The warlike Countess Caterina Sforza-Riario had earlier been granted by her children full administration of their patrimony during their minority. To the defence of this she now addressed herself with all the resolution of her stern nature. Her life had been unfortunate, and of horrors she had touched a surfeit. Her father, Galeazzo Sforza, was murdered in Milan Cathedral by a little band of patriots; her brother Giangaleazzo had died, of want or poison, in the Castle of Pavia, the victim of her ambitious uncle, Lodovico; her husband, Girolamo Riario, she had seen butchered and flung naked from a window of the very castle which she now defended; Giacomo Feo, whom she had secretly married in second nuptials, was done to death in Forli, under her very eyes, by a party of insurrectionaries. Him she had terribly avenged. Getting her men-at-arms together, she had ridden at their head into the quarter inhabited by the murderers, and there ordered—as Macchiavelli tells us—the massacre of every human being that dwelt in it, women and children included, whilst she remained at hand to see it done. Thereafter she took a third husband, in Giovanni di Pierfrancesco de'Medici, who died in 1498. By him this lusty woman had a son whose name was to ring through Italy as that of one of the most illustrious captains of his day—Giovanni delle Bande Nere.
Such was the woman whom Sanuto has called "great-souled, but a most cruel virago," who now shut herself into her castle to defy the Borgia.
She had begun by answering the Pope's Bull of attainder with the statement that, far from owing the Holy See the tribute which it claimed, the Holy See was actually in her debt, her husband, Count Girolamo Riario, having been a creditor of the Church for the provisions made by him in his office of Captain-General of the Pontifical forces. This subterfuge, however, had not weighed with Alexander, whereupon, having also been frustrated in her attempt upon the life of the Pope's Holiness, she had proceeded to measures of martial resistance. Her children and her treasures she had dispatched to Florence that they might be out of danger, retaining of the former only her son Ottaviano, a young man of some twenty years; but, for all that she kept him near her, it is plain that she did not account him worthy of being entrusted with the defence of his tyranny, for it was she, herself, the daughter of the bellicose race of Sforza, who set about the organizing of this.
Disposing of forces that were entirely inadequate to take the field against the invader, she entrenched herself in her fortress of Forli, provisioning it to withstand a protracted siege and proceeding to fortify it by throwing up outworks and causing all the gates but one to be built up.
Whilst herself engaged upon military measures she sent her son Ottaviano to Imola to exhort the Council to loyalty and the defence of the city. But his mission met with no success. Labouring against him was a mighty factor which in other future cases was to facilitate Cesare's subjection of the Romagna. The Riarii—in common with so many other of the Romagna tyrants—had so abused their rule, so ground the people with taxation, so offended them by violence, and provoked such deep and bitter enmity that in this hour of their need they found themselves deservedly abandoned by their subjects. The latter were become eager to try a change of rulers, in the hope of finding thus an improved condition of things; a worse, they were convinced, would be impossible.
So detested were the Riarii and so abhorred the memory they left behind them in Imola that for years afterwards the name of Cesare Borgia was blessed there as that of a minister of divine justice ("tanquam minister divina justitiae") who had lifted from them the harsh yoke by which they had been oppressed.
And so it came to pass that, before ever Cesare had come in sight of Imola, he was met by several of its gentlemen who came to offer him the town, and he received a letter from the pedagogue Flaminio with assurances that, if it should be at all possible to them, the inhabitants would throw open the gates to him on his approach. And Flaminio proceeded to implore the duke that should he, nevertheless, be constrained to have recourse to arms to win admittance, he should not blame the citizens nor do violence to the city by putting it to pillage, assuring him that he would never have a more faithful, loving city than Imola once this should be in his power.
The duke immediately sent forward Achille Tiberti with a squadron of horse to demand the surrender of the town. And the captain of the garrison of Imola replied that he was ready to capitulate, since that was the will of the people. Three days later—on November 27—Cesare rode in as conqueror.
The example of the town, however, was not followed by the citadel. Under the command of Dionigio di Naldo the latter held out, and, as the duke's army made its entrance into Imola, the castellan signified his resentment by turning his cannon upon the town itself, with such resolute purpose that many houses were set on fire and demolished. This Naldo was one of the best reputed captains of foot of his day, and he had seen much service under the Sforza; but his experience could avail him little here.
On the 28th Cesare opened the attack, training his guns upon the citadel; but it was not until a week later that, having found a weak spot in the walls on the side commanding the town, he opened a breach through which his men were able to force a passage, and so possess themselves of a half-moon. Seeing the enemy practically within his outworks, and being himself severely wounded in the head, Naldo accounted it time to parley. He begged a three-days' armistice, pledging himself to surrender at the end of that time should he not receive reinforcements in the meanwhile; and to this arrangement the duke consented.
The good faith of Naldo has been questioned, and it has been suggested that his asking for three days' grace was no better than a cloak to cover his treacherous sale of the fortress to the besieger. It seems, however, to be no more than one of those lightly-uttered, irresponsible utterances with which the chronicles of the time abound, for Naldo had left his wife and children at Forli in the hands of the Countess, as hostages for his good faith, and this renders improbable the unsupported story of his baseness.
On December 7, no reinforcements having reached him, Naldo made formal surrender of the citadel, safe-conduct having been granted to his garrison.
A week later there arrived at Imola Cesare's cousin, the Cardinal Giovanni Borgia, whom the Pope had constituted legate in Bologna and the Romagna in place of the Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, and whom he had sent to support Cesare's operations with ecclesiastical authority. Cardinal Giovanni, as the Pope's representative, received in the Church of San Domenico the oath of fealty of the city to the Holy See. This was pledged by four representative members of the Council of Thirty; and by that act the conquest and subjection of the town became a fully accomplished fact.
The lesser strongholds of the territory threw up their gates one by one before the advancing enemy, until only Forli remained to be taken. Cesare pushed forward to reduce it.
On his way he passed through Faenza, whose tyrant, Manfredi, deeming himself secure in the protection of Venice and in view of the circumstance that the republic had sent to Rome the arrears of tribute due from his fief, and anxious to conciliate the Pope, received and entertained Cesare very cordially.
At Forli the case of Imola was practically repeated. Notwithstanding that the inhabitants were under the immediate eye of the formidable countess, and although she sent her brother, Alessandro Sforza, to exhort the people and the Council to stand by her, the latter, weary as the rest of the oppressive tyranny of her family, dispatched their representatives to Cesare to offer him the town.
The Countess's valour was of the sort that waxes as the straits become more desperate. Since the town abandoned and betrayed her, she would depend upon her citadel, and by a stubborn resistance make Cesare pay as dearly as possible for the place. To the danger which she seems almost eager to incur for her own part, this strong-minded, comely matron will not subject the son she has kept beside her until now; and so she packs Ottaviano off to Florence and safety. That done, she gives her mutinous subjects a taste of her anger by attempting to seize half a dozen of the principal citizens of Forli. As it happened, not only did this intent miscarry, but it went near being the means of involving her in battle even before the duke's arrival; for the people, getting wind of the affair, took up arms to defend their threatened fellow-citizens.
She consoled herself, however, by seizing the persons of Nicolo Tornielli and Lodovico Ercolani, whom the Council had sent to inform her that their representatives had gone to Cesare with the offer of the town. Further, to vent her rage and signify her humour, she turned her cannon upon the Communal Palace and shattered the tower of it.
Meanwhile Cesare advanced. It was again Tiberti who now rode forward with his horse to demand the surrender of Forli. This was accorded as readily as had been that of Imola, whereupon Cesare came up to take possession in person; but, despite the cordial invitation of the councillors, he refused to enter the gates until he had signed the articles of capitulation.
On December 19, under a deluge of rain, Cesare, in full armour, the banner of the Church borne ahead of him, rode into Forli with his troops. He was housed in the palace of Count Luffo Nomaglie (one of the gentlemen whom Caterina had hoped to capture), and his men were quartered through the town. These foreign soldiers of his seem to have got a little out of hand here at Forli, and they committed a good many abuses, to the dismay and discomfort of the Citizens.
Sanuto comments upon this with satisfaction, accounting the city well served for having yielded herself up like a strumpet. It is a comment more picturesque than just, for obviously Forli did not surrender through pusillanimity, but to the end that it might be delivered from the detestable rule of the Riarii.
The city occupied, it now remained to reduce the fortress and bring its warrior-mistress to terms. Cesare set about this at once, nor allowed the Christmas festivities to interfere with his labours, but kept his men at work to bring the siege-guns into position. On Christmas Day the countess belatedly attempted a feeble ruse in the hope of intimidating them. She flew from her battlements a banner, bearing the device of the lion of St. Mark, thinking to trick Cesare into the belief that she had obtained the protection of Venice, or, perhaps, signifying thus that she threw herself into the arms of the republic, making surrender of her fiefs to the Venetians to the end that she might spite a force which she could not long withstand—as Giovanni Sforza had sought to do.
