Let us look at these documents. They are letters from ambassadors to their masters ; probably correct, and the more credible since they happen to agree and corroborate one another ; still, not so utterly and absolutely reliable as to suffice to remove the doubts engendered by the no less reliable documents whose evidence contradicts them.
The first letters quoted by Gregorovius are from the ambassador Gianandrea Boccaccio to his master, the Duke of Ferrara, in 1493. In these he mentions Cesare Borgia as being sixteen to seventeen years of age at the time. But the very manner of writing " sixteen to seventeen years " is a common way of vaguely suggesting age rather than positively stating it. So we may pass that evidence over, as of secondary importance.
Next is a letter from Gerardo Saraceni to the Duke of Ferrara, dated October 26,1501, and it is more valuable, claiming as it does to be the relation of something which his Holiness told the writer. It is in the post scriptum that this ambassador says : " The Pope gave me to understand that the said Duchess [Lucrezia Borgia] will complete twenty two years of age next April, and at that same time the Duke of Romagna will complete his twenty sixth year." 1
This certainly fixes the year of Cesare's birth as 1476 ; but we are to remember that Saraceni is speaking of something that the Pope had recently told him ; exactly how recently does not transpire. An error would easily be possible in so far as the age of Cesare is concerned. In so far as the age of Lucrezia is concerned, an error is not only possible, but has actually been committed by Saraceni. At least the age given in his letter is wrong by one year, as we know by a legal document drawn up in February of 1491 Lucrezia's contract of marriage with Don Juan Cherubin de Centelles.2
According to this protocol in old Spanish, dated February 26, 1491, Lucrezia completed her twelfth year on April 19, 1491,3 which definitely and positively gives us the date of her birth as April 19, 1479.
1 " Facendomi intendere che epsa Duchessa e di eta di anni ventidui, li quali finiranno a questo Aprile ; in el qual tempo anche lo Illmo. Duca di Romagna fornira anni ventisei."
2 A contract never executed.
3 " Item mes attenent que dita Dona Lucretia a xviiii de Abril prop, vinent entrara in edat de dotze anys."
A quite extraordinary error is that made by Gregorovius when he says that Lucrezia Borgia was born on April 18, 1480, extraordinary considering that he made it apparently with this very protocol under his eyes, and cites it, in fact (Document IV in the Appendix to his Lucrezia Borgia) as his authority.
To return, however, to Cesare and Giovanni, there is yet another evidence quoted by Gregorovius in support of his contention that the latter was the elder and born in 1474 ; but it is of the same nature and of no more, nor less, value than those already mentioned.
Worthy of more consideration in view of their greater official and legal character are the Ossuna documents, given in the Supplement of the Appendix in Thuasne's edition of Burchard's Diary, namely :
(a) October 1, 1480. A Bull from Sixtus IV, already mentioned, dispensing Cesare from proving his legitimacy. In this he is referred to as in his sixth year " in sexto tuo aetatis anno."
This, assuming Boccaccio's letter to be correct in the matter of April being the month of Cesare's birth, fixes the year of his birth as 1475.
(b) August 16, 1482. A Bull of Sixtus IV, appointing Roderigo Borgia administrator of Cesare's benefices. In this he is mentioned as being seven years of age (i.e., presumably in his eighth year), which again gives us his birth year as 1475.
(c) September 12, 1484. A Bull of Sixtus IV, appointing Cesare treasurer of the Church of Carthage. In this he is mentioned as in his ninth year " in nono tuo aetatis anno." This is at variance with the other two, and gives us 1476 as the year of his birth.
To these evidences, conflicting as they are, may be added Burchard's mention in his diary under date of September 12, 1491, that Cesare was then seventeen years of age. This would make him out to have been born in 1474.
Clearly the matter cannot definitely be settled upon such evidence as we have. All that we can positively assert is that he was born between the years 1474 and 1476, and we cannot, we think, do better for the purposes of this story than assume his birth year to have been 1475.
We know that between those same years, or in one or the other of them, was born Giovanni Borgia ; but just as the same confusion prevails with regard to his exact age, so is it impossible to determine with any finality whether he was Cesare's junior or senior.
The one document that appears to us to be the most important in this connection is that of the inscription on their mother's tomb. This runs :
FAUSTIAE CATHANAE, CESARE VALENTINE, JOHANNA CANDID,
JUFFREDO SCYLATII, ET LUCRETIA FERRARIS DUCIB.
FILIIS NOBILI PROBITATE INSIGNI, RELIGIONE EXIMIA, ETC., ETC.
If Giovanni was, as is claimed, the eldest of her children, why does his name come second ? If Cesare was her second son, why does his name take the first place on that inscription ?
It has been urged that if Cesare was the elder of these two, he, and not Giovanni, would have succeeded to the Duchy of Gandia on the death of Pedro Luis Cardinal Roderigo's eldest son, by an unknown mother. But that does not follow inevitably ; for it is to be remembered that Cesare was already destined for an ecclesiastical career, and it may well be that his father was reluctant to change his plans.
Meanwhile the turbulent reign of Sixtus IV went on, until his ambition to increase his dominions had the result of plunging the whole of Italy into war.
Lorenzo de' Medici had thwarted the Pope's purposes in Romagna, coming to the assistance of Citta di Castello when this was attacked in the Pope's interest by the warlike Giuliano della Rovere. To avenge himself for this, and to remove a formidable obstacle to his family's advancement, the Pope inspired the Pazzi conspiracy against the lives of the famous masters of Florence. The conspiracy failed ; for although Giuliano de' Medici fell stabbed to the heart before Christ's altar, and at the very moment of the elevation of the Host Lorenzo escaped with slight hurt, and, by the very risk to which he had been exposed, rallied the Florentines to him more closely than ever.