Pope Alexander VI

Pope Alexander VI was born Roderic Llancol i de Borja (Rodrigo Borgia), on the 1st of January 1431, at Xativa in the Kingdom of Valencia, Spain. Rodrigo grew up as part of the prominent and powerful Borgia family. His uncle Alonso de Borgia, who was the bishop of Valencia (and later became cardinal), supervised Rodrigo’s education and endowed him with ecclesiastical benefices while he was still a teenager. Rodrigo studied law at Bologna and on the 22nd of February 1456 he was made cardinal by his uncle. While serving as the vice chancellor of the Roman Catholic Church Rodrigo acquired great wealth and despite the rebuke he had received from Pope Pius II on this subject, he continued to live as a Renaissance prince. He fathered four legitimized offsprings with a Roman noblewoman, Vannozza Cattanei. Among them was the infamous Lucrezia. It was claimed that Pope Alexander VI sired at least twelve children with a number of mistresses.

Pope Alexander VI lived a lavish life. It was said about him that he would go to any length to gain power and wealth and that is why he was associated with several bribes, and deceit. It is difficult to establish what is fact and what is rumor about his life style and corruption. Among his major sources of funds were sale of cardinalships and indulgences. An indulgence was a written proclamation which exempted an individual from punishment for the sins committed or even sometimes for the sins to be committed in the future. He used some of this money to fund his several military campaigns.

Following the death of Pope Innocent VIII on 25th July 1492, there were three candidates who were likely to become his successor (Cardinal Georgia, Cardinal Ascanio Sforza and Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere). There were claims that corruption and bribery were at play during the conclave election. Despite these allegations, Borgia was proclaimed pope on the morning of 11th August 1492 after securing a simple two-thirds majority. He then took the name Alexander VI.

After he was crowned as pope, criticism was heard from several people on the Roman Catholic Church being headed by a greedy pope. However, to many people's surprise and against most expectations, Pope Alexander VI seemed to take the papacy very seriously at the beginning of his reign. Nevertheless, things started changing when he started involving his relatives in the leadership of the Church. Pope Alexander VI made his son Cesare Borgia archbishop of Valencia at the age of seventeen. It is alleged that Pope Alexander VI made cardinal appointments based on the people who could support his reign and enable him to rule as he wanted.

Pope Alexander VI's reign was a disturbed time for the Catholic Church. Many plots were made to depose him and he came to trust no one but his own Kin in order to reassert his power. He diminished the Power of the Roman Curia Considerably and as he gave more and more responsibilities and power to his family he became less and less popular. During his reign there were several deaths, conflicts and crimes that were linked to him. However, there is no evidence that he had anyone poisoned, murdered or tortured in the defense of the Papal States, as alleged. His house was riddled with many tragedies; Juan, Pope Alexander VI’s son was murdered on the 14th of June 1497. Pope Alexander  was filled with grief over his murder and promised to dedicate himself from then on to the moral reform of the Church (he did not fulfill this promise). Pope Alexander VI died on 18th August 1503, when he was 72 years old.

Pope Alexander is a problematic figure, his contemporaries hated him and until the 19th century all the historiographers of the Catholic Church had portrayed him as despicable. Later there were a few catholic thinkers who tried to defend him. What do you think about this?