What inspired realpolitik bare-knuckler Niccolo Machiavelli to compose his 16th century masterwork, The Prince? The real question might not be what, but whom? Cesare Borgia stands as the best candidate, at least according to In the Name of the Family, historical novelist Sarah Dunant's second work (after Blood and Beauty) devoted to the tightly knit Borgia clan. The family dominated the military, political and religious affairs of the period. At the height of its sharp-fanged power, Cesare Borgia thundered across the region's duchies and city-states, bloodying them thoroughly before making them his own. His brutality and cunning epitomize the qualities that we think of today when we use the term Machiavellian.
For Dunant, lust for power constitutes only a part of the Borgias' story. Readers need not be familiar with the history to be intrigued by the characters: the dominating patriarch, Rodrigo Borgia, elevated in 1492 as Pope Alexander VI; Cesare, the charismatic head of the papal military machine, and Lucrezia, Rodrigo's spoiled and beautiful daughter. Wait a minute — a pope with a daughter? Such was the brave old world the Borgias inhabited.