‘Fuori i Barbari’

Until Faenza, Rimini, Cervia and Ravenna were once more under the direct rule of the Church, the central reference point for Julius’s relations with other powers had, from the first months of his pontificate, been Venice. Now that obsession had been satisfied, it was replaced by another: driving the French out of Italy. There may be no record of his ever having uttered the actual words ‘fuori i barbari’, but he was quite explicit, on many occasions, about his desire to be rid of the French.

In the past, he had sometimes expressed distrust of the French, and been wary of their power, but he had needed that power to help him to achieve that which he most desired. Within a month of the Venetians withdrawing from the Romagna, he was denouncing the French as insatiable, not content with their own possessions, and declaring it necessary for him to guard against their insolence.470 But it took him several months before he finally came out in open hostility to them. Absolving Venice was the prelude to an attack on French power in Italy that would last until they were driven from the duchy of Milan, the pro-French regime in Florence had been overturned and their other most loyal Italian partisan, the Duke of Ferrara, had come as a defeated supplicant to Rome. Before this was achieved, Julius himself would face humiliation and defeat, and lose control of his great prize, Bologna.

There were several reasons for Julius’s hesitation before he began an open assault on French interests. One was his wish to keep up the pressure on Venice, to enable him to extract all the advantage he could in exchange for her absolution. Another was the desire to see Louis back on the other side of the Alps with much of his army: in July 1509 he was ‘counting the hours until the King of France leaves Italy’.471 A third was his calculation that, for all Maximilian’s failings, it would still be better to try to woo him from his alliance with France. Not the least important reason was sheer confusion about what to do next.

The French may not have suspected the full extent of his hostility to them at first - they may still have been working on the assumption that, however much he might kick, in the end Julius would always have to throw in his lot with them. They were not too pleased by the news of the Venetians yielding up the Romagnol towns, suspecting that there might be more to the transaction than met the eye, and Louis was very upset that the Venetian ambassadors were to be received in Rome. Rumours reached France of the pope’s wish to divide Maximilian from Louis. ‘The pope could not be behaving worse towards us’, lamented Florimond Robertet, Treasurer of France and one of Louis’s most trusted counsellors.472

Until Louis was safely out of Italy, however, Julius’s policy seems to have been to maintain some appearance of friendship for France, and to win over Maximilian - and free himself from his remaining obligations under the Treaty of Cambrai - by exhorting Venice to surrender Treviso and Friuli to him. Once these lands had been restored, a league against the infidel could be formed, comprising Julius, Maximilian, Venice and Ferdinand of Spain. France, he said, was not apparently interested in a crusade.473 In fact, Louis declared that he was interested in a crusade, very interested, and was ready to be first in the field with an army and a fleet. But first he had to escape the summer heat of Italy, which was making him ill. Before he crossed the mountains, however, he wanted to know if Julius intended to abide by the terms of the League of Cambrai. Not only did Julius reply immediately that he did intend to do so, he made a new bilateral agreement with Louis, for the mutual defence of each other’s lands in Italy and for the regulation of disputes over benefices.474

This agreement had been negotiated with Louis by Cardinal Alidosi, who had been sent to join Louis in Milan. On his entry to Milan on 12 July he had been much honoured, though the French anticipated that there would be more than a few arguments with him. Negotiations proved to be more amicable and easier than expected. No details leaked out, but ‘from all the external signs, one can see great satisfaction on each side, and it’s believed they are working out a clearer understanding to live with one another better than they have done up to now.’475

The cooperative attitude on the papal side came from Alidosi, not Julius. In Rome, Julius was rejoicing in unfounded reports that Rouen, who had been very ill, was dead, and declaring ‘I don’t want to be the chaplain of the French.’476 In Milan, and as he accompanied the king to the foot of the Alps, Alidosi, who favoured an alliance with France and asserted that Julius did too, was working hard to arrive at an agreement with Louis. He claimed to have been so successful that, in future, those who had been working against the French in Rome would no longer be given any credence.

As a result of his efforts, Alidosi maintained, relations between the pope and the king could not be on a better or firmer footing. Louis had promised to use all his power to defend the Church and to help in all matters in which the pope had an interest, and, in return, Julius had promised to defend the states of the king (who was prepared for him to come to similar arrangements with other princes, including Maximilian). Alidosi claimed that Julius was no longer suspicious of Rouen, for experience had shown that he had made no attempt to depose him, and he could not reasonably hope to become pope when Julius was alive anyway: the other Christian princes would never agree, and no council would elect someone such as Rouen pope; they would look for an independent figure. Julius had received from the king everything that Alidosi had asked for. All the disputes about benefices had been settled as the pope wanted.477 In future, Julius was resolved to stick with France, rather than Maximilian, who was too unstable and unquiet. 

The French, too, said that the agreement had cleared away all possibility of further dispute on the question of mutual obligation to defend each other’s territory, and that Julius would have his way in outstanding disputes about benefices. ‘They set great store by this agreement with the pope’, a Florentine envoy reported, after a conversation with Cardinal de Clermont, who was hurrying to Rome on the orders of the king to have the agreement ratified.478

De Clermont arrived in Rome on 20 August, and was fêted by the pope, treated ‘like the beloved disciple’.479 Within three weeks, the new agreement was already on the rocks, with Julius accusing Alidosi of having been duplicitous in the negotiations - the many fine words that he had written were not proving true. The French, too, blamed Alidosi, saying that much of what he had promised them was not being fulfilled.

What seems to have happened is that Alidosi exaggerated to the French the pope’s readiness to make concessions in order to secure harmonious relations with them. If, in the short term, Julius wanted to preserve at least outwardly friendly relations with them, his intentions in the long term were anything but friendly. Alidosi, his closest confidant, must have known this. Perhaps he relied on his influence over the pope, thinking he could bring him round to the policy of friendship with France that he himself favoured. Such was Alidosi’s reputation, that the general assumption was that he had simply sold out to the French: his personal haul from the negotiations was the bishopric of Cremona, worth 5,000-6,000 ducats a year, and an abbey worth 2,000 ducats in the Bresciano.

The main bone of contention was what exactly Alidosi had promised Louis concerning the disposition of benefices that would fall vacant in his dominions in future. Julius had been given his way in the current disputes, so that Cardinal Farnese was promised possession of the bishopric of Parma, for example, and the rich abbey of Chiaravalle near Milan would go to San Pietro ad Vincula. In return, Louis d’Amboise, Bishop of Alby, nephew of Cardinal Rouen and brother of Chaumont, the viceroy of Milan, would at last be given the cardinal’s hat that had been withheld since the publication of his election in May 1507. 480Louis was ‘adamant that [Alidosi] had given him an absolute assurance, in the pope’s name, that His Holiness would dispose even of benefices which fell vacant at Rome as the King pleased’.481 This was not what had been reported to Rome. There it was said that Louis had promised not to interfere in appointments to benefices in the Milanese, at least.

It is hard to believe that Julius would have authorized Alidosi to give such a sweeping assurance as Louis maintained he had been given. It is also hard to believe that Alidosi, however confident he may have been of his influence with the pope, could have given such an undertaking in good faith. No matter how anxious he may have been to ingratiate himself with the French, if he had made such promises cynically, he must have been aware that it would soon become clear that Julius would not comply with Louis’s requests, and he himself would lose any credit he had hoped to gain with the French by lying to them. Even at the French court, it was believed that Louis was mistaken, that he had taken literally, as a firm commitment, what had been meant as a polite general remark: that Julius would never elect anyone displeasing to him.482 But he could not be budged from his opinion, and Rouen, Robertet and other French officials tried discreetly to limit the damage to relations with the pope. When Louis, for example, ordered Chaumont to withhold the income from all benefices held by cardinals in Lombardy, Rouen wrote to countermand the order. For his part, the papal nuncio was careful not to report Louis’s outbursts against his master, so as not to pour oil on the flames.

