The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church

Papal elections in the Fifteenth Century
The election of Pope Nicholas V (1447)

By Francis A. Burkle-Young
Author of Passing the Keys

I. Background: The Eugenian Revolution.

In the first eight and a half years of his reign, Eugenius took little action with regard to the College. In September of the year of his election, he elevated two men to the College, his cardinal-nephew, Francesco Condulmer, and an old curial servant, Angelotto Fosco. (1) On June, 13, 1432, he published the name of Guillaume Raguenel de Montfort, one of Martin's secret creations-Eugenius had already, in the previous July, published the name of Juan de Casanova; and the name of Antonio Panciera was published at about the same time. (2) On April 30, 1434, he finally admitted Domenico Capranica to full standing in the College, but only after that prelate had gone to the Council of Basel and received recognition from the council fathers. Finally, Eugenius made the notable condottiere, Giovanni Vitelleschi, a cardinal in 1437. (3)

In the meantime, the number of cardinals continued to shrink steadily as the older prelates from the age died. The College lost two members in 1434, Alfonso Carillo on March 14 and Ardicino della Porta the elder on April 9. Still another cardinal died in 1436, Juan de Casanova on March l; and two more died in 1437, Jean de Rochetaillée on March 24, and Lucido Conti on September 9. Giordano Orsini died on May 29, 1438; and Antonio Casini died on February 4, 1439. By March, 1439, the number of living cardinals was only fifteen. (4) Of these, two, Hugues-Lancelot de Lusignan and Louis Aleman, had abandoned the papal court in favor of the Council of Basel. (5) Eugenius deposed them from the cardinalate on April 11, 1440. The adherence of these two cardinals to the Council of Basel and to the Antipope Felix V can be explained in one case by conviction and in the other by dynastic alliance. Louis Aleman, the Cardinal of Arles, was in every way convinced of the justice of the position of the Council vis-a-vis Eugenius IV. In contrast, Hugues Lancelot de Lusignan attached himself firmly to the cause of Felix V, the former Amadeo VIII, duke of Savoy, because the new antipope's son, Ludovico, duke of Savoy (1434-1465) was married to the cardinal's sister, Anne of Cyprus. (6)

After this, Eugenius had only thirteen loyal men in his College. This small number coincided with some of the most dramatic events of Eugenius's pontificate, particularly the final days of the Council of Ferrara-Florence, which saw the last formal union between the Eastern and Western Churches. While the pope was enjoying this triumph, which marked a distinct advantage gained over the Council of Basel, he was faced with the new problem of a resurgent antipapacy.

The Council of Basel had deposed Eugenius formally from the throne on June 25, 1439. On the following November 5, the Council announced the elevation of Amadeo VIII, the retired duke of Savoy, as Felix V. Of course, Martin V, too, had been faced with antipapal pretensions, in the persons of Clement VIII and Benedict XIV, following the death of Benedict XIII in 1423. But these Iberian claimants did not have conciliar backing. Felix V, like others in his position, quickly created out of whole cloth, as it were, a college of cardinals of his own. Some of those elevated by the conciliar pontiff would later achieve the red hat at the hands of Eugenius IV and Nicholas V. (7)

As soon as Eugenius received word of the elevation of Felix, he realized that the entire curia, which had been disunited almost from the moment of his election, as a result of both conciliar activity and the long civil war in Italy, would have to be strengthened, so that he would have firm support during the final stages of the conflict with Basel. On December 18, 1439, he more than doubled the size of the College by creating seventeen new cardinals at one time. This was the largest single creation since the first cardinalitial consistory of Urban VI nearly two-thirds of a century before. If one excludes this large creation of Urban VI, which occurred only because he had been abandoned by all the older members of the College, the creation of Eugenius in 1439 also was the largest in the Church's history up to that time.

Had Eugenius not been forced, both by the intransigence of Basel and by the need to consolidate his gains at the Council of Ferrara-Florence, it seems unlikely that he would have elevated so many men to the cardinalate at one time. The fact that he created only three cardinals in the first eight and a half years of his rule seems to show that his purpose in this matter was to follow the example of Martin V as closely as possible. Had he done so, he might, like Martin, have left fewer cardinals alive at his death than he found at his elevation.

