Papal election, 1268–71

Palazzo dei Papi di Viterbo, the roof of which was removed in an attempt to speed up the election

The papal election from November 1268 to September 1, 1271, following the death of Pope Clement IV, was the longest papal election in the history of the Catholic Church.[1][2] This was due primarily to political infighting between the cardinals. The election of Teobaldo Visconti as Pope Gregory X was the first example of a papal election by "Compromise."[3] The election was effected by a Committee of six cardinals agreed to by the other remaining ten. The election occurred more than a year after the magistrates of Viterbo locked the cardinals in, reduced their rations to bread and water, and legendarily removed the roof of the Palazzo dei Papi di Viterbo.[1][4][5]

As a result of the length of the election, during which three of the twenty cardinal-electors died and one resigned, Gregory X promulgated the apostolic constitution Ubi periculum on July 7 (or 16), 1274, during the Second Council of Lyon, establishing the papal conclave, whose rules were based on the tactics employed against the cardinals in Viterbo. The election itself is sometimes viewed as the first conclave.[4]

Cardinal electors

The dynamic of the conclave was divided between the French Angevin cardinals, mostly created by Pope Urban IV, who were amenable to an invasion of Italy by Charles of Anjou, and the non-French (mostly Italian) cardinals whose numbers were just sufficient to prevent a French pope from being elected.[6] Clement IV's crowning of Charles of Anjou as King of Naples and Sicily, previously a papal fief,[7] had cemented the influence of the French monarchy in the Italian peninsula and created an intense division within the College of Cardinals between those who opposed and supported French influence, and by extension, ultramontanism.[8] Conradin, the last ruler of the House of Hohenstaufen, had been beheaded in Naples just a month before the death of Clement IV.[9]

At the death of Clement IV there were twenty cardinals in the Sacred College.[10] One cardinal (Rodolphe of Albano) was entirely absent and died during the vacancy.[11] Therefore, there were nineteen cardinal electors in the election in 1269,[7] but subsequently two of them died.[6][12]

Elector Nationality[13] Order and title[6] Elevated[14] Elevator Notes
Odo of Châteauroux French Cardinal-Bishop of Frascati May 28, 1244 Innocent IV Dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals
István Báncsa Hungarian Cardinal-Bishop of Palestrina December 1251 Innocent IV Died on July 9, 1270,[15] first Hungarian cardinal[16]
John of Toledo, O.Cist. English Cardinal-Bishop of Porto e Santa Rufina May 28, 1244 Innocent IV
Henry of Segusio Piedmontese (from Susa) Cardinal-Bishop of Ostia and Velletri May 1262 Urban IV Departed on June 8, 1270, later returned[17]
Simone Paltanieri
(or Paltinieri, or Paltineri)
Paduan Cardinal-priest of Ss. Silvestro e Martino ai Monti December 17, 1261 Urban IV Committee member;[6] Cardinal primoprete
Simon Monpitie de Brie French Cardinal-priest of S. Cecilia December 17, 1261 Urban IV Future Pope Martin IV
Anchero Pantaleone French Cardinal-priest of S. Prassede May 1262 Urban IV Cardinal-nephew
Guillaume de Bray French Cardinal-priest of S. Marco May 1262 Urban IV
Guy de Bourgogne, O.Cist. Burgundian or Castilian Cardinal-priest of S. Lorenzo in Lucina May 1262 Urban IV Committee member[6]
Annibale Annibaldi, O.P. Roman Cardinal-priest of Ss. XII Apostoli May 1262 Urban IV Treated with Philip III of France
and Charles I of Naples[18]
Riccardo Annibaldi Roman Cardinal-deacon of S. Angelo in Pescheria 1238[19] Gregory IX Committee member[6]
Nephew of Pope Alexander IV; Protodeacon
Ottaviano Ubaldini Florentine Cardinal-deacon of S. Maria in Via Lata May 28, 1244 Innocent IV Committee member[6]
Giovanni Gaetano Orsini Roman Cardinal-deacon of S. Nicola in Carcere May 28, 1244 Innocent IV Committee member[6]
Future Pope Nicholas III
Ottobono Fieschi dei Conti di Lavagna Genoese Cardinal-deacon of S. Adriano December 1251 Innocent IV Future Pope Adrian V, Cardinal-nephew
Uberto Coconati Piedmontese (from Asti) Cardinal-deacon of S. Eustachio December 17, 1261 Urban IV
Giacomo Savelli Roman Cardinal-deacon of S. Maria in Cosmedin December 17, 1261 Urban IV Committee member[6]
Future Pope Honorius IV
Goffredo da Alatri Alatri Cardinal-deacon of S. Giorgio in Velabro December 17, 1261 Urban IV
Giordano dei Conti Pironti da Terracina Terracina Cardinal-deacon of Ss. Cosma e Damiano May 1262 Urban IV Died in October 1269, Vice-chancellor
Matteo Rosso Orsini Roman Cardinal-deacon of S. Maria in Portico May 1262 Urban IV Nephew of Pope Nicholas III

