Lucrezia Borgia is one of those figures in history that we are taught to believe was a really evil person. The name of Borgia alone conjures up a images of poison, ruthless ambition, incest, cruelty, among other unsavoury traits. More than likely, what we’ve learned about her is from anti-Borgia propaganda, and therefore, not to be taken as absolute truth. I don’t believe she was as heartless as some tend to assume.
Whether she was as evil as many believe or not, the extremely beautiful Lucrezia Borgia is the ancestress of many important figures in various European courts throughout the centuries since her death and now include King Juan Carlos of Spain. There are some (including an old textbook of mine) which included Henrietta Maria and the Stuarts in this descent.
Upon further examination of other sources, it seems clear that whilst Lucrezia’s offspring are related to most European monarchies, she is only a direct descendant of a few – such as the aforementioned King of Spain, but also Henri, Duke of Luxembourg.
The theory behind the connection between Lucrezia Borgia and the Stuarts is less likely. The real Renaissance woman whose blood line continues to this day is actually the formidable Countess of Forlì, Caterina Sforza:
The Sforza’s do have a connection with the Borgias. Lucrezia Borgia’s first husband was Giovanni Sforza, as the Sforza’s were a very powerful, very wealthy Italian family. The Borgias needed to have strong allies so they chose the method of marrying off the beautiful Lucrezia as a way of securing this tentative alliance.
Things did not work out well, to say the least, and Giovanni and Lucrezia’s marriage was dissolved due to his “impotence.” This doesn’t seem very likely though. Through Lucrezia’s other two marriages she gave birth to several children. Through these, Lucrezia’s beauty genes have been passed down the generations! (One of her known descendants is the famed beauty Brooke Shields).
Caterina Sforza’s line continued through the 1500s, and into the 1600s with Henrietta Maria, the daughter of Marie de Medici (the Medicis were another very powerful Renaissance Italian family. A descendant of Caterina Sforza married into the Medici family).
Henrietta Maria was the strong-minded, beautiful French daughter of Queen Marie de Medici, who became the wife of Stuart King Charles I, the ill-fated King of England. Together they had several children including future kings Charles II and James II, and Mary Princess Royal & Princess of Orange, among others. And so, James’s children, Queen Mary II and Queen Anne I, may have descended from Caterina Sforza via their paternal grandmother, Henrietta Maria. Now, I have encountered conflicting family trees for the past few days whilst researching this, but it is certainly interesting and more probably than the Lucrezia Borgia/Stuart connection.
Is anyone else descended from Caterina Sforza? Well, this lovely lady was…
There are several sources which state that the late Diana, Princess of Wales may have been a descendant of Caterina Sforza through her Stuart ancestors (the Spencer family is descended from an illegitimate line of Charles II), though this may be incorrect, as I keep finding her associated with Borgia rival Caterina Sforza, Countess of Forlì (so much so, I’ve decided to write a post about her connections). As I mentioned before, Royal family trees can be exceedingly difficult to narrow down, and there is conflicting evidence from one book and website to the next. As Caterina is the ancestor, her line will continue with William and Catherine’s baby.
Back to Lucrezia…
Lucrezia (and Caterina, for that matter) is currently enjoying a rebirth of interest due to several television series and books about her and her (in)famous family. Most notable among these, in my opinion, is the Showtime series The Borgias, which stars (old-enough-to-be-my-dad-but-still-fanciable) Jeremy Irons, the yummy Francois Arnaud, and the perfectly-cast Holliday Grainger as Lucrezia:
I am absolutely loving the series, in spite of some historical inaccuracies, but it’s so beautiful to watch – every shot looks like a Renaissance painting. I think I’ve managed to get my husband interested in it as well (he does not like historical dramas), so it has enough political intrigue and violence to keep him entertained. Oh, and slim, naked women. Oy.
So, what is the upshot of the Stuart-Borgia connection? Not likely. But there is definitely a link between Stuart-Sforza.
Anyway, as I am not an expert on Renaissance history by any stretch of the imagination, so if you’d love to read more about Renaissance Italy, check out my friend Sam’s page at: http://www.loyaltybindsme.org/