Borgia, Cæsar

, a monster of ambition and cruelty, was a natural son of pope Alexander VI. What year he was born in, we do not find: but he was at his studies in the university of Pisa, when Alexander was elected pope, in August 1492. Upon the news of his father’s advancement, he banished all thoughts of his former private condition of life; and, full of ambition, as if himself was to be made emperor of the world, he hastened directly to Rome, where Alexander received him with formality and coldness, but whether it was real or but affected, is not easy to determine. Cscsar, however, took it to be real; and, greatly disgusted as well as disappointed, went immediately and complained to his mother Vanozza, who bid him not be cast down; and told him, that she knew the pope’s mind better than any body, and for what reasons his holiness had given him that reception. In the mean time the courtflatterers solicited the pope to make Cæsar a cardinal, which he absolutely refused; but, that he might not seem altogether forgetful of him, he created him archbishop of Valenza, a benefice which his holiness had enjoyed in his younger days. This preferment was by no means acceptable to Cæsar, yet he affected to be content, since the pope, he found, Was determined to confer the best of his secular dignities on his eldest son Francis, who at that time | was made duke of Gandia by Fertlinand king of Castile and Arragon.

Alexander VI. had five children by his mistress Vanozza; Francis and Cæsar, already mentioned, two other sons, and a daughter named Lucretia. Francis was a gentleman of good disposition and probity, and in every respect opposite to his brother Cæsar; but Cæsar seems to have possessed abilities superior to those of Francis: which made a certain historian say, “that Cæsar was great among the wicked, and Francis good among the great.Cæsar however was the mother’s favourite, as having a temper and principles more conformable to hers: for which reason, at the time when Alexander was undetermined on which of these brothers he should bestow the cardinal’s cap, Vanozza declared herself in favour of Cæsar, who was accordingly made a cardinal in the second year of Alexander’s pontificate. From this time he acted in concert with his father, and was an useful instrument in executing all the schemes of that wicked pope, as he had no scruples of honour or humanity, nor was there any thing too atrocious for him to perpetrate, to promote his insatiable ambition. This is said to have even incited him to the murder of his elder brother Francis, duke of Gandia. All the secular dignities, which then were much more coveted than the ecclesiastical, were heaped upon Francis, which obstructed Cæsar’s projects so entirely, that he was resolved at all adventures to remove him. TJjfle story is, that in 1497, hiring assassins, he caused him to be murdered, and thrown into the Tiber; where his body was found some days after, full of wounds and extremely mangled. The pope was afflicted to the last degree; for though he made use of Cæsar as the abler, he loved Francis as the better man. He caused therefore strict inquiry to be made after the murderers; upon which Vanozza, who for that and other reasons was justly suspected to be privy to the affair, went privately to the pope, and used all the arguments she could, to dissuade him from searching any further. Some say, that she went so far as to assure his holiness, that if he did not desist, the same person who took away his son’s life would not spare his own. The whole of this story, however, appears doubtful; nor, indeed, is there any positive proof that Borgia was even privy to his brother’s death. Gordon, only, has asserted it with accompanying proofs, but the latter -appear to be historic fictions. It cannot be necessary to add to Cesar’s | crimes. He now, however, succeeded to his brother’s fortunes and honours, began to be tired of ecclesiastical matters, and grew quite sick of the cardinalate, and therefore determined to throw it off as soon as possible, that he might have the greater scope for practising the excesses, to which his natural ambition and cruelty prompted him: for cruel as well as ambitious he was in the highest degree. Numbers he caused to be taken off by poison or the sword; and it is recorded, that assassins were constantly kept in pay by him at Rome, for the sake of removing all who were either obnoxious or inconvenient to him. Getting rid of the cardinalate, he was soon after made duke of Valentinois by Lewis XII. of France: with whom he entered into a league for the conquest of the Milanese. From this time he experienced various turns of fortune, being sometimes prosperous, sometimes unfortunate. He very narrowly escaped dying of poison in 1503; for, having con-, certed with the pope a design of poisoning nine newly created cardinals at once (or, as some say, only one cardinal), in order to possess their effects, the poisoned wine destined for the purpose was by mistake brought to themselves and drank. The pope died of it; but Cæsar, by the vigour of his youth, and the force of antidotes, after many struggles, recovered. He only recovered, however, to outlive his fortune and grandeur, to see himself depressed, and his enemies exalted; for he was soon after divested of all his acquisitions, and sent a prisoner to Spain, in order to free Italy from an incendiary, and the Italian princes from those dangers which his turbulent and restless spirit made them fear, even though he was unarmed. From Spain he escaped to Navarre to king John his brother-in-law, where he met with a very friendly reception. From hence he designed to go into France; and there, with the assistance of Lewis, to try if he could once more re-establish his fortune, but Lewis refused to receive him, not only because he and Spain had concluded a truce, but because they were also at enmity with the king of Navarre. The French king also, in order to gratify Spain, had confiscated Cæsar’s duchy of Valentinois, and taken away the yearly pension which he had from France. So that this fallen tyrant, in a poor and abandoned condition, without revenue or territory, was forced to be dependent upon his brother-in-law, who was then at war with his subjects. Borgia served as a volunteer in that | war; and, while the armies were engaged in battle, and fighting under the walls of Viana, was wounded, and died in consequence, March 12, 1507. On his death-bed he is said to have exclaimed, “I had provided in the course of my life for every thing but death; and now, alas! I am to die, though completely unprepared for it.Cæsar Borgia took these words for his device, “Aut Cæsar aut nihil;” which gave occasion to the following epigrams:


