The Best Borgia Novels

I’ve been on a bit of a fiction kick lately – mainly because I needed a bit of a break from the heavy non fiction that I’ve been looking at whilst researching for my current work in progress. It’s not been all Borgia/Renaissance novels either – I recently finished a wonderful book set mainly in 1940’s England, a tale told by an elderly woman who once worked as a servant in a large country house and I’m currently reading a murder mystery set during the Great Plague of 1665. However, as I was sat in bed last night I had a thought – I’ve read a lot of novels set around the time of the Borgia family, some of them excellent and some of them utter tripe, so why not do a blog post in and around the best of them. So here we are! Below are the best (in my opinion) novels set during Renaissance Italy and the time of the Borgia family.

The Borgia Chronicles – Kate Quinn

Kate Quinn’s Borgia Chronicles is made up of two novels, both with Giulia ‘La Bella’ Farnese as the main character and heroine. In these novels we read of Giulia’s journey from mistress to Pope Alexander VI, to an independent woman in her own right. We also have the stories of Leonello, a dwarf who is pulled into the service of the ruthless Cesare Borgia, and Carmelina, a young cook who has run away from her family in Venice. These books have been meticulously researched, winding fiction in with fact in a fast paced manner that truly draws you in from the first word you read. I thoroughly enjoyed reading both of these and highly recommend the both of them.

The Borgias: Two Novels in One Volume (Madonna of the Seven Hills & Light on Lucrezia) by Jean Plaidy

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The Borgias – made up of “Madonna of the Seven Hills” and “Light on Lucrezia” – was the first ever Borgia novel that I read. Originally published in the 1950’s, these two novels tell the story of Lucrezia Borgia and, looking back on it now, I’m actually surprised that Plaidy doesn’t use the myth of incest and make out that it’s true. The novels are exceptionally well researched and wonderfully written. I would say that this book (or the two separately) are the perfect read for someone new to reading Borgia fiction – it’s a great, perfectly and easily readable, stepping stone.

Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant

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Where should I begin with this utter joy of a novel? Sarah Dunant’s Blood & Beauty tells the story of the Borgias from the beginning of Cesare and Lucrezia’s lives. Dunant has really put in her research for this book and damn, you can tell. This has to be the most historically accurate Borgia novel I have ever read – and it’s my absolute favourite.

In the Name of the Family by Sarah Dunant

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In the Name of the Family is the sequel to Sarah Dunant’s “Blood & Beauty” – Dunant set the bar seriously high with her previous Borgia novel and, dare I say it, she has surpassed herself in this excellent work. This novel tells the story of Cesare and Lucrezia’s later lives and involves characters such as Niccolo Machiavelli, who witnessed Cesare’s rise to Prince of the Romagna. There are some incredibly sad moments in this novel – death stalks the characters and, if you know the history, it will truly bring tears to your eyes. This is another brilliantly researched piece of work and it truly makes you feel as if you are there, in Renaissance Italy, with these truly interesting people.

Rome – Day 3

Our final day in Rome and we saved the best until last. Our original plan had been to visit the Vatican museums on the first day however that plan had soon be quashed when we’d seen the length of the queues thanks to us not pre-booking tickets. So, having pre-booked we took ourselves off on the little walk from our hotel to the Vatican and managed to skip the lines before the official opening times stated on the website.

Let me tell you – those halls were empty. And it was utterly glorious as we made our way as quickly as we possibly could to the part of the Apostolic Palace that had been one of the main reasons for our visit to Rome.

The Borgia apartments.

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Early morning in the Vatican’s Hall of the Maps. It felt like we had the place to ourselves. A very blurry photo by me.

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The disputation of St. Catherine. Photo by me.

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Borgia coat of arms above a fireplace. Photo by me.

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Pope Alexander VI kneeling. Photo by me.

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The name Borgia carved into a fireplace. Photo by me.

The moment that we stepped foot inside the Borgia apartments and my eyes fell upon the Disputation of St. Catherine, particularly the figure of Lucrezia Borgia, my eyes welled up with tears. It was an incredibly special moment walking into that set of rooms and being completely and utterly alone. In a way it was almost as if, when you closed your eyes, you could imagine the family within the rooms as they spoke amongst themselves in the Valencian dialect. It took me a while to compose myself, let me tell you.

These apartments were build following Pope Alexander VI’s election in 1492 for his personal use and the frescoes that adorn the walls were completed by the Umbrian artist Pinturicchio in around 1493. The Hall of the Saints holds the most famous of the frescoes – the Disputation of St Catherine, which shows the members of Alexander’s family, whilst other rooms such as the Hall of the Mysteries of the Faith include the Adoration of the Magi and the Resurrection (in which Pope Alexander can be seen kneeling before the Risen Christ).

Below is a video I took whilst within the apartments, and whilst the place was still so incredibly quiet.

We spent a good hour sat in the apartments just drinking the whole thing in. Literally everywhere you look whilst in there you can see the Spanish influence – from the tiles on the floor to the pomegranates carved on the ceiling. It’s almost like you’ve walked into a Muslim influenced palace, such as the alhambra, and it is truly breathtaking. The second you walk through the door you know you are in the room of a Spanish family, and you know that these rooms are all about showing just how powerful the Borgia family were.

Of course, once we were done drinking in the solitude of the Borgia rooms we had an entire museum to look around. And we spent probably eight or nine hours wandering the corridors of the Vatican museums. Below are a selection of my favourite photographs from our visit.

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Photo by me

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View of St. Peter’s. Photo by me.

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This acorn was originally at the front of old St. Peter’s. Photo by me.

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Photo by me

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Anubis. Photo by me.

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Laocoon and His Sons. Photo by me

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Medici crest. Photo by me.

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Jesus bursting out of his tomb – gallery of tapestries. Photo by me.

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Ceiling of the Gallery of Maps. Photo by me.

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Gallery of maps. Photo by me.

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Gallery of maps. Photo by me.

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Borgia coat of arms. Photo by me

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Mini Cesare chilling on a game board in the Borgia apartments. Photo by me

We spent hours and hours walking around the museum, happily getting lost in various galleries and gazing at treasures from so long ago. The amount of history they have in those halls is honestly just mind-blowing and, despite spending so long there, I honestly think we missed parts.

It just gives us an excuse to go back though, right?

After leaving the Vatican museums – and me spending far too much time in the gift shop – we headed for St. Peter’s Basilica…

And then we saw the queue…

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The queue just kept going….and going…

So we decided to do something else. I’d seen signs dotted about for a Raphael Exhibition at the Palazzo Farnesina so we decided to hunt it down. We walked…and walked…and walked some more…only to find out that the place had closed earlier on in the afternoon. Back to the hotel it was, one last casual stroll back through the streets of Rome, so we could rest up before heading out for another fantastic meal.

The three full days we spent in Rome were honestly crammed full of activities – each day we walked well over ten miles but it was well and truly worth it. Every ache at the end of the day was worth it. We had an absolutely phenomenal time and although we saw loads, there’s still SO much more left to see. So there will be another trip to Rome on the cards at some point in the (I hope) not too distant future.

One thing’s for sure, though – this trip has given me so much inspiration for my next book! Let the writing commence!