The next few years following the death of Innocent were critical ones in the history of Italy, and Giuliano della Rovere had a pivotal role in the drama. He was one of those Italian political figures who were ready to involve the French and other European powers in the affairs of Italy in order to further their own personal interests, and who thus contributed to the subjection of Italy to nearly four centuries of foreign domination. As pope, he would have an ambiguous attitude to the rulers of France, Spain and the Holy Roman Empire. One moment he would be collaborating with them, encouraging them to bring their forces to Italy; the next, he would be proclaiming his wish to rid the peninsula of all ‘barbarians’ from beyond the Alps. The policies he pursued as pope are foreshadowed in his actions during the pontificate of Alexander VI, a period that he was to spend largely in self-imposed exile from Rome.

For Giuliano della Rovere, during the next decade the enemy would not be the invaders of Italy - the French, the Spanish, and the Germans under Maximilian, King of the Romans. It would be Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI. The result that he hoped would emerge from the French invasion in 1494 was the calling of a general council of the Church and the deposition of the pope.

It is often said that he had been hostile to Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia long before the conclave of 1492, but no evidence has been brought forward to support this. Information on the relations between the two cardinals is scanty; what there is points to their being on relatively friendly terms, at least during Sixtus’s pontificate. When they were sent together to welcome and entertain Neapolitan visitors to Rome, there was no hint of any friction between them.121 They may have been rivals in the conclave of 1484, and Cardinal Borgia was one of the critics of the involvement of the papacy in the Barons’ War, but when the war was over, he was still to be found among the cardinals invited by Vincula on pleasure trips to Ostia.

Reports emerged of the spectacular row between the two cardinals at the deathbed of Innocent, when Borgia objected to the pope’s distribution of all the reserves of cash (47,000 ducats) to his family, and asked him to put the Castel Sant’ Angelo in the custody of the College of Cardinals. Vincula defended Innocent’s gifts to his relatives, for which he had asked the cardinals’ consent, and argued that the papal fortress should only be handed over to the new pope. He reminded Innocent that Borgia was a Catalan (a name with an unpleasant sound to Genoese ears) and had his own candidates in mind for the papacy. Borgia took this intervention as an affront to the dignity of his office, saying that, were they not in the presence of the pope, he would show them who the vice-chancellor was; Vincula retorted that he wasn’t afraid of him. Retorts degenerated into the trading of insults, until Cardinals Sforza and Colonna intervened and calmed them down.122

That Vincula did not want Borgia to be pope need not mean they were enemies before the conclave. He had been his colleague in the College of Cardinals long enough - over twenty years - to have realized how clever, how ambitious and how unscrupulous Borgia could be. Perhaps Vincula, hoping to maintain or even increase his own influence, simply preferred a man who could be more easily dominated, but his behaviour from the first months of Alexander’s pontificate suggests there was more to it than that. He plainly believed Alexander to be fundamentally untrustworthy, to be capable of treachery and violence - and this before any of the notorious scandals that were to make the Borgia papacy so infamous. Renaissance Rome was no community of saints, and Vincula need not have felt shocked or affronted by a man such as Borgia being a cardinal to feel he was not a man to be entrusted with the powers of the pope.

Cardinal Borgia was not, in fact, regarded as one of the front-runners before the conclave. The main battle lines were drawn up, not between him and Vincula, but between supporters of Milan and of Naples. Milan’s interests were in the charge of Cardinal Ascanio Sforza. Those of Naples were represented, not by the cardinal usually referred to as ‘Napoli’, Caraffa - who was, indeed, one of Ascanio’s main candidates - but by Vincula.

There had been some signs of reconciliation between him and Ferrante during the previous year. He had passed on to Ferrante a couple of hunting dogs that he had been sent as a gift from Charles VIII of France in October 1491. He had also had a hand in the conclusion of a peace agreement between Ferrante and Innocent, which explicitly guaranteed the security of the Prefect’s Neapolitan estates. Nonetheless, it is still rather surprising to find him regarded as Ferrante’s champion. True, since the death of his son, Cardinal Giovanni d’Aragona, in 1485, Ferrante had not had a spokesman in the College of Cardinals, and the friendlier inclinations of such a powerful cardinal as Vincula were most welcome. 

But it was as an enemy of Milan, rather than as a friend of Naples, that the king could turn to him. The quarrel between Naples and Milan - which was increasingly focused on Lodovico Sforza’s clear intention to supplant the dissolute young duke, Gian Galeazzo Maria, his nephew, to the distress and indignation of the duke’s wife, Isabella d’Aragona, and her grandfather Ferrante - dominated Italian politics at the time. Ascanio’s increasing influence in Rome worried the king, and he looked to Vincula, as Ascanio’s main antagonist in the College, to prevent him from bringing about the election of a pope favourable to the Sforza.

To this end, it was said, a large sum of money was put at Vincula’s disposal by the king. Roman barons holding Neapolitan condotte were ordered to bring their troops near Rome and to obey his instructions. These barons included not only his friends the Colonna, but also Virginio Orsini. One of Lorenzo de’ Medici’s less celebrated, but in its own way dramatic, diplomatic successes had been the formal reconciliation of Virginio and Vincula in 1488. Virginio had said then that if Vincula did not fulfil his promises, he would treat him as a ‘deadly enemy’,123 but by the summer of 1492 he was quite willing to cooperate with the cardinal. Rome now witnessed the curious spectacle of Virginio Orsini canvassing for support for Vincula’s candidates in the conclave only six years after he had threatened to parade his head through the streets on the point of a lance.

Ferrante overplayed his hand. His display of force was too blatant. The cardinals, by no means reassured by the king’s messages that his troops were at their command, were put on their guard and empowered Cardinal Riario to raise a force of their own to guarantee the security of the city and of the conclave. All that Ferrante achieved was to make Vincula’s work more difficult.

Not that he was simply acting as the agent of the king. For some years, Vincula had had his own candidate in mind, his friend Cardinal da Costa. He was a worthy man and generally respected, but Ferrante did not trust him, and made it known to Vincula that he would prefer the Venetian Cardinal Zeno. On the eve of the conclave, da Costa was considered a leading contender, but once it opened, the main candidate of Vincula’s group turned out to be another Venetian, Michiel. There is no evidence from before or during the conclave to indicate that Ferrante specifically opposed Borgia as a candidate. The contemporary historian and curial official Sigismondo de’ Conti said that Ferrante feared Borgia and did all he could to prevent his election. Conti also said, however, that the king made every effort to have Vincula elected, but there was no hint of such an intention at the time, and Conti’s interpretation sounds like guesswork based on later events.124 

The Milanese suspected Vincula of harbouring ambitions to put himself forward as a candidate, but their suspicions were probably unfounded. He was one of the longest-serving cardinals, but he was still, given his hale and vigorous constitution, rather too young - probably not yet fifty - to be a serious candidate. The cardinals rarely elected anyone who looked as if he would last for much over a decade. Ascanio, too, was far too young to be a candidate himself, but he and Vincula were unquestionably the power-brokers of this conclave.

Possibly in an attempt to reduce the time spent locked away in the conclave, the two cardinals had at least one meeting beforehand. There were reports that they had met for talks at Castel Gandolfo outside Rome even before Innocent had died, and had a long discussion on the morning of 4 August in the sacristy of St Peter’s, which was interrupted by the arrival of the other cardinals. Ascanio told the Milanese ambassador, Stefano Taberna, that they had not gone beyond ‘generalities’ (‘parole generale’), each trying to persuade the other that it was to their mutual advantage to work in harmony, and praising their own candidates. The hard bargaining was to be done the following morning. No report survives of that meeting, if it took place, but on the basis of Ascanio’s account of the first one, Taberna reckoned it was possible that Vincula might even vote for Ascanio, if he saw the cause of his own candidates as hopeless.125

Whatever the outcome of their bargaining, and whatever its effect on the conclave, there was no question, once the cardinals were sealed in with their servants and the daily rounds of voting, the ‘scrutinies’, had begun, of Vincula voting for Ascanio. Indeed, Ascanio collected only one vote in the first three scrutinies. Each cardinal could vote for three candidates in each scrutiny; with twenty-three cardinals in the conclave, sixteen votes were needed for an election. Giuliano della Rovere collected five votes in the first and the second scrutinies, and six, perhaps more, in the third. In all three scrutinies, Ascanio’s candidate, Caraffa, collected the most votes: nine in the first two, and ten in the third. Of Vincula’s two candidates, da Costa received seven votes in the first, eight in the second, and fell back to seven again in the third, while Michiel received seven in the first two, and ten in the third, equalling Caraffa.

