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.
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.