Papal conclave, Autumn 1590

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Papal conclave
October–December 1590
Sede vacante.svg
Coat of arms during the vacancy of the Holy See
Dates and location
8 October – 5 December 1590
Apostolic Palace, Papal States
Key officials
Dean Giovanni Antonio Serbelloni
Sub-Dean Alfonso Gesualdo
Camerlengo Enrico Caetani
Protopriest Mark Sittich von Hohenems Altemps
Protodeacon Andreas von Österreich
Vetoed Ippolito Aldobrandini, Vincenzo Lauro, ...
Elected Pope
Niccolò Sfondrati
(Name taken: Gregory XIV)
Gregory XIV.PNG

Papal Conclave from 8 October – 5 December 1590 was the second conclave of 1590 where Gregory XIV was elected as the successor of Urban VII. The autumn conclave was marked by unprecedented royal interference from Philip II of Spain.

The pontificate of Urban VII[edit]

Urban VII was elected as pope on 15 September 1590. On 27 September 1590 he died due to malaria infection after only 12 days of his pontificate before he could be crowned, making him the shortest-reigning pope in history. His death was deeply mourned by the poor from Rome who inherited his wealth.[1]


The conclave after the death of Urban VII was attended by all the cardinals who took part in his election, with the exception of Cardinal Federico Cornaro (died on 4 October) Protodeacon Andreas von Österreich and Camerlengo Enrico Caetani also came to Rome. 54 out of 65 cardinals took part in conclave.:[2]

Twenty-four electors were nominees of Sixtus V, fifteen of Gregory XIII, six of Pius V, eight of Pius IV, and one of Julius III.


Eleven cardinals were absent:

Seven of them were appointed by Gregory XIII and four by Sixtus V.

Divisions and candidates[edit]

As during the previous conclave there were three large fractions:[3]

  • Spanish faction – political supporters of Spain. The core of the party was formed by the Cardinals: Madruzzo (faction leader), Deza, Mendoza, Tagliavia d'Aragona, Spinola, Marchntonio Colonna, Ascanio Colonna, Gallio, Pellevé, Santori, Rusticucci, Sfondrati, Paleotti, Simoncelli, Facchinetti, Carafa, Allen, Cusani, Giovanni Vincenzo Gonzaga, Scipione Gonzaga, Andreas von Österreich and Caetani;
  • Sistine fraction – nominees of Sixtus V who were led by his grandnephew Alessandro Peretti de Montalto. The member of this faction were the Cardinals: Castrucci, Pinelli, Aldobrandini, della Rovere, Bernerio, Galli, Sarnano, Rossi, Sauli, Pallotta, Morosini, Pierbenedetti, Petrocchini, Matei, Giustiniani, Borromeo, del Monte and Pepoli;
  • Gregorians – nominees of Gregory XIII: Sforza, Medici, Canani, Salviati, Valeri, Lauro, Lancelotti. Leader of this fraction was related by marriage to Gregory XIII, Cardinal Sforza

There were two small groups practising nepotism. One was related to Pius IV (Sitticus von Hohenems, Serbelloni, Gesualdo i Avalos d'Aragona) and the latter one to Pius V (Bonelli, Albani). Due to the small size of the groups they almost did not play any major role and the majority of nominees of these Popes become part of the Spanish fraction. The Cardinals who were considered as papabile were: Serbelloni, Marchntonio Colonna, Gallio, Paleotto, Madruzzo, Santori, Facchinetti, Sfondrati, Valier, Lauro, della Rovere.[4]

In the context of this conclave, the Prophecy of the Popes was forged, probably in order to support Cardinal Girolamo Simoncelli's bid for the papacy.[5][6]

Interference from Philip II of Spain[edit]

On 6 October, even before the conclave had started, the Spanish ambassador Olivares gave the Cardinals the official recommendations of King Philip II. They contained two lists of names. The first one had seven names: Madruzzo, Santori, Facchinetti, Sfondrati, Paleotti, Gallio and Marcantonio Colonna. The king’s official will was a choice of one of those seven names. The second list contained the names of 30 cardinals, who Philip II put a clear veto on. The subjects from Madrid were banned from voting against the king’s recommendations. Philip II wished to secure his claim to the French throne by gaining power over the The Holy See. Although in the past, secular monarchs had many times and in different ways tried to influence the election of popes, such an explicit interference was unprecedented. It was the beginning of what in the seventeenth century was considered as Jus exclusivae.[7]