All that is known for certain about what happened after the third scrutiny is that Ascanio switched his support to Borgia, and at the next scrutiny Borgia was elected unanimously. Ascanio’s sudden switch took everyone by surprise, and there was some speculation, as the unexpected outcome of the conclave was discussed and analysed in the following weeks, that he had been bribed by Borgia. The vice-chancellorship alone, which he now took on, was one of the most lucrative offices in the Church, and he also received Borgia’s palace (though it could be argued that this went with the job) and some fine benefices too. Ascanio was already one of the wealthier cardinals. This does not mean that he could not be tempted by such rich prizes, but the pattern of the voting in the third scrutiny suggests another motive. 

Michiel had drawn level with Caraffa; Vincula himself had gained ground. Was Ascanio worried that the next scrutiny might see further gains by Vincula’s party? Borgia had collected seven votes in the first scrutiny and eight in the second and third, Ascanio himself voting for him each time. If all ten cardinals who had voted for Borgia at least once were prepared to do so again, and if Ascanio could deliver all of those who had supported Caraffa and not Borgia, there would still only be a total of thirteen votes, not the sixteen needed. But when one cardinal looked as though he might be within sight of victory there was often a rush to support him. By switching the support of his own followers to Borgia, Ascanio made his election practically certain. Borgia openly acknowledged how crucial his support had been, and Ascanio took on the role of ‘kingmaker’ and chief advisor that Vincula had enjoyed during the early years of Innocent’s pontificate. Within days of the election, however, there was speculation about how long such an experienced, intelligent and astute politician as Rodrigo Borgia would let himself be guided by Ascanio Sforza.

An experienced observer who had been in the conclave as an attendant of Cardinal Giovanni de’ Medici, Niccolò Michelozzi, reported that Vincula and his faction had been forced to swim with the tide, and that though he had moved quickly once he had seen the danger, his standing with his colleagues had been diminished (‘ha perso assai de conditione’), both because he had lost and because he had not been as firm as he had urged others to be.126 A report written some months later by a less reliable source, Gianandrea Boccacio, Bishop of Modena, who had been in Rome at the time of the conclave but not in the conclave itself, said that Vincula, when he saw that Borgia had already got seventeen votes, which was more than enough, told him he wished to make him pope, and that Borgia then thanked him on his knees.127 It is not impossible that in the euphoria of seeing his cherished ambition on the brink of realization, Borgia found himself thanking Vincula effusively for adding his support, but he would soon feel that he had little to thank him for.

Conflict between Giuliano della Rovere and the new pontiff was not inevitable, and certainly need not have arisen as rapidly as it did. It was said that Alexander made him offers, which he refused in order ‘to preserve his good name and integrity’, but that he remained a very powerful figure.128 He had no objection to the first cardinal Alexander promoted, on 31 August, Juan Borgia-Lanzol, Bishop of Monreale; indeed, it was later reported that they had been close friends.129

It was not the influence of Cardinal Monreale, but that of Cardinal Sforza, that disturbed Vincula. Ascanio’s manoeuvring in the conclave had reaped its reward, and his dominance at the papal court was clear and acknowledged by Alexander himself. It seems to have been Ascanio on whom Vincula focused his attention and distrust much of the time, and he was, if anything, more wary of him than of the pope. Conversely, it is not clear how much of Alexander’s suspicion of Vincula was prompted by Ascanio. The pope was rather timorous by nature, for all his intelligence, experience and apparent self-confidence. Seeds of suspicion, whether or not they were sown by Ascanio, began to germinate in his mind within weeks of the conclave. The fertile soil was provided by the sale to Virginio Orsini by Innocent’s son Franceschetto Cibo of the lands, Cerveteri and Anguillara, that his father had granted to him.

This sale had been planned long before by Virginio with Franceschetto’s father-in-law, Lorenzo de’ Medici (who had died in early 1492), and it was Lorenzo’s son, Piero, who maintained the pressure on Franceschetto to stick to his bargain when he showed signs of regretting it. Lorenzo, who had no very great opinion of Franceschetto’s abilities, may have thought that the future of his favourite daughter, Maddalena, would be more secure if her husband’s wealth was looked after by the Medici. For Virginio, it was a welcome opportunity to purchase lands in the middle of his extensive estates north of Rome. To Alexander, who claimed that the transaction was illegal without his permission, the sale appeared, or was made to appear, to be a plot by Ferrante to increase the grip of the most powerful Roman baron in Neapolitan service on the territory to the north of the city. The fact that the initial contract for the sale was drawn up and witnessed on 3 September in a palace newly built by Vincula outside the Porta Sant’ Agnese indicated to Alexander that he was involved in this plot.

Vincula himself is not mentioned in the contract130 as being present, and he may simply have made his palace available for the business, as a friend of Virginio. His part in the transaction seems to have been a very minor one, and there is no evidence that he was involved in any way in the conclusion of the final contracts relating to the sale, which were drawn up in Florence in early January 1493. Nevertheless, when news of them reached Rome, the pope blamed him. According to Sigismondo de’ Conti, he accused him in consistory of encouraging this assault on the rights of the Church, ‘which in the past he had been accustomed to defend with great constancy’. (To his friends, when they repeated this accusation, Vincula replied that it would have been worse if Cerveteri and Anguillara had gone to a Sforza relative of Ascanio, as he suspected they would have done.)131 Alexander also demanded the surrender of Ostia and Grottaferrata. Calmly responding that His Holiness should know that, besides his fortresses, his person and all he possessed were at the pope’s disposal, Vincula left the consistory and went home.132 

Almost immediately after, about 6 January, he left Rome for Ostia. Ostensibly, he went to prepare to receive Ferrante’s son, Federico, Prince of Altamura, who was about to return to Naples after coming to Rome to swear obedience to the new pope on behalf of his father. Soon it became known, however, that he intended to stay at Ostia, claiming he did not feel safe in Rome.

Up to this point, Ferrante had had little if anything to do with the sale of Cerveteri and Anguillara, but now, because of Alexander’s insistence that the transaction was a scheme cooked up for the benefit of the king, much of the burden of trying to find a settlement fell on him. Because Alexander also insisted that Vincula was acting as Ferrante’s agent in this matter, the settlement of Vincula’s affairs became linked to the solution of the problem of Cerveteri and Anguillara, and to the state of relations between the king and the pope.

Relations between Ferrante and Vincula had continued to be very cordial after the conclave, despite the setback to Neapolitan interests in Rome that Alexander’s election under the auspices of Ascanio represented. The preparations that Vincula made to receive Federico as his guest in Rome in December 1492 were particularly magnificent. New hangings of silk and brocade were ordered, and silver trimmings for his chairs. A production of a play, Amphitrion, was to be staged, which ‘everyone hopes will be one of the most beautiful entertainments to be given in Rome for many years, because no expense is being spared to make everything of the best’.133 Sumptuous banquets were also prepared to greet Federico on his arrival on 11 December, and to honour and entertain him during the Christmas festivities.

Once Ferrante was drawn into the problem of Cerveteri and Anguillara, Vincula was frequently consulted by the Neapolitan envoys who were wrestling with the problem, and he was in direct contact with Virginio, whose cause he supported. For the king, the affair appeared to be the key to the resolution of all the current disputes between Naples and the papacy,134 and he tried to persuade Vincula that it was the key to his affairs too. But by then the cardinal had his own quarrel with the pope. Alexander had been very worried when he had decamped to Ostia, and had tried to coax him back, had tried to pretend that he did not really care, and that, given a little time, the problem would solve itself. But there were reports that the pope was being encouraged to see Vincula as the major obstacle to his own control of the College, and that drastic steps needed to be taken to reduce his standing.135

On 15 January 1493 Alexander sent Cardinal da Costa to try to persuade him to come back to Rome; da Costa returned saying that he would be coming in a few days. Although he made a show of preparing to leave for Rome, Vincula did not return. Had he done so, he would have been arrested, for on the day on which he was supposed to be arriving back, Alexander stationed guards at the gates and bridges. At the hour Vincula had said he should reach his palace at Santi Apostoli, about 300 light horse appeared on the square, and more were waiting in the streets around, with two squadrons of mounted crossbowmen. ‘If he had come, they would have taken him to the Castel Sant’ Angelo before he had time to cry “God help me.”’136

After this attempted ambush, Vincula never trusted Alexander again. The presence of Ascanio in the Vatican was still an issue for him, and he claimed that he would not be safe in Rome so long as Ascanio was the acknowledged counsellor of the pope. It would be years yet before the two cardinals were reconciled. But the element of personal hostility between Giuliano della Rovere and Alexander was growing stronger, and eventually eclipsed even his enmity towards the Sforza.

There was considerable support and sympathy for Giuliano among his colleagues in the College of Cardinals. When the pope consulted the cardinals in consistory as to what should be done about him, their collective advice was that Alexander should seek a settlement, to avoid giving the impression of disharmony in the Church, but that Vincula should be allowed to stay in Ostia, where he was quite happy. His particular friends in the College were, indeed, determined that he should not return to Rome until he had received some more tangible guarantee of his safety than mere words, or a papal brief. 137Such friends and allies made him a power in Rome even when he was ensconced in his fortress at Ostia.

