Roderic Llançol (Alexander VI) elected Pope

Pope Alexander VI (1 January 1431 – 18 August 1503) (Spanish: Alejandro VI, Catalan: Alexandre VI), born Roderic Llançol, later Roderic de Borja i Borja (Italian: Rodrigo Borgia) was Pope from 1492 to 1503.

He is one of the most controversial of the Renaissance popes, and his surname (Italianized as Borgia) became a byword for the debased standards of the papacy of that era.

Roderic de Borja studied law at Bologna and after his uncle's election as pope, was created successively bishop, cardinal and vice-chancellor of the church, nepotistic appointments characteristic of the age. He served in the Roman Curia under five popes (Calixtus III (his uncle), Pius II, Paul II, Sixtus IV and Innocent VIII) and acquired much administrative experience, influence and wealth, though not great power.
On the death of Pope Innocent VIII on July 25, 1492, the three likely candidates for the Papacy were cardinals Borja, Ascanio Sforza and Giuliano della Rovere. While there was never substantive proof of simony, the rumour was that Borja, by his great wealth, succeeded in buying the largest number of votes, including that of Sforza, whom, popular rumor had it, he bribed with four mule-loads of silver. According to some historians, however, Borja had no need of such an unsubtle exchange - the benefices and offices granted Sforza for his support would be worth considerably more than four mule-loads of silver. John Burchard, the conclave's master of ceremonies and a leading figure of the papal household under several popes, recorded in his diary that the 1492 conclave was a particularly expensive campaign. Della Rovere was bankrolled to the cost of 200,000 gold ducats by the King of France, with another 100,000 supplied by the Republic of Genoa. Borgia was elected on 11 August 1492, assuming the name of Alexander VI (due to confusion about the status of Alexander V elected by the Council of Pisa). Giovanni di Lorenzo de' Medici, later to become Pope Leo X, sharply criticized the election and warned of dire things to come:
“ Now we are in the power of a wolf, the most rapacious perhaps that this world has ever seen. And if we do not flee, he will inevitably devour us all.

At first, Alexander's reign was marked by a strict administration of justice and an orderly method of government, in contrast to the mismanagement of the previous pontificate, as well as by great outward splendor. But it was not long before his passion for endowing his relatives at the church's and his neighbours' expense became manifest. Alexander VI had four children by his long time mistress Vannozza dei Cattani a countess of the House of Candia, three sons and a daughter: Giovanni, Cesare, Goffredo (or Gioffre or, in Catalan, Jofré) and Lucrezia. Cesare, while a youth of seventeen and a student at Pisa, was made Archbishop of Valencia (hence the nickname of Valentino), and Giovanni received the dukedom of Gandia, the Borgias' ancestral home in Spain. For the Duke of Gandia and for Giuffrè/Goffredo the Pope proposed to carve fiefs out of the papal states and the Kingdom of Naples. Among the fiefs destined for the duke of Gandia were Cerveteri and Anguillara, lately acquired by Virginio Orsini, head of that powerful house. This policy brought Ferdinand I, King of Naples, into conflict with Alexander, who was also opposed by Cardinal della Rovere, whose candidature for the papacy had been backed by Ferdinand. Della Rovere fortified himself in his bishopric of Ostia at the Tiber's mouth as Alexander formed a league against Naples (25 April 1493) and prepared for war.

Ferdinand allied himself with Florence, Milan, and Venice. He also appealed to Spain for help; but Spain was anxious to be on good terms with the papacy in order to obtain the title to the newly discovered continent of America. Alexander, in the bull Inter Caetera, 4 May 1493, divided the title between Spain and Portugal along a demarcation line. (This and other related bulls are known collectively as the Bulls of Donation.)
Alexander VI arranged great marriages for his children. Lucrezia had been promised to the Venetian Don Gasparo da Procida, but on her father's elevation to the papacy the engagement was canceled and in 1493 she married Giovanni Sforza, lord of Pesaro, the ceremony being celebrated at the Vatican Palace with unparalleled magnificence.
In spite of the splendors of the Pontifical court, the condition of Rome became every day more deplorable. The city swarmed with Spanish adventurers, assassins, prostitutes and informers; murder and robbery were committed with impunity, and the Pope himself cast aside all show of decorum; indulging in the chase, and arranging dancing, and stage plays. The wild orgies that Alexander was reported to have sponsored within the papal palaces are now generally considered by the Catholic Church to have been exaggerated.
One of his close companions was Cem, the brother of the Sultan Bayazid II (1481–1512), detained as a hostage. The general outlook in Italy was of the gloomiest and the country was on the eve of foreign invasion.

