The fever that racked Cesare Borgia's body in those days can have been as nothing to the fever that racked his mind, the despairing rage that must have whelmed his soul to see the unexpected the one contingency against which he had not provided cutting the very ground from underneath his feet.
As he afterwards expressed himself to Macchiavelli, and as Macchiavelli has left on record, Cesare had thought of everything, had provided for everything that might happen on his father's death, save that in such a season when more than ever he should have need for all his strength of body and of mind he should, himself, be lying at the point of death.
Scarce was Alexander's body cold than the duke's enemies began to lift their heads. Already by the 20th of that month two days after the Pope had breathed his last the Orsini were in arms and had led a rising, in retort to which Michele da Corella fired their palace on Montegiordano.
Venice and Florence bethought them that the protection of France had been expressly for the Church and not for Cesare personally. So the Venetians at once supplied Guidobaldo da Montefeltre with troops wherewith to reconquer his dominions, and by the 24th he was master of S. Leo. In the city of Urbino itself Ramires, the governor, held out as long as possible, then beat a retreat to Cesena, whilst Valentinois's partisans in Urbino were mercilessly slaughtered and their houses pillaged.
Florence supported the Baglioni in the conquest of Magione from the Borgias, and they aided Giacopo d'Appiano to repossess himself of Piombino, which had so gladly seen him depart out of it eighteen months ago.
From Magione, Gianpaolo Baglioni marches his Florentine troops to Camerino to aid the only remaining Varano to regain the tyranny of his fathers. The Vitelli are back in Citta di Castello, carrying a golden calf in triumph through the streets; and so by the end of August, within less than a fortnight, all the appendages of the Romagna are lost to Cesare, whilst at Cesare's very gates the Orsini men at arms are clamouring with insistent menace.
The Duke's best friend, in that crisis, was his secretary Agabito Gherardi. For it is eminently probable as Alvisi opines that it was Gherardi who urged his master to make an alliance with the Colonna, Gherardi himself being related to that powerful family. The alliance of these old enemies Colonna and Borgia was in their common interests, that they might stand against their common enemy, Orsini the old friends of the Borgias.
On August 22 Prospero Colonna came to Rome, and terms were made and cemented, in the usual manner, by a betrothal that of the little Rodrigo (Lucrezia's child) to a daughter of the House of Colonna. On the same day the Sacred College confirmed Cesare in his office of Captain-General and Gonfalonier of the Church, pending the election of a new Pope.
Meanwhile, sick almost to the point of death, and scarce able to stir hand or foot, so weak in body had he been left by the heroic treatment to which he had submitted, Cesare continued mentally a miracle of energy and self possession. He issued orders for the fortifying of the Vatican, and summoned from Romagna 200 horse and 1,000 foot to his aid in Rome, bidding Remolino, who brought these troops, to quarter himself at Orvieto, and there await his further orders.
Considering that the Colonna were fighting in Naples under the banner of Gonzalo de Cordoba, it was naturally enough supposed, from Cesare's alliance with the former, that this time he was resolved to go over to the side of Spain. Of this, M. de Trans came to protest to Valentinois on behalf of Louis XII, to be answered by the duke's assurances that the alliance into which he had entered was strictly confined to the Colonna, that it entailed no treaty with Spain; nor had he entered into any ; that his loyalty to the King of France continued unimpaired, and that he was ready to support King Louis with the entire forces he disposed of, whenever his Majesty should desire him so to do. In reply, he was assured by the French ambassador and Cardinal Sanseverino of the continued protection of Louis, and that France would aid him to maintain his dominions in Italy and reconquer any that might have seceded ; and of this declaration copies were sent to Florence, Venice, and Bologna on September I, as a warning to those Powers not to engage in anything to the hurt of Valentinois.
Thus sped the time of the novendiali the nine days' obsequies of the dead Pope which were commenced on September 4.
As during the conclave that was immediately to follow it was against the law for armed men to be in Rome, Cesare was desired by the Sacred College to withdraw his troops. He did so on September 2, and himself went with them.
Cardinal Sanseverino and the French ambassador escorted him out of Rome and saw him take the road to Nepi a weak, fever ravaged, emaciated man, borne in a litter by a dozen of his halberdiers, his youth, his beauty, his matchless strength of body all sapped from him by the insidious disease which had but grudgingly spared his very life.
At Nepi he was awaited by his brother Giuffredo, who had preceded him thither from Rome. A shadowy personage this Giuffredo, whose unimportant personality is tantalizingly elusive in the pages where mention is made of him. His incontinent wife, Dona Sancia, had gone to Naples under the escort of Prospero Colonna, having left the Castle of Sant 'Angelo where for some time she had been confined by order of her father in law, the Pope, on account of the disorders of her frivolous life.
And now the advices of the fresh treaty between Cesare Borgia and the King of France were producing their effect upon Venice and Florence, who were given additional pause by the fierce jealousy of each other, which was second only to their jealousy of the duke.
From Venice with or without the sanction of his Government Bartolomeo d'Alviano had ridden south into the Romagna with his condotta immediately upon receiving news of the death of Alexander, and, finding Pandolfaccio Malatesta at Ravenna, he proceeded to accompany him back to that Rimini which the tyrant had sold to Cesare. Rimini, however, refused to receive him back, and showed fight to the forces under d'Alviano. So that, for the moment, nothing was accomplished. Whereupon the Republic, which at first had raised a feeble, make believe protest at the action of her condottiero, now deemed it as well to find a pretext for supporting him. So Venice alleged that a courier of hers had been stripped of a letter, and, with such an overwhelming cause as that for hostilities, dispatched reinforcements to d'Alviano to the end that he might restore Pandolfaccio to a dominion in which he was abhorred. Further, d'Alviano was thereafter to proceed to do the like office for Giovanni Sforza, who already had taken ship for Pesaro, and who was restored to his lordship on September 3.