This section is from the book "The Life Of Cesare Borgia", by Rafael Sabatini. Also available from Amazon: The Life of Cesare Borgia.
Unfortunate Naples was a battle field once more. France and Spain were engaged there in a war whose details belong elsewhere.
To the aid of France, which was hard beset and with whose arms things were going none too well, Cesare was summoned to fulfil the obligations under which he was placed by virtue of his treaty with King Louis.
Rumours were rife that he was negotiating secretly with Gonzalo de Cordoba, the Great Captain, and the truth of whether or not he was guilty of so base a treachery has never been discovered. These rumours had been abroad since May, and, if not arising out of, they were certainly stimulated by, an edict published by Valentinois concerning the papal chamberlain, Francesco Troche. In this edict Cesare enjoined all subjects of the Holy See to arrest, wherever found, this man who had fled from Rome, and whose flight " was concerned with something against the honour of the King of France. "
Francesco Troche had been Alexander's confidential chamberlain and secretary ; he had been a diligent servant of the House of Borgia, and when in France had acted as a spy for Valentinois, keeping the duke supplied with valuable information at a critical time, as we have seen.
Villari says of him that he was " one of the Borgias' most trusted assassins." That he has never been so much as alleged to have murdered anyone does not signify. He was a servant a trusted servant of the Borgias ; therefore the title of " assassin " is, ipso facto, to be bestowed upon him.
The flight of a man holding such an intimate position as Troche's was naturally a subject of much speculation and gossip, but a matter upon which there was no knowledge. Valentinois was ever secret. In common with his father though hardly in so marked a degree, and if we except the case of the scurrilous Letter to Silvio Savelli he showed a contemptuous indifference to public opinion on the whole which is invested almost with a certain greatness. At least it is rarely other than with greatness that we find such an indifference associated. It was not for him to take the world into his confidence in matters with which the world was not concerned. Let the scandalmongers draw what inferences they pleased. It was a lofty and dignified procedure, but one that was fraught with peril; and the Borgias have never ceased to pay the price of that excessive dignity of reserve. For tongues must be wagging, and, where knowledge is lacking, speculation will soon usurp its place, and presently be invested with all the authority of " fact."
Out of surmises touching that matter " which concerned the honour of the King of France" grew presently and contradictorily the rumour that Troche was gone to betray to France Valentinois's intention of going over to the Spanish side. A motive was certainly required to account for Troche's action ; but the invention of motives does not appear ever to have troubled the Cinquecentist.
It was now said that Troche was enraged at having been omitted from the list of cardinals to be created at the forthcoming Consistory. It is all mystery, even to the end he made ; for, whereas some said that, after being seized on board a ship that was bound for Corsica, Troche in his despair threw himself overboard and was drowned, others reported that he was brought back to Rome and strangled in a prison in Trastevere.
The following questions crave answer : If it was Troche's design to betray such a treachery of the Borgias against France, what was he doing on board a vessel bound for Corsica a fortnight after his flight from Rome ? Would not his proper goal have been the French camp in Naples, which he could have reached in a quarter of that time, and where not only could he have vented his desire for vengeance by betraying Alexander and Valentinois, but he could further have found complete protection from pursuit ?
It is idle and unprofitable to dwell further upon the end of Francesco Troche. The matter is a complete mystery, and whilst theory is very well as theory, it is dangerous to cause it to fill the place of fact.
Troche was drowned or was strangled as a consequence of his having fled out of motives that were " against the honour of the King of France." And straightway the rumour spread of Valentinois's intended treachery, and the rumour was kept alive and swelled by Venice and Florence in pursuit of their never ceasing policy of discrediting Cesare with King Louis, to the end that they might encompass his expedient ruin.
The lie was given to them to no small extent by the Pope, when, in the Consistory of July 28, he announced Cesare's departure to join the French army in Naples with five hundred horse and two thousand foot assembled for the purpose.
For this Cesare made now his preparations, and on the eve of departure he went with his father on the evening of August 5 to sup at the villa of Cardinal Adriano Corneto, outside Rome.
Once before we have seen him supping at a villa of the Suburra on the eve of setting out for Naples, and we know the tragedy that followed a tragedy which he has been accused of having brought about. Here again, in a villa of the Suburra, at a supper on the eve of setting out for Naples, Death was the unseen guest.
They stayed late at the vineyard of Cardinal Cor neto, enjoying the treacherous cool of the evening, breathing the death that was omnipresent in Rome that summer, the pestilential fever which had smitten Cardinal Giovanni Borgia (Seniore) on the 1st of that month, and of which men were dying every day in the most alarming numbers.
On the morning of Saturday 12, Burchard tells us, the Pope felt ill, and that evening he was taken with fever. On the 15 th Burchard records that he was bled, thirteen ounces of blood being taken from him. It relieved him somewhat, and, seeking distraction, he bade some of the cardinals to come and sit by his bed and play at cards.
Meanwhile, Cesare was also stricken, and in him the fever raged so fierce and violently that he had himself immersed to the neck in a huge jar of ice cold water a drastic treatment in consequence of which he came to shed all the skin from his body.