Cesare Borgia (Italian pronunciation: [ˈtʃeːzare ˈbɔrdʒa];
Catalan: [ˈsɛzər ˈβɔrʒə]; Spanish: César Borja, [ˈθesar
ˈβorxa]; 13 September 1475  – 12 March 1507), Duke of
Valentinois, was an Italian condottiero, nobleman,
politician, and cardinal, whose fight for power was a major
The Prince by Machiavelli. He was the son of Pope
Alexander VI (r. 1492–1503, born Rodrigo Borgia) and his long-term
mistress Vannozza dei Cattanei. He was the brother of Lucrezia Borgia;
Giovanni Borgia (Juan), Duke of Gandia; and
Gioffre Borgia (Jofré in
Valencian), Prince of Squillace. He was half-brother to Don Pedro
Luis de Borja (1460–88) and Girolama de Borja, children of unknown
mothers.[note 1]
After initially entering the church and becoming a cardinal on his
father's election to the Papacy, he became the first person to resign
a cardinalcy after the death of his brother in 1498. His father set
him up as a prince with territory carved from the Papal States, but
after his father's death he was unable to retain power for long.
According to Machiavelli this was not due to a lack of foresight, but
rather, his own illness.
1 Early life
2.1 Church office
3 Later years and death
6 Borgia and Leonardo
7 Personal life
8 Character discussed in works of philosophy
9 In fiction
9.7 Video games
11 See also
13 External links
See also: House of Borgia
Like many aspects of Cesare Borgia's life, the date of his birth is a
subject of dispute. He was born in Rome—in either 1475 or 1476—the
illegitimate son of Cardinal Roderic Llançol i de Borja, (usually
known as Rodrigo Borgia), later Pope Alexander VI, and his mistress
Vannozza dei Cattanei, about whom information is sparse. The Borgia
family originally came from the Kingdom of Valencia, and rose to
prominence during the mid-15th century; Cesare's great-uncle Alphonso
Borgia (1378–1458), bishop of Valencia, was elected Pope Callixtus
III in 1455. Cesare's father, Pope Alexander VI, was the first pope
who openly recognized his children born out of wedlock.
Stefano Infessura writes that Cardinal Borgia falsely claimed Cesare
to be the legitimate son of another man—Domenico d'Arignano, the
nominal husband of Vannozza dei Cattanei. More likely, Pope Sixtus IV
granted Cesare a release from the necessity of proving his birth in a
papal bull of 1 October 1480.
Cesare was initially groomed for a career in the Church. Following
Perugia and Pisa, Cesare studied law at the Studium Urbis
(nowadays Sapienza University of Rome). He was made Bishop of Pamplona
at the age of 15 and archbishop of Valencia at 17. In 1493, he had
also been appointed bishop of both Castres and Elne. In 1494, he also
received the title of abbot of the abbey of Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa.
Along with his father's elevation to Pope, Cesare was made Cardinal at
the age of 18.
Alexander VI staked the hopes of the Borgia family on Cesare's brother
Giovanni, who was made captain general of the military forces of the
papacy. Giovanni was assassinated in 1497 in mysterious circumstances.
Several contemporaries suggested that Cesare might have been his
killer, as Giovanni's disappearance could finally open to him a
long-awaited military career and also solve the jealousy over Sancha
of Aragon, wife of Cesare's younger brother, Gioffre, and mistress of
both Cesare and Giovanni. Cesare's role in the act has never been
clear. However, he had no definitive motive, as he was likely to be
given a powerful secular position, whether or not his brother lived.
It is more likely that Giovanni was killed as a result of a sexual
On 17 August 1498, Cesare became the first person in history to resign
the cardinalate. On the same day,
Louis XII of France
Louis XII of France named Cesare
Duke of Valentinois, and this title, along with his former position as
Cardinal of Valencia, explains the nickname "Valentino".
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Cesare's career was founded upon his father's ability to distribute
patronage, along with his alliance with France (reinforced by his
marriage with Charlotte d'Albret, sister of John III of Navarre), in
the course of the Italian Wars. Louis XII invaded Italy in 1499: after
Gian Giacomo Trivulzio
Gian Giacomo Trivulzio had ousted its duke Ludovico Sforza, Cesare
accompanied the king in his entrance into Milan.
