18 June 1815 – What If Part I

To be killed at Waterloo would have been a good death.


The historian Jac Weller is said to have complained that the Ifs of Waterloo made him wince. I fear we must make him wince again. No doubt these Ifs are countless, but for our purposes here, we will choose five chances which contributed to Napoleon’s defeat and examine the consequences had chance taken another course. First, Napoleon’s chance meeting with Ney as he moved forward on the Charleroi road and his capricious and fatal appointment of Ney as field commander; second, even given this mistake, the interference by Ney in countermanding Napoleon’s order to d’Erlon to join him at Ligny when Ney himself was dithering at Quatre Bras; third, the thunderstorm on the night of 17/18 June which delayed Napoleon’s attack; fourth, the gates of Hougoumont, the closing of which Wellington somewhat arbitrarily claimed was the decisive element of the battle; and fifth, the Emperor’s imprecise orders to Grouchy, together with Grouchy’s own incomprehensible error of judgement, which led to his 33,000 men taking no part in the decisive encounter. We will look at what effect on the battle there might have been if any of these five occurrences had been different. Such speculation will lead us to two further questions: what if Napoleon had won? What if he had been killed?

Napoleon’s choice of subordinate commanders for his last campaign must strike us as capricious, to say the least. Of course, the field was somewhat limited. There were few of the old hands who supported the Emperor on his triumphant return from Elba. Marmont, St-Cyr, Victor and Macdonald stuck to their new Bourbon loyalties. Augereau and Berthier had gone to ground. Soult, on the other hand, despite his former allegiance to Louis XVIII, had rejoined the Emperor. So had Mortier and Suchet. Masséna, perhaps wisely, chose to be unwell. Murat, King of Naples – who would never have allowed the cavalry to be handled as Ney did – impetuous as ever, on hearing of his brother-in-law’s resumption of power, committed the egregious folly of turning on his Austrian friends and attacking them with Neapolitan soldiers, who of course ran away, leaving Murat to fly ignominiously to Toulon. Napoleon had created one more Marshal – Grouchy – who might have turned the scales at Waterloo had he acted as a Marshal of France should. The Emperor had one other worthy supporter, the iron, uncompromising Davout, who accepted the Ministry of War. If instead he had been with Napoleon in the field, either as Chief of Staff or as the Emperor’s immediate lieutenant, what a world of difference he might have made. The Ministry could have been left to Soult, for however devious Talleyrand and Fouché might have been, they would never have risked a coup against Napoleon while he was in command of the army. But all in all it must be conceded that the Emperor would not be fielding the first eleven for the battle to come.

Those who have suggested, as Andrew Roberts in his recent book has reminded us, along with that eminent Napoleonic expert, David Chandler, that Napoleon deliberately appointed a second eleven in order to enjoy the greater share of glory himself after a victorious campaign, are surely wide of the mark. Napoleon’s whole future, and that of France, was at stake. Not to have taken every step to promote success would have contradicted Napoleon’s entire creed. He may have been a gambler, but he was not in the habit of throwing away aces in the middle of a game. This is what makes it all the more extraordinary that he should have chosen Ney to be his field commander before the battle got under way. Ever since the battle of Borodino, when the fiery, red-headed Marshal had launched his tirade against his Commander-in-Chief for not being right up at the front and for refusing to release the Imperial Guard, Ney, despite his heroic rearguard action in the Russian campaign and unfailing courage at Leipzig, had been unbalanced, at times hysterical. Although temporarily in disgrace because of his promise to Louis XVIII to bring the usurper back to Paris in an iron cage, Ney was to be entrusted by Napoleon with absolutely crucial responsibility in the forthcoming battle, a responsibility which Ney was temperamentally and psychologically incapable of fulfilling. Not once, but twice, he made decisions, or was guilty of indecision, which robbed the Emperor of almost certain victory. And then his actual appointment had been such a chance, so thoughtlessly haphazard. On 12 June 1815, when Napoleon set out for the Northern Front, the army consisted of five corps, commanded by d’Erlon, Vandamme, Gérard, Reille and Lobau. The only Marshals with the army were Soult, Chief of Staff, Grouchy, commanding the Reserve Cavalry, and Mortier, who was taken ill and fell out at Beaumont. Ney, dressed in mufti, had accompanied the army, bitter and aggrieved at being left out; he acquired two of Mortier’s horses and hung about near Napoleon’s staff. By chance, while looking at a map outside a tavern by the Sambre, the Emperor happened to glance up, caught sight of Ney, and at once asked him to take command of two army corps and the regiments of cavalry, some 50,000 men in all, together with over seventy guns. ‘It was,’ observed A. G. Macdonnell, ‘a strange and casual appointment.’ Apart from anything else, why did Napoleon not choose to command in person? He had in the past overseen the operations of more than two corps in a series of successful encounters with the Austrians, Russians and Prussians. Had he wished to outshine all those in subordinate positions, what more certain way of doing so? But the whole idea of his not wishing to share the credit for success may be dismissed by remembering his former instant and generous recognition of his corps and divisional commanders. His praise for Augereau at Castiglioni, for Lannes at Arcola, Masséna at Rivoli, when Napoleon greeted him as l’enfant chéri de la victoire, is enough to give the lie to such calumny. When we add the Emperor’s acknowledgement of Davout’s saving the day at Auerstädt, of his creating Macdonald a Marshal on the field of Wagram, of his unstinting commendation of Ney’s rearguard action during the retreat from Moscow – Bravest of the Brave, Prince of the Moscowa – no more evidence is needed. But to have chosen Ney, who was suffering from what we would now call battle fatigue, and whose ability coolly to weigh the tactical odds, however unquestionable his courage, was sadly deficient, constituted the first of a series of blunders that Napoleon would never have made in his heyday.

Given that Ney was appointed, however, we now come face to face with perhaps the biggest If of all, for when Napoleon was engaging the Prussians at Ligny on 16 June, Ney, with a most unfortunate coalition of indecisive manoeuvring and petulant action, was undermining the Emperor’s strategy – with the gravest consequences. Had Ney carried out Napoleon’s orders promptly, that is, to seize Quatre Bras, he would have been in a position to threaten the Prussians’ right flank and so enable Napoleon to finish Blücher’s part in the affair. Because he had been slow and indecisive, Ney received orders from the Emperor to despatch d’Erlon’s Reserve Corps to complete the business at Ligny. Again, had this been done, Blücher’s army would have been so knocked about that it would not have been able to come to the aid of Wellington two days later. As it was, Ney, finding the fight for Quatre Bras becoming ever more severe because his own delay had allowed Wellington to bring up reinforcements, countermanded the Emperor’s order and brought d’Erlon back towards Quatre Bras. In the event, d’Erlon took no part in either battle, so that the great If here is this: had Ney allowed d’Erlon to help finish off the Prussians at Ligny, there would have been no need to detach Grouchy with his 33,000 men, who would then have been available for Napoleon in his confrontation with Wellington at Waterloo. We will look further at Grouchy later on, but there is a further aspect of Quatre Bras to consider first.

An eagle is ascendant in spirit, swift in flight, sudden in decision and ruthless in deed. It was Napoleon’s unique marshalling of these characteristics that made the eagle so aptly his symbol. His whirlwind tactics of rapid marching and vital concentration of force, which he employed in the Italian campaign of 1796/97, were what shook the European armies to their foundations. The astonishing way in which he redeployed the Grande Armée from the coastal areas near Boulogne to surround Mack’s army at Ulm was a classic example of deception and rapid concentration, leading to the triumph of Austerlitz. It was the speed and violence of his pursuit of the Prussian army after Jena and Auerstädt which utterly confounded what was left of Frederick the Great’s legacy. And when the Emperor learned that Sir John Moore was threatening his communications with France by chasing Soult with his English leopards in Old Castile, he at once abandoned his idea of advancing into Portugal and hurled his force of 80,000 men northwards to entrap Moore’s small army. Vitesse was always the watchword. Napoleon himself had once conceded that he might lose ground, but would never lose a minute. This great sense of urgency seems to have deserted him in the Waterloo affair. Not only did he lose countless minutes on 17 June, he threw away the best chance of winning the campaign. For a kind of lethargy seemed to overcome him. In spite of ordering Ney to take Quatre Bras that morning and, when surprised by Ney’s wavering reluctance to act decisively, sending him a second order, couched in uncompromising terms – ‘There is no time to lose. Attack with the greatest impetuosity everything in front of you’ – Napoleon did not ensure that his orders were obeyed. Indeed, as Andrew Roberts has emphasized, if instead of wasting his time waiting for information as to Wellington’s movements and hanging about near Ligny, Napoleon had joined Ney in a joint attack on Wellington, who had only some 50,000 troops at Quatre Bras, he would have won the campaign there and then. ‘This loss of the initiative,’ wrote Roberts,

was disastrous, and still worse was his decision at around 11 a.m. to split his forces by sending Marshal Grouchy off with 33,000 men and no fewer than ninety-six cannon to follow the Prussians in what at least initially turned out to be the wrong direction.

Concentration had been a cardinal principle of Napoleon’s conduct of war, yet here he was breaking his own rules.

Now let us look at another aspect of chance – the intervention of fate and fortune.

‘Can such things be,’ demanded Macbeth, ‘And overcome us like a summer’s cloud, Without our special wonder?’ It was the breaking of a summer’s cloud, we might say, that overcame Napoleon on that night of 17/18 June 1815. Listen to Victor Hugo on the point:

It had rained all night, the ground was saturated, the water had accumulated here and there in the hollows of the plain as if in tubs; at some points the gear of the artillery carriages was buried up to the axles, the circingles of the horses were dripping with liquid mud. If the wheat and rye trampled down by this cohort of transports on the march had not filled in the ruts and strewn a litter beneath the wheels, all movement, particularly in the valleys, in the direction of Papelotte would have been impossible.

The battle began late. Napoleon was in the habit of keeping all his artillery well in hand, like a pistol, aiming it now at one point, now at another, of the battle; and it had been his wish to wait until the horse batteries could move and gallop freely. In order to do that it was necessary that the sun should come out and dry the soil. But the sun did not make its appearance. It was no longer the rendezvous of Austerlitz. When the first cannon was fired, the English general, Colville, looked at his watch, and saw that it was twenty-five minutes to twelve.

Victor Hugo’s conclusion is that if it had not rained in the night of 17/18 June 1815, Europe’s fate would have been different. His reason? The battle of Waterloo could not be started until half past eleven and this gave Blücher time to come up. In support of this view we may note that Napoleon had set up his headquarters at Le Caillou and breakfasted there with his generals at eight o’clock on the morning of 18 June. Had the ground been completely dry, that is had there been no thunderstorm the previous night, his attack could have started at least four hours earlier than it did. We must note too that even when the French artillery did begin its bombardment at half past eleven, the ground was still wet, causing round shot to bury itself rather than ricocheting for many hundreds of yards with deadly effect. Moreover, shells were also robbed of their effectiveness by the sodden ground. But leaving this aside, it was time that would have been the crucial factor.

‘Ask me for anything but time,’ declared Napoleon. Had there been no thunderstorm, some precious hours would have been available to him. It was not until the climax of the battle, the evening of 18 June, that the Prussians intervened. This climax would have been reached well before that. Moreover there are subsidiary Ifs. An earlier start to the battle might have brought Grouchy on the scene; it might have revealed to Napoleon and Ney – and to Jérôme Bonaparte leading the attack on it – that the Château of Hougoumont had either to be taken, or screened and outflanked, if the principal assault on Wellington’s position was to be successfully made.

The role played by Hougoumont will always arouse admiration and invite controversy. Victor Hugo went so far as to say that its conquest was one of Napoleon’s dreams and that, had he seized it, it would have given him the world. Extravagant language, but perhaps not to be rejected out of hand. Hougoumont had two doors to its court, one to the château itself on the southern side, one belonging to the farm on the north. It was this latter door that was smashed open by a huge French officer who, followed by some of his jubilant men, rushed into the courtyard. They were instantly set upon by soldiers of the Coldstream Guards, who then succeeded in closing the doors and barring them with a vast wooden beam. Wellington was later to observe that his success at Waterloo had depended on closing these doors. It would perhaps be more accurate to say that a successful defence of Hougoumont was a crucial part of Wellington’s strategy. It was because he appreciated its significance and had seen the scale of the French attack on it that he reinforced the garrison with four companies of the Coldstream Guards, thereby doubling its complement of Foot Guardsmen. Their remarkable achievement may be judged when we consider that, as Victor Hugo put it, they held out for seven hours against the assaults of vastly superior numbers.

After the initial failure of Napoleon’s brother, Prince Jérôme, to take Hougoumont, neither he nor Napoleon himself took the decision to bypass this stubborn centre of resistance and get on with the main business of attacking Wellington’s main line. Jérôme, in short, allowed what was a diversionary, albeit important, objective to take his eye off the main tactical purpose which was to pierce Wellington’s centre. Instead of getting this principal attack under way, Jérôme poured more and more troops into the desperate struggle for Hougoumont. The divisions of Foy, Guilleminot and Bachelu hurled themselves against it; nearly all Reille’s corps took their turn and failed; Bauduin’s brigade was not strong enough to force Hougoumont from the north, while Soye’s brigade, although making the beginning of a breach in the south, could not exploit it. Jérôme had been making one of the classic errors of war – reinforcing failure – and on such a scale that he was robbing the French army of the strength to sweep Wellington aside before the Prussians came up to support him. Wellington, on the other hand, had reinforced success. Thus the contribution which Hougoumont’s defenders made to victory at Waterloo was incalculable.

