Christopher Hibbert is an author who has written many history books and historical biographies and now turns his attention to that infamous family, the Borgias. It is worth mentioning that this book has been previously published as "The House of Borgia" and is now released as a kindle edition with a different title, so beware if you think it is a new book. Saying that, this is a very good introduction to the Borgias and well worth investigating if you have not already read it.
Rome is first described as the 'crumbling city' and the book describes the rise of Rodrigo Borgia. He was Vice-Chancellor of the Holy See when his uncle became Pope Calixtus III. When the Pope died, Rodrigo supported Pius II in conclave and his position of Vice-Chancellor was confirmed. The most talented of Calixtus's nephew, he was a Cardinal at 25, Vice Chancellor at 27, at a time when nespotism was rife. Rodrigo was certainly not above using nespotism himself, even more widely, although he is also described as both able and competent.
In 1492, Rodrigo Borgia became Pope Alexander VI at 61 years old. Never one to be shy about success he shouted "I am Pope! I am Pope!" to the crowd, amidst accusations he bribed his way to the Papacy. Despite criticisms though, he was affable, approachable and stopped the lawlessness left behind by his predecessor, Innocent VIII. He heard complaints himself, established prison inspectors and restored order. He was a mixture of traits - dignified, cunning, shrewd, intelligent, ambitious, immodest and vicious. Borgia had apartments decorated with gilded stucco work, such as that discovered in the remains of the Golden House of Nero, yet kept a frugal table. An ambitious Pope - rich, politically astute, determined to establish his family among the European ruling elite and unusual in that he acknowledged his children and worked to improve their status and chances in life.
This then is the story of the Pople and his infamous children - Juan, Jofre, Cesare and Lucrezia. Cesare and Lucrezia are, of course, the most infamous. Hibbert recounts the stories and legends which abounded then - orgies, nespotism, bribery, poison, incest. We follow the rise and fall of both Rodrigo and Cesare and the life of Lucrezia through her three marriages. A very interesting book and great introduction to a fascinating family and era in history.
on 5 February 2012
I noticed that there were a lot of mixed reviews for this book when I came to review it, some people saying that the book is an interesting, good introduction to the Borgias, others complaining that the book is boring and focuses on trivial detail whilst refraining from passing judgement on its eponymous subject. I think both camps are right about this one, and that has caused me to consider this book's intended readership.
The book is a largely descriptive narrative of the rise and fall of the Borgias, drawing upon a selection of primary and secondary sources to present events in a fairly standard, chronological layout. The book does not delve into a critical examination of the sources themselves, or provide any analysis about the debates and controversies surrounding the Borgias. That said, I felt the writing style flowed and it was altogether an easy read.
In conclusion, I think potential readers need to consider whether this book is for them before picking it up. If you know little to nothing about the Borgias and want to expand your knowledge, fill in your gaps, and do so with a nice, straightforward read, this is indeed a good book for what you've got in mind. However, if your knowledge of the Borgias is a bit more extensive, and/or you're more of a serious scholar or enquiring historian, this book won't fit the bill because it won't provide the in depth quality and analysis you're looking for. It is a fairly good introduction to the Borgias, but that's all it is.
on 20 August 2011
Christopher Hibbert has a high and long-standing reputation for writing on a very wide range of historical subjects, and I approached 'The Borgias' with the confidence of many good reads behind me. I was disappointed.
Perhaps he suffered from his collaborator, who may not have had his knowledge and credentials. Perhaps he was bound hand and foot by the publisher`s brief to write a particular kind of book. Perhaps he simply lent his name to a book written largely by somebody else. I don`t know. But, whatever the reason, the book did not come up to the high standards we have come to expect from him.
It was as if he had been commissioned to write a scandal-sheet about the Borgias. We were inundated with details of journeys, furnishings, banquets, murders, intrigues, fashions, and clothes, and swamped with unfamiliar Italian names.
There did not seem to be any attempt made to pass any kind of judgment on Alexander VI`s pontificate. There was not a single mention of two of the most important events of it, namely, the discovery of America, and the famous Treaty of Tordesillas, which divided the world into two spheres of influence for Spain and Portugal. The single reference to Columbus was to attribute the spread of syphilis to the return of his sailors from a disease-infested New World - so we are back to the scandal-sheet again. Cesare Borgia, Alexander`s son, who looked as if he might be a really influential figure, does not emerge as any kind of a statesmen (at any rate no attempt is made again to assess his statesmanship or lack of it), and he suddenly disappears from the narrative as a random casualty of a war, with no obituary, no comment, no judgment.
The notorious rumours about the Pope`s sexual life, particularly his alleged relations with his daughter, is of course referred to - more than once - but no attempt is made to assess the evidence.