Still, his absence from Rome left Ferrante without an advocate on the spot in the College, so signs that Cardinal Caraffa wished to be reconciled to the king were welcome. Once regular contact had been established with Caraffa, Ferrante had Vincula sounded out as to whether he wanted him involved in his own affairs. Vincula’s response was favourable, and thus he gained another ally among the senior figures in the College. Soon, though, Caraffa began to replace him as the king’s main advocate in Rome.

Ferrante had repeatedly instructed his agents in Rome to bring Vincula’s affairs into their discussions with Alexander, and to reassure the cardinal of the king’s concern for his welfare. But as he became increasingly anxious to settle the question of Cerveteri and Anguillara, he saw Vincula’s advice as too hot-headed and self-interested. Distrust of the pope was behind Vincula’s reservations about the king’s too evident desire to bring about a settlement: he wrote to Virginio of his worries that Ferrante’s anxiety would only make the pope prouder and his behaviour more high-handed, and he was concerned that the king’s supporters in Rome were being gradually won over, which would leave Virginio and himself in still greater difficulties.138

Vincula clearly had, or was believed to have, considerable influence over Virginio, and was a key figure in the final round of negotiations. Federico d’Altamura was sent again to Rome in June, but went first to Ostia, where he had discussions with Vincula, Virginio and the other barons holding Neapolitan condotte, and with the Neapolitan and Florentine ambassadors. He eventually came to Rome on 10 July, but Virginio and the cardinal did not join him there until about a fortnight later, bringing troops for their protection. To Ferrante’s exasperation, Vincula tried to insist that Ascanio should be turned out of his Vatican apartments, and when Alexander refused, left Rome for his abbey at Grottaferrata. The king dissociated himself from this demand, but it appears that some promise was made that Ascanio would go. At last, on 16 August, an agreement was drawn up - Virginio would keep the lands, and Alexander would get the purchase price. To save the pope’s face, the lands were to be put in the joint custody of Vincula and Cardinal Monreale for three months, but the arrangement was really a fiction, and Virginio was in undisputed possession of Cerveteri and Anguillara by the end of August.

While the final agreement was being drawn up, Vincula was lying sick with fever, first at Grottaferrata and then, in search of ‘better air’ at Marino, which belonged to Fabrizio Colonna. He became very ill for a while, and his customary disobedience to doctors’ orders led to another bout of fever when he had been on the road to recovery. Both the king and the pope professed great concern about his health. Alexander seemed genuinely pleased at his recovery, and sent him two briefs, one giving his household similar privileges to those enjoyed by the papal household, the other giving him ‘such authority and independence . . . that it makes him almost a second pope’.139 Hints were dropped to Ascanio that he should leave the papal palace. Vincula was expected to return to Rome once the hot weather and its accompanying outbreaks of disease had passed.

But soon he would fall ill again with fever, this time brought on by news from Rome. The story that got back to the city was that he had been at Marino, gambling (a common occupation for a Renaissance cardinal), when he heard that Alexander had forced through the creation of twelve new cardinals, including his son Cesare Borgia and his mistress’s brother, Alessandro Farnese (the future Pope Paul III). Trying, but failing, to carry on with the game, Vincula could not contain his rage; he rushed off alone to his chamber, where he could be heard ‘shouting and bellowing’.140

Alexander had been seeking to push through a mass creation of cardinals for some months. When he first mooted the idea, soon after Vincula had left for Ostia, he said that such a creation was necessary for his own security, but he recognized that it was not the right moment to press for one. Backing from the Sforza encouraged him in the summer to try to force the creation of thirteen new cardinals on a College that was supposed only to number twenty-five members at most, and at that time had twenty-four. Opposition to this proposal was led by the senior cardinals, including Caraffa and da Costa. The final settlement with Virginio pushed the matter to the sidelines for a while, but in September, Alexander began putting pressure on the cardinals again. 

This time, some of the other senior cardinals adopted Vincula’s tactic of staying away from Rome and ignoring papal briefs summoning them to return, and others simply stayed away from consistory. Alexander was not deterred. Suddenly deciding to hold a consistory on 20 September, he bullied and cajoled eleven cardinals who did turn up into agreeing to the election of his candidates. Vincula, da Costa and Caraffa were among the ten cardinals who not only refused to take part, but made known their intention of continuing to boycott the consistory, avoiding the pope and refusing to give the usual signs of recognition to the new members of the College. The one who particularly stuck in their throats was Cesare Borgia. They were also critical of the way in which the pope had openly accepted money from some of the neophytes. Alexander threatened to show them ‘who Pope Alexander VI was’,141 and to make as many cardinals again at Christmas. Ascanio, meanwhile, set about winning over the newcomers, most of whom were, or he came to regard as, his men.

The cardinals who had tried to prevent the election did not reconcile themselves easily to their defeat. By continuing to refuse to attend consistory, they took the gloss off Alexander’s triumph. He grew worried, and wrote briefs ordering all cardinals to be in Rome by 15 October for a discussion about the Turks. Still, eight individuals refused to come, including Raffaele Riario (who had voted for the new cardinals at the last moment and apparently regretted his compliance), as well as Vincula and Caraffa. Those who had opposed the election but who turned up to the consistory on 16 October said that they would obey Alexander’s summons when there really was to be a discussion of matters of faith, but to discuss other matters would be to go against an agreement they had made. 

Faced by organized opposition in the College, based on principle at least as much as on politics, Alexander tried bribery, offering to create a cardinal apiece chosen by Vincula, Caraffa and Ferrante. Nothing came of this. A decree saying that absent cardinals could not share in the communal revenues of the College was believed to be aimed specifically at Vincula; Caraffa was to be exempt from its provisions. Caraffa did come back to Rome in January 1494, at Ferrante’s request and on Vincula’s advice, after Alexander declared that he could not definitely take the side of the king in the face of the looming threat of a French invasion if the ‘Neapolitan’ cardinals continued to absent themselves from Rome. Vincula himself, though he could be defined as a ‘Neapolitan’ cardinal, did not return, confident his control over important passages by land and sea (he may perhaps have been thinking of his brother’s lands on the Neapolitan frontier as well as Ostia) meant that Ferrante could not afford to quarrel with him.142

Alexander also tried to persuade Ferrante to lend him troops for an assault on Ostia and Grottaferrata, and had his eyes on Ronciglione, another fortress held by Vincula, about thirty miles north of Rome, which he had a mind to give to one of his own family. Ferrante argued that the pope should be patient with Vincula and should not use force against him, but began to distance himself from him a little, saying he had no control over his behaviour and that it was for the pope to settle his own quarrels with his cardinals.

The death of Ferrante, on 25 January 1494, brought to the throne of Naples his son Alfonso II. At first, it seemed that he would continue his father’s policy of trying to keep on good terms with Vincula while seeking an alliance with the pope. Vincula was believed to be responsible for Fabrizio Colonna’s acceptance of a condotta with Naples, while Prospero took one from the pope and Milan. But when Alexander insisted that his priority in negotiations with the new king was the problem of Vincula, Alfonso at first argued, as his father had done, that he had no influence over him, and then made an agreement with the pope that left the cardinal at his mercy. Promises were exacted from Alfonso and Virginio that they would see to it that he came back to Rome.

Appreciating the danger that he was in, Vincula wanted guarantees of his safety not only from the pope and the College, but from Alfonso, Venice and Florence as well; Alexander was only prepared to agree to the demand for promises from himself and the cardinals. Intervention by some of Vincula’s friends in the College at length brought Alexander to agree that once Vincula came to Rome, he could leave again when he pleased, and would not be treated as contumacious if he refused a summons to come back. This agreement was witnessed in Rome on 23 April.143 That evening, San Pietro ad Vincula left Ostia - but not for Rome. Instead, under cover of darkness, he took ship for France.

