Catholic Popes elected via Approval Voting – election stories

By Warren D. Smith, August 2010. Seeking help from any other qualified authors.    (List of Popes)

Many popes have sought... to make yet more stringent this all-important rule [against simony, the practice of paying for votes to gain church positions] by reiterated fulminations of excommunication in any and every case... the most solemn forms of oath that language can devise... and the result of all these multiplied precautions, precepts, prohibitions, and menaces has been that a study of the history of the Papal Conclaves leaves the student with the conviction that no election untainted by simony has yet ever been made, while in a great number of instances [it] has been of the grossest, most shameless, and most overt kind. – 1897 Encyclopedia Brittanica, "Conclave."

This page tells the stories of different papal elections. The elections between 1294 and 1621 were held using rules based on approval voting (which Baumgartner on p.106 calls "the practice of having several names on a ballot") with secret ballots and a supermajority threshold, as explained here; bare election data is here; the conclusions reached from all this are here and are critiqued here. Our purpose on the present page is to paint a fairly complete picture of all the approval-voting pope elections (to the extent that is possible). The overarching goal is to gather data about how this sort of approval voting system worked in practice.

Every kind of disgraceful tactic imaginable was employed in these conclaves at one time or another to try to "game the system" including bribes, altering the electorate, promises (some kept, some not), outright physical violence (probably including several murders), lies, deceptions, and threats.

We shall sometimes put a note about one kind of strategic idea or another. We (perhaps foolishly) list the elections in reverse chronological order.

Warning: These stories are basically just copied from the sources listed at the end – sometimes even with long verbatim quotes in a highly plagiaristic manner, other times summarized in words very much my own – and with no attempt to verify them aside from checking (rather incompletely) for consistency between the sources and being suspicious when contradictions were found. (That actually is probably fairly effective because it appears most of our sources were independently written.)

I am hesitant to publish this page because I am not a true pope-scholar, as I said some of this page can be regarded as just plagarism from the sources listed at the end (which I fully admit – so does that make it ok?); and my attempts to get truly-qualified historians to write it, have failed. Nevertheless, despite my deficiencies I have here accumulated a great deal of information about the pope-elections as a dataset of "how approval voting works in the real world in the presence of vast strategic manipulation attempts." You can read a separate much shorter summary of the 5 conclusions that I drew from this dataset.


Borghese tried to elect Campori by "acclamation," but failed because too many of his friends defected to align with Orsini (the de facto leader of the anti-Borghese camp). A vote showed the greatest approval (15) for Robert Bellarmine, but he, at age 78, refused election. The rest of the day the topmost cardinals (Borghese, Orsini, Zapata, Capponi, d'Este and Medici) sought a compromise candidature. Bourbon del Monte was proposed, but Spain rejected him. Finally, the leaders of factions agreed on the (aged and ill) cardinal Alessandro Ludovisi of Bologna, who seemed an ideal candidate for a temporary pontificate, as "Gregory XV."

Because he rewrote the election rules, Gregory was the last pope elected via the approval-voting-based system. (He also promptly installed his 25-year-old nephew as a cardinal and his brother as head of the pontifical army.)

1605-A and 1605-B

A: 62 cardinals were present. With the aid of 300,000 ecus in bribe money from King Henry IV of France and an alliance between the French and Italian factions, Alessandro Ottaviano de Medici was elected Pope Leo XI, defying the express wishes of the king Philip III of Spain.

However, Philip had the last laugh when Leo died only 26 days later.

B: There were 59 conclavists and 4 main factions: Aldobrandino (the pope's nephew) and his loyalists (about 26 in all); Cardinal Montalto marshalling the opposition (about 21), and the 6 Spanish and 6 French who were to some approximation tools of the Spanish and French kings and intended to try to stop anybody unfavorable to them. Note that, due to the two-thirds threshhold, 26+6+6 was not large enough to force anybody's election.

Note on kings: Kings of one country or another often tried to influence papal elections through bribery and/or intimidation. The kings aligned and re-aligned with or against each other and started and ended wars and thus had different goals at different times.

C.Baronius got 23 votes in first ballot. Later Sauli got a majority but failed to get a 2/3 supermajority. R.Belarmine was then promoted, then Tosco.

The promotion of Bellarmine, who was in Aldobrandino's faction but not one of the most favored therein, was a trick by Montalto. If the Aldobrandino faction had (which would have been pretty honest) approved everybody in their own faction, then this Montalto move would have backfired by instantly electing Bellarmine. However, he counted on them not doing that. Montalto's idea was that when Bellarmine got unexpectedly high approval, the Aldobrandino faction would become suspicious of each other – was there a secret plot to elect Bellarmine? – perhaps leading to dissension Montalto could later exploit; plus, he could suck up to Belarmine himself as another wedge.

Tosco's supporters attempted to elect him by acclamation but failed in a scuffle that broke several bones and he only got 38 secret ballots (2 short).

Finally Camillo Borghese, perceived as a neutral and hence unobjectionable mediocrity, was elected unanimously and crowned "Paul V."

One important mistake made by Paul V in 1605 was this. The Republic of Venice had the gall to actually plan to try two priests for criminal offences and reserved the right to tax the Church. For this, Paul placed the entire city of Venice under "interdict," excommunicated its entire leadership presumably condemning them all to the fires of Hell, and ordered all priests etc to leave so that nobody there could be baptized or given Christian burial. Supposedly Catholics everywhere would rise up in horror at that prospect and force Venice to yield. Unfortunately for Paul, what actually happened was that, if anything, sympathies built for the Venetians, who survived quite well without the Church, and whom (Paul then feared) might actually ally themselves with the Protestants. It therefore was the Pope who was forced to give in, lifting the interdict in 1607 having accomplished nothing, and clearly and humiliatingly revealing the weakness of the Church to all like-feeling rulers everywhere.

Nevertheless, Paul almost at the end of his reign appeared to have decisively triumphed against the Protestants in the 30-years war (1618-1648), due to a massive victory by a multinational alliance of Catholics and mercenaries at the Battle of White Mountain in 1620 – apparently ending the war. It eventually became clear, however, that that judgment had been premature.

Note on "compromise candidates": A large number of popes were "compromise candidates." The properties of approval voting tend to favor such. In contrast, Instant Runoff voting tends to favor the election of extremists.

1591 & 1592

The conclave of 1591 with 56 or 57 voters elected Cardinal Giovanni Antonio Fachinetti (though 72 years old and in chronic ill health) as Innocent IX. Fachinetti had been supported by Spanish King Philip II in 1590 but was not perceived as ardently pro-Spanish. He got 23 approvals on first ballot, 28 on second (a majority) and then was able to persuade Cardinal Montalto he'd be good to him, which got him over the hump for a near-unanimous election as "Innocent IX" after only 2 days.

But he died in 2 months.

The conclave of 1592 then was called (52 voters present, out of 65 cardinals who theoretically could have been there; others say 54 out of 64). It lasted 21 days.

Two Factions: One led by Cardinal Andrea Peretti di Montalto (the nephew of pope Sixtus V), and the Spanish party which was supporting Giulio Antonio Cardinal Santorio, the head of the Spanish Inquisition.

What happened: On the 11th, there was a disgraceful spectacle in the Sistine Chapel, as the Spanish party attempted to install Santorio by acclamation. This was vigorously resisted by Cardinals Altemps, Gesualdi and Colonna. Finally forced to undertake a scrutiny (i.e. actually count the ballots), the Spaniards could muster only 30 votes by secret ballot, five short of the number needed to elect.

Side-Note about majorities & "acclamation": If some pope candidate X was supported by a majority (as here) albeit not the required supermajority, that majority nevertheless had the numbers to try to physically force X to be crowned pope and declare him chosen by "adoration" or "acclamation" without need for a count. This gambit was tried several times in papal conclaves, not just in 1592. Also, note that anybody resisting such an acclamation attempt (various fights broke out at various times resulting in broken bones...) would have to sacrifice their anonymity to do so. Recall that the whole secret-ballot system was intended to allow voters to express their true views in their votes without fear of reprisal (such as the new pope torturing, killing, expelling, or jailing them) and without having to worry about how many other voters were on your side.. Therefore acclamation attempts could succeed even with a non-majority if everybody else was sufficiently intimidated.

Side-Note about King Philip II of Spain: As the pre-eminent European power at the time, and willing to subsidize the Church and make war versus the Turks, and with strong views about "heretics," and finally with an organized faction of cardinals, Spain had huge influence on the conclaves in the late 1500s.

Story continues: G. della Rovere might have won eventually (kept gaining votes, apparently getting 34) but he died during the proceedings. Another cardinal arrived though, keeping the voter-count at 52.

