Saturday, October 31, 2009

Heroine of the Weekend Halloween Edition

First of all, I'm over at the Risky Regencies all weekend to launch my new book The Winter Queen! Comment on the posts there to win a signed copy...

And this week's heroine (in honor of my favorite holiday Halloween, bwahaha!) is Lucrezia Borgia. Now, the real Lucrezia might just be a victim of bad publicity (since not very much can actually be known about her historical story, and her complicity in her father's and brother's crimes are only rumored), but her name does evoke suitably shivery, Halloween-y vibes. :)

Lucrezia Borgia was born in April 1480 to Rodrigo Borgia, a Renaissance grandee who later became Pope Alexander VI, and his mistress Vannozza dei Cattanei, at Subiaco near Rome. Her brothers were the notorious Cesare, Giovanni, and Gioffre Borgia. By the time she was 13, she had been betrothed twice, only to have both engagements broken off by her father. After he became pope, he married her off to Giovanni Sforza in a very lavish ceremony to cement an alliance with that famous Milanese family. But before long the Borgias no longer needed the Sforzas; new, more advantageous political alliances were required, so the Pope is rumored to have ordered the murder of his superflous son-in-law. First he tried to persuade Giovanni to a divorce; he refused and accused Lucrezia of incest. Not a good move. The marriage was annulled on the basis of non-consumation (with Giovanni forced to sign papers confessing his impotence).

Rumors went around that during this long annulment process Lucrezia got to "consumating" with a lowly messenger (or maybe even with her brother!) and got pregnant. The child, Giovanni, was born secretly in 1498 before Lucrezia's second marriage to Alfonso of Aragon. (In 1501, two papal bulls were issued concerning the child Giovanni. One stated he was the son of Cesare from an affair before his marriage; one said he was the son of the Pope himself. Lucrezia isn't mentioned in either, and rumors of her motherhood have never been proven). Giovanni eventually became Duke of Camerino.

Things began promisingly with Alfonso. He was handsome and good-natured, and Lucrezia became fond of him, but Cesare (who was scarred after a bout of venereal disease, and had started wearing masks and always dressing in black) became jealous of his sister's regard for her husband. He had his men attack Alfonso one night; Alfonso's men then shot arrows at Cesare as he walked in a garden. Predictably this ended badly, when Alfonso ended up strangled to death. He and Lucrezia only had one child, Rodrigo, who died at age 13. (This second marriage probably ended not just because of jealousy, but because like marriage #1 it had become superflous and a new alliance was needed. But Lucrezia was said to be broken-hearted)

Her third marriage was to Alfonso d'Este, Duke of Ferrara. They had a number of children together and Lucrezia eventually became a respectable Renaissance duchess, able to survive the fall of the Borgias after her father's death. Neither of them were faithful, of course; Lucrezia had a long relationship with her bisexual brother-in-law, the Marquis of Mantua (husband of the famous Isabella d'Este), as well as an affair with the poet Pietro Bembo.

She died in Ferrara on June 24, 1519 from complications of childbirth, and was buried in the convent of Corpus Domini. In 1816, Byron visited the Ambrosian Library of Milan and read the letters of Lucrezia and Bembo ("The prettiest love letters in the world," he declared) and claimed to have stolen a lock of her hair. All the stories of wild parties, poison rings, and incest are just that--very persistent stories!

Some good sources include:
Sarah Bradford, Lucrezia Borgia: Life, Love, and Death in Renaissance Italy
Maria Bellonci, Lucrezia Borgia
And the Lucrezia Borgia research page

Happy Halloween everyone!


Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

They were supposed to be making a movie about Lucrezia with Scarlett Johansen and Ewan McGregor as Cesare but it never happened. Too bad because she's an interesting heroine even though she didn't do the things she was accused of.

Amanda McCabe said...

Scarlett Johansen! Noooo!!! (I heard she was going to make a movie about Mary Queen of Scots, too). A movie about Lucrezia with another actress would be great,, though.

librarypat said...

Just reinforces what commodities women were historically. They were pawns to move around and trade for the power moves of men. Unfortunately there was a lot of collateral damage in these actions.
Keep these Heroine of the Weekend spots coming.