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Friday, December 01, 2006

The policy of crusade: From the The Accession of Pius II (1458) to his death at Ancona

The policy of crusade: From the The Accession of Pius II (1458) to his death at Ancona


At the time of his election as pope, Aeneas was 53 years old. He had risen by tact and an accurate knowledge of men and European affairs.

Aeneas’ constitution was already shattered. He was a great sufferer from the stone, the gout and a cough, and spent many months of his pontificate at Viterbo and other baths.

To advance the interest of the crusade against the Turks, Pius called a congress of princes to meet in Mantua, 1460.The convocation to the international summit, organised on behalf of the crusade, was formalised by the Vocavit nos Papal bull on 13 October 1458. The choice of Mantua, the birthplace of the poet Virgil, much loved by the Pope, was actually decided upon a few days later, a fact testified by the notice Pius II sent to Ludovico Gonzaga on 22 October.


The Congress of Mantua

The conference of Mantua got under way on 1 June 1459 with a verbose and doleful inaugural speech, delivered by the Peloponnesian bishop of Corone, concerning the Turkish threat to Christianity.

However, when bored onlookers began getting up to leave, Pius II raised his hand and demanded silence. Then, with “torment in his eyes”, to use the words of Lodrisio Crivelli, the papal secretary and chronicler of the conference, the Pope began to speak.

His intervention was both direct and polemical. The Pope not only denounced the reluctance of the Italian governments and the Europeans to intervene against the Turks, he also attacked the lukewarm participation of the cardinals present.

It is all too easy to forget just how much the personality of the humanist pope mattered in the bid to save Byzantium. At every turn, his tenacity proved to be as extraordinary as his political scepticism. His rationale and disenchanted realism, carefully set aside “so as not to upset Bessarion”, was just as pungent and limpid as ever. His cold detachment did not just come from his own pessimistic vision of life and the world, but from a thoroughly grounded knowledge of military strengths and international affairs.

His evaluation of the of situation, almost ruthless in its lucidity, is expressed in a celebrated passage of the Commentarii, that begins with “Christianity isa body without a head”, and finishes with: “If too few soldiers participate in this holy war, then they will be overcome by the infidels; if too many depart, they will be overcome by their own weight and confusion”.

The princes were slow in arriving in Mantua, and the attendance was not such as to justify the opening of the congress till September 26.

Envoys from Thomas Palaeologus of the Morea, brother of the last Byzantine emperor, from Lesbos, Cyprus, Rhodes and other parts of the East were onhand to pour out their laments.

In his opening address, lasting three hours, Pius called upon the princes to emulate Stephen, Peter, Andrew, Sebastian, St. Lawrence and other martyrs in readiness to lay down their lives in the holy war. The aggression of the Turks had robbed Christendom of some of its fairest seats,—Antioch, where the followers of Christ for the first time received the name Christians, Solomon’s temple, where Christ so often preached, Bethlehem, where he was born, the Jordan, in which he was baptized, Tabor, on which he was transfigured, Calvary, where he was crucified. If they wanted to retain their own possessions, their wives, their children, their liberty, the very faith in which they were baptized, they must believe in war and carry on war.
Joshua continued to have victory over his enemies till the sun went down; Gideon, with 300, scattered the Midianites; Jephthah, with a small army, put to flight the swarms of the Ammonites; Samson had brought the proud Philistines to shame; Godfrey, with a handful of men, had destroyed an innumerable number of the enemy and slaughtered the Turks like cattle. Passionately the papal orator exclaimed, O! that Godfrey were once more present, and Baldwin and Eustache and Bohemund and Tancred, and the other mighty men who broke through the ranks of the Turks and regained Jerusalem by their arms.

The assembly was stirred to a great heat, but, so a contemporary says, the ardor soon cooled.

Cardinal Bessarion followed Pius with an address which also lasted three hours.

Of eloquence there was enough, but the crusading age was over. Splendid orations could not revive that famous outburst of enthusiasm whichfollowed Urban’s address at Clermont.

