VIII

The League of Cambrai


Julius made a magnificent formal entry into Bologna on 11 November 1506. Carried through the streets in his sedia gestatoria, wearing a purple cope shot through with gold thread and fastened by a jewel set with emeralds and sapphires, and a large jewel-encrusted mitre, he was the focal point of a huge procession that slowly made its way to San Petronio, the great communal church of Bologna, through streets filled with crowds and decked with tapestries and pictures and flowers. Triumphal arches had been erected along the route, celebrating him as the expeller of tyrants, the bringer of peace, the liberator of Bologna from tyranny. Specially minted gold and silver coins were thrown to the people, bearing the inscription ‘Bologna freed by Julius from the tyrant’.

Whether the Bolognese who thronged the streets in holiday mood were rejoicing at being freed from the ‘tyranny’ of the Bentivoglio is a moot point. Giovanni Bentivoglio had become increasingly suspicious and autocratic, his wife had been arrogant and haughty, and his sons were given to swaggering around the city with groups of bravos, but there were still plenty of supporters of the family left. Administration by papal officials, untempered by the political influence of the Bentivoglio, would soon feel more irksome to the citizens than the high-handed ways of Giovanni and his sons had been. For the moment, though, as the sun shone on the soldiers and officials and ecclesiastics processing through the streets, and on the watching crowds, relief at the removal of the threat of the French troops, who had taken a few days to accept that they would lose the opportunity to sack the prosperous city, made Julius a welcome sight to the Bolognese. Celebrations went on for three days, with bonfires and the ringing of bells.

Within a week of his arrival, Julius had reorganized the city government. Cardinals Galeotto Franciotto della Rovere, who was legate of Bologna, and Francesco Alidosi had been sent ahead when news of the departure of the Bentivoglio had reached the pope; and they had already deposed the Sixteen and elected twenty men, all merchants without a political following, to replace them. Warned that there could be trouble unless the Bolognese were provided with an effective civic government, on 17 November Julius announced the creation of a Council of Forty to replace the Sixteen. Some continuity was provided, because all but four of the Sixteen were to be members of the new council. They were to sit alongside some returned exiles of the Malvezzi and Marescotti families.387

One of the first acts of the Forty was their unanimous decision that Giovanni Bentivoglio and all his sons, and his male heirs to the fourth generation, should be exiled as rebels against the commune of Bologna, and banished to wherever Julius should choose, at least 200 miles from its jurisdiction. With only one dissenting vote, they also decided that all those who had left with the Bentivoglio and were at that time absent from the city were to be exiled for life, if Julius wished.388 As a further token of their devotion to the pope, they decided to present him with a gift worth 1,000 ducats, which they would have to raise a loan to pay for.

An expense that the Bolognese were unwilling to meet was the cost of rebuilding a fortress at the Porta Galliera, on the road leading to Ferrara, which had fallen into ruin. Julius pressed on enthusiastically with the scheme once he had decided that that site was best. Plans were completed by the New Year. By the middle of January work had begun on the foundations, and, before he left Bologna on 22 February, Julius laid the foundation stone. No doubt, he saw the citadel as strengthening the defences of the city - he had every expectation that the Bentivoglio would try to return - but the Bolognese regarded it as a symbol of the reinforcement of papal control, of a diminution of their liberties, and did not like it.

Already, Julius had decided that some concessions had to be made to keep the Bolognese from looking to the Bentivoglio. At first, he had decided that he would leave the taxes as they were. When the citizens sent representatives to ask him to relieve the tax burden, he replied he hadn’t made any promises to do so, and that the expedition to Bologna had cost him 100,000 ducats.389 He did, however, remit one particularly vexatious toll, and soon withdrew some more, trying to recoup lost revenue by imposing taxes on cronies of the Bentivoglio who had hitherto enjoyed exemptions. But he foresaw the need for sticks as well as carrots, and said he felt that he had better leave the government of Bologna to others. Some matters called for severity, he said, and when tearful petitions were being made to him from all sides, he was too yielding. Perhaps the legate whom he would leave behind would not be so soft-hearted.390

The legate whom he had chosen to replace his nephew Galeotto - too mild himself to provide the kind of direction that Julius thought might well be necessary - was Cardinal Antonio Ferreri, who was legate of Perugia. Julius did not actually like him very much, but he thought him tough and spirited.391 How the new legate would work with the Forty had yet to be settled. The Forty formally recorded their protest that if the bull defining the powers of the legate gave him authority to decide disputes without their knowledge and agreement, this would be prejudicial to the papal government in Bologna and to the peace and order of the city.392 This was not Julius’s view of the matter. He wanted the bull to stipulate that the Forty should not be involved in fixing tolls, and he wanted the legate to have judicial powers, even in criminal cases, without consulting them. The Forty stuck to their guns, and Julius apparently hoped that the problem could be resolved by not spelling out the powers of the legate in writing.393 But then he deputed three cardinals - Riario, Ferreri, and de Clermont - to talk the problem over with the Forty, and it was agreed that they and the legate should consult on difficult affairs. 

In fact, Ferreri bribed the officials drawing up the bull, so that he was awarded powers that he had never been intended to have. His corrupt and despotic behaviour would do little to recommend the new regime to the Bolognese. Within a few months, he would be recalled to Rome, and imprisoned in the Castel Sant’ Angelo, but the disaffection that he had helped to brew persisted.

When Julius had been describing himself as too easily swayed by tears to be as severe as might be necessary, he had been putting this forward as one reason why he was leaving Bologna earlier than he had originally planned to do. He gave other reasons too. The air didn’t agree with him, he said. Papal revenues were suffering to the tune of 10,000 ducats a month because of his absence from Rome. Besides, the curial officials were nagging him to return. Costabili, the Ferrarese ambassador to whom he was listing these reasons for an early departure, knew quite well that the real reason had not been mentioned. Was not Louis still intending to come to Italy? he enquired, innocently. This had not been decided yet, the pope replied, and if he did come, he could still get on with what he wanted to do even if Julius was in Rome.394

The point was that one of the main reasons why the French king had planned to come to Italy was to have a meeting with the pope. Louis had spoken of this plan in October 1506, saying that Julius wanted to meet him, and in late December was still saying that the pope was urging him to come. French troops had played an important part in securing the submission of Bologna: according to the king nothing would have been accomplished there without his help.395 And he had had his reward. Three French cardinals had been created a month after the pope’s arrival in Bologna - Jean François de la Trémoille, Archbishop of Auch, René de Prie, Bishop of Bayeux and Louis d’Amboise, Bishop of Alby. The promotion of all three was supposed to be kept quiet and the status of Alby was unclear. His full promotion was to be postponed until the following year, and the question of when he would formally be given his cardinal’s hat would become a bone of contention between king and pope as their relations deteriorated.

This deterioration set in soon after the promotion had taken place. The root cause was the rebellion of Genoa against the French in January 1507. Louis was persuaded that Julius was supporting, if not actively fomenting, this rebellion, and threatened to retaliate by putting the Bentivoglio back in Bologna: all it would take was one letter, he said. It was in order to allay the king’s suspicion that he was interfering in Genoa, Julius told the French, that he would leave Bologna for Rome.396 Indeed, if he wished to see his ‘patria’ freed from French rule, he gave the rebels little encouragement, let alone material support.

The real reason for Julius’s avoidance of the meeting with Louis was that he had been persuaded that it would be dangerous for him to meet the king in person. The idea had been implanted in his mind, it was thought, that no pope had ever had a personal meeting with so powerful a king without being forced to make exorbitant concessions, or having a serious row with him. Word got back to France that he had been made to believe that he would be in personal danger if he met Louis, that he had been warned by a secret envoy from Maximilian that Louis was planning to carry him off to Milan and make Cardinal Rouen pope in his stead.397

His decision to return to Rome, turning his back on his projected meeting with Louis and leaving important questions about the future shape of the government of Bologna still unresolved, caused dismay among the Bolognese and great surprise to the cardinals and curiali. It savoured of panic: he was behaving as though ‘he fears the sky will fall on him.’398 Protestations that ‘he wasn’t going to die for anybody’,399 that the air of Bologna disagreed with him so badly that it would kill him if he stayed, only reinforced the impression of flight.

He hurried through the Romagna, eschewing any welcoming ceremonies in the towns that he had visited on the outward journey. Once again, he avoided Faenza, though the Venetian governor based there came to greet him privately on the road. As his train laboured its way through the hills into the Marche, with many being forced to sleep in stables and sheepfolds, the local people came to look at the pope, with those from Rimini lamenting that he had avoided their territory too. Only when he was out of the Marche and into Umbria, did Julius slacken the pace a little. At Foligno, there was a formal entry during which the keys of the city were handed to him, and a ceremony in the cathedral. At Orte, which he reached a few days later, he ordered a solemn entry, despite warnings from Paride de’ Grassi that this was a hick town and not a suitable venue for papal pomp. De’ Grassi speculated that he might not have realized how small the town was,400 but perhaps Julius wanted to soothe his pride, which must have been hurt by scurrying out of the reach of the French. 

