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§ 53. Innocent VIII. 1484–1492.

Under Innocent VIII. matters in Rome were, if anything, worse than under his predecessor, Sixtus IV. Innocent was an easy-going man without ideals, incapable of conceiving or carrying out high plans. He was chiefly notable for his open avowal of an illegitimate family and his bull against witchcraft.

At Sixtus’ death, wild confusion reigned in Rome. Nobles and cardinals barricaded their residences. Houses were pillaged. The mob held carnival on the streets. The palace of Jerome Riario was sacked. Relief was had by an agreement between the rival families of the Orsini and Colonna to withdraw from the city for a month and Jerome’s renunciation of the castle of S. Angelo, which his wife had defended, for 4,000 ducats. Not till then did the cardinals feel themselves justified in meeting for the election of a new pontiff.

The conclaves of 1484 and 1492 have been pronounced by high catholic authority among the "saddest in the history of the papacy."773773    Pastor, III. 178. Into the conclave of 1484, 25 cardinals entered, 21 of them Italians. Our chief account is from the hand of the diarist, Burchard, who was present as one of the officials.

His description goes into the smallest details. A protocol was again adopted, which every cardinal promised in a solemn formula to observe, if elected pope. Its first stipulation was that 100 ducats should be paid monthly to members of the sacred college, whose yearly income from benefices might not reach the sum of 4,000 ducats (about 200,000 francs in our present money). Then followed provisions for the continuance of the crusade against the Turks, the reform of the Roman curia in head and members, the appointment of no cardinal under 30 for any cause whatever, the advancement of not more than a single relative of the reigning pontiff to the sacred college and the restriction of its membership to 24.774774    Burchard, I. 33-55

Rodrigo Borgia fully counted upon being elected and, in expectation of that event, had barricaded his palace against being looted. Large bribes, even to the gift of his palace, were offered by him for the coveted prize of the papacy. Cardinal Barbo had 10 votes and, when it seemed likely that he would be the successful candidate, Julian Rovere and Borgia, renouncing their aspirations, combined their forces, and during the night, went from cell to cell, securing by promises of benefices and money the votes of all but six of the cardinals. According to Burchard, the pope about to be elected sat up all night signing promises. The next morning the two cardinals aroused the six whom they had not disturbed, exclaiming, "Come, let us make a pope." "Who?" they said. "Cardinal Cibo." "How is that?" they asked. "While you were drowsy with sleep, we gathered all the votes except yours," was the reply.

The new pope, Lorenzo Cibo, born in Genoa, 1432, had been made cardinal by Sixtus IV., 1473. During his rule, peace was maintained with the courts of Italy, but in Rome clerical dissipation, curial venality and general lawlessness were rampant. "In darkness Innocent was elected, in darkness he lives, and in darkness he will die," said the general of the Augustinians.775775    Infessura, p. 177. The Augustinian was thrown into prison for making the remark. Infessura returns again and again, pp. 237 sq., 243, 256 sq., to the reign of crime going on in the city. Women were carried off in the night. The murdered were found in the streets in the morning. Crimes, before their commission, were compounded for money. Even the churches were pilfered. A piece of the true cross was stolen from S. Maria in Trastavere. The wood was reported found in a vineyard, but without its silver frame. When the vice-chancellor, Borgia, was asked why the laws were not enforced, he replied, "God desires not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should pay and live."776776    Infessura gives the case of a father who, after committing incest with his two daughters, murdered them and was set free upon the payment of 800 ducats. Gregorovius, VII. 297, says of the Italian character of the last 30 years of the 15th century that "it displays a trait of diabolical passion. Tyrannicide, conspiracies and deeds of treachery are universal, and criminal selfishness reigns supreme." The favorite of Sixtus IV., Jerome Riario, was murdered in 1488. His widow, the brave and masculine Catherine Sforza, who was pregnant at the time, defended his castle at Forli and defied the papal forces besieging it, declaring that, if they put her children to death who were with her, she yet had one left at Imola and the unborn child in her womb. The duke of Milan, her relative, rescued her and put the besiegers to flight.

All ecclesiastical offices were set for sale. How could it be otherwise, when the papal tiara itself was within the reach of the highest bidder?777777    Funk, Kirchengesch., 373, says, In Rom. schien alles käuflich zu sein The appointment of 18 new papal secretaries brought 62,400 ducats into the papal treasury. The bulls creating the offices expressly declared the aim to be to secure funds. 52 persons were appointed to seal the papal bulls, called plumbatores, from the leaden ball or seal they used, and the price of the position was fixed at 2,500 ducats. Even the office of librarian in the Vatican was sold, and the papal tiara was put in pawn. In a time of universal traffic in ecclesiastical offices, it is not surprising that the fabrication of papal documents was turned into a business. Two papal notaries confessed to having issued 50 such documents in two years, and in spite of the pleas of their friends were hung and burnt, 1489.778778    · For the details, see Burchard, I. 365-368.

