To Love a Borgia

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A Marriage to Ferrara

If anyone is curious, this is the name of the two books (as well as info I’ve googled) that I’ve used as references for this story: “The Artist, The Philosopher, and the Warrior”, by Paul Strathern. It’s about Leonardo, Cesare, and Machiavelli, and how their lives intertwined during this period. I have also used, “The Borgias and Their Enemies,” which is mostly about Cesare and Lucrezia, though Alexander the Sixth is given quite a bit of coverage. Oh, how I love reading about history. You should see my collection of archaeology books.

If Lucrezia thought she had come back to peace and quiet after her self-imposed exile in Nepi, she found that it was all for naught.

“I am considering a marriage for you, Lucrezia,” the Pope told her, “Though I have yet to be decided as to whom.”

“What?” Lucrezia was furious, it had not even been a year since Alfonso had been murdered. “I will not marry again, Father, I am bad luck for husbands, at best. No, I will not do this.” She stormed out of his offices, slamming the door behind her, not knowing if she wanted to cry or scream.

She went to the stables and ordered that her horse be saddled. Once again, she felt the need to flee the Vatican. Did God truly hate her so, that her life always seemed to go from bad to worse?

Constanzia’s major domo greeted her at the door, sending a page to inform Carmilla that her mistress’ cousin had come to see her. Soon she was escorted upstairs, and found Constanzia newly out of her bath, wrapped in her robe.

“Leave us,” she told her servants, but held onto Carmilla’s hand. “Bring us some wine,” she said, “I fear that whatever this is about, it is not good.” Carmilla curtsied and left the chamber.

She held out her arms to Lucrezia, who rushed into them, crying. “Oh, I cannot believe it, truly I cannot. He is thinking of marrying me already!”

Constanzia held her at arm’s length. “I wish I could say the same, cousin, but nothing your father does surprises me anymore. Do you know to whom? I cannot believe this, this time you father truly surpasses himself.” She led her to a chair, and sat her down, then took a chair next to her.

“I don’t know, I was too angry to ask, but cousin, I am thinking that I will not fight him as long as it is someone acceptable.”

Carmilla came in with the wine, and poured a glass for each. At a look from Constanzia, she bowed and left the room, then took her position behind the door.

“Why? Are you truly willing to go along with this? What will I do without you?”

“I was thinking,” she sighed, “Rome has been a place of so much unhappiness for me. Every step brings me face to face with some memory of unhappiness. I love my father and brother, but I would be glad to get away from them, if it meant some refuge for me. Just think, to not be the notorious Lucrezia Borgia who slept with her father and brother, whose first marriage was annulled because her husband was falsely accused of impotence and nearly killed by her brother. Oh, and let us not forget the fate of her second husband, who was indeed killed by her brother.” She took a sip of her wine and fell silent.

“Tell me, Lucrezia, was it so hard to reconcile Cesare, after what he did?” Constanzia leaned forward, trying to read her face.

“Once I forgave him, it was like a burden fell from my shoulders. And is it true that you have been writing him?”

“Yes, when he told me you forgave him, when he told me how much he loves me, and you, how much I meant to him and how he hated to have me angry with him, I forgave him, too. I find it so hard, though, when I find out how he has conducted himself in battles, and how cruel the aftermath, I swear, I hardly know him. That the man who loves me so tenderly can be responsible for so much cruelty, it is hard to reconcile him with my lover.”

“And he killed your husband, too, I know that. I told my confessor how confused I feel sometimes, and he told me that it was God’s will, even though it was hard to understand. How long has it been since you went to confession, Constanzia?”

“I don’t know, a long time. Cesare has rubbed off on me, I guess. I go to mass for holy days, and confession not at all. After all that has happened, all I have seen, it is hard to believe anymore.” She shrugged her shoulder, “I lack your belief and piety. I believe in my friends, my family, my child, my lover, in helping others. Somehow, that seems enough. Going to only Christmas and Easter mass would be enough for me, I think, were I not the niece of the pope.”

