SEDE VACANTE 1799-1800

(August 29,1799 — March 14, 1800)

Cardinal Braschi-Onesti, portrait
Cardinal Braschi-Onesti

Hyacinth Cardinal Gerdil, portraitCardinal Maury, the French king's agentCardinal Herzan, the Imperial representative
Cardinal Gerdil                             Cardinal Maury                             Cardinal Herzan


Pius VI in Exile

The Certosa at Florence In March, 1799, Pope Pius VI (Braschi), who had been deposed as ruler of the Papal States (which had been organized into the Roman Republic by the French) was living in retirement in the Carthusian Monastery at Florence (the Foresteria of the Certosa at Galluzzo, built by Boccacio's friend, Niccolò Acciaiuoli, right). He was without most of his attendants, though Msgr. Ercole Consalvi had made his way there. The French intended to exile the Pope to the island of Sardinia, along with the royal family of Savoy, whom they had also deposed. Plans to rescue the Pope provoked the French authorities to order his deportation to France. They had declared war on Tuscany, and a French army entered Florence on March 25, 1799. On March 28, the Pope was removed, first to Turin and then to Briançon, and finally to Valence (July 13, 1799). No cardinals were permitted to accompany him. He died in Valence on August 29, a prisoner of the Directory. The Neapolitans took advantage of the fact, and the removal of Austrian troops to the Po Valley, and occupied Rome on September 30. While living in Florence, Pius had considered the problem of electing a successor while Rome was in the hands of his enemies. But when the Pope died, there was no Camerlengo in office. Carlo Cardinal Rezzonico, the incumbent, had died on January 26, 1799, and Pius VI had not appointed a successor.

Pius VI, however, had made plans.   In an ordinance issued on November 13, 1798 [ Quum Nos, superiore anno ], the Pope specified that the city where the largest number of cardinals was to be found at the time of his death was to be the scene of the subsequent election. That city was not Rome. Some cardinals, including the Dean of the Sacred College, Cardinal Albani, had made for Naples, hoping to be free both of Austrian and French influence. Also in flight to Naples were Cardinals Busca, Flangini, Carafa, and Pignatelli (Baldassari, 296-297). But when a democratic revolution there forced the King to retire to Sicily, the idea of a conclave in the Parthenopean Republic (January 23—June 17, 1799) became impossible, and when a counter-revolution brought the King back and turned the country over to an orgy of vengeance, presided over by Dionigio Cardinal Ruffo, the idea became distasteful (See: Cipolletta, 17-25; Cartwright, 90-91). The cardinals actually asked Pius VI by letter his view of a conclave being held in Naples, and he replied with a negative. The situation was so grave, however, that the Pope dispensed the Cardinals from virtually all of the canonical rules for conducting a Sede Vacante. He even suspended the rule that Cardinals should not discuss the election of a new pope in the lifetime of a current pope (a rule that went back to Pope Symmachus in 499 A.D.):

Quum autem intelligamus quoque plurimum ac celeritatem electionis collaturum, si Cardinales ante obitum Nostrum consilia ineant inter se, deliberentque quaenam expeditior ratio qua et ea fieri quae a Nobis constituta sunt, et futuri Pontificis electio mature ac celeriter haberi possit, quumque apostolicae constitutiones gravissimis censuris eos affectos velint qui, vivente et inconsulto Pontifice, de successore eius eligendo sermones habere ac deliberare audent, ut in constitutione praesertim Pauli IV Quum secundum. [Bullarium Romanum (Turin edition) 6, p. 545]

Flight of the Cardinals

Henry Stewart, Cardinal York, was one of those who had fled to Naples in February, 1798, ahead of the French invasion, and he stayed there for ten months. By July, 1798, a total of eleven cardinals had sought refuge in Neapolitan territory. On December 21, 1798, two days ahead of the Royal Family, Cardinal York fled Naples for Messina, a trip which took twenty-three days due to storms. He was met by Cardinals Pignatelli, Braschi and Doria. (Vaughan, 222-227). After six weeks in Messina, the cardinals set out for Venice, finally reaching safe harbor at the beginning of the summer of 1799.

