A Costly Victory
“Lucrezia, do go see what is wrong with your cousin,” the Pope was clearly vexed and did not bother to hide it. “We should be celebrating Louis XII’s victory, these hysterics are clearly uncalled for. We need to prepare for a celebration.”
Lucrezia curtsied, then went to her cousin’s rooms. Something was clearly bothering Constanzia, perhaps the sack of Capua was the cause of it, but she suspected there was more to it.
Constanzia was lying on her bed, sobbing. She looked up and saw Lucrezia standing in the doorway, and held out her hand. “Cousin,” she said, and Lucrezia went to her side.
“Dearest, what is wrong? What has made you so unhappy? Is it truly what happened at Capua, or is it something else?”
Constanzia sat up, wrapped her arms around herself. “It is what happened to Capua, but you’re right, it is also something else. I miscarried last night, and I don’t know whether to be relieved or grieved. I cannot tell Cesare, I do not want him to know that I was pregnant, he may not let me go to Ferrara with you, and I want more than anything to leave Rome.”
“Who sent you word of what happened?”
“Like every other member of this family, I have spies, two of whom have followed Cesare’s army. When I found out what the French army had done to Capua, I could not bear it. I love Cesare, but I know he had a part. How could I have him in my bed again? How could any living creature do such a cruel thing to another? I am glad that Cesare no longer wears a cardinal’s skirts, but I find myself wishing that he was back in them, if it could have helped prevent what happened.”
“It couldn’t,” Lucrezia shook her blond head, “Even as a cardinal, he could have taken part. I do not understand war any better than you, but the wars in Italy have gone on for a long time, and will no doubt go on for longer. Louis is Duke of Milan now, and King of Naples. I wish that would be the end of things, but it won’t. Cesare will fight to establish his kingdom, and France is now the largest land holder in Italy. We can only watch, and be patient, and smile bravely when our men go off to war.”
“Lucrezia, I will tell you what I told Cesare—he will not see old bones. As much as he fights to gain territory, he doesn’t try nearly hard enough to gain allies. His condottiere are only hired guns at best, and will only support him for as long as it serves their ends. He’s always said that he will die in battle, and I believe that to be true.”
“But if he has the support of the Papacy, surely he will be able to hold on. That will be enough, won’t it?”
“Uncle is not a young man, and has a rather dissolute mode of living, does he not? How much longer will he live? Just think, if Cardinal Della Rovere secures the papacy, what will happen then? Della Rovere is no friend to the Borgias, without his support Cesare could lose everything. Cesare doesn’t even have his wife and daughter with her, Louis holds them hostage. He’s tried more than once to have them come to Rome, but Louis forbids it.”
“Maybe he doesn’t mind,” Lucrezia said crossly, “That marriage was for an alliance, and the alliance holds whether his wife is with him or not.”
“Well, I worry for him, I even have dreams about it. I wish you were marrying someone other than Alfonso D’Este, but I think this will be a good thing for you. You will have your escape from Rome, and I will escape with you. Maybe I will take Marco to Genoa, so he can start to learn the duties he will inherit. I want to get away from Rome, too. It no longer feels like home here. Maybe I can meet someone, and get married—and not have to worry about his safety.”
On August 26, 1501, the marriage contract was signed. Rome celebrated, and[MR1] at age twenty-one Lucrezia found herself married for the third time. She had secretly decided that after she had given him children, Alfonso should let her go her own way. She would never be in love with him, but this was as much an arrangement as it was a marriage. Ferrara had a lot of offer her, and she would be foolish not to take advantage. Maybe this marriage would not end tragically.
Cesare arrived in Rome in the middle of September. Constanzia was shocked at the way he looked. He was weak, he was unhealthy and tired. He lay in bed for nearly a week suffering from a high fever, too exhausted to receive visitors, his faithful Micheletto stationed outside the door.
Constanzia turned Marco over the care of his nurse and did not leave his bedside. The Pope sent his physicians to treat his son, but Constanzia would not allow them to bleed him. “No until he is stranger,” she said in tones that brooked no refusal, “I have seen weak men killed by being bled. I will not allow this until he is stronger—you can tell the Pope I said this.”
