A sympathetic view of the Renaissance beauty’s progress through a maze of political marriages to become the Duchess of Ferrara.
Lucrezia Borgia (1480–1519) has been unduly maligned by history, says veteran biographer Bradford (Elizabeth, 1996, etc.), attributing much of the bile to contemporary enemies of her family. The British author makes a good case, based on material from the relevant archives and careful reading of others’ treatments. She depicts Lucrezia as a woman of great administrative skill who ruled Ferrara while her husband was continually absent, thanks to battles both political and martial. Her father Rodrigo was a cardinal and then pope, her brother Cesare an ambitious schemer, warrior, and murderer; Lucrezia outlived them both. Educated by her infamous family, as well as by circumstance to survive and thrive in a precarious world, she even managed to maintain an intimate correspondence with a lover who was fighting with forces opposed to her husband. (She also survived him.) All three of her marriages were arranged. Her father had already promised her to two other men by the time she was first wed at 13, but Rodrigo dissolved that marriage and arranged for another to the son of Alfonso II of Naples, with whom she had a son. When that marriage also became an inconvenience for the scheming Borgias, they made the young Alfonso an offer he couldn’t refuse, certified that Lucrezia remained a virgin, and married her to another Alfonso, son of the Duke of Ferrara. After some initial problems with conception, she remained continually pregnant until the end of her life; the last birth killed her at age 39. Bradford lavishly describes the opulent particulars of Lucrezia’s life—clothing, food, dwellings, parties, bling-bling—but always keeps her focus on this most astonishing woman.
A thoroughly researched, gracefully written revision of the most beguiling Borgia.