Plague had visited Rome in 1522, and had reduced its population to 55,000; murder, suicide, and flight must have reduced it below 40,000 in 1527; now, in July of that year, plague came back in the full heat of summer, and joined with famine and the continued presence of the ravaging horde to make Rome a city of horror, terror, and desolation. Churches and streets were littered anew with corpses; many of these were left to rot in the sun; the stench was so strong that the jailers and prisoners fled from the castle parapets to their rooms; even there many died of the infection, among them some servants of the Pope. The impartial plague struck the invaders too; 2500 Germans in Rome died by July 22, 1527; and malaria, syphilis, and malnutrition cut the horde in half.

The opponents of Charles began seriously to think of rescuing the Pope. Henry VIII, fearing that an imprisoned pontiff might not grant him a divorce from Catherine of Aragon, sent Cardinal Wolsey to France to confer with Francis on measures to liberate Clement. Early in August the two kings offered Charles peace and 2,000,000 ducats on condition that the Pope and the French princes should be freed, and that the Papal States should be restored to the Church. Charles refused. By the treaty of Amiens (August 18) Henry and Francis pledged themselves to war against Charles; soon Venice and Florence joined this new league. French forces captured Genoa and Pavia, and sacked the latter city almost as thoroughly as the imperialist army had sacked Rome. Mantua and Ferrara, dreading the present French more than the distant Charles, now joined the league. Nevertheless Lautrec, the French commander, unable to pay his troops, dared not march upon Rome.

The Emperor, hoping to restore his grace in Catholic Christendom, and to cool the ardor of the growing league, agreed to release the Pope, on condition that Clement should give no aid to the league, should at once pay the imperialist army in Rome 112,000 ducats, and should give hostages for his good behavior. Clement raised the money by selling red hats, and by granting the Emperor a tenth of ecclesiastical revenues in the Kingdom of Naples. On December 7, after seven months of confinement, Clement left Sant’ Angelo, and, disguised as a servant, made his way humbly out of Rome to Orvieto, apparently a broken man.

At Orvieto he was lodged in a dilapidated palace whose roof had cavea in, whose walls were bare and cracked, whose floors admitted a hundred draughts. English ambassadors visiting him to get Henry a divorce found him huddled in bed, his pale emaciated face half lost in a long and unkempt beard. He spent the winter there, and then moved to Viterbo. On February 17 the imperialist horde, having received from Clement all that he could pay, and fearing further decimation by disease, evacuated Rome and moved south to Naples. Lautrec now brought his army down with the hope of besieging Naples; but his own troops were thinned out by malaria, he himself died, and his disordered forces retreated to the north (August 29, 1528). Losing all hope of aid from the league, Clement offered his full surrender to Charles; and on October 6 he was allowed to re-enter Rome. Four fifths of the houses had been abandoned, thousands of buildings were in ruins; men were amazed to see what nine months of invasion had done to the capital of Christendom.

Charles seems to have thought for a while of deposing Clement, annexing the Papal States to the Kingdom of Naples, making Rome the seat of his empire, and reducing the pope to his primeval role as bishop of Rome and subject to the emperor.47 But this would drive Charles into the arms of the Lutherans in Germany, would court civil war in Spain, and would arouse France, England, Poland, and Hungary to resist him with their full and united power. He abandoned the scheme, and turned to the idea of making the papacy his dependent ally and spiritual aid in dividing Italy between them. By the treaty of Barcelona (June 29, 1529) he made substantial concessions to the Pope: the principalities taken from the Church were to be restored; the Medici relatives of the Pope were to be re-established in Florence by diplomacy or force; even Ferrara was now promised to the Pope. In return the Pope agreed to give Charles the formal investiture of Naples, to allow the imperial armies free passage through the Papal States, and to meet the Emperor at Bologna in the following year to settle between them the peace and organization of Italy.

Shortly thereafter Margaret, aunt of Charles and Regent of the Netherlands, met with Louise of Savoy, mother of Francis, and, with the aid of various ambassadors and legates, formulated the treaty of Cambrai (August 3, 1529) between Emperor and King. Charles released the French princes for a ransom of 1,200,000 ducats; Francis renounced for France all claims to Italy, Flanders, Artois, Arras, and Tournai.48 The allies of France in Italy were left to the mercy of the Emperor.

