The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church

Papal elections in the Fifteenth Century
The election of Pope Pius II (1458)

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

I. Background.

Calixtus III, the first non-Italian pope in Rome since Gregory XI, favored the promotions of Iberians among the cardinals he created, as might have been expected. In the winter after his election, he manoeuvred to secure approval from the cardinals then in Rome for the elevation of his nephews, Luis Juan del Mila y Borja, son of his sister, Catalina, and Rodrigo de Lançol y Borgia, son of Isabel, another sister. (1) Calixtus met so much opposition to this plan that he created them secretly, in the same manner as Ram and Capranica had been created by Martin V, and published their names only on the following September 17. At that time, he created seven others, of whom four were crown cardinals. One of these new cardinals, Giovanni Castiglione, received the red hat at the express demand of Francesco Sforza, duke of Milan, who thus became the first of the north Italian princes to have a voice in the nomination of cardinals. Calixtus' other creations in this consistory were Jaime, Infante of Portugal; Rinaldo Piscicelli, Juan de Mella, Giacomo Tebaldi, Richard Olivier de Longueil, and Enea Silvio Bartolommeo de' Piccolomini, the future Pope Pius II. (2) Calixtus III set a dangerous precedent when he became the first modern pope to elevate two cardinal-nephews at the same time.

During the course of a reign of just three years, one hundred twenty days, from April 8, 1455, to August 6, 1458, Calixtus saw the deaths of only two cardinals who had been created in earlier reigns-Guillaume Hugues d'Estaing on October 28, 1455, and Rinaldo Piscicelli on July 4, 1457-so at his death there were twenty-seven living cardinals, six more than at the time of his election. Pierre de Foix l'Ancien, created by John XXIII, still survived, as did Cardinals Prospero Colonna and Domenico Capranica from among the creations of Martin V. There were ten creations of Eugenius IV: Giorgio Fieschi, Isidore of Salonika, Joannes Bessarion, Petrus de Schaumberg, Dionysius Szechy, Guillaume d'Estouteville, Juan de Torquemada, Ludovico Trevisan, Pietro Barbo, and Juan de Carvajal. Six were creations of Nicholas V: Antonio de La Cerda, Alain de Coëtivy, Jean Rolin, Filippo Calandrini, Latino Orsini, and Nicolaus Krebs van Cues. The eight cardinals of Calixtus III were: Luis Juan del Mila y Borja and Rodrigo de Lançol y Borgia (the cardinal-nephews), Jaime of Portugal, Juan de Mella, Giovanni Castiglione, Giacomo Tebaldi, Enea Silvio de' Piccolomini, and Richard Olivier de Longueil. (3) Of these twenty-seven, eight never came to Rome in 1458 and played no part in selecting the Valencian's successor-Foix, Schaumberg, Szechy, Trevisan, de Carvajal, Rolin, Krebs, and Olivier de Longueil.

II. Conclave and Election.

The principal concerns in the conclave of 1458 arose from the rapid rise of the effective power and influence of the French monarchy in the closing years of the Hundred Years War. This new power caused considerable anxiety to the Italian princes, who feared a rebirth of French interest in Italian affairs. Thus, the principal powers of the peninsula-Naples, Genoa, and Milan among them-were anxious to prevent the elevation of a French pope at all costs. In 1458, the official candidate of the Milanese was Domenico Capranica, and in the preconclave negotiations it appeared almost certain that he would be elected. However, Capranica died suddenly on August 14, 1458, the day the conclave opened-thus reducing the number of living cardinals to twenty-six and the number of cardinal-electors to eighteen. His death left the party committed to him in confusion. Ottone de Carretto, Francesco Sforza's ambassador in Rome, made the quick and unaided decision to support Piccolomini and persuaded Latino Orsini to back him in this action. The principal candidate of the pro-French party was d'Estouteville, while Torquemada and Calandrini also were considered papabile. (4)

After three days of inactivity, the cardinals proceeded to the first scrutiny. In the balloting, Piccolomini and Calandrini each received five votes with no other cardinal getting more than three. At this point, d'Estouteville and de Coëtivy, began a last minute drive to obtain the tiara for the former. They succeeded in winning the promises of Colonna, Bessarion, Fieschi, Torquemada, and Castiglione, who all dutifully voted for the Frenchman in the second scrutiny, on the morning of August 18. But during the night, Pietro Barbo had called together all the other Italian cardinals except Colonna and proposed to them that, of them all, the one most likely to obtain success in reaching the papal throne was Piccolomini, and that all should support him on the following day. In the second scrutiny, then, Piccolomini obtained nine votes, those of Barbo, Orsini, Calandrini, Isidore of Salonika, de Mella, de La Cerda, Jaime of Portugal, del Mila y Borja, and, surprisingly, d'Estouteville, who hesitated to vote for himself. As the accessus began, there was a long silence broken by Rodrigo de Lançol y Borgia who changed his vote to Piccolomini. Another long delay ensued, during which Torquemada and Isidore of Salonika tried to have the session adjourned; then Tebaldi also gave his vote to Piccolomini. At that point, with only one more vote needed to secure election for the Sienese, Colonna rose. An attempt was made by the partisans of d'Estouteville to restrain him forcibly but he called out, "I also vote for the Cardinal of Siena, and I make him pope." The others then hastened to change their votes, and within a few minutes Bessarion was beginning a congratulatory address to the unanimously elected Pius II. (5)


Archivi d'Italia e Rasega internazionale degli archivi. Periodico della Bibliotheque des Annales institutorum.

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(1) Luis Juan del Mila y Borja was of a passive disposition and played little role in the history of the Church in his time. In 1464, he retired to his estates in Aragon and visited Rome only once more, from February, 1467, to Autumn, 1468. Eubel, 2:12, and Roo, 1:95-98. For information on Rodrigo's life, see Eubel, 2:12. Of the many biographies of this most written about fifteenth century figure perhaps the most fully documented is Roo, vol. 2. Care must be taken, however, to avoid complete acceptance of Roo's laudatory appraisal of the early life of Alexander VI.

(2) Eubel, 2:12.

(3) Eubel, 2:1-19.

(4) For a complete account of the conclave of 1458, see Pastor, 3:5-13.

(5) For the voting in this conclave, see Pastor, 3:5-13.

Eugenius IV (1431) Nicholas V (1447) Calixtus III (1455) Paul II (1461) Sixtus IV (1472) Innocent VIII (1484) Alexander VI (1492)
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