The founder of the Borgia papacy was Alfons de Borja, whose papal name was Pope Callixtus III. His nephew, Rodrigo, would eventually become Pope Alexander VI in 1492 and his offspring, Lucrezia Borgia, Cesare Borgia, Gioffre Borgia, and Giovanni Borgia would cause him much trouble. Pope Alexander VI is considered one of the most controversial Renaissance popes for buying the papacy and proceeding to father several children by his mistresses that he invited to live with him in the Vatican. Lucrezia was his only daughter, and she has a notorious reputation linked to the corruption of the Borgia papacy itself.
Lucrezia was married off several times to increase the Borgia’s political power. Her first engagement during her teenage years was annulled before the wedding to promise her to Giovanni Sforza, of the Sforza family of Milan. They were married on June 12, 1493 in Rome. Four years later, her father annulled this marriage, as he no longer saw it to be advantageous to him. He dissolved it under the fact that it was never consummated, but Giovanni accused her of paternal incest and it would be found that when the annulment was granted in 1497 Lucrezia was six months pregnant. The pregnancy was denied and the child, Giovanni, was born in secret. Two papal bulls were declared for the child’s birth. The first stated that he was the son of Cesare, and the one that was not released to the public much later claimed Giovanni as the illegitimate son of Pope Alexander VI.
Lucrezia’s second marriage was to Alfonso of Aragon in 1498, who was the son of the King of Naples. They only had one child together as their marriage did not last long. By 1500, Pope Alexander and Cesare wished to form a new alliance with France, and Alfonso was stabbed and strangled to death. Finally, Lucrezia’s third and final marriage was to the Duke of Ferrara, Alfonso d’Este. Her father again set up this marriage, but the couple was able to relocate to Ferrara from Rome. This move had a profound impact on Lucrezia. She had several more children and became a patron of the arts. She became more religious after her child she had with Alfonso of Aragon in her second marriage passed away in 1512. Seven years later, she died ten days after giving birth to a stillborn baby girl at the age of 39.
Lucrezia’s reputation is characterized by the rumors of incest in between her marriages and the identity of her first child. It is reported that she had affairs with her father, Pope Alexander VI and her brother, Cesare. She was also noted to have attended the Banquet of Chestnuts, an orgy that her brother Cesare threw consisting of prostitutes and members of the clergy. While her sexual reputation precedes her, it is important to realize that she was a key component to her family’s plans to increase their political power. They exploited her, sexually and emotionally, for their personal agendas. It was only when Lucrezia moved away from her family that she began to develop her own interests and further herself from the Papacy’s political agenda. The Borgia Papacy is characterized by crimes and shameful acts, and Lucrezia was a helpless component of her family’s schemes.