The Borgias: Truth and Lies

June 13, 2012

The eighth episode in the second series of The Borgias deals with the aftermath of the Siege of Forli, and extends Lucrezia's dalliance with the brothers Pallavicini of Genoa. Cesare makes further moves towards gaining control of the Papal Armies and Giuliano della Rovere sets his young protégé into action, whose ultimate goal is to poison Alexander VI.

Further distorting Caterina's legend
Perhaps the most intriguing historical point in this episode was the discussion about The Legend of the Fort which describes Caterina Sforza boldly showing her womanhood to the Orsi, who had kidnapped two of her children. This tale was recounted twice by Machiavelli, and then fleshed out by Lodovico Guicciardini - who also assigned Caterina a line of dialogue. Closer examination of sources who were present at the incident with the Orsi recount a different tale - yet the distorted defiance of Caterina seemed to stick - influencing writers and dramatists to this day. In the previous episode, the Orsi have been replaced by a villainous Juan Borgia, with the siege ending with him wounded and fleeing the scene.

The brief clip below (courtesy of Showtime) shows the legend being recounted by Alexander to Juan and Cesare. Alexander - who was not present at the siege in the previous episode - adds that Caterina was deliberately taunting the Borgia. The words uttered by Caterina are also different from those ascribed to her by Guicciardini. L'Hore di ricreatione quotes Caterina having the "moulds" to create more sons  - in the previous episode, a specific quantity of sons were added - with Caterina defiantly exclaiming "I have the means to produce ten more sons."

In the show at least, Juan's misadventures seem to be mixture of events from other battles. A failed battle against the Orsini provided him with wounds, and the Borgia confrontation with the Sforza at Forli was to happen later, when the Papal Armies were under Cesare's command.

Lucrezia's flirtations
Lucrezia, having firmly forgotten stable boy Paolo seeks to bed Raffaello Pallavicini, as well as wed brother Calvino. Despite Lucrezia clearly expressing her disinterest in marriage in a previous episode, Calvino has stuck around, and by the end of the episode a new offer of marriage is tentatively accepted. This comes after Calvino offers the House of Borgia access to his father's fleet, and the wealth it brings from around the world. The father of the Genoese suitor is named - Agostino Pallavicini - which gives us a possible link with an historical source.

Like Venice, Genoa also had a formidable fleet at the time. There was a Genoese branch of the Pallavicini family, and we can tentatively identify an Agostino Pallavicini that may have lived during the period in question - but his having sons named Calvino and Raffaello seem unlikely. It has also been difficult to determine whether this historical Agostino Pallavicini (d.1533) owned a fleet of ships, military, mercantile or otherwise. We do know he opposed the 1529 French re-occupation of Genoa. source

Calvino offers a Genoese fleet for Lucrezia's hand. Raffaello - having bedded Lucrezia the night before - shuffles uncomfortably in the background. 

Looking at Lucrezia's recorded histories - we know that the period of her divorce from Giovannni Sforza and subsequent marriage to Alphonso of Aragon was not populated by Genoese suitors. There is only the report of a temporary re-kindling of an affair that Lucrezia enjoyed with a Spanish paramour, but this was soon set aside for the more favourable alliance with the House of Aragon, who had regained control of Naples after the exit of French forces. Interestingly, Gregorovius recounts,
Alexander had dissolved his daughter's marriage for political reasons. It was his purpose to marry Lucretia and Cesare into the royal house of Naples...

Even before Lucretia 's new betrothal was settled upon it was rumored in Rome that her former affianced, Don Gasparo (of Procida), was again pressing his suit and that there was a prospect of his being accepted. Although the young Spaniard failed to accomplish his purpose, Alexander now recognized the fact that Lucretia 's betrothal to him had been dissolved illegally.

In a brief dated June 10 1498, [Alexander reports] that Gaspare of Procida, Count of Almenara, had subsequently married and had children, but not until 1498 did Lucretia petition to have her betrothal to him formally declared null and void. The Pope, therefore, absolved her of the perjury she had committed by marrying Giovanni Sforza in spite of her engagement to Don Gasparo, and while he now, for the first time, declared her formal betrothal to the Count of Procida to have been dissolved, he gave her permission to marry any man whom she might select. When Lucretia had in this way been protected against the demands of all pretenders to her hand, she was free to enter into a new alliance, which she did June 20, 1498, in the Vatican.
Not the Raffaello that I want working on Saint Peter's
Unfortunately for art lovers, there was nothing new or exciting to spot - no Raphael or Botticelli paintings, no lines of dialogue from Pinturicchio. We do get another quick glimpse of Christ at the Column, and see Raffaello Pallavicini sketching the inside of Old Saint Peter's, rendering its columns in perspective wonderfully. This reminded me of the more famous Raffaello, who was (later) given the task of rebuilding Saint Peter's by the Medici Pope Leo X, though I doubt this degree of foreshadowing was intended by the writers.

What lies ahead
With only two episodes left until the end of this season, Lucrezia's agreemnent to marry Calvino of Genoa is unlikely to survive the end of the next episode. Savonarola's actions are likely to catch up with him soon, meaning we will get to see the friar's gruesome trial by fire. Giuliano della Rovere's young assassin will probably provide the episode cliffhanger, and Juan is unlikely to make into the next series, most probably by Cesare's hand.

Agostino Pallavicini. Entry at Treccani Italia. link

Pasolini dall'Onda, PD. [Trans. Sylvester, P]. Catherine Sforza. William Heniemann London. 1898. pp.128-131. full text available at link

Guicciardini, L. L'Hore di ricreatione. Published by Guglielmo Silvio. 1569 version available via Google books link ; Caterina Sforza quote on p.278 link

Gregorovius, FA. Lucretia Borgia: According to Original Documents and Correspondence of Her Day. (Garner, JL Trans.) D. Appleton and Company. 1904. p. 110-111 ; Full text at link


Anonymous said...

I assume the writers have switched the attempt to take Catherina Sforza by Juan Borgia with the true incident with the Orsi in order to boost his ratings. He has certainly not got any real prowess when it comes to battle, although he did get wounded later on in battles with the Orsini. I doubt that Pope Alexander in the above clip actually believes a word his younger son says and it is very obvious that the writers have seized on this to bring out the worst of him historically and the best dramatically. I am waiting for Juan to get killed and Cesere to take over.

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