Borgia. I. Cesare, an Italian prelate and soldier, born about 1457, died March 12, 1507. His family was of Spanish origin, but attained considerable prominence at Rome after the elevation of Alfonso Borgia to the papal throne in 1455 as Calixtus III. His father was Pope Alexander VI., and his mother a woman called Rosa Vanozza (Giulia Farnese). He was bishop of Pampeluna when a mere youth, and soon after his father's accession was made archbishop of Valencia, and in 1493 a cardinal. He began a war of extermination against the feudal barons and small princes in the Papal States and its vicinity, having persuaded his father to take the lead in this movement. They dispossessed most of the feudatories, seizing their strongholds, castles, and estates. He is believed to have poisoned Zizim, the brother of Bajazet II., who sought refuge in Rome about this time. He also poisoned Giovanni Battista Ferrata, the richest and most influential dignitary in the papal court, and seized the treasures he had accumulated. Soon afterward he was suspected of procuring the murder of his own brother, Giovanni Borgia, duke of Gandia, who was found in the Tiber pierced with nine stiletto strokes by unknown hands. At all events he obtained his duchy and other possessions.
In 1497 the pope' released him from his clerical vows, and endeavored to make him marry Charlotte, daughter of Frederick of Aragon, king of Naples. This scheme, however, was unsuccessful, but a cardinal who participated in the intrigue was poisoned and his fortune seized by Borgia. Cesare was sent to France the next year with the bull divorcing Louis XII. from his wife Jeanne, and was rewarded by Louis with the dukedom of Valentinois and a command in the French army. While in the French service he obtained possession of Forli, Cesena, Imola, Rimini, Piombino, the island of Elba, Faenza, and Camerino, and murdered their sovereigns. He married Charlotte, daughter of Jean d'Al-bret, king of Navarre, in 1499, and in 1501 he was made duke of Romagna and gonfaloniere of the holy see. He continued his onslaught on the petty sovereigns of central Italy, and aimed at making himself king of Romagna, Umbria, and the Marches; but Louis XII. arrested these ambitious machinations, and many whom Cesare had already deprived of their possessions recovered them.
His most bloody military action was the storming of Sinigaglia, toward the close of 1502, at the head of his Swiss mercenaries, and the slaughter of his prisoners, including several princes, as described by Machiavelli. Finally, as many historians allege, in conjunction with his father, in August, 1503, he concocted the plan of poisoning four of the wealthiest cardinals at an evening party in the villa Corneto; but by mistake the poison, which was mixed in wine, was administered to Alexander VI. and to Cesare. The pope died about a week after. Cesare was saved, having taken but little of the drugged wine. He seized upon the papal treasures in the Vatican, and with about 12,000 mercenaries still kept Rome, although those whom he had despoiled in central Italy revolted and recovered their lost property. Finally his troops abandoned him, and the pope, Julius II., arrested and expelled him from the Papal States. He took refuge with Gonsalvo de Cordova, the commander of Naples, who sent him to Spain, where he was imprisoned by Ferdinand of Aragon. After two years he escaped and found an asylum, in 1506, at the court of Jean d'Albret, his father-in-law. Finally he was slain before the castle of Viana, while in the service of the king of Navarre. He was highly-educated, eloquent, and a patron of art and literature.
For this reason he found many apologists, among them Machiavelli, who took him as the model ruler in his Principe. II. Lucrezia, sister of the preceding, died in 1528. She was equally remarkable for beauty and accomplishments, and was in her youth affianced to a nobleman of Aragon, but her father on becoming pope married her to Giovanni Sforza, lord of Pesaro. This union was dissolved in 1497, and she was given in marriage to Alfonso, duke of Bisceglia, natural son of Alfonso II., king of Naples, and made duchess of Spoleto and Sermoneta. The duke was assassinated two years later, as was believed by order of her brother Cesare. In 1501 she married Alfonso d'Este, son of the duke of Ferrara, became a patron of men of letters, and attracted a brilliant society to her court. In her later years she was much given to devotion and acts of charity. She has been often represented as a monster of profligacy, sharing in the atrocities of her father and brother, and even living with them at Rome in incestuous intercourse; but she has also found many defenders, who deny the crimes alleged against her.