Alleged portrait of Cesare Borgia, by Altobello Melone. Bergamo, Accademia Carrara.

Cesare Borgia (September 13, 1475 – March 12, 1507), Duke of Valentinois[1] was a Spanish-Italian condottiero, lord and cardinal. He was the son of Pope Alexander VI and his long-term mistress Vannozza dei Cattanei, sibling to Lucrezia Borgia, Gioffre Borgia (Jofré in Valentian), Prince of Squillace, and Giovanni Borgia, duke of Gandia, and half-brother to Don Pedro Luis de Borja and Girolama de Borja, children of unknown mothers.

Early life

Like nearly all aspects of Cesare Borgia's life, the date of his birth is a subject of dispute. However, it is accepted that he was born in Rome either in 1475 or 1476 to Cardinal Rodrigo de Lanzol y Borja, soon to become Pope Alexander VI, and his mistress Vannozza de' Cattanei, of whom documents are sparse. The Borgia family originally came from Spain and rose to prominence during the mid 15th century, when Cesare's great uncle Alonso Borgia (1378-1458), bishop of Valencia, was elected Pope Callixtus III in 1455.[2] Cesare's father, Pope Alexander VI, was the first pope who openly recognised to have children with a lover.

Stefano Infessura writes that Cardinal Borgia falsely claimed Cesare to be the legitimate son of another man, the nominal husband of Vannozza de' Cattanei. More likely, Pope Alexander VI granted Cesare a release from the necessity of proving his birth in a papal bull.

With brown eyes and black hair, Cesare was acknowledged as a beautiful child and grew to be a fleet-footed, tall, handsome man of unlimited ambition, much like his father.


Church office

Cesare was initially groomed for a career in the church. He was made Bishop of Pamplona at the age of 15. Following school in Perugia and Pisa where Cesare studied law, along with his father's elevation to Pope, Cesare was made Cardinal at the age of 18.[2] Alexander VI staked the hopes of the Borgia family in Cesare's brother Giovanni, who was made captain general of the military forces of the papacy. Giovanni was assassinated in 1497 in mysterious circumstances: with several contemporaries suggesting that Cesare might be his killer,[3] as Giovanni's disappearing could finally open him a long-awaited military career; as well as jealousy over Sancha of Aragon, wife of Cesare's other brother Jofré, and mistress of both Cesare and Giovanni.[4] Cesare's role in the act, however, has never been clear.

On August 17, 1498, Cesare became the first person in history to resign the cardinalate. On the same day the French King Louis XII named Cesare Duke of Valentinois, and this title, along with his former position as Cardinal of Valencia, explains the nickname "Valentino".


Cesare's career was founded upon his father's ability to distribute patronage, along with his alliance with France (reinforced by his marriage with Charlotte d'Albret, sister of John III of Navarre), in the course of the Italian Wars. Louis XII invaded Italy in 1499: after Gian Giacomo Trivulzio had ousted its duke Ludovico Sforza, Cesare accompanied the king in his entrance in Milan.

At this point Alexander decided to profit from the favourable situation and carve out for Cesare a state of his own in northern Italy. To this end, he declared that all his vicars in Romagna and Marche were deposed. Though in theory subject directly to the pope, these rulers had been practically independent or dependent on other states for generations.

Cesare was appointed commander of the papal armies with a number of Italian mercenaries, supported by 300 cavalry and 4,000 Swiss infantry sent by the King of France. His first victim was Caterina Sforza (mother of the Medici condottiero Giovanni dalle Bande Nere), ruler of Imola and Forlì. Despite being deprived of his French troops after the conquest of those two cities, Borgia returned to Rome to celebrate a triumph and to receive the title of Papal Gonfaloniere from his father. In 1500 the creation of twelve new cardinals granted Alexander enough money for Cesare to hire the condottieri, Vitellozzo Vitelli, Gian Paolo Baglioni, Giulio and Paolo Orsini, and Oliverotto da Fermo, who resumed his campaign in Romagna.

