Cesare left Cesena very early on the morning of December 26 the morning of Ramiro's execution and by the 29th he was at Fano, where he received the envoys who came from Ancona with protestations of loyalty, as well as a messenger from Vitellozzo Vitelli, who brought him news of the surrender of Sinigaglia. The citadel itself was still being held by Andrea Doria the same who was afterwards to become so famous in Genoa; this, it was stated, was solely because Doria desired to make surrender to the duke himself. The Prefectress, Giovanna da Monte feltre, had already departed from the city, which she ruled as regent for her eleven year old boy, and had gone by sea to Venice.
The duke returned answer to Vitelli that he would be in Sinigaglia himself upon the morrow, and he invited the condottieri to receive him there, since he was decided to possess himself of the citadel at once, whether Doria chose to surrender it peacefully or not; and that, to provide for emergencies, he would bring his artillery with him. Lastly, Vitelli was bidden to prepare quarters within the new town for the troops that would accompany Cesare. To do this it was necessary to dispose the soldiers of Oliverotto da Fermo in the borgo. These were the only troops with the condottieri in Sinigaglia ; the remainder of their forces were quartered in the strongholds of the territory at distances of from five to seven miles of the town.
On the last day of that year 1502 Cesare Borgia appeared before Sinigaglia to receive the homage of those men who had used him so treacherously, and whom with the exception of Paolo Orsini he now met face to face for the first time since their rebellion. Here were Francesco Orsini, Duke of Gravina, with Paolo and the latter's son Fabio; here was Oliverotto, the ruffianly Lord of Fermo, who had won his lordship by the cold blooded murder of his kinsman, and concerning whom a rumour ran in Rome that Cesare had sworn to choke him with his own hands; and here was Vitellozzo Vitelli, the arch traitor of them all.
Gianpaolo Baglioni was absent through illness a matter less fatal to him than was their health to those who were present and the Cardinal and Giulio Orsini were in Rome.
Were these captains mad to suppose that such a man as Cesare Borgia could so forget the wrong they had done him, and forgive them in this easy fashion, exacting no amends ? Were they mad to suppose that, after such proofs as they had given him of what manner of faith they kept, he would trust them hereafter with their lives to work further mischief against him ? (Well might Macchiavelli have marvelled when he beheld the terms of the treaty the duke had made with them.) Were they mad to imagine that one so crafty as Valentinois would so place himself into their hands the hands of men who had sworn his ruin and death ? Truly, mad they must have been rendered so by the gods who would destroy them.
The tale of that happening is graphically told by the pen of the admiring Macchiavelli, who names the affair " II Bellissimo Inganno." That he so named it should suffice us and restrain us from criticisms of our own, accepting that criticism of his. To us, judged from our modern standpoint, the affair of Sinigaglia is the last word in treachery and iscariotism. But you are here concerned with the standpoint of the Cinquecento, and that standpoint Macchiavelli gives you when he describes this business as " the beautiful stratagem." To offer judgment in despite of that is to commit a fatuity, which too often already has been committed.
Here, then, is Macchiavelli's story of the event :
On the morning of December 31 Cesare's army, composed of 10,000 foot and 3,000 horse,1 was drawn up on the banks of the River Metauro some five miles from Sinigaglia in accordance with his orders, awaiting his arrival. He came at daybreak, and immediately ordered forward 200 lances under the command of Don Michele da Corella ; he bade the foot to march after these, and himself brought up the rear with the main body of the horse.
In Sinigaglia, as we have seen, the condottieri had only the troops of Oliverotto 1,000 foot and 150 horse which had been quartered in the borgo, and were now drawn up in the market place, Oliverotto at their head, to do honour to the duke.
As the horse under Don Michele gained the little river Misa and the bridge that spanned it, almost directly opposite to the gates of Sinigaglia, their captain halted them and drew them up into two files, between which a lane was opened. Through this the foot went forward and straight into the town, and after came Cesare himself, a graceful, youthful figure, resplendent in full armour at the head of his lances. To meet him advanced now the three Orsini and Vitellozzo Vitelli. Macchiavelli tells us of the latter's uneasiness, of his premonitions of evil, and the farewells (all of which Macchiavelli had afterwards heard reported) which he had taken of his family before coming to Sinigaglia. Probably these are no more than the stories that grow up about such men after such an event as that which was about to happen.
1 This is Macchiavelli's report of the forces; but it appears to be an exaggeration, for, upon leaving Cesena, Cesare does not appear to have commanded more than 10,000 men in all.
The condottieri came unarmed, Vitelli mounted on a mule, wearing a cloak with a green lining. In that group he is the only man deserving of any respect or pity a victim of his sense of duty to his family, driven to his rebellion and faithlessness to Valentinois by his consuming desire to avenge his brother's death upon the Florentines. The others were poor creatures, incapable even of keeping faith with one another. Paolo Orsini was actually said to be in secret concert with Valentinois since his mission to him at Imola, and to have accepted heavy bribes from him. Oliverotto you have seen at work, making a holocaust of his family and friends under the base spur of his cupidity; whilst of the absent ones, Pandolfo Petrucci alone was a man of any steadfastness and honesty.