Pope Clement VII

For the antipope (1378–1394), see Antipope Clement VII.
Clement VII

Portrait by Sebastiano del Piombo, c. 1531
Papacy began 19 November 1523
Papacy ended 25 September 1534
Predecessor Adrian VI
Successor Paul III
Ordination 19 December 1517
Consecration 21 December 1517
Created Cardinal 23 September 1513
by Leo X
Rank Cardinal-Priest of S. Clemente (26 June 1517) and S. Lorenzo in Damaso (6 July 1517)
Personal details
Birth name Giulio di Giuliano de' Medici
Born 26 May 1478
Florence, Republic of Florence
Died 25 September 1534 (1534-10-06) (aged 56)
Rome, Papal States
Buried Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome
Parents Giuliano de' Medici
Fioretta Gorini
Motto Candor illæsus (unharmed candor)
Coat of arms {{{coat_of_arms_alt}}}
Other popes named Clement

Pope Clement VII (Latin: Clemens VII; 26 May 1478 – 25 September 1534), born Giulio di Giuliano de' Medici, was Pope from 19 November 1523 to his death in 1534.[1] The Sack of Rome and English Reformation occurred during his papacy.

Early life

Giulio de' Medici was born in Florence one month after the assassination of his father, Giuliano de' Medici, following the Pazzi Conspiracy.[2] Although his parents had not had a formal marriage, they had been formally betrothed per sponsalia de presenti , and therefore canon law recognized that Giulio was born legitimate. Despite this accommodation for an important and powerful family, Giulio was considered illegitimate by his contemporaries. He was the nephew of Lorenzo the Magnificent, who educated him in his youth. Giulio's mother, Fioretta Gorini, also died leaving him an orphan.

Giulio was enrolled in the Knights Hospitaller and made Grand Prior of Capua. On the death of Archbishop Cosimo de' Pazzi, Giulio was named Archbishop of Florence on 9 May 1513, a post he held until his own election as pope on 19 November 1523.[3]


Pope Leo X with his cousin Giulio de' Medici (left, future Pope Clement VII) – painted by Raphael, 1519

On 23 September 1513, he was created a cardinal by Leo X, and on 29 September was appointed Cardinal Deacon of Santa Maria in Domnica, which had been vacated by the election of his cousin the Pope.[4] On 26 June 1517 he was created Cardinal Priest of S. Clemente, and shortly thereafter, on 6 July 1517 he moved to San Lorenzo in Damaso. He was ordained a priest on 19 December 1517, and consecrated bishop two days later.[5] Cardinal de' Medici soon became a powerful figure in Rome. Upon his cousin's accession to the papacy, Giulio became his principal minister and confidant, especially in the maintenance of the Medici interest at Florence as archbishop of that city. In 1517 he conducted his first diocesan Synod in Florence.[6]

On 14 February 1515, Cardinal de' Medici was named Archbishop of Narbonne, on the nomination of King Francis I of France. He ruled the diocese through a Vicar General. He bestowed upon the Cathedral of Saint Just a picture of Saint Lazare, the original of which he had commissioned from Raphael. He decided to keep the original, however, and an alternative version was made for Narbonne by Sebastiano del Piombo.[7] At the same time as he was named Archbishop, Cardinal Giulio was granted the Abbey of Cîteaux. He held these offices until he was elected pope.[8]

The Venetian Ambassador (Orator) at the Papal Court, Marco Minio (1516-1520), reported to the Senate of the Most Serene Republic in 1520 that "Cardinal de' Medici, [Pope Leo's] nephew, who is not legitimate, has great power with the Pope; he is a man of great competence and great authority; he resides with the Pope, and does nothing of importance without first consulting him. But he is returning to Florence to govern the city."[9]

He had the credit of being the main director of papal policy during the whole of Leo X's pontificate, especially as cardinal protector of England. Between 7 June 1521 and 26 September 1522 he was Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Worcester. On that date the Pope appointed Hieronymus Ghinucci, who was expelled from the See in 1535 as a foreigner by the legislation of Henry VIII.[10]


At Leo X's death in 1521, Cardinal Medici was considered especially papabile in the protracted conclave. Although unable to gain the Papacy for himself or his ally Alessandro Farnese (both preferred candidates of Emperor Charles V (1519–56)), he took a leading part in determining the unexpected election of the short-lived Pope Adrian VI (1522–23), with whom he also wielded formidable influence.[11] Following Adrian VI's death on 14 September 1523, Medici overcame the opposition of the French king[12] and finally succeeded in being elected Pope Clement VII in the next conclave (19 November 1523).[13]

Pope Leo brought to the papal throne a high reputation for political ability and possessed in fact all the accomplishments of a wily diplomat. However, he was considered by his contemporaries as worldly and indifferent to the perceived dangers of the Protestant Reformation by the people of the papacy.

