line, a tragic event in his own family, strangely characteristic of the time, and of which the fatal beauty of the famous Vittoria Accoromboni was the cause, agitated all Rome and all Italy. A few years before, when he was named vicar-general of his order, he had brought his sister Donna Camilla and her family to Rome. The father of Vittoria Accoromboni, himself of noble family, was then in search of a husband for his daughter, whose manner, wit, speech, and grace fascinated all beholders, and brought forward many suitors for her hand. The chief of these was Paolo Giordano Orsini, Duke of Bracciano, a man of terrible reputation, who was suspected of having murdered his first wife, daughter of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, and whose houses and country castles were mere strongholds of banditti. Though he was fifty years of age and had a repulsive malady, he possessed a strange attraction for and was preferred by Vittoria, who was nevertheless married by her father to Francesco Peretti, nephew of Cardinal Montalto and son of Donna Camilla. Soon afterwards, the husband of the bride was found murdered in the street. Everybody suspected the Duke of Bracciano to be the real culprit, but the idea of exacting vengeance from the great chief of the Orsini, the possessor of two or three houses in Rome as strong as fortresses, and crowded with bravi and brigands, filled the city with consternation; nothing less than civil war was in prospect under so weak a rule as that of Gregory XIII. To the surprise of all, however, Cardinal Montalto, after giving expression to his sorrow in full consistory, desisted from following up his demand for vengeance. The adventures of Vittoria Accoromboni, and her own subsequent murder by a kinsman of her husband, form the subject of a novel by Tieck; and this singular tale of atrocity and romance riveted the attention of all Italy. The future Pope, wounded as he thus was in his most cherished affections, had a private incentive for undertaking that merciless war against brigandage and the practice of assassination among the nobility which was one of the great achievements of his administration.

The conduct of Montalto, nevertheless, in the matter of the murder of his nephew, and his retirement from affairs under Gregory XIII., operated in favour of his election in the conclave which met, according to prescription, ten days after the death of his predecessor. For Sixtus V., like many of the Popes, owed the tiara to the fact that he was the member of the Sa red College against whom all parties could find the least aggregate of objections, and to fulfil this condition, absence of notoriety and the possession of a neutral reputation were the most useful qualifications. The old story of the appear


ance of the future Pope on crutches at the conclave, as a mark of decrepitude, which he threw aside the moment his election was secure, is altogether rejected by Baron Hübner as apocryphal; but no doubt Sixtus V. owed the votes of his colleagues to their ignorance of his true character.

The most imposing candidate before the election seemed to be the magnificent Farnese, the creature of his uncle Paul III., who built the splendid palace now possessed by the King of Naples, and who so nearly attained the pontificate in several conclaves. His relationship, however, to the ducal family of Parma excited against him the jealousy of the Medici, who always succeeded in procuring a combination which resulted in his exclusion. On the present occasion Cardinal Ferdinand de' Medici, afterwards Grand Duke of Tuscany, was the rival chief of Farnese in the conclave; and although Farnese at his entry into the electoral assembly commanded the nineteen votes of the batch of cardinals created in the last pontificate, Medici still intrigued so as to prevent his obtaining the majority of two-thirds of the cardinals present—the number necessary for his election; and, after trying various combinations, came to the conclusion that Montalto was the only papable candidate whom he could play with certainty to prevent the success of Farnese. By diplomatic manquvres, he succeeded in winning over Altemps, the chief of the creatures of Pius IV.; by another clever stratagein he succeeded in intimidating San Sisto, the chief of the creatures of Gregory XIII., who had promised their votes to Farnese, so that Montalto was elected by adoration, as it is termed—that is, all the electors, seeing that opposition was futile, voted by acclamation, and renounced further scrutiny. Sixtus V. was thus chosen on the 24th of April, 1585, and his coronation was celebrated on the 1st of May following:

This was one of the shortest of conclaves. The influence of the political factions devoted to France and Spain and Austria was little felt in this election, owing to the intense rivalry of Medici and Farnese. Even Philip II., who looked upon himself as the lay vicegerent of God upon earth, exercised little weight in the decision, although his interest was exerted in favour of Farnese, and he found no reason to congratulate himself on the choice of the Sacred College. The choice of Montalto was, in fact, due to circumstances so unforeseen, that the devout ruler of Spain conceived him to have been, in a peculiar manner, marked out for the office by the influence of the Holy Ghost. The new Pope, at the request of San Sisto, to whose decision at the final moment

he owed his elevation, took the title of Sixtus V. The retired life which he had led before his accession had induced Medici to speculate on the influence he might retain over a Pontiff of his own creation so entirely unused to affairs; but Sixtus V. very speedily undeceived him in these expectations, for the new Pope was well aware that Medici had only brought about his election as the sole means of keeping out Farnese; and he displayed immediately after his election a vigour of character, a tenacity of political and ecclesiastical purpose, and an imperious force of command which none had expected to find in a man now sixty-four years of age, who had begun his career as a friar, and been deprived of all office for the last thirteen years of his life.

