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Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia (Hardback)

Brother and Sister of History's Most Vilified Family

P&S History Social History 15th Century

By Samantha Morris
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 192
Illustrations: 32 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526724403
Published: 19th October 2020

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Myths and rumour have shrouded the Borgia family for centuries – tales of incest, intrigue and murder have been told of them since they themselves walked the hallways of the Apostolic Palace. In particular, vicious rumour and slanderous tales have stuck to the names of two members of the infamous Borgia family – Cesare and Lucrezia, brother and sister of history’s most notorious family. But how much of it is true, and how much of it is simply rumour aimed to blacken the name of the Borgia family?

In the first ever biography solely on the Borgia siblings, Samantha Morris tells the true story of these two fascinating individuals from their early lives, through their years living amongst the halls of the Vatican in Rome until their ultimate untimely deaths. Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia begins in the bustling metropolis of Rome with the siblings ultimately being used in the dynastic plans of their father, a man who would become Pope, and takes the reader through the separate, yet fascinatingly intertwined, lives of the notorious siblings. One tale, that of Cesare, ends on the battlefield of Navarre, whilst the other ends in the ducal court of Ferrara. Both Cesare and Lucrezia led lives full of intrigue and danger, lives which would attract the worst sort of rumour begun by their enemies.

Drawing on both primary and secondary sources Morris brings the true story of the Borgia siblings, so often made out to be evil incarnate in other forms of media, to audiences both new to the history of the Italian Renaissance and old.

This book gripped me from the first paragraph of Chapter One and, by the end of the book, I wanted to read it again. It shows an entirely new light on the fascinating, but hard, lives and loves of the Borgias and, for Lucrezia at least, I ended up feeling extremely sorry for her.

The author explains how she was used as a political pawn throughout most of her life and was not the scheming woman as normally portrayed. Lucrezia did what she had to do in order to stay alive and keep her father and brother in political power.

This book is a wonderful insight into the 16th century. It is beautifully written and keeps the reader entertained throughout.

For the Love of Books

History is written by the victors, and the for Borgias this appears to be particularly so. Vilified as incestuous, corrupt and violent, a family to be feared, their name has come down through the ages as a synonym for bad behaviour. The author sets out to prove this is not the full story and she does make a good argument.

According to her research, there is virtually no evidence that Cesare and Lucrezia were lovers. They were very much a product of their age, when men were expected to be strong and actions had to be taken to keep property or land which today would be frowned upon. However, despite some cruelty, Cesare was a respected war lord, he unified his dependencies and his vassals prospered under him. He was promiscuous, and did contract syphilis, but this was rife throughout the area at this time. Lucrezia was loved by her people, she married three times and had numerous pregnancies, particularly by her third husband, although she lost nearly all the children early on or as miscarriages. She was a pious woman, a good regent and while perhaps not always a strictly faithful wife, she lived well by her standards.

They were both Spaniards living in Italy, thrust into the limelight by their father Pope Alexander, and determined to improve the standing of their family at every opportunity, regardless of cost. They both had a strong sense of family and were clearly close.

The story the author portrays is quite sad really; both were buffeted by events over which they had little control. If Cesare had not ingested the poison that killed his father he would have been in a much better position to defend himself. Lucrezia had husbands found for her, she was not allowed to choose.

The author brings the story up to date, detailing how Cesare and Lucrezia have been portrayed by Hollywood and modern films as well as detailing what happened to their descendents.

Overall a detailed account of the lives of two very interesting characters.

NetGalley, Sue Andrews

Summary: Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia are remembered for many dark deeds during their time but most of what we “know” is not actually based on fact. They were not the incestuous siblings or murderers of enemies with poison. Samantha Morris gives us a look into the lives of the two most famous Borgias and how they got the reputation that still follows them, 500 years later.

My Thoughts: I first learned about the Borgia family from reading The Borgia Bride by Jeanne Kalogridis. I loved the story of this notorious family. And then I fell in love with the TV show The Borgias on Starz. I knew that much of it was for TV or rumors surrounding the family but it made for good watching and intrigue.

I liked how the author started with the original rise of the family. I knew that the family was Spanish but to hear how tied to Spain they were was new to me. The politics of the time and the way the Pope had so much control is astounding. He controlled kings, armies and much of Italy. Today it seems like the Pope has very limited range and mainly sticks to religious issues. But I am not Catholic so my knowledge is very limited.

My favorite part was the time after the death of Alexander. I was not familiar with this time in their lives so I learned a lot. Cesare was a military genius. Lucrezia married multiple times and led a very religious life. I was happy to read more about them and find out how their stories ended.

FYI: I would recommend this for someone looking for the truth behind the drama.

