But it was only the sacred majesty of the host that had protected this man, who was indeed from this moment regarded as a false prophet: the crowd allowed Savonarola to return to his convent, but they regretted the necessity, so excited were they by the Arrabbiati party, who had always denounced him as a liar and a hypocrite. So when the next morning, Palm Sunday, he stood up in the pulpit to explain his conduct, he could not obtain a moment's silence for insults, hooting, and loud laughter. Then the outcry, at first derisive, became menacing: Savonarola, whose voice was too weak to subdue the tumult, descended from his pulpit, retired into the sacristy, and thence to his convent, where he shut himself up in his cell. At that moment a cry was heard, and was repeated by everybody present:
"To San Marco, to San Marco!" The rioters, few at first, were recruited by all the populace as they swept along the streets, and at last reached the convent, dashing like an angry sea against the wall.
The doors, closed on Savonarala's entrance, soon crashed before the vehement onset of the powerful multitude, which struck down on the instant every obstacle it met: the whole convent was quickly flooded with people, and Savonarola, with his two confederates, Domenico Bonvicini and Silvestro Maruffi, was arrested in his cell, and conducted to prison amid the insults of the crowd, who, always in extremes, whether of enthusiasm or hatred, would have liked to tear them to pieces, and would not be quieted till they had exacted a promise that the prisoners should be forcibly compelled to make the trial of fire which they had refused to make of their own free will.
Alexander VI, as we may suppose, had not been without influence in bringing about this sudden and astonishing reaction, although he was not present in person; and had scarcely learned the news of Savonarola's fall and arrest when he claimed him as subject to ecclesiastical jurisdiction. But in spite of the grant of indulgences wherewith this demand was accompanied, the Signoria insisted that Savonarola's trial should take place at Florence, adding a request so as not to appear to withdraw the accused completely from the pontifical authority—that the pope would send two ecclesiastical judges to sit in the Florentine tribunal. Alexander, seeing that he would get nothing better from the magnificent republic, sent as deputies Gioacchino Turriano of Venice, General of the Dominicans, and Francesco Ramolini, doctor in law: they practically brought the sentence with them, declaring Savonarola and his accomplices heretics, schismatics, persecutors of the Church and seducers of the people.
The firmness shown by the Florentines in claiming their rights of jurisdiction were nothing but an empty show to save appearances; the tribunal, as a fact, was composed of eight members, all known to be fervent haters of Savonarola, whose trial began with the torture. The result was that, feeble in body constitutionally nervous and irritable, he had not been able to endure the rack, and, overcome by agony just at the moment when the executioner had lifted him up by the wrists and then dropped him a distance of two feet to the ground, he had confessed, in order to get some respite, that his prophecies were nothing mare than conjectures. If is true that, so soon as he went back to prison, he protested against the confession, saying that it was the weakness of his bodily organs and his want of firmness that had wrested the lie from him, but that the truth really was that the Lord had several times appeared to him in his ecstasies and revealed the things that he had spoken. This protestation led to a new application of the torture, during which Savonarola succumbed once more to the dreadful pain, and once more retracted. But scarcely was he unbound, and was still lying on the bed of torture, when he declared that his confessions were the fault of his torturers, and the vengeance would recoil upon their heads; and he protested yet once mare against all he had confessed and might confess again. A third time the torture produced the same avowals, and the relief that followed it the same retractions. The judges therefore, when they condemned him and his two disciples to the flames, decided that his confession should not be read aloud at the stake, according to custom, feeling certain that an this occasion also he would give it the lie, and that publicly, which, as anyone must see who knew the versatile spirit of the public, would be a most dangerous proceeding.
On the 23rd of May, the fire which had been promised to the people before was a second time prepared on the Piazza del Palazzo, and this time the crowd assembled quite certain that they would not be disappointed of a spectacle so long anticipated. And towards eleven o'clock in the morning, Girolamo Savonarola, Domenico Bonvicini, and Silvestro Maruffi were led to the place of execution, degraded of their orders by the ecclesiastical judges, and bound all three to the same stake in the centre of an immense pile of wood. Then the bishop Pagnanoli told the condemned men that he cut them off from the Church. "Ay, from the Church militant," said Savonarola, who from that very hour, thanks to his martyrdom, was entering into the Church triumphant. No other words were spoken by the condemned men, for at this moment one of the Arrabbiati, a personal enemy of Savonarola, breaking through the hedge of guards around the scaffold, snatched the torch from the executioner's hand and himself set fire to the four corners of the pile. Savonarola and his disciples, from the moment when they saw the smoke arise, began to sing a psalm, and the flames enwrapped them on all sides with a glowing veil, while their religious song was yet heard mounting upward to the gates of heaven.
Pope Alexander VI was thus set free from perhaps the most formidable enemy who had ever risen against him, and the pontifical vengeance pursued the victims even after their death: the Signoria, yielding to his wishes, gave orders that the ashes of the prophet and his disciples should be thrown into the Arno. But certain half-burned fragments were picked up by the very soldiers whose business it was to keep the people back from approaching the fire, and the holy relics are even now shown, blackened by the flames, to the faithful, who if they no longer regard Savonarola as a prophet, revere him none the less as a martyr.
The French army was now preparing to cross the Alps a second time, under the command of Trivulce. Louis XII had come as far as Lyons in the company of Caesar Borgia and Giuliano della Rovere, on whom he had forced a reconciliation, and towards the beginning of the month of May had sent his vanguard before him, soon to be followed by the main body of the army. The forces he was employing in this second campaign of conquest were 1600, lances, 5000 Swiss, 9000 Gascons, and 3500 infantry, raised from all parts of France. On the 13th of August this whole body, amounting to nearly 15,000 men, who were to combine their forces with the Venetians, arrived beneath the walls of Arezzo, and immediately laid siege to the town.
Ludovico Sforza's position was a terrible one: he was now suffering from his imprudence in calling the French into Italy; all the allies he had thought he might count upon were abandoning him at the same moment, either because they were busy about their own affairs, or because they were afraid of the powerful enemy that the Duke of Milan had made for himself. Maximilian, who had promised him a contribution of 400 lances, to make up for not renewing the hostilities with Louis XII that had been interrupted, had just made a league with the circle of Swabia to war against the Swiss, whom he had declared rebels against the Empire. The Florentines, who had engaged to furnish him with 300 men-at-arms and 2000 infantry, if he would help them to retake Pisa, had just retracted their promise because of Louis XII's threats, and had undertaken to remain neutral. Frederic, who was holding back his troops for the defence of his own States, because he supposed, not without reason, that, Milan once conquered, he would again have to defend Naples, sent him no help, no men, no money, in spite of his promises. Ludovico Sforza was therefore reduced to his own proper forces.
But as he was a man powerful in arms and clever in artifice, he did not allow himself to succumb at the first blow, and in all haste fortified Annona, Novarro, and Alessandria, sent off Cajazzo with troops to that part of the Milanese territory which borders on the states of Venice, and collected on the Po as many troops as he could. But these precautions availed him nothing against the impetuous onslaught of the French, who in a few days had taken Annona, Arezzo, Novarro, Voghiera, Castelnuovo, Ponte Corona, Tartone, and Alessandria, while Trivulce was on the march to Milan.
Seeing the rapidity of this conquest and their numerous victories, Ludovico Sforza, despairing of holding out in his capital, resolved to retire to Germany, with his children, his brother, Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, and his treasure, which had been reduced in the course of eight years from 1,500,000 to 200,000 ducats. But before he went he left Bernardino da Carte in charge of the castle of Milan. In vain did his friends warn him to distrust this man, in vain did his brother Ascanio offer to hold the fortress himself, and offer to hold it to the very last; Ludovico refused to make any change in his arrangements, and started on the 2nd of September, leaving in the citadel three thousand foot and enough provisions, ammunition, and money to sustain a siege of several months.
Two days after Ludovico's departure, the French entered Milan. Ten days later Bernardino da Come gave up the castle before a single gun had been fired. Twenty-one days had sufficed for the French to get possession of the various towns, the capital, and all the territories of their enemy.
Louis XII received the news of this success while he was at Lyons, and he at once started for Milan, where he was received with demonstrations of joy that were really sincere. Citizens of every rank had come out three miles' distance from the gates to receive him, and forty boys, dressed in cloth of gold and silk, marched before him singing hymns of victory composed by poets of the period, in which the king was styled their liberator and the envoy of freedom. The great joy of the Milanese people was due to the fact that friends of Louis had been spreading reports beforehand that the King of France was rich enough to abolish all taxes. And so soon as the second day from his arrival at Milan the conqueror made some slight reduction, granted important favours to certain Milanese gentlemen, and bestowed the town of Vigavano on Trivulce as a reward for his swift and glorious campaign. But Caesar Borgia, who had followed Louis XII with a view to playing his part in the great hunting-ground of Italy, scarcely waited for him to attain his end when he claimed the fulfilment of his promise, which the king with his accustomed loyalty hastened to perform. He instantly put at the disposal of Caesar three hundred lances under the command of Yves d'Alegre, and four thousand Swiss under the command of the bailiff of Dijon, as a help in his work of reducing the Vicars of the Church.
We must now explain to our readers who these new personages were whom we introduce upon the scene by the above name.
