Pope Alexander VI, Pope Julius II, Pope Leo X and how they set the stage for the reformation with acting in more political reasons then religious ones

Pope Alexander VI is an exceptional and infamous religious-political leader who left a permanent spot in the Roman Catholic Church’s history. Even though several catholic authors have placed tireless efforts in cleansing the Pope’s name, historical facts of corrupt and incorrigible religious leaders firmly remain. Pope Alexander VI’s indulgence in wealth and political aspirations decayed the inherent purpose and duty of a pope to the people and God.Pope Alexander VI was heavily devoted to family and would stop at nothing to place the people’s needs at the rare for the family’s sake. Pope Alexander VI’s actions provoked people’s anger and were fundamental in setting a stage for protestants decades after death. The Pope’s massive greed for wealth and power shifted his ambition as a religious leader to a political context. Pope Alexander VI also formed alliances with foreigners to overcome French revolts in the name of a Holy War and encourage foreign dominance. The Pope was also synonymous with luring women, committing adultery, and siring illegitimate children.  Nevertheless, Pope Alexander VI created several changes during his time and served God and the people.

            Rodrigo de Borja y Doms(Pope Alexander VI) was born on the first day of 1431 into a noble family called the Borgia. The Borgia’s were wealthy and had leadership positions in Italy. The family was also associated with corruption since they engaged in unjust practices for the family’s sake. Every Borgia family stakeholder was guaranteed by their relatives a special place in power provided they are under the title of ‘Borgia.’ Rodrigo undertook law at the University of Bologna through his uncle Alonso (bishop of Valencia). At the age of 25, Rodrigo was appointed as a church cardinal by pope uncle Calixtus III without much effort since nepotism was a culture in the family. Later in the year, Rodrigo became the Vice Chancellor of the Holy Roman Church, where he accumulated tons of money and gold to his pocket. Rodrigo also engaged in sexual intercourse with women apart from serving God and bore many illegitimate children. Among the women who fell to Rodrigo’s traps was Vannozza Catanei, who had four legitimized children. The offspring include Cesare, Jofre, Lucrezia, and Giovana (Karamanou et al., 2018). 

In 1468, the church ordained Rodrigo into the priesthood, and his craving for power and wealth increased. Despite being a priest, Rodrigo enhanced his riches and seduced women using his gifted speech. Therefore, Rodrigo was not entirely driven by the purpose of serving God from an early stage. The Pope was obsessed with material things and neglected his duties to the people and God to quench his greed. Rodrigo later inherited the archbishop’s position in Valencia, a position which he retained for his eldest son Cesare. Following the death of Pope Innocent VII, Rodrigo vied for the work of the Pope and invested heavily in campaigns. Rodrigo had set his eyes on politics and spent thousands of gold to secure the role of Pope. Rodrigo emerged the victor and was announced as Pope Alexander VI on 11th August 1492. Pope Alexander VI earn the multitude’s favor as he began his papal business like building temples and schools and promising people of justice prevalence. However, as time progressed, Pope Alexander VI began making enemies when he slotted the church’s positions for the Borgia’s family. The people started questioning his religious loyalty through his corrupt acts (Zorich, 2000).

The French Kingdom, under the rule of Charles VII, had enormously grown in the year 1494. The French ruler had claimed the Kingdom of Naples and posed an immense threat to the territory and power of Pope Alexander VI. Alexander VI formed a coalition with the Roman Emperor, the Milan and Venice called the League of Venice or Holy League to conquer the French ruler since they could agree. Pope Alexander triumphed in the war, took part in Europe to his name, and earned fortunes from the battle. The power of Alexander VI tremendously grew, and he enhanced his political position by appointing forty-seven cardinals (his uncle and children were part of the cardinal). In the year 1497, Alexander’s son Giovanni whom he had made the Duke of Gandia and Sessa, Grand Constable of Naples and Captain-General of the Church, was slaughtered, which subjected the Pope to emotional anguish. Despite the death of a beloved son, Pope continued gathering wealth and corrupting the church to fulfill his political quest. Alexander furthered his political ambition by marrying his son Cesare to the daughter of the new French ruler. The Pope joined with Spain and granted the power of his favorite and destroyed noble families in Rome that posed a challenge to his rule.

Pope Alexander also offered sets of regulations called the papal bulls during the time Christopher Colombia ventured into the New World (modern North America). The Papal Bills granted the nobles of Rome several parts of the new land and allowed them to enslave the natives. The native had limited choices since they were to submit to the authority or face cruelty. The papal laws were also a political strategy to reduce Portugal and Spain’s strife (AVALOS, 2014). Alexander had earned many enemies due to his corruption, including Pope Julius II by the time he died in 1503. Alexander’s death insinuated speculations of murder since his body had decomposed by the second day to the extent. However, Pope Alexander contributed to building the University of Aberdeen and Valencia and promoting arts. Pope Alexander’s religious accomplishments are compromised due to his love for temporal concerns and immoral behaviors.

