Category Archives: Italian History

Two Popes with the name Julius

Rex Harrison suitable pious as Julius Ii (right) & Charlton Heston wooden as Michaelangelo (left) in a Hollywood extravaganza / m759.net

Rex Harrison suitable pious as Julius II (right) & Charlton Heston wooden as Michaelangelo (left) in a Hollywood extravaganza / m759.net

In this case I cannot do my usual playing with papal names and invented adjectives; some of my faithful followers might like to read about ‘Julian Popes’, as in ‘Innocent Popes’, but ‘Julian’ refers to anything connected with the Emperor Julian, who was, if not the anti-Christ, at least anti-Christian, which is why he was called ‘Julian the Apostate’. There is a splendid biography in the typical Gore Vidal style about Emperor Julian, very well worth reading. You can get it easily and cheaply on Amazon.

Julius II came from one of those distinguished Roman families – the Della Rovere; he was born in 1443 and was Pope from 1513 to 1513. He devoted most of these papal years to re-establishing the Pope’s sovereignty within the ancient territory of the Vatican. He also found time to try to remove any foreign domination from Italy herself, though the Vatican is of course a city/state within Italy. Julius II took part in the restoration of the Papal States through what was called ‘The League of Cambrai’. He was less successful in ‘The Holy League’ (Spain, England and Italy), moving in wae-like manner without intelligence, against French King Louis XII.

As a liberal patron of the arts, however, he did very well, exploying the architect and artist Bramante for a re-design of St. Peter’s. Work began in 1506, and by then Julius had commissioned work from Raphael and Michaelangelo no less. He died still full of hope for a super-powerful Vatican, in 1513. Continue reading

Important European families: Este and Esterhazy

The Villa d'Este at Tivoli / en wikipedia.org

The Villa d’Este at Tivoli / en wikipedia.org

Any family that distinguishes itself for eight hundred and seventy-five years must have something special, and the Italian family d’Este has it. Appearing first in the misty beginnings of the eleventh century, they became rulers of the city of Ferrara near the end of the twelfth. Their iron rule stayed firm until 1598, when Ferrara was incorporated into the Papal States.

The first Marchese or marquess was Azzo d’Este (1205 – 1264), whose absolute authority seems to have been established by the last year of his life. The office of Signore or Lord was made hereditary during the time of his son, Obizzo, who annexed the territories of Modena and Reggio. Niccoló III, born 1383, brought peace and security to the area; his sons Leonello, born 1407, Borso, b. 1413, and Ercole, b. 1431 were mainly known as fervent patrons of the arts, as well as being scholarly students of the humanities. The daughters of Ercole, Isabella, b.1474 and Beatrice, b. 1475 continued this peaceful tradition. The first married Francisco Gonzaga (q.v.) of Mantua while the second married Lodovico Sforza (q.v.) of Milan, thus uniting three of the grandest (and richest) Italian families. Continue reading

‘Benedict’ popes before Benedict XVI

Benedict XIV, from a painting by Benoit / en.wikipedia.org

Benedict XIV, from a painting by Benoit / en.wikipedia.org

Pope Francisco recently reached the throne of Peter because his predecessor decided, wisely perhaps, to retire from the Papacy before his death – a rare festivity in the Roman Catholic faith. Francisco is proving to be an excellent leader of the millions of Catholics on this planet. It is true that he is more popular with poor, ordinary people than the richer among us, following the fashion set first by John Paul II and staunchly sustained by the wise old pianist priest who was and still is a musician of world class. In fact, and this has nothing to do with the article you are now reading, I often find it sad that Ratzinger chose the Papacy instead of the concert hall. Continue reading

An infamous trio, Darnley, Bothwell & Rizzio

These three sixteenth century men had a lot in common, though the first had royal blood, the second noble blood, and the third was a foreign commoner. What they had in common was Mary Queen of Scots. All four would have spectacular or gruesome ends.

The explosive end of Lord Darnley / groteskology.blogspot

The explosive end of Lord Darnley / groteskology.blogspot

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley was an Anglo-Scottish aristocrat who married as her second husband the ill-fated Mary Stuart, whose first husband had been a king of France.This matrimony produced a son, the future King James VI of Scotland and First of England – founder therefore of the reigning Stuart dynasty. Darnley was tall, athletic and handsome, but weak in mind and spirit. At his marriage to Mary he was Earl of Ross and Duke of Albany, both ancient Scots titles dotted about in the works of Shakespeare. This young man quite liked his very tall wife (Mary was six feet high in her silk stockings), but then he liked all women equally, and spent much time in bedchambers other than his wife’s. He was arrogant, debauched and made a present to his wife of a venereal disease. He was, like so many ladychasers, insanely jealous, and it was his jealousy of Mary’s young Italian secretary, David Rizzio, that caused his downfall. Continue reading

What was ‘The March on Rome’?

Mussolini thinking / people.opposingviews.com

Mussolini thinking / people.opposingviews.com

(a) The end of Rome as an empire.

(b) An asssault by angry unelected popes.

(c) An attempt to seize power by the fascists of Mussolini.

