History Behind the Game: Assassin’s Creed’s The Borgia Family

Continuing on with the “History” series, I decided to narrow it down a bit and focus this one directly on those crazy Borgia’s, who are your primary antagonists in Assassin’s Creed II and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood.  Outside of the games they’re depicted in, the Borgia’s are actually a real interesting family as it is.  Between rumors of incest, political positioning, murder, poison, and a host of other things, these guys really have it all.

Since I’m only covering three people below the break, I’ve tried to add in as much detail as I possibly could.  I’m also looking to expand this History series outside of the Assassin’s Creed universe.  I have a few ideas on where to head, but I’d love to hear from you as well.  What game would you love to know more about from a historical standpoint?  I’ve got a few more ideas for Assassin’s Creed as well, so don’t worry, even though I may be branching outside, I’ll still be hitting this franchise every now and again.

With that said, I hope you enjoy more insight on the wacky world of The Borgias.

Character Name: Rodrigo Borgia (Pope Alexander VI)
In-Game Description: Growing up studying law at Bologna, Rodrigo served  in the Roman Curia under five Popes and by the time he was under Sixtus IV, Rodrigo had already attained the title of Grand Master of the Templar Order.  It was his goal to unite all of Italy under the Templar banner, and he began to put plans into place that would remove men of power in Italy’s main cities, replacing them with his own. His plan was working well until assassin leader, Giovanni Auditore, intercepted a message detailing part of his plan.  Working with the Pazzi family and Uberto Alberti, they managed to frame Giovanni and his two sons for treason and they were executed under these false claims.  In 1478, Rodrigo set the Pazzi Conspiracy in motion to remove Lorenzo de Medici and his brother from power.  Due to the efforts of Giovanni’s last remaining son, Ezio Auditore, Rodrigo’s plans were thwarted, Rodrigo turned his sights on to Venice in an attempt at a take over.  Again, his plans for Venice were thwarted by Ezio for a second time. 

In 1492, Rodrigo became Pope Alexander VI and he used this position to consolidate power for the Templars.  Unable to locate the Apple of Eden, Rodrigo entered the Vatican Vault in hopes of finding God himself there.  Instead he found Ezio waiting to seek revenge for his family.  Ezio proved to be a strong adversary as he resisted Rodrigo’s Papal Staff which turned out to be another Piece of Eden.  Rodrigo lost the fight but was spared Ezio believed the humiliation was far worse than death.  When Rodrigo’s son Cesare learned of this, he laid siege to the Auditore Villa at Monteriggioni.  From here, Rodrigo was reduced to a figure-head as his son began gaining power and even took over the Grand Master title.  By 1503, Rodrigo tried to poison his power-hungry son through an apple, but the plan backfired when his daughter, Lucrezia, stormed in and warned Cesare.  Fueled by rage and feeling betrayed, Cesare charged his father and forced the poisoned apple down his throat killing him.

Real Life: Born Rodrigo Llancol de Borja in the Spanish town of Xativa, he was actually the nephew of Pope Calixtus III.  This fact helped him become ordained as a deacon at age 25.  After serving under five different popes, Rodrigo Borgia became a candidate for the papacy once Pope Innocent VIII died in 1492.  While never proven, it has been speculated that Rodrigo managed to buy more votes than his counterparts using carts full of silver.  At first, Pope Alexander VI adhered to the strict responsibility and rules of being pope.  Before long though, he conspired to get family members into high-ranking positions in order to solidify his power and rule.  Interestingly enough, during Alexander’s reign as pope, Rome’s condition worsened with corruption and vice.  The Italian Wars also broke out at this time after France laid claim to the Kingdom of Naples to which the Pope had reserved for Spain.  The Holy League was formed and helped repel France from Italy.  Alexander used this victory to also break apart strong feudal clans such as the Orsini family in order to bring a more centralized power to the country.  The Orsini’s managed to defy the Pope however and his attempts to claim their land failed.  He was only able to grab land from a clan member who had died recently.