In this case the element of romance was wanting which the conquest of the Holy Sepulchre had furnished. The prowess of the conquering Turks was a hard fact.

During the Congress of Mantua the controversy broke out between the German lawyer, Gregor of Heimburg, and Pius. They had met before at Basel. Heimburg, representing the duke of the Tyrol, who had imprisoned Nicolas of Cusa spoke against the proposed crusade.

He openly insulted the pope by keeping on his hat in his presence, an indignity he jokingly explained as a precaution against the catarrh. From the sentence of excommunication, pronounced against his ducal master, he appealed to a general council, on August 13, 1460. He himself was punished with excommunication, and Pius called upon the city of Nürnberg to expel him as the child of the devil and born of the artifice of lies. Heimburg became a wanderer until the removal of the ban, in 1472. He was the strongest literary advocate in Germany of the Basel decrees and the superiority of councils, and has been called a predecessor of Luther and precursor of the Reformation.

At the congress in Mantua, a large army was agreed on with contingents from several parts of Europe.


After Mantua

Pius left Mantua the last of January, 1461, stopping on the return journey a second time at his beloved Siena, and canonizing Catherine of Siena.

But during the succeeding years it became increasingly clear that the promises given at Mantua would not be fulfilled.

In March 1462, Pius II officially communicated the following disconcerting decision “to the six cardinals of the Sacred College, whom he deemed to be the most trustworthy”. He declared: “Even if our body is old and ailing, we still have the spirit to personally declare war on the Turks in defence of the Catholic faith and depart ourselves in such an expedition”.

The Pope was now ready to place himself at the head of the ninth crusade. What at Mantua had just been an allusion – the Pope as the “imitator of Godfrey of Bouillon” – now risked becoming a reality.

“We have passed many sleepless nights reflecting”, he explained, “and tossing and turning in our beds we were in despair”. The Conference of Mantua was a waste of time, he admitted. “If we send ambassadors to the kings asking for their help, they are laughed at, if we impose the tithe upon the clergy, they rebel and ask for another council, and if we promulgate indulgences to finance the crusade, they accuse us of cupidity. We are without credit. What can we do in such a weary situation? Are we to throw ourselves into certain danger and face the enemy alone? Are we to venture into an undertaking that will almost certainly make us ridiculous? To commit ourselves uselessly, obtaining nothing but humiliation after so much hard work, would be the height offolly. Our mind has been perplexed and profoundly anguished for some time now and our soul repudiates all consolation since we see the situation worsening by the day, and yet there is not even the slightest hope of success.”

It was in such a way, explained Pius II to the cardinals, that he came up with that idea, an idea which even he admitted was rather extravagant: “Whether it is just a flight of fancy or divine inspiration is for you to decide”. Whatever the case, it was always going to be useful propaganda. Indeed, as soon as it was announced, and was known to be fact, that the Roman pontiff, in accordance with the Holy Senate, was now fully “disposed not only to sacrifice his own money but even his own body”, he said, “it would be like a peal of thunder waking everyone from a deep sleep."
The six cardinals, Enea Silvio informs us, were struck dumb. Enea Silvio never went back on his decision and the announcement given to the six chosen cardinals stood.

In 1463, Pope Pius II declared that he would lead the crusade personally. On September 12, 1463, the Venetians signed an offensive alliance with Hungary, and on September 23 the pope announced his resolve. To kill for ever the often-heard gibe that pope and cardinals would do anything except expose themselves to suffer in the Holy War, Pius II would personally lead the crusade, and all the cardinals would go with him, save only the sick and those needed for the vital administration of the Church.

