To Love a Borgia

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1499: The Campaign for Milan

I have fudged history a little here. Alfonso did not flee from Spoleto, he fled from Rome. As with the tv show, and history, his days are numbered.

“Lucrezia is no doubt glad of your company, but I wish you were not in Naples, my love.” Constanzia was reading the letter she had just received from Cesare, “Louis intends to invade Milan and has his eye on re-claiming Naples someday. You must be ready to leave when I send you word. When you show her this letter you must tell her not to show it to Alfonso. When she has finished reading it, burn it.”

She stood up, rubbing the small of her back. Her pregnancy was more advanced now and she was grateful that the bulky skirts of her gowns hid her growing belly. And she suspected that she had underestimated just how pregnant she was. Lucrezia, too, was expecting and she and Alfonso were delighted. She had missed Giovanni sorely, and though this baby would not make up for his loss, it would provide some consolation.

And Charlotte D’Albret was pregnant too. Cesare had been careful not to rejoice over it in his letter, but instead had inquired after her health and the progress of her pregnancy. And told her that he would be accompanying Louis on his campaign to take Milan.

“I will talk to the Holy Father,” he’d said, “and ask where you should take refuge. I think he will suggest Spoleto. When this campaign is over, it will only be a short journey back to Rome. I hope that is where you will have our child, not Naples. And Constanzia, if Alfonso is not willing to show us his support, I cannot vouch for his safety. He is married to the daughter of the Pope and his loyalty should be with Rome, not Naples. And if anyone there treats you or Lucrezia with any discourtesy, they will answer to me.” He had closed by wishing her his faithful and undying love.

Her reception in Naples had at first been friendly, but as her pregnancy progressed, there had been a definite cooling towards her. There were a few, some in Ferrante’s family, who openly courted her. She was the widow of Calvino Pallavicini, and related to the wife of Alfonso. Once her baby arrived, it could be sent back to Rome. Marco would meet the same fate as his as yet unborn brother or sister.

She did not like these Neapolitans, these arrogant Spaniards who ruled the city. They considered the Genoans uncouth, but she’d been far happier in Genoa than she was here. She would be glad when Louis raided Milan, she decided, for Naples would certainly follow. She and Lucrezia would be responsible for seeing to the safety of their cousins, and she hoped, as Cesare had expressed, that Alfonso would have the sense to switch to the winning side. She had no doubt what Alfonso’s fate would be if he displeased Cesare.

She remembered how much she had loved her cousin, but lately she felt like there were times when she hardly knew him. She realized they were Spaniards, and could be ruthless, killing without a second thought anyone who stood in their way. But she was having trouble reconciling this with the man she loved. It was the Borgia ambition, she decided, Lucrezia had it, Juan had had it—Gioffre she did not know about, she did not know him at all, she corrected herself.

She sat down on a bench as she felt the baby begin to kick. She could not think of a French invasion right now, all she wanted was to have her baby and leave Naples. Cesare would take care of her, he always did.

Lucrezia sat next to, dipping her fingers into the water of the fountain. “May I read your letter from Cesare?”

Constanzia handed it to her, “I warn you, you may not like all he has to say. What did he say in yours?”

“Oh, not much, as always. Asking after my health, and my pregnancy. Telling me about his wedding, which I hope he spared you. And giving me his dearest love.” She squeezed Constanzia’s hand.

“He did, he knows I do not want to hear about it. But he did tell me she was pregnant, but I don’t care. My son may be a bastard, but he’s a Borgia bastard. Hers will be his heir, but that does not matter to me. To the world Marco’s a Pallavicini, and he will have a handsome inheritance. There are things that he told me that concern me more. Please read the letter now, we should talk.”

Lucrezia’s pretty forehead puckered as she skimmed the letter. She laid it down on her lap, indignant. “What does he mean about Alfonso? He knows I’ve married into the Neapolitan royal family, this is where my loyalty lies.”

“Not anymore, not to Cesare. He’s aligned us, and the papacy to France. Even your father is singing France’s praises. If Alfonso doesn’t side with Cesare’s interests and come out and support him, that will not bode well for him. You should know, you’re much more political than I am, so you should understand this. Cesare’s loyalty is to Louis and France now, or at least it has to seem that way. He wants an empire, and with Louis and your father’s help he means to get one.”

She shook her head, “I think he is overreaching, he sees himself as an Alexander, no as Julius Caesar. Lucrezia, Louis will go on campaign to take Milan, and if ‘Il Moro’ is the coward I think he is, he will flee and Louis will have Milan without a fight. There will be battles over the summer, and someday it will culminate with Naples going to the French. You are going to be five months pregnant in August and by that time I will have not one, but two small children to look after. Tell Alfonso to offer his services to Cesare, otherwise I am afraid you will lose your husband.”

Lucrezia stood up and threw the letter on her lap. “How can you say this to me?” but Constanzia grabbed her wrist.

“Listen to me, little fool, whether it’s France or Spain, Naples is doomed. Louis has hereditary ties to Naples, much stronger than Alfonso’s family. Louis wants to take back the lands France lost, and Cesare sees this as his means to establish himself. We’re pawns, Lucrezia, you and I. If it suits Cesare’s purposes, he’ll get rid of Alfonso so that he can procure a more advantageous match for you. You say you love Alfonso? Well, there would have been no marriage to him if the Pope had not willed it. I suspect Alfonso’s days are numbered unless you can convince him to join Cesare—now. Open your eyes, please!”

