Papal conclave, 1774–75

Papal conclave

Coat of arms during the vacancy of the Holy See
Dates and location
5 October 1774 – 15 February 1775
Apostolic Palace, Papal States
Key officials
Dean Gian Francesco Albani
Sub-Dean Henry Benedict Stuart
Camerlengo Carlo Rezzonico
Protopriest Giuseppe Pozzobonelli
Protodeacon Alessandro Albani
Vetoed Giovanni Carlo Boschi
Elected Pope
Count Giovanni Angelo Braschi
(Name taken: Pius VI)

The Papal conclave, October 5, 1774 – February 15, 1775 – was the papal conclave convoked after the death of Pope Clement XIV and ended with the election of Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Braschi, who took the name of Pius VI.

Death of Clement XIV

Pope Clement XIV died suddenly on September 22, 1774 at the age of 68. His pontificate had been dominated by the problem of the Society of Jesus. The various courts under the House of Bourbon and the Kingdom of Portugal (under the House of Braganza) urged the general suppression of the order. The Pope tried to defend Jesuits and to temporize, but finally had to capitulate, and in 1773 he issued the Brief Dominus ac Redemptor which suppressed the Society of Jesus. Father Lorenzo Ricci, general of the order, had been imprisoned in the Castel Sant'Angelo. However, the Jesuits still had many adherents in the Roman Curia and in the Sacred College of Cardinals. The attitude toward Jesuits remained the main criterion of the appreciation of the candidates to the papal succession in the subsequent conclave.[1]

List of participants

At the death of Clement XIV there were fifty-five cardinals in the Sacred College, but two of them died during sede vacante, while another nine remained entirely absent. Forty-four cardinals participated in the conclave:[2]

Thirteen cardinals were created by Clement XIV, twenty by Clement XIII, ten by Pope Benedict XIV and one (Alessandro Albani) by Innocent XIII.


Nine cardinals were absent:[2]

Benedict XIV, Clement XIII and Clement XIV created three of them each.

Died during sede vacante

Two cardinals, including one created by Benedict XIV and one created by Clement XIII:[2]

Divisions in the Sacred College

The College of Cardinals was generally divided into two blocs: curial, pro-Jesuit (zelanti) and political, anti-Jesuit. The first one was formed by the Italian curial cardinals who opposed the secular influences on the Church. The second one included crown-cardinals of the Catholic courts. These two blocs were in no way homogenous. Zelanti were divided into moderate and radical factions. The anti-Jesuit bloc was divided into several national groups with different interests.

The leader of Zelanti was Cardinal Marcantonio Colonna. The other representatives of this faction were Giovanni Battista Rezzonico, his relative Carlo Rezzonico, who occupied the important office of the camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church, Gian Francesco Albani, dean of the College of Cardinals, and Alessandro Albani, archdeacon of the College. The Rezzonichi represented the radical wing of this faction, while the Albanis and Colonna represented the moderate wing. Among the anti-Jesuit cardinals the main leader was Cardinal de Bernis, ambassador of Louis XVI of France. The interests of Charles III of Spain were represented by Cardona, interests of Ferdinand III of Sicily/Ferdinand IV of Naples by Orsini, while those of Maria Theresa of Austria and her son Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor were under the care of Migazzi and Corsini. Also very influential was Cardinal Giraud, former nuncio in France. Several cardinals were not counted among the members of these factions.[4]

There was no main favourite of the conclave. About thirty cardinals were considered papabile.[1]


The conclave began on October 5, 1774. Initially there were only 28 participants. By the middle of December their number reached only 39, but by the end of the conclave five more cardinals arrived.[5]

Cardinal Marcantonio Colonna, taking advantage of the small number of electors, mostly curial cardinals belonging to his zelanti faction, tried to release Father Ricci from prison. This initiative obtained support of camerlengo Carlo Rezzonico and of Cardinal of York, but the anti-Jesuit faction was strong enough to frustrate it.[1]

Every day at least one ballot took place, but no candidates with serious chances for the election were proposed at the beginning, because the number of electors was relatively small and they were obliged to await the arrival of the rest, particularly of those representatives of the courts who did not reside in Rome. Zelanti voted mainly for their leader Colonna, who received the greatest number of votes in these initial ballots, but certainly had no chances to secure the required majority of two thirds.[6] Some other candidates were also put forward by the Zelanti, but they were all rejected by crown-cardinals as too pro-Jesuit.[1] Against the candidature of Giovanni Carlo Boschi the Bourbon courts even pronounced the official exclusion.[2]