Alexander would have had Cesare removed from her home, but knew better. He was still not certain of the exact nature of the relationship between his son and his cousin, but the purchase of the new house and Constanzia moving in had removed all but a few doubts. At least he didn’t try to marry the chit, he comforted himself. He did not forget that Constanzia had an iron will that she inherited from her father, and from her mother, if he thought about it. Since the two seemed to be causing no harm, he had decided to let them alone—for now.
Constanzia suffered a few tense nights, constantly at his bedside, praying, her rosary always in her hand, Cesare slowly began to recover. He would eat coddled eggs and broth, but still could not stomach even a food as soft as bread. But he obediently drank the tisanes and infusions she gave him, and his sleep became restful and the fever at last was broken.
Lucrezia came to see him, somewhat taken aback by how thin and hollow eyed he had become. “Are you sure he’s getting better, he looks so weak, so frail. His eyes are like giant shadows in his face. I am afraid for him, Constanzia!”
“Don’t be, if I can keep him in bed another week, he will be fully recovered. I would not allow him to be bled, and the pope was furious, but now he is almost well. Mama always sends me herbs for medicinal purposes, and remember, Turkish medicines go back to the ancient Greeks and Egyptians. I was only going to have him bled as a last resort, and thankfully there was no need. Come, Lucrezia, there is something I would discuss with you.”
She led her to her private veranda, the servants leaving them with cakes, wine, and fresh water. Lucrezia helped herself, her appetite was returning after the long ordeal of her marriage negotiations.Constanzia took only wine, and was silent for a long moment before she spoke.
“Lucrezia, do you remember Perotto, one of our Spanish retainers? I had not thought about him for a long time until I suddenly remembered him.”
“Why yes, I do. Wasn’t he found drowned in the Tiber? I think I remember something like that. It was such a pity, he was a loyal servant to our family, as I recall.”
“Uncle sent him with your party to Pesaro, to keep you company as I remember. He was so funny, always laughing, always ready with a joke. He could always make me smile, even at my lowest moments. I almost wished that Uncle would have sent him with me, instead of you.”
“I’m glad he did, I had many dark days when I lived in Pesaro. I was so lonely, Giovanni was not much company, though he did try to get me with child. At first, he stopped for a while, I supposed he thought I was not catching because I was too young to conceive. After a year he began trying again, but still I did not conceive, it must have driven him mad because his first wife died in childbirth, so he knew he should be able to father a child on me.”
“Tell me, Lucrezia, did you turn to anyone for comfort. Being married to Giovanni Sforza would have tried a saint.:
“He wasn’t so bad, just dull. Then when he told me he was going to spy for the French, I was appalled. I mean, how could he violate the terms of the treaty he had signed? And he managed to bungle that badly, and the French told him they could no longer use him.
“And,” said Constanzia, pushing her to reveal what she suspected.
“Yes, I turned to Perotto, I thought no one would find out. It seemed so harmless, and so safe.”
“Somehow Cesare found out, and had him murdered, that was not so harmless. If I recall, I was not here, but one night, after he’d drunk a bottle of wine, he confessed to me that he killed him because he had gotten you pregnant. A stain on the family honor was how he put it. I was appalled but said nothing. Cesare has a cruel streak, and it frightens me sometimes. He is all about the protection and honor of this family, and I know he will always protect me, but…”
“But sometimes you wish he was other than he is. I will tell you, cousin, I long suspected that Perotto might have met his death at Cesare’s hands, but what could I do? I was a child, I was pregnant and afraid they would send me back to Giovanni. Perotto tried to persuade me to run away with him, but where could we go?”
“Now I’m being sent away again, but this time I go willingly. I will win over the court of Ferrara, and no one will deny me whatever I want. You will come with me and we will be the Borgia beauties and everyone will love us. I’ll find you a husband who is rich and handsome, and we will watch our children grow up.”
She kissed Constanzia, I must go now, I hear Cesare calling you. You must make our brother well so he can help us celebrate—my freedom at last.”