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Conclave capitulation

A conclave capitulation is a special form of treaty drawn up by the College of Cardinals during a papal conclave to constrain the actions of the Pope elected by the conclave. Before balloting began, all cardinals present at the conclave would swear to be bound by its provisions if elected Pope. Capitulations were used by the College of Cardinals to assert its authority and limit papal supremacy, to "make the Church an oligarchy instead of a monarchy." Such capitulations were common in the 14th through 17th centuries.

The College had made informal attempts to influence the actions of Popes before drafting formal capitulations. The first capitulation was drafted in the conclave of 1352, which elected Pope Innocent VI, and most conclaves for the next 300 years produced similar documents.

In 1353, Innocent VI declared these first Capitulations invalid with his Apostolic Constitution, Sollicitudo, citing a Constitution of Pope Gregory X, Contingit, which prohibited papal conclaves from dealing with issues other than the election of a Pope. This papal response would be repeated for most future Capitulations, which were generally disregarded. For this reason, papal historian Frederic Baumgartner calls capitulations "an exercise in futility." Another papal historian, Van Dyke, surmises that by the election of Pope Sixtus IV (1471), "all the Popes for forty years had signed and promptly broken" the "Capitulation of the Conclave." Jugie considers the "regular recourse to capitulation" to be "above all, an admission of weakness." Despite their ineffectiveness, Capitulations still give an insight into the thinking of the Cardinals as they prepared to vote for a pope.

Although not the last Capitulations, that of the conclave of 1513 (which elected Pope Leo X) was a turning point for papal supremacy and attempts to control it through formal treaties; never again did the College attempt to limit its size through capitulations; although individual cardinals remained powerful, the College as a whole never regained its power as the "senate" of the Church.

Conclave year Pope elected Terms Notes
1352 Innocent VI College of Cardinals limited to 20; no new cardinals until only 16 remained
Two-thirds of College needed to approve creating, excommunicating, depriving of suffrage, or reducing the property or revenue of cardinals, or to request subsidies from sovereigns or national clergies
College granted veto power of papal decisions and policies
All papal revenue shared with College
First conclave capitulation
Declared invalid by Innocent VI in 1353
1431 Eugene IV Half of papal revenue was to be shared with the College of Cardinals
No major issues were to be decided without the consent of the College
Eugene IV issues a bull to put the capitulation into effect, but later withdrew it
Attempted to undo the reforms of Pope Martin V, which had deprived the College of control of church revenues
1458 Pius II Welfare for the poorer cardinals; and a crusade against the Ottoman Turks
1464 Paul II Continue the crusading war against the Turks
Leave Rome only with the consent of the majority of cardinals; Italy with the consent of all
College of Cardinals limited to 24
New Pope limited to one cardinal-nephew
Creation of cardinals or advancement of benefices required the consent of the College
Similar to 1431 and 1454 capitulations
Most of the three-day conclave was spent drafting the capitulation
Cardinal Trevisan did not subscribe
Paul II created three cardinal-nephews
1471 Sixtus IV Continue the crusading war against the Turks Fewer limitations on papal power
Frontrunner Cardinal Basilios Bessarion fell out of favor by rejecting the capitulation
1484 Innocent VIII Cardinals protected from secular rulers from retaliation related to the conclave
New Pope limited to one cardinal-nephew
College of Cardinals limited to 24
1492 Alexander VI Limits on the creation of new cardinals No other terms known
August–September 1503 Pius III Papal stipend of 2,400 ducats a year for cardinals with annual income less than 6,000 ducats
General council was to be held within two years, and every five years thereafter
College of Cardinals not limited to 24
October 1503 Julius II None Shortest conclave ever
1513 Leo X College of Cardinals limited to 24
Continue the crusading war against the Turks without taxing cardinals
Reformation of the Roman Curia along the unfinished terms of Julius II
Roman Curia was not to leave Rome
Two-thirds of College required to close the Lateran Council, to impeach or nominate a cardinal, nominate a legate a latere, to confer certain ecclesiastical offices (Julius II had excommunicated four cardinals)
Laity mostly excluded from governing of Papal States
Secret articles conferred benefits on cardinals:
200 ducat monthly allowance to a cardinal with annual income less than 6000
Cardinals could not be appointed legate without their consent
Benefices of St. Peter and St. John the Lateran could only be conferred on Roman citizens
Imperial Ambassador considered the capitulation unlikely to be followed as it would make the cardinal elected only "half a Pope"
Slightly unreliable copy found in diary of Paris de Grassis
Leo X's violation of the capitulation marked the end of attempts to limit the size of the College or authority of Popes through capitulations; College was transformed from a "senate" to a group of advisers
1522 Adrian VI Unknown Called "an exercise in futility as always" by Baumgartner
1549-1550 Julius III Similar to that of 1523 Ippolito II d'Este delayed negotiations on the capitulation for three days in an attempt to buy time for more French cardinals to reach the conclave
Drafted by six cardinals elected from the College
1559 Pius IV Pope prohibited from waging war on a Catholic prince (as Pope Paul IV had done with Spain)
Lateran Council was to be reconvened
1585 Sixtus V Continue the crusading war against the Turks, make peace with Catholic monarchs, complete the construction of St. Peters (which had been ongoing for seven decades) Little mention of privileges or number of cardinals
September 1590 Urban VII None known
1669-1670 Clement X Reform of the clergy, independence from secular rulers, restoration of adviserial role of cardinals
1676 Innocent XI Same as that of 1670 Unique in that Pope-elect made cardinals swear to the previous capitulation before accepting his election

  • Baumgartner, Frederic J. 2003. Behind Locked Doors: A History of the Papal Elections. Palgrave Macmillan. .
  • Levillain, Philippe, ed. 2002. The Papacy: An Encyclopedia. Routledge. .
  • Pastor, Ludwig. 1908. The History of the Popes. K. Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., Ltd.
  • Setton, Kenneth Meyer. 1984. The Papacy and the Levant, 1204-1571: The 13th & 14th Centuries. DIANE. .
  • Van Dyke, Paul. 1897. The Age of the Renascence. The Christian Literature Co.
  • Walsh, Michael. 2003. The Conclave: A Sometimes Secret and Occasionally Bloody History of Papal Elections. Rowman & Littlefield. .


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