But Cesare, nowise disturbed by that banner, pursued his preparations, which included the mounting of seven cannons and ten falconets in the square before the Church of St. John the Baptist. When all was ready for the bombardment, he made an effort to cause her to realize the hopelessness of her resistance and the vain sacrifice of life it must entail. He may have been moved to this by the valour she displayed, or it may have been that he obeyed the instincts of generalship which made him ever miserly in the matter of the lives of his soldiers. Be that as it may, with intent to bring her to a reasonable view of the situation, he rode twice to the very edge of the ditch to parley with her; but all that came of his endeavours was that on the occasion of his second appeal to her, he had a narrow escape of falling a victim to her treachery, and so losing his life.
She came down from the ramparts, and, ordering the lowering of the bridge, invited him to meet her upon it that there they might confer more at their ease, having, meanwhile, instructed her castellan to raise the bridge again the moment the duke should set foot upon it. The castellan took her instructions too literally, for even as the duke did set one foot upon it there was a grind and clank of machinery, and the great structure swung up and clattered into place. The duke remained outside, saved by a too great eagerness on the part of those who worked the winches, for had they waited but a second longer they must have trapped him.
Cesare returned angry to Forli, and set a price upon Caterina's head—20,000 ducats if taken alive, 10,000 if dead; and on the morrow he opened fire. For a fortnight this was continued without visible result, and daily the countess was to be seen upon the walls with her castellan, directing the defences. But on January 12, Cesare's cannon having been concentrated upon one point, a breach was opened at last. Instantly the waiting citizens, who had been recruited for the purpose, made forward with their faggots, heaping them up in the moat until a passage was practicable. Over this went Cesare's soldiers to force an entrance.
A stubborn fight ensued within the ravelin, where the duke's men were held in check by the defenders, and not until some four hundred corpses choked that narrow space did the besieged give ground before them.
Like most of the Italian fortresses of the period, the castle of Forli consisted of a citadel within a citadel. In the heart of the main fabric—but cut off from it again by its own moat—arose the great tower known as the Maschio. This was ever the last retreat of the besieged when the fortress itself had been carried by assault, and, in the case of the Maschio of the Citadel of Forli, so stout was its construction that it was held to be practically invulnerable.
Had the countess's soldiers made their retreat in good order to this tower, where all the munitions and provisions were stored, Cesare would have found the siege but in the beginning; but in the confusion of that grim hour, besieged and besiegers, Borgian and Riarian, swept forward interlocked, a writhing, hacking, bleeding mob of men-at-arms. Thus they flung themselves in a body across the bridge that spanned the inner moat, and so into the Maschio, whilst the stream of Cesare's soldiers that poured uninterruptedly across in the immediate wake of that battling mass rendered it impossible for the defenders to take up the bridge.
Within the tower the carnage went on, and the duke's men hacked their way through what remained of the Forlivese until they had made themselves masters of that inner stronghold whither Caterina had sought her last refuge.
A Burgundian serving under the Bailie of Dijon was the first to come upon her in the room to which she had fled with a few attendants and a handful of men, amongst whom were Alessandro Sforza, Paolo Riario, and Scipione Riario—this last an illegitimate son of her first husband's, whom she had adopted. The Burgundian declared her his prisoner, and held her for the price that had been set upon her head until the arrival of Cesare, who entered the citadel with his officers a little while after the final assault had been delivered.
Cesare received and treated her with the greatest courtesy, and, seeing her for the moment destitute, he presented her with a purse containing two hundred ducats for her immediate needs. Under his escort she left the castle, and was conducted, with her few remaining servants, to the Nomaglie Palace to remain in the Duke's care, his prisoner. Her brother and the other members of her family found with her were similarly made prisoners.
After her departure the citadel was given over to pillage, and all hell must have raged in it if we may judge from an incident related by Bernardi in his chronicles. A young clerk, named Evangelista da Monsignane, being seized by a Burgundian soldier who asked him if he had any money, produced and surrendered a purse containing thirteen ducats, and so got out of the mercenaries' clutches, but only to fall into the hands of others, one of whom again declared him a prisoner. The poor youth, terrified at the violence about him, and eager to be gone from that shambles, cried out that, if they would let him go, he would pay them a ransom of a hundred ducats.
Thereupon "Surrender to me!" cried one of the soldiers, and, as the clerk was about to do so, another, equally greedy for the ransom, thrust himself forward. "No. Surrender to me, rather," demanded this one.
The first insisted that the youth was his prisoner, whereupon the second brandished his sword, threatening to kill Evangelista. The clerk, in a panic, flung himself into the arms of a monk who was with him, crying out for mercy, and there in the monk's arms he was brutally slain, "to put an end," said his murderer, "to the dispute."
Forlimpopoli surrendered a few days later to Yves d'Allegre, whom Cesare had sent thither, whilst in Forli, as soon as he had reduced the citadel, and before even attempting to repair the damage done, the duke set about establishing order and providing for the dispensation of justice, exerting to that end the rare administrative ability which not even his bitterest detractors have denied him.
He sent a castellan to Forlimpopoli and fetched from Imola a Podesta for Forli.(1) He confirmed the Council of Forty that ruled Forli—being ten for each quarter of the city—and generally made sound and wise provision for the town's well-being, which we shall presently see bearing fruit.
1 It was customary throughout Italy that the Podesta, or chief magistrate, should never be a native of the town—rarely of the State—in which he held his office. Thus, having no local interests or relationships, he was the likelier to dispense justice with desirable single-mindedness.
Next the repairing of the fortress claimed his attention, and he disposed for this, entrusting the execution of his instructions to Ramiro de Lorqua, whom he left behind as governor. In the place where the breach was opened by his cannon he ordered the placing of a marble panel bearing his arms; and there it is to be seen to this day: Dexter, the sable bars of the House of Lenzol; Sinister, the Borgia bull in chief, and the lilies of France; and, superimposed, an inescutcheon bearing the Pontifical arms.
All measures being taken so far as Forli was concerned, Cesare turned his attention to Pesaro, and prepared to invade it. Before leaving, however, he awaited the return of his absent cousin, the Cardinal Giovanni Borgia, who, as papal legate, was to receive the oath of fealty of the town; but, instead of the cardinal whom he was expecting, came a messenger with news of his death of fever at Fossombrone.
Giovanni Borgia had left Forli on December 28 to go to Cesena, with intent, it was said, to recruit to his cousin's army those men of Rimini, who, exiled and in rebellion against their tyrant Malatesta, had sought shelter in that Pontifical fief. Thence he had moved on to Urbino, where—in the ducal palace—he awaited news of the fall of Forli, and where, whilst waiting, he fell ill. Nevertheless, when the tidings of Cesare's victory reached him, he insisted upon getting to horse, to repair to Forli; but, discovering himself too ill to keep the saddle, he was forced to abandon the journey at Fossombrone, whilst the outcome of the attempt was an aggravation of the fever resulting in the cardinal's death.
Cesare appears to have been deeply grieved by the loss of Giovanni, and there is every cause to suppose that a sincere attachment prevailed between the cousins. Yet Cesare has been charged with his death, and accused of having poisoned him, and, amidst the host of silly, baseless accusations levelled against Cesare, you shall find none more silly or baseless than this. In other instances of unproven crimes with which he has been charged there may be some vestiges of matter that may do duty for evidence or be construed into motives; here there is none that will serve one purpose or the other, and the appalling and rabid unscrupulousness, the relentless malice of Borgian chroniclers is in nothing so completely apparent as in this accusation.
Sanuto mentions the advices received, and the rumours which say that Cesare murdered him through jealousy, knowing him beloved by the Pope, seeing him a legate, and fearing that he might come to be given the governorship of some Romagna fief.
When Gandia died and Cesare was accused of having murdered him, the motive advanced was that Cesare, a papal legate, resented a brother who was a duke. Now, Cesare, being a duke, resents a cousin's being a papal legate. You will observe that, if this method of discovering motives is pursued a little further, there is no man who died in Cesare's life-time whom Cesare could not be shown to have had motives for murdering.
Sillier even than Sanuto's is the motive with which Giovio attempts to bolster up the accusation which he reports: "He [Cesare] poisoned him because he [Giovanni] favoured the Duke of Gandia."
That, apparently, was the best that Giovio could think of. It is hardly intelligible—which is perhaps inevitable, for it is not easy to be intelligible when you don't quite know, yourself, what you mean, which must have been Giovio's case.
The whole charge is so utterly foolish, stupid, and malicious that it would scarcely be worth mentioning, were it not that so many modern writers have included this among the Borgia crimes. As a matter of fact—and as a comparison of the above-cited dates will show—eighteen days had elapsed between Giovanni Borgia's leaving Cesare at Forli and his succumbing at Urbino—which in itself disposes of the matter. It may be mentioned that this is a circumstance which those foolish or deliberately malicious calumniators either did not trouble to ascertain or else thought it wiser to slur over. Although, had they been pressed, there was always the death of Djem to be cited and the fiction of the slow-working poison specially invented to meet and explain his case.
The preparations for the invasion of Pesaro were complete, and it was determined that on January 22 the army should march out of Forli; but on the night of the 21st a disturbance occurred. The Swiss under the Bailie of Dijon became mutinous—they appear throughout to have been an ill-conditioned lot—and they clamoured now for higher pay if they were to go on to Pesaro, urging that already they had served the Duke of Valentinois as far as they had pledged themselves to the King of France.
