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The Borgias

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The Borgias

The Hidden History
The startling truth behind one of the most notorious dynasties in history is revealed in a remarkable new account by the acclaimed author of The Tudors and A World Undone. Sweeping aside the gossip,...
The startling truth behind one of the most notorious dynasties in history is revealed in a remarkable new account by the acclaimed author of The Tudors and A World Undone. Sweeping aside the gossip,...
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  • The startling truth behind one of the most notorious dynasties in history is revealed in a remarkable new account by the acclaimed author of The Tudors and A World Undone. Sweeping aside the gossip, slander, and distortion that have shrouded the Borgias for centuries, G. J. Meyer offers an unprecedented portrait of the infamous Renaissance family and their storied milieu.

    THE BORGIAS

    They burst out of obscurity in Spain not only to capture the great prize of the papacy, but to do so twice. Throughout a tumultuous half-century--as popes, statesmen, warriors, lovers, and breathtakingly ambitious political adventurers--they held center stage in the glorious and blood-drenched pageant known to us as the Italian Renaissance, standing at the epicenter of the power games in which Europe's kings and Italy's warlords gambled for life-and-death stakes.

    Five centuries after their fall--a fall even more sudden than their rise to the heights of power--they remain immutable symbols of the depths to which humanity can descend: Rodrigo, the Borgia who bought the papal crown and prostituted the Roman Church; Cesare, the Borgia who became first a teenage cardinal and then the most treacherous cutthroat of a violent time; Lucrezia, the Borgia as shockingly immoral as she was beautiful. These have long been stock figures in the dark chronicle of European villainy, their name synonymous with unspeakable evil.

    But did these Borgias of legend actually exist? Grounding his narrative in exhaustive research and drawing from rarely examined key sources, Meyer brings fascinating new insight to the real people within the age-encrusted myth. Equally illuminating is the light he shines on the brilliant circles in which the Borgias moved and the thrilling era they helped to shape, a time of wars and political convulsions that reverberate to the present day, when Western civilization simultaneously wallowed in appalling brutality and soared to extraordinary heights. Stunning in scope, rich in telling detail, G. J. Meyer's The Borgias is an indelible work sure to become the new standard on a family and a world that continue to enthrall.

    Praise for G. J. Meyer's The Tudors

    "Energetic and comprehensive . . . [a] sweeping history of the gloriously infamous Tudor era . . . Unlike the somewhat ponderous British biographies of the Henrys, Elizabeths and Boleyns that seem to pop up perennially, Meyer displays some flashy, fresh irreverence [and cuts] to the quick of the action."--Kirkus Reviews

    "[A] cheeky, nuanced, and authoritative perspective . . . brims with enriching background discussions."--Publishers Weekly (starred review)

    "A thoroughly readable and often compelling narrative."--Associated Press

    "A rich and vibrant tapestry."--The Star-Ledger

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    9780345526915|excerpt

    Meyer / THE BORGIAS

    1

    A Most Improbable Pope

    It is the third of April, and springtime is in full force.

    We are in Rome, which in this year of 1455 is neither the glorious world capital it had been under the emperors of old nor the great city it will become once again in a few generations. Instead it is a dilapidated backwater of thirty or perhaps forty thousand souls.

    At the Vatican, dominated by the thousand-year-old and slowly disintegrating St. Peter's Basilica, the cardinals are assembling. They are doing so because ten days have passed since the death of Pope Nicholas V. Of "apoplexy," the attending physicians have declared, thereby revealing that they haven't the faintest idea of what it was that caused him to grow feebler week after week until finally, aged only fifty-seven, he himself announced that his end was at hand.

    The death of this particular pontiff at this particular time is a deeply worrisome thing. As for the fact that the time has come to elect his successor--it is so snarled up in difficulties and dangers as to scarcely bear thinking about.

    Officially and as usual, the first nine days after the pope's death were reserved for the obsequies with which deceased pontiffs are launched into the afterlife: one requiem mass per day, each presided over by a different cardinal. But in fact, and inevitably, the days and the nights as well have been filled with backstairs politicking, mainly to see who can put together the most potent blocs of votes. In the midst of all this, Nicholas's wizened little body has been sealed up in the traditional three coffins, one of cypress inside another of lead inside still another of fine-grained and polished elm. It was then laid to rest in the crypt under the basilica, a structure so alarmingly decrepit that in the last few years of the pope's reign 2,500 cartloads of stone had been stripped from the Colosseum and hauled across the Tiber for use in shoring it up.

    By the time the last Ite, missa est brought the last mass to an end, the windows of one wing of the pontifical palace were boarded up in the customary way. Austere little cells, each containing a cot, a stool, and a small table, have been hammered together inside. The fifteen available cardinals (six others are too far from Rome to attend) are now reporting for duty. As they file inside, the doors are bolted behind them. Guards are posted, and the conclave of 1455 is formally in session.

    Deprived of natural light, the cardinals are dependent on candles and oil lamps for illumination. With no ventilation and wood fires the only source of morning warmth, the air they breathe will soon be foul. But conclaves are not supposed to be pleasant. Physical discomfort long ago proved its value. It encourages the princes of the Church to get on with their business, announce the results, and go home.

    Every part of the process is governed by customs that have evolved over a millennium and a half. At various times the choosing of popes has been under the control of Roman emperors, Byzantine emperors, and Holy Roman emperors from beyond the Alps. Sometimes popes have been able to nominate their successors, and there have been periods when no one would dare take the throne without the approval of the clergy--even the people--of Rome. But in 1059 a papal decree conferred the right of election on the College of Cardinals. Eighty years later another decree gave that right to the cardinals exclusively, meaning that no further approvals were needed once the Sacred College had made its choice. Forty years after that, a two-thirds majority of votes cast became necessary for election.

    With...

About the Author-
  • G. J. Meyer is the author of two popular works of history, The Tudors and A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, as well as Executive Blues and The Memphis Murders. He received an M.A. from the University of Minnesota, where he was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and later was awarded Harvard University's Nieman Fellowship in Journalism. He has taught at colleges in Des Moines, St. Louis, and New York, and now lives in Wiltshire, England.

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