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The Family

Mario Puzo

  The Family

  A Novel

  Mario Puzo

  Completed by Carol Gino

  Let me be vile and base, only let me kiss the hem of the veil in which my God is shrouded. Though I may be following the devil, I am Thy son, O Lord, and I love Thee, and I feel the joy without which the world cannot stand.


  The Brothers Karamazov







  Prologue As the Black Death swept through Europe, devastating half the population…

  Part I

  1The golden rays of the summer sun warmed the cobblestone streets of Rome…

  2 Hidden in the foothills of the Apennines, a day’s ride from Rome, was a vast tract…

  3 When cardinal Rodrigo Borgia became Pope Alexander VI, he knew…

  4 Cardinal Giuliano Della Rovere’s desire for vengeance grew toward obsession.

  5 On the day that Lucrezia’s husband-to-be, Giovanni Sforza, duke of Pesaro…

  6 Ludovico Sforza, the man known as Il Moro, was the power in the great city-state…

  7 The Pope’s physician rushed to the vatican with an urgent report of an outbreak…

  8 Cesare, riding with the French cavalry, watched the well-disciplined troops…

  9 Now that Rome was temporarily quiet, the Pope traveled to Silverlake…

  10 Pope Alexander had been betrayed at the moment of his greatest need…

  11 Lucrezia had come to join her father and brothers for the Easter festivities…

  12 Vanozza Cattanei’s guests sat at the gaily colored banquet tables…

  Part II

  13 Alexander was still in mourning for Juan, and so it was that Duarte came to Cesare Borgia…

  14 On the day Cesare Borgia crowned the king of Naples, he received an urgent message…

  15 The moment Alexander entered the comfortable country home of Vanozza Catanei…

  16 Francis Saluti, Interrogator for the Florentine Council of Ten, knew…

  17 Cesare awoke that morning with mounting excitement.

  18 Cesare spent the following weeks dressed in solemn black, pacing the halls…

  19 Alexander could not bear Lucrezia’s tears. And while she wore a brave face in public…

  Part III

  20 Cesare Borgia, dressed in black armor and mounted on a magnificent white charger…

  21 Cesare entered Rome a conquering hero. the grand procession celebrating his victory…

  22 Prince Alfonso of Aragon, the proud son of kings, carried himself regally…

  23 In Rome again, Cesare readied his army, and this time most of his soldiers were Italian…

  24 As Cesare moved his army northward up the Rimini-Bologna road toward Bologna itself…

  25 Cardinal Della Rovere and Cardinal Ascanio Sforza met in secret over a lunch…

  26 Silverlake was beautiful that spring. Cesare and Lucrezia made a handsome couple…

  27 Jofre and Sancia lay sound asleep in their apartments in the Vatican…

  28 Cardinal Giuliano Della Rovere paced around his apartments in Ostia, raging…

  29 The very night of Alexander’ss death, armed mobs surged through the streets of Rome…

  30 Alert to the danger of being recaptured by Spanish militia combing the countryside…

  Epilogue Cesare Borgia, who had been a Cardinal, a Duke, and a Gonfaloniere…


  About the Author

  Other Books by Mario Puzo



  About the Publisher


  AS THE BLACK death swept through Europe, devastating half the population, many citizens in desperation turned their eyes from the Heavens to Earth. There, in order to master the physical world, the more philosophically inclined tried to uncover the secrets of existence and to unravel Life’s great mysteries, while the poor hoped only to overcome their suffering.

  And so it was that God fell to Earth as Man, and the rigid religious doctrine of the Middle Ages lost its power and was replaced by the study of the great ancient civilizations of Rome, Greece, and Egypt. As the thirst for the Crusades began to fade, Olympian heroes were reborn and Olympian battles were fought anew. Man pitted his mind against the heart of God, and Reason reigned.

  This was the time of great accomplishments in philosophy, the arts, medicine, and music. Culture flourished with great pomp and ceremony. But not without cost. Old laws were broken before new ones were created. The shift from the strict adherence to the word of God and the belief in eternal salvation to the honor of Man and reward in the material world called humanism was, in truth, a difficult transition.

  Then, Rome was not the Holy City; it was a lawless place. In the streets, citizens were robbed, houses were plundered, prostitution was rampant, and hundreds of people were murdered each week.

  Moreover, the country we now know as Italy did not yet exist. Instead, there were five great powers: Venice, Milan, Florence, Naples, and Rome. Within the boundaries of the “boot,” there were many independent city-states ruled by old families led by local kings, feudal lords, dukes, or bishops. Inside the country, neighbor fought neighbor for territory. And those who conquered were always on guard—for the next conquest was close at hand.

  From outside the country, there came the threat of invasion by foreign powers who wished to expand their empires. The rulers of France and Spain vied for territory, and the “barbarian” Turks, who were not Christians, were moving in on the Papal States.