At this point Cesare became the most powerful man in Italy and to keep his son happy, Pope Alexander needed to find ways to keep the money flowing in. They began scheming and any cardinal, nobleman or official who was known to be rich would be accused of some offence; imprisonment and perhaps murder followed these accusations, and then the confiscation of property.  If you opposed the Borgia, you may even have found yourself on the chopping block.  The Florentine friar, Savanarola even spoke out against the Papacy.  He was met with excommunication and eventually was sentenced to death.  The public was now turning against the pope and the Orsini family was leading the charge.

Seeking an alliance with the new French king, Louis XII, Alexander sent his son Cesare north.  Bolstered by French forces, he quickly began to take over cities one by one.  France next turned their sites back on Naples and began to move south to claim it.  All of this caused a rift as the deposed rules allied with the Orsini and some Cesare turncoats began to fight back against the Pope.  With the French once again helping out, the revolt was put down.  Alexander then began to purge cardinals who did not agree with him or he viewed as a threat.  They were locked in dungeons or typically poisoned via their drink.

The end was near however, as in 1503 Pope Alexander VI and Cesare were dining with another cardinal.  The two were suddenly very sick and while Cesare recovered, the pope fell victim to this sickness.  No one is sure if it truly was a an illness or if he was done in by the very same poison the Borgia household loved to dole out on others.  Pope Alexander VI’s body became swollen, his mouth foamed, his face discolored and his skin began to peel off.  When his body was shown to the public for burial, he was covered by a cloth due to his rapid decomposition and disfigurement.

Interestingly enough, Rodrigo Borgia remains one of the most controversial Renaissance Popes and his last name has even come to represent the low integrity standards of the Papacy during this era.

Character Name: Cesare Borgia
In-game Description:  Member of the Templar Order and son to Rodrigo Borgia, Cesare was the type of person to say one thing while plotting something else behind their back.  After taking over the role of Captian General from his brother at age 18, Cesare suddenly became one of the most powerful men in Italy.  He joined the war against the Orsini Family in 1496, and imprisoned Perotto Calderon, who was seeing his sister Lucrezia in secret and even fathering a child with her.  Perotto was secretly an assassin, but was later executed by the Brotherhood for breaking their core tenants.  It was at this time that Cesare raised the boy, Giovanni, as his own. 

In 1500, he led a siege on the Auditore stronghold of Monteriggioni.  After killing Ezio’s uncle Mario, Ezio himself was wounded and Cesare challenged Ezio to come to Rome and face him.  While consolidating his power base in Rome, Cesare became increasingly agitated over his father withholding the Apple of Eden.  It got so bad, that Cesare even took over the title of Grand Master of the Templar Order from his father. 

In 1503, they argued with Cesare stuffing a poisoned apple down his fathers throat, killing him within seconds.  Papal support dwindled and Cesare was beat to the Apple’s location by Ezio Auditore.  The Papal Guard now caught up to Cesare, and he was promptly exiled to Spain.  it’s here that Cesare began to rebuild his forces using his brother-in-law, John III of Navarre’s vast army.  It’s here in 1507, that Ezio met up with Cesare on the battlefield and eventually threw him off the castle walls, killing him instantly.  He died at the young age of 32, which is very much accurate of his real life persona.

Real Life: Born in Rome to Rodrigo and his mistress Vannozza del Cattanei, Cesare is probably the best known Borgia child due to the many hats he wore including being a politician, nobleman, cardinal, and papal army commander for his father Pope Alexander VI.  Being made Bishop of Pamplona at the young age of 15, Cesare was being groomed by his father for a career in the church.  His big brother Giovanni was hailed as the chosen one by his father until Giovanni’s assassination in 1497.  Speculation has Cesare being the assassin over his jealousy of Giovanni being appointed captain general of the military forces of the papacy.  With Giovanni gone, Cesare was now open to take over.  He’s also the first person in history to resign from the cardinalate which he was appointed at age 18.  During his time as captain general, Cesare led his forces against the French during the first Italian Wars.  Pope Alexander was hoping to carve out a state for which Cesare could control, so he sent him to capture territory there.  Many members of the Sforza family were ousted from power or fled the country during this time. 

Cesare’s downfall began once his family fell out of favor and he no longer had papal backing.  New Pope, Pius III, arrested him but he was able to escape.  While trying to put down a revolt in Romagna, Cesare was captured and imprisoned by Gian Paolo Baglioni.  At this point, his lands were seized by the Papal States, and Cesare was exiled to Spain.  It was there in 1507, fighting for the Navarrese King, that he was killed in battle.

