Pope Julius II (Latin: Iulius II; 5 December 1443 – 21 February 1513), nicknamed “The Fearsome Pope” and “The Warrior Pope”, born Giuliano della Rovere, was Pope from 1 November 1503 to his death in 1513. His papacy was marked by an active foreign policy, ambitious building projects, and patronage for the arts—he commissioned the destruction and rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica, plus Michelangelo’s decoration of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
There is disagreement about Julius’s year of birth. Some sources put it as late as 1453. Giuliano della Rovere was the son of Rafaello della Rovere. Francesco della Rovere (later Pope Sixtus IV) was his uncle.
He was educated among the Franciscans by his uncle, who took him under his special charge and later sent him to a Franciscan friary in Perugia with the purpose of obtaining knowledge of the sciences. However, he does not appear to have joined the Order of St Francis, but rather remained a member of the secular clergy until his elevation to bishop of Carpentras, in France, in 1471; very shortly after his uncle succeeded to the papal chair.
Della Rovere was promoted to cardinal, taking the same title formerly held by his uncle, Cardinal of San Pietro in Vincoli. With his uncle as Pope, he obtained great influence, and he held no fewer than eight bishoprics, including Lausanne from 1472, and Coutances from 1476, along with the archbishopric of Avignon.
In the capacity of papal legate, della Rovere was sent to France in 1480, where he remained four years, and acquitted himself with such ability that he soon acquired a paramount influence in the College of Cardinals, an influence which increased rather than diminished during the pontificate of Pope Innocent VIII. Around this time, in 1483, an illegitimate daughter was born, Felice della Rovere.
Rivalry grew over time between him and Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, and on the death of Innocent VIII, in 1492, Borgia was elected Pope Alexander VI. Della Rovere, jealous and angry, accused Borgia of being elected over him by means of simony and a secret agreement with Ascanio Sforza. He at once determined to take refuge from Borgia’s wrath at Ostia, and a few months afterwards went to Paris, where he incited Charles VIII of France to undertake a conquest of Naples.
Accompanying the young King on his campaign, he entered Rome along with him, and endeavoured to instigate the convocation of a council to inquire into the conduct of the pontiff with a view to his deposition; but Pope Alexander, having gained a friend in Charles VIII’s minister Guillaume Briçonnet by offering him the position of cardinal, succeeded in defeating the machinations of his enemy.
Pope Alexander died in 1503, and his son, Cesare Borgia, fell ill at the same time. Della Rovere did not support the candidature of Cardinal Piccolomini of Siena, who nevertheless was, on 8 October 1503, crowned under the name of Pope Pius III, but who died twenty-six days later.
Della Rovere then succeeded by dexterous diplomacy in tricking the weakened Cesare Borgia into supporting him by offering him money and continued papal backing for Borgia policies in the Romagna, promises which he disregarded upon election. He was elected as Pope Julius II to the papal dignity by the near-unanimous vote of the cardinals, almost certainly by means of bribery, both with money and promises.
Indeed, his election only took a few hours, and the only two votes he did not receive were his own and the one of Georges d’Amboise, supposedly his main opponent and the favourite of the French monarchy.
In 1508, events so favoured the plans of Julius that he was able to conclude the League of Cambrai with Louis XII, King of France, Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, and Ferdinand II, King of Aragon. The League fought against the Republic of Venice during the “War of the Holy League” (also known as the “War of the League of Cambrai”).
Among other things, Julius wanted the Venetian possession of Romagna; Emperor Maximilian I wanted Friuli and Veneto; Louis XII wanted Cremona; and Ferdinand II wanted the Apulian ports. This war was a conflict in what was collectively known as the “Italian Wars”.
In the spring of 1509, the Republic of Venice was placed under an interdict by Julius. During the “War of the Holy League” and the “Italian Wars”, alliances and participants changed dramatically. For example, in 1510 Venice and France switched places. By 1513, Venice had joined France.
The achievements of the League soon outstripped the primary intention of Julius. By one single battle, the Battle of Agnadello on 14 May 1509, the dominion of Venice in Italy was practically lost.
But, as neither the King of France nor the Holy Roman Emperor were satisfied with merely effecting the purposes of the Pope, the latter found it necessary to enter into an arrangement with the Venetians to defend himself from those who immediately before had been his allies.
The Venetians, on making humble submission, were absolved at the beginning of 1510, and shortly afterward France was placed under papal interdict. Attempts to cause a rupture between France and England proved unsuccessful.
On the other hand, at a synod convened by Louis at Tours in September 1510, the French bishops withdrew from papal obedience, and resolved, with Emperor Maximilian’s co-operation, to seek the deposition of the pope. In November 1511, a council met for this objective at Pisa.
Julius thereupon entered into the “Holy League of 1511”. He allied with Ferdinand II of Aragon and the Venetians against France. In short time, both Henry VIII, King of England (1509–47), and Maximilian I also joined the “Holy League of 1511.” During his last months of life, he engaged in negotiations with Ferdinand’s diplomats, who obtained from him the ideological back-up necessary for Ferdinand II of Aragon’s invasion of Navarre in the form of papal bulls.
Julius convened a general council (that afterward was known as the Fifth Council of the Lateran) to be held at Rome in 1512, which, according to an oath taken on his election, he had bound himself to summon, but which had been delayed, he affirmed, because of the occupation of Italy by his enemies.
In 1512 the French were driven across the Alps, but it was at the cost of the occupation of Italy by the other powers, and Julius, though he had securely established the papal authority in the states immediately around Rome, was practically as far as ever from realizing his dream of an independent Italian kingdom when he died of fever in February 1513.
It is a common error that many associate the burial place of Julius as being in San Pietro in Vincoli as the location for the so-called “Tomb of Julius” by Michelangelo. However, this tomb was not completed until 1545 and represents a much abbreviated version of the planned original, which was initially intended for the new St. Peter’s Basilica. Instead, as was always intended, Julius was buried in St. Peter’s in the Vatican.
His remains, along with those of his uncle, Pope Sixtus IV, were later desecrated during the Sack of Rome in 1527. Today, the remains of both lie in St. Peter’s in the floor in front of the monument to Pope Clement X. A simple marble tombstone marks the site.
He was succeeded by Pope Leo X.