortresses and Cesare would refuse. On 1st December, Cesare received news that his executioner Micheletto had been arrested and the news broke Cesare, destroying his hopes and his will to resist anything else - he even turned to Guidobaldo de Montefeltro, one of his long term enemies in his desperation to find a friend. In a meeting between the two, Cesare fell to his knees before Montefeltro, cursing his father for making him take the duchy of Urbino and Montefeltro raised Cesare to his feet embracing him kindly. Cesare promised to return the goods stolen from Urbino and also handed over the passwords to some of his castles in the Romagna. In return, Cesare got promises from the Pope of his liberty. This never happened. Instead he was kept to his apartments, and his enemies swarmed around him, demanding reparations for all the damages he had done to them.

On 20th December, after Julius flew into another of his rages, Borgia was locked in the famous Torre Borgia. This must have been a bit of a blow to Cesare as the very rooms he was locked in were the ones in which he had ordered Alfonso D'Aragona to be strangled. Cesare was thrown into the Torre due to Diego Ramires refusing to hand over the castle of Cesena. Ramires sent a message to the Pope, saying that as long as Cesare was imprisoned, they would never hand the castle over to his enemies. Despite being thrown into the Torre, Cesare had regained his mental composure and he kept his courage in the face of his imprisonment. His courage impressed those who guarded him, and they reported that he remained cheerful as he watched his friends and servants spending their days gambling. His composure was impressive and it showed his determination not to give up in the face of adversity; a strength of character he would show in the years of his imprisonment. This strength of character inspired devotion and loyalty in the men who were close to him, not only in his imprisonment but also when he was a free man. Despite how dangerous he was, despite how much he was hated and feared; those close to him never deserted him. He even had loyalty that stayed from his friends the Spanish cardinals, who stood by him during the papal election. Two days after he was imprisoned in the Torre Borgia, the cardinals went to the Pope to petition for Cesare's release, pointing out that if Cesare were free the keepers of the castles in the Romagna may be more inclined to hand them over. The pope of course refused.

By 18th January the Spanish cardinals came to an agreement with the Pope. In exchange for Cesare's freedom, his castles in the Romagna would be given over to the Pope within 40 days. Within the next few weeks, due to Julius not wanting Cesare free but wanting the castles and Cesare's desperation to be free, the arrangements changed somewhat. On 10th March 1504 Cesare agreed to surrender the castles of Cesena and Bertinoro as well as paying the castellan of Forli 15000 ducats to give up the Rocca di Ravaldino. Yet Cesare did not intend to give up Forli quite yet as it contained incredibly valuable goods that he didn't trust the Pope would give back to him. And as news reached Ostia of the surrender of Cesena and Bertinoro (before Rome, as it was intended it would), Cesare's custodian Carvajal had arranged ships and safe conduct from Gonsalvo de Cordova to carry Cesare to Naples; and Carvajal released Cesare from the Torre Borgia before permission from the Pope had been formally given.

Despite the Spanish ships being detained at Naples, Cesare wasn't prepared to wait. He wanted out. On 19th April 1504 he rode from Ostia to Nettuno where he got on a small rowing boat and he rowed until he reached a point 30 miles from Naples. There, he got out of the boat and rode the rest of the way on horseback. On the 28th, he arrived in Naples and stayed at the house of Cardinal Ludovico Borgia. Despite another flare up of his syphilis, Cesare was finally free and began making plans. He sent letters asking for men, recruited men and cavalry and on 26th May Cesare went to the Castel Nuovo in Naples to take his leave from Gonsalvo de Cordova. That night, as he made ready to leave, one of Cordova's men announced that he was under arrest.

In surprise and disbelief he cried out, "Santa Maria! I am betrayed! With me only has my Lord Gonsalvo dealt cruelly!"

Cesare, being arrested at the Castel Nuovo in Los Borgia

Cesare, imprisoned in Spain, in Los Borgia

Cesare had been deceived. And deceived by the man he had likely least expected to deceive him. He had trusted de Cordova, and been incredibly naive in doing so. Cordova was known as a man of honour and Cesare had set great store in that. De Cordova however was working for the Spanish Queen Isabella - the Spanish monarchs needed a dispensation from the Pope so their daughter could marry the future King Henry VIII of England and also wanted their investiture as monarchs of Naples. Cesare Borgia, a man whom the Pope feared above all others, would therefore be incredibly useful to them. If they had him in their grasp, a mere threat to put Borgia into play would bring the Pope to heel. It would also keep him out of French hands. And so, Cesare found himself once more behind bars and placed in a small cell known as "The Oven" - while at the same time in Rome, Micheletto underwent torture where he was questioned on the deaths of Alfonso D'Aragona and Juan Borgia. Yet Micheletto gave nothing away and implicated the now dead Pope Alexander, thus shielding his master. Yet all the while through June, as he was held in "The Oven", he still refused to give up Forli until he finally relented on 11th August. He had been promised liberty in return for giving up Forli, but he did not get it. Within a few days he was placed on a ship bound for Spain, in the charge of Prospero Colonna and with only a pageboy for company.

