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The Poisoned Chalice
Season 1, Episode 1
The-borgias-episode-one article story main.jpeg
Air date April 3, 2011
Written by Neil Jordan
Directed by Neil Jordan
Episode Guide
The Assassin

The Poisoned Chalice is the season 1 premiere of The Borgias. It first aired on April 3, 2011. It was written and directed by Neil Jordan.



On the eve of the death of Pope Innocent VIII in 1492, a fierce political battle rages inside the Vatican walls over who will become the next pope. The papacy has long been the exclusive domain of a handful of super-powerful and ancient Italian families, so outsider Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia seems like a long shot. But the staid, pious Italians vastly underestimate the ambitions of the wily, rapacious Spaniard. Once ensconced on the throne, Rodrigo uses all of his power and influence to turn the papacy into a dynastic possession for his children, while his rivals plot with all their political might to unseat him.


Pope Innocent VIII is on his deathbed, and the cardinals are in close attendance on his last words. The Papal Apartment walls and ceiling soar above, lavishly decorated and in a haze of incense. He warns the assembled cardinals that the corruption of the papacy is running rampant. Outside in the sunny courtyard young Lucrezia Borgia spies on a couple making love, watching mischievously from an open window. Our eyes intrude on the handsome eldest son of Rodrigo seeking temporal comforts in the arms of a young lady in his luxurious bedchamber. Cesare tells his conquest he is a cleric by day but whatever he wants by night. Out in the courtyard, siblings Cesare and Lucrezia share an intimate moment speaking of the future, marriage, and their destiny as children of an ambitious Renaissance cardinal. Rodrigo vehemently dictates his plans to win the papal election in view of his rivalries, he drives home that he will not accept failure. Cesare accepts his part to play in securing bribes and making promises using the wings of a messenger dove.

Juan skirmishes with young Roman nobles in the streets outside the Vatican after they taunt him and his Spanish blood, Cesare comes to his rescue and drily begs their pardon for his brother often speaks before he thinks. In the Borgia courtyard, the beautiful Vanozza, mother of Rodrigo's children plays cards with her youngest son Joffre and Lucrezia, while Cesare and Juan discuss the perks of their father becoming pope. The cardinals Giuliano della Rovere and Rodrogo Borgia air a rivalry that is about to come to a point of no return. Della Rovere warns Borgia that he will oppose him at all costs in his effort to win the papacy.

In the Conclave of 1492 the college of cardinals convene to elect the worthy successor to the throne of St Peter. Neither Giuliano della Rovere nor Ascanio Sforza have the required majority of votes. Cesare is enlisted to assist his father in his brilliant but simonaical plan to purchase the neutral cardinals' votes. Rodrigo Borgia promises the revenue of benefices and gold (and to Sforza the Vice-Chancellorship) to those who choose to support him. He wins by a landslide and Cardinal della Rovere openly accuses him of simony, vowing his enmity before all. The traditional inspection of "testes et pendentes" is done to verify the pope's male genitalia. The white smoke is released and the waiting crowd clamors for joy at the election of a new pope. Rodrigo Borgia salutes the people and gives the papal blessing. Meanwhile at the Borgia household, Juan entertains several young ladies and gentlemen at a orgy to celebrate his father's election. During absolution and confession, Rodrigo explains to a reluctant Cesare his role in the divine plan, he is needed as a prince of the church while Juan prepares to lead as Captain-General of the Papal Army.

Rodrigo and Vanozza speak in the garden about the change in her status as mistress to a cardinal. As pope he must not only be chaste, he must appear to be so. He assures her of his continued love and financial support. This expected end to their carnal relations does not sit well, though Vanozza outwardly accepts the situation. Burchart reviews the list of necessaries for the upcoming coronation.

The procession and coronation of Pope Alexander attracts thousands of Romans, the Borgias are taken to St Peter's in a luxurious carriage befitting their new rank, the ladies dripping with jewels, and the banners of all the cardinals fly in the wind amid the cheering crowd. Rodrigo experiences the silence of God in his vast aloneness as pope. After the ceremony, the full grandeur and weight of the office descends upon him as he nearly falters holding on to Cesare. Della Rovere and the French Ambassador solidify their alliance and call the pope "a Mitered Ape." In Consistory the pope names Ascanio Sforza as his successor to the office of Vice-Chancellor to repay him for securing the election. Cardinal Orsini denounces the pope for simony, though after a warning from della Rovere, he apologizes and pronounces his outburst a hasty reaction. He changes tactics and invites the college of cardinals to a banquet in honor of Sforza’s promotion, where he plans to poison the Borgias with the help of a secret weapon - the assassin's poisoned chalice.




Guest starring

  • Peter Sullivan as Ascanio Sforza


  • Stephen Noonan as Deacon Cardinal
  • Michael Poole as Pope Innocent
  • Vernon Dobtcheff as Cardinal Julius Verscucci
  • Bosco Hogan as Cardinal Piccolomini
  • Laszlo Konter as Cardinal Colonna
  • Elena Argiros as Woman in Bed
  • Gergely Boronyak as Vatican Guard
  • Charlie Anson as Vittorio Colonna
  • Gabor Atlasz as Vatican Cook
  • Richard Bremmer as Notary
  • Donal Gallery as Priest
  • Reka Csaszar as Whore 1
  • Anna Spergel as Whore 2
  • David Lowe as French Ambassador
  • Attila Arpa as Assassin 1
  • Montserrat Lombard as Maria
  • Jalaal Hartley as Pinturicchio
  • Oliver Toth as Della Rovere's Cook


  • Susie Figgis: Casting
  • Gabrielle Pescucci: Costume designer
  • Trevor Morris: Music
  • Tony Lawson: Editor
  • Francois Seguin: Production designer
  • Paul Sarossy: Director of photography
  • Karen Richards: Co-producer
  • Bill Goddard: Co-producer
  • Adam Goodman: Co-producer
  • Howard Ellis: Co-producer
  • Neil Jordan: Executive producer
  • Jack Rapke: Executive producer
  • Darryl Frank: Executive producer
  • John Weber: Executive producer
  • Sheila Hockin: Executive producer
  • James Flynn: Executive producer
  • Neil Jordan: Creator
  • Neil Jordan: Director
  • Neil Jordan: Writer
  • Steve Matthews: Consulting producer