The Most Corrupt and Scandalous Papacies in History

The Most Corrupt and Scandalous Papacies in History

Larry Holzwarth - December 17, 2018

Papal corruption throughout history is a fact of the existence of the Church of Rome, and which is, figuratively speaking, swept under the bed. But it is barely hidden. It was the corruption of the Church’s highest office which led to the evolution of Protestantism, the excesses of the Inquisition, and to a large extent the cover up of the sex scandals of the twentieth century and more recent years. The Church still maintains vast wealth, always a source of corruption, in the form of cash, property, and art. Once a dominant figure in European politics, the role of the papacy has become less powerful in politics, but no less influential to the world’s Catholics.

The Most Corrupt and Scandalous Papacies in History
Pope Francis arrives at Joint Base Andrews outside of Washington DC during a visit to the United States in 2015. US Air Force

As recently as 2017 Pope Francis admitted the existence of corruption in the Vatican, though he expressed himself as being “at peace”. The admission to the gathering of leaders of male religious orders worldwide was little noted, and the Pope did not elaborate on what he referred to in his statement. Instead he stressed the need, rather than citing doctrine in rebuke, to “listen and persuade”. Though the Pope was unclear on what he considered to be corruption in the current Church, there is no lack of clarity when regarding that of some of his predecessors in his office, who exhibited corruption and depravity on a truly epic scale.

Here is a list of papal corruption through history which wasn’t presented in the history books in school, and which in many cases is truly shocking.

The Most Corrupt and Scandalous Papacies in History
The trial of a dead predecessor – with the corpse present – was a feature of the papacy of Stephen VI. Wikimedia

1. Stephen VI tried and had mutilated the dead body of a predecessor, with the late Pope present at trial

During the ninth century, the office of the papacy was disputed, for political reasons, by powerful factions and families in Italy. One of the most powerful was the Spoleto family, the head of which was the Duke of Spoleto. The family ruled nearly all of central Italy outside of the Papal States, which was the temporal kingdom of the Pope. Stephen VI was elected to the Papacy with their support, possibly against his expressed wishes, having served as the Bishop of Anagni. The House of Spoleto pressured Stephen to try Pope Formosus, dead for over a year, for his actions against their family while Pope.

The dead body of Formosus was disinterred and brought before a court which became known as the Cadaver Synod. Formosus was charged with performing the acts of a priest after having been excommunicated (disregarding his reinstatement by Pope Marinus) because the House of Spoleto had suffered at his hands, and their control of the sitting pope gave them the opportunity for revenge. Incited by Stephen VI, Formosus was condemned of having acted in a manner unworthy of his office, the three fingers the pope traditionally raised in blessing were removed from the corpse, and the body was disposed of in the Tiber River.

The Most Corrupt and Scandalous Papacies in History
A depiction of Holy Roman Emperor Otto I greeting Pope John XII.

2. Pope John XII was so worldly that his residence was referred to as a brothel

Albeit many of the accusations of less than moral behavior on the part of John XII came from a political enemy, the Holy Roman Emperor Otto I, they were supported by priests and bishops within the Vatican. Many of the members of his court who observed him daily expanded on the reports of his preference for secular pleasure over clerical duty. He slept with his own father’s mistress, ordained bishops in return for money, gambled with dice and on sporting contests, and personally put out the eyes of his own confessor. The Papal Residence – the Lateran Palace – was in his day referred to as a brothel, and the pope was reported as being the seducer of married women, widows, and according to one of his contemporaries his own niece.

Pope John XII was not limited to sins of the flesh. He also was well known for ignoring his obligations as an ordained priest. Among his clerical sins, John XII was accused of ignoring various religious norms, including celebrating Mass without taking communion himself, or taking wine but not the host. His Papacy lasted nine years, during which he ordained a ten year old child as a bishop of the church to pay a gambling debt (bishops were landholders at the time). A legend has it that the Holy Father died while involved in a sexual encounter, possibly hastened to his reward by an enraged husband. He is buried at the Lateran Palace.

