Pope Alexander VI

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Name: Rodrigo de Borja y Borja
Born: 1 January 1431
Home town: Jativa, near Valencia, Spain
Died: 18 August 1503
Position: Held Papacy from 11 August 1492 to 18 August 1503
House of: Borgia
Nickname: 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: Relied on nepotism, simony, probably murder.
"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.

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Was born in Jativa, near
Valencia. His maternal uncle, then bishop of Valencia but after 1455 Callistus III, loaded the youth with benefices, sent him to study at Bologna, and in February 1456 named him cardinal deacon. as well as holding a string of bishoprics and abbeys, Rodrigo became vice-chancellor of the Holy See in 1457, a lucrative office he held under the next four popes, amassing such vast wealth that he was reckoned the second richest cardinal. At the same time he lived an openly licentious life, fathering several children; he was fondest of those born to the aristocratic Roman Vannozzo dei Cattanei - Cesare, Lucrezia, Goffredo (Jofre). In 1460 his scandalous behaviour earned him a sharp but unheeded rebuke from Pius II. Possessed of ambition, energy and versatile talents, he worked hard but unsuccessfully for election as successor to Sixtus IV. At the conclave (6-11 August) following Innocent VIII's death, however, although as a Spaniard not at first regarded as a serious candidate, he eventually emerged as victor. He had swung several cardinals over to his cause by barefaced bribery and promises of rich preferment's.

An experienced administrator, Alexander made a favourable start, restoring order in Rome, dispensing justice vigorously and promising reform of the curia and a united effort against the Turkish menace.It was soon evident, however, that his consuming passion, gold and women apart, was the aggrandizement of his relatives, especially Vannozza's children. Thus he soon saw Cesare, still only eighteen, bishop of several sees, including the wealthy one of Valencia, and a year later, along with Alessandro Farnese (brother of Giulia, his current mistress) a cardinal. Cesare's brother Juan, Duke of Gandia, married a Spanish princess (Maria Enriquez de Lune), and in 1497 endowed him with the duchy of Benevento, which he carved out of the papal state. For Lucrezia he arranged one magnificent marriage after the other; in his absence from Rome he sometimes left her as virtual regent in charge of official business. In June 1497 he was momentarily shattered by the murder of Juan, his favourite, with suspicion falling on Cesare. Grief-stricken, he vowed to devote himself henceforth to church reform, and had a bull full of admirable proposals drafted; but it remained a draft. He lacked the resolution to abjure sensuality; he soon resumed his pleasures and family machinations, with Cesare now increasingly his evil genius.

Family interest conditioned the shifts of Alexander's Italian policy. Initially at odds with Ferdinand I of Naples (1458-1494), he supported him against the claims ofCharles VIII of France (1483-98) after the marriage of his son Goffredo in 1493 (age 13) to the king's grand-daughter (Sancia of Aragon age 16 - whose dowry was the rich principality of Squillace). On Ferdinand's death (25 January 1494) he recognised and crowned his son Alfonso II as king (1494-5). At this time Charles, incited by Alexander's deadly enemy, Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere (later Julius II) invaded Italy, breathing threats of a council to depose the pope, who in his difficult straits did not hesitate to seek help from the Turkish sultan Bayezid II (1481-1512). He could not defend Rome and had to come to terms with Charles, who easily conquered Naples; but Alexander refused, in spite of strong pressure, to invest him with it. Eventually by allaying himself in a 'holy league' (31 March 1493) with other powers which threatened Charles's rear, he forced him to withdraw from Italy, and in June 1497 sent Cesare as legate to Naples to crown Frederick of Aragon (1496-1501). From 1498, however, under the influence of Cesare, whom he released from the cardinalate, he moved closer to France, annulling the marriage of the new king, Louis XII. He sent Cesare as envoy to France, where a grateful Louis created him duke of Valentinois and gave him a princess as his bride (Charlotte of Albret). Alexander's volte-face was so complete that in 1501 he ratified the partition of Naples between France and Spain. Meanwhile proceeded, with French aid, to subdue Romagna, being created duke of this largest province of the papal state in 1501. But the ambitions of Cesare and Alexander, now wholly under his sway, envisaged the appropriation of the entire papal state and central Italy by the Borgia family, and this project, with the systematic crushing of the great Roman families, filled the rest of the reign. The enormous sums required for its realisation were raised by assassinations, followed by seizures of property, and by the cynical creation of cardinals who had to pay dearly for their elevation.

