Cesare Borgia’s Marriage to Charlotte D’Albret

Charlotte in “Borgia”
After Cesare Borgia finally got rid of his Cardinal’s robes, it was down to him to continue on the Borgia dynasty. Since the death of his brother Juan in 1497, there was no male descended destined to carry on the Borgia name and had Cesare remained in the church then there would be no chance of the name continuing. And so, with that in mind, Cesare Borgia left Rome in October 1498 bound for France. His own mission was clear. He wanted to marry Carlotta of Aragon,  and the new French King, Louis XII had agreed to support their marriage wholeheartedly as long as Cesare helped get him a divorce from his wife, Queen Anne. 
On Fridat 17th August 1498, Cesare Borgia formally announced his decision to leave the College of Cardinal’s. By 21st August, he had his way. Pope Alexander had demanded that the cardinal’s voted in Cesare’s favour. Indeed on the very day of the first consistory in which Cesare announced his decision, the French envoy had arrived with letters patent stating that he now had the right to call himself the Duc de Valentinois. The famous “Valentino” had arrived. 
In the months leading up to his departure for France in October 1498, Cesare spent money wildly. He was to determined to impress the French people upon arrival and made sure he would be magnificently attired at all times. This would soon change after spending time there, and Cesare would end up being the black clad dressed young man that would come to be epitomised throughout history. Not only that but he worked on his physical preparation too. He was after all to become a soldier. His preparations included bullfighting on horseback, a feat which amazed contemporary Italians at the time. Indeed it was once reported by Cattaneo that on 18th August 1498 Cesare killed 8 bulls in one sitting. There were times however when his physical prowess failed him, with one occasion ending up with him being knocked out when kicked in the ribs, head and chest after trying to jump onto the back of a mule. At the same time, Cesare was suffering with serious worries over his appearance. The early physical signs of secondary syphilis were beginning to manifest upon his face, which was disastrous for a man who was so intent on stunning the French court with his dashing good looks. It should be noted that Cesare was just twenty three years old at this point, so it must have been devastating for him. He couldn’t have known that this would clear itself up within two or three months  and would have been more worried about his matrimonial prospects being affected due to his handsome face being blotched by syphilis. And whilst he showed outward confidence, he revealed his insecurities at the last moment by continuing to sign himself as Cardinal Valentinus. A precaution in case Carlotta refused him to the unsightly rash upon his face?
On 1st October 1498, Cesare took formal leave of his father and travelled to Ostia where he boarded a ship for France. And upon the day he left Rome, the diarist Cattaneo wrote:
“The ruin of Italy is confirmed…given the plans which father and son have made: but many believe the Holy Spirit has no part in them”.
Cesare arrived in France in late October, departing from the shrine of Marseilles and making his way to Avignon where he met up with Giuliano della Roverre. This was a man who had always been a thorn in Cesare’s side, and whilst seemingly working with him in friendship during Cesare’s months in France was actually working in league with Ludovico ‘Il Moro’ Sforza. Della Roverre met Cesare two miles outside the city and rode into the city seemingly in complete amity. Yet they held off moving to the French court and Cesare grew restless, very likely suspicious of Della Roverre and waiting for news from Rome that would allow him to present Louis with the dispensation to allow his marriage to be dissolved. He certainly wouldn’t be welcome at the French court without it. He slowly made his way northward from Avignon slowly and visited Valence, the capital of his new duchy and on 7th November made a solemn entry into Lyon. But the French were unimpressed with his ostentatiousness and people found his manner brusk and rude. When the King’s envoy tried to present him with the Order of St Michael, Cesare brushed him aside and stated that he would only accept it from the King himself. 
When news of the King’s divorce arrived, it was arranged that Cesare should meet the King at Chinon and on 17th December Cesare arrived in the local area. The day after Cesare’s arrival, the King went hunting and met Cesare two miles outside of town. And later that day, Cesare entered the town and Castle with the King. It was the moment he had been waiting for. He could now impress the French Court and get his hands on Carlotta of Aragon. 
Cesare meeting Carlotta of Aragon in “Borgia”
The court did not stay at Chinon for long. They moved from Chinon to Blois and elsewhere. It was during his time with the moving court that he met Carlotta of Aragon for the first time. She was a lady in waiting to Queen Anne, and the meeting with Cesare can’t have put him in very high spirits. She was a determined young lady and detested the idea of marrying Cesare and openly declared to the court that she had no intention of becoming known as “La Cardinala”. But whilst he failed to win over his intended bride, he won over the French court and the King considered him an asset to the court. Indeed, Louis tried to convince Carlotta to marry Cesare but she remained steadfast, saying she would not marry Cesare Borgia unless her father willed it. 
When the Neopolitan envoy arrived and the issue of the marriage was pressed, the envoy replied:
“To a bastard son of the Pope, the King not only would not give his legitimate daughter, but not even a bastard child”
