The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church

Papal elections in the Fifteenth Century
The election of Pope Sixtus IV (1471)

By Francis A. Burkle-Young
Author of Passing the Keys

I. Background.

As was the case with his predecessors, Paul II was soon anxious to elevate new cardinals to increase the number in the College who were devoted to his interests; but because of the rather large size of the College the new pope had to resort to creations in pectore, a method now well established, since the election capitulation gave the cardinals a voice in the creation of new members and Paul was unwilling to risk an open rupture with the College so early in his reign. In the closing weeks of 1464 or shortly after the new year, Paul elevated two men to the college in this secret manner, but both of these prelates died shortly afterwards, before Paul could make any provision for the publication of their names. (1) After this, the pontiff made no attempt to add to the College until the fourth year of his reign when he named eight new cardinals on September 18, 1467. (2) In the time which elapsed between the papal election and this creation seven cardinals had died-Pierre de Foix l'Ancien, on December 13, 1464; Dionysius Szechy, February 1, 1465; Ludovico Trevisan, March 22, 1465 Louis d'Albret and Giacomo Tebaldi, both on September 4, 1465; Burchard von Weisbriach, February 16, 1466; and Jaime Cardona, December 1, 1466. This exodus allowed Paul to claim that he was but restoring the College to its former strength. (3) Five of the newly created were crown nominations: Thomas Bourchier, archbishop of Canterbury; Stefan Varda, nominated by Mathias Corvinus to replace Dionysius Szechy as the cardinal of Hungary; Oliviero Caraffa, nominated by Ferrante, king of Naples; Jean Balue, named by Louis XI of France; and Teodoro di Monferrato, who was elevated at the request of Jacques II of Cyprus. Also elevated were Amico Agnifilo, the old tutor of the pontiff, and Marco Barbo, the first cardinal-nephew of the reign. (4) Able administration and personal piety combined to explain the elevation of the eighth of the new cardinals, Francesco d'Albescola della Rovere, general of the Franciscans. (5)

In the following year, on November, 21, 1468, Paul added two more cardinal-nephews to his representation in the College-Giovanni Battista Zeno and Giovanni Michiel. (6) The reasons for the elevation of cardinal-nephews have been touched upon earlier, but the question of rampant nepotism in the Renaissance Church may perhaps be commented upon here. The popes of the Great Schism, unlike their predecessors of the Avignonese period, limited the members of their families whom they advanced to the highest dignities to a very few. This policy was followed by Martin V and his immediate successors. The Colonna pope was content with only one cardinal-nephew, and Eugenius IV had two. Nicholas V likewise had one, as did Pius II, while Calixtus III also had two. But when Paul II called three members of his family to the College, out of only ten published cardinals in a reign of just short of seven years, it became apparent that there was, in effect, no limit to the patience of the Church-her ability to withstand the advancement of papal relative after papal relative. The great number of cardinal-nephews created in the reigns of Sixtus IV, Alexander VI, and Julius II were testimony to the effectiveness of Paul II in opening the floodgates.

In the same consistory in which Paul elevated his two young nephews, he secretly created two more cardinals-Hugues de Coat Tredrez, the retired bishop of Treguier, and Pedro Ferriz, bishop of Tarzona. In the early weeks of 1471, the pontiff added four more names to the list of those created but not published-Pietro Foscari, Giovanni Battista Savelli, Ferry de Clugny, and Jan Vitez. (7)

