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Cesare Borgia
Portrait of a man traditionally said to be Cesare Borgia
Personal details
Born (1475-09-13)September 13, 1475
Rome, Papal States
Died 12 March 1507(1507-03-12) (aged 31)
Viana, Kingdom of Navarre
Spouse(s) Charlotte of Albret

Duke of Valentinois

Cesare Borgia (Italian pronunciation: [ˈtʃɛzare ˈbɔrdʒa]; Valencian: Cèsar Borja, [ˈsɛzər ˈβɔrʒə]; Spanish: César Borja , [ˈθesar ˈβorxa]; 13 September 1475 or April 1476[1] – 12 March 1507), Duke of Valentinois,[2] was an Italian[3][4][5] condottiero, nobleman, politician, and cardinal. He was the son of Pope Alexander VI (r. 1492–1503) 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 Catalan), Prince of Squillace.[6] He was half-brother to Don Pedro Luis de Borja (1460–88) and Girolama de Borja, children of unknown mothers.

After initially entering the church and becoming a cardinal on his father's election to the Papacy, after the death of his brother in 1498 he became the first person to resign a cardinalcy. 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, and after escaping from prison died fighting in Spain.

Early life

Like nearly all 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 son of Cardinal Rodrigo de Lanzol y 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.[7] 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 de' 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.[8]


Church office

Cesare was initially groomed for a career in the Church. He was made Bishop of Pamplona at the age of 15. Following school in Perugia and Pisa where Cesare studied at Sapienza University of Rome, along with his father's elevation to Pope, Cesare was made Cardinal at the age of 18.[7] Alexander VI staked the hopes of the Borgia family in Cesare's brother Giovanni, who was made captain general of the military forces of the papacy. Giovanni was assassinated in 1497 in mysterious circumstances: with several contemporaries suggesting that Cesare might have been his killer,[9] as Giovanni's disappearance could finally open him a long-awaited military career; as well as jealousy over Sancha of Aragon, wife of Cesare's younger brother Gioffre, and mistress of both Cesare and Giovanni.[10] Cesare's role in the act, however, has never been clear.

On 17 August 1498, Cesare became the first person in history to resign the cardinalate.[11] On the same day, the French King Louis XII named Cesare Duke of Valentinois, and this title, along with his former position as Cardinal of Valencia, explains the nickname "Valentino".


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 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. 1500–10

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 Romagna and 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 Imola and 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 southern Italy.

In June 1502 he set out for Marche, where he was able to capture Urbino and Camerino by treason. He planned to conquer Bologna next. However, his condottieri, most notably Vitellozzo Vitelli and the Orsini brothers, feared Cesare's cruelty and set up a plot against him. 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, a feat described as a "wonderful deceiving" by Paolo Giovio,[12] and had them executed.

Later years

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Cesare Borgia leaving the Vatican (1877) by Giuseppe Lorenzo Gatteri

Although he was an immensely capable general and statesman, Cesare would have 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 weakness of his rule. Machiavelli argued that, had Cesare been able to win the favor 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 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 favor, but Pope Julius II made sure of its failure at every turn.

Cesare Borgia was betrayed while in Naples by Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, a man he had considered his ally, and exiled to Spain in 1504, while his lands were retaken by the Papacy. He was imprisoned first in the Castle of Chinchilla de Montearagón but after an attempted escape was moved to the Castle of La Mota, Medina del Campo. He did manage to escape from the Castle of La Mota with assistance and joined King John III of Navarre. He was killed in the early morning of 12 March 1507 while fighting just outside of the city of Viana, Spain.


Borgia was originally buried in a marble tomb beneath the altar of the Church of Santa Maria in Viana, 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 le 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.

Roughly translated into English it says, "Here lies in a little earth he who everyone feared, he who held peace and war 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."

The tomb was destroyed sometime between 1523 and 1608, during which time Santa María was undergoing renovation and expansion and 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 town. 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 Navarran 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 internment 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 Sebastian Aguilar, the Archbishop of Pamplona, has caved in after more than 50 years of petitions and Borgia will finally be moved back inside the church on 11 March 2007, the day before the 500th anniversary of his death.[13][needs update] "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

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 which the 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.[14]

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.[15] 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 time.[16]

Borgia and Leonardo

Cesare Borgia briefly employed 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[citation needed]. While in Romagna, Leonardo built the canal from Cesena to the Porto Cesenatico.[17] Before meeting Cesare, Leonardo had worked at the Milanese court of Ludovico Sforza for many years, until 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 was able to convince Leonardo to enter his service, and the last three years of da Vinci's life were spent working in France.

Personal life

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.

Popular culture


  • Don Juan (1926)
  • Lucrezia Borgia (1926)
  • Lucrèce Borgia (1935)
  • The Black Duke (1964)
  • Bride of Vengeance (1948)
  • Prince of Foxes (1949)
  • Poisons, or the World History of Poisoning (2001)
  • The Borgias (2006)][18]


  • The 1981 BBC series The Borgias, starring Oliver Cotton as Cesare Borgia.
  • The 2011 Showtime series The Borgias, starring François Arnaud as Cesare Borgia.
  • The 2011 Canal+ series Borgia, starring Mark Ryder as Cesare Borgia.
  • The 2009 CBBC series Horrible Histories, with Mathew Baynton playing Cesare Borgia in one of the sketches.