Side-note about monarchic families: Cardinal Girolamo della Rovere was a representative of one of the four extremely rich and powerful families – the Borgias, della Roveres, Farnesi, and Medici – which each apparently sought to obtain a monarchy-like permanent hold on the papacy. (And earlier, the Orsinis and Colonnas were two wealthy and powerful rival families playing the same game.) E.g. Pope Alexander VI only got that way due to an entire career gained by nepotism (his uncle was pope) and then installed his son Cesare Borgia as a cardinal at age 17, while having various rivals killed and/or framed and their property confiscated. If permanent monarchy was the goal, none of these families ultimately succeeded in getting it (but perhaps they could have) but, in any case, each exerted tremendous influence over the church. If the election method had been, e.g, IRV or some other extremist-favoring method, then perhaps one of the monarchic families would have succeeded in getting an iron grip on the papacy and turned it into a family dynasty. In that case history might have been quite different and probably (from the point of view of Catholics) worse.

Story continues: Of the seven Cardinals who were on the list of acceptable candidates supplied by [Spanish] King Philip II, only the seventh, Pietro Cardinal Aldobrandini, could muster support outside the Spanish faction since he'd been appointed by Sixtus V. Madruzzo finally decided he could not win and switched his support to Aldobrandini as a lesser evil than Santori, and then with Montalto also doing the same, on January 30, he was finally elected unanimously to be crowned Pope Clement VIII.

Bibliographic Note by Prof. John Paul Adams: For details of the Interregna of 1591, see Giuseppe de Novaes, Elementi della storia de' sommi pontefici da San Pietro sino al ... Pio Papa VII   third edition, Volume 8 (Roma 1822) 248-252; and Volume 9. 5-6. L. Ranke, History of the Popes. Their Church and State II (tr. E. Fowler) (New York 1901),Book VI, section 4, pp.158-161; Alexis François Artaud de Montor, Histoire de pontifes V (Paris 1851), pp. 33-35. G. Moroni, Dizionario di erudizione storico-ecclesiastica Vol. 36 (Venezia 1846) p. 11-12; Vol. 14 (Venezia 184 ), p. 44.. For Cardinal Santorio: Charles Berton, Dictionnaire des cardinaux (1857) 1503.

1590-A and 1590-B

The Conclave opened on 7 September, with 53 or 54 cardinals. (Wikipedia says 67.) On the sixth day, some of the cardinals attempted to place the tiara on the head of Marcantonio Colonna, Cardinal-Bishop of Palestrina, but they did not succeed. The Spanish faction set to work to convince that Colonna was unelectable because of his children (the fact that the previous pope Gregory XIII had an illegitimate child was conveniently not mentioned), and promoting two Spanish candidates – but both failed to get even a majority. Then they tried to caucus to find candidates acceptable to both factions, coming up with Castagna, who'd already got 20 approvals.

In the afternoon of 15 September first by acclamation and then by a scrutiny, Giambattista Cardinal Castagna, the governor of Bologna and Consultor of the Holy Roman Inquisition, was elected pope Urban VII. But he died of malaria on 27 September.

Second try: Fifty-two of the sixty-five cardinals entered conclave on October 8. Cardinal Montalto (nephew of Pope Sixtus V) wanted Colonna but Sforza hated Colonna and supported Sixtus V's creation Vincenzo Laureo. Colonna fell 6 votes short. King Philip II infuriated the cardinals by instructing the Spanish to vote against a list of 30 of unnacceptable-to-him candidates – actually a majority of the cardinals there, were "unacceptable"! That was a bad psychologo-tactical move by Philip! However, because Philip controlled 20 votes, he did have veto power.

Note on supermajority threshhold and the "majority defense" property of approval voting: Approval voting has the property that a voter majority can, if they collude to do so, force the election of anybody they want, and veto the election of anybody they do not want. But in the papal election rules, approval with a supermajority threshhold was used, which caused a minority controlled by Philip II to have veto power. They could, if they wanted, deadlock the conclave permanently.

So Montalto began to promote the candidacy of Scipio Cardinal Gonzaga, but the latter firmly discouraged him. He tried promoting Aldobrandini despite his pro-French attitude, but he fell 3 votes short. In November he tried promoting Paleotto but again, 3 votes short. Finally, they came up with Cardinal Niccolo Sfondrato. Sfrondato was proposed as the safest Spanish candidate and Montalto thought he had an edge with him because Montalto's mistress was Sfrondato's niece! This secret alliance was then enough to elect Sfondrato (the fact the man was incompetent was relatively of little import). So late in the afternoon of December 5, Cardinal Sfondrati was elected unanimously. Gregory XIV (Sfondrati) was crowned on December 8, and took possession of the Lateran on December 13. But he died on October 16, 1591.

Note on bets: Bookies in Rome would allow people to place bets on who would be elected pope. This could influence the voting. (Fortunately for our purposes, it also caused there to be huge financial incentive to break conclave secrecy by transmitting messages.) In this particular election, it is said that both Sforza and Montalto placed bets on the over-10-to-1 longshot candidate Sfondrato and kept their alliance secret. As a result, they both made fortunes. One of Gregory XIV's few acts in office as pope was to outlaw such bets (although it is not clear his decree had much actual effect).

Bibliographic Note by Prof. John Paul Adams: For details of the conclaves of 1590, see Giuseppe de Novaes, Elementi della storia de' sommi pontefici da San Pietro sino al ... Pio Papa VII   third edition, Volume 8 (Roma 1822) 229-233; and 235-236. L. Ranke, History of the Popes. Their Church and State II (tr. E. Fowler) (New York 1901),Book VI, section 4, pp.151-157; Alexis François Artaud de Montor, Histoire de pontifes V (Paris 1851), pp. 11-16, and pp. 17-19. For the first conclave: G. Moroni, Dizionario di erudizione storico-ecclesiastica Vol. 86 (Venezia 1847) p. 39 (repeating the information in Novaes)..


At the opening ceremonies [April 21], out of sixty living cardinals 39 attended. Three more arrived later, in time to vote: Andrew of Austria, Ludovico Madruzzo of Trent, and Guido Luca Ferrero of Vercelli.

Two factions: One led by Cardinal Ferdinando de' Medici and the other by Ludovico d' Este (grandson of King Louis XII of France and Protector of France before the Holy See), were struggling for control and willing to combine to make a pope, if only they could agree.

Strategic misdirection games: On the 22nd of April, it appeared that Cardinals Pier Donato Cesi and Guglielmo Sirleto were favored by the vote, though by the next morning they were abandoned, having been the subject of much maneuvering by the faction leaders.

Wanting to avoid the potential influence of cardinals who had not yet arrived, Medici then proposed two names to d' Este, those of Cardinals Albani and Montalto, and invited him to choose. D'Este imposed conditions, however, and the projected deal, when news got out, caused much indignation. Through a series of misdirections and strategems, Medici convinced the cardinals that Montalto was not his candidate, though Cardinal Altemps (Markus Sittich von Hohenems, cousin of Carlo Borromeo and nephew of Pius IV) guessed that he was, which Medici confirmed. Altemps, who was a leader of a group of cardinals who had been created by his uncle, was brought into Medici's circle. That evening Ludovico Cardinal Madruzzo (Madruccio), who was the designated leader of the Spanish faction, arrived in Rome and had conversations with the Spanish and Imperial ambassadors before he entered conclave. Meeting immediately with d' Este, Madruccio learned of d' Este's dislike of his own favorite, Sirleto. Considering that a completely pro-Spanish pope would be as unpalatable as a completely pro-French one, he therefore declared himself to d'Este to be against Cardinal Albani, and thus in favor of Montalto. Altemps, Medici and Gesualdo then put pressure on Madruccio as well, and he was won over. As leader of the Spanish interest, he brought his own influence to bear on Andrew of Austria, Colonna, Deza (Seza), Gonzaga, Sfondrati and Spinola. With all of these adherents, Medici and d'Este still needed four votes. These could only be had in the group of Gregory XIII's cardinals organized by Alessandro Farnese, the Dean of the College of Cardinals. During that night, Cardinal Ferrero arrived.

On the 24th of April, before daylight, Medici explained to Montalto all that had been done, and advised him as to how affairs should be conducted. D'Este met with Farnese, who believed that Montalto had no voting strength, and managed to further misdirect him. During a meeting in the Pauline Chapel, d' Este recruited Guastavillani, the Cardinal Camerlengo; Giambattista Castagna, the Cardinal of San Marcello; and Francesco Sforza. When the cardinals finally assembled in the Sistine Chapel, d' Este declared that it was not necessary to proceed to a ballot, since it was obvious who the new pope was. Without opposition the cardinals proceeded to do hommage ('adoration') to Felice Peretti (the real name of the Cardinal Montalto at that time). Once it was obvious to all who the pope was, then they had a scrutiny (i.e. formal vote) and he was elected unanimously, then crowned Sixtus V.

Sixtus appointed his 15-year-old nephew cardinal. He also imposed a rule of the iron fist, executing large numbers of Roman citizens for what today would be considered comparatively minor crimes. Finally, Sixtus also embarked on and/or completed numerous engineering/artistic projects such as completing the Dome of St. Peter – whose combined effect was to turn Rome into the leading European city and the world's leading city in terms of art.

