At Home with the Borgias

If our view of history is based on TV dramas we’d be forgiven for thinking that the most noble families are obsessed with their own close relations  in terms of giving them power and ensuring the succession but are equally capable of bumping them off if they get in the way. In reality its quite likely that many of them lived a happy peaceful life enjoying the fruits of their inheritance but this doesn’t make gripping television. Many of these dramas are no doubt exaggerated but in the case of the Borgia family in Italy at the end of the 15th century the TV expose was probably quite close to the real thing.

The head of the family was Rodrigo Borgia who became Pope Alexander VI.

Pope Alexander V1

In the Middle Ages the Papacy was as much of a political post as a religious one, but even so Alexander VI was seen as an exceptionally skilled politician. He had an extremely strong Sun / Saturn / Ascendant conjunction in Capricorn and anyone with this combination would be far more interested in the material world than the ethereal. He was an arch pragmatist, who probably bought his pontificate with bribes. Alexander was widely criticised for corruption through the sale of Church offices (simony) and nepotism.

With the Moon in wide conjunction to Neptune in Leo he would have had a strong sense of his own divine right to rule and his main purpose was to acquire more personal and papal power and wealth, often ennobling and enriching the Borgia family directly.

Alexander’s Sun / Saturn / Ascendant was the apex of a T Square based on an opposition between Mars in Libra and Uranus. While a cardinal, he maintained a long-term illicit relationship with Vanozza dei Cattanei with whom he had four children: Giovanni, Cesare, Lucrezia and Gioffre. Even as Pope he lived an openly promiscuous life as evidenced by the opposition. Mars is the planet the rules sexual activity and Libra is a sign that is centred around relationships, Uranus is the planet that defies convention seeking freedom and openness and so Alexander would definitely not have been bound by convention.

Another aspect of this T Square was that he skilfully used the marriages of his children to build alliances with powerful families in Italy and Spain. He arranged and annulled marriages ( Mars in Libra ) with great speed and sudden finality ( opposite Uranus ) in whatever way suited his political ambitions ( apex Sun / Saturn in Capricorn ).

Alexander became Pope in 1492 as Pluto was square to his Leo Moon. He was ruthless in many ways but nothing compared to his son Cesare.

Cesare Borgia

Cesare was another powerful figure with the Sun in conjunction with the Ascendant but this time it was also conjunct Pluto. This created an intense character who could easily be violent. Its unusual for someone to have two T Squares and this would create a great deal of tension in a life. The first included the difficult Mars / Saturn conjunction in opposition to Jupiter projecting onto Uranus. Mars and Saturn would give him anger and frustration in equal measure which would be exaggerated by the opposition to Jupiter. This tension would be forced into sudden unpredictable acts of violence through the apex Uranus. The second T square was based on a Moon / Venus opposition which focused onto Neptune, creating a great deal of confusion around relationships in general and because of the Moon with his family in particular.

Once Alexander became Pope, Cesare was made Cardinal at the age of 18 in 1493. Pluto was in Cesare’s T square from 1492 – 3 square to Mars, Saturn and Jupiter all three planets are about power.

Alexander staked the hopes of the Borgia family on Cesare’s brother Giovanni, who was made captain general of the military forces of the papacy. Giovanni was murdered in 1497 in mysterious circumstances and many people suggested that Cesare might have been his killer, as Giovanni’s disappearance could finally give him a long-awaited military career. This would certainly have fit with Cesare’s first T Square but in 1497 Pluto had moved into the territory of his second pattern making a conjunction with Neptune. Cesare’s younger brother Gioffre was married to Sancha of Aragon who tripled her involvement with this incestuous family by having affairs with both Cesare and Giovanni. Giovanni’s murder may well have been the result of jealousy.

Cesare quickly became a powerful military figure. He entered Rome in triumph in February, 1500, dragging behind him, in golden chains, Caterina Sforza, the Lady of two of cities he had conquered. She was imprisoned, and would have died in chains had not the French interceded for her release.

The Jubilee year of 1500 began the period of greatest decadence for Alexander and Cesare. Cesare amused the throngs of Romans by killing five bulls in St. Peter’s Square, making him the hero of Rome. The loyal Burchard describes several scenes of debauchery during these early months of 1500. Not only was there the callous shooting of unarmed criminals by Cesare, but Burchard recounts a scene in which Alexander, Cesare, and Lucrezia watched with amusement as fifty Roman harlots coupled with fifty palace servants, competing for prizes for “best performance” awarded by Alexander. A drunken reveler had his tongue and hand cut off for mocking Cesare. A Venetian who had written a pamphlet criticizing Cesare was sentenced to drowning in the Tiber. Gregorvarius reports that Cesare, replying to pleas for mercy for his victims, said, “Rome is accustomed to write and speak, but I will teach such people to take care.”

