The Image of Cesare Borgia in Historiography
Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
Research Paper, AP European History Class, Winter 2007
Table of Contents
I. A Fact-Oriented Biography of Cesare Borgia
II. Francesco Guicciardini's view of Cesare Borgia in The History of Italy
III. Machiavelli's view of Cesare Borgia
III.1 Explicit description of Cesare Borgia in The Prince
III.2 Implicit allusion to Cesare Borgia in The Prince
III.3 Analysis of Machiavelli's view of Cesare
IV. Jacob Burckhardt's view of Cesare Borgia
I. A Fact-Oriented Biography of Cesare Borgia
Cesare Borgia was born as the son of Rodrigo Borgia and Vannozza de' Cattanei, the wife of Domenico Giannozzo da Rignano.
She gave birth to the baby in mid-September 1475. There were three more children from the illegitimate relationship: Juan,
born in 1476, Lucrezia, born in 1480, and Jofre, born in 1481. All of the Borgia children did not grow up in their father's house
until their father publicly recognized his illegitimate children.
Cesare was sent to Perugia to study at the Sapienza in the autumn of 1489. While he was studying in Perugia, Roderigo,
using his position as a vice-chancellor, succeeded in obtaining the bishopric of Pamplona, the capital city of Navarre, for
Cesare. Despite opposition of the clergy of Pamplona, Cesare manage to maintain the position of Bishop-elect of Pamplona
with the help of his father and conciliatory admonition of Pope Innocent. After two years of studying at the Sapienza, Cesare
went to attend the University of Pisa.
The year 1492 became the watershed in Cesare's life. The health of Pope Innocent VIII. abruptly deteriorated, and soon, it was
clear that he was dying. The approaching death of the Pope meant new struggle for the papacy between Roderigo and Giuliano.
Pope Innocent died on 25 July 1492, and twenty-five cardinals met in Rome for the election of the next pope. Roderigo won over
Giuliano, his old political enemy, and became the new Pope, Pope Alexander VI. This news was declared on the morning of 11
August, and Cesare, receiving the information, left for the castle of Spoleto.
About a week after his coronation, Roderigo gave his son his former archbishopric of Valencia. In the age of seventeen, Cesare
gained a position that was worth 16,000 ducats a year. Roderigo's plan was to secure Cesare a place in the church. Therefore,
he prepared for Cesare's future cardinalate by removing the name "illegitimate son" from Cesare. Alexander declared Cesare
to be the legitimate son of Domenico and Vannozza in a bull issued on 20 September 1493. However, the bull was a political
pretense, and he secretly declared in his second bull that Cesare was his son. By Alexander's effort, Cesare finally became
eligible for the Cardinalate, and was nominated to Cardinal of Valencia at the age of eighteen. On 17 October, Cesare entered
Rome from Caprarola.
Soon after his appointment, Cesare had to put himself into the center of turbulence because of an impending French invasion.
On 17 March 1494, French king Charles VIII. openly showed his intention of invading Italy. The threat caused the Papal State to
strengthen the alliance with the Naples, and Cesare accompanied Alexander meeting Alfonso, the King of Naples, on 12 July to
agree on combined military action. This alliance, however, failed to stop the French army that crossed the Alps on 3 September
for the conquest of Italy. The French army entered Rome on 31 December, and Alexander and Cesare fled to the fortress of
Saint' Angelo on 6 January. 9 days later, Alexander capitulated, and Cesare was forced to accompany Charles to Naples on 28
January, Two days later, however, he fled from Charles' hand and hid himself in the Papal castle of Spoleto. Hiding until March,
Cesare only showed himself in the negotiation for the international alliance that is known as the Holy League. Alexander refused
to grant the investiture of Naples to Charles, and moved to north from Rome with Cesare when Charles urged him for the investiture.
Charles returned to France, and Alexander and Cesare came back to Rome at the end of June. Shortly after, Alexander nominated
his son for governor and castellan of Orvieto.
On Wednesday 14 June, Juan de Gandia, Cesare's brother, disappeared. It was after his dinner with Cardinal Juan Borgia of
Monreale and his mother Vannozza in her vineyard near Monte S. Martino dei Monti. When he and his brother returned, Juan suddenly
announced that he needed to go somewhere alone. After the departure, Juan never came back. At first, his absence was considered
as an amorous escapade. A few days later, however, it became certain that something wrong had happened to Juan. His dead body
was found near the church of Santa Maria del Popolo a few days after the disappearance. There were rumors that Cesare was the
one who was culpable; however, there was not much evidence except for the alleged jealousy of Cesare toward his brother, and the
fact that he later had benefit from the removal of Juan de Gandia. Six weeks later, Cesare left for Naples for the coronation of King
Federigo, and crowned him on 11 August. He moved back to Rome on 5 September.
