The Death of Cesare Borgia – 12 March 1507

On 12th March 1507, Cesare Borgia lost his life just outside the town of Viana in Navarre. Following his escape from imprisonment in Spain, he had made his way to Navarre where his brother in law was King – whilst there, following his recovery after a rather nasty fall during his escape from La Mota, he continued his work as a soldier.

But on 12th March, everything was about to come crashing down. He and his soldiers were holed up within the city and Cesare believed that they would be safe from any sort of attack from the opposing forces they were fighting against. Why? Because the weather had turned. But this was the opportunity that the enemy had been waiting for – the alarm was raised that an attack was imminent and confusion reigned supreme.

Cesare dressed quickly in light armour and ordered his soldiers to ride out with him to meet the oncoming enemy. Cesare, in his excitement, rode out before his soldiers – he rode so fast that he outdistanced himself and did not realise he was alone until it was too late. Three men ambushed Cesare as he rode forward – as Cesare raised his arm to attack one of the men struck him underneath the arm with a lance. He was mortally wounded but still, having fallen from his horse, fought for his life but he was overcome. Stabbed countless times, Cesare Borgia died just days before the Ides of March and the death of his hero, Julius Caesar. He was just thirty-one years old.

Stripped naked, Cesare’s attackers covered his genitals with a stone to cover his modesty. The man had absolutely no idea that they had killed Cesare Borgia, whom they had been ordered NOT to kill if they met him in battle. It was only when Cesare’s squire, Juanito, was shown his master’s armour that they realised. The boy had burst into tears.

Cesare’s body was taken back inside the city of Viana where he was interred in the church of Santa Maria. His tomb was etched with the words:

“Here, in a scant piece of earth lies he whom all the world feared”

But in 1537 the Bishop of Calahorra ordered that Cesare’s remains be removed from the Church. He had no right to be buried in consecrated ground, according to the Bishop, due to him being such an evil man. His body was reburied outside the church and he was walked over for centuries until in 2007 the Archbishop of Pamplona agreed that Cesare could be moved back inside. Today, Cesare Borgia lies beneath a simple stone slab on the floor of the Church.

Last year, I penned a simple piece of fiction to mark Cesare’s death day. I’m resharing it this year for you all to enjoy again.

The rain poured from the sky in inky black sheets, soaking his skin as he lay on the forest floor. His eyes were starting to glaze over with the agony of the wounds that had been inflicted on him, blood seeping from the stab wounds that covered his bare chest and mingling with the freezing rain that trickled from his skin. Oh, how he regretted riding off with his vision so tunnelled by rage. Now he was alone, naked and cold as his life blood trickled away.

Every breath felt like torture, the sort of torture that he had inflicted on so many others during his time. A cough crackled through his chest then and he felt the sticky warmth of blood on his lips, tasted the metallic tongue upon his tongue. If he were a God-fearing man, he would be praying for his soul in this instance. But Cesare Borgia was not a God-fearing man – even when he had been forced to wear the crimson robes of a cardinal, he had never feared God nor had he believed. Fortuna was the goddess that he believed in. Fortuna was the one who had guided each and every one of his decisions since he was a young man – her hand had taken him from the College of Cardinals to ruling the Romagna. She had also overseen his downfall. He imagined her standing over him then, but her face was the face of his dear sister, Lucrezia. The rain soaked her beautiful golden hair and her normally beautiful face was stretched in a macabre grin as wicked laughter escaped the confines of her chest.

Oh Lucrezia. What will you do when you find out I am gone? I have done so much wrong by you. Please forgive me.

Because of his actions his sister had suffered. She had lost and she had grieved, and it had all been his fault. At the time he had cared little, but it was only when they had started to grow apart because of it that he had started to feel the smallest twinge of guilt. She had been his light, one of the few women that he had ever truly loved. And it was that closeness that had made their enemies spit spurious rumour.

He started to shiver then, the ice-cold rain hitting his skin and allowing the cold to get into his bones. The bastards who had done this to him had stripped him of his armour and left him completely naked, exposed to the elements, with just a red tile to cover his modesty. He supposed it was because they had no idea who he was. If they had any sort of idea, he would be in irons now rather than about to breath his last.

