Lucrezia Borgia (18 April 1480 – 24 June 1519) was the daughter of Pope Alexander VI and Vanozza dei Cattanei. Her brothers included Cesare Borgia, Giovanni Borgia, and Gioffre Borgia.
Lucrezia’s family later came to epitomize the ruthless Machiavellian politics and sexual corruption characteristic of the Renaissance Papacy. Lucrezia was cast as a femme fatale, a role she has been portrayed as in many artworks, novels, and films.
Very little is known of Lucrezia, and the extent of her complicity in the political machinations of her father and brothers is unclear. They certainly arranged several marriages for her to important or powerful men in order to advance their own political ambitions. Lucrezia was married to Giovanni Sforza (Lord of Pesaro), Alfonso of Aragon (Duke of Bisceglie), and Alfonso I d’Este (Duke of Ferrara). Tradition has it that Alfonso of Aragon was an illegitimate son of the King of Naples and that her brother Cesare may have had him murdered after his political value waned.
Her mother was Vannozza dei Cattanei, one of the mistresses of Lucrezia’s father, Rodrigo Borgia (Pope Alexander VI).
Giulia Farnese (on the right), the Pope’s mistress, had also a close friendship with Lucrezia.
Lucrezia is described as having heavy blonde hair which fell past her knees, a beautiful complexion, hazel eyes which changed colour, a full, high bosom, and a natural grace which made her appear to “walk on air”; these were the physical attributes that were highly appreciated in Italy during that period. Another description said that “her mouth is rather large, the teeth brilliantly white, her neck is slender and fair, and the bust is admirably proportioned”.
Several rumours have persisted throughout the years, primarily speculating as to the nature of the extravagant parties thrown by the Borgia family. Many of these concern allegations of incest, poisoning, and murder on her part; however, no historical basis for these rumours has ever been brought forward beyond allegations made by rival parties. It is rumoured that Lucrezia was in possession of a hollow ring that she used frequently to poison drinks.