He certainly wanted his entry to Rome to be celebrated in style. When de’ Grassi, discussing what ceremony there should be, suggested that it would be inappropriate at Passiontide for Christ’s vicar to be acclaimed in triumph, Julius became very frosty, and asked what more appropriate cause for celebration there was than the return of the pope to Rome from a long journey. It would be quite appropriate, he said, if he made his entry on Palm Sunday, that he should be greeted with cries of ‘Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord.’401

Thus the famous triumphal entry to Rome on his return from Bologna was at Julius’s express wish. It was mostly the curiali who rejoiced at his return - they had feared that he would be away for a couple of years - and it was they who put up the triumphal arches with the inscriptions glorifying his expedition. The representatives of the Roman commune, the Conservatori, did not take part in the procession (claiming that they did not want to give precedence to the Venetians or other non-royal ambassadors), and had not made any speech of welcome to him as he disembarked from the galley that had brought him to Rome along the Tiber. De’ Grassi thought their lukewarm welcome - of which Julius took note - was due to guilt that they had not sent any message to the pope while he was away, not even to congratulate him on the expulsion of the ‘tyrant’ from Bologna.402 Perhaps they were thinking that the reinforcement of papal authority over the second city of the Papal States boded ill for them, and that further erosion of their already limited powers of self-government was in the offing.403

In a formal address to the consistory, Cardinal Riario spoke of how Julius’s success had immeasurably increased the honour and consideration in which the Church was held and would give immortality to his own name and reputation. He ‘deserved to be ranked among those illustrious popes who, casting aside all personal considerations or family interests, proposed no other end for themselves but the care of preserving and augmenting the authority and majesty of the Holy See.’ Certainly, Julius had accomplished the main purpose of the expedition - to enforce the authority of the papacy over Bologna - and the other powers in Italy had taken due note of his determination. Nonetheless, they were well aware that French military power had made a significant contribution to that success, and Julius had returned to Rome on considerably worse terms with Louis than those he had been on when he left. The future of Bologna, as it turned out, had not been settled by this expedition, and much of the trouble in store would be owing to French intervention and support for the Bentivoglio.

Julius’s dilemma - which had, if anything, been intensified by the circumstances of the submission of Bologna, and of his departure from the city - was this. In order to recover the papal lands held by Venice, he needed the help, or at least the neutrality, of France, the major military power in northern Italy. The purpose of the meeting with Louis that he had first sought and then avoided had been to discuss joint action against Venice. But he was also wary of the French, and considered them untrustworthy. Above all, he did not trust Cardinal Rouen, Louis’s chief minister. When the Ferrarese ambassador suggested that Louis and Julius could easily be on stable good terms, and that the differences that had grown up between them might be being caused by Rouen in pursuit of his own private interests, Julius said that he was right.404

Rouen’s consolation prize for not being elected pope, a grant of full powers as papal legate in France, had not satisfied his appetite. From the early months of the pontificate, it was believed at the papal court that the French were trying to manipulate Julius and his desire for help against Venice, because Rouen ‘wants to force the pope to confirm him in the legation on his own terms, and in this way he wants to remain pope in France for his lifetime, seeing that he couldn’t be pope of the universal Church’.405 In June 1504 Julius wrote assuring him that he was confident that he acted with the best interests of the Church in mind, and that he wouldn’t listen to those who tried to slander him.406 If this letter was sincere, the pope came to change his mind. 

Rouen continued to press to be given the legation of France for life, and it was widely rumoured that his desire to be pope was as strong as ever, and that he was not necessarily prepared to wait for Julius to die. Reports that he had consulted astrologers to find out when Julius would die, true or not, cannot have been very reassuring. Some thought that, knowing Julius’s choleric and excitable temperament, he was trying to annoy him as much as possible, so as to drive him to an early grave.407 Maximilian, at one of the recurrent low points in his relations with Louis, wrote to Rome in June 1507 accusing Rouen of aspiring to be pope in Julius’s lifetime. When Rouen wrote formally denying the charge, Julius said that he believed him, but the suspicion persisted. He would trust Louis personally as much as any prince in the world, he told Vich, the Spanish ambassador, but Louis relied so much on Rouen; and for the pope’s distrust of Cardinal Rouen, Vich commented, there was no remedy.408

If the French were wary of interference by Julius in Genoa, he was equally wary of French interference in Bologna. The very expulsion of the Bentivoglio had provided France with the means to engage in it, for they had left under French safe-conduct and Giovanni and his family took refuge in the Milanese. Julius became almost paranoid in his pursuit of the Bentivoglio. There was some justification for his fears: they still had many supporters in Bologna, while the corrupt and oppressive administration of the papal officials who now ruled the city fostered nostalgia for the old regime, and the younger Bentivoglio, Giovanni’s sons, were constantly plotting and scheming to return. 

But while he wanted Chaumont, the French commander in Milan, to keep a watchful eye on them, he made the terms of their exile, and the penalties to be visited upon anyone helping them when they failed to observe those terms, so severe that it would be almost impossible for them to settle anywhere. He did not want them to join their relatives by marriage in Ferrara or Mantua, and he certainly did not want them on Venetian territory. The French could be effective guardians - enabling Giovanni to live in reasonable comfort, but, when his sons were planning an assault on Bologna, as in early May 1507, being prepared to arrest him to signal their disapproval. 

On the other hand, if Louis were to be at odds with Julius, the presence of the Bentivoglio in his territory gave him a useful instrument to harass him. If Julius was trying to make waves, said Louis at the moment when Julius had just left Bologna and mutual suspicion between the king and pope was high, he could immediately restore Giovanni Bentivoglio. It would be easy to do, and Giovanni would pay him at least 100,000 ducats to boot.409 As relations between Louis and Julius deteriorated into outright hostility, a few years later, interference by the pope in Genoa would be matched by rather more successful interference by the king in Bologna.

There was an element of exasperation in the attitude of Louis and his ministers towards Julius. Ingratitude, he was sometimes accused of: after all the years that he had spent in France as a cardinal, receiving honour and shelter and protection, helping to plan the expeditions to Italy, it rankled with the French that he should be critical of the extent of their power. Perhaps they knew him too well as a person, knew his foibles and his weaknesses, and, in a way, did not take him quite seriously enough. ‘He’s the son of a peasant’, Louis told the Florentine ambassador in February 1507, ‘and it takes a stick to make him go.’410 It was some years before the French stopped expressing confidence that, in the end, Julius would have to do what Louis wanted.

Part of Julius’s dilemma was that there was no other power on which he could rely for support against the French. The only other Italian power of any substance, Venice, was out of the question, at least until the papal lands that she held had been returned. Florence was so closely linked to France that the Florentines could scarcely be said to have an independent foreign policy at the time. The only other possible counterweights to the French were Ferdinand of Aragon and Maximilian, and Julius had difficulty in establishing an equable relationship with either of them.

Ferdinand had been willing to write letters to Cesare Borgia’s castellan, and to make representations to Venice to help Julius recover papal fortresses and lands in the Romagna, but this had been as far as he was prepared to go. He had not been willing to jeopardize his own friendship with the Venetians. Even though they were holding on to coastal cities in the kingdom of Naples that they had received as pledges against help for the deposed Neapolitan Aragonese dynasty, their potential usefulness as an ally against the French was given priority.

One trait that he shared with the Venetians was what may be called a ‘more-pious-than-the-Pope’ attitude towards the curia, which gave him more than a tinge of self-righteousness in the routine bickering about the disposition of benefices. His pride in his record as victor over the Moors of Granada, and as defender of the faith as patron of the Inquisition, was shared by many Spaniards, and made them regard the ways of Rome very critically. A note of scorn sometimes crept into the remarks that the Spanish ambassadors in Venice and Rome made about the pope in their conversations with other envoys. All popes followed the same path, the Spanish envoy told the Venetian one in Rome in February 1504, and if Julius was out to acquire new lands, it was for personal motives, not out of zeal for the Church.411

Ferdinand refused to let the nuncio whom Julius sent at the beginning of his pontificate, Cosimo de’ Pazzi, into the kingdom, saying that a nuncio wasn’t needed and a Florentine nuncio, who was bound to be a partisan of France, was certainly unacceptable to his people.412 He delayed sending an embassy to swear obedience to Julius for several years - not until April 1507 did he finally do so for Aragon and Naples. He may only have sent one then because it seemed a good moment to try to extract the investiture of the kingdom of Naples from the pope. Not until he sent the embassy did he finally agree to allow Francesco Maria della Rovere to hold the key fortress of his Neapolitan estates, Rocca Guglielma.