French involvement

Alexander VI made many alliances to secure his position. He sought help from Charles VIII of France (1483–1498), who was allied to Ludovico il Moro Sforza, the de facto ruler of Milan who needed French support to legitimize his regime. As King Ferdinand I of Naples was threatening to come to the aid of the rightful duke Gian Galeazzo — the husband of his granddaughter Isabella — Alexander VI encouraged the French king in his scheme for the conquest of Naples.
But Alexander VI, always ready to seize opportunities to aggrandize his family, then adopted a double policy. Through the intervention of the Spanish ambassador he made peace with Naples in July 1493 and cemented the peace by a marriage between his son Giuffre and Doña Sancha, another granddaughter of Ferdinand I. In order to dominate the Sacred College of Cardinals more completely, Alexander, in a move that created much scandal, created twelve new cardinals, among them his own son Cesare, then only eighteen years old, and Alessandro Farnese (later Pope Paul III), the brother of one of the Pope's mistresses, the beautiful Giulia Farnese.
On 25 January 1494 Ferdinand I died and was succeeded by his son Alfonso II (1494–1495). Charles VIII of France now advanced formal claims on the kingdom, and Alexander VI authorized him to pass through Rome ostensibly on a crusade against the Turks, without mentioning Naples. But when the French invasion became a reality he was alarmed, recognized Alfonso II as King, and concluded an alliance with him in exchange for various fiefs for his sons (July 1494). A military response to the French threat was set in motion: a Neapolitan army was to advance through the Romagna and attack Milan, while the fleet was to seize Genoa; but both expeditions were badly conducted and failed, and on 8 September Charles VIII crossed the Alps and joined Lodovico il Moro at Milan. The papal states were in turmoil, and the powerful Colonna faction seized Ostia in the name of France. Charles VIII rapidly advanced southward, and after a short stay in Florence, set out for Rome (November 1494).
Alexander VI appealed to Ascanio Sforza for help, and even to the Sultan. He tried to collect troops and put Rome in a state of defence, but his position was precarious. When the Orsini offered to admit the French to their castles, Alexander had no choice but to come to terms with Charles, who on 31 December entered Rome with his troops, the cardinals of the French faction, and Giuliano della Rovere. Alexander now feared that the king might depose him for simony and summon a council, but he won over the bishop of Saint-Malo, who had much influence over the king, with a cardinal's hat. Alexander VI agreed to send Cesare, as legate, to Naples with the French army, to deliver Cem to Charles VIII and to give him Civitavecchia (16 January 1495). On 28 January Charles VIII departed for Naples with Cem and Cesare, but the latter slipped away to Spoleto. Neapolitan resistance collapsed; Alfonso II fled and abdicated in favour of his son Ferdinand II, who also had to escape, abandoned by all, and the kingdom was conquered with surprising ease.

The French in retreat

A reaction against Charles VIII soon set in, for all the powers were alarmed at his success, and on 31 March 1495 a so-called Holy League was formed between the pope, the emperor, Venice, Lodovico il Moro and Ferdinand of Spain, ostensibly against the Turks, but in reality to expel the French from Italy. Charles VIII had himself crowned King of Naples on 12 May but a few days later began his retreat northward. He encountered the allies at Fornovo and after a drawn battle cut his way through them and was back in France by November. Ferdinand II was reinstated at Naples soon afterwards, with Spanish help. The expedition, if it produced no material results, demonstrated the foolishness of the so called 'politics of equilibrium' (the Medicean doctrine of preventing one of the Italian principates from overwhelming the rest and uniting them under its hegemony), since it rendered the country unable to defend itself against the powerful nation states, France and Spain, that had forged themselves during the previous century. Alexander VI, following the general tendency of all the princes of the day to crush the great feudatories and establish a centralized despotism, now took advantage of the defeat of the French to break the power of the Orsini and begin building himself an effective power base in the papal states.

Virginio Orsini, who had been captured by the Spaniards, died a prisoner at Naples, and the Pope confiscated his property; but the rest of the clan still held out, defeating the papal troops sent against them under Guidobaldo, Duke of Urbino and Giovanni Borgia, Duke of Gandia, at Soriano (January 1497). Peace was made through Venetian mediation, the Orsini paying 50,000 ducats in exchange for their confiscated lands, while the Duke of Urbino, whom they had captured, was left by the Pope to pay his own ransom. The Orsini remained very powerful, and Alexander VI could count on none but his 3,000 Spaniards. His only success had been the capture of Ostia and the submission of the Francophile cardinals Colonna and Savelli.
Then occurred the first of those ugly domestic tragedies for which the house of Borgia remains notorious. On 14 June the Duke of Gandia, lately created Duke of Benevento, disappeared: the next day his corpse was found in the Tiber.
Alexander, overwhelmed with grief, shut himself up in Castel Sant'Angelo and then declared that the reform of the church would be the sole object of his life henceforth – a resolution he did not keep. Every effort was made to discover the assassin, and suspicion fell on various highly placed people. When the rumour spread that Cesare, the Pope's second son, had done the deed, the inquiries ceased. No conclusive evidence ever came to light about the murder, although Cesare remained the most widely suspected.

Confiscations and Savonarola

Violent and vengeful, Cesare now became the most powerful man in Rome, and even his father quailed before him. Because Alexander needed funds to carry out his various schemes, he began a series of confiscations, of which one of the victims was his own secretary. The process was a simple one: any cardinal, nobleman or official who was known to be rich would be accused of some offence; imprisonment and perhaps murder followed at once, and then the confiscation of his property. The least opposition to the Borgia was punished with death.