In 1493, at the instance of the Castilian sovereigns, Alexander drew a line of demarcation a hundred leagues west of the Azores between Spanish and Portuguese zones of exploration in the new world; as it favoured Spain, it was modified by the Treaty of Tordesilles of 7 June 1494. He also granted the monarchs control of the church in the lands they colonised. In 1495 he began his long dual with the preacher and reformer Girolamo Savonarola (1452-98) which started with patience, ended in May 1498 with the excommunication, examination under torture, and execution of the Florentine friar; Alexander found his opposition to Florence joining the anti-denunciation of papal corruption and his calls for a council to reform the church and depose the pope. Devout and a stickler for orthodoxy in spite of personal profligacy, he celebrated the holy year of 1500 with suitable pomp, using the vast sums accruing from indulgences to finance Cesare's expeditions. In general his concern for the monasteries, for the religious orders, and for missions in the new world - took a markedly second place to more worldly goals. He had a genuine love, however, for art and, although a less lavish patron than Sixtus IV or Julius II, richly restored Castel Sant'Angelo, embellished the Vatican with the Borgia Apartments decorated by Pinyuricchio, and persuaded Michelangelo to draw plans for the rebuilding of St Peter's Basilica. Involved in political and family scheming till the end, he and Cesare were suddenly taken ill in August 1503, and while the younger man survived with difficulty, Alexander died. His death is usually explained as due to malaria, but there are strong grounds for believing that father and son were victims of an arsenic based poison (cantarella) intended for a cardinal who was their host at dinner which was mistakenly given to themselves.

Johann Burchard, the conclaves Master of Ceremonies said that after Alexander had taken ill, his stomach was swollen, his face was wine coloured, his tongue doubled in size and his skin began to peel. A week later after suffering convulsive fevers and intestinal bleeding he died, his body was displayed and was in an advanced stage of decomposition. The Venetian Ambassador reported that Alexander's body was "the ugliest, most monstrous and horrible dead body what was ever seen, without any form or likeness of humanity" Burchard was reported as having to jump on Alexander's body which was jammed into the undersized coffin and threw a carpet from the palace over it. His successor Pius III forbade the saying of a mass for Alexander saying "it is blasphemous to pray for the damned".

Related Links:
Rodrigo Borgia

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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 the dance was indulged in 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 inslirers 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 e laity 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 a those whom you 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.

De Maistre wrote:

It has been noted that the crimes of Alexander VI are similar in nature to those of other Renaissance princes, with the one exception being his position in the Church. As De Maistre said in his work Du Pape, "The latter are forgiven nothing, because everything is expected from them, wherefore the vices lightly passed over in a Louis XIV become most offensive and scandalous in an Alexander VI.

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  • "He (Alexander VI) is tall, in complexion neither fair nor dark; his eyes are black, his mouthsomewhat full. His health is splendid and he has a marvelous power of enduring all sorts of fatigue. He is singularly eloquent and is gifted with an innate good breeding which never forsakes him".

    F. Gregovius, Lucrezia Borgia

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  • Alexander's last words were said to be "wait a minute" others version "I'll come, I'll come. It's normal for you to call me. But wait a bit more"
  • As he lay dying he was also to have said "I'll come, I'll come. It's normal for you to call me. But wait a bit more" before his death.
  • Cantarella is known as "The poison of the Borgia's and "The liquor of succession".
  • Who sacrificed quiet to hatred, with a warrior heart, who did not stop at quarrels, struggles and slaughters, is lying here in the coffin for all people to rejoice, thy supreme pontiff Alexander, oh, capital Rome. Thou, prelates of Erebus and Heaven, close thy doors and prohibit the Soul from entering thy sites. He would disrupt the peace of Styx and disturb Avernus, and vanquish the Saints, if he enters the sphere of stars. Epitaph to Pope Alexander VI.

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  • The contemporary politician and author Niccolò Machiavelli wrote 1513 his book of power politics The Prince, in which he refers to Alexander VI as a successful politician.
  • Alexander is one of 6 Popes of the Renaissance era profiled unfavorably by historian Barbara Tuchman in The March of Folly.
  • Frederick Rolfe ("Baron Corvo") wrote Chronicles of the House of Borgia. This was a revisionist account, in which he argued that the Borgia family was unjustly maligned and that the accounts of poisoning were a myth.
  • Alexander VI and his family are the subjects of Mario Puzo's final novel The Family as well as Robert Rankin's humorous and fictionalized novel The Antipope.
  • The Borgia Bride (2005) is a historic fiction by Jeanne Kalogridis, told from the perspective of Sancha of Aragon, married to the Pope's youngest son Gioffre Borgia.
  • In March 2005, Heavy Metal published the first of a three part graphic novel biography of Alexander VI entitled Borgia, written by Alexandro Jodorowsky with art by Milo Manara. The story focuses mostly on the sexual indiscretions and acts of violent backstabbery carried out by the corrupt papal figure. The second part was released in July 2006 and the third in July 2009.
  • Gregory Maguire makes strong references to Alexander VI and specifically his daughter in the 2003 novel, Mirror, Mirror.
  • Oxford Dictionary of Popes by JND Kelly.
  • The Popes by John Julius Norwich
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