Rodrigo de Borja was born on 1 January 1431, in the town of Xativa near Valencia, one of the component realms of the Crown of Aragon, in what is now Spain. His parents were Jofré Llançol i Escrivà (died bef. 24 March 1437), and his Aragonese wife and distant cousin Isabel de Borja y Cavanilles (died 19 October 1468). His family name is written Llançol in Valencian and Lanzol in Castillian (Spanish). Rodrigo adopted his mother's family name of Borja in 1455 following the elevation to the papacy of maternal uncle Alonso de Borja (Italianized to Alfonso Borgia) as Calixtus III.
Alternatively, it has been argued that Rodrigo's father was Jofré de Borja y Escrivà, making Rodrigo a Borja from his mother and father's side. However, his children were known to be of Llançol paternal lineage. Some revisionists suggest that the confusion is attributed by attempts to connect Rodrigo as the father of Giovanni, Cesare, Lucrezia, and Gioffre, who were surnamed Llançol i Borja.
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 Callixtus 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. Each pope during this period inevitably found himself surrounded by the servants and retainers of his predecessors who often owed their loyalty to the family of the pontiff who had appointed them. In 1468, he was ordained to the priesthood and, in 1471, he was consecrated bishop and appointed Cardinal-Bishop of Albano. Having served in the Roman Curia under five popes – his uncle Calixtus III, Pius II, Paul II, Sixtus IV and Innocent VIII – Rodrigo Borgia acquired considerable administrative experience, influence and wealth.
Contemporary accounts suggest that Rodrigo was "handsome, with a very cheerful countenance and genial bearing. He was gifted with the quality of being a smooth talker and of choice eloquence. Beautiful women were attracted to him and excited by him in quite a remarkable way, more strongly than how 'iron is drawn to a magnet'." Rodrigo Borgia was also an intelligent man with an appreciation for the arts and sciences and an immense amount of respect for the Church. He was capable and cautious, considered a "political priest" by some. He was a gifted speaker and great at conversation. Additionally, he was "so familiar with Holy Writ, that his speeches were fairly sparkling with well-chosen texts of the Sacred Books".
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 see and became the first archbishop of Valencia. When Rodrigo de Borgia 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, grand-nephews of Alexander VI.
Translation of the plaque on the side of the Archbishop's Palace of Valencia:
The 9th July 1492, Pope Innocent VIII, at the request of Cardinal Borja and the Catholic Monarchs, raised the Valencian See to the rank of metropolitan, making Rodrigo of Borja the first Archbishop of Valencia
1492 - 1503
Of Alexander's many mistresses the one for whom passion lasted longest was Vannozza (Giovanna) dei Cattanei, born in 1442, and wife of three successive husbands. The connection began in 1470, and she had four children whom he openly acknowledged as his own: Cesare (born 1475), Giovanni, afterwards duke of Gandia (commonly known as Juan, born 1476), Lucrezia (born 1480), and Gioffre (Goffredo in Italian, born 1481 or 1482).
For a period of time, before legitimizing his children after becoming Pope, Rodrigo pretended that his four children with Vannozza were his niece and nephews and that they were fathered by Vannozza's husbands.
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, according to some, by the beautiful Giulia Farnese ("Giulia la Bella"), wife of an Orsini. However, he still very dearly loved Vannozza, in a way he considered 'spiritual', and 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 honor. Vannozza lived in the Palace of a late Cardinal, or in a large, palatial villa. The children lived between their mother's home and the Papal Palace itself. The atmosphere of Alexander's household is typified by the fact that his daughter Lucrezia apparently lived with Giulia at a point.
Four other children, Girolama, Isabella, Pedro-Luiz, and Bernardo, were of uncertain maternal parentage. His daughter Isabella was the great-great-grandmother of Pope Innocent X, who was therefore descended in a direct line from Alexander.
A daughter, Laura, was born to his mistress, Giulia Farnese; paternity was officially attributed to Orsino Orsini (Farnese's husband). 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.