Although the court factions cooperated by the blocking of Zelanti candidates, they were unable to agree upon one of their own. Spain supported Pallavicino, while Austria favoured Visconti, a former nuncio at Vienna. Towards the end of 1774 appeared for the first the name of young Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Braschi, aged 57, who belonged to the moderate wing of the Zelanti faction. He was advanced by Cardinal Giraud, and obtained a significant number of votes. This time the crown-cardinals rejected Braschi as pro-Jesuit, although Cardinal de Bernis in his report for the French court found him moderate man and did not exclude the support for him in the future, if no better candidate would be found. No consensus had been achieved before the end of 1774.[7]

In January 1775 cardinals Migazzi, Borromeo, Caracciolo, Pallavicino and Visconti were proposed by the political factions, but without any significant success, because Zelanti rejected all candidates recommended by the monarchs.[8] Cardinal Zelada tried to mediate between factions, proposing to reduce the number of candidates to six, of whom each of the two blocs had to advance three, and to elect this one of them who would be the most acceptable for all. But this initiative had also failed.[9]

Coat of arms of Pius VI.

Gradually French Cardinals de Bernis and Luynes came to the conclusion that it was impossible to find any better candidate with chances for the election than initially rejected by them Cardinal Braschi.[1] This was the turning point of the conclave. The Braschi's candidature gained important and influential allies. But Spain and Portugal still opposed him as too much devoted to Jesuits. Braschi also had some opponents in the radical wing of his own party. To secure the required majority for Braschi, Cardinal de Bernis aligned himself with Cardinal Zelada, who recentely acted as mediator: de Bernis had to convince the political factions, while Zelada had to overcome the opposition among radical Zelanti.[10] Also Cardinal Albani was engaged in the promotion of Braschi.[1]

Cardinal Zelada secured the support of Zelanti without serious problems. Also the conviction of Spain was not a difficult task for de Bernis because Spanish candidate Pallavicino openly declared that he would not accept the tiara and called to vote for Braschi.[11] The other political factions agreed when Braschi promised the ratification of the suppression of the Jesuits, his friendship to the House of Bourbon and to the House of Habsburg, and agreed to be guided by the allies in the distribution of State offices.[1]

Election of Pius VI

On February 15, 1775, after 134 days of deliberation, in the 265th ballot,[12] Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Braschi was elected to the papacy receiving all votes except his own,[10] which, according to custom, he gave to Gian Francesco Albani, dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals. He took the name of Pius VI, in honour of St. Pius V.[5]

On February 22, 1775 the Pope-elect was consecrated bishop of Rome by Cardinal Dean Gian Francesco Albani, bishop of Porto e Santa Rufina, assisted by Sub-dean Henry Benedict Stuart, bishop of Frascati, and Camerlengo Carlo Rezzonico, bishop of Sabina. On the same day he was also solemnly crowned by Cardinal Alessandro Albani, protodeacon of S. Maria in Via Lata.[13]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 The Triple Crown
  2. 1 2 3 4 S. Miranda Conclave of 177475
  3. Salvador Miranda in his list of participants of this conclave erroneously indicate that Fabrizio Serbelloni, bishop of Ostia e Velletri, was dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals. Although the see of Ostia e Velletri was customary assigned to the dean of the Sacred College, the dean at that time was Cardinal Gian Francesco Albani, bishop of Porto e Santa Rufina. (Gaetano Moroni, Dizionario di erudizione storico-ecclesiastica da S. Pietro sino ai nostri giorni, Tipografia Emiliana, Venice 18401861, vol. LXIV, p. 173)
  4. Bourgoing, p. 57; The Triple Crown
  5. 1 2 Damian Hungs: Pius VI
  6. Bourgoing, p. 1415
  7. Bourgoing, p. 1718
  8. Bourgoing, p. 19
  9. Bourgoing, p. 20; Damian Hungs: Pius VI
  10. 1 2 Bourgoing, p. 23
  11. Bourgoing, p. 22
  12. K. Dopierała, p. 370
  13. S. Miranda: Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Braschi (Pope Pius VI)


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