Original Spanish name Rodrigo de Borja , Italian Rodrigo Borgia
(b. 1431, Játiva, d. 1503, Rome), successor of Innocent VIII.
Rodrigo studied law at Bologna, and at the age of 25, he was created cardinal (1456) by his uncle, Pope Calixtus III. He became vice chancellor of the Roman Church (1457) and dean of the Sacred College (1476). He patronized the arts and fathered a number of children for whom he provided livings. By a Roman noblewoman, Vannozza Catanei, he had four subsequently legitimized offspring, among them Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia.
Alexander was elected by a corrupt conclave. The foreign relations during his papacy were dominated by an increasing influence of France in Italy, culminating in the invasion of Charles VIII in 1594 to vindicate his claims to the Kingdom of Naples. Charles, at the instigation of a rival cardinal of the influential della Rovere family, threatened the Pope with deposition and the convocation of a reform council. Even after receiving the traditional obeisance from the French monarch, Alexander still refused to support the King's claim to Naples and, by an alliance with Milan, Venice, and the Holy Roman emperor, eventually forced the French to withdraw from Italy.
In 1493 Alexander created his teenage son Cesare a cardinal, along with the brother of the papal favorite Giulia, Alessandro Farnese who later will become pope Paul III (1534-1549). Indeed, in the course of his pontificate Alexander appointed many cardinals. His son Juan was made duke of Gandía (Spain) and was married to Maria Enriquez, the cousin of King Ferdinand IV of Castile; the other son Jofré was married to Sancia, the granddaughter of the King of Naples; and Lucrezia was given first to Giovanni Sforza of Milan, and, when that marriage was annulled by papal decree on the grounds of impotence, she was married to Alfonso of Aragon. Upon his assassination Lucrezia received as a third husband Alfonso I d'Este, duke of Ferrara.
Tragedy struck the papal household on June 14, 1497, when Alexander's favorite son, Juan, was murderedperhaps with the participation of his brother Cesare. Gravely afflicted, Alexander announced a reform program and called for measures to restrain the luxury of the papal court, reorganize the Apostolic Chancery, and repress simony and concubinage. But these didn't last long, and soon Alexander returned to a policy of political intrigue.
Alexander was a munificent patron of the arts: he erected a canter for the University of Rome, restored Castel Sant'Angelo, built the monumental mansion of the Apostolic Chancery, embellished the Vatican palaces, had the Borgia Apartments in the Vatican decorated by Pinturicchio, and persuaded Michelangelo to draw plans for the rebuilding of St. Peter's Basilica.
Recent attempts to whitewash Alexander's private conduct have proved abortive. While his religious convictions cannot be challenged, scandal accompanied his activities throughout his career. Even from a Renaissance viewpoint, his relentless pursuit of political goals and unremitting efforts to aggrandize his family were seen as excessive. Neither as corrupt as depicted by Machiavelli and by gossip nor as useful to the church's expansion as apologists would make him, Alexander VI holds a high place, if not the highest place, on the list of 10-15 so-called bad popes.