"Lucrezia Borgia is the most unfortunate woman in modern history. Is this because she was guilty of the most hideous crimes, or is it simply because she has been unjustly condemned by the world to bear its curse? The question has never been answeredWe possess the history of Alexander VI and Cesare, but of Lucrezia Borgia we have little more than a legend, according to which she is a fury, the poison in one hand, the poignard in the other; and yet this baneful personality possessed all the charms and graces." - Ferdinand Gregorovius
History remembers Lucrezia Borgia in unflattering terms. She has been portrayed as an incestuous adulteress and a murderer, but her contemporaries thought of her in very different terms. Lucrezia was a political pawn in her father and brother's plots and a political power in her own right. She was well-educated and well-respected during her lifetime. While she was, in all certainty, a part of multiple political plots, she was also considered to be pious, thoughtful, and mannerly.
Of course, legends often overtake and overshadow reality. The world has always had a fascination with femme fatales, and few historical women have ever been portrayed as one quite like Lucrezia Borgia. Lucrezia is a baseless, immoral villain in Victor Hugo's Lucrezia Borgia, and she continues to be depicted as a schemer and manipulator on par with her famous brother and father in film and critically acclaimed television series. Indeed, it would be hard to find another woman in the historical record who is remembered in any way comparable to the legacy of Lucrezia that remains nearly 500 years after her death.
The great irony is that Lucrezia's reputation seems to be wildly at odds with the actual woman herself. Though political opponents of the Borgias successfully portrayed Lucrezia as an incestuous schemer, Lucrezia was unusually moral for a powerful woman during the Renaissance. Aside from adultery, hardly unusual in that era, Lucrezia proved to be both an efficient and benevolent ruler when her husband was away from Ferrara, and the two of them had an unusually close and loving relationship in an era where political marriages were made out of convenience, not love.