Alexander VI (Ital., Rodrigo Borgia; 1431–1503), pope (1492–1503). Nephew of the Spanish pope Alonso Borgia (Calixtus III; 1455–1458), Rodrigo Borgia was made a cardinal by his uncle in 1456 and shortly afterward vice-chancellor of the church. This position at the head of the papal chancery, together with the considerable wealth derived from the rich benefices bestowed on him by Calixtus and his own political acumen, made him a leading cardinal.
His wealth was instrumental in securing his election to the papacy in 1492, overcoming his dubious moral reputation. A sensual man, he fathered nine children, two of them while pope. Devotion to his children led to his lavishing ecclesiastical benefices, lands, titles, and the revenues of the papacy on them. The arrogance, rapacity, and brutality of his son Cesare (1475–1507), who was originally made a cardinal in 1493 but renounced his clerical status in 1498 to become the main instrument and beneficiary of Alexander's dynastic ambitions, did much to darken the pope's reputation.
While he was recognized as an intelligent, astute, and eloquent politician, a person with considerable charm, Alexander's failings outweighed his gifts in the eyes of contemporaries. They were not deluded, as some historians have been, into seeing the campaigns Alexander's sons Juan (1476–1497) and Cesare waged in the Papal States against long-established baronial and seigniorial families as primarily attempts to strengthen the papacy rather than the Borgia. Conventional piety, a special devotion to the Virgin Mary, some interest in promoting a crusade against the Turks, and sympathy for the reform of monastic orders could not make him a convincing moral head of the church. Grief at the murder of his son Juan led to the appointment of a commission of six cardinals in 1497 to propose reforms in the church, including the papal administration, but his interest waned, and their recommendations were never promulgated.