Showtime's The Borgias returns to television for its second season this Sunday. The series, starring Jeremy Irons and directed by Neil Jordan, details the life of Pope Alexander VI, one of the most controversial pontiffs ever to sit on the throne of St. Peter, after his ascendency to power. Season One had him buying the office through bribery, getting involved in assassination, making a noble admit to impotence in public court, and just for fun he spent all season openly banging the white hot Lotte Verbeek because that whole vow of chastity thing seems lame.
Honestly, though, when you stack Borgia up against other men of power in the 15th century, he wasn't really all that bad. Sure, he did as he pleased in regards to sex, and he did have a lot of rivals and enemies killed, imprisoned or run out of town, but you'd be hard pressed to find many other contemporary rulers who didn't have a similar amount of blood on their hands.
Of course, people expect better behavior from the Pope than of lesser authorities...not that we really understand why after doing some research. Some of them were just plain dicks.
If revenge is a dish best served cold, then Stephen VI should have his own revenge-based program on the Food Network. When you pull a dick move so heinous the church has to give it an official Latin name, then feel free to doff your pointy hat and take a bow. That name is Cadaver Synod, literally the Trial of the Dead...or perhaps the name of a kickass metal band. Here's what happened.
One of Stephen's predecessors, Pope Formosus, managed a papacy that lasted less than five years, and it was a crap five years at that. At the mercy of violent political factions, he managed to please practically no one and was probably more than happy to quit the job when death came calling. He wasn't getting off that easily, though.
Egged on by some of Formosus's still-bitter political enemies, Stephen had Formosus dug up, dressed in papal vestments and put him on trial for various technical infractions Formosus had committed when he was the Cardinal Bishop of Portus. The good news is that Stephen allowed Formosus a cleric to answer for his crimes. The bad news is that the cleric's answers were all Catholic versions of "The secrets of Castle Greyskull will be mine! Ha ha ha ha ha!"
Formosus lost the trial, had a few fingers lopped off and was thrown into a river.
Wikipedia has an entire category dedicated to sexually active popes, and John XII tops the list. The only thing that separates Johnny from Caligula is vomitoriums and the fact that John didn't make a horse a senator. Other than that, his life story could easily have been produced by Hustler and directed by Gore Vidal.
Now, before we begin, let's review. John got his position by siding with Otto I of Germany, who he then crowned Holy Roman Emperor. Otto had been gone for like five minutes before John decided that Otto now had too much power and began conspiring against him with Otto's enemies. Unfortunately, Otto intercepted the letters, and marched right back to depose John.
John was summoned to answer charges, but refused to come out of hiding. So all these criminal accusations are coming from a very pissed off king eager to bitch-slap the Pope. Still, some of them are so specific that you can't help but feel there must be some truth behind them.
The Patrologia Latina lists John's offenses as adultery, rape when the offered adultery was turned down, incest when his sisters also said no, banging his niece, his dad's girlfriend and as many prostitutes as he could, and the legend goes that to top it all off, he died in bed of a stroke while having it off with a married woman. Oh, and supposedly he castrated a deacon and let him bleed to death.
Not to be overly emotional here, but we seriously hate this guy.
In the 15th century, Europe was caught in something called the Little Ice Age. It wasn't a true Ice Age, just a long period when winters were pretty damned bad. The early 1480s were particularly brutal. Crops failed, people starved and crime rose, but fear not, Europe, Pappy Innocent found the cause. It was witches!
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Innocent then signed a papal bull that started the witch hunts as we now understand them. Inquisitors Heinrich Kramer and Jacobus Sprenger were given full authority to systematically seek out witches, expose them through any means necessary and then murder them. They would go on to write the infamous Malleus Maleficarum, a book that basically reads like Tales from the Crypt and whose popularity ignited a fever across Europe that resulted in millions of innocent deaths.
That wasn't all Innocent did to employ torture and murder in the name of superstition. He was also responsible for confirming Tomás de Torquemada as Grand High Inquisitioner. Under the cloak of stamping out heresy, Torquemada burned about 2,000 Jews at the stake and expelled some 40,000 from Spain. Muslims fared a little better, but that was really because there weren't as many to kill.
Following the line of consequences from Innocent's papal bull through a multi-continent witch craze that lasted for centuries, this Pope eradicated what scientists call a fuckton of people. Oh, and he also died after killing three boys in an attempt to do a crude blood transfusion. He couldn't even check out without ending human life.
Just for the final nut-kick, any dedicated marijuana Web site will tell you that the same papal bull outlaws the use of cannabis in worship. This guy...this fucking guy.