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The Borgias: A Corrupt Papal Family

Updated on March 23, 2016
Jaynie2000 profile image

With a degree in Sociology & concentrations in English & Religion, Jaynie has a keen interest in politics, social norms & mental health.


When most of us think of the papacy, we tend to think of single men who have devoted themselves and their lives in service to God; men who have risen up the ranks of the church to become bishops, cardinals and ultimately, Pope. We want to believe that these men are virginal, pure in thought, word and deed. Perhaps most of them are, yet history is riddled with men of the cloth that are less than noble; men who have placed political and spiritual ambition before all else. These men have tainted the office of Pope, but have made for some of the most devious and deliciously villainous stories of all time.

This winter, Showtime will begin airing a new series called, The Borgias which will likely prove to be a thrilling portrayal of greed and deadly self-indulgence in the history of the Catholic Church.

The saga of the Borgias dates back to the 1400s when Rodrigo Borgia became Pope Alexander VI. The Borgias were a Spanish-Italian family that rose to power during the Renaissance. It was the means through which they achieved their power that rocked the church and cemented their place in history.

Despite vows of chastity taken by members of the priesthood, the Borgias reveled in pleasures of the flesh. Rodrigo himself fathered several children whom he readily acknowledged. His children were every bit as cunning and deceptive as their father, using whatever means necessary to achieve their personal ambitions. Such methods were rumored to include rape, incest, murder, bribery, adultery, theft, poisoning and simony. Simony is the act of paying for sacraments or positions of holy office within the church. 

Rodrigo Borgia rose through the ranks of the church largely through acts of nepotism which were common for the time. He was famous for financial greed and a healthy sexual appetite, which he exercised with several mistresses. One mistress, Vannozza dei Cattani, bore him several children, though he had other children with a variety of unknown women. It has been suggested that Rodrigo moved from Cardinal to Pope following the death of Pope Innocent VIII, after using his family’s vast wealth to purchase the requisite number of votes. Throughout his reign as Pope, Rodrigo, who was known as Pope Alexander VI, engaged in a very secular life including taking part in large orgies and dancing. He also failed to denounce the rise of indecency within the community, allowing heretics, prostitutes and murderers to wreak havoc. He succumbed to malarial fever in 1503.

Lucrezia Borgia

Pope Alexander’s daughter Lucrezia was one of his best-known children. She was an illegitimate child who was widely suspected of arsenic poisoning. Lucrezia was promised by her family into several arranged marriages, all of which were  contrived in the hopes of furthering the Borgia’s political ambitions. She was known to have been married to three different men, one of whom was murdered by order of Lucrezia’s brother, Cesare, after Cesare began to lose political power. Her first husband, Giovanni Sforza was allegedly set to be assassinated on the order of Lucrezia’s father in order to free her for marriage into a stronger political alliance after Giovanni’s own political clout waned. The assassination never took place as Giovanni fled to Rome. It was rumored that Lucrezia warned him of the plot prior to his disappearance. A divorce was granted to Lucrezia and Giovanni, but not before Giovanni publicly accused Lucrezia of committing incest with both her father and brother. Giovanni claimed that his own marriage was never consummated and was coerced into signing an order of annulment and impotence in order to spare his own life. Ironically, Lucrezia was pregnant at the time that the non-consummation and impotence affidavits were signed by her husband. It is uncertain as to whether the child was Giovanni’s or the result of an affair that she alleged engaged in with one of her father’s employees. There was even speculation that the child was her brother Cesare’s offspring. In the end, to protect Lucrezias honor and the family name, the child was never publicly acknowledged as Lucrezia’s. She left Rome for a convent until after the birth of her child. The family claimed that the child, named Giovanni Borgia, was actually the son of Cesare, and had resulted from an affair prior to his marriage. The young Giovanni was reported to be Lucrezia’s half brother, a claim which no one dared publicly dispute.

