To Love a Borgia

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The Journey to Ferrara

Cesare was showing Constanzia the baggage train that would accompany her and Lucrezia on the journey to Ferrara. The train seemed endless. Many of the mules already packed for the voyage seemed precariously loaded, but Cesare assured her that they had strong backs and were suited for journeys such as this.

They came to a group somewhat separated from the others, surrounded by guards. “Lucrezia’s dowry,” Cesare told her, “Gold, jewels, fabrics, household goods. The price to marry Lucrezia to Lord Alfonso was four hundred thousand ducats, a princely amount for a dukeling, don’t you think?”

“You and uncle are mad,” she replied, and tucked her fur lined hood more closely around her. Her woolen cloak and fur-lined boots were warm, but this unseasonably cold weather was serving to remind her just how miserable the trip to Ferrara would be. She and Lucrezia would be wearing fur-lined wool dresses underneath their warm cloaks, but the weather in the mountain passes would be unforgiving.She would be glad when the train finally entered Ferrara.

She and Cesare went back to their inspection. The litter with its heavy curtains was there for Lucrezia’s comfort. She could wrap herself up in furs and blankets to protect herself from the weather, but at the end of the day her cousin would be tired and miserable. The sedan chair that would take her and her future sister in law on the last leg of the journey, would provide scant relief, especially since Elizabetta Gonzaga, sister in law to Lucrezia’s future sister in law, Isabella, openly disapproved of her.

Lucrezia’s personal belongings took up one hundred of the mules, Cesare told her. “Really!” she exclaimed, “Why so many?”

“Well, between the gowns, the books, linens, the jewels, and the two hundred hand embroidered shifts, she could do with no less. And do not forget her harp!” He laughed at the look of dismay on her face.

“I do not understand you Roman Borgias, you have become so grand. I love beautiful things, but I was brought up with much simpler expectations. Over the past few years I have wondered if I ever knew any of you. I do not have the Borgia ambition that seems to have affected you, I would have been happy in Genoa.” She shook her head sadly.

“Well, the life of the wife of a merchant prince is Genoa is not to be your fate. I am sure that once Duke Ercole meets you, he will start looking around for dukes for you to marry, or maybe even a prince!”

“Don’t say that, Cesare, don’t even think it! All I want to do is see Lucrezia get pregnant and have her first child, then I am coming home. It pains me to leave Marco behind, but I would not subject him to this journey. I must stay with Lucrezia for a while, she will be dreadfully homesick and not even a pregnancy will ease that. I hate that I must leave her at all, but I cannot and bear the thought of moving to Ferrara permanently.

Cesare took her gloved hand and kissed it. “I will be waiting for you to return, my love. I would not have you go, but as you said, Lucrezia needs you. It will only be for a little while, next year you will make the journey home and I will be there to accompany you.”

Lucrezia and Constanzia made their departure on the morning of January 6, 1502. The weather was cold, but the snow which awaited them in the mountains had not reached Rome. So far, it seemed, the day would be bearable.

Cesare escorted them through the cities and for two miles out of town. He had added eleven-hundred of his own men to Lucrezia’s escort, as well as clowns and musicians to keep her entertained.

He and Constanzia had made their private farewells the night before. She could not help weeping a little for the loss of her lover and her son. She was already having misgivings about leaving Marco behind, but it could not be helped. The journey would be hard on her toddler, and Sancia, like most childless women, adored the children of others, and would care for him like her own.

As Alexander watched them leave, he was struck by a premonition. Something told him that he would never see Lucrezia again. His beloved daughter was leaving and he would never see her again. He put his hands over his eyes and wept.

Constanzia was waiting for her mare to be brought to her when she was informed that the Lady Lucrezia requested that she travel in the litter. She groaned, the last thing that she wanted was to be confined to the litter, but she sent her horse back to be unsaddled and blanketed and went to join Lucrezia.

“Did you think that I would wish to make this journey alone? Constanzia, I know you want to ride, but you will be sheltered from the weather in here. Please, cousin, do not desert me, you know how I have dreaded this journey. And besides, in a few days I will have to share that sedan chair with that bitch duchess of Urbino. At least let me share your company until then.”

Constanzia took her hand, “Of course I will keep you company, but you must let me ride once in a while, if nothing else to stretch my muscles.”

Lucrezia shrugged her shoulders. Both girls knew that once she had heard that she was being forced to marry, she would resign herself to it. Ferrara had the reputation of being a center for the arts, and the court was said to be rich with entertainments. With so many amusements available, Lucrezia would be able to entertain herself.

Constanzia was also sure that her cousin would enchant her future husband, and perhaps even her father in law. Lucrezia was well educated and had a lively mind. Pope Alexander had turned the consistory over to her more than once, and if called upon she was perfectly capable of ruling Ferrara in her husband’s absence. The only problem would be the D’Este women, like the jealous Isabella.

The litter was cramped and uncomfortable, and both women were tired and miserable by the end of the first day. Constanzia would prefer to brave the cold and ride in preference to the confines of the litter. Thankfully, when the party reached Spoleto, Lucrezia insisted on stopping for two days so that she and her cousin could bathe and wash their hair.

