Guest Post by Sarah Bower, author of Sins of the House of Borgia

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.

I’d been a fan of the Borgias since my early teens – I was only about fifteen the first time I read The Prince, which was famously inspired by Machiavelli’s observations of Cesare Borgia during his time as Florentine ambassador to Cesare’s court. I’ve read pretty much everything which has been written about them in English in the past thirty years so, understandably, I thought I knew them. I had always thought of Lucrezia as a somewhat sad figure, pushed around from pillar to post by the ambitions of her father and her brother. Her second husband, Alfonso of Bisceglie, whom she seems to have genuinely loved, was murdered by Cesare when an alliance with Naples (Alfonso was a scion of the Neapolitan royal family) no longer suited his plans and he wished to throw in his lot with the French. Her son by Alfonso was taken away from her so she could be presented to prospective new husbands as an unsullied ‘virgin’. Although certain aspects of her early life have remained shrouded in mystery and can, as far as modern scholarship is concerned, only be matters of speculation, it is possible young Rodrigo wasn’t the first child of whom she was brutally and abruptly deprived.

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.’

She is a loyal wife and devoted mother of five children. (Lucrezia endured nine pregnancies but only five of her children survived into adulthood; she died in childbirth, aged 39, in 1519.) While her marriage to Alfonso was a political and dynastic one, it was also clearly happy, if not a romantic idyll. Both partners ‘played away’ but, when it came to their children, or the welfare of the duchy, they were a strong and formidable partnership. Their letters are heart warming to read, full of lively domestic details such as Lucrezia’s shopping lists for her husband’s trips to Venice (fine fabrics and preserved morello cherries, of which she was particularly fond) and expressions of concern about the children having chickenpox. She also pays attention to animal husbandry with a conscientiousness that is, perhaps, a nod to her family’s origins among the minor gentry of Catalonia. She enumerates her heifers by name (Rose and Lavender among them) and notes that she must have guineafowl eggs to hatch because the pullets will not survive being moved from one place to another.

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!



  1. Wonderful guest post! I'm really looking forward to this book -- I love how organic the story seemed to unfold during her research.

  2. Fantastic guest post! I loved reading about such details of her life and certainly hope they are included in the book. I know I definitely want to read this now. Thanks!

  3. Wonderful post and I just think the title of this book says it all. Just cannot imagine being a woman in those times and being able to find any type of happiness in a marriage. Can't wait to read more.

  4. Terrific post. Makes me wish I had more of this to read right now!

  5. Women are often much stronger and smarter than their fathers, brothers, and husbands give them credit for. It seems that once Lucrezia was out reach of her father and brother, she was able to be herself and show what she was capable of. It sounds like you have given an new and interesting view of her. When will you be doing a book on your first love, Cesare?

    Thank you for an interesting post.


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