Papal election, 1254

The vacancy of the papal throne from 8–12 December 1254, during which the papal election of 11–12 December 1254 took place, followed the death of Pope Innocent IV and ended with the choice of Raynaldus de' Conti, who took the name Pope Alexander IV. The Election was held in Naples, in the former palazzo of Pietro della Vigna, and required only one day.

Pope Alexander IV, fantasy portrait in S. Paolo fuori le Mure, Rome.

Frederick II and Innocent IV

Innocent IV (Fieschi), who was elected on June 25, 1243, after a vacancy that had lasted more than nineteen months, undertook as his most important task the destruction of Frederick II, who had been excommunicated by his predecessor Gregory IX (Ugo dei Conti di Segni) on March 20, 1239, and by numerous other cardinals and bishops. He was compelled to flee from Rome on June 7, 1244; he reached Genoa on July 7, suffering from a fever and dysentery. There he remained until October, 1244, when he crossed the Alps, reaching Lyons at the end of November. There he remained, living in exile, until the middle of April 1251. He held a church council at Lyons in 1245, with some 150 bishops, a disappointing number, and issued an order deposing Frederick from the Imperial throne, and his son Conrad as well.[1] Louis IX of France attempted to mediate a peace, but was unsuccessful. Both parties wanted blood. There was even an assassination attempt against the life of Frederick, led by Tibaldo Francesco, a former Podestà of Parma, who had been promised the Crown of Sicily (Only the Pope can invest a person with the fief of Sicily). When Frederick discovered the plot, 150 people were executed. In May, 1246, a new King of the Romans was elected in opposition to Frederick with the active support of the Pope, Henry Raspe Landgraf of Thurungia. Henry managed to defeat Conrad in battle at Nidda in August 1246, but death prevented him from following up on his success. A new emperor, William of Holland, was likewise elected, in October 1247, but he was defeated by Conrad in 1250. Frederick's best friend, Peter de la Vigne, was accused of attempting to assassinate Frederick through poison; he was tried and blinded, but before he could be confined for life (or worse), he committed suicide (1249). Frederick insisted that the moving force behind the plot had been the Pope. While campaigning in Italy, Frederick died of dysentery on December 13, 1250.[2] He left the crown of Sicily, his initial inheritance, to his son Conrad IV, and, failing him, to his son Henry; or, if Henry was unavailable, in the last event to his legitimized son Manfred. Pope Innocent was impelled to eject the Hohenstaufen, and offered to Richard of Cornwall, the brother of King Henry III of England, both before and after the death of Conrad, and then to Charles d'Anjou, the brother of Louis IX of France.

Next April, Innocent began his homeward journey, by sea from Marseille to Genoa; he spent the summer in Lombardy, and arrived in Bologna in mid-October, 1251.[3] He reached Perugia at the beginning of November, 1251, where he resided until the end of April, 1253, when he moved to Assisi. He left Assisi at the beginning of October, 1253, and finally reached Rome by October 12. He stayed at the Lateran, until the end of April, 1254, when he returned to Assisi for the rest of the Spring. He travelled next to Anagni, arriving by June 2, where he stayed until October 8, when he made a visit to Montecassino, Capua and Naples. He died in Naples on December 7, 1254.

But Innocent IV had not returned to Italy in 1251, to enjoy the peace and happiness consequent on the death of the Church's great enemy. The Church had been seriously damaged during the war between Frederick and Gregory IX and then Frederick and Innocent IV. Already in 1246, if Matthew of Paris is to be believed,[4] there was a confrontation between Innocent and Cardinal Johannes Toletanus, who was defending the English who were refusing to pay the Pope's exorbitant tax demands, even under threat of interdict:

"May God forgive you your wrath, Lord, if I may speak frankly, you should try to control your wild temper, since the times are so bad. The Holy Land has difficulties; the Greek Church is moving away from us; Frederick, who is equal to or more powerful than any Christian prince, opposes us. You and we, who are the support of the Church, are driven from the seat of the papacy, from Rome, and even from Italy. Hungary, with its great territory, awaits its destruction at the hands of the Turk. Germany is torn with civil war. Spain is raging to the length of cutting out the tongues of bishops. France, already impoverished by us, is conspiring against us. England, frequently troubled by our injuries, now at length wounded by our blows and injured by our spurs, like Balaam's ass speaks and protests and complains that its burden is intolerable and that its injury is beyond remedy. We, like the Jews, hated by all, provoke all to hate us."

