The Papal Court

Like any other temporal ruler, the pope governed his dominions with the aid of a host of clerks and officials, some based in the capital and some in the provinces. Unlike other temporal rulers, he was also head of the largest international organization in Europe, the Roman Church, and many more officials were engaged in its central administration, under the pope’s command. Men came from all over Europe to make a career in the papal administration, though Italians were generally in the majority.275 Cosmopolitan the Roman curia may have been, but it would be the Italians who set the tone. Popes such as Alexander VI who were not Italian themselves encountered some hostility from the papal bureaucracy for that reason alone. The Flemish pope Adrian VI, who reigned for only two years, from 1521 to 1523, was so at odds with the ambience of the Roman curia that afterwards, until the election of Pope John Paul II, there was a tacit understanding that only an Italian could be head of the Roman Church.

Most of the papal officials and clerks, even those based in Rome, would not be known to the pope by face or name. Many of them would only ever see him over the heads of the crowd lining the route of a papal procession, or glimpse him at a distance as they went about their business in the papal palace. Those working for the papal chancery were not even based in the Vatican, but in a palace on the other side of the Tiber, in Julius’s time - at the palace later called Sforza-Cesarini - and the chancery scriptors, who engrossed papal bulls, worked in their own homes. Julius planned to move the other offices of the administration, including the Apostolic Chamber and the increasingly important office of the datary, into a vast, new, purpose-built Palazzo dei Tribunali on the Via Giulia. Bramante designed it for him, and construction was begun but never got beyond the ground floor.276

It is in the nature of bureaucracies to be constantly expanding unless deliberately cut back, and the papal bureaucracy was no exception. Since the pontificate of Sixtus IV, that expansion had been accelerated by the creation of offices whose sole purpose was to provide revenue to the popes through their sale. None were yet - quite - a sinecure, but the need to find something for these new officials to do made transacting business with the curia still more time-comsuming and expensive than it had, notoriously, been for centuries.

From the point of view of the officials, these offices were essentially a form of investment. In return for payment of a capital sum, they got nominal duties and a steady income, about eleven or twelve per cent a year return on their capital at the start of the sixteenth century. From the point of view of the popes, the offices were a way of raising loans, bringing useful cash bonanzas and a variable, but sometimes substantial, annual revenue from the sale of offices that had fallen vacant for one reason or another, but also imposing a burden of interest payments, in the form of salaries, which became a heavy charge on papal finances. 

Julius used the sale of offices to raise money. Much of the war chest that he was garnering in the early years of his pontificate came from this source. He also created offices for sale, notably a college of 101 Scriptores Archivii Curiae Romanae, in 1507, which raised 70,000 ducats, and 141 Praesidentes Annonae or Praesidentes Ripae (who were supposed to supervise the import of food stuffs to Rome), in 1509, which raised 90,000 ducats. Like any financial market, that for venal offices was subject to outside influences and political disturbances. In December 1511 Julius had 40,000 ducats’ worth of offices to sell that no one wanted to buy because the income from them had been halved by the wars.277

Selling the right to hold offices in the curia restricted the range of those who could be appointed to men able and willing to pay. But, for most of the offices affected, this was less a restriction on the pope’s powers of patronage - for he would rarely, if ever, have been personally concerned in appointments to minor offices anyway - than on those of the higher officials who had controlled the appointments. There could still be an element of choice, in that there would usually be several candidates for an office. The more important the office, the more likely it was that the pope would be directly involved in choosing who would fill it, and the more likely it was that it would not necessarily go to the highest bidder. Antonio Ciocchi da Monte San Savino was made one of the auditors of the Apostolic Chamber in July 1504, although he only offered 6,000 ducats while others had offered up to double that amount, because Julius ‘wished the good name of this man to be worth more than what others were willing to pay’. 278

Other considerations, besides money and personal merit, could be taken into account. A request from the government of Bologna that one of its citizens, Alessandro Palleotto, should be appointed an auditor of the main papal judicial tribunal, the Rota, was turned down by Julius on the grounds that one of the incumbent auditors was a Bolognese and, as there were only twelve of them altogether, he did not want to have two from the same ‘patria’.279 A few months earlier, Ferdinand had reminded the pope that he had promised to appoint a Spaniard to this tribunal.280

The money to be made from the disposal of offices always loomed large, however, and could affect appointments to benefices too. Most office holders aspired to hold important, and lucrative, ecclesiastical benefices, but most of these benefices could not be held in conjunction with offices at the curia. Appointment to them could involve, therefore, the sacrifice of a man’s offices. For the right benefice, it was a sacrifice willingly made. When someone could be found who would accept an abbey such as that of Santa Cristina in Pavia, which provided an income of 3,000 ducats a year, in exchange for relinquishing offices worth 13,000 ducats, which the pope could then sell,281 the ‘merits’ of such a candidate were hard to ignore.

Occasionally, protests could be heard, even from those at the heart of the system, against the practice. In consistory in December 1509 the bishopric of Perugia, said to supply an income of 800 ducats a year, was given to a protonotary Spinola, a nipote of Cardinal Riario, who would surrender a secretaryship worth 4,000 ducats. Cardinal Briçonnet ‘rose to his feet and said, “Holy Father, I don’t believe this is a good way to proceed, that benefices are not given except to those who leave offices. I believe this is to the discredit of the Holy See. For the love of God, some thought should be given to this.” His Holiness replied that it was something that could be done … and that could be tolerated, being done for the benefit of the Apostolic See.’ Cardinal Vigerio, a theologian, who had been in Julius’s service for many years, began to argue in support of what the pope had said, but Briçonnet stood his ground, saying that if he read his books carefully, he would find that it was against all the canons. 

It was thought to be astonishing that such a challenge should be made to the pope in public (and a measure of the current prosperity of French fortunes that it had been done at that moment), but then, the Venetian ambassadors who reported the episode remarked, it was amazing to see how benefices were being given out at that time, with none being awarded except to those who would relinquish offices worth four or five times the value of the income from the benefices.282

Money could buy an office in the curia, in the administration, but not at the political heart of the papacy, in the circle of the pope’s servants and family and favourite cardinals, with whom he worked and passed his hours of leisure. There were, of course, various degrees and kinds of intimacy with the pope, which could bring various degrees and kinds of influence with him. His barber, Tommasino, was described as being ‘one of the pope’s intimates, especially when he’s relaxing’,283 and had sufficient interest in politics to prompt him to write to the new regime in Bologna in 1507, exhorting it to obey the legate: he was made a citizen of Bologna the following year.284 There is no evidence, however, of Julius ever turning to him for advice, and it seems highly unlikely he would ever have done so. Other members of the pope’s household, particularly the majordomo and the treasurer, evidently could be figures of political significance, and were entrusted with important missions. A French majordomo, Pierre Le Filleul, Bishop of Aix, for example, was sent to France to see Louis in 1507. Francesco Alidosi served as papal treasurer for nearly two years before he was made a cardinal in December 1505, and, from the first, was recognized as being one of the most influential figures at the court. 

