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Il Papa Terribile


The news of the summoning of a general council of the Church could not be kept from the pope for long. In any case, the summons did not come as a bolt from the blue. Ominous signs of preparations for it had been manifest in France for several months, and it had also become evident that a group of cardinals would be ready to defy Julius and take up the scheme. With hindsight, the first signs of impending trouble could be seen in the aftermath of Cardinal Rouen’s death in late May 1510. Not only had his demise not brought about the improvement in Julius’s attitude towards the French that Louis had hoped for, it had, directly or indirectly, given rise to growing ill-feeling and distrust between Julius and the French cardinals in Rome.

Even before Rouen had died, Cardinal de Clermont, one of his nipoti, had wanted to leave Rome for France; Louis had given permission, but Julius had not. He had not refused permission, the pope claimed, just issued instructions that if de Clermont did try to go, he should be arrested on the road. All the French cardinals wanted to return home once news of Rouen’s death arrived, but Julius refused to let any of them leave. Other cardinals were being summoned back to Rome, he said, because there was important business to be dealt with, so he would not give leave to go to those already there. It was sensed that there was more to the matter than that: perhaps, thought the Florentine ambassador, the pope was afraid that if there was a breach with Louis, and the French cardinals were away from the papal court, they ‘might stir up some trouble’.552

Probably one reason why the cardinals, and especially Rouen’s three nipoti, de Prie, de Clermont and Alby, wanted to go was to ensure their share of the pickings from the rich estate that Rouen had left - 200,000 scudi in gold and silver alone, according to Alby,553 and a rich collection of benefices and offices. But Julius wanted it too. Unless special permission had been given, a cardinal’s estate went to the pope, not the cardinal’s family. Rouen had obtained a brief conferring the right to dispose freely of his property, but Julius claimed that this had been given to him while he was in Rome in 1503 and related only to what he had accumulated up till then, not to what he had garnered from his benefices and the profits of his legations since. He wanted this treasure for use against the infidel, he said.554

Since the treasure was in France, there was small chance of the pope’s getting his hands on it. He had more say over the disposal of other parts of Rouen’s ‘inheritance’, and the attitude that he adopted annoyed the French cardinals still more. De Clermont asked for the legation of Avignon, and was refused; Alby asked for the legation of France, and was refused. Julius also avoided complying with Louis’s request that the archbishopric of Rouen should be given to one of the late cardinal’s nipoti by leaving it vacant, until, he said, he could find someone who would accept it against Louis’s will. Other benefices were given to people calculated to annoy the king.555

All this was part of the pope’s ever more manifest hostility to the French in the summer of 1510. Alby soon began to fear that if there was an open breach between the pope and the king, he and de Clermont, and possibly the other French cardinals too, would be arrested. At the end of June, de Clermont was arrested, as he was preparing to go hunting outside Rome; Julius evidently considered the hunting expedition to be a cover for flight.

Incarcerated in the Castel Sant’ Angelo, de Clermont was questioned about allegations that he had conspired to make Rouen pope while Julius was still alive. Julius must have believed that there was something to these accusations, because his anger did not cool quickly, as it usually did. He refused to release him, saying his misdeeds merited a death sentence; and though he promised the cardinals he would spare his life, he threatened that he would be imprisoned for a long time.556 The other French cardinals were also threatened with being sent to the Castel Sant’ Angelo: as a body, when they brought letters from Louis asking for de Clermont’s release; de Prie as an individual, when he asked permission to leave Rome; and Alby with Cardinal Cosenza, when letters critical of the pope that they had written were intercepted by the Venetians and sent back to Rome. Confronted with these letters after a meeting of consistory, they knelt before Julius to beg his pardon, which the intercession of the other cardinals obtained for them.

By mid-July, as Julius’s hostility to Louis, and his estrangement from the French cardinals, became more open, there were no more Frenchmen in his household, and the French were going about Rome ‘like dead men’.557 At the French court, anger against the pope had reached such a pitch that ‘withdrawing obedience from him, raising a council against him, bringing ruin on his temporal and spiritual power is the least they are threatening to do to him.’558 The first step towards the summons of a general council of the Church was already being taken, with the calling of a council of the French clergy. Questions to be brought before it included whether the pope could legitimately make war on the King of France, and whether a pope who had bought the papacy and sold benefices, and was guilty of infamous conduct, could be considered a pope at all. 559

On 17 September the Chancellor of France gave a long discourse to the prelates assembled at Tours, recounting all the benefits that Louis had conferred on Julius, before and after he became pope. In it, he spoke of Julius’s ingratitude: how he had broken the alliance made at Cambrai, without any justification, how he had roused the Swiss against the French, and tried to take Genoa, and made a league with Venice, and was attacking Alfonso d’Este, the king’s ally.560 This speech, delivered in the presence of the king, made clear what were Julius’s real crimes in Louis’s eyes. Apart from asking that representations should be made to the pope before the obedience of the French clergy was formally withdrawn from him, the prelates loyally gave Louis the response that he wanted. Julius was to be asked to put an end to the current wars and conflicts, and to summon a general council of the Church. If he did not, they asked Louis to call on Maximilian and other princes to join him in summoning one. The prelates were to reassemble in March at Lyons to hear the pope’s reply.

Meanwhile, Louis was making other preparations for a general council, ensuring that he would have some cardinals on hand to lend legitimacy and weight to its summons. Among the cardinals heading north after Julius had ordered them all to join him on his journey to Bologna, was a group that had no intention of obeying him and was working in concert with Louis. On 27 September the king wrote to Florence asking that these cardinals should be made welcome there as they passed through on their way to Milan, where they were going for the ‘welfare, union and repose of Christendom, the service of God and the restoration of the Church’.561

Not all the French cardinals were taking this route. De Clermont was still in prison; d’Albret was estranged from Louis, who disputed his family’s claims to the kingdom of Navarre; and Alby did not join them either. Why he did not do so is not clear. In any case, he died in Ancona on 17 September - of poison, said the French, including his brother Chaumont, the viceroy; of drink, said others, for ‘he drank for ten’ and was finished off by the ‘bad air’ of the Marche.562 His death provided an excuse for the actions of the two Spanish cardinals who were in the group of five heading for Florence rather than Bologna. Cardinals Carvajal and Cosenza wrote to Ferdinand that they were afraid of Julius, and that he was planning to kill all the ultramontane cardinals because he only wanted to have Italian ones. This likely story was confirmed, they claimed, by the deaths of Alby and of d’Albret - who was not in fact dead. It did not win them any sympathy from Ferdinand, who told them that they should rejoin the pope.563 Of the remaining three, two were French, de Prie and Briçonnet, and the third, Sanseverino, had represented French interests at the papal court for several years.

Why were there men prepared to join with Louis in launching this most serious of challenges to the authority of the pope? For Briçonnet, the former chief advisor of Charles VIII, and de Prie, nephew of Cardinal Rouen, the reason was probably a feeling that their chief loyalty was to the crown of France rather than the papacy. Briçonnet had been one of the more outspoken cardinals in consistory, not afraid to defend French interests, or to challenge the pope on other matters either.564 Sanseverino had identified his interests with France for many years - he had been one of the cardinals who accompanied Charles VIII to Italy in 1494. He had handled the business relating to benefices for France at the papal court, although he was not always on the best of terms with Louis. A somewhat abrasive character, he had crossed swords with Julius on a number of occasions: laying claim to an important abbey, Chiaravalle, that Julius wanted for his nipote Sisto, Cardinal San Pietro ad Vincula; and opposing the grant of lands to Niccolò della Rovere.565 A secular-minded man, he will not have worried unduly about the implications for the welfare of the Church of what he was doing. 

Of the two Spanish cardinals, Cosenza, Francisco Borgia, may have been genuinely concerned for his personal safety. He had, after all, been detected writing defamatory letters about the pope to Maximilian only two months before, and been threatened with imprisonment. Disappointed ambitions may have been the motive for the participation of the second Spanish cardinal, Bernardino Carvajal, in the cabal. A learned and capable man, he had a taste for politics and had represented the interests first of Spain and then, after he had fallen out with Ferdinand in 1504, of the Empire, at the papal court. He had been sent as legate to Germany in July 1507, but was recalled a year later, in semi-disgrace, suspected of being too keen to win Maximilian’s favour to be a reliable agent of the pope.566 He was known as an ambitious man who aspired to be pope, but his career seemed to be running into the sand, and he may have reckoned that associating himself with the call for a council was the best way to achieve the prominence that he craved. Of the five cardinals, Carvajal was the one who most obviously hoped to be elected pope by the council.

While the five cardinals were in Florence, Julius sent the datary, Francesco Argentino, to them, with briefs ordering them to go to Bologna. Although the replies that they gave apparently satisfied the datary, they immediately set off, not for Bologna, but for Pisa, and from there made their way to the duchy of Milan. They were still being cautious in revealing their plans, but the Florentines at least were able to make an educated guess that they might include a council. From Pavia, Carvajal secretly sent an envoy to Bologna to suborn other cardinals into joining them, but the man was captured and interrogated, and the documents he was carrying were seized. Thus Julius was given positive proof that the dissident cardinals were hoping to depose him and summon a council; they had already sent messages to Maximilian and to Henry VIII of England asking for their support. 