At his accession, Clement VII sent the Archbishop of Capua, Nikolaus von Schönberg, to the Kings of France, Spain, and England, in order to bring the Italian War to an end. An early report from the Protonotary Marino Ascanio Caracciolo[14] to the Emperor records: "As the Turks threaten to conquer Christian states, it seems to him that it is his first duty as Pope to bring about a general peace of all Christian princes, and he begs him (the Emperor), as the firstborn son of the Church, to aid him in this pious work."[15] But the pope's attempt failed.

Continental and Medici politics

Francis I of France's conquest of Milan in 1524, during his Italian campaign of 1524–1525, prompted the Pope to quit the Imperial–Spanish side and to ally himself with other Italian princes, including the Republic of Venice, and France in January 1525. This treaty granted the definitive acquisition of Parma and Piacenza for the Papal States, the rule of Medici over Florence and the free passage of the French troops to Naples. This policy in itself was sound and patriotic, but Clement VII's zeal soon cooled; by his want of foresight and unseasonable economy, he laid himself open to an attack from the turbulent Roman barons, which obliged him to invoke the mediation of the emperor, Charles V. One month later, Francis I was crushed and imprisoned in the Battle of Pavia, and Clement VII went deeper in his former engagements with Charles V, signing an alliance with the viceroy of Naples.

But deeply concerned about Imperial arrogance, he was to pick up with France again when Francis I was freed after the Treaty of Madrid (1526): the Pope entered into the League of Cognac together with France, Venice, and Francesco II Sforza of Milan. Clement VII issued an invective against Charles V, who in reply defined him a "wolf" instead of a "shepherd", menacing the summoning of a council about the Lutheran question.

Like his cousin Pope Leo X, Clement was considered too generous to his Medici relatives, draining the Vatican treasuries. This included the assignment of positions all the way up to Cardinal, lands, titles, and money. These actions prompted reform measures after Clement's death to help prevent such excessive nepotism.[16]


In his bull "Intra Arcana" Clement VII gave a grant of permissions and privileges to Charles V and the Spanish Empire, which included patronage power over their colonies in the Americas.[17] [18]

Sack of Rome

Main article: Sack of Rome (1527)

The Pope's wavering politics also caused the rise of the Imperial party inside the Curia: Cardinal Pompeo Colonna's soldiers pillaged Vatican Hill and gained control of the whole of Rome in his name. The humiliated Pope promised therefore to bring the Papal States to the Imperial side again. But soon after, Colonna left the siege and went to Naples, not keeping his promises and dismissing the Cardinal from his charge. From this point on, Clement VII could do nothing but follow the fate of the French party to the end.

Soon he found himself alone in Italy too, as Alfonso d'Este, duke of Ferrara, had supplied artillery to the Imperial army, causing the League Army to keep a distance behind the horde of Landsknechts led by Charles III, Duke of Bourbon and Georg von Frundsberg, allowing them to reach Rome without harm.

Castel Sant'Angelo.

Charles of Bourbon died while mounting a ladder during the short siege and his starving troops, unpaid and left without a guide, felt free to ravage Rome from 6 May 1527. The many incidents of murder, rape, and vandalism that followed ended the splendours of Renaissance Rome forever. Clement VII, who had displayed no more resolution in his military than in his political conduct, was shortly afterwards (6 June) obliged to surrender himself together with the Castel Sant'Angelo, where he had taken refuge. He agreed to pay a ransom of 400,000 ducati in exchange for his life; conditions included the cession of Parma, Piacenza, Civitavecchia, and Modena to the Holy Roman Empire. (Only the last could be occupied in fact.) At the same time, Venice took advantage of his situation to capture Cervia and Ravenna while Sigismondo Malatesta returned in Rimini.

Clement was kept as a prisoner in Castel Sant'Angelo for six months. After having bought off some Imperial officers, he escaped disguised as a peddler and took shelter in Orvieto and then in Viterbo. He came back to a depopulated and devastated Rome only in October 1528.

Meanwhile, in Florence, Republican enemies of the Medici took advantage of the chaos to again expel the Pope's family from the city.

In June of the next year the warring parties signed the Peace of Barcelona. The Papal States regained some cities, and Charles V agreed to restore the Medici to power in Florence. In 1530, after an eleven-month siege, the Tuscan city capitulated, and Clement VII installed his illegitimate nephew Alessandro as duke. Subsequently, the Pope followed a policy of subservience to the emperor, endeavouring on the one hand to induce him to act with severity against the Lutherans in Germany and on the other to avoid his demands for a general council.

