1902 Encyclopedia > Rome > Mediaeval Roman History - History of the Roman Republic in the Middle Ages - (f) 15th Century and Renaissance. Post-Mediaeval Rome.

(Part 18)



(f) 15th Century and Renaissance. Post-Mediaeval Rome.

Innocent VII. (1404-6) was the next pope. He too was a Neapolitan, and on his election the people again rose in revolt and refused to acknowledge him unless he consented to resign the temporal power. But Ladislaus of Naples hastened to his help, and an agreement was made which, under the cover of apparent concessions, really riveted the people's chains. Rome was recognized as the seat of the tempioral and spiritual sovereignty of the pope, and the pope continued to appoint the senator. The people were to elect seven governors of the city, who were to swear fealty to the pope and carry on the government in conjunction with three other governors chosen by the pontiff or Ladislaus. The stipulations of Boniface IX. concerning ecclesiastical immunities were again confirmed. The barons were forbidden to place more than five lances each at the service of the people, and—which was the real gist of the covenant—the people were henceforth forbidden to make laws or statutes without the permission of the pope. The captain of the people, deprived of his political and judicial functions and reduced to a simple judge, was also to be chosen by the pope. But this treaty, drawn up on the 27th October 1404, was not signed at the time, and many difficulties and disturbances arose when its terms were to be put into effect. The Romans nominated the seven governors, but, without waiting until the pope had chosen three more, placed the state in their hands, and styled them goverrlors of the liberty of the Roman republic. They were in fact banderesi or reformatori under a new name. But the attempt proved inefficacious, for, at the pope's first threat of departure, the Romans made their submission, and the treaty of October was subscribed on the 15th May 1405. Nevertheless, as it only bears the signatures of the " seven governors of the liberty of the Roman republic," the pope would seem to have made some concessions. His position was by no means assured. Ladislaus was known to aspire to absolute dominion in Italy, and, although willing to aid in suppressing the republic, tried to prepare the way for his own designs, and frequently held out a helping hand to the vanquished. On the 6th August fourteen influential citizens of Rome boldly presented themselves at the Vatican, and in a threatening manner called the pope to account for ' giving his whole attention to worldly things, instead of endeavouring to put a stop to the schisms of the church. But, on leaving his presence, they were attacked by Luigi Migliorati, the pope's nephew, and notorious for his violence, who killed eleven of their number, including several heads of the regions and two of the governors. An insurrection ensued, and the pope and his nephew fled to Viterbo. The Colonna tried to profit by these events, and applied to Ladislaus, who, hoping that the moment had come to make himself master of Rome, sent the count of Troia thither with a troop of three thousand horse. But the people, enraged by this treachery, and determined not to fall under the yoke of Naples, awoke for an instant to the memory of their past glories, and bravely repulsed the Colonna and the Neapolitans. And, on the speedy arrival of the Orsini with some of the papal troops, the people voluntarily restored the papal government, and, assembling the parliament, besought the pope to return on his own terms. Accordingly, after first naming Francesco Panciatichi of Pistoia to the senatorship, the pope came back on the 13th March 1406, bringing his whole curia with him, and also the murderer Migliorati, who, triumphing in impunity, became more arrogant than before. Here indeed was a proof that the Romans were no longer worthy of liberty! And now, by means of the Orsini, Innocent had only to reduce the Colonna and other nobles raised to power by Ladislaus; nor was this very difficult, seeing that the king, in his usual fashion, abandoned them to their fate, and, making terms with the pope, was named gonfalonier of the church and again protected her cause.

Innocent, dying in 1406, was succeeded by Gregory XII., a Venetian, who, as we shall presently see, resigned the chair in 1415. On his accession, finding his state firmly established, he seemed to be seriously bent on putting an end to the Great Schism, and for that purpose arranged a meeting with the antipope Benedict XIII. at the congress of Savona in 1408. But Gregory and Benedict only used the congress as a pretext for making war upon each other, and were urged on by Ladislaus, who hoped by weakening both to gain possession of Rome, where, although opposed by the Orsini, he had the support of the Colonna.

