Pope Julius II (5 December 1443 – 21 February 1513), born Giuliano della Rovere, was Pope from 1503 to 1513. His reign was marked by an aggressive foreign policy, ambitious building projects, and patronage for the arts.
Giuliano della Rovere was an altar boy of Pope Sixtus IV Francesco della Rovere (1471–84). He was educated among the Franciscans by his uncle, who took him under his special charge and later sent him to a convent in La Pérouse with the purpose of obtaining knowledge of the sciences. However, he does not appear to have joined the order of St. Francis, but rather remained a member of the secular clergy until his elevation to bishop of Carpentras, France, in 1471; very shortly after his uncle succeeded to the papal chair.
He was promoted to cardinal, taking the same title formerly held by his uncle, Cardinal of San Pietro in Vincula. With his uncle as Pope, he obtained great influence, and he held no fewer than eight bishoprics (e.g. Lausanne 1472–1476; Coutances 1476–1478), in addition to the archbishopric of Avignon.
In the capacity of papal legate he was sent to France in 1480, where he remained four years, and acquitted himself with such ability that he soon acquired a paramount influence in the College of Cardinals, an influence which increased rather than diminished during the pontificate of Pope Innocent VIII.
However, a rivalry had gradually grown up between him and Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, and on the death of Innocent VIII in 1492 Borgia was elected Pope Alexander VI (1492–1503). Della Rovere, jealous and angry, accused Borgia of being elected over him by means of simony and a secret agreement with Ascanio Sforza. Della Rovere at once determined to take refuge from Borgia's wrath at Ostia, and in a few months afterwards went to Paris, where he incited Charles VIII of France (1483–98) to undertake the conquest of Naples. Accompanying the young King on his campaign, he entered Rome along with him, and endeavoured to instigate the convocation of a council to inquire into the conduct of the Pope with a view to his deposition; but Alexander VI, having gained a friend in Charles VIII's minister Briçonnet by offering him the position of cardinal, succeeded in defeating the machinations of his enemy.
Alexander VI died in 1503, most likely due to malaria, though his death is often attributed to poison. Alexander VI's son, Cesare also fell ill at the same time. Della Rovere did not support the candidature of Cardinal Piccolomini of Siena, who was (on 8 October 1503) consecrated under the name of Pope Pius III by Della Rovere, but who died 10 days afterwards. Della Rovere then succeeded by dexterous diplomacy in tricking the weakened Cesare Borgia into supporting him. He was elected as Pope Julius II to the papal dignity by the near-unanimous vote of the cardinals (indeed, the only 3 votes he did not receive were those of Georges D'Amboise, supposedly his main opponent and the favourite of the French monarchy, and the votes of Cardinals Carafa and Casanova) almost certainly by means of bribery. His election only took a few hours.
Giuliano took the name of his fourth century predecessor, Julius I (337–352). From the beginning, Julius II set himself with a courage and determination rarely equalled, to rid himself of the various powers under which his temporal authority was almost overwhelmed. By a series of complicated stratagems he first succeeded in rendering it impossible for the Borgia to retain their power over the Papal States. He then used his influence to reconcile the two powerful Roman families of Orsini and Colonna, and, by decrees made in their interest, he also attached to himself the remainder of the Roman nobility.
Being thus secure in Rome and the surrounding country, he next set himself to oust the Republic of Venice from Faenza, Rimini, and the other towns and fortresses of Italy which it occupied after the death of Pope Alexander VI. In 1504, finding it impossible to succeed with the Doge of Venice by remonstrance, he brought about a union of the conflicting interests of France and the Holy Roman Empire (Germany), and sacrificed temporarily to some extent the independence of Italy in order to conclude with them an offensive and defensive alliance against Venice. The combination was, however, at first little more than nominal, and was not immediately effective in compelling the Venetians to deliver up more than a few unimportant places in the Romagna. But, by a brilliant campaign in 1506, Julius II succeeded in freeing Perugia and Bologna from their despots (Giampolo Baglioni and Giovanni II Bentivoglio, respectively), and raised himself to such a height of influence as to render his friendship of prime importance both to the King of France and the Holy Roman Emperor.
1506 (namely 21 January) was also the official founding date of the Swiss Guard, in order to provide a constant corps of soldiers to protect the Pope. Given these political struggles during Julius's papacy, it is no surprise that he was their founder.
In 1508, events so favoured the plans of Julius II that he was able to conclude the League of Cambrai with Louis XII, King of France (1498–1515), Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor (1493–1519), and Ferdinand II, King of Aragon (1479–1516). The League fought against the Republic of Venice during the "War of the Holy League," also known as the "War of the League of Cambrai." Among other things, Julius II wanted the Venetian possession of Romagna; Emperor Maximilian I wanted Friuli and Veneto; Louis XII wanted Cremona; and Ferdinand II wanted the Apulian ports.This war was a conflict in what was collectively known as the "Italian Wars" (1494–1559). In the spring of 1509, the Republic of Venice was placed under an interdict by Julius II. During the course of the "War of the Holy League" and the "Italian Wars" in general, alliances and participants changed dramatically. For example, in 1510 Venice and France switched places. By 1513, Venice had joined France.
