Birth Name: Giuliano della Rovere
Regnal Name: Julius II. I have seen many people say that he chose this not out of respect for Pope St. Julius I but for Julius Caesar, but I don't know what is supposed to be the source of this. Christine Shaw, "The Motivation for the Patronage of Pope Julius II", notes that there is one medal inscription that identifies him as IULIUS.CAESAR.PONT.II, but Shaw notes that it's unclear if Julius even knew about it, it may well have been someone else's attempt at flattery, and even if he did know it, it's probably later and cannot tell us whether that was the original idea behind the name or just a later association due to a military victory. 'Julius' is a name that is already fairly close to his pre-papal name -- Giulio vs Giuliano -- so that might have been the governing idea. The one thing that does give a certain plausibility to the idea is his obsessive enmity with Pope Alexander VI, and it is entirely consistent with his pettiness elsewhere to imagine him asking what name would be more impressive than 'Alexander'. But in fact, we do not know why he chose the name.
Regnal Life: 1503-1513
At this point, we already know much about Giuliano della Rovere. He was born in 1443 in Liguria; this seems to have mattered greatly to him, since he will repeatedly throughout his papal career have himself referred to as Julius of Liguria. He was made cardinal by his maternal uncle, Sixtus IV (Francesco della Rovere); this also seems to have mattered greatly to him, since he keeps referring to it as well. In fact, in the scathing and extremely widely read satirical criticism of him that was published shortly after his death, Julius Excluded from Heaven, almost universally thought to have been written by Erasmus, the satirist has Julius repeatedly refer to both, to the complete bafflement of St. Peter (who, the character Julius replies dismissively, is not from Liguria, being only a Jew). Thus his references to these two facts about himself were so common that it seems practically everyone noticed them.
Rovere did very well as a cardinal under his uncle; at one point he held at least nine episcopal sees (for the income, of course). In 1483, he fathered an illegitimate daughter, Felice della Rovere, who would have an impressive career. He actively competed with Rodrigo Borgia for the papacy in the papal conclaves of 1484 and 1492; in the second, which involved intensive campaigning, simony, and bribery on both sides, Borgia outmaneuvered him to become Alexander VI. By this point the two were clear and undeniable enemies, and they did not become less so over time; Cardinal della Rovere at a number of points during Alexander's reign is seen to be throwing the weight of the Rovere family behind opponents of Alexander and encouraging temporal princes in Italy to cause problems for him. It no doubt was a relief to him when Alexander died in 1503. He tried again to become pope, but it became clear very quickly that the conclave was going to deadlock between the Spanish and the Italian factions, so Pius III was elected, and died in a few weeks. Thus there was a second conclave in 1503. But between the first and the second, it become clear that the Borgias, while formidable, did not have quite the hold on power that had originally been feared. So Giuliano della Rovere did something perhaps unexpected: he cut a deal with the family that he hated. The cardinals drew up an election capitulation, which said that anyone elected pope would call a general council in two years, would prosecute the war against the Ottoman Turks, would not go to war against the major Christian powers without the consent of two-thirds of the cardinals, and that no new cardinals would be made without consulting the College of Cardinals. Along with this, a side-deal was made that if the Spanish faction supported Cardinal della Rovere, he would guarantee that Cesare Borgia would keep his position and lands in the Papal States. He now had the main bodies of both the Spanish faction and the Italian faction on his side; he left nothing to chance, though; he promised other cardinals big things and bribed those he could. When the conclave actually met to vote, he won immediately and almost unanimously (the only two votes that were not for him were his own and George Cardinal d'Amboise, a French cardinal who, being firmly backed by the French king, had no need to curry any favor, and who had ambitions himself to be pope, and would therefore continue to be a problem). He took the name Julius II and (it is important for later events) explicitly and publicly reaffirmed the election capitulation.