In 1498, the Borgia family's diplomatic strategy faced big change as Alexander gave up his alliance with Ferdinand of Aragon and
recognized France as his new ally. After the sudden death of Charles VIII., the future Louis XII., the Duke of Orleans at the time,
sought for friendship with the Pope. The circumstances gave Cesare opportunity to give up his Cardinalate and get both a wife
and the support of a powerful country. On 17 August 1498, he announced the relinquishment of the Cardinalate and received a
message from Louis that promises him the position of Duke of Valentinois. Cesare, at the age of twenty-three, formally left the
Vatican on 1 October to meet Louis. He married Charlotte d'Albret, and short after, he accompanied Louis in his invasion of Italy.
Cesare rode into Milan with Louis and his army on 6 October 1499 to see Ludovico Sforza flee from his state. After the conquest,
Louis placed 4000 Swiss and Gascon infantry under Cesare's command, assigned to attack Imola and Forli. He defeated Imola,
entered on 27 November, and entered Forli on 17 December with ease. The military campaign faced its abrupt end as news of
Ludovico's attack on Louis made generals and French troops under Cesare's control retreat to help their King. For that reason,
Cesare made his triumphant entry into Rome on 26 February 1500.
On 29 March 1500, Alexander nominated Cesare as Captain General of the Church. The circumstances became more favorable to
Cesare as Louis finally defeated Ludovico in Lombardy by April 1500. The victory of the French army let Cesare to plan for his
next campaign to conquer Rimini and Faenza. For the campaign, Cesare gathered money by means of his father's financial
support and simony. Before the campaign, the assassination of Alfonso Bisceglie, Lucrezia's second husband, increased
tension in Rome.
By the end of September, Cesare and his army left for the Romagna. On 15 October, Pesaro, its governor Giovanni Sforza already
fled, opened gate for Cesare's army. Cesare entered few days later, spent two days in Pesaro, then moved on to Rimini, which
he entered with ease on 30 October. Faenza proved to be bigger obstacle than Rimini in the conquest because citizens of Faenza's
refusal to open her gates to Cesare, and the winter, the weather that makes siege difficult, was coming. After days of siege,
Cesare led his army back to Forli on 26 November. On the following spring of 1501, he, with help of recently arrived French
army, he assaulted Faenza and finally defeated the city. He lead his army against Giovanni Bentivoglio of Bologna to obtain Castel
Bolognese that held strategic importance. Bentivoglio capitulated as Cesare's army approached, and handed him Castel Bolognese.
By early May, the Pope bestowed the title "Duke of the Romagna" on his son Cesare who conquered a straight line of territory
from Imola to Fano. Then, Cesare turned to Florence; he demanded a free passage through Tuscany by means of blackmailing.
Florence, afraid of Cesare's army, capitulated on 15 May, and signed the Treaty of Campi. Pillaging throughout its way, Cesare's
army reached Piombino and conquered it. Cesare secretly made his way back to Rome.
Having moved back to Rome, Cesare busied himself with placing his people in the governing positions of territories that he
acquired. After that, he departed Rome to accompany Louis' conquest of Naples. Louis conquered Naples with ease, so
Cesare came back to Rome few months after the departure. The contract over the third marriage of Lucrezia Borgia with Alfonso
d'Este met agreement on 4 September; they held the marriage ceremony a few weeks later.
Cesare started the third campaign in June 1502. Because he kept his plan in secret, people did not know where would be his
targets. His supposed targets were Camerino and Sinigallia, but he raided on Urbino beforehand to surprise Guildobaldo,
the Duke of Urbino, and entered there on 21 June; at the same time, he besieged Camerino with part of his army. After the conquest
of Camerino, Cesare ordered his condottieri to retreat from Tuscany for the sake of a good relationship with Louis who, under
a pledge made by his ancestors, protected Florence. On 25 July, He, disguised, left Fermignano accompanied only by three
horsemen to meet Louis, who, despite of being surrounded by numerous of Cesare's enemies, gave him a warm reception.
This secret and unexpected meeting was for a stronger alliance with Louis. Louis reconciled Francesco Gonzaga of Mantua
with Cesare, and the reconciliation made Guidobaldo, the reputed former ruler of Urbino who was under Francesco's protection,
to give up his title. Cesare, with Louis, moved from Milan to Genoa where he departed on 2 September. After meeting Lucrezia
on the way, he headed toward Imola.
