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The Borgias: History's Most Notorious Dynasty by Mary Hollingsworth - Book Review

By Edited Jun 25, 2015 0 1

If you weren't hooked on history before you read this book, you certainly will be when you've finished it!

For centuries, the Borgias and their rise to power, has fascinated us. Brought to life by Mary Hollingsworth The Borgias examines the intrigues, the greed, the lust and the cruelty of one of the most infamous of all Renaissance families.

The Borgias by Mary Hollingsworth Book Cover
Credit: Quercus Editions Ltd.
The Borgias: History's Most Notorious Dynasty
Amazon Price: $23.95 Buy Now
(price as of Jun 25, 2015)

Mary Hollingsworth - About the Author

Mary Hollingsworth has a B.Sc. in business studies and a Ph.D. in art history. Hollingsworth's doctoral thesis examined the place of architects in the magnificent building projects of the Italian Renaissance. Hollingsworth's knowledge encompasses the depth and breadth of Renaissance life, from the art and architecture, to the nitty-gritty of everyday life, like the soap they used, the shoelaces they tied their shoes with, the candles they burned, their cooking pots and even the drains! She was one of the senior academics on the Material Renaissance Project, a collaborative venture funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Board and the Getty Grant Program, which investigated costs and consumption in Italy 1300-1650.

Her publications include:

  • The Cardinal's Hat: Money, Ambition and Everyday Life in the Court of a Borgia Prince: Money, Ambition and Housekeeping in a Renaissance Court (2004)

  • Patronage in Renaissance Italy: From 1400 to the Early 16th Century (1994)

  • Patronage in Sixteenth-century Italy (1996)

The Renaissance Brought to Life

Mary Hollingsworth brings the Borgias, key players in Renaissance Italy, to life. Through intimate details she gives us a fascinating and detailed insight into the past. We get a thorough understanding of the unscrupulous election of Rodrigo Borgia as Pope Alexander VI, how he used his power to promote his children, especially Cesare and Lucrezia, and his wider kith and kin. The corruption at the heart of his pontificate, his greed, and the murder of his rivals by the foulest means, seem as real now as they were then. There was not just corruption within the pontificate, but also within the family. Rodrigo and Lucrezia had incestuous relationships, as did Lucrezia and Cesare. We get to know Lucrezia and Cesare so well that you almost image yourself in conversation with them. Hollingsworth also examines the many tales that abounded including rumours of supernatural pacts with the devil.

Hollingsworth sorts out fact from fiction charting their notorious activities on a year-by-year basis. She gives us quotations from contemporary papers and documents, as well as well-chosen images from the period, to support her detailed and accessible narrative

Hollingsworth gives us history at its best, and after reading The Borgias I can certainly see why their tale has inspired authors, dramatists, poets and painters through the centuries, and continues to do so today.



Mary Hollingsworth Spoke to Infobarrel About the Borgias

Infobarrel.com: You originally studied business studies and then received a Ph.D. in art history. It's a long way from business studies to art history... so what attracted you to art history and the Renaissance in particular?

Mary Hollingsworth: Renaissance art is all about the patron - his wealth, his attitudes and so on. Business studies was a great basis to study this period.

Infobarrel.com: During the course of your research for this book, did you discover anything that really surprised you or overturned previous knowledge?

Mary Hollingsworth: Reading the diary of the master-of-ceremonies made me realize just how corrupt the papal court really was in the fifteenth century.

Infobarrel.com: It may seem surprising to us today that the Church was so involved in non-religious matters. Why was that, and when did things start to change?

Mary Hollingsworth: Renaissance popes were not only spiritual leaders of the Christian world but also secular rulers in their own right, with control of the Papal States which covered much of central Italy - their authority was only restricted to the Vatican City in 1871.

Infobarrel.com: Were there any other families like the Borgia's whose life and history would make such interesting reading?

Mary Hollingsworth: Yes, particularly the Medici family, who rose from jobbing moneylenders to become grand dukes of Florence, using similarly corrupt and violent methods in their greedy pursuit of power.

Infobarrel.com: Your book tells us so much about Renaissance society. If you could go back in time is there any one particular man or woman you would like to be, and why?

Mary Hollingsworth: It has to be Rodrigo Borgia, his magnetic personality, his zest for life and his stellar success; but I would also have enjoyed being the court jester, hearing the gossip while making people laugh.

Hollingsworth, Mary, The Borgias, Quercus Editions Ltd., London, 2014.



Patronage in Renaissance Italy: From 1400 to the Early 16th Century
Amazon Price: $74.95 Buy Now
(price as of Jun 25, 2015)

The Borgias

The Borgias - book by Mary Hollingsworth Fran5050 2014-03-29 5.0 0 5
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Comments

Apr 26, 2014 9:33am
Moina-Arcee
Excellent. Thank you very much for this. It was a different time and place, wasn't it? People who think the papacy is corrupt today would have a heart attack if they knew how bad things were way back when.
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