Alexander IV was succeeded by Cardinal Piccolomini who was elected Pope Pius III on 22 September 1503. He named himself Pius III after his uncle Pius II. This selection can be seen as a compromise between factions, Borgia and della Rovere, picking a frail cardinal with long experience in the Curia over the kin of either Sixtus IV or Alexander VI. Pius announced that his would be a pontificate of reform. Pius died 26 days later of an infection from a sore on his leg, or, as some have alleged, of poison administered at the instigation of the governor of Siena. Either way, the College of Cardinals was called again to elect a pope.
Pope Julius II. The 10 years of his pontificate was marked by an active foreign policy, ambitious building projects, and patronage for the arts. He was nephew to Pope Sixtus IV and he hated Pope Alexander and the Borgia family. On the day of his election as Julius II said: “I will not live in the same rooms as the Borgias lived. He desecrated the Holy Church as none before. He usurped the papal power by the devil’s aid, and I forbid under the pain of excommunication anyone to speak or think of Borgia again. His name and memory must be forgotten. It must be crossed out of every document and memorial. His reign must be obliterated. All paintings made of the Borgias or for them must be covered over with black crepe. All the tombs of the Borgias must be opened and their bodies sent back to where they belong – to Spain.” Wow! Julius a also had the Borgias’ apartments in the Vatican sealed. They were not reopened until the 19th century and are now part of the Vatican museum.
To recount the primary accomplishments of Pope Julius is to simply tell an version of the story of Pope Alexander VI – save that Julius only had one illegitimate child, a daughter Felice. He did not involve her in the games of thrones. His energies were spent consolidating control and security for the Papal States, plotting against France, and becoming a patron to the arts.
Pius commissioned the destruction and rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica, plus Michelangelo’s decoration of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. And he began the campaign of selling indulgences to finance it all.
In December 1503, Julius issued a dispensation allowing Henry VIII of England to marry Catherine of Aragon. Catherine had previously been briefly married to Henry’s brother Prince Arthur, who had died, but maintained that she had remained a virgin for the six months of the marriage. Some twenty years later, when Henry was in love with Anne Boleyn, he sought to have his marriage annulled, claiming that the dispensation should never have been issued. The refusal of Pope Clement VII to grant the annulment led to the English Reformation.
On a positive notes, at least where pageantry is concerned, in 1506 Julius founded the Swiss Guard to provide a constant corps of soldiers to protect the Pope
Forced by a promised he made at his election and the threat of the French army allied with powerful Italian forces, Julius convened a Fifth Council of the Lateran to be held at Rome in 1512. It was meant to be a reform council, but in the end, even though continued by Leo X, proved to be nothing of note.
We are now at the threshold of the Protestant Reformation.