Lucrezia Borgia

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In Lucrezia Borgia: Life, Love and Death in Renaissance Italy, Sarah Bradford relates the life of one of history’s most controversial women. Lucrezia’s mother was the mistress of a pope, and her father, Pope Alexander VI . 1492-1503), was notorious for his numerous mistresses and illegitimate children. It was rumored that she committed incest with both her father and her brother, Cesare, although Bradford denies the former and doubts the latter.

Born in 1480, Lucrezia had at least eight siblings, with her favorite being Cesare. The Renaissance was a male world, where women achieved fame and influence only through their fathers, brothers, or spouses. Lucrezia was no exception. Her father, Pope Alexander, for political advantage, arranged her marriages. Her third betrothal and first marriage was to Giovanni Sforza, lord of Pesaro, when she was thirteen, a marriage later annulled supposedly because it had not been consummated. Lucrezia’s second marriage was to Alfonso, Duke of Bisceglie, who was later murdered, ordered by her brother. Alfonso d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, was her third husband. The marriage was not monogamous, at least on Alfonso’s part but Lucrezia was also unfaithful, emotionally if not physically. However, both partners came to admire, need, and perhaps love each other. Although she was pregnant numerous times, only four of Lucrezia’s children reached adolescence. Several were still born or died in infancy, and her death at the age of thirty-nine was the result of a difficult pregnancy.

Lucrezia Borgia is well-worth reading, not least because of the description of the clothes and costumes of the era, as well as the foods consumed at Renaissance banquets. Bradford’s Lucrezia, while no saint, is not the evil woman of rumor--she was quite religious--but her personal story frequently fades away in a world dominated by ambitious men and their and endeavors.