Papal conclave, 1492

Papal conclave, 1492
Papal conclave, August 1492
Coat of Arms during the Vacancy of the Holy See
Dates August 6–August 11, 1492
Location Sistine Chapel, Apostolic Palace, Papal States
Dean Rodrigo Borja
Vice Dean Oliviero Carafa
Camerlengo Raffaele Riario
Protopriest Luis Juan del Mila y Borja
(absent; substituted by Girolamo Basso della Rovere)
Protodeacon Francesco Piccolomini
Ballots Pope elected after 4 ballots
Elected Pope Rodrigo Borja
(took name Alexander VI)

The papal conclave of 1492 (August 6 – August 11, 1492) convened after the death of Pope Innocent VIII (July 25, 1492), elected unanimously on the fourth ballot Cardinal Rodrigo Borja as Pope Alexander VI. The first conclave to be held in the Sistine Chapel, the election is notorious for allegations that the elect bought the votes of his electors, promising them lucrative appointments and other material gifts (simony). Concerns about this conclave led Pope Julius II to create stronger rules against simony in 1503.


Cardinal electors

Of the twenty-three cardinals participating in the conclave, fourteen had been elevated by Pope Sixtus IV.[1] The Cardinals of Sixtus IV, known as the "Sistine Cardinals" and led by Giuliano della Rovere, had controlled the conclave of 1484, electing one of their own, Giambattista Cibo as Pope Innocent VIII.[2] Since 1431 the composition of the College of Cardinals had been radically transformed, increasing the number of cardinal-nephews (from 3 to 10), crown-cardinals (from 2 to 8), and representatives of powerful Roman noble families (from 2 to 4).[3] With the exception of three curial officials and one pastor, the cardinals were "secularly-minded princes largely unconcerned with the spiritual life of either the Latin church or its members."[3]

At the time of Innocent VIII's death, the names of Cardinals Gherardo and Sanseverino (both created in pectore), had not been published, thus making them ineligible to participate in the conclave; however, both were published as an act of the College in sede vacante, Gherardo having been pushed by Orsini and Sanseverino by Sforza.[3] Gherardo was assigned the title of Santi Nereo e Achilleo, which it was believed Innocent VIII had intended for him; Sanseverino was given the poor and undesirable diaconate of San Teodoro to ensure that the future pontiff would confirm his assignment.[3]

According to the account of bishop ambassador Giovanni Andrea Boccaccio, at least seven cardinals considered themselves papabile, having dismantled the furnishings of their palaces as a precaution against the traditional pillaging of the pope-elect's residence by the Roman populace: da Costa, Fregoso, Michiel, Piccolomini, Domenico della Rovere, Savelli, and Zeno.[3]

