Leo X (Pope) (1475–1521; Reigned 1513–1521)

views updated May 29 2018

LEO X (POPE) (14751521; reigned 15131521)

LEO X (POPE) (14751521; reigned 15131521). Second son of Lorenzo "the Magnificent" de' Medici and Clarice Orsini, Giovanni Romolo de' Medici was trained in the humanities and received a doctorate in canon law from the University of Pisa in 1492. He was appointed cardinal in 1489, and held various legations culminating in that to the Holy League, which reinstalled his family to power in Florence in 1512.

Elected pope by the younger cardinals in 1513, Leo X quietly continued the imperial and Spanish alliance against France pursued by his predecessor Julius II (reigned 15031513), but he made peace with the French king Francis I following the latter's military victory in 1515 and negotiated a concordat with him at Bologna, to replace the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges (1438). He tried to create a French alliance by Medici marriages to relatives of Francis I: His brother Giuliano (14791516) was married to the royal aunt Philiberte de Savoy, and his nephew Lorenzo di Piero (14921519), to Madeleine de La Tour d'Auvergne (d. 1519), probably a royal cousin, whose orphaned daughter, Catherine (15191589), later became queen of France. With their deaths and the election of Charles V as Holy Roman emperor in 1519, which he opposed, Leo returned clearly to the Habsburg alliance and regained Parma and Piacenza for the Papal States once the French were defeated in 1521.

As head of the Roman Catholic Church, Leo took his responsibilities seriously. At religious ceremonies he presided with dignity and devotion. He brought to a successful conclusion the Fifth Lateran Council (15121517), which healed the Pisan schism, approved the abrogation of the Pragmatic Sanction, and confirmed the Concordat of Bologna; regulated relations between bishops and exempt clerics; condemned Averroistic views on the soul; ordered prepublication censorship of books; legislated various moral and curial reforms; and ordered a crusade that, given Christian rivalries, could never be launched. He tried to promote a reunion of the churches by sending a legate to the Hussites and establishing good relations with the Maronites and Ethiopians. To promote the evangelization of non-Christians, he approved in 1518 the training of non-European clergy and the episcopal consecration of Enrique (c. 14941531), son of the king of the Congo. To preserve orthodoxy he threatened Martin Luther (14831546) with penalties should he fail to recant forty-one propositions (Exsurge Domine, 1520); he then excommunicated the recalcitrant friar (Decet Romanum Pontificem, 1521). To Henry VIII he assigned in 1521 the title "Defender of the Faith" for writing against Luther. While he actively supported the observant movement in religious orders, he failed to effect a serious reform of the Roman Curia, because it would have reduced his revenues.

Leo was a lavish patron of arts and letters. He employed Michelangelo Buonarroti (14751564) to carve the Medici tombs in Florence, and in Rome he commissioned Raphael Sanzio (14831520) to work on the frescoes in the papal apartments and loggia, design the Sistine tapestries, paint his papal portrait, and supervise the construction of the new St. Peter's Basilica and excavations of Roman archeological sites. As domestic secretaries he hired the humanists Pietro Bembo (14701547) and Jacopo Sadoleto (14771547). He endowed professorships at the University of Rome and founded there a Greek college and press. Leo was on good terms with leading humanists such as Desiderius Erasmus (1466?1536), who dedicated to him the Novum Instrumentum (New Testament) of 1516. He commissioned Marco Girolamo Vida (c. 14901566) to compose the epic poem Christiad (1535), begun in 1518, and in 1521 he urged Jacopo Sannazaro (14581530) to complete his De Partu Virginis (1526; "On the virgin birth"), begun in 1506.

Leo promoted numerous relatives and clients to church office, most notably in the 1517 mass creation of thirty-one cardinals following a plot to poison him, which had been provoked by his interference in Sienese political affairs. His first cousin Giulio de' Medici (14781534), whom he appointed archbishop of Florence, cardinal, and vice-chancellor of the church, was his closest adviser and would eventually succeed him as Clement VII (reigned 15231534). By his lavish expenditures on culture and warfare, and despite his efforts to raise new revenues by the sale of venal offices, dispensations, and indulgences, Leo X left the papacy deeply in debt at the time of his sudden death from pneumonia. He was eventually buried in the church of S. Maria sopra Minerva.