Negotiations were reported between Julius and the disaffected cardinals in Lombardy, but while in early January it was said in Bologna that they were seeking to be reconciled with the pope, in France later that month the story was that he had sent to ask them to return to Rome, promising that they would be well treated and given every guarantee they could wish. Their reply, the report ran, had been that they had left because they did not wish to be caught up in actions directed against Louis, and that when the pope was reconciled with the king, they would be ready to obey his commands.567 A little later, the word in France was that Julius had even asked the cardinals to mediate for him with Louis, promising honours and benefices if they could secure a good peace for him, but claiming that he could make peace without them anyway, and could induce Louis to hand them over to him in fetters. The cardinals’ response had been to urge Louis to make war on Julius, and then summon him to a council.568

The decision to convoke a council was not formally taken until 16 May, in Milan. Three of the cardinals, Carvajal, Briçonnet and Cosenza, with the proctors of Louis and Maximilian, declared that the council would open on 1 September in Pisa. General councils had always been recognized as the best remedy for the kind of ills that cried out for reformation in the Church, they said, but Pope Julius had neglected his duty to call one. Besides, the papacy itself was in need of emendation, and the responsibility for summoning the council therefore devolved upon the cardinals. Julius was asked to accept and confirm the convocation, and he and the other cardinals were urged not to obstruct the council. Because he had imprisoned one cardinal and threatened others, they could not tell him personally of the convocation, so the citation was to be fixed on the doors of churches in Parma, Reggio and Modena, to ensure that it came to his attention.569

The three cardinals present at the meeting claimed to have the support of six of their colleagues. Apart from Sanseverino and de Prie, they listed Philippe de Luxembourg, Adriano Castellesi, Carlo del Carretto and Ippolito d’Este. Three of these, however, Luxembourg, Castellesi and del Carretto, dissociated themselves from what had been done in their name. Even Ippolito d’Este, dependent as his brother Alfonso was on the support of France, did not declare his adherence, and kept his distance from the council. Only the original group of five cardinals were ready to proceed with preparations for it.

Nor did the presence of Maximilian’s proctor at the meeting in Milan portend a broadening of effective secular support for the council. The announcement would have been made sooner, but for the hesitation of Maximilian. He needed French support and French subsidies if he was to make any headway in the war against Venice, but he also hoped that Julius might pressure the Venetians into giving him what he wanted in return for peace. Once he had associated himself with the convocation of the council, he pressed for it to be held somewhere under his jurisdiction, as he wished to attend it in person. In a letter to the Florentines in late September urging them to send representatives to the council, he said that he had summoned it, in his capacity as ‘advocate of the Church’, with the help of Louis and some cardinals.570 But not until October did he actually appoint five prelates to represent him, and he was in no hurry to send them. Cardinal Sanseverino, who had gone to Germany to stimulate him into more active support, was sent away discontented in early November, with only fine words. Even if Maximilian had been more determined in his support, he had no power to command the clergy of the Empire to recognize the council, let alone attend it, and they showed no enthusiasm for it at all.

Ferdinand’s opposition to the whole idea was unequivocal from the start. When Louis asked him to summon a council of the Spanish clergy, renounce obedience to the pope and join in the calling of a general council, he refused outright, and told Julius that he was ready to come to his defence.571 He tried to protect Cosenza and Carvajal from the consequences of their actions, interceding for them with Julius; but once they had joined in the summons of the council, he considered that they should be demoted - they had offended God, the Church and the pope and were working for a schism.572 This was genuinely abhorrent to Ferdinand, and he never wavered in his opposition, whatever his political differences with the pope.

No other monarchs backed the council. Henry VIII of England followed his father-in-law Ferdinand in rejecting Louis’s overtures. The King of Poland, after consulting his clergy, decided that it would be dangerous for Christianity. But it was some months before it was clear that Louis would have so little success in attracting support for it, and the initial news of its convocation caused great consternation at the papal court. Some response had to be made.

Julius was not a man to dither in such circumstances. The threat had been discussed in consistory in late April, and there had been rumours in Venice in early May that he was considering calling a council himself. Once news reached him of the declaration in Milan, he announced that this was indeed what he intended to do. He would hold a general council to reform the Church. No time was lost: the matter was decided in consistory in early June, and even before he returned to Rome in late June briefs were prepared summoning a council to meet in the Lateran palace at Rome the following Easter. Julius may have been keener on the idea than some of his cardinals. They objected to his saying that he wanted reform to begin at the top with himself,573 and rather hoped that the problem could be settled as part of a general peace.

The bull announcing the summons of the Lateran Council, dated 18 July, explicitly linked it to the convocation of the council to be held at Pisa. Only the pope could lawfully summon a council, and the convocation of 16 May was declared illegal; all who adhered to the Pisan council would fall under the interdict. The pope was summoning the Lateran Council to put an end to the danger of schism, to promote peace among Christians and to prepare for an expedition against the infidel.574 Julius also wanted to begin proceedings for the demotion of the cardinals supporting the Pisan council, particularly Briçonnet, Carvajal and Cosenza, but the cardinals in Rome, wary of precedents, were not so keen. In consistory on 28 July it was decided that the College would send an envoy to them, saying that if they returned to Rome within sixty-five days and asked for pardon, they would be granted it, but if they did not come, they would be declared heretics and schismatics, and would lose their cardinals’ hats and all their benefices.575

Soon all thoughts of the council were pushed aside, as a grave illness struck Julius, bringing him very near to death and making the prospect of a conclave seem imminent. He fell ill on 18 August with fever, a headache and vomiting. Within two days, he was so sick that he was believed to be dying. He was eating very little, and became extremely weak, barely breathing, unable to hear or speak. The food that he did ask for when he was conscious - sardines, salted meat, olives and wine - was thoroughly disapproved of by his doctors. When he was thought to be dying, they agreed that he could eat whatever he wanted, because they considered that it would make little difference anyway. He called for fruit - plums and strawberries and grapes - which he chewed avidly, without swallowing the flesh. Federico Gonzaga helped by pleading with Julius to take food from his hands, for his sake and for love of the Madonna of Loreto, and Julius’s affection for the boy encouraged him to accept the broth that he offered him. 

This illness made him melancholy - at one point, he told Cardinal Riario that he wanted to die576 - and one of his household prelates, Girolamo Arsago, Bishop of Ivrea, helped to raise his spirits by goading him, telling him that he was a coward, that he wanted to die for fear of the council, and remarking to Francesco Maria, in a voice meant to carry to Julius’s ears, ‘Since he wants to die, let’s cut him to pieces quickly and plunder the palace.’ He succeeded in rousing Julius to anger: he threatened to have Arsago thrown from the window.577 When the pope felt stronger, his doctors were menaced with the same fate if they did not allow him what he wanted. One thing he wanted was wine. To have some, he played a trick on them, asking to be allowed bread soaked in wine; when this was brought, he drank the wine and told his attendant that he could have the bread.578

By the end of the month, the speed of his recovery on his chosen diet of fruit and wine was causing astonishment. He was calling for instrumental music to be played to him every day, something it was said that he did not usually enjoy. Those around him were beginning to have to be careful what they said to him, because, as Julius began to feel more like himself again, they were in danger of provoking his characteristic thundering responses.579

The crisis of Julius’s illness was an anxious time for his relatives. How far they were moved by genuine concern for his life, and how far by concern for the consequences for their own fortunes that his death would entail, is not clear. There were suggestions that he was being shamefully neglected by his family and servants, but the Mantuan agent who reported this also reckoned that Francesco Maria had helped to save the pope by keeping everyone up to the mark.580 Julius’s sister-in-law, Giovanna da Montefeltro, spent much time at the palace while Julius was sick, largely to intercede for Francesco Maria, whom he had not forgiven for the murder of Alidosi. Niccolò della Rovere also waited near the pope’s sickbed. He, Francesco Maria and Felice were beneficiaries under a will that Julius made on 24 August; he was to have 10,000 ducats and the other two 12,000 each.581

Perhaps of more importance to Francesco Maria than the money, was the absolution that he was given by the pope. The cardinals were a great deal more sympathetic to him after he killed Alidosi than Julius was. Julius had refused to see him, and spoke of confiscating his lands. In mid-July Francesco Maria was summoned to Rome to answer before a tribunal of cardinals. He arrived the day before Julius fell ill, but the pope refused to see him. His defence for the murder was that Alidosi had been a traitor: a point of law had been found that declared that anyone who killed a traitor to the Emperor or the pope should have his or her freedom, indeed be rewarded, rather than punished.582 A finding in his favour seemed very likely, but when Julius fell ill, Giovanna urged the pope to absolve her son, and on 20 August he agreed. A few days later, he finally agreed to see Francesco Maria and received him quite well, but he still had not truly forgiven him. Francesco came to lodge in the papal palace, but Julius did not want to see him much, or even hear about him, and said that he had no further use for his services.583 The judges were more sympathetic, accepted the arguments and witnesses to Alidosi’s treacheries brought forward in his favour, and acquitted him in mid-September.

