The House of Borgia was an Italo-Spanish noble family, who became one of the most prominent and powerful families of the Italian Renaissance. They were very active in the ecclesiastical and the political affairs in Italy in the late 16th century. The family produced two Popes and Cesare Borgia, one of the most infamous figures of the Renaissance. The family was suspected of many crimes and they have become legendary figures. This article will attempt to disentangle fact from fiction and evaluate the contribution of the Borgia Family to the Italian Renaissance and the Papacy. Ultimately, the family played a very important part in the evolution of the Papacy. Their ambitions also destabilized Renaissance Italy and Cesare Borgia efforts to create a principality for himself out of the Papal States wreaked havoc on Italy.
The family originated from Valencia in modern Spain, then in the Kingdom of Aragon. There have been claims that the family was of Jewish origin. The first prominent Borgia was Alfonse de Borja (1372-1458) who was a distinguished law professor who later worked in the Curia, (Papal bureaucracy) and became a cardinal. He eventually became Pope Calixtus II, at an advanced age, but he only reigned as Pope for less than three years. He did not achieve much as Pope apart from appointing his nephew to the Curia. Rodrigo Borgia (1451-1503) was a brilliant and charismatic man who was a gifted canon lawyer and able diplomat. He was made a cardinal and proved an able administrator. Rodrigo was elected Pope in 1492 and became Alexander VI. Like many other clerics, at the time, he had illicit relationships with women and he had four children with the beautiful Giula Farnese.