† denotes a cardinal elector who died during the election.

Absentee cardinals

Elector Nationality Order and title Elevated Elevator Notes
Raoul Grosparmi† (Rodolphe de Chevriêres) French Cardinal-Bishop of Albano December 17, 1261 Urban IV He accompanied king Louis IX of France in his crusade in Tunisia and died there on August 11, 1270[20]

Parties in the College of Cardinals

Nationality of Cardinal Electors
Country Number of Electors
Rome 5
France 5
Piedmont 2
England, Florence, Genoa, Hungary†, Alatri, Padua, Terracina†, Burgundy or Castilia 1
† one cardinal died before final scrutiny

According to contemporary accounts in the Annales Piacentines the College of Cardinals was divided into adherents of Charles d'Anjou (pars Caroli) and the Imperial party (pars Imperii), but the exact reconstruction of these parties is very difficult.[21] It is almost certain that this account is inaccurate when it claims that pars Caroli had six (or seven, in another place in that account) members, including Giovanni Gaetano Orsini and Ottobono Fieschi, while pars Imperii had eleven (or ten) members, Riccardo Annibaldi, Ottaviano Ubaldini and Uberto Coconati among them.[22] Certainly five cardinals, namely Ottobono Fieschi, Guillame de Bray, Anchero Pantaleone, Simon Monpitie de Brie and Odo of Châteauroux belonged to the Angevin faction.[23] But if Giovanni Gaetano Orsini was really one of their leaders, then his relatives Matteo Orsini Rosso and Giacomo Savelli should also be added here, and since Henry of Segusio is also likely to have belonged to this faction, its true size would have amounted to nine cardinals.[23] Imperial party, on the contrary, could not have had more than ten members, including two who had died during sede vacante.[24]

According to Sternfeld[25] it is possible to identify not only two, but as many as four parties in the Sacred College, of which two were pars Caroli and pars Imperii in the strict sense, while the remaining two represented the factions inside the Roman aristocracy:

Nevertheless, it seems that these four parties actually formed two blocs in the election: Annibaldi joined pars Imperii, while Orsini aligned himself with pars Caroli.[26]


The Duomo di Viterbo, where the election began

The cardinals began the election by meeting and voting once a day in the Episcopal Palace in Viterbo, before returning to their respective residences; tradition dictated that the election should take place in the city where the previous pope died, if the late pontiff had died outside Rome. There is little reliable data about the candidates proposed during almost three years of deliberations; certainly cardinals Odo of Châteauroux, John of Toledo, Giovanni Gaetano Orsini, Ottaviano Ubaldini, Riccardo Annibadi and Ottobono Fieschi were counted among papabili.[27] According to later accounts, not supported by the contemporary sources, after two months, the cardinals nearly elected Philip Benizi, general of the Servite Order, who had come to Viterbo to admonish the cardinals, but fled to prevent his election.[7] Also the candidature of Saint Bonaventure had allegedly been proposed. Modern scholars treat these accounts with scepticism, considering them as products of invention of the hagiographers of these two saints.[28] Charles of Anjou was in Viterbo for the entirety of the election;[29] Philip III of France visited the city in March 1271.[7]

Saint Philip Benizi, who was nearly elected after two months

In late 1269, after several months of deadlock during which the cardinals had met only intermittently,[30] Ranieri Gatti,[31] the Prefect of Viterbo, and Albertus de Montebono, the Podesta, ordered (some sources say, at the urging of Saint Bonaventure[32]) the cardinals sequestered in the Palazzo dei Papi di Viterbo until a new pope was elected.[5] On June 8, 1270, the cardinals addressed a Diploma to the two magistrates asking that Henry of Segusio, Cardinal-Bishop of Ostia, be dismissed from the "Palatio discooperto" ("the uncovered Palace") owing to his ill health and his having already renounced his right to vote.[5] Some sources say that a makeshift roof was reassembled after the cardinals threatened to put the entire city of Viterbo under interdict.[7]

