Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere Historical Profile

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Historical Profile
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Name: Giuliano della Rovere
Born: 15 December 1445
Home town: Albissola, near Savona, Republic of Genoa
Died: 21 February 1513
Position: Cardinal of San Pietro ad Vincula, Bishop of Avignon, later Pope Julius II (1503-1513)
House of: della Rovere
Nickname: "Il Papa Terribile", "The Warrior Pope"
Personality type: Ambitious, charismatic, large, powerful, athletic, impatient, imperious, loud, serious, demanding...
Hobbies: Patron of the arts, collector of ancient Greek and Roman sculpture. Enlarging the power of the papacy, ambitious building projects, making war.
Strength(s): The good artistic judgement to persuade Michelangelo (who considered himself a sculptor and not a painter) to paint the Sistine Chapel and to hire Raphael to paint his private apartments. Independence and determination. Kind to his relatives, but generally free from the nepotism that characterised the Borgia papacy.
Weakness(es): A terrible temper, and at least once, he had a mistress Lucrezia Normanni, and a daughter, Felice. Julius is also said to have had an illegitimate son who died before he became Pope. There were rumours that he had a fondness for young men and was bisexual, although this may have been untrue.. Julius was also famous for his heavy drinking and swearing. He was unable to keep still, even when holding a conversation, and was always on the move.
Quirks: As pope, he was known to sometimes chastise unlucky servants and advisers with a cane! His mistress Lucrezia Normanni gave birth to his only acknowledged daughter, Felice della Rovere. Felice married into the powerful House of Orsini and ran a grain export business that made her one of the wealthiest women in Rome.

'Let's see if I have as much balls as the King of France'

See also Pope Julius II

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Giuliano della Rovere was born on 15th December, at the village of Albissola, near Savona, in the region of Liguria, Italy. The year of his birth is not certain, but is most likely to have been 1445 His father was Raffaele della Rovere and his mother was Theodora Manerola, whose family were of Greek origin. It is not known how Giuliano's father made his living, but his enemies spread the tale that he was a poor fisherman. This seems unlikely, although Giuliano himself was a keen fisherman and angler. The family was neither rich nor powerful but his uncle Francesco della Rovere became distinguished for his scholarship and rose rapidly in the Church. He was able to provide Giuliano with an excellent education at the Franciscan friary at Perugia, where the young man studied civil and canon law and became a priest.

After his uncle's election to the papacy as Pope Sixtus IV
in 1471, Giuliano received many posts and preferments. In December 1471, he was created Cardinal Priest of San Pietro ad Vincula in Rome. Thereafter, he received many benefices and held several sees, from which he collected a sizeable income.
Although nineteenth century church historians such as Ludwig Pastor portrayed his as a sober and serious young man, there is no contemporary evidence for this. In fact, Giuliano seems to have been a typical Renaissance cardinal: worldly, ambitious and far from celibate. He was also inclined to lose his temper or sulk when he did not get his own way. He was employed on a number of political and diplomatic missions, including legations to Avignon, of which he was made Bishop in 1474, and to Louis XI of France, which seems to have initiated Giuliano's longstanding interest in French politics and influence within that country.

After the death of Sixtus IV in 1484, Giuliano, who had little chance of becoming Pope himself, had a hand in bribing electors to elevate Cardinal Giovanni Cibo to the papacy as Pope Innocent VIII. He was very influential during the first few years of Innocent's papacy, more so than he had been during his uncle Sixtus's period of office. He seems to have had a hand in promoting Innocent's backing of the barons who rebelled against Ferrante I of Naples, probably because his younger brother Giovanni della Rovere had lands in the Kingdom. By 1487, Giuliano's influence had declined somewhat, as the Pope was convinced that he was procrastinating over the recapture of papal territory at Osimo, although they remained on friendly terms until the Pope's death.

