The Life of Cesare Borgia


Rimini And Pesaro


In the autumn of 1500, fretting to take the field again, Cesare was occupied in raising and equipping an army -- an occupation which received an added stimulus when, towards the end of August, Louis de Villeneuve, the French ambassador, arrived in Rome with the articles of agreement setting forth the terms upon which Louis XII was prepared further to assist Cesare in the resumption of his campaign. In these it was stipulated that, in return for such assistance, Cesare should engage himself, on his side, to aid the King of France in the conquest of Naples when the time for that expedition should be ripe. Further, Louis XII was induced to make representations to Venice to the end that the Republic should remove her protection from the Manfredi of Faenza and the Malatesta of Rimini.

Venice being at the time in trouble with the Turk, and more anxious than ever to conciliate France and the Pope, was compelled to swallow her reluctance and submit with the best grace she could assume. Accordingly she dispatched her ambassadors to Rome to convey her obedience to the Pope's Holiness, and formally to communicate the news that she withdrew her protection from the proscribed fiefs.

Later in the year -- in the month of October -- the Senate was to confer upon Cesare Borgia the highest honor in her gift, the honor of which the Venetians were jealous above all else -- the honor of Venetian citizenship, inscribing his name in the Golden Book, bestowing upon him a palace in Venice and conferring the other marks of distinction usual to the occasion. One is tempted to ask, Was it in consequence of Paolo Capello's lurid Relation that the proud Republic considered him qualified for such an honor?

To return, however, to the matter of the Republic's removal of her shield from Rimini and Faenza, Alexander received the news of this with open joy and celebrated it with festivities in the Vatican, whilst from being angry with Venice and from declaring that the Republic need never again look to him for favor, he now veered round completely and assured the Venetian envoys, in a burst of gratitude, that he esteemed no Power in the world so highly. Cesare joined in his father's expressions of gratitude and appreciation, and promised that Alexander should be succeeded in St. Peter's Chair by such a Pope as should be pleasing to Venice, and that, if the cardinals but remained united, the Pontificate should go to none but a Venetian.

Thus did Cesare, sincerely or otherwise, attempt to lessen the Republic's chagrin to see him ride lance-on-thigh as conqueror into the dominions which she so long had coveted.

France once more placed Yves d'Allègre at Cesare's disposal, and with him went six hundred lances and six hundred Swiss foot. These swelled the forces which already Cesare had assembled into an army some ten thousand strong. The artillery was under the command of Vitellozzo Vitelli, whilst Bartolomeo da Capranica was appointed camp-master. Cesare's banner was joined by a condotta under Paolo Orsini -- besides whom there were several Roman gentlemen in the duke's following, including most of those who had formed his guard of honor on the occasion of his visit to France, and who had since then continued to follow his fortunes. Achille Tiberti came to Rome with a condotta which he had levied in the Romagna of young men who had been moved by Cesare's spreading fame to place their swords at his disposal. A member of the exiled Malvezzi family of Bologna headed a little troop of fellow-exiles which came to take service with the duke, whilst at Perugia a strong body of foot awaited him under Gianpaolo Baglioni.

In addition to these condotta, numerous were the adventurers who came to offer Cesare their swords; indeed he must have possessed much of that personal magnetism which is the prime equipment of every born leader, for he stirred men to the point of wild enthusiasm in those days, and inspired other than warriors to bear arms for him. We see men of letters, such as Justolo, Calmeta, Sperulo, and others throwing down their quills to snatch up swords and follow him. Painters, and sculptors, too, are to be seen abandoning the ideals of art to pursue the ugly realities of war in this young condottiere's train. Among these artists, bulks the great Pietro Torrigiani. The astounding pen of his brother-sculptor, Benvenuto Cellini, has left us a sharp portrait of this man, in which he speaks of his personal beauty and tells us that he had more the air of a great soldier than a sculptor (which must have been, we fancy, Cellini's own case). Torrigiani lives in history chiefly for two pieces of work widely dissimilar in character -- the erection of the tomb of Henry VII of England, and the breaking of the nose of Michelangelo Buonarroti in the course of a quarrel which he had with him in Florence when they were fellow-students under Masaccio. Of nothing that he ever did in life was he so proud -- as we may gather from Cellini -- as of having disfigured Michelangelo, and in that sentiment the naive spirit of his age again peeps forth.