English Reformation

Charles V, enthroned over his defeated enemies (from left): Suleiman the Magnificent, Pope Clement VII, Francis I, the Duke of Cleves, the Duke of Saxony, and the Landgrave of Hesse. Giulio Clovio, mid-16th century

By the late 1520s, King Henry VIII wanted to have his marriage to Charles's aunt Catherine of Aragon annulled. The couple's sons died in infancy, threatening the future of the Tudor dynasty, although Henry did have a daughter, Mary Tudor. Henry claimed that this lack of a male heir was because his marriage was "blighted in the eyes of God".[19] Catherine had been his brother's widow, but the marriage had been childless, thus the marriage was not against Old Testament law, which forbids only such unions if the brother had children.[20] Moreover, a special dispensation from Pope Julius II had been given to allow the wedding.[21] Henry argued that this had been wrong and that his marriage had never been valid. In 1527 Henry asked Pope Clement to annul the marriage, but the Pope refused. According to Catholic teaching, a validly contracted marriage is indivisible until death, and thus the pope cannot annul a marriage on the basis of a canonical impediment previously dispensed.[22] Many people close to Henry wished simply to ignore the Pope; but in October 1530 a meeting of clergy and lawyers advised that the English Parliament could not empower the Archbishop of Canterbury to act against the Pope's prohibition. In Parliament, Bishop John Fisher was the Pope's champion.

Henry subsequently underwent a marriage ceremony with Anne Boleyn, in either late 1532 or early 1533.[23] The marriage was made easier by the death of the Archbishop of Canterbury William Warham, a stalwart friend of the Pope, after which Henry persuaded Clement to appoint Thomas Cranmer, a friend of the Boleyn family, as his successor. The Pope granted the papal bulls necessary for Cranmer’s promotion to Canterbury, and he also demanded that Cranmer take the customary oath of allegiance to the pope before his consecration. Laws made under Henry already declared that bishops would be consecrated even without papal approval. Cranmer was consecrated, while declaring beforehand that he did not agree with the oath he would take.[24] Cranmer was prepared to grant the annulment[25] of the marriage to Catherine as Henry required. The Pope responded to the marriage by excommunicating both Henry and Cranmer from the Catholic Church.

Consequently, in England, in the same year, the Act of First Fruits and Tenths transferred the taxes on ecclesiastical income from the Pope to the English Crown. The Peter's Pence Act outlawed the annual payment by landowners of one penny to the Pope. This act also reiterated that England had "no superior under God, but only your Grace" and that Henry's "imperial crown" had been diminished by "the unreasonable and uncharitable usurpations and exactions" of the Pope.[26] Ultimately Henry led the English Parliament to pass the Act of Supremacy (1534) that established the independent Church of England and breaking from the Catholic Church.


Clement VII, age 48
Portrait by Sebastiano del Piombo, 1526

During his half-year imprisonment in 1527, Clement VII grew a full beard as a sign of mourning for the sack of Rome. This was in contradiction to Catholic canon law,[27] which required priests to be clean-shaven; however, it had the precedent of the beard which Pope Julius II had worn for nine months in 1511–12 as a similar sign of mourning for the loss of the papal city of Bologna.

Unlike Julius II, however, Clement VII kept his beard until his death in 1534. His example in wearing a beard was followed by his successor, Paul III, and indeed by twenty-four popes who followed him, down to Innocent XII, who died in 1700. Clement VII was thus the unintentional originator of a fashion that lasted well over a century.

Death and character

In 1533, Johann Widmanstetter (alternately spelled John Widmanstad), a secretary of Pope Clement VII, explained the Copernican system to the Pope and two cardinals. The Pope was so pleased that he gave Widmanstetter a valuable gift.[28]

Meeting of Francis I and Pope Clement VII in Marseilles, 13 October 1533.

Towards the end of his life, Clement VII once more gave indications of a leaning towards a French alliance. His plans to ally the House of Medici with the French royal family bore fruit in the betrothal of the Pope's niece, Catherine de' Medici, to Henri, the son of King Francis I. Before setting out, the Pope issued a Bull on 3 September, giving instructions as to what was to be done in the event that he died outside Rome.[29] In September 1534 the Pope set out for France to solemnize the marriage. The marriage took place in Marseille on 28 October. On 7 November, in Marseille, Pope Clement created four new cardinals, all four of them French.[30] He held private meetings with both Francis I and Charles V, but not with all three together. He returned to Rome on 10 December, complaining of stomach problems, and showing a fever. This was not a new illness. The Pope had been so ill at the beginning of August that Cardinal Agostino Trivulzio wrote to King Francis that the Pope's doctors had begun to fear that the Pope was in danger of dying.[31] On 23 September, Clement wrote a long letter of farewell to Charles V.[32] He died on 25 September 1534, having lived 56 years and four months, and having reigned for 10 years, 10 months, and 7 days.

