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Sep 3rd 2015 at 6:36:20 AM •••

A revisionist history is presented in The Borgias by G J Meyer. One of the author's aims was to correct what he felt was blatant historical misrepresentation of many of the family members, based largely on reports from the Borgia's enemies — first and foremost being Cardinal della Rovere (the future Pope Julius II), who loathed Alexander VI and his family, and was in a position to damn his memory. (A parallel would be the damning of Richard III by the Tudors.)

Now, in general, I'm leery of taking well established history and trying to construct new and counter intuitive arguments just for the sake of being "revisionist" or "contrarian", but what the author presents in this work bears consideration. Much of what has become "gospel" with respect to the Borgias rests on flimsy evidence, given credence by 19th century historians using poor or non-existent fact checking. For example, an extremely sensational account of Pope Alexander VI's death originates with a man who was in Tuscany when it happened. Similarly, when Jofre (supposedly a bastard son of Alexander) married the illegitimate daughter of Alfonso II of Naples, various documents on both sides refer to her as illegitimate, but not him. Meyer makes an at least plausible case that Cesare, Lucretia et al were not Alexander's bastards, but rather his quite legitimate nieces and nephews.

However, having made good arguments for dispelling many of the more ridiculous and unfounded assertions concerning various Borgia family members, Meyer goes a bit too far in trying to rehabilitate the family. He pillories previous historians for attributing various personality defects to Borgia family members without reliable documentation, then proceeds to use the same tactic to smear the opponents of the Borgias, especially Julius II. He goes well beyond merely rehabilitating the Borgias and ventures into hagiography, using almost fawning adjectives to describe Rodrigo, Cesare and Lucretia. While his opponents described Alexander as bloodthirsty and perverted, Meyer uses adjectives such as fun-loving, boisterous and energetic. Cesare is stunningly handsome, coolly calculating and necessarily "strict" and "harsh" with his subordinates and rivals. Admittedly, Nicolo Machiavelli, one of the most astute political observers of all time, who spent well over a year as the Florentine envoy to Cesare, thought very well of Cesare as a political mover and shaker. Lucretia, if Meyer is to be believed, is destined for sainthood once her dastardly biographers see the light.

Still, this is an excellent read, well written and describing a very interesting time and place.

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