Papal Justice: Subjects and Courts in the Papal State, 1500-1750


In early modern Europe, justice was always the key to public order and the state's main pillar. The pope, though the head of the church, was also a prince like any other, but his justice, as machinery and moral model, displayed the double nature of his rule, targeting not only actions but also beliefs and consciences. Irene Fosi, the doyenne of scholars of papal justice, lays out the ambitious, complex, and sometimes baffled endeavors of the pope's magistrates and through lively anecdotes gives the flavor of the ...

See more details below
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (7) from $25.70   
  • New (3) from $26.51   
  • Used (4) from $25.70   
Sending request ...


In early modern Europe, justice was always the key to public order and the state's main pillar. The pope, though the head of the church, was also a prince like any other, but his justice, as machinery and moral model, displayed the double nature of his rule, targeting not only actions but also beliefs and consciences. Irene Fosi, the doyenne of scholars of papal justice, lays out the ambitious, complex, and sometimes baffled endeavors of the pope's magistrates and through lively anecdotes gives the flavor of the encounter between the pope's assorted magistrates, inquisitors, and others, and the men and women hauled before the law.

Originally published in Italian and widely acclaimed, Papal Justice has been translated into English by Thomas V. Cohen, professor of history at York University. With the English edition, this lively overview of the papal justice system reaches a transatlantic readership and makes available the fruit of Fosi's decades-long research in unpublished archives in Rome and the Vatican.

The book examines the very motley shape of the pope's territorial domain, the institutions found there, and the relationships between Rome and its outlying cities. Microhistories of how things worked form a clear picture of relations between the sovereign and his subjects.

Irene Fosi is professor of modern history at the University "G. d'Annunzio," Chieti-Pescara in Italy. La giustizia del papa: Sudditi e tribunal nello Stato pontificio in eta moderna was published in 2007 by Laterza. Fosi has published two other books and numerous articles.

"Irene Fosi is a seasoned scholar of Renaissance and Baroque Rome with over a quarter century of experience in papal judicial archives. Her book is a well-devised study of the courts and cases of Rome and the Papal State. The extended quotations from sources afford the reader a real taste of the interests and thinking of papal officials, Roman nobles, and local figures of all ranks. The translation is simple, elegant, and faithful to the original."—Thomas Kuehn, professor of history, Clemson University

"Fosi is unquestionably the foremost authority in any language on the early modern papacy with an unrivaled range of experience working in different kinds of judicial sources. Fosi has a wonderful ear for the voices of exasperated administrators or desperate petitioners, and her quotations bring them alive. Equally important, her judgments can be trusted. She depicts papal justice in a fully rounded fashion."—Laurie Nussdorfer, professor of history and letters, Wesleyan University

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813218588
  • Publisher: Catholic University of America Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/2011
  • Pages: 312
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Read an Excerpt


Subjects and Courts in the Papal State, 1500–1750
By Irene Fosi

The Catholic University of America Press

Copyright © 2011 The Catholic University of America Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8132-1858-8

Chapter One

A Complex Geography

At the end of the fourteenth century, the geography of the pope's domain was in constant evolution. Despite the great antiquity of its name, we can label the Renaissance Papal State, in Machiavelli's words, a "new" principality. From decade to decade, its borders, and indeed the whole territory, kept swiftly changing shape. International affairs, the onset of the Italian Wars for instance, contributed to the frontiers' continual shifting, as did dizzying changes in papal politics. So, for example, the Borgia project to build a "family state" was undone by Julius II (1503–1513), and then Leo X (1513–1521) waded in to set right his predecessor's work. But then came the Sack of Rome (1527). That catastrophe forced a break with earlier politics and put an end to the sudden oscillations, the gain or loss of substantial territories. So, when it comes to the Papal State—its institutions and its whole administrative and political apparatus—one can speak of a "Long Fifteenth Century" ending only in 1530, when change slowed down. The papal domain, however, continued to grow. In 1539 came the creation of the Farnese state of Camerino. Then, in 1598, came Ferrara's "devolution" into papal hands, and in 1631 came Urbino's. Furthermore, Avignon and the nearby county of Venassin remained under papal administration, as did the little enclaves of Benevento and Pontecorvo, both in Neapolitan territory. In the seventeenth century, the duchies of Castro and Ronciglione returned to direct papal rule. With so many assembled parts, this was a truly composite state, and would remain so down to its eventual disappearance.

