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The Triple Crown: An Account of the Papal Conclaves

by Valérie Pirie

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Mary 1558

Henry II

and Spain

Charles V


Ferdinand I
Philip II

THE situation of the various parties was much the same when the conclave assembled after the death of Marcellus II, as it had been at the time of his election, save that Cardinal Farnese had managed to gather round him the leaderless creatures of Julius III and so considerably strengthened his position. Charles V was far too absorbed in his own affairs to give the conclave more than a passing thought. Satiated with power, weary of life, he was about to transfer the government of his immense possessions to his son and stepbrother and retire from the turmoil of politics and warfare. The imperialists, therefore, still led by the aged Burgos, were left much to their own devices and lacked solidarity. The French party, which had lost the Cardinal de Lorraine's guidance, was much perturbed at receiving orders from Henry II to support d'Este, and intended to delay matters until a messenger could be got through to the King informing him what manner of man d'Este really was, and asking for further instructions. D'Este himself was more sanguine than ever; the Duke of Ferrara was in Rome attending personally to his brother's interests; but he had been misguided enough to fall out with Ottavio Farnese over the Parma question, so his canvassing was in reality sheer waste of time and money. To the Farnese the world was simply divided into two sections: those who favoured their occupation of Parma and Piacenza, and those who did not. The former were their friends, the latter their enemies. They admitted of no middle course. It was an obsession with them, an idée fixe, outside of which nothing could tempt or even interest them—and their goodwill was a necessity as no candidature could be successful at this conclave without Farnese's support.

Pope Paul IV
From a bronze bust in St. Peter's, Rome
On May 15th forty-three cardinals entered the conclave in a very agitated state of mind. They had just been informed that Montluc, commanding the French forces in Italy, had spoken of descending upon Rome, surrounding the Vatican and forcing an election favourable [p. 86] to his countrys interests. His well—deserved reputation of ferocity naturally alarmed the prelates, whose fears were in no way allayed by the rumour that Strozzi, the Florentine envoy, not to be outdone by the French, was collecting a strong force both inside and outside Rome to impose an imperial candidate on them. Fortunately the day for these rough-handed methods was over. Montluc was recalled to France, Strozzi received a severe admonition from Florence which cooled his ardour, and the Sacred College were able to proceed to business under ordinary peaceable circumstances. There was still a strong inclination among the majority to bestow the supreme dignity on a man really worthy of it, and Reginald Pole's name was again brought forward. But his absence was a serious obstacle and Farnese had other views. He assured his colleagues that the Englishman would not accept the dignity, and that even if he was prevailed upon to do so, his elevation would entail a long interregnum and the expenditure for his journey to Rome would be enormous. This last argument was a potent one, and no more was heard of the Cardinal of England.

D'Este for the time being had the half-hearted support of the French party and of their Italian adherents, which totalled a respectable number, but Farnese's phalanx was at least as imposing and no pope could be elected without his co-operation. He saw no object in procrastination, and approached d'Este at once, telling him bluntly that he would never consent to the election of an enemy of his house, and that the only solution was to discover a candidate acceptable to them both. D'Este did not feel equal to making a stand against an opponent of Farnese's proficiency and accepted the compromise. Farnese proposed Chieti. He had already settled with him that he would secure his elevation against a written promise that as Pope he would confirm the Farnese's right to Parma, and even extend their territories. Chieti was a Neapolitan of the house of Caraffa, which had always been pro-French, therefore he was acceptable to that party. It was he who had so vehemently accused Pole of heresy at a previous conclave, which had resulted in the election of the blasphemous Julius III. Chieti as Dean of the Sacred College held an important and influential position in the conclave and, all things considered, d'Este thought it wiser to retire in his favour.

