You see Cesare Borgia, now in his nineteenth year, raised to the purple with the title of Cardinal-Deacon of Santa Maria Nuova notwithstanding which, however, he continues to be known in preference, and, indeed, to sign himself by the title of his archbishopric, as Cardinal of Valencia.
It is hardly necessary to mention that, although already Bishop of Pampeluna and Archbishop of Valencia, he had received so far only his first tonsure. He never did receive any ecclesiastical orders beyond the minor and revocable ones.
It was said by Infessura, and has since been repeated by a multitude of historians, upon no better authority than that of this writer on hearsay and inveterate gossip, that, to raise Cesare to the purple, Alexander was forced to prove the legitimacy of that young man's birth, and that to this end he procured false witnesses to swear that he was " the son of Vannozza de' Catanei and her husband, Domenico d'Arignano." Already has this been touched upon in an earlier chapter, where it was shown that Vannozza never had a husband of the name of d'Arignano, and it might reasonably be supposed that this circumstance alone would have sufficed to restrain any serious writer from accepting and repeating Infessura's unauthoritative statement. But if more they needed, it was ready to their hands in the Bull of Sixtus IV of October i, 1480 to which also allusion has been made dispensing Cesare from proving his legitimacy : " Super defectum natalium od ordines et quoecumque beneficia."
Besides that, of what avail would any false swearing have been, considering that Cesare was openly named Borgia, that he was openly acknowledged by his father, and that in the very Bull above mentioned he is stated to be the son of Roderigo Borgia ?
This is another instance of the lightness, the recklessness with which Alexander VI has been accused of unseemly and illicit conduct, which it may not be amiss to mention at this stage, since, if not the accusation itself, at least the matter that occasioned it belongs chronologically here.
During the first months of his reign following in the footsteps of predecessors who had made additions to the Vatican Alexander set about the building of the Borgia Tower. For its decoration he brought Peru gino, Pinturicchio, Volterrano, and Peruzzi to Rome. Concerning Pinturicchio and Alexander, Vasari tells us, in his Vita degli Artefici, that over the door of one of the rooms in the Borgia Tower the artist painted a picture of the Virgin Mary in the likeness of Giulia Farnese (who posed to him as the model) with Alexander kneeling to her in adoration, arrayed in full pontificals.
Such a thing would have been horrible, revolting, sacrilegious. Fortunately it does not even amount to a truth untruly told; and well would it be if all the lies against the Borgias were as easy to refute. True, Pinturicchio did paint Giulia Farnese as the Madonna ; true also that he did paint Alexander kneeling in adoration but not to the Madonna, not in the same picture at all. The Madonna for which Giulia Farnese was the model is over a doorway, as Vasari says. The kneeling Alexander is in another room, and the object of his adoration is the Saviour rising from His tomb.
Yet one reputable writer after another has repeated that lie of Vasari's, and shocked us by the scandalous spectacle of a Pope so debauched and lewd that he kneels in pontificals, in adoration, at the feet of his mistress depicted as the Virgin Mary.
In October of that same year of 1493 Cesare accompanied his father on a visit to Orvieto, a journey which appears to have been partly undertaken in response to an invitation from Giulia Farnese's brother Alessandro.
Orviato was falling at the time into decay and ruin, no longer the prosperous centre it had been less than a hundred years earlier; but the shrewd eye of Alexander perceived its value as a stronghold, to be used as an outpost of Rome or as a refuge in time of danger, and he proceeded to repair and fortify it. In the following summer Cesare was invested with its governorship, at the request of its inhabitants, who sent an embassy to the Pope with their proposal, by way, no doubt, of showing their gratitude for his interest in the town.
But in the meantime, towards the end of 1493, King Ferrante's uneasiness at the ever swelling rumours of the impending French invasion was quickened by the fact that the Pope had not yet sent his son Giuffredo to Naples to marry Donna Sancia, as had been contracted. Ferrante feared the intrigues of Milan with Alexander, and that the latter might be induced, after all, to join the northern league. In a frenzy of apprehension, the old king was at last on the point of going to Milan to throw himself at the feet of Lodovico Sforza, who was now his only hope, when news reached him that his ambassadors had been ordered to leave France.
That death blow to his hopes was a death blow to the man himself. Upon receiving the news he was smitten by an apoplexy, and upon January 25, 1494, he departed this life without the consolation of being able to suppose that any of his schemes had done anything to avert the impending ruin of his house.
In spite of all Alexander's intercessions and representations, calculated to induce Charles VIII to abandon his descent upon Italy ; in spite, no less, of the counsel he received at home from such far seeing men as had his ear, the Christian King was now determined upon the expedition and his preparations were well advanced. In the month of March he assumed the title of King of Sicily, and sent formal intimation of it to Alexander, demanding his investiture at the hands of the Pope and offering to pay him a heavy annual tribute. Alexander was thus given to choose between the wrath of France and the wrath of Naples, and to put the basest construction on his motives he saw that the peril from an enemy on his very frontiers would be more imminent than that of an enemy beyond the Alps. It is also possible that he chose to be guided by his sense of justice and to do in the matter what he considered right. By whatever motive he was prompted, the result was that he refused to accede to the wishes of the Christian King.