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Cesare Borgia Edit Profile

also known as Duke of Valentinois

cardinal , politician , nobleman , Duke , Captain General

The Italian leader Cesare Borgia (1475-1507) played an important part in Renaissance history. By intrigue and bravery he captured the Romagna, an area of Italy which remained a papal state until the 19th century.


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.


His early tutors were Paolo Pompilio and Giovanni Vera, both Catalans, and he was recognized as being exceptionally brilliant, as well as being, according to at least one observer, “the handsomest man in Italy.” In 1489 he went to the University of Perugia to study law and then passed on to the University of Pisa, where he studied under the famous jurist Filippo Decio and gained a degree in canon and civil law.


In 1491 he became bishop of Pamplona, and in 1492, after the accession of his father to the papal throne, he was made archbishop of Valencia. The election of his father as pope in 1492 changed the fortunes of Cesare Borgia. Besides becoming an archbishop, he was also made a cardinal in 1493, with the titular church of Santa Maria Nova; he was now one of his father’s principal advisers. It was already clear, however, that he did not have a true religious vocation; he was better known at the papal court for his hunting parties, his amorous liaisons, and his magnificent clothes than for the meticulous observance of his ecclesiastical duties.

On the death of Pedro Luis in 1488 the title of duke of Gandía had by-passed him and gone to his younger brother Juan, and it was he who was made commander of the papal army in 1496 for the first of Alexander’s campaigns against his rebellious nobility, the Orsini. Cesare was reputed to have been extremely jealous of his brother, and, when Juan was mysteriously murdered in 1497, the rumour gradually spread that Cesare was the culprit. There is, however, no evidence that Cesare murdered his brother (who had many other enemies) beyond the fact that he was certainly capable of murder, as he subsequently proved.

After the death of Juan, Cesare’s martial and political leanings and his father’s need for a trustworthy secular lieutenant coincided, and in 1498 Cesare gave up his cardinalate. Plans were laid for an important dynastic marriage for him, and, after an abortive attempt to win the hand of Carlotta, daughter of the king of Naples, he traveled to France to marry Charlotte d’Albret, sister of the king of Navarre. At the same time he received from Louis XII, the French king, the title of duke of Valentinois, and from this title he derived his nickname—Il Valentino.

The French marriage of Cesare ensured for him and his father French assistance in their plans to reestablish control in the Papal States and, if possible, to carve out a permanent Borgia state in Italy for Cesare. In 1499 Cesare, as captain general of the papal army, assisted by a large contingent of French troops, began a systematic occupation of the cities of Romagna and the Marches, which had largely fallen under the control of semi-independent papal vicars.

The campaign of 1499 saw the conquest of Imola and Forlì; that of 1500–01 brought Rimini, Pesaro, and Faenza into Cesare’s hands; and finally, in 1502, he captured Urbino, Camerino, and Senigallia. It was in this last campaign that Machiavelli, as one of the Florentine ambassadors attached to Cesare’s camp, was able to observe at first hand the methods of the man who was to figure so largely in his later writings.

The activities of Alexander and Cesare, although they conformed very much to a pattern established by earlier 15th-century popes, aroused immense opposition within the Papal States and from the other Italian states. The propaganda war waged against them was vitriolic and lastingly effective. Cesare was portrayed as a monster of lust and cruelty who had gained an unnatural ascendancy over his father after having supposedly killed his brother, the favourite son, Juan. It seems likely, however, that the two Borgias worked very much in harmony. Alexander was by far the more astute politician and Cesare the more ruthless man of action. Ambitious and arrogant, he was determined to establish himself as an Italian prince before his father died and left him deprived of the political and financial support of the papacy. Aut Caesar, aut nihil (“Either Caesar or Nothing”) was the motto he adopted to indicate the single-mindedness of his purpose. A number of political assassinations have been attributed to him, but the crime of which he was most clearly the author was the murder in August 1500 of his brother-in-law Alfonso, duke of Bisceglie, the second husband of Lucrezia. It seems likely that this was an act of personal vengeance rather than a politically motivated assassination, but it contributed greatly to the fear and loathing in which Cesare was held.

The best example of Cesare’s methods was his third Romagna campaign (1502–03). He opened with a lightning march on unsuspecting Urbino, which surrendered without a shot being fired. He then turned on Camerino, which was also quickly subdued. At this stage his leading commanders, fearing his power, turned against him in the so-called Magione conspiracy. Cesare, stripped of most of his troops, was forced to fight defensively in the Romagna. With lavish use of papal funds, however, he managed to rebuild his army while at the same time working on the diplomatic front to break up the league of the conspirators. Having succeeded in breaking it up, he arranged a rendezvous for reconciliation with some of the conspirators at Senigallia and, having isolated them from their troops, he then arrested and executed them (December 1502).

