Lucrezia Borgia – A New Assessment

Lucrezia Borgia - 'Flora' Bartolomeo Veneto (1515).

Lucrezia Borgia – ‘Flora’ Bartolomeo Veneto (1515).

Lucrezia Borgia – A New Assessment

Callum Scott-Doyle

CLIO Journal of Ancient and Medieval History: Dickson College, Issue (2007)


The Borgia family, in particular, Rodrigo, Cesare and Lucrezia, have acquired a reputation as one of the most evil families in history. In popular history, Rodrigo (also known as Pope Alexander IV,) is portrayed as a merciless, lecherous nepotist who entered the church to further his own personal gain and Cesare as a merciless slaughterer and empire-builder. However, while historians tend to agree about the father and son, the life and personality of Lucrezia Borgia remains an enigma. While many are quick to make Lucrezia as evil as the rest of her family (a poisonous harlot of a woman who used her body and tongue to destroy reputations and families,) other historians have cast her as a weak-willed, unhappy woman who was bullied and forced into serving her father and brothers. But do either of these views truly represent Lucrezia Borgia?

In the first view, Lucrezia is portrayed as an incestuous, oversexed monster from an early age, starting with accusations that she slept with her father, Rodrigo Borgia, and her brothers Juan and Cesare, and frequently participated in the licentious dances Rodrigo organised for his own entertainment. According to Wykes, her first betrothed (Cherubio de Centelles) was said to have deflowered her at one of these very gatherings, and the young Lucrezia apparently enjoyed discussing the details of her sexual exploits in pornographic detail. As a young woman, Lucrezia is said to have used her body and her tongue as weapons in the court, spreading poisonous rumours about the enemies of her family and having affairs with any man who caught her fancy. In particular, she enjoyed playing members of her family off against each other. One of her favourite games was to write a letter informing either Juan or Cesare of the other’s sexual competence. This game caused many arguments and fights among the brothers, and is said to be one of the primary factors that contributed to Juan’s murder by Cesare. Lucrezia’s morals were also said to be horribly flawed: according to Hutchings (2000), after her second husband Alfonso of Bisceghe was murdered (again by a jealous Cesare,) Lucrezia mourned for a bare month before re-entering the Borgia court as cheerfully malicious as ever; many said she was sneaking back to her brother’s bed. In another display of heartlessness Lucrezia was seen on a balcony in the Vatican laughing and clapping as Cesare picked off criminals below with a crossbow! Lucrezia was also rumoured to have masterminded several murders of her own, with her favourite method of extermination being a ring on her finger that dispensed a poisonous powder with a flick of the wrist.

Click here to read this article from CLIO

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