By September, his condottieri rebelled against Cesare, as his intention seemed dangerous to their houses. Those powers
and the enemies of the Borgias assembled at Cardinal Orsini's castle of La Magione. They formed the league, and promised
to attack Cesare on two sides : one from Bologna, and the other from Urbino, the citizens of which revolted against Cesare.
The number of soldiers of the anti-Borgia league overwhelmed that of Cesare, and French army was garrisoned in Milan so it
could not help him quickly enough. In the situation, he raised his own army in the Romagna, hired other condottieri and Swiss
mercenaries, and got financial assistance from the Pope. Despite following defeats and losing of Urbino, Cesare's rule
remained stable as other cities of the Romagna and other condottieri did not join the revolt. By the end of October, Cesare's
reinforcements positioned him in military superiority to his enemies, so they asked for reconciliation. In the last week of
November, Cesare, without losing a single city of the Romagna, signed treaties with the rebels. After peace treaties, Cesare
moved from Imola to Cesena with his large army. In Cesena, Cesare made two actions ; he sent French officers back to their
king and he executed Ramiro de Lorqua. Official explanation of the execution of Lorqua, one of the most trusted officials of
Cesare's, was his corruption and extortion of people's properties. After that, he assembled his treacherous condottieri in
Sinigallia. The meeting was purposed for arresting and executing them; Vitellozzo and Oliverotto were hanged 1 January 1503.
The death of the condottieri was quick to be followed by Cesare's emergence in their territories. He entered Citta di Castello
as Fermo capitulated, conquered Perugia, and put Siena under "the power of Church". In the case of Siena, however, Louis,
intervening to stop Cesare from dominating Tuscany, ended his campaign by demanding the Pope to stop his son. He came
back to Rome at the end of January to destroy the Orsinis in Ceri.
1503 was an important year as the Borgia family drastically changed its partner from France to Spain. For the next conquest,
Cesare relinquished the help of the French army and searched for that of the Spanish army instead. Waiting for the Spanish
army to emerge and conquer Naples, Cesare put his effort on the preparation of the impending war. However, the Spanish
army, victorious at first, failed to conquer Gaeta fast enough, so Cesare postponed his departure to August. In August, however,
Cesare and Alexander faced mortal danger because of a disease. Alexander died on 18 August 1503.
The enemies of Cesare immediately took action ; Venice, Florence, the Orsinis, and Colonnas sent their own troops or
employed people hostile to Cesare such as Guidobaldo to attack Rome where Cesare resided. The Sacred College wanted
Cesare to leave Rome during the election. Cesare had control over eight Cardinals, and desperately tried to control the
election. Under the circumstances, on 1 September, he signed a secret treaty with France; the treaty promised that he would
use all his military power to help France, and France would protect him. The alliance was essential for defending against
his enemies' attack on the Romagna ; Venice and Florence stopped their offense. Meanwhile, the Sacred College elected
Piccolomini as the next pope, a decision which was not the worst for Cesare, but neither was it the best because he was
physically weak. The new pope Pius III. issued a brief that recognized Cesare's rule in the Romagna. Pius, however, refused
to give any more help to Cesare in Nepi, where he was waiting for more. On 3 October, Cesare came back to Rome, thanks
to the help of his Spanish Cardinals, and persuaded Pius to nominate him as Gonfalonier and Captain General of the Church.
However, the health of the Pope abruptly became worse and he died on Oct 18th. Without the help of the Pope, he could not
get himself out of Rome, full of enemies, without any damage. The Orsinis assaulted Cesare, who, abandoned by part of
his rebellious Italian infantry, fought but was forced to retreat to the Vatican. Cesare, lost most of his men, fled to Castel Sant'
Angelo. At this point, he lost many cities, and only Cesena, Imola and handful of scattered castles remained loyal to him.
Furthermore, Giuliano della Rovere, a political enemy from the time of Alexander, was elected the next pope, Julius II.
Julius, at his early period, was favorable to Cesare, as he promised him to be before the election. However, soon his
attitude toward Cesare was hardened. Still Cesare trained his soldiers and raised troops, but bad news reached his ears.
