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Pope Julius II

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Born on 5 December, 1443, at Albissola near Savona; crowned on 28 November, 1503; died at Rome, in the night of 20-21 February, 1513. He was born of a probably noble but impoverished family, his father being Raffaelo della Rovere and his mother Theodora Manerola, a lady of Greek extraction. He followed his uncle Francesco della Rovere into the Franciscan Order, and was educated under his tutelage at Perugia. With the elevation of his uncle to the papacy as Sixtus IV on 9 August, 1471, begins the public career of Giuliano. On 15 December, 1471, he was created Cardinal Priest of San Pietro in Vincoli, and thereafter literally overwhelmed with benefices, although during the lifetime of Sixtus IV he never took a prominent part in ecclesiastical diplomacy. He held the episcopal sees of Carpentras (1471-2), Lausanne (1472-6), Catania (1473-4), Coutances (1476-7), Mende (1478-83), Viviers (1477-9), Sabina (1479-83), Bologna (1483-1502), Ostia (1483-1503), Lodève (1488-9), Savona (1499-1502), Vercelli (1502-3), and the Archiepiscopal See of Avignon (1474-1503). In addition he was commendatory Abbot of Nonantola, Grottaferrata, and Gorze, and drew the revenues of various other ecclesiastical benefices. These large incomes, however, he did not spend in vain pomp and dissipation, as was the custom of many ecclesiastics of those times. Giuliano was a patron of the fine arts, and spent most of his superfluous money in the erection of magnificent palaces and fortresses. Still his early private life was far from stainless, as is sufficiently testified by the fact that before he became pope he was the father of three daughters, the best known of whom, Felice, he gave in marriage to Giovanni Giordano Orsini in 1506.

In June, 1474, Giuliano was sent at the head of an army to restore the papal authority in Umbria. He succeeded in reducing Todi and Spoleto, but for the subjugation of Città di Castello he needed the assistance of Duke Federigo of Urbino. In February, 1476, he was sent as legate to France to regulate the affairs of his Archdiocese of Avignon, and probably to oppose the council which Louis XI intended to convene at Lyons. In 1480 he was sent as legate to the Netherlands and France to accomplish three things, viz. to settle the quarrel concerning the Burgundian inheritance between Louis XI and Maximilian of Austria, to obtain the help of France against the Turks, and to effect the liberation of Cardinal Balue whom Louis XI had held in strict custody since 1469 on account of treasonable acts. After successfully completing his mission he returned to Rome in the beginning of 1482, accompanied by the liberated Cardinal Balue. At that time a war was just breaking out between the pope and Venice on one side and Ferrara on the other. Giuliano made various attempts to restore peace, and was probably instrumental in the dissolution of the Veneto-Papal alliance on 12 December, 1482. He also protected the Colonna family against the cruel persecutions of Cardinal Girolamo Riario in 1484. After the death of Sixtus IV on 12 August, 1484, Giuliano played a disreputable role in the election of Innocent VIII. Seeing that his own chances for the papacy were extremely meagre, he turned all his efforts to securing the election of a pope who was likely to be a puppet in his hands. Such a person he saw in the weak and irresolute Cardinal Cibo, who owed his cardinalate to Giuliano. To effect the election of his candidate he did not scruple to resort to bribery. Cibo ascended the papal throne as Innocent VIII on 29 August, 1484, and was greatly influenced during the eight years of his pontificate by the strong and energetic Giuliano. The war that broke out between the pope and King Ferrante of Naples must be attributed chiefly to Giuliano, and it was also due to him that it did not come to an earlier conclusion.

After the death of Innocent VIII on 25 July, 1492, Giuliano again aspired to the papacy, but his great influence during Innocent's pontificate and his pronounced sympathy for France had made him hateful to the cardinals. He was shrewd enough to understand the situation. He was, however, loath to see the tiara go to Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, not because the latter was an unworthy candidate, but on account of his personal aversion towards the Borgia. Despite Giuliano's efforts to the contrary, Rodrigo Borgia was the successful candidate, and ascended the papal throne as Alexander VI on 11 August, 1492. Fearing for his safety in Rome, Giuliano withdrew to his strongly fortified castle at Ostia towards the end of 1492. An apparent reconciliation between Alexander VI and Giuliano was effected in July, 1493, but Giuliano did not trust in the sincerity of the pope and fled by way of Genoa to the court of Charles VIII of France, whom he induced to make an expedition into Italy with the purpose of dethroning Alexander VI. Giuliano accompanied the king on his expedition, but by liberal concessions Alexander gained Charles to his side. In the treaty effected between them, it was stipulated that Giuliano should remain in possession of all his dignities and benefices, and should be guaranteed secure and undisturbed residence in Rome. Giuliano, however, still feared the secret machinations of Alexander and returned to France. Another apparent reconciliation took place in June, 1497, when Giuliano assisted the pope in the matrimonial affairs of Cesare Borgia. But Giuliano's distrust of Alexander remained. He evaded Rome, spending most of his time in France and Northern Italy.

