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Julius II : The Warrior Pope - Christine Shaw

Julius II

The Warrior Pope


Published: 21st April 1997
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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.

"The 'Papa terribile' - notorious, Giucciardini wrote, for 'hisvery difficult nature', and 'for the magnificence with which healways outshone all others' - is at last the subject of a seriousstudy in English, thanks to Christine Shaw's Julius II: TheWarrior Pope (Oxford: Blackwell; pp. 360. #35). Guiliano dellaRovere (cardinal, 1471-1503; pope, 1503-13) was for over fortyyears a dominant figure, and it must have taken a touch of his ownintrepidity, much admired by Machiavelli, to have undertaken thisbiography. Shaw has done it mainly by means of chronologicalpolitical narrative; she offers much new information derived fromdiplomatic correspondence and many revisions and reassessments. Onthe whole, she presents her hero as a rather greyer figure than thedissolute, hyper-aggressive egomaniac portrayed satirically byErasmus and other contemporaries. In her view, Giuliano'soverriding concern was for his and his uncle Pope Sixtus IV'supstart Ligurian family, in particular the career as a secularprince of his brother Giovanni della Rovere, Prefect of Rome, whoseson Francesco Maria became by good fortune Duke of Urbino. Thediscussion of Giuliano's political intrigues and movements as acardinal is probably the most original part of the book, coveringthe period with which the author is most familiar; she demonstratesthat much of his energy was spent opposing his secular cousin, Girolamo Riario, who often outwitted him (and Shaw here distancesherself from historians who have justified nepotism as a method ofmaking papal government work, by pointing out that relatives didnot necessarily co-operate). At all events, dynastic interestdictated the support received by rebellious Neapolitan barons andambitious 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 letterscited are those from the Sforza ambassador at Turin in 1496, whichreveal Giuliano's costly attempts to arrange a new French invasionwhich would have helped Giovanni's interests and also liberatedtheir native Liguria from Milanese control. Later, the claims ofthe papal lordship combined with della Rovere interest to shapeJulius's priorities or enmities, first anti-Venetian, thenanti-French and anti-'barbarian'. But Giuliano-Julius neverintended 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 thesubmissions of Bologna in 1506) such Caesaro-papism was just thestock-in-trade of artists and humanists; it did not emanate fromthe Pope himself. Indeed, despite the book's subtitle, and Shaw'ssuggestion (unproven) that Julius would have liked to be a militaryman by profession rather than a priest in the Franciscan Order, hedoes not even emerge as a notable warrior: unsuccessful as amilitary legate in the 1470s, he never appointed a reallyfirst-rate commander, and, paradoxically he owed most of hisvictories to French armies or finally, in 1512, Spaniards andSwiss. It is a pity that the opportunity is missed to explore 'thevery difficult nature' and the enigmatic intellect of Julius. Shawonce describes him as 'a figure of fun' (p. 50) and in conclusion, lamely, as 'the type of the plain-spoken, big-hearted man ofaction'. She acknowledges that he drank a lot, and that he wassexually active in his younger years (little seems to be known, unfortunately, about his daughter), but is dismissive about hissupposed homosexuality: Alidosi was a favourite principally becausehe knew how to manage and humour his patron. If there is not muchpresence in the book of Julius's physicality, his foul-mouthednessand violence, there is little investigation in depth, either, ofhis reading and his urge to commission works of great art.Nevertheless, there are some fascinating and unexpected intimationsof a gentler side, contrasting with the terribilita; his love ofgazing at the sea and at passing ships when at Ostia, his readinessto fish in Lake Trasimeno or to quote from Virgil when on militaryexpedition to Perugia and Bologna in 1506. The book includestwenty-eight black and white illustrations, succinct end-notes, bibliography and index; unfortunately it lacks a genealogical tableof the della Rovere-Riario clan. EHR