The imperialists, who were well aware of Chieti's hatred of Spain, [p. 87] gathered round Burgos, who exhorted them desperately to make a firm stand. Had they all been staunch to their leader, they could have counteracted the Farnese-d'Este coalition, as they were twenty strong, but their inner dissensions and jealousies undermined their strength of purpose. They did not even vote consistently for their official candidate, Morone, whom several of them detested; and Farnese, watching for any sign of disaffection among their ranks, thought the moment opportune to attempt a nocturnal coup de main, during which he was confident of sweeping the necessary number of voters off their feet owing to the complicity of darkness, excitement and turmoil. He and d'Este therefore convened their united forces to a meeting that night, from which they all emerged noisily acclaiming Chieti and calling out that they were on their way to elect him by adoration. As the sleepy cardinals appeared at the doors of their cubicles to enquire into the cause of the disturbance, they were forcibly seized upon, surrounded, and dragged along by the Pentecostal pressgang. The hubbub drowned their protests, the darkness concealed their resistance; several had their clothes torn to rags. The tornado swept into Chieti's cell, and bore him in triumph to the chapel, where Farnese was much disconcerted to find that the number of adorers was insufficient by three to form the required majority! He rushed out again, resolved to procure them at all costs, carefully locking the door of the chapel behind him to prevent any further defections.

Meanwhile Burgos had rallied what remained of his party in the Hall of the Consistories and was exhorting them with all the eloquence at his command to remain faithful to the Spanish cause, reminding them that Charles had formally excluded Chieti and that their master's orders were not to be trifled with; but the great Emperor was already a dim and distant shadow to the younger prelates and they were restive and out of hand. Farnese, bursting into their midst took the situation in at a glance, and by promises and cajolery wheedled away the necessary number. Burgos called down all the maledictions of heaven upon the renegades, warning them that they would live to rue their folly; and events proved him a true prophet indeed.

Farnese returned exultantly to the chapel with his recruits and Chieti's election received the necessary canonical sanction. As Pope [p. 88] Paul IV rose from his stall he appeared to the cardinals inches taller than their old colleague Chieti had been. There was that in his bearing as he looked slowly round which sent a shiver down the spine of some and gave even his most loyal supporters a vague feeling of uneasiness.

Navigero gives the following description of the new Pontiff:

His temperament is dry and bilious. He has incredible gravity and grandeur in his demeanour. He seems born to command. He is very healthy and robust, being all sinews and no flesh. His expression and all his movements have the litheness of youth. Although seventy-nine years old he seems to skim along the ground sooner than to walk. He has two bodily ailments, the flux and the rheum; but the first dispenses him from taking medicine and the second he overcomes by eating Parmesan cheese. He is very scholarly; speaks excellent Latin, Greek and Spanish besides expressing himself in the purest and choicest Italian. His memory is prodigious, and he is an authority on the scriptures etc. His eloquence is remarkable and his private life blameless. He admits of no contradiction; for not only does he consider that as Pontiff his word must be law even to kings and emperors; but he is acutely conscious of his superior learning, his exalted birth and the rectitude of his conduct. He consults no one, treating the cardinals as dust beneath his feet. He is keen in all his pursuits, but in none as much as in the Inquisition. He has no fixed time for meals. He dines whenever he chooses, often in the middle of the night, and expects to be served, with the greatest luxury and punctilio, a number of courses never inferior to twenty-five. He drinks freely and always a coarse Neapolitan wine as thick as broth. At dessert he washes out his mouth with Malmsey. He frequently sits for three hours at his meals, discoursing incessantly. He retires to bed when he is sleepy and remains there till he wakes. No one would be bold enough, under any circumstances, to enter his room before he had rung, whatever the time of day. He never admits anyone into his presence until he is fully dressed which is a lengthy business as he is most meticulous and washes his beard with the greatest care. He spends hours at his devotions and in sleep; and when at last he gives an audience, he talks so persistently that his visitor not daring to interrupt him rarely gets an opportunity of explaining his business. He keeps ambassadors waiting for hours and they rarely manage to see him more than once a year. He is dilatory in all affairs but in those of the Inquisition. Nothing is ever allowed to interfere with the weekly conference he holds on the [p. 89] Thursday with the Inquisitors, and which seems his greatest interest in life.

Paul's scheme of reforms did not include nepotism, as he invested his nephew Carlo Caraffa, a debauched soldier, with the highest ecclesiastical dignities and the conduct of all affairs both spiritual and temporal. The Pope confiscated all the castles and titles of the Dolonna and bestowed them on his nephews; not that he had any affection for them, but he wished, like so many other pontiffs, to make his house all-powerful. Carlo Caraffa had been clever enough to pander to his blind hatred of Spain and to make a pretence of a more decorous life. With a show of devotion thrown in, he had completely got round the old man and won his favour. Later, when it came to Paul's knowledge that he had been deceived, his wrath was terrible. He stripped Carlo Caraffa of all his offices and disowned him publicly. His other nephews shared their cousin's disgrace. Paul treated them all with incredible harshness. His maniacal belief in his own infallibility was not shaken, however, by the discovery that Carlo had hoodwinked him so successfully, nor by the subsequent reverses inflicted on him by the imperial forces. If there was not a second sack of Rome it was not because Paul IV averted it in any way, but simply because the Duke of Alba, who was in command of the victorious army, was too devout a Catholic to wreck the Holy City, and was a strong enough commander to restrain his troops from running amok.

