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Pope Alexander VI

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Pope Alexander VI

Alexander VI
Papacy began 11 August 1492
Papacy ended 18 August 1503
Predecessor Innocent VIII
Successor Pius III
Ordination 1468[1]
Consecration 30 October 1471
Created Cardinal 17 September 1456
by Callixtus III
Personal details
Birth name Roderic Llançol i de Borja (Rodrigo Borgia)
Born (1431-01-01)1 January 1431
Xàtiva, Kingdom of Valencia, Crown of Aragon
Died 18 August 1503(1503-08-18) (aged 72)
Rome, Papal States
Buried Santa Maria in Monserrato degli Spagnoli, Rome
Nationality Aragonese
Denomination Catholic (Roman Rite)
[note 1]
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Other popes named Alexander

Pope Alexander VI, born Roderic Llançol i libertinism and nepotism, which are traditionally considered as characterizing his pontificate. Two of Alexander's successors, Sixtus V and Urban VIII, described him as one of the most outstanding popes since St. Peter.[2]

Birth and family

Roderic Llançol was born on 1 January 1431, in the town of Calixtus III.[3]


Rodrigo Borgia studied law at [6]

Appearance and personality

"He is handsome, with a most cheerful countenance and genial bearing. He is gifted with a honeyed and choice eloquence. Beautiful women are attracted to him and excited by him in a quite remarkable way, more strongly than iron is drawn to a magnet."[7] Rodrigo Borgia was also an intelligent man with an appreciation for the arts and sciences and an immense amount of respect for the Church. He was capable and cautious, considered a "political priest" by some. He was a gifted speaker and great at conversation. Additionally, he was "so familiar with Holy Writ, that his speeches were fairly sparkling with well-chosen texts of the Sacred Books."[8][9]

Plaque outside the Archbishop's Palace, Valencia.

Archbishop of Valencia

When his uncle Alonso de Borja (bishop of Valencia) was elected Pope Callixtus III, he "inherited" the post of bishop of Valencia. Sixteen days before the death of Juan de Borja and Pedro Luis de Borja, grand-nephew and brother of Alexander VI.

Translation of the plaque on the side of the Archbishop's Palace of Valencia:

The 9th July 1492, the Pope Innocent VIII, at the request of Cardinal Borja and the Catholic Monarchs, raised the Valencian See to the rank of metropolitan, becoming Rodrigo of Borja the first Archbishop of Valencia
1492 - 1503

Mistresses and family

Of Alexander's many mistresses the one for whom passion lasted longest was a certain Pedro-Luiz, Bernardo, and Laura, were of uncertain parentage.

Alexander VI kneeling in front of the Madonna, said to be a likeness of Giulia Farnese.[note 2]

For a period of time, before legitimizing his children after becoming Pope, Rodrigo pretended that his four children with Vannozza were his niece and nephews and that they were fathered by Vannozza's husbands.

Before his elevation to the papacy, Cardinal Borgia's passion for Vannozza somewhat diminished, and she subsequently led a very retired life. Her place in his affections was filled, according to some, by the beautiful Giulia Farnese ("Giulia la Bella"), wife of an Orsini, but his love for his children by Vannozza remained as strong as ever and proved, indeed, the determining factor of his whole career. He lavished vast sums on them and lauded them with every honor. The atmosphere of Alexander's household is typified by the fact that his daughter Lucrezia apparently lived with Giulia.[10]

He is an ancestor of virtually all royal houses of Europe, mainly the southern and western ones, for being the ancestor of Dona Luisa de Guzmán, wife of King John IV of Portugal, of the House of Braganza.


Papal styles of
Pope Alexander VI
Reference style His Holiness
Spoken style Your Holiness
Religious style Holy Father
Posthumous style None

There was change in the constitution of the College of Cardinals during the course of the fifteenth century-especially under Sixtus IV and Innocent VIII. Of the twenty-seven cardinals alive in the closing months of the reign of Innocent VIII no fewer than ten were cardinal-nephews, eight were crown nominees, four were Roman nobles and one other had been given the cardinalate in recompense for his family's service to the Holy See; only four were able career churchmen.[5]

On the death of Pope Alexander V elected by the Council of Pisa).

Giovanni di Lorenzo de' Medici (later Pope Leo X) is rumored to have sharply criticized the election and issued the much quoted warning: "Now we are in the power of a wolf, the most rapacious perhaps that this world has ever seen. And if we do not flee, he will inevitably devour us all".[14] However Mallett claims that Medici actually said: "Flee, we are in the clutches of the world".[15]

Such a criticism, particularly by the very youthful Giovanni, is believed to be highly unlikely: "Precocious though he was, the cardinal would scarcely have made this observation when sixteen years of age."[16] Even if he did make the comment, though, Michael de la Bédoyère says that it would be "unintentionally complimentary as coming from a representative of one of the leading Italian States about a Pope whose aim it would be to save Italy in defiance of the prejudices and jealousies of its petty rulers."[17]

Cesare Borgia

In contrast to the preceding pontificate, Pope Alexander VI adhered initially to strict administration of justice and orderly government. Before long, he began endowing his relatives at the church's and at his neighbours' expense. Gioffre, also known as Goffredo, the Pope proposed to carve fiefs out of the Papal States and the Kingdom of Naples. Among the fiefs destined for the duke of Gandia were Cerveteri and Anguillara, lately acquired by Virginio Orsini, head of that powerful house. This policy brought Ferdinand I, King of Naples, into conflict with Pope Alexander VI, who was also opposed by Cardinal della Rovere, whose candidature for the papacy had been backed by Ferdinand. Della Rovere fortified himself in his bishopric of Ostia at the Tiber's mouth as Pope Alexander VI formed a league against Naples (25 April 1493) and prepared for war.[10]

Ferdinand allied himself with Florence, Milan and Venice. He also appealed to Spain for help, but Spain was eager to be on good terms with the papacy to obtain the title to the recently discovered New World. Pope Alexander VI, in the bull Inter Caetera, 4 May 1493, divided the title between Spain and Portugal along a demarcation line. This was known as the Treaty of Tordesillas and was ratified by Spain on 2 July 1494 and Portugal on 5 September 1494. (This and other related bulls are known collectively as the Bulls of Donation.)

