Spaniard Rodrigo Borgia became Pope Alexander VI in 1492 by bribing the other cardinals after having served his predecessors - one of whom was his uncle - in high positions in the Vatican hierarchy, which he used to further his power and influence. Pope Alexander is probably the most notorious “sinner” to have sat on the throne of St. Peter. He did not keep his vow of chastity and had several children by various women. He did not hide that he had children, and when he became pope he made them part of his court and provided them with palaces and power.
Alexander VI used his children to create alliances with other nobles and kings, and he was not beyond murdering anyone who opposed him. Two of his children, Cesare and Lucrezia, were infamous for doing things to further themselves and the Borgia family, even if it meant murder and marrying more than twice. Cesare Borgia is the model for Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince. He excelled at bribing, murdering, and soldiering, and he was notorious for his womanizing even during his time as a cardinal (his father eventually released him from his cardinalship). Nasty rumors about the Borgias, which were probably true, abounded - people feared them because if one did not, one could end up dead or losing one’s property.
Alexander VI and his family supported one monarch against another and then would later switch sides when the situation was in his interest, raising money by selling cardinal hats and other positions. As pope, he decided how the so-called New World would be divided between Spain and Portugal - a decision that explains why Brazilians speak Portuguese instead of Spanish. He used the gold he received from the New World on the ceiling of the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome, one of many places in Rome where Borgia coat of arms shows up. Surprisingly, given the family’s history, one of Alexander’s great-grandsons would become a saint.
Hibbert tells the fascinating story of Pope Alexander VI in an intriguing narrative flow that is far from being a dry academic retelling of his and his family’s exploits. This volume contains a bibliography and an index but no illustrations or maps; the book jacket, though, is quite colorful, featuring an image of the Borgia coat of arms that appears to be in a church or other building that the family either built or supported. This book is highly recommended to those interested in Catholic Church history, the history of the Renaissance, the papacy, and Italian history.
Christopher Hibbert is a leading popular historian. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (England) and the author of fifty acclaimed books, some of which are Mussolini (2008), Redcoats and Rebels (1990), House of Medici (1975) and many others which he either authored alone or co-authored.