Pope Alexander VI (Alejandro VI, or Alexander Sextus), born Roderic Llançol i de Borja (Castilian Spanish: Rodrigo Lanzol; 1 January 1431 – 18 August 1503) was pope (bishop of Rome) from August 11, 1492 until his death in August 18, 1503. He is one of the most controversial of the Renaissance popes, and his Italianized surname Borgia became a byword for libertinism and nepotism, which are traditionally considered as characterizing his papacy. However, his reputation is mostly drawn from his enemies, the Italian prelates and barons whose power he subverted. Two of Alexander's successors, Sixtus V and Urban VIII, described him as one of the most outstanding popes since St. Peter. His reputation rests more on his considerable skills as a diplomat, politician and civil administrator rather than as a pastor, although regarding the latter he was no more or less effective than any of the other renaissance pontiffs.
Birth and familyEdit
Rodrigo Llançol was born on January 1, 1431 in the Catalan town of Xàtiva in the Kingdom of Valencia, one of the component realms of the Crown of Aragon, in what is now Spain. His parents were the Valencian Catalan Jofré Llançol i Escrivà (died before March 24, 1437) and his Aragonese wife and distant cousin Isabel de Borja y Cavanilles (died October 19, 1468). His family name is written Llançol in Catalan or Valencian and Lanzol in Castillian Spanish. Rodrigo adopted his mother's family name of Borja in 1455 following the elevation to the papacy of his maternal uncle Alonso de Borja (Italianized to Alfonso Borgia) as Calixtus III.
Mistresses and familyEdit
Of Alexander's many mistresses the one for whom his passion lasted longest was a certain Vannozza (Giovanna) dei Cattani, born in 1442, and wife of three successive husbands. The connection began in 1470, and she bore him four children whom he openly acknowledged as his own: Giovanni, afterwards duke of Gandia (born 1474), Cesare (born 1476), Lucrezia (born 1480), and Goffredo or Giuffre (born 1481 or 1482). His other children, Girolama, Isabella and Pedro-Luiz, were of uncertain parentage. Before his elevation to the papacy Cardinal Borgia's passion for Vannozza somewhat diminished, and she subsequently led a very retired life. Her place in his affections was filled by the beautiful Giulia Farnese (Giulia Bella), wife of an Orsini, but his love for his children by Vannozza remained as strong as ever and proved, indeed, the determining factor of his whole career. He lavished vast sums on them and lauded them with every honour. The atmosphere of Alexander's household is typified by the fact that his daughter Lucrezia lived with his mistress Giulia, who bore him a daughter, Laura, in 1492.
He is an ancestor of virtually all royal houses of Europe, mainly the southern and western ones, for being the ancestor of Dona Luisa de Guzmán, wife of King John IV of Portugal, of the House of Braganza.
Currently the only patrilineal family Borja or Borgia (Duke of Gandia - papal lineage straight from John Borja and Cattanei) is found in Ecuador and Chile. One of his prominent descendants is Dr. Rodrigo Borja Cevallos, former president of Ecuador.
Rodrigo Borgia studied law at Bologna where he graduated, not simply as Doctor of Law, but as "the most eminent and judicious jurisprudent." After the election of his uncle as Pope Calixtus III, he was ordained deacon and created Cardinal-Deacon of San Nicola in Carcere at the age of twenty-five in 1456. The following year he was appointed vice-chancellor of the Holy Roman Church. Both nepotistic appointments were characteristic of the age. In 1468 he was ordained to the priesthood and in 1471 he was consecrated bishop and appointed Cardinal-Bishop of Albano.
Archbishop of ValenciaEdit
When his uncle Alonso de Borja (bishop of Valencia) was elected Pope Callixtus III, he "inherited" the post of bishop of Valencia. Sixteen days before the death of Pope Innocent VIII, he proposed Valencia as a metropolitan and he became the first archbishop of Valencia. When Rodrigo de Borja was elected pope as Alexander VI following the death of Innocent VIII, it was the turn of his son Cesare Borgia to "inherit" the post as second archbishop of Valencia. The third and the fourth archbishops of Valencia were Juan de Borja and Pedro Luis de Borja, both grand-nephews of Alexander VI.
