The very name Lucrezia Borgia conjures up everything that was sinister and corrupt about the Renaissanceincest, political assassination, papal sexual abuse, poisonous intrigue, unscrupulous power grabs. Yet, as bestselling biographer Sarah Bradford reveals in this breathtaking new portrait, the truth is far more fascinating than the myth. Neither a vicious monster nor a seductive pawn, Lucrezia Borgia was a shrewd, determined woman who used her beauty and intelligence to secure a key role in the political struggles of her day.
Drawing from a trove of contemporary documents and fascinating firsthand accounts, Bradford brings to life the art, the pageantry, and the dangerous politics of the Renaissance world Lucrezia Borgia helped to create.
Historians who have attempted to rescue Lucrezia Borgia from her legend as a poisoner who slept with both her father, Pope Alexander VI, and her brother, Cesare Borgia, have mostly described her as a pawn. Indeed, before she was twenty-one she was twice married off to men who were disposed of once their political usefulness expired. (The first had to declare himself impotent and grant her a divorce; the second was strangled in his bed.) Bradford sees Lucrezia neither as a helpless victim nor a femme fatale but as a resourceful individual—an able administrator, a genuinely religious woman, and the equal in political skill, if not in brutality, of her notorious male relatives. When the family of her third husband balked at alliance with a woman described as the “greatest whore there ever was in Rome,” she used all her craft and charm to win them over—by, among other things, making her pious prospective father-in-law a gift of several nuns.