At the first consistory on 9 November, Julius disappointed Cesare by not keeping his word that he would nominate Cesare
as Gonfalonier and Captain General of the Church. Disappointed, Cesare asked Florence for his army's passage to the
Romagna, and then was rejected on 14 November. Then, Cesare refused Julius' request to hand in the castle that he resided,
which refusal enraged the Pope, who had him made a prisoner. He got freedom only after giving up his castles of Cesena
and Bertinoro; on 19 April, he finally got out and moved south to Nettuno. However, he soon found himself deceived by
Ferdinand of Aragon and the Pope, and arrested again. He later escaped in 1506 and sought help of Louis but was
rejected. After that, he joined Jean d'Albret of Navarre, his brother-in-law in a battle against Louis, and met his end on
12 March 1507 on the battlefield.
II. Francesco Guicciardini's view of Cesare Borgia in The History of Italy
Francesco Guicciardini (March 6, 1483 - May 22, 1540) is one of the most famous historians of the Italian Renaissance.
His most famous work, the History of Italy, is a detailed description of Italy from 1494 to 1532. Therefore,
Cesare Borgia, who was at the center of political turbulence of Italy, is a central figure in the book. Even though Cesare's
name appears a few times before, Cesare does not hold a main position in the History of Italy until the year 1497.
Guicciardini describes Cesare and the Borgia family as a whole as following :
"But yet he [Alexander VI] could not avoid domestic misfortunes which perturbed his house with tragic examples and lust and horrible
cruelty beyond that of all barbarous nations. ... the Cardinal of Valencia (whose mind was totally disinclined toward the sacerdotal profession
and aspired toward the exercise of arms), not being able to tolerate that this position should be held by his brother, and furthermore envious t
hat Gandia occupied a greater place than himself in the love of Madonna Lucrezia, their common sister, enflamed with lust and ambition ...
had him killed and secretly cast into the Tiber. It was equally rumored that not only the two brothers, but the father himself , competed for t
he love of Madonna Lucrezia." (1)
The very first sentence makes negative remarks on the Borgia family as a whole. Guicciardini considers "lust and horrible cruelty"
(2) which prevail throughout the Borgia family was the main source of Cesare's assassination
of his brother, Juan Borgia of Gandia. However, as mentioned, there was no physical proof to accuse Cesare for the
death of his brother except for his rumored incestuous love toward Lucrezia Borgia. Relying on rumor to attribute the
assassination to Cesare, Guicciardini shows his negative attitude toward Cesare and the Borgia family as a whole.
Guicciardini maintains his objectivity in describing Cesare's conquest of the Romagna. He wrote the following sentences
depicting his conquest :
"As soon as Valentino had obtained forces from the King and added them to the armies of the Church, he entered Romagna and swiftly
took the city of Imola by accord, in the last days of the year 1499. ... At the beginning of this year , Valentino took without resistance
the city of Forli ... And the Duke Valentino, having more regard for the Lady's [Caterina Sforza's] valor than for her sex, sent her as a prisoner
to Rome where she was placed in the Castel Sant'' Angelo: although after a little less than a year ... she obtained her freedom."
This part holds not only an objective but also a favorable view on Cesare. Compared to the passage observed earlier, it
certainly shows some respect to him. Most notable is Guicciardini's description of Cesare's treating his prisoner.
Cesare's capturing Caterina Sforza aroused rumor that Cesare sexually abused her. According to Sarah Bradford, even
Bernadi, who is normally favorable to Cesare, implied that Cesare had sensual relationship with his beautiful prisoner.
However, Guicciardini does not pay much attention on the rumored sensual relationship between them. Unlike military
actions, this kind of rumors is difficult to be verified, so Guicciardini seems to disregard it. After this part, he keeps his
objectivity narrating Cesare's conquest of Romagna. "Valentino [Cesare Borgia] continues to build a Borgian state
in central Italy : captures the Duchy of Urbino and again threatens Florence." (4) The conquest, however,
met unexpected disaster, and Guicciardini did not fail to describe the event.
... the eighteenth of August, 1503, the body of the dead Pope was borne ... black, swollen, and hideous to behold, most manifest signs of
poisoning ... Valentino's life was spared because of the vigor of his youth, and because he had immediately used powerful and suitable antidotes
to the poison ... It was always believed that this episode was the result of poison, and the most widespread rumor was that the affair had
taken place in the following way: that Valentino had determined to poison at that selfsame dinner Adriano [Castellesi], the Cardinal of Corneto
... (because it is clear that both father and son had frequently and habitually made use of poison, not only to take revenge against their enemies
and secure themselves against suspicions, but also because of their wicked greed to despoil the wealthy of their possessions ... ) Thus it was
bruited about that Valentino had prepared in advance certain flacons of wine infected with poison ...the steward ... gave the Pope that wine to d
rink which Valentino had sent ahead" (5)
The excerpted passage is only part of description of Pope Alexander VI's death and rumor surrounding it. From the
passage, it is easy to infer that Guicciardini believed that both Alexander VI and Cesare Borgia severely suffered from
their own poison, which was intended to murder the Cardinal of Corneto. Some people may say that Guicciardini
maintained objectivity because he clearly stated that the story of poisoning was a mere rumor. However, before
saying that the poisoning was a rumor, Guicciardini insisted that the dead body of the Pope held evidences of poisoning.