It was coming. Oh he knew it was coming. The pain was starting to numb now, and the cold was getting heavier. The cold wings of death were starting to shroud him. Cesare Borgia, he who had wanted to be King of all Italy was no longer for this world. He tried to think on his sister as his eyes dimmed, but the thought was cut off as death claimed him…

If you want to find out more about Cesare and his life, you can read more about him in my latest book – Cesare & Lucrezia Borgia: Brother and Sister of History’s Most Vilified Family

Ferrara Day 3 – Museo del Risorgimento e della Resistenza, Pinacoteca Nazionale & Monastery of San Antonio in Polesine

Our final day in Ferrara loomed and we decided to finish off the allowance of museums on our MyFE cards (highly worth the money if you ever visit Ferrara, 14 euros for 3 days. AMAZING). So we got up and headed out and made our way towards the Pinacoteco Nazionale (National Museum of Ferrara), taking a short pit stop at the very sweet Museo del Risorgimento e della Resistenza.

This museum tells the story of soldiers from Ferrara during a number of wars, with particular attention being paid to the soldiers who freed Ferrara from the Nazis in World War 2. It’s not a very big museum, but it really is very sweet and the exhibits are labelled in both English and Italian. I highly recommend visiting this place if you have a spare half an hour.

After this, we headed to the National Gallery of Ferrara which has to be one of my favourite places that we visited over the few days we were in Ferrara. I do love an art gallery, and the moment we walked in and saw the early Renaissance artwork I was completely in my element. The gallery is housed within the Palazzo Diamanti, a beautiful Renaissance era palazzo and the art held within date from the thirteenth century to the eighteenth. Whilst not on the same scale as the huge Uffizi gallery in Florence, this is still an art gallery that you can waste a good few hours in.

We swung back to the hotel following our jaunt around the art gallery for a quick pit stop. Once we were refreshed and sure that the lunch time ‘siesta’ was finished with, we decided to head across down towards the Monastery of San Antonio in Polesine – like Corpus Domini this is still a working convent and houses nuns, these ones of the Benedictine Order. San Antonio was originally founded by Augustinian hermits in an area that was once a high piece of land surrounded by water (hence the name Polesine) but in the 13th Century, Beatrice d’Este received the monastery as a gift from her father. She moved into the monastery as a Benedictine nun in about 1257 and since that day it has been home to Benedictine Nuns.

When we arrived, we were greeted by scaffolding and I found myself slightly disappointed. Thinking that the place was closed for visitors, we began to walk away but then a little voice came over the loudspeaker they have by their doorbell. It was a sweet little nun, talking in Italian, and she invited us inside. Now it must be mentioned that as this is a working convent, it isn’t specifically open to the public despite having ‘opening hours’ – the nun was so incredibly sweet and very patient as she showed us around the place, understanding that we spoke very little Italian. I was particularly awe struck inside the Church when she showed us a number of frescoes painted by the Renaissance master Giotto. They truly are stunning pieces of work despite being faded with age and it truly was an honour to see them.

I didn’t take any photographs inside this incredibly moving place – I was more concerned with listening to the wonderful Nun as she told us the stories and, more importantly, I didn’t want to intrude on her home more than we already had. They did have small gifts available however, which you could purchase with donations, so we picked up a couple of postcards of the frescoes and left a little more money for them as well. Honestly if you have a chance please do visit this wonderful place – it feels so incredibly peaceful there and I found myself feeling at peace in the presence of such a kind and humble lady as the Nun who we had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with.

The below photographs are not by me, however were found on wikimedia commons.

We returned for dinner that night to the Hostaria Savonarola, the wonderful resteraunt in the Piazza Savonarola, and we had the most amazing meal. Tagliatelli al Ragu and a beautifully tender pork shank, along with some very tasty local wine!

Ferrara truly is a beautiful place and it is chock full of history. You certainly won’t need many days to see it all, however, as it is a very small place. But it really is worth taking the time to visit. I fell in love with the place and all it’s crooked medieval streets as well as it’s wonderfully friendly people. It’s not every day that you can visit a place where you are allowed inside working convents to see where people from history were buried, or to walk the same streets as your favourite historical people. So please do visit Ferrara, and if you do make sure to pick up the MyFE museum card – excellent value for money!