Leo X. [Giovanni de’ Medici] (1475–1521), pope from the 11th of March 1513 to the 1st of December 1521, was the second son of Lorenzo de’ Medici, called the Magnificent, and was born at Florence on the 11th of December 1475. Destined from his birth for the church, he received the tonsure at the age of seven and was soon loaded with rich benefices and preferments. His father prevailed on Innocent VIII. to name him cardinal-deacon of Sta Maria in Dominica in March 1489, although he was not allowed to wear the insignia or share in the deliberations of the college until three years later. Meanwhile he received a careful education at Lorenzo’s brilliant humanistic court under such men as Angelo Poliziano, the classical scholar, Pico della Mirandola, the philosopher and theologian, the pious Marsilio Ficino who endeavoured to unite the Platonic cult with Christianity and the poet Bernardo Dovizio Bibbiena. From 1489 to 1491 he studied theology and canon law at Pisa under Filippo Decio and Bartolomeo Sozzini. On the 23rd of March 1492 he was formally admitted into the sacred college and took up his residence at Rome, receiving a letter of advice from his father which ranks among the wisest of its kind. The death of Lorenzo on the 8th of April, however, called the seventeen-year-old cardinal to Florence. He participated in the conclave which followed the death of Innocent VIII. in July 1492 and opposed the election of Cardinal Borgia. He made his home with his elder brother Piero at Florence throughout the agitation of Savonarola and the invasion of Charles VIII. of France, until the uprising of the Florentines and the expulsion of the Medici in November 1494. While Piero found refuge at Venice and Urbino, Cardinal Giovanni travelled in Germany, in the Netherlands and in France. In May 1500 he returned to Rome, where he was received with outward cordiality by Alexander VI., and where he lived for several years immersed in art and literature. In 1503 he welcomed the accession of Julius II. to the pontificate; the death of Piero de’ Medici in the same year made Giovanni head of his family. On the 1st of October 1511 he was appointed papal legate of Bologna and the Romagna, and when the Florentine republic declared in favour of the schismatic Pisans Julius II. sent him against his native city at the head of the papal army. This and other attempts to regain political control of Florence were frustrated, until a bloodless revolution permitted the return of the Medici on the 14th of September 1512. Giovanni’s younger brother Giuliano was placed at the head of the republic, but the cardinal actually managed the government. Julius II. died in February 1513, and the conclave, after a stormy seven day’s session, united on Cardinal de’ Medici as the candidate of the younger cardinals. He was ordained to the priesthood on the 15th of March, consecrated bishop on the 17th, and enthroned with the name of Leo X. on the 19th. There is no evidence of simony in the conclave, and Leo’s election was hailed with delight by the Romans on account of his reputation for liberality, kindliness and love of peace. Following the example of many of his predecessors, he promptly repudiated his election “capitulation” as an infringement on the divinely bestowed prerogatives of the Holy See.
Many problems confronted Leo X. on his accession. He must preserve the papal conquests which he had inherited from Alexander VI. and Julius II. He must minimize foreign influence, whether French, Spanish or German, in Italy. He must put an end to the Pisan schism and settle the other troubles incident to the French invasion. He must restore the French Church to Catholic unity, abolish the pragmatic sanction of Bourges, and bring to a successful close the Lateran council convoked by his predecessor. He must stay the victorious advance of the Turks. He must quiet the disagreeable wranglings of the German humanists. Other problems connected with his family interests served to complicate the situation and eventually to prevent the successful consummation of many of his plans. At the very time of Leo’s accession Louis XII. of France, in alliance with Venice, was making a determined effort to regain the duchy of Milan, and the pope, after fruitless endeavours to maintain peace, joined the league of Mechlin on the 5th of April 1513 with the emperor Maximilian I., Ferdinand I. of Spain and Henry VIII. of England. The French and Venetians were at first successful, but on the 6th of June met overwhelming defeat at Novara. The Venetians continued the struggle until October. On the 19th of December the fifth Lateran council, which had been reopened by Leo in April, ratified the peace with Louis XII. and registered the conclusion of the Pisan schism. While the council was engaged in planning a crusade and in considering the reform of the clergy, a new crisis occurred between the pope and the king of France. Francis I., who succeeded Louis XII. on the 1st of January 1515, was an enthusiastic young prince, dominated by the ambition of recovering Milan and Naples. Leo at once formed a new league with the emperor and the king of Spain, and to ensure English support made Wolsey a cardinal. Francis entered Italy in August and on the 14th of September won the battle of Marignano. The pope in October signed an agreement binding him to withdraw his troops from Parma and Piacenza, which had been previously gained at the expense of the duchy of Milan, on condition of French protection at Rome and Florence. The king of Spain wrote to his ambassador at Rome “that His Holiness had hitherto played a double game and that all his zeal to drive the French from Italy had been only a mask”; this reproach seemed to receive some confirmation when Leo X. held a secret conference with Francis at Bologna in December 1515. The ostensible subjects under consideration were the establishment of peace between France, Venice and the Empire, with a view to an expedition against the Turks, and the ecclesiastical affairs of France. Precisely what was arranged is unknown. During these two or three years of incessant political intrigue and warfare it was not to be expected that the Lateran council should accomplish much. Its three main objects, the peace of Christendom, the crusade and the reform of the church, could be secured only by general agreement among the powers, and Leo or the council failed to secure such agreement. Its most important achievements were the registration at its eleventh sitting (19th December 1516) of the abolition of the pragmatic sanction, which the popes since Pius II. had unanimously condemned, and the confirmation of the concordat between Leo X. and Francis I., which was destined to regulate the relations between the French Church and the Holy See until the Revolution. Leo closed the council on the 16th of March 1517. It had ended the schism, ratified. the censorship of books introduced by Alexander VI. and imposed tithes for a war against the Turks. It raised no voice against the primacy of the pope.
