Machiavelli wrote in The Prince (Mussolini’s favorite bedtime reading) that if Cesare Borgia had managed to live just a few more years, he could have made himself master of all Italy. After reading Michael Mallett’s The Borgias, one can see that Machiavelli understates the case. Rising from obscure origins in the Spanish gentry, within two generations the Borgias had made themselves equal to all the ruling houses of Europe in regard to power politics. Rather than obsess on one particular family member (a difficult choice), Mallett thinks in terms of general family traits whose qualities manifest themselves in different proportions. These traits consist of religious devotion, poisoning/murder, sexual license (including incest), self-aggrandizement, and a knack for asset management. Although it is tempting to think they burst into history like a storm and then dissipated, the Borgias possessed great staying power. In addition to Rodrigo, Cesare and Lucretia, we also meet the more obscure St. Francisco Borgia, whose was married to the niece of St. Ignatius de Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order. Co-existing with various monsters, murderers and libertines are the ubiquitous younger Borgia women who take religious vows, adding the requisite note to make this the quintessential family of contrasts. Furthermore, the family branches stretched back to Spain and from there to the New World, where the Borgias managed to end up as viceroys of Peru.
Publisher: Academy Chicago
Paperback: 368 pages