On June; 14, 1497, the eve of Cesare and Giovanni Borgia's departure for Naples, their mother Vannozza gave them a farewell supper in her beautiful vineyard in Trastevere. In addition to the two guests of honour several other kinsmen and friends were present, among whom were the Cardinal of Monreale and young Giuffredo Borgia. They remained at supper until an advanced hour of the night, when Cesare and Giovanni took their departure, attended only by a few servants and a mysterious man in a mask, who had come to Giovanni whilst he was at table, and who almost every day for about a month had been in the habit of visiting him at the Vatican.
The brothers and these attendants rode together into Rome and as far as the Vice-Chancellor Ascanio Sforza's palace in the Ponte Quarter. Here Giovanni drew rein, and informed Cesare that he would not be returning to the Vatican just yet, as he was first "going elsewhere to amuse himself." With that he took his leave of Cesare, and, with one single exception in addition to the man in the mask dismissed his servants. The latter continued their homeward way with the cardinal, whilst the Duke, taking the man in the mask upon the crupper of his horse and followed by his single attendant, turned and made off in the direction of the Jewish quarter.
In the morning it was found that Giovanni had not yet returned, and his uneasy servants informed the Pope of his absence and of the circumstances of it. The Pope, however, was not at all alarmed. Explaining his son's absence in the manner so obviously suggested by Giovanni's parting words to Cesare on the previous night, he assumed that the gay young Duke was on a visit to some complacent lady and that presently he would return.
Later in the day, however, news was brought that his horse had been found loose in the streets, in the neighbourhood of the Cardinal of Parma's palace, with only one stirrup leather, the other having clearly been cut from the saddle, and, at the same time, it was related that the servant who had accompanied him after he had separated from the rest had been found at dawn in the Piazza della Giudecca mortally wounded and beyond speech, expiring soon after his removal to a neighbouring house.
Alarm spread through the Vatican, and the anxious Pope ordered inquiries to be made in every quarter where it was possible that anything might be learned. It was in answer to these inquiries that a boatman of the Schiavoni one Giorgio by name came forward with the story of what he had seen on the night of Wednesday. He had passed the night on board his boat, on guard over the timber with which she was laden. She was moored along the bank that runs from the Bridge of Sant' Angelo to the Church of Santa Maria Nuova.
He related that at about the fifth hour of the night, just before daybreak, he had seen two men emerge from the narrow street alongside the Hospital of San Girolamo, and stand on the river's brink at the spot where it was usual for the scavengers to discharge their refuse carts into the water. These men had looked carefully about, as if to make sure that they were not being observed. Seeing no one astir, they made a sign, whereupon a man well mounted on a handsome white horse, his heels armed with golden spurs, rode out of that same narrow street. Behind him, on the crupper of his horse, Giorgio beheld the body of a man, the head hanging in one direction and the legs in the other. This body was supported there by two other men on foot, who walked on either side of the horseman.
POPE ALEXANDER VI (RODERIGO BORGIA). (From the fresco by Pinturicchio.)
Arrived at the water's edge, they turned the horse's hind quarters to the river ; then, taking the body between them, two of them swung it well out into the stream. After the splash, Giorgio had heard the horseman inquire whether they had thrown well into the middle, and had heard him receive the affirmative answer " Signor, si." The horseman then sat scanning the surface a while, and presently pointed out a dark object floating, which proved to be their victim's cloak. The men threw stones at it, and so sank it, whereupon they turned, and all five departed as they had come.
Such is the boatman's story, as related in the Diarium of Burchard. When the Pope had heard it, he asked the fellow why he had not immediately gone to give notice of what he had witnessed, to which this Giorgio replied that, in his time, he had seen over a hundred bodies thrown into the Tiber without ever anybody troubling to know anything about them.
This story and Gandia's continued absence threw the Pope into a frenzy of apprehension. He ordered the bed of the river to be searched foot by foot. Some hundreds of boatmen and fishermen got to work, and on that same afternoon the body of the ill fated Duke of Gandia was brought up in one of the nets. He was not only completely dressed as was to have been expected from Giorgio's story but his gloves and his purse containing thirty ducats were still at his belt, as was his dagger, the only weapon he had carried ; the jewels upon his person, too, were all intact, which made it abundantly clear that his assassination was not the work of thieves.
His hands were still tied, and there were from ten to fourteen wounds on his body, in addition to which his throat had been cut.
The corpse was taken in a boat to the Castle of Sant' Angelo, where it was stripped, washed, and arrayed in the garments of the Captain-General of the Church. That same night, on a bier, the body covered with a mantle of brocade, the face " looking more beautiful than in life," he was carried by torchlight from Sant' Angelo to Santa Maria del Popolo for burial, quietly and with little pomp.
The Pope's distress was terrible. As the procession was crossing the Bridge of Sant'Angelo, those who stood there heard his awful cries of anguish, as is related in the dispatches of an eye witness quoted by Sanuto. Alexander shut himself up in his apartments with his passionate sorrow, refusing to see anybody; and it was only by insistence that the Cardinal of Segovia and some of the Pope's familiars contrived to gain admission to his presence; but even then, not for three days could they induce him to taste food, nor did he sleep.