Story of Liberty - Charles Coffin

The Man Who Can Do No Wrong

The Pope who granted permission for Katherine and Henry to marry is in his palace in Rome. His papal name is Alexander VI. His father's name was Langolo. He lived in Valencia, Spain, where the Pope was born, and where he was christened Roderick. During his boyhood, his father moves to Venice—the city in the midst of the sea—where he changes his name to Borgia.

He educated Roderick to be a lawyer; but the boy's uncle is a bishop, and can help him on in the Church, and so Roderick, at the age of nineteen, becomes a priest. Being in the priesthood, he ought to be a good man; but he leads a very wicked life.

In the course of time the uncle is elected Pope. He does not forget the nephew, whom he appoints a cardinal, with a large income—not less than twenty-eight thousand ducats per annum. From whence does the money come? From the people, who must pay their money into the Church, or be regarded as heretics.

The young cardinal' lays his plans for the future. His uncle is an old man, and Roderick is determined, at his death, to step into his shoes as Pope. With so much wealth he can give grand dinners, and win the favor of the cardinals, who elect a new Pope whenever there is a vacancy.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


It is only three years that he has to wait for his uncle to die. He has little difficulty in persuading a majority of the cardinals to vote for him. Does he not make great promises as to what he will do for them? Twenty-two vote for him, while only five oppose him.

On August 11th, 1493, at the time Christopher Columbus is sailing westward over an unknown sea, Roderick Langolo Borgia is carried into the papal palace on the shoulders of the people, followed by the cardinals who have elected him.

"He is a bad man, as you will find out," say the cardinals to those who have given Cardinal Borgia their votes.

"He will hand over all Christendom to the devil," remarks Ferdinand of Spain, who knows the family.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


The new Pope loves display. He puts on costly robes, adorned with precious jewels, and is borne into St. Peter's in great state, seated iii a golden chair, on a litter resting on the shoulders of his obedient subjects.

Now that Roderick is Pope, having all power on earth, incapable o doing anything wrong, he brings his children and their mother into the papal palace. He is a priest, and it is not lawful for a priest to marry but though no marriage ceremony has been performed, the woman live with him as if she were his wife.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


The cardinals whom he promised to reward come to receive their gifts, but the Pope laughs in their faces; he does not remember of ever having promised them anything. Some of them are pertinacious in their demands, and he imprisons them in St. Angelo. Two of the prisoners are especially obnoxious to the Pope; they are suddenly seized with a terrible sickness that results in death, and the physicians who attend them, when questioned in regard to their sickness, whisper an ominous word—poison! People say that the Pope knows who put poison in the cardinals food.

People all over the world are contributing their money to the Church. It is flowing into the papal treasury from England, Germany, France, Spain, and Italy; and the Pope, the woman who lives with him, and their children, help themselves liberally from the bountiful supply.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


But the Pope wants something besides money for his children; he desires to have them numbered among princes. Frederick is the eldest, and the Pope persuades Ferdinand of Spain to make the young man a duke. The second son, Caesar, the Pope appoints Archbishop of Valencia—the richest bishopric in Spain. We shall presently see what sort of a man he is, to occupy such a position in the Church.

The third son is Ludovico, who is created a cardinal, and who receives a fortune from the papal treasury.

The youngest son, Godfrey, is created a baron, and is provided with a fortune.

The Pope has one daughter, Lucretia, a beautiful girl, who is already married to a Spanish nobleman; but the father wishes to advance her to a higher position, and divorces her from her husband, and gives her in marriage to Lord Sforza.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


The wedding is celebrated with much pomp in the papal palace. The cardinals, archbishops, and bishops are there in their gorgeous robes, and a banquet is served of the choicest viands and wines.

Some of the rich and old families of Rome, who claim to be descended from the nobles of the time of Julius Caesar, show their contempt for such a Pope. One of the families is the Colonna. One of the noblest and best women of the time is Vittoria Colonna, who will not attend the Pope's banquets, nor recognize the Pope in any way, asserting her individual independence and liberty.

The Pope resolves to be revenged. He will let the noble families know that he has all power on earth. He confiscates their estates, appropriates them to his own use, or bestows them upon his children. To Frederick, the eldest, he gives a large sum, which arouses the anger and jealousy of Archbishop Caesar Borgia.

One morning some fishermen find the body of Duke Frederick floating in the Tiber, with nine wounds in the breast.

"This is your work," the Pope says to Archbishop Caesar.

"No, I did not kill him," the archbishop replies.

"But you had him assassinated."

The archbishop does not deny it.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


What shall the Pope do? Shall the archbishop be hanged, or shall he be imprisoned? Assassination is a terrible crime, especially when committed by one of the highest prelates of the Church. Shall not Caesar be at once degraded from his archbishopric? No. The Pope pardons him instead, and the assassin goes on absolving people from their sins, and enjoying all the wealth and honor and power of his position.

But Caesar is tired of being a priest, and the Pope releases him from his vows, for he has other plans in view for him. Now that he can marry, the Pope demands of the King of Naples the hand of his daughter in marriage with Caesar. The king refuses. The Pope resolves to have his revenge, and he looks around to see how it can be gratified. He remembers that the French king, Louis XII, for a long while has laid claim to the kingdom of Naples, and also to the dukedom of Milan. Louis is married to a woman whom he hates, and from whom he would like to be divorced, so that he can marry Anne of Bretagne. The Pope sends an ambassador to Paris, with a proposition: If Louis will pay him thirty thousand ducats, and endow Caesar with two provinces in Dauphine which will yield twenty thousand livres a year, and make Caesar a duke, and marry him to Charlotte d'Albret, the beautiful daughter of a French count, he will issue a bull taking the crown from the King of Naples and giving it to Louis, and will support his claims to Milan.

