Death On A Pale Horse

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"Death on a Pale Horse"
Characters - The Borgias Fan Wiki

Episode Title: Death On A Pale Horse
The Borgias Episode #: 7
The Borgias Season: 1
Original Air Date: 8 May 2011
Writer: Neil Jordan
Director(s): Jeremy Podeswa
Guest Star(s):Steven Berkoff as Girolamo Savonarola,Ronan Vibert as Giovanni Sforza,Ruta Gedmintas as Sister Martha/Ursula Bonadeo,Luke Pasqualino as Paolo,Mickey Sumner as Francesca, Augustus Prew as Prince Alfonso, Emanuelle Chriqui as Sancia,Peter Sullivan as Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, Julian Bleach as Niccolo Machiavelli, Michel Muller as King Charless VIII

The invasion by King Charles of France and Della Rovere proceeds with victory seemingly inevitable as the French sack the city of Lucca and the Italian powers flee to their banner, with Lucrezia’s husband Giovanni Sforza poised to join them in the name of Milan..

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Episode 1.7 - Death on a Pale Horse

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Name: Rodrigo Borgia
(Pope Alexander VI)
Played by: Jeremy Irons
Plot connections:-- Frantically trying to rally troops to protect Rome and his papacy

Cesare and Lucrezia

Name: Cesare Borgia
Played by: Francois Arnaud
Plot connections:-- Thwarted in his efforts to win back Ursula, he focuses his efforts on supporting the Pope

Charles VIII

Name: King Charles VIII
Played by: Michel Muller
Plot connections:-- After sacking Lucca, he moves on to Florence

Cardinal Della Rovere

Name: Cardinal della Rovere
Played by: Colm Feore
Plot connections:-- After the sack of Lucca, he realizes the gravity of his efforts to depose the Pope


Name: Prince Alfonso of Naples
Played by: Augustus Prew
Plot connections:-- The weight of current events becomes heavier after discovering his father dead in his bed

Cardinal, Machiavelli, Medici

Name: Niccolo Machiavelli
Played by: Julian Bleach
Plot connections:-- Must accept the surrender of Florence to King Charles VIII, but on his own terms

Name: Lucrezia Borgia
Played by: Holliday Grainger
Plot connections:-- Realizes the treachery of the Sforzas and discovers she is with child


Name: Paolo
Played by: Luke Pasqualino
Plot connections:-- Continues his affair with Lucrezia, willing to love in secret

Death On A Pale Horse - THE  BORGIAS   wiki

Name: Juan Borgia
Played by: David Oakes
Plot connections:-- Continues his affair with Joffre's wife Sancia

Death On A Pale Horse - THE  BORGIAS   wiki

Name: Sancia of Naples
Played by: Emmanuelle Chriqui
Plot connections:-- Continues her affair with brother-in-law Juan


Name: Giulia Farnese
Played by: Lotte Verbeek
Plot connections:-- Pledging allegiance to the Pope, she rides to Pesaro alone to question the Sforzas' plans and check on Lucrezia

Caterina Sforza

Name: Caterina Sforza
Played by: Gina McKee
Plot connections: Visits her cousin Giovanni in Pesaro and makes it clear to Giulia that the Sforza family will put their own interests first

Supporting Cast

  • Catherina Sforza played by Gina Mckee
  • French General played by Mark Nobel
  • French Captain played by Edward Akrout
  • King Ferrante played by Joseph M. Kelly
  • Friar Raphael played by Edward Petherbridge
  • Piero de Medici played by Cesare Taurasi
  • Abbess of Saint Cecelia's played by Anne Lambton
  • French Rider played by Arnie Reece
  • Cardinal Colonna played by Laszlo Konter
  • Cardinal Versucci played by Vernon Dobtchieff
  • Cardinal Piccolomini played by Bosco Hogan
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The armies of the French invade Italy and decimate the town of Lucca as della Rovere comes to comprehend what damage he has wrought with his warmongering as many powerful Italian leaders flee the onslaught. Meanwhile, the pope dispatches Giulia to discover what she can glean from Lucrezia, whom she finds with child; Cesare follows Ursula to a convent, where she spurns his advances; and in Milan, Leonardo da Vinci schools King Charles of France and della Rovere on his concepts of battle.

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France – Cardinal della Rovere and the French General talk of the nature of war amidst horses, livestock, and soldiers scrambling in preparation for the advance through Milan. The General says that Italy will be soon deafened by the sound of cannon fire.