The achievements of the League soon outstripped the primary intention of Julius II. By one single battle, the Battle of Agnadello (14 May 1509), the dominion of Venice in Italy was practically lost. But, as neither the King of France nor the Holy Roman Emperor were satisfied with merely effecting the purposes of the Pope, the latter found it necessary to enter into an arrangement with the Venetians to defend himself from those who immediately before had been his allies against them. The Venetians on making humble submission were absolved in the beginning of 1510, and shortly afterwards France was placed under the papal ban. Attempts to bring about a rupture between France and England proved unsuccessful. On the other hand, at a synod convened by Louis XII at Tours in September 1510 the French bishops withdrew from the papal obedience, and resolved, with Maximilian I's cooperation, to seek the deposition of Julius II. In November 1511, a council actually met for this object at Pisa.
Julius II thereupon entered into the "Holy League of 1511." He was now allied with Ferdinand II and the Venetians against France. In short time, both Henry VIII, King of England (1509–47), and Maximilian I also joined the "Holy League of 1511."
Julius II also convened a general council (that afterwards was known as the Fifth Council of the Lateran) to be held at Rome in 1512, which, according to an oath taken on his election, he had bound himself to summon, but which had been delayed, he affirmed, on account of the occupation of Italy by his enemies.
In 1512 the French were driven across the Alps, but it was at the cost of the occupation of Italy by the other powers, and Julius II, though he had securely established the papal authority in the states immediately around Rome, was practically as far as ever from realizing his dream of an independent Italian kingdom when he died of fever in February 1513.
He was succeeded by Pope Leo X (1513–21).
Julius II is usually depicted with a beard, after his appearance in his celebrated portrait by Raphael. In fact, this Pope only wore his beard from 27 June 1511 to March 1512, as a sign of mourning at the loss of the city of Bologna by the Papal States, making him the first Pope since antiquity to wear a beard, a practice otherwise forbidden by canon law since the 13th century. Julius shaved his beard again before his death, and his immediate successors were clean-shaven; however, Pope Clement VII again adopted the beard as a sign of mourning after the 1527 sack of Rome, and thenceforward all Popes were bearded until the death of Pope Innocent XII in 1700.
Julius was not the first pope to have fathered children before being elevated to the Chair of St Peter. His only known daughter to survive to adulthood Felice della Rovere was born in 1483. Pompeo Litta in his 1833 "Famiglie Celebri Italiane" mistakenly ascribed Felice's two daughters, Giulia and Clarice to Julius. Felice's mother was Lucrezia Normanni, the daughter of an old Roman family. Shortly after Felice was born, Julius II arranged for Lucrezia to marry Bernardino de Cupis. Bernardino was maestro di casa of Julius' cousin, Cardinal Girolamo Basso della Rovere.
Despite evidence of a relationship with Lucrezia Normanni which led to the birth of a daughter, rumors also persistently surrounded Julius throughout his pontificate (and subsequently) about his same-sex desires. Casting himself in the role of a warrior, inevitably created enemies for Julius - many of whom accused him of sodomy. Perhaps this was done in order to discredit him or maybe, in doing so, they were attacking a perceived weak point in their adversary's character.
Accounts are in agreement, nevertheless, that contemporaries thought Julius II to be homosexual. The Venetian diarist Giralomo Priuli attested: "He brought along with him his catamites, that is to say, some very handsome young men with whom he was rumoured to have intercourse".
The Venetian historian Marino Sanudo (1466-1536) reported this sonnet written in 1506 when the pope was about to conquer Bologna from the Bentivoglio family: "Go back, holy father, to your St Peter's / and put the brake to your warm desire / because shooting to score and failing / dishonors more than staying still. / By spears made by flesh and glass / Bentivoglio will not be defeated / and you will not succeed / although you always have somebody who pushes you from behind / So be content with / Corso, Trebbiano and Malvasia wine / and with very nice acts of sodomy / you will be less blamed / in company of Squarcia and Curzio in your holy palace." Julius' reputation as a sodomite survived him, and the accusation was used without reservation by Protestants in their polemics against "papism". The French Protestant Phillipe de Mornay (1549–1623) while he accused all Italians of being sodomites, added specifically: "This horror is ascribed to good Julius.". These Protestant libels certainly lack credibility, just as do the Catholic libels which discussed Calvin's purported conviction for sodomy.
Barbara Tuchman, in her book The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam, offers a vivid narrative of Julius II's career. Her overall assessment of Julius is strongly negative, and she attributes to him some of the blame for provoking the Reformation.
In the film The Agony and the Ecstasy about the life of Michelangelo, Julius is vividly portrayed as a soldier-pope by Rex Harrison. The film is a dramatization based upon the book of the same name by Irving Stone.