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The Triple Crown: An Account of the Papal Conclaves

by Valérie Pirie

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 Calixtus III  Pius II  Paul II  Sixtus IV  Innocent VIII  Alexander VI




Edward IV

Frederick III

Louis XI

ONLY a trifling incident seems worth recording in connection with the conclave which elected Pietro Barbo to the Holy See in 1464. He was a Venetian, probably the handsomest man who ever wore the triple crown. There was a not unnatural murmur of disapprobation therefore when he announced to the Sacred College that he wished to be known as Formoso (beautiful). The scandalised cardinals persuaded him that in his case such a name would lead to misinterpretation, and Marco, his second choice, having been ruled out as too reminiscent of the Venetian war-cry (Marco! Marco!), he decided on Paul, against which no objection could possibly be raised. The name which would really have suited him was Narcissus, as he was infatuated with his own regular features, fine presence and patrician hands. He was a voluptuary, revelling in sumptuous clothes, perfumes and jewelry, and intensely susceptible to beauty in all its forms. His court was crowded with lovely women and graceful youths. He would play with precious stones as though their contact gave him a sensuous delight, and watch with a fascinated gaze their prismatic sparkles as he let them trickle through his shapely fingers. He could not rest unless the gems lay under his pillow. He hoarded them secretly, and many years after his death caches would be accidentally discovered in the Vatican brimful of gorgeous jewels.

Paul II's idea of government was to give the people a perpetual round of amusements which, he said, kept them far more contented than any amount of improvements and good works. He introduced the carnival to the Romans, and considering the zest with which they adopted and clung to it through the ages, it was evidently a most judicious innovation exactly suited to their temperament. This Pope's death is shrouded in mystery. Some historians tell us that the weight of a jewelled tiara entirely encrusted with precious stones and for which he had paid a king's ransom, gave him an apoplectic fit the [p. 24] first time he wore it. Others say that he was strangled in the dead of night under most sordid circumstances. What the real mode of his end may have been it has never been definitely ascertained, which is perhaps just as well.

 Calixtus III  Pius II  Paul II  Sixtus IV  Innocent VIII  Alexander VI

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