Bibliographic Note by Prof. John Paul Adams: For the Conclave of 1585, see Giuseppe de Novaes, Elementi della storia de' sommi pontefici da San Pietro sino al ... Pio Papa VII   third edition, Volume 8 (Roma 1822) 103-106. L. Ranke, The Ecclesiastical and Political History of the Popes of Rome during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Volume I (tr. S. Austin) (Philadelphia 1841); Giovanni Leti, Vita di Sisto Quinto, pontefice romano Volume II (Torino 1852) 40-86; Baron Joseph Alexandre Hübner, The Life and Times of Sixtus V Volume I (tr. H.E.H. Jerningham) (London 1872), pp. 187-205; id., Sixte-Quint nouvelle édition (Paris 1882) Vol. II, pp. 435-443 (a letter of April 24, 1585, from Cardinal Ferdinando de' Medici to Grand Duke Francesco de' Medici).


53 cardinals present. Allesandro Farnese had spent decades sucking up to King Philip II of Spain in preparation to moving to become the next Pope. He was the clear pre-election favorite.

The story was that supposedly a letter from Philip II came to the Spanish faction at the Conclave indicating Farnese was unacceptable. Farnese was told about but not allowed to see the letter ("out of consideration for your dignity"), and was told that he would be acceptable to Philip next time, if he cooperated with Philip's desires this time – turning the tables on him. (This promise was, of course, not actually kept, but Farnese could not know that.)

Farnese then agreed provided he had the major power in deciding the pope, so the leader Granvelle of the Spanish faction presented 4 names to him, and Farnese chose his favorite among the four, Ugo Boncompagni (perhaps chosen because his age, 70, made it likely Farnese would soon get another shot). On the second day his choice was elected unanimously as Gregory XIII.

Note on unanimity: Once it became apparent who was going to be the pope, it became useful to many to elect him "unanimously" (whether his support was actually unanimous, or not). It did not pay to risk the new pope's displeasure, and it also was useful for public relations purposes to pretend to the outside world that the support was unanimous. (Sometimes the pope himself would vote for somebody else, i.e. slightly non-unanimous, to demonstrate his exemplary "generosity.") These motivations all held to some degree despite the supposed secrecy of the ballots.

Note on nationality: Gregory appointed two of his nephews and a lot of Italians cardinals, initiating a 240-year period of self-reinforcing Italian dominance of the college of cardinals and hence of the Papacy. Since the Pope got to appoint cardinals and the cardinals elected the Pope, the non-Italians had no chance from then on if the others wanted to keep Italians in power.

Gregory XIII set up an international system of papal "nuncios" – essentially, a diplomatic corps. He also appointed his bastard son governor of the Castel St. Angelo. But Gregory is perhaps most noted for, after the St.Bartholomew's day massacre butchering 5000-10000 French protestants, celebrating a "thanksgiving" mass.


There were numerous factions, with the most powerful consisting of cardinals appointed by Pius IV and led by his nephew Borromeo. Morrone nearly was elected (he had a large majority but was 3 votes short of the required supermajority) and probably would have been if Borromeo had not had an early inclination toward passivity and had Morrone striven to be elected by "adoration." As it was his opponents (who included several cardinals Morrone probably would have tortured or killed if elected) got enough time to organize a vetoing minority faction. Borromeo later tried to elect Sirleto but failed due to pique from other factions about Borromeo's style. Farnese probably would have been elected if Borromeo could have been persuaded to support him, but no. So Farnese and Borromeo settled on M.Ghislieri as a compromise candidate. He was elected Pius V "despite his [own] tears and entreaties."

Pius brought back the Inquisition, which was successful in eliminating Protestantism in Italy; and excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I of England, which accomplished nothing.


September 9, 1559 (or September 4/5, according to some), the Conclave opened, with 44 cardinals attending. The political requirements of King Philip of Spain and the French Court of the new king Francois II (in fact under the control of Catherine de Medici and the Guise faction) were, as usual, the determining factors in the choice of a pope. Prominent among the deliberations and maneuvers were Cardinals Farnese (nephew of Paul III), who was in close touch with King Philip and who controlled perhaps four votes; Carafa (nephew of Paul IV), who controlled around eleven votes; Ippolito II d' Este, the Cardinal of Ferrara, was the leader of the French interest (about 24, including Louis I de Guise and Lorenzo Strozzi, both of whom arrived on the 15th of September). There were 16 French factioneers and 17 Spanish.

One strategem which almost worked was the following. Cardinal B. Cueva and his assistant went around privately meeting a large number of cardinals asking them to vote for Cueva just so the poor fellow could know he had at least one friend, or as a "personal message of honor and respect." Thirty-two "kind polite" pseudo-votes were thus solicited, enough to assure his election, but the effort was discovered just before the ballot. It was laughed off as a joke when it didn't quite work.

The Frenchman Tournon seemed to have enough votes to be elected, but he was defeated by Carafa's ploy of announcing his support of Tournon, which of course cleverly mobilized all the Carafa-haters to vote against him since Carafa having influence with the new pope was unacceptable. The French then went for E.Gonzaga, who also failed thanks to Carafa and the Farnese. The Spaniard Pacheco came within two votes of election but was busted when several cardinals who'd promised to vote for him did not. If Carpi's election was viewed as imminent, the French had decided to go for G.Medici (who was normally getting 3-7 approvals) as a lesser evil. Carpi was hurt by spreading rumors that the planned arranged marriage between his sister and Camerlengo's brother was merely a fient. Then Farnese suddenly got behind Medici after some secret deal-making between them and between Medici and Carafa.

That worked; Giovanni Angelo de' Medici was elected by acclamation and crowned Pope Pius IV. Pius of course then broke his 300,000 scudi promises of money for the Carafa cardinals and indeed had them indicted then executed in 1561.

Bibliographic Note by Prof. John Paul Adams: For details of the conclave of 1559, see Giuseppe de Novaes, Elementi della storia de' sommi pontefici da San Pietro sino al ... Pio Papa VII   third edition, Volume 7 (Roma 1822) 143-146. Alexis François Artaud de Montor, Histoire de pontifes IV (Paris 1851), pp. 184-185. George Duruy, Le Cardinal Carlo Carafa (1519-1561): Étude sur le Pontificat de Paul IV (Paris 1882) 308-314. G. Moroni, Dizionario di erudizione storico-ecclesiastica Vol. 51 (Venezia 1851) 131; Vol. 53 (Venezia 1851) p.84-85. J. B. Sägmüller Die Papstwahlbullen und das staatliche Recht der Exklusive (Tübingen 1892), pp. 43-84.

1555-A and 1555-B

Between 36 and 39 cardinals in attendance. The conclave began as a nasty struggle between the Emperor Charles V's cardinals and those of the French king, Henri II. The French faction was led by Cardinal Ippolito II d' Este (Pallavicino, 136), who had lately (1552-1554) been the ruler of Parma on behalf of Henri II of France, a personal friend and patron.

But the reformers, led by Cardinals Ranuccio Farnese and Guido Ascanio Sforza, managed to put together sufficient votes to elect Cardinal Marcello Cervini, a papal diplomat who had been President of the Council of Trent. He had been nuncio successively to the French King, Francis I, and to the Emperor Charles V, to whom he was acceptable. On April 9, with 55 cardinals in attendance, he was proclaimed pope by "adoration", and crowned pope Marcelus II the next day. But after 22 days in office, he died of a stroke.

Second try: On May 15, the Conclave began with 44 (says Pallavicino) or 45 (says Bramato) cardinals present; eventually all 56 cardinals were present. The Imperial Ambassador informed Cardinal Carafa that he should not seek election to the papacy, as the Emperor Charles V was opposed to him and would invoke the Veto (exclusiva). Carafa replied that if God wanted him to be pope, the Emperor had no power to stop it. (In fact, some sources claim the only reason Carafa ran at all was he hated the idea Charles was trying to stop him.)

Factions: King Henry II supported Este; Emperor Charles V was inactive but those favorable to the Emperor were considering Cardinals Carpi, Pole and Moroni, all of whom were unacceptable to the French interest.

Proceedings: Pole and Moroni each failed by 2 votes to get elected in the first two ballots. Alexander Cardinal Farnese (who had played no role in the politics of the first conclave) then saw he had no chance to elect the French choices and began shouting "The dean! The dean!" and Cardinal d'Este concurred, both now supporting Carafa (Dean of Cardinals, archbishop of Naples, and founding head of the Roman Inquisition). This was a sudden attempt to get Carafa elected by accalmation. But it fell short by 3 votes. The representatives of Charles V (Charles V and Carafa hated each other) tried to stop it. (In his turn Carafa suggested Cardinal de' Nobili, a person of exemplary piety. That seems to have been a misdirection ploy; de'Nobili had no chance.) It dawned however that Carafa was probably going to win and his wrath would be massive on whoever failed to support him. And with Charles V distracted by peace negotiations in Germany he did not play an active role. So... Carafa was crowned Pope Paul IV by "adoration."

