The Poisoned Chalice is the first episode of season one, as well as the first episode of the series. It was written and directed by Neil Jordan.


Plot synopsisEdit

In the Season 1 premiere, Rodrigo successfully bribes and intimidates his way into an election as Pope Alexander VI, making him the new leader of the Catholic Church; powerful Cardinals Della Rovere and Orsini oppose his rise; the Borgias recruit a talented assassin named Micheletto to their cause.[1]

Plot summaryEdit

Pope Innocent VIII calls the College of Cardinals into his bedchamber to hear his final words. Among them are Vice Chancellor Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, Cardinal Giuliano Della Rovere, and Cardinal Orsini. Bishop Cesare Borgia arrives at the Vatican just before it closes for Papal conclave, where Rodrigo tells him of his intention to be elected Pope. He instructs Cesare to look for a dove in their home each night, carrying information for bribes to other Cardinals in exchange for their votes. Outside of the Vatican, Juan Borgia battles with a Roman, and is saved by Cesare when he is blindsided by a second Roman. After the first unsuccessful vote, Rodrigo sends a dove to Cesare, instructing him to send titles and benefits from his various abbeys and monasteries to several Cardinals, hidden in their food. At the next vote, his total rises from 4 to 8, but is once again unsuccessful in gaining a majority.[2]

Rodrigo sends another dove to Cesare, instructing him to send Juan to the Borgia churches and empty them of gold and precious stones to use as bribes. His vote total rises again to 10, but no Cardinal has a majority, so the vote is
030 The Poisoned Chalice episode still of Rodrigo Borgia 250px
unsuccessful once again. Rodrigo meets with Cardinal Ascanio Sforza in private, and agrees that, should he be elected Pope, he will appoint Sforza as Vice Chancellor in exchange for Sforza's vote, and his supporter's votes. In the next vote, Rodrigo is elected Pope, with a majority 14 votes. Immediately following his election, he is accused of simony by Cardinals della Rovere and Orsini, but they are made silent after Rodrigo reminds them that he must select a Vice Chancellor, which includes a higher income. As both della Rovere and Orsini are considered front-runners for the position, they withdraw their accusations for the time.[2]

After the College of Cardinals confirms that Rodrigo is male, Cesare confesses his sins to Rodrigo, including bribing several Cardinals in exchange for their support, of which he is absolved. Cesare pleads with his father to release him from his vows to the church and allow him to lead the papal armies, but he is denied in favour of Juan, who is made Gonfalonier of the Church. Later at his home, his mistress and the mother of his children Vanozza Cattaneo is displeased when he denies her affections, as he must appear to be celebate. Following an elaborate parade, Rodrigo is crowned Pope, selecting the name Alexander VI.[2]

Holding Consistory with the Cardinals, the Pope selects Cardianl Ascanio Sforza as his Vice Chancellor. Enraged, Cardinal Orsini once again accuses Borgia of simony, believing the position was promised to him. After Cardinal della Rovere openly approves of Cardinal Sforza's appointment and Borgia's papacy, he urges Orsini to do the same and save himself. He does, and invites the College of Cardinals and the Pope to a banquet at his palace.[2]

Alexander brings Cesare with him to the banquet as his guest, but is confused as to why Cesare brings a monkey with him. During dinner, Cesare excuses himself to clean up after the monkey, and observes a servant quickly fleeing the dining room. Cesare follows him to the kitchens, where he observes the servant mixing something. After a short fight, Cesare hires the servant, who reveals himself as an assassin named Micheletto Corella, to serve Cardinal Orsini poisoned wine. When Cesare returns to dinner, Orsini proposes a toast, and after sitting down after taking a sip of the wine, begins to die from the poison. He attempts to accuse the Pope as his murderer, but dies before he can finish his accusation. The room erupts in chaos, and Cesare quickly escorts his father out of Orsini's palace and to safety.[2]


Jeremy Irons as Rodrigo Borgia
François Arnaud as Cesare Borgia
Holliday Grainger as Lucrezia Borgia
Joanne Whalley as Vanozza Cattaneo
David Oakes as Juan Borgia
Sean Harris as Micheletto Corella
Simon McBurney as Johannes Burchart
Derek Jacobi as Orsino Orsini
Aidan Alexander as Joffre Borgia
Colm Feore as Giuliano Della Rovere
Peter Sullivan as Ascanio Sforza
Stephen Noonan as Deacon Cardinal
Michael Poole as Pope Innocent
Vernon Dobtcheff as Versucci
Bosco Hogan as Piccolomini
László Konter as Colonna
Elena Argiros as Woman in Bed
Gergely Boronyak ass Vatican Guard
Charlie Anson as Vittorio Colonna
Gäbor Atlasz as Vatican Cook
Richard Bremmer as Notary
Donal Gallery as Priest
Réka Császár as Whore 1
Anna Spergel as Whore 2
David Lowe as French Ambassador
Jalaal Hartley as Pinturicchio[3]
Montserrat Lombard as Maria[3]
Olivér Tóth as Della Rovere's Cook[3]
Attila Árpa as Assassin 1[3]


What did you think of The Poisoned Chalice?

The poll was created at 19:56 on January 31, 2013, and so far 11 people voted.


  • "Zadok the Priest" by George Frideric Handel is playing during the coronation scene.[4]


  • Goof: Handel's "Zadok the Priest" is played during the coronation procession. This piece of music was not written until the mid 1700s - almost 350 years later.[5]
  • Goof: Cesare carries a Capuchin monkey to the dinner, a species native to Central and South America that in 1492 was still unknown in Europe (Columbus had only visited the Caribbean islands in that year, none of which have native monkeys).[5]
  • Goof: The staircase of Orsini's palace is in 17th century's style.[5]
  • Goof: Popes didn't wear white until the papacy of Pius V (1566-1572). He was a member of the Dominican Orders (Order of Preachers) and continued to wear the white habit of the order after he was elected pope. Previously, popes dressed in crimson like the cardinals along with certain vestments peculiar to their office.[5]
  • Goof: While Pope Innocentius VIII lies in state, the Cardinals pay their respect by kissing his ring, but in fact this very ring, the Fishersman Ring, is destroyed by the Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church upon the moment of determining the Pope's death in order to prevent it from being misused during these early hours of Sede Vacante.[5]


  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.