Little Bits of History

Rome is Sacked

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 6, 2014
Pope Clement VII

Pope Clement VII

May 6, 1527: Rome is sacked. Separation of church and state was not yet an accepted idea and the Pope had a great deal of political power, if only in theory and not actual practice. Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor was in conflict with the Papal States as Pope Clement VII had sided with France, Milan, Venice, and Florence. The Pope’s attempt to balance the power of Europe was a failure. He had hoped to mitigate his dependency on the Holy Roman Empire and the Habsburg dynasty. Troops from the Holy Roman Empire had defeated the French army in Italy. However, there were no funds to pay the 34,000 troops under the command of Charles III, Duke of Bourbon. The troops mutinied and demanded the chance to sack Rome.

Charles III led about 20,000 troops toward the Eternal City. Some of those attacking were followers of Martin Luther, who did not approve of this move, and their religious motivation was a simple bonus. Other malcontents joined the army as it marched and they reached the city on this day. Rome was protected by the 500 Papal Swiss Guard and about 5,000 militiamen led by Renzo di Ceri.  They had strong city walls and good artillery. The Imperial army lacked this, but they had numbers on their side. They attacked the walls and during the ploy, Duke Charles was mortally wounded. Philibert of Chalon took command but had little control over the teaming mass as they broke through the walls.

The entire Swiss Guard was massacred as they attempted to protect both the Pope and St. Peter’s Basilica. Of the 189 guards on duty, all were killed except the 42 men who helped Pope Clement escape via a secret corridor that still exists between Vatican City and Castel Sant’Angelo, where he was taken. About 1,000 defenders of the capital and the shrines within were executed and the pillage began in earnest. Both religious and secular buildings were ransacked, looted, and many destroyed. On June 6, the Pope surrendered and paid a ransom of 400,000 ducati for his life. Also included in the deal were ceding lands to Charles V.

Charles V lost respect because he was not able to control his troops. The Pope was also in a position of weakened power and it is postulated that this was part of the reason he could not grant an annulment to King Henry VIII of England who wished to no longer be married to Catherine of Aragon, Charles’s aunt. Rome was decimated and left impoverished. Prior to the sack there had been 55,000 people living in Rome; after, there were only 10,000. Imperial troops stayed in Rome until February 1528 and many died of diseases caused by the many unburied war dead. The pillage finally ended only when the food ran out and the plague came in. Due to the bravery of the Swiss Guard, new recruits are sworn in each year on May 6.

A great city, whose image dwells in the memory of man, is the type of some great idea. Rome represents conquest; Faith hovers over the towers of Jerusalem; and Athens embodies the pre-eminent quality of the antique world, Art. – Benjamin Disraeli

Rome – the city of visible history, where the past of a whole hemisphere seems moving in funeral procession with strange ancestral images and trophies gathered from afar. – George Eliot

Every one soon or late comes round by Rome. – Robert Browning

The arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and assistance to foreign hands should be curtailed, lest Rome fall. – Taylor Caldwell

Also on this day: “Oh, the humanity!” – In 1937 the Hindenburg burns while docking.
Chunnel – In 1994, the Channel Tunnel opened.
Francis Xavier – In 1542, Francis Xavier reached Old Goa.
Phoenix Park – In 1882, Lord Frederick Cavendish was murdered.


3 Responses

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  1. hairballexpress said, on May 6, 2014 at 5:51 pm

    I really enjoy reading about this time in history (The human) has read countless books about King Henry Vlll and his unfurtunate wives. I REALLY don’t like that guy- and it’s interesting to know the side story of why he couldn’t get his marriage annuled. Great post, human! *(purrs)*

    • patriciahysell said, on May 6, 2014 at 8:46 pm

      Thank you. Can you imagine how much I could do if I had a great kat here to spur me on? Well, when I wasn’t decanting tuna.

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