Carafa had devoted much of his previous 79 years to the "inquisition" and combined paranoia with a terrifyingly ruthless ideological purity. He had his chief rival Moroni jailed for "heresy" and tried to do the same to his other chief rival Pole (but in his case failed because Pole refused to travel from England to Rome and thus place himself in Paul's grasp). He created a list of prohibited books to burn. When it came to preserving church "purity," no issue was too minor for Paul's consideration. Married men were expelled from the Sistine choir. Roman Jews were herded into ghettos and forced permanently to wear yellow hats (and their copies of the Talmud were searched out and burned). Beggars were expelled from Rome and prostitutes imprisoned. Paul started a war with Spain, the most Catholic country on the planet, because it had not been pure enough in its persecution of Lutherans! The only people Paul seems to have trusted were his nephews, whom he appointed to high church positions which they promptly abused to enrich themselves. When that finally dawned on Paul – in 1559 – he had them expelled from the Church and Rome, but, realizing now that there was nobody he could trust, he was a broken man.

Paul died on 18 August 1559, widely hated for his narrow-mindedness, harshness and intolerance – ironically since he was in some sense the purest Pope, with the most "integrity," in 100 years. Moroni was released from jail after Paul IV died and was allowed to participate in the next conclave.


49-51 conclavists (2 left in the middle). Novaes says that there were three factions, the Imperialists, the French, and the Farnesiani; and that the most likely papabili were Cardinals Pole, Sfondrati, Carpi and Ridolfi (who died on the night of January 31). Conclave secrecy and food rules were blatantly disregarded.

The do-nothing Julius III was eventually elected "because of shear impossibility of electing anyone else."

Reginald Pole (the cousin of King Henry VIII of England) probably would have been elected (he got 21, then 24 approvals, three short; albeit Duffy has Pole "repeatedly coming within a single vote" of winning) but refused an "adoration" attempt; his enemies saw his election was imminent and overnight ran a campaign to make his supporters desert him, whereupon Pole got only 26 not 35 votes and then his chances were over as Carafa circulated rumors Pole was a secret Lutheran in order to shut down his chances. (There were many messages being smuggled in and out of this conclave.) Pole then shrunk down to 23 votes. Cardinal d'Este also decreased the threat by having the voting delayed with the aid of a lie that the French cardinals were en route and passing by Corsica at the time.

The next contestant was Cardinal Juan Alvarez de Toledo (Bishop of Burgos), the father of the Duke of Alba, Viceroy of Naples. He was one of those favored by Charles V and Cosimo II, but he could not get French or Farnese votes. He reached as high as 26 votes (De Leva, 77), but could not break through.

On December 11 or 12, the five French cardinals finally arrived: de Guise, du Bellay, Vendome, Chastillon and Tournon, bankrolled with 150,000 gold crowns from King Henry II of France to be used for bribes. (Now 54 voters.)

In the scrutiny of December 13, Pole got only one more vote (none of them French), and Alvarez 18. French orders were obviously to exclude Pole by their votes. The King of France, Henri II, favored his long-standing personal friend, Cardinal Ippolito d'Este II, but that was an impossibility. The other French choices were Guise, Ridolfi, Salviati and Cervini.

Cardinal Alessandro Farnese was promoting Cardinal Marcello Cervini, but the Imperial forces blocked him. The French were promoting Giovanni Salviati (Bishop of Porto) and Ridolfo Pio de Carpi. It gradually became apparent that one side would continue to exclude the candidates of the others, and so a compromise began to be sought.

On January 15, Cardinal Giovanni Morone, the Bishop of Modena, who had been born in Milan and served as Legate in Bologna from 1542-1548, emerged with 24 votes and two accessions. But this was as far as his candidacy got.

In late January the French queen's cousin Salviati came within 3 votes of election. On January 31 the French cardinal Ridolfi died. He was autopsied and determined to have been poisoned.

Now there were really two possibilities, Cervini (who was firmly in favor of Cardinal Pole) and del Monte. Del Monte belonged to the Farnese faction, and was believed to be friendly toward the French; the Imperial party found him obnoxious. Cardinal de Guise, too, had a number of negative observations to make about him, including his temper and his scandalous private life, and did his best to oppose the candidacy.

Net result: Cardinal Giovanni Maria Ciocchi del Monte, aged sixty-three, was elected (with 41, but then they declared it "unanimous") and crowned Pope Julius III.

Final summary:
72 days of conclaving, 51 voters (in the end):
Pole 26 or 27(peak)
Toledo 26(peak)
Alvarez 18(peak)
Morone 24(peak)
Salviati 31(peak)
Ciocchi 41
others also (unknown-to-me vote counts)

Bibliographic Note by Prof. John Paul Adams: Francesco Maria Cardinal Sforza Pallavicino, S. J., Istoria del Concilio di Trento Book XI, chapter vi [Opere edite ed inedite del Cardinale Sforza Pallavicino, ordinata e pubblicata da Ottavio Gigli, Tomo XIII (Roma 1846) pp. 67-72]. Giuseppe de Novaes, Elementi della storia de' Sommi Pontefici third edition Volume 7 (Roma 1822) pp. 61-64. Gaetano Moroni, Dizionario di erudizione storico-ecclesiastica Volume 15 (Venezia 1842) p. 286; Volume 21 (Venezia 1843), p. 241; Volume 31 (Venezia 1845) p. 164. A. F. Artaud de Montor, Histoire des souverains pontifes Romains Volume IV (Paris 1851), pp. 148-151. L.F. Bungener, History of the Council of Trent (New York: Harper 1855), 203-208. For the Imperial viewpoint see: Giuseppe de Leva, Storia documentata di Carlo V in correlazione all' Italia Volume V (Boklogna 1894) pp. 69-92. G. Constant, "Une rivalité Franco-Allemande en conclave: L' élection de Jules III," Revue hebdomadaire (18 février 1922) 333. F. J. Baumgartner, "Henry II and the Papal Conclave of 1549," Sixteen Century Journal 16. 3 (1985) 301-314.

Martin Haile, The Life of Reginald Pole (New York 1910) 356-364.


35 cardinals present. It was entirely predicted and expected that Allesandro Farnese (the brother of former Pope Alexander VI's last mistress; born and bred into Roman nobility/corruption; and a highly intelligent and experienced diplomat on good terms with all the key royal families) would win, and he then greased the wheels with some simony, whereupon he was duly crowned Paul III by "unanimous" vote. He rapidly crowned his teenage grandsons as cardinals in perhaps the most blatant attempt yet to turn the papacy into a family dynasty (celibacy?). He also began the Roman Inquisition and appointed Cardinal Carafa as its head. On the plus side, he created a remarkable diverse collection of brilliant international reformer cardinals.


There were 35 conclavists (and it lasted 43 days) and 4 main factions: The Farnese, Orsini, Medici, and Colonna families. The last two were the frontrunners and hated each other. Conclave secrecy was nonexistent and the bookmakers updated their odds based on daily reports of the goings-on. Fieschi and Carvajal got 11 and 12 votes respectively in the first ballot. On the second ballot del Monte came within one vote of election, but failed when Medici (who'd promised, as a method of making friends with del Monte, to support him if he got that close) of course broke his word. The Englishman Wolsey got 22 approvals (perhaps being attractive as a compromise candidate) which was not quite enough. Conclave secrecy was nonexistent. Some factions made deals to support others, but not enough support was generated to elect anybody. After 50 days of deadlock between the French (pro-Farnese) faction and the Imperial (pro-Medici), Medici got elected by the following subterfuge. He arranged to have Colonna (falsely) told, upon arising in the morning, that it was all arranged and Orsini was about to be elected. (Colonna hated Orsini even more than Medici.) "What? But in that case, my faction was instructed to throw their support to Medici!" Whereupon the cry of "Medici!" went up and he was elected by "adoration" then by near-unanimous ballot, and crowned Clement VII.

Two disasters happened during Clement VII's reign:

  1. Charles V had had his troops hovering near Rome for years and finally in 1527 his troops sacked and pillaged the place for 10 months. Cardinal Colonna was grief-stricken that he'd collaborated with Charles V against Clement VII to make that happen (e.g. planning a coup), and aligned himself (too late) with the latter. Charles' troops caused no end of havoc in Rome and to the church, and included having Cardinal del Monte, the future Pope Julius III, hung up by his hair.
  2. With Charles V then holding Clement prisoner (and ransoming him for 400,000 ducats!) Clement could not or would not grant England's king Henry VIII his wish to have his marriage annulled by the pope. Apparently Clement probably would have done so, since a never-issued draft of exactly such an annulment was found in the Vatican Archives – except for the fact he was imprisoned by Charles V. Henry's wife was Charles' aunt and Charles wasn't interested in letting Henry have his way. So Clement kept delaying... eventually causing the exasperated Henry to split with the pope and create the Church of England.

