Papal States

Papal States
   The political sovereignty of the popes over the city of Rome and a more or less extensive surrounding region goes back to Frankish times, when King Pepin and his son the Emperor Charle-magne rescued the popes from domination by the Lombards and lo-cal Roman nobles and granted them political control over Rome and its environs. The size and political success of this principality varied through the Middle Ages, but as the popes secured an increasingly centralized control over the spiritual affairs of the whole Latin church, they also reached out to establish their temporal rule over central Italy. Their claims to political control extended from south of Rome in a northeasterly direction all the way to the Adriatic Sea and then northward along the Adriatic coast in the direction of the valley of the Po River. The medieval popes often had to struggle against the aristocracy of their capital and of the various regions and also against the citizens of the growing cities within their sphere, who aspired to political independence.
   During the absence of the popes at Avignon for much of the 14th century, and then during the Western Schism of the papacy (1378-1417), papal control over the city of Rome, and especially over the outlying districts, became weak. Many cities and principali-ties, though theoretically subject to the popes, had become de facto independent. After the end of the Schism, the popes longed to restore their control over these regions and to pacify the city of Rome itself. This desire to extend the area of papal rule or at least to enforce their rights as overlords meant that the Papal States played an active and often aggressive role in the turbulent politics of Italy during the 15th century. During the long period of relative calm that the policy of Lorenzo de'Medici created between 1455 and 1494, the papacy of-ten acted as disturber of the peace, and most of the other Italian states encouraged the princes of virtually independent regions (like the duchy of Urbino and the city of Bologna) to preserve their indepen-dence. Those states were not eager to have a strong, expansionist pa-pal state near their own borders, especially because in the second half of the century, many of the popes were notorious nepotists who tried to set up their own kinfolk as hereditary rulers over portions of the papal territories.
   This turbulent political history reached its peak under two men. The corrupt and ambitious Pope Alexander VI struggled to put his own son Cesare Borgia onto the throne of a principality carved out of the pa-pal territories. The militaristic Pope Julius II may have been a war-monger but at least he sought to create a strong political state for the papacy rather than for his own relatives as he extinguished the politi-cal independence of Bologna and Perugia and ended more than a half-century of Venetian rule over Ravenna. During the 16th century, Julius and his successors tried to manipulate the invading rulers of France and Spain in the interests of papal political authority in central Italy, but it soon became clear that the ultimate victor, Spain, was bringing much of Italy under direct Habsburg rule and reducing much of the rest to the status of dependent principalities. The Papal States survived as one of the regional Italian states into the 19th century, when the movement for Italian unification first seized all the outlying territories (1859-1861) and then in 1870 occupied Rome and extinguished the popes' position as rulers of an independent Italian state.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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