Another path to the Conclave can be seen in the experience of Stefano Cardinal Borgia. In the unrest in Rome after the death of General Duphot and before the Occupation by the French (1797-1798), Pius VI having entrusted the security of the City to Cardinal Borgia, left Rome on February 20, 1798. On March 8, Borgia and five other cardinals (Antonelli, Doria Pamphilij, Roverella, Della Somaglia and Carandini) were arrested (Sala I, 89-91). They were temporarily incarcerated in the Monastero delle Convertite on the Corso, along with Monsignori Carlo Crivelli (Governor of Rome), Giustiniani (Governor of Perugia), Altieri (Auditor of the Rota), Sperandini (Commissari of the Apostolic Chamber), and Vergeni (Assessor of Finances). Two days later the cardinals were conveyed to Civitavecchia, where they were interned in the Dominican house there. On the 28th, the confinement was relaxed, and it was pointedly suggested to Borgia that he should leave the former Papal States. He made his way by sea to Livorno, where, with the aid of some friends and some Danish merchants, he was able to travel to Florence. He wanted to stay at Cortona, but the Tuscan government refused him permission. From Florence, therefore, he made his way to Bologna, then Ferrara, and finally Rovigo, where he came under the protection of the Austrian occupation forces. In Venice. it was from another Dane, Frederik Munster, whom he had known in Rome, that Cardinal Borgia received welcome and aid. He finally took up residence in Padua, thanks to the generosity of Msgr. Arnaldo Speroni degli Alvaroni, OSB Cas., Bishop of Adria, where, through the latter part of 1798 and all of 1799, he attempted to set up a reconstituted Congregation de propaganda fide and carry on his assignment as pro-Prefect. (Baraldi, 34-39).

As of March 8, 1798, therefore, there were only seven cardinals left in Rome: Rezzonico, Valenti, Gerdil, Archinto, Livizzani, Antici and Altieri (Baldassari, 297-298; Sala I, 90-91). Antici and Altieri abandoned the cardinalate. Gerdil, after another pointed suggestion from the French, retired to Turin. Archinto was advised to retire to Milan. Livizzani left Rome on March 12 for his native Modena. Valenti Gonzaga retired to San Donnino in Savoy, where he was reunited briefly with Pius VI as he was being transferred from Parma to Turin. The same favor was not granted by the French guard to Cardinal Gerdil as Pius passed his retreat in Savoy. On March 9, St. Peter's Basilica was despoiled by French agents of its gold and silver. The objects were taken to the Mint, where they were melted down and minted into 8 million coins (Sala I, 92).

Cardinals Zelada, Lorenzana and Caprara also fled into Tuscany after the arrest of the Pope. Caprara found refuge in Bologna, the others in Florence.

Monastery of S. Giorgio, Venice After some considerable negotiation (carried on by the Nuncio in Vienna, Giuseppe Ruffo de Scilla, and the Ablegate, Giuseppe Albani). the Benedictine monastery of S. Giorgio in Venice was made available to Cardinal Gianfrancesco Albani, Dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals, through the good offices of the Emperor Francis II in Vienna. He also agreed to finance the Conclave and guarantee its safety. Austria was at the time in possession of Venice and much of the Po Valley. Indeed, Austria held some of the territories of the Papal States, the "Three Legations", and was eager to have a pope who would not disturb their illegal occupation. Imperial generosity, therefore, was not entirely disinterested. The Court at Vienna let it be known that it would not favor Cardinals Busca, Caprara, Doria, Flangini, Gerdil (as too old), or York. This list was no secret; it was known to Lord Acton, the Neapolitan prime minister, before the Conclave ever got down to serious business (Cipolletta, 26-36).  This was not the exercise of the Veto, but an instance of taking maximum advantage of a favorable situation.  The result, however, was the same.  Cardinals not subservient to Vienna would not be welcome as papabili.



The College of Cardinals in 1799

A list of the living cardinals is given by Giovanni Berthelet (pp. 12-13):

Cardinals attending:

  1. Gianfrancesco Albani (aged 79), Suburbicarian Bishop of Ostia e Velletri. Dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals (died September 15, 1803).
  2. Henry Benedict Mary Clement Stuart (aged 74), Suburbicarian Bishop of Frascati (died July 13, 1807). Vice-Chancellor "Cardinal York"
  3. Leonardo Antonelli (60), Suburbicarian Bishop of Palestrina (died January 23, 1811).
  4. Luigi Valenti Gonzaga (aged 74), Suburbicarian Bishop of Albano (died December 29, 1808).

