As winter began to melt into spring, the pope raised his army for the war against Venice. Needing someone he could trust to become the Captain of the Church, he chose the Duke of Urbino, Francesco Maria della Rovere, who was also his brother’s son.
Francesco Maria was a condottiere, although he proved his loyalty to Julius more than he proved his military effectiveness. He shared his uncle’s famous temper — the one that angered most of his family, although not Felice. Francesco and Felice had grown up together in Savona while Julius lived in exile. To her, Francesco was more like a little brother than a cousin.
Francesco took charge of the papal troops and led them into the Romagna. He knew, however, that they were not good enough to take on the major Venetian strongholds of Rimini, Faenza, and Ravenna. The Venetians knew that as well.
They were not upset at the knowledge that they might have to fight the pope. The Venetians thought they knew best how to handle their own affairs — with the help of God, of course — and if they were attacked, they would fight to keep what they had. They would buy whatever condottiere they needed to buy to get the job done and maintain their independence.
Above all else, the Venetians were a religious people. They saw themselves as the first line of defense against the Turks to the east, whom they viewed as infidels. They didn’t fear the pope, or his army, because they were certain they were doing the right thing.
Then Julius began to talk of issuing a bull of excommunication against Venice. Under such a terribilissima, the Venetians would be forbidden from receiving any of the sacraments. This struck a blow more powerful than any army could, for the people of Venice were suddenly frightened. Perhaps they had gone too far.
The Venetian Signoria thought there was a way out. They assumed that if they gave Pope Julius what he wanted — the church properties in the Romagna — they could avert a major confrontation with the League of Cambrai. They offered to return Rimini and Faenza, the cities Julius had long cherished, if Julius promised to fend off a French attack.
In the end, the Venetians had underestimated the pope. He was furious for all the time they had spent flouting him, all the time he had spent trying to reclaim the Papal States. After the endless scheming and preparations, after all the humiliations the Venetians had put him through, he was prepared to extract vengeance.
Julius rejected the offer, with this message: “Those people had their chance. You tell them to gather an army, and it had better be a big one!”
Next: The Delphic Sibyl (3)