Birth Name: Giovanni Battista Cybo (often Cibo)
Regnal Name: Innocent VIII
Regnal Life: 1484-1492
Giovanni Battista Cybo was born in Genoa, but his father was viceroy of the Kingdom of Naples, so he spent much of his early life in the Neapolitan court. He had an illegitimate son with an unknown woman, named Francesco Cybo, who was usually called Franceschetto because he was unusually short, and illegitimate daughter, Teodorina. For political reasons, he eventually ended up in Rome, where he was associated with Cardinal Calendrini (half-brother to Pope Nicholas V). He was eventually made a bishop by Paul II, and, on the recommendation of Giuliano della Rovere, was one of the many people made cardinal by Sixtus IV.
When Sixtus IV died, the whole world upended. Civil order in Rome broke down almost immediately. Mobs invaded the property of favorites of Sixtus IV, like Girolamo Riario, destroying everything in sight. Riario had been away leading the besieging of a city; he immediately raised the siege and rushed to Rome. The College of Cardinals demanded that he camp his army outside, which he did, but it was widely feared that he would attempt to use force to intimidate the cardinals into electing the person of his choice. However, he judged that his position was perhaps tenuous and withdrew shortly to a stronghold. Riots ran through the city. Giuliano della Rovere and Rodrigo Borgia and Giambattista Orsini packed their houses with soldiers and artillery and went about with bodyguards. Giovanni Colonna and Giovanni Battista Savelli, who were among the favorites of the Romans themselves, began calling in troops from surrounding areas. Nobody wanted to be the aggressor but perhaps half of the College of Cardinals was quickly preparing to engage in civil war against any of the others -- whom they did not trust to exercise the same discretion. All the shops closed and people cowered in their houses.
Things might have grown very bad if it had not been for Marco Barbo, who was a cousin of Paul II; he went around negotiating with the various parties, convincing them all (sometimes with money when words would not work) to evacuate their troops and agree to a month-long truce. The papal conclave could then begin. The twenty-five cardinals drew up an extensive election capitulation, which required that whomever would be elected pope would increase the pensions of the cardinals, warring against the Turks, calling a general council, eliminating neopotism, and much more. The political maneuvering and campaigning was intensive. Some cardinals were backed by secular powers. Both Rovere and Borgia actively campaigned and negotiated for votes on their own behalf, but Rovere, eventually recognizing that he could not guarantee enough votes, began actively backing Cardinal Cybo. It is said that, with his help, Cybo won the votes he needed by sitting up at night and receiving and granting promises to cardinals for what he would do for them when he became pope. So he became pope, and took the name Innocent VIII. In reality, it probably also helped that he was well liked as a generally affable fellow -- so affable, in fact, that he was often regarded as not really the kind of person who would think for himself. The Rovere family would do very well during Innocent's administration.
Pope Innocent VIII began his reign with great promises and accomplished very few of them. He was just not a very practical or energetic person. He called for a war with the Ottoman Empire, as the election capitulation required, but did not actually do much about it, although he would, as we will see, have one extraordinary stroke of luck. Many of the tensions of the Papal States with its neighbors only got worse; the relationship with the Kingdom of Naples deteriorated especially swiftly, to the extent that Innocent at one point seems to have considered preparing to leave Italy.
The Ottoman Empire had been occupied in recent years with a massive civil war between two princes claiming the throne, Bayezid and Cem. Bayezid eventually gained the upper hand and Cem had to flee. Unfortunately for Cem, he chose his place of refuge poorly; he fled Rhodes, which was in control of the Knights of St. John (the Knights of Malta, as we call them today, although this was before their Maltese days). He offered them grandiose promises of perpetual peace between the Empire and the Christian states if they would help put him on the throne. The Knights, however, could not help but notice that Bayezid was in firm possession of the throne, so instead they sent envoys to Bayezid and offered him a deal: If he would pay them 40,000 ducats a year, they would keep Cem so that Bayezid wouldn't have to worry about them. Bayezid jumped at the deal; that was massively less expensive than having to worry about Cem showing up with an army, which he could very well do, since had still had his supporters in the Empire. Nonethless, while Cem was treated well as a prisoner, there were a number of issues involved in holding him, so in 1489, Cem was sent to Rome. Bayezid agreed to continue the deal, so the pope received the payment and gave a quarter to the Knights of St. John; a good portion of the payment was used to maintain Cem in a relatively luxurious lifestyle. All of Innocent's attempts to raise up any kind of war against the Ottoman Empire failed, but his reign was fairly successful anyway because whenever there were rumors that the Empire intended to invade some Christian country, the pope would send an envoy to the sultan to ask if he wanted Cem released, and the rumors would stop. What's more, Bayezid was willing to pay an even greater amount to keep Cem out of his hair; the payment eventually increased, with an added lump sum exceeding all other source of papal revenue for a year combined, and the sultan toward the end even gave the pope the relic of the Holy Lance to sweeten the deal. Much of what Innocent VIII was able to achieve building-wise, including major improvements to the Sistine Chapel, was largely paid for by the Ottoman sultan.
Franceschetto Cybo was showered from the beginning with favors by his father. He in his turn repaid them by extensive gambling and womanizing. The story is told that in gambling once he lost a huge sum of money to Raffaele Cardinal Riario, who was building a huge palace. When the Pope asked if Riario could return the money (Fraceschetto had run to daddy and claimed he had been cheated), Riario replied that he had already spent it on his house. The pope managed to negotiate a marriage between Franceschetto and Maddelena de'Medici in 1488. (In exchange, Innocent made Lorenzo's 13-year-old son, Giovanni de'Medici, a cardinal.) If anything, Franceschetto's gambling problem simply grew worse after that. Innocent was often sick, and several times during his papal tenure rumors went around that he had died. In 1490, one of these rumors went around and was widely believed; Franceschetto responded by trying to seize the papal treasury and that perpetual golden goose, Prince Cem. When he had to give it back after it became clear that his father was not, in fact, dead, it was noted that a large chunk of the papal treasury was missing. It was never recovered.
In 1492 the pope's recurring bad health became continual bad health. He grew gaunt and was often indisposed. In July, he called the cardinals to his bedside, apologized for being so inadequate to the task of being pope, received the Viaticum, and, after a painful few days, died.
The papal reign of Pope Innocent VIII was one in which much was hoped and only a very scattered little ever accomplished. By the end of it, the Church looked weak, with all of the major powers encroaching on its liberty. The Papal States looked weak, apparently isolated and incapable of defense. Ecclesiastical reforms were in shambles, with no apparent means available for getting them started again. But, as it happens, the cardinals would elect a man so pragmatic, so cunning, so ruthless, so worldly-wise in fulfilling the requirements of the pontifical office that all of this was about to change.
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