Saturday, November 25, 2006

Pius II and the College of Cardinals

From Passing The Keys

By Francis A. Burkle-Young

During the first year of Pius II's reign no cardinals died, so the pontiff did not think it necessary to hold a cardinalitial consistory, yet Pius also thought that the Apostolic Senate was not giving him and his policies its full support. (1)

The deaths of two cardinals in the late summer of 1459-Jaime of Portugal on August 27 and Antonio de La Cerda on September 12-gave Pius the excuse to add to the College, which was now reduced by four from the number it had been when Calixtus III died. (2)

There was strong opposition from the cardinals to the addition of any more to their number, but this was overcome by March, 1460, when Pius created six new cardinals, only five of whom were, however, published at that time. (3) The five new cardinals whose names were published were all Italians-Angelo Capranica, brother of Domenico; Berardo Eruli; Alessandro Oliva, general of the Augustinians; Niccolo Forteguerri; and Francesco di Nanni Todeschini de' Piccolomini-and all received the red hat for largely non-political reasons; although two of them were relatives of the pontiff, Niccolo Forteguerri, a maternal cousin, and Francesco di Nanni Todeschini de' Piccolomini, son of one of the pope's sisters, Laudomia, and the future Pius III. (4)

The cardinal in pectore was Burchard von Weisbriach, bishop of Salzburg, whose name was kept secret so as not to offend those monarchs and princes whose importunities for the creation of crown cardinals had been ignored. Pius showed considerable steadfastness in turning down a vast number of such requests with which he had been deluged from the outset of his reign. He spurned the pressures of Italians and non-Italians alike. In the month preceding the first creation, the Republic of Florence, for example, wrote three times, at the behest of Cosimo de' Medici Pater Patri', to advance the cause of Filippo de' Medici, bishop of Arezzo, all to no avail. (5)

While Pius was not insensitive to the fact that failure to accede to some of the nominations of the princes would only exacerbate difficulties with both transalpine and cisalpine rulers, the College voiced strong opposition to the addition of any more to their number, even though membership was further reduced by the death of yet another creation of Calixtus III in 1460-Giovanni Castiglione on April 14. (6)

The leader of the intransigent cardinals was Giorgio Fieschi, now cardinal-bishop of Ostia and acting dean of the College. Fieschi's death on October 8, 1461, weakened the opposition sufficiently that the pope could begin to plan seriously to augment the College. (7)

On December 13, Pius secured the approval of the cardinals in Rome for a new creation. Five days later, December 18, 1461, Pius elevated Jean Jouffroy, bishop of Arras, a nominee of Louis XI of France; Louis d'Albret, also a nominee of Louis XI; Jaime Cardona, bishop of Urgel, a nominee of Juan II of Aragon; Giacomo Ammanati-Piccolomini, a childhood friend of Pius' who was adopted into the Piccolomini family; Bartolommeo Roverella, archbishop of Ravenna and legate to Naples; and Francesco Gonzaga.

Significantly, two of the six were nominations of Louis XI of France who was thus doubly gratified. This creation also saw the elevation of the first scion of a north Italian princely house. Francesco Gonzaga, son of Luigi III Gonzaga, marchese of Mantua, obtained the cardinalate with the diplomatic assistance of Friedrich II, elector of Brandenburg, and his brother, Albrecht-Achilles.

Their sister, Barbara, was the mother of the Mantuan prelate. The creation of Francesco was documented for posterity by the Gonzaga family in a most unusual way. The Marchese Luigi III (1444-1478), father of the cardinal, commissioned Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506) to decorate the walls of one of the rooms in the family apartments, now called the Camera degli Sposi, in the Castello di San Giorgio (Castello di Corte), adjacent to the ducal palace in Mantua, with a series of frescoes, completed in 1474 and running completely around the room, showing the family on this auspicious occasion. Among the most notable of these paintings is that in which the marchese receives his son upon the latter's return to Mantua, following his creation, and that in which the marchese and his wife receive news by courier of the nomination of their son to the College.

The creation of four new crown cardinals in 1461 made it possible to publish the name of Burchard von Weisbriach without embarrassment, which was done in the following spring. (8) During the last seventeen months of Pius's reign, which ended at Ancona on August 14, 1464, four more cardinals died-Prospero Colonna, the archdeacon and a forty-year veteran of the College, on March 24, 1463; Isidore of Salonika on April 27, 1463; Alessandro Oliva on August 20, 1463; and Nicolaus Krebs von Cues, who died August 12, 1464, just two days before Pius himself. (9)


"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.


(1) For a discussion of Pius' feelings in this regard, see Pastor, 3:293.

(2) Eubel, 2:10.

(3) Eubel, 2:13.

(4) "Essai" (1933):132-35.

(5) Eubel, 2:94.

(6) Eubel, 2:12.

(7) Pastor, 3:297n. 4; Eubel, 2:13-14. For details, see the letter of B. Bonatto, ambassador of Mantua in Rome, to Barbara von Brandenburg, marchesa of Mantua, referring to the creation of her son, Francesco, in Pastor, 3:298 n. 2.

(8) "Essai" (1932):135.

(9) Eubel, 2:1-19.