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  • 1914
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Macchiavelli’s wonder increased. But the subject of it now was that the condottieri should be hoodwinked by a document in such terms, and well may he have bethought him then of those words which Cesare had used to him a few days earlier.



It really seemed as if the condottieri were determined to make their score as heavy as possible. For even whilst Paolo Orsini had been on his mission of peace to Cesare, and whilst they awaited his return, they had continued in arms against the duke. The Vitelli had aided Guidobaldo to reconquer his territory, and had killed, in the course of doing so, Bartolomeo da Capranica, Cesare’s most valued captain and Vitelli’s brother­in-arms of yesterday. The Baglioni were pressing Michele da Corella in Pesaro, but to little purpose; whilst the butcher Oliverotto da Fermo in Camerino–of which he had taken possession with Gianmaria Varano–was slaughtering every Spaniard he could find.

On the other side, Corella in Pesaro hanged five men whom he caught practising against the duke’s government, and, having taken young Pietro Varano–who was on his way to join his brother in Camerino in view of the revolt there–he had him strangled in the market-place. There is a story that, with life not yet extinct, the poor youth was carried into church by the pitiful crowd. But here a friar, discovering that he still lived, called in the soldiers and bade them finish him. This friar, going later through Cagli, was recognized, set upon by a mob, and torn to pieces–in which, if the rest of the tale be true, he was richly served.

Into the theatre of bloodshed came Paolo Orsini from his mission to Valentinois, bringing with him the treaty for signature by the condottieri. Accustomed as they were to playing fast and loose, they opined that, so far as Urbino was concerned, enough changes of government had they contrived there already. Vitelli pointed out the unseemliness of once again deposing Guidobaldo, whom they had just reseated upon his throne. Besides, he perceived in the treaty the end of his hopes of a descent upon Florence, which was the cause of all his labours. So he rejected it.

But Valentinois had already got the Orsini and Pandolfo Petrucci on his side, and so the confederacy was divided. Another factor came to befriend the duke. On November 2 he was visited by Antonio Galeazzo Bentivogli, sent by his father Giovanni to propose a treaty with him– this state of affairs having been brought about by the mediation of Ercole d’Este. From the negotiations that followed it resulted that, on the 13th, the Orsini had word from Cesare that he had entered into an alliance with the Bentivogli–which definitely removed their main objection to bearing arms with him.

It was resigning much on Cesare’s part, but the treaty, after all, was only for two years, and might, of course, be broken before then, as they understood these matters. This treaty was signed at the Vatican on the 23rd, between Borgia and Bentivogli, to guarantee the States of both. The King of France, the Signory of Florence, and the Duke of Ferrara guaranteed the alliance.

Inter alia, it was agreed between them that Bologna should supply Cesare with 100 lances and 200 light horse for one or two enterprises within the year, and that the condotta of 100 lances which Cesare held from Bologna by the last treaty should be renewed. The terms of the treaty were to be kept utterly secret for the next three months, so that the affairs of Urbino and Camerino should not be prejudiced by their publication.

The result was instantaneous. On November 27 Paolo Orsini was back at Imola with the other treaty, which bore now the signatures of all the confederates. Vitelli, finding himself isolated, had swallowed his chagrin in the matter of Florence, and his scruples in the matter of Urbino, abandoning the unfortunate Guidobaldo to his fate. This came swiftly. From Imola, Paolo Orsini rode to Fano on the 29th, and ordered his men to advance upon Urbino and seize the city in the Duke of Valentinois’s name, proclaiming a pardon for all rebels who would be submissive.

Guidobaldo and the ill-starred Lord of Faenza were the two exceptions in Romagna–the only two who had known how to win the affections of their subjects. For Guidobaldo there was nothing that the men of Urbino would not have done. They rallied to him now, and the women of Valbone–like the ladies of England to save Coeur-de-Lion–came with their jewels and trinkets, offering them that he might have the means to levy troops and resist. But this gentle, kindly Guidobaldo could not subject his country to further ravages of war; and so he determined, in his subjects’ interests as much as in his own, to depart for the second time.

Early in December the Orsini troops are in his territory, and Paolo, halting them a few miles out of Urbino, sends to beg Guidobaldo’s attendance in his camp. Guidobaldo, crippled by gout and unable at the time to walk a step, sends Paolo his excuses and begs that he will come to Urbino, where he awaits him. There Guidobaldo makes formal surrender to him, takes leave of his faithful friends, enjoins fidelity to Valentinois and trust in God, and so on December 19 he departs into exile, the one pathetic noble figure amid so many ignoble ones. Paolo, taking possession of the duchy, assumes the title of governor.

The Florentines had had their chance of an alliance with Cesare, and had deliberately neglected it. Early in November they had received letters from the King of France urging them to come to an accord with Cesare, and they had made known to the duke that they desired to reoccupy Pisa and to assure themselves of Vitelli; but, when he pressed that Florence should give him a condotta, Macchiavelli–following his instructions not to commit the Republic in any way–had answered “that his Excellency must not be considered as other lords, but as a new potentate in Italy, with whom it is more seemly to make an alliance or a friendship than to grant him a condotta; and, as alliances are maintained by arms, and that is the only power to compel their observance, the Signory could not perceive what security they would have when three-quarters or three-fifths of their arms would be in the duke’s hands.” Macchiavelli added diplomatically that “he did not say this to impugn the duke’s good faith, but to show him that princes should be circumspect and never enter into anything that leaves a possibility of their being put at a disadvantage.”(1)

1 See the twenty-first letter from Macchiavelli on this legation.

Cesare answered him calmly (“senza segno d’alterazione alcuna”) that without a condotta, he didn’t know what to make of a private friendship whose first principles were denied him. And there the matter hung, for Macchiavelli’s legation had for only aim to ensure the immunity of Tuscany and to safeguard Florentine interests without conceding any advantages to Cesare–as the latter had perceived from the first.

On December 10 Cesare moved from Imola with his entire army, intent now upon the conquest of Sinigaglia, which State Giuliano della Rovere had been unable to save for his nephew, as king and Pope had alike turned a deaf ear upon the excuses he had sought to make for the Prefetessa, Giovanna da Montefeltre–the mother of the young prefect–who had aided her brother Guidobaldo in the late war in Urbino.

On the morrow Valentinois arrived in Cesena and encamped his army there for Christmas, as in the previous year. The country was beginning to feel the effects of this prolonged vast military occupation, and although the duke, with intent to relieve the people, had done all that was possible to provision the troops, and had purchased from Venice 30,000 bushels of wheat for the purpose, yet all had been consumed. “The very stones have been eaten,” says Macchiavelli.

To account for this state of things–and possibly for certain other matters–Messer Ramiro de Lorqua, the Governor-General, was summoned from Pesaro; whilst to avert the threatened famine Cesare ordered that the cereals in the private granaries of Cesena should be sold at reduced prices, and he further proceeded, at heavy expense, to procure grain from without. Another, less far-seeing than Valentinois, might have made capital out of Urbino’s late rebellion, and pillaged the country to provide for pressing needs. But that would have been opposed to Cesare’s policy, of fostering the goodwill of the people he subjected.

On December 20 three of the companies of French lances that had been with Cesare took their leave of him and returned to Lombardy, so that Cesare was left with only one company. There appears to be some confusion as to the reasons for this, and it is stated by some that those companies were recalled to Milan by the French governor. Macchiavelli, ever inquisitive and inquiring, questioned one of the French officers in the matter, to be told that the lances were returning because the duke no longer needed them, the inference being that this was in consequence of the return of the condottieri to their allegiance. But the astute secretary did not at the time account this convincing, arguing that the duke could not yet be said to be secure, nor could he know for certain how far he might trust Vitelli and the Orsini. Presumably, however, he afterwards obtained more certain information, for he says later that Valentinois himself dismissed the French, and that the dismissal was part of the stratagem he was preparing, and had for object to reassure Vitelli and the other confederates, and to throw them off their guard, by causing them to suppose him indifferently supported.

But the departure of the French did not take place without much discussion being provoked, and rumour making extremely busy, whilst it was generally assumed that it would retard the Sinigaglia conquest. Nevertheless, the duke calmly pursued his preparations, and proceeded now to send forward his artillery. There was no real ground upon which to assume that he would adopt any other course. Cesare was now in considerable strength, apart from French lances, and even as these left him he was joined by a thousand Swiss, and another six hundred Romagnuoli from the Val di Lamone. Moreover, as far as the reduction of Sinigaglia was concerned, no resistance was to be expected, for Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere had written enjoining the people to surrender peacefully to the duke.

What matters Cesare may have found in Cesena to justify the arrest of his Governor-General we do not know to the full with absolute certainty. On December 22 Ramiro de Lorqua, coming from Pesaro in response to his master’s summons, was arrested on his arrival and flung into prison. His examination was to follow.

Macchiavelli, reporting the arrest, says: “It is thought he [Cesare] may sacrifice him to the people, who have a very great desire of it.”

Ramiro had made himself detested in Romagna by the ruthlessness of his rule, and a ruthless servant reflects upon his master, a matter which could nowise suit Borgia. To all who have read The Prince it will be clear that upon that ground alone–of having brought Valentinois’s justice into disrepute by the harshness which in Valentinois’s name he practised–Macchiavelli would have approved the execution of Ramiro. He would have accounted it perfectly justifiable that Ramiro should be sacrificed to the people for no better reason than because he had provoked their hatred, since this sacrifice made for the duke’s welfare. He does, as a matter of fact, justify this execution, but upon much fuller grounds than these. Still, had the reasons been no better than are mentioned, he would still have justified it upon those. So much is clear; and, when so much is clear, much more will be clear to you touching this strange epoch.

There was, however, more than a matter of sacrificing the Governor- General to the hatred of the people. There was, for one thing, the matter of that wheat which had disappeared. Ramiro was charged with having fraudulently sold it to his own dishonest profit, putting the duke to the heavy expense of importing fresh supplies for the nourishment of the people. The seriousness of the charge will be appreciated when it is considered that, had a famine resulted from this peculation, grave disorder might have ensued and perhaps even a rebellion against a government which could provide no better.

The duke published the news of the governor’s arrest throughout Romagna. He announced his displeasure and regret at the harshnesses and corrupt practices of Ramiro de Lorqua, in spite of the most urgent admonishings that he should refrain from all undue exactions and the threat of grave punishment should he disobey. These frauds, corruption, extortion, and rapine practised by the governor were so grave, continuous and general, stated the duke in his manifesto, that “there is no city, country-side, or castle, nor any place in all Romagna, nor officer or minister of the duke’s, who does not know of these abuses; and, amongst others, the famine of wheat occasioned by the traffic which he held against our express prohibition, sending out such quantities as would abundantly have sufficed for the people and the army.”

He concludes with assurances of his intention that, in the future, they shall be ruled with justice and integrity, and he urges all who may have charges to prefer against the said governor to bring them forward immediately.

It was freely rumoured that the charges against Ramiro by no means ended there, and in Bologna–and from Bologna the truth of such a matter might well transpire, all things considered–it was openly said that Ramiro had been in secret treaty with the Bentivogli, Orsini, and Vitelli, against the Duke of Valentinois: “Aveva provixione da Messer Zoane Bentivogli e da Orsini e Vitelozo contro el duca,” writes Fileno della Tuate, who, it will be borne in mind, was no friend of the Borgia, and would be at no pains to find justification for the duke’s deeds.

But of that secret treaty there was, for the moment, no official mention. Later the rumour of it was to receive the fullest confirmation, and, together with that, we shall give, in the next chapter, the duke’s obvious reasons for having kept the matter secret at first. Matter enough and to spare was there already upon which to dispose of Messer Ramiro de Lorqua and disposed of he was, with the most summary justice.