He had already been in contact with France for some months. The Prince of Salerno, now the leading figure among the Neapolitan exiles who had taken refuge there after the Barons’ War of 1485-6, had been planning to send an envoy to him back in October 1493. This man may have been Denis de’ Vicarii, or ‘Danese’, whom Charles sent to Rome in February 1494 with a commission to Vincula: it was noted at the time that Charles was planning to send someone who had been on a previous mission to Italy, and that Danese had been brought up in Salerno’s household. Danese was sent by the king in response to a message brought to France by one of Vincula’s household prelates - a message stating that he was willing to come to France, leaving Ostia, Grottaferrata and the Prefect’s duchy of Sora with orders to assist the invasion of Naples, and promising to bring over the Orsini and the Colonna to French service. While Charles found these offers attractive, he did not want to offend the Sforza, his most important Italian allies, nor the pope, and Danese was ordered to consult Lodovico on his way to Rome.144

In fact, both Lodovico and Ascanio Sforza had come to consider that it was highly desirable to get Vincula to France, for a number of reasons. He had several strategically important fortresses; he could help persuade the Colonna to accept condotte from France and Milan; and his presence in France would be a powerful check on the pope’s behaviour. They did not hesitate to emphasize to the king the sacrifice of their own personal feelings this would entail - how they were ready to set aside their enmity towards Vincula to help the king to use him. If Alexander went along with the French, getting Vincula out of his way would be a service to him; if he opposed the French plans, a powerful and disaffected cardinal could be used ‘to beat him down’. 145

Although the Sforza brothers encouraged the negotiations, some care had to be taken to prevent their involvement from being obvious. Ascanio’s position was especially delicate - he did not want to compromise himself with Alexander, and, in any case, it would be difficult to persuade Vincula that any advice proffered by Ascanio was given with his best interests at heart. Indeed, it is not clear how the negotiations leading to the flight from Ostia were carried on, for the Sforza agents in Rome complained of the timidity of Danese, saying that he was afraid to go to Ostia. Vincula’s departure apparently took both the French and the Milanese by surprise.

During the months that followed, Giuliano della Rovere was one of a small group of advisers urging Charles VIII to invade Naples, against the wishes of perhaps the majority of his councillors and the nobles who would lead the army. Why?

One important piece of evidence needed to answer this question fully - first-hand information on his attitude to the prospect of the French taking over the kingdom of Naples - is lacking. All that can be done to try to understand his actions at this crucial juncture in his career, and in the history of Italy, is to interpret what he did, and what is known of his thoughts on what the French invasion could bring about, in the light of what he had done in the past and what he would say and do in the future.

It is clear from the reports from France that Vincula was welcomed there primarily as an instrument for putting pressure on the pope, and that he himself hoped Charles would summon a council of the Church that would depose Alexander. Zeal for ecclesiastical reform does not seem to have been uppermost in his mind, although he may have felt Alexander was an unsuitable man to be head of the Western Church, as well as regarding him as a personal enemy. The Borgia pope’s readiness to create cardinals en masse to enforce his control over the College, and his eagerness to endow his children with lands and titles, boded ill for the affairs of the papacy. Nor was Vincula the only cardinal to be looking to Charles to enforce reform — a French cardinal, Raymond Peraud, a man of scholarly disposition who had no personal grievance against Alexander, was also urging him to take on this task.

If the price of humbling Alexander was the French conquest of Naples, this may have been a price that Vincula was willing to see paid. There is no evidence that he hoped this would happen, but there would be likely gains for his family and friends to weigh in the balance. There was a good prospect that a French victory would lead to the return of the Prince of Salerno and other exiled Neapolitan barons to the kingdom, and to pickings for Giovanni della Rovere too. He had no particular reason to love the Aragonese dynasty of Naples - least of all, perhaps, Alfonso - and had already tried to encourage an invasion of the kingdom by Duke René of Lorraine.

But surely it must have been evident to him that encouraging the most powerful king in Europe to invade Naples was a different prospect from encouraging a Duke of Lorraine to do so. Soon after the French had conquered Naples, Vincula was expressing worries about the prospects for Italy, and urging upon Milan the need to keep Genoa out of the direct control of the French, but only a few years later, he was himself trying to take Genoa and Savona for the French king. When that failed, he made the settlement of the personal affairs of himself and his brother Giovanni an essential preliminary to any response to calls to be a ‘good Italian’.146 This lends credence to the notion that his actions were inspired by his personal dispute with Alexander as much as, if not more than, by concern for the reform of the Church.

If it seems a serious indictment of Giuliano della Rovere to say that he encouraged the French invasion of Italy in 1494 for personal motives, at least it can be pleaded in mitigation that he was not the only one to do so. In retrospect, the shortsightedness and selfishness of the Italian powers, their failure to reckon effectively with the long-term consequences of their actions or inaction, have baffled historians.

Lodovico Sforza once claimed that he would have invited the French into Italy solely to take revenge for efforts to have Ascanio turned out of his apartments at the Vatican.147 Of course, he would not have done so, but how could a man who aspired to a reputation for political sagacity, as Lodovico did, even say such a thing? Lodovico urged the French to come to Italy in order to bolster his own position in Milan, and to further his quarrel with the Aragonese dynasty of Naples. He had moments of misgiving about where it might lead to, but then seemingly recovered his confidence that he could use the power of the French to accomplish what he wanted them to do, and then send them home again. 

The Venetians, determined to stay out of any war if they possibly could, obstinately refused, in the face of all the evidence of the French military preparations and of Charles’s determination, to admit that the invasion would take place. While Piero de’ Medici clung to his alliance with the Aragonese dynasty of Naples, many of his fellow citizens in Florence were anxious only to stay in the good graces of the French and preserve their trading interests in France, bolstered by the thought that they had never liked the Aragonese kings much anyway. Alexander VI shifted his position according to where he thought that his own advantage and security might lie - his alliance with Alfonso in the months before the invasion had much to do with the threat of a council and Vincula’s presence at the French court.

Fears about where a French invasion might lead, about what it might mean for Italy - which were occasionally expressed - were not, for any of these powers, as potent a spur to action as their own short-term personal interests. If, as seems possible, Vincula encouraged the French to invade Italy primarily to strike a blow at Alexander, he was far from the only Italian to suffer from tunnel vision.

A few days after taking ship at Ostia, Vincula arrived at Savona. Here, he was visited by a delegation from Genoa, which included the Milanese commissioner and the French ambassador. After four days in his home town, he left for France, accompanied by 200 Savonese infantry. He may not have been sure what reception awaited him there, because he was reported to have paused at Nice until he had obtained a safe-conduct from Charles. Any doubts about how he would be received must soon have vanished, for the king was pleased and excited by his arrival, and sent the Prince of Salerno and one of his own most trusted counsellors, Etienne de Vesc, to Provence to escort him to Lyons.

Vincula’s entry into Lyons on 1 June was a splendid affair. On the king’s orders, representatives of the citizens, the foreign bankers and merchants and the principal courtiers went to greet him. His lodgings had been luxuriously decorated, with the floors as well as the walls spread with tapestry. Charles immediately summoned him to the palace, came down the staircase into the square to greet him, hat in hand, and took him to his chamber, where they talked for over an hour, before the king brought him out to the square again. The king continued to treat him with exceptional favour, visiting him at his lodgings on several occasions for discussions and even holding meetings of his council there. Emerging from one tête-à-tête with him, Charles, holding him by the hand, said, ‘By God, this man has come for the good of Christendom.’148 Perhaps they had been discussing the summoning of a council of the Church to challenge Alexander, the aspect of the Italian expedition that most interested the cardinal; perhaps the king was simply wrapped in his dreams of using the kingdom of Naples as a springboard for an expedition against the Turks.

Vincula’s arrival breathed new life into the preparations for the invasion of Naples. Charles’s councillors were divided on the wisdom of this scheme, with the majority against it. One of his principal advisors, Guillaume Briçonnet, Bishop of Saint-Malo, who had been among the most fervent instigators of the invasion, had had his fervour dashed when Milan had not obtained for him the cardinal’s hat that he craved, and was now doing his best to obstruct and delay the preparations. Vincula’s passion and energy, the assurances he gave of the readiness to serve France of his brother and of the Colonna, of the Duke of Urbino and the lord of Camerino, as well as his own potential usefulness as an instrument of pressure on the pope, did much to counter the effects of the cold water poured on Charles’s dream of conquering Naples by those who thought of it only as an expensive, potentially disastrous folly, a waste of the new-found strength of the French monarchy.

One asset that his adherence to the French had offered them, the use of the fortress of Ostia, had, however, been lost before he even arrived. Ostia should be able to hold out for at least two months, he told the king, asking him to send ships and troops to support the garrison. Charles agreed, but news of the surrender of Ostia on 24 May came within a few days of Vincula’s triumphant arrival in Lyons. At first, he found it hard to believe, hoping that his brother and Fabrizio Colonna, in whose charge he had left his lands near Rome, were merely feigning agreement with Alexander to win time.

Vincula had yet another asset that he could put at the service of the king: his contacts in Genoa. Lodovico Sforza had agreed that the French could gather a fleet there, and at the beginning of May, Charles had already sent his grand écuyer, Pierre d’Urfé, and other agents to raise money and prepare the galleys and ships. In August there was a plan for Vincula to go to Genoa to drum up money for the king from the Genoese bankers, but it came to nothing, possibly because he felt that it would be more useful to stay with the king to keep his easily distracted mind on the preparations for the expedition. The news that a successful plot by French agents and Prospero Colonna had put Ostia in the hands of the French on 18 September brought him hurrying to Genoa, on the king’s orders. At first, it was proposed that he should go to Ostia, and join forces with Ascanio (who had now left Rome and taken refuge on the Colonna lands) in rallying the cardinals against the pope. Ascanio objected to the idea that he should recover control of Ostia, and Lodovico arranged that he should go to Genoa and seem to be preparing to take a fleet and troops to Ostia, but should not actually leave. It is not clear whether he himself knew that the Sforza were behind the change of plan.

