The Power Beside the Throne

If Giuliano della Rovere could look forward to a long career as a pivotal figure in the College of Cardinals after his uncle’s death, and could indeed always see a prospect of becoming pope himself one day, Girolamo Riario knew all too well that, once Sixtus was gone, his own days of power were numbered. The turmoil that he created during what proved to be the last months of Sixtus’s pontificate in 1484 arose out of the acts of a man desperate to eliminate his potential enemies while he still had the means to do so. The foes that he was trying to rid himself of were the Colonna, the baronial clan that had for centuries vied with the Orsini for predominance in and around Rome. The most lasting result of Girolamo’s assault on the Colonna was to strengthen an association between them and Vincula that persisted in some form for the rest of his life.

The Colonna di Paliano and di Marino, the main branches of the family and the leaders of the Colonna party, had been in eclipse for much of the 1470s, not least because the death of Antonio Colonna in 1471 had removed the last senior male member of that line. Not until the end of the decade did the younger generation grow to maturity. By the early 1480s Prospero Colonna and his cousin Fabrizio had embarked on their careers as condottieri, which would lead to them becoming two of the foremost commanders in Italy. Prospero’s brother Giovanni became a cardinal in May 1480, and Fabrizio’s brother Lorenzo Oddone was an apostolic protonotary. At this point, Oddone seems to have been the dominant figure in the family; like other apostolic protonotaries, such as Obietto Fieschi, he often behaved more like a soldier than a cleric.

Vincula became related to the Colonna through his brother Giovanni’s marriage to Giovanna da Montefeltro, as Fabrizio Colonna was betrothed to Giovanna’s sister Agnese, whom he married in 1488. Among the leading Roman families who were adherents of the Colonna, Vincula was said to be related to the Margani and Porcari,67 and he was friendly with the Savelli, the other major Roman baronial family of the faction. The promotion of Giovanni Colonna and Gianbattista Savelli to the College of Cardinals in May 1480 added to his growing band of allies there.

Girolamo Riario’s increasingly close association with the Orsini, an association encouraged by Sixtus, had led to the Colonna becoming alienated from the pope. When Sixtus was at war with Ferrante of Naples in 1482, they accepted condotte from Ferrante. When Sixtus and Riario threatened reprisals against Cardinal Colonna and the protonotary Oddone if they did not prevail upon their brothers to renounce these condotte, Vincula became involved in the efforts being made to reconcile the Colonna to the pope. 

But distrust on both sides ran too deep for any reconciliation to be possible. In June 1482 Sixtus arrested Cardinals Savelli and Colonna; Savelli was lodged in Vincula’s apartments at the Vatican before they were both transferred to the Castel Sant’ Angelo. The Colonna put their estates and strongholds south of Rome at the disposal of the Neapolitan troops, and the pressure these forces brought to bear on Rome did much to convince Sixtus and Riario that they would do better to desert their Venetian allies and join the league defending Ferrara against Venice, in December 1482.

One of the terms of the peace agreement between Sixtus and Ferrante was that the Neapolitan counties of Tagliacozzo and Albi, which the king had granted to the Colonna, should be returned to the Orsini, who had held them until 1480. These counties were situated over the border with the Papal States from the one area where Colonna lands met those of the Orsini. Neither family could willingly resign these lands to their rivals, and the Colonna refused to surrender them. Virginio Orsini, who stood to gain the estates, got Girolamo Riario to insist that the question of their return stayed high on the diplomatic agenda.

By the time Cardinals Colonna and Savelli were released, in November 1483, the question of Tagliacozzo and Albi was becoming a major diplomatic problem. Riario’s exasperation at the refusal of the Colonna to surrender the counties was given an edge of desperation by his fear that unless Virginio Orsini was satisfied, he would go over to the Venetians, taking the other Orsini condottieri with him. In his more hysterical moments, Riario said that he feared for his life after Sixtus’s death, if he had neither the Colonna nor the Orsini to support him.68

By mid-March 1484 the Colonna were gathering men together at their castles - for self-defence, they said. Riario claimed that they were threatening to burn his house down around him. Another attempt at a negotiated agreement, by which Vincula would have been one of those cardinals to take custody of the cash and lands involved in the proposed settlement, failed in April. The following month the situation took a more dangerous turn; there were raids in the Campagna, while in Rome the factions took up arms. Oddone Colonna barricaded himself in Cardinal Colonna’s house, and the Orsini too began to collect arms and men in their area of the city. When Oddone agreed to go to the papal palace, his own men forced him back. 

At last, on 30 May, a full-scale assault on Cardinal Colonna’s palace was launched by the papal guard, led by Girolamo Riario, and by Orsini troops. The palace was taken and sacked, and Oddone arrested. Riario wanted to hang him then and there, but he was stopped by Virginio Orsini, who also protected Oddone when Riario tried to knife him on the way to the Vatican. But Virginio could not protect Oddone from insult by Sixtus, nor from harsh imprisonment and torture in the Castel Sant’ Angelo. Meanwhile, other houses of the Colonna party were sacked and some burned. 

Vincula gave refuge in his palace to many of their supporters, but neither he nor the other cardinals who tried to pacify Sixtus and Riario could stop them now. Vincula’s abbey of Grottaferrata was used as a base by the papal troops sent to take the Colonna lands, although he did not approve of what was happening. He had a furious row with Riario before Sixtus, when Riario reproached him for harbouring ‘rebels’ against the pope in his house. The cardinal replied that they were not rebels but very faithful to the Church, yet Riario wanted to drive them out of Rome and bring the Church to destruction - he was the one who would bring the pope and all the cardinals to ruin. Riario retorted he’d like to drive Giuliano out of Rome, he’d like to sack and burn his palace, as he had that of Cardinal Colonna.69

Now Sixtus and Riario would not hear of any compromise. Riario was set on taking all the Colonna lands for himself, and Sixtus was set on destroying the family. Barely able to stand after the tortures he had suffered, Oddone was executed on 30 June. The situation of the Colonna was becoming desperate, but still they knew that the pope was mortal and that, when he died, Riario would fall from power, and they would be able to recover their lands.

The pope’s death came sooner than expected, on 12 August 1484. When the news reached the papal camp at Paliano, preparations began immediately to raise the siege. The College of Cardinals ordered Riario to bring the troops nearer to Rome, which he did. Within a few days, the Colonna had recovered all their lost lands and fortresses.

Confident in his command of the papal troops, in the possession of the Castel Sant’ Angelo garrisoned by his men, in the backing of the Orsini family and their faction, and in the support of some cardinals, including, it was said, the vice-chancellor, Borgia, Riario began intriguing for the election of a pope to his liking. With the pope dead, however, he did not have as many friends as he thought he had, and his position was not as strong as it looked. 

Giuliano della Rovere’s position, on the other hand, was now a very strong one. He was a natural focus for those who wanted to see an end to Riario’s power. With this group, he was able, like a wrestler, to use Riario’s own strengths to bring him down. Declaring that they felt unsafe while the papal palace and fortress were in the hands of Riario and his supporters, Vincula and three other cardinals, Savelli, Colonna and Cibo, refused to attend the obsequies for Sixtus (which would last for nine days) and said they would not be able to come to the palace for the conclave. No papal election could be held without them, without the risk of a schism, or, at the least, accusations that the election would be invalid.

Nor were these four the only cardinals to feel insecure. All the cardinals’ palaces were fortified and guarded day and night. The Roman factions were in arms, and were reinforced by Orsini and Colonna partisans from outside the city. By 18 August, it was estimated, the Colonna, Savelli and Vincula had about 3,000 armed men at their disposal; Fabrizio Colonna was staying with Vincula at Santi Apostoli.