At the papal court, no one seems to have been trying to cool Julius’s anger, and he was just as obstinate as the king. When the French ambassador, Gimel, spoke to him about a number of benefices that Louis considered to be politically sensitive appointments, Julius became furious, ending up by saying that if Alidosi had made any promises, he was the one whom he should go to see. ‘Holy Father’, the ambassador said, ‘since my king can’t ask for anything from Your Beatitude, there’s no point in him keeping an ambassador here. I can go away.’ ‘Go when you like’, Julius replied, ‘We can manage well enough without you.’ He was just as annoyed with Ferdinand, who was asking for men of his choice to be given benefices that had fallen vacant at the papal court. The Spanish ambassador, Vich, unwisely became over-insistent, and Julius drove him out of the room with insults. Vich came back a few days later to speak about yet another benefice, and Julius, in great indignation, exclaimed, ‘These two kings .. . aren’t content with being king, they want to be pope as well, and give benefices and occupy lands and do what they please. By the body of Christ, the Venetians are not ruined yet, they’re not ruined yet.’483

The French cardinals and ambassadors did not let up, importuning Julius to give way to Louis over the benefices and to give the hat to Cardinal Alby, mixing promises about what Louis would do in return with threats about how he would be coming to Italy with a powerful army. Julius would not be moved, believing that ‘if he gave way, it would be no small ruin to his reputation, because not only would he not have power over the benefices of that kingdom, but the other Christian princes would take example from this and want to follow the same road.’ He wanted all the benefices in question to be disposed of as he chose, and ‘then he would not fail to show his clemency and kindness.’484 He still refused to receive Alby as a cardinal, although he did receive another French cardinal who had been elected at the same time and was making his first visit to the papal court, René de Prie, yet another Amboise nipote.485

Hearing that the French might come to attack Siena, at the request of Florence, did not improve his temper, because he had Siena under his protection. He spoke of sending his own troops to defend Siena, and ordered Cardinal Alidosi, who had returned to his legation of Bologna, to refuse transit through Bolognese territory to any French troops. Louis ‘wants to make us his chaplain but we’d sooner be martyred’, he told Prospero Colonna. ‘The King of France is a powerful king, but God is more powerful and greater than he.’ And then he repeated the refrain ‘The Venetians aren’t ruined yet.’486

The Venetian ambassadors who reported these diatribes did not allow their hopes to be raised too high by such remarks. They believed that Julius thought Venice was wasted and exhausted, that he had little use for Maximilian, holding him to lack both strength and political skill, and that he felt he had to persevere with France, although he was still very wary of Rouen. In their opinion, his own pusillanimity, and avarice, were preventing him from deciding on any other course. He was just living from one day to the next, hoping that Rouen or Louis might die, or that something else would turn up in his favour. Despite repeated denunciations of the French by Julius - that they aspired to the monarchy of Italy, that Louis was too powerful in Italy now - the ambassadors held to their view that he would not break with France. Even when he spoke of joining with Venice and Maximilian to drive the French over the Alps, they still believed that he was too afraid of losing the revenues from France, afraid that the French might withdraw their obedience from Rome, might summon a council.487

The French, however, did not dismiss the possibility that Julius might mean what he said, and made some attempt to win him round. A sequestration order on some benefices in Milan (it is not clear whose) was lifted in late December 1509, and, in return, the inoffensive Cardinal Alby, who had been sitting in Rome not knowing what to do, was given his cardinal’s hat at last on 9 January 1510. Louis decided to send a new ambassador to Rome, ‘to sweeten the Pope’.488 The new man, an Italian, Alberto Pio da Carpi, had instructions to consult with the pope about Louis’s plans to come to Italy in the spring; it was hoped that this would alleviate his suspicions. If he persisted in his hostility, Alberto’s mission would justify the French in the eyes of God and man. Louis declared that he could not believe Julius would unite with others against France, but ‘should he be so mad, I believe God would allow him to do this for the punishment of his sins.’489

News of Julius’s decision to absolve Venice was greeted at the French court with anger at first, but then Rouen decided to make the best of it, arguing that the only one whose interests would suffer was Maximilian, and this would only serve to make him draw closer to the French. Attempts to look on the bright side were encouraged by letters from Cardinal Alidosi assuring the king and Rouen that Julius would stand by the agreement made at Milan, that he would continue to regard the Venetians as political enemies, and that he wanted to be united with Louis.490

The papal nuncio in France, Angelo Leonino, was also trying to maintain the alliance, and urged Julius to write to Louis assuring him that he intended to abide by the provisions of the League of Cambrai. As far as the pope was concerned, however, his only remaining obligation under the league was to join in an expedition against the infidel, and he wanted nothing to do with anything else. To the French envoy, Alberto da Carpi, he said that he was prepared to observe the agreement made with Louis before his departure from Italy, at least the provisions for the mutual defence of each other’s states; but to the Venetian ambassador, he admitted that he had only said this to play the French along. By confiscating the income from benefices, he argued, the French had already breached that agreement, and it was no longer in force.491

Now he was going to set about cutting the French down to size, he said. First he was going to try to disrupt negotiations in train between England and France. In this, the English ambassador in Rome, Christopher Bainbridge, the Archbishop of York, who was eager for papal favour (desperate for a cardinal’s hat, the Venetians believed), would be a useful instrument. Bainbridge suggested the outline of a brief to King Henry to dissuade him from an alliance with France, which Julius then asked the Venetian ambassador to work up into a draft. Precautions were taken to ensure that Alidosi should not hear of it, and when the draft was ready, and Julius had edited it himself, he made his own secretary, Sigismondo de’ Conti, swear, as he held his life dear, that he would not reveal the contents to anyone, but draw the brief up personally.492 Because the French were intercepting letters and keeping all travellers passing through France on their way to England under observation, Bainbridge had the brief bound up in the cover of a book so that it could be carried safely. Another brief to Henry was also prepared, probably one that could be safely shown to the French. Bainbridge was kept supplied with useful news items, such as the report from Leonino that Louis was sending 20,000 scudi to suborn Henry’s councillors.

In Germany, Julius was planning to stir up opposition both to French influence and to that of Maximilian. He wanted to distract Maximilian and impede the grant of subsidies to him by the Imperial diet. Here he hoped to use another ecclesiastic as his instrument, Matthaeus Lang, the Bishop of Gurk, one of Maximilian’s chief ministers. Great rewards, rich benefices and a cardinal’s hat had been offered to him, and Julius had written to him, trying to win him over. Lang proved singularly resistant to such blandishments, both at this time and in the future.

More direct action against the French was soon being planned: an assault on Genoa. Julius may have had such an enterprise in mind for some months before he began active preparations for it. In January 1510 he had remarked to Bainbridge, who was using the Genoese bankers, the Sauli, to transmit letters from France, that ‘they are good men, but still subjects of the King of France, although we hope one day they will be free.’493 Asked by Alberto da Carpi to agree that Genoa should be included in the lands of the King of France covered in the agreement that Alidosi had negotiated with Louis, he refused, saying that ‘it would not be fitting’, if the Genoese were to rise against the French, ‘that I should take arms against my own homeland.’494 It was not until the middle of May 1510 that he proposed to Venice a joint expedition to provoke a rebellion in Genoa. He expounded the reason for his scheme to the Venetian ambassador Donà at great length, and with great enthusiasm, telling him about the Genoese factions and how he believed they would unite against Louis to recover their liberty, and about the impact the loss of Genoa could have on the French. It could, in his opinion, ultimately lead to the French losing Milan.495

So confident was he of success, and of the readiness of the Genoese to revolt, that he predicted that everything could be over before the galleys that the Venetians had agreed to send even arrived. Ottaviano Campofregoso, who hoped to be installed as Doge if the enterprise were successful, came to Rome secretly to discuss how to incite the rebellion; and Julius gave Marcantonio Colonna a condotta and sent him to put his troops in order in Tuscany, while himself seeing to raising several hundred infantry in Rome.

Initially, the enterprise looked promising. There were signs of unrest in Genoa, and Marcantonio Colonna took La Spezia, Sestri and Chiavari on the Ligurian coast, while the French seemed to be making few preparations to defend the city. Appearances were deceptive. At least two of the major Genoese families, the Adorno and the Spinola, sided with the French (it was said because Julius had refused to give them money), while Louis soon began vigorous preparations to raise large numbers of troops, 10,000 infantry, as well as men-at-arms. The papal force comprised about 80 men-at-arms, 60 crossbowmen and 600 to 800 infantry, scarcely enough to take a city the size of Genoa unless they were joined by partisans of the Fregosi exiles, and there were no signs of them. 

Some of the papal troops embarked on the galleys at Chiavari in mid-July, and then the fleet kept near the shore to protect the rest of the troops as they advanced up the coast. On 19 July the fleet approached Genoa, to be met by a more powerful fleet of Genoese and French vessels, and by bombardment from the shore. After an exchange of fire, the Venetian and papal fleet went to Sestri to protect the troops. While they were hesitating about what to do next, they heard that 400 French horse were approaching, which they felt unable to confront. The expedition retreated south, and many of the men making their way back by land lost their horses and arms as they struggled to reach safety. With a superior French fleet on the alert, and 3,000 infantry having entered Genoa itself, the French were confident that it was secure.