Cesare, with a powerful army he could trust, now seemed to be at the zenith of his fortunes. It is probable that he was planning an attack on Tuscany, which would have provided him with the independent state he craved, when his father died on August 18, 1503. He himself was also ill at the time, and this circumstance, together with the subsequent election of a bitter enemy of the Borgias, Giuliano della Rovere, as Pope Julius II, lessened his already slim chances of survival. Julius refused to confirm Cesare as duke of the Romagna or captain general of the church and demanded the restoration of the Romagna cities. Cesare was arrested, won a brief respite by agreeing to surrender his cities, and fled to Naples only to be arrested once more by Gonzalo de Córdoba, the Spanish viceroy, who refused to join him in a league against the pope. Cesare was then taken to Spain and imprisoned, first in the castle of Chinchilla near Valencia and then at Medina del Campo, from which he escaped in 1506. Unable to see any immediate prospect of returning to Italy, he took service with his brother-in-law, the king of Navarre, and was killed in 1507 in a skirmish with Navarrese rebels outside Viana. He was buried in the church of Santa Maria in Viana.


  • By 1500 Cesare had received all he desired: a reputation as a military leader, secular estates, and a wife. But the Borgias had paid a high price for Cesare's ambitions; by allying themselves with France they had lost the friendship and protection of the Spanish king. Since Cesare had acquired estates and a wife in France, he was determined to maintain the papal alliance with the French. To that end he ordered the murder of the husband of his sister Lucrezia, the Neapolitan nobleman Alfonso, Duke of Bisceglie. In August 1500, while recuperating from an earlier assassination attempt, Alfonso was strangled in the papal apartments. Alfonso's murder in Borgia-controlled Rome angered the Neapolitans and the Spanish and thus ended the possibility of Alexander's return to the old alliance.

    Between October 1500 and August 1501 Cesare seized other territories in the Romagna. Again Louis XII provided him with a French army. During this second campaign Louis and Ferdinand of Aragon signed the Treaty of Granada (November 1500), which formalized their agreement to partition Naples. When the Franco-Spanish operation against Naples was launched, Cesare assisted his French ally, and on Aug. 1, 1501, Naples capitulated.

    In June 1502 Cesare began his third and final campaign in the Romagna, and by December 1502 he had captured the entire area for the Pope. Most of the Romagna welcomed the Borgia rule, for Cesare introduced an efficient, enlightened, and centralized administration to the area. But Cesare's fortunes were soon to change.


Cesare's religious vocation was never strong, and he gained a reputation at the papal court for his womanizing, lavish clothing, and hunting parties.


Quotations: Your brother, Cesar de Borgia, Elect of Valencia

Signature of Cesare's letter to Piero de'Medici, showing the good relations prevailing between them and Cesare's full consciousness of the importance of his position (August, 1492), as quoted by Rafael Sabatini, 'The Life of Cesare Borgia', Chapter IV: Borgia Alliances

However much Rome may be in the habit of speaking and writing, for my own part, I shall give these libellers a lesson in good manners.

Cesare to his father, Pope Alexander VI, (November, 1501), as quoted by Rafael Sabatini, 'The Life of Cesare Borgia', Chapter XI: The Letter to Silvio Savelli.

To all our Lieutenants, Castellains, Captains, Condottieri, Officers, Soldiers and Subjects, to whom these presents may be known, we commit and command that to our Most Excellent and Most Beloved Private Architect and General Engineer Leonardo Vinci, bearer of the same, and who has our Commission to survey the holds and fortresses of our States, in order that according to their exigencies and his judgment we may equip them, they are to give free pass, exempt from all public toll to himself and his company, and friendly reception; and to allow him to see, measure and estimate all he may wish. And to this effect they shall order men on his requisition and lend him all the help, assistance and favours he may request, it being our wish that for all works to be done in our Dominions any engineer be compelled to consult him and to conform to his opinion ; and to this may none presume to act in opposition, if it be his pleasure not to incur our indignation.

