Lucrezia Borgia

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Lucrezia Borgia
Dosso DOSSI , Battista DOSSI (attributed to) - Lucrezia Borgia, Duchess of Ferrara - Google Art Project.jpg
The only confirmed Lucrezia portrait painted from life (attributed to Dosso Dossi, c. 1519, National Gallery of Victoria [1] )
Duchess-consort of Ferrara, Modena, and Reggio
Tenure25 January 1505 – 24 June 1519
Duchess consort of Bisceglie, Princess consort of Salerno
Tenure1498 – 1500
Governor of Spoleto
Tenure1499 – 1500
Lady of Pesaro and Gradara, Countess of Catignola
Tenure12 June 1492 – 20 December 1497
Born18 April 1480
Died24 June 1519(1519-06-24) (aged 39)
Convent of Corpus Domini
(m. 1493;annulled 1497)

(m. 1498;died 1500)

(m. 1502)
Issue Rodrigo of Aragon
Alessandro d'Este (1505–1505)
Ercole II d'Este, Duke of Ferrara
Ippolito II d'Este
Alessandro d'Este (1514–1516)
Leonora d'Este
Francesco d'Este, Marchese di Massalombarda
Isabella Maria d'Este
House Borgia
Father Pope Alexander VI
Mother Vannozza dei Cattanei

Lucrezia Borgia (Italian pronunciation:  [luˈkrɛttsja ˈbɔrdʒa] ; Valencian: Lucrècia Borja [luˈkrɛsia ˈbɔɾdʒa] ; 18 April 1480 – 24 June 1519) was a Spanish-Italian noblewoman of the House of Borgia who was the daughter of Pope Alexander VI and Vannozza dei Cattanei. She reigned as the Governor of Spoleto, a position usually held by cardinals, in her own right.


Her family arranged several marriages for her that advanced their own political position including Giovanni Sforza, Lord of Pesaro and Gradara, Count of Catignola; Alfonso of Aragon, Duke of Bisceglie and Prince of Salerno; and Alfonso I d'Este, Duke of Ferrara. Tradition has it that Alfonso of Aragon was an illegitimate son of the King of Naples and that her brother Cesare Borgia may have had him murdered after his political value waned.

Rumors about her and her family cast Lucrezia as a femme fatale , a role in which she has been portrayed in many artworks, novels and films.

Early life

Lucrezia Borgia was born on 18 April 1480 at Subiaco, near Rome. [2] Her mother was Vannozza dei Cattanei, one of the mistresses of Lucrezia's father, Cardinal Rodrigo de Borgia (later Pope Alexander VI). [3] During her early life, Lucrezia Borgia's education was entrusted to Adriana Orsini de Milan, a close confidant of her father. Her education would primarily take place in the Piazza Pizzo de Merlo, a building adjacent to her father's residence. Unlike most educated women of her time, for whom convents were the primary source for knowledge, her education came from within the sphere of intellectuals in the court and close relatives, and it included a solid grounding in the Humanities, which the Catholic Church was reviving at the time. She was a thoroughly accomplished princess, fluent in Spanish, Catalan, Italian, and French, which prepared her for advantageous marriage to any European monarch or prince, and literate in both Latin and Greek. She would also become proficient in the lute, poetry, and oration. The biggest testament to her intelligence is her capability in administration, as later on in life she took care of Vatican City correspondence and governance of Ferrara.[ citation needed ]


First marriage: Giovanni Sforza (Lord of Pesaro and Gradara)

Possible portrait of Lucrezia as St Catherine of Alexandria in a fresco by Pinturicchio, in the Sala dei Santi in the Borgia Apartments in the Vatican, c. 1494. Lucrezia-Borgia.jpg
Possible portrait of Lucrezia as St Catherine of Alexandria in a fresco by Pinturicchio, in the Sala dei Santi in the Borgia Apartments in the Vatican, c. 1494.
Coin showing Giovanni Sforza Giovanni Sforza coin.jpg
Coin showing Giovanni Sforza

On 26 February 1491, a matrimonial arrangement was drawn up between Lucrezia and the Lord of Val D'Ayora, in the kingdom of Valencia, Don Cherubino Joan de Centelles, which was annulled less than two months later in favour of a new contract engaging Lucrezia to Don Gaspare Aversa, count of Procida. [4] When Rodrigo became Pope Alexander VI, he sought to be allied with powerful princely families and founding dynasties of Italy. He therefore called off Lucrezia's previous engagements and arranged for her to marry Giovanni Sforza, a member of the House of Sforza who was Lord of Pesaro and titled Count of Catignola. [5] Giovanni was an illegitimate son of Costanzo I Sforza and a Sforza of the second rank. He married Lucrezia on 12 June 1493 in Rome. [3]

Before long, the Borgia family no longer needed the Sforzas, and the presence of Giovanni Sforza in the papal court was superfluous. The Pope needed new, more advantageous political alliances, so he might have covertly ordered the execution of Giovanni: the generally accepted version is that Lucrezia was informed of this by her brother Cesare, and she warned her husband, who fled Rome. [6]

Alexander asked Giovanni's uncle, Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, to persuade Giovanni to agree to an annulment of the marriage. Giovanni refused and accused Lucrezia of paternal incest. [7] The pope asserted that his daughter's marriage had not been consummated and was thus invalid. Giovanni was offered her dowry in return for his cooperation. [8] The Sforza family threatened to withdraw their protection should he refuse. Giovanni finally signed confessions of impotence and documents of annulment before witnesses.

