Alexander VI, Pope
ALEXANDER VI, POPE
Pontificate: night of Aug. 10–11, 1492, to Aug. 18, 1503; b. Rodrigo de Borja y Doms (Borgia) in Játiva (Xátiva), Valencia, Spain, c. 1431; d. Rome. His uncle, Pope callistus iii, showered him with ecclesiastical benefices, sent him to study law in Bologna (1455), and, along with his cousin Lluís-Joan del Milà, made him a cardinal (Feb. 22, 1456). He was bishop of Valencia (June 30, 1458) and vice chancellor of the Church under popes Callistus III, pius ii, paul ii, sixtus iv, and innocent viii, even though his private life brought stern rebukes from Pius II. [see borgia (borja).] A man of great political talent, he was elected pope in the conclave of Aug. 6–11, 1492, employing a form of simony. Ruling in an era of turbulence for Italy and the papacy, before 1498, he pursued a papal, Italian, and family policy that differed from his course of action during the last five years of his pontificate.
Italian Policy before 1498. Until 1498 he strove to consolidate the Italian league, dear to Callistus. This league with Venice and Milan, joined eventually by Siena, Ferrara, and Mantua, was made public April 25, 1493. Then, threatened with an invasion of Italy by King Charles VIII of France, Alexander sealed a treaty of friendship with Alfonso II of Naples through marriage of Alfonso's daughter, Sancha of Aragon, with Jofré Borja; the couple received the principality of Squillace from Alfonso. Alexander gained the support of King Ferdinand V (II of Aragon) and Queen isabella i of castile by the marriage of Joan (Juan) Borja, Duke of Gandia, to María Enríquez, first cousin of Ferdinand, and by granting the famous bulls that regulated Castilian and Portuguese conquests in America and granted the patronato real over all new churches in the Americas.
When Charles VIII invaded Italy with the support of Ludovico el Moro of Milan and the approval of Florence, Alexander was forced to give him free passage for the expedition, in which Charles conquered the Kingdom of Naples (February 1495). Charles entered Rome on Dec. 31, 1494. But eventually papal troops and the condottiere Virginio orsini drove the French and their allies out of Italy. After the battle of Fornovo (July 6, 1495) and the retreat of Charles to France, Alexander continued his policy of alliance with Spain (he granted the sovereigns the title "Catholic" in 1496), and with Naples. He sent his son, Cesare Borja, who he had made a cardinal in 1493, as cardinal-legate for the coronation of Frederick III of Naples in 1497 and arranged the marriage of his daughter, Lucrezia (whose first marriage with Giovanni sforza, Lord of Pesaro, he had annulled as unconsummated) with Alfonso of Aragon, Duke of Bisceglie and brother of the above-mentioned Sancha. It was during these years (1495–98) that Alexander was engaged in his struggle with Girolamo savonarola, who, after his excommunication, was tried and condemned by the government of Florence, then in the hands of his enemies, the arrabbiati.
French-Papal Alliance. In 1497 Alexander planned serious plans for the reform of the Church, but his irregular life and the ambitions of Cesare, who resigned the cardinalate in 1498 and took up politics in a practical way, frustrated his good intentions. In preferring Cesare's marriage to Charlotte d'Albret rather than Naples' Carlotta of Aragon, Alexander initiated his new policy in which he relied more on Louis XII of France. It was further characterized by the abandonment of the Kingdom of Naples to its fate, and by the plan to unify the Romagna, Emilia, Umbria, and the Marches, the four feudatories (at least nominally) of the Holy See. Cesare, then Duke of Valentinois, accompanied Louis XII in the occupation of Milan (1499), and later undertook the conquest of central Italy, a campaign comparable to that waged by Alexander in Rome against the feudal nobility (Orsini and colonna). The Renaissance plan for greater cohesion in the states of the church shows Alexander's political ability, but its execution is open to serious criticism, e.g., the excesses of Cesare and his troops, the danger of a greater separation of central Italy from Rome under Cesare, and the open support of a French king who, after conquering Milan, aspired to Naples as well. Although Cesare's rule of the Romagna vanished with the pope's death, and feudal anarchy returned, the later conquests of Pope julius ii and his reorganization of the States of the Church were made possible by the internal collapse of those provinces in the wake of Cesare's conquests. Amid such fighting, however, the holy year of 1500 could still be celebrated with splendor.
After fruitless talks in Rome with ambassadors of various European states, Alexander—as had his uncle Callistus III—published a bull proclaiming a crusade against the ottoman turks (June 10, 1500). But only Venice and Spain took part, conquering the islands of Cephalonia and Leukas. On the excuse that Frederick III of Naples was intriguing with the Turks, Louis XII and Ferdinand of Aragon and Castile divided his Neapolitan kingdom by the Treaty of Granada (Nov. 11, 1500). When the two kings disputed over the border, Alexander sided with Louis, for whom Cesare campaigned in Naples. During Cesare's domination of central Italy, Lucrezia married (1501) Alfonso d' este, firstborn of Ercole I, Duke of Ferrara, as a guarantee of the independence of the duchies.
Evaluation. In August 1503 Alexander and Cesare both fell ill during an epidemic in Rome. The pope died after confessing and receiving Viaticum and Extreme Unction. Despite his dissipated life, both as cardinal and pope, Alexander can be credited with several achievements during his pontificate. Better educated and more refined than Callistus III, he entrusted the decoration of the main floor of the vatican palace to Pinturiccio, restored the Castel Sant' Angelo, and provided a new building for the University of Rome. Michelangelo created his Pietà for Alexander, and drafted plans for rebuilding St. Peter's Basilica. The Monumental Apostolic chancery palace was built during his pontificate.
In the evangelization of the New World, his actions conformed to the best papal traditions: he promoted the re-Christianization of greenland, supported Portuguese missionary work, and with his alexandrine bulls, ensured peace between Portugal and Castile in both the Far East and the Americas, as well as the spread of the Gospel. (see papal line of demarcation.) Criticism of the bulls has, perhaps, not always taken into account the political rights claimed by popes from the Middle Ages or the interplay of ecclesiastical, papal, and family policies involved in their concession. Alexander's piety seems to have been more sincere than his life would indicate. Still, any overall judgment of him and his pontificate from an ecclesiastical and religious point of view remains negative, even though his enemies have often calumniated him through exaggeration. Recent uncritical excesses of those seeking naively to vindicate him have provoked a reaction, frequently as unrestrained as that of the revisionists.
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