Ladislaus Master of Rome

Gregory, who had then fled from Rome, made a momentary attempt to win the popular favour by restoring the government of the banderesi; but Ladislaus marched into Rome in June 1408 and established a senator of his own. Meanwhile the two popes were continuing their shameful struggle, and the council of Pisa (March 1409), in attempting to check it, only succeeded in raising up a third pontiff, first in the person of Alexander V. (1409-10), and then in the turbulent Baldassare Cossa, who assumed the name of John XXIII. The latter began by sending a large contingent to assist Louis of Anjou against Ladislaus. But the enterprise failed, and, seeing himself deserted by all, Pope John next embraced the cause of his foe by naming him gonfalonier of the church. Thereupon Ladislaus concluded a sham peace, and then, seizing Rome, put it to the sack and established his own government there. Thus John, like the other two popes, became a wanderer in Italy. In August 1414 Ladislaus died and was succeeded by the scandalous Queen Joanna II. The Roman people promptly expelled the Neapolitans, and Cardinal Isolani, John's legate, succeeding in rousing a reaction in favour of the church, constituted a government of thirteen " conservators" on the 19th October.

End of the Schism and Election of Martin V.

In November 1414 the council of Constance assembled, and at last ended the schism by deposing all the popes, and incarcerating John XXIII., the most turbulent of the three. On the 11th November 1417 Oddo Colonna was unanimously elected to the papal chair; he was consecrated in the cathedral on the 27th as Pope Martin V., and, being acknowledged by all, hastened without delay to take possession of his see. Meanwhile disorder was at its height in Rome.

Rome in a State of Anarchy

The cardinal legate Isolani governed as he best could, while Castle St Angelo remained in the hands of the Neapolitans, who still had a party in the city. In this divided state of affairs Braccio, a daring captain of adventurers, nicknamed Fortebraccio, was inspired with the idea of making himself master of Rome. Overcoming the feeble resistance opposed to him, he succeeded in this on the 16th June 1416 and assumed the title of " Defensor Urbis." But Joanna of Naples despatched Sforza, an equally valiant captain, against him, and, without offering battle, Fortebraccio withdrew on the 26th August, after having been absolute master of the eternal city for seventy days. Sforza marched in on the 27th, and took possession of the city in the name of Joanna. Martin V. instantly proved himself a good statesman. He confirmed the legate Isolani as his vicar, and Giovanni Savelli as senator. Leaving Constance on the 16th May 1418, he reached Milan on the 12th October, and slowly proceeded on his journey. While in Florence he despatched his brother and nephew to Naples to make alliance with Joanna, and caused her to be crowned on the 28th October 1419 by his legate Morosini. Upon this she promised to give up Rome to the pope. Her general, Sforza, then entered the service of Martin V., and compelled Fortebraccio, who was lingering in a threatening attitude at Perugia, to make peace with the pope. The latter entrusted Fortebraccio with the conduct of the campaign against Bologna, and that city was reduced to submission on the 15th July 1420. The Romans had already yielded to Martin's brother the legate, and now earnestly besought the arrival of their pope. Accordingly he left Florence on the 19th September 1420, and entered the Vatican on the 28th. Rome was in ruins ; nobility and burghers were equally disorganized, the people unable to bear arms and careless of their rights, while the battered walls of the Capitol recorded the fall of two republics.

