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Julius II: The Warrior Pope

Christine Shaw

ISBN: 978-0-631-20282-0 April 1997 Wiley-Blackwell 388 Pages


Christine Shaw's new biography uses a wealth of archival sources to paint a vivid portrait of one of the most remarkable and colourful men ever to sit on the papal throne. Admired and hated, his actions were always controversial and made him one of the most influential figures in Renaissance Italy.

Introduction: The Renaissance Papacy.

1. The Papal Nephew.

2. The Power Beside the Throne.

3. Exile.

4. The Election.

5. The Patrimony of the Church.

6. The Papal Court.

7.'Julius Caesar Pontifex II'?.

8. The League of Cambrai.

9.'Fuori i Barbara'.

10. Il Papa Terribile.

Sources and Select Bibliography.


"The 'Papa terribile' - notorious, Giucciardini wrote, for 'his very difficult nature', and 'for the magnificence with which he always outshone all others' - is at last the subject of a serious study in English, thanks to Christine Shaw's Julius II: The Warrior Pope (Oxford: Blackwell; pp. 360. #35). Guiliano della Rovere (cardinal, 1471-1503; pope, 1503-13) was for over forty years a dominant figure, and it must have taken a touch of his own intrepidity, much admired by Machiavelli, to have undertaken this biography. Shaw has done it mainly by means of chronological political narrative; she offers much new information derived from diplomatic correspondence and many revisions and reassessments. On the whole, she presents her hero as a rather greyer figure than the dissolute, hyper-aggressive egomaniac portrayed satirically by Erasmus and other contemporaries. In her view, Giuliano's overriding concern was for his and his uncle Pope Sixtus IV's upstart Ligurian family, in particular the career as a secular prince of his brother Giovanni della Rovere, Prefect of Rome, whose son Francesco Maria became by good fortune Duke of Urbino. The discussion of Giuliano's political intrigues and movements as a cardinal is probably the most original part of the book, covering the period with which the author is most familiar; she demonstrates that much of his energy was spent opposing his secular cousin, Girolamo Riario, who often outwitted him (and Shaw here distances herself from historians who have justified nepotism as a method of making papal government work, by pointing out that relatives did not necessarily co-operate). At all events, dynastic interest dictated the support received by rebellious Neapolitan barons and ambitious French kings from Giuliano, whom Shaw generally calls 'Vincula', a contemporary nick-name from his title church in Rome, which may confuse modern readers. Among other interesting letters cited are those from the Sforza ambassador at Turin in 1496, which reveal Giuliano's costly attempts to arrange a new French invasion which would have helped Giovanni's interests and also liberated their native Liguria from Milanese control. Later, the claims of the papal lordship combined with della Rovere interest to shape Julius's priorities or enmities, first anti-Venetian, then anti-French and anti-'barbarian'. But Giuliano-Julius never intended any grandiose parallel between himself and Julius Caesar, Shaw argues; no such idea was behind his choice of name as pope, and (apart possibly from the two medals struck after the submissions of Bologna in 1506) such Caesaro-papism was just the stock-in-trade of artists and humanists; it did not emanate from the Pope himself. Indeed, despite the book's subtitle, and Shaw's suggestion (unproven) that Julius would have liked to be a military man by profession rather than a priest in the Franciscan Order, he does not even emerge as a notable warrior: unsuccessful as a military legate in the 1470s, he never appointed a really first-rate commander, and, paradoxically he owed most of his victories to French armies or finally, in 1512, Spaniards and Swiss. It is a pity that the opportunity is missed to explore 'the very difficult nature' and the enigmatic intellect of Julius. Shaw once describes him as 'a figure of fun' (p. 50) and in conclusion, lamely, as 'the type of the plain-spoken, big-hearted man of action'. She acknowledges that he drank a lot, and that he was sexually active in his younger years (little seems to be known, unfortunately, about his daughter), but is dismissive about his supposed homosexuality: Alidosi was a favourite principally because he knew how to manage and humour his patron. If there is not much presence in the book of Julius's physicality, his foul-mouthedness and violence, there is little investigation in depth, either, of his reading and his urge to commission works of great art. Nevertheless, there are some fascinating and unexpected intimations of a gentler side, contrasting with the terribilita; his love of gazing at the sea and at passing ships when at Ostia, his readiness to fish in Lake Trasimeno or to quote from Virgil when on military expedition to Perugia and Bologna in 1506. The book includes twenty-eight black and white illustrations, succinct end-notes, bibliography and index; unfortunately it lacks a genealogical table of the della Rovere-Riario clan. EHR