“The Ferrarese are at their wits end, they don’t know what to do with you. I don’t know if this rest was such a good idea, cousin, but this bath feels delightful.” Constanzia rested her hand on her chin, looking at the familiar sight of the maids fanning Lucrezia’s hair as she sat in front of the fireplace. “Are you trying to delay your arrival in Ferrara?”

Lucrezia smiled conspiratorially. “Perhaps. Perhaps I am just weary and I just need a rest. I always feel better after my hair is washed. The Ferrarese should remember that I need to be in my best looks when I meet my husband.”

“Don’t stretch this journey out too long Lucrezia, please? Don’t involve me in your little conspiracies and plots. It would not surprise me if the duchess of Urbino or Isabella D’Este were having you spied on. You won’t be forgiven for Cesare’s abducting Dorotea Malatesta. I even heard that her fiance plans to take you hostage in revenge for his wife.”

“Constanzia!” The look of astonishment on Lucrezia’s face was plain to see, “Please tell me you do not believe that gossip!”

“I must tell you that I felt that way at first, but now I don’t know. Cesare scares me sometimes, Lucrezia, I have learned he is capable of things I would not have believed before. He’s ruthless, ambitious, and can be capable of great cruelty. He killed my husband, he killed your Alfonso Aragona, remember?”

And I forgave him for it, Lucrezia thought, I could not live my life without my brother’s love, or be at peace unless I forgave him.

“Why would Cesare need to kidnap a woman, he is certainly not lacking them?”

“I am afraid he could have done it to amuse himself. The Malatesta is very beautiful, they say, and you know how Cesare covets beauty. Maybe he did it to see if he could get away with it. Sometimes I think that the real Cesare has disappeared and an evil djinn has come to take his place. If I did not love him so, if I were not the mother of his child, I might put as much distance between the two of us as I could!”

“You don’t mean that,” Lucrezia answered, “You are tired and you are not talking like yourself. We will reach Urbino on the sixteenth, and there will be balls and parties awaiting us. You’ll feel better then, I promise. Let the Ferrarese see the Roman beauties and weep. In the meantime, let us try to uncover Isabella D’Este’s spy so I can summon him for a little talk.”

On January 16, the party met up with the sour-faced Duchess of Urbino. “Look at her,” whispered Constanzia, “You can tell she hates us both. I don’t envy you having to ride in that sedan chair with her—I don’t care how comfortable it is.” And now I can ride again, with no objections from anyone. Maybe La Duchessa will feel too tired and use the litter instead.

Duke Guidobaldo da Montefeltro had arranged various entertainments for Lucrezia while she spent two nights in Urbino. The balls, banquets, and parties suited both girls who danced until the early hours of the morning.

The mysterious informant of Isabella D’Este sent a message to his mistress. “The Roman ladies arrived at Urbino where they were feted by the Duke. The lady Lucrezia is both beautiful and gracious, but her Moorish cousin is one of the most beautiful women that I have seen. Where the illustrious lady Lucrezia is fair, her cousin is dark-hair and dark eyed and very beautiful. It is rumored that she has been the lord Valentino’s mistress for years, but I have been unable to ascertain this. Both ladies are well read and well educated, and you must have your wits about you when you speak to them.”

The party resumed their travels in more comfort now that they were out of the mountains and snow. Riding with in the sedan chair with the duchess of Urbino was uncomfortable and strained, as Lucrezia was sure Elizabetta Gonzaga intended it to be. Constanzia was back on horseback, and she would pull up next to the chair, annoying the duchess, and delighting Lucrezia.

They were now passing through Cesare’s territories in the Romagna, spending the nights in both Pesaro—the former duchy of Lucrezia’s ex-husband, Giovanni Sforza—as well as Cesena. Cesare was campaigning, so was not there to entertain his sister and cousin, but entrusted the task to his governors.

The spent two nights of their journey in Bologna, annoying the Duke who had hoped to be rid of them sooner. “Let them complain,” said Lucrezia, “I’m the wife of Alfonso D’Este now, will he have me forcibly removed from his palace? I think not.”

They arrived at least in Bentivoglio, the last stop before Lucrezia’s entrance to Ferrara. At sunset, four horsemen arrived, and were announced.

“Lucrezia, come quickly,” Constanzia whispered, “There is someone here who wants to meet you.”

“What?” asked Lucrezia, but Constanzia took hold of her hand, “Come on.” She was grinning ear to ear and Lucrezia wanted to slap her.

“Come on, dear, I have someone I want to introduce you to.” She led Lucrezia into the reception room where four men stood waiting, one taller and bulkier than the other two, but dressed elegantly none the less.

“Madame,” he said, “I am Alfonso D’Este. I could not wait to meet you, so I rode from Ferrara to make your acquaintance this night.” He took Lucrezia’s proffered hand and kissed it.

Lucrezia could rise to any occasion. “My lord,” she said, and curtsied deeply, “I am most pleased to make your acquaintance.” I’ve done it, she thought triumphantly, he couldn’t wait to meet me, and he likes what he sees, I can tell. I’ve done it, Father, Cesare, you have your alliance now, and don’t forget you owe it to me!

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