Note on strategic misdirection: The idea of trying to convince a faction (falsely) that somebody is about to be elected, is that this creates an altered strategic environment in which they can be motivated to move their approval threshholds, i.e. vote differently.

A vote was held about once every 2 days during the first 2 weeks. At that point the balloting gave Farnese 15-16, Medici 10, Grassis 9, Valle 7, others 4 or fewer for a total of 45-46 approvals granted by 35 voters. Eventually Medici was elected with 23 approvals (two-thirds of 35 is 23.33 actually, but apparently they disregarded the 0.33). Medici is suspected to have made some very sweet bribery deals with his enemies.

Bibliographic Note by Prof. John Paul Adams: Marino Sanuto, I diarii di Marino Sanuto Volume XXXIV (Venezia 1892), col. 410; 430; 438-439; 452; 461-462; and XXXV (Venezia 1892), col. 35; 55; 59-62; 66-67; 77; 88; 118-120; 134-135; 148-150; 186; 198-200; 206-208; 234-235; 241-243. Francesco Guicciardini, Storia d' Italia Book XV, chapter 3. Giuseppe de Leva, Storia documentata di Carlo V in correlazione all' Italia II (Venezia 1863), 192-202. Gaetano Novaes, Elementi della storia de' Sommi Pontefici Volume VI (Roma 1822) 221-223; 225-226. Ferdinand Gregorovius, The History of Rome in the Middle Ages (translated from the fourth German edition by A. Hamilton) Volume 8 part 2 [Book XIV, Chapter 5] (London 1902) 449-450; 453-458. F. A. Artaud de Montor Histoire des souverains Pontifes Romains Volume IV (Paris 1851) 91-92. Herbert Vaughan, The Medici Popes (Leo X and Clement VII) (New York: Putnam 1908) 287-289

On Cardinal Armellino: Charles Berton, Dictionnaiare des cardinaux (Paris 1857) 264 (using Panvinio, Paolo Giovio). G. Moroni, Dizionario di erudizione storico-ecclesiastica Volume 3 (Venezia 1840) 36-37. On Cardinal Carvajal: Moroni, Volume 10 (Venezia 1841) 134-135. Pastor, Volume 7, p. 202 with notes.


39 cardinals present (all but 3 Italian). Leo X died unexpectedly (probably poisoned); that plus the kidnapping of one cardinal for ransom caused the conclave to start later than usual, leaving plenty of time for Kings Charles V, Francis I, and Henry VIII to spread huge sums of bribe money around Rome – Henry was ready to spend 100,000 ducats to elect his chancellor Cardinal Wolsey, although he also found Medici acceptable. Charles V rolled his army into Rome to get his point across, while Francis I proclaimed he had 1 million gold ecus for a French pope. There were 38 or 39 conclavists: 15-16 were for Medici, 23 against. Medici knew he could not win thanks to the opposition by Emperor Charles V. Charles V had twice promised his assistance to Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, the English Chancellor, who was eager to become pope, but Charles' promises, made as recently as December 17, proved worthless. Wolsey did not attend the conclave, a mistake for a would-be candidate. Wolsey received six votes on the fifth scrutiny, and that was all (but another source says he got 8 after lying about his age). Of the 23, 18 wanted the papacy themselves. Farnese had 22 votes (2 short, but he could never overcome that barrier), Orsini 3 to 7. There were at least 18 serious candidates. However, after it became apparent that factionalism would prevent any from getting the required supermajority, Medici suggested considering outsiders and nominated the almost-unknown Spaniard Hadrian VI (who at the time was in Spain). He was elected as a compromise in the 11th ballot. Much to the horror of the cardinals who chose him he took the papacy seriously (he reduced the incomes of cardinals!! And sacked a large number of deadwood bureaucrats!!), but to their relief he died in a year (which had in some sense been planned; Medici when nominating Hadrian had carefully pointed out he was age 63).

Note on age: Older candidates attracted more votes from pope-hopefuls who, of course, expected them to die sooner so that they could become pope. Hence Wolsey's motivation to lie about his age and pretend he was older.

A PUTATIVE LIST OF ALL THE VOTES IN ALL THE 11 SCRUTINIES is given in a letter to Giustinian Contarini from Count Giorgio di Zafo (Sanuto, 384-385). In his list (of unknown provenance) the largest number of votes obtained by anyone at any time was 21 garnered by Cardinal Farnese on the 8th scrutiny.

Partial summary:
39 voters total:
Orsini 3-to-7
Wolsey 6
Medici about-15
Farnese 21(peak)
Adrian 28
Bibliographic Note by Prof. John Paul Adams: Marino Sanuto, I diarii di Marino Sanuto Volume XXXII (Venezia 1892), col. 203-418. M. Gachard, Correspondence de Charles-Quint et d' Adrien VI (Bruxelles 1859) xiii-xl. Giuseppe de Leva, Storia documentata di Carlo V in correlazione all' Italia II (Venezia 1863), 121-133. Constantin von Hoster, Papst Adrian VI 1522-1523 (Wien 1880) 66-95. Gaspar Burmann, Analecta historica de Hadriano Sexto (Utrecht 1727) 141ff. Gaetano Novaes, Elementi della storia de' Sommi Pontefici Volume VI (Roma 1822) 204-208. Ferdinand Gregorovius, The History of Rome in the Middle Ages (translated from the fourth German edition by A. Hamilton) Volume 8 part 2 [Book XIV, Chapter 4-5] (London 1902) 415-430 F. A. Artaud de Montor Histoire des souverains Pontifes Romains Volume IV (Paris 1851) 74-76. William Roscoe The Life and Times of Leo the Tenth Volume IV (Philadelphia 1806), pp. 391-399. Ludwig Pastor, History of the Popes (tr. R.F. Kerr) Volume VIII (St. Louis 1908) pp. 31-41. M. Creighton, A History of The Papacy during the Period of the Reformation Volume V (London 1894), 186-191.

On Cardinal Armellino: Charles Berton, Dictionnaiare des cardinaux (Paris 1857) 264 (using Panvinio, Paolo Giovio). G. Moroni, Dizionario di erudizione storico-ecclesiastica Volume 3 (Venezia 1840) 36-37. On Cardinal Carvajal: Moroni, Volume 10 (Venezia 1841) 134-135. Pastor, Volume 7, p. 202 with notes.


25 conclavists. Julius II died on 21 February, 1513, and on 11 March Giovanni de Medici, then but thirty-eight years old, was elected pope Leo X (supposedly with little or no simony despite his enormous wealth) on only the second day.

In the first scrutiny he received only one vote while Cardinal Alborense had 13. His adherents, the younger cardinals, held back his candidacy until the proper moment after a secret deal had been made between two faction leaders.

Note on "withholding" strategy: By promoting somebody bad, X's backers can alter the "strategic environment" in such a way as to encourage approval-votes to appear for somebody mediocre like X. Then suddenly, X's supporters (who had been withholding support for him) approve him, causing him to get over threshhold. (This strategy entails risks.)

On March 10, a scrutiny was held:

Cardinal Serra received 14 votes,
Cardinal della Rovere 8,
Cardinal Accolti 7,
Bakocz 7,
Fieschi 6,
Finale 6,
Grimani 2,
Medici 1.
(Total 51 approvals listed, out of 31 or 32 voters.)

But already by evening Medici and Riario seemed emerging as favorites, despite getting 1 and 0 approvals respectively on the first ballot. (Cardinal Bainbridge transmitted a secret message out by scratching their two names on the back of his dinner plate – thus making big money with Rome's bookies?)

There were actually two groups among the cardinals, the seniors, creations of Sixtus IV and of Innocent VIII, led by and supporting Cardinal Riario, however dubious his gifts; and the junior group, who, it was soon discovered, supported Cardinal de' Medici.

Leo X sold massive numbers of "indulgences" to finance reconstructing St. Peter's Basilica, one move which drew the ire of Martin Luther and helped trigger the "protestant reformation" which greatly injured the primacy of the Catholic Church. Leo totally failed to understand the severity of the threat posed by the Lutherans in combination with the new technology of the printing press, which enabled great publicity about Church scandals which previously could be covered up quite effectively.

Leo X also, in 1517, discovered a plot against him by the cardinals. He then executed the ringleader and swamped the college by creating 31 new cardinals in a single day. (This both overwhelmed them by sheer force of numbers, and also reduced their incomes since a fixed pool of money funded them all.)

1503-A and 1503-B

Alexander VI died horribly, probably having been poisoned. (Before that, he had murdered several cardinals and/or confiscated their property.) French king Louis XII (who also was king of Naples) camped his army near Rome in order to influence the conclave to see things his way, which meant electing d'Amboise.

The cardinals began by agreeing the new pope would assure all cardinals at least 2400 ducats/year in income to allow them to live in a style befitting a prince of the church.

Note on cardinal-pope pacts: It many times happened that the conclaved cardinals made a deal with the future pope before electing him; usually these deals were intended to increase the power and wealth of cardinals at the expense of the pope. However, it also often happened that the pope later reneged on the deal. Eugenius IV, Pius II, Paul II, and Sixtus IV all accepted such conclave-pacts, but then all reneged once elected.

