Thence, carrying the war into the Romagna itself, d'Alviano marched upon Cesena. But the Romagna was staunch and loyal to her duke. The governor had shut himself up in Cesena with what troops he could muster, including a thousand veterans under the valiant Dionigio di Naldo, and there, standing firm and resolute, he awaited the onslaught of the Venetians.
D'Alviano advanced rapidly and cruelly, a devastator laying waste the country in his passage, until to check him came suddenly the Borgia troops, which had ventured upon a sally. The Venetians were routed and put to flight.
On September 16 the restored tyrants of Rimini, Pesaro, Castello, Perugia, Camerino, Urbino, and Sinigaglia entered into and signed at Perugia a league, whose chiefs were Bartolomeo d'Alviano and Gianpaolo Baglioni, for their common protection.
Florence was invited to join the allies. Intimidated, however, by France, not only did the Signory refuse to be included, but in her usual manner actually went so far as to advise Cesare Borgia of that refusal and to offer him her services and help.
On the same date the Sacred College assembled in Rome, at the Mass of the Holy Spirit, to beseech the grace of inspiration in the election of the new Pontiff. The part usually played by the divine afflatus in these matters was so fully understood and appreciated that the Venetian ambassador received instructions from the Republic 1 to order the Venetian cardinals to vote for Giuliano della Rovere, whilst the King of France sent a letter in his own hand to the Sacred College desiring it to elect his friend the Cardinal d'Amboise, and Spain, at the same time, sought to influence the election of Carvajal.
1 See Saniito's Diarrii.
The chances of the last named do not appear ever to have amounted to very much. The three best supported candidates were della Rovere, d'Amboise, and Ascanio Sforza who made his reappearance in Rome, released from his French prison at last, in time to attend this Conclave.
None of these three factions was strong enough to ensure the election of its own candidate, but any two were strong enough to prevent the election of the candidate of the third. Wherefore it happened that, as a result of so much jealousy and competition, recourse was had to temporizing by electing the oldest and feeblest cardinal in the College. Thus there should presently be another election, and meantime the candidates would improve the time by making their arrangements and canvassing their supporters so as to control the votes of the College at that future Conclave. Therefore Francesco Piccolomini, Cardinal of Siena (nephew of Pius II), a feeble octogenarian, tormented by an ulcer, which, in conjunction with an incompetent physician, was to cut his life even shorter than they hoped, was placed upon the throne of St. Peter, and assumed with the Pontificate the name of Pius III.
The new Pope was entirely favourable to Cesare Borgia, and confirmed him in all his offices, signifying his displeasure to Venice at her attempt upon the Romagna, and issuing briefs to the allied tyrants commanding them to desist from their opposition to the will of the Holy See.
Cesare returned to Rome, still weak on his legs and ghastly to behold, and on October 6 he received in St. Peter's his confirmation as Captain-General and Gonfalonier of the Church.
The Venetians had meanwhile been checked by a letter from Louis from lending further assistance to the allies. The latter, however, continued their hostilities in spite of that. They had captured Sinigaglia, and now they made an attempt on Fano and Fermo, but were repulsed in both places by Cesare's loyal subjects. At the same time the Ordelaffi who in the old days had been deposed from the Tyranny of Forli to make room for the Riarii deemed the opportunity a good one to attempt to regain their lordship; but their attempt, too, was frustrated.
Cesare sat impotent in Rome, no doubt vexed by his own inaction. He cannot have lacked the will to go to the Romagna to support the subjects who showed him such loyalty ; but he lacked the means. Owing to the French and Spanish dispute in Naples, his army had practically melted away. The terms of his treaty with Louis compelled him to send the bulk of it to the camp at Garigliano to support the French, who were in trouble. The force that Re molino had quartered at Orvieto to await the duke's orders he had been unable to retain there. Growing uneasy at their position, and finding it impossible either to advance or to retreat, being threatened on the one side by the Baglioni and on the other by the Orsini, these troops had steadily deserted; whilst most of Cesare's Spanish captains and their followers had gone to the aid of their compatriots under Gon zalo de Cordoba in response to that captain's summons of every Spaniard in the peninsula.
Thus did it come about that Cesare had no force to afford his Romagna subjects. His commissioners in the north did what was possible to repair the damage effected by the allies, and they sent Dionigio di Naldo with six hundred of his foot, and, further, a condotta of two hundred horse, against Rimini. This was captured by them in one day and almost without resistance, Pandolfaccio flying for his life to Pesaro.
Next the allies, by attempting to avenge the rout they had suffered at Cesena, afforded the ducal troops an opportunity of scoring another victory. They prepared a second attack against Cesare's capital, and with an army of considerable strength they advanced to the very walls of the stronghold, laying the aqueduct in ruins and dismantling what other buildings they found in their way. But in Cesena the gallant Pedro Ramires lay in wait for them. Issuing to meet them, he not only put them to flight and drove them for shelter into the fortress of Montebello, but laid siege to them there and broke them utterly, with a loss, as was reputed, of some three hundred men in slain alone.
The news of this came to cheer Valentinois, who, moreover, had now the Pope and France to depend upon. Further, and in view of that same protection, the Orsini were already treating with him for a reconciliation, despite the fact that the Orsini blood was scarce dry upon his hands. But he had a resolute, sly, and desperate enemy in Venice, and on October 10 there arrived in Rome Bartolomeo d'Alviano and Gian paolo Baglioni, who repaired to the Venetian ambassador and informed him that they were come in quest of the person of Valentinois, intending his death.
To achieve their ends they united themselves to the Orsini, who were now in arms in Rome, their attempted reconciliation with Cesare having aborted. Valentinois's peril became imminent, and from the Vatican he withdrew for shelter to the Castle of Sant'Angelo, going by way of the underground passage built by his father.
Thence he summoned Michele da Corella, who was at Rocca Soriana with his foot, and Taddeo della Volpe (a valiant captain and a great fighter, who had already lost an eye in Cesare's service) and Baldassare Scipione, who were in the Neapolitan territory with their men at arms. He was gathering his sinews for a spring, when suddenly the entire face of affairs was altered and all plans were checked by the death of Pius III on October 18, after a reign of twenty six days.
Once more there was an end to Cesare's credit. No man might say what the future held in store. Giustiniani, indeed, wrote to his Government that Cesare was about to withdraw to France, and that he had besought a safe conduct of the Orsini which report is as true as many another communication from the same Venetian pen, ever ready to write what it hoped might be true; and it is flatly contradicted by the better informed Macchiavelli, who was writing at the same time :
" The duke is in Sant 'Angelo, and is more hopeful than ever of accomplishing great things, presupposing a Pope according to the wishes of his friends."
But the Romagna was stirred once more to the turbulence from which it had scarcely settled. Forli and Rimini were lost almost at once, the Ordelaffi succeeding in capturing the former in this their second attempt, whilst Pandolfaccio once more sat in his palace at Rimini, having cut his way to it through a sturdy resistance. Against Imola Bentivogli dispatched a force of two thousand foot; but this was beaten off.
The authority of France appeared to have lost its weight, and in vain did Cardinal d'Amboise thunder threats in the name of his friend King Louis, and send envoys to Florence, Venice, Bologna, and Urbino, to complain of the injuries that were being done to the Duke of Valentinois.