French involvement

Italy 1494

Pope Alexander VI made many alliances to secure his position. He sought help from Charles VIII of France (1483–1498), who was allied to Ludovico "Il Moro" Sforza (the Moor, so called because of his swarthy complexion), the de facto Duke of Milan, who needed French support to legitimise his rule. As King Ferdinand I of Naples was threatening to come to the aid of the rightful duke Gian Galeazzo, the husband of his granddaughter Isabella, Alexander VI encouraged the French king in his plan for the conquest of Naples.

But Pope Alexander VI, always ready to seize opportunities to aggrandize his family, then adopted a double policy. Through the intervention of the Spanish ambassador he made peace with Naples in July 1493 and cemented the peace by a marriage between his son Gioffre and Doña Sancha, another granddaughter of Ferdinand I.[13] In order to dominate the Sacred College of Cardinals more completely, Alexander, in a move that created much scandal, created 12 new cardinals. Among the new cardinals was his own son Cesare, then only 18 years old. Alessandro Farnese (later Pope Paul III), the brother of one of the Pope's mistresses, Giulia Farnese, was also among the newly created cardinals.

On 25 January 1494, Ferdinand I died and was succeeded by his son Alfonso II (1494–1495).[13] Charles VIII of France now advanced formal claims on the Kingdom of Naples. Pope Alexander VI authorised him to pass through Rome, ostensibly on a crusade against the Ottoman Empire, without mentioning Naples. But when the French invasion became a reality Pope Alexander VI became alarmed, recognised Alfonso II as king of Naples, and concluded an alliance with him in exchange for various fiefs for his sons (July 1494). A military response to the French threat was set in motion: a Neapolitan army was to advance through the Romagna and attack Milan, while the fleet was to seize Genoa. Both expeditions were badly conducted and failed, and on 8 September Charles VIII crossed the Alps and joined Lodovico il Moro at Milan. The Papal States were in turmoil, and the powerful Colonna faction seized Ostia in the name of France. Charles VIII rapidly advanced southward, and after a short stay in Florence, set out for Rome (November 1494).

Pope Alexander VI appealed to Ascanio Sforza and even to the Ottoman Sultan Bayazid II for help. He tried to collect troops and put Rome in a state of defence, but his position was precarious. When the Orsini offered to admit the French to their castles, Alexander had no choice but to come to terms with Charles. On 31 December, Charles VIII entered Rome with his troops, the cardinals of the French faction, and Giuliano della Rovere. Pope Alexander VI now feared that Charles might depose him for simony, and that the king would summon a council to nominate a new pope. Pope Alexander VI was able to win over the bishop of Saint-Malo, who had much influence over the king, with a cardinal's hat. Pope Alexander VI agreed to send Cesare as legate to Naples with the French army; to deliver Cem Sultan, held as a hostage, to Charles VIII, and to give Charles Civitavecchia (16 January 1495). On 28 January Charles VIII departed for Naples with Cem and Cesare, but the latter slipped away to Spoleto. Neapolitan resistance collapsed, and Alfonso II fled and abdicated in favour of his son Ferdinand II. Ferdinand was abandoned by all and also had to escape, and the Kingdom of Naples was conquered with surprising ease.

The French in retreat

A reaction against Charles VIII soon set in, for all the European powers were alarmed at his success. On 31 March 1495 the Holy League was formed between the Pope, the emperor, Venice, Lodovico il Moro and Ferdinand of Spain. The League was ostensibly formed against the Turks, but in reality it was made to expel the French from Italy. Charles VIII had himself crowned King of Naples on 12 May, but a few days later began his retreat northward. He met the allies at Fornovo, and after a drawn battle cut his way through them and was back in France by November. Ferdinand II was reinstated at Naples soon afterwards, with Spanish help. The expedition, if it produced no material results, demonstrated the foolishness of the so-called 'politics of equilibrium', the Medicean doctrine of preventing one of the Italian principates from overwhelming the rest and uniting them under its hegemony.

Charles VIII's belligerence in Italy had made it transparent that the 'politics of equilibrium' did nothing but render the country unable to defend itself against a powerful invading force. Italy was shown to be very vulnerable to the predations of the powerful nation-states, France and Spain, that had forged themselves during the previous century. Alexander VI now followed the general tendency of all the princes of the day to crush the great feudatories and establish a centralized despotism. In this manner, he was able to take advantage of the defeat of the French in order to break the power of the Orsini. From that time on, Alexander was able to build himself an effective power base in the Papal States.

Soriano (January 1497). Peace was made through Venetian mediation, the Orsini paying 50,000 ducats in exchange for their confiscated lands; the Duke of Urbino, whom they had captured, was left by the Pope to pay his own ransom. The Orsini remained very powerful, and Pope Alexander VI could count on none but his 3,000 Spanish troops. His only success had been the capture of Ostia and the submission of the Francophile cardinals Colonna and Savelli.

Then occurred a major domestic tragedy for the house of Borgia. On 14 June, the Duke of Gandia, lately created Duke of Benevento, disappeared; the next day, his corpse was found in the Tiber.[10]

Pope Alexander VI, overwhelmed with grief, shut himself up in Castel Sant'Angelo. He declared that henceforth the moral reform of the Church would be the sole object of his life. Every effort was made to discover the assassin, and suspicion fell on various highly placed people. Enquiries suddenly ceased without explanation. Cesare was suspected but not until much later and he was never named in the immediate aftermath, nor would there have been any particular reason for him to commit such a crime.[10] The Orsini, against whom the Duke had been involved in the recent campaign, were the principal suspects at the time. The Duke had many other enemies. Ascanio Sforza, for example, had had a terrible row with him just a few days before the murder. No conclusive explanation was ever reached,[18] and it may be that the crime was simply as a result of one of the Duke's sexual liaisons.[19]


There is no evidence that the Borgias resorted to poisoning, judicial murder, or extortion to fund their schemes and the defense of the Papal States.[20] (When cardinals died, their wealth automatically reverted to the Church.) The only contemporary accusations of poisoning were from some of the servants of the Borgias, extracted under torture by Alexander's bitter enemy and successor, Julius II.[21]


