Alexander VI


Alexander VI
(1431-1503; pope, 1492—1503)
   Commonly regarded as the worst example of the corruption and worldliness of the Renaissance church, Rodrigo Borja (in Italian, Borgia) was born in Spain. He studied canon law in Italy under the patronage of his uncle Alonso, who was a cardinal. The election of Alonso as Pope Calixtus III in 1455 made Rodrigo's fortune. Despite his youth, in 1456 he received the powerful position of papal vice-chancellor and was appointed a cardinal; and he began accumulating church offices that soon made him the wealthiest of the cardinals. Despite his vow of celibacy, he fathered seven or more children (at least one of them after he became pope) by various women. His reputation for political skill, reinforced by the vast wealth which enabled him to offer huge bribes, led to his election as pope in 1492. Although several of the preceding popes had been guilty of nepotism, Alexander's use of the papacy to promote the careers of his relatives, especially his own children, surpassed any of his predecessors. Exploiting the struggle between France and Spain for control of Italy, he looked out more for the interests of his family than for the papacy as an institution, attempting to create a hereditary principality in Italy for his favorite son Cesare Borgia and using the marriages of his daughter Lucrezia to advance his political schemes. In legend (and perhaps in fact) Alexander and his children used poison to eliminate hostile cardinals. Although not so great a patron of Renaissance art and learning as his two successors, Alexander was well educated and did commission important paintings and engage in building programs, though (significantly, perhaps) several of the latter involved construction of fortifications. One of his most famous acts as pope was drawing the line of demarcation that separated Spanish from Portuguese claims in the rapidly emerging world of overseas colonization.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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