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Condemnation of Sigismondo Malatesta

Condemnation of Sigismondo Malatesta

Aeneaus Silvius Piccolomini became Pope Pius II in 1458. He was the first pope to write an autobiography—and his damning account of Sigismondo Malatesta formed the basis of the latter’s infamy.

Sigismondo Malatesta and his unspeakable crimes.

Sigismondo, of the noble house of Malatesta, was a bastard. In both mind and body he was exceedingly powerful, gifted with eloquence and great military skill, a profound knowledge of history and more than a passing understanding of philosophy. Whatever he attempted he seemed born to do, but above all else he prized sin. He was a slave to avarice, prepared not only to plunder but to steal, so unbridled in his lust that he violated both his daughters and his sons-in-law. As a boy he often played the bride; later, he who had so often taken the woman’s part used other men like whores. No marriage was sacred to him. He raped Christian nuns and Jewish ladies alike; boys and girls who resisted him he would either murder or torture in terrible ways. Often, if he stood godfather to a child, he would compel the mother to commit adultery, then have her husband killed. He surpassed every barbarian in cruelty; his bloody hands wreaked dire torments on innocent and guilty alike.

He oppressed the poor and plundered the rich; neither widows nor orphans were spared. Under his tyranny no one was safe. A man blessed with wealth or a beautiful wife or handsome children would find himself facing a trumped up criminal charge. He hated priests and despised religion, thought nothing of the world to come, and believed the soul died with the body. He did build a splendid church at Rimini dedicated to St. Francis, but he filled it so full of pagan works of art that it seemed less a Christian sanctuary than a temple whither heathens might worship the devil. Inside, he erected a magnificent marble tomb for his mistress. The craftsmanship was exquisite. The inscription ran, in pagan style, “Sacred to the deified Isotta.”

Before taking Isotta for his mistress he had two wives whom he killed in succession, using violence or poison. A third, whom he had married before the other two, he divorced before ever having intercourse with her, though he kept her dowry. Once, not far from Verona, he met a noble lady on her way from Germany to Rome for the jubilee; he raped her (for she was very beautiful) and left her there in the road, wounded from her struggles and dripping with blood.

Truth was seldom in his mouth. He was a past master of pretense and dissimulation, a perjurer and a cheat. He broke faith with King Alfonso of Sicily and his son Ferrante; with Francesco, duke of Milan; and with the Venetians, the Florentines and the Sienese. Repeatedly he deceived the Church of Rome. Finally, when there was no one left in Italy for him to betray, he went over to the French, who, out of hatred for Pope Pius [the writer], pursued an alliance with him; but they fared no better than the other princes. Once, when asked by his subjects if he would not at last retire to a peaceful life and thereby give some relief to the country which he had so often subjected to war, he replied, “Be off, and don’t lose your nerve! As long as I’m alive you’ll never have peace!”

Such was Sigismondo, a man with no tolerance for peace, a devotee of pleasure, patient of any hardship, eager for war, the worst of all men who have ever lived or ever will live, the shame of Italy, the disgrace of our age.


Reprinted by permission of the publisher from Pius II, Commentaries, Vol. 1, Books I–II, edited by Margaret Meserve and Marcello Simonetta, The I Tatti Renaissance Library, pp. 327, 329, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, Copyright © 2003 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.