During the eternal wars of Guelphs and Ghibelines and the long exile of the popes at Avignon, most of the towns and fortresses of the Romagna had been usurped by petty tyrants, who for the most part hard received from the Empire the investiture of their new possessions; but ever since German influence had retired beyond the Alps, and the popes had again made Rome the centre of the Christian world, all the small princes, robbed of their original protector, had rallied round the papal see, and received at the hands of the pope a new investiture, and now they paid annual dues, for which they received the particular title of duke, count, or lord, and the general name of Vicar of the Church.
It had been no difficult matter for Alexander, scrupulously examining the actions and behaviour of these gentlemen during the seven years that had elapsed since he was exalted to St. Peter's throne, to find in the conduct of each one of them something that could be called an infraction of the treaty made between vassals and suzerain; accordingly he brought forward his complaints at a tribunal established for the purpose, and obtained sentence from the judges to the effect that the vicars of the Church, having failed to fulfil the conditions of their investiture, were despoiled of their domains, which would again become the property of the Holy See. As the pope was now dealing with men against whom it was easier to pass a sentence than to get it carried out, he had nominated as captain-general the new Duke of Valentinois, who was commissioned to recover the territories for his own benefit. The lords in question were the Malatesti of Rimini, the Sforza of Pesaro, the Manfredi of Faenza, the Riarii of Imola and Farli, the Variani of Camerina, the Montefeltri of Urbino, and the Caetani of Sermoneta.
But the Duke of Valentinois, eager to keep as warm as possible his great friendship with his ally and relative Louis XII, was, as we know, staying with him at Milan so long as he remained there, where, after a month's occupation, the king retraced his steps to his own capital, the Duke of Valentinois ordered his men-at-arms and his Swiss to await him between Parma and Modena, and departed posthaste for Rome, to explain his plans to his father viva voce and to receive his final instructions. When he arrived, he found that the fortune of his sister Lucrezia had been greatly augmented in his absence, not from the side of her husband Alfonso, whose future was very uncertain now in consequence of Louis's successes, which had caused some coolness between Alfonso and the pope, but from her father's side, upon whom at this time she exercised an influence mare astonishing than ever. The pope had declared Lucrezia Borgia of Aragon life-governor of Spoleto and its duchy, with all emoluments, rights, and revenues accruing thereunto. This had so greatly increased her power and improved her position, that in these days she never showed herself in public without a company of two hundred horses ridden by the most illustrious ladies and noblest knights of Rome. Moreover, as the twofold affection of her father was a secret to nobody, the first prelates in the Church, the frequenters of the Vatican, the friends of His Holiness, were all her most humble servants; cardinals gave her their hands when she stepped from her litter or her horse, archbishops disputed the honour of celebrating mass in her private apartments.
But Lucrezia had been obliged to quit Rome in order to take possession of her new estates; and as her father could not spend much time away from his beloved daughter, he resolved to take into his hands the town of Nepi, which on a former occasion, as the reader will doubtless remember, he had bestowed on Ascanio Sforza in exchange for his suffrage. Ascanio had naturally lost this town when he attached himself to the fortunes of the Duke of Milan, his brother; and when the pope was about to take it again, he invited his daughter Lucrezia to join him there and be present at the rejoicings held in honour of his resuming its possession.
Lucrezia's readiness in giving way to her father's wishes brought her a new gift from him: this was the town and territory of Sermoneta, which belonged to the Caetani. Of course the gift was as yet a secret, because the two owners of the seigneury, had first to be disposed of, one being Monsignore Giacomo Caetano, apostolic protonotary, the other Prospero Caetano, a young cavalier of great promise; but as both lived at Rome, and entertained no suspicion, but indeed supposed themselves to be in high favour with His Holiness, the one by virtue of his position, the other of his courage, the matter seemed to present no great difficulty. So directly after the return of Alexander to Rome, Giacomo Caetano was arrested, on what pretext we know not, was taken to the castle of Sant' Angelo, and there died shortly after, of poison: Prospero Caetano was strangled in his own house. After these two deaths, which both occurred so suddenly as to give no time for either to make a will, the pope declared that Sermoneta and all of her property appertaining to the Caetani devolved upon the apostolic chamber; and they were sold to Lucrezia for the cum of 80,000 crowns, which her father refunded to her the day after. Though Caesar hurried to Rome, he found when he arrived that his father had been beforehand with him, and had made a beginning of his conquests.
Another fortune also had been making prodigious strides during Caesar's stay in France, viz. the fortune of Gian Borgia, the pope's nephew, who had been one of the most devoted friends of the Duke of Gandia up to the time of his death. It was said in Rome, and not in a whisper, that the young cardinal owed the favours heaped upon him by His Holiness less to the memory of the brother than to the protection of the sister. Both these reasons made Gian Borgia a special object of suspicion to Caesar, and it was with an inward vow that he should not enjoy his new dignities very long that the Duke of Valentinois heard that his cousin Gian had just been nominated cardinal 'a latere' of all the Christian world, and had quitted Rome to make a circuit through all the pontifical states with a suite of archbishops, bishops, prelates, and gentlemen, such as would have done honour to the pope himself.
Caesar had only come to Rome to get news; so he only stayed three days, and then, with all the troops His Holiness could supply, rejoined his forces on the borders of the Euza, and marched at once to Imola. This town, abandoned by its chiefs, who had retired to Forli, was forced to capitulate. Imola taken, Caesar marched straight upon Forli. There he met with a serious check; a check, moreover, which came from a woman. Caterina Sforza, widow of Girolamo and mother of Ottaviano Riario, had retired to this town, and stirred up the courage of the garrison by putting herself, her goods and her person, under their protection. Caesar saw that it was no longer a question of a sudden capture, but of a regular siege; so he began to make all his arrangements with a view to it, and placing a battery of cannon in front of the place where the walls seemed to him weakest, he ordered an uninterrupted fire, to be continued until the breach was practicable.
When he returned to the camp after giving this order, he found there Gian Borgia, who had gone to Rome from Ferrara and was unwilling to be so near Caesar without paying him a visit: he was received with effusion and apparently the greatest joy, and stayed three days; on the fourth day all the officers and members of the court were invited to a grand farewell supper, and Caesar bade farewell to his cousin, charging him with despatches for the pope, and lavishing upon him all the tokens of affection he had shown on his arrival.
Cardinal Gian Bargia posted off as soon as he left the supper-table, but on arriving at Urbino he was seized with such a sudden and strange indisposition that he was forced to stop; but after a few minutes, feeling rather better, he went on; scarcely, however, had he entered Rocca Cantrada when he again felt so extremely ill that he resolved to go no farther, and stayed a couple of days in the town. Then, as he thought he was a little better again, and as he had heard the news of the taking of Forli and also that Caterina Sforza had been taken prisoner while she was making an attempt to retire into the castle, he resolved to go back to Caesar and congratulate him on his victory; but at Fassambrane he was forced to stop a third time, although he had given up his carriage for a litter. This was his last halt: the same day he sought his bed, never to rise from it again; three days later he was dead.
His body was taken to Rome and buried without any ceremony in the church of Santa Maria del Populo, where lay awaiting him the corpse of his friend the Duke of Gandia; and there was now no more talk of the young cardinal, high as his rank had been, than if he had never existed. Thus in gloom and silence passed away all those who were swept to destruction by the ambition of that terrible trio, Alexander, Lucrezia, and Caesar.
Almost at the same time Rome was terrified by another murder. Don Giovanni Cerviglione, a gentleman by birth and a brave soldier, captain of the pope's men-at-arms, was attacked one evening by the sbirri, as he was on his way home from supping with Dan Elisio Pignatelli. One of the men asked his name, and as he pronounced it, seeing that there was no mistake, plunged a dagger into his breast, while a second man with a back stroke of his sword cut off his head, which lay actually at his feet before his body had time to fall.
The governor of Rome lodged a complaint against this assassination with the pope; but quickly perceiving, by the way his intimation was received, that he would have done better to say nothing, he stopped the inquiries he had started, so that neither of the murderers was ever arrested. But the rumour was circulated that Caesar, in the short stay he had made at Rome, had had a rendezvous with Cerviglione's wife, who was a Borgia by birth, and that her husband when he heard of this infringement of conjugal duty had been angry enough to threaten her and her lover, too: the threat had reached Caesar's ears, who, making a long arm of Michelotto, had, himself at Forli, struck down Cerviglione in the streets of Rome.
Another unexpected death followed so quickly on that of Don Giovanni Cerviglione that it could not but be attributed to the same originator, if not to the same cause. Monsignore Agnelli of Mantua, archbishop of Cosenza, clerk of the chamber and vice-legate of Viterbo, having fallen into disgrace with His Holiness, how it is not known, was poisoned at his own table, at which he had passed a good part of the night in cheerful conversation with three or four guests, the poison gliding meanwhile through his veins; then going to bed in perfect health, he was found dead in the morning. His possessions were at once divided into three portions: the land and houses were given to the Duke of Valentinois; the bishopric went to Francesco Borgia, son of Calixtus III; and the office of clerk of the chamber was sold for 5000 ducats to Ventura Bonnassai, a merchant of Siena, who produced this sum for Alexander, and settled down the very same day in the Vatican.
This last death served the purpose of determining a point of law hitherto uncertain: as Monsignore Agnelli's natural heirs had made some difficulty about being disinherited, Alexander issued a brief; whereby he took from every cardinal and every priest the right of making a will, and declared that all their property should henceforth devolve upon him.