Translation of the plaque on the side of the Archbishop's Palace of Valencia:
The 9th July 1492, the Pope Innocent VIII, at the request of Cardinal Borja and the Catholic Monarchs, raised the Valencian See to the rank of metropolitan, becoming Rodrigo of Borja the first Archbishop of Valencia
1492 - 1503
On the death of Pope Innocent VIII on 25 July 1492, the three likely candidates for the Papacy were cardinals Borgia, seen as an independent candidate, Ascanio Sforza for the Milanese, and Pope Julius II seen as a pro-French candidate. It was rumoured but not substantiated that Borgia succeeded in buying the largest number of votes and Sforza, in particular, was bribed with four mule-loads of silver. This was portrayed in the Showtime TV series The Borgias (2011) but is a popular falsehood about Pope Alexander. Mallett shows that Borgia was in the lead from the start and that the rumours of simony began after the election with the distribution of benefices, and that Sforza and della Rovere were just as willing and able to bribe as anyone else. The benefices and offices granted Sforza, moreover, would be worth considerably more than four mule-loads of silver. Johann Burchard, the conclave's master of ceremonies and a leading figure of the papal household under several popes, recorded in his diary that the 1492 conclave was a particularly expensive campaign. Della Rovere was bankrolled to the cost of 200,000 gold ducats by King Charles VIII of France, with another 100,000 supplied by the Republic of Genoa. Borgia was elected on 11 August 1492, assuming the name of Alexander VI (due to confusion about the status of Pope Alexander V elected by the Council of Pisa). Giovanni di Lorenzo de' Medici (later Pope Leo X) is rumored to have sharply criticized the election and issued the much quoted warning:
- Now we are in the power of a wolf, the most rapacious perhaps that this world has ever seen. And if we do not flee, he will inevitably devour us all.
This is a popular misquotation. What Medici is actually said to have stated is;
- Flee, we are in the clutches of the world.
Such a criticism however, particularly by the very youthful Giovanni, is believed to be highly unlikely: "Precocious though he was, the cardinal would scarcely have made this observation when sixteen years of age."
In contrast to the preceding pontificate, Pope Alexander VI adhered initially to strict administration of justice and orderly government. Before long, however, he began endowing his relatives at the church's and at his neighbours' expense. Cesare Borgia, his son, while a youth of seventeen and a student at Pisa, was made Archbishop of Valencia, and Giovanni Borgia inherited the Spanish Dukedom of Gandia, the Borgias' ancestral home in Spain. For the Duke of Gandia and for Gioffre, also known as Goffredo, the Pope proposed to carve fiefs out of the Papal States and the Kingdom of Naples. Among the fiefs destined for the duke of Gandia were Cerveteri and Anguillara, lately acquired by Virginio Orsini, head of that powerful house. This policy brought Ferdinand I, King of Naples, into conflict with Pope Alexander VI, who was also opposed by Cardinal della Rovere, whose candidature for the papacy had been backed by Ferdinand. Della Rovere fortified himself in his bishopic of Ostia at the Tiber's mouth as Pope Alexander VI formed a league against Naples (25 April 1493) and prepared for war.
Ferdinand allied himself with Florence, Milan, and Venice. He also appealed to Spain for help, but Spain was eager to be on good terms with the papacy to obtain the title to the recently discovered New World. Pope Alexander VI, in the bull Inter Caetera, 4 May 1493, divided the title between Spain and Portugal along a demarcation line. (This and other related bulls are known collectively as the Bulls of Donation.)
Pope Alexander VI made many alliances to secure his position. He sought help from Charles VIII of France (1483–1498), who was allied to Ludovico "Il Moro" (the Moor, so called because of his swarthy complexion) Sforza, the de facto Duke of Milan, who needed French support to legitimise his rule. As King Ferdinand I of Naples was threatening to come to the aid of the rightful duke Gian Galeazzo, the husband of his granddaughter Isabella, Alexander VI encouraged the French king in his plan for the conquest of Naples.