The violence and robbery in the streets did not turn into full- scale faction-fighting, however. The Colonna had brought their supporters into Rome primarily as insurance, for protection; the Orsini were not prepared to use their troops to support Riario by force; neither faction contemplated using violence to try to influence the outcome of the papal election. On 22 August the Orsini and Colonna agreed to establish a truce until one month after the election of the new pope and to send their troops out of the city.

It was also agreed that Riario, who, on the orders of the College, had been staying at Isola, an Orsini estate north of Rome, should leave for his lands in the Romagna. The next day, Vincula, with Cardinals Savelli and Cibo, attended the service for Sixtus’s obsequies. On their way to the Vatican they avoided passing the Castel Sant’ Angelo, but took the direct route past the fortress on their return. Riario’s wife, Caterina Sforza, was still in it, however, and 150 of Riario’s troops were reported to have joined her there. None of the ‘Colonna’ cardinals, including Vincula, attended the last day of the ceremonies for Sixtus. The College showed its united determination to resist the threat from the Riario by sending a deputation of eight of its number to the Castel Sant’ Angelo, which forced Caterina and all Riario’s men to leave. At last, the cardinals could devote themselves to the business of electing a new pope.

After the drama and tension of the previous weeks, the conclave that resulted in the election of Cardinal Cibo, who took the title Innocent VIII, proceeded fairly smoothly. So smoothly, in fact, that little information about the play of forces in it seems to have leaked out. The two fullest accounts of what happened in the conclave are, unfortunately, very different, although both allot a crucial role to Vincula. One is to be found in the diaries of Stefano Infessura, an official of the Roman municipal administration, the other is a report by the Florentine ambassador, Guidantonio Vespucci.

Much gossip and rumour found its way into Infessura’s diary, which consequently needs to be used with caution. Still, his circumstantial account does have a ring of truth. As the twenty-five cardinals were holding the first ballot or ‘scrutiny’, he wrote, Vincula approached Barbo, who had just had eleven votes in his favour, and said that if he would promise to give his palace to Cardinal d’Aragona, Ferrante’s son, he could procure him three further votes, which would give him a majority. Barbo replied that not only would buying votes in this way render any election uncanonical, but his Palazzo Venezia (still today one of the largest and most imposing palaces in Rome) was stronger than Castel Sant’ Angelo and would offer Ferrante a base from which to dominate the city and disrupt the entire Papal States. 

Thus rebuffed, Vincula took himself off to Cardinal Borgia, who hated Barbo and needed little encouragement to agree to the proposal that he should join with Vincula in electing a pope of their choice. When night fell, and the cardinals retired to sleep, they visited them one by one in their cells, making generous promises in return for an undertaking to vote for Cibo. Several of the senior cardinals were left undisturbed; while they slept, the others gathered together and elected Cibo. When the senior cardinals awoke in the morning and were told that Cibo had been chosen, they too gave their consent, because they saw there was nothing else they could do.70

Vespucci’s report to Florence was of a much more complex process of accretion of support for Cibo. First Vincula brought about an agreement between the Colonna and the Orsini and Cardinal Riario to support him; then Ascanio Sforza, seeing which way the wind was blowing, came over to the idea. Borgia hastened to join in, reckoning that if he did not support him, the chances were that the pontificate would fall to one of his own enemies; and then d’Aragona came too. As the group approached the number needed for a majority, its members told those who still remained opposed that they had actually garnered enough votes to elect Cibo, so that the others, anxious not to be seen to oppose the new pope, all voted for him at the next scrutiny. 

Other reports reaching Florence contradicted this apparently knowledgeable account. One reaching Lorenzo de’ Medici said that it had been Ascanio and d’Aragona who had reconciled Vincula with Cardinals Riario and Orsini. The Florentine government gave credence to a report that he had joined forces with d’Aragona and Ascanio to block Barbo’s candidacy. Years later, Vincula himself would claim that he had wanted Barbo to be pope, but that the other cardinals had refused to support him.71

Much Church property was said to have been pledged in return for votes. Not all of the promises that Infessura and others reported were kept, however, if they were indeed made. Vincula, for one, was supposed to have been promised that Fano would be given to his brother the Prefect, but this did not happen. One rumour had it that Giovanni was to lose the office of Prefect, which was to be returned to the Colonna, from whom Sixtus had taken it, but that he would be made Captain of the Church instead. This position was, in fact, given to Giovanni, but he did not have to surrender the Prefecture. Some property and offices certainly were disposed of to cardinals as rewards for support - or payment for votes. Gianbattista Orsini was given the legation of the Marche, for example, Gianbattista Savelli that of Bologna. Some of the property and offices that were distributed were surrendered by Vincula, lending substance to the reports that he had had a leading role in winning over votes to Cibo. Savelli’s prize, the legation of Bologna, had been his. His legation of Avignon was given to Cardinal Nardini, but this did not turn out to be too great a sacrifice, for Nardini died on 22 October and Vincula was given it back. Cardinal Borgia’s cooperation had its price too, it seems, for the day after the election the clerks of the Apostolic Chamber recorded that Vincula had surrendered to Borgia a pension, which had been given to him by Sixtus, of 600 gold florins on an abbey.72 Other such transactions may have gone unrecorded. Vespucci reckoned that his sacrifices had done much to make Cibo pope.73 Cibo himself had been a comparatively poor cardinal - he had received the monthly allowance given to cardinals whose income from benefices fell below a certain level - and had little to offer of his own as inducement for support. His house went to d’Aragona, his treasure (what there was of it) to Colonna.

There is no way to reconcile all these conflicting versions in detail, and no sure ground for choosing one version rather than another. Normally, reports by ambassadors could be considered as more authoritative than a source such as Infessura, but here they contradict one another. Infessura writes as though he has received a detailed account from someone on the inside, but it is perhaps significant that he starts from the position that there were two factions in the conclave, led by Vincula and Borgia. It was reported before the conclave that there were such factions, but other accounts generally say that they were of no significance during it. And why did Borgia get so little reward if he was one of the two major figures helping Cibo to the pontificate? If he had done so much for so little, he was not the man to let such ingratitude go unremarked and unresented. 

All that can be said with any degree of confidence is that Barbo received the majority of votes in the first scrutiny but that he was not acceptable to some of the leading cardinals, probably because he was a Venetian; that sufficient support then rallied behind Cibo to make him pope; and that Giuliano della Rovere had an important, perhaps the crucial, role in winning over vital votes. And it was immediately obvious that Giuliano was to be the single most influential figure in the new court - ‘for all practical purposes pope’, or even ‘more than pope’.74

It should not be assumed, however, that Innocent was completely under his thumb. Even within the first year of the pontificate, he showed in his handling of an outbreak of fighting between the Colonna and Orsini that he could take a different line from Vincula. After two years, it became evident that the cardinal no longer dominated the pope, though relations between them, after some coolness, remained cordial enough to the end of the pontificate. There was no successor to the position that he had enjoyed, from among the cardinals or from the pope’s own family. Sixtus, usually reputed a much stronger pope than Innocent, had never managed to free himself from the tutelage of the Riario.

Cardinal Cibo had not been a prominent figure in Sixtine Rome. He had been brought up in Naples, where his father was a city official, but he was very much a Genoese. He was Bishop of Savona before being transferred to the Neapolitan see of Molfetta in 1472. When elevated to the College, in 1473, he had been datary (in charge of the pope’s personal finances), and was well thought of in the court and by the pope. At that time he was said to be close to Vincula (who was later reputed to have been behind his promotion to cardinal), and he remained his friend and associate throughout Sixtus’s pontificate. When Vincula left Rome in a sulk in January 1477, it was Cibo whom Sixtus sent to coax him back. When he was indignant at being kept in the dark about the pope’s negotiations with Venice concerning Ferrara in March 1482 and decided to stay away from the Vatican, it was Cibo who persuaded him to change his mind. These are indications that Cibo’s relationship with him when they were both cardinals may have been that of older friend and counsellor, rather than protégé. 