By the end of September 1504, Cesare Borgia found himself imprisoned in the Castle of Chinchilla, 700 feet up in the mountains of Valencia. As can be seen from the picture at the start of this post, the castle is surrounded by a sheer drop. It was incredibly doubtful that Borgia would be able to escape from there. Here he was placed in incredibly strict confinement with just his page for company. It was whispered while he was there that Ferdinand and Isabella were planing to put him on trial for his life, to answer for the murders of his brother Juan and his brother in law Alfonso D'Aragona. But why would he be put on trial for the murder of his brother when his guilt had never been proven? The answer was simple - his sister in law, Maria Enriques de Luna was a favourite at the Spanish court and believed in Cesare's guilt. In short, Cesare was completely alone - he couldn't even get help from France. The King of France, angry at Cesare for his betrayal in his last  military campaign, stripped Cesare of his titles. No longer was he the Duke of Valentinois nor the Lord of Issoudon. And due to the fact the French had signed a peace treaty with Spain over Naples, he couldn't hope to play them off against each other with that. Cesare Borgia was no longer useful. Yet his friends at home had not forgotten him - his sister Lucrezia and his brother in law Jean D'Albret bombarded the Spanish sovereigns to beg for his release. Whilst they were not successful in getting him his freedom, they did succeed in gaining him a little more comfort - he was allowed extra servants and a slightly better set of rooms. Reports reached Italy that Cesare was only being held for the things De Cordova had accused him of (the murders), and when these were proven to be untrue he would be released. But things would have to wait until Queen Isabella regained her health.

News reached Italy in Early 1505 that Cesare had attempted to escape, and the stories are rather colourful! He was now under even stricter confinement due to his attempted escape, and the story goes that he invited the governor of the castle to join him on the ramparts outside his room. Whilst the governor was pointing out landmarks, Cesare attacked him and tried holding his arms and threatened to throw him off the tower. Due to his long imprisonment, Cesare's strength failed and he was pinned to the ground. Other stories involve tales of Cesare knotting sheets together and climbing out of the window. Alas the sheets were too short, and he fell to the ground, fracturing his shoulder! Once he was found, he was carried back inside where he placed under even stricture surveillance.

La Mota, Medina Del Campo - Spain

La Mota, showing the Torre in which Cesare was imprisoned and escaped from.

In midsummer, 1505, Cesare was moved to the famous castle of La Mota in Medina del Campo and imprisoned in the main keep of Torre de Homenaje. This famous keep was basically a maximum security prison and it was thought that no one could ever escape its walls. They would eventually be proven wrong. While he was there, according to a Venetian report, he spent his time watching the falcons out of his window. Queen Isabella had died not long before - was he thinking of a way he could turn it all to his advantage? It is incredibly likely and indeed, it wasn't long before he started playing the game of politics again. He became involved in the struggle between King Ferdinand and his son is law; and was far from a helpless pawn and he watched, biding his time and choosing his side. Indeed, knowing that he could easily be handed back over to the Pope, he stayed in close contact with Ferdinand's party and played an active part in an intrigue between the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian, and his brother in law Jean D'Albret, King of Navarre. Cesare Borgia was playing the game of politics, choosing his side carefully and plotting how he would gain his freedom. His aim was simple: Get himself handed over to the King of Navarre, to his brother in law. And he knew if his plan was to succeed then he must put it into immediate action.

Cesare knew that a man by the name of Bernadino de Cardenas was desperate to integrate himself with Ferdinand, and had intimated to the envoy Ferrer that he was now willing to hand over Cesare. Ferrer had agreed in principle but said he must write to Ferdinand and find out what the King wishes to do with his prisoner. Cesare knew this was his best chance of freedom, and that his future with Maximilian and Jean were his last change for power and the destiny he so desperately believed was his. Yet if he waited until Ferdinand's orders reached La Mota, his chance could be lost forever.

So he planned the impossible.

He would escape from La Mota.

