Angie's Reviews > The Borgias and Their Enemies: 1431-1519

The Borgias and Their Enemies by Christopher Hibbert
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Apr 22, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: history, biography
Read on April 22, 2012

Hibbert's familial biography of the Borgias was surprisingly interesting; but I've realized, thinking back to past books of history I've relished, that I love the breezy style with which British authors often approach such large subjects: you are swept away by the force of the writing; and, if you are like me, are willing to let go the notion you would remember the name of every personage mentioned, let alone know who they were. I was captivated by page fifteen, if I recall.

What Hibbert subtly manages to bring into focus is the pageantry of the times, and how it clashed with the ugly actions (see below) of Rodrigo and Cesare Borgia, in particular. Hibbert refuses to let the reader believe that anything written during Lucrezia's youth was indeed true of her. Again, he does this with delicacy, pointing to the difference in propaganda and sensationalism (yes, they existed in the 15th century) and the actual record.

In fact, the book's main "characters," so to speak, are the Borgia pere and fils, Cesare and Juan, those men who wielded power and misused it. We are left with no doubt as to how they achieved their status and rank (in the sons' case, by the mandates or bullying of the father.) Much of what they did is reprehensible and vile.

My only connection to this time period is reading about the authors of the period, in light connection to studies of 16th century English and French literature. That was a long time ago, but I did summon it up, as I did about 5 months ago when, stuck home with a stomach bug, I watched the first season of a European television series entitled simply "Borgia." The first season covers the first year or two of Rodrigo Borgia (the father of Cesare and Lucrezia)'s accession to the papacy. (He became pope Alexander VI, known for dividing the Western world between Portugal and Spain, and for continuing to allow the selling of indulgences, cardinalships, etc., that led to the Reformation.) I don't recommend the television show to anyone put off by violence, nudity, lewd sexual conduct or references and scenes of homicide, incest, torture, and rape. But the creators sum up the spirit of the times quite well.

One truth that the television show does convey, that Hibbert only has time to hint, is that the Borgias simply were perhaps more openly ruthless than their ruthless contemporaries, not more so, and never sui generis. Hibbert has quotes some contemporaries who mention the fearlessness with which they acted, and their willingness to barter and bribe at will, for what they desired.

I'm sure, friends, that you will see me occasionally read books about this period; and for any history, you bet that I will know be looking for the shorter books by English authors who write as if they have been doing it since they were old enough to pick up a pen.


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