Pope Clement VII

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Clement VII
Bishop of Rome
El papa Clemente VII, por Sebastiano del Piombo.jpg
Portrait by Sebastiano del Piombo, c. 1531.
Papacy began19 November 1523
Papacy ended25 September 1534
Predecessor Adrian VI
Successor Paul III
Ordination19 December 1517
Consecration21 December 1517
by  Leo X [1] [2]
Created cardinal23 September 1513
by Leo X
Personal details
Birth nameGiulio di Giuliano de' Medici
Born26 May 1478
Florence, Republic of Florence
Died25 September 1534 (1534-10-06) (aged 56)
Rome, Papal States
Buried Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome
Parents Giuliano de' Medici
Fioretta Gorini
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MottoCandor illæsus (Innocence inviolate)
Coat of arms Coat of arms of Medici popes.svg
Other popes named Clement

Pope Clement VII (Italian : Papa Clemente VII; Latin : Clemens VII) (26 May 1478 – 25 September 1534), born Giulio di Giuliano de' Medici, was head of the Catholic Church and ruler of the Papal States from 19 November 1523 to his death on 25 September 1534. [3] “The most unfortunate of the Popes,” Clement VII’s reign was marked by a rapid succession of political, military, and religious struggles—many long in the making—which had far-reaching consequences for Christianity and world politics. [4]


Elected in 1523 at the end of the Italian Renaissance, Clement VII came to the papacy with a high reputation as a statesman. [5] He had served with distinction as chief advisor to Pope Leo X (1513–1521), Pope Adrian VI (1522–1523), and commendably as gran maestro of Florence (1519–1523). [6] [7] [5] Assuming leadership at a time of crisis, with the Protestant Reformation spreading; the Church nearing bankruptcy; and large, foreign armies invading Italy, Clement VII initially tried to unite Christendom by making peace among the many Christian leaders then at odds. [8] He later attempted to liberate Italy from foreign occupation, believing that it threatened the Church's freedom. [4]

The complex political situation of the 1520s thwarted Clement's efforts. [9] Inheriting daunting challenges, including Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation in Northern Europe; a vast power struggle in Italy between Europe’s two most powerful kings, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and Francis I of France, each of whom demanded that the Pope choose a side; and Turkish invasions of Eastern Europe led by Suleiman the Magnificent; Clement's problems were exacerbated by King Henry VIII of England’s contentious divorce, resulting in England breaking away from the Catholic Church; and in 1527, souring relations with Emperor Charles V leading to the violent Sack of Rome, during which the Pope was imprisoned. After escaping confinement in the Castel Sant'Angelo, Clement—with few economic, military, or political options remaining—compromised the Church's and Italy's independence by allying with his former jailor, Emperor Charles V. [4] [5]

In contrast to his tortured Papacy, Clement VII was personally respectable and devout, possessing a “dignified propriety of character,” “great acquirements both theological and scientific,” as well as “extraordinary address and penetration—Clement VII, in serener times, might have administered the Papal power with high reputation and enviable prosperity. But with all of his profound insight into the political affairs of Europe, Clement does not seem to have comprehended the altered position of the Pope” in relation to Europe’s emerging nation-states and Protestantism. [10]

In matters of science, Clement VII is best known for personally approving, in 1533, Nicolaus Copernicus’s theory that the Earth revolves around the Sun—99 years before Galileo Galilei’s heresy trial for similar ideas. [11] [12] [13] Ecclesiastically, Clement VII is remembered for issuing orders protecting Jews from the Inquisition, approving the Capuchin Franciscan Order, and securing the island of Malta for the Knights of Malta. [14] [15] [16] [17]

Early life

Giulio de' Medici's life began under tragic circumstances. On April 26, 1478 — exactly one month before his birth — his father, Giuliano de Medici (brother of Lorenzo the Magnificent) was murdered in the Florence Cathedral by enemies of his family, in what is now known as “The Pazzi Conspiracy”. [18] He was born illegitimately on May 26, 1478, in Florence; the exact identity of his mother remains unknown, although a plurality of scholars contend that it was Fioretta Gorini, the daughter of a university professor. [18] [19] Giulio spent the first seven years of life with his godfather, the architect Antonio da Sangallo the Elder. [18]

Thereafter, Lorenzo the Magnificent raised him as one of his own sons, alongside his children Giovanni (the future Pope Leo X), Piero, and Giuliano. [20] Educated at the Palazzo Medici in Florence by humanists like Angelo Poliziano, and alongside prodigies like Michelangelo, Giulio became an accomplished musician. [20] [21] In personality he was reputed to be shy, and in physical appearance, handsome. [22]

