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The Triple Crown: An Account of the Papal Conclaves

by Valérie Pirie

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THE TRIPLE CROWN

PRELIMINARY CHAPTER

PERHAPS the greatest blessing that was ever bestowed upon the Church of Rome was the loss of her temporal power. It eliminated automatically all those unprincipled, ambitious candidates who coveted the triple crown merely for the immense riches and power it conferred on its wearer. It seems incredible that anyone acquainted with the scandalous intrigues, the simony, the unbridled display of human passions seething behind the closed doors of papal conclaves, should still uphold or wish to see restored a state of things which caused, by the discredit it brought on the Roman Church, such a religious upheaval as the Reformation with its ensuing trail of bloodshed and persecutions. To vest in one frail mortal, who has not even been trained to govern, complete autocratic power over his subjects in this world, and over all Christendom in the next, is to exalt him abruptly to Olympian heights from which only a deity inured to such altitudes could look down with a steady head.

 
Early bishops
of Rome
Before entering upon the subject of this book it seems advisable to give a brief outline of the mechanism upon which papal elections are based, the sequence of events which influenced their formation, and the ceremonial with which they were attended.

In all probability the early bishops of Rome, who had inherited Peter's Apostolic pre-eminence, themselves named their successors; but after the third century the Senate, the clergy and the people of Rome participated in their bishop's election.

 
Title of Pope
It is not till the end of the IVth century that the title of Pope appears to have been used, and it was not a recognised appellation reserved exclusively to the bishops of Rome till after the Roman Council of 1076.

The riots and disorder caused by the popular elections having called for the intervention of the Emperor, the Church then entered [p. 2]
 
Subjection to
the Empire
upon a period of most humiliating subjection to the Empire. Besides paying a heavy tribute, popes were constrained to wait for a ratification of their election from Constantinople before occupying the Apostolic See; the interminable delays, caused either by circumstances or ill-will, resulted in vacancies of many months' duration, entailing anarchy in Christendom. Nor was the situation improved when Byzantine rule in Italy was replaced by that of the Lombards. By the middle of the VIIIth century they were threatening Rome itself and the Pope was constrained to appeal for help to the ruler of the Franks. This led eventually to the revival of the Empire in the West and also to that of secular intervention in papal affairs. The Papacy was drawn into the whirlpool of international politics and
 
Middle Ages
there followed a long period during the Middle Ages when the history of the Papacy offers a confused impression of popes and anti-popes, popes who had abdicated, popes who had been deposed, popes in captivity, popes in exile, all hurling futile excommunications and anathemas at one another; mock thunderbolts whose only effect, one imagines, would be to cause the utmost perplexity within the fold where the bewildered sheep were hard put to it to distinguish between the shepherd and the wolf.

 
Right of
Election
vested in the
cardinals
The collective instinct of self-preservation was sufficiently powerful, however, to evolve out of all that chaos a scheme which, maturing through the centuries, reached a settled and definite form after the Council of Constance in 1417. The right to elect the Pope was then recognised as the special prerogative of cardinals and has remained so ever since. As the Pope in turn creates the cardinals there results an autonomous system resembling a circle everlastingly revolving upon itself.

 
The cardinals
There are four classes of cardinals: cardinal-bishops, cardinal-priests, cardinal-deacons and lay cardinals. Their number has varied from 6 or 7 to 76. In 1585 Sixtus V fixed it definitely at 70 in memory of the 70 aged men who assisted Moses. All but the lay cardinals have a right to vote at the conclave even if they are under a ban of excommunication or ecclesiastical censure. Nowadays the Pope can no longer suspend that right, but up to the end of the XVIIIth century pontiffs occasionally did so. Julius II, for instance, pronounced the exclusion of all pro-French cardinals, who were thus debarred from attending his successor's election, and Pius VI in 1786 [p. 3] temporarily suspended the Cardinal de Rohan, who had been compromised in the famous "Affaire du Collier". Lay cardinals could vote if they had obtained a special permit to that effect, or they could be ordained deacons within the conclave itself. The cardinalate being merely a dignity could be resigned with the Pope's consent. In former times it was even possible in the case of cardinal-deacons to return to lay life and marry. It happened in several cases, as with Césare Borgia and the last of the Medici who had been a cardinal for twenty-five years. Cardinals have occasionally been deposed but few popes have resorted to such an extreme punishment. Restrictions were promulgated periodically concerning the age at which the hat could be bestowed, but were never adhered to. There have been cardinals of nine and ten and many of seventeen. The cardinals created by a pope are known as his "creatures". The word is used in its literal sense and is meant in no way as a term of opprobrium. The statute making priesthood compulsory for cardinals only dates from 1917. Cardinal Antonelli, a great diplomatic figure of the XIXth century, was never ordained.

