Review: The Borgias and Their Enemies: 1431-1519

The Borgias and Their Enemies: 1431-1519
The Borgias and Their Enemies: 1431-1519 by Christopher Hibbert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve been doing research on the Borgias for a project I’m working on, and this book is an excellent starting point. Don’t expect depth; it covers nearly one hundred years of history in 300 pages, but for those looking for more detailed information, there are excellent biographies focusing on Rodrigo, Cesare and Lucrezia.

Cesare dominates this book, much like he tried to dominate Italy, particularly in regards to his relationship with the French. Rodrigo and Lucrezia are tied in second for book space, with Juan and Jofre only being mentioned when the reader needs to be reminded that they existed. Cesare and Lucrezia are simply the more famous of his children, having been the subject of vile rumors for most of their lives. This book has received criticism for focusing too much on the outfits and what types of cloth they were carrying when going from place to place, but the fact remains that is the type of information that survived long enough to get to us. In fact, if you read Sarah Bradford’s biography, you learn at one point Ferrante D’Este was chastised by his sister Isabella for not including the details of Lucrezia’s dress when he wrote to her. Fashion is very much an integrated part of society, and if you don’t believe me, just look to see what celebrities were wearing at the Red Carpet. This book also excels at explaining the turbulent political situation of the time, with various states declaring their allegiances to France or Spain depending on the year.

My only gripe with this book is that it contradicts itself when the sources have been known to contradict themselves. At this point, there’s no telling which source would be more reliable. For instance, at one point it’s stated that Jofre consummated his relationship with Sancia while her father was in the room, but later in the book her affairs with Cesare and Juan are attributed to the fact that her relationship with Jofre was never consummated.

This book is sadly one of the few biographies on the family that is still easily accessible in English, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to get an overview of what the political situation was like in Italy during the time of the Borgias.

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4 thoughts on “Review: The Borgias and Their Enemies: 1431-1519

  1. Ok, I’ve been checking out your reviews of Borgia histories and the Borgia television drama, and I have to bring up the Corvo. If you’re a fan of historical inaccuracy as well as credible history, at least as far as the Borgias are concerned, you could really get a kick out of this book. The author was a self-dubbed Baron Corvo others have described variously as a fabulist, a gay Catholic tutor, or a self-motivated monastic scholar living mostly on his own willingness to accumulate bad debts. His goal in chronicling the Borgia dynasty was simple: to exonerate their reputations of all alleged sins, crimes and indiscretions that could be rationalized away as improbable slanders, and to explain the necessity of those actions that are less easily put down to the inventions of their enemies. This dedication to the immortal reputation of the Vatican’s high seat and those who occupy it may explain how he achieved a prestigious Christian burial some would think beyond his ecclesiastical rank or social reputation. Whether the humor in this effort was genuinely unintentional or deadpan, it’s a great read for a Borgia history buff who knows better and enjoys the effort. His intricate explanations of how certain alleged poisonings were not humanly possible call to mind the iocaine powder debacle in The Princess Bride.

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