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An entertaining debut about daily life—and death—in the papal court of Renaissance Italy.

In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, when all great men (sworn to celibacy or not) were expected to have at least several mistresses, there was no shortage of the children of popes. Lucrezia Borgia, for example, was the daughter of Pope Alexander VI, and, like just about everyone who grew up at the foot of a throne, her chief hobby and delight was power politics. As a woman, of course, she could never command an army (like her brother Juan, the Duke of Grandia) or sit in the College of Cardinals (like her brother Cesare—who would have preferred to command an army). But Italian women have always had a way of commanding behind the scenes, and Lucrezia grew into a mistress of that art. Although she was considered a great beauty and was married off twice (it helps to have a father in the Vatican when you need an annulment) for political alliances, her great skill was not seduction but assassination—her name in fact has become a byword for poison. In reality, she tells us here, she had to resort to poison only twice, judiciously averting a full-scale war between Rome and France in the process. Her greatest cross to bear, however, was her brother Cesare, who became increasingly megalomaniacal and even went to the point of raising an army (Holy Orders notwithstanding) to attack his father and sister. Pretty extreme for a family spat? Well, the Borgias were not exactly the Brady Bunch, though they did manage to hold the Papal States and most of Europe together for centuries.

Witty, fun, and informative: a marvelous portrait of a monstrous family riding the whirlwind in one of history’s most deliciously decadent epochs.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-609-60974-2
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2002


FictionBLOOD & BEAUTY by Sarah Dunant
by Sarah Dunant