 
The conclave
A conclave consists of a congregation of cardinals forming the Sacred College, assembled within enclosed premises with the object of electing a Pope.
 
The majority
Two-thirds of the total number of votes forms the required majority. On principle the cardinals may elect any man they think fit to occupy the papal throne. If the new pope has not received Holy Orders they are at once conferred on him by the Bishop of Ostia, who is by traditional right Doyen of the Sacred College. Such cases were common in the early days of the Church and still occurred during the XVIth century, after which period it became a general practice to elect bishops. There were still a few exceptions to this rule during the XVIIIth and as late as the XIXth century, Gregory XVI, who was only a priest, being elected in 1831.

 
Pope Joan
There are many strange stories connected with early papal elections; none was so strange; none obtained such a hold on popular imagination in the Middle Ages as the one concerning the elevation of a woman to the Papal See. All orthodox historians, of course, treat the legend with the utmost contempt. They make varied suggestions as to its origin; the most generally accepted being that Pope John VIII, a weak and vacillating Pontiff reigning at the end of the IXth century, was given the nickname of Pope Joan by the Roman [p. 4] populace, who taunted him with behaving like a woman. To take this appellation literally, the above authors contend, was too tempting a slip for chroniclers to resist. It lent itself so readily to salacious flights of fancy that its appeal was immediate, widespread and persistent. It did not, however, appear incredible to many serious and devout writers living in the Middle Ages and even later, for in the XVIth century we find a fervent Catholic and a man of the highest repute like Etienne Pasquier to have been a firm believer in the existence of a female Pope. The post-Reformation German writers naturally
 
The
porphyry
chair
made great capital out of the tale, adducing the famous porphyry throne as a proof of its authenticity. This chair is shaped in all respects like the now obsolete piece of furniture commonly known as a commode. It was undoubtedly used during the ceremony of the pope's enthronement and is alleged to have been introduced to enable the electors to verify the sex of the successful candidate, and thus obviate the recurrence of such an awkward accident.Whatever the reason which may have inspired the adoption of this singular throne for such a solemn occasion (and the one laying it at the psalmist's door is scarcely less indelicate), it can in no way have been connected with Pope Joan, as the porphyry chair is mentioned in much earlier accounts of papal investitures than the period (IXth century) ascribed to the incident. It continued to figure in these ceremonies up to 1513, date of Leo X's enthronement, after which it was relegated to a gallery in the Lateran where several travellers of the XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries report having seen it. Pius VI placed it in the Vatican museum and it was numbered among the eighty pieces of sculpture sent to Paris after the Treaty of Tolentino. In 1815 Pius VII presented it as a personal gift to Louis XVIII and it is still to be seen in the Musée du Louvre in Paris. This curious relic is supposed to have come originally from the baths of Caracalla. All Roman sudatoriums appear to have been equipped with chairs of this model, mostly in marble, the orifice being provided to allow the sweat to run off the bather's body.

