Borgia, Cesare (c. 1475-1507)

Son of Rodrigo Borgia and Vanozza Catanei, Cesare Borgia grew up to be a man of great charm and political skill, a soldier of ability, but also, while not the monster anti-Spanish propaganda made him out to be, capable of great cruelty. Originally destined for an ecclesiastical career, he studied at the universities of Perugia and Pisa and there acquired an acquaintance with the new learning. In addition, he developed an abiding interest in architecture, particularly military architecture. Meanwhile Cesare's father had been elevated to the papacy as Alexander VI, and Cesare was created Archbishop of Valencia (1492) and cardinal (1493). He began to play a vital role in Vatican politics, becoming his father's closest adviser. After the death of his brother, the Duke of Gandia, in 1498, Cesare renounced his ecclesiastical dignities and embarked upon that secular career which earned him the admiration of Machiavelli.

French support for Alexander's policy of subjecting all the Papal State to obedience was essential and, accordingly, in 1499 Cesare married Charlotte d'Albret, sister of the King of Navarre, having first been created Duke of Valentinois and Dios. Alexander's intention was to use Cesare in the reconquest of the Papal State, but it remains a matter of debate among historians whether Alexander made more use of Cesare than the latter did of his father. Certainly, in a series of brilliant campaigns Cesare established his own authority over most of the Papal State, removing the local signori and attacking the power of the Roman barons. He captured Imola, Forli and Cesena (1499-1500) and, with the assistance of the Orsini, defeated the Colonna (1501). He captured Rimini, Pesaro and Faenza and took Urbino; Camerino, Piombino and Elba (1500-02). In 1501 Alexander created him Duke of Romagna, whereupon he set about the creation of that new state which many contemporaries praised as a model of good government. The administration of the duchy displayed two novel features, an emphasis on centralization and an insistence on the equitable treatment of all subjects before the law.

Open opposition to Cesare's career of conquest was delayed until 1502, although by that date Louis XII had already turned against him. In the summer of 1502 several of Cesare's leading condottieri conspired against him in the revolt of Magione. The ease with which he subsequently tricked the conspirators and lured them to their deaths earned him the admiration rather than the disapproval of his contemporaries. Cesare's brilliant career was terminated by his father's premature death in 1503. At the time Cesare was also ill and so unable to influence the outcome of the conclave. The new pope, Pius III, did confirm Cesare as Gonfaloniere of the Church and papal vicar of the Romagna but, even during this brief pontificate, Cesare lost all his conquests with the exceptions of Cesena, Forli, Faenza and Imola. The sudden death of Pius III and the election of Julius II', a sworn enemy of the Borgias, spelt ruin for Cesare.

In Chapter VII of 'The prince', Machiavelli was to argue that Cesare's failure to prevent this election by throwing the weight of his influence behind an alternative candidate was the sole political error of his life. Certainly, it was one that cost him dear. Although Julius at first showed himself conciliatory and used Cesare to prevent an outbreak of chaos in the Romagna, this proved but a temporary respite. Cesare was forced to resign his strongholds in the Papal State and it was soon clear that his life was in danger. He fled from Rome to Naples and thence to Spain. There he was imprisoned by Ferdinand of Aragon. Louis XII, meanwhile, deprived him of his French fiefs. The only refuge left was the court of the King of Navarre, whither Cesare escaped on 25 October 1506. He was killed, fighting for Navarre against rebel troops, on 12 March 1507.


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