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The Sack of Rome

This Day in World History

May 6, 1527

The Sack of Rome


On May 6, 1527, a mass of German Lutheran and Spanish Catholic troops — unlikely allies — reached Rome. They had been kept unpaid for months and were resentful of the riches of the papacy. As the soldiers — by now a rampaging mob — entered the Vatican, Pope Clement VII was saying a mass in the Sistine Chapel. With Swiss Guards being slaughtered in St. Peter’s Square, the pope was hustled away to safety in the stout Castel Sant’Angelo. And the sack of Rome was on.

Breve trattato delle afflittioni d'Italia et del conflitto di Roma con pronosticatione. Source: NYPL.
Complicated political and religious conflicts led to this sorry chapter in Rome’s history. Charles V, both king of Spain (as Charles I) and the Holy Roman Emperor, hoped to conquer Italy. His armies included Lutheran subjects from his German empire caught up in the Protestant Reformation and devout Roman Catholic Spaniards. Pope Clement — from Florence’s mighty Medici family — opposed the emperor’s ambition. In previous years, he had relied on the armies of François I of France, but by 1527, the French king was unable to send any troops to defend Rome.

Thus Charles’s forces entered Rome, and the Vatican itself, with little opposition. Once in control of both, they killed men and children. Thousands died, their bodies thrown into the Tiber River. The soldiers also raped women — including nuns — and plundered anything of value, stripping churches and convents of their priceless artifacts.

The army remained in Rome for months, suffering a plague-marred summer that added to the city’s misery. Finally, the pope surrendered — though he remained in his fortress. Romans bemoaned their fate in laments that included lines such as this: “My name is Rome, mistress of the world, / Woe is me, who was mistress of all.”

The sack of Rome had a significant aftermath. The pope and emperor reconciled in 1530. A few years later, when England’s Henry VIII petitioned the pope to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Clement refused. Catherine was Charles V’s aunt. The pope’s refusal, of course, led Henry to leave the Catholic Church and create the separate Church of England.

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Recent Comments

  1. Karl

    Charles V absolutely did not “hope to conquer Italy.” I stopped reading this article at that point, because the only sort of person who would make such a remark is the sort who should not be writing about this subject.

  2. […] graffiti does not belong to ancient Rome, but to May 6 1527, which would come to be known as the Sack of Rome.  Rome, being the heart of the Papal States, was governed by Pope Clement VII, who bore witness to […]

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