We shall also see Leonardo da Vinci joining the duke's army as engineer -- but that not until some months later.

Meanwhile his forces grew daily in Rome, and his time was consumed in organizing, equipping, and drilling these, to bring about that perfect unity for which his army was to be conspicuous in spite of the variety of French, Italian, Spanish, and Swiss elements of which it was composed. So effectively were his troops armed and so excellent was the discipline prevailing among them, that their like had probably never before been seen in the peninsula, and they were to excite -- as much else of Cesare's work -- the wonder and admiration of that great critic Macchiavelli.

So much, however, was not to be achieved without money, and still more would be needed for the campaign ahead. For this the Church provided. Never had the coffers of the Holy See been fuller than at this moment. Additional funds accrued from what is almost universally spoken of as "the sale of twelve cardinals' hats."

In that year -- in September -- twelve new cardinals were appointed, and upon each of those was levied, as a tax, a tithe of the first year's revenues of the benefices upon which they entered. The only justifiable exception that can be taken to this lies in the number of cardinals elected at one time, which lends color to the assumption that the sole aim of that election was to raise additional funds for Cesare's campaign. Probably it was also Alexander's aim further to strengthen his power with the Sacred College, so that he could depend upon a majority to ensure his will in all matters. But we are at the moment concerned with the matter of the levied tax.

It has been dubbed "an atrocious act of simony;" but the reasoning that so construes it is none so clear. The cardinals' hats carried with them vast benefices. These benefices were the property of the Church; they were in the gift and bestowal of the Pope, and in the bestowing of them the Pope levied a proportionate tax. Setting aside the argument that this tax was not an invention of Alexander's, does such a proceeding really amount to a "sale" of benefices? A sale presupposes bargaining, a making of terms between two parties, an adjusting of a price to be paid. There is evidence of no such marketing of these benefices; indeed one cardinal, vowed to poverty, received his hat without the imposition of a tax, another was Cesare's brother-in-law, Amanieu d'Albret, who had been promised the hat a year ago. It is further to be borne in mind that, four months earlier, the Pope had levied a similar decima, or tax, upon the entire College of Cardinals and every official in the service of the Holy See, for the purposes of the expedition against the Muslim, who was in arms against Christianity. Naturally that tax was not popular with luxurious, self-seeking, cinquecento prelates, who in the main cared entirely for their own prosperity and not at all for that of Christianity, and you may realize how, by levying it, Alexander laid himself open to harsh criticism.

The only impugnable matter in the deed lies, as has been said, in the number of cardinals so created at a batch. But the ends to be served may be held to justify, if not altogether, at least in some measure, the means adopted. The Romagna war for which the funds were needed was primarily for the advancement of the Church, to expunge those faithless vicars who, appointed by the Holy See and holding their fiefs in trust for her, refused payment of just tribute and otherwise so acted as to alienate from the Church the States which she claimed for her own. Their restoration to the Church -- however much it might be a means of founding a Borgia dynasty in the Romagna -- made for the greater power and glory of the Holy See. Let us remember this, and that such was the end which that tax, levied upon those newly elected cardinals, went to serve. The aggrandizement of the House of Borgia was certainly one of the results to be expected from the Romagna campaign, but we are not justified in accounting it the sole aim and end of that campaign.

Alexander had this advantage over either Sixtus IV or Innocent VIII -- not to go beyond those Popes whom he had served as Vice-Chancellor, for instances of flagrant nepotism -- that he at least served two purposes at once, and that, in aggrandizing his own family, he strengthened the temporal power of the Church, whereas those others had done nothing but undermine it that they might enrich their progeny.

And whilst on this subject of the "sale" of cardinals' hats, it may not be amiss to say a word concerning the "sale" of indulgences with which Alexander has been so freely charged. Here again there has been too loud an outcry against Alexander -- an outcry whose indignant stridency leads one to suppose that the sale of indulgences was a simony invented by him, or else practiced by him to an extent shamefully unprecedented. Such is very far from being the case. The arch-type of indulgence-seller -- as of all other simoniacal practices -- is Innocent VIII. In his reign we have seen the murderer commonly given to choose between the hangman and the purchase of a pardon, and we have seen the moneys so obtained providing his bastard, the Cardinal Francesco Cibo, with the means for the luxuriously licentious life whose gross disorders prematurely killed him.

