Mopping UpOn 8th July Vitellozzo Vitelli took the Florentine border fortress of Borgo di San Sepulcro for Cesare and on 20th Cesare took Camerino.
‘At about three o’clock on Saturday afternoon, July 23rd, the news was brought to the pope that Don Cesare Borgia had taken over Camerino without any fighting……Don Cesare had negotiated a peace treaty with the ruler of Camerino for a specific period of time, but then….had astutely entered and seized the city.’[i]
He took Varano and his children prisoner.
When Louis XII arrived in Milan on 28th July he was petitioned by the Duke of Urbino, the Orsini[ii] and envoys from the Florentine government, for his help in recovering lands lost during Cesare’s recent campaigns. Cesare left Urbino on 5th August, disguised as a Knight of St John, and upon arriving in Milan rekindled his friendship with Louis. He proffered his support for Louis’ upcoming campaign in Naples in return for support at Bologna.
|Leonardo da Vinci|
A Genius at Work
On the 18th August Cesare appointed Leonardo da Vinci[iii] as his architect and military engineer, ordering him to inspect Cesare’s strongholds and fortresses. He may have been introduced to Cesare by the Florentines, hoping to insert a spy into Cesare’s court. They met in late July in Urbino, Leonardo having just finished a short tour through Cesare’s domains. Cesare promised Leonardo manuscripts;
‘Borges [Cesare] will get me the Archimedes of the Bishop of Padua[iv], and Vitellozzo the one at Borgo di San Sepulcro.’[v]
On 5th September Lucrezia gave birth to a still-born daughter and she was still unwell when Cesare visited her in Ferrara on 7th, returning from his trip to Milan. Cesare then returned to Rome after meeting Machiavelli in Imola where he had created an administrative headquarters. Lucrezia was out of danger by early October when Rodrigo made the young Giovanni Borgia duke of Camerino as well as of Nepi.
Cesare started on a reformation of the administration of the Romagna, placing some of his relatives in holy orders as administrators. He was attempting to create a government machinery, based in Imola, to replace the capricious rule of the individual families. One of his first acts was to dismiss Lorqua as his vicar-general; he was given Rimini to govern. Cesare placed a noted jurist and humanist Antonio di Monte Sansovino as head of his new administration.
The Great Revolt
|Giovanni II Bentivoglio|
A number of Cesare’s captains conspired with the disposed lords of the Romagna. They were worried that Cesare’s ambitions were boundless and plotted to assassinate him. The conspirators included a number of members of the Orsini family, Giovanni II Bentivoglio Lord of Bologna, , the Lord of Fermo Oliverotto Eufreducci, Pandolfo Petrucci of Siena, the new Lord of Città di Castello Vitellozzo Vitelli and the Lord of Perugia Gianpaolo Baglioni.
The Orsini discovered that Louis had given permission for Cesare to use them as he wished[vi]. Bentivoglio had received a summons on 17th September to Rome to answer for his failings as a papal vicar and on 23rd he was given a direct order by Louis to surrender Bologna to the pope. The other lords and condottiere also had reason to hate the Borgia family.
The conspiracy started with an uprising on 7th October of the town of San Leo, fiercely loyal to the Montefeltro dukes of Urbino. Other towns, mostly in the south of the Romagna, followed suit including Urbino and Gubbio.
October the conspirators met at La Magione where they agreed to launch a two
pronged attack; Vitelli and the Orsini would attack Urbino and Ermes Bentivoglio would attack Imola.
|Rocca di San Leo|
‘Gathering together a force of about five hundred horses and two thousand infantry, they [the conspirators] they first restored the City of Urbino….to Don Guidobaldo….They then surrounded Imola, striking fear into the heart of Don Cesare, and similarly terrifying the pope, who immediately sought help from the King of France.’[vii]
|Ugo di Moncada|
Realising that he was over extended Cesare ordered Michelotto and Ugo de Moncada to leave Urbino, which they did reluctantly allowing a triumphant Guidobaldo Montefeltre to return to his city. Oliverotto Eufreducci helped the last surviving member of the Varano family retake Camerino.
Fossombrone and Pergola, encouraged by the retaking of Urbino, rose against the Borgia troops stationed in their towns and slaughtered the mainly Spanish garrison. Michelotto and Moncada who were en route to Imola, ignored their orders and their Spanish troops reduced the two towns to smouldering rubble on 11th October.
The Orsini, Vitelli and Baglioni joined forces and trounced Cesare’s troops at Fossombrone. Moncada was taken prisoner but Michelotto managed to escape, while the remnants of their army were driven down the coast, and Cesare was surrounded at Imola.
