If the people of Medina organized a pursuit it availed them nothing, for Cesare was carried safely to Benavente's stronghold at Villalon.
There he lay for some five or six weeks to recover from the hurts he had taken in escaping, and to allow his hands the bones of which were broken to become whole again. At last, being in the main recovered, though with hands still bandaged, he set out with two attendants and made for Santander. Thence they took ship to Castro Urdiales, Cesare aiming now at reaching the kingdom of Navarre and the protection of his brother in law the king.
At the inn at Santander, where, weary and famished, they sat down to dine after one of the grooms had made arrangements for a boat, they had a near escape of capture. The alcalde, hearing of the presence of these strangers, and his suspicions being aroused by the recklessly high price they had agreed to pay the owner of the vessel which they had engaged, came to examine them. But they had a tale ready that they were wheat merchants in great haste to reach Bernico, that a cargo of wheat awaited them there, and that they would suffer great loss by delay. The tale was smooth enough to satisfy the alcalde, and they were allowed to depart. They reached Castro Urdiales safely, but were delayed there for two days, owing to the total lack of horses ; and they were forced, in the end, to proceed upon mules obtained from a neighbouring convent. On these they rode to Durango, where they procured two fresh mules and a horse, and so, after further similar vicissitudes, they arrived at Pampeluna on December 3, 1506, and Cesare startled the Court of his brother in law, King Jean of Navarre, by suddenly appearing in it " like the devil."
The news of his evasion had already spread to Italy and set it in a ferment, inspiring actual fear at the Vatican. The Romagna was encouraged by it to break out into open and armed insurrection against the harsh rule of Julius II who seems to have been rendered positively vindictive towards the Romagnuoli by their fidelity to Valentinois. Thus had the Romagna fallen again into the old state of insufferable oppression from which Cesare had once delivered it. The hopes of the Romagnuoli rose in a measure, as the alarm spread among the enemies of Cesare for Florence and Venice shared now the anxiety of the Vatican. Zurita, commenting upon this state of things, pays Cesare the following compliment, which the facts confirm as just :
" The duke was such that his very presence was enough to set all Italy agog ; and he was greatly beloved, not only by men of war, but also by many people of Tuscany and of the States of the Church."
Cesare's wife Charlotte d'Albret whom he had not seen since that September of 1499, was at Bourges at the Court of her friend, the saintly, repudiated first wife of Louis XII. It is to be supposed that she would be advised of her husband's presence at her brother's Court; but there is no information on this score, nor do we know that they ever met.
Within four days of reaching Pampeluna Cesare dispatched his secretary Federico into Italy to bear the news of his escape to his sister Lucrezia at Ferrara, and a letter to Francesco Gonzaga, of Mantua, which was little more than one of introduction, the more important matters to be conveyed to Gonzaga going, no doubt, by word of mouth. Federico was arrested at Bologna by order of Julius II, after he had discharged his mission.
France was now Cesare's only hope, and he wrote to Louis begging his royal leave to come to take his rank as a prince of that country, and to serve her.
You may justly have opined, long since, that the story here set down is one never ending record of treacheries and betrayals. But you will find little to surpass the one to come. The behaviour of Louis at this juncture is contemptible beyond words, obeying as it does the maxim of that age, which had it that no inconvenient engagement should be observed if there was opportunity for breaking it.
Following this detestable maxim, Louis XII had actually gone the length of never paying to Charlotte d'Albret the dot of 100,000 livres Tournois, to which he had engaged himself by written contract. When Cesare, in prison at Medina and in straits for money, had solicited payment through his brother in law of Navarre, his claim had been contemptuously disregarded.
But there was worse to follow. Louis now answered Cesare's request for leave to come to France by a letter (quoted in full by M. Yriarte from the Archives des Basses Pyrenees) in which his Very Christian Majesty announces that the duchy of Valentinois and the County of Dyois have been restored to the crown of France, as also the lordship of Issoudun. And then follows the pretext, of whose basely paltry quality you shall judge for yourselves. It runs :
" After the decease of the late Pope Alexander, when our people and our army were seeking the recovery of the kingdom of Naples, he [Cesare] went over to the side of our enemies, serving, favouring, and assisting them at arms and otherwise against ourselves and our said people and army, which resulted to us in great and irrecoverable loss"
The climax is in the deliberate falsehood contained in the closing words. Poor Cesare, who had served France at her call in spite of what was rumoured of his intentions as long as he had a man at arms to follow him, had gone to Naples only in the hour of his extreme need. True, he had gone to offer himself to Spain as a condottiero when naught else was left to him ; but he took no army with him he went alone, a servant, not an ally, as that false letter pretends. He had never come to draw his sword against France, and certainly no loss had been suffered by France in consequence of any action of his. Louis's army was definitely routed at Garigliano, with Cesare's troops fighting in its ranks.
But Pope Alexander was dead ; Cesare's might in in Italy was dissipated ; his credit gone. There lay no profit for Louis in keeping faith with him ; there lay some profit in breaking it. Alas, that a king should stain his honour with base and vulgar lies to minister to his cupidity, and that he should set them down above his seal and signature to shame him through centuries still in the womb of Time!