The belief that Julius was dying brought about not only the usual flurry of negotiations among the cardinals in anticipation of a conclave, but also another customary accompaniment to the death of a pope, the fear of disorder in Rome. This time, however, instead of the Colonna and Orsini squaring up to each other as usual, they and other baronial families swore to put aside all disputes, ill-will, and ‘the pernicious names of Guelfs and Ghibellines’, to defend the ‘Roman republic’. Fabrizio Colonna took the oath on behalf of the Colonna, and Giulio Orsini for Giangiordano and the other Orsini, at a meeting held on the Capitol, which they attended along with many leading Roman citizens and the officials of the commune of Rome. Four men from each district (rione) of Rome were to accompany the barons, at their request, to make representations to the pope and cardinals concerning the welfare of the city and people of Rome.584

Julius had made a policy of keeping his distance from the Roman barons. He was not hostile to them, but did not want to be dependent on either faction, the Colonna any more than the Orsini. Very few barons had been given condotte, and only Marcantonio Colonna had been given a command of any consequence. Not one Orsini condottiere had been taken into papal service, and Julius had adamantly refused members of the family permission to take up condotte that they had arranged with Venice, only relenting about May 1510. He had not appointed any cardinals from the four major baronial families either - the death of Cardinal Giovanni Colonna in 1506 meant that neither the Colonna, the Orsini, the Conti nor the Savelli had a representative in the College - nor had he appointed any from Roman citizen families. The only specific request that the barons meeting in Rome during his illness were known to have in mind was to ask for ‘a cardinal each’, which others considered reasonable, so strong was the tradition that the major Roman families should have members in the College.585

The discontent of the Roman citizens was of much longer standing than that of the barons. Since the return of the papacy to Rome in the early fifteenth century, after the Schism, the powers of the communal government had been eroded by the papal government, and little of significance remained of its powers of raising revenue or administering justice. The prosperity of Rome may have been dependent on the crowds of outsiders who came to work in or around the papal court and administration, or came to transact business with them, but this made it no less galling for prominent citizen families to have so little effective part in the running of their own city. Julius had done nothing to appease these grievances. He wanted good order kept in Rome, and he took steps to ensure that grain was provided in times of shortage; but, in general, he did not pay the Romans much attention.

The documents recording the oaths taken by the barons and the citizens on 27 and 28 August made careful mention of the honour and glory of the pope and the Apostolic See, but there was little doubt in anyone’s mind that Julius would not look upon these gatherings with favour, if he came to hear of them. His unexpected recovery brought swift denials by the Romans of any intention to attack the authority of the papal government. The barons kept their nerve, maintained their united front, and left the city. Their unity and their estrangement from the pope was perceived as a problem: one that became more serious in the winter, as Louis began to think of using disaffected barons to attack Rome.

Louis was still Julius’s major problem. After the loss of Bologna, he had picked up negotiations with the king again. Proposals and counter-proposals passed backwards and forwards all summer and into the autumn. Much of the work was done by the Scots bishop Andrew Forman, but other agents were used as well, including Angelo Leonino, by this time governing Avignon, who was sent on missions to the French court, and Giangiordano Orsini, who returned from a visit to France in July 1511 with proposals that his wife Felice helped him to put before her father.

None of this diplomatic activity was very fruitful. Louis perhaps wanted peace more than Julius did, but peace on his terms, and the pope did not like his terms, any more than the king liked those sent by the pope. Bologna was the principal sticking- point. Julius wanted it back, under a form of government of his choosing, and he wanted the Bentivoglio out. Louis took the city and the Bentivoglio into his protection, and swore that he could not allow them to return to the oppressive regime of recent years.

His devotion to the liberties of the Bolognese was motivated by a fear that if Bologna was once again under papal control, it would be used as a base for an attack on Lombardy. For similar reasons, he would not abandon Alfonso d’Este and Ferrara to their fate. To please the king, Julius said that he would renew Alfonso’s investiture with Ferrara, but that all his lands south of the Po were to go to the papacy, he was to pay the census at the rate due before Alexander VI reduced it, and the pope was to have a visdomino in Ferrara. None of these conditions, or any others that Julius was asking for, was acceptable to the king. He would see that Alfonso asked for pardon, but he should keep all his lands, on the same conditions as before the war, as Julius had promised under the terms of the Treaty of Cambrai.586

Louis also referred back to the Treaty of Cambrai in his insistence that, as part of any peace settlement, Maximilian should receive all the lands that he claimed from Venice under its terms. He protested that Julius made no mention of Maximilian’s claims in the proposals that he sent. But the pope was still hoping to bring about an agreement between Maximilian and Venice, so that they could be brought into a league against France. The difficulties in bringing about such an agreement were immense - the two sides were as far apart in their demands as Louis and Julius were - but his efforts continued, and he was not prepared to bring the problem within the scope of his negotiations with France.

Ferdinand, too, favoured a separate peace between Maximilian and Venice. This he saw as one device to counter the plans for the conquest of Italy that he believed Louis to nurture. Another would be for Julius to pay for a large contingent of Spanish troops to defend the lands of the Church and the authority of the pope, and recover what the Church had lost. Before the Spanish troops came to the pope’s aid, he wanted an alliance with Julius and Venice, which must, he insisted, be clearly in favour of the Church, and not against anyone.587 Ferdinand’s son-in-law, Henry VIII, was to be invited into the league too.

Negotiations for this league were soon under way and, despite being held up by Julius’s illness, were concluded quite quickly. On 4 October 1511 the league between Ferdinand, Venice and the pope was formally concluded. Julius wanted it called ‘Sanctissima’, ‘Most Holy’, because it was for the benefit of the Church,588 and, on the following day, held an impressive ceremony at Santa Maria del Popolo to publish its terms. 

The league was said to be for the recovery of Bologna and all other lands of the Church that were being occupied by others. Ferdinand was to send the viceroy of Naples, Ramón de Cardona, or another suitable captain, to command the forces of the league, with 1,200 men-at- arms, 1,000 light horse and 10,000 Spanish infantry. Julius was to supply 600 men-at-arms, under the command of the Duke of Termini, while the Venetians were to provide as many troops as they could (no number was specified), and to make available their fleet, which would work in conjunction with eleven Spanish galleys. Julius and Venice were to pay the Spanish commander 40,000 ducats a month towards the expense of the troops. Maximilian could join the league within forty days if he chose; Henry, it was noted, had participated in the negotiations and was expected to join in the league, but the mandate from England had not yet arrived.589 Henry did indeed ratify the league, on 13 November.

Louis had wanted to avoid war. The French were not wholly comfortable with the idea of using military force against the Church. After the capture of Bologna, Louis’s chosen instrument to bring Julius to make peace was the council. At first, his enthusiasm for that seemed to be waning too. In late May one of his ministers, Robertet, remarked that he did not think that the council would ever meet; the dissident cardinals had their minds on bishoprics rather than the reform of the Church.590 They also wanted the French king to take the Romagna, and hand it over to them; Louis refused to agree. But once he realized that Julius was ready for war, rather than peace, he ordered twenty-four French bishops to attend the council in person, and all other French prelates to send proctors or to go themselves. He wrote to Florence to ask that Pisa should be made ready to receive it.

Louis was quite explicit about his motives for supporting the council — ‘he would not have embarked on this council, except to bring the pope to an agreement; and so he said “If we give up on the council, the pope won’t want anything to do with a peace.”  591Few can have been deceived into thinking that reform of the Church came very high on the true agenda of the council, and it was attracting very little support. Only the French clergy went through the motions, as slowly as they dared, to appease the king. 

The Florentines tried hard to escape having to play hosts to it in Pisa, arguing, with some truth, that Pisa was in no fit state to receive a large assembly of outsiders. They were in a very difficult position. Refusing to accept the council in Pisa would have offended the French, on whose alliance the regime in Florence was dependent; accepting the council in their territory brought them under papal interdict, and the goods of their merchants, particularly in the Papal States, in peril of confiscation. Louis’s seizure of the property of Julius’s relatives in Genoa and Savona in retaliation was small compensation. The Florentines did, however, refuse to compel their clergy to attend the council, and they refused to accept in their territory the large contingent of French troops that the dissident cardinals insisted they needed for their own protection. Those who came for the council were met with hostility and resentment by the Pisans; at first, they were even locked out of the cathedral.

Four cardinals had reached Pisa at the end of October - Carvajal, Briçonnet, de Prie and d’Albret (who had been forced to participate by Louis and sent a message to Julius to say that he would try to get away and come to Rome). They had proxies from Sanseverino, Cosenza (who died on 4 November at Reggio), and, they claimed, from Luxembourg, but he denied this. Apart from the four cardinals, there were only two archbishops, fourteen bishops and five abbots, all French except for one Italian abbot. In addition, there were a few theologians and jurists, some of whom came from Milan. 

The council was formally declared open on 5 November, with Carvajal presiding. But so miserable was the attendance at the first two sessions, so small the prospect of more prelates joining them, so hostile the reception from the Pisans, that the third session was hastily brought forward to 12 November and it was decided to transfer the council to Milan. Reassembling there in December, the council felt a little safer, but was no more welcome to the people, who fell under papal interdict because of its presence. Most of the clergy observed the interdict, defying the French governor, who insisted that they should continue to hold the usual services.

Even before it had become obvious that the council was a fiasco, Julius’s confidence had been buoyed up by the Holy League. Now he was stronger than the French, he said, and again he spoke of driving them back over the Alps.592 Louis, meanwhile, was threatening to take the war to the pope and drive him from Rome.593 Ultimately, Julius proved the better prophet - but not before it looked as though Louis’s predictions would come true.

