Pope Julius II (1503-13)

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Who was Pope Julius II?

Pope Julius II was born on 5 December, 1443, at Albissola near Savona; crowned on 28 November, 1503; died at Rome, in the night of 20-21 February, 1513. He was born of a probably noble but impoverished family, his father being Raffaelo della Rovere and his mother Theodora Manerola, a lady of Greek extraction. He followed his uncle Francesco della Rovere into the Franciscan Order, and was educated under his tutelage at Perugia.

With the elevation of his uncle to the papacy as Sixtus IV on 9 August, 1471, begins the public career of Giuliano. On 15 December, 1471, he was created Cardinal Priest of San Pietro in Vincoli, and thereafter literally overwhelmed with benefices, although during the lifetime of Sixtus IV he never took a prominent part in ecclesiastical diplomacy. He held the episcopal sees of Carpentras (1471-2), Lausanne (1472-6), Catania (1473-4), Coutances (1476-7), Mende (1478-83), Viviers (1477-9), Sabina (1479-83), Bologna (1483-1502), Ostia (1483-1503), Lodève (1488-9), Savona (1499-1502), Vercelli (1502-3), and the Archiepiscopal See of Avignon (1474-1503).

In addition he was commendatory Abbot of Nonantola, Grottaferrata, and Gorze, and drew the revenues of various other ecclesiastical benefices. These large incomes, however, he did not spend in vain pomp and dissipation, as was the custom of many ecclesiastics of those times. Giuliano was a patron of the fine arts, and spent most of his superfluous money in the erection of magnificent palaces and fortresses. Still his early private life was far from stainless, as is sufficiently testified by the fact that before he became pope he was the father of three daughters, the best known of whom, Felice, he gave in marriage to Giovanni Giordano Orsini in 1506.

In June, 1474, Giuliano was sent at the head of an army to restore the papal authority in Umbria. He succeeded in reducing Todi and Spoleto, but for the subjugation of Città di Castello he needed the assistance of Duke Federigo of Urbino. In February, 1476, he was sent as legate to France to regulate the affairs of his Archdiocese of Avignon, and probably to oppose the council which Louis XI intended to convene at Lyons. In 1480 he was sent as legate to the Netherlands and France to accomplish three things, viz. to settle the quarrel concerning the Burgundian inheritance between Louis XI and Maximilian of Austria, to obtain the help of France against the Turks, and to effect the liberation of Cardinal Balue whom Louis XI had held in strict custody since 1469 on account of treasonable acts.

After successfully completing his mission he returned to Rome in the beginning of 1482, accompanied by the liberated Cardinal Balue. At that time a war was just breaking out between the pope and Venice on one side and Ferrara on the other. Giuliano made various attempts to restore peace, and was probably instrumental in the dissolution of the Veneto-Papal alliance on 12 December, 1482. He also protected the Colonna family against the cruel persecutions of Cardinal Girolamo Riario in 1484.

After the death of Sixtus IV on 12 August, 1484, Giuliano played a disreputable role in the election of Innocent VIII. Seeing that his own chances for the papacy were extremely meagre, he turned all his efforts to securing the election of a pope who was likely to be a puppet in his hands. Such a person he saw in the weak and irresolute Cardinal Cibo, who owed his cardinalate to Giuliano. To effect the election of his candidate he did not scruple to resort to bribery. Cibo ascended the papal throne as Innocent VIII on 29 August, 1484, and was greatly influenced during the eight years of his pontificate by the strong and energetic Giuliano. The war that broke out between the pope and King Ferrante of Naples must be attributed chiefly to Giuliano, and it was also due to him that it did not come to an earlier conclusion.

After the death of Innocent VIII on 25 July, 1492, Giuliano again aspired to the papacy, but his great influence during Innocent's pontificate and his pronounced sympathy for France had made him hateful to the cardinals. He was shrewd enough to understand the situation. He was, however, loath to see the tiara go to Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, not because the latter was an unworthy candidate, but on account of his personal aversion towards the Borgia. Despite Giuliano's efforts to the contrary, Rodrigo Borgia was the successful candidate, and ascended the papal throne as Alexander VI on 11 August, 1492. Fearing for his safety in Rome, Giuliano withdrew to his strongly fortified castle at Ostia towards the end of 1492.

An apparent reconciliation between Alexander VI and Giuliano was effected in July, 1493, but Giuliano did not trust in the sincerity of the pope and fled by way of Genoa to the court of Charles VIII of France, whom he induced to make an expedition into Italy with the purpose of dethroning Alexander VI. Giuliano accompanied the king on his expedition, but by liberal concessions Alexander gained Charles to his side. In the treaty effected between them, it was stipulated that Giuliano should remain in possession of all his dignities and benefices, and should be guaranteed secure and undisturbed residence in Rome. Giuliano, however, still feared the secret machinations of Alexander and returned to France. Another apparent reconciliation took place in June, 1497, when Giuliano assisted the pope in the matrimonial affairs of Cesare Borgia. But Giuliano's distrust of Alexander remained. He evaded Rome, spending most of his time in France and Northern Italy.

After the death of Alexander on 18 August, 1503, he returned to Rome on 3 September to take part in the election of the new pope. He was again a strong candidate for the papacy, but his great ambition was not yet to be realized. The sick and aged Francesco Piccolomini ascended the papal throne as Pius III, but died on 18 October, 1503, after a reign of only twenty-six days. Giuliano's chance of being elected was now better than at any previous election. To ensure his success he made great promises to the cardinals, and did not hesitate to employ bribery. The conclave began on 31 October, and after a few hours the cardinals united their votes on Giuliano, who as pope took the name of Julius II. It was the shortest conclave in the history of the papacy.

In the capitulation preceding the election, the following terms were secured by the cardinals: (1) the continuation of the war against the Turks; (2) the restoration of ecclesiastical discipline and the convocation of a general council for that purpose within two years; (3) that no war was to be undertaken with another nation without the consent of two-thirds of the cardinals, who were to be consulted on all important matters, especially concerning the creation of new members for the Sacred College; (4) that the pope with two-thirds of the cardinals were to determine upon the place of the next general council. Such an unlawful restriction of papal rights no pope could tolerate, much less the impatient, irascible, ambitious, and warlike Julius II, whose fearless and awe-inspiring presence gained for him the epithet of pontefice terribile. The chief task of his pontificate he saw in the firm establishment and the extension of the temporal power. For the accomplishment of this task no pope was ever better suited than Julius, whom nature and circumstances had hewn out for a soldier.


  1. Catholic Encyclopedia