The general consensus of modern opinion amongst writers of all parties is that Pope Joan is a mythical personage. She is as out-of-date as the cards upon which she figured in the Italian game of "Tarot" so popular in olden days, and which no doubt helped considerably to spread her fame. [p. 5]

Conveying the Dead Pope's Remains Through the Streets of Rome
Conveying the Dead Pope's Remains Through the Streets of Rome
[larger view]

 
1st conclave,
1271
The first conclave, properly so-called, was held at Viterbo. In the spring of 1271 seventeen cardinals having been assembled for over two years without reaching an agreement, the irritated townspeople prevailed on their magistrates to confine the dilatory prelates within the episcopal palace and to wall up all the outlets. Some weeks having gone by and no Pope having yet been elected, the now exasperated citizens removed the roof of the building, to afford an easier access to the Holy Ghost, and only allowed the cardinals a small ration of bread and water for all nourishment. These drastic measures produced the desired effect and resulted in the election of Gregory X, after the longest vacancy the Pontifical See has ever known. The Savellis who happened to have been in charge of the punitive operations conferred upon themselves the hereditary office of "Custodians of the Conclaves", which title was officially ratified by Gregory X. They held it for several centuries and it has now passed into the Chigi family.

So favourably impressed was the new Pontiff with the advantages of a system to which he owed his elevation that he gave it his solemn sanction, laying down the most stringent regulations to be observed at future conclaves. To those new statutes were no doubt due the speed with which his successor was elected, the Sacred College coming to an understanding in less than twenty-four hours.

 
Preliminaries
of the
conclave
The preliminaries of the conclave are subject to regulations as meticulous as those of the conclave itself. As soon as the Pontiff has breathed his last they can be said to begin. The Cardinal Camerlengo now assumes control. He approaches the bed upon which the dead man lies and strikes his forehead three times with a silver hammer, calling him each time by his Christian name in clear, loud tones. He then turns to those present and says: "The Pope is dead". The Master of Ceremonies thereupon slips the "fisherman's" ring off the dead Pontiff's finger and hands it to the Camerlengo to be destroyed by him later together with the die of the great leaden seals used during the late pontificate. The body is then embalmed; it used to be carried in great pomp in an open litter through the streets of Rome and deposited in St. Peter's, where it was exposed for three days. President de Brosses, describing Clement XII's obsequies, says that the deceased Pontiff's face was so skilfully rouged and made up that he looked far healthier in death than he had ever looked in life. [p. 6]

 
Novemdiale
Nine days are allowed for the funeral ceremonies and the preparations of the conclave. During the vacancy of the Holy See the Camerlengo is virtually the ruler of the Church, though the entire Sacred College representing the Papacy receive the honours due to Sovereigns.

 
The cardinals
enter the
conclave
On the morning of the tenth day, after the Mass of the Holy Ghost has been sung, all the cardinals present form into a procession to enter the conclave. They sing the "Veni Creator", probably with as loud a voice as they can manage, so as to drown the threats, gibes, imprecations and advice which the people drawn up on either side of the cortège do not fail to shout at them. Gregory X had ruled that the conclave should take place wherever the Pope had died, but the observance of this clause often proved impossible or inexpedient and was not then complied with. The crowd of diplomats, friends and relations who have accompanied the cardinals having been at
 
The doors
close
last induced to depart, the doors are locked and sealed and all other outlets walled up. Boards are placed over the lower parts of the windows allowing only enough uncovered space at the top to admit a dim beam of light. Two wooden cubicles have been contrived for each cardinal. As some of these cells are larger or more commodious than others, the cardinals draw lots for them. They are hung with purple serge for the cardinals created by the last Pope, with green for the others, and the occupant's coat-of-arms is placed on the door.

 
Regulations
and
privileges
Every cardinal is allowed to bring into the precincts of the conclave a secretary or conclavist, and a servant. In the days when the Sacred College was an aristocratic body cardinal princes or cardinals belonging to reigning houses were entitled to the services of three conclavists and later this favour was extended to cardinals pairs-de-France, grandees of Spain, Roman princes, all foreign prelates, etc.,
 
Conclavists
so that few indeed could not claim this privilege. It was a more important one than might appear to the uninitiated, for the conclavist if he were clever, tactful and sufficiently unscrupulous could render the greatest assistance to his master. He could creep stealthily about in the dark, in stockinged feet, listening through the ill-fitting joists of the cubicles for scraps of conversation; or spy on the comings and goings between the cardinals' cells. He could spread rumours, lie, flatter and conciliate, and many a candidate has been made or marred by his conclavists. It was a much sought-after office. The emoluments [p. 7] were considerable—and it conferred a patent of nobility, not to mention the privilege of looting the Pope's cell as soon as he was elected.