Furthermore, by asserting that Cesare saved himself by means of suitable antidote, Guicciardini seemed to firmly believe
that the Pope and his son risked their lives because of their own poison. Even before talking about the death of Alexander VI.,
Guicciardini constantly put suspicious look on Cesare for a number of assassinations, so it is not very surprising to see
Guicciardini attributing poisoning to him. Guicciardini's negative evaluation of the Pope reaches its peak when he starts
next paragraph with the following sentence : "All Rome thronged with incredible rejoicing to see the dead body of
Alexander in Saint Peter's, unable to satiate their eyes enough with seeing spent that serpent who in his boundless
ambition and pestiferous perfidy, and with all his examples of horrible cruelty and monstrous sensuality and un heard-of
avarice ..." (6).
Cesare faces his worst disaster by the death of Alexander VI. Guicciardini's description of how Cesare's enemies
moved against him and how he tried to defend their attack holds both neutral and insightful view. Guicciardini precisely
narrated Cesare's struggle to control the election of the next pope with his Spanish cardinals, the tense atmosphere
between France and Spain, and return of the original princes such as the Duke of Urbino, the lords of Pesaro, Camerino
and Sinigaglia. Among the description, Guicciardini's evaluation of Cesare as an able ruler draws attention.
Only Romagna, inclined toward fidelity to Valentino, remained quiet ... The Romagna was inclined to devotion to Valentino because it had
learned from experience how much more tolerable it had been for that region to serve all together under a single powerful lord than for
each of those cities to remain under a particular prince, who could not defend them because of his weakness or benefit them because of his
poverty ... The Romagnoli also remembered that as a result of Valentino's authority and greatness and because of the honest administration
of justice, that country had remained at peace and been spared the factional conflicts which had previously vexed them continually and
frequently resulted in assassinations. Valentino's measures had served to make the people feel kindly disposed toward him;" (7)
The excerpted passage clearly shows that Guicciardini disapproved the way Cesare got his power. Insisting that
Cesare established his rule by means of "cruelty and fraud" (8), Guicciardini did not hesitate
to show his negative attitude toward Cesare. However, as mentioned, he also made high remark on Cesare's administration
of the Romagna. This shows Guicciardini's ability to discern feats from misdeeds. Throughout the History of Italy,
he holds a negative view on Cesare because he believed that Cesare was responsible for assassinating a number of his
enemies; nevertheless, Guicciardini certainly recognized that Cesare's rule of Romagna as commendable.
III. Machiavelli's view of Cesare Borgia
III.1 Explicit description of Cesare Borgia in The Prince
Machiavelli uses the case of Cesare Borgia as the main example of the chapter 7, "New principalities acquired with the
help of fortune and foreign arms". Therefore, most part of the chapter focuses on his way of getting and keeping power.
The reason of using Cesare as the main example is that Machiavelli thought highly of him. His appreciation of Cesare appears
throughout the chapter .
"... we find that he [Cesare] laid strong foundations for the future. ... I know no better precepts to give a new prince than ones derived
from Cesare's actions; and if his dispositions were of no avail, that was not his fault, but the extraordinary and extreme malignity of fortune." (9)
The sentence introduces Cesare with most respect. Machiavelli concerns Cesare as the best example of the same kind.
Machiavelli's appreciation of Cesare appears more strongly when he analyzes the reason of Cesare's failure
"So having summed up all that the duke did, I cannot possibly censure him. Rather, I think I have been right in putting him forward as an
example for all those who have acquired power through good fortune and the arms of others. He was a man of great courage and high
intentions, and he could not have conducted himself other than the way he did; his plans were frustrated only because Alexander's life was
cut short and because of his own sickness." (10)
Even though Cesare, once Duke of the Romagna, lost everything in the middle of his conquest, Machiavelli still recognizes
him as the best example he can find. Throughout the Prince, Machiavelli praises many leaders who succeed in
establishing firm rule as good examples, and criticizes many leaders who fail to be strong rulers. However, appreciating
a failed leader is unusual in the book. He even describes Cesare, a failed prince, as "a man of great courage and high
intentions" (11)]. Furthermore, Instead of analyzing reasons of failure and criticizing it, as he
did with other cases such as Louis XII's failure to conquer Italy, he attributes Cesare's downfall solely to the
"extraordinary and extreme malignity of fortune" (12)..