Like Alexander VI, Julius II was relatively austere as to how he himself lived; he was not so ascetic at the table, but he was so spare with housekeeping costs that people would accuse him of being miserly. But in truth, Julius shares with his old enemy Alexander a feature that contributes a great deal to the success of both: while he could be cautious, his first thought was never for himself. Alexander's first thought was always for his family. Julius's first thought was always for something more intangible. It's noted that he was not guilty of (much) nepotism, but this is hardly an accomplishment; his uncle was Sixtus IV, who was nepotistic enough for half a dozen popes, so very few members of his family had not already been enriched and benefited by papal nepotism. Julius seems to have had a vision of a truly independent papacy, a Papal States sufficiently secure that the popes would not have to beg the temporal powers for help. Alexander VI had handled the major powers by extraordinary diplomatic dexterity, continually outmaneuvering them or, when he could not, finding a way to wiggle, in however an undignified or underhanded way, toward a better diplomatic position. Julius II was much less of a diplomat, although he had his strengths, but for Julius the diplomatic game was simply not good enough.
His first problem was the state of the papal treasury. Alexander had been very good at juggling money, but the problem was that, by the very nature of the juggling, when he died he had quite a few debts still up in the air and not yet paid. Cesare Borgia had seized a large portion of the papal treasury at Alexander's death. Pius III had only been pope for twenty-six days, but relatively speaking it was an expensive twenty-six days, with no time to pay down any outstanding debts, a major crisis, and a significant medical bill. He followed the Sistine plan for filling up the treasury; like his uncle, he sold large numbers of benefices and offices (although in some cases, this may have been in practice borrowing against future tax revenues allotted to an office rather than literal sale of the office itself). The numbers were large enough that some contemporaries were shocked. Nonetheless, it worked. He built up a war chest that, combined with continuing Papal State revenues and an extraordinary practical talent for organizing almost anything in the most efficient way, was sufficient for a huge number of projects, and by the end of his reign, despite all of those projects, the papal treasury was wealthier than it had been in a very long time.
To get into papal office, Julius had had to promise many things, and much of the early part of his papal tenure is bound up with his attempts either to fulfill or disentangle himself from these promissory obligations. But there was also another major problem: the Republic of Venice, which was entering one of its expansionary phases. The Venetians in particular wanted a number of lands under the authority of Cesare Borgia, so Julius used this as an opportunity to break the promises he had made to the man; Borgia was arrested. He was treated well, mostly because Julius did not want to do anything serious to him until the compliance of the governors in Borgia's lands could be guaranteed. Borgia eventually escaped due to the sympathies of the Spanish faction, but he was never a serious threat again and died in 1507. The Venetians, who had generally good relations with Julius when he was a cardinal and had found him so far compliant, if cautious and complaining, with their wishes, seem to have thought that they had a free hand. But Julius was biding his time for the right moment, and he was much better than the Venetians at judging the right moment. Julius began working to build an anti-Venetian coalition. His results were uneven, but they were sufficiently alarming for the Venetians to pull back somewhat. The Venetians, no doubt, thought that they would simply wait a while and return; but Julius was not sitting still. He kept an eye on the Venetians, but continued to consolidate in the Papal States and to work out the means of restoring parts of the Papal States that had been lost at various times. Setting out in 1506 to retake Bologna and Perugia, which had broken away on their own, he led the army himself. Not having had satisfactory answers from the French and the Venetians as to how they stood on the matter, he simply wrote them both, telling the French to send support and the Venetians to stay neutral. And they did (although the French later demanded payment for it). The expedition was thoroughly successful, in part because of strong backing by the Duke of Urbino (who was his relative).
