Why so few non-italian popes?

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
26,607
Italy, Lago Maggiore
#51
To enlarge the discussion, I would underline that it's not only about Rome and the rest of the world, but about Europe and the rest of the world, in fact the list of the Roman Popes shows ...

253 Europeans popes [217 from Italian lands, 15 from French lands, 7 from German lands ...]

9 Asian popes

3 African popes

1 American pope [the present one]

We are still waiting to see an Australian pope ...
 
Jan 2017
60
Italy, EU
#52
For the same reason why Holy Roman Emperors were Austrians/Germans.

The Pope is Bishop of Rome and Primate of Italy, so naturally Italian states and families fought for the control of the papacy and had more chances to get the Pope.

Sort of like the Holy Roman Emperor was to be elected first King in Germany and therefore the various German princes were the ones to call the shots.

Popes and Holy Roman Emperors were "univeral powers" when it came to "soft power". When it came to "hard power' they were an Italian and Austro-German power respectively.
 

martin76

Ad Honorem
Dec 2014
6,500
Spain
#53
Well, among the most Catholic countries there are also Spain and Portugal to record not a great number of Popes [1 for Spain and 1 for Portugal].

France and Greece are the dominating lands [leaving Italian lands a part: about the 80% of Popes have come from Italian lands].

You are right... Now I am reading a book how the Pope always was anti-Spanish although Spanish is the language spoken by the 60% Catholic on Earth and Spain evangilized America and Asia and Micronesia... but Pope always treated us with contempt...Charles I gave them a lesson.. but he was the only Catholic King... Philip II never tried nothing against them... House of Habsburg was always so tolerant!
 
Jan 2017
60
Italy, EU
#54
@martin76, I guess you are talking about Pope Alexander VI from Valencia. He was kind of anti-spanish because he sided with France in times of war and thought that such an alliance could have benefited his own family (Cesare Borgia was made Duke by Louis XII and worked to create his own state in Italy). But it's also true that he negotiated the Treaty of Tordesillas between Portugal and Isabella of castile, altough its ratification was delayed in Rome until Julius II because of the contrasts with the spanish crowns.

Regarding Charles V, his contrast with the Pope derived from his position as Holy Roman Emperor (and the HRE vs Pope was a contrast dating back to middle ages) rather than his position as King in Spain. And the troops that sacked Rome were mostly German protestants who did so in defiance of his orders, it's not that Charles V directly wanted it (altough he possibly tried to make the Pope his prisoner after that and his apologies were not very sincere).

Philip II of Spain might have wanted to attack Rome at one point but decided to make peace with the Pope, but to be fair he had problems with France and the Netherlands.
 
Likes: martin76
Jan 2017
60
Italy, EU
#56
Germany has both catholics (yellow) and protestants (purple). The area was divided along the religious lines of the princes with the Peace of Augsburg (1555) and the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). In some areas the Papal counter-reformation succedeed in pushing back Lutheranism. 800px-Konfessionen_Deutschland_Zensus_2011.png
 
Mar 2018
282
United States Of America
#57
Germany has both catholics (yellow) and protestants (purple). The area was divided along the religious lines of the princes with the Peace of Augsburg (1555) and the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). In some areas the Papal counter-reformation succedeed in pushing back Lutheranism. View attachment 21121
Okay. Wasn't Anna Of Cleves Catholic?
 
Jun 2017
2,891
Connecticut
#58
What are the explanations that there have been so few non-italian popes. For example my country (the Netherlands) and England have only had 1 pope both, Spain only 2, Germany, Poland and Portugal not that many more. The only countries with a reasonable amount of popes outside Italy are Syria, France and Greece. Especially in early modern history there have been almost no non-italian popes. If I recall correctly the Italians did not have a majority of the Cardinals in the curia alone, or did they?

Do any of you have good explanations for this?
Find Papal History fascinating. Have a detailed explanation!

For most of modern history Italy had a majority often more than that in the college of cardinals. The Curia are not the entire college of cardinals, they are basically the equivalent to US cabinet secretaries, they get elected sometimes but usually not. Anyhow there's a LOT of answers to your question. Was going to do a paragraph decided to list instead
- Italian popes means they appoint Cardinals and you need 2/3's of the votes to elect someone and the largest bloc can block someone from another country.

-Given how Italy was a bunch of large city states for most of the Church's history, the Church also didn't have a shortage of archbishops they could make Cardinals.

-Unless they were in the curia foreign cardinals often had a hard time making it to the Conclave prior to the invention of the train(and for non Europeans the airplane). If they aren't in the curia that means they are the archbishop of the place they are from and that means they likely won't be present in time, nor in tune with Roman politics.

-The college of cardinals used to be much smaller for example in the 19th century there were about 49 people making this decision, last century that number exploded as popes starting making more cardinals in more places which in turn led to non Italian popes. It was usually less than 50 people making these decisions, easier for the largest bloc to dominate.

-The fact the traditional second largest bloc the French had moved the Church to France(Avagnon) for about 150 years when they'd acquired the Papacy in the 1300s which led to their being the "Great Schism" with two churches.

-Besides the French there weren't any blocs that could hope to compete with the Italians. Also the Reformation happened around the period you are referencing, turning many countries in Europe Protestant. Hard to imagine another pope from the Netherlands after they went Protestant for example(the Reformation happened exactly during Adrian's reign). You have sort of the same sentiment with today's number 2 delegation, the US and I think neither the Italians(who are the largest but no longer large enough to ensure one of their candidates wins even if they were to have that agenda).

