After the Venetians’ humiliating defeat at Agnadello, they hoped to stave off an attack on Venice itself. They sent an embassy to Rome. Julius refused to see the Venetian ambassadors, however, saying they were excommunicated. He made them wait in Rome for several weeks while he cooled off in his castle by the sea in Ostia.
When Julius returned to Rome he finally met with the six ambassadors, along with two Venetian cardinals named Grimani and Corner. The Venetians opened negotiations by offering Julius the four cities in the Romagna he demanded: Rimini, Faenza, Cervia, and Ravenna.
Julius answered that he would accept the offer if the Venetians abandoned the fortresses and left all munitions behind. The Venetians agreed.
There was something else they wanted. Proclaiming they were now submissive sons of the Holy Church, the Venetians asked for absolution from the excommunication.
Julius was not ready to grant such a thing without a steep price. After years of being mocked by the Venetians, he was going to make them suffer.
“I will grant absolution on four conditions,” he told them. “First, there will be no more squabbling over the Venetian benefices. You will accept all of my appointments without argument. Second, you shall not impose any taxes on any member of the clergy in Venice without my approval. Third, you shall allow all papal subjects to sail freely into the Gulf of Venice without having to pay any tolls. And fourth, if and when I decide to launch a crusade against the infidels, you shall provide me with all the ships I need.”
The ambassadors sat back, stunned. Any one of those four demands was unpalatable, let alone all four combined.
“We will have to consult with Venice, Holy Father,” the lead ambassador finally said. “I’m sure we can work something out.”
“Of course,” said Julius with a wry smile, knowing they were at his mercy. He was enjoying himself. “There’s one more thing. If Venice wants to be absolved of the excommunication, I expect the Doge himself to come to Rome wearing a halter around his neck and beg for mercy.”
The ambassadors filed out of the Sala Regia in shocked silence.
Julius’s hard line softened, a little, when the news arrived that the Venetians had mounted an attack on Maximilian’s forces and retaken Padua. While this lessened the pope’s leverage on the Venetians, he felt a certain flush of pride that his cornered Italian city had once again smacked the Germans.
It wasn’t the Germans who were the real threat to Italy, however — it was the French. Julius had no doubt that if Louis defeated the Venetians he would move into the Romagna himself and keep it as a prize.
As much as Julius loathed the Venetians for all they had done to him, they were still Italian, and they were rich. They still had some fight in them as well. He thought if he acted carefully he could regain the Romagna, join ranks with the Venetians, and then drive the French out of Italy.
It was an audacious idea, with a huge payoff: Julius could attain his dreams of gaining control of all of the Papal States and achieving a united Italy under Rome.
The alternative was to suffer a humiliating defeat and lose everything, including his papacy and, perhaps, his life.
For Julius there wasn’t really a choice. He had to act boldly. There was no other way.
Next: David and Judith (3)