Vincula arrived in Genoa on 27 September to a warm welcome from the people. Letters that he exchanged with Lodovico soon after his arrival discuss the preparations of the fleet for Ostia, but any notion that he would go with it had been abandoned. As well as helping Pierre d’Urfé with the assembly and arming of the fleet, Vincula occupied himself with appealing to his friends in Genoa to help supply money to the French, for the bankers were reluctant to lend any more money except on good security. These letters show that he was still very keen that the French expedition ‘should go ahead with all speed’, and betray no qualms about its consequences.149

Despite the lateness of the season, with the French army setting out for Naples at a time when the thoughts of Italian commanders were usually turning to winter quarters, despite the inexperience of the young king and his tendency to be distracted along the way by pretty women, and despite the bad advice that he received, according to the sage Philippe de Commynes,150 from counsellors as young and inexpert as himself, the invasion took on the character of a triumphal progress, rather than a military campaign. Panic, an eye to personal survival and stunned disbelief at the speed of the French advance undermined what little resistance was offered. 

By November, Charles was in Florence, after Piero de’ Medici’s craven surrender of the major Florentine fortresses to him had brought about a revolt against Medici dominance and the expulsion of Piero from the city, and a revolt by the Pisans against the rule of Florence. By the end of the year, Charles was in Rome, negotiating with the pope. Having lost his two main Italian allies, Alfonso lost all heart and, with the enemy at the gates of his kingdom, abdicated in favour of his son Ferrantino; he then fled to Sicily with much of the royal treasure that was needed to pay the troops. Ferrantino, even younger than his opponent, made some attempt to put up a fight, but soon abandoned his capital and set sail too. 

On 22 February 1495 Charles entered Naples, to the acclamation and derision of the crowd. Charles, as he rode in state among his victorious army, looked like a hat on a horse. His huge head, with its long nose and pendulous lips, sat on a small, misshapen body with disproportionately large feet. This was not the romantic vision of the handsome hero-king, the successor to Charlemagne, that many Italians had cherished. When the French soon revealed themselves to be rapacious, exploitative, arrogant and uncouth, the disenchantment of the Neapolitans was complete.

For Vincula, disenchantment had set in some time before. Once the army was properly under way, he faded into the background to some degree, and little is heard of him in accounts of the progress of the French through Italy, until they began to draw near to Rome. Charles then sent him to Ostia with a large detachment of troops. It was planned that, with the help of the Colonna, these should encircle the Neapolitan troops south of Rome, but the plan came to nothing. This would have been the moment for Charles to restore Ostia to Vincula, but he did not, much to the cardinal’s disappointment.

Worse still, although Vincula and Cardinal Peraud had been badgering Charles to take up the cause of reforming the curia, the king preferred to negotiate with Alexander. Far from returning to Rome in triumph, with Alexander humiliated, perhaps deposed, the ‘French’ cardinals - Vincula, Sforza, Sanseverino and Peraud — had to leave Rome with Charles for their own safety, for the treaty between the king and the pope contained few guarantees for them. Vincula, in fact, received more consideration than the others. Beyond the general clauses that Alexander was to restore to the cardinals who were ‘the king’s friends and servants’ all their offices, dignities and property of which they might have been deprived, and not to rake up the past provided they promised to be loyal and obedient in future, and that they should be free to come and go from Rome as they pleased, special mention was made of the della Rovere brothers. Alexander was not to take any reprisals against the Prefect, and a major grievance that the pope nursed against him 151was to be settled by the king within four months. Vincula was to be ‘entirely reinstated in the legation of Avignon and in each and all of his properties’, his castles, lands, lordships, liberties, privileges, offices and rights, granted by Alexander or his predecessors; and, henceforth, his possession of them could not in any way be troubled or revoked. 152

The king explicitly promised not to ask Alexander again for the Castel Sant’ Angelo - earlier requests that the pope should cede the fortress to him had been met with a firm refusal, on the grounds that Vincula would want to take command and thus Alexander would be left without a refuge.153 Had he been left in charge of the fortress, perhaps Vincula might have stayed in Rome, but with no more tangible guarantee than a piece of paper, he had little choice but to follow the king.

Not much is known about what he did in the kingdom of Naples while Charles was there. His only recorded intervention in the campaign was to send someone to rescue the Prince of Salerno’s son from his prison in Naples.154 More is known about his state of mind - he was discontented with the French. By April he was warning the Milanese against French designs on Genoa, and offering to help reconcile Cardinal Campofregoso, Obietto Fieschi and other Genoese exiles with the Sforza. He was also feeling his way, with the help of the Venetians and Cardinal da Costa, towards an attempted reconciliation with the pope and Ascanio. Their initial response was favourable, but the negotiations seem to have foundered. When Charles left for France in late May 1495, leaving behind substantial forces to hold off the counter-attack of Ferrantino, Vincula went with him. 

By then, Lodovico Sforza had switched alliances, and a new league, of Milan, Venice, the pope, Maximilian, and the King of Spain had been formed. Venetian and Milanese troops were waiting for the French as they crossed the Apennines in the Lunigiana into the lowland plain. As the French forces were passing through the Lunigiana, Vincula proposed that an attempt should be made to raise a rebellion in Genoa. The king’s council did not like the idea at all - if Charles won the impending battle, the Genoese would yield of their own accord, and if he lost, what use would Genoa be? Despite this advice, and to the consternation of many of his commanders, the king sent a large detachment of troops, including some men freshly arrived from France by sea, and Vincula went with them.155

Thus he missed one of the most famous battles in Italian history, fought at Fornovo on 6 July 1495. The Italians regarded it as a victory, revenge for their humiliation by the French, but Charles (who at one point was nearly captured) and the bulk of his army were able to make their escape. With the league’s troops following at a discreet distance, the French proceeded to Asti. There was a pause while Louis d’Orléans and his starving troops were extricated from Novara, which Louis (who had been left behind in Asti) had taken, when the temptation to try his luck in the duchy of Milan, to which he had an hereditary claim, had proved irresistible. Once this was accomplished, the king crossed the Alps to safety. The attempt on Genoa was abandoned.

Vincula spent the winter in his diocese of Avignon. After the cardinal had fled from Ostia in April 1494, Alexander had written to his lieutenant in Avignon, Gianandrea Grimaldi, Bishop of Grasse, absolving him from all obligations to Vincula and appointing him governor of Avignon and the Venaissin in the name of the papacy. Grimaldi had complied with the pope’s wishes and had begun enquiring after the cardinal’s property, but as Vincula had made his way to the French court, accompanied by the Prince of Salerno and Etienne de Vesc, they had insisted that the papal territories should recognize him as legate. There was nothing that Grimaldi could do about this, so he delegated his powers to the vicar-general of the archbishopric, Pierre Albert, and left. 

The Avignonese were in a delicate situation, continuing to treat Vincula as legate while trying not to provoke the pope. Their dilemma was resolved when the agreement between Charles and Alexander in January 1495 officially restored Vincula to all his offices, including the legation. On 10 March 1495 Vincula appointed his nipote Clemente della Rovere, Bishop of Mende, lieutenant-general and governor of the Papal States in France. Grimaldi had retired to his bishopric; in order to vent their resentment against the cardinal, the members of his family named one of their mules Vincula.156

On his appointment as governor, Clemente had taken up residence in Avignon, and he continued to fulfil the functions of this office during his uncle’s residence in the diocese. Vincula, meanwhile, kept in constant contact with the French court at Lyons, and would have gone there in March if the king had not left for a while. He did go at the end of April, and spent May in Lyons with the king.

Another expedition to Italy was being planned, and Vincula was again one of the leading instigators. He claimed that if he were given 2,000 Swiss infantry, he could deliver the whole of the ‘Riviera di Ponente’, the coast to the west of Genoa, including Savona.157 Battistino Campofregoso, nephew of Cardinal Campofregoso, and an exile from Genoa, was also involved in the invasion plans. But, at the end of the month, Charles suddenly decided to go north to see his queen at Tours, and refused to discuss this decision with his council. Vincula had a long talk alone with the king, trying to persuade him not to go, but Charles was determined. Plans for an expedition faded away. Vincula probably spent the rest of the summer back in the diocese of Avignon — he was certainly there in late July — but still nursed schemes for an attack on the Riviera. When the king returned to Lyons in November, he quickly joined him, and, once again, there were reports of his taking part in councils to discuss Italian affairs.

