Infamy is no accident. It is a poison in our blood. It is the price of being a Borgia.
Glamorous and predatory, the Borgias fascinated and terrorized 15th-century Renaissance Italy. Lucrezia Borgia, beloved daughter of the pope, was at the center of the dynasty’s ambitions. Slandered as a heartless seductress who lured men to their doom, was she in fact the villainess of legend, or was she trapped in a familial web, forced to choose between loyalty and survival?
With the ascension of the Spaniard Rodrigo Borgia as Pope Alexander VI, the new pope’s illegitimate children—his rival sons, Cesare and Juan, and beautiful young daughter Lucrezia—assume an exalted position in the papal court. Privileged and adored, Lucrezia yearns to escape her childhood and play a part in her family’s fortunes. But Rome is seductive and dangerous: Alliances shift at a moment’s notice as Italy’s ruling dynasties strive to keep rivals at bay. As Lucrezia’s father faces challenges from all sides, he’s obliged to marry her off to a powerful adversary. But when she discovers the brutal truth behind her alliance, Lucrezia is plunged into a perilous gambit that will require all her wits, cunning, and guile. Escaping her marriage offers the chance of happiness with a passionate prince of Naples, yet as scandalous accusations of murder and incest build against her, menacing those she loves, Lucrezia must risk everything to overcome the lethal fate imposed upon her by her Borgia blood.
Beautifully wrought, rich with fascinating historical detail, The Vatican Princess is the first novel to describe Lucrezia’s coming-of-age in her own voice—a dramatic, vivid tale set in an era of savagery and unparalleled splendor, where enemies and allies can be one and the same, and where loyalty to family can ultimately be a curse.
Hi C.W.! Thank you so much for stopping by Let Them Read Books!
Lucrezia Borgia is such an infamous historical figure. What inspired you to write about her in The Vatican Princess?
I’ve always been interested in the Borgias, ever since I was a boy obsessed with history. I was raised in southern Spain, and the Borgias were a family of Spanish descent, who gained the papacy and ruled over Rome, center of so much calumny and mayhem. They also fit into other subjects I’ve written about: Rodrigo Borgia became pope in 1492, the famous historical year that saw Isabella of Castile, the subject of my novel The Queen’s Vow, conquer Granada and see Columbus off on his voyage to discover what became known as the New World. Lucrezia, in particular, seemed a perfect subject for me: maligned in history, known as an infamous seductress with an arsenal of poisons, I figured there had to be more to her story than we’ve been told. As the only daughter thrust into her family’s ruthless game of ambition, she captured my imagination.
What kind of preparation did you do to put yourself inside her head to tell her story?
I read over 100 volumes about Lucrezia, the Borgias, and the era. I also spent two weeks in Rome,
researching in the Vatican Archives, and engaged in discussions with a Borgia scholar. Renaissance Italy was a very complex place; divided into city-states at a time when other countries in Europe, such as France, England, and Spain, had united under centralized monarchies, Italy had much internal strife and a plethora of cunning, colorful families. The Borgias were ostracized for their foreign descent and venal appetites, though in truth they behaved no worse than the Medici or the Sforza. The difference was the Borgias were at the helm of the Holy See, ruling over the coveted but fractured papal states. Not much is actually known about their private life; we have names, dates, and events, but they’ve left very little in their own hand to shed light on who they were or how they felt. By their actions, we can reach conclusions, but no one knows for certain. In order to inhabit Lucrezia, I not only had to learn about the larger historical events that took place around her, as well as the pivotal moments in her own life, but also conjure what it must have felt like to be such a young girl (she was only twelve when her father became pope and barely fourteen at her first marriage) who suddenly finds herself at the heart of a scheming family, determined to oust their foes and build a lasting legacy. How did she navigate the expectations put on her as a Borgia? How did she deal with her marriages to men who were essentially strangers to her, with her very disparate brothers, with her mother, a former courtesan, and her genial but remorseless papal father? How did she transform from being a sheltered child to a woman forged in heartbreak, who had to find a way to survive? It took time and a lot of deduction, but our human emotions do not change; and Lucrezia knew more tragedy in her young life than many of us experience in a lifetime. The fascinating part about her is how she managed to get through it.
