Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Adrian de Castello

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ADRIAN de Castello (1460?–1521?), called also de Corneto, from his birthplace, a small town in Tuscany, was distinguished both as a statesman and as a reviver of learning. His family was obscure, and the date of his birth is uncertain; but as he speaks of himself in the preface to his treatise ‘De Vera Philosophia’ as having been still a young man on his second visit to England, when sent thither as collector by Innocent VIII, we may assume that he is not likely to have been born before the year 1460. He was first sent by that pope as nuncio to Scotland in 1488, to compose the dissensions between James III and his nobles; but as King James was killed before his arrival, he was recalled. He had, however, reached England, and was very well received by Henry VII, who, by the advice of Archbishop (afterwards Cardinal) Morton, employed him as his agent at Rome on his return. It was apparently next year that he came back to England as collector of the papal tribute called Peter pence. He had also been appointed by Innocent one of the seven papal prothonotaries. On 10 May 1492 he obtained from the king the prebend of Ealdland in St. Paul's Cathedral, and seven days later, from Archbishop Morton, the rectory of St. Dunstan-in-the-East. On 29 June following he received a grant of denisation by letters patent (Gairdner's Letters of Ric. III and Henry VII, vol. ii. p. 373, Rolls Ser.). Innocent VIII died the same year, and Adrian returned to Rome, ‘thrown’ as he himself expresses it, ‘into the mill of affairs by Pope Alexander VI.’ He was made clerk of the papal treasury, while at the same time he was Henry VII's ambassador at Rome. In 1498 he was sent to France with a message of condolence on the death of Charles VIII, but did not go on to England. In a contemporary letter it is hinted that Henry VII was not at this time quite satisfied with the manner in which he had disbursed some moneys in his behalf at Rome. If so, it was but a passing cloud; for though Adrian apparently never revisited England, he was promoted during his absence first (1502) to the bishopric of Hereford, and two years later to that of Bath and Wells. The bull for this second promotion was obtained on 2 Aug. 1504; and on 13 Oct. Henry despatched a commission to Rome to certain persons to take his fealty and give him the temporalities of his see. On the 20th of the same month he was enthroned by proxy and received the spiritualities, his proxy being the accomplished scholar, Polydore Vergil, his sub-collector of Peter pence. Between the dates of these two English preferments he was created by Alexander VI cardinal priest, with the title of St. Chrysogonus. This was on 31 May 1503. It was rather more than two months later that—if the received story may be trusted—Pope Alexander was poisoned at an entertainment given by him, owing to the miscarriage of a plot of the pope's own son Cæsar Borgia, who had intended Adrian to be the victim. There is no doubt that the pope's mortal illness was attributed at the time to a supper in Cardinal Adrian's garden near the Vatican, from which other guests were also sufferers, including Cæsar Borgia, and that Cardinal Adrian himself fell into a violent fever. Pope Alexander survived the banquet more than a week, and we do not hear of any other death resulting from it. But Cardinal Adrian, according to his own account—for the historian Paulus Jovius (Vitæ Illust. Viror. i. 260, ed. Basil, 1578) tells us he heard it directly from himself—was suddenly seized with a burning sensation in the intestines which brought on giddiness and stupor, and was driven to seek relief in a cold bath; and though he in time recovered his health, it was not before his outer skin had peeled off from the whole surface of his body. The strictly contemporary diary of Antonio Giustinian states that Adrian's attack returned on at least three successive days, the first seizure having been, apparently, not on the very day of the banquet, but shortly after. Altogether there is nothing in the recorded symptoms which goes very far to confirm the story of the poisoned flagon.

