IF we place before us Raphael’s searching and profound portrait of Julius II, we shall see at once that Giuliano della Rovere was one of the strongest personalities that ever reached the papal chair. A massive head bent with exhaustion and tardy humility, a wide high brow, a large pugnacious nose, grave, deep-set, penetrating eyes, lips tight with resolution, hands heavy with the rings of authority, face somber with the disillusionments of power: this is the man who for a decade kept Italy in war and turmoil, freed it from foreign armies, tore down the old St. Peter’s, brought Bramante and a hundred other artists to Rome, discovered, developed, and directed Michelangelo and Raphael, and through them gave to the world a new St. Peter’s and the Sistine Chapel ceiling, and thestanze of the Vatican. Voilà un homme!—here is a man.
His violent temper presumably characterized him from his first breath. Born near Savona (1443) a nephew of Sixtus IV, he reached the cardinalate at twenty-seven, and fumed and fretted in it for thirty-three years before being promoted to what had long seemed to him his manifest due. He paid no more regard to his vow of celibacy than most of his colleagues;1 his master of ceremonies at the Vatican later reported that Pope Julius would not allow his foot to be kissed because it was disfigured ex morbo gallico —with the French disease.2 He had three illegitimate daughters,3 but he was too busy fighting Alexander to find time for the unconcealed parental fondness that in Alexander so offended the cherished hypocrisies of mankind. He disliked Alexander as a Spanish intruder, denied his fitness for the papacy, called him a swindler and a usurper,4 and did all he could to unseat him, even to inviting France to invade Italy.
He seemed made as a foil and contrast to Alexander. The Borgia Pope was jovial, sanguine, good-natured (if we except a possible poisoning or two); Julius was stern, Jovian, passionate, impatient, readily moved to anger, passing from one fight to another, never really happy except at war. Alexander waged war by proxy, Julius in person; the sexagenarian Pope became a soldier, more at ease in military garb than in pontifical robes, loving camps and besieging towns, having guns pointed and assaults delivered under his commanding eyes. Alexander could play, but Julius moved from one enterprise to another, never resting. Alexander could be a diplomat; Julius found it extremely difficult, for he liked to tell people what he thought of them; “often his language overstepped all bounds in its rudeness and violence,” and “this fault increased perceptibly as he grew older.”5 His courage, like his language, knew no limits; stricken with illness time and again in his campaigns, he would confound his enemies by recovering and leaping upon them once more.
Like Alexander, he had had to buy a few cardinals to ease his way to the papacy, but he denounced the practice in a bull of 1505. If in this matter he did not reform with inconvenient precipitation, he rejected nepotism almost completely, and rarely appointed relatives to office. In selling church benefices and promotions, however, he followed Alexander’s example, and his grants of indulgences shared with the building of St. Peter’s in angering Germany.6 He managed his revenues well, financed war and art simultaneously, and left Leo a surplus in the treasury. In Rome he restored social order, which had declined in Alexander’s later years, and he governed the States of the Church with wise appointments and policies. He allowed the Orsini and the Colonna to reopcupy their castles, and sought to tie these powerful families to loyalty by marriages with his relatives.
When he came to power he found the States of the Church in turmoil, and half the work of Alexander and Caesar Borgia undone. Venice had seized Faenza, Ravenna, and Rimini (1503); Giovanni Sforza had returned to Pesaro; the Baglioni were again sovereign in Perugia and the Bentivogli in Bologna; the loss of revenues from these cities threatened the solvency of the Curia. Julius agreed with Alexander that the spiritual independence of the Church required her continued possession of the Papal States; and he began with Alexander’s mistake by asking the help of France—and of Germany and Spain to boot—against his Italian enemies. France consented to send eight thousand men in exchange for three red hats; Naples, Mantua, Urbino, Ferrara, and Florence pledged small detachments. In August, 1506, Julius left Rome at the head of his own modest force—four hundred cavalry, his Swiss guards, and four cardinals. Guidobaldo, the restored Duke of Urbino, was in military command of the papal troops, but the Pope rode at their head in person—a sight not seen in Italy for many centuries past. Gianpaolo Baglioni, calculating that he could not defeat such a coalition, came to Orvieto, surrendered to the Pope, and asked forgiveness. “I forgive your mortal sins,” growled Julius, “but the first venial sin you commit, I will make you pay for them all.”7 Trusting to his religious authority, Julius entered Perugia with only a small guard, and before his soldiers could reach the gates; Baglioni might have ordered his men to arrest him and close the gates, but he dared not. Machiavelli, who was on hand, marveled that Baglioni should lose a chance “to do a deed which would have left an eternal memory. He might have been the first to show priests how little a man is esteemed who lives and rules as they do. He would have done a deed whose greatness would have outweighed all its infamy and all the danger which might have followed.”8 Machiavelli, like most Italians, objected to the temporal power of the papacy, and to popes who were also kings. But Baglioni valued his neck, and possibly his soul, more than his posthumous fame.
