|214th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church
11 August 1492 - 18 August 1503
Rodrigo Borja/Borgia, was born at Xativa, near Valencia, in what is now Spain, 1 January, 1431, to Jofre Lançol and Isabella Borja. He died in Rome, 18 August, 1503.
Rodrigo was given a good education, and studied Law at the University of Bologne. His uncle Cardinal Alfonso Borja, was elected as Pope Callixtus III in 1455, and opened a steady climb up the church hierarchy for Rodrigo. He was adopted into the family of Callixtus and began using the name Rodrigo Borja.
By all accounts he was handsome, charming, intelligent, and competent, and acquired experience, influence and wealth.
As an example of the nepotism, practiced by the family Borja, Alonso de Borja, Rodrigo's uncle, was Bishop of Valencia. He appointed Rodrigo, later Alexander VI, as Bishop of Valencia. Valencia was promoted to a metroplitan during the time of Pope Innocent VIII, and Rodrigo became first Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Valencia. He was succeeded by his son, Cesare Borgia, as second Archbishop of Valencia. The third and the fourth Archbishops of Valencia were Juan de Borja (grand-nephew) and Pedro Luis de Borja (brother of Alexander VI.)
Rodrigo had many mistresses. He had four children by Vannozza (Giovanna) dei Cattani, whom he claimed and legitimized.
He gave these children money, praise, honor, high positions and it must be assumed also affection. Five other children, Girolama, Isabella, Pedro-Luiz, Bernardo, and Laura, are thought to be his, by some, but were of uncertain parentage.
When Pope Innocent VIII died in 1492, there were three strong candidates as successor: Ascanio Sforza, who favored the Milanese, Giuliano della Rovere the pro-French candidate, and sixty-one year old Borgia, considered as independant. Borgia, by a bare two-thirds majority was proclaimed Pope on the morning of 11 Aug., 1492, and took the name of Alexander VI. It was rumored that he obtained the necessary votes through simony, which is not improbable, however there is no sound evidence that he paid anyone for their vote, and it has been shown that he was in the lead from the beginning The probable determining factor of this election was Cardinal Ascanio Sforza's vote and influence. His motivation was most likely not dictated by money, but by the desire to be the future Pontiff's chief adviser.
The Romans, regarded Borgia as one of themselves, and considered him a most acceptable choice. He, in turn, set out to justify their good opinion. He put an end to the lawlessness which had ruled the city. He ordered investigations, hung guilty parties, and leveled their property. He placed magistrates in four districts of the city to dispense justice and keep order, and soon the city of Rome was under control. He also increased fortifications to protect the city. 
He also freely endowed his relatives at the church's and his neighbour's expense. His son, Cesare Borgia, only seventeen and a student at Pisa, was made Archbishop of Valencia. Another son, Giovanni Borgia inherited the Spanish Dukedom of Gandia, the Borgias' ancestral home in Spain. For Giovanni and Gioffre/Jofre (also known as Goffredo) the Pope planned to create fiefs from the Papal States and the Kingdom of Naples. 
Behavior of this kind, of course, makes enemies, and Ferdinand I, King of Naples Ferdinand gathered his allies, and Alexander gathered his. He encouraged the French King Charles VIII in his desire to conquer Naples, but then in July 1493, made peace with Naples, arranging a marriage between his son Gioffre and Doña Sancha, granddaughter of Ferdinand I.
Wanting to dominate the Sacred College of Cardinals more completely, created 12 new cardinals in move that created much scandal. Among the new cardinals was his own son Cesare, then only 18 years old. Alessandro Farnese (later Pope Paul III), the brother of one of the Pope's mistresses, Giulia Farnese, was also among the newly created cardinals.
