Showing posts with label Cesare Borgia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cesare Borgia. Show all posts

13 July 2022

Vannozza dei Cattanei - popes’ mistress

Mother of Lucrezia and Cesare Borgia was figure of influence

Vannozza dei Cattanei hailed from an aristocratic family in Mantua
Vannozza dei Cattanei hailed from
an aristocratic family in Mantua
Vannozza dei Cattanei, who was for many years the chief mistress of Cardinal Rodrigo de Borgia - later Pope Alexander VI - was born on this day in 1442 in Mantua.

Herself from the aristocratic Candia family, Vannozza - baptised as Giovanna de Candia - grew up to be a beautiful woman but also a successful businesswoman, acquiring a number of osterie - inns - after she moved to Rome.

In 15th century Italy, it was not unusual for cardinals and popes to have mistresses, despite Holy Orders coming with a vow of celibacy.  Before her relationship with Rodrigo de Borgia, Vannozza allegedly was mistress to Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, the future Pope Julius II and a rival to Borgia in the 1492 papal election that he won.

Rodrigo made no attempt to hide his sexual dalliances, acquiring the nickname Papa Cattivo - the naughty pope - not only for his promiscuity but his questionable morals in other areas, with allegations that he was involved in bribery and extortion on his rise to the top, and rumours that he poisoned some of his rivals.

Unusually, compared with other popes and cardinals who flouted the rules, Borgia openly acknowledged the children that Vannozza bore him during their relationship, which is thought to have lasted between 20 and 25 years, providing for them financially and having a significant influence over their lives.

The eldest, Cesare, born in 1475, became a cardinal and as leader of the Papal armies captured large amounts of territory that were added to the Pope’s empire.  Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince, the treatise on power that was written as a kind of reference point for new princes and royals, was influenced by Cesare’s lust for power.

Pope Alexander VI is thought to have fathered four children with Vannozza
Pope Alexander VI is thought to have
fathered four children with Vannozza
Of the others, Giovanni - also known as Juan - became the second Duke of Gandia but was murdered at the age of 21, possibly by Cesare; Gioffre married the daughter of the King of Naples, which was advantageous to Rodrigo Borgia.

Lucrezia, meanwhile, was forced to marry three times to elevate Rodrigo’s own status and acquire land and wealth. She took lovers of her own and there were rumours that Giovanni was in fact her own son, the product of an affair with her father's chamberlain.

Vannozza herself had to agree to marriages arranged by Borgia, first to Domenico d'Arignano, an officer of the church, then Giorgio di Croce, for whom Borgia had procured a position as apostolic secretary, and later Carlo Canale, the warden of a papal jail.

Her relationship with Rodrigo Borgia is thought to have changed after she turned 40 and Borgia’s passion for her had diminished by the time he was elevated to Pope in 1492. The care of all her children was entrusted to others in Borgia’s circle, although she remained part of it herself as a sort of matriarchal figure and her former lover sought her counsel as Pope.

He continued to support her financially and by the time she died in 1518, at the age of 76, she had acquired a considerable portfolio of property around the city.

Vannozza outlived Rodrigo de Borgia by 15 years yet despite the nature of their relationship she was granted a public funeral, recognised by Pope Leo X as the widow of Alexander VI. She was buried in the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo, near her son, Giovanni, after a ceremony attended by the Papal Court. 

The skyline of Mantua has changed little since it was the Renaissance seat of the Gonzaga family
The skyline of Mantua has changed little since it
was the Renaissance seat of the Gonzaga family

Travel tip:

The small, historic city of Mantua in Lombardy, which can be found approximately 150km (93 miles) southeast of Milan along the Po Valley, is flanked on three sides by artificial lakes created in the 123th century as the city’s defence system, filled with water from the Mincio river, a tributary of the Po. There was a fourth lake, which meant the city was once surrounded by water, but it dried up in the 18th century and never replenished. It was traditionally the seat of the Gonzaga family, who established a court with a heavy emphasis on music, art and culture. The city has a number of architectural treasures and elegant palaces, while the skyline of its historic old centre has changed little since Renaissance times. At its heart is Piazza Mantegna, where the 15th century Basilica of Sant’Andrea houses the tomb of the artist, Andrea Mantegna. Inside the Palazzo Ducale, the seat of the Gonzaga family between 1328 and 1707, the Camera degli Sposi is decorated with frescoes by Mantegna.