Profile portrait of
Cesare Borgia in the
Palazzo Venezia in Rome, ca.
At this point Alexander decided to profit from the favourable
situation and carve out for Cesare a state of his own in northern
Italy. To this end, he declared that all his vicars in
Marche were deposed. Though in theory subject directly to the pope,
these rulers had been practically independent or dependent on other
states for generations. In the view of the citizens, these vicars were
cruel and petty. When Cesare eventually took power, he was viewed by
the citizens as a great improvement.
Cesare was appointed commander of the papal armies with a number of
Italian mercenaries, supported by 300 cavalry and 4,000 Swiss infantry
sent by the King of France. Alexander sent him to capture
Forlì, ruled by
Caterina Sforza (mother of the Medici condottiero
Giovanni dalle Bande Nere). Despite being deprived of his French
troops after the conquest of those two cities, Borgia returned to Rome
to celebrate a triumph and to receive the title of Papal Gonfalonier
from his father. In 1500 the creation of twelve new cardinals granted
Alexander enough money for Cesare to hire the condottieri, Vitellozzo
Vitelli, Gian Paolo Baglioni, Giulio and Paolo Orsini, and Oliverotto
da Fermo, who resumed his campaign in Romagna.
Giovanni Sforza, first husband of Cesare's sister Lucrezia, was soon
ousted from Pesaro; Pandolfo Malatesta lost Rimini; Faenza
surrendered, its young lord
Astorre III Manfredi being later drowned
in the Tiber river by Cesare's order. In May 1501 the latter was
created duke of Romagna. Hired by Florence, Cesare subsequently added
the lordship of
Piombino to his new lands.
While his condottieri took over the siege of
Piombino (which ended in
1502), Cesare commanded the French troops in the sieges of Naples and
Capua, defended by Prospero and Fabrizio Colonna. On 24 June 1501 his
troops stormed the latter, causing the collapse of Aragonese power in
In June 1502 he set out for Marche, where he was able to capture
Camerino by treason. He planned to conquer
However, his condottieri, most notably
Vitellozzo Vitelli and the
Orsini brothers (Giulio, Paolo and Francesco), feared Cesare's cruelty
and set up a plot against him.
Guidobaldo da Montefeltro
Guidobaldo da Montefeltro and Giovanni
Maria da Varano returned to
Urbino and Camerino, and Fossombrone
revolted. The fact that his subjects had enjoyed his rule thus far
meant that his opponents had to work much harder than they would have
liked. He eventually recalled his loyal generals to Imola, where he
waited for his opponents' loose alliance to collapse. Cesare called
for a reconciliation, but imprisoned his condottieri in Senigallia,
then called Sinigaglia, a feat described as a "wonderful deceiving" by
Paolo Giovio, and had them executed.
Later years and death
Cesare Borgia leaving the Vatican (1877) by Giuseppe Lorenzo Gatteri
Although he was an immensely capable general and statesman, Cesare had
trouble maintaining his domain without continued Papal patronage.
Niccolò Machiavelli cites Cesare's dependence on the good will of the
Papacy, under the control of his father, to be the principal
disadvantage of his rule. Machiavelli argued that, had Cesare been
able to win the favour of the new Pope, he would have been a very
successful ruler. The news of his father's death (1503) arrived when
Cesare was planning the conquest of Tuscany. While he was convalescing
in Castel Sant'Angelo, his troops controlled the conclave.
The new pope, Pius III, supported
Cesare Borgia and reconfirmed him as
Gonfalonier; but after a brief pontificate of twenty-six days he died.
Borgia's deadly enemy, Giuliano Della Rovere, then succeeded by
dexterous diplomacy in tricking the weakened
Cesare Borgia into
supporting him by offering him money and continued papal backing for
Borgia policies in the Romagna; promises which he disregarded upon
election. He was elected as
Pope Julius II
Pope Julius II to the papal dignity by the
near-unanimous vote of the cardinals. Realizing his mistake by then,
Cesare tried to correct the situation to his favour, but Pope Julius
II made sure of its failure at every turn.