What would have happened if the gates had not been closed? For the purposes of speculation, we must assume that the French would have taken Hougoumont, for if, even though the gates were not closed, the British had still defied the French attacks and held on to the château, and if Napoleon had also permitted the same continued attempts to persevere, there would have been no change of circumstance. So we must ask ourselves what Napoleon would have done after capturing Hougoumont, had this happened; and in answering the question let us assume further that this capture was effected early on, in other words before Jérôme had dissipated his main forces against it. Napoleon then has two possible courses of action: to persist in the frontal assault on Wellington’s centre, which in the event is what he did do, or try to outflank the Allied right and so roll up Wellington’s position. This would have been the sure touch of Napoleon at his tactical best, as in former days when he instantly saw that the key to taking Toulon was to capture the Le Caire peninsula and so bring artillery fire to bear direct on the Royal Navy’s ships; or when at Austerlitz he seized the fleeting opportunity to strike at and destroy the Austro-Russian centre, roll up their left wing and finish the thing off. In short, if the chance of closing the Hougoumont gates had not befallen, and the château had fallen early on into French hands, Napoleon’s attack would not have been delayed or impeded. He would have been presented with great freedom of tactical choice, and provided he had taken a proper grip of the battle there and then, he must surely have prevailed. We will see shortly what might have come about had Napoleon defeated Wellington, but for the time being we may concede that the latter’s comment about the closing of Hougoumont’s gates, while an over-simplification as to what brought about success, does at least deserve serious consideration. Yet even given Hougoumont’s retention in British hands, and the fact that Napoleon exerted himself far too late to rescue his army from the tactical blunders made by his subordinates, there was still one more chance, one more If which will always persist in the minds of those who ponder great battles.


The Knight of the Black Eagle

Titian‘s Equestrian Portrait of Charles I of Spain and V of the Holy Roman Empire (1548) celebrates Charles’ victory at Mühlberg
“Battle of Mühlberg, 1547”, Ángel García Pinto

If there is no way to avoid an engagement before I arrive, I cannot enjoin you too strongly to inform me post haste.


War marked Europe in the late 1540s. It was the first time that a major European war had been fought in Germany. On the one side was a Catholic emperor standing not only for the unity of Christendom but for universal Christian power and, on the other, the Protestant states articulating special particularism. Charles, now a widower and usually melancholy in time of peace, was happy to be in an army again: “There goes the happiest man in the world,” his brother Ferdinand’s ambassador Martín de Salinas had written in 1536 about Charles and the war in Provence. (It was Salinas who ensured that Ferdinand received so much information about the Indies.)

On June 26, 1546, the Farnese pope, Paul III, signed a treaty agreeing to support Charles against the Protestants. But France and England on June 6 had concluded a treaty at Guînes, in the Pas de Calais, then, of course, an English possession, which freed them both from obligations to Charles. On July 26, an army of Protestant princes reached the Danube and threatened to cut off Charles, who, in his litter, marched to the river Inn, and on August 13, joined with papal troops. Next day, the Protestant Schmalkaldic League formally challenged him, sending him a herald in the traditional manner. Charles assembled his army of thirty thousand infantry and five thousand cavalry. He then amalgamated these forces with those of the Dutch count Egmont, who had five thousand cavalry. The first battle was on August 31 at Ingolstadt, Charles taking part at the head of his men, supported by Alba and Egmont. Through his victory there, Charles won control of south Germany by the end of 1546. This was the victory of Alba, then at his best as a commander.

At Christmas 1546, Charles was at Heilbronn in Württemberg. He was then weary, having slept in forty different places since August. Next spring, in April—supported by his brother, Ferdinand, with his son Maximilian, and by the treacherous Maurice of Saxony—he defeated the elector John Frederick of Saxony at Mühlberg, near Leipzig, on the Elbe. Charles commented “Vine, vi y Dios conquistó.” John Frederick was not aware that Charles could cross the Elbe at Mühlberg. Alba brought the elector as a prisoner to Charles, who treated him scornfully. The Emperor then continued north to Wittenberg, the scene of Luther’s first challenge, which John Frederick surrendered on June 4 to avoid a siege. This marked Charles’s greatest triumph and enabled him to summon a diet at Augsburg. The Battle of Mühlberg is known as the occasion for Titian’s masterpiece; it is a unique example of a great victory inspiring a great picture.

Early in 1548, Charles wrote to his son and regent, Philip, who was then just twenty-one: “Seeing that human affairs are beset with doubt, I can give you no general rules save to trust in God. You will show this by defending the faith … I have come to the conclusion that a general council [of the Church] is the only way ahead … Peace will depend not so much on your actions as on those of others. It will be a difficult task for you to preserve it, seeing that God has bestowed so many great kingdoms and principalities on you … You know yourself how unreliable Pope Paul III [Farnese] is in all his treaties, how, sadly, he lacks all [real] zeal for Christendom, and how badly he has acted in this affair of the council [of the Church] above all. Nevertheless, honour his position. He is old [he had been born in 1468, so he was eighty]. Therefore, take careful heed to the instructions which I have given my ambassador [the clever Diego Hurtado de Mendoza] in case of a [papal] election … France has never kept faith and has always sought to do me harm … Never yield to them so much as an inch … Defend Milan with good artillery, Naples with a good fleet. Remember that the French are always discouraged if they do not succeed immediately in anything which they undertake. The Neapolitans, remember, are much given to revolt. Let them be constantly reminded how the French once sacked their city … You can never manage without Spanish troops in Italy … To preserve peace, I have allowed my demands for our ancient hereditary land, for the duchy of Burgundy, to lapse. But do not altogether forget your rights there … And do not at any time be persuaded to renounce Piedmont.”

It was an emperor who wrote and one who did not forget his more remote possessions. For he went on to advise Philip to keep a watch over his fleet. It was his best defense against pirates in the Mediterranean, and it would also keep the French from interfering in the Indies. Philip should cultivate Portugal for the same reason: “Do not cease to keep yourself well informed of the state of those distant lands, for the honour of God and the care of justice. Combat the abuses which have risen in them.” Charles also urged Philip to marry again soon, since he would need more children. (His first wife, María, had died.) He suggested Elizabeth of Valois, daughter of the new king Henry of France, or Jeanne d’Albret, daughter of King Henry of Navarre, who was “very attractive and clever.”

“And as for the Indies, take care to keep a good watch to see if the French want to send an armada there, dissimulating or otherwise, and ensuring that the governors of those parts keep a good look out so that, when it is necessary, they can resist the said French; … and you should establish good intelligence with Portugal … And as for the division of the Indians, about which there have been so many conflicting reports and advice, we have even consulted Don Antonio de Mendoza, the Viceroy of New Spain, so as to be properly informed.”

The princely recipient of this letter was, however, himself now on the move. Though quite unconvinced of the need to travel as his father had done, or in the same restless fashion, he had decided to visit his future dominions in the north of Europe. On October 2, 1548, Philip left Valladolid, ignoring the determined opposition of the cortes to such a journey. With him there were the Duke of Alba, both his and his father’s chief military adviser; Ruy Gómez da Silva, the future prince of Eboli, a Portuguese courtier who would become in effect a chief minister; his longtime secretary, Gonzalo Pérez; Honorat Juan, who had been his tutor in mathematics; the clever and original Fray Constantino Ponce de la Fuente; and Juan Cristóbal Calvete de Estrella, the Prince’s learned majordomo, who would write an account of the journey. There were also the musician Luis Narváez and the blind composer Antonio de Cabezón. Vicente Álvarez, the steward, would write an account. They were a strange gathering: Alba represented the hereditary nobility, Silva the noblesse de robe; Honorat Juan was a learned preceptor of the Prince from the Borgias’ town of Játiva; Ponce de la Fuente was Christophorus Fontanus, an Erasmian preacher, a converso, and one who as a result would die in prison; and Calvete was Philip’s teacher in Latin and Greek, who wrote a fine account of La Gasca’s triumph over Gonzalo Pizarro.

The Prince’s court spent three nights at Montserrat; they stayed at Barcelona with Estefanía de Requessens, widow of Juan de Zúñiga and a foster mother to Philip, and subsequently went to Rosas, in the Ampurdán, where on November 2, 1548, they boarded a vessel in a fleet of fifty-eight galleys commanded by the unconquered Andrea Doria. Then they set off for Genoa, stopping at Cadaqués, Collioure, Perpignan, Aigues-Mortes (where they waited six days because of the wind), Hyères, Savona, and then Genoa itself (on November 25), where Philip was put up by Doria in his palace for sixteen days.

At Savona, Columbus’s father’s town, the Regent was introduced to the famous bankers Lomellini, Pallavicino, and Grillo—all of whom, or their families, were to become important in the Indies. On December 19, Philip left Genoa for Milan, of which he was already the duke. He was there nineteen days, a time filled with balls, theaters, tournaments, banquets, and local tours, and there he met the painter Titian for the first time. He set off for the Catholic Church’s congress at Trent, where he was welcomed by the elector Maurice of Saxony (his father’s ally, though a Lutheran) and the cardinals of Augsburg and Trent. The council of the Church had actually gone to Bologna because of plague in Trent. Then, after five more days of celebrations, Philip and his party set off for the Netherlands via Bolzano and Innsbruck. This journey lasted six months. It was a serious education. It was the first time he had visited his northern European dominions.

By February 13, 1549, the princely party was in Munich, with its clean streets and small houses; there was much hunting, and many dinners and picnics. Then at Augsburg they visited the all-important Fuggers. At Ulm, there was a joust on the Danube. At Vaihingen, they were greeted by Prince Albert of Hohenzollern, who escorted them to Heidelberg, a Catholic enclave in a Protestant valley, where the Prince had four days of hunting, picnicking, dancing, and drinking. Then the expedition went on to Speyer, Luxembourg, Namur, and finally Brussels, where the Prince was greeted by his aunt, the Regent María. There followed a formal reunion with the emperor Charles at the royal palace.

Charles—though, as usual in those days, ill—held many celebrations, balls, hunting parties, and tournaments in honor of Philip. The Spanish Prince met all the grandees of the Low Countries, such as the Prince of Orange and Count Egmont, both fatally associated with him later in life. On July 12, Charles and his son went on a tour of the Netherlands, which lasted till the end of October. There was a formal swearing in of Philip as the heir to the throne, and also a celebration at the beautiful palace of Binche, between Charleroi and Mons, at the end of August 1549. At Binche, Philip saw The Descent from the Cross by Rogier van der Weyden, which he had copied by Michel Coxcie and which he bought many years later. Probably he bought other Flemish paintings at this time, including several by Bosch and the popular landscapist Joachim Patinir.

Queen Mary of Hungary had in 1540 held a carnival to honor the Spanish conquest of Peru. But there was now a new chivalric feast in 1549 at Binche, with performances based on the novel Amadís de Gaula, characterized by a storming of magic castles and liberation of prisoners. At a later stage in the “chivalrous entertainment,” knight after knight failed to defeat a certain “knight of the black eagle,” and they were imprisoned in a “dark castle” till a new, unknown gentleman, who called himself Beltenbrós (the name adopted by Amadís during his amorous penance), defeated his adversary and, by drawing forth an enchanted sword from a stone, revealed that he was the knight for whom this adventure was reserved. This unknown, of course, turned out to be Philip.

In September, there were organized for Philip two celebratory processions entering cities: first Antwerp, then Rotterdam.

Next year, 1550, with Philip still in the Netherlands, there were further celebrations. Thus there was a carnival in February at Brussels. Three famous Spanish preachers covered themselves with glory by pronouncing sermons. This was the last night that Philip spent in Brussels: “That night His Highness did not go to bed. He stayed in the main square conversing with the ladies as they sat at their windows. A few gentlemen, young and even some old, accompanied him. The talk was of love, stories were told, there were tears, sighs, laughter, jests. There was dancing in the moonlight to the sound of orchestras which played all night.” These were happy days, which were never to recur for Philip in the Low Countries.

An expedition including Charles as well as Philip then went by boat to Louvain, Aachen, Cologne, and Bonn, on the Rhine, though stopping at night on land. They went, too, to Mainz, Worms, Speyer, and Augsburg. In the last named, the imperial Diet met in July 1550. Here or nearby in southern Germany, Philip spent a year. There he commissioned Titian’s famous Poesie, as well as a portrait of himself by the same Italian master.

There was discussion, too, at Augsburg about the future inheritance of Philip. Charles hoped to leave his son everything, in a last fling of his desire to maintain a Habsburg union, a single constitution, a single confession, and a single ruler. But his patient brother, Ferdinand, the king of the Romans, wanted the imperial throne. Ferdinand’s son Maximilian came from Spain, where he was co-regent, to argue his case. Ferdinand and Charles disputed in public. Eventually, in March 1551, a formal agreement (drafted by the adroit Granvelle) between Charles and Ferdinand arranged that, after the former’s death, the latter would be emperor, while Philip would be elected King of the Romans and be emperor after Ferdinand. He would make a similar arrangement in Spain for his cousin Maximilian. Thus European power would remain in the hands of the Habsburgs, though it was not quite evident which line it would be.

In July of this same year, Charles wrote to both the young Maximilian and his wife, María, in their capacities as regents of Spain, about the most important matter on his mind: “The fleet which goes for the gold and silver of Peru will set off, we don’t know when but we do know that any delay at all is very damaging … The people of the Council of Finance write about their problems and costs and what they have to provide this year, taking into account that, in addition to the 200,000 ducats which we permit ourselves to take from the gold and silver of Peru, another 500,000 will be needed for the settling of various other liabilities.”

Another letter of this same time dealt with the idea of contracting with the great admiral of Spain Álvaro de Bazan to guard the merchant fleets sent to the New World.

Charles was again talking of gold from the Indies before the end of the year: Thus, on December 30, 1550, he wrote from Augsburg, “La Gasca had brought 200,000 ducats from Peru, of which we will avail ourselves this year. There will be 85,000 ducats which will be remitted and have to be balanced against the fact that costs will amount to 91,716 ducats and another 60,000 ducats which, with interest, will add up to 84,200 ducats and the last slice of 20,000 ducats which, with interest, will make 20,800 ducats which altogether would mean that, from the gold and silver of Peru, we would make either 376,000 or 403,570 ducats.” Charles’s interest in money was as eternal as his incapacity with dealing with it.

In fact, between 1551 and 1555, the Spanish Crown imported from the Indies more than three and a half million pesos and private people imported more than 6 million. Charles, the mirror of chivalry and the inheritor of the great Burgundian traditions, spent hours puzzling over these figures and sums.

On May 25, 1551, Philip at last left Augsburg for Spain, traveling back via Mantua (where La Gasca explained to him in detail what had befallen him in Peru, with its 346 rich encomenderos and about eight thousand colonists). Philip went on to Barcelona, where he arrived on July 12 and as usual stayed with the widow Estefanía de Requessens. He left Barcelona only on July 31 and set off for Saragossa, Tudela, Soria, and Valladolid, his birthplace and de facto capital, which he reached on September 1. No Spanish king had spent so much time abroad, no Spanish monarch would ever know so much of the way of living in other countries, no ruler of Spain was so well prepared to be an international emperor.