Members of Julius’s family would on occasion offer him advice on political affairs, which was not always well received. He was very fond of some relatives, such as his nephew Galeotto Franciotto della Rovere, whom he made Cardinal San Pietro ad Vincula in November 1503, and disliked others, particularly his sister-in-law, Giovanna da Montefeltro, but he was always wary of any of them trying to assume the role of a Girolamo Riario or a Cesare Borgia, and none of them had real political influence. As for the cardinals, who were supposed to be the counsellors of the pope, only some were regularly at his side, even of those that usually lived in Rome, and by no means all of them can truly be accounted members of the inner circle of the court.

The papal court was an amorphous entity, whose boundaries were as unclear to contemporaries as they are to historians. Such vague boundaries, and the difficulty of defining who was, and who was not, a member, are common problems in the study of courts, but, again, the dual nature of the papal government - the temporal aspect, and the spiritual aspect with international competence - complicate the picture. Ambassadors in Rome sometimes spoke of ‘the court’ thinking this or commenting on that in a way that implied they were speaking of a wide circle of people with an interest in public affairs but who would not necessarily have any influence on them. They seem to have been reporting the climate of opinion in the Vatican, the offices of the curia, the banks, the households of the cardinals and major officials. 

To an ordinary cleric in England, say, or in Germany, the ‘papal court’ would be the curia, the administrative bodies that levied dues and taxes on benefices or to which certain judicial business had to be addressed. For the King of France or the Signoria of Venice, this aspect of the papal court was one that they could not, unfortunately, forget, and rulers who had much routine business with the papal administration often kept a ‘procurator’ in Rome to steer it through the labyrinthine complexities of the curia procedures. But they had also to be aware of the papal court in the more restricted sense - the group of men whom the pope knew personally, with whom he worked and to whom he might turn for advice or information, men who could be awkward enemies or useful friends to a secular ruler. Membership of the papal household, even, did not make a man forget other loyalties or his own interests. Early in Julius’s reign, for example, the Spanish cardinals had good contacts in his household and were told ‘everything’.285

At the beginning of a pontificate, ambassadors were always on the alert to spot who the influential servants of the new pope would be, whom it would be worth approaching, to whom it might be worth giving a present, or a benefice in the ruler’s gift. They would also assess which cardinals were likely to enjoy the pope’s confidence, and observe which relatives of the pope seemed likely to enjoy his special favours, and whom it would be worth cultivating. 

A large consignment of carp that the Marquis of Mantua sent to his envoy in Rome for distribution arrived at a very timely moment, the Mantuan envoy reported, because he could give some to the pope, who was giving a sumptuous banquet to the envoys of Genoa and Savona. Some of the rest he shared among several cardinals: Caraffa, Pallavicino, Trivulzio, da Costa and Riario, ‘because of their authority, and friendship’ with the Gonzaga; Sangiorgio, because he was in charge of the segnatura di giustizia, supervising the signing of documents recording the pope’s personal response to petitions; Sanseverino, because he dealt with French affairs (and so he could give them to the Princess of Bisignano, with whom he was in love - which he did); the two cardinal nipoti, Clemente and Galeotto della Rovere, for obvious reasons; and Farnese, Fieschi and Soderini, for reasons that he did not explain. 

Two lay relatives of the pope also received a share: the Duke of Urbino, uncle (and about to be adoptive father) of the Prefect, Francesco Maria della Rovere; and Francesco Maria’s mother, Giovanna da Montefeltro - negotiations were beginning for a Gonzaga match for the boy, which would come to fruition a few years later. The datary, Fazio Santorio, who (among other duties) controlled the sale of offices, collected the money obtained in this way and held it for the personal use of the pope, had come to be one of the most powerful figures in the administration, and he and the pope’s personal secretaries, such as the historian Sigismondo de’ Conti, were men who could be of use ‘every day’. Thus they too got a share of the carp. So did the treasurer, Francesco Alidosi, because ‘he is the leading figure close to the pope of his familiars and household.’286

This list provides a snapshot of the inner circle of the court at the beginning of Julius’s pontificate, and it helps to illustrate two other peculiar features of the papal court: the virtual absence of women and, among the men, the very small proportion of laymen.

Celibacy among the Roman clergy was probably more honoured in the breach than in the observance. It was common for cardinals to have mistresses, and frequently to acknowledge the children that they fathered. Such conduct was no bar to the papacy, though it was considered scandalous that Alexander VI should have a mistress, and father children, while he was actually pope. Julius himself had at least one daughter, Felice, whom he brought to Rome and lodged near the Vatican. Near the Vatican, but not in it, for the etiquette of the court frowned on the pope even dining in public with women, let alone sharing his domestic life with one. One of the characteristics of his sister-in-law Giovanna that Julius found exasperating was that she did not always observe the unwritten rules governing the behaviour of the female relatives of the pope: for example, on one visit to Rome she caused a stir by paying formal visits to the cardinals. His daughter did keep to the rules, and her occasional presence in the Vatican gave rise to no scandals or critical comment. She can be considered a member of the papal court, though scarcely one who had any formal position or function, as the daughter of a secular ruler would have.

Male relatives of the pope by blood or marriage were virtually the only laymen of any political significance at the papal court, apart from the ambassadors of other powers accredited to the pope. None of Julius’s male relatives, however, had any substantial political influence. The major lay nipote, Francesco Maria della Rovere, spent much of his time in the duchy of Urbino, even before he inherited it, making only occasional visits to Rome. A much more permanent presence was a cousin of Julius, Bartolomeo della Rovere, but his role appears to have been that of trusted servant, rather than confidential minister, and there is no evidence that he had any say in the determination of papal policy. 

Military commanders, who might have constituted another group of influential laymen, could never feel at home in the papal court. In any case, Julius followed the pattern set by most Quattrocento popes, of appointing relatives to the major military commands. Nor was there any role for lay members of the Roman baronial families, apart from some ceremonial duties guarding conclaves. They were certainly not expected to attend upon the pope, like the nobility of a lay ruler would be. Leading bankers associated with the curia, such as Agostino Chigi from Siena, who held the lucrative monopoly rights to exploit the papal alum made at Tolfa, or the Genoese Sauli, who acted as the pope’s bankers, are rarely recorded as having much to do with the pope personally, however important their role in running the affairs of the papacy.

