[Review] Borgia: Faith & Fear ~ Season 2 Episode 1: "The Time Of Sweet Desires"

I’m sure you will all remember my review of Borgia: Faith & Fear’s first season and that I was rather impressed with it. I found it much more riveting, and much more accurate than the equivalent Showtime series “The Borgias”. And so when I had the second season of Borgia arrive through my door back in April, I couldn’t help my excitement. I probably should have reviewed them all sooner, but I’m getting a bit lax with updating this blog. So, given that I have two weeks off work, I thought I would rewatch Season 2 of Borgia and do a daily (except tomorrow because it’s my birthday) review of the episodes.
The first episode, named “The Time of Sweet Desires” is set in 1494. Right at the very beginning we see an event that actually happened in history (although at the moment I am unable to find an actual date, I will work on that). We see Rome in the middle of a huge storm, and a bolt of lightning strikes the statue of Michael the Archangel and it explodes into pieces. It was seen as a bad omen, pointing towards the overthrow of the Papacy of Pope Alexander VI (John Doman in this series). As the storm rages we see Pope Alexander VI praying before the alter in St Peter’s basilica. As he does so he is approached by two individuals. As he turns he sees that the men are his sons Juan and Pedro-Luis. They accuse him of besmirching the name of Borgia, that he is bringing the papacy to its knees. Rodrigo ends up stabbing his sons, only to be stopped by his friend and manservant Gacet. As Rodrigo comes to his senses he sees that the two men were in fact travelling monks, and he leaves the basilica with a scream. Later on we see that he has been affected by “melancholia” or depression, which has been making him hallucinate, and he ends up being given a concoction by the name of “vitriola” which will apparently cure him. The importance of this is seen much later in the series.
This episode is set 8 months after the end of the last season, and Cesare is in the Kingdom of Naples trying to avoid being sent to Valencia and to win the heart of Carlotta D’Aragona. This is another part of Cesare’s story which is true to the history. Cesare became obsessed with Carlotta and believed himself to be truly in love with her. Yet she spurned him. Even in the first episode we can see the obsession that Cesare has built up over this woman, and the jealousy that he faces over the man she is in love with Guy de Leval. Our first sight of Cesare is in a room with a lady by the name of Maria Diaz Garlon (known here as Contessa). Three guesses what they were up to…
Just when things are about to get incredibly steamy, Cesare’s eyes fall upon a map of the Romagna. He picks the map up, saying that he is a poor imitation of his dead brother Juan (don’t make me laugh, Cesare!) and that he wants to be King of Italy, that he doesn’t simply want to be Cesare Borgia now…he wants to be Caesar! This is a nice throw forward to the motto that Cesare will eventually take for himself: “Aut Caesar, Aut Nihil” – “Either Caesar, Or Nothing”. As he is studying his maps, he is burst in on by the Prince of Naples and told he is wanted at mass.
The Mass scene has to be one of my favourites in the entire episode. This is one of the first times we see Cesare’s full out atheism come to the fore. The Mass is to celebrate the feast of St Valentinus, and as Cardinal Caraffa is telling the congregation the story Cesare begins to make snarky comments about how we don’t even know if this Saint existed, and how the Christian church actually stole the Saints day from the Pagans, that it was originally a Pagan fertility festival and an “excuse for fucking”. He then leaves the service in a huff, leaving a shocked silence behind him. In history, Cesare was the biggest atheist you could ever meet, despite growing up within the Catholic Church. And as he grows throughout the series we will see him come to believe more in the Goddess Fortuna, rather than any Christian God.
Not a screencap from Episode 1, I just felt like putting it in…
In the meantime, Lucrezia Borgia is holed up in Rome. She is heavily pregnant with the child of Perotto (the guy who was stabbed by Cesare at the end of Season One), grieving for Perotto and dealing with the guilt of killing her own brother. She refuses to let anyone in her room, even her own mother. When Vanozza de Cattanei can’t even get Lucrezia to open the door she seeks out the help of the famous poet and musician Pietro Bembo (after randomly meeting him when she goes to see her grandson)
Well, Bembo does the trick. After being a creeper and playing his lute outside of her window, she invites him over and they begin a very strange friendship. Lucrezia seems to fall head over heels in love with him from the start, and asks him for a kiss. He refuses, saying they are better off with a platonic sort of love. Yet before he leaves, they spend their time playing music together and she grows to trust him; even going so far as to show him the daggers that were used to kill Juan. This bit of the story is way off the historical record however. Lucrezia didn’t meet Bembo until she was Duchess of Ferrara many years later. It seems as if Fontana may have been struggling with ideas for Lucrezia’s storyline and so pushed Bembo’s part in the story forward. However, as with everything Fontana does, it really works. 