Giulio's natural inclination was for the clergy, but his illegitimacy barred him from high-ranking positions in the Church. So Lorenzo the Magnificent helped him carve out a career as a soldier. [18] He was enrolled in the Knights of Rhodes, but also became Grand Prior of Capua. [18] In 1492, when Lorenzo the Magnificent died and Giovanni de' Medici assumed his duties as a cardinal, Giulio became more involved in Church affairs. [18] He studied canon law at the University of Pisa, and accompanied Giovanni to the conclave of 1492, where Rodrigo Borgia was elected Pope Alexander VI. [18]

Following the misfortunes of Lorenzo the Magnificent's firstborn son, Piero the Unfortunate, the Medici were expelled from Florence in 1494. [23] Over the next six years, Cardinal Giovanni and Giulio wandered throughout Europe together — twice getting themselves arrested (first in Ulm, Germany, and later in Rouen, France). Each time Piero the Unfortunate bailed them out. [18] In 1500, both returned to Italy and concentrated their efforts on re-establishing their family in Florence. [24] Only in 1512, with the assistance of Pope Julius II and the Spanish troops of Ferdinand of Aragon, did the Medici retake control of the city. [18]

Paternity of Alessandro de' Medici

In 1510, while the Medici were living near Rome, a servant in their household — identified in documents as Simonetta da Collevecchio — became pregnant, ultimately giving birth to a son, Alessandro de' Medici. [25] [26] Nicknamed “il Moro” (“the Moor”) due to his dark complexion, Alessandro was officially recognized as the illegitimate son of Lorenzo II de Medici; however, at the time and to this day, various scholars suggest that Alessandro was, in truth, the illegitimate son of Giulio de' Medici. [27] [28] The truth of his lineage remains unknown and debated. [29]

Regardless of his paternity, throughout Alessandro's brief life, Giulio — as Pope Clement VII — showed him great favoritism, elevating Alessandro over Ippolito de Medici to become Florence's first hereditary monarch, despite the latter's comparable qualifications. [30] Thus Alessandro de' Medici became the first black head of state in the modern Western World. [30]


Under Pope Leo X

Giulio Cardinal de' Medici, left; with his cousin Pope Leo X, center; and Luigi Cardinal de' Rossi, right; by Raphael, 1519. Raffaello Sanzio - Ritratto di Leone X coi cardinali Giulio de' Medici e Luigi de' Rossi - Google Art Project.jpg
Giulio Cardinal de' Medici, left; with his cousin Pope Leo X, center; and Luigi Cardinal de' Rossi, right; by Raphael, 1519.

Giulio de' Medici appeared on the world stage in March 1513, at the age of 35, [2] when his cousin Giovanni de' Medici was elected Pope, taking the name Leo X. Pope Leo X reigned until his death on 1 December 1521.

“Learned, clever, respectable, and industrious,” Giulio de’ Medici’s reputation and responsibilities grew at a rapid pace, unusual even for the Renaissance. [9] Within three months of Leo X’s election, he was named Archbishop of Florence. [31] Later that autumn, all barriers to his attaining the Church’s highest offices were removed by a papal dispensation declaring his birth legitimate. It stated that his parents had been betrothed per sponsalia de presenti, (i.e. "wed according to the word of those present.”) [9] Whether or not this was true, it allowed Leo X to create him cardinal during the first papal consistory on 23 September 1513. [9] On 29 September, he was appointed Cardinal Deacon of Santa Maria in Dominica — a position that had been vacated by the Pope. [2]

The cardinal's reputation during the reign of Leo X is recorded by contemporary Marco Minio, the Venetian ambassador to the Papal Court, who wrote in a letter to the Venetian Senate in 1519: "Cardinal de' Medici, the Pope’s cardinal nephew, who is not legitimate, has great power with the Pope; he is a man of great competence and great authority; he resides with the Pope, and does nothing of importance without first consulting him. But he is returning to Florence to govern the city.” [32]


While Cardinal de' Medici wasn’t officially appointed Vice-Chancellor of the Church (second-in-command) until 9 March 1517, in practice Leo X governed in partnership with his cousin from the beginning. [9] Initially, the cardinal's duties centered primarily on administering Church affairs in Florence and conducting international relations. His diplomatic role began in January 1514, when King Henry VIII of England appointed him Cardinal protector of England. [33] The following year, King Francis I of France nominated him to become Archbishop of Narbonne, and in 1516 named him cardinal protector of France. [33] In a scenario typical of the cardinal's independent-minded statesmanship – the respective kings of England and France, recognizing a conflict of interest in Medici protecting both countries simultaneously, brought pressure to bear on him to resign his other protectorship; however, to their dismay, he refused.

