Posts Tagged ‘Borgias’

Machiavelli’s Role Model

Posted in General, On This Day on August 11th, 2016 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

Pope_Alexander_VIDonald Trump could have warned the College of Cardinals about cheap Hispanic labor. However, on this day in 1492, the College elected Roderigo Borja as Pope. Obviously, the Italian boys were not so eager to have the job. Their bribes were only half as much as Roderigo’s, and Roderigo was willing to assimilate. His mistresses were Italian, and he even adopted a more Italian pronunciation of his surname: Borgia. (But his green card would have identified him as Pope Alexander VI.)

But as Donald Trump could have warned them, you let one of them in….Yes, Roderigo had a big family; and with six children, a Pope can’t get by just from skimming the profits of bingo nights. His daughter Lucretia was attractive, so he had no trouble arranging three lucrative marriages for her–and he oversaw her becoming a widow in time for the next marriage. (Annulments took too long, even for a Pope’s daughter.) Then, there was the irrepressible Cesare. Dad made him a cardinal when Cesare was 17, but the boy showed secular interests: murder, pillage and conquering all of Italy. Well, Roderigo could hardly refuse his son (especially if the son might kill him), and the Pope actually liked the idea of Italy as a family heirloom.

Such a conquest was, however, a rather daunting goal. The Italian city states were always at war, but the wars barely amounted to misdemeanors. Ferrara would seize an acre from Rimini, and Rimini might retaliate by defacing a fresco. And the Papal States definitely were not supposed to attack anyone. But Roderigo was not much for etiquette. (For instance, he referred to his children as his children; every other pope pretended that his spawn were only nephews and nieces.) He invested Cesare with the full military resources of the Papal States (Stop laughing; you could buy a lot of mercenaries with purloined Church funds.) But, yes, that would not be enough to quickly conquer the peninsula.

Fortunately, the Pope was a man of faith: he fervently believed in his own craftiness and everyone else’s gullibility. So, Roderigo encouraged the King of France to invade Italy. Once the French invaded in 1494, the Pope then began encouraging Spain to defend its possessions in Southern Italy. Roderigo was even negotiating with the Ottoman Empire. Somehow, he expected to play everyone off against each other and end up with all of Italy. He might have even succeeded but for one miscalculation. Seventy-year-old men have a tendency to die, and in 1503 men usually died at 45. Roderigo had beaten the actuarial table but he couldn’t do it indefinitely. Without Dad, Cesare was without an empire and Lucretia was stuck in her third marriage.

Nonetheless, Roderigo definitely left an legacy. The name Borgia is still remembered. And Spain, allied with the Holy Roman Empire, would be fighting France over the control of Italy for another 30 years. In fact, the Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire were so preoccupied with Italian politics that when a German theology professor complained about the Church’s corruption, no one paid any attention to Martin Luther (except the population of Northern Europe).

Eugene’s Latest Fixation

Posted in General on April 5th, 2011 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

More Borgia musings….

If “Vatican Hill 90210” turns out to be popular, I wonder how Showtime will stretch the series out to ten or twenty years.  If I recall, the network extended “The Tudors” by giving Henry 47 wives.  (I think the last was Sophie Tucker–the series/dynasty always needed some Jewish humor.)  My guess is that Leonardo invents a time machine, so it turns out Silvio Berluscone is actually Alexander VI.  (Yes, our favorite Borgia was also Casanova and Giocomo Puccini.)

In the meantime, Showtime could have a commercial tie-in with Seven-Eleven or Dairy Queen.  Big Gulps or Blizzards could be served in chalices, each featuring a member of the Papal conclave of 1492.  Get the entire collection!