The Church of Santa Maria del Popolo is in Piazza del Popolo, adjoining Porta del Popolo
The Church of Santa Maria del Popolo is in Piazza
del Popolo, adjoining Porta del Popolo
Travel tip:

The Church of Santa Maria del Popolo is a minor basilica in Rome that stands on the north side of Piazza del Popolo, hemmed in between the Pincian Hill and Porta del Popolo, one of the gates in the Aurelian Wall, its position making it the first church encountered by many travellers arriving in the city. The original church was founded by Pope Paschal II in 1099. The existing structure was built largely between 1472 and 1477 as part of an urban renovation programme instigated by Pope Sixtus IV. A trio of great architects - Andrea Bregno, Donato Bramante and Gian Lorenzo Bernini - contributed to its design and are among those whose works can be found inside, along with Raphael, Caravaggio, Alessandro Algardi, Pinturicchio and Guillaume de Marcillat. 

Also on this day:

1478: The birth of Giulio d’Este of Ferrara 

1814: The founding of the Carabinieri police force

1928: The birth of Mafia mobster and ‘pentito’ Tommaso Buscetta 

1974: The birth of racing driver Jarno Trulli


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14 June 2022

Giovanni Borgia - murdered son of Pope

Killing still unsolved after 500 years despite plenty of suspects

Giovanni Borgia was the brother of Cesare and Lucrezia
Giovanni Borgia was the brother
of Cesare and Lucrezia
Giovanni Borgia, the brother of Cesare and Lucrezia and son of Pope Alexander VI, was murdered on this day in 1497 in Rome.

There was no shortage of possible suspects but the murder was never solved. The grief-stricken Pope launched an immediate murder inquiry, but mysteriously closed down the investigation after just one week, leading to speculation that the perpetrator could have been a member of Giovanni’s own family.

The case has fascinated historians and writers for the last 500 years and been the subject of many books, including Mario Puzo’s historical novel, The Family, and it has featured in many films and televisions programmes.

Giovanni was born in Rome in either 1474 or 1476 to the then Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia and his mistress, Vanozza dei Cattanei. He is thought to have been  the eldest of the children fathered by Pope Alexander VI with his mistress, but this is disputed.

He was married to Maria Enriquez de Luna, who had been betrothed to his older half-brother, Pedro Luis, who had died before the marriage could take place.

Afterwards, Giovanni was made 2nd Duke of Gandia, Duke of Sessa, Grand Constable of Naples, Governor of St Peter’s and Gonfalonier and Captain General of the Church.

He and and Maria had twins, a boy and a girl, Juan and Francisca, and another daughter, Isabel, who was born after the murder of her father.

Painter Ettore Roesler Franz's impression of the
Via Rua in Ghetto as it make have looked in 1880
Giovanni was killed near what later became Piazza della Giudecca in the ghetto of Rome. He was last seen alive at a feast arranged in his honour by his mother at her villa near the church of San Pietro in Vincoli. His siblings, Cesare, Lucrezia and Gioffre were all present at the feast.

On the way back to the Papal Palace, he stopped and dismissed his retainers, saying he was going to visit his mistress. He took with him only his valet and a masked man whose identity has remained unknown, but who was believed to have been visiting Giovanni for about a month before the murder. Giovanni then rode as far as the ghetto, where he ordered the groom to wait for him until a certain time, when he was planning to return to the Papal Palace. He then rode off with the masked man.

The next morning his horse came back without its rider and with one of the stirrups cut off. The groom was later discovered in the same area dying of his wounds.

Pope Alexander ordered a search for his son. A witness was found whose information led to the discovery of Giovanni’s body. He had seen five men throw a corpse into the river next to the fountain at the Hospital of Jerome, where refuse was often disposed of.