Cesare Borgia, who was facing the hostility of Ferdinand II of
Aragon, was betrayed while in Naples by Gonzalo Fernández de
Córdoba, a man he had considered his ally, and imprisoned there,
while his lands were retaken by the Papacy. In 1504 he was transferred
Spain and imprisoned first in the Castle of Chinchilla de
Montearagón in La Mancha, but after an attempted escape he was moved
north to the Castle of La Mota, Medina del Campo, near Segovia. He
did manage to escape from the
Castle of La Mota
Castle of La Mota with assistance, and
after running across Santander, Durango and Gipuzkoa, he made it to
Pamplona on 3 December 1506, and was much welcomed by King John III of
Navarre, who was missing an experienced military commander, ahead
of the feared Castilian invasion (1512).
He recaptured Viana, Navarre, then in the hands of forces loyal to the
count of Lerín, Ferdinand II of Aragon's conspiratorial ally in
Navarre, but not the castle, which he then besieged. In the early
morning of 11 March 1507, an enemy party of knights fled from the
castle during a heavy storm. Outraged at the ineffectiveness of the
siege, the Italian commander chased them only to find himself on his
own. The party of knights discovered Borgia was alone, and trapped him
in an ambush. Borgia received a fatal injury from a spear. He was then
stripped of all his luxurious garments, valuables and a leather mask
covering half his face (disfigured possibly by syphilis during his
late years). Borgia was left lying naked, with just a red tile
covering his genitals.
Borgia was originally buried in a marbled mausoleum John III had
ordered built at the altar of the Church of Santa María in Viana, set
on one of the stops on the Camino de Santiago. In the 16th century the
bishop of Mondoñedo, Antonio de Guevara, published from memory what
he had seen written on the tomb when he had paid a visit to the
church. This epitaph underwent several changes in wording and meter
throughout the years and the version most commonly cited today is that
published by the priest and historian Francisco de Alesón in the 18th
century. It reads:
Aquí yace en poca tierra
el que todo le temía
el que la paz y la guerra
en su mano la tenía.
Oh tú que vas a buscar
dignas cosas de loar:
si tú loas lo más digno,
aquí pare tu camino,
no cures de más andar.
Here lies in a little earth
he who everyone feared,
he who peace and war
held in his hand.
Oh, you who go in search
of worthy things to praise,
if you would praise the worthiest
then your path stops here
and you do not need to go any farther.
Borgia was an old enemy of Ferdinand of Aragon, and he was fighting
the count who paved the way for Ferdinand's 1512 Castilian invasion
against John III and Catherine of Navarre. While the circumstances are
not well known, the tomb was destroyed sometime between 1523 and 1608,
during which time Santa María was undergoing renovation and
expansion. Tradition goes that a bishop of Calahorra considered
inappropriate to have the remains of "that degenerate" lying in the
church, so the opportunity was taken to tear down the monument and
expel Borgia's bones to where they were reburied under the street in
front of the church to be trodden on by all who walked through the
Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, in A los pies de Venus, writes that the then
Bishop of Santa María had Borgia expelled from the church because his
own father had died after being imprisoned under Alexander VI. It was
held for many years that the bones were lost, although in fact local
tradition continued to mark their place quite accurately and folklore
sprung up around Borgia's death and ghost. The bones were in fact dug
up twice and reburied once by historians (both local and
international—the first dig in 1886 involved the French historian
Charles Yriarte, who also published works on the Borgias) seeking the
resting place of the infamous Cesare Borgia. After Borgia was
unearthed for the second time in 1945 his bones were taken for a
rather lengthy forensic examination by Victoriano Juaristi, a surgeon
by trade and Borgia aficionado, and the tests concurred with the
preliminary ones carried out in the 19th century. There was evidence
that the bones belonged to Borgia.
