Leo XI

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(1–27 Apr. 1605)

Born at Florence on 2 June 1535, Alessandro Ottaviano de' Medici belonged to a collateral branch of the ruling Florentine family and through his mother Francesca Salviati was a nephew of Leo X. Deflected from ordination by his mother while she was alive—he was the only son—he was placed at the court of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, where he was created a knight of S. Stefano, and then served for fifteen years as Grand Duke Cosimo I's ambassador in Rome, where he became the favourite disciple of (St) Philip Neri (1515–95). Under his influence, and after the death of his mother, he became a priest (22 July 1567). The impression he created was so favourable that Gregory XIII created him bishop of Pistoia in 1573, archbishop of Florence in 1574, and cardinal priest of S. Ciriaco alle Terme in 1583. A deeply religious man who had close relations with the Dominicans of S. Marco, he was active in introducing the Tridentine reforms into his dioceses; he also spent lavishly on restoring Roman churches and, later, on acquiring the Villa Medici. He helped to persuade Clement VIII to absolve Henry IV of France (1589–1610) from excommunication, being himself appointed legate in France in Apr. 1596 and remaining there for two years. As legate he worked hard to restore church discipline, which had broken down during the religious wars, but was unable to get Henry to have the decrees of the council of Trent published in France as he had promised. He was in charge of the negotiations which led to the peace of Vervins between France and Spain (2 May 1598). In 1600 he became cardinal bishop of Albano, in 1602 of Palestrina. With strong support from France, but in the teeth of Spanish opposition, he was elected to succeed Clement VIII, and adopted his uncle's name. While generally welcomed, the new pope was elderly and frail in health. He caught a chill while taking possession of the Lateran and died before the month was out. He had no time to initiate a policy, but it is known that he arranged to send generous aid to Emperor Rudolf II (1576–1612) in his war against the Turks, settled (10 Apr.) an awkward dispute between the clergy of Castile and León and the Jesuit order, appointed a commission to reform the system of voting in conclave, and gratified the Roman people by abolishing some onerous taxes.

Further Reading

BullRom xiV. Martin, ‘Le Reprise des relations diplomatiques entre la France et le St-Siège en 1595’, RevSR2 (1922), 237–70DBI lxiv. 523–7 (M. Sanfilippo)DTC xi. 332 f. (G. Mollat)EC vii. 1155 (G. B. Picotti)P xxvLevillain ii. 929 (B. Barbiche)Seppelt v. 22 f., 241–3

Subjects: Christianity.

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