The Assassin’s Creed series has set itself up on historical intrigue in picturesque cities of the late middle ages and early Renaissance. Since the first installment, the series has used actual people from history as both allies and targets to the Assassin’s Order. While these names do appear in history books, their actual lives sometimes differ greatly from the roles they are given in these games. Some of the bigger names in the series are below, with a few ways that their real lives followed and diverged from the stories in Assassin’s Creed.
Niccolo Machiavelli – Machiavelli in the Assassin’s Creed universe shares few attributes with the historical figure. While he certainly did not approve of the Borgias, it was their attempts to unify Italy that threatened to eliminate Machiavelli’s political power in Florence. Also, Machiavelli was a political enemy of the Medici, as opposed to the ally he is portrayed as in Assassin’s Creed II. He held relatively low office after the Medici were expelled from Florence in 1494 until their return in 1512. He was then imprisoned on charges of conspiracy, but was later released and the charge dropped. It was after these events that he wrote his most renowned work, The Prince, detailing the trials of assuming power and the attributes of the ruler charged with the establishment and management of a perfect society.
Caterina Sforza – Ubisoft’s depiction of Caterina Sforza, Countess of Forli, probably accurately captured her personality. From her youth, Caterina was outgoing and had a commanding presence. Caterina was known for her interest and aptitude in hunting, military tactics and military leadership. She often personally oversaw the training of troops and was responsible for troop maneuvers during battle. Caterina outlived three husbands and maintained control of Forli through much of her life, either by defending the city from attack or knowing when to play politics and bow to a superior opponent.
It is true that she had issues with the Borgias later in her life, but she and her then-husband had been members of the court of Pope Sixtus IV. Caterina was close friends with Rodrigo Cardinal Borgia, a facet of her life that Assassin’s Creed skips. Her first outward conflict with the Borgias was during a Venetian campaign against her ally, Florence. As Forli is between the two cities, she had to prepare for an enemy attack on her lands. Due to superior maneuverability, Forli’s militia proved victorious. Later, as Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia) was trying to secure land for his son Cesare Borgia, he enlisted the help of his ally, French King Louis XII, to take Forli. Forli fell in 1499. Caterina was captured and taken to Rome.
In Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, we see Caterina taken directly to the Castel Sant’Angelo. In reality, she was housed in relative luxury for several months at the Belvedere Palace and was only moved to the Castel after several escape attempts. Even then, she was probably not kept in a cell, but likely stayed in moderately comfortable quarters used by visitors. To justify her imprisonment, Rodrigo Borgia claimed Caterina had used poisoned letters in an attempt to assassinate him. The truth of these claims is still debated, but Machiavelli is noted to have believed Caterina had indeed tried to kill Alexander VI. Caterina was released two years later in 1501 at the request of the King Louis XII, not sprung from prison by Ezio immediately after her capture.
Caterina traveled to Florence to be with her children, and quickly engaged in a series of legal battles with another of Ezio’s allies, her brother-in-law Lorenzo de’ Medici. While these battles were going on, Pope Alexander VI died and Cesare Borgia lost all political power. Caterina petitioned the new pope, Julius II, for the return of her lands. Julius was open to this, but the people of Forli rejected the petition, favoring instead their new leaders. After this, Caterina slipped into a quiet life of managing her family until she died of pneumonia in 1509.
Robert de Sable– Robert de Sable is probably the closest this series gets to accurate characterization, but there are still significant differences. First, where they got it right. Robert actually was the Grand Master of the Knights Templar (the real Knights Templar, not the ones bent on world domination.) He also was in the Holy Land on the Third Crusade in 1191. Robert is known to have supported a revolution against Henry II in France, so power struggles were not new to him. Richard Lionheart is also documented to have worked closely with Robert de Sable to get the English fleet to Acre. There is truly only one major discrepancy between Assassin’s Creed’s Robert and the real one: Altair kills Robert in 1191, but history shows us that Robert died in 1193. This gets a little tricky due to the expanded canon in which Altair travels to Cyprus, where Robert would have been Lord between 1191 and 1192, but no major impact is made by this timing difference.
So, while Ezio and Altair have provided ample entertainment (aided by some real historical figures), don’t expect to get too much of an accurate history lesson from the games themselves. If you find the characters in the game interesting, do a little research to see how their lives really went down. You might be surprised by how close the fiction is to fact.