The year which marked the close of the Lateran council was also signalized by Leo’s unholy war against the duke of Urbino. The pope was naturally proud of his family and had practised nepotism from the outset. His cousin Giulio, who subsequently became Clement VII., he had made the most influential man in the curia, naming him archbishop of Florence, cardinal and vice-chancellor of the Holy See. Leo had intended his younger brother Giuliano and his nephew Lorenzo for brilliant secular careers. He had named them Roman patricians; the latter he had placed in charge of Florence; the former, for whom he planned to carve out a kingdom in central Italy of Parma, Piacenza, Ferrara and Urbino, he had taken with himself to Rome and married to Filiberta of Savoy. The death of Giuliano in March 1516, however, caused the pope to transfer his ambitions to Lorenzo. At the very time (December 1516) that peace between France, Spain, Venice and the Empire seemed to give some promise of a Christendom united against the Turk, Leo was preparing an enterprise as unscrupulous as any of the similar exploits of Cesare Borgia. He obtained 150,000 ducats towards the expenses of the expedition from Henry VIII. of England, in return for which he entered the imperial league of Spain and England against France. The war lasted from February to September 1517 and ended with the expulsion of the duke and the triumph of Lorenzo; but it revived the nefarious policy of Alexander VI., increased brigandage and anarchy in the States of the Church, hindered the preparations for a crusade and wrecked the papal finances. Guicciardini reckoned the cost of the war to Leo at the prodigious sum of 800,000 ducats. The new duke of Urbino was the Lorenzo de’ Medici to whom Machiavelli addressed The Prince. His marriage in March 1518 was arranged by the pope with Madeleine la Tour d’Auvergne, a royal princess of France, whose daughter was the Catherine de’ Medici celebrated in French history. The war of Urbino was further marked by a crisis in the relations between pope and cardinals. The sacred college had grown especially worldly and troublesome since the time of Sixtus IV., and Leo took advantage of a plot of several of its members to poison him, not only to inflict exemplary punishments by executing one and imprisoning several others, but also to make a radical change in the college. On the 3rd of July 1517 he published the names of thirty-one new cardinals, a number almost unprecedented in the history of the papacy. Some of the nominations were excellent, such as Lorenzo Campeggio, Giambattista Pallavicini, Adrian of Utrecht, Cajetan, Cristoforo Numai and Egidio Canisio. The naming of seven members of prominent Roman families, however, reversed the wise policy of his predecessor which had kept the dangerous factions of the city out of the curia. Other promotions were for political or family considerations or to secure money for the war against Urbino. The pope was accused of having exaggerated the conspiracy of the cardinals for purposes of financial gain, but most of such accusations appear to be unsubstantiated.
