May 20, 1277 —November 25 , 1277

John XXI (XX) was crowned on September 20 by Cardinal Giovanni Gaetano Orsini, the Cardinal Protodeacon. On October 7 or 17, he received the fealty of King Charles I for the Kingdom of Sicily (Moroni, 59 says October 17; the text quoted by Cristofori, 343-348 has the date of October 7). He died in Viterbo on May 20, 1277, allegedly because some construction work had fallen on him six days earlier, and was buried in San Lorenzo.

The conclave began in May, and, without the regulations of Gregory X, dragged all the way through the summer and into autumn (Chronicon de rebus in Italia gestis, p. 366; Annales Placentini in MGH 18, 569):

Eodem tempore maxima discordia erat inter cardinales Rom(a)e de electione pastoris in civitate Viterbii, et ibi sunt tantum VII cardinales: tres tenent unam viam scilicet dominus Johannes Gaytanus [Orsini], Jacobus de Sivello et Mattheus Rubeus [Orsini]; alii tres scilicet dominus Anserius [Pantaleoni], Symonus de Tursso et dominus Guillelmus cardinales tenent aliam viam.... Episcopus vero Sabinensis cardinalis tenet mediam viam nec declinat ad unam nec ad aliam.

The major background issue was whether the new pope would favor Charles of Anjou and his control over the city of Rome and Tuscany, or oppose him. Charles was certainly opposed to the Orsini.

The Electors

.At the time of Pope John's death, there were perhaps eight or nine cardinals, though some are not mentioned by the Chronicon:

There were, therefore, seven electors present at the Conclave in Viterbo:

  1. Bertrand de Saint Martin, born in Arles, Benedictine, Archbishop of Arles in 1266, Cardinal Bishop of Sabina in 1273. He participated as cardinal in the Second Council of Lyons (Sternfeld, 288).

  2. Ancherius Pantaleoni, nephew of Pope Urban IV, Cardinal (1261) priest of Santa Prassede   † November 1, 1286, according to his memorial inscription in Santa Prassede (P.Fedele, Archivio della Societa romanà di storia patria 27 (1904), 31).
  3. Guilelmus (Guillaume) de Bray (or Brie), diocese of Reims, Cardinal (1262-1282) priest of S. Marco †1282
  4. Godefridus (Geoffroy, Goffredo da Alatri in Lazio), Cardinal (1261-1287) Deacon of S. Giorgio in Velabro †1287 (cf. Sternfeld, 289 n.3).

  5. Ioannes (Giovanni Gaetano Orsini), Cardinal (1244-1277) Deacon of S. Niccolo in Carcere, elected Pope Nicholas III (1277-1280).
  6. Iacobus (Giacomo Savelli), Cardinal (1261-1285) Deacon of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, future Pope Honorius IV (1285-1287)
  7. Matteo Rosso Orsini, nephew of Gian Gaetano Orsini (elected Nicholas III), Cardinal (1262-1305) Deacon of Santa Maria in Portico †1305 The Orsini had turned to supporting the claims of Rudolf of Austria to be crowned Holy Roman Emperor (Sternfeld, 225-228).


Election of Nicholas III

According to the Chronicon de rebus in Italia gestis ( p. 367).

De mense novembris die jovis XXV novembris in civitate Viterbii cardinales in concordia invocato nomine Salvatoris eligerunt in Summum Pontificem dominum Johannem Gaytanum cardinalem et vocatum est nomen ejus Nicholaus tercius. Et cessavit apostulatus per sex menses et VI dies et in festo beati Stephani in urbe coronatus est per cardinales.

Cardinal Giovanni Gaetano Orsini, the son of the Roman nobleman Matteo Rosso Orsini and Perna Caetani, was elected on November 25, 1277, and took the name Nicholas III. This was a defeat for the French party in the Sacred College and in Italy. The papal throne had been vacant for six months and six days. Nicholas III was ordained priest on December 18, consecrated Bishop on December 19, and crowned on the Feast of St. Stephen, December 26, in Rome (Moroni, 48, 9).

New Cardinals

On March 12, 1278, less than three months after his coronation, the Pope created new cardinals, to diminish the French influence in the Sacred College:

  1. Latino Frangipani Malabranca, OP (Nicholas III's nephew by his sister Mabilia) Cardinal Bishop of Ostia and Velletri
  2. Erhard de Lessines (Lesigny), Cardinal Bishop of Palestrina.
  3. Bentivenga de Bentivergis, OFM, Cardinal Bishop of Albano
  4. Robert Kilwardby, OP, Archbishop of Canterbury, Cardinal Bishop of Porto and Santa Rufina
  5. Ordoño (Ordeonio) Álvarez, Cardinal Bishop of Tusculum (Frascati)

  6. Gerardo Bianchi, Cardinal Priest of Santi XII Apostoli, Cardinal Bishop of Sabina on April 12, 1281. d. 1302
  7. Girolamo Masci d' Ascoli, OFM, Cardinal Priest of Santa Pudenziana. Cardinal Bishop of Palestrina, April 12, 1281. d. 1292

  8. Giordano Orsini, brother of Pope Nicholas III, Cardinal Deacon of S. Eustachio. d. 1287.
  9. Giacomo Colonna, Cardinal Deacon of S. Maria in Via Lata (died August 14, 1318 in Avignon).
  10. Gerardo Cupalates, OFM (died 1279) (Cardella II, 12).

It may be noted that, although five new Cardinal Bishops are named on March 12, 1278, no new Cardinal Bishop is named to replace Bertrand de Saint Martin, whom some consider to have died before the conclave of May-November 1277, despite the evidence of the Chronicon de rebus in Italia gestis. Might it be that the Chronicon is correct, and that Bertrand was not dead?



Chronicon Placentinum et Chronicon de rebus in Italia gestis (edited by J.L.A. Huillard-Bréholles (Paris: Plon 1856).

Friedrich Baethgen, "Eine Pamphlet Karls I. von Anjou zur Wahl Papst Nikolaus III.," Sitzungsberichte der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Phil-historische Klasse (1960).

Lorenzo Cardella, Memorie storiche de' cardinali della Santa Romana Chiesa Tomo primo Parte secondo (Roma: Pagliarini 1792).  Ludovico Antonio Muratori, Annali d' Italia Volume 18 (Firenze 1827). Giuseppe de Novaes, Elementi per la storia de' Sommi Pontefici terza edizione Volume III (Roma 1821).   G. Moroni, Dizionario di erudizione storico-ecclesiastica Volume 48 (Venezia 1848) 9. Paul Durrieu, Étude sur les registres angevines du Roi Charles Ier Tome second (Paris 1888), 179-180.  F. Gregorovius, History of Rome in the Middle Ages, Volume V.2 second edition, revised (London: George Bell, 1906) 477-479. Augustin Demski, Papst Nikolaus III, Eine Monographie (Münster 1903) 34-37. Richard Sternfeld, Der Kardinal Johann Gaetan Orsini (Papst Nikolaus III.) 1244-1277 (Berlin: E. Ebering 1905) 287-300, who accepts the authority of the Annales Placentini and states that there were seven electors (pp. 288-289); he chooses, however, to substitute the name of Goffredo de Alatri for that of Simon of Santa Cecilia (289, n. 3). Robert Brentano, Rome Before Avignon: A social history of Thirteenth Century Rome (Los Angeles: University of California Press 1990).

On Simon de Brie and the Council of Bruges in September, 1276, see Carl Joseph von Hefele, Conciliengeschichte nach dem Quellen bearbeitet second edition Volume VI (Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder 1890) 176-177. Otto Posse, Analecta Vaticana (Oeniponti: Libraria Academica Wagneriana 1878).

Suspension of Gregory X's constitution on papal elections: Adrian V (Ottobono Fieschi) suspended the arrangements of Pope Gregory orally in a consistory: Giordano, quoted in Reynaldi, Annales Ecclesiasticae sub anno 1276. They were officially cancelled by the Bull Licet of Pope John XXI on September 30, 1276. A. Ceccaroni Il conclave (Roma 1901) 57.

November 7, 2010 7:07 PM

©John Paul Adams, CSUN

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