Even in that corrupt age the debased state of the curia was a major scandal. Opponents such as the demagogic monk Girolamo Savonarola, who appealed for a general council to confront the papal abuses, launched invectives against papal corruption. Alexander VI, unable to get the excommunicated Savonarola into his own hands, browbeat the Florentine government into condemning the reformer to death (23 May 1498). The houses of Colonna and Orsini, after much fighting between themselves, allied against the Pope, who found himself unable to maintain order in his own dominions.
In these circumstances, Alexander, feeling more than ever that he could only rely on his own kin, turned his thoughts to further family aggrandizement. He had annulled Lucrezia's marriage to Giovanni Sforza — who had responded to the suggestion that he was impotent with the counter-claim that Alexander and Cesare indulged in incestuous relations with Lucrezia — in 1497, and, unable to arrange a union between Cesare and the daughter of King Frederick IV of Naples (who had succeeded Ferdinand II the previous year), he induced Frederick by threats to agree to a marriage between the Duke of Bisceglie, a natural son of Alfonso II, and Lucrezia. Cesare, after resigning his cardinalate, was sent on a mission to France at the end of the year, bearing a bull of divorce for the new French king Louis XII, in exchange for which he obtained the duchy of Valentinois (a duchy chosen because it was consistent with his already known nickname of Valentino), a promise of material assistance in his schemes to subjugate the feudal princelings of papal Romagna, and a marriage to a princess of Navarre.
Alexander VI hoped that Louis XII's help would be more profitable to his house than that of Charles VIII had been. In spite of the remonstrances of Spain and of the Sforza, he allied himself with France in January 1499 and was joined by Venice. By the autumn Louis XII was in Italy expelling Lodovico Sforza from Milan. With French success seemingly assured, the Pope determined to deal drastically with the Romagna, which although nominally under papal rule was divided into a number of practically independent lordships on which Venice, Milan, and Florence cast hungry eyes. Cesare, empowered by the support of the French, proceeded to attack the turbulent cities one by one in his capacity as nominated gonfaloniere (standard bearer) of the church. But the expulsion of the French from Milan and the return of Lodovico Sforza interrupted his conquests, and he returned to Rome early in 1500.


While the enterprising explorers of Portugal and Spain were quick to enslave the indigenous peoples encountered in the New World, the Papacy was against this practice. In 1435 Pope Eugene IV issued an attack on slavery in his Papal bull Sicut Dudum which included the excommunication of all those who engage in the slave trade. In 1537 Pope Paul III issued his own condemnation of slavery in his letter Sublimis Deus. However a form a indentured servitude was allowed, being similar to a peasants duty to his liege lord in Europe. In the wake of Columbus landing in the New World, Pope Alexander was asked by the Spanish monarchy to confirm ownership of these found lands. The bulls issued by Pope Alexander VI : "Eximiae devotionis" (May 3, 1493), "Inter Caetera" (May 4, 1493) and "Dudum Siquidem (September 23, 1493), conferred similar rights to Spain in relation to the new found lands in the Americas as Nicholas had previously done in "Romanus Pontix" and "Dum Diveras". Morales Padron (1979) concludes that these bulls gave power to enslave the natives.
Minnich (2005) asserts that this "slave trade" was permitted to facilitate conversions to Christianity. Other historians and Vatican scholars strongly disagree with these accusations and assert that Pope Alexander VI never gave his approval of slavery. Other later Popes continued to condemn slavery, such as Pope Benedict XIV in Immensa Pastorium (1741) and Pope Gregory XVI in his letter In Supremo Apostolatus (1839).
Thornberry (2002) asserts that "Inter Caetera" was applied in the "Requeriemento" which was read to American Indians (who couldn't understand the colonizers language) before hostilities commenced against them. They were given the option to accept the authority of the Pope and Spanish crown or face being attacked and subjugated. In 1993 the Indigenous Law Institute called on Pope John Paul II to revoke Inter Caetera and to make reparation for "this unreasonable historical grief". This was followed by a similar appeal in 1994 by the Parliament of World Religions".

Cesare in the North

This year was a jubilee year, and crowds of pilgrims flocked to the city from all parts of the world bringing money for the purchase of indulgences, so that Alexander VI was able to furnish Cesare with funds for his enterprise. In the north the pendulum swung back once more in favour of the French, who reoccupied Milan in April, causing the downfall of the Sforza, much to Alexander VI's satisfaction.
In July the Duke of Bisceglie, whose existence was no longer advantageous, was murdered on Cesare's orders, leaving Lucrezia free to contract another marriage. The Pope, ever in need of money, now created twelve new cardinals, from whom he received 120,000 ducats, and fresh conquests for Cesare were considered. A crusade was talked of, but the real object was central Italy; and so in the autumn, Cesare, backed by France and Venice, set forth with 10,000 men to complete his interrupted business in the Romagna.
The local despots of Romagna were duly dispossessed, and an administration was set up, which, if tyrannical and cruel, was at least orderly and strong, and which aroused the admiration of Machiavelli. On his return to Rome in June 1501 Cesare was created Duke of Romagna. Louis XII, having succeeded in the north, determined to conquer southern Italy as well. He concluded a treaty with Spain for the division of the Neapolitan kingdom, which was ratified by the Pope on 25 June, Frederick being formally deposed. While the French army proceeded to invade Naples, Alexander VI took the opportunity, with the help of the Orsini, to reduce the Colonna to obedience. In his absence on campaign he left Lucrezia as regent, providing the remarkable spectacle of a pope's natural daughter in charge of the Holy See. Shortly afterwards he induced Alfonso d'Este, son of the Duke of Ferrara, to marry Lucrezia, thus establishing her as wife of the heir to one of the most important duchies in Italy (January 1502). At about this time a Borgia of doubtful parentage was born — Giovanni, described in some papal documents as Alexander VI's son and in others as Cesare's.
As France and Spain were quarrelling over the division of Naples and the Campagna barons were quiet, Cesare set out once more in search of conquests. In June 1502 he seized Camerino and Urbino, the news of whose capture delighted the Pope; but his attempt to draw Florence into an alliance failed. In July, Louis XII of France again invaded Italy and was at once bombarded with complaints from the Borgias' enemies. Alexander VI's diplomacy, however, turned the tide, and Cesare, in exchange for promising to assist the French in the south, was given a free hand in central Italy.

