Giulia Farnese (1474 – 23 March 1524) was mistress to Pope Alexander VI. She was known as Giulia la bella, meaning “Julia the beautiful” in Italian. Lorenzo Pucci described her as “most lovely to behold.”
On 21 May 1489, she married Orsino Orsini in Rome (the signing of the marriage contract had taken place the previous day). Her dowry for the match was 3,000 gold florins (around US$500,000). Orsini, who was described as being squint-eyed and devoid of any meaningful self-confidence, was the stepson of Adriana de Mila. Adriana de Mila was a third cousin of Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, who was then Vice-Chancellor of the Church. According to Maria Bellonci, it is uncertain when Rodrigo Borgio (Pope Alexander VI) fell passionately in love with Giulia and decided to make her his mistress. What is known is that Adriana de Mila eventually gave her approval to Rodrigo Borgia and Giulia Farnese’s relationship in order to win a higher status for her son with the Vatican.
By November 1493, Giulia was living with Adriana de Mila and the Pope’s daughter Lucrezia Borgia in a recently built palace next to the Vatican from where the Pope could easily make his clandestine visits. The affair was widely known among the gossips of the time, and Giulia was referred to as “the Pope’s whore” or sarcastically as “the bride of Christ.” Giulia and Lucrezia became close friends. Vanozza, the Pope’s wife was not happy about Giulia’s affair with her husband, of course.
Giulia had a daughter whom she named Laura. It is not clear whether Laura’s father was Orsino or Alexander. Maria Bellonci believes that there is evidence that she did have a physical relationship with her husband. Whatever the case may be, Giulia claimed that Laura was indeed the Pope’s daughter, but this may have been to raise the status of the child for future marriage considerations.
Giulia remained the Pope’s mistress until 1499 or 1500. At this time, she seems to have fallen out of his favour due to her age. Bellonci believes that the break between the two was probably made amicably with the help of Adriana de Mila. Her husband also died around this time. She then moved to Carbognano, which is not far from Rome. This town had been given to Orsino by Alexander VI. Alexander himself died three years later.
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