The laymen who saw most of the pope were probably the ambassadors and other agents of the secular rulers accredited to him. It is their despatches that provide the best picture of life at court, and of the environment in which Julius himself lived and worked, the atmosphere he created around him.

This was not a restful one. To begin with, he was physically restless. When he was in Rome, he moved frequently from his apartments in the Vatican palace to the Castel Sant’ Angelo or the Belvedere, or into the city to stay at a cardinal’s palace, especially one of those that he had built himself at San Pietro in Vincoli and Santi Apostoli. But he could never stay in Rome for long without taking trips outside the city.

His favourite refuge was the fortress at Ostia, which he seems to have treated as his own even though it had been given to Cardinal Caraffa and, after his death, to Cardinal Riario. One of the great attractions of Ostia for Julius was the sailing and fishing he could do there. He loved ships and the sea, and even just watching ships from the shore always gave him pleasure. Was this a passion that had developed when he was a boy at home in Savona, on the Ligurian coast? Not everyone shared his affection for Ostia and its pastimes. A Mantuan who went there for two days with Federico Gonzaga (the son of the Marquis of Mantua, who was being held hostage in Rome) complained of the great inconvenience to which everyone had been put, because it was such a small place and there was little to do, except look at the shore and watch the ships passing in the distance.287 The fact that there was no room for anybody but the pope, his servants and a few guests was probably another attraction of the place for Julius. He could escape from routine business, and ambassadors or cardinals who wanted an audience with him had to make a special trip to obtain one, and soon learned not to put themselves to the trouble of going to bother him about anything that could wait.

While Ostia was his favourite retreat, there were others. In the last years of his pontificate, he stayed several times at the villa at La Magliana near Rome that had belonged to Francesco Alidosi, Cardinal Pavia. Civitavecchia, which could be reached quickly by sea from Ostia, offered the opportunity of watching the progress of the building works at the fortress there, as well as the delights of its harbour. A trip to Civitavecchia could also be combined with an extended tour of the countryside round Rome, which offered an escape from the heat and disease that made Rome so uncomfortable and unhealthy in the summer.

Reluctant to stay in one place for long, Julius found it hard to keep still as he went about his daily business either. Except when he was laid up (as he quite frequently was) by an attack of fever, or gout, or syphilis, or haemorrhoids, when he would give audiences lying in or on his bed, he often strolled about as he talked to officials or ambassadors. He might just walk up and down the room or a loggia, or in a garden, but sometimes the ambassadors would be taken off to inspect some building works with him, for example, or to look at ships. This was a sign of goodwill and special favour; for an envoy to be left kneeling throughout the interview was a mark of the pope’s displeasure with him or his master.

Quite apart from the physical activity they might involve, audiences with Julius were rarely very relaxed affairs. Anyone who had anything to do with the pope soon learned that it was fatal to contradict him, and extremely difficult to tell him anything that he did not want to hear. His temper was on a very short fuse, and his rages were notorious. Servants who displeased him could find themselves driven from the room with blows of his cane. He had sufficient self-control not to mete out that sort of treatment to ambassadors, but they might find, if he did not like what they had to say, or if they happened to chance upon him in a bad mood, that they had to endure prolonged outbursts of invective and expostulation and insults. Once the storm had blown itself out, however, he would sometimes apologize, explaining he simply had to let off steam, and they shouldn’t mind too much anything he might say when he was angry. He could then become quite tractable, and discuss the matter in hand amicably. 

But this did not make the experience any more pleasant, and as he grew older, he became harder still to reason with. Bernardo Dovizi da Bibbiena, the secretary of Cardinal de’ Medici, who had to spend much time with Julius while his master was legate with the papal troops in the Romagna in 1511-12, found it an ordeal. ‘It kills you trying to negotiate with this man; when somebody says something he doesn’t like, either he refuses to listen to you, or he loads you with the worst insults ever heard.’288 According to Dovizi, the Venetian ambassador Girolamo Donà, who had just died, had said in his last illness that death would be sweet to him, because it meant that he wouldn’t have to deal with Julius any more.289 Encountering Julius in a good mood could be something of an ordeal too - ambassadors might have to put up with being clumped affectionately on the head or made to stagger under good-natured claps on their shoulders.

Although there were times when he liked to get away and go fishing, and he did not want to be bothered with business during the carnival season, Julius was passionately absorbed in the pursuit of his political goals. So absorbed was he once in a conversation with the Venetian ambassador that he failed to notice that the hangings near the bed on which he was lying had caught fire. (When he did notice and called for help, he became so excited that he lashed out with his cane at those trying to enter the chamber, until he was finally persuaded that he was in danger of burning to death if he did not calm down and let people in to extinguish the flames.)290 When affairs were not going well, he would lose his appetite and be unable to sleep, getting up to walk about the room, or reading and re-reading the latest letters, which he liked to keep with him. 

He liked to read letters himself, though he needed eyeglasses to help him and would lose his temper if he came to a word that he could not decipher. He would read out letters to those around him, interrupting himself to comment on what they said. Sometimes he did this without checking their contents first, so that he might find himself indiscreetly reading out news or opinions that would have been better kept private. Bad news could make him furious, even bring on a fever; good news would be greeted with cries of delight. Once, a Mantuan envoy who brought Julius some letters watched him leap out of bed in his nightshirt to read them and then, finding that they gave news of a victory, cavort around the bedchamber crowing, ‘Giulio e Chiesa’. All that day, he was laughing and joking, and seemed half out of his mind; anyone who came near him needed body armour on their shoulders.291

Inevitably, a man who could cut such a figure attracted some ridicule. ‘You can imagine that there has never been a greater fool than this one holding the Holy See ... As for myself, I’ve never known a greater madman’, was but one of Dovizi’s reflections on the pope.292 His well-known liking for drink did not help him to acquire a reputation for dignity, at his own court or with other princes. But Dovizi, like others who began by mocking Julius, came to feel affection for him. No one could be more lovable than Julius, wrote one member of his household, Alessandro di Gabbioneta, ‘he doesn’t know how to harbour anything bad in him, and anyone who says otherwise doesn’t know what he’s talking about.’293

But by the end of his pontificate, there were few who were loyal to him. When he lay dangerously ill in August 1511, ‘anyone who saw what the palatini [those who lived in the palace] are doing, would think he was dead, not just that he seems to be dying.’ They were busying themselves clearing out of the palace both their own goods and much that belonged to the pope. At times, during the night, he was left completely alone, with no one to look after him, for all the servants and relatives that he had.294 But this behaviour was common to ecclesiastical households. ‘It’s really pitiful to see the death of priests’, commented one observer of the behaviour of the servants of Cardinal de’ Gabrieli as he lay on his deathbed, ‘and the greater lords they are, the worse they are treated: even before they’re dead their servants are killing each other over their property … and they don’t give any thought at all to their master.’295

