The Borgia family have become a byword for evil. Corruption, incest, ruthless megalomania, avarice and vicious cruelty—all have been associated with their name. And yet, paradoxically, this family lived when the Renaissance was coming into its full flowering in Italy. Examples of infamy flourished alongside some of the finest art produced in western history.This is but one of several paradoxes associated with the Borgia family. For the family which produced corrupt popes, depraved princes and poisoners, would also produce a saint. Previously history has tended to condemn, or attempt in part to exonerate, this remarkable family. Yet in order to understand the Borgias, the Borgias must be related to their time, together with the world which enabled them to flourish. Within this context the Renaissance itself takes on a very different aspect. Was the corruption part of the creation, or vice versa? Would one have been possible without the other?The powerful forces which first played out in the amphitheaters of ancient Greece: hubris, incest, murder, rivalries and doomed families, treacheries of political power, twists of fate—they are all here. Along with the final, tragic downfall. All these elements are played out in full in the glorious and infamous history of the Borgia family.
In this accessible look behind the curtain, novelist and historian Strathern (The Medici: Power, Money, and Ambition in the Italian Renaissance) lays out the history of the infamous Italian clan, whose members included popes and political leaders during the Renaissance. Strathern follows the family line, beginning with the first Borgia pope, Callixtus III, Alfons de Borja (1378 1458); through his nephew Roderigo's appointment to his papacy as Pope Alexander VI in 1492; to the death of his great-nephew Cesare Borgia, who inspired Machiavelli's The Prince. While Strathern acknowledges it's difficult to separate truth "from the exaggerations of rumor and gossip," depravity and power are linked inextricably with this family's history the seven cardinal sins appear in abundance. Financial shenanigans multiply, from "the first time that the papacy had simply been bought outright" and transactions that resemble today's off-shore banking to Alexander VI's confiscation of all Jewish property. The Borgia reputation for prolific, promiscuous, and sometimes incestuous sexual misconduct is amply delineated. Alliances with city-states (Florence, Genoa, Naples, Venice) and nations (France) come and go, as do battles, and passages on the intrigues of papal conclaves and diplomatic machinations are lucidly rendered. Strathern makes a tangled and thorny history readable in this solid, workmanlike book. \n