In coming to terms with Cardinal della Rovere, Cesare made the first great mistake of his career, took the first step towards ruin. He should have known better than to have trusted such a man. He should have remembered the ancient bitter rancour; should have recognized, in the amity of later times, the amity of the self-seeker, and mistrusted it. But della Rovere had acquired a reputation for honesty and for being a man of his word. How far he deserved it you may judge from what is presently to follow. He had acquired it, however, and Cesare, to his undoing, attached faith to that reputation. He may, to some extent, have counted upon the fact that, of Cardinal della Rovere's bastard children, only a daughter—Felice della Rovere—survived. Raffaele, the last of his bastard boys, had died a year ago. Thus, Cesare may have concluded that the cardinal having no sons whose fortunes he must advance, would lack temptation to break faith with him.
From all this it resulted that, at the Conclave of November 1, Giuliano della Rovere was elected Pope, and took the name of Julius II; whilst Valentinois, confident now that his future was assured, left the Castle of Sant' Angelo to take up his residence at the Vatican, in the Belvedere, with forty gentlemen constituting his suite.
On November 3 Julius II issued briefs to the Romagna, ordering obedience to Cesare, with whom he was now in daily and friendliest intercourse.
In the Romagna, meanwhile, the disturbances had not only continued, but they had taken a fresh turn. Venice, having reseated Malatesta on the throne, now vented at last the covetousness she had ever, herself, manifested of that dominion, and sent a force to drive him out again and conquer Rimini for the Republic.
Florence, in a spasm of jealous anger at this, inquired was the Pope to become the chaplain of Venice, and dispatched Macchiavelli to bear the tale of these doings to Julius.
Under so much perpetual strife the strength of the Romagna was gradually crumbling, and Cesare, angry with Florence for never going beyond lip-service, expressed that anger to Macchiavelli, informing the ambassador that the Signory could have saved the Romagna for him with a hundred men-at-arms.
The duke sent for Giustiniani, the ambassador of Venice, who, however, excused himself and did not go. This within a week of the new Pope's election, showing already how men discerned what was in store for Valentinois. Giustiniani wrote to his Government that he had not gone lest his going should give the duke importance in the eyes of others.(1) The pettiness and meanness of the man, revealed in that dispatch, will enable you to attach to Giustiniani the label that belongs to him.
1 "Per non dar materia ad altri che fazino un po di lui mazor estimazion di quel che fanno quando lo vedessero in parte alcuna favorito."—Giustiniani, Dispatch of November 6, 1503.
To cheer Valentinois in those days of depression came news that his subjects of Imola had successfully resisted an attack on the part of the Venetians. So stimulated was he that he prepared at once to go, himself, into the Romagna, and obtained from the Pope, from d'Amboise, and from Soderini, letters to Florence desiring the Signory to afford him safe-conduct through Tuscany for himself and his army.
The Pope expressed himself, in his letter, that he would count such safe-conduct as a great favour to himself, and urged the granting of it out of his "love for Cesare," owing to the latter's "great virtues and shining merits."(2) Yet on the morrow of dispatching that brief, this man, who was accounted honest, straightforward, and imbued with a love of truth, informed Giustiniani—or else Giustiniani lied in his dispatches—that he understood that the Venetians were assailing the Romagna, not out of enmity to the Church, but to punish the demerits of Cesare, and he made it plain to Giustiniani that, if he complained of the conduct of the Venetians, it was on his own behalf and not on Cesare's, as his aim was to preserve the Romagna, not for the duke, but for the Church.
2 "In quo nobis rem gratissimam facietis ducis enim ipsum propter ejus insignes virtutes et praeclara merita praecipuo affectur et caritate praecipua complectimur."—Archivio di Stato, Firenze. (See Alvisi, Doct. 96.)
With the aim we have no quarrel. It was laudable enough in a Pontiff. But it foreshadows Cesare's ruin, in spite of the love-protesting letter to Florence, in spite of the bargain struck by virtue of which Julius had obtained the pontificate. Whether the Pope went further in his treachery, whether, having dispatched that brief to Florence, he sent other communications to the Signory, is not ascertainable; but the suspicion of some such secret action is inspired by what ensued.