Undaunted, however, by what had been little short of a fiasco, Julius was eager for a second attempt. Thinking that the Genoese had been reluctant to act in concert with what looked like a Venetian fleet, he put on board a papal commissioner, Francesco Ghiberti, and gave the Venetian commanders papal banners to fly. A message came from Genoa that the Genoese were ready to revolt, but wanted substantial forces nearby on land before they would do so. Julius had been trying to raise thousands of Swiss infantry all summer, and promised that they were on their way to Genoa. Relying on them, he raised even fewer troops to go with the fleet than the last time. Enthusiastic as ever, he told the Genoese exiles to leave all the planning to him, assuring them that he knew what he was doing. They were not too sure that he did, but nobody had the nerve to challenge him. Julius went up to Civitavecchia with the fleet, made final arrangements there and sent it off on 24 August.

This second expedition had even less success than the first. No foothold could be taken on the Riviera; it was well guarded by the French fleet, which also discouraged partisans of the exiles from showing themselves. The leaders of the expedition decided to try their luck at Genoa, but changed their minds when they heard that reinforcements had entered the city. They sent a messenger to find the Swiss that Julius had assured them were on the way, and contemplated filling in the time before the reply came, and finding some fresh supplies, by raiding the coast of Provence. (In fact, the Swiss, claiming that they had not been paid all that had been promised, turned back before they ever got near Genoa.) An encounter with the French fleet put an end to the idea of raiding. By this time there were, it was said, 5,000 French infantry in Genoa, Savona and along the coast; and with no sign of the Swiss, and the fleet running out of food and fresh water, the expedition withdrew to Piombino, and then to Civitavecchia.

Still Julius did not give up; instead, he insisted that another attempt should be made. The papal commissioner, Ghiberti, claimed to have intelligence that the Genoese would rise if the fleet appeared offshore. Leaving Civitavecchia in great secrecy, the fleet kept away from the coast, to try to prevent the French from learning of their coming until the last moment. On 24 October several Venetian galleys advanced into the port of Genoa carrying infantry, but as they approached the land, the Genoese exiles, seeing the harbour filled with armed men who gave every indication of being prepared to resist them, and not detecting any hint of a rising in their favour, changed their minds at the last minute and asked to be taken away again. 

They had obviously lost all heart for the entire enterprise, but continued to make a number of unrealistic demands on the Venetian commanders, in the hope, as the Venetians believed, that their requests would be refused, but that it would be the Venetians, not themselves, who would take the blame. By now, the weather was breaking, with the first winter storms making the seas unsafe, and there was nowhere on the Ligurian coast where the fleet could take shelter. The Venetian commanders - no doubt to the relief of the Genoese exiles - insisted on turning south. By the time that they were off Tuscany, Julius was desperately ill, and was in no condition to insist that they try again, even if he had wanted them to.496

Had he been well, even he might have conceded that it was not the moment to make a fourth attempt, for he was now openly at war with the King of France, and the campaign that was being fought around Bologna and the duchy of Ferrara was going badly for him.

Julius’s main motive for attacking Alfonso d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, was basically the same as his main grievance against Giovanni Bentivoglio had been. Although Alfonso was subject to the papacy, he was acting independently of, and to Julius’s mind, against the interests of, the papacy in his relations with other states. More specifically, he had sought the protection of France, and become a virtual client of France at the moment when Julius was meditating a campaign to expel the French from Italy.

Up until the summer of 1509 relations between Julius and Alfonso d’Este had been fairly friendly. Even the problem of Cento and La Pieve, the former lands of the bishopric of Bologna that Alexander VI had given to the Este as a dowry for Lucrezia Borgia on her marriage to Alfonso, had not generated as much heat as might have been expected. Julius had resigned the bishopric of Bologna in 1502 rather than consent to their loss, but as pope, he did not want to lean on Alfonso’s father Ercole too heavily in order to get them back for the bishop, who was now Cardinal Ferreri. In November 1506 Alfonso, who had succeeded to the duchy in January 1505, came to terms with the pope over Cento and La Pieve. He was to keep them, in return for other property that he would cede to the bishopric of Bologna worth 2,000 ducats a year, and a payment of 20,000 ducats to the pope.497

After the expulsion of the Bentivoglio from Bologna in 1506, Julius was worried that they might find refuge in Alfonso’s lands. Annibale Bentivoglio was married to Alfonso’s half-sister, Lucrezia, the natural daughter of Ercole d’Este, and did, indeed, go to Ferrara. Julius suspected that he was being visited there by many Bolognese. It was an awkward position for Alfonso, for he had either to turn away his brother-in-law or bring down an interdict on his city. He chose to pretend that he did not know that Annibale and his brother Ermete were there, refusing to receive them; and they played the game by staying hidden. Ermete soon left for Mantua, and Annibale and Lucrezia followed: Francesco Gonzaga’s wife, Isabella d’Este, continued to defend her half-sister, Lucrezia, and cared less about placating the pope than Alfonso did at this time. 

Alfonso shouldn’t pay any attention to the fact that he was related by marriage to Annibale, Julius told him: it was much better for him that Bologna should be in the hands of the pope than in those of a tyrant who, to keep his position, would always be hand-in-glove with the Venetians, and might even consider giving Bologna over to them. Giovanni hadn’t shown much respect for their relationship, he said, referring to a persistent dispute over Cento between Bologna and Ferrara.498 Nagging by the pope at length prompted Alfonso to take action against a gathering of Bentivoglio supporters on Ferrarese territory at Spilimberto. On several occasions in 1507 and 1508 Julius expressed satisfaction with support sent by the duke or his brother Cardinal Ippolito to the legate in Bologna when the Bentivoglio were on the prowl. The Golden Rose, an exquisite jewel awarded annually to a ruler who had deserved well of the papacy, was given to Alfonso in April 1508, because of his loyalty in helping to keep Bologna subdued. When he came to Rome, supposedly incognito, on a pleasure trip in September 1508, the pope welcomed him and wanted him to stay in the Belvedere.

In his efforts to persuade Alfonso that it was not in his interests to give succour to the exiled Bentivoglio, Julius tried to play on his fears of Venice. Just after Alfonso had succeeded to the duchy, Julius had been worried that the new duke would be too friendly to the Venetians, and Alfonso had written to assure him that a visit that he was to make to Venice was a purely ceremonial affair, customary for the Duke of Ferrara after his succession. He had already paid a visit there a few months before his father died. Julius had thought that this made him appear too submissive to Venice and he had warned him against encouraging the Venetians to increase their demands on Ferrara. Thanking him for his concern, Alfonso had replied that he had to cultivate the Venetians, because the French were so unreliable.

It is ironic, in the light of Julius’s later assault on Ferrara because Alfonso was too close to the French, that in the early years of Alfonso’s rule, he was almost encouraging him to cultivate Louis. He warned the duke not to make the French suspicious of him, and said that he did not mind him using Louis’s intercession with Cardinal Ferreri in the wrangle over Cento and La Pieve.499 It was after he became uneasy about Louis’s ambitions in Italy that he began to worry about Alfonso’s contacts with the French. Just at the time when Julius was avoiding meeting Louis in early 1507, the duke went to see the king. Told of this visit, the pope said that he could see Alfonso had to go, but he plainly wanted the visit to be as short as possible, and was concerned that Louis might ask Alfonso for money or troops to use against Genoa.500 A little later, he was afraid that the French might be encouraging Alfonso to interfere in Bologna on behalf of the Bentivoglio.

By the summer of 1509 Alfonso was one of Louis’s most reliable Italian allies, and Julius was thoroughly annoyed with him. The duke had seized the opportunity of the disastrous turn in Venice’s fortunes after the defeat at Agnadello to rid himself of the Venetian official, the visdomino, who had been the symbol of her pretensions to treat Ferrara as a virtual client state. Perhaps it would be better if he left Ferrara for a little while, Alfonso told the visdomino disingenuously, saying that he didn’t want to turn him out but he would not be able to guarantee his safety. In the circumstances, Venice instructed the visdomino to pretend to be ill, and leave.501 The Ferrarese ambassador was withdrawn from Venice, stressing Alfonso’s filial devotion to her as he took his leave, and receiving a gracious reply from the Doge. Joining in the general plunder of Venice, Alfonso took possession of places that his predecessors had lost to her, including Este, the one from which his family took their name.

The Venetians were determined on revenge: for the Duke of Ferrara to behave in this way really did add insult to injury. As they began to recover the lands that he had taken, and seemed to threaten an attack on Ferrara itself, Julius was unsympathetic to appeals for help from him. Alfonso should never have got himself mixed up in the fighting in the first place, he said. If Venice did attack, he would send help, but he didn’t think that she would, and Alfonso shouldn’t provoke her.502 He did warn the Venetians repeatedly that he would not tolerate their moving on Ferrara and other territory that Alfonso held of the Church, but also said that he would not concern himself if they confined their assault to the lands that he held of the Empire. 