Giovanni's brother, Cesare, was among the suspects
Giovanni's brother, Cesare,
was among the suspects
The river was dragged and Giovanni’s body was recovered from the Tiber on June 16, fully clad and with 30 ducats still in his purse, ruling out robbery as a motive. He had nine stab wounds in his head, neck, body and legs.

Although the killers have never been identified, there are three main theories about who was responsible:

First, the killer could have been either his brother, Cesare, or his brother, Gioffre, as both Giovanni and Cesare were having a relationship with Gioffre’s wife, Sanchia.

Second, the murder could have been carried out on behalf of Antonio Maria della Mirandola, whose house was near the Tiber. Giovanni had kept mentioning that he had dishonoured the daughter of one of the ancient Roman della Mirandola family.

Third, the murder could have been an act of revenge by relatives of Virginio Orsini, the head of a family hostile to the Pope, who had died in a prison in Naples.

In fictitious accounts of the murder written subsequently, the villain has sometimes been identified as Cesare, and sometimes as Lucrezia, with the help of one of her lovers.

The ghetto is the area highlighted  adjoining the river Tiber
The ghetto is the area highlighted 
adjoining the river Tiber
Travel tip:

The Roman ghetto (Ghetto di Roma) was established in 1555 in the Rione Sant’Angelo close to the Tiber and the Theatre of Marcellus. It occupied the area bordered today by the Via del Portico d'Ottavia, Lungotevere dei Cenci, Via del Progresso and Via di Santa Maria del Pianto. Apart from brief periods, the ghetto was controlled by the papacy until the capture of Rome in 1870. Despite the area being subject to frequent flooding from the river, Jews were required to live in the ghetto, which was a walled quarter with its gates locked at night.  It was established by a papal bull - an edict - issued by Pope Paul IV in 1555, which also revoked all the rights of the Jewish community and prohibited Jews among other things from owning property and practising medicine on Christians.

Michelangelo's Moses is part of a huge funeral monument
Michelangelo's Moses is part of
a huge funeral monument 
Travel tip

The Church of San Pietro in Vincoli - St Peter in Chains - which was near the villa where Vanozza dei Cattanei was living, is a minor basilica best known for being the home of Michelangelo’s Moses. It is on the Oppian Hill near Cavour metro station, not far from the Colosseum. It was first built on old foundations in 432-440 to house the relic of the chains that bound St Peter when he was imprisoned in Jerusalem. San Pietro in Vincoli was the church of the powerful Della Rovere family and the Moses sculpture is part of a massive funeral monument for Pope Julius II - born Giuliano della Rovere - within which the Pope was buried.



Also on this day:

1800: The Battle of Marengo

1837: The death of Giacomo Leopardi, poet and philosopher

1968: The death of Nobel Prize-winning poet and engineer Salvatore Quasimodo


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21 May 2019

Pandolfo Petrucci – ruler of Siena

Ruthless tyrant who encouraged art


Pandolfo Petrucci was one of the most powerful rulers in Italy
Pandolfo Petrucci was one of the most
powerful rulers in Italy
Pandolfo Petrucci, who during his time ruling Siena was one of the most powerful men in Italy, died on this day in 1512 in San Quirico d’Orcia in Tuscany.

Although he had been a tyrannical ruler, Petrucci had also done a great deal to increase the artistic splendour of his native city.

Petrucci was born into an aristocratic family in Siena in 1452. He had to go into exile in 1483 for being a member of the Noveschi political faction, which had fallen out of favour with the rulers of Siena.

After he returned to Siena in 1487, he began to take advantage of the struggles between the different political factions.

He married Aurelia Borghese, who was the daughter of Niccolò Borghese, an important figure in Siena at the time. After entering public office himself, Petrucci acquired so much authority and wealth that he became the ruling despot of Siena with the title of signore - lord.

His rapid rise to power alienated his father-in-law, who conspired with other influential citizens in Siena to assassinate him. However, Petrucci uncovered the plot and in 1500 had Borghese murdered. This act terrified his other enemies, which left Petrucci in complete control.

Rival Cesare Borgia planned to have  Petrucci executed
Rival Cesare Borgia planned to have
Petrucci executed 
He consolidated his power by surrounding himself with supporters whose loyalty to him was guaranteed by the income they were able to draw from public land and property.

