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Lucrezia Borgia was an Italian noblewoman and daughter of Pope Alexander VI. A notorious reputation precedes her, and she is inextricably, and perhaps unfairly, linked to the crimes and debauchery of her family.
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Lucrezia Borgia was the daughter of future pope Alexander VI, and her three marriages into influential families helped build the political power of her own family. Historians debate whether or not Borgia was an active participant in her notorious family’s crimes, but interest in her has inspired countless works of art, books, and films.
Lucrezia Borgia was born during the Italian Renaissance, when artists, architects, and scientists were reaching new levels of accomplishment and transforming their world. While famous figures such as Leonardo da Vinci were innovating their way into history, the Borgia legacy, conversely, is one of violent political corruption involving a power-hungry clan who sought to control large parts of Italy.
Lucrezia Borgia was born on April 18, 1480, in Subiaco, near Rome. She was the daughter of Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia (c. 1431–1503), who would later become Pope Alexander VI, and one of his mistresses, Vannozza Cattanei, who was also the mother of Lucrezia's two older brothers, Cesare and Giovanni. Lucrezia reportedly spoke and wrote several languages, among them Italian, French, Latin, and Greek.
Lucrezia Borgia was married for the first time before entering her teenage years. She was engaged to one nobleman and then another before her father had the engaements dissolved so that he could arrange for her to be married to Giovanni Sforza, 15 years her senior, who was Lord of Pesaro and Count of Catignola. Lucrezia’s father, Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, was named Pope Alexander VI in 1492, and Lucrezia was married a year later.
Four years later, Lucrezia's marriage became less politically advantageous, and Pope Alexander VI sought to have it annulled under the pretense of the relationship never having been consummated. While annulment negotiations were ongoing between the Borgias and the Sforzas, Lucrezia rested in a nearby convent. She had clearly consummated a relationship with some individual, however, because when annulment was officially granted on December 27, 1497, Lucrezia was six months pregnant.
Reports of her pregnancy were initially refuted, but in March 1498 a son, Giovanni, was born in secret (he wouldn’t be publically revealed until three years later). The child's paternity was never established, and Rome's gossips later wondered whether he was the product of incest, or whether Lucrezia was truly his mother. Two papal decrees were issued on the matter, the first stating that Giovanni was the illegitimate son of Cesare and the next stating that he was the illegitimate son of Pope Alexander.
In July 1498, Lucrezia married Alfonso of Aragon, the 17-year-old Duke of Bisceglie and son of the late king of Naples, and they had a child together. Unfortunately for Alfonso, by 1500, Pope Alexander and Lucrezia’s brother Cesare sought a new alliance with France, and Lucrezia's marriage to Alfonso was a major obstacle.
On July 15, 1500, Alfonso was stabbed several times, but he survived. On August 18, his luck ran out, when, as is generally believed, Cesare’s hired men to strangle Alfonso to death as he lay recovering from his previous stab wounds.
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