Birth Name: Giovanni Maria Ciocchi del Monte
Regnal Name: Julius III, in honor of Julius II, who had elevated his uncle to cardinal.
Regnal Life: 1550-1555
Giovanni Maria Ciocchi del Monte was born in Monte San Severino in Tuscany and studied law in Perugia and Siena. He became Archbishop of Manfredonia when Julius II made his uncle, who previously occupied that post, a cardinal. An excellent canonist, he soon became extremely useful to the papal court and served in a number of administrative functions. When Rome was sacked, he was a treaty hostage given by Clement VII to the Imperial forces as part of the exchange of hostages to guarantee the treaty; since Clement ended up not being able to pay the required amount, he and the other hostages were twice literally led publicly by the Imperial army to the gallows as threats, and likely only avoided death because they managed to get their captors drunk and escape.
He continued to work for the Curia, and in 1536, Paul III made him a cardinal. He was recognized as quite competent, and reasonably pious, but he also developed the reputation for being unrefined and coarse. Part of this was perhaps his peasant-farmer appearance, but he was also not very tactful and not very polite, and had a reputation for telling jokes that were occasionally inappropriate. He was also somewhat nervous in disposition, leading to awkward social interactions, and prone to sudden bouts of anger. Nonetheless, he was also recognized as being quite genial, not inclined to hold a grudge, and occasionally jovial. Paul made him one of the three legates to the Council of Trent, along with Cardinal Pole and Cardinal Cervini.
When Paul died in 1549, a crisis developed, as seen in the fact that the conclave began November 29 and did not end until February 8 of the following year. The fundamental problem was the ongoing dispute between France and the Holy Roman Empire, which seemed irresolvable and had everything at loggerheads. Charles firmly wanted a pope would reconvene the council on terms favorable to Germany. Henry II of France vehemently opposed any such council, which he thought would favor the Empire. And the Imperial and the French factions in the College of Cardinals split the college almost exactly down the middle. Both Charles and Henry helped themselves to instructing their cardinal delegates, and continued to do so throughout the conclave. Pole was highly favored to begin with; he had the support of almost all of the Imperial faction and fell just short of the minimum required for election. The French faction, worried that the Imperial faction might dig up the extra votes, made up a story about some of the absent French cardinals being on their way, at Corsica, and dropping strong hints that the French king might not accept a vote if they were left out. So the conclave waited, but when the cardinals never arrived, they went ahead, although not without the French throwing up various procedural obstacles. In a new ballot, Pole fell one vote short of being elected. But by that point there seemed to be no way to dig up the extra vote. His being a foreigner made it difficult to sway an Italian vote; his being young made it difficult to sway some of the older cardinals; and some of the cardinals, like Cardinal Carafa, suspected him of having Protestant sympathies. The Imperialists tried to support Cardinal Toledo instead, but when it became clear that this would not get better results, they went back to supporting Pole. Henry and Charles, seeing the deadlock, began to be much more active, and increased their lists of cardinals who were to be excluded from the papacy at whatever cost, with the result that neither faction had much room to negotiated, because almost all of the major candidates were ruled out, and with the French faction and the Imperial faction being evenly balanced, there was nothing that could be done. Over sixty ballots were held, all of them to no avail. The college established a reform committee to deal with various abuses and violations of conclave rules that had sprung up, and one of the things they did was attempt to restrict communication with the outside world, which was clearly causing problems. At the same time, sickness began to go around. Thus finally, the candidature came around to Cardinal Del Monte. In a sense, he was not even a compromise candidate, which might suggest that he was just an agreed second-best. He was on nobody's preferred list, and strictly speaking, both Henry and Charles had excluded him. It's just that he was not a high priority compared to some of the other exclusions, nobody was absolutely against him, and someone had to be elected. Cardinal Guise and Cardinal Farnese, two of the leaders of the factions, hammered out a deal to elect him, and with some wheeling and dealing managed to get the votes. He took the name Julius III, and it is notable that Julius, under no illusions, as his first act as pope had an official record drawn up and recorded so that nobody would question his election. Henry and Charles were not at all pleased, and all of the cardinals involved had much apologizing to do.
Julius is a somewhat unusual character. He was sincerely resolved on reform, promising several, starting a few commissions. But he is not at all what you would expect from a reform pope. He really enjoyed big public festivals and large banquets, and these became regular features of his papacy. He spent lavishly on them and was indulgent to any excesses involved in them. This was his most visible feature. It garnered sour looks from the strict reformists in the College of Cardinals, most notably Cardinal de Cupis and Cardinal Carafa, but he basically just ignored them. He enjoyed hunting. He enjoyed gambling, and in particular gambling with high stakes. He enjoyed attending the theater, which was widely regarded as not an appropriate entertainment for a pope. He held parties. He employed quite a few court jesters. He hosted bullfights. And he built a lavish house, the Villa Giulia, which became a social center in Rome. Yet he was undeniably sincere in working for reform.
