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The Triple Crown: An Account of the Papal Conclaves

by Valérie Pirie

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 Calixtus III  Pius II  Paul II  Sixtus IV  Innocent VIII  Alexander VI




Edward IV

Frederick III

Louis XI

PAUL II, in spite of the immense sums he squandered, had left the treasury well filled, and Cardinal della Rovere having promised to divide the proceeds equally among the cardinals, was elected without demur. He was the first Pope of humble birth to found a great and powerful house. Under his reign nepotism developed with such alarming rapidity that it had soon reached the proportions of a giant octopus, whose suckers were so firmly fastened into the institution on which it fed that it took centuries to hack away the last of its tentacles. The money with which Sixtus supplied his insatiable family, or which he himself needed for his debauches and the perpetual warfare waged against his neighbours, was raised by the most cruel extortions on his subjects, the sale of all ecclesiastical dignities and benefices, taxes on houses of prostitution and a tariff for the absolution of all crimes with plenary indulgence to anyone who killed a Venetian. His hatred of the powerful Republic was maniacal. He had of course anathematised and excommunicated its citizens time and again. So much for the spiritual side. But not content with consigning them to the everlasting furnace, he threatened to seize any Venetian ecclesiastics found outside the dominions of the Republic and to sell them as slaves to the Turks.

We are told, no doubt quite rightly, that a man should be judged by the standards of the epoch in which he lived, but this precept is difficult to put into practice. To get the exact focus across such a wide space of time calls for a keenness of vision granted to few. At whatever angle one places oneself, Sixtus IV still appears as a singularly unattractive specimen of humanity. If one turns to his contemporaries for a verdict one finds little mercy shown him. The indictment of his crimes compiled by Infessura is a revelation of all that human turpitude can devise; but then Infessura hated him, so cannot be trusted. The most moderate, however, seemed to consider that he would be in need of some of his own most potent indulgences [p. 26] when the reckoning came, for the cautious envoy of the Medici in Rome announces the news of the Pontiff's death to his master in these words: "To-day at 5 o'clock His Holiness Sixtus IV departed this life—may God forgive him!"

 Calixtus III  Pius II  Paul II  Sixtus IV  Innocent VIII  Alexander VI

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