That Medici’s loyalties didn’t lie with foreign alliances became apparent in 1521, when a personal rivalry between King Francis I and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V boiled over into war in northern Italy. [34] Francis I expected Medici, his cardinal protector, to support France; however, Medici perceived the French King as threatening the Church’s independence – particularly the latter's control of Lombardy, and his use of the Concordat of Bologna to control the Church in France. Thus in 1521 Medici negotiated an alliance against France with Emperor Charles V – thereby gaining an ally to combat Lutheranism, then growing in the Emperor's German territories. [35] That autumn, he helped lead a victorious Imperial-Papal army over the French in Milan and Lombardy. [35] While Medici’s strategy of shifting alliances to liberate the Church (and later Italy) from foreign domination proved disastrous during his reign as Pope Clement VII, during the reign of Leo X it skillfully maintained a balance of power among the competing international factions seeking to influence the Church. [36]


Cardinal de' Medici’s other endeavors on behalf of Pope Leo X were similarly successful, such that "he had the credit of being the prime mover of papal policy throughout the whole of Leo’s pontificate." [37] Interested in Church reform, Medici organized and presided over the Florentine Synod of 1517, where he became the first member of the Church to implement the reforms recommended by the Fifth Lateran Council. [37] These included prohibiting priests from carrying arms, frequenting taverns, and dancing provocatively – while urging them to attend weekly confession. [8] Similarly, Medici’s artistic patronage was admired, (e.g. his commissioning Raphael’s Transfiguration and Michelangelo’s Medici Chapel , among other works discussed elsewhere,) particularly for what goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini later described as "excellent taste". [38]

Gran Maestro of Florence

Giulio de’ Medici governed Florence between 1519 and 1523, following the death of its civic ruler, Lorenzo II de Medici, in 1519. U.S. President John Adams later characterized Giulio's administration of Florence as "very successful and frugal." [6] Adams chronicles the cardinal as having "reduced the business of the magistrates, elections, customs of office, and the mode of expenditure of public money, in such a manner that it produced a great and universal joy among the citizens." [6] [8]

On the death of Pope Leo X in 1521, Adams writes there was a "ready inclination in all of the principal citizens [of Florence], and a universal desire among the people, to maintain the state in the hands of the Cardinal de’ Medici; and all this felicity arose from his good government, which since the death of the Duke Lorenzo, had been universally agreeable." [6] Medici’s rule of Florence lasted until 1523, when he was elected Pope Clement VII.

Assassination Plot of 1522

According to Adams, in 1522, rumors began to swirl that Cardinal de' Medici – lacking legitimate successors in Florence – planned to abdicate rule of the city and "leave the government freely in the people." [6] When it became clear that these rumors were untrue, a faction of mostly elite Florentines hatched a plot to assassinate him, and then install their own government under Medici's "great adversary", Cardinal Francesco Soderini. [39] [6] Soderini encouraged the plot, exhorting both Pope Adrian VI and Francis I of France to strike against Medici and invade the latter's allies in Sicily; however, this did not happen. Instead of breaking with Medici, Pope Adrian VI had Cardinal Soderini imprisoned. [40] Afterwards, the principal conspirators were "declared rebels", and some were "apprehended and beheaded; by which means the Cardinal was again secured [as leader of Florence]." [6]

Election as Pope 1523

At Pope Leo X's death in 1521, Cardinal Medici was considered especially papabile in the protracted conclave. Although unable to gain the Papacy for himself or his ally Alessandro Farnese (both preferred candidates of Emperor Charles V (1519–56)), he took a leading part in determining the unexpected election of the short-lived Pope Adrian VI (1522–23), with whom he also wielded formidable influence. [41] Following Adrian VI's death on 14 September 1523, Medici overcame the opposition of the French king [42] and finally succeeded in being elected Pope Clement VII in the next conclave (19 November 1523). [43]

Pope Leo brought to the papal throne a high reputation for political ability and possessed in fact all the accomplishments of a wily diplomat. However, he was considered by his contemporaries as worldly and indifferent to the perceived dangers of the Protestant Reformation.

At his accession, Clement VII sent the Archbishop of Capua, Nikolaus von Schönberg, to the Kings of France, Spain, and England, in order to bring the Italian War to an end. An early report from the Protonotary Marino Ascanio Caracciolo [44] to the Emperor records: "As the Turks threaten to conquer Christian states, it seems to him that it is his first duty as Pope to bring about a general peace of all Christian princes, and he begs him (the Emperor), as the firstborn son of the Church, to aid him in this pious work." [45] But the pope's attempt failed.