There was change in the constitution of the College of Cardinals during the course of the fifteenth century-especially under Sixtus IV and Innocent VIII. Of the twenty-seven cardinals alive in the closing months of the reign of Innocent VIII no fewer than ten were Cardinal-nephews, eight were crown nominees, four were Roman nobles and one other had been given the cardinalate in recompense for his family's service to the Holy See; only four were able career churchmen.
On the death of Pope Innocent VIII on 25 July 1492, the three likely candidates for the Papacy were the sixty-one-year-old Borgia, seen as an independent candidate, Ascanio Sforza for the Milanese, and Giuliano della Rovere 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. Mallett shows that Borgia was in the lead from the start and that the rumours of bribery began after the election with the distribution of benefices; Sforza and della Rovere were just as willing and able to bribe as anyone else. The benefices and offices granted to 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 said to have warned after the election, "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." Such a criticism, 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." Even if he did make the comment, though, Michael de la Bédoyère says that it would be "unintentionally complimentary as coming from a representative of one of the leading Italian States about a Pope whose aim it would be to save Italy in defiance of the prejudices and jealousies of its petty rulers".
In contrast to the preceding pontificate, Pope Alexander VI adhered initially to strict administration of justice and orderly government. Before long, though, 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 Alexander, who was also opposed by Cardinal della Rovere, whose candidature for the papacy had been backed by Ferdinand. Della Rovere fortified himself in his bishopric of Ostia at the Tiber's mouth as Alexander 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. Alexander, in the bull Inter Caetera on 4 May 1493, divided the title between Spain and Portugal along a demarcation line. This became the basis of the Treaty of Tordesillas which was ratified by Spain on 2 July 1494 and by Portugal on 5 September 1494. (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" Sforza (the Moor, so called because of his swarthy complexion), 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 Sforza, the husband of his granddaughter Isabella, Alexander encouraged the French king in his plan for the conquest of Naples.
But Alexander, 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. Alexander 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. Both expeditions were badly conducted and failed, and on 8 September Charles VIII crossed the Alps and joined Ludovico 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).
Alexander 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. Alexander now feared that Charles might depose him for simony, and that the king would summon a council to nominate a new pope. Alexander was able to win over the bishop of Saint-Malo, who had much influence over the king, with a cardinal's hat. Alexander 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. Ferdinand was abandoned by all and also had to escape, and the Kingdom of Naples was conquered with surprising ease.
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, Ludovico 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 League at Fornovo and 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 centralized 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, 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 a major domestic tragedy for the house of Borgia. On 14 June, the Duke of Gandia, lately created Duke of Benevento, disappeared; the next day, his corpse was found in the Tiber.
Alexander, overwhelmed with grief, shut himself up in Castel Sant'Angelo. He declared that henceforth the moral reform of the Church would be the sole object of his life. 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 the Duke had been involved in the recent campaign, were the principal suspects at the time. The Duke had many other enemies. Ascanio Sforza, for example, had had a terrible row with him just a few days before the murder (homicIde). No conclusive explanation was ever reached, and it may be that the crime was simply as a result of one of the Duke's sexual liaisons.
It is often alleged, sometimes by serious historians, that Alexander and his son, Cesare, poisoned Cardinal Adriano Castellesi, but this is unlikely. (When cardinals died, their wealth automatically reverted to the Church.) There is no evidence that the Borgias resorted to poisoning, judicial murder, or extortion to fund their schemes and the defense of the Papal States. 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. Nevertheless, he appointed Sebastian Maggi to investigate the friar, and he responded on 16 October 1495:
We are displeased at the disturbed state of affairs in Florence, the more so in that it owes its origin to your preaching. For you predict the future and publicly declare that you do so by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit when you should be reprehending vice and praising virtue. Such prophecies may easily lure the simple-minded away from the path of salvation and the obedience due to the Holy Roman Church. Prophecies like these should not be made when your charge is to forward peace and concord. Moreover, these are not the time for such teachings, calculated as they are to produce discord even in times of peace let alone in times of trouble. ... Since, however, we have been most happy to learn from certain cardinals and from your letter that you are ready to submit yourself to the reproofs of the Church, as becomes a Christian and a religious, we are beginning to think that what you have done has not been done with an evil motive, but from a certain simple-mindedness and a zeal, however misguided, for the Lord's vineyard. Our duty, however, prescribes that we order you, under holy obedience, to cease from public and private preaching until you are able to come to our presence, not under armed escort as is your present habit, but safely, quietly and modestly as becomes a religious, or until we make different arrangements. If you obey, as we hope you will, we for the time being suspend the operation of our former Brief so that you may live in peace in accordance with the dictates of your conscience.