On June 23, 1551, the emperor Charles sent general instructions to Philip for the government of the Indies. These included: “That you examine all the offices which become free in the Indies in a spirit of justice, alongside the president and council of that enterprise, except for those in the Casa de la Contratación, the Viceroyalties, the presidents of the audiencias and the office of fundidor and inspector of forges, as well as the other principal governors I would reserve for myself … All the other dignities and benefits should be guaranteed by the Prince.” These declarations read like statements in the Emperor’s will.

In July, Charles wrote more optimistically from Augsburg: “By letter from Seville on the 12th last, I have gathered that the fleet of the Indies has arrived in Sanlúcar with the galleons coming from all parts [that is, Peru, New Spain, the other Indies, and the islands], and everything on board has been unloaded.”

Philip wrote back on November 24, 1551: “And inasmuch as we are talking of the Indies, they say that the latest reports which have been sent are satisfactory and that, from the treasure brought from Peru by the bishop of Palencia [La Gasca], there remains to be taken to Barcelona only 130,000 ducats. And in respect of the other amount from the Indies, that is from Tierra Firme [Venezuela and Colombia], New Spain and Honduras, they say that only 80,765 ducats have yet to be delivered.” The letter went into much detail as to how the money from the Indies should be spent. In December, Philip wrote again, from Madrid: “What would be really sensible would be to establish a fleet to guard the coast of Andalusia, from cape Saint Vincent to the straits of Gibraltar, to ensure the safety of the vessels which go to and come from the Indies which is now the main route of the merchants in Seville and Andalusia and where damage can be done by the French. And this fleet could be paid for by a grant which Your Majesty could make and be financed by a tax which could be levied on all merchandise coming from the Indies.”

The naval fleet of ships named to protect the merchant ships was always exposed to illegal or even corrupt practice. Thus as much as a quarter of the galleons were carrying goods that overweighed them. The captains of these ships argued that they were rendering their vessels unfit for fighting. But these critics were told that so long as the gundecks were free, a cargo in the hold made the ships steadier. The curious part of this story was that the captains carried their illegal cargoes above decks, where they could easily be seen. Captains sometimes made 100,000 pesos from this illegal freight and more from the sale of offices on their ships to merchants.

In early 1552, Philip was at Madrid, and La Gasca, the victor of Peru, who was becoming an imperial adviser of the first rank, was with the princess María at Linz negotiating for Ferdinand with Prince Maurice of Saxony. Charles’s brother, Ferdinand, continued to show concern for the Indies, putting many questions to La Gasca, who received as a present from Ferdinand eight plates richly worked; and Gasca bought a triptych to give to the church of El Barco de Ávila, very close to his birthplace.

Charles, despite his triumph at Mühlberg, did not escape further difficulties—on the contrary. He passed the winter of 1551–52 at Innsbruck, the great city associated with his grandfather Maximilian. In the spring of 1552, he heard that the Protestant Princes, outraged by the Emperor’s treatment of their colleagues, would receive the backing of the new king Henry of France, who, with Maurice of Saxony, was ready to fall on the fortresses of Metz, Toul, and Verdun. Charles was on the point of becoming a prisoner. On March 3, 1552, Charles sent a chamberlain, Joachim de Rye, Sieur de Balançon, with instructions to his brother, begging him to try to persuade the Princes to seek peace because the Turkish peril was surely far more grave. But Maurice of Saxony (now known in imperial circles as the “kinglet”) nevertheless sent his army against Charles, and on May 23 entered Innsbruck. Charles and what there was of the court only escaped by fleeing south across the Brenner Pass into Italy in driving rain. La Gasca, the Peruvian veteran, was, remarkably, with his master in this crisis.

Charles was now at war with France on every front, and in April, Metz was seized by the constable of France, the brilliant and powerful friend of the late King Francis I, Anne de Montmorency. Metz was a city proud of being a Free Imperial City but it was free within the Holy Roman Empire just as if it were a state. Francis, duke of Guise (Le Balafré) as governor ruthlessly pulled down the suburbs and even moved the body of King Louis the Pious from Saint Arnulf’s, outside the walls, to the cathedral of Saint-Etienne, within the city. Only in the autumn did troops come from Spain, which enabled the Emperor in person to besiege Guise in Metz; but the duke was a brilliant defender in a siege, and Charles failed to recapture the place.

Philip wanted to help his father. He wrote in May from Madrid: “I have no information about the news that Peru has sent to Panama and Nombre de Dios over 335,000 pesos.” He wrote again in June, saying that he was anxious to ensure that the Spaniards who came back from the Spice Islands would be well received: “Let them be good informers about the state of those islands.” Then in July, the Casa de la Contratación reported that the treasure brought back by La Gasca amounted to 1,906,082 escudos. Of these, 600,000 would be sent to Germany, 400,000 to the Low Countries, 200,000 to Parma, and only 200,000 to Castile, while 100,000 would be a loan to the pope.

Given the increased reliance of the Spanish Crown on its income from the Indies, the Casa de la Contratación now received new rules of conduct, following the similar reorganization that we have seen of the Council of the Indies. The headquarters would still be in Seville, but there would be a daily Mass and fixed hours of work. Functionaries who did not attend would be fined. They would have to live in the Casa and take an oath on introduction. The discussions in the afternoons would deal with licenses to go to the Indies. Votes would be by a simple majority. Grave disputes would be referred to the Council of the Indies. Sections 27 to 30 of the new rules forbade officials to receive gifts for any services or to do anything commercial in the Indies. Sections 121 to 126 listed those people forbidden to go to the Indies—Moors, new Christians (conversos), and descendants of those punished by the Inquisition—and also merchandise that was similarly prohibited, which would include “profane books and stories, books whose contents are untruthful,” with the only books permitted being those that dealt with Christianity and virtue. There was a specific decree repeating the banning of the import of romances into the New World; it was still thought that Indians might doubt the scriptures if they realized that these books were fictional. But this law had little effect.

Scientific books were not banned, but the Council of the Indies wanted strict censorship of both historical and geographical works dealing with the Indies. Sections 144 to the end of the rules of conduct dealt with how ships should sail to the Indies. Two-thirds of the water that was carried should be in well-prepared casks. The rest could go in clay pots or vats or pitchers, which were less good than casks since they sometimes broke and water was wasted.

These rules were signed in August 1552 by Philip and then were widely distributed to colonial officials, a copy being placed on every ship.

On October 7, 1552, Philip wrote to his father from Monzón, where he was attending the cortes of Aragon, to say that, in respect of paying the expenses that he had previously listed, “the principal recourse for those necessities is the Indies.”

We find Charles replying, from Metz, no less, “Insofar as the perpetuity of the encomiendas is concerned, we think that this is not the time to treat of that … All the same, we think that we have done well by arranging a contract with Hernán Ochoa for the sale of 23,000 African slaves for the Indies.”

On November 12, 1553, Philip wrote again to the emperor Charles that every year more corsairs sailed out of France intending to sack Spanish imperial ports. In the previous July, they had destroyed La Palma, in the Canaries. Yet, had it not been for the sums that now regularly reached Castile from the Indies, Spain would probably have had to abandon northern Europe.

In Spain, Hernando Pizarro, the eloquent victor of Cuzco, seemed a reproach to all. He had been condemned for the illegal execution of Almagro. He was first ordered to be sent to a prison colony in North Africa. That sentence was commuted and Hernando found himself confined in a fortress in Madrid. Finally, he was sent in June 1543 to the Castillo de la Mota, just outside Medina del Campo, city of imagination (Bernal Díaz del Castillo) and of fantasy (Amadís de Gaula). Hernando reached there in June 1543, and he remained there till May 1561. He lived comfortably, but confined all the same. At first, he lived with Isabel Mercado of Medina del Campo. Then in 1552, he married his niece, the daughter of his brother Francisco Pizarro, Francisca, who was then aged seventeen. The idea of such a marriage to Francisca had occurred at one time to Gonzalo Pizarro.

Hernando, once married to such a very rich girl as his niece, devoted his time to centralizing the management of his family’s estates in Peru, part of which had been managed by royal officials after the final defeat of Gonzalo. When eventually Hernando and Francisca left La Mota, free, in 1561, they went to live at La Zarza. That village outside Trujillo had always belonged to the Pizarro family, of which Hernando was now the head. They embarked there on “a strategy of reconstruction of their finances” and built a new palace in the main square of Trujillo (which still survives). They lived in the shadow of the coat of arms granted to Francisco Pizarro. They had also inherited Francisco’s marquessate, which, from 1576, was named as “of the Conquest.” Hernando died two years later, a survivor of extraordinary deeds into what seemed a calmer age. Francisca lived until 1598, having married again to Pedro Arias Portocarrero, son of the count of Puñonrostro.

Hernando’s fortune was large. In about 1550, it was almost as big as that of the family of Cortés—32,000 pesos a year, in comparison with the family of Cortés’s 36,800. Nor does this figure for Hernando’s income include the product of his mercantile adventures and mines. In the end, Hernando gained control of most of the estate (including the Porco mines) that the Pizarro brothers had acquired during the conquest.


Popes, Cardinals and War: The Military Church in Renaissance and Early Modern Europe by D.S. Chambers (Author)

‘Blessed are the peacemakers.’ But blessed, too, have been the warmongers throughout the Christian centuries. Among the many aspects of this paradox a particular problem arises: how far could papal authority and the clerical hierarchy go in supporting or even committing acts of war in defence of the Church? The question has never been resolved with precision. St Ambrose (ca.340–97) proclaimed that – unlike Old Testament leaders, such as Joshua or David – Christian clerics should refrain from force: ‘I cannot surrender the church, but I must not fight’ ‘pugnare non debeo’; ‘Against weapons, soldiers, the Goths, tears are my arms, these are the defences of a priest.’ These precepts set the canonical line, but a fine distinction in culpability came to be admitted between inflicting violence directly and inciting others to acts of violence and bloodshed. It remained a matter of serious concern throughout the Middle Ages and beyond: how was the necessary defence of the Church to be defined and limited? Could the clergy, the officers of the Church, in conscience wholly avoid being involved in homicidal physical conflict, at least in self-defence?

In practice, when acute physical dangers threatened the Church, and its Roman power base in particular, active response must have seemed a matter of duty. The site of Rome, halfway down the ‘leg’ of Italy, was extremely vulnerable once the huge resources, military and naval strength, and well-maintained road system of the empire had gone. Successive hordes of invaders attacked or threatened the Roman bishopric’s sanctuaries and scattered estates, as well as overrunning other provinces of Italy. In the summer of 452 Pope Leo I reputedly stopped the Huns in their tracks only thanks to a miraculous if terrifying overflight of St Peter and St Paul, but Pope Gregory the Great (590–604) confronted the Lombards with military leadership. He exhorted his military captains to strive for glory, and provisioned and directed troops in defence of Rome. Two centuries later the recurrent invaders were Muslim Arabs or Moors from North Africa. Leo IV (pope 847–55) accompanied the Roman army that fought victoriously against Muslim pirates at the mouth of the Tiber, and was responsible for building fortified walls to protect the Borgo Leonino, the district near St Peter’s. John VIII (pope 872–82) in 877 commanded a galley in a joint naval campaign with Amalfitan and Greek forces against the Muslims. Maybe the scale of the victory was exaggerated, but the nineteenth-century historian Ferdinand Gregorovius felt justified in writing ‘this is the first time in history that a Pope made war as an admiral’. He quoted a letter allegedly from the Pope himself, claiming that ‘eighteen ships were captured, many Saracens were slain and almost 600 slaves liberated’. In 915 John X (pope 914–28) was present at another victory against Muslims on the river Garigliano in 915, and wrote to the Archbishop of Cologne boasting that he had bared his own chest to the enemy (‘se ipsum corpusque suum opponendo’) and twice joined battle. It is arguable that the papal resistance was largely responsible for saving the mainland of Italy from the Muslim domination that befell Sicily and much of Spain.

A very different challenge was presented by the northern ascendancy of the Frankish monarchy in the eight and ninth centuries. Its professed role was to protect the papacy, and this included large-scale ‘donations’ of territory in Italy, by Pepin (754), Charlemagne (774) and Louis the Pious (817). These confirmed at least some of the items in the forged ‘donation’ of Constantine, according to which the recently converted Emperor Constantine I, who moved his capital to Byzantium (henceforth Constantinople) in 330, transferred to the Pope extensive rights and possessions in the west. Not until the ninth century, however, did the boundaries of these claims begin to become at all geographically precise, including much of Umbria and extending north of the Appenines to parts of Emilia.

The Frankish kings’ protective, military role was graphically expressed by Charlemagne in a famous letter congratulating Leo III (pope 795–816) on his accession. In this he declared that, while his own task was to defend the Church by arms, the Pope would simply need to raise his arms to God, like Moses did to ensure victory over the Amalikites (Exodus XVII, 8–13). The other side of the bargain was that the Pope should perform coronation of his protector as emperor, the revived title duly conferred on Charlemagne in Rome on Christmas Day 800. As the imperial office also carried an aura of divinity, this protective role would eventually lead to trouble, a challenge over primacy of jurisdiction, but meanwhile it helped to preserve the papacy’s dignity. Another Germanic dynasty subsequently rescued it from the scandalous if obscure confusion that prevailed in Rome during the first half of the tenth century. During that period the local nobility, and even two unscrupulous matriarchs, Theodora and her daughter Marozia, determined the appointment and even perhaps the deposition of several popes. After 960, however, three Saxon emperors, all named Otto, began to repair the situation. Early in 962 Otto I was crowned by Marozia’s son, John XII (pope since 957), who had appealed for his protection, but in December 962 John was deposed by Otto. According to Liudprand, Bishop of Cremona, who acted as Otto’s interpreter and is therefore fairly credible as a source, this was in response to collective denunciations by senior Roman clergy. Among the alleged offences of John XII were fornication, drunkenness, arson and playing at dice, but a special emphasis seems to have been placed on publicly bearing arms. Ultimately he had turned against his imperial protector and advanced with troops against Otto’s army ‘equipped with shield, sword, helmet and cuirass’. Otto allegedly declared, ‘There are as many witnesses to that as there are fighting men in our army.’