However Petrucci’s rule did have some benefits for Siena because he eventually stopped the sale of public offices, secured economic advantages for the city, reformed the monetary system and encouraged the advancement of art.

Petrucci became involved in political intrigues, trying to win the trust of the condottiero Cesare Borgia before plotting against him. Borgia summoned him to a meeting where he was planning to execute Petrucci along with some of his other enemies but Petrucci did not attend the meeting and instead fled to Lucca.

Helped by his ally, King Louis XII of France, Petrucci was returned to power in Siena within a few months.

After Borgia’s death in 1507, Petrucci became one of the most powerful men in Italy.

In 1512 he handed control of Siena over to his son and died soon afterwards in San Quirico d’Orcia. His family continued to rule Siena until 1524.

The cathedral at Siena is considered to be one of Italy's  finest examples of Romanesque-Gothic architecture
The cathedral at Siena is considered to be one of Italy's
 finest examples of Romanesque-Gothic architecture
Travel tip:

Siena in Tuscany is well known as the venue for the historic horse race, the Palio di Siena. The race takes place in Siena’s Piazza del Campo, a shell-shaped open area which is regarded as one of Europe’s finest medieval squares. It was established in the 13th century as an open marketplace on a sloping site between the three communities that eventually merged to form the city of Siena.  The city's cathedral, with a pulpit designed by Nicola Pisani, is considered a masterpiece of Italian Romanesque-Gothic architecture.

The town of San Quirico d'Orcia in Tuscany, where
Petrucci spent his final days
Travel tip:

San Quirico d’Orcia, where Petrucci died, is a small town in the province of Siena located about 35 kilometres (22 miles) southeast of the city of Siena. It is named after Saint Quiricus, an early Christian martyr. The Church of San Quirico dates back to the eighth century but was rebuilt in the 12th century.  A side portal added in the 13th century is believed to be the work of the sculptor Giovanni Pisano who was known to have been working in Siena at the time.

More reading:

Cesare Borgia, the son of a pope who quit the church to become a military leader

Scipione Borghese, the 20th century adventurer from a famous family line

How the power struggles of Petrucci's times inspired Machiavelli's The Prince

Also on this day:

1910: The birth of Mob boss Angelo Bruno

1972: Michelangelo's masterpiece, the Pietà, is damaged by vandalism

1981: A list of alleged members of the illegal masonic lodge Propaganda Due is published


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17 May 2018

Federico II Gonzaga – Duke of Mantua

Ruler received a valuable education at the papal court


Federico Gonzaga, aged about 10, painted by Francesco Francia
Federico Gonzaga, aged about 10, painted
by Francesco Francia
Federico Gonzaga, who became the ruler of Mantua and Montferrat, was born on this day in 1500 in Mantua.

He spent his childhood living as a political hostage, first at the court of Pope Julius II in Rome and then at the court of Francis I of France.

It wasn’t perhaps an ideal start in life, but historians believe the political, social and cultural education he received in the company of popes, cardinals, and kings helped shape him as a future ruler.

Federico was the son of Francesco II Gonzaga and Isabella d’Este. His godfather was Cesare Borgia, Machiavelli’s model for the ideal Renaissance Prince.

His father, Francesco, was captured by the Venetians during battle and held hostage for several months. While he was absent, his wife, Isabella, ruled Mantua.

Francesco managed to secure his own release only by agreeing to send his son, Federico, to be a hostage at the papal court.

After the death of Pope Julius II in 1513, Federico was sent to the court of the new King of France, Francis I, where he became a favourite, as he had interests in common with the King.

Titian's 1525 portrait of Federico as an adult can be seen at the Prado museum in Madrid
Titian's 1525 portrait of Federico as an adult
can be seen at the Prado museum in Madrid
After the death of his father in 1519, Federico returned to rule Mantua and established Isabella Boschetti as his mistress there.

He was later created Duke of Mantua by the Emperor Charles V and did not intervene when the Imperial Troops passed through his territory in 1527 on their way to lay siege to Rome.

He married Margaret of Montferrat in 1531 and when the last male heir to Montferrat died, Federico became Marquess of Montferrat, a title his descendants held until the 18th century.