Giovanni Sforza, first husband of Cesare's sister Lucrezia, was soon ousted from Pesaro; Pandolfo Malatesta lost Rimini; Faenza surrendered, its young lord Astorre III Manfredi being later drowned in the Tiber river by Cesare's order. In May 1501 the latter was created duke of Romagna. Hired by Florence, Cesare subsequently added the lordship of Piombino to his new lands.

While his condottieri took over the siege of Piombino (which ended in 1502), Cesare commanded the French troops in the sieges of Naples and Capua, defended by Prospero and Fabrizio Colonna. On June 24, 1501 his troops stormed the latter, causing the collapse of Aragonese power in southern Italy.

In June 1502 he set out for Marche, where he was able to capture Urbino and Camerino by treason. The next step would be Bologna, but his condottieri, fearing Cesare's cruelty, set up a plot against him. Guidobaldo da Montefeltro and Giovanni Maria da Varano returned in Urbino and Camerino and Fossombrone revolted. Cesare called for a reconciliation, but treacherously imprisoned his condottieri in Senigallia, a feat described as a "Wonderful deceiving" by Paolo Giovio,[5] and had them executed.

Later years

Though some believe him to be an immensely capable general and statesman, Cesare could do nothing without continued papal patronage. Niccolo Machiavelli cites Cesare's dependence on the good will of the Papacy, under the control of his father, to be the principle weakness of his rule, arguing had Cesare been able to win the favor of the new Pope he would have been a very successful ruler. Cesare's father ran the country even after he had relinquished the crown to Cesare. The news of his father's death (1503) arrived when Cesare was planning the conquest of Tuscany. While he was convalescing in Castel Sant'Angelo, his troops controlled the conclave. The new pope, Pius III, supported him, but his reign was short: the accession of the Borgias' deadly enemy Julius II caused his sudden ruin.

While moving to Romagna to quell a revolt, he was seized and imprisoned by Gian Paolo Baglioni near Perugia. All his lands were acquired by the Papal States. Exiled to Spain, in 1504, he was imprisoned in the Castle of La Mota, Medina del Campo, from where he escaped and joined his brother-in-law, King John III of Navarre. In his service, Cesare died at the siege of Viana in 1507, at the age of thirty-one.


He was originally buried in a marble tomb beneath the altar of the Church of Santa Maria in the town with an inscription "Here lies in little earth one who was feared by all, who held peace and war in his hand." In 1537, the Bishop of Calahorra visited the church and was horrified for such a sinner being buried in the holy place. Hence, the tomb was destroyed and the remains were transferred to an unconsecrated site outside the church so that his body would be "trampled on by men and beasts", as the bishop ordered. His remains stayed there until 1945, when his remains were accidentally exhumed by some workmen. A group of local politicians pleaded with the Catholic Church to give him a proper burial. However, the local bishop turned down the requests. His body then was placed under a marble plaque outside the church grounds. In 2007, Fernando Sebastian Aguilar, the Archbishop of Pamplona, finally granted the petitions and allowed the remains to be moved back inside the church on the day before the 500th anniversary of his death. The local church was not against the decision. "Whatever he may have done in life, he deserves to be forgiven now," said the local church.


Cesare Borgia was not greatly admired by Niccolò Machiavelli. Niccolo Machiavelli met the Duke on a diplomatic mission in his function as Secretary of the Florentine Chancellery. Machiavelli was at Borgia's court from October 7, 1502 through January 18, 1503. During this time he wrote regular dispatches to his superiors in Florence, many of which have survived and are published in Machiavelli's Collected Works. In The Prince, Machiavelli uses Borgia as an example to elucidate the dangers of acquiring a principality through the virtue of another. Cesare Borgia's father ran the kingdom even after he stepped down, leaving Cesare with little real experience. When his father died Cesare was overthrown in a matter of months. Machiavelli attributes two episodes to Cesare Borgia that were really executed by his father: the method by which the Romagna were pacified, which Machiavelli describes in chapter VII of The Prince, and the assassination of his captains on New Year's Eve of 1503 in Senigallia.[6]

Machiavelli's use of Borgia is subject to controversy. Some scholars see in Machiavelli's Borgia the precursor of state crimes in the 20th Century.[7] Others, including Macaulay and Lord Acton have historicized Machiavelli's Borgia, explaining the admiration for such violence as an effect of the general criminality and corruption of the time.[8] This makes it obvious that Machiavelli admired Cesare Borgia's father but not Cesare Borgia.

