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Papal election, 1241

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Title: Papal election, 1241  
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Subject: Papal conclave, January 1276, Papal elections, Humbert of Romans, Pope Celestine IV, Papal conclave, September 1503
Collection: 1241 Elections, 1241 in Europe, 13Th-Century Roman Catholicism, Papal Elections
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Papal election, 1241

A fragment of the Septizodium, where the election was held, in a 1582 engraving

The papal election from September 21 to October 25, 1241[1] elected Cardinal Goffredo da Castiglione as Pope Celestine IV. The election took place during the first of many protracted sede vacantes of the Middle Ages, and like many of them was characterized by disputes between popes and the Holy Roman Emperor.[2] Specifically, the election took place during a lull in the war between Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor against the Lombard League and the deceased pontiff, Pope Gregory IX, with Italy divided between pro-Papal and pro-Imperial factions known as the Guelphs and Ghibellines.

During the sede vacante, Frederick II surrounded Rome with his armies, blocking the arrival of some cardinal electors known to be hostile to his interests. Unable to reach a consensus, the cardinals were locked in the Septizodium by the Roman civic officials, eventually settling on one of their oldest and feeblest members. The conditions within the building are believed to have contributed to the death of one of the papabile and even the death of Celestine IV soon after the election. Following Celestine IV's death, the war on the peninsula resumed and the cardinals dispersed for over a year and a half before coming together in Anagni to elect Pope Innocent IV.

The forced sequestration of the cardinals during the election was historically significant, and—along with other papal elections of the 13th century—contributed to the development of the papal conclave.


  • Context 1
  • Proceedings 2
  • Aftermath 3
  • Accounts 4
  • Cardinal electors 5
    • Absentee cardinals 5.1
  • Legacy 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8


The cardinals were divided into factions for and against Emperor Frederick II.

The papacy of Pope Gregory IX (1227–1241) and the kingship of Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor took place at a time when centuries-old disputes between the popes and emperors were coming to a head. Frederick II had dedicated troops, but not his own leadership, to the failed Fifth Crusade, to the dismay of the church; following his marriage to Yolande of Jerusalem, he took up the Sixth Crusade but later abandoned it and returned to Italy, for a variety of political, economic, and military reasons. This served as a pretext for his excommunication by Gregory IX, and thinly veiled skirmishes between supporters of the pope and emperor (Guelphs and Ghibellines, respectively) throughout the Italian peninsula, particularly in Lombardy. Before his death, Gregory IX had called for a synod to denounce Frederick II, and the emperor had gone to great lengths to disrupt the gathering, including through the kidnapping of prelates and cardinals.

The conclave took place under the threat of the pall of the surrounding army of Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor (before he pulled back to Apulia), who had been at odds with Celestine IV, and prevented two cardinals from reaching the election.[3] Frederick II's retreat was meant to show that the Emperor "had made war with Gregory IX, and not with the Church".[4]

The election took place in the Septizodium (the Sette Sole[5]), where the cardinals were confined by Senator Matteo Rosso Orsini.[4] The conditions of the election were reported to have been stressful, with the urine of Orsini's guards on the rooftop leaking into the election chamber along with the rain.[6] The actual forced confinement to the Septizodium took place only for the last two weeks of the conclave.[7] It is even alleged that the citizens of Rome, angered by rumors that a non-Cardinal would be elected, threatened to dig up the corpse of Pope Gregory IX and place it in the Septizodium with the cardinals.[3][8] A different account states that Orsini himself threatened to have the corpse exhumed and displayed publicly in full papal regalia.[9]


Goffredo da Castiglione, elected Pope Celestine IV

The main factions of cardinals were composed of the Gregorians (Rinaldo Conti de Segni, Sinibaldo Fieschi, and Riccardo Annibaldi, who supported the election of Romano Bonaventura[5]), who wished to continue Gregory IX's hostility towards the Holy Roman Emperor, and the "Moderates of the Opposition" (including Giovanni Colonna, Robert Somercotes, and Rainiero Capocci, who supported Castiglione[5]), who advised submission.[4] Frederick II objected to the election of Bonaventura due to his "persecution" of the University of Paris while legate to France, his alleged debauching of Queen Blanche of Castile, and his role in the dispute between Gregory IX and the emperor.[5]

