Before becoming a churchman, Giovanni had two illegitimate children, Franceschetto and Theodorina, whom he later acknowledged. He was rumored to have had more children by a concubine, but this has not been confirmed.
Under the influence of Cardinal Calendreni, for whom he worked initially, Giovanni took holy orders.
He moved upward in the Church rapidly, becoming Bishop of Savona in 1467 and of Molfetta in 1472, both by the appointment of Paul II. Through the influence of Pope Sixtus IV's nephew Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, he was made a cardinal in 1473.
Giovanni Cibò was elected pope in a back-room deal between factions dominated by two cardinals: Rodrigo Borgia and Giuliano della Rovere. Because Giuliano did not have the votes to win the papacy for himself, he supported Giovanni as a compromise candidate whom he could control. Reportedly, the night before his election, Giovanni signed a number of petitions granting lucrative favors to the cardinals who supported him. He took the name Innocent VIII.
As pope, Innocent VIII inherited financial problems from the administration of Sixtus IV, who had been extravagant in making ambitious commissions at the Vatican and around Rome. And, like his predecessor, Pope Innocent needed money for high living and enriching his family.
Innocent VIII's first means of raising money was by borrowing it using Church property.
Pope Innocent created a number of new and unnecessary posts within the Church administration and sold them to the highest bidders. This clearly violated of the laws of simony (buying or selling church offices) and had the effect of filling the administration with incompetent and corrupt individuals.
After the death of the Turkish Sultan Mehemed II in 1481, his son Bayezid took up the Ottoman throne and fought off the challenges of his brother Djem. Prince Djem settled in Rhodes under the protection of the Knights of St. John and the French crown. Because the new sultan was willing to pay large sums to prevent his brother from returning to Turkey leading a Christian army, many political states wished to entertain and detain the prince.
Pope Innocent gained custody of this guest-hostage in 1489 by granting a cardinalate to the head of the Knights of St. John and a papal dispensation for a marriage to the French king.
Djem was held for the remainder of Pope Innocent's pontificate and for part of his successor's pontificate. The Sultan agreed to pay 40,000 ducats (over 1 1/2 million dollars) annually and to send an important relic: the Holy Lance, which had supposedly pierced Jesus' side. It arrived in 1492, and is now part of the Vatican collections.
Although Pope Innocent would have liked to have mounted a crusade against the Turks, who had driven the Christians out of the Near East, his political attention was absorbed by his ongoing conflict with the Kingdom of Naples.
The agreement in which the pope took money from the Turkish Sultan for holding his brother maintained a state of peace in which neither would attack the other.
Although not aggressive towards the Turks himself, Pope Innocent was jubilant upon hearing in January 1492 that the Spanish had driven the Moors (Muslims) from Granada, their stronghold in Spain. He called for celebrations in Rome to mark this Christian triumph. In recognition of the significance of this event, he awarded the Spanish monarchs, King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile, the titles of "Catholic Kings."
During most of his pontificate, Pope Innocent was in conflict with the King of Naples, Ferdinand I. The discord began with the king's refusal to pay a papal tax that Sixtus IV had exempted Naples from paying.
Under the influence of Giuliano della Rovere, in 1485 Innocent sided with the nobles who wished to overthrow Ferdinand. Giuliano persuaded the pope to install Duke René of Lorraine in Ferdinand's place, but while Giuliano was in France preparing to accompany the duke to Italy, Innocent made a deal for peace with Ferdinand.
Ferdinand broke the treaty in 1489, and the pope excommunicated him. The two were not reconciled again until 1492, when the dying pope was forced to make a deal that diminished papal territory.
In 1484, just after assuming the office of pope, Innocent VIII issued a bull calling for a vigorous persecution of witches in Germany. This act, which had been requested by two German inquisitors of the Dominican Order, led to numerous trials and many women being burned at the stake.
Pope Innocent banned the 900 Theses (1487), making it one of the first printed books to be banned by the Catholic Church. It was written by the humanist Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, who attempted to harmonize Neo-Platonism and Christianity. Thirteen of its propositions were found to be heretical, and the punishment for reading it was excommunication.
Pico issued an apology and went into exile in France. Lorenzo de' Medici later interceded on his behalf and arranged for Pico to return to Florence, where he died in 1494.
In 1486, following the War of the Roses, in which the Tudors defeated the Yorks, Pope Innocent recognized Henry Tudor as King Henry VII of England.
Pope Innocent followed the example of Pope Sixtus IV in living like a prince and being more concerned with furthering his family's prospects than with fulfilling the Church's spiritual mission and reforming its corrupt practices.
He made advantageous marriages for his children and grandchildren and even conducted some of the weddings at the Vatican.
Pope Innocent's friendship with Giuliano della Rovere collapsed after the pope's truce with King Ferdinand undercut Giuliano's mission in France. This left the pope free to establish closer ties with Lorenzo de' Medici, whose enmity with the della Rovere family was increased by the Pazzi conspiracy.
The pope's alliance with Lorenzo was strengthened in 1488 by the marriage of his illegitimate son Franceschetto with Lorenzo's daughter Maddalena. Lorenzo's thirteen-year-old son Giovanni was made a cardinal at this time.
With so many of the administrative offices filled with unqualified and corrupt employees, it is hardly surprising that many of them conspired to sell forged papal bulls. When the forgers were caught in 1489, they were treated harshly and some were hanged.
The pope did little to establish peace and security in Rome, which regularly saw fights between the Colonna and Orsini families.
Pope Innocent funded the continuation of projects begun by previous popes and began new projects of his own. Many of his commissions were destroyed by the modifications of later popes.
|●||Building the Villa Belvedere, 1485-7. At the north end of the Vatican, Innocent built a small villa called the Villa Belvedere. The name belvedere reflects its high vantage point. The villa was decorated with paintings by Mantegna and Pinturicchio, which were destroyed by the additions of later popes. The construction of this villa had significant ramifications for the future of the Vatican because Pope Julius II later commissioned Bramante to connect it with the Vatican Palace, thus creating the Belvedere Court, a series of terraces framed by galleries that extended a thousand feet.|
|●||Commissioning own tomb, 1492-98. Pope Innocent commissioned Pollaiuolo to make his tomb, which is unusual in including two effigies: a recumbent image as if dead and a seated representation as if alive. When this ensemble was originally mounted in Old St. Peter's, the recumbent figure was mounted above the seated effigy, which held a replica of the Holy Lance. The actual Holy lance was housed in a tabernacle in the same chapel in Old St. Peter's as the tomb. Both the effigies and the panels around them are made of gilded bronze, which stands out against the background of richly colored marble. The four panels beside the seated effigy represent the four cardinal virtues, and the images in the lunette depict the three theological virtues. At the top, a family crest is mounted in a broken pediment. This tomb, one of Pollaiuolo's most admired works, is the only one of the wall tombs from Old St. Peter's that was moved to the new basilica. (The others were re-located in other churches.)|
|●||Continuing the Benediction Loggia. Pope Innocent continued the Benediction Loggia, which stood at the entrance to the atrium of Old St. Peter's.|
|●||Building Hunting Lodge at Magliana. The pope built a hunting lodge at Magliana, which was located about six miles from Rome.|
|●||Decorating Summer Residence near Monte Mario. The pope commissioned Mantegna and Pinturicchio to decorate the interior of his summer residence near Monte Mario with paintings, now largely destroyed.|