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Pope Clement VII

CLEMENT VII, antipope (1378-1394). See antipope Clement VII.

CLEMENT VII (Giulio di Giuliano de' Medici, 1478 - 1534), pope from 1523 to 1534. This most unfortunate of the popes was the illegitimate son of Giuliano de' Medici, who was assassinated in the Pazzi Conspiracy against the Medici; he was thus the nephew of Lorenzo de' Medici and cousin of Pope Leo X. Upon the latter's accession to the Papacy, Giulio became his principal minister and confidant, especially in the maintenance of the Medici interest at Florence. At Leo's death, Cardinal Medici, though unable to gain the Papacy for himself or his ally Alessandro Farnese, took a leading part in determining the unexpected election of Pope Adrian VI, to whom he succeeded in the next conclave (November 1523). He brought to the Papal throne a high reputation for political ability, and possessed in fact all the accomplishments of a wily diplomatist, but the circumstances of the times required a man of far different mold.

His worldliness and lack of insight into the tendencies of his age disqualified him from comprehending the great religious movement which then convulsed the church; while his timidity and indecision no less disabled him from following a consistent policy in secular affairs.

At first attached to the interests of the Holy Roman Empire, he was terrified by the overwhelming success of Emperor Charles V in the battle of Pavia into joining the other Italian princes in a league with France. This policy in itself was sound and patriotic, but Clement's zeal soon cooled; by his want of foresight and unseasonable economy he laid himself open to an attack from the turbulent Roman barons, which obliged him to invoke the mediation of the Emperor. When this danger seemed over he veered back to his former engagements, and ended by drawing down upon himself the imperialist host, eventually uncertainly led by Charles, Duke of Bourbon, who, compelled to satisfy his clamorous mercenaries by pillage, embraced the opportunity of leading them against Rome.

Rome was assaulted and sacked on May 6, 1527, and Clement, who had displayed no more resolution in his military than in his political conduct, was shortly afterwards obliged to surrender himself together with the castle of Sant'Angelo, where he had taken refuge. After six months captivity he was released upon very onerous conditions, and for some years subsequently followed a policy of subserviency to the Emperor, endeavouring on the one hand to induce him to act with severity against the Lutherans in Germany, and on the other to elude his demands for a general council.

One momentous consequence of this dependence on Charles was the breach with England occasioned by Clement's refusal, justifiable in point of principle, but dictated by no higher motive than his fear of offending the emperor, to sanction Henry VIII's divorce from Catherine of Aragon; this ultimately resulted in the establishment of the independent Church of England.

Towards the end of his reign Clement once more gave indications of a leaning towards a French alliance, which was prevented by his death in September 1534. As a man he possessed few virtues and few vices; as a pontiff he did nothing to disgrace the church and nothing to restore its lustre; his adroitness and dexterity as a statesman were counteracted by his suspicion and irresolution; his administration affords a proof that at eventful crises of the world's history mediocrity of character is more disastrous than mediocrity of talent.

(Article originally taken from the 9th edition (1876) of an unnamed encyclopedia)

Preceded by:
Pope Adrian VI
List of popesSucceeded by:
Pope Paul III

See also