The Cardinals: Thirteen Centuries of the Men Behind the Papal Throne


Although a highly visible part of the ecclesiastical furniture of the Roman Catholic Church and the Vatican for thirteen centuries, surprisingly little has been written about cardinals or (apart from some notable individual biographies), about the men who became 'papal princes'.

The cardinals of the Roman Church are “the nearly men” of Catholicism - those whose office since the 11th century has been chiefly to choose the Pope, following efforts to wrest this power from Rome's ...

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Although a highly visible part of the ecclesiastical furniture of the Roman Catholic Church and the Vatican for thirteen centuries, surprisingly little has been written about cardinals or (apart from some notable individual biographies), about the men who became 'papal princes'.

The cardinals of the Roman Church are “the nearly men” of Catholicism - those whose office since the 11th century has been chiefly to choose the Pope, following efforts to wrest this power from Rome's nobility and militia. This compelling history traces the origins and growth of the office of cardinal and tells the stories of some of the remarkable (for all kinds of reasons) men who have worn the red cap, coveted by some, refused on occasion and sometimes laid down in exchange for marriage, though one maverick got wed in his red hat.

The Cardinals is an informative and entertaining look at the lives of some of the more colourful characters who have worn the cardinatial red or purple. It reveals an unlikely company of saints and villains, patrons of the arts and scholars, cardinals who might have been pope but who were blackballed, and cardinals who were deprived of the title because of their dissolute lives, doubtful opinions, or interference in papal policies. There are diplomats in these pages, statesmen, kingmakers and soldiers. There are members of royal and noble families, and the son of a Doge of Venice. And there are the cardinals whose fame simply lies in their goodness and their care of the dioceses entrusted to them.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“With his trademark gifts of beautiful prose, vast learning, and a decided flair for storytelling, Walsh leads us through the lives of the redoubtable clerics who won their 'red hats,' and in the process became at times saints, and at times quite the opposite. The Cardinals is that rare book that helps you to see church history in a surprising new light.”
— James Martin, S.J.
author of The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything

“It is no understatement to say that this book makes for an interesting read that is also factually reliable, highly informative, and often surprising.”
— J. Robert Wright
Historiographer of the Episcopal Church

“Variously scandalous, edifying, and informative, The Cardinals is more than a series of intriguing biographies; it is a seminar in the history of Christianity.”
— Kevin Schmiesing
Acton Institute

Library Journal
Walsh (former librarian, Heythrop Coll., London; The Popes: 50 Celebrated Occupants of the Throne of St. Peter), author of many books on the Catholic Church, now supplies readers with two- to three-page biographies of over 60 men who have held the office of cardinal. His introduction provides a brief but thorough and well-sourced history of the office and its origins. But the biographies are the centerpiece, including men from the 11th through the 20th century. However, rather than in chronological order, the biographies are arranged thematically, grouping together cardinals who have had similar experiences or shared particular characteristics, with Walsh briefly explaining the reasoning behind these groupings, such as cardinals who were also soldiers, cardinals who almost became popes, and cardinals who were scholars.Verdict Walsh's work provides an excellent overview of the office of cardinal and an informative account of the men who have thus served the pope. Recommended especially for students of the ecclesiastical history of the Church.—Jennifer Harris, Mercyhurst Coll. Lib., Erie, PA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802829412
  • Publisher: Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 3/15/2011
  • Pages: 264
  • Sales rank: 1,332,053
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Walsh is a prominent Catholic writer and Vatican commentator. He is the author of numerous books including The Popes, The Conclave, Opus Dei: An Investigation, Roman Catholicism: The Basics and The Westminster Cardinals. He is the editor of The Oxford Dictionary of the Popes, The Dictionary of Christian Biography and A New Dictionary of Saints. He was formerly Librarian of Heythrop College, London.
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Table of Contents