The plan was to follow the same lines as his abortive escape attempt from Chinchilla but much more carefully prepared. Cesare had even managed to talk around one of the servants into getting hold of the ropes for him. And on the evening of the 25th October 1505, at the appointed hours, three men (including the chaplain who Cesare had befriended) waited for Cesare beneath the keep of La Mota. A rope was let down from the narrow window of the room where he was lodged at the top of the tower. One of his servants went first but the rope was too short and he fell, injuring himself badly. Cesare followed shortly after but the alarm had been sounded and the rope was cut from above. He fell, landing heavily from a great height and he was unable to stand. He had to be carried by the waiting men and lifted into the saddle of the waiting horse. There was no time to rescue the servant who had previously fallen and was badly injured, and so they left the poor man there - he was found shortly after by the guards who executed him there on the spot.

Cesare was unconscious from his fall and completely unable to support himself. Somehow his men kept him on the horse and carried him to the safety of Villanon. They stayed there for a month while Cesare recovered, and set out for Navarre at the end of November.

Cesare Borgia spent the majority of 1503-1505 as a prisoner, locked away while people decided his fate. But yet again he took fate into his own hands, playing the game of politics with the most powerful monarchs of his day, and winning; and achieving the impossible with his escape from La Mota. And as he headed into Navarre at the end of 1505, he was to begin the last stage of his life which he spent free, working as a soldier with his brother in law. He always said that he would prefer to die in the saddle than in bed, and he did so - dying alone on the 12th March, 1507 just three days before the Ides of March which had been so fatal to his namesake and idol, Caesar.

Aut Caesar, Aut Nihil - Either Caesar Or Nothing - a motto which spoke of everything that Cesare Borgia lived, worked and died for.

Further Reading

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Clarice Orsini and Lorenzo de Medici

In the spring of 1467 Lorenzo de Medici's mother, Lucrezia Tournabuoni, went to Rome. Using the pretext of an incognito visit to her brother, managers of the Rome branch of the Medici bank, she was actually there to sort out a bride for her son. Her choice fell on the daughter of Jacopo Monterotondo and her trip to Rome was, for all intents and purposes, so she could inspect the girl and make sure she was a suitable match for Lorenzo.

Lucrezia Tournabuoni (the elderly lady on the right) by Domenico Ghirlandaio from a fresco in the Capella Tournabuoni, Florence.

The report that Lucrezia sent back to her husband Piero is rather telling towards attitudes towards marriage at those times:

"She is fairly tall, and fair, and has a nice manner, though she is not as sweet as our girls. She is very modest and will soon learn our customs...Her face is round, but it does not displease me...We could not see her bosom as it is the custom here to wear it completely covered up, but it seems promising."

Following a meeting between Lucrezia and Clarice's family it was noted that she actually had "fine quality breasts"

The marriage was agreed upon and negotiations dragged on for over a year. The Florentine people weren't very happy about the match, and many believed that the Medici thought the local nobility weren't quite good enough for them. But the Orsini family were an old, very noble family. For the first time ever, the Medici were marrying into a class above their own - the Orsini were an old, powerful family in Rome with connections to the Papacy. It was certainly a step up for the Medici. To try and calm the populace, Lorenzo's father tried to arrange a festival to celebrate his sons betrothal but by this point Piero (nicknamed "The Gouty") was far too ill to do anything much and so Lorenzo took charge of organising the festivities. In the end, what he organised was an absolutely spectacular affair and would set the scene for his later ostentation when he took over the reigns of power in Florence.

Clarice Orsini, by Sandro Boticelli

In March 1469, the Piazza Santa Croce was covered with sand and the square itself was surrounded with seating stands for people to watch. In essence, what Lorenzo had organised was a massive joust - a fanfare announced the 18 knights who paraded past the Queen of the Tournament. They were all dressed magnificently but none more so than Lorenzo who stole the show - he took first prize, despite the fact he had already been unseated by one of his opponents. The people of Florence went away from the celebration happy, a fact which Lorenzo learned from in organising later celebrations. The cost of the whole thing ended up costing 8000 florins however, which was 2000 florins more than Clarice's dowry!

Lorenzo de Medici by Agnolo Bronzino

Four months later Clarice arrived in Florence for her wedding, having spent months learning new dances so she would fit in in Florence. And on Sunday 4th June she made her way to the church in Florence dressed in a white and gold gown and she rode on Lorenzo's white horse. Following the religious ceremony, three days of feasting followed and by the end of the celebrations over 300 barrels of wine had been consumed! After the ceremony, Clarice took formal possession of her new home on the Via Larga. As she entered her new home, she was greeted by her new servants and ladies in waiting who by all accounts, weren't too thrilled about having a foreigner take charge of the household.

After she took formal possession of her new household, she rode to the Palazzo degli Alessandri - a palace that was supposed to symbolise the home of her father. 

