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.