Cesare Borgia's remains then were sent to Viana's town hall, directly
across from Santa María, where they remained until 1953. They
were then reburied immediately outside of the Church of Santa María,
no longer under the street and in direct danger of being stepped on. A
memorial stone was placed over it which, translated
into English, declared Borgia the Generalisimo of the papal as well as
the Navarrese forces. A movement was made in the late 80s to have
Borgia dug up once more and put back into Santa María, but this
proposal was ultimately rejected by church officials due to recent
ruling against the interment of anyone who did not hold the title of
pope or cardinal. Since Borgia had renounced the cardinalate it was
decided that it would be inappropriate for his bones to be moved into
the church. However, Fernando Sebastián Aguilar, the Archbishop of
Pamplona, caved in after more than 50 years of petitions and Borgia
was finally moved back inside the church on 11 March 2007, the day
before the 500th anniversary of his death. "We have nothing
against the transfer of his remains. Whatever he may have done in
life, he deserves to be forgiven now," said the local church.
A Glass of Wine with Caesar Borgia (1893) by John Collier. From left:
Cesare Borgia, Lucrezia Borgia, Pope Alexander VI, and a young man
holding an empty glass. The painting represents the popular view of
the treacherous nature of the Borgias - the implication being that the
young man cannot be sure that the wine is not poisoned.
Niccolò Machiavelli met the Duke on a diplomatic mission in his
function as Secretary of the Florentine Chancellery. Machiavelli was
at Borgia's court from 7 October 1502 through 18 January 1503. During
this time he wrote regular dispatches to his superiors in Florence,
many of which have survived and are published in Machiavelli's
Collected Works. In The Prince, Machiavelli uses Borgia as an example
to elucidate the dangers of acquiring a principality by virtue of
another. Although Cesare Borgia's father gave him the power to set up,
Cesare ruled the
Romagna with skill and tact for the most part.
However, when his father died, and a rival to the Borgia family
entered the Papal seat, Cesare was overthrown in a matter of months.
Machiavelli attributes two episodes to Cesare Borgia: the method by
Romagna was pacified, which Machiavelli describes in chapter
VII of The Prince, and the assassination of his captains on New Year's
Eve of 1502 in Senigallia.
Machiavelli's use of Borgia is subject to controversy. Some scholars
see in Machiavelli's Borgia the precursor of state crimes in the 20th
century. Others, including Macaulay and Lord Acton, have
historicized Machiavelli's Borgia, explaining the admiration for such
violence as an effect of the general criminality and corruption of the
Borgia and Leonardo
Cesare Borgia briefly employed
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci as military architect
and engineer between 1502 and 1503. Cesare provided Leonardo with an
unlimited pass to inspect and direct all ongoing and planned
construction in his domain. While in Romagna,
Leonardo built the canal from Cesena to the Porto Cesenatico.
Before meeting Cesare, Leonardo had worked at the Milanese court of
Ludovico Sforza for many years, until
Louis XII of France
Louis XII of France drove Sforza
out of Italy. After Cesare, Leonardo was unsuccessful in finding
another patron in Italy. King
Francis I of France
Francis I of France was able to convince
Leonardo to enter his service, and the last three years of Leonardo's
life were spent working in France.
On 10 May 1499, Cesare married
Charlotte of Albret (1480 – 11 March
1514). She was a sister of John III of Navarre. They were parents to a
daughter, Louise Borgia, Duchess of Valentinois, (1500–1553) who
first married Louis II de la Trémoille, Governor of Burgundy, and
secondly Philippe de Bourbon (1499–1557), Seigneur de Busset.
Cesare was also father to at least 11 illegitimate children, among
them Girolamo Borgia, who married Isabella Contessa di Carpi, and
Lucrezia Borgia (the younger), who, after Cesare's death, was moved to
Ferrara to the court of her aunt, the elder Lucrezia Borgia.