When Innocent VIII died in 1492, it is unlikely that Giuliano seriously aspired to become Pope: he was a strong, healthy man of forty-seven, too young and vigorous to have any real chance of being elected (Cardinals were notoriously reluctant to elect anyone who might last for another twenty years). He was, however, a major power-broker during the conclave Although it has often been said that he and the next Pope, Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia
(Alexander V)I, were longstanding enemies, there is no evidence of this - they appear, in fact, to have been on reasonably friendly terms. However, Giuliano was opposed to Alexander's friend and Vice-Chancellor, Ascanio Sforza. Possibly encouraged by Sforza, Alexander blamed Giuliano for a land sale that increased the power of one of the Pope's enemies, Virginio Orsini. Giuliano left Rome for his fortress at Ostia in January 1493: Alexander attempted to lure him back but prepared an ambush in order to arrest him and imprison him in the Castel Sant' Angelo. Thereafter, the Pope and the Cardinal were bitter enemies and Giuliano took ship for France on 23rd April `1493. He was welcomed by King Charles VIII and was one of those who advised him to invade Italy to capture the Kingdom of Naples and depose the Pope. His motives for doing this seem to have been mixed: he may well have thought that Alexander's blatant nepotism, open affair with Giulia Farnese and willingness to sell offices made him an unsuitable person to be Head of the Church, but his personal grievance against the Pope and hope of gains for his friends and relatives should Charles succeed in taking Naples were a major factor. 'If it seems a serious indictment of Giuliano della Rovere to say that he encouraged the French invasion of Italy in 1494 for personal motives, at least it can be pleased in mitigation that he was not the only one to do so. In retrospect, the shortsightedness and selfishness of the Italian powers, their failure to reckon effectively with the long-term consequences of their actions or inaction, have baffled historians' (Shaw, 'Julius II').

Although Giuliano accompanied Charles and his army of invasion in 1494, he was bitterly disappointed when the King preferred to negotiate with the Pope rather than depose him. Charles formally patched up the quarrel between Pope and Cardinal in 1495, but Giuliano preferred to stay out of Alexander's way and spent the next eight years in France and Northern Italy. There is no evidence that Alexander attempted to have him assassinated, but he no doubt kept a close watch on his rival's activities. The Pope's death on 18th August 1503 brought Giuliano back to Rome, which he reach on 3rd September. He was now old enough to be a serious contender for the top job, but his hopes received a setback when the frail Cardinal Francesco Piccolomini was elected as Pope Pius III on 22nd September. His death three weeks later meant another conclave, and Giuliano was the clear favourite. He was elected almost unanimously on 31st October after the shortest conclave on record and took the title Julius II.

Julius was determined to restore the political and spiritual authority of the Papacy after the scandals of the last pontificate, but he had first to deal with Cesare Borgia. Although he had promised to allow Cesare to retain the command of the papal armies in order to secure the support of some Spanish cardinals, he had no intention of carrying this out and was delighted when Cesare, having attempted to recruit troops in Naples, was arrested and sent to Spain. But when Borgia authority in the Romagna crumbled, many of the old tyrants regained their towns and Venice took the opportunity to grab Rimini and Faenza. Julius had no intention of permitting Venetian expansion at papal expense, and the first six years of his reign were dedicated to recovering territory and curbing the Republic. To do so, he had to replenish the treasury - Alexander VI had been a big spender and Cesare had made off with what remained in the coffers. Julius cut the expenses of the papal household as far as he could and used every legal means to obtain money without selling offices: by 1506, he had 400,000 ducats. This enabled him to raise a powerful army, which he led himself into the Romagna, and with which he regained control of Bologna, Perugia and many smaller towns.

As might be expected from his history, Julius started his reign on very good terms with France: he made four Frenchmen cardinals and French troops helped subdue Bologna. But relations had deteriorated by 1507, as King Louis suspected the Pope (probably unjustly) of fomenting rebellion in Genoa and Julius distrusted King Louis' chief advisor, Cardinal Rouen. His relations with other European powers were far from smooth - the resources of the Papacy were no match for those of Spain or the Empire, let alone France. Although he was generally on friendly terms with Spain, he found King Ferdinand evasive and duplicitous (as did most others) and there were frequent quarrels over the right to appoint to benefices, a common cause of dispute with secular rulers. Julius regarded the Emperor Maximilian as an idiot (and was tactless enough to frequently say so publicly) and found him impossible to pin down. The Pope was also hampered by his lack of a standing army and the poor quality of his generals. Although he could threaten interdict and excommunication, secular rulers could withhold papal revenues and threaten to convene General Council of the Church to depose him.

Despite his hostility to Venice, Julius hesitated to ratify the Treaty of Cambrai (1508) because of his distrust of the French, but eventually joined France, Spain and the Emperor in their attack on the Republic. On 26th April 1509, he excommunicated the Venetians because of their refusal to restore papal lands. After their defeat by a French army at Agnadello (14th May), the Venetians agreed to restore Rimini, Faenza, Cervia and Ravenna to the Pope: Julius drove a hard bargain and refused to lift the excommunication until February 1510. With Venice crushed, Julius turned his sights on France, and declared his intention of driving the 'barbarians' from Italy. He first proceeded against France's ally Alfonso d'Este, Duke of Ferrara (and husband of Lucrezia Borgia), excommunicating him in August 1510 and sending troops to capture his city of Modena, Annoyed at the lack of progress of his commanders in besieging the small town of Mirandola, Julius took command himself, despite the fact that it was January, the snow was heavy and he had recently recovered from a fever. He succeeded in capturing the town, but received a major setback in May 1511 when Bologna was lost due to the incompetence of his nephew Francesco della Rovere, Duke of Urbino, and his own closest friend, Cardinal Alidosi of Siena. Francesco was so furious at being blamed that he stabbed Alidosi to death in the street.

