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Innocenzo Ciocchi Del Monte

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Innocenzo Ciocchi Del Monte (1532 - 2 November 1577) was a Cardinal of the Catholic Church, and a figure of notoriety in his age.

Early life

Duomo e Battistero di Parma

The Cathedral and the Baptistry of Parma.

Born in Borgo San Donnino, now Fidenza, the son of a female beggar, the illiterate but vivacious and good-looking 14 year old was picked up on the streets of Parma by Cardinal Giovanni Maria Del Monte who had fallen madly in love with him, and who used favors to ensure the cooperation of the boy's father.[1] Later he was officially adopted by the Cardinal's brother, Baldovino Ciocchi Del Monte. The boy was given a position in Giovanni's household as a valero, a menial role combining the offices of footman and dogsbody, then Provost of the cathedral chapter of Arezzo, a title involving only nominal duties but with certain rights of income.[2]

Nepotism controversy

In February of 1550 Cardinal Del Monte was elected Pope as Julius III, and immediately created the 17 year old Innocenzo a Cardinal. Attempts to give the boy an education which could have prepared him for ecclesiastic office had already proven useless - "a few social graces, a few bits of knowledge, perhaps about the glories of the Classical world, and Innocenzo's formal education was over."[3] Nevertheless, Julius issued a Papal Bull declaring Innocenzo legitimate - a necessary move given that persons of illegitimate birth were not eligible for membership of the College of Cardinals - and named him Cardinal Nephew, effectively in charge of all papal correspondence. But the role of secretary to the papacy proved manifestly beyond Innocenzo's abilities, and so, in order to find a way for his favourite to retain the appearance of power without having any real responsibility, Julius upgraded a hitherto minor position, that of secretary intimus, which, as Cardinal Secretary of State, was eventually to become the highest of Vatican offices. Innocenzo, although relieved of all real duties, continued to be showered with benefices and high offices, much to the disgust of his fellow cardinals.

Rumors in Venice

Cardinals who were more sensitive to the need to reform the mores of the Church in order to combat the Protestant Reformation protested in vain against Innocenzo's elevation. Rumours also circulated around European courts[4] The Venetian ambassador, Matteo Dandolo, wrote that Cardinal Del Monte "was a little scoundrel", and that the Pope "took him [Innocenzo] into his bedroom and into his own bed as if he were his own son or grandson". Onofrio Panvinio wrote that Julius was "excessively given to intemperance in a life of luxuriousness and to his libido," and, more explicitly characterized him as "puerorum amoribus implicitus" ('entangled in love for boys'). One more mocking rumour made the rounds in Rome, saying that Innocenzo had been made a cardinal as a reward for his being the keeper of the pope's monkey. The French poet Joachim du Bellay, who lived in Rome during this period, wrote: Yet seeing a footman, a child, a beast,/ a rascal, a poltroon made a cardinal / for having taken care of a monkey well, / a Ganymede wearing the red hat on his head / ...these are miracles, my dear Morel, that take place in Rome alone.[5]


Scandal continued to plague Innocenzo after Julius's death in 1555. In 1560 he was incarcerated in Castel Sant'Angelo for having killed two men who had "uttered ill words about him"[6] while he was on his way to attend the papal conclave the previous year; in 1567 he was accused of rape and subsequently imprisoned, first in the abbey of Montecassino, then in a monastery in Bergamo. Released through the intercession of those cardinals who still remembered with fondness the days of Pope Julius, and on earnest expressions of his reformed character, he returned to Rome in the reign of Pope Gregory XIII, "[b]ut his crown did not mean what it once did, because upon his return, Innocenzo was, once again, despised by all."[7]


Innocenzo died in Rome on November 2, 1577, and was buried within a few hours, in complete anonymity, beneath an unmarked slab in the Del Monte family chapel at the church of San Pietro in Montorio, Rome. "His burial was unattended. There was no commemoration of his cardinalate, and no prayers for the repose of his soul. Shunned and ignored in life, he was forgotten in death."[8]


  1. Who's who in gay and lesbian history By Robert Aldrich, Garry Wotherspoon; p.278
  2. R. Aldrich, Who's who in Gay and Lesbian History, 1991
  3. "The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church - Biographical Dictionary - Consistory of May 30, 1550". Retrieved 2007-06-14. 
  4. P. Messina, 'Del Monte, Innocenzo', Dizionario biografico degli italiani, Vol 38, Rome, 1990.
  5. Joachim Du Bellay, Les Regrets, Sonnet CV (Paris, 1555), cited in Robert Aldrich, Garry Wotherspoon, eds, Who's who in gay and lesbian history: from antiquity to World War II (Routledge, 2002), page 278.
  6. "Ibid.". 
  7. "Ibid.". 
  8. "Ibid.". 

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