  Church and state wrestled for sovereignty. After the travesty of the Great Schism—when there were two Popes in two cities with divided power and reduced revenue—the formation of the new seat of the throne in Rome, with only one Pope, gave the princes of the church new hope. Emerging even stronger than before, the spiritual leaders of the church had only to fight the temporal power of the kings, queens, and dukes of the small cities and fiefdoms.

  Still, the Holy Roman Catholic Church was in turmoil, for the lawless behavior was not limited to citizens only. Cardinals sent their servants armed with stones and crossbows into the streets to fight with Roman youths; men of high position in the church—forbidden to marry—visited courtesans and kept many mistresses; bribes were offered and taken; and official clergy at the highest levels were ready to accept money to deliver dispensations from the laws and write up sacred papal bulls to pardon the most terrible crimes.

  It was said by many a disillusioned citizen that everything in Rome was for sale. Enough money could buy churches, priests, pardons, and even the forgiveness of God.

  With very few exceptions, men who became priests entered the church because they were second sons—trained from birth for professions in the church. They had no true religious calling, but because the church still held the power to declare a king a king, and to bestow great blessings on earth, every aristocratic Italian family offered gifts and bribes to get its sons named to the college of cardinals.

  This was the Renaissance; the time of Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia and his family.



  THE GOLDEN RAYS of the summer sun warmed the cobblestone streets of Rome as Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia walked briskly from the Vatican to the three-story stucco house on the Piazza de Merlo where he’d come to claim three of his young children: his sons Cesare and Juan and his daughter Lucrezia, flesh of his flesh, blood of his blood. On this fortuitous day the vice-chancellor to the Pope, the second most powerful man in the Holy Roma
n Catholic Church, felt especially blessed.

  At the house of their mother, Vanozza Cattanei, he found himself whistling happily. As a son of the church he was forbidden to marry, but as a man of God he felt certain that he knew the Good Lord’s plan. For did not the Heavenly Father create Eve to complete Adam, even in Paradise? So did it not follow that on this treacherous earth filled with unhappiness, a man needed the comfort of a woman even more? He’d had three previous children when he was a young bishop, but these last children he had sired, those of Vanozza, held a special place in his heart. They seemed to ignite in him the same high passions that she had. And even now, while they were still so young, he envisioned them standing on his shoulders, forming a great giant, helping him to unite the Papal States and extend the Holy Roman Catholic Church far across the world.

  Over the years, whenever he had come to visit, the children always called him “Papa,” seeing no compromise in his devotion to them and his loyalty to the Holy See. They saw nothing strange about the fact he was a cardinal and their father too. For didn’t Pope Innocent’s son and daughter often parade through the streets of Rome for celebrations with great ceremony?

  Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia had been with his mistress, Vanozza, for more than ten years, and he smiled when he thought how few women had brought him such excitement and kept his interest for so long. Not that Vanozza had been the only woman in his life, for he was a man of large appetites in all worldly pleasures. But she had been by far the most important. She was intelligent, to his eye beautiful—and someone he could talk to about earthly and heavenly matters. She had often given him wise counsel, and in return he had been a generous lover and a doting father to their children.

  Vanozza stood in the doorway of her house and smiled bravely as she waved good-bye to her three children.

  One of her great strengths now that she had reached her fortieth year was that she understood the man who wore the robes of the cardinal. She knew he had a burning ambition, a fire that flamed in his belly that would not be extinguished. He also had a military strategy for the Holy Catholic Church that would expand its reach, political alliances that would strengthen it, and promises of treaties that would cement his position as well as his power. He had talked to her about all these things. Ideas marched across his mind as relentlessly as his armies would march through new territories. He was destined to become one of the greatest leaders of men, and with his rise would come her children’s. Vanozza tried to comfort herself with the knowledge that one day, as the cardinal’s legitimate heirs, they would have wealth, power, and opportunity. And so she could let them go.

  Now she held tight to her infant son, Jofre, her only remaining child—too young to take from her, for he was still at the breast. Yet he too must go before long. Her dark eyes were shiny with tears as she watched her other children walk away. Only once did Lucrezia look back, but the boys never turned around.

  Vanozza saw the handsome, imposing figure of the cardinal reach for the small hand of his younger son, Juan, and the tiny hand of his three-year-old daughter, Lucrezia. Their eldest son, Cesare, left out, already looked upset. That meant trouble, she thought, but in time Rodrigo would know them as well as she did. Hesitantly, she closed the heavy wooden front door.

  They had taken only a few steps when Cesare, angry now, pushed his brother so hard that Juan, losing his grip on his father’s hand, stumbled and almost fell to the ground. The cardinal stopped the small boy’s fall, then turned and said, “Cesare, my son, could you not ask for what you want, rather than pushing your brother?”

  Juan, a year younger but much more slightly built than the seven-year-old Cesare, snickered proudly at his father’s defense. But before he could bask in his satisfaction, Cesare moved closer and stomped hard upon his foot.

  Juan cried out in pain.

  The cardinal grabbed Cesare by the back of his shirt with one of his large hands—lifting him off the cobblestone street—and shook him so hard that his auburn curls tumbled across his face. Then he stood the child on his feet again. Kneeling in front of the small boy, his brown eyes softened. He asked, “What is it, Cesare? What has displeased you so?”