Julius began to have increasing problems with the major European powers: France, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire, who were jockeying for influence in Italy and elsewhere. Julius's response was to give some mostly symbolic concessions and propose another anti-Venetian alliance. This usually would not have gone anywhere, since the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I, did not trust the King of France, Louis XII. However, the obstinacy and aggressiveness of the Venetians themselves began to incline him toward the view that something probably did need to be done about them. The Emperor attempted to do it himself, but suffered a couple of military defeats over it and was forced to a truce. However, in 1508, the Republic attempted to install its own bishop in the city of Vicenza, bypassing the pope. Julius called for war, and it was the excuse everybody need to sign on. France, Spain, the Holy Roman Empire, and the States of the Church signed an agreement (with Ferrara joining later) and formed the League of Cambrai, with the intention of completely dismantling the Venetian Republic and partitioning it among the allies. Faced with sizeable armies from the major powers of Europe, the Republic practically collapsed. The powers seized extensive lands, and Julius took Romagna. Venice was easier to invade than to hold, however, and the Republic armies fought back and retook much that had been lost. However, the war was so costly in terms of money and men that in 1510, the Republic conceded all of Julius's own demands, including the lands in Romagna, to get the Papal States out of the war. The other members of the League of Cambrai continued to fight. And here came a twist.
For Julius the League had been one of convenience; the Venetian Republic was powerful and he needed powerful allies. But now that he had received everything he wanted from the Venetians, and the French and the Holy Roman Empire were in Italy fighting the Venetians, they were the primary threat to the independence of the Papal States. He had also had a quarrel with the Duke of Ferrara, and thought that Ferrara would be a nice addition to the Papal States. So he hired a large band of Swiss mercenaries and sent a message to Venice, asking if they would like an ally against the French. They said they would. For the rest of 1510, Julius attempted to deal with the French, expanding to deal with Ferrara, as well, which was perhaps a mistake, since it split his forces, and led to losing Bologna again. The French, however, gave him an opportunity to twist things again.
In 1511, a small French-backed group of cardinals opened a council at Pisa. Today it is usually called the Conciliabulum of Pisa to distinguish it from the previous Council of Pisa; due to disruptions caused by Papal agents in Tuscany, it later moved to Milan. Citing the fact that Pope Julius II had violated his promise to call a general council, they called on Julius to recognize the council. According to some sources, they even elected Bernardino López de Carvajal as antipope, Martin VI, although it is unclear whether this actually happened or was merely feared, in part because, unpopular almost everywhere, it mostly just petered out into vague lack of definite form. What is not unclear is Julius's response; he called his own general council almost immediately. The war with the French complicated actually convening. However, again it gave the powers an excuse to recombine in a new way, this time into the Holy League of 1511. Spain, Venice, the Holy Roman Empire, and eventually England all joined forces with the Papal States to fight France and Ferrara and, not long after, the Republic of Florence for its allowing the Conciliabulum to meet in Pisa. The French were largely driven out of Italy. At Julius's request, the Republic of Florence was overthrown and put under the authority of Giuliano di Lorenzo de'Medici. Julius also demanded Ferrara, but the King of Spain put his foot down on this; giving Ferrara to the Papal States at this point would effectively make them the second military power in Italy after the Holy Roman Empire itself, and he wanted something that could counterbalance papal ambitions. On the other side, Maximilian wanted Milan, but Julius insisted that it remain independent and in the hand of the Sforzas; Julius got his way, partly by playing the ambitions of Spain against those of the Empire. Venice was cut out of the negotiations entirely; when the Republic complained, Julius threatened to form another League of Cambrai to partition her. Venice in response would eventually sign a treaty with France.
In the meantime, though, the eventual successes in the war against France allowed Julius time and space to bring his general council together, and the Fifth Lateran Council opened in May 1512. It was a small council, with mostly Italians in attendance, but better attended than the Conciliabulum it opposed; the Holy Roman Empire, Venice, and Florence all recognized it (France would recognize it later). Its first order of business was to condemn the Conciliabulum, declaring all of its acts null and void. Since the council had started so late because of the war, they adjourned till November to avoid the summer heats, then re-condemned the Conciliabulum. The council also ended the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges, which had been the French interpretation of the reforms of the Council of Constance and the Council of Basel, and which had repeatedly caused problems between France and the papacy since. It condemned simony and established it as law that for a cardinal to attempt to buy the papal election would lead to a loss of the cardinalate and the nullification of the election. Given the pope's own conduct in previous conclaves, this was noted by everyone as ironic, but the penalties for simony were undeniably made harsher.