As soon as he was elected, Julius began negotiations with France and the Empire to reopen the general council. Despite Charles's initial misgivings about the pope, he was soon favorably surprised that the pope was willing not only to open the council but also to do so on terms very favorable to Germany. Julius created a commission of cardinals to begin preparing for the council, which was planned to open in Trent and not, as the Emperor had feared, in Bologna or some other city in the Papal States. The French, however, continued to be opposed to the council, and at one point threatened to hold an opposing French council. Nonetheless, the council opened on May 1, 1551, with Marcello Crescenzio serving as Julius's papal legate. Very few bishops were in attendance, so after some discussion they set the next meeting of the council for September. They became working on decrees on the Eucharist, penance, and extreme unction, but work was very slow, and several of the bishops began to be frustrated with the council's failure to address the kinds of reform that they deemed particularly urgent. Nonetheless, work did continue. At these sessions the bishops began to consider Calvinist as well as Lutheran criticisms, and, significantly, in January 1552 the first Protestant delegation to the council arrived. To be sure, the Protestants did very little but make demands; in particular, they insisted that the council would not be a 'true council' unless Protestant theologians had equal voting power with the bishops and that everyone would agree that the pope would be subject to any decrees of the council. Julius had instructed Cardinal Crescenzio not to admit the Protestants unless they agreed to submit to the council, but Crescenzio, partly under pressure from Charles (represented by Cardinal Toledo), allowed them to have an informal hearing. The Conciliar Fathers were willing to give way on some things. They granted the Protestants full safe passage and delayed any further votes until more Protestants could arrive. They were given permission to address the council itself as long as they did not attack the Catholic faith. Thus far they were willing to go in trying to remedy the German schism, but that is as far as it went. The Protestants had no real leverage in these matters; they were making demands and offering nothing. Nonetheless, it's not that they were insincere; Melanchthon and a number of other German Protestant leaders had already prepared to attend the council, and were literally just waiting around in Nuremberg for permission to go. Charles was trying to enforce his own version of a settlement on the Protestants, and there were plenty of Protestants who honestly thought that they might get a more reasonable hearing at the council, as long as certain conditions were met. But politics here intervened.
Maurice of Saxony had been one of Charles's most important allies in the previous war against the Schmalkaldic League, and because of this he was made Elector of Saxony. But this did not mean that he was sympathetic with the Imperial cause, and while Trent was negotiating with the Protestants, Maurice was signing treaties with France and the Protestant princes. The combination was effective, in part since Charles was not expecting it, and because of it Maurice and Henry were able suddenly to achieve multiple significant victories against Charles in a short period. The Emperor himself was forced to flee. Maurice marched into Tirol, and suddenly Trent was no longer a safe place for a council. In April 1552, Julius therefore suspended the council for two years. Later, in August, Maurice switched sides again, and signed the Peace of Passau with King Ferdinand I, Charles's brother, which gave additional concessions to the Lutherans. Both the possibility and the pressure for Protestants and their opponents to negotiate at an actual council collapsed.
Julius was more successful elsewhere. In 1551, Ignatius of Loyola founded the Roman College (which eventually became the Pontifical Gregorian University). It was an immediate success, and so St. Ignatius, with the support of Cardinal Morone, conceived of a more ambitious educational project, the Collegium Germanicum. Julius liked the idea and chartered it in 1552, promising further support -- although this was something of an empty promise since multiple tolls on the papal purse meant there was not much support to give. It would have a very rocky career, but also would play a significant role in the post-Tridentine Catholic Reformation. Unsurprisingly, the party-inclined pope was more obviously and immediately effective in his patronage of art. For his own house, Julius built the Villa Giulio, which was designed by a team of architects led by Giorgio Vasari; Michelangelo was hired for some of the work. But most importantly, Julius, lover of music, saw immediately the talent and potential of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, whom he made the magiser capella for St. Peter's. Julius could hardly have planned it, but his support for polyphony would add music to the repertoire of the highly effective but by now somewhat flagging Renaissance books-and-buildings approach to evangelism. It probably helped that music is usually much cheaper than architecture; this allowed a considerable expansion of the audience who could be reached.
Some good news happened in England; Mary Tudor came to the throne in 1553 after the death of her teenaged half-brother, Edward VI, and inaugurated the Marian Restoration of the Church in England. In response, Julius sent Cardinal Pole, who knew her (he was the son of Mary's governess). He arrived in 1554. He was eventually, in 1556, appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, and became chancellor of the universities at both Oxford and Cambridge. Pole, seeing that Henry's Dissolution of the Monasteries had messed things up in a dangerous way, negotiated a papal dispensation in which those who now owned the property would be allowed to keep it; this further gave him the leverage to negotiate the repeal of some of the laws passed under Henry and Edward. In everything in which we find Pole directly involved, we find a fairly lenient approach taken to English Protestants; however, his health began to fail, and as Mary herself preferred a more rigorous approach, the Marian Restoration took a somewhat harsher turn. However, all of this happened later; by 1555, when Julius died, the Marian Restoration seemed clearly on its way to success in returning England to the fold, and Julius never knew anything different.
