Almost five centuries have passed since Cesare Borgia’s death, yet his reputation still casts a sinister shadow. He stands accused of treachery, cruelty, rape, incest and, especially, murder ¿ assassination by poison, the deadly white powder concealed in the jewelled ring, or by the midnight band of bravos lurking in the alleys of Renaissance Rome. Yet the real Cesare Borgia was a fascinating figure in the mould of the great Shakespearean hero. During the brief space of time in which he occupied the stage he shocked and stunned his contemporaries by the loftiness of his ambitions, the boldness and daring of their execution. His rise to fame was meteoric. Born the illegitimate son of a Spanish Cardinal who became Pope Alexander VI, he was, by his 27th year, the most hated, feared and envied man of his day, flattered and courted by the rulers of France, Spain and the Empire, admired by Machiavelli who immortalised him in The Prince. At 31 he was dead, having failed to achieve his ambition of a great Italian State. In Sarah Bradford’s brilliant biography, Cesare’s life and struggles assume the proportion of Greek tragedy.