Unable to reach a two-thirds majority, the cardinals requested that Frederick II release the two cardinals whom he held captive.[5] However, when summoned, Giacomo da Pecorara proceeded to excommunicate the emperor; Oddone di Monferrato was allowed to join the election leaving hostages in his place and promising to return to the emperor's custody unless he himself was elected pope.[5][10] Frederick II himself urged the cardinals to make a quick choice:

"Like serpents you cling to the earth instead of raising yourself to the skies. Each of you is aiming at the tiara, and no one of you is willing to leave it to the other. Renounce the spirit of faction and of discord! Let the college of cardinals give by unanimous choice to Christendom a pope who will satisfy us and the empire, and whose election will be for the universal good."[11]

The heat and shortage of food are likely to have contributed to the death of Somercotes, although the other members of the pro-Imperial faction alleged that he had been poisoned.[5] Fieschi's health also deteriorated severely, apparently causing the future pope to inch closer to death.[5] The remainder of the cardinals were not allowed to leave the Septizodium for the funeral, nor were physicians or servants allowed to enter the building (where a sizable amount of excrement had begun to build up).[12] Bonaventura would also die soon after the election.[5]

Castiglione's advanced age and deteriorating health are likely to have contributed both to his initiative status as papabile and his ultimate election, making him an ideal compromise candidate,[3] "stop-gap",[13] or "provisional Pope".[4] More critical sources describe Celestine IV as a "feeble, ignorant, old fanatic" who was "destitute of any other qualification".[14] One commentator suggested that the cardinals "escaped by electing a dying man".[15] Still others refer to him as "Orsini's candidate".[7]


Fieschi was later elected Innocent IV...
...then Conti as Alexander IV; both were members of the Gregorian faction opposed to Frederick II.

Celestine IV died just 17 days after his election, dying even before he had been enthroned.[16][17] It is likely that the cause of death was dysentery, contracted in the Septizodium.[7] It is speculated that had Celestine IV lived longer he "would in all likelihood have proven friendly to the emperor".[18]

Many of the cardinals, apparently not wishing to be locked in the Septizodium for another ordeal, fled across central Italy, before there was even time to bury the deceased pontiff.[13][19] Colonna, however, was seized by the Roman populace and imprisoned due to his Ghibelline leanings.[13] Oddone, as he had vowed, returned to the custody of the emperor.[13]

When confronted by a group of begging friars bearing a message from the Archbishop of York and Bishop of Lincoln, Frederick II reportedly said: "Who is hindering the welfare of the Church? Not I; but the stubborn pride and greediness of Romans. Who can wonder if I withstand the English and Roman Churches, which excommunicate me [as Oddone had done from England], defame me, and are always pouring forth money to do me wrong?"[20] Soon after the conclave, the hostilities between the Guelphs and Ghibellines resumed around the Italian peninsula, on both land and sea.[21] Although Frederick II was now free to crush the Lombards without a pope to oppose him, he soon diverted much of his cavalry and infantry north of the Alps where the Tartars had begun to seriously threaten his lands.[22]

Thus began the longest sede vacante in the history of the Roman Catholic Church since the period between Pope Agatho and Pope Leo II (681-682).[23] It took a year and a half before the cardinals were successful in reconvening in Anagni (Frederick II was in possession of Rome) and electing a successor to Celestine IV (due in no small part to Frederick II's continuing to keep da Pecorara and Oddone as hostages:[16] choosing Cardinal Fieschi as Pope Innocent IV in 1243.[24][25] Innocent IV breathed new life into the conflict against Frederick II, and after the emperor's death in 1250, excommunicated his son and heir, Conrad IV of Germany.[24] Imperial influence in papal elections persisted until the papal election, 1268–1271, after which the Imperial party (then composed mostly of older cardinals) was all but extinguished within the College of Cardinals.[26]


