Lucrezia Borgia: slander and libel

In public perception, she rates alongside Jezebel and messalina for conniving promiscuity. Who was the real Lucrezia Borgia, and how depraved was she?

Lucrezia Borgia life was orchestrated by the intense political and Military competition of the Italian Renaissance. Italy was a gaggle of city-states and noble families, with foreign neighbors butting in, all jostling for Advantage in a sleazy multiplayer chess game of Shifting alliances, fiefdom grants, political marriages, excommunication, and warfare. The Vatican sat at that chessboard, and Lucretia was a pawn.

Lucrezia’s father was Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, later Pope Alexander VI, the poster boy for corrupt, lascivious popes. His Holiness fathered Lucrezia and her three brothers with a mistress. Her most prominent brother, Cesare, was ambitious and ruthless even by the inflated standards of the Renaissance. Lucrezia had the misfortune of being born into a family whose name evoked fear and loathing, with good cause.

In 1943, when Lucrezia reached the age of 13, her father married her off to Giovanni Sforza to cement an alliance with Sforza’s powerful Milanese Clan, thus boosting Cesare’s fortunes. When Alexander no longer needed to make nice with the Sforzas,he had Lucrezia ‘s marriage to Giovanni annulled.

it was rumored that Lucrezia had a love affair and bore a son out of wedlock. In 1498, she entered an arranged marriage to Alfonso of Bisceglie, this time to ingratiate Cesare with the king of Naples. When that notion soured, unknown assailants, probably her brother Cesare’s henchmen, assassinated Alfonso. Lucretia had grown to love her husband, and she went into a deep depression.

In 1501, Alexander brokered Lucrezia’s marital hand to Alfonso d’Este, Prince of Ferrara. The new bride’s sister-in-law, Isabella, delighted in snubs and snippy comments, but Lucrezia now knew the game. While keeping up appearances as a noble, dutiful Ferrarese matron, She carried on with Isabella’s husband. After the deaths of Alexander in 1503 and then Cesar in 1507, Lucretia could finally settle down. She died on June 24th, 1519 at the age of 39, of complications from childbirth.

Detractors love to paint Lucrezia as a Renaissance floozy with a poison-filled ring who had incestuous relations with her father and brother. It makes lurid reading, but the sliver of truth in such allegations is rather dull and tame. She did have lovers between marriages and outside of wedlock, as did many in her time. Living as a political pawn, can anyone blame her for wanting romantic flings? It would be peculiar if she hadn’t.

There’s no evidence supporting the incest slander– but there is good reason to reject it. Unlike her father and Cesar, Lucrezia had authentic religious scruples. Her consent would be unthinkable. She remained fond of each unto his death and mourned both. Would she have lamented those who had traumatized her? her later life is inconsistent with childhood molestation. she adjusted well, had a healthy love life when she could, and was never self-destructive.

Some aspersions were bandied during her life, mainly as weapons against the borgias, spurred by Cesare’s atrocious conduct. In 1833, Victor Hugo wrote a play that painted Lucrezia as a princess of poison, reveling in each toxic take down. This, not actual history, has adhered to the public perception. It libels a pleasant, loving woman whose fortunes or dictated mainly by men of great power and limitless greed.


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