On 25 January 1494, Ferdinand I died and was succeeded by his son Alfonso II (1494–1495). Charles VIII of France now advanced formal claims on the Kingdom of Naples. Pope Alexander VI authorised him to pass through Rome, ostensibly on a crusade against the Ottoman Empire, without mentioning Naples. But when the French invasion became a reality Pope Alexander VI became alarmed, recognised Alfonso II as king of Naples, and concluded an alliance with him in exchange for various fiefs for his sons (July 1494). A military response to the French threat was set in motion: a Neapolitan army was to advance through the Romagna and attack Milan, while the fleet was to seize Genoa. Both expeditions were badly conducted and failed, and on 8 September Charles VIII crossed the Alps and joined Lodovico il Moro at Milan. The Papal States were in turmoil, and the powerful Colonna faction seized Ostia in the name of France. Charles VIII rapidly advanced southward, and after a short stay in Florence, set out for Rome (November 1494).
Pope Alexander VI appealed to Ascanio Sforza and even to the Ottoman Sultan Bayazid II for help. He tried to collect troops and put Rome in a state of defence, but his position was precarious. When the Orsini offered to admit the French to their castles, Alexander had no choice but to come to terms with Charles. On 31 December, Charles VIII entered Rome with his troops, the cardinals of the French faction, and Giuliano della Rovere. Pope Alexander VI now feared that Charles might depose him for simony, and that the king would summon a council to nominate a new pope. Pope Alexander VI was able to win over the bishop of Saint-Malo, who had much influence over the king, with a cardinal's hat. Pope Alexander VI agreed to send Cesare as legate to Naples with the French army; to deliver Cem Sultan, held as a hostage, to Charles VIII, and to give Charles Civitavecchia (16 January 1495). On 28 January Charles VIII departed for Naples with Cem and Cesare, but the latter slipped away to Spoleto. Neapolitan resistance collapsed, and Alfonso II fled and abdicated in favour of his son Ferdinand II. Ferdinand was abandoned by all and also had to escape, and the Kingdom of Naples was conquered with surprising ease.
A reaction against Charles VIII soon set in, for all the European powers were alarmed at his success. On 31 March 1495 the Holy League was formed between the Pope, the emperor, Venice, Lodovico il Moro and Ferdinand of Spain. The League was ostensibly formed against the Turks, but in reality it was made to expel the French from Italy. Charles VIII had himself crowned King of Naples on 12 May, but a few days later began his retreat northward. He met the allies at Fornovo, and after a drawn battle cut his way through them and was back in France by November. Ferdinand II was reinstated at Naples soon afterwards, with Spanish help. The expedition, if it produced no material results, demonstrated the foolishness of the so-called 'politics of equilibrium', the Medicean doctrine of preventing one of the Italian principates from overwhelming the rest and uniting them under its hegemony.
Charles VIII's belligerence in Italy had made it transparent that the 'politics of equilibrium' did nothing but render the country unable to defend itself against a powerful invading force. Italy was shown to be very vulnerable to the predations of the powerful nation-states, France and Spain, that had forged themselves during the previous century. Alexander VI now followed the general tendency of all the princes of the day to crush the great feudatories and establish a centralized despotism. In this manner, he was able to take advantage of the defeat of the French in order to break the power of the Orsini. From that time on, Alexander was able to build himself an effective power base in the Papal States.
Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome Virginio Orsini, who had been captured by the Spanish, died a prisoner at Naples, and the Pope confiscated his property. The rest of the Orsini clan still held out, defeating the papal troops sent against them under Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino and Giovanni Borgia, Duke of Gandia, at Soriano (January 1497). Peace was made through Venetian mediation, the Orsini paying 50,000 ducats in exchange for their confiscated lands; the Duke of Urbino, whom they had captured, was left by the Pope to pay his own ransom. The Orsini remained very powerful, and Pope Alexander VI could count on none but his 3,000 Spanish troops. His only success had been the capture of Ostia and the submission of the Francophile cardinals Colonna and Savelli.
Then occurred a major domestic tragedy for the house of Borgia. On 14 June, the Duke of Gandia, lately created Duke of Benevento, disappeared; the next day, his corpse was found in the Tiber.