As the Pope has the right to give away crowns and depose kings, Louis accepts the proposition. The Pope decrees the dissolution of Louis's marriage contract, and issues a bull taking the crown from the King of Naples and giving it to Louis, who at once sets his armies in motion to take possession. It is the beginning of a war in which many hundred thousand men lose their lives, towns and cities are destroyed, and the land made desolate.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Lucretia is tired of her husband, Lord Sforza, and the Pope can see a chance to marry her again, and so divorces her from Sforza, and marries her to Duke Alfonzo of Naples. He soon discovers, however, though he is infallible, and can make no mistake anything, that Alfonzo is a poor fellow, whom he must get rid of. Lucretia has been divorced so many times that it will hardly do to issue another divorce so soon after her marriage. There are assassins in Rome, and if Lucretia's husband should happen to disappear some night, it would only be such a fate as falls to other men. Singularly enough, one evening, when Alfonzo is walking through St. Peter's, an assassin stabs him. It is not a mortal wound; but on another day some ruffians steal into the chamber of the wounded man, and finish him by strangulation, and the Pope knows who the ruffians are, and it is whispered that he hired them to put Lucretia's husband out of the way.

During these years the Spaniards have discovered a new world in the West, while the Portuguese have sailed down the coast of Africa, discovered the Cape of Good Hope, and opened a new way to the East; and the Pope gives America to Spain, and the eastern lands to Portugal.

Being God's vicar on earth, being above all kings and emperors, able to give away crowns, to alienate subjects from their sovereigns, compelling potentates and all in authority to kiss his feet, owning all the world, he can give away the Western continent to whomsoever he will, as if it were but a bit of land which he had always owned, and no one may question his authority.

The Pope loves wine, and drinks so much that his eyelids grow heavy; he falls asleep in his chair and rolls upon the floor, but the business of the papacy goes on just the same, for Lucretia opens his letters, issues orders to the Holy Office, to the cardinals, and bishops.

The Pope is fond of Lucretia, and wants to see her married once more, and finds a husband in the Duke of Ferrara.

Some of the princes of Italy combine against the Pope, who finds out what is going on. He soothes them with honeyed words, and invites them to a banquet. While they are at supper, a band of assassins breaks into the hall. The Pope and Caesar slip out of a side door, while the assassins fall upon the princes and put three of them to death. The others make their escape.

The Pope is in need of money; and as the men are dead, he confiscates their estates; and as the others have leagued against them, he throws them into prison and seizes their property.

All the while there is a great show of religion in Rome. The priests go every day in procession to the churches, wearing robes embroidered with crosses; after they have performed mass, they spend the remainder of the time in idleness, or in something worse.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


There comes a night in August, 1503. The Pope has invited nine of the cardinals to a banquet. He has a little scheme which he wishes to carry out: Le wants to make Caesar king. To do that he must have more money; and though the people all over the world are paying him Peter's-pence and purchasing indulgences, the gold does not come in as fast as he would like. If he could only create a few cardinals, he would be in funds, for he can sell a cardinal's office for thirty thousand ducats. If the nine cardinals would only die, he could reap a rich harvest—more than two hundred thousand ducats—by selling their offices! With such an amount of money, he could carry on war, conquer cities, and make Caesar king.

Caesar prepares the banquet in the garden of the Vatican. It will be delightful for the old cardinals to sit there in an arbor oil a summer night and quaff their wine. He will have a particular kind of wine for them—one cup, which none but the nine shall drink. He prepares it himself, and gives it into the hands of a trusty waiter.

"Let no one drink of this except the cardinals: it is for them alone. Be careful now," he says to the servant.

The servant carries the flagon into the arbor.

"Why do you put that goblet by itself?" asks the vintner who has charge of the wine.

"It is very choice wine. Only the cardinals are to drink it."

The Pope and Caesar enter the arbor, and the cardinals will soon be there. The Pope discovers that he has forgotten to put his charm upon his neck. It is a precious affair—a gold locket, with a crumb of holy bread in it. A fortune-teller has assured him that so long as he wears it no harm can come to him.

"Run and get it; you will find it on my table," he says to the servant who has brought in the flagon of choice wine.

The servant hastens away.

"I am very thirsty. I will take a glass of wine, if you please," he says to the vintner.

Is there any wine too good for the Pope? The vintner thinks not. He will give him some of the choice vintage which is reserved for the favored few, and brings a glass for the Pope, and another for Caesar.

The cardinals come, and the Pope and Caesar receive them graciously, and all take their seats at the table.

But suddenly the Pope utters a piercing cry, and rolls upon the ground.

He is in terrible agony; and Caesar is also seized with excruciating pains. There is running here and there for doctors, who come in hot haste.


They have drunk the wine which was prepared for the cardinals. Caesar recovers, but the Pope is burning up. There is a fire in his bones. His flesh grows putrid; his tongue becomes black, and hangs from his month; ulcers break out upon his body, which swells to enormous size. His servants flee. There is no one to care for him. Alone in his chamber, he groans till death relieves his sufferings.