The words “Pope” and “warrior” don’t go together in one sentence: Popes are seen by Catholics as the human representative of God on Earth and the head of the Catholic Church to show Christ’s love and concern for every single human being. On the other hand, warriors are soldiers, men of violence. Putting two together is a juxtaposition unless, of course, you’re Pope Julius II, who was known as the “Warrior Pope.”

Off To A Great Start

Born as Giuliano della Rovere in 1443, he was a member of a poor but noble family, but when his uncle Sixtus IV became a Pope on August  10, 1471, he was immediately appointed as Bishop of Carpentras in an act of seeming nepotism. He was just 13 years old at the time, If that was not enough, he was quickly elevated to the cardinalate just two months later, to the same church his uncle was assigned before. Far from being honest, he did not shy away from committing simony, or the act of selling sacred things from the church… or should I say churches because he was also guilty of holding multiple church benefice, too, like in Lausanne, Switzerland, and Coutances, France. He was not off with a shining example of piety, to say the least.

Leading A War

Pope Julius II (detail of Raphael’s The Mass at Bolsena), by Fujishima Takeji, University Art Museum, Tokyo University of the Arts, Japan. (Fujishima Takeji (1867-1943), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

In 1474, he raised some 3,500 troops and led an invasion into Todi, Spoleto, and Città di Castello as a representative of the Pope. At first, the tides were against him as he lost some of his men as they headed to the towns, and their weapons didn’t do much against the walls and he called for reinforcements from Rome. The requested support came, and he led 2,000 infantry and 28 cavalry squadrons. Expectedly, he succeeded in conquering them.

When his uncle died in 1484, he helped elect the next pope, Pope Innocent VIII, and he became his advisor, obtaining whatever he liked from him. And so he continued to grow his church power, working as a Papal Legate as he stood by and waited for his turn to be a Pope.

Waiting In The Papal Queue

Pope Alexander VI (Cristofano dell’Altissimo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

To his dismay, when Pope Innocent VIII died, his mortal enemy, the infamous Alexander VI who was named Rodrigo Borgia before. He was from the Borgia family known in history as the “most infamous family in history.” Apparently, birds of the same feather tend to hate each other because Alexander VI was also guilty of the practice of simony and bribery. As per History of Yesterday, he was also famous for dividing the world between his native Spain and Portugal to settle the question of ownership in the New World.

Charles VIII, King of France (1483–98), Amboise 30.6.1470 – 7.4.1498. –”Entry of Charles VIII into Florence”.– Mil. campaign by Charles VIII to Italy, 1494). Painting by Giuseppe Bezzuoli (1784 –1855).

Without having much choice, Giuliano della Rovere moved to France in 1494 away from the Borgia family, who was not too fond of him. He joined King Charles VIII and convinced him to take Italy back from the Borgias by military force. Apparently, Giuliano had considerable powers of persuasion (or perhaps charm) as he was able to convince the king. Rovere and King Charles of France made war on Italy to depose the Pope in Rome.

King Charles VIII tragically died in April 1498 after accidentally hitting his head on a door lintel at the Château d’Amboise. Guiliano della Rovere had to wait a few more years for another chance until Alexander VI died in 1503. He wasted no time and went back to Rome assuming that his place as the next Pope was assured. He was wrong.

It was Pope Pius III who was elected this time. Perhaps God changed his mind because  Pius III died 29 days after his coronation due to an infection in his leg after an operation. Seizing again the moment to be in the spotlight,  Giuliano managed to win the support of the College of Cardinals who elected him Pope Julius II. Why he wasn’t officially ordained as a priest first, no one knows.

Finally a Pope

Perhaps his little show worked, or maybe it was the same simony he condemned Alexander VI for, but Guiliano finally became a pope on November 1, 1503, and chose “Pope Julius II” as his new name. While the common practice was to take the name of someone they wished to emulate, or at least a family member in the church prior, he chose his name to emulate Julius Caesar, at least that was the theory as he was not really close to Pope Julius I of 4th century.

His participation in wars did not end when he became a pope as he led an army to retake Perugia and Bologna in 1506. In 1509, he took a risk by going headfirst on the solid wall of the powerful Venice, and he succeeded. Later on, he joined the Holy League of Venice, Spain, and later England against the French influence. Again, he succeeded, and his Papal States expanded once more.

Julius Excluded From Heaven

Pope Julius II’s quests ended when he died of a fever in 1513. Just a year after his death, philosopher and Catholic theologian Desiderius Erasmus wrote a dialogue involving Pope Julius II and trying to persuade Saint Peter to allow him to enter the gates of heaven with the same simony and some other tactics that he did when he was still alive. The dialogue was called “Julius Excluded from Heaven,” and quite rightly so.

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