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tribunals listened to no complaints, the judges having shut themselves up for fear of their lives. . . . Gangs of robbers, murderers, and bandits, the very scum of the earth, ranged freely in every part of the city; and the palaces of the cardinals were guarded by archers and troopers or they would have been sacked and wrecked. But although all Rome was in arms, there did not occur any notable tumult ;* only a great number of people were killed from private enmity. The streets of the Borgo (the part of the city between the Ponte St. Angelo and St. Peter's) were barred and guarded by companies of soldiers and cavalry.”
Twenty-three cardinals went into Conclave, and elected Roderigo Borgia Pope by the name of Alexander VI. almost immediately and without any divisions. The account given by the chronicler of the Conclave is on this occasion extremely meagre and short. There was, in fact, but little to be said upon the disgraceful subject. The voices of the electors had been simply bought before they went into Conclave. The Vice-Chancellor, says the writer I have quoted, “used his utmost industry and art for the satisfaction of his immoderate ambition, having conciliated by all sorts of means, good and bad, the minds of the more powerful among the cardinals." The election afforded a striking instance of the way in which a bad Pope prepares the way for a yet worse than he.
This infamous man, the worst probably of all the Popes, reigned eleven years, and died on the 18th of
* A curious statement indicating the sort of thing that might be expected on these occasions. The state of matters described was not held to constitute any notable breach of order.
August, 1503, poisoned, as there is every reason to believe, by the mistake of a servant, who handed both to him and to his son Cæsar some poisoned wine which had been prepared by their orders for the poisoning of several cardinals who had been invited to sup with them; the object of the intended murder being that the “hats” thus vacated might be resold to others ! The writer of the story of the Conclave of his successor, Pius III., who tells us that he was a Papal Master of the Chambers, and seems evidently to have been a conclavist also, gives a terrible and horrible account of the death and burial of Alexander. Hardly was the breath out of his body before the servants and soldiers plundered his private apartments. This search for plunder was not very thorough or successful, however, for subsequently stores of valuables were discovered to a very large amount, as also "a writing desk covered with green cloth, which was full of gems and precious stones to the value of twenty thousand crowns,” worth something like fifty thousand pounds at the present day.
The mortal remains of the Popes were very generally utterly deserted and left to the care of the lowest people about the palace; and it was not likely that the body of such a Pope as Alexander should be treated with more respect than those of the most detested of his predecessors. When the body had been carried into the Church of St. Peter's there was no priest ready to begin to read the service; and some soldiers took advantage of the pause to begin wresting the wax torches out of the hands of the attendants around the bier. The latter defended themselves, using the torches for the purpose, and the soldiers using their arms. At last the clerical party, getting the worst of it, ran away into the sacristy! “Then leaving off their singing (of the burial psalms) the Pope was left alone; and I and some others took the bier and carried him to a spot between the high altar and his seat, and placed him there, turning his head towards the altar.” The body was left there till the evening, when a change came over the appearance of it, which the Master of the Chambers describes with a loathsome minuteness of particulars into which I will not follow him. “He was,” continues he, “horrible and fearful to look on; and after nightfall he was carried to the mortuary chapel by six porters and two carpenters who chanced to be gambling together near at hand. And inasmuch as the coffin had been made too short, they pounded the corpse and stamped on it with their feet to make it go into the coffin, having first despoiled it of the mitre and the grave-clothes, and covered it instead with a dirty old bit of green carpet."
Such was the end of him whose existence on the earth the English poet deemed might be a stumbling-block to those who attempt to scan the providential government of the world, and whom the fathers of the Church selected as the vicegerent of God upon earth—Pope Alexander VI.!
It was the inevitable tendency of the combined mode of electing the Popes and creating the cardinals, that a bad Pope should, as has been said, pave the way for a worse successor. Alexander effectually provided an exception to the rule, for a worse than he could hardly have been found. But there can be no doubt that the manner in which he filled the Sacred College prepared the way for a period of Church history which was the lowest in the whole annals of the Church as regards the character of the Popes, and the utter and audacious shamelessness of the prostitution by them of their position and their power to the pursuit of objects which the great and powerful have often pursued unscrupulously, but which have never been pursued with such reckless and monstrous wickedness as by the successors of St. Peter!
The condition of Rome during the interregnum between Alexander and Pius III. was terrible. No man's life was safe in the streets: murder, plunder, and open fighting were rife in every part of the city. The hands of Orsini and Colonnas were against all men, and all men's hands were against them. The Holy City was a veritable pandemonium. At last thirty-eight cardinals went into Conclave on the 12th of September, twenty-five days after Alexander's death, a delay which was contrary to all rule, but was necessitated by the state of Rome and the violence of Cæsar Borgia, who had possession of St. Angelo, and could not sooner be got rid of out of Rome; and on the 22nd of the same month they elected the Cardinal of Siena, Piccolomini, nephew of Pius II., by the name of Pius III.
“On the 14th of the same month," notes the Master of the Ceremonies—also, no doubt, a conclavist—who relates the story of this Conclave, “I found a billet hidden in a dish which was going in to the Cardinal of Bologna, which I plainly saw, but held my tongue, considering it for the best.” He then goes on to give the story of the Conclave as follows: “The divisions and
parties among the cardinals were manifold, concerning which I am silent by reason of the ugliness of the business, and the simony which then took place among them without blushing or shame. At last on the Thursday, by the help of God (!), the Cardinals Ascanius, Volterra, and Rouen took counsel together to elect the Cardinal of Siena, who had promised them many things if, by their means, he should be made Pope. Many cardinals purposing to elect him, went to congratulate him, and, on the following day, the Sacristan made a little hole in the walling-up of a door that was in his room, and sent a note to the house of the Cardinal of Siena, announcing that he was elected;"—in order to give friends of his own a hint to take time by the forelock in plundering the new Pope's house.
Further particulars of this very disgraceful Conclave have been preserved, and are with singular candour recounted by the modern writer of the article on Pius III. in Moroni. The friends of Cæsar Borgia, and creations of his father, were a very strong party in the Conclave, and they wished to make the Cardinal Antoniotto Pallavicini, Pope. But there was a certain Nicolò Bonafede, Bishop of Chiusi, * who, having a special enmity against Pallavicini, and being at the same time a friend of Piccolomini, and in the confidence of Cæsar Borgia, succeeded in persuading the latter that it would be impossible to get Pallavicini elected; and proposed to him that the Borgia party should support Piccolomini, who was specially hostile to the Petrucci (who were
* A life of him, in great part written by himself, is extant, and was printed at Pesaro, in 1832.