-Traditionally there was a "veto" system where a monarch of a Catholic great power could veto a choice. Italy wasn't a great power and an Italian candidate wouldn't be vetoed at least not for being Italian. Rampolia an Italian was vetoed by Franz Joseph for other reasons(and the anger over that along with the end of most monarchy's ended the practice), but I could imagine this would be a deterrent from electing a French or Austrian person.

-Also just coincidence. There were non Italians who had a serious chance of being elected Pope prior to John Paul II who just for whatever reason weren't as plenty of Italians aren't. Most notable modern case is Del Val a Spainard from the UK, who was Secretary of State, historically the second most important position in the Church. He was the conservative favorite(given the nature of the election it is very hard to affirm the results specifically but the general jist of the election such as who were the top contenders usually gets out via several sources) but as is often the case the most polarizing church politicans do not have the votes especially following the papacy of someone from the opposing faction who appoints like minded cardinals. The second case is in 1958 when Agangianian the Armenian Patriach(who seemed to check all the boxes, worked in the Curia, was likeable to all sides had helped rebuild the Armenian community after the genocide etc) was considered. Leaked ballots suggest he wasn't close to winning though the ballots say he was second until the fourth ballot where support for John XXIII started to grow. The ballots say he wasn't close but we don't know the conversations that were had. We also don't know for sure the ballots are accurate cause they are leaks and either a cardinal could just have been doing a practical joke or they might have not remembered the details as they would be recounting this by memory if they later wrote it down.


Interestingly since 1978 and the breaking of the Italian monopoly an Italian cardinal has not come close to winning. This is despite the arguable front runners in both conclaves having been Italian and both did well on the first round then flamed out once it was realized they could not win. As the percentage of Italian cardinals dips lower and lower I think it's very likely we could go several centuries without an Italian cardinal unless there's a specific person that can inspire a 2/3's vote.
 

MAGolding

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
2,843
Chalfont, Pennsylvania
#60
Find Papal History fascinating. Have a detailed explanation!

For most of modern history Italy had a majority often more than that in the college of cardinals. The Curia are not the entire college of cardinals, they are basically the equivalent to US cabinet secretaries, they get elected sometimes but usually not. Anyhow there's a LOT of answers to your question. Was going to do a paragraph decided to list instead
- Italian popes means they appoint Cardinals and you need 2/3's of the votes to elect someone and the largest bloc can block someone from another country.

-Given how Italy was a bunch of large city states for most of the Church's history, the Church also didn't have a shortage of archbishops they could make Cardinals.

-Unless they were in the curia foreign cardinals often had a hard time making it to the Conclave prior to the invention of the train(and for non Europeans the airplane). If they aren't in the curia that means they are the archbishop of the place they are from and that means they likely won't be present in time, nor in tune with Roman politics.

-The college of cardinals used to be much smaller for example in the 19th century there were about 49 people making this decision, last century that number exploded as popes starting making more cardinals in more places which in turn led to non Italian popes. It was usually less than 50 people making these decisions, easier for the largest bloc to dominate.

-The fact the traditional second largest bloc the French had moved the Church to France(Avagnon) for about 150 years when they'd acquired the Papacy in the 1300s which led to their being the "Great Schism" with two churches.

-Besides the French there weren't any blocs that could hope to compete with the Italians. Also the Reformation happened around the period you are referencing, turning many countries in Europe Protestant. Hard to imagine another pope from the Netherlands after they went Protestant for example(the Reformation happened exactly during Adrian's reign). You have sort of the same sentiment with today's number 2 delegation, the US and I think neither the Italians(who are the largest but no longer large enough to ensure one of their candidates wins even if they were to have that agenda).

-Traditionally there was a "veto" system where a monarch of a Catholic great power could veto a choice. Italy wasn't a great power and an Italian candidate wouldn't be vetoed at least not for being Italian. Rampolia an Italian was vetoed by Franz Joseph for other reasons(and the anger over that along with the end of most monarchy's ended the practice), but I could imagine this would be a deterrent from electing a French or Austrian person.

-Also just coincidence. There were non Italians who had a serious chance of being elected Pope prior to John Paul II who just for whatever reason weren't as plenty of Italians aren't. Most notable modern case is Del Val a Spainard from the UK, who was Secretary of State, historically the second most important position in the Church. He was the conservative favorite(given the nature of the election it is very hard to affirm the results specifically but the general jist of the election such as who were the top contenders usually gets out via several sources) but as is often the case the most polarizing church politicans do not have the votes especially following the papacy of someone from the opposing faction who appoints like minded cardinals. The second case is in 1958 when Agangianian the Armenian Patriach(who seemed to check all the boxes, worked in the Curia, was likeable to all sides had helped rebuild the Armenian community after the genocide etc) was considered. Leaked ballots suggest he wasn't close to winning though the ballots say he was second until the fourth ballot where support for John XXIII started to grow. The ballots say he wasn't close but we don't know the conversations that were had. We also don't know for sure the ballots are accurate cause they are leaks and either a cardinal could just have been doing a practical joke or they might have not remembered the details as they would be recounting this by memory if they later wrote it down.


Interestingly since 1978 and the breaking of the Italian monopoly an Italian cardinal has not come close to winning. This is despite the arguable front runners in both conclaves having been Italian and both did well on the first round then flamed out once it was realized they could not win. As the percentage of Italian cardinals dips lower and lower I think it's very likely we could go several centuries without an Italian cardinal unless there's a specific person that can inspire a 2/3's vote.

As far as I can tell the College of Cardinals has only existed for about 1,200 years, and the cardinals didn't become the electors of the Pope until about 1050 or 1100. Previous popes were elected by all the clergy and sometimes also all the laity of Rome.
 

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