But Pope Alexander VI, always ready to seize opportunities to aggrandize his family, then adopted a double policy. Through the intervention of the Spanish ambassador he made peace with Naples in July 1493 and cemented the peace by a marriage between his son Gioffre and Doña Sancha, another granddaughter of Ferdinand I. In order to dominate the Sacred College of Cardinals more completely, Alexander, in a move that created much scandal, created 12 new cardinals. Among the new cardinals was his own son Cesare, then only 18 years old. Alessandro Farnese (later Pope Paul III), the brother of one of the Pope's mistresses, Giulia Farnese, was also among the newly created cardinals.
On 25 January 1494 Ferdinand I died and was succeeded by his son Alfonso II (1494–1495). Charles VIII of France now advanced formal claims on the Kingdom of Naples. Pope Alexander VI authorised him to pass through Rome, ostensibly on a crusade against the Ottoman Empire, without mentioning Naples. But when the French invasion became a reality Pope Alexander VI became alarmed, recognised Alfonso II as king of Naples, and concluded an alliance with him in exchange for various fiefs for his sons (July 1494). A military response to the French threat was set in motion: a Neapolitan army was to advance through the Romagna and attack Milan, while the fleet was to seize Genoa. However, both expeditions were badly conducted and failed, and on 8 September Charles VIII crossed the Alps and joined Lodovico il Moro at Milan. The Papal States were in turmoil, and the powerful Colonna faction seized Ostia in the name of France. Charles VIII rapidly advanced southward, and after a short stay in Florence, set out for Rome (November 1494).
Pope Alexander VI appealed to Ascanio Sforza and even to the Ottoman Sultan Bayazid II for help. He tried to collect troops and put Rome in a state of defence, but his position was precarious. When the Orsini offered to admit the French to their castles, Alexander had no choice but to come to terms with Charles. On 31 December Charles VIII entered Rome with his troops, the cardinals of the French faction, and Giuliano della Rovere. Pope Alexander VI now feared that Charles might depose him for simony, and that the king would summon a council to nominate a new pope. However, Pope Alexander VI was able to win over the bishop of Saint-Malo, who had much influence over the king, with a cardinal's hat. Pope Alexander VI agreed to send Cesare as legate to Naples with the French army, to deliver Cem Sultan, held as a hostage, to Charles VIII, and to give Charles Civitavecchia (16 January 1495). On 28 January Charles VIII departed for Naples with Cem and Cesare, but the latter slipped away to Spoleto. Neapolitan resistance collapsed, and Alfonso II fled and abdicated in favour of his son Ferdinand II. However, Ferdinand was abandoned by all and also had to escape, and the Kingdom of Naples was conquered with surprising ease.
The French in retreatEdit
A reaction against Charles VIII soon set in, for all the European powers were alarmed at his success. On 31 March 1495 the Holy League was formed between the Pope, the emperor, Venice, Lodovico il Moro and Ferdinand of Spain. The League was ostensibly formed against the Turks, but in reality it was made to expel the French from Italy. Charles VIII had himself crowned King of Naples on 12 May but a few days later began his retreat northward. He met the allies at Fornovo, and after a drawn battle cut his way through them and was back in France by November. Ferdinand II was reinstated at Naples soon afterwards, with Spanish help. The expedition, if it produced no material results, demonstrated the foolishness of the so-called 'politics of equilibrium', the Medicean doctrine of preventing one of the Italian principates from overwhelming the rest and uniting them under its hegemony. Charles VIII's belligerence in Italy had made it transparent that the 'politics of equilibrium' did nothing but render the country unable to defend itself against a powerful invading force. Italy was shown to be very vulnerable to the predations of the powerful nation-states, France and Spain, that had forged themselves during the previous century. Alexander VI now followed the general tendency of all the princes of the day to crush the great feudatories and establish a centralised despotism. In this manner he was able to take advantage of the defeat of the French in order to break the power of the Orsini. From that time on, Alexander was able to build himself an effective power base in the Papal States.
