Thursday, 20 September 2012

The real Lucrezia Borgia

One of the better things on telly at the moment has to be The Borgias. I find it splendid entertainment and unusually for me I don’t worry too much about the historical accuracy. Not knowing much about the era helps. I tend to look up the facts later to fill in the blanks and thought I would share with you my findings.

Now one of the many things I like about watching the Borgias is the delectable Miss Holliday Grainger, a little too sweet for some maybe but I think she’s lovely.

Holliday of course plays the infamous Lucrezia. A woman who legend has it was as scheming and vicious as her siblings, given to poisoning her enemies and whose name is a byword for scandal, incest and debauchery. Bring it on in spades I cry, let us be entertained! But is this reputation fair?

It seems Lucrezia was a pawn in the dynastic machinations of her father Pope Alexander VI from a very early age. She had already been twice betrothed by the age of twelve, only for the engagements to be called off as new dynastic imperatives called for new alliances. Her marriage to Giovanni Sforza may not have been quite as unhappy as it seemed in Season One when Lucrezia sought solace in the arms of Paolo the stable boy! Indeed, when her father decided that the Sforza alliance had outlived its usefulness and sought to get rid of her husband who was now surplus to requirements, Lucrezia warned Giovanni of her family’s murderous intent and he fled Rome: Hardly the act of a woman who wanted her husband’s heart on a plate. Applying political pressure, Alexander eventually succeeded in getting Giovanni Sforza to agree to an annulment on grounds of non-consummation due to impotency.
Now I had assumed Paolo the stable boy to be fictitious plot device but it seems that there was indeed such a young man who captured fair Lucrezia’s affections. Perotto was a messenger boy in the employ of Pope Alexander and it is believed that it was he who fathered the mysterious child Giovanni Borgia who was presented first as the illegitimate son of Cesare Borgia and later of Alexander himself. Shortly after being attacked in St Peter’s by Cesare, Perotto’s body was pulled from the Tiber and it seems likely that he paid with his life for his indiscretions. It was suspected that Lucrezia, who had spent some time secluded in a convent, was the mother of the child. Two and two were therefore put together by many resulting in the rumours of incest, fanned by some rather ungallant remarks from the bitter Giovanni Sforza, that haunt Lucrezia’s reputation to this day and are hinted at in the series.

Two marriages and many affairs later Lucrezia achieved a measure of respectability as Duchess of Ferrara; a loving mother and enthusiastic patron of the arts. She died in child birth at the age of 39. In her own lifetime she had restored her reputation but posterity it seems has been less kind to her.
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