Most successful in sharing or dominating the papacy’s authority was Otto I’s grandson Otto III. He resided in Rome once he had come of age in 996 and oversaw the appointments of his cousin Bruno of Carinthia (Gregory V, pope 996–99), who crowned him emperor, and the learned Gerbert of Aurillac (Silvester II, pope 999–1003). Both Otto I and Otto III also issued new ‘donations’, confirming the Frankish concessions of papal title to territories formerly occupied by Byzantine Greeks and Lombards. Much of central Italy, including Umbria, southern Tuscany and lands bordering the Adriatic roughly from the region of Ravenna down to Ascoli, were redefined as potential lands of St Peter. Only ‘potential’, of course, because these claims under ‘donation’ would be hard to realise and enforce; centuries of effort, with many setbacks, lay ahead. After a relapse under local political forces in the early eleventh century, the papacy again came to be protected by a German royal dynasty. From 1046 to 1055, under the Salian Henry III, a succession of reputable popes were appointed, and to one of these, Victor II, Henry conceded rule over the March of Ancona, but seemingly as an imperial vassal. For popes to have to admit the superiority or semi-parity of the emperor’s office was a hard price to pay for security.

In the course of the eleventh century lofty ideas were advanced concerning both the nature of papal authority and – as an inevitable aspect of this – ecclesiastical sanctions of warfare. There were of course earlier pronouncements on the superior nature of papal power. Gelasius I (pope 492–96) is credited with introducing the idea of the Church as a principality set above all earthly princes and the pope as the vicar not only of St Peter but of Christ himself. Nicholas I (pope 858–67) pronounced that the papacy was the greater of the two lights set over the earth, that popes were princes over the whole world, and only with their sanction could the emperor use the sword; he even quoted St Peter’s use of the physical sword against Malchus. But it was not until the eleventh and twelfth centuries that scholars concerned with establishing the ‘canon law’ of the Church – pronouncements, rulings and precedents governing Church affairs laid down by successive popes and jurists – built up systematically, with the support of theologians, the ‘hierocratic’ theory of superior and universal papal power, including the power to depose unworthy rulers.

These ideas, however strong in their implications for future wars, need not concern us at this point so much as two practical measures designed to ensure more effective papal authority, both of them the achievements of Nicholas II (pope 1059–61). One was the decree that laid down regular procedure in papal elections: that popes could only be elected by the ‘cardinal’ bishops, priests and deacons of Rome. As well as this constitutional provision aimed at stabilising the papal monarchy – though it failed for centuries to avert counter-elections of ‘antipopes’ – in the same year 1059 a momentous step was taken to bring the southern half of Italy and Sicily under the legal lordship of the papacy. This was the grant of conditional rulership made to the Normans Robert Guiscard and Robert of Capua, who had previously been regarded as the most troublesome and threatening of intruders in that region. The Treaty of Melfi created them dukes ‘by the grace of God and St Peter’, with a promise of the lordship of Sicily, conditional on its recapture from the Muslims. It decisively overruled or disregarded any surviving claims of Greeks, Lombards, Muslims or other de facto occupiers, and the inclusion of Sicily seems to have depended on the donation of Constantine rather than any later, more valid concessions. This turning of southern Italy into a papal fief, with obligations upon its ruler to owe the Pope military support, would have enormous consequences in the future.

Specifically on the issue of war, first, there was also a legalistic dimension that developed in the eleventh century. One of the earliest specialists in canon law, Burchard of Worms (ca.965–1025), insisted ‘the clergy cannot fight for both God and the World’, but later canonists accepted that the problem was more complicated than this. Second, there was also a spiritual dimension, investing war – in certain circumstances – with a positive value. This was an aspect of the monastically inspired reform movement in the Church. Leo IX (pope 1049–54), Bruno, the former Archbishop of Toul, was one of a group of serious reformers in Lorraine who combined austere religious standards with a warrior mentality, as did his colleague Wazo, Bishop of Liège, who was acclaimed by his biographer as a ‘Judas Maccabeus’ in his military exploits, praised for defending Liège and destroying the castles of his opponents. As archbishop Bruno had led a force in support of Emperor Henry III. As pope he waged war against his deposed predecessor Benedict IX and his partisans in 1049–50 and personally commanded an army of Swabians against the Normans in June 1053, suffering defeat at the Battle of Civitate, the disaster that made clear that the only way forward was to adopt the Normans as allies rather than enemies. Among Leo IX’s recorded declarations was the precept ‘Those who do not fear spiritual sanction should be smitten by the sword’, though it was intended mainly against bandits and pagans.

Penetrated by both monastic reforming zeal and by canon law experts who insisted on a universal, ultimate pontifical authority over the emperor and all other secular powers, the later eleventh-century papacy was almost bound to accept that force could be sanctioned, that war and bloodshed in the right cause could even be sacred. Matters reached a head in the 1070s, with recurrent conflict between the Franconian Henry IV, king, and the emperor-elect since 1056 and the former monk Hildebrand as Gregory VII (pope 1073–85). Even before he became pope, Hildebrand had been involved in the use of force. He may have served with Leo IX; certainly he was associated with Alexander II (Anselm I of Lucca) in 1061–63. He had been largely responsible for bringing the Normans into papal service, and for employing independent military figures such as Godfrey of Lorraine. They enabled Alexander to overcome the anti-pope Cadalus, Bishop of Parma (‘Honorius II’), who for a while had controlled Rome. Hildebrand, unlike so many of the medieval popes, was not born into the nobility or warrior caste, but scientific tests of his bones have shown at least that he was sturdily built and used to riding a horse.

Soon after becoming pope, Gregory VII issued direct orders to the papacy’s mercenary forces, notably the Normans under Robert Guiscard. On 7 December 1074 he wrote to Henry IV, claiming that thousands of volunteers were calling upon him to combine the roles of ‘military commander and pontiff’ (‘si me possunt pro duce ac pontifice habere’) and lead in person an army to aid eastern Christians against the Seljuk Turks.

Gregory’s conflict with Henry IV was at first a war of words rather than of arms. It was partly legalistic, over investiture to higher Church appointments and the need for clerical reforms, but even more over incompatible temperaments and claims of superior authority. The conflict blew hot and cold; in 1075, until the autumn, Gregory seemed on the point of agreeing to crown Henry emperor, but the following year he was excommunicated. Nevertheless in January 1077 he presented himself at Canossa as a penitent. In 1080 Gregory excommunicated Henry IV for the second time, whereupon the pro-imperial bishops at the Synod of Brixen elected Guibert, Archbishop of Ravenna, as anti-pope. Then Gregory announced that ‘with the cooler weather in September’ he would mount a military expedition against Ravenna to evict Guibert. He also had in mind a campaign to punish Alfonso II of Castile for his misdeeds, threatening him not just metaphorically: ‘We shall be forced to unsheathe over you the sword of St Peter.’ While it would be hard to prove that Gregory VII ever wielded a material sword, and his frequent pronouncements invoking ‘soldiers of Christ’ or ‘the war of Christ’ may sometimes have been metaphorical rather than literal, it is easy to see how his enemies – those serving Henry IV or Guibert of Ravenna – could present his combative character as bellicose on an almost satanic scale. ‘What Christian ever caused so many wars or killed so many men?’ wrote Guy of Ferrara, who insisted that Hildebrand had had a passion for arms since boyhood, and later on led a private army. Guibert, who wrote a biographical tract denouncing Hildebrand, made similar allegations. Such criticism carried on where the militant reformer and preacher Peter Damiani (1007–72) had left off; although in many respects Damiani’s views on what was wrong with the Church were compatible with Hildebrand’s, he had insisted that ecclesiastical warfare was unacceptable: Christ had ordered St Peter to put up his sword; ‘Holy men should not kill heretics and heathen…never should one take up the sword for the faith.’

Further justifications of military force initiated and directed by popes had to be devised. Gregory’s adviser and vicar in Lombardy from 1081 to 1085, Anselm II, Bishop of Lucca, made a collection of canon law precedents at his request. In this compilation Anselm proposed that the Church could lawfully exert punitive justice or physical coercion; indeed, that such a proper use of force was even a form of charity. ‘The wounds of a friend are better than the kisses of an enemy,’ he declared, and – echoing St Augustine – ‘It is better to love with severity than to beguile with mildness.’ He invoked the Old Testament parallel, arguing that Moses did nothing cruel when at the Lord’s command he slew certain men, perhaps alluding to the punitive slaughter authorised after the worship of the Golden Calf (Exodus XXXIII, 27–8) or to the earlier battle of Israel against the Amalekites, when the fortunes of war depended on the effort of Moses’s keeping his arms in the air (the episode Charlemagne had quoted to Leo III). Anselm does not go so far as to recommend that popes and other clergy should personally inflict violence on erring Christians, but he allows that they could mastermind it; the rules might be even more relaxed in wars against non-Christians, including lapsed and excommunicated former members of the Catholic Church.

Few of Gregory VII’s successors could equal that extraordinary pope’s remorseless energy, but on their part there was no renouncing of coercion by force. Even Paschal II (pope 1099–1118), a sick and elderly monk, who submitted to the humiliation of imprisonment by the Emperor Henry V in 1111, spent much of his pontificate going from siege to siege in the region of Rome. In the year of his death he supervised the mounting of ‘war machines’ at Castel Sant’Angelo to overcome rebels occupying St Peter’s. Innocent II (1130–43) was engaged in war with a rival elected soon after himself – possibly by a larger number of the cardinals – who took the name Anacletus and for a while even controlled Rome itself. Both of them found strong backers. Anacletus persuaded the German king Lothar to bring military force against his rival; Innocent obtained the support of Roger II, the Norman ruler of Sicily. In July 1139 Innocent definitely had the worst of it when an army led by himself was ambushed at Galluccio, near the river Garigliano between Rome and Naples. He was taken prisoner and had to concede to Roger investiture as king of Sicily, which Anacletus had previously bestowed on him. This was a considerable upgrading of the title ‘Apostolic Legate’, which had been conferred on Roger’s father and namesake in 1098 in recognition of the successful reconquest of Sicily from the Muslims. The grant of kingship was the culmination or reaffirmation of the policy intended to ensure a strong and loyal military defence for the papacy in the south. As a favoured relationship it had not worked altogether smoothly. One of its lowest points was Robert Guiscard’s delay in coming to the help of Gregory VII in 1084, when he delivered Rome from its long siege by Henry IV, but caused a bloodbath; another low point was the war in the 1130s mentioned above. Yet another papal defeat by Norman forces, in spite of the concession of kingship to Roger II, befell Adrian IV at Benevento in 1156. In all these military conflicts it cannot be proved that Paschal II, Innocent II, Anacletus or Adrian IV engaged physically in fighting, but in each case they accompanied armies and appear to have directed – or misdirected – field operations.

A formidable challenge arose in the middle of the twelfth century on the part of the empire, the very authority that was supposedly ‘protecting’ the papacy. In the hands of Frederick I ‘Barbarossa’, of the Swabian Staufer or Staufen family – generally but incorrectly called Hohenstaufen – the empire or its lawyers advanced its own claims to government of cities and lands in northern Italy, including the city of Rome, despite local civic aspirations. The English cardinal Breakspear, elected as Adrian IV (pope 1154–59), duly crowned Frederick in 1155, but his safe arrival at St Peter’s had depended on his relative, Cardinal Octavian, securing it with armed force. The imperial decrees issued at Roncaglia, near Piacenza, in 1158 made clear that Frederick had no greater respect for the judicial, fiscal and territorial claims of the papacy than he had for civic autonomy. Adrian IV, under whose rule there had been a certain advance in papal control of central Italian castles and towns, protested vehemently to the emperor. In practice, however, in his three invasions of Italy Frederick was more concerned with Lombardy and its rapidly growing and de facto independent mercantile cities, above all Milan, which as punishment for its defiance he devastated in 1162. Without seeking direct military confrontation, the astute Sienese jurist Cardinal Rolando Bandinelli, elected as Alexander III (pope 1159–81), gave financial and moral support to the Lombard cities. He had meanwhile to contend with a series of anti-popes elected by proimperial cardinals. After the Lombard League’s famous victory against Frederick at Legnano in 1174 Alexander was able to play the role of mediator and peacemaker. Much of central Italy nevertheless was subjected in his time to imperial, not papal, jurisdiction and taxation, under the direction of men such as Christian of Mainz, whose administrative capital was Viterbo, and Conrad of Urslingen, who in 1177 became imperial Duke of Spoleto. In 1164 Frederick Barbarossa had even ordered Christian to move with an army to help install his antipope in Rome. The reversal of this imperial heyday had to wait until after the deaths of Barbarossa (drowned on crusade in 1190) and his son Henry VI in 1197.

Pope Julius versus Venice and France I

Pope Julius II

Despite his eventual recovery, the sickness that struck Cesare Borgia on that fateful August 12 was to destroy his life. The disappearance of Alexander from the scene created a vacuum which brought chaos in its train; several cities rose in open revolt. A French army under Francesco Gonzaga had already reached Viterbo, only forty miles from Rome; meanwhile, a Spanish army under its brilliant young general Gonsalvo de Córdoba was hurrying northward from Naples. In normal times Cesare might have been able to deal with the situation; but now, desperately ill in the Vatican, he was powerless to take the swift military action necessary to save his career. Political action was his only hope; and that meant ensuring from his father’s successor the support he needed. He managed to secure some 100,000 ducats from his family’s private treasury, and with this, from his sickbed, he hoped to bribe the coming conclave. At all costs he must prevent the election of his most dangerous enemy, Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, nephew of Pope Sixtus IV, who had been living in exile in France during the greater part of Alexander’s pontificate. The surest way of achieving this was, he knew, to block the cardinal’s return to Rome.

He failed. Della Rovere arrived unscathed, together with Cardinal Georges d’Amboise, Louis XII’s chief counselor, who was as ambitious for the tiara as he was. A third determined candidate was Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, who had broken with Alexander over his pro-French policies; now released from prison by d’Amboise in order to cast his vote for the Frenchman, he found himself unexpectedly popular and began lobbying on his own account. In fact, d’Amboise was soon effectively eliminated: a French pope at such a moment seemed almost as bad an idea as another Spanish one, particularly after della Rovere had spread the word that it would mean the second removal of the Papacy to France. The struggle seemed to be between della Rovere and Sforza; neither, however, could accumulate the votes necessary to carry the day, and the choice of the cardinals finally fell on a compromise candidate, Francesco Todeschini-Piccolomini, Archbishop of Siena, who took the name of Pius III as a tribute to his uncle Pius II. He was already sixty-four but looked and acted a good deal older and was crippled by gout. There was a general feeling that he would not last long.

