If there was one man in Italy whom Pope Julius despised more than he despised King Louis of France, it was Duke Alfonso d’Este of Ferrara.
The Duchy of Ferrara lay between Bologna and Venice. For many years Ferrara had been dominated by the Venetians, which drove Alfonso crazy. So after the Venetians were defeated at Agnadello and were pushed all the way back to their lagoon, Alfonso gladly turned against Venice and marched his troops into the Veneto, claiming every piece of it that he could.
The Venetians took notice and vowed to avenge the act when they got the chance. That chance arrived not long after, when against all odds they beat back the Germans and recaptured Padua. They pushed their way toward Ferrara, ready to punish Alfonso.
The Duke knew he could not defend himself alone. Many of the cities under his domain were also protectorates of the church, and so he rightfully and morally turned to Julius for protection. He received only a lukewarm commitment from the pope, however, who was hesitant to cause trouble with his new allies the Venetians.
Alfonso was ready to do anything to stay alive and in power. Thus he turned to the French, paying King Louis 80,000 ducats for protection.
Once he was safe with the French behind him, and with the blessing of King Louis, Alfonso had the audacity to begin charging a fee for all goods that passed through his territory between Bologna and Venice. Next he began to make salt again at Comacchio, which threatened the Venetians’ hold on that market.
Julius was so angry with Alfonso’s antics that he threatened excommunication. Moreover, Alfonso’s brashness was not lost on the Bolognese, who took steps to cozy up to the French as well.
The weakness of Ferrara and Bologna sickened Julius. The worst part was that he knew he couldn’t blame them entirely. The real enemy was King Louis.
“I tell you, these damned French have taken away my appetite,” the pope told the Venetian ambassador. “But it is God’s will that the Duke of Ferrara should be punished, and Italy freed from the hands of the French.”
Julius decided the time had come to march a papal army into the Duchy of Ferrara, take the city, and oust the Duke. He threatened to excommunicate anyone who came to the aid of Ferrara, including the French.
King Louis planned to send troops anyway. The French were not afraid of censure like the Venetians were.
Julius took this as an act of war.
Tensions began to rise in Rome. Things got so bad one French cardinal decided it was a good time to go back to France for a visit. In response, Julius had the cardinal arrested and thrown into a cell in Sant’ Angelo.
King Louis called this an outrageous act of an unworthy pope, and began a vigorous campaign to have Julius replaced.
The challenge to the pope’s legitimacy gained support all over Europe. Julius had broken many of the promises he had made when he sought to become pope. Among these was the promise to hold a Lateran Council that would reform the church.
If such a council formed now, it would make Julius vulnerable and could lead to his undoing. It was exactly what the French were demanding.
Next: The Garden of Eden (3)