“I don’t believe you,” Lucrezia said coldly, and left her.

When she became upset, the baby would start kicking; and now she realized how precarious her situation lay. She hoped the pregnancy was more advanced than she had thought at first. Louis would begin campaigning soon, and she might find herself having the baby as the French were approaching Naples.

She put her hand on her belly, “You must grow quickly and come soon. We will have a journey to make and if you come while we are on the road, I will lose you. Your father would not like that, it would make him very sad, so you must get here soon, little one.”

But she came the following week, tiny and perfectly formed, but only had the strength to live one day. Constanzia named her “Maria Lucrezia Vanozza” and gave her the last name of Borgia. She held her until the tiny body cooled and Carmilla took her away. She was buried in the crypt where the Bisceglies were buried, at the request of Lucrezia. Later, they could take her back to Rome.

She and Lucrezia held hands through the funeral mass. “Do you think she’s in heaven?” asked Lucrezia, “She was so tiny and innocent that she cannot be in purgatory.”

“If I believed in such things, but Cesare and I don’t. Don’t tell Uncle, but I think he knows.” Or at least he knew about Cesare, she thought. She squeezed Lucrezia’s hand, “I think I stopped believing when I found myself forgiving Cesare for killing Calvino. If there is a heaven, that is where my little Maria is. Maybe she should never have been born. “Don’t worry for your baby, your little ‘Rodrigo’ will be fine.” But maybe not Alphonso, she thought grimly.

But, the gods were with her and Louis did not invade Milan until late September. In August, Sancia and Giofre met them in Naples, and along with Alfonso, they made the journey to Spoleto where Lucrezia could pass the time in cooler air and comfort until they returned to Rome. The Pope appointed his daughter governor, and she proved herself to be an able administrator, even to the skeptical populace.

Unfortunately, Alfonso chose to abandon Spoleto and his pregnant wife and return to Naples. Lucrezia started fretting and crying; Gioffre asked if he might pursue him for her. Evidently hearing that the French were approaching Milan was too much for him. When Louis made his triumphant entry into Milan, Alfonso decided to return to Spoleto, much to the relief of his very pregnant wife.

After the city of Alessandria was besieged, they capitulated, and other cities soon followed. The surrender of Milan became a fait accompli, and the French marched victorious into the city. When the treasuries were opened, it was discovered that they were emptied—and in the hands of Ludovico Sforza who had fled ahead of their arrival. But Louis could now fancy himself “King of the Franks, Duke of Milan.” As he had now fulfilled his obligation, Cesare would now be awarded his army.

Cesare made a secret visit to Rome in mid November to confer with the Holy Father, and comforted Constanzia on the loss of their daughter. “Do not worry, Querida,” he whispered in her ear, “When the time is right, we will have our little girl.” But both of them knew that Charlotte D’Albret was experiencing a healthy pregnancy, and with the birth of her child, Cesare would have his heir.

Lucrezia had delivered a healthy baby boy on the first of November. Now that Cesare was at her side, Constanzia found that she was happier for her than she expected. It was better that she had miscarried, the practical part of her told herself, there was no reason she could refuse a marriage if the Pope proposed one, and now there would be no bastard to account for if he did. A marriage would come, it could not be helped, she just hoped she could have some time.

Best of all was Cesare in her bed once more. He would have to leave again, but the time would come when he could start empire building for himself. “I’ll set you up and you can govern a city for your own.” He lay stretched out on her bed, naked, inviting her lay beside him. “Say Cesena or Imola.”

“Perhaps I would like Forli. You do plan to bring the Tigress down, don’t you?” She wrapped herself around him as if she could prevent him from leaving.

“Soon, soon I will. I am young, I am strong, I have the backing of Louis and the Holy Father, who would also like to see her brought down. I have plans for Caterina Sforza that I have been waiting to put into place. When she is out of the way I am going to build my empire in the Romagna.”

“With Charlotte at your side?” She pushed away from him.

“If so, it would be for appearances only; you know I love only you.”

“And Lucrezia, but I would gladly share your heart with her.” Do I really mean this, she thought? “I love her, too.” She paused for a moment, “What about Alfonso?”

“If he can convince me he is willing to support us and not Naples, he will have nothing to fear. Her marriage may prove to be an embarrassment if he does not.”

“She loves him, Cesare, she even forgave him when he abandoned her in Spoleto.”

“What?” He sat up, “Tell me what happened.”

“Evidently he has developed a fear of all things French and Roman. He’s afraid, and it’s his own fault. All he needed to do was show some loyalty to you and be willing to align himself with the French. Evidently France is the great Satan and you are his minion. I think he is afraid that his family will lose their hold on Naples.”

“They will, it’s just a matter of time. Father has come around, and I can always count on you. Perhaps I will do as Father does with Lucrezia, and make you a governor. It is time you stop holding yourself back. You are the ultimate diplomat, and you are always willing to learn. You were wasted on Calvino Pallavicini, you are capable of so much more. If I seem too harsh and unapproachable you know how best to intercede for me.”

“What will I do if I become pregnant again?”

“You can still do it. I’ll send Micheletto to help you out. He may be lost with no one to kill, but he is loyal to you as he is to me. Now come and love me, I must leave day after tomorrow and it will be a while before I see you again. Love me, Constanzia.”

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