Bembo & Lucrezia
Another rather excellent story arc I found within the first episode was how the consistory was trying to make use of Pope Alexander’s weakness. They all seemed to have an ultimate agenda so that they would be the power behind the papal chair, and Alexander would be a puppet Pope. Ultimately it is Giuliano della Roverre and Cardinal Riario Sansoni who are the ones heading the plot to try and find the dirty secrets behind Gacet. They end up convincing young Alessandro Farnese to help them, but in the end Farnese’s loyalty to the Borgia wins him over particularly after he is given a sword lesson from General De Cordova and told that in the end, loyalty should win above all. One of the main aims of both the conspiring Cardinals AND Pope Alexander is to get De Cordova and his Spanish troops out of Rome. The Pope comes up with a very interesting approach to this, saying that he had a dream in which a lion was eaten by a green camel, yet de Cordova slew the camel and saved the lion. Farnese interprets the dream as the Turks attacking Venice (which is precisely what the Turks are planning to do) and de Cordova immediately leaves Rome with his troops. Mission accomplished for both sides. Yet the cardinals are irritated that Farnese took part in the “fine piece of theatre”. 
Of course the majority of this episode circulates around Cesare in Naples. I particularly enjoyed the jealousy and hatred between him and Guy de Leval over Carlotta. Indeed it gets so bad that Cesare pulls Leval into a very clever trap, talking him into a bullfight. Of course, as a native Spaniard, Cesare was brilliant at bullfighting and never lost a fight. Leval willingly walks into it, ending up with Carlotta trying desperately to call the whole thing up, saying that if Cesare really loved her then he would back out even if it meant embarrassment for him.
Cesare & Carlotta
One of the final scenes in this episode is Cesare practising for said bullfight. After successfully stabbing the fake bull in the side, Leval appears and begins to taunt Cesare. He has heard that Cesare has withdrawn from the fight. Cesare mentions that yes, he has withdrawn for personal reasons. And Leval begins to taunt him even more, calling him a coward and half a man. Cesare warns; “careful monsieur, I have killed men for saying less”. Yet Leval keeps on and we see our very first glimpse of the man who will become the famous Valentino. He proceeds to beat Leval to a bloody pulp before tearing the head from the fake bull and stabbing Leval with one of the horns. The icing on the cake is when Cesare takes hold of Leval’s arm and twisting it so hard you hear the bone snap. 
I have to say I was highly impressed with the first episode of Season 2. They have really stepped up their game after Season 1, and you can tell that the cast have really grown into their roles. Stand out performances from Mark Ryder as Cesare Borgia and Diarmuid Noyes as Alessandro Farnese, although of course the entire cast did a marvellous job! Here’s to episode 2!

The Big Question: Was Rodrigo Borgia Really The Father of Cesare, Juan & Lucrezia Borgia?

As I mentioned in my review yesterday, G.J Meyer has presented some very interesting arguments over the paternity of Cesare, Lucrezia and Juan Borgia. It has long been accepted that Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI, was their father and legitimised them after he became Pope. However, it seems that logic says something different – although over 500 years later it’s not possible to prove it beyond doubt. In his book, Meyer looks at various source materials that point to the possibility that actually Rodrigo couldn’t have been their father. Today, I’m going to very briefly summarise Meyer’s findings (I won’t go into too much detail, you’ll have to buy the book when it comes out in April to find out more!) in bullet point format, and I shall leave it to you to form your own opinions on the matter.
  • How did Rodrigo maintain a relationship with Vanozza Cattanei and maintain such a large family without anyone taking  much notice, even in gossipy chronicles of the time?
  • All of Vanozza’s children were born in Spain, while Rodrigo was in Italy – they were also incredibly likely to have been conceived in Spain too. How could Rodrigo flit so easily between the two countries when travel took so long?