On the morning of December 26 the first folk to be astir in Cesena beheld, in the grey light of that wintry dawn, the body of Ramiro lying headless in the square. It was richly dressed, with all his ornaments upon it, a scarlet cloak about it, and the hands were gloved. On a pike beside the body the black-bearded head was set up to view, and so remained throughout that day, a terrible display of the swift and pitiless justice of the duke.

Macchiavelli wrote: “The reason of his death is not properly known” (“non si sa bene la cagione della sua morte”) “beyond the fact that such was the pleasure of the prince, who shows us that he can make and unmake men according to their deserts.”

The Cronica Civitas Faventiae, the Diariurn Caesenate, and the Cronache Forlivese, all express the people’s extreme satisfaction at the deed, and endorse the charges of brutality against the man which are contained in Cesare’s letter.



Cesare left Cesena very early on the morning of December 26–the morning of Ramiro’s execution–and by the 29th he was at Fano, where he received the envoys who came from Ancona with protestations of loyalty, as well as a messenger from Vitellozzo Vitelli, who brought him news of the surrender of Sinigaglia. The citadel itself was still being held by Andrea Doria–the same who was afterwards to become so famous in Genoa; this, it was stated, was solely because Doria desired to make surrender to the duke himself. The Prefectress, Giovanna da Montefeltre, had already departed from the city, which she ruled as regent for her eleven- year old boy, and had gone by sea to Venice.

The duke returned answer to Vitelli that he would be in Sinigaglia himself upon the morrow, and he invited the condottieri to receive him there, since he was decided to possess himself of the citadel at once, whether Doria chose to surrender it peacefully or not; and that, to provide for emergencies, he would bring his artillery with him. Lastly, Vitelli was bidden to prepare quarters within the new town for the troops that would accompany Cesare. To do this it was necessary to dispose the soldiers of Oliverotto da Fermo in the borgo. These were the only troops with the condottieri in Sinigaglia; the remainder of their forces were quartered in the strongholds of the territory at distances of from five to seven miles of the town.

On the last day of that year 1502 Cesare Borgia appeared before Sinigaglia to receive the homage of those men who had used him so treacherously, and whom–with the exception of Paolo Orsini–he now met face to face for the first time since their rebellion. Here were Francesco Orsini, Duke of Gravina, with Paolo and the latter’s son Fabio; here was Oliverotto, the ruffianly Lord of Fermo, who had won his lordship by the cold-blooded murder of his kinsman, and concerning whom a rumour ran in Rome that Cesare had sworn to choke him with his own hands; and here was Vitellozzo Vitelli, the arch-traitor of them all.

Gianpaolo Baglioni was absent through illness–a matter less fatal to him than was their health to those who were present–and the Cardinal and Giulio Orsini were in Rome.

Were these captains mad to suppose that such a man as Cesare Borgia could so forget the wrong they had done him, and forgive them in this easy fashion, exacting no amends? Were they mad to suppose that, after such proofs as they had given him of what manner of faith they kept, he would trust them hereafter with their lives to work further mischief against him? (Well might Macchiavelli have marvelled when he beheld the terms of the treaty the duke had made with them.) Were they mad to imagine that one so crafty as Valentinois would so place himself into their hands–the hands of men who had sworn his ruin and death? Truly, mad they must have been–rendered so by the gods who would destroy them.

The tale of that happening is graphically told by the pen of the admiring Macchiavelli, who names the affair “Il Bellissimo Inganno.” That he so named it should suffice us and restrain us from criticisms of our own, accepting that criticism of his. To us, judged from our modern standpoint, the affair of Sinigaglia is the last word in treachery and iscariotism. But you are here concerned with the standpoint of the Cinquecento, and that standpoint Macchiavelli gives you when he describes this business as “the beautiful stratagem.” To offer judgment in despite of that is to commit a fatuity, which too often already has been committed.

Here, then, is Macchiavelli’s story of the event:

On the morning of December 31 Cesare’s army, composed of 10,000 foot and 3,000 horse,(1) was drawn up on the banks of the River Metauro–some five miles from Sinigaglia–in accordance with his orders, awaiting his arrival. He came at daybreak, and immediately ordered forward 200 lances under the command of Don Michele da Corella; he bade the foot to march after these, and himself brought up the rear with the main body of the horse.

1 This is Macchiavelli’s report of the forces; but, it appears to be an exaggeration, for, upon leaving Cesena, Cesare does not appear to have commanded more than 10,000 men in all.

In Sinigaglia, as we have seen, the condottieri had only the troops of Oliverotto–1,000 foot and 150 horse–which had been quartered in the borgo, and were now drawn up in the market-place, Oliverotto at their head, to do honour to the duke.

As the horse under Don Michele gained the little river Misa and the bridge that spanned it, almost directly opposite to the gates of Sinigaglia, their captain halted them and drew them up into two files, between which a lane was opened. Through this the foot went forward and straight into the town, and after came Cesare himself, a graceful, youthful figure, resplendent in full armour at the head of his lances. To meet him advanced now the three Orsini and Vitellozzo Vitelli. Macchiavelli tells us of the latter’s uneasiness, of his premonitions of evil, and the farewells (all of which Macchiavelli had afterwards heard reported) which he had taken of his family before coming to Sinigaglia. Probably these are no more than the stories that grow up about such men after such an event as that which was about to happen.

The condottieri came unarmed, Vitelli mounted on a mule, wearing a cloak with a green lining. In that group he is the only man deserving of any respect or pity–a victim of his sense of duty to his family, driven to his rebellion and faithlessness to Valentinois by his consuming desire to avenge his brother’s death upon the Florentines. The others were poor creatures, incapable even of keeping faith with one another. Paolo Orsini was actually said to be in secret concert with Valentinois since his mission to him at Imola, and to have accepted heavy bribes from him. Oliverotto you have seen at work, making a holocaust of his family and friends under the base spur of his cupidity; whilst of the absent ones, Pandolfo Petrucci alone was a man of any steadfastness and honesty.

The duke’s reception of them was invested with that gracious friendliness of which none knew the art better than did he, intent upon showing them that the past was forgiven and their offences against himself forgotten. As they turned and rode with him through the gates of Sinigaglia some of the duke’s gentlemen hemmed them about in the preconcerted manner, lest even now they should be taken with alarm. But it was all done unostentatiously and with every show of friendliness, that no suspicions should be aroused.

From the group Cesare had missed Oliverotto, and as they now approached the market-square, where the Tyrant of Fermo sat on his horse at the head of his troops, Cesare made a sign with his eyes to Don Michele, the purport of which was plain to the captain. He rode ahead to suggest to Ohiverotto that this was no time to have his men under arms and out of their lodgings, and to point out to him that, if they were not dismissed they would be in danger of having their quarters snatched from them by the duke’s men, from which trouble might arise. To this he added that the duke was expecting his lordship.

Oliverotto, persuaded, gave the order for the dismissal of his troops, and the duke, coming up at that moment, called to him. In response he went to greet him, and fell in thereafter with the others who were riding with Valentinois.

In amiable conversation with them all, and riding between Vitelli and Francesco Orsini, the duke passed from the borgo into the town itself, and so to the palace, where the condottieri disposed to take their leave of him. But Cesare was not for parting with them yet; he bade them in with him, and they perforce must accept his invitation. Besides, his mood was so agreeable that surely there could be nought to fear.

But scarce were they inside when his manner changed of a sudden, and at a sign from him they were instantly overpowered and arrested by those gentlemen of his own who were of the party and who came to it well schooled in what they were to do.

Buonaccorsi compiled his diary carefully from the letters of Macchiavelli to the Ten, in so far as this and other affairs are concerned; and to Buonaccorsi we must now turn for what immediately follows, which is no doubt from Macchiavelli’s second letter of December 31, in which the full details of the affair are given. His first letter no more than briefly states the happening; the second unfortunately is missing; so that the above particulars–and some yet to follow–are culled from the relations which he afterwards penned (“Del modo tenuto,” etc.), edited, however, by the help of his dispatches at the time in regard to the causes which led to the affair. Between these and the actual relation there are some minor discrepancies. Unquestionably the dispatches are the more reliable, so that, where such discrepancies occur, the version in the dispatches has been preferred.

To turn for a moment to Buonaccorsi, he tells us that, as the Florentine envoy (who was, of course, Macchiavelli) following the Duke of Valentinois entered the town later, after the arrest of the condottieri, and found all uproar and confusion, he repaired straight to the palace to ascertain the truth. As he approached he met the duke, riding out in full armour to quell the rioting and restrain his men, who were by now all out of hand and pillaging the city. Cesare, perceiving the secretary, reined in and called him.

“This,” he said, “is what I wanted to tell Monsignor di Volterra [Soderini] when he came to Urbino, but I could not entrust him with the secret. Now that my opportunity has come, I have known very well how to make use of it, and I have done a great service to your masters.”

And with that Cesare left him, and, calling his captains about him, rode down into the town to put an end to the horrors that were being perpetrated there.

Immediately upon the arrest of the condottieri Cesare had issued orders to attack the soldiers of Vitelli and Orsini, and to dislodge them from the castles of the territory where they were quartered, and similarly to dislodge Oliverotto’s men and drive them out of Sinigaglia. This had been swiftly accomplished. But the duke’s men were not disposed to leave matters at that. Excited by the taste of battle that had been theirs, they returned to wreak their fury upon the town, and were proceeding to put it to sack, directing particular attention to the wealthy quarter occupied by the Venetian merchants, which is said to have been plundered by them to the extent of some 20,000 ducats. They would have made an end of Sinigaglia but for the sudden appearance amongst them of the duke himself. He rode through the streets, angrily ordering the pillage to cease; and, to show how much he was in earnest, with his own hands he cut down some who were insolent or slow to obey him; thus, before dusk, he had restored order and quiet.

As for the condottieri, Vitelli and Oliverotto were dealt with that very night. There is a story that Oliverotto, seeing that all was lost, drew a dagger and would have put it through his heart to save himself from dying at the hands of the hangman. If it is true, then that was his last show of spirit. He turned craven at the end, and protested tearfully to his judges–for a trial was given them–that the fault of all the wrong wrought against the duke lay with his brother-in-law, Vitellozzo. More wonderful was it that the grim Vitelli’s courage also should break down at the end, and that he should beg that the Pope be implored to grant him a plenary indulgence and that his answer be awaited.

But at dawn–the night having been consumed in their trial–they were placed back to back, and so strangled, and their bodies were taken to the church of the Misericordia Hospital.

The Orsini were not dealt with just yet. They were kept prisoners, and Valentinois would go no further until he should have heard from Rome that Giulio Orsini and the powerful cardinal were also under arrest. To put to death at present the men in his power might be to alarm and so lose the others. They are right who say that his craft was devilish; but what else was to be expected of the times?