Innocent, Conrad, and Manfred

Conrad IV

Innocent had a major reconstructive task ahead of him, to recover the lands and goods of the Church, and to reinvigorate the hierarchy in Lombardy, Tuscany and the Kingdom of Naples. It would have to be pressed forward in the face of the opposition of Frederick's sons. As Innocent arrived in Bologna, Conrad, having arranged his affairs for the present in Germany, crossed the Brenner Pass, stopped at Verona and then Goito,[5] where he met the Imperial Vicars for Italy.[6] The affairs of Lombardy were put in order for the moment. Whatever Innocent had been able to achieve during his tour of Lombardy was nullified. Conrad then took ship and arrived at Siponto in January 1252. A diet was held in Frederick's capital of Foggia in February, 1252,[7] where he worked to please the people, win over the barons, and do what he could to enter into friendly relations with the Universities at Naples and Salerno. The business was especially delicate since he had to deal with his younger brother Manfred, who had been regent of the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily for Frederick, and was still the powerful Prince of Taranto.

In October 1253, Naples fell to Conrad. It was the last Hohenstaufen possession to hold out against the brothers. But suspicion between brothers caused Conrad to strip Manfred of nearly all of his gains, except the Principality of Taranto, which had been left him by his father the Emperor Frederick. Conrad, however, died suddenly, of malaria, on May 21, 1254. On October 8, Pope Innocent set off to the south, with a papal army commanded by his nephew, the Legate Cardinal Guglielmo Fieschi, intent upon putting an end to Manfred and end once and for all the Hohenstaufen threat to the Papacy. On October 23, 1254, Innocent, who was at Capua at the time, detached Amalfi from its traditional obedience to the Kings of Sicily and received it directly into his own power. This was a direct threat to Manfred and his control of the Kingdom of Naples. On October 26, Manfred fled from Teano, whose loyalty was doubtful,[8] and fled to his loyal Saracens in the town of Lucera. At Lucera he had access to the Imperial treasury, which with he could pay his troops. From Lucera he led an army, principally composed of Germans (and deserters from the papal army), against the papal army. The armies met at Foggia on December 2, and the Papal army was soundly defeated. Four thousand papal mercenaries were killed. Cardinal Guglielmo fled to Naples. Five days after the battle, on the Feast of S. Andrew, December 7, around the time of Vespers, Innocent IV himself died, attended by the spiritual ministrations of Cardinal Rinaldo dei Conti di Segni. He and the Papal Curia had been staying in Naples, the Pope occupying the palazzo that had once belonged to Frederick II's secretary, Peter de la Vigne. The only evidence of the cause of his death comes from Matthew of Paris,[9] who states that, on the road from Capua to Naples, the Pope suffered a sudden and sharp attack of pleurisy, which could have had any of a number of causes. Remarkably for the times, poison is not mentioned. He was treated by Cardinal John of Toledo, to no avail. On December 8, the body was buried in the Cathedral of Naples.[10]


The first to react to the disaster at Foggia was the Podesta of the city of Naples, Beretholinus Tavernerius, a citizen of Parma. He had the gates of the city closed immediately. It is said that he did this to prevent the cardinals from leaving the city and taking the Election anywhere else. This was not done out of anything so inane as city pride. He knew that Manfred was likely to attempt to capitalize on his unexpected victory, and that Naples would be the prime target. It would require a pope, around whom the troops could rally, by whom the troops could be paid, whose troops would defend Naples as long as the Pope and Roman Curia were in residence. Closing the gates was not a step leading to the idea of a Conclave, but only a wise and prudent measure to defend everyone's best interests by getting a pope as soon as possible. News was brought to the remains of the papal army at Ariano that the Pope was dead, by certain cardinals (perhaps including Ottobono Fieschi, whose family had much to lose and perhaps much to gain), who advised that the Legate, Cardinal Gulielmo Fieschi, should join them to elect a pope. They therefore left Ariano as quickly as possible and made for Naples. When they arrived, they were escorted to the tomb of Pope Innocent, and afterward to the palazzo where, with the rest of the Cardinals, they were enclosed.[11]

The Mass of the Holy Spirit was sung on Friday morning, December 11, and the ten Cardinals who were in Naples settled down to negotiate. Next morning, December 12, around the third hour of the day, they reached agreement on their senior Cardinal Bishop, Raynaldus de' Conti, who chose the name Alexander IV.[12] He was probably crowned on Sunday, December 20, 1254.[13] The Interregnum had lasted only five days, according to Nicholas de Curbio, an eyewitness.