Rodrigo de Borja y Borja, bishop of Porto e Santa Rufina, administrator of Valencia, dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals. (Elected Pope Alexander VI)
Giuliano della Rovere, bishop of Ostia e Velletri, bishop of Bologna, administrator of Avignon.
Oliviero Carafa, bishop of Sabina, title of S. Eusebio in commendam, administrator of Salamanca.
Giovanni Battista Zeno, bishop of Frascati.
Giovanni Michiel, bishop of Palestrina, deaconry of S. Angelo in Pescheria in commendam.
Jorge da Costa, bishop of Albano, title of S. Lorenzo in Lucina in commendam, archbishop of Lisbon, Portugal.
Girolamo Basso della Rovere, title of S. Crisogono, bishop of Recanati e Macerata.
Raffaele Sansoni Riario, title of S. Lorenzo in Damaso.
Domenico della Rovere, title of S. Clemente, archbishop of Turin.
Paolo Fregoso, title of S. Sisto, archbishop of Genoa.
Giovanni de’ Conti, title of S. Vitale.
Giovanni Giacomo Schiaffinati, title of S. Cecilia, bishop of Parma.
Francesco Todeschini-Piccolomini, deacon of S. Eustachio, bishop of Siena.
Giovanni Battista Savelli, deacon of S. Nicola in Carcere Tulliano.
Giovanni Colonna, deacon of S. Maria in Aquiro.
Giovanni Battista Orsini, deacon of S. Maria Nuova.
Ascanio Maria Sforza Visconti, deacon of Ss. Vito e Modesto.
Lorenzo Cibo de’ Mari, title of S. Marco, archbishop of Benevento.
Ardicino della Porta, iuniore, title of Ss. Giovanni e Paolo, bishop of Aleria, Corsica.
Antoniotto Gentile Pallavicini, title of S. Prassede, bishop of Orense, Spain.
Maffeo Gherardo, O.S.B.Cam., title of Ss. Nereo ed Achilleo, patriarch of Venice.
Giovanni de’ Medici, deacon of S. Maria in Domnica.
Federico di Sanseverino, deacon of S. Teodoro.

This is the actual list, which I found on a fascinating (for me, anyway) website:

“The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church” ain’t exactly an objective title, but it is a comprehensive catalog of every papal enclave.  Just pick any papal election in the 12th, 15th and 19th centuries;  you’ll find the Orsini, Conti and Colonna families were producing a supply of cardinals.  (Since the 20th century, however, Italian aristocrats found it more lucrative to marry American heiresses.)

p.s.  Let’s not forget the historic significance of this day:

The Borgia Report

Posted in General on April 4th, 2011 by Eugene Finerman – 3 Comments

Ave Deus for the Middle-Aged.  Otherwise, The Borgias would be “Vatican Hill 90210” with a cast of quite annoying youngsters.  Yes, the nude scenes of the English actress playing Lucretia won’t be painful–although by the 47th time they may get monotonous.  But Cesare seems more smarmy than ruthless, and I am trying to use my HD television to murder the preening twit playing Juan Borgia.  (I keep lunging at him but I can’t quite get through the TV screen; I am complaining to Comcast!)  However, the series has the saving disgrace of Jeremy Irons–and he is more than enough reason to keep watching.  In Iron’s  portrayal of  Pope Alexander VI and the father of the Borgia brood, you can feel both the pleasure and the hard work of being thoroughly corrupt. 

Of course, in keeping with television’s exacting standards for historical accuracy, the show is a litany of errors.  The series doesn’t even get right the number of the Pope’s children.  Showtime seems determined to present the Borgias as the Renaissance Corleones; so if Vito only had four children, then Pope Alexander can’t have more than that.  In fact, he had at least six–with two mistresses.  (A seventh is in dispute because a third mistress was also “dating” her husband.)  The series also scrambles the chronology of the Borgia brats.    Cesare is introduced as the firstborn; actually, the incompetent Juan was.  So much for the belabored Godfather metaphors; the Machiavellian Michael Corleone was younger than the reckless Sonny.    But I am still waiting to see if Leonardo daVinci is compared to Frank Sinatra, and if the Pope backs Columbus’ plan to discover Las Vegas.

