Today, I am very happy to host the first of two blog tours from Made Global. Today, we have a guest post from Samantha Morris, who has written on Cesare Borgia, the notorious yet fascinating Renaissance statesman, as part of Made Global's In a Nutshell series. Allegedly the inspiration for Machiavelli's The Prince, Borgia's achievements, fame and private life continue to attract interest, five centuries after his death. In his own lifetime, he was accused of corruption, incest, and murder. Morris's book discusses the truth behind his many legends. For our blog, Samantha focuses on one of the accusations - that Cesare was a murderer.
There's also a giveaway for a reader, with a chance to win a copy of Samantha's new book, after her guest article.
About the Author
Samantha Morris studied archaeology at the University of Winchester where her interest in the history of the Italian Renaissance began. Since graduating University, her interest in the Borgia family has grown to such an extent that she is always looking for new information on the subject as well as fighting against the age-old rumours that haunt them. Samantha describes herself as an accountant by day, historian and author by night.
Her first published book, Cesare Borgia in a Nutshell, is a brief biography which aims to dispel the myths surrounding a key member of the Borgia family. She runs the popular Borgia website https://theborgiabull.com/ and would love to see you on her site.
The Murder of Alfonso D’Aragona – was Cesare Borgia responsible?
From the moment that Lucrezia Borgia's marriage to Giovanni Sforza was annulled, it became obvious to all that she was little more than a pawn on her father and brother's chess board. The young and incredibly beautiful Borgia woman would once more be used as a weapon in her family's political gains, being pushed into a marriage with Alfonso D'Aragona, Duke of Bisceglie. Why? The Borgias decided they wanted the rulers of Naples on their side. Yet their political games were as changeable as the wind and they soon decided that they would rather be allied with the French, even going so far as to marry Cesare off into the French nobility.
It soon became clear that the Borgia's allying themselves with Naples wasn't the right political move to make – and Lucrezia had fallen head over heels in love with Alfonso. Cesare had, after all, married the French Charlotte D'Albret in 1499 and had struck up an alliance with the French King, whilst Alfonso was trying desperately to keep the last vestiges of the alliance with Spain alive. He would hole himself up with his wife, his sister and their friends which led to huge amounts of friction between Alfonso, Alexander VI and Cesare. There is a story from the time which sums up just how divided the family was – a Burgundian had challenged a Frenchman to a duel, and Cesare tried to bribe the Burgundian to lose the duel. Whispers abounded about the city that Cesare would rather lose 20,000 ducats than see a Frenchman lose. Yet despite his obvious dislike of his brother in law, Cesare made it his business whilst in public to act as if their relationship was perfect. To outsiders, it truly looked as if the two young men were perfect friends.
It was only after Alexander VI was involved in an accident that Cesare realised he had to strike against the Aragonese who had become a part of his family. During a particularly violent storm a chimney collapsed upon the roof of the Vatican, causing the ceiling of the Audience Chamber where Pope Alexander VI was holding an audience to cave in. A beam fell upon the canopy that covered the Pope's chair, miraculously saving him from being completely buried by the falling rubble, although three people died when the ceiling caved in. Alexander was pulled from beneath a mess of plaster, not seriously hurt at all and only suffering minor cuts to his face and head. This accident made Cesare realise that his father could potentially lose his life at any time, and he had to be prepared. More so, he needed to make sure that he and his family were surrounded by allies he could trust – in his mind, that meant Alfonso D'Aragona had to go, and he had to go quickly. After all, if Alfonso stuck around he could use his links to both Aragon and Spain to cause an uprising. That was something that Cesare Borgia could not handle.
