Cesare Borgia Historical Profile

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Cesare Borgia Historical Profile
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Name: Cesare Borgia
Born: 14 September 1475 *
Home town: Rome
Died: 12 March, 1507 (Viana, Navarre)
Position: Cardinal of Valencia, Captain-General of the Papal Army, Gonfalonier (Standard Bearer), Duke of Valentinois and Romagna, Lord of Piombino, Camerino and Urbino.
House of: Borgia
Marriage(s): Charlottte d'Albret
Nickname: Marano (Jew), il Valentino, was called "priest and son of a priest" by his enemies.
Personality type: Handsome, attractive to women, discreet in his affairs, cold, secretive, arrogant, duplicitous, ruthless, merciless, independent, dominating, calculating, cruel.
Hobbies: Hunting, military manoeuvres, seducing women.
Strength(s): Athletic, strong, competitive, princely, aloof, noble, generous with his comrades, has the ability to overcome tremendous odds, instilled fear in his enemies, provoked genuine feelings of loyalty and awe in his men, extreme intelligence, determination, military brilliance, just.
Weakness(es): Lechery, arrogance, hubris, cruelty.
Quirks: Allegedly abducted Dorotea Malatesta Caracciolo.
To cover up the ravages of the effects of Syphilis, Cesare wore a mask in public.
"Aut Caesar aut nihil -
Caesar or nothing"
The motto engraved on his sword, given to him while still a Cardinal, in 1497.

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Disputation of St Catherine (left side)* Cesare Borgia was probably born in 1475, although some sources give 1476 (see the last section of this biography), the son of Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia and his mistress Vanozza dei Catanei.

His father intended him for high office in the church, as was traditional for a second son (he had an older half brother, Pedro Luis, who was destined for a military career). Cesare studied canon law at Perugia and Pisa. He was made Bishop of Pamplona (Navarre) at the age of fifteen, and was made a Cardinal and Bishop of Valencia at eighteen.

However, Cesare was more interested in a military career. On the death of his brother Juan Borgia, the Duke of Gandia in 1497, he persuaded his father to allow him to give up his church offices - the first man to ever resign the cardinalate. He travelled to France in 1498 to grant Louis XII a papal dispensation for his marriage to Anne, Duchess of Brittany, and was rewarded by the duchy of Valence and marriage to a wealthy heiress, Charlotte d'Albret, sister of the King of Navarre. They had a daughter, Louise, whom Cesare never saw, as he left Charlotte behind in France.

page logoOn his return to Italy, he was made commander of the Papal forces and proceeded to take over the Romagna, which was ruled by a number of petty despots. He succeeded in ousting them by a combination of military force and treachery. The young lord of Faenza, Astorre Manfredi, was drowned in the Tiber on Cesare's orders. He captured the town of Forli, Imola, Rimini and Pesaro. Leonardo da Vinci served in his army as a military engineer. Despite his ruthlessness, the governors installed by Cesare in the conquered towns were generally an improvement on the previous rulers.

Niccolo Machiavelli wrote:
"Cesare Borgia was accounted cruel; nevertheless, this cruelty of his reformed the Romagna, brought it unity and restored order and obedience". According to Machiavelli, he accomplished the main goals of a prince by demonstrating the following: (1) By the extirpation of all noble families, whom he had deprived of their States, so that the future Pope might not re-establish them. (2) By trying to win over all the Roman nobles and thus hold the Pope in check. (3) By making as many friends as possible in the College of Cardinals. (4) By seeking to acquire so much authority before the Pope's death that he would be able by himself to resist a first attack. At the time of Alexander's decease he had fulfilled three of these aims and the last nearly so. "If we examine the whole conduct of Borgia we shall see how firm a foundation he had laid for future greatness ... I know no better lesson for the instruction of a prince than is afforded by the action and example of this Duke”. (The Prince)

page logoBy 1503, Cesare was in control of much of central Italy, but his career went rapidly downhill on the death of his father on 18th August 1503. Cesare himself was seriously ill with malaria at the time. He was unable to prevent the election of his family's old enemy, Guilana della Rovere, to the papacy. Visiting Naples in 1504, he was captured by the Viceroy, Gonsalvo de Cordoba, and sent to Spain as a prisoner, where he made his first visit to his former diocese of Valencia.