When Ferdinand had first proposed that Julius should pay for Spanish troops to help defend the lands of the Church, he had told his ambassador in Rome, Vich, that they should be kept firmly under Spanish command. Up until then, he said, Julius had governed military matters so poorly that he had lost more through the bad order of his men than through the action of the enemy.594 Ferdinand was probably referring only to the wars since the Treaty of Cambrai, but his comment was all too apt for most of Julius’s military efforts, as cardinal and as pope. The campaign against the French in the winter of 1511-12 was no exception. Cardinal Giovanni Medici was sent to the Romagna as legate in early October 1511. He was to have overall charge of the papal troops there, while the Neapolitan Duke of Termini, whom Julius appointed as his lieutenant-general that month, was to have the military command. But the duke never arrived in the Romagna, dying at Civita Castellana in December on his way north. Once again, Julius could not find an effective commander for his troops. He was still not sure that he wanted the Duke of Urbino to take part in the campaign, and besides, Francesco Maria had an uncomfortable habit of requesting more money and men as soon as he was asked to do anything. 

Faced with paying a monthly subvention of 20,000 ducats to the Spanish troops, and with helping the Venetians to find the cash to pay their share, the pope did not like to hear requests for money from his own men. He was convinced that he was being cheated, and that his soldiers were selling off their supplies for their own profit. He kept on urging Cardinal Medici to do something - above all, to go and take Bologna back. Convinced that Bologna was ripe for the taking, he was impatient with the cardinal’s argument that it would be better to wait for the Spanish troops to come from Naples, but at last he accepted it, and told him to concentrate on keeping the Romagna safe until the reinforcements arrived.

The Spanish troops, however, were slow in coming, and when they at last did arrive in the Romagna were not much more active. In late January 1512 the papal and Spanish forces, commanded by the viceroy, Cardona, began to besiege Bologna, but a lightning manoeuvre by the young French commander, Gaston de Foix, who contrived to enter Bologna with his men undetected by the besiegers in early February, relieved the city. Soon Julius was complaining that the Spanish were wasting his money; he grumbled that the viceroy lacked experience and understanding, and accused him of intriguing with de Foix.595

His anger increased when he heard that no effective attempt had been made to block the return to Bologna of Gaston de Foix on 21 March, this time with Cardinal Sanseverino, who had been appointed ‘legate’ of Bologna, at Louis’s demand, by the council in Milan. Louis wanted the council itself to transfer there. More ominously, he had sent orders to de Foix to invade the Romagna, and to hand over to Sanseverino any lands that he captured there. Cardona was no match for de Foix as a general, and was forced to confront the French in a battle before the walls of Ravenna on 11 April, Easter Sunday. This, one of the bloodiest battles of the Italian wars, ended in crushing defeat for the papal and Spanish troops, with the capture of the legate, Cardinal Medici, and of two Spanish commanders, Fabrizio Colonna and the Marchese di Pescara. French jubilation at the victory was stilled by the news that Gaston de Foix was among the dead, but the army easily took Ravenna, and the rest of the Romagna was conquered within a matter of days.

Panic was the natural reaction in Rome to this news. It was known that the French had been threatening to march on Rome, and now it seemed that nothing could stop them. At first, Julius thought of flight from Rome, and galleys were being prepared, but on the following day, 15 April, Giulio de’ Medici arrived, sent by his cousin the legate. He told of the heavy losses that the French had suffered, of the demoralization of the army at the loss of de Foix, and of the discord between the new commander, La Palice, and Cardinal Sanseverino. These reports rallied Julius’s spirits, and he began to discuss with the Spanish ambassador, Vich, how to regroup and increase the forces of the league. 

Faced with the necessity of explaining to himself how God could let the Spanish suffer such a defeat, Vich had decided it was the pope’s sins that had prompted God to give the French victory in an unjust cause.596 But, whatever his personal views on Julius, he did provide much-needed support in the difficult weeks ahead. Apart from a moment of discouragement in early May, when news came of the fall of the fortress of Ravenna to the French, Julius’s nerve held, despite great pressure from the cardinals to seek for peace. He agreed to send peace proposals to France, but they were little different from the ones that he had made the year before, and could not be acceptable to Louis now; indeed, he sent for the ambassadors of the league to tell them that he was merely playing for time.597

He did not have to stall for very long. By the middle of May both Ferdinand and Henry had declared their intention of continuing the fight against the French. And, at the end of the month, an investment that Julius had been making for years finally paid off, as a large force of Swiss mercenaries, under the command of Cardinal Schiner, advanced into the Milanese.

Extracting money from Julius to pay for troops was often as arduous, and provoked as many cries of anguish, as pulling teeth. He was always ready to suspect that he was being cheated, and was especially reluctant to pay for troops that would not be under his own control. And yet he never seemed to grudge paying out large sums for Swiss mercenary infantry, and submitted to the blackmail to which they subjected all their employers with comparatively good grace. He had entrusted his personal security to a corps of Swiss since 1506 - the foundation of the famous papal Swiss Guard. Up to the summer of 1511, however, he had had very little return on the investment.

The 6,000 Swiss that he had recruited for the campaign against Genoa in 1510 had gone home without having done anything.598 They had claimed that they had not been paid, but other reports indicate that Julius had paid out at least 36,000 ducats and had had 50,000 ducats more ready to send to them. There were also political problems: not all the Swiss were agreed that they should be fighting for the pope against the King of France, who had been their traditional employer for decades. The combination of political ambiguity and difficulties in getting payment to them, despite the large sums of money that Julius made available, brought an attack on the duchy of Milan to an end within six weeks in late 1511.

Nevertheless, Julius was still very keen to have their services. In January 1512 he appointed Cardinal Schiner as papal legate to the Swiss. Then, in March, to help resolve the conflicts over whom the Swiss should be serving, and at the request of those who were advocating serving the Church, he sent a bull excommunicating those Swiss who went to serve France. The following month, the cantons formally wrote to Cardinal Schiner, who had gone to Venice to negotiate a contract with the Holy League, to say that they had decided to invade Milan again, to support Julius and the papacy against the French.599

In late May the Swiss, 18,000 men in all, arrived at Verona, where Schiner was waiting with a bejewelled ceremonial cap and sword sent to them by the pope as symbols of their role as protectors of the Church. Although they refused to move on until Julius, the Venetians and the viceroy supplied them with money, on 1 June they joined up with the Venetian army. On 6 June Cremona surrendered to the combind forces. The French were already in retreat. Just as the Swiss were heading for Verona, Maximilian withdrew the German troops who were with the French, and the disorganized and demoralized French army left the Romagna. They were in no condition or mood to stand up to the combined forces of the league and the Swiss, and, apart from leaving behind the garrisons of a handful of fortresses, they evacuated the duchy of Milan virtually without a fight by the end of the month.

Now there was no further need to pray to God for victory, declared Julius: now he had granted everything that had been asked.600 On the pope’s orders, celebrations in Rome lasted for several days, with bonfires throughout the city and a night-time procession to the Vatican from San Pietro in Vincoli, where he had been staying for a few days. He was accompanied by all the cardinals, each of whom was preceded by forty torches carried by his servants. ‘It was a superb sight, all the more as there wasn’t a house which didn’t have torches and candles at the windows, and so many bonfires in the streets, especially in those through which the pope passed, that there’d never been so many seen at one time in Rome. It was estimated that there were three thousand blazing torches behind the pope.’601 

The news that the French had lost Genoa was greeted by Julius with particular delight, and cries of ‘Fregoso! Fregoso!’602 On St Peter’s Day, 29 June, he presented the basilica of the apostle with a golden altar cloth with the inscription ‘Julius Papa Secundus Italia Liberata’.603 Two great banners were sent to the Swiss, one decorated with the papal tiara and keys and the inscription ‘Pope Julius II, nephew of Sixtus IV of Savona’, the other with the arms of the della Rovere and a religious text, declaring ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not fear what any man can do to me.’604 Every Swiss town that had sent a contingent of men received a standard painted or embroidered with a religious image of its choice.

As the rejoicings in Rome were in full swing, envoys from Bologna arrived to seek the pope’s pardon. However elated he was feeling, he was in no mood to forgive the Bolognese lightly. Necessity had brought their submission, as he well knew. Only when there was no hope of further help from the French and the Bentivoglio recognized that they could not stay in the city without them, did the Bolognese turn their minds to making their peace with the pope. The Bentivoglio left on 10 June, and the governing council wrote the same day to the legate of the Romagna, Cardinal Gonzaga, asking him to come.605 It still had spirit enough to refuse to give the hostages that the legate demanded, and to face down Francesco Maria della Rovere when he said that he would enter the city with all his troops; it warned him that the Bolognese would take up arms to repel them, and of the danger that the Bentivoglio might take the opportunity to return from their refuge in Ferrara.606

On 13 June, the day on which Francesco Maria and only some of his troops entered Bologna with the legate, the governing councils of the city wrote to Julius telling him that they had asked them to come. Now that the Bentivoglio had gone, there was nothing to prevent the Bolognese from giving true obedience to the Church and the pope. The Bolognese understood that he might be somewhat annoyed, they said, but Bologna had had an appalling year, and would he please be merciful.607 The ambassadors whom they sent were instructed to ask for pardon and absolution, but also for the restoration of the city’s former privileges: all the troubles of recent years stemmed from failure to observe these.608 Either the Bolognese did not realize how annoyed Julius was, how much he had felt the loss of the city - not to mention incidents such as the destruction of Michelangelo’s statue of him 609- as a personal blow, or they were hoping to brazen it out. Perhaps they had yet to appreciate fully the extent of the rout of the French, and the consequent weakness of their own position.