The Popes of the Renaissance

Martin V. had now to fulfil a far more difficult task than that of taking possession of Rome. Throughout Italy municipal freedom was overthrown, and the Roman republic had ceased to exist. The Middle Ages were ended; the Benaissance was beginning. The universal unity both of church and of empire was dissolved; the empire was now Germanic, and derived its principal strength from direct dominion over a few provinces. Independent and national states were already formed or forming on all sides. The papacy itself had ceased to claim universal supremacy over the world's Governments, and the possession of a temporal state had become essential to its existence. In fact Martin V. was the first of the series of popes who were real sovereigns, and more occupied with politics than religion. Involved in all the foreign intrigues, falsehoods, and treacheries of Italian diplomacy in the 15th century, their internal policy was imbued with all the arts practised by the tyrants of the Benaissance, and nepotism became necessarily the basis of their strength. It was natural that men suddenly elected sovereigns of a new country where they had no ties, and of which they had often no knowledge, should seek to strengthen their position by aggrandizing so-called nephews who were not unfrequently their sons.

The Temporal Kingdom of the Popes Raised on the Ruins of the Republic

Martin V. reduced the remains of the free Roman Government to a mere civil municipality. Following the method of the other despots of Italy, the old republican institutions were allowed to retain their names and forms, their administrative and some of their judicial attributes, while all their political functions were transferred to the new Government. Order was re-established, and justice rigidly observed. Many rebellious places were subdued by the sword, and many leaders of armed bands were hanged. The pope, however, was forced to lean on his kinsmen the Colonna and again raise them to power by grants of vast fiefs both in his own state and the Neapolitan territory. And, after first supporting Joanna II., who had assisted his entry into Rome, he next sided with her adversary, Louis of Anjou, and then with Alphonso of Aragon, the conqueror of both and the constant friend of the pope, who at last felt safe on his throne. Rome now enjoyed order, peace, and security, but had lost all hope of liberty. And when Martin died (20th February 1431) these words were inscribed on his tomb, Temporum suorum felicitas.

A Revolution Expels the Pope

Eugenius IV. (1431-47) leant on the Orsini, and was fiercely opposed by the Colonna, who excited the people against him. Accordingly on the 29th May 1434 the Romans rose in revolt to the old cry of "Popolo e popolo," and again constituted the rule of the seven governors of liberty. The pope fled by boat down the Tiber, and, being pursued with stones and shots, narrowly escaped with his life. On reaching Florence, he turned his energies to the recovery of the state. It was necessary to quell the people; but, first of all, the Colonna and the clan of the prefects of Vico, with their renewed princely power, had to be overthrown. The Orsini were still his friends. Eugenius entrusted the campaign to Patriarch (afterwards Cardinal) Vitelleschi, a worthy successor of Albornoz, and of greater ferocity if less talent. This leader marched his army towards Rome, and, instantly attacking Giovanni, prefect of Vico, captured and beheaded him. The family was now extinguished; and, its possessions reverting to the church, the greater part of them were sold or given to Count Everso d'Anguillara, of the house of Orsini. The prefecture, now little more than an honorary title, was bestowed at will by the popes. Eugenius gave it to Francesco, founder of the powerful line of the Gravina-Orsini. Thus one noble family was raised to greatness while another perished by the sword. Vitelleschi had already begun to persecute the Colonna and the Savelli, and committed terrible slaughter among them. Many castles were demolished, many towns destroyed; and their inhabitants, driven to wander famine-stricken over the Campagna, had to sell themselves as slaves for the sake of bread. Finally the arrogant patriarch marched into Rome, as into a conquered city, at the head of his men, and the Romans crouched at his feet. The pope now began to distrust him, and sent Scarampo, another prelate of the same stamp, to take his place.

Eugenius IV. Resumes Possession

This new commander soon arrived, and, perceiving that Vitelleschi proposed to resist, had him surrounded by his soldiers, who were obliged to use force to compel his surrender. Vitelleschi was carried bleeding to Castle St Angelo, where he soon afterwards died. The pope at last returned to Rome in 1443. and remained there quietly till his death in 1447.

His successor Nicholas V. (1447-55) was a scholar solely devoted to the patronage of literati and artists. During his reign there was a fresh attempt to restore the republic, but it was rather prompted by literary and classical enthusiasm than by any genuine patriotic ardour. Political passions and interests had ceased to exist.

