15. Cardinal Alessandro Farnese Openly Acknowledged His Mistress and Children Long Before His Election as Pope Paul III
During his affair with Giulia Farnese, Pope Alexander VI elected her brother, Alessandro, to the College of Cardinals. Known as the “Petticoat Cardinal,” Alessandro and his mistress, Silvia Ruffini, had five children together. Incredibly proud of his family, he never hid his children or his relationship. Alessandro publicly acknowledged his offspring in 1513, over twenty years before his election to the papacy. Pope Paul III set aside his mistress, but he remained devoted to his children and his grandchildren during his pontificate.
The pope with a large extended family still considered himself a moral reformer. Paul established a special council to privately investigate the corruption within the Catholic Church in March 1537. Someone leaked the report to the leaders of the Protestant Reformation, who used the details in their movement. The pope also excommunicated King Henry VIII of England over his “Great Matter” – divorcing his wife of over two decades, Catherine of Aragon, to marry his mistress, Anne Boleyn.
Using the nepotism of most Renaissance popes, Paul appointed his son Pierluigi as the governor of Piacenza, and he elected two of his grandsons to the College of Cardinals. After the disgruntled population assassinated Pierluigi during an uprising, Paul wanted to place the city under papal jurisdiction. His grandson, Ottavio, claimed the governorship as his inheritance, refusing to give control of Piacenza to the pope. The extremely offended Paul summoned Ottavio to his presence in Rome. When he arrived, the heated confrontation between grandfather and grandson was too much for the eighty-two-year-old Paul; he died hours later.