On the first ballot (according to one source) d'Amboise got 13 and della Rovere 15. Seeing he had no chance, d'Amboise threw his support to Piccolomini (who had received 4 approvals). The latter was elected Pius III in the second ballot.

But Pius III only served for 26 days before dying (some think he too was poisoned). Pius can be seen as a compromise between the French and della Rovere factions, picking a frail cardinal with long experience in the Curia over the kin of either Sixtus IV or Alexander VI.

Note on communication: Supposedly the conclavists were locked in and not allowed to communicate with the outside world. That meant, any conclavist who nevertheless could set up a channel of communication to the outside, had a big advantage. In this particular election, secret messages were passed to confederates through holes in the walls and smuggled hidden in the food of certain cardinals.

Della Rovere succeeded by dexterous diplomacy in tricking the weakened Cesare Borgia (who'd been arrested by Pius) into supporting him. He was elected as Pope Julius II by near-unanimous vote almost certainly with the aid of bribery. His election only took a few hours. (The only 3 votes he did not receive were those of Georges D'Amboise, supposedly his main opponent and the favourite of the French monarchy; and Cardinals Carafa and Casanova; another source says it was unanimous except for his own vote.)


23 cardinals present, 14 of whom had been created by Sixtus IV's blatant packing attempts.

First ballot: 9+7+5+0.
Second ballot: 9+8+7+5. (The red votes are for the eventual winner.)
The fourth ballot electing Roderigo Borgia as Alexander VI was "unanimous" thanks to massive simony, which included:

To Cardinal Sforza: four mule-loads of silver (some sources say gold), delivered immediately;
Orsini: the fortified towns of Monticelli and Soriano, the legation of the Marches, and the bishopric of Cartagena (annual revenue of 5,000 ducats);
Colonna: the abbey of Subiaco and its environs (annual revenue of 3,000 ducats);
Savelli: Civita Castellana and the bishopric of Majorca;
Pallavicini: the bishopric of Pamplona;
Michiel: the suburbicarian see of Porto;
Riario: Spanish benefices with annual income of 4,000 ducats and the return of a house in the Piazza Navona (which Sforza had occupied) to the children of Count Girolamo;
Sanseverino: included Rodrigo Borgia's house in Milan;
Cardinals Sclafenati and Domenico della Rovere: abbacies and/or benefices;
Gherardo: 5,000 ducats.

Baumgartner says that while this 1492 election of Alexander VI is often said to be the most simonized in history, really (Baumgartner claims) the preceding and next ones were worse and there are several ways in which Borgia actually did not push as hard as he could have to maximize his winning chances. Alexander VI died horribly, probably having been poisoned. (Before that, he had murdered several cardinals and/or confiscated their property. Roderigo Borgia was ruthless and was the father of at least 9 illegitimate children by at least 3 women, although all catholic priests were required to be celibate and respect the "sanctity of marriage," etc. His last and youngest mistress, Giulia Farnese, lived openly with him while he was pope. Alexander VI thus essentially embodied the opposite of all Church preachings. However, he turned this to his advantage by systematically marrying his children off into dynastic families.)

Alexander VI was also one of the top (among popes) sellers of "indulgences" – in one notorious example (before he became pope) he once arranged a papal dispensation for a French count to sleep with his own sister. It was this sort of thing that inspired Martin Luther and helped trigger the protestant reformation. Selling indulgences was also a popular fundraising practice during the pope-antipope struggles of the Great Schism. Alexander's massive greed, corruption, and licentiousness attracted horrrified critics, most prominent among them Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498). Alexander tried a sequence of escalating measures to get Savonarola to shut up, eventually excommunicating him and then torturing him to death.

Bibliographic Note: John Burchard, Diaries 1483-1492, (translation: A.H. Matthew, London, 1910). JB was the master of ceremonies at the 1492 conclave and recounts many goings-on.


25 cardinals present. Proceedings were stage-managed by Giuliano della Rovere (nephew of the dead pope). When he saw he himself could not win, his object became instead to elect a manageable nonentity. Cardinal Cibo was elected Innocent VIII via simony arranged and bankrolled by Borgia and the Cardinal of St. Peter overnight 28-29 August (Cibo spent the night countersigning petitions for promotion as bribes to the electors). Della Rovere's & Borgia's idea (which basically worked) was to create a pope owned and operated by themselves from behind the scenes. Once the unbribed cardinals saw Cibo was going to be elected, they went along to make it "unanimous." The simonies included:

To Cardinal Savelli: possession of the fortress called Monticelli on part of the Island;
To Cardinal Colonna: the fortress of Ceprano, the Legateship of the Patrimony, 25,000 ducats for restoration of his burned out palace and contents, and the first available benefice worth a minimum of 7,000 ducats;
Orsini: the Legateship of the Marches and the castle at Cerveteri;
Ugonetti: the castle at Capranica and the Bishopric of Avignon;
d'Aragona: Pontecorvo, and the new pope's old palace at S. Lorenzo in Lucina;
Schiaffinati: the palace of S. Giovanni della Magliana and all of its outbuildings;
Nardini: the office of Archpriest of the Lateran Basilica, and the Legateship of Avignon;
della Rovere: the town of Fano, and five other neighboring properties; and the promise to make his brother Captain General of the Church.

Once Innocent VIII was elected he married his son to Lorenzo Medici's daughter in a big ceremony held at the Vatican in 1487, while appointing Lorenzo Medici's 13-year-old son a cardinal.

Note (to unconfuse the reader) about names: Once elected pope, your name was changed to whatever you wanted it to be, e.g. in this case "Innocent VIII" instead of "Cibo." Also many were referred to be their cardinal-titles which were not their given names, e.g. "Montalto."

One interesting development under Innocent VIII was that the crusading Catholic church, one of whose main goals used to be fighting Islam, instead adopted a different policy – of secretly accepting payoffs from top Islam leaders not to fight Islam. In 1482 the Turkish Prince Cem presented himself before the Knights of St. John to ask them to help him overthrow his brother Bayezit (the then-ruler of Constantinople as the son of its conqueror Sultan Mehmet II). Of course, the old anti-Islam Catholic church would have jumped at this wonderful opportunity. The new church jumped at a somewhat different opportunity – they quickly negotiated a deal with Bayezit in which he paid them to imprison the unwary Cem! Indeed Bayezit sent Innocent 120,000 crowns, almost equal to the entire annual income of the papal state at that time, plus 45,000 additional crowns annually. Innocent's successor Alexander VI asked Bayezit for a further subsidy of 300,000 gold ducats, in return for which he (Alexander) would refuse to allow the French to use Italy as a lauching pad for a new crusade against Constantinople (now renamed Istanbul).


18 conclavists. The 6 non-Italians were absent due to Paul II's unexpected death. Three main candidates. The two main factions were those of d'Estouteville and Orsini; Orsini's first victory was was pre-conclave in persuading them to exclude the cardinals created by Paul II, in explicit defiance of Paul II's last will and testament. The Greek Bessarion emerged as an early favorite, with 6 votes on the second day versus 3, 3, 2, and 2 for some rivals. Other voters gave the top totals to (successively) Calandrini, Forteguerri, and Roverella. F. Della Rovere then seemed the least objectionable among those favored by Sforza. Gonzaga and Borgia then lobbied for him behind the scene while meanwhile everybody voted for others to disguise this. He was elected in 3 days with 13 votes as "Sixtus IV." He then appointed a large number of cardinals, "packing" them to assure a Della Rovere would probably become the next pope too. These included 6(!) of his nephews. Just to further tip the scales, he awarded these nephew-cardinals huge incomes and large numbers of titles, making them far more powerful than the average cardinal; and he married many of his other nieces and nephews into numerous Italian dynasty-families. [All this sort of activity tended to create a wealthy blood-related cardinal-class with strong dynastic connections.]

Sixtus also got involved in several wars for territory; and had Giuliano de Medici assassinated at High Mass in the Duomo in Florence (although failing to kill his brother Lorenzo as part of the same plot).


20 conclavists. The a priori most likely candidate was the powerful Spanish Dominican defender of papal infallibility Juan de Torquemada (whose nephew Tomas later achieved great notoriety as the head of the Spanish Inquisition, which burned about 2000 people to death one by one). However, too many people were afraid of his power. Instead, the worldly papal nephew Pietro Barbo (who was felt to be a loyal member of the Sacred College and would be pliant) got favored. Barbo got an 11-vote majority on the first ballots and increased with later ballots to win almost without opposition. He was crowned Paul II.

(Of course, the assumption Barbo would be pliant turned out to be sadly incorrect??.)