"Whatever we do, " said the pope, "people take it ill. They say we live for pleasure only, pile up riches, bear ourselves arrogantly, ride on fat mules and handsome palfreys, trail the fringes of our cloaks and show plump faces from beneath the red hat and the white hood, keep hounds for the chase, spend much on actors and parasites, and nothing in defence of the Faith. And there is some truth in their words: many among the cardinals and other officials of our court do lead this kind of life. If the truth be told, the luxury and pomp of our court is too great. And this is why we are so detested by the people that they will not listen to us, even when what we say is just and reasonable. . . . Our cry 'Go forth' has resounded in vain. If instead, the word is ' Come, with me, ' there will be some response. . . . Should this effort also fail, we know of no other means. . . . We are too weak to fight sword in hand; and this is not indeed the priest's duty. But we shall imitate Moses, and pray upon the height while the people of Israel do battle below. "

To the princes who looked on unmoved at the last preparations, at the strenuous efforts to raise funds, the sale of vestments, chalices, and other plate, the renewed appeals to Florence, to Milan, and to Siena, and to the rest, Pius II spoke his last word on October 22, 1463. "Think of your hopeless brethren groaning in captivity amongst the Turks or living in daily dread of it. As you are men, let humanity prompt you. . . . As you are Christians, obey the Gospel and love your neighbour as yourself. . . . The like fate is hanging over yourselves; if you will not help those who live between you and the enemy, those still further away will forsake you when your own hour arrives. . . . The ruin of the emperors of Constantinople and Trebizond, of the Kings of Bosnia and Rascia and the others, all overpowered the one after the other, prove how disastrous it is to stand still and do nothing. "

All through that winter, 1463-1464, the work of preparation continued, and the pope remained fixed in his resolve, though even his own subjects had to be constrained to subscribe to the war fund, though there were cardinals who used every chance to hinder and to destroy the great work, and though the French king, Louis XI, threatened an alliance with the Hussites and a new council once the pope was out of Rome.

The crusade bull reached the city of Lübeck with the papal legate and crusade preacher Archbishop Hieronimus of Crete in 1464.

Those who wanted to participate on this crusade by sea were to gather in Venice before June 1464. Those who wanted to do service on land should go to Hungary. Those who went and those who contributed in other ways would be granted the crusade indulgence.

According to several German chronicles, thousands of people from Scandinavia and the cities of Northern Germany went to take part in the crusade.

When they reached Venice, however, they found no ships and they were mocked by the Italians, according to the German chroniclers. Some went home, but others went to see the pope to be comforted, which probably meant that they wanted to know whether the crusade indulgence still was valid. The pope answered them that it had not been his intention to drag ordinary people with neither money nor arms from their homes. To get rid of them, he gave them his blessing and “with that gift they went home, which not all of them reached”.

This very unflattering description of a papal crusade against the Turks cannot hide the fact that several thousand people actually went from Scandinavia and the Hanseatic Cities of Lübeck, Hamburg, Lüneburg, and Wismar to join Pius II’s crusade, besides the many people who supported the crusade through monetary contributions in the early 1460s. According to the sixteenth-century chronicler Arild Huitfeldt – who also reports that there were several people from Denmark among the people that went to take part in Pius II’s crusade – the crusade was also preached in Denmark: “That year [1464] the papal legate was here and in the Hanseatic Cities and gave crosses and indulgences to those who wanted to make war against the Turk. Many gathered but because the Pope died in Ancona in February, the troops went home”.

The very influential papal secretary Cardinal John Carvajal wrote to Bishop Claus Wulf of Schleswig in the aftermath of the crusade that Pius II had decided that everyone who had had the intent of going on the crusade or in some way contributed to the crusade would benefit from the crusade indulgence, and he asked the bishop to make this known in his diocese.

In his closing days, Pius II. continued to be occupied with the crusade. He had written a memorable letter to Mehmed II. urging him to follow his mother’s religion and turn Christian,and assuring him that, as Clovis and Charlemagne had been renowned Christian sovereigns, so he might become Christian emperor over the Bosphorus, Greece and Western Asia. No reply is extant. It is not known whether Pius ever sent the letter in the first place.

Financial aid was furnished by the discovery of the alum mines of Tolfa, near Civita Vecchia, in 1462, the revenue from which passedinto the papal treasury and was specially devoted by the conclave of 1464 to the crusade.

In June of 1464, Nicola Cusano, the humanist who had found himself aboard one of the first ships of the Byzantine delegation at Ferrara, the Platonic philosopher who had always supported the utopian vision of a universal religion together with that of a New Occidental Byzantium, was sent to meetfive thousand volunteers who were marching over the Alps. Cusano departed, but the difficulties of the mission cost him his life and he died on 11 August in Todi.


