It was a severe and sudden conclusion to a war that had begun under such excellent auspices for the Pontificals. Yet, notwithstanding that defeat, which had left guns and baggage in the hands of the enemy, the Pope was the gainer by the campaign, having won eleven strongholds from the Orsini in exchange for one battle lost.
The barons now prepared to push home their advantage and complete the victory; but the Pope checkmated them by an appeal to Gonzalo de Cordoba, who promptly responded and came with Prospero Colonna to the aid of the Church. He laid siege to Ostia, which was being held for the Cardinal della Rovere, and compelled it to a speedy surrender, thereby bringing the Orsini resistance practically to an end. For the present the might of the barons was broken, and they were forced to pay Alexander the sum of 50,000 ducats to redeem their captured fortresses.
Gonzalo de Cordoba made a triumphal entry into Rome, bringing with him Monaldo da Guerra, the unfortunate defender of Ostia, in chains. He was received with great honour by the Duke of Gandia, accompanied by his brother in law, Giovanni Sforza, and they escorted him to the Vatican, where the Pope awaited him.
This was but one of the many occasions just then on which Giovanni Sforza was conspicuous in public in close association with his father in law, the Pope. Burchard mentions his presence at the blessing of the candles on the Feast of the Purification, and shows him to us as a candle bearer standing on the Pope's right hand. Again we see him on Palm Sunday in attendance upon Alexander, he and Gandia standing together on the steps of the pontifical throne in the Sixtine Chapel during the Blessing of the Palms. There and elsewhere Lucrezia's husband is prominently in the public eye during those months of February and March of 1497, and we generally see him sharing, with the Duke of Gandia, the honour of close attendance upon the Pontiff, all of which but serves to render the more marked his sudden disappearance from that scene.
The matter of his abrupt and precipitate flight from Rome is one concerning which it is unlikely that the true and complete facts will ever be revealed. It was public gossip at this time that his marriage with Lucrezia was not a happy one, and that discord marred their life together. Lucrezia's reported grievance upon this subject reads a little vaguely to us now, whatever it may have conveyed at the time. She complained that Giovanni " did not fittingly keep her company," 1 which may be taken to mean that a good harmony did not prevail between them, or, almost equally well, that there were the canonical grounds for complaint against him as a husband which were afterwards formally preferred and made the grounds for the divorce. It is also possible that Alexander's ambition may have urged him to dissolve the marriage to the end that she might be free to be used again as a pawn in his far reaching game.
1 " Che non gli faceva buona compagnia."
All that we do know positively is that, one evening in Holy Week, Sforza mounted a Turkish horse, and, on the pretext of going as far as the Church of Sant' Onofrio to take the air, he slipped out of Rome, and so desperately did he ride that, twenty four hours later, he was home in Pesaro, his horse dropping dead as he reached the town.
Certainly some terrible panic must have urged him, and this rather lends colour to the story told by Almerici in the Memorie di Pesaro. According to this, the Lord of Pesaro's chamberlain, Giacomino, was in Lucrezia's apartments one evening when Cesare was announced, whereupon, by Lucrezia's orders, Giacomino concealed himself behind a screen. The Cardinal of Valencia entered and talked freely with his sister, the essence of his conversation being that the order had been issued for her husband's death.
The inference to be drawn from this is that Giovanni had been given to choose in the matter of a divorce, and that he had refused to be a party to it, whence it was resolved to remove him in a still more effective manner.
Be that as it may, the chroniclers of Pesaro proceed to relate that, after Cesare had left her, Lucrezia asked Giacomino if he had heard what had been said, and, upon being answered in the affirmative, urged him to go at once and warn Giovanni. It was as a consequence of this alleged warning that Giovanni made his precipitate departure.
A little while later, at the beginning of June, Lucrezia left the Vatican and withdrew to the Convent of San Sisto,in the Appian Way, a step which immediately gave rise to speculation and to unbridled gossip, all of which, however, is too vague to be worthy of the least attention. Aretino's advices to the Cardinal Ippolito d'Este suggest that she did not leave the Vatican on good terms with her family, and it is very possible, if what the Pesaro chroniclers state is true, that her withdrawal arose out of her having warned Giovanni of his danger and enabled him to escape.
At about the same time that Lucrezia withdrew to her convent her brother Gandia was the recipient of further honours at the hands of his fond father. The Pope had raised the fief of Benevento to a dukedom, and as a dukedom conferred it upon his son, to him and to his legitimate heirs for ever. To this he added the valuable lordships of Terracina and Pontecorvo.
Cesare, meanwhile, had by no means been forgotten, and already this young cardinal was with perhaps the sole exception of the Cardinal d'Estouteville the richest churchman in Christendom. To his many other offices and benefices it was being proposed to add that of Chamberlain of the Holy See, Cardinal Riario, who held the office, being grievously ill and his recovery despaired of. Together with that office it was the Pope's avowed intention to bestow upon Cesare the palace of the late Cardinal of Mantua, and with it, no doubt, he would receive a proportion of the dead cardinal's benefices.
Cesare was twenty two years of age at the time; tall, of an athletic slenderness, and exceedingly graceful in his movements, he was acknowledged to be the handsomest man of his age. His face was long and pale, his brow lofty, his nose delicately aquiline. He had long auburn hair, and his hazel eyes, large, quick in their movements, and singularly searching in their glance, were alive with the genius of the soul behind them. He inherited from his father the stupendous health and vigour for which Alexander had been remarkable in his youth, and was remarkable still in his old age. The chase had ever been Cesare's favourite pastime, and the wild boar his predilect quarry ; and in the pursuit of it he had made good use of his exceptional physical endowments, cultivating them until like his father before him he was equal to the endurance of almost any degree of fatigue.
In the Consistory of June 8 he was appointed legate a latere to go to Naples to crown King Federigo of Aragon for in the meanwhile another change had taken place on the Neapolitan throne by the death of young Ferdinand II, who had been succeeded by his uncle, Federigo, Prince of Altamura.
Cesare made ready for his departure upon this important mission, upon which he was to be accompanied by his brother Giovanni, Duke of Gandia. They were both to be back in Rome by September, when Gandia was to return to Spain, taking with him his sister Lucrezia.
Thus had the Pope disposed; but the Borgia family stood on the eve of the darkest tragedy associated with its name, a tragedy which was to alter all these plans.