The king’s attraction for Julius as a counterbalance to Louis was obvious, but the pope could never be sure of him. It was his intention, Julius told the Spanish ambassador in February 1508, to trust no prince in the world so much as Ferdinand, because he knew that he was a Catholic prince, directed by his own prudent intelligence and not by any other person, and that his deeds were worthy and sincere, and he felt that he could rely on him.413 Unquestionably, Ferdinand was his own man - there was no minister who had anything like the power over him that Rouen had over Louis - and he was a pious Catholic. But he was quite ready to threaten to withdraw the obedience of his kingdom from the papacy when Julius sent a brief to Naples that the king interpreted as an attempt to extend papal jurisdiction there. Julius paid great honour to the ambassadors who came to swear obedience on behalf of Ferdinand’s daughter, Queen Joanna, for the kingdom of Castille in July 1508, which was considered to be a sign of good understanding between pope and king; but ‘fine words and ceremony’ were all he got from Ferdinand, the pope complained.414 Ferdinand was one of the wiliest and most experienced players in the diplomatic game, and it was not just Julius that had trouble developing a firm mutual understanding with him.

Similarly, it was not just Julius who found Maximilian impossible to pin down. This was not due to any marked diplomatic skill on the part of the King of the Romans. He was far from stupid, and had some capacity as a soldier, but his good qualities were cancelled out by his congenital instability and his chronic inability to hold on to money or to spend it usefully. To have Maximilian as an ally was to be subjected to a continual stream of requests for cash and other assistance, and trying to coordinate any military action with him was a nightmare. He was given to making sudden changes of plan, to unexpected and inexplicable withdrawals. Conducting diplomatic negotiations with him was difficult too, because he had a habit of forbidding the ambassadors who had been sent to his court to follow him as he moved ceaselessly about, and even envoys of friendly powers could be kept waiting for weeks or months before he gave them an audience.

During the first year of his pontificate, Julius had hoped that Maximilian would come to Italy to help against Venice, but he had been disappointed by his response. Maximilian’s main interest had been in trying to get the pope’s consent to his taking possession of money that had been collected in Germany for a crusade. After that, Julius never placed any real hopes in him again. He could have his uses, if he could be brought to attack Venice, and when there was talk of his coming to Italy, Julius was given to dropping hints that the Venetians had better watch out. But when he began to talk about coming to Rome to be crowned Emperor by the pope (and not until he was crowned by the pope could he rightfully be called Emperor), Julius was circumspect in his response. His general line was that Maximilian would be welcome to come for his coronation, if he came without troops. It was, however, very unlikely that Maximilian would ever venture into Italy without troops, so this response was tantamount to telling him to stay away from Rome.

Maximilian was very conscious of his position as Emperor- elect, and would, when it suited him, recall that one of the duties of the Emperor was the protection of the papacy: of the papacy, but not of the pope. ‘For Pope Julius himself, I wouldn’t move three steps’, he told the Venetian ambassador in April 1507, ‘but to keep the Holy See in Italy, and not let Italy be taken over by the French, more than they’ve done already, that’s a different matter’.415 He never professed much respect for Julius personally, and nursed a curious ambition - it is hard to tell how seriously he took it - to become pope himself. 416For his part, the more Julius had to do with Maximilian, the less he thought of him. ‘Bestia’ - ‘fool’, ‘blockhead’ - was the epithet that he usually applied to him.417

In temporal politics, the pope was at a considerable disadvantage to Louis, Ferdinand and Maximilian. The papacy was only at the margin of the European power game, and the pope not really a major player. In most of the problems that concerned these rulers - such as French support for the Duke of Guelders in his rebellion against Maximilian, the fate of the duchy of Milan, or Ferdinand’s determination to continue to direct the government of Castille after the death of Isabella, when that kingdom was inherited by their daughter, the demented Joanna, wife of Maximilian’s son Philip - the papacy had no direct interest and no voice. 

The only dispute between the three leading European powers in which the pope was directly concerned was the question of their conflicting claims to the kingdom of Naples. Militarily, the question had been decided by the Spanish victory over the French, but this did not stop Louis from continuing to claim it. The card that Julius held was the right to confer the investiture of the kingdom, to give formal recognition of which claim was the rightful one. It is symptomatic of the papacy’s weakness that Julius could not afford to make a decision. His failure to do so was especially irksome to Ferdinand, who regarded de jure recognition of his de facto possession of the kingdom as an indispensable sign of goodwill. To confer investiture on Ferdinand, however, would be regarded by Louis as an unfriendly act. The best solution that Julius could devise for several years was to accept the token census payment, the white horse presented on 29 June, St Peter’s Day, from each party, using the non-committal formula ‘We accept this without prejudice to our rights or those of others.’418

The pope, of course, had a unique position in Europe, in that he was not just a temporal sovereign, but also head of the Western Church. This gave him a link with every other European ruler. Unfortunately, the negotiations over appointments to benefices and conflicts of jurisdiction and the levying of taxes that were the basis of the everyday diplomatic traffic centred on Rome often became prolonged and contentious. If the pope’s position as head of the Church gave him interests throughout Europe, these frequently became a source of tension, rather than a basis for understanding. In general, the less a prince had to do with the papacy, the easier it was for him to see the pope as the Holy Father, rather than as just another ruler with personal interests and weaknesses, who also happened to have unique powers in matters of faith and of jurisdiction.

As cardinal and as pope, Julius was noted for his defence of the property of the Church. It was a quality that earned him respect, from those whose interests it did not lead him to cross. His defence of papal rights, or papal claims to rights, over benefices did not evoke the same respect, for it inevitably cut across the interests of secular rulers. Both pope and secular powers looked on ecclesiastical benefices as a reserve of patronage, a way of rewarding or maintaining their own men or satisfying petitioners. Some benefices, such as bishoprics or important monasteries that were strategically situated, were considered by the secular powers to be politically sensitive and to require an incumbent who was a trusted subject, not an importunate curial official or papal favourite who would regard it as solely a source of income. For the pope, too, benefices could be a source of income, not just from the fees that a new incumbent had to pay, but because of the opportunity to sell again the venal offices that appointees to certain benefices had to resign.419 Much of Julius’s war chest of treasure in the Castel Sant’ Angelo was garnered in this way. There could be a lot at stake for both parties claiming authority to appoint to a benefice.

This conflict of interest had been a feature of relations between the pope and secular governments for several centuries. Although the boundaries had shifted from one period to another, and different states had struck up different working arrangements with the papacy, in practice it was generally recognized that both sides had legitimate rights, and compromise was possible. But it could be more difficult for the pope to strike a compromise with a friendly power, or a nominally friendly power, than with one with whom political relations were not so close. Friendly rulers, ‘obedient sons’ of the pope, tended to consider that they should get their own way over benefices. Ferdinand spelt out his feelings on this matter very explicitly when he professed shocked disappointment in April 1504 that Julius had not accepted his candidate for the see of Malta.


We feel this to be a great injury on the part of the pope, seeing that all we are asking for is just and reasonable, and that he denies us everything as though it were unjust, and that His Holiness has so little respect for us and for the great affection we have for him, and our desire to do things for him and the Apostolic See ... we do not know what more a pope can do to offend us and show himself our adversary, than provide to the churches of our kingdoms without our petition, undermining our royal powers of patronage, which are enforced in the most minor kingdoms of the world, and refusing to do what we have asked in order to protect the public weal of our kingdoms. If, for this, we want to do what all other kings do, the remedy is in our hands, and we have very little need of what we have asked His Holiness for. And we can use this remedy with much more justification, since we put our request to His Holiness out of reverence and honour for the Church, and he didn’t grant it, than can other kings, who without so much justification and without petitioning His Holiness, or having such regard for the Church, take the remedy into their own hands.420


On the other hand, Julius considered that ‘obedient sons’ showed their obedience by accepting the nominations of their ‘loving father’ the pope. He spelt out his views to the ambassador of Philip, the young King of Castille (taking a sideswipe at Philip’s father-in-law, Ferdinand, along the way).


Write to the King of Castille, your master, that I am resolved to love him, and that he should always wish to behave well to me and bear my honour in mind, and that he should not behave like the King of Aragon. And when he does behave well to me, I promise you that I shall always have his concerns and his honour as much at heart as mine.


