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Ercole Gonzaga

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Cardinal ; b. at Mantua, 23 November, 1505; d. 2 March, 1563. He was the Son of the Marquess Francesco, and nephew of Cardinal Sigismondo Gonzaga (1469-1525). He studied philosophy at Bologna under Pomponazzi, and later took up theology. In 1520, or as some say, 1525, his uncle Sigismondo renounced in his favour the See of Mantua ; in 1527 his mother Isabella brought him back from Rome the insignia of the cardinalate. Notwithstanding his youth, he showed great zeal for church reform, especially in his own diocese ; and in this he received help and encouragement from his friend Cardinal Giberti, Bishop of Verona. His mode of life was stainless and a manuscript work of his, "Vitae Christianae institutio", bears witness to his piety. He published a Latin catechism for the use of the priests of his diocese and built the diocesan seminary, thus carrying out reforms urged by the Council of Trent, as his friends Contarini, Gilberti, Caraffa, and other bishops had done or were doing, even before the council had assembled. His charity was unbounded, and many young men of talent and genius had their university expenses paid by him. The popes employed him on many embassies, e.g. to Charles V in 1530. Because of his prudence and his business-like methods, he was a favourite with the popes, with Charles V, and Ferdinand I, and with the Kings of France, Francis I and Henry II. From 1540 to 1556 he was guardian to the young sons of his brother Federico II who had died, and in their name he governed the Dutchy of Mantua. The elder of the boys, Francesco died in 1550 and was succeeded by his brother Guglielmo. In the conclave of 1559 it was thought he would certainly be made pope ; but the cardinals would not choose as pope a scion of a ruling house. In 1561 Pius VI named him legate to the Council of Trent, for which he had from the beginning laboured by every means at his command, moral and material. In its early stages, owing to the fact that not a few considered he was in favour of Communion under both kinds , he met with many difficulties, and interested motives were attributed to him. Nothing but the express wish of the pope could have persuaded him to remain at his post, and the energy he displayed was unwearied. He contracted fever at Trent, where he died, attended by Father Lainez. His benefactions to the Jesuit college at Mantua and to the Monte di Pieta were very great, and his letters are invaluable to the historian of that period.

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