But Caesar was stopped short in the midst of his victories. Thanks to the 200,000 ducats that yet remained in his treasury, Ludovico Sforza had levied 500 men-at-arms from Burgundy and 8000 Swiss infantry, with whom he had entered Lombardy. So Trivulce, to face this enemy, had been compelled to call back Yves d'Alegre and the troops that Louis XII had lent to Caesar; consequently Caesar, leaving behind a body of pontifical soldiery as garrison at Forli and Imola, betook himself with the rest of his force to Rome.
It was Alexander's wish that his entry should be a triumph; so when he learned that the quartermasters of the army were only a few leagues from the town, he sent out runners to invite the royal ambassadors, the cardinals, the prelates, the Roman barons, and municipal dignitaries to make procession with all their suite to meet the Duke of Valentinois; and as it always happens that the pride of those who command is surpassed by the baseness of those who obey, the orders were not only fulfilled to the letter, but beyond it.
The entry of Caesar took place on the 26th of February, 1500. Although this was the great Jubilee year, the festivals of the carnival began none the less for that, and were conducted in a manner even more extravagant and licentious than usual; and the conqueror after the first day prepared a new display of ostentation, which he concealed under the veil of a masquerade. As he was pleased to identify himself with the glory, genius, and fortune of the great man whose name he bore, he resolved on a representation of the triumph of Julius Caesar, to be given on the Piazzi di Navona, the ordinary place for holding the carnival fetes. The next day, therefore, he and his retinue started from that square, and traversed all the streets of Rome, wearing classical costumes and riding in antique cars, on one of which Caesar stood, clad in the robe of an emperor of old, his brow crowned with a golden laurel wreath, surrounded by lictors, soldiers, and ensign-bearers, who carried banners whereon was inscribed the motto, 'Aut Caesar aut nihil'.
Finally, an the fourth Sunday, in Lent, the pope conferred upon Caesar the dignity he had so long coveted, and appointed him general and gonfaloniere of the Holy Church.
In the meanwhile Sforza had crossed the Alps and passed the Lake of Como, amid acclamations of joy from his former subjects, who had quickly lost the enthusiasm that the French army and Louis's promises had inspired. These demonstrations were so noisy at Milan, that Trivulce, judging that there was no safety for a French garrison in remaining there, made his way to Navarra. Experience proved that he was not deceived; for scarcely had the Milanese observed his preparations for departure when a suppressed excitement began to spread through the town, and soon the streets were filled with armed men. This murmuring crowd had to be passed through, sword in hand and lance in rest; and scarcely had the French got outside the gates when the mob rushed out after the army into the country, pursuing them with shouts and hooting as far as the banks of the Tesino. Trivulce left 400 lances at Novarra as well as the 3000 Swiss that Yves d'Alegre had brought from the Romagna, and directed his course with the rest of the army towards Mortara, where he stopped at last to await the help he had demanded from the King of France. Behind him Cardinal Ascanio and Ludovico entered Milan amid the acclamations of the whole town.
Neither of them lost any time, and wishing to profit by this enthusiasm, Ascanio undertook to besiege the castle of Milan while Ludovico should cross the Tesino and attack Novarra.
There besiegers and besieged were sons of the same nation; for Yves d'Alegre had scarcely as many as 300 French with him, and Ludovico 500 Italians. In fact, for the last sixteen years the Swiss had been practically the only infantry in Europe, and all the Powers came, purse in hand, to draw from the mighty reservoir of their mountains. The consequence was that these rude children of William Tell, put up to auction by the nations, and carried away from the humble, hardy life of a mountain people into cities of wealth and pleasure, had lost, not their ancient courage, but that rigidity of principle for which they had been distinguished before their intercourse with other nations. From being models of honour and good faith they had become a kind of marketable ware, always ready for sale to the highest bidder. The French were the first to experience this venality, which later-on proved so fatal to Ludovico Sforza.
Now the Swiss in the garrison at Novarra had been in communication with their compatriots in the vanguard of the ducal army, and when they found that they, who as a fact were unaware that Ludavico's treasure was nearly exhausted, were better fed as well as better paid than themselves, they offered to give up the town and go over to the Milanese, if they could be certain of the same pay. Ludovico, as we may well suppose, closed with this bargain. The whole of Novarra was given up to him except the citadel, which was defended by Frenchmen: thus the enemy's army was recruited by 3000 men. Then Ludovico made the mistake of stopping to besiege the castle instead of marching on to Mortara with the new reinforcement. The result of this was that Louis XII, to whom runners had been sent by Trivulce, understanding his perilous position, hastened the departure of the French gendarmerie who were already collected to cross into Italy, sent off the bailiff of Dijon to levy new Swiss forces, and ordered Cardinal Amboise, his prime minister, to cross the Alps and take up a position at Asti, to hurry on the work of collecting the troops. There the cardinal found a nest-egg of 3000 men. La Trimouille added 1500 lances and 6000 French infantry; finally, the bailiff of Dijon arrived with 10,000 Swiss; so that, counting the troops which Trivulce had at Mortara, Louis XII found himself master on the other side of the Alps of the first army any French king had ever led out to battle. Soon, by good marching, and before Ludovico knew the strength or even the existence of this army, it took up a position between Novarra and Milan, cutting off all communication between the duke and his capital. He was therefore compelled, in spite of his inferior numbers, to prepare for a pitched battle.
But it so happened that just when the preparations for a decisive engagement were being made on both sides, the Swiss Diet, learning that the sons of Helvetia were on the paint of cutting one another's throats, sent orders to all the Swiss serving in either army to break their engagements and return to the fatherland. But during the two months that had passed between the surrender of Novarra and the arrival of the French army before the town, there had been a very great change in the face of things, because Ludovico Sforza's treasure was now exhausted. New confabulations had gone on between the outposts, and this time, thanks to the money sent by Louis XII, it was the Swiss in the service of France who were found to be the better fed and better paid. The worthy Helvetians, since they no longer fought far their own liberty, knew the value of their blood too well to allow a single drop of it to be spilled for less than its weight in gold: the result was that, as they had, betrayed Yves d'Alegre, they resolved to betray Ludovico Sforza too; and while the recruits brought in by the bailiff of Dijon were standing firmly by the French flag, careless of the order of the Diet, Ludovico's auxiliaries declared that in fighting against their Swiss brethren they would be acting in disobedience to the Diet, and would risk capital punishment in the end—a danger that nothing would induce them to incur unless they immediately received the arrears of their pay. The duke, who a spent the last ducat he had with him, and was entirely cut off from his capital, knew that he could not get money till he had fought his way through to it, and therefore invited the Swiss to make one last effort, promising them not only the pay that was in arrears but a double hire. But unluckily the fulfilment of this promise was dependent on the doubtful issue of a battle, and the Swiss replied that they had far too much respect for their country to disobey its decree, and that they loved their brothers far too well to consent to shed their blood without reward; and therefore Sforza would do well not to count upon them, since indeed the very next day they proposed to return to their homes. The duke then saw that all was lost, but he made a last appeal to their honour, adjuring them at least to ensure his personal safety by making it a condition of capitulation. But they replied that even if a condition of such a kind, would not make capitulation impossible, it would certainly deprive them of advantages which they had aright to expect, and on which they counted as indemnification for the arrears of their pay. They pretended, however, at last that they were touched by the prayers of the man whose orders they had obeyed so long, and offered to conceal him dressed in their clothes among their ranks. This proposition was barely plausible; far Sforza was short and, by this time an old man, and he could not possibly escape recognition in the midst of an army where the oldest was not past thirty and the shortest not less than five foot six. Still, this was his last chance, and he did not reject it at once, but tried to modify it so that it might help him in his straits. His plan was to disguise himself as a Franciscan monk, so that mounted an a shabby horse he might pass for their chaplain; the others, Galeazzo di San Severing, who commanded under him, and his two brothers, were all tall men, so, adopting the dress of common soldiers, they hoped they might escape detection in the Swiss ranks.
Scarcely were these plans settled when the duke heard that the capitulation was signed between Trivulce and the Swiss, who had made no stipulation in favour of him and his generals. They were to go over the next day with arms and baggage right into the French army; so the last hope of the wretched Ludovico and his generals must needs be in their disguise. And so it was. San Severino and his brothers took their place in the ranks of the infantry, and Sforza took his among the baggage, clad in a monk's frock, with the hood pulled over his eyes.
The army marched off; but the Swiss, who had first trafficked in their blood, now trafficked in their honour. The French were warned of the disguise of Sforza and his generals, and thus they were all four recognised, and Sforza was arrested by Trimouille himself. It is said that the price paid for this treason was the town of Bellinzona; far it then belonged to the French, and when the Swiss returned to their mountains and took possession of it, Louis XII took no steps to get it back again.
