Clement VII

Clement VII

Clement VII, antipope (1378-94): see Robert of Geneva.
Clement VII, c.1475-1534, pope (1523-34), a Florentine named Giulio de' Medici; successor of Adrian VI. He was the nephew of Lorenzo de' Medici and was therefore first cousin of Pope Leo X. In 1513 he became a cardinal and as archbishop of Florence was noted as a reformer. He was a chief supporter and adviser of Adrian in his attempts to reform the church. As pope, however, he proved to be unaware of the menace of Lutheranism to the church and was certainly not the man for the opening battles of the Reformation. His relations with Holy Roman Emperor Charles V were never very cordial, since Clement allied himself with Francis I of France in the League of Cognac (1526). As a result of his hostility to the emperor, the imperial troops attacked Rome in 1527, sacked the city, and held the pope for some months. Eventually (1529) peace was achieved and Clement crowned Charles emperor. About 1527 the first stage of the struggle of Henry VIII of England against the church began. Clement's behavior in the matter of the divorce and the dispensations for a new marriage has been called vacillating, but when the situation became critical, he put the irreproachable Cardinal Campeggio in charge of the case with Cardinal Wolsey. Later canon lawyers have steadily maintained that, whether he was influenced by Charles V or not, Clement followed the only course possible on legal grounds. He was a patron of Raphael, Michelangelo, and Benvenuto Cellini. He was succeeded by Paul III.

For the antipope (1378–1394) see antipope Clement VII.
Pope Clement VII (May 26, 1478September 25, 1534), born Giulio di Giuliano de' Medici, was a cardinal from 1513 to 1523 and was Pope from 1523 to 1534.

Early life

He was born in Florence one month after his father, Giuliano de' Medici, was assassinated in the Pazzi Conspiracy. Although his parents had not had a formal marriage, a canon law loophole allowing for the parents to have been betrothed per sponsalia de presenti meant that Giulio was considered legitimate. He was thus the nephew of Lorenzo the Magnificent, who educated him in his youth.

Giulio was made a Knight of Rhodes and Grand Prior of Capua, and, upon the election of his cousin Giovanni de' Medici to the pontificate as Pope Leo X (1513–21), he soon became a powerful figure in Rome. Upon his cousin's accession to the papacy, Giulio became his principal minister and confidant, especially in the maintenance of the Medici interest at Florence as archbishop of that city. On 23 September 1513, he was made cardinal and he was consecrated on 29 September. He had the credit of being the main director of papal policy during the whole of Leo X's pontificate.


At Leo X's death in 1521, Cardinal Medici was considered especially papabile in the protracted conclave. Although unable to gain the Papacy for himself or his ally Alessandro Farnese (both preferred candidates of Emperor Charles V (1519–58)), he took a leading part in determining the unexpected election of the short-lived Pope Adrian VI (1522–23), with whom he also wielded formidable influence. Following Adrian VI's death on 14 September 1523, Medici finally succeeded in being elected Pope Clement VII in the next conclave (November 19, 1523).

He brought to the Papal throne a high reputation for political ability, and possessed in fact all the accomplishments of a wily diplomat. However, he was considered worldly and indifferent to what went on around him, including the ongoing Protestant reformation.


At his accession, Clement VII sent the Archbishop of Capua, Nikolaus Cardinal von Schönberg, to the Kings of France, Spain and England, in order to bring the war then raging in Europe to a peace. But his attempt failed.

Continental and Medici politics

Francis I of France's conquest of Milan in 1524 prompted the Pope to quit the Imperial-Spanish side and to ally himself with other Italian princes, including the Republic of Venice, and France in the January of 1525. This treaty granted the definitive acquisition of Parma and Piacenza for the Papal States, the rule of Medici over Florence and the free passage of the French troops to Naples. This policy in itself was sound and patriotic, but Clement VII's zeal soon cooled; by his want of foresight and unseasonable economy he laid himself open to an attack from the turbulent Roman barons, which obliged him to invoke the mediation of the Emperor. One month later, however, Francis I was crushed and imprisoned in the Battle of Pavia, and Clement VII veered back to his former engagements with Charles V, signing an alliance with the viceroy of Naples.

