Since there are now a couple of cable series about the Borgias, The Borgias on Showtime and Borgia: Faith and Fear, I have had a look at what most of the world thinks about the Borgias. Everyone knows that Lucrezia Borgia was a poisoner without peer and I seem to remember she was involved The Shaggy Dog, something about a painting of her and a ring that turned a teenage boy into a shaggy dog and eventually into a shaggy D.A., but that is as far as my knowledge went.
Cesare Borgia intrigued me, not only because he was a handsome and charismatic man, at least on The Borgias, but because he died so young. Yes, I do surf Wikipedia while watching shows because I want to know the truth. I did it quite often while caught up in The Tudors. I chose The Life of Cesare Borgia by Rafael Sabatini and I'm glad I did -- mostly. There was so much about Roderigo (Pope Alexander VI) than about Cesare, but Cesare was in there.
Sabatini goes to great lengths to provide proof for his history and dispells the myths and bad press the Borgias have had at the hands of historians over the centuries. Someone died and immediately, even if the death was a month or more later and the Borgias far from the scene of the death on their own business, the murdered was slain by the Borgias' special poison. Right, get that one through a court of law, except there was no court of law and no charges were brought, just a lot of innuendo and carping.
Cesare Borgia was a handsome, athletic, well formed man with tons of charisma, much like his father, Roderigo. He chafed at being a cardinal and gave up the religious life for a life of the warrior, the position his brother held until he died. Roderigo meant Cesare for the church and Juan for soldiering, and he mostly got his way, except in the end with Cesare.
Sabatini lays all the accusations of murder to rest, as much as possible, and paints a very different picture of Cesare and the rest of the Borgias. Cesare was a man of quick intelligence and a master of warfare. The people loved him and many of his conquests welcomed him with open arms and the keys to the cities. He helped his father bring most of Italy back under the control of the papal state and did so with dispatch and ingenuity. He wasn't above mercy and many of the tyrants he overthrew were allowed to leave the area with their portable wealth and goods, except in a couple of cases. The Life of Cesare Borgia is a well researched look at the Borgias that puts the family and their actions in the perspective of the times and shows that they indeed were good people whose ambitions led them to the highest levels of society with a trail of jealous and vengeful colleagues and detractors bent on destroying the Spanish pope and his family.
I found The Life of Cesare Borgia heavy on proof and history and a bit light on anything more than fact about Cesare. This is a book for those interested in the history of the time and its people who aren't looking for a book with lots of action and characterization. These are the facts, just the facts, with strong proofs that paint a very different picture of the family and Cesare. Sabatini writes history not popular fiction or popularized faction. Keep that in mind.
I find I like Cesare and all the Borgias much better even with my gut instinct that the Borgias have been the victims of a centuries long smear campaign.