Lucrezia Borgia: Life, Love and Death in Renaissance Italy by Sarah Bradford - review by Jonathan Keates

Jonathan Keates

Poison, What Poison?

Lucrezia Borgia: Life, Love and Death in Renaissance Italy


Viking 421pp £25 order from our bookshop

ONE SIMPLE FACT worth remembering about the Borgias is that they were not Italian, only pretending to be, but that, like so many impostors, they did it much better than the genuine article. Their roots lay in the Spanish province of Valencia, from where Cardinal Alonzo de Borja had migrated to Rome, eventually being raised to the papacy in 1455 as Calixtus III. His astute young nephew Rodrigo, made cardinal in his turn when barely out of his teens, secured St Peter's chair for himself in 1492, the year in which his fellow Spaniards followed Columbus to the New World and wrested the kingdom of Granada from the Moors. Rodrigo, as Pope Alexander VI, was less interested in planting the cross among the heathens than in promoting the clan he had increased by fathering eight children. Delighting in beauty, he filled his palaces with handsome indicators of his status as a Renaissance achiever - tapestries, marbles, frescoes and jewellery.

The Pope's second and favourite daughter, Lucrezia, both inherited and rewarded this Italianate passion for la bella jgura. Unlike many another Renaissance princess, she genuinely was as attractive as her courtly flatterers claimed. Praise was justly lavished on her blond hair, white teeth and well-proportioned breasts. As for her deportment,

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

OUP Niven

Follow Literary Review on Twitter