The King made one last effort to persuade Carlotta to marry Cesare he invited her to dine alone with him. His efforts failed and Cesare talked of leaving France to return to Rome, although this could potentially have been a way of placing pressure upon the King to find him a new bride. And find him a new bride the King did. In the early months of 1499, Louis suggested Charlotte D’Albret to Cesare and indeed Cesare wrote that she ‘pleased him’ greatly. He had every right to be pleased as she was said to be incredibly beautiful. Charlotte’s own feelings on the matter are not recorded, but she wouldn’t have had much choice in the matter after considering pressure was placed upon her by both her Father and the King. 
Charlotte in “Borgia”
Negotiations went on for over 6 weeks. Charlotte’s father was determined to get as much out of the marriage as possible and demanded to see the dispensation that allowed Cesare to marry as well at the 100,00 livres promised as a dowry to be paid in ducats. By the end of April 1499 negotiations were brought to a successful end, and on 10th May the agreement was signed in front of both the King and Queen, with the King formally giving his consent to the marriage.
Cesare and Charlotte in “Borgia”
Two days later, Cesare and Charlotte were married in the Chapel of the Queen’s apartments at Blois. It was followed by a huge wedding breakfast in the fields surrounding the chateau. The marriage was consummated that afternoon, and again in the afternoon. As was usual for the time there was no privacy when this happened. According to reports from the time, Charlotte’s ladies spied on them through the keyhole of the bedroom door and reported a rather embarrassing incident for poor Cesare. Robert de la Marck wrote in his diary:
“To tell you of the Duke of Valentinois’ wedding night, he asked the apothecary for some pills to pleasure his lady, from whom he received a bad turn for, instead of giving him what he asked for, he gave him laxative pills, to such an effect that he never ceased going to the privy the whole night, as the ladies reported in the morning”
But between running to the toilet, he did his duty and it was reported to his father in a letter that the couple consummated their marriage EIGHT times. They spent their honeymoon with the court at Blois and Cesare lavished gifts upon Charlotte. All of these gifts had been intended for Carlotta, 
Yet their time together was coming to an end. Events were taking place in Italy that needed taking care of, and Cesare wanted to hurry up with his soldierly exploits. Cesare was indeed due to accompany Louis to Italy commanding a squadron of heavy cavalry, with plans to attack Milan. At the end of July he left his wife and made to return to Italy.
Charlotte never saw her husband again. She did however bear him an heir, a little girl named Louise. And when Charlotte learned of Cesare’s death in 1507 she spend the remainder of her life in mourning. Did she love him? Personally, I believe that her “love” was simply infatuation. She knew him for such a little time that he must have seemed, to use a modern comparison, like a rockstar to her. And did he return that? I do not believe he loved her, as he never made the effort to go back to her and honestly? Cesare Borgia married Charlotte D’Albret more for political reasons and to help along the relations between France and Rome. After all, if he loved her, surely he would have made more of an effort to see her once he learned she was pregnant? His efforts (there were a few) to try and persuade her were in vain. The few letters he sent to persuade her to Italy fell on deaf ears, and the King even tried to convince her. Yet she herself stayed in France, having heard stories of his exploits in Italy and not wanting to go to her husband. She died in 1514 having only spent a few months in her husband’s presence, probably preferring to remember the handsome young man she had known back in 1499 rather than the impious warrior she had heard stories of. At the age of 32, she died at the Chaeau de la Motte Feuilly having spent seven years in heavy mourning for the memory of her husband.
Further Reading
Cesare Borgia: His Life & Times – Sarah Bradford
The Borgias And Their Enemies – Christopher Hibbert.
The Borgias; History’s Most Notorious Dynasty – Mary Hollingsworth.
This entry was posted in borgia, cesare borgia, charlotte d'albret, italian renaissance, louis xii, renaissance italy, the borgias. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Cesare Borgia’s Marriage to Charlotte D’Albret

  1. And she didn't catch his syphilis?

  2. Sam says:

    There is no evidence at all that Charlotte ever had syphilis.

  3. Invisiblgrl says:

    After watching The Borgias, my interest in their history and Cesare in particular was piqued. I've been reading everything I can get my hands on and I find speculating about Cesare's character and motivation endlessly fascinating. Anyway, I often come across your blog when I turn to the Internet for answers. I'm sorry you get so much hate mail, that's just awful. Please don't let all those stupid people discourage you. Your blog is AWESOME.

  4. Sam says:

    Thank you. Though I'd say watch Borgia over The Borgias 😉 Alas, people hate and it's something that I've come to deal with. I think it stems from jealousy O_O

  5. Kylie Cheung says:

    Hi! I love all of your incredibly insightful posts about the Borgias (especially Cesare). He was an incredible character and I wish I knew more about him. People are always talking about his great military career, which I'm super curious about, and yet I can't find much about it online… I was wondering, if you haven't already, if you would consider writing a post focused on that? Thanks, and again I adore all your work.

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