Conspiracy of Stefano Porcari

The conspiracy was headed by Stefano Porcari, a man of the people, who claimed to be descended from Cato. He had once been captain of the people in Florence, and was made podestà of Bologna by Eugenius IV. He was a caricature of Cola di Eienzo, and extravagantly proud of his Latin speeches in honour of ancient republican liberty. The admiration of antiquity was then at its height, and Porcari found many enthusiastic hearers. Directly after the death of Eugenius IV. he made a first and unsuccessful attempt to proclaim the republic. Nevertheless Nicholas V., with the same indulgence for scholars that had prompted him to pardon Valla for denying the temporal power of the papacy and laughing to scorn the pretended donation of Constantine, freely pardoned Porcari and named him podestà of Anagni. He filled this office with credit, but on his return to Rome again began to play the agitator, and was banished to Bologna with a pension from the pope. Nicholas V. had conferred all the state offices upon priests and abbots, and had erected numerous fortresses. Hence there were many malcontents in Rome, in communication with Porcari at Bologna, and ready to join in his plot. Arms were collected, and on the day fixed he presented himself to his fellow-conspirators adorned with rich robes and a gold chain, and harangued them in Latin on the duty of freeing their country from the yoke of the priests. His design was to set fire to the Vatican on the 6th January 1453, the feast of the Epiphany; he and his followers were to seize the pope, the cardinals, and Castle St Angelo. But Nicholas received timely warning ; the conspirators' house was surrounded ; and Porcari himself was seized while trying to escape, confined in Castle St Angelo, and put to death with nine of his companions on the 9th January. Others shortly suffered the same fate.

Under Calixtus III. and Pius II. affairs went on quietly enough, but Paul II. (1464-71) had a somewhat troubled reign. Yet he was a skilled politician. He reordered the finances and the courts of justice, punished crime with severity, was an energetic foe to the Malatesta of Rimini, put an end to the oppression exercised in Rome by the wealthy and arrogant house of Anguillara, and kept the people in good humour with continual festivities. But;—and this was a grave defect at that period—he extended no favour to learning, and, by driving many scholars from the curia to make room for his own kinsmen, brought a storm about his ears. At that time the house of Pomponio Leto was the rendezvous of learned men and the seat of the Roman Academy. Leto was an enthusiast of antiquity ; and, as the members of the Academy all assumed old Latin names, they were suspected of a design to re-establish paganism and the republican government.

Men of Learning Persecuted on Suspicion of Republican Tendencies

It is certain that they all inveighed against the pope ; and, as the latter was no man of half measures, during the carnival of 1468 he suddenly imprisoned twenty Academicians, and even subjected a few of them to torture. Pomponio Leto, although absent in Venice, was also arrested and tried ; but he exculpated himself, craved forgiveness, and was set at liberty. His friends were also released, for the charge of conspiracy proved to be unfounded. Certain members of the Academy, and notably Platina in his Lives of the Popes, afterwards revenged themselves by stigmatizing Paul II. as the persecutor of philosophy and letters. But he was no more a persecutor than a patron of learning ; he was a politician, the author of some useful reforms, and solely intent on the consolidation of his absolute power. Among his reforms may be classed the revision of the Roman statutes in 1469, for the purpose of destroying the substance while preserving the form of the old Roman legislation, and entirely stripping it of all political significance. In fact the pope's will was now absolute, and even in criminal cases he could, trample unhindered on the common law.

There was still a senator of Rome, whose nomination was entirely in the hands of the pope, still three conservators, the heads of the rioni, and an elected council of twenty-six citizens. Now and then also a shadowy semblance of a popular assembly was held to cast dust in the eyes of the public, but even this was not for long. All these officials, together with the judges of the Capitol, retained various attributes of different kinds. They administered justice and gave sentence. There were numerous tribunals all with undefined modes of procedure, so that it was very difficult for the citizens to ascertain in which court justice should be sought. But in last resort there was always the supreme decision of the pope. Thus matters remained to the time of the French Revolution.

