14. Through His Affair with a Black Maid, Clement VII Became the Ancestor of the Modern Elite
One of the unluckiest popes in history, Giulio de Medici – the cousin of Leo X – was elected Pope Clement VII during a time of political turmoil in Europe. In 1523, the Protestant Reformation was well under way, gaining popularity throughout Europe. Although he tried to play the political role of his predecessors, Clement did not understand how to navigate the new world of religious change. At the center of a power struggle between Protestant and Catholic kings, Clement’s reign as pope was somewhat disappointing. However, through an affair with a family servant, he left a permanent legacy: his descendants appear in the present-day modern European elite.
Pope Clement’s colleagues regarded him as a morally upright, devout representative of the Church throughout his pontificate. However, before taking holy orders, he had an affair with the family maid, Simonetta da Collevecchio, resulting in the birth of his son Alessandro de Medici. Clement’s nephew, Lorenzo II de Medici, assumed paternity of the child; although his contemporaries acknowledged Alessandro as Lorenzo’s son, later historians claim that it is far more likely that Clement was Alessandro’s father. The mixed-race Alessandro inherited the nickname “the Moor” because of his darker skin tone.
Through the patronage of his father, Clement VII, Alessandro would ascend to great power, becoming the first black head of state of the modern Western world. Installing his son as the Duke of Florence, Clement assured that the city-state remained in the family’s hands. Alessandro married the illegitimate daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, but their short union was childless. He had one mistress, Taddea Malaspina, with whom he fathered two children: Giulio de Medici and Giulia de Medici. Through Alessandro’s descendants, several members of the European nobility can trace their ancestry back to a pope.