Last years

A danger now arose in the shape of a conspiracy on the part of the deposed despots, the Orsini, and of some of Cesare's own condottieri. At first the papal troops were defeated and things looked black for the house of Borgia. But a promise of French help quickly forced the confederates to come to terms. Cesare, by an act of treachery, then seized the ringleaders at Senigallia and put Oliverotto da Fermo and Vitellozzo Vitelli to death (31 December 1502). As soon as Alexander VI heard the news he lured Cardinal Orsini to the Vatican and cast him into a dungeon, where he died. His goods were confiscated, his aged mother turned into the street and many other members of the clan in Rome were arrested, while Giuffre Borgia led an expedition into the Campagna and seized their castles. Thus the two great houses of Orsini and Colonna, who had long fought for predominance in Rome and often flouted the Pope's authority, were subjugated and the Borgias' power increased. Cesare then returned to Rome, where his father asked him to assist Giuffre in reducing the last Orsini strongholds; this for some reason he was unwilling to do, much to Alexander VI's annoyance; but he eventually marched out, captured Ceri and made peace with Giulio Orsini, who surrendered Bracciano.
Three more high personages fell victim to the Borgias' greed this year: Cardinal Michiel, who was poisoned in April 1503, J. da Santa Croce, who had helped to seize Cardinal Orsini, and Troches or Troccio, Alexander's chamberlain and secretary; all these murders brought immense sums to the Pope. About Cardinal Ferrari's death, there is more doubt; he probably died of fever, but Alexander VI immediately confiscated his goods anyway. The war between France and Spain for the possession of Naples dragged on, and Alexander VI was forever intriguing, ready to ally himself with whichever power promised the most advantageous terms at any moment. He offered to help Louis XII on condition that Sicily be given to Cesare, and then offered to help Spain in exchange for Siena, Pisa and Bologna.
Although there is no doubt that Alexander VI liked to eliminate any cardinal and immediately confiscate his property, there is no sufficient evidence on the methods used in these murders. It has been suggested that the family used their favorite poison Cantarella, an arsenic variation, which was offered to their poor victim in a form of drink with an innovative nickname, the 'liquor of succession'. Since raw forms of arsenic, known at that time, were not immediately fatal, Alexander VI must have had a method invented for the preparation of this substance, but no confirmation of this has survived. The famous cup of Borgia, a golden cup with a hidden area storing the poison so it could be mixed with the wine, is often mentioned as the family's favorite murdering method, and it has been the base for many legendary and science fiction stories, including Agatha Christie's short story The Apples of Hesperides published in the 1947 collection The Labours of Hercules.


Burchard recorded the events that surrounded the death of the Pope. Cesare was preparing for another expedition in August 1503 when, after he and Alexander had dined with Cardinal Adriano da Corneto on August 6, they were taken ill with fever. Cesare had eventually recovered, but Alexander VI was too old to have any chance. According to Burchard, Alexander VI's stomach became swollen and turned to liquid, while his face became wine-coloured and his skin began to peel off. Finally his stomach and bowels bled profusely. After more than a week of intestinal bleeding and convulsive fevers, and after accepting last rites and making a confession, the despairing Alexander VI expired on 18 August 1503 at the age of 72. He is believed to have uttered the last words "Wait a minute" before expiring.
His death was followed by scenes of wild disorder, and Cesare, too ill to attend to the business himself, sent Don Michelotto, his chief bravo, to seize the Pope's treasures before the death was publicly announced. When the body was exhibited to the people the next day it was in a shocking state of decomposition. Writing in his Liber Notarum, Burchard elaborates: "The face was very dark, the colour of a dirty rag or a mulberry, and was covered all over with bruise-coloured marks. The nose was swollen; the tongue had bent over in the mouth, completely double, and was pushing out the lips which were, themselves, swollen. The mouth was open and so ghastly that people who saw it said they had never seen anything like it before." It has been suggested that, having taken into account the unusual level of decomposition, Alexander VI was accidentally poisoned to death by his son with Cantarella (which was prepared to eliminate Cardinal Adriano), although some commentaries (including the Encyclopædia Britannica) doubt these stories and attribute Alexander's death to malaria, at that time prevalent in Rome, or to another such pestilence. The ambassador of Ferrara wrote to Duke Ercole that it was no wonder the pope and the duke were sick because nearly everyone in Rome was ill as a consequence of bad air ("per la mala condictione de aere").
Burchard described how the Pope's mouth foamed like a kettle over a fire and how the body began to swell so much that it became as wide as it was long. The Venetian ambassador reported that Alexander VI's body was "the ugliest, most monstrous and horrible dead body that was ever seen, without any form or likeness of humanity". Finally the body began to release sulphurous gasses from every orifice. Burchard records that he had to jump on the body to jam it into the undersized coffin and covered it with an old carpet, the only surviving furnishing in the room.
Such was Alexander VI's unpopularity that the priests of St. Peter's Basilica refused to accept the body for burial until forced to do so by papal staff. Only four prelates attended the Requiem Mass. Alexander's successor on the Throne of St. Peter, Francesco Todeschini-Piccolomini, who assumed the name of Pope Pius III (1503), forbade the saying of a Mass for the repose of Alexander VI's soul, saying, "It is blasphemous to pray for the damned". After a short stay, the body was removed from the crypts of St. Peter's and installed in a less well-known church, the Spanish national church of Santa Maria in Monserrato degli Spagnoli.

