Voyager Press Rare Books & Manuscripts

1800 - Manuscript Diary Life of Lucretia and Borgia Pope

Accounts from Inside the Vatican - Borgia Pope Alexander VI From the Diary of Johanne Burchard The Pope's Trusted Master of Ceremonies

Primary Source Manuscript Journal with Rare Coin

1800 - Manuscript Diary Life of Lucretia and Borgia Pope

Accounts from Inside the Vatican - Borgia Pope Alexander VI From the Diary of Johanne Burchard The Pope's Trusted Master of Ceremonies c.1800


Rome, circa 1800. Della Vita di Papa Alessandro VI. [The Life of Alexander VI]
Primary source manuscript fair copy biography of the Renaissance era's most controversial Borgia Pope Alexander VI drawing directly from the diary writings of his Ceremoniere Johann Burchard (c.1450-1506), protonotary apostolic (PA), made circa 1800 by an unidentified historian or Vatican scholar, centering on the successes of the Pope and featuring the famous yet virtually unobtainable firsthand account of the disputed Papal orgy in the Vatican in 1501, and a dedicatory preface. Text is in Italian. 202 pages with wide margins, the text area measuring approximately 12 x 23 cm. Qto. Half calf over marbled boards, titled and lined in gilt to spine. Bound by bookseller J. Griffiths, 4 Argyle Building, Bath, England, in the early nineteenth century. Original bookbinder's label to front pastedown. Volume measures approximately 27,5 x 20,5 cm. A fine example of a scarce primary source.

Together with a rare original Alexander VI Borgia papal grosso coin, made at the Ancona papal Mint during his papacy 1492-1503. Recto features a tiara and keys over a shield of papal arms, and circumference text ALEXANDER VI PONT MAX. Verso shows Saints Peter and Paul standing facing one another, each holding scriptures, one with a sword, the other a key, and text S PAVLVS S PETRVS. Retaining a strong impression, and accompanied by a certificate of authenticity by a numismatics expert in Treviso. ITALY, Papal Coinage. Alexander VI (Roderic Llançol de Borja i Borja). 1492-1503. AR Grosso of Rome. Measures approximately 25mm in diameter. CNI XV 10; Muntoni 23; Berman 538.

Violenza - guerra - politica - lettera - religiosi pieta - Violence, war, politics, private letters, religious piety - and let us not forget one evening of explicitly immoral sexual revelry - Much of the written text in this volume would be readily confiscated and forever denied by the Papacy who abhor the Libertines that once carried and tainted the sacred title of Pope.

This manuscript is a rare surviving scholar's work drawing from Burchard's observations and direct participation in the events and ceremonies of the Vatican, centering largely on Borgia Pope Alexander VI, (Rodrigo Borgia, 1431-1503) who came from Spain, and whom Burchard served the longest. A substantial amount of information also concerns the illegitimate children of Alexander VI, mainly his son Cesare Borgia, whom he made cardinal and prince.

A most captivating diary account indeed, complexities of the notoriously opportunistic Borgia affairs unfold in the words of a genuine fifteenth century Vatican resident, the Master of Ceremonies himself, who was not only present but played an important role in events, masses, ceremonies, etc. Notable observations herein include the forming of political alliances, some inexorable acts of revenge, and shocking corruption of the papacy at the dawn of the Protestant Reformation.

The description of the scandalous and gratuitous soirée known as the "Banquet of Chestnuts" begins on page 145 and mentions Alexander VI's mistress Vannozza dei Cattanei, suggesting her as the subject of the Pope's motivation for hosting the party, evidently to create jealousy.

[Excerpts from the text]. "di modo che attenuazione della [..] Vannozza fece... nelle santi del Vaticano un [...] banchetto... le Dame della citto di Roma... Ballavano alla presenza del Papa... vicario di Christo... che le quali nel ballare facevano atti si disonesti... canaglia, non che di un Pontefice, il quale ne ... per maggiore... ... e consolazione, che diede ordine... di notte [...] nelle stanze del Vaticano alla presenza del Papa."
[To get the attention [?] of Vannozza... in the holy Vatican... was a banquet... the Ladies of citto of Rome ... They danced to the presence of the Pope... vicar of Christ... such acts were in the dance is dishonest... rogue, not that of a Pontiff, who will... for more... and as consolation he ordered... at night... in the rooms of the Vatican in the Pope's presence.]

