Page images

He created twelve hundred new places: even the nomination of cardinals was not unproductive. The whole number of taxable posts in his time was two thousand one hundred and fifty: their yearly income was calculated at 320,000 sc., a heavy burden to church and state. These offices, however, expired with the life of the holders.

Clement VII. in his pressing distress first created a permanent debt-a monte non vacabilewhich was charged at ten per cent. interest on the customs. The montisti, or holders of these securities, formed a college. But from the time of Adrian's first hearth-tax, the golden days of freedom from taxation began to disappear to the subjects of the Roman state. As Europe withheld or diminished its tribute, no alternative remained for the pontiff but direct taxation on his own territory. As the head of Catholicism in Southern Europe, the Pope found his foreign income more and more precarious, while his expenses grew larger. In the internecine war with Protestantism prodigality seemed a virtue ; liberal assistance was rendered in Ireland and in other countries where the Catholics endeavoured to regain their lost ground from the Protestant governments. Thus Romagna gradually lost the few remains of its independence, and by degrees every article of life became subject to direct impost. This small territory had, in fact, to support almost entirely one of the most expensive monarchies of Europe—one which, by its very character, involved a constant correspondence with every court in Christendom, which required secret service-money to an unlimited extent, and in the Catholics exiled from Protestant countries had objects of charity whose claims could not with the severest economy be altogether eluded. The Papal state, from the richest and most productive part of Italy, sunk in consequence, though by slow degrees, to what it now is, an ill-cultivated, unwholesome, and comparatively desert tract.

Gregory XIII. (Buoncompagno), had his lot been cast in an earlier period of the pontificate, might perhaps have shown by his life his right to his family name. Before he entered into

orders he had had a natural son; and was considered rather inclined to the gayer manners of his Milanese patron Pius IV., than to those of his more rigid immediate predecessor. But the religious feeling predominant in Rome overawed the natural disposition of Gregory : instead of relaxing, he rivalled the austerities of the late Pope ; he was irreproachable in his life; scrupulous in bestowing his preferment. Though he advanced his son to a high rank, he allowed him no improper influence; to the rest of his relations he was beneficent, but moderate in his grants. Financial embarrassments, incident to his lavish expenditure in the support of the Catholic cause, involved him in inextricable difficulties, and threw the whole of Romagna into a state of predatory insurrection. Money was absolutely necessary, but the Pope would not purchase it at the price of spiritual concessions or indulgences; new offices could not be created, new imposts would not be borne. The expedient which occurred was the resumption of the fiefs held of the See, on account of some informality in the grant, or neglect in the performance of the stipulated service. Every paper was searched, every record investigated, and, by some flaw or other, the nobles saw themselves ejected from their castles, and deprived of property which their families had possessed for centuries. Gradually a spirit of resistance sprung up; the old factions began to revive with greater fury in all the towns; the expelled proprietors turned captains of banditti. The whole province was a scene of anarchy, robbery, and bloodshed. Not a subsidy could be obtained, not a tax levied. The Pope sent his son Giacomo with an armed force to quell the insurrection, but without success. At length the most daring and powerful of these bandit chieftains, Piccolomini, bearded Gregory in Rome itself. He presented a petition for absolution; the Pope shuddered at the long catalogue of murders recorded in the paper. But there was only this alternative his son must be slain by, or must slay Piccolomini, or the pardon must be granted. The absolution was sealed and delivered. Weary at length with life, and in a state of the utmost weakness, the

aged Pope looked to heaven, and said—“ Lord, thou wilt arise, and have mercy upon Sion.”