See also Francis I (France) ; Medici Family ; Papacy and Papal States .


Falcone, Carlo. Leone X: Giovanni de' Medici. Milan, 1987.

Gattoni, Maurizio. Leone X e la geo-politica dello stato pontifico (15131521). Vatican City, 2000.

Pastor, Ludwig von. The History of the Popes from the Close of the Middle Ages. Edited by Frederick Ignatius Antrobus, et al. 6th ed. 40 vols. Nendeln, Liechtenstein, 1969.

Nelson H. Minnich

Leo X

views updated May 17 2018

Leo X

Leo X (1475-1521), who was pope from 1513 to 1521, was a lavish patron of the arts and an international political manipulator. The Reformation began during his reign.

In the second half of the 15th century the Renaissance was in full swing in Italy. The glories of man had been rediscovered and were being reappreciated after the religious austerities of the Middle Ages. The classic art of ancient Greece had come back into style; the ornate Latin of early Rome was being mastered again. Life in this world had become more important, for those who could afford it, than life in the next. The princes of Italy's city-states fought and schemed to preserve their power and increase their wealth.

It was into this kind of world that Giovanni de' Medici, the future pope Leo X, was born on Dec. 11, 1475. His father, Lorenzo de' Medici or Lorenzo the Magnificent, ruled Florence. His uncle, Giuliano de' Medici, had been assassinated by agents of Pope Sixtus IV, who as ruler of Rome was a political rival. Young Giovanni and his older brother Pietro were carefully schooled by their father in the arts of government as well as the pleasures of wealth. One of his tutors was Pico della Mirandola, an outstanding humanist and persuasive teacher. Giovanni grew up as an intelligent young man, deeply interested in literature and art, passionately devoted to his family, and reasonably religious by the standards of his time. He formally entered the ranks of the Roman Catholic clergy when he was 7 and was made a cardinal by Pope Innocent VIII at 13. As a churchman, he was entitled to receive the revenues from a number of wealthy churches in Florence and Rome, adding to his family's influence and fortune.

Ecclesiastical Career

In 1492, when he was 16, Giovanni took up residence in Rome as a full-fledged member of the College of Cardinals but returned to Florence when his father died later that same year. He helped his brother Pietro administer the affairs of their family and their city, until an uprising in 1494 forced the Medicis into exile. Because he had opposed the election of Rodrigo Borgia as Pope Alexander VI, Giovanni was in disfavor and could not immediately go back to Rome. He used his time of exile to travel extensively throughout Europe.

At Pietro's death in 1503 Giovanni became head of the Medici family. He gladly took up the work offered him by Pope Julius II in 1512, to lead a papal army against his family's enemies in Florence. The expedition was a disaster. His army was defeated and Giovanni was taken prisoner. Agents of the Medicis soon secured his release, and when his family was reestablished in Florence, Giovanni returned in triumph as ruler of the city. He was elected pope in February 1513. Giovanni left Florence in charge of his younger brother, Giuliano, as he himself assumed control of the Church, the city of Rome, and the Papal States. He was ordained a priest on March 15, consecrated a bishop on March 17, and enthroned as Pope Leo X on March 19. At the age of 37 he had at his disposal all of the wealth and the power of the papacy.

Leo moved quickly to consolidate his political power. He joined with Emperor Maximilian I of Germany, King Ferdinand V of Spain, and King Henry VIII of England to drive the French out of northern Italy. When the French reinvaded, he agreed to return part of their former territory if they would give military support to the Medici family in Florence. Shortly afterward he signed an agreement with the French king, Francis I, allowing the king to control the selection of all the bishops in France, an agreement which was to last until the French Revolution.

