It is the function of the history book writer to tell us what happened; it is the goal of the historical novelist to tell us how it felt.
Here is the history behind 'her' stories.
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Thursday, March 12, 2015
THE FIRST MEDICI TO BECOME POPE GIOVANNI DE' MEDICI
The fifth surviving child of Lorenzo de’ Medici and Clarice
Orsini was to bring the family notoriety and power of a sort they had not yet
experienced. Unfortunately, much of his fame was, in fact, infamy.
example of Tonsure
As the second son, born December 11, 1475, Giovanni’s life
would follow a familiar path for such a family position, in such an era. His
life was marked for the church at a young age, whether he conceded or not. At
eight-years-old, Giovanni received his tonsure—a ceremony that would,
physically and spiritually, mark his change of status. Tonsure is the practice
of cutting or shaving of the hair from the scalp, leaving a circle of hair from
temple to temple. One can only speculate on the impact of such physical
alteration at such a young age.
During the next few years, he received his education at the
court of his father, an education that could, decidedly, be argued as one of
the best to have in all of Italy, if not all of Europe itself. One of several
tutors was Pico della Mirandola, a Humanist and a Platonist philosopher, Pico
was widely known for his use of the Kabbala in support of Christian theology, a
very unpopular theses.
University of Pisa
At the age of thirteen—with the help of his father and his
father’s connection to a distant cousin, Pope Innocent VIII—Giovanni became the
cardinal-deacon of Santa Maria in Dominica. From 1489 to 1491, he went on to
study theology and canon law at the University of Pisa. When he became a member
of the Sacred College of Cardinals in 1492, he planned to make his move to
Rome. The death of his father in the same year, brought him back to Florence,
to the home of his brother Piero.
Though Giovanni had a small respite in Rome, for the
conclave that elevated Rodrigo Borgia to Pope Alexander VI, he suffered the
brought about by his brother’s mishandling of family matters (see
previous Medici post) that befell other members of his family. But unlike his
family, he would remain in constant motion, traveling throughout most of
northern Europe for more than six years. In 1500, he made his way to Rome, and
stayed, taking part in two more conclaves, those elected Pope Pius III in
September of 1503, and Pope Julius II in October of the same year.
It was to be a momentous year, as it brought, as well, the
death of his brother, Piero. While his younger brother Giuliano held the first
place in the republic of Florence, it was Cardinal Giovanni who ruled from his
place in Rome, doing so for the next eight years. Named papal legate—a personal
aid to the pope himself—in 1511, Giovanni’s ecclesiastical star was on the
rise. With the death of Julius II in 1513, the cardinal conclave, longing for a
peaceful successor to Julius’ war prone reign—elected Cardinal de’ Medici pope
on March 11. Giovanni took his name of Leo X.
More refined and sophisticated than his predecessor, Leo
was, at first, considered the personification of the Renaissance ideals. Once
again, Rome became the cultural center of Europe. The construction of St. Peter’s
Basilica begun by Julius was accelerated, the Vatican Library holdings were
expanding, arts flourished. Spending money, both the church’s and his own, came
easy to Leo, far too easy.
He was not very disposed to institute the major reforms the
church needed in the face of the growing Protestant Reformation. It would prove
to be his undoing. Instead of looking over his shoulder to the looming presence
of Martin Luther, Leo X was far too busy cementing positions of power for his
relatives, naming his younger brother Giuliano and his nephew Lorenzo to be
Roman patricians. His cousin, Giulio, son of his slain uncle, Leo X appointed
to the influential archbishopric of Florence.
Giovanni/Leo X, as a person, was a complex individual, while
steeped in the need for power that seemed inherent in the Medici’s, Giovanni
was, at heart, a calm man. Marino Giorgi, the Venetian ambassador, described
him thus, ‘The pope is a good-natured and extremely free-hearted man, who
avoids every difficult situation and above all wants peace; he would not
undertake a war himself unless forced into it by his advisors; he loves
learning; of canon law and literature he possesses remarkable knowledge; he is,
moreover, a very excellent musician.’ In addition to music, Leo loved all forms
of art and literature. He also loved men.
Though biographers debate Leo’s homosexual, there seems to
be more evidence for it than against it. Francesco Guicciardini, Leo’s
governor, wrote, “At the beginning of his pontificate most people deemed him
very chaste; however, he was afterwards discovered to be exceedingly devoted—and
every day with less and less shame—to that kind of pleasure that for honour’s
sake may not be named." Further, Paolo Giovio, a bishop and historian, claimed
that "the pope did not escape the accusation of infamy, for the love he showed
several of his chamberlains smacked of scandal in its playful liberality." There
are several suggestions the Count Ludovico Rangone and Galeotto Malatesta were
among Leo’s lovers. But it seems to be a young Venetian nobleman, Marcantonio
Flaminio, whom Leo preferred, arranging for Marcantonio the best education
offered at the time.
Politics and foreign affairs took up much time of his first
years as pope. He joined his forces with those of Venice and and Louis XII of
France in the league of Mechlin to regain duchy of Milan. They failed. When the
new king of France, Francois I took the throne, he was obsessed with recovering
Milan. Leo formed a new league with the emperor and king of Spain, and, to
cement English support, appointed one Thomas Wolsey as Cardinal. Francis
entered Italy in August of 1515 and by September had won the decisive Battle of
Marignano. Leo turned from the league he himself had formed, signing a treaty
with Francis, earning him the derision of many as two-faced and not to be
And yet, they would align themselves with Leo once more.
Obtaining 150,000 ducats from Henry VIII, Leo entered the Imperial league of
Spain and England against France. From February to September of 1517 war ensued,
this one ending in success, and Leo’s cousin was Lorenzo confirmed as the new
duke of Urbino.
But this war only widened the divisiveness between the pope
and the cardinals. Surviving a plot colluded by several members of the
College of Cardinals, Leo used the opportunity to imprison his enemies—whether involved
or not—and executing one. He also used the moment to radically change the
composition of the college.
As Luther and the reformation gained control in Germany and
Scandinavia, complicating his political situation, Leo’s dithering carried over
to other areas. With the death of Emperor Maximillian, Leo vacillated between
candidates, revealing his indecisiveness, his weakness. He joined in alliance
with the new emperor, Charles of Spain, and once more went to war for the
control of Milan, and now Genoa, against French control. At last Leo was to know victory; the capture
of Milan came in November of 1521. But the taste of victory would not last
long. Suffering from bronchopneumonia, Pope Leo X died on December 1, 1521.
Perhaps it is none other than Alexandre Dumas, he of Three Musketeers authorship, who summed up Leo’s
reign best: "Under his pontificate, Latin Christianity assumed a pagan,
Greco-Roman character, which, passing from art into manners, gives to this epoch
a strange complexion. Crimes for the moment disappeared, to give place to
vices; but to charming vices, vices in good taste, such as those indulged in by
Alcibiades and sung by Catullus."