Papal election, 1287–88

Papal election
1287 – 1288

Coat of arms during the vacancy of the Holy See
Dates and location
4 April 1287 – 22 February 1288
Corte Savella, Aventine Hill
Key officials
Dean Bentivenga da Bentivengi
Protopriest Jean Cholet
Protodeacon Goffredo da Alatri
Matteo Orsini Rosso
Elected Pope
Girolamo Masci
(Name taken: Nicholas IV)
Santa Sabina all'Aventino, near the site of the election

The papal election from April 4, 1287 to February 22, 1288 was the deadliest papal election in the history of the Roman Catholic Church, with six (or five) of the sixteen (or fifteen) cardinal electors perishing during the deliberations. Eventually, the cardinals elected Girolamo Masci, O.Min. as Pope Nicholas IV, almost a year after the death of Pope Honorius IV, who died on April 3, 1287. Nicholas IV was the first Franciscan pope.[1]

The cardinals' deaths are usually attributed to malaria.[2][3][4] After the deaths of the six cardinals, the remaining electors—with the exception of Masci—left Rome and reassembled on 15 February 1288.[5] When the Cardinals reassembled in February, 1288, there were seven electors left: Latino Malabranca, Bentivenga de Bentivengis, Girolamo Masci, Bernard de Languissel, Matteo Rosso Orsini, Giacomo Colonna, and Benedetto Caetani. Upon finding that Masci had remained at Santa Sabina in Rome the reassembled cardinals immediately elected him, but he refused until he was re-elected on February 22.[6] It was thought at the time that Masci had survived by keeping a fire burning in his room to "purify" the pestilential vapors,[3] or mal aria thought to cause the disease.

The election was held near Santa Sabina on Aventine Hill in the Savelli palace, Corte Savella, which Honorius IV had built and used as the de facto papal residence.[2][3][7] According to Smith, Nicholas IV was, like his predecessor, "an undisguised partisan of the French interest" and "another example of the dishonest use of spiritual authority for political ends, by releasing Charles II of Naples from an inconvenient oath to Alfonso III of Aragon".[2]

Cardinal electors

Elector Nationality Order Title Elevated Elevator Notes
Bentivenga da Bentivengi, O.F.M. Acquasparta Cardinal-bishop Bishop of Albano March 12, 1278 Nicholas III Dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals; Major Penitentiarius
Latino Malabranca Orsini, O.P. Roman Cardinal-bishop Bishop of Ostia e Velletri March 12, 1278 Nicholas III Inquisitor General of the Papal Inquisition; nephew of Pope Honorius IV
Bernard de Languissel French Cardinal-bishop Bishop of Porto e Santa Rufina April 12, 1281 Martin IV
Giovanni Boccamazza Roman Cardinal-bishop Bishop of Frascati December 22, 1285 Honorius IV Cardinal-nephew
Gerardo Bianchi Parma Cardinal-bishop Bishop of Sabina March 12, 1278 Nicholas III Some sources indicate that he was absent[8]
Girolamo Masci, O.F.M. Ascoli Cardinal-bishop Bishop of Palestrina March 12, 1278 Nicholas III Elected Pope Nicholas IV
Jean Cholet French Cardinal-priest Title of S. Cecilia April 12, 1281 Martin IV Protopriest
Matteo Rosso Orsini Roman Cardinal-deacon Deacon of S. Maria in Portico May 22, 1262 Urban IV Protodeacon after the death of Goffredo da Alatri; archpriest of the Vatican Basilica since 1278; cardinal-protector of the Order of Franciscans
Giacomo Colonna Roman Cardinal-deacon Deacon of S. Maria in Via Lata March 12, 1278 Nicholas III Archpriest of the Liberian Basilica
Benedetto Caetani, seniore Anagni Cardinal-deacon Deacon of S. Nicola in Carcere Tulliano April 12, 1281 Martin IV Future Pope Boniface VIII
Goffredo da Alatri Alatri Cardinal-deacon Deacon of S. Giorgio in Velabro December 17, 1261 Urban IV Protodeacon; Died in 1287, possibly during the sede vacante after April 3, 1287[9]
Giordano Orsini Roman Cardinal-deacon Deacon of S. Eustachio March 12, 1278 Nicholas III Died during the sede vacante on September 8, 1287
Hugh of Evesham English Cardinal-priest Title of S. Lorenzo in Lucina April 12, 1281 Martin IV Died during the sede vacante on September 4, 1287
Gervais Jeancolet de Clinchamp French Cardinal-priest Title of Ss. Silvestro e Martino ai Monti April 12, 1281 Martin IV Died during the sede vacante on September 15, 1287
Glusiano de Casate Milanese Cardinal-priest Title of Ss. Marcellino e Pietro April 12, 1281 Martin IV Died during the sede vacante on April 8, 1287
Geoffroy de Bar French Cardinal-priest Title of S. Susanna April 12, 1281 Martin IV Died during the sede vacante on August 21, 1287


  1. Miranda, Salvador. 1998. "Papal elections and conclaves of the 13th Century (1216-1294)."
  2. 1 2 3 Smith, 1892, p. 93.
  3. 1 2 3 Bagliani and Peterson, 2000, p. 176.
  4. Darras et al. (1898: 413) instead attribute them to the Black Death, though in fact this was not to reach Europe for another 60 years.
  5.  Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Pope Nicholas IV". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  6. Brooke, 2006, p. 440.
  7. Walsh, 2003, p. 88.
  8. According to Dizionario biografico dei Parmigiani he served as papal legate in the Kingdom of Sicily from 1282 until 1289 and did not participate in the papal elections in 1285 and 1287-88. S. Miranda in biographical entry of Gerardo Bianchi says that he participated in this election but gives this information with a question mark.
  9. Exact date of his death is unknown. S. Miranda in the biographical entry of this cardinal says that he died before the death of Honorius IV on April 3, 1287 but in the notes to the papal election of 1287-88 includes him among cardinals who died during sede vacante


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