It has been said that he died from eating poisonous mushrooms, but the symptoms and length of illness do not fit this theory. Nor do they account for the effects on his illness of two sea voyages within two months. In the words of his biographer Emmanuel Rodocanachi, "In accordance with the custom of those times, people attributed his death to poison."[33] His body was interred S. Peter's Basilica, and later transferred to a permanent tomb in the Choir of Santa Maria sopra Minerva.

As for the arts, Clement VII is remembered for having been the patron of Benvenuto Cellini. He also ordered, just a few days before his death, Michelangelo's painting of The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel.[2]

See also

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Cosimo de' Pazzi
Archbishop of Florence
Succeeded by
Cardinal Nicolò Ridolfi
Preceded by
Cardinal Guillaume Briçonnet
Archbishop of Narbonne
Succeeded by
Cardinal Jean de Lorraine
Preceded by
Giovanni Battista Orsini
Apostolic Administrator of Bitonto
8 February – November 1517
Succeeded by
Giacomo Orsini
Preceded by
Cardinal Achille Grassi
Bishop of Bologna[34]
8 January – 3 March 1518
Succeeded by
Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggi[35]
Preceded by
Cardinal Niccolò Fieschi
Apostolic Administrator of Embrun
5–30 July 1518
Succeeded by
François de Tournon
Preceded by
Girolamo Ghinucci
Apostolic Administrator of Ascoli Piceno
30 July – 3 September 1518
Succeeded by
Filos Roverella
Preceded by
Cardinal Ippolito d'Este
Bishop of Eger
Succeeded by
Pál Várdai
Preceded by
Silvestro de' Gigli
Apostolic Administrator of Worcester
Succeeded by
Cardinal Girolamo Ghinucci
Preceded by
Adrian VI
19 November 1523 – 25 September 1534
Succeeded by
Paul III


