Lucrezia’s long train now headed north in horrible winter weather, and they finally made their entry into the city of Bologna on 29 January 1502. On 31 January, they arrived at Bentivoglio, where she finally but unexpectedly met her husband, and she was pleasantly surprised. They continued towards Ferrara by water. Upon her arrival in Ferrara on 2 February, a chronicler described her: “She is the most beautiful of face, with vivacious, laughing eyes, upright in her posture, acute, most prudent, most wise, happy, pleasing and friendly.” They were married in person with a consummation that same night. They were pleased with each other, but this did not stop Alfonso from returning to his other women. She made a good impression in Ferrara, except with her sister-in-law Isabella who considered Lucrezia to be beneath her.
Lucrezia soon found herself pregnant again, and she suffered from a lack of appetite and was unwell. As the summer dragged on, she became more unwell, and in the middle of July, an epidemic fever reached Ferrara. She began to suffer paroxysms with fever and Alfonso spent the nights in the room next to hers. On 31 July, the consensus was that Lucrezia and her child would die, and she suffered a severe nosebleed. Yet, she survived throughout August until she suddenly suffered a convulsion on 5 September, and she went into labour. She gave birth to a stillborn daughter and was affected by puerperal fever. She was bled two days later with Cesare by her side, trying to make her laugh. She continued to hover between life and death until early October when she finally rallied.
On 18 August 1503, Lucrezia’s father died, and she was devastated. He was followed by Pope Pius III, who died after a reign of just 26 days. He was succeeded by Pope Julius II – born Giuliano della Rovere – an enemy of the Borgias. On 17 November 1503, a new pregnancy was reported for Lucrezia, but she miscarried sometime in the following year. Like her husband, Lucrezia began to embark on affairs.
Ercole died on 25 January 1505 after a short illness, and they were now the reigning Duke and Duchess. On 19 September 1505, Lucrezia gave birth to a son named Alexandro, but he was a sickly child who refused to take the breast. Tragically, he died on 16 October 1505 after suffering from fits and convulsions. She was pregnant again by early 1507, but she miscarried in mid-January much to Alfonso’s despair, who believed she had brought it on herself with her partying. Lucrezia too was very upset “by this disaster of hers.” On 12 March 1507, Lucrezia’s brother Cesare was killed in an ambush in Navarre. Lucrezia did not learn of his death until six weeks later. She reported cried, “The more I try to please God, the more he tries me…”
On 7 November 1507, another pregnancy was reported, and on 5 April 1508, Lucrezia gave birth to a son named Ercole – in honour of his grandfather. The boy seemed healthy and likely to live. Lucrezia had done her duty as Duchess. As her husband headed to war at the end of 1508, Lucrezia was basically the ruler of Ferrara for the next few years. He had left her pregnant, though, and she gave birth to a second son named Ippolito on 25 August 1509. Her husband’s absence probably gave her body some much-needed rest.
In August 1512, Lucrezia received the news of the death of her son by Alfonso of Aragon. He had died at the age of 12, and she had not seen him since he was two years old. She spent a month at the convent of San Bernardino in mourning. On 1 October, she wrote of “finding myself completely overcome with tears and bitterness for the death for the Duke of Bisceglie, my most dear son…”
At the end of 1512, Lucrezia was reunited with her husband, and between then and 1518, she would give birth to three more children. Alexandro was born in April 1514, but he died in 1516. Leonora was born on 4 July 1515 and Francesco was born on 1 November 1516. Her many pregnancies by her syphilitic husband had weakened her and eventually, in 1519 came one final, fatal pregnancy.
By May, she was very weak and unable to eat. Alfonso spent a lot of time by her side. On 14 June, Lucrezia gave birth to a weak baby girl who refused to eat until the following day. Alfonso had the baby christened straightaway, naming her Isabella Maria. Lucrezia had a fever but appeared well otherwise. However, her condition soon deteriorated. She suffered fits, was bled, and her hair was cut off. On 20 June, she suffered a nosebleed. She became unable to speak and could no longer see. She then appeared to improve slightly, and it was believed that she would survive.
Lucrezia did not believe she would survive and dictated a letter to Pope Leo X:
“Most Holy Father…
With every possible reverence of spirit, I kiss the holy feet of Your Beatitude and humbly recommend myself to the grace of Your Holiness. Having suffered greatly for more than two months because of a difficult pregnancy, as it has pleased God on the 14th of this month at dawn, I had a daughter, and I hoped that having given birth my illness also must be alleviated, but the most contrary happened so that I must yield to nature. Our most clement Creator has given me so many gifts that I recognise the end of my life and feel that within a few hours, I shall be out of it, having, however first received all the holy sacraments of the Church. And at this point, as a Christian, although a sinner, it came to me to beseech your Beatitude that through your benignity you might deign to give from the spiritual Treasury some suffrage with your holy benediction to my soul. And thus devotedly, I pray you, and to your grace, I commend my lord Consort and my children, all servants of your Beatitude.”
Yet, Lucrezia held on for two more agonising days, dying on 24 June 1519. Her husband wrote, “I cannot write without tears, so grave is it to find myself deprived of such a sweet, dear companion as she was to me, for her good ways and for the tender love there was between us.” Lucrezia was buried in the convent of Corpus Domini, where she was later joined by her husband. Her young daughter Isabella would die at the age of 2.1