The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church

Papal elections in the Fifteenth Century

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

The purpose of this monograph is to examine the College of Cardinals in the fifteenth century, and the conclaves in which its members participated, with a view to revealing several fundamental changes in the constitution of the College in that time. This text also offers a detailed examination of the conclave of 1492, the meeting in which Rodrigo de Lançol y Borgia was elected to the papal chair as Alexander VI, as an example of the effect those changes had upon the most important aspect of the cardinalitial station, the election of a new pope.

In order to achieve the perspective necessary to see the College of Cardinals and its members at the time of Alexander's election, and to explain the nature of the bargaining which brought about his elevation, it is first necessary to trace the alteration of the College from an assemblage of dedicated churchmen with years of curial experience or in pastoral care - for such it was from its inception to the close of the fourteenth century - into a senate made up of secular statesmen, Roman barons, Italian princes, and papal relatives, for such it was in the summer of 1492.

This work traces the members of the College from the time of Martin V (1417-1431) through the reign of Innocent VIII (1484-1492), revealing their backgrounds, interests, and loyalties.

In addition, I have included extensive background material on the conclaves of the fifteenth century, because that knowledge would have been that possessed by the cardinals as they went about their task to supply the Church with its new supreme pastor in the summer of 1492.

The events of the conclave itself are preceded by a detailed narrative of the lives and careers of those who were cardinals at the time, arranged according to the seniority of each prelate in the College, which is in keeping with the usage of other scholars in the field in times past; and also with the attitudes and interests brought into the electoral assembly by the cardinals themselves. The cardinals of the Renaissance viewed themselves and each other in relation to the power and authority each held as a member of the College, power and authority which came with advancing seniority within the cardinalitial constitution, and to the power and authority of the secular princes or papal connections nearly all of them had.


For making this electronic edition available, I thank Salvador Miranda of Florida International University for his kindness and help; and for helping me in many ways with my current research projects. I thank the late Ellen Louise Burkle Young for her support and patience with me and the cardinals for almost thirty years, and, more especially, for preparing me for that rich life of the mind which has sustained me all my life. Thanks also to Fra Raphael Brown, for many years with the General Reference and Bibliography Division of the Library of Congress; to the late Sister Bernard, S. N. D.; to the staff of the former Collections Managment Division and the former General Reference and Bibliography Division of the Library of Congress, especially Ernest Albert Braund and Thomas Mann. A warm and special thanks to Dr. George Allan Cate, Associate Professor of English in the University of Maryland, for his decades of kindness and support. For helping me to prepare and assemble this text, I want to express deep thanks and gratitude to my friends, Diane Hanlon Pierce, James Calvin Pierce, and Laurence Stephen Galvin. I also thank the late Dr. Hermann Everard Schuessler, once professor of Reformation History at the University of Maryland, College Park. This incomparable scholar gave freely and amply of his time as well as of his inexhaustible fund of knowledge and scholarship during the last months of his life to aid me in this work.

Eugenius IV (1431) Nicholas V (1447) Calixtus III (1455) Pius II (1458) Paul II (1461)
Sixtus IV (1472) Innocent VIII (1484) Alexander VI (1492)
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