Self-portrait of Matthew Paris, a contemporary chronicler of the election

One contemporary account of mixed reliability is that of British chronicler Matthew Paris (c. 1200-1259), who claims that both his compatriot, Robert Somercotes, and Celestine IV died of poisoning; his works are more prized for their accounts of the Hohenstaufen struggles.[27] Paris was a friend of Somercotes (who presided over the audientia litterarum contradictarum) in Rome and further claimed that Somercotes would have soon been elected pope himself had he survived.[28] Both of these pieces of speculation have continued in later English literature; e.g. "the Italians were too hard for the honest Englishman, being made away by poison at the Holy Conclave, 1241".[29]

Cardinal electors

According to different accounts, the College of Cardinals on the death of Gregory IX numbered between 12 and 14 cardinals.[30]

According to Gregorovius and Kington-Oliphant, the cardinal electors numbered only 10.[4][5] At the time of Gregory IX's death, the cardinal electors who took part in the election were already present in Rome and the two cardinals held prisoner by Frederick II were already captive in Naples.[31] The two cardinals had been apprehended at sea aboard captured Genoese galleys,[32] while traveling not to the election but to a general council that Gregory IX had called to denounce Frederick II for Easter 1241 (also captured by Frederick II were three legates and several archbishops and bishops).[8][12]
Elector Nationality Order Title Elevated Elevator Notes
Rinaldo Conti de Segni Anagnini Cardinal-bishop Bishop of Ostia e Velletri September 18, 1227 Gregory IX Dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals
Cardinal-nephew; future Pope Alexander IV
Romano Bonaventura Roman Cardinal-bishop Bishop of Porto e Santa Rufina 1216 Innocent III Not to be confused with the contemporary Saint Bonaventure
Goffredo da Castiglione Milanese Cardinal-bishop Bishop of Sabina September 18, 1227 Gregory IX Elected Pope Celestine IV
Tommaso da Capua Capua Cardinal-priest Title of S. Sabina 1216 Innocent III Grand penitentiary and protopriest of the Sacred College;

his participation is disputed because some sources indicate that he died in 1239[33]

Stefano de Normandis dei Conti Roman Cardinal-priest Title of S. Maria in Trastevere 1216 Innocent III Archpriest of the Vatican Basilica; cardinal-nephew
Giovanni Colonna Roman Cardinal-priest Title of S. Prassede February 18, 1212 Innocent III The first Colonna cardinal
Sinibaldo Fieschi Lavagnesi Cardinal-priest Title of S. Lorenzo in Lucina September 18, 1227 Gregory IX Future Pope Innocent IV
Rainiero Capocci, O.Cist. Todi Cardinal-deacon Deacon of S. Maria in Cosmedin 1216 Innocent III Protodeacon of the Sacred College of Cardinals
Gil Torres Spanish Cardinal-deacon Deacon of Ss. Cosma e Damiano December, 1216 Honorius III
Riccardo Annibaldi Roman Cardinal-deacon Deacon of S. Angelo in Pescheria 1237 Gregory IX Rector of Campagna and Marittima; Cardinal-nephew
Robert Somercotes English Cardinal-deacon Deacon of S. Eustachio 1238 Gregory IX Died during the sede vacante on September 26, 1241

Absentee cardinals

Elector Nationality Order Title Elevated Elevator Notes
Giacomo da Pecorara, O.Cist. Piacentini Cardinal-bishop Bishop of Palestrina September 5, 1231 Gregory IX Prisoner of Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor
Oddone di Monferrato Montferrat Cardinal-deacon Deacon of S. Nicola in Carcere Tulliano September 18, 1227 Gregory IX Prisoner of Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor; allowed to join the election late
Peter of Capua the Younger Amalfitani Cardinal-deacon Deacon of S. Girogio in Velabro 1219 Honorius III He may have died ca.1236-1241[34]


By virtue of the cardinals being locked in, the election is sometimes referred to as the "first conclave" (even the "first formal papal Conclave"), although the formal procedures of the conclave would not be developed until the papal election, 1268–1271, and were first implemented in the papal conclave, January 1276.[3][35][36][37] In fact, the practice of forced seclusion of the cardinal electors can perhaps even be traced back to the papal election, 1216, where the people of Perugia locked in the cardinals after the death of Pope Innocent III.[38]

