BORGIA, CESARE, duke of Valentinois and Romagna (1476-1507) was the son of Pope Alexander VI. by Vanozza dei Cattanei. He was born at Rome while his father was cardinal, and on the latter's elevation to the papacy (1492) he was created archbishop of Valencia, and a year later cardinal. Cesare was Alexander's favourite son, and it was for him that the pope's notorious nepotism was most extensively practised. In the early years of his father's pontificate he led a profligate life at the Vatican. When Charles VIII. left Rome for the conquest of Naples (January 25, 1495), Cesare accompanied him as a hostage for the pope's good behaviour, but he escaped at Velletri and returned to Rome. He soon began to give proofs of the violence for which he afterwards became notorious; when in 1497 his brother Giovanni, duke of Gandia, was murdered, the deed was attributed, in all probability with reason, to Cesare. It was suggested that the motive of the murder was the brothers' rivalry in the affection of Donna Sancha, wife of Giuffrè, the pope's youngest son, while there were yet darker hints at incestuous relations of Cesare and the duke with their sister Lucrezia. But it is more probable that Cesare, who contemplated exchanging his ecclesiastical dignities for a secular career, regarded his brother's splendid position with envy, and was determined to enjoy the whole of his father's favours.
In July 1497 Cesare went to Naples as papal legate and crowned Frederick of Aragon king. Now that the duke of Gandia was dead, the pope needed Cesare to carry out his political schemes, and tried to arrange a wealthy marriage for him. Cesare wished to marry Carlotta, the daughter of the king of Naples, but both she and her father resolutely refused an alliance with "a priest, the bastard of a priest." In August 1498, Cesare in the consistory asked for the permission of the cardinals and the pope to renounce the priesthood, and the latter granted it "for the good of his soul." On the 1st of October he set forth for France with a magnificent retinue as papal legate to Louis XII., to bring him the pope's bull annulling his marriage with Jeanne of France (Louis wished to marry Anne of Brittany). In exchange he received the duchy of Valentinois, as well as military assistance for his own enterprises. He found Carlotta of Naples in France, and having again tried to win her over in vain, he had to content himself with Charlotte d'Albret, sister of the king of Navarre (May 1499). Alexander now contemplated sending Cesare to Romagna to subdue the turbulent local despots, and with the help of the French king carve a principality for himself out of those territories owing nominal allegiance to the pope. Cesare made Cesena his headquarters, and with an army consisting of 300 French lances, 4000 Gascons and Swiss, besides Italian troops, he attacked Imola, which surrendered at once, and then besieged Forli, held by Caterina Sforza (q.v.), the widow of Girolamo Riario. She held out gallantly, but was at last forced to surrender on the 22nd of January 1500; Cesare treated her with consideration, and she ended her days in a convent. The Sforzas having expelled the French from Milan, Cesare returned to Rome in February, his schemes checked for the moment; his father rewarded him for his successes by making him gonfaloniere of the church and conferring many honours on him; he remained in Rome and took part in bull fights and other carnival festivities. In July occurred the murder of the duke of Bisceglie, Lucrezia Borgia's third husband. He was attacked by assassins on the steps of St Peter's and badly wounded; attendants carried him to a cardinal's house, and, fearing poison, he was nursed only by his wife and Sancha, his sister-in-law. Again Cesare was suspected as the instigator of the deed, and in fact he almost admitted it himself. Bisceglie was related to the Neapolitan dynasty, with whose enemies the pope was allied, and he had had a quarrel with Cesare. When it appeared that he was recovering from his wounds, Cesare had him murdered, but not apparently without provocation, for, according to the Venetian ambassador Cappello, the duke had tried to murder Cesare first.
In October 1500 Cesare again set out for the Romagna, on the strength of Venetian friendship, with an army of 10,000 men. Pandolfo Malatesta of Rimini and Giovanni Sforza of Pesaro fled, and those cities opened their gates to Cesare. Faenza held out, for the people were devoted to their lord, Astorre Manfredi, a handsome and virtuous youth of eighteen. Manfredi surrendered in April 1501, on the promise that his life should be spared; but Cesare broke his word, and sent him a prisoner to Rome, where he was afterwards foully outraged and put to death. After taking Castel Bolognese he returned to Rome in June, to take part in the Franco-Spanish intrigues for the partition of Naples. He was now lord of an extensive territory, and the pope created him duke of Romagna. His cruelty, his utter want of scruple, and his good fortune made him a terror to all Italy. His avidity was insatiable and he could brook no opposition; but, unlike his father, he was morose, silent and unsympathetic. His next conquests were Camerino and Urbino, but his power was now greatly shaken by the conspiracy of La Magione (a castle near Perugia where the plotters met). Several of the princes deposed by him, the Orsinis, and some of his own captains, such as Vitellozzo Vitelli (q.v.), Oliverotto da Fermo, and G.P. Baglioni, who had been given estates but feared to lose them, joined forces to conspire against the Borgias. Risings broke out at Urbino and in Romagna, and the papal troops were defeated; Cesare could find no allies, and it seemed as though all Italy was about to turn against the hated family, when the French king promised help, and this was enough to frighten the confederates into coming to terms. Most of them had shown very little political or military skill, and several were ready to betray each other. But Cesare, while trusting no one, proved a match for them all. During his operations in northern Romagna, Vitelli, Oliverotto, Paolo Orsini, and the duke of Gravina, to show their repentance, seized Senigallia, which still held for the duke of Urbino, in his name. Cesare arrived at that town, decoyed the unsuspecting condottieri into his house, had them all arrested, and two of them, Vitelli and Oliverotto, strangled (December 31, 1502).