Virginio Orsini, who had been captured by the Spanish, died a prisoner at Naples, and the Pope confiscated his property. The rest of the Orsini clan still held out however, defeating the papal troops sent against them under Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino and Giovanni Borgia, Duke of Gandia, at Soriano (January 1497). Peace was made through Venetian mediation, the Orsini paying 50,000 ducats in exchange for their confiscated lands; the Duke of Urbino, whom they had captured, was left by the Pope to pay his own ransom. The Orsini remained very powerful, and Pope Alexander VI could count on none but his 3,000 Spanish troops. His only success had been the capture of Ostia and the submission of the francophile cardinals Colonna and Savelli.
Then occurred the first of those domestic tragedies for which the house of Borgia remains notorious. On 14 June the Duke of Gandia, lately created Duke of Benevento, disappeared; the next day his corpse was found in the Tiber.
Pope Alexander VI, overwhelmed with grief, shut himself up in Castel Sant'Angelo. He declared that henceforth the moral reform of the Catholic Church would be the sole object of his life, a resolution he did not keep. Every effort was made to discover the assassin, and suspicion fell on various highly placed people. Enquiries suddenly ceased without explanation. Cesare was suspected but not until much later and he was never named in the immediate aftermath, nor would there have been any particular reason for him to commit such a crime. The Orsini, against whom Gandia had been involved in the recent campaign, were the principal suspects at the time. Gandia had many other enemies. Ascanio Sforza for example had had a terrible row with him just a few days before the murder. No conclusive explanation was ever reached, and it may be that the crime was simply as a result of one of Gandia's sexual liaisons.
Crime and SavonarolaEdit
There is no evidence that the Borgias resorted to poisoning, judicial murder and extortion to fund their schemes and the defence of the Papal States. When cardinals died their wealth automatically reverted to the Church. The only contemporary accusations of poisoning were from some of the servants of the Borgias extracted under torture by Alexander's bitter enemy and successor Julius II.
The debased state of the curia was a major scandal. Opponents such as the powerful demagogic Florentine friar Girolamo Savonarola launched invectives against papal corruption and appealed for a general council to confront the papal abuses. Alexander is reported to have been reduced to laughter when Savonarola's denunciations were related to him. However the hostility of Savonarola seems to have been political rather than personal, and the friar sent a touching letter of condolence to the Pope on the death of the Duke of Gandia; "Faith, most Holy Father, is the one and true source of peace and consolation... Faith alone brings consolation from a far-off country." But eventually the Florentines tired of the friar's moralising and the Florentine government condemned the reformer to death (23 May 1498). The houses of Colonna and Orsini, after much fighting between themselves, allied against the Pope, who found himself unable to maintain order in his own dominions.
In these circumstances, Pope Alexander VI, feeling more than ever that he could only rely on his own kin, turned his thoughts to further family aggrandizement. He had annulled Lucrezia's marriage to Giovanni Sforza, who had responded to the suggestion that he was impotent with the counter-claim that Pope Alexander VI and Cesare indulged in incestuous relations with Lucrezia, in 1497, and, unable to arrange a union between Cesare and the daughter of King Frederick IV of Naples (who had succeeded Ferdinand II the previous year), he induced Frederick by threats to agree to a marriage between the Duke of Bisceglie, a natural son of Alfonso II, and Lucrezia. Cesare, after resigning his cardinalate, was sent on a mission to France at the end of the year, bearing a bull of divorce for the new French king Louis XII, in exchange for which he obtained the duchy of Valentinois (a duchy chosen because it was consistent with his already known nickname of Valentino), a promise of material assistance in his schemes to subjugate the feudal princelings of papal Romagna, and a marriage to a princess of Navarre.
Pope Alexander VI hoped that Louis XII's help would be more profitable to his house than that of Charles VIII had been. In spite of the remonstrances of Spain and of the Sforza, he allied himself with France in January 1499 and was joined by Venice. By autumn Louis XII was in Italy expelling Lodovico Sforza from Milan. With French success seemingly assured, the Pope determined to deal drastically with the Romagna, which although nominally under papal rule was divided into a number of practically independent lordships on which Venice, Milan, and Florence cast hungry eyes. Cesare, empowered by the support of the French, began to attack the turbulent cities one by one in his capacity as nominated gonfaloniere (standard bearer) of the church. But the expulsion of the French from Milan and the return of Lodovico Sforza interrupted his conquests, and he returned to Rome early in 1500.