At the same time, he was insisting that Venice should renounce all claims to special privileges or jurisdiction in Ferrara. Illogically, he even wanted a papal visdomino to replace the Venetian one. Apparently, he was not claiming that there should be a papal official exercising the jurisdiction over Venetian subjects and Venetian interests in Ferrara that the visdomino had had; and he did not need to create the office as a sign of the dominion of the Church, for the duke himself was the representative of the papacy. His reasoning seems simply to have been that Venice had had a visdomino, so he wanted one.

Alfonso managed to keep the Venetians at bay himself, inflicting a humiliating defeat on a river fleet that they sent against him up the Po in December 1509. Little help had been forthcoming from the pope. He had ordered his nephew Francesco Maria to take all his troops to Ferrara as the Venetian fleet approached it, but this was only because he had heard that French troops had entered the Ferrarese, and he countermanded the order when Francesco Maria claimed that he needed 3,000 paid infantry if he were to make an honourable appearance and asked for the money to pay for them.503 This did not stop him from wanting Alfonso to hand over the ships that he had captured from the Venetians. Louis wanted them too. If Alfonso had been ready to hand his prize over to anybody, it would have been to Louis, because, by then, he was firmly committed to France, having paid a high price for French ‘protection’. At the time the agreement promising Alfonso protection against all aggressors was made, in July 1509, it was said to have cost him 45,000 ducats; a few months later, Julius estimated that the duke had spent 80,000 ducats in what he called his ‘mania’ to have protection against everybody.504

Once Venice had renounced all claims to keeping a visdomino in Ferrara or exercising any jurisdiction there, as part of the concessions that she made in return for absolution, Alfonso began to flex the muscles that had been cramped for so long by the constraints on ducal power imposed by the Venetians. One such restriction had been their insistence that the dukes should not make salt at the salt-pans at Comacchio. Salt was a very valuable mineral, used for preserving food and in industrial processes, and monopolies of its trade and taxes on its supply furnished some of the most lucrative revenues of governments of the day. Alfonso set about restoring the salt-pans at Comacchio, but Julius did not want him to begin salt production - for one thing, it would compete with the salt-works that he had just taken over from Venice at Cervia. 

An increase in tolls that the duke imposed on goods passing through the Ferrarese from Bologna or the Romagna infuriated the pope. He showed himself to be ‘very dissatisfied with the Duke of Ferrara, because all the Romagnol territories which have just been acquired have complained to him that since they came under the government of the Church the Duke is making them pay a third more than the tolls they paid under the Signoria of Venice’. Julius ‘has protested forcefully, with bitter and ominous words’.505

Underlying the pope’s anger, was his resentment that Alfonso should have turned to Louis for protection. By April 1510 he was saying ‘that if he had the opportunity he would make him repent having accepted the protection of France against His Holiness’. 506On receiving a report from the papal commissioner whom he had sent to Ferrara that Alfonso had prevented some goods from passing through his territory from Bologna to Venice at the instance of Louis and Maximilian, Julius sent back the reply ‘that if he didn’t let these goods and everything else through without hindrance, he would make him understand his displeasure’. Neither Louis nor Maximilian ‘had the right to give orders in Ferrara, but only His Holiness, and on this theme he spoke some very angry words, indicating such a bad disposition towards the duke that it is impossible to think how it could be worse’. He was clearly of a mind to bring Ferrara under the immediate government of the Church at the first opportunity.507

Julius openly admitted that this was true in early May, saying he had a mind to punish Alfonso and take his state from him, but now was not the time, and he didn’t want the duke’s subjects to suffer. He wanted them to be well disposed to the papacy, and ready to drive Alfonso out, so he couldn’t make any moves with the help of France or others against Julius or Venice. Reports had reached him that Alfonso had said that he cared little for the pope, since he had the protection of France.508 Louis refused to renounce this protection. Punishing, even deposing, Alfonso, and containing the threat from France, became closely linked in Julius’s mind. ‘These French have taken away my appetite and I don’t sleep’, he told the Venetian ambassador Donà, ‘and last night I got up to walk about the room because I couldn’t sleep, and I felt in my heart all would be well. I have hope things will turn out well, I’ve been very troubled in the past’, concluding, ‘It’s God’s will the Duke of Ferrara should be punished and Italy freed from the hands of the French.’509

It took some time for the Ferrarese ambassador in Rome to realize how serious his master’s position was, partly because he could not understand why the pope was so annoyed. Perhaps it was mainly because of the salt at Comacchio, he thought; perhaps Alfonso should stop manufacturing it for a while. Neither he nor the French cardinals and ambassadors in Rome seem to have recognized how much Julius resented Alfonso’s relationship with Louis - though Cardinal Aragona warned him that an assault on Ferrara was to be the first stage of a campaign against the French waged by the pope in alliance with Venice and Ferdinand of Spain.510

Aragona’s information was accurate. Stirring up the Spanish ambassador with tales of Louis’s ambitions to take the kingdom of Naples, Julius promised Ferdinand the investiture of the kingdom if he would provide troops to be used against Ferrara. Cardinal Alidosi was instructed to let the Venetians use their fleet on the Po against Alfonso, provided they did not burn the countryside or treat the people cruelly. The duke had many enemies in Ferrara, he claimed, and Alidosi had contacts with them. Alfonso offered to come to Rome to justify himself. Nothing could be more distressing to him, he said, than to hear that the pope planned to settle their differences by the sword. Nothing would induce him to use force to defend himself against the pope. He was ready to fly to Julius’s feet to clear up the misunderstandings that had grown up between them.511

It was difficult for his friends in Rome to advise him, because the signals from Julius were contradictory. At one moment, he would say that he wanted Alfonso to come to Rome; at another, he would say that if Alfonso came, he would be put in the Castel Sant’ Angelo. He said that he wanted to proceed against Alfonso only judicially, that it would not be necessary to fight; and then he sent infantry to seize Comacchio. Clerks were set to work searching out documents to prove that Comacchio belonged to the Church; he dismissed documents sent by Alfonso to show the Este’s rights to Comacchio as worthless, and was not pleased by claims that they held it by virtue of a grant from the Emperor.

An attempt by Alfonso’s men on St Peter’s Day, 29 June, to pay the census of 100 ducats fixed by Alexander VI, was rejected. Even if 10,000 ducats had been offered, Julius said, it would not have been accepted. Several years of arrears of the ‘correct’ census of 4,000 ducats were owed, and he wanted Cento and La Pieve, as well as compensation of 100,000 ducats because Alfonso had put himself under the protection of France.512 By late June there were reports that bulls condemning Alfonso, as fierce as those issued against Venice the previous year, were being prepared.

The campaign against Ferrara began in early July, with Cardinal Alidosi directing operations as legate. Cento and La Pieve were among the first places to fall; by the end of the month, the papal troops had made substantial inroads on Alfonso’s lands east of Bologna towards Ravenna. The duke sent an offer to Rome to relinquish his claim to Cento and La Pieve, to hand over all the lands that he held in the Romagna, and to pay the expenses incurred by the pope in the campaign, provided that he did not try to take Ferrara. But Julius wanted Ferrara, and on 9 August published a severe bull against Alfonso, excommunicating him as a rebel against the Church, declaring all his dignities and fiefs to be confiscate. His association with France figured largely among the indictments against him in the bull. He was blamed for adhering to Cardinal Rouen, who was said to be plotting to become pope during Julius’s lifetime. If the French helped Alfonso, Julius threatened, he would excommunicate them too.513

French troops were assisting Alfonso, and, more than ever, Julius saw the campaign as really being a campaign against France. The acquisition of Modena, Alfonso’s second city, by the papal forces, after some successful intrigue between Alidosi and the Rangoni, the leading family in the city, was greeted by the pope as a weakening of the position of the French. Hearing that Alfonso had managed to reach Ferrara with some troops, just when Julius believed that the city was ready to fall to him, he said he would rather that Ferrara were ruined than that it should fall into their hands.514

So important was the campaign to Julius that he could not bear to sit in Rome, away from the field of action. He decided to go to Bologna to supervise operations, perhaps to lead the campaign against Ferrara personally. In optimistic moments, he saw himself capturing Ferrara, and then taking his troops to drive the French out of Parma. (He now included Parma and Piacenza, held by Louis as part of the duchy of Milan, on his list of lands to be recovered for the Church, on the grounds that they had belonged to the exarchate of Ravenna.)515 His decision to leave seems to have been taken quite suddenly: Paride de’ Grassi said that he made his mind up on 1 September 1510 and left the same day.516 But there had been talk in August that he might go - rumours had reached France before the end of that month. 

