Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Sack of Rome and The English Reformation

On May 6, 1527, troops loyal to Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, attacked Rome and the Vatican. As the Swiss Guard website describes the event:

On the morning of 6 May 1527, from his headquarters, the monastery of S. Onofrio on the Giancolo, Captain-General of Bourbon gave the signal to attack. Near the "Porta del Torrione" he was mortally wounded, as he prepared to storm the ramparts. After some hesitation, Spanish mercenaries broke through the "Porta del Torrione", while the soldiers invaded the "Borgo Santo Spirito" and the "Borgo San Pietro". The Pontifical Swiss Guard which had assembled near the obelisk, which then stood near the "Campo Santo Teutonico", and the few Roman troops fought a futile battle. The commander Kaspar Röist was wounded and later brutally massacred in the quarters by the Spaniards, right before the eyes of his wife, Elizabeth Klingler. Of the total of 189 Swiss Guards only 42 survived, who, under the command of Hercules Göldli, accompanied Clement VII to his retreat, Castel Sant'Angelo.

The others fell heroically before the high altar of St. Peter, along with 200 others who had fled into the church. The rescue of Clement VII and his people was made possible through a secret escape passage, the so-called "Passetto", which Alexander VI. had created on the wall that leads from the Vatican to Castel Sant'Angelo. The savage horde was in a hurry, because it feared that its retreat would be cut off by the league. Soldiers and Spaniards poured over the "Ponte Sisto" and into the city for eight days, spreading terror and violence, looting, murdering and transgressing. They even broke the tombs of the Popes, including the one of Julius II. The death toll is estimated at 12,000 and the bounty amounted to ten million ducats.

All that happened is not surprising when one considers that the imperial army, and even more so the Frundsberg’s soldiers, were led by the idea of a violent crusade against the Pope. In front of Castel Sant'Angelo and witnessed by the Pope himself, a parody of a religious procession was staged, calling on Clement to hand over to Luther the sails and the oars of the "Navicella" the so-called Peter’s boat. The soldiers chanted: "Long live Luther pontifex". In derision, Luther's name was carved into the fresco "La Disputa Santissimo Sacramento" (The Disputation over the Most Holy Sacrament) by the sword point in the Stanzas of Raphael, and another inscription glorified Charles V. Kurz , which is expressed in the judgement of the Prior of the Canons of St. Augustine: "Malifuere Germani, pejores Itali, Hispani vero pessimi." (The Germans were bad, the Italians worse, but worst of all were the Spaniards.)

As this OUP blog explains, this event is usually connected to the issue of Henry VIII's efforts to have his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Charles V's aunt declared null and void:

The sack of Rome had a significant aftermath. The pope and emperor reconciled in 1530. A few years later, when England’s Henry VIII petitioned the pope to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Clement refused. Catherine was Charles V’s aunt. The pope’s refusal, of course, led Henry to leave the Catholic Church and create the separate Church of England.

So, it's not really the Sack of Rome that affected Henry VIII's petition: it was the reconciliation of Charles and Clement. Pope Clement VII could not risk alienating Charles after seeing what he was capable of and thus protected Catherine of Aragon, who was adamant that her marriage to Henry was valid. 

This painting of the Sack of Rome, by Francisco Javier Amérigo Aparicio is in the public domain: it depicts the rape, pillaging, desecration, and horror of the event. And although I know that this monument is for the Swiss Guards who were massacred protecting King Louis XVI and his family in 1789, I can't help thinking about it in honor of these guards who died protecting the pope and the Blessed Sacrament in 1527:

May they all rest in the peace of Christ!

No comments:

Post a Comment