Renaissance and Reformation Lucrezia Borgia
Stella Fletcher
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0412


Lucrezia Borgia (b. 1480–d. 1519) is well known as the much-loved daughter of Pope Alexander VI (see Oxford Bibliographies in Renaissance and Reformation article Alexander VI, affectionate sister of the cleric-turned-soldier Cesare Borgia (see Oxford Bibliographies in Renaissance and Reformation article Cesare Borgia, unfortunate wife of Giovanni Sforza of Pesaro, distraught widow of Alfonso, duke of Bisceglie, and esteemed consort of Alfonso d’Este, duke of Ferrara. Outside the bonds of close family, she is similarly defined by relationships with men, whether that be in terms of the passionate devotion of Pietro Bembo (see Oxford Bibliographies in Renaissance and Reformation article Pietro Bembo or the no less eloquent admiration of Ludovico Ariosto. It is therefore little wonder that recent authors have sought to present her as a person of substance and interest in her own right. As usual, students should begin with Reference Works. Biographies provide a popular format for conveying information about elite women of the Renaissance period and should be read early in any research process, but they often require padding with contextual material. Therefore, Contexts appears as the next section of this article. There is an ample number of published Primary Sources, though contemporary Archives and Diaries do not delve beneath outward formalities, and the writers of Poetry and Letters necessarily or habitually idealized their subjects. Easily the best option for discovering more about Lucrezia is to set aside her Roman origins and concentrate on Lucrezia in Ferrara, which is precisely what happened in 2002 when the city of Ferrara celebrated an “Anno di Lucrezia Borgia” to mark the 500th anniversary of her arrival there as the bride of the future duke. Some of the lasting consequences of that celebration can be found among the Collections of Papers. Other article-length pieces can be accessed via Journals. The final section of this article charts the process by which the figure of Lucrezia Borgia has evolved From Fact to Fiction during the centuries since her death.

Reference Works

While clerical members of the Borgia family are featured in various reference works devoted to ecclesiastical history, fewer options are available for Lucrezia. Russell 2007 categorizes her as a Renaissance woman and provides a potted biography that may well be sufficient for the purposes of many readers. For more detail, see the Dizionario biografico degli italiani, which also contains information about many of Lucrezia’s contemporaries, providing that their names are not toward the end of the alphabet, for this mammoth undertaking remains a work in progress. The laymen in Lucrezia’s life and their intertwined military careers can also be traced via the website Condottieri di ventura.

  • Condottieri di ventura.

    A website devoted to mercenary soldiers is not directly relevant to the life of Lucrezia Borgia nor even to some of her male relatives, who employed condottieri rather than served as them. However, it does provide convenient records of the military careers of her first husband, Giovanni Sforza of Pesaro, and of her correspondent Francesco Gonzaga of Mantua.

  • Dizionario biografico degli italiani. 100 vols. Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 1960–2020.

    Instead of being listed among her natal family in Vol. 12, “Lucrezia Borgia, duchessa di Ferrara,” by Raffaele Tamilio, had to wait until the publication of Vol. 66, available online. The bibliography is therefore recent enough to incorporate publications marking the 500th anniversary of her Ferrarese marriage, which cannot be said of the biography of her third husband, “Alfonso d’Este, duca di Ferrara,” in Vol. 2, available online.

  • Russell, Rinaldina. “Borgia, Lucrezia (1480–1519).” In Encyclopedia of Women in the Renaissance: Italy, France, and England. Edited by Diana Maury Robin, Anne R. Larsen, and Carole Levin, 51–54. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2007.

    The entry on Lucrezia gives a clear, concise account of her life, in which all the appropriate names are dropped. For a work of this nature, the accompanying bibliography is unusually lengthy and is even more remarkable for its emphasis on archival sources.

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