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Spain and the Papacy of Alexander VI
Spain - THE  BORGIAS   wiki

Alcázar de Segovia

The Borgias and their Spanish Heritage

The Borja family originated in the village of that name, near Saragossa in Aragon , but had settled in the town of Jativa, Valencia by the early thirteenth century.

The first of the family to reach international prominence was Alfons Borja, later known as Alfonso Borgia (1378-1458). A trained lawyer, he entered the service of the King of Aragon, Alfonso the Magnanimous, and followed him to Italy in 1432. He was then known by the Italianised version of his name, Borgia. He acted as tutor to the King's illegitimate son, Ferrante, and became President of the Royal Council. After helping to reconcile the King with Pope Eugenius IV, he was made a Cardinal in 1444. He brought his nephews, Pedro Luis and Rodrigo, the sons of his sister Isabella, to Rome.

When Alfonso became Pope in 1455, his relationship with King Alfonso deteriorated. Alfonso was angered by
Calixtus 's failure to back him in his struggles with other Italian rulers and, latterly, his refusal to dissolve his childless marriage; Calixtus deplored Alfonso's failure to involve himself in a crusade against the Turks and disapproved of his plans to leave Naples to his illegitimate son Ferrante. Relations remained strained up until Calixtus's death in 1458.

Alfonso the Magnamanimous Alfonso the Magnanimous (1396 -1458), King of Aragon and Naples

Rodrigo Borgia visits Spain

Rodrigo's uncle made him a Cardinal in 1456, at the age of 25. In 1472, he was sent by Pope Sixtus IV to attempt to drum up support for a crusade amongst the warring Spanish kingdoms, and to issue a dispensation of the marriage of Prince Ferdinand of Aragon and Princess Isabella of Castile if he felt that this was in the best interests of the country and the Church.

Rodrigo arrived in Valencia on 16th June. He quickly met with the young Prince, then aged 20, and the two formed a friendship and mutual alliance that was to last for more than twenty years. Borgia granted the dispensation for the marriage, which had already taken place on a bull forged by King John of Aragon, and agreed to to become godfather to the couple's daughter Isabella. He also helped to secure them the support of the powerful Bishop of Siguenza, Pedro de Mendoza.

Rodrigo threw a magnificent banquet for the Prince and the Bishop on 25th October 1472, with gilded peacocks hung with the Borgia coats of arms, veal, kid, and more peacocks with perfumed water spouting from their beaks. The feast was so lavish that one Valencian writer refused to describe it 'for fear of shaming St. Peter'!

Later, Borgia journeyed to Castile and met Princess Isabella. She respected his abilities but seems to have disliked him personally and disapproved of his promiscuity (not something that bothered Ferdinand, who was even more promiscuous than Rodrigo).

King Ferdinand of SpainQueen Isabella of Spain (1478)
King Ferdinand of Spain
Historical Figure by George Stuart
Queen Isabella of Spain (1478)
Historical Figure by George Stuart

Map of Spain in 1492
The Spanish Kingdoms

At the time, Spain was not one kingdom but several. The largest, Castile, formed roughly two thirds of the land mass of the peninsula. The second largest, Aragon, was not one but several countries - the kingdoms of Aragon and Valencia, the Principality of Catalonia, and the islands of Sicily, Sardinia, Malta and the Balearics. The Moors, who had invaded Spain in 711, continued to occupy the kingdom of Granada, on the southern coast. The small independent kingdom of Navarre was situated in the western Pyrenees and bordered Castile, Aragon and France.

When Princess Isabella married her second cousin Prince Ferdinand in 1469, she was disinherited by her brother King Henry. He re-instated his daughter Joanna (who was widely rumoured to be the illegitimate daughter of his queen and a prominent courtier) as heiress. When Henry died in December 1474, Ferdinand and Isabella were forced to fight a civil war against Joanna and her uncle/fiance Alfonso of Portugal. Ferdinand's victory over Alfonso at the Battle of Toro (1st March 1476) made the result a foregone conclusion, but the war was not finally settled until 1479, the year that Ferdinand's father died and he became King of Aragon.