Pope Julius II took over the papacy after the death of Pope Alexander in 1503. The Pope was a gifted and universal man since he performed excellently as a statesman, military general, financier, and religious leader. Pope Julius II despised his predecessor and dedicated his reign to serve a higher purpose. Pope Julius II was among the pioneer that condemned the corruption that had rooted the church courtesy of Pope Alexander VI. Pope Julius II’s ambition was to regain the church’s dignity and serve the people with justice. When Julius II took over as the Pope, his hatred towards Pope Alexander VI was evident since he rebuilt the temple and demolished the Borgia furniture. Pope Julius II did not wish to get associated with the Borgia and refurnished the palace to eliminate Borgia’s dynasty. The new Pope exiled the Borgias family to Spain, and Cesare lost the wealth he had acquired through corruption and did not want their name mentioned in the Pope’s lineage. Pope Julius began his reform duties as a religious leader by giving the church honor, eradicating the Borgia family’s corruption, and fighting against the vices that had rooted the church.

Giuliano Della Rovere (Julias II) was born in February 1443 in a noble family. Julius II’s uncle was a spiritual figure, and therefore he grew up with religious experience. Pope Julius II’s decision to take up Julius’s name was to emulate the Roman Emperor’s influential leader, whom he admired and appreciated. When Pope Julius took over, nepotism had massively affected the church due to the Borgia’s favoring family culture. The Pope confiscated every leader that had unlawfully acquired wealth and leadership position through nepotism. Pope Julius II ensured any leader who took a role in the church deserved the title’s right. Pope Julius II also salvaged the church’s morality by rebuking and prohibiting the sale of church equipment (Kuhner, 2020). Additionally, Pope Julius II began financial reformation in the church to eliminate the greed of money introduced by Pope Alexander. The Pope was regarded as a financial genius since every coin mattered to him, and he maintained clean records of transactions. Unlike his predecessor, Pope Julius II did place wealth as the priority instead of spiritual duties and sparked changes within the church system.

Pope Julius II was also keen on restoring the Papal States’ integrity, especially on Italy’s northern side. Romagna had fallen under the Venice courtesy of Pope Alexander’s leniency and political alliance with the kingdom. Pope Julius II developed a tactical plan before capturing Romagna from Venice by rejoining Rome’s nobility and reclaiming the cities Bologna and Perusia. Between the years 1508 and 1509, Pope Julius II organized the League of Cambrai to conquer Venice. The League of Cambrai consisted of the Holy Roman Emperor, the Pope, Spain, France, and Ferrara and Mantus. In 1509, Pope Julius II defeated Venice and reclaimed Romagna’s city (Weiss, 1965). The Pope excommunicated every citizen of Venice before the war began, which served as a strategic plan by lowering the Venice army’s esteem. However, peace negotiations began the following year, and the dispute between Venice and Rome was settled. 

In 1511, France had a new ambitious ruler, king Loius XII, and Pope Julius II was no longer safe. King Loius faced risks of external invasion from the naughty, and he sorted out help from Venice in waging war against France. Pope Julius II was also a military general since he formed a strong papal defensive unit called the Swiss Guard of around 6000 armies. The Swiss Guard served as the Pope’s bodyguard and played a significant role in France’s war. Although Pope Julius the second did not win the battle with France, he laid a strong foundation for the Papal States’ integrity. Pope Julius II was a phenomenal political leader who worked with France, Spain, Venice, and the Roman Empire in pope history. Pope Julius II was a military leader who organized successful battles and served as a catalyst for change during the Renaissance.

The ultimate contribution of Pope Julius II was in the sector of architectural works, paintings, sculptors, and arts. The Pope had a sense of style and love for art that has to remain exceptional to date. Pope Julius II invested in talents and promoted young and potential people. The Pope had various art interests and produced high quality and enormous projects in history to build a museum. The temple of Saint Peter Basilica initially began by Nicholas V was set to motion by Pope Julius II. It played a significant role in restoring the church’s dignity. The Pope organized the Roman Emperor’s revenues and ensured the funds were used correctly to build the costly church. The Pope also hired the best architects to produce sensational work and personally approved all building expenses. Pope Julius II would sometimes borrow from England to meet the high cost of construction or take funds from the priests’ illegal activities and feed to the project (Justice, 2011).


AVALOS, H. (2014). Pope Alexander VI, slavery and voluntary subjection: ‘Ineffabilis et Summi Patris’ in context. The Journal of Ecclesiastical History65(4), 738-760. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0022046914001225

Justice, G. (2011). The Role of Indulgences in the Building of New Saint Peter’s Basilica. Master of Liberal Studies Theses7http://scholarship.rollins.edu/mls/7

Karamanou, M., Androutsos, G., Hayes, A. W., & Tsatsakis, A. (2018, May 1). Toxicology in the Borgias period: The mystery of Cantarella poison – Marianna Karamanou, George Androutsos, a Wallace Hayes, Aristides Tsatsakis, 2018. SAGE Journals. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2397847318771126

Kuhner, H. (2020). Julius II. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Julius-II

Weiss, R. (1965). The medals of Pope Julius II (1503-1513). Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes28, 163. https://doi.org/10.2307/750668

Zorich, J. (2000). Alexander VI: Renaissance pope. https://doi.org/10.15760/etd.7089

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