Leo, meanwhile, felt the need of staying the advance of the warlike sultan, Selim I., who was threatening western Europe, and made elaborate plans for a crusade. A truce was to be proclaimed throughout Christendom; the pope was to be the arbiter of disputes; the emperor and the king of France were to lead the army; England, Spain and Portugal were to furnish the fleet; and the combined forces were to be directed against Constantinople. Papal diplomacy in the interests of peace failed, however; Cardinal Wolsey made England, not the pope, the arbiter between France and the Empire; and much of the money collected for the crusade from tithes and indulgences was spent in other ways. In 1519 Hungary concluded a three years’ truce with Selim I., but the succeeding sultan, Suliman the Magnificent, renewed the war in June 1521 and on the 28th of August captured the citadel of Belgrade. The pope was greatly alarmed, and although he was then involved in war with France he sent about 30,000 ducats to the Hungarians. Leo treated the Uniate Greeks with great loyalty, and by bull of the 18th of May 1521 forbade Latin clergy to celebrate mass in Greek churches and Latin bishops to ordain Greek clergy. These provisions were later strengthened by Clement VII. and Paul III. and went far to settle the chronic disputes between the Latins and Uniate Greeks.
Leo was disturbed throughout his pontificate by heresy and schism. The dispute between Reuchlin and Pfefferkorn relative to the Talmud and other Jewish books was referred to the pope in September 1513. He in turn referred it to the bishops of Spires and Worms, who gave decision in March 1514 in favour of Reuchlin. After the appeal of the inquisitor-general, Hochstraten, and the appearance of the Epistolae obscurorum virorum, however, Leo annulled the decision (June 1520) and imposed silence on Reuchlin. The pope had already authorized the extensive grant of indulgences in order to secure funds for the crusade and more particularly for the rebuilding of St Peter’s at Rome. Against the attendant abuses the Augustinian monk Martin Luther (q.v.) posted (31st October 1517) on the church door at Wittenberg his famous ninety-five theses, which were the signal for widespread revolt against the church. Although Leo did not fully comprehend the import of the movement, he directed (3rd February 1518) the vicar-general of the Augustinians to impose silence on the monks. On the 30th of May Luther sent an explanation of his theses to the pope; on the 7th of August he was cited to appear at Rome. An arrangement was effected, however, whereby that citation was cancelled, and Luther betook himself in October 1518 to Augsburg to meet the papal legate, Cardinal Cajetan, who was attending the imperial diet convened by the emperor Maximilian to impose the tithes for the Turkish war and to elect a king of the Romans; but neither the arguments of the learned cardinal, nor the dogmatic papal bull of the 9th of November to the effect that all Christians must believe in the pope’s power to grant indulgences, moved Luther to retract. A year of fruitless negotiation followed, during which the pamphlets of the reformer set all Germany on fire. A papal bull of the 15th of June 1520, which condemned forty-one propositions extracted from Luther’s teachings, was taken to Germany by Eck in his capacity of apostolic nuncio, published by him and the legates Alexander and Caracciola, and burned by Luther on the 10th of December at Wittenberg. Leo then formally excommunicated Luther by bull of the 3rd of January 1521; and in a brief directed the emperor to take energetic measures against heresy. On the 26th of May 1521 the emperor signed the edict of the diet of Worms, which placed Luther under the ban of the Empire; on the 21st of the same month Henry VIII. of England sent to Leo his book against Luther on the seven sacraments. The pope, after careful consideration, conferred on the king of England the title “Defender of the Faith” by bull of the 11th of October 1521. Neither the imperial edict nor the work of Henry VIII. stayed the Lutheran movement, and Luther himself, safe in the solitude of the Wartburg, survived Leo X. It was under Leo X. also that the Protestant movement had its beginning in Scandinavia. The pope had repeatedly used the rich northern benefices to reward members of the Roman curia, and towards the close of the year 1516 he sent the grasping and impolitic Arcimboldi as papal nuncio to Denmark to collect money for St Peter’s. King Christian II. took advantage of the growing dissatisfaction on the part of the native clergy toward the papal government, and of Arcimboldi’s interference in the Swedish revolt, in order to expel the nuncio and summon (1520) Lutheran theologians to Copenhagen. Christian approved a plan by which a formal state church should be established in Denmark, all appeals to Rome should be abolished, and the king and diet should have final jurisdiction in ecclesiastical causes. Leo sent a new nuncio to Copenhagen (1521) in the person of the Minorite Francesco de Potentia, who readily absolved the king and received the rich bishopric of Skara. The pope or his legate, however, took no steps to remove abuses or otherwise reform the Scandinavian churches.