On November 13 Cesare was ready to leave Rome; but no safe-conduct had arrived. Out of all patience at this, he begged the Pope that the captain of the pontifical navy should prepare him five galleons at Ostia, by which he could take his foot to Genoa, and thence proceed into Romagna by way of Ferrara.
Macchiavelli, at the same time, was frenziedly importuning Florence to grant the duke the desired safe-conduct lest in despair Cesare should make a treaty with Venice—"or with the devil"—and should go to Pisa, employing all his money, strength, and influence to vent his wrath upon the Signory. But the Signory knew more, perhaps, than did Macchiavelli, for no attention was paid to his urgent advice.
On the 19th Cesare left Rome to set out for Genoa by way of Ostia, and his departure threw Giustiniani into alarm—fearing that the duke would now escape.
But there was no occasion for his fears. On the very day of Cesare's departure Julius sent fresh briefs to the Romagna, different indeed from those of November 3. In these he now expressed his disapproval of Alexander's having conferred the vicarship of the Romagna upon Cesare Borgia, and he exhorted all to range themselves under the banner of the Church, under whose protection he intended to keep them.
Events followed quickly upon that. Two days later news reached the Pope that the Venetians had captured Faenza, whereupon he sent a messenger after Valentinois to suggest to the latter that he should surrender Forli and the other fiefs into pontifical hands. With this Cesare refused to comply, and, as a result, he was detained by the captain of the navy, in obedience to the instructions from Julius. At the same time the Pope broke the last link of the treaty with Cesare by appointing a new Governor of Romagna in the person of Giovanni Sacchi, Bishop of Ragusa. He commanded the latter to take possession of the Romagna in the name of the Church, and he issued another brief—the third within three weeks—demanding the State's obedience to the new governor.
On November 26, Remolino, who had been at Ostia with Cesar; came to Rome, and, throwing himself at the feet of the Pontiff, begged for mercy for his lord, whom he now accounted lost. He promised Julius that Cesare should give him the countersigns of the strongholds, together with security for their surrender. This being all that the Pope could desire, he issued orders that Cesare be brought back to Rome, and in Consistory advised the Sacred College—by way, no doubt, of exculpating himself to men who knew that he was refusing to pay the price at which he had bought the Papacy—that the Venetians in the Romagna were not moving against the Church, but against Cesare himself—wherefore he had demanded of Cesare the surrender of the towns he held, that thus there might be an end to the war.
It was specious—which is the best that can be said for it.
As for putting an end to the war, the papal brief was far indeed from achieving any such thing, as was instantly plain from the reception it met with in the Romagna, which persisted in its loyalty to Cesare in despite of the very Pope himself. When that brief was read in Cesena a wild tumult ensued, and the people ran through the streets clamouring angrily for their duke.
It was very plain what short work would have been made of such men as the Ordelaffi and the Malatesta had Cesare gone north. But Cesare was fast at the Vatican, treated by the Pope with all outward friendliness and consideration, but virtually a prisoner none the less. Julius continued to press for the surrender of the Romagna strongholds, which Remolino had promised in his master's name; but Cesare persisted obstinately to refuse, until the news reached him that Michele da Corella and della Volpe, who had gone north with seven hundred horse to support his Romagnuoli, had been cut to pieces in Tuscany by the army of Gianpaolo Baglioni.
Cesare bore his burning grievance to the Pope. The Pope sympathized with him most deeply; then went to write a letter to the Florentines to thank them for what had befallen and to beg them to send him Michele da Corella under a strong escort—that redoubtable captain having been taken prisoner together with della Volpe.
Corella was known to be fully in the duke's confidence, and there were rumours that he was accused of many things perpetrated on the duke's behalf. Julius, bent now on Cesare's ruin, desired to possess himself of this man in the hope of being able to put him upon his trial under charges which should reflect discredit upon Cesare.
At last the duke realized that he was betrayed, and that all was lost, and so he submitted to the inevitable, and gave the Pope the countersigns he craved. With these Julius at once dispatched an envoy into the Romagna, and, knowing the temper of Cesare's captains, he insisted that this envoy should be accompanied by Piero d'Orvieto, as Cesare's own commissioner, to demand that surrender.