Vellum folded as letter describing Leonardo da Vinci as Borgia's Military Engineer, bears the seal of Cesare as Duke and the seal of Alessandro Borgia on the back (July 1502). (The vellum was recently made available to the public by the Duchess Josephine Melzi d'Eril Barbo) Source: http://www.oldandsold.com/articles11/italy-35.shtml

Most Illustrious and most Excellent Lady, our very dear Sister,- Confident of the circumstance that there can be no more efficacious and salutary medicine for the indisposition from which you are at present suffering than the announcement of good and happy news, we advise you that at this very moment we have received sure tidings of the capture of Camerino. We beg that you will do honour to this message by an immediate improvement, and inform us of it, because, tormented as we are to know you so ill, nothing, not even this felicitous event, can suffice to afford us pleasure. We beg you also kindly to convey the present to the Illustrious Lord Don Alfonso, your husband and our beloved Brother-in-law, to whom we are not writing to-day.

Cesare's letter to Lucrezia (July, 1502), as quoted by Rafael Sabatini, 'The Life of Cesare Borgia', Chapter XIII: Urbino and Camerino.

A matter which would be easily accomplished, as the best men of that State have already offered themselves to me.

Cesare threatening Vitelli that he will deprive him of his state, of Citta di Castello, if he is disobedient. (July, 1502), as quoted by Rafael Sabatini, 'The Life of Cesare Borgia', Chapter XIV: The Revolt of the Condottieri

[I] had not forgotten the way to reconquer it [Urbino].

Cesare to Macchiavelli, after the loss of Urbino (October, 1502), as quoted by Rafael Sabatini, 'The Life of Cesare Borgia', Chapter XV: Macchiavelli's Legation

The constellations this year seem unfavourable to rebels."

Cesare to Macchiavelli (October, 1502), as quoted by Rafael Sabatini, 'The Life of Cesare Borgia', Chapter XV: Macchiavelli's Legation

Diet of bankrupts... To-day, Messer Paolo is to visit me, and to-morrow there will be the cardinal; and thus they think to befool me, at their pleasure. But I, on my side, am only dallying with them. I listen to all they have to say and bide my own time.

Cesare to Macchiavelli about his contempt for the Orsini (October, 1502), as quoted by Rafael Sabatini, 'The Life of Cesare Borgia', Chapter XV: Macchiavelli's Legation

senza segno d'alterazione alcuna

Without any sign of alteration.

Cesare, in reply to Macchiavelli, on not having a reputation similar to that of other lords (December, 1502) as quoted by Rafael Sabatini, 'The Life of Cesare Borgia', Chapter XVI: Ramiro De Lorqua

There is no city, country-side, or castle, nor any place in all Romagna, nor officer or minister of the duke's, who does not know of these abuses; and, amongst others, the famine of wheat occasioned by the traffic which he held against our express prohibition, sending out such quantities as would abundantly have sufficed for the people and the army.

Cesare's publication on the corrupt practices of Ramiro de Lorqua (December, 1502) as quoted by Rafael Sabatini, 'The Life of Cesare Borgia', Chapter XVI: Ramiro De Lorqua

Ah! Falso ribaldo!

Cesare grabs Vitelli as they shake hands and says this (December, 1502), as quoted by Edoardo Alvisi, 'Cesare Borgia, Duke of Romagna', Section 358, 1878.

This is what I wanted to tell Monsignor di Volterra [Soderini] when he came to Urbino, but I could not entrust him with the secret. Now that my opportunity has come, I have known very well how to make use of it, and I have done a great service to your masters.

Cesare to Macchiavelli, after telling him why he ordered his men to attack the soldiers of Vitelli and Orsini (December, 1502) as quoted by Rafael Sabatini, 'The Life of Cesare Borgia', Chapter XVII: The Beautiful Stratagem

This government of yours does not please me, and I cannot trust it; you must change it and give me a pledge that you will observe everything you promised; otherwise you will soon realize that I do not want to live this way; and I will not ...my friend ...my enemy.

as quoted by Roberto Ridolfi, 'The Life of Niccolo Machiavelli', page 74.


Cesare Borgia was a man of extraordinary contrasts. Machiavelli found that he could be at times secretive and taciturn, at other times loquacious and boastful. He alternated bursts of demonic activity, when he stayed up all night receiving and dispatching messengers, with moments of unaccountable sloth, when he remained in bed refusing to see anyone. He was quick to take offense and rather remote from his immediate entourage and yet very open with his subjects, loving to join in local sports and to cut a dashing figure.