When Ascanio Sforza, who, as we know, had stayed at Milan, learned the news of this cowardly desertion, he supposed that his cause was lost and that it would be the best plan for him to fly, before he found himself a prisoner in the hand's of his brother's old subjects: such a change of face on the people's part would be very natural, and they might propose perhaps to purchase their own pardon at the price of his liberty; so he fled by night with the chief nobles of the Ghibelline party, taking the road to Piacenza, an his way to the kingdom of Naples. But when he arrived at Rivolta, he remembered that there was living in that town an old friend of his childhood, by name Conrad Lando, whom he had helped to much wealth in his days of power; and as Ascanio and his companions were extremely; tired, he resolved to beg his hospitality for a single night. Conrad received them with every sign of joy, putting all his house and servants at their disposal. But scarcely had they retired to bed when he sent a runner to Piacenza, to inform Carlo Orsini, at that time commanding the Venetian garrison, that he was prepared to deliver up Cardinal Ascanio and the chief men of the Milanese army. Carlo Orsini did not care to resign to another so important an expedition, and mounting hurriedly with twenty-five men, he first surrounded Conrads house, and then entered sword in hand the chamber wherein Ascanio and his companions lay, and being surprised in the middle of their sleep, they yielded without resistance. The prisoners were taken to Venice, but Louis XII claimed them, and they were given up. Thus the King of France found himself master of Ludovico Sforza and of Ascania, of a legitimate nephew of the great Francesco Sforza named Hermes, of two bastards named Alessandro and Cortino, and of Francesco, son of the unhappy Gian Galeazza who had been poisoned by his uncle.
Louis XII, wishing to make an end of the whole family at a blow, forced Francesco to enter a cloister, shut up Cardinal Ascanio in the tower of Baurges, threw into prison Alessandro, Cartino, and Hermes, and finally, after transferring the wretched Ludovico from the fortress of Pierre-Eucise to Lys-Saint-George he relegated him for good and all to the castle of Loches, where he lived for ten years in solitude and utter destitution, and there died, cursing the day when the idea first came into his head of enticing the French into Italy.
The news of the catastrophe of Ludovica and his family caused the greatest joy at Rome, for, while the French were consolidating their power in Milanese territory, the Holy See was gaining ground in the Romagna, where no further opposition was offered to Caesar's conquest. So the runners who brought the news were rewarded with valuable presents, and it was published throughout the whole town of Rome to the sound of the trumpet and drum. The war-cry of Louis, France, France, and that of the Orsini, Orso, Orso, rang through all the streets, which in the evening were illuminated, as though Constantinople or Jerusalem had been taken. And the pope gave the people fetes and fireworks, without troubling his head the least in the world either about its being Holy Week, or because the Jubilee had attracted more than 200,000 people to Rome; the temporal interests of his family seeming to him far more important than the spiritual interests of his subjects.
One thing alone was wanting to assure the success of the vast projects that the pope and his son were founding upon the friendship of Louis and an alliance with him—that is,—money. But Alexander was not the man to be troubled about a paltry worry of that kind; true, the sale of benefices was by now exhausted, the ordinary and extraordinary taxes had already been collected for the whole year, and the prospect of inheritance from cardinals and priests was a poor thing now that the richest of them had been poisoned; but Alexander had other means at his disposal, which were none the less efficacious because they were less often used.
The first he employed was to spread a report that the Turks were threatening an invasion of Christendom, and that he knew for a positive fact that before the end of the summer Bajazet would land two considerable armies, one in Romagna, the other in Calabria; he therefore published two bulls, one to levy tithes of all ecclesiastical revenues in Europe of whatever nature they might be, the other to force the Jews into paying an equivalent sum: both bulls contained the severest sentences of excommunication against those who refused to submit, or attempted opposition.
The second plan was the selling of indulgences, a thing which had never been done before: these indulgences affected the people who had been prevented by reasons of health or business from coming to Rome for the Jubilee; the journey by this expedient was rendered unnecessary, and sins were pardoned for a third of what it would have cost, and just as completely as if the faithful had fulfilled every condition of the pilgrimage. For gathering in this tax a veritable army of collectors was instituted, a certain Ludovico delta Torre at their head. The sum that Alexander brought into the pontifical treasury is incalculable, and same idea of it may be gathered from the fact that 799,000 livres in gold was paid in from the territory of Venice alone.
But as the Turks did as a fact make some sort of demonstration from the Hungarian side, and the Venetians began to fear that they might be coming in their direction, they asked for help from the pope, who gave orders that at twelve o'clock in the day in all his States an Ave Maria should be said, to pray God to avert the danger which was threatening the most serene republic. This was the only help the Venetians got from His Holiness in exchange for the 799,000 livres in gold that he had got from them.
But it seemed as though God wished to show His strange vicar on earth that He was angered by the mockery of sacred things, and on the Eve of St. Peter's Day, just as the pope was passing the Capanile on his way to the tribune of benedictions, a enormous piece of iron broke off and fell at his feet; and then, as though one warning had not been enough, on the next day, St. Peter's, when the pope happened to be in one of the rooms of his ordinary dwelling with Cardinal Capuano and Monsignare Poto, his private chamberlain, he saw through the open windows that a very black cloud was coming up. Foreseeing a thunderstorm, he ordered the cardinal and the chamberlain to shut the windows. He had not been mistaken; for even as they were obeying his command, there came up such a furious gust of wind that the highest chimney of the Vatican was overturned, just as a tree is rooted up, and was dashed upon the roof, breaking it in; smashing the upper flooring, it fell into the very room where they were. Terrified by the noise of this catastrophe, which made the whole palace tremble, the cardinal and Monsignore Poto turned round, and seeing the room full of dust and debris, sprang out upon the parapet and shouted to the guards at the gate, "The pope is dead, the pope is dead!" At this cry, the guards ran up and discovered three persons lying in the rubbish on the floor, one dead and the other two dying. The dead man was a gentleman of Siena ailed Lorenzo Chigi, and the dying were two resident officials of the Vatican. They had been walking across the floor above, and had been flung down with the debris. But Alexander was not to be found; and as he gave no answer, though they kept on calling to him, the belief that he had perished was confirmed, and very soon spread about the town. But he had only fainted, and at the end of a certain time he began to come to himself, and moaned, whereupon he was discovered, dazed with the blow, and injured, though not seriously, in several parts of his body. He had been saved by little short of a miracle: a beam had broken in half and had left each of its two ends in the side walls; and one of these had formed a sort of roof aver the pontifical throne; the pope, who was sitting there at the time, was protected by this overarching beam, and had received only a few contusions.
The two contradictory reports of the sudden death and the miraculous preservation of the pope spread rapidly through Rome; and the Duke of Valentinois, terrified at the thought of what a change might be wrought in his own fortunes by any slight accident to the Holy Father, hurried to the Vatican, unable to assure himself by anything less than the evidence of his own eyes. Alexander desired to render public thanks to Heaven for the protection that had been granted him; and on the very same day was carried to the church of Santa Maria del Popalo, escorted by a numerous procession of prelates and men-at-arms, his pontifical seat borne by two valets, two equerries, and two grooms. In this church were buried the Duke of Gandia and Gian Borgia, and perhaps Alexander was drawn thither by same relics of devotion, or may be by the recollection of his love for his former mistress, Rosa Vanazza, whose image, in the guise of the Madonna, was exposed for the veneration of the faithful in a chapel on the left of the high altar. Stopping before this altar, the pope offered to the church the gift of a magnificent chalice in which were three hundred gold crowns, which the Cardinal of Siena poured out into a silver paten before the eyes of all, much to the gratification of the pontifical vanity.
But before he left Rome to complete the conquest of the Romagna, the Duke of Valentinois had been reflecting that the marriage, once so ardently desired, between Lucrezia and Alfonso had been quite useless to himself and his father. There was more than this to be considered: Louis XII's rest in Lombardy was only a halt, and Milan was evidently but the stage before Naples. It was very possible that Louis was annoyed about the marriage which converted his enemy's nephew into the son-in-law of his ally. Whereas, if Alfonso were dead, Lucrezia would be the position to marry some powerful lord of Ferrara or Brescia, who would be able to help his brother-in-law in the conquest of Romagna. Alfonso was now not only useless but dangerous, which to anyone with the character of the Borgias perhaps seemed worse, the death of Alfonso was resolved upon. But Lucrezia's husband, who had understand for a long time past what danger he incurred by living near his terrible father-in-law, had retired to Naples. Since, however, neither Alexander nor Caesar had changed in their perpetual dissimulation towards him, he was beginning to lose his fear, when he received an invitation from the pope and his son to take part in a bull-fight which was to be held in the Spanish fashion in honour of the duke before his departure: In the present precarious position of Naples it would not have been good policy far Alfonso to afford Alexander any sort of pretext for a rupture, so he could not refuse without a motive, and betook himself to Rome. It was thought of no use to consult Lucrezia in this affair, for she had two or three times displayed an absurd attachment for her husband, and they left her undisturbed in her government of Spoleto.
Alfonso was received by the pope and the duke with every demonstration of sincere friendship, and rooms in the Vatican were assigned to him that he had inhabited before with Lucrezia, in that part of the building which is known as the Torre Nuova.
Great lists were prepared on the Piazza of St. Peter's; the streets about it were barricaded, and the windows of the surrounding houses served as boxes for the spectators. The pope and his court took their places on the balconies of the Vatican.
The fete was started by professional toreadors: after they had exhibited their strength and skill, Alfonso and Caesar in their turn descended to the arena, and to offer a proof of their mutual kindness, settled that the bull which pursued Caesar should be killed by Alfonso, and the bull that pursued Alfonso by Caesar.
