I have always had a weak spot for Pope Alexandre VI Borgia. History has smeared his name with horrid deeds; but I suspect that such a campaign was led in part by protestant propaganda.
I had shared this theory with my youngest daughter Olga who was given zero for writing it in her homework. At the time, we were living in New York and the school was protestant.
This vilified pope was one of our ancestors. We are the descents of his daughter, Lucrezia Borgia, the famous beauty who counted the Duke of Este amongst her many husbands. It so happens that at the end of the 18th century the last lady of Este had married our direct ancestor, the Duke of Penthievre.
That particular pope had a fairly simple way of dealing with finances. As soon as a gap appeared in the Vatican’s accounts, he would refer to the list he had drawn up of the richest cardinals; he would extend an invitation to the man at the top of that list and serve him an extra special glass of port or a cup of coffee that would duly send the cardinal off to a better world: leaving the pope to inherit the riches.
When he encountered a difficult financial patch; he took out his list and read the Cardinal Chigi’s name. He made arrangements to be invited to a reception in Rome, and took along the trusted valet who usually took care of enhancing certain beverages.
On the way there however, the pope realised that back at the Vatican he had forgotten the good luck charm he always carried. He panicked immediately: an omen of bad luck. So, he sent the valet back to the Vatican with orders to bring the lucky charm to him directly. When they arrived at the reception however, it was a different, inexperienced valet who prepared the special beverage. And, instead of offering it to Cardinal Chigi, he gave it to the Pope himself who drank it and dropped dead. His big mistake was to have forgotten his lucky charm.
His burial was so secretive that the coffin turned out to be too small for his size. So, his valets had to hop on the corpse to make him to fit between the side planks of the coffin.
As for Cardinal Chigi, he is still haunting his house. It now belongs to my cousin Olympia who often hears the cardinal’s silk robes rustling across the marble floor in the large sitting room. She served us drinks in the very sitting room where Alexander VI drank poison and died.