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This latter motive, it is true, is rejected by Gregorovius. "Our sense of honesty," he writes, "repels us from attaching faith to the belief spread in that most corrupt age." Yet the authorities urging one motive are commonly those urging the other, and Gregorovius quotes those that suit him, without considering that, if he is convinced they lie in one connection, he has not the right to assume them truthful in another.
The contemporary, or quasi-contemporary writers upon whose "authority" it is usual to show that Cesare Borgia was guilty of both those revolting crimes are: Sanazzaro, Capello, Macchiavelli, Matarazzo, Sanuto, Pietro Martire d'Anghiera, Guicciardini, and Panvinio.
A formidable array! But consider them, one by one, at close quarters, and take a critical look at what they actually wrote:
SANAZZARO was a Neapolitan poet and epigrammatist, who could not--his times being what they were--be expected to overlook the fact that in these slanderous rumours of incest was excellent matter for epigrammatical verse. Therefore, he crystallized them into lines which, whilst doing credit to his wit, reveal his brutal cruelty. No one will seriously suppose that such a man would be concerned with the veracity of the matter of his verses--even leaving out of the question his enmity towards the House of Borgia, which will transpire later. For him a ben trovato was as good matter as a truth, or better. He measured its value by its piquancy, by its adaptability to epigrammatic rhymes.
Conceive the heartlessness of the man who, at the moment of Alexander's awful grief at the murder of his son--a grief which so moved even his enemies that the bitter Savonarola, and the scarcely less bitter Cardinal della Rovere, wrote to condole with him--could pen that terrible epigram:
Piscatorem hominum ne te non, Sexte, putemus,
Consider the ribaldry of that, and ask yourselves whether this is a man who would immolate the chance of a witticism upon the altar of Truth.
It is significant that Sanazzaro, for what he may be worth, confines himself to the gossip of incest. Nowhere does he mention that Cesare was the murderer, and we think that his silence upon the matter, if it shows anything, shows that Cesare's guilt was not so very much the "general opinion of the day," as Gregorovius asks us to believe.
CAPPELLO was not in Rome at the time of the murder, nor until three years later, when he merely repeated the rumour that had first sprung up some eight months after the crime.
The precise value of his famous "relation" (in which this matter is recorded, and to which we shall return in its proper place) and the spirit that actuated him is revealed in another accusation of murder which he levels at Cesare, an accusation which, of course, has also been widely disseminated upon no better authority than his own. It is Capello who tells us that Cesare stabbed the chamberlain Perrotto in the Pope's very arms; he adds the details that the man had fled thither for shelter from Cesare's fury, and that the blood of him, when he was stabbed, spurted up into the very face of the Pope. Where he got the story is not readily surmised--unless it be assumed that he evolved it out of his feelings for the Borgias. The only contemporary accounts of the death of this Perrotto--or Pedro Caldes, as was his real name--state that he fell by accident into the Tiber and was drowned.
Burchard, who could not have failed to know if the stabbing story had been true, and would not have failed to report it, chronicles the fact that Perrotto was fished out of Tiber, having fallen in six days earlier --"non libenter." This statement, coming from the pen of the Master of Ceremonies at the Vatican, requires no further corroboration. Yet corroboration there actually is in a letter from Rome of February 20, 1498, quoted by Marino Sanuto in his Diarii. This states that Perrotto had been missing for some days, no one knowing what had become of him, and that now "he has been found drowned in the Tiber."
We mention this, in passing, with the twofold object of slaying another calumny, and revealing the true value of Capello, who happens to be the chief "witness for the prosecution" put forward by Gregorovius. "Is it not of great significance," inquires the German historian, "that the fact should have been related so positively by an ambassador who obtained his knowledge from the best sources?"
The question is frivolous, for the whole trouble in this matter is that there were no sources at all, in the proper sense of the word--good or bad. There was simply gossip, which had been busy with a dozen names already.
MACCHIAVELLI includes a note in his Extracts from Letters to the Ten, in which he mentions the death of Gandia, adding that "at first nothing was known, and then men said it was done by the Cardinal of Valencia."
There is nothing very conclusive in that. Besides, incidentally it may be mentioned, that it is not clear when or how these extracts were compiled by Macchiavelli (in his capacity of Secretary to the Signory of Florence) from the dispatches of her ambassadors. But it has been shown --though we are hardly concerned with that at the moment--that these extracts are confused by comments of his own, either for his own future use or for that of another.
MATARAZZO is the Perugian chronicler of whom we have already expressed the only tenable opinion. The task he set himself was to record the contemporary events of his native town--the stronghold of the blood- dripping Baglioni. He enlivened it by every scrap of scandalous gossip that reached him, however alien to his avowed task. The authenticity of this scandalmongering chronicle has been questioned; but, even assuming it to be authentic, it is so wildly inaccurate when dealing with matters happening beyond the walls of Perugia as to be utterly worthless.
Matarazzo relates the story of the incestuous relations prevailing in the Borgia family, and with an unsparing wealth of detail not to be found elsewhere; but on the subject of the murder he has a tale to tell entirely different from any other that has been left us. For, whilst he urges the incest as the motive of the crime, the murderer, he tells us, was Giovanni Sforza, the outraged husband; and he gives us the fullest details of that murder, time and place and exactly how committed, and all the other matters which have never been brought to light.
It is all a worthless, garbled piece of fiction, most obviously; as such it has ever been treated; but it is as plausible as it is untrue, and, at least, as authoritative as any available evidence assigning the guilt to Cesare.
SANUTO we accept as a more or less careful and painstaking chronicler, whose writings are valuable; and Sanuto on the matter of the murder confines himself to quoting the letter of February 1498, in which the accusation against Cesare is first mentioned, after having given other earlier letters which accuse first Ascanio and then Orsini far more positively than does the latter letter accuse Cesare.
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The Life of Cesare Borgia -by- Rafael Sabatini