Portrait of Pope Clement VII (1568) Portrait of Pope Clement VII.jpg
Portrait of Pope Clement VII (1568)

Continental and Medici politics

Francis I of France's conquest of Milan in 1524, during his Italian campaign of 1524–1525, prompted the Pope to quit the Imperial–Spanish side and to ally himself with other Italian princes, including the Republic of Venice, and France in January 1525. This treaty granted the definitive acquisition of Parma and Piacenza for the Papal States, the rule of Medici over Florence and the free passage of the French troops to Naples. This policy in itself was sound and patriotic, but Clement VII's zeal soon cooled; by his want of foresight and unseasonable economy, he laid himself open to an attack from the turbulent Roman barons, which obliged him to invoke the mediation of the emperor, Charles V. One month later, Francis I was crushed and imprisoned in the Battle of Pavia, and Clement VII went deeper in his former engagements with Charles V, signing an alliance with the viceroy of Naples.

But deeply concerned about Imperial arrogance, he was to pick up with France again when Francis I was freed after the Treaty of Madrid (1526): the Pope entered into the League of Cognac together with France, Venice, and Francesco II Sforza of Milan. Clement VII issued an invective against Charles V, who in reply defined him a "wolf" instead of a "shepherd", menacing the summoning of a council about the Lutheran question.

Like his cousin Pope Leo X, Clement was considered too generous to his Medici relatives, draining the Vatican treasuries. This included the assignment of positions all the way up to Cardinal, lands, titles, and money. These actions prompted reform measures after Clement's death to help prevent such excessive nepotism. [46]


In his bull "Intra Arcana" Clement VII gave a grant of permissions and privileges to Charles V and the Spanish Empire, which included patronage power[ vague ] over their colonies in the Americas. [47] [48]

Sack of Rome

The Pope's wavering politics also caused the rise of the Imperial party inside the Curia: Cardinal Pompeo Colonna's soldiers pillaged Vatican Hill and gained control of the whole of Rome in his name. The humiliated Pope promised therefore to bring the Papal States to the Imperial side again. But soon after, Colonna left the siege and went to Naples, not keeping his promises and dismissing the Cardinal from his charge.[ contradictory ] From this point on, Clement VII could do nothing but follow the fate of the French party to the end.[ ambiguous ]

Soon he found himself alone in Italy too, as Alfonso d'Este, duke of Ferrara, had supplied artillery to the Imperial army, causing the League Army to keep a distance behind the horde of Landsknechts led by Charles III, Duke of Bourbon and Georg von Frundsberg, allowing them to reach Rome without harm.[ dubious ]

Castel Sant'Angelo Castel Sant'Angelo bild.jpg
Castel Sant'Angelo

Charles of Bourbon died while mounting a ladder during the short siege and his starving troops, unpaid and left without a guide, felt free to ravage Rome from 6 May 1527. The many incidents of murder, rape, and vandalism that followed ended the splendours of Renaissance Rome forever. Clement VII, who had displayed no more resolution in his military than in his political conduct, was shortly afterwards (6 June) obliged to surrender himself together with the Castel Sant'Angelo, where he had taken refuge. He agreed to pay a ransom of 400,000 ducati in exchange for his life; conditions included the cession of Parma, Piacenza, Civitavecchia, and Modena to the Holy Roman Empire. (Only the last could be occupied in fact.) At the same time, Venice took advantage of his situation to capture Cervia and Ravenna while Sigismondo Malatesta returned in Rimini.

Clement was kept as a prisoner in Castel Sant'Angelo for six months. After having bought off some Imperial officers, he escaped disguised as a peddler and took shelter in Orvieto and then in Viterbo. He came back to a depopulated and devastated Rome only in October 1528.

Meanwhile, in Florence, Republican enemies of the Medici took advantage of the chaos to again expel the Pope's family from the city.

In June 1529 the warring parties signed the Peace of Barcelona. The Papal States regained some cities and Charles V agreed to restore the Medici to power in Florence. In 1530, after an eleven-month siege, the Tuscan city capitulated and Clement VII installed his illegitimate nephew Alessandro as duke. Subsequently, the Pope followed a policy of subservience to the emperor, endeavouring on the one hand to induce him to act with severity against the Lutherans in Germany and on the other to avoid his demands for a general council.


Clement VII, age 48
Portrait by Sebastiano del Piombo, 1526 Retrato del papa Clemente VII, por Sebastiano del Piombo.jpg
Clement VII, age 48
Portrait by Sebastiano del Piombo, 1526

During his half-year imprisonment in 1527, Clement VII grew a full beard as a sign of mourning for the sack of Rome. This was in contradiction to Catholic canon law, [49] which required priests to be clean-shaven; however, it had the precedent of the beard which Pope Julius II had worn for nine months in 1511–12 as a similar sign of mourning for the loss of the papal city of Bologna.