"Giuliano della Rovere became a cardinal in 1474 through thenepotism of his uncle, Pope Sixtus IV. However, as a result of hisrather mediocre accomplishments as papal legate and the rivalry ofother papal nipoti, the figure pope never enjoyed a commandingposition of influence during his uncle's pontificate. His influenceincreased under the next pope, Innocent VIII, but then plummetedduring the pontificate of the Borgia pope, Alexander VI, which hespent for the most part as an exile in France. After the shortpontificate of Pius III, Giuliano became pope in 1503, taking thename Julius II. As pope his primary concern was the restoration ofthe temporal power of the papacy in Italy. A successful restorationmeant confrontation, first with the ruling families ofsemi-independent papal cities, and secondly with Venice, whichcontinued to nibble at papal possessions in the Marche and theRomangna. As a result, Julius became the warrior pope. Heconfronted the Baglioni of Perugia and the Bentivoglio of Bolognain 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 ofdriving the 'barbarians' from Italy. Following his death in 1513Giucciardini condemned him for his willingness to spill Christianblood to increase the temporal power of the papacy; however, theworld is probably willing to forgive the patron of Bramante, Raphael, and Michaelangelo. Christine Shaw states that because ofhis patronage of the arts, his attention to Italian politics, andhis neglect of spiritual matters, Julius II was the epitome of aRenaissance Pope. Shaw's biography is sympathetic towards Julius IIwithout being an apology for him. It is competent and readable, butat times the detail is overwhelming. It is not a book for thenovice. She plunges into the intricacies of papal politics anddiplomacy and does not surface until mid-way through the book withtwo excellent chapters on the papal court and Julius's patronage ofthe arts. After this breather, she plunges on anew until his death, almost ending in mid-sentence. A bare two pages of assessment serveas a conclusion. Her greatest contribution is her archival workthat reveals many aspects of Giuliano della Rovere's career as acardinal. This part of the biography comprises 120 pages of thetext, while the pontificate receives less than 200 pages. The dustjacket states that Shaw's biography of Julius is the first 'in anylanguage to be based on an extensive use of archival sources'. Thisis misleading, for volume VI of Ludwig Pastor's 40-volume Historyof the Popes devotes 400 pages to the pontificate of Julius II, including 150 on his patronage of the arts. Shaw's biography is avaluable contribution, but it is not yet time to discard atreasured set of Pastor. Parergon

"Christine Shaw's biography is the first to be based onextensive use of archival sources, including the reports of thosewho negotiated with him or closely observed him. The early part ofthe book devotes much space to detailed (and sometimes tedious)narratives of military campaigns and political alliances. But thesewere at the heart of Julius' enterprise; he was convinced that hewould strengthen and serve the church best by securing theindependence of the papal states. He devoted his life to this causeand even as pope conducted some of his campaigns in person. It wasthe sight of Pope Julius entering Bologna at the head of his troopsthat prompted Erasmus' bitter satire Julius Exclusus. Heportrayed Julius arriving at the gates of heaven with his troopsand being denied entry by his predecessor, St Peter. Shaw has someinteresting sections on Julius as patron of the arts, commissioningsome of the most famous works of the Renaissance: the SistineChapel painted by a reluctant Michelangelo, the Vatican Stanze byRaphael, and the new St Peter's by Bramante. But patronage costsmoney, and money had to be raised by a network of benefices andsale of offices. The young Martin Luther visited Rome in 1510, andsaw for himself the gap between the political/artistic and thepastoral priorities of the Roman Curia. The fifth Lateran Council(1512) called for reform, but Julius failed to give it effectivebacking. He died the following year, ill and lonely, deserted byhis courtiers and time-servers. Shaw succeeds in presenting aportrait of 'a plain spoken, short tempered, vigorous, impetuous, man of action', but a prince-warrior rather than the religiousleader of a Christendom in need of renewal." HistoryToday

" Distinguished by enthusiasm, restraint, painstaking researchand lucid exposition of the labyrinthine politics of RenaissanceRome and Italy, a delight to read." Times LiterarySupplement

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


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.


ISBN: 9780631202820
ISBN-10: 063120282X
Series: Warrior Pope
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 388
Published: 21st April 1997
Country of Publication: GB
Dimensions (cm): 22.89 x 14.99  x 2.21
Weight (kg): 0.53
Edition Number: 1