Arrival of the Cardinals' Meals
Arrival of the Cardinals' Meals

 
Other
attendants
Besides these personal attendants many others also entered the conclave. They were: a sacristan with his clerk, two masters of ceremonies, a confessor, two doctors, a surgeon, a chemist with his attendants, a carpenter, a mason, a barber with his apprentices and a number of general servants. It is easy to imagine the hardships and
 
Discomforts
and
hardships
discomforts inflicted on the inmates by cooping up such a large crowd of people in premises intended for other purposes—devoid of ventilation, scarcely lighted, and provided with only the most rudimentary attempts at sanitation. In the sweltering summer heat fever was rampant, and the stench of so much confined humanity made the oppressive atmosphere unbreathable. In the cold winter months when the icy Tramontana found its way through the tiniest crevices, the older cardinals huddled round the inadequate braseros vainly trying to warm their creaky joints. The doctors must have had a busy time, for many are the cases of illness and death reported in the history of conclaves; and considering the conditions under which they were held it is surprising that they did not claim more victims.

 
The cardinals'
meals
Gregory X had limited the cardinals' meals to one dish only if a pope had not been elected within three days, reducing them to bread and water after a lapse of three weeks. But this rule soon fell into disuse, and one of the most curious sights of Rome used to be the procession of gala coaches carrying their Eminences' meals in large tin boxes painted with their coats-of-arms and attended by their major-domos, butlers and servants in gorgeous liveries, driving in state from their palaces to the conclave. These boxes were handed in with great ceremony to each cardinal's servant by the officers of his household through the opening provided to that effect at the entrance of the conclave. Supervisors within were supposed to examine all packages to ascertain that they contained no letters or messages of any kind, but this needless to say was done in a most perfunctory manner and interfered in no way with the communication the cardinals held with the outer world. In these more utilitarian and less opulent times kitchens have been installed within the precincts of the conclave and the frugal pastas have probably superseded the epicurean fare which filled those heraldic boxes. [p. 8]

 
Modes of
election
There were four different manners of electing a pope: by acclamation, adoration, compromise and scrutiny.

The first kind only took place in the early days when the people and the clergy voiced their selection. Election by adoration occurred when a powerful group of cardinals, certain of the following of at least the necessary majority, prostrated themselves before one of the members of the Sacred College; the others of course immediately joining them. Gregory XV was thus elected in 1621, but he himself subsequently laid such stringent restrictions on this mode of election that it was definitely abandoned. Election by compromise consists in an understanding by which the cardinals who have failed to agree about the choice of a candidate delegate their powers to one or several of their colleagues who nominate the pope. This mode of election is very rarely resorted to. The last and most usual form is by scrutiny.

 
The voting
Twice a day the cardinals assemble in a chapel reserved for the purpose and record their votes on a specially prepared form. It is divided into three spaces. In the top one the cardinal signs his own name, in the centre he writes the name of the candidate to whom he gives his vote and in the lower space he inscribes a number and motto of his own choosing. He folds over and seals the two extremities leaving the candidate's name exposed. He then doubles it over, approaches the altar holding his paper at arm's-length and deposits it on a paten with which he slips it into the gold chalice. Voting is compulsory on all cardinals present within the conclave, those who are ill in bed place their papers through a slit into a sealed box which is carried round to them by special officials nominated to collect them.When all the votes have been recorded it is the duty of three cardinals, called scrutators, to read, announce and check the names inscribed on the forms, breaking the lower seals only, to see that no cardinal has voted twice. The upper seal is never broken except in the case of a candidate having obtained exactly the number of votes required, this being done to ascertain that he has not voted for himself, which would make his election void.