While the enterprising explorers of Spain and Portugal were quick to enslave the indigenous peoples they met in Africa and the New World, some popes spoke out against the practice. In 1435, Pope Eugene IV had issued an attack on slavery in his papal bull Sicut Dudum, which included the excommunication of all those who engaged in the slave trade. However, a form of indentured servitude was allowed, being similar to a peasant's duty to his liege lord in Europe.
In the wake of Columbus' landing in the New World, Pope Alexander was asked by the Spanish monarchy to confirm their ownership of these newly found lands. The bulls issued by Pope Alexander VI : "Eximiae devotionis" (3 May 1493), "Inter Caetera" (4 May 1493) and "Dudum Siquidem" (23 September 1493), granted similar rights to Spain with respect to the newly discovered lands in the Americas as Pope Nicholas V had previously conferred with the bulls "Romanus Pontifex" and "Dum Diversas". Morales Padron (1979) concludes that these bulls gave power to enslave the natives. Minnich (2005) asserts that this "slave trade" was permitted to facilitate conversions to Christianity. Other historians and Vatican scholars strongly disagree with these accusations and assert that Pope Alexander VI never gave his approval to the practice of slavery. Other later popes, such as Pope Benedict XIV in Immensa Pastorium (1741), and Pope Gregory XVI in his letter In Supremo Apostolatus (1839), continued to condemn slavery.
Thornberry (2002) asserts that "Inter Caetera" was applied in the "Requerimiento" which was read to American Indians (who could not understand the colonisers' language) before hostilities against them began. They were given the option to accept the authority of the Pope and Spanish crown or face being attacked and subjugated. In 1993, the Indigenous Law Institute called on Pope John Paul II to revoke "Inter Caetera" and to make reparation for "this unreasonable historical grief". This was followed by a similar appeal in 1994 by the Parliament of World Religions.
A danger now arose in the shape of a conspiracy by the deposed despots, the Orsini, and of some of Cesare's own condottieri. At first the papal troops were defeated and things looked bleak for the house of Borgia. But a promise of French help quickly forced the confederates to come to terms. Cesare, by an act of treachery, then seized the ringleaders at Senigallia and put Oliverotto da Fermo and Vitellozzo Vitelli to death (31 December 1502). When Alexander VI heard the news, he lured Cardinal Orsini to the Vatican and cast him into a dungeon, where he died. His goods were confiscated, his aged mother turned into the street and many other members of the clan in Rome were arrested, while Alexander's son Goffredo Borgia led an expedition into the Campagna and seized their castles. Thus the two great houses of Orsini and Colonna, who had long fought for predominance in Rome and often flouted the Pope's authority, were subjugated and the Borgias' power increased. Cesare then returned to Rome, where his father asked him to assist Goffredo in reducing the last Orsini strongholds; this for some reason he was unwilling to do, much to his father's annoyance; but he eventually marched out, captured Ceri and made peace with Giulio Orsini, who surrendered Bracciano.
The war between France and Spain for the possession of Naples dragged on, and the Pope was forever intriguing, ready to ally himself with whichever power promised the most advantageous terms at any moment. He offered to help Louis XII on condition that Sicily be given to Cesare, and then offered to help Spain in exchange for Siena, Pisa and Bologna.
