1902 Encyclopedia > Pope Sixtus IV

Pope Sixtus IV
(also known as: Francesco dell Rovere)
(Pope from 1471-84)

SIXTUS IV. (Francesco della Rovere), pope from 1471 to 1484, was born 21st July 1414, near Savona. The statements respecting his parents' situation in life are very conflicting. In consequence of a vow made by his mother he entered the Franciscan order at an early age, and speedily acquired a great reputation for eloquence and learning. After filling several minor offices he became general of his order, and in 1467 was to his own surprise made cardinal by Paul II., at the recommendation, it is asserted, of Cardinal Bessarion. When, upon Paul's death in 1471, the rigour of Bessarion's principles prevented his profiting by the favourable sentiments of influential cardinals, who, nevertheless, expected to be recompensed for their suffrages, Rovere seems to have been found more accommodating. The liberality of his donations after his election, at all events, raised suspicion ; but the friendship of Bessarion has also been enumerated among the causes of the sudden elevation of the most recent member of the Sacred College. He was elected on 9th August 1471, and immediately proceeded to lavish Paul's treasures— partly in laudable preparations against the Turks; partly in embassies, receptions of foreign princes, public improve-ments, and other expenses possibly imprudent, but at least not indecorous; partly, without any excuse, upon his unworthy nephews, Count and Cardinal Riario. The prodigalities of the latter surpassed all measure, and he compromised his uncle much more seriously by his com-plicity in the conspiracy of the Pazzi, aiming at the assassination of the Medici family. Sixtus was cognizant of the plot, but had positively forbidden the shedding of blood, which he must nevertheless have known to be in-evitable. He deserves still more censure for entering into a fruitless and inglorious war with Florence, which ter-minated in 1480, after having kept Italy for two years in confusion. Scarcely was it over when he allowed himself to be involved in yet more troublesome and discreditable contests,—first inciting the Venetians to attack Ferrara, and then, after having been delivered by their general Roberto Malatesta from a Neapolitan invasion, turning round upon them and eventually assailing them on their refusal to desist from the hostilities which he had himself instigated. He relied on the co-operation of Lodovico Sforza, who speedily forsook him; and the scandal was witnessed of the secular princes and cities of Italy agreeing to a peace which the Father of Christendom did his best to thwart, and vexation at which was believed to have hastened his death. He died, at all events, a few days afterwards, 13th August 1484, leaving an unfortunate reputation as the first pope who brought nepotism into politics, and, not content with enriching his relatives by gifts and lucrative offices, made their aggrandizement the principal object of his policy as a secular prince. His private character was nevertheless estimable: he was pious, of blameless morals, hospitable and munificent to a fault, and so exempt from avarice, says his secretary Conti, that he could not endure the sight of money. His faults were those of a monk who had no natural outlet for strong affections except unworthy relatives, and who had been called from a cloister to fill the most con-spicuous position in the world. His secular policy was capricious and spasmodic; he neither maintained the peace of Italy like his predecessor and successor nor carried out a consistent and well-considered scheme of conquest like Alexander VI. He was, notwithstanding, always firm in his resistance to the Turks, and showed magnanimity by aiding his enemy the king of Naples against the common foe of Christendom. The brilliant side of his administration was his munificence as a founder or restorer of useful institutions and a patron of letters and art. He established and richly endowed the first foundling hospital, built and repaired numerous churches, constructed the Sixtine Chapel and the Sixtine Bridge, commissioned paintings on the largest scale, pensioned and rewarded men of learning, and, above all, immortalized himself as the second founder of the Vatican library. It has been said that the stones alone inscribed with his name would serve to erect a considerable edifice. These great works, however, were not accomplished without grievous taxation and questionable methods of raising money; and Sixtus's successor expressed the general condemnation of his government when he declared that he for his part would imitate the example of Paul II. Sixtus was succeeded by Innocent VIII. (R. G.)

The above article was written by: Richard Garnett, LL.D.

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