Towards the third hour of the night the Bailie himself, with these mutineers at his heels, presented himself at the Nomaglie Palace to demand that the Countess Sforza-Riario should be delivered into his hands. His claim was that she was his prisoner, since she had been arrested by a soldier of his own, and that her surrender was to France, to which he added—a thought inconsequently, it seems—that the French law forbade that women should be made prisoners. Valentinois, taken utterly by surprise, and without the force at hand to resist the Bailie and his Swiss, was compelled to submit and to allow the latter to carry the countess off to his own lodging; but he dispatched a messenger to Forlimpopoli with orders for the immediate return of Allegre and his horse, and in the morning, after Mass, he had the army drawn up in the market-place; and so, backed by his Spanish, French, and Italian troops, he faced the threatening Swiss.
The citizens were in a panic, expecting to see battle blaze out at any moment, and apprehensive of the consequences that might ensue for the town.
The Swiss had grown more mutinous than ever overnight, and they now refused to march until they were paid. It was Cesare's to quell and restore them to obedience. He informed them that they should be paid when they reached Cesena, and that, if they were retained thereafter in his employ, their pay should be on the improved scale which they demanded. Beyond that he made no concessions. The remainder of his harangue was matter to cow them into submission, for he threatened to order the ringing of the alarm-bells, and to have them cut to pieces by the people of Forli whom their gross and predatory habits had already deeply offended.
Order was at last restored, and the Bailie of Dijon was compelled to surrender back the countess to Cesare. But their departure was postponed until the morrow. On that day, January 23, after receiving the oath of fealty from the Anziani in the Church of San Mercuriale, the duke marched his army out of Forli and took the road to Pesaro.
Caterina Sforza Riario went with him. Dressed in black and mounted upon a white horse, the handsome amazon rode between Cesare Borgia and Yves d'Allegre.
At Cesena the duke made a halt, and there he left the countess in the charge of d'Allegre whilst he himself rode forward to overtake the main body of his army, which was already as far south as Cattolica. As for Giovanni Sforza, despite the fact that the Duke of Urbino had sent some foot to support him, he was far more likely to run than to fight, and in fact he had already taken the precaution of placing his money and valuables in safety and was disposing, himself, to follow them. But it happened that there was not yet the need. Fate—in the shape of his cousin Lodovico of Milan—postponed the occasion.
On the 26th Cesare lay at Montefiori, and there he was reached by couriers sent at all speed from Milan by Trivulzio. Lodovico Sforza had raised an army of Swiss and German mercenaries to reconquer his dominions, and the Milanese were opening their arms to receive him back, having already discovered that, in exchanging his rule for that of the French, they had but exchanged King Log for King Stork. Trivulzio begged for the instant return of the French troops serving under Cesare, and Cesare, naturally compelled to accede, was forced to postpone the continuance of his campaign, a matter which must have been not a little vexatious at such a moment.
He returned to Cesena, where, on the 27th, he dismissed Yves d'Allegre and his men, who made all haste back to Milan, so that Cesare was left with a force of not more than a thousand foot and five hundred horse. These, no doubt, would have sufficed him for the conquest of Pesaro, but Giovanni Sforza, encouraged by his cousin's return, and hopeful now of assistance, would certainly entrench himself and submit to a siege which must of necessity be long-drawn, since the departure of the French had deprived Cesare of his artillery.
Therefore the duke disposed matters for his return to Rome instead, and, leaving Ercole Bentivogli with five hundred horse and Gonsalvo de Mirafuente with three hundred foot to garrison Forli, he left Cesena with the remainder of his forces, including Vitelli's horse, on January 30. With him went Caterina Sforza-Riario, and of course there were not wanting those who alleged that, during the few days at Cesena he had carried his conquest of her further than the matter of her territories(1)—a rumour whose parent was, no doubt, the ribald jest made in Milan by Trivulzio when he heard of her capture.
1 "Teneva detta Madona (la qual e belissima dona, fiola del Ducha Galeazo di Milan) di zorno e di note in la sna camera, con la quale—judicio omnium—si deva piacer" (Sanuto's Diarii).
He conducted her to Rome—in golden chains, "like another Palmyra," it is said—and there she was given the beautiful Belvedere for her prison until she attempted an escape in the following June; whereupon, for greater safety, she was transferred to the Castle of Sant' Angelo. There she remained until May of 1501, when, by the intervention of the King of France, she was set at liberty and permitted to withdraw to Florence to rejoin her children. In the city of the lilies she abode, devoting herself to good works until she ended her turbulent, unhappy life in 1509.
The circumstance that she was not made to pay with her life for her attempt to poison the Pope is surely something in favour of the Borgias, and it goes some way towards refuting the endless statements of their fierce and vindictive cruelty. Of course, it has been urged that they spared her from fear of France; but, if that is admitted, what then becomes of the theory of that secret poison which might so well have been employed in such a case as this?
CHAPTER IV. GONFALONIER OF THE CHURCH
Although Cesare Borgia's conquest of Imola and Forli cannot seriously be accounted extraordinary military achievements—save by consideration of the act that this was the first campaign he had conducted—yet in Rome the excitement caused by his victory was enormous. Possibly this is to be assigned to the compelling quality of the man's personality, which was beginning to manifest and assert itself and to issue from the shadow into which it had been cast hitherto by that of his stupendous father.
The enthusiasm mounted higher and higher whilst preparations were being made for his reception, and reached its climax on February 26, when, with overpowering pomp, he made an entrance into Rome that was a veritable triumph.
Sanuto tells us that, as news came of his approach, the Pope, in his joyous impatience and excitement, became unable to discharge the business of his office, and no longer would give audience to any one. Alexander had ever shown himself the fondest of fathers to his children, and now he overflowed with pride in this son who already gave such excellent signs of his capacity as a condottiero, and justified his having put off the cassock to strap a soldier's harness to his lithe and comely body.
Cardinals Farnese and Borgia, with an imposing suite, rode out some way beyond the gates of Santa Maria del Popolo to meet the duke. At the gate itself a magnificent reception had been prepared him, and the entire Pontifical Court, prelates, priests, ambassadors of the Powers, and officials of the city and curia down to the apostolic abbreviators and secretaries, waited to receive him.
It was towards evening—between the twenty-second and the twenty-third hours—when he made his entrance. In the van went the baggage-carts, and behind these marched a thousand foot in full campaign apparel, headed by two heralds in the duke's livery and one in the livery of the King of France. Next came Vitellozzo's horse followed by fifty mounted gentlemen-at-arms—the duke's Caesarean guard—immediately preceding Cesare himself.
The handsome young duke—"bello e biondo"—was splendidly mounted, but very plainly dressed in black velvet with a simple gold chain for only ornament, and he had about him a hundred guards on foot, also in black velvet, halbert on shoulder, and a posse of trumpeters in a livery that displayed his arms. In immediate attendance upon him came several cardinals on their mules, and behind these followed the ambassadors of the Powers, Cesare's brother Giuffredo Borgia, and Alfonso of Aragon, Duke of Biselli and Prince of Salerno—Lucrezia's husband and the father of her boy Roderigo, born some three months earlier. Conspicuous, too, in Cesare's train would be the imposing figure of the formidable Countess Sforza-Riario, in black upon her white horse, riding in her golden shackles between her two attendant women.
As the procession reached the Bridge of Sant' Angelo a salute was thundered forth by the guns from the castle, where floated the banners of Cesare and of the Church. The press of people from the Porta del Popolo all the way to the Vatican was enormous. It was the year of the Papal Jubilee, and the city was thronged, with pilgrims from all quarters of Europe who had flocked to Rome to obtain the plenary indulgence offered by the Pope. So great was the concourse on this occasion that the procession had the greatest difficulty in moving forward, and the progress through the streets, packed with shouting multitudes, was of necessity slow. At last, however, the Bridge of Sant' Angelo being crossed, the procession pushed on to the Vatican along the new road inaugurated for the Jubilee by Alexander in the previous December.
From the loggia above the portals of the Vatican the Pope watched his son's imposing approach, and when the latter dismounted at the steps his Holiness, with his five attendant cardinals, descended to the Chamber of the Papagallo—the papal audience-chamber, contiguous to the Borgia apartments—to receive the duke. Thither sped Cesare with his multitude of attendants, and at sight of him now the Pope's eyes were filled with tears of joy. The duke advanced gravely to the foot of the throne, where he fell upon his knees, and was overheard by Burchard to express to his father, in their native Spanish, all that he owed to the Pope's Holiness, to which Alexander replied in the same tongue. Then Cesare stooped and kissed the Pope's feet and then his hand, whereupon Alexander, conquered no doubt by the paternal instincts of affection that were so strong in him, raised his son and took him fondly in his arms.
The festivities in honour of Cesare's return were renewed in Rome upon the morrow, and to this the circumstance that the season was that of carnival undoubtedly contributed and lent the displays a threatrical character which might otherwise have been absent. In these the duke's victories were made the subject of illustration. There was a procession of great chariots in Piazza Navona, with groups symbolizing the triumphs of the ancient Caesar, in the arrangement of which, no doubt, the assistance had been enlisted of that posse of valiant artists who were then flocking to Rome and the pontifical Court.