Nowhere was the energy of Sixtus more astonishing than in the management of the internal affairs of the Pontifical States. “Severity and hoarding of money,' he laid down at once as the maxim of his rule. By the care which he bestowed on the financial condition of his dominions and by his reforms, he very speedily succeeded in rescuing the finances of the Papal Government from the ruinous state in which they had been left by Gregory XIII. Many of his measures, indeed, violated the principles of political economy as at present understood, but they were in accordance with the usage and spirit of the age. It is sufficient to state that in less than a year after his accession, Sixtus had deposited a million of golden crowns as the result of his economy in the Castle of St. Angelo, and that he left more than three millions in the treasury there behind him at his death. The possession of so much ready money made him one of the richest princes of Europe. The reputation which he thus acquired for wealth caused his alliance to be eagerly sought for; but Sixtus V. jealously watched over his treasures, and although not sparing of his golden crowns when they could be employed with a fair prospect of usefulness either abroad or at home, yet he carefully kept guard over them, and prevented himself from being entangled in such a way in the schemes of Philip II. and of the League as would squander the results of his economy without results.

Order in his finances Sixtus V. well understood could not be effectually secured unless public order were established throughout his dominions; therefore his very first thoughts were directed towards sweeping the territory and city of Rome clear of the hordes of banditti and the system of brigandage with which they were then infested. In all ages brigandage has exercised a potent influence in the history of southern countries. The masnadieri of Italy, the partidas of Spain, the guerillas of Portugal, have always been malefactors more or less of the same race—a race scattered throughout the countries on which they prey, and ready in all periods of national trouble to assume the colours of political faction, under the pretext either of patriotism or of authority. In such times they attract into their ranks all the equivocal elements of the population. Every village sends its contingent of rascals --men of loose lives and dangerous characters, at war with law and society. Their adventurous career and their daring create for them strange sympathies in the confused moral sense of the peasantry, who become their allies and abettors in escaping pursuit. In the sixteenth century, Italy was in a condition especially favourable for the propagation and support of this social malady. The parties of the Guelphs and the Ghibelines were, it is true, extinct; the Free Republics existed no more ; and the petty tyrants who exercised sovereign jurisdiction in their small territories had fallen one by one; but the traditions of former times were still strong, the habits engendered by centuries of local warfare, and by the military system of the condottieri had not passed away; the memories of ancient and extinguished liberties and privileges still survived; and the brigands played often but the part of the ancient fuorusciti in the eyes of their countrymen, by carrying on war against the established government. The great feudal and other nobles, moreover, in their private quarrels and in their revolts against the State power, in which they invoked the traditions of ancient parties and of local independence, made league with, and gave protection to, the leading banditti of the time, besides maintaining troops of bravos and lawless marauders in their pay, so that their territorial castles and their fortified residences in the cities were often mere strongholds of brigandage, and their relations with the brigands were those of mutual insurance and support. Of such noblemen in Rome, Paolo Giordano, whom we have already mentioned in connexion with Vittoria Accoromboni, was the most terrible representative; and the public morality of the time was so perverted, that nobles who lived surrounded by brigands, and even led themselves lives of semi-brigandage, were visited with no public reprobation, and some even obtained employments in State service. Ludovic Orsini, the assassin of Vittoria Accoromboni, was a notable example of this. He was at first banished from Rome for an act of vendetta, but he lived for many years the life of a fuoruscito, and engaged in the service of the Venetian Republic. Giovanni Battista del Monte was another example. Having a

[ocr errors]

feud with the Town Council of Cività Castellana, he made a league with eight chiefs of bandits and their two hundred followers, took possession of the town in open day, and massacred his enemies; he would have killed the podestà himself, had the latter not managed to save himself by flight; after which he became a fuoruscito, and engaged, like Orsini, in the service of Venice. The noble, however, who had fallen under the ban of the law, did not always seek foreign service in Venice, Ferrara, Tuscany, Spain, or France; he also not unfrequently put himself at the head of a faction, and bade defiance to the government in his own castles or in those of his family and friends, until he had become sufficiently formidable to exact a free pardon.

Under the government of the unenergetic Gregory XIII., brigandage was carried on on so large and terrible a scale, that down to the middle of the last century, Tempesti tells us, when people wished to characterise a feeble government, and a more atrocious state of brigandage than usual, they made use of the expression, ' Corrono i tempi Gregoriani,'. We are in

the times of Pope Gregory. The most abominable crimes-murder, poisoning, robbery, abduction, and violence were of daily occurrence. In the capital itself, combats were carried on, sometimes for days together, which convulsed the whole city with panic.

The Papal officers were attacked frequently by armed bands in the streets, and the Papal sbirri were assaulted at their posts and in their houses, and thrown murdered from the windows three or four at a time. The carriage of Monsignore Mario Savelli, brother of a cardinal, was attacked in open day by four unknown individuals, in the middle of the public promenade, outside the Porta del Popolo, and the prelate shot dead with a harquebuse. Cardinal Montalto himself was exposed on one occasion to great danger. As he was returning home on foot through the streets, followed by a single servant, he found himself in the midst of a skirmish between the lawless young nobles of Rome and the Papal sbirri. The Pontifical police had violated what was considered the privilege of the nobles, by entering the Orsini palace, which was always full of bandits, and seizing a malefactor there. As they were leading off their prisoner, they were attacked by a band of the Roman young men of fashion of the day, of the Orsini, Savelli, Rusticucci, Capizucchi, and other families, followed by their retainers. In the medley, Montalto's servant was killed, and he himself escaped with difficulty. The combat lasted for three days, and spread terror through all Rome, the whole of the Roman nobles taking up


« VorigeDoorgaan »