Innocent’s children were not persons of marked traits, or given to ambitious intrigues. Common rumor gave their number as 16, all of them children by married women.779779    So Marullus in his epigram—
   Octo nocens pueros genuit totidemque puellas,

   Hunc merito poterit dicere Roma patrem

   Illegitimately he begat 8 boys and girls as many.

   Hence Rome deservedly may call him father.

   Burchard, I. 321, calls Franceschetto bastardus.
Franceschetto and Theorina seem to have been born before the father entered the priesthood. Franceschetto’s marriage to Maddalena, a daughter of Lorenzo the Magnificent, was celebrated in the Vatican, Jan. 20, 1488. Ten months later, the pope’s granddaughter, Peretta, child of Theorina, was also married in the Vatican to the marquis of Finale. The pontiff sat with the ladies at the table, a thing contrary to all the accepted proprieties. In 1492, another grandchild, also a daughter of Theorina, Battistana, was married to duke Louis of Aragon.780780    Burchard, I. 323, 488. In 1883, the Berlin Museum came into possession of a bust of Theorina bearing the inscription,"Teorina Cibo Inn. VIII. P. M. f. singuli exempli matrona formaeque dignitate conjuaria."

The statement of Infessura is difficult to believe, although it is made at length, that Innocent issued a decree permitting concubinage in Rome both to clergy and laity. The prohibition of concubinage was declared prejudicial to the divine law and the honor of the clergy, as almost all the clergy, from the highest to the lowest, had concubines, or mistresses. According to the Roman diarist, there were 6,800 listed public courtezans in Rome besides those whose names were not recorded.781781    Infessura, p. 259 sq. Pastor, III. 269, pronounces Infessura’s statement altogether incredible,—gänzlich unglaubwürdig,—and blames Infessura’s editor, Tommasini, for allowing the statement to pass in his edition without note or comment. Pastor, in his 1st ed., III. 252, had pronounced the statement of the Roman diarist eine ungeheuerliche Behauptung. To say the least, the statement points to the low condition of clerical morals in the holy city and the slight regard paid to the legislation of Gregory VII. Infessura was in position to know what was transpiring in Rome.

What could be expected where the morals of the supreme pontiff and the sacred senate were so loose? The lives of many of the cardinals were notoriously scandalous. Their palaces were furnished with princely splendor and filled with scores of servants. Their example led the fashions in extravagance in dress and sumptuous banquetings. They had their stables, kennels and falcons. Cardinal Sforza, whose yearly income is reported to have been 30,000 ducats, or 1,500,000 francs, present money, excelled in the chase. Cardinal Julian made sport of celibacy, and had three daughters. Cardinal Borgia, the acknowledged leader in all gayeties, was known far and wide by his children, who were prominent on every occasion of display and conviviality. The passion for gaming ran high in the princely establishments. Cardinal Raphael won 8,000 ducats at play from Cardinal Balue who, however, in spite of such losses, left a fortune of 100,000 ducats. This grandnephew of Sixtus IV. was a famous player, and in a single night won from Innocent’s son, Franceschetto, 14,000 ducats. The son complained to his father, who ordered the fortunate winner to restore the night’s gains. But the gay prince of the church excused himself by stating that the money had already been paid out upon the new palace he was engaged in erecting.

The only relative whom Innocent promoted to the sacred college was his illegitimate brother’s son, Lorenzo Cibo. The appointment best known to posterity was that of Giovanni de’ Medici, son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, afterwards Leo X.

Another appointment, that of D’Aubusson, was associated with the case of the Mohammedan prince, Djem. This incident in the annals of the papacy would seem incredible, if it were not true. A writer of romance could hardly have invented an episode more grotesque. At the death of Mohammed II., his son, Djem, was defeated in his struggle for the succession by his brother Bajazet, and fled to Rhodes for protection. The Knights of St. John were willing to hold the distinguished fugitive as prisoner, upon the promise of 45,000 ducats a year from the sultan. For safety’s sake, Djem was removed to one of the Hospitaller houses in France. Hungary, Naples, Venice, France and the pope,—all put in a claim for him. Such competition to pay honor to an infidel prince had never before been heard of in Christendom. The pope won by making valuable ecclesiastical concessions to the French king, among them the bestowal of the red hat on D’Aubusson.

