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Francisco Jimenez de Cisneros

Francisco Jimenez de Cisneros (1436 - November 8, 1517) was a Spanish cardinal and statesman.

Born in Torrelaguna in Castile, of good but poor family, he studied at Alcalá de Henares and afterwards at Salamanca. In 1459, having entered holy orders, he went to Rome. Returning to Spain in 1465, he brought with him an "expective" letter from the pope, in virtue of which he took possession of the archpriestship of Uzeda in the diocese of Toledo in 1473. Carillo, archbishop of Toledo, opposed him, and on his obstinate refusal to give way threw him into prison. For six years Jimenez held out, and at length in 1480 Carillo restored him to his benefice. This Jimenez exchanged almost at once for a chaplaincy at Siguenza, under Cardinal Mendoza, bishop of Siguenza, who shortly appointed him vicar-general of his diocese.

In that position Jimenez won golden opinions from ecclesiastic and layman; and he seemed to be on the sure road to distinction among the secular clergy, when he abruptly resolved to become a monk. Throwing up all his benefices, and changing his baptismal name Gonzales for that of Francisco, he entered the Franciscan monastery of San Juan de los Reyes, recently founded by Ferdinand and Isabella at Toledo. Not content with the ordinary seventies of the noviciate, he added voluntary austerities. He slept on the bare ground, wore a hair-shirt, doubled his fasts, and scourged himself with much fervour; indeed throughout his whole life, even when at the acme of his greatness, his private life was most rigorously ascetic.

The report of his sanctity brought crowds to confess to him; but from them he retired to the lonely monastery of Our Lady of Castanar; and he even built with his own hands a rude hut in the neighbouring woods, in which he lived at times as an anchorite. He was afterwards guardian of a monastery at Salzeda. Meanwhile Mendoza (now archbishop of Toledo) had not forgotten him; and in 1492 he recommended him to Isabella as her confessor. The queen. sent for Jimenez, was pleased with him, and to his great reluctance forced the office upon him. The post was politically important, for Isabella submitted to the judgment of her father-confessor not only her private affairs but also matters of state. Jimenez's severe sanctity soon won him considerable influence over Isabella; and thus it was that he first emerged into political life. In 1494 the queen's confessor was appointed provincial of the order of St Francis, and at once set about reducing the laxity of the conventual to the strictness of the observantine Franciscans.

Intense opposition was continued even after Jimenez became archbishop of Toledo. The general of the order himself came from Rome to interfere with the archbishop's measures of reform, but the stern inflexibility of Jimenez, backed by the influence of the queen, subdued every obstacle. Cardinal Mendoza had died in 1495, and Isabella had secretly procured a papal bull nominating her confessor to his diocese of Toledo, the richest and most powerful in Spain, second perhaps to no other dignity of the Roman Church save the papacy. Long and sincerely Jimenez strove to evade the honour; but his nolo episcopari was after six months overcome by a second bull ordering him to accept consecration. With the primacy of Spain was associated the lofty dignity of high chancellor of Castile; but Jimenez still maintained his lowly life; and, although a message from Rome required him to live in a style befitting his rank, the outward pomp only concealed his private asceticism.

In 1499 Jimenez accompanied the court to Granada, and there eagerly joined the mild and pious Archbishop Talavera in his efforts to convert the Moors. Talavera had begun. with gentle measures, but Jimenez preferred to proceed by haranguing the fakihs, or doctors of religion, and loading them with gifts. Outwardly the latter method was successful; in two months the converts were so numerous that they had to be baptized by aspersion. The indignation of the unconverted Moors swelled into open revolt. Jimenez was besieged in his house, and the utmost difficulty was found in quieting the city. Baptism or exile was offered to the Moors as a punishment for rebellion. The majority accepted baptism; and Isabella, who had been momentarily annoyed at her archbishop's imprudence, was satisfied that he had done good service to Christianity.

On November 26, 1504 Isabella died. Ferdinand at once resigned the title of king of Castile in favour of his daughter Joan and her husband the archduke Philip, assuming instead that of regent. Philip was keenly jealous of Ferdinand's pretensions to the regency; and it required all the tact of Jimenez to bring about a friendly interview between the princes. Ferdinand finally retired from Castile; and, though Jimenez remained, his political weight was less than before. The sudden death of Philip in September 1506 quite overset the already tottering intellect of his wife; his son and heir Charles was still a child; and Ferdinand was at Naples. The nobles of Castile, mutually jealous, agreed to entrust affairs to the archbishop of Toledo, who, moved more by patriotic regard for his country's welfare than by special friendship for Ferdinand, strove to establish the final influence of that king in Castile. Ferdinand did not return till August 1507; and he brought, a cardinal's hat for Jimenez. Shortly afterwards the new cardinal of Spain was appointed grand inquisitor-general for Castile and Leon.

