Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/264

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.

which gratified the Sforza and drove the freshly reconciled Cardinal della Rovere into new enmity. The entire series of transactions reveals the levity and faithlessness of the rulers of Italy. Alexander had more excuse than any other potentate, for he alone was menaced with serious danger; and he might have learned, had he needed the lesson, the absolute necessity of fortifying the Pope's temporal authority, if even his spiritual authority was to be respected.

The signal for the woes of Italy was given by an event which at another time might not have displeased an Italian patriot,—the death of Ferdinand (or Ferrante), King of Naples, in January, 1494. Ferrante was a monarch after the approved pattern of his age, crafty, cruel, perfidious, but intelligent and well understanding how to make the most of himself and his kingdom. While he lived, the prestige of his authority and experience, combined with the youth of the King of France, may have assisted to delay the execution of French designs upon Naples. Upon his death they were carried forward with such warmth that, as early as February 3, Alexander, whose alliance with Naples remained unimpaired, thought it necessary to censure them in a letter to the French King. A bull assigned by most historians to this date, encouraging Charles to come to Naples in the capacity of a crusader, really belongs to the following year. Whether in obedience to the interests of the hour, or from enlightened policy, Alexander's conduct at this time contrasted favourably with that of other leading men of Italy. Ludovico Sforza, playing with the fire that was to consume him, invited the French King to pass the Alps. The Florentine people favoured Charles VIII, although their unpopular ruler Piero de' Medici seemed on the side of Naples. Venice pretended to espouse Sforza's cause, but could in no way be relied upon. Cardinal della Rovere, whose old feud with the Pope had broken out anew, fled to France where, striving to incense Charles against the Pope, he unchained the tempest against which he was afterwards to contend when too late. Alexander alone, from whatever motive, acted for a time as became a patriotic Italian sovereign. Had he possessed any moral authority, he might have played a greater part. But papal dignity had been decaying since the days of Dante, and Alexander himself had impaired it still further. When his tone seemed the most confident, he secretly trembled at the weapons which he had himself put into his enemies' hands by the scandals of his life, and the simony of his election.

Nothing in Charles VIII, either in the outer or in the inner man, appeared to betoken the Providential instrument as which he stands forth in history. His ugly and diminutive person bore so little resemblance to his parents that many deemed him a supposititious child; his mind was narrow and uninformed; he was equally destitute of political and of military capacity. He knew, however, how to make himself beloved, si bon, deposes the shrewd and observant Commines, qu'il n'est point possible de voir meiUeure creature. His intentions were good; while