The debased state of the curia was a major scandal. Opponents such as the powerful demagogic Florentine friar Girolamo Savonarola launched invectives against papal corruption and appealed for a general council to confront the papal abuses. Alexander is reported to have been reduced to laughter when Savonarola's denunciations were related to him. Nevertheless, he appointed Sebastian Maggi to investigate the friar, and he responded on 16 October 1495:

"We are displeased at the disturbed state of affairs in Florence, the more so in that it owes its origin to your preaching. For you predict the future and publicly declare that you do so by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit when you should be reprehending vice and praising virtue. Such prophecies may easily lure the simple-minded away from the path of salvation and the obedience due to the Holy Roman Church. Prophecies like these should not be made when your charge is to forward peace and concord. Moreover, these are not the time for such teachings, calculated as they are to produce discord even in times of peace let alone in times of trouble. ... Since, however, we have been most happy to learn from certain cardinals and from your letter that you are ready to submit yourself to the reproofs of the Church, as becomes a Christian and a religious, we are beginning to think that what you have done has not been done with an evil motive, but from a certain simple-mindedness and a zeal, however misguided, for the Lord's vineyard. Our duty, however, prescribes that we order you, under holy obedience, to cease from public and private preaching until you are able to come to our presence, not under armed escort as is your present habit, but safely, quietly and modestly as becomes a religious, or until we make different arrangements. If you obey, as we hope you will, we for the time being suspend the operation of our former Brief so that you may live in peace in accordance with the dictates of your conscience."[22]

The hostility of Savonarola seems to have been political rather than personal, and the friar sent a touching letter of condolence to the Pope on the death of the Duke of Gandia; "Faith, most Holy Father, is the one and true source of peace and consolation... Faith alone brings consolation from a far-off country."[23] But eventually the Florentines tired of the friar's moralising and the Florentine government condemned the reformer to death (23 May 1498).[24]

Family aggrandizement

In Italy at the time, the Spanish were looked down upon. Thus, the prominent Italian families looked down on the Borgia family, and they resented their power, which they sought for themselves. This is, at least partially, why both Pope Callixtus III and Pope Alexander VI gave powers to family members whom they could trust.[25]

In these circumstances, Pope Alexander VI, feeling more than ever that he could only rely on his own kin, turned his thoughts to further family aggrandizement. He had annulled Lucrezia's marriage to Giovanni Sforza, who had responded to the suggestion that he was impotent with the unsubstantiated counter-claim that Pope Alexander VI and Cesare indulged in incestuous relations with Lucrezia, in 1497.[26] And, unable to arrange a union between Cesare and the daughter of King Frederick IV of Naples (who had succeeded Ferdinand II the previous year), he induced Frederick by threats to agree to a marriage between the Duke of Bisceglie, a natural son of Alfonso II, and Lucrezia. Cesare, after resigning his cardinalate, was sent on a mission to France at the end of the year, bearing a bull of divorce for the new French king Louis XII, in exchange for which he obtained the duchy of Valentinois (a duchy chosen because it was consistent with his already known nickname of Valentino), a promise of material assistance in his schemes to subjugate the feudal princelings of papal Romagna, and a marriage to a princess of Navarre.

Pope Alexander VI hoped that Louis XII's help would be more profitable to his house than that of Charles VIII had been. In spite of the remonstrances of Spain and of the Sforza, he allied himself with France in January 1499 and was joined by Venice. By autumn Louis XII was in Italy expelling Lodovico Sforza from Milan. With French success seemingly assured, the Pope determined to deal drastically with the Romagna, which although nominally under papal rule was divided into a number of practically independent lordships on which Venice, Milan, and Florence cast hungry eyes. Cesare, empowered by the support of the French, began to attack the turbulent cities one by one in his capacity as nominated gonfaloniere (standard bearer) of the church. But the expulsion of the French from Milan and the return of Lodovico Sforza interrupted his conquests, and he returned to Rome early in 1500.

The Jubilee (1500)

In the Jubilee year 1500, Pope Alexander VI ushered in the custom of opening a holy door on Christmas Eve and closing it on Christmas Day the following year. After consulting with his Master of Ceremonies, Johann Burchard, Pope Alexander VI opened the first holy door in St. Peter’s Basilica on Christmas Eve 1499, and papal representatives opened the doors in the other three patriarchal basilicas. For this, Pope Alexander had a new opening created in the portico of St. Peter’s and commissioned a marble door. This door lasted until 1618, when another door was installed in the new basilica.[27][28]

In a ceremony similar to today’s, Pope Alexander VI was carried in the sedia gestatoria to St. Peter’s. He and his assistants, bearing candles, processed to the holy door, as the choir chanted Psalm 118:19-20 . The Pope knocked on the door three times, workers moved it from the inside, and everyone then crossed the threshold to enter into a period of penance and reconciliation. Thus, Pope Alexander formalized the rite and began a longstanding tradition that is still in practice. Similar ceremonies were held at the other three basilicas.[27]

Pope Alexander VI instituted a special rite for the closing of a holy door, as well. On the Feast of the Epiphany in 1501, two cardinals began to seal the holy door with two bricks, one silver and one gold. Sampietrini (basilica workers)[29] completed the seal, placing specially-minted coins and medals inside the wall.[27]


While the enterprising explorers of Spain and Portugal were quick to enslave the indigenous peoples they met in Africa and the New World,[30] some popes spoke out against the practice. In 1435, Pope Eugene IV had issued an attack on slavery in his papal bull Sicut Dudum, which included the excommunication of all those who engaged in the slave trade. A form of indentured servitude was allowed, being similar to a peasant's duty to his liege lord in Europe.

In the wake of Columbus's landing in the New World, Pope Alexander was asked by the Spanish monarchy to confirm their ownership of these newly found lands.[31] The bulls issued by Pope Alexander VI: Eximiae devotionis (3 May 1493), Inter Caetera (4 May 1493) and Dudum Siquidem (23 September 1493), granted rights to Spain with respect to the newly discovered lands in the Americas similar to those Pope Nicholas V had previously conferred with the bulls Romanus Pontifex and Dum Diversas.[32] Morales Padron (1979) concludes that these bulls gave power to enslave the natives.[33] Minnich (2005) asserts that this "slave trade" was permitted to facilitate conversions to Christianity.[34] Other historians and Vatican scholars strongly disagree with these accusations and assert that Pope Alexander VI never gave his approval to the practice of slavery.[35] Other later popes, such as Pope Benedict XIV in Immensa Pastorium (1741), and Pope Gregory XVI in his letter In Supremo Apostolatus (1839), continued to condemn slavery.

