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February 29, 1468 – Alessandro Farnese (Pope Paul III) Born

Pope Paul III, painted by Titian in 1543 (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Alessandro Farnese was an Italian nobleman who served as Pope Paul III between 1534 and 1549 – a term that inevitably made him Henry VIII’s nemesis. In 1530, Paul’s predecessor (Clement VII) had threatened to excommunicate Henry as a way of dissuading him from putting aside Catherine of Aragon…and we all know how that went. In 1535, the relatively new Pope Paul upped the stakes, formally excommunicating Henry but suspending the sentence so that Henry still had a way back. Not long after this, Anne Boleyn’s execution and her replacement with the religiously conservative Jane Seymour raised hopes that Henry might indeed return to Rome….but Henry had discovered the full extent of the Catholic Church’s properties in England and was determined to appropriate them for himself. In September 1538, Henry destroyed the shrine of St. Thomas Becket in Canterbury, seizing the gold, silver, and jewelry that had been donated over the centuries by pilgrims seeking miracles – including the Regale ruby, considered the finest gem in Europe, which had been offered by King Louis VII of France to seek the dead saint’s help in the recovery of his son from illness. Worse, Henry justified destroying the shrine by putting the dead saint’s bones on trial for treason. Paul could no longer ignore reality, and three months later, he would issue the formal interdict.

But let’s back up – today celebrates the birth of a child still a lifetime away from any such controversy!

Alessandro Farnese was the oldest son of Pier Luigi I Farnese and his wife Giovanna Caetani. The Farneses were not rich, but they had multiple connections to the Church, which made the religious life a good career move (the Caetani family had already produced a pope – Boniface VIII – and the Farnese daughter was a mistress of Pope Alexander VI). It helped that the vow of chastity was never enforced at the higher church levels, so nothing stopped Alessandro from taking a mistress who bore him five children. Indeed, despite his dissolute life, the then-Pope Alexander had no problem appointing him Cardinal Deacon of Santi Cosima e Damiano. Under Pope Clement VII, Alessandro rose still further, high enough to succeed Clement as Pope in 1534 and take over the fight with England…..


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February 29, 1468 - Alessandro Farnese (Pope Paul III) Born
Published inOn This Day

One Comment

  1. Barbara Cross-Nicolosi Barbara Cross-Nicolosi

    Interesting family, the Farnese’s. Henry’s behavior was so contemptible by this time; his greed-driven destruction of Catholic churches and property was extreme. Even more so, the story of the bones of a saint. It makes me wonder if in addition to Henry’s greed and lust for power, he was well on the road to going ‘off with the fairies.’

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