  • The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli
  • Caesar Borgia (acted 1680) by Nathaniel Lee
  • The Borgias by Alexandre Dumas, père
  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, père mentions many conspiracy theories based on Borgia.
  • The Family by Mario Puzo
  • Madonna of the Seven Hills by Jean Plaidy (Victoria Holt)
  • Light on Lucrezia by Jean Plaidy (Victoria Holt)
  • Mirror Mirror by Gregory Maguire
  • Prince of Foxes by Samuel Shellabarger
  • The Banner of the Bull by Rafael Sabatini (fiction)
  • The Borgia Bride by Jeanne Kalogridis
  • The Borgia Testament by Nigel Balchin
  • Lusts of The Borgias by Marcus Van Heller
  • City of God, A Novel of the Borgias by Cecelia Holland
  • Then and Now by W. Somerset Maugham
  • The Antichrist (1895) by Friedrich Nietzsche Af. #61
  • Beyond Good and Evil (1886) by Friedrich Nietzsche Af. #197
  • The Dwarf (1944) by Pär Lagerkvist features an unscrupulous prince likely modeled on Borgia
  • Borgia, by Milo Manara (artist) & Alejandro Jodorowsky (writer), a comic in the form of serialized graphic novel, depicting the story of the Borgia family.
  • Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia (2009) by Robert Lalonde
  • The Vulture is a patient bird by James Hadley Chase refers to a ring that belonged to Borgia
  • Valentino: a play in verse by David Wisehart
  • Carnival of Saints by George Herman features Borgia as one of the main antagonists.
  • The Artist, The Philosopher and the Warrior by Paul Strathern
  • Poison: A Novel of the Renaissance by Sara Poole
  • The Ground is Burning by Samuel Black
  • Daedalus by David Davalos
  • Cesare Borgia by Sarah Bradford
  • He appears as both historical figure and vampire in the novel A matter of taste which is a book in The Dracula Sequence by Fred Saberhagen.
  • The Malice of Fortune (2012) by Michael Ennis
  • Cesare by Fuyumi Soryo (manga)
  • Kakan no Madonna by Chiho Saito (manga)
  • Cantarella, a manga by You Higuri


  • Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood – voiced by Andreas Apergis.

Cesare is the main antagonist of the video game Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, acting as Captain-General of the Papal army in Rome and ordering an assault on the castle-town of Monteriggioni, home to the protagonist Ezio Auditore da Firenze's uncle, Mario Auditore. In the game Cesare has a stated desire to use both the Papal army and his family's political connections to usurp control over all of Italy.

  • In Resident Evil (1996 video game), a portrait of Cesare Borgia can be seen hanging in the dining room of the mansion.


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. There is also a song from Horrible Histories (The Borgia Family) about him, his father and his siblings.

See also

  • Rocca di Borgia
  • Route of the Borgias


  1. Maike Vogt-Luerssen: Lucrezia Borgia: The Life of a Pope's Daughter in the Renaissance, 2010, ISBN 978-1-4537-2740-9; p. 13.
  2. His other titles included: Duke of Romagna, Prince of Andria and Venafro, Count of Dyois, Lord of Piombino, Camerino and Urbino, Gonfalonier and Captain General of the Church.
  3. Cambridge Encyclopedia. Cesare Borgia. Web. 20 Feb 2011.
  4. Encyclopædia Britannica. Borgia, Cesare. Web. 20 Feb 2011.
  5. World Book Encyclopedia. Borgia, Cesare. Web. 20 Feb 2011.
  6. Christopher Hibbert (2008). The Borgias and Their Enemies. Harcourt, Inc.. ISBN 978-0-15-101033-2. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Herfried Münkler and Marina Münkler, Lexikon der Renaissance, Munich: Beck, 2000, p. 43ff.(German)
  8. Sabatini (pp. 45, 48), citing the supplement to the Appendix of Thuasne's edition of Burchard's Diarium
  9. Spinosa, La saga dei Borgia
  10. Rendina, I capitani di ventura
  11. "Today in Catholic History". Catholic Under the Hood. Retrieved 29 December 2012. 
  12. Rendina, p. 250.
  13. "The rehabilitation of Cesare Borgia" by Malcolm Moore, The Daily Telegraph, 23 January 2007
  14. 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
  15. Ernst Cassirer, The Myth of the State, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1946
  16. Harvey C. Mansfield, Machiavelli's Virtue, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.
  17. Rafael Sabatini, The Life of Cesare Borgia, 3rd edn (London:Stanley Paul, n.d.), p.291
  18. The Borgias (2006) at the Internet Movie Database


  • 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. 
  • Nanami, Shiono. Cesare Borgia the Elegant Tyrant. 
  • Strathern, Paul. The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior. 

External links

Preceded by
Ottaviano Riario
Lord of Forlì
Succeeded by
Antonio II Ordelaffi
Lord of Imola
To the Papal States
Preceded by
Pandolfo IV Malatesta
Lord of Rimini
Succeeded by
Pandolfo IV Malatesta
Preceded by
Astorre III Manfredi
Lord of Faenza
Succeeded by
Astorre IV Manfredi
Preceded by
Guidobaldo I da Montefeltro
Duke of Urbino
Succeeded by
Guidobaldo I da Montefeltro

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