Thornberry (2002) asserts that Inter Caetera was applied in the Requerimiento which was read to American Indians (who could not understand the colonisers' language) before hostilities against them began. They were given the option to accept the authority of the Pope and Spanish crown or face being attacked and subjugated.[36] In 1993, the Indigenous Law Institute called on Pope John Paul II to revoke Inter Caetera and to make reparation for "this unreasonable historical grief". This was followed by a similar appeal in 1994 by the Parliament of World Religions.[37]

Last years

A danger now arose in the shape of a conspiracy by the deposed despots, the Orsini, and of some of Cesare's own Ceri and made peace with Giulio Orsini, who surrendered Bracciano.[10]

The war between France and Spain for the possession of Naples dragged on, and the Pope was forever intriguing, ready to ally himself with whichever power promised the most advantageous terms at any moment. He offered to help Louis XII on condition that Sicily be given to Cesare, and then offered to help Spain in exchange for Siena, Pisa and Bologna.


Cesare was preparing for another expedition in August 1503 when, after he and his father had dined with Cardinal Adriano da Corneto on 6 August, they were taken ill with fever a few days later. Cesare, whose skin allegedly peeled off[38] as a consequence of certain drastic measures to save him, eventually recovered; but the aged Pontiff apparently had little chance. Burchard's Diary provides a few details of the pope's final illness and death:[39]

Saturday, the 12th of August, 1503, the Pope fell ill in the morning. After the hour of vespers, between six and seven o'clock a fever appeared and remained permanently. On the 15th of August thirteen ounces of blood were drawn from him and the tertian ague supervened. On Thursday, the 17th of August, at nine o'clock in the forenoon he took medicine. On Friday, the 18th, between nine and ten o'clock he confessed to the Bishop Gamboa of Carignola, who then read Mass to him. After his Communion he gave the Eucharist to the Pope who was sitting in bed. Then he ended the Mass at which were present five cardinals, Serra, Juan and Francesco Borgia, Casanova and Loris. The Pope told them that he felt very bad. At the hour of vespers after Gamboa had given him Extreme Unction, he died.

The pope was 72 years old.

As for his true faults, known only to his confessor, Pope Alexander VI apparently died genuinely repentant.[40] The bishop of Gallipoli, Alexis Celadoni, spoke of the pontiff's contrition during his funeral oration[41] to the electors of Alexander's successor, pope Pius III:[42]

When at last the pope was suffering from a very severe sickness, he spontaneously requested, one after another, each of the last sacraments. He first made a very careful confession of his sins, with a contrite heart, and was affected even to the shedding of tears, I am told; then he received in Communion the most Sacred Body and Extreme Unction was administered to him.

The interregnum witnessed again the ancient "tradition" of violence and rioting.[43] Cesare, too ill to attend to the business himself, sent Don Michelotto, his chief bravo, to seize the Pope's treasures before the death was publicly announced. The next day the body was exhibited to the people and clergy of Rome, but was covered by an "old tapestry" ("antiquo tapete"), having become greatly disfigured by rapid decomposition. According to Raphael Volterrano: "It was a revolting scene to look at that deformed, blackened corpse, prodigiously swelled, and exhaling an infectious smell; his lips and nose were covered with brown drivel, his mouth was opened very widely, and his tongue, inflated by poison, fell out upon his chin; therefore no fanatic or devotee dared to kiss his feet or hands, as custom would have required."[44] The Venetian ambassador stated that the body was "the ugliest, most monstrous and horrible dead body that was ever seen, without any form or likeness of humanity."[44] Ludwig von Pastor insists that the decomposition was "perfectly natural", owing to the summer heat.[45]

It has been suggested that, having taken into account the unusual level of decomposition, Alexander VI was accidentally poisoned to death by his son, Cesare, with cantarella (which had been prepared to eliminate Cardinal Adriano), although some commentaries doubt these stories and attribute the Pope's death to malaria, then prevalent in Rome, or to another such pestilence.[20] The ambassador of Ferrara wrote to Duke Ercole that it was no wonder the Pope and the duke were sick because nearly everyone in Rome was ill because of bad air ("per la mala condictione de aere").

After a short stay, the body was removed from the crypts of St. Peter's and installed in a less well-known church, the Spanish national church of Santa Maria in Monserrato degli Spagnoli.[46]



Detail of fresco Resurrection in the Borgia Apartments, showing Alexander VI humbly in prayer.[47]

Following the death of Alexander VI, Julius II said on the day of his election: "I will not live in the same rooms as the Borgias lived. He desecrated the Holy Church as none before. He usurped the papal power by the devil's aid, and I forbid under the pain of excommunication anyone to speak or think of Borgia again. His name and memory must be forgotten. It must be crossed out of every document and memorial. His reign must be obliterated. All paintings made of the Borgias or for them must be covered over with black crepe. All the tombs of the Borgias must be opened and their bodies sent back to where they belong – to Spain."[48] The Borgias' apartments remained sealed until the 19th century.[48]

Sometimes overlooked is the fact that Alexander VI set about reforms of the increasingly irresponsible Curia. He put together a group of his most pious cardinals in order to move the process along. Planned reforms included new rules on the sale of Church property, the limiting of cardinals to one bishopric, and stricter moral codes for clergy.[49] Had he stayed in office longer, the pontiff may have had more success in the enactment of these reforms.

