Marino Sanuto, I diarii di Marino Sanuto (edited by Federico Stefani) Tomo V (Venezia 1881), 104-105:
Hessendo el cardinal datario, domino Arian da Corneto, stata richesto dal pontifice che 'l voleva venir a cena con lui insieme con el ducha Valentino, a la sua vigna, et portar la cena con sua santità, se imaginò esso cardinal questo invito esser stà ordinato per darli la morte per via di veneno, per haver il ducha li soi danari e beneficii, per esser stà concluso per el papa ad ogni modo di privarlo di vita, per aver il suo peculio, come ho ditto, qual era grande. Et procurando a la sua salute, pensò una sola cosa poter esser la via di la sua salute, e mandò, captato tempore, a far a saper al seneschalcho dil pontifice che 'l ge venisse a parlar, con el qual havia domesticheza. El qual venuto da esso cardinal, se tirono tutti do uno locho secreto in dove era preparato ducati 10 milia d' oro, et per esso cardinal fo persuaso ditto schalcho ad accetarli in dono et galderli per suo amor. El qual post multa li acceptò; et li ofrese etiam il resto di la sua facultà, perchè era richissimo cardinal, a ogni suo comando: perhò li disse che 'l non poteva galder ditta facultà si non per suo mezo, dicendo: "Vui conosiete certo la condition dil papa, et io so che 'l ha deliberato col ducha Valentinos ch' io mora" et questo per via di esso schalcho, per morte venenosa, pergandolo de gratia che 'l voja haver pieta de lui e donarli la vita. Et visto questo, esso scalcho li dechiari il modo ordinato di darli il veneno a la cena, et si mosse a compassione, prometendoli di preservarlo. Il modo era, che 'l dovea apresentar da poi la cena tre schatole di confecion in vinola, una al papa, una al ditto cardinal, et una al ducha, et in quella dil cardinal li era il veneno. Et cussi messe dito cardinal ordine col prefato schalco, dil modo che 'l dovea servar, e far che la scatola venenata dovea aver esso cardinal, di quella il papa ne manzase e lui se atosegaria e moriria. Et cussi venuto il pontifice a la cena al zorno dato l' ordinò col ducha preditto, el prefato cardinal se li butò a li piedi, brazandoli et strettissimamente baxandoli, con affeetuosissime parole supplicando a soa santitqa dicendo, mai da quelli piedi si leveria si soa beatitudine non li concedesse una gratia. Interrogato dal pontifice qual era, facendo instanzia si levasse suso, esso cardinal respondeva che 'l voleva haver la gratia el dimanderia, et haver la promessa de fargela da soa santità. Hor, da poi molte persuasion dil papa, il papa stete assa' admirativo vedendo la perseverantia dil ditto cardinal a non si voler levar, et li promisse de exaudirlo. El qual cardinal, sublevato, disse: "Padre santo, non è conveniente che venendo el signor a caxa dil servo suo, dovesse el servo parimente refiziar con el suo signor" e perhò la gratia el dimandava era questa justa e honesta, che lui servo dovesse servir a la mensa di sua santità: e il papa li fece la gratia. E andato a cena, a l' hora debita di meter le confecion in taola, fo per il schalco posto la confecion avenenata ne la scatola secondo el primo ordene li havia da il papa, et il cardinal, hessendo chairo in quella non vi esser venen, li fece la credenza di ditta scatola, et messe la venenata davanti il papa; et soa santità, fidandose dil suo scalcho, e per la credenza li fece esso cardinal, judichò in quella non esser veneno e ne manzoe aliegramente, et di l' altra, che 'l papa fusse avenenata si credeva e non era, manzò ditto cardinal. Hor, a l' hora solita, a la qualità del venen, sua santità comenzo a sentirlo, et cussi se ne morite. El cardinal, che pur havia paura, se medicinò et vomitò, et non have mal alcuno, ma non senza dificultà varite.