  1. "List of Popes," Catholic Encyclopedia (2009); retrieved 2011-11-16.
  2. 1 2 "Pope Clement VII," Catholic Encyclopedia; retrieved 2013-10-21.
  3. Guilelmus Gulik and Conradus Eubel, Hierarchia catholica medii et recentioris aevi Tomus III, editio altera (Monasterii 1923), p. 197.
  4. Guilelmus Gulik and Conradus Eubel, Hierarchia catholica medii et recentioris aevi Tomus III, editio altera (Monasterii 1923), p. 14 and p. 74. Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. (1837). "Clement VII," Penny cyclopaedia, Vol. 7, p. 250.
  5. GCatholic, Pope Clement VII. Retrieved: 2016-03-27.
  6. Luca Giuseppe Cerracchini (1716). Cronologia sacra de' vescovi e arcivescovi di Firenze. Firenze: Jacopo Guiducci. p. 177.
  7. A. Sabarthès, "Bibliographie de l' Aude," Bulletin de la commission archéologique de Narbonne, Volume 13 (1914) , p. 201 no. 4572. Louis Narbonne, La cathédrale Saint-Just de Narbonne: guide historique, archéologique et descriptive (Narbonne: F. Caillard 1901), pp. 96-97. Letters of Sebastiano on the subject: David Chambers (1970). Patrons and Artists in the Italian Renaissance. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK. pp. 31–34. ISBN 978-1-349-00623-6.
  8. Guilelmus Gulik and Conradus Eubel, Hierarchia catholica medii et recentioris aevi Tomus III, editio altera (Monasterii 1923), p. 253. Benedictines of S. Maur, Gallia christiana Tomus VI (Paris 1739), pp. 111-112.
  9. Gar, p. 64: "Il cardinal de' Medici, suo nepote, che non è legittimo, ha gran potere col papa; è uomo di gran maneggio e di grandissima autorità; tuttavia sa vivere col papa, nè fa alcuna cosa di conto se prima non domanda al papa. Ora si ritrova a Fiorenza a governare quella città".
  10. John Le Neve, Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae III (Oxford 1854), pp. 62-63.
  11. J. P. Adams, Sede Vacante and Conclave of 1521-1522. retrieved: 2016-03-27.
  12. British History Online. Quote: "The King of France declared himself openly against the election of the Cardinal de Medicis." (19 November 1523 entry)
  13. Corkery, James and Thomas Worcester, The Papacy Since 1500: From Italian Prince to Universal Pastor, (Cambridge University Press, 2010), 29.
  14. Giorgio Viviano Marchesi Buonaccorsi, Antichità ed excellenza del Protonotariato Apostolico Partecipante (Faenza: Benedetti 1751), pp. 297-299. Caracciolo was a Neapolitan, of the family of the Counts of Galera; he became a Cardinal on 21 May 1535.
  15. Caracciolo to Charles V (30 November 1523), in: 'Spain: November 1523', in Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 2, 1509-1525, ed. G A Bergenroth (London, 1866), pp. 591-596. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/spain/vol2/pp591-596 [accessed 28 March 2016].
  16. Tomas, Natalie R. (2003). The Medici Women: Gender and Power in Renaissance Florence. Aldershot: Ashgate. pp. 126–127. ISBN 0754607771.
  17. Stogre, Michael (1992). That the world may believe: The development of papal social thought on aboriginal rights. Sherbrooke: Éditions Paulines. p. 116. ISBN 978-2-89039-549-7.
  18. Hanke, Lewis (1937-04-01). "Pope Paul III and the American Indians". The Harvard Theological Review. 30 (2): 76–77. doi:10.1017/s0017816000022161. JSTOR 1508245.
  19. Phillips, Roderick (28 June 1991). Untying the Knot: A Short History of Divorce. Cambridge; New York; Melbourne: Cambridge University Press. p. 20. doi:10.2277/0521423708. ISBN 978-0-521-42370-0.
  20. See: Leviticus 20:21 and exception Deuteronomy 25:5
  21. Lacey, Robert (January 1972). Antonia Fraser, ed. The Life and Times of Henry VIII. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. p. 17. ISBN 978-0-297-83163-1.
  22. J. J. Scarisbrick (2011). "Chapter 7: The Canon Law of the Divorce". Henry VIII (reprint of 1968 ed.). New Haven: Yale University Press. pp. 163–197. ISBN 978-0-300-18395-5.
  23. For the dates and details of Henry VIII's controversial second marriage, see Ives, Eric William (20 August 2004). The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn: 'The Most Happy'. Malden, Massachusetts; Oxford; Carlton, Victoria: Blackwell Publishing. pp. 160–171. ISBN 978-0-631-23479-1.
  24. Thomas Cranmer: Churchman and Scholar. By Paul Ayris and David Selwyn. Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 1 January 1999 (pp. 119-121)
  25. Cranmer, in a letter, describes it as a divorce, but it was clearly not a dissolution of a marriage in the modern sense but the annulment of a marriage which was said to be defective on the grounds of affinity—Catherine was his deceased brother's widow. In his decree, Cranmer uses the words, "...dictum matrimonium..., ut praemittitur, contractum et consummatum, nullum et omnino invalidum fuisse et esse..." Gilbert Burnet (1825). The History of the Reformation of the Church of England ... in Six Volumes (in Latin). Volume I, Part II. London: W. Baynes and Son. p. 153.
  26. Lehmberg, Stanford E. (2 April 1970). The Reformation Parliament 1529–1536. London and New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-07655-5.
  27. "Beard" in Catholic Encyclopedia
  28. Repcheck, Jack (4 December 2007). Copernicus' Secret: How the Scientific Revolution Began. New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 79, 78, 184, 186. ISBN 978-0-7432-8951-1.
  29. The Bull "Licet Variae" (in Latin).
  30. Guilelmus Gulik and Conradus Eubel, Hierarchia catholica medii et recentioris aevi Tomus III, editio altera (Monasterii 1923), p. 22.
  31. Giuseppe Molini, Documenti di storia italiana Vol. II (Firenze 1837), p. 379, no. 398 (10 August 1534).
  32. Gregorovius, Volume VIII, pp. 697-699.
  33. Wasson, Robert Gordon (1972). "The death of Claudius, or mushrooms for murderers". Botanical Museum Leaflets, Harvard University. 23 (3): 101–128. ISSN 0006-8098., who completely rejects the theory of poison.
  34. Medici does not appear as Bishop either in F. Ughelli, Italia sacra II (ed. N. Colet) (Venice 1717), p. 37; or in Pius Gams, Series episcoporum (1873), p. 676. Considering the time span, some eight weeks, it is more likely that he was Administrator. On 3 March, the day that Medici resigned, Cardinal Grassis (who had been Bishop of Bologna) was named Administrator of Bologna.
  35. on 2 December 1523: Gulik-Eubel, p. 136.

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