Welcome to Nobles Go Dating, the series that provides you with all the tea about famous (or infamous) serial daters. First up is none other than the notorious Lucrezia Borgia – poisoner, seductress, whore. Or perhaps just a charasmatic, beautiful woman with some of her own agency picked on by history.
Who was Lucrezia Borgia?
Lucrezia Borgia was the daughter of Rodrigo Borgia, a cardinal who liked women too much to let God interfere with having a family. Lucrezia was 12 when her doting father became Pope Alexander, and the Borgia family became a major player in politics.
She was known to be beautiful, graceful and charming, as well as very clever – she was fluent in three languages and also knew Latin and some Greek; she loved poetry and wrote her own and when the Pope had to leave Rome, he left his daughter in charge of the Vatican.
Well, it might not have been love but it was definitely young, because to kickstart Lucrezia’s dating life, she was betrothed to a Spanish nobleman called Don Juan de Centelles in 1490. Lucrezia was ten. Yes. You did read that correctly.
A year later the betrothal to poor old Don Juan whatever-his-name-is was abandoned for Spanish Grandee Don Gasparo di Procida, who was the Count of Aversa and, I assume, a better match. It doesn’t really matter to be honest, because while the lawyers were negotiating the marriage, the Pope died, and Lucrezia’s Dad got elected, which instantly made her a much bigger prize on the market and Don Gasparo Thingy was fobbed off, while Lucrezia was paired up with someone much better. Even though at this point, she is still only 11 years old.
‘Til death do us part…ish
June 12th, 1493, 13-year-old Lucrezia married Giovanni Sforza, a man nearly twice her age, which made me think he was ancient until I realised that when they married, Sforza was only 24, which is younger than I am.
She spent a couple of years away from home (Rome) with her husband in Pesaro and didn’t return until she was 16. It doesn’t seem to have been a very successful marriage, based on the fact that Lucrezia didn’t have a child, and less than a year after returning to Rome, Lucrezia left her husband to take sanctuary in the convent of San Sisto.
Apart from whatever happened between Lucrezia and her first husband, there were two huge factors in the ending of their relationship. The first was that an alliance between the Borgias and the Sforza in Milan was no longer ideal, and the Pope wanted out. The second was that Lucrezia’s two brothers, Cesare and Juan has threatened him and Giovanni had to leg it because he wasn’t entirely sure they were joking when they said they’d kill him.
Cesare in particular was a scary bastard. He loved Lucrezia more than anyone in the world, and he was known for his sadistic streak, so it was probably wise for Gio to get out of there.
The decision was made that the marriage had to stop. And the way that they decided to do so (and by ‘they’, I mean the Borgias) was to claim that the three-year marriage had never been consummated. And the cherry on the top of this idea was that Giovanni had to make a public declaration that he was impotent.
Top diplomatic skills from the Pope there.
Lucrezia signed a declaration, but Giovanni (understandably) refused to make his statement that he couldn’t get it up. Unfortunately he didn’t have much support from his own family – his uncle suggested that the best way to prove he wasn’t impotent was to have sex with Lucrezia, or some other woman, in front of witnesses. Which 100% sounds like something that wouldn’t give a man accused of impotency stage fright.
In return, Giovanni made accusations of incest. He spread it everywhere that Lucrezia was sleeping with both her brothers and her father. This probably wasn’t true, which is why it doesn’t have its own little subheading, but the rumours stuck and have clung to Lucrezia’s reputation ever since.
In the end, Giovanni caved to the pressure and finally signed the declaration in November, 8 months after fleeing from his wife to save his neck from her terrifying brothers.
Sorry Giovanni, you’re not the father…
On 22nd December 1497, Lucrezia Borgia gave a graceful little speech and was declared to be divorced and a virgin. Which was fabulous, considering she was six months pregnant.
Lucrezia had left Rome for the convent of San Sisto during the summer of 1497 to escape all the rumours of why she had been abandoned by her husband (incest etc.)
However, instead of God, she found herself Pedro Calderon, who was a Spanish valet who probably gave much more solid comfort than the Lord. During her time at the convent, Lucrezia had a short, sexy affair with Pedro, and soon found herself to be pregnant. Whoops.
Cesare, her older, slightly psycho brother, was unimpressed, and by unimpressed I of course mean absolutely lost his shit and attacked Pedro. A few months after, six-months-pregnant Lucrezia had signed a declaration to say she was a virgin, and a month before she actually gave birth, there was another horror in store.
Pedro, and Lucrezia’s maid Pantiselia were found floating in the River Tiber. Dead. I wonder who could have arranged that?
On 15th March 1498, Lucrezia gave birth to a son, but he was either stillborn or died young, because he fades away from the sources almost immediately.
After all this heartbreak, Lucrezia possibly didn’t want anything to do with men for a while. If this had been 2020 instead, she’d have cut her hair, got a new wardrobe, got a tattoo and sworn off men as trash forever. Unfortunately, she didn’t really have much say in it, and a few months later, there was a new man on the scene.
Literally months later, in July 1498, Lucrezia marries Alfonso, who was the illegitimate son of the King of Naples, ally of the Borgias. Despite the shitty dating experiences Lucrezia had the past year or so, her new husband was as young and lively as she was, and they danced and feasted.
Unfortunately, by the following year her brother Cesare had married a French princess, and since the King of France (Cesare’s ally) had claims to both Milan and Naples, this caused a few issues. The first being that the French King was gathering troops ready to invade.
Alfonso had to leave Lucrezia behind to go and defend Naples. At the time, Lucrezia was six months pregnant, and miserable at her husband leaving. Alfonso’s sister, Sancia, who was Lucrezia’s friend, was married to Lucrezia’s youngest brother but had had an affair with Cesare and probably the murdered Juan too.