In fact, he lasted twenty-six days, one of the shortest pontificates in history. He had been a fine, upstanding churchman of unquestioned integrity and had been the only cardinal brave enough to protest when Alexander had transferred papal territories to his son the Duke of Gandia. There were strong indications that, had he lived, he would have summoned a General Council and driven through the reforms that were so desperately needed. With his death on October 18, 1503, the opportunity was lost—and it was the Church that paid the price.

One of the shortest pontificates was followed by the shortest conclave. It lasted for a few hours on November 1. Giuliano della Rovere had done his work well and had spread his money astutely; he had even managed to secure the vote of Ascanio Sforza, the only other serious potential contender. And it was plain to all that he was born to command. In the words of the Venetian envoy:

No one has any influence over him, and he consults few or none. It is almost impossible to describe how strong and violent and difficult he is to manage. In body and soul, he has the nature of a giant. Everything about him is on a magnified scale, both his undertakings and his passions. He inspires fear rather than hatred, for there is nothing in him that is small or meanly selfish.

It might have been thought that the election of this terrifying figure as Pope Julius II—he had scarcely bothered to change his name—would spell the end for Cesare Borgia. It did not. Just two weeks before, the Orsini had stormed Cesare’s palace in the Borgo, and he, by now fully restored to health, had taken refuge in the Castel Sant’Angelo. He was still there when messengers arrived from della Rovere assuring him of his protection in the event of their master’s being elected. Accordingly, the moment he heard of the election, Cesare had returned to his old quarters in the Vatican. But, as he well knew, he was there only on sufferance. It was in Julius’s interest to string him along, simply because his power base was the Romagna, where Venice was helping herself to more and more cities; Julius for the moment had no army and consequently needed Cesare’s. When he had no more use for the Duke of Valentinois, he would unquestionably ditch him.

As of course he did. Cesare Borgia still retained much of his old fire, but without his father’s protection and support the days of power and glory were gone and he fades out of our story. Exiled to Spain in 1504, he died in 1507, fighting for his brother-in-law King John of Navarre at the siege of Viana. He was thirty-one years old.

There is a story that when Michelangelo was working on his fourteen-foot bronze statue of Pope Julius II and suggested putting a book in the pope’s left hand, Julius replied, “Nay, give me a sword, for I am no scholar!” He spoke no more than the truth; he was indeed a soldier, through and through. Not since Leo IX—at Civitate in 1053—had a pope led his army personally in battle; Julius did so on several occasions, notably when, in January 1511, aged sixty-eight and wearing full armor, he personally trudged with his army through deep snowdrifts to capture Mirandola from the French. His world, like that of his enemy Alexander VI, was exclusively temporal; for the spiritual he had no time or inclination, and to establish the Papacy firmly as a temporal power was the primary task to which he devoted his pontificate. This involved, inevitably, a good deal of fighting. Already by the autumn of 1504 he had succeeded in bringing both France and the empire into an alliance against Venice—another instance of foreign armies being invited into Italy to settle what were essentially domestic differences—and in April 1506, immediately after laying the cornerstone of the new St. Peter’s, he led his entire Curia on an expedition to regain Perugia and Bologna from the local families who saw themselves as independent despots and ruled accordingly. The Baglioni in Perugia surrendered—one suspects rather to the pope’s disappointment—without a fight; the Bentivoglio in Bologna put up rather more resistance, but eventually the paterfamilias, Giovanni—who had ruled there for over forty years—fled to France and the pope made his triumphal entry into the city.

Venice, however, remained his archenemy. Five years before, he had been her most trusted friend in the whole of the Sacred College; but she had recently seized several cities in the Romagna that had previously fallen to Cesare Borgia. Those cities, which had traditionally belonged to the Holy See, she had refused to surrender; so now Julius was determined on her destruction. Italy, as he saw it, was divided into three. In the North was French Milan, in the South Spanish Naples. Between the two there was room for one—but only one—powerful and prosperous state; and that state, Julius was determined, must be the Papacy. A new stream of emissaries was dispatched from Rome—to France and Spain, to the Emperor Maximilian, to Milan, Hungary, and the Netherlands. All bore the same proposal, for a joint expedition by Western Christendom against the Venetian Republic and the consequent dismemberment of its empire.

The states of Europe could not be expected to feel much sympathy for such a policy. Their motive for joining the proposed league was neither to support the Papacy nor to destroy Venice but to help themselves. However much they might try to present their action as a blow struck for righteousness against iniquity, they knew perfectly well that their own conduct was more blameworthy than ever Venice’s had been. But the temptation was too great, and the territories promised them were irresistible. They accepted. So it was that what appeared to be the death warrant of the Venetian Empire was signed at Cambrai on December 10, 1508, by Margaret of Austria on behalf of her father, Maximilian, and by Cardinal d’Amboise for the King of France. Julius himself, though his legate was present at Cambrai, did not formally join the League until the following spring; he seems to have been uncertain whether the other signatories were in earnest. But when in March 1509 King Ferdinand II of Aragon announced his formal adherence, he hesitated no longer. On April 5 he openly associated himself with the rest and placed Venice under an interdict, and on the fifteenth the first French soldiers marched into Venetian territory. A month later, on May 14, the French met the Venetians just outside the village of Agnadello. For Venice, it was catastrophe. Her casualties were about 4,000, and her entire mainland empire was as good as lost. Before the end of the month the pope’s official legate received back the fateful lands in the Romagna with which the whole tragedy had begun.

But very soon the pendulum began to swing. Less than two months after Agnadello came the first reports of spontaneous uprisings on the mainland in favor of Venice, and on July 17, after just forty-two days as an imperial city, Padua returned beneath the sheltering wing of the Lion of St. Mark. There had as yet been no sign of Maximilian in Italy, but the news of Padua’s defection brought him down from Trento with an army. His siege began on September 15, and for a fortnight the German and French heavy artillery pounded away at the walls, reducing them to rubble; yet somehow every assault was beaten back. On the thirtieth the emperor gave up.

When Pope Julius was told of the reconquest of Padua, he flew into a towering rage, and when, after Maximilian’s failure to recover it, he heard that Verona too was likely to declare for Venice, he is said to have hurled his cap to the ground and blasphemed St. Peter. His hatred of Venice was as vindictive as ever, and although he had agreed to accept a six-man Venetian embassy in Rome, it was soon clear that he had done so only in order to inflict still more humilation on the republic. On their arrival in early July, the envoys had been forbidden, as excommunicates, to enter the city until after dark, to lodge in the same house, and even to go out together on official business. One only was granted an audience, which rapidly deteriorated into a furious diatribe by Julius himself. Not, he maintained, until the provisions of the League of Cambrai had been carried out to the letter and the Venetians had knelt before him with halters around their necks would he consider giving them absolution.

At first Venice rejected the pope’s terms outright; she even appealed to the Turkish sultan for support, requesting as many troops as he could spare and a loan of not less than 100,000 ducats. But the sultan remained silent, and by the end of the year the Venetians saw that they must capitulate. And so, on February 24, 1510, Pope Julius II took his seat on a specially constructed throne outside the central doors of St. Peter’s, twelve of his cardinals around him. The five Venetian envoys, dressed in scarlet—the sixth had died a few days before—advanced toward him and kissed his foot, then knelt on the steps while their spokesman made a formal request on behalf of the republic for absolution and the Bishop of Ancona read out the full text of the agreement. This must have made painful listening for the envoys—not least because it lasted for a full hour, during which time they were forced to remain on their knees. Rising with difficulty, they received twelve scourging rods from the twelve cardinals—the actual scourging was mercifully omitted—swore to observe the terms of the agreement, kissed the pope’s feet again, and were at last granted absolution. Only then were the doors of the basilica opened, and the assembled company proceeded in state for prayers at the high altar before going on to Mass in the Sistine Chapel—all except the pope, who, as one of the Venetians explained in his report, “never attended these long services.”

The pendulum, it seemed, was swinging again. The news of the pope’s reconciliation with Venice had not been well received by his fellow members of the League; at the absolution ceremony the French, imperial, and Spanish ambassadors to the Holy See, all of whom were in Rome at the time, were conspicuous by their absence. Although Julius made no effort to dissociate himself formally from the alliance, he was soon afterward heard to boast that by granting Venice absolution he had plunged a dagger into the heart of the King of France—proof enough that he now saw the French, rather than the Venetians, as the principal obstacle to his Italian policy and that he had effectively changed sides. By the high summer of 1510 his volte-face was complete, his new dispositions made. His scores with Venice had been settled; now it was the turn of France.

By all objective standards, Pope Julius’s action was contemptible. Having encouraged the French to take up arms against Venice, he now refused to allow them the rewards which he himself had promised, turning against them with all the violence and venom that he had previously displayed toward the Venetians. He also opened new negotiations with the emperor in an attempt to turn him, too, against his former ally. His claim, regularly resurrected in his defense by later apologists, that his ultimate objective was to free Italy from foreign invaders, would have been more convincing if he had not invited those particular invaders in in the first place.

There was, in any case, another motive for the pope’s sudden change of policy. Having for the first time properly consolidated the Papal States, he was now bent on increasing them by the annexation of the Duchy of Ferrara. Duke Alfonso II, during the past year, had become little more than an agent of the French king; his saltworks at Comaccio were in direct competition with the papal ones at Cervia; finally, as husband of Lucrezia Borgia, he was the son-in-law of Alexander VI—a fact which, in the pope’s eyes, was alone more than enough to condemn him. In a bull circulated throughout Christendom, couched in language that St. Peter Martyr said made his hair stand on end, the luckless duke was anathematized and excommunicated.

In the early autumn of 1510 Pope Julius had high hopes for the future. A joint papal and Venetian force had effortlessly taken Modena in mid-August, and although Ferrara was strongly fortified there was good reason to believe that it would not be able to withstand a well-conducted siege. The pope, determined to be in at the kill, traveled north by easy stages and reached Bologna in late September. The Bolognesi gave him a frosty welcome. Since the expulsion of the Bentivoglio in 1506 they had been shamefully misgoverned and exploited by papal representatives and were on the verge of open revolt. The governor, Cardinal Francesco Alidosi, had already once been summoned to Rome to answer charges of peculation and had been acquitted only after the intervention of the pope himself, whose continued fondness for a man so patently corrupt could be explained, it was darkly whispered in Rome, only in homosexual terms. But the tension inside the city was soon overshadowed by a yet graver anxiety. Early in October a French army under the Seigneur de Chaumont and Viceroy of Milan marched south from Lombardy and advanced at full speed on Bologna. By the eighteenth it was three miles from the gates.

Pope Julius, confined to bed with a high fever in a fundamentally hostile city and knowing that he had less than a thousand of his own men on whom he could rely, gave himself up for lost. “O, che ruina è la nostra!” he is reported to have groaned. His promises to the Bolognesi that they would be exempted from taxation in return for firm support were received without enthusiasm, and he had already opened peace negotiations with the French when, at the eleventh hour, reinforcements arrived from two quarters simultaneously—a Venetian force of light cavalry and a contingent from Naples, sent by King Ferdinand as a tribute after his recent papal recognition. The pope’s courage flooded back at once. There was no more talk of a negotiated peace. Chaumont, who seems to have felt some last-minute qualms about laying hands on the papal person, was persuaded to withdraw, a decision which did not prevent Julius from hurling excommunications after him as he rode away.

It is hard not to feel a little sorry for the Seigneur de Chaumont. He was dogged by ill luck. Again and again we find him on the point of a major victory, only to have it plucked from his grasp. Often, too, there is about him more than a touch of the ridiculous. When Julius was besieging Mirandola, Chaumont’s relief expedition was twice delayed: the first time when he was hit on the nose by an accurately aimed snowball which happened to have a stone lodged in it, and then again on the following day when he fell off his horse into a river and was nearly drowned by the weight of his armor. He was three days recovering, only sixteen miles from the beleaguered castle; as a result, Mirandola fell. A month later, his attempt to regain Modena failed hopelessly, and on February 11, 1511, aged thirty-eight, he died of a sudden sickness which he—though no one else—ascribed to poison, just seven hours before the arrival of a papal letter lifting his sentence of excommunication.

But by this time the Duke of Ferrara, on whom the ban of the Church weighed rather less heavily, had scored a brilliant victory over a papal army which was advancing toward his city along the lower reaches of the Po, and Julius was once again on the defensive. In mid-May Chaumont’s successor, Gian Giacomo Trivulzio, led a second march on Bologna, and on his approach the inhabitants, seeing their chance of ridding themselves once and for all of the detested Cardinal Alidosi, rose in rebellion. The cardinal panicked and fled for his life without even troubling to warn either the Duke of Urbino, who was encamped with the papal troops in the western approaches, or the Venetians, a mile or two away to the south; and on May 23 Trivulzio entered Bologna at the head of his army and restored the Bentivoglio to their old authority.

Cardinal Alidosi, who in default of other virtues seems at least to have possessed a decent sense of shame, barricaded himself in his hometown, Castel del Rio, to escape the papal wrath, but he need not have bothered. Julius, who had prudently retired a few days earlier to Ravenna, bore him no grudge. Even now, in his eyes, his beloved friend could do no wrong: he unhesitatingly laid the entire blame for the disaster on the Duke of Urbino, whom he summoned at once to his presence. The interview that followed is unlikely to have diminished the duke’s long-standing contempt for Alidosi, for whose cowardice he was now being made the scapegoat. When, therefore, on emerging into the street he found himself face to face with his old enemy, who had just reached Ravenna to give the pope his own version of recent events, his pent-up anger became too much for him. Dragging the cardinal from his mule, he attacked him with his sword; Alidosi’s retinue, believing that he might be acting under papal orders, hesitated to intervene and moved forward only when the duke remounted his horse and rode off to Urbino, leaving their master dead in the dust.

The grief of Pope Julius at the murder of his favorite was, we read, terrible to behold. Weeping uncontrollably and waving aside all sustenance, he refused to stay any longer in Ravenna and had himself carried off at once to Rimini in a closed litter, through whose drawn curtains his sobs could be plainly heard. But there were more blows in store. Mirandola, for whose capture he had always felt himself personally responsible, was within a week or two to be lost to Trivulzio. The papal army, confused, demoralized, and now without a general, had disintegrated. With the recapture of Bologna, the way was open to the French to seize all the Church lands in the Romagna for which he had fought so hard and so long. All the work of the last eight years had gone for nothing. And now, at Rimini, the pope found a proclamation nailed to the door of the cathedral, signed by no fewer than nine of his own cardinals with the support of Maximilian and Louis of France, announcing that a General Council of the Church would be held at Pisa on September 1 to investigate and reform the abuses of his pontificate.