To no such flagitious lengths as these can it be shown that Alexander carried the "sale" of the indulgences he dispensed. He had no lack of precedent for the practice, and, so far as the actual practice itself is concerned, it would be difficult to show that it was unjustifiable or simoniacal so long as confined within certain well-defined bounds, and so long as the sums levied by it were properly employed to the benefit of Christianity. It is a practice comparable to the mulcting of a civil offender against magisterial laws. Because our magistrates levy fines, it does not occur to modern critics to say that they sell pardons and immunity from gaol. It is universally recognized as a wise and commendable measure, serving the two-fold purpose of punishing the offender and benefiting the temporal State against which he has offended. Need it be less commendable in the case of spiritual offences against a spiritual State? It is more useful than the imposition of the pattering of a dozen prayers at bedtime, and since, no doubt, it falls more heavily upon the offender, it possibly makes to an even greater extent for his spiritual improvement.

Thus considered, this "sale" of indulgences loses a deal of the heinousness with which it has been invested. The funds so realized go into the coffers of the Church, which is fit and proper. What afterwards becomes of them at the hands of Alexander opens up another matter altogether, one in which we cannot close our eyes to the fact that he was as undutiful as many another who wore the Ring of the Fisherman before him. Yet this is to be said for him: that, if he plunged his hands freely into the treasury of the Holy See, at least he had the ability to contrive that this treasury should be well supplied; and the circumstance that, when he died, he left the church far wealthier and more powerful than she had been for centuries, with her dominions which his precursors had wantonly alienated reconsolidated into that powerful State that was to endure for three hundred years, is an argument to the credit of his pontificate not lightly to be set aside.

Imola and Forli had, themselves, applied to the Pontiff to appoint Cesare Borgia their ruler in the place of the deposed Riarii. To these was now added Cesena. In July disturbances occurred there between Guelphs and Ghibellines. Swords were drawn and blood flowed in the streets, until the governor was constrained to summon Ercole Bentivogli and his horse from Forli to quell the rioting. The direct outcome of this was that -- the Ghibellines predominating in council -- Cesena sent an embassy to Rome to beg his Holiness to give the lordship of the fief to the Duke of Valentinois. To this the Pope acceded, and on August 2 Cesare was duly appointed Lord Vicar of Cesena. He celebrated his investiture by remitting a portion of the taxes, abolishing altogether the duty on flour, and by bringing about a peace between the two prevailing factions.

By the end of September Cesare's preparations for the resumption of the campaign were completed, and early in October (his army fortified in spirit by the Pope's blessing) he set out, and made his first halt at Nepi. Lucrezia was there, with her Court and her child Roderigo, having withdrawn to this her castle to mourn her dead husband Alfonso; and there she abode until recalled to Rome by her father some two months later.

Thence Cesare pushed on, as swiftly as the foul weather would allow him, by way of Viterbo, Assisi, and Nocera to cross the Apennines at Gualdo. Here he paused to demand the release of certain prisoners in the hill fortress of Fossate, and to be answered by a refusal. Angered by this resistance of his wishes and determined to discourage others from following the example of Fossate, he was swift and terrible in his rejoinder. He seized the Citadel, and did by force what had been refused to his request. Setting at liberty the prisoners in durance there, he gave the territory over to devastation by fire and pillage.

That done he resumed his march, but the weather retarded him more and more. The heavy and continuous rains had reduced the roads to such a condition that his artillery fell behind, and he was compelled to call a halt once more, at Deruta, and wait there four days for his guns to overtake him.

In Rimini the great House of Malatesta was represented by Pandolfo -- Roberto Malatesta's bastard and successor -- a degenerate so detested by his subjects that he was known by the name of Pandolfaccio (a contumelious augmentative, expressing the evil repute in which he was held).