Almost all of the cardinals created in 1439 received the red hat for political rather than religious reasons, although many were able and devout men. The most notable of those promoted on this occasion were Joannes Bessarion (8) and Isidore of Salonika (9) who, as Greeks, might be expected to bring the new union closer together, though this did not happen. Bessarion, in particular, received the red hat on this occasion specifically because he had supported the cause of union vigorously at the Council of Ferrara-Florence. Charles VII of France was honored in the person of the Chancellor of France, Renaud de Chartres; (10) and the young king of England, Henry VI, saw both his Chancellor for France, Louis de Luxembourg de Beaurevoir, (11) and his former chancellor of England and archbishop of York, John Kempe, (12) elevated. The old French manorial nobility received honor, and Charles VII was further flattered, by the elevation of Guillaume d'Estouteville,(13) a royal cousin who is chiefly remembered today for his magnificent constructions at Mont Saint Michel. Both the cause of union and the Portuguese monarch were served by the elevation of Antonio Martinez de Chaves.(14) The adherence of the kingdom of Hungary to Eugenius's cause was assured by the gift of the red hat to the primate-designate of that kingdom, Dionysius Szechy. (15) The archbishop of Krakow, Zbigniew Olesnicki, became a cardinal, to strengthen Eugenius's ties with the Polish Church. (16) The Imperial Counsellor, Petrus de Schaumburg, was honored, to keep the goodwill of the German electors, who were preparing for the session which saw the elevation of Frederick III as Emperor. (17) The partisans of Rene d'Anjou in the kingdom of Naples were heartened by the elevation of Niccolo d'Acciapaccio, one of their number. (18) Eugenius acknowledged the maritime and mercantile power of both Milan and Genoa by the elevation of native sons-Gerardo Landriani Capitani (19) and Giorgio Fieschi di Lavagna. The latter sprang from a family which gave the Church two popes, Innocent IV and Adrian V. (20) The duke of Burgundy was honored in the person of his ambassador to the Council of Ferrara-Florence, Jean Le Jeune de Macet. (21) The papal legate to France, Juan de Torquemada, (22) who was at Angers at the moment of his elevation, and Alberto Alberti d'Arezzo, (23) bishop of Camerino and governor of Perugia, represented the sole curial contributions to the College in this consistory. Giovanni Berardi, of the family of the counts of Tagliacozzo, was elevated to secure the loyalty of the old landed nobility of the States of the Church.24

A revolution of major importance had just taken place in both the government of the Church and the method by which preferment and and power could be secured in an ecclesiastical career. Eugenius's consistory has an importance for the conduct of Church government over the next three and a half centuries that cannot be overstressed. Up to this time, the great majority of the cardinals had come from the same curial offices filled by cardinals from ages past. They were, for the most part, devoted wholly to the service of the Church and, as cardinals, they willingly worked as a collegiate body for the benefit of at least the College of Cardinals. The medieval cardinals were aware acutely of the importance of the cardinalate in the governance of the Church. Former pontiffs generally had elevated men who already were known to the existing cardinals through years of association. By creating so many crown cardinals at one time, Eugenius dealt a blow to the collegial nature of the College from which it would never wholly recover. Indeed, the nineteenth century would come before the cardinals once more felt themselves unified as churchmen in the service of the Church.

As the list of creations indicates, many of those created in 1439 were strangers to those already in the College, as well as to each other. Just about the only communality the new cardinals shared was their loyalty to Rome in the quarrel with the Council of Basel.

The political nature of this creation is exemplified by the nomination on the same day of Louis de Luxembourg de Beaurevoir, who held the rank of Chancellor of France at the court of Henry VI of England, and Renaud de Chartres, who held precisely the same position at the court of Charles VII, at a time of active warfare between France and England. The pope was not using his power to name cardinals to announce his support of one side or the justice of one cause; rather he was bidding simultaneously for the political friendship of two contending monarchs, regardless of the dispute between them. Yet, how could these political appointees, whose loyalty was not primarily to the pope but to the monarchs they had served for years, be expected to abandon partisanship completely once they had become members of the College? They could not, and did not, alter their work or their loyalties. Consequently, the unity of the College was broken, as the new cardinals fought to obtain the best from Rome for their non-papal masters at the expense of other monarchs and other cardinals.

