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The Sack of Romemarker on 5 May 1527 was a military event carried out by the mutinous troops of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor in Rome, then part of the Papal Statesmarker. It marked a crucial imperial victory in the conflict between Charles I of Spain Holy Roman Emperor, and the League of Cognac (1526–1529) — the alliance of Francemarker, Milanmarker, Venicemarker, Florencemarker and the Papacy.


Pope Clement VII had given his support to the Kingdom of France in an attempt to alter the balance of power in the region, and free the Papacy from what many considered to be 'Imperial domination' by the Holy Roman Empire (and the Habsburg dynasty).

The army of the Holy Roman Emperor defeated the French army in Italymarker, but funds were not available to pay the soldiers. The 34,000 Imperial troops mutinied, and forced their commander, Charles III, Duke of Bourbon and Constable of France, to lead them towards Rome. Apart from some 6,000 Spaniards under the Duke, the army included some 14,000 Landsknechts under Georg von Frundsberg, some Italian infantry led by Fabrizio Maramaldo, Sciarra Colonna and Luigi Gonzaga, and some cavalry under Ferdinando Gonzaga and Philibert, Prince of Orange. Though Martin Luther himself was not in favor of it, some who considered themselves convinced followers of Luther's Protestant movement viewed the Papal capital as a target for religious reasons, and shared with the soldiers an avaricious desire for the sacking and pillaging of a very rich city that appeared to be an easy target. Numerous bandits, along with the League's deserters, joined with the army during the march.

The Duke left Arezzomarker on April 20, 1527, taking advantage of the chaos among the Venetians and their allies after a revolt which had broken out in Florence against the Medici. In this way, the largely undisciplined troops sacked Acquapendentemarker and San Lorenzo alle Grottemarker, and occupied Viterbomarker and Ronciglionemarker, reaching the walls of Rome on May 5.

The Sack

The troops defending Rome were not at all numerous, consisting of 5,000 militiamen led by Renzo da Ceri and the Papal Swiss Guard. The city's fortifications included the massive wallsmarker, and it possessed a good artillery force, which the Imperial army lacked. Duke Charles needed to conquer the city hastily, to avoid the risk of being trapped between the besieged city and the League's army.

On May 6, the Imperial army attacked the walls at the Gianicolo and Vatican Hillsmarker. Duke Charles was fatally wounded in the assault, allegedly shot by Benvenuto Cellini. The Duke was wearing his famous white cloak to mark him out to his troops, but it also had the unintended consequence of pointing him out as the leader to his enemies. The death of the last respected command authority among the Imperial army caused any restraint in the soldiers to disappear, and they easily captured the walls of Rome the same day. Philibert of Châlon took command of the armies, but he was not as well liked, leaving him with little authority. One of the Swiss Guard's most notable hours occurred at this time. Almost the entire guard was massacred by Imperial troops on the steps of St Peter's Basilicamarker. Of 189 guards on duty only 42 survived, but their bravery ensured that Pope Clement VII escaped to safety, down the Passetto di Borgomarker, a secret corridor which still links the Vatican Citymarker to Castel Sant'Angelomarker.

After the brutal execution of some 1,000 defenders of the Papal capital and the shrines, the pillage began. Churches and monasteries, but also palaces of prelates and cardinals, were destroyed and spoiled of any precious object. Even the pro-Imperial cardinals had to pay to save their riches from the ruthless soldiers. On May 8, Pompeo Cardinal Colonna, a personal enemy of Clement VII, entered the city. He was followed by peasants from his fiefs, who had come to revenge the sacks they had previously suffered by Papal order. However, Colonna was touched by the pitiful conditions of the city and hosted in his palace a number of Roman citizens.

After three days of ravages, Philibert ordered the sack to cease, but few of the soldiers obeyed. In the meantime, Clement continued to be prisoner in Castel Sant'Angelo. Francesco Maria della Rovere and Michele Antonio of Saluzzo arrived with some troops on June 1 in Monterosimarker, north of the city. Their probably too cautious behaviour prevented them from obtaining an easy victory against the now totally undisciplined Imperial troops. On June 6, Clement VII surrendered, and agreed to pay a ransom of 400,000 ducati in exchange of his life; conditions included the cession of Parma, Piacenza, Civitavecchia and Modena to the Holy Roman Empire (however, only the latter could be occupied in fact). At the same time Venicemarker took advantage of his situation to capture Cerviamarker and Ravennamarker, while Sigismondo Malatesta returned in Riminimarker.


Emperor Charles V was greatly embarrassed and powerless to stop his troops, but (politically speaking) he was not displeased by the fact that they had struck decisively against Pope Clement VII and imprisoned him. In actuality, Charles was partially responsible for the sack of Rome, because he expressed his desire for a private audience with Pope Clement VII and his men took action into their own hands. Clement VII was to spend the rest of his life trying to steer clear of conflict with Charles V, avoiding decisions that could displease him. Without any qualms and without conditions, Clement VII agreed to cede the worldly and political possessions of the bishopric of Utrecht to the Habsburgs.

This marked the end of the Roman Renaissance, damaged the papacy's prestige and freed Charles V's hands to act against the Reformation in Germanymarker and against the rebellious German princes allied with Luther. Nevertheless, Martin Luther commented: "Christ reigns in such a way that the Emperor who persecutes Luther for the Pope is forced to destroy the Pope for Luther" (LW 49:169).

In commemoration of the Sack and the Guard's bravery, new recruits to the Swiss Guard are sworn in on 6 May every year.

In fiction

  • The sack is recounted in the final part of La Lozana Andaluza, a Spanish novel by Francisco Delicado describing the adventures of an Andalusian prostitute in the corrupt city.
  • The sack also described in the early part of Ines of My Soul (2006) a historical novel by Isabel Allende, from the point of view of Pedro de Valdivia, as a captain in the attacking army who tried to keep the troops from mutiny. (Spanish Original: Ines del Alma Mía)
  • Finnish writer Mika Waltari included a chapter regarding the sack of Rome in his historical novel The Adventurer (Finnish original: Mikael Karvajalka).
  • It is also part of the novel De scharlaken stad by Dutch writer Hella S. Haasse.
  • These events form the background to chapter 42 of Stephen Baxter's 2003 science fiction novel Coalescent.
  • Sarah Dunant's novel, titled In the Company of the Courtesan, begins with the sack of Rome and a graphic depiction of rape and pillage that continued unabated for months on end.
  • Testacles and ye Sack of Rome, a comedy in one act performed by Sound And Fury (Richard Maritzer, founder and troupe leader), has played at various Renaissance fairs.
  • The 1527 Sack has an important role in the early episodes of comics series Dago.
  • The Sack of Rome is discussed in Richard Powers's novel Operation Wandering Soul.
  • Ferruccio Cerio's The Barbarians (1958) with Pierre Cressy
  • Amin Maalouf's "Leo Africanus" (translated from French by Peter Sluglett)
  • In his Prologue to Hecatommithi (1565), Giambattista Giraldi draws on the sack of Rome.
  • Rinascimento privato by Maria Bellonci features the life of Isabella d'Este including witness to the sack of Rome.


  1. Sacco di Roma, Il (1953)

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