This is a letter dated March 9, 1471, written in Rome and signed, Francesco (della Rovere), Cardinal of Saint Peter in Chains, just months before he was elected pope, taking the name of Sixtus IV. The content concerns the Duke of Milan, Galeazzo Maria Sforza (1466-1476) to whom the letter was addressed. As the Duke, he was considered the reigning prince. It is a “pandering” letter: the Cardinal was trying to exert his influence on the Duke of Milan who had authority over certain cardinals. The Cardinal was utilizing flattery because the election was getting closer.
Notes about the Content of This Letter:
It’s not unlikely that Della Rovere had something like a run for the papacy in mind. Paul II had had a series of strokes, which left his face drooping on the left side. But in March 1471 there was no indication that he would be dead in four months. It didn’t hurt to grease the wheels of diplomacy though. Bracelli was replaced in Rome by Nicodemus de Pontremoli. When his instructions for using Milanese influence at the Conclave arrived, it would have been good news for Della Rovere. The “friends of the Prince”, Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan, were: Capranica, Calandrini, Gonzaga, Francesco della Rovere, and Guillaume d’Estouteville [Cardinal Ammannati-Piccolomini, Epistolae 395; cf. Petruccelli, Histoire des conclaves I, 292]. It seems that the favorite was Cardinal Bessarion, but he was a Greek and there were suspicions of his orthodoxy (no pun intended). Three cardinals (Orsini, Borgia, and Gonzaga), who were trying to broker the conclave, offered him votes, under certain conditions. Bessarion refused to accept the conditions, and so the same offer was made to Della Rovere, who agreed to them. Of such things are popes made.
This item has an interesting story.
Father Kunst gave this as a parting gift to Duluth, Minnesota’s Bishop Dennis Schnurr, presently the Archbishop of Cincinnati, Ohio, and a close friend of his. The letter was written when Sixtus IV was Francesco (della Rovere), Cardinal of St. Peter in Chains in Rome. This is the name of the cathedral in Cincinnati, Ohio where Archbishop Schnurr is presently serving.
Contents of Letter & Translation:
Illustrissime Princeps et re(verendissi)me (?) d(omi)ne, d(omi)ne mi colen(dissi)me humilem commendatione(m). Venit ad ex(cellentissimam) vestram Magnificus dominus Antonius de Bracellis : qui hic apud nos versatus est cu(m) sum(m)a gratia et amore summi Pontificis erga se, et totius Romanae Curiae. qui omnibus et prudenter et laudatissime se gessit. Is, Illustrissime D(omine) V(ester), servitutem meam totam exponit, qui certe nihil aliud desidero quod mandatis eius obtemperare et declarare re ipsa fide(m)
et devotionem meam erga Excellentissimam Vestram, quam altissimus diu felicissimam custodire dignetur, eiusque humiliter me commendo. Rom(ae) die nono Martii 1471.
Excellentissime Illustrissime Domine Vester,
Servitor F(ranciscus) Car(dina)lis S(an)cti Pet(ri) ad Vin(cu)la.
Most Illustrious Prince and Reverend Lord, Milord most-to-be-cultivated, my humble recommendation. His Excellency Lord Antonio de’Bracelli has come to your excellency who has resided here among us with the highest good will and love for our Supreme Pontiff toward himself, and that of the entire Roman Curia, (and) who has conducted himself prudently and in praiseworthy fashion to everyone. Your illustrious Lordship, he explains my wholehearted service, and I certainly desire nothing else but to carry out his instructions and by that very fact to make clear my devotion toward Your Excellency (May the Most High deign to protect you happily for a long time) and of whom I humbly commend myself.
Rome, 9 March 1471.
Your servant, Francesco Cardinal of Saint Peter in Chains.
Antonio de’ Bracelli was the Milanese Ambassador in Rome.
The Duke of Milan was Galeazzo Maria Sforza (1466-1476).
Papal Artifacts gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Professor John Adams in the translation of this letter and in accurate details of its content.
Prof. John P. Adams
Professor of Classics, Emeritus
Department of Modern & Classical Languages and Literatures
California State University Northridge