  5. Francesco Carafa della Spina di Traietto (77), Cardinal Priest of S. Lorenzo in Lucina (died September 20, 1818) .
  6. Francesco Saverio de Zelada (aged 82), Cardinal Priest of S. Prassede (died December 19, 1801) .
  7. Guido Calcagnini (aged 74), Cardinal Priest of S. Maria in Traspontina (died August 27, 1807). Bishop of Osimo.
  8. Bernardino Honorati (aged 75), Cardinal Priest of Ss. Marcellino e Pietro (died August 12, 1807). Bishop of Senigallia.
  9. Andrea Gioannetti (aged 77), Cardinal Priest of S. Pudenziana (died April 8, 1800) Archbishop of Bologna.
  10. Hyacinthe Sigismond Gerdil, CRSP (aged 81), Cardinal Priest of S. Cecilia (died August 12, 1802).
  11. Carlo Giuseppe Filippo di Martiniana (aged 75), Cardinal Priest of S. Callisto (died December 7, 1802). Bishop of Vercelli.
  12. František de Paula Hrzán z Harras (aged 44), Cardinal-Priest of S. Croce in Gerusalemme (died June 1, 1804).
  13. Alessandro Mattei (aged 54), Cardinal Priest of S. Maria in Ara Coeli (died April 20, 1820).
  14. Gianandrea Archetti (aged 68), Cardinal Priest of S. Eusebio (died November 5, 1805). Archbishop-Bishop of Ascoli.
  15. Giuseppe Maria Doria-Pamphilj (aged 48), Cardinal Priest of S. Pietro in Vincoli (died February 10, 1816) .
  16. Gregorio Barnaba Chiaramonti, OSB (aged 57), Cardinal Priest of S. Callisto (died August 20, 1823). Bishop of Imola.
  17. Carlo Bellisomi (aged 63), Cardinal Priest of S. Maria della Pace (died August 9, 1808). Archbishop-Bishop of Cesena. Doctor in utroque iure, Pavia
  18. Francisco Antonio de Lorenzana (aged 77), Cardinal Priest of SS. XII Apostoli (died April 17, 1804). Archbishop of Toledo Doctor in utroque iure, Avila
  19. Ignazio Busca (aged 68), Cardinal Priest of S. Maria degli Angeli (died August 12, 1803). Doctor in utroque iure, Rome (La Sapienza)
  20. Stefano Borgia (aged 68), Cardinal Priest of S. Clemente (died November 23, 1804) .
  21. Giambattista Caprara (66), Cardinal Priest of S. Onofrio (died June 21, 1810).
  22. Antonio Dugnani (aged 51), Cardinal Priest of S. Giovanni a Porta Latina (died October 17, 1818). Doctor in utroque iure, Pavia
  23. Ippolito Vicenti-Mareri (aged 61), Cardinal Priest of Ss. Nereo ed Achilleo (died March 21, 1811). Doctor in utroque iure, Rome (La Sapienza)
  24. Jean-Siffrein Maury (53), Cardinal Priest of Santissima Trinità al Monte Pincio (died May 10, 1817).
  25. Giambattista Bussi de Pretis (aged 78), Cardinal Priest of S. Lorenzo in Panisperna (died June 27, 1800). Bishop of Jesi. Doctor in utroque iure, Urbino.
  26. Francesco Maria Pignatelli (aged 55), Cardinal Priest of S. Maria del Popolo (died August 14, 1815).
  27. Aurelio Roverella (aged 51), Cardinal Priest of Ss. Giovanni e Paolo (died September 6, 1812) .
  28. Giulio Maria della Somaglia (aged 55), Cardinal Priest of S. Sabina (died April 2, 1830). Doctor in utroque iure, Rome (La Sapienza) Vicar-General of Rome (1795-1818).

  29. Antonmaria Doria-Pamphilj (aged 50), Cardinal Deacon of S. Maria ad Martyres (died January 31, 1821). Cardinal Protodeacon. Doctor in utroque iure, Rome (La Sapienza)
  30. Romualdo Braschi-Onesti (aged 46), Cardinal Deacon of S. Nicola in Carcere (died April 30, 1817). Grand Prior of the Sovereign Order of Malta in Rome
  31. Filippo Carandini (aged 70), Cardinal Deacon of S. Eustachio (died August 28, 1810) .
  32. Ludovico Flangini Giovanelli (aged 66), Cardinal Deacon of S. Agata alla Suburra (died February 29, 1804).
  33. Fabrizio Dionigi Ruffo (aged 55), Cardinal Deacon of S. Angelo in Pescheria (died December 13, 1827).
  34. Giovanni Rinuccini (aged 56), Cardinal Deacon of S. Giorgio in Velabro (died December 28, 1801).

Cardinals not attending:

  1. Christoph Anton von Migazzi von Waal und Sonnenthurn (aged 85), Cardinal Priest of SS. Quattro Coronati (died April 14, 1803) Archbishop of Vienna
  2. Dominique de La Rochefoucald (87), Cardinal Priest without titulus (died September 23, 1800). Archbishop of Rouen
  3. Johann Heinrich von Frankenberg (aged 73), Cardinal Priest without titulus (died June 11, 1804). Archbishop of Mechlin
  4. Louis-René-Eduard de Rohan-Guéménée (aged 65), Cardinal Priest without titulus (died February 16, 1803). Archbishop of Strasbourg.
  5. Giuseppe Maria Capece Zurlo (aged 88), Theat., Cardinal Priest of S. Bernardo alle Terme (died December 31, 1801). Archbishop of Naples.
  6. Vicenzo Ranuzzi (aged 73), Cardinal Priest of S. Maria sopra Minerva (died October 27, 1800). Bishop of Ancona e Numana
  7. Muzio Gallo (aged 78), Cardinal Priest of S. Anastasia (died December 13, 1801). Bishop of Viterbo.
  8. Carlo Livizzani Forni (aged 77), Cardinal Priest of S. Silvestro in Capite (died July 1, 1802) .
  9. José Francisco de Mendoça (aged 74), Cardinal Priest without titulus (died February 11, 1808). Patriarch of Lisbon, Portugal.
  10. Antonio de Sentmenat y Castella (aged 65), Cardinal Priest without titulus (died April 14, 1806). Patriarch of the Western Indies. Doctor of Canon Law
  11. Louis-Joseph de Laval-Montmorency (aged 75), Cardinal Priest without titulus (died June 17, 1808). in exile, in Altona

Some Cardinals: October

One cardinal, Jozsef Cardinal von Batthyáni died in Pressburg on September 22, 1799, at the start of the Sede Vacante.

