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The Papacy, Conciliarism and Crusade, 1449–1517



Between the Council of Basle and the Fifth Lateran Council the papal curia was subject to much pressure to convene a new general council to address the urgent need for a crusade. This essay examines the relationship between the forceful lobbying for a council by Europe's rulers, and the persistence of conciliarist sentiments in society at large, particularly among its educated elite. While secular rulers were exploiting the vulnerability of the popes for their own ends, it would be reductive to interpret their demands for a council as crudely manipulative rather than as the expression of broadly-based fears and aspirations.


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1 Müller, Heribert and Müller-Luckner, Elisabeth (eds), Das Ende des konziliaren Zeitalters (1440–1450): Versuch einer Bilanz, Munich 2012. For Basle see Helmrath, Johannes, Das Basler Konzil, 1431–1449: Forschungsstand und Probleme, Cologne 1987.

2 Housley, Norman, ‘Pope Pius ii and crusading’, Crusades xi (2012), 209–47.

3 For detail see Setton, Kenneth M., The papacy and the Levant (1204–1571), Philadelphia, Pa 1976–84, and Weber, Benjamin, Lutter contre les Turcs: les formes nouvelles de la croisade pontificale au XVe siècle, Rome 2013. The Ottoman viewpoint is explored in Antov, Nikolay, ‘Crusading in the fifteenth century and its relation to the development of Ottoman dynastic legitimacy, self-image and the Ottoman consolidation of authority’, in Housley, Norman (ed.), The crusade in the fifteenth century: converging and competing cultures, Abingdon 2017, 1533.

4 Landi, Aldo, Concilio e papato nel Rinascimento (1449–1516): un problema irrisolto, Turin 1997.

5 Ibid. 39. For Perault see Housley, Norman, Crusading and the Ottoman threat, 1453–1505, Oxford 2012, esp. pp. 199210.

6 See, for example, Helmrath, Das Basler Konzil, 183. Treatment of the discussion of crusade at Constance was fuller but largely retrospective, focusing on the dispute between the Poles and Lithuanians on the one hand, and the Teutonic Knights on the other: Boockmann, Hartmut, Johannes Falkenberg, der Deutsche Orden und die Polnische Politik, Göttingen 1975.

7 Soukup, Pavel, ‘Crusading against Christians in the fifteenth century: doubts and debates’, in Housley, Norman (ed.), Reconfiguring the fifteenth-century crusade, London 2017, 85122.

8 Housley, Norman, ‘Gathering and using information at the fifteenth-century church councils: the example of crusade’, Journal of Medieval History xlvi (2020), 119.

9 Idem, Ending and starting crusades at the Council of Basle’, Crusades xvi (2017), 115–45.

10 Idem, ‘Crusade and reform, 1414–1449: allies or rivals?’, in Housley, Reconfiguring, 45–83 at p. 45.

11 Mark Aloisio, ‘Alfonso v and the anti-Turkish crusade’, in Housley, The crusade, 64–74.

12 Landi, Concilio, 30–1, 48 and n. 62. See also pp. 48–9, 51.

13 Housley, Crusading, 74.

14 Ibid. 71–83.

15 Ibid. 59.

16 Landi, Concilio, 59.

17 Ibid. 61. The standard study is still Picotti, G. B., ‘La pubblicazione e i primi effetti della Execrabilis di Pio i’, Archivio della R. Società romana di storia patria xxxvii (1914), 556.

18 Housley, ‘Pope Pius ii’; Baldi, Barbara, Pio II e le trasformazioni dell'Europa cristiana, Milan 2006. The main sources for these events are Pius’ own Commentarii (which naturally carry a health warning) and the reports of ambassadors based at the pope's court.

19 Mannucci, Ubaldo, ‘Le capitolazioni del conclave di Sisto iv (1471)’, Römische Quartalschrift xxix (1915), 73*–90*, esp. pp. 83*–84*.

20 ‘gli getterò intorno al collo un concilio che lo farà pentire di avermi fatto tanta difficoltà’: Landi, Concilio, 86.

21 Housley, Crusading, 52–3, with bibliography cited there. Sixtus was vulnerable on the crusade because he was using the occupation of Otranto as an excuse to raise funds for his own wars in Italy: pp. 143–4.

22 Idem, Ideology, careerism and civic consciousness: the crusade against Basel, 1482–1485’, EHR cxxx (2015), 1392–417.

23 Landi, Concilio, 115–16.

24 Housley, Norman, The later crusades, 1274–1580: from Lyons to Alcazar, Oxford 1992, 112–14.

25 For Alexander see Mallett, Michael, The Borgias: the rise and fall of a Renaissance dynasty, London 1969; for Julius see Shaw, Christine, Julius II: the warrior pope, Oxford 1993.

26 Pellegrini, Marco, Le guerre d'Italia: 1494–1530, Bologna 2009.

27 Setton, Papacy, iii, chs 1–5 passim; for the decrees see Conciliorum oecumenicorum decreta, ed. Joseph Alberigo and others, 3rd edn, Bologna 1973, 650–5.

