College of Arts and Sciences


Master of Arts in History - Thesis (MA)


Nathan Martin


Borgia, History, Renaissance, Adoption, Adoptions, Italy, Rome, Spain, Catalonia, Vatican, Catholicism, Papacy, Papal, Catholic Church, Rodrigo Borgia, Cesare Borgia, Juan Borgia, Alonso Borgia, Family




The Borgia’s were a powerful family that garnered a great deal of their influence through the Catholic Church during the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. The height of the Borgia was between 1492 and 1503, when Rodrigo Borgia was elected Pope Alexander VI. Throughout history they have been known for the rumors of murder, incest, greed, and corruption that have surrounded the family ever since they first came to power. An examination of the family may not only lead to a different perspective of the family but may also lead to a deeper understanding of how one's enemies may be able to alter how the world perceives one's family for centuries to come. Members of the Borgia family held multiple titles and were able to influence many political figures throughout Europe, such as Queen Isabella of Spain and King Alfonso of Naples. The family was in power in Rome when the French were terrorizing the Italian countryside on their way to Naples. It was due to Rodrigo Borgia’s quick thinking that the King of France did not sack and burn Rome to the ground and instead carried on towards Naples. Cesare Borgia and his exploits were the inspiration of Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince and for centuries he was the topic of poetry and paintings. The lives of the Borgia family were full of intrigue and drama which made them figures of popular culture in their own era through today. As Pope Alexander VI, Rodrigo Borgia played a crucial role in the division of the New World when he wrote a Papal Bull in 1493 that allowed the Catholic monarchs to lay claim to the New World. His children were likewise influential. The impact that Cesare had on Machiavelli is a prime example of how the family was heavily influential on his contemporaries and subsequent generations of readers of Machiavelli’s work. Lucretia Borgia was used as a political pawn by Rodrigo, who married her off multiple times to men that would further expand his family’s power and influence. Her life led many writers and playwrights to dramatize the hardships of her life as well as the affections she held for both lovers and family. Historians still debate who killed Juan Borgia with many blaming Cesare for his brother’s death. The family is complex and for this reason many historians have interpreted details of the family inaccurately; both by not viewing their true dynamics as well as relying on propaganda spread by their enemies. Historians that wrote about the Borgia family relied heavily on the rumors surrounding the family, without providing any proof to back up their claims. A thorough examination of the historical records related to the Borgia family, such as court documents and memoirs, reveals that the Borgia children were adopted by Rodrigo Borgia and not his biological children.

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