After the death of Alexander VI Adrian seems to have lost all his influence at the papal court. Under Julius II, in 1509, he quitted Rome for fear of the pope's displeasure, and fled to Venice, from which he afterwards proceeded to Trent, and seems to have remained in that neighbourhood till he heard that Julius was dead (1511). He at once repaired to Rome, and was admitted into the conclave, though it is said to have been already closed before his arrival. But he did not remain on much better terms with the new pope, Leo X, than with his predecessor, and in 1517 he was implicated in the conspiracy of Cardinals Petrucci, De Sauli and Riario, who had suborned a surgeon to apply poison to a fistula from which the pope was suffering. The plot was discovered, and on the trial of the three principal conspirators, two other cardinals, of whom Adrian was one, were named as privy to it. On hearing the charge against himself it is stated in a contemporary letter that he shrugged his shoulders, and burst out laughing. His complicity, according to the same writer, consisted merely in the fact that Cardinal Petrucci, being in company with him when the surgeon happened to pass by, had said to him significantly, ‘That fellow will get the college out of trouble,’ and he had neglected to give the pope warning. But the accusation did not take him by surprise; and when the matter was investigated in consistory he and the other cardinal fell at the pope's feet, confessing their guilt with tears in their eyes, and imploring his forgiveness. The pope seems to have taken a lenient view of their offence, and reduced the fine by which it was visited by the consistory from 60,000 to 25,000 ducats. But Adrian apparently felt that he was no longer safe in Rome. He fled to Venice in the disguise of a fool, and was never again seen in the imperial city.

It is possible, indeed, that he might have returned, for the Venetians were his friends and the pope inclined to be conciliatory; but he had also given great offence to Henry VIII and Wolsey. Three years before Henry had persuaded the pope to deprive him of his office of collector of Peter pence, and give it to the king's Latin secretary, Andreas Ammonius (see brief of Leo X, 31 Oct. 1514, in Rymer, Fœdera, xiii. 467). The arrangement, however, does not seem to have been completed, and Polydore Vergil, Adrian's sub-collector, urged him strongly to get it set aside. A letter addressed to him by Polydore on this subject was intercepted, and the writer thrown into prison. The sub-collectorship was then given to Ammonius, Adrian being for the time allowed to retain the office of collector. But when this new scandal arose the King of England was particularly anxious that Adrian should not go unpunished; and he sent repeated messages to Rome urging that he should be deprived not only of the collectorship, but also of the cardinalate. The former request was easily conceded, and his rival, Silvester de Gigli, bishop of Worcester, was made collector in his room. But deprivation of the cardinalate could only take place after lengthened judicial process, and the court of Rome was slow to move. Sentence of deprivation, however, was at last pronounced on 5 July 1518. The bishopric of Bath was at the same time taken from him and given to Cardinal Wolsey, who had previously farmed it of him.

It is characteristic of the times that his complicity in the plot against Leo should be accounted for by Paulus Jovius as due to a foolish prophecy by a fortune-telling woman that Pope Leo was to meet with a premature death, and be succeeded by an old man, named Adrian, whose place of birth was obscure, but whose great learning and abilities had gradually advanced him to the highest honours. Of course it is shown that the prophecy was fulfilled by the election of Adrian VI on Leo's death, though Adrian de Castello not unnaturally applied it to himself (Vitæ Ill. Viror. ii. 77). From this time nothing more is known of Adrian's history. By one account it is supposed that he took refuge among the Turks in Asia. But a more probable rumour is mentioned in Sanuto's diaries, that he remained in great secrecy at Venice till the death of Leo X in 1521, on hearing of which he at once left for Rome, but was believed to have been murdered on the way. The writings of Adrian de Castello are: 1. A poem entitled ‘Venatio,’ printed by Aldus in 1505. 2. A treatise, ‘De Vera Philosophia,’ Bologna, 1507. 3. Another, ‘De Sermone Latino et modo Latine loquendi,’ Basil, 1513. There is also preserved an elegant Latin inscription which he wrote on a young man, named Polydorus Casamicus, who was the pope's usher, and died at the early age of twenty-four. He was a man of high taste in art as well as in letters. He was known at Rome as ‘the rich cardinal,’ and built a fine palace there, in front of which he inscribed the name of his patron, Henry VII, willing that it should go after his own decease to that king and his successors.

[Polyd. Vergil, Hist. Anglic.; Aubéry, Histoire Générale des Cardinaux (cited in Biog. Brit.); Wharton's Anglia Sacra, i. 576; Rymer's Fœdera; Calendar of State Papers, Henry VIII, vols. i. and ii.; Calendar of Venetian State Papers, vols. i.–iv.; Pauli Jovii Vitæ Illustrium Virorum; Dispacci di Antonio Giustinian, ii. 107–8; Gairdner's Letters of Richard III. and Henry VII, Rolls Ser.]

J. G.