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Headscratchers: The Borgias
  • In Season 1, episode 6, Juan has beaten the crap out of his mother's husband (who is a commoner, which Juan, as the illegitimate son of the Pope, takes MAJOR exception to). So, after his dad the Pope chews him out, Juan seems genuinely chastised, and it seems like all is forgiven, and the Pope even has a smile that could be construed as pleasant on his face as he discusses the youngest brother's wedding plans. Then a split second later, he gives Juan an epic slap, literally out of NOWHERE, and stalks off. What was the point of that?
    • Rodrigo is capable of loving his son and thinking he's a Jerk Ass for beating up Theo?
    • Not only that, but Juan doesn't exactly take direction well. Sure, he'll listen to Rodrigo's arguments and try to keep them in mind in the future, but we've seen that he's incredibly impulsive. A blow adds another layer of humiliation that he'll remember for some time yet. Plus, Rodrigo might have just wanted to smack him for being an idiot and a bully. God knows I did.
    • Just so he won't forget.
  • When Alexander decides to set up one of his sons with Sancha, Juan's horrified at the idea of marrying someone who was born out of wedlock. Umm, what does he think he is?
    • He's an arrogant little prick, for one thing. For another, he and his siblings have now been retroactively legitimized by their dad, which means that they're legally no longer bastards themselves. Finally, there's also the fact that he believes that his father, as Pope, is the instrument of God Himself on Earth, which means he probably considers his own status as Pope's bastard higher than a mere king's bastard (even if his dad was still a cardinal at the time of his conception). But mostly, it's because Juan's an arrogant little prick.
    • All of the above. Moreover, we saw in "The French King" that Juan is highly insecure about his family and position. The only reason he has any status in the first place is his father's papacy, and if Theo's his real dad, all that privilege (which he so obviously revels in) goes down the drain. So his insistence on marrying someone "pure" and of high status could also be overcompensation for his deep-seated misgivings about his own parentage.
  • The whole way Cesare is written for/played: Why do Francois Arnaud and Neil Jordan think Cesare is supposed to be a sulky, brooding young punk who either holds in all his feelings of resentment (justified or otherwise) or has no impulse control? I mean, what is this, the Star Wars prequels?
    • Dude...Cesare Borgia INVENTED that trope o.o.
      • I'm with the above. One unconfirmed tale cites Cesare as having a fairly public figure dismembered due to rumors that he had dallied with his sister. He was cold and calculating, but he also was... kind of a punk sometimes. Plus, you have to remember that he's very young and inexperienced in the first season. He was eighteen when his dad became pope, and was still given massive amounts of responsibility. And he really did have a lot of resentment over being a cardinal rather than a warrior. The show actually tones him down a bit.
      • Even in his later years he was noted to have at least one nervous breakdown, or something along those lines. And he'd turn armies around to go hold his sister's foot while she was sick. The Prince? Indeed. But he could be impulsive and stupid at times.
  • Seven episodes in, I'm starting to have trouble seeing how the Borgias were considered so awful by the standards of their time. By modern standards, yes, there's a whole lot of murder going on. But really, the only thing that seems to be setting them apart is the fact that the family patriarch is the Pope. And considering that Rodrigo seems to be a pretty decent politician, even if his attempts at holiness leave a lot wanting, for non-Catholic viewers it can seem a little like the moral panic over the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky affair. Meanwhile, I don't think we've met a single member of the Sforza family who's not extremely unpleasant at best (Caterina as she's portrayed in this) or a monster at worst (Giovanni and Lodovico), for example. I get that History Marches On and it's more interesting to make your protagonists at least a bit sympathetic, no matter who they are, but at the same time it kind of undercuts the notoriety this show is selling itself on when the Borgias themselves are engaged in nothing worse than their rivals and petting dogs left and right while other characters go about doing things like stuffing dead bodies and leaving them on display or committing brutal rapes or assaulting little boys by flashing them.
    • They were seen "so awful by the standards of their time" because they lost. While they were in power, their way of politics didn't draw more hatred than other families, who by "the standards of their time" were all equally tyrannic (meaning not lawfully in power) -which were most of the rulers of Italy at least de jure and as seen by the feudal Monarchies- and making that worse, knew that... which lead to really nasty homocidal coup d'etats every year or the other, who now nobody ever talks about. But I see your point, the "traditional" historical point of view on them is really hypocritical.