He commissioned Palazzo Te to be built as a summer palace just outside Mantua.

Federico had long suffered from syphilis and died of the disease in 1540.

His son, Francesco, briefly held the title of Duke of Mantua before dying while still a teenager. His second son, Guglielmo, became Duke of Mantua and Marquess of Montferrat and carried on the line.

The Palazzo Ducale was the seat of the Gonzaga family
The Palazzo Ducale was the seat of the Gonzaga family
Travel tip:

Mantua is an atmospheric old city in Lombardy, to the southeast of Milan, famous for its Renaissance Palazzo Ducale, the seat of the Gonzaga family between 1328 and 1707. The Camera degli Sposi is decorated with frescoes by Andrea Mantegna, depicting the life of Ludovico III Gonzaga and his family, who ruled Mantua for 34 years in the 15th century. The beautiful backgrounds of imaginary cities and ruins reflect Mantegna’s love of classical architecture.

The Palazzo Te was designed for Federico as a summer residence just outside the walls of Mantua
The Palazzo Te was designed for Federico as a summer
residence just outside the walls of Mantua
Travel tip:

Palazzo Te, designed for Federico as a summer residence, is a fine example of the Mannerist school of architecture and is the masterpiece of the architect Giulio Romano. The name for the palace came about because the location chosen had been the site of the Gonzaga family stables at Isola del Te on the edge of the marshes just outside Mantua’s city walls. After the building was completed a team of plasterers, carvers and painters worked on the interior for ten years until all the rooms were decorated with beautiful frescoes.

Also on this day:

1510: The death of Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli

1963: The birth of motorcycle world champion Luca Cadalora

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17 August 2016

Cesare Borgia – condottiero

Renaissance prince turned his back on the Church


Altobello Melone's portrait of Cesare Borgia
Altobello Melone's portrait of Cesare Borgia
Cesare Borgia, the son of Pope Alexander VI, became the first person in history to resign as a Cardinal on this day in 1498 in Rome.

Cesare was originally intended for the Church and had been made a Cardinal at the age of 18 after his father’s election to the Papacy. After the assassination of his brother, Giovanni, who was captain general of the Pope’s military forces, Cesare made an abrupt career change and was put in charge of the Papal States.

His fight to gain power was later the inspiration for Machiavelli’s book The Prince.

Cesare was made Duke of Valentinois by King Louis XII of France and after Louis invaded Italy in 1499, Cesare accompanied him when he entered Milan.

He reinforced his alliance with France by marrying Charlotte d’Albret, the sister of John III of Navarre.

Pope Alexander encouraged Cesare to carve out a state of his own in northern Italy and deposed all his vicars in the Romagna and Marche regions.

Cesare was made condottiero - military leader - in command of the papal army and sent to capture Imola and Forli.

He returned to Rome in triumph and received the title Papal Gonfalonier from his father.

Niccolò Machiavelli
He subsequently took over Pesaro, Faenza and Rimini and laid siege to Piombino, later commanding French troops in the sieges of Naples and Capua, causing the collapse of Aragonese power in southern Italy.

Cesare was planning the conquest of Tuscany when he received news of his father’s death in 1503.

Machiavelli later wrote that had Cesare been able to win the support of Pope Julius II his success would have continued, but the new Pope went back on his promises.

Cesare was betrayed in Naples and imprisoned and his land was retaken by the Papacy.

He was transferred to Spain where his imprisonment continued in various castles. Eventually he escaped and tried to recapture his lands but he was ambushed by his enemies and received a fatal wound from a spear.

Cesare was originally buried inside the Church of Santa Maria in Viana in northern Spain but his bones were later expelled and buried under the street outside. He was dug up twice by historians and then reburied. After years of petitions being turned down because he had resigned as a Cardinal, he was finally moved back inside the church in 2007,  some 500 years after his death.

Travel tip:

Cesare Borgia was born in Rome and studied law at an educational institution, the Studium Urbis, which has now become the Sapienza University of Rome. It was founded in 1303 by Pope Boniface VIII as a centre for ecclesiastical studies and expanded in the 15th century to include schools of Law, Medicine, Philosophy and Theology.  It moved from being the papal university to the university of the city of Rome in 1870.  The main campus is situated just north of Termini Station.