There can be no doubt of the impact that he made in the Italy of his own day, but this impression was largely because of the backing he received from papal money and French arms. He was undoubtedly a master of politico-military maneuver, and it was a combination of daring and duplicity that brought him his striking successes and made him feared all over Italy. His abilities as a soldier and as an administrator, however, were never really tested. He fought no major battles in his short military career, but this was perhaps a measure of his success as a planner. He had little time for the organization of the government of his Romagna duchy, but there are indications that he had plans for centralized government and bureaucratic efficiency, which to some extent justify the claims made for him as an administrator by Machiavelli. His interests tended to be scientific and literary rather than artistic, but once again time was too short for him to emerge as an important Renaissance patron. Leonardo da Vinci was for a short time his inspector of fortresses but executed no artistic commissions for him.

Machiavelli’s apparent admiration for a man who was so widely feared and abhorred led many critics to regard his portrayal of Cesare as an idealization. This interpretation, however, is not really the case. Machiavelli was well aware of the failings and limitations of Cesare Borgia, but he saw in him some of the qualities that he considered essential for the man who aspired to be a prince. The aggressiveness, the speed and ruthlessness of planning and execution, the opportunism of Cesare all delighted Machiavelli, who saw far too little of these qualities in the Italy of his day. Machiavelli was not attempting a rounded portrait of Cesare’s character and qualities, which baffled him as much as they did most of his contemporaries.

Physical Characteristics : With brown eyes and orange hair, Cesare was acknowledged to be a beautiful child and grew to be a fleet-footed, tall, handsome man of great ambition, much like his father. He was recognized as being exceptionally brilliant, as well as being, according to at least one observer, “the handsomest man in Italy.”

  • “The object of his campaign has not been to tyrannise, but to extirpate tyrants.

    The Duke Valentinois' Envoy (July, 1502), as quoted by Rafael Sabatini, 'The Life of Cesare Borgia', Chapter XIII: Urbino and Camerino.

    Saturday evening the Duke Valentino arrived here, having come by estafette; His gracious majesty very cheerfully greeted and embraced him and conducted him to the Castle, where he gave him the room nearest to his own, he himself speeding supper and ordering several courses, and that evening three or four times he went to the room even in his nightshirt when he was going to bed. And he insisted on giving the Duke his own shirts and gowns and clothes to wear, the Duke Valentino not having as many waggons as he has horses. In one word, one could not do more for a son or a brother.

    Description of Cesare staying with the King of France.

    The rather more dubious side of Nietzsche's 'evolutionism' is his glorification of the warrior -- particularly when, as an exemplification of the warrior-hero, he chooses an archetypal 'spoilt brat' like Cesare Borgia.

    Colin Wilson in Rudolf Steiner: The Man and His Vision , p. 87”


Cesare and his wife Charlotte d'Albret were parents to a daughter, Louise Borgia, (1500-1553) who married first Louis II de La Tremouille, Governor of Burgundy, and secondly Philippe de Bourbon, Seigneur de Busset.

Cesare was also father to at least 11 illegitimate children, some of whom became well known. Rumors that he fathered a daughter through an incestuous relationship with his sister are considered unfounded.

Pope Alexander VI - Aragonese - pope
Pope Alexander VI - father of Cesare Borgia

Alexander VI (1431-1503) was pope from 1492 to 1503. Because of his worldly life, he is often considered the most notorious of the Renaissance popes.

Vannozza dei Cattanei - Italian
 Vannozza dei Cattanei - mother of Cesare Borgia

Of all the mistresses of Pope Alexander VI she was in a relationship with him lasted the longest.

Charlotte of Albret - French - Duchess of Valentinois

Wealthy French noblewoman of the Albret family. She was the sister of King John III of Navarre.

Louise Borgia - French - Duchess of Valentinois

Girolamo Borgia

Giovanni Borgia - Italian - Gonfaloniere , Captain General of the Church

Gonfaloniere and Captain General of the Church, both positions his brother Cesare wanted. Murdered by his brother Cesare.

Jofré Borgia - Italian

Youngest brother of Cesare, Giovanni, and Lucrezia Borgia.

Lucrezia Borgia - Italian

Leonardo da Vinci

A man of scientific rather than artistic interests, Cesare Borgia briefly employed Leonardo da Vinci as military architect and engineer.

Niccolò Machiavelli - Italian - diplomat , historian , humanist , Philosopher , politician , writer
Niccolò Machiavelli - colleague of Cesare Borgia

Cesare Borgia was greatly admired by Niccolò Machiavelli, who was at Borgia's court from October 7, 1502 through January 18, 1503. Machiavelli used many of Borgia's exploits and tactics as examples in The Prince and advised politicians to imitate Cesare.