Alleged affair with Perotto

There has been speculation that during the prolonged process of the annulment, Lucrezia consummated a relationship with someone, perhaps Alexander's chamberlain Pedro Calderon, also named Perotto. [9] In any case, families hostile to the Borgias would later accuse her of being pregnant at the time her marriage was annulled for non-consummation. She is known to have retired to the convent of San Sisto in June 1497 to await the outcome of the annulment proceedings, which were finalized in December of the same year. The bodies of Pedro Calderon [9] and a maid, Pantasilea, were found in the Tiber in February 1498. In March 1498, the Ferrarese ambassador claimed that Lucrezia had given birth, but this was denied by other sources. A child was born, however, in the Borgia household the year before Lucrezia's marriage to Alfonso of Aragon. He was named Giovanni but is known to historians as the "Infans Romanus".

In 1501, two papal bulls were issued concerning the child, Giovanni Borgia. In the first, he was recognized as Cesare's child from an affair before his marriage. The second, contradictory, bull recognized him as the son of Pope Alexander VI. Lucrezia's name is not mentioned in either, and rumours that she was his mother have never been proven. The second bull was kept secret for many years, and Giovanni was assumed to be Cesare's son. This is supported by the fact that in 1502 he became Duke of Camerino, one of Cesare's recent conquests, hence the natural inheritance of the Duke of Romagna's oldest son. Giovanni went to stay with Lucrezia in Ferrara after Alexander's death, where he was accepted as her half-brother. [10]

Second marriage: Alfonso d'Aragon (Duke of Bisceglie and Prince of Salerno)

Duke Alfonso of Aragon by Pinturicchio PinturicchioAlfonso.jpg
Duke Alfonso of Aragon by Pinturicchio

Following her annulment from Sforza, Lucrezia was married to the Neapolitan Alfonso of Aragon, the half-brother of Sancha of Aragon who was the wife of Lucrezia's brother Gioffre Borgia. The marriage was a short one. [3]

They were married in 1498, making Lucrezia the Duchess consort of Bisceglie and Princess consort of Salerno. Lucrezia – not her husband – was appointed governor of Spoleto in 1499; Alfonso fled Rome shortly afterwards but returned at Lucrezia's request, only to be murdered in 1500. [11]

It was widely rumoured [12] that Lucrezia's brother Cesare was responsible for Alfonso's death, as he had recently allied himself (through marriage) with France against Naples. Lucrezia and Alfonso had one child, Rodrigo of Aragon, who was born in 1499 and predeceased his mother in August 1512 at the age of 12. [3]

Third marriage: Alfonso d'Este (Duke of Ferrara)

Alfonso d'Este Battista Dossi, ritratto di Alfonso I d'Este - Modena.jpg
Alfonso d'Este
Possible portrait by Bartolomeo Veneziano (c. 1510) Veneto - Portrait of an Unidentified Young Lady - National Gallery.jpg
Possible portrait by Bartolomeo Veneziano (c. 1510)

After the death of Lucrezia's second husband, her father, Pope Alexander VI, arranged a third marriage. She then married Alfonso I d'Este, Duke of Ferrara, in early 1502 in Ferrara. She had eight children during this marriage and was considered a respectable and accomplished Renaissance duchess, effectively rising above her previous reputation and surviving the fall of the Borgias following her father's death. [14]

Neither partner was faithful: beginning in 1503, Lucrezia enjoyed a long relationship with her brother-in-law, Francesco II Gonzaga, Marquess of Mantua. [15] [16] Francesco's wife was the cultured intellectual Isabella d'Este, the sister of Alfonso, to whom Lucrezia had made overtures of friendship to no avail. The affair between Francesco and Lucrezia was passionate, more sexual than sentimental as can be attested in the fevered love letters the pair wrote one another. [17] It has been claimed that the affair ended when Francesco contracted syphilis and had to end sexual relations with Lucrezia. [18] This last assertion is problematic as Francesco had contracted syphilis before 1500 as it was known that he passed the disease onto his eldest son Federico Gonzaga who was born in 1500. Francesco did not meet Lucrezia until 1502. [19]

Lucrezia also had a love affair with the poet Pietro Bembo during her third marriage. Their love letters were deemed "The prettiest love letters in the world" by the Romantic poet Lord Byron when he saw them in the Ambrosian Library of Milan on 15 October 1816. [20] [21] On the same occasion Byron claimed to have stolen a lock of Lucrezia's hair – "the prettiest and fairest imaginable" [21] – that was also held there on display. [22] [23] [24]

Lucrezia met the famed French soldier, the Chevalier Bayard while the latter was co-commanding the French allied garrison of Ferrara in 1510. According to his biographer, the Chevalier became a great admirer of Lucrezia's, considering her a "pearl on this Earth". [25]

After a long history of complicated pregnancies and miscarriages, on 14 June 1519 Lucrezia gave birth to her tenth child, named Isabella Maria in honour of Alfonso's sister Isabella d'Este. The child was sickly and – fearing she would die unbaptised – Alfonso ordered her to be baptised straightaway with Eleonora della Mirandola and Count Alexandro Serafino as godparents.