In his own kingdom of Rome, Leo placed his relatives in positions of power. His cousin Giulio became the cardinal archbishop of Florence and an official in the Pope's court. He named his nephew Lorenzo to rule Florence in place of his brother Giuliano, whom he married to a daughter of the French house of Savoy. When he discovered a plot in his own palace to poison him, Leo had one cardinal executed and another put in prison. To neutralize the power of the remaining officials, he created 31 new cardinals, all members of his own family or people he could otherwise trust. One of his last political moves was to form another alliance with Emperor Charles V and King Henry VIII of England to drive the French out of northern Italy again.

Patron of the Arts

While negotiating with kings and emperors for the future of Europe, Leo found time for the pleasures he loved. Artists, writers, and musicians came to Rome from all over Italy at his request. He created special projects to take advantage of the outstanding talents of the artist Raphael. He set up a Greek printing press in Rome and encouraged the Jewish community in the city to begin their own printing operation. Church positions were found for writers, poets, and translators, some of the more favored of whom he made bishops. Leo himself was a master of classical Latin and delighted in giving impromptu speeches in the style of Cicero. He commissioned plays and had them performed before his court. As a connoisseur of the arts, he was unequaled in Europe. While he was pope, Rome became the cultural center of the West.

Leo particularly liked to hunt and did so in a grand style. The Pope and his entourage beginning a chase was as much a show for the Roman people as a sport for the papal court. He would frequently attend Mass before he set out and would sometimes offer the Mass himself. But religion, although valuable, never interfered with what he considered the important demands of his position. When the papal finances began to show the strain of Leo's extravagant expenses, he unhesitatingly made use of his religious powers for added income. He demanded a fee from all new bishops and cardinals and authorized the selling of indulgences throughout Germany to obtain money for a grand rebuilding of Saint Peter's Basilica, Rome's most important church.

Martin Luther

The news in 1517 that a German monk had proclaimed 95 theses in opposition to many of the Church's practices, particularly the indulgence business, drew from Leo the remark that Martin Luther was "a drunken German who would soon be sober." But Luther had touched a popular nerve. People, whose deep spiritual need was not being satisfied by Leo's kind of Church, supported him in large numbers, as did many German princes who had long resented the flow of money to Rome.

After several years of unsuccessful negotiations, in 1520 Leo issued against Luther the decree Exsurge Domine, which began: "Arise, O Lord, and judge thine own cause. … A wild boar has invaded thy vineyard." Luther burned the document and was then formally excommunicated from the Church by the Pope. When, a year later, King Henry VIII of England wrote a treatise against Luther, Leo rewarded him with the title Defender of the Faith. However, Luther's Reformation gained irresistible momentum throughout northern Europe, while Pope Leo went back to his political intrigues in Italy.

Last Years

The military expedition against the French that Leo had set in motion by his last treaty with the Emperor and the King of England ended in November 1521, when the Emperor's forces captured Milan from the French and turned over four northern Italian provinces to the Pope's soldiers. Leo hardly had time to enjoy his victory. He died suddenly in his palace during the night of Dec. 1, 1521, just a few days before his forty-sixth birthday. Many suspected he had been poisoned.

Throughout his Church career Leo had been concerned above all for the welfare of his own Medici family and then for the political power of the papacy. His sumptuous style of life reflected his upbringing in his father's Florentine court. Leo played international politics with a skill and daring that were outstanding for his age. He was a personification of the humanistic ideals of the Renaissance, a man who lived elegantly and fully, a man of taste and talent. Yet, Leo was not a religious leader and failed to meet the spiritual needs of his age. As pope, Leo X was a superb Italian prince.

Further Reading

Thorough and historically valuable accounts of Leo's life are presented in several older studies: William Roscoe, The Life and Pontificate of Leo the Tenth (4 vols., 1805-1806); Ludwig Pastor, History of the Popes, vols. 7 and 8 (1908); Herbert M. Vaughan, The Medici Popes (1908); and Joseph A. Gobineau, The Renaissance: Savonarola, Leo X (1913). Frederich Gontard, The Popes (1964), gives a lively and interesting description of Leo's character and the style of the papacy during his rule. Works on church history, such as Philip Hughes, A History of the Church, vol. 3 (1947), are helpful for placing Leo X in the context of the movements of his time. □

Leo X (1475–1521)

views updated May 17 2018

Leo X (14751521)

Pope and patron of the Italian Renaissance, Leo X was born as Giovanni de' Medici, the son of Lorenzo the Magnificent of Florence. His powerful and wealthy family secured important posts for him at a young age: head of rich abbeys in France and Italy and appointment as a cardinal of the church in 1489, at the age of thirteen. He was educated by the leading humanists of the Italian Renaissance, including Pico della Mirandola and Marcilio Ficino, and studied at the prestigious University of Pisa.

