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Alexander VI

Pope (1492-1503) who "divided" the New World between Spain and Portugal

Pope Alexander VI

Rodrigo de Borja y Doms (Rodrigo Borgia in Italian) was born in Jativa, Spain, on January 1, 1431. The son of Jofre Llançol and Isabella Borja, he was adopted into his mother's family after her brother, Alonso de Borgia, Bishop of Valencia, became Pope Calixtus III, in 1455.

As was fairly common at the time, the new Pope used his power to elevate favored family members, and on February 22, 1456, he made his nephew Cardinal Deacon of St. Nicolo. He was subsequently made Cardinal-Bishop of Albano (in 1471), and then Cardinal-Bishop of Porto and Dean of the Sacred College (in 1476). Beginning in 1457, his official position in the Curia was that of Vice-Chancellor of the Roman Catholic Church, and he served as such under five successive popes.

Borja used his various positions in the church to amass enormous wealth and he was known for living more like a playboy prince than a religious figure. Although the accumulation of wealth and extravagant lifestyle were not uncommon in the Catholic Church of the day, Borja's conduct became so extreme that it earned him a written rebuke from Pope Pius II.

In addition to wealth, Borja had a penchant for "collecting" mistresses and children. Of his many mistresses, the one with whom he formed the longest relationship was Vanozza (Giovanni) dei Cattani, who bore him children whom he openly acknowledge as his own -- Juan (born 1474), who became Duke of Gandia; Cesare (1476), who was made a Cardinal after his father's ascension to the Papacy and later conquered much of northern Italy; Lucrezia (1480), whose three marriages each served her father's political alliances; and, Jofré (1481 or 1482), who married the granddaughter of the King of Naples. Although his passion for Vanozza had diminished by the time he became Pope, Borja maintained very strong affections for his children and he lavished vast sums on them and loaded them with every honor. His other known children -- Girolamo, Isabella, and Pier Luigi -- were of uncertain parentage, but Borja always made sure they were taken care of as well, either financially or with important positions


On the death of Innocent VIII, the three most likely candidates for the Holy See were Cardinals Borja, Ascanio Sforza, and Giuliano della Rovere, and no expense was spared by either of them in their attempts to achieve the Papacy. Borja's wealth eventually won out, and he was proclaimed Pope Alexander VI on August 11, 1492.

As Pope, Alexander spent most of his energies on forming and strengthening alliances and securing positions for his children, with virtually no effort spent on religious or church issues. The only exception to the latter came after his son Juan was murdered on June 14, 1497, after which he announced a reform program and called for measures to restrain the luxury of the papal court, reorganize the Apostolic Chancery, and repress simony and concubinage.

In 1493, at the request of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, Alexander issued a bull granting Spain the exclusive right to explore the seas and claim all New World lands lying west of a north-south line 100 leagues (about 320 miles) west of the Cape Verde Islands; Portugal was granted similar rights east of that line. The bull was formally adopted by both nations as the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494.

In 1494, King Charles VIII of France began a campaign against Italy aimed at vindicating his claim to the Kingdom of Naples. Pope Alexander met with Charles in Rome in early 1495 and secured the traditional obeisance from the French monarch, but refused to support the king's claim to Naples. By an alliance with Milan, Venice, and the Holy Roman Emperor, he eventually forced the French to withdraw from Italy altogether.

The only other major event of Alexander's papcy centered around Girolamo Savonarola, a Dominican preacher in Florence who opnely and vigorously criticized Alexander in his sermons. Alexander had him excommunicated and then, through his legates, sentenced him in 1498 to death.

As a patron of the arts, Alexander erected a center for the University of Rome, restored the Castel Sant'Angelo, built the monumental mansion of the Apostolic Chancery, embellished the Vatican palaces, and persuaded Michelangelo to draw plans for the rebuilding of St. Peter's Basilica. He also proclaimed the year 1500 a Holy Year of Jubilee and authorized its celebration with great pomp, and promoted the evangelization of the New World.

In July of 1503, both Alexander and his son Cesare were taken violently ill with fever. Because the two were at the time planning an alliance with Spain against France for possession of Naples, many suspected that the two had been poisoned, but the true cause of their illnesses was never determined. Cesare eventually recovered, but Pope Alexander VI died in Rome on August 18, 1503. He is interred at Iglesia de Santiago y Montserrat in Rome.

tomb of Pope Alexander VI


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This page was last updated on January 01, 2019.