Pope Paul III


Paul III
Bishop of Rome
Titian - Pope Paul III - WGA22962.jpg
Papacy began13 October 1534
Papacy ended10 November 1549
PredecessorClement VII
SuccessorJulius III
Ordination26 June 1519
Consecration2 July 1519
by Leo X
Created cardinal20 September 1493
by Alexander VI
Personal details
Birth nameAlessandro Farnese
Born29 February 1468
Canino, Lazio, Papal States
Died10 November 1549(1549-11-10) (aged 81)
Rome, Papal States
PartnerSilvia Ruffini (Mistress)
ChildrenPier Luigi II Farnese
Paolo Farnese
Ranuccio Farnese
Costanza Farnese
Lucrezia Farnese
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Coat of armsPaul III's coat of arms
Other popes named Paul
Papal styles of
Pope Paul III
Coat of arms of Pope Paul III.svg
Reference styleHis Holiness
Spoken styleYour Holiness
Religious styleHoly Father
Posthumous styleNone

Pope Paul III (Latin: Paulus III; 29 February 1468 – 10 November 1549), born Alessandro Farnese, was head of the Catholic Church and ruler of the Papal States from 13 October 1534 to his death in 1549.

He came to the papal throne in an era following the sack of Rome in 1527 and rife with uncertainties in the Catholic Church following the Protestant Reformation. His pontificate initiated the Counter-Reformation with the Council of Trent in 1545, as well as the Wars of religion with Emperor Charles V's military campaigns against the Protestants in Germany. He recognized new Catholic religious orders and societies such as the Jesuits, the Barnabites, and the Congregation of the Oratory. His efforts were distracted by nepotism to advance the power and fortunes of his family, including his illegitimate son Pier Luigi Farnese.

Paul III was a significant patron of artists including Michelangelo, and it is to him that Nicolaus Copernicus dedicated his heliocentric treatise.


Early career and family

Born in 1468 at Canino, Latium (then part of the Papal States), Alessandro Farnese was the oldest son of Pier Luigi I Farnese, Signore di Montalto (1435–1487) and his wife Giovanna Caetani,[1] a member of the Caetani family which had also produced Pope Boniface VIII. The Farnese family had prospered over the centuries but it was Alessandro's ascendency to the papacy and his dedication to family interests which brought about the most significant increase in the family's wealth and power.

Alessandro's humanist education was at the University of Pisa and the court of Lorenzo de' Medici.[2] Initially trained as an apostolic notary, he joined the Roman Curia in 1491 and in 1493 Pope Alexander VI appointed him Cardinal-Deacon of Santi Cosma e Damiano. Farnese's sister, Giulia, was reputedly a mistress of Alexander VI, and might have been instrumental in securing this appointment for her brother. For this reason, he was sometimes mockingly referred to as the "Borgia brother-in-law," just as Giulia was mocked as "the Bride of Christ."

As a young cleric, Alessandro lived a notably dissolute life, taking a mistress, Silvia Ruffini, and having three sons and two daughters with her, including Pier Luigi II Farnese, whom he created Duke of Parma, as well as Ranuccio Farnese and Costanza Farnese.[3] Another epithet leveled at him was "Cardinal Fregnese" (translated as Cardinal Cunt).[4]

As Bishop of Parma, he came under the influence of his vicar-general, Bartolomeo Guidiccioni. This led to the future pope breaking off the relationship with his mistress and committing himself to reform in his Parma diocese.[3] Under Pope Clement VII (1523–34) he became Cardinal Bishop of Ostia and Dean of the College of Cardinals, and on the death of Clement VII in 1534, was elected as Pope Paul III.

The elevation to the cardinalate of his grandsons, Alessandro Farnese, aged fourteen, and Guido Ascanio Sforza, aged sixteen, displeased the reform party and drew a protest from the emperor, but this was forgiven when, shortly after, he introduced into the Sacred College Reginald Pole, Gasparo Contarini, Jacopo Sadoleto, and Giovanni Pietro Caraffa,[1] who became Pope Paul IV.

Pope Paul III and his Grandsons Cardinal Alessandro Farnese (left), and Ottavio Farnese, Duke of Parma (right), II Duke of Parma since 1547. A triple portrait by Titian, 1546