I am so thrilled to bring you a spectacular guest post written by Sarah Bower, author of the newly released novel Sins of the House of Borgia. I asked her to write something on Lucrezia Borgia, as I have found her to be one of the most intriguing of historical women.
Take it away Sarah....
I’m delighted you asked me to talk about researching Lucrezia Borgia because I think the work I did on her while preparing to write SINS OF THE HOUSE OF BORGIA was the most revelatory of all.
She also struck me as a shallow woman, well educated, as aristocratic women were during the Renaissance, but with a library which contained nothing but a few religious texts and some love poetry, and no particular association with any of the great artists of the day. She was certainly no Isabella Gonzaga or Elisabetta da Montefeltro. She danced well, we are told, and was clearly something of a flirt, and knew how to make the best of a tendency to plumpness and the receding chin she inherited from her father. I found her easy to dismiss in favour of the dark genius and unashamed sex appeal of her notorious brother, Cesare.
I always planned to write about the Borgias, and expected that novel to be about Cesare, but once I began my research in earnest, it became apparent to me that there was a lot more to Lucrezia than I had thought. It began with certain tantalising allusions in Sarah Bradford’s excellent Lucrezia Borgia: Life, Love and Death in Renaissance Italy to coded letters written by Lucrezia from her brief exile at Nepi in September 1500.
Lucrezia went to Nepi, where she was governor, to mourn Alfonso of Bisceglie. She was despatched by her father, who said he couldn’t tolerate the noise of her incessant crying in the Vatican. She returned to Rome and resumed life as though Alfonso had never existed, flirting and partying as always, after a private visit to Nepi by Cesare. He stayed a night there. We do not know what transpired, but whatever it was, it brought an abrupt end to her grief, in public at least.
So, on the face of it, the young widow was still entirely under the influence of her father and brother, and yet, she was writing these letters, to her confidant and major domo, Vincenzo Giordano, letters which suggest she was up to something on her own account, about which the Pope and Cesare knew little, if anything. What if she was negotiating her third, and final, marriage, to Alfonso ‘dEste, for herself?
There is no hard evidence for this, and I only really began to think of it as a possibility when I visited Ferrara while researching SINS OF THE HOUSE OF BORGIA, and discovered that Lucrezia Borgia d’Este, Duchess of Ferrara, cuts a very different figure in history from the girl who left Rome for the last time in the early weeks of 1502. This woman is a serious patron of the arts, most notably of Ariosto, who dedicated the Orlando Furioso to her, and of Pietro Bembo, with whom she shared a romantic attachment and an affectionate friendship which lasted the rest of her life and was expressed in a correspondence which Lord Byron called ‘the prettiest love letters in the world.’
When Lucrezia died, Alfonso described himself as being in ‘the greatest imaginable anguish of soul’ at the loss of ‘such a sweet, dear companion ...and for the tender love there was between us.’ This she had extended to her entire remaining family, protecting a motley assortment of bastard children left behind by her father and Cesare, trying against all the odds to mediate between the Este brothers during the Coniurga of 1506. In this she failed, but she remained a firm friend of Cardinal Ippolito d’Este I, one time lover of her cousin, Angela, with whom she jointly governed Ferrara on many occasions during Alfonso’s absences. She gained a reputation as a shrewd and fair administrator who showed compassion in matters of justice, and was mourned as sincerely by the Ferrarese people as by her husband at her death.
I remain stubbornly fascinated by Cesare Borgia for his genius, his beauty and probably for dying young, but, as I looked further into Lucrezia’s life in Ferrara, the life she forged for herself, without her father or brother to rely on, I came to regard her with increasing admiration and affection. I hope I have done her justice in SINS OF THE HOUSE OF BORGIA.
Thank you Sarah for this fascinating look at Lucrezia Borgia!