    • Most Renaissance popes had illegitimate children but usually they were treated as more of an open secret; officially they would be referred to as nephews or cousins or some such. Alexander admitted their paternity openly. On the one hand that showed a willingness to accept the consequences of his actions and strong parental instincts (which are pretty debatable considering the way he used the kids for his own political advancement). On the other hand he wasn't even bothering to pay lip service to his vow of celibacy, he showed no shame or remorse for having violated his oath, so he created a bit of a scandal and forced people to notice.
    • That being said, I think they're showing the Borgias in a pretty negative light. You've got them performing a hit on that Muslim prince who loved them and trusted them so they could pay Lucrezia's dowry. When Cesare and Juan went to put him out of his misery, the very least they could have done would have been to baptize him before they stabbed him: He'd expressed interest in converting, Cesare was a priest and could have administered the sacrament, and the predominant way of thinking among Christians at the time was that Muslims went to hell automatically. Alexander essentially pimped out Lucrezia to that Sforza dick, he's come off as gratuitously cruel to his baby mama (not letting her attend the wedding but openly flaunting his relationship with Giulia Farnese), giving tacit approval to the enslavement of that Amerindian the Spaniards brought before him in chains, and more or less telling Farnese she had to become his mistress as her penance after her confession. Juan comes off looking terrible, Cesare has his moments but is for the most part acting like a sulky teenager who can't control his emotional outbursts, and he keeps visiting what's-her-name in the convent despite her having made it clear that she's not comfortable around him. Lucrezia usually looks like a poor manipulated innocent in fiction but they're even writing her in a more conniving manner.
      • Well the whole reason Djem wanted to convert was because he thought that the Christians were so morally superior to the Muslims who had screwed him over back home and when the Christian Borgias had him killed this was proven not to be the case. And Giulia becoming Alexander's mistress was only after she rejected all his other penance ideas so I'm sure it's n ot as if she felt like she had to sleep with him because it was God's will.
    • I've noticed all of that, and (with the exception of Lucrezia- as a rape survivor and as someone who was put into the care of someone who [non-sexually, but still] abused me by my rather oblivious parents but still loves them anyway myself, I kind of can't help but root for her when she as her little moments of biting back against what's happened to her) I still think that even showing all of that terrible behavior from the family, they still come off better than a lot of the people they're up against. It's basically that the Borgias have all these moments of Renaissance-standard cruelty, but then they have more to them than that, while their opponents (except of Della Rovere, who's gotten the Historical Hero Upgrade) are just plain awful through and through. My point was "why were they seen as so awful by the standards of their time", not from an enlightened modern perspective. A modern viewer looks at things like slavery and selling your daughter in exchange for military power and what happened to Djem and is repulsed, but those were pretty much done things in their time and place. Take out all the things that were par for the course for people in that position of power back then, and you're left with simple occasional jerkassery. The only one I feel to already be rising to their horrible-even-by-Renaissance-standards reputation right now is Cesare- even in the Renaissance people knew that stalking nuns was a shitty thing to do.
      • Your question was already answered: because they lost. Seriously, that's the entire reason. They were much vilified and written about in a terrible way at the time primarily because they were Spaniards who had set up and taken power in Italy, and people didn't like that. People were hypocrites and the Borgias were foreigners, that's why they have such a bad reputation. (Also, they had some women with the gall to not take shit, notably Lucrezia. Historically she's been absolutely lampooned as pretty much the ultimate evil woman, but historians are now pretty sure that she was cunning, but generally good-natured and a survivor of abuse. That was not acceptable in the time either, and while some got away with it, she had it on top of being a foreigner, part of a hated family, illegitimate child of a pope...etc.)
    • The Borgias did have their virtues, and those are really not coming through at all—unlike The Tudors, where you saw both the good and the bad in most of the characters.
    • Oh, and Della Rovere is getting a pretty generous treatment. True he betrayed his own government and instigated a big war, but you keep seeing him try to minimize the suffering it causes, and you see nothing at all of his own lechery and other earthy vices, which he had in more or less the same measure as his enemy.