Alexander VI was known for his patronage of the arts, and in his days a new architectural era was initiated in Rome with the coming of Menaechmi performed in his apartments.[50]

In addition to the arts, Alexander VI also encouraged the development of education. In 1495, he issued a papal bull at the request of William Elphinstone, Bishop of Aberdeen, and King James IV of Scotland, founding King's College, Aberdeen.[51][52] King's College now forms an integral element of the University of Aberdeen. Alexander VI also, in 1501, approved the University of Valencia.[53][54]

Alexander VI, allegedly a marrano according to papal rival Giuliano della Rovere,[55] distinguished himself by his relatively benign treatment of Jews. After the 1492 expulsion of the Jews from Spain, some 9,000 impoverished Iberian Jews arrived at the borders of the Papal States. Alexander welcomed them into Rome, declaring that they were "permitted to lead their life, free from interference from Christians, to continue in their own rites, to gain wealth, and to enjoy many other privileges." He similarly allowed the immigration of Jews expelled from Portugal in 1497 and from Provence in 1498.[56]

It has been noted that the alleged misdeeds of Alexander VI are similar in nature to those of other Renaissance princes, with the one exception being his position in the Church. As Louis XIV become most offensive and scandalous in an Alexander VI."[57]

Bohuslav Hasištejnský z Lobkovic, a Bohemian humanist poet (1461–1510) dedicated one of his Latin poems to Alexander:[58]

Epitaphium Alexandri Papae

Epitaph to Pope Alexander

Cui tranquilla quies odio, cui proelia cordi
et rixa et caedes seditioque fuit,
mortuus hac recubat populis gaudentibus urna
pastor Alexander, maxima Roma, tuus.
Vos, Erebi proceres, vos caeli claudite portas
atque Animam vestris hanc prohibete locis.
In Styga nam veniens pacem turbabit Averni,
committet superos, si petat astra poli.
Who sacrificed quiet to hatred, with a warrior heart,
who did not stop at quarrels, struggles and slaughters,
is lying here in the coffin for all people to rejoice,
thy supreme pontiff Alexander, oh, capital Rome.
Ye prelates of Erebus and Heaven, close your doors
and prohibit the Soul from entering your sites.
He would disrupt the peace of Styx and disturb Avernus,
and vanquish the Saints, if he enters the sphere of stars.

Despite [59] Unlike Julius, Alexander never made war unless absolutely necessary, preferring negotiation and diplomacy.[60]

In popular culture


  • The contemporary politician, political theorist and author Niccolò Machiavelli wrote his book of power politics The Prince in 1513, in which he refers to Alexander VI as an astute politician who did much to strengthen the power of the Church.[61] "Alexander VI, more than any other pontiff who has ever lived, showed how much a pope could achieve with money and armed force. ... Although his aim was the aggrandizement of [his son Cesare], not of the Church, nonetheless what he did increased the greatness of the Church; and after his death ... the Church inherited the fruits of his labours. Then came Pope Julius [II]. He found the Church already great ... as a result of Alexander's vigour"[62]
  • E. R. Chamberlin's 1969 book The Bad Popes documented the lives of eight of the most controversial popes, including Alexander.
  • Alexander, Cesare and Lucrezia play key roles in [63]
  • Alexander is one of six Popes of the Renaissance era profiled unfavorably by historian Barbara Tuchman in The March of Folly (1984).
  • revisionist account in which he argued that the Borgia family was unjustly maligned and that the accounts of poisoning were a myth.
  • Alexander VI and his family are the subjects of Mario Puzo's final novel The Family (2001), as well as Robert Rankin's humorous and fictionalized novel The Antipope.
  • Gioffre Borgia.
  • In March 2005, Alexandro Jodorowsky with art by Milo Manara. The story focuses mostly on the sexual indiscretions and acts of violent backstabbery carried out by the corrupt papal figure. The second part was released in July 2006 and the third in July 2009.
  • Gregory Maguire makes strong references to Alexander VI and specifically his daughter in the 2003 novel, Mirror, Mirror.[64]
  • Spanish author Javier Sierra writes of Pope Alexander VI in his novel, The Secret Supper.
  • French author Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo mentions murder of Cardinal Spada by Alexander VI and his son. This is told by Abbé Faria to Edmond Dantes in the prison in relation to a treasure belonging to Cardinal Spada.[65]
  • Celebrated Crimes, vol 1".
  • Italian authors Rita Monaldi and Francesco Sorti depict a totally different image of Pope Alexander VI in The Doubts of Salaì (2007). They reference sources which quote Alexander as an integral, hard-working functionary in the Roman Catholic Church. His infamous reputation would be largely attributed to falsified documents and the slander of his opponents.
  • Pope Alexander's diplomatic correspondence and intrigues with the Ottoman Turks, as well as Charles VIII's invasion of Italy, are depicted in the historical novel The Sultan's Helmsman.
  • Blood & Beauty by Sarah Dunant is an historical novel, well reached and woven into a story of the Borgia family with focus on Pope Alexander including his children and rise to the papacy in the late 15th century.
  • The introduction to The Bad Catholic's Guide to Good Living, by John Zmirak and Denise Matychowiak, is attributed to Pope Alexander, writing in 2005 from "The Seventh Terrace of Purgatory". In a postscript to the introduction, "Alexander" requests additional prayers for the sake of himself and several other popes stuck in Purgatory.
  • Prominently depicted in the non-fiction account: The Borgias: The Hidden History (2013) by G. J. Meyer


  • [66]
  • Caesar Borgia, son of Pope Alexander the Sixth: a tragedy acted at the Cesare Borgia.


  • In the 1922 German silent film, Lucrezia Borgia, Alexander VI is played by Albert Basserman.
  • Alexander is played by Lluís Homar in the 2006 Spanish film, Los Borgia.
  • A Young Roderic de Borgia during the 1458 Conclave is played by Manu Fullola in the 2006 Canadian movie "The Conclave."
  • In the 1935 French movie, Lucrezia Borgia, Alexander is portrayed by Roger Karl.
  • The last of Walerian Borowczyk's Contes Immoraux (Immoral Tales) shows Jacopo Berenizi as Alexander VI, enjoying incest with Lucrezia and Cesare while Savonarola is arrested and burned.
  • In the series of short films Manuel Tadros.