The Most Corrupt and Scandalous Papacies in History
A tomb believed by some to be that of Benedict IX. Wikimedia

3. Benedict IX sold the papacy and then reacquired it, the only man to be Pope more than once

It took bribery on the part of his father for Benedict IX to ascend to the Throne of Saint Peter, despite his well established reputation as a womanizer, irredeemably aligned with worldly pleasures. He was but twenty years of age when he became pope thanks to his father’s liberally bribing the electors. He was the nephew of two popes, Benedict VIII and John XIX, and the grandnephew of a third, John XII. His father was the Count of Tusculum, brother of Pope John XIX and he purchased the papal office for his son when his brother died. His son quickly alienated the Romans through his open pursuit of pleasures of the flesh. Pope Victor III wrote of Benedict, whose preference was for sexual companions regardless of gender, that “His life as a pope was so vile, so foul, so execrable, that I shudder to think of it.”

Benedict IX was forced out of office, returned through the military assistance of allies, forced out of office again eight years later, and again returned through military force. Palace intrigues, murders, and the disappearance of enemies were prevalent in his terms as pope. During his third term he decided that he wished to marry, and offered to sell the papacy to his successor, who was his godfather, and who became Pope Gregory VI. Benedict soon regretted his abdication and returned to take the city of Rome through military action, though Gregory retained the title of pope. Eventually both were deposed by the Holy Roman Emperor, though Benedict continued to claim that he was the true pope.

The Most Corrupt and Scandalous Papacies in History
Dante and Virgil in the eighth circle of hell, where those guilty of fraud and simony are punished. Wikimedia

4. According to Dante, Pope Boniface VIII can be found in the eighth circle of hell

As Dante and Virgil make their way through the circles of hell on their journey recorded in the epic poem, The Inferno, they encounter Pope Boniface VIII, whose papacy lasted nine years, ending in the year 1303. Boniface declared during his reign that the authority of the pontiff exceeded that of the crowned heads of Europe in matters both temporal and spiritual, making all kings and queens subject to the rule of the pope. Several kings disagreed, including Philip IV, King of France, and battles between the two was a feature of Boniface’s papacy. In 1302 Boniface published a Papal Bull in which he stated that it was “absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman pontiff”.

King Philip of France was determined to tax the wealthy Catholic Church within his dominions, which Boniface opposed, and which led to open conflict between Rome and the French. In 1303 Boniface excommunicated Philip and was denounced as a heretic in response. The powerful Colonna family in Italy allied itself with the French against the pope. Boniface died in 1303, and following his death he was charged with heresy by his enemies in life. Among the offenses he was charged with was the crime of sodomy. Boniface was defended by the Knights Templar before his accusers, which in part led to the order of Pope Clement to dissolve the Knights in 1312.

The Most Corrupt and Scandalous Papacies in History
A cameo of Pope Nicholas III from the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Wikimedia

5. Pope Nicholas III spoke with Dante as the latter journeyed through hell

Boniface VIII was not the only pope encountered by Dante as he was guided through the circles of hell by Virgil. The first he met was Nicholas III, whom at first the poet mistook for Boniface, until Nicholas corrected his error. Dante met Nicholas in the eighth circle of hell, where the former pope is the greatest sinner of those placed there for the crime of simony (the selling of offices and positions within the Church). Dante is told by Nicholas that Boniface (who was still alive at the time The Inferno was written), was destined to join him there, as well as Clement V. Nicholas III did enrich himself and his offices through the sale of positions within the Church hierarchy, though he did so mostly to members of his own family, creating a deserved reputation for nepotism.

He also built a villa for himself and succeeding popes near Viterbo. To erect the villa, which served as his summer residence, Nicholas provided the funds to his nephew, in order to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Nicholas appointed no less than five of his nephews as Cardinals of the Church, as well as a brother. Despite his known simony and nepotism, his body was taken to Rome following his sudden death of either a heart attack or stroke while at his villa. He was interred within the Vatican Basilica. His sudden death led to speculation that he had been poisoned, though most scholars discount the theory, attributing his death to a catastrophic collapse of health, most likely a massive stroke.

