" According to the general opinion of the day, which in all probability was correct, Cesare was the murderer of his brother."
Thus Gregorovius in his Lucrezia Borgia. A deliberate misstatement! For, as we have been at pains to show, not until the crime had been fastened upon everybody whom public opinion could conceive to be a possible assassin, not until nearly a year after Gandia's death did rumour for the first time connect Cesare with the deed. Until then the ambassadors' letters from Rome in dealing with the murder and reporting speculation upon possible murderers never make a single allusion to Cesare as the guilty person.
Later, when once it had been bruited, it found its way into the writings of every defamer of the Borgias, and from several of these it is taken by Gregorovius to help him uphold that theory.
Two motives were urged for the crime. One was Cesare's envy of his brother, whom he desired to supplant as a secular prince, fretting in the cassock imposed upon himself which restrained his unbounded ambition. The other and no epoch but this one under consideration, in its reaction from the age of chivalry, could have dared to level it without a careful examination of its sources was Cesare's jealousy, springing from the incestuous love for their sister Lucrezia, which he is alleged to have disputed with his brother. Thus, as l'Espinois has pointed out, to convict Cesare Borgia of a crime which cannot absolutely be proved against him, all that is necessary is that he should be charged with another crime still more horrible of which even less proof exists.
This latter motive, it is true, is rejected by Gregorovius. " Our sense of honesty," he writes, " repels us from attaching faith to the belief spread in that most corrupt age." Yet the authorities urging one motive are commonly those urging the other, and Gregorovius quotes those that suit him, without considering that, if he is convinced they lie in one connection, he has not the right to assume them truthful in another.
The contemporary, or quasi contemporary writers upon whose " authority " it is usual to show that Cesare Borgia was guilty of both those revolting crimes are : Sanazzaro, Capello, Macchiavelli, Matarazzo, Sanuto, Pietro Martire d'Anghiera, Guicciar dini, and Panvinio.
A formidable array! But consider them, one by one, at close quarters, and take a critical look at what they actually wrote :
Sanazzaro was a Neapolitan poet and epigrammatist, who could not his times being what they were be expected to overlook the fact that in these slanderous rumours of incest was excellent matter for epigrammatical verse. Therefore, he crystallized them into lines which, whilst doing credit to his wit, reveal his brutal cruelty. No one will seriously suppose that such a man would be concerned with the veracity of the matter of his verses even leaving out of the question his enmity towards the House of Borgia, which will transpire later. For him a ben trovato was as good matter as a truth, or better. He measured its value by its piquancy, by its adaptability to epigrammatic rhymes.
Conceive the heartlessness of the man who, at the moment of Alexander's awful grief at the murder of his son a grief which so moved even his enemies that the bitter Savonarola, and the scarcely less bitter Cardinal della Rovere, wrote to condole with him could pen that terrible epigram :
Piscatorem hominum ne te non, Sexte, putemus, Piscaris notum retibus ecce tuum.
Consider the ribaldry of that, and ask yourselves whether this is a man who would immolate the chance of a witticism upon the altar of Truth.
It is significant that Sanazzaro, for what he may be worth, confines himself to the gossip of incest. Nowhere does he mention that Cesare was the murderer, and we think that his silence upon the matter, if it shows anything, shows that Cesare's guilt was not so very much the " general opinion of the day," as Gregorovius asks us to believe.
Capello was not in Rome at the time of the murder, nor until three years later, when he merely repeated the rumour that had first sprung up some eight months after the crime.
The precise value of his famous " relation " (in which this matter is recorded, and to which we shall return in its proper place) and the spirit that actuated him is revealed in another accusation of murder which he levels at Cesare, an accusation which, of course, has also been widely disseminated upon no better authority than his own. It is Capello who tells us that Cesare stabbed the chamberlain Perrotto in the Pope's very arms ; he adds the details that the man had fled thither for shelter from Cesare's fury, and that the blood of him, when he was stabbed, spurted up into the very face of the Pope. Where he got the story is not readily surmised unless it be assumed that he evolved it out of his feelings for the Borgias. The only contemporary accounts of the death of this Perrotto or Pedro Caldes, as was his real name state that he fell by accident into the Tiber and was drowned.
Burchard, who could not have failed to know if the stabbing story had been true, and would not have failed to report it, chronicles the fact that Perrotto was fished out of Tiber, having fallen in six days earlier " non libenter." This statement, coming from the pen of the Master of Ceremonies at the Vatican, requires no further corroboration. Yet corroboration there actually is in a letter from Rome of February 20, 1498, quoted by Marino Sanuto in his Diarii. This states that Perrotto had been missing for some days, no one knowing what had become of him, and that now " he has been found drowned in the Tiber."
We mention this, in passing, with the twofold object of slaying another calumny, and revealing the true value of Capello, who happens to be the chief " witness for the prosecution " put forward by Gregorovius. " Is it not of great significance," inquires the German historian, " that the fact should have been related so positively by an ambassador who obtained his knowledge from the best sources ? "