Yriarte, mixing his facts throughout with a liberal leaven of fiction, tells us that "this is the precise moment in which Cesare Borgia, fixing his eyes upon the Roman Caesar, takes him definitely for his model and adopts the device 'Aut Caesar, aut nihil.'"
Cesare Borgia never adopted that device, and never displayed it. In connection with him it is only to be found upon the sword of honour made for him when, while still a cardinal, he went to crown the King of Naples. It is not at all unlikely that the inscription of the device upon that sword—which throughout is engraved with illustrations of the career of Julius Caesar—may have been the conceit of the sword-maker as a rather obvious play upon Cesare's name.(1) Undoubtedly, were the device of Cesare's own adoption we should find it elsewhere, and nowhere else is it to be found.
1 The scabbard of this sword is to be seen in the South Kensington Museum; the sword itself is in the possession of the Caetani family.
Shortly after Cesare's return to Rome, Imola and Forli sent their ambassadors to the Vatican to beseech his Holiness to sign the articles which those cities had drawn up and by virtue of which they created Cesare their lord in the place of the deposed Riarii.
It is quite true that Alexander had announced that, in promoting the Romagna campaign, he had for object to restore to the Church the States which had rebelliously seceded from her. Yet there is not sufficient reason to suppose that he was flagrantly breaking his word in acceding to the request of which those ambassadors were the bearers and in creating his son Count of Imola and Forli. Admitted that this was to Cesare's benefit and advancement, it is still to be remembered that those fiefs must be governed for the Church by a Vicar, as had ever been the case.
That being so, who could have been preferred to Cesare for the dignity, seeing that not only was the expulsion of the tyrants his work, but that the inhabitants themselves desired him for their lord? For the rest, granted his exceptional qualifications, it is to be remembered that the Pope was his father, and—setting aside the guilt and scandal of that paternity—it is hardly reasonable to expect a father to prefer some other to his son for a stewardship for which none is so well equipped as that same son. That Imola and Forli were not free gifts to Cesare, detached, for the purpose of so making them, from the Holy See, is clear from the title of Vicar with which Cesare assumed control of them, as set forth in the Bull of investiture.
In addition to his receiving the rank of Vicar and Count of Imola and Forli, it was in this same month of March at last—and after Cesare may be said to have earned it—that he received the Gonfalon of the Church. With the unanimous concurrence of the Sacred College, the Pope officially appointed him Captain-General of the Pontifical forces—the coveting of which position was urged, it will be remembered, as one of his motives for his alleged murder of the Duke of Gandia three years earlier.
On March 29 Cesare comes to St. Peter's to receive his new dignity and the further honour of the Golden Rose which the Pope is to bestow upon him—the symbol of the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant.
Having blessed the Rose, the Pope is borne solemnly into St. Peter's, preceded by the College of Cardinals. Arrived before the High Altar, he puts off his tiara—the conical, richly jewelled cap, woven from the plumage of white peacocks—and bareheaded kneels to pray; whereafter he confesses himself to the Cardinal of Benevento, who was the celebrant on this occasion. That done, he ascends and takes his seat upon the Pontifical Throne, whither come the cardinals to adore him, while the organ peals forth and the choir gives voice. Last of all comes Cesare, dressed in cloth of gold with ermine border, to kneel upon the topmost step of the throne, whereupon the Pope, removing his tiara and delivering it to the attendant Cardinal of San Clemente, pronounces the beautiful prayer of the investiture. That ended, the Pope receives from the hands of the Cardinal of San Clemente the splendid mantle of gonfalonier, and sets it about the duke's shoulders with the prescribed words: "May the Lord array thee in the garment of salvation and surround thee with the cloak of happiness." Next he takes from the hands of the Master of the Ceremonies—that same Burchard whose diary supplies us with these details—the gonfalonier's cap of scarlet and ermine richly decked with pearls and surmounted by a dove—the emblem of the Holy Spirit—likewise wrought in pearls. This he places upon Cesare's auburn head; whereafter, once more putting off his tiara, he utters the prescribed prayer over the kneeling duke.
That done, and the Holy Father resuming his seat and his tiara, Cesare stoops to kiss the Pope's feet, then rising, goes in his gonfalonier apparel, the cap upon his head, to take his place among the cardinals. The organ crashes forth again; the choir intones the "Introito ad altare Deum"; the celebrant ascends the altar, and, having offered incense, descends again and the Mass begins.
The Mass being over, and the celebrant having doffed his sacred vestments and rejoined his brother cardinals, the Cardinal of San Clemente repairs once more to the Papal Throne, preceded by two chamberlains who carry two folded banners, one bearing the Pope's personal arms, the other the arms of Holy Church. Behind the cardinal follows an acolyte with the censer and incense-boat and another with the holy water and the aspersorio, and behind these again two prelates with a Missal and a candle. The Pope rises, blesses the folded banners and incenses them, having received the censer from the hands of a priest who has prepared it. Then, as he resumes his seat, Cesare steps forward once more, and, kneeling, places both hands upon the Missal and pronounces in a loud, clear voice the words of the oath of fealty to St. Peter and the Pope, swearing ever to protect the latter and his successors from harm to life, limb, or possessions. Thereafter the Pope takes the blessed banners and gives the charge of them to Cesare, delivering into his hands the white truncheon symbolic of his office, whilst the Master of Ceremonies hands the actual banners to the two deputies, who in full armour have followed to receive them, and who attach them to the lances provided for the purpose.
The investiture is followed by the bestowal of the Golden Rose, whereafter Cesare, having again kissed the Pope's feet and the Ring of the Fisherman on his finger, has the cap of office replaced upon his head by Burchard himself, and so the ceremonial ends.
The Bishop of Isernia was going to Cesena to assume the governorship of that Pontifical fief, and, profiting by this, Cesare appointed him his lieutenant-general in Romagna, with authority over all his other officers there and full judicial powers. Further, he desired him to act as his deputy and receive the oath of fealty of the duke's new subjects.
Meanwhile, Cesare abode in Rome, no doubt impatient of the interruption which his campaign had suffered, and which it seemed must continue yet awhile. Lodovico Sforza had succeeded in driving the French out of his dominions as easily as he, himself, had been driven out by them a few months earlier. But Louis XII sent down a fresh army under La Tremouille, and Lodovico, basely betrayed by his Swiss mercenaries at Novara in April, was taken prisoner.
That was the definite end of the Sforza rule in Milan. For ten years the crafty, scheming Lodovico was left to languish a prisoner in the Castle of Loches, at the end of which time he miserably died.
Immediately upon the return of the French to Milan, the Pope asked for troops that Cesare might resume his enterprise not only against Pesaro, Faenza, and Rimini, but also against Bologna, where Giovanni Bentivogli had failed to support—as in duty bound—the King of France against Lodovico Sforza. But Bentivogli repurchased the forfeited French protection at the price of 40,000 ducats, and so escaped the impending danger; whilst Venice, it happened, was growing concerned to see no profit accruing to herself out of this league with France and Rome; and that was a matter which her trader spirit could not brook. Therefore, Venice intervened in the matter of Rimini and Faenza, which she protected in somewhat the same spirit as the dog protected the straw in the manger. Next, when, having conquered the Milanese, Louis XII turned his thoughts to the conquest of Naples, and called upon Venice to march with him as became a good ally, the Republic made it quite clear that she was not disposed to move unless there was to be some profit to herself. She pointed out that Mantua and Ferrara were in the same case as Bologna, for having failed to lend assistance to the French in the hour of need, and proposed to Louis XII the conquest and division of those territories.
Thus matters stood, and Cesare had perforce to await the conclusion of the Pisan War in which the French were engaged, confident, however, that, once that was at an end, Louis, in his anxiety to maintain friendly relations with the Pope, would be able to induce Venice to withdraw her protection from Rimini and Faenza. So much accomplished for him, he was now in a position to do the rest without the aid of French troops if necessary. The Jubilee—protracted for a further year, so vast and continuous was the concourse of the faithful, 200,000 of whom knelt in the square before St. Peter's on Easter Day to receive the Pope's blessing—was pouring vast sums of money into the pontifical coffers, and for money men were to be had in plenty by a young condottiero whose fame had been spreading ever since his return from the Romagna. He was now the hope of the soldiers of fortune who abounded in Italy, attracted thither from all quarters by the continual opportunities for employment which that tumultuous land afforded.
It is in speaking of him at about this time, and again praising his personal beauty and fine appearance, that Capello says of him that, if he lives, he will be one of Italy's greatest captains.
Such glimpses as in the pages of contemporary records we are allowed of Cesare during that crowded time of the Papal Jubilee are slight and fleeting. On April 13 we see him on horseback accompanying the Pope through Rome in the cavalcade that visited the four Basilicas to win the indulgence offered, and, as usual, he is attended by his hundred armed grooms in black.
On another occasion we behold him very differently engaged—giving an exhibition of his superb physical gifts, his strength, his courage, and his matchless address. On June 24, at a bull-fight held in Rome—Spanish tauromachia having been introduced from Naples, where it flourished under the Aragon dominion—he went down into the arena, and on horseback, armed only with a light lance, he killed five wild bulls. But the master-stroke he reserved for the end. Dismounting, and taking a double-handed sword to the sixth bull that was loosed against him, he beheaded the great beast at one single stroke, "a feat which all Rome considered great."
Thus sped the time of waiting, and meanwhile he gathered about him a Court not only of captains of fortune, but of men of art and letters, whom he patronized with a liberality—indeed, a prodigality—so great that it presently became proverbial, and, incidentally, by its proportions provoked his father's disapproval. In the brilliant group of men of letters who enjoyed his patronage were such writers as Justolo, Sperulo, and that unfortunate poet Serafino Cimino da Aquila, known to fame and posterity as the great Aquilano. And it would be, no doubt, during these months that Pier di Lorenzo painted that portrait of Cesare which Vasari afterwards saw in Florence, but which, unfortunately, is not now known to exist. Bramante, too, was of his Court at this time, as was Michelangelo Buonarroti, whose superb group of "Mercy," painted for Cardinal de Villiers, had just amazed all Rome. With Pinturicchio, and Leonardi da Vinci—whom we shall see later beside Cesare—Michelangelo was ever held in the highest esteem by the duke.
The story of that young sculptor's leap into fame may not be so widely known but that its repetition may be tolerated here, particularly since, remotely at least, it touches Cesare Borgia.
When, in 1496, young Buonarroti, at the age of twenty-three, came from Florence to Rome to seek his fortune at the opulent Pontifical Court, he brought a letter of recommendation to Cardinal Sforza-Riario. This was the time of the great excavations about Rome; treasures of ancient art were daily being rescued from the soil, and Cardinal Sforza-Riario was a great dilletante and collector of the antique. With pride of possession, he conducted the young sculptor through his gallery, and, displaying his statuary to him, inquired could he do anything that might compare with it. If the cardinal meant to use the young Florentine cavalierly, his punishment was immediate and poetic, for amid the antiques Michelangelo beheld a sleeping Cupid which he instantly claimed as his own work. Riario was angry; no doubt suspicious, too, of fraud. This Cupid was—as its appearance showed—a genuine antique, which the cardinal had purchased from a Milanese dealer for two hundred ducats. Michelangelo, in a passion, named the dealer—one Baldassare—to whom he had sent the statue after treating it, with the questionable morality of the cinquecentist, so as to give it the appearance of having lain in the ground, to the end that Baldassare might dispose of it as an antique.
His present fury arose from his learning the price paid by the cardinal to Baldassare, from whom Michelangelo had received only thirty ducats. In his wrath he demanded—very arbitrarily it seems—the return of his statue. But to this the cardinal would not consent until Baldassare had been arrested and made to disgorge the money paid him. Then, at last, Sforza-Riario complied with Michelangelo's demands and delivered him his Cupid—a piece of work whose possession had probably ceased to give any pleasure to that collector of the antique.
But the story was bruited abroad, and cultured Rome was agog to see the statue which had duped so astute a judge as Sforza-Riario. The fame of the young sculptor spread like a ripple over water, and it was Cesare Borgia—at that time still Cardinal of Valencia who bought the Cupid. Years later he sent it to Isabella d'Este, assuring her that it had not its equal among contemporary works of art.
CHAPTER V. THE MURDER OF ALFONSO OF ARAGON
We come now to the consideration of an event which, despite the light that so many, and with such assurance, have shed upon it, remains wrapped in uncertainty, and presents a mystery second only to that of the murder of the Duke of Gandia.
It was, you will remember, in July of 1498 that Lucrezia took a second husband in Alfonso of Aragon, the natural son of Alfonso II of Naples and nephew of Federigo, the reigning king. He was a handsome boy of seventeen at the time of his marriage—one year younger than Lucrezia—and, in honour of the event and in compliance with the Pope's insistence, he was created by his uncle Duke of Biselli and Prince of Salerno. On every hand the marriage was said to be a love-match, and of it had been born, in November of 1499, the boy Roderigo.
On July 15, 1500, at about the third hour of the night, Alfonso was assaulted and grievously wounded—mortally, it was said at first—on the steps of St. Peter's.
Burchard's account of the affair is that the young prince was assailed by several assassins, who wounded him in the head, right arm, and knee. Leaving him, no doubt, for dead, they fled down the steps, at the foot of which some forty horsemen awaited them, who escorted them out of the city by the Pertusa Gate. The prince was residing in the palace of the Cardinal of Santa Maria in Portico, but so desperate was his condition that those who found him upon the steps of the Basilica bore him into the Vatican, where he was taken to a chamber of the Borgia Tower, whilst the Cardinal of Capua at once gave him absolution in articulo mortis.
The deed made a great stir in Rome, and was, of course, the subject of immediate gossip, and three days later Cesare issued an edict forbidding, under pain of death, any man from going armed between Sant' Angelo and the Vatican.
News of the event was carried immediately to Naples, and King Federigo sent his own physician, Galieno, to treat and tend his nephew. In the care of that doctor and a hunchback assistant, Alfonso lay ill of his wounds until August 17, when suddenly be died, to the great astonishment of Rome, which for some time had believed him out of danger. In recording his actual death, Burchard is at once explicit and reticent to an extraordinary degree. "Not dying," he writes, "from the wound he had taken, he was yesterday strangled in his bed at the nineteenth hour."
Between the chronicling of his having been wounded on the steps of St. Peter's and that of his death, thirty-three days later, there is no entry in Burchard's diary relating to the prince, nor anything that can in any way help the inquirer to a conclusion; whilst, on the subject of the strangling, not another word does the Master of Ceremonies add to what has above been quoted. That he should so coldly—almost cynically—state that Alfonso was strangled, without so much as suggesting by whom, is singular in one who, however grimly laconic, is seldom reticent—notwithstanding that he may have been so accounted by those who despaired of finding in his diary the confirmation of such points of view as they happen to have chosen and of such matters as it pleased them to believe and propagate.
That same evening Alfonso's body was borne, without pomp, to St. Peter's, and placed in the Chapel of Santa Maria delle Febbre. It was accompanied by Francesco Borgia, Archbishop of Cosenza.
The doctor who had been in attendance upon the deceased and the hunchback were seized, taken to Sant' Angelo and examined, but shortly thereafter set at liberty.
So far we are upon what we may consider safe ground. Beyond that we cannot go, save by treading the uncertain ways of speculation, and by following the accounts of the various rumours circulated at the time. Formal and absolutely positive evidence of the author of Alfonso's murder there is none.
The Venetian ambassador, the ineffable, gossip-mongering Paolo Capello, whom we have seen possessed of the fullest details concerning the Duke of Gandia's death—although he did not come to Rome until two and a half years after the crime—is again as circumstantial in this instance. You see in this Capello the forerunner of the modern journalist of the baser sort, the creature who prowls in quest of scraps of gossip and items of scandal, and who, having found them, does not concern himself greatly in the matter of their absolute truth so that they provide him with sensational "copy." It is this same Capello, bear in mind, who gives us the story of Cesare's murdering in the Pope's very arms that Pedro Caldes who is elsewhere shown to have fallen into Tiber and been drowned, down to the lurid details of the blood's spurting into the Pope's face.
His famous Relazione to the Senate in September of 1500 is little better than an epitome of all the scandal current in Rome during his sojourn there as ambassador, and his resurrection of the old affair of the murder of Gandia goes some way towards showing the spirit by which he was actuated and his love of sensational matter. It has pleased most writers who have dealt with the matter of the murder of Alfonso of Aragon to follow Capello's statements; consequently these must be examined.
He writes from Rome—as recorded by Sanuto—that on July 16 Alfonso of Biselli was assaulted on the steps of St. Peter's, and received four wounds, "one in the head, one in the arm, one in the shoulder, and one in the back." That was all that was known to Capello at the time he wrote that letter, and you will observe already the discrepancy between his statement, penned upon hearsay, and Burchard's account—which, considering the latter's position at the Vatican, must always be preferred. According to Burchard the wounds were three, and they were in the head, right arm, and knee.
On the 19th Capello writes again, and, having stated that Lucrezia—who was really prostrate with grief at her husband's death—was stricken with fever, adds that "it is not known who has wounded the Duke of Biselli, but it is said that it was the same who killed and threw into Tiber the Duke of Gandia. My Lord of Valentinois has issued an edict that no one shall henceforth bear arms between Sant' Angelo and the Vatican."
On the face of it, that edict of Valentinois' seems to argue vexation at what had happened, and the desire to provide against its repetition—a provision hardly likely to be made by the man who had organized the assault, unless he sought, by this edict, to throw dust into the eyes of the world; and one cannot associate after the event and the fear of criticism with such a nature as Cesare's or with such a character as is given him by those who are satisfied that it was he who murdered Biselli.
The rumour that Alfonso had been assailed by the murderer of Gandia is a reasonable enough rumour, so long as the latter remains unnamed, for it would simply point to some enemy of the House of Borgia who, having slain one of its members, now attempts to slay another. Whether Capello actually meant Cesare when he penned those words on July 19, is not as obvious as may be assumed, for it is to be borne in mind that, at this date, Capello had not yet compiled the "relation" in which he deals with Gandia's murder.