Perhaps he had been thinking about making the journey, and came to his decision when he was travelling through the Patrimony, as he often did in the heat of summer. He had left Rome for Ostia on 18 August and, from there, had had himself taken to Civitavecchia by the Venetian galleys being used in the expedition against Genoa. At Civitavecchia he gave orders for the second attempt on Genoa, and received the news of the fall of Modena. Was it this good news and the optimism it gave him that made him determined to go north? Within a few days of the news of the fall of Modena, the datary had been sent to Rome to summon all the cardinals, except the aged Caraffa, to join the pope on the way to Bologna.

Julius travelled quickly this time; he was unimpeded by the huge train that he had had with him in 1506, and there were none of the formal entries to cities and ceremonies of welcome to be gone through, and no Venetian-held territory to avoid. He reached Ancona on 9 September, and then went up the coast by sea to Senigallia, where he was met by ambassadors of all the cities of the Marche and Romagna. Then he took the most direct route to Bologna along the Via Emilia; passing rapidly, despite pouring rain, through Cesena, Forlì, Faenza and Imola. He entered Bologna, in magnificent style, on 22 September, with a procession modelled on the formal entry of 1506.

But this was not the triumphal return for which he must have hoped. He had been ill and discouraged when he reached the city. News had come of the failure of the second attempt on Genoa. The Bolognese were discontented, alienated from the papal administration by the abuses of its officials. Cardinal Alidosi, the legate, was deeply unpopular. Julius took to his bed, suffering from tertian fever, and though any good news, such as the advance of Venetian forces coming to support the attack on Ferrara, would cheer him up, his illness was causing concern.

Despite his illness, Julius attended to raising several thousand infantry for the campaign, and sending men and money to the papal camp at Modena. Those who should have been attending to such matters were doing little to further the progress of the campaign.

The nominal commander of the papal troops was Francesco Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua and father-in-law of Francesco Maria della Rovere, who had been appointed in late September. He would not be much use. After a moment of glory at the Battle of Fornovo in 1495, he had accomplished little to sustain the military reputation that he had won that day. He was indecisive and untrustworthy, using pretended attacks of the gout and syphilis, from which he did actually suffer, as excuses for inaction. With no sense of loyalty to the pope, he was more concerned to maintain good relations with the French, being encouraged in this by his wife, Isabella d’Este. If it had not been for his relationship with Francesco Maria, and the strategic importance of his duchy of Mantua, it is doubtful whether Julius would have chosen him for his military abilities alone. So unreliable was he considered to be, that his elder son Federico was held as a hostage in Rome. The boy had been sent there in August 1510 when the pope had secured Francesco’s release from imprisonment in Venice, where he had been held since being captured while fighting for the French in 1509. A more tangible pledge than the word of the Marquis had been required by the Venetians to support his promise that he would not serve the French against them again.

Julius was not being much better served by Francesco Maria, who was in charge of the papal camp near Modena, or by Cardinal Alidosi. Their rivalry and mutual dislike had turned to bitter enmity, and neither could stomach the idea of carrying out a plan suggested by the other. Anxious about their disputes, Julius sent a brief to his nephew saying that he did not have to obey the cardinal’s orders. When Alidosi, who had been avoiding going to the camp, finally went there in early October, Francesco Maria seized him and sent him to Bologna under guard.

As soon as the cardinal arrived and saw Julius, he apparently won him round and was released. He still enjoyed his customary freedom of access to the pope. But he had lost a lot of influence with him. The protests of the Bolognese against him, and his maladministration of the money sent for the campaign, had had an effect on his standing. More damaging still, he was ‘a fanatical French partisan, and the pope knows it’.517 Nevertheless, whether because of his long-standing affection for Alidosi, or because he did not want to let fall a conspiracy that the cardinal had started up in Ferrara, Julius did not disgrace him. He was confirmed in his legation, and even given the bishopric of Bologna when it fell vacant in mid-October, much to the disgust of the Bolognese.

The day after this appointment, on 19 October, a French army under the command of the viceroy of Milan, Chaumont, arrived at the gates of Bologna. With him, eager to return home, were the Bentivoglio.

For some months after the absolution of Venice, Louis had continued to be reluctant to break openly with the pope. Julius was insisting that the king should make two pledges: that he would withdraw his protection from Alfonso, and that French troops would not cross the Po. Unless he received assurances on these points, he said, there could not be any understanding between him and the king.518 Louis and Rouen tried to find a formula that would satisfy him, but without success. It appears that the king was genuinely reluctant to find himself at war with the pope. God had been gracious to him, he told the Florentine ambassador in May 1510: he had better health than at any time in his life, he had the prospect of an heir, he was wealthier than any King of France had been before and he was loved and feared by his subjects. All he had left to desire was the salvation of his soul, and the preservation of his honour and glory in this world. He could not think of any better way of securing these than by coming to the defence of the Church. 519

After Cardinal Rouen died, later that month, Louis and his councillors hoped that Julius would become less suspicious and more amenable, but their hopes were in vain. Making no attempt to conceal his satisfaction and relief at Rouen’s death, which he said was good news for the papacy and for all Italy, Julius did not want to hear of any agreement. Even if Louis were to agree to his two points, he said, he did not want to be friends with him. The French wanted to make him their chaplain, but he intended to be pope.520

Now Louis began to say that if Julius forced his hand, and he found himself at war with the pope, he was sure that he would be justified in the eyes of the other Christian princes. On hearing of the threat to Genoa, he ordered Chaumont to prepare to use the Bentivoglio against Julius, and asked him to suggest ‘all the ways you could use to hinder him and trouble him in his states as he is doing in mine’.521 Yet still, when the first attack on Genoa failed, there were hopes at the French court that a brake could be put on the slide to open warfare with the pope. ‘Although it was a great injury that the pope wanted to inflict on this crown, nevertheless it failed, and on the other hand, it would be dangerous to seek for revenge, because there can be no more justified action against a prince than one in defence of the Church, so that if His Majesty wished openly to attack it, he would have to fear bringing the whole world down on him.’522 In August, Louis was ready to consider making peace, but Julius was not. The king decided to recall his ambassador from Rome, and to set about recovering the towns that Alfonso d’Este had lost to the papal troops, and to restore the Bentivoglio to Bologna.

Yet, once his army approached Bologna, he was ready to suggest a three-month truce. Chaumont had believed that if he came to the defence of Alfonso, Julius would retire from Bologna, leaving the field free for the restoration of the Bentivoglio. Had the pope been well enough to travel, he might have done so. As it was, Chaumont apparently had instructions to negotiate, rather than besiege the city with the pope inside it. Julius, still bedridden with fever and sick with chagrin at the position in which he found himself, was under considerable pressure from the cardinals, especially Alidosi, to make peace with France. Negotiations were opened with Chaumont, but the pope could not bring himself to agree to the terms that were being put to him. The sticking-point was Ferrara. He was ready to agree to observe the provisions of the League of Cambrai, he said, but he must have Ferrara.523

His resistance was stiffened when the Bolognese, sweetened by cuts in taxes and other concessions, took up arms to defend the city against the French. Two cardinals, Isuagles and Aragona, were appointed to lead the Bolognese, and they paraded, with armour under their cardinals’ robes, through the streets. (Alidosi, mortified at not being appointed himself, joined in uninvited.) Hearing the people calling his name, Julius, shaking with fever, appeared on a balcony, blessed them and then, crossing his arms on his breast, seemed to commend himself to them. Returning joyfully to his bed, he was heard to say that now he had beaten the French.524

The French army did, indeed, begin to withdraw after a few days, though it was less the piece of theatre in Bologna that caused them to do so than the heavy rain that turned their camp into a quagmire, the protests of the English ambassador that if Chaumont attacked the pope, King Henry would attack Louis, and the approach of Venetian and Spanish troops who had come to support the pope.

The arrival of Venetian forces to help the pope needs little explanation. Despite the fact that there was still no formal alliance between the papacy and Venice, the Venetians, as the expeditions against Genoa demonstrated, were eager to retain the pope’s goodwill and ready to comply with his requests for military support. His call for help against Ferrara fell on willing ears: the Venetians still had their own scores to settle with Alfonso. In the campaign against Ferrara, their troops would be of more use to him than his own.

The presence of Spanish troops requires rather more explanation. How did the forces of another signatory of the Treaty of Cambrai come to be supporting the pope? What had happened was that Julius had finally agreed to grant Ferdinand formal investiture with the kingdom of Naples, insisting that, in return, Ferdinand should send several hundred men-at-arms to join in the attack on Ferrara.

Attacking the city of Venice itself, annihilating the power of the Venetians, had not been one of the aims set out in the treaty, but by November 1509 both Maximilian and Louis were considering this both desirable and feasible. Ferdinand did not agree. Furthermore, he feared that the destruction of Venice could be only the prelude to a French attempt to subdue the rest of Italy.