The outcome of these discussions was an assault on Genoa and Savona that was not only led by Vincula and Battistino Campofregoso, but also largely paid for by them. The possession of Genoa would be crucial to the success of another French expedition to Italy, but most of the French nobility and of Charles’s counsellors had little enthusiasm for another Italian adventure, and regarded the Italian exiles and their plans with hostility. The king ordered Giangiacomo Trivulzio, who was in command of the French forces at Asti, to provide troops in support of both Battistino’s attempt on Genoa and that of Vincula on Savona. Commynes argued that he could not supply them both with enough troops to be effective and, at the same time, leave himself sufficient forces to protect Asti.158 Besides, Trivulzio had his own plans. He wanted to launch an attack on the duchy of Milan, where he had many partisans.

The outcome was a military fiasco, which cost Vincula a lot of money and some loss of reputation. But the affair had the important consequence of bringing him into diplomatic contact with Lodovico Sforza, the pope and Venice. The lengthy negotiations that ensued as they tried to draw him back into Italy reveal the importance that they attached to winning him over from the French, and also give some insight into how Giuliano della Rovere, only a few years before he became pope, responded to appeals to his patriotism as an Italian.

Ill-conceived the campaign may have been, but, nevertheless, it caused considerable alarm to Lodovico and his ally, Venice. In early December 1496 Vincula and Battistino left Lyons for Avignon, where they paused to gather troops and lay their plans. Vincula left Avignon on 24 December, and then wandered around a little, sowing confusion as to what his next move might be. On 6 January he entered Turin with Louis de Villeneuve, a French commander who may well have become involved in the enterprise as his friend. From a Provençal family with estates near Nice, Louis was described by Commynes as ‘a friend of the cardinal and a bold talker’, and by the Milanese envoy in Turin as ‘crazy and vainglorious’.159 

Vincula was already in contact with another friend - and relative of Sixtus IV - Costantino Arniti, the regent of Monferrato, asking for victuals and a safe passage for the French troops. Monferrato controlled the passes over the Ligurian Alps leading to Savona and Genoa, so Costantino’s cooperation was important. The Milanese envoy in Turin, Mafeo Pirovano, feared that his friendship with Vincula might swing his decision in favour of the French.160 Indeed, the whole plan of campaign was founded on hopes that friendship and family links would make Savona and Genoa rise against the Milanese when the French troops appeared. The strategically vital, politically fragmented, territory between France and Italy was Vincula’s home ground, and his contacts and influence there constituted one of the reasons why he was considered to be so dangerous to the peace of Italy.

A few days after reaching Turin, Vincula left for Asti, where the troops were already restive for lack of pay and the commanders at cross-purposes. He sent a man ahead to Savona to assess the strength of the forces there and open talks with citizens who he hoped would be favourable to his cause. Two men despatched to ask for the surrender of Savona were sent back by the Milanese commander, Lucio Malvezzi, with a threatening message. Vincula and the thousand or so infantry that he had brought do not seem to have managed to penetrate beyond Altare, about eight miles from Savona. When he did not get the response from the Savonese for which he had hoped, he lost heart, and withdrew to Monferrato in early February. The attempt on Genoa met with no better success.

Soon the leaders of the enterprise were quarrelling about what should be done next. In early March, Charles sent Pierre d’Urfé to try to restore some harmony to the command and some discipline among the troops, who were reported to be refusing to obey Trivulzio and Vincula. There was another, half-hearted, move towards Savona, which stopped at Cairo, about twelve miles away. On 9 March, Vincula sent a man to Lucio Malvezzi, saying how he wanted him to come over to the French and promising that he would be given money and estates. Malvezzi replied by pointing out that the Prefect’s affairs were in a bad way and Ostia under siege, and that now it should be clear that ‘Italy will be for the Italians, and France for the French.’161 Soon the attempt on Savona was abandoned and the infantry disbanded.

Throughout this campaign (if campaign it could be called), Vincula had been negotiating with Milan, Venice and the pope. Speaking to the Milanese agent in Savoy, Pirovano, in early January, he gave ‘a long account’ of his actions. ‘Saying he had always intended to be on friendly terms’ with Lodovico, he recalled, in particular, the reception that he had had in Lodovico’s name when he had passed through Savona, having left Ostia ‘so as not to fall into servitude under the pope’. Once in France, and when he had come to Italy with the king, he had always tried to follow Lodovico’s advice. And yet there had been no mention of him or the Prefect in the league that Lodovico had made, nor in the agreement that it had reached with Charles, despite the offers that he had made to come to reside in Milan or Venice - whichever they chose - provided that he was safe and the Prefect was taken into their protection. He felt abandoned by all the Italian powers. Seeing no other way to save himself, he had been forced to go to his diocese in Avignon and seek the shelter of the king, without, however, scheming against the interests of Italy. 

But now, hearing that his brother’s affairs had been given by the league into the power of the pope, and having been requested by the king to come to Italy to serve His Majesty in an enterprise that could also provide some remedy for his brother’s predicament, he had come, with the intention, not of attacking Lodovico, but of serving the king, as a cardinal and not as a soldier. His duty was to carry out faithfully and diligently the commission given him by the king to the Duke of Savoy, the Governor of Monferrato (Costantino Arniti) and elsewhere as might be necessary. He declared that he personally would not go to any place of danger, and ‘would be careful not to fall into the hands of whoever wished to take revenge’ on him.

Urged by Pirovano to leave the French and come over to the league, Vincula said that he would like to do so, but he had gone so far that he didn’t see how he could honourably change direction, and especially how he could do so without making an enemy of the king while finding all the league against him at the instance of the pope; this would mean disaster for his brother. He could see no other course than to press on 

in the king’s service, with fidelity and diligence, and in the habit of a cardinal, and for the preservation of his honour, and of his brother, commit his property, his life, his very soul to the task. And if the Lord God brought him on the right track, that is so that he could live in Rome as a good cleric and good cardinal, his wish for quiet and repose would be satisfied. If things turned out differently, he would regret it, but he would be content to have served the king well in the commission he had been given.

Should this involve offending Lodovico, he would take care not to fall into his power, so as not to be ill-treated by him. Pirovano, taking his leave, said Lodovico would do as he was done by; if Vincula acted like a soldier, he would be treated like a soldier. Vincula said he would be serving as a cardinal, with words only.162

He had been desperate about his brother’s predicament for months. The Prefect was one of the last supporters of France still holding out in Naples, and Vincula’s encouragement of a return by the French to Italy in the summer of 1496 had been fired by the hope that this would bring succour to him. As the prospect of a French return was fading, he asked the king to tell him if he did not intend to go, so that he could make provision for his brother.163 By December the Prefect was describing his situation in a letter to his wife as dangerous, with all the new estates he had been given by Charles having rebelled against him and the loyalty of his other lands shaky, except for Arci, Sora and Rocca Guglielma.164 The fortresses were defended for him by the Basque Gratien d’Aguerre, whose brother had served Vincula in Avignon in 1481 (Menaud himself was in Ostia.) As soon as Vincula reached Savoy, and had established contacts with the envoys of the league, he emphasized that a settlement for the Prefect was a sine qua non for ensuring his own agreement to leave the French. This would be the basis of all the negotiations with Vincula over the next year and more.

These prolonged negotiations were complicated, and are not worth following in close detail for the basic positions of the parties to them changed little. Nevertheless, they are significant, for they reveal what the leading Italian powers thought of Vincula. Still more significantly, they reveal how Vincula responded to appeals to him to think of the interests of Italy. The attitudes he adopted at this time accord with the policies that he would adopt a few years later after he became pope. As cardinal, he declared himself willing to behave as a ‘good Italian’, and that he ‘loved his homeland, that is Italy, more than any other nation’.165 But his priority was the security of his brother and himself, and to ensure that, he was ready to encourage and promote French rule in the peninsula. As pope, his first priority was the consolidation of the temporal power of the papacy; to achieve this, he was ready to use French, Spanish, German and Swiss troops to fight on Italian soil, and to acquiesce in their claims on Italian territory.

The negotiations that began in Savoy in January 1497 were continued by a variety of intermediaries. One of the most important in the early stages, until his death in November, was the Duke of Savoy, Philip of Bresse, who had recently crowned a reckless and turbulent career by succeeding his young nephew. The duke’s chief minister, the Treasurer of Savoy, Sebastien de’ Ferreri, was on good terms with Vincula and was in frequent contact with him, in personal meetings or by letter - though by the summer of 1498, Vincula had begun to feel that he was too close to Milan to be really trustworthy. At an early stage, in the spring of 1497, Vincula’s relative, Costantino Arniti, the Governor of Monferrato, became involved, but was too little trusted, and considered to be acting too much in the interests of Venice to be acceptable to the other members of the league. Most of the negotiating was done by the envoys and agents of Milan, Venice and the pope who were based in Savoy, sometimes talking to Vincula personally, sometimes to members of his household.

