Cesare Borgia, landless, without right to any title, he that had held so many, betrayed and abandoned on every side, had now nothing to offer in the world's market but his stout sword and his glad courage. These went to the first bidder for them, who happened to be his brother in law King Jean.
Navarre at the time was being snarled and quarrelled over by France and Spain, both menacing its independence, each pretending to claims upon it which do not, in themselves, concern us.
In addition, the country itself was torn by two factions the Beaumontes and the Agramontes and it was entrusted to Cesare to restore Navarre to peace and unity at home before proceeding with the aid upon which he depended from the Emperor Maxi-. milian to deal with the enemies beyond her frontiers.
The Castle of Viana. was being held by Louis de Beaumont chief of the faction that bore his name and refused to surrender to the king. To reduce it and compel Beaumont to obedience went Cesare as Captain-General of Navarre, early in February of 1507. He commanded a considerable force, some 10,000 strong, and with this and his cannon he laid siege to the citadel.
The natural strength of the place was such as might have defied any attempt to reduce it by force ; but victuals were running low, and there was every likelihood of its being speedily starved into surrender. To frustrate this, Beaumont conceived the daring plan of attempting to send in supplies from Mendavia. The attempt being made secretly, by night and under a strong escort, was entirely successful; but, in retreating, the Beaumontese were surprised in the dawn of that February morning by a troop of reinforcements coming to Cesare's camp. These, at sight of the rebels, immediately gave the alarm.
The most hopeless confusion ensued in the town, where it was at once imagined that a surprise attack was being made upon the Royalists, and that they had to do with the entire rebel army.
Cesare, being aroused by the din and the blare of trumpets calling men to arms, sprang for his weapons, armed himself in haste, flung himself on a horse, and, without pausing so much as to issue a command to his waiting men at arms, rode headlong down the street to the Puerta del Sol. Under the archway of the gate his horse stumbled and came down with him. With an oath, Cesare wrenched the animal to its feet again, gave it the spur, and was away at a mad, furious gallop in pursuit of the retreating Beaumont rearguard.
The citizens, crowding to the walls of Viana, watched that last reckless ride of his with amazed, uncomprehending eyes. The peeping sun caught his glittering armour as he sped, so that of a sudden he must have seemed to them a thing of fire meteoric, as had been his whole life's trajectory which was now swiftly dipping to its nadir.
Whether he was frenzied with the lust of battle, riding in the reckless manner that was his wont, confident that his men followed, yet too self centred to ascertain, or whether as seems more likely it was simply that his horse had bolted with him, will never be known until all things are known.
Suddenly he was upon the rearguard of the fleeing rebels. His sword flashed up and down; again and again they may have caught the gleam of it from Viana's walls, as he smote the foe. Irresistible as a thunderbolt, he clove himself a way through those Beaumontese. He was alone once more, a flying, dazzling figure of light, away beyond that rearguard which he left scathed and disordered by his furious passage. Still his mad career continued, and he bore down upon the main body of the escort.
Beaumont sat his horse to watch, in such amazement as you may conceive, the wild approach of this unknown rider.
Seeing him unsupported, some of the count's men detached themselves to return and meet this single foe and oblige him with the death he so obviously appeared to seek.
They hedged him about we do not know their number and, engaging him, they drew him from the road and down into the hollow space of a ravine.
And so, in the thirty second year of his age, and in all the glory of his matchless strength, his soul possessed of the lust of combat, sword in hand, warding off the attack that rains upon him, and dealing death about him, he meets his end. From the walls of Viana his resplendent armour renders him still discernible, until, like a sun to its setting, he passes below the rim of that ravine, and is lost to the watcher's view.
Death awaited him amid the shadows of that hollow place.
Unhorsed by now, he fought with no concern for the odds against him, and did sore execution upon his assailants, ere a sword could find an opening in his guard to combine with a gap in his armour and so drive home. That blade had found, maybe, his lungs. Still he swung his sword, swaying now upon his loosening knees. His mouth was full of blood. It was growing dark. His hands began to fail him. He reeled like a drunkard, sapped of strength, and then the end came quickly. Blows unwarded showered upon him now.
He crashed down in all the glory of his rich armour, which those brigand soldiers already coveted. And thus he died mercifully, maybe happily, for he had no time in which to taste the bitterness of death that awful draught which he had forced upon so many.
Within a few moments of his falling, this man who had been a living force, whose word had carried law from the Campagna to the Bolognese, was so much naked, blood smeared carrion for those human vultures stripped him to the skin ; his very shirt must they have. And there, a stark, livid corpse, of no more account than any dog that died last Saturday, they left Cesare Borgia of France, Duke of Romagna and Valentinois, Prince of Andria, and Lord of a dozen Tyrannies.
The body was found there anon by those who so tardily rode after their leader, and his dismayed troopers bore those poor remains to Viana. The king, arriving there that very day, horror stricken at the news and sight that awaited him, ordered Cesare a magnificent funeral, and so he was laid to rest before the High Altar of Sainte Marie de Viane.
To rest ? May the soul of him rest at least, for men Christian men have refused to vouchsafe that privilege to his poor ashes.
Nearly two hundred years later at the close of the seventeenth century, a priest of God and a bishop, one who preached a gospel of love and mercy so infinite that he dared believe by its lights no man to have been damned, came to disturb the dust of Cesare Borgia. This Bishop of Calahorra lineal descendant in soul of that Pharisee who exalted himself in God's House, thrilled with titillations of delicious horror at the desecrating presence of the base publican had his pietist's eyes offended by the slab that marked Cesare Borgia's resting place.1
1 It bore the following legend :
AQUI YACE EN POCA TIERRA AL QUE TODO LE TEMIA EL QUE LA PAZ Y LA GUERRA EN LA SUA MANO TENIA. OH TU QUE VAS A BUSCAR COSAS DIGNAS DE LOAR SI TU LOAS LO MAS DIGNO AQUI PARE TU CAMINO NO CURES DE MAS ANDAR.
which, more or less literally may be Englished as follows: " Here in a little earth, lies one whom all did fear ; one whose hands dispensed both peace and war. Oh, you that go in search of things deserving praise, if you would praise the worthiest, then let your journey end here, nor trouble to go farther."
The pious, Christian bishop had read of this man perhaps that life of him published by the apostate Gregorio Leti under the pen name of Tom maso Tommasi, which had lately seen the light and he ordered the tomb's removal from that holy place. And thus it befell that the ashes of Cesare Borgia were scattered and lost.
Charlotte d'Albret was bereft of her one friend, Queen Jeanne, in that same year of Cesare's death. The Duchess of Valentinois withdrew to La Motte-Feuilly, and for the seven years remaining of her life was never seen other than in mourning; her very house was equipped with sombre, funereal furniture, and so maintained until her end, which supports the view that she had conceived affection and respect for the husband of whom she had seen so little.
On March 14, 1514, that poor lady passed from a life which appears to have offered her few joys.
Louise de Valentinois a handsome damsel of the age of fourteen remained for three years under the tutelage of the Duchess of Angouleme the mother of King Francis I to whom Charlotte d'Albret had entrusted her child. Louise married, at the age of seventeen, Louis de la Tremouille, Prince de Tal mont and Vicomte de Thouars, known as the Knight Sans Peur et Sans Reproche. She maintained some correspondence with her aunt, Lucrezia Borgia, whom she had never seen, and ever signed herself " Louise de Valentinois." At the age of thirty Tremouille having been killed at Pavia she married, in second nuptials, Philippe de Bourbon-Busset.
Lucrezia died in 1519, one year after her mother, Vanozza de' Catanei, with whom she corresponded to the end.