On the morrow–January 1, 1503–the duke issued dispatches to the Powers of Italy giving his account of the deed. It set forth that the Orsini and their confederates, notwithstanding the pardon accorded them for their first betrayal and revolt, upon learning of the departure of the French lances–and concluding that the duke was thereby weakened, and left with only a few followers of no account–had plotted a fresh and still greater treachery. Under pretence of assisting him in the taking of Sinigaglia, whither it was known that he was going, they had assembled there in their full strength, but displaying only one-third of it, and concealing the remainder in the castles of the surrounding country. They had then agreed with the castellan of Sinigaglia, that on that night they should attack him on every side of the new town, which, being small, could contain, as they knew, but few of his people. This treachery coming to his knowledge, he had been able to forestall it, and, entering Sinigaglia with all his troops, he had seized the traitors and taken the forces of Oliverotto by surprise. He concluded by exhorting all to render thanks unto God that an end was set to the many calamities suffered in Italy in consequence of those malignant ones.(1)

1 See this letter in the documents appended to Alvisi’s Cesare Borgia, document 76.

For once Cesare Borgia is heard giving his own side of an affair. But are the particulars of his version true? Who shall say positively? His statement is not by any means contrary to the known facts, although it sets upon them an explanation rather different to that afforded us by Macchiavelli. But it is to be remembered that, after all, Macchiavelli had to fall back upon the inferences which he drew from what he beheld, and that there is no scrap of evidence directly to refute any one of Cesare’s statements. There is even confirmation of the statement that the condottieri conceived that he was weakened by the departure of the French lances and left with only a few followers of no account. For Macchiavelli himself dwells upon the artifice with which Cesare broke up his forces and disposed of them in comparatively small numbers here and there to the end that his full strength should remain concealed; and he admires the strategy of that proceeding.

Certainly the duke’s narrative tends to increase his justification for acting as he did. But at best it can only increase it, for the actual justification was always there, and by the light of his epoch it is difficult to see how he should be blamed. These men had openly sworn to have his life, and from what has been seen of them there is little reason to suppose they would not have kept their word had they but been given the opportunity.

In connection with Cesare’s version, it is well to go back for a moment to the execution of Ramiro de Lorqua, and to recall the alleged secret motives that led to it. Macchiavelli himself was not satisfied that all was disclosed, and that the governor’s harshness and dishonesty had been the sole causes of the justice done upon him. “The reason of his death is not properly known,” wrote the Florentine secretary. Another envoy of that day would have filled his dispatches with the rumours that were current, with the matters that were being whispered at street corners. But Macchiavelli’s habit was to disregard rumours as a rule, knowing their danger–a circumstance which renders his evidence the most valuable which we possess.

It is perhaps permissible to ask: What dark secrets had the torture of the cord drawn from Messer Ramiro? Had these informed the duke of the true state of affairs at Sinigaglia, and had the knowledge brought him straight from Cesena to deal with the matter?

There is justification for these questions, inasmuch as on January 4 the Pope related to Giustiniani–for which see his dispatches–that Ramiro de Lorqua, being sentenced to death, stated that he desired to inform the duke of certain matters, and informed him that he had concerted with the Orsini to give the latter the territory of Cesena; but that, as this could not now be done, in consequence of Cesare’s treaty with the condottieri, Vitelli had arranged to kill the duke, in which design he had the concurrence of Oliverotto. They had planned that a crossbow-man should shoot the duke as he rode into Sinigaglia, in consequence of which the duke took great care of himself and never put off his armour until the affair was over. Vitellozzo, the Pope said, had confessed before he died that all that Ramiro had told the duke was true, and at the Consistory of January 6, when the Sacred College begged for the release of the old Cardinal Orsini–who had been taken with the Archbishop of Florence, Giacomo di Santacroce, and Gianbattista da Virginio–the Pope answered by informing the cardinals of this plot against the duke’s life.

These statements by Cesare and his father are perfectly consistent with each other and with the events. Yet, for want of independent confirmation, they are not to be insisted upon as affording the true version–as, of course, the Pope may have urged what he did as a pretext to justify what was yet to follow.

It is readily conceivable that Ramiro, under torture, or in the hope perhaps of saving his life, may have betrayed the alleged plot to murder Cesare. And it is perfectly consistent with Cesare’s character and with his age that he should have entered into a bargain to learn what Ramiro might have to disclose, and then have repudiated it and given him to the executioner. If Cesare, under such circumstances as these, had learnt what was contemplated, he would very naturally have kept silent on the score of it until he had dealt with the condottieri. To do otherwise might be to forewarn them. He was, as Macchiavelli says, a secret man, and the more dangerous for his closeness, since he never let it be known what he intended until he had executed his designs.

Guicciardini, of course, has called the Sinigaglia affair a villainy (“scelleragine”) whilst Fabio Orsini and a nephew of Vitelli’s who escaped from Sinigaglia and arrived two days later at Perugia, sought to engage sympathy by means of an extraordinary tale, so alien to all the facts–apart from their obvious reasons to lie and provoke resentment against Cesare–as not to be worth citing.



Andrea Doria did not remain to make formal surrender of the citadel of Sinigaglia to the duke–for which purpose, be it borne in mind, had Cesare been invited, indirectly, to come to Sinigaglia. He fled during the night that saw Vitelli and Oliverotto writhing their last in the strangler’s hands. And his flight adds colour to the versions of the affair that were afforded the world by Cesare and his father. Andrea Doria, waiting to surrender his trust, had nothing to fear from the duke, no reason to do anything but remain. Andrea Doria, intriguing against the duke’s life with the condottieri, finding them seized by the duke, and inferring that all was discovered, had every reason to fly.

The citadel made surrender on that New Year’s morning, when Cesare summoned it to do so, whilst the troops of the Orsini and Vitelli lodged in the castles of the territory, being taken unawares, were speedily disposed of. So, there being nothing more left to do in Sinigaglia, Cesare once more marshalled his men and set out for Città di Castello– the tyranny of the Vitelli, which he found undefended and of which he took possession in the name of the Church. Thence he rushed on towards Perugia, for he had word that Guidobaldo of Urbino, Fabio Orsini, Annibale and Venanzio Varano, and Vitelli’s nephew were assembled there under the wing of Gianpaolo Baglioni, who, with a considerable condotta at his back, was making big talk of resisting the Duke of Romagna and Valentinois. In this, Gianpaolo persevered most bravely until he had news that the duke was as near as Gualdo, when precipitately he fled– leaving his guests to shift for themselves. He had remembered, perhaps, at the last moment how narrow an escape he had had of it at Sinigaglia, and he repaired to Siena to join Pandolfo Petrucci, who had been equally fortunate in that connection.

To meet the advancing and irresistible duke came ambassadors from Perugia with smooth words of welcome, the offer of the city, and their thanks for his having delivered them of the tyrants that oppressed them; and there is not the slightest cause to suppose that this was mere sycophancy, for a more bloody, murderous crew than these Baglioni–whose feuds not only with the rival family of the Oddi, but among their very selves, had more than once embrued the walls of that city in the hills–it would be difficult to find in Italy, or anywhere in Europe. The history of the Baglioni is one record of slaughter. Under their rule in Perugia human blood seems commonly to have flowed anywhere more freely than in human veins. It is no matter for wonder that the people sent their ambassador to thank Cesare for having delivered them from the yoke that had oppressed them.

Perugia having rendered him her oath of fealty, the duke left her his secretary, Agabito Gherardi, as his commissioner, whilst sending Vincenzo Calmeta to Fermo–Oliverotto’s tyranny–another State which was very fervent in the thanks it expressed for this deliverance.

Scarcely was Cesare gone from Perugia when into the hands of his people fell the person of the Lady Panthasilea Baglioni d’Alviano–the wife of the famous Venetian condottiero Bartolomeo d’Alviano–and they, aware of the feelings prevailing between their lord and the Government of Venice, bethought them that here was a valuable hostage. So they shut her up in the Castle of Todi, together with her children and the women who had been with her when she was taken.

As in the case of Dorotea Caracciolo, the rumour is instantly put about that it was Cesare who had seized her, that he had taken her to his camp, and that this poor woman had fallen a prey to that lustful monster. So– and in some such words–ran the story, and such a hold did it take upon folks’ credulity that we see Piero di Bibieno before the Council of Ten, laying a more or less formal charge against the duke in rather broader terms than are here set down. So much, few of those who have repeated his story omit to tell you. But for some reason, not obviously apparent, they do not think it worth while to add that the Doge himself–better informed, it is clear, for he speaks with finality in the matter– reproved him by denying the rumour and definitely stating that it was not true, as you may read in the Diary of Marino Sanuto. That same diary shows you the husband–a person of great consequence in Venice–before the Council, clamouring for the enlargement of his lady; yet never once does he mention the name of Valentinois. The Council of Ten sends an envoy to wait upon the Pope; and the Pope expresses his profound regret and his esteem for Alviano, and informs the envoy that he is writing to Valentinois to demand her instant release–in fact, shows the envoy the letter.

To that same letter the duke replied on January 29 that he had known nothing of the matter until this communication reached him; that he has since ascertained that the lady was indeed captured and that she has since been detained in the Castle of Todi with all the consideration due to her rank; and that, immediately upon ascertaining this he had commanded that she should be set at liberty, which was done.

And so the Lady Panthasilea returned unharmed to her husband.

In Assisi Cesare received the Florentine ambassador Salviati, who came to congratulate the duke upon the affair of Sinigaglia and to replace Macchiavelli–the latter having been ordered home again. Congratulations indeed were addressed to him by all those Powers that had received his official intimation of the event. Amongst these were the felicitations of the beautiful and accomplished Isabella d’Este, Marchioness of Gonzaga–whose relations with him were ever of the friendliest, even when Faenza by its bravery evoked her pity–and with these she sent him, for the coming carnival, a present of a hundred masks of rare variety and singular beauty, because she opined that “after the fatigues he had suffered in these glorious enterprises, he would desire to contrive for some recreation.”

Here in Assisi, too, he received the Siennese envoys who came to wait upon him, and he demanded that, out of respect for the King of France, they should drive out Pandolfo Petrucci from Siena. For, to use his own words, “having deprived his enemies of their weapons, he would now deprive them of their brain,” by which he paid Petrucci the compliment of accounting him the “brain” of all that had been attempted against him. To show the Siennese how much he was in earnest, he leaves all baggage and stores at Assisi, and, unhampered, makes one of his sudden swoops towards Siena, pausing on January 13 at Castel della Pieve to publish, at last, his treaty with Bentivogli. The latter being now sincere, no doubt out of fear of the consequences of further insincerity, at once sends Cesare 30 lances and 100 arbalisters under the command of Antonio della Volta.

It was there in Assisi, on the morning of striking his camp again, that Cesare completed the work that had been begun at Sinigaglia by having Paolo Orsini and the Duke of Gravina strangled. There was no cause to delay the matter longer. He had word from Rome of the capture of Cardinal Orsini, of Gianbattista da Virginio, of Giacomo di Santacroce, and Rinaldo Orsini, Archbishop of Florence.

On January 27, Pandolfo Petrucci being still in Siena, and Cesare’s patience exhausted, he issued an ultimatum from his camp at Sartiano in which he declared that if, within twenty-four hours, Petrucci had not been expelled from the city, he would loose his soldiers upon Siena to devastate the territory, and would treat every inhabitant “as a Pandolfo and an enemy.”

Siena judged it well to bow before that threatening command, and Cesare, seeing himself obeyed, was free to depart to Rome, whither the Pope had recalled him and where work awaited him. He was required to make an end of the resistance of the barons, a task which had been entrusted to his brother Giuffredo, but which the latter had been unable to carry out.

In this matter Cesare and his father are said to have violently disagreed, and it is reported that high words flew between them; for Cesare–who looked ahead and had his own future to consider, which should extend beyond the lifetime of Alexander VI–would not move against Silvio Savelli in Palombara, nor Gian Giordano in Bracciano, alleging, as his reason for the latter forbearance, that Gian Giordano, being a knight of St. Michael like himself, he was inhibited by the terms of that knighthood from levying war upon him. To that he adhered, whilst disposing, however, to lay siege to Ceri, where Giulio and Giovanni Orsini had taken refuge.

In the meantime, the Cardinal Gianbattista Orsini had breathed his last in the Castle of Sant’ Angelo.

