Papal conclave, 1740

Papal conclave
February–August 1740

Coat of arms during the vacancy of the Holy See
Dates and location
18 February – 17 August 1740
Apostolic Palace, Papal States
Key officials
Dean Pietro Ottoboni, Tommaso Ruffo
Sub-Dean Tommaso Ruffo, Lodovico Picco della Mirandola
Camerlengo Annibale Albani
Protopriest Armand-Gaston de Rohan-Soubise
Protodeacon Lorenzo Altieri
Vetoed Pier Marcelino Corradini
Elected Pope
Prospero Lorenzo Lambertini
(Name taken: Benedict XIV)

The Papal conclave of 18 February to 17 August 1740, convoked after the death of Pope Clement XII on 6 February 1740, was one of the longest conclaves since the 13th century.

The initial favourite to succeed as Pope, the elderly Pietro Ottoboni (1667–1740), Dean of the College of Cardinals, died shortly after the beginning of the conclave, and cardinals loyal to the House of Bourbon repeatedly proposed Pompeo Aldrovandi, but eventually had to accept that he could not secure two-thirds of the votes.

After six months, other possible candidates had also failed, and Prospero Lambertini, Archbishop of Bologna, who had been a Cardinal since 9 December 1726, was elected. He became the 247th pope of the Holy Roman Church, taking the name of Benedict XIV.

The conclave

The conclave began on 18 February 1740, following the funeral of Clement XII, and lasted for six months.

Cardinal Acquaviva d'Aragona presented the veto of King Philip V of Spain against Pier Marcelino Corradini being elected.[1]

At the outset, only thirty-two Cardinals entered into the conclave, in which there was an expectation that the elderly Pietro Ottoboni (1667–1740), a Cardinal for more than fifty years and Dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals, would be chosen to succeed Clement XII. However, opposition to Ottoboni was raised because of his protective relationship with France. After a few days he was taken seriously ill, left the conclave on 25 February, and died on 29 February.[2][3] Ottoboni's place as Dean was taken by Tommaso Ruffo, vice-dean of the Sacred College.[4]

As more cardinals arrived in Rome and entered into the conclave, a group of the French formed an alliance with the Austrians and with the Spanish cardinals from Naples and Tuscany. The cardinals loyal to the Bourbons proposed the name of Pompeo Aldrovandi, but he fell just short of securing the two-thirds majority required. For forty days, his nomination was voted on unsuccessfully before it became clear he could not be elected.[5]

There was considerable and lengthy confusion, with a series of names advanced, all of whom failed to find the necessary level of support. After long deliberation, Cardinal Lambertini, a canon lawyer, was proposed as a compromise candidate, and he is reported to have said to the College of Cardinals "If you wish to elect a saint, choose Gotti; a statesman, Aldrovandi; an honest man, me".[6][7][8] This appears to have assisted his cause, which also benefited from his reputation for deep learning, gentleness, wisdom, and conciliation in policy.[9]

The election of Benedict XIV

Benedict by Bracci

In the words of one historian, the College of Cardinals was

"...too sensible of their own weakness to risk giving offense to the neighboring courts, At length they fixed on a man who was at least unlikely to be offensive, as he had never in his life been engaged in diplomatic affairs, either as ambassador or nuncio. This was Prospero Lambertini, a native of Bologna.[10]

On 17 August in the evening, Lambertini was elected Pope, receiving the ballots of more than the required two-thirds of the fifty-one Cardinals present. Lambertini accepted his election and took the name of Benedict XIV in honour of his friend and patron Pope Benedict XIII.[9]

This was nowhere near the longest papal election in history, a title belonging to the legendary election of 1268–1271 which had lasted almost three years, compared with more than two years for that of 1292–1294 and almost a year for the 1287–1288 election, but it lasted a few days longer than the election of 1277.[11]

Benedict was crowned a few days later in the loggia of the Vatican Basilica. The young Horace Walpole, who was in Rome at the time, attempted to attend the coronation but gave up because he found the waiting interminable. He wrote to his friend and cousin Conway "I am sorry to have lost the sight of the Pope's coronation, but I might have staid for seeing it till I had been old enough to be Pope myself."[12]

List of participants

Of the sixty-eight cardinals living at the death of Pope Clement XII, four died during the sede vacante and fifty-one took part in the final ballot.:[1]

List of cardinals absent

Fourteen cardinals were absent throughout the conclave:[1]


  1. 1 2 3 Salvador Miranda, List of participants of the papal conclave of 1740.
  2. 1 2 OTTOBONI, Pietro (1667–1740) at
  3. Biography of Benedict XIV at
  4. RUFFO, Tommaso (1663-1753) at
  5. Horace Walpole, ed. Wilmarth Sheldon Lewis, The Yale edition of Horace Walpole's correspondence, vols. 13-14 (1948), pp. 226-227
  6. Pope Benedict XIV in Catholic encyclopedia online at
  7. Matthew Bunson, The pope encyclopedia: an A to Z of the Holy See (1995), p. 45
  8. Michael J. Walsh, Pocket Dictionary of Popes (2006) p. 21
  9. 1 2 Amleto Giovanni Cicognani, Canon law: I. Introduction to the study of canon law, book 1 (1934), p. 401
  10. Daniel Parish Kidder, The Lives of the popes from A. D. 100 to A. D. 1853 (Carlton & Phillips, 1853), p. 512
  11. P. H. Gallen, How Popes Are Chosen and Other Essays (1927, reprinted by Kessinger Publishing, 2003), p. 18
  12. Horace Walpole, The letters of Horace Walpole, earl of Oxford vol. 1 (Henry G. Bohn, 1861), p. 53
  13. ALTIERI, iuniore, Giambattista (1673–1740), at
  14. CUNHA E ATAÍDE, Nuno da (1664-1750) at
  15. ERBA-ODESCALCHI, Benedetto (1679-1740) at
  16. POTIER DE GESVRES, Léon (1656-1744) at
  17. MOTA E SILVA, João da (1685-1747) at
  18. BORBÓN Y FARNESIO, Luis Antonio Jaime de (1727-1785) at


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