Julius’s reception of the ambassadors should have left them in little doubt about his attitude. He received them formally on 27 June in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli, which was packed by prelates and curiali, seated with his back to the altar and flanked by eight cardinals. After the envoys had presented their letters of credence, asking for pardon and promising ‘perpetual and inviolable loyalty’ in future, Julius replied, at length. He spoke of all the effort and expense that he had endured to wrest the city from servitude to the tyranny of the Bentivoglio; he emphasized how, moved by his love for Bologna, he had gone there twice, with all his court, which had left the city 400,000 ducats the richer; and he recalled the other benefits, private and public, that he had bestowed on the Bolognese. 

And yet, in a moment, he had seen the city turn her back on her benefactor and forswear what had been promised many times, leaving her true lord for the enemies of the pope and Holy Church. Here he recalled the persecution of his soldiers, the dismantling of the fortress, and the destruction of his statue - which he had had made at his own expense, when the Bolognese should have been the ones to raise it up, at their expense, to commemorate him. To make their rebellion all the more open, they had obeyed schismatics, and committed a thousand other faults to the dishonour of the pope and the Apostolic See, so that they might have brought about his total ruin. Ungrateful, they were, disloyal, men of ill will - not one had given the slightest sign of being his servant or his friend: at least they might have seized the Bentivoglio when they fled. And so he went on, showing a more detailed knowledge of what had happened in Bologna (the envoys thought) than they themselves had. But he would punish them, and give them such a government, and impose such order, that he would make them obey: if they wouldn’t do it for love, he would force them to it.610

Refusing all petitions to restore their former privileges, Julius would not even reinstate the office of the Forty, saying that they had behaved like tyrants. He appointed one of his nipoti, Orlando del Carretto, his treasurer, as vice-legate to govern the city. The pope thought highly of him, and the Bolognese professed themselves pleased by him; but, unfortunately, his lieutenant, Francesco Frescobaldi, followed the pattern of preceding papal governors in the city by behaving despotically, enriching himself by extortion. Julius refused to settle on any other form of government, and it was not until after his death that the new pope, Leo X - Giovanni de’ Medici, who had been legate of Bologna - restored the Forty, and later confirmed all the city’s privileges.

One thing that had particularly annoyed Julius about the events at Bologna was that Cardinal Sanseverino, who had been appointed ‘legate’ by the schismatic council, had been accepted in the city. In March 1512 Louis had given orders that the council should be transferred to Bologna. But soon, as the French army fell apart, the cardinals and prelates in Milan did not feel safe even there, and instead of heading south, decided on 4 June to move north to Asti. Still they felt insecure, and soon took refuge over the Alps in Lyons. There the tenth and final session of the council was held on 6 July. The dissident cardinals were still unwilling to admit defeat, but soon even Louis began to tire of what had become a useless diplomatic inconvenience. This was another hangover of Julius’s pontificate that it fell to Leo to tidy up.611

The demise of the Pisan council did not lead to the abandonment of the council that Julius had summoned. Plans for it were too far advanced, and to drop the scheme would have made all too blatant the political motive behind it. Although it would probably not have occurred to Julius to summon a council had he not been pushed into it by the need to respond to the challenge of Louis and the dissident cardinals, he seems to have decided to make the best of it. The signs were that it would attract much wider support than the Pisan council, and it provided a perfect opportunity for a display of the majesty of the papacy. 

Recognition of what, for many, should have been its real purpose, provision for the reform of the Church, had been given too, even before it opened. At the consistory in March at which it was decided to open the council at the Lateran after Easter, a commission of eight cardinals was appointed to examine the complaints of the intolerable expense of doing business at the curia. Julius wanted some sign that reform was beginning at the head of the Church, and he wanted all the clerics in Rome to behave more decorously than they usually did. His mark of reformation in his own behaviour was to have his beard shaved off.612

The council opened on 3 May. The day before, Julius had made his way to the Lateran, accompanied by sixteen cardinals, ambassadors and many prelates (of whom there was no shortage in Rome), and a strong military escort, including Costantino Arniti, Giulio Orsini, Marcantonio Colonna and Niccolò della Rovere.

The impressive opening ceremony the following day lasted six hours and included a Mass of the Holy Spirit, and a sermon from Egidio da Viterbo, invoking the aid of St Peter for the council. After this, the pope and prelates entered a special enclosure that had been constructed in the basilica for the participants in the council, the entrance to which was guarded by a splendidly dressed contingent of Knights of Rhodes. Julius’s address was read out for him by Cardinal Farnese. It declared that he had long wanted to hold a council, but had deferred it because of the wars between Christian princes; now, the threat of division in the Church made it urgent.613

The first session was held on 10 May, with Julius presiding. Here he described the task of the council to be threefold: rooting out schism, the reform of the Church, and a crusade. If he had not governed his flock as he should have, he apologized, but he had meant well, and he was ready to do anything for the Christian faith.614 At the second session, a week later, the proceedings of the council of Pisa were declared null and void. A letter from Henry VIII announcing his accession to the Holy League was read out, and then another from Ferdinand, accrediting Vich to represent him and his daughter, Queen Joanna, at the council. 

Although virtually all the prelates who attended were Italian, it was already clear from these letters, and the presence of the Venetian ambassador too, that the Lateran Council would enjoy general recognition. To gain time for the representatives of other nations to appear, and to avoid holding sessions in the heat of summer, the council was adjourned until November. Julius was well satisfied with what had been accomplished so far.

With the Lateran Council set to triumph over the Pisan, the French on the run from Italy, and Bologna back in the fold, by the end of June three of the pope’s major preoccupations were on the way to being resolved. Still another persisted, however - Ferrara.

Alfonso d’Este had remained an ally of France through good times and bad. His artillery, his pride and joy, had done much to secure victory for the French at the Battle of Ravenna. By casting an artillery piece using the bronze from the head of Michelangelo’s statue of the pope after its destruction in Bologna, and calling it ‘La Giulia’, he had struck a more personal blow against Julius, one that went home. But the rout of the French meant that Alfonso, like the Bolognese, had to think of coming to terms with Julius. The ground was prepared by the Gonzaga, who helped to arrange a safe-conduct for Alfonso to go to Rome. He also obtained guarantees from Fabrizio Colonna, who had been his prisoner since the Battle of Ravenna, and the Spanish ambassador in Rome; his honourable treatment of Fabrizio and the Spanish prisoners that he held had earned him their goodwill. After recalling at length Alfonso’s offences against the papacy, including his treatment of the statue’s head, the safe-conduct, dated 11 June, stipulated that he could come safely to Rome, and leave again freely even if he had not reached any agreement with the pope.615

Alfonso arrived in Rome on 4 July, accompanied by an escort of gentlemen and a few troops. Julius sent Federico Gonzaga to greet his uncle, who rode through the streets with Fabrizio Colonna on one side and Giangiordano Orsini (whom he had met by chance) on the other. Alfonso stayed quietly in Cardinal Gonzaga’s palace for the first few days, receiving visits made on behalf of the ambassadors and cardinals. His cause had much sympathy in Rome, but he also had enemies near the pope, including Alberto da Carpi, now Imperial ambassador in Rome.616 After some debate over the form of words to be used in his formal request for pardon - like the Venetians in 1509-10, he kicked against the degree of submissiveness and self-reproach that the pope and his officials wanted him to display - Alfonso was absolved by Julius in consistory on 9 July. He was not badly treated during the ceremony. While he was waiting to enter consistory, he was entertained by a sumptuous collation of fruit, confectionery and wine, and the music of violins. Naturally, Julius did not let slip the opportunity to expatiate on Alfonso’s errors in reply to the duke’s words of penitence, but he embraced him warmly and seemed friendly enough.617

Then, however, the hard bargaining began, and it became evident that Julius was in no mood to be indulgent. A commission of six cardinals - Ciocchi, Fieschi, Vigerio, Aragona, Bainbridge and Leonardo della Rovere - was appointed to examine Alfonso’s case. Most of these were Julius’s men, though Aragona, boon companion of Julius as he was, was also related to Alfonso, whose mother had been a daughter of Ferrante, and was highly sympathetic to the duke. In fact, all the commission, except for Leonardo della Rovere, were sympathetic to him, but the final decision did not rest with them, but with the pope. 

He was putting forward two demands that Alfonso firmly rejected. One was that he should release two of his brothers, Giulio and Ferrante, who were languishing in prison in Ferrara, after conspiring against Alfonso in 1506. Julius had a private interest in the fate of Ferrante, who was his godson and had recently smuggled out a letter to the pope, pleading for his help. Julius argued that Alfonso’s brothers were included among the prisoners whose release was stipulated as a condition of his safe-conduct - Alfonso replied, with justification, that the prisoners referred to in that document were the prisoners of war, Fabrizio Colonna and the subjects of Ferdinand and of Venice. The second demand that the pope was making was even more unacceptable to Alfonso. Julius wanted Ferrara.

Before Alfonso had come to Rome, Julius had said that if he proved compliant, he planned to send him back to Ferrara with an envoy who would take possession of it; subsequently, the duke would be reinvested with it, on terms that would prevent any further recalcitance against the papacy.618 Now Julius did not want Alfonso to have Ferrara on any terms. He offered to let him choose another city, worth up to 25,000 or 30,000 ducats. Asti would be suitable, Julius suggested, claiming that it was his to dispose of. Rimini was another suggestion; and even Urbino was mentioned, with the proposal that Francesco Maria should exchange his duchy for that of Alfonso.