Numerous historical leaders, religious and political, appear in the volume, Pope Innocent VIII (predecessor to Alexander VI), Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Ferdinand I of Naples, Gian Paolo Baglioni an Italian condottiero and lord of Perugia, Cardinal Orsino Orsini Migliorati (1473-1500) who was the husband of a mistress of Pope Alexander VI, Italian military commander Giulio Orsino, to name but a scant few. The author discusses La Guerra di Carlo VIII [Charles VIII's Italian War 1494-98], Cesare Borgia being named Duke of Valentinois in 1498, and a report on the papal conclave of September 1503 during which Pope Pius III was elected to succeed Pope Alexander VI.

The preface of this work suggests that the writer was a Catholic scholar or historian closely connected to the King of Spain, possibly employed in his court, and transcribed these pages directly from Pope Alexander VII's commissioned copy of Johann Burchard's diary which was situated in the library of the Palazzo Chigi in Rome at the time. The writer is anonymous although his respect for the Spanish Borgia Pope, and his dedication to "Sacra Real e Cattolica Maestà" [Sacred Royal and Catholic Majesty], indicates that the recipient was a Spanish sovereign, and so, too, the writer was surely Spanish.

[Excerpts from the Preface]: Porgo all sue Real mani il parto delle mie debbolezze non già per essere encomiato da Vostra Maestà Cattolica, ma per puramente discoprir [riscoprire?] le quali siano stati li mezzi più efficaci della grandezza di Don Rodrigo Borgia, ora Pontefice Alessandro VI, ... subblime ed alta dignita... e mainere... Sarai questo un puro attestato della mia umilissima servizio professare a Va [Vostra] Maestà... come dalle [Serristasse?] di Palazzo, registrate quelle memorie per conservarle..."
[I humbly present to his Royal hands, not for praise from Your Catholic Majesty, but purely to uncover what were the most effective means of greatness of Don Rodrigo Borgia, now Pope Alexander VI... sublime and high dignity... and manners... This will be a pure testimony of my most humble service professed to Your Majesty... as [xx] of the Palace, that year recorded memories to preserve...]

For over 150 years, Burchard's diary remained concealed, until Rodrigo Borgia's papal namesake, Pope Alexander VII (Fabio Chigi, 1599-1667) had a scribe make a copy of it for his kinsman, Flavio Chigi (1631-1693), who subsequently, at the end of the seventeenth century, placed it in the enormous library of the Chigi Palace, along with the numerous manuscripts, miniature books and signed documents that he and his uncle had amassed. [Flavio was a powerful Italian Catholic Cardinal from 1657, and was also a Vatican Librarian from 1659 to 1681.] The contents of the diary thus became accessible to historical and liturgical students for a time. As these seventeenth century scholars sought information in its pages, their extracts from it have appeared now and again, albeit a most infrequent occurrence.

Johann Burchard (c.1450-1506), also spelled Johannes Burchart or Burkhart was an Alsatian-born priest, famed as a chronicler of the Italian Renaissance. He became a Protonotary Apostolic in February 1481, and was appointed Master of Ceremonies to Pope Sixtus IV in 1483, having bought the office for 450 ducats. He is best remembered for the diary which he kept, privately, from the time of his appointment, through his twenty years as Ceremoniere for Rodrigo Borgio - Pope Alexander VI - and until his death in 1506, which was only three years after the death of Alexander VI, thus essentially being a chronicle of the career and life of the infamous and highly controversial Borgia Pope, and containing the only known firsthand account of the 1501 Vatican orgy.

In order to vindicate the reputation of the House of Borgia, some have disputed the accounts of intemperance and debauchery by the Pope, his family and staff. Oddly, the accounts of corruption, murder and other sins are not disputed, and so, the writer's accuracy seems to be of little doubt across the board, except for the embarrassing sexual immoralities dismissed by those few. Burchard's diary was clearly not intended for publication, nor for any other eye than his own. Burchard resided in the Vatican, and as was customary, he kept, for his own private use, a daily record of events. The diary began in 1483 and ended with the death of its author in 1506, during his twenty-three years holding the office of Pontifical Master of the Ceremonies, no fewer than five Popes had been personally known and served by Burchard. As a notable Pontifical sacristan, deriving his income from the Popes with whom he was in daily contact and on friendly terms with, while also being privy to the violent and murderous acts inflicted upon their perceived traitors, he could have no possible object in conjuring or exaggerating events for his private note-book.