In the later years of the pontificate, Cibo was sent on a couple of legations, to Germany and Hungary in 1480, and to Siena in 1483 and handled them creditably. Although he was not one of the leading figures in the College, he was considered ‘papabile’. There was no great surprise or indignation when he was mentioned as a candidate, nor when he was elected.

At the time of his elevation to the papacy he was in his early fifties. A good-humoured, easy-going, amiable man, not much of a scholar or artistic patron, but a friend of scholars, he was known to have at least one son, Franceschetto, and had married daughters in Rome. He was fond of his family, and many of them came to Rome. Some were given offices and other pickings, but they never had anything like as high a profile in the papal court as the family of Sixtus had had, or the family of Innocent’s successor, Alexander VI, was to have. Innocent made a good impression in the opening months of his pontificate. The Romans liked him, and the diplomats thought him peaceable, not likely to visit upon Italy the trials that had sprung from Sixtus’s ambitions.

There is no indication that Vincula tried to monopolize the pope’s favour. Among the cardinals, Ascanio Sforza was thought to be a favourite, but his influence in Rome derived rather from his position as a leading member of the ruling family of Milan and his keen interest in politics. Barbo was frequently consulted, particularly as Innocent began to seek an alliance with Venice; da Costa was another valued advisor. The laymen who had influence at court, apart from members of the pope’s own family, were largely Genoese, and among the most prominent were associates of Vincula. Domenico Doria was made captain of the papal guard, a post he held throughout the pontificate, and Obietto Fieschi, who first had to be released from a Milanese prison, was also specially invited to Rome. The Prefect made great efforts to obtain a share of papal bounty for his brother-in-law, Agostino Campofregoso, who was given a papal condotta in March 1485. 

The pope’s son Franceschetto, who was aged about thirty, came to Rome in October, but was kept out of the limelight; it was even said that the pope did not want him to stay in the Papal States. Of mediocre intelligence and limited personal charm, with no political or military experience, Franceschetto identified Cardinal ad Vincula as the main obstacle to his ambitions, complaining ‘I don’t count as much as I would like to, because of Cardinal San Pietro ad Vincula.’75

Although there were many comments on the extent of Vincula’s power during the first year of Innocent’s pontificate, and although, as more than one observer noted, he had far more influence over Innocent than he had had over Sixtus,76 describing the effects of his influence on papal policy is quite difficult. Innocent had a mind of his own, and it would be wrong to attribute all his actions and utterances to the promptings of San Pietro ad Vincula. References to conversations of the cardinal with ambassadors were surprisingly infrequent. Though this is partly due to the patterns of survival of the diplomatic archives, Innocent spoke for himself far more than Sixtus had been wont to do in his later years. 

In any case, the enormous debts that Sixtus had left for his successor to deal with - Innocent himself reckoned they might amount to two years’ revenue - left the pope and Vincula little scope for taking any initiative for the first year or so. Traces of loans that Vincula made to help tide the pope over can be found in the accounts of the Apostolic Chamber.77

Revisions of the papal condotte that were soon under way were partly due to the need for economy, but also to the need to get rid of some of Girolamo Riario’s closest associates and replace them with men whom the pope and Vincula felt better able to trust. Riario had made an attempt to force the new pope to pay him the considerable sum of money - 45,000 ducats, he had claimed in August - that he said he was owed by the Apostolic Chamber, before he would surrender the fortresses of Todi and Spoleto, which were held by his men; but he had been forced to yield them after about a month. He had also asked Innocent for the continuation of his appointment as captain of the papal troops, for lands in the Marche, and for a pension. 

These demands, Vincula said, would have been exorbitant (‘disonesto’) even in Sixtus’s day;78 they were all refused. Those of Riario’s men who showed their faces in Rome were shunned in the streets. He and his chief lieutenant lost their papal condotte, and he was fortunate to retain the vicariates of Forlì and Imola. It was reported that Vincula and Innocent wanted him to lose even these,79 but no direct attempt was made to bring this about. He was already making himself so unpopular with his subjects that it had been predicted there would be a revolt against him. When the revolt came, in April 1488, and Riario was assassinated, there was little surprise, and no one mourned his passing.

Shortage of money had been the ostensible reason for the reductions in papal condotte, but new condottieri had been recruited immediately. Here Vincula can be seen at work, for the negotiations of the new contracts were clearly in his hands. Technically, Cardinal Riario, as Chamberlain, should have been the one responsible for making the contracts, and there may be a hint of disapproval among the clerks at their chief being pushed aside, in the phrasing of some of their records of the contracts negotiated by Vincula. Thus they noted that the condotta with Niccolò Caetani da Sermoneta was concluded and signed on behalf of the pope by him, on Innocent’s express verbal instructions - ‘so he says’.80 On the same day, he also made contracts with Prospero Colonna and Giacomo Conti, and in April 1485 he concluded one with Giovanni Bentivoglio of Bologna. 

He negotiated others too, but not all. He is not mentioned in the note of Agostino da Campofregoso’s contract in March, nor in that for Vicino Orsini in December 1485: as matters stood between him and the Orsini at that moment, it was probably easier for someone else to handle the negotiations that brought Vicino into papal service when the rest of his family were fighting against the pope.81 The last condotte that he is recorded as negotiating were agreed in February 1486. Soon after, Vincula left Rome; and when he returned, his position at court had changed. At first, Niccolò Cibo, the Archbishop of Cosenza, handled most of the condotte, but gradually Cardinal Riario asserted his rights, and in the later years of Innocent’s pontificate it was generally he who dealt with them.82

One feature of the first year of Innocent’s pontificate that probably can be attributed to Vincula’s influence, and was so at the time, was the suspicion the Orsini displayed towards the new regime. At the time of his election, Innocent was reported to be a Guelf, and therefore friendly to the Orsini. Vincula, however, was regarded as their enemy. When a promise to Paolo Orsini that he would be made captain of the papal guard was not fulfilled, it was put down to his intervention. When the Orsini stayed away from Rome, it was, a Roman diarist said, because he was their ‘deadly enemy’.83 Efforts were made to tempt Virginio Orsini to Rome, with Obietto Fieschi writing to assure him that all would be well and that Obietto and Innocent himself would effect a reconciliation between Virginio and Vincula.84 But Virginio did not heed these assurances, and, in any case, did not want to accept any renewal of his contract that entailed being under the command of the Prefect. 

By contrast, the Colonna, impoverished though they were by the devastation that their lands had suffered from Riario’s attack, were resurgent; but there was some disquiet that, under Vincula’s protection, they were abusing their good fortune, harbouring thieves and compensating for lost income by robbing travellers. In March 1485, while Innocent was suffering a bout of illness so severe that it gave rise to reports of his death, the Orsini seized several bridges across the Tiber. Vincula took the precaution of removing some of his valuables to the Castel Sant’ Angelo. Innocent soon recovered, and the Orsini abandoned the bridges, but the threat of trouble between the baronial clans persisted.