What the pope wanted above all, the ambassador explained, was that he should have free disposal of the benefices that fell vacant in the court of Rome,421 as he claimed was his right. In return, he would take care not to appoint anyone suspect to Philip, and would comply with his requests concerning all other benefices falling vacant in his dominions. If the king wanted an important benefice at present held by a cleric resident in Rome to go to one of his servants when it fell vacant, he should let the pope know well in advance. Julius promised to agree to such nominations - ‘and I’ll do it in such a way that my honour and the privileges of the Church of Rome will be protected, because I’ll provide those he has nominated, pretending that it’s on my initiative as well as on his.’ The ambassador’s next remarks, however, made it clear that he considered the assurances that he gave the pope that Philip would observe these conditions to be purely conventional, as he reminded Philip, ‘You should not allow any benefices, especially bishoprics, wherever they may fall vacant, either in Rome or elsewhere, should be given except at your request.’422

And this was the attitude of rulers who were, or wanted to be, on good terms with the pope. Those who were on bad terms with him found that the interests he and his courtiers had in benefices throughout Europe provided them with a useful set of sanctions against him to demonstrate their displeasure. They could, for example, confiscate the revenues from benefices held by residents in Rome. They could forbid payments to be sent to the Roman court. They could order those who held benefices to come to take up residence in them (as canonically they were obliged to do), threatening them with the confiscation of their benefices if they failed to come. And they could, of course, fail to accept papal nominations to benefices, and install their own candidates in their place. It was a brave cathedral chapter or religious community that refused to accept the nominee of a determined ruler and stood by a papal nominee. As the ultimate threat, a disaffected ruler could invoke a general council of the Church, citing the failure of the Holy See to provide for the reform of the Church as his justification - as Louis was to do against Julius.

There was not a great deal that the pope could do in response, except use the weapons of excommunication and interdiction. These spiritual sanctions, which should have been terrifying for the pious Catholic forbidden the comforts of the rituals and sacraments of the Church, had been blunted by over-use. Indignation, rather than terror, was the response of those who felt that the pope had banned them unjustly. Nevertheless, if the clergy observed papal decrees (which they did not always do), the lack of the consolations of the Church could sap the morale of a people whose rulers had quarrelled with the pope. If the sanctions were in force for some time, discontent could spread and might force the government to seek an accommodation with the papacy. One aspect of the sanctions made them particularly unwelcome to cities heavily dependent on banking and foreign trade, such as Venice and Florence. Goods belonging to a citizen of an interdicted state or city could be seized, according to ecclesiastical law, so that merchants or bankers trading away from home were vulnerable.

As an ally, Julius did not have a great deal to offer. The papacy was not a first-rank military power. Like most popes, Julius was very reluctant to spend much money on keeping an effective standing force, and tended to rely on hastily recruited infantry, and last-minute contracts with whatever military commanders were available, to provide the bulk of his forces when he was at war. Ironically, at a period when most of the leading condottieri in Italy were from the Papal States, the papal troops were often badly commanded. Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, who was the overall commander of the papal troops during the early years of Julius’s pontificate, was too crippled by gout to be effective in the field. His successor in the duchy, Francesco Maria della Rovere, was incapable of providing proper military leadership either. Francesco Maria’s father-in-law, Francesco Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua, was even less use. On the two occasions on which he was appointed to lead the papal troops, he was more sympathetic to the enemy (in 1506, the Bentivoglio, in 1510, the Duke of Ferrara), than to the pope.423 Julius never really had an effective and capable commander. As when he secured the submission of Bologna, he was usually dependent on the troops of his allies to help him attain his military objectives. But he insisted on having his own army, and was not willing to act as a paymaster for his allies and leave them to do all the fighting for him. Requests for subsidies were generally refused.

All in all, in aspiring to deal on equal terms with the leading European powers, Julius had to contend with severe problems. His role as head of the Church gave him some weapons to compensate for the comparatively small territory that he ruled and his lack of military power, but it also made him vulnerable to sanctions against the revenues of the papacy, and to the threat of a general council. Respect for the spiritual head of the Church was tempered by an all-too-vivid awareness that the present incumbent of the see of St Peter was a fallible individual, involved in the same political world - and playing by much the same rules - as other princes. Nor could Julius compensate for the weaknesses of his state by his diplomatic skill. He was not a good diplomat; he was far too impulsive and quick to anger for that. Though he learned in later years to keep his own counsel, he was not skilled in bluff or deception. He did not know how to compromise. All too often, he could only get what he wanted from his allies if their interests happened to coincide with his. He simply did not have the ‘clout’ to dictate his own terms.

The other powers were, of course, well aware of his problems. As one Spanish ambassador saw it, in February 1507, the pope could not upset any plans of the French and Spanish kings, ‘because, whether he wants to or not, His Holiness is forced to concur with them, as a consequence of the greatness of these princes’.424 How little regard might be shown to him, was never demonstrated more humiliatingly than in late June and early July 1507, when Louis and Ferdinand met in Julius’s own home town of Savona. He himself had just evaded meeting Louis because he feared to do so. He had invited Ferdinand, who had been in Naples for some months, to visit Rome before he returned to Spain, but Ferdinand had refused. Julius was so eager to meet him that he went to Ostia as the king sailed north, but Ferdinand’s galley did not call there. A legate, Cardinal Antoniotto Pallavicino, was with Louis, but he was given little honour in the ceremonies of greeting and exchange of courtesies between the two kings, and was excluded from their negotiations, except for a two-hour meeting that he had with them on 1 July. Little is known about what the kings discussed, but they are known to have talked about something in which Julius and his legate would have had a peculiar interest - the reform of the Church. When Julius heard how his legate had been treated, he was naturally furious, but there was nothing that he could do.

But Julius had one great personal strength, which sometimes could, on its own, counterbalance all the weaknesses of his position. He never knew when he was beaten. Certainly, there were times when he was discouraged, times when he was afraid, but the slightest fresh hope or favourable circumstance would restore his spirits and his confidence and he would once again be predicting the downfall of his enemies and the triumph of the Church. His refusal to admit defeat was rooted in his own character, his obstinacy and courage, and his sheer animal spirit, as well as in his physical strength and endurance; but he was also fortified by his belief that he was about God’s work. Many people, from his time to our own, find the concept of a pope fulfilling the will of God by leading an army hard to accept, but Julius was quite sincere.

Guicciardini compared him to Antaeus, the son of Mother Earth who wrestled with Hercules, and whom Hercules could defeat only by lifting him clear of the ground because every time that he touched the earth he derived fresh strength from it.


Adversity had the same effect on the pope, so that when he seemed to be at his lowest and most trampled down, he would rise up again with a still more steady and determined spirit, more hopeful of the future than ever, but having no other foundation for his optimism than his own resources, and the assumption (as he said openly) that, as his enterprises were not undertaken for private interest but solely from a desire to liberate Italy, they would be brought, by God’s help, to a prosperous conclusion.425


Yet in spite of his anxieties about French ambitions to bully or even depose him, and the humiliation of the Savona ‘summit meeting’ between Louis and Ferdinand, liberating Italy would still have to wait until he had accomplished his first aim, the recovery of the Romagnol territories lost to Venice. This was still the focus of his diplomacy, the underlying agenda of his negotiations with other powers.

The Venetians were not making conspicuous efforts to conciliate him. In their handling of the ever-thorny matter of appointments to ecclesiastical benefices within their lands, they at times did not even show much tact, let alone any wish to appease. All princes and republics kept a jealous eye on the benefices in their jurisdiction, but Venice was markedly reluctant to allow strategically or financially important benefices to be held by anyone who was not a Venetian patrician, citizen or subject. Venetian clerics who spent much time in Rome were often viewed with some degree of suspicion back at home, as if they had ‘gone native’ and were not to be trusted to have a proper appreciation of where their loyalties should lie. Sometimes when the governing councils were debating a point of controversy with the pope, the ‘papalisti' - those who were believed to be tainted with a degree of dependence on Rome through holding offices or benefices or through family connections - were excluded from the chamber for the duration of the discussions.

Religion and religious ritual were integral to Venetian culture. The periodic wars with the Turks that they became involved in through the defence and extension of their maritime trade and colonies in the eastern Mediterranean gave them a role as defenders of Christendom against the infidel of which they were proud. There was a nexus of pious and thoughtful supporters of religious reform among the patricians. Contempt for the less edifying features of the life of the papal court was scarcely disguised, and there was a current of feeling (not peculiar to the Venetians) that they were better Christians than the men who were running the central administration of the Church. All this gave added strength to the tenacity with which they fought to have their candidates appointed to benefices. The Venetian senators considered themselves to be perfectly capable of assessing who would be the best man for the job, and they rarely felt that they had to look beyond their own dominions to find him. One of their own men was not only more likely to be politically reliable, and less likely to extract the income from the benefice to be spent elsewhere, but was at least as likely to be a good cleric.