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).
In Italy at the time, the Spanish were looked down upon. Thus, the prominent Italian families looked down on the Borgia family, and they resented their power, which they sought for themselves. This is, at least partially, why both Pope Callixtus III and Pope Alexander VI gave powers to family members whom they could trust.
In these circumstances Alexander, 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 unsubstantiated counter-claim that Alexander 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.
Alexander 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.
In the Jubilee year 1500, Alexander ushered in the custom of opening a holy door on Christmas Eve and closing it on Christmas Day the following year. After consulting with his Master of Ceremonies, Johann Burchard, Pope Alexander VI opened the first holy door in St. Peter's Basilica on Christmas Eve 1499, and papal representatives opened the doors in the other three patriarchal basilicas. For this, Pope Alexander had a new opening created in the portico of St. Peter's and commissioned a marble door. This door lasted until 1618, when another door was installed in the new basilica.
In a ceremony similar to today's, Alexander was carried in the sedia gestatoria to St. Peter's. He and his assistants, bearing candles, processed to the holy door, as the choir chanted Psalm 118:19-20. The Pope knocked on the door three times, workers moved it from the inside, and everyone then crossed the threshold to enter into a period of penance and reconciliation. Thus, Pope Alexander formalized the rite and began a longstanding tradition that is still in practice. Similar ceremonies were held at the other three basilicas.
Alexander instituted a special rite for the closing of a holy door, as well. On the Feast of the Epiphany in 1501, two cardinals began to seal the holy door with two bricks, one silver and one gold. Sampietrini (basilica workers) completed the seal, placing specially-minted coins and medals inside the wall.
While the enterprising explorers of Spain and Portugal were quick to embrace the slavery practiced by 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 with the native chiefs. 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's 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 rights to Spain with respect to the newly discovered lands in the Americas similar to those 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 (2010) 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 Alexander never gave his approval to the practice of slavery. Other later popes, such as Pope Paul III in "Sublimus Dei" (1537), 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. Despite their grandiose titles, the groups had little popular support and the requests were ignored.
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 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 Castellesi on 6 August, they were taken ill with fever a few days later. Cesare, who "lay in bed, his skin peeling and his face suffused to a violet colour" 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 Micheletto, 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 rapid decomposition. According to Raphael Volterrano: "It was a revolting scene to look at that deformed, blackened corpse, prodigiously swelled, and exhaling an infectious smell; his lips and nose were covered with brown drivel, his mouth was opened very widely, and his tongue, inflated by poison, fell out upon his chin; therefore no fanatic or devotee dared to kiss his feet or hands, as custom would have required." The Venetian ambassador stated that the body was "the ugliest, most monstrous and horrible dead body that was ever seen, without any form or likeness of humanity". Ludwig von Pastor insists that the decomposition was "perfectly natural", owing to the summer heat.
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.
Before the death of Alexander VI, Rome was filled with political instability. A famous quote by him stated the following "Never have mercy for those who won't help themselves." This reflected clearly the legacy of the Borgia Pope. Following the death of Alexander VI, Julius II said on the day of his election: "I will not live in the same rooms as the Borgias lived. He desecrated the Holy Church as none before. " The Borgias' apartments remained sealed until the 19th century.
Sometimes overlooked is the fact that Alexander VI set about reforms of the increasingly irresponsible Curia. He put together a group of his most pious cardinals in order to move the process along. Planned reforms included new rules on the sale of Church property, the limiting of cardinals to one bishopric, and stricter moral codes for clergy. Had he stayed in office longer, the pontiff might have had more success in the enactment of these reforms.