The threat was realized in June, when Prospero Colonna kidnapped Girolamo d’Estouteville. He was the son of Cardinal d’Estouteville and brother-in-law of Virginio Orsini, whose sister Ippolita he had married in 1483, the year of his father’s death. Two years previously, Cardinal d’Estouteville had given three territories to the south of Rome, Civita Lavinia, Nemi and Genzano, which he had bought from Oddone Colonna, to Girolamo and his brother Agostino. The Colonna wanted them back, particularly Civita Lavinia, which was an important stronghold. Having kidnapped Girolamo, Prospero made an unsuccessful attempt on Civita Lavinia and then took Nemi, where Girolamo’s wife and son were captured, and Genzano. The Colonna laid siege to Civita Lavinia, but their camp was broken up by the Orsini at the end of June. 

Both sides rallied their forces, summoned their allies from the Guelf and Ghibelline factions, and began raiding each other’s lands and livestock. Innocent had attempted to intervene and impose a judicial settlement, but no one, least of all the Orsini, believed that the matter would receive an impartial hearing while the Colonna had such a powerful friend at Innocent’s side. There were reports that Innocent was being urged to attack the Orsini and that only his good nature and reluctance to spend any money prevented him from doing so.85 The Prefect was said to have lent the Colonna some troops, and Prospero himself held a papal condotta concluded with him by Vincula, as did Niccolò Caetani da Sermoneta, who took a prominent part in the fighting on the side of the Colonna. Cardinals Colonna and Savelli were frequently in the Vatican, holding discussions with the pope and Vincula, and Vincula was wholly on their side.86

But the Colonna presumed too far. On the night of 20 July they took several hundred horse and foot through Rome itself in order to reach the Orsini estates on the north bank of the Tiber. Innocent was furious. He sent Giovanni Conti to Ostia to prevent the Colonna from bringing their plunder back that way, and ordered them to surrender it to the captain of the guard. He sent supplies to Paolo Orsini and offered to let him bring his troops to Rome. The Colonna themselves were summoned to the palace, and when they went (going first to see Vincula to consult him), they were held for a few days to signal Innocent’s displeasure at what had occurred. Girolamo d’Estouteville was released, and Innocent enforced a truce. 

According to the Florentine ambassador, Vincula showed indignation at Innocent’s actions; according to the Mantuan ambassador, his indignation, like that of Innocent, was directed at the Colonna.87 Since there is no report of his taking umbrage and withdrawing to his own palace, and since he was present, without protest, at the conclusion of condotte for Virginio, Giulio and Paolo Orsini on 30 July and also welcomed Virginio on a visit to Rome in early September, it looks as though he did approve of Innocent’s vigorous response to the affront by the Colonna to the papal authority.

The most notorious instance of Vincula’s influence over Innocent is the papal intervention in the Neapolitan Barons’ War in 1485, when Innocent backed the barons who were rebelling against King Ferrante. At the time, it was generally believed that he was responsible for the pope’s championing of the barons’ cause, and there is no evidence to refute that belief. The argument that, at least in part, Innocent was spurred into action by notions of feudal rights of the papacy over Naples,88 squares less well with what he said, and with what happened, than an interpretation of the events that portrays Innocent as dragged in the wake of Vincula, who was himself impelled by personal motives.

The simplest explanation that has been offered for Vincula’s support of the barons is that he hated Ferrante - but the strongest evidence for such personal dislike is the very entry of the papacy into the Barons’ War. For much of Sixtus’s pontificate, he had been regarded as one of the king’s men in the curia, though less so in later years, as he had developed contacts and interests in Liguria and across the Alps, some of them with enemies of the Aragonese dynasty. During the war, Vincula sought to utilize Genoese antagonism to the Aragonese and the Duke of Lorraine’s claims to the throne of Naples. But he did not provoke Innocent to war with Ferrante in order to make the Duke of Lorraine King of Naples.

The real key to understanding his zeal in the cause of the Neapolitan barons is his protection of the interests of his brother Giovanni. At the core of the group of rebel barons were Antonello da Sanseverino, Prince of Salerno, and his relatives. These included Giovanni della Rovere, who was Antonello’s brother-in-law, for Antonello was married to a daughter of Federico da Montefeltro. Other husbands, or promised husbands, of the Montefeltro sisters were involved too - Fabrizio Colonna and Agostino da Campofregoso (who was killed during the war). Roberto da Sanseverino, the leading (if perhaps over-rated) condottiere of the day, though he bore the same name as Antonello, was the son of an illegitimate son of the prolific Sanseverino family, and was not in fact very closely related to him. 

The Prince of Salerno was one of the most powerful barons in the kingdom, and the one who stood to lose the most if Ferrante’s son, Alfonso, Duke of Calabria, had his way. Calabria had made clear his contempt for the barons and his desire to humble them. One of his proposals was that all lands within a thirty-mile radius of the city of Naples should be brought directly under the crown, and much of Salerno’s land lay in that area. This was but one of the reasons why the barons had become increasingly restive under the rule of Ferrante, and regarded the prospect of Alfonso’s succession to his father with still less favour, though the story of Ferrante’s dealings with his barons is very complicated and by no means clear. What was clear, was that if Salerno lost most of his estates, and with that much of his power and status, Giovanni della Rovere lost his most powerful relative in the kingdom of Naples - not a prospect that Vincula, in his role as guardian of the future of his family, could take lightly, for the della Rovere needed all the classy relatives they could get, if they were to become firmly established as a signorial dynasty.

Reports of contacts between Vincula and the barons in the months before the rebellion was launched, and the barons’ own accounts of the preliminaries to the war, show that he encouraged them to appeal to Innocent for help, and persuaded Innocent to come to their aid. As late as September, Salerno was saying that Innocent did not want to support the barons, but that Vincula was confident he could bring him round.89 Innocent’s constant refrain when discussing the situation with the ambassadors who were trying to defuse the growing tension between pope and king in the summer of 1485 was the need to ensure the barons’ security. Rarely did he speak in terms of the papacy’s feudal rights over the kingdom - by his account the barons appealed to him as pope, as the universal father, as the final court of appeal for those suffering injustice, not as the overlord of the king. Quite possibly, if Vincula had not been there, the barons would still have appealed to Innocent and he would have taken their part, but it is unlikely that he would have championed their cause to the extent of going to war for them. This was felt to be a crazy thing to do, and once again caustic comments were made about Vincula’s lack of political sense.90

Unfortunately for Vincula and the Sanseverino, once fighting began events did not turn out as they had planned. One crucial reason for this was that the Orsini fought for Ferrante. The apparent reconciliation between Vincula, Innocent and the Orsini had not gone far enough for the Orsini to choose the pope when they had to choose between him and the king. Like the Colonna lands in 1482, the Orsini estates provided a chain of bases in papal territory for the Neapolitan forces, providing shelter, strongholds and supplies. Instead of the papal troops being able to reinforce the barons in the kingdom, most of them were pinned down in papal territory, facing the Neapolitan forces surrounding Rome and then troops sent by Ferrante’s allies, Florence and Milan, which gathered to the north of the Papal States at Pitigliano, a territory belonging to Niccolò Orsini.

One of the first proofs that Innocent intended to match his words on behalf of the barons with deeds was the despatch of the Prefect to his Neapolitan estates centred on Sora with fourteen squadrons, in September. Some troops had already been sent there at the end of August, but for the Prefect himself, the Captain of the Church, to go there, was a different matter. Agents of the Prince of Salerno and his cousin Girolamo da Sanseverino, Prince of Bisignano, had been lodging with him and with Vincula in Rome for some weeks. Soon after he left Rome, Vincula was also away for several days, inspecting fortresses and, it was reported, holding secret talks with Salerno, though some did not believe this. In early October the barons were already complaining that they were not getting the help from the papacy they had been promised, but when the Orsini agreed condotte with Milan and Florence at the end of the month, the prospects of substantial reinforcements being sent from Rome to the kingdom receded further. By the time Roberto da Sanseverino arrived on 10 November to take command of the papal troops, it was clear that his first task would have to be the defence of Rome.

