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.

24 June 1519 – Lucrezia Borgia dies

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On 24 June 1519, Lucrezia Borgia passed away after a difficult pregnancy. She had given birth to a daughter, Isabella, on 14 June who had been so weak that Lucrezia’s husband had almost immediately had the child christened. Immediately following the birth, Lucrezia suffered with a mild fever but it was thought that she would quickly recover – it was not to be.

By 20th June she was in such a dangerous state of health that her doctors feared for her life, particularly as she had not been purged of the ‘bad material’ (believed to be the accumulation of menstrual blood during pregnancy). Lucrezia suffered from fits so the doctors bled her and shaved off all of her beautiful hair. Incapable of speech and having lost her sight, her husband Alfonso despaired. She briefly regained some of her strength and the doctors believed that if she did not suffer another fit then it was likely that she would survive. But Lucrezia knew that she was on death’s door and dictated a final letter to the Pope (Leo X) in Rome.

On the morning of the 24th June, Lucrezia barely clung to life. She had more and more fits and her doctors tried everything they could to save her life. Nothing worked. She died later that night, at the fifth hour, just two months after her thirty ninth birthday.

All her life she had been used as a pawn in the dynastic ambitions of her father and brother and in Ferrara, as wife of Alfonso, she had finally found some peace surrounded by her children. She had grown to be an incredibly pious woman who was haunted by the sins of the Borgia and the vicious rumour that followed her everywhere she went. Even after her death her name was vilified as that as an incestuous, poisoning harlot – none of which was true in the slightest.

Lucrezia Borgia was buried in the convent of Corpus Domini in Ferrara where she was later joined by her husband and two of their children.