On 15th July 1500, Alfonso D'Aragona was crossing St Peter's piazza on his way home for the evening when he was set upon by a group of armed men. Johannes Burchard, the Papal Master of Ceremonies, recorded the incident in his diary and stated that Alfonso was wounded in the head, right arm and leg. Badly wounded, Alfonso was taken to the Torre Borgia where he was tended to by his wife in an effort to keep him from dying from his injuries. Within just twenty four hours of the attack, there was just one name being spoken as to who had attacked the young duke. Cesare Borgia. Other people saw parallels between the attack on Alfonso and the attack on Juan Borgia, Duke of Gandia, in 1497 and thus whispered that the Orsini must have been involved in some way. It was certainly a likely possibility given that Alfonso was on good terms with the Colonna family, and that the Orsini's had patched up their differences with Cesare. However, Cesare, when he learned of the attack on his brother in law, is said to have stated wholeheartedly:
"I did not wound the Duke, but if I had, it would have been no more than he deserved"
Had Cesare been involved in the attack on Alfonso, at this stage at least, it surely would have been executed with much more fluidity. Borgia was, after all, one of the greatest military minds in Italy and had taken the Romagna with little issue. That, and had he ordered the attack, those who carried it out would have made sure his orders were followed. Whilst it is possible that Cesare could have involved the Orsini and had them attack Alfonso, it seems more likely that the attack had nothing to do with events that were soon to take place in the Vatican. Events that there is no doubt Cesare Borgia had a hand in.
Tragedy struck for Alfonso D'Aragona, Duke of Bisceglie, less than one month later. He had been lovingly tended to by his wife Lucrezia and his sister Sancia – Lucrezia had even taken to preparing her husband's food herself, out of fear of him being poisoned. The next sequence of events invokes images of a highly organised attack – on 18th July 1500, Michelotto de Corella and an escort of armed men burst into the chambers and seized by force the envoy of Naples who was in the room, talking with the healing man and his family. When both Lucrezia and Sancia questioned Corella on what was going on. Corella excused himself by simply stating that he was "obeying the will of others". He then stated that if they wished to obtain the release of those that he had arrested then they could go and speak to the Pope. The two women, of course, went straight to the Pope, leaving Alfonso alone in the room with Corella. When they returned, Lucrezia and Sancia found guards stationed outside the room who refused to let them inside, telling them that Alfonso was dead. He had been strangled by the hands of Michelotto, Cesare Borgia's right-hand man, and the story that had been fed to the women was completely untrue. It was simply just a ruse so that he could kill Alfonso.
No one doubted who was behind the murder. Although Michelotto had been the one to physically end Alfonso's life, it was completely obvious that Cesare had given the order. But why had he given the order to have his brother in law murdered? Was it purely political and a way to show that he stood with France? It's unlikely – Cesare had absolutely no need to show such a thing. But his acts of violence were always calculated – he would not have ordered Alfonso's death if he had nothing to gain by it. And he did have something to gain – King Louis of France had already promised him troops and support for his taking of the Romagna, in return for helping Louis attack Naples. But there was an official reason given for the murder, and for Cesare's part in it. Of course, they would publicise it as Cesare not being the one in the wrong. It was, in a statement given by Alexander VI to visiting diplomats, an action of self-defence after Alfonso tried to shoot Cesare with a crossbow. The likelihood of this being true is incredibly slim and it seems more like a PR release in an effort to sully Alfonso's name. It was more than likely a murder fuelled by personal vendetta – Cesare was often known to slip into jealous rages especially when it came to his sister, and along with her pro-Aragonese sympathies that came with marrying into the Aragonese royal family, the love she felt for her husband may well have played a part in the murder.
Lucrezia fell into a deep grief for her murdered husband, and on 4th September 1500 was sent to her castle at Nepi by her father, who had grown tired of her crying and wailing. But she wasn't allowed to mourn for long – she was too important a political tool for Alexander VI and Cesare and, as such, soon received suitors for her hand in marriage. And by the November, the Borgia's had approached the D'Este family of Ferrara as an option. When she married Alfonso D'Este in 1502, just two years after her second husband's murder, it would be her final marriage. And one that was not beset by murder at the hands of her brother.
To win a copy of Samantha Morris's new book, answer the following question in our comment section, leaving your e-mail address. The responses will not be published and the winner will be announced, after a random selection, next Thursday.
Q: What was the name of the Northern Irish actor who played Cesare Borgia in the TV series Borgia?
Q: What was the name of the Northern Irish actor who played Cesare Borgia in the TV series Borgia?
You can also find out more about Samantha's book by following the rest of her blog tour.