Pope Alexander VI, overwhelmed with grief, shut himself up in Castel Sant'Angelo. He declared that henceforth the moral reform of the Church would be the sole object of his life. Every effort was made to discover the assassin, and suspicion fell on various highly placed people. Enquiries suddenly ceased without explanation. Cesare was suspected but not until much later and he was never named in the immediate aftermath, nor would there have been any particular reason for him to commit such a crime. The Orsini, against whom the Duke had been involved in the recent campaign, were the principal suspects at the time. The Duke had many other enemies. Ascanio Sforza, for example, had had a terrible row with him just a few days before the murder. No conclusive explanation was ever reached, and it may be that the crime was simply as a result of one of the Duke's sexual liaisons.
There is no evidence that the Borgias resorted to poisoning, judicial murder, or extortion to fund their schemes and the defense of the Papal States.
(When cardinals died, their wealth automatically reverted to the Church.) The only contemporary accusations of poisoning were from some of the servants of the Borgias, extracted under torture by Alexander's bitter enemy and successor, Julius II.
The debased state of the curia was a major scandal. Opponents such as the powerful demagogic Florentine friar Girolamo Savonarola launched invectives against papal corruption and appealed for a general council to confront the papal abuses. Alexander is reported to have been reduced to laughter when Savonarola's denunciations were related to him. Nevertheless, he appointed Sebastian Maggi to investigate the friar, and he responded on 16 October 1495:
"We are displeased at the disturbed state of affairs in Florence, the more so in that it owes its origin to your preaching. For you predict the future and publicly declare that you do so by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit when you should be reprehending vice and praising virtue. Such prophecies may easily lure the simple-minded away from the path of salvation and the obedience due to the Holy Roman Church. Prophecies like these should not be made when your charge is to forward peace and concord. Moreover, these are not the time for such teachings, calculated as they are to produce discord even in times of peace let alone in times of trouble. ... Since, however, we have been most happy to learn from certain cardinals and from your letter that you are ready to submit yourself to the reproofs of the Church, as becomes a Christian and a religious, we are beginning to think that what you have done has not been done with an evil motive, but from a certain simple-mindedness and a zeal, however misguided, for the Lord's vineyard. Our duty, however, prescribes that we order you, under holy obedience, to cease from public and private preaching until you are able to come to our presence, not under armed escort as is your present habit, but safely, quietly and modestly as becomes a religious, or until we make different arrangements. If you obey, as we hope you will, we for the time being suspend the operation of our former Brief so that you may live in peace in accordance with the dictates of your conscience."
The hostility of Savonarola seems to have been political rather than personal, and the friar sent a touching letter of condolence to the Pope on the death of the Duke of Gandia; "Faith, most Holy Father, is the one and true source of peace and consolation... Faith alone brings consolation from a far-off country." But eventually the Florentines tired of the friar's moralising and the Florentine government condemned the reformer to death (23 May 1498)
In Italy at the time, the Spanish were looked down upon. Thus, the prominent Italian families looked down on the Borgia family, and they resented their power, which they sought for themselves. This is, at least partially, why both Pope Callixtus III and Pope Alexander VI gave powers to family members whom they could trust.
In these circumstances, Pope Alexander VI, feeling more than ever that he could only rely on his own kin, turned his thoughts to further family aggrandizement. He had annulled Lucrezia's marriage to Giovanni Sforza, who had responded to the suggestion that he was impotent with the unsubstantiated counter-claim that Pope Alexander VI and Cesare indulged in incestuous relations with Lucrezia, in 1497. And, unable to arrange a union between Cesare and the daughter of King Frederick IV of Naples (who had succeeded Ferdinand II the previous year), he induced Frederick by threats to agree to a marriage between the Duke of Bisceglie, a natural son of Alfonso II, and Lucrezia. Cesare, after resigning his cardinalate, was sent on a mission to France at the end of the year, bearing a bull of divorce for the new French king Louis XII, in exchange for which he obtained the duchy of Valentinois (a duchy chosen because it was consistent with his already known nickname of Valentino), a promise of material assistance in his schemes to subjugate the feudal princelings of papal Romagna, and a marriage to a princess of Navarre.