But the intrepid Pedro Ramires, who held Cesena, knowing the true facts of the case, and conceiving how his duke had been constrained, instead of making ready to yield, proceeded further to fortify for resistance. When the commissioners appeared before his gates he ordered the admission of Piero d'Orvieto. That done, he declared that he desired to see his duke at liberty before he would surrender the citadel which he held for him, and, taking d'Orvieto, he hanged him from the battlements as a traitor and a bad servant who did a thing which the duke, had he been at liberty, would never have had him do.
Moncalieri, the papal envoy, returned to Rome with the news, and this so inflamed the Pope that the Cardinals Lodovico Borgia and Francesco Remolino, together with other Borgia partisans, instantly fled from Rome, where they no longer accounted themselves safe, and sought refuge with Gonzalo de Cordoba in the Spanish camp at Naples, imploring his protection at the same time for Cesare.
The Pope's anger first vented itself in the confiscation of the Duke of Valentinois's property wherever possible, to satisfy the claims of the Riarii (the Pope's nephews) who demanded an indemnity of 50,000 ducats, of Guidobaldo, who demanded 200,000 ducats, and of the Florentine Republic, which claimed the same. The duke's ruin was by now—within six weeks of the election of Julius II—an accomplished fact; and many were those who chose to fall with him rather than abandon him in his extremity. They afford a spectacle of honour and loyalty that was exceedingly rare in the Italy of the Renaissance; clinging to their duke, even when the last ray of hope was quenched, they lightened for him the tedium of those last days at the Vatican during which he was no better than a prisoner of state.
Suddenly came news of Gonzalo de Cordoba's splendid victory at Garigliano—a victory which definitely broke the French and gave the throne of Naples to Spain. Naturally this set Spanish influence once more, and mightily, in the ascendant, and the Spanish cardinals, together with the ambassador of Spain, came to exert with the Pope an influence suddenly grown weighty.
As a consequence, Cesare, escorted by Carvajal, Cardinal of Santa Croce, was permitted to depart to Ostia, whence he was to take ship for France. Leastways, such was the understanding upon which he left the Vatican. But the Pope was not minded, even now, to part with him so easily, and his instructions to Carvajal were that at Ostia he should await further orders before sailing.
But on December 26, news reaching the Spanish cardinal that the Romagna fortresses—persuaded that Cesare had been liberated—had finally surrendered, Carvajal took it upon himself to allow Cesare to depart, upon receiving from him a written undertaking never to bear arms against Pope Julius II.
So the Duke of Valentinois at last regained his freedom. Whether, in repairing straight to Naples, as he did, he put a preconceived plan into execution, or whether, even now, he mistrusted his enlargement, and thought thus to make himself secure, cannot be ascertained. But straight to Gonzalo de Cordoba's Spanish camp he went, equipped with a safe-conduct from the Great Captain, obtained for Cesare by Cardinal Remolino.
There he found a court of friends already awaiting him, among whom were his brother Giuffredo and the Cardinal Lodovico Borgia, and he received from Gonzalo a very cordial welcome.
Spain was considering the invasion of Tuscany with the ultimate object of assailing Milan and driving the French out of the peninsula altogether. Piero de'Medici—killed at Garigliano—had no doubt been serving Spain with some such end in view as the conquest of Florence, and, though Piero was dead, there was no reason why the plan should be abandoned; rather, all the more reason to carry it forward, since now Spain would more directly profit by it. Bartolomeo d'Alviano was to have commanded the army destined for that campaign; but Cesare, by virtue of his friends and influence in Pisa, Siena, and Piombino, was so preferable a captain for such an expedition that Gonzalo gave him charge of it within a few days of his arrival at the Spanish camp.
To Cesare this would have been the thin end of a mighty edge. Here was a chance to begin all over again, and, beginning thus, backed by Spanish arms, there was no saying how far he might have gone. Meanwhile, what a beginning! To avenge himself thus upon that Florentine Republic which, under the protection of France, had dared at every turn to flout him and had been the instrument of his ultimate ruin! Sweet to him would have been the poetic justice he would have administered—as sweet to him as it would have been terrible to Florence, upon which he would have descended like another scourge of God.
Briskly and with high-running hopes he set about his preparations during that spring of 1504 what time the Pope's Holiness in Rome was seeking to justify his treachery by heaping odium upon the Borgias. Thus he thought to show that if he had broken faith, he had broken faith with knaves deserving none. It was in pursuit of this that Michele da Corella was now pressed with questions, which, however, yielded nothing, and that Asquino de Colloredo (the sometime servant of Cardinal Michaeli) was tortured into confessing that he had poisoned his master at the instigation of Alexander and Cesare—as has been seen—which confession Pope Julius was very quick to publish.