That Leo did not do more to check the tendency toward heresy and schism in Germany and Scandinavia is to be partially explained by the political complications of the time, and by his own preoccupation with schemes of papal and Medicean aggrandizement in Italy. The death of the emperor Maximilian on the 12th of January 1519 had seriously affected the situation. Leo vacillated between the powerful candidates for the succession, allowing it to appear at first that he favoured Francis I. while really working for the election of some minor German prince. He finally accepted Charles I. of Spain as inevitable, and the election of Charles (28th of June 1519) revealed Leo’s desertion of his French alliance, a step facilitated by the death at about the same time of Lorenzo de’ Medici and his French wife. Leo was now anxious to unite Ferrara, Parma and Piacenza to the States of the Church. An attempt late in 1519 to seize Ferrara failed, and the pope recognized the need of foreign aid. In May 1521 a treaty of alliance was signed at Rome between him and the emperor. Milan and Genoa were to be taken from France and restored to the Empire, and Parma and Piacenza were to be given to the Church on the expulsion of the French. The expense of enlisting 10,000 Swiss was to be borne equally by pope and emperor. Charles took Florence and the Medici family under his protection and promised to punish all enemies of the Catholic faith. Leo agreed to invest Charles with Naples, to crown him emperor, and to aid in a war against Venice. It was provided that England and the Swiss might join the league. Henry VIII. announced his adherence in August. Francis I. had already begun war with Charles in Navarre, and in Italy, too, the French made the first hostile movement (23rd June 1521). Leo at once announced that he would excommunicate the king of France and release his subjects from their allegiance unless Francis laid down his arms and surrendered Parma and Piacenza. The pope lived to hear the joyful news of the capture of Milan from the French and of the occupation by papal troops of the long-coveted provinces (November 1521). Leo X. died on the 1st of December 1521, so suddenly that the last sacraments could not be administered; but the contemporary suspicions of poison were unfounded. His successor was Adrian VI.
Several minor events of Leo’s pontificate are worthy of mention. He was particularly friendly with King Emmanuel of Portugal on account of the latter’s missionary enterprises in Asia and Africa. His concordat with Florence (1516) guaranteed the free election of the clergy in that city. His constitution of the 1st of March 1519 condemned the king of Spain’s claim to refuse the publication of papal bulls. He maintained close relations with Poland because of the Turkish advance and the Polish contest with the Teutonic Knights. His bull of the 1st of July 1519, which regulated the discipline of the Polish Church, was later transformed into a concordat by Clement VII. Leo showed special favours to the Jews and permitted them to erect a Hebrew printing-press at Rome. He approved the formation of the Oratory of Divine Love, a group of pious men at Rome which later became the Theatine Order, and he canonized Francesco di Paola.
As patron of learning Leo X. deserves a prominent place among the popes. He raised the church to a high rank as the friend of whatever seemed to extend knowledge or to refine and embellish life. He made the capital of Christendom the centre of culture. Every Italian artist and man of letters in an age of singular intellectual brilliancy tasted or hoped to taste of his bounty. While yet a cardinal, he had restored the church of Sta Maria in Domnica after Raphael’s designs; and as pope he built S. Giovanni on the Via Giulia after designs by Jacopo Sansovino and pressed forward the work on St Peter’s and the Vatican under Raphael and Chigi. His constitution of the 5th of November 1513 reformed the Roman university, which had been neglected by Julius II. He restored all its faculties, gave larger salaries to the professors, and summoned distinguished teachers from afar; and, although it never attained to the importance of Padua or Bologna, it nevertheless possessed in 1514 an excellent faculty of eighty-eight professors. Leo called Theodore Lascaris to Rome to give instruction in Greek, and established a Greek printing-press from which the first Greek book printed at Rome appeared in 1515. He made Raphael custodian of the classical antiquities of Rome and the vicinity. The distinguished Latinists Pietro Bembo (1470–1547) and Jacopo Sadoleto (1477–1547) were papal secretaries, as well as the famous poet Bernardo Accolti (d.1534). Writers of poetry like Vida (1490–1566), Trissino (1478–1550), and Bibbiena (1470–1520), writers of novelle like Bandello, and a hundred other literati of the time were bishops, or papal scriptors or abbreviators, or in other papal employ. Leo’s lively interest in art and literature, to say nothing of his natural liberality, his nepotism, his political ambitions and necessities, and his immoderate personal luxury, exhausted within two years the hard savings of Julius II., and precipitated a financial crisis from which he never emerged and which was a direct cause of most of the calamities of his pontificate. He created many new offices and shamelessly sold them. He sold cardinals’ hats. He sold membership in the “Knights of Peter.” He borrowed large sums from bankers, curials, princes and Jews. The Venetian ambassador Gradenigo estimated the paying number of offices on Leo’s death at 2150, with a capital value of nearly 3,000,000 ducats and a yearly income of 328,000 ducats. Marino Giorgi reckoned the ordinary income of the pope for the year 1517 at about 580,000 ducats, of which 420,000 came from the States of the Church, 100,000 from annates, and 60,000 from the composition tax instituted by Sixtus IV. These sums, together with the considerable amounts accruing from indulgences, jubilees, and special fees, vanished as quickly as they were received. Then the pope resorted to pawning palace furniture, table plate, jewels, even statues of the apostles. Several banking firms and many individual creditors were ruined by the death of the pope.