But worse was to come: a group of dissident Cardinals, encouraged by the French, summoned a General Council of the Church with the aim of deposing Julius. The leaders of the group were either French or French partisans, who saw their chief loyalty as being to the Crown rather than the Pope: others were disappointed office-seekers. Louis's overtures to his fellow rulers were fruitless: Maximilian sat on the fence, whilst Ferdinand and Henry VIII were vehemently opposed to any course that could lead to a schism in the Church (somewhat ironically, in view of Henry's later conduct). Julius's response was characteristically decisive: he convened his own Lateran Council on 18th July. Soon after, he fell dangerously ill, but defied his doctors by sticking to a diet of fresh fruit and wine and eventually recovered. He formed 'the Most Holy League' to defend the Church with Ferdinand, Henry and Venice in November 1511 to combat the French. The Council of Pisa met in the same month, but was poorly attended and received with hostility by the citizens of the town, who were placed under Papal interdict.

The forces of the League were defeated at the bloody Battle of Ravenna on 12th May 1512, and Julius feared that the French army would march on Rome, but the death of the French commander Gaston de Foix and Louis' decision to withdraw his troops to defend France restored the Pope's confidence. Reinforced by Julius's Swiss mercenaries, the army of the League swept through the Romagna: the French abandoned all their conquests, including Milan, and Julius organised torchlit processions through Rome in celebration. The Council begun at Pisa gradually retreated north, eventually ending up at Lyons in July 1512 but by then, even Louis had lost interest. Julius's Lateran Council attracted much wider support, but it would not be concluded in the Pope's lifetime. The last session began on 10th December 1512: it renewed Julius' Bull against simony in papal elections which was first promulgated in 1505. By that time, the Pope knew that he was mortally ill: after begging the Cardinals to elect 'a good Pope', he died on 21st February 1513.

Julius's major achievement was his patronage of the arts, particularly his building work. As a Cardinal, he had built or refurbished three major palaces in Rome, as well as improving the cathedral at his native Savona and the fortifications at Avignon. As Pope, he concentrated on projects in Rome with Bramante as his main architect. The first of these (and the only one to be substantially completed in his lifetime) was the Belvedere courtyard at the Vatican, which involved the construction of three terraces linking Innocent VIII's villa to the main palace: the work included an open-air theatre and a classical sculpture garden. The famous Roman statue Laocoon, which was excavated in 1506, was installed here.

Although Julius was more interested in buildings than paintings,Raphael's frescoes for the Pope's new apartments (known as the Stanza) are amongst his most famous works. Even better known is the work that Julius commissioned from Michelangelo, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The artist, who considered himself to be a sculptor rather than a painter, was reluctant and had frequent quarrels with the Pope. Julius, always impatient, frequently climbed the scaffolding to view the work and pestered Michelangelo for a completion date. Displeased with the answer 'when I can', the Pope threatened to have him thrown from the scaffolding, which Michelangelo immediately had dismantled as a precaution. Although the work was finished before the Pope's death, the tomb which Michelangelo was also commissioned to produce was not completed until 1547 and was erected in the church of St. Pietro ad Vincula rather than the uncompleted St Peter's. Work to replace the old crumbling basilica had been begun byPope Nicholas V fifty years earlier, and it is unlikely that Julius envisaged an early completion date. In the event, it took over a century to complete St. Peter's, but Bramante's demolition of much of the old fabric resulted in the Pope being regarded as the founder of the current Basilica.

Whilst his conduct as Pope was probably an improvement on Alexander VI's, Julius was far removed from the ideal of a sage and saintly figure. He was impulsive, hot-tempered, and prone to violence, sometimes lashing out at his servants and advisers with his cane. He was a famously heavy drinker and this, perhaps together with the syphilis that he had contracted in the 1490's, contributed towards his volatile behaviour. When he was in a good mood, he was very likeable: a Mantuan envoy who brought him some good news saw him dance round his bedroom in his nightshirt, laughing and joking and clapping all around him on the back until their shoulders were sore. Julius's impatience was notorious: one Venetian ambassador said that 'he had the soul of a giant. Anything he has been thinking overnight has to be carried out immediately and he insists on doing everything himself'.

