It happened today - May 17, 2016

Antichristus (1521) by Lucas Cranach the Elder is a woodcut of the Papal States at war during the Renaissance. (Wikipedia) On this date in history, May 17, the Papal States were annexed by France. Again. For the fourth time, actually. In 1808. Would it be fair to ask on what basis?

The fundamental answer seems to be “Vae victis!”, the immortally ominous response “Woe to the vanquished!” given by the Gaulish chieftain Brennus when the beaten Romans complained that he was taking more tribute than they had agreed to. Accompanied by the vivid gesture of throwing his sword onto the balance so they had to pay yet more gold. But it’s also an interesting reflection on the rather aimless rapacious aggression of radical regimes.

One is permitted to have doubts about the existence of the Papal States as a temporal fiefdom of Popes who, going back into the Renaissance, had not always shown themselves moral exemplars in their geopolitical conduct. But how did that make them the rightful prey of Revolutionary France? Yet its armies showed up in 1791, 1796, 1800 and 1808, seizing, releasing and seizing again.

Now to be fair the first time, in 1791, they seized the Comtat Venaissin and Avignon which at least were technically in France. But the northern Legations bagged in 1796 were not, nor were the whole bunch glommed in 1800 and again in 1808.

When Napoleon overreached against the Anglosphere and came a cropper in 1814, they went back to the Popes, whose secular administration again failed to impress a great many people. And with the liberal revolutions of 1848 across much of Europe, the Italian branch included creating a Roman Republic in 1849 and forcing the reform-minded Pius IX to flee. When he came back with French troops in 1850 he was in a different mood.

What? French troops again? Yes. Under Napoleon III, famously in Marx’s phrase the farce to his uncle’s tragedy. His occupation was more reactionary vainglory than revolutionary rapaciousness. But it too didn’t work, like virtually everything else involving the words “Napoleon III.” And in 1870, as he was busy losing the Franco-Prussian War, the Italians marched into Rome while other supposedly Catholic states twiddled their thumbs and stilled their tongues.

The Pope was not impressed and after much sulking an accord in 1929 created Vatican City. At least this time the rest of the Papal States, being notably full of Italians, went to Italy, where most of them wanted to be anyway.

Not France, whose earlier lunge for them showed the morally hollow sanctimonious chronic aggression typical of radicalism.