On March 29 Cesare Borgia departed from Cesena whither, meanwhile, he had returned to march upon Faenza, resume the attack, and make an end of the city's stubborn resistance.
During the past months, however, and notwithstanding the presence of the Borgia troops in the territory, the people of Faenza had been able to increase their fortifications by the erection of outworks and a stout bastion in the neighbourhood of the Osservanza Hospital, well beyond the walls. This bastion claimed Cesare's first attention, and it was carried by assault on April 12. Thither he now fetched his guns, mounted them, and proceeded to a steady bombardment of the citadel. But the resistance continued with unabated determination a determination amounting to heroism, considering the hopelessness of their case and the straits to which the Faentini were reduced by now. Victuals and other necessaries of life had long since been running low. Still the men of Faenza tightened their belts, looked to their defences, and flung defiance at the Borgia. The wealthier inhabitants distributed wine and flour at prices purely nominal, and lent Astorre money for the payment of his troops. It is written that to the same end the very priests, their patriotism surmounting their duty to the Holy Father in whose name this war was waged, consented to the despoiling of the churches and the melting down of the sacred vessels.
Even the women of Faenza bore their share of the burden of defence, carrying to the ramparts the heavy stones that were to be hurled down upon the besiegers, or actually donning casque and body armour and doing sentry duty on the walls while the men rested.
But the end was approaching. On April 18 the Borgia cannon opened at last a breach in the walls, and Cesare delivered a terrible assault upon the citadel. The fight upon the smoking ruins was fierce and determined on both sides, the duke's men pressing forward gallantly under showers of scalding pitch and a storm of boulders, launched upon them by the defenders, who used the very ruins of the wall for ammunition. For four hours was that assault maintained ; nor did it cease until the deepening dusk compelled Cesare to order the retreat, since to continue in the failing light was but to sacrifice men to no purpose.
Cesare's appreciation of the valour of the garrison ran high. It inspired him with a respect which shows his dispassionate breadth of mind, and he is reported to have declared that with an army of such men as those who held Faenza against him he would have conquered all Italy. He did not attempt a second assault, but confined himself during the three days that followed to continuing the bombardment.
Within Faenza men were by now in desperate case. Weariness and hunger were so exhausting their endurance, so sapping their high valour that nightly there were desertions to the duke's camp of men who could bear no more. The fugitives from the town were well received, all save one a man named Grammante, a dyer by trade who, in deserting to the duke, came in to inform him that at a certain point of the citadel the defences were so weak that an assault delivered there could not fail to carry it.
This man afforded Cesare an opportunity of marking his contempt for traitors and his respect for the gallant defenders of Faenza. The duke hanged him for his pains under the very walls of the town he had betrayed.
On the 21st the bombardment was kept up almost without interruption for eight hours, and so shattered was the citadel by that pitiless cannonade that the end was in sight at last. But the duke's satisfaction was tempered by his chagrin at the loss of Achille Tiberti, one of the most valiant of his captains, and one who had followed his fortunes from the first with conspicuous devotion. He was killed by the bursting of a gun. A great funeral at Cesena bore witness to the extent to which Cesare esteemed and honoured him.
Astorre, now seeing the citadel in ruins and the possibility of further resistance utterly exhausted, assembled the Council of Faenza to determine upon their course of action, and, as a result of their deliberations, the young tyrant sent his ambassadors to the duke to propose terms of surrender. It was a belated proposal, for there was no longer on Cesare's part the necessity to make terms. The city's defences were destroyed, and to talk of surrender now was to talk of giving something that no longer existed. Yet Cesare met the ambassadors in a spirit of splendid generosity.
The terms proposed were that the people of Faenza should have immunity for themselves and their property; that Astorre should have freedom to depart and to take with him his moveable possessions, his immoveables remaining at the mercy of the Pope. By all the laws of war Cesare was entitled to a heavy indemnity for the losses he had sustained through the resistance opposed to him. Considering those same laws and the application they were wont to receive in his day, no one could have censured him had he rejected all terms and given the city over to pillage. Yet not only does he grant the terms submitted to him, but in addition he actually lends an ear to the Council's prayer that out of consideration for the great suffering of the city in the siege he should refrain from exacting any indemnity. This was to be forbearing indeed ; but he was to carry his forbearance even further. In answer to the Council's expressed fears of further harm at the hands of his troopers once these should be in Faenza, he actually consented to effect no entrance into the town.
We are not for a moment to consider Cesare as actuated in all this by any lofty humanitarianism. He was simply pursuing that wise policy of his, in refraining from punishing conquered States which were to be subject henceforth to his rule, and which, therefore, must be conciliated that they might be loyal to him. But it is well that you should at least appreciate this policy and the fruit it bore when you read that Cesare Borgia was a blood glutted monster of carnage who ravaged the Romagna, rending and devouring it like some beast of prey.