LGBTQ Heroes: Pope Julius II

The gay man who became the Warrior Pope.

LGBTQ Heroes: Pope Julius II

Pope Julius II (1443 – 1513) was head of the Roman Catholic Church and ruler of the Papal States from 1503 to his death in 1513.

Nicknamed the Warrior Pope or the Fearsome Pope, he chose his papal name not in honour of Pope Julius I but in emulation of Julius Caesar.

One of the most powerful and influential popes, Julius II was a central figure of the High Renaissance and left a significant mark in world history.

Julius II became Pope in the context of the Italian Wars, a period in which the major powers of Europe fought for primacy in the Italian peninsula. Louis XII of France controlled the Duchy of Milan, previously held by the Sforza, and French influence had replaced that of the Medici in the Republic of Florence. The Kingdom of Naples was under Spanish rule, and the Borja family from Spain was a major political faction in the Papal States following the reign of Alexander VI. The Archduke of Austria Maximilian I was hostile to France and Venice, and desired to descend in Italy in order to obtain the Papal coronation as Holy Roman Emperor. The conclave capitulation preceding his election included several terms, such as the opening of an ecumenical council and the organisation of a crusade against the Ottoman Turks. Once crowned, Julius II proclaimed instead his goal to centralise the Papal States and “free Italy from the barbarians”.

In his early years as Pope, Julius II removed the Borjas from power and exiled them to Spain. Cesare Borgia, Duke of Romagna, shared the same fate and lost his possessions. In 1506, Julius II initiated the rebuilding of the St. Peter’s Basilica and established the renowned Swiss Guards for his personal protection. The same year he ratified the Treaty of Tordesillas, establishing the first bishoprics in the Americas and beginning the catholicisation of Latin America, and commanded a successful campaign in Romagna against the lords of Bologna and Perugia. In 1508, Julius II commissioned the Raphael Rooms and Michelangelo’s paintings in the Sistine Chapel. He also joined an anti-Venetian league formed in Cambrai between France, Spain, and Austria, with the goal of capturing the coast of Romagna, including Rimini and Faenza, from the Venetian Republic. Having achieved this goal, he formed an anti-French “Holy League” with Venice following the defeat of the latter at the Battle of Agnadello.

His main goal was now again to “kick the barbarians out”. Julius II brought Spain into the alliance, declaring Naples a papal fief and promising the catholic Ferdinand of Spain a formal investiture. Having previously recognised Maximilian as Holy Roman Emperor, by declaring that the Imperial election was sufficient to use the title of Emperor without Papal coronation, he later obtained Habsburg support against France as well. Julius II personally led the Papal armed forces at the victorious Battle of Mirandola and, despite subsequent defeats and great losses at the Battle of Ravenna, he ultimately forced the French troops of Louis XII to retreat behind the Alps after the arrival of Swiss mercenaries from the Holy Roman Empire.

At the Congress of Mantua in 1512, Julius II presented himself as the “liberator of Italy”. At Julius’ orders, Italian families were restored to power in the vacuum of French power: the Imperial Swiss led by Massimiliano Sforza restored Sforza rule in Milan, and a Spanish army led by Giovanni de Medici restored Medici rule in Florence. The Kingdom of Naples was recognised as a papal fief. The Venetians regained their territories lost to France, and the Papal States annexed Parma and Piacenza. The conciliarist movement promoted by foreign monarchs was crushed, and Julius II affirmed ultramontanism at the Fifth Lateran Council. This is often presented in traditional historiography as the moment in which Renaissance Italy came the closest to unification after the end of the Italic League of the 15th century. However, Julius II was far away from the possibility to form a single Italian kingdom, if that was his goal at all, since foreign armies were largely involved in his wars and the French were preparing new campaigns against the Swiss for Milan. Naples, even if it was now recognised as a papal fief, was still in Spanish hands and in fact Julius II confessed to a Venetian ambassador a plan to give the kingdom to his counsellor Luigi d’Aragona. Nevertheless, by 1513, his objective to make the Papacy the main force in the Italian Wars was achieved.

Historians believe that Julius II had sexual relationships with a number of men. One of his lovers is believed to have been Francesco Alidosi – one of his closest advisors.