How did contemporaries regard this shifting geography? We can find our answer in descriptions of the landscape, both maps and geographic writings, some of them in the humanistic tradition and others that, risking anachronism, we might call geopolitical. At the beginning of the sixteenth century, unlike their geographer predecessors, and very much unlike the humanists, geographers began to investigate the real conditions in the papal dominions. They scrutinized the cities and their histories, but also looked beyond them, at their hinterlands, betraying a nascent awareness of the cities' belonging to a region and a landscape. But these early works showed little interest in the political borders in play at the hands of the popes of the first half of the sixteenth century. It was only later, as the century went on, after the central papal offices had assumed sharper shape and clearer function in governing the state's assorted territories, that the geographers began to mind the borders. In this process, the activities of the Congregazione del Buon Governo (1592) were crucial. Founded for fiscal and economic ends, this office soon came to have geographic and cartographic knowledge of the territory, of the traits and powers of towns and villages, and even of the privileges of the feudal lords. This awareness of boundaries was interwoven with alertness to local roots and to the concrete identity that sprang from local usages and privileges, forming a shared social and religious heritage that very often collided with the justice brought, and imposed, by Rome. The success or failure of papal rule, of its administration of justice, and of social discipline all depended on the play of these local differences and on the state's dialogue with its subjects' inherited modes of attachment and belonging. The state's growth was a long, slow business, a piecemeal advance, with steps forward and concessions, and with acts of mediation. There was also repression, some of it quite harsh.

At the end of the fifteenth century, the Papal State was divided into five provinces: the Patrimony of Saint Peter, the Duchy of Spoleto, the March of Ancona, the Romagna, and Campagna e Marittima. These divisions were already evident in 1357, anticipated by the Constitutiones Aegidianae, administrative decrees promulgated at Fano in a parlamento generale by Cardinal Gil de Albornoz. The cardinal's decrees aimed to extend to all papal territories the political and administrative model already in vigor in the Marches. These regulations controlled the activities of the rettore, who represented the pope and whose task it was "to direct the resources of the province towards the consolidation of papal authority while maintaining the consent of the governed." So the rettore's job was fundamentally political from the start, and would become ever more so, for the rettore worked alongside the legato, the legate, a cardinal endowed with ample political and judicial powers and sent on one or another mission, often a delicate one. As time went on, in some provinces, the legate replaced the rettore altogether. The rules laid out the jurisdictions, both civil and penal, for keeping public order and defending the territory, and stressed the roles of both justice and the legate's administration, both fundamental for the pope's authority. On the other hand, there were no ground rules for the activities of the tesoriere (the treasurer), the other key figure in the running of the provinces. It fell to the tesoriere to raise the taxes and all the income of the Camera Apostolica (Apostolic Chamber, i.e., the central treasury), not to mention to pay the papal officials active in his province. He was a dependent of the Camera Apostolica, and a papal appointee. The treasurer had growing ties with the major merchant-banker houses active in the papal curia—Sienese, Florentine, and Genoese.

Meanwhile, in the Middle Ages, the provincial parlamenti were still active. Assemblies representing social groups and towns, they had not yet lost their function—discussion and political negotiation with the representative of papal rule. Relations between the legate, or the rettore, and the local parlamento were not always smooth. Good relations depended on the personality of the pope's man and on his skill at mediating, and at imposing his will on local quarrels and conflicts fed by faction, by feudal power, and by the rivalries of cities. From the fifteenth century on, as papal officials were more often afoot in the provinces and as Rome gained the power to force consensus and began to draw local oligarchs to the capital, these representative bodies faltered and faded. The division of competencies never had the clarity of an organization chart. Rather, wars, international politics, and the internal workings of papal politics at the end of the fifteenth century left provincial administration ever more uncertain and unstable. Only toward the middle of the sixteenth century would things finally jell.