But he was not prepared to join Julius in going to war against the French. He did not trust the pope, considering him to have a ‘mala natura’,525 and was watchful for attempts by the pope to set him and Louis at odds. Containing the French, circumscribing Louis’s options, was the policy that he advocated. Persuade, or force, the Venetians to surrender to Maximilian all he claimed under the Treaty of Cambrai, and there would be no further justification for an attack on her. She could then be received into the league, and plans laid for war against the infidel.

In February 1510 Julius had suggested that Ferdinand should join him in one of three confederations: with Henry of England and Venice, with Henry alone, or on their own. Ferdinand, he said, because he held the kingdom of Naples, had a special obligation to defend the lands of the Church. If he would enter a league with the papacy, he would be given the investiture of Naples. Ferdinand replied to these suggestions in March, saying that he could not possibly have Venice for an ally while she still held lands belonging to the Empire - he must keep on good terms with Maximilian, with whom he shared responsibility for their common heir, the young Archduke Charles. Nor did he want Louis for an enemy. By suggesting the second combination, Julius was trying to separate Ferdinand and Henry from Louis and Maximilian, and this, he believed, was the real motive behind the third suggestion - a bilateral alliance between him and the pope - and not the mutual defence of their lands, as Julius was saying. The pope was merely trying to eliminate the necessity for Venice to restore lands to Maximilian, and Ferdinand had nothing to gain from this. 

He therefore instructed his ambassador in Rome, Jeronimo Vich, to tell the pope that he was ready to make a league for the defence of the Church, but that there must be an explicit obligation to see that the conditions of the Treaty of Cambrai were fulfilled. Julius must know that the French were sowing suspicions against him in Maximilian’s mind, saying that he wanted the kingdom of Naples for himself, that he was intriguing to rouse all the Italians against Louis and Maximilian and Ferdinand, and that he had made a secret league with Venice. Maximilian would be still more suspicious if he heard that Ferdinand and the pope had made a league without mentioning Cambrai. The pope should hold Maximilian in more account than he did: it was he who held the key to whether or not Louis would return to Italy in person. If Julius helped Maximilian and tried to make the Venetians satisfy his demands, then Ferdinand would be ready to make a league with him, provided he received the bull investing him with Naples beforehand or at the same time. Maximilian, Louis, Henry and the King of Portugal should be named as confederates.526

So little did Julius share the king’s estimation of Maximilian’s importance that he thought that Vich, in saying that Maximilian’s claims must be satisfied, was exceeding his instructions. It was frustrating, too, to be told that the king wanted to guard against the French exercising a tyranny over Italy, and then to be given the cautious advice that he should show confidence in them, but feel none, and guard his back by allying himself with other powers.527 The attack on Genoa was condemned by Ferdinand as just encouraging Louis to return to Italy, and he offered the French help in their defence of the city. Julius regarded Ferdinand as duplicitous, but still wanted an alliance with him. If he couldn’t get Spanish troops to be used against Genoa, he said, he was determined to have them with him against Ferrara, and he made this a condition of granting the investiture.528

In consistory on 5 July 1510 he proposed that Ferdinand be given the investiture of Naples on the same kind of terms as those on which Francesco Sforza had once held the Marche: that is, on condition that he provided military assistance to the Holy See. The earlier investiture that Louis had received was now void. Ferdinand accepted that if he wanted the investiture, he would have to provide the troops that the pope was demanding, but he did not want this to be made an explicit condition; at least, he said, it should be put in a separate document from the bull. Get the bulls issued, he ordered Vich, before the pope changes his mind again.529

As a consequence of these negotiations, 300 Spanish lances were sent from Naples under the command of Fabrizio Colonna to help Julius in the campaign against Ferrara. Only when they arrived, and Fabrizio had taken an oath that he and these troops would serve the pope, would the bulls of investiture be handed over to Vich.

At one moment, while Chaumont had been encamped beneath the walls of Bologna, and Julius had seemed to have no alternative but to come to terms with the French, the pope had been so sick with vexation that he could neither eat nor sleep and had said that he wanted to die rather than be ‘a prisoner of the French’; he would take poison first. 530After the immediate danger had passed, and the French had left, he recovered his spirits and appetite and could sleep again, but he was still quite ill with tertian fever and haemorrhoids. 

As usual, he was being an uncooperative patient, eating foods that had been forbidden to him and threatening to hang his servants if they told the doctors. But it was his temper that it was thought might finish him off, for he frequently fell into a rage, calling on the devil. He improved a little in early November, when he had himself carried, against medical advice, to the house of a friend, Giulio Malvezzi, where he stayed until the middle of December. The doctors said that they could cure him within a week if he would only follow their instructions, but the only one to whom he would listen was a Jewish doctor, who apparently believed in minimal intervention and letting Julius’s own naturally strong constitution deal with the disease. ‘His constitution is miraculous; if he’d only look after himself for four days, he’d jump out of bed’, wrote a Venetian observer.531

But he did not look after himself. He fretted at the lack of progess against Ferrara. Hopes that it could be gained through a conspiracy were dashed when the plot inside the city was discovered. Another of Alfonso’s strongholds, Sassuolo, fell in mid-November, but then there was some indecision about what to do next. A council of war held in Julius’s bedchamber concluded that the best plan was to take Mirandola before moving on to Ferrara.

Mirandola was a strongly fortified little town to the west of Ferrara and north of Modena, which belonged, together with another, Concordia, to the Pico family. A series of inheritance disputes and family quarrels had divided the family for many years. At the time, it was held by the widow of Lodovico Pico, who had been killed while serving as a condottiere with the pope’s forces in December 1509. Shortly after Lodovico’s death, Julius had sent a brief to the widow, Francesca, assuring her of his protection for herself and her two young children. Francesca, however, was the natural daughter of Giangiacomo Trivulzio, the senior Italian commander in the service of the French. Consequently, although she had promised not to receive troops hostile to the pope, with her father’s help she had brought French soldiers to Mirandola; and she was taken under the protection of Louis in early October. Alfonso d’Este took refuge with her for a few days about that time. Held for the French, Mirandola could be a great hindrance to the campaign against Ferrara.

Concordia fell after a few days’ siege, on 18 December, but the papal commanders delayed in moving on to Mirandola. They - Francesco Maria della Rovere included - lacked enthusiasm for the enterprise, and seem to have infected Fabrizio Colonna with their sluggishness. Ignoring Julius’s orders to press on, when Francesca refused a summons to surrender they decided to call off the attack. They had some excuse in the unusually severe winter weather, with harsh cold and deep snow, but this was not an excuse that the pope was prepared to accept. When the legate in the camp, Cardinal Vigerio, sent to say that it was impossible to take Mirandola or accomplish anything else that winter, he was furious, and determined to go to supervise operations personally. Nobody could dissuade him, though many tried, ‘describing to him the danger, and the dishonour to the Church, and to him’.532

On 2 January 1511, saying ‘Let’s see if I’ve got as much balls as the King of France’, 533he set out from Bologna, borne in a litter, to San Felice, a few miles from Mirandola. There he praised the Venetian troops and held talks with their commander, cursed his own, and gave orders for artillery to be brought up. When it stopped snowing, on 6 January, he set off for Mirandola with trumpets sounding, intent on seeing his troops being paid, because he was sure that he was being cheated. Once he arrived, he decided to stay, and sent for his beds and the unfortunate cardinals who had come with him. Something was sure to be accomplished now, wrote the Venetian envoy to his brother, because the pope made everybody tremble, roundly cursing his men in terms that the envoy could not bring himself to commit to paper.534

Nevertheless, no amount of swearing could galvanize the papal commanders into doing their job properly. They were conspicuously less active than the Venetians in digging a mine and placing their artillery, and once they had got the latter in position, decided that it had to be moved. In the end, Julius asked the Venetians to set it up for him. To escape being yelled at, Francesco Maria avoided coming to see Julius and spent much of his time gaming with Fabrizio Colonna. Francesco Maria was evidently identifying his interests with those of the network of families, the Gonzaga and the Este, into which he had married: his mother-in-law, Isabella, was Alfonso d’Este’s sister. Julius took to making his plans without even bothering to consult his own commanders, talking only to the Venetian ones whom he trusted. In fact, he ignored most advice given to him, followed his own mind, which was unpredictable, and acted immediately. 

Annoyed by the resistance of Francesca Trivulzio, he spoke of putting Mirandola to the sack, so that the ‘poor infantry’ could have some reward. If Mirandola paid a ransom, he said, Francesco Maria would get it - ‘I know how these things are done’ - and he did not want that.535 But nor did he wish to appear cruel, or to be cruel. Thus to spare the town from a sack, he decided that the best solution would be to demand the payment of a ransom that he would then divide among the infantry.