Unlike Julius II, however, Clement VII kept his beard until his death in 1534. His example in wearing a beard was followed by his successor, Paul III, and indeed by twenty-four popes who followed him, down to Innocent XII, who died in 1700. Clement VII was thus the unintentional originator of a fashion that lasted well over a century.


In 1532, Clement VII took possession of Ancona which definitively lost its freedom and became part of the Papal States, ending hundreds of years when the Republic of Ancona was an important maritime power.

English Reformation

Charles V, enthroned over his defeated enemies (from left): Suleiman the Magnificent, Pope Clement VII, Francis I of France, the Duke of Cleves, the Duke of Saxony, and the Landgrave of Hesse. Giulio Clovio, mid-16th century Charles V enthroned over his defeated enemies Giulio Clovio mid 16th century.jpg
Charles V, enthroned over his defeated enemies (from left): Suleiman the Magnificent, Pope Clement VII, Francis I of France, the Duke of Cleves, the Duke of Saxony, and the Landgrave of Hesse. Giulio Clovio, mid-16th century

By the late 1520s, King Henry VIII wanted to have his marriage to Charles's aunt Catherine of Aragon annulled. The couple's sons died in infancy, threatening the future of the House of Tudor, although Henry did have a daughter, Mary Tudor. Henry claimed that this lack of a male heir was because his marriage was "blighted in the eyes of God". [50] Catherine had been his brother's widow, but the marriage had been childless, thus the marriage was not against Old Testament law, which forbids only such unions if the brother had children. [51] Moreover, a special dispensation from Pope Julius II had been given to allow the wedding. [52] Henry now argued that this had been wrong and that his marriage had never been valid. In 1527 Henry asked Pope Clement to annul the marriage, but the Pope, possibly acting under pressure from Catherine's nephew, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, whose effective prisoner he was, refused. According to Catholic teaching, a validly contracted marriage is indivisible until death, and thus the pope cannot annul a marriage on the basis of an impediment previously dispensed. [53] Many people close to Henry wished simply to ignore the Pope; but in October 1530 a meeting of clergy and lawyers advised that the English Parliament could not empower the Archbishop of Canterbury to act against the Pope's prohibition. In Parliament, Bishop John Fisher was the Pope's champion.

Henry subsequently underwent a marriage ceremony with Anne Boleyn, in either late 1532 or early 1533. [54] The marriage was made easier by the death of the Archbishop of Canterbury William Warham, a stalwart friend of the Pope, after which Henry persuaded Clement to appoint Thomas Cranmer, a friend of the Boleyn family, as his successor. The Pope granted the papal bulls necessary for Cranmer’s promotion to Canterbury, and he also demanded that Cranmer take the customary oath of allegiance to the pope before his consecration. Laws made under Henry already declared that bishops would be consecrated even without papal approval. Cranmer was consecrated, while declaring beforehand that he did not agree with the oath he would take. [55] Cranmer was prepared to grant the annulment [56] of the marriage to Catherine as Henry required. The Pope responded to the marriage by excommunicating both Henry and Cranmer from the Catholic Church.

Consequently, in England, in the same year, the Act of Conditional Restraint of Annates transferred the taxes on ecclesiastical income from the Pope to the Crown. The Peter's Pence Act outlawed the annual payment by landowners of one penny to the Pope. This act also reiterated that England had "no superior under God, but only your Grace" and that Henry's "imperial crown" had been diminished by "the unreasonable and uncharitable usurpations and exactions" of the Pope. [57] Ultimately, in 1534, Henry led the English Parliament to pass the Act of Supremacy that established the independent Church of England and breaking from the Catholic Church.

Renaissance Pope

A discerning patron, Clement VII personally commissioned Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment for the Sistine Chapel, and Raphael’s masterpiece, The Transfiguration , as well as celebrated works by Benvenuto Cellini, Niccolo Machiavelli, and Parmigianino, among others. [58] [59] [60] Artistic trends of the era are sometimes called the “Clementine style,” and notable for their virtuosity. [61] Clement VII is also remembered for having been the patron of Benvenuto Cellini.

