Cesare Borgia was the son of his father’s most famous mistress, Vannozza Catanei. His father, at that time Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, was vice chancellor of the church and had had three earlier children by other mistresses. Cesare was, however, the oldest of the four children born to Vannozza and Rodrigo (the others were Juan, Lucrezia, and Jofré) and was Rodrigo’s second son. As was customary for second sons, he was educated for a career in the church, and in 1480 Pope Sixtus IV dispensed him from the slur of illegitimacy so that he might hold ecclesiastical offices.
Although he was born in Italy and spent most of his life there, Cesare’s family and cultural background was almost entirely Spanish. His elder half brother, Pedro Luis, was duke of Gandía, and all of his early benefices were in Spain. At the age of seven Cesare was made an apostolic prothonotary and canon of the cathedral of Valencia.