Rodrigo Borgia Historical Profile

Page Symbol Rodrigo Borgia
Historical Profile
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Characters - The Borgias Fan Wiki
Name: Rodrigo Borgia (de Lanzòl-Borja)
Born: 1 January, 1431
Died: 18 August, 1503
Home town: Jativa, near Valencia, Kingdom of Aragon
Position: Cardinal, Vice-Chancellor of the Curia, Bishop of Valencia, Pope (1492 - 1503)
House of: Borja (Italianized as Borgia)
Emblem(s): The Bull Rampant
Personality type: energetic, positive, active, educated, liberal (easy-going), exuberant, healthy, adventurous, bold, brave, calculating, passionate
Hobbies: patronizing artists, attending and giving sumptuous parties, hunting, loving women
Strength(s): communicative, diplomatic, good administrative skills, political maneuvering, expert knowledge of scripture and canon law
Weakness(es): relied on nepotism, simony, probably murder
Quirks: first pope to publicly acknowledge his illegitimate children and install his mistress in the Vatican, once watched mares and stallions bite and kick each other with enthusiasm and laughter, attended orgies (see Ballet of the Chestnuts)

Now we are in the power of a wolf, the most rapacious
perhaps that this world has ever seen.
And if we do not flee, he will
inevitably devour us all...

Giovanni di Lorenzo de' Medici, later Pope Leo X criticises the election of Rodrigo Borgia and Pope Alexander and predicts of things to come.


The Resurrection (Pinturicchio, c.1492)Although often thought of as Italian, Rodrigo de Borja was Spanish. He was born in Jativa, near Valencia, then part of the King of Aragon, in 1431. His uncle Alfonso was a distinguished canon lawyer who became Bishop of Valencia. He was a close friend of King Alfonso the Magnanimous of Aragon. When King Alfonso conquered the kingdom of Naples in 1442, he helped his friend become a cardinal. Cardinal Borja brought his two nephews Rodrigo and Pedro-Luis to Rome. Rodrigo studied canon law at the University of Bologna, and was noted for his ability and magnificence.

In 1455, Alfonso de Borja was elected Pope, and took the title Callistus III. A year later, he made the young Rodrigo a Cardinal; two years later, he was appointed Vice-Chancellor of the Church and in 1458, he became Bishop of Valencia. In 1472, Rodrigo returned to Spain as Papal Legate at the behest of Pope Sixtus IV. On that visit, he met the young Ferdinand of Aragon, for whose marriage to Isabella of Castile he granted a dispensation and with whom he formed a mutually profitable alliance that lasted over twenty years.

On his return to Italy, he formed a relationship with Vanozza dei Cattanei
a middle-class Roman. They went on to have four children - Cesare, Juan, Lucrezia and Jofre Borgia (although the last may not have been Rodrigo's child). Rodrigo also had three older children by other mistresses. Cardinal Borgia gathered numerous benefices in Spain and Italy and became one of the richest Cardinals in Rome. Rodrigo's reputation for wealth and ability made him a front-runner for the papacy when Innocent VIII died in 1492. He was also helped by a stalemate between two other leading candidates, Giuliano della Rovere (the future Pope Julius II) and Ascanio Sforza. Bribery and promises of rich benefices to his fellow Cardinals won the day, and on 11th August 1492, Rodrigo was elected Pope and took the title Alexander VI.

page logoCalixtus's death in 1455 could have ended Rodrigo's rise through the church, but his intellect, charm and political skills won him the favour of subsequent Popes. Energetic, positive,and vivacious - his communicative and diplomatic skills won him an early reputation for being a man of action with considerable political acumen. A gifted administrator, Alexander knew how to bide his time and played the constantly fluctuating Italian states off one another to the benefit of the church and its international position.

Rodrigo Borgia had an insatiable desire for women and he never let his vow of chastity impair it. In 1460 he attended an orgy that Pope Pius II heard about and he wrote the admonishing letter to Rodrigo (see quote below)he also, like other popes before and after him, engaged in flagrant nepotism and simony. According to Johann Burchard, Alexander and Lucrezia watched from a window above the Vatican Palace gate - with much amusement - four feisty stallions break loose from their harness and bite, kick, seriously injure and mount a couple of mares. Burchard noted dryly that they were laughing and found it extremely hilarious. (Burchard, p. 194)

One contemporary wrote:
[Women] they are attracted to him as iron filings are to a magnet.

