The Borgias and Their Enemies: 1431-1519

The Borgias and Their Enemies: 1431-1519

by Christopher Hibbert


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The first major biography of the Borgias in thirty years, Christopher Hibbert's latest history brings the family and the world they lived in—the glittering Rome of the Italian Renaissance—to life.

The name Borgia is synonymous with the corruption, nepotism, and greed that were rife in Renaissance Italy. The powerful, voracious Rodrigo Borgia, better known to history as Pope Alexander VI, was the central figure of the dynasty. Two of his seven papal offspring also rose to power and fame—Lucrezia Borgia, his daughter, whose husband was famously murdered by her brother, and that brother, Cesare, who served as the model for Niccolò Machiavelli's The Prince. Notorious for seizing power, wealth, land, and titles through bribery, marriage, and murder, the dynasty's dramatic rise from its Spanish roots to its occupation of the highest position in Renaissance society forms a gripping tale.

Erudite, witty, and always insightful, Hibbert removes the layers of myth around the Borgia family and creates a portrait alive with his superb sense of character and place.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780151010332
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 10/06/2008
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Christopher Hibbert (1924 - 2008) wrote more than fifty acclaimed books, including The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici and Rome: The Biography of a City. A leading popular historian whose works reflected meticulous scholarship, he was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Read an Excerpt

— Chapter 1 —

The Crumbling City

"Oh God, how pitiable is Rome"

"YOU MUST HAVE heard of this city from others," wrote a visitor to Rome in the middle of the fifteenth century.

There are many splendid palaces, houses, tombs and temples here, and infinite numbers of other edifices, but they are all in ruins. There is much porphyry and marble from ancient buildings but every day these marbles are destroyed in a scandalous fashion by being burned to make lime. And what is modern is poor stuff. . . . The men of today, who call themselves Romans, are very different in bearing and conduct from the ancient inhabitants. . . . They all look like cowherds.

Other visitors wrote of moss-covered statues, of defaced and indecipherable inscriptions, of "parts within the walls that look like thick woods or caves where forest animals were wont to breed, of deer and hares being caught in the streets . . . of the daily sight of heads and limbs of men who had been executed and quartered being nailed to doors, placed in cages or impaled on spears."

This was the state of the city that had once been the capital of a mighty empire; now two-thirds of the area inside the walls, which had been built to protect a population of 800,000, was uninhabited, acres of open countryside used for orchards, pasture, and vineyards, and dotted with ancient ruins, which provided safe hiding places for thieves and bandits. And this was the state of the true home of the pope, the leader of the church who could trace his predecessors back in an unbroken line to St. Peter, the apostle entrusted by Christ himself with the care of his flock.

For most of the fourteenth century, even the papacy had abandoned Rome. In 1305, distressed by the unrest and bloody disturbances in the city, the French Pope Clement V (1305–14) had set up his court in Avignon, in the rambling palace on the east bank of the Rhône, which is known as the Palais des Papes. In Rome there had been constant calls for the papacy to return from its French exile. Most recently these calls had come from an elderly woman, who could be seen almost every day in the crumbling city, sitting by the door of the convent of San Lorenzo, begging for alms for the poor.

She was Birgitta Gudmarsson, the daughter of a rich Swedish judge and widow of a Swedish nobleman, to whom she had been married at the age of thirteen and for whom she had borne eight children. Founder of the Brigittines, she had left Sweden after experiencing a vision in which Christ had appeared before her, commanding her to leave immediately for Rome and to remain there until she had witnessed the pope’s return. As she went about Rome, from church to crumbling church, house to ruinous house, she claimed to have had further visions; both Jesus and his mother Mary, she said, had spoken to her, and they had strengthened her faith in the restoration of the pope and in the eventual salvation of the city.

Around the house where she lived stretched the charred shells of burned-out buildings, piles of rotting refuse, deserted palaces, derelict churches, stagnant swamps, fortresses abandoned by their rich owners, who had gone to live on their estates in the Campagna, hovels occupied by families on the verge of starvation. Pilgrims took home with them stories of a gloomy city, whose silence was broken only by the howling of dogs and wolves, and the shouts of rampaging mobs.

In Avignon the popes remained deaf to the calls for their return, heedless of the prayers that the saintly Birgitta Gudmarsson uttered so fervently and of the letters that the poet Francesco Petrarch wrote, describing the "rubbish heap of history" that Rome had become. This once-superb imperial capital was now a lawless ruin, a city torn by violence in which belligerent factions paraded through the streets with daggers and swords, where houses were invaded and looted by armed bands, pilgrims and travellers were robbed, nuns violated in their convents, and long lines of flagellants filed through the gates, barefoot, their heads covered in cowls, claiming board and lodging but offering no money, scourging their naked bloody backs, chanting frightening hymns outside churches, throwing themselves weeping, moaning, bleeding before the altars.