Rodrigo Borgia, born at Xativa, near Valencia, in Spain, 1 January, 1431; died in Rome, 18 August, 1503. His parents were Jofre Lançol and Isabella Borja, sister of Cardinal Alfonso Borja, later Pope Callixtus III.
The young Rodrigo had not yet definitely chosen his profession when the elevation of his uncle to the papacy (1455) opened up new prospects to his ambition. He was adopted into the immediate family of Callixtus and was known henceforward to the Italians as Rodrigo Borgia. Like so many other princely cadets, he was obtruded upon the Church, the question of a clerical vocation being left completely out of consideration. After conferring several rich benefices on him, his uncle sent him for a short year to study law at the University of Bologna. In 1456, at the age of twenty-five, he was made Cardinal Deacon of St. Nicolo in Carcere, and held that title until 1471, when he became Cardinal-Bishop of Albano; in 1476 he was made Cardinal-Bishop of Porto and Dean of the Sacred College (Eubel, Hierarchia Catholica, II, 12). His official position in the Curia after 1457 was that of Vice-Chancellor of the Roman Church, and though many envied him this lucrative office he seems in his long administration of the Papal Chancery to have given general satisfaction. Even Guicciardini admits that "in him were combined rare prudence and vigilance mature reflection, marvellous power of persuasion, skill and capacity for the conduct of the most difficult affairs". On the other hand, the list of archbishoprics, bishoprics, abbacies, and other dignities held by him, as enumerated by the Bishop of Modena in a letter to the Duchess of Ferrara (Pastor, History of the Popes, V, 533, English tr.) reads like the famous catalogue of Leporello; and since, notwithstanding the magnificence of his household and his passion for card-playing, he was strictly abstemious in eating and drinking, and a careful administrator, he became one of the wealthiest men of his time. In his twenty-ninth year he drew a scathing letter of reproof from Pope Pius II for misconduct in Sienna which had been so notorious as to shock the whole town and court (Raynaldus Ann. eccl. ad. an. 1460, n. 31). Even after his ordination to the priesthood, in 1468, he continued his evil ways. His contemporaries praise his handsome and imposing figure, his cheerful countenance, persuasive manner, brilliant conversation, and intimate mastery of the ways of polite society. The best portrait of him is said to be that painted by Pinturicchio in the Appartimento Borgia at the Vatican; Yriarte (Autour des Borgia, 79) praises its general air of grandeur incontestable. Towards 1470 began his relations with the Roman lady, Vanozza Catanei, the mother of his four children: Juan, Caesar, Lucrezia and Jofre, born, respectively according to Gregorovius (Lucrezia Borgia 13) in 1474, 1476, 1480, and 1482.

Borgia, by a bare two-thirds majority secured by his own vote, was proclaimed Pope on the morning of 11 Aug., 1492, and took the name of Alexander VI. [For details of the conclave see Pastor, "Hist. of the Popes", (German ed., Freiburg, 1895), III, 275-278; also Am. Cath. Quart. Review, April, 1900.] That he obtained the papacy through simony was the general belief (Pastor, loc. cit.) and is not improbable (Raynaldus, Ann. eccl. ad an. 1492, n. 26), though it would be difficult to prove it juridically, at any rate, as the law then stood the election was valid. There is no irresistible evidence that Borgia paid anyone a ducat for his vote; Infessura's tale of mule-loads of silver has long since been discredited. Pastor's indictment, on closer inspection, needs some revision, for he states (III, 277) that eight of the twenty-three electors, viz. della Rovere, Piccolomini, Medici, Caraffa, Costa, Basso, Zeno, and Cibò, held out to the end against Borgia. If that were true, Borgia could not have secured a two-thirds majority. All we can affirm with certainty is that the determining factor of this election was the accession to Borgia of Cardinal Ascanio Sforza's vote and influence, it is almost equally certain that Sforza's course was dictated not by silver, but by the desire to be the future Pontiff's chief adviser.

The elevation to the papacy of one who for thirty-five years had conducted the affairs of the Roman chancery with rare ability and industry met with general approbation; we find no evidence of the "alarm and horror" of which Guicciardini speaks. To the Romans especially, who had come to regard Borgia as one of themselves, and who predicted a pontificate at once splendid and energetic, the choice was most acceptable; and they manifested their joy in bonfires, torchlight processions, garlands of flowers, and the erection of triumphal arches with extravagant inscriptions. At his coronation in St. Peter's (26 Aug.), and during his progress to St. John Lateran, he was greeted with an ovation, "greater", says the diarist, "than any Pontiff had ever received". He proceeded at once to justify this good opinion of the Romans by putting an end to the lawlessness which reigned in the city, the extent of which we can infer from the statement of Infessura that within a few months over two hundred and twenty assassinations had taken place. Alexander ordered investigations to be made, every culprit discovered to be hanged on the spot and his house to be razed to the ground. He divided the city into four districts, placing over each a magistrate with plenary powers for the maintenance of order; in addition, he reserved the Tuesday of each week as a day on which any man or woman could lay his or her grievances before himself personally; "and", says the diarist, "he set about dispensing justice in an admirable manner." This vigorous method of administering justice soon changed the face of the city, and was ascribed by the grateful populace to "the interposition of God."