Ferdinand and Isabella then turned their attention to the conquest of the Moorish kingdom of Granada. After a long and gruelling war, which lasted from 1481 to 1492, they entered Granada on 6th January 1492. On hearing the news, Cardinal Borgia arranged a celebratory bullfight and fiesta in Rome.

Ferdinand of Aragon, 1452-1516

A formidable general and a brilliant politician - probably the greatest foreign politician of the Renaissance - Ferdinand was much admired by the contemporary writers Niccolo Machiavelli and Francesco Guicciardini, who described him 'the most wise and powerful king...beyond all others, he is the master of dissimulation'.

Ferdinand was courageous, charming, intelligent, energetic, hard-working. witty, and charismatic. He was also promiscuous, calculating, cold-blooded, devious, duplicitous, and utterly ruthless when it came to Aragonese interests. Of all the 'players' in the politics of Renaissance Italy, he was 'the only one who consistently came out as the winner' (John Julius Norwich, 'History of Venice')

Ferdinand II of Aragon

In 'The Prince', Machiavelli describes Ferdinand's achievements:
Nothing makes a prince so much esteemed as great enterprises and setting a fine example. We have in our time Ferdinand of Aragon, the present King of Spain. He can almost be called a new prince, because he has risen, by fame and glory, from being an insignificant king to be the foremost king in Christendom; and if you will consider his deeds you will find them all great and some of them extraordinary. In the beginning of his reign he attacked Granada, and this enterprise was the foundation of his dominions. He did this quietly at first and without any fear of hindrance, for he held the minds of the barons of Castile occupied in thinking of the war and not anticipating any innovations; thus they did not perceive that by these means he was acquiring power and authority over them. He was able with the money of the Church and of the people to sustain his armies, and by that long war to lay the foundation for the military skill which has since distinguished him. Further, always using religion as a plea, so as to undertake greater schemes, he devoted himself with a pious cruelty to driving out and clearing his kingdom of the Moors; nor could there be a more admirable example, nor one more rare. Under this same cloak he assailed Africa, he came down on Italy, he has finally attacked France; and thus his achievements and designs have always been great, and have kept the minds of his people in suspense and admiration and occupied with the issue of them. And his actions have arisen in such a way, one out of the other, that men have never been given time to work steadily against him.

Isabella I, Queen of Castile and León

Isabella of Castile, 1451-1504

Queen of Castile in her own right and sharing power equally with her husband, Isabella was an accomplished politician who won the respect and love of her subjects. However, her role in Spanish foreign policy was limited.

Tomb of Isabella I and Ferdinand II

Tomb of Ferdinand and Isabella, Capilla Real (Granada, Spain)

Borgia Relations with Spain

The alliance formed between Rodrigo and Ferdinand in 1472 continued to their mutual benefit. Rodrigo advanced Spanish interests in Rome. In return, his eldest son Pedro Luis was given preferment in Spain. During a brief period of estrangement, caused by Rodrigo claiming the Bishopric of Seville (which Ferdinand wanted for one of his bastard sons), Pedro Luis was imprisoned by the King and his estates were confiscated.

Friendly relations were resumed in defence of Ferrante of Naples against the Angevin barons, and Pedro Luis was released from prison and rejoined the Spanish army. He fought well at the siege of Ronda, and Ferdinand allowed Rodrigo to purchase the duchy of Gandia for him. He also arranged for Pedro Luis to marry his cousin, Maria Enriquez. When Pedro Luis died on a visit to Rome in 1488, his duchy and fiancee were inherited by his brother Juan Borgia.

