We come now to the consideration of an event which, despite the light that so many, and with such assurance, have shed upon it, remains wrapped in uncertainty, and presents a mystery second only to that of the murder of the Duke of Gandia.
It was, you will remember, in July of 1498 that Lucrezia took a second husband in Alfonso of Aragon, the natural son of Alfonso II of Naples and nephew of Federigo, the reigning king. He was a handsome boy of seventeen at the time of his marriage one year younger than Lucrezia and, in honour of the event and in compliance with the Pope's insistence, he was created by his uncle Duke of Biselli and Prince of Salerno. On every hand the marriage was said to be a love match, and of it had been born, in November of 1499, the boy Roderigo.
On July 15, 1500, at about the third hour of the night, Alfonso was assaulted and grievously wounded mortally, it was said at first on the steps of St. Peter's.
Burchard's account of the affair is that the young prince was assailed by several assassins, who wounded him in the head, right arm, and knee. Leaving him, no doubt, for dead, they fled down the steps, at the foot of which some forty horsemen awaited them, who escorted them out of the city by the Pertusa Gate. The prince was residing in the palace of the Cardinal of Santa Maria in Portico, but so desperate was his condition that those who found him upon the steps of the Basilica bore him into the Vatican, where he was taken to a chamber of the Borgia Tower, whilst the Cardinal of Capua at once gave him absolution in articulo mortis.
The deed made a great stir in Rome, and was, of course, the subject of immediate gossip, and three days later Cesare issued an edict forbidding, under pain of death, any man from going armed between Sant' Angelo and the Vatican.
News of the event was carried immediately to Naples, and King Federigo sent his own physician, Galieno, to treat and tend his nephew. In the care of that doctor and a hunchback assistant, Alfonso lay ill of his wounds until August 17, when suddenly he died, to the great astonishment of Rome, which for some time had believed him out of danger. In recording his actual death, Burchard is at once explicit and reticent to an extraordinary degree. " Not dying," he writes, " from the wound he had taken, he was yesterday strangled in his bed at the nineteenth hour."
Between the chronicling of his having been wounded on the steps of St. Peter's and that of his death, thirty three days later, there is no entry in Burchard's diary relating to the prince, nor anything that can in any way help the inquirer to a conclusion ; whilst, on the subject of the strangling, not another word does the Master of Ceremonies add to what has above been quoted. That he should so coldly almost cynically state that Alfonso was strangled, without so much as suggesting by whom, is singular in one who, however grimly laconic, is seldom reticent notwithstanding that he may have been so accounted by those who despaired of finding in his diary the confirmation of such points of view as they happen to have chosen and of such matters as it pleased them to believe and propagate.
That same evening Alfonso's body was borne, without pomp, to St. Peter's, and placed in the Chapel of Santa Maria delle Febbre. It was accompanied by Francesco Borgia, Archbishop of Cosenza.
The doctor who had been in attendance upon the deceased and the hunchback were seized, taken to Sant'Angelo and examined, but shortly thereafter set at liberty.
So far we are upon what we may consider safe ground. Beyond that we cannot go, save by treading the uncertain ways of speculation, and by following the accounts of the various rumours circulated at the time. Formal and absolutely positive evidence of the author of Alfonso's murder there is none.
The Venetian ambassador, the ineffable, gossip mongering Paolo Capello, whom we have seen possessed of the fullest details concerning the Duke of Gandia's death although he did not come to Rome until two and a half years after the crime is again as circumstantial in this instance. You sec in this Capello the forerunner of the modern journalist of the baser sort, the creature who prowls in quest of scraps of gossip and items of scandal, and who, having found them, does not concern himself greatly in the matter of their absolute truth so that they provide him with sensational " copy." It is this same Capello, bear in mind, who gives us the story of Cesare's murdering in the Pope's very arms that Pedro Caldes who is elsewhere shown to have fallen into Tiber and been drowned, down to the lurid details of the blood's spurting into the Pope's face.
His famous Relazione to the Senate in September of 1500 is little better than an epitome of all the scandal current in Rome during his sojourn there as ambassador, and his resurrection of the old affair of the murder of Gandia goes some way towards showing the spirit by which he was actuated and his love of sensational matter. It has pleased most writers who have dealt with the matter of the murder of Alfonso of Aragon to follow Capello's statements; consequently these must be examined.
He writes from Rome as recorded by Sanuto that on July 16 Alfonso of Biselli was assaulted on the steps of St. Peter's, and received four wounds, " one in the head, one in the arm, one in the shoulder, and one in the back." That was all that was known to Capello at the time he wrote that letter, and you will observe already the discrepancy between his statement, penned upon hearsay, and Burchard's account which, considering the latter's position at the Vatican, must always be preferred. According to Burchard the wounds were three, and they were in the head, right arm, and knee.
On the 19th Capello writes again, and, having stated that Lucrezia who was really prostrate with grief at her husband's death was stricken with fever, adds that " it is not known who has. wounded the Duke of Biselli, but it is said that it was the same who killed and threw into Tiber the Duke of Gandia. My Lord of Valentinois has issued an edict that no one shall henceforth bear arms between Sant' Angelo and the Vatican."