  • There is no concrete evidence that at any point before or after his election that he fathered a child or even had a mistress or indeed any brief sexual involvement with anyone except for with Giulia Farnese.
  • De Roos, who completed a huge five volume work on the Borgia family is almost completely at odds with everything we know about the Borgia myth – having compiled a ton of documents that go some way to show that Rodrigo wasn’t actually the father of the Borgia children. In his first volume he publishes a huge revision of the Borgia family tree!
  • Meyer states that the four Borgia children (including Joffre) had the same mother and father, and at least three other older siblings by the same parents. Included in this is Pedro Luis, who inherited massive wealth upon his fathers death (long before Rodrigo became Pope) as well as two other daughters.
  • At least 5 of the children, if not all 7, were born in Spain – Meyer mentions that this is likely although more source material is needed. Pedro Luis is never known to have been outside of Spain and there is no record of Cesare being in Spain before 1488 – indeed he says later to the Viceroy of Naples that he and his siblings were Spanish by birth. Burchard also speaks of Cesare as a native of Valencia. Rodrigo Borgia left Spain in around 1455 (around 5 years before the birth of Pedro Luis) and returned just the once, staying between June 1472 and September 1473. That was way too late to impregnate the mother of Isabella and Girolama Borgia, and way too soon to be responsible for Cesare or Juan. And so, how could he be the father of the seven, unless he was constantly flicking backwards and forwards between Spain and Italy? Travel in those days was slow, and to do it at such a frequency isn’t quite believable.
  • It is much more likely that the father of the children was Rodrigo’s nephew – Guillen Ramon Lanzol y de Borja, which makes them Rodrigo’s grand-nephew’s.nieces.
  • When Vanozza was pregnant with Joffre in or around 1481, Guillen died and Vanozza made her way to Rome with her children and came under the protection of Rodrigo. She never lived with Rodrigo but both before and after his reign as Pope she maintained her own household.
  • Documents stating that Rodrigo was the father of the children are quite suspect for instance, a bull legitimising a child with the name of Cesare de Boria and Cesare de Borja states that the child is the son of a cardinal and an unmarried woman – neither of the parents are named. If the bull were authentic, it is unlikely that it would have used the Spanish form of the Borgia name. There is also no mention of the bull in the Vatican’s records, which is odd as all authentic bulls were entered into a registry before they were sent off. It should also be mentioned that as the second son, Cesare had no need to be legitimised as he stood to inherit nothing.
  • While Rodrigo often called the children his “beloved son/daughter”, he also called everyone else the same – in letters he referred to reigning monarchs as his “beloved son/daughter”, and he called pretty much everyone he had dealings with by the same title. He also refers to Lucrezia as his “beloved daughter in Christ”. Such titles mean nothing, especially when the reigning pontiff calls everyone the same thing.
  • Vanozza Cattanei is never known to have stepped foot inside the Vatican and none of Rodrigo/Alexander’s enemies accuse him of sexual immorality – even Savonarola who hated Pope Alexander ever mentioned such things! Had he been accused of such things, Savonarola would certainly have said something in his famous sermons!
  • Rodrigo did not buy the dukedom of Gandia for Pedro Luis – he inherited much lands in Gandia upon the death of Guillen which later became the centre of the duchy. Pedro also lent Rodrigo a substantial sum of money in 1483, rather than being dependant on the Cardinal.
  • A Spanish royal brief has the name of Juan Borgia’s father omitted. All that can be seen is the words “The late illustrious” – were his father a cardinal, it would have been worded “most reverend”. This points to the fact that his father was a layman, rather than a churchman – and the deletion of the name suggests deliberate tampering.
And thus, Meyer comes to the conclusion that Rodrigo Borgia can’t have been the father of Cesare, Juan and Lucrezia (And Joffre, but everyone forgets about him). Although a brief overview, I haven’t gone into too much detail so as not to spoil the book for you all but rest assured the chapter itself is an eye opener. It has certainly made me question the age old assumption that Rodrigo was indeed the father of the three most famous Borgia children in history. It’s my next aim to get hold of a copy of De Roos and study it closely, comparing it to the conclusions made by Meyer. It will certainly be a very interesting thing to look at closer, albeit a lot of work as I would imagine much of the documentation is held within the papal archives.
This could certainly be a very interesting mission indeed….
Further Reading