In the hour of his need Lodovico Sforza found himself without friends or credit, and he had to pay the price of the sly, faithless egotistical policy he had so long pursued with profit.
His far reaching schemes were flung into confusion because a French king had knocked his brow against a door, and had been succeeded by one who conceived that he had a legal right to the throne of Milan, and the intent and might to enforce it, be the right legal or not. It was in vain now that Lodovico turned to the powers of Italy for assistance, in vain that his cunning set fresh intrigues afoot. His neighbours had found him out long since; he had played fast and loose with them too often, and there was none would trust him now.
Thus he found himself isolated, and in no case to withstand the French avalanche which rolled down upon his duchy. The fall of Milan was a matter of days; of resistance there was practically none. Town after town threw up its gates to the invaders, and Lodovico, seeing himself abandoned on all sides, sought in flight the safety of his own person.
Cesare took no part in the war, which, after all, was no war no more than an armed progress. He was at Lyons with the King, and he did not move into Italy until Louis went to take possession of his new duchy.
Amid the acclamations of the ever fickle mob, hailing him as its deliverer, Louis XII rode triumphantly into Milan on October 6, attended by a little host of princes, including the Prince of Savoy, the Dukes of Montferrat and Ferrara, and the Marquis of Mantua. But the place of honour went to Cesare Borgia, who rode at the king's side, a brilliant and arresting figure. This was the occasion on which Baldassare Castiglione who was in the Marquis of Mantua's suite was moved to such praise of the appearance and gallant bearing of the duke, and of the splendid equipment Of his suite, which outshone those of all that little host of attendant princes.
From this time onward Cesare signs himself " Cesare Borgia of France," and quarters on his shield the golden lilies of France with the red bull of the House of Borgia.
The conditions on which Alexander VI joined the league of France and Venice became apparent at about this time. They were to be gathered from the embassy of his nephew, the Cardinal Giovanni Borgia, to Venice in the middle of September. There the latter announced to the Council of Ten that the Pope's Holiness aimed at the recovery to the Church of those Romagna tyrannies which originally were fiefs of the Holy See and held by her vicars, who, however, had long since repudiated the Pontifical authority, refused the payment of their tributes, and in some instances had even gone so far as to bear arms against the Church.
With one or two exceptions the violent and evil misgovernment of these turbulent princelings was a scandal to all Italy. They ruled by rapine and murder, and rendered Romagna little better than a nest of brigands. Their state of secession from the Holy See arose largely out of the nepotism practised by the last Popes a nepotism writers are too prone to overlook when charging Alexander with the same abuse. Such Popes as Sixtus IV and Innocent VIII had broken up the States of the Church that they might endow their children and their nephews. The nepotism of such as these never had any result but to impoverish the Holy See; whilst, on the other hand, the nepotism of Alexander this Pope who is held up to obloquy as the archetype of the nepotist had a tendency rather to enrich it. It was not to the States of the Church, not by easy ways of plundering the territories of the Holy See, that he turned to found dominions and dynasties for his children. He went beyond and outside of them, employing princely alliances as the means to his ends. Gandia was a duke in Spain ; Giuffredo a prince in Naples, and Cesare a duke in France. For none of these could it be said that territories had been filched from Rome, whilst the alliances made for them were such as tended to strengthen the power of the Pope, and, therefore, of the Church.
The reconsolidation of the States of the Church, the recovery of her full temporal power, which his predecessors had so grievously dissipated, had ever been Alexander's aim ; Louis XII afforded him, at last, his opportunity, since with French aid the thing now might be attempted.
His son Cesare was the Hercules to whom was to be given the labour of cleaning out the Augean stable of the Romagna.
That Alexander may have been single minded in his purpose has never been supposed. It might, indeed, be to suppose too much; and the general assumption that, from the outset, his chief aim was to found a powerful State for his son may be accepted. But let us at least remember that such had been the aims of several Popes before him. Sixtus IV and Innocent VIII had similarly aimed at founding dynasties in Romagna for their families; but, lacking the talents and political acuteness of Alexander, and a son of the mettle and capacity of Cesare Borgia, the feeble trail of their ambition is apt to escape attention. It is also to be remembered that, whatever Alexander's ulterior motive, the immediate results of the campaign with which he inspired his son were to reunite to the Church the States which had fallen away from her, and to re establish her temporal sway in the full plenitude of its dominion. However much he may have been imbued with the desire to exalt and aggrandize his children politically, he did nothing that did not at the same time make for the greater power and glory of the Church.
His formidable Bull published in October set forth how, after trial, it had been found that the Lords or Vicars of Rimini, Pesaro, Imola, Forli, Camerino and Faenza, with other feudatories of the Holy See (including the duchy of Urbino) had never paid the yearly tribute due to the Church, wherefore he, by virtue of his apostolic authority, deprived them of all their rights, and did declare them so deprived.