cover image The Borgias: Power and Depravity in Renaissance Italy

The Borgias: Power and Depravity in Renaissance Italy

Paul Strathern. Pegasus, $28.95 (384p) ISBN 978-1-64313-083-5

In this accessible look behind the curtain, novelist and historian Strathern (The Medici: Power, Money, and Ambition in the Italian Renaissance) lays out the history of the infamous Italian clan, whose members included popes and political leaders during the Renaissance. Strathern follows the family line, beginning with the first Borgia pope, Callixtus III, Alfons de Borja (1378–1458); through his nephew Roderigo’s appointment to his papacy as Pope Alexander VI in 1492; to the death of his great-nephew Cesare Borgia, who inspired Machiavelli’s The Prince. While Strathern acknowledges it’s difficult to separate truth “from the exaggerations of rumor and gossip,” depravity and power are linked inextricably with this family’s history—the seven cardinal sins appear in abundance. Financial shenanigans multiply, from “the first time that the papacy had simply been bought outright” and transactions that resemble today’s off-shore banking to Alexander VI’s confiscation of all Jewish property. The Borgia reputation for prolific, promiscuous, and sometimes incestuous sexual misconduct is amply delineated. Alliances with city-states (Florence, Genoa, Naples, Venice) and nations (France) come and go, as do battles, and passages on the intrigues of papal conclaves and diplomatic machinations are lucidly rendered. Strathern makes a tangled and thorny history readable in this solid, workmanlike book. [em](Aug.) [/em]