Escaping from prison in 1506, Cesare fled over the border to Navarre, where he entered the service of his brother-in-law, John d'Albret, husband of Queen Catherine. He was killed in a skirmish with the troops of the Constable of Navarre, Luis de Beaumont, near the castle of Viana on 12th March 1507.

page logoCesare Borgia was intelligent, forceful and determined, but he was also cruel, vindictive and treacherous. He was unable to hold the Papal States together following the death of Pope Alexander VI, but he paved the way for the later campaigns of Pope Julius II. Machiavelli, who uses him as an example in 'The Prince', highlighted his positive qualities but was not blind to his faults. Ultimately, Cesare failed because his character and behaviour made it difficult for anyone to trust him.

Gregorovius states in no uncertain terms: "In absolutely authentic records I discovered the dates of the birth of Caesar and Lucretia, which clear up forever many errors regarding the genealogy and even the history of the house [of Borgia]. Caesar was born in the month of April, 1476 - the day is not given - and Lucretia on the eighteenth of April, 1480. Their father, when he was pope, gave their ages in accordance with these dates." (Gregorovius, p. 11)

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Gian Andrea Boccaccio, the Ambassador from Ferrara, describes a 1493 meeting with Cesare: On the day before yesterday I found Cesare at home in Trastevere. He was on the point of setting out to go hunting, and entirely in secular habit; that is to say, dressed in silk and armed. Riding together, we talked a while. I am among his most intimate acquaintances. He is man of great talent and of an excellent nature; his manners are those of the son of a great prince; above everything, he is joyous and light-hearted. He is very modest, much superior to, and of a much finer appearance than, his brother the Duke of Gandia, who also is not short of natural gifts. The archbishop never had any inclination for the priesthood. But his benefice yields him over 16,000 ducats.

(Sabatini, Life of Cesare Borgia p.92)


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  • Cesare Borgia to Machiavelli and the Florentine envoys in 1501-2:
    "This government of yours is not to my liking, you will have to change it...otherwise you will very soon realize that I do not wish to live in this fashion; and if you do not find me a friend, you will experience my enmity". (The Prince)
  • "My task is not to tyrannize, but to destroy tyrants".
  • "Better to die in the saddle than in bed" whilst charging at the Orsini's in October 1503

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  • On his arrival at the French court at Blois to meet his bride and deliver the papal bull allowing the French king Louis XII to marry Charles VIII's widow (Anne of Brittany) Sabatini writes that, "Cesare was mounted on a superb warhorse that was all empanoplied in a cuirass of gold leaves of exquisite crafstmanship, its head surmounted by a golden artichoke, its tail confined in a net of gold abundantly studded with pearls. The duke was in black velvet, through the slashings of which appeared the gold brocade of the undergarment. Suspended from a chain said by Brantome's poet to be worth thirty thousand ducats, a medallion of diamonds blazed upon his breast, and in his black velvet cap glowed those same wonderful rubies that we saw on the occasion of his departure from Rome. His boots were of black velvet, laced with gold thread that was studded with gems. (Rafael Sabatini, Cesare Borgia: Duke of Valentinois and Romagna et al page 182-83).
  • According to onlookers - at his cavalcade's entrance to the French royal court then at Chinon - his horse was shod with solid gold.
  • His political and military manoeuvres blindsided the Florentine signora and other Romagnol lords. None knew when or where he would be any given day. His troops were so highly trained that they would be ready to march by the thousand on just one day's notice.
  • After Cesare face was ravaged with syphilis he took to wearing a mask in public.
  • It was said he could break a horseshoe with his bare hands.
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Characters - The Borgias Fan Wiki
  • The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli (1532)
  • Cesare Borgia the Machiavellian Prince, Carlo Beuf (1942)
  • Cesare Borgia: His Life and Times, Sarah Bradford (1981)
  • The Borgias and Their Enemies, Christopher Hibbert (2008)
  • The Borgias (Marion Johnson, 1981)
  • The Borgias (Clemente Fusero, 1966)
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