But in Naples, it may well be that Cesare cared nought for these matters, busy and hopeful as he was just then. He dispatched Baldassare da Scipione to Rome to enlist what lances he could find, and Scipione put it about that his lord would soon be returning to his own and giving his enemies something to think about.
And then, suddenly, out of clearest heavens, fell a thunderbolt to shiver this last hope.
On the night of May 26, as Cesare was leaving Gonzalo's quarters, where he had supped, an officer stepped forward to demand his sword. He was under arrest.
Julius II had out-manoeuvred him. He had written to Spain setting forth what was his agreement with Valentinois in the matter of the Romagna—the original agreement which was the price of the Pontificate, had, of course, been conveniently effaced from the pontifical memory. He addressed passionate complaints to Ferdinand and Isabella that Gonzalo de Cordoba and Cardinal Carvajal between them were affording Valentinois the means to break that agreement, and to undertake matters that were hostile to the Holy See. And Ferdinand and Isabella had put it upon Gonzalo de Cordoba, that most honourable and gallant captain, to do this thing in gross violation of his safe-conduct and plighted word to Valentinois. It was a deed under the shame of which the Great Captain confessedly laboured to the end of his days, as his memory has laboured under it ever since. For great captains are not afforded the immunity enjoyed by priests and popes jointly with other wearers of the petticoat from the consequences of falsehood and violated trust.
Fierce and bitter were Valentinois's reproaches of the Great Captain for this treachery—as fierce and bitter as they were unavailing. On August 20, 1504, Cesare Borgia took ship for Spain—a prisoner bound for a Spanish dungeon. Thus, at the early age of twenty-nine, he passed from Italy and the deeds that well might have filled a lifetime.
Conspicuous amid those he left behind him who remained loyal to their duke was Baldassare Scipione, who published throughout Christendom a cartel, wherein he challenged to trial by combat any Spaniard who dared deny that the Duke of Valentinois had been detained a prisoner in Naples in spite of the safe-conduct granted him in the name of Ferdinand and Isabella, "with great shame and infamy to their crown."(1)
1 Quoted by Alvisi, on the authority of a letter of Luigi da Porto, March 16, 1510, in Lettere Storiche.
This challenge was never taken up.
Amongst other loyal ones was that fine soldier of fortune, Taddeo della Volpe, who, in his Florentine prison, refused all offers to enter the service of the Signory until he had learnt that his lord was gone from Italy.
Fracassa and Mirafuente had held Forli until they received guarantees for Cesare's safety (after he had left Ostia to repair to the Spanish camp). They then rode out, with the honours of war, lance on thigh. Dionigio di Naldo, that hardy captain of foot, entered the service of Venice; but to the end he wore the device of his dear lord, and imposed the same upon all who served under his banner.
Don Michele da Corella was liberated by Julius II after an interrogatory which can have revealed nothing defamatory to Cesare or his father; as it is unthinkable that a Pope who did all that man could do to ruin the House of Borgia and to befoul its memory, should have preserved silence touching any such revelations as were hoped for when Corella was put to torture. That most faithful of all Cesare's officers—and sharer of the odium that has been heaped upon Cesare's name—entered the service of the Signory of Florence.
CHAPTER IV. ATROPOS
Vain were the exertions put forth by the Spanish cardinals to obtain Cesare's enlargement, and vainer still the efforts of his sister Lucrezia, who wrote letter after letter to Francesco Gonzaga of Mantua—now Gonfalonier of the Church, and a man of influence at the Vatican—imploring him to use his interest with the Pope to the same end.
Julius II remained unmoved, fearing the power of Cesare Borgia, and resolved that he should trouble Italy no more. On the score of that, no blame attaches to the Pope. The States which Borgia had conquered in the name of the Church should remain adherent to the Church. Upon that Julius was resolved, and the resolve was highly laudable. He would have no duke who controlled such a following as did Cesare, using those States as stepping-stones to greater dominions in which, no doubt, he would later have absorbed them, alienating them, so, from the Holy See.
In all this Julius II was most fully justified. The odious matter in his conduct, however, is the abominable treachery it entailed, following as it did upon the undertaking by virtue of which he gained the tiara.