Machiavelli's favorable description also shows itself when gives motivation of Cesare's conquest.
"Now, the duke won control of the Romagna and found that it had previously been ruled by weak overlords. Quicker to despoil their subjects
than to govern them well. ... to such an extent that the province was rife with brigandage, factions, and every sort of abuse. He decided
therefore that it needed good government to pacify it and make it obedient to the sovereign authority." (13)
The description starts with how original rulers of the Romagna were unqualified governors. According to Machiavelli,
their cupidity, lack of political acuteness, and incapacity for governing had only negative influence on their subjects,
or people. The description justifies of the conquest of the Romagna held by Machiavelli, as Cesare was motivated by
the name of justice and the concern for the people under rulers of the Romagna; he intension was to "pacify" the
Romagna under his control. However, this gives impression that Machiavelli exaggerated cruelty of original rulers
of the Romagna and good intention of Cesare to idealize his hero. According to Sarah Bradford's Cesare Borgia, the
Romagna was an attractive land because of its fertile soil and its people's ability in military service. It was hometown
of many captains such as Muzio Attendolo, founder of the Sforza dynasty, and a popular source of recruits. Therefore,
Cesare possibly had strategic reasons to conquer the Romagna, but Machiavelli did not considered them.
Even though there are favorable comments on Cesare in the Prince, it does not mean that Machiavelli
thoughtlessly appraised Cesare. One of evidence Machiavelli used to argue "the foundation he [Cesare] laid in so
short a time were so sound" was "the Romagna waited for him for over a month, ... and although the Baglioni,
the Vitelli, and the Orsini entered the city they roused no one against him" (14). The fact that
the Romagna remained faithful at the time of Cesare's great difficulty was also mentioned by Guicciardini, who
held a negative view toward Cesare's measures to obtain his power. Furthermore, Machiavelli did not forget to point
out Cesare's most detrimental decision: "The duke deserves censure only regarding the election of Pope Julius,
where he made a bad choice. As I said, not being able to get a pope to his liking he could have kept the papacy from
going to one who was not." (15) These evidences show that Machiavelli was not blindly
favorable to Cesare.
III.2 Implicit Allusion to Cesare Borgia in The Prince
Machiavelli did not devote most pages of the Prince openly to Cesare, so his name does not appears very
often except for chapter 7, which, as mentioned, uses him as a main example. Even though he does not appear
many times in the Prince, certain parts of the book show Cesare's influence on Machiavelli's theory.
From chapter 12 to 14, the Prince focuses on the army: what is the ideal composition, how does army
affect the country, what should princes do to raise strong army, etc. This army part is strongly influenced by
Cesare. In chapter 13, "Auxiliary, composite, and native troops", Machiavelli uses the example of Cesare
"One can easily see the difference between these forces by considering the difference between the standing of
the duke when he had only the French, when he had the Orsini and the Vitelli, and when he relied only on his
own forces and himself. He grew in stature at each stage; and he was held in real respect only when everyone
saw that he was absolute master of his armies." (16)
Even though Cesare's name only once appear in chapter 13, it is easy to see that he influenced the army part,
throughout chapter 12 to 14. Machiavelli's idea is that princes should not depend on auxiliaries and mercenary
troops, as they are extremely dangerous. This idea pervades the army part, as he stresses base effects of
mercenary troops and benefits of native troops on Italy. His conclusion that raising native troops is most
beneficial surely shows Cesare's influence as his life shows just the way Machiavelli thought the best. First he
commenced conquest with French army, but as time passes, he raised his own army. Machiavelli praises the
change, or development from his view, of the military composition of Cesare's army.
Cesare's influence does not end in the army part. From chapter 15 to 23, Machiavelli devotes his page to give
princes advice about qualities they must have. Those advices eventually draw image of Machiavelli's ideal prince.
Before observing it, we should be aware of Cesare¡¯s reputation from contemporaries. From the analysis of
Guicciardini's view of Cesare, we can see that even the most renowned historian held a negative view on him.
