Cesare Borgia Part 3 – The Path To Marriage

Following Cesare’s departure from the church and into the secular lifestyle, Alexander VI began looking for a wife for his son. Obviously as a Cardinal he was not allowed to marry, but now he has formally resigned his cardinal’s hat he now had an important job to do – make good alliances for the good of the Papal states. This had been planned since before Cesare left for Naples to crown the King of Naples. But whilst Cesare was in Naples, playing at being peacemaker and discussing dynastic marriages for his sister as well as taking over his now dead brother’s estates in the area; he began to take delight in the pleasures of Naples. It is rumoured that whilst there he fell in love with a woman named Maria Diaz Garlon and spent the stonking sum of 20,000 ducats just to win her favour! Yet Cesare was already proving to be a hugely extravagant man who loved luxury, which must have really gotten to King Frederigo of Naples who had to bear the expense of having Cesare as a guest.

Portrait of a man, said to be Cesare Borgia

Cesare also managed to pick up a long lasting souvenir of his trip to Naples – he had come down with Syphilis, known as the “French Disease” to many and the “Naples Disease” after Charles VIII’s army picked it up in the town. But within a few months of getting back to Rome Cesare would have probably considered himself cured as the first stage of syphilis lasts between ten and ninety days. It was a disease that would haunt him for the rest of his life.

After returning to Rome on 5th September 1497 and meeting his with his father, it was decided that the hopes of a Borgia dynasty now rested on Cesare’s shoulders. But at this point in time Cesare was still a cardinal and thus could not marry. The answer was a simple one, Cesare would renounce the cardinalate and Alexander VI would find his son a wife. There were even rumours of marrying Cesare off to his brothers wife Sancia, and making young Jofre a cardinal instead!

Following his sisters divorce from Giovanni Sforza which was formally agreed in the December of 1497, rumour would fly around Cesare once more. A man known as Perotto (Pedro Calderon) mysteriously disappeared and it was thought in February 1498 that the young man was in prison for getting Lucrezia pregnant. By 14th February it was apparent this was not the case, he had been thrown in the Tiber. It appeared that Lucrezia and Perotto had been involved in an affair, and nine months before Perotto’s death Lucrezia went and stayed in the convent of San Sisto apparently exiled for her bad behaviour. Was she pregnant with Perotto’s child at this time? Was she whisked away to the convent to hide her misconduct at a time when her father and brother wanted to prove her virginity for the sake of her divorce? There were rumours also that the body of one of Lucrezia’s women, Pantasilea, was found with Perotto – an act of vengeance or removal of evidence of Lucrezia’s misconduct? It did not take long for these deaths to be attributed to Cesare and it has to be said that this one is really rather likely – he would allow nothing to stand in his way of his plans for his sister, especially since they were so entwined with his own, and the fact that he was so very close to his sister. Did he see it as an act of dishonour on Perotto’s part? Did he even have a part to play? It’s a question that is very easy to surmise based on rumour and what is “likely” as opposed to full scale fact. The evidence we have is of course based on stories and rumours.

Paulo, lover of Lucrezia in “The Borgias”. In real life his name was Perotto and he was definitely not killed by Juan. Because Juan had been dead a long time…

What of Cesare’s marriage plans following this incident? For a long time Alexander pursued Naples for his son’s bride, especially considering as how Lucrezia was married to Alfonso of Aragon this would only strengthen the ties between the two families. Yet, that idea fell flat after Frederigo refused to consider transferring Juan’s old estates to Cesare to compensate for his loss of church revenues. Yet a different avenue was found and Alexander sent people over to France to talk things over with Charles VIII. This was interrupted when Charles died, but when his son Louis XII took over he had huge reasons for being on good terms with the Pope – mainly because he wanted a divorce from his wife. Alexander jumped at the opportunity and in June 1498 sent envoys to France to get the marriage dissolved. It was also agreed that Cesare would go to France where he would try and ensnare Carlotta of Aragon who was residing at the French court, and thus on 17th August 1498 he officially announced his decision to resign as a cardinal. That same day envoys from France arrived with the documents that would allow the formal Duke of Valencia to call himself the Duc de Valentinois, and from henceforth would be known to the Italians as “Il Valentino”