Leopold Ranke, History of the Popes, their Church and State revised edition Volume III (New York: The Colonial Press 1901) [translated by E. Fowler], Appendix, no. 4, pp. 180-182:
The Cardinal datary D. Arian da Corneto, having received a gracious intimation that the pontiff, together with the Duke Valentinos, designed to come and sup with him at his vinyard, and that his holiness would bring the supper with him, the cardinal suspected that this determination had been taken for the purpose of destroying his life by poison, to the end that the duke might have his riches and appointments, the rather as he knew that the Pope had resolved to put him to death by some means, with a view to seizing his property, as I have said—which was very great. Considering of the means by which he might save himself, he could see but one hope of safety—he sent in good time to the Pope's carver, with whom he had a certain intimacy, desiring that he would come to speak with him: who, when he had come to the said cardinal, was taken by him into a secret place, where, they being retired, the cardinal showed the carver a sum, prepared beforehand, of 10,000 ducats, in gold, which the said cardinal persuaded the carver to accept as a gift and to keep for the love of him, and after many words, they were at length accepted, the cardinal offering, moreover, all the rest of his wealth at his command—for he was a very rich cardinal—for he said he could not keep the said riches by any other means than through the said carver's aid and declared to him, "You know of a certainty what the nature of the Pope is, and I know that he has resolved, with the Duke Valentinos, to procure my death by poison, through your hand." —wherefore he besought the carver to take pity on him and to give him his life. And having said this, the carver declared to him the manner in which it was ordered that the poison should be given to him at the supper, but being moved to compassion he promised to preserve his life.
Now the orders were that the carver should present three boxes of sweetmeats, in tablets or lozenges, after the supper, one to the Pope, one to the said cardinal, and another to the duke, and in that for the cardinal there was poison; and thus being told, the said cardinal gave directions to the aforesaid carver in what manner he should serve them, so as to cause that the poisoned box of confect which was to be for the cardinal, should be placed before the Pope that he might eat thereof, and so poison himself and die. And the Pope being come accordingly with the aforesaid duke to supper on the day appointed, the aforesaid cardinal threw himself at his feet, dissing them and embracing them colsely; then he entreated his holiness with the most affectionate words, saying, he would never rise from those feet until his holiness had granted him a favor. Being questioned by the pontiff what this favor was, and requested to rise up, he would first have the grace he demanded, and the promise of his holiness to grant it.
Now after mich persuasion the Pope remained sufficiently astonished, seeing the perseverance of the said cardinal and that he would not rise, and promised to grant the favor. Then the cardinal rose up and said, "Holy Father, it is not fitting that when the master comes to the house of his servant, the servant should eat with his master like an equal," and therefore the grance that he demanded was the just and honest one that he, the servant, should wait at the table of his master, and this favor the Pope granted him. Then having come to supper, and the time for serving the confectionery having arrived, the carver put the poisoned sweetmeats into the box, according to the first order given to him by the Pope, and the cardinal, being well informed as to which box had no poison, tasted of that one, and put the poisoned confect before the Pope. Then his holiness, trusting to his carver and seeing the cardinal tasting, judged that no poison was there, and ate of it heartily; while of the other, which the Pope thought was poisoned, but which was not, the said cardinal ate. Now at the hour accustomed, according to the quality of that poison, his holiness began to feel its effect, and so died thereof; but the said cardinal, who was yet much afraid, having physicked himself and vomited, took no harm and escaped, though not without difficulty.
Raphael Volaterranus (Raphael Maffei) (1451-1522) [Baronius-Theiner 30, sub anno 1503, no. 10, pp. 390-391]:
Cum animo adhuc majora de filio conciperet, diutinioremque vitam sibi polliceretur, subito in morbum incidit, ex quo paucis diebus absumptus est XV kal. Septembris anno Pontificatus XI, salutis MDIII. Causam in coeman venenatam incerto auctore vulgo constans opinio jactat, cum praesertim et Caesar ipse, et Hadrianus cardinalis, qui una accubuerant, eadem paene valetudine afficerentur, quam aetatis robore evasissentur. Qua in re ultorem adfuisse Deum affirmat Petrus cardinalis Bembus, traditque a Caesare Borgia vunum toxico mistum paratum fuisse ad Hadrianum Cornetanum cardinalem Pontifici summa familiaritate conjunctum e medio tollendum, ut ejus amplissimas opes invaderet: sed puellatoris errore atque ultrice divini Numinis vi sitienti Pontifici et Caesari Borgiae propinatum. Hisque consentanea plurimi scriptores tradunt: adeo ut etiam Alexandrum repente extinctum, et eodem die ejus cadaver ex Vaticano rure in palatium relatum scribat Guicciardinus: addatque etiam Panvinus illum mirabili Dei providentia extinctum, ne consilia nefaria de opulentissimis cardinalibus veneno interimendis ad inexplebilem filii cupiditatem eorum opibus explendam ad exitum perduceret.
Marino Sanuto, I Diarii di Marino Sanuto Tomo V [edited by Federico Stefani] (Venezia 1881), column 65:
A di 18 [Agosto]. Fo lettere di roma di sier Antonio Zustignan dotor, orator nostro, di hore .... Come il papa e il ducha Valentino, hessendo andati a uno pasto dil cardinal . . . ., tornati a caxa si butono a leto con una febre che li a dura 'al papa 3 zorni continui. Si divulga per Roma sia sta atosegado. La febre non lo lassa terribilissima, siche di queste cosse di Roma piu diffuse diro.