The following day, she would have moved into the house on the Via Larga properly. And it soon became evident that Lorenzo and Clarice were a complete mismatch. Despite not being the most attractive man in the world, there was something about him that made women go weak at the knees - he spent much of his time writing love sonnets to Lucrezia Donati, and would keep sending love sonnets to other Florentine beauties. He was also said to be quite difficult to live with at times. Clarice herself was quite a frumpy woman and nowhere near akin to the famous Florentine beauties, nor was she hugely intelligent. She was also convinced of her superiority to everyone else due to her family name and she spent much of her time with a somewhat disapproving attitude towards her husband, which for the most part she tried to conceal with various levels of success. Despite this, the couple went on to have ten children, three dying in childbirth, and they ended up becoming rather good friends even if they did not fall in love with each other. Their letters to each other confirm that they were at the very least, fond of each other, and they did their best to put on an outwards show of a normal marriage, albeit a marriage of politics.

Of their ten children, Lorenzo and Clarice would go on to produce the famous Piero de Medici (the Unfortunate) who was chased from Florence by Savonarola, and the future Pope Leo X.

Further Reading

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Cesare Borgia and the Great Pox

Cesare Borgia by Altobello Melone

One of the most well known facts about Cesare Borgia, aside from the fact that he was a bit (a lot) of a sociopath who seemed to enjoy having people killed, is that he suffered from Syphilis and often tended to go about wearing a mask. It is said that he wore the mask to cover up the disfigurement on his face that came from the disease - he was considered to be the most handsome man of his day and so it must have been a bit of a shock when he started noticing the tell tale symptoms of the Great Pox making a show of itself on his face. Anyway, I'm going off on a tangent that should be happening later on in the post. How did Cesare Borgia contract syphilis? How did he cope with it? How did he have it treated? By the time he died in Navarre was he cured or did it send him mad enough to rush to his own death?

The disease itself was really first noticed after the French invasion of Naples in 1495 where it began to spread across Europe. In a way, it was as if Naples was the epicenter of the disease. But how was it spread by the invading French? It is thought that the disease was spread through Spanish mercenaries serving under Charles VIII, who caught it in the New World and then spread it amongst the citizens of Naples who then spread it back to the French. The French then spread it further and thus across Europe. Complicated. The disease back then was incredibly lethal and led to thousands and thousands of people developing it and it's deformities, even leading to widespread death. 

In 1497, Cesare Borgia was sent to Naples as Papal Legate. It had been just six weeks since the death of his brother Juan, Duke of Gandia and he left with a small army of retainers. When I say small, small involves retainers, camp followers and prelates as well as over 700 horse. Cesare Borgia certainly didn't do things by half. They headed to Capua, where the Coronation of Federigo as King of Naples was to take place on the 6th August but soon after they arrived he fell ill - Sancia and Jofre were dispatched from Rome to nurse him back to health and by 11th August he was well enough to crown Federigo. The ceremony itself was lavish but the barons of the Kingdom of Naples failed to show up - it was one of Cesare's jobs to reconcile them with their new King, but that went down the pan rather quickly. In the end, the only people of note at the ceremony were his brother Jofre and his wife Sancia - the Prince and Princess of Squillace. Following the coronation ceremony, Cesare was determined to enjoy the Kingdom of Naples. Before he left Naples on 22nd August, Cesare and his travelling court had almost impoverished the already poor King of Naples. He also brought something else back with him...

"Monsignor of Valencia has returned from the Kingdom after crowning King Federigo and he is too sick of the French disease"

After Cesare contracted the disease, his physician Gaspare Torella condemned the use of mercury in treating  it and prescribed Cesare a course of ointments, potions and sweating in hot baths. Obviously it wouldn't have made all that much difference but within a month or so of returning to Rome it would have seemed like the disease had gone, and no doubt Torella thought his ointments and potions had cured him. It really didn't. The first stage of Syphilis tends to disappear within ten to ninety days before reappearing later as the secondary stage. 

Sergio Peris-Mencheta as Cesare in the traditional black mask

By August of 1498, Cesare began working towards getting rid of his Cardinal's robes. By this point he was determined to step into his brothers shoes and become a soldier. He took part in bullfights on horseback and practiced leaping astride mules and horses in one leap without touching the harness. He was incredibly proud of both his athletic body and his appearance but by now the symptoms of secondary syphilis were starting to show. The rash began to show itself on his face, somewhat disastrously for the handsome young man who was planning on impressing his intended new wife and the French court with his good looks. 