A Note to the
Humbert of Silva Candida (c. 1000–61)....................22
Peter Damian (1007–72)....................25
Bernard of Parma (c. 1060–1133)....................28
Robert Pullen (c. 1080–1146?)....................31
Boso (c. 1100–78?)....................33
Anastasius the Librarian (c. 815–c. 877)....................37
Baldassare Cossa (c. 1360–1419)....................40
Reginald Pole (1500–58)....................43
Giuseppe Renato Imperiali (1651–1737)....................46
Hyacinth Sigismund Gerdil (1718–1802)....................47
Pietro La Fontaine (1860–1935)....................50
Giovanni Colonna (c. 1185–1245)....................54
Giacomo (c. 1250–1318) and Pietro (c. 1260–1326) Colonna....................56
Giovanni II Colonna (c. 1295–1348)....................59
Agapito Colonna (c. 1330–80)....................60
Ascanio Colonna (1560–1608)....................62
Prospero Colonna di Sciarra (1707–65)....................64
Pietro Colonna Pamphili (1725–80)....................65
Pierre d'Ailly (c. 1350–1420)....................68
Juan de Torquemada (1388–1468)....................71
Pietro Bembo (1470–1547)....................75
Jacopo Sadoleto (1477–1547)....................78
Cesare Baronio (1538–1607)....................83
Roberto Bellarmino (1542–1621)....................86
Giuseppe Garampi (1725–92)....................89
Niccolò Albergati (c. 1375–1443)....................94
John Fisher (1469?–1535)....................96
Pierre de Berulle (1575–1628)....................99
Gregorio Barbarigo (1625–97)....................101
Jean Louis Lefebvre de Cheverus (1768–1836)....................104
Ciriaco María Sancha y Hervás (1833–1909)....................106
Andreas Carlo Ferrari (1850–1921)....................109
Charles Borromeo (1538–84)....................112
Louis de Bonald (1787–1850)....................115
Bartolomeo D'Avanzo (1811–84)....................116
James Gibbons (1834–1921)....................118
John Cody (1907–82)....................121
Tomás Ó Fiaich (1923–90)....................124
Joseph Bernardin (1928–96)....................127
Gil Álvarez de Albornoz (1310–67)....................132
Giovanni Vitelleschi (c. 1390–1440)....................135
Lodovico Trevisan (1401–65)....................137
Pierre d'Aubusson (1423–1503)....................139
Oliviero Carafa (1430–1511)....................142
Francesco Alidosi (c. 1460–1511)....................146
Ippolito d'Este (1479–1520)....................149
Francisco Ximénez de Cisneros (1436–1517)....................154
David Beaton (c. 1494–1546)....................157
Ippolito II d'Este (1509–72)....................160
François de Joyeuse (1562–1615)....................164
Giulio Alberoni (1664–1752)....................167
Giuseppe Doria Pamphilj Landi (1751–1816)....................171
Paul Cullen (1803–78)....................174
Ercole Consalvi (1757–1824)....................179
Giacomo Antonelli (1806–76)....................184
Rafael Merry del Val (1865–1930)....................190
Pietro Gasparri (1852–1934)....................194
Agostino Casaroli (1914–98)....................198
Adriano Castellesi (c. 1460–1507)....................202
Cesare Borgia (1475?–1507)....................206
Odet de Coligny de Châtillon (1517–71)....................209
Innocenzo Ciocchi del Monte (1532–77)....................211
John Casimir (1609–72)....................213
Camillo Pamphilj (1622–66)....................215
Niccolò Coscia (1681–1755)....................217
Louis Billot (1846–1931)....................220
Henry Stuart (1725–1807)....................222
Thomas Weld (1773–1837)....................227
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First Chapter

The Cardinals

Thirteen Centuries of the Men Behind the Papal Throne
By Michael Walsh

William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Copyright © 2010 Michael Walsh
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8028-2941-2

Chapter One

The Precursors

The cardinals whose lives are recorded below all lived in the eleventh or twelfth centuries. It is perhaps a little inappropriate to call them precursors. As the introductory chapter should have made clear, there were cardinals in Rome itself and, given that cardinals were bishops, priests or deacons attached to particular 'titles', office holders of those titles can be traced back to the very earliest centuries of Christianity in Rome. But for the vast majority of these 'cardinals' before the eleventh century, and indeed for many of them in that century, little or nothing is known of them apart from their names. The Bishop of Rome was quite punctilious about keeping records, and cardinals' names appear at the foot of surviving papal documents, are included in signatories to the acts of Roman synods, or are mentioned by early chroniclers of the period.

It is true that some few names stand out. These are mainly the cardinals who became popes, in which case the Liber Pontificalis records the name of their father, and often their place of origin, or the place of origin of the family. Cardinals who became popes are of course omitted from this book, although I have included a couple of cardinals who became popes, or almost became popes, but then were unseated. One such is the earliest person whose life is recounted in this volume, Anastasius Bibliotecarius, Anastasius the Librarian (see p. 37), who almost became pope in 855 and whose life and family both before and after his 'election' is relatively well known. Another, rather later, example was John Gratian. He was possibly related to the wealthy Roman banking family the Pierleoni and was archpriest of St John at the Latin Gate when in 1045 he succeeded his godson Pope Benedict IX, apparently by paying a large amount of money for the privilege. It was an odd thing for him to have done. He was regarded as being a member of the reform party in Rome, and Peter Damian (see p. 25) wrote him a letter of congratulation. He therefore should in principle have been opposed to the act of simony by which he acquired the papacy. Possibly he made the payment because he was eager, as a reformer, to get rid of Benedict, a man of scandalous life who had three stints at being pope, and three times resigned. Whatever the reason for his action, Gregory VI, as Gratian named himself, did not last long, some eighteen months, and despite his brief period of fame little is known about him, before or after his period as pope. There is even doubt about whether he could properly be called a cardinal.

