Lucrezia Borgia: The Most Evil Woman In History... Or The Most Wronged?
By M. G. Scarsbrook
Once described as the 'greatest whore there ever was in Rome', the legend of Lucrezia Borgia has captivated people for centuries with wild accounts of her crimes. Some have called her a poisoner, an evil seductress, a femme fatale, and many artists have portrayed her negatively in books, plays, and operas.
But who was Lucrezia exactly? Did she really deserve her poor reputation?
In 1492, when Lucrezia Borgia was still a young noblewoman, her father became Pope Alexander VI and raised her family into one of the most powerful forces in Renaissance Italy. Known for his ruthless ambition, Alexander VI immediately started eliminating all political enemies, while also elevating his children to prestigious positions within the church and state. Lucrezia's eldest brother Cesare became a shrewd and merciless Captain-General of the Papal army, even serving as the inspiration for Machiavelli's 'The Prince'. And Lucrezia herself, despite being less than 20 years of age, was given the governorship of several cities within papal control.
The reign of the Borgias swiftly became the most scandalous era in papal history, marked by constant wars, assassinations, murder, unbridled extravagance, debauchery and allegations of incest. Many political rivals to the Borgias were stabbed, strangled, or poisoned, including cardinals, ambassadors, and the barons of prominent roman families. It was claimed the Borgias dispatched many of their enemies with a custom-made poison called 'Cantarella' – a white, slow-acting powder, sweet to the taste and perfect for use at banquets. Lucrezia was even rumored to possess a ring with a tiny poison capsule which she used to secretly empty venom into someone’s drink.
An interesting legend... but is it true?
It should be noted that almost no one in her own time accused Lucrezia of the plots and killings attributed to her family. There is also no historical evidence to suggest Lucrezia ever participated in the crimes of Cesare and Alexander. Her contemporaries in Rome merely felt her reputation was tarnished by tales of incest and promiscuity – unlikely allegations made by enemies of the Borgias.
In reality, during her tumultuous life, Lucrezia managed to overcome the damaged reputation she suffered from the actions of her family. After her father died in 1503, and Cesare was swiftly imprisoned, Lucrezia was no longer used as a pawn to increase the power of the House of Borgia. Instead, she left Rome and married a Duke in the distant lands of Ferrara, quickly settling into her new role as a Duchess. Over time, she reinvented herself as a generous patron of the arts, a loving mother of seven children, and a kind benefactor of many charities. By her death in 1519, many people mourned her loss and she was buried with great honor in the highest church in Ferrara, the disgraceful allegations from her past now long forgotten.
This is the story I explore in my latest novel, Poison In The Blood: The Memoirs of Lucrezia Borgia. Set in Renaissance Rome, during the height of Borgia power, my novel follows Lucrezia's struggle to escape her dangerous family before they destroy her life forever. After discovering that her new husband is next to die, Lucrezia must help him flee the city before the assassins strike. But as tragedy looms ever closer, and her plans gradually, fail, she finds herself confronting an enemy far more sinister than she ever imagined...
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