THE MURDER OF GIOVANNI BORGIA

 

giovanni borgia

 

 

The exultation of the pontiff [Alexander VI] on this occasion was not, however, of long continuance, having been speedily succeeded by a most tragical event, that not only blasted in a great degree the hopes of his family, but branded it with a stigma, which has rendered it peculiarly odious to future times. This was the death of the duke of Gandia, who, after having passed the evening at a splendid entertainment given by his mother, was on his return home assassinated, and his body thrown into the Tiber; where it remained undiscovered for several days. The perpetration of this crime has been imputed by the Italian historians, without hesitation, to Caesar Borgia; who, being disgusted with his ecclesiastical profession, and earnestly desirous of signalizing himself in a military capacity, is supposed to have considered his brother as having preoccupied the station which he was desirous of obtaining; and to have been jealous of the superior ascendency which the duke had acquired in the favour of the pontiff. In examining these motives, it might indeed be observed, that the destination of the elder brother to a secular employment did not necessarily confine the younger to an ecclesiastical state; and that the honours bestowed on the duke of Gandia did not seem to prevent the pontiff from promoting the interests of his second son, whom he had placed in such a station, as to afford him an opportunity of obtaining the highest dignity in Christendom. Some authors have, therefore, not scrupled to suggest a more powerful cause of his supposed enmity, by asserting that he was jealous of the preference which the duke had obtained in the affections of their sister Lucrezia, with whom, it is said, that not only the two brothers, but even Alexander, her father, had criminal intercourse.1 Frequently, however, as this charge has been repeated, and indiscriminately as it has been believed, it might not be difficult to shew, that, so far from this being with justice admitted as a proof that Caesar was the perpe-[183] trator of the murder of his brother, the imputation is in  itself in the highest degree improbable; and this transaction must therefore be judged of by such positive evidence as yet remains, without presuming the guilt of Borgia from  circumstances which are yet more questionable than the crime of which he stands primarily accused.2

The most interesting and particular account of this mysterious event is given by Burchard; and is in substance as follows:—On the eighth day of June, the cardinal of Valenza (Caesar Borgia), and the  duke of Gandia, sons of the pope, supped with their mother Vanozza, near the church of S. Pietro ad vincula; several  other persons being present at the entertainment. A late hour approaching, and the cardinal having reminded his brother that it was time to return to the apostolic palace,  they mounted their horses or mules, with only a few attendants, and proceeded together as far as the palace of cardinal Ascanio Sforza, when the duke informed the cardinal, that, before he returned home, he had to pay a visit of pleasure. Dismissing therefore all his attendants, excepting his staffiero, or footman, and a person in a mask, who had paid him a visit whilst at supper, and who, during the space of a month, or thereabouts, previous to this time, had called upon him almost daily at the apostolic palace, he took this person behind him on his mule, and proceeded to the street of the Jews, where he quitted his servant, directing him to remain there until a certain hour; when, if he did not return, he might repair to the palace. The duke then seated the person in the mask behind him, and rode, I know not whither; but in that night he was assassinated and thrown into the river. The servant, after having been dismissed, was also assaulted and mortally wounded; and although he was attended with great care, yet such was his situation, [184] that he could give no intelligible account of what had befallen his master. In the morning, the duke not having returned to the palace, his servants began to be alarmed; and one of them informed the pontiff of the evening excursion of his sons, and that the duke had not yet made his appearance. This gave the pope no small anxiety; but he conjectured that the duke had been attracted by some courtesan to pass the night with her, and, not choosing to quit the house in open day, had waited till the following evening to return home. When, however, the evening arrived, and he found himself disappointed in his expectations, he became deeply afflicted, and began to make inquiries from different persons, whom he ordered to attend him for that purpose. Amongst these was a man named Giorgio Schiavoni, who, having discharged some timber from a bark in the river, had remained on board the vessel to watch it, and being interrogated whether he had seen any one thrown into the river, on the night preceding, he replied, that he saw two men on foot, who came down the street, and looked diligently about to observe whether any person was passing. That seeing no one, they returned, and a short time afterwards two others came and looked around in the same manner as the former; no person still appearing, they gave a sign to their companions, when a man came, mounted on a white horse, having behind him a  dead body, the head and arms of which hung on one side,  and the feet on the other side of the horse ; the two persons  on foot supporting the body, to prevent its falling. They thus proceeded towards that part where the filth of the city is usually discharged into the river; and turning the horse with his tail towards the water, the two persons took the  dead body by the arms and feet, and with all their strength  flung it into the river. The person on horseback then asked if they had thrown it in, to which they replied, Signor, si  (yes, sir). He then looked towards the river, and seeing a mantle floating on the stream, he inquired what it was that appeared black, to which they answered it was a mantle; and one of them threw stones upon it, in consequence of which it sunk. The attendants of the pontiff then inquired [185] from Giorgio, why he had not revealed this to the governor of the city; to which he replied, that he had seen in his time a hundred dead bodies thrown into the river at the same place, without any inquiry being made respecting them, and that he had not therefore considered it as a matter of any importance. The fishermen and seamen were then collected, and ordered to search the river, where, on the following evening, they found the body of the duke, with his habit entire, and thirty ducats in his purse. He was pierced with nine wounds, one of which was in his throat, the others in his head, body, and limbs. No sooner was the pontiff informed of the death of his son, and that he had been thrown like filth into the river, than giving way to his grief, he shut himself up in a chamber and wept bitterly. The cardinal of Segovia, and other attendants on the pope, went to the door, and after many hours spent in persuasions and exhortations, prevailed upon him to admit them. From the evening of Wednesday till the following Saturday the pope took no food; nor did he sleep from Thursday morning till the same hour on the ensuing day. At length, however, giving way to the entreaties of his attendants, he began to restrain his sorrow, and to consider the injury which his own health might sustain by the further indulgence of his grief.'"3

