Lucrezia Borgia Historical Profile

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Lucrezia Borgia
Historical Profile
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Name: Lucrezia Borgia
Born: 18 April 1480
Home town: Rome (born in Subiaco)
Died: 24 June 1519
Position: Daughter of the Pope, first - Lady of Pesaro, next - Duchess of Bisceglie, and finally - Duchess of Ferrara.
House of: Borgia
Marriage(s): Giovanni Sforza, Alfonso d'Aragona, and Alfonso I d'Este
Nickname: "Wife, Daughter, and Sister of a Priest" (oft-repeated contemporary slander) Later in life she attained the highest honor a consort could achieve; she was called by her subjects at Ferrara "The Good Duchess."
Personality type: Feminine, gentle-natured, and in her youth refreshing, delightful, and well-versed in courtly subjects of the day, later she was astute enough to correspond with the Catholic Monarchs and other Italian powers regarding Cesare's affairs. She was famous for her long, wavy golden hair that nearly reached her ankles.
Hobbies: Flirting, dancing, fashion, running amok in the Vatican Palace with sister-in-law Sancia of Aragon. As a matron, she volunteered and donated money to charitable causes and religious institutions.
Strength(s): Ferrarese Envoys stated that Lucrezia was full of 'grace and charm' as well as that 'she is full of tact, prudent, intelligent, animated, pleasing, very amiable... Her quick mind makes her eyes sparkle'.
Weakness(es): Her blackened reputation.
Quirks: It was said she wore a hair shirt in her later years as Duchess of Ferrara.

then the greatest wh*re
there ever was in Rome.

- said by the Perugian chronicler, Matarazzo

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Lucrezia Borgia (Pinturicchio) 1492Lucrezia Borgia was born on April 18, 1480, the daughter of Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia (c. 1431–1503), later to become Pope Alexander VI, and his mistress Vannozzo dei Cattanei, who was also the mother of Lucrezia's two older brothers, Cesare and Juan. The task of raising Lucrezia, however, was given to Rodrigo's cousin, the widow Adriana de Mila. While living in a palace in Rome, Lucrezia was educated at the Convent of St. Sixtus on Via Appia. Lucrezia was slender with light hazel-green eyes and golden hair, which she later bleached to maintain its goldenness. A painting by Pinturicchio (1454–1513), Disputation of Saint Catherine, is said to be modeled after her. It portrays a slender, young woman with wavy, blonde hair cascading down her back (the image above is a detail of the paintng which adorns the wall of the Apartmento Borgia at the Vatican.

The First Marriage

Young Lucrezia was no more than eleven when she was first affected by the political ambitions of her father (who had by this time become Pope Alexander VI) and her older brother, Cesare. Her father annulled a marriage contract between Lucrezia and a Spanish nobleman. Instead he gave Lucrezia to Giovanni Sforza lord of Pesaro, a twenty-seven-year old with a fierce temper. By the time Lucrezia was seventeen, Alexander and Cesare, were looking to align themselves with Spain and Naples against France and the Sforza family. Sensing he was losing favor with the Borgia family, Giovanni fled for his life. Soon Lucrezia's marriage was annulled on the grounds of impotence and Giovanni was thus publicly humiliated. He would later sire children by his second wife.

The Second Marriage

page logoFor Lucrezia's next husband, Rodrigo chose the gallant seventeen-year-old Alfonso of Aragon , the Duke of Bisceglie and illegitimate son of the late king of Naples. But by the time her first marriage was officially annulled on December 27, 1497, Lucrezia was six months pregnant. Rumours swirled throughout Italy as to who the father was.

page logoAlfonso of Aragon was reputed to be a handsome youth with fine manners, and by all evidence Lucrezia truly loved him. But only a year later, political changes were once again stirring. Alexander and Cesare now looked to align with France, and Lucrezia's marriage to Alfonso stood in the way. Fearing for his life, Alfonso also fled Rome. Lucrezia met up with her husband in Nepi and soon the two returned to Rome. On the evening of July 15, 1500 unknown would-be murderers stabbed him in the square of St Peter's. He survived the attack, but only a month later, he attempted to kill Cesare Borgia with a cross-bow from his window overlooking the Vatican Gardens. He missed. Later that night, August 18, 1500, he was strangled in bed by Cesare's henchmen. Lucrezia was utterly crushed. Follow the link for the official description of Alfonso's violent end: Alfonso of Aragon, Duke of Biscegli.