Among his many malpractices and the many abuses to which he resorted for the purposes of extorting money from his long-suffering subjects was that of compelling the richer men of Rimini to purchase from him the estates which he confiscated from the fuorusciti -- those who had sought in exile safety from the anger provoked by their just resentment of his oppressive misrule. He was in the same case as other Romagna tyrants, and now that Venice had lifted from him her protecting aegis, he had no illusions as to the fate in store for him. So when once more the tramp of Cesare Borgia's advancing legions rang through the Romagna, Pandolfaccio disposed himself, not for battle, but for surrender on the best terms that he might succeed in making.

He was married to Violante, the daughter of Giovanni Bentivogli of Bologna, and in the first week of October he sent her, with their children, to seek shelter at her father's Court. Himself, he withdrew into his citadel -- the famous fortress of his terrible grandfather Sigismondo. The move suggested almost that he was preparing to resist the Duke of Valentinois, and it may have prompted the message sent him by the Council to inquire what might be his intention.

Honour was a thing unknown to this Pandolfaccio -- even so much honor as may be required for a dignified retreat. Since all was lost it but remained -- by his lights -- to make the best bargain that he could and get the highest possible price in gold for what he was abandoning. So he replied that the Council must do whatever it considered to its best advantage, whilst to anticipate its members in any offer of surrender, and thus seek the favour and deserve good terms at the hands of this man who came to hurl him from the throne of his family, he dispatched a confidential servant to Cesare to offer him town and citadel.

In the meantime -- as Pandolfo fully expected -- the Council also sent proposals of surrender to Cesare, as well as to his lieutenant-general of Romagna, Bishop Olivieri, at Cesena. The communications had the effect of bringing Olivieri immediately to Rimini, and there, on October 10, the articles of capitulation were signed by the bishop, as the duke's representative, and by Pandolfo Malatesta. It was agreed in these that Malatesta should have safe-conduct for himself and his familiars, 3,000 ducats and the value -- to be estimated -- of the artillery which he left in the citadel. Further, for the price of 5,500 ducats he abandoned also the strongholds of Sarsina and Medola and the castles of the Montagna.

His tyranny thus disposed of, Pandolfaccio took ship to Ravenna, where the price of his dishonour was to be paid him, and in security for which he took with him Gianbattista Baldassare, the son of the ducal commissioner.

On the day of his departure, to celebrate the bloodless conquest of Rimini, solemn High Mass was sung in the Cathedral, and Bishop Olivieri received the city's oath of allegiance to the Holy See, whither very shortly afterwards Rimini sent her ambassadors to express to the Pope her gratitude for her release from the thraldom of Pandolfaccio.

Like Rimini, Pesaro too fell without the striking of a blow, for all that it was by no means as readily relinquished on the part of its ruler. Giovanni Sforza had been exerting himself desperately for the past two months to obtain help that should enable him to hold his tyranny against the Borgia might. But all in vain. His entreaties to the emperor had met with no response, whilst his appeal to Francesco Gonzaga of Mantua -- whose sister, it will be remembered, had been his first wife -- had resulted in the Marquis's sending him a hundred men under an Albanian, named Giacopo.

What Giovanni was to do with a hundred men it is difficult to conceive, nor are the motives of Gonzaga's action clear. We know that at this time he was eagerly seeking Cesare's friendship, sorely uneasy as to the fate that might lie in store for his own dominions, once the Duke of Valentinois should have disposed of the feudatories of the Church. Early in that year 1500 he had asked Cesare to stand godfather for his child, and Cesare had readily consented, whereby a certain bond of relationship and good feeling had been established between them, which everything shows Gonzaga most anxious to preserve unsevered. The only reasonable conclusion in the matter of that condotta of a hundred men is that Gonzaga desired to show friendliness to the Lord of Pesaro, yet was careful not to do so to any extent that might be hurtful to Valentinois.

As for Giovanni Sforza of whom so many able pens have written so feelingly as the constant, unfortunate victim of Borgia ambition, there is no need to enter into analyses for the purpose of judging him here. His own subjects did so in his own day. When a prince is beloved by all classes of his people, it must follow that he is a good prince and a wise ruler; when his subjects are divided into two factions, one to oppose and the other to support him, he may be good or bad, or good and bad; but when a prince can find none to stand by him in the hour of peril, it is to be concluded that he has deserved little at the hands of those whom he has ruled. The latter is the case of Giovanni Sforza -- this prince whom, Yriarte tells us, "rendered sweet the lives of his subjects." The nobility and the proletariate of Pesaro abhorred him; the trader classes stood neutral, anxious to avoid the consequences of partisanship, since it was the class most exposed to those consequences.