If Julius was no more successful than other princes of the Church in attracting true loyalty from the self-seeking career clerics by whom he was surrounded, he himself did show gratitude to those who had served him during his years as a cardinal. In the second creation of cardinals of his pontificate, in December 1505, he promoted nine men, five of whom are known to have served him before he became pope. The first, Fazio Santorio da Viterbo, had been in his service since at least 1485. During the years of his patron’s exile, he had stayed in Rome to look after his property, and he had been one of his attendants in the conclaves of 1503; soon after, he had been made datary. Marco Vigerio da Savona, castellan of the Castel Sant’ Angelo and a distant cousin of the pope, had been a protégé of Sixtus IV. He had been made Bishop of Senigallia about the time that it had been given to Giovanni della Rovere, and had served Julius when he was a cardinal.296 Francesco Alidosi, Julius’s treasurer and a favourite, had been one of his most trusted agents during his exile. Carlo Domenico del Carretto, Marchese di Finale, had also been one of his household prelates and been sent on missions to France; his family was related to the della Rovere by marriage. Lastly, Gabriele de’ Gabrieli da Fano had served Julius since at least 1493.

Two of the others in this promotion were members of the papal household, and may have served Julius before his election too. Antonio Ferreri, who was from Savona, and was allowed to use the surname della Rovere, was his majordomo. Robert Guibé, a Breton, who acted as a French envoy in Rome, was made a cardinal, Julius said, not because of his connection with Louis, but because he had long been a member of his own household.297 Of the two remaining members of this promotion, one, Leonardo Grosso della Rovere, was related to the pope, and the other, Sigismondo Gonzaga, brother of the Marquis of Mantua, was about to be, for his niece was betrothed to Francesco Maria della Rovere.

All in this creation, therefore, were men with whom Julius had close personal connections. There were rumours on several occasions later in the pontificate that he intended to make other familiars cardinals, but it was only in the final creation, in March 1511, that he promoted two more men who had done him personal service. Francesco Argentino, the datary since 1507, had been one of Julius’s chamberlains in the first years of the pontificate, and Antonio Ciocchi da Monte San Savino, the man to whom Julius had given the office of auditor of the Apostolic Chamber because he thought him the best candidate, though others had offered more money,298 had been used by the pope several times since then on special missions in the Papal States.

Julius was not so much given to making members of his family cardinals. There were still two of Sixtus’s half-dozen family cardinals, besides Julius himself, surviving when Julius was elected pope. One was Girolamo Basso della Rovere, who had never made much of a mark, and the other was Raffaele Riario, a leader of the College. In the first stages of the pontificate, Riario seemed destined to be one of Julius’s inner circle of counsellors, but it did not happen. Perhaps his disappointment at his nephews not being given Forlì and Imola estranged him from the pope a little; perhaps he was shouldered out by Alidosi: he certainly strongly opposed Alidosi’s promotion to the College in 1505.

Four della Rovere nipoti were made cardinals by Julius, but there were never more than two of them in the College at one time. Two were among his first promotion, in November 1503, but they both predeceased him. Clemente, Bishop of Mende, who had served as his lieutenant in Avignon, died in August 1504, without having made an impact in Rome. His companion, Galeotto Franciotto della Rovere, a son of Julius’s sister Luchina, was an attractive, mild-mannered and popular figure, and his uncle’s favourite; he had replaced Clemente as lieutenant in Avignon in March 1502. He was heaped with benefices and given the title of San Pietro ad Vincula. Appointed legate of Bologna in 1504, he was not tough enough to deal with such a politically demanding appointment, and he lost the legation after his uncle’s campaign against Bologna. His future prominence had been guaranteed, however, by the grant in 1505 of the important office of vice-chancellor of the Church. By 1507 he was said to have an income of 40,000 ducats a year. His death, in September 1508, grieved Julius deeply - he wanted Galeotto to be reburied with him in his own tomb. 

The pope’s only consolation was to transfer immediately all his offices and honours to his brother, Sisto, who was said to be as ignorant and clumsy as Galeotto had been learned and accomplished.299 The new San Pietro ad Vincula was never as close to his uncle’s heart as his brother had been, nor was he entrusted with any important mission. The fourth della Rovere nipote, Leonardo Grosso della Rovere, promoted in 1505, was given a number of legations - of Viterbo in 1506, of Perugia in 1507, and in Rome during Julius’s second prolonged absence in the northern Papal States, in 1510-11. He was also given Julius’s old office of Grand Penitentiary when it fell vacant in 1511. But, again, his real influence was always limited.

It was not a shortage of candidates among the della Rovere that stopped Julius from making more of them cardinals. Indeed, he apparently wished to avoid doing so. Before the final creation of his pontificate, he was anxious to find a cover for his promotion of the Venetian Francesco Argentino, whom he did not want to be thought of as ‘his’ man, and arranged for the Doge of Venice to ask for it. He would then have some excuse to make to his family for not promoting two relatives - Orlando del Carretto, his treasurer; and a son of Bartolomeo della Rovere - who were regarded as being in line for the College: he could tell them that he was not promoting any personal candidates this time around.300

It was accepted practice for cardinals to be created at the request of secular powers, who kept a jealous watch on the numbers of their rivals’ subjects who were in the College. Lesser Italian dynasties, such as the Gonzaga and the Este, regarded having a cardinal in the family as an important status symbol, and would lobby tirelessly for years to achieve this. Juggling all these claims called for considerable diplomacy on the part of the popes.

Julius’s first creation consisted of his two nipoti, Galeotto and Clemente; a Frenchman, François de Clermont, Archbishop of Narbonne, a nipote of Cardinal Rouen, whose promotion was part of the agreed price for Rouen’s support in the conclave; and a Spaniard, Juan de Zuñiga, whose promotion balanced that of Clermont and was a reward for Spanish support in the conclave. At the time of the second creation, Julius was careful to point out that he was promoting Robert Guibé as his man, and not to please the King of France, but the third promotion, in December 1506, was an entirely French affair, with three nipoti of Rouen - Jean François de la Trémoille, Archbishop of Auch, his sister’s son; René de Prie, Bishop of Bayeux, another sister’s son; and Louis d’Amboise, Bishop of Alby - all created cardinals at once. 

