He was the son of a brother of Sixtus IV. By his uncle, who took him under his special charge, he was educated among the Franciscans, and latterly sent to a convent in La Pérouse with the special purpose of obtaining a knowledge of the sciences. He does not appear, however, to have joined the order of St Francis, but to have remained one of the secular clergy until his elevation in 1471 to be bishop of Carpentras, France, shortly after his uncle succeeded to the papal chair. In the same year he was promoted to be cardinal, taking the same title as that formerly held by his uncle, Cardinal of San Pietro ad Vincula. With his uncle he obtained very great influence, and in addition to the archbishopric of Avignon he held no fewer than eight bishoprics. In the capacity of papal legate he was sent in 1480 to France, where he remained four years, and acquitted himself with such ability that he soon acquired a paramount influence in the College of Cardinals, an influence which rather increased than diminished during the pontificate of Innocent VIII.
A rivalry had, however, gradually grown up between him and Rodrigo Borgia, and on the death of Innocent in 1492 Borgia by means of a secret agreement with Ascanio Sforza succeeded in being elected over della Rovere by a large majority, under the name of Alexander VI. Della Rovere at once determined to take refuge at Ostia, and in a few months afterwards went to Paris, where he incited Charles VIII to undertake the conquest of Naples. Accompanying the young king on his campaign, he entered Rome along with him, and endeavoured to instigate the convocation of a council to inquire into the conduct of the pope with a view to his deposition, but Alexander, having gained a friend in Charles's minister Brišonnet, by the offer of a cardinal's hat succeeded in counterworking the machinations of his enemy. On the death of Alexander in 1503 Della Rovere supported the candidature of Cardinal Piccolomini of Milan, who was consecrated under the name of Pius III, but was then suffering from an incurable malady, of which he died in little more than a month afterwards. Della Rovere then succeeded by dexterous diplomacy in winning the support of Cesare Borgia, and was elected to the papal dignity by the unanimous vote of the cardinals.
From the beginning Julius II set himself with a courage and determination rarely equalled to rid himself of the various powers under which his temporal authority was almost overwhelmed. By a series of complicated stratagems he first succeeded in rendering it impossible for Borgia to remain in the papal states. He then used his influence to reconcile the two powerful houses of Orsini and Colonna, and, by decrees made in their interest, he also attached to himself the remainder of the Roman nobility. Being thus secure in Rome and the surrounding country, he next set himself to oust the Venetians from Faenza, Rimini, and the other towns and fortresses of Italy which they occupied at the death of Alexander VI. Finding it impossible to succeed with the doge by remonstrance, he in 1504 brought about a union of the conflicting interests of France and Germany, and sacrificed temporarily to some extent the independence of Italy in order to conclude with them an offensive and defensive alliance against Venice. The combination was, however, at first little more than nominal, and was not immediately effective in compelling the Venetians to deliver up more than a few unimportant places in the Romagna; but by a brilliant campaign Julius in 1506 succeeded in freeing Perugia and Bologna from their despots, and raised himself to such a height of influence as to render his friendship of prime importance both to the king of France and the emperor.
Events also in other respects so favoured his plans that in 1508 he was able to conclude with Louis XII, the emperor Maximilian, and Ferdinand of Aragon, the famous League of Cambrai against the Venetian Republic. In the spring of the following year the Republic was placed under an interdict. The results of the league soon outstripped the primary intention of Julius. By the single battle of Agnadello the dominion of Venice in Italy was practically lost; but, as neither the king of France nor the emperor was satisfied with merely effecting the purposes of the pope, the latter found it necessary to enter into a combination with the Venetians to defend himself from those who immediately before had been his allies against them. The Venetians on making humble submission were absolved in the beginning of 1510, and shortly afterwards France was placed under the papal ban. Attempts to bring about a rupture between France and England proved unsuccessful; on the other hand, at a synod convened by Louis at Tours in September 1510 the French bishops withdrew from the papal obedience, and resolved, with Maximilian's cooperation, to seek the deposition of Julius. In November 1511 a council actually met for this object at Pisa.
Julius hereupon entered into the Holy League with Ferdinand of Aragon and the Venetians against France, in which both Henry VIII and the emperor ultimately joined. He also convened a general council (that afterwards known as the Fifth Council of the Lateran) to be held at Rome in 1512, which, according to an oath taken on his election, he had bound himself to summon, but which had been delayed, he affirmed, on account of the occupation of Italy by his enemies. In 1512 the French were driven across the Alps, but it was at the cost of the occupation of Italy by the other powers, and Julius, though he had securely established the papal authority in the states immediately around Rome, was practically as far as ever from realizing his dream of an independent Italian kingdom when lie died of fever in February 1513.
The abilities and ambition of Julius were regal and military rather than in any sense ecclesiastical. He was more concerned for his own personal fame as a member of the family of della Rovere than for the advancement of the influence and authority of the church. His dauntless spirit, his mastery of political stratagem, and his moral indifference in the choice of means rendered him the most prominent political figure of his time. While, however, his political and warlike achievements would alone entitle him to rank amongst the most remarkable of the occupants of the papal chair, his chief title to honour is to be found in his patronage of art and literature. He did much to improve and beautify the city; in 1506 he laid the foundation stone of the new St Peter's; and he was the friend and patron of Bramante, Raphael, and Michelangelo. Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel for Julius. He was succeeded by Leo X.
While no firm evidence exists, it is thought that the card game Pope Julius is named after him.
text from the 9th edition (1880) of an unnamed encyclopedia. (two 120 year old bibliographic references omitted)
Pope Pius III
|List of popes||Succeeded by:|
Pope Leo X