Pope Julius versus Venice and France II

As both a pope and a man, Julius had many faults. He was impetuous—“so impetuous,” wrote the contemporary historian Francesco Guicciardini, “that he would have been brought to ruin had he not been helped by the reverence felt for the Church, the discord of the princes and the condition of the times”—mercurial, vindictive, a poor organizer, and a deplorable judge of character. Though an adept diplomatic tactician, he had little sense of long-term strategy. Eaten up by worldly ambition, he was utterly unscrupulous in the pursuit of his ends. Certain qualities, however, he possessed in full measure. One was courage; another was indomitability of spirit. On his journey back to Rome, at the age of nearly seventy, he was already contemplating a new league, headed by himself and comprising Venice, Spain, England, and if possible the empire, whose combined forces would drive the French once and for all from the Italian Peninsula; and by the beginning of July negotiations had begun.

These presented no serious problems. Ferdinand of Spain had already gained all he could have hoped for from the League of Cambrai and had no desire to see any further strengthening of the French position in Italy. In England, Ferdinand’s son-in-law Henry VIII willingly agreed to keep his rival occupied in the North while his allies did the same in the South—although he was obliged to point out to the pope, while accepting his proposals, that it would have been better if they had not been carried by an obvious double agent (recommended, it appears, by the late Cardinal Alidosi), who was regularly reporting all developments to King Louis. Venice, which throughout the negotiations was fighting hard—and on the whole successfully—to resist French offensives in the Veneto and Friuli, asked nothing better. Maximilian, as usual, dithered; but even without him, the new league promised to be a force to be reckoned with.

One reason, apart from his natural temperament, for the emperor’s ambivalent attitude was the proposed Church Council at Pisa which he and King Louis had jointly sponsored. Already Louis was beginning to regret the idea, and support for it was rapidly falling away. After two short sessions, local hostility was to force its removal to Milan; and there, although under French protection, it was openly ridiculed to the point where a local chronicler forbore to record its proceedings because, he claimed, they could not be taken seriously and anyway he was short of ink.

Meanwhile the pope, having almost miraculously recovered from an illness during which his life had been despaired of, was able to proclaim the Holy League on October 4 and begin preparations for war. He soon found, however, that King Louis also held an important new card in his hand: his nephew Gaston de Foix, Duc de Nemours, who at the age of twenty-two had already proved himself one of the outstanding military commanders of the day. Courageous, imaginative, and resourceful, this astonishing young man could make a decision in an instant and, having taken it, could move an army like lightning. A dash from Milan in early February 1512 was enough to thwart an attempt by a papal army to recover Bologna; unfortunately, it also suggested to the citizens of Bergamo and Brescia that with the French forces away on campaign this was an opportune moment to rise in revolt and return to their old Venetian allegiance. They were quickly proved wrong. Marching night and day in bitter weather—and incidentally, smashing a Venetian division which tried to intercept him in a battle fought by moonlight at four in the morning—Nemours was at the walls of Brescia before the defenses could be properly manned, and he and his friend Bayard led the assault, fighting barefoot to give themselves a better grip on the sloping, slippery ground. Brescia was taken by storm, the leader of the revolt was publicly beheaded in the main square, and the whole city was given over to five days’ sack, during which the French and German troops fell on the local inhabitants, killing and raping with appalling savagery. It was another three days before the 15,000 corpses could be cleared from the streets. Bergamo hastily paid 60,000 ducats to escape a similar fate, and the revolt was at an end.

The campaign, however, was not. Nemours, determined to give his enemies no rest, returned to Milan to gather fresh troops and then immediately took the field again. With an army that now amounted to some 25,000, he marched on Ravenna and laid siege to the town. As a means of drawing out the papal army, the move was bound to succeed. Its commander, the Spanish viceroy in Naples, Ramón de Cardona, could not allow a city of such importance to be captured under his nose without lifting a finger to save it. And so on Easter Sunday, April 11, 1512, on the flat, marshy plain below the city, the battle was joined.

Of all the encounters recorded in Italy since Charles VIII had taken his first, fateful decision to establish a French presence in the peninsula nearly twenty years before, the Battle of Ravenna was the bloodiest. When at last the papalists fled from the field they left behind them nearly 10,000 Spanish and Italian dead. Several of the leading Spanish captains, some of them seriously wounded, were in French hands, as was the papal legate, Cardinal de’ Medici. Ramón de Cardona himself, who had taken flight rather earlier in the day—he is said not to have drawn rein until he reached Ancona—was one of the few to survive unharmed. But it had been a Pyrrhic victory. The French losses had also been considerable, and, worst of all, Nemours himself had fallen at the moment of triumph, in a characteristically impetuous attempt to head off the Spanish retreat. His place was taken by the elderly Seigneur Jacques de La Palice, who was possessed of none of his speed or panache. Had the young man lived, he would probably have rallied what was left of the army and marched on Rome and Naples, forcing Julius to come to terms; but La Palice was cast in a more cautious mold. He contented himself with occupying Ravenna, where he was unable to prevent an orgy of butchery and rape which surpassed even that suffered by the Brescians a few weeks before.

Now there suddenly occurred one of those extraordinary changes of political fortune which render Italian history as confusing to the reader as it is infuriating to the writer. When the news of Ravenna reached him, Julius, foreseeing an immediate French advance on Rome, prepared for flight. Just before he was due to leave, however, he received a letter from his captive legate, whom La Palice had unwisely permitted to correspond with his master. The French, wrote Cardinal de’ Medici, had suffered losses almost as great as those of the League; they were tired and deeply demoralized by the death of their young leader; their general was refusing to move without receiving instructions and confirmation of his authority from France. At about the same time the Venetian ambassador in Rome sought an audience with the pope to assure him that, contrary to widespread rumors, the republic had not accepted any French proposals for a separate peace and had no intention of doing so.

At once Julius took new courage. Overpowered, at least temporarily, in the military field, he flung all his energies into the Church Council that he had summoned for May 1512. This had now become more necessary than ever, since King Louis’s renegade Council of Milan had taken advantage of the victory of Ravenna to declare the pope contumacious and suspend him from office. It was true that even in Milan itself few people took the findings of so transparently political a body very seriously; nonetheless, this open split in the Church could not be allowed to go unchecked or unanswered. On May 2, with all the state ceremonial of which the papal court was capable, the Supreme Pontiff was borne in his litter to the Lateran, followed by fifteen cardinals, twelve patriarchs, ten archbishops, fifty-seven bishops, and three heads of monastic orders: a hierarchical show of strength that made the handful of rebels in Milan seem almost beneath notice, precisely as it was intended to do. At its second session this Lateran Council formally declared the proceedings of the Council of Pisa/Milan null and void and all those who had taken part in it schismatics.

On that very same day Pope Julius also proclaimed the adhesion of the Emperor Maximilian to the Holy League, and Maximilian now gave orders that all subjects of the empire fighting with the French army should immediately return to their homes on pain of death. To La Palice, this was disastrous news. He had already suffered a serious depletion of his French troops, most of whom had been recalled to deal with the impending invasion of Henry VIII in the north; the precipitate departure of his German mercenaries now left him in the ridiculous position of a general without an army—or at least without any force capable of holding the Swiss and Venetians whom he suddenly found ranged against him. Meanwhile, the Spanish and papal forces were also back in the field and, although only a shadow of what they had been before their recent defeat, were able to advance virtually unopposed on all fronts. By the beginning of July the pope had not only regained all his territories but had even extended them to include Reggio Emilia, Parma, and Piacenza. La Palice, with what was left of his army, had no choice but to return to France, where Louis XII, who only three months before might have had the entire peninsula within his power, now saw all his hopes annihilated.

Pope Julius II died on February 21, 1513, of a fever, probably brought on by the syphilis from which he had suffered for many years. There had been little of the priest about him apart from his dress and his name. His pontificate had been dominated by politics and by war; his strictly ecclesiastical activities had been largely confined to routine matters, though it was he who had issued the fateful dispensation which authorized Henry VIII to marry Catherine of Aragon, the widow of his elder brother, Arthur.

By far Julius’s most important legacy was as a patron of the arts. He had a passion for classical statuary, enriching the Vatican collections with masterpieces such as the Apollo Belvedere and the Laocoön. (The latter had been accidentally unearthed in 1506 by a man digging in his vine                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    yard.) But he is nowadays chiefly remembered for his decision to replace the old Basilica of St. Peter with a new building, infinitely more magnificent than its predecessor. The plans for this he eventually entrusted to Donato Bramante,5 who, abandoning his original design for a Greek cross-in-square church with the tomb of St. Peter directly beneath a vast dome, eventually decided on a more traditional Latin basilica with nave and aisles, together with a portico derived from the Pantheon. Away went the ancient mosaics, the icons, the huge medieval candelabra; it was not long before the architect had acquired a new nickname, Il Ruinante. The work on St. Peter’s alone would have kept him fully employed for the rest of his life, but Julius also made him responsible for a radical redesign of the Vatican Gardens.

The pope also gave encouragement and employment to the twenty-six-year-old Raphael, whom he commissioned to fresco his own apartments—he refused absolutely to inhabit those of the hated Alexander—and to Michelangelo, whom, as we know, he had to bully mercilessly (“I’m a sculptor, not a painter,” the artist protested) into painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling. It has been suggested that, despite the bullying, the two men were lovers. Both, certainly, were homosexual, and Julius, although he had engendered three daughters while still a cardinal, was widely accused of sodomy. On the whole, the idea seems improbable; but we shall never know.

Excessive modesty was never one of the failings of Pope Julius II, and as early as 1505 he also commissioned Michelangelo to design his tomb. This was originally intended to stand thirty-six feet high and to contain forty statues, all of them over life size; according to Vasari, the principal reason for his decision to rebuild St. Peter’s was in order to provide suitable accommodation for it. Unfortunately, the money ran out and the project had to be radically revised. A far more modest version can now be seen in San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome; but Julius was actually buried in what there was of his new St. Peter’s—as, doubtless, he would have wished.


Two things set off the Early from the Late Classic: first, the strong Izapan element still discernible in Early Classic Maya culture, and secondly, the appearance in the middle part of the Early Classic of powerful waves of influence, and almost certainly invaders themselves, from the site of Teotihuacan in central Mexico. This city was founded in the first century BC in a small but fertile valley opening onto the northeast side of the Valley of Mexico. On the eve of its destruction at the hands of unknown peoples, at the end of the sixth or beginning of the seventh century AD, it covered an area of over 5 sq. miles (13 sq. km) and may have had, according to George Cowgill, a preeminent expert on the site, a population of some 85,000 people living in over 2,300 apartment compounds. To fill it, Teotihuacan’s ruthless early rulers virtually depopulated smaller towns and villages in the Valley of Mexico. It was, in short, the greatest city ever seen in the Pre-Columbian New World.

Teotihuacan is noted for the regularity of its two crisscrossing great avenues, for its Pyramids of the Sun and Moon, and for the delicacy and sophistication of the paintings which graced the walls of its luxurious palaces. In these murals and elsewhere, the art of the great city is permeated with war symbolism, and there can be little doubt that war and conquest were major concerns to its rulers. Teotihuacan fighting men were armed with atlatl-propelled darts and rectangular shields, and bore round, decorated, pyrite mosaic mirrors on their backs; with their eyes sometimes partly hidden by white shell “goggles,” and their feather headdresses, they must have been terrifying figures to their opponents.

At the very heart of the city, facing the main north–south avenue, is the massive Ciudadela (“citadel”), in all likelihood the compound housing the royal palace. Within the Ciudadela itself is the stepped, stone-faced temple-pyramid known as the Temple of the Feathered Serpent (TFS), one of the single most important buildings of ancient Mesoamerica, and apparently well known to the distant Maya right through the end of the Classic. When the TFS was dedicated c. AD 200, at least 200 individuals were sacrificed in its honor. Study of their bone chemistry reveals that not a few are certain to have been foreigners. All were attired as Teotihuacan warriors, with obsidian-tipped darts and back mirrors, and some had collars strung with imitation human jawbones.

On the facade and balustrades of the TFS are multiple figures of the Feathered Serpent, an early form of the later Aztec god Quetzalcoatl (patron god of the priesthood) and a figure that may, according to Karl Taube, have originated among the Maya. Alternating with these figures is the head of another supernatural ophidian, with retroussé snout covered with rectangular platelets representing jade, and cut shell goggles placed in front of a stylized headdress in the shape of the Mexican sign for “year.” Taube has conclusively demonstrated this to be a War Serpent, a potent symbol wherever Teotihuacan influence was felt in Mesoamerica – and, in fact, long after the fall of Teotihuacan. Such martial symbolism extended even to the Teotihuacan prototype of the rain deity Tlaloc who, fitted with his characteristic “goggles” and year-sign, also functioned as a war god.

This mighty city held dominion over large parts of Mexico in the Early Classic as the center of a military and commercial empire that may have been greater than that of the much later Aztec. Drawing upon historical data on the Aztecs, ethnohistorian Ross Hassig has suggested that Mesoamerican “empires” such as Teotihuacan’s were probably not organized along Roman lines, which totally replaced local administrations by the imperial power; rather, they were “hegemonic,” in the sense that conquered bureaucracies were largely in place, but controlled and taxed through the constant threat of the overwhelming military force which could have been unleashed against them at any time. Thus, we can expect a good deal of local cultural continuity even in those regions taken over by the great city; but in the case of the lowland Maya, we shall also see outright interference in dynastic matters, with profound implications for the course of Maya history.