Elector Nationality[4] Order and title[5] Elevated[4] Elevator Notes[4][3]
Rodrigo Borja Valencian Cardinal-Bishop of Porto e Santa Rufina 1456, February 20
created in pectore; published September 17, 1456
Callixtus III Dean of the College of Cardinals and administrator of Valencia
elected Pope Alexander VI
Cardinal-nephew, Vice-Chancellor of the Holy Roman Church, House of Borgia
Oliviero Carafa Neapolitan Cardinal-Bishop of Sabina 1467, September 18 Paul II Vice Dean of the College of Cardinals
Crown cardinal of Ferdinand I of Naples
Giuliano della Rovere Savona Cardinal-Bishop of Ostia and Velletri 1471, December 16
created in pectore; published December 22, 1471
Sixtus IV Cardinal-nephew; bishop of Bologna, administrator of Avignon
Future Pope Julius II
Giovanni Battista Zeno Venetian Cardinal-Bishop of Frascati 1468, November 21 Paul II Cardinal-nephew
Giovanni Michiel Venetian Cardinal-Bishop of Palestrina 1468, November 21 Paul II Cardinal-nephew
Jorge da Costa Portuguese Cardinal-Bishop of Albano 1476, December 16 Sixtus IV Archbishop of Lisbon; Crown cardinal of Afonso V of Portugal
Girolamo Basso della Rovere Savona Cardinal-Priest of S. Crisogono 1477, December 10
created in pectore; published December 12, 1477
Sixtus IV Cardinal-nephew; bishop of Recanati e Macerata
Domenico della Rovere Piedmont Cardinal-Priest of S. Clemente 1478, February 10 Sixtus IV Cardinal-nephew; archbishop of Turin
Paulo Fregoso Genoese Cardinal-Priest of S. Sisto 1480, May 15 Sixtus IV Former ruler of Genoa; archbishop of Genoa
Giovanni Conti Roman Cardinal-Priest of S. Vitale 1483, November 15 Sixtus IV
Giovanni Giacomo Sclafenati Milanese Cardinal-Priest of S. Cecilia 1483, November 15 Sixtus IV Bishop of Parma
Lorenzo Cibò di Mari Genoese Cardinal-Priest of S. Marco 1489, March 9 Innocent VIII Cardinal-nephew; archbishop of Benevento
Ardicino della Porta Milanese (Novara) Cardinal-Priest of Ss. Giovanni e Paolo 1489, March 9 Innocent VIII bishop of Aleria
Antoniotto Pallavicini Genoese Cardinal-Priest of S. Prassede 1489, March 9 Innocent VIII Bishop of Orense
Maffeo Gherardo, O.S.B.Cam. Venetian Cardinal-Priest of Ss. Nereo e Achilleo 1489, March 9 (created in pectore) Innocent VIII Not published before death of Innocent VIII; patriarch of Venice
Francesco Piccolomini Neapolitan Cardinal-Deacon of S. Eustachio 1460, March 5 Pius II Protodeacon, bishop of Siena, future Pope Pius III, Cardinal-nephew
Raffaele Riario Savona Cardinal-Deacon of S. Lorenzo in Damaso 1477, December 12 Sixtus IV Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church, Cardinal-nephew
Giovanni Battista Savelli Roman Cardinal-Deacon of S. Nicola in Carcere Tulliano 1480, May 15 Sixtus IV Former Governor of Bologna
Giovanni Colonna Roman Cardinal-Deacon of S. Maria in Aquiro 1480, May 15 Sixtus IV
"Giambattista" Orsini Roman Cardinal-Deacon of S. Maria Nuova 1483, November 15 Sixtus IV
Ascanio Sforza Milanese Cardinal-Deacon of Ss. Vito e Modesto 1484, March 6
created in pectore; published March 17, 1484
Sixtus IV House of Sforza, ruling family member of Milan
Giovanni de' Medici Florentine Cardinal-Deacon of S. Maria in Domnica 1489, March 9 Innocent VIII Future Pope Leo X, Ruling family member of Florence
Federico Sanseverino Neapolitan Cardinal-Deacon of S. Teodoro 1489, March 9 (created in pectore) Innocent VIII Not published before death of Innocent VIII

Absent Cardinals

There is no evidence that any of the four absent cardinals made an attempt to reach Rome for the conclave.[3]

Elector Nationality Order and title Elevated Elevator Notes
Luis Juan del Mila y Borja Spanish Cardinal-Priest of Ss. IV Coronati 1456, February 20
created in pectore; published September 17, 1456
Callixtus III Archpriest of the Sacred College; bishop of Lérida; de facto retired
Pedro González de Mendoza Castellan Cardinal-Priest of S. Croce in Gerusalemme 1473, May 7 Sixtus IV Archbishop of Toledo; Had not left Iberian Peninsula since elevation
Crown cardinal of the Catholic Monarchs
André d'Espinay French Cardinal-Priest of Ss. Silvestro e Martino ai Monti 1489, March 9 Innocent VIII Archbishop of Bordeaux, and Lyon; Crown cardinal of Charles VIII of France
Pierre d'Aubusson French Cardinal-Deacon of S. Adriano 1489, March 9 Innocent VIII Grand Master of Knights Hospitaller
Busy defending Rhodes from the Turks


