Book Review: The Pope’s Greatest Adversary, Girolamo Savonarola by Samantha Morris

Genre: History,Β  nonfiction
Publisher: Pen and Sword
Pub date: 29 September 2021. Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

On 24 May 1497 Girolamo Savonarola was led out to a scaffold in the middle of the Piazza della Signoria. Crowds gathered around and watched as he was publically humiliated before being hanged and burned. But what did this man do that warranted such a horrendous death?

Born on 21 September 1458 in Ferrara, Girolamo Savonarola would join the Dominican order of friars and find his way to the city of Florence. Run by the Medici family, the city was used to opulence and fast living but when the unassuming Dominican showed up, the people were unaware that he was about to take their world by storm.

Preaching before the people of Florence to an increasingly packed out Cathedral, Savonarola came to be called a prophet. And when Charles VIII invaded Italy with his French army, one of his so called prophecies came true. It was enough for the people to sit up and take note, allowing this man to become the defacto ruler of Florence. Except Girolamo Savonarola made one very fatal mistake – he made an enemy of Alexander VI, the Borgia Pope, by preaching against his corruption and attempting to overthrow him. It would prove to be his ultimate undoing – the Pope turned the Florentines who had so loved the friar against him and he ended his days hanging above a raging inferno.

I was really looking forward to reading this after reading Morris’s book Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia: Brother and Sister of History’s Most Villified Family as I enjoyed it very much.

For those, like me who know little of Savonarola this is perfect for getting to know who he was, his life, his work and how he became a threat to the Pope.

Morris brings Savonarola out of the shadows and explains how his journey from a child, scholar, friar through to his execution.
Savonarola travelled to Florence to preach against corruption and vice, his preaching was much admired by many but became a nuisance to others including the Medici family who were eventually exiled. With the Medici gone, Savonarola had more power and his preaching and behaviour became more extreme resulting in the bonfire of vanities where painting, books and other items were burned on his orders. This was a step too far for some but it seemed nobody could silence the Dominican Friar. Even the Pope tried numerous times to silence him through bribery with a cardinals hat to excommunication but eventually Savonarola met his end with execution amid his own bonfire and his ashes thrown into the river.

The Pope’s Greatest Adversary is the result of much research which shines a light on a man who attempted to reform the Church but often falls into the shadows of other reformers like Luther.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Florence at this time, Savonarola’s life and his relationship with some of the most famous people at the time such as the Borgia’s and de Medici’s.

I’m very much looking forward to seeing what Morris writes next and hope it is around Renaissance Italy.
I’d urge anyone with an interest in the Renaissance, Savonarola and the prominent families to give this a try, this was definitely an extremely interesting period of time and Morris captures the events perfectly.

Thank you to Pen and Sword and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this in exchange for an honest review.

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