The next great event in the cardinal's life was the expedition against the Moorish city of Oran in the north of Africa, in which his religious zeal was supported by the prospect of the political and material gain that would accrue to Spain from the possession of such a station. A preliminary expedition, equipped, like that which followed, at the expense of Jimenez, captured the port of Mers-el-Kebir in 1505; and in 1509 a strong force, accompanied by the cardinal in person, set sail for Africa, and in one day the wealthy city was taken by storm. Though the army remained to make fresh conquests, Jimenez returned to Spain, and occupied himself with the administration of his diocese, and in endeavouring to recover from the regent the expenses of his Oran expedition, On January 28, 1516 Ferdinand died, leaving Jimenez as regent of Castile for Charles (afterwards Charles V), then a youth of sixteen in the Netherlands.

Though Jimenez at once took firm hold of the reins of government, and ruled in a determined and even autocratic manner, the haughty and turbulent Castilian nobility and the jealous intriguing Flemish councillors of Charles combined to render his position peculiarly difficult; while the evils consequent upon the unlimited demands of Charles for money threw much undeserved odium upon the regent. In violation of the laws, Jimenez acceded to Charles's desire to be proclaimed king; he secured the person of Charles's younger brother Ferdinand; he fixed the seat of the cortes at Madrid; and he established a standing army by drilling the citizens of the great towns. Immediately on Ferdinand's death, Adrian, dean of Louvain, afterwards pope, produced a commission from Charles appointing him regent. Jimenez admitted him to a nominal equality, but took care that neither he nor the subsequent commissioners of Charles ever had any real share of power. In September 1517 Charles landed in the province of Asturias, and Jimenez hastened to meet him. On the way, however, he fell ill, not without a suspicion of poison. While thus feeble, he received a letter from Charles coldly thanking him for his services, and giving him leave to retire to his diocese. A few hours after this virtual dismissal, which some, however, say the cardinal never saw, Francisco Jimenez died at Roa, on the 8th of November 1517.

Jimenez was a bold and determined statesman. Sternly and inflexibly, with a confidence that became at times overbearing, he carried through what he had decided to be right, with as little regard for the convenience of others as for his own. In the midst of a corrupt clergy his morals were irreproachable. He was liberal to all, and founded and maintained very many benevolent institutions in his diocese. His whole time was devoted either to the state or to religion; his only recreation was in theological or scholastic discussion. Perhaps one of the most noteworthy points about the cardinal is the advanced period of life at which he entered upon the stage where he was to play such leading parts. Whether his abrupt change from the secular to the regular clergy was the fervid outcome of religious enthusiasm or the far-seeing move of a wily schemer has been disputed; but the constant austerity of his life, his unvarying superiority to small personal aims, are arguments for the former alternative that are not to be met by merely pointing to the actual honours and power he at last attained.

In 1500 was founded, and in 1508 was opened, the university of Alcalá de Henares, which, fostered by Cardinal Jimenez, at whose sole expense it was raised, attained a great pitch of outward magni. ficence and internal worth. At one time 7000 students met within its walls. In 1836 the university was removed to Madrid, and the costly buildings were left vacant. In the hopes of supplanting the romances generally found in the hands of the young, Jimenez caused to be published religious treatises by himself and others. He revived also the Mozarabic liturgy, and endowed a chapel at Toledo, in which it was to be used. But his most famous literary service was the printing at Alcalá (in Latin Complutum) of the Complutensian Polyglott, the first edition of the Christian Scriptures in the original text. In this work, on which he is said to have expended half a million of ducats, the cardinal was aided by the celebrated Stunica (D. Lopez de Zuñiga), the Greek scholar Nuñez de Guzman (Pincianus), the Hebraist Vergara, and the humanist Nebrija, by a Cretan Greek Dentetrius Ducas, and by three Jewish converts, of whom Zamora edited the Targum to the Pentateuch. The other Targums are not included. In the Old Testament Jerome's version stands between the Greek and Hebrew. The synagogue and the Eastern church, as the preface expresses it, are set like the thieves on this side and on that, with Jesus (that is, the Roman Church) in the midst. The text occupies five volumes, and a sixth contains a Hebrew lexicon, etc. The work commenced in 1502. The New Testament was finished in January 1514, and the whole in April 1517. It was dedicated to Leo X, and was reprinted in 1572 by the Antwerp firm of Plantin, after revision by Benito Arias Montano at the expense of Philip II. The second edition is known as the Biblia Regia or Filipina.

The work by Alvaro Gomez de Castro, De Rebus Gestis Francisci Ximenii (folio, 1659, Alcalá), is the quarry whence have come the materials for biographies of Jimenez--in Spanish by Robles (1604) and Quintanilla (1633); in French by Baudier (1635), Marsollier (1684), Fléchier (1694) and Richard (1704); in German by Hefele (1844, translated into English by Canon Dalton, 1860) and Havemann (1848); and in English by Barrett (1813). See also Prescott's Ferdinand and Isabella; Revue des Deux Mondes (May 1841) and Mém. de l'Acad. d'hist. de Madrid, vol. iv.