Those who were with Julius at the siege of Mirandola and saw him undaunted by cold and wind and snow and artillery fire, knew that they were witnessing a legend in the making. ‘This is something to put in all the histories of the world’, the Venetian envoy exclaimed to Alidosi, ‘that a pope should have come to a military camp, when he has just been ill, with so much snow and cold, in January! Historians will have something to write about.’536

So close were his lodgings to the walls that a shot from an arquebus passed through the kitchen where he was sleeping, wounding two of his grooms with fragments of stone. He moved to the quarters of Cardinal Isuagles, but the defenders turned their artillery on that too. The Venetians believed that the pope’s own men were signalling to those inside Mirandola, directing their aim, because they hoped he would be driven away. But he was not to be disturbed by coming under fire, and soon moved back to his original lodgings. He would rather be shot in the head than withdraw one pace, he declared.537 Nor could he be persuaded to stay indoors. He would stand watching the siege operations, barely covered by a sheltering roof, with the snow drifting around his feet, careless of the winter wind. In the light of his remark as he was leaving Bologna, Julius might well have enjoyed the comparison that Guicciardini made between him and Louis, though he might well not have liked Guicciardini’s final comment.

And it was certainly a notable occurrence, and something not seen before, that the King of France, a secular prince, still young and then in good health, nurtured in arms from his youth, at that time taking his ease indoors, administered through captains a war made principally against himself; and on the other hand, to see that the supreme pontiff, the vicar of Christ on earth, old and ill and nurtured in comfort and pleasures, should have come in person to a war waged by him against Christians, encamped by an unimportant town, where, subjecting himself like the captain of an army to fatigue and dangers, he retained nothing of the pope about him but the robes and the name.538

After two days’ bombardment, envoys from Mirandola came to ask for terms on 19 January, and the town surrendered the next day. A ransom of 6,000 ducats was imposed, and Francesca was forced to leave. Her exiled brother-in-law, Gianfrancesco, was put in her place. Impatient to enter the city, Julius was hauled up a ladder over a breach in the wall, because he did not want to wait for the earth that had been piled behind the gates to be removed. Once the infantry entered, ransom or no ransom, it was difficult even for Julius to stop their plundering. Hearing that they were heading for a convent where the townspeople’s valuables had been put for safekeeping, he had himself carried there and berated everyone around, including Francesco Maria in the hearing of his own men, and Cardinal Alidosi. It seemed he had to do everything himself. He reviewed his own troops because he was sure that he was being cheated - and, indeed, he was being cheated, according to the Venetian envoy. He ordered the infantry to leave the town, and went from house to house, making his men batter on the doors and telling the soldiers to come out or be hanged.

When Julius had first arrived at Mirandola, he had made people around him laugh by constantly chanting ‘Mirandola, Mirandola’. Once Mirandola had been taken, the chant changed to ‘Ferrara’.539 He had been considering leading his troops there in person, but changed his mind and returned to Bologna instead - some said because he was afraid that, if his men were defeated, he might be captured. He reached Bologna on 7 February, travelling on a sled drawn by oxen. But Bologna was none too safe for him either, at that time, for the French were approaching again, and four days later he left, still drawn on the sled, and travelled to Ravenna.

It made sense for him to avoid the possibility of falling into his enemy’s hands, but it meant that the campaign against Ferrara was not prosecuted with much rigour. He raised infantry and made plans, but, with Francesco Maria and Fabrizio Colonna as dilatory as ever, little was accomplished. Their inactivity made the Venetian commissioner who had to try to coordinate his men’s movements with theirs despair. He didn’t see how anything honourable could be achieved, because the papal commanders ‘don’t want to do anything’. ‘There is no control in the papal camp, there’s no will, there’s no one who commands or wants to command, there’s no one to carry out orders’, there were no auxiliaries, and there was no fodder. The only commodity in good supply was wine; all other victuals were scarce and expensive.540

This lack of progress did not enrage Julius as much as might have been expected. For one thing, he was enjoying himself in Ravenna. As ever, he loved being in a port, and spent a lot of time on the seashore and looking at ships. He went on pleasure trips in the area, too, experiencing an earthquake while he was at Cesena, but refusing to regard it as a bad omen. There was also serious business to be dealt with. On 10 March he published the names of eight new cardinals, including Christopher Bainbridge, Archbishop of York, the English ambassador, and a Swiss bishop, Matthaeus Schiner, who earned his hat by his work recruiting Swiss infantry for the pope. The other six were Italian, largely his own men.541 He also created a ninth - Matthaeus Lang, Bishop of Gurk - but it was by no means sure that he would accept, and his nomination was not published.

Two days later, Lang arrived in Mantua to begin a series of peace talks, which became the most important diversion from the prosecution of the campaign against Ferrara.

King James of Scotland had helped to initiate discussions about peace by sending an envoy, Andrew Forman, Bishop of Moray, to act as a mediator. (James said that he wanted to bring about peace between the Christian powers to facilitate a crusade.) Forman would spend many months shuttling between Louis and Julius, with no great success. He was described as ‘a good man, and very well-disposed to the pope, but as it happens he doesn’t understand Italian affairs very well, and he could be more astute and experienced than he is’.542 At least he made it possible to keep some communication open between the pope and the king. He came to see Julius at Mirandola, and was in the papal camp at the same time as envoys from Maximilian and Lang.

Forman’s principal concern was to make peace between France and the papacy; Lang and Maximilian were concerned with pressing for a settlement of Maximilian’s claims against Venice. It was Julius who was the proposed mediator in that dispute: the Venetians were ready to let him negotiate on their behalf, but Maximilian could not make up his mind. He proposed holding a peace conference at Mantua to discuss all the issues dividing the powers, an idea that Ferdinand backed warmly. Louis was not so keen, saying that it was unlikely that the pope would send a representative. 

He believed that Julius wanted to win Maximilian over and turn him against Louis, a suspicion fuelled when the pope ordered Modena to be handed over to the charge of the Imperial envoy, Veit von Furst, in late January, and sent Marcantonio Colonna to hold it for him. A brief to the Modenese ordered them to swear homage to Maximilian, in order to avoid the disorders of war:543 patently the pope was reckoning that the French would not attack Modena if it was held for their ally, and presumably was not confident that his own forces could defend it successfully against them. This device also served to make Louis more anxious to emphasize his alliance with Maximilian; and, in the circumstances, he could not refuse to send an envoy to the diet.

Louis was quite right to suspect that Julius did not want to send a representative to Mantua. The pope wanted any peace talks to take place at his court, and wrote on 11 February 1511 urging Lang to come to Bologna. When Lang, and Louis’s envoy, Etienne Poncher, Bishop of Paris, and Ferdinand’s envoys assembled in Mantua in mid-March, Julius sent a trusted chamberlain - but only with the message that Lang would be wasting his time trying to conduct negotiations involving papal interests anywhere but at the papal court. The Spanish ambassadors urged him to go, assuring him that if the peace talks foundered because of Julius, their king would increase his support for Maximilian. 

One of them, Vich, who was usually resident at the papal court, left Mantua on 24 March to elicit confirmation from Julius that he was interested in a general peace. He was also to obtain a safe-conduct for Lang, who would wait at Modena for the pope’s response. If it were favourable, he would go to Ravenna, but he would stay there only a few days if he felt that Julius was not being sincere. If he thought that there was a good chance of peace, he would summon the Bishop of Paris to join in the discussions.

The pope sent to say that he was pleased to hear of Lang’s decision, but wanted to meet him in Bologna, where he said that he could pay him greater honour, and asked him to wait in Modena until the preparations to receive him were completed. Leaving Ravenna on 3 April, Julius intended to send his army from its winter quarters and direct it - under his personal supervision - against Bastia, a strategically important fortification on the Po that was held for Alfonso. Francesco Maria and the cardinals tried to dissuade him without success, but heavy rains, which filled all rivers and ponds to bursting point, did make him change his mind. 

He entered Bologna on 6 April, mounted on a fine horse, rather than the usual papal mule. The horse was frightened by the firing of artillery to welcome the pope and nearly threw him in the main square; Julius, bringing it back under control, looked more like a soldier putting his mount through its paces, it was said, than an aged pope with the cares of the world on his shoulders.544

Whether Julius did want peace is rather doubtful. What he seems to have been trying to do was to win Lang over, an important step in weaning Maximilian away from the French. He insisted that Lang should make a formal entry on 10 April, and during this he was paid great honour, passing through the streets accompanied by Francesco Maria, the papal guard, the households of the pope and the cardinals, and many Bolognese nobles. Lang had tried to avoid involvement in such a ceremony, quite possibly because he wanted to avoid the expense of ensuring that he and his entourage of 200 horse could cut sufficiently impressive figures: he had to borrow to pay his expenses. 