Lucrezia married for a second time to Alfonso of Aragon, who was reportedly very handsome and very kind to Lucrezia. His good looks and charm eventually became the cause of great jealously for Cesare, who arranged for Alfonso to be attacked in his sleep. Alfonso did not die, but, aware of Cesare’s evil plot, planned a retaliation. Alfonso’s men shot arrows at Cesare as he strolled through his garden one day. In one final act of hatred and jealously, while Alfonso remained in the hospital recovering from the first attack, Cesare’s men entered and strangled him to death, leaving Lucrezia, once again a widow, and at Cesare’s full disposal.

Lucrezia’s third and final marriage, which was also arranged by her father, was to Alfonso d’Este, the Duke of Ferrara. They enjoyed a long life together that produced many children, yet neither was faithful to the other. Lucrezia’s reputation blossomed during her marriage, despite her infidelities, and she continued to shine even as her family’s power eroded. 

Cesare Borgia

Cesare Borgia had once been renowned as a diplomatic statesman with stunning good looks and infinite charm. Despite all of his exemplary qualities, he had never been able to maintain his power without the backing of his powerful father. He was married yet reportedly carried a torch for his sister Lucrezia, spending years as her alleged lover, and fathering her son, Giovanni.  Rumors of incest and murder-for-hire plots plagued Cesare, showing that there was also a very dark side to him that he simply could not outrun. Despite these allegations, he remained, for many, a revered figure in Italian politics.

During Lucrezia’s second marriage, Cesare contracted syphilis as the result of his many infidelities, leaving him scarred and self-conscious. He was often seen wearing hoods or masks to hide his disfigurements. This caused him a great deal of anguish and extreme jealously toward others who were considered to be classically handsome. It was this jealousy, in part, which drove him to have Lucrezia’s second husband murdered.

After the death of his father, Pope Alexander VI, Cesare was imprisoned by his successor, Pope Julius. Upon his release, Cesare planned a revolt, but was apprehended once again and later exiled to Spain where he was imprisoned in 1504. Cesare made a daring prison escape forcing the Queen of Spain to put a price on his head, forcing him to remain in hiding while he planned covert operations in retaliation. He was finally killed during the siege of Vienna in 1507 at the age of 31. Upon his tomb was inscribed, “Here lies in little earth, one who was feared by all, who held peace and war in his hand.”

The Borgia's Trailer (Italian w/ English Subtitles)

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© 2010 Jaynie2000


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    • susanc01 profile image

      Melissa Spicer 

      8 years ago from Kentucky

      I bought this on DVD and it is awesome!

    • Jaynie2000 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Ironic that such a corrupt tale can bring you peace, but that's good. I've long held the same distrust. For me, the church is an organized hypocrisy. One can certainly worship without the pomp, circumstance and hypocritical, self-righteousness of the church behind them telling them what to think and feel and how to pray.

    • profile image

      Manuel L. Ponte 

      9 years ago

      It took me a long time to convince my American wife that I had good reasons to distrust the clergy. She finally learned that my distrust while my going to church was proof positive that I did it because it brought her contentment, even though I considered my actions somewhat phony and,sometimes, even bearable. Thanks to the behavior of the BORGIAS, however, I finally acquired the marital peace for which I have been yearning for more than 50 years. My wife no longer distrusts whatever jokes I come up with after I read, or hear, about Catholic clerical sincerity - or morality.

    • Jaynie2000 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      True. This family may have lived the original soap opera!

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 

      9 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      I thought our present-day "Soap Operas" were wild... Perhaps it is true: "Nothing new under the sun..."

    • Jaynie2000 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Thank you ram_m. Have a great holiday!

    • ram_m profile image


      9 years ago from India

      Excellent hub

    • Jaynie2000 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Thanks so much Lilly. It's going to make for great television, that's for sure!

    • LillyGrillzit profile image

      Lori J Latimer 

      9 years ago from Central Oregon

      This is a very interesting and compelling Hub. Great work. Thanks for sharing.

    • Jaynie2000 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Me too. I can't wait! It looks to be a great show.

    • A.A. Zavala profile image

      Augustine A Zavala 

      9 years ago from Texas

      I'm familiar with this corrupt family, and I'm excited that someone is going to have a show highlighting their treachery. Thanks for sharing.


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