One dispute about the disposal of a major bishopric, Cremona, in the years following the Venetian return of some territory to Julius in 1505, was given a sharper edge by the fact that the new incumbent whom Julius had in mind was his favourite nephew, Cardinal Galeotto Franciotto della Rovere. He would have thought, Julius remarked to the Venetian ambassador after the dispute had dragged on for nearly two years, that, knowing he loved Galeotto more than anyone else, they would not only have given him the possession of Cremona but offered other benefices to him as well.426 But the Venetians dug their heels in, and unwisely gave Julius another grievance against them.

By the time that the news that Julius had given the bishopric to Galeotto reached Venice, the Venetians had already decided to appoint a member of a Venetian patrician family, Girolamo Trevisan. In the opinion of the senate, ‘in our lands, as we have always done, the senate, not the pope, should elect the bishops, and so His Holiness ought to give’ the bishopric to Trevisan.427 From the pope’s point of view, since the bishopric was a benefice that had fallen vacant by the death of a cleric resident in Rome he had the right to appoint the bishop. Neither side was inclined to yield.

Cremona was important, rich and in a strategically sensitive position near the duchy of Milan. When the bishopric of Padua, worth a little less and much less politically sensitive, fell vacant, a compromise was suggested - Galeotto should have Padua, and Trevisan Cremona. Julius later said the Venetians had proposed it, but contemporary Venetian reports indicate that it was the pope’s idea.428 This might have been a basis for agreement, had not the question of the investiture of Rimini and Faenza come up. It is not clear if the Venetians were trying to exploit Julius’s increasingly evident anxiety about the French or whether Alidosi had planted the idea in the Venetian ambassador’s mind, by suggesting that he could persuade the pope to give a verbal promise that he would leave Venice in peaceful possession of Rimini and Faenza for his lifetime.429 Julius himself indicated that he was prepared to make a verbal promise to Venice, but insisted he would not put anything in writing and did not want Venice telling other powers that he had given them the investiture.430 But when the Venetians still did not give Galeotto either benefice, any hint of concessions on Rimini and Faenza was out of the question - instead, Julius threatened to take them by force.

By his own account, he had told the ambassador that he would sooner let go every benefice that Galeotto had, and Galeotto himself, and every nipote and relative that he had, than give them one property of the Church. If they did not give Cremona to Galeotto within a certain period, he would put it under interdict, and give the bishopric of Padua to one of their gentlemen of his choosing; he knew well how to sow division among them, he said.431

Meanwhile, a third benefice had been brought into the equation, that of Vicenza, because the Venetians had decided to give Padua to Piero Dandolo, the Bishop of Vicenza. Again, it is not clear which side first proposed that Vicenza might be given to Galeotto, and it took several months for this solution to be adopted. In the end, the Venetians got their way, because in consistory in late October 1507 the bishopric of Padua was given to Dandolo, that of Cremona to Trevisan, and Vicenza to Galeotto della Rovere.

It may be significant that at the time at which this settlement was being concluded, Julius was worried that the Bentivoglio might be planning to return to Bologna, and that they might have French support. That autumn, only a few months after the Savona ‘summit’, he had small hope of any support from France or Spain, and, as usual, could place little reliance on Maximilian, so he may have decided that it was worth making some concession to Venice to have a little more security on that flank at least. Earlier that year, he had been pleased when the Venetians had forbidden any of their subjects to take service under the Bentivoglio and had sent away some Bolognese exiles who turned up at Faenza. But only ten days after the consistory in which the bishoprics were assigned, Julius was complaining bitterly about the Venetians giving shelter in Faenza to exiles from Forlì, who were using it as a base to launch assaults on Forlì. He knew the Venetians, he said, ‘they cannot stay quiet, and they’re too stubborn [accechati] and I’m not going to lose the property of the Church, if I can help it, and if they think they can wear me down in this way they’ll find they’re mistaken.’432

Throughout the following year, Julius’s animus against the Venetians was open. He hated the Venetians more than the devil himself, a Mantuan agent reported, but even more he hated anyone who was dependent on them in any way.433 Alfonso d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, on a visit to Venice, wrote to Rome of how well disposed the Venetians were to the pope: Julius responded that they were suspicious of him, because they were holding his property; if they restored it, they would have no further grounds for suspicion.434 But Julius was fostering suspicions of his own against Venice, which he aired in consistory in July: that they wanted Cardinal Corner to reside in his diocese of Verona and have the powers of a legate; that they were giving refuge to rebels from Bologna; that Bartolomeo d’Alviano, who was now one of their senior commanders, was to be billeted in the Romagna - all for no good purpose, he implied. 435

Tactlessness on the part of the Venetians after the death of Galeotto della Rovere, in September 1508, exacerbated his feelings. The grief-stricken pope had immediately conferred all Galeotto’s offices and benefices, including the bishopric of Vicenza, on his brother Sisto. Not only was Sisto della Rovere denied the possession of the diocese by the Venetians, they appointed their own candidate in his stead. Julius took this as a personal injury, and his determination to free himself from ‘these Venetian tyrants’436 became still stronger.

‘Venetian tyranny’, as Julius saw it, was not directed only against himself. The Venetians aimed to ‘occupy and tyrannize over all of Italy’,437 he maintained, when a proposal was being mooted by King Ferdinand for a league against the infidel in February 1508. No expedition against the infidel could safely take place, he argued, until Venice had been forced to disgorge all her ill-gotten gains: the lands she was holding that rightfully belonged to the papacy, to Louis as Duke of Milan, to Ferdinand as King of Naples, to Maximilian as head of the Empire. If the Christian powers were occupied in a crusade, the Venetians would look for an opportunity to seize more land in Italy. The best preparation for a crusade would be for Ferdinand and Julius and Louis and Maximilian to unite, so that each could recover his own territory from Venice; then they could jointly launch a great expedition against the infidel.438 Ferdinand replied that it would not be possible to form a league of those four powers, excluding Venice, but suggested there could be a treaty between the five powers, including Venice, and then a separate understanding among the four about the recovery of the lands that Venice was holding.

Ironically, when these ideas bore fruit at the end of the year in the League of Cambrai, Julius was not directly involved in the negotiations. This was partly his own fault. He had become displeased with his legate in Germany, Cardinal Carvajal - who was trying to curry favour with Maximilian, having fallen out with his earlier patron, Ferdinand - and had sent orders recalling him to Rome in July 1508. Carvajal had hung on, and persuaded Maximilian to write to Julius praising the cardinal and saying that it would be good if he could stay to take part in the negotiations,439 but, at last, he had to leave in October. A replacement, Bishop Achille de’ Grassi, was supposed to be sent, but, even when word was sent to Rome of the preparations and arrangements for the discussions at Cambrai, there was no sense of urgency about his despatch.

In Maximilian’s instructions to his daughter Margaret, the regent in the Netherlands, who would represent him at Cambrai, there was no mention of admitting a representative of the pope. She was to ensure that the English ambassador was present at all sessions, and Ferdinand’s ambassador, if he had instructions to take part. 440According to the French, Ferdinand’s ambassador had agreed not to take part, in order to appease the Venetian ambassador, who was to be excluded. But at least both Ferdinand and Venice had representatives on the spot. Julius was still thinking about sending Pietro Griffo to Cambrai on his way to England, where he was to be the collector of papal taxes, when he heard of the conclusion of the treaty. Even if Griffo had arrived in time, he might not have been admitted to the discussions. The Spanish ambassador in Rome, for one, considered him to be a person of too little authority to be suitable to take part in negotiations at such a high level, with the likes of Margaret and Cardinal Rouen.441 This negligence by Julius meant that he was ‘represented’ by Cardinal Rouen, who undertook to obtain the pope’s ratification of the terms that he had agreed in his name.442

Thus the irony was heightened, for the self-appointed guardian of the papacy’s interests at Cambrai was the very man whom Julius most distrusted, and it was suspicion of French intentions in urging an attack on Venice that had kept Julius aloof from the negotiations in the first place. There had been discussions about a campaign against Venice in the summer, when Cardinal de Clermont had been sent to France, ostensibly to see his uncle Cardinal Rouen; but the pope had been very wary. In a conversation with the Florentine ambassador, Roberto Acciaiuoli, he had confided that the French had already approached him three times through different people, on the last occasion through Massimo, de Clermont’s secretary, 


and I see that they want to make me come out into the open, … against the Venetians, [so that] they can manipulate me to suit themselves, and make me do what they want, seeing I have need of them. And because I’ve had so much to do with them, that I know them, and I’ve been deceived many times ... I want to see what I’m getting into and know for sure how I ought to handle myself with them. They are so proud that they don’t treat anyone with respect unless it suits them [che e’ non fanno stima di nessuno, se non a posta loro] ….

