Tag Archives: A Borgia Daughter Dies

The Real History of the Borgias

Contessa of Forli, alsoAn interesting exchange of comments on this website has me once again pondering the difficulties of deciding what is accurate history and what is fiction when writing about Italy five hundred years ago.

I feel I should clarify one thing about my earlier posts: when I refer to “fiction” in critiquing the Showtime Borgia miniseries, I am saying that the version of history the Showtime writers chose to portray is inconsistent with any historical account I have seen.  In other words, they looked at those historical accounts, then made up their own story. In many instances, their falsehoods have been easy to catch.  They got the Neapolitan succession wrong, for example, presumably deliberately.

This is not to say that  “historians” were accurate five hundred years ago, however. Italians of that era loved to vilify each other, and “Renaissance” historians gleefully reported rumor as fact. Guicciardini, a contemporary of the Borgias whose history is often cited, was one of their enemies and made many demonstrably false statements about them.  The printing press was only about 50 years old when all this happened, and may well have perpetuated as “history” rumors that in earlier times would have quickly died out. Eventually, society developed things like libel laws and journalistic/academic standards which tempered this kind of behavior.  But these things evidently did not exist in Italy during the high Renaissance.

For the most part, I can’t claim to have gone back to original documents in “A Borgia Daughter Dies,”  though I relied upon historians who did.  But did they do it every time?  It’s unlikely.

A comment on my blog asserts that Caterina Sforza did not, in fact, send the pope a gift wrapped in blankets from plague victims, a historical reference dramatically portrayed (complete with the  incineration of a papal official in his infected castello that is not in the history books ) on Showtime.  As I’m currently traveling, I  can’t look to see where this “fact” originates, but I’ll look when I get home, and amend this blog post if appropriate.  If the assertion about plague blankets came from the notes of Johann Burchard, the Borgia papal employee who is both a real historical character and  a minor figure in the Borgia miniseries, I’d be inclined to credit it–although it is often hard to tell whether Burkhard speaks from firsthand knowledge, or whether he is simply reporting rumors himself. But as one of the commentators on my blog stated, “who knows, it might be true. Caterina wasn’t exactly known for her restrained behavior.”

A Borgia Daughter Dies  reports the real history of Caterina Sforza as I understand it from credible sources.  The men of her era surely begrudged her accomplishments, which makes me believe that most of the extraordinary assertions about her are true.  (An analogy from legal doctrine  is an “admission against interest,” which says that when people admit something that is against their own interest, the admission must be true because they had no motivation to make it up.)  But am I certain that Caterina’s story is entirely accurate?  No. Colorful, fascinating, and fun, yes.  But completely true? Alas, I can’t be sure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Borgias end of season episodes: almost all fiction

Contessa of Forli, alsoThe Showtime Borgia miniseries has little to do with the real history of the period these days.  It’s now easier to identify the rare points of overlap with history, than to point out errors.

In the last two episodes of Season 3, this much was historic fact: Continue reading

Arquebus from the Borgias' time

Fictional Murders in “The Borgias” miniseries

Arquebus from the Borgias' time

Arquebus from around the time of the Borgias

Season 3, Episode 7 of the Showtime Borgia Series is completely fictional.  Cesare Borgia did not assassinate either Benito or Ludovico Sforza: the former is fictional and the latter died in a French prison Continue reading

The Borgias Season 3 – All Fiction So Far

Cover-A Borgia Daughter DiesSince the Showtime Borgia series began I have been pointing out what is fact and what is fiction. (I know the difference because I worked hard to keep the history accurate in my .99  historical mystery, A Borgia Daughter Dies.)  The series has  strayed further and further from the historical record, and become stranger and stranger in the process.

Season 3  so far is completely fictional, though Continue reading

Just Who Is the Father?

Borgia incest: blame Lucrezia?

Just Who Is the Father?History reverberates with rumors that the Borgias–father, son Cesare and daughter Lucrezia–committed incest.  Showtime could have taken the high road and avoided the rumors all together, since they are unlikely to be true. (See http://maryannphilip.com/cesare-borgia-pope-alexander-vi-lucrezia-borgia-involved-incest/).

But judging from the preview to the third season, it appears Showtime is  taking the lowest of low roads: pretend there was incest, and blame it on Lucrezia. This is blaming the victim in the story. Continue reading