As the council had progressed, Julius II, who had been ailing for some months, had grown more and more ill, and he died in February 1513. Thus passed Julius II of Liguria, nephew of Sixtus IV. The council would be completed by his successor. Because of his military achievements, Julius had become very popular in Rome and the surrounding areas, and many thousands of people came to pay their respects.
In his near-decade of rule, Julius poured money into architecture, art, and scholarship. Buildings were rebuilt and maintained throughout Rome and the Papal States. In January 1506, an old statue was found buried in a vineyard near the basilica of St. Mary Major. That statue, now one of the most famous sculptures in the world, was Laocoon and His Sons. Hearing of it, Julius sent the two best sculptors who were working for him at that time, Giuliano da Sangallo and Michelangelo Buonarotti to investigate, and on their recommendation, Julius bought it, sight unseen. Julius decided that it should be put on public display, and therefore founded the Vatican Museums. That same year, Julius decided finally to go through with an idea that had been kicked around since Nicholas V: to replace the ancient but dilapidated basilica in the Vatican that was dedicated to St. Peter. Architects competed for it, and Donato Bramante, who had already designed for him the Cortile del Belvedere, won. The foundations for the new St. Peter's Basilica were laid that very year. In 1508, he commissioned Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. In 1509, he had Raphael and his students begin painting the rooms that today are known as the Raphael Rooms. Without any doubt, he was the patron for some of the most famous and most lasting works of the Renaissance.
Julius is not particularly associated with extensive ecclesiastical reforms, but, however much it may have been prompted by outside forces, he did open the first reform council since the Council of Basel-Ferrara-Florence. He did a great deal to support evangelism in the Americas and in Asia. He imposed a few important reforms on the religious orders, always one of the easiest parts of the Church to reform, although, to be sure, there was never any lack of need for reform. But it cannot be doubted that he regarded the establishment of the independence of the Papal States as his primary form of reform. In this he was not fully successful, in pursuing it he made concessions to the major political powers of Europe that inevitably caused problems, and his wars (including his actually fighting in armor on the battlefield at one point) convinced a great many people that the worldliness of the popes had reached an intolerable level. His successors would have to deal with the problems he caused, and he did not set them up for success.
Much of one's interpretation of the Renaissance Papacy is linked to how one answers a rather peculiar question: Which of the two great bad popes, Alexander VI or Julius II, was better, or at least less bad? Historically, people have tended to say Julius. I am very much in the Alexander camp. The genial, humorous, lax, nepotistic libertine, in all matters outside of art, accomplished far more that was good and lasting than the aggressive, violent-tempered, impatient warmonger. Many of the crimes attributed to Alexander are fictional and due entirely to Julius's never-ending smear campaign against him; others arose naturally from the fact that the Borgias were a Spanish family in the midst of a somewhat xenophobic Italian population. Julius pushed at the same time a propaganda campaign, trying to position himself as the savior of the papacy, which is an absurd notion, and far from the truth, and, besides, some of what he accomplished he could only accomplish due to the prior achievements of Alexander. Nonetheless they both were great men in their way, brilliant and cunning, forceful and ruthless, accomplishing far more than could have ever been anticipated even in a generation before, and under very difficult conditions. They raised the Papal States to perhaps their highest point. And, despite their very many flaws, and the many problems that followed in their wake, in some things they built better than they knew. The great crisis would come in the reign of the next Renaissance pope, Leo X. The Holy See was not prepared, and arguably both Alexander and Julius are partly to blame for that: they both, like all the Renaissance popes, advocated reform, but put other things ahead of it. The reforms they actually accomplished were slight in comparison to what needed to be done. But some things that would later be quite significant can be traced back to one of the two, or both.
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