I’ve replied that they should show their hand, and that, when I see they’re being sincere, I’m ready, and … that I won’t hold back … because I am very keen. But I don’t want to be the first.443


For all his doubts, before de Clermont returned to Rome in October Julius was becoming quite optimistic, saying he was sure that the French would not let him down this time, and that they wanted the honour of being the ones to restore the Church’s lands to her.444 But he did not like the proposal that the cardinal brought - basically that the French would provide the troops, and he should provide the money to pay for them. ‘These French are behaving badly’, he told the Ferrarese ambassador, 


worse than the Venetians (by which he meant that they couldn’t be behaving worse) … they say they want to raise a powerful army, such that they can invade the Veneto, [and] they want a great deal of money from His Holiness, but he realized that, thanks to Cardinal Rouen, they wanted to get his cash from him, and then they would have him at their discretion. His Beatitude did not want to find himself in that position, indicating he didn’t trust them, and he said he had replied that he wasn’t asking for any help in the recovery of the lands of the Church, nor was he inclined to want to take Venice, but when the French wanted to see to recovering their own lands which had been occupied by the Venetians, they would be helping His Holiness in that way and, vice versa, His Beatitude would be helping them, because the Venetians couldn’t defend themselves on two flanks. And as Auch [de Clermont] persisted that the French wanted to recover the lands of the Church themselves, he [Julius] had arrived at another arrangement, and had decided that if the French wanted to be the ones to recover the lands of the Church, he would agree, but they should ask His Beatitude for a reasonable sum of money they would need for this, that he would put it on deposit and undertake to give it to them as soon as they had attacked and had restored to him one of his towns.445


If Louis did not like the idea of being paid by instalments, with Julius handing over a prearranged sum for every town that Louis restored to him, the pope proposed another arrangement. A coordinated assault should be launched against the Venetians by French troops in Lombardy and papal troops in the Romagna, and whoever recovered all their lands first would help the other. But Julius was still afraid that the French wanted to involve him in so many problems that he would have to spend all the treasure he had accumulated, so that then they could make him do as they wanted - as he was sure they would be able to do if he had no money any more. All this sprang from his conviction that every action and every plan of Rouen was motivated by his ambition to be pope. Consequently, Julius was trying for every guarantee and security he could obtain, so that he did not have to trust himself to the French.446

Because he had delayed in sending a representative to Cambrai as even Rouen had urged him to do, Julius was faced with a difficult decision after the treaties were concluded. Should he ratify terms agreed on his behalf by the man who, he was convinced, was out to ruin him? Or should he lose the opportunity that he had been trying to bring about for years of taking part in a concerted attack on Venice with a good chance of recovering the Church’s lands?

One of the two treaties did not concern him much, that between Maximilian and his grandson Charles of Austria on one side, and Louis XII and Charles of Egmont, Duke of Guelders, on the other. Julius was named in the treaty as a guarantor, together with the Kings of England and Aragon and the princes of the Holy Roman Empire, but apart from pious noises about a crusade against the infidel, the treaty was concerned with regulating various disputes between Louis and Maximilian.

It was the second treaty that really concerned the pope. This was an agreement that there should be a league between the pope (‘on whose behalf Cardinal Rouen … has promised to have and to show his ratification of this present treaty of league and confederation’), Maximilian, and the Kings of France and Aragon, against the Venetians, ‘for the conquest and recovery of all that they have lost’ to Venice. The pope and the two kings were obliged, with a ‘sufficient number’ of infantry and horse and artillery, to attack the Venetians before 1 April, and none of them was to abandon the war, until: ‘the Holy See had entirely recovered Ravenna, Cervia, Faenza [and] Rimini with their dependencies and appurtenances, and the towns of Imola and Cesena, with all their rights and appurtenances whatsoever, together with all other territories belonging to the Holy See that the said Venetians are holding and occupying’; the Emperor had recovered all the territory belonging to the Holy Roman Empire and to his own house of Austria; the King of France had recovered the lands held by Venice that had once belonged to the duchy of Milan; and the King of Aragon had recovered all the towns that the Venetians were holding in the kingdom of Naples.

As Maximilian had only recently agreed a three-year truce with the Venetians, which ‘without some honest cause he cannot break’, it was agreed that he should send troops to help the pope, who would write to him, ‘as advocate and protector of Holy Church’ for assistance in recovering its property. These men were to be at Julius’s disposal by 1 April. If he wanted them, then Maximilian would be obliged to join in the attack on Venice on his own account within forty days.

The Duke of Savoy, who had a claim to the kingdom of Cyprus, which was held by the Venetians, the Duke of Ferrara and the Marquis of Mantua, could be included in the league for the purpose of regaining lands lost to Venice. Henry of England could also join if he wanted, and the King of Hungary would be specially invited to participate.

The person of the pope, his dignity, jurisdiction and authority, and that of the Holy See, were to be defended against any enemies who sought to trouble them, and Julius’s nephew, Francesco Maria della Rovere, was to be received into the protection of the league. Julius was to proceed with ecclesiastical censures and the interdict against the Venetians and their subjects and all who gave them aid and assistance; and he should call upon the Emperor, the King of France and the other allies to use their complementary secular powers, taking reprisals against the persons and property of the Venetians and their subjects to help to give effect to the ecclesiastical censures.447

Two clauses would be frequently invoked against Julius later. If one of the signatories recovered his lands sooner than the others, he was bound to help them until everyone had won back all that they claimed; and none of the signatories could make any peace or truce with the Venetians without the express consent of his allies. They could be invoked against him because he did, indeed, ratify this treaty, although after considerable hesitation. What did Ferdinand think of the terms? he wanted to know. Was he going to ratify? If he was not going to do so, Julius would like to form a separate alliance with him. Ferdinand assured him that he thought the terms good, and that Julius should ratify them, although he thought that Maximilian should join in the attack from the beginning, to forestall any separate agreement between Venice and the Emperor. He also thought that the pope should supply his own troops, not just pay those of Ferdinand and Louis to do his fighting for him.448 Eventually, on 23 March, Julius signed the bull making public his adherence to the league - but also announced that he would not send his troops against Venice until after the French had opened up hostilities. And he was not going to pay them any money, but use his own troops.

Julius, so Maximilian heard, suspected that the French were coming to Italy to attack him, not Venice. Ferdinand suspected that Maximilian was ready to come to terms with Venice. Maximilian thought that the French were trying to prevent him from attacking Venice so that France and Venice could attack Maximilian or Julius, or come to a separate peace. Such distrust was a poor foundation for a successful alliance and a coordinated campaign. Yet within weeks of the opening of the campaign, the Venetians had lost most of the lands in Italy that they had spent a century acquiring, and were desperately trying to detach Julius from the league.

For the first three months of 1509, as Julius hesitated over the decision to adhere to the league, many Venetians had been hoping that his distrust of the French, and of Rouen in particular, would be stronger than his desire to recover the Romagnol towns. Hopes were nurtured by reports from the Venetian ambassadors in Rome describing long conversations with the pope. True, he had forbidden papal subjects to take service in the army of any other power, a measure that the Venetians recognized as being aimed at preventing them from hiring the Roman barons with whom they were negotiating condotte. True, he had also told the ambassadors that Venice would do well to raise a big army, because she was going to need it.449 Still, they hoped that he would at least stay neutral, and as late as 19 March, the ambassadors reported (according to Sanuto) that Julius had told one of them, Pisani, that he wanted to look over the terms of the treaty again, and that if there was anything in it that was hostile to Venice, he would not sign it.450 As the whole raison d’être of the treaty was hostility to Venice, this remark was disingenuous, to say the least, if Sanuto’s report of the despatch was accurate.

Only three days later, Julius summoned a congregation of cardinals to discuss what reply should be made to the pressing requests by the French for a decision on ratification, without inviting either the Venetian cardinals Grimani and Corner, or others known to be friendly to Venice. This was the meeting that finally decided on adherence to the league. Even without knowing what had been said at this congregation, the Venetians recognized that it boded ill for them. Turning the ‘papalisti’ out of the discussion of the matter did not make it easier to agree on what response should be sent to Rome. Already, however, one obvious course, that of returning the Romagnol lands to the pope, was being considered. Sanuto heard that the senate had discussed what he, perhaps significantly, referred to as ‘the lands of the pope, Rimini and Faenza’,451 but that it had decided to wait before taking further action. All of Venice was uneasy, he noted, because there was no good news from any side and the Venetians were being left on their own.452 Soon the Venetians began to be afraid that Julius would excommunicate them, as he had threatened to do, and as he was being urged to do by the French cardinals and ambassadors.

