Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 1.djvu/331

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

ALEXANDER

291

ALEXANDER

therefore, easily induced to enter a defensive alliance with Milan and Venice; the league was solemnly proclaimed, 25 April, 1493. It was cemented by the first of Lucrezia's marriages. Her first husband was a cousin of Ascanio, Giovanni Sforza, Lord of Pesaro. The wedding was celebrated in the Vatican in the presence of the Pope, ten cardinals, and the chief nobles of Rome with their ladies, the revelries of the occasion, even when exaggerations and rumours are dismissed, remain a blot upon the character of Alexander. Ferrante talked of war, but, through the mediation of Spain, he came to terms with the Pope and, as a pledge of reconciliation, gave his granddaughter, Sancia, in marriage to Alexander's youngest son Jofre, with the principality of Squillace as dower. Cæsar Borgia was created Cardinal 20 September. Ferrante's reconciliation with the Pope came none too soon.

A few days after peace had been concluded, an envoy of King Charles VIII arrived in Rome to demand the investiture of Naples for his master. Alexander returned a positive refusal, and when Ferrante died, January, 1494, neglecting French protests and threats, he confirmed the succession of Ferrante's son, Alfonso II, and sent his nephew, Cardinal Giovanni Borgia, to Naples to crown him. The policy of Alexander was dictated not only by a laudable desire to maintain the peace of Italy, but also because he was aware that a strong faction of his cardinals, with the resolute della Rovere at their head, was promoting the invasion of Charles as a means towards deposing him on the twofold charge of simony and immorality. In September, 1494, the French crossed the Alps; on the last day of that year they made their entry into Rome, needing no other weapon in their march through the peninsula, as Alexander wittily remarked (Commines vii, 15), than the chalk with which they marked out the lodgings of the troops. The barons of the Pope deserted him one after the other. Colonna and Savelli were traitors from the beginning, but he felt most keenly the defection of Virginio Orsini, the commander of his army. Many a saintlier pope than Alexander VI would have made the fatal mistake of yielding to brute force and surrendering unconditionally to the conqueror of Italy; the most heroic of the popes could not have sustained the stability of the Holy See at this crucial moment with greater firmness. From the crumbling ramparts of St. Angelo, the defences of which were still incomplete, he looked calmly into the mouth of the French cannon; with equal intrepidity he faced the cabal of della Rovere's cardinals, clamorous for his deposition. At the end of a fortnight it was Charles who capitulated. He acknowledged Alexander as true Pope, greatly to the disgust of della Rovere, and "did his filial obedience", says Commines, "with all imaginable humility"; but he could not extort from the Pontiff an acknowledgment of his claims to Naples. Charles entered Naples, 22 February, 1495, without striking a blow. At his approach the unpopular Alfonso abdicated in favour of his son Ferrantino, the latter, failing to receive support, retired to seek the protection of Spain. Whilst Charles wasted over two months in fruitless attempts to induce the Pope by promises and threats to sanction his usurpation, a powerful league, consisting of Venice, Milan, the Empire, Spain, and the Holy See, was formed against him. Finally, on 12 May, he crowned himself, but in the following July he was cutting his way home through the ranks of the allied Italians. By the end of the year the French had re-crossed into France. No one wished for their return, except the restless della Rovere, and the adherents of Savonarola. The story of the Florentine friar will be related elsewhere, here it suffices to note that Alexander's treatment of him was marked by extreme patience and forbearance.

The French invasion was the turning point in the political career of Alexander VI. It had taught him that if he would be safe in Rome and be really master in the States of the Church, he must curb the insolent and disloyal barons who had betrayed him in his hour of danger. Unfortunately, this laudable purpose became more and more identified in his mind with schemes for the aggrandizement of his family. There was no place in his programme for a reform of abuses. Quite the contrary; in order to obtain money for his military operations he disposed of civil and spiritual privileges and offices in a scandalous manner. He resolved to begin with the Orsini, whose treason at the most critical moment had reduced him to desperate straits. The time seemed opportune; for Virginio, the head of the house, was a prisoner in the hands of Ferrantino. As commander of his troops he selected his youthful son Juan, Duke of Gandia. The struggle dragged on for months. The minor castles of the Orsini surrendered, but Bracciano, their main fortress, resisted all the efforts of the pontifical troops. They were finally obliged to raise the siege, and on 25 January, 1497, they were completely routed at Soriano. Both sides were now disposed to peace. On payment of 50,000 golden florins the Orsini received back all their castles except Cervetri and Anguillara, which had been the original cause of their quarrel with the Pope. In order to reduce the strong fortress of Ostia, held by French troops for Cardinal della Rovere, Alexander wisely invoked the aid of Gonsalvo de Cordova and his Spanish veterans. It surrendered to the "Great Captain" within two weeks. Unsuccessful in obtaining for his family the possessions of the Orsini, the Pope now demanded the consent of his cardinals to the erection of Benevento, Terracina, and Pontecorvo into a duchy for the Duke of Gandia. Cardinal Piccolomini was the only member who dared protest against this improper alienation of the property of the Church. A more powerful protest than that of the Cardinal of Sienna reverberated through the world a week later when, on the sixteenth of June, the body of the young Duke was fished out of the Tiber, with the throat cut and many gaping wounds. Historians have laboured in vain to discover who perpetrated the foul deed, but that it was a warning from Heaven to repent, no one felt more keenly than the Pope himself. In the first wild paroxysm of grief he spoke of resigning the tiara. Then, after three days and nights passed without food or sleep, he appeared in consistory and proclaimed his determination to set about that reform of the Church "in head and members" for which the world had so long been clamouring. A commission of cardinals and canonists began industriously to frame ordinances which foreshadowed the disciplinary decrees of Trent. But they were never promulgated. Time gradually assuaged the sorrow and extinguished the contrition of Alexander. From now on Cæsar's iron will was supreme law. That he aimed high from the start is evident from his resolve, opposed at first by the Pope, to resign his cardinalate and other ecclesiastical dignities, and to become a secular prince. The condition of Naples was alluring. The gallant Ferrantino had died childless and was succeeded by his uncle Federigo, whose coronation was one of Cæsar's last, possibly also one of his first, ecclesiastical acts. By securing the hand of Federigo's daughter, Carlotta, Princess of Tarento, he would become one of the most powerful barons of the kingdom, with ulterior prospects of wearing the crown. Carlotta's repugnance, however, could not be overcome. But in the course of the suit, another marriage was concluded which gave much scandal. Lucrezia's marriage with Sforza was declared null on the ground of the latter's impotence, and she was given as wife to Alfonso of Biseglia, an illegitimate son of Alfonso II.

Meanwhile, affairs in France took an unexpected