The conclave was the first held in the Sistine Chapel

As dictated by the prescriptions Ubi periculum and Ne Romani, the conclave should have begun on August 4, ten days after the death of Innocent VIII; however, the conclave was delayed to await the slow arrival of the aged Gherardo, bearing a letter from Venice's Council of Ten urging his acceptance into the College.[3] The cardinals had decided as early as their first meeting on July 24 to use the Sistine Chapel for the balloting and assembly of the conclave.[3]

Johann Burchard, the German papal master of ceremonies, who presided over the conclave, as well as the previous one in 1484, kept an extensive diary, noting that each cardinal was provided:[6]

A table, a chair, a stool. A seat for the dischargement of the stomach. Two urinals, two small napkins for the table of the lord. Twelve little napkins for the same lord and four hand towels. Two little cloths for wiping cups. Carpet. A chest or box for the garments of the lord, his shirts, rochets, towels for wiping the face and a handkerchief. Four boxes of sweets for provisions. One vessel of sugared pine-seeds. Marzipan. Cane sugar. Biscuits. A lump of sugar. A small pair of scales. A hammer. Keys. A spit. A needle case. A writing case with penknife, pen, forceps, reed pens, and pen stand. A quire of paper for writing. Red wax. A water jug. Salt cellar. Knives. Spoons. Forks [...].

The Mass of the Holy Spirit (celebrated by Giuliano della Rovere rather than Borja who as Dean would traditionally have been the celebrant)[3] and then a speech by Bernardino Lopez de Carvajal, a Spaniard and the ambassador to Ferdinand and Isabella, on the "evils afflicting the Church" preceded the beginning of the conclave on August 6, 1492.[7] Another Spaniard, Gonzalo Fernandez de Heredia, archbishop of Tarragona, was appointed prefect of the Vatican. Two important offices during sede vacante were filled with compatriots of Cardinal Borja, and it is believed that they both were chosen by Borja in his capacity as Dean to strengthen his position before the conclave.[3]

The remainder of August 6 was consumed by the drafting and subscription to the conclave capitulation, which—although not extant—is known to have restricted the number of new cardinals which could be created by the new pope.[3]

Vote count

Nationality of Cardinal Electors
Country Number of Electors
Rome, Savona 4
Genoa, Milan, Naples, Venice 3
Florence, Portugal, Spain 1

The first ballot ("scrutiny"), held on August 8, was said to have resulted in nine votes for Carafa, seven for Borja, Costa, and Michiel, and five for Giuliano della Rovere, with Sforza notably receiving zero votes.[8]

The second ballot produced: nine for Carafa, eight for Borja, seven for Michiel, and five for Giuliano della Rovere.[7]

According to the Florentine Ambassador, one of the guards of the conclave, as of August 10, there had been three unsuccessful ballots, favoring Costa and Carafa,[9] but in no way indicating Borja might be chosen.[10] According to Sigismondo de' Conti, papal secretary and chronicler, the vote was unanimous on the fourth ballot, taken early in the morning on August 11, although Borja had only 15 votes prior to the accessus;[11] other accounts say Borja received all the votes except for his own, which he gave to Carafa.[10]

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the election of Rodrigo Borja "almost entirely due to" Giambattisti Orsini.[12]

Allegations of simony

The Venetian envoy to Milan informed his confrère in Ferrara: "that by simony and a thousand villanies and indecencies the papacy has been sold, which is a disgraceful and detestable business", adding that he expected Spain and France to withhold their support from the new pontiff.[10][13] After the conclave, a ubiquitous epigram within Rome was: "Alexander sells the Keys, the Altar, Christ Himself—he has a right to for he bought them."[14]