On July 23 he wrote that the duke was very ill, indeed, from the wound in his head, and on the 28th that he was in danger owing to the same wound although the fever had abated.
On August 18 he announces Alfonso's death in the following terms: "The Duke of Biselli, Madonna Lucrezia's husband, died to-day because he was planning the death of the Duke [of Valentinois] by means of an arbalest-bolt when he walked in the garden; and the duke has had him cut to pieces in his room by his archers."
This "cutting-to-pieces" form of death is one very dear to the imagination of Capello, and bears some witness to his sensation-mongering proclivities.
Coming to matters more public, and upon which his evidence is more acceptable, he writes on the 20th that some servants of the prince's have been arrested, and that, upon being put to the question, they confessed to the prince's intent to kill the Duke of Valentinois, adding that a servant of the duke's was implicated. On the 23rd Capello circumstantially confirms this matter of Alfonso's attempt upon Cesare's life, and states that this has been confessed by the master of Alfonso's household, "the brother of his mother, Madonna Drusa."
That is the sum of Capello's reports to the Senate, as recorded by Sanuto. The rest, the full, lurid, richly-coloured, sensational story, is contained in his "relation" of September 20. He prefaces the narrative by informing the Senate that the Pope is on very bad terms with Naples, and proceeds to relate the case of Alfonso of Aragon as follows:
"He was wounded at the third hour of night near the palace of the Duke of Valentinois, his brother-in-law, and the prince ran to the Pope, saying that he had been wounded and that he knew by whom; and his wife Lucrezia, the Pope's daughter, who was in the room, fell into anguish. He was ill for thirty-three days, and his wife and sister, who is the wife of the Prince of Squillace, another son of the Pope's, were with him and cooked for him in a saucepan for fear of his being poisoned, as the Duke of Valentinois so hated him. And the Pope had him guarded by sixteen men for fear that the duke should kill him. And when the Pope went to visit him Valentinois did not accompany him, save on one occasion, when he said that what had not been done at breakfast might be done at supper.... On August 17 he [Valentinois] entered the room where the prince was already risen from his bed, and, driving out the wife and sister, called in his man, named Michieli, and had the prince strangled; and that night he was buried."
Now the following points must arise to shake the student's confidence in this narrative, and in Capello as an authority upon any of the other matters that he relates:
(i) "He was wounded near the palace of the Duke of Valentinois." This looks exceedingly like an attempt to pile up evidence against Cesare, and shows a disposition to resort to the invention of it. Whatever may not have been known about Alfonso's death, it was known by everybody that he was wounded on the steps of St. Peter's, and Capello himself, in his dispatches, had said so at the time. A suspicion that Capello's whole relation is to serve the purpose of heaping odium upon Cesare at once arises and receives confirmation when we consider that, as we have already said, it is in this same relation that the fiction about Pedro Caldes finds place and that the guilt of the murder of the Duke of Gandia is definitely fixed upon Cesare.
(ii) "He ran to the Pope ['Corse dal Papa'] saying that he had been wounded, and that he knew by whom." A man with a wound in his head which endangered his life for over a week would hardly be conscious on receiving it, nor is it to be supposed that, had he been conscious, his assailants would have departed. It cannot be doubted that they left him for dead. He was carried into the palace, and we know, from Burchard, that the Cardinal of Capua gave him absolution in articulo mortis, which abundantly shows his condition. It is unthinkable that he should have been able to "run to the Pope," doubtful that he should have been able to speak; and, if he did, who was it reported his words to the Venetian ambassador? Capello wisely refrains from saying.
(iii) Lucrezia and Sancia attempt to protect him from poison by cooking his food in his room. This is quite incredible. Even admitting the readiness to do so on the part of these princesses, where was the need, considering the presence of the doctor—admitted by Capello—sent from Naples and his hunchback assistant?
(iv) "The Pope had him guarded by sixteen men for fear the duke should kill him." Yet when, according to Capello, the duke comes on his murderous errand, attended only by Michieli (who has been generally assumed by writers to have been Don Michele da Corella, one of Cesare's captains), where were these sixteen guards? Capello mentions the dismissal only of Lucrezia and Sancia.
(v) "Valentinois...said that what had not been done at breakfast might be done at supper." It will be observed that Capello never once considers it necessary to give his authorities for anything that he states. It becomes, perhaps, more particularly noteworthy than usual in the case of this reported speech of Cesare's. He omits to say to whom Cesare addressed those sinister words, and who reported them to him. The statement is hardly one to be accepted without that very necessary mention of authorities, nor can we conceive Capello omitting them had he possessed them.
It will be seen that it is scarcely necessary to go outside of Capello's own relation for the purpose of traversing the statements contained in it, so far as the death of Alfonso of Aragon is concerned.
It is, however, still to be considered that, if Alfonso knew who had attempted his life—as Capello states that he told the Pope—and knew that he was in hourly danger of death from Valentinois, it may surely be taken for granted that he would have imparted the information to the Neapolitan doctor sent him by his uncle, who must have had his confidence.
We know that, after the prince's death, the physician and his hunchback assistant were arrested, but subsequently released. They returned to Naples, and in Naples, if not elsewhere, the truth must have been known—definite and authentic facts from the lips of eye-witnesses, not mere matters of rumour, as was the case in Rome. It is to Neapolitan writings, then, that we must turn for the truth of this affair; and yet from Naples all that we find is a rumour—the echo of the Roman rumour—"They say," writes the Venetian ambassador at the Court of King Federigo, "that he was killed by the Pope's son."
A more mischievous document than Capello's Relazione can seldom have found its way into the pages of history; it is the prime source of several of the unsubstantiated accusations against Cesare Borgia upon which subsequent writers have drawn—accepting without criticism—and from which they have formed their conclusions as to the duke's character. Even in our own times we find the learned Gregorovius following Capello's relation step by step, and dealing out this matter of the murder of the Duke of Biselli in his own paraphrases, as so much substantiated, unquestionable fact. We find in his Lucrezia Borgia the following statement: "The affair was no longer a mystery. Cesare himself publicly declared that he had killed the duke because his life had been attempted by the latter."
To say that Cesare "publicly declared that he had killed the duke" is to say a very daring thing, and is dangerously to improve upon Capello. If it is true that Cesare made this public declaration how does it happen that no one but Capello heard him? for in all other documents there is no more than offered us a rumour of how Alfonso died. Surely it is to be supposed that, had Cesare made any such declaration, the letters from the ambassadors would have rung with it. Yet they will offer you nothing but statements of what is being rumoured!
Nor does Gregorovius confine himself to that in his sedulous following of Capello's Relation. He serves up out of Capello the lying story of the murder of Pedro Caldes. "What," he says of Cesare, to support his view that Cesare murdered Alfonso of Aragon, "could be beyond this terrible man who had poignarded the Spaniard Pedro Caldes...under the Pope's very cloak, so that his blood spurted up into the Pope's face?" This in his History of Rome. In his Lucrezia Borgia he almost improves upon it when he says that "The Venetian ambassador, Paolo Capello, reports how Cesare Borgia stabbed the chamberlain Perotto, etc., but Burchard makes no mention of the fact." Of the fact of the stabbing, Burchard certainly makes no mention; but he does mention that the man was accidentally drowned, as has been considered. It is again—and more flagrantly than ever—a case of proving Cesare guilty of a crime of which there is no conclusive evidence by charging him with another, which—in this instance—there is actually evidence that he did not commit.
But this is by the way.
Burchard's entries in his diary relating to the assault upon Alfonso of Aragon can no more escape the criticism of the thoughtful than can Capello's relation. His forty horsemen, for instance, need explaining. Apart from the fact that this employment of forty horsemen would be an altogether amazing and incredible way to set about the murder of a single man, it is to be considered that such a troop, drawn up in the square before St. Peter's, must of necessity have attracted some attention. It was the first hour of the night, remember—according to Burchard—that is to say, at dusk. Presumably, too, those horsemen were waiting when the prince arrived. How then, did he—and why was he allowed—to pass them, only to be assailed in ascending the steps? Burchard, presumably, did not himself see these horsemen; certainly he cannot have seen them escorting the murderers to the Pertusa Gate. Therefore he must have had the matter reported to him. Naturally enough, had the horsemen existed, they must have been seen. How, then, does it happen that Capello did not hear of them? nor the Florentine ambassador, who says that the murderers were four, nor any one else apparently?
To turn for a moment to the Florentine ambassador's letters upon the subject, we find in this other Capello—Francesco Capello was his name—accounts which differ alike from Paolo Capello's and from Burchard' stories. But he is careful to say that he is simply repeating the rumours that are abroad, and cites several different versions that are current, adding that the truth of the affair is not known to anybody. His conclusions, however, particularly those given in cipher, point to Cesare Borgia as the perpetrator of the deed, and hint at some such motive of retaliation for an attempt upon his own life as that which is given by the ambassador of Venice.