Turning the Tables
Cesare had been well aware of the negotiations of his condottiere with the rebellious lords of the Romagna. Cesare also had a Florentine observer with him; Machiavelli was still in Imola. In addition Cesare had Louis’ support as he informed Machiavelli;
‘Imagine what I can get to defend myself from those men, the greater part of whom His Majesty the King believes are his violent enemies….the Vitelli cannot reveal themselves at an hour when it will damage me less.’[viii]
Machiavelli assured Cesare that he knew that Cesare would be victorious against his enemies. He had not only Louis’ support but also that of his father; Cesare had access to papal funds and he used these to pay the soldiers he was sending to key fortresses and cities. Cesare was aware that Venice had refused to assist the conspirators and he also knew that Florence could not afford to support them either.
The conspirators also lacked one essential for success, a man with the ability to keep these disparate allies working together. Cesare played divide and rule with his adversaries; one by one the conspirators came to terms with Cesare; Machiavelli informed Florence that a disguised Paolo Orsini visited Cesare in Cesena, on the evening of 24th October. Cesare informed Paolo that he must have Urbino and Camerino returned to his control; a message that was not received with equanimity by the conspirators when Paolo returned to Magione.
Rodrigo also spent time working on turning the conspirators. His attempts were centred on Cardinal Orsini
‘Cardinal Orsini was rash enough not to consolidate his own power and that of his family after the settlement with the Borgias in November. He refused to listen to anyone, but often remarked with a smile that he had never had any difference with the pope. He imagined that by securing peace he could profit from it.’[ix]
Pandolfo Petrucci contacted Cesare; assuring him, in a craven epistle, that he had never intended to displease him. Cesare’s disloyal captains were forgiven but they had to give him a son each as hostages to fortune. Machiavelli was sceptical of Cesare’s seeming benevolence towards his captains.
Countering the Conspiracy
Mid-November saw Rodrigo using the death of the Bishop of Cortona to replenish the papal coffers, seizing the bishop’s goods and selling the diocese to a Florentine for 2,000 ducats[x]. Rodrigo sent 15,000 ducats[xi] worth of coins to Cesare on 3rd December; the army was costing 2,000 ducats a day to keep on the road.
When Cesare failed to make any response to Ermes Bentivoglio’s dispositions outside Imola, Ermes withdrew in confusion. On the 9th December Rodrigo was informed that Cesare had retaken Urbino;
‘The pope heard news of the recapture of Urbino with all its possessions by Don Cesare Borgia, who had reached a satisfactory settlement with Don Guidobaldo whereby the latter was allowed to leave the city in safety with all his wealth and goods.’[xii]
|Porta Malatesta Camerino|
Two weeks later Rodrigo was told of the recapture of Camerino and on Christmas Day the head of the hated Lorqua was found impaled on a spear in the central square in Cesena. He’d arrived three days previously from Rimini and been arrested on his arrival and was then interrogated. Lorqua’s brutality was well-known and he had been brutalising his new subjects in Rimini, a state of affairs that Cesare clearly did not wish to continue.
The remaining conspirators were won over by Louis’ intervention; Bologna was joined with Florence under French protection and made off limits to Cesare. Giovanni II Bentivoglio was forced to pay Cesare a substantial amount of gold and provide him with troops.
On 30th December Senigallia surrendered to Cesare’s troops. Giovanna da Montefeltro[xiii] fled the town with two barges filled with her possessions and sailed to Venice with her son, leaving the keys in a silver basin to be handed to Cesare. The fortress was surrendered to Cesare by Andrea Doria[xiv]. The following day Cesare himself arrived at Senigallia and was greeted by Vitelli, Euffreducci, and Paolo and Francesco Orsini. Once inside the gates the four were arrested by Cesare’s men.
At the Court of the Borgia – Johan Burchard, Folio Society 1990
Lucrezia Borgia – Rachel Erlanger, Michael Joseph 1979
Florence and the Medici – JR Hale, Phoenix Press 2001
The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici – Christopher Hibbert, Folio Society 2001
The Borgias – Mary Hollingsworth, Quercus Editions 2014
The Borgias – GJ Meyer, Bantam 2013
Leonardo da Vinci – Charles Nicholl, Penguin Books 2005
A History of Venice – John Julius Norwich, Penguin Books 1982
Absolute Monarchs – John Julius Norwich, Random House 2011
The March of Folly – Barbara Tuchman, Cardinal 1990
Niccolo’s Smile – Maurizio Viroli, IB Tauris & Company Ltd 2001
[i] At the Court of the Borgia - Burchard
[ii] Who had lost much in the way of lands when Cesare cut his swathe through the Romagna
[iii] Leonardo had been working for Ludvico Sforza and had lost his job when Louis took Milan
[iv] Pietro Barozzi, Bishop of Padua 1487 - 1507
[v] Leonardo da Vinci - Nicholl
[vi] The source may have been Rodrigo who was becoming garrulous in his old age and was often unaware of what he had let slip
[vii] At the Court of the Borgia - Burchard
[viii] Niccolo’s Smile - Viroli
[ix] At the Court of the Borgia - Burchard
[xii] At the Court of the Borgia - Burchard
[xiv] Genoese Admiral and condottiere