Spain and the Papacy

Papal Bull - Inter Caetera
Although Isabella was said to be disappointed when Rodrigo Borgia was elected as
Pope Alexander VI on 11th August 1492, she was still prepared to use his help. The
voyages of Columbus and others had raised conflict with Portugal, with both countries claiming the newly-discovered lands. Pope Alexander issued the bull Inter Caetera (document shown at right) on 4th May 1493 declaring lands south and west of the Azores to be Spanish territory. After further negotiations, the line was moved further west by the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494, allowing Portugal to subsequently lay claim to Brazil. In December 1496, Alexander granted the title 'Catholic Kings' to Ferdinand and Isabella and their successors, a title which remains with the Spanish monarchy to the present day.

Alexander VI splits the new for Spain and Portugal

Alexander issued a series of Papal Bulls between 1493 and 1499 supporting reform of the Spanish church, particularly the monastic orders. His predecessors had run into conflict with the Spanish sovereigns over the Inquisition but Alexander's attitude was generally conciliatory. He also allowed Ferdinand and Isabella a free hand in choosing candidates for church benefices, and by a Bull of 1494, granted them a third of church tithes in perpetuity. He extended the cruzada, a tax levied originally to help pay for the conquest of Granada. By these means, Alexander helped ensure that Spanish monarchs had little incentive, either financial or political, to break with the Catholic Church - it may even be said that he played a part in preventing Spain turning protestant in later years.

In return, Ferdinand allowed Alexander to transfer his former bishopric of Valencia to his son Cesare. He also approved the marriage of Juan Borgia to Maria Enriquez, which took place in September 1493. The Spanish ambassador in Rome helped Alexander to arrange marriages for his younger son Joffre and daughter Lucrezia with Sancia and Alfonso of Aragon, illegitimate children of Prince Alfonso of Naples.

Juan was not popular in Spain - his rowdy behaviour and frequent visits to brothels raised eyebrows, and he was described by one contemporary writer, Jeronimo Zurita, as 'haughty, cruel and unreasonable'. Alexander recalled Juan to Italy in 1496 before he could damage Papal/Spanish relations.

Alexander VI Splitting the New World

The Alhambra Palace, Granada. The last stronghold of the Moors in Spain, it was conquered by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492

The Alhambra Palace, Granada
The French Invasion of Naples

By that time, Alexander was in further need of Spanish help. The French king, Charles VIII, had invaded Naples. Charles assumed that he had secured Ferdinand's cooperation in this manoeuvre by the return of the provinces of Roussillon and Cerdagne to Aragon by the Treaty of Barcelona (19 January 1493), only to find that the provision in the Treaty which prevented him from doing anything to damage the Pope was applied, as Naples was a Papal fief. One writer has suggested that Ferdinand may have deliberately allowed Charles to reach Naples in order to de-stabilise his cousin's regime and pave the way for an eventual Spanish takeover - this may well be true. In any event, Ferdinand formed the 'Holy League' or 'League of Venice' in 1495, which drew Spain, the Papacy, the Emperor Maximilian, England, Venice and Milan together against the invader. Charles was thereby forced to withdraw from Naples, which was gradually reconquered by Ferrante II with the help of the Spanish general Gonsalvo de Cordoba.

When Cesare persuaded his father to allow him to leave the church and build an army to conquer the Papal States, Alexander drew closer to France. This resulted in a worsening relationship with Spain, and hard words were exchanged between Alexander and the Spanish ambassador, who accused him of nepotism and corruption, and threatened to convene a church council to have him deposed.

Ferdinand II and Isabella I, Catholic MonarchsFerdinand and Isabella - pictured right

War in Naples

After conquering Milan, Louis XII began to muster an army to invade Naples. Instead of helping his cousin Frederick, who had succeeded Ferrante as King, Ferdinand cynically made a deal with Louis to divide Naples between them. The resulting Treaty of Granada (11th November 1500) was enthusiastically endorsed by Alexander, who was anxious to re-establish a good relationship with Spain. Naples offered little resistance; King Frederick was given estates in France and his eldest son sent to prison in Spain.

