The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church

Biographical Dictionary
Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484)
Consistory of March 17, 1484 (VIII)


(1) 1. SFORZA, Ascanio Maria (1455-1505)

Birth. March 3, 1455, Cremona. Sixth of the eight children of Francesco Sforza, first duke of Milan, and his second wife, Bianca Maria Visconti. The other siblings were Galeazzo Maria I, Ippolita Maria, Filippo Maria, Sforza Maria, Ludovico I Maria, Elisabetta and Ottaviano. He had a half-sister, Maria, from the first marriage of his father to Polissena Ruffo, countess of Corigliano and Montalto. His father also had fourteen illegitimate children. Other cardinals of the family were Guido Ascanio Sforza di Santa Fiora (1534); Alessandro Sforza (1565); Francesco Sforza (1583); and Federico Sforza (1645). His last name is also listed as Sforza Visconti.

Education. (No information found).

Early life. Protonotary apostolic. Abbot commendatario of Chiaravalle from 1465. He was part of a grand embassy to Pope Sixtus IV in August 1471 for his election to the papacy. He was proposed by Milan for promotion to the cardinalate on March 24, 1477 with others that were created and published the following December 10; he was not promoted.

Sacred orders. (No information found).

Episcopate. Named administrator of the see of Pavia, September 17, 1479; occupied the post until his death. Consecrated (no information found). Participated in a congress of Italian rulers in Cremona at the beginning of 1483. His Milanese allies requested of the pope his promotion to the cardinalate on March 6, 1484.

Cardinalate. Created cardinal deacon in the consistory of Wednesday March 17, 1484; the pope sent him the red hat and assigned him the deaconry of S. Vito in Macello or S. Vito e Modesto. Arrived in Rome on August 23, 1484, after the death of the pope. Participated in the conclave of 1484, which elected Pope Innocent VIII; entered the conclave on August 26; he and Cardinal Giovanni d'Aragona received too late the missive of the duke of Calabria and his brother, the regent of Milan, excluding some cardinals from being elected to the papacy. On September 22, 1484, he was admitted to participate in the distributions of the Sacred College of Cardinals although the ceremonies of his investiture had not been finished. On that same day, he was named legate or governor of the province of the Patrimony of Saint Peter. He already showed a great tendency for luxury, a reputation as a worldly cardinal and a great ability for state affairs. Named administrator of Novara, October 25, 1484; resigned the post before April 18, 1485; occupied the post again very briefly in May 1505, right before his death. On March 6, 1486, he argued violently with Cardinal Jean Balue in consistory in relation to the measures of France against Naples. Administrator of the see of Cremona, July 28, 1486; occupied the post until his death. Left Rome for Milan on November 10, 1487 and returned to the city from Lombardy and his legation in Bologna on October 8, 1488, with a numerous following. Administrator of the see of Pesaro, 1487; occupied the post until May 1491. Abbot commendatario of the Cistercian monastery of S. Ambrogio in Milan; resigned on April 14, 1497. He laid the first stone of the cathedral of Pavia in 1488. He was in Rome on May 27, 1492, when Ferdinando of Capua, grandson of King Ferdinando of Naples, entered Rome and the cardinal had a luxurious banquet in his honor. After the death of Pope Innocent VIII and before the opening of the conclave, he met with Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere on the subject of the election, because he considered himself a "papabile". Participated in the conclave of 1492, which elected Pope Alexander VI; supported the election of Cardinal Rodrigo Borja y Borja because of the promise of titles and benefices. Named vice-chancellor of the Holy Roman Church on August 27, 1492. The new pope also gave him two canonships, the priorate of a monastery in the diocese of Calahorra, and an abbey. Resigned his deaconry of S. Vito e Modesto, August 26, 1492; opted for it again on January 31, 1495 and was its occupant until his death. Administrator of the metropolitan see of Eger, August 31, 1492; resigned the post in June 1497. Legate in Bologna, August 31, 1492. Became guest and familiar of the pope, exercising a great influence over the pontiff. Received a papal letter, dated April 22, 1493, in which the pope asked him to organize a procession of thanksgiving for the foundation of a league with Venice and Milan, of which the pontiff had just signed the constitutive act that was going to be published the following April 25. He helped to realize the marriage of the pope's daughter, Lucrezia Borgia, with one of his relatives, Giovanni Sfroza, signore of Pesaro. He fell in disgrace and left the Apostolic Palace in August 1493; he did not join the party opposing the pope according to the letter of September 28, 1493 to his friend Ludovico; he left Rome on June 28, 1494 with his suite; went to Frascati and, in July, to Genazzano; in August, the pope ordered all the cardinals who were absent, to return to Rome; he returned on September 22, after that the Colonnas and the Savellis, excited by him, had revolted and seized Ostia on September 18; he, in vain, counseled the pope on November 2, 1494, not to resist the French King; on the following day, he attended a congregation of cardinals with the pope and was designated to go to Florence to see King Charles VIII of France who should arrive on November 17; he left that same evening for Marino; returned to Rome on December 2 with twenty prelates and a large retinue; when he was going to leave for Viterbo, the cardinal was called to the Apostolic Palace on December 9 and arrested together with Prospero Colonna and Cardinals Bernardino Lunati and Federico Sanseverino; they were detained in the upper floor of the Vatican; he was freed around December 21, when the army of the king of France was at the doors of Rome; he met with the king on December 31, 1494 at Borghetto and was at his side when the monarch entered Rome; he remained with the king during his stay in the city. Named administrator of the see of Elne in January 1494; occupied the post until May 1495. Cardinal Sforza left Rome, together with Cardinal Lunati on January 16, 1495; on January 31, he received the absolution from the pope for having left Rome and reconciled with the pontiff; he was in Nepi and the pope recalled him to Rome; arrived on March 7, 1495 and stayed at the Apostolic Palace.