There is an alternate story. It comes from the pen of Fra Salimbene, O. Min., of Parma, who was a personal friend and sometimes host of Cardinal Ottaviano Fieschi. According to Fra Salimbene's account, the Election immediately ran into a stalemate. This is not unlikely. But Fra Salimbene alleges that the Cardinals chose to employ the rare option, that of the Way of Compromise.[14] He also says that the papal mantle was placed on the shoulders of Cardinal de' Conti by Cardinal Ottaviano Fieschi; this is unusual, since the privilege of investing the new pope with the mantle belongs to the senior Cardinal-deacon, who was not Cardinal Ottaviano. Perhaps we are invited by Fra Salimbene to assume that Cardinal Ottaviano was the one who made the Compromise choice. But it can also be imagined that this tale of Fra Salimbene was one told in front of a fire in a monastic refectory, during a cardinalatial visit to Parma. The tale takes no account of Nicholas de Curbio account, and he was an eyewitness. It likewise flies in the face of the electoral manifesto, Quia fragilis, of Pope Alexander IV,[15] which indicates that the problem was actually to get him to agree to accept the Papacy.[16] In truth, it was a perilous position to be in.

Cardinals, 1254

Pope Innocent IV had created fifteen cardinals during his reign; six died while he was still Pope. Three cardinals survived from previous reigns.

Elector Origins Order Title Date of creation by Pope Notes
Raynaldus de' Conti Jenne, near Subiaco[17] Cardinal-bishop Bishop of Ostia e Velletri September 18, 1227 Gregory IX elected Pope Pope Alexander IV[18] (1254-1261)
Stephanus de Vancsa (Istvan Bancsa) Hungary Cardinal-bishop Bishop of Palestrina May 28, 1244 Innocent IV
Giovanni of Toledo English Cardinal-priest S. Lorenzo in Lucina May 28, 1244 Innocent IV A supporter of Henry III of England; served sixty years in the Roman Curia.[19]
Hughes de Saint-Cher, OP Vienne, Dauphiné Cardinal-priest Title of Santa Sabina on the Aventine May 28, 1244 Innocent IV Legate in Germany, 1253
Aegidius (Gil Torres) Spain Cardinal-deacon Deacon of S. Cosma e Damiano December, 1216 Honorius III He died in 1254 or 1255[20]
Riccardo Annibaldi Roman Cardinal-deacon Deacon of S. Angelo in Pescheria 1237 Gregory IX Rector of Campagna and Marittima;[21] nephew of Cardinal Rinaldo Conti de Segni
Octavianus (Ottaviano) Ubaldini Florence Cardinal-deacon Deacon of Santa Maria in Via Lata May 28, 1244 Innocent IV Archbishop of Bologna (1240-1244), Cardinal (1244-1273); Legate in Lombardy and Romagna from 1247 to 1251.[22]
Giovanni Gaetano Orsini Rome Cardinal-deacon Deacon of S. Niccolo in Carcere May 28, 1244 Innocent IV future Pope Nicholas III (1277-1280)
Guglielmo Fieschi Genoa Cardinal-deacon Deacon of S. Eustachio May 28, 1244 Innocent IV nephew of Innocent IV. Legate in Sicily against King Manfred, by whom he was defeated af Foggia on December 2, 1254.[23]
Ottobono Fieschi Genoa Cardinal-deacon Deacon of S. Adriano December, 1251 Innocent IV Archpriest of S. Maria Maggiore

Cardinals not attending

Elector Origins Order Title Date of creation by Pope Notes
Odo (Eudes) of Châteauroux (Castro Radulfi), O.Cist. Diocese of Bourges, France Cardinal-bishop Bishop of Tusculum (Frascati) May 28, 1244 Innocent IV He was with Louis IX of France on Crusade; the King returned on July 11, 1254.[24]
Pietro Capocci Rome Cardinal-deacon Deacon of S. Giorgio ad velum aureum May 28, 1244 Innocent IV Legate in Germany; he was sent to the German princes with an introduction from Innocent dated April 17, 1254 [25]


Cardinal Guglielmo Fieschi's career seems to have ended. He was replaced as Legate with the papal army by Cardinal Ottavio Ubaldini, who was also named Papal Vicar in Calabria and Sicily on January 16, 1255.[26] Manfred's career, as Regent for his brother's infant son, Conradin, blossomed. After the victory at Foggia he conquered or reincorporated into his Kingdom of Sicily Barletta, Venusia, Acherunta, Rapolla, Amalfi, Trani and Bari. Cardinal Ottaviano's mission was to raise an army to oppose him.