Julius spent little time in Perugia; his real goal was Bologna. He led his little army over the rough roads of the Apennines to Cesena, and then turned upon Bologna from the east while the French attacked it from the west. Julius reinforced the attack by issuing a bull of excommunication against the Bentivogli and their adherents, and offering a plenary indulgence to any man who should kill any of them; this was a new brand of war. Giovanni Bentivoglio fled, and Julius entered the city borne in a litter on men’s shoulders, and hailed by the people as a liberator from tyranny (Nov. 11, 1506). He bade Michelangelo make a colossal statue of him for the portal of San Petronio, and then returned to Rome. There he rode through the streets in a triumphal car, and was greeted as a victorious Caesar.
But Venice still held Faenza, Ravenna, Rimini, and failed to estimate properly the martial spirit of the Pope. Risking Italy to get the Romagna, Julius invited France, Germany, and Spain to help him subdue the Queen of the Adriatic. We shall see later how vigorously they responded in the League of Cambrai (1508)—seeking not to help Julius but to dismember Italy; in joining them Julius allowed his justifiable resentment against Venice to overcome his love of Italy. While his allies attacked Venice with armies, Julius aimed at her one of the most forthright bulls of excommunication and interdict in history. He won; Venice restored the stolen cities to the Church, and accepted the most humiliating terms; her envoys received absolution, and the removal of the interdict, in a long ceremony that sorely tried their knees (1510). Regretting his invitation to the French, Julius now reversed his policy to expelling them from Italy, and convinced himself that God was reversing the divine policy accordingly. When the French ambassador announced to him a French victory over the Venetians, and added, “God willed it,” Julius angrily retorted, “The devil willed it!”9
Now he turned his martial eye to Ferrara. Here was an acknowledged papal fief, but through Alexander’s concessions at Lucrezia’s betrothal it paid only a token tribute to the papacy; moreover Duke Alfonso, after joining in war against Venice at the Pope’s behest, refused to make peace at his behest, and remained an ally of France. Julius resolved that Ferrara must become wholly a papal state. He began his campaign with another bull of excommunication (1510), by which the son-in-law of one pope became to another a “son of iniquity and a root of perdition.” Without much difficulty Julius, with Venetian aid, took Modena. While his troops were resting there the Pope made the mistake of going to Bologna. Suddenly news came to him that a French army, instructed to help Alfonso, was at the gates. The papal forces were too distant to help him; within Bologna were only nine hundred soldiers; and the people of the city, who had been oppressed by the papal legate Cardinal Alidosi, could not be relied upon to offer resistance to the French. Sick abed with fever, Julius for a moment despaired, and thought of drinking poison;10 he was about to sign a humiliating peace with France when Spanish and Venetian reinforcements arrived. The French retreated, and Julius sped them on their way with a lusty excommunication for one and all.
Meanwhile Ferrara had armed itself so strongly that Julius judged his forces inadequate to take it. Not to be cheated of military glory, he led his troops in person to besiege Mirandola, a northern outpost of the Ferrara duchy (1511). Though now sixty-eight he tramped through deep snow, violated precedent by campaigning in winter, presided over councils of strategy, directed operations and the placement of cannon, inspected his troops, relished the life of a soldier, and let no man surpass him in martial oaths and jests.11Sometimes the troops laughed at him; more often they applauded his courage. When enemy fire killed a servant at his side, he moved to other quarters; when these too were reached by Mirandola’s artillery, he returned to his first station, shrugging his bent shoulders at the danger of death. Mirandola surrendered after two weeks of resistance. The Pope ordered that all French soldiers found in the city should be put to death; perhaps by mutual arrangement none was found. He protected the city from pillage, and preferred to feed and finance his army by selling eight new cardinalates.12
He sought rest in Bologna, but there he was soon again besieged by the French. He fled to Rimini, and the French restored the Bentivogli to power. The people cheered the return of their ousted despots; they demolished the castle that Julius had built, threw down the statue that Michelangelo had made of him, and sold it as bronze scrap to Alfonso of Ferrara; the grim Duke cast it into a cannon, which he christened La Giulia in honor of the Pope. Julius launched another bull, excommunicating all who had shared in the overthrow of papal authority at Bologna. The French troops responded by retaking Mirandola. At Rimini Julius found affixed to the door of San Francesco a document signed by nine cardinals, which summoned a general council to meet at Pisa on September 1, 1511, to examine into the conduct of the Pope.