Then Caesar remained alone an horseback within the lists, Alfonso going out by an improvised door which was kept ajar, in order that he might go back on the instant if he judged that his presence was necessary. At the same time, from the opposite side of the lists the bull was introduced, and was at the same moment pierced all over with darts and arrows, some of them containing explosives, which took fire, and irritated the bull to such a paint that he rolled about with pain, and then got up in a fury, and perceiving a man on horseback, rushed instantly upon him. It was now, in this narrow arena, pursued by his swift enemy, that Caesar displayed all that skill which made him one of the finest horsemen of the period. Still, clever as he was, he could not have remained safe long in that restricted area from an adversary against whom he had no other resource than flight, had not Alfonso appeared suddenly, just when the bull was beginning to gain upon him, waving a red cloak in his left hand, and holding in his right a long delicate Aragon sword. It was high time: the bull was only a few paces distant from Caesar, and the risk he was running appeared so imminent that a woman's scream was heard from one of the windows. But at the sight of a man on foot the bull stopped short, and judging that he would do better business with the new enemy than the old one, he turned upon him instead. For a moment he stood motionless, roaring, kicking up the dust with his hind feet, and lashing his sides with his tail. Then he rushed upon Alfonso, his eyes all bloodshot, his horns tearing up the ground. Alfonso awaited him with a tranquil air; then, when he was only three paces away, he made a bound to one sides and presented instead of his body his sword, which disappeared at once to the hilt; the bull, checked in the middle of his onslaught, stopped one instant motionless and trembling, then fell upon his knees, uttered one dull roar, and lying down on the very spot where his course had been checked, breathed his last without moving a single step forward.
Applause resounded an all sides, so rapid and clever had been the blow. Caesar had remained on horseback, seeking to discover the fair spectator who had given so lively a proof of her interest in him, without troubling himself about what was going on: his search had not been unrewarded, far he had recognized one of the maids of honour to Elizabeth, Duchess of Urbino, who was betrothed to Gian Battista Carraciualo, captain-general of the republic of Venice.
It was now Alfonso's turn to run from the bull, Caesar's to fight him: the young men changed parts, and when four mules had reluctantly dragged the dead bull from the arena, and the valets and other servants of His Holiness had scattered sand over the places that were stained with blood, Alfonso mounted a magnificent Andalusian steed of Arab origin, light as the wind of Sahara that had wedded with his mother, while Caesar, dismounting, retired in his turn, to reappear at the moment when Alfonso should be meeting the same danger from which he had just now rescued him.
Then a second bull was introduced upon the scene, excited in the same manner with steeled darts and flaming arrows. Like his predecessor, when he perceived a man on horseback he rushed upon him, and then began a marvellous race, in which it was impossible to see, so quickly did they fly over the ground, whether the horse was pursuing the bull or the bull the horse. But after five or six rounds, the bull began to gain upon the son of Araby, for all his speed, and it was plain to see who fled and who pursued; in another moment there was only the length of two lances between them, and then suddenly Caesar appeared, armed with one of those long two handed swords which the French are accustomed to use, and just when the bull, almost close upon Don Alfonso, came in front of Caesar he brandished the sword, which flashed like lightning, and cut off his head, while his body, impelled by the speed of the run, fell to the ground ten paces farther on. This blow was so unexpected, and had been performed with such dexterity, that it was received not with mere clapping but with wild enthusiasm and frantic outcry. Caesar, apparently remembering nothing else in his hour of triumph but the scream that had been caused by his former danger, picked up the bull's head, and, giving it to one of his equerries, ordered him to lay it as an act of homage at the feet of the fair Venetian who had bestowed upon him so lively a sign of interest. This fete, besides affording a triumph to each of the young men, had another end as well; it was meant to prove to the populace that perfect goodwill existed between the two, since each had saved the life of the other. The result was that, if any accident should happen to Caesar, nobody would dream of accusing Alfanso; and also if any accident should happen to Alfonso, nobody would dream, of accusing Caesar.
There was a supper at the Vatican. Alfonso made an elegant toilet, and about ten o'clock at night prepared to go from the quarters he inhabited into those where the pope lived; but the door which separated the two courts of the building was shut, and knock as he would, no one came to open it. Alfonso then thought that it was a simple matter for him to go round by the Piazza of St. Peter's; so he went out unaccompanied through one of the garden gates of the Vatican and made his way across the gloomy streets which led to the stairway which gave on the piazza. But scarcely had he set his foot on the first step when he was attacked by a band of armed men. Alfonso would have drawn his sword; but before it was out of the scabbard he had received two blows from a halberd, one on his head, the other on his shoulder; he was stabbed in the side, and wounded both in the leg and in the temple. Struck down by these five blows, he lost his footing and fell to the ground unconscious; his assassins, supposing he was dead, at once remounted the stairway, and found on the piazza forty horsemen waiting for them: by them they were calmly escorted from the city by the Porta Portesa. Alfonso was found at the point of death, but not actually dead, by some passers-by, some of whom recognised him, and instantly conveyed the news of his assassination to the Vatican, while the others, lifting the wounded man in their arms, carried him to his quarters in the Torre Nuova. The pope and Caesar, who learned this news just as they were sitting down to table, showed great distress, and leaving their companions, at once went to see Alfonso, to be quite certain whether his wounds were fatal or not; and an the next morning, to divert any suspicion that might be turned towards themselves, they arrested Alfonso's maternal uncle, Francesco Gazella, who had come to Rome in his nephew's company. Gazella was found guilty on the evidence of false witnesses, and was consequently beheaded.
But they had only accomplished half of what they wanted. By some means, fair or foul, suspicion had been sufficiently diverted from the true assassins; but Alfonso was not dead, and, thanks to the strength of his constitution and the skill of his doctors, who had taken the lamentations of the pope and Caesar quite seriously, and thought to please them by curing Alexander's son-in-law, the wounded man was making progress towards convalescence: news arrived at the same time that Lucrezia had heard of her husband's accident, and was starting to come and nurse him herself. There was no time to lose, and Caesar summoned Michelotto.
"The same night," says Burcardus, "Don Alfonso, who would not die of his wounds, was found strangled in his bed."
The funeral took place the next day with a ceremony not unbecoming in itself, though, unsuited to his high rank. Dan Francesca Bargia, Archbishop of Cosenza, acted as chief mourner at St. Peter's, where the body was buried in the chapel of Santa Maria delle Febbre.
Lucrezia arrived the same evening: she knew her father and brother too well to be put on the wrong scent; and although, immediately after Alfonso's death, the Duke of Valentinois had arrested the doctors, the surgeons, and a poor deformed wretch who had been acting as valet, she knew perfectly well from what quarter the blow had proceeded. In fear, therefore, that the manifestation of a grief she felt this time too well might alienate the confidence of her father and brother, she retired to Nepi with her whole household, her whole court, and more than six hundred cavaliers, there to spend the period of her mourning.
This important family business was now settled, and Lucrezia was again a widow, and in consequence ready to be utilized in the pope's new political machinations. Caesar only stayed at Rome to receive the ambassadors from France and Venice; but as their arrival was somewhat delayed, and consider able inroads had been made upon the pope's treasury by the recent festivities, the creation of twelve new cardinals was arranged: this scheme was to have two effects, viz., to bring 600,000 ducats into the pontifical chest, each hat having been priced at 50,000 ducats, and to assure the pope of a constant majority in the sacred council.
The ambassadors at last arrived: the first was M. de Villeneuve, the same who had come before to see the Duke of Valentinois in the name of France. Just as he entered Rome, he met on the road a masked man, who, without removing his domino, expressed the joy he felt at his arrival. This man was Caesar himself, who did not wish to be recognised, and who took his departure after a short conference without uncovering his face. M. de Villeneuve then entered the city after him, and at the Porta del Populo found the ambassadors of the various Powers, and among them those of Spain and Naples, whose sovereigns were not yet, it is true, in declared hostility to France, though there was already some coolness. The last-named, fearing to compromise themselves, merely said to their colleague of France, by way of complimentary address, "Sir, you are welcome."; whereupon the master of the ceremonies, surprised at the brevity of the greeting, asked if they had nothing else to say. When they replied that they had not, M. de Villeneuve turned his back upon them, remarking that those who had nothing to say required no answer; he then took his place between the Archbishop of Reggia, governor of Rome, and the Archbishop of Ragusa, and made his way to the palace of the Holy Apostles, which had been, got ready far his reception.
Same days later, Maria Giorgi, ambassador extraordinary of Venice, made his arrival. He was commissioned not only to arrange the business on hand with the pope, but also to convey to Alexander and Caesar the title of Venetian nobles, and to inform them that their names were inscribed in the Golden Book—a favour that both of them had long coveted, less far the empty honour's sake than for the new influence that this title might confer. Then the pope went on to bestow the twelve cardinals' hats that had been sold. The new princes of the Church were Don Diego de Mendoza, archbishop of Seville; Jacques, archbishop of Oristagny, the Pope's vicar-general; Thomas, archbishop of Strigania; Piero, archbishop of Reggio, governor of Rome; Francesco Bargia, archbishop of Cosenza, treasurer-general; Gian, archbishop of Salerno, vice-chamberlain; Luigi Bargia, archbishop of Valencia, secretary to His Holiness, and brother of the Gian Borgia whom Caesar had poisoned; Antonio, bishop of Coma; Gian Battista Ferraro, bishop of Modena; Amedee d'Albret, son of the King of Navarre, brother-in-law of the Duke of Valentinois; and Marco Cornaro, a Venetian noble, in whose person His Holiness rendered back to the most serene republic the favour he had just received.