Burchard's original diary remains securely locked up in the Vatican today.

Following are some further excerpts from the text, with elementary attempts at translation:

"Della Vita di Papa Alessandro VI. Parte I."
[The Life of Alexander VI. Part I]

"Avendo Goffredo Borgia Padre di Don Rodrigo... Corona di Spagna... V. M. Cattolica... Figlioli... di Papa Calisto III... la fortuna benefattrice... grande de senatori del popolo Romano... E finalmente piaciuroal Signr Iddio di "
[Having Gioffre Borgia, son of Don Rodrigo... Crown of Spain... V. M. Catholic... children... of Pope Callixtus III ... the fortunate benefactor... a great senator of the Roman people...]

"E finalmente... al Signore Iddio... mille benedizioni di paradiso.... 3 settembre 1490"
[And finally... Lord Iddio... thousand blessings of paradise... 3 September 1490]

"Riflessioni dell'Autore"
[Author's Reflections.]

page 44. "Cesare Borgia era il figlio... ma favorito... che prenda l'abito Cardinalizio..."
[Cesare Borgia is the son... favoured... he is made a Cardinal...]

page 51. "Carlo VIII Re. di Francia giovane pieno di gloria militare..."
[King Charles VIII of France a young man full of military glory...]

Page 55. "Cesare conobbe questa verità... che se egli avesse favorito di Romani"
[Casare knew this truth.... that if he had favoured the Romans...]

"Ma Carlo VIII... perché conobbe che il dar forze all'Amico, diviene... nemico"
[But Charles VIII... because he knew that the forces give the friend... becomes... enemy]

"Si vienne un parlamento in Peruggia... Gian Pavolo Baglione... tiranno di Peruggia..."
[It is a parliament in Perugia... Gian Pavolo Baglione, a tyrant of Perugia...]

page 153-54 "La seconda lettera che il Papa scritte al Duca Valentino suo figlio... quale si conserva nel archivio Vaticano... Dato dal [...] Palazzo... e si residenza del Vaticano... li 16 di Marzo 1503."
[The second letter that the Pope written to the his son Duke Valentino... which is preserved in the Vatican archives... Given at the [...] palace ... and the residence of the Vatican on 16 March 1503.]

"... raccomando a Religiosi la pieta Cristiana... el perdon... "
[I recommend to pious religious Christians... forgiveness...]

page 189 "Notizie del conclave... Elezione... Viva Papa Pio III... "
[News from the conclave... Election... Long live Pope Pius III...]
End Excerpts.

Burchard's Diary is an Important Primary Source on the History of Papacy from the Late 15th to the Early 16th Centuries

The Banquet of Chestnuts, known also as the Ballet of Chestnuts, refers to a festivity held in the Papal Palace in Rome on 30 October 1501, and hosted by Cardinal Cesare Borgia, son of Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI. An account of the banquet is preserved in a Latin diary by Johann Burchard, Protonotary Apostolic and Master of Ceremonies at the Vatican for twenty-three years. According to Burchard, the banquet was given in Cesare's apartments in the Palazzo Apostolico. Fifty prostitutes or courtesans from Rome were brought in to entertain the guests. With disapproval for the indiscretions, in his private diary Burchard described the scene as a bizarre orgy, the fifty women dancing after dinner with the attendants and others who were present, initially clothed, then nude. After dinner the candelabra with the burning candles were taken from the tables and placed on the floor, and chestnuts were strewn around, which the naked courtesans were instructed collect whilst crawling on hands and knees between the chandeliers, and whilst the Pope, his son Cesare, and daughter Lucrezia observed. Finally, proof of virility was rewarded with prizes such as tunics of silk, shoes, and berets, for guests who could perform sexual acts most often with the courtesans.

The binding was made by J. Griffiths, bookseller, stationer, and librarian, at 4 Argyle Building, Bath, England, who is listed in "Gye's Bath directory, corrected to January 1819."

Current Condition

Volume - Slight wear to boards, otherwise excellent good condition, content penned in an immaculate hand, leafs crisp and bright, Coin - Some loss to extremity as is usually the case, otherwise very good condition.