Alexander VI 1431–1503 Pope
As pope, Alexander VI became a symbol of corruption within the Roman Catholic Church. He was born Rodrigo Borgia, a member of a powerful family in Spain. In 1456 his uncle Pope Calixtus III made him a cardinal. A year later he received the high position of vice-chancellor of the Catholic Church. While he was a cardinal, Rodrigo had seven illegitimate* children. However, his behavior was not particularly shocking for the times.
Rodrigo became pope on August 11, 1492. He used his position of power to gain land and wealth for his children. He made his son Cesare duke of Romagna. He also took land from nobles in central Italy for his other children, including his daughter Lucrezia, the Duchess of Ferrara. These actions earned him the ill will of many cardinals. He threatened those who opposed him, and some died suspiciously. He also made no secret of his affairs with women. His mistress Giulia Farnese bore him a son in 1498, while he was pope.
However, some of Alexander's actions were positive. He struggled to keep the French king Charles VIII from invading Italy in the 1490s. He also added to the beauty of the Vatican. He hired artists to create new buildings and paintings in his living quarters. Perhaps his most important act as pope was dividing up the lands of the New World between Spain and Portugal in 1493.
- * illegitimate
refers to a child born outside of marriage