The Most Corrupt and Scandalous Papacies in History
A portrait of Clement V which hangs in the Cathedral of Saint Bertrand de Comminges. Wikimedia

6. Clement V used his papacy to destroy political enemies through warfare, murder, and false charges

Following the death of Benedict XI in 1304, the office of the papacy was empty for a year as the College of Cardinals, equally divided between French and Italian clerics, failed to arrive at a decision regarding who should be the next pope. They finally settled on Raymond Bertrand de Got, who had served as the personal chaplain to Pope Benedict. The pressure from European monarchs on the cardinals, particularly from the French, led to his selection under certain conditions and promises, and he chose the name Clement V, selecting the French city of Lyon for his coronation. Clement V removed the papal court from the Vatican and relocated it to Avignon in France, under the influence of the French King Philip IV.

In accordance with the desires of the French ruler he convened the Council of Vienne, during which the Knights Templar were accused of heresy. Though the council refused to convict them, Clement abolished the Templars, and the order, which had served as papal bankers among other things, had their estates seized by Philip. Clement looked the other way as the Templars were deliberately exterminated and in some cases himself approved execution of the Knights. With the papal court in France, Italy became a largely anarchic region fought over by the powerful Italian families, including in the Papal States. During Clement’s papacy the Emperor, Henry VII, seized Milan and was crowned as its ruler with the pope’s approval, further leading to a division between Italy and the Church.

The Most Corrupt and Scandalous Papacies in History
Urban VI was believed by many of the cardinals of his papacy to be insane. Wikimedia

7. Urban VI complained that the victims of his torture did not scream loudly enough

As with Clement V, Urban VI was not elected from within the College of Cardinals. He was selected largely due to the demands of a Roman mob which pressured the conclave to elect a Roman and prevent the papacy from sitting in Avignon. Urban VI was neither Roman nor French, but as a Neapolitan presented an acceptable compromise. After his election the French cardinals and clergy entered into many conspiracies against him throughout his papacy. One of his earliest edicts was that the cardinals were not to accept financial remuneration, and he condemned the luxurious lifestyles of most of the clergy.

Having alienated the French, Urban found himself and his authority challenged by a second pope, elected by the French cardinals with the support of the King of France. Robert of Geneva became Clement VII, and a series of wars over the papacy began in 1387. For Urban the war went badly, and he was at one point confronted by several cardinals who requested that he place himself under their supervision. Urban considered the request an affront, part of a conspiracy against him, and had them arrested and tortured. During the torture he complained to one of his supporters that the victims were not screaming loudly enough to suit him. During his papacy anyone he did not consider loyal was subject to torture followed by execution, including emissaries unfortunate enough to deliver messages from their masters which he deemed threatening.

The Most Corrupt and Scandalous Papacies in History
Alexander VI and stands before St. Peter on his throne in a work by Titian. Wikimedia

8. Alexander VI was described by his successor as an outstanding pope despite his many children

Alexander VI was from the Spanish Borja family, which was Latinized to Borgia, and which became a name symbolizing licentious behavior as well as nepotism. He was educated in the law, and became a member of the clergy when he was ordained by the direction of his uncle, Pope Callixtus III, in 1456. When Innocent VIII died he was elected to the papacy, and his illegitimate son Cesare Borgia inherited the archbishopric see he left behind to become Alexander VI. He achieved election through the use of bribery to buy votes (the other two contenders used bribes too, just smaller amounts), with altogether several hundred thousand gold and silver ducats paid to the cardinals by the rulers of several European states.

