01 February 2013
The Scandalous Affairs of Vannozza dei Cattanei
Born into the lowest levels of the Italian aristocracy, the beautiful and spirited Vannozza dei Cattanei was charismatic and clever enough to run not one, but two inns, or ‘osterias’ as they are called in Rome. It is likely there that her charms caught the attention of Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, whom she scandalously entered into an affair with, despite his vows of celibacy. He later became Pope Julius II.
In her inns, she lavishly entertained rich, ambitious cardinals. Soon, the affair with Giuliano petered out and she turned her attentions to Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, from a very wealthy Spanish family. She soon became his favorite mistress – not bad for a guy at the highest levels of the church who is supposed to abstain from the sin of lust.
Giuliano della Rovere
Pope Julius II
In his elder years
Pope Alexander VI
When it came to Rodrigo, she was obliging and compliant, never making demands, and always offering helpful suggestions. He showed his appreciation by letting her use several of his properties which she eventually managed to convince him to put solely in her name. Oh, but that’s not all he gave her. In addition to properties, she had full financial support and bought a vineyard, a country-house, and more inns in highly desirable areas of Rome. As the years passed, she bore Rodrigo four children: Juan, Cesare, Lucrezia, and Jofre.
But all good things must soon come to an end and it was no different for this adoring couple. The Vatican soon took note of their wayward son and his flagrant violation of the celibacy vows that he had taken upon entering the Church. If he wanted to be in the running to become the next pope, then poor Vanozza had to go. But how could he get rid of his social climbing, materialistic, wealth-grabbing lover? The answer was simple – marry her off to someone else, of course.
So Rodrigo presided over her wedding to Domenico d'Arignano, a wealthy man who died a few short years later. With Rodrigo’s help Vanozza married a man named Antonio da Brescia. When he died, in order to continue to keep the mother of his children at arms’ length, and a safe distance from Vatican eyes, Rodrigo chose another compliant husband for his ex-mistress - Giorgio di Croce. In exchange for marrying Vanozza, Rodrigo made him apostolic secretary. A good job, steady money, why not? So Vanozza married Giorgio and moved into the same neighborhood as Cardinal Borgia's Palace on the Piazza Sforza-Ceasarini.
Over the years, Vanozza continued to be Rodrigo’s friend and confidante to many of his darkest secrets. When her second husband died a wealthy man, Rodrigo set out yet again to find her another suitable husband. This time, he chose a Mantuan named Carlo Canale, who had many lucrative and useful connections. To seal the deal, Rodrigo provide a dowry of 1000 florins and another high level job.
As Vanozza grew older, she became a little wiser too. Establishing herself as a reformed sinner, she began donating to charities and supporting convents. She remained in touch with her children.