Review: The Borgias: The Hidden History

The Borgias: The Hidden History
The Borgias: The Hidden History by G.J. Meyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve made a point of reading just about every Borgia book I can get my hands on. This has included some that were so old that some of the information presented should not be taken seriously under any circumstances. Since we are always gathering additional historical evidence, naturally I wanted to read Meyer’s book as soon as I heard it was an updated history of the Borgias. Also, I was hoping to gather some information I could use for the Borgia novels I’m working on.

As a history book, it ranks among the most informative when it comes to the Borgias. The book starts with Calixtus and travels all the way down to Cesare. The biggest disappointment with this book comes from the cut off before we really start to delve into Lucrezia‘s third marriage. There seems to be this misconception that Lucrezia’s third marriage was not interesting enough for the historical record, or perhaps in this case, it was simply a belief that the information surrounding her third marriage is mostly accurate. This book is about cleansing the Borgia name, to take the myths and replace them with facts. Along the way, Meyer mentions specific incidents that most Borgia researchers are familiar with and dismantles them with opposing evidence, from the orgies supposedly held by Rodrigo Borgia to the fact that Lucrezia and Cesare were his children.

Perhaps it’s because I’m not Catholic, but I don’t understand how having children precludes you from being a good Pope. Obviously, it means you didn’t quite follow the rules correctly back when you were a Cardinal, but I don’t see how it could possibly prevent someone from being a strong leader, regardless of whether the children were acknowledged.

One of the things that unfortunately deterred me from this work was that we are supposed to believe that the rumors about the Borgias are lies because the sources were not always necessarily credible. For instance, Rodrigo did not have a mistress, nor was Lucrezia unfaithful to Alfonso d’Este. We are asked to put aside our preconceived notions of the matter and look at the hard evidence before we jump to any judgmental conclusions. The entire book is based around this premise. Yet when it comes to people who are not the Borgias, we are to believe the rumors. Specifically, della Rovere was nothing more than a jealous, blood-thirsty bastard and Sancia was a whore who slept with half of Rome. Seriously. Half of Rome. If we are supposed to believe that the stories of the Borgias were nothing more than unreliable rumors from Borgia enemies, and that a vast majority of the source material is not to be trusted, how are we then to turn around and judge other historical figures based on the same principal? Rumors. Stories. The sad truth remains that there is no way to validate any of these claims of any of the people who lived during the time unless you have invented a time machine. So why are we supposed to assume the Borgias are innocent, but the people who are not the Borgias are guilty?

The biggest disappointment in this book was the blatant disregard for the television series. You know the one, the one they were marketing the book with by making the release date close to the season 3 premiere? The show that is possibly going to give Meyer a good portion of non-historian readers because they wanted to learn the real history behind the show. Granted, if you don’t like the show, you don’t like the show. However, it seems like Meyer has not even watched the show since he seems to think that Rodrigo Borgia is portrayed as a monster, when, fans could tell you, he’s played as a multi-faceted human being.

Other than that, it’s a thorough history (of the males), and the information on the Borgias themselves is incredibly well-researched and thought out. I just ask that while you are reading it, you keep the same open mind towards the other historical figures that Meyer asks you to keep towards the Borgias.

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