If this notice is referring to the lunch in the vinyard of Cardinal Adriano Castello, then the even must have taken place no later than the 14th of August. By inference, the date of the lunch is usually put on August 11, the day before the Pope first fell ill. But this is an inference, not a fact.
The Venetian informant makes it clear that the subject was common street gossip. And this was reported on August 18, evidently before the Pope had died.
Cardinal Adriano Castello (aged ca. 45), Cornetanus, Cardinal Priest of S. Crisogono (created on May 31, 1503; d. 1521), formerly the Pope's secretary until he was created cardinal, and for several months thereafter. Papal nuncio to Scotland, and collector of the Peter's Pence in England, 1488. Notary of the Apostolic Camera [Burchard Diarium I, 352 (April 24, 1489)]. Cleric of the Apostolic Camera [Burchard, Diarium II, p. 334 Thuasne (July 31, 1496), p. 349; p. 386 (June 4, 1497)]. He was made a protonotary apostolic on October 14, 1497 [Burchard Diarium II, 410]. On June 4, 1498, he departed Rome as member of a legation to the King of France [Burchard Diarium II, 474]. He participated (as protonotarius et secretarius) in the ceremonies of Christmas Day, 1499, for the beginning of the Jubilee of 1500 [Burchard Diarium II, 502, 602, and 582-602]. Bishop of Hereford, England (Provided February 14, 1502; consecrated May 9, 1502; translated to Bath and Wells, August 2, 1504) [Le Neve, Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae I, 143 and 466-467; Cassan, Lives of the Bishops of Bath and Wells, 331-346].
Cardinal Adriano was not, as the story in Sanuto alleges, the papal Datary. That office was being filled, at the time of the death of Alexander VI, by Bishop Juan Ortega, Bishop of Potenza (1502-1503) [Burchard Diarium III, 252]; earlier, Ortega had been an Apostolic Abbreviator [Burchard Diarium II, 283 (June, 1496); 384 (May, 1497); 488 (June, 1498)], during the time when Giovanni Battista de Ferrariis, Bishop of Modena, was the Datary; previous to that he had been Procurator audientiae contradictarum [Burchard Diarium I, 267]. The Datary Ferrario became a Cardinal on September 28, 1500, vacating the office of Datary.
A moment's reflection will persuade any one that the story is a fiction. The details of the secret conversation between Cardinal Adriano and the papal Seneschal could have only come from one of the two of them. And yet, which of them would have repeated the conversation to any third party, knowing that it was a confession to an attempted murder or actual murder of the Pope? Would it, moreover, have been sufficient to murder just the Pope? How would Cesare Borgia have reacted, if he too had not been poisoned and murdered? He was a violent man and he would certainly have sought vengeance for the poisoning of his father! He could not have missed the maudlin performance of the Cardinal by which he was able to get into the position of personally handing the Pope the poisoned sweets. The Cardinal had made himself the obvious perpetrator. And it must also be noticed that the purpose of poisoning the Cardinal was to get the Cardinal's emoluments and property for Duke Cesare. Surely he would have turned on the Cardinal. He would have to be poisoned as well, if the Cardinal were to feel safe. But the Cardinal does not do so. And there is no evidence that Duke Cesare attempted to harm the Cardinal after the death of Alexander VI.
The switching of the poison is an old storytelling motif, familiar to most modern viewers of situation-comedies. The details of the story are not well thought out. Did no one notice the suddenly rich Seneschal? Or did the Cardinal dare to refuse to pay up, at the cost of being exposed?
The details of the narrative do not fit the events otherwise known about the last weeks of the life of Alexander VI. His doctors were treating him for recurring fevers, that is, for malaria.
Raphael of Volterra attributes the story to common gossip, from an unknown source.
As a result of his creation of new cardinals on May 31, 1503 (including Adriano Castello da Corneto), Pope Alexander VI had received the sum of 120,000 ducats [Diarii di Marino Sanuto 5, 53]. He was not in such desperate need for cash that he would murder one of his new cardinals within three months of their creation, one, moreover, who had been his principal secretary for some years. Claiming that Cardinal Adriano was papal Datary would provide a reason for him to have plenty of money; the office of Datary was notoriously lucrative. But Cardinal Adrian was never Datary.
