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Pius II

Pope from 1458. Born Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini near Siena, he was the most famous papal representative of Renaissance humanism. After studying at the University of Siena and at Florence, he became secretary to Domenico Capranica and accompanied him to the Council of Basle* (1431-35). Rising rapidly in the council’s service due to his oratorical skill, he went on diplomatic missions to England and Scotland and became secretary to the conciliar pope, Felix V. Sensing the growing futility of the council, he entered the service of Frederick III* of Germany (1442). Personal suffering and his conviction that action must be taken against the Turks led him to adopt a more serious lifestyle. He submitted to Pope Eugenius IV (1445) and was ordained (1446) and made bishop (1447). After negotiating the Concordat of Aschaffenburg he was created a cardinal (1456).

Elected pope he preached a crusade against the Turks, who had recently captured Constantinople (1453). He convened a congress of Christendom at Mantua (1458) to formulate plans for the crusade, but received little support from the temporal princes for his project. When the Germans opposed his levy of a crusade tax by pointing to the sins of his youth, he issued his bull, Execrabilis (1460), condemning all appeals from the pope to an ecumenical council. In 1464 he personally led a crusade against the Turks, but was stricken with fever and died at Ancona, Italy.

Pius was a brilliant writer and produced a number of prose treatises in defense of conciliarism, poetry, history, fiction, and orations. Among his works are Historii Frederili Imperatoris; Historica Bohemica, Cosmographiae in Asiae et Europae; and Miseriae Curialum, a series of Latin poems that influenced fifteenth-century English satire. His Commentaries are a most valuable legacy as they consist of the only autobiography left by any pope.

Bibliography: L. von Pastor, The History of the Popes (40 vols., 1891-1953); F.A. Cragg (tr.) and L.C. Gabel (ed.), Memoirs of a Renaissance Pope (1959); J.G. Rowe, “The Tragedy of Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini (Pope Pius II)” in Church History 30 (1961), pp. 288-313; R.J. Mitchell, The Laurels and the Tiara: Pope Pius II 1458-1464 (1963).