There is much mystery in the matter, despite Gregorovius's assertion to the contrary—mystery which mere assertion will not dissipate. This conclusion, however, it is fair to draw: if, on Capello's evidence, we are to accept it that Cesare Borgia is responsible for the death of Alfonso of Aragon, then, on the same evidence, we must accept the motive as well as the deed. We must accept as equally exact his thrice-repeated statement in letters to the Senate that the prince had planned Cesare's death by posting crossbow-men to shoot him.(1)
1 It is extremely significant that Capello's Relazione contains no mention of Alfonso's plot against Cesare's life, a matter which, as we have seen, had figured so repeatedly in that ambassador's dispatches from Rome at the time of the event. This omission is yet another proof of the malicious spirit by which the "relation" was inspired. The suppression of anything that might justify a deed attributed to Cesare reveals how much defamation and detraction were the aims of this Venetian.
Either we must accept all, or we must reject all, that Capello tells us. If we reject all, then we are left utterly without information as to how Alfonso of Aragon died. If we accept all, then we find that it was as a measure of retaliation that Cesare compassed the death of his brother-in-law, which made it not a murder, but a private execution—justifiable under the circumstances of the provocation received and as the adjustment of these affairs was understood in the Cinquecento.
CHAPTER VI. RIMINI AND PESARO
In the autumn of 1500, fretting to take the field again, Cesare was occupied in raising and equipping an army—an occupation which received an added stimulus when, towards the end of August, Louis de Villeneuve, the French ambassador, arrived in Rome with the articles of agreement setting forth the terms upon which Louis XII was prepared further to assist Cesare in the resumption of his campaign. In these it was stipulated that, in return for such assistance, Cesare should engage himself, on his side, to aid the King of France in the conquest of Naples when the time for that expedition should be ripe. Further, Loius XII was induced to make representations to Venice to the end that the Republic should remove her protection from the Manfredi of Faenza and the Malatesta of Rimini.
Venice being at the time in trouble with the Turk, and more anxious than ever to conciliate France and the Pope, was compelled to swallow her reluctance and submit with the best grace she could assume. Accordingly she dispatched her ambassadors to Rome to convey her obedience to the Pope's Holiness, and formally to communicate the news that she withdrew her protection from the proscribed fiefs.
Later in the year—in the month of October—the Senate was to confer upon Cesare Borgia the highest honour in her gift, the honour of which the Venetians were jealous above all else—the honour of Venetian citizenship, inscribing his name in the Golden Book, bestowing upon him a palace in Venice and conferring the other marks of distinction usual to the occasion. One is tempted to ask, Was it in consequence of Paolo Capello's lurid Relation that the proud Republic considered him qualified for such an honour?
To return, however, to the matter of the Republic's removal of her shield from Rimini and Faenza, Alexander received the news of this with open joy and celebrated it with festivities in the Vatican, whilst from being angry with Venice and from declaring that the Republic need never again look to him for favour, he now veered round completely and assured the Venetian envoys, in a burst of gratitude, that he esteemed no Power in the world so highly. Cesare joined in his father's expressions of gratitude and appreciation, and promised that Alexander should be succeeded in St. Peter's Chair by such a Pope as should be pleasing to Venice, and that, if the cardinals but remained united, the Pontificate should go to none but a Venetian.
Thus did Cesare, sincerely or otherwise, attempt to lessen the Republic's chagrin to see him ride lance-on-thigh as conqueror into the dominions which she so long had coveted.
France once more placed Yves d'Allegre at Cesare's disposal, and with him went six hundred lances and six hundred Swiss foot. These swelled the forces which already Cesare had assembled into an army some ten thousand strong. The artillery was under the command of Vitellozzo Vitelli, whilst Bartolomeo da Capranica was appointed camp-master. Cesare's banner was joined by a condotta under Paolo Orsini—besides whom there were several Roman gentlemen in the duke's following, including most of those who had formed his guard of honour on the occasion of his visit to France, and who had since then continued to follow his fortunes. Achille Tiberti came to Rome with a condotta which he had levied in the Romagna of young men who had been moved by Cesare's spreading fame to place their swords at his disposal. A member of the exiled Malvezzi family of Bologna headed a little troop of fellow-exiles which came to take service with the duke, whilst at Perugia a strong body of foot awaited him under Gianpaolo Baglioni.
In addition to these condotte, numerous were the adventurers who came to offer Cesare their swords; indeed he must have possessed much of that personal magnetism which is the prime equipment of every born leader, for he stirred men to the point of wild enthusiasm in those days, and inspired other than warriors to bear arms for him. We see men of letters, such as Justolo, Calmeta, Sperulo, and others throwing down their quills to snatch up swords and follow him. Painters, and sculptors, too, are to be seen abandoning the ideals of art to pursue the ugly realities of war in this young condottiero's train. Among these artists, bulks the great Pietro Torrigiani. The astounding pen of his brother-sculptor, Benvenuto Cellini, has left us a sharp portrait of this man, in which he speaks of his personal beauty and tells us that he had more the air of a great soldier than a sculptor (which must have been, we fancy, Cellini's own case). Torrigiani lives in history chiefly for two pieces of work widely dissimilar in character—the erection of the tomb of Henry VII of England, and the breaking of the nose of Michelangelo Buonarroti in the course of a quarrel which he had with him in Florence when they were fellow-students under Masaccio. Of nothing that he ever did in life was he so proud—as we may gather from Cellini—as of having disfigured Michelangelo, and in that sentiment the naive spirit of his age again peeps forth.
We shall also see Leonardo da Vinci joining the duke's army as engineer—but that not until some months later.
Meanwhile his forces grew daily in Rome, and his time was consumed in organizing, equipping, and drilling these, to bring about that perfect unity for which his army was to be conspicuous in spite of the variety of French, Italian, Spanish, and Swiss elements of which it was composed. So effectively were his troops armed and so excellent was the discipline prevailing among them, that their like had probably never before been seen in the peninsula, and they were to excite—as much else of Cesare's work—the wonder and admiration of that great critic Macchiavelli.
So much, however, was not to be achieved without money, and still more would be needed for the campaign ahead. For this the Church provided. Never had the coffers of the Holy See been fuller than at this moment. Additional funds accrued from what is almost universally spoken of as "the sale of twelve cardinals' hats."
In that year—in September—twelve new cardinals were appointed, and upon each of those was levied, as a tax, a tithe of the first year's revenues of the benefices upon which they entered. The only justifiable exception that can be taken to this lies in the number of cardinals elected at one time, which lends colour to the assumption that the sole aim of that election was to raise additional funds for Cesare's campaign. Probably it was also Alexander's aim further to strengthen his power with the Sacred College, so that he could depend upon a majority to ensure his will in all matters. But we are at the moment concerned with the matter of the levied tax.
It has been dubbed "an atrocious act of simony;" but the reasoning that so construes it is none so clear. The cardinals' hats carried with them vast benefices. These benefices were the property of the Church; they were in the gift and bestowal of the Pope, and in the bestowing of them the Pope levied a proportionate tax. Setting aside the argument that this tax was not an invention of Alexander's, does such a proceeding really amount to a "sale" of benefices? A sale presupposes bargaining, a making of terms between two parties, an adjusting of a price to be paid. There is evidence of no such marketing of these benefices; indeed one cardinal, vowed to poverty, received his hat without the imposition of a tax, another was Cesare's brother-in-law, Amanieu d'Albret, who had been promised the hat a year ago. It is further to be borne in mind that, four months earlier, the Pope had levied a similar decima, or tax, upon the entire College of Cardinals and every official in the service of the Holy See, for the purposes of the expedition against the Muslim, who was in arms against Christianity. Naturally that tax was not popular with luxurious, self-seeking, cinquecento prelates, who in the main cared entirely for their own prosperity and not at all for that of Christianity, and you may realize how, by levying it, Alexander laid himself open to harsh criticism.
The only impugnable matter in the deed lies, as has been said, in the number of cardinals so created at a batch. But the ends to be served may be held to justify, if not altogether, at least in some measure, the means adopted. The Romagna war for which the funds were needed was primarily for the advancement of the Church, to expunge those faithless vicars who, appointed by the Holy See and holding their fiefs in trust for her, refused payment of just tribute and otherwise so acted as to alienate from the Church the States which she claimed for her own. Their restoration to the Church—however much it might be a means of founding a Borgia dynasty in the Romagna—made for the greater power and glory of the Holy See. Let us remember this, and that such was the end which that tax, levied upon those newly elected cardinals, went to serve. The aggrandizement of the House of Borgia was certainly one of the results to be expected from the Romagna campaign, but we are not justified in accounting it the sole aim and end of that campaign.
Alexander had this advantage over either Sixtus IV or Innocent VIII—not to go beyond those Popes whom he had served as Vice-Chancellor, for instances of flagrant nepotism—that he at least served two purposes at once, and that, in aggrandizing his own family, he strengthened the temporal power of the Church, whereas those others had done nothing but undermine it that they might enrich their progeny.