Copyright © 2008 by Christopher Hibbert and Mary Hollingsworth

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be submitted online at or mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

Table of Contents

— Contents —

Chapter 1 The Crumbling City 1

Chapter 2 Elections and Celebrations 10

Chapter 3 A Man of Endless Virility 20

Chapter 4 Servant of the Servant of God 36

Chapter 5 Marriages and Alliances 43

Chapter 6 The French in Rome 54

Chapter 7 The Conquest of Naples 74

Chapter 8 The Borgia Bull 83

Chapter 9 Father and Children 92

Chapter 10 The Dominican Friar 99

Chapter 11 Murder 105

Chapter 12 Another Husband for Lucrezia 111

Chapter 13 The Unwanted Cardinal’s Hat 121

Chapter 14 Cesare’s French Bride 128

Chapter 15 Conquests 139

Chapter 16 Jubilee 153

Chapter 17 Duke of the Romagna 168

Chapter 18 The Naples Campaign 179

Chapter 19 The Duke and the Borgia Girl 184

Chapter 20 Frolics and Festivities 198

Chapter 21 The New Bride 205

Chapter 22 Castles and Condottieri 221

Chapter 23 The Death of the Pope 244

Chapter 24 Conclaves 254

Chapter 25 Cesare at Bay 264

Chapter 26 Duchess of Ferrara 274

Chapter 27 The End of the Affair 290

Chapter 28 The Death of the Duchess 302

Chapter 29 Saints and Sinners 311

Bibliography 315

Index 321

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Borgias and Their Enemies 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 28 reviews.
GriffsPal More than 1 year ago
Hibbert's familial biography of the Borgias was surprisingly interesting; but I've realized, thinking back to past books of history I've relished, that I love the breezy style with which British authors often approach such large subjects: you are swept away by the force of the writing; and, if you are like me, are willing to let go the notion you would remember the name of every personage mentioned, let alone know who they were. I was captivated by page fifteen, if I recall. What Hibbert subtly manages to bring into focus is the pageantry of the times, and how it clashed with the ugly actions (see below) of Rodrigo and Cesare Borgia, in particular. Hibbert refuses to let the reader believe that anything written during Lucrezia's youth was indeed true of her. Again, he does this with delicacy, pointing to the difference in propaganda and sensationalism (yes, they existed in the 15th century) and the actual record. In fact, the book's main "characters," so to speak, are the Borgia pere and fils, Cesare and Juan, those men who wielded power and misused it. We are left with no doubt as to how they achieved their status and rank (in the sons' case, by the mandates or bullying of the father.) Much of what they did is reprehensible and vile. My only connection to this time period is reading about the authors of the period, in light connection to studies of 16th century English and French literature. That was a long time ago, but I did summon it up, as I did about 5 months ago when, stuck home with a stomach bug, I watched the first season of a European television series entitled simply "Borgia." The first season covers the first year or two of Rodrigo Borgia (the father of Cesare and Lucrezia)'s accession to the papacy. (He became pope Alexander VI, known for dividing the Western world between Portugal and Spain, and for continuing to allow the selling of indulgences, cardinalships, etc., that led to the Reformation.) I don't recommend the television show to anyone put off by violence, nudity, lewd sexual conduct or references to and scenes of homicide, incest, torture, and rape. But the creators sum up the spirit of the times quite well. One truth that the television show does convey, that Hibbert only has time to hint, is that the Borgias simply were perhaps more openly ruthless than their ruthless contemporaries, not more so, and never sui generis. Hibbert has quotes some contemporaries who mention the fearlessness with which they acted, and their willingness to barter and bribe at will, for what they desired. I'm sure, friends, that you will see me occasionally read books about this period; and for any history, you bet that I will know be looking for the shorter books by English authors who write as if they have been doing it since they were old enough to pick up a pen.
sunnhauntr More than 1 year ago
An engrossing tale of Roderigo Borgia paying his way to the head of the papacy as Alexander VI, arranging political marriages for his children (then annuling them when it suits his aspirations), and backing his murderous son as a holy terror for anyone who tries to stand in their way of power. Hibbert engages his readers in such a way that they almost feel sorry for the bad guys.
SaraPoole on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Being fascinated by all things Borgia so,I picked up this work by renowned historian and biographer, Christopher Hibbert with great eagerness. I won¿t say that I was disappointed; histories of the Borgias are too few and far between not to give any one of them the benefit of the doubt. The problem really lies in the book¿s brevity, skimming as it does over events and personalities that deserve more detailed consideration, if only to make them comprehensible. Hibbert also wrote an examination of the Medicis that offered more detail and generally succeeded better in conveying that family¿s impact on the world. Why he did not do the same for the Borgias is a mystery. If you¿re looking for a quick introduction to the Borgias, this is a good place to start but keep in mind that it is an oversimplification of a complex and fascinating family.
mallinje on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I first came across the name Borgia while reading "The Prince" and decided to read further about them. Since I knew nothing about the Borgia's, it was a good introduction. However, if you've read about them before, I would recommend a more detailed book.
ArAndrews More than 1 year ago
wonderfully written book
anonymously More than 1 year ago
retellling the Borgis story better than many have done
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a provocative read about the Borgia family and their powerful connections to the papacy in the 1500 - 1600s. Political and religious rulers of the former Roman empire set the stage for this family of merciless, power hungry individuals and gives the reader a glimpse of life in Italy from the perspective of the ruling class. If one thinks the Church elders of today are bereft of morals and compassion, have a look at what their predecessors took part in from centuries ago and wonder if much has changed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
He walks in, holding his bag
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I walk up next to Blythe. "So whats wrong with Micheal?" I say worried.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
* drops off his things and sits in a bed*
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
More fun than showtimes the borgias
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Thank you!" She yells sacrastically. "Hades...childeren....pact...thinking......Percy..." She mutters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
He almost laughs but he keeps his face emotionless "why are you still in here though" he asks her