But the duke would not hear of such terms, claiming that he had been promised that if he came to Rome, there would be no question of his being asked to yield Ferrara. He left - virtually fled - Rome on 19 July, escorted by Fabrizio Colonna, and went to Fabrizio’s fortress of Marino. Julius protested that he had had no intention of breaching the safe-conduct that he had given to the duke, who had been free to go. He blamed Fabrizio Colonna, rather than Alfonso, for the manner of their departure, which involved forcing their way out of the Porta San Giovanni. Alfonso himself wrote that he had left Rome because Julius had asked him to surrender Ferrara, and did not mention any fear that the safe conduct would not be honoured; indeed, he said that the pope had given him permission to leave.619 Obviously, however, he considered the demand for Ferrara to be in itself a breach of the spirit, if not the letter, of the terms on which he had agreed to come to Rome, and felt sufficently insecure to let Fabrizio talk him into making a hasty and unannounced departure.

With Alfonso and his men around the Vatican, Julius had felt insecure too. He had been persuaded that the duke was the most vindictive of men - his treatment of his brothers lent colour to that contention - and maintained that he had asked for Ferrara because he did not see how he could trust him.620 Only a few days before Alfonso arrived in Rome, Julius spoke of an exchange that he had been told had taken place between Alfonso and Louis. Asking for the king’s advice, Alfonso had told him the pope wanted Ferrara, and that he would have to play for time; Louis had responded that he couldn’t help him this year, and he should make what arrangements he could, but that he would help him another year. Commenting on this information, Julius told the Venetian ambassador that he wanted to take Ferrara from Alfonso, and that the safe-conduct that he had given him had been for his person, not his lands.621 To leave Ferrara in the hands of Alfonso would be to leave a way open for the King of France to trouble the Papal States once again, and plainly Julius considered his work incomplete unless Alfonso was driven out. The idea that he must have Ferrara would obsess him until he died.

The help and support that the Colonna had given Alfonso during his time in Rome (they had made great efforts to honour and entertain him, as well as pleading his cause at court) marked the degree of estrangement that had developed between them and the pope. Relations between them had never recovered after the Colonna involvement in the meetings held in Rome during Julius’s illness in August 1511. Even Marcantonio Colonna had lost favour; he had wanted to leave papal service, because he did not want to serve under the Duke of Termini. Julius became alarmed by this estrangement from the Colonna and the continuing discontent in Rome, and there was an unconfirmed report that he had turned to the Orsini, summoning Giangiordano and Giulio to Rome, so as to have some assistance if the Colonna party caused trouble.622 As the French advanced south in the spring of 1512, he became even more alarmed, because some of the disaffected barons, including Roberto Orsini and Pompeo Colonna, and their Roman allies were in touch with the French army.

At the time of crisis after the Battle of Ravenna, however, the barons stayed loyal to the pope. Giulio Orsini brought Roberto back into line, and, for the first time, Julius gave condotte to members of the Orsini family: accepting a condotta for himself, Giulio appointed three younger Orsini, Franciotto, Orsino and Giancorrado, to be his subordinate commanders. (Giangiordano, as ever going his own way according to his own sense of honour, refused a condotta from his father-in-law, saying that he could not oppose Louis because he was a member of the Order of Saint-Michel, but promised that he would put his estates at the disposal of the papal troops.)623 Muzio Colonna finally accepted the condotta that the pope had been offering to him for several months, and Marcantonio, who had been in the fortress of Ravenna when it fell to the French and had given them an undertaking not to oppose them for three months, said that he would find a way out of this obligation.624

No agreement was reached with Prospero Colonna, who pitched his demands too high. Just before news of the battle arrived, he had refused to come to Rome, insisting that Julius must ‘make up his mind to treat the Roman barons differently from in the past, and should be prepared to make four cardinals, suggesting Bishop [Pompeo] Colonna, Roberto Orsini, a Conti and a Savelli, and two Roman gentlemen as well’.625 After the battle, he did come to Rome, but insisted that he must have the title either of Captain of the Church (which Francesco Maria held) or of Gonfaloniere of the Church (which was held by Francesco Gonzaga). Told by Julius that these titles were not available, and by the Spanish ambassador that he had no mandate to agree to his being captain of the league, a position that Julius was ready to concede, he left again.

Prospero’s demands for titles and cardinals had lost him the trust of the pope; the assistance that Fabrizio and Marcantonio gave to Alfonso made him distrust them too. Pompeo he had never trusted, and he took away his bishopric of Rieti for his part in helping Alfonso to escape. It was reported that, in a secret consistory in early September, he had confiscated not only the bishopric but Pompeo’s other benefices and the lands that he and his brothers held, but this sentence does not seem to have been executed.626 Julius was not reconciled to the Colonna, his friends of so many years’ standing, before his death.

Another important connection was severely damaged by the outcome of Alfonso’s visit to Rome - that between Julius and Ferdinand. Dissatisfaction with the performance of the Spanish troops in the Romagna had already brought a stream of complaints from Julius, and grumbles that the money that he was spending on them was being wasted, while that spent on the Swiss was like money in the bank, because of the results it produced.627 One reason why he had been so keen to recruit Swiss troops in the winter of 1511-12 was because ‘he fears, now that he has escaped from servitude to the French to fall into a worse one, which is to the Spanish.’628 His suspicions exasperated Vich, who found him very difficult to deal with. ‘In the hospital in Valencia there are a hundred people chained up who are less mad than His Holiness’, he told Dovizi.629

Vich had been instructed, when he was negotiating the release of the Spanish prisoners held in Ferrara, to try discreetly to reconcile Alfonso and the pope. A guarantee from Vich that he would be safe was one of the inducements that brought Alfonso to Rome, and the ambassador protested to Julius when he demanded the duke should relinquish Ferrara. After Alfonso fled, Julius suspected, with reason, that he would be smuggled out of his reach among the Spanish troops that Prospero Colonna was leading north from Naples to Lombardy. He had already been baulking at continuing to pay for Spanish troops, or letting them go to the Romagna: they hadn’t come when he needed them, he said, and now they were coming when he didn’t.630

Vich did not mince his words to Julius when he protested about his refusal to allow Prospero through. After all that Ferdinand had done ‘to lift the feet of the King of France from Your Holiness’ throat’, and when the troops were to be sent against the common enemy, was Julius refusing to let them through? He was wrong to think that Alfonso would be with them - he had already gone. Julius was incensed, and they had a furious row. The pope shouted, ‘Go and do the worst you can because I’ll do the same to you’, but when Vich replied, ‘It’s a bargain, Holy Father’,631 Julius walked up and down the room three times to recover his self-control, and then said, ‘Listen. You have the duke detained - I don’t want you to hand him over to me, just hold on to him until those troops have passed.’ Vich replied that Alfonso was no longer on Spanish territory.632 Not until September, when Julius began to feel that things were not going so well for him as he had hoped, did the pope agree to allow the troops to pass through, and he was still worried that Alfonso would go with them.

By then, there were already rumours that Julius wanted the Spanish out of Italy. Ferdinand thought that he did and that he was trying to break up the Spanish army there. 633As a long-term aim, Julius did want Italy free of foreign powers, but he does not seem to have thought that this was yet in the realm of practical politics. Sketching out his political programme to a Mantuan envoy - the independence of the Church and the maintenance of its prestige, the achievement of a balance of forces in Italy, the expulsion of foreigners and a war on the Turks - he spoke of ‘rooting out’ the French partisans in Ferrara and Florence, but to the suggestion that it would be good to be rid of the Spanish as well, replied that they had to be put up with. At present, Naples was well off in the hands of the King of Spain.634

There was still work for the ‘foreigners’ to do in Italy. Julius was a little ambiguous in his concurrence with the decision taken by the representatives of the league in Lombardy, that Spanish troops should go to restore the Medici to Florence in August 1512. Overturning the pro-French regime in Florence had been on his personal agenda since the summer of 1510, and he was happy for the Spanish troops to earn themselves some money by plunder, hoping that this would relieve him of some pressure to make payments to them. The increase in Spanish influence in Tuscany that would result from their restoring the Medici was less welcome to him. But he would be pleased to have support from Ferdinand, or Maximilian, for his campaign against Ferrara. Until that was accomplished, any thought of ridding Italy of all outside interference was as distant a prospect as the crusade against the Turks - a pleasant fancy, not a serious aim.

The expedition against Florence was about the only policy on which the league could agree, for the sudden collapse of French power in Italy had removed its raison d’être. The most serious dispute was over the fate of the duchy of Milan. Who should be the duke was the least controversial problem. It was agreed that Lodovico Sforza’s son, Maximilian, who had been brought up at his namesake’s court, should be invested with the duchy, though Ferdinand canvassed the idea that his grandson and namesake, the younger son of Philip of Burgundy, should be given the duchy and married to a Sforza girl. Who should prepare the duchy to receive him was a matter of dispute. The Swiss were reluctant to leave the prize that they had won, and Cardinal Schiner had notions of governing it himself, at least until the boy should arrive, while Lang thought that he should be the one to prepare for and guide the young duke. 