On Sunday, October 11 -- the day after Pandolfo Malatesta had relinquished Rimini -- news reached Pesaro that Ercole Bentivogli's horse was marching upon the town, in advance of the main body of Cesare's army. Instantly there was an insurrection against Giovanni, and the people, taking to arms, raised the cry of "Duca!" in acclamation of the Duke of Valentinois, under the very windows of their ruler's palace.

Getting together the three hundred men that constituted his army, Giovanni beat a hasty retreat to Pesaro's magnificent fortress, and that same night he secretly took ship to Ravenna accompanied by the Albanian Giacopo, and leaving his half-brother, Galeazzo Sforza di Cotignola, in command of the citadel. Thence Giovanni repaired to Bologna, and, already repenting his precipitate flight, he appealed for help to Bentivogli, who was himself uneasy, despite the French protection he enjoyed. Similarly, Giovanni addressed fresh appeals to Francesco Gonzaga; but neither of these tyrants could or dared avail him, and, whilst he was still imploring their intervention his fief had fallen into Cesare's power.

Ercole Bentivogli, with a small body of horse, had presented himself at the gates of Pesaro on October 21, and Galeazzo Sforza, having obtained safe-conduct for the garrison, surrendered.

Cesare, meanwhile, was at Fano, where he paused to allow his army to come up with him, for he had outridden it from Fossate, through foul wintry weather, attended only by his light horse. It was said that he hoped that Fano might offer itself to him as other fiefs had done, and -- if Pandolfo Collenuccio is correct -- he had been counseled by the Pope not to attempt to impose himself upon Fano, but to allow the town a free voice in the matter. If his hopes were as stated, he was disappointed in them, for Fano made no offer to him, and matters remained for the present as they were.

On the 27th, with the banners of the bull unfurled, he rode into Pesaro at the head of two thousand men, making his entrance with his wonted pomp, of whose dramatic values he was so fully aware. He was met at the gates by the Council, which came to offer him the keys of the town, and, despite the pouring rain under which he entered the city, the people of Pesaro thronged the streets to acclaim him as he rode.

He took up his lodgings at the Sforza Palace, so lately vacated by Giovanni -- the palace where Lucrezia Borgia had held her Court when, as Giovanni's wife, she had been Countess of Pesaro and Cotignola. Early on the morrow he visited the citadel, which was one of the finest in Italy, rivaling that of Rimini for strength. On his arrival there, a flourish of trumpets imposed silence, while the heralds greeted him formally as Lord of Pesaro. He ordered one of the painters in his train to draw up plans of the fortress to be sent to the Pope, and issued instructions for certain repairs and improvements which he considered desirable.

Here in Pesaro came to him the famous Pandolfo Collenuccio, as envoy from the Duke of Ferrara, to congratulate Cesare upon the victory. In sending Collenuccio at such a time Ercole d'Este paid the Duke of Valentinois a subtle, graceful compliment. This distinguished poet, dramatist, and historian was a native of Pesaro who had been exiled ten years earlier by Giovanni -- which was the tyrant's way of showing his gratitude to the man who, more than any other, had contributed to the bastard Sforza's succession to his father as Lord of Pesaro and Cotignola.

Collenuccio was one of the few literary men of his day who was not above using the Italian tongue, treating it seriously as a language and not merely as a debased form of Latin. He was eminent as a jurisconsult, and, being a man of action as well as a man of letters, he had filled the office of Podestá in various cities; he had found employment under Lorenzo dei Medici, and latterly under Ercole d'Este, whom we now see him representing.

Cesare received him with all honour, sending the master of his household, Ramiro de Lorqua, to greet him on his arrival and to bear him the usual gifts of welcome, of barley, wine, capons, candles, sweet-meats, etc., whilst on the morrow the duke gave him audience, treating him in the friendliest manner, as we see from Collenuccio's own report to the Duke of Ferrara. In this he says of Cesare: "He is accounted valiant, joyous, and open-handed, and it is believed that he holds honest men in great esteem. Harsh in his vengeance, according to many, he is great of spirit and of ambition, athirst for eminence and fame."