Some people considered him as "terrible duke", and rumors attributed many assassinations to him. In short,
public reputation was not so favorable to him. At the end of chapter 15, however, Machiavelli announces that
his model of ideal ruler contrasts the common sense of virtue by stating ¡°some of the things that appear to
be vices will bring him[a prince] security and prosperity." (17) The sentence alludes
to Cesare, whose life contrasted to common sense of morality.
Chapter 17, "Cruelty and compassion; and whether it is better to be loved than feared, or the reverse",
Machiavelli directly states what made Cesare unpopular for some people is actually his strong point. He starts
the chapter with short mention of Cesare as an example of cruelty results as effective method: "Cesare Borgia
was reputed as a cruel man; nevertheless, this cruelty of his reformed the Romagna, brought it unity, and
restored order and obedience." (18) Even though again in the chapter, the chapter
continuously states how the "cruel"' prince successfully "keeps his subjects united and loyal" (19).
The following chapter also alludes to Cesare's characteristics. Chapter 18, "How princes should honour their word"
, contains essentials of so called Machiavellism. He clearly states that "A prince, and especially a new prince,
cannot observe all those things which give men a reputation for virtue (20). It is not
surprising to see that the sentence justifies Cesare Borgia's a number of assassinations and betrayal of his
allies. According to Machiavelli's theory, Cesare's disregarding reputation for establishing stable rule on the
Romagna is laudable, instead of reproachable. Apart from the sentence, Machiavelli constantly argues that a
prince should concentrate more on practical benefit than on reputation, and the result is important, and those
ideas strongly remind readers Cesare.
III.3 Analysis of Machiavelli's View of Cesare
Compared to Guicciardini, Machiavelli clearly demonstrated a favorable view on Cesare Borgia. Even though
we saw that Machiavelli did not blindly acclaim Cesare, his appreciating the controversial historical figure
and setting him as an ideal model of a prince need explanation.
At the very end of the Prince locates chapter 26, "Exhortation to liberate Italy from the barbarians".
This chapter explains the reason that Machiavelli wrote the book: his desire for the liberation of Italy. Italy,
for a very long time, was split into many states, from big and powerful ones such as Venice and Florence,
to small city states. Because Italy lacked unity, it was a popular target of attack to surrounding countries
such as France and Spain. Charles VIII's conquest of Italy and the military struggle between France and
Spain around Milan were examples of the suffering of Italy.
Machiavelli was longing for a powerful ruler to establish a united Italy. Then, Cesare Borgia appeared and
conquered the Romagna and states around it within few years. His military and political power was formidable
and even by France and Spain could not simply ignore Cesare's power. It made Cesare the hero of
Machiavelli, and it is not surprising that Machiavelli was favorable in evaluating his model prince. However,
as we observed, Cesare failed at the high of his career. We can see how Machiavelli anticipated Cesare's
success and hoped liberation of Italy in the following passage excerpted from chapter 26:
"And although before now there was a man in whom some spark seemed to show that he was ordained
by God to redeem the country, none the less it was seen how afterwards, at the very height of his career,
he was rejected by fortune. So now, left lifeless, Italy is waiting to see who can be the one to heal her wounds
... and cleanse those sores which have now been festering for so long" (21)
IV Jacob Burckhardt's view of Cesare Borgia
Jacob Burckhardt (1818-1897) is not a contemporary of Cesare Borgia, but one of the most famous historians
to study the Italian Renaissance. He is best known for a book he wrote The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy,
one of the most renowned works on Renaissance historiography. Observing the book, however, readers soon
find out how harsh remarks Burckhardt gave to Cesare and Borgia family.
"Their [Alexander and Cesare's] immediate purpose ... was the complete subjugation of the pontifical state ... But the means employed
were of so frightful a character that they must certainly have ended in the ruin of the papacy, had not the contemporaneous death
of both father and son by poison. " (22)
The passage is excerpted from the chapter "The Papacy", and it clearly demonstrates Burckhardt's view
from the start. He pointed out the Borgias, both father and his son, as the deteriorating factors of the Papacy.