Those of our readers who choose letter ‘c’ are right. Musso planned to occupy public buildings in towns in northern and central Italy, after which there would be ‘a march on Rome’ by at least three columns of his squadristi or Blackshirts. He was certainly aware that in 1919 Fiume had been successfully occupied with the use of armed force by Gabriele D’Annunzio and his men. He did not see why he should not follow this example. Continue reading

The Austro-Prussian War (1866)

Otto von Bismarck / en.wikipedia.org

Otto von Bismarck / en.wikipedia.org

Though it has been put into the shadow by the Franco-Prussian War, this was one of the most important conflicts in the 19th century, because it overturned the balance of power, at least in Central Europe. The gains achieved by Prussia made her richer and better-populated than all the other Germanic states combined. It became obvious to interested observers that an eventual unification of Germany, under the leadership of Prussia, was a certain bet for the future. Continue reading

Four Sforzas

Carlo Sforza / en.wikipedia.org

Carlo Sforza / en.wikipedia.org

It would be hard to think what the history of Italy would have been without the Sforza family. We have already studied the Visconti, the Medici, the Este and other great dynastic families; our first subject from this one is Francesco, born 1401 the illegitimate son of one Muzio Attendolo Sforza. Being born a bastard was a commonplace festivity in medieval Europe – as long as the child was recognised by his natural father. History is strewn with such cases. The Beaufort line of dukes in Britain started with an illegitimate child of Edward III’s (q.v.). Many more ducal lineages commenced with recognised bastards of Charles II (q.v.); one exception was the unrecognised bastard of King Alfonso XIII of Spain, Leandro Alfonso, fruit of the king’s relation with the actress Carmen Moragas.

Francesco Sforza was a soldier and swordsman who worked violently and bloodily for money. At one time or another he fought against the Pope, Venice, Florence and finally Milan, but he became Duke of Milan in 1450 and stayed duke for sixteen years. This apparently clever upward mobility was a result of the usual method – he married the previous Duke of Milan’s daughter. Naturally he ascended to the dukedom when the lass’s father died. Continue reading

Fascism – a dreaded word

Fasci or Fasces / britannica.com

Fasci or Fasces / britannica.com

Fasci, literally meaning ‘bundles’, and perhaps descending from the fasci of thin staves of wood carried by Roman officials as symbol of authority, were established in Sicilian towns and villages in the late nineteenth century. They were mutually – supporting societies of peasants and workers; the basic trade union in fact. Their leaders varied in type and political opinion, but were usually anarchists, though many were teachers, local landowners and gentry, members of ancient and respected families. Not a few among them were local mafiosi. Continue reading

Some Alexander Popes

Alexander VI / listverse.com

Alexander VI / listverse.com

These four Italians and one Spaniard made a contribution to the history of the Catholic Church, positive or negative according to your view and that of historians. Each chose the name, Alexander, by which they wished to be addressed, or remembered by. The original family name of one of them has stayed firmly etched in our mind, not necessarily for the best of reasons.

Alexander II (Anselm of Lucca) has an unknown birth date, but we do know he became pope in 1061 and died fourteen years later. He was Bishop of Lucca from 1057 and was a known reformer, campaigning strongly against corruption and immorality in the Church. He was one of the founders of the Paterine Party, whose principal aim was the stop priests marrying. One thousand years later they are still not marrying, though originally Protestant clergy who convert to Catholicism while married are permitted by the Vatican to keep their wives and children if they have any. This may seem unfair to priests baptised in the Catholic faith, but at least it provides employment for Anglican vicars unhappy within the Church of England and anxious to convert. Continue reading

Some Urban Popes

Maffeo Barberini painted by Caravaggio / en.wikipedia.org

Maffeo Barberini painted by Caravaggio / en.wikipedia.org

Three French popes and one Italian, dating from the eleventh century, the thirteenth, fourteenth and finally the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, form up for inspection in this post:

Urban II (Jacques Pantaléon) was born in Troyes around 1200. He was Bishop of Verdun by 1253 and Patriarch of Jerusalem in 1255. His most important contribution to the Roman Catholic church, and onwards into world history, is that he introduced the Feast of Corpus Christi for the first time in the year 1264.

Urban V ( Guillaume de Grimoard) was born circa 1310 in Grisac, and became Abbot of Saint Victor in Marseilles. He was elected pope in the conclave at Avignon in 1362, at the comparatively young age of around 52. He was not satisfied with the splitting of the Papacy and made determined efforts to get it back to Rome. He succeeded in this but briefly, though he had to return to Avignon only a short time before his death in 1370.

Urban VIII (Maffeo Barberini) was Italian born in 1568. Elected pope in 1623, his significance in church history is that he was a stalwart support to Cardinal Richelieu (q.v.) in his conflicts with the Hapsburgs during the Thirty Years War (q.v.). When France formed an alliance with Protestant Sweden in 1631 he turned a blind eye, preferring to carry out much ecclesiastical reform, including a revision of the breviary. Not pleased with many hymns, he re-wrote them himself. He beamed on all missionary work, and condemned the works of Galileo as heresy, and Jansenism as heretical. Here was an odd thing, because it is known that he enjoyed a long-standing friendship with Galileo. Jansenism by the way was a heretical movement within the Church starting in both France and Holland in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It followed the works of one Cornelius Jansen, though these were based on the theories of Saint Augustine, promoting an ascetic way of life, and denouncing luxury. The Barberini family was disliked to the point of hatred by another pope, Innocent X (q.v.).