Were the Borgias the wickedest family in history? Certainly their Italian contemporaries depicted them as such, but many of the signorial families of the Italian Renaissance were as bad, if not worse, in their public and private lives. Sigismondo Malatesta, lord of Rimini, had two wives murdered, allegedly slept with his daughter and attempted to sodomise his son. Pope Pius II excommunicated him and consigned him to hell while he was still alive, but it was for heresy and not his sexual misdemeanours that he was condemned. Francesca Manfredi of Faenza lured her husband into her bedchamber and had him stabbed there by concealed assassins, then finished him off herself when they failed to do the job properly. In July 1500, in a bloodbath known as the ‘Red Wedding’, half the feuding Baglioni family of Perugia murdered the other half in their beds. Almost no one today has heard of the Baglioni but the Borgias are still a legend.
They were accused of nepotism, simony, incest and murder, good going for a family that included two popes, a number of cardinals and eventually a saint. Contemporaries charged Pope Alexander VI (reigned 1492–1503) with sleeping with his daughter Lucrezia, and his illegitimate son Cesare with the murder of