17th Century Secret Female Pope

In September 1644, a new pope ascended the throne of St Peter. He was 72 year old Cardinal Giovanni Battista Pamphili otherwise known as Pope Innocent X.

But Innocent did not wear the triple crown alone. He shared it with his intelligent, scheming, greedy sister in law Olimpia Maidalchini.

Donna Olimpia Maidalchini

Donna Olimpia Maidalchini

During the first three years of Innocent’s papacy, Olimpia restricted her advice to matters concerning political issues of minor importance. But in 1647, with a shift of Vatican employees, Olimpia found herself in a position to influence the powerful and secret arm of the Vatican known as The Holy Alliance.

At this time in history, relations between the Vatican and France were at an all-time low. After many years in Italy courting Donna Olimpia, the most powerful man in France was Guilio Mazarini, now refashioned as Cardinal Jules Mazarin.

Mazarin knew Olimpia and her role well and cleverly insinuated a force of French agents inside the Vatican to spy on her, and to inform him of all the Pope’s intended manoeuvres against France.

Jules Mazarin

Jules Mazarin

Clever Olimpia countermanded this move by setting in place a counter-espionage arm of the Holy Alliance called The Black Order, the members of which were to find Mazarin’s spies and execute them on the spot.

The Black Order had eleven members, handpicked by Olimpia. Each one carried a pontifical seal engraved in silver with the image of a female in a toga holding a sword in one hand and a cross in the other.

Mazarin’s best spy was a Genovese priest named Alberto Mercati and, between 1647 and 1650, many important papal documents relating to France came through his hands, all of them duly copied and forwarded to Mazarin. In one such secret message came the outline of a plot by an organisation called the Fronde to overthrow the First Minister and his mistress, Anne of Austria.

This coded message was given to a French member of the Pope’s Swiss Guard who promised to get it to Paris with all possible speed. The next day his body was found hanging from a bridge with both hands cut off and a small strip of black cloth with two red stripes attached to his clothes – the sign of The Black Order.

The message was brought to Olimpia and destroyed and France embarked on the series of brutal civil wars known as The Fronde.

The Fronde

The Fronde

On September 6th 1652, Mercati was found hanged in his rooms in Rome with, inside his mouth, a small strip of black cloth with two red stripes.

Assassins and the Vatican

In 1604 Denis lebedy de Batilly wrote a 64 page tract titled Traict de l’origine des anciens assasins porte-couteaux. He gave it the subtitle – With examples of their attempts and homicides against certain kings, princes, and lords of Christianity.

The pamphlet was produced in Lyon and gained a wide audience including Camillo Borghese otherwise known as Pope Paul V(1552-1621).

It is said that the passage in the book that this Pope most admired was…

‘Fly from the man who carries the death of kings and princes in his hands.’

Pope Paul V

Pope Paul V

The book was not entirely accurate, historically, but it made certain observations and gave certain revelations which contributed to the knowledge and understanding of assassins to 17th century Europe.

Batilly was one of Henri IV of France and Navarre’s officials and he would have been aware of the attempts made on Henri’s life after he abjured Protestantism to become king of France.

Paris is worth a Mass

Henri IV if France and Navarre

Henri IV of France and Navarre

Henri (husband of Marie de Medici and father of Louis XIII and Henrietta Maria) was certain that, one day, he would be assassinated and took precautions for a time.

But, on 14th May 1610, the king had meetings to attend. He went, despite the fact that an unsealed letter had been found in his rooms – ‘Sire, under no conditions go out this afternoon.’

The story of the assassination of Henri IV is well known. As his coach became caught between a wagon full of hay and one full of buckets in the narrow rue de La Ferronnerie, a man climbed on to the running board and stabbed at the king.

The first strike was to the chest and superficial. The second pierced a lung, cutting the aorta.

It was 4pm, 14th May 1610.

Jean-François Ravaillac, the assassin was caught, brought to the palais de Retz and searched. In his pockets were found eight silver coins, a rosary, a paper with the name Beillard and a strange octagonal piece of parchment with Christ’s name on each side and, in the centre, ‘Prepared for the pain of torment, in God’s name.’

Ravaillac had known associations with the Jesuits, and the Holy Alliance – a secret Vatican agency who employed spies and assassins across Europe.

Pope Paul V held a solemn Mass in the memory of the late King of France . And in secret spaces inside the catacombs of Rome another Mass was said for the Catholic Martyr – Jean François de Ravaillac.