For some months after his arrival in Spain, Cesare was confined in the prison of Chinchilla, whence—as a result, it is said, of an attempt on his part to throw the governor bodily over the battlements—he was removed to the fortress of Medina del Campo, and kept well guarded by orders of the Pope.
Rumours that he had been liberated by the King of Spain overran the Romagna more than once, and set the country in a ferment, even reaching the Vatican and shaking the stout-hearted Julius into alarm.
One chance of regaining his ancient might, and wreaking a sweet and terrific vengeance upon his betrayers came very close to him, but passed him by. This chance occurred in 1505, when—Queen Isabella being dead—King Ferdinand discovered that Gonzalo de Cordoba was playing him false in Naples. The Spanish king conceived a plan—according to the chronicles of Zurita—to employ Cesare as a flail for the punishment of the Great Captain. He proposed to liberate the duke, set him at the head of an army, and loose him upon Naples, trusting to the formidable alliance of Cesare's military talents with his hatred of Gonzalo—who had betrayed him—to work the will of his Catholic Majesty.
Unfortunately for Cesare, there were difficulties. Ferdinand's power was no longer absolute in Castille now that Isabella was dead. He sought to overcome these difficulties; but the process was a slow one, and in the course of it, spurred also by increased proofs of his lieutenant's perfidy, Ferdinand lost patience, and determined—the case having grown urgent—to go to Naples in person to deal with Gonzalo.
Plainly, Cesare's good fortune, which once had been proverbial, had now utterly deserted him.
He had received news of what was afoot, and his hopes had run high once more, only to suffer cruel frustration when he learnt that Ferdinand had sailed, himself, for Naples. In his despair the duke roused himself to a last effort to win his freedom.
His treatment in prison was fairly liberal, such as is usually measured out to state prisoners of consideration. He was allowed his own chaplain and several attendants, and, whilst closely guarded and confined to the Homenaje Tower of the fortress, yet he was not oppressively restrained. He was accorded certain privileges and liberties; he enjoyed the faculty of corresponding with the outer world, and even of receiving visits. Amongst his visitors was the Count of Benavente—a powerful lord of the neighbourhood, who, coming under the spell of Cesare's fascination, became so attached to him, and so resolved to do his will and effect his liberation, that—says Zurita—he was prepared even to go the length of accomplishing it by force of arms should no other way present itself.(1)
1 Sanuto confirms Zurita, in the main, by letters received by the Venetian Senate.
Another way, however, did present itself, and Benavente and the duke hatched a plot of evasion in which they had the collaboration of the chaplain and a servant of the governor's, named Garcia.
One September night a cord was let down from the crenels of the tower, and by this the duke was to descend from his window to the castle ditch, where Benavente's men awaited him. Garcia was to go with him since, naturally, it would not be safe for the servants to remain behind, and Garcia now let himself down that rope, hand over hand, from the terrible height of the duke's window. It was only when he had reached the end of it that he discovered that the rope was not long enough, and that below him there was still a chasm that might well have appalled even desperate men.
To return was impossible. The duke above was growing impatient. Garcia loosed his hold, and dropped the remainder of the distance, breaking both his legs in the fall. Groaning, he lay there in the ditch, whilst hand over hand now came the agile, athletic duke, unconscious of his predecessor's fate, and of what awaited him at the end. He reached it, and was dangling there, perhaps undecided whether or not to take that daring leap, when suddenly his doubts were resolved for him. His evasion was already discovered. The castle was in alarm, and some one above him cut the rope and precipitated him into the ditch.
Benavente's men—we do not know how many of them were at hand—ran to him instantly. They found him seriously injured, and that he, too, had broken bones is beyond doubt. They lifted him up, and bore him with all speed to the horses. They contrived, somehow, to mount him upon one, and, holding him in the saddle, they rode off as fast as was possible under the circumstances. There was no time to go back for the unfortunate Garcia. The castle was all astir by now to stop the fugitives, and to have returned would have been to suffer capture themselves as well as the duke, without availing the servant.
So poor Garcia was left to his fate. He was found by the governor where he had fallen, and he was immediately put to death.
If the people of Medina organized a pursuit it availed them nothing, for Cesare was carried safely to Benavente's stronghold at Villalon.