Alexander next turned his attention to the defence and embellishment of the Eternal City. He changed the Mausoleum of Adrian into a veritable fortress capable of sustaining a siege. By the fortification of Torre di Nona, he secured the city from naval attacks. He deserves to be called the founder of the Leonine City, which he transformed into the most fashionable quarter of Rome. His magnificent Via Alessandrina, now called Borgo Nuovo, remains to the present day the grand approach to St. Peter's. Under his direction, Pinturicchio adorned the Appartimento Borgia in the Vatican, pointing the way to his immortal disciple, Raphael. In addition to the structures erected by himself, his memory is associated with the many others built by monarchs and cardinals at his instigation. During his reign Bramante designed for Ferdinand and Isabella that exquisite architectural gem, the Tempietto, on the traditional site of St. Peter's martyrdom. If not Bramante, some other great architect, equally attracted to Rome by the report of the Pope's liberality, built for Cardinal Riario the magnificent palace of the Cancellaria. In 1500, the ambassador of Emperor Maximilian laid the cornerstone of the handsome national church of the Germans, Santa Maria dell' Anima. Not to be outdone, the French Cardinal Briçonnet erected SS. Trinità dei Monti, and the Spaniards Santa Maria di Monserrato. To Alexander we owe the beautiful ceiling of Santa Maria Maggiore, in the decoration of which tradition says he employed the first gold brought from America by Columbus.

Although he laid no great claim to learning, he fostered literature and science. As cardinal he had written two treatises on canonical subjects and a defence of the Christian faith. He rebuilt the Roman University and made generous provision for the support of the professors. He surrounded himself with learned men and had a special predilection for jurists. His fondness for theatrical performances encouraged the development of the drama. He loved pontifical ceremonies, to which his majestic figure lent grace and dignity. He listened to good sermons with a critical ear, and admired fine music. In 1497, Alexander decreed that the "Praefectus Sacrarii Pontificii", commonly called "Sacristan of the Pope", but virtually parish-priest of the Vatican and keeper of the Pope's conscience, should be permanently and exclusively a prelate chosen from the Augustinian Order, an arrangement that still endures.