Soderini had written ironically to Florence on February 15: “Cardinal Orsini, in prison, shows signs of frenzy. I leave your Sublimities to conclude, in your wisdom, the judgment that is formed of such an illness.”

It was not, however, until a week later–on February 22–that he succumbed, when the cry of “Poison!” grew so loud and general that the Pope ordered the cardinal’s body to be carried on a bier with the face exposed, that all the world might see its calm and the absence of such stains as were believed usually to accompany venenation.

Nevertheless, the opinion spread that he had been poisoned–and the poisoning of Cardinal Orsini has been included in the long list of the Crimes of the Borgias with which we have been entertained. That the rumour should have spread is not in the least wonderful, considering in what bad odour were the Orsini at the Vatican just then, and–be it remembered–what provocation they had given. Although Valentinois dubbed Pandolfo Petrucci the “brain” of the conspiracy against him, the real guiding spirit, there can be little doubt, was this Cardinal Orsini, in whose stronghold at Magione the diet had met to plot Valentinois’s ruin– the ruin of the Gonfalonier of the Church, and the fresh alienation from the Holy See of the tyrannies which it claimed for its own, and which at great cost had been recovered to it.

Against the Pope, considered as a temporal ruler, that was treason in the highest degree, and punishable by death; and, assuming that Alexander did cause the death of Cardinal Orsini, the only just censure that could fall upon him for the deed concerns the means employed. Yet even against that it might be urged that thus was the dignity of the purple saved the dishonouring touch of the hangman’s hands.

Some six weeks later–on April 10–died Giovanni Michieli, Cardinal of Sant’ Angelo, and Giustiniani, the Venetian ambassador, wrote to his Government that the cardinal had been ill for only two days, and that his illness had been attended by violent sickness. This–and the reticence of it–was no doubt intended to arouse the suspicion that the cardinal had been poisoned. Giustiniani adds that Michieli’s house was stripped that very night by the Pope, who profited thereby to the extent of some 150,000 ducats, besides plate and other valuables; and this was intended to show an indecent eagerness on the Pope’s part to possess himself of that which by the cardinal’s death he inherited, whereas, in truth, the measure would be one of wise precaution against the customary danger of pillage by the mob.

But in March of the year 1504, under the pontificate of Julius II (Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere) a subdeacon, named Asquino de Colloredo, was arrested for defaming the dead cardinal (“interfector bone memorie Cardinalis S. Angeli”).(1) What other suspicions were entertained against him, what other revelations it was hoped to extract from him, cannot be said; but Asquino was put to the question, to the usual accompaniment of the torture of the cord, and under this he confessed that he had poisoned Cardinal Michieli, constrained to it by Pope Alexander VI and the Duke of Valentinois, against his will and without reward (“verumtamen non voluisse et pecunias non habuisse”).

1 Burchard’s Diarium, March 6, 1504.

Now if Asquino defamed the memory of Cardinal Michieli it seems to follow naturally that he had hated the cardinal; and, if we know that he hated him, we need not marvel that, out of that hatred, he poisoned him. But something must have been suspected as a motive for his arrest in addition to the slanders he was uttering, otherwise how came the questions put to him to be directed so as to wring from him the confession that he had poisoned the cardinal? If you choose to believe his further statement that he was constrained to it by Pope Alexander and the Duke of Valentinois, you are, of course, at liberty to do so. But you will do well first to determine precisely what degree of credit such a man might be worth when seeking to extenuate a fault admitted under pressure of the torture–and offering the extenuation likeliest to gain him the favour of the della Rovere Pope, whose life’s task–as we shall see–was the defamation of the hated Borgias. You will also do well closely to examine the last part of his confession–that he was constrained to it “against his will and without reward.” Would the deed have been so very much against the will of one who went about publishing his hatred of the dead cardinal by the slanders he emitted?

Upon such evidence as that the accusation of the Pope’s murder of Cardinal Michieli has been definitely established–and it must be admitted that it is, if anything, rather more evidence than is usually forthcoming of the vampirism and atrocities alleged against him.

Giustiniani, writing to his Government in the spring of 1503, informs the Council of Ten that it is the Pope’s way to fatten his cardinals before disposing of them–that is to say, enriching them before poisoning them, that he may inherit their possessions. It was a wild and sweeping statement, dictated by political animus, and it has since grown to proportions more monstrous than the original. You may read usque ad nauseam of the Pope and Cesare’s constant practice of poisoning cardinals who had grown rich, for the purpose of seizing their possessions, and you are very naturally filled with horror at so much and such abominable turpitude. In this matter, assertion–coupled with whorling periods of vituperation–have ever been considered by the accusers all that was necessary to establish the accusations. It has never, for instance, been considered necessary to cite the names of the cardinals composing that regiment of victims. That, of course, would be to challenge easy refutation of the wholesale charge; and refutation is not desired by those who prefer the sensational manner.

The omission may, in part at least, be repaired by giving a list of the cardinals who died during the eleven years of the pontificate of Alexander VI. Those deaths, in eleven years, number twenty-one– representing, incidentally, a percentage that compares favourably with any other eleven years of any other pontificate or pontificates. They are:

Ardicino della Porta . . In 1493, at Rome Giovanni de’Conti . . . In 1493, at Rome Domenico della Rovere . . In 1494, at Rome Gonzalo de Mendoza . . . In 1495, in Spain Louis André d’Epinay . . In 1495, in France Gian Giacomo Sclafetano . . In 1496, at Rome Bernardino di Lunati . . In 1497, at Rome Paolo Fregosi. . . . In 1498, at Rome Gianbattista Savelli . . In 1498, at Rome Giovanni della Grolaye . . In 1499, at Rome Giovanni Borgia . . . In 1500, at Fossombrone Bartolomeo Martini . . . In 1500, at Rome John Morton . . . . In 1500, in England Battista Zeno. . . . In 1501, at Rome Juan Lopez . . . . In 1501, at Rome Gianbattista Ferrari . . In 1502, at Rome Hurtado de Mendoza . . . In 1502, in Spain Gianbattista Orsini. . . In 1503, at Rome Giovanni Michieli . . . In 1503, at Rome Giovanni Borgia (Seniore). . In 1503, at Rome Federico Casimir . . . In 1503, in Poland

Now, search as you will, not only such contemporary records as diaries, chronicles, and dispatches from ambassadors in Rome during that period of eleven years but also subsequent writings compiled from them, and you shall find no breath of scandal attaching to the death of seventeen of those cardinals, no suggestion that they died other than natural deaths.

Four remain: Cardinals Giovanni Borgia (Giuniore), Gianbattista Ferrari (Cardinal of Modena), Gianbattista Orsini, and Giovanni Michieli, all of whom the Pope and Cesare have, more or less persistently, been accused of poisoning.

Giovanni Borgia’s death at Fossombrone has been dealt with at length in its proper place, and it has been shown how utterly malicious and groundless was the accusation.

Giovanni Michieli’s is the case that has just been reviewed, and touching which you may form your own conclusions.

Gianbattista Orsini’s also has been examined. It rests upon rumour; but even if that rumour be true, it is unfair to consider the deed in any but the light of a political execution.

There remains the case of the Cardinal of Modena, a man who had amassed enormous wealth in the most questionable manner, and who was universally execrated. The epigrams upon his death, in the form of epitaphs, dealt most terribly with “his ignominious memory”–as Burchard has it. Of these the Master of Ceremonies collected upwards of a score, which he gives in his Diarium. Let one suffice here as a fair example of the rest, the one that has it that the earth has the cardinal’s body, the bull (i.e. the Borgia) his wealth, and hell his soul.

“Hac Janus Baptista jacet Ferrarius urna, Terra habuit corpus, Bos bona, Styx animam.”

The only absolutely contemporary suggestion of his having been poisoned emanated from the pen of that same Giustiniani. He wrote to the Venetian Senate to announce the cardinal’s death on July 20. In his letter he relates how his benefices were immediately distributed, and how the lion’s share fell to the cardinal’s secretary, Sebastiano Pinzone, and that it was said (“é fama”) that this man had received them as the price of blood (“in premium sanguinis”), “since it is held, from many evident signs, that the cardinal died from poison” (“ex veneno”).

Already on the 11th he had written: “The Cardinal of Modena lies ill, with little hope of recovery. Poison is suspected” (“si dubita di veleno”).

That was penned on the eighth day of the cardinal’s sickness, for he was taken ill on the 3rd–as Burchard shows. Burchard, further, lays before us the whole course of the illness; tells us how, from the beginning, the cardinal refused to be bled or to take medicine of any kind, tells us explicitly and positively that the cardinal was suffering from a certain fever–so prevalent and deadly in Rome during the months of July and August; he informs us that, on the 11th (the day on which Giustiniani wrote the above-cited dispatch), the fever abated, to return on the 16th. He was attended (Burchard continues) by many able physicians, who strove to induce him to take their medicines; but he refused persistently until the following day, when he accepted a small proportion of the doses proposed. On July 20–after an illness of seventeen days–he finally expired.

Those entries in the diary of the Master of Ceremonies constitute an incontrovertible document, an irrefutable testimony against the charges of poisoning when taken in conjunction with the evidence of fact afforded by the length of the illness.

It is true that, under date of November 20, 1504 (under the pontificate of Julius II), there is the following entry:

“Sentence was pronounced in the ‘Ruota’ against Sebastiano Pinzone, apostolic scribe, contumaciously absent, and he was deprived of all benefices and offices in that he had caused the death of the Cardinal of Modena, his patron, who had raised him from the dust.”

But not even that can shake the conviction that must leap to every honest mind from following the entries in the diary contemporary with the cardinal’s decease. They are too circumstantial and conclusive to be overthrown by this recorded sentence of the Ruota two years later against a man who was not even present to defend himself. Besides, it is necessary to discriminate. Burchard is not stating opinions of his own when he writes “in that he caused the death of the Cardinal of Modena,” etc.; he is simply–and obviously–recording the finding of the Tribunal of the Ruota, without comment of his own. Lastly, it is as well to observe that in that verdict against Pinzone–of doubtful justice as it is–there is no mention made of the Borgias.

The proceedings instituted against Sebastiano Pinzone were of a piece with those instituted against Asquino de Colloredo and others yet to be considered; they were set on foot by Giuliano della Rovere–that implacable enemy of the House of Borgia–when he became Pope, for the purpose of heaping ignominy upon the family of his predecessor. But that shall be further dealt with presently.

Another instance of the unceasing growth of Borgia history is afforded in connection with this Sebastiano Pinzone by Dr. Jacob Burckhardt (in Der Cultur der Renaissance in Italien) who, in the course of the usual sweeping diatribe against Cesare, mentions “Michele da Corella, his strangler, and Sebastiano Pinzone, his poisoner.” It is an amazing statement; for, whilst obviously leaning upon Giustiniani’s dispatch for the presumption that Pinzone was a poisoner at all, he ignores the statement contained in it that Pinzone was the secretary and favourite of Cardinal Ferrari, nor troubles to ascertain that the man was never in Cesare Borgia’s service at all, nor is ever once mentioned anywhere as connected in any capacity whatever with the duke. Dr. Burckhardt felt, no doubt, the necessity of linking Pinzone to the Borgias, that the alleged guilt of the former may recoil upon the latter, and so he accomplished it in this facile and irresponsible manner.

Now, notwithstanding the full and circumstantial evidence afforded by Burchard’s Diarium of the Cardinal of Modena’s death of a tertian fever, the German scholar Gregorovius does not hesitate to write of this cardinal’s death: “It is certain that it was due to their [the Borgias’] infallible white powders.”

Oh the art of writing history in sweeping statements to support a preconceived point of view! Oh that white powder of the Borgias!