This was a reward for French support of the campaign against Bologna, though Alby had to wait for years before his promotion was published and he was formally accepted into the College.301 Julius withheld full recognition of him for political motives, first to induce his brother Chaumont, the viceroy of Milan, to take tougher action against the Bentivoglio, and then to symbolize the cooling of relations with Louis. Publication of the promotion of the other two was delayed as well, until May 1507, when a Spaniard, Francisco Ximenes Cisnero, Archbishop of Toledo, was made a cardinal to please Ferdinand. It was thought that Julius also wanted to create a counterweight to Rouen, for Ximenes was a very influential prelate in Spain, and extremely wealthy.

Ferdinand was not satisfied, and when there was talk of an impending creation in the winter of 1510-11, he proposed three candidates, saying that the pope should not deny him a little thing like that.302 Julius did deny him. There were no Spanish - or French - cardinals in the batch promoted in March 1511. But it did include four men promoted primarily from political motives: Christopher Bainbridge, the Archbishop of York and English ambassador in Rome; Matthaeus Schiner, Bishop of Sion, who had been of great assistance in recruiting Swiss infantry; Matthaeus Lang, Bishop of Gurk, Maximilian’s right-hand man; and Alfonso Petrucci, whose father, Pandolfo Petrucci, dominated Siena and had been assiduously cultivating Julius for some time.303 Rumours continued that another promotion was in prospect, and Ferdinand continued to suggest candidates. A list of twelve prospective cardinals circulated in late 1511 included two Spaniards, a Portuguese and a Venetian, but Julius did not create any more before his death.

Apart from personal connections and political favours, one other motive for promoting men to the College began to be mentioned in the later years of the pontificate: money. Alexander VI certainly sold cardinals’ hats; it is not certain that Julius did. His defence of the practice of giving benefices only to those who would vacate offices that could be sold makes it credible that he may have done so. Girolamo Donà, the Venetian ambassador, assured the Doge that if a Venetian patrician were prepared to spend, he could easily become a cardinal. He listed details of the cash given by those spoken of for promotion in March 1511, and the offices that they would leave vacant. Bandinello de’ Sauli was said to be giving above 25,000 ducats, for instance, while Francesco Argentino would relinquish offices worth 8,000 ducats and put up 4,000 ducats in cash. Nonetheless, there were personal and political reasons for the promotion of every candidate on the list.304 Dovizi also spoke of prelates lending money to the pope on the strength of promises of a hat,305 but none of those whom he mentioned in this connection appeared on the lists of potential candidates. 

So, while some observers, and some prelates, believed that a cardinal’s hat could be bought, there is no evidence that Julius ever promoted anyone to the College solely for financial gain, although there are grounds to suspect that he may have been prepared to accept ‘gifts’, and certainly that he would have been well aware of the possibilities for gain represented by the offices that candidates would vacate. When he was on his deathbed, his confessor told him that he must return any money he had accepted for such promotions.306

One distinct category of candidates that can be seen in the promotions of other popes - even of Alexander VI - but that is missing from those of Julius is that of scholars. No one was ever made a cardinal by Julius simply in recognition of his learning as a canon lawyer or a theologian, nor because of his literary skill, nor because he was the head of a religious order. Ximenes was an austere, learned man, a great patron of education in Spain, but that was not why he was made a cardinal.

One reason for this omission may have been that scholars and heads of religious orders were liable to be comparatively poor men, and Julius would have had to provide them with a subvention so that they could live in a manner befitting a prince of the Church. He was prepared to do this if he had to. When the impecunious Cardinal Raymond Peraud arrived in Rome in October 1504, the pope gave him money and furnishings, and paid for the lease of a house for him for a year. He felt responsible for providing poorer men of his own creation with enough benefices to provide a respectable income, but he did not think that he had to make it possible for them to live in the lordly style of the richer cardinals. 

Scions of princely houses such as the Gonzaga and the Este were expected to make a show; cardinals of less distinguished family could live more modestly. Discussing arrangements for Cardinal d’Este to come to Rome, Julius said he thought that the palace of Santi Apostoli would be suitable for such as him. Recalling the time that he had lived there himself, he said it was fitting for a ‘signore’ to live in a palace where he would be able to withdraw from the press of visitors, and come and go quietly if he wished. It was not for such a one as his own man Cardinal de’ Gabrieli; he and his small household would be lost in it.307

Those promoted to the College by Julius out of his household continued to serve him in their new dignity. Men from this group became the principal palatini cardinals, the men who had rooms in the Vatican and helped the pope in the transaction of daily business. So many cardinals had been given lodgings in the palace towards the end of Alexander’s pontificate — twenty-three, according to the Ferrarese ambassador - that there was no room for Julius’s household, he claimed, and he asked them all to leave. He did not scorn all of Alexander’s cardinals: three of them, Gianantonio di Sangiorgio, a learned man who published books on canon law, Lodovico Podocataro, a Cypriot, and Francesco Soderini, a secular-minded man, brother of the elected permanent head of the Florentine government, Piero Soderini, were among his confidants in the early years after his election. Da Costa, who had stood so long his friend, was given rooms very near the papal apartments, and was recognized by everyone as enjoying the pope’s special respect. During a serious illness in October 1504, when Julius was refusing all food, da Costa was brought to his room because it was felt that he, if anyone, could persuade him to eat.

By the middle of the pontificate, this core of advisers had changed. Podocataro died in August 1504, da Costa was very old and increasingly infirm, Soderini became somewhat suspect, as a partisan of France like his brother, and Sangiorgio seems to have lost some favour. Cardinals that Julius himself had promoted now formed the majority of the group that he liked to have around him. His favourite nipote, Galeotto della Rovere, was one of them, and, inevitably, Francesco Alidosi was another. Two other longstanding servants who had been made cardinals were brought into the palace: Fazio Santorio and Marco Vigerio. Both kept the pope’s confidence, Santorio until his death in March 1510, Vigerio for the rest of the pontificate.

The allocation of rooms was an index of papal favour. In June 1507 Galeotto della Rovere was assigned new rooms in the Vatican, after Julius had decided that he needed his help to relieve some of the burden of routine business. As Galeotto was given rooms that had been occupied by Alidosi, including some of the apartments Alexander VI had lived in and the Torre Borgiana, this was seen as a sign of declining favour for Alidosi, who did not give them up without a fight. This was but one of several episodes during which it was thought that Alidosi was losing his hold over Julius, but he kept a special place in the pope’s affections and his counsels, until he was murdered in 1511 by Francesco Maria della Rovere, who had hated and resented him for years.308

No one succeeded to his special position with the pope, though Cardinal Ciocchi fancied that he did. Another man from the same, last, creation, Pietro Accolti, also became a palatine cardinal after their promotion. Both enjoyed the pope’s confidence; neither of them was very popular with their fellows.