Alexander earned the enmity of Spain, the obloquy of many narrow minded contemporaries, and the gratitude of posterity, by his tolerant policy towards the Jews, whom he could not be coerced into banishing or molesting. The concourse of pilgrims to Rome in the Jubilee year, 1500, was a magnificent demonstration of the depth and universality of the popular faith. The capacity of the city to house and feed so many thousands of visitors from all parts of Europe was taxed to the utmost, but Alexander spared no expense or pains to provide for the security and comfort of his guests. To maintain peace among Christians and to form a coalition of the European Powers against the Turks was the policy he had inherited from his uncle. One of the first of his public acts was to prevent a collision between Spain and Portugal over their newly-discovered territories, by drawing his line of demarcation, an act of truly peaceful import, and not of usurpation and ambition [Civiltà Cattolica (1865), I, 665-680]. He did his best to dissuade Charles VIII of France from his projected invasion of Italy; if he was unsuccessful, the blame is in no slight degree due to the unpatriotic course of that same Giuliano della Rovere who later, as Julius II, made futile efforts to expel the "barbarians" whom he himself had invited. Alexander issued a wise decree concerning the censorship of books, and sent the first missionaries to the New World.
Notwithstanding these and similar actions, which might seem to entitle him to no mean place in the annals of the papacy, Alexander continued as Pope the manner of life that had disgraced his cardinalate (Pastor, op. cit., III, 449 152). A stern Nemesis pursued him till death in the shape of a strong parental affection for his children. The report of the Ferrarese ambassador, that the new Pope had resolved to keep them at a distance from Rome, is quite credible, for all his earlier measures for their advancement pointed towards Spain. While still a cardinal, he had married one daughter, Girolama, to a Spanish nobleman. He had bought for a son, Pedro Luis, from the Spanish monarch the Duchy of Gandia, and when Pedro died soon after he procured it for Juan, his oldest surviving son by Vanozza. This ill-starred young man was married to a cousin of the King of Spain, and became grandfather to St. Francis Borgia, whose virtues went a great way towards atoning for the vices of his kin. The fond father made a great mistake when he selected his boy Caesar as the ecclesiastical representative of the Borgias. In 1480, Pope Innocent VIII made the child eligible for Orders by absolving him from the ecclesiastical irregularity that followed his birth de episcopo cardinali et conjugatâ, and conferred several Spanish benefices on him, the last being the Bishopric of Pampeluna, in the neighbourhood of which, by a strange fatality, he eventually met his death. A week after Alexander's coronation he appointed Caesar, now eighteen years old, to the Archbishopric of Valencia; but Caesar neither went to Spain nor ever took Orders. The youngest son, Jofre, was also to be inflicted upon the Church of Spain. A further evidence that the Pope had determined to keep his children at a distance from court is that his daughter Lucrezia was betrothed to a Spanish gentleman, the marriage, however, never took place. It had already become the settled policy of the popes to have a personal representative in the Sacred College, and so Alexander chose for this confidential position Cardinal Giovanni Borgia, his sister's son. The subsequent abandonment of his good resolutions concerning his children may safely be ascribed to the evil counsels of Ascanio Sforza, whom Borgia had rewarded with the vice-chancellorship, and who was virtually his prime minister. The main purpose of Ascanio's residence at the papal court was to advance the interests of his brother, Lodovico il Moro, who had been regent of Milan for so many years, during the minority of their nephew Gian Galeazzo, that he now refused to surrender the reins of government, though the rightful duke had attained his majority. Gian Galeazzo was powerless to assert his rights; but his more energetic wife was granddaughter to King Ferrante of Naples, and her incessant appeals to her family for aid left Lodovico in constant dread of Neapolitan invasion. Alexander had many real grievances against Ferrante, the latest of which was the financial aid the King had given to the Pope's vassal, Virginio Orsini, in the purchase of Cervetri and Anguillara, without Alexander's consent. In addition to the contempt of the papal authority involved in the transaction, this accession of strength to a baronial family already too powerful could not but be highly displeasing. Alexander was, therefore, easily induced to enter a defensive alliance with Milan and Venice; the league was solemnly proclaimed, 25 April, 1493. It was cemented by the first of Lucrezia's marriages. Her first husband was a cousin of Ascanio, Giovanni Sforza, Lord of Pesaro. The wedding was celebrated in the Vatican in the presence of the Pope, ten cardinals, and the chief nobles of Rome with their ladies, the revelries of the occasion, even when exaggerations and rumours are dismissed, remain a blot upon the character of Alexander. Ferrante talked of war, but, through the mediation of Spain, he came to terms with the Pope and, as a pledge of reconciliation, gave his granddaughter, Sancia, in marriage to Alexander's youngest son Jofre, with the principality of Squillace as dower. Caesar Borgia was created Cardinal 20 September. Ferrante's reconciliation with the Pope came none too soon.
A few days after peace had been concluded, an envoy of King Charles VIII arrived in Rome to demand the investiture of Naples for his master. Alexander returned a positive refusal, and when Ferrante died, January, 1494, neglecting French protests and threats, he confirmed the succession of Ferrante's son, Alfonso II, and sent his nephew, Cardinal Giovanni Borgia, to Naples to crown him. The policy of Alexander was dictated not only by a laudable desire to maintain the peace of Italy, but also because he was aware that a strong faction of his cardinals, with the resolute della Rovere at their head, was promoting the invasion of Charles as a means towards deposing him on the twofold charge of simony and immorality. In September, 1494, the French crossed the Alps; on the last day of that year they made their entry into Rome, needing no other weapon in their march through the peninsula, as Alexander wittily remarked (Commines vii, 15), than the chalk with which they marked out the lodgings of the troops. The barons of the Pope deserted him one after the other. Colonna and Savelli were traitors from the beginning, but he felt most keenly the defection of Virginio Orsini, the commander of his army. Many a saintlier pope than Alexander VI would have made the fatal mistake of yielding to brute force and surrendering unconditionally to the conqueror of Italy; the most heroic of the popes could not have sustained the stability of the Holy See at this crucial moment with greater firmness. From the crumbling ramparts of St. Angelo, the defences of which were still incomplete, he looked calmly into the mouth of the French cannon; with equal intrepidity he faced the cabal of della Rovere's cardinals, clamorous for his deposition. At the end of a fortnight it was Charles who capitulated. He acknowledged Alexander as true Pope, greatly to the disgust of della Rovere, and "did his filial obedience", says Commines, "with all imaginable humility"; but he could not extort from the Pontiff an acknowledgment of his claims to Naples. Charles entered Naples, 22 February, 1495, without striking a blow. At his approach the unpopular Alfonso abdicated in favour of his son Ferrantino, the latter, failing to receive support, retired to seek the protection of Spain. Whilst Charles wasted over two months in fruitless attempts to induce the Pope by promises and threats to sanction his usurpation, a powerful league, consisting of Venice, Milan, the Empire, Spain, and the Holy See, was formed against him. Finally, on 12 May, he crowned himself, but in the following July he was cutting his way home through the ranks of the allied Italians. By the end of the year the French had re-crossed into France. No one wished for their return, except the restless della Rovere, and the adherents of Savonarola. The story of the Florentine friar will be related elsewhere, here it suffices to note that Alexander's treatment of him was marked by extreme patience and forbearance.
The French invasion was the turning point in the political career of Alexander VI. It had taught him that if he would be safe in Rome and be really master in the States of the Church, he must curb the insolent and disloyal barons who had betrayed him in his hour of danger. Unfortunately, this laudable purpose became more and more identified in his mind with schemes for the aggrandizement of his family. There was no place in his programme for a reform of abuses. Quite the contrary; in order to obtain money for his military operations he disposed of civil and spiritual privileges and offices in a scandalous manner. He resolved to begin with the Orsini, whose treason at the most critical moment had reduced him to desperate straits. The time seemed opportune; for Virginio, the head of the house, was a prisoner in the hands of Ferrantino. As commander of his troops he selected his youthful son Juan, Duke of Gandia. The struggle dragged on for months. The minor castles of the Orsini surrendered, but Bracciano, their main fortress, resisted all the efforts of the pontifical troops. They were finally obliged to raise the siege, and on 25 January, 1497, they were completely routed at Soriano. Both sides were now disposed to peace. On Payment of 50,000 golden florins the Orsini received back all their castles except Cervetri and Anguillara, which had been the original cause of their quarrel with the Pope. In order to reduce the strong fortress of Ostia, held by French troops for Cardinal della Rovere, Alexander wisely invoked the aid of Gonsalvo de Cordova and his Spanish veterans. It surrendered to the "Great Captain" within two weeks. Unsuccessful in obtaining for his family the possessions of the Orsini, the Pope now demanded the consent of his cardinals to the erection of Benevento, Terracina, and Pontecorvo into a duchy for the Duke of Gandia. Cardinal Piccolomini was the only member who dared protest against this improper alienation of the property of the Church. A more powerful protest than that of the Cardinal of Sienna reverberated through the world a week later when, on the sixteenth of June, the body of the young Duke was fished out of the Tiber, with the throat cut and many gaping wounds. Historians have laboured in vain to discover who perpetrated the foul deed, but that it was a warning from Heaven to repent, no one felt more keenly than the Pope himself. In the first wild paroxysm of grief he spoke of resigning the tiara. Then, after three days and nights passed without food or sleep, he appeared in consistory and proclaimed his determination to set about that reform of the Church "in head and members" for which the world had so long been clamouring. A commission of cardinals and canonists began industriously to frame ordinances which foreshadowed the disciplinary decrees of Trent. But they were never promulgated. Time gradually assuaged the sorrow and extinguished the contrition of Alexander. From now on Caesar's iron will was supreme law. That he aimed high from the start is evident from his resolve, opposed at first by the Pope, to resign his cardinalate and other ecclesiastical dignities, and to become a secular prince. The condition of Naples was alluring. The gallant Ferrantino had died childless and was succeeded by his uncle Federigo, whose coronation was one of Caesar's last, possibly also one of his first, ecclesiastical acts. By securing the hand of Federigo's daughter, Carlotta, Princess of Tarento, he would become one of the most powerful barons of the kingdom, with ulterior prospects of wearing the crown. Carlotta's repugnance, however, could not be overcome. But in the course of the suit, another marriage was concluded which gave much scandal. Lucrezia's marriage with Sforza was declared null on the ground of the latter's impotence, and she was given as wife to Alfonso of Biseglia, an illegitimate son of Alfonso II.