During the remainder of his reign, Paul did not try to proclaim publicly the names of those thus created, trusting to his testamentary provisions. When he died on July, 26, 1471, the College consisted of twenty-five recognized cardinals and five living secret elevations. During the last four years of his reign six cardinals died, five of whom were elevated to the College by earlier popes and one who had been created by Paul. They were Juan de Mella, who died October 12, 1467; Juan de Torquemada, September 26, 1468; Petrus de Schaumberg, April 14, 1469; Juan de Carvajal, December 6, 1469; Richard Olivier de Longueil, August 19, 1470; and Stefan Varda, who died in February, perhaps February 22, 1471. Of the cardinals who survived Paul, two remained from those elevated by Eugenius IV, Joannes Bessarion and Guillaume d'Estouteville. Four of the cardinals of Nicholas V were living: Latino Orsini, Alain de Co tivy, Jean Rolin and Filippo Calandrini. The two cardinal-nephews of Calixtus III were still alive, Rodrigo de Lanol y Borgia and Luis Juan del Mila y Borja. All eight of the cardinals of Pius II who were living when Paul II was elected still survived: Angelo Capranica, Berardo Eruli Niccolo Forteguerri, Francesco di Nanni Todeschini de' Piccolomini, Bartolommeo Roverella, Jean Jouffroy, Giacomo Ammanati-Piccolomini, and Francesco Gonzaga. The surviving creations of Paul II were: Thomas Bourchier, Amico Agnifilo, Marco Barbo, Jean Balue, Francesco d'Albescola della Rovere, Teodoro di Monferrato, Giovanni Battista Zeno, Giovanni Michiel, and Oliviero Caraffa. (8)

The national composition of the College at the death of Paul II was sixteen Italians, five Frenchmen, two Spaniards, one Greek, and one Englishman. But, if one excludes the Roman faction during the Great Schism, this was the first conclave held since 1305 in which a two-thirds majority of the cardinals who attended were Italian, because six of the seven absentees were transalpine. The seven absent cardinals were the French: Co tivy, Rolin, Jouffroy, and Balue; the Englishman Bourchier, the Spaniard del Mila y Borja, and the Italian Francesco de' Piccolomini. Thus of the eighteen electors only three were not Italian.

The preponderance of the Italians made the election of one of their number almost certain, yet no one was more active during the preconclave campaigning than d'Estouteville. His major competitor in this electoral engineering was the astute Latino Orsini, who succeeded in persuading the College to bar the secret creations of Paul II from participating in the election, thus nullifying the will of Paul. (9)

II. Conclave and Election.

The actual conclave began on the morning of August 6, 1471, with the entrance of all the cardinals-electors, except Ammanati-Piccolomini who entered the following day. The usual election capitulation was drawn up, but on this occasion it dealt primarily with the obligation of the new pope to carry on the crusading work against the Turks rather than with a limitation of papal power. (10)

The two principal parties in this conclave were the "Pieschi," the cardinals created by Pius II and those sympathetic to them, and the "Paoleschi," those created by Paul II and their adherents. (11) On the first scrutiny, on Monday, August 7, a movement in favor of the now aged Bessarion, who had been denied the tiara in 1458, was revealed when he received six votes - those of d'Estouteville, Calandrini, Capranica, Ammanati-Piccolomini, Caraffa, and Barbo. In the same balloting d'Estouteville received three votes-those of Bessarion, Gonzaga, and Monferrato. Forteguerri also received three-Orsini, Eruli, and Agnifilo. Of the remaining six votes, Orsini received those of della Rovere and Michiel; Roverella those of Borgia and Zeno; while Forteguerri voted for Eruli and Roverella for Calandrini. The reports on the voting in the scrutinies are found primarily in tally sheets sent by Nicodemo de Pontremoli to Galeazzo Maria Sforza and now in the State Archives in Milan. (12)

Subsequently, there were brief movements in favor of Calandrini and Forteguerri. In one session, Calandrini retained the vote of Roverella and added those of della Rovere, Bessarion, d'Estouteville, Monferrato, Ammanati-Piccolomini, and Capranica. Forteguerri once received the votes of Monferrato, Roverella, Agnifilo, Orsini, Eruli, and della Rovere. The only other significant candidate to appear during the electoral proceedings, with the exception of della Rovere, was Roverella. The official movement in his favor was led by Borgia, who voted for him in every one of the scrutinies, and included the votes of Zeno, Caraffa, Calandrini, Orsini, Eruli, and della Rovere. (13) Yet none of these attempts resulted in a new pontiff. It is possible that in the scrutinies after the first, those cardinals who received the greatest number of votes did so by chance. The cardinals may have scattered their votes to ensure that no one would receive the required two-thirds majority during private negotiations of which there remains no record.