28 See, for example, the series of studies by Massimo Rospocher on the propaganda generated during Julius ii's wars: Propaganda e opinione pubblica: Giulio ii nella comunicazione politica europea’, Annali dell'Istituto storico italo-germanico xxxiii (2007), 5999; Le guerre di Giulio ii in Europa: tra retorica, propaganda e realtà’, in Anselmi, G. M. and De Benedictis, A. (eds), Città in guerra: esperienze e riflessioni nel primo ’500: Bologna nelle ‘guerre d'Italia’, Bologna 2008, 153–77; ‘Il papa in guerra: Giulio ii nell'iconografia politica al tempo di Ravenna’, in Dante Bolognesi (ed.), 1512: la battaglia di Ravenna, l'Italia, l'Europa, Ravenna 2014, 139–55; and Il papa guerriero: Giulio II nello spazio pubblico europeo, Bologna 2015.

29 Sigismondo de’ Conti, Le storie de’ suoi tempi dal 1475 al 1510, Rome 1883, 2.73–6; Setton, Papacy, ii. 468. I cannot agree with Hubert Jedin's judgement that in his manifesto Charles viiimanaged to link [his call for a general council] up most skilfully with the idea of a crusade’: A history of the council of Trent, I: The struggle for the council, Paderborn 1957, 8.

30 Landi, Concilio, 243, 260–3, 270; Sacrorum conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio, ed. J. D. Mansi, Florence 1759–1962, xxxii. 568–74; Conciliorum, 595.

31 Piccolomini, Enea Silvio, Germania, ed. Fadiga, Maria Giovanna, Florence 2009, 144.

32 ‘immer noch bleibt viel zu tun, ehe eine umfassende Darstellung des Konzilsgedankens nach 1449 möglich wird’: Helmrath, Das Basler Konzil, 477.

33 ‘La storiografia ha generalmente stigmatizzato gli appelli dei sovrani al concilio come semplici strumentalizzazioni a fini che poco avevano a che fare con la volontà di riformare la Chiesa. Bisogna però evitare di generalizzare; sopratutto bisogna riflettere sul fatto che, comunque sia, i sovrani potevano permettersi quelle strumentalizzazioni perché sapevano di poter contare sui molti che al concilio riformatore aspiravano sinceramente’: Landi, Concilio, 30, cf. 377 with particular reference to the Council of Pisa, which ‘rispondeva ad esigenze e aspirazioni molto diffuse’.

34 Jedin, History, i. 32. The translator was Dom Ernest Graf.

35 Landi, Concilio, 20–1, 22–3, 26–7, 55–6, 95–6, 263, 363–4.

36 Compare Jedin, History, i. 32: ‘Gallican France was the real stronghold of the strict conciliar theory and the University of Paris its citadel.’

37 Landi, Concilio, 171–2, 202.

38 Ibid. 188.

39 Ibid. 153–4. Generally on Paris see Jedin, History, i. 32–4.

40 Jedin, History, i. 34; Landi, Concilio, 145–6. For Vienna see Frank, Isnard Wilhelm, Der antikonziliaristische Dominikaner Leonhard Huntpichler: ein Beitrag zum Konziliarismus der Wiener Universität im 15. Jahrhundert, Vienna 1976.

41 ‘omnes tui nationis homines, qui paululum docti sunt, quedam concilii cupido exagitat’: Piccolomini, Germania, 144.

42 Ibid. 143–4.

43 For assertions of Piccolomini's pro-German feelings see ibid. 5, 286.

44 Helmrath, Johannes, ‘The German Reichstage and the crusade’, in Housley, Norman (ed.), Crusading in the fifteenth century: message and impact, Basingstoke 2004, 53–69, 191203. The gradual publication of the Deutsche Reichstagsakten from the second half of the century (Ältere Reihe) is revealing the nature and extent of German concern.

45 For the diet's significance see Dan Ioan Mureşan, ‘Bessarion's Orations against the Turks and crusade propaganda at the Große Christentag of Regensburg (1471)’, in Housley, Reconfiguring, 207–43.

46 ‘inolevit enim fama quod papa et domini cardinales timeant, odiant, ymmo abhorreant concilia generalia … tamquam non possint facere quod velint si concilium sit congregatum …et tamquam reformident reformari per ipsa’: Landi, Concilio, 95–6. The text, Considerationes de concilium [sic] generalis congregandi utilitate et necessitate, is an unedited manuscript held at Kremsmünster in Austria.

47 ‘periculum erat, ne dum patres in synodo verba trivissent, strictus in viscera nostra Turchorum gladius penetrasset’: Piccolomini, Germania, 149.

48 Ibid. 146–9.

49 For Piccolomini's contribution to the legenda negra of Basle's turbulent incompetence see O'Brien, Emily, The Commentaries of Pope Pius II (1458–1464) and the crisis of the fifteenth-century papacy, Toronto 2015, 4585.