It was Alexander who supported Spain and provided the line of demarcation which created the areas to be exploited by Spain and Portugal in the recently discovered New World. Throughout his papacy he ingratiated himself to Europe’s rulers, using the papacy to enrich and empower the Borgia family in both Spain and Italy. He had multiple mistresses and children, many of whom he refused to acknowledge, but his long relationship with Giovanna dei Cattanei produced children which he did, including the infamous Lucrezia Borgia. As pope he legitimized his children with Giovanna, though he never married his longtime mistress. During his papacy he expanded the power of the Borgia family through the acquisition of vast wealth and lands.

The Most Corrupt and Scandalous Papacies in History
Pope Leo X was of the powerful Medici family, and sought to increase their influence. Wikimedia

9. Leo X created an atmosphere in the Church which led to the birth of Protestantism

Pope Leo X was born of the famed Italian dynasty of the Medici family, the son of Lorenzo de Medici, who ruled in Florence. Leo liked to spend money, and in order to obtain it he either borrowed using the holdings of the Vatican to secure the loans, extorted it from those who he knew were susceptible to blackmail, or obtained it through the sale of indulgences. Indulgences were and are viewed in the Catholic Church as a means of reducing the amount of time required to pay for the sins of life. In order to receive an indulgence something must be done to earn it, an action rewarded by the Church, “which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and all of the saints” (Catechism of the Catholic Church).

Leo has been condemned as being amoral, sexually involved with both men and women, in documentation going back to his own lifetime, though many of the accusations were discounted by others as being created by his political enemies. Martin Luther wrote of the pope’s amoral behavior, as did members of the papal court. Luther later wrote letters which praised the pope on a personal level, at a time when he (Luther) was under attack for heresy. Leo’s sale of indulgences in order to fund his vast spending sprees was his chief contribution to the corruption of his office. Leo lived a life of worldliness which he used the office of the papacy to support, at the expense of the Church which he nearly bankrupted.

The Most Corrupt and Scandalous Papacies in History
Clement’s quarrels with the Holy Roman Emperor led to the 1527 Sack of Rome, by the mostly German Imperial troops. WIkimedia

10. Pope Clement VII’s papacy led to the sacking of Rome in 1527

It was Pope Clement VII who opposed the divorce of English King Henry VIII, leading to the creation of the Church of England and Henry assuming the title of Defender of the Faith among his various styles. Clement became pope near the end of the Italian Renaissance in 1523, with a background in foreign affairs and statesmanship. The Church at the time, following the reigns of the spendthrift Leo X and the ineffective Adrian VI (and the 22 day reign of Marcellus II) was bereft of finances, faced with the Lutheranism expanding in the German lands, and under assault by the Ottoman Empire in the east. Clement was a Medici, and one of the goals of his papacy was the unification of Italy, and his diplomatic maneuvering was based on achieving that goal.

Clement’s back and forth diplomacy led to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V taking the city of Rome and the Papal States in 1527, after which the poorly disciplined troops enjoyed an orgy of pillage and destruction. For the remainder of his time as pope Clement feared antagonizing the Holy Roman Emperor and bringing about another sacking of Rome, which was part of his consideration when he denied Henry VIII an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, who happened to be the aunt of Charles V. Essentially, the office of the Pope as a strong power in European affairs came to an end under Clement, as he failed to exercise either moral or diplomatic authority, and Henry VIII dissolved the temporal authority of the pope in England.

The Most Corrupt and Scandalous Papacies in History
Marozia, daughter of the Count of Tusculum and mistress of Sergius III. Wikimedia

11. Pope Sergius III had an illegitimate son who became Pope John XI

Sergius III became pope through the force of arms, following the deposing and arrest of Christopher, who had also forcefully seized the Throne of St. Peter. Sergius became pope in 904. Two prior claimants to the papacy then being in prison, the aforesaid Christopher and Leo V, were murdered early in his papacy, allegedly by the order of Sergius, who was little more than a puppet of the Count of Tusculum. Sergius used his papacy to elevate members of his family and friends to positions of authority within the hierarchy of the church and temporal power. Sergius also issued a decree which annulled the ordination of bishops by his predecessors and required they be re-ordained. Sergius was alleged to have had an affair with the daughter of his benefactor, the Count of Tusculum, which led to the birth of a son.