 
The
"Sfumata"
After each scrutiny the voting papers are immediately burnt in a stove placed for that purpose within the chapel itself. The extremity of the stove-pipe protruding through a window-pane is the accepted medium of information given to the outer world. If there has been [p. 9] no election a handful of damp straw is added to the papers producing the famous "Sfumata" which can be seen by the anxious watchers outside. If a pope has been elected the forms are also burnt, but without the straw, and occasion a quick blaze of which the smoke is practically invisible.

The Scrutiny
The Scrutiny

The Cardinals' Cells
The Cardinals' Cells

 
The
acceptable
candidate
Many qualifications and, generally speaking, not too many virtues were necessary for a candidate to be considered "papabile", that is, acceptable to a reasonable amount of voters. Such qualities of course varied with the ages, being their natural resultant. Roman society of the Renaissance would intrigue for a cardinal likely to make an indulgent, luxurious, pleasure-loving pope, who would allow the women to wear low dresses and enjoy life. But certain conditions never varied. The perfect candidate must be over sixty, older if possible. Mere delicate health had proved a snare, as sickly cardinals had been known to turn most unaccountably into robust and long-lived popes. It was an excellent thing of course that the candidate should have never given offence to any of his colleagues, but it was far more important that he should have received none; the sweets of revenge being deemed irresistible. He must be broad-minded, acceptable to the great European Powers, and above all generous. His family also had to be considered, adding to or detracting from his chances of success, for his relations would rise to power with him, and his nephew would wield enormous influence.

 
The
cardinal-
nephew
The office of cardinal-nephew or padrone was a recognised institution. Tradition ordained that immediately after his accession the Pope should bestow the hat on his nephew and make him prime minister; therefore his personality was scarcely less important than that of his uncle. Having no nephew was a tremendous asset for a would-be pope, as in that case one of the cardinals of his party would be given the coveted post. Many promising candidatures were wrecked by the arrogant or rash behaviour of a nephew. In truth it was a most desirable post. Captain-general of the pontifical army and confidential adviser to the head of the State, the Cardinal Padrone was the channel through which flowed benefices one way and gold the other. All-powerful during his uncle's lifetime, he would still after his death be the recognised leader of his "creatures" at the next conclave, and therefore have yet to be reckoned with. A far-reaching and redoubtable influence indeed! Treated as the heir-apparent of a ruling monarch, [p. 10] the cardinal-nephew was entitled on reception of the hat to a royal salute from the guns of S. Angelo, an honour which he alone shared with princes of the blood. The scandalous riches amassed by these personages, their crimes and exactions, the terror they inspired to the population of Rome, raised such a universal outcry that at last in 1692 Innocent XII officially and finally abolished nepotism. The cardinal-nephew was then replaced by a secretary of state chosen by each new pope from among the members of the Sacred College.

 
Right of ex-
clusion and
veto
To all the currents and cross-currents of intrigue swaying the electors this way and that, must be added the interference of the Powers. At first they were content with pronouncing an exclusion, which merely meant that, acting on the instructions of their sovereigns, cardinals would under no circumstances give their voice to some particular candidate. By degrees, however, certain Powers quietly assumed the right of veto, by which they became enabled to annul a perfectly valid election. Mildly contested at first, this privilege was fully recognised and accepted by the Sacred College during the second half of the XVIIth century, thereby allowing the Sovereigns of France, Spain and Austria direct precedence over the Holy Ghost.

