Renee at It’s Book Talk began this meme as a way to share old favourites, as well as books that were published over a year ago. Not to mention those that are languishing on the to be read pile for whatever reason.
This week it’s the turn of another audiobook. The Vatican Princess – A Novel of Lucrezia Borgia, written by C.W. Gortner and narrated by Julia Whelan, it was originally published in 2016.
There are so so many books out there on the Borgias, Lucrezia in particular, you might be tempted to wonder… why another one? This is an approach I haven’t seen before. Granted, I haven’t read a huge amount on the subject and what I did read was many years ago. I do, however, remember being fascinated by the stories of one of the most infamous families in European history, and so when this audiobook became available, narrated by the wonderful Julia Whelan, I chose it without hesitation. I haven’t read C.W. Gortner before but after this I will definitely be looking for more of his books.
Told from Lucrezia’s perspective, which works very well enabling her to reveal thoughts and feelings, so she is seen as person in her own right, and the reader/listener is drawn right into the heart of the Borgia family. The story covers her early years, from 1492 – 1501, and explores late 15th/early 16th century Renaissance Italy, a country divided into city states, each with their own rulers. An extremely dangerous world of villainy, intrigue, murder, lies and treachery, brought vividly to life in this skilfully crafted and beautifully written book.
The story begins as Rodrigo Borgia ascends the papal throne as Alexander VI, his papacy secured by bribery. Corruption and depravity in the Vatican, as well as politics, is rife and Rodrigo’s sons, Cesare and Juan, increasingly play their part. Lucrezia is twelve years old, loved and spoiled by her doting father, but nevertheless he promises her in marriage to Giovanni Sforza, Lord of Pesaro, to further his cause. This is the first, but by no means only, time Lucrezia is used in furthering her family’s ever growing ambitions, greed and machinations to form and establish alliances. Her second, cruelly short marriage to Alfonso of Aragon is the happiest time of her life, brought to an abrupt end by Cesare, at the behest of their father.
C.W. Gortner presents Lucrezia as an engaging and sympathetic character who had a turbulent and harrowing life. Evidently the only one of her family with any scruples, she is at first trusting and secure as a beloved daughter and sister, but as time passes and the terrible truth begins to dawn on her, even then she can hardly believe the acts her father and brothers seem capable of. Confused and powerless, try as she might, Lucrezia cannot separate herself from them, until her third marriage to Alfonso d’Este, Duke of Ferrara takes her away from Rome and the domination of her family.
Fifteenth century Rome is brought to dazzling and colourful life, with the vivid, but not overwhelming, descriptions of clothing, food and decoration. The narrative is fast paced and flows effortlessly, with a good depth of character development and a great combination of fact and fiction. All the evil and depravity associated with the Borgias – rape, poison, incest and murder – are included in the story, which can only be, in part, speculation but even so, calls into question previous characterisations of Lucrezia Borgia.
The Borgia men made, and lived by, their own rules. Everything was about power, political gain and greed. The hypothetical choices of the author regarding various plot points fit neatly into the story. Lucrezia’s confinement in the convent of San Sisto as she awaited the annulment of her marriage to Giovanni Sforza is fact, but the reason was never proven. Neither was it proven who actually murdered Juan Borgia. But given their savage natures and cruelty the brothers appear capable of, the chosen storyline, at the very least, seems plausible.
Lucrezia died in 1519 age 39, after complications following the delivery of the last of her many children.
Infamy is merely an accident of fate.
That is what my father used to say. He would pronounce this laughingly, in that careless way of his, waving his fleshy hand adorned with the papal ring of the Fisherman, as if with the mere flick of his fingers he could dispel the noxious cloud of accusations that hovered over us, the spiny whispers about vice, bloody corruption, and unholy abuse.
I used to believe him. I used to believe he knew everything.
Now I know better.
How else to explain the chaos strewn in our wake, the ravaged lives, the sacrificed innocence and spilled blood. How else to justify the unexpected trajectory of my own life, forever wandering the labyrinth of my family’s ruthless design?
There can be no other reason. Infamy is no accident. It is a poison in our blood.
It is the price of being a Borgia.
The author states ‘research reveals she was nothing like her legend’ she was ‘a pawn used to secure alliances with no say in her fate’ and there was ‘no evidence that she poisoned or harmed anyone.’ Also that this is a ‘fictional account, the true answers will never be known’ and he has ‘kept to established fact as much as possible.’
For fans of Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir, a gripping novel that follows the extraordinary life of young Lucrezia Borgia, the legendary Renaissance Pope Alexander’s beautiful daughter. Was she the heartless seductress of legend? Or merely an unsuspecting pawn in a familial web, forced to choose between loyalty and her own survival?
Glamorous and predatory, the Borgias became Italy’s most ruthless and powerful family, electrifying and terrorizing their 15th-century Renaissance world.
To this day, Lucrezia Borgia is known as one of history’s most notorious villainesses, accused of incest and luring men to doom with her arsenal of poison.
International bestselling author C.W. Gortner’s new novel delves beyond the myth to depict Lucrezia in her own voice, from her pampered childhood in the palaces of Rome to her ill-fated, scandalous arranged marriages and complex relationship with her adored father and her rival brothers—brutal Juan and enigmatic Cesare.
This is the dramatic, untold story of a papal princess who came of age in an era of savage intrigue and unparalleled splendor, and whose courage led her to overcome the fate imposed on her by her Borgia blood.