Julius returned to Rome broken in health, overwhelmed with disaster, but not bowing to defeat. Says Guicciardini:
Though the Pontiff found himself so grossly deceived by his flattering hopes, yet he seemed in his deportment to resemble what the fabulous writers have reported of Antaeus, who, as often as he was disabled by the force of Hercules, on touching the ground recovered still greater strength and vigor. Adversity had the same effect on the Pope; for when he seemed to be most depressed and most dejected, he recovered his spirits, and rose again with greater firmness and constancy of mind, and with more pertinacious resolution.13
To counter the disaffected cardinals, he published a call for a general council to meet at the Lateran Palace on April 19, 1512. He labored night and day to build a formidable alliance against France. He was approaching success when he was seized with a severe illness (August 17, 1511). For three days he hovered near death; on August 21 he remained unconscious so long that the cardinals prepared for a conclave to choose his successor; at the same time Pompeo Colonna, Bishop of Rieti, appealed to the Roman people to rise against papal rule of their city, and re-establish Rienzo’s republic. But on the 22nd Julius regained consciousness; overruling his doctors, he drank a substantial draft of wine; he surprised all, and disappointed many, by recovering; the republican movement faded away. On October 5 he announced that he had formed a Holy League of the papacy, Venice, and Spain; on November 17 Henry VIII joined it for England. So reinforced, he deposed from their dignities the cardinals who had signed the summons to Pisa, and forbade such a council to meet. At the command of the French king the Florentine Signory gave permission for the banned council to meet at Pisa; Julius declared war upon Florence, and plotted to restore the Medici. A group of twenty-seven ecclesiastics, with representatives of the king of France and some French universities, met at Pisa (November 5, 1511); but the inhabitants were so threatening, and Florence so reluctant, that the council retired to Milan (November 12). There, under the protection of the French garrison, the schismatic councilors could bear in timid safety the taunts of the people.
Having won this battle of the bishops, Julius turned again to war. He purchased the alliance of the Swiss, who despatched an army to attack the French at Milan; the attack failed, and the Swiss returned to their cantons. On Easter Sunday, April 11, 1512, the French under Gaston de Foix, decisively helped by Alfonso’s artillery, overwhelmed the composite army of the League at Ravenna; practically all the Romagna passed under French control. Julius’ cardinals begged him to make peace; he refused. The council at Milan celebrated the victory by proclaiming the Pope deposed; Julius laughed. On May 2 he was carried in his litter to the Lateran Palace, where he opened the Fifth Lateran Council. He soon left it to its own slow development while he hurried back to battle.
On May 17 he announced that Germany had joined the Holy League against France. The Swiss, repurchased, entered Italy through the Tirol, and advanced to meet a French army disorganized by victory and the death of their leader. Now outnumbered, the French abandoned Ravenna, Bologna, even Milan; and the schismatic cardinals retreated to France. Once more the Bentivogli fled, and Julius was master of Bologna and the Romagna. He seized the opportunity to take also Parma and Piacenza; and now he could hope to win Ferrara, which could no longer rely on aid from France. Alfonso offered to come to Rome and ask for absolution and terms of peace if the Pope would give him a safe-conduct. Julius did, Alfonso came, and was graciously absolved; but when he refused to exchange Ferrara for little Asti, Julius pronounced his safe-conduct invalid, and threatened him with imprisonment and arrest. Fabrizio Colonna, who had conveyed the safe-conduct to the Duke, felt that his own honor was involved; he helped Alfonso to escape from Rome; after arduous adventures Alfonso made his way back to Ferrara, and there resumed the arming of his forts and walls.
And now at last the demonic energy of the warrior Pope ran out. Late in January, 1513, he took to his bed with a complication of ailments. Merciless gossip said that his trouble was an aftermath of the “French disease”; others that it came from immoderate eating and drinking.14 When no treatment availed to reduce his fever, he reconciled himself to death, gave instructions for his funeral, urged the Lateran Council to go on with its work without interruption, confessed himself a great sinner, bade farewell to his cardinals, and died with the same courage with which he had lived (February 20, 1513). All Rome mourned him, and an unprecedented throng came to bid him good-by, and to kiss the feet of the corpse.
We cannot estimate his place in history until we have studied him as the liberator of Italy, as the builder of St. Peter’s, and as the greatest patron of art that the papacy has ever known. But his contemporaries were right in viewing him chiefly as a statesman and a warrior. They feared his incalculable energy, his terribilità, his curses and apparently unappeasable wrath; but they sensed behind all his violence a spirit capable of compassion and love.* They saw him defending the Papal States as unscrupulously and ruthlessly as the Borgias, but with no view to aggrandize his family; all but his enemies applauded his aims, even when they shuddered at his language and mourned his means. He did not govern the reclaimed states as well as Caesar Borgia had done, for he was too fond of war to be a good administrator; but his conquests were lasting, and the Papal States remained henceforth loyal to the Church until the revolution of 1870 ended the temporal power of the popes. Julius sinned—like Venice, Lodovico, Alexander—by calling foreign armies into Italy; but he succeeded better than his predecessors and successors in freeing Italy from these powers when they had served his turn. Perhaps he weakened Italy in saving it, and taught the “barbarians” that they might fight out their quarrels on the sunny plains of Lombardy. There were elements of cruelty in his greatness; he was misled by acquisitiveness in attacking Ferrara and in taking Piacenza and Parma; he dreamed not only of preserving the legitimate possessions of the Church but of making himself the master of Europe, the dictator to kings. Guicciardini condemned him for “bringing empire to the Apostolic See by arms and the shedding of Christian blood, rather than troubling himself to set an example of holy life”;16 but it could hardly be expected of Julius, in his place and age, that he should abandon the Papal States to Venice and other assailants, and risk the survival of the Church on purely spiritual grounds, when all the world about him recognized no rights but those that armed themselves with power. He was what he had to be in the circumstances and atmosphere of his time; and his time forgave him.