On this day March 9: Pope Leo X


pope leo x march 9

Elected pope on March 9, 1513, Leo X liked the finer things in life, including allegedly, good looking young men. History remembers him for making Rome powerful, politically and culturally. But he also emptied the Vatican coffers and ex-communicated Martin Luther.

A Medici, and accustomed to wealth and power, Leo X’s extravagance extended to friends and family, the Vatican, the city of Rome, the arts, numerous charities… and himself.

As pope, he differed little from modern-day prosperity gospellers. He lived the high life on the proceeds of ‘indulgences’. He sold pardons to people who believed they could buy their way through the pearly gates. Martin Luther’s opposition to selling salvation led to his ex-communication and eventually, the Reformation.

Leo X also outraged Luther by vetoing the Fifth Council of the Lateran’s decision to moderate clerical child abuse.

“They decided that a cardinal should not keep as many boys in the future. However, Pope Leo commanded that this be deleted. Otherwise, it would have spread throughout the world how openly and shamelessly the pope and the cardinals practice sodomy. This vice is so prevalent among them that recently a pope caused his own death by means of this sin. In fact, he died on the spot.”

No one ever accused Leo X of molesting boys. But some believed His Holiness suspiciously fond of the company of young men.

Handsome young men

One contemporary biographer complained of his ‘familiar banter with his chamberlains — handsome young men from noble families — and the advantage he was said to take of them’.

Another wrote that while most people originally perceived Leo X as chaste, they later changed their minds. The pope became “exceedingly devoted… to that kind of pleasure that for honour’s sake may not be named.”

According to another, Leo X became besotted by Marcantonio Flaminio during the famous poet’s youth. The 17-year-old Venetian’s father took him to Rome to present the pope with one of his poems. An infatuated Leo X offered to take the lad in and pay for his education. The suspicious father declined and returned home with his son. The pope later offered the lad an important position in the papal secretariat. His father again refused permission — inferring that he believed Leo X had sexual designs on the young poet.

Florencing

leo x march 9
Bathers at San Niccolò [Florence] by Domenico Cresti
It’s not surprising that a Medici from Florence should find himself accused of sex with other men. Florence had a reputation as a centre of same-sex sodomy. So renowned that as far away as Germany, people referred to sodomy as ‘florencing’.

In 1432, the Republic of Florence set up the Office of the Night tasked solely with policing sodomy. Over the next 70 years, magistrates accused about 17,000 men out of a total population of 40,000 people of sodomy. 3,000 convictions resulted though only 60 ended up in prison, exiled or executed. Most paid a fine commensurate with their means, sometimes as little as a sack of flour.

One of Leo X’s Medici relatives was denounced eight times to the Office of the Night for sodomy.

Michael Rocke combed the record of the Office of the Night for his book FORBIDDEN FRIENDSHIPS: Homosexuality and Male Culture in Renaissance Florence.

He says: “In the later 15th century, the majority of local males at least once during their lifetimes were officially incriminated for engaging in homosexual relations.”

Interestingly, it appears Florence never suffered any volcanic eruptions or other natural disasters as a result of all that buggery.

Read more: March 8 <— On this day —> March 10

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