On May 27, 1495, Cardinal Sforza accompanied the pope to Orvieto because of the approaching French troops; they returned to Rome the following June 27, the French king having left the city on June 3. The cardinal then resided in the Cesarini palace, in front of the Tiber river and next to S. Maria del Popolo. He excused himself in the consistory of June 19, 1497, which followed the mysterious death of the son of the pope, the duke of Gandía, and declared himself innocent of the crime; the pope believed him and had a long interview with the cardinal on June 21; he was sent by the pontiff as legate to Naples; when he was suspected again, the cardinal prudently stayed away from Rome for several days and went to Frascati, Grottaferrata and Gennazzino; returned to Rome in August 1497 for the exequies of Cardinal Lunati and met with the pope. He left on September 21, 1497 to fulfill a promise to Our Lady of Loreto and returned on October 21. On December 25, 1497, he attended an interview between the pope and the ambassadors of King Federico of Naples and the duke of Milan on the subject of the divorce of the pope's daughter, Lucrezia, and Giovanni Sforza. In September 1498, he saw the pope break off with him and Ludovico il Moro again; the following December, he had a lively altercation with the pope in consistory. On January 23, 1499, he resigned the commendam of the monastery of S. Savino, diocese of Piacenza. Attended the audience of the pope with the ambassadors of Spain and Portugal in January 1499. On February 13, 1499, he was asked by the pope to intervene before the king of Naples, but he was not able to; the difficulties increased and he left Rome on July 14, 1499 with the pretext of going hunting (he had the reputation of being a great hunter); he did not ask the pope for permission to leave the city, as required, and took all his possessions with him; he went to Nemi, and later, to Genoa and Milan, where his brother was attacked by the French; on October 11, 1499, because of his departure, he was deprived by the pope of his legation in Bologna, which was given to Cardinal Giovanni Borgia, who was absent from Rome. He followed his defeated brother and went to the Tyrol; on April 10, 1500, he went to Venice; he remained there and avoided the king of France; his possessions, valued at 200,000 ducati, were confiscated and his benefices were distributed to others by the pope. On May 15, 1500, he was taken from Venice to Milan, with other captives, and lodged in the Sforza's châteaux. On the following June 15, he was taken to France and imprisoned in Lyon; and later at the Tour de Bourges; he was freed on January 3, 1502, thanks to Cardinal Georges I d'Amboise, with the promise of not leaving France without royal permission; he went to Rome with Cardinal d'Amboise for the first conclave of 1503, which elected Pope Pius III, entering Rome through the gate of S. Maria del Popolo; he was received with enthusiasm by the Romans. He participated second conclave of 1503, which elected Pope Julius II. Abbot commendatario of the monastery of Santa Maria de Ripoll, 1504-1505. He was a friend of intellectuals and artists and very charitable with the poor. He authored several works in Latin and Italian.