An offer to return Rimini and Faenza to the pope, on condition that he ‘did something’ (Sanuto does not specify what) about the threat from Louis, was rejected.453Papal troops began to muster at Castel Bolognese, about five miles from Faenza. Over dinner with Cardinal Grimani, Julius raged against Venice. As they talked, he already had in his pocket the text of the ‘terribilissima’ bull of excommunication.454 On 26 April the bull excommunicating the Venetian Signoria because its members had refused to give back the papal lands was read out in consistory. Unless all the possessions of the Church in the Romagna, and the revenues that had been taken from them, were restored within twenty-four days, the excommunication would take effect.

Poorly led and in bad order, as usual, the papal troops were having some minor successes in the Romagna, picking up some of the smaller fortresses. Their greatest success was the capture of Brisighella, when a prized Venetian commander, Gianpaolo Manfrone, fell into their hands. Francesco Maria della Rovere was in overall command; he was joined by Cardinal Alidosi as legate. Bitter rivals, they did not work effectively together, and the Venetians could well have held out against any force under their command for a long time. Fortunately for Julius, the decisive action was taking place on another front. He would owe the recovery of his lands to French arms after all.

The crushing defeat of the Venetians by the French at Agnadello on 14 May 1509, when half their army was destroyed and one of their most senior commanders, Bartolomeo d’Alviano, was captured, terrified the Venetians. So rapid was the advance of the French and Imperial troops that within three weeks even Padua had fallen.

One of the first things that the Venetians did, when news of the defeat reached them, was to write to the Venetian cardinals Grimani and Corner (the ambassadors had been instructed to leave Rome) requesting them to ask Julius not to wish to see the ruin of Venice, and to tell him that ‘his’ lands (as Sanuto now generally referred to them) would be offered to him before the date set in the bull of excommunication.455 As the heads of the government discussed late into the night what could be done to remedy their desperate situation, one source of hope was the belief that the pope, once he had his lands back, might be appeased. Meanwhile, in Rome, Julius was delighted by the news of Agnadello, held celebrations in the Castel Sant’ Angelo, and ordered the cardinals to celebrate as well. He planned to send further troops and money to the Romagna, confident, now, that the territories would soon be his. Sooner even than he thought. Before the letters to the Venetian cardinals reached Rome, a message arrived from Cardinal Alidosi, telling of the arrival of a Venetian secretary with instructions to surrender Rimini, Faenza, Cervia and Ravenna to the papacy; Alidosi asked for the pope’s consent.

Julius did not hesitate to accept. He wanted to keep the Venetian prisoners who had been taken, and he wanted the artillery and munitions in the cities to be left behind by the Venetian garrisons. In the Romagna, Alidosi was promising the Venetians that their prisoners would be freed, and that they could take the artillery and munitions with them as they wanted; but then he ordered the shipments to be halted until he had further instructions from Rome. Alidosi may have been trying to make the most of his good fortune in being in the right place at the right time, by making the Venetians feel as obliged to him as possible. If the present storm blew over, Venetian patronage could be useful to him in future, after Julius’s death. He even promised to procure Julius’s agreement to the Venetian request that he should write to all the Christian princes telling them that the Venetians had obeyed the papal monitorio, and he also promised the Venetians that they would be absolved from the excommunication.456

Submissive sons of Holy Church was how the Venetians now wanted to represent themselves to Julius, and Cardinals Grimani and Corner were instructed to tell him that the Venetians were undone, and to ask him for mercy. Let the pope do as he pleased, the ambassadors in Rome were told when the diocese of Padua fell vacant, this was not the moment to argue over the nomination of a successor. (It was given to Sisto della Rovere, and his bishopric of Vicenza to a relative of Costantino Arniti.) Significantly, since the defeat of Agnadello, the ‘papalisti’ were no longer excluded from discussions, and could hear all the letters that were read out in the councils. An honourable embassy might soften Julius, the Venetian cardinals reported that they had been told; six new ambassadors were elected immediately, and ordered to leave for Rome without delay.

But Julius was not being gracious in victory. He refused to see the two Venetian ambassadors who were still in Rome, because they were excommunicate; and he revoked the licence that he had given them to go. He refused to lift the excommunication, threatening, instead, to publish it throughout the world to make the Venetians outcasts everywhere, calling them heretics and schismatics. His temper cooled, but he was still preparing to exploit the trouble of the Venetians for all it was worth to him. While they were optimistically hoping that the excommunication would be lifted once the special embassy arrived in Rome, Cardinal Sigismondo Gonzaga, the legate in the Marche, had heard that Julius had said he wanted the Doge himself to come to Rome with a halter around his neck to beg for mercy and absolution, as an example to all Christians not to rebel against the Holy See.457

Most Venetian diplomatic correspondence for this period has perished, but fortunately two copybooks of the ambassadors’ despatches from Rome from mid-1509 to mid-1510 have survived, and it is possible to follow the progress - or, for much of the time, lack of progress - in the negotiations closely, and to observe how Julius handled them.

No red carpet was rolled out for the six ambassadors when they arrived, in early July. Julius was leaving for Ostia when he was told that they were near, and saw no reason to postpone his trip, saying he wanted them to enter Rome at nightfall, without pomp (as befitted the representatives of an excommunicate state). On returning to Rome, he refused to see them as a group. Indeed, he went on refusing to see them all together even when it was agreed in consistory on 17 July that the ambassadors should be given personal absolution. One of them, Girolamo Donà, had already been absolved by Julius, who had sent for him a week before saying that, although he knew most of them, he was the one whom he knew best. Subsequently, he would agree to see Donà, with whom he got on well personally, a few more times. 

Generally, however, he communicated with them through the two Venetian cardinals, Grimani or Corner, or the commission that he appointed to handle the negotiations, consisting of Cardinals Caraffa and Riario, Sigismondo de’ Conti, his secretary, and Pietro Accolti, the senior member of the main papal judicial tribunal, the Rota. Part of his reluctance to deal with all the ambassadors in person may have stemmed from the fact that two of them were men with whom he did not get on, Domenico Trevisan and Paolo Capello, and that one, Paolo Pisani, had taken part in drawing up an appeal to a future council of the Church against the censures that Julius had imposed on Venice.458

Initially, Julius attached four conditions to granting the absolution: there were to be no more arguments about appointing the men whom Julius chose to Venetian benefices; no taxes were to be imposed on Venetian clergy without papal consent; all papal subjects were to have the right to sail freely in the ‘gulf’, the Adriatic north of a line from Ancona to Zara where the Venetians imposed tolls and severe trade restrictions on all shipping (this condition was included at the request of the Anconitani); and the Venetians should be bound to contribute a certain number of galleys and other aid to support a crusade, if one were launched.459

None of these were conditions to which the Venetians would willingly agree; the demand for freedom of navigation in the ‘gulf’ would be notably contentious. Julius also wanted the ambassadors to have a mandate to seek absolution, but they were not at all keen on the form of mandate for which he was asking. They maintained that Venice had not incurred any censures, because she had complied with the terms of the bull within the set timelimit: Julius said, no mandate, no absolution. Discouraged by this unpromising beginning, scarcely a week after they had arrived the ambassadors suggested to Venice it was not fitting that they should all stay in Rome while Julius was being so unforthcoming.

In Venice, the form of mandate that was being asked for was considered unacceptable; but the form that was sent was not acceptable to the papal commission nor to the pope. There was, for example, no mention of navigation rights in the Adriatic. Julius told Cardinal Grimani that a mandate such as the one for which he was asking was necessary because it would help him to argue to his allies that he had no alternative but to absolve a properly contrite Venice.460 Negotiations were deadlocked on this issue until early November, when news that Louis was planning to come to Italy the following year with an even larger army than in the previous campaigning season made Julius more anxious to come to a settlement with Venice. 

Meanwhile, however, he had been raising the stakes, the most important new demand being that Venice should drop all her claims to jurisdictional privileges in Ferrara. Since the beginning of the fourteenth century the Venetians had imposed trade restrictions on Ferrara and had kept an official there, the visdomino, who had jurisdiction over all Venetian citizens working or trading there. This was not a situation that Julius was prepared to put up with any longer.

The conditions that Julius was now attaching to the absolution of Venice were spelt out at a meeting on 3 November between the commission and the ambassadors. Accolti, acting as spokesman for the commission, said that there were ‘three spiritual matters and four temporal’. The spiritual were: firstly, that Venice should be obedient in giving possession of benefices to those whom Julius appointed to be incumbents; secondly, that ecclesiastical causes should be tried before the Rota, in Rome; and thirdly, that the tax known as the ‘decima’ should not be imposed on the clergy without papal authorization. 