What is perhaps striking about these early cardinals, or rather, the cardinals of the eleventh and twelfth centuries represented here, is that they constitute a rather international collection. Humbert was from Lorraine in what is now France, Peter Damian hailed, like Bernard of Parma, from northern Italy, while Robert Pullen (and Nicholas Breakspear, but in 1154 he became pope Hadrian, or Adrian, IV) came from England. This was of course a change from the time, still maintained by a fiction, that these were Roman clergy: the College of Cardinals was not again to be drawn so widely until the nineteenth century. Otherwise the college was dominated by Italians except for the period of the exile in Avignon for much of the fourteenth century, when the majority of cardinals were French. But from whatever region of medieval Europe they came, they had an advantage that is not perhaps shared by many of the modern members of the Sacred College. Whatever their native tongues, they shared a common language. They could all converse in Latin.

Humbert of Silva Candida

Humbert was born in Burgundy, presumably not far from the monastery of Moyenmoutier in the Vosges mountains where he became a monk. Whether he was a child oblate, or entered as a young man, is unknown. His year of birth is also unknown, though it is likely it was early in the eleventh century. He rose through the ranks of the monks to become abbot of the monastery, part of the reform of monastic life instigated by John, abbot of Gorze near Metz. Another abbey which was part of the same reform was that at Toul, and it was at Toul that Bruno of Egisheim was educated. Bruno, born in 1002, must have been of a similar age to Humbert, and it may have been at Toul that they met. Certainly they were friends, and of a like mind over the necessary reforms not just in monasteries but in the Church at large. Bruno became bishop of Toul in Lorraine, but on the death of Pope Damasus II in 1048 he was nominated by the Emperor Henry III as Pope. True to the reform agenda, he agreed to accept the office only if the nomination was approved by the clergy and people of Rome. He entered the city dressed as a pilgrim to be greeted with acclaim, and was crowned on 12 February 1049. He took the name Leo IX.

Leo now summoned to Rome his friends whom he knew shared his reforming zeal, among them the two monks Peter Damian (see p. 25) and Humbert, along with others, several of them from Lorraine. He appointed Humbert to be Archbishop of Palermo in Sicily. Sicily itself was about to be conquered by the Normans, but at the time Humbert was made Archbishop the island was still in Muslim hands. Humbert therefore was never able to take up his post, but the appointment was an irritant to the Patriarch of Constantinople, from 1043 the combative Michael Cerularius, because before the Arab conquest a century or so earlier Sicily had been a Byzantine enclave in Western Europe. Though the appointment of any Latin bishop to Palermo was likely to be seen by Constantinople as an example of Roman aggrandisement, the choice of Humbert had at least this to commend it: he was one of the few Western prelates who knew Greek, and was well read in the Greek fathers of the Church.

He put his theological learning to good use at the Lateran synod called by Pope Leo in 1050. The theories of Berengarius of Tours on the presence of Christ in the Eucharist were discussed and condemned as contrary to the faith. At a later synod (1059), Berengarius was required to sign a profession of faith in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist in a formula which, it seems likely, was drawn up by Humbert. This was one of the earliest occasions when Rome acted as a guardian of orthodoxy, condemning someone for heterodox beliefs and requiring a retraction.

In 1051 Humbert was appointed Cardinal Bishop of Silva Candida (= 'White Wood'), the early name for the title of Santa Rufina. The account of his appointment is significant, because it is the first time in the eleventh century that the word 'cardinal' seems to be used as a noun rather than as an adjective, rather implying that cardinals had now become as such an expected part of the structure of the Roman Church. In the capacity of cardinal he was used as an emissary by successive popes, sometimes accompanied by Cardinal Frederic of Lorraine at whose election as abbot of Montecassino he presided in May 1057, and who, in the August of that year, was elected Pope as Stephen IX (X). It was Frederic who accompanied him to Constantinople in the fateful visit of 1054.

