- Spanish noble family, originally named Borja. The election of Alfonso de Borja as Pope Calixtus III (1455-1458), the first Spanish pope, made the family's fortune and attracted its leading members to Italy since Pope Calixtus relied on his kinsmen and his Spanish advisers to help him administer the papacy. His nephew Rodrigo became a cardinal and papal vice-chancellor and was enriched by many ecclesiastical benefices, eventually winning election as Pope Alexander VI in 1492. Alexander earned the reputation of being the most corrupt pope of the Italian Renaissance. Two of Alexander's several children became important historical figures in their own right. The first of these was Cesare Borgia (1475-1507), who became a cardinal and commander of the papal army under his father. Cesare received many valuable ecclesiastical appointments but was never ordained as a priest and was later permitted to marry a French princess. He also received the French duchy of Valentinois and is often referred to by contemporaries (Niccolo Machiavelli, for example) as Duke Valentino. In the opening years of the 16th century, backed by his father's authority and assisted by a French army, Cesare set out to create a hereditary Borgia principality in the province of Romagna, which was nominally a part of the Papal States. Ruthless in his use of violence and deceit, Cesare eliminated potential rivals by military conquest and murder. The unexpected death of his father in 1503 caught him at a vulnerable moment, and the election of the anti-Borgia Pope Julius II caused his enterprise to collapse. Cesare was arrested and sent to Spain by order of King Ferdinand of Spain. Although he managed to escape in 1506, he was killed in a minor skirmish the following year.The younger sister of Cesare and daughter of Pope Alexander, Lucrezia Borgia (1480-1519) became infamous for her own political ambitions and, like her brother, was reputed to have poisoned those who stood in her way. Rumors of incest with her father and brother seem to be a fabrication of the family's enemies. In reality, she was more the pawn of her ambitious kinsmen than an independent political force. At age 12 she was married to the ruler of a minor principality, the lord of Pesaro. When a more advantageous opportunity arose in 1497, the pope annulled her first marriage and married her to an illegitimate son of the king of Naples. When this second husband became a political liability, Cesare had him murdered. A third marriage followed in 1501, by far the most splendid, to Alfonso d' Este, who became duke of Ferrara in 1505. At Ferrara, Lucrezia became the head of a brilliant court that included figures such as the poet Ariosto, the scholar-printer Aldus Manutius, the painter Titian, and the humanist Pietro Bembo, who became her lover and dedicated his first major work to her. Her charitable activities as duchess gained her the love of the people. She gave birth to seven children and died in 1519 at the birth of the last one.
Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. Charles G. Nauert. 2004.