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Pope Clement VII
(Giulio de' Medici).
Born 1478; died 25 September, 1534. Giulio de' Medici was born a few months after the death of his father, Giuliano, who was slain at Florence in the disturbances which followed the Pazzi conspiracy. Although his parents had not been properly married, they had, it was alleged, been betrothed per sponsalia de presenti, and Giulio, in virtue of a well-known principle of canon law, was subsequently declared legitimate. The youth was educated by his uncle, Lorenzo the Magnificent. He was made a Knight of Rhodes and Grand Prior of Capua, and, upon the election of his cousin Giovanni de' Medici to the papacy as Leo X, he at once became a person of great consequence. On 28 September, 1513, he was made cardinal, and he had the credit of being the prime mover of the papal policy during the whole of Leo's pontificate. He was one of the most favoured candidates in the protracted conclave which resulted in the election of Adrian VI; neither did the Cardinal de' Medici, in spite of his close connection with the luxurious regime of Leo X, altogether lose influence under his austere successor. Giulio, in the words of a modern historian, was "learned, clever, respectable and industrious, though he had little enterprise and less decision" (Armstrong, Charles V., I, 166). After Adrian's death (14 September, 1523) the Cardinal de' Medici was eventually chosen pope, 18 November, 1523, and his election was hailed at Rome with enthusiastic rejoicing. But the temper of the Roman people was only one element in the complex problem which Clement VII had to face. The whole political and religious situation was one of extreme delicacy, and it may be doubted if there was one man in ten thousand who would have succeeded by natural tact and human prudence in guiding the Bark of Peter through such tempestuous waters. Clement was certainly not such a man. He had unfortunately been brought up in all the bad traditions of Italian diplomacy, and over and above this a certain fatal irresolution of character seemed to impel him, when any decision had been arrived at, to hark back upon the course agreed on and to try to make terms with the other side.
The early years of his pontificate were occupied with the negotiations which culminated in the League of Cognac. When Clement was crowned, Francis I and the Emperor Charles V were at war. Charles had supported Clement's candidature and hoped much from his friendship with the Medici, but barely a year had elapsed after his election before the new pope concluded a secret treaty with France. The pitched battle which was fought between Francis and the imperial commanders at Pavia in February, 1525, ending in the defeat and captivity of the French king, put into Charles' hands the means of avenging himself. Still he used his victory with moderation. The terms of the Treaty of Madrid (14 January, 1526) were not really extravagant, but Francis seems to have signed with the deliberate intention of breaking his promises, though confirmed by the most solemn of oaths. That Clement, instead of accepting Charles' overtures, should have made himself a party to the French king's perfidy and should have organized a league with France, Venice, and Florence, signed at Cognac, 22 May, 1526, must certainly have been regarded by the emperor as almost unpardonable provocation. No doubt Clement was moved by genuine patriotism in his distrust of imperial influence in Italy and especially by anxiety for his native Florence. Moreover, he chafed under dictation which seemed to him to threaten the freedom of the Church. But though he probably feared that the bonds might be drawn tighter, it is hard to see that he had at that time any serious ground of complaint. We cannot be much surprised at what followed. Charles' envoys, obtaining no satisfaction from the pope, allied themselves with the disaffected Colonna who had been raiding the papal territory. These last peretended reconciliation until the papal commanders were lulled into a sense of security. Then the Colonna made a sudden attack upon Rome and shut up Clement in the Castle of Sant' Angelo while their followers plundered the Vatican (20 September, 1526). Charles disavowed the action of the Colonna but took advantage of the situation created by their success. A period of vacillation followed. At one time Clement concluded a truce with the emperor, at another he turned again despairingly to the League, at another, under the encouragement of a slight success, he broke off negotiations with the imperial representatives and resumed active hostilities, and then again, still later, he signed a truce with Charles for eight months, promising the immediate payment of an indemnity of 60,000 ducats.