Once in Rome, Roberto joined Vincula in directing the war. Although there was a commission of four cardinals, including Vincula, nominally responsible for advising Innocent, its other members, Balue, Barbo and da Costa, were not admitted to all discussions nor given all the relevant information. The briefs that Innocent wrote in reply to reports or enquiries about the conduct of the war were usually limited to encouragement and exhortation and the comment that San Pietro ad Vincula would be replying in greater detail.91 In and around Rome both sides played for time, with Virginio Orsini pretending to negotiate an agreement that the Orsini estates would not be employed in fighting, as he waited for the Duke of Calabria to arrive. Innocent and Vincula busied themselves with raising money as they waited for Roberto’s troops, who were making their way to Rome.

The waiting game was over when news of Calabria’s arrival at Virginio’s territory of Vicovaro, to the north of Rome beyond Tivoli, was brought to the city on 29 November. On hearing that Calabria was near, Virginio had already written to the Conservators of Rome, saying Innocent had not believed his offers not to involve his estates in the war, and that now he had no choice but to put his lands at the disposal of his employers. Fearing for their livestock and lands outside Rome, and for the loss of income that disruption of the normal business of the papal court would bring, the Romans decided on 30 November to go to Innocent and ask him to make peace. Innocent was nervous and sent a placatory message to Bracciano, asking Virginio not to commit his estates, but Vincula’s response was to banish any prospect of compromise.

Innocent had ordered soldiers to be placed in Montegiordano, the Orsini area of Rome, to prevent Orsini troops from taking up position there. Situated inside a ring of high-walled houses with few openings from the outside world into the warren of narrow streets within, on some old maps of Rome the area has the aspect of a small fortified town within the city, and this was a sensible precaution. On 30 November, Vincula, Roberto da Sanseverino, the captain of the papal guard, and Cardinals Balue, Colonna and Savelli had accordingly led their troops within the walls. But many of those troops were Colonna partisans, who began to sack and burn the houses of the Orsini and their supporters, while the cardinals stood aside and watched from the Ponte Sant’ Angelo. There can be no doubt of Vincula’s responsibility for this. 

When Innocent heard of the fires, he ordered them to be extinguished, but nothing now could extinguish the fury of Virginio Orsini. Leaflets were found scattered in Rome in which Virginio exhorted the Romans to rebel against Innocent, who, he claimed, was no true pope. Vincula he accused of sodomy, vowing that if God gave him victory, he would carry the cardinal’s head through Rome on the point of a lance92. That the Colonna had been used in the assault on Montegiordano added insult to injury, and the partisan edge given to the war around Rome was sharpened by arrests of Orsini supporters and the appointment of Cardinals Colonna and Savelli to supervise the guarding of the walls and gates of Rome. Vincula joined them in their armed patrols.

In late December, Roberto’s troops at last reached Rome. Within days of their arrival, on 28 December, he brought them into action, taking a vital bridge over the Tiber, the Ponte Lamentano, which the Orsini had been holding. A week later, he led them over the bridge to attack Lamentana, Paolo Orsini’s main stronghold, took the town, and then, on 11 January, the fortress. On that day, Cardinal Orsini came to see him and made terms on behalf of his branch of the family, the Orsini da Monterotondo. After being received by Innocent in Rome, Cardinal Orsini left with Roberto to put the fortresses of Monterotondo and of his strategically important abbey of Farfa into the custody of the papal troops. 

Calabria, fearing that he would be cut off from the kingdom of Naples, panicked, abandoned his men to their fate, and fled north, to Pitigliano. The only defence for his action was the suspicion that Virginio and Paolo Orsini would follow the cardinal’s example, but, greatly to the relief of the league, they held firm. Paolo collected together Calabria’s troops and took them to safety on Virginio’s lands. The indecision of the commanders of the Florentine and Milanese troops assembling at Pitigliano was aggravated by Calabria’s exaggeration of the size of Roberto’s army, as he tried to justify his shameful retreat, and the Orsini who had remained loyal to the league feared that they would be unable to resist the papal troops unless reinforcements arrived soon. But Roberto failed to press home his attack on the Orsini while they were vulnerable.

By the middle of March, Innocent was losing heart. A letter he wrote to Venice saying that he had no money, that Roberto had contacts with the league and was not doing all he could against the Orsini, and that unless he received help from Venice he would be forced to make peace, fell into Virginio’s hands.93 Such reports about the state of affairs in Rome made some say, when they heard that Vincula had left for Ostia on 23 March, that he too was discouraged and feared he would be attacked. Others said that he was retreating to Ostia just as he often did when things were not going his way and he was out of humour. Others guessed, correctly, that he was going to Genoa.

At first sight, with Innocent’s resolve faltering, it seems odd that Vincula should have left him to be a prey to his own doubts and to the persuasions of those who wanted an end to the war. Running away from difficulties was not characteristic of Giuliano della Rovere, however. Impetuosity, a desire for action, dislike of being cooped up in Rome for long periods, were. The notion of changing the whole pattern of the war by going to Genoa to urge on the Duke of Lorraine to come to claim the throne of Naples, would be much more appealing than sitting in Rome with little influence on the military action. Clearly, Innocent had been persuaded that Vincula’s journey to Genoa could be decisive. If he could see that troops were raised and a fleet prepared, and if the fleet could impede supplies reaching Naples, Innocent wrote to him a week after his departure, victory would be certain.94 On what Vincula had to report, wrote the Mantuan ambassador, would hang the choice for peace or war.

Vincula got down to work quickly when he reached Genoa, and soon there was good news to encourage Innocent. By 18 April it was said that he had arranged a loan of 100,000 Genoese pounds and secured some ships. Another report said he had raised 20,000 ducats without interest, and could raise as much as he wanted with security and at interest. By the end of May a large cash sum (variously reported as 25,000 or 35,000 ducats) was nearing Rome. He also raised some infantry,95 probably for the fleet. His Genoese contacts, and, in particular, the fact that the Doge of Genoa was his friend Cardinal Campofregoso, were yielding dividends. Negotiations had already been under way with the Duke of Lorraine before he had left Rome, and he lost no time once he reached Genoa in sending a courier to the duke. By late April an envoy of Lorraine was with him in Genoa, and Lorraine himself was expected there soon. A month later, Vincula reported that the negotiations were going well. Lorraine himself wrote to many people saying that he was coming. Envoys from Lorraine and France reached Rome on 30 May and there were reports his troops were mustering.

Much had been accomplished, and much more promised, and Innocent wrote in mid-May to thank the Genoese and to praise the cardinal’s diligence. But his letter to Vincula, written on 11 May, had a ring of anxiety too. There had been much talk of Lorraine’s coming, he wrote, but nothing had actually happened yet. Money and ships were urgently required.96 By the time Lorraine’s envoy reached Rome, Roberto da Sanseverino was talking of peace, saying that it would be difficult for Innocent to find money to carry on the war, and that he could have peace if he wished. The Bishop of Alessandria, Gianantonio di Sangiorgio, a confidant of the pope, had already been trying to get peace talks started at the beginning of May, and there were negotiations between the commanders of the armies. 