Character discussed in works of philosophy
The Antichrist (1895) by
Friedrich Nietzsche Af. #46 & #61
Beyond Good and Evil
Beyond Good and Evil (1886) by
Friedrich Nietzsche Af. #197
The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli
The Borgias (1802) by Alexandre Dumas, père
The Count of Monte Cristo (1844) by Alexandre Dumas, père
The Banner of the Bull (1915) by Rafael Sabatini
Then and Now (1946) by W. Somerset Maugham
Prince of Foxes
Prince of Foxes (1947) by Samuel Shellabarger
The Borgia Testament (1948) by Nigel Balchin
The Scarlet City (De scharlaken stad in Dutch) by Hella S. Haasse
Madonna of the Seven Hills (1958) by Jean Plaidy
Light on Lucrezia (1958) by Jean Plaidy
The Vulture Is a Patient Bird (1969) by
James Hadley Chase
James Hadley Chase refers to a
ring that belonged to Borgia
City of God: A Novel of the Borgias (1979) by Cecelia Holland
A Matter of Taste (1990) by
Fred Saberhagen casts Cesare as both
historical figure and vampire
Lusts of The Borgias (1992) by Marcus van Heller (John Stevenson)
The Family (2001) by Mario Puzo
Daedalus (2002) by David Davalos
Mirror Mirror (2003) by Gregory Maguire
The Borgia Bride (2005) by Jeanne Kalogridis
"The Medici Seal" (2006) by Theresa Breslin
The Book of Love (2008) by Sarah Bower
The Ground is Burning (2011) by Samuel Black
The Malice of Fortune (2012) by Michael Ennis
Blood and Beauty: The Borgias (2013) by Sarah Dunant
In the Name of the Family (2017) by Sarah Dunant
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (2010) by Oliver Bowden
Kakan no Madonna (1993) by
Chiho Saito (manga)
Cantarella (2001-2010) by
You Higuri (manga)
Cesare (2005-) by
Fuyumi Soryo (manga)
Borgia (2006) by
Milo Manara (artist) and Alejandro Jodorowsky
(writer), a graphic novel
Nathaniel Lee wrote a play entitled Caesar Borgia (1680) in which he
appears as the central character.
Alexandru Kirițescu wrote a
play entitled "Borgia" (1948)
Don Juan (1926)
Lucrezia Borgia (1926)
Bride of Vengeance (1948)
Prince of Foxes
Prince of Foxes (1949)
Lucrèce Borgia (1953)
The Black Duke (1963)
The Man Who Laughs (1966)
Poisons, or the World History of Poisoning (2001)
The Borgias (2006)
BBC series The Borgias, starring
Oliver Cotton as Cesare
The 2009 C
BBC series Horrible Histories, with
Mathew Baynton playing
Cesare Borgia in one of the sketches.
The 2011 Showtime series The Borgias, starring François Arnaud as
Canal+ series Borgia, starring
Mark Ryder as Cesare Borgia.
Cesare Borgia is mentioned in the song "B.I.B.L.E.", performed by
Killah Priest, which appears on GZA's 1995 album Liquid Swords, as
well as Killah Priest's debut album Heavy Mental. He is also mentioned
in the song "Jeshurun" on Priest's album Behind the Stained Glass.
Cesare Borgia is featured as the main antagonist and final boss in the
2010 video game Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood.
The Life Of
Cesare Borgia (1912) by Rafael Sabatini
A Triptych of Poisoners (1958) by Jean Plaidy
Cesare Borgia (1976) by Sarah Bradford
The Borgias (1981) by
Sarah Bradford and John Prebble
The Artist, The Philosopher and the Warrior (2009) by Paul Strathern
The Borgias: The Hidden History (2013) by G. J. Meyer
Cesare Borgia in a Nutshell (2016) by Samantha Morris
Wikisource has the text of a 1911
Encyclopædia Britannica article
about Cesare Borgia.
Rocca di Borgia
Route of the Borgias
^ Maike Vogt-Luerssen: Lucrezia Borgia: The Life of a Pope's Daughter
in the Renaissance, 2010, ISBN 978-1-4537-2740-9; p. 13.
^ His other titles included: Duke of Romagna, Prince of
Venafro, Count of Dyois, Lord of Piombino,
Camerino and Urbino,
Gonfalonier and Captain General of the Church.
^ Encyclopædia Britannica. Borgia, Cesare. Archived 21 July 2011 at
the Wayback Machine. Web. 20 Feb 2011.
^ World Book Encyclopedia. Borgia, Cesare. Web. 20 Feb 2011.
^ Christopher Hibbert (2008). The Borgias and Their Enemies. Harcourt,
Inc. ISBN 978-0-15-101033-2.
^ Machiavelli, Niccolò (1513). The Prince. Translated by W. K.
Marriott. Retrieved 6 November 2014.