    • I think the Borgias' real crime in the eyes of their contemporaries was nothing more than the audacity to be Spaniards with power over the Italians (and the French). They weren't any more heinous than the people around them, but they were foreigners.
    • The reason why they were more reviled by Renaissance standards was part rumor, part reality. Truthfully, a lot of it was what was committed in the name of Borgia. Alexander was fairly tame, aside from some well-timed assassinations (not unusual) and orgies (... somewhat unusual when held in the Vatican). Juan was completely incompetent, but did have a strong sadistic streak with little direction. (There's a letter out there in which Cesare orders him to stop killing cats. Um?) Lucrezia was evil by rumor only, though she did have a manipulative side and was utterly loyal to her family. She could wring info out of you and send it to her brother before you knew what was going on. Cesare is responsible for a lot of what people recall, because even though a lot of what he did was normal by Renaissance standards... He did it so well. He scared the hell out of his opponents; he eliminated several powerful men in one sitting. His targets weren't just common criminals, but well-known, even royal men. Until his dad died, he was well on his way to conquering all of the Italian states—and he died at thirty-one. It was less of them doing something so out of the ordinary, and more of them doing it so often and so well that the legend began to grow.
    • I think the only thing making Rodrigo Borgia stand out by the standards of his own time and did cause outrage was the blatant nepotism (e.g. making Cesare cardinal of Valencia or "inventing" a duchy for Juan) and that he was very open about his paternity and mistress, unlike other contemporary clerics.
  • the Chain shots. Normal round shot is perfectly usable on open fields, as the french themselves proved under Francis I. Or at least they could use mortar type shots....or mortars. It's just annoying. especially since chain shots are for naval combat some time down the road and would never come in the obscene bore their using
    • This isn't my area of expertise but Francois was two kings after Charles. So if he's the one who proved it, he hasn't done it yet. I'm thinking maybe it just hasn't occurred to anyone yet? The artillery of the time was designed as a siege weapon, after all.
      • While you're right on Francis being after, culverins had been used as antipersonel weapons for a hundred years or more(noticably without the chained shot), replacing the ballista. which brings the next point: not only are they treating cannons in a wierd way, why is no one armed with guns, which would be if not prevelant then at least not unheard of. I get that they are trying to show the brutality of the French army against the unprepared Italians and the Papal states, but they are clearly disregarding centuries of military development for the sake of drama. While I might forgive the lack of handgunns (France is a bit old fashioned), the use of chain shot to justify antpersonel use of cannons is what really bugs me.
    • From Season 2....one word: recoil. It's kind of why cannons were not mounted on the high, thin medieval fortifications of the time.
  • In the pilot Della Rovere plans to get rid of Alexander using charges of lechery. And the law is very clear that impeaching or recalling or whatever it's called a pope on those charges requires that, among other things, the lechery be public. So he proceeds to put his spies in Alexander's residence and try to get information out of the help. Umm, if you need to snoop around in the papal apartments to find evidence of a relationship that no one would know about otherwise, how is that public?
    • And all he had to do was wait a couple of episodes before Alexander did start flaunting his unchastity in public.
  • Why oh why can they not pronounce some of the names right? It should be "chay-ZARR-ay", not "Chessary", and Della Rovare ought to be pronounced "dell-ah ro-VAIR-ay".
    • Because the show is shot in English and the pronunciations used are more natural to English speakers than those.
  • The Borgias are supposedly Italians of Spanish Descent. So why is Lucrezia blond, fair skinned, blue eyed, and generally Northern European in appearance?
    • She was in real life.
    • Also, Spanish does not mean what North Americans tend to call Hispanic. Although the long stretch of time in which Spain was ruled by the Moors did contribute somewhat to the gene pool, the conception of someone Spanish having black hair and darkish skin actually comes from the racial mixing that occurred once the conquistadors moved into Central/South America. There the Spanish (who looked/look pretty much like any other Europeans) co-opted various indigenous peoples with dark coloring. Spain itself has a populace not all that different looking from any other European country.