According to the account of Onofrio Panvinio, Cardinal John of Toledo suggested that the roof be removed ("Let us uncover the Room, else the Holy Ghost will never get at us"—the first recorded reference to the notion that the Holy Spirit should guide cardinal electors[7]), which the two magistrates readily obliged.[5] Other sources say it was Charles of Anjou who orchestrated the reduction of the diet of the cardinals to bread and water and removal the roof of the Papal Palace.[33]

The Committee

Under pressure from Philip III of France and other rulers, on September 1, 1271, the cardinals agreed to cede their authority to a committee of six. The committee included two cardinals of the faction of Orsini (Giovanni Gaetano Orsini and Giacomo Savelli), three Ghibelines (Simone Paltinieri, Ottaviano Ubaldini and Guy de Castella) and Cardinal Riccardo Annibaldi, while Angevin cardinals seem to have been entirely marginalized.[34]

The committee chose an Italian from Piacenza, Teobaldo Visconti, a non-cardinal, who was currently in Acre with the retinue of Edward (the eldest-son of Henry III of England) as papal legate to the Ninth Crusade.[6] Having been informed of his election, Visconti departed on November 19, 1271 and reached Viterbo on February 12, 1272, where he took the name Gregory X. He entered Rome on March 13, 1272 and was crowned on March 27, 1272.[6] During the final leg of his journey, from Brindisi on January 11, 1272, Visconti was accompanied by Charles of Anjou.[5]


The ad hoc tactics employed against the dilatory cardinals at Viterbo were the inspiration for the rules of the papal conclave.
Main article: Papal conclave

The techniques employed against the dilatory cardinals in Viterbo formed the basis for the canon law of papal conclaves as laid out in the apostolic constitution Ubi periculum of Pope Gregory X, promulgated during the Second Council of Lyon on July 7 (or 16), 1274.[33] Popular accounts of the conclave, as early as those of French historian Georges Goyau, neglect to mention the political intrigue of Charles I of Naples or his nephew, Philip III of France, as the masterminds of the hardships employed by the "citizens of Viterbo."[33]

Designed both to accelerate future elections and reduce outside interference, the rules of Ubi periculum provide for the cardinal electors to be secluded for the entirety of the conclave, including having their meals passed through a small opening, and for their rations to be reduced to a single meal at the end of three days, or bread and water (with a little wine) after eight days.[33] Cardinals also do not collect from the Apostolic Camera any payments they might otherwise receive during the conclave.[30]

The stringent rules of Ubi periculum were used in the conclaves that elected Pope Innocent V (January 1276) and Pope Adrian V (July 1276), lasting one and nine days respectively.[6] However, at the urgings of the College, the newly elected Adrian V suspended the constitution on July 12, 1276—indicating that he wished to revise it—and died on August 18, without having promulgated a revised version.[6]

Therefore, the election of Pope John XXI (August–September 1276) did not follow Ubi periculum, and—once elected—John XXI promulgated a bull, Licet felicis recordationis, formally revoking Ubi periculum.[6] The next five papal elections—1277 (Pope Nicholas III), 1280—1281 (Pope Martin IV), 1285 (Pope Honorius IV), 1287—1288 (Pope Nicholas IV), and 1292—1294 (Pope Celestine V)—occurred sans conclave, often at great length. Celestine V, whose election took two years and three months, reinstated the conclave with a series of three decrees, and his successor, Pope Boniface VIII restored the conclave by his "Regulae Iuris".[6]