In 1533, Johann Widmanstetter (alternately called John Widmanstad), a secretary of Pope Clement VII, explained the Copernican system to the Pope and two cardinals. The Pope was so pleased that he gave Widmanstetter a valuable gift. [62]

Final months

Meeting of Francis I and Pope Clement VII in Marseilles, 13 October 1533 Meeting of Francis I and Pope Clement VII in Marseilles 13 October 1533.jpg
Meeting of Francis I and Pope Clement VII in Marseilles, 13 October 1533

Towards the end of his life, Clement VII once more gave indications of a leaning towards a French alliance. His plans to ally the House of Medici with the French royal family bore fruit in the betrothal of the Pope's niece, Catherine de' Medici, to Henri, the son of King Francis I. Before setting out, the Pope issued a Bull on 3 September 1533 giving instructions as to what was to be done in the event that he died outside Rome. [63] In September 1533 the Pope set out for France to solemnize the marriage. The marriage took place in Marseille on 28 October 1533. On 7 November in Marseille Pope Clement created four new cardinals, all four of them French. [64] He also held private meetings with both Francis I and Charles V, though separately.

Illness and death

He returned to Rome on 10 December 1533, complaining of stomach problems and showing a fever. This was not a new illness. The Pope had been so ill at the beginning of August that year that Cardinal Agostino Trivulzio wrote to King Francis that the Pope's doctors had begun to fear that the Pope was in danger of dying. [65] On 23 September 1533, Clement wrote a long letter of farewell to Charles V. [66] He also ordered, just a few days before his death, Michelangelo's painting of The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel. [19] He died on 25 September 1534, having lived 56 years and four months, and having reigned for 10 years, 10 months, and 7 days.

It has been said that he died from eating poisonous mushrooms, but the symptoms and length of illness do not fit this hypothesis. Nor do they account for the effects on his illness of two sea voyages within two months. In the words of his biographer Emmanuel Rodocanachi, "In accordance with the custom of those times, people attributed his death to poison." [67] His body was interred in Saint Peter's Basilica, and later transferred to a permanent tomb in the Choir of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome.


Angelo Bronzino - Portrait of Pope Clement VII Angelo Bronzino - Portrait of Pope Clement VII - WGA3272.jpg
Angelo Bronzino - Portrait of Pope Clement VII

The papacy of Clement VII is generally regarded as one of history’s most tumultuous; however, opinions of Medici himself are often nuanced. [68] For example, Medici’s contemporary Francesco Vettori writes that he “endured a great labor to become, from a great and respected cardinal, a small and little-esteemed pope” — but also notes that “if one considers the lives of previous popes one may truly say that, for more than a hundred years, no better man than Clement VII sat upon the Throne. Nevertheless, it was in his day that the disaster took place while these others, who were filled with all vices, lived and died in felicity — as the world sees it. Neither should we seek to question the lord, our God, who will punish — or not punish — in what manner and in what time it pleases him.’” [69]

The disasters of Medici’s pontificate — the Sack of Rome and the English Reformation — are regarded as turning points in the histories of Catholicism, Europe, and the Renaissance. [70] Modern historian Kenneth Gouwens contextualizes these events, writing that “Clement’s failures must be viewed above all in the context of major changes in the dynamics of European politics. As warfare on the Italian peninsula intensified in the mid-1520s, the imperative of autonomy [for the Catholic Church and Italy] required enormous financial outlays to field standing armies. Political survival perforce eclipsed ecclesiastical reform as a short-term goal, and the costs of war necessitated the curtailment of expenditure on culture. Clement pursued policies consistent with those of his illustrious predecessors Julius II and Leo X; but in the 1520s, those policies could but fail… Reform of the Church, to which his successors would turn, required resources and concerted secular support that the second Medici pope was unable to muster.” [71]

Regarding Clement VII’s struggle to liberate Italy and the Catholic Church from foreign domination, historian Fred Dotolo writes that “one might see in his papacy a vigorous defense of papal rights against the growth of monarchial power, a diplomatic and even pastoral struggle to retain the ancient division within Christendom of the priestly and kingly offices. Should the new monarchs of the early modern period reduce the papacy to a mere appendage of secular authority, religious issues would become little more than state policy… Clement VII attempted to restrain the expansion of royal power and maintain the independence of Rome and of papal prerogatives.” [72]

