An eventful year in the history of the families of Sforza and Borgia was that year of grace 1497.
Spring came, and ere it had quite grown to summer we had news of the assassination of the Duke of Gandia, and the tale that he was done to death by his elder brother, Cesare Borgia; a tale which seemed to lack for reasonable substantiation, and which, despite the many voices that make bold to noise it broadcast, may or may not be true.
In that same month of June messages passed between Rome and Pesaro, and gradually the burden of the messages leaked out in rumours that Pope Alexander and his family were pressing the Lord Giovanni to consent to a divorce. At last he left Pesaro again; this time to journey to Milan and seek counsel with his powerful cousin, Lodovico, whom they called “The Moor.” When he returned he was more sulky and downcast than ever, and at Gradara he lived in an isolation that had been worthy of a hermit.
And thus that miserable year wore itself out, and, at last, in December, we heard that the divorce was announced, and that Lucrezia Borgia was the Tyrant of Pesaro’s wife no more. The news of it and the reasons that were put forward as having led to it were roared across Italy in a great, derisive burst of laughter, of which the Lord Giovanni was the unfortunate and contemptible butt.
“Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin”
And now, lest I grow tedious and weary you with this narrative of mine, it may be well that I but touch with a fugitive pen upon the events of the next three years of the history of Pesaro.
Early in 1498 the Lord Giovanni showed himself once more abroad, and he seemed again the same weak, cruel, pleasure-loving tyrant he had been before shame overtook him and drove him for a season into hiding. Madonna Paola and her brother, Filippo di Santafior, remained in Pesaro, where they now appeared to have taken up their permanent abode. Madonna Paola— following her inclinations—withdrew to the Convent of Santa Caterina, there to pursue in peace the studies for which she had a taste, whilst her splendid, profligate brother became the ornament—the arbiter elegantiarum—of our court.
Thus were they left undisturbed; for in the cauldron of Borgia politics a stew was simmering that demanded all that family’s attention, and of whose import we guessed something when we heard that Cesare Borgia had flung aside his cardinalitial robes to put on armour and give freer rein to the boundless ambition that consumed him.
With me life moved as if that winter excursion and adventure had never been. Even the memory of it must have faded into a haze that scarce left discernible any semblance of reality, for I was once again Boccadoro, the golden-mouthed Fool, whose sayings were echoed by every jester throughout Italy. My shame that for a brief season had risen up in arms seemed to be laid to rest once more, and I was content with the burden that was mine. Money I had in plenty, for when I pleased him the Lord Giovanni’s vails were often handsome, and much of my earnings went to my poor mother, who would sooner have died starving than have bought herself bread with those ducats could she have guessed at what manner of trade Lazzaro Biancomonte had earned them.