Poisoning during the Renaissance: The Medicis and the Borgias.

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Date
2000
Authors
Retief, F.P
Cilliers, L.
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Publisher
The Southern African Society for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (SASMARS)
Abstract
The Medicis and Borgias were probably the most eminent families of the Italian Renaissance known for their enthusiastic support of emerging arts and science. In popular history they have also gone down as ruthless rulers and infamous poisoners. Our assessment of the extent and nature of their poisoning showed that they were indeed products of an era characterized by intrigue, violence and assassination but that their roles as poisoners have probably been exaggerated. Knowledge of poisons had improved little since Roman times and there was still a close association between witchcraft, sorcery and poisoning”but arsenic had become the most popular poison. An absolute inability to detect human poisoning chemically before the eighteenth century added to uncertainty, suspicion and common accusations of suspected poisoning, which could subsequently not be proved or disproved in the majority of cases. There is limited evidence of Medici involvement in poisoning, with the possible exception of Catherine de Medici, Queen of France, who collected poisons, frequented astrologers, wizards, and known poisoners, and could well have poisoned a limited number of her enemies. One prominent Medici, Ipolito, died of poisoning. The Borgias were involved more directly, although even here their legendary prowess with cantarell powders (probably arsenical compounds) is probably much overstated. Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia) had a reputation of inter alia poisoning five of his cardinals for their wealth; there may be truth in some of these allegations. His illegitimate son, Cesare Borgia, was ruthlessly ambitious, but his many victims died of strangling and stabbing rather than poisoning. The infamous Lucrezia Borgia (sister of Cesare) was a pawn in the power of her father and brother, and not a significant poisoner.
Description
Keywords
Renaissance, poison
Citation
Poisoning during the Renaissance: The Medicis and the Borgias,1017-3455,The Southern African Society for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.