18 conclavists (8 Italian, 5 Spanish, 2 French, 2 Greek, 1 Portuguese). There were many approvals, in particular Cardinal Orsini approved 7 candidates on his first ballot, rather the opposite of a "bullet vote." The Cardinal of Rouen had 11 votes, one short, and his camp was confident of his eventual victory. But after a 1-vote fraud or mistake was embarrassingly corrected, Aeneas Sylvius was found to have 9 votes despite the fact he was not yet officially on ballot (write-in votes were allowed).

Note: That was a big success for "approval voting" with write-ins allowed, which would have had no chance of happening with either plurality voting and probably not with "instant runoff" voting either. (With plurality it would be foolish to waste your vote on a longshot; with IRV if most Sylvius voters had ranked him, say, second, then he would have been a nonentity in the first round and quickly eliminated.)

After a long silence, a few cardinals then announced one by one they were changing their votes to Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini, with the final one being physically held down to prevent him but still managing to bellow it out in time. He was crowned Pius II.

Pius II appointed two of his nephews as cardinals (one later became Pius III).

Bibliographic Note: Pius II's memoirs. Incidentally, Pius II remarks that many of the key plots were discussed in the lavatory area (for privacy, I presume).

One important development under Pius II's reign was that in 1462, an alum mine was started in Tolfa within the Roman-papal state. (Alum was a vital chemical for leather and cloth but there was no source in Europe aside from Muslim Turkey.) The popes forbade any Christian from using alum from Turkey – whereupon they wholy-owned the sole source of the stuff. This became a huge source of papal revenue. However, it was not enough; Pius wanted even more money to fund crusades. For that purpose he began (or greatly expanded) an approach of selling church office-seats to the highest bidder. His successors continued that approach. Once you'd bought a church position for an enormous sum, you then used the power of that position to divert church revenues back into your own pocket, thus eventually recouping your investment with interest. The net effect, then, was the Church acquired money quickly but later repaid it slowly with interest. Straightforward actual loans were forbidden by Catholic doctrine, but this effectively served that function – albeit with the unfortunate side effect of creating vast endemic corruption, a proliferation of useless church positions and bureaucracy, and edging out those with actual talent. By the time Leo X died in 1521 it was estimated that there were 2150 offices in the Vatican for sale, worth about 3 million ducats, and including even some of the highest, e.g. the post of Cardinal Camerlengo.


15 conclavists (7 Italians, 6 Spaniards). Key division was the Orsinis versus the Colonnas. Although Prospero Colonna had a 9-vote majority, that was one short; neither could muster enough votes to elect anyone from their camp. The first attempt to find a compromise mustered 8 votes but failed due to "negative campaigning." Finally "Callixtus III" was elected as a second compromise.

He promptly installed two of his nephews as cardinals (one of them the future Alexander VI) and also made a third nephew the commander in chief of the papal armies.


There were 18 conclavists. All 24 cardinals (except one) had been apponted by the previous pope Eugene IV, thus "packing" the college of cardinals. Some Roman barons tried to become part of the conclave too but were forced to leave. P.Colonna had 10 votes sewn up but needed 12 to win. The 10 stayed firm voting only for Colonna and theoretically he could have held out forever. But Colonna was unpopular outside his personal corrupt and family circle. Suddenly, in a voluntarily nonsecret ballot, for some reason I do not understand, the Cardinal of Bologna got elected instead and crowned Nicholas V after only 2 days of conclaving.

Note on voter honesty: On a number of occasions, perhaps including this one, it appears that the conclavists grew completely disgusted with the immense amount of strategic lying etc going on, all of which they could see through anyhow– whereupon, a sudden dose of honesty from somebody could have an impressive impact. I personally believe that human beings have a strong drive to be honest, which is a reason range voting in studies often seems to elicit a great deal of honest non-strategic voting behavior, and often delivers quite different results from approval voting. The pope elections were extremely strategic but one might speculate that a substantial reservoir of honest intentions were inside many conclavists, struggling to get out.

Nicholas V had a highly successful reign in terms of restoring and rebuilding Rome, the Vatican, cathedrals, etc and deriving great funding by encouraging pilgrimages to Rome. (His policy of building and art were continued by Sixtus IV, Julius II, Paul III, etc.) However, he was unable to stop Constantinople's fall to the Turks in 1453.


Martin V and his successor nearly managed (or a better word would be "mis-managed") to re-open the schism – except that the antipope "Felix V" fizzled. We won't discuss that.

Eugene IV was elected after signing a written agreement to distribute 50% of church revenues to the cardinals and to consult them on all important matters.

1417 & Schism healed

The rival popes had since the Great Schism in 1378, continually been plotting military takeovers to kill the others. However, the only way they had to get a clear enough edge was to ally themselves with formidable military powers, and every time one managed to make such an alliance, the other would too, with the result that nobody had enough force assembled for confidence of an easy successful invasion. Those military powers were not actually terribly happy about the prospect of getting involved in a religion-based World War and therefore put pressure on the popes to find a peaceful solution. "Holy Roman emperor" Sigismund demanded Pisan-antipope John XXIII organize a conference to settle the matter. The "Council of Constance" in 1414-5 involved 72000 attendees. Surprise – The council demanded John XXIII resign and regarded him as a criminal! They then demanded Gregory XII also resign – and offered him as carrots some lucrative church positions. Benedict then informed the council that by their reasoning all the cardinals created since 1378 were bogus (since created by bogus popes) and hence only those original cardinals had the right to choose the new pope. Oddly enough, Benedict himself was the only such cardinal still alive.

Anyhow, the Council managed to obtain conditional promises from John XXIII and Gregory XII that they would resign. (This has been interpreted as Gregory "resigning" but in fact he died before Martin V's election, so that interpretation is optimistic.) They then formed a conclave of 53 high religious officials from 5 countries and locked themselves in on 8 November 1417. After 2 days, Odonne Colonna was two votes short, whereupon two cardinals agreed "for the greater good" to vote for him even though they detested him. He was crowned Martin V.

As a side note, to further enhance church unification, the Council decided to have the Czech church-reformer and fervent condemner of corruption Jan Hus burned alive as a heretic.

This healed the Schism and unified the papacy, since: John recognized Martin and in return was absolved of his crimes and made a cardinal; Gregory supposedly had done so too (and conveniently died before he had any chance to reconsider); and while Benedict objected and excommunicated the entire council, he lost support when his own cardinals voted for Martin. (When Benedict finally died in 1423, his top remaining loyalists elected "Clement VIII" who in 1429 submitted to Martin; a few Benedictians still remained in the Pyrenees region of France but eventually died and/or were tortured and killed.)


There was no chance to heal the Great Schism in the conclave following Innocent's death because of slow communications between Avignon and Rome and rules against communicating with conclavists. They elected Gregory XII but under the condition that he agreed to renounce the papacy if antipope Benedict XIII would also (so that the Schism could be healed).

26 cardinals including 14 from Rome (pope) and 10 from the Avignon (Antipope) camps, plus about 200 church officials of lesser ranks, then met in Pisa in 1409 but their respective rival popes refused to attend. The Pisan conferencers declared both popes deposed for their many sins and crimes (in fact, they suddenly realized, they both were heretics!) and burned them in effigy! (Those popes, however, refused to recognize that, claiming nobody on Earth had any power to depose them.) The Pisans then went into an 11-day conclave to elect "Alexander V" unanimously as the "true" pope, starting the third "Pisan line" of rival (anti)popes. Alexander V then sent letters all over Europe claiming the schism was now ended since he was the true pope. It didn't work. He died in 10 months. The Pisans then unanimously elected Baldassare Cossa as "John XXIII."

Note on the armed guards: The conclaves were surrounded by armed guards to keep them locked in and the rest of the world locked out. A pope-candidate thus could gain considerable negotiating leverage if he controlled the armed guards. In this election, it was Cossa's troops.


On Boniface IX's death, his nephew immediately jailed a representative of antipope Benedict (who was in Rome at the time trying to negotiate an end to the schism), thus preventing him from having any influence on the conclave. They elected another Neopolitan as Innocent VII.

Innocent then appointed his nephew Ludovico Migliorati as cardinal, who promptly used that station to murder 11 people; this caused a mob of infuriated Romans to counter-murder 30 members of the papal party.


Pope Boniface IX elected unanimously by the 14 Roman cardinals (who'd remained loyal to Urban) in Rome.

Note on cardinal numbers: During the Schism, fewer cardinals participated in conclaves because they were split up.

Meanwhile in Avignon in 1394, the 21 antipope cardinals settled (as a compromise between the French and Italian factions) on the Spaniard Pedro de Luna, electing him unanimously except for his own vote as "(anti)pope Benedict XIII."

1378 & the Great Schism

Pope Urban VI was elected unanimously by conclavists in Rome, and they indeed sent a letter to Avignon (at that time the seat of the Papacy) saying he'd been elected freely and unanimously. But after his election, Urban exhibited "great arrogance and immoderation" as the Catholic Encylopedia delicately put it. E.g, at one point he had 6 cardinals under torture, 5 of whom then disappeared. Many claim he was insane. But an alternate view is saying he was insane was a fiction very convenient for a large set of corrupt cardinals whom Urban was against. In any case, the cardinals who'd elected him then declared that his had not been a genuine election because it had been the result of their fear of the surrounding Roman populace (who feared the popedom would leave Rome to return to Avignon and mobbed the conclave to express their desire that the papacy stay in Rome, but the election was already over by the time the mob managed to break in) – supposedly by choosing Urban, an Italian although not a Roman, they hoped to pacify the Romans.

