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Pope Pius VI

PIUS VI. (Giovanni Angelo Braschi), pope from 1775 to 1799, was born at Cesena, December 27, 1717. After taking the degree of doctor of laws in 1735, he went to Ferrara and became the private secretary of Cardinal Ruffo, in whose bishopric of Ostia and Velletri he held the post of uditore until 1753. His skill in the conduct of a mission to the court of Naples won him the esteem of Benedict XIV. who appointed him one of his secretaries and canon of St Peter's. In 1758 he was raised to the prelature and then to the treasurership of the' apostolic chamber by Clement XIII., whose successor, Clement XIV. created him cardinal on the 26th April 1773. On the death of Clement XIV. and after protracted debate. Braschi was elected to the vacant see on the 15th February 1775. His assumption of the title Pius VI. even then recalled to the populace the verse current in the pontificate of Alexander VI. " Semper sub Sextis perdita Roma fuit," though his earlier acts gave fair promise of liberal rule and reform in the defective administration of the papal states. He showed discrimination in his benevolences, reprimanded Potenziani, the governor of Rome, for unsuppressed dis-orders, appointed a council of cardinals to remedy the state of the finances and relieve the pressure of imposts, called to account Nicolo Bischi for the expenditure of moneys intended for the purchase of grain, reduced the annual disbursements by the suppression of several pen-sions, and adopted a system of bounties for the encourage-ment of agriculture. The circumstances of his election, however, involved him in difficulties from the outset of his pontificate. He had received the support of the ministers of the crowns and the anti-Jesuit party upon a tacit understanding that he would continue the action of Clement, by whose brief Dominus ac Redemptor (1773) the dissolution of the Society of Jesus had been pronounced. On the other hand the zelanti, who believed him secretly inclined towards Jesuitism, expected from him some reparation for the alleged wrongs of the previous reign. As the result of these complications, Pius was betrayed into a series of half measures which gave little satisfaction to either party. The case of Ricci and the other Jesuits imprisoned in the castle of St Angelo had scarcely been settled, by formal discountenance but informal relaxations and final release, before the question became an inter-national one. Driven from devout Catholic countries, the members of the condemned society found an asylum under the rule of the heretic Frederick II. and the schismatic Catherine II., who welcomed them upon educational grounds. A long correspondence ensued in which both monarchs maintained their right, Catherine carrying the matter still further and wresting from Pius a series of important concessions. Even in countries acknowledging the papal authority practical protests arose which tended to its limitation. In Austria the social and ecclesiasti cal reforms undertaken by Joseph II. and his minister Kaunitz touched the supremacy of Rome so nearly that in the hope of staying them Pius adopted the exceptional course of visiting Vienna in person. He left Rome on the 27th February 1782, and was magnificently received by the emperor, but his mission was unattended by any marked success. In Naples difficulties necessitating cer-tain concessions in respect of feudal homage were raised by the minister Tannucci, and more serious disagreements arose with Leopold I. and Ricci, bishop of Pistoia and Prato, upon questions of reform in Tuscany. The outbreak of the French Revolution followed, and Pius in vain endeavoured to pfeserve the ecclesiastical discipline and property. The old Gallican Church was suppressed; the pontifical and ecclesiastical possessions in France were confiscated ; and an effigy of himself was burnt by the populace at the Palais Royal. The murder of the Re-publican agent, Hugo Basseville, in the streets of Rome (January 1793) gave new ground of offence; the papal court was charged with complicity by the French Conven-tion ; and Pius threw in his lot with the league against France. In 1796 Napoleon invaded Italy, defeated the papal troops, and occupied Ancona and Loreto. Pius sued for peace, which was granted at Tolentino on the 19th February 1797 ; but on the 28th December of that year, in a riot created by some Italian and French revolution-ists, General Duphot of the French embassy was killed and a new pretext furnished for invasion. General Berthier marched to Rome, entered it unopposed on February 10, 1798, and, proclaiming it a republic, demanded of the pope the renunciation of his temporal authority. Upon his refusal he was taken prisoner, and on February 20th was escorted from the Vatican to Siena, and thence from place to place—in succession to Florence, Parma, Piacenza, Turin, Grenoble, and Valence, where he died six weeks later, on the night of the 28th August 1799. Pius VII. succeeded him.

The name of Pius VI. is associated with many and often un-popular attempts to revive the splendour of Leo X. in the promo-tion of art and public works,—the words " Munificentia Pii VI. P.M.," graven in all parts of the city, giving rise amongst his impoverished subjects to such satire as the insertion of a minute loaf in the hands of Pasrpuin with that inscription beneath it. He is best remembered in connexion with the establishment of the museum of the Vatican, commenced at his suggestion by his predecessor, and with the attempt to drain the Pontine Marshes. In the latter undertaking large sums were expended to such small purpose that the phrase Sono andate alle paludi Pontine " passed into a proverb applied to funds employed in extravagant projects. The chief result was the restoration of the Appian Way by the removal of the additions of Trajan and Theodoric with later accumulations, and the erection of a new viaduct to Terracina upon the original road of Appius Claudius.

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