Never was a strong arm more imperiously required to wield the sceptre of the Papacy. The wild days of the darker ages seemed about to return, when a lawless and bandit populace drove the Pope from his capital, or insulted and slew him in its streets. Acts of violence were perpetrated in open day in Rome itself; four cardinals' houses were plundered. The son of a swineherd, who himself as a boy had followed the lowly occupation of his father, was raised to the pontifical throne, and order was almost instantaneously restored; the Papal government assumed a regularity and vigour which it had not displayed in its most powerful days. The low origin and the early life of Sixtus V. are well known ; and the arts by which he obtained the summit of his ambition have been minutely described, but with more cleverness than veracity. We know nothing in the range of Italian comic writing more spirited and amusing than Gregorio Leti's description of the Cardinal Montalto for fifteen years playing the infirm old man, tottering along the streets upon his crutch, with a deep and hollow cough, a failing voice, and every symptom of a broken constitution and premature decrepitude. The scene in the Conclave, when, on the instant of his election, he dashed his crutch to the ground, sprung up at once to his natural height, and thundered out (entonava) the Te Deum, to the astonishment and dismay of the assembled cardinals ;-his reply to the Cardinal de' Medici, who expressed his surprise at the sudden change in his look, which had been downcast, and was now erect and lofty : While I was cardinal, my eyes were fixed upon the earth, that I might find the keys of heaven; now I have found them, I look to heaven, for I have nothing more to seek on earth;' all the minute circumstantialness of his manner, speech, and gesture, is like one of Scott's happiest historical descriptions, but we fear of no better historical authority than the fictions of our great novelist. Ranke says, that there is not much truth in these stories : we could have wished that he had

given us his opinion, as to how much; we should be glad to know whether there is any confirmation in the contemporary documents which he has searched, for the account of the proceedings in the Conclave, which Leti has drawn with such unscrupulous boldness.

It is clear that powerful foreign influence was employed in favour of the Cardinal Montalto; we were before aware (if we remember right, from Galluzzi's work) that Tuscany contributed powerfully to his elevation. It is probable that, in the exigencies of the times, the vigour of his age-(he was sixty-four at the time of his election)- rather than simulated infirmity and premature old age, recommended him to the Cardinals, who must have been almost trembling for their personal safety.

If they expected a vigorous administration from Sixtus V. they were not mistaken in their choice. The new Pope proclaimed and displayed at once the inexorable rigour of his justice. On the day of his coronation four bodies of offenders against his police regulations were seen on a gallows on the Castle of Angelo. He disbanded most of the soldiers raised by Gregory; he reduced the number of sbirri. But he made each baron and each commune responsible for every act of violence committed in their district. He made the commune, or the relatives of the bandit, pay the price which had been laid upon the head of each chieftain, instead of defraying this charge from the treasury. He sowed dissension among the bands, by offering a free pardon to any accomplice who should bring in the body or the head of his comrade. He is even said to have gone so far as to destroy a whole troop, by throwing in their way a caravan of poisoned provisions, an event which gave the Pope great satisfaction! He made no distinction of ranks; the noble bandit with difficulty obtained the privilege of being strangled in prison instead of being hanged coram populo. In less than a year the roads were safer in the Papal territory than in any other part of Europe. Sixtus, by trivial concessions, conciliated the good will of his powerful neighbours, who had been alienated by the captious and unwise policy of

Gregory. They had hitherto harboured the robbers of the Papal states. Tuscany, Venice, Spain, now vied with each other in surrendering them to the Pope's relentless justice. The King of Spain gave orders that the decrees of the Pope should be as much respected in Milan as in Rome. Sixtus laboured with as much zeal and success in the restoration of prosperity as of peace. The privileges of the towns were enlarged. Ancona, of which the commerce had been almost ruined by impolitic regulations, was especially favoured; agriculture and manufactures were fostered with the utmost care. Sixtus has enjoyed the credit of putting an end to the fatal effects of nepotism, by interdicting the alienation of ecclesiastical estates. This, however, was the act of Pius V. On his own nephews Sixtus bestowed-on one the purple, on the other a marquisate ; but he allowed no influence to any living being. He was the sole originator, depositary, and executor of his own counsels.

In the Chigi palace there is an account-book belonging to Sixtus V., containing memoranda of all his personal property and expense while a monk. It contains a list of his books, whether in single volumes or bound together; in short, his whole household expenses. It relates how his brother-in-law bought twenty sheep, which young Peretti paid for by instalments; and how at length, from his rigid savings, to his astonishment he found himself master of two hundred florins. Sixtus the Pope practised the same severe economy. His first ambition was to leave a treasure, which was only to be employed in times of the utmost emergency, and on objects of the highest spiritual importance : these objects he himself accurately defined. The temple of the Lord,' he said, ' was never without such treasure.' M. Ranke has, however, destroyed much of the blind admiration which, looking only to these outward circumstances, has considered the administration of Sixtus a model of financial wisdom. This treasure was collected by the old, ignorant, and extravagant expedients for raising money-the sale of offices, the creation of new monti or debt, the most minute

« PreviousContinue »