Pope Alexander VI hoped that Louis XII's help would be more profitable to his house than that of Charles VIII had been. In spite of the remonstrances of Spain and of the Sforza, he allied himself with France in January 1499 and was joined by Venice. By autumn Louis XII was in Italy expelling Lodovico Sforza from Milan. With French success seemingly assured, the Pope determined to deal drastically with the Romagna, which although nominally under papal rule was divided into a number of practically independent lordships on which Venice, Milan, and Florence cast hungry eyes. Cesare, empowered by the support of the French, began to attack the turbulent cities one by one in his capacity as nominated gonfaloniere (standard bearer) of the church. But the expulsion of the French from Milan and the return of Lodovico Sforza interrupted his conquests, and he returned to Rome early in 1500.
In the Jubilee year 1500, Pope Alexander VI ushered in the custom of opening a holy door on Christmas Eve and closing it on Christmas Day the following year. After consulting with his Master of Ceremonies, Johann Burchard, Pope Alexander VI opened the first holy door in St. Peter’s Basilica on Christmas Eve 1499, and papal representatives opened the doors in the other three patriarchal basilicas. For this, Pope Alexander had a new opening created in the portico of St. Peter’s and commissioned a marble door. This door lasted until 1618, when another door was installed in the new basilica. In a ceremony similar to today’s, Pope Alexander VI was carried in the sedia gestatoria to St. Peter’s. He and his assistants, bearing candles, processed to the holy door, as the choir chanted Psalm 118:19-20 . The Pope knocked on the door three times, workers moved it from the inside, and everyone then crossed the threshold to enter into a period of penance and reconciliation. Thus, Pope Alexander formalized the rite and began a longstanding tradition that is still in practice. Similar ceremonies were held at the other three basilicas. Pope Alexander VI instituted a special rite for the closing of a holy door, as well. On the Feast of the Epiphany in 1501, two cardinals began to seal the holy door with two bricks, one silver and one gold. Sampietrini (basilica workers) completed the seal, placing specially-minted coins and medals inside the wall.
While the enterprising explorers of Spain and Portugal were quick to enslave the indigenous peoples they met in Africa and the New World, some popes spoke out against the practice. In 1435, Pope Eugene IV had issued an attack on slavery in his papal bull Sicut Dudum, which included the excommunication of all those who engaged in the slave trade. A form of indentured servitude was allowed, being similar to a peasant's duty to his liege lord in Europe.
In the wake of Columbus's landing in the New World, Pope Alexander was asked by the Spanish monarchy to confirm their ownership of these newly found lands. The bulls issued by Pope Alexander VI: Eximiae devotionis (3 May 1493), Inter Caetera (4 May 1493) and Dudum Siquidem (23 September 1493), granted rights to Spain with respect to the newly discovered lands in the Americas similar to those Pope Nicholas V had previously conferred with the bulls Romanus Pontifex and Dum Diversas. Morales Padron (1979) concludes that these bulls gave power to enslave the natives. Minnich (2005) asserts that this "slave trade" was permitted to facilitate conversions to Christianity. Other historians and Vatican scholars strongly disagree with these accusations and assert that Pope Alexander VI never gave his approval to the practice of slavery. Other later popes, such as Pope Benedict XIV in Immensa Pastorium (1741), and Pope Gregory XVI in his letter In Supremo Apostolatus (1839), continued to condemn slavery.
Thornberry (2002) asserts that Inter Caetera was applied in the Requerimiento which was read to American Indians (who could not understand the colonisers' language) before hostilities against them began. They were given the option to accept the authority of the Pope and Spanish crown or face being attacked and subjugated. In 1993, the Indigenous Law Institute called on Pope John Paul II to revoke Inter Caetera and to make reparation for "this unreasonable historical grief". This was followed by a similar appeal in 1994 by the Parliament of World Religions.