After the death of Alexander on 18 August, 1503, he returned to Rome on 3 September to take part in the election of the new pope. He was again a strong candidate for the papacy, but his great ambition was not yet to be realized. The sick and aged Francesco Piccolomini ascended the papal throne as Pius III, but died on 18 October, 1503, after a reign of only twenty-six days. Giuliano's chance of being elected was now better than at any previous election. To ensure his success he made great promises to the cardinals, and did not hesitate to employ bribery. The conclave began on 31 October, and after a few hours the cardinals united their votes on Giuliano, who as pope took the name of Julius II. It was the shortest conclave in the history of the papacy. In the capitulation preceding the election, the following terms were secured by the cardinals: (1) the continuation of the war against the Turks; (2) the restoration of ecclesiastical discipline and the convocation of a general council for that purpose within two years; (3) that no war was to be undertaken with another nation without the consent of two-thirds of the cardinals, who were to be consulted on all important matters, especially concerning the creation of new members for the Sacred College; (4) that the pope with two-thirds of the cardinals were to determine upon the place of the next general council. Such an unlawful restriction of papal rights no pope could tolerate, much less the impatient, irascible, ambitious, and warlike Julius II, whose fearless and awe-inspiring presence gained for him the epithet of pontefice terribile. The chief task of his pontificate he saw in the firm establishment and the extension of the temporal power. For the accomplishment of this task no pope was ever better suited than Julius, whom nature and circumstances had hewn out for a soldier.

Venice was the first to feel the strong hand of Julius II. Under pretence of humiliating Cesare Borgia, whom Alexander VI had made Duke of the Romagna, the Venetians had reduced various places in the Romagna under their own authority. The Romagna was ecclesiastical territory, and every one of its cities added to the Venetian republic was lost to the papacy. Julius, therefore, ordered Cesare Borgia to surrender the fortified places of the Romagna into his own hands. Cesare Borgia refused and was arrested by the pope's order. Venice, however, stubbornly refused to give back the cities which it had previously taken. A temporary settlement was reached in March, 1505, when Venice restored most of its conquests in the Romagna. Meanwhile trouble was brewing at Perugia and Bologna, two cities that belonged to the Papal States. At Perugia the Baglioni and at Bologna the Bentivogli were acting as independent despots. The warlike Julius II personally directed the campaign against both, setting out at the head of his army on 26 August, 1506. Perugia surrendered without any bloodshed on 13 September, and the pope proceeded towards Bologna. On 7 October he issued a Bull deposing and excommunicating Giovanni Bentivoglio and placing the city under interdict. Bentivoglio fled, and Julius II entered Bologna triumphantly on 10 November. He did not leave the city until 22 February, 1507, arriving again at Rome on 27 March.

The Venetians meanwhile continued to hold Rimini and Faenza, two important places in the Romagna: they moreover encroached upon the papal rights by filling the vacant episcopal sees in their territory independently of the pope, and they subjected the clergy to the secular tribunal and in many other ways disrespected the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Julius II. Unable to cope alone with the powerful Republic of Venice, he reluctantly joined the League of Cambrai on 23 March, 1509. This League had been formed by Emperor Maximilian I and Louis XII of France chiefly with the purpose of forcing Venice to restore its recent continental conquests to their original owners. On 27 April, 1509, Julius II placed Venice under interdict and dispatched his troops into the Romagna. Venice was too weak to contend against the combined forces of the League, and suffered a complete defeat at the battle of Agnadello on 14 May, 1509. The Venetians were now ready to enter negotiations with Julius II, who withdrew from the League and freed the Venetians from the ban on 24 February, 1510, after they agreed upon the following terms. (1) to restore the disputed towns in the Romagna; (2) to renounce their claims to fill vacant benefices; (3) to acknowledge the ecclesiastical tribunal for ecclesiastics and exempt them from taxes; (4) to revoke all treaties made with papal cities; (5) to permit papal subjects free navigation on the Adriatic.

Julius II was now again supreme temporal master over the entire Pontifical States, but his national pride extended beyond the Patrimony of St. Peter. His ambition was to free the whole of Italy from its subjection to foreign powers, and especially to deliver it from the galling yoke of France. His efforts to gain the assistance of Emperor Maximilian, Henry VIII of England, and Ferdinand of Spain, proved futile for the moment, but the Swiss and the Venetians were ready to take the field against the French. Julius II inaugurated the hostilities by deposing and excommunicating his vassal, Duke Alfonso of Ferrara, who supported France. Louis XII retaliated by convoking a synod of French bishops at Tours in September, 1510, where it was decreed that the pope had no right to make war upon a foreign prince, and, in case he should undertake such a war, the foreign prince had the right to invade the Ecclesiastical States and to withdraw his subjects from their obedience to the pope. The synod also threatened the pope with a general council. Taking no notice of this synod, Julius again assumed personal command of his army and set out for Northern Italy. At Bologna he fell severely sick, and would probably have been captured by the French had it not been for the timely appearance of the Venetians. He had scarcely recovered, when, braving the inclemency of the weather, he marched against Mirandola which he took on 20 January, 1511. On 23 May, 1511, the French made a descent upon Bologna which Julius II had left nine days previously, drove out the papal troops and reinstated the Bentivogli.

