A medieval manuscript from Krakow shows
a pope surrounded by members of his court, or
in Latin, his Curia
The Emperors were not happy with losing their right of nomination and, in fact, it was only in 1122 at the Council of Worms that they conceded the loss of that right. As late as 1903 in the election that produced Pope Saint Pius X the Emperor (by then of Austria—the Holy Roman Empire having been terminated in 1806 when Francis I of Austria abdicated the throne of the Holy Roman Empire (where he had been Francis II) following defeat by Napoleon and loss of territories to France) Franz-Josef vetoed the impending election of Cardinal Mariano Rampolla. Pius abolished the imperial right of veto as one of the first acts of his pontificate. We will look more at this problem of Imperial interference in papal elections in our next posting. For now, let’s go back to the election process.
The right of the Roman people to “acclaim” the election persisted well into the Middle Ages but it gradually ceased to have any determinative role in determining the legitimacy of the papal selection. The fact that in the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries any number of papal elections were held outside Rome whether at Perugia, Viterbo, Naples, or Avignon and that automatically excluded the Roman crowd from participation. Nevertheless, remember that when the papacy returned to Rome after the Avignon “Babylonian Captivity” in 1378 it was still deemed necessary to present a candidate acceptable to the Roman Populace. By a century later that would no longer be any concern and the Roman populace was openly hostile to various popes in the sixteenth century.
The custom of the conclave began in the thirteenth century when, on occasion, prolonged meetings of the Cardinals failed to produce a candidate due to internal divisions among the electors. Sometimes the papal office was left empty for over a year! Upon the death of Innocent III in 1216 the city of Perugia—where the election was being held—blockaded the cardinals into the bishop’s palace until they came up with a pope. After the death of Celestine IV in 1241, civil officials in Rome did the same to the cardinal electors when after 19 months they had not made a choice. Clement IV died in 1268 and two years and ten months passed before the Cardinals came up with a pope. The citizens of Viterbo not only barricaded the cardinals inside but first tore the roof from the building and then permitted only bread and water to be passed to the electors within. The pope elected at that conclave, Gregory X, established the norm that the Cardinals would be secluded under relatively austere conditions until an election was forthcoming. It didn’t always work but that is for future postings.
The key point we want to observe is that the Church broke the imperial hold on the selection of popes. This was an important step in freeing the papacy from political power. At times, it would find itself again beneath the thumb of some emperor or king but for the most part, the pope has played at least as an equal to the political forces in the world around him. the next task would be to free the bishops from imperial and royal control.