On August 10, after the third ballot, Ascanio Sforza allegedly came to believe his own ambitions of being elected pope were impossible and became succeptable to Borja's offer: the office of Vice-Chancellor and the associated Palazzo Borgia, the Castle of Nepi, the bishopric of Erlau (with annual revenue of 10,000 ducats) and other benefices.[15][16] Sforza was also reputed to have received four mule-loads of silver (some sources say gold), which Borja ordered to be delivered immediately after the deal was struck.[13][17] The price of the other Cardinals was as follows: Orsini, the fortified towns of Monticelli and Soriano, the legation of the Marches, and the bishopric of Cartagena (with annual revenue of 5,000 ducats);[18][16] Colonna, the abbey of Subiaco and its environs (with annual revenue of 3,000 ducats);[19][16] Savelli, Civita Castellana and the bishopric of Majorca;[19] Pallavicini, the bishopric of Pampeluna (Pamplona);[19][16] Michiel, the suburbicarian see of Porto;[20][16] 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.[16] Sanseverino's compensation included Rodrigo Borgia's house in Milan.[16] Cardinals Sclafenati and Domenico della Rovere were to receive abbacies and/or benefices.[20] Cardinals Andicino della Porta and Conti followed Sforza, whom they had originally supported.[20]

The aforementioned Cardinals plus Borja's own vote numbered 14, one short of the required two-third majority. However, Cardinals Carafa, Costa, Piccolomini, Cibò, and Zeno, followed by Medici, were unwilling to be bribed.[20][13] Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, followed by Basso, was intractably opposed to Borja's election.[20] Thus, the ninety-six year old Gherardo, the Cardinal Patriarch of Venice,[13] who was paid only 5,000 ducats,[21] constituted the deciding vote.[22]

According to Professor Picotti, who extensively researched the conclave and came to the conclusion that simony had occurred, no accounts of papal income and expenditure exist in the registers of Introitus et Exitus for August 1492, and debts from the Apostolic Camera to Cardinals Campofregoso, Domenico della Rovere, Sanseverino, and Orsini appeared soon afterwards.[23] The Spannocchi bank, which housed much of Borja's wealth, was said to have nearly crashed after the conclave due to the velocity of transactions.[11]

Some sources say that Charles VIII of France had bankrolled 200,000 ducats (plus 100,000 ducats from the Doge of Genoa) for the election of Giuliano della Rovere, although several otherwise bribable cardinals were hostile to French interference.[24]

Other historians regard politics as a stronger factor within the conclave than pure simony, with the personal rivalvry between Giuliano della Rovere and Ascanio Sforza (who had met to discuss the upcoming conclave in Castel Gandolfo even before Innocent VII had died[25]) substituting for the ancient struggle between Naples and Milan,[26] with the intractability between the two parties making Borja a viable candidate.[11]


When Giuliano della Rovere was elected Pope Julius II in 1503, he issued a bull annulling any papal election brought about by simony, and defrocking and excommunicating any cardinal who sold his vote. Although the twenty-six day reign of Pope Pius III intervened between Alexander VI and Julius II, the alleged unscrupulousness of the Borgia pope was still firmly in the institutional memory of the Roman Curia. While Cardinal during the reign of Alexander VI, Julius II had been assailed politically and often militarily outside the sturdy wall of his Castle of Ostia.[27]


The conclave is fictionalized in the 2011 premiere episode of the Showtime series "The Borgias", with Jeremy Irons as Borja and Colm Feore as della Rovere.


  • Chamberlin, Eric Russell. 2003. The Bad Popes. Barnes & Noble Publishing. ISBN 0880291168.
  • Pastor, Ludwig. 1902. The History of Popes. K. Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., Ltd.


  1. ^ Pastor, Ludwig. 1906. The History of Popes. K. Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., Ltd. p. 416.
  2. ^ Signorotto, Gianvittorio, and Visceglia, Maria Antonietta. 2002. Court and Politics in Papal Rome, 1492-1700. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521641462. p. 17.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Burke-Young, Francis A. 1998. "The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church: Papal elections in the Fifteenth Century: The election of Pope Alexander VI (1492)." Retrieved on August 28, 2009.
  4. ^ a b c Source: the respective biographical entries by Miranda, Salvador (1998-2009) The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church: conclave of 1492 Retrieved on August 28, 2009.
  5. ^ Miranda, Salvador (1998-2009) The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church: conclave of 1492 Retrieved on August 28, 2009.
  6. ^ Chamberlin, 2003, p. 169.
  7. ^ a b Bellonci, Maria. 2003. Lucrezia Borgia. Sterling Publishing Company, Inc. ISBN 1842126164. p. 7.
  8. ^ Bellonci, 2003, p. 6.
  9. ^ Pastor, 1902, p. 381.
  10. ^ a b c Setton, Kenneth Meyer. 1984. The Papacy and the Levant, 1204-1571: The 13th & 14th Centuries. ISBN 0871691272. p. 433.
  11. ^ a b c Bellonci, 2003, p. 8.
  12. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg "Orsini" in the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia.
  13. ^ a b c d Setton, 1984, p. 435.
  14. ^ Chamberlin, 2003, p. 170.
  15. ^ Pastor, 1902, p. 382.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g Setton, 1984, p. 434.
  17. ^ Chamberlin, 2003, p. 170-171.
  18. ^ Pastor, 1902, p. 382-383.
  19. ^ a b c Pastor, 1902, p. 383.
  20. ^ a b c d e Pastor, 1902, p. 384.
  21. ^ Chamberlin, 2003, p. 171.
  22. ^ Pastor, 1902, p. 385.
  23. ^ Setton, 1984, p. 433-434.
  24. ^ Chamberlin, 2003, p. 169-170.
  25. ^ Shaw, Christine. 1993. Julius II: The Warrior Pope. Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 063120282X. p. 84.
  26. ^ Ady, Cecilia M. 1928. "Review of La giovinezza di Leone X." English Historical Review. 43: p. 627.
  27. ^ Sladen, Douglas Brooke Wheelton, and Bourne, Francis. 1907. The Secrets of the Vatican. Hurst and Blackett Limited. p. 50.

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Papal conclave — Conclave redirects here. For other uses, see Conclave (disambiguation). The Holy See This article is part of the series: Politics and government of the Holy See …   Wikipedia

  • Papal conclave, 2005 — Papal conclave, April 2005 Dates 18–19 April 2005 Location Sistine Chapel, Apostolic Palace, Vatican City Dean …   Wikipedia

  • Papal conclave, October 1978 — Dates October 14–October 16, 1978 Location Sistine Chapel, Apostolic Palace, Vatican City …   Wikipedia

  • Papal conclave, 1878 — The Papal conclave of 1878 resulted from the death of Pope Pius IX in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican on 7 February 1878. The conclave occurred in circumstances different from those of any previous conclave. Contents 1 Unique circumstances 2… …   Wikipedia

  • Papal conclave, 1644 — Coat of arms of the Holy See during the sede vacante …   Wikipedia

  • Papal conclave, 1903 — The Papal conclave of 1903 was caused by the death of the 93 year old Pope Leo XIII, who at that stage was the third longest reigning pope in history. (Pope John Paul II (1978 2005) passed Leo a century later.) It saw the election of Giuseppe… …   Wikipedia

  • Papal conclave, 1655 — Coat of arms of the Holy See during the sede vacante …   Wikipedia

  • 1492 (disambiguation) — 1492 was a year in the Julian calendar, most notable for being the year that Christopher Columbus sailed for America.1492 may also refer to:* , a 1992 movie telling of Columbus s discovery of the new world * 1492 epopea lirica d America , an… …   Wikipedia

  • Conclave de 1370 — Début du conclave 29 décembre 1370 Fin du conclave 30 décembre 1370 Lieu du vote …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Conclave capitulation — Pope Innocent VI, the first Pope to agree to a capitulation, and the first to disregard one A conclave capitulation is a capitulation drawn up by the College of Cardinals during a papal conclave, attempting to constrain the actions of the Pope… …   Wikipedia