Rome – Juan and Sancia having sex in the Borgia palace bedroom, their passionate love affair is heating up. After lovemaking, they exchange pleasantries before she hears the sound of Joffre playing with doves in the courtyard. Sancia tells Juan that she finds Joffre very sweet, but prefers Juan’s vigor. Elsewhere, Lucrezia and her favorite brother Cesare walk and converse about her life in Pesaro, and she unburdens herself somewhat. Cesare is saddened because, as he tells her, she no longer walks on air, and is no more a child. For that he hates Giovanni Sforza. Cesare makes clear his threat against Sforza, if he is unkind. Lucrezia happily tells Cesare of her husband’s riding accident. Before she leaves, Lucrezia asks Cesare to remind her of the reason for her marriage. She and her retinue return to Pesaro on horseback.

Meanwhile, Cesare seeks out and visits the abbey where Ursula has taken refuge. It is one of the Borgia benefices, though Ursula, who is now Sister Martha, did not know before she entered. Dressed in a nuns habit, she meets Cesare in her private room where he tries to regain her love. She tells him profoundly that Jesus is the only man she loves, and he visits her nightly. Cesare is sour as he jokes that Jesus is the one rival he cannot kill. She accuses him of blasphemy, and scrutinizes his character. She portends that Italy will be changed by this strength inside him, by his inner power that she has had a glimpse of. She believes him to have the devil’s power of knowing what is inside her heart and using it to his advantage. He pragmatically tells her – but it was you who asked me to liberate you, and I did. Later, in the pope’s private apartments Cesare and his father the pope urgently discuss the 25,000 troops that are now marching on Milan for safe passage through the dukedom. The pope fears an apocalypse and is afraid of the divisions he will encounter in the College of Cardinals at council. He sounds Cesare out about Florence – will they allow the French passage or will they resist? Cesare is not certain but know they will resist conquest but doubts they will assist the invasion on Naples.

The woods near Pesaro – in a soft rain shower, Paolo and Lucrezia lay in an embrace speaking of the nature of thunder and storms. Lucrezia tells him she knows their love cannot last, and teases him by asking him if he has not read Boccaccio and Petrarch – whose stories show that young love is always doomed. They kiss. Later, Lucrezia arrives at the castle soaked through from the rain, as Francesca helps her dry off. Giovanni walks in and says he will not have his lady wet again like this and requests to speak to Paolo. Lucrezia overhears and is worried about Paolo’s fate. At supper, she asks lightly what need has he for the groom Paolo, and Giovanni tells her he plans to ride again. She is crestfallen as it means a sudden end to her and Paolo’s trysts. He intends to visits her bed tonight as well - the news leaves her even more visibly wilted. That evening, she awaits her lord in the bedchamber. Before he walks in, however, Lucrezia spills water on the floor in hopes that he will slip. He walks in and states what a vision she is, and she quips despite my Borgia blood? He walks closer and as he tells her it was never he beauty in question, just her lineage, then he takes a crashing spill injuring himself again. Lucrezia is thrilled that her little plan worked.

Rome – the Vatican hall. Cardinal Sforza is tailed by Cesare who would speak to him about his loyalties to the Sforza cause – which is now utterly opposed to the interests of the Borgia papacy. Cesare bitterly complains of the traitorous acts of Milanese duke Ludovico. Then Cesare asks Cardinal Sforza if they can still count on Pesaro and Giovanni as well as his own personal support - Cardinal Sforza drily replies, what else would he say to the son of the pope, but yes, of course. I support the Borgia cause. The encounter shows Cesare that the Sforza alliance is as good as dead. Later, in the papal bedroom, Rodrigo and Giulia play. Giulia is again compared as a symbol of the papal power over parts of Italy, and he blood stained gown stops Rodrigo a moment to reflect that it may be seen as a portent of the bloodshed to come.

Lucca – a breathless French emissary returns from the city to the French king with the news that the republic will open their gates to him but only after they discuss the terms of surrender. The king brutally says “let us show them terms” – and gives the word for immediate bombardment. The city walls are reduced to rubble and the 25,000 troops spill into the city sacking, looting, and killing innocents as well as soldiers. The carnage is absolute and della Rovere is utterly horrified by the realization of what he has helped wrought in Italy. The orders from the king’s lips are “Pillage this place!” As Cardinal della Rovere gathers a dying innocent in his arms, the friar Savonarola’s prophesies echo in his mind about him being the cleric in red who leads the wrath of God to reform the Florentine republic.

