BORGIA, LUCREZIA (1480-1519), duchess of Ferrara, daughter of Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, afterwards Pope Alexander VI. (q.v.), by his mistress Vanozza dei Cattanei, was born at Rome in 1480. Her early years were spent at her mother's house near her father's splendid palace; but later she was given over to the care of Adriana de Mila, a relation of Cardinal Borgia and mother-in-law of Giulia Farnese, another of his mistresses. Lucrezia was educated according to the usual curriculum of Renaissance ladies of rank, and was taught languages, music, embroidery, painting, etc.; she was famed for her beauty and charm, but the corrupt court of Rome in which she was brought up was not conducive to a good moral education. Her father at first contemplated a Spanish marriage for her, and at the age of eleven she was betrothed to Don Cherubin de Centelles, a Spanish nobleman. But the engagement was broken off almost immediately, and Lucrezia was married by proxy to another Spaniard, Don Gasparo de Procida, son of the count of Aversa. On the death of Innocent VIII. (1492), Cardinal Borgia was elected pope as Alexander VI., and, contemplating a yet more ambitious marriage for his daughter, he annulled the union with Procida; in February 1493 Lucrezia was betrothed to Giovanni Sforza, lord of Pesaro, with whose family Alexander was now in close alliance. The wedding was celebrated in June; but when the pope's policy changed and he became friendly to the king of Naples, the enemy of the house of Sforza, he planned the subjugation of the vassal lords of Romagna, and Giovanni, feeling his position insecure, left Rome for Pesaro with his wife. By Christmas 1495 they were back in Rome; the pope had all his children around him, and celebrated the carnival with a series of magnificent festivities. But he decided that he had done with Sforza, and annulled the marriage on the ground of the husband's impotence (March 1497). In order to cement his alliance with Naples, he married Lucrezia to Alphonso of Aragon, duke of Bisceglie, a handsome youth of eighteen, related to the Neapolitan king. But he too realized the fickleness of the Borgias' favour when Alexander backed up Louis XII. of France in the latter's schemes for the conquest of Naples. Bisceglie fled from Rome, fearing for his life, and the pope sent Lucrezia to receive the homage of the city of Spoleto as governor. On her return to Rome in 1499, her husband, who really loved her, was induced to join her once more. A year later he was murdered by the order of her brother Cesare. After the death of Bisceglie, Lucrezia retired to Nepi, and then returned to Rome, where she acted for a time as regent during Alexander's absence. The latter now was anxious for a union between his daughter and Alphonso, son and heir to Ercole d'Este, duke of Ferrara. The negotiations were somewhat difficult, as neither Alphonso nor his father was anxious for a connexion with the house of Borgia, and Lucrezia's own reputation was not unblemished. However, by bribes and threats the opposition was overcome, and in September 1501 the marriage was celebrated by proxy with great magnificence in Rome. On Lucrezia's arrival at Ferrara she won over her reluctant husband by her youthful charm (she was only twenty-two), and from that time forth she led a peaceful life, about which there was hardly a breath of scandal. On the death of Ercole in 1505, her husband became duke, and she gathered many learned men, poets and artists at her court, among whom were Ariosto, Cardinal Bembo, Aldus Manutius the printer, and the painters Titian and Dosso Dossi. She devoted herself to the education of her children and to charitable works; the only tragedy connected with this period of her life is the murder of Ercole Strozzi, who is said to have admired her and fallen a victim to Alphonso's jealousy. She died on the 24th of June 1519, leaving three sons and a daughter by the duke of Ferrara, besides one son Rodrigo by the duke of Bisceglie, and possibly another of doubtful paternity. She seems to have been a woman of very mediocre talents, and only played a part in history because she was the daughter of Alexander VI. and the sister of Cesare Borgia. While she was in Rome she was probably no better and no worse than the women around her, but there is no serious evidence for the charges of incest with her father and brothers which were brought against her by the scandal-mongers of the time.
See the bibliographies for Alexander VI. and Borgia, Cesare; and especially F. Gregorovius's Lucrezia Borgia (Stuttgart, 1874), the standard work on the subject; also W. Gilbert's Lucrezia Borgia, Duchess of Ferrara (London, 1869), which, while containing much information, is quite without historic value; and G. Campori's "Una Vittima della Storia, Lucrezia Borgia," in the Nuova Antologia (August 31, 1866), which aims at the rehabilitation of Lucrezia.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)