Then, as there was nothing further to detain the Duke of Valentinois at Rome, he only waited to effect a loan from a rich banker named Agostino Chigi, brother of the Lorenzo Chigi who had perished on the day when the pope had been nearly killed by the fall of a chimney, and departed far the Romagna, accompanied by Vitellozzo Vitelli, Gian Paolo Baglione, and Jacopo di Santa Croce, at that time his friends, but later on his victims.
His first enterprise was against Pesaro: this was the polite attention of a brother-in-law, and Gian Sforza very well knew what would be its consequences; for instead of attempting to defend his possessions by taking up arms, or to venture an negotiations, unwilling moreover to expose the fair lands he had ruled so long to the vengeance of an irritated foe, he begged his subjects, to preserve their former affection towards himself, in the hope of better days to come; and he fled into Dalmatia. Malatesta, lord of Rimini, followed his example; thus the Duke of Valentinois entered both these towns without striking a single blow. Caesar left a sufficient garrison behind him, and marched on to Faenza.
But there the face of things was changed: Faenza at that time was under the rule of Astor Manfredi, a brave and handsome young man of eighteen, who, relying on the love of his subjects towards his family, had resolved on defending himself to the uttermost, although he had been forsaken by the Bentivagli, his near relatives, and by his allies, the Venetian and Florentines, who had not dared to send him any aid because of the affection felt towards Caesar by the King of France. Accordingly, when he perceived that the Duke of Valentinois was marching against him, he assembled in hot haste all those of his vassals who were capable of bearing arms, together with the few foreign soldiers who were willing to come into his pay, and collecting victual and ammunition, he took up his position with them inside the town.
By these defensive preparations Caesar was not greatly, disconcerted; he commanded a magnificent army, composed of the finest troops of France and Italy; led by such men as Paolo and Giulio Orsini, Vitellozzo Vitelli and Paolo Baglione, not to steak of himself—that is to say, by the first captains of the period. So, after he had reconnoitred, he at once began the siege, pitching his camp between the two rivers, Amana and Marziano, placing his artillery on the side which faces on Forli, at which point the besieged party had erected a powerful bastion.
At the end of a few days busy with entrenchments, the breach became practicable, and the Duke of Valentinois ordered an assault, and gave the example to his soldiers by being the first to march against the enemy. But in spite of his courage and that of his captains beside him, Astor Manfredi made so good a defence that the besiegers were repulsed with great loss of men, while one of their bravest leaders, Honario Savella; was left behind in the trenches.
But Faenza, in spite of the courage and devotion of her defenders, could not have held out long against so formidable an army, had not winter come to her aid. Surprised by the rigour of the season, with no houses for protection and no trees for fuel, as the peasants had destroyed both beforehand, the Duke of Valentinois was forced to raise the siege and take up his winter quarters in the neighbouring towns, in order to be quite ready for a return next spring; for Caesar could not forgive the insult of being held in check by a little town which had enjoyed a long time of peace, was governed by a mere boy, and deprived of all outside aid, and had sworn to take his revenge. He therefore broke up his army into three sections, sent one-third to Imola, the second to Forli, and himself took the third to Cesena, a third-rate town, which was thus suddenly transformed into a city of pleasure and luxury.
Indeed, for Caesar's active spirit there must needs be no cessation of warfare or festivities. So, when war was interrupted, fetes began, as magnificent and as exciting as he knew how to make them: the days were passed in games and displays of horsemanship, the nights in dancing and gallantry; for the loveliest women of the Romagna—and that is to say of the whole world had come hither to make a seraglio for the victor which might have been envied by the Sultan of Egypt or the Emperor of Constantinople.
While the Duke of Valentinois was making one of his excursions in the neighbourhood of the town with his retinue of flattering nobles and titled courtesans, who were always about him, he noticed a cortege an the Rimini road so numerous that it must surely indicate the approach of someone of importance. Caesar, soon perceiving that the principal person was a woman, approached, and recognised the very same lady-in-waiting to the Duchess of Urbino who, on the day of the bull-fight, had screamed when Caesar was all but touched by the infuriated beast. At this time she was betrothed, as we mentioned, to Gian Carracciuola, general of the Venetians. Elizabeth of Gonzaga, her protectress and godmother, was now sending her with a suitable retinue to Venice, where the marriage was to take place.
Caesar had already been struck by the beauty of this young girl, when at Rome; but when he saw her again she appeared more lovely than on the first occasion, so he resolved on the instant that he would keep this fair flower of love for himself: having often before reproached himself for his indifference in passing her by. Therefore he saluted her as an old acquaintance, inquired whether she were staying any time at Cesena, and ascertained that she was only passing through, travelling by long stages, as she was awaited with much impatience, and that she would spend the coming night at Forli. This was all that Caesar cared to knew; he summoned Michelotto, and in a low voice said a few wards to him, which were heard by no one else.
The cortege only made a halt at the neighbouring town, as the fair bride had said, and started at once for Forli, although the day was already far advanced; but scarcely had a league been revered when a troop of horsemen from Cesena overtook and surrounded them. Although the soldiers in the escort were far from being in sufficient force, they were eager to defend their general's bride; but soon same fell dead, and ethers, terrified, took to flight; and when the lady came dawn from her litter to try to escape, the chief seized her in his arms and set her in front of him on his horse; then, ordering his men to return to Cesena without him, he put his horse to the gallop in a cross direction, and as the shades of evening were now beginning to fall, he soon disappeared into the darkness.
Carracciuolo learned the news through one of the fugitives, who declared that he had recognised among the ravishers the Duke of Valentinois' soldiers. At first he thought his ears had deceived him, so hard was it to believe this terrible intelligence; but it was repeated, and he stood for one instant motionless, and, as it were, thunderstruck; then suddenly, with a cry of vengeance, he threw off his stupor and dashed away to the ducal palace, where sat the Doge Barberigo and the Council of Ten; unannounced, he rushed into their midst, the very moment after they had heard of Caesar's outrage.
"Most serene lords," he cried, "I am come to bid you farewell, for I am resolved to sacrifice my life to my private vengeance, though indeed I had hoped to devote it to the service of the republic. I have been wounded in the soul's noblest part—in my honour. The dearest thing I possessed, my wife, has been stolen from me, and the thief is the most treacherous, the most impious, the most infamous of men, it is Valentinois! My lords, I beg you will not be offended if I speak thus of a man whose boast it is to be a member of your noble ranks and to enjoy your protection: it is not so; he lies, and his loose and criminal life has made him unworthy of such honours, even as he is unworthy of the life whereof my sword shall deprive him. In truth, his very birth was a sacrilege; he is a fratricide, an usurper of the goods of other men, an oppressor of the innocent, and a highway assassin; he is a man who will violate every law, even, the law of hospitality respected by the veriest barbarian, a man who will do violence to a virgin who is passing through his own country, where she had every right to expect from him not only the consideration due to her sex and condition, but also that which is due to the most serene republic, whose condottiere I am, and which is insulted in my person and in the dishonouring of my bride; this man, I say, merits indeed to die by another hand than mine. Yet, since he who ought to punish him is not for him a prince and judge, but only a father quite as guilty as the son, I myself will seek him out, and I will sacrifice my own life, not only in avenging my own injury and the blood of so many innocent beings, but also in promoting the welfare of the most serene republic, on which it is his ambition to trample when he has accomplished the ruin of the other princes of Italy."
The doge and the senators, who, as we said, were already apprised of the event that had brought Carracciuolo before them, listened with great interest and profound indignation; for they, as he told them, were themselves insulted in the person of their general: they all swore, on their honour, that if he would put the matter in their hands, and not yield to his rage, which could only work his own undoing, either his bride should be rendered up to him without a smirch upon her bridal veil, or else a punishment should be dealt out proportioned to the affront. And without delay, as a proof of the energy wherewith the noble tribunal would take action in the affair, Luigi Manenti, secretary to the Ten, was sent to Imola, where the duke was reported to be, that he might explain to him the great displeasure with which the most serene republic viewed the outrage perpetrated upon their candottiere. At the same time the Council of Ten and the doge sought out the French ambassador, entreating him to join with them and repair in person with Manenti to the Duke of Valentinois, and summon him, in the name of King Louis XII, immediately to send back to Venice the lady he had carried off.
The two messengers arrived at Imola, where they found Caesar, who listened to their complaint with every mark of utter astonishment, denying that he had been in any way connected with the crime, nay, authorising Manenti and the French ambassador to pursue the culprits and promising that he would himself have the most active search carried on. The duke appeared to act in such complete good faith that the envoys were for the moment hoodwinked, and themselves undertook a search of the most careful nature. They accordingly repaired to the exact spot and began to procure information. On the highroad there had been found dead and wounded. A man had been seen going by at a gallop, carrying a woman in distress on his saddle; he had soon left the beaten track and plunged across country. A peasant coming home from working in the fields had seen him appear and vanish again like a shadow, taking the direction of a lonely house. An old woman declared that she had seen him go into this house. But the next night the house was gone, as though by enchantment, and the ploughshare had passed over where it stood; so that none could say, what had become of her whom they sought, far those who had dwelt in the house, and even the house itself, were there no longer.