[Cardinal Borgia's] plate, his pearls, his stuffs embroidered with silk and gold, and his books in every department of learning are very numerous and all are of a magnificence worthy of a king or a pope.

From Pope Pius II to Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia :

Dear Son: We have learned that your Worthiness, forgetful of the high office with which you are invested, was present from the seventeenth to the twenty-second hour, four days ago, in the gardens of John de Bichis, where there were several women of Siena, women wholly given over to worldly vanities. Your companion was one of your colleagues whom his years, if not the dignity of his office, ought to have reminded of his duty. We have heard the dance was indulged in all wantonness; none of the allurements of love were lacking, and you conducted yourself in a wholly worldly manner. Shame forbids mention of all that took place, for not only the things themselves but their very names are unworthy of your rank. In order that your lust might be all the more unrestrained, the husbands, fathers, brothers and kinsmen of the young women and girls were not invited to be present. You and a few servants were the leaders and inspirers of the orgy. It is said that nothing is now talked of in Siena but your vanity, which is the subject of universal ridicule. Certain it is that here at the baths, where Churchmen and the laity are very numerous, your name is on every one's tongue. Our displeasure is beyond words, for your conduct has brought the holy state and office into disgrace; the people will say that they make us rich and great, not that we may live a blameless life, but that we may have means to gratify our passions. This is the reason the princes and the powers dispose us and the chancellor of the Church, and what renders your conduct all the more reprehensible is the fact that you have a seat among the cardinals, with the Pope, as advisers of the Holy See. We leave it to you whether it is becoming to your dignity to court young women, and to send the laity to mock us; this is why our own mode of living is thrown in our face when we reprove others. Contempt is the lot of Christ's vicar because he seems to tolerate these actions. You, dear son, have charge of the bishopric of Valencia, the most important in Spain; you are one of those whom love fruits and wine, and during the whole day to give no thought to anything but sensual pleasures. People blame us on your account, and the memory of your blessed uncle, Calixtus, likewise suffers, and many say he did wrong in heaping honors upon you. If you try to excuse yourself on the ground of your youth, I say to you; you are no longer so young as not to see what duties your offices impose upon you. A Cardinal should be above reproach and an example of right living before the eyes of all men, and then we should have just grounds for anger when temporal princes bestow uncomplimentary epithets upon us; when they dispute with us the possession of our property and force us to submit ourselves to their will. Of a truth we inflict these wounds upon ourselves, and we ourselves are the cause of these troubles, since we by our conduct are daily diminishing the authority of the Church. Our punishment for it in this world is dishonor, and in the world to come well deserved torment. May, therefore, your good sense place a restraint on these frivolities, and may you never lose sight of your dignity; then people will not call you a vain gallant among men. If this occurs again we shall be compelled to show that it was contrary to our exhortation, and that it caused us great pain; and our censure will not pass over you without causing you a blush. We have always loved you and thought you worthy of our protection as a man of an earnest and modest character. Therefore, conduct yourself henceforth so that we may retain this our opinion of you, and may behold in you only the example of a well ordered life. Your years, which are not such as to preclude improvement, permit us to admonish you paternally.

  • From Rodrigo to Lucrezia: Do people say that I am both your father and your lover? Let the world, that heap of vermin as ridiculous as they are feeble-minded, believe the most absurd tales about the mighty! You must know that for those destined to dominate others, the ordinary rules of life are turned upside down and duty acquires an entirely new meaning. Good and evil are carried off to a higher, different plane.
  • "God has done this perhaps for some sin of ours and not because he deserved such a cruel death..” he cried “..We are determined henceforth to see to our own reform and that of the church. We wish to renounce all nepotism. We will begin,therefore, with ourselves and so proceed through all the ranks of the church.” Rodrigo hearing of Juan's death.

  • Alexander VI offended his home country Spain by his tolerance toward and his refusal to persecute Jews.
  • After Alexander VI's death, Burchard wrote of the treatment of the late Pope's remains: "The carpenters had made the coffin too narrow and short, and so they placed the pope's mitre at his side, rolled his body up in an old carpet, and pummelled and pushed it into the coffin with their fists."

  • The Borgias and Their Enemies (Christopher Hibbert, 2008).
  • At the Court of the Borgia (Johann Burchard, 1506)
  • The Borgias (Marion Johnson, 1981)
  • The Borgias (Clemente Fusero, 1966)
  • The Renaissance Popes; Statesmen, Warriors, and the Great Borgia Myth (Gerard Noel, 2006)

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