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  • Pius IV and the Fall of the Carafa: Nepotism and Papal Authority in Counter-Reformation Rome by Miles Pattenden
  • Wolfgang Reinhard
Pius IV and the Fall of the Carafa: Nepotism and Papal Authority in Counter-Reformation Rome. By Miles Pattenden. [Oxford Historical Monographs.] (Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2013. Pp. viii,154. $99.00. ISBN 978-0-19-967062-8.)

This small book, a published Oxford doctoral dissertation, is remarkably conservative in the best sense of the word. The footnotes, a descriptive list of the [End Page 150] prinicipal manuscript sources, and the bibliography prove outstanding scholarship. But the author, now a research fellow at University of Bologna, refrains from demonstrating his historical competence through exhausting textual abundance and abstract theoretical digressions that unfortunately are considered state of the art by many historians nowadays. Instead, he tells a straightforward story in chronological order and explains events in terms of the characters and the strategies of acting individuals. Nevertheless, the book concludes with a thesis that is verified by this narrative with sufficient plausibility. According to Miles Pattenden, the trial of the Carafa in 1560/61 was not the necessary consequence of the crimes they had committed during the reign of their uncle, Pope Paul IV (155559), but a carefully planned and implemented strategic operation of Pope Pius IV (1559–65) to intimidate the College of Cardinals and to strengthen the absolute monarchy of the pope. It was during the sixteenth century that the College of Cardinals was reduced from a powerful senate claiming co-regency of the Church to an assembly of Roman top bureaucrats and foreign dignitaries ready to acclaim almost everything a pope decided to do. The Carafa were the most appropriate victims not only because of their prominence and their crimes but also because of their lack of skill in micropolitics. They had neither built up a reliable party of followers among the cardinals and the Curia nor secured the stable support of foreign princes. Consequently, Pattenden no longer considers the trial of the Carafa as a turning point in the structural history of papal nepotism. Many scholars believed that this dramatic event marked the end of the “great” nepotism of princes-to-be and its replacement by a “bourgeois” nepotism of mere enrichment and promotion to nonruling noble rank. Pius’s own nepotism shows that the system had not changed. But the papal families had to learn that it was absolutely necessary to build up a micropolitical security screen for the time after the death of their “uncle.” Nevertheless, the Barberini, after the death of Pope Urban VIII, apparently were to have a narrow escape from the fate of the Carafa—or at least were afraid of it.

The first chapter presents a summary of the pontificate of the fanatic Paul IV, including his war against Spain and his prosecution of Cardinal Giovanni Morone. In the end he dissociated himself from two of his nephews when he was informed about their activities. At the time of the pope’s death, Giovanni Carafa had his wife killed for adultery with the consent of cardinals Carlo and Alfonso Carafa. Chapter 2 explains how the obscure Gian Angelo de’ Medici (no relation to the ruling dynasty of Florence, but a friend of it) was elected, why he needed to strengthen papal authority, and why the Carafa were the most vulnerable targets. Chapter 3 follows the careful preparation and execution of the trial, including the production of collusion in Italy and Spain. Chapter 4 begins with the desperate attempts of the Carafa to built last-minute alliances, demonstrates the essential weakness of the defense based upon Paul’s plenitudo potestatis (because that must lead to the acceptance of Pius’s potestas), and proceeds to the execution of Carlo and Giovanni Carafa after some pressure on dissenting cardinals. Chapter 5, the aftermath, includes Pius’s own nepotism and the reversal of the verdicts under Pius V. In the end, Pius IV, the pope of the successful conclusion of the Council [End Page 151] of Trent, turns out to be a conservative figure without any spiritual impulse and a shrewd political opportunist.

Wolfgang Reinhard
Freiburg im Breisgau (Germany)


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