Rodrigo Borgia (Pope Alexander VI)
Posted on 6th January 2021
Rodrigo de Borja was born on 1 January 1431 in Xativa, near Valencia Spain, to parents Jofre Llancol and Isabel de Borja. From an early age his uncle Alonso de Borja (Bishop of Valencia) undertook his education and Rodrigo was to study Law in Bologna, Italy.
Rodrigo’s uncle was elected as Pope Callixtus III in 1455, and following this Rodrigo acquired the position of Cardinal-Deacon of San Nicola in Carcere in 1456 and Vice Chancellor of the Holy Roman Church in 1457.
Following the death of Pope Callixtus III in 1458, Rodrigo served through four further Popes, continuing to ascend to various positions, finally becoming Archbishop of Valencia in 1492 shortly before the death of Pope Innocent VIII.
Even though he held many positions within the Catholic Church, Rodrigo was less than discreet in regard to his mistresses of which there were many and he fathered numerous children by them.
His greatest love was Vannozza dei Cattanei with whom he fathered four children, all of which he acknowledged and legitimised as his own. Sons Cesare, Giovanni (Juan) and Gioffre and a daughter Lucrezia.
Although Rodrigo cared for Vannozza, their relationship ended before he acceded to the throne, her place being taken by Giulia Farnese, with whom he fathered a daughter.
Rodrigo was determined to become Pope and using the vast wealth he had amassed since becoming Vice Chancellor he literally bought the papacy, bribing the other candidates and buying Cardinal votes.
He acceded to the throne on 11 August 1492 as Pope Alexander VI.
Reign 1492 - 1503
In his early reign, Alexander set upon a strict administration and reform of papal finances, however his thirst for power and wealth could not be subdued, and he started to bestow positions on his family.
His son Cesare became Archbishop of Valencia even though only seventeen years old and Juan became 2nd Duke of Gandia in Spain. During his reign Alexander would openly use his children to form political alliances through marriage.
Shortly after becoming Pope, Alexander sought to secure his position by allying himself to the prominent, powerful families in Italy including the Sforza. An agreement was made to marry his daughter Lucrezia to Giovanni Sforza, with the marriage taking place on 12 June 1493.
It would later emerge that Pope Alexander would use both marriage and divorce to protect his position.
Alexander had been opposed to the position of Pope by Cardinal della Rovere who himself had been backed by Ferdinand I, King of Naples. This now put Alexander at odds with Naples and he prepared for war, however he finally agreed peace with Naples by securing a marriage between his son Gioffre and Dona Sancha, granddaughter of Ferdinand I.
Following Ferdinand I’s death in 1494 and the succession of his son Alfonso II, Charles VIII of France decided to invade Italy and reclaim Naples for himself. Although initially encouraged by the Pope in this move, Alexander had other motives and through an alliance with Milan, Venice, Germany and Spain, Charles was forced back into France.
To secure his papacy, Alexander created twelve new cardinals in 1494. These included his own son Cesare and Alessandro Farnese, the younger brother of Alexanders mistress Giulia Farnese.
Alexander was determined to crush his enemy, the Orsini’s, however the papal army led by Juan Borgia, Duke of Gandia, failed to defeat them in January 1497. A peace was finally agreed with the Orsini’s however they remained very powerful.
Tragedy was to strike the Borgia family on 14 June 1497 when Juan Borgia disappeared, later found murdered in the Tiber river. Nobody was ever charged with murder but suspicion fell on many people, including the Orsini’s, Sforza and even his own brother Cesare.
Alexander, devastated with Juan’s death, locked himself away vowing that the only object of his life would now be the moral reform of the church.
In 1494 a Dominican friar, Girolamo Savonarola had taken control of Florence. Since then, he had continually preached and condemned papal corruption and abuse, appealing for a general council to be convened against the Pope. This caused Alexander to appoint a priest to investigate Savonarola and treat him as an enemy. Savonarola was eventually condemned to death in 1498, having already been excommunicated by the Pope in 1497.
Alexander had already used his children to form political alliances and secure his position, and he continued in this vein. As his daughters first marriage was of no further use to Alexander, it was annulled and Lucrezia was married for a second time in 1498 to Alfonso of Aragon, Duke of Bisceglie, nephew of the king of Naples. This marriage did not last long, Alfonso was murdered in 1500, with Lucrezia’s brother Cesare suspected of the murder. She then married for a third time to Alfonso l d’Este, Duke of Ferrara.
King Charles VIII of France died in 1498 and was succeeded by Louis XII. To gain the support of France, Alexander agreed to an annulment of the French Kings marriage, then strengthened this alliance further by agreeing the marriage of Cesare, who had resigned as Cardinal, to Charlotte d’Albret, sister to John III of Navarre.
Alexander was known for ruling by corruption and violence, and defeating his enemies by any means. His son Cesare with his army of 10,000 men marched into Northern Italy, deposing and assassinating its leaders as he went under the authority of his father. Alexander believed that he could only secure his position by destroying his opposition, not by working with them.
In August 1503 after dining, Alexander and Cesare along with others became ill possibly by poisoning or by Malaria.
Although Cesare survived, the same could not be said for Alexander VI; he died on 18 August 1503, aged 72.
He is remembered as an infamous Pope, without conscience, who would do anything to get what he wanted, regardless of the consequences.
His body now lay at the Santa Maria in Montserrat dogli Spagnoli (Church of Holy Mary in Montserrat of the Spaniards).
Tagged as: Junior Middle Ages
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