He was back in Rome early in 1503, and took part in reducing the last rebel Orsinis. He was gathering troops for a new expedition in central Italy in the summer, when both he and his father were simultaneously seized with fever. The pope died on the 18th of August, while Cesare was still incapacitated, and this unfortunate coincidence proved his ruin; it was the one contingency for which he had not provided. On all sides his enemies rose up against him; in Romagna the deposed princes prepared to regain their own, and the Orsinis raised their heads once more in Rome. Cesare's position was greatly shaken, and when he tried to browbeat the cardinals by means of Don Michelotto and his bravos, they refused to be intimidated; he had to leave Rome in September, trusting that the Spanish cardinals would elect a candidate friendly to his house. At the conclave Francesco Todeschini-Piccolomini was elected as Pius III., and he showed every disposition to be peaceful and respectable, but he was old and in bad health. Cesare's dominion at once began to fall to pieces; Guidobaldo, duke of Urbino, returned to his duchy with Venetian help; and the lords of Piombino, Rimini and Pesaro soon regained their own; Cesena, defended by a governor faithful to Cesare, alone held out. Pius III. died on the 18th of October 1503, and a new conclave was held. Cesare, who could still count on the Spanish cardinals, wished to prevent the election of Giuliano della Rovere, the enemy of his house, but the latter's chances were so greatly improved that it was necessary to come to terms with him. On the 1st of November he was elected, and assumed the name of Julius II. He showed no ill-will towards Cesare, but declared that the latter's territories must be restored to the church, for "we desire the honour of recovering what our predecessors have wrongfully alienated." Venice hoped to intervene in Romagna and establish her protectorate over the principalities, but this Julius was determined to prevent, and after trying in vain to use Cesare as a means of keeping out the Venetians, he had him arrested. Borgia's power was now at an end, and he was obliged to surrender all his castles in Romagna save Cesena, Forli and Bettinoro, whose governors refused to accept an order of surrender from a master who was a prisoner. Finally, it was agreed that if Cesare were set at liberty he would surrender the castles; this having been accomplished, he departed for Naples, where the Spaniards were in possession. The Spanish governor, Gonzalo de Cordova, had given him a safe-conduct, and he was meditating fresh plans, when Gonzalo arrested him by the order of Ferdinand of Spain as a disturber of the peace of Italy (May 1504). In August he was sent to Spain, where he remained a prisoner for two years; in November 1506 he made his escape, and fled to the court of his brother-in-law, the king of Navarre, under whom he took service. While besieging the castle of Viana, held by the rebellious count of Lerin, he was killed (March 12, 1507).
Cesare Borgia was a type of the adventurers with which the Italy of the Renaissance swarmed, but he was cleverer and more unscrupulous than his rivals. His methods of conquest were ferocious and treacherous; but once the conquest was made he governed his subjects with firmness and justice, so that his rule was preferred to the anarchy of factions and local despots. But he was certainly not a man of genius, as has long been imagined, and his success was chiefly due to the support of the papacy; once his father was dead his career was at an end, and he could no longer play a prominent part in Italian affairs. His fall proved on how unsound a basis his system had been built up.
The chief authorities for the life of Cesare Borgia are the same as those of Alexander VI., especially M. Creighton's History of the Papacy, vol. v. (London, 1897); F. Gregorovius's Geschichte der Stadt Rom, vol. vii. (Stuttgart, 1881); and P. Villari's Machiavelli (London 1892); also C. Yriarte, César Borgia (Paris, 1889), an admirable piece of writing; Schubert-Soldern, Die Borgia und ihre Zeit (Dresden, 1902), which contains the latest discoveries on the subject; and E. Alvisi, Cesare Borgia, Duca di Romagna (Imola, 1878).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)