Two members of the household were particularly active: Coriolano Cippico, Bishop of Famagusta, a humanist of some repute, who was considered a partisan, indeed an agent, of Venice by the Milanese Pirovano; and Francesco Alidosi di Castel del Rio, Vincula’s chamberlain and already one of his most trusted servants, a man destined for great power, and notoriety, during Julius’s pontificate. Alidosi was sent on missions to Milan and to Rome at crucial stages of the negotiations. Another Francesco, Francesco Gonfalonero, was active for several months, and was also sent to Milan, but Vincula came to distrust him and it was only the fact he was related to the Treasurer of Savoy that saved him from dismissal from the household. A certain Piergiovanni da Forlì was sent to Venice on Vincula’s behalf, but there was some doubt about whose service he was really in; Pirovano considered him to be a Venetian spy as well. Pierpaolo da Cagli, sometimes described as Vincula’s secretary, sometimes as secretary of the Prefect, ‘a skilful man in every sort of business’,166 helped the brothers to maintain contact and was also sent by Vincula to France. In Rome, Vincula’s faithful friend Cardinal da Costa, a man above suspicion even by Alexander, was the chief intermediary.

From first to last, Vincula’s central concern was his brother’s safety, and the salvaging of as much of his lands as possible.

Affection for his brother was no doubt a powerful motive, but there was surely more to it. On Giovanni and his children rested the hopes of establishing the della Rovere as an Italian ruling dynasty, and Vincula fought hard for every fortress and estate that was, or had been, in his brother’s possession. His lands in papal territory were as much at risk as his lands in Naples, for he had mortally offended Alexander by capturing, in November 1494, a Turkish ambassador and a papal envoy coming from Constantinople with documents that showed that the pope, the head of Western Christendom, was encouraging the arch-enemy of the Christian faith to make war on the Most Christian King of France. Worse, he had captured 40,000 ducats, the annual payment made by the Sultan to the pope to keep his brother, and rival for the throne, a prisoner in the Vatican. 167This money constituted one of the most serious stumbling-blocks in the whole negotiations. Alexander could not bear to renounce it, and neither Giovanni nor Vincula could afford to pay it back. 

Without the support of his powerful brother, the Prefect would have been done for. As for Vincula’s own position, essentially he required a guarantee that he could continue to enjoy his offices and benefices without being obliged to live in Rome, for he had no confidence that he would be safe from Alexander’s vengeance, especially when Ascanio Sforza was still in the city.

Vincula’s terms were set out on his behalf by Francesco Gonfalonero in Turin in late March 1497. First, he wanted his brother to have both his ‘old’ and his ‘new’ estates (his ‘new’ estates were those that had been given to him in Naples by Charles), and his office of Prefect. He wanted the restitution of his own offices and benefices, and Ostia to be placed in the charge of a cardinal whom he could trust. He wanted the remission of the 40,000 ducats that the Prefect had taken from Alexander, saying he didn’t have the means to repay it at present. If the pope and the king accepted these petitions, Alexander should write a brief making explicit his goodwill, and Lodovico, Venice and the King of Naples should simultaneously send full mandates to their envoys in Turin to conclude an agreement. In return, he would come to Turin to make the agreement, and once this was concluded, settle in Italy, at a place acceptable to the pope and the other powers of the league.168

All he offered, in effect, was to leave the French. That was all he really had to offer. It is a measure of how much weight Milan and Venice believed him to carry in the councils of the French king and among the other Italian exiles with the French, that this was enough to keep them negotiating. They were not sure he was sincere at first, not sure he was not playing them along. In Venice, some senators said that if he could be won over, it would be as great a miracle as the conversion of St Paul.169 But the opportunity to bring back to Italy the man regarded as the most dangerous of the exiles was thought to be too good to miss. A way had to be found, Lodovico wrote to Ascanio, to 

take away from the French the fomentors of these troubles. Among them the one who can do the most, because of his authority and his wealth, and on whom all the others lean, is this Cardinal San Pietro ad Vincula who, it should be borne in mind, because of his brother’s situation, would risk his own life to find a way to save him. And so, since there’s reason to hope he could be drawn away from this expedition if he knew it would make his brother secure, nor would he care by whose hands his safety was obtained, and since, if this were done, most if not all of these alarms would cease, considering our present danger, which is linked with that of others, we want every effort to be made to win over San Pietro ad Vincula.170

Lodovico, who stood to lose the most if the attack on Genoa and Savona was successful, was the most vehement in arguing the advantages of this plan of action, but it also made good sense to many Venetian senators, and the Venetian envoy in Savoy was instructed to negotiate with Vincula through whatever channels the cardinal preferred.

The problem was that, while Milan and Venice were the members of the league most ready to negotiate, they were not the ones on whom the Prefect’s fate depended. All that they could offer Vincula was the free enjoyment of the income from his benefices in their territory and promises of intercession with their allies who were directly in conflict with the Prefect - Alexander and the new King of Naples, Federico. 171

For these two, the issue was not so straightforward. The pope was not keen to have Vincula back in circulation in Italy, unless he was in Alexander’s power in Rome. He wanted Vincula’s fortresses, he badly wanted the 40,000 ducats, and he may well have wanted the Prefect’s lands for his own family. Federico was faced with the problem of trying to reconcile all the conflicting claims to lands revived, or caused, by the French invasion of Naples and its aftermath, and was not inclined to disappoint those who had supported his dynasty’s recovery of the kingdom in order to satisfy Vincula’s demands that the Prefect should hold all the lands he had held before 1494, and the lands he had been granted by Charles, or their equivalent as compensation. The fact that the Prefect was at the heart of the last resistance to his rule did not make the king any better disposed towards him. Both the king and the pope, however, came under considerable diplomatic pressure from their allies in the league to set aside their personal interests and misgivings for the common good. Even Alexander - at this time - was susceptible to arguments about the desirability of keeping the French out of Italy.

At first, the envoys from Milan and Venice and the papal nuncio in Savoy worked together in negotiating with Vincula, but by the beginning of April they were each acting separately. The Venetians wanted to put Vincula and the Prefect under an obligation to them, to increase their influence in the Marche through the Prefect and their influence in Rome through the cardinal. Alexander was playing a double game. To the ambassadors of the league, he insisted that Vincula was not to be trusted, that he must be forced to come to Rome, that there could be no compromise on the 40,000 ducats. Ostia was captured by Spanish troops for Alexander on 9 March from its French garrison, and he insisted on keeping it. He published a bull confiscating all Vincula’s offices and benefices. But this bull may not have been put into effect, and to Cardinal da Costa he spoke of his willingness to be reconciled with Vincula. According to the papal nuncio in Savoy, the pope saw the cardinal as a useful future protector for his son Cesare.172 The sticking-point was the money, but, eventually, Alexander was convinced that it could not be repaid immediately. 

In early June, without consulting his allies, he agreed terms with da Costa, which Vincula accepted. These terms, so Ascanio reported, were that the cardinal was to be in Italy within forty days, was to stay in places ‘friendly’ to the pope and acceptable to himself - Bologna and Senigallia were suggested - and was to be loyal to Alexander. If he came to Italy within the specified time, all his benefices and offices would be restored to him, and the past would be forgotten. If he came to Rome, a castellan acceptable both to him and to the pope would be put in Ostia, and he would pay 2,500 ducats for building work that the pope had had done there. Some terms relating to the Prefect’s affairs - a full pardon, help with the recovery of his lands and some concessions on the repayment of the 40,000 ducats - were also specified, but Alexander wanted the Prefect to send a man to Rome to settle these matters.173

These terms were considerably less favourable than those Vincula had been asking for in late March, and there is no direct evidence as to why he accepted them. They offered no guarantees for his brother, but it may have been precisely his brother’s interests that he had in mind. The Prefect had had to come to terms with Federico (after asking his brother’s permission), and it is probably no coincidence that about the time Vincula accepted the agreement with Alexander, the Prefect returned to Senigallia after spending two years in the kingdom of Naples. If Vincula had refused the agreement, how safe would his brother have been in the Papal States? Nor was there any mention of Vincula’s having to renounce his connection with France.

In fact, he had gone to Lyons in May to ask for the king’s permission to conclude terms with Alexander. Charles had wanted him to return to France - and had sent Pierre d’Urfé to persuade him - but he gave his consent, if somewhat reluctantly, so that when Vincula went to Avignon and reached agreement with the pope, this did not represent a breach with the French. And when he came into Italy, to fulfil his part of the bargain, he came no further than Savoy. This did not satisfy Alexander, nor reassure the other members of the league, but all suggestions that he should come further south were politely rejected.

For the next year, he divided his time between Savoy and Monferrato, doggedly insisting that the Prefect should have all his lands, or at least full compensation for those that could not be taken from their present holders. At times, he was acutely worried about his brother, but he was not prepared to see him stripped of his estates. Alexander continued to hold out for his money, and did not like Vincula’s proposals that, for example, Federico should promise to pay him the cash, to set against the lands the king said he could not give to the Prefect.174 By late March 1498 negotiations had been broken off completely between the pope and the cardinal.

