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On this day in 1534 – Pope Clement VII died

Pope Clement VII was born on 26th May 1478 as Giulio di Giuliano de’Medici. He was born in Florence one month after his father had been assassinated after the Pazzi Conspiracy. Giulio’s parents were not formally married, however, a loophole in canon law allowed for his parents to be betrothed which allowed Giulio to be considered legitimate. Giulio’s mother, Fioretta Gorini, died when he was a young age and was educated by his uncle, Lorenzo de’Medici, ruler of Florence.

In 1513 Giulio’s cousin Giovanni de’Medici was made Pope Leo X and made Giulio a Knight of Rhodes and Grand Prior of Capua and as a result he became one of the most powerful figures in Rome. He became one of Pope Leo X’s principal ministers and confidant.

On 23rd September 1513 Guilio was made Cardinal. Giulio was credited with being the main director of papal policy during his cousin’s reign. Between 1521 and 1522 he was Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Worcester.

Pope Leo X died in 1521 and Guilio was considered to be papabile in conclave however, he was not elected despite being one of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, preferred candidates. Guilio was a leading Cardinal during the papacy of Pope Adrian VI, who reigned less than a year before his unexpected death on 14th September 1523.

With Pope Adrian VI’s death a new conclave convened and Guilio was elected as Pope Clement VII. Upon his election one of Pope Clement’s first tasks was to send the Archbishop of Capua to the Kings of France, Spain and England in the hope of ending the Italian Wars, his attempt at peace failed. Following King Francis I of France’s invasion of Milan in 1524 Clement quit the Imperial-Spanish side of the Italian Wars and allied himself with the Italian princes which included the Republic of Venice and France in January 1525. The treaty was considered patriotic at the time, however, the unstable economy led to attacks from the Roman barons and the intervention of the Holy Roman Emperor. A month later Francis I was defeated and captured following the Battle of Pavia and Clement returned to his previous alliance with Charles V after signing an alliance with the viceroy of Naples.

Clement, however, once again switched his allegiance following the release of Francis I after the Treaty of Madrid in 1526. The Pope entered into the League of Cognac alongside France, Venice and Francesco Sforza of Milan.

Pope Clement’s change in politics caused the rise of the Imperial party inside the Curia; Cardinal Pompeo Colonna’s troops pillaged Vatican Hill and took control of Rome. Clement was forced to return the Papal States to an alliance with the Imperial side; however, Cardinal Colonna left the siege in Rome and headed to Naples leaving Clement to not follow through on his promise and remaining in alliance with the French. Clement also dismissed the Cardinal from his charge. Clement found himself alone in his alliance with France after the Duke of Ferrara, Alfonso d’Este, sided with the Imperial troops therefore leaving the road to Rome open for the German Landsknechts led by Charles III, Duke of Bourbon.

The Duke of Bourbon died during the siege and had left his army unpaid, starving and with no clear leader. On the 6th May 1527 the desolate army worked their way through Rome with many reports of vandalism, murder and rape. Pope Clement had no choice but to surrender on 6th June from Castel Sant’Angelo where he had taken refuge. In exchange for his life he agreed to pay 400,000 ducati in exchange for his life with the conditions that Parma, Piacenza, Civitavecchia and Modena were handed over to the Holy Roman Empire, whilst Venice also took advantage of the situation by capturing Cervia and Ravenna. For the six months following his surrender Clement was kept prisoner in Castel Sant’Angelo before he escaped after paying some Imperial officers. Clement disguised himself as a peddler and went first to Orvieto before heading to Viterbo he eventually returned to Rome in October 1528 to find is destroyed and depopulated.

During the Sack of Rome, in 1527, Clement received a request from King Henry VIII asking for his marriage to Katherine of Aragon to be annulled on the basis that it was unlawful in the eyes of God due to her previous marriage to his brother, Arthur. A dispensation had been issued from Pope Julius II before the marriage took place and Clement ruled that the dispensation was lawful and the marriage could not be annulled. The English clergy and lawyers advised Henry’s Privy Council that they could not forced the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Warham, to go against the Pope’s rulings. Warham died soon after and Henry persuaded the Pope to appoint Thomas Cranmer as the next Archbishop. Cranmer was a friend to Anne Boleyn and a reformer. Pope Clement issued the Papal Bulls that would allow Cranmer to take the position on the condition that he took an oath of allegiance to the Pope. Cranmer was consecrated as Archbishop but declared that he did not agree with the oath he was being asked to take. Cranmer granted Henry the annulment that he required and Henry swiftly married Anne Boleyn. Both Henry and Cranmer were excommunicated from the Catholic Church as a result of their actions. Henry would eventually lead Parliament in passing the Act of Supremacy that declared that Henry was the head of the Church of England and the papacy had no authority within the country.

On 25th September 1534 Pope Clement VII died, it was believed that he died after eating a poisonous mushroom; his body was interred in Santa Maria sopra Minerva. Just days prior to his death Clement had ordered Michelangelo to paint The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel.

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