Borgia, Cesare or Caesar (chāˈzärā bōrˈjä) [key], 1476–1507, Italian soldier and politician, younger son of Pope Alexander VI and an outstanding figure of the Italian Renaissance. Throughout his pontificate Alexander VI used his position to aggrandize his son and establish a papal empire in N and central Italy. Archbishop of Valencia and a cardinal by 1493, Cesare resigned the dignity after the death (1498) of his elder brother, the duke of Gandia, in whose murder he was probably involved. He now began his political career as papal legate to France. He struck an alliance with King Louis XII who made him duke of Valentinois (Valence), and married (1499) Charlotte d'Albret, a sister of the king of Navarre. The French having overrun Italy (see Italian Wars), Cesare, with his father's encouragement, subdued (1499–1500) the cities of the Romagna one by one. Made duke of Romagna (1501) by the pope, Cesare also seized (1502) Piombino, Elba, Camerino, and the duchy of Urbino, and he crowned his achievements by artfully luring his chief enemies to the castle of Senigallia, where he had some of them strangled. By killing his enemies, packing the college of cardinals, pushing his conquests as fast as possible, and buying the loyalty of the Roman gentry, he had hoped to make his position independent of the papacy, or at least to insure that the election of any future pope would be to his liking. But before his schemes could be realized, Cesare was struck in 1503 by the same poison (or illness) that suddenly killed his father. Cesare recovered; however, his political power had suffered a fatal blow. Pius III, after a short reign, was succeeded by Julius II, an implacable enemy of Cesare Borgia. Louis XII then turned against him. Julius demanded the immediate return of what territory remained to Cesare and had him temporarily arrested. Returning to Naples, Cesare was soon arrested by the Spanish governor there as the result of collusion between Julius II and the Spanish rulers, Ferdinand and Isabella. Sent to prison in Spain, he escaped and finally found refuge (1506) at the court of the king of Navarre. He died fighting for him at Viana. His former possessions had passed under direct papal rule; thus, Cesare must be regarded as instrumental in the consolidation of the Papal States, even if that was not his purpose. Cesare has long been considered the model of the Renaissance prince, the prototype of Niccolò Machiavelli's Prince —intelligent, cruel, treacherous, and ruthlessly opportunistic.
See biographies by M. Mallett, The Borgias (1969) and E. R. Chamberlain, Fall of the House of Borgia (1989).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.