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 Apartments. He took a great interest in theatrics, and he even had the Menaechmi performed in his apartments.
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 also, in 1501, approved the University of Valencia.
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 the 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:
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.
Alexander Lee argues that the crimes attributed to the Borgias were exaggerated by contemporaries because they were outsiders expanding their holdings at the expense of the Italians, that they were Spaniards when it was felt that Spain had too much control on the Italian peninsula, and that after the death of Alexander the family lost its influence and therefore any incentive for anyone to defend them.The contemporary politician, political theorist and author Niccolò Machiavelli wrote his book of power politics The Prince in 1513, in which he refers to Alexander VI as an astute politician who did much to strengthen the power of the Church. "Alexander VI, more than any other pontiff who has ever lived, showed how much a pope could achieve with money and armed force. ... Although his aim was the aggrandizement of the duke [his son Cesare], not of the Church, nonetheless what he did increased the greatness of the Church; and after his death ... the Church inherited the fruits of his labours. Then came Pope Julius [II]. He found the Church already great ... as a result of Alexander's vigour."
E. R. Chamberlin's 1969 book The Bad Popes documented the lives of eight of the most controversial popes, including Alexander.
Alexander, Cesare and Lucrezia play key roles in Cecelia Holland's 1979 historical novel City of God: A Novel of the Borgias.
Alexander is one of six Popes of the Renaissance era profiled unfavorably by historian Barbara Tuchman in The March of Folly (1984).
Frederick Rolfe ("Baron Corvo") wrote Chronicles of the House of Borgia, a revisionist account in which he argued that the Borgia family was unjustly maligned and that the accounts of poisoning were a myth.
Alexander VI and his family are the subjects of Mario Puzo's final novel The Family (2001), as well as Robert Rankin's humorous and fictionalized novel The Antipope.
The Borgia Bride (2005) is a historical fiction by Jeanne Kalogridis, told from the perspective of Sancha of Aragon, married to the Pope's youngest son Gioffre Borgia.
In March 2005, Heavy Metal published the first of a three-part graphic novel biography of Alexander VI entitled Borgia, written by Alexandro Jodorowsky with art by Milo Manara. The story focuses mostly on the sexual indiscretions and acts of violent backstabbery carried out by the corrupt papal figure. The second part was released in July 2006 and the third in July 2009.
Gregory Maguire makes strong references to Alexander VI and specifically his daughter in the 2003 novel, Mirror, Mirror.
Spanish author Javier Sierra writes of Pope Alexander VI in his novel, The Secret Supper.
French author Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo mentions murder of Cardinal Spada by Alexander VI and his son. This is told by Abbé Faria to Edmond Dantes in the prison in relation to a treasure belonging to Cardinal Spada.
Alexander Dumas also chronicles the life of the Borgia family in his "Celebrated Crimes, vol 1".
Italian authors Rita Monaldi and Francesco Sorti depict a totally different image of Pope Alexander VI in The Doubts of Salaì (2007). They reference sources which quote Alexander as an integral, hard-working functionary in the Roman Catholic Church. His infamous reputation would be largely attributed to falsified documents and the slander of his opponents.
Pope Alexander's diplomatic correspondence and intrigues with the Ottoman Turks, as well as Charles VIII's invasion of Italy, are depicted in the historical novel The Sultan's Helmsman.
Blood & Beauty by Sarah Dunant is a well-researched historical novel of the Borgia family, focused on documentable incidents, with a particular focus on Lucrezia.
The introduction to The Bad Catholic's Guide to Good Living, by John Zmirak and Denise Matychowiak, is attributed to Pope Alexander, writing in 2005 from "The Seventh Terrace of Purgatory". In a postscript to the introduction, "Alexander" requests additional prayers for the sake of himself and several other popes stuck in Purgatory.
Prominently depicted in the non-fiction account: The Borgias: The Hidden History (2013) by G. J. Meyer
Alexander VI as well as his descendants were prominently featured in Hella Haasse's The Scarlet City.