“Father has become so furious with Cesare, he says he has been a bad influence on you. But I understand, I do. When bad things happen, it is hard not to blame God.”

Another family was wrestling with problems. The Este family was wrestling with its own problems, but the thought of the heir, Alfonso, marrying Lucrezia Borgia, took precedence

“Father, you cannot be serious,” Isabelle d’Este told her father Ercole indignantly, “Her brother kidnapped and raped my poor Donatea Mataresta. “He claims he is innocent, but she declares otherwise. And Lucrezia is supposed to have committed incest with him, though she denies it. And she’s a bastard, why does Alfonso not go ahead with his marriage to Louis XII’s niece?

Alfonso did not truly want to marry the Borgia girl, but the picture that had been sent to him portrayed a woman with hazel eyes and golden hair who was truly lovely. His wife had just died in childbirth, but like Lucrezia Borgia, she had a rather unsavory reputation. She had taken for a lover a lovely Negro girl, and had barely bothered to hide it.

He himself had a secret pastime, though in Ferrara his secret was well known. He got a thrill from wondering the streets at night, holding his sword in one hand, his erect penis in the other.His other passion, so to speak, was his foundry where he cast cannons, and spent time there whenever he could.

He was a study in contrasts, however. Like his brother, Cardinal Ippolito, he was a patron of the arts. He loved music and played the viol so beautifully it would make one weep. The Borgia girl, too, was a patron of the arts, he had heard. This was a marriage he did not wish for, but it might be bearable.

“Are you serious, Alfonso D’Este? Have you heard the rumors about him, Lucretia? Most unsavory, not for me to repeat.” Constanzia studied the picture Lucrezia had just received. “He’s not much to look at, but at least he’s not ugly—or terribly ugly. And the D’Este’s are rich, or so I’ve heard. So, what can you tell me about the marital negotiations?”

“An obscenely large dowry, from what I understand, four hundred thousand ducats, in cash, jewels, and household goods.”

“And uncle is willing to pay it? He must truly want this match.” Though I don’t know why, thought Constanzia, is Ferrara all that important, except that it borders Cesare’s kingdom, and that will guarantee its safety if you are there.

“He’s been doing a lot behind the scenes. He’s talked to Louis, he keeps sweetening the dowry by increasing it. He also decreased his yearly payments to the Vatican to one hundred ducats, from forty-five hundred. He convinced Louis that it would be in his interests to break off the engagement of his niece to Alfonso, and that was one of the last hurdles. It seems I will have to win over Duke Ercole D’Este and convince him that marrying the pope’s bastard daughter was worth losing a connection to royalty.”

“Don’t worry, he will love you, everyone loves you. But there’s something else, isn’t there? Tell me.” Constanzia looked at her, seeing the tears forming in the corners of her eyes.

“Yes, there is, I must leave Rodrigo behind. He’ll have an allowance of fifteen thousand ducats, but oh, Constanzia, when will I ever see him again?” Lucrezia held her cousin tightly. “I have two children, neither of whom I can take with me. I must present the ‘semblance’ of a virgin, whatever that is. Maybe my first marriage was annulled for non-consummation, but I was legitimately married to Alfonso, and our child was baptized by the pope himself. Alfonso has no heirs, and the fact that I’ve born a son should surely count for something.”

Constanzia stroked Lucrezia’s beautiful golden hair. “Tell me, cousin, would it ease your heart if I were to accompany you? Surely Duke Ercole would not begrudge you the company of your beloved cousin, would he?”

“Oh, would you? Truly? But could Cesare spare you?”

“He has no choice, you need me and that is all there is to it. I was so homesick in Genoa when I first came there, I would have given anything for family to be there with me—even Juan! Cesare is gone so much now, fighting or administering the territories he has conquered, that he spares no time to come see me. And he has his new courtesan, Fiametta, to help him pass the time if I’m not here. If Cesare wants to see me, he can come to see me in Ferrara.”

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