A danger now arose in the shape of a conspiracy by the deposed despots, the Orsini, and of some of Cesare's own condottieri. At first the papal troops were defeated and things looked bleak for the house of Borgia. But a promise of French help quickly forced the confederates to come to terms. Cesare, by an act of treachery, then seized the ringleaders at Senigallia and put Oliverotto da Fermo and Vitellozzo Vitelli to death (31 December 1502). When Alexander VI heard the news, he lured Cardinal Orsini to the Vatican and cast him into a dungeon, where he died. His goods were confiscated and many other members of the clan in Rome were arrested, while Alexander's son Goffredo Borgia led an expedition into the Campagna and seized their castles. Thus the two great houses of Orsini and Colonna, who had long fought for predominance in Rome and often flouted the Pope's authority, were subjugated and the Borgias' power increased. Cesare then returned to Rome, where his father asked him to assist Goffredo in reducing the last Orsini strongholds; this for some reason he was unwilling to do, much to his father's annoyance; but he eventually marched out, captured Ceri and made peace with Giulio Orsini, who surrendered Bracciano.
The war between France and Spain for the possession of Naples dragged on, and the Pope was forever intriguing, ready to ally himself with whichever power promised the most advantageous terms at any moment. He offered to help Louis XII on condition that Sicily be given to Cesare, and then offered to help Spain in exchange for Siena, Pisa and Bologna.
Cesare was preparing for another expedition in August 1503 when, after he and his father had dined with Cardinal Adriano da Corneto on 6 August, they were taken ill with fever a few days later. Cesare, whose skin allegedly peeled off as a consequence of certain drastic measures to save him, eventually recovered; but the aged Pontiff apparently had little chance. Burchard's Diary provides a few details of the pope's final illness and death:
Saturday, the 12th of August, 1503, the Pope fell ill in the morning. After the hour of vespers, between six and seven o'clock a fever appeared and remained permanently. On the 15th of August thirteen ounces of blood were drawn from him and the tertian ague supervened. On Thursday, the 17th of August, at nine o'clock in the forenoon he took medicine. On Friday, the 18th, between nine and ten o'clock he confessed to the Bishop Gamboa of Carignola, who then read Mass to him. After his Communion he gave the Eucharist to the Pope who was sitting in bed. Then he ended the Mass at which were present five cardinals, Serra, Juan and Francesco Borgia, Casanova and Loris. The Pope told them that he felt very bad. At the hour of vespers after Gamboa had given him Extreme Unction, he died.
The pope was 72 years old.
As for his true faults, known only to his confessor, Pope Alexander VI apparently died genuinely repentant. The bishop of Gallipoli, Alexis Celadoni, spoke of the pontiff's contrition during his funeral oration to the electors of Alexander's successor, pope Pius III:
When at last the pope was suffering from a very severe sickness, he spontaneously requested, one after another, each of the last sacraments. He first made a very careful confession of his sins, with a contrite heart, and was affected even to the shedding of tears, I am told; then he received in Communion the most Sacred Body and Extreme Unction was administered to him.
The interregnum witnessed again the ancient "tradition" of violence and rioting. Cesare, too ill to attend to the business himself, sent Don Michelotto, his chief bravo, to seize the Pope's treasures before the death was publicly announced. The next day the body was exhibited to the people and clergy of Rome, but was covered by an "old tapestry" ("antiquo tapete"), having become greatly disfigured by rapid decomposition. According to Raphael Volterrano: "It was a revolting scene to look at that deformed, blackened corpse, prodigiously swelled, and exhaling an infectious smell; his lips and nose were covered with brown drivel, his mouth was opened very widely, and his tongue, inflated by poison, fell out upon his chin; therefore no fanatic or devotee dared to kiss his feet or hands, as custom would have required." The Venetian ambassador stated that the body was "the ugliest, most monstrous and horrible dead body that was ever seen, without any form or likeness of humanity." It has been suggested that, having taken into account the unusual level of decomposition, Alexander VI was accidentally poisoned to death by his son, Cesare, with cantarella (which had been prepared to eliminate Cardinal Adriano), although some commentaries doubt these stories and attribute the Pope's death to malaria, then prevalent in Rome, or to another such pestilence. The ambassador of Ferrara wrote to Duke Ercole that it was no wonder the Pope and the duke were sick because nearly everyone in Rome was ill because of bad air ("per la mala condictione de aere"). After a short stay, the body was removed from the crypts of St. Peter's and installed in a less well-known church, the Spanish national church of Santa Maria in Monserrato degli Spagnoli. Following the death of Alexander VI, Julius II said on the day of his election: "I will not live in the same rooms as the Borgias lived. He desecrated the Holy Church as none before. He usurped the papal power by the devil's aid, and I forbid under the pain of excommunication anyone to speak or think of Borgia again. His name and memory must be forgotten. It must be crossed out of every document and memorial. His reign must be obliterated. All paintings made of the Borgias or for them must be covered over with black crepe. All the tombs of the Borgias must be opened and their bodies sent back to where they belong – to Spain." The Borgias' apartments remained sealed until the 19th century.