There he lay for some five or six weeks to recover from the hurts he had taken in escaping, and to allow his hands—the bones of which were broken—to become whole again. At last, being in the main recovered, though with hands still bandaged, he set out with two attendants and made for Santander. Thence they took ship to Castro Urdiales, Cesare aiming now at reaching the kingdom of Navarre and the protection of his brother-in-law the king.
At the inn at Santander, where, weary and famished, they sat down to dine after one of the grooms had made arrangements for a boat, they had a near escape of capture. The alcalde, hearing of the presence of these strangers, and his suspicions being aroused by the recklessly high price they had agreed to pay the owner of the vessel which they had engaged, came to examine them. But they had a tale ready that they were wheat-merchants in great haste to reach Bernico, that a cargo of wheat awaited them there, and that they would suffer great loss by delay. The tale was smooth enough to satisfy the alcalde, and they were allowed to depart. They reached Castro Urdiales safely, but were delayed there for two days, owing to the total lack of horses; and they were forced, in the end, to proceed upon mules obtained from a neighbouring convent. On these they rode to Durango, where they procured two fresh mules and a horse, and so, after further similar vicissitudes, they arrived at Pampeluna on December 3, 1506, and Cesare startled the Court of his brother-in-law, King Jean of Navarre, by suddenly appearing in it—"like the devil."
The news of his evasion had already spread to Italy and set it in a ferment, inspiring actual fear at the Vatican. The Romagna was encouraged by it to break out into open and armed insurrection against the harsh rule of Julius II—who seems to have been rendered positively vindictive towards the Romagnuoli by their fidelity to Valentinois. Thus had the Romagna fallen again into the old state of insufferable oppression from which Cesare had once delivered it. The hopes of the Romagnuoli rose in a measure, as the alarm spread among the enemies of Cesare—for Florence and Venice shared now the anxiety of the Vatican. Zurita, commenting upon this state of things, pays Cesare the following compliment, which the facts confirm as just:
"The duke was such that his very presence was enough to set all Italy agog; and he was greatly beloved, not only by men of war, but also by many people of Tuscany and of the States of the Church."
Cesare's wife—Charlotte d'Albret—whom he had not seen since that September of 1499, was at Bourges at the Court of her friend, the saintly, repudiated first wife of Louis XII. It is to be supposed that she would be advised of her husband's presence at her brother's Court; but there is no information on this score, nor do we know that they ever met.
Within four days of reaching Pampeluna Cesare dispatched his secretary Federico into Italy to bear the news of his escape to his sister Lucrezia at Ferrara, and a letter to Francesco Gonzaga, of Mantua, which was little more than one of introduction, the more important matters to be conveyed to Gonzaga going, no doubt, by word of mouth. Federico was arrested at Bologna by order of Julius II, after he had discharged his mission.
France was now Cesare's only hope, and he wrote to Louis begging his royal leave to come to take his rank as a prince of that country, and to serve her.
You may justly have opined, long since, that the story here set down is one never-ending record of treacheries and betrayals. But you will find little to surpass the one to come. The behaviour of Louis at this juncture is contemptible beyond words, obeying as it does the maxim of that age, which had it that no inconvenient engagement should be observed if there was opportunity for breaking it.
Following this detestable maxim, Louis XII had actually gone the length of never paying to Charlotte d'Albret the dot of 100,000 livres Tournois, to which he had engaged himself by written contract. When Cesare, in prison at Medina and in straits for money, had solicited payment through his brother-in-law of Navarre, his claim had been contemptuously disregarded.
But there was worse to follow. Louis now answered Cesare's request for leave to come to France by a letter (quoted in full by M. Yriarte from the Archives des Basses Pyrenees) in which his Very Christian Majesty announces that the duchy of Valentinois and the County of Dyois have been restored to the crown of France, as also the lordship of Issoudun. And then follows the pretext, of whose basely paltry quality you shall judge for yourselves. It runs:
"After the decease of the late Pope Alexander, when our people and our army were seeking the recovery of the kingdom of Naples, he [Cesare] went over to the side of our enemies, serving, favouring, and assisting them at arms and otherwise against ourselves and our said people and army, which resulted to us in great and irrecoverable loss."
