The Pope’s Army: The Papacy in Diplomacy and War

Written by John Carr
Review by Edward James

‘How many divisions has the Pope?’ joked Stalin at the Yalta conference.  By then the idea of the papacy as a military power seemed ridiculous, but the last Papal army had been disbanded only eight years before Stalin was born.

Until 1870 the papacy ruled much of central Italy and in earlier centuries had been a military and naval power of European significance. Its galleys played an important role in the battle of Lepanto (1570), which checked Turkish sea power in the Mediterranean.  For the most part, however, these were hired armies and ships.  The Pope’s own army was a small force devoted to suppressing revolts in the ever-restive Papal States.  Its glory days were its last ten years when Pius IX raised a multi-national legion to defend his territory against the newly formed Italian state – ‘the Ninth Crusade’ in the 1860s.

The legion went down fighting, and its campaigns are the most interesting section of Carr’s book.  The rest is mainly a canter through familiar territory, but the book is worth it for the story of the romantic, anachronistic Ninth Crusade.