In the past many conflicting estimates were made of the character and achievements of the pope during whose pontificate Protestantism first took form. More recent studies have served to produce a fairer and more honest opinion of Leo X. A report of the Venetian ambassador Marino Giorgi bearing date of March 1517 indicates some of his predominant characteristics: “The pope is a good-natured and extremely free-hearted man, who avoids every difficult situation and above all wants peace; he would not undertake a war himself unless his own personal interests were involved; he loves learning; of canon law and literature he possesses remarkable knowledge; he is, moreover, a very excellent musician.” Leo was dignified in appearance and elegant in speech, manners and writing. He enjoyed music and the theatre, art and poetry, the masterpieces of the ancients and the wonderful creations of his contemporaries, the spiritual and the witty—life in every form. It is by no means certain that he made the remark often attributed to him, “Let us enjoy the papacy since God has given it to us,” but there is little doubt that he was by nature devoid of moral earnestness or deep religious feeling. On the other hand, in spite of his worldliness, Leo was not an unbeliever; he prayed, fasted, and participated in the services of the church with conscientiousness. To the virtues of liberality, charity and clemency he added the Machiavellian qualities of falsehood and shrewdness, so highly esteemed by the princes of his time. Leo was deemed fortunate by his contemporaries, but an incurable malady, wars, enemies, a conspiracy of cardinals, and the loss of all his nearest relations darkened his days; and he failed entirely in his general policy of expelling foreigners from Italy, of restoring peace throughout Europe, and of prosecuting war against the Turks. He failed to recognize the pressing need of reform within the church and the tremendous dangers which threatened the papal monarchy; and he unpardonably neglected the spiritual needs of the time. He was, however, zealous in firmly establishing the political power of the Holy See; he made it unquestionably supreme in Italy; he successfully restored the papal power in France; and he secured a prominent place in the history of culture.
Authorities.—The life of Leo X. was written shortly after his death by Paolo Giovio, bishop of Nocera, who had known him intimately. Other important contemporary sources are the Italian History of the Florentine writer Guicciardini, covering the period 1492–1530 (4 vols., Milan, 1884}; the reports of the Venetian ambassadors, Marino Giorgi (1517), Marco Minio (1520) and Luigi Gradenigo (1523), in vol. iii. of the 2nd series of Le Relazioni degli ambasciatori Veneti, edited by Alberi (Florence, 1846); and the Diarii of the Venetian Marino Sanuto (58 vols., 1879–1903). Other materials for the biography are to be found in the incomplete Regesta edited by Joseph Cardinal Hergenröther (Freiburg-i-B., 1884 ff.); in the Turin collection of papal bulls (1859, &c.) ; in Il Diario di Leone X. dai volumi manoscritti degli archivi Vaticani delta S. Sede connote di M. Armellini (Rome, 1884); and in “Documenti risguardanti Giovanni de’ Medici e il pontifice Leone X.,” appendix to vol. I of the Archivio storico Italiano (Florence, 1842).
See L. Pastor, Geschichte der Päpste im Zeitalter der Renaissance u. der Glaubensspaltung von der Wahl Leos X. bis zum Tode Klemens VII. part 1 (Freiburg-i.-B., 1906) ; M. Creighton, History of the Papacy, vol. 6 (1901); F. Gregorovius, Rome in the Middle Ages, trans, by Mrs G. W. Hamilton, vol. viii., part 1 (1902); L. von Ranke, History of the Popes, vol. i., trans, by E. Foster in the Bohn Library; Histoire de France, ed. by E. Lavisse, vol. 5, part 1 (1903) ; Walter Friedensburg, “Ein rotulus familiae Papst Leos X.,” in Quellen u. Forschungen aus italienischen Archiven u. Bibliotheken, vol. vi. (1904) ; W. Roscoe, Life and Pontificate of Leo X. (6th ed., 2 vols., 1853), a celebrated biography but considerably out of date in spite of the valuable notes of the German and Italian translators, Henke and Bossi; F. S. Nitti, Leone X. e la sua politica secondo documenti e carteggi inediti (Florence, 1892) ; A. Schulte, Die Fugger in Rom 1495–1523 (2 vols., Leipzig, 1906) ; and H. M. Vaughan, The Medici Popes (1908).