"Giuliano della Rovere became a cardinal in 1474 through the nepotism of his uncle, Pope Sixtus IV. However, as a result of his rather mediocre accomplishments as papal legate and the rivalry of other papal nipoti, the figure pope never enjoyed a commanding position of influence during his uncle's pontificate. His influence increased under the next pope, Innocent VIII, but then plummeted during the pontificate of the Borgia pope, Alexander VI, which he spent for the most part as an exile in France. After the short pontificate of Pius III, Giuliano became pope in 1503, taking the name Julius II. As pope his primary concern was the restoration of the temporal power of the papacy in Italy. A successful restoration meant confrontation, first with the ruling families of semi-independent papal cities, and secondly with Venice, which continued to nibble at papal possessions in the Marche and the Romangna. As a result, Julius became the warrior pope. He confronted the Baglioni of Perugia and the Bentivoglio of Bologna in 1506 and joined the League of Cambrai against Venice in 1508. After peace with Venice in 1510 he turned against his former ally, France, and joined the Holy League in 1511 for the purpose of driving the 'barbarians' from Italy. Following his death in 1513 Giucciardini condemned him for his willingness to spill Christian blood to increase the temporal power of the papacy; however, the world is probably willing to forgive the patron of Bramante, Raphael, and Michaelangelo. Christine Shaw states that because of his patronage of the arts, his attention to Italian politics, and his neglect of spiritual matters, Julius II was the epitome of a Renaissance Pope. Shaw's biography is sympathetic towards Julius II without being an apology for him. It is competent and readable, but at times the detail is overwhelming. It is not a book for the novice. She plunges into the intricacies of papal politics and diplomacy and does not surface until mid-way through the book with two excellent chapters on the papal court and Julius's patronage of the arts. After this breather, she plunges on anew until his death, almost ending in mid-sentence. A bare two pages of assessment serve as a conclusion. Her greatest contribution is her archival work that reveals many aspects of Giuliano della Rovere's career as a cardinal. This part of the biography comprises 120 pages of the text, while the pontificate receives less than 200 pages. The dust jacket states that Shaw's biography of Julius is the first 'in any language to be based on an extensive use of archival sources'. This is misleading, for volume VI of Ludwig Pastor's 40-volume History of the Popes devotes 400 pages to the pontificate of Julius II, including 150 on his patronage of the arts. Shaw's biography is a valuable contribution, but it is not yet time to discard a treasured set of Pastor. Parergon

"Christine Shaw's biography is the first to be based on extensive use of archival sources, including the reports of those who negotiated with him or closely observed him. The early part of the book devotes much space to detailed (and sometimes tedious) narratives of military campaigns and political alliances. But these were at the heart of Julius' enterprise; he was convinced that he would strengthen and serve the church best by securing the independence of the papal states. He devoted his life to this cause and even as pope conducted some of his campaigns in person. It was the sight of Pope Julius entering Bologna at the head of his troops that prompted Erasmus' bitter satire Julius Exclusus. He portrayed Julius arriving at the gates of heaven with his troops and being denied entry by his predecessor, St Peter. Shaw has some interesting sections on Julius as patron of the arts, commissioning some of the most famous works of the Renaissance: the Sistine Chapel painted by a reluctant Michelangelo, the Vatican Stanze by Raphael, and the new St Peter's by Bramante. But patronage costs money, and money had to be raised by a network of benefices and sale of offices. The young Martin Luther visited Rome in 1510, and saw for himself the gap between the political/artistic and the pastoral priorities of the Roman Curia. The fifth Lateran Council (1512) called for reform, but Julius failed to give it effective backing. He died the following year, ill and lonely, deserted by his courtiers and time-servers. Shaw succeeds in presenting a portrait of 'a plain spoken, short tempered, vigorous, impetuous, man of action', but a prince-warrior rather than the religious leader of a Christendom in need of renewal." History Today

" Distinguished by enthusiasm, restraint, painstaking research and lucid exposition of the labyrinthine politics of Renaissance Rome and Italy, a delight to read." Times Literary Supplement

" The first book-length biography of Pope Julius to make substantial use of archival sources for fruitful research." Renaissance Studies

* First biography of Julius II in English, and the first in any language to be based on archival research.
* Much new material on his early career as a cardinal.
* Illustrated with many accounts of discussions and interviews with Julius.