Charles and Clement met at Bologna on November 5, 1529, each now convinced that he needed the other. Strange to say, this was Charles’s first visit to Italy; he had conquered it before seeing it. When he knelt before the Pope at Bologna, and kissed the foot of the man whom he had dragged in the dust, it was the first time that these two figures—the one representing the Church in decline, the other the rising and here victorious modern state—had ever seen each other. Clement swallowed all pride, forgave all offenses; he had to. He could no longer look to France; Charles had irresistible armies in both southern and northern Italy; Florence could not be recovered for the Medici without imperial troops; the aid of the Empire was needed against Luther in Germany, against Suleiman in the East. Charles was generous and prudent: he kept essentially to the terms of the Barcelona agreement made when he was not so unchallengeably strong. He forced Venice to restore all that she had taken from the Papal States. He allowed Francesco Maria Sforza, on paying a large indemnity, to keep ruined Milan under imperial watching; and he persuaded Clement to allow the cowardly or faithless Francesco Maria della Rovere to keep Urbino. He forgave Alfonso his recent association with France, and rewarded him for aiding the march on Rome by letting him retain his duchy as a papal fief, and giving him Modena and Reggio as imperial fiefs; in return Alfonso paid the Pope 100,000 badly needed ducats. To consolidate these settlements Charles summoned all the principalities to join in a union of Italy for common defense against foreign attack—except by Charles; that unity for which Dante had pled to the Emperor Henry VII, and Petrarch to the Emperor Charles IV, was now achieved through united subjection to a foreign power. Clement blessed it all, and crowned Charles Emperor with the iron crown of Lombardy and the imperial-papal crown of the Holy Roman Empire (February 22–24, 1530).

The alliance of Pope and Emperor was sealed with Florentine blood. Resolved to restore his family to power, Clement paid 70,000 ducats to Philibert, Prince of Orange (who had kept him prisoner), to organize an army and overturn the republic of rich men that had been set up there in 1527. Philibert sent on this mission 20,000 German and Spanish troops, many of whom had shared in the sack of Rome.49 In December, 1529, this force occupied Pistoia and Prato, and laid siege to Florence. To expose the assailants to Florentine artillery the resolute burghers destroyed every house, garden, and wall for a mile around the city fortifications; and Michelangelo left his sculpture of the Medici tombs to build or rebuild the ramparts and forts. The siege continued mercilessly for eight months; food became so scarce in Florence that cats and rats brought some $12.50 apiece.50 Churches surrendered their vessels, citizens their plate, women their jewelry, to be transformed into money for provisions or arms. Patriotic monks like Fra Benedetto da Foiano kept up the spirit of the people with fiery sermons. A courageous Florentine, Francesco Ferrucci, escaped from the city, organized a force of three thousand men, and attacked the besiegers. He was defeated with the loss of two thousand of his soldiers. He himself was captured and brought before Fabrizio Maramaldi, a Calabrian who commanded the imperial cavalry. Maramaldi had Ferrucci held helpless before him while he repeatedly drove a poignard into him until the hero died.51 Meanwhile the general whom Florence had hired to lead its defense, Malatesta Baglioni, entered into a treacherous agreement with the besiegers; he let them into the city, and turned his guns upon the Florentines. Starving and disorganized, the republic surrendered (August 12, 1530).

Alessandro de’ Medici became Duke of Florence, and disgraced his family by his rapacity and cruelty. Hundreds of those who had fought for the Republic were tortured, exiled, or slain. Fra Benedetto was sent to Clement, who ordered him imprisoned in Sant’ Angelo; there, said an uncertain report, the monk was starved to death.52 The Signory was disbanded; the Palazzo della Signoria now began to be called Palazzo Vecchio; and the great eleven-ton bell, La Vacca—the Cow—that had from the lovely tower called so many generations to parlamento, was taken down and broken to pieces, “in order,” said a contemporary diarist, “that we should no more hear the sweet sound of liberty.”53

You can support our site by clicking on this link and watching the advertisement.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!