On this day: Julius III – Popes Just Wanna Have Fun


Julius III Innocenzo

Giovanni del Monte, born September 10, 1487, grew up to become Pope Julius III, head of the Catholic Church and ruler of the Papal States. The fun-loving pontiff notoriously promoted the not-so-innocent Innocenzo, a teenage urchin he’d picked up on the street, to the position of cardinal.

It’s hard to believe after recent papacies that popes weren’t always boring. Droning on about sin. Endlessly quoting a supposedly infallible 2000-year-old book that states the earth was formed in six days, 7000 years ago, and that no one is the boss of ants. A few billion queen ants would beg to disagree.

Sex & Drugs & Gregorian Chant

But popes used to be fun. Drinking, drugging and fornicating like there was no heavenly tomorrow. Some had sex with men. Others with women. More than a few fathered illegitimate children.

Because previously, a pope’s religious duties were the least of his concerns. The pope was once the earthly ruler of historically far more extensive papal states. In other words, just another king. So, popes did as wealthy kings do. They expended fortunes on artworks that remain some of the most admired on the planet today. They rode into battle to smite their enemies, or sometimes, simply poisoned them. And they partied.

But they did it all amidst a deluge of ‘Bless you my child’ and ‘God be with you’. Because popes are apparently God’s earthly representative.

Julius III

It seems unlikely Julius III ever poisoned anyone. He was far too affable. Though apparently, the Holy Father’s flatulence furrowed many a brow.

“Julius revolted everyone by his passion for onions, which he had delivered by the cartload.”

But the cost of onions was nothing to the money Julius III expended on his own lifestyle. Villa Giulia, constructed during his papacy, remains one of the most beautiful buildings in Rome.

Julius iii innocenzo By Sailko - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=62892905
A scene from the magnificent frescos at Julius’s Villa Giulia

But most of the tut-tutting concerned his relationship with Innocenzo, a worldly street urchin whose every action contradicted his name.

Julius III met the 16-year-old lad two years before his election as pope. Cardinal del Monte, as he then was, noticed the good-looking young beggar fighting off an attack from a pet monkey in the marketplace.

The cardinal forgot about buying onions and instead hired Innocenzo to look after his own pet monkey.

Then, following del Monte’s elevation to the papacy, his brother adopted Innocenzo and the new pope promptly created him Cardinal-Nephew.

Unsurprisingly, that pissed off Innocenzo’s fellow princes of the church. Julius III also gifted the illiterate Cardinal-nephew numerous highly profitable offices.

Both the Pope and lad now known by fellow prelates as the Cardinal-Monkey were open about sharing the papal bed.

An anti-papal English clergyman later wrote that Julius III promoted ‘none to ecclesiastical livings, save only his buggerers’.

A French poet, then resident in Rome, commemorated the relationship in verse.

“Yet seeing a footman, a child, a beast,
A rascal, a poltroon made a cardinal
For having taken care of a monkey well,
A Ganymede wearing the red hat on his head
…these are miracles, my dear Morel,
That take place in Rome alone.”

But the pope was unconcerned by the gossip. He allegedly boasted of Innocenzo’s prowess in bed and awaited his return from a trip like a ‘lover awaiting a mistress’.

The Venetian ambassador wrote home to breathlessly report that the new cardinal shared the papal bed and other cardinals warned Julius III of ‘evil suppositions’.

The death of Julius III

Julius III died after just 5 years on the papal throne. Innocenzo remained a cardinal but was ignored without Julius III to protect him. In 1559, he murdered a father and son who ‘uttered ill words about him’.

Although imprisoned in monasteries for a few years, he remained a cardinal. A few years after his release, the cardinal was accused of raping two women. He once again escaped with minimal punishment.

Cardinal Innocenzo died in 1577 and was buried in the del Monte family chapel, where the remains of Julius III also repose.

More papal hypocrites: Pope Paul VI and Pope Leo X

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