Thursday, April 07, 2022

Renaissance Popes VIII: Pius III

 Birth Name: Francesco Todeschini (often Francesco Todeschini Piccolomini, because his maternal uncle gave him permission to use the Piccolomini name)

Lived: 1439-1503

Regnal Name: Pius III, after his uncle.

Regnal Life: September 1503 -October 1503

Francesco Todeschini Piccolomini was born in Sarteano, Italy, near Siena, and spend much of his childhood in the household of his mother's brother, Enea Silvio Bartolomeo Piccolomini. He studied law at the University of Perugia, and a couple of years after his uncle became Pope Pius II, he was made cardinal and administrator of the Archdiocese of Siena. He was not a bishop but a deacon; this was a quite common practice in the day. When Pius II attempted to go on crusade, he put Cardinal Piccolomini in charge, making him Vicar of Rome and the States of the Church. Pius II died shortly after and Pietro Barbo was elected as Paul II. The new pope made him legate in a position to the Imperial Diet in Germany, perhaps in order to get the nephew of a pope out of the way; but it was an important position that Piccolomini handled well. Pope Sixtus IV made him a legate to Umbria, also an important mission at the time. When Sixtus died, he attended the papal conclave but is known to have been one of the few who did not at all engage in the frantic negotiations and bribery that characterized that conclave. At the next conclave, he was one of the firmest opponents of Rodrigo Borgia. When Borgia became pope as Alexander VI, he had various positions, mostly diplomatic, and perhaps because of his reputation of being untouched by simony, he was put in charge of the commission that Alexander created to draft reforms.

Alexander VI died on August 18 in 1503. It was a time of worry; Cesare Borgia was extremely powerful, and controlled a significant portion of the Papal States. There was a widespread worry that he would attempt to push his preferred candidate by force. His threat was blunted somewhat by a serious illness that Borgia was suffering at the time, but he was still an unavoidable part of the terrain. Tensions between Italian families were high. A great deal of negotiation had to go into making things work, but to everybody's surprise, Cesare Borgia went along with negotiations, demanding only minor concessions, probably because he realized that his position was not actually very strong. The conclave began on September 16. The cardinals drew up an election capitulation with the reforms they all agreed, mostly dishonestly one must suppose, that they would enact; it included the usual provisions, like calling a general council within two years of election and then every three (!) years after that. When it came to the vote, however, it became almost immediately clear that they were going to deadlock between the pro-Borgia Spanish faction and the anti-Borgia Italian faction. Therefore they decided that they needed a compromise candidate who was elderly enough that he would not hold the papacy long. There was no better compromise than Cardinal Piccolomini, so he was elected on September 22 and took the name Pius III. He promised to be zealous in the cause of reform.

He was faced with an emergency almost immediately. Cesare Borgia had allied himself with the French, who showed up at Rome demanding to be allowed through to go fight Naples, which was allied with Spain. Pius III worked out a deal, allowing the French to pass with certain limitations and providing support for Cesare Borgia, for whom he did not care much, but whom he recognized as someone with whom he needed to negotiate.

At the same time, he was dealing with an issue with a bad leg, which had become ulcerous. He underwent surgery on September 26. At this point Pius III was still a deacon. He was not ordained until September 30 and not made bishop until October 1, and then had his coronation ceremony on October 8; at all three ceremonies, he had to remain sitting because of his leg. Throughout he had recurring bouts of fever, and all of the cardinals began preparing for another conclave. He died on October 18, having been pope for less than twenty-six days.

There is not much to be said about the pontificate of Pius III. He was elected as a compromise candidate to give a little time to ease tensions and as an elderly candidate so that he would soon die, and he fulfilled both of those functions with an efficiency that surprised everyone. It was a complicated enough time that even in such a short space he had to deal with a crisis, and he handled it reasonably well.

Now everyone was back to a conclave. But Pius III's brief tenure did in fact give people enough breathing room to assess the situation. They had learned both that Cesare Borgia was not as powerful as they feared and that he was nonetheless still powerful enough that refusing to give him any concessions would not end well. One cardinal, at least, was cunning and pragmatic enough to take the lesson.