Both the 1216 and 1241 elections were important milestones in the development of the tradition of the conclave, but to refer to them as "conclaves" per se is a touch anachronistic, as they were not referred to as such contemporaneously.[39] However, as Baumgartner notes, "although the procedure of voting in a locked room did not become standard for papal elections for three more decades, it was the first conclave, since the word comes from the phrase cum clave, 'with a key'."[8]


  1. ^ Gregorovius gives November 1 for the termination of the election; Kington-Oliphant gives October 16; the difference is due to the election predating the adoption of the Gregorian calendar. See Gregorovius, 1906, p. 218; Kington-Oliphant, 1862, p. 304.
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b c d Christ's Faithful People. "Celestine IV.
  4. ^ a b c d e Gregorovius, 1906, p. 218.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Kington-Oliphant, 1862, p. 303.
  6. ^ Abulafia, 1988, p. 350.
  7. ^ a b c Bordihn, 2005, p. 376.
  8. ^ a b c Baumgartner, 2003, p. 35.
  9. ^ Rotberg, 2001, p. 58.
  10. ^ Francis Aidan Gasquet incorrectly states that Pecorara was so released as well, stating also that Oddone (who had excommunicated the emperor from England and raised funds with which Gregory IX had waged war on the emperor) returned to Frederick II's custody before the conclusion of the election. See Gasquet, 1905, p. 199. Henderson also claims that the two prisoners attended the election and thereafter returned to custody together. See Henderson, 1894, p. 395.
  11. ^ Henderson, 1894, p. 386.
  12. ^ a b Ullmann and Garnett, 2006, p. 259.
  13. ^ a b c d Kington-Oliphant, 1862, p. 304.
  14. ^ History of Popery, 1838, p. 138.
  15. ^ Ambrosini and Willis, 1969, p. 267.
  16. ^ a b Watt, 1995, p. 112.
  17. ^ It is thus perhaps incorrect to state that Celestine IV "only wore the tiara sixteen days". See Michaud and Robson, 1881, p. 296.
  18. ^ Henderson, 1894, p. 385.
  19. ^ Butler, 1906, p. 290.
  20. ^ Kington-Oliphant, 1862, pp. 304-305.
  21. ^ Kington-Oliphant, 1862, pp. 305-306.
  22. ^ Butler, 1906, p. 290-291.
  23. ^ Tobin and Wister, 2003, p. 54.
  24. ^ a b Wright and Neil, 1904, p. 525.
  25. ^ "Pope Innocent IV" in the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia.
  26. ^ Baumgartner, 2003, p. 39.
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^ Welby, A. E. "17th century Account of Lincolnshire". Lincolnshire Notes and Queries. p. 179.
  30. ^ The number of fourteen is given by Salvador Miranda Papal election of 1241 and K. Eubel, Hierarchia Catholica, vol. I, p. 6. The number of 12 or 13 appears from the prosopgraphy of the cardinals of that time by A. Paravicini Bagliani (Cardinali di curia e "familiae" cardinalizie. Dal 1227 al 1254, 2 vols., Padova 1972).
  31. ^ Gasquet, 1905, p. 199.
  32. ^ Williams, 1908, p. 511.
  33. ^ S. Miranda: Cardinal Tommaso da Capua (note 2)
  34. ^ A. Paravicini Bagliani, Cardinali di curia e "familiae" cardinalizie. Dal 1227 al 1254, I, p. 16 says that although commonly given year of his death is 1242, his last subscribtion of the papal bull took place in February 1236, and concludes that it is unlikely that died later than 1241
  35. ^ Duffy, 2006, p. 153.
  36. ^ Pham, 2006, pp. 62-63.
  37. ^ Kühner, 1958, p. 89.
  38. ^ A. Bo. 1910. Encyclopædia Britannica. p. 828.
  39. ^ Levillain, 2002, p. 392.


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  • Bordihn, Maria R. 2005. The Falcon of Palermo. Atlantic Monthly Press. ISBN 0-87113-880-8.
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