Which lands the duchy should comprise was the most difficult problem to resolve. The Swiss took their reward in the form of places that they had long coveted at the foot of the Alps, such as Bellinzona, Lugano and Locarno; Maximilian and Venice both claimed Verona, Brescia and Bergamo; Julius took Parma and Piacenza, claiming them for the Church on the grounds they had been part of the lands left to the papacy in the twelfth century by the Countess Matilda of Canossa.635

Neither Maximilian nor Ferdinand nor the Swiss approved of Julius’s appropriation of Parma and Piacenza. Schiner resisted the pope’s orders to hand the towns over to papal officials in June, but then reluctantly obeyed. Julius wanted other territories too - he accepted the submission of Reggio and claimed Modena (both Imperial fiefs), and still had his heart set on taking Ferrara. The question was did he want these lands for the Church, or did he want them for Francesco Maria? It was suggested to him in July that he might give them to his nephew - it is not known who made the suggestion - and Bartolomeo della Rovere said in August that Julius wanted Francesco Maria to have Ferrara at least.636 There was also a scheme about that time to use Parma and Piacenza as a dowry for Francesco Maria’s sister, who would be married to Maximilian Sforza.

It is unlikely that the pope ever seriously intended to give his nephew all this. To do so would be to invite his successor to take the lands away as soon as he could: no pope could tolerate so much territory being in the hands of one subject. It took several months to persuade Julius to give Francesco Maria the less important town of Pesaro, after the young Sforza lord died in August 1512. This was a much more easily justifiable addition to Francesco Maria’s lands: a papal vicariate, near to Urbino, and with no heir with a strong claim who needed to be dispossessed.637 Yet it was only on his deathbed that Julius invested his nephew with the town.

Francesco Maria was still giving the pope little incentive to bestow excessive favours upon him. In early March 1512 he even sent his secretary, Baldassare Castiglione, to France to offer his services to Louis. Among the services that he offered was to cause Cesena, Rimini and Fano to revolt against the pope. Julius had wronged him and shamed him ever since the beginning of the war against Ferrara, he claimed, calling him a traitor, saying that he was intriguing with the French. He had promoted the Duke of Termini over his head, and taken almost half his troops away. His pension had not been paid for eight months; the pope never mentioned him when he was negotiating with Louis or Maximilian or Ferdinand. He had asked leave of the pope and had decided never to serve him again. Whatever the future author of the Book of the Courtier, who drafted this catalogue of grievances, thought of his master’s treachery, the French themselves were highly critical. 

Francesco Maria felt that they were insufficiently appreciative, and after the Battle of Ravenna and the death of de Foix, feared that they would hold him in even less account. Besides, he told his father-in-law, explaining his decision to switch his allegiance back to Julius a few weeks later, the pope had softened towards him and admitted that he had been in the wrong. He might incur blame if he refused to hear his uncle’s appeal, when the pope was in so much trouble.638

The return of his nephew to the fold was certainly very welcome to the pope, but Francesco Maria had not changed his ways. Ordered to attack Ferrara, Francesco Maria still hung back. Castiglione assured Isabella d’Este that her son-in-law was determined to show his sympathy for her brother, and that he was constantly telling the pope how difficult an enterprise it was.639 Julius can have had few illusions about him. It is possible that he tried to spur him on by promising that Ferrara would be his,640 but it is unlikely that he meant it.

Ferrara was an obsession for Julius, and he was prepared to pay a high price for support for his campaign, or even for a promise not to oppose it. This, and his desire to have Maximilian publicly accede to the Lateran Council, brought him, in November 1512, to agree to help Maximilian against Venice. Driving the barbarians from Italy was still a distant dream.

Julius had been trying to promote peace between Venice and Maximilian, on and off, since the Venetian ambassadors had come to Rome to seek pardon after the Battle of Agnadello. His fluctuations of interest in working to this end were chiefly caused by his low opinion of the utility of Maximilian as an ally. With the advent of the Pisan council, the pope became more interested in winning over Maximilian, and more ready to press the Venetians to make concessions to him. When Lang, as Maximilian’s representative, opposed Julius’s attempts to take Ferrara in the summer of 1512 and made it known that he did not want the papacy to have it, the idea of coming to terms with Maximilian, winning him over to the Lateran Council, and gaining his approval, or at least his forbearance, for Julius’s acquisition of Ferrara, seemed still more worthwhile.

Maximilian’s opinion of the pope was no higher than the one that Julius held of him. The apparently mortal illness that Julius suffered in August 1511 revived Maximilian’s extraordinary ambition, first manifest in 1506, to become pope himself. He wrote in September 1511 to one of his ministers, Paul von Liechtenstein, asking him to approach the Fugger banking house to provide 400,000 ducats to finance this scheme,641 and two days later, wrote to his daughter Margaret a bizarre letter that would read like a curious joke were it not for the business letter to Liechtenstein. He would be sending Lang to Rome, he said, to induce Julius to take Maximilian as a coadjutor in the papacy, so that after Julius’s death, he would be assured of becoming pope. Then he would become a priest, and afterwards a saint, so that after his death, she would have to adore him. He was asking Ferdinand for his support, which would be given if he renounced the Empire to their grandson, Charles. The people of Rome, he claimed, had sent to say that they were ready to create a pope of his choosing, and he was beginning to lobby the cardinals - two or three hundred thousand ducats would be very useful here. He asked her to keep this secret, although he knew that it would be difficult to keep such a matter, involving so many people and so much money, quiet for long.642

At the time Maximilian wrote this letter, he was sure that Julius would die soon. News of the pope’s recovery brought a more sober approach to relations with the papacy, and Maximilian began to signal an interest in joining the Holy League. The French became seriously concerned that they would lose their ally, and the truce agreed between Maximilian and Venice in early April 1512 would do little to reassure them, nor the fact that he gave the Swiss permission to march through his lands on their way to the Milanese. Later that month he set out the terms that he wanted if he were to join the league against France. These included an undertaking by Julius and Ferdinand to help him against the Venetians if he could not make an agreement with them; the grant of a decima, a tax on the German clergy; and permission for a levy for a ‘crusade’ against the schismatics. While the levy was being collected, he wanted a loan of 100,000 ducats from Julius to help pay his troops.643

Julius granted the decima on the German clergy - much though he wanted not to displease them, for a council of German prelates had decided in February 1512 that the Pisan council was schismatic. Lang was supposed to come to Rome to negotiate, but the differences that arose over the disposal of the lands of the duchy of Milan, Maximilian’s discontent that the pope should have Parma, Piacenza and Reggio, and Lang’s efforts to obstruct his taking Ferrara, made him linger in northern Italy. The pope did not relax his territorial claims, insisted that Lang must come to Rome, and declared he did not want to see Venice ruined and deprived of her lands by Maximilian. By late August he was ready to compromise, however. He would agree to Maximilian having some of the towns that he claimed from Venice, if Maximilian would agree to his having Ferrara. In the light of this response, Lang decided to go to Rome - but only after the Spanish troops had returned to Lombardy from their campaign against Florence, and he himself had been to consult Maximilian.644

He eventually reached Rome in November 1512. He went privately to the Vatican on 3 November, and dined and slept there without seeing the pope, but they spent the whole of the following day together in the Belvedere. Then Lang left, to make his public entry to Rome, and to be received formally by the pope. During this reception, all the ambassadors in Rome petitioned the pope one by one ‘for a general peace in Italy, in the name of their kings and lords’.645 But the agreement signed on 19 November pleased few. The Venetian ambassadors, backed into a corner, declared early on in the talks that they could not accept the terms that Julius wished to impose on them, and he therefore declared them excluded from the league. The Spanish ambassadors tried to prevent the agreement from being concluded at all: Ferdinand considered the prospect of driving the Venetians into the arms of the French as politically disastrous. But with both the main parties to the negotiations ready to cede what the other wanted to gain their own ends - Lang to gain the prospect of military help and the grant of spiritual censures for Maximilian against Venice; Julius to gain acquiescence in his tenure of Modena, Reggio, Parma and Piacenza, and a promise that Maximilian would not help Alfonso d’Este - terms were agreed and signed with little difficulty.

The league was formally announced on 25 November at a ceremony in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, with all the cardinals present. Among them sat Lang, who had been published a cardinal in consistory the day before, but was still refusing to accept the insignia of his status. He was, with difficulty, prevailed on to wear at least episcopal robes. To honour him, after a Mass of the Holy Spirit, Egidio da Viterbo preached in praise of Julius and Maximilian, and then the terms of the league were read out, in Italian so that everyone could understand them. The pope then dined in the cloisters, with Lang, who had already put off his clerical dress, at his table.646 His mission accomplished, Lang was ready to leave Rome, but Julius persuaded him to come on a hunting trip to Ostia, and to appear at the next session of the Lateran Council in early December.

Initially, he had not wanted to attend it, but one of the purposes of his visit, for Julius, was to make manifest Maximilian’s adherence to the council, and the re-convening of the council had been held over from November because of his arrival. He did come to the session on 4 December, but behaved with his customary lack of grace and was, as usual, dressed ‘in the German style’, not even in bishop’s robes, let alone in those of a cardinal. During an oration in praise of the council, he passed the time drafting the speech that he would make acknowledging the Lateran Council as the true one; he had refused to accept the statement that had been prepared for him. After his mandate from Maximilian had been read out - giving him powers to annul the Pisan council and not only ratify the Lateran one, but also defer it, transfer it to another place or wind it up - Lang rose and read out the statement that he had drafted, confirming the Lateran Council in Maximilian’s name.647 When the session was ended, he left immediately for Lombardy, without even returning to his lodgings.

