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A Bridge to Nowhere (1)

Pope Julius had no plans to forget about Michelangelo. He did, however, have other things to think about. For nearly three years the pope had tried to talk the Venetians into leaving the Romagna, but they still hadn’t budged.

They hardly even listened to his protests. Why should they leave Faenza and Rimini, they asked, if the pope couldn’t even get the Perugians and the Bolognese to abide by his demands?

Pope Julius II by Raphael

Pope Julius II by Raphael

Julius knew they had a point, and he was tired of sitting in Rome unable to back up his arguments. Finally, after years of work, he was in a strong enough position to increase the pressure on the Venetians to leave the Romagna. He ordered that preparations be made for his own departure.

The cardinals were horrified by the pope’s plan. The thought of Julius wearing a full suit of armor and wielding a sword was troubling enough. On top of that, Julius was also demanding that his entire papal court, including every able-bodied cardinal, go to war with him.

It was unsettling, to say the least, to think of what might happen to the church if the pope was routed in battle, and all his cardinals taken down at the same time. But Julius insisted. He wasn’t about to leave the cardinals behind in Rome, where they would cause nothing but trouble.

The papal army made quite a spectacle leaving Rome. It took 3,000 horses just to carry the pope’s court, including the chapel singers. In the summer heat the army slowly made its way up the Via Francigena, passing astonished pilgrims traveling the other way.

Perugia, Bologna and Papal States

The Papal States

Julius’s plan was to make a show of force at Perugia and Bologna. Both cities were run by strong families of condottiere, mercenary soldiers. And neither one wanted to be told what to do by Rome, even though both cities had been part of the Papal States for more than 300 years.

The first test for Julius came at Perugia. The Umbrian city was ruled by a brutish thug by the name of Gianpaolo Baglioni, a man with no scruples whatsoever. He had a nasty habit of murdering his own relatives, and had fathered his sister’s baby. Baglioni also ruled the city with an iron fist and sold the use of his professional army to the highest bidder.

Gianpaolo Baglioni of Perugia

Gianpaolo Baglioni of Perugia

No one on the papal side was confident of the outcome of a battle between the pope’s ragtag army and those professional troops. Yet the pope never showed any fear, and neither did Baglioni when the papal army reached the western outskirts of Perugia.

Baglioni rode right into the pope’s camp, trailed only by a handful of soldiers, and welcomed the pope. He said the people of Perugia were waiting with open arms. Then he invited the pope and the entire college of cardinals to enter the city for a great banquet at his palace.

The pope’s advisors, sure that it was a trap, told him not to go. Once they entered the city, Baglioni could hold them for ransom, or worse. Much worse.

Julius refused to heed the warnings. He accepted Baglioni’s invitation, with the condition that he be allowed to bring 150 Swiss Guards with him. The pope’s advisors were unsatisfied, for the guards would be no match for the 1,000 troops Baglioni was keeping inside Perugia.

Niccolo Machiavelli, who witnessed the event as an ambassador to the pope’s court, later said that Baglioni could have demanded anything he wanted, if he had been willing to take advantage of the situation.

But all of the fears proved to be for naught. The pope entered Perugia on streets lined with cheering crowds. Not even a nasty brute like Gianpaolo Baglioni had the guts to harm a pope.

And in exchange for the hospitality, Pope Julius drove Baglioni and all the members of his extended family into exile for having defied the Holy See.

The cardinals were astonished. Without any fighting at all, Julius had regained Perugia. Bologna was next.

Machiavelli reported all of this when he returned to Florence. He also delivered a letter from the pope, addressed to Piero Soderini.

If you don’t send Michelangelo to me, I will come to Florence and bring him back myself.

Machiavelli assured Soderini there was no reason to worry. Julius was busy elsewhere, and could do nothing as long as Florence had the French to protect them.

But, Machiavelli added, that didn’t mean Soderini couldn’t use Julius’s demand to make Michelangelo nervous.

Next: A Bridge to Nowhere (2)


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