To give it a legal value, it was agreed between Rome and the above-mentioned Powers that the veto could only be pronounced once by each government against a single candidate and had to be notified officially to the Doyen of the Sacred College before the scrutiny took place, by a cardinal accredited for this special purpose. "The veto is a weapon which, once drawn, can only wound one adversary, but while still sheathed can disable many", wrote Count Brunati, an Austrian diplomat of the XVIIIth century; and the wily cardinal who wished to exclude several candidates would be an adept at rattling the sword in the scabbard. He would not scruple to hint that he held a veto against one or another aspirant, thereby considerably reducing their chances of success, while he would give unlimited rope to his real victim, knowing that if he proved dangerous he could even at the last minute be pulled up with a jerk. No doubt it must have been a fascinating game for Machiavellian minds. The immense power wielded by Charles V during the XVIth century and the vast extent of his Empire was in a great measure responsible for the inception of this political interference, as almost all the cardinals were his subjects and dared not disregard his wishes. When France [p. 11] claimed a like prerogative during the reign of the Emperor Maximilian II it was difficult to deny her, as she occupied part of Italy, too potent an argument to be ignored. France's interests being in direct opposition to those of the Empire, she adopted the simple policy of reserving her exclusion for the Emperor's candidate, who naturally retaliated in kind. The outcome of this mutual checkmating was apt to prove disastrous to both parties, occasionally resulting in the election of a pope inimical to all foreigners. Many cardinals were also in receipt of allowances and benefices from foreign Powers and therefore bound to act on their instructions without, of course, showing their hand. So entangled were all the cardinals in the webs of these tortuous intrigues that they were powerless to prevent the original negative exclusion from being transmuted into the imperative veto. If the intricate manœuvres brought about by this innovation often resulted in protracted conclaves, it also caused some very rapid ones; for if the Sacred College could manage to elect a pope before the prohibitive instructions had time to arrive, the veto would be null and void. To this stratagem Pius IX owed his elevation in 1846, as the bearer of Austria's veto against him arrived just in time to receive, no doubt with feelings of due reverence and piety, the Apostolic blessing which the Holy father was bestowing on the faithful.

 
The new
pope
No sooner has the newly elected pope accepted the great dignity bestowed upon him and chosen the name he wishes to bear, with, we will presume, a becoming show of unpreparedness and hesitation, than all the cardinals who, only a moment before, were still his equals, fall on their knees in adoration. The canopies over their stalls are all lowered, his alone remains aloft. The great moment has arrived. After years of subservience he has suddenly become the embodiment of absolutism, combining in his person a dual autocracy both theocratic and monarchical. He is allowed a few moments in which to compose himself and is then conducted behind the altar and clothed in one of the sets of white robes which have been provided in three different sizes. In the meantime workmen have demolished the masonry and contrived an opening through which the senior Cardinal-Deacon announces the great news to the expectant crowd below.

The pontiff then appears and blesses the people and all Christendom. [p. 12] In the days when the pope was king he was greeted by a blast from the silver trumpets of his guards, the guns of S. Angelo immediately fired a salute and the bells of every church in Rome broke into a deafening peal of jubilation. Meanwhile the conclavists ransacked the new pope's cubicle, stripping it bare, while the mob rushed helter-skelter to loot his palace.

 
The en-
thronement
The details of the enthronement ceremony would fill a volume and have scarcely altered to this day. Varied influences can be traced in their archaic symbolism and Oriental splendour, not omitting a reminder of those sinister days when poison was used so freely. The precautions so essential then are still in practice, for during the Pontifical Mass a portion of the wine and water to be consecrated is poured into a cup and drunk by an acolyte. For the same reason three wafers are presented to the cardinal-deacon, who places one only on the paten while an attendant swallows the others. To make assurance doubly sure, the pope breaks off two particles of the remaining wafer which he himself places on the tongues of the deacon and sub-deacon. All the punctilious formalities of the great ceremonial are meticulously observed, though the loss of the temporal power necessarily put an end to its festive manifestations. A picturesque custom connected with the pope's accession but now long obsolete was the cavalcata.

 
The cavalcata
A few days after his enthronement the pontiff went in state to take possession of the Lateran. This pageant, known as the cavalcata, is described by many travellers to Rome. It varied in pomp and magnificence with the centuries, being naturally influenced by the trend of the times. Nicholas V, for instance, in 1447, preceded by the Host, rode a white jennet, holding in his left hand a golden rose while he blessed the crowd with his right. At an earlier date the popes had been carried in a litter surrounded by cardinals, senators, princes and patriarchs; while heading the procession was an auditor of the rota riding a white mule and carrying the papal cross. During the XVIth century the pageant showed a decidedly military influence, which soon became a regular triumphal march. The Renaissance displayed all its splendour on the passage of the cavalcade. Triumphal arches draped with cloth of gold and garlands of flowers, platforms hung with costly tapestries on which tableaux vivants were enacted, streets strewn with rushes, showers of alms and indulgences, but no more [p. 13] Host. The mob considered it a day of unbridled licence and followed
 