The Pope sets out for Ancona

The Pope departed Rome on 18 June. He was so ill that for the first part of the journey he had to sail up the Tiber in a barge, where he remained the entire time, unable to descend, not even for the night. In the meantime, defections amidst the crusaders had already begun.

During the second leg of the journey, Pius proceeded to Ancona on a litter, stopping on the way at Loreto to dedicate a golden cup to the Virgin.

The papal convoy had to battle its way through an exodus of deserters, who, through lack of organisation and equipment, were trudging home. Cardinal Ammannati relates how they were forced to pull down the curtain of the Pontiff’s litter each and every time a group of fugitives passed by, in order to spare him the heart-rending sight.


Philip of Burgundy, upon whom he had placed chief reliance, failed to appear. From Frederick III. nothing was to be expected. Venice and Hungary alone promised substantial help. The supreme pontiff lodged on the promontory in the bishop’s palace. But only two vessels lay at anchor in the harbor, ready for the expedition. To these were added in a few days 14 galleys sent by the doge.

In his speech in Ancona, Pius II addressed Christians with the following words: "O stony-heartened and thankless Christians! who can hear all these things, and yet not wish to die for Him who died for you. Think of your helpless brethren groaning in captivity among the Turks, or living in daily dread of it. As you are men, let humanity prompt you to help those who have to endure every sort of humiliation."

Pius saw the Venetian fleet from the Episcopal Palace at Ancona as they appeared in sight.

The fleet, accompanied by the old doge Cristoforo Moro, had been expected within a fifteen-day period. However, Moro had revealed nothing of his plans to anyone and his hostility to the crusade was well known. In effect, the Venetian senate was now consumed by an on-going internal struggle between the interventionists of Vettore Capello, who were in the minority, and those who were opposed, led by the doge.

In the circumstances, Cristoforo Moro decided to employ a well known Venetian strategy, the one that had more or less deliberately contributed tothe disaster of Varna and Constantinople – he played for time.

One part at least of the senate of Venice was just as exasperated by the prevarication of the doge as was the papal court. But it must also be said that not one of the political observers in the Italian camp had ever really believed that Venice would honour its agreement. The only doubt, as Francesco Sforza records in one of his letters, seemed to be whether Cristoforo Moro would refuse to enter the harbour at all, or whether he would bring his ships into port just long enough to allow them to dock before pulling them straight out again. In the end, the latter occurred.

The ships did not arrive in Ancona till late on , but in the meantime something much more horrible did – the plague. The number of crusaders, equipped and ready for embarkation was dwindling by the day. When, on 12 August, the Venetian ships finally appeared on the horizon, there were no longer enough crusaders to fill them.

On his death-bed, Pius had an argument whether extreme unction, which had been administered to him at Basel during an outbreak of the plague, might be administered a second time.

During the night, between 14 and 15 August, Pius II died in his sleep.

Among his last words, spoken to Cardinal Ammanati, whom he had adopted, were, "pray for me, my son, for I am a sinner. Bid my brethren continue this holy expedition."
As expected, Cristoforo Moro set sail for home, passing via Istria along the way, and taking with him the 40,000 ducats collected for the expedition. In Venice, the order was immediately given to disarm the twelve ships.

The cardinals acompanied the body of Pius II back to Rome.

The policy of crusade was over.


Voigt and Benrath are severe upon Pius II., and regard the religious attitude of his later years as insincere and the crusade as dictatedby a love of fame. Gregorovius’ characterization is one of the least satisfactory. He says, "There was nothing great in him. Endowed with fascinating gifts, this man of brilliant parts possessed no enthusiasms," etc., VII. 164.

Pastor passes by the failings of Aeneas’ earlier life with a single sentence, but gives, upon the whole, the most discriminating estimate. He sees only moral force in his advocacy of the crusade, and pronounces him, with Nicolas V., the most notable of the popes of the 15th century.