In a very real sense, Eugenius cheapened the cardinalate, for while it was true that, in past reigns, men had been elevated to the cardinalate to recognize the distinction they had achieved in careers outside the curia, this marked the first time that so many men received the red hat to reward long and faithful service to secular persons. The product of this revolutionary development can be seen in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when the cardinalate often became merely an ornament given by the Church to men who already possessed great power outside the Church, as was the case with Richelieu and Mazarin, and represented to the receiver no real addition to the power that was already his.

Eugenius's proximate goal in this cardinalitial consistory was achieved, however, for none of Europe's monarchs recognized the Baselean antipope Felix, which they easily might have done to promote some form of the dissension which had allowed their predecessors to gain so much power from the Church during the Great Schism. Some monarchs did demand concessions from Rome for their support and, in some cases, they usurped ecclesiastical powers unilaterally-the most notable example of this was the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges. Still, the kingdoms of Europe remained, in the end, loyal to Rome.

The success of Eugenius's strategy was sufficient for him to depose the two cardinals who continued to adhere to the Council of Basel, Hugues-Lancelot de Lusignan and Louis Aleman, on April 11, 1440, as mentioned above. From his new position of strength, Eugenius further augmented the membership of the College with another cardinal-nephew, Pietro Barbo, the future Paul II, and another curial diplomat, Ludovico Trevisan, who were elevated on July 1, 1440. The creation of the latter cardinal was Eugenius' response to the assassination of Cardinal Giovanni Vitelleschi on April 2, 1440. The pope knew that Vitelleschi's work for the pacification of central Italy had to be carried forward with no interruption, if the pontiff were to return to Rome at any time during his reign. (25)

Eugenius' view that the cardinalate was a suitable reward for able politicians and a tool for supporting papal diplomatic policy was emphasized once more on May 2, 1444, when he elevated Alonso de Borja to the rank of cardinal-priest of the title of Santi Quattro Coronati. (26) This moment marks the emergence of the house of Borgia onto the stage of fifteenth century affairs. In spite his piety, Borja was first and foremost a diplomat. In the summer of 1429, he came into Martin V's graces by his success in securing the abdication of the antipope Clement VIII, Gilles Sanchez de Munoz Doucel. Only a little after the date of the antipope's abdication, July 26, 1429, Borja was made bishop of Valencia as a reward for his services. The see of Valencia already had been chosen by the curial staff of Martin V as Borja's reward, if he were successful in bringing about the abdication of the Antipope Clement VIII. This is evident from the fact that Borja's name was advanced for the see on August 20, 1429, only twenty-five days after the abdication of Clement, barely time for news of the successful completion of Borja's mission to arrive in Rome. The curia's knowledge of the vacancy at Valencia occurred probably during late April or early May, since the last bishop, Hugo de Lupia y Bages, died on April 1. (27)

For many years afterward, he served Alfonso V of Aragon, Naples, and Sicily. As an Aragonese and Neapolitan diplomat, Borja negotiated a settlement of the differences between Alfonso and Eugenius, which was embodied in a treaty that was accepted by the pope on July 5, 1443. (28) The cardinalate was Borja's reward for this successful diplomatic mission.

During the last years of Eugenius's reign, no fewer than ten cardinals died. Among them were all those who remained from the Great Schism, with one exception, Pierre de Foix l'Ancien. The ten cardinals who died during the last years of Eugenius' pontificate were: Branda Castiglione, on February 4 or 5, 1443; Niccolo Albergati, May 9, 1443; Louis de Luxembourg de Beaurevoir, September 18, 1443; Renaud de Chartres, April 4, 1444; Angelotto Fosco, September 12, 1444; Giuliano Cesarini, probably on November 19, 1444, as a battlefield casualty; Antonio Corraro, January 19, 1445; Domenico Ram, April 25, 1445; Alberto Alberti d'Arezzo, August 11, 1445; and Gerrardo Landriani Capitani, October 9, 1445. (29)