This extended to leading his own troops in armour, which genuinely shocked contemporaries. Although it was not uncommon for Bishops and even Cardinals to fight in battle, it was unheard-of for a Pope: Guicciardini said 'it was certainly a sight very uncommon to behold the High Priest, the Vicar of Christ on earth...employed in person in managing a war excited by himself among Christians...and retaining nothing of the Pontiff but the name and the robes''. However, Julius largely avoided the nepotism that had marred the papacies of Alexander and his own uncle Sixtus: he provided for his relatives, including his daughter Felice, but did so discreetly. He also seems to have remained celibate whilst Pope, although he had had affairs with women (and perhaps with men) whilst he was a Cardinal. Julius's great strengths were that he never knew when he was beaten and his conviction that he was doing God's work, even if his methods were questionable.

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Foreign ambassadors and others who had to negotiate with Pope Julius frequently complained about his attitude and behaviour:

  • 'It kills you trying to negotiate with this man: when somebody says something he doesn't like, either he refuses to listen to you or he loads you with the worst insults ever heard' (Bernardo Dovizi da Bibbiena. secretary to Cardinel de Medici
  • 'Death would be sweet, because it means I won't have to deal with him any more' (Girolamo Dona, Venetian ambassador, according to Dovizi)
  • 'In the asylum in Valencia, there are people chained up who are less mad than His Holiness' (Jeronimo Vich, Spanish Ambassador)
The Pope's previous ties with France and their knowledge of his weaknesses may have caused French kings to underestimate Julius:

  • 'He's the son of a peasant - it takes a stick to make him go' (King Louis XII to the Florentine ambassador, February 1507)
  • 'He must have been overheated with wine' (Louis's response to Julius's declaration that he would drive the French from Italy)
Two great Italian writers summarise the Pope's character and achievements:

  • 'A prince of inestimable spirit and resolution, but impetuous and given to boundless schemes and if these traits did not hurl him to his ruin, he was sustained more by the feeling of reverence felt towards the Church, the disagreement among princes and the conditions of the time than by moderation and prudence - worthy undoubtedly of the highest glory had he been a secular prince, or if that same care and purpose which he had used to exalt the Church to temporal greatness by the arts of war had been employed to exalt it in spiritual matters by the arts of peace' (Francesco Guiccardiani, 'History of Italy')
  • 'Pope Julius II was impetuous in everything, and he found the time and circumstances so favourable to his way of proceeding that he always met with success...He succeeded in all his enterprises and earned all the more credit insofar as he did everything for the aggrandizement of the Church and not for that of any individual'' (Niccolo Machiavelli, 'The Prince')

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  • 'Let's see if I have as much balls as the King of France' (Julius sets out to take command of the Papal forces at the winter siege of Mirandola)
  • 'These two Kings aren't content with being kings, they want to be Pope as well and give benefices and occupy lands and do whatever they please' (Pope Julius loses his temper with the Spanish ambassador over the demands of his master and the King of France to appoint their candidates to vacant offices in Rome).
  • 'We want to bring it about that the Italians should be neither French nor Spanish, and that we should all be Italians and they should stay in their home and we in ours'
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  • Giuliano della Rovere and Rodrigo Borgia were enemies after the latter became Pope. One of Julius/Giuliano's first acts as Pope was to neutralize the power of the Borgia family and their faction.
  • Giuliano was the nephew of Pope Sixtus IV, Francesco della Rovere. He dedicated the Sistine Chapel to the memory of his uncle/predecessor. In fact he was truly dedicated to two things, neither of them theological: Glorifying the della Rovere family and strengthening the temporal power of the Papacy.
  • Julius II is not buried in the unfinished tomb sculpted by Michelangelo located in the Church of St. Peter ad Vincula. but in St. Peter's Basilica in the floor under a plain marker with his uncle Sixtus in front of the tomb of Pope Clement X. Both had been buried in St. Peter's originally, but the corpses of both della Rovere Popes were dragged out and desecrated during the Sack of Rome in 1527. The tombs as they are today are reburials.
  • The Bolognese rebelled against Julius, pulled down the bronze statue of him that had stood over the cathedral door. It was melted down and recast into a cannon by Alfonso d'Este of Ferrara, who sardonically nicknamed it "La Giulia".
  • By introducing a permanent corps of Swiss mercenaries to the Vatican in 1506, Pope Julius founded the papal Swiss Guard

    Characters - The Borgias Fan Wiki
    • Julius II, The Warrior Pope by Christine Shaw (Blackwell1996)
    • The March of Folly by Barbara Tuchman
    • History of Italy by Francesco Guicciardini
    • The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
    • The Oxford Dictionary of Popes by JND Kelly
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