1 March 2011

Book Review: The Borgias And Their Enemies by Christopher Hibbert

It needs to said at the start what sort of book this is and what it is not. It is a narrative, told very much in bitesize chunks, scattered with quotations from the original sources. It is not an analytical review of the period. It details the corruption in the catholic church during the late 15 and early 16th centuries, though never in a polemic way. Hibbert is always measured in his approach and where events are disputed or appear to have been created out of speculation, he is quick to say so and does not draw judgement on their veracity; this is mainly in relation to the rumours of incest. Though even if we set those aside, there is no room for doubt left that the reign of the Borgias was nepotistic, bloody, ruthless and fuelled by greed and lust.

The story is told in roughly chronological order, though as each chapter focuses on a different aspect of the history, there is a little jumping around, so there is no single timeline running throughout. Hibbert's scholarship is evident, though not totally transparent; while he states certain facts and at the end gives a list of further reading, the two are not married up, so that I was left frequently asking “where's the justification or the evidence for that statement” and Hibbert doesn't provide the answer. There is also a seeming lack of questions being asked. I was expecting more centext and at attempt to understand the importance of the Borgias both at the time and their lasting on impact on catholicism, italian politics and the wider world; unfortunately there was none of this.

Instead, what we have is a setp by step case of “this happened. Then this happened. Then this happened. And then this happened” whilst all the time leaving the reader to do all the analysis with only the narrative as a guide. So if you want a dispassionate narrative then this is the book for you. If you are interested in the impact and importance of the Borgias, then you are better off reading Machiavelli's The Prince. That said, this is a valuable resource and I would recommend it as part of any thorough reading of the history of the family and the period.

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