In a final analysis of Giulio de’ Medici’s papacy, historian E.R. Chamberlin writes that “in all but his personal attributes, Clement VII was a protagonist in a Greek tragedy, the victim called upon to endure the results of actions committed long before. Each temporal claim of his predecessors had entangled the Papacy just a little more in the lethal game of politics, even while each moral debasement divorced it just a little more from the vast body of Christians from whom ultimately it drew its strength.” [73] More charitably, modern historian James Grubb writes, “indeed, at a certain point it is difficult to see how he might have fared much better, given the obstacles he faced. Certainly his predecessors since the end of the Schism had experienced their share of opposition, but did any have to fight on so many fronts as Clement, and against such overwhelming odds? At one time or another he battled the Holy Roman Empire (now fuelled by precious metals from America), the French, the Turks, rival Italian powers, fractious forces within the papal states, and entrenched interests within the Curia itself. That the precious liberta d’Italia (freedom from outside domination) should have been lost irrevocably seems more an inevitability than a product of Clement’s particular failings. He tried his utmost...” [74] In assessing Medici’s personal character, the Catholic Encyclopedia notes that while Medici’s “private life was free from reproach and he had many excellent impulses... despite good intention, all qualities of heroism and greatness must emphatically be denied him.” [75]

See also

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Cosimo de' Pazzi
Archbishop of Florence
Succeeded by
Cardinal Nicolò Ridolfi
Preceded by
Cardinal Guillaume Briçonnet
Archbishop of Narbonne
Succeeded by
Cardinal Jean de Lorraine
Preceded by
Giovanni Battista Orsini
Apostolic Administrator of Bitonto
8 February – November 1517
Succeeded by
Giacomo Orsini
Preceded by
Cardinal Achille Grassi
Bishop of Bologna [76]
8 January – 3 March 1518
Succeeded by
Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggi [77]
Preceded by
Cardinal Niccolò Fieschi
Apostolic Administrator of Embrun
5–30 July 1518
Succeeded by
François de Tournon
Preceded by
Girolamo Ghinucci
Apostolic Administrator of Ascoli Piceno
30 July – 3 September 1518
Succeeded by
Filos Roverella
Preceded by
Cardinal Ippolito d'Este
Bishop of Eger
Succeeded by
Pál Várdai
Preceded by
Silvestro de' Gigli
Apostolic Administrator of Worcester
Succeeded by
Cardinal Girolamo Ghinucci
Preceded by
Adrian VI
19 November 1523 – 25 September 1534
Succeeded by
Paul III

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The House of Medici was an Italian banking family and political dynasty that first began to gather prominence under Cosimo de' Medici in the Republic of Florence during the first half of the 15th century. The family originated in the Mugello region of Tuscany, and prospered gradually until it was able to fund the Medici Bank. This bank was the largest in Europe during the 15th century, and it facilitated the Medicis' rise to political power in Florence, although they officially remained citizens rather than monarchs until the 16th century.

Ippolito de Medici Catholic cardinal

Ippolito de' Medici was the only son of Giuliano di Lorenzo de' Medici, born out-of-wedlock to his mistress Pacifica Brandano.

Palazzo Madama seat of the Senate of the Italian Republic

Palazzo Madama in Rome is the seat of the Senate of the Italian Republic.

Renaissance Papacy

The Renaissance Papacy was a period of papal history between the Western Schism and the Protestant Reformation. From the election of Pope Martin V of the Council of Constance in 1417 to the Reformation in the 16th century, Western Christianity was largely free from schism as well as significant disputed papal claimants. There were many important divisions over the direction of the religion, but these were resolved through the then-settled procedures of the papal conclave.

Pompeo Colonna Catholic cardinal

Pompeo Colonna was an Italian noble, condottiero, politician, and cardinal. At the culmination of his career he was Viceroy of the Kingdom of Naples (1530-1532) for the Emperor Charles V. Born in Rome, he was the son of Girolamo Colonna, whose father Antonio was second Prince of Salerno; and Vittoria Conti, of the Conti de Poli. His family belonged to the highest rank of nobility both of the City of Rome and of the Kingdom of Naples. Pompeo and his family were hereditary supporters of the Holy Roman Empire (Ghibbelines), and they spent their careers fighting their hereditary enemies, the Orsini family, and defending and expanding their family territories and interests. He played a significant, if sometimes disruptive, role in the Conclaves of 1521 and 1523 on behalf of the Imperial interest. His family commitments and his conclave activities brought Pompeo into conflict with the second Medici pope, Clement VII, whose election he vigorously opposed, and made him a leading figure in the attempted overthrow of Pope Clement and the Sack of Rome in 1527.

Agostino Trivulzio Italian cardinal

Agostino Trivulzio was an Italian Cardinal and papal legate. He was from a noble family in Milan, the eighth child of Giovanni Trivulzio di Borgomanero, a Councillor of the Dukes of Milan, and Angela Martinengo of Brescia, and was the nephew of Cardinal Gianantonio Trivulzio (1500-1508). Another uncle, Cardinal Antonio's brother Teodoro, was Governor of La Palice, of Genoa, of Milan, and a Marshal of France. Giovanni and Angela had a daughter named Damigella or Domtilla who was famous for her learning. Cardinal Agostino Trivulzio had a nephew named Giovanni, who married Laura Gonzaga.

