After watching The Borgias on Netflix, I became more interested in their history. The Borgias became a powerful family in Italy during the Renaissance. Originally, they were noblemen from Valencia in Spain, where their name was spelled Borja.
Alfonso de Borja (1378-1458) came to Italy in 1443 and became pope as Calixtus III in 1455. He was a good and learned man but showered favors on his nephew Rodrigo Borgia (1431-1503). Rodrigo also entered the church, but nevertheless managed to be the father of at least eight children, although, of course, he never married. He was frivolous, worldly, crafty, and ambitious, and was elected pope in 1492 through the bribes and promises he gave to his rivals. As Alexander VI, he was probably the most unscrupulous pope ever to rule. He, too, did all he could to advance the power and riches of the family, especially those of his son Cesare Borgia and daughter Lucrezia Borgia.
Cesare Borgia (1476-1507) gained an early reputation for cruelty and violence. Many say he sacrificed his own brother to further his ambitions and keep the favor of his father, the pope. If Cesare did not actually plot the murder, he certainly benefited from his brother’s mysterious death. His father, Pope Alexander, turned to Cesar for help in his political plots. In 1498 the French king Louis XII sought an annulment of his marriage to Jeanne of France. The pope granted this for his own purposes and entrusted Cesare with the delivery of the document. As a reward, Louis granted Cesare the duchy of Valentinois and promised military help if he needed it.
At the age of 23, Cesare planned to establish a new kingdom in central Italy and through treachery and scheming almost achieved his aim. As a soldier he was without mercy and could rely on the pope’s support. However with Pope Alexander’s death came Cesare’s day of reckoning. His many enemies seized the opportunity to capture him and put him in prison. After two years he escaped to the court of Navarre. He was killed in battle while besieging the castle of Viana.
Lucrezia Borgia (1480-1519) was used as a tool in the political scheming of her father and brother. She was forced into four political marriages, two ended by decrees of the pope and one by murder. Lucrezia has been accused of cruelty and brutal crimes but there is little proof of these charges. Whether of not her early life was blameworthy, after her marriage to the Duke of Ferrara she established a better reputation. She became a patron of the arts and encouraged many of the great names of Italian painting and literature.
Francisco de Borja (1510-1572) was a great-grandson of Alexander. Born and educated in Spain, he held important post there but on his wife’s death entered the Society of Jesus. He was ordained a priest in 1551 and for the rest of his life was engaged in missionary work and in strengthening the Jesuits, whose general, or head, he became in 1565. He was canonized–that is, proclaimed a saint–in 1671, and is usually known as St. Francis Borgia.