That the Teotihuacan empire prefigured that of the Aztecs is vividly attested at the site of Los Horcones, Chiapas, Mexico, studied by Claudia García-Des Lauriers of California State Polytechnic, Pomona. Situated near a spectacular hill, the city lies on the very edge of the great chocolate-producing area known to the Aztecs as the Xoconochco. The southern part of Los Horcones is a dead ringer for the complex composed of the Pyramid of the Moon and the Avenue of the Dead at Teotihuacan, and artifacts and monuments point to a direct Teotihuacan presence in the region. It is hard to believe that the Aztecs were not the imitators here, and that Teotihuacan was the first to interest itself in the cacao plantations and trade routes of the region. The contact did not stop there, but extended to what may be a Teotihuacan colony at Montana, Guatemala. This settlement, surrounded by others like it within a 3 mile (5 km) radius, is endowed with magnificent incense burners, portrait figurines, and an enigmatic square object known to specialists as candeleros or “candle holders,” though their function is not known. And Montana was not alone. In 1969 tractors plowing the fields in the Tiquisate region of the Pacific coastal plain of Guatemala, an area located southwest of Lake Atitlan that is covered with ancient (and untested) mounds, unearthed rich tombs and caches containing a total of over 1,000 ceramic objects. These have been examined by Nicholas Hellmuth of the Foundation for Latin American Archaeological Research; the collection consists of elaborate two-piece censers (according to Karl Taube symbolizing the souls of dead warriors), slab-legged tripod cylinders, hollow mold-made figures, and other objects, all in Teotihuacan style. Numerous finds of fired clay molds suggest that these were mass-produced from Teotihuacan prototypes by military-merchant groups intruding from central Mexico during the last half of the Early Classic.

Contacts must have been intense and conducted at the highest levels. Taube has detected Maya-style ceramics at Teotihuacan, some made locally, perhaps in an ethnic enclave at the city. Legible Maya glyphs from murals in the Tetitla apartment compound at Teotihuacan attest to royal names and rituals of god-impersonation. Very likely, these refer not to mere craftsmen brought from the Maya region, but to dynastic elites. Yet the movement of these people must have been complex. Under the immense Pyramid of the Moon, Saburo Sugiyama and colleagues discovered a burial with three bodies, dating to AD 350–400, accompanied by carved jades and a seated, Maya-like figure of greenstone. The positioning of this figure and the bodies nearby, all buried upright with crossed legs, resembles patterns in tombs at Kaminaljuyu in Highland Guatemala; the date, too, is close to a period of marked contact between Tikal and Teotihuacan-related people. Bone chemistry suggests that at least one of the occupants of the tomb came from the Maya region, but spent much of his life at this important Mexican city.

The World of the Greek City-States (c. 750–c. 500 B.C.)

Greece and Its Colonies in the Archaic Age. Impelled by overpopulation and poverty, Greeks spread out from their homelands during the Archaic Age, establishing colonies in many parts of the Mediterranean. The colonies were independent city-states that traded with the older Greek city-states.

In the eighth century B. C., Greek civilization burst forth with new energies, beginning the period that historians have called the Archaic Age of Greece. Two major developments stand out in this era: the evolution of the polis, or city-state, as the central institution in Greek life and the Greeks’ colonization of the Mediterranean and Black seas.

The Polis

The Greek polis (plural, poleis) developed slowly during the Dark Age but by the eighth century B. C. had emerged as a unique and fundamental institution in Greek society. In a physical sense, the polis encompassed a town or city or even a village and its surrounding countryside. But the town or city or village served as the focus or central point where the citizens of the polis could assemble for political, social, and religious activities. In some poleis, this central meeting point was a hill, which could serve as a place of refuge during an attack and later in some locales came to be the religious center where temples and public monuments were erected. Below this acropolis would be an agora, an open space that served both as a place where citizens could assemble and as a market.

Poleis varied greatly in size, from a few square miles to a few hundred square miles. The larger ones were the product of consolidation. The territory of Attica, for example, had once had twelve poleis but eventually be- came a single polis (Athens) through a process of amalgamation. The population of Athens grew to about 250,000 by the fifth century B. C. Most poleis were much smaller, consisting of only a few hundred to several thousand people.

Although our word politics is derived from the Greek term polis, the polis itself was much more than just a political institution. It was, above all, a community of citizens in which all political, economic, social, cultural, and religious activities were focused. As a community, the polis consisted of citizens with political rights (adult males), citizens with no political rights (women and children), and noncitizens (slaves and resident aliens). All citizens of a polis possessed rights, but these rights were coupled with responsibilities. The Greek philosopher Aristotle argued that the citizen did not belong just to himself: “We must rather regard every citizen as belonging to the state.” The unity of citizens was important and often meant that states would take an active role in directing the patterns of life. The loyalty that citizens had to their poleis also had a negative side, however. Poleis distrusted one another, and the division of Greece into fiercely patriotic sovereign units helped bring about its ruin. Greece was not a united country but a geographic location. The cultural unity of the Greeks did not mean much politically.

A New Military System: The Greek Way of War

As the polis developed, so did a new military system. In earlier times, wars in Greece had been fought by aristocratic cavalry soldiers—nobles on horseback. These aristocrats, who were large landowners, also dominated the political life of their poleis. But at the end of the eighth century, a new military order came into being that was based on hoplites, heavily armed infantrymen who wore bronze or leather helmets, breastplates, and greaves (shin guards). Each carried a round shield, a short sword, and a thrusting spear about 9 feet long. Hoplites advanced into battle as a unit, shoulder to shoulder, forming a phalanx (a rectangular formation) in tight order, usually eight ranks deep. As long as the hoplites kept their order, were not outflanked, and did not break, they either secured victory or, at the very least, suffered no harm. The phalanx was easily routed, however, if it broke its order. The safety of the phalanx thus depended on the solidarity and discipline of its members. As one seventh-century B. C. poet observed, a good hoplite was “a short man firmly placed upon his legs, with a courageous heart, not to be uprooted from the spot where he plants his legs.”

The hoplite force, which apparently developed first in the Peloponnesus, had political as well as military re- percussions. The aristocratic cavalry was now outdated. Since each hoplite provided his own armor, men of property, both aristocrats and small farmers, made up the new phalanx. Initially, this created a bond between the aristocrats and peasants, which minimized class conflict and enabled the aristocrats to dominate their societies. In the long run, however, those who could become hoplites and fight for the state could also challenge aristocratic control.

In the new world of the Greek city-states, war became an integral part of the Greek way of life. The Greek philosopher Plato described war as “always existing by nature between every Greek city-state.” The Greeks created a tradition of warfare that became a prominent element of Western civilization. The Greek way of war exhibited a number of prominent features. The Greeks possessed excellent weapons and body armor, making effective use of technological improvements. Greek armies included a wide number of citizen-soldiers, who gladly accepted the need for training and discipline, giving them an edge over their opponents’ often far-larger armies of mercenaries. Moreover, the Greeks displayed a willingness to engage the enemy head-on, thus deciding a battle quickly and with as few casualties as possible. Finally, the Greeks demonstrated the effectiveness of heavy infantry in determining the outcome of a battle. All of these features of Greek warfare remained part of Western warfare for centuries.

Colonization and the Growth of Trade

Greek expansion overseas was another major development of the Archaic Age. Between 750 and 550 B. C., large numbers of Greeks left their homeland to settle in distant lands. Poverty and land hunger created by the growing gulf between rich and poor, overpopulation, and the development of trade were all factors that led to the establishment of colonies. Some Greek colonies were sim- ply trading posts or centers for the transshipment of goods to Greece. Most were larger settlements that included good agricultural land taken from the native populations found in those areas. Each colony was founded as a polis and was usually independent of the mother polis (metropolis) that had established it.

In the western Mediterranean, new Greek settlements were established along the coastline of southern Italy, including the cities of Tarentum (Taranto) and Neapolis (Naples). So many Greek communities were established in southern Italy that the Romans later called it Magna Graecia (“Great Greece”). An important city was founded at Syracuse in eastern Sicily in 734 B. C. by the city-state of Corinth, one of the most active Greek states in establishing colonies. Greek settlements were also established in southern France (Massilia—modern Marseilles), eastern Spain, and northern Africa west of Egypt.

To the north, the Greeks set up colonies in Thrace, where they sought good agricultural lands to grow grains. Greeks also settled along the shores of the Black Sea and secured the approaches to it with cities on the Hellespont and Bosporus, most notably Byzantium, site of the later Constantinople (Istanbul). A trading post was established in Egypt, giving the Greeks access to both the products and the advanced culture of the East.

The Effects of Colonization

The establishment of these settlements over such a wide area had important effects. For one thing, they contributed to the diffusion of Greek culture throughout the Mediterranean basin. The later Romans had their first contacts with the Greeks through the settlements in southern Italy. Furthermore, colo- nization helped the Greeks foster a greater sense of Greek identity. Before the eighth century, Greek communities were mostly isolated from one another, leaving many neighboring states on unfriendly terms. Once Greeks from different communities went abroad and encountered peoples with different languages and customs, they became more aware of their own linguistic and cultural similarities.

Colonization also led to increased trade and industry. The Greeks sent their pottery, wine, and olive oil to these areas; in return, they received grains and metals from the west and fish, timber, wheat, metals, and slaves from the Black Sea region. The expansion of trade and industry created a new group of rich men in many poleis who desired political privileges commensurate with their wealth but found them impossible to gain because of the power of the ruling aristocrats. The desire for change on the part of this group soon led to political crisis in many Greek states.

Tyranny in the Greek Polis

When the polis emerged as an important institution in Greece in the eighth century, monarchical power waned, and kings virtually disappeared in most Greek states or survived only as ceremonial figures with little or no real power. Instead, political power passed into the hands of local aristocracies. But increasing divisions between rich and poor and the aspirations of newly rising industrial and commercial groups in Greek poleis opened the door to the rise of tyrants in the seventh and sixth centuries B. C. They were not necessarily oppressive or wicked, as our word tyrant connotes. Greek tyrants were rulers who seized power by force and who were not subject to the law. Support for the tyrants came from the new rich, who made their money in trade and industry, as well as from poor peasants, who were in debt to landholding aristo- crats. Both groups were opposed to the domination of political power by aristocratic oligarchies.

Tyrants usually achieved power by a local coup d’e’tat and maintained it by using mercenary soldiers. Once in power, they built new marketplaces, temples, and walls that created jobs, glorified the city, and also enhanced their own popularity. Tyrants also favored the interests of merchants and traders by encouraging the founding of new colonies, developing new coinage, and establishing new systems of weights and measures. In many instances, they added to the prosperity of their cities. By their patronage of the arts, they encouraged cultural development.

The Example of Corinth

One of the most famous examples of tyranny can be found in Corinth. During the eighth and early seventh centuries B. C., Corinth had become one of the most prosperous states in Greece under the rule of an oligarchy led by members of the Bacchiad family. Their violent activities, however, made them unpopular and led Cypselus, a member of the family, to overthrow the oligarchy and assume sole control of Corinth.

Cypselus was so well liked that he could rule without a bodyguard. During his tyranny, Corinth prospered by exporting vast quantities of pottery and founding new colonies to expand its trade empire. Cypselus’ son, Periander, took control of Corinth after his father’s death but ruled with such cruelty that shortly after his death in 585 B. C., his own son, who succeeded him, was killed, and a new oligarchy soon ruled Corinth.

As in Corinth, tyranny elsewhere in Greece was largely extinguished by the end of the sixth century B. C. The children and grandchildren of tyrants, who tended to be corrupted by their inherited power and wealth, often became cruel and unjust rulers, making tyranny no longer seem such a desirable institution. Its very nature as a system outside the law seemed contradictory to the ideal of law in a Greek community. Tyranny did not last, but it played a significant role in the evolution of Greek history. The rule of narrow aristocratic oligarchies was destroyed. Once the tyrants were eliminated, the door was opened to the participation of more people in the affairs of the community. Although this trend culminated in the development of democracy in some communities, in other states expanded oligarchies of one kind or an- other managed to remain in power. Greek states exhibited considerable variety in their governmental structures; this can perhaps best be seen by the axiomatic socialites of the two most famous and most powerful Greek city-states, Sparta and Athens.


A certain stability, or at least consistency, returned to Italy in the middle of the tenth century when Otto, the Saxon King of Germany, claimed the throne of Italy through his wife Adelaide (the daughter, widow and jilter of three previous kings of Italy) and made himself King of the Lombards. Following Charlemagne’s example, he travelled to Rome in 962 and had the pope crown him emperor, thus inaugurating three centuries of rule over Italy by three dynasties of German emperors – Saxon, Salian and Swabian (usually known as Hohenstaufen) – with brief interludes supplied by members of the Welf and Supplinburger families. The gallery consisted of one Lothair, two Fredericks, three Conrads, four Ottos and seven Henrys.

The rulers styled themselves rex romanorum et semper augustus (‘king of the Romans and ever emperor’), and the coronations that their realms required indicate both the complexity of their roles and the difficulty in fulfilling separate duties as kings of Germany, kings of Italy and Holy Roman emperors. After being elected by the German princes, they were crowned kings of Germany at Charlemagne’s beloved Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle) and became then also known as kings of the Romans. Later they crossed the Alps to receive the iron crown of the Lombards at Pavia, Monza or Milan. The last stage of the process was the journey to Rome, where they were crowned emperors by the pope.

The German Empire stretched from the Baltic and the North Sea to the Adriatic and the Tyrrhenian. Such a distance, with a lot of mountains in between, forced emperors to spend long periods on the road. An emperor might be in Italy, quarrelling with the pope over ecclesiastical appointments, when an outbreak of civil war in Germany made him hurry northwards; after settling that crisis, he might have to scuttle back across the Alps to confront the rebellious cities of Lombardy or go even further south to deal with a military threat from Byzantium or the Norman kingdom of Sicily. Even so, emperors managed to find time for outside interests such as campaigning in Poland and participating in four of the Crusades. A predictable consequence of such frenetic activity was the neglect of Italy.

The emperors had their judicial and fiscal institutions in Italy; they also had their supporters among the magnates and bishops, whom they relied on for the administration of the cities. Yet the absence of their overlord enfeebled the institutions and the bishops and encouraged magnates to do what they liked to do anyway: plot and switch allegiances. Such a structure was ill-equipped to administer the new Italy of the eleventh century, in which agricultural wealth, the expansion of trade and a rise in population were transforming societies and economies. The growth and prosperity of the cities gave their citizens the desire and self-confidence to run the affairs of their own communes. Unwilling to accept that they should remain loyal to an absentee foreigner with doubtful rights of sovereignty, they were soon electing their own leaders, running their own courts and raising their own militias. The emperors, distracted by incessant wars in Germany, made concessions that left the communes virtually autonomous. By the late eleventh century their rule over the Lombard and Tuscan cities had become almost nominal.