^ a b Herfried Münkler and Marina Münkler, Lexikon der Renaissance,
Munich: Beck, 2000, pp. 43ff.(in German)
^ Sabatini (pp. 45, 48), citing the supplement to the Appendix of
Thuasne's edition of Burchard's Diarium
^ Cárdenas, Fabricio (2014). 66 petites histoires du Pays Catalan [66
Little Stories of Catalan Country] (in French). Perpignan: Ultima
Necat. ISBN 978-2-36771-006-8. OCLC 893847466.
^ Spinosa, La saga dei Borgia
^ Rendina, I capitani di ventura
^ Michael de la Bedoyere, The Meddlesome Friar and the Wayward Pope,
p. 20, Quote: "Next morning the absence of the Duke was noticed by his
servants, and the Pontiff was informed. He was not too worried for, as
Burchard says, Alexander jumped to the conclusion that his son had
spent the night with some girl and preferred to avoid the indiscretion
of leaving by day. It may be mentioned in passing that this touch, as
with many others one comes across, hardly squares with the general
view that the Pope, his family and those around him were without
shame. Juan was a dissolute young man and not a churchman, yet
Alexander presumed on a discretion more in keeping with later times."
^ "Today in Catholic History". Catholic Under the Hood. Retrieved 29
^ Rendina, p. 250.
^ a b Bustillo Kastrexana, Joxerra (2012). Guía de la conquista de
Navarra en 12 escenarios. Donostia: Txertoa Argitaletxea. p. 10.
^ a b Bustillo Kastrexana, J. p. 11
^ Moret, José de; Alesón, Francisco de (1891). Anales del reino de
Navarra. 7. Toloso, Spain: E. Lopez. p. 163. Retrieved 13 October
^ "BORGIA 3 -The Quest For Cesare's Tomb". Borgia Season 3: Behind the
Mark Ryder and Tom Fontana travel to Spain, to search for the
real Cesare Borgia's tomb. 2014-07-09. Retrieved 2017-04-27.
^ "The rehabilitation of Cesare Borgia" by Malcolm Moore, The Daily
Telegraph, 23 January 2007
^ Niccolò Machiavelli, "A Description of the Method Used by Duke
Valentino in Killing Vitellozzo Vitelli,
Oliverotto da Fermo, and
Others", The Chief Works and Others, trans. Allan Gilbert, Durham and
London: Duke University Press, 1989, 3 vols., 163–169
^ Ernst Cassirer, The Myth of the State, New Haven: Yale University
^ Harvey C. Mansfield, Machiavelli's Virtue, Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1996.
^ Rafael Sabatini, The Life of Cesare Borgia, 3rd edn (London:Stanley
Paul, n.d.), p.291 
^ Maclaine, David. "City of God by Cecelia Holland".
Historicalnovels.info. Retrieved 5 September 2014.
^ Nathaniel Lee, Caesar Borgia.
Pope Alexander VI
Pope Alexander VI only recognized four children as his: Cesare,
Giovanni, Lucrezia, and Gioffre.
Cloulas, Ivan. The Borgias.
Machiavelli, Niccolò. The Prince.
Johnson, Marion. The Borgias.
Sabatini, Rafael. The Life of Cesare Borgia.
Spinosa, Antonio (1999). La saga dei Borgia. Mondadori.
Cesare Borgia the Elegant Tyrant.
Strathern, Paul. The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Cesare Borgia.
Wikiquote has quotations related to: Cesare Borgia
Niccolò Machiavelli. The Prince. classicreader.com.
Sarah Bradford. "Cesare Borgia". Encyclopedia World Biography.
Diario de los Borja (Borgia) (in Spanish)
Lord of Forlì
Antonio II Ordelaffi
Lord of Imola
To the Papal States
Pandolfo IV Malatesta
Lord of Rimini
Pandolfo IV Malatesta
Astorre III Manfredi
Lord of Faenza
Astorre IV Manfredi
Guidobaldo da Montefeltro
Duke of Urbino
Guidobaldo da Montefeltro
Duke of Romagna
Duke of Valentinois
Catholic Church titles
Archbishop of Valencia
Captain General of the Church
Gonfalonier of the Church
Guidobaldo da Montefeltro
ISNI: 0000 0001 2137 7091
BNF: cb150035139 (data)