Incest and poison are two words that nearly always come to mind when thinking about Lucrezia. How did you separate the facts from the fiction when shaping your portrayal of her?
Your tale of Lucrezia focuses on a relatively short span in her younger life. Can you talk a bit about the decision not to depict her later years?
It came down to word-count. A novel is a finite amount of words while a life is comprised of years of moments. Lucrezia’s life changed drastically when she married for the third time and left Rome. To depict her later years as duchess of Ferrara—she died young, at age thirty-nine giving birth—would have required introducing an entire new cast of characters and situations. Because I wanted to focus on Lucrezia as a Borgia and her interactions with her family, her so-called “Vatican years” contained the arc I needed for a novel. Her Ferrara years would have necessitated another volume. There was simply too much material to cover in one book.
If you could meet Lucrezia today and ask her one question, what would it be?
I’m not sure I’d have only one! But I think I’d ask her about the mysterious child. Was Giovanni Borgia actually her son, and who was his father? (Oops. See? That’s two questions).
What do you hope will resonate with readers most after reading The Vatican Princess?
As always, I hope that readers are entertained. I’m not trying to change anyone’s opinion about Lucrezia or the Borgias. I’ve come to learn—sometimes, to my consternation—that how I choose to portray a character might not sit well with a particular reader. My leading ladies are well known names, so some readers will naturally approach them with their own preconceived notions of who this woman was. I seek to present a plausible alternative. I think that with historical figures, as with most things in life, it’s important to consider all sides before taking a stand. Few people believe they are doing something wrong at the time they are doing it; we have to look at how they saw themselves. My novels present the character’s point of view. If readers are inspired to learn more about Lucrezia, wonderful. But in the end, I write fictional accounts. It’s a novel, not a history lesson. So, if they finish the book and think, “Wow. I really had fun reading this,” then I’ve done my job.
And finally, what are you working on now?
This is a highly unusual year for me, in that I have two new novels coming out. First, THE VATICAN PRINCES, which was recently released on February 9. Om May 24, my novel MARLENE will debut, about the tumultuous rise to fame, glamorous Hollywood career, and WWII exploits of Marlene Dietrich. I loved writing about Marlene—she was a gender-bending chanteuse and ground-breaking actress who redefined how women were depicted onscreen, and her personal life was equally scintillating, as was her personal courage as a German-born woman who witnesses the rise of the Nazis. I’ve also recently accepted an offer for a new novel, the subject of which I can’t disclose yet, as my agent wants to announce it. Suffice to say for now, I’m headed to another era to depict a wonderful empress who survived a calamitous time in history.
Thank you so much for hosting me on my blog tour. To learn more about me and my work, please visit me at: www.cwgortner.com
About the Author:
C.W. GORTNER holds an MFA in Writing with an emphasis in Renaissance Studies from the New
College of California, as well as an AA from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in San Francisco.
After an eleven year-long career in fashion, during which he worked as a vintage retail buyer, freelance publicist, and fashion show coordinator, C.W. devoted the next twelve years to the public health sector. In 2012, he became a full-time writer following the international success of his novels.
In his extensive travels to research his books, he has danced a galliard at Hampton Court, learned about organic gardening at Chenoceaux, and spent a chilly night in a ruined Spanish castle. His books have garnered widespread acclaim and been translated into twenty-one languages to date, with over 400,000 copies sold. A sought-after public speaker, C.W. has given keynote addresses at writer conferences in the US and abroad. He is also a dedicated advocate for animal rights, in particular companion animal rescue to reduce shelter overcrowding.
Half-Spanish by birth and raised in southern Spain, C.W. now lives in Northern California with his partner and two very spoiled rescue cats.
For more information visit C.W. Gortner’s website and blog. You can also find him on Facebook, Twittter, Goodreads, Pinterest, and YouTube. Sign up for C.W. Gortner’s Newsletter for updates.
The Vatican Princess is on a blog tour!