Conclave began on 8 October, with 52 cardinals. Few days later, Camerlengo Caetani joined them after his return from France and on 13 October joined Cardinal Andreas von Österreich.[8] Cardinal Mantalto put Ippolito Aldobrandini up but Cardinal Madruzzo, who was the leader of the Spanish fraction according to the will of King Philip II, effectively torpedoed this candidacy. Nomination of Cardinal Vincenzo Lauro who was put up by Montalo and Sforza suffered the same fate.[9] On 12 October in Rome broke a rumour that Marco Antonio Colonna was appointed as new Pope. His nomination did take place but did not receive the majority of votes due to the opposition of Sforza and his faction. The Spanish did not want to support him either. Although Colonna was one of Philip II choice, unofficially it was known that both he and Gallio were not popular in Madrid and their election was going to be an extremity.[10] On 15 October, the Spanish faction took over the initiative and nominated its leader Madruzzo. The candidacy met with strong opposition from the Sforza, d'Aragony and Venetian cardinals. Objections against Madruzzo included close ties with the king of Spain, the poor state of health (gout), and even his origin; his mother was German.[11] After the rejection from Madruzzo, Cardinal Montalto offered the Spanish five names: Aldobrandini, Lauro, Valiero, Salviati and Medici, and asked them to pick one name. King rejected all five of them therefore none of them was elected. As a result of prolonged sede vacante, more and more chaos reigned on the streets. During November, disagreements amongst Cardinals increased instead of decreasing. The main opponent of the Spanish faction was Cardinal Montalto.[12] At the end of November the majority of cardinals gradually began to come to the conclusion that no matter how outrageous was the interference of Philip II, without the support of his followers there was no chance to elect the Pope and it would be better to choose someone from his list. On 4 December, supported by the Madrid Cardinal Paleotti received 33 votes (he needed another 3 to win). Montalto did not want the victory of Paleotti, so together with Sforza came to the conclusion that in order to prevent his election, they needed to support either Sfondrati or Facchinetti. At the end they decided to elect Sfondrati.[13]

Election of Gregory XIV[edit]

On the morning of 5 December 1590, after nearly two months' conclave 55-year-old Cardinal Niccolo Sfondrati Bishop of Cremona was elected. Elect agreed to change his name to Gregory XIV.[14] His coronation took place on 8 December 1590.[15]


  1. ^ Pastor, p. 323-333.
  2. ^ Pastor, p. 339; Sede Vacante 1590; Chacón, col. 203–204 and 214; compare Eubel, p. 53, which excluded Caetanii.
  3. ^ Pastor, p. 35-319, 334.
  4. ^ Pastor, p. 333.
  5. ^ Boyle, Alan (12 February 2013). "Why the buzz over St. Malachy's 'last pope' prophecy outdoes 2012 hype". NBC News. Retrieved 17 February 2013. 
  6. ^ Sieczkowski, Cavan (14 February 2013). "St. Malachy Last Pope Prophecy: What Theologians Think About 12th-Century Prediction". Huffington Post Canada. Retrieved 17 February 2013. 
  7. ^ Pastor, p. 335-336, 340–341; Sede Vacante 1590.
  8. ^ Pastor, p. 339; Chacón, col. 213; Sede Vacante 1590.
  9. ^ Sede Vacante 1590; Pastor, p. 339-340.
  10. ^ Pastor, p. 336, 338, 341–342; Sede Vacante 1590.
  11. ^ Pastor, p. 342-343.
  12. ^ Pastor, p. 343–346.
  13. ^ Pastor, p. 346–348.
  14. ^ Pastor, p. 348; Eubel, p. 53; Sede Vacante 1590; Chacón, col. 214.
  15. ^ Eubel, p. 53; Sede Vacante 1590; Chacón, col. 214.


  • Von Pastor, Lugwig (1932). "History of the Popes", V. 22. London
  • Chacón, Alfonso (1677). "Vitæ, et res gestæ Pontificvm Romanorum et P R. E. Cardinalivm ab initio nascentis Ecclesiæ vsque ad Vrbanvm VIII. Pont. Max," V. IV. Rome (Latin)
  • Eubel, Konrad (1922) "Hierarchia Catholica." V. IV. Padwa (Latin)

External links[edit]