The Borgias: The Hidden History

The mention of the Borgia family often conjures up images of a ruthless drive for power via assassination, serpentine plots, and sexual debauchery. This is partially owing to propaganda spread by contemporary rivals of the Borgias, nineteenth-century Renaissance historians, and even films and television shows, including the current eponymous series on cable. Meyer doesn’t avoid some of the juicy bits about the private and public lives of some of the family, but he convincingly looks past the mythology to present a more nuanced portrait of some members and their achievements. Meyer is particularly focused on the career of Rodrigo Borgia, who reigned as the much-maligned pope Alexander VI. As Meyer acknowledges, Alexander was hardly an exemplary Christian, and he could play tough in the dangerous world of Italian and European power politics. Yet he was a skilled and experienced diplomat, and he showed remarkable courage and coolness under the threat of the French invasion of Italy. Other Borgias are treated with similar even handedness in this well-researched and surprising study. –Jay Freeman