For the completion of this system a final blow had to be dealt to the aristocracy, whose power had been increased by nepotism; and it was dealt by bloodshed under the three following popes—Sixtus IV. (1471-84), Innocent VIII. (1484-92), and Alexander VI. (1492-1503)—each of whom was worse than his predecessor. The first, by means of his nephews, continued the slaughter of the Colonna, sending an army against them, devastating their estates at Marino, and beheading the protonotary Lorenzo Colonna. Innocent VIII. was confronted by the power of the Orsini, who so greatly endangered his life by their disturbances in the city that he was only saved by an alliance with Naples. Neither peace nor order could be lastingly established until these arrogant barons were overthrown. This task was accomplished by the worst of the three pontiffs, Alexander VI. All know how the massacre of the Orsini was compassed, almost simultaneously, by the pope in Rome and his equally iniquitous son, Caesar Borgia, at Sinigaglia (1502). This pair dealt the last blow to the Roman aristocracy and the tyrants of Romagna, and thus the temporal dominion of the papacy was finally assured. The republic was now at an end ; it had shrivelled to a civil municipality. Its institutions, deprived of all practical value, lingered on like ghosts of the past, subject from century to century to unimportant changes. The history of Rome is henceforth absorbed in that of the papacy.

Post-Mediaeval Rome

Nevertheless the republic twice attempted to rise from its grave, and on the second occasion gave proofs of heroism worthy of its past. It was first resuscitated in February 1798, by the influence of the French Revolution, and the French constitution of the year III. was rapidly imitated. Rome had again two councils—the tribunate and the senate, with five consuls constituting the executive power. But in the following year, owing to the military reverses of the French, the government of the popes was restored until 1809, when Napoleon I. annexed to his empire the States of the Church. Rome was then governed by a consulta straordinaria—a special commission—with the municipal and provincial institutions of France. In 1814 the papal government was again reinstated, and the old institutions, somewhat modified on the French system, were recalled to life. Pius IX. (1846-77) tried to introduce fresh reforms, and to improve and simplify the old machinery of state; but the advancing tide of the Italian revolution of 1848 drove him from Rome; the republic was once more proclaimed, and had a brief but glorious existence. Its programme was dictated by Joseph Mazzini, who with Saffi and Armellini formed the triumvirate at the head of the Government. United Italy was to be a republic with Rome for her capital. The rhetorical idea of Cola di Rienzo became heroic in 1849. The constituent assembly (9th February 1849) proclaimed the fall of the temporal power of the popes, and the establishment of a
republic which was to be not only of Rome but of all Italy. France, although then herself a republic, assumed the unenviable task of re-establishing the temporal power by force of arms. But the gallant defence of Rome by General Garibaldi covered the republic with glory. The enemy was repulsed, and the army of the Neapolitan king, sent to restore the pope, was also driven off. Then, however, France despatched a fresh and more powerful force ;
Rome was vigorously besieged, and at last compelled to surrender. With June 1849 begins the new series of pontifical laws designed to restore the government of Pius IX., whose reign down to 1870 was that of an absolute sovereign. Then the Italian Government entered Rome (20th September 1870), proclaimed the national constitution (9th October 1870), and the Eternal City became the capital of Italy. Thus the scheme of national unity, the natural outcome of the history of Rome and of Italy, impossible of accomplishment under the rule of the popes, was finally achieved by the monarchy of Savoy, which, as the true representative and personification of Italian interests, has abolished the temporal power of the papacy and made Rome the seat of government of the united country. (P. V.)

The above section of the article ROME was written by: Pasquale Villari, Professor of Modern History, Reale Instituto di Studi Superiori, Florence; President of the Tuscan Section of the Società di Storia Patria; formerly Minister of Public Instruction in Italy; author of L'Insegnamento della Storia, Niccolo Machiavelli e i suoi Tempi, etc.

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