  • The papacy of Alexander VI was dramatized in the 1981 Adolfo Celi as Pope Alexander.
  • The Canadian The Osbournes).
  • In the popular TV show, Alias, the character Milo Rambaldi was said to be Alexander VI's "chief architect."
  • French premium-pay TV John Doman stars as Rodrigo Borgia. A second season followed in 2013 and season 3 was produced in 2014.
  • Jeremy Irons as Pope Alexander VI.
  • In the 2012 season of the BBC children's series Horrible Histories, Alexander VI was dramatized by actor Jim Howick. The show parodied Pope Alexander as a mafia crime boss, and later as the father of an Addams Family-style dynasty of the Borgias. (The Addams Family theme song was also parodied, being renamed The Borgia Family.)

Video games



  1. ^ Pope Alexander VI only recognized four children as his: Cesare, Giovanni, Lucrezia, and Gioffre. Some, including Christopher Hibbert, recognize up to six more: Girolama (or Jeronima), Isabella, Pier Luigi (or Pedro Luis), Bernardo, Ottaviano, and Laura. (Christopher Hibbert, 2008, The Borgias and Their Enemies. Harcourt, Inc. ISBN 978-0-15-101033-2)
  2. ^ Doubtful, but possible. On a similar claim: "Without any solid evidence Giulia is said to have been the model for Pinturicchio's 'Virgin and Child' surrounded by angels in the Borgia Apartments of the Vatican." - Michael de la Bedoyere, The Meddlesome Friar and the Wayward Pope, p. 94