Perhaps surprisingly given how Alexander worked so hard to further his whole family, Cesare saved some of his worst behaviour for his brothers and sister. Lucrezia was frequently on the receiving end.

Lucretia Borgia

Lucrezia Borgia had the Sun conjunct Venus in Taurus, an appropriate placing for a lover of the Arts. She also had the Sun, Venus and Mars conjunct the Midheaven with Jupiter in the 10th house all of which showed her high status in life. Mars and Jupiter were in opposition to a close Uranus / Neptune conjunction in her 4th house of family. This pattern shows someone whose life was being constantly and suddenly disrupted and undermined by her own relatives.

Lucrezia also had an ardent and passionate love life as indicated by the Moon’s presence in Aries. This would inevitably bring troubles as it was in the 8th house of death in opposition to Pluto. Many of Lucretia’s lovers would bite the dust.

In February 1491 before her 12th birthday, a matrimonial arrangement was drawn up between Lucrezia and the Lord of Val D’Ayora in the kingdom of Valencia, which was annulled less than two months later in favour of a new contract engaging Lucrezia to the count of Procida. When Rodrigo became Pope Alexander VI he sought to be allied with powerful princely families and founding dynasties of Italy. As such, he called off Lucrezia’s previous engagements and arranged for her to marry Giovanni Sforza in June 1493. This marriage at the age of only 14 was a turning point for Lucrezia as Pluto was opposite her Sun

 Before long, the Borgia family no longer needed the Sforzas. The Pope needed new, more advantageous political alliances, so he may have covertly ordered the execution of Giovanni. The generally accepted version is that Lucrezia was informed of this by Cesare, and she warned her husband, who fled Rome.

Alexander asked Giovanni’s uncle, Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, to persuade Giovanni to agree to a divorce. Giovanni refused and accused Lucrezia of paternal and fraternal incest, a rumour that surfaced many times and when you look at the astrology of things is not that far fetched.  The pope asserted that his daughter’s marriage had not been consummated and was thus invalid. Giovanni was offered her dowry in return for his cooperation. The Sforza family threatened to withdraw their protection should he refuse. Giovanni finally signed confessions of impotence and documents of annulment before witnesses.

Lucrezia had a relationship with Alexander’s chamberlain Perotto and it seemed that she was pregnant. Cesare, discovering his sister’s pregnancy, was furious. He made a run at the young Perotto with a sword, stabbing him as he knelt before the papal throne, splashing Perotto’s blood on his father. Perotto survived the attack, but was thrown into prison. A week later, Perotto’s body was fished out of the river, along with that of Lucrezia’s chambermaid, who, it was believed, had facilitated the affair. In March 1498 a child was born named Giovanni in the Borgia household.

There were two stories about Giovanni, one that he was Cesare’s child from an affair before his marriage. The second,  named him as the son of  Alexander. There were many rumours that Lucrezia was his mother, however.

Following her divorce from Sforza, Lucrezia was married to the Neapolitan Alfonso of Aragon in 1498. In this period of history, political allegiances could change quickly  so that ally became adversary. The marriage was a short one.  Alfonso fled Rome shortly afterwards but returned at Lucrezia’s request, only to be murdered in 1500. It is widely rumored that Lucrezia’s brother Cesare was responsible for Alfonso’s death, as he had recently allied himself  with France against Naples. Cesare’s men attacked Alfonso but didn’t kill him so Cesare’s principal henchman apparently finished the job by strangling him in his bed.

Between 1498 and 1500, Pluto had been opposite Lucrezia’s Mars and given its natal position, the violent death of her lovers would be expected.

From Cesare’s point of view his period of great power which began when Pluto made first contact with his first T Square ended when the planet left his second one at the end of 1502. The year 1503 was a turning point as Alexander died and Cesare fled to Spain.

Lucretia had married again in 1502 but Pluto was conjunct her Uranus / Neptune conjunction in 1503 symbolising a release from the tyrannies of her family. She continued to have a number of affairs but by all reports was happy and settled. She died in 1519 appropriately when Pluto was square her 8th house Moon, renewing the natal connection.

Several rumours have persisted about Lucrezia throughout the years including  allegations of incest, poisoning, and murder.  It is rumoured that Lucrezia was in possession of a hollow ring that she used frequently to poison drinks. There’s no real evidence for these allegations mainly brought forward by her rivals.

Cesare died in 1506 but his lasting legacy is that he served as the model for Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, written in 1513, about a leader who promotes himself solely through the strength of his own will.

The Borgias were a seriously troubled and menacing family but its hardly surprising. The father had a Sun / Saturn conjunction rising in opposition to Pluto, the son a Sun / Pluto rising and the daughter with an 8th house Moon / Pluto opposition. Dysfunctional really doesn’t cover it. Debauched, manipulative and murderous might be closer to the mark. But at least they made good TV 500 years later.


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