One could go on. If you want a wallow in sleaze and innuendo, and an interminable chronicle of luxury, opulence, greed, and treachery, then jump in. But you won`t learn a great deal of history.
on 1 September 2011
We have all heard of the Borgias but they have remained, for me at least, a shadowy family dimly linked to an Italian past. Hibbert brings this all to life and puts it all in context, from the observations of Machiavelli to the marriages of Lucrezia to the downright disgusting sexual behaviour and temporal greed of the Popes. Well written, easy to read, this is history at the height of the Reformation of one of the most influential dynasties in Europe.
on 28 June 2013
For a tale of such a turbulent age, and the dominant, corrupt family of the age, Christopher Hibbert's The Borgias is a surprisingly heartfelt read.
Beginning with a brief, yet detailed, chronicle of the Borgia predecessors, Hibbert takes us immediately to the Borgia family that matters most, that of Rodrigo Borgia, later Alexander VI, and his children Cesare, Juan, Jofre and Lucrezia.
Hibbert spares few details, fleshing out and giving a real feel for the Italy of the day, and examining the nature of church and politics, something truly inseparable in those times.
Most of the work focuses on Cesare, and his military campaigns, focusing more on his time as a Duke, and less of his time as a Cardinal.
While the Pope dies two thirds of the way into the book, and soon after, Cesare, the remainder of the book focuses on Lucrezia, who comes across, less as the villainess that history has marked her, and more as a tragic character.
The Borgias is incredibly readable and one struggles to put it down. This is the third book this reviewer has read by the late Christopher Hibbert, the others been The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici, and The French Revolution, and it certainly will not be the last.
In short, a gripping, yet surprisingly heartfelt, historical chronicle.
This is a brisk family biography which delights in retelling all the most scurrilous and decadent stories that still stick to the Borgia name: uncomfortably close family relations, murder, decadence, corruption and power.
In this sense it is an entertaining read, but it’s not one which re-evaluates the sources, or draws attention to their own biases according to the context and political allegiances of the writer.
If you’re a general reader looking for a gossipy re-telling of Borgia history then this is informative and entertaining.
on 7 July 2015
I thought that from the description that this book would include details about the Borgias early life in Xàtiva in Spain. I will be visiting there soon and wanted some background but there isn't really any information about that. However what the book does cover is a fascinating, well-researched look at the life of the Borgias and how their life fitted into the time, and place, that they were living. It's one of those books that you fly through without really noticed how many pages you're reading at a time. I recommend it for anyone interested in the Borgias, the papacy or Rome.
on 20 August 2011
This is a startlingly dull biography of one of history's most imfamous families, its limitations perhaps a product of the fact that Christopher Hibbert was working on this towards the end of his life.
There is a welcome focus in the book on Lucrezia, and the author illustrates how she was a pawn in the power-plays of her pope father, Rodrigo, and brother, Cesare. The book details her many horrific experiences, including the murder of her husband, probably by her brother Cesare, and effectively refutes the myth of her monsterousness.
Cesare was no more dastardly than his contemporaries, and in many ways more effective, as Machevelli's account indicates. But he was still a pretty nasty character. He was a murderer and a rapist, keeping, for example, Caterina Sforza-Riario, ruler of Imola and Forli, as a sexual slave for weeks after sacking her cities. Tiring of her after a while he consigned her to the dungeons. Hibbert treats the coarse humoured contemporary accounts of the "willingness" of Caterina at face value, rather than consider in any great depth the invidious nature of Caterina's position, and what this says about Cesare.
Time and again Hibbert seems more interested the clothes that the Borgias wore rather than the psychology of the family and the politics, papal and secular, that drove them. On the positive side it is a short book and does provide a relatively concise overview of the careers of this family. Still considering the potential of the source material it is a disappointing book, and probably unrepresentative of the author.
on 31 July 2015
Read this book ages ago, but I still vividly remember feeling a bit disappointed. Not so much about the writing, rather my expectations of being appalled about the Borgias' shocking evil and unbelievable nastiness were not met. How did this family ever achieve such notoriety, I wondered? After all, what they did was perfectly normal (well, almost) by contemporary standards: popes at the time were always corrupt, they always fought wars, they all had mistresses, nepotism was so pervasive that it was barely noticed, and Rome in general was a cesspit full of crime to which the Borgias' contribution, if any, was rather negligible. I find it hard to believe that any of the other families jostling for the papacy and its power, would have done much better. In fact, they did not do much better, as other popes proved. After all, there is a reason why the reformation happened....
The most shocking of the Borgias' alleged crimes (Juan Borgia's murder by his brother, Lucrezia's incest with her father) were never proven and were probably not more than gossip from the Borgias' many enemies.
Of course, Hibbert cannot be blamed for me not being as shocked as I hoped I would have been. Still, this book felt slightly bland. Surely there are better books about the Borgias and their times. This one is a very useful introduction though, being admirably compact.
on 15 February 2013
This is a very good balanced introduction to the Borgia's, especially for those seeking an unsensationalised account. i recommend to anyone interested or beginning to have an interest in that period