Vannozza dei Cattanei and her scandalous affairs and marriages

Vannozza dei Cattanei

Born into the lowest levels of the Italian aristocracy, the beautiful and spirited Vannozza dei Cattanei was charismatic and clever enough to run not one, but two inns, or ‘osterias’ as they are called in Rome. It is likely there that her charms caught the attention of Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, whom she scandalously entered into an affair with, despite his vows of celibacy. He later became Pope Julius II.

Giuliano della Rovere
Pope Julius II
In his elder years

In her inns, she lavishly entertained rich, ambitious cardinals. Soon, the affair with Giuliano petered out and she turned her attentions to Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, from a very wealthy Spanish family. She soon became his favorite mistress – not bad for a guy at the highest levels of the church who is supposed to abstain from the sin of lust.

Rodrigo Borgia
Pope Alexander VI

When it came to Rodrigo, she was obliging and compliant, never making demands, and always offering helpful suggestions. He showed his appreciation by letting her use several of his properties which she eventually managed to convince him to put solely in her name. Oh, but that’s not all he gave her. In addition to properties, she had full financial support and bought a vineyard, a country-house, and more inns in highly desirable areas of Rome. As the years passed, she bore Rodrigo four children: Juan, Cesare, Lucrezia, and Jofre.

But all good things must soon come to an end and it was no different for this adoring couple. The Vatican soon took note of their wayward son and his flagrant violation of the celibacy vows that he had taken upon entering the Church. If he wanted to be in the running to become the next pope, then poor Vanozza had to go. But how could he get rid of his social climbing, materialistic, wealth-grabbing lover? The answer was simple – marry her off to someone else, of course.

So Rodrigo presided over her wedding to Domenico d'Arignano, a wealthy man who died a few short years later. With Rodrigo’s help Vanozza married a man named Antonio da Brescia. When he died, in order to continue to keep the mother of his children at arms’ length, and a safe distance from Vatican eyes, Rodrigo chose another compliant husband for his ex-mistress - Giorgio di Croce. In exchange for marrying Vanozza, Rodrigo made him apostolic secretary. A good job, steady money, why not? So Vanozza married Giorgio and moved into the same neighborhood as Cardinal Borgia's Palace on the Piazza Sforza-Ceasarini.

Over the years, Vanozza continued to be Rodrigo’s friend and confidante to many of his darkest secrets. When her second husband died a wealthy man, Rodrigo set out yet again to find her another suitable husband. This time, he chose a Mantuan named Carlo Canale, who had many lucrative and useful connections. To seal the deal, Rodrigo provide a dowry of 1000 florins and another high level job.

As Vanozza grew older, she became a little wiser too. Establishing herself as a reformed sinner, she began donating to charities and supporting convents. She remained in touch with her children.

When she died, she was given a lavish funeral almost equally attended by Vatican officials as well as citizens.

From History and Women

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Anonymous said…
Just a short note to tell you how I enjoy your posts.
Sue Bursztynski said…
Hmm, seems like this lady specialised in high churchmen. :) And all those husbands she outlived! Goodness!
OMGoodness this lady must have had ambition. The only way those guys would enter my chambers is in my nightmares!
Anonymous said…
Great post. I tweeted.
Dr. Pat said…
Love the site BUT -= not sure, for exampl;e, if this is a book, or if it is simply information. If it is a book, I don't seem to be able to find the title or the name of the author and then perhaps order it to read.

Would it be possible to have a special box identifying titles and auhtors where feasible?
Mirella Patzer said…
Hello Dr Pat,

So nice to hear from you. I'm doubly thrilled to see you dropped by.

This post was simply a bio. I do often review books based on historical women's lives and for those you'll usually find a kindle link at the bottom.

I loved your suggestion and will do what I can to distinguish the bios from the book reviews.

Hope you're still writing....
Mirella Patzer said…
Thank you for the lovely compliment, Sue!