The northern border best exemplified the process of fragmentation and reconfiguration of the landscape. Behind the territorial shifts lay, on the one hand, the state-building campaign launched by Alexander VI (1492–1503) on behalf of his son Cesare Borgia, and on the other, the warlike policies of popes like Julius II. In 1503, Julius retook Cesena and other Romagna towns, among them the castle at Forlì, which Cesare had held, along with the title "Lord of the Romagna." The pope's campaign demonstrated that it did not suffice to heap up cities in the Borgia mode to make oneself master of a territory; one needed, rather, to build a coherent political unit. By the time Julius died, in 1513, he had succeeded in winning back territories that had been in Venetian hands, like Faenza and Rimini. And then, after Venice's catastrophic defeat at Agnadello (1509), the papacy took back the other Romagna cities: Ravenna, Rimini, Cervia, Faenza, Russi, Brisighella, Meldola, and Mercato Saraceno. But, already three years earlier, Julius II had subjected Bologna, chasing out the ruling Bentivoglio, even though, thereafter, the reconquered city would still enjoy a privileged position in the state. Julius had appeared at Bologna's walls with an imposing army and then gone on to Perugia to drive off its ruler, Giampaolo Baglioni. The whole campaign looked like little less than a triumphal cavalcade, or, perhaps, like a pomp-filled Possesso march (the coronation parade at Rome), contrived to affirm papal authority on the lands and towns it traversed.

At the turn of the sixteenth century, with the breakdown of the Italian balance of power, international affairs had required the popes to expand their domains northward to exploit a political map reduced to rubble and confusion, taking advantage of factional fights and of the general instability that invested the Lombard Plain, from the Apennines up to the Alps. Even after the papal authorities retook the Romagna lands and broke up the remnants of the Borgia state, they worked long and hard to master local conditions. The factional fights in cities had their echoes in the countryside, feeding disorders and violent habits that, toward the century's end, unleashed a great wave of banditry, most often led by feudal lords who, keen to grab back powers lost to the Borgias and still largely free of papal rule, battled one another in private feuding between locally powerful families sometimes labeled "private warfare and affirmation of force." Gradually, in the course of the sixteenth century, intensely local forms of power and dominion would give way to others defined by factions or broader familial alliances. Local power was fostered too by the nature of the landscape, by the distance from Rome and its officials, by the decrepit or absent roads that hindered or barred the intervention of papal officials and judges. In the second half of the sixteenth century, the state tried to cope with this situation, hardly unique to the Romagna, but especially common in papal zones near borders. The recourse was to break the territory into manageable pieces and to coordinate policy from the center, using the new Roman congregations like the Buon Governo and Sacra Consulta, administrative councils staffed by cardinals. In this period, papal authorities undermined the bonds of faction and fealty, the old glue between the peasants and their lords, by supplanting these feudal links with relationships of service and with exchanges between local elites and representatives of the Holy See. In 1524, the northern territory, all the way from Rimini west to Piacenza, finally recovered by papal authority, at least in theory, was reorganized under two "legations," each with its legate. One was called Bologna, and contained the Romagna; the other, Gallia Cispadana, included Parma and Piacenza. In each city sat a governor. Moreover, there came changes in fiscal administration; the job of provincial treasurer, for the first time ever, was auctioned off.

The situation was still in flux; the popes lost some territories. In 1530, Modena and Reggio went back under Este rule, and in 1545, the Farnese family, Paul III's kinsfolk, hived off Parma and Piacenza to build themselves a duchy. The Romagna remained a territory in pieces, bereft of a center to pull all parts together. One can calibrate the efficacy of papal governance by its capacity to impose itself, via officialdom, as the superior body and reference point for both elites and underlings. Down to the end of the seventeenth century, legates, governors, or presidents ran the Romagna. The first of these, usually cardinals, had more forceful authority and more autonomy; the others, as inferiors in rank, were more beholden to rulings from Rome, especially after the end of the sixteenth century, when the regime reorganized and elaborated its structure. But we shall see below how, even later, legates could fall into struggles with local bodies, above all when the thing at stake was justice.


In the Marches too, sitting on the Adriatic and thus bound up, in economics and politics, in often uneasy relations between Rome and Venice, early modern politics could be far from smooth. In the sixteenth century, the old, wide unity set out by the Egidian Constitutions succumbed. Between 1501 and 1610, Ascoli, Ancona, Fano, Fermo, Jesi, Montalto, Fabriano, San Severino, and Matelica all acquired papal governments. This fragmentation reflected the need to break down districts, the better to rule directly through men run by Rome. It also bore witness to particular agendas in papal politics, as when Sixtus V (1585–1590), himself from Grottammare (Montalto, in the Marches), wished to reorganize the city regimes in his land of birth. Such endeavors aimed to create consensus among local ruling circles, and also to impose, via the papal governor, a more than merely symbolic Roman authority, and to brandish its strength and centralizing ambitions.