Some of the cardinals were displeased with the pope's anti-French policy, and five of them went so far as to convoke a schismatic council at Pisa on 1 September. They were supported in their schism by the King of France and for some time also by Emperor Maximilian. The pope now looked for aid to Spain, Venice, and England, but before completing negotiations with these powers he fell dangerously sick. From 25 to 27 August, 1511, his life was despaired of. It was during this sickness of Julius II that Emperor Maximilian conceived the fantastic plan of uniting the tiara with the imperial crown on his own head (see Schulte, "Kaiser Maximilian als Kandidat für den papstlichen Stuhl", Leipzig, 1906; and Naegle, "Hat Kaiser Maximilian I in Jahre 1507 Papst werden wollen" in "Historisches Jahrbuch", XXVIII, Munich, 1907, pp. 44-60, 278-305). But Julius II recovered on 28 August, and on 4 October the so-called Holy League was formed for the purpose of delivering Italy from French rule. In the beginning the League included only the pope, the Venetians, and Spain, but England joined it on 17 November, and was soon followed by the emperor and by Switzerland. Under the leadership of the brilliant Gaston de Foix the French were at first successful, but after his death they had to yield to the superior forces of the League, and, being defeated in the bloody battle of Ravenna on 11 April, 1512, they were driven beyond the Alps. Bologna again submitted to Julius II and the cities of Parma, Reggio, and Piacenza were added to the Ecclesiastical States.

Julius II was chiefly a soldier, and the fame attached to his name is greatly due to his re-establishment of the Pontifical States and the deliverance of Italy from its subjection to France. Still he did not forget his duties as the spiritual head of the Church. He was free from nepotism; heard Mass almost daily and often celebrated it himself; issued a strict Bull against simony at papal elections and another against duels; erected dioceses in the recently discovered American colonies of Haiti (Espanola), San Domingo, and Porto Rico; condemned the heresy of Piero de Lucca concerning the Incarnation on 7 September, 1511; made various ordinances for monastic reforms; instituted the still existing Capella Julia, a school for ecclesiastical chant which was to serve as a feeder for the Capella Palatina; and finally convoked the Fifth Lateran Council to eradicate abuses from the Church and especially from the Roman Curia, and to frustrate the designs of the schismatic cardinals who had convened their unsuccessful council first at Pisa, then at Milan (see LATERAN COUNCILS). Julius II has also gained an enviable reputation as a patron of arts. Bramante, Raphael, and Michelangelo gave to the world some of their greatest masterpieces while in his service. He laid the cornerstone of the gigantic Basilica of St. Peter on 18 April, 1506, and conceived the idea of uniting the Vatican with the Belvedere, engaging Bramante to accomplish the project. The famous frescoes of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel and of Raphael in the Stanze, the Court of St. Damasus with its loggias, the Via Giulia and Via della Lungara, the colossal statue of Moses which graces the mausoleum of Julius II in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli, and many other magnificent works in and out of Rome are lasting witnesses of his great love of art.


PASTOR, Gesch. der Papste seit dem Ausgang des Mittelalters (3rd ed., Freiburg, 1904), 563-871, tr. ANTROBUS, The History of the Popes from the close of the Middle Ages, VI (St. Louis, 1898), 208-607; CREIGHTON, History of the Papacy during the Period of the Reformation, IV (London, 1887), 54-176; BROSCH, Papst Julius Il und die Grounding des Kirchenstaates (Gotha, 1878); DUSMENIL, Histoire de Jules II, sa vie et son pontificat (Paris, 1873) KLACZKO, Rome et la Renaissance, Essais et Esquisees, Jules II (2nd ed., Paris, 1902); GEBHART, Jules II (Paris, 1904); HEFELE, Conciliengesch., VIII (Freiburg, 1887), 395-588); LOUGHLIN, Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere in American Catholic Quarterly Review, XXV (Philadelphia, 1900), 138-47, treats only of his cardinalate up to 1492; WICKHOFF, Die B ibliothek Jul ius' II in Jahrbuch der preussischen Kunstsammlungen, XIV (Berlin, 1893), 49-65; PARIS DE GRASSIS, Diarium, ed. FRATI, Le due spedizioni militari di Giulio II tratte dal Diario di Paris de Grassis Bolognese con documenti (Bologna, 1886), and DÖLLINGER, Beiträge zur politischen, kirchlichen und Kultur-Geschichte der secks letzten Jahrhunderte, III (Ratisbon and Vienna, 1882), 363 sq.

About this page

APA citation. Ott, M. (1910). Pope Julius II. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Ott, Michael. "Pope Julius II." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Kenneth M. Caldwell.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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