Book Review: Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia: Brother and Sister of History’s Most Vilified Family by Samantha Morris

Genre: History,  nonfiction

Publisher: Pen and Sword

Pub date: 30 September 2020

Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Myths and rumour have shrouded the Borgia family for centuries – tales of incest, intrigue and murder have been told of them since they themselves walked the hallways of the Apostolic Palace. In particular, vicious rumour and slanderous tales have stuck to the names of two members of the infamous Borgia family – Cesare and Lucrezia, brother and sister of history’s most notorious family. But how much of it is true, and how much of it is simply rumour aimed to blacken the name of the Borgia family?

In the first ever biography solely on the Borgia siblings, Samantha Morris tells the true story of these two fascinating individuals from their early lives, through their years living amongst the halls of the Vatican in Rome until their ultimate untimely deaths. Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia begins in the bustling metropolis of Rome with the siblings ultimately being used in the dynastic plans of their father, a man who would become Pope, and takes the reader through the separate, yet fascinatingly intertwined, lives of the notorious siblings. One tale, that of Cesare, ends on the battlefield of Navarre, whilst the other ends in the ducal court of Ferrara. Both Cesare and Lucrezia led lives full of intrigue and danger, lives which would attract the worst sort of rumour begun by their enemies.

Drawing on both primary and secondary sources Morris brings the true story of the Borgia siblings, so often made out to be evil incarnate in other forms of media, to audiences both new to the history of the Italian Renaissance and old.

Whilst I was aware of the Borgia’s I have never read much about them but recently I’ve been expanding my historical reading and interests outside of my usual scope so I was intrigued by this book from Samantha Morris who aims to dispel the rumours of incest murder and poisoning.

I will hold my hand up and admit I have watched the TV show so had a little understanding of who they were and the rumours surrounding them.

Whilst the title is self explanatory and Morris does focus on the siblings the rest of the family are by no means excluded. I was absorbed in to this book from the first page! Yes, its nonfiction but Morris’ writing style makes it so easy to read.

The initial chapters focus on the background of the family, who they were and their rise to power before starting to focus on the siblings and the events that have led to them still being discussed hundreds of years later.

From the dispelling of rumours to the true stories of their successes and failings I am now very interested in reading more about the family.

I thoroughly enjoyed how Morris explains where rumours regarding the family such as incest and poison originated from and how they have been presented in modern day media. Morris analyses media such as the TV show and explains which are most historically correct.

Cesare led a very interesting albeit short life and seems to have been very successful as a soldier although clearly made a few enemies along the way. His journey from cardinal to a Duke and captain of the papal army is extremely interesting and an area I would like to read more about.

Lucrezia, often depicted as a woman who is not averse to using poison is portrayed as a pious woman who seems to have had affairs but also faced much grief in her life but who was loved by her people and had many admirers. Whilst she clearly loved her family I agree with Morris that their relationship was a normal sibling relationship.

Morris also briefly covers what happens to the siblings children which I found to be a very interesting chapter as well as where to look in Rome for signs of the family, when I eventually make it there that is!

The book is referenced throughout providing me with more reading to now follow up with in my newly found interest of the Borgia’s.

Between the TV show and reading this my opinion has changed of the family and I find myself admiring them in particular Lucrezia, whilst she may have had faults she faced a lot of heartbreak and enemies, her story is actually really sad.

As a newcomer to the Borgia’s I found this book incredibly informative and interesting but I’m unsure if it would provide anything new to those who have already read or studied them. This book is clearly the result of much research and Morris obviously has a passion for the subject evident throughout which I think is part of the reason I found the book so engaging.

I would have liked to read more about specific battles Cesare faced and whether Lucrezia was ever caught out for her letters she sent but as an introduction to the family and the siblings I can’t fault this book and would highly recommend to those who would like to learn more about this intriguing family. I gave this 5 stars as I previously knew next to nothing about the Borgia’s and not only have I learnt a lot but this book has also given me a push to learn more about them.

Thank you to NetGalley and Pen and Sword for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia published this week! Happy Publication Week to Samantha Morris!

You can order your copy directly from Pen & Sword

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