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Umbria in the 15th Century

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Pope Nicholas V (1447-55)

In 1449, Pope Nicholas V stayed in Narni to escape the plague, and commissioned Bernardo Rossellino to restore and strengthen the walls of the Rocca.  Giorgio Vasari was perhaps exaggerating when he said that Rossellino "rebuilt the fortress, enlarging it with good and beautiful walls".

Pope Pius II (1458-64)

The humanist Enea Silvio Piccolomini spent most of his short papacy in a futile attempt to galvanise support for a crusade against the Turks.

Pius II made Bishop Berardo Eroli a cardinal in 1460 and appointed him as legate a latere in Perugia in 1462, a post he held until his death in 1479.

Pius II was in Todi on December 13, 1462.

Pius II passed through Terni in June 1464, en route for Ancona, from where he intended to launch a crusade against the Turks.  However, he died there before anything could be achieved.

Pope Sixtus IV (1471-84)

Pope Sixtus IV, who stayed in Narni for a short period in 1476, commissioned further fortifications in 1484, and this work was completed under his successor, Pope Innocent VIII.  It involved a second fortification in Borgo delle Arevolte (near the hospital) that was linked to the Rocca by a subterranean passage.  Sixtus IV also commissioned Porta Ternana, which was presumably part of the same project.

Pope Alexander VI (1492-1503)

King Charles VIII of France

In 1493, Pope Alexander VI and his young son, Cesare Borgia visited Orvieto and the other cities of the Papal States, ostensibly to avoid an outbreak of plague in Rome.  However, they must also have been intent upon investigating the defences of the cities along the route that King Charles VIII of France might take, should his anticipated invasion of Naples take place.  Duke Ludovico Sforza of Milan, an enemy of King Alfonso II of Naples, was among those Italians who were lobbying for such an invasion. 

Charles VIII duly arrived in Italy in September 1494, quickly overcoming any hope of resistance from Florence.  Piero de’ Medici was driven from his native city because of the incompetent way in which he handled the crisis.  A republican government under the influence of the radical Dominican friar, Savonarola replaced him.

Alexander VI soon suffered what he saw as the treachery of the Roman barons: 

  1. the Colonna surrendered Ostia to Charles VIII; and

  2. as Charles VIII approached Rome in December, the Orsini gave him free passage and surrendered their fortress at Bracciano for his use. 

Alexander VI was forced to capitulate: he retired to the safety of the Castel Sant’ Angelo and Charles VIII entered Rome unopposed on the last day of 1494.  

Charles VIII left Rome a month later to pursue the conquest of Naples, taking Cesare Borgia with him as a hostage.  However, Cesare soon escaped and, after a night in Rome, retired to the Rocca of Spoleto, where he spent two months out of the public eye. 

Cesare was able to return to Rome in March 1495, where Alexander VI was negotiating an anti-French league with Venice, Milan, Spain and the Holy Roman Empire.  (Florence, under the influence of Savonarola, stubbornly retained its alliance with France).  Charles VIII quickly had himself crowned King of Naples in May, before beginning his return journey to France.  Alexander VI and Cesare Borgia had fled to Orvieto in May 1495, a month before Charles VIII arrived in Rome.  As Charles VIII continued his march north, they fled again to Perugia, where they spent 16 days.  The chronicler Francesco Matarazzo recorded that his soldiers behaved badly during this stay, and that he “left the city in a worse condition than when he came”.

Alexander VI re-entered Rome on 27th June.  Nine days later, his allies claimed a victory over the departing French army at Fornova (between Milan and Bologna).  The French forces left in southern Italy were effectively defeated by an army sent by King Ferdinand of Aragon at Atella (1496).

In January 1497, Alexander VI began to plan his revenge against those Italians who had supported the French.  His first target were the Orsini family.  He sent an army under his son Juan, Duke of Gandia against the Orsini fortress at Bracciano.  However, he was forced to withdraw in the face of a French-supported an army of Orsini allies, which included Vitellozzo Vitelli of Città di Castello and Bartolomeo d’ Alviano.  Alexander VI decided to offer terms, which included his recognition of Vitellozzo Vitelli as Signor of Città di Castello.  (Paolo Vitelli had been taken prisoner by the Venetians at the Battle of Atella, but was released shortly afterwards).

King Charles VIII died in April 1498.

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