The alternate view is: Urban had been a highly respected administrator and his election seemed quite reasonable.

On August 2, the Cardinals formally declared their earlier election of Urban VI null and void (eventually 15 of the 16 who'd voted for Urban renounced him, and the 16th died) and instead in 1378 sixteen of them met in Fondi to elect the antipope Clement VII. Urban VI refused to accept that. (When Orsini told him the cardinals had not really intended him to be pope and had wanted him to refuse the office once the mob had dissipated so that they could elect somebody else, he flew into a rage!)

The antipope election involved the following strategem by the French. The three top Italians were each told privately that they were going to be chosen, and therefore, out of "politeness," should not vote for themselves. This was a doublecross. Actually the Cardinal of Geneva was elected Clement VII and, by this trick, "unanimously." (Another source says the vote was 11 to 1 with 3 abstentions.) Unanimity was especially important at this time because they wanted this pope (or anti-pope) to have as much "legitimacy" as possible as versus the rival pope.

Clement took up residence in Avignon France while Urban continued to rule from Rome, and they each excommunicated the other and each other's cardinals (Urban appointed 29 new cardinals from all over Europe). This led to two, and eventually three, rival lines of claimants to papacy: the Roman, Avignon, and Pisan line. This was known to Catholics as the great schism.

Some authorities regard the great schism as having had a devastating and permanent impact on the Church (despite its reconciliation 39 years later). The reason is it permanently damaged any notion of the "infallibility" and "moral primacy" of the church. Hence emperors and kings no longer cared as much about getting Church approval for their actions, and so on. (Each, of course, had to choose which was the "true pope" they should obey, because he, and he alone, held "the keys of heaven.") The cardinals of the church themselves had disputed the infallibility of their own unanimous choice as pope as God's representative on Earth, and evidently a substantial set of them continued to do so (and some of them built up a substantial body of theological theory explaining why – according to them, councils were infallible but not popes), and everybody knew it. Pope Innocent III (reigned 1198-1216, 70 years before the schism) successfully intervened in several monarchical succession disputes and most famously excommunicated King John of England in 1209 because of John's refusal to accept the Pope's friend Stephen Langton as archbishop of Canterbury. John eventually gave in and agreed to pay the Pope a tribute of 1000 marks per year. Later Innocent supported John, e.g. at his request declared the Magna Carta null and void. The point: this magnitude of papal power, after the Schism, was gone, never to return.

Note on antipopes and schisms: The present distinction between "popes" and "antipopes" is made based on what the present-day Catholic church considers it convenient to regard as the line of "true" popes. However, at the time it was not at all clear which pope was "real" and which was the "antipope" and on several occasions the antipope had more popular and/or cardinal support than the "real" one. While the "great schism" was only a temporary division in the Catholic Church, a renegade Dominican theology professor named Martin Luther (1483-1546) later started a sect, the "Lutherans," or "Protestants," which eventually split off from Catholism, apparently permanently. (Luther was particularly disgusted by certain corrupt-seeming practices of the Catholic church during the 1400s and 1500s such as fundraising via the sale of "papal indulgences" by professional "pardoners." (The Catholic Church at the Council of Trent in 1563 and Pope Pius V in 1567 tried to outlaw the sale of indulgences, but by then the damage had become irreparable.) The pope probably would have had Luther tortured and killed but found that impossible since he had protectors high in the German empire; hence Luther was merely excommunicated. The Lutherans did not have, however, a rival pope (and indeed their religious doctrine was to refuse to recognize the primacy of any one individual), and indeed the whole notion of a "pope" granted special power by God to reign over all of humanity was special to Catholism and unrivaled (or at least, not nearly as successfully) by any other religion during the last 2000 years. The Protestants eventually split into numerous sects (Baptists, Calvinists, Methodists, Adventists, Anglicans, etc) but only grew important enough to have great impact in the late 1500s, i.e. did not during most of the period 1294-1621 we are speaking of.


Gregory XI chosen essentially immediately after 1 day of conclaving by 19 cardinals. He returned the seat of the pope to Rome in 1377 and died in 1378.


20 cardinals in several factions. (The largest faction had 12 members from the neighborhood of the French city of Limoges, including 6 relatives of former pope Clement VI. But this was 2 votes shy of the margin needed to elect.) The Limogians and another faction independently chose to vote for Clement VI's brother, who received 15 votes. But he declined citing ill health. By the 6th day it was clear nobody else was likely to be able to get the required 14-vote supermajority. So outsiders were discussed and they went for Urban V, an abbot and non-cardinal who was, when notified, very surprised by his appointment as pope.


25 or 28 cardinals conclaved for 3 days to elect Innocent VI. Each candidate had bound himself to a particular set of policies should he be elected, including agreeing to divide his power and revenues with the cardinals; but Innocent after his election declared those contracts to be null and void because it was not permitted by God to limit the pope's power in any way.

This conclave was hurried because of news that King John II was on the march to exert pressure on the conclavists. Two previous frontrunners (at least one with majority support) each failed to get the required two-thirds before Innocent succeeded.


Clement VI was created by unanimous choice after 3 days.

He then toned down the Ubi Periculum rules governing conclaves, e.g. allowing the cardinals more servants, better quarters, and better meals. Clement also purchased the sovereignty of Avignon from Queen Joan I of Naples, for 80,000 crowns. The money was never paid, but Clement VI may have deemed that he gave the queen a full equivalent by absolving her for murdering her husband.


The conclave offered the popedom to John de Comminges under the condition that he not return the papacy to Rome. Offer declined. Then to everyone's surprise the monk Jacopo del Forno was elected Benedict XII.


The electoral college was composed of eight Italian cardinals, ten from Gascony, three from Provence, and three from other parts of France. After many weeks of unprofitable discussion as to where the conclave should be held, the electoral assembly was entirely dissolved.

After his coronation, King Philip V of France (re)assembled a conclave of 23 cardinals at Lyons, and about 40 days later they created pope "John XXII."


The conclave had 23-24 cardinals in 3 factions: the Gascons, French, and Italians (10, 6, and 7-8 in number). After 3 months with much simony (and this was the second conclave; the first had failed and there was a 2½-year interregnum), the vote was essentially unanimous to create John XXII as a compromise candidate.

1303-A & 1303-B

They elected Benedict XI in an attempt to placate King Philip IV (who'd been at odds with Boniface VIII). But that angered the Romans, who drove Benedict out of the city whereupon he died. In all he had only 8 months as pope.

Second try: 15 cardinals conclaved for 11 months. The harsh "Ubi Periculum" rules (which should have discouraged that) were not enforced. They elected Clement V.

Clement promptly appointed 4 relatives as cardinals and moved the papacy to Avignon (where it remained until 1377). He also reinstated the Ubi Periculum conclave rules by Gregory X and Celestine V.


Classics Professor John Paul Adams (California State University, Northridge) has a number of superb web pages about Popes and Conclaves: Another set of web pages, including lists of all the cardinals present at each conclave and their start and end dates compiled by Prof. Salvador Miranda and Dr. Francis A. Burkle-Young, is at It also includes a huge bibliography. All of {Adams's web pages, Baumgartner, Pirie, Trollope, and Walsh's books} were apparently written independently (and they do not always agree) which makes the net effect of reading all of them quite powerful. However, to really do a good job it would be better to consult more primary sources – not to mention, even my consultation of the present sources is incomplete.

Frederic J. Baumgartner: Behind locked doors, a history of the Papal Elections, Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

Louis-Marie de Lahaye Cormenin: A Complete History of the Popes of Rome: From Saint Peter, the First Bishop ... (Published 1859 by J.B. Smith; digitized from the NY Public Library.)

(Bishop) Mandell Creighton: History of the Papacy from the Great Schism to the Sack of Rome (6 vols, 1897).

Eamon Duffy: Saints and Sinners, a history of the popes, Yale University Press 1997.

Valerie Pirie: The Triple Crown: An Account of the Papal Conclaves From the Fifteenth Century to the Present Day, New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1936.

Thomas Adolphus Trollope: The papal conclaves, as they were and as they are, Chapman and Hall, London 1876.

Michael Walsh: The Conclave, a sometimes secret and occasionally bloody history of papal elections, Sheed & Ward, Lanham MD 2003.

The Papacy: an encyclopedia, 3 volumes, Routledge (revised expanded updated edition in English) 2002.

Parallel effort: Unbeknownst to me, wikipedia had in the meantime been compiling their own large (albeit still highly incomplete) compendium of information about papal elections. I only discovered that when this whole project was almost done, whereupon I went through it and stole a number of tidbits.

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