Manfred's initial impulse was to avoid contact with the Papal Court, lest any initiative of his might be taken, in the city of Naples and throughout the Kingdom of Sicily, as a sign of weakness. He resisted the advice offered to him by Thomas of Acerno and Richard Filangeli to open negotiations for a peace. The situation changed, however, when a bishop arrived from the Papal Court, with orders to cite Manfred to appear at the Curia by February 2, 1255, the Feast of the Purification, to answer charges of the murder of Burrellus of Anglono and of the injury done by the expulsion of the Papal Legate (Cardinal Guglielmo Fieschi) and the papal army of Apulia. The canonical period in which the citation had to be responded to makes it clear that Pope Alexander IV had taken the decision to pursue Manfred rather than seek peace with him shortly after his Coronation (December 20, 1254). Manfred replied in writing, excusing himself on the grounds that it was for the sake of his nephew, and not in opposition to the Roman Church, that he had done what was charged. He continued to refuse to send personal ambassadors to the Pope, and he certainly had no intention of appearing in Naples personally. That would be suicidal—a fact which is a valid rejoinder to the canonical requirement of personal appearance. A papal Notary who was friendly to Manfred, Master Jordanus of Terracina, however, advised that he send ambassadors nonetheless. Eventually Manfred gave way and sent ambassadors to Naples, but when they got to the Papal Court they found that the Pope had already appointed Cardinal Ubaldini as Legate and that Ubaldini had begin to raise an army. Clearly, peace was not part of papal policy, and judicial purgation of crimes nothing but a pretext.[27]

In choosing the course of confrontation with Manfred rather than conciliation, Pope Alexander IV had decided to continue the activist policy of Innocent IV, set in motion in 1251 when he returned to Italy, of completely rooting out the Hohenstaufen from Italy and Sicily.[28] This policy would have consequences for the next thirty years and more. The resistance to Conrad, then Manfred, then Conradin, did not end until 1268, and then only at the cost of bringing the Angevin Charles, brother of Louis IX of France, to rule the Kingdom of Naples.