Because it was extremely unlikely that most of the cardinals created in 1439 could attend a conclave in Rome, Eugenius thought that he must increase the membership in the college further, to give his cardinal-nephews a significant part in the next election. Traditionally, the cardinals created by any pope grouped themselves under the leadership of that pontiff's principal cardinal-nephew, who was expected to represent the policies of the reign which had seen him in power. Every pope realized that his relatives stood the greatest chance of maintaining themselves in power after his death only if they were able to exercise major power in determining the successor. Only a few days before his death, therefore, Eugenius named four new cardinals. On December 16, 1446, he created Enrico Rampini of the counts of Sant'Allosio, Tommaso Parentucelli da Sarzana, Juan de Carvajal, and Giovanni de Primis. All were within a few days journey of Rome when they were elevated and all were able to attend the conclave which met to elect Eugenius' successor, Tommaso Parentucelli, who became Nicholas V. (30)

II. Conclave and Election.

The changes in the cardinalate wrought by Martin V and Eugenius IV began to manifest themselves in the conclave of 1447. The number of political cardinals resident outside the papal court, for example, was so great that fewer than three-quarters of the College's membership actually participated in the election. Only eighteen of the twenty-six living cardinals were in in the Dominican house adjacent to the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva for the conclave which began in the twilight hours of March 4, 1447. Eleven of the electors were Italian, two French, three Spanish, and one Greek and one Portuguese. The eight who were unable to attend were Henry Beaufort, who was at Winchester fighting his last battle - with death; Foix, who was living in retirement in France; Isidore of Salonika, Dionysius Szechy, Petrus de Schaumberg, John Kempe; Zbigniew Olesnicki, and Juan Cervantes. Of the eighteen electors, two were creations of Martin V: Prospero Colonna and Domenico Capranica. All the rest were creations of Eugenius IV: Francesco Condulmer, the principal cardinal-nephew; Giovanni Berardi di Tagliacozzo; Niccolo d'Acciapaccio; Giorgio Fieschi dei Conti di Lavagna; Joannes Bessarion; Antonio Martinez de Chaves; Jean de Le Jeune de Macet; Guillaume d'Estouteville; Juan de Torquemada; Ludovico Trevisan; Pietro Barbo; Alonso de Borja; Enrico Rampini di Saint'Allosio; Tommaso Parentucelli; Juan de Carvajal; and Giovanni de Primis. (31)

Before the proceedings had begun, however, some cardinals did considerable campaigning to secure a two thirds majority of the electors and thus the papal throne. The most ardent activity was carried out by the partisans of the house of Colonna on behalf of Prospero Colonna, nephew of Martin V and now the archdeacon of the College. The campaign was so successful that he received ten votes in the first scrutiny on the morning of March 5. The remaining eight fell to Capranica and Parentucelli. This situation remained unchanged at the accessus.

The technical procedure followed in the selection of a new pope called for two scrutinies or formal written ballotings each day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. At the end of each scrutiny, after the ballots had been counted and the number of votes given to each candidate tallied, came the accessus. In this part of the proceedings the cardinals could orally change their vote if they desired. By this means a candidate perceived by the cardinals to be gaining sufficient strength to be elevated to the papacy at a future scrutiny could be elected at once the cardinals changing their votes in his behalf at the accessus thus becoming publicly his supporters and, presumably, greatly in his favor. If a candidate were elected to the papal chair in scrutiny the accessus gave the members of the College the opportunity of making the election unanimous, thus giving a semblance of complete support for the newly elected pontiff. In some conclaves, notably that of 1484, the chief supporters of a candidate would sometimes withhold their votes in the scrutiny and then declare for him en bloc at the accessus, thereby hoping to stampede the College and obtain the few more votes necessary to carry the election.

In the second scrutiny, on the afternoon of the same day, Colonna again received ten votes but, in addition to Capranica and Parentucelli, two non-cardinals received votes, Nicolaus Krebs von Cues and the Dominican, Antonino Forcillioni, archbishop of Florence. In the evening, Giovanni Berardi di Tagliacozzo addressed the College. He proposed that they elect Tommaso Parentucelli da Sarzana on the grounds that his love of peace, his great learning, and his freedom from partisan ties, made him the best suited to occupy the chair of Peter. (32) On the following morning, March 6, in the first scrutiny, the third of the conclave, Parentucelli received the required twelve votes. The sudden resolution of the electoral question came as something of a surprise. At least one cardinal, Capranica, insisted on checking through all the ballots again to make certain that the choice was valid. (33) On the accessus Parentucelli received the remaining six votes and late in the morning the archdeacon, Prospero Colonna, announced the election of Nicholas V to the populace. (34) The choice was not only a recognition of the talents and amiability of Nicholas but also a personal triumph for Berardi, whose oratory had swayed the College to its eventual choice.