Innocent wrote to the Prefect, who had got wind of these latter talks, that he had rejected the proposed terms as dishonourable. He was going on with the war, and he urged the Prefect and the barons to do so too. But on the very day he wrote to the Prefect, 11 June, the Ferrarese ambassador in Naples was being told that the negotiations begun by Sangiorgio had been continued, at first by Cardinal Michiel, then by Cardinal Ascanio Sforza.97 Infessura had picked up gossip about a stormy consistory, in the first week of June, when some cardinals, including Piccolomini, Savelli and Borgia, had called on Innocent to make peace, while Balue opposed them, saying all France was backing Lorraine. Tempers had run high, with Borgia accusing Balue of being drunk and Balue calling Borgia the son of a whore.98 

At a more decorous consistory a few days later, the appointment of Cardinal Michiel to be legate to the papal camp was announced. If the report from Naples was correct, he had already been trying to pave the way to peace; as legate he would have a good opportunity to continue his efforts. He did, indeed, have a prominent part in the negotiations that resulted in the conclusion of a peace on 11 August. Innocent may not have been as keen as some of the cardinals on making peace - in early July an agent of Ascanio complained the pope was playing for time. But money was short, and in Naples the resistance of the barons was faltering. When the Genoese ships Vincula had raised arrived in July, all that Innocent could ask them to do was to go to Salerno to try to pick up the prince. The Duke of Lorraine was still preparing to come south, but it was now too late. Peace was concluded. Innocent ordered Vincula to return home and the Prefect to withdraw to the papal territory of Benevento, and prepared to dismiss Roberto da Sanseverino.

Barely two days after the peace had been signed in Rome, Ferrante arrested some of the leading barons. Those who remained at liberty, at least for the moment, and their allies the citizens of L’Aquila, hoped that Vincula would be able to stimulate Innocent to take up their defence with vigour, perhaps with force. On his return to Rome in mid-September, he did try to get Innocent to repudiate the peace treaty, but to no avail. The pope was concerned about the fate of those against whom Ferrante was now taking vengeance. His protests about the king’s treatment of the barons, and about his failure to pay the census in recognition of the rights the papacy claimed over the kingdom, rumbled on, threatening the peace of Italy on more than one occasion, until the final year of his pontificate. But he was not prepared to go to war with Ferrante again.

When Vincula returned to Rome, he went straight to the Vatican, where he lodged in his usual apartments. Next morning, crowds of people came to pay their respects to him. Innocent had been eagerly awaiting his return. But if outward appearances suggested that, despite the fact that the peace had been concluded without his participation, his influence and prestige were undiminished, they were deceptive. Within a month, he had retreated to Ostia, annoyed that he could not bring Innocent to renounce the peace. 

It was noted that Vincula had lost much ground at court, though he was still esteemed by the pope and no other cardinal had been singled out in his place. Those closest to the pope were two Cibo archbishops, Lorenzo, Archbishop of Benevento, and Niccolo, Archbishop of Cosenza, and the datary, the Genoese Antoniotto Pallavicino, but Innocent was determined to be his own master.99 He was heard speaking critically of Vincula in public. Some thought that this was a smokescreen, that Innocent was still working closely with him, but wanted to be able to disown what he did if things went wrong.100 Many in the Vatican took their cue from the pope, and began to voice hostility to the man whom they had once courted, now that his star was declining.

Vincula had not given up, notably in his efforts to undo the peace with Ferrante. Before he returned to Rome, Innocent planned to send him as legate to Naples. Hearing this, Ferrante sent an envoy to him, with instructions to tell him how much the king looked forward to his coming. Ferrante was sure that he would help him to recover the good graces of the pope. During Sixtus’s pontificate, he had wanted to commend his affairs in Rome to the cardinal’s care; he was not sure why this had not come about, but he would like it to happen now. He thanked him for calling off the Duke of Lorraine, and promised to follow his guidance in seeking reconciliation with the barons, Ferrante’s dearest wish.101 But Vincula was not sent to Naples, and was not to be won over by the king. Nor had he abandoned hope that Lorraine would come. 

When the Prince of Salerno sent an envoy to him, he sent him on to Lorraine. Innocent’s dismissal of Lorraine’s envoy in January 1487 sent him into another bout of sulking.102 He was also displeased when the Princes of Salerno and Bisignano came to terms with Ferrante. Salerno came to Rome in January, claiming that he wanted to reconcile Vincula with the king. Assuming he really intended to do so, he was instead himself won over to fresh intransigence. Needless to say, proposals for a marriage between Innocent’s son and one of Ferrante’s brood of natural daughters were opposed by the cardinal.

The fact that these proposals came to nothing is not necessarily an indication of Vincula’s continued influence over the pope. Innocent had not much liked the terms that Ferrante offered anyway. A surer indication that Innocent still listened to his advice was a league with Venice agreed in December 1486. Vincula was very pleased with this; one of the terms was that Venice and the pope promised protection to the Prefect. The league was not announced until January, and Innocent may not have wanted it to be published then: its publication was said to be Vincula’s doing, intended to keep the pope steady on the course that he was trying to set for him.

Another sign of Innocent’s continued confidence was Vincula’s appointment as legate of the Marche on 2 March 1487, to deal with a rebellion at Osimo. The leader of the rebellion, Boccolino di Guzzone, whose family had been prominent in the town since the thirteenth century, was a proud, aggressive, self-willed man. He had won some repute as a soldier, and the patronage of the Duke of Calabria. He nursed ambitions to become lord of Osimo, and in March 1486 signed a pact with Calabria, agreeing to bring about a rising there against the Church. A few days later, Boccolino answered a summons from the priors of the city by appearing with his troops and friends; several councillors were killed and others fled. The papal governor of the Marche prepared to restore order, but hesitated when he saw the scale of the rising. Osimo was well fortified and on a site that made attack difficult. 

Attempts by Innocent to win over Boccolino and his supporters by offers of pardon were unsuccessful, and in October 1486 he ordered the governor to besiege the city. Harsh winter weather sent most of the papal troops back to their quarters, but Boccolino was apprehensive about what would befall in the spring. He sent envoys to Sultan Bajazet II at Constantinople, offering to give him possession of Osimo in return for help. The Sultan was interested in the offer and took up the negotiations. Boccolino’s nephew was captured by Ferrante’s men in early February on his way to Constantinople, and the young man and the letters he was carrying were sent to Rome. It was the threat of a Turkish invasion that brought about Vincula’s appointment as legate.

Over two dozen letters from him, mainly to Innocent, written during this legation have survived, far more than for any other stage of his career as a cardinal, and they provide the opportunity to see how he approached the problems that faced him, including the deterioration of his relations with the pope.103

His first letter, dated 16 March, simply reported that he had reached Serravalle, and how he hoped to settle affairs at Osimo and return to Innocent soon. By 23 March he was beginning to realize that the task might be more difficult than he had thought. He had sent several envoys to Boccolino, who had ostensibly welcomed the legate’s arrival, but had refused to submit, largely because he had summoned the Turks. Now he had agreed to leave if he received compensation for his property, and an honourable condotta. 

Three days later, Vincula reported he had broken off the negotiations because he had become convinced Boccolino was only playing for time. Now he was concentrating on raising troops, but this required money, and there was none to be had from the province, so Innocent must send it. Osimo was very strong, but there were few troops inside, and he hoped it could be captured quickly, if reinforcements did not reach it. He had written to Venice asking for help. There was some progress to report on 30 March, when the small town of Montefano, which was being held for Boccolino, was taken; the fortress would surrender the next day, he said, if no help arrived. Again, he stressed the need for money.

A long letter of 3 April reveals that Vincula had been given another commission by Innocent, to settle a dispute between Ascoli and Fermo. He had summoned envoys from both towns. Those from Fermo had come provided with a full mandate, those from Ascoli had not, for which he had rebuked them. Both sides had also been rebuked for their slowness in paying their taxes. Other matters that Innocent had asked him to sort out with Fermo he thought had better be left for a while, so as not to have too much business on hand at once. Montefano, he found, was more important than he had thought; he was seeing to a garrison for it. If the Recanatesi asked Innocent for it, he should put them off. As for Osimo, Boccolino was evidently optimistic about receiving outside help, but Vincula was hopeful that the citizens might rebel against him at the approach of the papal camp. More troops were needed though. The following day, he reported on another problem, the need to guard the coasts from the threat of a Turkish fleet. The people of the province could not do it alone, and he had sent some of the horsemen who had accompanied him from Rome to help them.