There is another story about the murder of a former papal intimate, also through poison, also by Cesare Borgia, also out of greed [Feliciano Bussi, Istoria della città di Viterbo (Roma 1742) 288]:
Ricevette pero la Citta di Viterbo nell' anno 1499. non mediocre disgusto per la morte, che qui accadde il di 3. di novembre di Lodovico Agnello, Nobile Mantovano, ed Arcivescovo di Cosenza, il quale dopo essere stato impiegato da diversi Sommi Pontefici in molte cariche di riguardo, per ultimo fu qua spedito in qualita di Vicelegato della Provincia del Patrimonio. Varia e l' opinione, che corre di detta di lui morte, giacche Giovanni Broccardi, riferito da Michele Giustiniani nella sua Istoria de' Vescovi di Tivoli, pag. 114. lascio scritto, che il medesimo morisse di peste, ed all' ed all' incontro l' Ughellio nel Tomo primo della sua Italia Sacra, pag. 343 [Ughelli-Colet IX, 259], dice, ch' egli fosse fatto avvelenare dal Duca Cesare Valentino per rendersi padrone delle di lui gran ricchezze, ed eccone le precise parole: Alii illum e veneno jussa Caesaris Ducis Valentini propinato vitam liquisse scribunt: Etenim ditissimus erat Ludovicus, cujus divitias Valentinus anbelans, uno die vitam, opesque eidem ademisse narratur. Non essendo improbabile per molti riflessi cio, che affermasi dall' Ughellio; e particolarmente perche non si dubita, che il predetto Duca circa questo tempo non si ritrovasse in Viterbo alla testa dell' esercito Pontificio, giacche nell' Archivio di Corneto conservasi una sua lettera circolare, colla quale egli comanda alle Citta, e luoghi sottetti alla Chiesa, che debbano subitamente spedirgli alcuni guastatori per l' uso dell' artigliera, la qual lettera dassi da me nell' Appendice sotto il num. XLIV.
But the document referred to is issued by Cesare Borgia, at Viterbo on February 12, in his second year as Duke of Romandiola. It has no connection with the death of Archbishop Lodovico Agnello. It merely proves that Cesare was in Viterbo some ten months before the alleged poisoning.
Ludovico de Agnellis was appointed Archbishop of Cosenza on October 16, 1497 [Burchard II, 410 Thuasne]. He was sent to Viterbo as locum tenens for Cardinal Borgia on December 28, 1498 [Burchard II, 504], and died on November 3, 1499. He was already Protonotarius Apostolicus and Clericus Camerae on August 23, 1484, when he was assisting in the preparations for the Conclave of 1484 [Burchard I, 16 Thuasne]. His death is noticed by Johannes Burkhard, the papal Master of Ceremonies in his Diarium [Volume II, p. 573, ed. Thuasne]:
Dominica, 3 novembris, circa meridiem, R. P. D. Ludovicus Agnellus, archiepiscopus Cusentinus, peste infectus, qui quasi usque ad mediam noctem precedentem cum suis solatium habuerat Viterbii, ubi gubernator erat seu legati locum tenens, vita functus est, cujus anima requiescat in pace. Per cujus obitum SS. D. N. prefecit in archiepiscopum R. in Christo P. D. Franciscum Borgiam, episcopum Theanensem, Sanctitatis suae thesaurarium generalem, 6 presentis mensis novembris; successit autem eidem Ludovico archiepiscopo, qui etiam erat clericus camere apostolice, in officio clericatus hujusmodi D. Ventura Benassai Senensis, nuper mercator Romanam curiam sequens, qui pro eo solvit ducatos V m(illia).
The entire story of the poisoning of the Archbishop by Cesare Borgia is without foundation. It rests solely on Ughelli's Alii scribunt. Rumor. But it propagates itself as a myth, and lends credence to other myths of the same sort.
The air was full of rumors throughout Italy in the second half of August and throughout September of 1503. In Florence, for example, it was reported that Cesare Borgia was dead in Rome, along with four cardinals, poisoned by wine. It was also reported that Cesare was trying to kill one Cardinal, but inadvertently killed his father the Pope instead:
Luca Landucci, Diario fiorentino ed. del Badia (Firenze 1883), 258-259:
E a dì 21 d'agosto 1503, el fu come Valentino era morto con 4 Cardinali. Non fu vero, non morì se none un Cardinale; e dissesi che Valentino aveva avvellenato fiaschi di vino, e che quello Cardinale mori di quello: e più s' è detto, che l' Papa n'aveva bevuto anche lui, in iscambio d'altri fiaschi, Per avvelenare e Cardinali, avvelenò el suo padre. Se fu vero o no, lo sa Iddio; tant' è, che fu un dì o dua da l'uno all'altro a morire. Vedi questo Valentino dove si truova al presente, con tanti nimici che gli verranno addesso!
©2014 John Paul Adams, CSUN