"Essai de Liste General des Cardinaux," Annuaire Pontifical Catholique. Annually serialized 1925-1939. Paris: Maison du Bonne Press. 1898-1939, 1946-48.

Eubel, Conradus, Gauchat, Patritium, et alii, Hierarchia Catholica medii et recentioris ævi, 8 vols. Padua: Il Messaggero di S. Antonio, 1960.

Pastor, Ludwig von, The History of the Popes from the close of the Middle Ages. Translated by Frederick Ignatius Antrobus and Ralph Kerr. 40 vols. Saint Louis: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1949.

Stokvis, Anthony Marinus Hendrik Johan, Manuel d'Historie, de Genealogie et de Chronologie de tous les Etats du Globe, depuis les temps les plus recules jusqu'a nos jours. 3 vols. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1887-1893.

de Roo, Peter, Material for a History of the Pope Alexander VI, his relatives and his time. 5 vols. Bruges: Desclee, De Brouwer & Co., 1924, Vol. 2: Roderic de Borgia, from the cradle to the throne.

Gams, Pius Bonifacius, Series Espiscoporum Ecclesiæ Catholicæ. Regensburg: Verlag Josef Manz, 1873.

Cristofori, Francesco, Storia de' Cardinali di Santa Romana Chiesa. Rome: Tipografia de Propaganda Fide, 1888.


(1) Eubel, 2:7, 8.

(2) "Essai" (1931):158.

(3) Eubel, 2:7.

(4) Eubel, 2:1-19.

(5) Cf. "Essai" (1922):127, 129-30.

(6) Stokvis, 3:764-65, tab. 17.

(7) "Essai" (1932):144-46.

(8) "Essai" (1932):135-37; Eubel, 2:8. His works are in J. P. Migne, Patriologia Græca (Paris, 1866), vol. 161. See also Pastor, 1:307-322.

(9) Eubel, 2:8.

(10) Eubel, 2:7.

(11) Eubel, 2:7.

(12) Eubel, 2:7, and Williams, Lives of the English Cardinals, 2:110-23.

(13) "Essai" (1932):139-40; Eubel, 2:8.

(14) Eubel, 2:8.

(15) Eubel, 2:8.

(16) Eubel, 2:8.

(17) Eubel, 2:8.

(18) Eubel, 2:7.

(19) Eubel, 2:8.

(20) Eubel, 2:8.

(21) Eubel, 2:8.

(22) Eubel, 2:8.

(23) Eubel, 2:8.

(24) Eubel, 2:7.

(25) "Essai" (l932):140-42; Eubel, 2:8. Pietro Barbo as Pope Paul II is discussed in Pastor, 4:3-194.

(26) The spelling of the name of the Valencian house which occupied such an important place on the stage of fifteenth century Europe is given in many ways. The common modern Spanish spelling of the name is Borja, and that is the form adopted for all members of the family whose lives and careers are primarily in the Iberian peninsula. The modern Italian spelling is Borgia, and that is the form employed for those members of the family whose careers were more Italian than Spanish in scope. The Latin form of the name is Boria, which was in almost universal use during the fifteenth century but is not used employed in any modern work.For the life and career of Calixtus III, as Alonso de Borja became, see Roo, 1:77-85; 2:31-37; 59-104; Pastor, 2:317-481. For additional details of Borja's creation as cardinal, see "Essai" (1932):142; Eubel, 2:9.

(27) Gams, 88; Eubel, 1:512.

(28) "Essai" (1932):142; Roo, 1:79-80.

(29) Eubel, 2:1-19.

(30) Eubel, 2:9.

(31) Eubel, 2:1-19.

(32) For Berardi's speech, see Pastor, 2:11.

(33) A detailed discussion of the conclave is in Pastor, 2:5-12, where, however, the number given as that of the living cardinals is in error. Compare the data above.

(34) Pastor, 2:12.

Eugenius IV (1431) Calixtus III (1455) Pius II (1458) Paul II (1461) Sixtus IV (1472) Innocent VIII (1484) Alexander VI (1492)
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