Giovio tells us all about it. Cantarella, he calls it–Cantharides. Why Cantarella? Possibly because it is a pleasing, mellifluous word that will help a sentence hang together smoothly; possibly because the notorious aphrodisiac properties of that drug suggested it to Giovio as just the poison to be kept handy by folk addicted to the pursuits which he and others attribute to the Borgias. Can you surmise any better reason? For observe that Giovio describes the Cantarella for you–a blunder of his which gives the lie to his statement. “A white powder of a faint and not unpleasing savour,” says he; and that, as you know, is nothing like cantharides, which is green, intensely acrid, and burning. Yet who cares for such discrepancies? Who will ever question anything that is uttered against a Borgia? “Cantarella–a white powder of a faint and not unpleasing savour,” answers excellently the steady purpose of supporting a defamation and pandering to the tastes of those who like sensations in their reading–and so, from pen to pen, from book to book it leaps, as unchallenged as it is impossible.

Whilst Cesare’s troops were engaged in laying siege to Ceri, and, by engines contrived by Leonardo da Vinci, pressing the defenders so sorely that at the end of a month’s resistance they surrendered with safe- conduct, the inimical and ever-jealous Venetians in the north were stirring up what trouble they could. Chafing under the restraint of France, they but sought a pretext that should justify them in the eyes of Louis for making war upon Cesare, and when presently envoys came to lay before the Pope the grievance of the Republic at the pillage by Borgian soldiery of the Venetian traders in Sinigaglia, Cesare had no delusions concerning their disposition towards himself.

Growing uneasy lest they should make this a reason for assailing his frontiers, he sent orders north recommending vigilance and instructing his officers to deal severely with all enemies of his State, whilst he proceeded to complete the provisions for the government of the Romagna. To replace the Governor-General he appointed four seneschals: Cristoforo della Torre for Forli, Faenza and Imola; Hieronimo Bonadies for Cesena, Rimini, and Pesaro; Andrea Cossa for Fano, Sinigaglia, Fossombrone, and Pergola; and Pedro Ramires for the duchy of Urbino. This last was to find a deal of work for his hands; for Urbino was not yet submissive, Majolo and S. Leo still holding for Guidobaldo.

Ramires began by reducing Majolo, and then proceeded to lay siege to S. Leo. But the Castellan–one Lattanzio–encouraged by the assurances given him that the Venetians would render Guidobaldo assistance to reconquer his dominions, resisted stubbornly, and was not brought to surrender until the end of June, after having held the castle for six months.

If Venice was jealous and hostile in the north, Florence was scarcely less so in mid-Italy–though perhaps with rather more justification, for Cesare’s growing power and boundless ambition kept the latter Republic in perpetual fear of being absorbed into his dominions–into that kingdom which it was his ultimate aim to found. There can be little doubt that Francesco da Narni, who appeared in Tuscany early in the March of that year, coming from the French Court for the purpose of arranging a league of Florence, Bologna, Siena, and Lucca–the four States more or less under French protection–had been besought by Florence, to the obvious end that these four States, united, might inter-defend themselves against Valentinois. And Florence even went so far as to avail herself of this to the extent of restoring Pandolfo Petrucci to the lordship of Siena– preferring even this avowed enemy to the fearful Valentinois. Thus came about Petrucci’s restoration towards the end of March, despite the fact that the Siennese were divided on the subject of his return.

With the single exception of Camerino, where disturbances still continued, all was quiet in the States of the Church by that summer of 1503.

This desirable state of things had been achieved by Cesare’s wise and liberal government, which also sufficed to ensure its continuance.

He had successfully combated the threatened famine by importing grain from Sicily. To Sinigaglia–his latest conquest–he had accorded, as to the other subjected States, the privilege of appointing her own native officials, with, of course, the exception of the Podestà (who never could be a native of any place where he dispensed justice) and the Castellan. In Cesena a liberal justice was measured out by the Tribunal of the Ruota, which Cesare had instituted there, equipping it with the best jurisconsults of the Romagna.

In Rome he proceeded to a military organization on a new basis, and with a thoroughness never before seen in Italy–or elsewhere, for that matter –but which was thereafter the example all sought to copy. We have seen him issuing an edict that every house in the Romagna should furnish him one man-at-arms to serve him when necessary. The men so levied were under obligation to repair to the market-place of their native town when summoned thither by the ringing of the bells, and it was estimated that this method of conscription would yield him six or seven thousand men, who could be mobilized in a couple of days. He increased the number of arquebusiers, appreciating the power and value of a weapon which– although invented nearly a century earlier–was still regarded with suspicion. He was also the inventor of the military uniform, putting his soldiers into a livery of his own, and causing his men-at-arms to wear over their armour a smock, quartered red and yellow with the name CESARE lettered on the breast and back, whilst the gentlemen of his guard wore surcoats of his colours in gold brocade and crimson velvet.

He continued to levy troops and to arm them, and it is scarcely over- stating the case to say that hardly a tyrant of the Romagna would have dared to do so much for fear of the weapons being turned against himself. Cesare knew no such fear. He enjoyed a loyalty from the people he had subjected which was almost unprecedented in Italy. The very officers he placed in command of the troops of his levying were, for the most part, natives of the Romagna. Is there no inference concerning him to be drawn from that!

For every man in his service Cesare ordered a back-and-breast and headpiece of steel, and the armourers’ shops of Brescia rang busily that summer with the clang of metal upon metal, as that defensive armour for Cesare’s troops was being forged. At the same time the foundries were turning out fresh cannon in that season which saw Cesare at the very height and zenith of his power, although he himself may not have accounted that, as yet, he was further than at the beginning.

But the catastrophe that was to hurl him irretrievably from the eminence to which in three short years he had climbed was approaching with stealthy, relentless foot, and was even now upon him.



“Cesar Borgia che era della gente Per armi e per virtú tenuto un sole, Mancar dovendo andó dove andar sole Phebo, verso la sera, al Occidente.

Girolamo Casio–Epitaffi.”



Unfortunate Naples was a battle-field once more. France and Spain were engaged there in a war whose details belong elsewhere.

To the aid of France, which was hard beset and with whose arms things were going none too well, Cesare was summoned to fulfil the obligations under which he was placed by virtue of his treaty with King Louis.

Rumours were rife that he was negotiating secretly with Gonzalo de Cordoba, the Great Captain, and the truth of whether or not he was guilty of so base a treachery has never been discovered. These rumours had been abroad since May, and, if not arising out of, they were certainly stimulated by, an edict published by Valentinois concerning the papal chamberlain, Francesco Troche. In this edict Cesare enjoined all subjects of the Holy See to arrest, wherever found, this man who had fled from Rome, and whose flight “was concerned with something against the honour of the King of France.”

Francesco Troche had been Alexander’s confidential chamberlain and secretary; he had been a diligent servant of the House of Borgia, and when in France had acted as a spy for Valentinois, keeping the duke supplied with valuable information at a critical time, as we have seen.

Villari says of him that he was “one of the Borgias’ most trusted assassins.” That he has never been so much as alleged to have murdered anyone does not signify. He was a servant–a trusted servant–of the Borgias; therefore the title of “assassin” is, ipso facto, to be bestowed upon him.

The flight of a man holding such an intimate position as Troche’s was naturally a subject of much speculation and gossip, but a matter upon which there was no knowledge. Valentinois was ever secret. In common with his father–though hardly in so marked a degree, and if we except the case of the scurrilous Letter to Silvio Savelli–he showed a contemptuous indifference to public opinion on the whole which is invested almost with a certain greatness. At least it is rarely other than with greatness that we find such an indifference associated. It was not for him to take the world into his confidence in matters with which the world was not concerned. Let the scandalmongers draw what inferences they pleased. It was a lofty and dignified procedure, but one that was fraught with peril; and the Borgias have never ceased to pay the price of that excessive dignity of reserve. For tongues must be wagging, and, where knowledge is lacking, speculation will soon usurp its place, and presently be invested with all the authority of “fact.”

Out of surmises touching that matter “which concerned the honour of the King of France” grew presently–and contradictorily–the rumour that Troche was gone to betray to France Valentinois’s intention of going over to the Spanish side. A motive was certainly required to account for Troche’s action; but the invention of motives does not appear ever to have troubled the Cinquecentist.

It was now said that Troche was enraged at having been omitted from the list of cardinals to be created at the forthcoming Consistory. It is all mystery, even to the end he made; for, whereas some said that, after being seized on board a ship that was bound for Corsica, Troche in his despair threw himself overboard and was drowned, others reported that he was brought back to Rome and strangled in a prison in Trastevere.

The following questions crave answer:

If it was Troche’s design to betray such a treachery of the Borgias against France, what was he doing on board a vessel bound for Corsica a fortnight after his flight from Rome? Would not his proper goal have been the French camp in Naples, which he could have reached in a quarter of that time, and where not only could he have vented his desire for vengeance by betraying Alexander and Valentinois, but he could further have found complete protection from pursuit?

It is idle and unprofitable to dwell further upon the end of Francesco Troche. The matter is a complete mystery, and whilst theory is very well as theory, it is dangerous to cause it to fill the place of fact.

Troche was drowned or was strangled as a consequence of his having fled out of motives that were “against the honour of the King of France.” And straightway the rumour spread of Valentinois’s intended treachery, and the rumour was kept alive and swelled by Venice and Florence in pursuit of their never-ceasing policy of discrediting Cesare with King Louis, to the end that they might encompass his expedient ruin.

The lie was given to them to no small extent by the Pope, when, in the Consistory of July 28, he announced Cesare’s departure to join the French army in Naples with five hundred horse and two thousand foot assembled for the purpose.

For this Cesare made now his preparations, and on the eve of departure he went with his father–on the evening of August 5–to sup at the villa of Cardinal Adriano Corneto, outside Rome.

Once before we have seen him supping at a villa of the Suburra on the eve of setting out for Naples, and we know the tragedy that followed–a tragedy which he has been accused of having brought about. Here again, in a villa of the Suburra, at a supper on the eve of setting out for Naples, Death was the unseen guest.

They stayed late at the vineyard of Cardinal Corneto, enjoying the treacherous cool of the evening, breathing the death that was omnipresent in Rome that summer, the pestilential fever which had smitten Cardinal Giovanni Borgia (Seniore) on the 1st of that month, and of which men were dying every day in the most alarming numbers.

On the morning of Saturday 12, Burchard tells us, the Pope felt ill, and that evening he was taken with fever. On the 15th Burchard records that he was bled, thirteen ounces of blood being taken from him. It relieved him somewhat, and, seeking distraction, he bade some of the cardinals to come and sit by his bed and play at cards.

Meanwhile, Cesare was also stricken, and in him the fever raged so fierce and violently that he had himself immersed to the neck in a huge jar of ice-cold water–a drastic treatment in consequence of which he came to shed all the skin from his body.

On the 17th the Pope was much worse, and on the 18th, the end being at hand, he was confessed by the Bishop of Culm, who administered Extreme Unction, and that evening he died.

That, beyond all manner of question, is the true story of the passing of Alexander VI, as revealed by the Diarium of Burchard, by the testimony of the physician who attended him, and by the dispatches of the Venetian, Ferrarese, and Florentine ambassadors. At this time of day it is accepted by all serious historians, compelled to it by the burden of evidence.

The ambassador of Ferrara had written to Duke Ercole, on August 14, that it was no wonder the Pope and the duke were ill, as nearly everybody in Rome was ill as a consequence of the bad air (“Per la mala condictione de aere”).

Cardinal Soderini was also stricken with the fever, whilst Corneto was taken ill on the day after that supper-party, and, like Cesare, is said to have shed all the skin of his body before he recovered.