There were other cardinals whom Julius liked to have with him when he was relaxing, generally men from noble or baronial families. Among the more frequent guests on hunting trips were three cardinals: Giovanni Colonna, a good man but not very learned; Alessandro Farnese who was the amiable brother of the beautiful Giulia, Alexander VI’s mistress, and who later became Pope Paul III; and Luigi d’Aragona, a natural son of King Ferrante of Naples. These leisure companions were never among the pope’s closest political advisers: he seems simply to have found them congenial company, especially on his trips outside Rome.

If Julius turned to individual members of the College for friendship and companionship as well as help with business, he was not willing to allow the College as a body much say in how he ran the papacy. Theoretically, the cardinals’ function was to act as counsellors of the pope, and important decisions were formally recorded as being made with their advice and consent. In practice, Julius was no more prepared to receive advice that he did not want to hear from the College than from anyone else. For him, the function of consistory in general was to approve decisions that he had already taken, not to help him formulate policy. 

Sometimes it suited him to emphasize the support of the College for his policies; and he would summon a special meeting of consistory to discuss the Venetian offer to surrender the Romagnol towns in May 1509, for example, or the peace terms on offer from France in April 1512.309 The public backing of the College was naturally important to him when a group of dissident cardinals, backed by Louis, summoned a council at Pisa in 1511, and there were times when he had to temper his response to reflect the wishes of the College in a way that he would not normally have bothered to do - in the measures taken against the schismatic cardinals themselves, for instance.310 It clearly irked him to have to do this.

He did make use, as other popes had done, of special commissions, which often represented each order of cardinals, so that there would be, say, two cardinal-bishops, two cardinal-priests, and two cardinal-deacons. It is not clear how much say the cardinals had in the appointment of such commissions or whether it was up to the pope to choose whom he wanted. They often included at least one of his nipoti, and other cardinals in his confidence, but usually at least one senior and independently-minded cardinal as well. Cardinal Caraffa, one of the longest-serving members of the College, and one not afraid to speak his mind, was frequently included. How much notice Julius took of what such commissions reported is not known, but, at the least, they provided him with a sounding-board of opinion in the College, without the potential embarrassment of holding a full-scale debate in which divisions among the cardinals, and disagreement with his own policies, might come into the open.

However much they might mutter in private, most of the cardinals were too scared of Julius to risk publicly opposing him. Julius expected them to regard him as their ‘padrone’, their master, and not their ‘compagno’, their colleague.311 He could tolerate polite, tactful disagreement, but he did not like cardinals to boycott sessions of consistory to show their disapproval. When a consistory was asked to approve a grant of three estates - Frascati, Monticello and Sant’ Angelo - to Niccolò della Rovere, brother of Galeotto and Sisto, in November 1508, only Grimani, of those present, raised any objection; and he did it ‘modestly’, saying that he left it to Julius’s own judgement. Cardinals Sanseverino and Briçonnet, having heard what would be discussed, did not turn up. Julius had been told that Sanseverino was going to disagree, and had said he would fix him with cash. Briçonnet had promised to come and give his consent, but then had been persuaded by Sanseverino to stay away. Julius was not very concerned about him, but he was angry with Sanseverino.312

Occasionally, a cardinal would speak up in defence of his home government, as the Venetian cardinals Grimani and Corner repeatedly did, but Julius could prevent them from voicing their opposition. The two Venetians were not summoned with the other cardinals to the meeting that was to consider the war against Venice in March 1509, and although they were present in consistory when the bull of excommunication against Venice was read out on 26 April, Julius formally imposed silence on them.313

Only in defence of their own interests would most of the cardinals find the courage openly to oppose his wishes. Nothing aroused more determined resistance to the pope by the cardinals than the prospect of an addition to their number. One of the bargains that Julius had struck with the other cardinals in order to secure his election to the papacy had been that he could create three new cardinals immediately - one of his own nipoti, a nipote of Cardinal Rouen, and a third, to be agreed - and that then there would be no more promotions for a long time, and not until the numbers in the College had fallen below twenty-four. In the event, he proposed four candidates - one for France and one for Spain (to encourage them to assist the Church against those who had invaded her territory, he said), and two of his nipoti. He recalled his promise to create only three new cardinals, but explained that he wanted to promote both nipoti at some stage, and that by promoting them together now, he would avoid being pestered by those who hoped to come into the College on the coattails of the second. He promised, on the word of a pope, not to create any more cardinals until the College asked him to do so.314

Within a year, however, he was quarrelling with the cardinals because he wanted to promote some more and they did not like either the idea or the men that he had in mind. It was not until a year later that he finally did make a second creation. He only achieved that by working on the cardinals individually first, and, even so, he claimed that several had promised him their votes in private, only to come out against the promotion in public. Only Leonardo della Rovere and Sigismondo Gonzaga were not opposed as candidates; objection was fiercest to Alidosi and Antonio Ferreri. It took Julius several hours to browbeat the College into submission in one exceptionally stormy consistory, with fourteen cardinals led by Caraffa and Riario standing out against him, while only twelve were ready to agree. As one cardinal after another spoke against the idea, Julius exploded into rage, crying, ‘I want to make them and I’m going to make them.’ He called the captain of the guard, and said that the cardinals would not leave until they had agreed, threatening to make thirty new cardinals.315 At length, he wore down nearly all of them, except Riario, who stood out because he hated Alidosi, and Caraffa, who was said to want a nipote of his own to be cardinal.316

Battered into submission, the cardinals eventually crawled out of the consistory, and Julius never had that degree of trouble with them again. Fears were expressed when the three French cardinals were promoted in 1506 at the danger of increasing the French presence in the College so much that the curia might be drawn back to France, but Julius dismissed the notion. There was some unease at the promotion of Ximenes, too, until the cardinals reflected that he was old, rich and unlikely to come to Rome. When Galeotto della Rovere died, the cardinals readily agreed to his brother’s appointment to take his place. They did not want to agree to the creation in March 1511, not to all the candidates named, anyway, but by then - except for those cardinals who were refusing to come to court and were beginning to plan the council to be held at Pisa - they lacked the spirit to put up a fight. Fears of setting an uncomfortable precedent did rouse them to object to Julius’s plans to demote the schismatic cardinals, but those who tried to plead for delay in consistory were cut short by Julius, and he forced them to agree.

One of those who tried to avoid taking part in this decision was Sisto della Rovere, the second San Pietro ad Vincula. He sent to say that he was ill; Julius replied that if he did not turn up at the consistory, he would regret it.317 He came. Julius did not expect his cardinal-nephews to take an independent line on important matters of policy, and, in general, they showed no signs of trying to do so. Nor did he expect much from them by way of trying to influence their colleagues: there is no evidence that he used his nipoti to help him to manage the College. If there was any opposition to overcome, he relied on his own formidable personality to do the trick.

