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Lewis Lapham: Was Lucrezia Borgia Slut, Killer? Maybe Not

The Borgias
The cover jacket of "The Borgias: The Hidden History," by G.J. Meyer. Source: Bantam Books/Random House via Bloomberg

June 22 (Bloomberg) -- She was a stunning blonde with splendid breasts. She had a fabled ring, filled with poison, which she used liberally. She was the incestuous lover of both father and brother. These are among the legends that surround Lucrezia Borgia.

(To listen to the podcast, click here.)

Even as a child, Lucrezia was used to advance the powerful ambitions of the family. She was betrothed to two men before being wedded at 13 to Giovanni Sforza in 1493.

When an alliance with the Sforza family became less useful, the Borgias explored ways of ending the marriage, settling on the claim that it was unconsummated owing to Giovanni’s impotence.

Though he ultimately signed the documents, Giovanni defended himself by accusing the Borgias -- including Pope Alexander VI -- of wanting Lucrezia sexually for themselves.

According to G.J. Meyer, author of “The Borgias: The Hidden History,” thus was born the legend of Lucrezia as an incestuous vixen.

Meyer notes that at the time of her final separation from Giovanni, she was a fun-loving 17-year-old. He also points out that many of the long-accepted stories about the clan’s unmitigated evil were creations of their worst enemies, unsupported by fact.

I spoke with him on the following topics:

1. Spanish Nobles

2. Machiavelli’s “Prince”

3. Lucrezia’s Marriages

4. Blackening of Name

5. Borgia Dynasty

To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

Muse highlights include Zinta Lundborg on NYC Weekend and Greg Evans on movies.

To contact the writer on the story: Lewis Lapham in New York at lhl@laphamsquarterly.org.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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