Monsignor Ercole Consalvi was already in Venice on October 8, when, under the direction of Cardinal Albani, he wrote a letter as pro-Secretary of the Sacred College to the Emperor Paul II of Russia. On October 19, 1799, Romualdo Cardinal Braschi-Onesti assumed the functions of the Camerlengo during the Sede Vacante, being the late pope's nephew (He was not, however, appointed Camerlengo until after the Conclave, when Pius VII issued an Apostolic Brief of appointment on October 30, 1800). The Papal Master of Ceremonies at the beginning of the Conclave was Msgr. Giuseppe Dini, but regrettably he died on November 2, 1799 (Moroni, 41, 180). His successor was Msgr. Giovanni Domenico Pacini. The traditional novendiales were held for the dead pope. Each Cardinal was summoned by the Dean of the Sacred College, Cardinal Albani, to the opening Mass on October 23 (Analecta Iuris Pontificii 1160):

Du Patriarcat, 22 octobre, 1799. Le cardinal-doyen a l' honneur d' annoncer à V(ôtre) E(minence) que, demain mercredi courant, on commencera les novendiales pour les obsèques de Pie VI, de sainte mémoire. V. E. voudra donc bien se rendre, demain matin, dans l'appartement patriarcal, 2 heures et demie avant midi, pour descendre ensuite en chappe, dans l'eglise pour lal fonction. Et, en attendant, le cardinal écrivant baise homblement les mains à V. E. avec le plus profond respect.

The ceremonies concluded on October 31. Cardinal Maury (the only French cardinal at the conclave) wrote to Louis XVIII on October 26, 1799 that there was a radical party ("le parti des Jacobins") forming among the cardinals; he names Cardinals Zelada, Caprara, the two Dorias, Roverella, Vincenti, Dugnani and Rinuccini.

There were also two ex-Cardinals alive at the time of the Conclave, Vincenzo Maria Altieri (aged 75) and Tommaso Antici (aged 68; died 1812). In March 1798, flushed with enthusiasm for the new Roman Republic, Cardinal Altieri wrote to Pope Pius VI expressing a desire to resign from his Cardinalate on the grounds of advancing age, failing mental powers, and "ill health". Pius sent him a letter, asking him not to set a bad example by his faint-heartedness, but before the letter reached the Cardinal, Altieri sent another letter to the Pope containing an absolute renunciation of his Cardinalate (March 12, 1798). Cardinal Antici had also submitted a renunciation to the Pope, on March 6, ob assiduam corporis invaletudinem. Pius refused to consider either resignation, and advised them to consider the consequences in terms of their right to vote in the next Conclave. On September 7, 1798, Pope Pius issued two briefs, acknowledging their resignations (statuerimus abdicationem nunc a nobis esse admittendum) and stripping the two cardinals of all their rights and privileges, including the right to vote in the next Conclave (ac praesertim vocis activae et passivae in electione Summi Pontificis vere spoliatum). On February 8, 1800, when the Conclave was under way, Altieri sent a letter to the Dean of the College of Cardinals, retracting his renunciation (Baldassari, 584-585). This might have caused considerable complications, but Altieri died two days later, on February 10. Ex-Cardinal Antici made no such attempt in 1799-1800 (Cartwright, 141-143; Baldassari, 295-308)

At Venice: November

By November 2, 1799, there were thirty-three cardinals assembled in Venice (Maury, letter to Louis XVIII of November 2; p. 248). Maury believed that they were dividing up into two factions, one supporting the seventy-eight year-old Cardinal Giovanni Andrea Archetti, a successful papal diplomat in Poland and Russia; and the other favoring Giacinto Cardinal Gerdil, though he was already eighty-two years old (see also Maury's letter of November 16, p. 254). The voting indicates that Maury was quite wrong about the strength of these early favorites. Gerdil reached his maximum of fourteen votes on the morning of December 19, and quickly faded from favor; Archetti never had more than two votes. Maury reports as heresay that the Spanish were secretly supporting the candidacy of the seventy-eight year-old Andrea Cardinal Giovanetti, Archbishop of Bologna. There were forty-five cardinals at the time of Pope Pius VI's death, but due to the difficulties of the times only thirty-five were able to assemble in Venice for the Conclave (Maury, writing on the eve of the opening, p. 260-261). The ceremonies began on November 30, 1799.   On December 1, Cardinal Albani, the Dean of the College of Cardinals, pronounced an oration pro electione futuri summi pontificis in the Conclave chapel at the Monastery of S. Giorgio major.

Also unable to reach Venice was the secretary of the College of Cardinals and Secretary of the Consistorial Congregation, Msgr. Pietro Maria Negroni (detained in Rome due to the revolution that brought into being the First Roman Republic, the Austrian occupation, and then the Neapolitan occupation), who would have served as Secretary of the Conclave. In his place, a pro-Secretary was elected by the cardinals, Msgr. Ercole Consalvi, Auditor of the Sacred Roman Rota and Protonotary Apostolic, a protege of Henry Stuart, Cardinal York. Consalvi had also been Auditor, and the only cleric, at the new Military Congregation, (Fischer, 20), presided over by the Commanding General of the Papal Army. The Dean of the Sacred College, Giovanni Francesco Cardinal Albani, presided at the Conclave. Prince Chigi was the Marshal of the Holy Roman Church. Msgr. Marino Carafa di Belvedere was the Majordomo of His Holiness and Governor of the conclave; he had followed Pius VI to Florence and to France..

Beginning: December

The Austrian representative, Cardinal Franz von Herzan finally entered the Conclave on December 14. He brought with him instructions from the Austrian court, issued on November 26 [Parsons, 7-8]

Secret instructions in reference to the future pontifical election, given to His Eminence the Father in God, Francis S.R.E. Cardinal Herzan, Count de Harras of the Holy Roman Empire, Grand-Cross of the Royal Hungarian Order of St. Stephen, Our Active Privy Councillor and Bishop-Elect of Stein (Szombathely).... We oppose most seriously the election of any cardinal from the dominions of Spain, Sardinia, Naples, or Genoa; or of any cardinal who has given proofs of devotion to the interests of any one of the three crowns here mentioned.... We extend our exception to all cardinals of French origin, and to all those who have shown any disposition to espouse the cause of France.... In a most special manner we formally and absolutely exclude the cardinals Gerdil, Caprara, Antonelli, Maury, and those of the Doria family.... Our paternal heart discerns only two cardinals whose qualifications promise a capability to encounter present difficulties; it is our duty to name them, and we enjoin on the Cardinal to display the greatest activity in their favor. In the first place stands Cardinal Mattei, in whom we place more confidence than in any other. We cannot understand how the cardinals could at all reasonably oppose his election. However, if in the course of the Conclave it shall be seen that all our endeavors for the election of Mattei will have been in vain, then we inform the Cardinal provisorially and confidentially that our second choice is solely Cardinal Valenti [Luigi Valenti Gonzaga].

In a letter to King Louis XVIII of December 14, 1799, Cardinal Maury noted that Cardinal Herzan, the Austrian Emperor's agent, had arrived, and also mentioned his own belief that he had uncovered a scheme in which Cardinal Braschi was involved to make Cardinal Luigi Gonzaga-Valenti (favored by the Spanish) pope, with the office of Secretary of State going to Cardinal Ignacio Busca. Maury continued, however, to cast his vote for Bernardino Cardinal Honorati, at least until December 21, believing that Braschi had lost his senses. The Neapolitans, who were in occupation of Rome, constituted another factor: they were wary of any candidate favored by the Emperor in Vienna, for fear that this would lead to their ejection from the Papal States.

Bellisomi and Mattei

On December 28, Maury reports a conversation he had had with Cardinal Herzan (Maury, p. 285-286) in which the latter complained that Vienna wanted him to promote, in opposition to Bellisomi, the candidacy of Cardinal Mattei, who (as Herzan said) did not have three votes in his favor. Bellisomi continued to receive nineteen or twenty votes, and Herzan continued to explain that Mattei was acceptable to Vienna, Madrid and Naples. Working strenuously, Cardinal Antonelli managed at one point to pull together a few of his supporters, Herzan's few, some of Cardinal Gerdil's adherents, and a few from Bellisomi to produce thirteen votes for Cardinal Mattei, but the little faction immediately fell apart during the accessio. But it was clear that there was a deadlock: the supporters of Bellisomi could exclude Mattei, and Mattei's supporters could exclude Bellisomi. On January 4, 1800, Bellisomi's supporters, led by Braschi and Albani, still had its nineteen-votes. Braschi had had a confrontation with Herzan, and declared that Mattei would never be pope. On January 11, Cardinal Maury wrote to Louis XVIII that Bellisomi needed only five votes to win during many scrutinies. (Maury, 300) It was the same on the 18th, with Bellisomi fixed at nineteen and Mattei at ten (Maury. 302; in fact, Mattei had a consistent thirteen). The supporters of the two leading candidates were giving each other the virtual exclusiva. On the 8th of February, "nos scrutins sont toujours les mêmes." On the 15th, "nos scrutins sont toujours uniformes. On n' y veut rien changer....," a situation which persisted on the 22nd. Cardinal Gerdil has left among his papers a tally sheet which gives the details of the  votes  from December 2 to January 14.

By then, however, it had been proposed that a commission should be appointed of members disagreeable to neither Mattei nor Bellisomi to attempt to find a candidate acceptable to both factions. After four days of discussion, the majority appointed Braschi and Albani, the minority Antonelli and Flangini. After two conferences, it was agreed that each side would name five acceptable soggetti, Bellisomi's party named Albani, Calcagnini, Honorati, Borgia and Chiaramonti; the opposition proposed Antonelli, Valenti, Giovanetti, Archetti, and Livizzani; each side would then prepare a list of the probable votes that each side would be likely to give to each of the ten soggetti; the two lists would be exchanged simultaneously (Maury, 332-334). The returns, however, were manipulative and failed in their intent—to identify a candidate on which both sides could agree. The minority offered not a single vote to any soggetto on the majority list.

Valenti, and then Gerdil

On March 1, there was a sudden change in the deadlock. Four of Bellisomi's supporters announced their willingness to vote for Valenti, who was actually acceptable to Vienna (Maury, 338-342). Valenti has been consistently receiving a small number of votes at every scrutiny, between three and eight. This offer, however, embarassed Cardinal Antonelli considerably. He believed that he was the leader of the minority; he continued to campaign for Mattei. To compound embarassments, Cardinal Valenti, who was seventy-four years old and infirm, was appointed Scrutator at the next round of balloting, which consequently took more than an hour longer than usual and exposed the weaknesses of the recently spotlighted soggetto to a cruel scrutiny of a different sort. His poor physical state damned his chances (Maury, p. 345). The weekly letter of March 8 began, "Le scrutin ne varie point, au milieu de tant d'efforts pour en changer la direction." The Dean of the Sacred College, Cardinal Albani, had a conference with Antonelli, at the conclusion of which it seemed that both sides would be able to agree on Cardinal Gerdil. But when the deal was taken to Cardinal Herzan to obtain the approval of the Emperor's representative, Herzan stated that Gerdil would receive a Veto (exclusiva) (Maury, 351-352; Consalvi, 255-258). His threat was enough to discourage Gerdil's progress. There was, however, no actual veto presented. At that point it seemed (to Maury) that the only cardinal on the majority side who could hope to secure votes was Guido Cardinal Calcagnini, bishop of Osimo, "ce sauvage virtueux", but Maury believed him to be unelectable. Nonetheless, Antonelli approached Albani and Braschi with the proposal that they should make an effort to get Calcagni the votes, and for a time it looked as though they might succeed.

Spain, Mattei, and Calcagni

In a letter of Wednesday, March 12, Maury (pp. 360-371) informed King Louis that the conclave was in chaos. A special messenger had arrived from Madrid with authorization for Cardinal Lorenzana to cast a formal Veto (exclusiva) against Mattei. It was, of course, unnecessary to cast the veto, since Mattei never obtained even a majority of the votes, and he was the subject of a virtual exclusiva by the supporters of Bellisomi. Suddenly Calcagnini's candidacy seemed highly viable, if not a certainty, though the fortunate man consulted Maury privately as to whether it was possible to refuse an election. Herzan announced that he was by no means opposed, as Imperial minister, to Calcagnini's election, but as an individual he could not vote for him; this was a kiss of death (Consalvi, 260-261). Herzan's mere opinion, considering Austria's importance to the success of the Conclave and to the survival of Church government in Italy, was decisive. Calcagnini had enemies, too, and it was apparent that he would not get their votes. His candidacy collapsed as quickly as it seemed certain to lead him to election. The minority was certainly in disarray, and three or four members began to talk seriously about Chiaramonti, the Bishop of Imola. Maury, too, thought that he would be a good choice. (Consalvi, 263-271). Consalvi and Maury thought it might be better to proceed toward that end through indirection. The matter of convincing the cardinals individually in favor of this new candidacy was entrusted to the Roman, Father Francesco Pinto Poloni, Maury's conclavist. Braschi was approached, and was friendly to the proposal of making Chiaramonti pope, but he did not want to proceed without taking counsel with Cardinal Albani, the Dean of the College and a much respected participant in the conclave, with considerable influence on a number of his colleagues. (Consalvi, 273, 284)

Another letter of Maury, written at noon on Friday, the 14th, raced to Louis XVIII with its news. On Wednesday evening, a portentous meeting took place, between Braschi and Antonelli. Cardinal Antonelli agreed to offer the majority all his votes in favor of Cardinal Chiaramonti (Consalvi, p. 274-277). Antonelli also approached Herzan, and convinced him of the merits of the plan, though Herzan asked for some time to consider. Finally he agreed, though some of his friends, the older cardinals, had doubts (Consalvi, 278-280). The agreement became public by Thursday at the beginning of the scrutiny, and by evening it was obvious that Chiaramonti would be successful. The cardinals went in a group to kiss Chiaramonti's hand (Consalvi, 281-284).

Despite frequent statements to the contrary, there was no Veto presented during this Conclave. Authors who state that there were vetoes are in fact confusing the virtual exclusiva (sufficient votes to prevent a two-thirds majority) with the actual veto, or the mere mention that a veto would be presented with the actual presentation of that veto. One authority states that Cardinal Herzan cast two vetoes. But none of the states who had that privilege could cast more than one veto, and they did so with greatest reluctance, knowing the bad feeling that it always created. In any case, Herzan was far too clever and in far too commanding a situation to need to resort to the veto at all. There is no positive evidence that any veto was actually cast (See Wahrmund, 230-231).


On March 14, Gregorio Barnaba Cardinal Chiarimonti, Cardinal Priest of S. Callisto, was elected, taking the name Pius VII. The vote was unanimous. The Conclave had lasted three months and fourteen days, the vacancy six months and sixteen days. The coronation of the new Pope took place in Venice, at the Monastery of S. Giorgio, on March 21, the Feast of St. Benedict, despite some hesitations, even from Pius VII himself, because appropriate representatives of various princes, especially the Austrian Emperor, were not present (Maury, 378-379). The crown was placed on his head by Antonio Cardinal Doria-Pamfilj, the Cardinal Protodeacon [Cancellieri, 439].

Subsequent events indicate that there was much unhappiness in Rome and in Italy. It required the assistance of Austrian military forces to introduce the pope to his flock and send the Neapolitans (by which is meant the troops of the restored Ferdinand IV) back to Naples. The reappearance of General Bonaparte in Italy and the battle of Morengo (June 14, 1800) immensely complicated the situation. The Pope entered Rome on July 3, 1800. On August 11, Ercole Consalvi was created Cardinal Deacon of Sant' Agata in Suburra. Pius VII took possession of the Lateran Basilica on November 14, 1801 [Cancellieri, pp. 479-498].


There were no coins or medals to commemorate the proceedings of the Sede Vacante in Venice.


Bust of Cardinal Consalvi by Canova, fron the Pantheon
Cardinal Ercole Consalvi



Caerimoniale continens ritus electionis Romani Pontificis Gregorii Papae XV jussu editum cui praefiguntur Constitutiones Pontificiae, & Conciliorum Decreta ad eam rem pertinentia (Venetiis: Typis Francisci Andreola, MDCCXCIX [1799]).  Jo: Franciscus Albani, Allocutio habita in conclavis cappella Kal. Dec. Ann. MDCCIC ab eminentissimo Card. Decano Jo: Francisco Albani Ostiae ac Veltrarum Episcopo Sacro Cardinalium Collegio pro electione futuri Summi Pontificis in Monasterio Sancti Georgii Majoris Venetiarum Conlecto (Roma: Giunchi 1800).

The memoirs of Ercole Cardinal Consalvi offer an inside look, though a disputed one, at the conclave: Mémoires du Cardinal Consalvi seconde édition (Paris: Plon 1866), 217-288. See also Engelbert Fischer, Cardinal Consalvi (Mainz 1899), Ernest Daudet, Le Cardinal Consalvi (Paris 1866); and Roberto Regoli, Ercole Consalvi, le Scelte per la Chiesa (Edizioni Pont. Univ. Gregoriana, Roma 2006).

Likewise the collected letters of Cardinal Jean Siffrein Maury (1746-1817), Correspondence diplomatique et mémoires inédits du Cardinal Maury (1792-1817) (Lille 1891) I, 264-379.

Abbé Pietro Baldassari was an eyewitness to many events at the time, and a copyist of important documents that came under his eyes: Pietro Baldassari, Histoire de l' enlèvement et de la captivité de Pie VI (Paris: Adrien Le Clerc 1839). The future cardinal (September 30, 1831) Giuseppe Antonio Sala was present in Rome during the entire period, and left a diary: Giuseppe Cugnoni (editor), Scritti di Giuseppe Antonio Sala 4 volumes (Roma: Società Romana di Storia patria 1882, 1882, 1886, 1888). On Sala, see Moroni, Dizionario di erudizione storico-ecclesiastica Vol. 60 (Venezia 1851), 237-240.   Herbert M. Vaughan, The Last of the Royal Stuarts: Henry Stuart, Cardinal Duke of York second edition (New York: Dutton 1906).

Giovanni Sforza, "Pio VI alla Certosa di Firenze," Archivio storico italiano 5 (1890) 311-317.

The Conclave of 1800 is discussed by Chevalier François Artaud de Montor, Histoire du Pape Pie VII second edition (Paris 1837) I, pp 80-107 [He was an ultra-monarchist and an ultra-Ultramontane]. Cf. Comte Boulay de la Meurthe, "Mémoire d' Artaud sur le conclave de Venise," Revue d' histoire diplomatique 8 (1894) 427-448. .Also consult: Alberto Lumbroso, Ricordi e documenti sul Conclave di Venezia (1800) (Roma: Fratelli Bocca 1903)   Eugenio Cipolletta, Memorie politiche sui conclavi da Pio VII a Pio IX (Milano 1863) [with documents, especially from Lord Acton and Naples];   Giovanni Berthelet, Conclavi, Pontefici e Cardinali nel secolo XIX (Torino 1903);   Gaetano Moroni, Dizionario di erudizione storico-ecclesiastica Vol. 53 (Venezia 1851), s.v. 'Pio VII', pp. 116-118. Gaetano Giucci, Delle vite dei sommi pontefice Pio VII, Leone XII, Pio VIII, Gregorio XVI, per servire di continuazione a quelle di Giuseppe Novaes Volume I (Roma 1857) 39-48 [fulsome in praise of Pius VII].   Pierre Vachoux, Extraits inedits de la correspondance & des manuscrits du Cardinal Gerdil (Annecy 1867), Chapter II, pp. 39-56.   Analecta Iuris Pontificii. Dissertations sur divers sujets de droit canonique, liturgie et théologie Troisième série, II. 1 (Rome 1858) 1107-1199. [Documents relating to Cardinal Gerdil].   Charles van Duerm, SJ, Un peu plus de lumiere sur le Conclave de Venise et sur les commencements du Pontificat de Pie VII. 1799-1800 (Louvain: Ch. Peeters 1896)   Giovanni Berthelet, Conclavi, Pontefice e Cardinali nel Secolo XIX (Torino-Roma 1903). Fredrik Nielsen, The History of the Papacy in the Nineteenth Century (tr. A.J. Mason) Volume I (London: Murray 1906) pp. 191-218.  

R. Obechea, El Cardinel Lorenzana en el conclave de Venezia (1975). The alleged exclusion of Cardinal Gerdil by the pronouncement of Cardinal Herzan is discussed by Ludwig Wahrmund, Das Ausschliessungs-recht (jus exclusivae) der katholischen Staaten Österreich, Frankreich und Spanien bei den Papstwahlen (Wien 1888) 230-231. Giovanni Piantoni, Vita del Cardinale Giacinto Sigismondo Gerdil e analisi di tutte le stampate sue opere (Roma: Salviucci 1851). Giuseppe Baraldi, Notizia biografica sul Cardinale Stefano Borgia di Velletri (Modena 1830). Reuben Parsons, Studies in Church History V, part 1 2nd edition (New York 1898). X. Barbier de Montault, Oeuvres complètes   Tome troisième: Rome III, Le pape (Paris 1890), pp. 185-189 [the exclusiva: two kinds, defined and illustrated]

On the ex-cardinals: William Cornwallis Cartwright, On the Constitution of Papal Conclaves (Edinburgh 1878). Pius VI, Pii VI. Pont. Max. Acta quibus Ecclesiae Catholicae calamitatibus in Gallia consultum est (Romae: Typis Sac. Congr. de Propaganda Fide 1871) No. LIV (brief concerning Cardinal Antici) and LV (brief concerning Cardinal Altieri).

On the Maestro di ceremonie, Giuseppe Dini: G. Moroni, Dizionario di erudizione storico-ecclesiastica Vol. 41 (Venezia 1846), 180; Franz Ehrle, "Zur Geschichte des päpstliches Hofceremoniells im 14. Jahrh.," Archiv für Literatur- und Kirchengeschichte des Mittelalters 5 (1889), 565-602, at p. 589. There is an (unpublished) work entitled "Memorie dall' elezione del sommo pontefice felicemente regnante Pio VII. al suo arrivo in Rome," written by the Ceremoniere Msgr. Raffaele Mazio, Secretary of the SC Ceremoniale, who was made a Cardinal on March 15, 1830 by Pius VIII. The Memorial was consulted by Francesco Cancellieri, Storia de' solenni possessi de' Sommi Pontifici (Roma 1802), 433-440.

On the return to Rome, see: Francesco Cancellieri, Storia de' solenni possessi de' Sommi Pontifici (Roma 1802), 440-478 [His account is wildly enthusiastic, as befit his clerical status, suppressing all mention of dissent]. M. le Comte d' Haussonville, L' église romain et le premier empire deuxième édition (Paris 1866) 33-42.

For a very hostile, anti-papal deconstructionist view of the first four popes of the 19th century, see Alessandro Gavazzi, My Recollections of the Last Four Popes (London 1858), especially 29-33 [This is a violent refutation of the jejune and tendentious 'memoir' of Nicholas Cardinal Wiseman.].

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