  1. ^ a b Loughlin, James. "Pope Alexander VI." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 22 Jul. 2014
  2. ^ Mallett, M. The Borgias (1969) Granada edition. 1981. p. 9.
  3. ^ Catherine B. Avery, 1972, The New Century Italian Renaissance Encyclopedia, Appleton-Century-Crofts, ISBN 0-13-612051-2 ISBN 9780136120513 p. 189. [1]
  4. ^ Monsignor Peter de Roo (1924), Material for a History of Pope Alexander VI, His Relatives and His Time, (5 vols.), Bruges, Desclée, De Brouwer, volume 2, p. 29. [2] [3] volumes 1–5
  5. ^ a b c Burkle-Young, Francis A., "The election of Pope Alexander VI (1492)", Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church
  6. ^ Barbara Tuchman (1984). The March of Folly. Alfred A. Knopf.  
  7. ^ From Gaspare da Verona
  8. ^ "Alexander was a jovial, far-sighted, moderate man, well-balanced in mind and body. Having lived nearly half a century in Rome, and having been for almost the whole of his life part of the ecclesiastical organization, he had come to a profound respect for all the interests of the Catholic Church, a respect greater than for his own life. He was prepared to compromise upon all purely human questions, but inflexible upon whatever concerned the rights of religion. He was the type of 'political priest', cautious and slow to act in the fact [sic] of the unforeseen, but brave to the point of heroism in defence of the great Institution whose direction had been entrusted to him." - Orestes Ferrara, quoted by N. M. Gwynne in "The Truth about Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI", p. 17-18.
  9. ^ Msgr. Peter de Roo, in Material for a History of Pope Alexander VI, His Relatives, and His TimeVol. 2 of , p. 273-274. "He was also a natural orator, a pleasant conversationalist, an expert in Canon Law and Theology, and 'so familiar with Holy Writ that his speeches sparkled with well chosen texts from Sacred Scripture.' He never ceased to be a student: if not occupied by Divine service or Church affairs he would be reading books. He also wrote for the instruction of others. It is admitted even by his enemies that he was a protector and promoter of literature and the sciences." - Msgr. Peter de Roo, as quoted by N. M. Gwynne in "The Truth about Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI", p. 22.
  10. ^ a b c d e f Villari 1911.
  11. ^ Peter de Rossa, Vicars of Christ, p. 144.
  12. ^ Mallett, M. ibid. pp. 123–6.
  13. ^ a b c Johann Burchard, Diaries 1483–1492 (translation: A.H. Matthew, London, 1910)
  14. ^ James Reston, Dogs of God, New York, Anchor Books, 2005, p. 287.
  15. ^ Mallett ibid. p128
  16. ^ Studies in Church History, 1906, Reuben Parsons, New York and Cincinnati, F. Pustet & Co., Volume 3, p. 210, n. 1. [4]
  17. ^ Michael de la Bedoyere, The Meddlesome Friar and the Wayward Pope, p. 90
  18. ^ Mallett ibid. pp162-6
  19. ^ Michael de la Bedoyere, The Meddlesome Friar and the Wayward Pope, p. 20, Quote: "Next morning the absence of the Duke was noticed by his servants, and the Pontiff was informed. He was not too worried for, as Burchard says, Alexander jumped to the conclusion that his son had spent the night with some girl and preferred to avoid the indiscretion of leaving by day. It may be mentioned in passing that this touch, as with many others one comes across, hardly squares with the general view that the Pope, his family and those around him were without shame. Juan was a dissolute young man and not a churchman, yet Alexander presumed on a discretion more in keeping with later times."
  20. ^ a b John Julius Norwich, Absolute Monarchs, p. 273. Quote: "The fact that father and son [Alexander and Cesare] had collapsed on the same day inevitably aroused suspicions of foul play. It was pointed out that on the third [of August 1503] the two of them had dined with the recently appointed Cardinal Adriano Castellesi in his nearby villa; the rumor rapidly spread around Rome that they had intended to poison their host but had inadvertently drunk the poisoned wine themselves. For some reason this mildly ridiculous story has survived and found its way into a number of serious histories; it ignores the fact that..they had no ascertainable motive to kill Castellesi."
  21. ^ Mallett ibid. p. 236
  22. ^ Michael de la Bedoyere, The Meddlesome Friar and the Wayward Pope, p. 154-155
  23. ^ de la Bedoyere, M. The Meddlesome Friar. 1957 p. 24
  24. ^ de la Bedoyere, ibid. passim.
  25. ^ J.B. Darcy, What you don't know about the Borgia Pope: Alexander VI (1492-1503). Quote: "We need now to digress a little to explain why the Pope should bestow his favours so generously on his own relatives. Let us take a look first at the political situation in Spain and in Italy. For centuries, Spain had been almost completely overridden by the Moors. The Spaniards had been trying to take back their country from the Moors for almost 800 years. By the middle of the 15th century, this reconquest was almost complete, but Spain was still a hodgepodge of competing principalities and, because of its constant state of warfare, still a very backward country. In Italy, on the other hand, the Renaissance, which had hardly begun in Spain, had reached its high point and the Italians in general did not look kindly on a citizen of this backward country being elevated to the highest post in the Church. Remember, too, that the Pope at the time, besides his spiritual powers, was a sovereign political power with large areas of the peninsula, nominally, at least, under his control. (see map) Italy was, politically, in a worse state than Spain. In the south, Naples was a fief of the Pope, but its ruler, King Ferrante, refused to acknowledge the Pope's authority. In the north of the peninsula, many small principalities vied for dominance and were often at war with one another, changing alliances as rapidly as opportunity invited. In the Papal States themselves, noble families, such as the Orsini and the Colonna, acted as petty tyrants in the cities and areas which they controlled, grinding down the people and constantly seeking to achieve their independence from their sovereign, the Pope. These Roman families even sought to control the Papacy itself. It was probably only because they could not agree on an Italian successor to Nicholas V that the elderly Callistus had been elected; one who, in all probability, would not live long. (Remember that, in our own times, John XXIII was supposed to have been elected for the same reason). Callistus III was acknowledged by all as religious and austere, though severely criticized for his largesse to his family. But he was surrounded by enemies both within the Church and among the rulers of Europe. When elected, he did what all leaders do, he surrounded himself with people whom he believed he could trust. A Spaniard in Italy, he was hard pressed to find such trustworthiness except from members of his own family; hence his patronage of them, though it is not to be denied that it was probably also for personal reasons."
  26. ^ John Julius Norwich, Absolute Monarchs, p. 272. Quote: "As for her reputation, there is absolutely no evidence for the rumors of incest with one or more of her brothers -- or indeed with her father -- apart from that given by her first husband, Giovanni Sforza, during the divorce proceedings, during which several other baseless accusations were leveled in both directions."
  27. ^ a b c Allen Duston, O.P., and Roberto Zanoli, 2003, Saint Peter and the Vatican: The Legacy of the Popes, Art Services Intl., ISBN 9780883971406, p. 158-159. Quote: "The holy year 1500 definitively ushered in the custom of opening a holy door on Christmas Eve and closing it the following year on Christmas Day. Pope Alexander VI opened the first holy door in St. Peter’s Basilica on Christmas Eve, 1499, and papal legates opened the doors in the other three patriarchal basilicas. For this occasion, Pope Alexander had a new opening created in the portico of St. Peter’s and commissioned a door, made of marble, 3.5 meters high and 2.2 wide. It lasted until 1618 when another door was installed in the new basilica. The door, in turn, was replaced in 1950 by the bronze door, which is still in use. In a ceremony strikingly similar in many ways to today’s ritual opening of a holy door, Pope Alexander VI was carried in the gestatorial chair to the portico of St. Peter’s. He and the members of his retinue, bearing long candles, processed to the holy door, as the choir intoned Psalm 118:19-20: “Open for me the gate of Yahweh, where the upright go in.” The Pope knocked thrice on the door, it gave way (assisted from within by workers), and everyone then crossed the threshold to enter into a period of penance and reconciliation. Thus, Pope Alexander, a lover of pomp and ceremony, formalized the rite of opening a holy door and began a tradition that continues, with few variations, to this day. Similar rites were held at the other patriarchal basilicas. Pope Alexander VI was also the first to institute a special rite for the closing of a holy door. On the feast of the Epiphany, January 6, 1501, two cardinals – one with a silver brick and the other with a gold one – symbolically began to seal the holy door. Basilica workers known as sanpietrini completed the task, which included placing small coins and medals, minted during the holy year, inside the wall."
