Sunday, October 4, 2015

Biography - Lucrezia Borgia (1480–1519)

Lucrezia Borgia (1480–1519) was the illegitimate daughter of Rodrigo Borgia, who later became Pope Alexander VI, & Vannozza dei Cattanei, one of her father's many mistresses. Lucrezia spoke & wrote 5 languages: Italian, Valencian, French, Latin, & Greek.

Cristofano dell'Altissimo (1525–1605) Pope Alexander VI 1401-1503

Lucrezia's family epitomized the ruthless Machiavellian politics & sexual corruption often alleged to characterize both Renaissance politics & the papacy.  Very few facts seem to be known of the extent of her complicity in the political, murderous dealings of her father & brothers.

Assumed to be Vannozza Cattanei Lucrezia Borgia's mother 1442-1518

Her family arranged several marriages for her to men from important families in order to advance their own political & financial ambitions. Lucrezia was married to Giovanni Sforza (Lord of Pesaro), Alfonso of Aragon (Duke of Bisceglie), & Alfonso I d'Este (Duke of Ferrara).

Lucretia was described by contemporaries as strikingly beautiful with heavy blonde hair which fell past her knees, a beautiful complexion, hazel eyes which seemed to change color, a full, high bosom, & a natural grace which made her appear to "walk on air." Another description states that "her mouth is rather large, the teeth brilliantly white, her neck is slender & fair, & the bust is admirably proportioned."

Bartolomeo Veneto (1470–1531) Assumed to be Lucrezia Borgia (1480–1519)

When Rodrigo became Pope Alexander VI, he sought to be allied with the most powerful princely families & founding dynasties of Italy. To achieve these ends, he called off Lucrezia's previous engagements & arranged for her to marry Giovanni Sforza, a member of the house of Sforza who was Lord of Pesaro & titled Count of Catignola.  Giovanni was an illegitimate son of Costanzo I Sforza. He married Lucrezia, who was just 13-years-old, in 1493 Rome. The Sforzas ruled the Duchy of Milan from 1450 to 1535. Much like the Borgia family, the Soforzas gained & maintained their power through military force; advantageous marriage alliances; court intrigues; & brute force.

Soon the Borgia family no longer needed the Sforzas.  The Pope needed new, more advantageous political alliances. It is speculated, that he may have ordered the execution of Giovanni. It is said that Lucrezia was informed of this by her brother Cesare, & that she warned her husband, who escaped from Rome.  It is also possible, that his departure resulted from a plot on the part of Cesare & Lucrezia to drive her husband away. In any event, the family was said to be pleased with the chance to arrange another advantageous marriage for Lucrezia. A papal annulment would end her previous marriage without bloodshed. 

Pope Alexander IV asked Giovanni's uncle, Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, to persuade Giovanni to agree to a divorce. Giovanni refused & accused Lucrezia & her family of paternal & fraternal incest. The pope then claimed, that his daughter's marriage had not been consummated & was thus invalid. Escaping an unfortunate end, Giovanni signed confessions of impotence & documents of annulment before witnesses.

Pinturicchio (1454–1513), 1494 painting Disputation of Saint Catherine, is said to be modeled after Lucrezia Borgia (1480–1519)

Lucretia became pregnant just at the time her marriage was annulled for non-consummation, and just when she had testified that she was a virgin. In June 1497, she "retired" to the convent of San Sisto to await the outcome of the annulment which was finalized in December of 1497.  Two months later, in February 1498, the bodies of a her servant, Pedro Calderon, & her maid, Pantasilea, were found floating in the Tiber.  In March 1498, the Ferrarese ambassador reported, that Lucrezia had given birth. A son was born in the year before Lucrezia's marriage to Alfonso of Aragon. The baby was named Giovanni, after her "impotent" former husband, but is known to historians as the Roman Infante.

Pinturicchio (1454–1513) Pope Alexander VI. (Rodrigo Borgia) Detail from a Fresco of the Resurrection, painted in 1492-1495

In 1501, two papal bulls were issued concerning the identity of child, Giovanni Borgia (1498–1548). In the 1st, he was recognized as brother Cesare's child from an affair before his marriage. The 2nd contradictory bull recognized him as the son of Pope Alexander VI. Lucrezia's name was not mentioned in either document.  Only circumstantial evidence supports the assertion, that she was the child's mother. The 2nd bull was kept secret for many years, & baby Giovanni was assumed to be brother Cesare's son. In 1502, Giovanni became Duke of Camerino, one of brother Cesare's recent conquests, assumed to be the natural inheritance of the his oldest son. Giovanni Borgia was passed from guardian to guardian; before conveniently ending up with Lucrezia Borgia in Ferrara, where he was claimed to be her half-brother rather than her son.

Following her annulment from Sforza, Lucrezia was married to the Neapolitan Alfonso of Aragon (1481–1500), the half-brother of Sancha of Aragon, who was the wife of Lucrezia's brother Gioffre Borgia. The marriage was a short one, lasting from 1498, until Alfonso's murder in 1500. It was widely rumored that Lucrezia's brother Cesare was responsible for Alfonso's death, as he had recently allied himself (through marriage) with France against Naples.

Pinturicchio (1454–1513), Alfonso of Aragon (age 7) 1481-1500

After the death, of her 2nd husband, Lucrezia's father, Pope Alexander VI, arranged a 3rd politically advantageous marriage. She then married 24-year-old widower Alfonso I d'Este, Duke of Ferrara in early 1502 Ferrara. Lucrezia hoped she would have a better chance of leading her own life in Ferrara, away from her ambitious father & brother.

Neither partner in this newly arranged marriage was accustomed to being involved with just one person. Beginning in 1503, Lucrezia entered into a long relationship with her brother-in-law, Francesco II Gonzaga, Marquess of Mantua, plus a love affair with the poet Pietro Bembo. The affair between Francesco & Lucrezia was passionate as reflected in their love letters. The affair ended, when Francesco contracted syphilis & had to end the sexual aspects of his relationship with Lucrezia.

Alfonso I. d'Este, Duke of Ferrara 1476-1534

The people of Ferrara seemed to adore Lucrezia, praising her for her beauty & "inner grace of personality."  Surrounding herself with artists, courtiers, poets, & writers, she helped make Ferrara a center for culture.

Rumors about the Borgia family have persisted throughout the centuries. Many of these concern allegations of partying, incest, poisoning, & murder; however, no actual evidence exists to support these rumors. It was claimed that she possessed a hollow ring, which she used frequently to poison drinks. Many historians view Lucrezia Borgia as a political pawn, whose marriages were used for her family's political gains. Born into a power hungry & greedy family, Lucrezia seemed to be the product of her upbringing. She seemed to accepted her family's ambitions & the personal consequences the exacted on her life for the good of her family.

In 1512, Lucrezia began to withdraw from public life to spend more time in her apartments or in nearby convents, apparently turning her thoughts to religion. Lucrezia Borgia died in Ferrara in 1519, from complications after giving birth to her 8th child.  She was only 39. She was buried in the convent of Corpus Domini.