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The Triple Crown: An Account of the Papal Conclaves

by Valérie Pirie

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MARCELLUS II (CERVINI)

1555

 

ENGLAND
Mary

FRANCE
Henry II

GERMANY
and Spain

Charles V

AT the conclave which assembled on April 5th, 1555, Julius III's creatures were without a leader. Del Monte was quite incapable of assuming any responsibility and the cardinals had no desire to find him a substitute, for as free lances they could sell their votes to the highest bidder. D'Este was again expending vast sums of money on securing supporters; but his princely birth was a greater hindrance to him even than his denseness. It is evident from his letters to his brother, the Duke of Ferrara, that he had no inkling of his disabilities and considered his chances excellent. The French party wanted a pope whose modest antecedents would ensure his gratitude for their support and who would occupy the Holy See with some degree of decency and dignity. They therefore selected Cervini, Cardinal of Santa Croce, a man of unblemished reputation, and having rallied the drifting cardinals to his cause, he was elected Pope on the fourth day of the conclave and became Marcellus II. His election was a protest against the bestiality of the late pontificate.

The new Pope was the son of a country doctor who dabbled in astrology. Having cast the infant's horoscope, he found that the stars indicated high ecclesiastical honours, and therefore put him into Holy Orders. He was certainly a good prophet and must have been well satisfied with the accuracy of his prognostications. At the time of his elevation Santa Croce was fifty-four, but appeared much older. He was a tall, lean man, bald and frail-looking. His demeanour was quiet and composed; he was not talkative, but very well informed and scholarly. In disposition he was gentle yet firm and resolute, in fact, the very man the Church needed. What good Marcellus might have done is unfortunately merely a matter for conjecture, as immediately after his enthronement he fell a victim to one of those obscure diseases so prevalent in those days, and in spite of being wrapped in the still steaming skins of sheep which had been flayed alive, he failed rapidly and died on the twenty-fifth day of his pontificate.

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