Gian Ludicco Cattaneo wrote, "He is well enough in countenance at present, although he has his face blotched beneath the skin as is usual with the great pox"

At this point, Cesare was just twenty three. Can you imagine how such a young man would have felt when this started happening, when the disease he thought himself cured of suddenly slapped him in the face again? He wasn't to know that it would disappear on it's own (only to reappear later on again - it would haunt him until the end of his life, appearing and reappearing) and he must have been really worried about the blotches on his face spoiling his marriage prospects - it seems he was so worried he even kept signing his letters as "Cardinal Valentino" as if he couldn't quite bring himself to believe in his secular future and that the disease would mean he wouldn't marry and would end up back in the church. Even Cattaneo mentions this, "Nonetheless he signed himself up to the last moment as Cesar, Card. Valentino...and this perhaps as a precaution if things did not come out as he wished or that perhaps, because of that face of his, spoiled by the French disease, his wife might refuse him".

Shortly after Cesare arrived in Marseilles in the October of 1498, he was struck down again with the malady; as was Cardinal Giuliano della Roverre. Both seemed to recover quickly enough, and Cesare's illness didn't stop him from marrying the wealthy heiress Charlotte D'Albret in May of 1499.

As can be seen in the screencap above, many still believe that Cesare spent much of his time hiding his blotched face behind a mask. It seems that most of these descriptions come from contemporaries hostile to the Borgias who always jumped at the chance of discrediting the family - and according to Bradford in her biography of Cesare, the image we have of Cesare hiding in the mask is completely fictitious based on a description written by Paolo Giovio in which he said Cesare looked swarthy and he was disfigured by the blotches of Syphilis. It seems that after the blotches disappeared the chances of disfigurement were really small and would only have appeared many many years later! At the point in which Giovio was describing Cesare as ravaged by the disease, others such as Capello in around 1500 (and it must be said, many others!!) were pointing out that Cesare at the age of "twenty five is physically most beautiful, he is tall and well made..." - although this same man later goes on to describe Cesare as a sadistic murderer who had his own brother killed.

Sergio Peris-Mencheta as Cesare in the traditional black mask

The next mention we have of Cesare's syphilis is in 1504, just after his fathers death and after his imprisonment in the Vatican by Pope Julius II. The year previously, just before his father's death, he had fallen ill with the same fever that killed Pope Alexander - It was most likely to be a malarial fever although many attribute it to either poison or some sort of food poisoning. In April 1504 Cesare had made his way to Naples where he was still quite unwell and Carvarjal reported that at Ostia Cesare had been in a lot of pain with the "French disease" and his face was hideously blotched with nasty looking pustules. It should be noted that we know now that fever, and in particularly malarial fever, was used as a treatment and cure for Syphilis up until the advent of penicillin - Cesare's nasty illness the previous year would very likely have cured him and the after effects of said fever. and his imprisonment was probably what caused him to look so rough.

By the time Cesare was killed in Viana in 1507, did he still have syphilis? Some say he did and it has been suggested that the disease had affected the senses in his brain so much that he had gone mad and so, in a fit of madness had ridden to his death. It is however an unlikely explanation - Cesare contracted syphilis in 1497 and tertiary syphilis can appear at any point from 5-20 years after the first stage manifests itself. He had syphilis for less than ten years and it's really quite dramatic and unlikely to say that in ten years it would have progressed so far as to make him go mad, and indeed in the lead up to the day of his death there is no evidence at all that he had gone mad at all. He certainly seemed to be in control of his senses and even in the bleakest moments he never lost hope and always kept his mind on the prize. He was a reckless man certainly, and the way he rode to his death on his own is very similar to a description made of him in 1503 when he rode at a group of Orsini's (again, completely on his own), saying he would rather die in the saddle than his bed. And as mentioned previously, it's really very likely that he didn't even have the disease thanks to the dangerous fever that he suffered from in 1503. 

We must remember though that after 506 years it is almost impossible to say whether he died as a result of syphilis affecting his brain or whether he did indeed still have it at the time of his death. All that we can say is that he did have it, and that it certainly affected his life in many ways although, like many things with Cesare's story most of what we think about his illness today comes from anti-Borgia propaganda  Did he hide his ravaged face behind a mask? Probably not. Did he wear a mask? Yes, but it was more likely to keep himself disguised so he wouldn't be noticed, not to hide a blotched face away - the blotches would have disappeared any way, and physical disfigurement in such a short space of time was highly, highly unlikely. But, like the incest stories, it's another of these stories that many seem determined to hold on to and why? Because it makes the man come across as more monstrous than he ever, truly was.

Further Reading

Sarah Bradford - Cesare Borgia: His Life & Times
Sarah Bradford - Lucrezia Borgia
Christopher Hibbert - The Borgias & Their Enemies