50 Landi, Concilio, 88–9. Sánchez de Arévalo was a strong defender of Pius ii's proactive approach to leading as well as promoting crusades: Housley, Crusading, 97–9, 164–5.

51 Gios, Pierantonio, L'attività pastorale del vescovo Pietro Barozzi a Padova (1487–1507), Padua 1977, 91 n. 113.

52 Petersohn, Jürgen, ‘Konziliaristen und Hexen: ein unbekannter Brief des Inquisitors Heinrich Institoris an Papst Sixtus iv. aus dem Jahre 1484’, Deutsches Archiv für Erforschung des Mittelalters xliv (1988), 120–60 at pp. 158–60, ‘Ad comprimendam quorundam’; the ascribed offence was believing ‘generale concilium esse super papam et quod licitum sit a papa ad generale concilium appellare’ (p. 158).

53 Ibid., esp. 123 (domestici hostes) and his character study of Kramer at pp. 155–7; on Sixtus iv and papal authority see Housley, ‘Ideology’, 1395–8.

54 ‘comuni voce fertur esse pro reformatione universalis ecclesie et futura contra Turcum provisione concilium maxime necessarium’: Diplomatische Berichte und Denkschriften des päpstlichen Legaten Angelo Geraldini aus der Zeit seiner Basle-Legation (1482–1483), ed. Jürgen Petersohn, Stuttgart 1987, 103.

55 Ibid. 113–14. To be fair to Geraldini it should be added that Venice did lobby unsuccessfully with Frederick iii for Jamometić's release: ibid. 113 n. 4.

56 Monumenta conciliorum generalium saeculi decimi quinti, Vienna 1857–1935, ii. 95–107 at pp. 97–102; Housley, ‘Ending’, 118–19.

57 Housley, Crusading, 125.

58 During the Jamometić crisis Sixtus maintained a number of agents in Germany, in particular the Franciscan Emerich von Kemel: idem, ‘Ideology’, 1406–7.

59 Machiavelli, Niccolò, The prince, ch. 21, ed. and trans. Skinner, Quentin and Price, Russell, Cambridge 1988, 76–7.

60 In relation to Peter Russell's comments on Henry the Navigator see Housley, Religious warfare, 9–10.

61 This can best be approached via Daniel Baloup's series of edited collections, Les Croisades tardives (Toulouse), in particular Nejedlý, Martin and Svátek, Jaroslav (eds), La Noblesse et la croisade à la fin du moyen âge, Toulouse 2009.

62 See Norman Housley, ‘Introduction’, in Housley, The crusade in the fifteenth century, and, more generally, Housley, Crusading.

63 Helmrath, Johannes, ‘Reform als Thema der Konzilien des Spätmittelalters’, in Alberigo, Giuseppe (ed.), Christian unity: the council of Ferrara–Florence 1438/39–1989, Leuven 1991, 75152. A particularly revealing text is Nicholas of Cusa's The Catholic concordance, ed. and trans. Paul E. Sigmund, Cambridge 2003.

64 Housley, Crusading; Weber, Lutter; Döring, Karolina Dominika, Türkenkrieg und Medienwandel im 15. Jahrhundert, Husum 2013.

65 Housley, Religious warfare, 78–9. See also the stimulating collection edited by Reeves, Marjorie, Prophetic Rome in the High Renaissance period, Oxford 1992.

66 See, for example, Emmanuelle Pujeau, ‘La Campagne de Tunis en 1535, croisade personnelle de Charles Quint?’, and Couhault, Pierre, ‘Égal de Gédéon, meilleur que saint Louis: les croisades africaines de Charles Quyint vues par Nicaise Ladam’, in Weber, Benjamin (ed.), Croisades en Afrique: les expéditions occidentales à destination du continent africain, xiiie-xvie siècle, Toulouse 2019, 295–318, 319–59.

67 Landi, Concilio, 200; Theuerdank, facsimile of 1517 edn, Cologne 2003. The definitive study of Maximilian is Hermann Wiesflecker, Kaiser Maximilian I: das Reich, Österreich und Europa an der Wende zur Neuzeit, Munich–Vienna 1971–86.

68 Wuttke, Dieter, ‘Sebastian Brant und Maximilian i: eine Studie zu Brants Donnerstein-Flugblatt des Jahres 1492’, in Herding, Otto and Stupperich, Robert (eds), Die Humanisten in ihrer politischen und sozialen Umwelt, Boppard 1976, 141–76.

69 Silver, Larry, Marketing Maximilian: the visual ideology of a Holy Roman Emperor, Princeton–Oxford 2008.

70 Schoeck, Richard J., ‘The Fifth Lateran Council: its partial successes and its larger failures’, in Lytle, Guy Fitch (ed.), Reform and authority in the medieval and Reformation Church, Washington, DC 1981, 99126 at p. 125.

71 Ibid. 115.

The Papacy, Conciliarism and Crusade, 1449–1517



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