The climax is in the deliberate falsehood contained in the closing words. Poor Cesare, who had served France at her call—in spite of what was rumoured of his intentions—as long as he had a man-at-arms to follow him, had gone to Naples only in the hour of his extreme need. True, he had gone to offer himself to Spain as a condottiero when naught else was left to him; but he took no army with him—he went alone, a servant, not an ally, as that false letter pretends. He had never come to draw his sword against France, and certainly no loss had been suffered by France in consequence of any action of his. Louis's army was definitely routed at Garigliano, with Cesare's troops fighting in its ranks.
But Pope Alexander was dead; Cesare's might in in Italy was dissipated; his credit gone. There lay no profit for Louis in keeping faith with him; there lay some profit in breaking it. Alas, that a king should stain his honour with base and vulgar lies to minister to his cupidity, and that he should set them down above his seal and signature to shame him through centuries still in the womb of Time!
Cesare Borgia, landless, without right to any title, he that had held so many, betrayed and abandoned on every side, had now nothing to offer in the world's market but his stout sword and his glad courage. These went to the first bidder for them, who happened to be his brother-in-law King Jean.
Navarre at the time was being snarled and quarrelled over by France and Spain, both menacing its independence, each pretending to claims upon it which do not, in themselves, concern us.
In addition, the country itself was torn by two factions—the Beaumontes and the Agramontes—and it was entrusted to Cesare to restore Navarre to peace and unity at home before proceeding—with the aid upon which he depended from the Emperor Maximilian—to deal with the enemies beyond her frontiers.
The Castle of Viana was being held by Louis de Beaumont—chief of the faction that bore his name—and refused to surrender to the king. To reduce it and compel Beaumont to obedience went Cesare as Captain-General of Navarre, early in February of 1507. He commanded a considerable force, some 10,000 strong, and with this and his cannon he laid siege to the citadel.
The natural strength of the place was such as might have defied any attempt to reduce it by force; but victuals were running low, and there was every likelihood of its being speedily starved into surrender. To frustrate this, Beaumont conceived the daring plan of attempting to send in supplies from Mendavia. The attempt being made secretly, by night and under a strong escort, was entirely successful; but, in retreating, the Beaumontese were surprised in the dawn of that February morning by a troop of reinforcements coming to Cesare's camp. These, at sight of the rebels, immediately gave the alarm.
The most hopeless confusion ensued in the town, where it was at once imagined that a surprise attack was being made upon the Royalists, and that they had to do with the entire rebel army.
Cesare, being aroused by the din and the blare of trumpets calling men to arms, sprang for his weapons, armed himself in haste, flung himself on a horse, and, without pausing so much as to issue a command to his waiting men-at-arms, rode headlong down the street to the Puerta del Sol. Under the archway of the gate his horse stumbled and came down with him. With an oath, Cesare wrenched the animal to its feet again, gave it the spur, and was away at a mad, furious gallop in pursuit of the retreating Beaumont rearguard.
The citizens, crowding to the walls of Viana, watched that last reckless ride of his with amazed, uncomprehending eyes. The peeping sun caught his glittering armour as he sped, so that of a sudden he must have seemed to them a thing of fire—meteoric, as had been his whole life's trajectory which was now swiftly dipping to its nadir.
Whether he was frenzied with the lust of battle, riding in the reckless manner that was his wont, confident that his men followed, yet too self-centred to ascertain, or whether—as seems more likely—it was simply that his horse had bolted with him, will never be known until all things are known.
Suddenly he was upon the rearguard of the fleeing rebels. His sword flashed up and down; again and again they may have caught the gleam of it from Viana's walls, as he smote the foe. Irresistible as a thunderbolt, he clove himself a way through those Beaumontese. He was alone once more, a flying, dazzling figure of light, away beyond that rearguard which he left scathed and disordered by his furious passage. Still his mad career continued, and he bore down upon the main body of the escort.
Beaumont sat his horse to watch, in such amazement as you may conceive, the wild approach of this unknown rider.
Seeing him unsupported, some of the count's men detached themselves to return and meet this single foe and oblige him with the death he so obviously appeared to seek.
They hedged him about—we do not know their number—and, engaging him, they drew him from the road and down into the hollow space of a ravine.
And so, in the thirty-second year of his age, and in all the glory of his matchless strength, his soul possessed of the lust of combat, sword in hand, warding off the attack that rains upon him, and dealing death about him, he meets his end. From the walls of Viana his resplendent armour renders him still discernible, until, like a sun to its setting, he passes below the rim of that ravine, and is lost to the watcher's view.
Death awaited him amid the shadows of that hollow place.
Unhorsed by now, he fought with no concern for the odds against him, and did sore execution upon his assailants, ere a sword could find an opening in his guard to combine with a gap in his armour and so drive home. That blade had found, maybe, his lungs. Still he swung his sword, swaying now upon his loosening knees. His mouth was full of blood. It was growing dark. His hands began to fail him. He reeled like a drunkard, sapped of strength, and then the end came quickly. Blows unwarded showered upon him now.
He crashed down in all the glory of his rich armour, which those brigand-soldiers already coveted. And thus he died—mercifully, maybe happily, for he had no time in which to taste the bitterness of death—that awful draught which he had forced upon so many.
Within a few moments of his falling, this man who had been a living force, whose word had carried law from the Campagna to the Bolognese, was so much naked, blood-smeared carrion—for those human vultures stripped him to the skin; his very shirt must they have. And there, a stark, livid corpse, of no more account than any dog that died last Saturday, they left Cesare Borgia of France, Duke of Romagna and Valentinois, Prince of Andria, and Lord of a dozen Tyrannies.
The body was found there anon by those who so tardily rode after their leader, and his dismayed troopers bore those poor remains to Viana. The king, arriving there that very day, horror-stricken at the news and sight that awaited him, ordered Cesare a magnificent funeral, and so he was laid to rest before the High Altar of Sainte Marie de Viane.
To rest? May the soul of him rest at least, for men—Christian men—have refused to vouchsafe that privilege to his poor ashes.
Nearly two hundred years later—at the close of the seventeenth century, a priest of God and a bishop, one who preached a gospel of love and mercy so infinite that he dared believe by its lights no man to have been damned, came to disturb the dust of Cesare Borgia. This Bishop of Calahorra—lineal descendant in soul of that Pharisee who exalted himself in God's House, thrilled with titillations of delicious horror at the desecrating presence of the base publican—had his pietist's eyes offended by the slab that marked Cesare Borgia's resting-place.(1)
1 It bore the following legend:
AQUI YACE EN POCA TIERRA AL QUE TODO LE TEMIA EL QUE LA PAZ Y LA GUERRA EN LA SUA MANO TENIA. OH TU QUE VAS A BUSCAR COSAS DIGNAS DE LOAR SI TU LOAS LO MAS DIGNO AQUI PARE TU CAMINO NO CURES DE MAS ANDAR.
which, more or less literally may be Englished as follows: "Here in a little earth, lies one whom all did fear; one whose hands dispensed both peace and war. Oh, you that go in search of things deserving praise, if you would praise the worthiest, then let your journey end here, nor trouble to go farther."
The pious, Christian bishop had read of this man—perhaps that life of him published by the apostate Gregorio Leti under the pen-name of Tommaso Tommasi, which had lately seen the light—and he ordered the tomb's removal from that holy place. And thus it befell that the ashes of Cesare Borgia were scattered and lost.
Charlotte d'Albret was bereft of her one friend, Queen Jeanne, in that same year of Cesare's death. The Duchess of Valentinois withdrew to La Motte-Feuilly, and for the seven years remaining of her life was never seen other than in mourning; her very house was equipped with sombre, funereal furniture, and so maintained until her end, which supports the view that she had conceived affection and respect for the husband of whom she had seen so little.
On March 14, 1514, that poor lady passed from a life which appears to have offered her few joys.
Louise de Valentinois—a handsome damsel of the age of fourteen—remained for three years under the tutelage of the Duchess of Angouleme—the mother of King Francis I—to whom Charlotte d'Albret had entrusted her child. Louise married, at the age of seventeen, Louis de la Tremouille, Prince de Talmont and Vicomte de Thouars, known as the Knight Sans Peur et Sans Reproche. She maintained some correspondence with her aunt, Lucrezia Borgia, whom she had never seen, and ever signed herself "Louise de Valentinois." At the age of thirty—Tremouille having been killed at Pavia—she married, in second nuptials, Philippe de Bourbon-Busset.
Lucrezia died in 1519, one year after her mother, Vanozza de'Catanei, with whom she corresponded to the end.