Welcome back to real life Assassin’s Creed, your guide through the real life people and events that helped shape up one of the best video game franchises ever. Today is the big one. The biggest antagonist Assassin’s Creed has ever thrown up, a man shrouded in so much mystery but with the ability to simply ooze evil right the way throughout the game. He was the puppet master of all the intrigue and scheming rife in Renaissance Italy and lived to ascend to what was the most powerful position in the land, all the while furthering the Templar order under the banner of corruption, conquest and murder. Rodrigo Borgia is, quite simply, a bad guy.
There are so many series’, shows and stories about Rodrigo and his family out there right now so we’re not going to attempt another biography here. This is the Game of Nerds after all, what we’re really interested in is whether the Spaniard in game is anything like the real life Rodrigo Borgia.
Our first sight of the Spaniard comes in Assassin’s Creed II, right after Giovanni, Federico and Petruccio Auditore are arrested on charges of high treason. A young Ezio looks to the family friend and lawyer Uberto Alberti for help and it is at the man’s house that we make out the hooded figure skulking around in the shadows behind him. With hindsight, it was the perfect introduction for the man Rodrigo Borgia was going to turn out to be. As Ezio uncovers more and more of the plot surrounding the death of his family and the world of an Assassin, the Spaniard always remains the man above it all: lurking in the shadows but always ensuring he is the puppet master orchestrating everything.
The real mastermind behind the attempted Templar takeovers in Florence and Venice through the Pazzi and Barbarigo assassination targets, the extent of Rodrigo’s ability to manipulate a situation really comes into view when he is elected Pope in 1492. Through a strategy of bribery and threatening, even his biggest rival ends up voting in his favour. With his ascendency to the Papacy secured, Rodrigo finally had a secure hold on the Papal Staff, a powerful piece of Eden that would prove to be vital in opening up the Vault that lay underneath the Vatican. Hellbent on securing the supposed power that resides in the Vault and believing himself to be the ‘Prophet,’ Rodrigo initially overcomes Ezio in their final stand off before he is ultimately defeated. Realising his defeat and delusion at not being the Prophet, Rodrigo accepts his fate and gives in to the Assassin, who realises that killing the old man won’t bring his family back and that a lifetime of realising his delusion was punishment enough for him.
Alexander VI’s time as Pope has caused more debate and discussion than any other religious leader in history, and for good reason too. A serial womaniser in his time at the Vatican, his ‘close’ relationship with his illegitimate daughter Lucrezia (yep, the same one that appears in Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood!), his frankly obvious corruption towards Papal politics and the countless acts of cruelty in the forms of torture and murder of his rivals, it’s hard to really find Alexander’s limits. There can be no real debate over who would be a fitting evil antagonist for our beloved Assassin to go up against.
Rodrigo Borgia managed to survive into our next game in the series, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, where we witness first hand the oppression and cruelty he and his family inflicted upon the citizens of Rome. But with his defeat under the Vatican, Rodrigo finds himself somewhat devoid of the cold, ruthless determination that he possessed in AC2. Constantly undermined and stomped over by his son, Caesare, Rodrigo would find himself meeting his demise by the end of the game. In an attempt to take out Caesare, Rodrigo is betrayed by Lucrezia’s sudden arrival who announces to Caesare what her father is up to. Forcing his own poisoned apple down his mouth, Rodrigo Borgia is killed by his own son.
Pope Alexander VI died in August 1503, being taken ill along with Caesare after dining with a cardinal. Reports have circulated for years about the Pope’s death: it’s dramatic disfiguration and relatively rapid decomposition was described by one Venetian ambassador as being the “most disgusting, un-human corpse he had ever seen.” Whilst many continue to speculate about Alexander being the victim of a poisoning by Caesare, we can be certain his death was a lot more gruesome than we saw in the game.