Even Villari and Gregorovius, so unrestrained when writing of the Borgias, discard the extraordinary and utterly unwarranted stories of Guicciardini, Giovio, and Bembo, which will presently be considered. Gregorovius does this with a reluctance that is almost amusing, and with many a fond, regretful, backward glance–so very apparent in his manner– at the tale of villainy as told by Guicciardini and the others, which the German scholar would have adopted but that he dared not for his credit’s sake. This is not stated on mere assumption. It is obvious to any one who reads Gregorovius’s histories.

Burchard tells us–as certainly matter for comment–that, during his last illness, Alexander never once asked for Cesare nor ever once mentioned the name of Lucrezia. So far as Cesare is concerned, the Pope knew, no doubt, that he was ill and bedridden, for all that the gravity of the duke’s condition would, probably, have been concealed from him. That he should not have mentioned Lucrezia–nor, we suppose, Giuffredo–is remarkable. Did he, with the hand of Death already upon him, reproach himself with this paternity which, however usual and commonplace in priests of all degrees, was none the less a scandal, and the more scandalous in a measure as the rank of the offender was higher? It may well be that in those last days that sinful, worldly old man bethought him of the true scope and meaning of Christ’s Vicarship, which he had so wantonly abused and dishonoured, and considered that to that Judge before whom he was summoned to appear the sins of his predecessors would be no justification or mitigation of his own. It may well be that, grown introspective upon his bed of death, he tardily sought to thrust from his mind the worldly things that had so absorbed it until the spiritual were forgotten, and had given rise to all the scandal concerning him that was spread through Christendom, to the shame and dishonour of the Church whose champion he should have been.

Thus may it have come to pass that he summoned none of his children in his last hours, nor suffered their names to cross his lips.

When the news of his father’s death was brought to Cesare, the duke, all fever-racked as he was, more dead than living, considered his position and issued his orders to Michele da Corella, that most faithful of all his captains, who so richly shared with Cesare the execration of the latter’s enemies.

Of tears for his father there is no record, just as at no time are we allowed to see that stern spirit giving way to any emotion, conceiving any affection, or working ever for the good of any but himself. Besides, in such an hour as this, the consciousness of the danger in which he stood by virtue of the Pope’s death and his own most inopportune sickness, which disabled him from taking action to make his future secure, must have concerned him to the exclusion of all else.

Meanwhile, however, Rome was quiet, held so in the iron grip of Michele da Corella and the ducal troops. The Pope’s death was being kept secret for the moment, and was not announced to the people until nightfall, by when Corella had carried out his master’s orders, including the seizure of the Pope’s treasure. And Burchard tells us how some of Valentinois’s men entered the Vatican–all the gates of which were held by the ducal troops–and, seizing Cardinal Casanova, they demanded, with a dagger at his throat and a threat to fling his corpse from the windows if he refused them, the Pope’s keys. These the cardinal surrendered, and Corella possessed himself of plate and jewels to the value of some 200,000 ducats, besides two caskets containing about 100,000 ducats in gold. Thereafter the servants of the palace completed the pillage by ransacking the wardrobes and taking all they could find, so that nothing was left in the papal apartments but the chairs, a few cushions, and the tapestries of the walls.

All his life Alexander had been the victim of the most ribald calumnies. Stories had ever sprung up and thriven, like ill weeds, about his name and reputation. His sins, great and scandalous in themselves, were swelled by popular rumour, under the spur of malice, to monstrous and incredible proportions. As they had exaggerated and lied about the manner of his life, so–with a consistency worthy of better scope–they exaggerated and lied about the manner of his death, and, the age being a credulous one, the stories were such that writers of more modern and less credulous times dare not insist upon them, lest they should discredit–as they do–what else has been alleged against him.

Thus when, in his last delirium, the Pope uttered some such words as: “I am coming; I am coming. It is just. But wait a little,” and when those words were repeated, it was straightway asserted that the Devil was the being he thus addressed in that supreme hour. The story grew in detail; that is inevitable with such matter. He had bargained with the devil, it was said, for a pontificate of twelve years, and, the time being completed, the devil was come for him. And presently, we even have a description of Messer the Devil as he appeared on that occasion–in the shape of a baboon. The Marquis Gonzaga of Mantua, in all seriousness, writes to relate this. The chronicler Sanuto, receiving the now popularly current story from another source, in all seriousness gives it place in his Diarii, thus:

“The devil was seen to leap out of the room in the shape of a baboon. And a cardinal ran to seize him, and, having caught him, would have presented him to the Pope; but the Pope said, ‘Let him go, let him go. It is the devil,’ and that night he fell ill and died.”(1)

1 “Il diavolo sarebbe saltato fuori della camera in forma di babuino, et un cardinale corso per piarlo, e preso volendolo presentar al papa, il papa disse lasolo, lasolo ché ii diavolo. E poi la notte si amaló e morite.”–Marino Sanuto, Diarii.

That story, transcending the things which this more practical age considers possible, is universally rejected; but it is of vast importance to the historical student; for it is to be borne in mind that it finds a place in the pages of those same Diarii upon the authority of which are accepted many defamatory stories without regard to their extreme improbability so long as they are within the bounds of bare possibility.

After Alexander was dead it was said that water boiled in his mouth, and that steam issued from it as he lay in St. Peter’s, and much else of the same sort, which the known laws of physiology compel so many of us very reluctantly to account exaggerations. But, again, remember that the source of these stories was the same as the source of many other exaggerations not at issue with physiological laws.

The circumstances of Alexander’s funeral are in the highest degree scandalous, and reflect the greatest discredit upon his age.

On the morrow, as the clergy were chanting the Libera me, Domine in St. Peter’s, where the body was exposed on a catafalque in full pontificals, a riot occurred, set on foot by the soldiers present for reasons which Burchard–who records the event–does not make clear.

The clerics fled for shelter to the sacristy, the chants were cut short, and the Pope’s body almost entirely abandoned.

But the most scandalous happening occurred twenty-four hours later. The Pope’s remains were removed to the Chapel of Santa Maria delle Febbre by six bearers who laughed and jested at the expense of the poor corpse, which was in case to provoke the coarse mirth of the lower classes of an age which, setting no value upon human life, knew no respect for death. By virtue of the malady that had killed him, of his plethoric habit of body, and of the sweltering August heat, the corpse was decomposing rapidly, so that the face had become almost black and assumed an aspect grotesquely horrible, fully described by Burchard:

“Factus est sicut pannus vel morus nigerrimus, livoris totus plenus, nasus plenus, os amplissimum, lingua duplex in ore, que labia tota implebat, os apertum et adeo horribile quod nemo viderit unquam vel esse tale dixerit.”

Two carpenters waited in the chapel with the coffin which they had brought; but, either through carelessness it had been made too narrow and too short, or else the body, owing to its swollen condition, did not readily fit into this receptable; whereupon, removing the mitre, for which there was no room, they replaced it by a piece of old carpet, and set themselves to force and pound the corpse into the coffin. And this was done “without candle or any light being burned in honour of the dead, and without the presence of any priest or other person to care for the Pope’s remains.” No explanation of this is forthcoming; it was probably due to the panic earlier occasioned the clergy by the ducal men-at-arms.

The story that he had been poisoned was already spreading like a conflagration through Rome, arising out of the appearance of the body, which was such as was popularly associated with venenation.

But a Borgia in the rôle of a victim was altogether too unusual to be acceptable, and too much opposed to the taste to which the public had been educated; so the story must be edited and modified until suitable for popular consumption. The supper-party at Cardinal Corneto’s villa was remembered, and upon that a tale was founded, and trimmed by degrees into plausible shape.

Alexander had intended to poison Corneto–so ran this tale–that he might possess himself of the cardinal’s vast riches; in the main a well-worn story by now. To this end Cesare had bribed a butler to pour wine for the cardinal from a flask which he entrusted to him. Exit Cesare. Exit presently the butler, carelessly leaving the poisoned wine upon a buffet. (The drama, you will observe, is perfectly mechanical, full of author’s interventions, and elementary in its “preparations”). Enter the Pope. He thirsts, and calls for wine. A servant hastens; takes up, of course, the poisoned flask in ignorance of its true quality, and pours for his Beatitude. Whilst the Pope drinks re-enters Cesare, also athirst, and, seating himself, he joins the Pope in the poisoned wine, all unsuspicious and having taken no precautions to mark the flask. Poetic justice is done, and down comes the curtain upon that preposterous tragi-farce.

Such is the story which Guicciardini and Giovio and a host of other more or less eminent historians have had the audacity to lay before their readers as being the true circumstances of the death of Alexander VI.

It is a noteworthy matter that in all that concerns the history of the House of Borgia, and more particularly those incidents in it that are wrapped in mystery, circumstantial elucidation has a habit of proceeding from the same quarters.

You will remember, for instance, that the Venetian Paolo Capello (though not in Rome at the time) was one of those who was best informed in the matter of the murder of the Duke of Gandia. And it was Capello again who was possessed of the complete details of the scarcely less mysterious business of Alfonso of Aragon. Another who on the subject of the murder of Gandia “had no doubts”–as he himself expressed it–was Pietro Martire d’Anghiera, in Spain at the time, whence he wrote to inform Italy of the true circumstances of a case that had happened in Italy.

It is again Pietro Martire d’Anghiera who, on November 10, 1503, writes from Burgos in Spain to inform Rome of the true facts of Alexander’s death–for it is in that letter of his that the tale of the flask of wine, as here set down, finds place for the first time.

It is unprofitable to pursue the matter further, since at this time of day even the most reluctant to reject anything that tells against a Borgia have been compelled to admit that the burden of evidence is altogether too overwhelming in this instance, and that it is proved to the hilt that Alexander died of the tertian fever then ravaging Rome.

And just as the Pope’s death was the subject of the wildest fictions which have survived until very recent days, so too, was Cesare’s recovery.

Again, it was the same Pietro Martire d’Anghiera who from Burgos wrote to inform Rome of what was taking place in the privacy of the Duke of Valentinois’s apartments in the Vatican. Under his facile and magic pen, the jar of ice-cold water into which Cesare was believed to have been plunged was transmuted into a mule which was ripped open that the fever- stricken Cesare might be packed into thc pulsating entrails, there to sweat the fever out of him.

But so poor and sexless a beast as this seeming in the popular mind inadequate to a man of Cesare’s mettle, it presently improved upon and converted it into a bull–so much more appropriate, too, as being the emblem of his house.

Nor does it seem that even then the story has gone far enough. Facilis inventis addere. There comes a French writer with an essay on the Borgias, than which–submitted as sober fact–nothing more amazingly lurid has been written. In this, with a suggestive cleverness entirely Gallic, he causes us to gather an impression of Cesare in the intestinal sudatorium of that eventrated bull, as of one who is at once the hierophant and devotee of a monstrous, foul, and unclean rite of some unspeakable religion–a rite by comparison with which the Black Mass of the Abbé Gribourg becomes a sweet and wholesome thing.

But hear the man himself:

“Cet homme de meurtres et d’inceste, incarné dans l’animal des hécatombes et des bestialités antiques en évoque les monstrueuses images. Je crois entendre le taureau de Phalaris et le taureau de Pasiphaë répondre, de loin, par d’effrayants mugissements, aux cris humains de ce bucentaure.”

That is the top note on this subject. Hereafter all must pale to anti- climax.



The fever that racked Cesare Borgia’s body in those days can have been as nothing to the fever that racked his mind, the despairing rage that must have whelmed his soul to see the unexpected–the one contingency against which he had not provided–cutting the very ground from underneath his feet.