Vincula also had to contend with a couple of bouts of serious sickness. In October 1497 he was dangerously ill. In the following April he was said to have colic brought on by anxiety about his brother, but, soon after, his malady was reported to be ‘the bad sort of French pox’, bringing sores on his face and pains in his bones.175 These attacks of syphilis continued for several months.

There was some relief for his pain in the turn of events. During the night of 7 April the young French king died, lying on a makeshift bed in a sordid corridor of his palace at Amboise, after banging his head on a door lintel. Neither of the two sons born to his queen had survived him, and his heir was his distant cousin, Louis d’Orléans. Vincula was pleased to hear the news, speaking of Charles with some contempt. Louis cut a very different figure from his predecessor - handsome and vigorous. He and Vincula had shared a common purpose in encouraging Charles to keep up his involvement in Italy. With the kingdom of France, Louis inherited Charles’s claim to Naples, to which he added his own hereditary claim to the duchy of Milan through his Visconti grandmother.176

Vincula was at Chieri in Savoy when he heard the news of Louis’s accession and received a letter asking him to come to France. He had been threatening to return to France, but he replied to the king that his legs were troubling him and he was not fit for travelling. Some observers in Savoy suspected that he was biding his time to see what would happen, before deciding whether to move. He sent Pierpaolo da Cagli, who reported from Paris that he had been graciously received by the king. Louis was, in truth, being gracious to everyone in this honeymoon beginning of his reign, but his comments that he would plan an expedition to Italy once his coronation was over, and that, in making his plans, he would follow Vincula’s advice, were not intended as social pleasantries. Louis’s closest adviser, Georges d’Amboise, the Archbishop of Rouen, was also very welcoming, and offered his services if there was any business that Vincula wished to transact with the king.177

This favour from the new king strengthened Vincula’s position considerably, so that when Alexander began to seek an alliance with Louis, he found it necessary to be reconciled to the cardinal first. Papal ambassadors sent to Paris in July (who asked, among other things, that the French cardinals and Vincula should go to reside in Rome) were told that the king’s attitude to the pope would depend on how the pope treated French concerns. After receiving this unfriendly response, they witnessed the audience accorded to envoys from Avignon, who asked for confirmation of certain privileges that they had enjoyed. The king was most willing to comply, he said, ‘especially for love of San Pietro ad Vincula, whom he loved cordially and regarded as a special friend, and for whom he was ready to do as much as for any man in the world’; and he told Pierpaolo to report his words to his master.178 Vincula was delighted at this news and made sure that these remarks were known in Rome, summoning the papal envoy in Savoy to tell him about them. 

Alexander took the hint, and soon negotiations were under way once more in Savoy and Rome. On 18 August, Francesco Alidosi was sent posthaste to Rome to get a brief giving Vincula permission to go to Avignon. Alexander had already written another brief telling him to have no fears for the Prefect. By the beginning of September all differences between the cardinal and the pope had been settled. The terms of the agreement that da Costa made this time are not known, except that Vincula was to come to Rome by Christmas. Since there was no further talk of any threat to the Prefect, this time his brother’s differences with the pope may have been settled too.

One of the first outward manifestations of Vincula’s formal return to the fold of obedient cardinals in 1497 had been a letter of condolence sent to Alexander after the body of the pope’s son Juan, Duke of Gandia, had been fished out of the Tiber, with multiple stab wounds: he was as distressed, he said, with stunning insincerity, as if his own brother, the Prefect, had died.179 One of the first results of the 1498 agreement concerned another of Alexander’s sons, Cesare. His brother’s death (for which many held him responsible) had given him the opportunity to renounce his cardinal’s hat, which he had never wanted, and become the main secular, soldier nipote of the clan. Now he was coming to France in search of a bride, and Vincula was to receive him at Avignon (where he had arrived himself on 1 October), and to assist him at the French court. 

Cesare arrived on 28 October and stayed for just over a week, lodged with the cardinal in the archepiscopal palace. He was fêted with great magnificence, but the two principals did not appear to enjoy themselves very much. Neither had any reason to love or trust the other, and both were enduring attacks of syphilis. A week after Cesare left Avignon, Vincula followed him to the French court. Here he helped in the search for a bride willing to accept the pope’s son, after the girl first chosen, a daughter of King Federico of Naples who had been brought up in France, flatly refused to marry an ex-cardinal. This took some months, and Vincula wrote several letters to reassure Alexander, saying how impressed everybody was with Cesare, and how Louis was sure to find some suitable girl soon.180

The delay before a bride was found meant that there was no longer any question of Vincula returning to Rome by Christmas. During the next couple of years, there were occasional reports that he was planning to go to Rome, but he never did while Alexander was alive. He spent much of the summer of 1499 at Avignon, before going to Lyons to join Louis, who was making final preparations for his invasion of Milan. What part, if any, Vincula played in planning and preparing for this campaign is not known. The collapse of Sforza rule in the duchy of Milan was as swift as the conquest of Naples had been in 1495: on 6 October Louis entered Milan in triumph, with Vincula taking a place of honour in the procession. Vincula’s old enemies Ascanio and Lodovico Sforza fled to the protection of Maximilian, King of the Romans. Their attempted return in February 1500 looked briefly as though it might succeed, but ended in their capture and imprisonment in France.

With the disappearance of the Sforza, the most important source of information on San Pietro ad Vincula’s activities - the reports of Milanese agents and the letters from Vincula and his friends and servants that they intercepted and copied when they could - disappeared too. Consequently, not much is known of what he was doing over the next few years. Restless as ever, he spent much time wandering about in northern Italy, never straying very far from the areas under French rule or French protection.

While visiting his diocese at Lucca in July and August 1500, he tried, on Louis’s orders, to find a solution to the intractable problem of the Pisan revolt from Florence. Pisa had rebelled against a century of Florentine rule when Charles VIII was staying there on his way to Naples in 1494, and the French had encouraged the Pisans in their fight for independence; but Florence was an ally of France and constantly demanding the French do something to clear up the problems that they had helped to create. Florentine and Pisan ambassadors visited Vincula at Cento (which belonged to his diocese of Bologna) when he moved there in the autumn, but by early October he had given up and referred the problem back to the king.

The next year or two he seems to have spent further north. He visited Milan several times - he was reported to be there in February and July 1501, and to be there with Louis in July and September 1502. He also stayed in Savona, perhaps in Genoa too. One reason for his wanderings may have been that he actually had nothing much to do. He had no role in the government of Milan and though still welcome at the French court, had no particular role there either.

He continued to keep a watch over his brother, negotiating a condotta with Florence for him in October 1500, though the Prefect, in fact, did not seem very keen to take it on. Giovanni was ill, and died in Rome in November 1501. Vincula did not get on very well with his brother’s widow, whom he regarded as irresponsible, but he was the natural protector of his young nephew, Francesco Maria, and his sisters.

There was nothing that Vincula could do to ward off the attack by Cesare Borgia on Senigallia at the end of 1502. By then, the appetite of Alexander for lands for his children had become insatiable. The duchy of Urbino had been swallowed up in Cesare’s new duchy of the Romagna,181 and Giovanni’s widow, Giovanna da Montefeltro, had incurred the pope’s wrath by trying to help her brother the duke. Reports reached Rome that Francesco Maria - who was with Vincula - had, on his uncle’s orders, instructed his mother to use all the resources of his state to help the Duke of Urbino in his attempt to recover his lands in November 1502. When Cesare Borgia drove the duke out a second time, Vincula wrote to the pope denying that he had instructed Giovanna to help her brother, and arguing that if she had done so, Senigallia, which belonged, not to her, but to her children, should not suffer.182 Recognizing this would do little to deter the pope, he advised his sister-in-law that if Cesare Borgia did attack Senigallia, there should be no resistance. Only a couple of days were needed for Cesare to conquer Senigallia in the new year.

Louis was not in a position to be of much help to Vincula’s family at this time. He was disputing possession of the kingdom of Naples with the King of Spain,183 and the war was going badly for the French. He could not afford to use force to restrain Alexander - several other lords had already found that French ‘protection’ was no use against Borgia ambition. The pope was a little wary of proceeding against Vincula himself. In November 1502 he was reported to have annulled all the cardinal’s privileges, but this order had not been made public because he did not know how Louis would react. Vincula’s property was not confiscated; it was in the custody of da Costa. Earlier that year, in June, Alexander had attempted to capture the cardinal, sending Genoese galleys from Rome that were to try to lure him aboard on the pretext of a pleasure trip. In February 1503 he ordered him - with Cardinals Sforza, Riario and Colonna - to come to Rome, but there was no question of Vincula or the others being foolish enough to obey. In March 1503 Vincula was reported to be in France, in May at Savona. It was at Savona in August that the news he must have been longing to hear reached him — Alexander VI was dead. His years of exile were over.


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