Sometimes overlooked is the fact that Alexander VI set about reforms of the increasingly irresponsible Curia. He put together a group of his most pious cardinals in order to move the process along. Planned reforms included new rules on the sale of Church property, the limiting of cardinals to one bishopric, and stricter moral codes for clergy. Had he stayed in office longer, the pontiff may have had more success in the enactment of these reforms.
Alexander VI was known for his patronage of the arts, and in his days a new architectural era was initiated in Rome with the coming of Bramante. Raphael, Michelangelo and Pinturicchio all worked for him. He commissioned Pinturicchio to lavishly paint a suite of rooms in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican, which are today known as the Borgia Apartments. He took a great interest in theatrics, and he even had the Menaechmi performed in his apartments.
In addition to the arts, Alexander VI also encouraged the development of education. In 1495, he issued a papal bull at the request of William Elphinstone, Bishop of Aberdeen, and King James IV of Scotland, founding King's College, Aberdeen. King's College now forms an integral element of the University of Aberdeen.
Alexander VI, allegedly a marrano according to papal rival Giuliano della Rovere, distinguished himself by his relatively benign treatment of Jews. After the 1492 expulsion of the Jews from Spain, some 9,000 impoverished Iberian Jews arrived at the borders of the Papal States. Alexander welcomed them into Rome, declaring that they were "permitted to lead their life, free from interference from Christians, to continue in their own rites, to gain wealth, and to enjoy many other privileges." He similarly allowed the immigration of Jews expelled from Portugal in 1497 and from Provence in 1498.
It has been noted that the alleged misdeeds of Alexander VI are similar in nature to those of other Renaissance princes, with the one exception being his position in the Church. As De Maistre said in his work Du Pape, "The latter are forgiven nothing, because everything is expected from them, wherefore the vices lightly passed over in a Louis XIV become most offensive and scandalous in an Alexander VI." Bohuslav Hasištejnský z Lobkovic, a Bohemian humanist poet (1461–1510) dedicated one of his Latin poems to Alexander.
Epitaphium Alexandri Papae
Epitaph to Pope Alexander
Cui tranquilla quies odio, cui proelia cordi et rixa et caedes seditioque fuit, mortuus hac recubat populis gaudentibus urna pastor Alexander, maxima Roma, tuus. Vos, Erebi proceres, vos caeli claudite portas atque Animam vestris hanc prohibete locis. In Styga nam veniens pacem turbabit Averni, committet superos, si petat astra poli.
Who sacrificed quiet to hatred, with a warrior heart, who did not stop at quarrels, struggles and slaughters, is lying here in the coffin for all people to rejoice, thy supreme pontiff Alexander, oh, capital Rome. Ye prelates of Erebus and Heaven, close your doors and prohibit the Soul from entering your sites. He would disrupt the peace of Styx and disturb Avernus, and vanquish the Saints, if he enters the sphere of stars.
Despite Julius II's hostility, the Roman barons and Romagna vicars were never again to be the same problem for the papacy and Julius' successes owe much to the foundations laid by the Borgias. Unlike Julius, Alexander never made war unless absolutely necessary, preferring negotiation and diplomacy.
Have you taken a DNA test for genealogy? If so, login to add it. If not, see our friends at Ancestry DNA.
On 8 Jul 2017 at 06:18 GMT John Atkinson wrote:
Pope Alexander VI is 29 degrees from Rosa Parks, 24 degrees from Anne Tichborne and 14 degrees from Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland on our single family tree. Login to find your connection.