Publication Date



This is a book about how popes were selected in early modern Italy. But more importantly, it is a book about the problems selection by election created for the cardinals and other early modern Italians. The cardinals, who were the papacy’s exclusive electors, undertook the solemn duty of choosing a new pope on average every eight years. This was a unique procedure for choosing an absolute monarch and brought with it great responsibility. This book, the first major study of early modern papal elections in English, explores how the cardinals discharged this responsibility between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries and how their attempts to reconcile their conflicting priorities reshaped the papacy. The papacy’s use of elections to decide who should hold its highest office has been—indeed, still is—amongst its most distinct characteristics. This study uses elections to analyzing the nature of the papacy’s constitution. Different chapters explain why the cardinals chose the popes they did; why papal politics in this period were unusually fluid, and how the clerical elite who populated curial office used the papacy for rent-seeking and familial advancement. The book’s overall thesis is that the papal office’s elective nature was crucial to the papacy’s wider history: many of its wider outcomes are either directly or indirectly attributable to it. The book thus simultaneously presents a history of the papacy through the medium of conclaves and is a detailed case study of cause and effect, played out at the highest levels of the Counter-Reformation Catholic Church.


Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry

Document Type


Access Rights

ERA Access

Access may be restricted.