It is not surprising that Julius was not satisfied by his behaviour, complaining that he had not repudiated the acts of the Pisan council, just recalled from it any prelates who were subjects of the Empire. He also complained that Lang had not kept his promises, notably to withdraw German troops from the defence of Ferrara.648

He issued formal warnings to the Venetians that they would be excommunicated if they did not give Maximilian the lands that he claimed, but he made no preparation for war against Venice. Instead, he began once more to try to promote an agreement between Venice and Maximilian. Had he wanted to make war on Venice, it is difficult to see how he could have done so. The Swiss did not want to attack her, and nor did Ferdinand, who thought that nothing could be more favourable to France than the exclusion of Venice from the league between the pope and Maximilian. Venice would go to the defence of Ferrara, he thought, and would be drawn into an alliance with France.649 This was a prospect that began to worry Julius too. The treaty with Maximilian was beginning to look like a mistake.

Before it became clear how he proposed to resolve this dilemma, his health began to give way again. According to the Venetian ambassador, it was anxiety about the possibility that Venice and France would form an alliance that first made him ill.650 He took to his bed about 8 January, weak but not feverish, eating little. By the beginning of February there were doubts whether he would survive. He began to suffer attacks of fever - one followed a day when he had felt a little better and insisted on tasting eight types of wine, to discover which would do him good - and he no longer wished to discuss affairs of state.

But he was anxious that the council should continue its work. At its last session, on 10 December, it had been decided that proceedings should be begun against the Pragmatic Sanction, the law introduced in 1438, abrogated in 1461, and revived by Louis XII, bestowing on the crown wide powers over the Church in France. At the next session, planned for 16 February, this matter was to be dealt with further, and Julius wanted it to go ahead. Cardinal Riario stood in for him as president of the council. Apart from the Pragmatic Sanction, the most important business of the session was a reading of Julius’s bull against simony in papal elections first promulgated in 1505. There had been strong opposition to this from some of the cardinals, and it had taken three sessions of consistory to win their consent. The renewal of the bull was on the insistence of the pope, for as he realized that he was dying, it was on the welfare of the Church that his mind ran.

This was not because he was afraid of death, or was troubled by a guilty conscience. He met death calmly, with a clear mind. On 20 February, after receiving the sacrament with great devotion from Cardinal Riario, he summoned the whole College to his bedside. He exhorted them to unite in the election of a good pope: the election was their prerogative, and the council should not become involved, nor should the ‘schismatic’ cardinals be allowed to take part. These admonitions he made in Latin; when he turned to the affairs of his family he spoke in Italian. They knew how much he had done to recover the property of the Church, he said, and now he asked them to agree to the grant of Pesaro to the Duke of Urbino. The cardinals agreed. He asked them for nothing more for his family, for ‘his mind was on the welfare of the Church, and not the ties of blood.’651 His daughter, Felice, asked him to promote her half-brother, Giandomenico de’ Cupis, to the College, but although the bull had already been drawn up, he refused, saying that he did not want to do something displeasing to the cardinals. Felice herself had already been given back 12,000 ducats that she had first been granted when he was gravely ill in 1511, and that she had returned to him during the crisis following the Battle of Ravenna, receiving Nepi in exchange.

The pope also spoke of his enemies, especially the dissident cardinals - he pardoned them all, he said, but as an individual, not as pope. He thought it fitting that the pardon and absolution of those who had injured the papacy should be left to his successor.652   Only to his successor, properly elected, should the castellan of the Castel Sant’ Angelo surrender the fortress and the treasure in it.

As the cardinals took leave of him, kissing his hand and receiving his blessing one by one, many were weeping. What moved Cardinal Gonzaga, was ‘seeing him near to death, but by no means afraid of death’, turning towards God 


and in the greatness of his spirit taking care for all those things which in such circumstances are generally neglected or forgotten by those who find themselves at the very end of their life. His Beatitude sees, hears, understands, speaks, gives orders, makes dispositions and provisions as though he were in the greatest bodily vigour and health he had ever been: he is not disturbed at all, although he recognizes he is dying.


The orders that he had given and continued to give, showed ‘the integrity of his mind and the deep love he has felt for the Catholic Church, and all that he has done, was done for a good end, and so may God our Redeemer grant him eternal life’.653

Conscious and unafraid to the last, Julius died that night. His own tomb unfinished, he was buried in St Peter’s beside his uncle Sixtus IV. As he lay in state in the church before his burial, the people of Rome flocked to see him, showing him an affection and respect that they had rarely accorded him in his lifetime. ‘In the forty years I have been in Rome’, wrote Paride de’ Grassi, ‘I have never seen, nor indeed has ever been seen, such a huge crowd of people flocking to the body of any pope.’ The guards could not control those who pressed forward insisting on kissing his feet and who, as they did so, ‘prayed aloud, through their tears, for the salvation of his soul, who had been a true Roman pope and Vicar of Christ, upholding justice, extending the Apostolic Church, punishing and conquering tyrants and powerful enemies’. Even many of those to whom the death of Julius might have been supposed to be welcome, for one reason or another, wept, ‘because, they said, this pope rescued all of us, all Italy and all Christendom from the hands of the barbarians and the French’.654

Not all Italians agreed with this assessment. ‘This pope . . . was the cause of Italy’s ruin’, wrote the Venetian diarist Sanuto, ‘Would to God he had died five years ago, for the good of Christianity, and of this republic and of poor Italy.’655 It was hard for the Venetians, against whom he had sought to rouse the most powerful states in Europe, to see him as a man devoted to the liberation of Italy. Julius did think and speak of Italy, and of his wish to see her free from foreign interference. ‘We want to bring it about that the Italians should be neither French nor Spanish, and that we should all be Italians, and they should stay in their home, and we in ours.’656 He wanted to ‘bend all my thoughts to the liberation of Italy’, he said, ‘which I very much hope to see, and I am certain that this is God’s will’.657

For Julius, freeing Italy from subordination to foreign powers was a cherished ambition, but it was a long-term one. It was not quite such a castle in the air as his visions of personally going on crusade were, but there was always something else to be done first - something for which the assistance of those foreign powers might be useful. As a cardinal, he had been prepared to bring the Duke of Lorraine to Naples to oppose Ferrante, to encourage the French to come to Italy in the hope that they would depose Alexander VI, to conquer his own home town of Savona for the French, to argue that he could not behave as a good Italian until his brother had been assured that he could keep all his lands. Throughout his pontificate, he was ready to use ‘barbarians’ to further his aims in Italy - without the help of French troops, and then of the Spanish and the Swiss, the ‘warrior pope’ would have had little military success to boast of.

There were many who would not have agreed with the mourners that Julius had been a ‘true pope and Vicar of Christ’ either. Guiccardini described him at the siege of Mirandola as preserving ‘nothing of the pope about him but the robes and the name’.658 .It was Guicciardini who put his finger on the central problem in assessing Julius II as pope. He would, he wrote, be much honoured by those who ‘judge that it is more the office of the popes to increase, with arms and the blood of Christians, the dominions of the Apostolic See than to labour, with the good example of their own lives and by correcting and caring for those fallen by the wayside, for the salvation of those souls, for which they boast that Christ appointed them his vicars on earth’.659

Julius was undoubtedly sincere in his conviction that he would strengthen the Church by securing the independence of the Papal States. On occasion, he expressed reluctance to spill Christian blood, but he never seems to have doubted that the use of force to attain his ends was justified. He was sincere in his desire to defend and promote the authority of the Church and of the papacy. To some extent he confused his own personal status and honour with those of the Church, and he did become distracted by fixations, such as taking Ferrara. But he did not confuse the interests of his family with the interests of the papacy, as his own uncle had done, and as Alexander VI had done.

He was also sincere in his faith, and had a sense of clerical decorum. He insisted, for example, that those who held the title of cardinal-priest should have been ordained as priests. Early in his pontificate he had supervised the ordination of Cardinals Riario and Sisto della Rovere, of Francesco Alidosi and Antonio Ferreri, and personally consecrated a number of his household prelates and cardinals as bishops.660 He disliked long rituals, and was often impatient of the details of the ceremonial tradition guarded by the papal masters of ceremonies. Sometimes he would challenge their rulings, based on their cherished books, and would insist on doing things his way: simply.661 But he was conscientious in his attendance at mass, and if he was too unwell to take part in the ceremonies of the papal liturgy, he would celebrate or hear mass privately. He was angry when he heard that the cardinals were rushing through the ceremonies for Holy Week in 1508, which he was too unwell to attend himself, and vexed that none of them came to his private chapel to take communion.662 As the convocation of the Pisan council brought the need to respond to calls for the reform of the Church, he was readier than most of the cardinals and many of the curiali to contemplate beginning at the head, with himself and his court.

Julius did try to fulfil the duties and responsibilities of his office as he saw them, but he was really not cut out to be a pope. He was the type of the plain-spoken, short-tempered, vigorous, impetuous, big-hearted man of action, of uncomplicated, genuine faith. A Franciscan he may have been, but he was never made for the religious life: he said of himself that he would have made a bad monk, because he could not stay still.663 He should have been a soldier: with some training he might even have been a successful one.

‘Certainly worthy of great glory, if he had been a secular prince’664 - an ironic comment from Guicciardini, and a strange epitaph for a pope, but perhaps the most fitting for the ‘warrior pope’, Julius II. 



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