As usual, the secular powers wanted to influence the election as much as they could. The duke of Milan, Galeazzo Maria Sforza, through his secretary, Simonetta, informed the Milanese ambassador at Rome, Nicodemo de Pontremoli, that the candidates whom he wished to support were d'Estouteville, Capranica, Gonzaga, della Rovere, Agnifilo, and Ammanati-Piccolomini. (14) Because it was quickly perceived by those in Rome that the election of a non-Italian cardinal was a virtual impossibility, the candidature of d'Estouteville was doomed to fail, as in fact it did. Gonzaga was unlikely to be successful because of his youth, while little enthusiasm was shown by the electors for either Agnifilo or Ammanati-Piccolomini. Consequently, della Rovere was the most likely of the Milanese candidates to reach the throne. Gonzaga also worked for the cause of della Rovere, partly because he was an acceptable Milanese candidate; and Borgia also labored in his behalf. These latter cardinals carefully concealed their intentions by their voting in the scrutinies. Borgia, as we have seen, voted consistently for Roverella, and might have precipitated the latter's election by accident had circumstances been a little altered. Gonzaga at first voted for d'Estouteville and then for Borgia. Meanwhile the manoeuvering for della Rovere continued quietly. The party committed to him felt that the time to make their move was the scrutiny on the morning of August 9. In that balloting della Rovere received the votes of four of the "Paoleschi": Monferrato, Zeno, Michiel, and Agnifilo; two of the "Pieschi": Roverella and Forteguerri; as well as the suffrages of Bessarion, Calandrini, and Orsini. The remaining votes on this scrutiny were: Gonzaga voted for Borgia; Borgia voted for Roverella; della Rovere for Agnifilo; Barbo for Eruli, Ammanati-Piccolomini and Capranica for Calandrini; d'Estouteville for Gonzaga; and Eruli and Caraffa for Roverella. On the following accessus, della Rovere's chief secret supporters, Borgia and Gonzaga, changed their votes in his favor, as did d'Estouteville and Barbo. With thirteen votes of eighteen cast della Rovere was elected and chose the name Sixtus IV. The final tally of the conclave was: (15)

della Rovere 13
Calandrini 2
Roverella 2
Agnifilo 1

Against Renaissance tradition, it does not appear that the cardinals used the final accessus to make their choice unanimous. The most surprising aspect of the election was that many of the most worldly and easy-living cardinals-including Orsini, Borgia, d'Estouteville, and Gonzaga-voted for a man whose reputation for piety and austerity up to this time was considerable. (16)


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(1) Pastor, 4:119.

(2) Eubel, 2:15.

(3) Pastor, 2:19.

(4) Pastor, 2:14; Williams, Lives of the English Cardinals, 2:124-51; Eubel, 2:14-15.

(5) Eubel, 2:15; Pastor, 4:ii, 197-471.

(6) Eubel, 2:15.

(7) Eubel, 2:251, 251 Tirasonen. n. 1, 254; 2:15 n. 6.

(8) Eubel, 2:1-19.

(9) Roo, 2:151, and Pastor, 4:197-99.

(10) For details of how this was to be done, see Pastor, 4:204 n. 2, 210-12.

(11) For a discussion on the delimitation of parties in this conclave, see Pastor, 4:199. A complete history of the conclave will be found in Pastor, 4:197-204.

(12) Transcribed in Pastor, 4:505-7.

(13) Pastor, 4:505-7.

(14) Pastor, 4:505-7.

(15) Pastor 4:505-7.

(16) Roo, 2:151.

Eugenius IV (1431) Nicholas V (1447) Calixtus III (1455) Pius II (1458) Paul II (1461) Innocent VIII (1484) Alexander VI (1492)
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