Cesare was preparing for another expedition in August 1503 when, after he and his father had dined with Cardinal Adriano da Corneto on 6 August, they were taken ill with fever a few days later. Cesare, whose skin allegedly peeled off as a consequence of certain drastic measures to save him, eventually recovered; but the aged Pontiff apparently had little chance. Burchard's Diary provides a few details of the pope's final illness and death:
Saturday, the 12th of August, 1503, the Pope fell ill in the morning. After the hour of vespers, between six and seven o'clock a fever appeared and remained permanently. On the 15th of August thirteen ounces of blood were drawn from him and the tertian ague supervened. On Thursday, the 17th of August, at nine o'clock in the forenoon he took medicine. On Friday, the 18th, between nine and ten o'clock he confessed to the Bishop Gamboa of Carignola, who then read Mass to him. After his Communion he gave the Eucharist to the Pope who was sitting in bed. Then he ended the Mass at which were present five cardinals, Serra, Juan and Francesco Borgia, Casanova and Loris. The Pope told them that he felt very bad. At the hour of vespers after Gamboa had given him Extreme Unction, he died.
The pope was 72 years old.
As for his true faults, known only to his confessor, Pope Alexander VI apparently died genuinely repentant. The bishop of Gallipoli, Alexis Celadoni, spoke of the pontiff's contrition during his funeral oration to the electors of Alexander's successor, Pope Pius III:
When at last the pope was suffering from a very severe sickness, he spontaneously requested, one after another, each of the last sacraments. He first made a very careful confession of his sins, with a contrite heart, and was affected even to the shedding of tears, I am told; then he received in Communion the most Sacred Body and Extreme Unction was administered to him.
The interregnum witnessed again the ancient "tradition" of violence and rioting. Cesare, too ill to attend to the business himself, sent Don Michelotto, his chief bravo, to seize the Pope's treasures before the death was publicly announced. The next day the body was exhibited to the people and clergy of Rome, but was covered by an "old tapestry" ("antiquo tapete"), having become greatly disfigured by the rapid but normal process of decomposition.
It has been suggested that, having taken into account the unusual level of decomposition, Alexander VI was accidentally poisoned to death by his son, Cesare, with cantarella (which had been prepared to eliminate Cardinal Adriano), although some commentaries doubt these stories and attribute the Pope's death to malaria, then prevalent in Rome, or to another such pestilence. The ambassador of Ferrara wrote to Duke Ercole that it was no wonder the Pope and the duke were sick because nearly everyone in Rome was ill because of bad air ("per la mala condictione de aere").
After a short stay, the body was removed from the crypts of St. Peter's and installed in a less well-known church, the Spanish national church of Santa Maria in Monserrato degli Spagnoli.
Alexander VI was known for his patronage of the arts, and in his days a new architectural era was initiated in Rome with the coming of Bramante. Raphael, Michelangelo and Pinturicchio all worked for him. He commissioned Pinturicchio to lavishly paint a suite of rooms in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican, which are today known as the Borgia Apartment.
In addition to the arts, Alexander VI also encouraged the development of education. In 1495, he issued a papal bull at the request of William Elphinstone, Bishop of Aberdeen, and King James IV of Scotland, founding King's College, Aberdeen. King's College now forms an integral element of the University of Aberdeen.
Alexander VI, allegedly a marrano according to papal rival Giuliano della Rovere, distinguished himself by his relatively benign treatment of Jews. After the 1492 expulsion of Jews from Spain, some 9,000 impoverished Iberian Jews arrived at the borders of the Papal States. Alexander welcomed them into Rome, declaring that they were "permitted to lead their life, free from interference from Christians, to continue in their own rites, to gain wealth, and to enjoy many other privileges." He similarly allowed the immigration of Jews expelled from Portugal in 1497 and from Provence in 1498.
It has been noted that the alleged misdeeds of Alexander VI are similar in nature to those of other Renaissance princes, with the one exception being his position in the Church. As De Maistre said in his work Du Pape, "The latter are forgiven nothing, because everything is expected from them, wherefore the vices lightly passed over in a Louis XIV become most offensive and scandalous in an Alexander VI."
Bohuslav Hasištejnský z Lobkovic, a Bohemian humanist poet (1461–1510) dedicated one of his Latin poems to Alexander:
Epitaphium Alexandri Papae
Epitaph to Pope Alexander
However, despite Julius II's hostility, the Roman barons and Romagna vicars were never again to be the same problem for the papacy and Julius' successes owe much to the foundations laid by the Borgias. Unlike Julius, Alexander never made war unless absolutely necessary, preferring negotiation and diplomacy.