Piazza Aurelio Saffi in Forlì.
Travel tip:

At the height of his power, Cesare Borgia controlled the Papal States, now part of the region of Emilia-Romagna in Italy. Faenza, Forlì and Rimini are among the historic cities he conquered. The area is one of the wealthiest in Italy, containing Romanesque and Renaissance cities.  It is a centre of production in the food and automobile industries, home to top-end car manufacturers such as Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati.

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11 August 2016

Pope Alexander VI

Scheming pontiff married off his children to secure power


Pope Alexander VI: a portrait by Cristofano  dell' Altissimo, property of the Uffizzi Gallery
Pope Alexander VI: a portrait by Cristofano
 dell' Altissimo, property of the Uffizzi Gallery
Rodrigo Borgia became one of the most controversial popes in history when he took the title of Alexander VI on this day in 1492 in Rome.

He is known to have fathered several illegitimate children with his mistresses and his reign became notorious for corruption and nepotism.

Born in Valencia in Spain, Borgia came to Italy to study law at the University of Bologna. He was ordained a Deacon and then made Cardinal-Deacon after the election of his uncle as Pope Callixtus III. He was then ordained to the priesthood and made Cardinal-Bishop of Albano.

By the time he had served five popes he had acquired considerable influence and wealth and it was rumoured that he was able to buy the largest number of votes to secure the papacy for himself.

He had made himself the first archbishop of Valencia and when he was elected as Pope Alexander VI, following the death of Innocent VIII, his son, Cesare Borgia, inherited the post.

Borgia had many mistresses, but during his long relationship with Vanozza dei Cattanei he had four children that he acknowledged as his own, Cesare, Giovanni, Lucrezia and Goffredo. He had several other children with different mothers.

Altobello Melone's portrait of Cesare Borgia, which  can be found in Bergamo's Accademia Carrara
Altobello Melone's portrait of Cesare Borgia, which
 can be found in Bergamo's Accademia Carrara
He made many military alliances to secure his position and married his children off to the offspring of important families to strengthen his power base.

Lucrezia is known to have had three marriages arranged by her father but rumours that she was involved in poisoning men who had become Borgia’s enemies have never been substantiated.

When France and Spain were at war, Borgia offered to help the French on condition that Sicily was given to his son, Cesare. Then he offered to help Spain in exchange for Siena, Pisa and Bologna.

Cesare brought the north of Italy under control, conquering the duchies of Romagna, Umbria and Emilia, earning the admiration of Niccolò Machiavelli, who used Cesare as a model for his classic work on politics, The Prince.

As a patron of the arts, Borgia had Castel Sant’Angelo strengthened and restored and embellished the Vatican palaces. He also commissioned Michelangelo to draw up plans for the rebuilding of St Peter’s Basilica.

Borgia fell ill with fever in 1503 and died five days later after confessing his sins. He was 72 years old.

After a short stay in the crypts of  St Peter’s, Borgia’s body was moved to the church of Santa Maria in Monserrato degli Spagnoli.

Castel Sant' Angelo in Rome, which Rodrigo Borgia strengthened and restored
Castel Sant' Angelo in Rome, which Rodrigo Borgia
strengthened and restored
Travel tip:

Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome was originally built as a mausoleum for the Emperor Hadrian and his family. It was later used by popes as both a fortress and a castle and is now a museum. Pope Alexander VI had bastions built at each corner of the base, added battlements and warehouses for arms and developed a papal apartment inside. The castle was featured by Puccini as the setting for the third act of his opera, Tosca, which ends with the heroine leaping to her death from the castle’s ramparts.

Travel tip:

The Church of Santa Maria in Monserrato degli Spagnoli, where Pope Alexander VI is buried, is the Spanish national church in Rome, dedicated to the Virgin of Montserrat. It is north of Palazzo Farnese in Via de Monserrato in the Campo dei Fiori area of Rome.

More reading:


Lucrezia Borgia - more sinned against than sinning?

How the Borgias inspired Machiavelli's political philosophy

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