NetGalley, Ashley Pohlenz

It's a very interesting book, well researched, and you can just feel Samantha Morris' passion for the theme while reading.

NetGalley, Giovana Mazzoni

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

An absorbing read, concentrating on the Borgia siblings, scions of one of the most powerful families of the Italian renaissance. You cannot visit Rome or Florence and not be aware of the influence that this notorious family had on political life. Very interesting.

NetGalley, Gillian Shackleton

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This book was most interesting. Not my usual read but I've always been interested in history and I feel that this book has educated me on the borgias.

NetGalley, H L

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

A family mired in myths and rumors of incest, murder, and intrigue for centuries. A brother and sister caught in the middle, attracting the attention of gossips and historians alike. No, I am not referring to a royal family in England. In fact, this story starts in Spain with Alonso de Borja, who moved to Italy and helped create the infamous Borgia family. Caught in the middle were the son and daughter of Rodrigo Borgia, Alonso’s nephew, and his mistress Vanozza Cattanei; Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia. How close were these famous siblings? What were their lives really like? In Samantha Morris’ latest biography, “Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia: Brother and Sister of History’s Vilified Family”, she dives deep into the archives to find out the truth about the legendary Borgia family.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I will be honest and say that I did not know much about this family before I started reading this book. I knew about the rumors and that they had to do with the papacy, but that was it. I was excited to learn more about them and to understand why so many people are so fascinated with the Borgia siblings.

To understand how the Borgias rose to power, Morris takes her readers on a journey through papal history and the many different councils that occurred in the 14th and 15th centuries. This was familiar to me as I took a class in college on Church History, in which we did discuss these councils, but for those who are not familiar with them, Morris takes the time to explain the significance of each event. We see how Alonso de Borja rose through the ranks to become Pope Calixtus III and how his nephew, Rodrigo Borgia, was the complete opposite of his uncle. Rodrigo, later Pope Alexander VI, was a ladies man, and his children by his mistress, Vanozza Cattanei, were all illegitimate, including Cesare and Lucrezia.

It is the lives of Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia that historians, including Morris, tend to focus on. These siblings created so many enemies that rumors were bound to be associated with them. From incest between them to murder using poison, and numerous affairs, Cesare and Lucrezia endured scandals that made the Tudors look like a normal family. Morris takes on each myth and rumor head on to explore the truth about these siblings, which is of course more complex than the fictional tales of their lives.

I found myself enthralled in the true-life tales of Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia. Like most historical tales, the truth is much more compelling than the fictitious tales. The trials, triumphs, and tribulations of the siblings are so compelling and to realize that they lived when the Renaissance in Italy and the Tudor dynasty was still new in England is remarkable.

This book made me fall in love with the Borgia family. The story of their rise to greatness and what Cesare and Lucrezia had to endure to protect their family and its name was nothing short of extraordinary. Samantha Morris’s writing style is easy to understand but you can tell how much care she took in researching these simply sensational siblings. I want to study the Borgia family even more because of this book. If you want an engrossing nonfiction book about the Borgia family, I would highly suggest you read, “Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia: Brother and Sister of History’s Most Vilified Family” by Samantha Morris. A fabulous introduction to the Borgias and their tumultuous times.

NetGalley, Heidi Malagisi

I liked this! It dispelled a lot of scandalous “history” with real facts. I liked the history of the Borgia family and the various regions of Italy. The final chapter that talked about the various media depictions about the family through the years was also interesting. If this is an area of history you are interested in, or if you want to see how rumors and innuendo can continue for so many centuries, I would recommend this book!

NetGalley, Jennifer Ruth

I was delighted to receive a copy of this book as I have read a few Pen and Sword published works that I have really enjoyed and found very informative.
I had first encountered the Borgia family in Sarah Dunant’s fiction novels about this family. I very much enjoyed those books, but you always question in the back of your mind just how much of these lives have been fictionalised when you read a novel based on an actual life or event. I was relieved to read in this book that the author feels that Dunant’s novels were well researched and come pretty accurate to actual events.
I really found this book very informative. I think the author gave a fair but sensitive approach to the Borgia siblings- there’s no getting away from the murder, power plotting, and sexual misdemeanours that went on around them. However, the author does a good and well backed up argument, using primary and secondary evidence, that shows a lot of the scandal and hinted incest was most likely spread by Borgia enemies who were deliberately trying to discredit them.
A really fascinating read that I think will look stunning in physical print as well. There are some wonderful pictures at the end of this digital review copy that really help to set the scene and give a possible face to some of the names. Highly recommend.

NetGalley, Amanda Lavelle

Fascinating study of Cesare and Lucrezia which effectively dispels many of the more lurid myths surrounding the famous Borgia siblings.