Alexander VI, given name Rodrigo Borgia, Roman Catholic Pope from 1492 until his death, is the most memorable of the corrupt and secular popes of the Renaissance. He was born at Xativa, near Valencia in Spain, and his father's surname was Lanzol or Llançol; that of his mother's family, Borgia or Borja, was assumed by him on the elevation of his maternal uncle to the papacy as Callixtus III (April 8, 1455). He studied law at Bologna, and after his uncle's election he was created successively bishop, cardinal and vice-chancellor of the church, an act of nepotism characteristic of the age. He served in the Curia under five popes and acquired much administrative experience, influence and wealth, although no great power; he was economical in his habits; on occasion he displayed great splendor and lived in a fine palace. His manners were agreeable and his appearance fascinating, but, like many other prelates of the day, his morals were far from blameless, his two dominant passions being greed of gold and love of women, and he was devotedly fond of the children whom his mistresses bore him. Although ecclesiastical corruption was then at its height, his riotous mode of life called down upon him a very severe reprimand from Pope Pius II, who succeeded Calixtus III in 1458. Of his many mistresses the one for whom his passion lasted longest was a certain Vannozza (Giovanna) dei Cattani, born in 1442, and wife of three successive husbands. The connection began in 1470, and she bore him many children whom he openly acknowledged as his own: Giovanni, afterwards Duke of Gandia (born 1474), Cesare (born 1476), Lucrezia (born 1480), and Goffredo or Giuffre (born 1481 or 1482). His other children -- Girolamo, Isabella and Pier Luigi -- were of uncertain parentage. Before his elevation to the papacy Cardinal Borgia's passion for Vannozza somewhat diminished, and she subsequently led a very retired life. Her place in his affections was filled by the beautiful Giulia Farnese (Giulia Bella), wife of an Orsini, but his love for his children by Vannozza remained as strong as ever and proved, indeed, the determining factor of his whole career. He lavished vast sums on them and loaded them with every honor. A characteristic instance of the corruption of the papal court is the fact that Borgia's daughter Lucrezia lived with his mistress Giulia, who bore him a daughter Laura in 1492.

On the death of Pope Innocent VIII the three likely candidates for the Holy See were Cardinals Borgia, Ascanio Sforza and Giuliano della Rovere; at no previous or subsequent election were such immense sums of money spent on bribery, and Borgia by his great wealth succeeded in buying the largest number of votes, including that of Sforza, and to his intense joy he was elected on the 10th of August 1492, assuming the name of Alexander VI. Borgia's elevation did not at the time excite much alarm, except in some of the cardinals who knew him, and at first his reign was marked by a strict administration of justice and an orderly method of government in satisfactory contrast with the anarchy of the previous pontificate, as well as by great outward splendor. But it was not long before his unbridled passion for endowing his relatives at the expense of the church and of his neighbors became manifest. For this object he was ready to commit any crime and to plunge all Italy into war. Cesare, then a youth of sixteen and a student at Pisa, was made Archbishop of Valencia, his nephew Giovanni received a cardinal's hat, and for the Duke of Gandia and Giuffre the pope proposed to carve fiefs out of the papal states and the Kingdom of Naples. Among the fiefs destined for the Duke of Gandia were Cervetri and Anguillara, lately acquired by Virginio Orsini, head of that powerful and turbulent house, with the pecuniary help of Ferdinand of Aragon, king of Naples (Don Ferrante). This brought the latter into conflict with Alexander, who determined to revenge himself by making an alliance with the king's enemies, especially the Sforza family, lords of Milan. In this he was opposed by Cardinal della Rovere, whose candidature for the papacy had been backed by Ferdinand. Della Rovere, feeling that Rome was a dangerous place for him, fortified himself in his bishopric of Ostia at the Tiber's mouth, while Ferdinand allied himself with Florence, Milan, Venice, and the pope formed a league against Naples (April 25, 1493) and prepared for war. Ferdinand appealed to Spain for help; but Spain was anxious to be on good terms with the pope to obtain a title over the newly discovered continent of America and could not afford to quarrel with him.