Thursday, March 12, 2015


Leo X
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 same exile,
Rodrigo Borgia
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.

Marcantonio Flaminio
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.

Cardinal Wolsey
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 trusted.

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.

Martin Luther
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."

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