The March of Folly
Impetuous, hot-tempered, self-willed, reckless and difficult to manage, Julius was an activist, too impatient to consult, hardly able to listen to advice. In body and soul, reported the Venetian Ambassador, he "had the nature of a giant. Anything that he had been thinking overnight has to be carried out immediately next morning and he insists on doing everything himself." Faced by resistance or contrary views, "he looks grim and breaks off the conversation or interrupts the speaker with a little bell kept on the table next to him." He, too, suffered from gout, as well as kidney trouble and other ills, but no infirmities of body restrained his spirit. His tight mouth, high color, dark "terrible" eyes, marked an implacable temperament unprepared to give way to any obstacles. Terribilita, or awesomeness, was the word Italians used of him.
Having broken the power of Cesare Borgia, he moved on to neutralize the feuding baronial factions of Rome by judicious marriages of della Rovere relatives to Orsinis and Colonnas. He reorganized and stiffened the papal administration, improved order in the city by stern measures against bandits and the paid assassins and duelists who had flourished under Alexander. He hired the Swiss Guard as the Vatican's protectors and conducted tours of inspection through the papal territories.
His program to consolidate papal rule began with a campaign against Venice to regain the cities of the Romagna, which Venice had seized from the Holy See, and in this venture he brought France to his aid in alliance with Louis XII. Negotiations streamed from him in local and multi-national diplomacy: to neutralize Florence, to engage the Emperor, to activate allies, to dislocate opponents. In their common if conflicting greeds, all participants in the Italian wars had designs on the expanded possessions of Venice, and in 1508 the parties coalesced in a liquid coalition called the League of Cambrai. The wars of the League of Cambrai over the next five years exhibit all the logical consistency of opera librettos. They were largely directed against Venice until the parties shifted around against France. The Papacy, the Empire, Spain and a major contingent of Swiss mercenaries took part in one permutation of alliance after another. By masterful manipulation of finances, politics and arms, aided by excommunication when the conflict grew rough, the Pope succeeded ultimately in regaining from Venice the estates of the patrimony it had absorbed.
In the meantime against all cautionary advice, Julius' pugnacity  extended to the recovery of Bologna and Perugia, the two most important cities of the papal domain, whose despots, besides oppressing their subjects, virtually ignored the authority of Rome. Announcing his intention of taking personal command, and overriding the shocked objections of many of the cardinals, the Pope stunned Europe by riding forth at the head of his army on its march northward in 1506.
Years of belligerence, conquests, losses and violent disputes engaged him. When in the normal course of Italian politics Ferrara, a papal fief, changed sides, Julius in his rage at the rebellion and the dilatory progress of his punitive forces, again took physical command at the front. In helmet and mail, the white-bearded Pope, lately risen from an illness so near death that arrangements for a conclave had been made, conducted a snow-bound siege through the rigors of a severe winter. Making his quarters in a peasant's hut, he was continually on horseback, directing deployment and batteries, riding among the troops, scolding or encouraging and personally leading them through a breach in the fortress. "It was certainly a sight very uncommon to behold the High Priest, the Vicar of Christ on earth . . . employed in person in managing a war excited by himself among Christians . . . and retaining nothing of the Pontiff but the name and the robes."
Guicciardini's judgments are weighted by his scorn for all the popes of this period, but to many others besides himself the spectacle of the Holy Father as warrior and instigator of wars was dismaying. Good Christians were scandalized.
Julius was carried forward in this enterprise by fury against the French, who through a long series of disputes had now become his enemies and with whom Ferrara had joined. The aggressive Cardinal d'Amboise, as determined to be Pope as Julius before him, had persuaded Louis XII to demand three French cardinalships as the price of his aid. Against his will, Julius had complied for the sake of French support, but relations with his old rival were embittered and new disputes arose. The Pope's relations with the League, it was said, depended on whether his hatred of d'Amboise proved greater than his enmity for Venice. When Julius supported Genoa in its effort to overthrow French control, Louis XII, needled by d'Amboise, made enlarged claims of Gallican rights in appointment of benefices. As the area of conflict spread, Julius realized that the Papal States would never be firmly established while the French exercised power in Italy. Having once been the "fatal instrument" of their invasion, he now bent every effort upon their expulsion. His reversal of policy, requiring a whole new set of alliances and arrangements, awed his  compatriots and even his enemy. Louis XII, reported Machiavelli, then Florentine envoy in France, "is determined to vindicate his honor even if he loses everything he possesses in Italy." Vacillating between moral and military procedure, the King threatened at times "to hang a Council around [the Pope's] neck" and at other times, with d'Amboise pressing at his elbow, "to lead an army to Rome and himself depose the Pope." A vision of not merely succeeding but replacing the Pope lured Cardinal d'Amboise. He too had become infected by the virus of folly—or ambition, its large component.
In July 1510 Julius ruptured relations with Louis, closing the Vatican door to the French Ambassador. "The French in Rome," gleefully reported the envoy of Venice, "stole about looking like corpses." Julius, on the contrary, was invigorated by visions of himself winning glory as the liberator of Italy. Thereafter Fuori i barbari! (Out with the barbarians
A Distant Mirror
Yet change as always was taking place….Monarchy, centralized government, the national state gained in strength...Seaborne enterprise liberated by the compass was reaching toward the voyages of discovery that were to burst the confines of Europe….Times were to grow worse over the next fifty odd-years until at some imperceptible moment, by some mysterious chemistry, energies were refreshed, ideas broke out of the mold of the Middle Ages into new realms, and humanity found itself redirected.
The Guns of August
Some damned foolish thing in the Balkans,” Bismarck had predicted, would ignite the next war. The assassination of the Austrian heir apparent, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, by Serbian nationalists on June 28, 1914, satisfied his condition. Austria-Hungary, with the bellicose frivolity of senile empires, determined to use the occasion to absorb Serbia as she had absorbed Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1909. Russia on that occasion, weakened by the war with Japan, had been forced to acquiesce by a German ultimatum followed by the Kaiser's appearance in “shining armor,” as he put it, at the side of his ally, Austria. To avenge that humiliation and for the sake of her prestige as the major Slav power, Russia was now prepared to put on the shining armor herself. On July 5 Germany assured Austria that she could count on Germany's “faithful support” if whatever punitive action she took against Serbia brought her into conflict with Russia. This was the signal that let loose the irresistible onrush of events. On July 23 Austria delivered an ultimatum to Serbia, on July 26 rejected the Serbian reply (although the Kaiser, now nervous, admitted that it “dissipates every reason for war”), on July 28 declared war on Serbia, on July 29 bombarded Belgrade. On that day Russia mobilized along her Austrian frontier and on July 30 both Austria and Russia ordered general mobilization. On July 31 Germany issued an ultimatum to Russia to demobilize within twelve hours and “make us a distinct declaration to that effect.”