The very name of Lucrezia Borgia remains, some 500 years after her time, enough to send a frisson of a thrill down the spine—particularly of men! The Lucrezia of legend has become an archetypal ‘femme fatale’—beautiful, seductive and potentially deadly. She was a member of the notorious Borgia family who under the ruthless Rodrigo Borgia (Pope Alexander IV) presided over the period of the Renaissance Papacy. Of her brothers, Cesare, who bore a particularly bloody and ruthless reputation has become the most notorious and infamous. To add inevitable spice to their story, the two were said to have indulged in a torrid, incestuous affair. Fact often parts company with popular myth, but there is no doubt that Lucrezia, although actually illegitimate, was a beautiful, sophisticated and highly educated woman. She spoke five languages fluently. It was inevitable that a young woman of this background would become a political bargaining tool in the game of marriage and power. Indeed to further the Borgia family ambitions she was married three times. To what degree she participated in these machinations has, of course, become a matter of speculation and an essential component of this famous lady’s allure.
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The days passed slowly; finally the murderer lost patience. At nine o’clock in the evening of August 18th, he came again; Lucretia and Sancia drove him from the room, whereupon he called his captain, Micheletto, who strangled the duke. There was no noise, not a sound; it was like a pantomime; amid a terrible silence the dead prince was borne away to S. Peter’s.<br>
The affair was no longer a secret. Cæsar openly stated that he had destroyed the duke because the latter was seeking his life, and he claimed that by Alfonso’s orders some archers had shot at him when he was strolling in the Vatican gardens.<br>
Nothing so clearly discloses the terrible influence which Cæsar exercised over his wicked father as this deed, and the way in which the Pope regarded it. From the Venetian ambassador’s report it appears that it was contrary to Alexander’s wishes, and that he had even attempted to save the unfortunate prince’s life. After the crime had been committed, however, the Pope dismissed it from his mind, both because he did not dare to bring Cæsar—whom he had forgiven for the murder of his brother—to a reckoning, and because the murder would result in offering him opportunities which he desired. He spared himself the trouble of directing useless reproaches to his son, for Cæsar would only have laughed at them. Was the care with which Alexander had his unfortunate son-in-law watched merely a bit of deceit? There are no grounds for believing that the Pope either planned the murder himself or that he consented to it.<br>
Never was bloody deed so soon forgotten. The murder of a prince of the royal house of Naples made no more impression than the death of a Vatican stable boy would have done. No one avoided Cæsar; none of the priests refused him admission to the Church, and all the cardinals continued to show him the deepest reverence and respect. Prelates vied with each other to receive the red hat from the hand of the all-powerful murderer, who offered the dignity to the highest bidders. He needed money for carrying out his schemes of confiscation in the Romagna. His condottieri, Paolo Orsini, Giuliano Orsini, Vitellozzo Vitelli, and Ercole Bentivoglio were with him during these autumn days. His father had equipped seven hundred heavy men at arms for him, and, August 18th, the Venetian ambassador reported to the signory that he had been requested by the Pope to ask the doge to withdraw their protection from Rimini and Faenza. Negotiations were in progress with France to secure her active support for Cæsar. August 24th the French ambassador, Louis de Villeneuve, made his entry into Rome; near S. Spirito a masked man rode up and embraced him. The man was Cæsar. However openly he committed his crimes, he frequently went about Rome in disguise.<br>
The murder of the youthful Alfonso of Aragon was by far the most tragic deed committed by the Borgias, and his fate was more terrible than even that of Astorre Manfredi. If Lucretia really loved her husband, as there is every reason to suppose she did, his end must have caused her the greatest anguish; and, even if she had no affection for him, all her feelings must have been aroused against the murderer to whose fiendish ambition the tragedy was due. She must also have rebelled against her father, who regarded the crime with such indifference.<br>
None of the reports of the day describe the circumstances in which she found herself immediately after the murder, nor events in the Vatican just preceding it. Although Lucretia was suffering from a fever, she did not die of grief, nor did she rise to avenge her husband’s murder, or to flee from the terrible Vatican.<br>
She was in a position similar to that of her sister-in-law, Doña Maria Enriquez, after Gandia’s death; but while the latter and her sons had found safety in Spain, Lucretia had no retreat to which she could retire without the consent of her father and brother.<br>
It would be wrong to blame the unfortunate woman because at this fateful moment of her life she did not make herself the subject of a tragedy. Of a truth, she appears very weak and characterless. We must not look for great qualities of soul in Lucretia, for she possessed them not. We are endeavouring to represent her only as she actually was, and, if we judge rightly, she was merely a woman differentiated from the great mass of women, not by the strength, but by the graciousness, of her nature. This young woman, regarded by posterity as a Medea or as a loathsomely passionate creature, probably never experienced any real feeling.<br>
During the years she lived in Rome she was always subject to the will of others, for her destiny was controlled, first, by her father, and subsequently by her brother. We know not how much of an effort, in view of the circumstances by which she was trammelled, she could make to maintain the dignity of woman. If Lucretia, however, ever did possess the courage to assert her individuality and rights before those who injured her, she certainly would have done so when her husband was murdered. Perhaps she did assail her sinister brother with recriminations and her father with tears. She was troublesome to Cæsar, who wished her away from the Vatican, consequently Alexander banished her for a time; and apparently she herself was not unwilling to go.