It was on a Thursday that the Duke led his victorious army up to the gates of Rome, and had he scaled the walls and entered the town, he would have found the Pontiff presiding at a meeting of the Holy Inquisition and the city at his mercy.

Such, however, was the prestige of the Vicar of Christ to so reverent a servant of the Church as Alba, that when admitted to the presence, the conqueror humbly kissed the Pontiff's feet, and restored to the Holy See all the towns and territories he had won from it. Paul's violence terrified the fearless Spaniard as it terrified all who approached him. He never hesitated to assault those who roused his temper; being angry with the governor of Rome, he boxed his ears and literally kicked him out of the room. He tore the Ambassador of Ragusa's beard out by the roots and insulted the Tuscan envoy, [p. 90] calling his master, Cosimo, a son of the devil. As to the Emperor Charles and King Philip II, there is no term of opprobrium he spared them. All Spaniards, he said, were spawn of Jews and Moors. He treated all monarchs as vassals, refusing to recognise Elizabeth as Queen of England, or Ferdinand as Emperor because he had not been asked to invest them with their dignities. His intolerance was mediaeval, and he was so imbued with his own vice-deity that he sincerely believed all his own opinions to be divinely inspired and therefore infallible. He was scarcely sane on the subject of his omniscience; as to heresy it was to be crushed at all costs and the inhuman methods of Torquemada naturally appealed to his inexorable nature; fire, torture, death; religious arguments which have done service for most beliefs and will always remain more potent than convincing. The cardinals themselves were not secure against the danger of indictment, as the aged Burgos had predicted to the Spanish deserters, and thousands of monks and priests fled to Venice and foreign countries, some even seeking refuge among the Turks. The population of Rome decreased by almost half during this reign of terror.

Paul's other bête noire was Spain. He hated that power with equal vehemence as Pontiff, for the humiliations to which the Holy See had been subjected by Charles V, and as a Caraffa for her occupation of Sicily. He thought the moment of the Emperor's abdication an auspicious one to attack a State probably disorganised by such an important change of government and more vulnerable in consequence. He did not hesitate, he, the head of Christendom, to crave Soliman's help against His Most Catholic Majesty of Spain, considering no doubt that Moors were well matched adversaries for a nation of "bastards"! But he soon discovered that he had overrated his enemies' difficulties and underrated their might. The disappointment was a bitter one to his arrogant spirit, but he found solace for his defeat by one enemy in the routing of the other. He pursued his gruesome activities with unabated ardour to the day of his death, adjuring the cardinals with his last breath to maintain the Inquisition in Italy. No sooner did the Romans hear that Paul was dead, than they pillaged and burnt the palace of the Holy Office and liberated all the prisoners from the dungeons, including several cardinals, to whom the hardships of a conclave must have seemed paltry enough after such an experience. The Inquisitors had to fly for their lives, and [p. 91] the Pontiff's statue was mutilated and dragged through the town sewers. As Paul had persecuted the Jews with absolute ferocity, his effigy was capped with their yellow headdress as a crowning insult, and finally thrown into the Tiber.

It is curious, in view of Paul's execration of Spain and most particularly of Charles V and his family, to note the striking affinities he had with Philip II. They were both fanatical bigots, haughty, cruel and relentless. The one sacrificed his son and the other his nephews on the altar of discipline, with self-righteous complacency and no apparent sign of regret or distress. Both Sovereigns were dilatory and procrastinating in affairs of the state, and although the King was taciturn and the Pope loquacious, their outlook was identical. If Philip was the typical Spaniard of his times, then Paul shared the main characteristics of the race he held in such abhorrence.

 Pius III  Julius II  Leo X  Adrian VI  Clement VII  Paul III  Julius III  Marcellus II  Paul IV  Pius IV  Pius V  Gregory XIII  Sixtus V  Urban VII  Gregory XIV  Innocent IX  Clement VIII

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