From the moment, in 1492, when Rodrigo Borgia becomes Pope Alexander VI, after the death of Innocent the VIII, intrigue and his personal quest for power begins. The corruption and greed of the church, its members and followers, is exposed and explored to create a perfectly interesting story about what can only be called the reign of the Borgias. They exploited every opportunity to advance their own position, behaving immorally, even as they prayed and worshipped G-d, behaving as if they were spiritual and honorable, without acknowledging their own duplicity and shameless behavior. They legitimized deceitfulness.
Alexander had several illegitimate children; his favorites among them were Juan, Cesare and Lucrezia. Strong-willed and determined, he took a young cousin, Guila, as his mistress, keeping her from her own husband’s bed. He was a man seemingly without scruples, willing to use the power of the church for his own personal gain and advancement, a man of deep passions who took whatever life offered without regard for rules and regulations, since such was the power of the Pope; he could rearrange the rules and regulations to suit himself. Using manipulation, threats, bribes and if all else failed, an army of men who would fight until the death, for his family and the church, he set about to conquer territory and kingdoms. There was no end to the brutality or unprovoked hostility if it would further the Borgia realm. The influential Borgia name was feared, and that fear manipulated men and enabled conquests.
Of the two brothers, Cesare was the more militaristic, and when his foppish brother, Juan, was murdered, suspicions about his killer were varied, some even falling on the shoulders of Cesare himself. Lucrezia was very close to Cesare but this did not prevent him from using her for his family’s political advantage, or from lying and exaggerating in order to destroy her first and second marriages so that an even better one could be arranged for the empire’s success. He was a man without scruples, driven by ambition, loved by his sister, trusted by his father, but dreaded by everyone else. Having his father’s ear was a great advantage to him, as his sharp tongue and manipulative wit were always plotting some strategy to move the family into greater prominence, in order to guarantee his own position of power, well into the future. Through marriages, alliances were made and alliances were broken with France, Italy and Spain to further the Papal territory. It was a pretty much accepted fact that everyone engaged in treachery.
At the end of the 15th century, in Italy, vengeance, was a powerful tool, and all slights, great and small, real or invented, were punished viciously. Murder and torture were audaciously committed. Children were tools for future coalitions and conquests. There seemed to be no crime that was not worth committing in order to advance the cause of the Borgias.
Sarah Dunant has imagined a very well-written tale, in this piece of historic fiction, which will hold your interest as you discover that Lucrezia Borgia, who was painted historically as a villain because she was so complicit in the corruption in which her family engaged, may have merely been used as a pawn in the game of power that her family played, a game in which she herself was powerless to do otherwise.