In the conclave after the death of the Medici Pope Leo X, Leo’s cousin, Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici, was the leading figure. With Spanish and French cardinals in a deadlock, the conclave looked to an absent prelate as a compromise candidate, Adriaan Florensz Boeyens of the Netherlands, a former tutor of the HRE Charles V. On 9 January 1522 he was elected by an almost unanimous vote. He is the only Dutchman to become pope and he was the last non-Italian pope until the Polish John Paul II 455 years later. Adrian had never been to Italy and actually inquired where he could hire lodging for his stay in Rome as pope. He was sure to be dismissed and hated by the people of Rome.
What did he face? I think the Catholic Encyclopedia sums it all nicely writing that his tasks were: “To extirpate inveterate abuses; to reform a court which thrived on corruption, and detested the very name of reform; to hold in leash young and warlike princes, ready to bound at each other’s throats; to stem the rising torrent of revolt in Germany; to save Christendom from the Turks, who from Belgrade now threatened Hungary, and if Rhodes fell would be masters of the Mediterranean– these were herculean labours for one who was in his sixty-third year, had never seen Italy, and was sure to be despised by the Romans as a barbarian.”
In his reaction to the early stages of the Lutheran revolt, Adrian VI did not completely understand the gravity of the situation and allowed intermediaries to demand punishment for Luther even though he believed Rome and Roman Curia were the source of the problems and needed reform. He died after only 9 months in office.
Pope Leo X’s cousin, Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici, got his chance to wear the papal tiara at the unexpected death of Pope Adrian IV only nine months into the papacy. He was the nephew of Lorezno Medici (“the Magnificent”) of Florence and the son of the Medici murdered in the Pazzi Conspiracy.
Clement quickly got himself between the “rock and the hard place” of political intrigue between the Spanish Holy Roman Emperor (HRE), Charles V, and the French King, Francis I. This led to the rise of an party within the Curia and the College of Cardinals that strongly supported HRE Charles V. Meanwhile Pope Clement wavered, but leaned towards support of Francis I of France. But due to the political waverings of the pope, intrigue within the Roman Colonna family, the rise of enmity against the Medici family in general, and ecclesial politics, Rome found itself filled with mercenaries.
When their leader, Charles III, Duke of Bourbon, was killed the unpaid soldiers ravages Rome starting on May 6, 1527. This was known as the “Sack of Rome.” The many incidents of murder, rape, and vandalism that followed ended the splendors of Renaissance Rome forever. Clement VII, who had displayed no more resolution in his military conduct than in his political conduct, was shortly afterwards (6 June) obliged to surrender himself together with the Castel Sant’Angelo, where he had taken refuge. He agreed to pay a ransom of 400,000 ducati in exchange for his life. Clement was kept as a prisoner in Castel Sant’Angelo for another few months. After having bought off 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. He also returned completely dependent upon HRE Charles V.
Meanwhile in England… English King, Henry VIII wanted an heir and had been married to Catherine of Aragon, aunt to HRE Charles V. By the late 1520s, Henry wanted to have his marriage to Catherine annulled. The royal couple had not produced a male heir who survived into adulthood, and Henry wanted a son to secure the Tudor dynasty. Henry claimed that this lack of a male heir was because his marriage was “blighted in the eyes of God”. Catherine had been his brother’s widow, and it was therefore against Biblical teachings for Henry to have married her. Indeed, a special dispensation from Pope Julius II had been needed to allow the wedding in the first place. Henry argued that this had been wrong and that his marriage had never been valid.
In 1527 Henry asked Pope Clement to annul the marriage, but the Pope refused. According to canon law, the Pope cannot annul a marriage on the basis of a canonical impediment previously dispensed. Clement also feared the wrath of Catherine’s nephew, Charles V, whose own troops were, in part, responsible for the episode earlier that year that included the sack of Rome. In the matter of the annulment, no progress seemed possible: the Pope seemed more afraid of Emperor Charles V than of Henry. Many people close to Henry VIII wished simply to ignore the Pope; but in October 1530 a meeting of clergy and lawyers advised that the English Parliament could not empower the Archbishop of Canterbury to act against the Pope’s prohibition.
Ultimately, Henry divorced Catherine and married Anne Boleyn in 1533. The Archbishop of Canterbury had died and Henry persuaded Pope Clement to appoint Father Thomas Cranmer, a friend of the Boleyn family, as his successor as Archbishop of Canterbury. The Pope granted the papal bulls necessary for Cranmer’s promotion to Canterbury, as Henry had personally financed them.
Archbishop Cranmer granted the annulment, blessed the marriage, and Pope Clement responded by excommunicating King Henry, Anne Boleyn, and Archbishop Cranmer. Consequently in England, in the same year, the Act of First Fruits and Tenths transferred the taxes on ecclesiastical income from the Pope to the English Crown. The Peter’s Pence Act outlawed the annual payment by landowners of one penny to the Pope. This act also reiterated that England had “no superior under God, but only your Grace” and that Henry’s “imperial crown” had been diminished by “the unreasonable and uncharitable usurpations and exactions” of the Pope. Ultimately Henry led the English Parliament to pass the Act of Supremacy (1534) that established the independent Church of England and breaking from the Catholic Church.
Such was the March of Folly leading up the Protestant Reformations.
If you would like to review this series on Church History, all the posts can be found here.