  28. ^ "How awful was Catholic life under those immoral Renaissance Popes!". Rorate Caeli. Retrieved 25 March 2014.  Quote: "[A]ll the clergy of the city were invited to the opening of the [1500] Jubilee. The Pope himself performed this ceremony on Christmas Eve, 1499, having taken pains to settle all the details beforehand with his Master of Ceremonies. The ceremonial observed on these occasions was no modern invention, but, as the Bull of Indiction expressly says, was founded on ancient rites and full of symbolic meaning. According to Burchard, the crowd which assisted at these solemnities numbered 200,000 persons. Although this may be an exaggeration, still it is certain that, in spite of the troubles of the times and the insecurity in Rome itself, the numbers attending this Jubilee were very large."
  29. ^ "Dictionary: SAMPIETRINI". Catholic Culture. Retrieved 25 March 2014.  Quote: "The permanent group of skilled workers and artisans, in every trade, who with their assistants take care of St. Peter's Basilica."
  30. ^ "Encomienda or Slavery? The Spanish Crown's Choice of Labor Organization in Sixteenth-Century Spanish America." (PDF). Latin American Studies.
  31. ^ Stogre, p. 69–70
  32. ^ Raiswell, p. 469, "Black Africans in Renaissance Europe", P. 281, Luis N. Rivera, 1992, p. 25–28
  33. ^ cited by Luis N. Rivera, 1992, p. 28
  34. ^ "Black Africans in Renaissance Europe", p. 281
  35. ^ Patrick Madrid, "Pope Fiction"
  36. ^ Thornberry 2002, p. 65; Luis N. Rivera, 1992, p. 37
  37. ^ Thornberry 2002, p. 65
  38. ^ "Cesare lay in bed, his skin peeling and his face suffused to a violet colour." The Borgias, 1981, Georgina Masson, Marion Johnson, Penguin, ISBN 0-14-139075-1 ISBN 9780141390758, p. 179. [5]
  39. ^ Johann Burchard, 1921, Pope Alexander VI and His Court: Extracts from the Latin Diary of Johannes Burchardus, F. L. Glaser, tr., N.L. Brown, New York, p. 179. [6]
  40. ^ "[T]here is every reason to believe," writes the Dublin Review, that Pope Alexander VI died "in sentiments of piety and devotion." Nicholas Patrick Wiseman, ed., 1858, The Dublin Review, London, Thomas Richardson & Son, vol. 45, p. 351. [7]
  41. ^ " The historical value of Bishop Celadoni's funeral oration is said to be immense: "On 16 Sept 1503 Burchardus records in his diary that Alexius Celadenus or Celadonius, bishop of Gallipoli, delivered a discourse to the cardinals about to enter into conclave for the election of a successor to Pope Alexander VI. Et fuit tediosa et longa oratio. Burchardus's most recent editor, Thuasne, states that this oration exists in manuscript in the Bibliothèque Nationale... He omits to observe that, granting that the discourse may have been too long for the cardinals, the longer the better for us, inasmuch as it contains an account of Pope Alexander of almost unique value, not merely as the judgment of a contemporary, but as delivered in public before an audience of contemporaries whose station in the church had brought them into almost daily intercourse with the deceased pope, and before whom any serious misrepresentation would have been impossible. It is incomprehensible how he should have failed to reprint an historical testimony of such importance, having it under his own eyes." "A Contemporary Oration on Pope Alexander VI," The English Historical Review, 1892, vol. 7, p. 318. See also, The Oration of Alexis Celadoni, in The Ideal Renaissance Pope: Funeral Oratory from the Papal Court, John M. MacManamon, S.J., Archivum Historiae Pontificiae, 1976, Vol. 14. pp. 54ff.
  42. ^ Peter de Roo, 1924, Material for a History of Pope Alexander VI, vol. 5, p. 89, note. 112. [8] [9] (Word frequency and page number of specific words and phrases for all 5 vols. at HathiTrust) [10]
    Latin text: "Dum graviter aegrotaret, factorum conscientia punctus contrito dolentique animo ad lachrymas ut audio fusus, sacrosanctum communionis corpus sua sponte, dilutis prius diligentissima confessione peccatis, petierit, et alia sacramenta..." Alexis Celadoni (Alexius Celadonius, Celadeni, 1451–1517), Bishop of Gallipoli, Italy (1494–1508), Alexii Celadeni Episcopi Gallipolitani Oratio ad sacrum cardinalium senatum ingressurum ad novum pontificem eligendum, Publisher: Rome: Johann Besicken, 1503. [11]
  43. ^ "Throughout the Middle Ages a 'tradition' or 'custom' involving pillaging was attached to the death and election of high-ranking prelates." Joëlle Rollo-Koster, 2008, Raiding Saint Peter: Empty Sees, Violence, and the Initiation of the Great Western Schism (1378), Leiden; Boston: Brill, ISBN 90-04-16560-6 ISBN 9789004165601, Introduction, p. 1. [12] And as early as 633, "the Fourth Council of Toledo condemned the violence of the interregnum." The King's Body: Sacred Rituals of Power in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, Sergio Bertelli, 2001, Pennsylvania State Univ Pr, ISBN 0-271-02102-0 ISBN 978-0-271-02102-7, p. 41. [13]
    Nor were the Romans alone guilty of such misbehavior. In the eleventh century, Peter Damian, writing to the clergy and people of Osimo, sharply reproved the "perverse and wholly detestable practice of certain people, who at the death of the bishop break in like enemies and rob his house, like thieves make off with his belongings, set fire to the homes on his estate, and with fierce and savage barbarity cut down his grape vines and orchards." Letter 35, Easter Synod, 1050. Letters 31–60, Owen J. Blum (Translator), 1990, Catholic University of America Press, ISBN 0-8132-0707-X ISBN 9780813207070, p. 61. [14]
  44. ^ a b Nigel Cawthorne (1996). "Sex Lives of the Popes". Prion. p. 218. 
  45. ^ "In consequence of the simultaneous illness of both the Pope and his son, and the rapid decomposition of the body, which, considering the heat of the weather, was perfectly natural, the cry of poison was raised at once; but on the 19th of August the Mantuan Envoy writes that there was no sort of ground for supposing this." - Ludwig von Pastor, History of the Popes, Vol. 6, p. 135, [15]
  46. ^ "Pope Alexander VI (1431–1503) – Find A Grave Memorial". Retrieved 2013-06-23. 
  47. ^ Paintings of a Pope. Publisher: The Catholic Dormitory.
  48. ^ a b Nigel Cawthorne (1996). "Sex Lives of the Popes". Prion. p. 219. 
  49. ^ John Julius Norwich, Absolute Monarchs, p. 268-269. Quote: "As part of his proposed new reforms, Alexander now nominated a commission of six of the most pious cardinals, and less than two months later a draft Bull of Reformation had been prepared. The pope was banned from selling benefices and from transferring Church property to laypersons. As for the cardinals, who were to be drawn from all the nations, none should possess more than one bishopric; their households were limited to eighty people and thirty horses; they were banned from hunting, theaters, carnivals, and tournaments; and their funeral expenses were not to exceed 1,500 ducats. The lesser clergy were similarly reined in: they must refuse all bribes and put away their concubines."
  50. ^ "Under Alexander VI, the taste for theatrical representations made great progress. Plays, for the most part of an extremely objectionable character, were a prominent feature in all court festivities, and also in the Carnival amusements, in which Alexander took a great interest. In 1502 the Pope had the Menaechmi performed in his own apartments." - Ludwig von Pastor, History of the Popes, Vol. 5, p.124, [16]
  51. ^ King's College, Aberdeen
  52. ^ Taking a Look at Pope Alexander VI
  53. ^ [17]
  54. ^ Estudi GeneralLa Nau Building - Foundation of the
  55. ^ Black Legend#Origin
  56. ^  
  57. ^ Knights of Columbus Catholic Truth Committee, The Catholic encyclopedia: an international work of reference on the constitution, doctrine, discipline, and history of the Catholic Church, Volume 1, Encyclopedia Press, 1907, p. 294
  58. ^ Bohuslav Hasištejnský z Lobkovic: Carmina selecta, Praha 1996, p.14
  59. ^ Mallett ibid. p265
  60. ^ Mallet ibid passim.
  61. ^ Niccolò Machiavelli. "The Prince". Wikisource. pp. chapter XI. 
  62. ^ The Prince, Chapter XI
  63. ^ Maclaine, David. by Cecelia Holland"City of God". Retrieved September 5, 2014. 
  64. ^ Mirror, Mirror, Gregory Maguire (2003)
  65. ^ Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo, New York, Penguin Putnam Inc., 1996, pp. 155–160.
  66. ^ Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia


External links

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Innocent VIII
11 August 1492 – 18 August 1503
Succeeded by
Pius III
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