THE BORGIA POPE IS DYING. A Diplomat’s Death Watch.
The demise of the Borgia pope, Alexander VI, was keenly awaited. One of the jobs of the Venetian ambassador in Rome was to hang around the palace, make inquiries, listen to small talk, and fire off a bulletin to keep his government informed about what was going on. Among the pearls of his correspondence during the summer of 1503.
- 11 July: Pope inconvenienced by diarrhea.
- 14 July: Pope a little depressed.
- 7 August: Pope worried about quartan fever. Ambassador, he said to me, all these sick people in Rome, all these deaths make me afraid.
- 12 August: Pope feverish.
- 13 August: Pope vomiting after dinner.
- 14 August: Physician bleeds pope. Some speak of fourteen, some of sixteen ounces of blood…that is an enormous quantity for a man of seventy-three years.
- 15 August: Stonewalled. Palace officials keep a lid on info about Pope’s health.
- 17 August: Pope given medicine, still feverish. Property locked down as a precaution against riots sure to break out on news of Pope’s death.
- 18 August: Barring a miracle, the pope cannot live much longer.
- 19 August: The pope is dead. The corpse was hideous and bloated beyond words…For the sake of decency, it was kept covered.
To which Frederick Rolfe, Chronicles of the House of Borgia, adds the footnote: The pope lies in state in the Chapel of the Trinity in St. Peter’s…with his feet protruding through the screen (to allow the faithful to kiss them).
I think Rolfe would have been great on Twitter.