Lucrezia Borgia was born on April 18, 1480, the daughter of Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia (c. 1431–1503), later to become Pope Alexander VI, and his mistress Vannozza Cattanei, who was also the mother of Lucrezia’s two older brothers, Cesare and Giovanni. The task of raising Lucrezia, however, was given to Rodrigo’s cousin, the widow Adriana da Mila. While living in a palace in Rome, Lucrezia was educated at the Convent of St. Sixtus on Via Appia. Lucrezia was slender with light blue-green eyes and golden hair, which she later bleached to maintain its goldenness.
The people of Ferrara adored Lucrezia, praising her for her beauty and “inner grace of personality.” Content to socialize with artists, courtiers, poets, and citizens of the Renaissance court, she helped make Ferrara a center for artists and writers.
In 1503 Alexander died, along with many of Cesare’s political plans. Finally, some stability appeared in Lucrezia’s life. When Ercole died in 1505, she and Alfonso became the reigning duke and duchess of Ferrara. Lucrezia had several children by Alfonso d’Este. In 1512 Lucrezia withdrew from public life, possibly from the news that Rodrigo, her son by Alfonso of Aragon, had died.
She began to spend more time in her apartments or in nearby convents, and turned to religion. As the years progressed, her body thickened, and she was said to have aged greatly. She also suffered from spells of deep sadness.
On June 24, 1519, while giving birth to a stillborn girl (dead upon birth), she developed a fever that caused her to lose much of her strength. She died ten days later at the age of thirty-nine.