The POPE Encyclopedia

by Matthew Bunson

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Pope from 1492 to 1503, arguably the most infamous successor
to  the  throne  of  St.  Peter, described by the Florentine
historian Francesco Guicciardini  as  "more  evil  and  more
lucky  than  perhaps  any pope before him.'' Born at Jativa,
near Valencia, Rodrigo de Borja y Borja was a member of  the
increasingly  powerful  Borgia family. His uncle, Alfonso de
Borja, one-time Bishop of  Valencia,  was  elected  pope  as
Callistus  III  in April 1455 and soon bestowed many offices
upon his nephew.  In  February  1456,  Rodrigo  was  made  a
cardinal  (without  ordination)  and  the  next  year became
vice-chancellor  of  the  Holy  See.  While  an  Italianized
Spaniard,  Rodrigo  proved adroit at political maneuverings,
amassing a truly vast personal fortune and  influencing  the
election  of  Sixtus IV (1471-1484). Meanwhile, he enjoyed a
decidedly unreligious life, fathering numerous children  and
earning  a  sharp  rebuke  from  Pope  Pius II. His favorite
mistress was the Roman aristocrat Vannozza Catanei  by  whom
he  would  sire  four  children:  Juan Cesare, Lucrezia, and
Jofre. Vannozza led a discreet life, and after his  election
to the papacy, Rodrigo married her off.
Roodrigo had long, harbored ambitions toward the papacy, but
he failed to secure  his  own  elevation  in  succession  to
Sixtus.  He  tried  again  after  Innocent VIII died in July
1492, using lavish bribes and promises and a reputation  for
administrative  skill to secure the needed majority of votes
by the cardinals on August 11, 1492. His initial acts seemed
to  point  to a promising reign. Civil order was restored in
the  Eternal  City,  a  general  reform  of  the  Curia  was
proclaimed,  and  a  crusade  against  the Ottoman Turks was
proposeol.  But  Alexander  quickly  forgot  his  plans  and
instead  devoted  his attentions to his precious causes: the
ruthless advaneement of the House of Borgia and wholehearted
fondness  for  riches  and  extravagant dissipation. His son
(Cesare was made a cardinal at the age  of  eighteen--one  of
five  Borgias  to be made princes of the Church. He had high
hopes for his first son, but plans (such as  the  throne  of
Naples)  were  cut  short by Juan's murder in 1497. Juan had
dined  with  Cesare  and  was  found  brutally  stabbed  and
floating  in  the  Tiber  the  next  morning. When Alexander
tearfully commanded his son's body be  dragged  out  of  the
water,  sharp-tongued Romans observed that the pontiff truly
was a fisher of men. Rumors placed the crime at the feet  of
the  pope,  but  real  guilt  almost  certainly  belonged to
Cesare, who was ever jealous of Juan's power.
The death of his son stunned  Alexander,  prompting  him  to
make  serious  efforts  at  reforming  his  life. His reform
proved fleeting. The bull  he  intended  to  issue  for  the
revitalization of the Church was never promulgated. Instead,
he sank back into assisting Cesare's bloody  subjugation  of
the  nobles of Rome and the Papal States. By the time of his
death, the States of the Church were essentially  a  fiefdom
of  the  House  of Borgia. He did involve himself in several
other notable affairs, such as the feud with the  Florentine
dictator  Savonarola  (who  was burned at the stake in 1498)
and the division of the New World between Spain and Portugal
through  a  bull  issued  in 1493-1494. He also celebrated a
jubilee, but in typical  fashion  the  sums  brought  in  by
selling  indulgences  were  given  to  Cesare to pay for his
campaigns. A patron of the arts, Alexander  restored  Castel
Sant'Angelo,  had  the  Borgia  Apartments  in  the  Vatican
decorated by Pinturicchio, and even had Michelangelo draw up
plans  for  a new St. Peter's. Alexander died quite suddenly
on August 18, 1503, his  demise  immediately  attributed  to
poison.  The  story  at the time was that he and Cesare (who
fell ill but recovered) had accidentally taken an evil  brew
intended  for  one  of  Alexander's  cardinals.  He  perhaps
actually died of malaria. His reign, looked upon as  one  of
the  darkest  in papal history, was subject to wild slander,
with   chroniclers   enthusiastically   reporting    orgies,
poisonings, and even incest. While these were exaggerations,
Alexander nevertheless epitomized the worst excesses of  the
period  and  the  need  for  genuine  reform  in the papacy.
Successor: Pius III.

(sebelum, sesudah)

Published by Crown Trade Paperbacks
201 East 50th Street, New York
New York 10022, USA
ISBN 0-517-88256-6

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