From this account, which is in truth the only authentic information that remains respecting the death of the duke, it seems probable that he had for some time been carrying on an amorous intrigue, by the intervention of the person who so frequently visited him in disguise; and it may at the same time be concluded, that the evening on which he met with his death, he had been detected by some jealous rival, or injured husband, and had paid with his life the forfeiture of his folly, his presumption, or his guilt. The cardinal appears not to have had the least share in directing the motions of the duke; nor does it appear from Burchard, that he again left the palace, after he had returned home on the evening when the murder was committed. Throughout the whole narrative there is not the slightest indication that Caesar had any share in the transaction; and the continuance of the favour of both his father and his mother, after this event, may sufficiently prove to every impartial  mind, that he was not even suspected by them as the author  of the crime.4

 

NOTES

1. Guicciardini. Storia d'ltalia. lib. iii. vol. i. p. 182. Moreri, art. Caesare Borgia.

2. Gordon, in his Life of Alexander VI. (Lond. 1720, fo.) not only asserts, on  the authority of Tomaso Tomasi, that Caesar was the perpetrator of this murder,  but has given at great length the private conferences between him and the assassins  hired for this purpose, with as much accuracy as if he had himself been present on  the occasion, (vide pp. 153, &c.) In the same manner he has also favoured us with the private conversation between Caesar and the duke, on their last interview in the streets of Rome: "Caesar wished him much pleasure, and so they parted."—A mode of writing which reduces history below the level of romance.

3. See Burchard's Diary in Gordon's Life of Alexander VI. App.

4. Mr. Henke has discussed this subject at considerable length, and has adduced the authority of several writers to show that Caesar was guilty of the murder, at which it was supposed even the pope connived. The authors he has referred to are, Raph. Volaterr. Commentar. Urban, lib. xxii. Onuphrius Panvinius. Vit, Alex. VI. p. 339, ed. Cologn. 1626. Tetri Mart. Anglerii opus Epistolar. p. 99, ed. Amst. (Vide Henke, Germ. ed. vol. i. p. 273.) Mr. Henke attributes the conduct of the pope on this occasion to the apprehensions he had for his own safety, from the atrocious character of his son.

 

REFERENCE

Roscoe, William. The Life and Pontificate of Leo the Tenth4th ed. 2 vols. London: Bohn 1846. I: 183-5.