  1. 1 2 Wright, David. 2005, April 18. "Inside Longest Papal Conclave in History." ABC News.
  2. McWhirter, Norris. 1983. Guinness Book of World Records. Bantam Books. p. 464.
  3. Trollope, Thomas Adolphus. 1876. The Papal Conclaves, as They Were and as They are. Chapman and Hall. p. 54.
  4. 1 2 Levillain, Philippe, The Papacy: An Encyclopedia. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-92228-3. p. 392.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 Bower, Archibald. 1766. The History of the Popes: From the Foundation of the See of Rome to the Present Time. p. 283-284.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Miranda, Salvator. 1998. "Papal elections and conclaves of the 13th Century (1216-1294)."
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Baumgartner, Frederic J. 2003. Behind Locked Doors: A History of the Papal Elections. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 0-312-29463-8. p. 41.
  8. Trollope, 1876, p. 59.
  9. Trollope, 1876, p. 60.
  10. R. Sternfeld , Der Kardinal Johann Gaetan Orsini (Papst Nikolaus III) 1244-1277 (Berlin 1905), p. 156; John Paul Adams Sede Vacante 1268-71; K. Eubel, Hierarchia Catholica Medii Aevi (1913) p. 8; cfr. Miranda, Salvator. 1998. "Papal elections and conclaves of the 13th Century (1216-1294)." Bernard Ayglerius, O.S.B., abbot of Monte Cassino, allegedly the only cardinal created by Clement IV, has been excluded from the list of the cardinals because there is no documentary proof of his cardinalate, see Eubel, p. 8 and John Paul Adams Sede Vacante 1268-71; Sternfed does not mention Bernard at all and at p.200 says that there was no creation of new cardinals between 1262 and 1273.
  11. R. Sternfeld, Der Kardinal Johann Gaetan Orsini (Papst Nikolaus III) 1244-1277 (Berlin 1905), p. 156; John Paul Adams Sede Vacante 1268-71
  12. R. Sternfeld, Der Kardinal Johann Gaetan Orsini (Papst Nikolaus III) 1244-1277 (Berlin 1905), p. 156
  13. R. Sternfeld, Der Kardinal Johann Gaetan Orsini (Papst Nikolaus III) 1244-1277 (Berlin 1905), p. 156-171
  14. Dates of promotions according to Konrad Eubel, Hierarchia Catholica Medii Aevi, (1913), I, p. 7-8.
  15. This is according to S. Miranda , and K. Eubel, Hierarchia Catholica Medii Aevi, 1913, vol. I, p. 7. John Paul Adams Sede Vacante 1268-71 denies Vancza's death in 1270, indicating that he still subscribed a letter dated August 22, 1270 and therefore, if he died on July 9, it had to be in 1271. Paravicini Bagliani, Agostino. Cardinali di curia e "familiae" cardinalizie dal 1227 al 1254. 2 vols. Padova, Antenore, 1972. (Italia sacra, 18-19), I, p. 352 says that he died on July 9 or July 10, 1270, and adds (p. 349 note 2) that on September 1, 1271 he is referred to as a dead person. The discrapencies between the recorded date of death and the date of the last subscription of Cardinal Vancsa given in Adams are possibly clarified by Ambrogio Piazzoni, Historia wyboru papieży, Kraków 2003, p. 194, which says that this letter was issued on June 22, 1270 (not August 22).
  16. Levillain, 2002, p. 451.
  17. John Paul Adams Sede Vacante 1268-71
  18.  Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Annibale d'Annibaldi". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  19. Date according to Agostino Paravicini Bagliani, Cardinali di curia e "familiae" cardinalizie dal1227 al 1254. 2 vols. Padova : Antenore, 1972. (Italia sacra, 18-19), I, p. 128
  20. The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church: Raoul Grosparmi
  21. Sternfeld, p. 156 ff. and p. 317-321
  22. Sternfeld, p. 317.
  23. 1 2 Sternfeld, p. 317-318.
  24. Sternfeld, p. 318
  25. p. 156-181, 317-321
  26. Cfr. Sternfeld, p. 164, 169-170.
  27. Sternfeld, p. 157-160, 170-171
  28. John Paul Adams Sede Vacante 1268-71 and Ambrogio Piazzoni, Histora wyboru papieży, Kraków 2003, p. 194.
  29. The Quarterly Review. 1896. p. 511-512.
  30. 1 2 Bellitto, Christopher M. 2002. The General Councils: A History of the Twenty-one Church Councils from Nicaea to Vatican II. Paulist Press. ISBN 0-8091-4019-5. p. 61.
  31. Trollope, 1876, p. 61.
  32. Bidwell, Walter Hilliard, and Agnew, John Holmes. Eds. 1876. Eclectic Magazine. p. 476.
  33. 1 2 3 4 Sladen, Douglas Brooke Wheelton, and Bourne, Francis. 1907. The Secrets of the Vatican. Hurst and Blackett Limited. p. 48-50.
  34. Sternfeld, p. 180-181


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