Why so few non-italian popes?


Forum Staff
Aug 2016
Can anyone confirm or deny a suspicion I have that prior to the 20th century, the senior Church officials, the men who met with the pope regularly and were therefore better placed to succeed him, would have to live within easy traveling distance of Rome and therefore were very likely to be Italians themselves.


Ad Honorem
Apr 2017
Las Vegas, NV USA
The last three Popes have been non-Italian. Perhaps this is a new trend.
Jun 2017
Can anyone confirm or deny a suspicion I have that prior to the 20th century, the senior Church officials, the men who met with the pope regularly and were therefore better placed to succeed him, would have to live within easy traveling distance of Rome and therefore were very likely to be Italians themselves.
This is a tough one made me do some research. I think working in the curia is a disadvantage unless you are that special someone who is liked by everyone(Pius and Leo were both rubberstamped the easiest, most candidates considered from the Curia do not have things go so smoothly, even if they win). The big movers and shakers of Church politics very rarely become Pope, it tends to be the Archbishop of some Italian city typically a handful of major ones but minor ones too. It does have to be remembered Italy wasn't a thing and I think the mentality had to have been more anti French or Spanish depending on the time than pro Italian and the outcome of course is just Italian cardinals. Technically lots of foreigners became Pope during those few hundred years(though yeah people from the Papal States have a huge advantage) we just don't necessarily see those countries like Tuscany and Naples as separate today.

Fascinating thing about the pre industrial travel era is that since it took such a long time for people to arrive, trying to finish the election before certain people who'd make your objective tougher arrived was the goal Not only was the veto a thing, any cardinal from a major power was thus a threat to use and kill someone's preferred candidate(metaphorically). Reading accounts of these(far less secretive) conclave are fascinating. So basically Pope dies, and the Kings are rushing their cardinals to Rome to vote and veto candidates they didn't want. Very choatic and a constant theme of reading summaries is "on this day there were this many people, and this day they were this many", different amounts of cardinals means a different threshold for winning. And while this is just inference I can see this being an incentive for Popes to nominate people closer to Rome so they could get their easier and cut down on the various schemes. But there were others like the fact the French had tried moving the Church to France when they got a few Popes in a row.

But the most ironic thing about this is the last non Italian pope elected also was the only Pope elected(it could be most recent too) who wasn't actually attending the Conclave(don't even think he was trying to come). And I know there was an adversity to electing people who didn't bother to show up, cause that conclave or next, Henry tried to get Wosley elected and they told him(you know the Henry VIII guy this was right at the time of Reformation) they wouldn't elected someone who wasn't there. But then they elected someone who wasn't there anyway(though the fact Wosley was trying to get the job makes it different I guess, Adrian was surprised). In that environment though I doubt being there, especially being active helped you because it just seems so fundamentally different. The accounts make the conclaves from that time feel more like the trading floor at Wall Street. They voted for everyone they were open to rather than just their favorite and you'd think that would make these things go easier but a lot of those conclaves lasted months, maybe even most of them cause no one wanted to give an inch. Far cry from today where the cardinals pretend they are being inspired by god to make their votes and don't play politics at all. That chirade certainly wasn't always there!

Also from researching this period you start to understand why the celibacy vow exists. I still don't agree with it, think they could have accomplished what they wanted by different means but I get it now why it's there, while before I just thought it was a stupid rule. Basically in these times you had a bunch of the same families and their friends fighting for position over centuries and centuries and it was becoming a bit of a chaotic mess and even a famous cardinal dies you see the same name pop up again. Did you know "Papal Nephew" was an actual literal position? They were far from the dignified reserved people we think of today, they were just feudal lords and these conclaves remind me of a political convention(back when they mattered) except with less people and in a palace. And it also makes you think in the sense the Papal States were just a religiously themed country, how wild it was Romans(and the cardinals tended to come from areas in the Papal States) would elect a foreigner to rule them in the first place? Remember in this era, the Pope isn't just getting to become ruler of a symbolic country, Papal States were pretty sizable. Maybe it has something to do with the land being given to them by France in the first place.
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Ad Honorem
Jul 2014
Lower Styria, Slovenia
Is it really that suprising that most bishops of Rome (that's what the pope is) were Italian?

Nowadays you had popes from outside Italy, all from very Catholic areas: Poland, Bavaria and South America. If it's a pattern, the next one will be a Croat ...


Ad Honorem
Dec 2014
@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.
Well, I was talking about Popes in general.. they has been Anti-Spanish... About Rome sack.. I agreee with you.. Spanish troops didn´t take part in sack but obeyed the orders.

Philip II had the power to take Rome and kidnapped the Pope.. but he didn´t... Philip III and Philip IV had the options.. but they didn´t.... why popes with France? Who evangelized Asia, America, Oceanie.. who?

Rome´s victory: The relations between the Catholic Empire (Spain) and the Popes in 17th Century. Reference
The greatest humiliated greatness and the the most exalted humility (the relations between Philip IV of Spain and the Pope Greogrius XIV) . Reference.

It was so easy for Tercios to take Rome... to kill the Pope and crown a Spaniard at the head of the papacy! but they never did... the Catholic King never authorized a "coup de Force" in Rome! Nobody had more patience than the Spanish Habsburg with the Popes!!!! What´s would it happened to the Catholic Religion if the King of Spain decided to built his own Religion as the British kings!!!!! What about California, Texas, Argentina, Philippines, Guinea, Mexico, Brazil, .. Low Countries etc etc...Anglicanism and Hispanism (the King as the Head of the Religion far from Rome authority!!!)...

Those ungrateful Popes owe everything to Spain