If you lived in Rome in the fourteen and fifteen hundreds, there was one family that really ruled the city- the Borgia family. Three of the most infamous members would have to be Lucrezia Borgia (1480 CE to 1519 CE), her father Rodrigo (, who was elected Pope Alexander VI and her brother, Cesare who was appointed a Cardinal of the church in 1493, and acted as captain-general of its forces in the early sixteenth century. Although these are perhaps the three best known of the Borgia family, many family members held important positions in Renaissance Rome and helped shape not only the city but much of Europe as well.
The Borgias were patrons of the arts and, in many ways helped to promote Renaissance music and art, allowing it to flourish much more than it would have been able to otherwise. It was not uncommon to see many great artists, thinkers and philosophers such as Leonardo da Vinci visiting the court of the Borgias.
Rodrigo, in particular, also supported the university and improved the city of Rome while he was in power. Rodrigo also divided the New World up between Spain and Portugal through the use of a Papal Bull or proclamation. This helped to bring peace between the two nations, something which had been difficult before Rodrigo had become involved. Rodrigo was known for being an excellent statesman and diplomat, which was interesting because in other ways, he tended to be very short tempered and quick to avenge any perceived slight or political challenge to his position or his family.
There are many controversies that surround the Borgia family. Rodrigo was known for a lifestyle that included many different excesses including women. In fact, not only did he have several mistresses, he brought them with him to the Papal court and openly acknowledged the children that they bore him. He was known for attending public orgies such as the Banquet of Chestnuts along with his daughter Lucrezia and his son Cesare. There were many rumors that stated he was involved in an incestuous relationship with his daughter Lucrezia. It was also rumored that he had paid the cardinals to elect him as Pope.
Lucrezia was married three times. All three marriages were arranged by her family as a way of strengthening their political position. She became known as much for her habit of poisoning people as she was for her political skills. Many people now believe that she was manipulated by her family rather than being cruel in her own right.
Her brother Cesare was known for being truly reprehensible. He had originally been appointed a cardinal in the church but after his older brother Giovanni’s murder in 1497 CE, he took over as commander-general of the church. While in command of the church’s army, he waged war in order to carve out a state in northern Italy that he could rule in his own right. During this time he committed many different atrocities including murder, theft and other crimes.