The source of trouble the day after was Ascoli. After their envoys had left the legate, the Ascolani had attacked Aquaviva, which was held by Fermo. Vincula immediately sent the Bishop of Cervia to order both sides to lay down their arms, and prepared to leave himself, to deal with the matter personally and prevent the disorder from spreading. But a postscript said that he did not need to go, for Fermo had driven off the attack. He had ordered the Bishop of Cervia to report on the situation.

By 10 April, Vincula was becoming a little edgy about Innocent’s lack of response to his appeals for money and reinforcements. The capture of another envoy sent by Boccolino to the Turks, Pietro Cecchino, who had been recognized at Pesaro on his return, renewed concern about a Turkish invasion. Provision must be made now to capture Osimo, before it arrived. He was doing what he could, but he did not have enough troops with him. If things went wrong, it would be no fault of his.

A week later he reported on the lack of success Giulio Cesare Varano, sent by Venice, had had in his attempts to bring Boccolino to terms. Close watch was being kept on the coast for the Turkish fleet. He needed money - he had not given out 4,000 ducats that Innocent had sent to the troops, in case it should be spent to no purpose before the rest of the money arrived; when that came, the attack on Osimo could begin. Innocent could be assured that he would not fail to do anything to uphold the pope’s honour, the dignity of the clergy104 and the public good. The following day, 18 April, he wrote again with greater urgency, enclosing letters from the Turks, apparently taken from Cecchino. Bajazet had accepted all Boccolino’s conditions, so Boccolino would not hear of negotiations now. Delay in sending money meant delay in launching the assault on Osimo. No one could blame him if the affair turned out badly.

The next surviving letter concerning the progess of the campaign is dated over a fortnight later, 5 May. Vincula had received a brief from Innocent of 24 April ordering him to attack Osimo, and was clearly injured by the implication that he was holding back. Everything possible was being done. He knew there was danger in delay, but a strong force was needed for the assault, and he had to wait for reinforcements to arrive. Even if the people of the province offered to serve, they would not be much use; they were doing what they could but they lacked military training. It would not be easy to get Venetian troops now they had become involved in a war with the Germans. Soldiers supplied by Milan or Naples would have to be used with the utmost care, and only if absolutely necessary. It would be both safer and more honourable to use the pope’s own troops, and there would be no shortage of them if only the necessary money were forthcoming. Meanwhile, he would do his best, though he warned that the preparations needed would be very expensive. He would position the men available to the best advantage to lay siege to Osimo, and then go himself to Ancona to see to its defence.

On 12 May he reported the arrival of 4,000 ducats that Innocent had sent, but he considered it pointless to spend this, or 5,000 ducats that had come earlier, before the arrival of the reinforcements, because until the cavalry was in order, money spent on the infantry would be wasted. He was sending the Bishop of Cervia to Innocent to explain the situation fully. Would Innocent please listen to him, because this business involved the honour of the pope, the dignity of the Apostolic See, and the reputation and interests of the Holy Roman Church - all of which should be of concern to Innocent, as supreme pontiff.

Some relief for Vincula’s anxieties was in sight, however, for after a few days at Ancona he felt reassured that there was no present danger from the Turks, and he left for his own abbey of Chiaravalle a few miles away. Here his brother-in-law Gianfrancesco Franciotti arrived with a brief and a message for him from the pope. Rather wearily, Vincula wrote on 16 May that he had already, in several letters and by several messengers, told Innocent his opinion, but he had spoken freely about it again to Gianfrancesco, who would report back to Innocent. The pope could then make up his own mind about what needed to be done, and Vincula would always submit to Innocent’s wishes.

By that time, Innocent had already made up his mind, and had written to him on 14 May to say he was sending Giangiacomo Trivulzio, a Milanese commander. Acknowledging the receipt of the brief on 19 May, Vincula reiterated that he had been doing all that was humanly possible. He had said what he thought about using Milanese troops, but if that was what Innocent had decided, he would work with Trivulzio. The dispute between Ascoli and Fermo had flared up again; the Ascolani were being difficult and trying to put the blame on Fermo, while the Fermanesi were being obedient and cooperative. He did not think that there would be peace between them until Osimo was settled.

Fortunately, when Trivulzio arrived, he and Vincula appear to have got on well together. On 5 June, Vincula reported that the siege of Osimo had begun in earnest. Infantry were arriving every day, bombards were on their way, and he hoped, with Trivulzio’s help, that the city would soon fall. Money was needed to pay the infantry. If the efforts that had been made were left to go to waste now, and the siege failed, Boccolino could disrupt the entire province.

The following day, Vincula despatched another messenger, Alberto de’ Magalotti, to Innocent, to speak of the danger that the whole campaign would fail if the pope did not make the necessary provisions immediately. If all went well, Innocent would win honour and glory, but failure would shame him. Once again, Vincula stressed that he personally could not be blamed if things went wrong. He concluded by asking Innocent to consider carefully what Alberto would say to him on his behalf, and to be sure of his own great devotion and affection. All that he had done and thought had arisen from his loyalty and desire to serve Innocent, who had had many proofs of this and should know him well by now.

This is the last surviving letter of this series. Vincula was soon recalled to Rome. By the end of the month, he was all but in disgrace with Innocent, and had been replaced as legate of the Marche by Cardinal Balue. About the time the brief recalling him was sent, Innocent was discussing him with a Neapolitan envoy, expressing a desire to be freed from ‘such subjection’ and saying that ‘now he had white hair, he wanted to be at liberty.’105 In the first weeks of his legation, the tone of Vincula’s letters had revealed, through the constrictions of the formality appropriate in writing to a pope, genuine cordiality and a sense of mutual understanding between him and Innocent. Then the tone became at times exasperated, or self-justificatory. By the end, he was pleading with Innocent to believe in his loyalty and devotion. What had happened to sour their friendship?

The root of the trouble was that Innocent had become convinced that Vincula was procrastinating, spinning out the campaign and exaggerating the seriousness of the crisis in order to keep Innocent preoccupied and subject to him. In April he even suspected that he was conspiring to keep the pot on the boil with Calabria and then with Varano.106 When he sent Trivulzio off to Osimo, Innocent sent a message to Vincula, saying that if he was finding the campaign too difficult, he should return to Rome.107 The Milanese and Florentine ambassadors, if they had not planted these suspicions in the first place, certainly did their best to encourage Innocent to free himself from the cardinal’s influence.

The dislike of the Sforza for Vincula was of long standing. Now Lorenzo de’ Medici was trying to replace him as the pope’s principal advisor. Soon after Vincula had left Rome for Osimo, Innocent had concluded a contract of marriage for his son Franceschetto with Lorenzo’s daughter Maddalena. The Milanese ambassador heard that the pope had promised Vincula he would not make a marriage contract with Lorenzo until peace had been concluded between Florence and Genoa, and thought that the cardinal would be ‘desperate’ when he heard the news.108 Word got back to Lorenzo that he was certainly not pleased, and it is notable that Vincula’s letters to Innocent contain no mention of the news, let alone any hint of congratulations. It may be that a letter referring to it has not survived, or it may be that Innocent did not send word to him about the match, because he knew he would disapprove.