As he afterwards expressed himself to Macchiavelli, and as Macchiavelli has left on record, Cesare had thought of everything, had provided for everything that might happen on his father’s death, save that in such a season–when more than ever he should have need for all his strength of body and of mind–he should, himself, be lying at the point of death.

Scarce was Alexander’s body cold than the duke’s enemies began to lift their heads. Already by the 20th of that month–two days after the Pope had breathed his last–the Orsini were in arms and had led a rising, in retort to which Michele da Corella fired their palace on Montegiordano.

Venice and Florence bethought them that the protection of France had been expressly for the Church and not for Cesare personally. So the Venetians at once supplied Guidobaldo da Montefeltre with troops wherewith to reconquer his dominions, and by the 24th he was master of S. Leo. In the city of Urbino itself Ramires, the governor, held out as long as possible, then beat a retreat to Cesena, whilst Valentinois’s partisans in Urbino were mercilessly slaughtered and their houses pillaged.

Florence supported the Baglioni in the conquest of Magione from the Borgias, and they aided Giacopo d’Appiano to repossess himself of Piombino, which had so gladly seen him depart out of it eighteen months ago.

From Magione, Gianpaolo Baglioni marches his Florentine troops to Camerino to aid the only remaining Varano to regain the tyranny of his fathers. The Vitelli are back in Città di Castello, carrying a golden calf in triumph through the streets; and so by the end of August, within less than a fortnight, all the appendages of the Romagna are lost to Cesare, whilst at Cesare’s very gates the Orsini men-at-arms are clamouring with insistent menace.

The Duke’s best friend, in that crisis, was his secretary Agabito Gherardi. For it is eminently probable–as Alvisi opines–that it was Gherardi who urged his master to make an alliance with the Colonna, Gherardi himself being related to that powerful family. The alliance of these old enemies–Colonna and Borgia–was in their common interests, that they might stand against their common enemy, Orsini–the old friends of the Borgias.

On August 22 Prospero Colonna came to Rome, and terms were made and cemented, in the usual manner, by a betrothal–that of the little Rodrigo–(Lucrezia’s child)–to a daughter of the House of Colonna. On the same day the Sacred College confirmed Cesare in his office of Captain-General and Gonfalonier of the Church, pending the election of a new Pope.

Meanwhile, sick almost to the point of death, and scarce able to stir hand or foot, so weak in body had he been left by the heroic treatment to which he had submitted, Cesare continued mentally a miracle of energy and self-possession. He issued orders for the fortifying of the Vatican, and summoned from Romagna 200 horse and 1,000 foot to his aid in Rome, bidding Remolino, who brought these troops, to quarter himself at Orvieto, and there await his further orders.

Considering that the Colonna were fighting in Naples under the banner of Gonzalo de Cordoba, it was naturally enough supposed, from Cesare’s alliance with the former, that this time he was resolved to go over to the side of Spain. Of this, M. de Trans came to protest to Valentinois on behalf of Louis XII, to be answered by the duke’s assurances that the alliance into which he had entered was strictly confined to the Colonna, that it entailed no treaty with Spain; nor had he entered into any; that his loyalty to the King of France continued unimpaired, and that he was ready to support King Louis with the entire forces he disposed of, whenever his Majesty should desire him so to do. In reply, he was assured by the French ambassador and Cardinal Sanseverino of the continued protection of Louis, and that France would aid him to maintain his dominions in Italy and reconquer any that might have seceded; and of this declaration copies were sent to Florence, Venice, and Bologna on September 1, as a warning to those Powers not to engage in anything to the hurt of Valentinois.

Thus sped the time of the novendiali–the nine days’ obsequies of the dead Pope–which were commenced on September 4.

As during the conclave that was immediately to follow it was against the law for armed men to be in Rome, Cesare was desired by the Sacred College to withdraw his troops. He did so on September 2, and himself went with them.

Cardinal Sanseverino and the French ambassador escorted him out of Rome and saw him take the road to Nepi–a weak, fever-ravaged, emaciated man, borne in a litter by a dozen of his halberdiers, his youth, his beauty, his matchless strength of body all sapped from him by the insidious disease which had but grudgingly spared his very life.

At Nepi he was awaited by his brother Giuffredo, who had preceded him thither from Rome. A shadowy personage this Giuffredo, whose unimportant personality is tantalizingly elusive in the pages where mention is made of him. His incontinent wife, Doña Sancia, had gone to Naples under the escort of Prospero Colonna, having left the Castle of Sant’ Angelo where for some time she had been confined by order of her father-in-law, the Pope, on account of the disorders of her frivolous life.

And now the advices of the fresh treaty between Cesare Borgia and the King of France were producing their effect upon Venice and Florence, who were given additional pause by the fierce jealousy of each other, which was second only to their jealousy of the duke.

From Venice–with or without the sanction of his Government–Bartolomeo d’Alviano had ridden south into the Romagna with his condotta immediately upon receiving news of the death of Alexander, and, finding Pandolfaccio Malatesta at Ravenna, he proceeded to accompany him back to that Rimini which the tyrant had sold to Cesare. Rimini, however, refused to receive him back, and showed fight to the forces under d’Alviano. So that, for the moment, nothing was accomplished. Whereupon the Republic, which at first had raised a feeble, make-believe protest at the action of her condottiero, now deemed it as well to find a pretext for supporting him. So Venice alleged that a courier of hers had been stripped of a letter, and, with such an overwhelming cause as that for hostilities, dispatched reinforcements to d’Alviano to the end that he might restore Pandolfaccio to a dominion in which he was abhorred. Further, d’Alviano was thereafter to proceed to do the like office for Giovanni Sforza, who already had taken ship for Pesaro, and who was restored to his lordship on September 3.

Thence, carrying the war into the Romagna itself, d’Alviano marched upon Cesena. But the Romagna was staunch and loyal to her duke. The governor had shut himself up in Cesena with what troops he could muster, including a thousand veterans under the valiant Dionigio di Naldo, and there, standing firm and resolute, he awaited the onslaught of the Venetians.

D’Alviano advanced rapidly and cruelly, a devastator laying waste the country in his passage, until to check him came suddenly the Borgia troops, which had ventured upon a sally. The Venetians were routed and put to flight.

On September 16 the restored tyrants of Rimini, Pesaro, Castello, Perugia, Camerino, Urbino, and Sinigaglia entered into and signed at Perugia a league, whose chiefs were Bartolomeo d’Alviano and Gianpaolo Baglioni, for their common protection.

Florence was invited to join the allies. Intimidated, however, by France, not only did the Signory refuse to be included, but–in her usual manner–actually went so far as to advise Cesare Borgia of that refusal and to offer him her services and help.

On the same date the Sacred College assembled in Rome, at the Mass of the Holy Spirit, to beseech the grace of inspiration in the election of the new Pontiff. The part usually played by the divine afflatus in these matters was so fully understood and appreciated that the Venetian ambassador received instructions from the Republic(1) to order the Venetian cardinals to vote for Giuliano della Rovere, whilst the King of France sent a letter–in his own hand–to the Sacred College desiring it to elect his friend the Cardinal d’Amboise, and Spain, at the same time, sought to influence the election of Carvajal.

1 See Sanuto’s Diarrii.

The chances of the last-named do not appear ever to have amounted to very much. The three best supported candidates were della Rovere, d’Amboise, and Ascanio Sforza–who made his reappearance in Rome, released from his French prison at last, in time to attend this Conclave.

None of these three factions was strong enough to ensure the election of its own candidate, but any two were strong enough to prevent the election of the candidate of the third. Wherefore it happened that, as a result of so much jealousy and competition, recourse was had to temporizing by electing the oldest and feeblest cardinal in the College. Thus there should presently be another election, and meantime the candidates would improve the time by making their arrangements and canvassing their supporters so as to control the votes of the College at that future Conclave. Therefore Francesco Piccolomini, Cardinal of Siena (nephew of Pius II), a feeble octogenarian, tormented by an ulcer, which, in conjunction with an incompetent physician, was to cut his life even shorter than they hoped, was placed upon the throne of St. Peter, and assumed with the Pontificate the name of Pius III.

The new Pope was entirely favourable to Cesare Borgia, and confirmed him in all his offices, signifying his displeasure to Venice at her attempt upon the Romagna, and issuing briefs to the allied tyrants commanding them to desist from their opposition to the will of the Holy See.

Cesare returned to Rome, still weak on his legs and ghastly to behold, and on October 6 he received in St. Peter’s his confirmation as Captain- General and Gonfalonier of the Church.

The Venetians had meanwhile been checked by a letter from Louis from lending further assistance to the allies. The latter, however, continued their hostilities in spite of that. They had captured Sinigaglia, and now they made an attempt on Fano and Fermo, but were repulsed in both places by Cesare’s loyal subjects. At the same time the Ordelaffi–who in the old days had been deposed from the Tyranny of Forli to make room for the Riarii–deemed the opportunity a good one to attempt to regain their lordship; but their attempt, too, was frustrated.

Cesare sat impotent in Rome, no doubt vexed by his own inaction. He cannot have lacked the will to go to the Romagna to support the subjects who showed him such loyalty; but he lacked the means. Owing to the French and Spanish dispute in Naples, his army had practically melted away. The terms of his treaty with Louis compelled him to send the bulk of it to the camp at Garigliano to support the French, who were in trouble. The force that Remolino had quartered at Orvieto to await the duke’s orders he had been unable to retain there. Growing uneasy at their position, and finding it impossible either to advance or to retreat, being threatened on the one side by the Baglioni and on the other by the Orsini, these troops had steadily deserted; whilst most of Cesare’s Spanish captains and their followers had gone to the aid of their compatriots under Gonzalo de Cordoba in response to that captain’s summons of every Spaniard in the peninsula.

Thus did it come about that Cesare had no force to afford his Romagna subjects. His commissioners in the north did what was possible to repair the damage effected by the allies, and they sent Dionigio di Naldo with six hundred of his foot, and, further, a condotta of two hundred horse, against Rimini. This was captured by them in one day and almost without resistance, Pandolfaccio flying for his life to Pesaro.

Next the allies, by attempting to avenge the rout they had suffered at Cesena, afforded the ducal troops an opportunity of scoring another victory. They prepared a second attack against Cesare’s capital, and with an army of considerable strength they advanced to the very walls of the stronghold, laying the aqueduct in ruins and dismantling what other buildings they found in their way. But in Cesena the gallant Pedro Ramires lay in wait for them. Issuing to meet them, he not only put them to flight and drove them for shelter into the fortress of Montebello, but laid siege to them there and broke them utterly, with a loss, as was reputed, of some three hundred men in slain alone.

The news of this came to cheer Valentinois, who, moreover, had now the Pope and France to depend upon. Further, and in view of that same protection, the Orsini were already treating with him for a reconciliation, despite the fact that the Orsini blood was scarce dry upon his hands. But he had a resolute, sly, and desperate enemy in Venice, and on October 10 there arrived in Rome Bartolomeo d’Alviano and Gianpaolo Baglioni, who repaired to the Venetian ambassador and informed him that they were come in quest of the person of Valentinois, intending his death.

To achieve their ends they united themselves to the Orsini, who were now in arms in Rome, their attempted reconciliation with Cesare having aborted. Valentinois’s peril became imminent, and from the Vatican he withdrew for shelter to the Castle of Sant’ Angelo, going by way of the underground passage built by his father.

Thence he summoned Michele da Corella, who was at Rocca Soriana with his foot, and Taddeo della Volpe (a valiant captain and a great fighter, who had already lost an eye in Cesare’s service) and Baldassare Scipione, who were in the Neapolitan territory with their men-at-arms. He was gathering his sinews for a spring, when suddenly the entire face of affairs was altered and all plans were checked by the death of Pius III on October 18, after a reign of twenty-six days.