Predictably, the erstwhile allies fell out and war broke out in Naples. Gradually, the more efficient Spanish forces, brilliantly led by de Cordoba, overcame the French and on 30th January 1504, Louis was forced to concede that Naples was lost to France 'beyond hope of recovery'. It was to remain in Spanish hands for the next two and a half centuries.

Cesare in Spain

After the death of Alexander VI on 18th August 1503, Cesare was unable to hold on to power in the Papal States. Fleeing to Naples, he was arrested by de Cordoba and sent as a prisoner to Spain. He arrived at his former diocese of Valencia in September 1504, and was immediately imprisoned in the fortress of Chinchilla. His sister-in-law, Maria Enriquez, blamed Cesare for the murder of her husband and threatened a lawsuit against him. After attempting to escape from prison, Cesare was transferred to the Castle of La Mota, near Medina del Campo, Castile. However, he attempted to turn the unstable Spanish political situation to his advantage. With the death of Isabella on 26th November 1504, a bitter power struggle broke out between Ferdinand and his son-in-law Philip of Austria for control of Castile. In 1506, Cesare managed to escape from La Mota with the help of nobles allied to Philip and made his way to the small trans-Pyrrenean Kingdom of Navarre, which was ruled by Catherine and John d'Albret, brother of his wife Charlotte.

Navarre was coveted by both Spain and France, and John and Catherine's rule was undermined by the activities of Luis de Beaumont, Ferdinand's brother-in-law and leader of his party in Navarre. Cesare undertook to eject Beaumont's supporters from the Castle of Viana, but he was killed whilst pursuing the opposing forces on 12th March 1507. Navarre was conquered by Ferdinand five years later.

In 1513, at the Cortes of Burgos, Ferdinand was able to declare that:

'In the past seven hundred years, the crown of Spain has never been as great or as resplendent as it is now, both in the west and in the east: and all, after God, by my work and my labours'.

The Borgias of Gandia

The Duchy of Gandia was inherited by Juan Borgia's infant son, Juan. He married Joanna of Aragon, illegitimate daughter of the Archbishop of Saragossa, himself an illegitimate son of Ferdinand. Their eldest son, Francis, became Duke in turn, then a Jesuit priest and later a Saint (for further information, go to character page Saint Francis Borgia).

The Borgias continued as Dukes of Gandia and Grandees of Spain until the nineteenth century. The ducal palace at Gandia, a fine example of Renaissance Architecture, is now open to the public.

The Ducal Palace of the Borgias at Gandia, Valencia
Ducal Palace, Gandia
Ducal Palace, Gadnia - Interior

Sources and Further Reading:

'The Prince', Niccolo Machiavelli
'History of Italy', Francesco Guicciardini
Calendars of State Papers, Spanish, Foreign and Domestic and Venetian


'Spain and 1492', David Abulafia
'Ferdinand and Isabella', Felipe Fernandez Armesto
'The Medieval Crown of Aragon', Thomas Bisson
'Cesare Borgia;, Sarah Bradford
'Ferdinand and Isabella: Profiles in Power', John Edwards
'The Spain of the Catholic Monarchs', John Edwards
'Imperial Spain', John Elliott
'The Spanish Kingdoms', Volume 2, Jocelyn Hillgarth
'The Borgias', Marion Johnson
'The Spanish Inquisition', Henry Kamen
'Spain 1469-1714, a Society of Conflict', Henry Kamen
'Isabel the Queen', Peggy Liss
'The Borgias', Michael Mallet
'Renaissance Diplomacy', Garrett Mattingly
'The Rise of the Spanish Empire', Volume 2, Roger Merriman
'History of Venice', John Julius Norwich
'Isabella of Castile, the First Renaissance Queen', Nancy Rubin
'Alfonso the Magnanimous', Alan Ryder
'The Wreck of Catalonia', Alan Ryder
'Rivers of Gold', Hugh Thomas
'The March of Folly', Barbara Tuchman

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