And whilst on this subject of the "sale" of cardinals' hats, it may not be amiss to say a word concerning the "sale" of indulgences with which Alexander has been so freely charged. Here again there has been too loud an outcry against Alexander—an outcry whose indignant stridency leads one to suppose that the sale of indulgences was a simony invented by him, or else practised by him to an extent shamefully unprecedented. Such is very far from being the case. The arch-type of indulgence-seller—as of all other simoniacal practices—is Innocent VIII. In his reign we have seen the murderer commonly given to choose between the hangman and the purchase of a pardon, and we have seen the moneys so obtained providing his bastard, the Cardinal Francesco Cibo, with the means for the luxuriously licentious life whose gross disorders prematurely killed him.
To no such flagitious lengths as these can it be shown that Alexander carried the "sale" of the indulgences he dispensed. He had no lack of precedent for the practice, and, so far as the actual practice itself is concerned, it would be difficult to show that it was unjustifiable or simoniacal so long as confined within certain well-defined bounds, and so long as the sums levied by it were properly employed to the benefit of Christianity. It is a practice comparable to the mulcting of a civil offender against magisterial laws. Because our magistrates levy fines, it does not occur to modern critics to say that they sell pardons and immunity from gaol. It is universally recognized as a wise and commendable measure, serving the two-fold purpose of punishing the offender and benefiting the temporal State against which he has offended. Need it be less commendable in the case of spiritual offences against a spiritual State? It is more useful than the imposition of the pattering of a dozen prayers at bedtime, and since, no doubt, it falls more heavily upon the offender, it possibly makes to an even greater extent for his spiritual improvement.
Thus considered, this "sale" of indulgences loses a deal of the heinousness with which it has been invested. The funds so realized go into the coffers of the Church, which is fit and proper. What afterwards becomes of them at the hands of Alexander opens up another matter altogether, one in which we cannot close our eyes to the fact that he was as undutiful as many another who wore the Ring of the Fisherman before him. Yet this is to be said for him: that, if he plunged his hands freely into the treasury of the Holy See, at least he had the ability to contrive that this treasury should be well supplied; and the circumstance that, when he died, he left the church far wealthier and more powerful than she had been for centuries, with her dominions which his precursors had wantonly alienated reconsolidated into that powerful State that was to endure for three hundred years, is an argument to the credit of his pontificate not lightly to be set aside.
Imola and Forli had, themselves, applied to the Pontiff to appoint Cesare Borgia their ruler in the place of the deposed Riarii. To these was now added Cesena. In July disturbances occurred there between Guelphs and Ghibellines. Swords were drawn and blood flowed in the streets, until the governor was constrained to summon Ercole Bentivogli and his horse from Forli to quell the rioting. The direct outcome of this was that—the Ghibellines predominating in council—Cesena sent an embassy to Rome to beg his Holiness to give the lordship of the fief to the Duke of Valentinois. To this the Pope acceded, and on August 2 Cesare was duly appointed Lord Vicar of Cesena. He celebrated his investiture by remitting a portion of the taxes, abolishing altogether the duty on flour, and by bringing about a peace between the two prevailing factions.
By the end of September Cesare's preparations for the resumption of the campaign were completed, and early in October (his army fortified in spirit by the Pope's blessing) he set out, and made his first halt at Nepi. Lucrezia was there, with her Court and her child Roderigo, having withdrawn to this her castle to mourn her dead husband Alfonso; and there she abode until recalled to Rome by her father some two months later.
Thence Cesare pushed on, as swiftly as the foul weather would allow him, by way of Viterbo, Assisi, and Nocera to cross the Apennines at Gualdo. Here he paused to demand the release of certain prisoners in the hill fortress of Fossate, and to be answered by a refusal. Angered by this resistance of his wishes and determined to discourage others from following the example of Fossate, he was swift and terrible in his rejoinder. He seized the Citadel, and did by force what had been refused to his request. Setting at liberty the prisoners in durance there, he gave the territory over to devastation by fire and pillage.
That done he resumed his march, but the weather retarded him more and more. The heavy and continuous rains had reduced the roads to such a condition that his artillery fell behind, and he was compelled to call a halt once more, at Deruta, and wait there four days for his guns to overtake him.
In Rimini the great House of Malatesta was represented by Pandolfo—Roberto Malatesta's bastard and successor—a degenerate so detested by his subjects that he was known by the name of Pandolfaccio (a contumelious augmentative, expressing the evil repute in which he was held).
Among his many malpractices and the many abuses to which he resorted for the purposes of extorting money from his long-suffering subjects was that of compelling the richer men of Rimini to purchase from him the estates which he confiscated from the fuorusciti—those who had sought in exile safety from the anger provoked by their just resentment of his oppressive misrule. He was in the same case as other Romagna tyrants, and now that Venice had lifted from him her protecting aegis, he had no illusions as to the fate in store for him. So when once more the tramp of Cesare Borgia's advancing legions rang through the Romagna, Pandolfaccio disposed himself, not for battle, but for surrender on the best terms that he might succeed in making.
He was married to Violante, the daughter of Giovanni Bentivogli of Bologna, and in the first week of October he sent her, with their children, to seek shelter at her father's Court. Himself, he withdrew into his citadel—the famous fortress of his terrible grandfather Sigismondo. The move suggested almost that he was preparing to resist the Duke of Valentinois, and it may have prompted the message sent him by the Council to inquire what might be his intention.
Honour was a thing unknown to this Pandolfaccio—even so much honour as may be required for a dignified retreat. Since all was lost it but remained—by his lights—to make the best bargain that he could and get the highest possible price in gold for what he was abandoning. So he replied that the Council must do whatever it considered to its best advantage, whilst to anticipate its members in any offer of surrender, and thus seek the favour and deserve good terms at the hands of this man who came to hurl him from the throne of his family, he dispatched a confidential servant to Cesare to offer him town and citadel.
In the meantime—as Pandolfo fully expected—the Council also sent proposals of surrender to Cesare, as well as to his lieutenant-general of Romagna, Bishop Olivieri, at Cesena. The communications had the effect of bringing Olivieri immediately to Rimini, and there, on October 10, the articles of capitulation were signed by the bishop, as the duke's representative, and by Pandolfo Malatesta. It was agreed in these that Malatesta should have safe-conduct for himself and his familiars, 3,000 ducats and the value—to be estimated—of the artillery which he left in the citadel. Further, for the price of 5,500 ducats he abandoned also the strongholds of Sarsina and Medola and the castles of the Montagna.
His tyranny thus disposed of, Pandolfaccio took ship to Ravenna, where the price of his dishonour was to be paid him, and in security for which he took with him Gianbattista Baldassare, the son of the ducal commissioner.
On the day of his departure, to celebrate the bloodless conquest of Rimini, solemn High Mass was sung in the Cathedral, and Bishop Olivieri received the city's oath of allegiance to the Holy See, whither very shortly afterwards Rimini sent her ambassadors to express to the Pope her gratitude for her release from the thraldom of Pandolfaccio.
Like Rimini, Pesaro too fell without the striking of a blow, for all that it was by no means as readily relinquished on the part of its ruler. Giovanni Sforza had been exerting himself desperately for the past two months to obtain help that should enable him to hold his tyranny against the Borgia might. But all in vain. His entreaties to the emperor had met with no response, whilst his appeal to Francesco Gonzaga of Mantua—whose sister, it will be remembered, had been his first wife—had resulted in the Marquis's sending him a hundred men under an Albanian, named Giacopo.
What Giovanni was to do with a hundred men it is difficult to conceive, nor are the motives of Gonzaga's action clear. We know that at this time he was eagerly seeking Cesare's friendship, sorely uneasy as to the fate that might lie in store for his own dominions, once the Duke of Valentinois should have disposed of the feudatories of the Church. Early in that year 1500 he had asked Cesare to stand godfather for his child, and Cesare had readily consented, whereby a certain bond of relationship and good feeling had been established between them, which everything shows Gonzaga most anxious to preserve unsevered. The only reasonable conclusion in the matter of that condotta of a hundred men is that Gonzaga desired to show friendliness to the Lord of Pesaro, yet was careful not to do so to any extent that might be hurtful to Valentinois.
As for Giovanni Sforza of whom so many able pens have written so feelingly as the constant, unfortunate victim of Borgia ambition, there is no need to enter into analyses for the purpose of judging him here. His own subjects did so in his own day. When a prince is beloved by all classes of his people, it must follow that he is a good prince and a wise ruler; when his subjects are divided into two factions, one to oppose and the other to support him, he may be good or bad, or good and bad; but when a prince can find none to stand by him in the hour of peril, it is to be concluded that he has deserved little at the hands of those whom he has ruled. The latter is the case of Giovanni Sforza—this prince whom, Yriarte tells us, "rendered sweet the lives of his subjects." The nobility and the proletariate of Pesaro abhorred him; the trader classes stood neutral, anxious to avoid the consequences of partisanship, since it was the class most exposed to those consequences.
On Sunday, October 11—the day after Pandolfo Malatesta had relinquished Rimini—news reached Pesaro that Ercole Bentivogli's horse was marching upon the town, in advance of the main body of Cesare's army. Instantly there was an insurrection against Giovanni, and the people, taking to arms, raised the cry of "Duca!" in acclamation of the Duke of Valentinois, under the very windows of their ruler's palace.