The affair had been arranged by the Count’s wife and mother of the young woman, named Marozia, and the son eventually became Pope John XI. Though the affair was recorded by some contemporaneous writers, historians since have questioned the truthfulness of the story, with some attributing it to political enemies of Sergius and of John XI. The bulk of the story was recorded by Liutprand of Cremona, and was written two decades after the event, based on the stories he was told by others. Nonetheless, the papacy of Sergius III is considered to have been thoroughly corrupt, with the Pope using his office to advance the interests and finances of relatives rather than those of the church. Sergius used his papal army to destroy his enemies, killing them indiscriminately, and has been described as being a malignant force in Rome in the last century of the first millennium of the Common Era.

The Most Corrupt and Scandalous Papacies in History
Pope Innocent VIII did not live up to the name he chose when he was elected to the papacy. Wikimedia

12. Innocent VIII traded a cardinalship to the Medicis in exchange for a bride for his son

Innocent VIII was the father of illegitimate children both before and during his papacy, eventually acknowledging eight children by various mistresses. He also used the papacy to enrich himself, selling appointments to high offices of the church and using the money to ingratiate himself with powerful political families, including the Medicis. With the Vatican treasury often depleted due to his maintaining a luxurious and expensive lifestyle for himself, he simply expanded the Vatican bureaucracy by creating new offices, which were then offered to the wealthy to bid upon. Innocent called for a crusade against the Ottomans which was blocked by opposition from King Ferdinand I of Naples. Innocent responded by excommunicating the King. and inviting the French King Charles VIII to occupy the throne of Naples. .

The act led to a war which lasted until after Innocent’s death. Innocent VIII also entered into an arrangement with Lorenzo de Medici in which the pope’s son married into the prestigious family, in return for which he created a cardinal’s office for the thirteen year old Giovanni de Medici, who later reigned as Pope Leo X. It was Innocent VIII who made the notorious Torquemada the Grand Inquisitor of Spain. He also issued papal bulls acknowledging the existence and condemning the practice of witchcraft, supported the Spanish conquests over the Moors, and supported the practice of slavery, distributing more than 100 he received from Ferdinand of Aragon to cardinals from whom he enjoyed support.

The Most Corrupt and Scandalous Papacies in History
Julius III lived luxuriously at his villa while his papacy was the source of scandal. Wikimedia

13. Julius III had a long term illicit relationship with an adopted nephew

Pope Julius III reigned as pope for just over five years, during which time his papacy racked up an impressive list of scandals. Innocenzo Del Monte was a beggar in his teens when he was hired by the future pope’s brother as a servant. When Julius ascended to the papacy in 1550, his brother adopted Innocenzo, and the new pope adopted him as cardinal-nephew, despite the boy having no education and being for all intents illiterate. Julius provided the boy with income from several abbeys and kept him at his side despite the warnings of several other cardinals. Julius spent most of his time residing in the luxurious Villa Giulia, which he had built for himself, accompanied by Innocenzo.

The scandalous nature of their relationship was an open secret in Rome and in the capitals of Europe, hampering Julius’s ability to enact reform, and damaging the restoration of Catholicism in England under Queen Mary. After Julius died in 1555, the church took steps to hide Innocenzo and thus quell the wagging tongues. After the young man was insulted by two men he killed them both, leading to his banishment from the Vatican. Innocenzo tried to use his cardinal’s hat as the means to being restored to good favor, but was denied. As cardinal-nephew, Innocenzo had been responsible for affairs of state in the Vatican, and his inability to perform his duties had led to the creation of the office of Papal Secretary of State, which eventually became the most important Vatican official.