NetGalley, John Laffan

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Whilst I was aware of the Borgia's I have never read much about them but recently I've been expanding my historical reading and interests outside of my usual scope so I was intrigued by this book from Samantha Morris who aims to dispel the rumours of incest murder and poisoning.

I will hold my hand up and admit I have watched the TV show so had a little understanding of who they were and the rumours surrounding them.

Whilst the title is self explanatory and Morris does focus on the siblings the rest of the family are by no means excluded. I was absorbed in to this book from the first page! Yes, its nonfiction but Morris' writing style makes it so easy to read.

The initial chapters focus on the background of the family, who they were and their rise to power before starting to focus on the siblings and the events that have led to them still being discussed hundreds of years later.

>From the dispelling of rumours to the true stories of their successes and failings I am now very interested in reading more about the family.

I thoroughly enjoyed how Morris explains where rumours regarding the family such as incest and poison originated from and how they have been presented in modern day media. Morris analyses media such as the TV show and explains which are most historically correct.

Cesare led a very interesting albeit short life and seems to have been very successful as a soldier although clearly made a few enemies along the way. His journey from cardinal to a Duke and captain of the papal army is extremely interesting and an area i would like to read more about.

Lucrezia, often depicted as a woman who is not averse to using poison is portrayed as a pious woman who seems to have had affairs but also faced much grief in her life but who was loved by her people and had many admirers. Whilst she clearly loved her family I read nothing that gives me the impression their relationship was anything other than a normal sibling relationship.

The book is referenced throughout providing me with more reading to now follow up with in my newly found interest of the Borgia's.

Between the TV show and reading this my opinion has changed of the family and I find myself admiring them in particular Lucrezia, whilst she may have had faults she faced a lot of heartbreak and enemies, her story is actually really sad.

As a newcomer to the Borgia's I found this book incredibly informative and interesting but I'm unsure if it would provide anything new to those who have already read or studied them. This book is clearly the result of much research and Morris obviously has a passion for the subject evident throughout which I think is part of the reason I found the book so engaging... As an introduction to the family and the siblings I can't fault this book and would highly recommend to those who would like to learn more about this intriguing family.

NetGalley, Amy McElroy

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I've long been intrigued by the Borgias and always look forward to reading more about them

This is a well researched biography. Lots of new information to me - and I thought I knew a lot about them !
If you are interested in Renaissance history, Borgias and that period generally you will love this.

NetGalley, Maria Martignetti

A really good read full of lots if little known details. I really felt like I knew the Borgias when I was finished

NetGalley, Shelly Myers

Well documented and objective biography. Puts a new light on the lives of the Borgia family. The author provided many new information about this highly controversial family. If you've watched the Borgias, you'll enjoy this very much.

NetGalley, Donna Pingry

A fine edition to add to the many books tackling these infamous siblings = in both fact and fiction.

Morris make a poignant remark: "... now, as throughout history, people love a good gossip ...", and like us today, they "... want stories that both disgust them and draw them in ...". In their own time, Cesare and Lucrezia are the equivalent of today's Kardashians or Osbornes.

Delving into the family history from its Spanish roots, Morris provides the reader with a concise background of the family including Rodrigo's rise to the Papal throne up until the siblings draw final breath. But the focus here is on the two siblings - Cesare and Lucrezia - as opposed to a complete history of all Borgias. In this easy to read and well presented tome, all the main events are covered off - we are not bogged down in unnecessary detail so readers new to this topic will have no trouble at all keeping pace. For me, I love the Borgias, so much of this was well worn and familiar ground.

Gossip and hearsay were the weapons of the day that were used to destroy reputation - not only powerful, but also long lasting that like a series of chinese whispers, people begin to accept them as truths using that old adage "no smoke without fire" to justify such. And we are more than accustomed to history being written by the victors -as poor old Richard III can attest.

It is easy to forget that what is unseemly to our modern view was very much the norm - here, family is so important, that it is not strange at all to discover that Cesare and Lucrezia were close - afterall, it was the Borgias against the world - who else would they turn to and trust but one of their own.

Morris finishes by taking the reader through the various modern day adaptions of the Borgia story - from film and television, to game and books. Having just taken possession of yet another book on the Borgias, Morris' book will also find a home on my "Borgia" shelf in my personal library.

NetGalley, Melisende d'Outremer

About Samantha Morris

Samantha Morris studied archaeology at the University of Winchester and it was there, whilst working on a dissertation about the battlefield archaeology of the English Civil War that her interest in the Italian Renaissance began. Her main area of interest is the history of the Borgia family and the papacy of Pope Alexander VI, however she also has a keen interest in the history of other Renaissance families. Samantha has previously written on the Borgia family and runs a successful blog based mainly on the history of the Italian Renaissance, but with snippets of other eras thrown in too.

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