Clement VII. (Giulio de’ Medici), pope from 1523 to 1534, was the son of Giuliano de’ Medici, assassinated in the conspiracy of the Pazzi at Florence, and of a certain Fioretta, daughter of Antonia. Being left an orphan he was taken into his own house by Lorenzo the Magnificent and educated with his sons. In 1494 Giulio went with them into exile; but, on Giovanni’s restoration to power, returned to Florence, of which he was made archbishop by his cousin Pope Leo X., a special dispensation being granted on account of his illegitimate birth, followed by a formal declaration of the fact that his parents had been secretly married and that he was therefore legitimate. On the 23rd of September 1513 the pope conferred on him the title of cardinal and made him legate at Bologna. During the reign of the pleasure-loving Leo, Cardinal Giulio had practically the whole papal government in his hands and displayed all the qualities of a good administrator; and when, on the death of Adrian VI.—whose election he had done most to secure—he was chosen pope (Nov. 18, 1523), his accession was hailed as the dawn of a happier era. It soon became clear, however, that the qualities which had made Clement an excellent second in command were not equal to the exigencies of supreme power at a time of peculiar peril and difficulty.
Though free from the grosser vices of his predecessors, a man of taste, and economical without being avaricious, Clement VII. was essentially a man of narrow outlook and interests. He failed to understand the great spiritual movement which was convulsing the Church; and instead of bending his mind to the problem of the Reformation, he from the first subordinated the cause of Catholicism and of the world to his interests as an Italian prince and a Medici. Even in these purely secular affairs, moreover, his timidity and indecision prevented him from pursuing a consistent policy; and his ill fortune, or his lack of judgment, placed him, as long as he had the power of choice, ever on the losing side.
Clement’s accession at once brought about a political change in favour of France; yet he was unable to take a strong line, and wavered between the emperor and Francis I., concluding a treaty of alliance with the French king, and then, when the crushing defeat of Pavia had shown him his mistake, making his peace with Charles (April 1, 1525), only to break it again by countenancing Girolamo Morone’s League of Freedom, of which the aim was to assert the independence of Italy from foreign powers. On the betrayal of this conspiracy Clement made a fresh submission to the emperor, only to follow this, a year later, by the Holy League of Cognac with Francis I. (May 22, 1526). Then followed the imperial invasion of Italy and Bourbon’s sack of Rome (May 1527) which ended the Augustan age of the papal city in a horror of fire and blood. The pope himself was besieged in the castle of St Angelo, compelled on the 6th of June to ransom himself with a payment of 400,000 scudi, and kept in confinement until, on the 26th of November, he accepted the emperor’s terms, which besides money payments included the promise to convene a general council to deal with Lutheranism. On the 6th of December Clement escaped, before the day fixed for his liberation, to Orvieto, and at once set to work to establish peace. After the signature of the treaty of Cambrai on the 3rd of August 1529 Charles met Clement at Bologna and received from him the imperial crown and the iron crown of Lombardy. The pope was now restored to the greater part of his temporal power; but for some years it was exercised in subservience to the emperor. During this period Clement was mainly occupied in urging Charles to arrest the progress of the Reformation in Germany and in efforts to elude the emperor’s demand for a general council, which Clement feared lest the question of the mode of his election and his legitimacy should be raised. It was due to his dependence on Charles V., rather than to any conscientious scruples, that Clement evaded Henry VIII.’s demand for the nullification of his marriage with Catherine of Aragon, and so brought about the breach between England and Rome. Some time before his death, however, the dynastic interests of his family led him once more to a rapprochement with France. On the 9th of June 1531 an agreement was signed for the marriage of Henry of Orleans with Catherine de’ Medici; but it was not till October 1533 that Clement met Francis at Marseilles, the wedding being celebrated on the 27th. Before, however, the new political alliance, thus cemented, could take effect, Clement died, on the 25th of September 1534.