Cesare Takes a Bride
This is where I tried to insert historical stuff. Yes, Cesare did have a silver commode covered with gold brocade for his journey. Joan of France pretty much knew that her marriage would be dissolved. The French did not think much of Cesare’s pretentious manners, but Louis decided that he liked this young Roman. Alexander and Cesare wanted him to marry Carlotta of Aragon so that he might occupy the throne. Charlotte D’Albret was offered as a consolation prize, but Cesare seemed happy with her, after all she did have royal blood and was sister to the king of Navarre. Alexander VI would have forbidden it, but Cesare would not change his mind. So much for an introduction.
They presented a striking picture at Lucrezia’s wedding. Cesare, as usual, was dressed in black and Constanzia’s gown was black with stripes of gold. They drew stares of disapproval as he escorted her onto the dancefloor, but neither cared.
They were beautiful and knew it, so alike in features that they might be brother and sister. They danced brazenly, each movement a seeming caress, pausing some to whisper the old rumors, that Constanzia was her cousin’s lover, that the baby said to be Pallavicini’s was in reality his. As they looked deep into the other’s eyes each time they, smiling, the whispers started. “Why doesn’t he just take her to his chambers?” “He and his sister are lovers, too,” said another, “That’s why the Pope is sending Lucrezia to Naples, to get her away from Cesare.”
But no one knew for certain, and brother, sister and cousin danced until the late hours, when Lucrezia and Alfonso were put to bed. The Pope blessed the newlyweds and wished them goodnight, and the men and ladies of the court followed him out of their room.
Cesare took Constanzia to her villa, and they made love until the sun came up. To Cesare it felt like a guilty pleasure, sinful even, to risk the pregnancy, but Constanzia pregnant was lovely and golden, all curves and as eager for him as he was for her. The fact that he would not see her for two months or more made his need for her more urgent.
They slept until noon, having not gone to sleep until sunrise. When they woke there were shadows under her dark eyes, but the look was not unflattering. He loosened her hair, and it fell, tangled about her shoulders, and she looked lovely and tempting, but he knew he could remain in her bed no longer.
She took his hand, “Tell me again, Cesare, what the French king has promised you.” Constanzia took a lock of his dark hair and began winding it around her finger.
“Well,” Cesare answered her, taking her hand and kissing the palm, “Louis XII is giving me a very handsome sum of money as well as the golden collar of the Order of Saint Michael. I am going to be made Duke of Valentinois. And, provided that I am willing to help him remove the Sforzas from Milan, I am going to be given the army I so badly need. Once Milan is returned to the French the army will be at my disposal for as long as I need it.”
“And a bride, he’s promised you a bride, don’t forget that. Uncle wants to see you on the throne of Naples so that’s why he wants you to marry Carlotta of Aragorn —why in the world does he think Louis would want that? Louis will have himself invested as king of Naples—he won’t take a chance with a greedy, grasping Borgia. When do you leave, my love?”
He sighed, “Tomorrow or the next day. I must make sure that Father has drawn up the papers for Louis’ annulment. The horses and mules are being prepared for the journey. I will travel to Civitavecchia, then sail to Marseilles.” He kissed the hand that held his, “I wish you were going with me.”
“If I thought it were a good idea, I would. I’m not sure the journey would be good for the baby. Cesare,” she sat up, “I thought of something and I want you to listen to me. This will be the first time you will not have access to your father if you need him. You do not have much experience with diplomacy,” he smiled at her and she said, “But you don’t. It’s possible that things may not proceed as you wish, and you will have to be patient. You’re arrogant, aloof, you have a short temper, and you’re impatient—you know you are. You’re going to have to cultivate patience, if you want to succeed.”
He smiled again, “That is not a very flattering picture you present of me, cousin.”
She ignored him. “This is new to you, Cesare. You’re a very able military leader, but you have not yet learned the art of diplomacy. I want you to succeed, your success will enable to make a good match if I decide I want to marry. You will be a good leader of men someday, but you need to learn how to do it.”
“And you still believe that I will not be able to marry Carlotta of Aragon?” They had been arguing about this since he first told her.
“Yes, I am afraid that is how it will play out. I know the Holy Father would see you on the throne of Naples, but if Carlotta refuses to marry you, I don’t think her father will force her. I don’t think seeking another alliance with Naples will do you much good, Naples will go to France eventually and Louis will have himself invested as king of Naples, just as Charles did. He won’t let you have Naples. Why not a French bride? Or Navarre? If you seek to cement a close French alliance, that would be the best choice.”