The Jews
offering
in the wake of the procession pillaging and looting unchecked. The principal sufferers of course were the Jews. To them had been allotted the decoration of the most expensive and vulnerable erections. A deputation of rabbis holding huge waxen candles awaited the passage of the pontiff to do him homage. They presented their Holy Book to him, which he would accept, returning it over his left shoulder, saying: "We neither confirm nor infirm". Early in the XVth century the Jewish community having had the unfortunate idea of tendering the Pentateuch wrapped in a rich covering, the Pope sent to claim it after the ceremony, and so the custom became established for the Jews to make a gift of a finely bound specimen of their Holy Book to every new pontiff. Leo X, however, the haughty and fastidious Medicean prince, to whom the rabbis offered a specially beautiful and costly volume, having received it and pronounced the ritual formula, examined it with great deliberation and dropped it contemptuously in the dust.

Evening came; as the gates of the ghetto closed on the Jews, bonfires blazed up in all open spaces, every house was illuminated, be it palace or hovel, and all Rome echoed with the sound of carousal and revelry. From the heights could be seen a flaming serpent creeping through the city—being a torchlight procession of nobles mounted on milk-white steeds and proceeding towards the Vatican, in front of which they held a mock tourney "to the great content of His Holiness and the delight of the people".

 
Vacancy of
the Holy See
In the XVth and XVIth centuries the vacancy of the Holy See was a recognised time of lawlessness and licence in Rome. The criminals who had been liberated at the late Pope's death, when it was customary to proclaim a general amnesty, roamed the streets in gangs, breaking into unprotected houses, plundering, raping and murdering as they went. Unchecked by fear of punishment, the princely houses renewed their feuds, drew chains across the streets to defend their palaces, armed all available retainers and hastened to pay off old scores. The mob attacked the cardinals' palaces, but all precautions had usually been taken by those prelates, their most valuable possessions removed to a place of safety and armed guards stationed within their mansions. It was the traditional privilege of the populace to loot the new pope's residence, being the reason which prompted [p. 14] them always to clamour for a Roman Pope. The slightest rumour of any cardinal resident in the city having been elected was deemed a sufficient excuse and acted upon at once. To add to the confusion, the cardinal-nephew still in command of the Castle of S. Angelo and of the papal troops might make sorties to settle a few outstanding quarrels while he was still in a position to do so; or the nobles whose possessions had been confiscated by the late pope might attempt to regain them by armed force, so that open fighting in the city was the order of the day.

Meanwhile the numberless non-combatant hangers-on of the mighty were faced with the unpleasant necessity of providing for their own needs. Pawn-shops thrived on this state of things. From an average of 800 or 900 crowns business rose to 90,000 or 100,000 a month. Trade otherwise was at a standstill, all sittings of the law-courts suspended, great houses closed—in fact socially Rome was a dead city. Great animation, however, prevailed in the gambling-dens, where the odds on the candidates to the papal throne ran sometimes very high. The punters would stick at nothing to ruin the chances of their favourites' competitors. Calumny and ridicule, all weapons were useful. Scurrilous pamphlets, lampoons and pasquinades flooded the town, always anonymous of course, as backing the wrong horse openly might result in one's losing a good deal more than one's money. Much of this edifying literature was smuggled into the conclave with the object of influencing the cardinals' votes, and no doubt afforded their Eminences and their conclavists a few moments of hilarity at one another's expense.

With the pope's proclamation some semblance of order was restored in the city, but the perpetual change of ruler, each one introducing new political and personal tendencies, to be grafted on to the traditional policy of the Holy See, caused a feeling of instability, a want of equilibrium, most prejudicial to law and order. The Romans learned to disregard laws that might be so short-lived as to be evaded by procrastination, and to make light of penal sentences and incarceration in prisons of which the doors were continually being thrown open. It is on record that debtors petitioned to be excluded from these unwelcome amnesties, as only in gaol did they feel sufficiently protected from the vengeance of their bloodthirsty creditors.

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