After the election of Alexander VI, a member of the rival Borgia family of Spain, he left Rome for Florence. When a rebellion expelled the Medici rulers from Florence in 1494, he escaped the city disguised as a monk. He returned in 1512 when the family returned to power. In the next year, on the death of Julius II, he was elected pope.

Leo was a generous patron of the arts and literature, and made his papal court a center of learning and amusement. The pope hosted lavish banquets staged elaborate plays and pageants, and hired musicians and entertainers for the pleasure of himself and his guests. He supported charitable institutions in Rome and gave alms to the poor and crippled. He invited poets to Rome and lavished them with official titles and generous salaries. He founded the Medicean Academy in Rome to pursue the study of the Greek classics and sent collectors to the four corners of Europe to find and return unknown volumes of ancient Greek and Roman writers, who were collected in the Vatican Library.

Leo also took the painter Raphael under his wing, keeping the artist at the Vatican until Raphael's death in 1520. Raphael became the dean of artists at the Vatican, and completed his most famous works under Leo's patronage, including the decoration of the Vatican stanze, or halls, the Sistine Madonna, and cartoons for the tapestries of the Sistine Chapel. The great expenses, however, quickly drained the treasury, and to raise money Leo ordered the sale of church offices and indulgences, in which people simply paid money to have their sins officially forgiven.

Under Leo's reign the Papacy was embroiled in political and military conflict with France, which Leo pursued by making and breaking alliances all over Europe and running up a huge debt for the Vatican treasury. In the end, the pope and King Francis I signed a Concordat in 1516, in which the pope conceded the authority of the king over church property in France. These events helped to keep France a Catholic nation even as Germany and other countries of northern Europe were breaking away from the church.

Leo also provided for his family, working to secure them leadership of wealthy cities in Italy. He named his cousin Giulio as the archbishop of Florence and fought an all-out war against the city of Urbino in order to replace the Duke of Urbino with Leo's nephew Lorenzo. His actions angered many Roman cardinals, and even inspired a failed plot to assassinate him. Leo responded by having several cardinals poisoned and by blackmailing others. In 1517, he made a clean sweep of the college of cardinals, appointing thirty-one new members, many of whom he appointed simply to secure money or political influence.

At the same time, the greed and corruption of Leo's administration was inspiring a movement for reform in Germany. Martin Luther, a German monk and scholar, was denying the authority of the church and spreading his ideas rapidly and effectively through the new medium of printing. Leo excommunicated Luther in 1521 and had him summoned to the Diet of Worms, but Leo's orders and instructions to Luther to recant his writings met with defiance. Shortly after this, the pope died of a sudden attack of malaria. His term as pope is remembered for its generous patronage of the arts but also for disastrous management that allowed the Protestant Reformation to gain widespread support, permanently dividing the Christian community of Europe.

See Also: Alexander VI; Francis I; Raphael

Leo X

views updated May 23 2018

Leo X (1475–1521). Pope from 9 Mar. 1513. As pope he showed himself a patron of learning and of the arts, but wholly failed to appreciate the strength of Luther's convictions (he issued the bull Exsurge Domine in 1520) or the degree of hostility felt in Germany towards the taxes he had demanded to finance a crusade against the Turks. His period of office plunged the papacy deeply into debt, through its extravagance.

Leo X

views updated Jun 27 2018

Leo X (1475–1521) Pope (1513–21), b. Giovanni de' Medici, son of Lorenzo de' Medici. He continued the artistic schemes of his predecessor, Julius II, and presided over the Fifth Lateran Council. In 1517, Martin Luther published his theses at Wittenberg. Leo's excommunication of Luther in 1521 marks the beginning of the Reformation.