The poisoning theory of Alexander VI's death was mentioned in Chapter VII of the Dornford Yates thriller Safe Custody, as part of a highly sensationalized accout of his career. It was repeated in Chapter XIV.
Barnabe Barnes' 1606 play The Devil's Charter, performed at the Globe by the King's Men, dramatizes the life of Pope Alexander VI and his daughter Lucretia Borgia. In Barnes' play Alexander sells his soul to the devil in exchange for the papacy. Lucretia binds, gags, and stabs her husband onstage and later dies poisoned by her own cosmetics.
Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia, a play by Robert Lalonde
Caesar Borgia, son of Pope Alexander the Sixth: a tragedy acted at the Duke's theatre by Their Royal Highnesses servants a 1679 play by Nathaniel Lee and John Dryden, dramatizes the life of Pope Alexander VI and his son Cesare Borgia.
Showtime's The Borgias's ending after its cancellation was quickly published by Neil Jordan in an e-book screenplay format for fans of the show. The Borgia Apocalypse: The Screenplay met with harsh criticism and disapproval by the show's fans due to its out-of-character portrayals and general incoherence.
In the 1922 German silent film, Lucrezia Borgia, Alexander VI is played by Albert Basserman.
Alexander is played by Lluís Homar in the 2006 Spanish film, Los Borgia.
A young Roderic de Borgia during the 1458 Conclave is played by Manu Fullola in the 2006 Canadian movie The Conclave.
In the 1935 French movie, Lucrezia Borgia, Alexander is portrayed by Roger Karl.
The last of Walerian Borowczyk's Contes Immoraux (Immoral Tales) shows Jacopo Berenizi as Alexander VI, enjoying incest with Lucrezia and Cesare while Savonarola is arrested and burned.
In the series of short films Assassin's Creed: Lineage, Rodrigo Borgia starts a conspiracy to destroy the Medici dynasty. In the first short film, he hires some assassins to kill the Duke of Milano, Galeazo Maria Sforza. He is played by Manuel Tadros.
The papacy of Alexander VI was dramatized in the 1981 BBC series The Borgias, starring the veteran Italian actor Adolfo Celi as Pope Alexander.
The Canadian sketch comedy History Bites parodied Pope Alexander VI by portraying him and his family as The Osborgias (done as a parody of The Osbournes).
In the popular TV show, Alias, the character Milo Rambaldi was said to be Alexander VI's "chief architect."
French premium-pay TV Canal+, Atlantique Productions and EOS Entertainment broadcast the series Borgia in 2011, recounting the infamous family's rise to power and subsequent domination of the Vatican. John Doman stars as Rodrigo Borgia. A second season followed in 2013 and season 3 was produced in 2014.
Showtime's The Borgias (2011 - 2013) was produced by Neil Jordan and starred Jeremy Irons as Pope Alexander VI. The show had three seasons but was cancelled by Showtime after the third season "due to costs", as it cost $3 million per episode.
In the 2012 season of the BBC children's series Horrible Histories, Alexander VI was dramatized by actor Jim Howick. The show parodied Pope Alexander as a mafia crime boss, and later as the father of an Addams Family-style dynasty of the Borgias. (The Addams Family theme song was also parodied, being renamed The Borgia Family.)
In Assassin's Creed II (2009), Rodrigo Borgia is the main antagonist of the game, secretly the Grand Master of the Knights Templar. He is also depicted as an atheist. The protagonist (Ezio Auditore da Firenze) tried to kill Alexander VI before ascending the papacy, but let him go, knowing that killing him would not bring his father and brothers back. Ezio even went on so far as to learn of Rodrigo's atheism. His character in the game is voiced by and modeled on Canadian actor Manuel Tadros.
In Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (2010), Rodrigo Borgia has a smaller role than his son, Cesare Borgia, the game's main antagonist. He is killed by Cesare, who after becoming aware of his father's plot to assassinate him (due to Cesare's campaigning in Romagna resulting in declining Borgia influence in Rome) forces his own poisoned apple in his mouth.