Before he left for France, it became obvious that Cesare was starting to worry about his looks. He was spending a lot of time in athletic sports, often violent ones but he was worrying about his appearance especially when he started wearing grander and grander clothing to try and divert attention from his health issues. At a time when it would have been so important to make a good impression, especially with the prospect of a bride on the horizon. Secondary syphilis started to show itself on his body, and worryingly, his face – and he was only around the age of 23! And as mentioned earlier, he probably would have considered himself cured when it disappeared after the first bout, it must have been pretty distressing. So little was known about this new venereal disease that the likelihood of Cesare knowing the unsightly rash would go away on its own within a couple of months was pretty slim.

Francois Arnaud as Cesare in The Borgias.

On 1st October 1498 Cesare took formal leave of his father and made his way to France. And when he arrived, ostentatiously dressed, he disgusted the French court. They were used to much plainer clothing. In Italy a person’s outward appearance was essential to show how important you were, but in France this was considered much less important. And his time in France would change his outward show of importance and he would dress himself in black velvet at a time when he was more sure of himself than ever.

The woman that Cesare had his eye on was Carlotta of Aragon, and their meeting was not a comfortable one. She was determined not to marry him and made no secret of it saying she did not want to be known as “La Cardinala” – and she was already in love with another. He may have made a bad impression with Carlotta but he particularly won over King Louis XII as well as the rest of the French court. He was good looking, intelligent, loved feasting and dancing, and he got on well with the French. But he needed a result, he needed a bride and Carlotta kept refusing to budge. Louis even forced Carlotta into having dinner with him and Cesare to try and persuade her but to no effect. Cesare was dissapointed, and talked of leaving France, yet this was Cesare beginning to stretch out into politics on his own. After all, it was his first time away from his father in such a capacity and he himself became the driving force behind the French alliance.

It was Louis XII who ended up finding Cesare his bride. Her name was Charlotte D’Albret, an exceptionally beautiful woman and kinswoman to the French queen. Cesare was very enthusiastic over the match but what Charlotte thought is not recorded although she probably didn’t have much choice. The marriage negotiations lasted over 6 weeks as Charlotte’s father proving difficult, demanding to see the dispensation allowing Cesare to marriage and demanded many guarantees. At the end of April the negotiations were over and the marriage was agreed.

On 12th May 1499 Cesare and Charlotte were married in the Queen’s closet at Blois. It consisted of a private ceremony followed by a huge court wedding feast. Huge silk tents were set up in the castle grounds for a huge feast. The usual lack of privacy before the marriage was consummated did of course happen, and the couple consummated their marriage that afternoon, and again that evening. There is a rather hilarious story in which Charlotte’s ladies reported that Cesare was the victim of a practical joke in which he asked the apothecary for pills to pleasure his lady but the apothecary gave him laxatives. The poor boy couldn’t stay off the Privy for the whole night! Whether this story is apocryphal or not, Cesare proudly wrote to his father the next day informing him that he did his duty well and often (apparently over 8 times!!). The honeymoon was spent at Blois, and Cesare gave Charlotte so many beautiful gifts (which had originally been meant for Carlotta of Aragon). Yet the couple did not stay together for long at all and “the most content man in the world” began to prepare to join the French attack on Milan. At the end of July, Cesare left his wife behind and joined Louis XII at Lyon to begin the invasion of Italy. He would never see his wife again.

Further reading

Bradford, S, 1976, Cesare Borgia: His Life & Times, Butler & Tanner: London
Bradford, S, 2005, Lucrezia Borgia: Life, Love and Death in Renaissance Italy, Penguin: London
Hibbert, C, 2008, The Borgias & Their Enemies, Mariner: New York (originally published 1924)
Strathern, P, 2010, The Artist, The Philosopher and the Warrior, Vintage: London

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