Julius tended not to give in to relatives demanding positions, only giving a few to those he thought were able to do the job, but one of the great mysteries of his career is his extraordinary favoritism to Innocenzo Ciocchi del Monte. Innocenzo was a street urchin, born of a beggar-woman and an unknown father. He somehow eventually got a position in the Del Monte household. There is no consistent story about how that happened. The pope had hardly become pope when he made the teenaged Innocenzo cardinal. This got considerable pushback from the cardinals (especially strict reformers like Carafa), who noted that he was very young and uneducated for such an honor and, what is more, was barred due to his illegitimacy. So Julius had his brother Baldovini adopt him. And it wasn't just the red hat; Julius showered the boy with lucrative positions and made him Cardinal-Nephew so that he essentially functioned as the pope's chief of staff. The boy was completely incapable of performing the tasks; he was a minimally educated young man, perhaps even just only barely literate, serving as the primary secretary in one of the most sophisticated bureaucratic correspondence systems in the world. So Julius more or less invented a position for him that had a fancy title and no responsibilities by taking a minor position, secretarius intimus, and giving it all sorts of honors and precedences. What is more, Innocenzo was not discrete in his behavior; he did not regard common decencies and at one point had a notorious affair with the poetess Ersilia Crotese. In the gossipy atmosphere of the Renaissance, there was no way that any of this would not be remarked, and since Julius never explained himself at all about any of this, speculations floated freely. There were two very common guesses. The first, and minority speculation, was that Julius was Innocenzo's unknown father. It has the advantage of explaining a great deal, and has the disadvantage of having no direct evidence at all, and no unambiguous indirect evidence, either. The more popular supposition was that Innocenzo was Julius's lover. It's difficult to determine how seriously this should be taken; we have no direct evidence of it, and spreading rumors that someone was having a homosexual affair was practically a Renaissance sport, and such rumors often floated free of any evidence or even any practical possibility. Nonetheless, it was a widespread view, and a common one among ambassadors to the papal court, who would be most likely both to see things out of common view and to give when writing their reports to their sovereigns an at least honest, and not merely tale-telling, account of how things seemed to be. To say that Innocenzo is a blot on the record of Julius's papacy is an understatement. He would long outlast the pope who gave him the red hat. As just some examples of further problems he would cause: in 1559 he murdered a man; in the papal conclave of 1565, he was caught smuggling information in and out in violation of the rules; and in 1567, he was accused of raping two women. When he died in 1577, he was universally despised. He was in mess after mess. He seemed to have had a talent for stopping just short of what would give someone a clear case against him, which is why, despite repeatedly getting in trouble, he kept his red hat and was always eventually released from prison -- the evidence was always a little short of what was legally required (as with the rape accusation), or the situation suggested the possibility of extenuating circumstances (as with the murder conviction), and he was always very good at promising to be better. And it is all because Julius showered him with favors, for reasons we can only guess, and actively ignored any criticism of his doing so.
On March 23, 1555, Julius died. In his last few years he had suffered from gout -- almost certainly a byproduct of his enthusiasm for big banquets, but his end seems unrelated; he stopped eating and had difficulty swallowing. Some have suggested he had cancer of the esophagus, but nobody knows.
Julius III has a reputation for being a failure, and is often accused of having done very little in the way of church reform. This is not fair. He reconvened the council, which had to be suspended due to no fault of his own; he tried to work out a way to negotiate with Protestants, which failed due to no fault of his own; he supported the Marian Restoration, which collapsed after his death due to no fault of his own; he created quite a few commissions on various matters of reform, some of which even managed to get usable drafts to him before he died. Some of what his contemporaries attribute to a lack of interest in reform was really a willingness to work indirectly by supporting the work of others, which was perhaps most successful in the case of his firm support of the Jesuits and the musical arts. But it is true that Julius's tenure seems something of a lackluster disappointment. It was excellent in very little, its genuine achievements were mostly small and uncertain, and even its flaws were mostly petty and unimpressive. Say what you will about Alexander VI or Julius II, their strengths and their failings tended toward the impressive; you can admire even when you cannot approve. There is nothing at all impressive about Julius III, and this does not seem to have been due only to bad fortune. The papacy was largely sidelined in European politics; most of the reforms were heavy on activity and light on achievement; many of his achievements were mostly just continuing what his predecessor did. And it is difficult, when he spent so much time hunting and gambling and hosting entertainments, to argue that he would not probably have achieved more if he had put more energy and focus into it. It is absurd to say that popes should never relax, and absurd to say that they should never step back and let others work, but it very much seems that there was a wide range of actions that he could have pursued but never did. When almost everything is a day late and a dollar short, it is hard to argue that the man in charge is not at fault, particularly if he's spending large portions of his time in entertainments.
Whatever the reason, by the end of Julius's papacy nothing much had changed; Europe was still deadlocked between France and the Empire. The cardinals would have a bit more luck in finding a candidate than they had for the 1549 conclave. Then again, perhaps they were not quite so lucky.