As Innocent began to express dissatisfaction with Vincula, something, perhaps this very attitude of the pope, seriously upset the Prefect. He took off from Rome without informing Innocent or his brother. Speculating as to why he should have done this, Vincula told Innocent that the basic problem was probably that he was in financial difficulties because his pay was in arrears.109 Evidently the Prefect returned to Rome, only to leave again at the beginning of June, discontented, it was said, because he was not esteemed as captain of the papal troops: pique that Trivulzio, not he, had been sent to Osimo may have been the reason. Within a fortnight of the Prefect’s leaving Rome, he was trying, so Ferrante informed Innocent, to reconcile his brother to the king, and had suggested that Ostia and the Castel Sant’ Angelo, whose castellan was his other brother, Bartolomeo, Bishop of Ferrara, might be handed over to Ferrante.

Innocent had already been displeased with Bartolomeo della Rovere back in April, when he had blamed him for the escape of some prisoners. His behaviour when Innocent sought to take custody of the Castel Sant’ Angelo from him only heightened the pope’s suspicions. There were various reports over ten days or more that he was avoiding an audience with the pope; that he had refused Franceschetto Cibo entry to the fortress unless he was accompanied by only a few men; that (according to Infessura) he had said he had orders from Vincula to let the pope himself in only if he was accompanied by just four chaplains, and that he held the fortress for Vincula and the College. In the end, Bartolomeo obeyed a summons from the pope to the palace, and obeyed Innocent’s order to surrender custody of the Castel Sant’ Angelo.110 The following day, Cardinal Balue was appointed legate of the Marche.

It is hard to believe that the Prefect could seriously have suggested to Ferrante that his brother would agree to hand over the Castel Sant’ Angelo and Ostia to him. The king’s own letters show that the Prefect was resisting his attempts to get some written statement about the fortresses from him, and had become even more coy about committing himself after he had consulted Vincula. Ferrante also recalled that the Prefect’s man had told him that Vincula would never hand over Ostia, and never willingly agree to the Castel Sant’ Angelo being handed over either, and that the cardinal would set the Papal States ablaze before he would surrender these fortresses.111 That sounds as if there had been a suggestion that the pope would take Ostia from him, which would have been a serious mark of disfavour and distrust, for the fortress went with his cardinal-bishopric. There were no other reports or rumours that Innocent was considering this, though in mid-July Ferrante was trying to stir up Innocent’s suspicions and saying he must secure Ostia. But the king had still been unable to extract anything in writing from the Prefect, and since his brother’s man had been to see him, the Prefect had begun to claim that Ferrante was planning to attack him.

The Prefect had good reason for alarm, as did the other Neapolitan barons, for Ferrante, once he had felt certain that Innocent was estranged from Vincula, had arrested several of them. He claimed that they had been plotting with the cardinal and Salerno, and, he hinted to Florence, with the pope. This did not stop him from expressing pained surprise when Innocent held a public consistory to protest against the arrests. The pope had seemed very well disposed to Ferrante and firmly committed to the counsel of Lorenzo de’ Medici and Virginio Orsini, having turned away from San Pietro ad Vincula and his followers and made clear to all the world his discontent with the cardinal, so it was astonishing, the king wrote, that he should now be making such a fuss about the barons.112

It may have been this culmination of Ferrante’s cynical manipulation of Innocent that finally brought Vincula back to Rome. At first, he had gone to Ancona, for a rest, he said, and then to Urbino, where he fell ill. Innocent may have suspected that he would head for Genoa, or perhaps Avignon, because at the time he took the Castel Sant’ Angelo from Bartolomeo della Rovere he asked Lodovico Sforza to stop Vincula if he tried to cross Milanese territory.

But his anger against the cardinal did not last for very long. Ferrante’s brazen behaviour must have played a part in its abatement, and so may the fact that the new legate, Cardinal Balue, and Trivulzio did not find it easy to capture Osimo. Soon after he had arrived at Osimo, Trivulzio himself had echoed Vincula’s insistence that more money and troops must be sent if the affair was not to end shamefully for the Church, saying that he had found the legate fully committed to the enterprise.113 Perhaps Balue’s letters began to sound like Vincula’s had done and Innocent began to appreciate that Vincula had not been deliberately prolonging the campaign. Trivulzio’s skill and determination, and the mediation of an envoy of Lorenzo de’ Medici, finally brought about the surrender of Osimo, and Boccolino departed on 2 August.

Vincula arrived back in Rome on 18 July, suffering from heatstroke. He went to his palace at Santi Apostoli, rather than to the Vatican, and there is no record of how or when he was received by Innocent. He soon left for Ostia, but hurried back to Rome when Innocent arrested a chancellor of the Prefect on 17 August, though, again, he did not go to the Vatican. Infessura reported rumours that a plot by Vincula and the Prefect against the pope had been revealed, but speculated that they might simply be the result of the Orsini making insinuations.114 Nothing seems to have come of this. In early September, Innocent was helping along negotiations for a Venetian condotta for the Prefect, to get him out of the way, he said.115 By then, Vincula was reported to have left Rome again, and there is no report of his returning to the city until the following April. But this was not an indication that he was in disgrace: in October, Innocent was expressing pleasure at the possibility of a reconciliation between Vincula and Milan. Where he spent all the autumn and winter is not clear, but a couple of months at least were spent in his diocese of Bologna. In January he was in Bologna itself and in February he was at Cento, a possession of the bishopric.

The next news of him was of his return to Rome from Ostia on 8 April 1489, when he was greeted as though he were returning from a legation. Many courtiers went all the way to Ostia, and several cardinals and Franceschetto Cibo came some distance from Rome to greet him; nearer the city, he was met by a number of ambassadors and by more cardinals. ‘As many Romans as there are in Rome’116 flocked to see the sight. This was an extraordinary reception for a cardinal who was simply returning to the city, and was not only plainly on Innocent’s orders, but intended as a mark of special favour.

Vincula would never recover the dominant position at Innocent’s court that he had had until the summer of 1486, but nor would he lose Innocent’s favour again. He may have been excluded from the major diplomatic business of the next few years, the interminable quarrel between Innocent and Ferrante: not until October 1491 is there a report of him handling negotiations with Naples117. There were hints that he was being difficult again about a proposed creation of cardinals in January 1489, when the Mantuan ambassador commented that he and his followers would have to be more accommodating to the pope if they were to be able to help their friends.118 There was also a hint of possible trouble in May 1489 when Innocent was appointing Niccolò Orsini da Pitigliano to command the papal troops, with Vincula jealous as ever of his brother’s reputation and title.

When the pope visited Ostia in November 1489, on what was perhaps his first visit since the troubles of 1487, there was a reminder of less happy days. When he went to see the fortress, he was presented with the keys on a silver dish, and greeted with a little formal speech on the cardinal’s behalf. ‘Cardinal San Pietro ad Vincula has had the fortress built for the benefit of Holy Mother Church and for the preservation of Your Holiness, to whom he gives all power and dominion over this fortress and all his other property.’ Innocent replied graciously, saying, ‘Our brother is true to his nature’ (‘nostro fratello non degenera da la natura sua’).119 Innocent paid several other visits to Ostia during the last years of his pontificate, and was always entertained lavishly there. This may have been politic, and, anyway, Vincula had changed since the days when Sixtus had had to force him to give banquets for visiting dignitaries, and was now a much more willing host. 

But they also seem to have been genuinely good friends, and by the last months of the pontificate Innocent’s reliance on him was such that, when Vincula had the gout in February 1492, Innocent sent to him to say that he would not hold a consistory until he had recovered, ‘because he needed him, as he well knew’.120 Vincula’s famous quarrel with Cardinal Borgia at Innocent’s deathbed, when he defended Innocent’s distribution of large sums of money to his family, was his last act of friendship. It was also a portent of still more bitter quarrels to come. 


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