Interestingly enough, Cesare was married and had a daughter, but must have stepped out often as he fathered at least 11 illegitimate children.  It’s also rumored he was involved romantically with his sister Lucrezia.  He was also known to wear a mask in public after being scarred by a form of syphilis.

Character Name: Lucrezia Borgia
In-Game Description: Used more as a political bargaining chip, she was engaged to two different men before she was 13 years old, only to have them waved off by her father so she could marry Giovanni Sforza.  When the usefulness of the Sforza family left, Rodrigo tried to force Giovanni out of Rome.  Angered by this Giovanni then accused Lucrezia of having an incestuous relationship with her father and brothers.  At that point, Rodrigo, now the Pope, simply invalidated their marriage outright. She soon fell for her father’s messenger, Perotto Calderon and even had a child with him.  Once their secret became public, Perotto was thrown in jail and later executed.  Cesare adopted the boy so Lucrezia could continue to watch over him.  After the siege of Monteriggioni, Cesare returned to Rome with the Apple of Eden and Caterina Sforza has his prize.  He declared that she’d be his queen once he ruled Italy and this did not sit well with Lucrezia. 

Noticing that her poison supply of cantarella was missing in 1503, she quickly ran to the meeting between Rodrigo and Cesare aware of what was going to happen.  She managed to warn Cesare before he ate too much of the poisoned apple, and in a fit of rage, he stuffed it down Rodrigo’s throat killing him.  Cesare then turned on her, forcing her to reveal where the Apple of Eden was hidden.  After her father’s death and her marriage to the Duke of Ferrara, Lucerzia disappeared from the public, instead becoming more religious, praying for forgiveness.  She died on June, 24 1519, ten days after the birth of her last daughter.

Real Life: Unfortunately, not much is known about her outside of the fact that she’s an illegitimate daughter to Rodrigo and one of his many mistresses, Vannozza del Cattanei.  She appears to have been well-educated as she was able to speak and write in 5 different languages: Catalan, Latin, French, Italian, and Greek.  She was married three times, was consistently unfaithful to those men and also rumored to have been in an incestuous relationship with her brother, Cesare.  What’s also interesting is that it’s rumored she was in possession of a hollow ring, which she’d use to poison drinks.  She died in 1519 due to complications after giving birth to her 8th child.

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5 Responses to History Behind the Game: Assassin’s Creed’s The Borgia Family

  1. Michael Lawrence says:

    I think you’ve gotten a bit confused surrounding the death of Cesare’s older brother. Juan Borgia (Gandia), was murdered in June 1497 and thrown into the Tibor. Giovanni was the name of a member of the Sfoza family, the nephew of Cardinal Ascanio, who were initially suspected of collabotating in the murder. There is no contemporary evidence that Cesare was involved in Gandia’s death and Pope Alexander seemed to have been satisfied that the true culprits were known to him. It was widely speculated (and believed) at the time that Cesare murdered his brother, and this was expounded upon by later historians. However, sircumstantial evidence would seem to make this unlikey.

    • gamercrash says:

      Very cool, thank you for the insight. Glad this family was featured in the Assassin’s Creed II/Ezio games as they’re certainly very interesting from a historical perspective.

      • Yes definitely. In fact I’d played Assassin’s Creed a few years ago and I stumbled upon your site when I was researching Cesare. I remembered what a cool game it was and decided that was a good enough excuse to get AC2 and Revelations. So thank you!

  2. gamercrash says:

    Ah, that is great to hear, glad I could help! For the moment, ACII is still my favorite but with number 3 just a few weeks away, I’m hoping that it’ll take the crown. From what I’ve seen and read about it, it looks phenomenal. Who knows, you may just see another History Behind the Game down the road….

  3. Fantastic site you have here but I was curious if you knew of any
    discussion boards that cover the same topics
    discussed in this article? I’d really like to be a part of community where I can get feed-back
    from other knowledgeable people that share the same
    interest. If you have any recommendations, please let me know.
    Appreciate it!

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