The matter being thus amicably adjusted, Djem was conducted to Rome, where he was received with impressive ceremonies by the cardinals and city officials. His person was regarded as of more value than the knowledge of the East brought by Marco Polo had been in its day, and the reception of the Mohammedan prince created more interest than the return of Columbus from his first journey to the West. Djem was escorted through the streets by the pope’s son, and rode a white horse sent him by the pope. The ambassador of the sultan of Egypt, then in Rome, had gone out to meet him, and shed tears as he kissed his feet and the feet of his horse. The popes had not shrunk from entering into alliances with Oriental powers to secure the overthrow of Mohammed II. and his dynasty. Djem, or the Grand Turk, as he was called, was welcomed by the pope surrounded by his cardinals. The proud descendant of Eastern monarchs, however, refused to kiss the supreme pontiff’s foot, but made some concession by kissing his shoulder. He was represented as short and stout, with an aquiline nose, and a single good eye, given at times inordinately to drink, though a man of some intellectual culture. He was reported to have put four men to death with his own hand. But Djem was a dignitary who signified too much to be cast aside for such offences. Innocent assigned him to elegantly furnished apartments in the Vatican, and thus the strange spectacle was afforded of the earthly head of Christendom acting as the host of one of the chief living representatives of the faith of Islam, which had almost crushed out the Christian churches of the East and usurped the throne on the Bosphorus.

Bajazet was willing to pay the pope 40,000 ducats for the hospitality extended to his rival brother, and delegations came from him to Rome to arrange the details of the bargain. The report ran that attempts were made by the sultan to poison both his brother and the pope by contaminating the wells of the Vatican. When the ambassador brought from Constantinople the delayed payment of three years, 120,000 ducats, Djem insisted that the Turk’s clothes should be removed and his skin be rubbed down with a towel, and that he should lick the letter "on every side," as proof that he did not also carry poison.782782    Totam ab omnibus ejus lateribus lingua sua lambivit. Infessura, p. 263. For the letter of the painter Mantegna to the duke of Mantua and its curious details, June 15, 1489, see Pastor, 1st ed., III. 218. The picture of the Disputation of St. Catherine in the sala dei santi in the Vatican contains a picture of Djem riding a white palfrey. Infessura and Burchard enter with journalistic relish into the details of Djem’s appearance and treatment In Rome. Djem survived his first papal entertainer, Innocent VIII., three years, and figured prominently in public functions in the reign of Alexander VI. He died 1495, still a captive.

Another curious instance was given in Innocent’s reign of the hold open-mouthed superstition had in the reception given to the holy lance. This pretended instrument, with which Longinus pierced the Saviour’s side and which was found during the Crusades by the monk Barthélemy at Antioch, was already claimed by two cities, Nürnberg and Paris. The relic made a greater draft upon the credulity of the age than St. Andrew’s head. The latter was the gift of a Christian prince, howbeit an adherent of the schismatic Greek Church; the lance came from a Turk, Sultan Bajazet.

Some question arose among the cardinals whether it would not be judicious to stay the acceptance of the gift till the claims of the lance in Nürnberg had been investigated. But the pope’s piety, such as it was, would not allow a question of that sort to interfere. An archbishop and a bishop were despatched to Ancona to receive the iron fragment, for only the head of the lance was extant. It was conducted from the city gates by the cardinals to St. Peter’s, and after mass the pope gave his blessing. The day of the reception happened to be a fast, but, at the suggestion of one of the cardinals, some of the fountains along the streets, where the procession was appointed to go, were made to throw out wine to slake the thirst of the populace. After a solemn service in S. Maria del Popolo, on Ascension Day, 1492, the Turkish present, encased in a receptacle of crystal and gold, was placed near the handkerchief of St. Veronica in St. Peter’s.783783    Infessura p. 224, and especially Burchard, I. 482-486, and Sigismondo, II. 25-29, 69, give extended accounts of the honors paid to the piece of iron, the sacratissimum ferreum lanceae. The sultan’s representative, Chamisbuerch, who was also present, was reported to have handed the pope a package containing 40,000 ducats. Sigismondo uses the word spicula, little point, for the lance.

The two great stains upon the pontificate of Innocent VIII., the crusade he called to exterminate the Waldenses, 1487, and his bull directed against the witches of Germany, 1484, which inaugurated two horrible dramas of cruelty, have treatment in another place.

Innocent was happy in being permitted to join with Europe in rejoicings over the expulsion of the last of the Moors from Granada, 1492. Masses were said in Rome, and a sermon preached in the pontiff’s presence in celebration of the memorable event.784784    Burchard, I. 444 sqq. With characteristic national gallantry, Cardinal Borgia showed his appreciation by instituting a bull-fight in which five bulls were killed, the first but not the last spectacle of the kind seen in the papal city. In his last sickness, Innocent was fed by a woman’s milk.785785    The harrowing story was told that, at the suggestion of a Jewish physician, the blood of three boys was infused into the dying pontiff’s veins. They were ten years old, and had been promised a ducat each. All three died. The Jewish physician lied. The story is told by Infessura and repeated by Raynaldus. It is pleasant to have Gregorovius, VII. 338, as well as Pastor, III. 275 sq., give it no credence. Several years before, when he was thought to be dying, the cardinals found 1,200,000 ducats in his drawers and chests. They now granted his request that 48,000 ducats should be taken from his fortune and distributed among his relatives.


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