A Crusade against the Turks… To Drive the French from Italy - A Sermon (And The Bull) Proclaiming the Formation of the Holy League

Chieregatus, Leonellus (1443-1506), Bishop of Arbe (1474-84), Trau (1484-88) and Concordia (1488-1506)

Sermo in publicatione confoederationis inter Alexandrum VI et Romanorum et Hispaniae reges, Venetorumque ac Mediolanensium duces. Add: Alexander VI: Bulla, 6 Apr. 1495 "Quoniam pro communi"

Rome: Stephan Plannck, after 12 Apr. 1495


Quarto: 21 x 14 cm. [8] pp. 43 lines to a page, black letter, two initials, without signatures or pagination.


ONE OF TWO ROME PRINTINGS. Modern vellum. A very fine copy with braod margins. EXTREMELY RARE. Only 2 copies in North America (Bryn Mawr, Goucher College.) A total of 6 editions were printed. All are very rare. Taken together, the other 5 editions are represented by a total of only 4 copies in North America: Another Rome edition, printed by Besicken (at Harvard, Newberry, Yale), and the Leipzig edition, printed by Landsberg (at Harvard).

A sermon preached by Leonello Chiericati, Bishop of Concordia, before Pope Alexander VI, on the occasion of the publication of the papal bull (the text of which is also printed here) establishing the Holy League, an alliance between the pope, the German Emperor Maximilian I, Aragon's Ferdinand II, the Venetians, and Ludovico Sforza Duke of Milan, against the French King Charles VIII, who had invaded Italy in 1494.

The author of this sermon, the humanist prelate Leonello Chiericati was no mere church functionary. He was a skilled diplomat who had worked on behalf of the papacy for decades and was deeply involved in attempts to negotiate a peace between Alexander VI and Charles VIII. Chiericati's importance in the Curia was such that he was one of four cardinals consulted by Alexander VI when the pope was debating launching excommunication proceedings against the French king.

In October 1494, Charles VIII entered Italy with a force of 25,000 men, including 8,000 Swiss mercenaries. From the very beginning of the invasion, Chiericati was engaged in intense diplomatic activity. In November 1494, after the entry of Charles into Florence, Chiericati was sent to Naples to make agreements with Alfonso d'Aragona, with a view to resisting the French invasion. In December, when Charles VIII was already in the vicinity of Rome, the pope, after having imprisoned the cardinals Sanverino and Ascanio Sforza, sent an embassy to Charles that included Chiericati, the bishop of Narni and fra 'Baldassarre Graziano de Villanova, confessor of the pope.

"On 13 December the legates reached the king in Viterbo: they were charged with explaining the arrest of the French cardinals and inducing Charles VIII to an agreement with the Pope and the King of Naples. The negotiations, however, failed, and on December 25, Chiericati and the bishop of Narni returned to Rome without having concluded any agreement with Charles.

The seemingly unstoppable French army entered Rome in late December, and the pope retreated to Castel Sant'Angelo while Charles enjoyed his sojourn in the Eternal City. After the king's entry into Rome, Chiericati had an even more direct role in the negotiations between the sovereign and the pontiff. He helped draft the agreement between Charles and Alexander whereby Charles would quit Rome and Alexander would bestow upon him the crown of Naples. And when the agreement was ratified on January 19th, Chiericati was among the prelates who solemnly accompanied the king of France in a consistory, where Alexander VI awaited him to receive formal "obedience."(Treccani)

The League:

On March 31, 1495, when Charles was in Naples, Alexander VI established his league, and on April 12, Chiericati solemnly delivered this sermon in which he prayed for the newly established alliance. While the true purpose of the League was to drive the French from Italy, the ostensible reason was to launch a crusade against the Turks. This was not a novel subterfuge. Charles VIII had called for a crusade in 1494, and he justified his invasion of Italy as part of that plan (arguing that he first had to claim the throne of Naples.)

"The divorce between claims and substance was colorfully demonstrated by Chiericati in the sermon the he delivered in Saint Peter's on Palm Sunday 1495, celebrating the anti-French alliance that had been concluded between Alexander, Maximilian, Ferdinand, Venice, and Milan. Ostensibly, this was a crusading coalition and Chiericati built his sermon around that fiction. 'With incomparable piety', he declared, 'the world's leading princes have offered and dedicated themselves to and all that they possess, for the holy Roman church and the protection and extension of the respublica Christiana.' Echoes of 1464 were inescapable. Many in the audience must have known that thirty-one years previously Pius II had taken the cross on this very spot. The preacher declared that Alexander, like Pius before him, would accompany the crusaders; a second Moses, he would raise his hands in prayer for Christian victory. Charles VIII, who had expressed his yearning to fight against the Turks, would surely not hold back when he saw the pope offering his old age to Christ's service. Chiericati's eloquent exercise in camouflage powerfully illustrates the central paradox of contemporary diplomacy, which was that it was altogether easier to mobilize states to get the French out of Italy than to stop the Ottomans getting in."(Housely, Crusading and the Ottoman Threat, 1453-1505 p. 99)

The League gathered an army under Francesco II Gonzaga. Charles, not wanting to be trapped in Naples, made his way north again. He passed through Rome (despite his promise not to) and forced Alexander VI to flee to Orvieto, and finally faced Gonzaga in a decisive battle at Fornovo in July 1495. Although the League suffered twice as many casualties as the French, Charles was forced to leave Italy.

BMC IV, 99; Doring-Fuchs C113; Goff C458; IGI 2762; Oates 1492; Pellechet 3556; Sack (Freiburg) 986; Sheppard 2977.