Innocenzo Cybo Catholic cardinal

Innocenzo Cibo was an Italian cardinal and archbishop.

Michelangelo and the Medici

Michelangelo had a complicated relationship with the Medici family, who were for most of his lifetime the effective rulers of his home city of Florence. The Medici rose to prominence as Florence's preeminent bankers. They amassed a sizable fortune some of which was used for patronage of the arts. Michelangelo's first contact with the Medici family began early as a talented teenage apprentice of the Florentine painter Domenico Ghirlandaio. Following his initial work for Lorenzo de' Medici, Michelangelo's interactions with the family continued for decades including the Medici papacies of Pope Leo X and Pope Clement VII.

1521–22 papal conclave conclave

The 1521–22 papal conclave elected Pope Adrian VI to succeed Pope Leo X. The conclave was marked by the early candidacies of cardinal-nephew Giulio de'Medici and Alessandro Farnese, although the Colonna and other cardinals blocked their election.

Cardinal protector of England Roman Catholic Church title for a particular Cardinal representative of England

The Cardinal protector of England was an appointed crown-cardinal of England from 1492 until 1539. A cardinal protector is the representative of a Roman Catholic nation or organisation within the College of Cardinals, appointed by the pope. The role was terminated as a result of the English Reformation.

Timeline of Niccolò Machiavelli

This timeline lists important events relevant to the life of the Italian diplomat, writer and political philosopher Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli (1469–1527).

Lorenzo Pucci Catholic cardinal

Lorenzo Pucci was an Italian cardinal and bishop from the Florentine Pucci family. His brother Roberto Pucci and his nephew Antonio Pucci also became cardinals.

Alessandro Cesarini cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church

Alessandro Cesarini, bishop of Pistoia, was an Italian cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church.

March 1605 papal conclave One of two papal conclaves in 1605

The March–April 1605 papal conclave was convened on the death of Pope Clement VIII and ended with the election of Alessandro Ottaviano de' Medici as Pope Leo XI. It was the first of two papal conclaves in 1605; Leo died on 27 April 1605, twenty-six days after he was elected. The conclave was dominated by conflict over whether Cesare Baronius should be elected pope, and Philip III of Spain excluded both Baronius and the eventually successful candidate, Medici.

Achille Grassi Italian cardinal

Achille Grassi (1456–1523) was an Italian Roman Catholic bishop and cardinal.

Esteban Gabriel Merino was a Spanish Roman Catholic bishop and cardinal.

Bindo Altoviti Italian private banker

Bindo Altoviti (1491-1557) of the House of Altoviti was one of the most influential papal bankers of his generation and a patron of the arts, cultivating close friendships with artists such as Cellini, Raphael, Michelangelo and Vasari.


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  32. Gar, p. 64: "Il cardinal de' Medici, suo nepote, che non è legittimo, ha gran potere col papa; è uomo di gran maneggio e di grandissima autorità; tuttavia sa vivere col papa, nè fa alcuna cosa di conto se prima non domanda al papa. Ora si ritrova a Fiorenza a governare quella città’’".
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  44. Giorgio Viviano Marchesi Buonaccorsi, Antichità ed excellenza del Protonotariato Apostolico Partecipante (Faenza: Benedetti 1751), pp. 297-299. Caracciolo was a Neapolitan, of the family of the Counts of Galera; he became a Cardinal on 21 May 1535.
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  51. See: Leviticus 20:21 and exception Deuteronomy 25:5
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  56. Cranmer, in a letter, describes it as a divorce, but it was clearly not a dissolution of a marriage in the modern sense but the annulment of a marriage which was said to be defective on the grounds of affinity—Catherine was his deceased brother's widow. In his decree, Cranmer uses the words, "...dictum matrimonium..., ut praemittitur, contractum et consummatum, nullum et omnino invalidum fuisse et esse..." Gilbert Burnet (1825). The History of the Reformation of the Church of England ... in Six Volumes (in Latin). Volume I, Part II. London: W. Baynes and Son. p. 153.
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  76. Medici does not appear as Bishop either in F. Ughelli, Italia sacra II (ed. N. Colet) (Venice 1717), p. 37; or in Pius Gams, Series episcoporum (1873), p. 676. Considering the time span, some eight weeks, it is more likely that he was Administrator. On 3 March, the day that Medici resigned, Cardinal Grassis (who had been Bishop of Bologna) was named Administrator of Bologna.
  77. on 2 December 1523: Gulik-Eubel, p. 136.

Further reading