In Volume One of Celebrated Crimes, Alexandre Dumas, père states that some pictures of Jesus Christ produced around Borgia's lifetime were based on Cesare Borgia, and that this in turn has influenced images of Jesus produced since that time.

Cesare Borgia briefly employed Leonardo da Vinci as military architect and engineer between 1502 and 1503. Cesare and Leonardo became intimate instantaneously - Cesare provided Leonardo with an unlimited pass to inspect and direct all planned and undergoing construction in his domain. Before meeting Cesare, Leonardo had worked at the Milanese court of Ludovico Sforza for many years, until Charles VIII of France drove Sforza out of Italy. After Cesare, Leonardo was unsuccessful in finding another patron in Italy. François I of France was able to convince him to enter his service, and the last three years of this life were spent working in France.

He wanted to take over Mantua while Isabella d'Este was ruling.

Personal life

On May 10, 1499, Cesare married Charlotte of Albret (1480 - March 11, 1514). She was a sister of John III of Navarre. They were parents to a daughter, Louise Borgia, (1500 - 1553) who first married Louis II de La Tremouille, Governor of Burgundy, and secondly Philippe de Bourbon (1499-1557), Seigneur de Busset.

Cesare was also father to at least 11 illegitimate children, among them Girolamo Borgia, who married Isabella Contessa di Carpi, and Lucrezia Borgia, who, after Cesare's death, was moved to Ferrara to the court of her aunt, Lucrezia Borgia.

Popular culture

What if you were alone in an alley with Cesare Borgia
And he was coming torgia...
--Ogden Nash




Cesare Borgia is mentioned in the song "B.I.B.L.E.", performed by Killah Priest, which appears on GZA's 1995 album Liquid Swords, as well as Killah Priest's debut album Heavy Mental. The relevant line is "the white image, of Christ, is really Cesare Borgia... the second son of Pope Alexander, the Sixth of Rome". A musical story of the the reign of Cesare Borgia is also mentioned in a 2006 album namely "Enigma Borgia - Pecado Mortal".


  1. His other titles included: Duke of Romagna, Prince of Andria and Venafro, Count of Dyois, Lord of Piombino, Camerino and Urbino, Gonfalonier and Captain General of the Church.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Herfried Münkler and Marina Münkler, Lexikon der Renaissance, Munich: Beck, 2000, p. 43ff.(German)
  3. Spinosa, La saga dei Borgia
  4. Rendina, I capitani di ventura
  5. Rendina, p. 250.
  6. Niccolò Machiavelli, "A Description of the Method Used by Duke Valentino in Killing Vitellozzo Vitelli, Oliverotto da Fermo, and Others",The Chief Works and Others, trans. Allan Gilbert, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1989, 3 vols., 163–169
  7. Ernst Cassirer, The Myth of the State, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1946
  8. Harvey C. Mansfield, Machiavelli's Virtue, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.


  • Cloulas, Ivan. The Borgias. 
  • Machiavelli, Niccolò. The Prince. 
  • Johnson, Marion. The Borgias. 
  • Sabatini, Rafael. The Life of Cesare Borgia. 
  • Spinosa, Antonio (1999). La saga dei Borgia. Mondadori. 
  • Nanami, Shiono. Cesare Borgia the Elegant Tyrant. 

External links

Preceded by
Ottaviano Riario
Lord of Forlì
Succeeded by
Antonio II Ordelaffi
Lord of Imola
To the Papal States
Preceded by
Pandolfo IV Malatesta
Lord of Rimini
Succeeded by
Pandolfo IV Malatesta
Preceded by
Astorre III Manfredi
Lord of Faenza
Succeeded by
Astorre IV Manfredi
Preceded by
Guidobaldo I da Montefeltro
Duke of Urbino
Succeeded by
Francesco Maria I della Rovere
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