Chapter 18

The Naples Campaign


CESARE RETURNED TO ROME late in the evening of June 17, 1501, stealing in quietly through one of the smaller gates in his characteristically mysterious way, unobserved in the gathering dusk and in the general commotion caused by the vanguard of the French army, who had set up camp outside the city walls the day before.

The soldiers had left a trail of destruction behind them as they had marched through central Italy. The Florentine diarist Luca Landucci reported as many as thirty thousand troops "doing many wicked things: they cut crops for their horses wherever they went, plundered all the wine cellars, flogging anyone in their way; they respected neither the commissioners nor the people; they killed the peasants who tried to stop them from taking their hens and in one fight they killed twenty men." On hearing the news that the French had arrived in Rome, Landucci exclaimed with compassion, "Just think what it is like in Rome."

The French army of fourteen thousand men had been provided with meat, bread, and wine, and a camp had been established for them outside the walls of Rome. They had, additionally, so Burchard said, been provided with the services of the very inadequate number of sixteen prostitutes. Burchard also said that the Florentine merchants in Rome had bribed the city governor with a generous sum of ducats to avoid having senior French officers billeted in their houses; the French were billeted on them anyway, and the governor kept the money.

Their commander, Robert Stuart, Lord d'Aubigny, a Scot by birth, arrived in Rome on June 23 and was received at the gate of Santa Maria del Popolo by Jofrè, who escorted the Frenchman to the Vatican. The pope greeted his guest, and, so the French chronicler Jean d'Auton observed, "dissimulated his feelings with a joyous countenance." Alexander VI, "despite the fact that he was Spanish and no friend of the French," continued the chronicler, "received the captains of the French army, and talked merrily with them on various subjects." He handed out lavish presents to all; d'Aubigny received a great grey charger, "with harness so splendid that everyone was amazed by it."

That evening Cardinal Sanseverino, the brother of the commander of the Italian troops, entertained the French officers at "a magnificent banquet," which was held in the gardens of Cardinal Ascanio Sforza's villa, "in which there were groves of orange and lemon trees and pomegranates as well as other fruit trees and flowers of all kinds and scents, and singers, jugglers, tragedians and comedians all exercised their art in turn."

The French army left Rome on June 28, after marching past Castel Sant'Angelo. From his position high on the balcony, Alexander VI watched the parade of 12,000 infantry, 2,000 cavalry, and 26 carriages laden with artillery, observing, so it was said, "the departure of these soldiers with great joy." Also in the parade was Cesare, seen in public for the first time since his secret return ten days earlier.

The following day Lord d'Aubigny went to the Vatican, where he was closeted for some time with the pope, who told his visitor the news that, in a secret consistory held a few days earlier, he had formally dispossessed Federigo of Aragon of the kingdom of Naples and bestowed it instead on the king of France. After their private talks, d'Aubigny went to the Sala del Pappagallo, where, Burchard reported, "all the cardinals permitted him the honour of kissing them on the mouth," before taking his leave and rejoining his troops on the road south to Naples.

Despite taking part in the parade, Cesare himself did not leave Rome immediately, delaying his departure for several reasons. The formidable Caterina Sforza, weakened after spending nearly a year imprisoned in the dungeons of Castel Sant'Angelo, was finally persuaded to abandon her rights to Imola and Forlì, and she was re-leased from gaol to spend the rest of her years in exile in Florence. More importantly, Cesare was waiting impatiently for his captain Vitellozzo Vitelli and his soldiers, who were on their way south from Tuscany, having taken the strategically important port of Piombino. Finally Cesare and his four hundred troops were ready to join the French army marching to Naples under the command of d'Aubigny.

Little serious resistance was offered to the French troops and their allies in Aversa, Nola, and other towns in the kingdom of Naples. Only Capua, twenty miles north of the capital, put up a fight, and by the middle of July, Cesare was absorbed in a violent and bloody campaign to seize the city for Louis XII. "The taking of Capua was due to the treason of an inhabitant of that city, who secretly let in the Duke's troops and they then killed him," reported Burchard. "They killed without pity priests, monks and nuns, in churches and convents, and all the women they found: the young girls were seized and cruelly abused; the number of people killed amounted to around 6,000." According to an improbable account by Guicciardini, Cesare had the women of the town locked up in a tower and selected the most desirable for himself. What was certain was that this orgy of rape, murder, and looting ended in the entire population of Capua being killed.

On August 4 d'Aubigny entered Naples in triumph, while the ex-king Federigo, who had been crowned by Cesare's hand just four years before, fled to the island of Ischia. Louis XII was now Duke of Milan and king of Naples, and the dominant power in Italy, thanks to the support of the pope and his son. When Cesare arrived in Naples, d'Aubigny offered him grateful thanks in the name of the French king and a reward of 40,000 ducats for his services as well as the title of Prince of Andria.

Alexander VI, meanwhile, had taken advantage of the French presence in the peninsula to consolidate his own control over the lands and castles that had once belonged to the powerful Colonna family, and on July 27, the day after Capua had been cruelly sacked, set out on a tour of inspection of his new territories. Riding with him were fifty horsemen, as many as one hundred on foot, his household, and many of the cardinals, each accompanied by their own retinue of servants and courtiers. After lunch at Castel Gandolfo, the pope was rowed around Lake Albano, listening to the crowds gathered at the lakeside shouting, "Borgia! Borgia!" and letting off volleys of gunfire.

During his absence, Alexander VI had entrusted the care of the Vatican, and the church, to the capable hands of his daughter, who moved into the papal apartments. "The Pope gave her authorization to open letters addressed to himself," reported Burchard, and "told her that if there were any difficulties she was to take advice from the Cardinal of Lisbon and the other cardinals, whom she was empowered to summon." On one occasion, he continued in an unusual display of ribaldry, she did seek the cardinal of Lisbon's advice: "Seeing that the affair was of no importance, the Cardinal said to her, 'When the Pope discusses an issue in consistory, the vice-chancellor or, in his absence, another cardinal, writes a record of the solutions proposed and of the cardinals' votes, so we should have someone here to take notes of our discourse.' Lucrezia replied that she was quite capable of writing herself. The Cardinal then asked, 'But where is your pen?' Lucrezia understood the joke [pen was a popular term for penis] and she smiled."

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