Manenti and the French ambassador returned to Venice, and related what the duke had said, what they had done, and how all search had been in vain. No one doubted that Caesar was the culprit, but no one could prove it. So the most serene republic, which could not, considering their war with the Turks, be embroiled with the pope, forbade Caracciuala to take any sort of private vengeance, and so the talk grew gradually less, and at last the occurrence was no more mentioned.
But the pleasures of the winter had not diverted Caesar's mind from his plans about Faenza. Scarcely did the spring season allow him to go into the country than he marched anew upon the town, camped opposite the castle, and making a new breach, ordered a general assault, himself going up first of all; but in spite of the courage he personally displayed, and the able seconding of his soldiers, they were repulsed by Astor, who, at the head of his men, defended the breach, while even the women, at the top of the rampart, rolled down stones and trunks of trees upon the besiegers. After an hour's struggle man to man, Caesar was forced to retire, leaving two thousand men in the trenches about the town, and among the two thousand one of his bravest condottieri, Valentino Farnese.
Then, seeing that neither excommunications nor assaults could help him, Caesar converted the siege into a blockade: all the roads leading to Faenza were cut off, all communications stopped; and further, as various signs of revolt had been remarked at Cesena, a governor was installed there whose powerful will was well known to Caesar, Ramiro d'Orco, with powers of life and death over the inhabitants; he then waited quietly before Faenza, till hunger should drive out the citizens from those walls they defended with such vehement enthusiasm. At the end of a month, during which the people of Faenza had suffered all the horrors of famine, delegates came out to parley with Caesar with a view to capitulation. Caesar, who still had plenty to do in the Romagna, was less hard to satisfy than might have been expected, and the town yielded an condition that he should not touch either the persons or the belongings of the inhabitants, that Astor Manfredi, the youthful ruler, should have the privilege of retiring whenever he pleased, and should enjoy the revenue of his patrimony wherever he might be.
The conditions were faithfully kept so far as the inhabitants were concerned; but Caesar, when he had seen Astor, whom he did not know before, was seized by a strange passion for this beautiful youth, who was like a woman: he kept him by his side in his own army, showing him honours befitting a young prince, and evincing before the eyes of all the strongest affection for him: one day Astor disappeared, just as Caracciuolo's bride had disappeared, and no one knew what had become of him; Caesar himself appeared very uneasy, saying that he had no doubt made his escape somewhere, and in order to give credence to this story, he sent out couriers to seek him in all directions.
A year after this double disappearance, there was picked up in the Tiber, a little below the Castle Sant' Angelo, the body of a beautiful young woman, her hands bound together behind her back, and also the corpse of a handsome youth with the bowstring he had been strangled with tied round his neck. The girl was Caracciuolo's bride, the young man was Astor.
During the last year both had been the slaves of Caesar's pleasures; now, tired of them, he had had them thrown into the Tiber.
The capture of Faenza had brought Caesar the title of Duke of Romagna, which was first bestowed on him by the pope in full consistory, and afterwards ratified by the King of Hungary, the republic of Venice, and the Kings of Castile and Portugal. The news of the ratification arrived at Rome on the eve of the day on which the people are accustomed to keep the anniversary of the foundation of the Eternal City; this fete, which went back to the days of Pomponius Laetus, acquired a new splendour in their eyes from the joyful events that had just happened to their sovereign: as a sign of joy cannon were fired all day long; in the evening there were illuminations and bonfires, and during part of the night the Prince of Squillace, with the chief lords of the Roman nobility, marched about the streets, bearing torches, and exclaiming, "Long live Alexander! Long live Caesar! Long live the Borgias! Long live the Orsini! Long live the Duke of Romagna!"
Caesar's ambition was only fed by victories: scarcely was he master of Faenza before, excited by the Mariscotti, old enemies of the Bentivoglio family, he cast his eyes upon Bologna; but Gian di Bentivoglio, whose ancestors had possessed this town from time immemorial, had not only made all preparations necessary for a long resistance, but he had also put himself under the protection of France; so, scarcely had he learned that Caesar was crossing the frontier of the Bolognese territory with his army, than he sent a courier to Louis XII to claim the fulfilment of his promise. Louis kept it with his accustomed good faith; and when Caesar arrived before Bologna, he received an intimation from the King of France that he was not to enter on any undertaking against his ally Bentivoglio; Caesar, not being the man to have his plans upset for nothing, made conditions for his retreat, to which Bentivoglio consented, only too happy to be quit of him at this price: the conditions were the cession of Castello Bolognese, a fortress between Imola and Faenza, the payment of a tribute of 9000 ducats, and the keeping for his service of a hundred men-at-arms and two thousand infantry. In exchange for these favours, Caesar confided to Bentivoglio that his visit had been due to the counsels of the Mariscotti; then, reinforced by his new ally's contingent, he took the road for Tuscany. But he was scarcely out of sight when Bentivoglio shut the gates of Bologna, and commanded his son Hermes to assassinate with his own hand Agamemnon Mariscotti, the head of the family, and ordered the massacre of four-and-thirty of his near relatives, brothers, sons, daughters, and nephews, and two hundred other of his kindred and friends. The butchery was carried out by the noblest youths of Bologna; whom Bentivoglio forced to bathe their hands in this blood, so that he might attach them to himself through their fear of reprisals.
Caesar's plans with regard to Florence were now no longer a mystery: since the month of January he had sent to Pisa ten or twelve hundred men under the Command of Regniero della Sassetta and Piero di Gamba Corti, and as soon as the conquest of the Romagna was complete, he had further despatched Oliverotto di Fermo with new detachments. His own army he had reinforced, as we have seen, by a hundred men-at-arms and two thousand infantry; he had just been joined by Vitellozzo Vitelli, lord of Citta, di Castello, and by the Orsini, who had brought him another two or three thousand men; so, without counting the troops sent to Pisa, he had under his control seven hundred men-at-arms and five thousand infantry.
Still, in spite of this formidable company, he entered Tuscany declaring that his intentions were only pacific, protesting that he only desired to pass through the territories of the republic on his way to Rome, and offering to pay in ready money for any victual his army might require. But when he had passed the defiles of the mountains and arrived at Barberino, feeling that the town was in his power and nothing could now hinder his approach, he began to put a price on the friendship he had at first offered freely, and to impose his own conditions instead of accepting those of others. These were that Piero dei Medici, kinsman and ally of the Orsini, should be reinstated in his ancient power; that six Florentine citizens, to be chosen by Vitellozzo, should be put into his hands that they might by their death expiate that of Paolo Vitelli, unjustly executed by the Florentines; that the Signoria should engage to give no aid to the lord of Piombino, whom Caesar intended to dispossess of his estates without delay; and further, that he himself should be taken into the service of the republic, for a pay proportionate to his deserts. But just as Caesar had reached this point in his negotiations with Florence, he received orders from Louis XII to get ready, so soon as he conveniently could, to follow him with his army and help in the conquest of Naples, which he was at last in a position to undertake. Caesar dared not break his word to so powerful an ally; he therefore replied that he was at the king's orders, and as the Florentines were not aware that he was quitting them on compulsion, he sold his retreat for the sum of 36,000 ducats per annum, in exchange for which sum he was to hold three hundred men-at-arms always in readiness to go to the aid of the republic at her earliest call and in any circumstances of need.
But, hurried as he was, Caesar still hoped that he might find time to conquer the territory of Piombino as he went by, and take the capital by a single vigorous stroke; so he made his entry into the lands of Jacopo IV of Appiano. The latter, he found, however, had been beforehand with him, and, to rob him of all resource, had laid waste his own country, burned his fodder, felled his trees, torn down his vines, and destroyed a few fountains that produced salubrious waters. This did not hinder Caesar from seizing in the space of a few days Severeto, Scarlino, the isle of Elba, and La Pianosa; but he was obliged to stop short at the castle, which opposed a serious resistance. As Louis XII's army was continuing its way towards Rome, and he received a fresh order to join it, he took his departure the next day, leaving behind him, Vitellozzo and Gian Paolo Bagliani to prosecute the siege in his absence.
Louis XII was this time advancing upon Naples, not with the incautious ardour of Charles VIII, but, on the contrary, with that prudence and circumspection which characterised him. Besides his alliance with Florence and Rome, he had also signed a secret treaty with Ferdinand the Catholic, who had similar pretensions, through the house of Duras, to the throne of Naples to those Louis himself had through the house of Anjou. By this treaty the two kings were sharing their conquests beforehand: Louis would be master of Naples, of the town of Lavore and the Abruzzi, and would bear the title of King of Naples and Jerusalem; Ferdinand reserved for his own share Apulia and Calabria, with the title of Duke of these provinces; both were to receive the investiture from the pope and to hold them of him. This partition was all the more likely to be made, in fact, because Frederic, supposing all the time that Ferdinand was his good and faithful friend, would open the gates of his towns, only to receive into his fortresses conquerors and masters instead of allies. All this perhaps was not very loyal conduct on the part of a king who had so long desired and had just now received the surname of Catholic, but it mattered little to Louis, who profited by treasonable acts he did not have to share.
The French army, which the Duke of Valentinois had just joined, consisted of 1000 lances, 4000 Swiss, and 6000 Gascons and adventurers; further, Philip of Rabenstein was bringing by sea six Breton and Provencal vessels, and three Genoese caracks, carrying 6500 invaders.
