Following the death of Pope Callistux III, it was no secret when the conclave met in August of 1458 that one of the cardinals was lobbying hard for the prestigious position as Sovereign Pontiff. That man was Cardinal Enea Silvio Piccolomini, a prolific writer and orator who had run the gamut on life's pleasures and vices before becoming a priest. After quickly rising through the ranks he changed allegiances several times during the schism, first opposing Pope Eugene IV and then passionately supporting him after a reconciliation between the two. Piccolomini was the consummate politician and negotiator as he had proven time and again in dealing with the Germon emperor Frederick III and other monarchs and leaders. Besides lobbying for himself, he had several supporters and his election on August 19, 1458 was a given for the College of Cardinals realized this man could right the wrongs of his predecessors and bring stability back to the Church because Piccolomini was only 53 years-old.
He chose the name Pope Pius II, the first Pius in over 1300 years since Pope Saint Pius I in 142. His first order of business was to continue the campaign that Callistus had begun but botched badly - a crusade to fend off the Turks. On October of the same year he issued a Bull calling for the crusade and called for a Congress in Mantua for all Christian rulers. It convened on June 1, 1459. Like with Callistus, Pius faced opposition from Duke Rene I of Anjou who had been rejected by Pius in favor of Alfonso's son Ferdinand I. This did not sit well with the French. Add to this the Germans waffled on committing troops and thereafter, like a domino effect, the effort fell apart. Just prior to the council Pius had published another Papal Bull forming a new order of knights to be called the Knights of Our Lady of Bethlehem, but because everything fizzled out, so, too, did the Order. Pius took it personally and issued another Papal Bull Execrabilis on January 18, 1460 a document diminishing the prestige and power of councils, and decreeing that the Roman Pontiff could no longer be pressured by Council Fathers to convene a council at their whim. It would have to start and end with the Pope.
Upon returning from Mantua, Pius was faced with a marked aggression in southern Italy as the French dug in to aid Rene and the Anjou line against Ferdinand and his Spanish sympathizers. Thus it came down to France against Spain in his own back yard of Italy. All the skirmishing did was resurrect the bitter battles between Pope Boniface VIII and France's King Philip IV from nearly two centuries before. The French monarch King Louis XI took power in 1461 and immediately rejected Pius' overtures for peace, decreeing that France would return to the old standards whereby the French monarch dictated ecclesial matters of the French clergy and once again "investiture" raised its ugly head. Pius was helpless to counter it for he was so embroiled with the war and keeping the Germans at bay.
Pius II had so wanted to unify Christian Europe and instead things seemed to get worse. Pius had no choice but to excommunicate Duke Sigismund of Tirol who had so rebelled against the Pope's reform program and had tried at every chance to undermine Pius' efforts, even appealing to the Council Fathers. Because of the Papal Bull of January 1460 the Council's hands were tied. Pius next handed an interdict to Archbishop Diether von Isenburg of Mainz who sought to foment rebellion with Bohemia's King George of Podebrady against Frederick III and Pius II. Isenburg was one of the thorniest problems for Pius for he wielded great influence and played a major role in defeating the Holy Father's resolve to form a crusade. It all stemmed back to the Council of Basle which the Archbishop could still not agree to the events and decisions that were passed. Stubbornly both Isenburg and George refused to accept the inevitable and, gaining an ally in the Hussites, chose another direction after being handed the bell, book and candle by Pius II. It all contributed to the growing, festering boil that would break into the cancerous reformation less than a century later.
Like his predecessors, what Pius had so hoped to accomplish never materialized. He had grandiose plans to reunite Europe for God, but man stood in his way. Such an idealist was Pius II that he decided, despite all the cards stacked against him, that he would pursue the crusade concept. He even believed the Turk's Sultan Mehmet II could be converted and drafted a letter to him to abandon the Islamic faith and convert to Catholicism, thus winning back the Eastern Empire without violence. It was an ambitious and unrealistic plan but Pius was hell-bent to do it. Yet, according to most historians, for some reason the letter was never delivered by his envoy. Whether Pius realized this or not is not known, but it is suspected he assumed it had been brought to the Sultan and rejected since the Sultan showed no signs of reconciliation. Thus, when he was able to muster some commitments from Venice and Hungary in October 1463, the crusade was on again. By now, however, the burdens of the office had taken their toll on Pius, and, like his predecessors, illness and aging set in. Though only 58 years-old he had become quite sick but stubbornly forged on, traveling to Ancona where the crusaders were to depart for Turkey. It was there that Pius died, waiting at the shore for the Venetian ships. Though the Venetian galleys arrived to find him dead and, because of the confusion and sadness, stalled there on the east coast of Italy on the Adriatic Sea. His supporters in Ancona asked the coroner if he could remain in Ancona and the latter compromised, removing his heart to be buried there while the rest of his body was interred back in Rome.
Pius II left a plethora of writings to the Vatican library and much of the history recorded for this time can be attributed to Enea Silvio Piccolomini whose 59 years were full of ambition and accomplishments, though he felt he failed as he laid dying on the docks at Ancona on August 15, 1464. Pius was a man of stubborn pride and was very independent, dismissing many cardinals he didn't trust in favor of family members, which in turn alienated others just as his predecessors had done. Yet, Pius II's dream of reconquering the Eastern Empire for Christianity spurred him on to hold out hope even to his dying breath. His successor Pope Paul II would be almost a carbon copy of Pius as the Church continued to navigate the ruts in the road.
Next issue: Pope Paul II: A compromise crusade and the return of the Renaissance