But he was to change sides again when Francis I was freed after the Peace of Madrid (January 1526): the Pope entered in the League of Cognac together with France, Venice and Francesco Sforza of Milan. Clement VII issued an invective against Charles V, who in reply defined him a "wolf" instead of a "shepherd", menacing the summoning of a council about the Lutheran question.

Sack of Rome

The Pope's wavering politics also caused the rise of the Imperial party inside the Curia: Pompeo Cardinal Colonna's soldiers pillaged the Vatican City and gained control of the whole of Rome in his name. The humiliated Pope promised therefore to bring the Papal States to the Imperial side again. But soon after, Colonna left the siege and went to Naples, not keeping his promises and dismissing the Cardinal from his charge. From this point on, Clement VII could do nothing but follow the fate of the French party to end.

Soon he found himself alone in Italy too, as the duke of Ferrara had sided with the Imperial army, permitting to the horde of Landsknechts led by Charles III, Duke of Bourbon, and Georg von Frundsberg, to reach Rome without harm. Charles of Bourbon died during the long siege, and his troops, unpaid and left without a guide, felt free to ravage Rome from May 6, 1527. The innumerable series of murders, rapes and vandalism that followed ended forever the splendours of the Renaissance Rome. Clement VII, who had displayed no more resolution in his military than in his political conduct, was shortly afterwards (June 6) obliged to surrender himself together with the castle of Sant'Angelo, where he had taken refuge. He agreed to pay a ransom of 400,000 ducati in exchange for his life; conditions included the cession of Parma, Piacenza, Civitavecchia and Modena to the Holy Roman Empire. (Only the last could be occupied in fact.) At the same time, Venice took advantage of his situation to capture Cervia and Ravenna while Sigismondo Malatesta returned in Rimini.

Clement was kept as a prisoner in Castel Sant'Angelo for six months. After having bought some Imperial officers, he escaped disguised as a peddler, and took shelter in Orvieto, and then in Viterbo. He came back to a depopulated and devastated Rome only in October 1528.

Meanwhile, in Florence, Republican enemies of the Medici took advantage of the chaos to again expel the Pope's family from the city.

In June of the following year the warring parts signed the Peace of Barcelona. The Papal States regained some cities and Charles V agreed to restore the Medici to power in Florence. In 1530, after an eleven-month siege, the Tuscan city capitulated, and Clement VII installed his illegitimate son Alessandro as Duke. Subsequently the Pope followed a policy of subservience to the Emperor, endeavouring on the one hand to induce him to act with severity against the Lutherans in Germany, and on the other to elude his demands for a general council.

English Reformation

One momentous consequence of this dependence on Charles V was the break with the Kingdom of England occasioned by Clement VII's refusal in 1533 to sanction the annulment of Henry VIII of England's (1509–47) marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Clement VII used various stalling tactics and delays. He paid spies to steal Henry VIII's love letters to his fiancée, Anne Boleyn, to prove that they were lovers. However, no evidence could be uncovered and even Clement VII had to grudgingly admit that all impartial evidence from England suggested that Anne Boleyn was strong-willed but morally upright. Clement VII's procrastination on the issue ultimately resulted in the English Parliament passing the Act of Supremacy (1534) that established the independent Church of England.


During his half-year imprisonment in 1527, Clement VII grew a full beard as a sign of mourning for the sack of Rome. This was a violation of Catholic canon law, which required priests to be clean-shaven; however, it had the precedent of the beard which Pope Julius II had worn for nine months in 1511-1512 as a similar sign of mourning for the loss of the Papal city of Bologna.

Unlike Julius II, however, Clement VII kept his beard until his death in 1534. His example in wearing a beard was followed by his successor, Pope Paul III, and indeed by twenty-four popes who followed him, down to Pope Innocent XII, who died in 1700. Clement VII was thus the unintentional originator of a fashion that lasted well over a century.

Death and character

Towards the end of his life Clement VII once more gave indications of a leaning towards a French alliance, which was prevented by his death in September 1534. He was buried in Santa Maria sopra Minerva.

As for the arts, Pope Clement VII is remembered for having ordered, just a few days before his death, Michelangelo's painting of The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel.


See also

External links


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