Lucrezia had become very weak during the pregnancy and fell seriously ill after the birth. After seeming to recover for two days, she worsened again and died on 24 June the same year. She was buried in the convent of Corpus Domini. [26]


Portrait of a Woman by Bartolomeo Veneto, traditionally assumed to be Lucrezia Borgia. 1520 Veneto Idealbildnis einer Kurtisane als Flora anagoria.JPG
Portrait of a Woman by Bartolomeo Veneto, traditionally assumed to be Lucrezia Borgia.
Signature of Lucrezia Borgia in a letter to her sister-in-law Isabella Gonzaga, March 1519 Firma de "Lucretia de Borgia" en una carta a su cunada Isabella Gonzaga (marzo de 1519).png
Signature of Lucrezia Borgia in a letter to her sister-in-law Isabella Gonzaga, March 1519
Tomb of Alfonso I d'Este and Lucrezia Borgia, Ferrara 02 Corpus Domini Ferrara - Sala del Coro o sala delle Clarisse - Tombe estensi.jpg
Tomb of Alfonso I d'Este and Lucrezia Borgia, Ferrara

She is described as having heavy blonde hair that fell past her knees, a beautiful complexion, hazel eyes that changed colour, a full, high bosom, and a natural grace that made her appear to "walk on air". [27] These physical attributes were highly appreciated in Italy during that period. Another description said, "her mouth is rather large, the teeth brilliantly white, her neck is slender and fair, and the bust is admirably proportioned." [28]

One painting, Portrait of a Youth by Dosso Dossi at the National Gallery of Victoria, was identified as a portrait of Lucrezia in November 2008. [29] [30] [31] [32] [33] This painting may be the only surviving formal portrait of Lucrezia Borgia; however, doubts have been cast on that attribution. [34] Several other paintings, such as Veneto's fanciful portrait, have also been said to depict her, but none have been accepted by scholars at present.

According to Mandell Creighton in his History of the Papacy, "Lucrezia ... was personally popular through her beauty and her affability. Her long golden hair, her sweet childish face, her pleasant expression and her graceful ways, seem to have struck all who saw her."


Several rumours have persisted throughout the years, primarily speculating as to the nature of the extravagant parties thrown by the Borgia family. One example is the Banquet of Chestnuts. Many of these concern allegations of incest, poisoning, and murder on her part; however, no historical basis for these rumours has ever been brought forward beyond allegations made by rival parties.


Lucrezia was mother to seven or eight known children:

  1. Rodrigo of Aragon (1 November 1499 – August 1512). Son by Alfonso of Aragon;
  2. A stillborn daughter (1502), First child by d'Este;
  3. Alessandro d'Este (1505–1505);
  4. Ercole II d'Este, Duke of Ferrara (5 April 1508 – 3 October 1559);
  5. Ippolito II d'Este (25 August 1509 – 1 December 1572). Archbishop of Milan and later Cardinal;
  6. Alessandro d'Este (1514–1516).;
  7. Leonora d'Este (3 July 1515 – 15 July 1575), a nun and composer;
  8. Francesco d'Este, Marquess of Massalombarda (1 November 1516 – 2 February 1578);
  9. Isabella Maria d'Este (born and died on 14 June 1519). [38] Complications at birth caused the death of Lucrezia ten days later.

Giovanni Borgia, "infans Romanus" ("Child of Rome", c. 1498–1548) had his paternity acknowledged by both Alexander and Cesare in two separate Papal bulls, but it was rumoured that he was the child of Lucrezia and Perotto. The child (identified in later life as Lucrezia's half-brother) was most likely the result of a liaison between Rodrigo Borgia (Pope Alexander VI, Lucrezia's father) and an unknown mistress and was not Lucrezia's child. [39]

At least one biographer (including Maria Bellonci) claims that Lucrezia gave birth to three more children, one by Alfonso of Aragon and two by Alfonso d'Este, who did not survive infancy. She is also thought to have had at least four miscarriages. [40]


In fiction

Treatments and references

Literature and opera

Film and television

See also

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Lucrezia Borgia
Born: 18 April 1480 Died: 24 June 1519
Royal titles
Title last held by
Maddalena Gonzaga
Lady consort of Pesaro and Gradara
12 June 1492 – 20 December 1497
Title next held by
Ginevra Tiepolo
Title last held by
Eleanor of Naples
Duchess consort of Ferrara, Modena and Reggio
25 January 1505 – 24 June 1519
Title next held by
Renée of France