In The Name of the Famly
Author: Sara Denant Published by Virago Price 15.99 euro
by Marco Vichi Translated by Stephen Sartarelli Published by Hodder & Stoughton Price €25
This is the follow up novel to Dunant's 2014 book Blood and Beauty that followed the lives of the Borgia family as they clawed their way to power in renaissance Italy.
The head of the family is Pope Alexander, spanish by birth, a man who had 7 children from various mistresses. It is him and only three of the children that are the focus of the books, with one of the children already murdered and thrown into the Tiber in the first novel it is now just his son Cesare and his daughter Lucretiza that are left to secure the Borgia name.
The Pope is elderly and his powers are waning but he still has immense wealth at his disposal and this he gives to his son Cesare to establish an army and fight the Borgia enemies in the Papal States surrounding Rome and bring them back into the fold. Cesare turns out to be an inspired military commander and one by one he brings the States to heel.
But he still has several military leaders that he has to contend with. Lucretiza is serving the family name in another manner. She is being dispatched to Ferrara to marry the heir. This will be her third marriage dictated by the needs of her father. The first was dissolved after the Pope realised that he could make a better match else- where. The second ended in disaster after the man was murdered by Cesare, a tragedy for Lucretiza as this was the only man she had ever loved.
Now she is off to Ferrara to marry yet again and despite her scandalous reputation she wins everyone over, a huge dowry greasing the wheels. All the while this is going on there is another character, a man from Florence who is observing the Borgia machinations, Niccolo Machiavelli.
He is particularly drawn to Cesare and as an emissary from Florence to Cesare's court he can observe him first hand and some years later will write his masterpiece 'The Prince' based on the man. There is another major character, but it is neither a person or a place but a thing.
Syphilis has come to Italy and is laying waste everyone around it. Cesare is disfigured and wears a mask everywhere he goes. Lucretiza ends up catching it as her new husband regularly goes to common prostitutes, no one is left untouched.
With so much illness there is an urgency amongst the Borgia's to secure their place but it all goes wrong with the Pope dying from a fever. Cesare is also in the Papal palace at the same time, almost succumbing to the same fever as his father. There is no Borgia presence to secure their position and their power just evaporates, a scandalous name in the margins of history.
Despite the awful title this is an engaging read.