- This article is about the historical person. Lucrezia Borgia is also the name Buffalo Bill gave to his gun.
Lucrezia Borgia (or "Lucrecia Borgia") (April 14 or April 18, 1480 - June 24, 1519) was the daughter of Rodrigo Borgia, the powerful Renaissance Spaniard who would later become Pope Alexander VI. Her brother was the notorious despot Cesare Borgia. Lucrezia's family later came to epitomise the ruthless Machiavillian politics and sexual corruption alleged to be characteristic of the Renaissance Papacy. In this story Lucrezia was cast as a femme fatale, a role she has played in many artworks, novels and films. No authentic portrait of Lucrezia is known, though several paintings, such as Bartolomeo Veneziano's fancy portrait (see illustration) have been said to depict her. Often these images are simply part of Lucrezia's myth.
Not enough is known about the historical Lucrezia to be certain whether any of the stories about her active involvement in her father's and brother crimes are true. Her father and/or brother certainly arranged several marriages for her to important or powerful men, in order to advance their own political ambitions. Lucrezia was married to Giovanni Sforza (Ruler of Milan), Alfonso V of Aragon (Duke of Bisceglie ), and Alphonso d'Este (Prince of Ferrara). Tradition has it that the middle of those husbands was an illegitimate son of the King of Naples and that Cesare may have had him murdered after his political value waned.
Was she a "monster of cruelty and deceit"? Or a pawn of her power-hungry father and brother? Was she a poisoner or simply the victim of some very bad press? Once again, the differing perceptions of history are fascinating.
Lucrezia was the daughter of Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia and his mistress, Vannozza de Cattanei. By the time she was eleven, she had been betrothed twice, but both times her father had called off the engagements.
Marriage to Giovanni Sforza
After Rodrigo became Pope Alexander VI, however, he had Lucrezia marry Giovanni Sforza in order to establish an alliance with that powerful Milanese family. The wedding was a scandalous event but was not much more extravagant than many other Renaissance celebrations.
Before long, the Borgia family no longer needed the Sforzas, and the presence of Giovanni Sforza's in the papal court was superfluous. The Pope needed new, more advantageous political alliances, so he may have covertly ordered the execution of Giovanni. Lucrezia was informed of this by her brother Cesare, and she warned her husband who then fled Rome. Possibly Pope Alexander never made such an order, and it was a plot on the part of Cesare and Lucrezia to drive her boring husband away. Whichever way it was, Alexander and Cesare were pleased with the chance of arranging another advantageous marriage for Lucrezia. But before that could occur, they needed to get rid of Giovanni Sforza.
Alexander asked Giovanni's uncle, Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, to persuade Giovanni to agree to a divorce. Giovanni refused and accused Lucrezia of paternal and fraternal incest. Since the marriage had not been consummated, the Pope said that the marriage was not valid, and he offered Giovanni all of Lucrezia's dowry to agree. The Sforza family threatened to withdraw their protection of Giovanni if he refused Alexander's offer. Having no choice, Giovanni Sforza signed both a confession of impotence and the documents of annulment before witnesses.
Affair with Perotto
During the prolonged process of the anullment, Lucrezia did consummate a relationship with someone, probably Alexander's messenger Perotto. The result was that she was actually pregnant when her marriage was annulled for not having been consummated, and this is one of the facts her detractors have cited to support their derogatory view of her character. The child was born in secret before Lucrezia's marriage to the 17-year-old Alfonso V of Aragon. Some believe the child was her brother Cesare's, but that Perotto due to his fondness for Lucrezia claimed that it was his. During her pregnancy she stayed away from Rome at a convent, so no one would know of her state, and Perotto would bring her messages from her father in Rome. She was worried that if news of her pregnancy reached the citizens of Rome, they would surely know it was Cesare's child. Cesare at the time was a cardinal of the Holy Church and therefore the illicit sexual relationship he had been sharing with her, during her marriage to Giovanni, could not be known to anyone, especially his father the Pope.
As stated in Mario Puzo's excellent novel "The Family", after Lucrezia's marriage to Alfonso, Lucrezia's father, Pope Alexander VI, wanted to arrange a third marriage, and it is said Cesare had his servant(s) strangle Alfonso while he recovered from an attack by possible assassins. She was then married to her third husband. Cesare did not like Alfonso because Lucrezia was very happy with him and had, since her marriage to him, stopped giving Cesare as much attention. Though at his first meeting with Alfonso, before the marriage took place, Cesare was very impressed by his good looks and nature, but it soon changed to jealousy and hatred. Cesare himself had a bout of the French pox and a lot scars remained on his face, even after recovery. This made him very conscious of his appearance, and so he started wearing masks and dressing in black.His own condition made him hate Alfonso of Aragon all the more, and once when the prince was paying them a visit in Rome, Cesare's men had attacked him during the night. To retalliate, Alfonso's men shot arrows at Cesare one day while he strolled in the garden. This infuriated Cesare had Alfonso strangled in the recovery room.
(I am working on merging and rewritting a couple of copyrighted articles on her other marriages so that the new text can be posted here under the FDL)
Legends and Rumors
Several legends and rumors have persisted throughout the years, primarily speculating as to the nature of the extravagant parties thrown by the Borgia family.
- It is rumored that Lucrezia was in possession of a hollow ring that she used frequently to poison drinks.
- There has been much speculation of an indecent relationship between Lucrezia and her father and brothers.
- Lucrezia Borgia: A Biography (©1978) by Rachel Erlanger (ISBN 0-8015-4725-3)
- External link to on-line biography
Plays, Operas, and Films
- Victor Hugo's tragedy, loosely based on Lucretia's myth, was transformed into a libretto by Felice Romani for
- Donizetti's opera, Lucrezia Borgia (1834), first performed at La Scala, Milan, 26 Dec 1834. When it was produced in Paris, in 1840, Hugo obtained an injunction against further productions. The libretto was then rewritten and retitled La Rinegata, with the Italian characters changed to Turks, and the performances were resumed. The first English-language production was in London on 30 Dec 1843.
- The 1949 film Bride of Vengeance (or Mask for Lucretia) starred Paulette Goddard as Lucretia (and Macdonald Carey as Cesare) in a fictionalized portrayal of her as her brother's tool who went straight once she had the chance, a view many historians endorse.