The Most Corrupt and Scandalous Papacies in History
A depiction of Rome as a widow following the Papal Court’s move to Avignon. Wikimedia

14. Clement VI brought nepotism and benefices to a new level from Avignon

Cardinal Pierre Roger was elected to the Throne of St. Peter in 1342 and immediately began a campaign to enrich himself and his family through the incomes and benefices of church properties including abbeys, prelatures, and monasteries. He created ten new cardinals, all of them French, including his three nephews. He declared void the previous elections and appointments in monasteries, reserving them to his own appointees and promised rewards to all clerics who appeared before him in Avignon during the first two months of his reign. When it was pointed out that such a path had never been followed by a predecessor he proclaimed, “Our predecessors did not know how to be pope.” His dedication to France was further demonstrated when cardinals died, and he replaced them with French clerics.

Clement ignored pleas of the citizens of Rome and the College of Cardinals to restore the papacy to the Vatican. He viewed the papacy as a monarchy, to which other monarch’s owed their loyalty, and he expanded the papal enclave in Avignon creating luxurious rooms, decorated with lavish tapestries, paintings, and statuary. More than forty statues of relatives which he had appointed to offices in the church hierarchy were commissioned to surround his sarcophagus after his death; they were destroyed during the Huguenot uprising in 1562. Like others before and succeeding him, Clement VI used the papacy to amass personal wealth and power for himself and his family, and tightened the ties between the church and the French throne, which would remain strong for more than two centuries.

The Most Corrupt and Scandalous Papacies in History
Pope Sixtus IV in a portrait by Titian. Wikimedia

15. Sixtus IV had several illegitimate children while taxing priests who had mistresses

During his thirteen year reign (1471-1484) Sixtus IV developed a reputation for nepotism and involvement in conspiracies. One was the Pazzi Conspiracy, an attempt by members of the Pazzi family to murder Giuliano and Lorenzo de Medici. Pope Sixtus was a leading instigator of the conspiracy, which led to the death of Giuliano and Lorenzo being severely wounded, though he survived. The failure of the Pazzi conspiracy led to the Pazzi family’s banishment from Florence, and to Lorenzo’s increased enmity towards the pope. Sixtus responded by placing Florence under interdiction, forbidding the saying of Mass and the sacraments from being given.

Despite being a party to an attempted double murder, Sixtus’s papacy continued until his death in 1484, having only succeeding in strengthening the power and influence of the Medicis in the Italy, and gaining them the sympathy of the Neapolitans. Sixtus strengthened his papacy by ensuring his relatives and friends held positions of authority which were also capable of creating wealth by extracting it from other Catholics. Priests were banned from having mistresses unless they paid a tax to his office. The tax did not extend to the many mistresses he maintained during his reign. Primarily though, his interests were of a temporal nature, and he fortified the Papal States against attacks from his enemies.

The Most Corrupt and Scandalous Papacies in History
Pope Paul IV ordered Michelangelo to cover the nudes in the Sistine Chapel and suggested whitewashing the ceiling. Wikimedia

16. Paul IV wanted to paint over the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

Pope Paul IV brought his personal prejudices with him to the office of the pope, which he used to inflict them upon his flock. He banned translations of the bible other than the Latin Bible from the Papal States, stopped the pension of Michelangelo for the sin of including nudes in the depiction of the Last Judgement, and discussed using whitewash to cover the paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. He required Jews in Rome to wear distinctive clothing to identify them. He forbade begging, even to the point of ending collecting alms for the poor by clerics. Under his stewardship, the Church forbade the ownership of any book written by a Protestant with the threat of excommunication for those who violated the edict.

Though he was pope for just four years, 1555 – 1559, he managed to alienate the Spanish Habsburg dynasty and Jews throughout Christendom through his bulls and pronouncements. Under Paul IV, no more than one Jewish synagogue was allowed in any city, and so-called excess places of worship were ordered destroyed (leading to seven razed in Rome alone). A Jewish ghetto was created in Rome, walled off from the rest of the city, with access through a single gate. At his death there was rioting in the streets. Paul left behind a legacy of anti-Semitism which endured for three centuries, with the ghetto he created remaining in place until the dissolution of the Papal States in 1870, with the walls torn down nearly two decades later.

