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Thursday, April 2, 2015
FROM BASTARD TO POPE TO THE BANE OF HENRY VIII: GIULIO DE’ MEDICI, THE NEXT MEDICI TO DISTINGUISH HIMSELF
He couldn’t have known, at the time of his birth, that his
father had been brutally slain exactly one month to the day before he was birthed
into the world. And yet Giulio, the child of Giuliano de’ Medici and Fioretta Gorini,
must have found out, must have learned the truth of his father.
Though most call him Giuliano’s bastard, further research
leaves one to believe that, through the power of Lorenzo de’ Medici—the
strength of Il Magnifico—he was
legitimized in the eyes of the law and the eyes of the church. It was contended
that Giuliano and Fioretta were married in secret, per sponsalia de presenti, and that, somehow, proof of this was
‘discovered.’ By virtue of a well-known principle of canon law, Giulio was a
bastard no more.
He was raised in his uncle’s house, raised as one of
Lorenzo’s own children, with an intensive, all-encompassing, and Humanistic
education. He was cared for by the very nurturing Clarice. And yet, when he
learned, when Giulio found out the details of his father’s horrific
assassination, what must it have done to his young mind? Would the machinations
of the Medicis and the Pazzis, which led to his father death, blight him
against such a way of life?
It would appear to be so.
Little is written of Giulio’s childhood, adolescence, or
young adulthood. Knowing the tight bonds and the dominance of the Medici clan,
it is safe to assume these years were spent in deep study and in learning the
ways of politics and despotic ruling by Lorenzo’s side. After the death of
Lorenzo, incurring the misguidance by Piero, Giulio, like most of his family,
went into exile in 1494. Traveling the Italian countryside brought him honors
nonetheless; he became a Knight of Rhodes, a military association, and a Grand
Prior of Capua. Like his cousin, his obeisance to the Roman Catholic Church
would deliver his freedom to him once more.
Giulio comes into his own in 1513 when is cousin, Lorenzo’s
son, now Pope Leo X, conferred on Giulio the title of Cardinal and made him
legate at Bologna. Leo X’s propensity for a pleasure-loving lifestyle, left much, if
not all, of the papal governing fell to Cardinal Giulio, where he proved
himself to be a more than capable administrator.
zucchetto then and now
The zucchetto, the
papal cap, changed heads quickly. Upon Leo X’s death in 1521, Adrian VI was quickly elected to the position by the College of Cardinals, Giulio doing much
to push his victory. But Adrian’s reign was short lived. He took the papal
throne in January of 1522, then left it, by his death, in September of 1523. In
November of 1523, Cardinal Giulio became Pope Clement VII.
Young Pope Clement VII
Clement brought great diplomacy and economic stability to
the papal states. However, there is much greater evidence concerning the areas in which
he failed. Most prominent was his failure to either see the threat of the
Protestant Reformation or his timidity to do anything about it. For this, he
was often criticized not only by members of the Catholic church but by the
people themselves. It appeared to many that he was, though ordained as the
pope, more ingrained as a Medici and a Italian prince.
Politically he wavered, switching his allegiance between
France and Spain as easily as the wind changes direction. Such ambiguity led to
one of the two major events in the life of Pope Clement VII.
support of the Emperor Charles of Spain brought about the Sack of Rome in 1527.
In truth, the marauding of the Holy City was an act of mutiny on the part of
Charles’ overworked, under-paid military, it nevertheless brought Charles a
crucial victory over the League of Cognac, the alliance of France, Milan,
Florence, Venice, and the Papal States.
As for Rome itself, it was laid to waste; the pillaging—and starving
troops—left leaderless by the death of Charles of Bourbon at the very inception
of the siege, proceeded to defile the city, raping, murdering, and vandalizing
to their hearts content. Clement VII himself barely made it to the safe haven
of the Castel Sant’Angelo. Although he agreed to pay a ransome of 40,000 ducats
and cede many territories to the Emperor, he was held prisoner in the castle
for six months. He found his escape through bribing Imperial Guards who
disguised the pope as a peddler. Once free, Clement took shelter in Orvieto and
later Viterbo. He did not return to Rome until October of 1528, where he found
the city nearly abandoned and wholly ravaged. To add insult to his downtrodden
life, back in his home city of Florence, those who always longed to see the
mighty Medici fall, took the opportunity to once more exile the family from the
In June of 1529, much of his papal power was returned with
the Peace of Bologna, bringing accord between the warring parties. The Papal
States regained some of their lost cities and the Medicis were returned to
power in Florence by the benevolence of Charles V. But drama was not yet done
with Clement VII.
Catherine of Aragon
In the same year that Clement endured the sacking of his
great city, he was being pestered on yet another front. A hedonistic, egotistic
king who wanted a divorce from his wife, a divorce only the pope could grant.
Through Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIII’s demands on Clement were ceaseless.
Demands Clement continually denied. While on the surface it may appear that
Clement did so in keeping with the dictates of the Catholic religion, in truth,
his actions were motivated by his keenness to keep his relationship with Spain,
Henry VIII’s wife Catherine of Aragon being the aunt of the Emperor Charles, in
tact. The act severed the relationship between Rome and England, indeed,
between England and the Roman Catholic Church, a relationship never to be
Clement had pacified Spain, broken with England. But what of
France? In an effort to repair this alliance, Clement (or rather, in truth
Giulio de’ Medici) betrothed his cousin’s daughter, Catherine, to Henri of Orleans
in 1533. This young man, a man already in love with another woman, would
become, due to the early death of his eldest brother, King Henri II.
An aged Pope Clement VII
Clement died, at the age of 56, in September of 1534. Rumors
abounded that he was murdered, poisoned by mushrooms. It was a strange fashion
of the age to give such salaciousness to deaths at the time, so such a theory
cannot be given any great credence. For the most part, Giulio/Clement’s
historical imprint is one of confliction and confusion; he is remembered as a
Medici first, a man of the church second. His intelligence was remarkable while
his diplomacy was deplorable. His personal life was beyond reproach yet despite
good intention, the labels of heroism and greatness are denied him. And yet
there is one lasting legacy of such magnificence, perhaps all else may be
Just a few days before his death, Pope Clement VII
commissioned a young sculptor and painter by the name of Michelangelo to render
The Last Judgment on the altar wall of
the Sistine Chapel, an act that gave birth to a true wonder of the world.