He did not believe her; he was sure that he could secure Carlotta d’Aragona. He was the Pope’s son and a man on the rise. She had an uncanny way of being right, though, and if Carlotta would not have him, there were plenty of the queen’s ladies to choose from, all well born, all with generous dowries. But they wouldn’t give him Naples.
She looked at him, “We’re upstarts Cesare, remember? We’ve clawed our way to the top. You’re seeking to marry a Spanish princess without the benefit of possessing a drop of royal blood, and you know the Spanish. I don’t think Ferdinand and Isabella will provide much in the way of cooperation. You’re going to have to win the French over, instead.”
“Louis is going to like you, I know it. You’re intelligent, talented, driven, not afraid of hard work. You are very personable when you choose to be, and it’s hard not to be drawn to you. It’s just that this is a new situation for you. You’re going to be on your own with no one to smooth things over for you. I’m sure the papal bull you bring him for his annulment will help promote good relations for you, and if Carlotta won’t marry you, I’m sure he’ll find someone who will suit.”
He took her hand, “Let’s get dressed, I have something I want to show you.” Fortunately, they had slept in her palace, and she had access to her riding clothes.
“Come on,” he said, and took her to the Vatican’s stables. There was a long line of mules, each loaded and ready to leave, cloths of red and gold, the French colors, covering their back. She wandered down the line until she found a particularly bulky load, and pulled the covering.
She gasped at what she saw. Cesare had had a silver commode made, covered with gold brocade. She giggled and looked at him, wide eyed. “Really Cesare? I hear the French are not fond of what they call ‘vulgar display of wealth’, so I can only imagine what they’d think of this. I’d ask what possessed you to do this, but I don’t think I want to hear the answer.”
“Then you shan’t have it,” he said, and replaced the cover. “But I do have something for you, as a way of apology for this. Not knowing how long I’ll be gone, I mean. I thought I’d give it to you now.”
The grooms brought forth an Arabian mare, jet black and shiny even in the dim light of the early day. “I know you favor this breed. I am bringing a pair to Louis and when I saw this one, I decided that you must have it. I know you want to start breeding them and now you at least have the beginning of a broodmare band. I rode her, and she’s fast, and temperamental, just the way you like them.”
“I love her,” she put her arm around his waist, “does she have a name?”
“She will when you give her one. And now you have to excuse me, I have more preparations to see to. I will miss you, you know. I can’t spend the night again between now and when I leave, I don’t need you distracting me,” He kissed her, “I will write you, I promise. I will have to send dispatches to Father, so I’ll send letters to you along with them.”
“Write me often,” she said as he turned away, and knew he would not neglect her. She wasn’t worried about a bride, French or Neapolitan, He would wed her and bed her, and as soon as he knew she was pregnant, he would return to Rome, and until he did, Rome would seem empty without him.
“Come to Naples with me,” urged Lucrezia, “A change in scenery would do you good. And it will be comforting to me to have someone familiar to me at the Neapolitan court.”
“And both of us be homesick? Tell me, Lucrezia, are you happy?”
“Yes, yes I am,” her cousin replied, “I am married to someone young, and handsome, and he is consideration itself. The only unhappiness I have is I must leave Giovanni behind, but I knew this might be so. Children of past relationships are never welcome in royal courts, baggage from the past must be left behind.”
“Only Giovanni is not baggage, but Lucrezia, I understand. If I marry into a royal family I would have to leave my beloved Marco behind. You can relax, though, and not have to watch your back. Both you and your husband are bastards, and therefore not in the line of succession. You can rest assured that you, Alfonso, and any children you have will be safe from assassins.”
“That’s a horrible thing to say, but you’re right. There are plenty of machinations going on in the Neapolitan Court, I hear, and it’s a comfort to know I will not have a part to play.”
Should I tell her about France, Constanzia thought, but decided against it. Cesare would see to her safety, She and Alfonso could be brought to Rome at the first sign of trouble, assuring their safety. Maybe I won’t marry, she thought, and keep myself out of this. But she was a legitimate Borgia heir, and if the Pope found a match for her, she would not be able to refuse.