The Most Corrupt and Scandalous Papacies in History
After purchasing election outright, Eugene IV persecuted those who opposed him, through torture and execution. Wikimedia

17. Eugene IV bought his election on a grand style in 1431

Pope Gregory XII appointed his nephew as Bishop of Siena, an act which the local populace opposed since the nephew, Gabriele Condulmer, was from Venice, and only 24 years of age. Instead, Gabriele accepted an appointment as Cardinal Priest of the Basilica of San Clemente. When Pope Martin V died Gabriele offered the cardinals a contract which promised to deliver to their control one half of the money acquired by the church during his papacy in exchange for his election. Gabriele assumed the name Eugene IV, and immediately took steps to weaken the power and influence of the Colonna family, of which his immediate predecessor had been a member.

His papacy was marked by power struggles with the Councils of the Church, which the pope moved to dissolve and which resisted dissolution, gaining the support of the Holy Roman Empire. The Council of Constance declared the pope subservient to the council, and open warfare between the Papal States and their enemies plagued his reign. Eugene had his enemies which fell into his hands tortured and executed, frequently by burning. When Portuguese Prince Henry asked Eugene to designate the slave raids along the African coast a Holy Crusade, Eugene replied in a Papal Bull which offered remissions of sins for those taking part in the raids, declaring slave raids part of the extension of Christianity no different from the crusades against Islam.

The Most Corrupt and Scandalous Papacies in History
After attaining the papal throne by force, Honorius II used force to keep it from his enemies. Wikimedia

18. Pope Honorius II took the Throne of St. Peter by force

Lamberto Scannabecchi was consecrated a cardinal in 1117, and was an adviser to several of the popes who preceded him. In the 1120s succeeding popes sought to strengthen the Italian contingent within the College of Cardinals, to resist French influence. While this was successful, it also exacerbated the frictions between the powerful Italian families. Lamberto, who was of the Frangipani family, was opposed by the Pierleone family, who supported the cardinals from around Rome and southern Italy. Frangipani support favored the northern regions. During the papal conclave of 1124, the Frangipani faction supported the election of Lamberto as pope. On December 16, 1124, the cardinals elected a patron of the Pierleone’s, who accepted and selected the name Celestine II. After Celestine donned his red cape armed Lamberto supporters attacked, and the newly elected pope was wounded in the melee.

Lamberto was appointed as pope during the ensuing confusion, aided by the wounded Celestine’s offer to resign, since he had not yet been consecrated. Lamberto took the name Honorius II and spent the early days of his papacy quashing the rioting which erupted on the streets of Rome between the two families and their supporters. Eventually Honorius II consolidated his position through force and bribery, and served as pope for just over five years, until his death in 1130. After his position on the throne was secure he resigned as pope and was immediately re-elected to the office by the conclave, under the watchful eyes of his supporters.


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“Dante and the Divine Comedy: He took us on a tour of hell”. Christian Blauvelt, BBC Culture. June 5, 2018. Online

“Recapping Dante: Canto 19, or Popes Under Fire”. Alexander Aciman, The Paris Review. March 3, 2014

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“The Medici Popes”. Herbert M. Vaughan. 1908

“Keepers of the Keys of Heaven: A History of the Papacy”. Roger Collins. 2009

“The Popes: A History”. John Julius Norwich. 2011

“Notorious Cardinals: A Rogue’s Gallery of Powerful Prelates”. Ishaan Tharoor, TIME Magazine. March 12, 2013

“Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes”. Eamon Duffy. 1997

“A Distant Mirror”. Barbara Tuchman. 1978

“Echoes From the Roman Ghetto”. David Laskin, The New York Times. July 12, 2013

“A Necessary Bondage? When the Church Endorsed Slavery”. David Culp, Catholic Culture. September, 2005

“The Lives of the Popes in the Middle Ages. Horace K. Mann. 1925