His lack of reliance on help from his family was in marked contrast to the example of his own uncle, or of Alexander VI, or of many of the popes who followed him over the next three centuries. He gave his clerical nipoti honours and offices and benefices, and arranged prestigious marriages for some lay members of his family. But he would not permit them even to appear to have any influence over him. Unlike other popes, he did not encourage those seeking favour to approach him through the agency of his relatives.

Julius’s only known child was his daughter, Felice.318 She was brought to Rome from Savona by his sister, Luchina, in June 1504. He openly acknowledged his paternity - but was discreet. Felice was not loaded with money and jewels from the papal coffers, and, though she came to the palace to dine privately with her father, she had no public role. Julius set about finding a husband for her. She had been married at least once before, and was apparently not eager to repeat the experience; she had objected to several prospective husbands in the past, and flatly refused to marry one man favoured by her father: Roberto, Prince of Salerno.319 In 1506 she did agree to marry the eccentric Giangiordano Orsini, bringing him a large, but not lavish, dowry of 20,000 ducats, and went off to live with him at the great, gloomy castle of Bracciano. 

From there she made occasional visits to her father, and sometimes tried to speak to him about public affairs. One attempt that she made to settle the bitter dispute between Julius and the Duke of Ferrara by proposing a match between her daughter and the duke’s son was harshly dismissed by her father, who sent her away, telling her to attend to her sewing.320 Representations that she made to him at the request of Anne, Queen of France, about making peace with Louis were received more patiently but were ineffective.

Felice’s marriage to an Orsini was complemented shortly after by the wedding of another della Rovere girl, Luchina’s daughter Lucrezia, to a Colonna, Marcantonio, who had originally been spoken of as a prospective bridegroom for Felice herself. Julius had welcomed the suggestion from the Orsini of giving Felice an Orsini husband instead, because he had felt that it would provide greater future security for Francesco Maria, presumably on the assumption that linking the della Rovere to both major baronial families might help to protect them against persecution by a future pope. The marriage of Luchina’s son Niccolò to Laura Orsini was not a reinforcement of this policy, because her family was not truly a branch of the powerful baronial clan.321 But she was the sole child and heiress of her father, Orso Orsini, and she had inherited the exceptional beauty of her mother, Giulia Farnese, so Niccolò had no cause to complain. Julius also provided the couple with three small fiefs near Rome in 1508,322 although three years later he made Niccolò give one of them, Frascati, to Marcantonio Colonna, whose family had held it in the past, and gave him two former Orsini places, Gallese and Soriano, instead.

Niccolò was thus well looked after but, like Felice, was not so favoured as to cause a scandal, or to give rise to accusations that Julius was making improper use of the resources of the papacy to endow his family. Fortunately for him, the future of the della Rovere family as a signorial dynasty had already been secured by Sixtus, when he had endowed Giovanni della Rovere with Senigallia and other lands in the Marche. Giovanni’s marriage to one of the daughters of Federico da Montefeltro had turned out to open up even better prospects for his heir, Francesco Maria, for Federico’s only son, Guidobaldo, had proved unable to father children, and thus his death would raise the question of who was to inherit the duchy of Urbino. Federico had married off several daughters into Italian noble families, including the Sanseverino and the Colonna.323 Had Julius not become pope, there might have been stiff competition for the inheritance, but with his accession, there could be no contest, for the della Rovere were sure to win. 

All that Julius had to do was to have the ailing Guidobaldo formally adopt Francesco Maria as his son, and to have the adoption approved by the College of Cardinals, which was accomplished in May 1504. Francesco Maria was now set up as the heir to one of the most desirable quasi-independent fiefs in the Papal States. On the death of Guidobaldo, in April 1508, the eighteen-year-old della Rovere boy took peaceful possession of the duchy. In later years, there were reports that Julius was considering giving other lands to his nephew - Ferrara and Modena; and Parma and Piacenza, when these were taken from the French - but it is unlikely he ever seriously intended to do this. Under pressure from his family, just before his death, he did give him Pesaro, after refusing to give the vicariate to Galeazzo Sforza, uncle of the young signore Costanzo, when the boy died in 1512.

Despite his good fortune, Francesco Maria grew up to be ungrateful, discontented and disloyal. While Guidobaldo was alive, he was put under his tutelage, and spent much of his time with him in Urbino. He was betrothed to Eleonora, daughter of Francesco Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua, and of Isabella d’Este, sister of Alfonso d’Este, Duke of Ferrara. The boy was being groomed to take his place among the second-rank ruling families of Italy, but he learned his lesson too well. He identified himself with the interests of his adoptive family, and of his wife’s family, rather than with those of the pope.

Julius was fond of the boy and took pleasure in seeing him master the skills of horsemanship and preparing for the military career for which he was destined. He gave him condotte, though the effective command of the troops that he was given was exercised by the senior professional soldiers put by his side to educate him. Francesco Maria relished his life as a young prince - so much so, that both the pope and the Gonzaga warned him that he should begin to pay more attention to serious business and think about something other than riding and enjoying himself. As Guidobaldo lay dying, Julius decided that it was time to build up Francesco Maria’s status and reputation. He gave him a house in Rome, and ordered papal condottieri to apply to him if there was anything they wanted. In September 1508 he made him Captain of the Church.

But soon the relationship went sour. Francesco Maria spent most of his time out of Rome, away from the pope, and never had any influence over papal policy. He became jealous and resentful of his uncle’s favourite, Alidosi. When he was asked by the pope to undertake some military action, he was usually slow to obey, quick to complain that he could not do anything effective without more money or more men. In the war against the Duke of Ferrara, which was so close to Julius’s heart in the later years of his pontificate, he was particularly dilatory, under the influence of the Gonzaga, who were doing all they could to help Ferrara. In the last year of Julius’s life, at a critical stage of his war against the French, he openly, if briefly, switched his allegiance to Louis. 324

The delight Julius displayed when he received Francesco Maria’s message that he once again wished to serve the pope, and that he was ready to live and die with him, showed that he still felt great affection for him. On the whole, however, his nephew must have been a sore disappointment to him, a source of irritation and worry, rather than of support and solace. He was also responsible for one of the greatest scandals of Julius’s pontificate, when he murdered Cardinal Alidosi in the street in Ravenna - as in 1507 he had murdered his sister Maria’s lover, a favourite of Guidobaldo.