A New Husband

page logoOnce again politics determined Lucrezia's marriage to the twenty-four-year-old widower Alfonso I d'Este, eldest son of Ercole d'Este, Duke of Ferrara. Lucrezia was eager for the marriage. She regarded Rome as a prison and thought she would have a better chance of leading her own life in Ferrara, away from her ambitious father and brother. On February 2, 1502, Lucrezia and Alfonso were wed. Lucrezia had married a man who not only was interested in artillery, tournaments, dogs, and horses, but who also played the viol (a musical instrument that was popular during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries) and made pottery. On the other hand, he was also known for his cruelty, stinginess, and strange behaviour.

Life in Ferrara

page logoThe people of Ferrara adored Lucrezia, praising her for her beauty and "inner grace of personality." Content to socialize with artists, courtiers, poets, and citizens of the Renaissance court, she helped make Ferrara a center for artists and writers. In 1503 Alexander died, along with many of Cesare's political plans. Finally, some stability appeared in Lucrezia's life. When Ercole died in 1505, she and Alfonso became the reigning duke and duchess of Ferrara. Lucrezia had several children by Alfonso d'Este. In 1512 Lucrezia withdrew from public life, possibly from the news that Rodrigo, her son by Alfonso of Aragon, had died. She began to spend more time in her apartments or in nearby convents, and turned to religion. As the years progressed, her body thickened, and she was said to have aged greatly. She also suffered from spells of deep sadness. On June 14, 1519, while giving birth to a stillborn girl (dead upon birth), she developed a fever that caused her to lose much of her strength. She died ten days later at the age of thirty-nine. Many historians view Lucrezia Borgia as a political pawn whose marriages were used for her family's political gains. Born into a vicious and greedy family, Lucrezia was very much a product of her times, and she accepted these ambitions and their consequences for the good of the family.

page logoLucrezia's name has been tainted by the Borgia family's reputation. Historians in the past have commonly accused her or suggested that she played apart of their political machinations and assassinations. Her name has become synonymous with poison, incest, womanly vice and all that is evil. While every rumour and accusation always has some backing behind it, incest charges and things of that same degree were probably made up for political reasons. The rumours and slanders are repeated for the sake of telling a good story and making her the most vilified and debauched woman since the biblical Queen, Jezebel. Lucrezia Borgia, Duchess of Ferrara, earned a reputation as a political schemer in fifteenth century Italy. In actuality, she was simply a willing pawn - used by her father and brother to further their own political ambitions -, much like many other royal and noble families during the early modern period. For this alone, the Borgias should not necessarily be villified.

"Lucretia Borgia might correspond with the one derived from the documents of her time, which show her as an amiable, gentle, thoughtless, and unfortunate woman. Her misfortunes, in life, were due in part to a fate for which she was in no way responsible, and, after her death, in the opinion which was formed regarding her character." (Ferdinand Gregorovius, Lucretia Borgia p. 362)

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Madonna Lucrezia has left the palace insaluato hospite and gone to a convent known as that of San Sisto, where she now is. Some say she will turn nun, while others make different statements which I can not entrust to a letter (Lucretia Borgia, Gregorovius p. 107)

Dear Sons: Greeting and the Apostolic Blessing! We have entrusted to our beloved daughter in Christ, the noble lady, Lucrezia de Borgia, Duchess of Bisceglia, the office of keeper of the castle, as well as the government of our cities of Spoleto and Foligno, and of the county and district about them. Having perfect confidence in the intelligence, the fidelity, and probity of the Duchess, which We have dwelt upon in previous letters...we trust that you will receive [her] with all due honor as your regent, and show her submission in all things...(Lucrezia Borgia, Gregorovius p. 118)

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  • If people knew the reasons for my fears, they would be able to understand my pain.
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  • It was said of Lucrezia that "Her eyes can change colour".
  • A lock of her hair was enclosed in a book owned by Pietro Bembo. Lord Byron stole a strand from it after he read the letters, which he called "the prettiest love letters in the world.".
  • She was well-educated, capable of speaking Italian, Catalan, French, Latin, and Greek. She also loved music, poetry, and dancing.

    Characters - The Borgias Fan Wiki
    • Lucrezia Borgia, Maria Bellonci (1953)
    • Lucrezia Borgia - Life, Love, and Death in Renaissance Italy, (Sarah Bradford, 2004)
    • The Borgias and Their Enemies (Christopher Hibbert, 2008).
    • The Borgias (Marion Johnson, 1981)
    • The Borgias (Clemente Fusero, 1966)
    • Cesare Borgia: His Life and Times (Sarah Bradford, 1976)
    • The Prettiest Love Letters in the World: Letters between Lucrezia Borgia and Pietro Bembo, Hugh Shankland (2001)