1447-1471 History of Italy 1503-1534

Papal State and Papacy, 1471-1503

Pope Sixtus IV. (Francesco della Rovere) ruled from 1471 to 1484. He was succeeded by Innocent VIII. (1484-1492, Giovanni Battista Cibo) and Alexander VI. (1492-1503, Rodrigo de Borja).
General Church Policy. An attempt by the Archbishop of Krania, Andreas Zamometic, to reconvene the Council of Basel (1482) ultimately failed, but was felt as a threat by Pope Sixtus IV. In order to raise his revenues (his own policies had ruined the finances of the Papal State), he intensified the sale of church offices and of letters of indulgence. Special tithes, ostensibly collected to finance the fight against the Ottoman Empire, were diverted into the pockets of papal relatives.
Under Innocent VIII. church discipline reached another low; a group of cardinals traded with faked papal bulls. In 1484 Pope Innocent VIII. signed a (genuine) bull, which promoted the persecution of witches.
Aragonese Rodrigo Borja (Alexander VI.) is said to have bought himself the papacy. In Girolamo Savonarola, prior of the convent of San Marco in Florence, he found an eloquent critic, who called for a general church reform which would affect the papacy. The pope summoned Savonarola to Rome (1494); he did not go. In 1495 he was forbidden to preach, in 1497 excommunicated, in 1498 the mob of Florence stormed his convent; Savonarola himself was executed.

Foreign Policy. Pope Sixtus IV. plans of a crusade against the Ottoman Empire did not materialize; in 1480 an Ottoman naval expedition took Otranto in Apulia (Kingdom of Naoles) and held it for a year.
In 1493-1494, Pope Alexander mediated between Castile and Portugal the Treaty of Tordesillas, in which both nations agreed to split the world outside of Europe amongst themselves.
In 1494 Aragon and France contested the Kingdom of Naples. Pope Alexander permitted a French army to cross the Papal State; the Kingdom of Naples was quickly subdued. Then an anti-French alliance was formed, joined by (Aragonese) Pope Alexander VI., and French King Charles VIII. withdrew. In 1497, in order to promote the interests of his son Cesare - he was appointed Duke of Valence by King Charles VIII. of France, Alexander VI. again became a French ally.

The Papal State. Pope Sixtus IV. was another nepotist. He carved the Duchy of Urbino out of the Papal State and granted it to a relative. The Papal State state became the theatre for a feud between the powerful Colonna and Orsini families. The nepotist policy and the resulting feuds ruined the papal finances; in order to open up new sources of revenue, such as the sale of church offices (simony), the taxation of church benefices and the sale of letters of indulgence. Sixtus IV. promoted the arts, had the Roman Academy reopened, the Vatican Library newly organized; had the Sistine Chapel constructed.
Under his successor Innocent VIII., the Papal State found itself in a lengthy conflict with the Kingdom of Naples. Innocent VIII. had his son marry a daughter of Lorenzo de Medici; the wedding reception was held in the papal palace, Innocent VIII. thus openly legitimizing his son.
Like his predecessors, Alexander VI. was a nepotist, and father of four illegitimate children, among them the ambitious condottiere Cesare Borgia, who was made Duke of the Romagna (1497), and his sister Lucrezia Borgia. Son Juan, was appointed Duke of Gandia (in Aragon) and enfiefed with Benevent, Terracina and Pontecorvo. From 1497 onward, Cesare Borgia fought the mighty families of the Papal State, with the object of usurping their landholdings. Alexander VI. died in 1503, after a dinner, according to rumour from poisoning. During his pontificate, Alexander VI. gave away much of Papal State territory to enfief his sons; he destabilized the state by supporting his son Cesare in his adventurous military escapades, within and outside of the Papal State, ruined its finances.

Biography of Sixtus IV., from Catholic Encyclopedia 1912 edition
Biography of Innocent VIII., from Catholic Encyclopedia 1910 edition
Biography of Alexander VI., from Catholic Encyclopedia 1907 edition; from Cronologia, in Italian; from Cethegus, in German, illustrated
Biography of Girolamo Savonarola, from Catholic Encyclopedia, 1912 edition
Biography of Cesare Borgia, from Cronologia, in Italian
Biography of Lucrezia Borgia, from Cronologia, in Italian
La Battaglia di Otranto, 1480, from Cronologia, in Italian
DOCUMENTS Rafael Sabatini, The Life of Cesare Borgia, from Project Gutenberg
Machiavelli, the Prince, Chapter 7 : Cesare Borgia, excerpt, posted by Maxpages
Painting by Tizian : Pope Alexander VI. presenting Jacopo Pesaro to St. Peter (1502-1512), from Olga's Gallery
REFERENCE Book Reviews : Papal State, from History Book Reviews

Franz Xaver Seppelt, Georg Schwaiger, Geschichte der Päpste (History of the Popes), München : Kösel 1964, 572 pp., in German [G]
Christopher Hibbert, Rome. The Biography of a City, Penguin 1988, 387 pp. [G]

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First posted on September 8th 2002, last revised on March 30th 2006

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