In the mean time the German mercenaries in the north of Italy were fast being reduced to the last extremities for lack of provisions and pay. On hearing of the indemnity of 60,000 ducats they threatened mutiny, and the imperial commissioners extracted from the pope the payment of 100,000 ducats instead of the sum first agreed upon. But the sacrifice was ineffectual. It seems probable that the Landsknechte, a very large proportion of whom were Lutherans, had really got completely out of hand, and that they practically forced the Constable Bourbon, now in supreme command, to lead them against Rome. On the 5th of May they reached the walls, which, owing to the pope's confidence in the truce he had concluded, were almost undefended. Clement had barely time to take refuge in the Castle of Sant' Angelo, and for eight days the "Sack of Rome" continued amid horrors almost unexampled in the history of war. "The Lutherans", says an impartial authority, "rejoiced to burn and to defile what all the world had adored. Churches were desecrated, women, even the religious, violated, ambassadors pillaged, cardinals put to ransom, ecclesiastical dignitaries and ceremonies made a mockery, and the soldiers fought among themselves for the spoil" (Leathes in "Camb. Mod. History", II, 55). It seems probable that Charles V was really not implicated in the horrors which then took place. Still he had no objection against the pope bearing the full consequences of his shifty diplomacy, and he allowed him to remain a virtual prisoner in the Castle of Sant' Angelo for more than seven months. Clement's pliability had already given offence to the other members of the League, and his appeals were not responded to very warmly. Besides this, he was sorely in need of the imperial support both to make head against the Lutherans in Germany and to reinstate the Medici in the government of Florence from which they had been driven out. The combined effect of these various considerations and of the failure of the French attempts upon Naples was to throw Clement into the emperor's arms. After a sojourn in Orvieto and Viterbo, Clement returned to Rome, and there, before the end of July, 1529, terms favourable to the Holy See were definitely arranged with Charles. The seal was set upon the compact by the meeting of the emperor and the pope at Bologna, where, on 24 February, 1530, Charles was solemnly crowned. By whatever motives the pontiff was swayed, this settlement certainly had the effect of restoring to Italy a much-needed peace.
Meanwhile events, the momentous consequence of which were not then fully foreseen, had been taking place in England. Henry VIII, tired of Queen Catherine, by whom he had no heir to the throne, but only one surviving daughter, Mary, and passionately enamoured of Anne Boleyn, had made known to Wolsey in May, 1527, that he wished to be divorced. He pretended that his conscience was uneasy at the marriage contracted under papal dispensation with his brother's widow. As his first act was to solicit from the Holy See contingently upon the granting of the divorce, a dispensation from the impediment of affinity in the first degree (an impediment which stood between him and any legal marriage with Anne on account of his previous carnal intercourse with Anne's sister Mary), the scruple of conscience cannot have been very sincere. Moreover, as Queen Catherine solemnly swore that the marriage between herself and Henry's elder brother Arthur had never been consummated, there had consequently never been any real affinity between her and Henry but only the impedimentum publicæ honestatis. The king's impatience, however, was such that, without giving his full confidence to Wolsey, he sent his envoy, Knight, at once to Rome to treat with the pope about getting the marriage annulled. Knight found the pope a prisoner in Sant' Angelo and could do little until he visited Clement, after his escape, at Orvieto. Clement was anxious to gratify Henry, and he did not make much difficulty about the contingent dispensation from affinity, judging, no doubt, that, as it would only take effect when the marriage with Catherine was concelled, it was of no practical consequence. On being pressed, however, to issue a commission to Wolsey to try the divorce case, he made a more determined stand, and Cardinal Pucci, to whom was submitted a draft instrument for the purpose, declared that such a document would reflect discredit upon all concerned. A second mission to Rome organized by Wolsey, and consisting of Gardiner and Foxe, was at first not much more successful. A commission was indeed granted and taken back to England by Foxe, but it was safeguarded in ways which rendered it practically innocuous. The bullying attitude which Gardiner adopted towards the pope seems to have passed all limits of decency, but Wolsey, fearful of losing the royal favour, egged him on to new exertions and implored him to obtain at any cost a "decretal commission". This was an instrument which decided the points of law beforehand, secure from appeal, and left only the issue of fact to be determined in England. Against this Clement seems honestly to have striven, but he at last yielded so far as to issue a secret commission to Cardinal Wolsey and Cardinal Campeggio jointly to try the case in England. The commission was to be shown to no one, and was never to leave Compeggio's hands. We do not know its exact terms; but if it followed the drafts prepared in England for the purpose, it pronounced that the Bull of dispensation granted by Julius for the marriage of Henry with his deceased brother's wife must be declared obreptitious and consequently void, if the commissioners found that the motives alleged by Julius were insufficient and contrary to the facts. For example, it had been pretended that the dispensation was necessary to cement the friendship between England and Spain, also that the young Henry himself desired the marriage, etc.
Camapeggio reached England by the end of September, 1528, but the proceedings of the legatine court were at once brought to a standstill by the production of a second dispensation granted by Pope Julius in the form of a Brief. This had a double importance. Clement's commission empowered Wolsey and Campeggio to pronounce upon the sufficiency of the motives alleged in a certain specified document, viz., the Bull; but the Brief was not contemplated by, and lay outside, their commission. Moreover, the Brief did not limit the motives for granting the dispensation to certain specified allegations, but spoke of "aliis causis animam nostram moventibus". The production of the Brief, now commonly admitted to be quite authentic, though the king's party declared it a forgery, arrested the proceedings of the commission for eight months, and in the end, under pressure from Charles V, to whom his Aunt Catherine had vehemently appealed for support as well as to the pope, the cause was revoked to Rome. There can be no doubt that Clement showed much weakness in the concessions he had made to the English demands; but it must also be remembered, first, that in the decision of this point of law, the technical grounds for treating the dispensation as obreptitious were in themselves serious and, secondly, that in committing the honour of the Holy See to Campeggio's keeping, Clement had known that he had to do with a man of exceptionally high principle.
