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cardinal nephew; but he was ruled, more despotically than ever a Pope was ruled before, by a sister-in-law. This was the too celebrated Donna Olympia Maidalchini, the widow of Innocent's brother!
Fifteen centuries * of Papal government had habituated mankind to see without surprise in Heaven's Vicar on earth an amount of dereliction of duty, and an enormity of distance between profession and practice, such as has never been recorded in history or exhibited to the world in any other department of its affairs. Yet Europe was startled at the novelty of the position assumed by Olympia immediately on Innocent's elevation. She accompanied the new Pope to the Vatican, and established herself there as its mistress! No step of domestic government or foreign policy decided on, no grace, favour, or promotion accorded, no punishment inflicted, was the Pope's own work. His invaluable sister-in-law did all. He was absolutely a puppet in her hands. The keys of St. Peter were strung to her girdle; and the only function in which she probably never interfered was blessing the people!
The great object of her unceasing care and diplomacy was to keep at a distance from Innocent every person and every influence which could either lessen her own or go shares in the profits to be extraeted from it; for this, after all, was the great and ultimate scope of her exertions. To secure the profits of the Papacy in hard cash, this was the problem. No appointment to office of any kind was made except in consideration of a proportionablo sum paid down into her coffers. This often amounted to three or four years' revenue of the place to be granted. Bishoprics and benefices were sold as fast as they became vacant. One story is related of an unlucky disciple of Simon, who, on treating with the Popess for a very valuable see, just fallen vacant, and hearing from her a price at which it might be his far exceeding all that he could command, persuaded the members of his family to sell all they had for the purpose of making this profitable investment. The price was paid, and the bishopric was given to him; but, with a fearful resemblance to the case of Ananias, he died within the year, and his ruined family saw the see a second time sold by the insatiable and shameless Olympia! The incident only served her as a hint always to exact cash down, and not to content herself with a yearly payment from the accruing revenue. The criminal judges in Eome were directed to punish criminals of all degrees in purse instead of person, and the fines were all paid over with business-like exactitude to the all-powerful favourite.
* Tho following account of ihis extraordinary woman is taken from a life of her by the present author.
At last the discontent of Eome, the remonstrances of the cardinals, and the contempt and indignation of foreign courts we rebeginning to render the position of Innocent and Olympia hardly tenable. One day a large medal was conveyed into the Pope's hands, on the obverse of which was represented Olympia with the pontifical tiara on her head and the keys in her hand, while the reverse showed Innocent in a coif with a spindle and distaff in his hands. Another day a report was brought to him from England that a play had been represented before Cromwell called "The Marriage of the Pope," in which Donna Olympia was represented rejecting his addresses on account of his extreme ugliness, till, having in vain offered her one of the keys to induce her to consent, he attains his object at the cost of both of them! The Emperor again had said to the Papal nuncio, "Your Pope, my lord, has an easy time of it with Madame Olympia to put him to sleep."
Driven by these and many other such manifestations of public feeling, Innocent determined to make a great effort. He announced to Olympia, with every expression of regret for the hard necessity, that she must quit the Vatican; and knowing well what he would have to endure if he exposed himself to her reproaches and entreaties, he forbade her to come for the future into his presence.
But the weak and infirm old man had far overcalculated his moral strength. The prop on which he had relied during his years of best vigour could not be voluntarily relinquished now in the time of his decrepitude. Very soon Olympia obtained permission to make secret visits to the Vatican. These were made generally every night; and this nightly secret coming and going at untimely hours threatened to become more ridiculous, if not more seriously scandalous, in the eyes of the lampooning Eoman world than an acknowledged residence in the Vatican. Besides, such an arrangement did not adequately meet the necessities of the case. Olympia pointed out to the infirm old man that her constant care and superintendence were necessary to his personal comfort—perhaps to his safety. So Eome very shortly saw the "Papessa" once again at her old home in the Vatican; and, as from the nature of the circumstances must necessarily have been the case, her power and entire disposal of the functions and revenue of the Papacy became more absolute than ever.
But the rapidly declining health of Innocent warned her that her time was short, and prudence might have counselled her to make some preparation for the storm, which she must have well known she would have to face after his death, by moderation if not relinquishing the corrupt and offensive practices of all sorts which were daily added in the minds of the Romans to the long account against her. Her observation and reading of the world had, however, suggested to her a different policy. If more danger had to be encountered, more money would be needed to meet it. Donna Olympia's faith in the omnipotence of money was unbounded. Only let her have money-power enough, and she doubted not that she should be able to ride out the storm.
So she applied herself with more energy and assiduity than ever to the two objects which shared her entire care—the collection of cash by the most unblushing and audacious rapine and venality, and the keeping the breath of life to the last possible instant within the sinking frame of the aged Pontiff. The latter task was so important, that, both for the insuring of proper attention and for providing against the danger of poison, she kept the Pope almost under lock and key, attending to his wants with her own hands, and allowing him to touch no food that had not been prepared under her own eyes. During the last year of his life she literally hardly ever quitted him. Once a week, we read, she left the Vatican secretly by night, accompanied by several porters carrying sacks of coin, the proceeds of the week's extortions and sales, to her own palace; and during these short absences she used to lock the Pope into his chamber and carry the key with her!
At last the end was visibly at hand. During the last ten days of his life the Pope's mind was wholly gone. And in these ten days, by rapidly selling off for what she could get for them nominations to vacant benefices and "Prelature," Olympia is said to have amassed half a million crowns! Her last transaction was with a canon, who had been for some time previously in treaty with her for a "Prelatura." He had offered fifty, while she had stood out for eighty thousand crowns; and the bargain had gone off. In the last hours of Innocent's life she sent for this man and told him that she would take his fifty thousand. He said he had dissipated twenty thousand of the sum since that time, and had only thirty thousand left. "Well!" said the unblushing dealer, "since you can do no better, hand them over, and you shall have the 'Prelatura.'" So the money was paid, and the nomination obtained from the dying Pope in extremis.
Innocent died on the 7th January, 1655, having reigned ten years and three months. His body remained three days utterly abandoned. Donna Olympia, who had of course left the Vatican the moment that breath left Innooent's body, said that she was a poor widow, whose means were entirely inadequate to