Had Julius lived much longer, and Francesco Maria continued on his erratic course, he might have had cause to be jealous of some other della Rovere nipoti. In the later years of his pontificate, Julius became close to Bartolomeo Grosso della Rovere, a brother of Cardinal Leonardo. Bartolomeo had served as the governor of Spoleto for several years before coming to live at court. By late 1510 he was an increasingly influential figure; by 1512 he was said to be with Julius day and night, to be the only man whom the pope trusted. Julius planned to make one of his sons a cardinal. But Bartolomeo had the misfortune to lose three children in a year, including his only son who was still a layman, Galeazzo, a youth of considerable ability and promise, in November 1512. Julius himself died a few months later without having given the promised cardinal’s hat.

In secular courts, the prince’s major military commander would often be part of the innermost circle. Leadership in war, with the dispensation of justice, was traditionally at the heart of the prince’s duties, and in the early sixteenth century it was still the exception for a secular ruler to play no practical military role. In contrast, military command was not supposed to be a function of the pope - not that this stopped Julius from taking personal charge of military operations - and soldiers would only be a part of the papal court if they were also members of the pope’s family. It had become the practice for popes to appoint a lay nipote as captain of the papal troops, although, usually, the nipote had little or no military experience and effective command would be exercised by professional soldiers at their side. Part of the trouble with Francesco Maria della Rovere seems to have arisen because, having received some military education, once he had been made captain of the papal troops he felt competent to take charge, while his uncle apparently did not agree. Julius was constantly looking for a reliable, tested senior condottiere to command the papal troops in war.

He had little luck in his quest, even though the della Rovere could count among their relatives by marriage some of the leading condottieri of the day. His first captain, Francesco Maria’s adoptive father, Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, did not inherit his own father’s military skills with his gout, and was so ill with this affliction and with syphilis that for much of the time he could not even mount a horse. Francesco Gonzaga, Francesco Maria’s father-in-law, whom Julius tried to employ in campaigns against Bologna and Ferrara, proved treacherous and idle. The Colonna were a family of soldiers, and two of them, Prospero and Fabrizio, were among the most sought-after soldiers of the day. Prospero, however, pitched his demands too high, was not willing to share command with anyone else and, besides, Julius felt, if sage in counsel, was insufficiently bold in the field. Fabrizio’s disappointment at the exclusion of his Montefeltro wife’s claims to the succession to Urbino made him somewhat resentful and unreliable, as his behaviour during the campaign against Ferrara in 1510-11 showed. Julius liked Marcantonio Colonna, who married his niece, Lucrezia, but though he did serve the pope faithfully in the tasks with which he was entrusted he was too junior to be given supreme command. 

The Orsini too had a long military tradition, but the only member of the family competent to exercise an important command, Niccolò da Pitigliano, was committed to serving Venice, with whom he had a contract for life. Felice’s husband, Giangiordano, was an honourable but strange man, and did not have the military skills of his father Virginio. Costantino Arniti, a relative of Sixtus IV, held condotte from Julius for most of the pontificate, but he only exercised subordinate commands and was more interested in politics. (He spent much of the pontificate shuttling between Julius and Maximilian, acting as a papal ambassador in Germany and an Imperial ambassador in Rome.) When, in 1511, Julius at last secured a competent commander for his troops - the Duke of Termini, who came from Naples and was ‘lent’ to him by Ferdinand - he fell ill and died on his way north.

This lack of success in finding a competent, reliable - not to mention healthy -commander for his troops, is mirrored by Julius’s difficulties in finding competent, reliable - and honest - men to share the burden of government with him. Sheer bad luck may account for this in part, but cannot be the whole explanation. Bad judgement of men, such as he had shown as a cardinal,325 was at the root of his problems too. He did try to choose men to serve him on the basis of their suitability for the task, not just on whether he found them personally congenial. He took away the legation of Bologna from his favourite nipote in 1507 to give it to a man whom he did not much like, but whom he had recently made a cardinal, because he believed that he was tough and able. The appointment turned out badly: Cardinal Ferreri was corrupt and oppressive, and, within six months, was recalled and shut up in the Castel Sant’ Angelo.326

The outstanding example of Julius’s bad judgement of men was his loyalty to Francesco Alidosi. Fortunate the favourite who does not attract jealousy and spite in a court, but the universal odium in which Alidosi was held was quite exceptional. Few pitied him when he was cut down in Ravenna by Francesco Maria; few mourned his death, except Julius. Even the usually detached Guicciardini denounced him as ‘thoroughly deserving, because of his enormous and infinite vices, of every kind of bitter torment’.327 Perhaps the best measure of how much he was hated is how little disturbed the other cardinals were by the manner of his death. Generally, the least assault on the dignity of a cardinal brought them rallying to the defence of their honour and privileges; nothing else could rouse them so. Yet they made no difficulty at all about absolving Francesco Maria, and this was not just to please the pope - Julius himself was more inclined to punish his nephew than they were.328

Why was Julius so loyal to Alidosi? Inevitably, there were accusations that his hold over the pope was a sexual one, but this was the common currency of insult and innuendo about figures at the papal court. Maximilian and Louis both made comments on Julius’s supposed designs on the young Federico Gonzaga when he was a hostage at the papal court,329 but the boy’s mother and his attendants had no fears on that score. Julius may have had homosexual lovers in the past, and had certainly had at least one mistress, but there is no evidence that he was sexually active while he was pope. He was prepared to send Alidosi away from court for long periods, to be resident legate in Bologna.

The explanation for Alidosi’s influence over Julius is, rather, that he knew how to handle him. He knew that Julius’s wishes must never be opposed directly; he could withstand anger and insults, and even blows. Alidosi flattered the pope with public displays of devotion, putting up an inscription describing himself as ‘Julii II Alumnus’ over the entry to the chapel in his villa at La Magliana and making the della Rovere oak and the arms of the pope, with his own arms, the basis of the decoration of the chapel of his Roman palace.330 Such signs of affection and recognition must have appealed to the pope’s warm and loyal heart. Even when he came to know of Alidosi’s misgovernment in his legation, and of his intrigues with the French, he could not bring himself to turn his back on such a friendship.

Moody, impulsive, unpredictable, with a violent temper, hard to advise and even harder to dissuade from a course of action on which he had set his mind, Julius was obviously difficult to work with. As the years went by, he was more than ever inclined to keep his own counsel. This may have contributed to his strength, his extraordinary determination to carry on against all odds. But he paid the price of increasing isolation. The sight of the indomitable old man directing siege operations in the middle of a bleak winter because there was no one around him who could be trusted to carry out orders properly, or lying mortally ill in the Vatican in 1511, deserted by his servants and his family, aroused pity in the envoys who reported the scenes. At such moments, this warm-hearted, generous, irascible, impossible man was almost a tragic figure.


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