The following day, he was received in a public consistory, and then Julius sent him a present of dozens of cartloads of food and wine. More provisions were sent every day. Short of money as he was, Lang no doubt found these presents very welcome, but there was one thing Julius wanted to give him that he refused to accept - a cardinal’s hat. The pope had the robes and a fine mule ready to send to him, but Lang said that he did not want even to consider accepting nomination as a cardinal until peace was made.

The peace talks were not going well. Lang gave offence by refusing to wear ecclesiastical dress, and by insisting on his dignity as a representative of the Emperor. It was said that he broke all the rules of protocol, by sitting down during his audiences with the pope. He pitched his demands high - first, that the Venetians should cede all territories to which the Emperor or the Habsburgs had a claim; then, that they might keep Padua and Treviso and the Balkan territories they held, in return for an immediate payment of 200,000 ducats and the census of 100,000 ducats a year. Lang’s own comments on the negotiations speak of the difficulties of making any progress when the pope was laid up in bed with the gout, and of Julius’s lack of real interest in a peace. The pope seemed to be spoiling for a fight, he wrote, ‘but many believe that the pope longs for battle rather out of his anger and bad temper, than for any better or more well-founded reason.’ He himself, he insisted, was sincerely trying for peace, and if Poncher heard any reports to the contrary, he was not to believe them.545

According to Guicciardini, when Julius deputed three cardinals, Riario, Isuagles and Medici, to negotiate with him, Lang refused to meet them in person, and sent three of his men in his place, ‘as if it was beneath him to treat with anyone other than the pope’;546 but Lang’s own account does not reflect such an attitude. He wrote that Julius deputed the three cardinals simply to report on the state of negotiations, together with the Spanish ambassadors, and did not mention any deliberate refusal on his own part to talk to them.547 The day before the appointment of the cardinals, he had already decided to leave in three days unless the Spanish ambassadors could make a breakthrough, and it was only with difficulty that they persuaded him to stay a little longer. But soon he broke off negotiations, took leave of the pope and departed from Bologna on 25 April.

It may be that Lang was not aware of how much offence his behaviour was causing. It may be that he had come to Bologna sincerely ready to make peace. He moved away fairly slowly, waiting for news of the progress of Forman’s shuttle diplomacy. Poncher thought that he might return to Bologna if those negotiations looked hopeful. But he also suspected that Lang might not want anyone but himself to have the credit for bringing peace.

Whatever Lang’s motives, his presence in Bologna had at least brought a halt to hostilities between the two armies. Once he had left, the French were soon menacingly close to Bologna again. And, once again, Julius had to flee from the danger of being captured by them. A week after his departure, Bologna was lost, by the incompetence, and perhaps the treachery, of his nephew, Francesco Maria della Rovere, and of his favourite, Cardinal Alidosi.

When Julius left the city on 14 May, the Bolognese had seemed ready to fight for him. They sent letters after him, ‘declaring as much devotion and loyalty to His Holiness as one could ever hope for’.548 But on 16 May they refused to receive some troops of Francesco Maria that Francesco wanted to bring into the city, and increased their own guards at the gate to prevent them from forcing their way in. All winter, the papal, Spanish and Venetian troops had inflicted great damage on the Bolognese district, and they had caused acute shortages. The Bolognese had scant reason to see the papal troops as welcome defenders, and their refusal to accept them may have been the result of a fear of being plundered, rather than a manifestation of disloyalty. 

Using powers conferred on him by Julius, Alidosi raised a force of 2,000 Bolognese infantry under fifteen captains. On the morning of 20 May he put himself at the head of these men to lead them to join the papal army, but they refused to leave the city, saying that they wanted to defend their houses and families. The following day, Alidosi got the consent of the Forty (which he did not usually bother to ask for) to bring in 1,000 infantry and some light horse commanded by Ramazzotto, who had been particularly brutal in his depredations in the contado.

On hearing of this, the Bolognese people erupted. The supporters of the Bentivoglio spread rumours that all the papal troops were coming, and then put it about that Ramazzotto and his men were already in the city. The church bells rang out, and the Bolognese, crying ‘Popolo, popolo’, seized their arms and prepared to fight. Bentivoglio partisans captured one of the city gates, and sent to summon the Bentivoglio, who were waiting not far off. Papal partisans were armed too. Cornelio Pepoli rode through the crowd exhorting them to cry ‘Giulio’ and ‘Chiesa’. A messenger whom Alidosi sent to inform Francesco Maria of what was happening was killed, and a group of soldiers that he sent was beaten back. Losing heart, he took refuge in the castle, and then fled the city. 

A signal-fire brought the Bentivoglio hurrying to Bologna, which they entered around midnight with many other exiles, to a delirious reception. The papal army slunk away, leaving their artillery and baggage trains behind them. The Venetian troops, endangered by this retreat - of which they were not informed by Francesco Maria until after it had taken place - were forced to leave theirs too, to facilitate their escape. On 26 May the governor of the new papal fortress at the Porta Galliera surrendered, and the people used the mines and ammunition that they found there to raze it to the ground.

No reprisals were taken against papal partisans. Two young men who had thrown down and burned a painted wooden statue of Julius from the façade of the Palazzo Comunale were sentenced to death (later commuted to banishment), and the statue itself was replaced by a painting of the pope. The legate’s lieutenant, who had feared for his life, was treated with respect. Letters were sent to Julius and to the College of Cardinals, speaking of the devotion of the Bentivoglio to the Holy See. All that they wanted was to re-establish the government as it had been during their father’s lifetime. (This they proceeded to do, abolishing the Forty and restoring the Sixteen.) 

But they also sent ambassadors, including Alessandro Bentivoglio, to Louis, to thank him for his help and ask for his protection. This he was pleased to grant, writing on 30 June to promise perpetual protection for the four brothers Annibale, Anton Galeazzo, Alessandro and Ermete Bentivoglio, and their descendants, and for the city and government of Bologna, against anyone who attacked their security or their privileges (saving the legitimate rights of the Church). In return for this protection, they were to help him in every enterprise, especially those undertaken to conserve his dominions in Italy, to grant transit and lodgings to French troops, and not to make an alliance with anyone without the consent of the King of France.549

In their letters written earlier in June to a number of cardinals who they hoped would be friendly, the Sixteen had asked them to try to mitigate any anger that Julius might be feeling.550 Unless they were supreme optimists, they can hardly have expected him to be anything but furious, and bent on revenge. As soon as he heard the news from Bologna, he was planning to regroup his forces. He knew well where the blame lay. Francesco Maria was summoned to Ravenna, where Julius was staying, and roundly abused. Alidosi was ordered not to come to Ravenna, but, hearing that Julius was angry with Francesco Maria as well as himself, and afraid that he would lose his legation, came nonetheless, hoping that he could use his practised skill in manipulating the pope to shift the burden of blame on to his rival.

He reached Ravenna on 23 May. That morning, a consistory had been held in which Julius had appointed Cardinal Isuagles to replace him in his legation. He may have already heard the news as he rode through the streets, accompanied by dozens of armed men, on his way to seek an audience with the pope. Francesco Maria, who had just been with the pope, and, no doubt, had had a thoroughly uncomfortable time of it, met him and was greeted with a smile. Well aware what lay behind that smile, Francesco Maria, who had only three attendants, fell upon him and dragged him from his mule. The cardinal’s escort was not prepared to attack the pope’s nephew, and stood by while Francesco Maria and his men stabbed Alidosi, mortally wounding him.

So brutal an end evoked little sympathy. Even Julius, grieved though he was, and mortified that a cardinal should have been cut down in the street by his own nephew, would, it was thought, recognize that Francesco Maria had had good reason for what he had done. In Venice, according to a Mantuan agent, they blamed him only for having waited so long to do it.

Francesco Maria, who had hurried to Urbino, justified the murder in a letter to his father-in-law by saying that Alidosi’s treacheries had put Julius, the cardinals, the whole of Italy in danger. He wanted there to be a full investigation, so that all Alidosi’s treacherous proceedings and his ingratitude to the pope could be brought to light. ‘The affairs of His Holiness and of Holy Church had been brought to such a pass by his misdeeds, that I couldn’t stand it any more.’ Although the pope was thinking of taking action against him, ‘I hope His Holiness will come to recognize what he perhaps does not recognize at the moment.’551 But, for the moment, Julius was too shocked and grieved to be prepared to consider any justification for the murder. 

And now, to add to this personal blow, and the political blow of the loss of Bologna, he was to be faced with the severest test of his spiritual authority that a pope could face. A group of dissident cardinals, acting in concert with the French, had announced that they were summoning a general council of the Church. Citations to the council were put up even in Rimini, where Julius had gone when he was told of Alidosi’s death. No one dared to tell him.


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