Later, the French king and his general dine with other dignitaries, celebrating the sack of Lucca. Della Rovere pointedly refuses the food, enlisting a furious response from Charles that he must eat and partake of what he asked the French to help him do. The king forces him to stay and dine, while he explains his tactics in Italy. He tells della Rovere that his troops do not do this for the small pay he gives them but for the lucrative spoils of war. The troops know very well that news of the sack will travel fast and they may not get another chance to loot and pillage after battle, as all cities will no doubt surrender to avoid being laid waste. The rules of war prohibit soldiers from looting a city that has surrendered. Lucca will be stripped bare. Della Rovere pleads to be allowed to ride ahead of the army and negotiate the terms of surrender with Florence. The terms, laid out by the king are free passage, 25,000 troops billeted on Florentine homes, a payment of 400,000 ducats to finance the invasion of Naples, and be given hostages from each noble family.

Naples – Alfonso tends to his father king Ferrante. He tells him ‘good news’ an apocalypse is coming, and tries to feed him. He sadly tells his seemingly unconscious father that the French have laid waste to Lucca and are headed through Florence and Rome to come take this fair kingdom of Naples. He realizes at this moment that his father is dead.

Rome – Cesare enters his father’s room where the pope is in private prayer, who tells Cesare that king Ferrante is dead. They discuss the news from Lucca. The whole world has heard, and all cities are in abject terror of what else is in store for those who resist France. The pope rallies his spirit and declares he will gather the papal armies under Juan the gonfaloniere, the Sforza troops pledged by Giovanni of Pesaro, and seems to think Juan has it in hand, of that Cesare is in grave doubt. Later, the pope and the college of cardinals are in consistory to discuss the events. The pope plans to excommunicate the whole city of Florence if the allow free passage of the French. Some cardinals are against this, and Sforza openly claims this heavy weapon will be devalued in this occasion because it will not do any good, and there is no way to stop the events as they are about to play out. The pope demands compliance and solidarity in the college, and in a furious rage declares everyone a traitor if they resist his plans to fight back. If the are not with us they are against us.

Pesaro – Giovanni and Lucrezia at supper. He bluntly tells her that the House of Borgia is about to be destroyed, and the Sforza family no longer supports the papacy. He compares the French aim to depose the pope to someone chasing a litter of swine from the Vatican. She is terribly upset and tells him so, she nearly vomits and leaves the room very ill.

Rome – Rodrigo asks Giulia “who can we trust in this charnel house called Rome?” She replies that he can trust her. It gives him the idea to send her to Pesaro to find out the state of the Sforza alliance. He also tells her of an old confessor, to whom he would confess his sins. He would emerge “feeling as clean as a boy newly washed in the morning dew. Giulia tells him to summon the old man to Rome.

Florence – della Rovere rides in to the city ahead of the French army, sees Savonarola preaching about “a rider on a pale horse whose name is death,” and meets with Piero de Medici and Niccolo Machiavelli. Piero de Medici accepts the French king’s demands readily referring to Lucca twice in the dealings. Niccolo Machiavelli says that he senses some evil genius at work here, when he settles the terms - all in favor of the French. They agreed to do nothing if the French pass through Florence, and yet even now are forced to assist the invasion of Naples.

The French army arrives at Florence. Piero de Medici, Machiavelli, and della Rovere await the advance of the king. They tell each other of the papal excommunication if Florence ‘surrenders,’ to which Machiavelli replies, that depends on what one’s definition of surrender is. He rides out to meet the king and asks him to enter the city with his lance at rest – pointed straight up – as a sign of a peaceful entry. To ride in with lance pointed toward the city would symbolize his conquest, which is not the case here, as Florence has freely allowed him free passage and billeting of troops. His lance strikes the gate and asks what would be the symbol of angling his lance backwards, to which Machiavelli brilliantly replies “it would be a symbol of your infinite resourcefulness.” The gullible king takes his word for it, and he and his great army enter the city.

Pesaro – Giulia arrives and is ushered into the reception room where Giovanni is conversing with his cousin Caterina Sforza, ruler of cities in the Romagna. They confront her about what the pope is planning, as she in turn drills them on their stance and asks if their troops are still pledged to the pope. Caterina makes no bones about declaring that the Sforza armies will stay in the Romagna, and not come to aid the pope if he is besieged by the French advance. She says that she believes the house of Borgia is doomed. Giulia leaves in a rush to find Lucrezia.