  The boy’s eyes, darker and more penetrating, glowed like coals as he stared at his father. “I hate him, Papa,” he said in an impassioned voice. “You choose him always . . . ”

  “Now, now, Cesare,” the cardinal said, amused. “The strength of a family, like the strength of an army, is in its loyalty to each other. Besides, it’s a mortal sin to hate one’s own brother, and there is no reason to endanger your immortal soul over such emotions.” He stood now, towering over them. Then he smiled as he patted his portly belly. “There is certainly enough of me for all of you . . . is there not?”

  Rodrigo Borgia was a mountainous man, tall enough to carry his weight, handsome in a rugged rather than aristocratic way. His dark eyes often glimmered with amusement; his nose, though large, was not offensive looking; and his full sensual lips, usually smiling, gave him a generous appearance. But it was his personal magnetism, the intangible energy he radiated, that made everyone agree he was one of the most attractive men of his time.

  “Chez, you can have my place,” his daughter now said to Cesare, in a voice so clear that the cardinal turned toward her with fascination. Lucrezia, standing with arms folded in front of her, her long blond ringlets hanging down over her shoulders, wore an expression of hard determination on her angelic face.

  “You do not wish to hold your papa’s hand?” the cardinal asked, pretending a pout.

  “It does not make me cry not to hold your hand,” she said. “And it does not make me angry.”

  “Crezia,” Cesare said with real affection, “don’t be a donkey. Juan is just being a baby; he is most capable on his own.” He stared with distaste at his brother, who was quickly drying his tears with the smooth silk of his shirt sleeve.

  The cardinal tousled Juan’s dark hair and reassured him. “Stop weeping. You may take my hand.” He turned to Cesare and said, “And my small warrior, you may take the other.” Then he looked at Lucrezia and gave her a broad smile. “And you, my sweet child? What shall your papa do with you?”

  When the child’s expression remained unchanged and she showed no emotion, the cardinal was enchanted. He smiled with appreciation. “You are truly Papa’s girl, and as a reward for your generosity and bravery, you may sit in the single place of honor.”

  Rodrigo Borgia reached down and quickly lifted the small girl high into the air to place her on his shoulders. And he laughed with pure joy. Now, as he walked with his elegant garments flowing gracefully, his daughter looked like another new and beautiful crown on the head of the cardinal.

  That same day, Rodrigo Borgia moved his children into the Orsini Palace, across from his own at the Vatican. His widowed cousin, Adriana Orsini, cared for them and acted as governess, taking charge of their education. When Adriana’s young son, Orso, became engaged at thirteen, his fiancée, Julia Farnese, fifteen, moved into the palace to help Adriana care for the children.

  Though the cardinal had the day-to-day responsibility of his children, they still visited their mother, who was now married to her third husband, Carlo Canale. As Rodrigo Borgia had chosen Vanozza’s two former husbands, he had chosen Canale, knowing a widow must have a husband to offer her protection and the reputation of a respectable house. The cardinal had been good to her, and what she hadn’t received from him, she had inherited from her two previous husbands. Unlike the beautiful but empty-headed courtesans of some of the aristocracy, Vanozza was a practical woman, which Rodrigo admired. She owned several well-kept inns and a country estate, which provided her with a significant income—and being a pious woman, she had built a chapel dedicated to the Madonna, in which she said her daily prayers.

  Still, after ten years, their passion for each other seemed to cool and they became good friends.

  Within weeks, Vanozza was forced to relinquish the baby, Jofre, to join his brothers and sister, for he
had become inconsolable without them. And so it was that all of Rodrigo Borgia’s children were together under his cousin’s care.

  As befitted the children of a cardinal, over the next few years they were taught by the most talented tutors in Rome. They were schooled in the humanities, astronomy and astrology, ancient history, and several languages including Spanish, French, English, and of course the language of the church, Latin. Cesare excelled because of his intelligence and competitive nature, but it was Lucrezia who showed the most promise, for above everything else, she had character and true virtue.

  Though many young girls were sent to convents to be educated and dedicated to the saints, Lucrezia—with the cardinal’s permission, on the advice of Adriana—was dedicated to the Muses and taught by the same talented tutors as her brothers. Because she loved the arts, she learned to play the lute, to dance, and to draw. She excelled in embroidery—on fabrics of silver and gold.

  As was her obligation, Lucrezia developed charms and talents that would increase her value in the marital alliances which would serve the Borgia family in the future. One of her favorite pastimes was writing poetry, and she spent long hours on verses of love and rapture for God as well as those of romantic love. She was particularly inspired by the saints, her heart often too full for words.

  Julia Farnese indulged Lucrezia as a younger sister; Adriana and the cardinal both lavished Lucrezia with attention, and so she grew into a happy child with a pleasant disposition. Curious and easy to get along with, she disliked disharmony and made every effort to help keep the family peace.