Once more there was an end to Cesare’s credit. No man might say what the future held in store. Giustiniani, indeed, wrote to his Government that Cesare was about to withdraw to France, and that he had besought a safe- conduct of the Orsini–which report is as true as many another communication from the same Venetian pen, ever ready to write what it hoped might be true; and it is flatly contradicted by the better-informed Macchiavelli, who was writing at the same time:

“The duke is in Sant’ Angelo, and is more hopeful than ever of accomplishing great things, presupposing a Pope according to the wishes of his friends.”

But the Romagna was stirred once more to the turbulence from which it had scarcely settled. Forli and Rimini were lost almost at once, the Ordelaffi succeeding in capturing the former in this their second attempt, whilst Pandolfaccio once more sat in his palace at Rimini, having cut his way to it through a sturdy resistance. Against Imola Bentivogli dispatched a force of two thousand foot; but this was beaten off.

The authority of France appeared to have lost its weight, and in vain did Cardinal d’Amboise thunder threats in the name of his friend King Louis, and send envoys to Florence, Venice, Bologna, and Urbino, to complain of the injuries that were being done to the Duke of Valentinois.



Giuliano della Rovere, Cardinal of S. Pietro in Vincoli, had much in his character that was reminiscent of his terrible uncle, Sixtus IV. Like that uncle of his, he had many failings highly unbecoming any Christian– laic or ecclesiastic–which no one has attempted to screen; and, incidentally, he cultivated morality in his private life and observed his priestly vows of chastity as little as did any other churchman of his day. For you may see him, through the eyes of Paride de Grassi,(1) unable one Good Friday to remove his shoes for the adoration of the cross in consequence of his foot’s affliction–ex morbo gallico. But with one great and splendid virtue was he endowed in the eyes of the enemies of the House of Borgia–contemporary, and subsequent down to our times–a most profound, unchristian, and mordacious hatred of all Borgias.

1 Burchard’s successor in the office of Master of Ceremonies.

Roderigo Borgia had defeated him in the Conclave of 1492, and for twelve years had kept him out of the coveted pontificate. You have seen how he found expression for his furious jealousy at his rival’s success. You have seen him endeavouring to his utmost to accomplish the deposition of the Borgia Pope, wielding to that end the lever of simony and seeking a fulcrum for it, first in the King of France and later in Ferdinand and Isabella; but failing hopelessly in both instances. You have seen him, when he realized the failure of an attempt which had made Rome too dangerous for him and compelled him to remain in exile, suddenly veering round to fawn and flatter and win the friendship of one whom his enmity could not touch.

This man who, as Julius II, was presently to succeed Pius III, has been accounted a shining light of virtue amid the dark turpitude of the Church in the Renaissance. An ignis fatuus, perhaps; a Jack-o’-lanthorn begotten of putrescence. Surely no more than that.

Dr. Jacob Burckhardt, in that able work of his to which reference already has been made, follows the well-worn path of unrestrained invective against the Borgias, giving to the usual empty assertions the place which should be assigned to evidence and argument. Like his predecessors along that path, he causes Giuliano della Rovere to shine heroically by contrast–a foil to throw into greater relief the blackness of Alexander. But he carries assertion rather further than do others when he says of Cardinal della Rovere that “He ascended the steps of St. Peter’s Chair without simony and amid general applause, and with him ceased, at all events, the undisguised traffic in the highest offices of the Church.”

Other writers in plenty have suggested this, but none has quite so plainly and resoundingly thrown down the gauntlet, which we will make bold to lift.

That Dr. Burckhardt wrote in other than good faith is not to be imputed. It must therefore follow that an entry in the Diarium of the Caerimoniarius under date of October 29, 1503, escaped him utterly in the course of his researches. For the Diarium informs us that on that day, in the Apostolic Palace, Giuliano della Rovere, Cardinal of S. Pietro in Vincoli, concluded the terms of an agreement with the Duke of Valentinois and the latter’s following of Spanish cardinals, by which he undertook that, in consideration of his receiving the votes of these Spanish cardinals and being elected Pope, he would confirm Cesare in his office of Gonfalonier and Captain-General, and would preserve him in the dominion of the Romagna. And, in consideration of that undertaking, the Spanish cardinals, on their side, promised to give him their suffrages.

Here are the precise words in which Burchard records the transaction:

“Eadem die, 29 Octobris, Rmus. D. S. Petri ad Vincula venit in palatio apostolico cum duce Valentino et cardinalibus suis Hispanis et concluserunt capitula eorum per que, inter alia, cardinalis S. Petri ad Vincula, postquam esset papa, crearet confalonierium Ecclesiae generalem ducem ac ei faveret et in statibus suis (relinqueret) et vice versa dux pape; et promiserunt omnes cardinalis Hispani dare votum pro Cardinali S. Petri ad Vincula ad papatum.”

If that does not entail simony and sacrilege, then such things do not exist at all. More, you shall hunt in vain for any accusation so authoritative, formal and complete, regarding the simony practised by Alexander VI on his election. And this same Julius, moreover, was the Pope who later was to launch his famous Bull de Simoniaca Electione, to add another stain to the besmirched escutcheon of the Borgia Pontiff.

His conciliation of Cesare and his obtaining, thus, the support of the Spanish cardinals, who, being Alexander’s creatures, were now Cesare’s very faithful servants, ensured the election of della Rovere; for, whilst those cardinals’ votes did not suffice to place him in St. Peter’s Chair, they would abundantly have sufficed to have kept him out of it had Cesare so desired them.

In coming to terms with Cardinal della Rovere, Cesare made the first great mistake of his career, took the first step towards ruin. He should have known better than to have trusted such a man. He should have remembered the ancient bitter rancour; should have recognized, in the amity of later times, the amity of the self-seeker, and mistrusted it. But della Rovere had acquired a reputation for honesty and for being a man of his word. How far he deserved it you may judge from what is presently to follow. He had acquired it, however, and Cesare, to his undoing, attached faith to that reputation. He may, to some extent, have counted upon the fact that, of Cardinal della Rovere’s bastard children, only a daughter–Felice della Rovere–survived. Raffaele, the last of his bastard boys, had died a year ago. Thus, Cesare may have concluded that the cardinal having no sons whose fortunes he must advance, would lack temptation to break faith with him.

From all this it resulted that, at the Conclave of November 1, Giuliano della Rovere was elected Pope, and took the name of Julius II; whilst Valentinois, confident now that his future was assured, left the Castle of Sant’ Angelo to take up his residence at the Vatican, in the Belvedere, with forty gentlemen constituting his suite.

On November 3 Julius II issued briefs to the Romagna, ordering obedience to Cesare, with whom he was now in daily and friendliest intercourse.

In the Romagna, meanwhile, the disturbances had not only continued, but they had taken a fresh turn. Venice, having reseated Malatesta on the throne, now vented at last the covetousness she had ever, herself, manifested of that dominion, and sent a force to drive him out again and conquer Rimini for the Republic.

Florence, in a spasm of jealous anger at this, inquired was the Pope to become the chaplain of Venice, and dispatched Macchiavelli to bear the tale of these doings to Julius.

Under so much perpetual strife the strength of the Romagna was gradually crumbling, and Cesare, angry with Florence for never going beyond lip- service, expressed that anger to Macchiavelli, informing the ambassador that the Signory could have saved the Romagna for him with a hundred men- at-arms.

The duke sent for Giustiniani, the ambassador of Venice, who, however, excused himself and did not go. This within a week of the new Pope’s election, showing already how men discerned what was in store for Valentinois. Giustiniani wrote to his Government that he had not gone lest his going should give the duke importance in the eyes of others.(1) The pettiness and meanness of the man, revealed in that dispatch, will enable you to attach to Giustiniani the label that belongs to him.

1 “Per non dar materia ad altri che fazino un po di lui mazor estimazion di quel che fanno quando lo vedessero in parte alcuna favorito.”– Giustiniani, Dispatch of November 6, 1503.

To cheer Valentinois in those days of depression came news that his subjects of Imola had successfully resisted an attack on the part of the Venetians. So stimulated was he that he prepared at once to go, himself, into the Romagna, and obtained from the Pope, from d’Amboise, and from Soderini, letters to Florence desiring the Signory to afford him safe- conduct through Tuscany for himself and his army.

The Pope expressed himself, in his letter, that he would count such safe- conduct as a great favour to himself, and urged the granting of it out of his “love for Cesare,” owing to the latter’s “great virtues and shining merits.”(2) Yet on the morrow of dispatching that brief, this man, who was accounted honest, straightforward, and imbued with a love of truth, informed Giustiniani–or else Giustiniani lied in his dispatches–that he understood that the Venetians were assailing the Romagna, not out of enmity to the Church, but to punish the demerits of Cesare, and he made it plain to Giustiniani that, if he complained of the conduct of the Venetians, it was on his own behalf and not on Cesare’s, as his aim was to preserve the Romagna, not for the duke, but for the Church.

2 “In quo nobis rem gratissimam facietis ducis enim ipsum propter ejus insignes virtutes et praeclara merita praecipuo affectur et caritate praecipua complectimur.”–Archivio di Stato, Firenze. (See Alvisi, Doct. 96.)

With the aim we have no quarrel. It was laudable enough in a Pontiff. But it foreshadows Cesare’s ruin, in spite of the love-protesting letter to Florence, in spite of the bargain struck by virtue of which Julius had obtained the pontificate. Whether the Pope went further in his treachery, whether, having dispatched that brief to Florence, he sent other communications to the Signory, is not ascertainable; but the suspicion of some such secret action is inspired by what ensued.

On November 13 Cesare was ready to leave Rome; but no safe-conduct had arrived. Out of all patience at this, he begged the Pope that the captain of the pontifical navy should prepare him five galleons at Ostia, by which he could take his foot to Genoa, and thence proceed into Romagna by way of Ferrara.

Macchiavelli, at the same time, was frenziedly importuning Florence to grant the duke the desired safe-conduct lest in despair Cesare should make a treaty with Venice–“or with the devil”–and should go to Pisa, employing all his money, strength, and influence to vent his wrath upon the Signory. But the Signory knew more, perhaps, than did Macchiavelli, for no attention was paid to his urgent advice.

On the 19th Cesare left Rome to set out for Genoa by way of Ostia, and his departure threw Giustiniani into alarm–fearing that the duke would now escape.

But there was no occasion for his fears. On the very day of Cesare’s departure Julius sent fresh briefs to the Romagna, different indeed from those of November 3. In these he now expressed his disapproval of Alexander’s having conferred the vicarship of the Romagna upon Cesare Borgia, and he exhorted all to range themselves under the banner of the Church, under whose protection he intended to keep them.

Events followed quickly upon that. Two days later news reached the Pope that the Venetians had captured Faenza, whereupon he sent a messenger after Valentinois to suggest to the latter that he should surrender Forli and the other fiefs into pontifical hands. With this Cesare refused to comply, and, as a result, he was detained by the captain of the navy, in obedience to the instructions from Julius. At the same time the Pope broke the last link of the treaty with Cesare by appointing a new Governor of Romagna in the person of Giovanni Sacchi, Bishop of Ragusa. He commanded the latter to take possession of the Romagna in the name of the Church, and he issued another brief–the third within three weeks– demanding the State’s obedience to the new governor.

On November 26, Remolino, who had been at Ostia with Cesar; came to Rome, and, throwing himself at the feet of the Pontiff, begged for mercy for his lord, whom he now accounted lost. He promised Julius that Cesare