Vannozza dei Cattanei

On this day in history: Vannozza dei Cattanei born

History of Italy News

On 13th July 1442, Vannozza dei Cattanei – mother of Lucrezia and Cesare Borgia – was born in Matua. Vannozza was a figure of influence, providing advice to Pope Alexander VI as well as four children.

Born to an aristocratic family, Vannozza dei Cattanei was for many years the chief mistress of Cardinal Rodrigo de Borgia – later Pope Alexander VI. She was born on 13th July, 1442 in Mantua.

Baptised as Giovanna de Candia, Vannozza was not only attractive but also a successful businesswoman. After she moved to Rome, she acquired a number of osterie – inns.

Mistress to a pope

Despite Holy Orders, it was not unusual in 15th century Italy for cardinals and popes to have mistresses. Before her lengthy relationship with Rodrigo de Borgia, Vannozza was allegedly mistress to Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, the future Pope Julius II.

Borgia openly acknowledged the children Vannozza bore him during their relationship, which is thought to have lasted between 20 and 25 years. He provided for them financially but also exerted a significant influence over their lives.

However, Vannozza’s relationship with Rodrigo Borgia is thought to have changed after she turned 40.  The care of all her children was entrusted to others in Borgia’s circle, although she remained part of it herself as a sort of matriarchal figure. When he was Pope, Borgia still sought her counsel.  

Vannozza also married three times at the behest of Borgia. First to Domenico d’Arignano, an officer of the church, then Giorgio di Croce, for whom Borgia had procured a position as apostolic secretary. Her final husband was Carlo Canale, the warden of a papal jail.

Borgia continued to support her financially. By the time she died in 1518, at the age of 76, Vannozza had a considerable portfolio of Rome property.

Vannozza outlived Rodrigo de Borgia by 15 years. Despite the nature of their relationship, she was granted a public funeral and recognised by Pope Leo X as the widow of Alexander VI. She was buried in the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo, near her son Giovanni.

Children of Vannozza and Borgia

The eldest of the children born to Vannozza and Borgia was Cesare. He entered the world in 1475, going on to became a cardinal. Leading the Papal armies, he captured large amounts of territory that were added to the Pope’s empire. 

Of the others, Giovanni – also known as Juan – became the second Duke of Gandia but was murdered at the age of 21, possibly by Cesare. Gioffre married the daughter of the King of Naples, which was advantageous to Rodrigo Borgia.

Lucretia Borgia

The infamous Lucrezia, meanwhile, was forced to marry three times to promote Rodrigo’s status. She took lovers and rumours abounded that Giovanni was in fact her son, the result of an affair.

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