Collenuccio was reinstated by Cesare in the possessions of which Giovanni had stripped him, a matter which so excited the resentment of the latter that, when ultimately he returned to his dominions, one of his first acts was to avenge it. Collenuccio, fearing that he might not stand well with the tyrant, had withdrawn from Pesaro. But Giovanni, with all semblance of friendliness, treacherously lured him back to cast him into prison and have him strangled -- a little matter which those who, to the detriment of the Borgia, seek to make a hero of this Giovanni Sforza, would do well not to suppress.

A proof of the splendid discipline prevailing in Cesare's army is afforded during his brief sojourn in Pesaro. In the town itself, some two thousand of his troops were accommodated, whilst some thousands more swarmed in the surrounding country. Occupation by such an army was, naturally enough, cause for deep anxiety on the part of a people who were but too well acquainted with the ways of the fifteenth-century men-at- arms. But here was a general who knew how to curb and control his soldiers. Under the pain of death his men were forbidden from indulging any of the predations or violences usual to their kind; and, as a consequence, the inhabitants of Pesaro had little to complain of.

Justolo gives us a picture of the Duke of Valentinois on the banks of the River Montone, which again throws into relief the discipline which his very presence -- such was the force of his personality -- was able to enforce. A disturbance arose among his soldiers at the crossing of this river, which was swollen with rains and the bridge of which had been destroyed. It became necessary to effect the crossing in one small boat -- the only craft available -- and the men, crowding to the bank, stormed and fought for precedence until the affair grew threatening. Cesare rode down to the river, and no more than his presence was necessary to restore peace. Under that calm, cold eye of his the men instantly became orderly, and, whilst he sat his horse and watched them, the crossing was soberly effected, and as swiftly as the single craft would permit.

The duke remained but two days in Pesaro. On the 29th, having appointed a lieutenant to represent him, and a captain to the garrison, he marched out again, to lie that night at Cattolica and enter Rimini on the morrow.

There again he was received with open arms, and he justified the people's welcome of him by an immediate organization of affairs which gave universal satisfaction. He made ample provision for the proper administration of justice and the preservation of the peace; he recalled the fuorusciti exiled by the unscrupulous Pandolfaccio, and he saw them reinstated in the property of which that tyrant had dispossessed them. As his lieutenant in Rimini, with strict injunctions to preserve law and order, he left Ramiro de Lorqua, when, on November 2, he departed to march upon Faenza, which had prepared for resistance.

What Cesare did in Rimini was no more than he was doing throughout the Romagna, as its various archives bear witness. They bear witness no less to his vast ability as an administrator, showing how he resolved the prevailing chaos into form and order by his admirable organization and suppression of injustice. The same archives show us also that he found time for deeds of beneficence which endeared him to the people, who everywhere hailed him as their deliverer from thralldom. It would not be wise to join in the chorus of those who appear to have taken Cesare's altruism for granted. The rejection of the wild stories that picture him as a corrupt and murderous monster, utterly inhuman, and lay a dozen ghastly crimes to his account need not entail our viewing Cesare as an angel of deliverance, a divine agent almost, rescuing a suffering people from oppression out of sheer humanitarianism.

He is the one as little as the other. He is just -- as Collenuccio wrote to Ercole d'Este -- "great of spirit and of ambition, athirst for eminence and fame." He was consumed by the desire for power and worldly greatness, a colossus of egotism to whom men and women were pieces to be handled by him on the chess-board of his ambition, to be sacrificed ruthlessly where necessary to his ends, but to be husbanded and guarded carefully where they could serve him.

With his eyes upon the career of Cesare Borgia, Macchiavelli was anon to write of principalities newly-acquired, that "however great may be the military resources of a prince, he will discover that, to obtain firm footing in a province, he must engage the favor and interest of the inhabitants."

That was a principle self-evident to Cesare -- the principle upon which he acted throughout in his conquest of the Romagna. By causing his new subjects to realize at once that they had exchanged an oppressive for a generous rule, he attached them to himself.