Giovanni Borgia (Infans Romanus)

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Giovanni Borgia (March 1498 – 1548), known as the Infans Romanus ("the Roman child"), was a child born into the Borgia family in secret and is of unclear parentage. Speculations of the child's parentage involve either Lucrezia Borgia as his mother, or Cesare Borgia, or Pope Alexander VI as his father. Some believe Lucrezia conceived Giovanni with her alleged lover, Perotto Calderon, while others believe that either Cesare or Rodrigo fathered the boy with a lover. A more lurid theory is that perhaps Lucrezia was his mother and either Cesare or Rodrigo was the father.

Pope Alexander VI issued two papal bulls, both dated 1 September 1501, in each of which a different father is assigned to Giovanni Borgia. The second bull appears to supplement and correct the first. Cesare Borgia's biographer Rafael Sabatini says that the truth is fairly clear: Alexander fathered the child with an unknown Roman woman.


The first of these Bulls, addressed to "Dilecto Filio Nobili Joanni de Borgia, Infanti Romano", declares Giovanni Borgia to be a child of three years of age, the illegitimate son of Cesare Borgia, unmarried (as Cesare was at the time of the child's birth), and of a woman (unnamed, as was usual in such cases), also unmarried.

The second declares Giovanni Borgia instead to be the son of Pope Alexander VI himself and runs: "Since you bear this deficiency not from the said duke, but from us and the said woman, which we for good reasons did not desire to express in the preceding writing". The pope was forbidden by canon law to publicly recognize children and did not wish that Giovanni Borgia should suffer in his inheritance as a consequence.[1] Precisely at the same date, the final arrangements were made for Lucrezia Borgia's betrothal to Alfonso d'Este, duke of Ferrara.


Giovanni Borgia appeared as a companion of Lucrezia Borgia, who named him as her younger half-brother. Pope Alexander VI, in two bulls excommunicating members of the Savelli and Colonna families and confiscating their properties, was able to name Giovanni Borgia as heir to the duchy of Nepi, a property important to the Borgia family. Giovanni Borgia was also named duke of Palestrina on 17 September 1501.

Giovanni Borgia was passed from guardian to guardian, eventually ending up with Lucrezia Borgia in Ferrara. Giovanni Borgia held several other titles, including the signory of Vetralla, but never succeeded in possessing his titles. After a career serving as a minor functionary in the Papal Curia and at the court of France, he failed to gain much power and eventually died relatively unknown with three daughters who inherited his titles.

Popular culture[edit]

Hella S. Haasse constructed a historical novel around the figure of Giovanni Borgia, The Scarlet City (1952).

In the historical setting of the Assassin's Creed series, Giovanni Borgia is depicted as the love child of the star-crossed union between Lucrezia Borgia and Perotto Calderon, a courier who was secretly a member of the Assassins, who were working to bring down their sworn enemies, the Knights Templar (currently led by the Borgias). Giovanni is born malformed and deemed likely to die in a few days, but is healed by a powerful artifact. He is raised in the Borgia household, with Cesare Borgia posing as his father and Lucrezia as his aunt. To flee the life Cesare is grooming him for, Giovanni runs away to join Francesco Vecellio, Calderon's understudy, in the Assassin Order. Thereafter Giovanni serves as an operative for the Assassins, having an affinity for artifacts of power. For example, in 1520, he poses as a chronicler on Hernán Cortés's first voyage to Mexico (witnessing the Night of Sorrow), where he obtains a crystal skull. In 1527, he encounters Paracelsus and assists in the creation of a philosopher's stone.

In the 2011 television series The Borgias, Giovanni is portrayed as the son of Lucrezia (portrayed by Holliday Grainger) and a young groom named Paolo, who is then murdered by her brother Juan.

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