If Cesare had been worried about his reception, his arrival in Marseilles did much to allay his fears. The roar of cannons heralded his arrival, and he spent a week in the city, enjoying what it had to offer, being feted at party after party. After that, he and his baggage train made its way to Chinon, where Louis was holding his court.
His was uncomfortably aware of at least one of Constanzia’s warnings. The French indeed did not seem to approve of his ostentatious display of wealth. But Louis, as she had also said, took a liking to the young Roman. “He’ll recognize your talent,” she had told him, and indeed, Louis was showing him every favor, especially in light of the gift that Cesare bore, the certificate of annulment that would separate him from Joan of France and enable him to marry Anne of Brittany, the widow of Charles VIII.
Joan of France was a kind, pious soul, but she had the misfortune to be plain of face, and to possess a markedly crooked spine. Had she been fertile and born Louis children, it might have saved her but this was not the case.
With the patience of the nun and saint she would become, she accepted her fate and established a convent. Louis married Anne of Brittany four days after his annulment was approved and set about trying to secure a marriage for Cesare to Carlotta Aragona.
With no luck. He tried to force the young girl, but she would not yield. “If my father forces me to, I will marry him, but not unless,” implying that her beloved father would not attempt to force her to marry the Roman upstart. Instead, as she knew he would, her father did not attempt to convince her, but supported her instead.
“I will not marry a priest who is a son of a priest,” Carlotta announced, throwing tact aside as she showed her disdain, and furthermore, “Cesare Borgia did not even possess a “drop of royal blood.” Her family was related to the Houses of Aragon and Castile. Even the threat of being sent from the French court would not change her mine, and Louis had to tell Cesare that a union with Naples would not be forthcoming.
As Constanzia advised him, Cesare made certain he did not lose his temper. When Louis suggested a French bride instead, he swallowed his pride and acquiesced. “Who?” he asked and Louis pointed to a dark haired, very beautiful girl.
“Charlotte D’Albret,” he said, “She is the sister of John, King of Navarre and comes from a very good family. Her father was Duke of Guienne, and her mother is related to the new queen. “She had excellent royal connections,” he said, and may be a better match than Carlotta d’Aragona would have been.”
Cesare took a look at her, as if for the first time. She was sixteen and exquisitely beautiful. She looked up at him and smiled with her even white teeth. She was beautiful, her connections good, and Louis was telling him of her piety and good nature. He looked again and decided to take his cousin’s advice. If he could not marry Naples, Navarre would do very well.
That night the betrothal was announced. No one was surprised that it had happened so quickly. He gave to her the exquisite gifts he had brought for Carlotta Aragona, but if she minded, she showed no sign.
When Alexander VI received the news he was not happy. He had hoped for a Neapolitan connection, and was not sure what the implications of a French marriage might be for Italy. Still, Cesare was determined and even seemed happy with the match, so in a show of good grace the Pope even sent a Cardinal’s hat for the bride’s brother, Amanieu de Albret.
Constanzia sat, reading the letter that Cesare had written to her in the kindest possible terms. She wiped the tears from her eyes, but could not foot Lucrezia, who sat next to her and took her hand.
“She’ll never see Italy, don’t worry cousin. He’ll wed her and bed her, and when she’s sure she’s pregnant, he’ll return to Rome—alone. And when he comes back he’ll see how your pregnancy has progressed and he’ll be happy to see you looking so well and so lovely. Maybe she’ll never have what you were able to give him, a son. A daughter is still an heir, but not the same as a son.”
Constanzia laid her head on Lucrezia’s shoulder. “But she is only sixteen, she’ll be so young and lovely. And she’ll be a virgin, that will be expected of her. When he returns what if he realizes he is tired of me? What if he doesn’t want me anymore? I can’t even marry until after I have this baby.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, he’s always told me that you’re the one woman he could never tire of. This is shocking news, you’ve expected it, you know you have, but actually hearing it is another thing altogether. Wait a few days, you’ll feel better. We’ll hunt tomorrow and have a feast. Ferrante’s beloved daughter will not be married to my brother, so I’m sure he will be in a good mood.”
“Yes, I’m sure you’re right,” Constanzia answered, but somehow she couldn’t shake the image of Charlotte D’Albret sharing Cesare’s bed. Suddenly, she wasn’t sure if she wanted him to come home. He had married France, so let him stay in France. She couldn’t bear the sight of a young, triumphant, Charlotte D’Albret on Cesare’s arm. Surely she did not deserve that.