  1. Ferdinand Gregorovius, History of the City of Rome in the Middle Ages Volume 5, part 1 (London 1906), pp. 244-255. Charles Joseph Hefele, Histoire des conciles (French translation by H. Leclerq, from the second revised German edition) Volume V, part 2 (Paris 1913), pp. 1612-1694.
  2. Ferdinand Gregorovius, History of the City of Rome in the Middle Ages Volume 5, part 1 (London 1906), pp. 255-272.
  3. Zeller, pp. 11-16.
  4. Matthew of Paris, Chronica majora, Volume IV, p. 579 (ed. H. Luard). Aiden Gasquet, Henry III and the Church (London 1905), p. 268. The Pope had demanded a subsidy of half of the annual income of each ecclesiastical person and institution in England. King Henry forbade the bishops to consent.
  5. Zeller, p. 54.
  6. Johann Friedrich Bohmer, Regesta chronologico-diplomatica regum atque imperatorum... 911-1313 (Frankfurt am Main 1831), pp. 208-209.
  7. Zeller, pp. 39-47. Ficker, pp. 835-836.
  8. Nicholas of Jamsilla, 522-527
  9. Henry Richards Luard (editor), Matthaei Parisiensis, Monachi Sancti Albani, Chronica Majora Vol. IV. A.D. 1248 to A. D. 1258 (London: Longman 1880), p. 430-431.
  10. Nicholas de Curbio, "Vita Innocentii papae IV," in L. A. Muratori, Rerum Italicarum Scriptores III pars 1, p. 592ξ. Other sources are cited by August Potthast, Regesta pontificum Romanorum II (Berlin 1885), p. 1283.
  11. Nicholas de Curbio, "Vita Innocentii papae IV," in L. A. Muratori, Rerum Italicarum Scriptores III pars 1, p. 592ξ: ubi etiam alios incluserunt Cardinals.
  12. Nicholas de Curbio, ibid.
  13. Potthast, Regesta pontificum Romanorum II, p. 1286.
  14. Et quia dominus Bertholinus Tavernerius de Parma erat tunc temporis Neapolitanus Potestas, clausit civitatem, et retinuit cardinales, ne possent ire quoquam, sed sine mora eligerent Papam; et quia per voces concordare non poterant, elegerunt per compromissum. Et dominus Octavianus diaconus cardinalis imposuit mantum meliori homini de curia, ut dixit, scilicet domino Raynaldo episcopo ostiensi; et dictus est Papa Alexander quartus, circa Nativitatem Domini factus, ita quod in festo sancti Thomae Cantuariensis Ferrariae rumores audivimus.
  15. A. Tomassetti (editor), Bullarum, Diplomatum, et Privilegiorum sanctorum Romanorum Pontificum Taurensis editio Tomus III (Turin 1858), pp. 593-594: ...Cumque, ut moris est, Spiritus Sancti postulato suffragio, singulorum vota diligenter exquisite fuissent, io nos demum suum converterunt intuitum, direxerunt animos et conceptus expressere, ac firmavere consensus, praeeligentes Indignitatem Nostram ad exequendam tantae officium dignitatis cum nostrorum parvitatem meritorum deceret subesse potius, quam tanto culmini praesidere....
  16. R. Zöpffel, Die Papstwahlen (Göttingen 1870), pp. 119–120.
  17. A. Paravacini-Bagliani, Cardinali di Curia e 'familiae' cardializie dal 1227 al 1254 I (Padua, 1972), pp. 41-53.
  18. S. Andreotta, "La famiglia di Alessandro IV e l'abbazia di Subiaco," Atti e Memorie della Società Tiburtina di Storia ed Arte 35 (1962) 63-126; 36 (1963) 5-87.
  19. Hermann Grauert, "Meister Johann von Toledo," Stizungsberichte der philosophisch-philologischen und der historischen Klasse. königl. bayer. Akademie der Wissenschaften 1901 (München 1902) 111-325.
  20. Conradus Eubel, Hierarchia catholica I editio altera (Monasterii 1913), p. 5. Agostino Paravicini Bagliani, Cardinali di curia e "familiae" cardinalizie. Dal 1227 al 1254, I, 16, notes that on August 6, 1255, he is mentioned as deceased.
  21. Agostino Theiner, Codex diplomaticus dominii temporalis S. Sedis I (Rome 1861), p. 116, no. cciii (Anagni, October 2, 1243). Francis Roth, OESA, "Il Cardinale Riccardo Annibaldi, Primo Prottetore dell' Ordine Agostiniano," Augustiniana 2 (1952) 26-60.
  22. Guido Levi, "Il Cardinale Ottaviano degli Ubaldini, secondo il suo carteggio ed altri documenti," Archivio della Società Romana di storia patria 14 (1891), 231-303.
  23. E. Berger, Registres d' Innocent IV 3 (Paris 1897), nos. 8062, 8316 -8344 (September 2–17, 1254); no. 8172 (October 23, 1254); nos. 8190, 8195, 8201-8202 (November 9–13, 1254).
  24. Matthew of Paris, Chronica majora, Vol. 5, p. 453 (ed. H. Luard).
  25. Augustinus Theiner (editor), Caesaris S. R. E. Cardinalis Baronii Annales Ecclesiastici 21 (Bar-le-Duc 1870), under the year 1254, no. 34, p. 463; E. Berger (ed.), Registres d' Innocent IV, nos. 7762-7774.
  26. Augustinus Theiner (editor), Caesaris S.R.E. Cardinalis Baronii Annales Ecclesiastici Tomus 21 (Bar-le-Duc 1870), under the year 1255, § 2, p. 481.
  27. Nicolas de Jamasilla, Chronica, in Ludovico Antonio Muratori, Rerum Italicarum Scriptores Volume VIII (Milan 1726), pp. 543-547. Bartholomaeus Capasso, Historia diplomatica Regni Siciliae inde ab anno 1250 ad annum 1266 (Neapoli 1874), pp. 96-97.
  28. Alexander IV (Enciclopedia dei Papi)


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