‘The first method of estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him’ Niccòlo Machiavelli (1469-1527) – ‘The Prince’
When I read The Prince many years ago, that quote reminded me of sage advice that my paternal grandfather once gave me – ‘Judge people by the company they keep’, sound advice that has served me well from time to time.
Machiavelli served under the Borgia family of Florence, the head of which was Pope Alexander VI. When Pope Alexander suddenly died in 1503 and the Borgia family were eventually defeated by the Medici, Machiavelli was imprisoned, tortured and eventually exiled from Florence to his nearby farm. It was said that from his terrace he could see Florence, but he could not return, and never did.
He wrote ‘The Prince’ as a guide to aspiring rulers, and dedicated it to Lorenzo de Medici, in a forlorn effort to endear himself to the Medici family. It is likely that Machiavelli obtained first-hand experience from observing the strategy and tactics of Pope Alexander VI and Cesare Borgia, as they attempted to conquer and unify several of the Italian city states.
Cesare Borgia was one of the many illegitimate children of Pope Alexander VI. Cesare was born in about 1475 and his father made him Bishop of Pamplona at the age of 15 and archbishop of Valencia and a cardinal while only 17.
After his brother’s murder he resigned from the Church to take command of his father’s armies. When Pope Alexander died suddenly in 1503 and was eventually replaced by Pope Julius II, a Medici and enemy of the Borgia, Cesare struggled to maintain his power. He was eventually arrested and sent to imprisonment in Spain. He escaped twice, the second time successfully joining his brother-in-law, King John III of Navarre, in Pamplona.
Commanding the army of Navarre in 1504, he led them in the siege and eventual capture of Viana, near Logroño. When some of the besieged knights broke free, Cesare set off after them, but he was ambushed and killed. He was buried in the church in Viana.
In the era after 1527, the local bishop decided that it was not appropriate that a ‘degenerate’ such as Borgia should be buried in the church and his remains were removed and buried in the street, so that everyone had to walk over them.
In 1945 they were once more dug up and placed under a marble plaque outside church grounds and finally moved back inside the church in 2007.
Outside the door of the church there is a paving stone commemorating Cesar Borgia.
Apparently there used to be an epitaph inscribed on the original tomb:
Aquí yace en poca tierra el que todo le temía
(Here lies in a small piece of earth, he who everyone feared)
Today Viana is a relatively small and peaceful town on the Camino de Santiago. It stretches along the crest of a small hill, and is known as the last resting place of a famous Borgia prince.