    • True, but blond hair and blue eyes remain northern European features. I've been to Spain, and I didn't see any blond people there, or people with skin as pale as Lucrezia's. Then there's the fact that neither of her parents or brothers have blond hair or pale skin.
      • *sigh* Are you kidding? Just because you didn't see any doesn't mean that there aren't or weren't any. Also people (especially the upper classes) were a lot more picky when it came to who they slept with. Pale skin was fashionable, so was blonde hair. Dying/bleaching your hair has been done for centuries. Do you honestly believe there are no blonde people in Spain?
      • Also blonde hair is a recessive trait, which can be carried for generations without manifesting in the phenotype. According to That Other Wiki, in contemporary accounts "[s]he is described as having heavy blonde hair which fell past her knees, a beautiful complexion, hazel eyes which constantly changed colour," and so forth. And although not all the attributions are certain, here are some probable portraits of her. Granted, the descriptions may play fast and loose with the truth in order to make her fit more closely with the Petrarchan standard of feminine beauty, but we have to go with the information we have from the period.
      • First, Holliday Grainger actually uses brown contacts in The Borgias. Second, pale skin was considered both attractive and a symbol of status at the time, so rich girls of marrying age were deliberately kept out of the sun and used spurge-laurel and other products to bleach their skin themselves. Finally, I'm fron Spain and been to Italy and have met plenty of pale blondes in my lifetime. Just because it isn't common doesn't mean it is impossible.
      • Also, the rarity of the pale blondes is exactly what makes them attractive. Even in modern day Italy, as a fair skinned blonde you'll get a lot more attention from men than your tanned brunette friends, even if they're prettier than you in every other way.
      • The real Lucrezia was also kind of infamously devoted to washing her hair, probably also with remedies of the time to make it even blonder.
      • Ironically, the problem might stem from the fact that there aren't ''enough'' blondes in the show. The real Vanozza, as seen in this portrait, was blonde like Lucrezia but she is portrayed by a brunette actress in the show. So was Giulia Farnese for that matter - the fact Rodrigo was a blondes man probably had something to do with those incest rumours.
      • Also, the Borgia's were from the North of Spain. The North is very heavily influenced by the Celts and Visigoths instead of Moors, so more Northern European appearances.
      • The Goths did not settle in the north of Spain, but in the center. The Celts were present in the West (it's even possible, but unlikely, that they arrived by sea). The Borgias were from none of the former, but from the eastern coast (Gandia). Simply put, Spain has blonde people because it is a country in Europe populated by Caucasians. It's pointless to try to "blame" their presence on one foreign invader group in particular.
      • Not to mention that at the time the show is set, the Queen of Spain, Isabella of Castille, had a very fair complexion, blue eyes and had a hair color that was between reddish-blonde and auburn.
  • In universe, why is Micheletto so fanatically loyal to Cesare? He tried to kill them in season 1, fails, Cesare confronts him about it, enlists him, he betrays his original employers...and he's been the faithful, diligent dogsbody ever since. Why, exactly?
    • He doesn't just try to kill them and fail. Cesare catches him in the middle of preparing to kill his family. Cesare points out that they both have a lot in common, namely they're both utterly ruthless, and they both need each other. Plus Cesare is also paying him.
    • Micheletto is loyal to Cesare because Micheletto is gay, officially since season 2 episode 5, but c'mon that whipping scene in the pilot?! and kinda likes the idea of getting with someone like Cesare and then that resulting in someone more messed up than him. Killing doesn't mean anything anymore to Micheletto. He's a kinda a psychopath, a commissioned serial killer than an assassin ( you see him kill people that he wasn't even told to ). So the idea of ruining someone's life so badly just so he can have someone to relate to, that basically what Micheletto wants. He just wants someone.
      • As of the most recent episode, it has become clear that this loyalty has spread to Lucrezia as well; he makes it abundantly clear that his backing of her in Naples goes beyond the mercenary, and he verges on being blatant when he suggests the King's non-natural death.
  • Season 3, episode 2, Alexander has a nightmare about Juan and wakes up, with Cesare next to him. He then calls Cesare 'our only son'. I understand that it reffers to Juan's death, but what about Joffre? Did he just forget about him?
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