Lucrezia was sent to Spoleto with Sancia’s husband and at 19 years old she was appointed the governor of the city. She gave birth to a baby boy on 1 November, so in theory, everything should have been great.
Only it wasn’t.
Friction had been rising between Alfonso, Cesare and the Pope. At some point, they had all returned to Rome, and on 15 July 1500 Alfonso dined with the Pope. On his way home a group of men, who had apparently been asleep, rose and attacked him.
They stabbed Alfonso, and would have dragged him away if his companions had not managed to get him into the relative safety of the Vatican. Alfonso was seriously injured – Lucrezia fainted when she saw him.
But Alfonso had survived the stabbing and was slow recuperating. Lucrezia and Sancia were caring for him; Lucrezia even prepared all of his food. Alfonso suspected his brother-in-law was behind the attack, and so decided to play the subtle waiting game by shooting a crossbow out of the window at Cesare while he walked in the garden. He only narrowly missed.
On 18 August, Alfonso was recovering in bed, with his wife, sister and the Neapolitan ambassador, when men burst in to arrest Alfonso. Lucrezia and Sancia protested – and at the ‘helpful’ suggestion of these men, went off to speak to the Pope.
When they returned, Alfonso’s door was locked. Lucrezia was told that he had got out of bed, tripped and fell and reopened all his wounds and had sadly died. No, he had definitely not been strangled, that is fake news.
After Alfonso’s murder, Lucrezia left for her castle in Nepi, and stayed there for 4 months. She possibly hoped that she’d be left alone for a bit, but by Christmas that year she heard the news that her father wanted her to remarry. She told him that she didn’t want to and left the court absolutely fuming. But, once again, she didn’t really have much choice in the matter.
She was betrothed to another Alfonso, the eldest son of the Duke of Ferrara. He was a 24 year old widower and a useful ally (for now) for the Borgia family. The Duke of Ferrara was not into marrying his son to Lucrezia because he thought that the Borgias were socially inferior and morally corrupt, but also they had the French king on their side and he helped Ferrara see that the match would be a good one.
Lucrezia probably also wasn’t that into marrying this second Alfonso – it was said that her new husband had two interests. One was casting canons in his foundry (okay) and the other was walking the streets at night with a drawn sword in one hand and his erect penis in the other (boy has issues).
The incest rumours were making the rounds again, and so Ferrara sent two envoys to spend 4 months with Lucrezia to make sure she wasn’t a morally corrupt, incestuous whore. They reported back that she was great, which makes me think they didn’t see the weird sex parties she hosted with her Dad and brother. Like that one where 50 prostitutes were stripped and had chestnuts thrown amongst them, which they had to scrabble to pick up. (What a lovely wholesome family activity. The Borgias didn’t do much to help their case sometimes, their PR team must have been constantly pulling their hair out).
Anyway, on 6 January Lucrezia rode away from Rome, and her father, to go and marry Alfonso. She was homesick, her father-in-law wanted to reduce her spending, and her sister-in-law was jealous and took to spying on Lucrezia, but her new husband seemed to like her.
Alfonso was pretty pleased with Lucrezia, especially as he could spend the days banging other women and the night doing his duty with his wife. The joys of being a man. Lucrezia and Alfonso did develop a strong partnership and working marriage, but along the way there were a few…adventures.
Pietro Bembo was a poet from Venice, who Lucrezia found ‘alluring’. They wrote very passionate and affectionate letters to each other, and there were rumours that they were lovers. When the Pope died in August 1503, and Lucrezia was bereft, Bembo came riding to see her straight away, to see if he could help at all.
In the meantime, Lucrezia had been pregnant twice, but her first baby was a stillborn daughter, and her second child, a son, died at only one month old in 1505.
In November 1506, Lucrezia was pregnant again, and was spending a lot of time with Francesco Gongaza, who was husband to her horrible sister-in-law. They danced, and partied, but in 1507, she suffered another miscarriage. Just a few weeks or months later, a messenger arrived to tell her that her beloved, if awful, brother Cesare had died in battle.
Lucrezia was devastated and took to her bed. When she did emerge, she renewed her affair with Gongaza, who it seems she was in love with. By the end of 1507 she was pregnant again, and the following April she gave birth to an heir Ercole. By this point, however, her husband had stepped in, and forbade her to contact Gongaza to tell him. Who was the daddy? We’ll never know, but Alfonso definitely disliked Gongaza.
Lucrezia still tried to get in touch, using the poet Ercole Strozzi as a go-between, but Gongaza stopped responding. It may have been cruel, but ghosting Lucrezia may have saved his life – Strozzi was murdered.
Gongaza still refused to visit Lucrezia, and their affair cooled down into a friendship which they maintained for the rest of their lives.
Between 1506 and 1511, Alfonso was away a lot, fighting first for, and then against, the new Pope. Lucrezia took his place as ruler of the city, and while he was away she wrote to him often and pawned her jewels to raise money for his wars. Between 1509 and 1517, Lucrezia had four more children.
Lucrezia was 39 when in 1518 she fell pregnant again. She had been physically weakened by the succession of pregnancies before, and felt like she was too old to have another baby. During the pregnancy both her mother and ex-boyfriend Gongaza died. She felt as if her hair was too heavy, and cut it. She felt as if she was going blind.
In June 1509, she gave birth prematurely to a little girl, and contracted puerperal fever, leaving behind her grieving husband, Alfonso, who was so devastated at her death that he fainted at her funeral.
Lucrezia Borgia had a chequered love live, but no worse than most of the men you can read about in history. And not only did she achieve so much more outside of her dating life, she managed to even choose some of her own men – and in the 1500’s, that was no mean feat.
If you liked this, why not check out:
For more historical facts, writing tips and book recommendations about women in history, check out my Instagram and come and tell me what you want to know more about!