The Italian Almanac

Lucrezia Borgia

Italian News - May 9

The medieval castle in Subiaco where the infamous Lucrezia Borgia was born in 1480 has reopened to the public for the summer. The castle, which sits above this town east of Rome, was recently restored and will be open on the weekends from May through July, although group tours can be arranged during the week. In August the castle will be open daily. Once a papal residence, the castle later became an abbey and remains the property of the church.

Scholars today agree that Lucrezia Borgia's reputation as a deadly, a golden-haired temptress, the embodiment of female evil and prolific poisoner is more myth than reality, based more on Victor Hugo's 1833 play, Lucrece Borgia, than historic fact. Lucrezia was the illegitimate daughter of Pope Alexander VI, Rodrigo Borgia, and more than a temptress she was known in her lifetime as patron of the arts and a keen administrator. In fact, her father took the unheard of step of leaving the Vatican's administration in Lucrezia's hands at the tender age of 21 - an assignment which she managed admirably given the circumstances.

Her skills really came to the fore however, when she was the wife of Alfonso d'Este, the Duke of Ferrara, and took control of the city's administration when he was called away to battle. Lucrezia ruled Ferrara with a firm, capable hand between 1509 and 1513, successfully bringing her adopted city through a period of intense turmoil, as it was ravaged by famine and plague.

Alfonso d'Este was her third and last husband and her bad reputation apparently stemmed from her second marriage, to Alfonso, Duke of Biscegli, who was murdered. Two years after their marriage, Alfonso survived an attack by henchmen only to be strangled in his bed while under Lucrezia's care. While popular tradition says Lucrezia was behind the attack and murder, most historians point the finger at Cesare Borgia, Lucrezia's brother and the inspiration for Machiavelli's The Prince.