Death. May 27, 1505 (1), Rome, of the plague and not poisoned as some sources have said. Buried in a remarkable Renaissancist tomb, built by Pope Julius II, work of Andrea Sansovino, in the choir of the church of S. Maria del Popolo, Rome (2). The tomb was finished in 1509.

Bibliography. Cardella, Lorenzo. Memorie storiche de' cardinali della Santa Romana Chiesa. Rome : Stamperia Pagliarini, 1793, III, 226-229; Chacón, Alfonso. Vitæ, et res gestæ Pontificvm Romanorum et S. R. E. Cardinalivm ab initio nascentis Ecclesiæ vsque ad Vrbanvm VIII. Pont. Max. 2 volumes. Romae : Typis Vaticanis, 1630, II, col. 1268 and 1388; "Essai de liste générale des cardinaux. VII. Les cardinaux de la fin du XVe siècle". Annuaire Pontifical Catholique 1933, Paris : Maison de la Bonne Presse, 1933, p. 162-164; Eubel, Conradus and Gulik, Guglielmus van. Hierarchia Catholica Medii Aevi. Volumen II (1431-1503). Münich : Sumptibus et Typis Librariae Regensbergianae, 1914; reprint, Padua : Il Messagero di S. Antonio, 1960, pp. 20, 47, 48-49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 68, 83, 50, 139, 205, 212 and 214; Sanclemente, Enrico. Series critico-chronologica episcoporvm cremonensivm svb avspiciis prætantissimi antistitis Homoboni Offredi ex authenticis monvmentis avcta et emendata svaqve integritati maxima ex parte restitvta. Cremonæ : apvd Josephvm Feraboli, MDCCCXI, pp. 150-152 and 295.

Links. Portrait and biography, in German, Guido Heidloff; biography, in Italian, Enciclopedie on line, Treccani; his portrait, Sforza's arms and biography, in Italian, Wikipedia; his genealogy, A2 B4 C8 D7, Libro d'Oro della Nobilità Mediterranea; biographical data, in Italian, Magazzeno Storico Verbanese; biographical data, in Italian, Magazzeno Storico Verbanese; pictures and biography, in Catalonian, Els Borgia al monestir de Ripoll; his portrait by an anonymous artist, Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan, Italy; his portrait by an anonymous artist, Rettorato, Sala del Consiglio, University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy; his engraving by Tobias Stimmer, Bildindex der Kunst und Architektur; portraits, Maike Vogt-Lüerssen; his portrait and arms, Araldica Vaticana; his tomb, S. Maria del Popolo, Rome, Requiem Datenbank; his funeral monument, Wikipedia.

(1) This is according to Eubel, Hierarchia Catholica Medii Aevi, II, 20 and 68; and his biography, in German, linked above; Chacón, Vitæ, et res gestæ Pontificvm Romanorum et S. R. E. Cardinalivm, II, 1388; and his genealogy, linked above, say that he died on May 28, 1505.
(2) This is the inscription of his monument placed by Pope Julius II to honor his memory, taken from Sanclemente, Series critico-chronologica episcoporvm cremonensivm, p. 295:

D     O     M
ASCANIO. MARIÆ. SFORTIÆ. VICECOMITI. FRANCISCI. SFORTIÆ.
INSVBR. DVCIS. F. CARD. S. R. M. VICECANCELLARIO.
IN. SECVNDIS. REBVS. MODERATO. IN. ADVERSIS. SVMMO. VIRO.
VIXIT. ANN. L. MENS. II. D. XXV.
JVLIVS. II. PONT. MAX. VIRTVTVM. MEMOR. HONESTISSIMARVM.
CONTENTIONVM. OBLITVS. SACELLO. A. FVNDAMENT. ERECTO.
POSVIT. M. D. V.

The text of the epitaph is also transcribed by Andrea Vittorelli in his addition to Chacón, Vitæ, et res gestæ Pontificvm Romanorum et S. R. E. Cardinalivm, II, col. 1268.

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