Against this mighty host the King of Naples had only 700 men-at-arms, 600 light horse, and 6000 infantry under the command of the Colonna, whom he had taken into his pay after they were exiled by the pope from the States of the Church; but he was counting on Gonsalvo of Cordova, who was to join him at Gaeta, and to whom he had confidingly opened all his fortresses in Calabria.
But the feeling of safety inspired by Frederic's faithless ally was not destined to endure long: on their arrival at Rome, the French and Spanish ambassadors presented to the pope the treaty signed at Grenada on the 11th of November, 1500, between Louis XII and Ferdinand the Catholic, a treaty which up, to that time had been secret. Alexander, foreseeing the probable future, had, by the death of Alfonso, loosened all the bonds that attached him to the house of Aragon, and then began by making some difficulty about it. It was demonstrated that the arrangement had only been undertaken to provide the Christian princes with another weapon for attacking the Ottoman Empire, and before this consideration, one may readily suppose, all the pope's scruples vanished; on the 25th of June, therefore, it was decided to call a consistory which was to declare Frederic deposed from the throne of Naples. When Frederic heard all at once that the French army had arrived at Rome, that his ally Ferdinand had deceived him, and that Alexander had pronounced the sentence of his downfall, he understood that all was lost; but he did not wish it to be said that he had abandoned his kingdom without even attempting to save it. So he charged his two new condottieri, Fabrizio Calonna and Ranuzia di Marciano, to check the French before Capua with 300 men-at-arms, some light horse, and 3000 infantry; in person he occupied Aversa with another division of his army, while Prospero Colonna was sent to defend Naples with the rest, and make a stand against the Spaniards on the side of Calabria.
These dispositions were scarcely made when d'Aubigny, having passed the Volturno, approached to lay siege to Capua, and invested the town on both sides of the river. Scarcely were the French encamped before the ramparts than they began to set up their batteries, which were soon in play, much to the terror of the besieged, who, poor creatures, were almost all strangers to the town, and had fled thither from every side, expecting to find protection beneath the walls. So, although bravely repulsed by Fabrizio Colonna, the French, from the moment of their first assault, inspired so great and blind a terror that everyone began to talk of opening the gates, and it was only with great difficulty that Calonna made this multitude understand that at least they ought to reap some benefit from the check the besiegers had received and obtain good terms of capitulation. When he had brought them round to his view, he sent out to demand a parley with d'Aubigny, and a conference was fixed for the next day but one, in which they were to treat of the surrender of the town.
But this was not Caesar Borgia's idea at all: he had stayed behind to confer with the pope, and had joined the French army with some of his troops on the very day on which the conference had been arranged for two days later: and a capitulation of any nature would rob him of his share of the booty and the promise of such pleasure as would come from the capture of a city so rich and populous as Capua. So he opened up negotiations on his own account with a captain who was on guard at one of the gates such negotiations, made with cunning supported by bribery, proved as usual more prompt and efficacious than any others. At the very moment when Fabrizio Colonna in a fortified outpost was discussing the conditions of capitulation with the French captains, suddenly great cries of distress were heard. These were caused by Borgia, who without a word to anyone had entered the town with his faithful army from Romagna, and was beginning to cut the throats of the garrison, which had naturally somewhat relaxed their vigilance in the belief that the capitulation was all but signed. The French, when they saw that the town was half taken, rushed on the gates with such impetuosity that the besieged did not even attempt to defend themselves any longer, and forced their way into Capua by three separate sides: nothing more could be done then to stop the issue. Butchery and pillage had begun, and the work of destruction must needs be completed: in vain did Fabrizio Colonna, Ranuzio di Marciano, and Don Ugo di Cardona attempt to make head against the French and Spaniards with such men as they could get together. Fabrizia Calonna and Don Ugo were made prisoners; Ranuzia, wounded by an arrow, fell into the hands of the Duke of Valentinois; seven thousand inhabitants were massacred in the streets among them the traitor who had given up the gate; the churches were pillaged, the convents of nuns forced open; and then might be seen the spectacle of some of these holy virgins casting themselves into pits or into the river to escape the soldiers. Three hundred of the noblest ladies of the town took refuge in a tower. The Duke of Valentinois broke in the doors, chased out for himself forty of the most beautiful, and handed over the rest to his army.
The pillage continued for three days.
Capua once taken, Frederic saw that it was useless any longer to attempt defence. So he shut himself up in Castel Nuovo and gave permission to Gaeta and to Naples to treat with the conqueror. Gaeta bought immunity from pillage with 60,000 ducats; and Naples with the surrender of the castle. This surrender was made to d'Aubigny by Frederic himself, an condition that he should be allowed to take to the island of Ischia his money, jewels, and furniture, and there remain with his family for six months secure from all hostile attack. The terms of this capitulation were faithfully adhered to on both sides: d'Aubigny entered Naples, and Frederic retired to Ischia.
Thus, by a last terrible blow, never to rise again, fell this branch of the house of Aragon, which had now reigned for sixty-five years. Frederic, its head, demanded and obtained a safe-conduct to pass into France, where Louis XII gave him the duchy of Anjou and 30,000 ducats a year, an condition that he should never quit the kingdom; and there, in fact, he died, an the 9th of September 1504. His eldest son, Dan Ferdinand, Duke of Calabria, retired to Spain, where he was permitted to marry twice, but each time with a woman who was known to be barren; and there he died in 1550. Alfonso, the second son, who had followed his father to France, died, it is said, of poison, at Grenoble, at the age of twenty-two; lastly Caesar, the third son, died at Ferrara, before he had attained his eighteenth birthday.
Frederic's daughter Charlotte married in France Nicholas, Count of Laval, governor and admiral of Brittany; a daughter was born of this marriage, Anne de Laval, who married Francois de la Trimauille. Through her those rights were transmitted to the house of La Trimouille which were used later on as a claim upon the kingdom of the Two Sicilies.
The capture of Naples gave the Duke of Valentinois his liberty again; so he left the French army, after he had received fresh assurances on his own account of the king's friendliness, and returned to the siege of Piombino, which he had been forced to interrupt. During this interval Alexander had been visiting the scenes of his son's conquests, and traversing all the Romagna with Lucrezia, who was now consoled for her husband's death, and had never before enjoyed quite so much favour with His Holiness; so, when she returned to Rome. She no longer had separate rooms from him. The result of this recrudescence of affection was the appearance of two pontifical bulls, converting the towns of Nepi and Sermoneta into duchies: one was bestowed on Gian Bargia, an illegitimate child of the pope, who was not the son of either of his mistresses, Rosa Vanozza or Giulia Farnese, the other an Don Roderigo of Aragon, son of Lucrezia and Alfonso: the lands of the Colonna were in appanage to the two duchies.
But Alexander was dreaming of yet another addition to his fortune; this was to came from a marriage between Lucrezia and Don Alfonso d'Este, son of Duke Hercules of Ferrara, in favour of which alliance Louis XII had negotiated.
His Holiness was now having a run of good fortune, and he learned on the same day that Piombino was taken and that Duke Hercules had given the King of France his assent to the marriage. Both of these pieces of news were good for Alexander, but the one could not compare in importance with the other; and the intimation that Lucrezia was to marry the heir presumptive to the duchy of Ferrara was received with a joy so great that it smacked of the humble beginnings of the Borgian house. The Duke of Valentinois was invited to return to Rome, to take his share in the family rejoicing, and on the day when the news was made public the governor of St. Angelo received orders that cannon should be fired every quarter of an hour from noon to midnight. At two o'clock, Lucrezia, attired as a fiancee, and accompanied by her two brothers, the Dukes of Valentinois and Squillace, issued from the Vatican, followed by all the nobility of Rome, and proceeded to the church of the Madonna del Papalo, where the Duke of Gandia and Cardinal Gian Borgia were buried, to render thanks for this new favour accorded to her house by God; and in the evening, accompanied by the same cavalcade, which shone the more brightly under the torchlight and brilliant illuminations, she made procession through the whale town, greeted by cries of "Long live Pope Alexander VI! Lang live the Duchess of Ferrara!" which were shouted aloud by heralds clad in cloth of gold.
The next day an announcement was made in the town that a racecourse for women was opened between the castle of Sant' Angelo and the Piazza of St. Peter's; that on every third day there would be a bull-fight in the Spanish fashion; and that from the end of the present month, which was October, until the first day of Lent, masquerades would be permitted in the streets of Rome.
Such was the nature of the fetes outside; the programme of those going on within the Vatican was not presented to the people; for by the account of Bucciardo, an eye-witness, this is what happened—
"On the last Sunday of the month of October, fifty courtesans supped in the apostolic palace in the Duke of Valentinois' rooms, and after supper danced with the equerries and servants, first wearing their usual garments, afterwards in dazzling draperies; when supper was over, the table was removed, candlesticks were set on the floor in a symmetrical pattern, and a great quantity of chestnuts was scattered on the ground: these the fifty women skilfully picked up, running about gracefully, in and out between the burning lights; the pope, the Duke of Valentinois, and his sister Lucrezia, who were looking on at this spectacle from a gallery, encouraged the most agile and industrious with their applause, and they received prizes of embroidered garters, velvet boots, golden caps, and laces; then new diversions took the place of these."
We humbly ask forgiveness of our readers, and especially of our lady readers; but though we have found words to describe the first part of the spectacle, we have sought them in vain for the second; suffice it to say that just as there had been prizes for feats of adroitness, others were given now to the dancers who were most daring and brazen.