How far the pope was influenced by Charles V in his resistance, it is difficult to say; but it is clear that his own sense of justice disposed him entirely in favour of Queen Catherine. Henry in consequence shifted his ground, and showed how deep was the rift which separated him from the Holy See, by now urging that a marriage with a deceased husband's brother lay beyond the papal powers of dispensation. Clement retaliated by pronouncing censure against those who threatened to have the king's divorce suit decided by an English tribunal, and forbade Henry to proceed to a new marriage before a decision was given in Rome. The king on his side (1531) extorted a vast sum of money from the English clergy upon the pretext that the penalties of præmunire had been incurred by them through their recognition of the papal legate, and soon afterwards he prevailed upon Parliament to prohibit under certain conditions the payment of annates to Rome. Other developments followed. The death of Archbishop Warham (22 August, 1532) allowed Henry to press for the institution of Cranmer as Archbishop of Canterbury, and through the intervention of the King of France this was conceded, the pallium being granted to him by Clement. Almost immediately after his consecration Cranmer proceeded to pronounce judgment upon the divorce, while Henry had previously contracted a secret marriage with Anne Boleyn, which marriage Cranmer, in May, 1533, declared to be valid. Anne Boleyn was consequently crowned on June the 1st. Meanwhile the Commons had forbidden all appeals to Rome and exacted the penalties of præmunire against all who introduced papal Bulls into England. It was only then that Clement at last took the step of launching a sentence of excommunication against the king, declaring at the same time Cranmer's pretended decree of divorce to be invalid and the marriage with Anne Boleyn null and void. The papal nuncio was withdrawn from England and diplomatic relations with Rome broken off. Henry appealed from the pope to a general council, and in January, 1534, the Parliament pressed on further legislation abolishing all ecclesiastical dependence on Rome. But it was only in March, 1534, that the papal tribunal finally pronounced its verdict upon the original issue raised by the king and declared the marriage between Henry and Catherine to be unquestionably valid. Clement has been much blamed for this delay and for his various concessions in the matter of the divorce; indeed he has been accused of losing England to the Catholic Faith on account of the encouragement thus given to Henry, but it is extremely doubtful whether a firmer attitude would have had a more beneficial result. The king was determined to effect his purpose, and Clement had sufficient principle not to yield the one vital point upon which all turned.
With regard to Germany, though Clement never broke away from his friendship with Charles V, which was cemented by the coronation at Bologna in 1530, he never lent to the emperor that cordial co-operation which could alone have coped with a situation the extreme difficulty and danger of which Clement probably never understood. In particular, the pope seems to have had a horror of the idea of convoking a general council, foreseeing, no doubt, grave difficulties with France in any such attempt. Things were not improved when Henry, through his envoy Bonner, who found Clement visiting the French king at Marseilles, lodged his appeal to a future general council on the divorce question.
In the more ecclesiastical aspects of his pontificate Clement was free from reproach. Two Franciscan reforms, that of the Capuchins and that of the Recollects, found in him a sufficiently sympathetic patron. He was genuinely in earnest over the crusade against the Turks, and he gave much encouragement to foreign missions. As a patron of art, he was much hampered by the sack of Rome and the other disastrous events of his pontificate. But he was keenly interested in such matters, and according to Benvenuto Cellini he had excellent taste. By the commission given to the last-named artist for the famous cope-clasp of which we hear so much in the autobiography, he became the founder of Benvenuto's fortunes. (See Cellini, Benvenuto.) Clement also continued to be the patron of Raphael and of Michelangelo, whose great fresco of the Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel was undertaken by his orders.
In their verdict upon the character of Pope Clement VII almost all historians are agreed. He was an Italian prince, a de' Medici, and a diplomat first, and a spiritual ruler afterwards. His intelligence was of a high order, though his diplomacy was feeble and irresolute. On the other hand, his private life was free from reproach, and he had many excellent impulses, but despite good intention, all qualities of heroism and greatness must emphatically be denied him.
Pastor, Geschichte der Päpste (Freiburg, 1907), IV, pt. II; Fraiken, Nonciatures de Clément VII (Paris, 1906-); Idem in Mélanges de l'école française de Rome (1906); Gairdner, The New Light on the Divorce of Henry VIII in English Histor. Rev. (1896-1897); Ehses, Römische Dokumente zur Geschichte der Ehescheidung Heinrichs VIII. (Paderborn, 1893); Thurston, The Canon Law of the Divorce in Eng. Histor. Rev. (Oct., 1904); Am. Cath. Quart. (April, 1906); Hemmer in Dict. de théol. cath., in which and in Pastor a fuller bibliography will be found.