Borgia Cæsar erat factis et nomine Cæsar;

Aut nihil, aut Cæsar, dixit; utrumque fuit.


Aut nihil, aut Cæsar, vult dici Borgia; quid ni?

Cum simul et Cæsar possit, et esse nihil.


Omnia vincebas; sperabas omnia, Cæsar;

Omnia deficiunt, incipis esse nihil.

The first of these, Mr. Seward has translated,

Borgia, whilst wild ambition’s fever flam’d,

Cæsar or nothing, let me be,” exclaim’d.

What truth inspir’d the unsuspecting prince,

Too well, alas! his life and death evince.

The same author informs us that the portrait opposite to the face of the fox in Baptista de la Forte’s “Treatise on Physiognomy,” is that of this monster of iniquity.

Of this extraordinary character,” says Mr. Roscoe, “it may with truth be observed, that his activity, courage, and perseverance, were equal to the greatest attempts. la the pursuit of his object he overlooked or overleaped all other considerations: when force was ineffectual, he had recourse to fraud; and whether he thundered in open hostility at the gates of a city, or endeavoured to effect his purpose by negociation and treachery, he was equally irresistible. If we may confide in the narrative of Guicciardini, cruelty, rapine, injustice, and lust, are the only particular features in the composition of this monster: yet it is diificult to conceive that a man so totally unredeemed by a single virtue, should have been enabled to maintain himself at the head of a powerful army: to engage in so eminent a degree the favour of the people conquered: to form alliances with the first sovereigns of Europe: to destroy or overturn the most powerful families of Italy, and to lay the foundations of a dominion, of which it is acknowledged that the short duration is to be attributed rather to his ill-fortune and the treachery of others, than | either to his errors or his crimes. If, however, he has been too indiscriminately condemned by one historian, he has in another met with as zealous and as powerful an encomiast, and the maxims of the politician are only the faithful record of the transactions of his hero. On the principles of Machiavelli, Borgia was the greatest man of the age. Nor was he, in fact, without qualities which in. some degree compensated for his demerits. Courageous, magnificent, eloquent, and accomplished in all the exercises of arts and arms, he raised an admiration of his endowments which kept pace with and counter-balanced the abhorrence excited by his crimes. That even these crimes have been exaggerated, is highly probable. His enemies were numerous, and the certainty of his guilt in some instances gave credibility to every imputation that could be devised against him. That he retained, even after he had survived his prosperity, no inconsiderable share of public estimation, is evident from the fidelity and attachment shewn to him on many occasions. After his death, his memory and achievements were celebrated by (Strozza) one of the most elegant Latin poets that Jtaly has produced. The language of poetry is not indeed always that of truth; but we may at least give credit to the account of the personal accomplishments and warlike talents of Borgia, although we may indignantly reject the spurious praise, which places him among the heroes of antiquity, and at the summit of fame.

The evidence of a poet is certainly inconclusive, and although the “personal accomplishments and warlike talents” may be proved, and have not been lessened, yet they weigh little against those crimes which stand uncontradicted, and form one of the vilest characters in history. 1

1 Gen. Dict. Gordon’s Lives of Alexander VI. and his son, 1728-9, foJ. Roscoe’s Leo. Seward’s Anecdotes, &c.