• Weird History

Murder, Inbreeding, And Destroying The Catholic Church: The Sins Of The Borgias

In the late 1400s and early 1500s Italy was full of powerful families, but none were as feared and reviled as the Borgias. The Borgias’ history is a checklist of every terrible thing you can think of, and then some more. Rodrigo Borgia (later Pope Alexander VI) and especially his children, Lucrezia Borgia and Cesare Borgia, wreaked havoc around Rome. They spent their time sleeping, murdering, and buying their way to infamy, and helped ruin the Catholic church while they were at it.

Their antics were so over-the-top that more than one TV show has been based on the family without much exaggeration. Its popularity just shows how much the Borgias and their crazy antics still fascinate us today. 

Many historians don’t think the Borgias deserve to be remembered as terribly as they are. But if even half of the things said about them are true, they should go down in history as one of the most messed-up families ever.

  • Photo: Showtime

    Lucrezia Might Have Been A Sneaky Poisoner

    Having so many husbands and having the second one die suddenly gave Lucrezia a bad reputation. While in reality she might just have been a pawn in the games of her father and brother, to outsiders she became a man-eating murderess.

    Rumor had it that she was crazy for power, just as much if not more so than the men in her family. So when rivals became a problem she supposedly poisoned them. People said that she killed her second husband by poison as well.

    This is perhaps the allegation that followed the Borgias the most. In 1833, Victor Hugo wrote a play about Lucrezia in which she debates with herself how to kill her enemies. An opera based on the play included these rumors. And even artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti got in on the act, painting a picture that depicted Lucrezia washing her hands after poisoning her husband. True or not, she would go down in history as the biggest murderer in an already pretty murdery family.

  • Photo: Wikipedia

    Juan Was Probably Murdered By His Own Brother

    Being a member of the Borgia family was basically an occupational hazard and poor Juan found that out the hard way. Cesare was insanely jealous of his younger brother, and since he was pretty insane anyway that is not a position you wanted to be in. Juan had received the title Duke of Gandía even though in theory it should have gone to his older sibling. He had also been named commander of the papal army in 1496 and got to go off and be an important soldier fighting the rebellious nobles, the Orsini.

    All of this was possibly too much for Cesare to bear and rumor had it that when his brother was mysteriously murdered a year later he was the one who killed him. There is no hard evidence for this, but considering the kind of person Cesare was it made plenty of sense, then and now.

  • Photo: Showtime

    Cesare Also Murdered His Sister’s Second Husband

    Lucrezia’s second marriage seemed like a great idea at the time, but then the political winds changed. Suddenly her husband Alfonso was a liability, and her father decided he needed to be removed. He was attacked by a knife-wielding mob right on the steps of the Vatican, and was taken inside to convalesce.

    But that wouldn’t be the end. Rumors started flying about just who ordered the hit. One ambassador to Rome said, “In this palace there is so much hatred, old and new, so much envy and jealousy ... that scandal is inevitable.” A pamphlet was produced that claimed Cesare had visited his injured brother-in-law and whispered in his ear “What didn’t happen at lunch could still happen at dinner.” 

    A month later Alfonso was found in his bed, dead from strangulation. While rumors abounded that Lucrezia had poisoned her husband, the mode of death would seem to prove otherwise. But other rumors said it was Cesare himself, carrying out his father’s wishes and finishing what the previous attempt had failed at.

  • Photo: Showtime

    They Once Hosted The Naughtiest Party In The History Of The Papacy

    When you think about it, the pope could totally throw some awesome parties. He has the coolest locations and tons of money, but he’s probably stopped by the whole “head of the Catholic Church” thing. That didn’t mean a thing when Alexander was in charge, though.

    What would become the infamous Banquet of Chestnuts happened in 1501. Most of the Borgia family were there along with members of the nobility and the higher ups in the Catholic church. Then there were the 50 hottest prostitutes in Rome. The evening started with a huge feast, but then a bunch of chestnuts were thrown on the floor and the hookers tried to gather them up. At this point the night took a sexy turn, with guest copulating with the prostitutes. They even gave out prizes if you proved to be exceptionally virile. It would go down as the most depraved moment of a very depraved papacy.