Frederick Barbarossa (Redbeard), the Duke of Swabia who became emperor in 1155, was determined to reverse the drift. A relentless warrior, with grandiose notions of his rights and his dignity, he later became renowned as a symbol of Teutonic unity, a hero to German romantics and an inspiration for Adolf Hitler, who code-named his invasion of Russia ‘Operation Barbarossa’. He regarded the Ottos as successors to the Caesars and himself as successor to the Ottos. As he claimed his position to be equivalent to that of Augustus, he considered the kings of France and England to be inferior rulers. As for Italy, he was intent on reclaiming the so-called ‘regalian rights’ which lawyers in Bologna conveniently assured him he possessed. These included the rights to appoint officials in the cities, to receive taxes on fish and salt and to collect money from tolls and customs. He wanted the cash and was determined to get it; he also enjoyed the prestige acquired from the submission of others.

The defiance of Milan, the largest Italian city, inspired Barbarossa to invade Italy, which he did half a dozen times. His pretext – and perhaps it was a little more than a pretext – was that he was coming to the rescue of those pro-imperial towns, such as Como and Lodi, which earlier in the century had been devastated by the Milanese. He captured Milan in 1162 and destroyed it. He also obliterated the town of Crema, one of its allies, after besieging it with exceptional brutality: hostages from Crema were tied to the front of his siege towers so that the defendants could not avoid hitting their relatives and fellow citizens with arrows.

Barbarossa’s actions led to the foundation of the Lombard League, formed by sixteen cities in 1167 to defend themselves against his imperial armies. An early confrontation was avoided, however, when more urgent matters forced the emperor to return to Germany, and he did not come back at the head of a new army for several years. Despite the defection of a couple of cities, the League won a great victory against him in 1176 at Legnano near Milan, its infantry forcing Barbarossa’s German cavalry from the field. It was a historic moment for the peninsula, perhaps the most united moment between the death of Theodoric and the creation of modern Italy. When patriots of the nineteenth century scoured their history for heroic events to depict, Legnano was a popular choice for literature and painting; it also inspired one of Verdi’s least memorable operas, La battaglia di Legnano, in which the chorus opens the evening with the words

Long live Italy! A holy pact

binds all her sons together.

At last it has made of so many

a single people of heroes!

Unfurl the banners in the field,

unconquered Lombard League!

And may a shiver freeze the bones

of fierce Barbarossa.

His humiliating defeat forced Barbarossa to negotiate, and at the Treaty of Constance in 1183 he conceded the rights of the communes to elect their own leaders, make their own laws and administer their own territories. Concessions made by his opponents were nominal or unimportant: among them were an oath of allegiance and a promise to give a sum of money to future emperors as they proceeded to Rome for their coronations. As the historian Giuliano Procacci noted, ‘the communes recognized the overall sovereignty of the emperor, but kept the sovereign rights they held’. Barbarossa died seven years later, drowned in an Anatolian river on his way to join the Third Crusade, but his Italian ambitions lived on in the person of his grandson, the Emperor Frederick II, who made equally futile attempts to cow the cities of northern Italy.

The wars between Barbarossa and the communes were part of a longer and wider struggle between the Holy Roman emperor and the papacy, which had supported the Lombard League. As with so many conflicts on Italian soil, this one thus became internationalized, several popes calling in German and French princes to assist their cause. Competing factions in the Italian communes soon acquired labels of bewildering foreign origin. Papal supporters were known as Guelphs, called after the Bavarian Welf family that produced Otto IV, briefly an emperor in the early thirteenth century, as well as, later and less relevantly, the Hanoverian kings of Great Britain. Their opponents, the pro-imperial Ghibellines, took their appellation from an even more obscure source, the Salian and later Hohenstaufen town of Waiblingen, a name sometimes used to denote members of the house of Swabia. In their endless medieval struggles, however, Italian Guelphs and Ghibellines were motivated far more by local factors than by remote loyalties to popes and German emperors.

When Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne, it was clear that the Franks, who had rescued the papacy from the Lombards, were the senior partners in the alliance. Yet Leo’s successors tried to reverse the roles by claiming the right to choose who would be emperor. By the eleventh century they were insisting that the emperors acknowledge they received their thrones from the pope, who, as Christ’s vicar on earth, was the highest authority in Christendom. Power was involved along with pride and prestige. Gregory VII, pope (1073–85) and later saint, insisted that only he had the right to invest the clergy with abbeys, bishoprics and other ecclesiastical offices: secular rulers who disobeyed him were excommunicated. The Emperor Henry IV, who planned to continue the policy of his father (Henry III) of appointing and dismissing popes as well as bishops, reacted by deposing Gregory and calling him ‘a false monk’. In retaliation the pope excommunicated the emperor and encouraged his subjects to rebel. Alarmed by threats to his rule in Germany, a contrite Henry then apologized to the pope, waiting for three days in the snow outside the castle of Canossa until Gregory finally absolved him from excommunication. Within three years, however, they were again at odds, and Henry was deposed and excommunicated once more. This time he responded by seizing Rome and setting up an anti-pope who crowned him emperor, but he was soon expelled by the real pope’s Norman allies, who burned much of the city. The feud between Henry and Gregory was not a unique one: these medieval centuries abound with examples of emperors dethroning popes and of popes deposing and excommunicating emperors as well as other monarchs.

Another ingredient in the dispute between pope and emperor was the status of the Norman kingdom of Sicily. The south of Italy was already very different from the north, more rural and feudal, more ethnically varied, its life determined by the Mediterranean and its peoples in a way unknown to the cities of the Po Valley with their ties to Europe beyond the Alps. Under authoritarian rulers, who liked to direct the economy themselves, and living uncomfortably beside a feudal baronage, the towns had little chance to prosper as their counterparts could do further north; the few that had recently flourished, such as the port of Amalfi with its merchants in Egypt and on the Bosphorus, soon withered. Like the north, the south had its Romans, Lombards and Franks, but it also contained large numbers of Byzantine Greeks and Muslim Arabs as well as a significant Jewish minority. This multicultural, multi-confessional amalgam was unexpectedly welded into a kingdom by a small band of knights from Normandy whose descendants ruled it, flamboyantly and on the whole successfully, for nearly 200 years.

Norman adventurers, seeking work as mercenary soldiers, had begun arriving in the south early in the eleventh century. Pope Benedict VIII hired some of them to fight the Byzantines in Apulia, and before long a few of the knights, notably the remarkable Hauteville brothers, were receiving lands from grateful employers. Fearing that these Normans were becoming too strong, a later pope led an army against them but was defeated and taken prisoner by one of the five Hautevilles, Robert Guiscard, in 1053. Making the best of it, the papacy agreed soon afterwards that, in return for recognizing papal sovereignty over the south, Robert Guiscard could call himself ‘Duke of Apulia and Calabria and future Duke of Sicily’. The adjective ‘future’ soon became redundant when the new duke, assisted by his equally talented younger brother Roger, advanced down Calabria and invaded Sicily in 1061. Thereafter, Robert Guiscard concentrated on conquering the mainland north, capturing Bari and ending Byzantine rule there in 1071, while Roger (later known as ‘the Great Count’) overcame the Arabs of Sicily, taking Palermo in 1072 and completing his conquest of the island in 1090. After the deaths of the two brothers, the Great Count’s son, another Roger, united the Hauteville territories and, following the capture of another pope, was recognized as Roger II, King of Sicily.

The new king was one of the finest rulers of the Middle Ages, a broadminded and farsighted man of wide culture and much administrative ability. He refused to join the Second Crusade because religious toleration was fundamental to his rule, and he insisted that the laws and customs of the peoples of his kingdom should be respected. Fluent in Greek and Arabic, he presided over the most intellectual and cosmopolitan court in Europe, and the architecture he loved – a blend of Saracen, Norman and Byzantine – is still visible in Palermo, in the Palatine chapel with its mosaics and in the red domes of the church of San Giovanni degli Eremiti. He returned Sicily to the prosperity and influence it had not enjoyed since the days of the ancient Greeks – and to which it would not return again. He made of the Mediterranean’s largest island a microcosm of what the sea might be but very rarely is, a space where cultures, creeds and peoples meet in a climate of mutual tolerance and respect.

The popes treated the Normans much as they treated the emperors: cajoling and pleading when they needed them, fighting and trying to depose them when they did not. Robert Guiscard and Roger II both suffered excommunication. When the Hautevilles and the Hohenstaufen (Barbarossa’s family) became dynastically united in 1186, the hostility became almost permanent. Roger was succeeded by his son William I, another talented and successful Hauteville, unjustly known by his foes among the barons as William the Bad, and by his grandson, William II, called ‘the Good’ because he was more lenient to those perennially annoying subjects. Since Barbarossa after Legnano was no longer a threat to Italy, the second William decided to marry his aunt Constance to the emperor’s heir, the future Henry VI; as his own marriage was childless, a son of this union might thus add the crown of Sicily to the titles of King of Germany, King of Italy and Holy Roman emperor. The prospect of an emperor ruling lands both north and south of the expanding papal states naturally alarmed Pope Celestine III, who first promoted a rival claimant (an Hauteville bastard) to the Sicilian throne and then tried to thwart Henry’s plan to have his son Frederick elected King of Germany. He failed when Frederick was chosen by the electors at the age of two in 1196, but the deaths of the boy’s parents before he was four, together with Constance’s choice of the next pope (Innocent III) as her son’s guardian, postponed an inevitable struggle.

The infant became the charismatic Frederick II, a monarch whose cultural range makes his fellow rulers of the period seem brutal, boorish and philistine in comparison. Hailed as stupor mundi (‘the amazement of the world’), he was lauded in his time as a linguist, law-giver, builder, soldier, administrator and scientist; as an ornithologist he wrote a masterly book on falconry and dismissed the notion that barnacle geese were hatched from barnacles in the sea – an example of deductive reasoning rather than observation because he had no opportunity of studying the breeding habits of the geese inside the Arctic Circle. Yet the adulation, like the appellation, was excessive. The comparison with contemporary kings may stand, but he was not as wise a ruler or as cultured a man as his maternal grandfather, Roger II. He was justly famous as a champion of religious tolerance, yet his skills as a builder, architect and linguist have been exaggerated. In any case, whatever his talents, he failed to solve the three great inherited problems of his position: relations with the papacy, relations with the Lombard cities, and the relationship between Sicily and the empire.

Frederick antagonized the papacy early in his reign by crowning his baby son King of Sicily and, a few years later, making sure he was elected King of Germany. When he himself was crowned emperor in 1220, at the age of twenty-five, he assured the papacy that the crowns would remain legally separated. Yet the assurance did not convince a subsequent pope, Gregory IX, once a friend of St Francis and St Dominic but now a dogmatic and irascible leader of the Church. In 1227 he excommunicated Frederick after an outbreak of plague had forced the emperor to abandon a crusade; when the expedition was resumed a year later, the pope was so enraged that an excommunicant was leading it that he launched an invasion of Sicily while its king and his army were away campaigning triumphantly for Christendom. Frederick soon returned from the Holy Land, where he had crowned himself King of Jerusalem, defeated the papal armies and forced Gregory to come to terms and absolve him from excommunication.

The truce between the two men lasted for almost a decade after 1230, but the pope did not relinquish his ambitions to remove the Hohenstaufen from Sicily and to promote a new dynasty for the empire. Frederick’s invasion of Sardinia in 1239 gave him a pretext to excommunicate the emperor once again and build alliances with the pro-Guelph cities of the north. Gregory died in 1241, yet his vendetta was continued, with matching vindictiveness, by a successor, Innocent IV, who deposed Frederick, called him a precursor of the anti-Christ and urged the German electors to supply a new emperor.

Stupor mundi may have been unlucky in his relations with the papacy but he was unwise in his dealings with the Lombard cities. Claiming that northern Italy legally belonged to him, he was determined to succeed where Barbarossa, his paternal grandfather, had failed. In 1226 he summoned an imperial assembly to Cremona, most loyal of Ghibelline towns, and announced his intention ‘to restore regalian rights’. His ambitions predictably led to a revival of the Lombard League, and most of the Po Valley cities banded together to resist him for the last quarter-century of his life. Frederick defeated the League at the Battle of Cortenuova in 1237 but then overplayed his hand by demanding an unconditional surrender, which the cities refused to give him; the following year he was humiliated by his failure to capture Brescia after a lengthy siege. Despite military successes in 1240–41, when he captured parts of the Papal States, and in 1246, when he suppressed a rebellion in the south, the campaigns achieved nothing durable. Even more humiliating than Brescia was the siege of Parma in 1248, when the apparently beleaguered garrison unexpectedly stole out of the town and ransacked Frederick’s camp while he was out hunting.

The emperor died in 1250 and, after the brief reign of his son Conrad, his southern territories were claimed by his bastard child Manfred. Another talented descendant of the Hautevilles, Manfred was a poet, a scientist and a diplomat wiser than his father in his dealings with northern Italy. Yet Frederick’s death had not halted the papacy’s efforts to eliminate the house of Hohenstaufen and to find a new monarch for the kingdom of Sicily. In 1266, after the entreaties of several popes, Charles of Anjou, a brother of the French king, victoriously invaded: Manfred was killed in battle, and the last male Hohenstaufen, Conrad’s teenage son Conradin, was executed.

Charles made himself unpopular in Sicily, chiefly by transferring his capital from Palermo to Naples, and he was ejected by the islanders following the uprising in 1282 known as the Sicilian Vespers. In his place the throne was offered to King Peter of Aragon, whose wife was a daughter of Manfred. Peter’s acceptance and reign may have given some solace to supporters of the Hohenstaufen, but Aragonese rule presaged the long decline of the island. Already cut off from north Africa and the Arab world, it was now detached from France and Italy, although over the centuries the southern mainland – known as ‘continental Sicily’ – was from time to time reunited with island Sicily to be called eventually the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Yet from the end of the thirteenth century the island was effectively an outpost of Spain, tied torpidly to Iberia for over 400 years. Like Sardinia, it received viceroys but little attention from its Hispanic rulers.

Frederick’s rule had resulted in the extinction of his dynasty and the impoverishment of Sicily, which had to pay for his wars. Another casualty was the idea of uniting Italy under a single ruler, which is what he wanted and which no one tried to make a reality again for another six centuries. The beneficiaries of his failure were the cities of Tuscany and the north, which could now pursue their cultural and communal development – as well as their local rivalries – without much external interference. The defeat of a cultured monarch of the south thus led to a cultural efflorescence of the north.