Before talking about the Borgias, Burckhardt analyzes the crisis of the papacy, and asserts that simony and
nepotism severely damaged it; Alexander VI. was infamous for both of them. This analysis even develops to
a prediction that if they had not suffered from a terrible disease (Burckhardt most certainly believed that they
were poisoned), the Papacy would have been destroyed. Describing Cesare Borgia, this kind of predictions
appears from time to time. The level of denouncement grows as Burckhardt's focus moves from Alexander to
"But when the pope in course of time fell under the influence of his son Cesare Borgia, his violent measures assumed that character
of devilish wickedness ...What was done in the struggle with the Roman nobles and with the tyrants of Romagna exceeded in
faithlessness and barbarity ... and the genius for deception was also greater. The manner in which Cesare isolated his father,
murdering brother, brother-in-law and other relations or courtiers ... is literally appalling." (23)
The language Burckhardt used to depict Cesare soon draw attention of readers: "devilish wickedness",
"faithlessness and barbarity", and "the genius for deception". Burckhardt ascribed those
extremely negative words on Cesare without hesitation. They strongly exhibit how Burckhardt was disgusted
by Cesare. His extreme view, however, is on the basis of unproven crimes. As mentioned before, there is
no evidence that Cesare killed the Duke of Gandia, and assertion that Alexander was totally under control
of his son is also baseless. The image of Cesare Borgia even deteriorates as following:
"He [Cesare] himself used to wander about Rome in the night-time with his guards, and there is ever reason to believe that he
did so not only because, like Tiberius, he shrank from showing his now repulsive features by daylight, but also to gratify his insane
thirst for blood, perhaps even on the persons of those unknown to him." (24)
This sentence serves to make Cesare¡¯s image even worse. By describing Cesare as a wanderer who wishes to
"gratify his insane thirst for blood", Burckhardt made Cesare's image of bloodthirsty mass killer. Before
the depicting him as a mad, ugly murderer, he devoted pages on Cesare's political ambition and imaginations
start with "if". For example, he analyzed that Cesare's ambition was never limited to becoming the Lord
of the Romagna; he suggested that he eagerly desired total control over the Papacy, and eventually supremacy
on Italy as a whole. Such the analysis and imaginations, however, do not reach level of baseless degrading a
person as a psychopath. Therefore, we can conclude that the sense of biasness certainly exists in the description.
In the chapter "Morality and Immorality", Burckhardt again defines Cesare as an evil man by saying
"The thirst for blood on its own account, the devilish delight in destruction, is most clearly exemplified in
the case of the Spaniard Cesare Borgia" (25).
Cesare Borgia, a bastard of Roderigo Borgia, later Pope Alexander VI., was a controversial figure in Italy in the
late 15th century and early 16th century. With the help of the French army, he conquered Romagna and many
other city states. However, his pursuit of ambition sometimes utilized immoral ways such as simony and
Analyzing three renowned historians, we could find out that they all took differed way in describing Cesare.
Guicciardini, a contemporary of Cesare, sometimes relied on rumors to write about him. However, he
maintained objectivity while narrating Cesare's military conquest, and did not forget to properly evaluate
Cesare's commendable administration. Burckhardt, on the other hand, placed even more disapproving
remarks on Cesare. He not only commented on Cesare's ambition and rumored conspiracies, but also
created an image of bloodthirsty mass killer.
Niccolo Machiavelli, is different from both Guicciardini and Burckhardt, because he was favorable toward
Cesare. Throughout the Prince, he not only openly praised Cesare as exemplary example of a prince, but
also set him as his ideal model of a prince throughout his work. The reason of Cesare being Machiavelli's
hero seems to be strongly related to Machiavelli¡¯s desire for powerful, united Italy.
(1) Guicciardini, The History of Italy, pp.123f
(3) ibid. pp.150-152
(4) ibid. p.163
(5) ibid. pp.165f
(6) ibid. p.166
(7) ibid. p.168
(8) ibid. p.175
(9) Machiavelli, The Prince, p. 23
(10) ibid. p.27
(11) ibid. p.27
(12) ibid. p.23
(13) ibid. p.25
(14) ibid. p.27
(15) ibid. p.28
(16) ibid. pp.45f
(17) ibid. p.51
(18) ibid. p.53
(20) ibid. p.57
(21) ibid. p.82
(22) Burckhardt, The Civilization of Renaissance Italy, p. 86
(23) ibid. p.87
(24) ibid. p.89
(25) ibid. p.288
Note : websites quoted below were visited in October-December 2007.
1. Francesco Guicciardini, The History of Italy, Princeton : University Press, 1984
2. Jacob Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, London : Penguin Books, 2004
3. Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, London : Penguin Books, 2003
4. Sarah Bradford, Cesare Borgia - His Life and Times, Phoenix Press 2001
5. Article : Machiavelli, from
Philosophy Pages, 9 August 2006, http://www.philosophypages.com/ph/macv.htm
6. Article Italian Wars, from Wikipedia,
15 November 2007, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Italian_Wars
7. Italy, from World Statesmen, 2000, by Ben Cahoon,