on 14 September 2009
Slightly disapponting for those who expect to find in it a sensational story of continuous incest, poison and revenge. The book does its best to reclaim one more fictional villain for the sake of historical truth. The author's mission looks noble, but truth is hardly a commodity much in demand nowadays, in the age of tabloids. A rewarding reading, nevertheless, for those who can still appreciate it.
on 18 October 2011
I first came across this book in Italy about 30 years ago. Since I was bi-lingual from early childhood, I was not daunted by the 700 odd pages of print in the Italian hardback edition. I was sucked in from the first page, and with it began a love affair with this period in history.
Having often extolled Maria Bellonci's work to friends in England, I was delighted to find it published in English, and bought a copy through Amazon. Great service as ever.
So imagine my disappointment on opening the packet, at discovering that this paper back edition was barely half the size of the original!
The translation may be good, but the wholesale editing of the original is tragic.
A great work has been turned into an average overview.
on 5 November 2007
This was an absolutely delightful book to read: detailed, lively and beautifully written. This book was written in 1939 and the prejudices of the authoress add an unintentional level of humour: sweeping generalisations about what women want and the predictably boring unreliability of the Aragonese. This is the first book about Lucrezia Borgia I have read and am unsure how reliable it might be. However, Lucrezia's innocence and yet committed loyalty to her brother who had two men she loved murdered, does seem a little far-fetched. Nevertheless, I thoroughly recommend this book.
on 14 March 2012
This book is about Renaissance politics; Renaissance politics is impenetrable; so is this book. And you could end there. But if you do, you will deny yourself two things: first, a foundation for understanding the roots of modern European political and cultural history; second, a sense of wonder about a fascinating historical era.
The easiest way to begin is with the year 1492, when Florence's Lorenzo de Medici died and when Roderigo Borgia, Lucrezia's father, became Pope. Lorenzo's death removed stable politics from the Italian peninsula and Roderigo's appointment riled everyone. A land grab (of as much of northern Italy as you could conquer) combined with a status grab (of as much religious influence as you could get) captured the interest of everyone. Both forces were combined in Giuliano della Rovere, the Cardinal who should have been Pope but lost to Roderigo, who invited the French King, Charles VIII, into Italy to grab land. The French were masters of warfare, probably thanks to the Hundred Years War with England which ended in 1453, and brought their irresistable cannon with them. They wanted only Naples, even if they would be happy to occupy anything in between Geneva/Savoy and Naples. Hold that thought.
Meanwhile, back in Florence, Savonarola had returned in 1490 and exploited the 1492 upheaval in two ways. He roused a popular reaction against the Church's corruption, exemplified by Roderigo's bribery, nepotism and political cruelty, and manipulated this groundswell of religious indignation into a Florentine revolution. He forecast an Apocalypse which would punish this immorality, which arrived in 1494 with the French guns. Lorenzo's son Piero II de Medici was overthrown and a Republic was established, run by Savonarola, Soderini and Macchiavelli.
Silent French support for these three Florentines disturbed the Italian balance of power, since unparalleled French military might was running Italian affairs. A kind of Republican democracy had displaced a Medici feudal system in Florence; might it do the same in Milan, Ferrara and every other Italian city state?
This question spurred Roderigo into action, marrying Lucrezia to a sequence of politically influential families. Her first husband, Giuliano Sforza, was a member of the Milanese family of "kings". Her second husband, Alfonso, Duke of Bisceglie, belonged to the Spanish House of Aragon which had dominated Naples since Alfonso I had displaced at least a century of French reign in 1442. Cesare Borgia, Lucrezia's brother, murdered him. So she married Alfonso d'Este, whose power base lay in the north-east, at Ferrara, near the all-powerful Venice.
French, Spanish or Italian?
And why so important?
Look at a map and see how close it is to Tunisia, the Ottoman power base, mastered by the Barbarossa seamen sponsored by the Turks, who had conquered Constantinople in 1453 and persistently threatened to invade Europe in the early 1500s. Their threat forced Charles V to accommodate Lutheran sponsors in Germany, such as Frederick III (the Wise) of Saxony, because Charles, the Defender of the Catholic Faith, needed German soldiers. Meanwhile, Luther and Calvin made mischief and began to get their way with the 1521 Diet of Worms.
But this was a couple of decades later.
So, this book. It is unashamedly detailed and therefore difficult if you are not familiar with at least some of the characters, but it weaves this detail beautifully. And Lucrezia's life flirted with preamble to the entire European experiment, just as it was beginning. Perhaps begin with easier biographies, such as Il Magnifico, but if you can work your way towards reading this one - even if you have to patiently study parts of it with the help of Wikipedia - you will enrich your understanding of everything European immeasurably.
And I haven't mentionned a single artist. Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, Albrecht Durer, Rubens, Van Eyck.....their stories begin here too.
Nor have I mentioned America, 1492 and all that jazz.
But I could have. That's how pivotal this book is.
If you've read this far, I owe you a gift. Jeremy Irons in the brilliant Borgias TV series covers much of this subject, so you can always start there.
on 26 April 2014
I did enjoy this book as it is written in a colorful and rich language, rather than the boring style that is common in biographies. I would have given it top score, because it really is great, but the book does lack what is perhaps the most important feature: true facts! For example, Bellonci describes the wife og Ludovico the Moor, Beatrice d'Este, as the "genius of the struggle between the Sforzas and the Kingdom of Naples" because of her hatred towards Isabella of Naples. This is simply untrue, as Beatrice d'Este herself grew up in Naples and knew Isabella from childhood. Beatrice would never have wished the destruction of the Kingdom of Naples, and was devastated by the rift between her two families. These few untrue facts do not disturb the overall truth of Lucrezia Borgia, but they are significant, if you wish to use the book as source material. Just a heads up...
on 11 May 2011
While I appreciate the research work that went into writing this book, for the normal layperson who just wants to know more about the history of the Borgias, this book contains way too much details on all characters found in the book. I do mean that literally the reader has to read about the background on all minor characters, which gets really tedious after a few chapters.
There is not much focus on Lucrezia herself, which is whole reason I chose this book. The author takes care to substantiate all her writing with facts but this makes for very dry reading and I think a history text book would be more interesting.
This book would be more suitable for someone doing academic reading or writing some assignment on this topic.