The Marches were a richly urban region, but lacked one center that outranked the rest. Macerata, the seat of papal administration, never acquired political or economic hegemony over the other towns. With so many competing towns, a parliament remained active. It was an intercity institution, representative in nature from the start, and it eventually took the name Congregazione della Marca. The papal government found it a useful interlocutor, especially for settling quarrels about taxation. As the early modern period went on, this function faded, while the Roman congregations gained strength. They included the Buon Governo of Clement VIII (1592–1605), and the Sacra Consulta, founded in 1559 and charged with smoothing out the rule of papal provinces and making governance uniform across the board.

The strong sense of civic identity that surfaced in factional conflict, tied as it was to feudal nobles with urban ties, often caused violent clashes between towns and the men of Rome. In the first half of the sixteenth century, when papal administration was still just settling down and politics and warfare were still turbulent, urban revolts against Rome were common. Paul III (1534–1549) trampled Perugia after it rebelled in the so-called Salt War, but, in fact, years earlier the Papal State had already aspired to curtail the political autonomy of Umbria's biggest town. Leo X had waded in forcefully, interfering in the internal fights of Perugia's factions, but between 1527 and 1530, before Malatesta Baglioni returned to town, the republican magistrates obtained for themselves their own Tribunal of the Rota, to make clear to all the autonomy of civic justice in the face of the pope's own courts. But the faction fights made it easier for Paul III to gain lasting submission, and, in 1540, the place lost its autonomy entirely. Perugia's relations with the papacy were regulated by two documents: the Capitoli of 1424 and a 1553 bull of Julius III that redefined the city's subjugation. The city had had its legate, but now it received a mere governor, who ran the whole of Umbria, with Perugia as his seat. Under this new regime, the elite families, product of a vital local economy, continued to play prestigious roles. As has been said, Perugia's government was "a sort of co-dominion of papal officials and local patricians," as is easily seen from the correspondence of Perugian agents at the papal court, who reported back not only to the governors, but also to the city's own priors, who were an emblem of lost liberty and fine representatives of collective identity. The legates and governors, face to face with city politics, found ways to mediate and compromise with local elites as they sought consensus around the new power of Rome. But it was far harder to impose justice and order in Perugia's more remote towns and villages, in the inaccessible mountains far from lines of communication. And in Perugia itself, even if in the seventeenth century things no longer blew up violently, there was no lack of friction and unease with Rome. This was especially true in the 1640s, as the Barberini papacy trailed off and the ill-advised Castro war ruined precarious finances and undercut the wobbly old consensus between popes and high and mighty local families.


In major cities, the papacy used its very highest administrative official, the legate. For instance, from 1598 on, with the local Este dynasty now extinct, Ferrara and its territory were in papal hands. To take firm possession of the old ducal city, Clement VIII had first resided there himself, living alongside his officials, the new authorities. But the pope could not stay forever; in Ferrara, as in Bologna and in the Romagna, he installed a legate, a cardinal ruling for three years in his name. Though medieval in origin, over the centuries the legate had evolved considerably in his role. By the end of the sixteenth century, one could define him as "a bureaucrat of the highest rank who, in his career, found prestige in holding responsible positions, but looked as well for honor and for the advantages they offered." Legates were churchmen drawn from the world of papal finance, or linked to it tightly. In Bologna, for instance, the seventeenth-century legates were mostly Genoese, members of banking families active at the papal court. They found ready opportunity to insert their fellow Genoese to serve under contract as administrators of the province's finances, or to assign them government jobs, especially in towns under their own jurisdiction.


Excerpted from PAPAL JUSTICE by Irene Fosi Copyright © 2011 by The Catholic University of America Press. Excerpted by permission of The Catholic University of America Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations vii

Preface to the English-Language Edition ix

Abbreviations xi

Introduction 1

1 A Complex Geography 7

2 Roman Tribunals in the Early Modern Period 23

3 The "New" Inquisition and the Pope's City 47

4 The Theater of Justice 61

5 Restless Nobles 77

6 Collaboration and Conflicts: Governors, Bishops, Inquisitors 105

7 Sins and Crimes 126

8 Inside the Family 142

9 Disciplining the Clergy 155

10 Buon Governo: Between Utopia and Reality 177

11 Little Fatherlands: Local Identity and Central Power 191

12 Rivers of Ink: Petitions, Memorials, Letters 207

13 Justice Represented, Justice Recounted 224

Conclusion 237

Bibliography 241

Index 259

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)