The primary temporal condition was that concerning Ferrara, for Julius did not consider it fitting that Venice should exercise such authority in papal territory and have a representative with a title such as visdomino. These privileges had been gained by war and could be lost by war too. Secondly, there were agreements that the Venetians claimed to have with Ancona, Fano and other papal towns; again, it was not fitting that papal territories should have made any such pacts without the knowledge and consent of the pope, and thus they should be rescinded. Thirdly, there was the question of the ‘gulf’: the seas were free, and Julius did not like restrictions being imposed on his subjects. The Anconitani had complained that Venetian galleys came to the very mouth of their port and imposed tolls on ships that wished to enter. Lastly, there was the question of the revenues taken from the Romagnol lands while the Venetians held them. Julius wanted these paid now to him; and he wanted reparations for the expenses that he had incurred in the campaign.461

By this time, Venice had sent permission for five of the six ambassadors to leave; Girolamo Donà was to stay. Told of this decision, Julius was offended and gave another ultimatum. Either all six stayed or all six must leave - and he wanted twelve ambassadors to be sent when Venice was finally granted absolution. ‘We know the wiles of the Signoria’, he said: the Venetians want to leave just one ambassador, so that it will look as though we have come to a settlement.462 The ambassadors thought that he wanted them all to stay just to strengthen his hand with France, because Louis would wish to avert the threat of Julius making a separate peace with Venice. In fact, Julius genuinely wanted an agreement with Venice, though he was ready to threaten that he would join France in attacking her if he did not get the answer that he wanted soon.

The issue of Ferrara was a complicated one. Julius insisted that the Venetians must relinquish their privileges in Ferrara, and they were beginning to recognize that these would have to be sacrificed. Yet he was angry with Alfonso d’Este, the Duke of Ferrara, for having put himself under the formal protection of the French, and for having become involved in the attack on Venice, provoking a Venetian counter-attack on his lands. Pleas from Alfonso for help against the Venetians were rejected - Julius said that if he had got himself into trouble it was his own responsibility463 - but, at the same time, repeated warnings were given to Venice not to attack those parts of Alfonso’s lands that were held from the papacy, including Ferrara itself. The ambassadors were warned that Venice’s assault on the Ferrarese was seriously harming her prospects of an agreement with the pope. Yet when Alfonso routed a Venetian fleet on the Po, Julius was displeased, because he believed that it would be an encouragement for Louis to press home an attack on Venice in the next campaigning season, and this was a very unwelcome prospect.

In order to bring pressure on Venice to come to terms, on 1 January 1510 Julius summoned Girolamo Donà and Cardinal Corner and set out to them the position of Venice as he saw it. Despite the threat from Louis, who was planning to come to Italy with a large army in the spring, he said, Venice was refusing to accept the conditions that had been set for her absolution. If they were relying on the support of the King of England, they were mistaken. The young King Henry VIII might have written on their behalf to Rome and to France, but he had done so on the advice of only a few of his counsellors, and a combative reply from France and the advice of sager members of his council had made him return to his father’s firm policy of maintaining peace with France. If they had hopes of the Swiss, they were again mistaken, for they could not hire one Swiss infantryman while they were still under interdict. It was said that they were angling for help from the Turks: if they stirred up the Turks, they would turn the whole world against them. 

Perhaps, he said, they thought they could make peace with Maximilian, but he would just use them to extract more money from the French. And if they did manage to make peace with him before they obtained absolution, Julius would put him under interdict too, and draw closer to Louis. France and the papacy united, he warned, were far more powerful than Venice and the Emperor united. From Spain, they had nothing to hope. He was sure Ferdinand would not welcome their ruin, but even if he did not attack Venice, he had many interests that would hold him to the French. In conclusion, he told them,


You want to stick to your position; if you would have some respect for our honour and that of the Holy Apostolic See and cede what we are asking of you, it would be good for you and for us, and for the whole of Italy. And we’d join with you and with Maximilian and we would drive the French back over the mountains, and you would recover your reputation and your lands. When you don’t do this, the same thing will happen to you as happened with the Romagnol lands: when you wanted to give them to me, it was too late for me to accept them and not oppose you. By the grace of God, we have men-at-arms and we can raise more with money, and we needn’t lack for infantry. You know well your best troops, that you have had in the past and that you have now, especially infantry, come from our lands, and the captain of your infantry, Dionigio di Naldo, is our subject, and we won’t mind if he and the others stay with you … You know very well what my attitude was to your affairs before the business of the Romagnol lands. I will return to my natural inclination, and be better disposed than ever to your concerns, and we’ll free ourselves of the French - we know well what their attitude is to you and to everyone and to the whole of Italy.464


Reluctant though they were to make concessions, as the new campaigning season drew near and the threat of renewed assaults on what lands they had managed to retain or to recover loomed larger, the prospect of having one enemy the less and of the lifting of the ecclesiastical censures, looked ever more attractive, and the Venetians at last braced themselves to meet Julius’s demands. In consistory on 4 February, Julius promised to lift the sentence of excommunication against the Venetians, because they had obeyed him and done as he asked. Of the twenty-six cardinals present in consistory, fifteen were said to have voted in favour and eleven, six of them French, against. When the news was brought to Venice, there was, initially, great rejoicing - until the ambassadors’ letters were read more closely and it became clear that there would be difficulties and there would be terms that some Venetians considered dishonourable. There was some hesitation too about the terms of the mandate that Julius required, but on 15 February a mandate for the ambassadors to conclude the agreement was finally drawn up, containing the acknowledgment the Venetians had been trying to evade - that the ecclesiastical censures had been justly imposed - and instructing them to ask for pardon.

The agreement itself was dated the day the ceremony of absolution took place in Rome, on 24 February. By it, the Venetians renounced the appeal to a future council against the ecclesiastical censures; acknowledged the justification for the censures and sued for pardon; promised never to impose any taxes on the clergy or on ecclesiastical benefices; undertook not to impede any promotions to benefices, or to interfere with ecclesiastical courts or appeals to Rome. No tolls or restrictions were to be imposed on traffic by river or sea to the Romagna, the March of Ancona or Ferrara. They promised always to be obedient sons of the Church in future. All pacts and conventions that they had with any places in the Papal States to the prejudice of the papacy were to be null and void. No rebels or enemies of the papacy were to be admitted to Venetian dominions. No papal vicar or baron, even if he bore the dignity of a duke, was to be received into the protection of Venice without the pope’s permission. All claims to keep a visdomino in Ferrara and exercise other jurisdiction there were renounced. Any ecclesiastical revenues that had been seized under colour of the interdict were to be reimbursed.465

No wonder that there was some restiveness in Venice at accepting these terms, even when it was recognized that ‘we have to agree to what the pope wants since we can’t do anything else.’466 Julius effectively had his way on every point. The Venetians were not even given any concrete assurance of future support. A hint from them that he might form a league with Venice brought the immediate response, ‘We are willing to have a good understanding with the Signoria, but not, on any account, in writing, because it would be bad for them and for us, as the others [that is, the French and their allies] would draw still closer together.’467

At least the five surviving ambassadors (Paolo Pisani had died in early February) were spared the humiliation that they had feared might be inflicted on them at the ceremony of absolution on 24 February. They came dressed in scarlet before Julius and the cardinals, who were seated on a tribune erected under the portico of St Peter’s, knelt on the steps of the tribune and kissed the pope’s foot. Domenico Trevisan, speaking on behalf of all of them, asked for Julius’s absolution and blessing. Then all the terms that had been agreed were read out, in such a low voice, they were pleased to note, that even Julius could scarcely hear. This took about an hour, with the ambassadors having to stay on their knees throughout, a posture made no more comfortable by the press of people against them, with some spectators leaning on their shoulders. One by one, they then took an oath on behalf of Venice to observe the terms, with their hands on Julius’s hands resting on a missal. 

After the ambassadors had been blessed by Julius, and kissed his foot and his cheek, the doors of the church were opened and they were led up to the high altar of St Peter’s, where they knelt in prayer, and then to the chapel of Sixtus IV, where they heard a high mass. Julius did not come with them, ‘because His Holiness never stays at such long services’.468 Returning to the portico, they found the papal master of ceremonies and the papal household waiting for them, with the households of several cardinals and many Venetian prelates. To the music of trumpets and fifes and other instruments, they made their way home, where the celebrations went on in a throng of visitors and musicians and buffoons.469 All the court, all of Rome, was rejoicing, it seemed - except for the French. 

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