Rome – the pope and father Raphael, his old confessor speak in the Vatican. The pope confesses and is assured by father Raphael that it is God who placed Rodrigo on the throne and it is his will to resist being deposed by Charles. Rodrigo’s will is now hardened and he intends to defend his papacy with al his might, and the might of God’s divine intervention. God will guide him through if he begs forgiveness for his sins.

Pesaro - Giulia finds Lucrezia ill in bed, and as she tends to her she asks questions about her condition. Lucrezia think it is a mountain fever of some kind. Giulia asks the symptoms, which are nausea, vomiting, and sweats in the mornings. She asks Lucrezia if her lord Sforza visits her bed nightly, to which Lucrezia informs her he has not these past months. Giulia realizes she is with child and shrewdly guesses an affair since Giovanni’s accident prevented him from visiting Lucrezia’s bed. She tells her she is pregnant, and that they must flee in the night by horse in secret, and head for the safety of Rome.

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page logo BEST QUOTES
  • "I would manage my own destiny." ~ Cesare
  • "You have a power Cardinal Cesare Borgia – a strength, a destiny that even you don’t recognize…you can use that strength for good or for ill but I have no doubt it will be used. And the whole of Italy will be changed by it." ~ Sister Martha formerly Ursula Bonadeo
  • " And now my lord Medici, that you have surrendered the republic of Florence, can we please pour the wine?" ~ Machiavelli
  • "We are facing a battle for our very survival." ~ Rodrigo
  • "There was a reason for my marriage brother. Remind me of it." ~ Lucrezia
  • "Your eyes, you no longer walk on air. Where is my young sister hiding?" ~ Cesare
  • "Lucrezia my love, I recognize the symptoms of your illness, and it's not called marsh fever. You're with child." ~ Giulia
  • "This is the chair of Saint Peter, we are the voice of the living God!" - Pope Alexander to the College of Cardinals
  • "The Pope of Rome, should stay in Rome, in the Vatican, in Saint Peter's, and we have every confidence the College of Cardinals shall do so." - Pope Alexander to the College of Cardinals
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Who died?
How did they die?
King Ferrante of Naples Old age (or comatose reaction to hearing the news of the French invasion?)

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  • Shocker - the brutality of the sack of Lucca
  • Best - Machiavelli's conclusion that there is some genius at work in this French invasion strategy
  • Best - Giulia and Caterina conversing about allegiances and political intrigues in front of Giovanni
  • Best - Lucrezia's sly sabotage of Giovanni's first visit back to the marital bed after the accident by pouring water on the floor so he would fall
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  • Why was the Pope's mistress allowed to ride to Pesaro with no accompaniment?
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  • The city of Lucca is an important Medieval heritage site because it is the only Italian city with its original bulwark and defensive walls intact after five centuries. The walls around the old town remained intact as the city expanded and modernized, unusual for cities in the region. As the walls lost their military importance, they became a pedestrian promenade which encircled the old town, although they were used for a number of years in the 20th century for racing cars. They are still fully intact today; each of the four principal sides is lined with a different tree species.
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How did this episode differ from actual events? Compare the facts with the fiction below!
  • The Sack of Lucca resulted in the spread of fear of the French army throughout Italy.
  • Della Rovere negotiates with Piero before the French trrops pass through Florence, settling on harsh terms of 'surrender' infavor of the French.
  • Giovanni Sforza and his cousin Catherine discuss abandoning their papal allies, as they 'predict' all of Italy will be doing, declaring their alliance essential pointless.
  • Juan Borgia pursues his affair with Sancia whilst preparing to lead the papal armies.
  • King Ferrante of Naples dies after the French army had passed through Milan.
  • The Sack of Mordano (October 20) was the first incident of major bloodshed: the city was reduced to rubble and the inhabitants slaughtered.
  • Piero gave up the chief fortresses of Tuscany and the vital Florentine port of Livorno in addition to every demand made by Charles.
  • Giovanni was still living in Rome with Lucrezia, but Caterina's forces did not come to the defense of the Romagna in the French army's sack of a few cities on their way to Florence.
  • Juan Borgia left Italy for Spain six months before the French arrived and missed the invasion altogether.
  • King Ferrante died on 25th January 1494, before Charles and his army left France; they did not enter Milanese territory until September 1494.

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