More Borgia gossip, from the archives:

And, for a change of pace, here is today’s  saint:

The Borgia Bunch

Posted in General on July 16th, 2010 by Eugene Finerman – 2 Comments

Showtime, the television network that presented a scrawny, brunet Henry VIII, is planning a series on “The Borgias”. If you are not familiar with the notorious Renaissance family, imagine the Brady Bunch in the 15th century except that Dad is a syphilitic Pope and the children are sociopaths.  (In this case, both Mrs. Brady and Alice are the mothers of the brood.)  It is the kind of heartwarming family story that has such appeal on cable television. 

Of course, the historical sex and violence won’t be ample enough for Showtime, so expect a little–actually an avalanche–of additions.  No doubt the cable Pope Alexander VI will have a passionate affair with Joan of Arc.  (It is possible since he was 4 months old when she died, and he might have been very precocious.)    Queen Isabella of Castille probably will have nude scenes, too–with Lucretia!  You are also likely to see that Gutenberg was a pornographer.  (Leonardo must have invented the video camera 500 years sooner than we realized.) And yes, Leonardo will be in the series; he really was the Borgia’s handyman.  I predict that he will be hitting on Martin Luther.  Have I left anyone out of this menage a thousand?  Don’t worry.  Anyone in Europe within 100 years of the 15th century can be part of the orgy! 

At least the casting is not a scandal.  I am relieved to say that the Pope and his boy Cesare will not be played by Jerry and Ben Stiller.  His most dubious Holiness will be portrayed by Jeremy Irons.  Irons has a sly, chilly persona and sepulchral voice that makes him one of the best villains on the screen today.  I can see him ensnared in plots and relishing his betrayals of less clever men.  Just for his performance, I will start to watch the series.  Perhaps the gratuitous nudity won’t be too much of a bore.

And now for the lecture….Alexander VI certainly is the most notorious Pope, but he was far from the worst.  In the tenth and eleventh centuries, many of the Popes were just Roman gangsters.  During the Dark Ages, it was difficult to distinguish nobles from criminals (We have the same problem with today’s MBAs), and bandit bands would vie for the Papacy.  Get your man on the throne and you’ve got control of Rome property and the relics racket.  One family/gang–the counts of Tusculum–held the Papacy for nearly a century.  A member of the dynasty murdered his predecessor.  Another attempted to sell the Papacy.  John XII–who became Pope at the age of 18–was killed by a justifiably enraged husband.  (Some forms of communion are unacceptable.)

So, why aren’t they the “stars” of a Showtime series?  They were unintentionally discreet, the advantage of obscurity.  However vile they were, who knew other than their Roman neighbors?  In the tenth and early eleventh centuries, the Pope just wasn’t that important.  By the time of Alexander VI, however, the Papacy was far significant than just Tiber property and the relics racket.  And thanks to Gutenberg, there now was a mass media that fed the public appetite for news and gossip.  Even if only one person in your village was literate, everyone else wanted to hear what he was reading.  Alexander VI was never less than interesting.

Furthermore, however scandalous he was, Alexander VI was not incompetent.  Unlike his Medici acquaintance and eventual successor Leo X, the Borgia Pope would not have ignored Professor Luther.  On the contrary, any dispute would have been quickly–if sadly–resolved.  “Young professor dies of food poisoning while falling out of a bell tower–twice.”  Of course, with a Borgia as Pope, Luther’s idea of Reformation might have been to limited to conducting Church bingo night in German rather than Latin.

And there is one more thing to be said in Alexander VI’s favor.  If he didn’t take religion seriously, he also wasn’t a bigot.  When Ferdinand and Isabella demonstrated their idea of Christian virtue by expelling Jews from Spain, Alexander offered the refugees sanctuary in Rome.  He wasn’t providing charity but if they could afford Italy they were welcome and protected.  Compare that to Pius XII, and remind me which of the two is a candidate for sainthood.

p.s.  Let’s not forget the historic significance of this day: