28. The Slimy Pope Who Sold the Papacy to Fund His Retirement
Real-life Young PopeBenedict IX (circa 1012 – 1056) became the Holy Father in 1032 at the age of twenty. He holds the distinction of being the only person to have ever been pope on more than one occasion. He also held the distinction of being the only pope to have ever resigned the papacy, until Benedict XVI resigned and went into retirement in 2013. Unlike his modern successor, however, Benedict IX holds the – still – unique and slimy distinction of being the only pope to have ever sold the papacy on his way out.
A nephew of his immediate predecessor, Pope John XIX, Benedict’s father used bribery to secure his election to the papacy in 1032. He was a complete disaster as a pope, who stood out for his moral unfitness even in an era when few popes were paragons of moral virtue. Church leaders accused him of adulteries and murders. He hosted orgies in the Lateran Palace, and assaulted men, women, boys, and girls. He was also a sadist who enjoyed torturing, burning, drowning, and flaying those who angered him.
Pope Benedict IX’s behavior eventually became too much, and led to an uprising. The young Holy Father was forced to flee Rome within a year of his election as pope. He was brought back and reinstated by the armies of Holy Roman Emperor Conrad II. In 1044, he was again forced out of the city, and a new Pope, Sylvester III, was elected in his place. Benedict returned with another army, captured Rome, forced Sylvester to abdicate, and had himself elected pope for the third time.
Benedict finally tired of the cycles of ouster, followed by having to fight his way back to the papal throne. So in 1045, not long after his third election as pope, he decided to retire. To fund his retirement, he hit upon a slimy expedient: he sold the papacy to a priest, who became Pope Gregory VI. Benedict was charged by the church for that and other misdeeds and excommunicated. Saint Peter Damian described him as “a demon from hell in the disguise of a priest“. Pope Victor III referred to Benedict IX having a “life as a pope so vile, so foul, so execrable, that I shudder to think of it“.
Ashikaga Takauji (1305 – 1358) was a Japanese warrior, general, and somewhat slimy statesman whose life and career featured numerous twists and turns, during which Takauji switched sides multiple times. In the end, he rose to become shogun, or military dictator, and founded the Ashikaga Shogunate at age 33, which dominated Japan for nearly two and a half centuries. Takauji began his career in service to the powerful Hojo clan, which ran Japan’s then-Kamakura Shogunate. In 1333, the Hojos tasked him to end a civil war against Japan’s figurehead emperor. He came to dislike the Hojos, however, and switched sides. He joined the emperor, and with Takauji’s help, the Hojos were defeated and compelled to commit suicide, ending the Kamakura Shogunate.
The emperor was restored to power, and established the first imperial government that wielded both military and political power since the tenth century. For his troubles, however, Takauji was rewarded with an accusation of having murdered an imperial prince while campaigning. He responded by switching sides once again, and turning on the emperor whom he had only recently restored to the throne. He defeated the emperor, reduced him once again to a figurehead, assumed the military dictatorship of Japan, and founded the Ashikaga Shogunate which ruled the country from 1338 to 1573.
Russia’s greatest poet, Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (1799 – 1837) was also an outstanding novelist, short story writer, playwright, and dramatist. He is deemed the founder of modern Russian literature. His verse and prose addressed conflicts between personal happiness and duty, the rebellion of loners against the system. They teemed with vigorous life-affirming themes such as the triumph of human goodness over oppression, and of reason over narrow-minded prejudice. A born aristocrat, Pushkin was a descendant of Abram Gannibal, an African kidnapped and sold into slavery as a child, who ended up in Istanbul. From there, he was taken to Russia and presented as a gift to Peter the Great. The Tsar adopted Gannibal and raised him in the imperial household as his godson. He rose to prominence as a general and courtier in the reign of Peter’s daughter Elizabeth.
Gannibal led an extraordinary life, which was described in Alexander Pushkin’s biographical novel The Negro of Peter the Great. Precocious, Pushkin published his first poem at age fifteen while a student at the elite Tsarskoye Selo Lyceum. While still at the Lyceum, he began his first major work, the romantic poem Ruslan and Ludmilla, which used folkloric Russian themes of an epic hero overcoming numerous obstacles to rescue his bride. It flouted accepted genre rules, rejected the traditional Russian style of classic poetry, and broke barriers against the use of colloquial speech in verse. It was violently attacked, but it brought Pushkin fame and cemented his place as an innovator. A rising star, his life was cut tragically short, as seen below, at the hand of his slimy brother-in-law, Georges d’Anthes, a French officer in Russian service.
By the time he graduated, Alexander Pushkin was a committed social reformer. That upset the Tsarist authorities and secret police, who placed him under surveillance for the remainder of his life. At age twenty-one, he was exiled from St. Petersburg to southern Russia. In exile, he traveled through Crimea and the Caucasus. The impressions gained furnished material for his “southern cycle” of romantic poems, such as The Robber Brothers and Prisoner of the Caucasus. Pushkin’s literary outflow often alarmed the authorities, who frequently censored his work and prohibited or otherwise impeded its publication.
Despite officialdom’s ham-handedness, Pushkin kept writing. His poetic novel Eugene Onegin revolutionized Russian literature as the first to take contemporary society as its subject matter and led a wave of realistic Russian novels. His use of the Russian language was both simple and profound. It became the foundation of the style adopted by novelists such as Leo Tolstoy and Ivan Turgenev. Pushkin’s tragic end began in 1836, when he received an anonymous “Certificate of a Cuckold”, which alluded to the infidelity of his wife, Natalia Pushkina, nee Goncharova.
23. The Good Guys and Romantic Heroes Don’t Always Win
George d’Anthes, a French officer serving in the Russian army, had been publicly pursuing Pushkin’s wife, Natalia. A beautiful, flirtatious and frivolous woman, Natalia might have encouraged the pursuit. Whether anything came of it or not, rumors swirled of an affair between the Frenchman and the poet’s wife. The era’s code of honor demanded that Pushkin challenge the offender to a duel, which the poet did in November, 1836. However, d’Anthes married Natalia’s sister soon thereafter, which made him Pushkin’s brother-in-law. So that challenge was dropped.
However, the slimy d’Anthes continued to publicly pursue Natalia Pushkina. He went about it so openly, that rumors once again circulated. This time to the effect that the Frenchman had married Natalia’s sister only to save her honor – and to have an excuse to get closer to Pushkin’s wife. So another challenge was issued, and this time it was accepted. On February 7th, 1837, Pushkin and d’Anthes met in a duel. In movies and fiction, the good and romantic guy wins. This was real life, however, and the trained soldier d’Anthes fatally wounded Pushkin, who in return only managed to slightly wound the Frenchman’s arm. Russia’s greatest poet died of his injuries two days later.
Politics is a profession that attracts more than its share of slimy people, but few were as slimy as Pierre Laval (1883 – 1945). He was twice Prime Minister of France during the Third Republic, first in 1931 – 1932, and again in 1935 – 1936. Laval started off as a socialist, but steadily drifted into conservatism until he became an extreme right-winger. When the Germans defeated France in 1940, Laval became an eager collaborator and served prominently in the German-aligned Vichy Regime.
A lawyer, Laval was a member of the Socialist Party from 1903 to 1920. Early in his career, he made a name for himself defending leftists and trade unions. He became more conservative after World War I, and twice became French Prime Minister for brief periods in the 1930s, along with longer stints as Foreign Minister. When France fell to the Germans in 1940, Laval persuaded the French Assembly to dissolve itself and cede all powers to Marshall Petain. That ended the Third Republic and inaugurated the collaborationist Vichy Regime, in which Laval became infamous as a collaborator.
Convinced of ultimate German victory, Pierre Laval eagerly collaborated with the Nazis. During the Vichy Regime, he served as vice president of the Council of Ministers for five months in 1940, until dismissed by Petain, and as head of the Vichy government from 1942 until the liberation of France in 1944. In an infamous 1942 speech, he expressed his desire that Germany win the war. Throughout, he avidly persecuted the French Resistance and rounded up Frenchmen for labor in Germany and the German war effort.
Laval also helped round up and deport French Jews to the concentration and extermination camps. Arrested after the liberation of France, Laval was tried alongside Petain after the war on charges of high treason. The slimy collaborationist tried to justify his treason on grounds that he had France’s best interests in mind all along, but to no avail, and he was convicted and sentenced to death. After a failed suicide attempt by poison, he was executed by firing squad on October, 15th, 1945.
Aldrich Ames (1941 – ) was a Central Intelligence Agency official who rose high in the agency’s Soviet and East European division, which afforded him access to Soviet counterintelligence. A slimy figure from early on, he turned traitor and sold his services to the KGB as a deep mole within their enemy’s camp. Ames became one of the USSR’s, and later Russia’s, most effective double agents in the US. The son of a CIA analyst, Ames’ connections paved the way for his joining the CIA in 1962. Those connections also kept him in the Agency despite problematic behavior that should have gotten him canned early on, long before he inflicted so much damage. Among other things, Ames was a heavy drinker. His alcohol-related problems included drunken run-ins with cops and drunken brawls in public with foreign diplomats.
He was also negligent and sloppy. On one occasion, he forgot secret documents in an NYC subway car. None of that stopped him from rising steadily through the CIA’s ranks. After a stint in Turkey in the 1960s, Ames returned to the US in the 1970s, then was posted to Mexico in the early 1980s. There, he met his second wife, Maria del Rosario Casas Dupuy, a Colombian whom he had recruited. They wed in 1985, and that same year, the couple began selling secrets to the KGB. By the time they were caught in 1994, Ames and his wife were paid over $2.7 million by the Soviets and Russians.
There were plenty of warning signs about Aldrich Ames, such as conspicuous consumption and extravagant spending. For example, he bought a big $520,000 house – serious money at the time – that was paid for in cash. There were luxury vacations, premium credit cards whose minimum monthly payment exceeded his salary, and luxury cars that stood out in the CIA’s parking lot. Those were things that no honest public servant could afford on government pay. However, no alarm bells were raised for years. When they were, it took years more, until 1993, before his employers took a serious look at his finances and activities. In the meantime, Ames had passed two polygraphs.
He needed no high-tech means or complicated Oceans Eleven-type capers to smuggle out secrets. Ames simply stuffed documents in his briefcase or in trash bags, and brazenly carried them out of the CIA headquarters at the end of the workday. As a result of Ames’ treachery, at least twelve CIA spies within the Soviet Union were captured, of whom ten were subsequently executed. By the time they were finally unmasked, Ames and his wife had revealed to the Soviets and Russians the identity of every CIA spy in their country. After he was arrested in 1994, the slimy spook cut a deal with prosecutors that spared him the death penalty, and ensured that his wife got no more than a five-year sentence.
Being a presentable youth in the presence of Roman Emperor Tiberius (42 BC – 37 AD) was not good. Not as well-known as notoriously debauched emperors such as Caligula, Nero, and Heliogabalus, Tiberius was a slimy figure who matched and likely exceeded them in perversion. Unlike them, he just preferred to be a pervert in privacy and seclusion. Tiberius built himself a vast pleasure palace, the Villa Jovis (“Jupiter’s Villa”) secluded on the island of Capri. There, he wallowed in all kinds of perversions, but particularly pedophilia, with children of both sexes. Among other things, he had toddlers trained to dive under water while he was in a pool to “nibble” at him as he swam – he called them his “minnows”. He also had pleasure gardens stocked with teenaged and prepubescent boys and girls.
The kids were dressed in outfits from Greco-Roman myths and legends, or ran around naked. Tiberius had them frolic about, display themselves for his pleasure, and engage in sex on command with each other. As he aged, he grew increasingly impotent, and so was often reduced to watching perversions acted out for his pleasure. He even had anal experts on the imperial payroll. As ancient Roman historian Suetonius put it: “On retiring to Capri he devised a pleasance for his secret orgies: teams of wantons of both sexes, selected as experts in deviant intercourse and dubbed analists, copulated before him in triple unions to excite his flagging passions.” To top it off, he got blowjobs from babies: “Unweaned babies he would put to his organ as though to the breast, being by both nature and age rather fond of this form of satisfaction.”
Vidkun Quisling (1887 – 1945) was a Norwegian army officer and right-wing politician, who led an unsuccessful fascist party in the 1930s. He betrayed his country to the Nazis in WWII, and collaborated with its German conquerors. The Nazis initially rejected him as too seedy and slimy even for them. They finally relented to his entreaties, and placed him in charge of a puppet government. Born to a pastor, Quisling’s life had a good start that give little hint of future ignominy. He did well in school, and graduated from the Norwegian Military College with the highest ever score since its inception. He was sent to the USSR as a military attache in 1918, and became Norway’s military expert on all matters Russian.
In 1922, Quisling worked on League of Nations humanitarian relief efforts in the Ukraine, and exhibited considerable administrative talent and skill. While there, he met and married two Russian women in quick succession, the second marriage, which lasted until his death, either bigamous or unofficial. Discharged from the army in a period of cutbacks, Quisling traveled throughout Europe for much of the 1920s. He returned to Norway in 1929, and launched a political career marked by anti-Semitic, anticommunist, and anti-liberal positions. He joined a movement called “Rise of the Nordic People“, and became Norway’s defense minister from 1931-1933. In 1933, inspired by the Nazis’ victory in Germany, he launched a fascist party, appointing himself its Fuhrer.
Quisling’s party never won more than 2% of the vote, which made him increasingly bitter and frustrated with his countrymen. In late 1939, he flew to Berlin, met with Hitler, and offered to assist the Germans if they tried to seize Norway. The Nazis, aware of his lack of support in Norway, were noncommittal. When Germany invaded Norway in 1940 and its government fled into exile, Quisling opportunistically tried to set up a collaborationist government. He was ignored by all, including the German occupiers. It took two years of wheedling before the Nazis finally recognized the slimy pol in 1942 as Norway’s “Minister-President” of a puppet regime.
In that position, Quisling did all he could to please his masters, including eager cooperation in their deportation of Norway’s Jews to death camps. Captured after the war, he was tried and convicted of treason, murder, and embezzlement, and executed in October of 1945. His name became synonymous with collaboration and treason. To this day, a “Quisling” is used as an epithet to denote a traitor. Not a run-of-the-mill traitor, such as calling somebody a “Benedict Arnold”, however. Instead, a “Quisling” denotes a traitor of the lowest, grubbiest, and most despicable kind. One who lords it over and represses his own people on behalf of an enemy, eager to please with shameless displays of bootlicking obsequiousness.
Pope Julius III (1487 – 1555) began his career as a diplomat, and eventually became Holy Father from 1550 until his death five years later. As pope, he took some half-hearted stabs at reforming what had become a notoriously corrupt Catholic Church. However, he much preferred to spend his time in the pursuit of pleasure. In his case, pleasure meant pedophilia with adolescent boys, and his notorious pedophilic pursuits tarnished his reputation and that of the Church. Born Giovanni Maria Ciocchi del Monte, he was a nephew of an influential archbishop and cardinal, who helped him ascend the church hierarchy. He became a cardinal in 1536, and a papal legate who undertook various diplomatic missions on behalf of the Holy Father.
In 1550, he was elected pope as a compromise candidate, after the College of Cardinals deadlocked between rival French and German candidates. He assumed the name Julius III. Once on the papal throne, he exhibited little interest in papal affairs. Instead, he looted the Church treasury to renovate his mansion in Rome, splurging on the best, including Michelangelo, to transform his residence into a magnificent palace. That was not the most scandalous thing about his pontificate, or what made him such an exceptionally slimy figure. That distinction goes to his love of young boys and proclivity for sex with kids, which was abundantly clear to all who set foot in the papal residence. Julius’ mansion was full of statues and frescos of boys having sex with each other, as the pope flaunted his perverted passion for children.
The greatest controversy of Julius III’s papacy was the “Innocenzo Scandal”, named after a handsome thirteen-year-old beggar with whom the pope fell passionately in love. He had the street urchin adopted into his family, then made the uncouth and barely literate Innocenzo a cardinal and showered him with church offices and benefices. The boy shared the pope’s bed, and on the rare occasions when he was absent from Rome, Julius fretted until he returned with the impatience of a lover pining for a mistress.
The besotted Holy Father also openly boasted of Innocenzo’s prowess in bed, and ignored all advice that his unseemly passion for the teenager opened him to ridicule as a slimy old pervert. Innocenzo was not the first teenage lover made cardinal by this pope. That distinction went to another of his boy lovers, a sixteen-year-old whom Julius III made a cardinal as a reward for his bravery, because he did not cry after he was bitten by one of the pope’s pet monkeys. Contemporaries wrote that it was Julius’ “costume â¦ to promote none to ecclesiastical livings, save only his buggerers“.
Napoleon infamously invaded Russia in 1812, which he entered with 685,000 men, only to come out with 120,000 cold and hungry survivors. The catastrophe shattered France’s dominance of Europe, as client states and subject nations rushed to shake off French hegemony. Racing back to France, Napoleon managed to raise an army equivalent in size to the one recently lost, but of lower quality and experience than the veteran force destroyed in Russia. They were desperately needed for the 1813 German Campaign, which pitted a coalition of armies, led by Russian Tsar Alexander I and Austrian field marshal Karl Philipp against Napoleon. It culminated at the Battle of Leipzig, October 16th to 19th, 1813, in which the French emperor was decisively defeated after his Saxon allies pulled a slimy move, and betrayed him mid-battle.
Marching into Germany to reassert French dominance, Napoleon won some victories. However, he was unable to follow them up with a decisive win because his enemies avoided battle with him. Instead, they fell upon his subordinates instead, whom they defeated as often as not. By October, 1813, the allies were confident enough to challenge Napoleon directly. The showdown took place at Leipzig between Napoleon’s forces of 225,000, and a 380,000 strong coalition of his enemies. Although outnumbered, Napoleon planned to take the offensive against the allies who sought to envelop him, as he operated along interior lines. That allowed him to concentrate against enemy sectors faster than they could be reinforced by his foes, who operated on exterior lines.
The Battle of Leipzig’s first day, October 16th, ended in a hard-fought stalemate. Allied attacks were defeated, while Napoleon’s outnumbered forces were unable to achieve a breakthrough. The 17th saw limited actions, and by the 18th, Napoleon was running low on supplies and munitions, and prepared to withdraw. An attempt to negotiate an exit was rejected by the coalition, which launched a massive attack all along the line that day. That steadily pushed Napoleon’s forces back into Leipzig, and only fierce resistance prevented a breakthrough. The bottom fell out on the afternoon of the 18th, when Napoleon’s Saxon allies pulled off a well-timed betrayal. With Napoleon’s forces already stretched to their limit, a Saxon corps of about 10,000 men occupying a sector of the French line suddenly abandoned their positions.
The Saxons deserted Napoleon, and marched out to meet the allies. It might have been dishonorable and slimy, but it was highly effective. With a gaping hole now suddenly appearing in their lines, Napoleon’s forces had to abandon that entire sector. That night, with their positions untenable, they began a retreat. It went smoothly at first, but the next day, incompetence led to the premature blowing up of a bridge while it was still crowded with retreating Frenchmen. The result was a panicked rout in which thousands were killed, while tens of thousands more were stranded on the wrong side of the destroyed bridge and captured. It transformed the battle from an arguable tactical draw into a disastrous French defeat.
Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes (1485 – 1547) pulled off one of history’s most slimy – and most effective – moves, in his conquest of Mexico. Its victim was Emperor Montezuma II (circa 1469 – 1520), ruler of Tenochtitlan and the Aztec Empire from 1502 to 1520. The result was the native empire’s destruction and replacement by a vast Spanish domain in Mexico, while Cortes amassed extraordinary wealth and power. It began in February 1519, when Cortes landed with a small force on Mexico’s eastern coast near today’s Vera Cruz, and subdued that region.
The Spaniards then proceeded to march inland towards the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, defeating and allying with the natives en route. By the time he reached Tenochtitlan, Cortes had a large native army, around a core of Spaniards. Montezuma, indecisive since he heard the first reports of Cortes’ arrival, invited him and his Spaniards into Tenochtitlan in November, 1519. He hoped to better understand them and their weaknesses. Foolishly, he plied his guests with lavish gifts of gold. That only served to excite their lust for plunder.
In a slimy move, while a guest in Montezuma’s palace, Hernan Cortes treacherously seized his host, and held him as a hostage. He then proceeded to rule Tenochtitlan and the Aztec Empire through the captive emperor. In April, 1520, Cortes had to speed back to Mexico’s east coast in order to ward off another Spanish expedition sent to oust him. He left behind a Spanish garrison of 200 men under a trusted deputy. In Cortes’ absence, his deputy massacred thousands of Aztecs in Tenochtitlan’s Great Temple.
That triggered a massive uprising against the Spaniards. Cortes rushed back to Tenochtitlan, and trotted out the captive Montezuma in hopes that it would placate the natives. It did not work as well as expected. The livid Aztecs proceeded to stone the Spaniards’ puppet ruler to death. Cortes fled Tenochtitlan, and assembled a powerful native army. With it, he finally subdued the city, whose population had been decimated with plagues of Old World diseases against which the natives had no immunity.
Sigurd Eysteinsson, AKA Sigurd the Mighty (died 892) was a Viking Earl who ruled the Orkney and Shetland Islands off Scotland’s northern coast. Allied with other Vikings chieftains, he invaded the Scottish mainland, conquered northern Scotland, overran Sutherland and Caithness, and asserted Viking control as far south as Moray. Sigurd’s exploits in that conquest earned him the epithet “the Mighty” from fellow Vikings. The king of recently unified Norway had sent Sigurd’s brother, Rognvald Eysteinsson, to conquer the Shetland and Orkney islands after they became a refuge for Norwegian exiles, from which they raided their homeland. Rognvald lost a son in that conquest, and in compensation, Norway’s king gave him the islands and made him earl. With interests elsewhere, Rognvald gave the islands and title to his younger brother, Sigurd.
During the course of his conquest of northern Scotland, Sigurd challenged a local chieftain, Mael Brigte the Bucktoothed, head of the Mormaerdom, or kingdom, of Moray, to a forty-man-per-side battle. In a slimy move, Sigurd cheated and showed up with eighty men. Outnumbered, the Scots were defeated and massacred, and Sigurd personally beheaded Mael Brigte. Tying the defeated leader’s head to his saddle as a trophy, Sigurd rounded up his men and rode back home to celebrate the victory. However, on the way back, as the severed head tied to the saddle bounced around, the bucktooth that gave Mael Brigte his nickname cut Sigurd’s leg. The cut became inflamed and infected, and Sigurd died of the infection before he got back home.
Rodrigo Borgia (1431 – 1503) was a pope from 1492 until his death. He was perhaps history’s most slimy and brazenly corrupt Holy Father, and did not bother with even the pretense of a fig leaf to cover his venality. He openly sold church offices, as well as indulgences to the wealthy. Unconcerned about his vows of celibacy, he openly acknowledged having fathered nine illegitimate children, including four with his live-in mistress. He also reportedly had an incestuous affair with his own daughter – when she was not busy having incest with her brother.
He was born near Valencia, Spain, into the Borgia family, a powerful ecclesiastical dynasty. Nepotism was the norm in those days, so when Rodrigo Borgia’s uncle became Pope Callixtus III in 1455, he ordained his nephew a deacon, then made him a lay cardinal. Soon thereafter, he was made vice-chancellor of the Catholic Church, at the age of twenty-five. Nepotism got Rodrigo a leg up, but he was a capable man in his own right and continued rising through the Church hierarchy after his pope uncle’s death.
7. A Slimy Pope Who Did Not Bother to Pretend to be Religious
By the 1490s, Rodrigo Borgia had served under five popes, and amassed considerable administrative experience, wealth, and influential connections. When the papal throne became vacant in 1492, he put those assets to good use, and bribed a majority of the College of Cardinal to elect him pope. Taking the name Alexander VI, he transformed the papacy into a nepotistic kleptocracy for the benefit of his family. This slimy pope was highly unpopular with the devout, because he made no pretense of being religious.
The new pope threw lavish parties that often degenerated into drunken orgies. One of them, which went down in history as the “Banquet of Chestnuts“, involved the hiring of fifty prostitutes, who danced with the guests naked. Chestnuts were then strewn around, and the naked women crawled on hands and knees to pick them up. Then a competition was announced to see which guest could copulate the most, while servants kept score of each man’s orgasms.
Pope Alexander VI brazenly carried on with his mistresses before and after he became Holy Father, and acknowledged the resulting illegitimate children. He arranged dynastic marriages for his kids, and dipped into Church coffers to splurge on lavish weddings for his bastards. The pope also used his daughter Lucrezia, with whom had an incestuous affair, to snare wealthy and powerful notables. He had her seduce those whom he deemed useful, married her off to them, and when Lucrezia’s husband was of no further use, the pope arranged the dissolution of the marriage. The apples did not fall from the tree when it came to this pope’s children, and they too were notoriously corrupt and venal.
Alexander VI openly sold church positions to the highest bidders. When his lavish lifestyle and reckless spending drained Church coffers, this slimy Holy Father began to sell indulgences – like Monopoly’s “Get Out of Jail Free” cards, but for hell instead of prison. He made the name “Borgia” a byword for corruption, nepotism, and libertinism, which were the hallmarks of his pontificate. Alexander VI’s brazen corruption was not just gossip fodder: it had a huge historical impact, and set in motion a backlash that eventually culminated in the Protestant Reformation.
5. Hernan Cortes’ Success Inspired Other Conquistadors
Hernan Cortes’ conquest of the Aztec Empire inspired other Spanish conquistadors, such as Francisco Pizarro (circa 1471 – 1541). He managed to pull off a betrayal against the Incan Emperor Atahualpa (circa 1502 – 1533) that was even more dramatic, venal, and slimy than that pulled off by Cortes against Montezuma. It also resulted in the destruction of a native empire, and its replacement by a vast Spanish domain. In 1525, Atahualpa had inherited the northern half of the Incan Empire from his father, while the southern half went to his brother Huascar.
Five years later, Atahualpa attacked his brother, and by 1532, had defeated Huascar and reunited the empire. His reign proved brief, however, for Pizarro showed up soon thereafter. Pizarro landed in Peru in 1532, established a small colony, then set off to conquer with a tiny force of about 200 men. En route, he was met by an envoy from Atahualpa. He bore an invitation to visit the Inca ruler at his camp, where he was resting with his army of about 100,000 men after his recent victory over his brother.
Francisco Pizarro set off to meet Emperor Atahualpa with 110 infantry and 67 cavalry, armed and armored with steel and equipped with three arquebuses and two small cannon. A meeting was arranged for November 16th, 1532, in a plaza in the town of Cajamarca. On the night of the 15th, Pizarro outlined to his men an audacious plan to seize Atahualpa. On the appointed day, Atahualpa, incautious about his own security, left his army camped outside Cajamarca, and arrived at the town’s plaza on a fine litter carried by 80 courtiers, and trailed by about 5000 nobles and other courtiers. The Incans were richly dressed in ceremonial garments and unarmed except for small ceremonial stone axes.
The Spaniards, concealed in buildings surrounding the plaza, with cavalry was hidden in alleys leading to the open square, fell upon Atahualpa and his party at a signal from Pizarro. The result was a massacre. The unarmored natives proved no match for the Spaniards’ steel swords, pikes, bullets, or crossbow bolts, while the Indians’ ceremonial stone axes were useless against Spanish plate armor. Thousands of natives were killed, the rest fled in panic, and not a single Spaniard lost his life.
Atahualpa was captured by Francisco Pizarro, and the Incan ruler desperately sought to buy his life and freedom. In exchange for his release, he offered to fill a room measuring 22 by 17 feet, up to a height of eight feet with gold, and twice with silver. However, after the payments were made, Pizarro once again deceived Atahualpa, and in yet another slimy move, he reneged on the deal. Instead, he put the Incan emperor through a staged trial that convicted him of rebellion, idolatry, and murdering his brother, Huascar.
Atahualpa was sentenced to death by burning, but was spared that fate by agreeing to get baptized as a Catholic. He was executed by strangulation instead. Treachery paid off for Pizarro, who amassed considerable wealth and power after his slimy move against Atahualpa, until some measure of karmic justice caught up with him in 1541. On June 26th of that year, heavily armed supporters of a rival stormed Pizarro’s palace. In the ensuing struggle, Pizarro was stabbed in the throat. Falling to the ground, he made a cross with his own blood while gurgling cries for help from Jesus to no avail, and bled to death.
In June 1932, Tony Marino, the proprietor of a rundown speakeasy in the Bronx, was in desperate need of money. So he and four acquaintances hatched a plan to murder somebody and collect the life insurance. Working with a corrupt insurance agent, they would take out life insurance policies on one of the habitual drunks who frequented Marino’s establishment. They would then get him to drink himself to death, and collect it when he perished. They chose Michael Malloy (1873 – 1933), a homeless Irish immigrant. Malloy was an alcoholic and a longtime client of Marino’s, where he drank on credit until he passed out. He paid when he could, whenever he found temporary employment, and let the tab run for months whenever he drifted out of employment and was broke.
Malloy seemed the perfect mark for a slimy scheme. Life insurance policies were taken of the Irishman, then Marino extended him unlimited credit at the speakeasy. However, Michael Malloy turned out to be extremely difficult to kill – a toughness that earned him the nicknames “Iron Mike” and “Mike the Durable”. The assumption was that Malloy would drink himself to death, but every day, the old Irishman drank all his waking hours without any noticeable decline in his health. So to speed things up, Marino and his accomplices added antifreeze to their mark’s booze. Old Malloy simply drank it until he passed out, then asked for more when he came to.
Tony Marino and his coconspirators replaced the antifreeze in Michael Malloy’s booze with turpentine. Malloy was unfazed. They switched to horse liniment – basically, liquid Bengay. Malloy gulped it down and asked for more. They added rat poison to the mix. Malloy’s constitution did not notice. Oysters soaked in wood alcohol did not do the trick, nor did a spoiled sardines sandwich sprinkled with metal shavings. Finally, convinced that nothing he drank or ate would kill him, Marino and his coconspirators decided to freeze Malloy to death. One cold winter night, when the temperature dipped to minus 14 Fahrenheit, they waited for Malloy to pass out. When he did, they carried him to a park, dumped him in the snow, and poured five gallons of water on his chest to make sure he froze solid. Malloy showed up the next day for his booze on credit.
So Marino and his confederates ran him over with a taxi owned by one of the plotters. All that did was put Malloy in a hospital for three weeks with some broken bones. He reappeared at the speakeasy soon as he was discharged. So on February 22nd, 1933, they stuck a gas hose in Malloy’s mouth after he passed out and turned on the jets. That finally did the trick. The plotters collected on the insurance, but rumors of “Mike the Durable” began making the rounds. When the insurers heard the tales, they contacted the police. Malloy’s body was exhumed and reexamined, and the truth came out. Michael Malloy’s slimy “friends” were tried and convicted in 1934. One got a prison sentence, while the rest, including Tony Marino, got the electric chair.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading