Papal conclave, 1549–1550

Papal conclave, 1549–1550

The papal conclave from November 29, 1549 to February 7, 1550, which was convened after the death of Pope Paul III, was the second-longest papal conclave of the 16th century, and (at the time) the largest papal conclave in history in terms of the number of cardinal electors.Baumgartner, 1985, p. 301.] The cardinal electors (who at one point totalled fifty-one) were roughly divided between the factions of Henry II of France, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and Alessandro Farnese, the cardinal-nephew of Paul III.

Noted for the extensive interference of European powers, the conclave was to determine whether and on what terms the Council of Trent would reconvene (supported by Charles V and opposed by Henry II) and the fate of the Duchies of Parma and Piacenza (claimed by both Charles V and the House of Farnese).Baumgartner, 1985, p. 302.] Although the conclave nearly elected Reginald Cardinal Pole, the late arrival of additional French cardinals pushed the conclave back into deadlock, [Baumgartner, 1985, p. 306-308.] and eventually Giovanni del Monte was elected Pope Julius III as a compromise candidate.

The French hoped that Julius III would be hostile to the interests of the Holy Roman Empire. Nevertheless, tensions between him and the French boiled over when he reconvened the Council of Trent in November 1550, culminating in the threat of Schism in August 1551 and the brief War of Parma fought between French troops allied with Ottavio Farnese and a papal-imperial army. [Baumgartner, 1985, p. 313-314.] French prelates did not attend the 1551-1552 sessions of the Council of Trent and were slow to accept its reforms; because Henry II would not allow any French cardinals to reside in Rome, many missed the election of Pope Marcellus II, arriving in Rome just in time to elect Marcellus II's successor Pope Paul IV after Marcellus II's brief reign. [Baumgartner, 1985, p. 314.]



The rules of the conclave, as laid out in "Ubi periculum" and codified into canon law were nominally observed, but also blatantly disgregarded, especially with respect to the rules prohibiting communication with the outside world. Some unauthorized persons are known to have been present in the conclave, leaving through the small door left open ("per portulam ostio conclavis relictam"). Portuguese Cardinal Miguel de Silva, irked by the presence of ambassadors from both Charles V and Henry II, complained to Dean de Cupis that the conclave was "more open than closed" ("non conclusum sed patens conclave"). By January 14, with the arrival of Louis de Bourbon, there were approximately 400 people in the conclave, only 48 of whom were cardinals—including the brothers of some cardinals, the representatives of secular rulers, and those whose only purpose was to inform the outside world on the proceedings. [Setton, 1984, p. 517-518.]

On November 27, the twelve cardinals who had arrived in Rome by then, joined the twenty-nine who had been in Rome at the death of Paul III in drawing lots of the assignment of cells during the conclave; however, those who were already ill were given preferential cell placement without having to draw lots.

On December 3, the conclavists decided to proceed with "closed" ballots ("ut vota secreto darentur"), having read and sworn to adhere to the bull of Pope Julius II against simonical election, "Contra simoniacos", and Pope Gregory X's bull establishing the conclave, "Ubi periculum" on December 1.Setton, 1984, p. 509.]

On January 31, a reform committee—composed of Carafa, Bourbon, Pacheco, Truchess, de Silva, and Pole—decided on thirteen new rules: limiting each cardinal to three conclavists, preventing cardinals from enlarging or switching assigned cells, prohibiting private meetings of more than three cardinals, banning eating together or sharing food, and confining the cardinals to their cells between 10:30 p.m. and dawn; physicians and barbers were each limited to three Italians, and one each of France, Germany, and Spain. [Setton 1984, p. 518-519.]


The first scrutiny was held on December 3, the fifth day of the conclave in the Cappella Paolina (not the Sistine Chapel, which had been divided into nineteen cells for infirm cardinals).

Because it took ten days for the news of Pope Paul III to reach the French court, at the start of the conclave almost all the cardinals aligned with the Holy Roman Empire were in Rome, while only two of the fourteen French cardinals were in Italy (one was Antoine du Meudon, who had been vacationing in Farnese territorySetton, 1984, p. 506.] ); because one clauses of the Concordat of Bologna allowed the pope to fill French benefices if the French prelate died in Rome, Henry II exhorted his cardinals to remain in France, and relied on his non-French allies (in particular, Ippolito II d'Este) to act as his go between with the Roman Curia.Baumgartner, 1985, p. 303.] d'Este had done his best to delay the start of the conclave to allow the French cardinals to arrive, using his influence to schedue the papal funeral (which was, by law, nine days long) to begin an unusual nine days after Paul III's death.

At the start of the conclave, Alessandro Farnese, the cardinal-nephew of Paul III, and his faction of four or five cardinals (including Ranuccio Farnese and Guido Ascanio SforzaSetton, 1984, p. 507.] ), whom Guise had counted among the French faction, began supporting the second choice of the Holy Roman Emperor, Reginald Pole, apparently having received assurances that Ottavio Farnese's claim to the Duchy of Parma would be supported by Charles V. On December 5, Pole received twenty-six votes, only two short of the requisite two-thirds majority, prompting French ambassador Claude d'Urfé to rush to the door of the conclave, demanding that the conclave wait for the French cardinals, whom he claimed were in Corsica, and threatening that the election of a pope in their absence would be likely to cause a Schism.Baumgartner, 1985, p. 307.] Whether or not Urfé's warning had any effect on the conclavists, from December 7, when the French cardinals landed south of Genoa, to the end of the conclave, Pole polled no more twenty-four or twenty-three votes.Baumgartner, 1985, p. 308.] On December 11, four French cardinals—Guise, Charles II de Bourbon-Vendôme, Odet de Coligny de Châtillon, and Jean du Bellay—arrived, bringing the requisite supermajority to thirty-one. Henry II bankrolled Guise with a sum of 150,000 écus, likely for bribes, and additional French cardinals began to trickle into the conclave: Georges d'Amboise and Philippe de la Chambre on December 28; Jean de Lorraine on December 31; and (the extremely elderly) Louis de Bourbon on January 14.Baumgartner, 1985, p. 309.]

By the end of January, Pole had dropped to twenty-one votes, but the French faction remained split between Carafa, de Bourbon, Lorraine, and Salviati; Este's candidacy, though desired by many in the French College, had not yet been put forward, perhaps having been held back in hopes that he would be more acceptable as the conclave dragged on. Toward the end of January, in accordance with traditional efforts to counter dillatory cardinals, the amenities and rations of the conclave were decreased and the upper story windows were closed to reduce the natural lighting and fresh air.Baumgartner, 1985, p. 310.] Soon afterwards, Ridolfi—the French candidate most acceptable to Farnese—died amid accusations of poisoning on January 31.

A letter dated February 6 from Henry II, advising Guise to support a neutral candidate, never reached the conclave before its conclusion.Baumgartner, 1985, p. 311.] Although Del Monte had originally been opposed both by the Imperial faction (for his role in moving the Council of Trent) and the French faction (for his Plebian geneaology and alleged personal indiscretions), he attained the support of the French for his perceived past hostility to the Empire, the support of Farnese for his pledge to support the claim of Ottavio Farnese in Parma, and the support of a few Imperialists, having not been specifically excluded in Charles V's last letter.Baumgartner, 1985, p. 312.] On February 7, on the sixty-first scrutiny of the conclave Del Monte was "unanimously" elected Pope Julius III (forty-one cardinals had previously acquiesced to his candidacy, although the more fervent of the Imperialists had not until it was already inevitable).

Primary sources

The main sources for the proceedings and vote-counts of the conclave come from the accounts Enrico Dandolo of Venice, Simon Renard (the Imperial ambassador to France), and Diego de Mendoza (ambassador to Charles V), the correspondences between Henry II and Guise and d'Este, and the diaries of the various conclavists. In particular, Angelo Massarelli, the secretary of Marcello Cervini, devotes his entire fifth diary to the conclave.Setton, 1984, p. 508.]

The "papabile"

Before and during the conclave, many Roman bankers offered betting spreads on the "papabile" (cardinals likely to be elected). According to Dandolo, "it is more than clear that the merchants are very well informed about the state of the poll, and that the cardinals' attendants in Conclave go partners with them in wagers, which thus causes many tens of thousands of crowns to change hands" (an early example of insider trading).

Cardinal del Monte (who was eventually elected Julius III) had eventually started out as the favorite at 1 to 5, trailed by Salviati, Ridolfi, and Pole, but Pole was the favorite three days later at 1 to 4.Baumgartner, 1985, p. 306.] By December 5, Pole's odds had risen to 95 to 100. With the arrival of four additional French cardinals on December 11, Pole's odds fell to 2 to 5.

On January 22, the odds quoted against the conclave finishing during January were 9 to 10, against February: 1 to 2, against March: 1 to 5, and never: 1 to 10.



*Baumgartner, Frederic J. 1985. "Henry II and the Papal Conclave of 1549." "Sixteenth Century Journal". 16, 3: 301-314.
*Setton, Kenneth Meyer. 1984. "The Papacy and the Levant, 1204-1571: The 13th & 14th Centuries". American Philosophical Society. ISBN 0871691140.

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