It has been noted that the Patriarch of Constantinople was something of a problem – he was a problem not just to the Pope but to the Emperor, not least because he started to wear imperial regalia and to call in his sermons for an uprising against the Emperor. When he suddenly died in 1059 there was a strong suspicion that he had been murdered. One of his acts was to close all the Latin churches in Constantinople. Another was to inspire, or so the Latins believed, a treatise by Archbishop Leo of Ochrid condemning some Latin practices, in particular the use of unleavened bread in the Latin-rite form of the Eucharist: the Byzantines used leavened bread. Pope Leo replied. His riposte, composed by Humbert, was hard-line, asserting the supremacy of the Roman Church over all other Christian bodies. It was not framed so as to placate the Patriarch at the best of times, especially as it was based on what appeared to be a secular authority, the Donation of Constantine. This was a forged document, produced in the mid to late eighth century, but neither Pope nor Patriarch knew this. The problem for the Pope was that the Patriarch did not know of the Donation of Constantine at all, and was not likely to give it any credence. A flurry of letters followed, and then a delegation from Rome of Humbert, Frederic of Lorraine and Archbishop Peter of Amalfi, was despatched to Constantinople by Pope Leo, presumably in an attempt to mend relations.

Given his temper, and his firmly pro-Roman view of Church authority, Humbert was probably not the best person to lead such a delegation though, as has been remarked, he knew Greek, which was an advantage. But the party was put at a serious disadvantage by events in Italy. In May 1053 Pope Leo, against the wishes of his reformer friends, personally led a papal army against the Normans in southern Italy. He had hoped that his small force would be boosted by the army of the Byzantine governor of the region, but the governor had already been defeated in battle. On 18 June the papal army was overwhelmed by that of the Normans and Leo captured. He was treated well enough by his captors, but they kept him in their custody for nine months. In Constantinople the Patriarch was ready to exploit the papacy's obvious weakness.

When Humbert and his fellow delegates arrived in Constantinople they were greeted amicably by the Emperor but entirely ignored by the Patriarch. Tension in the city grew, and Humbert realized that he was going to make no headway against the intransigent Cerularius. On 16 July 1054 Humbert stormed into the great church of Hagia Sophia and laid on the altar an excommunication of Michael Cerularius, Leo of Ochrid and of all their followers – it encompassed, in other words, the whole Church. The excommunication was in the name of Pope Leo, but he had died two months earlier, though it is uncertain whether anyone in Constantinople knew that. Nonetheless, the excommunication was technically invalid. Not that it mattered to Cerularius, who summoned a synod and excommunicated Humbert, Frederic and Peter, and threw in the Byzantine governor of southern Italy for good measure. It should perhaps be said that too much has been made of this mutual excommunication. Although it was not formally lifted until 1965, for the most part Popes continued to deal with Patriarchs as if little or nothing had occurred.

Meanwhile Humbert had returned to Italy and to his peripatetic service of the papacy. But he also wrote. The one treatise that can unquestionably be ascribed to him, though undoubtedly there were others, was his Adversus simoniacs, 'Against the simoniacs', simoniacs being those who had purchased ecclesiastical office. As might be expected, Humbert took a strong line against them. He argued that any bishop or other cleric who had acquired his office by paying money for it was a heretic, and therefore any acts he carried out were invalid. This included ordinations. Humbert was opposed by Peter Damian, who proposed that such ordinations were valid even if they were illegal according to law. A priest ordained by a simoniacal bishop, therefore, did not have to be re-ordained but only received back into the fold by the laying on of hands. It was Peter Damian's position which was to become the accepted one, but during Humbert's own lifetime it was his view which prevailed.

One of the consequences of Humbert's reasoning was the election decree of Pope Nicholas II, promulgated in the Lateran synod of 1059. It laid down that, to avoid simony in papal elections, only cardinal bishops (a very small number) could vote for the next Bishop of Rome. This decree, which was very likely to have been the work of Humbert himself, was very soon to be modified, but it had momentous consequences, both for elections to the bishopric of Rome, and for the cardinals themselves (see p. 7). In the election of 1057 Humbert had himself been one of the likely candidates. He had been recommended to the reformers by Cardinal Frederic of Lorraine, at this point abbot of Montecassino. In the end it was Frederic who was chosen, but swiftly he appointed Humbert Chancellor and Librarian of the Roman Church (the two offices were at the time more or less synonymous), with overall charge of papal correspondence. The last documents he signed were dated from the Lateran Palace in April 1061. He is believed to have died on 5 May 1061, and to be buried in the Lateran.

Peter Damian

He was known, and wished to be known, as Peter Damian, but his name was simply Peter: Damian was the name of a brother, a priest in Ravenna, who rescued him from the life of a swineherd and gave him an education. He was born in 1007, the last of a large number of children. His family were noble in origin but poor, and after the death of his parents he was brought up by an elder brother who treated him as little more than a slave. It was from this that his brother Damian saved him, sending him to study, first in Ravenna itself, then at Faenza and finally at Parma. He proved to have a nimble mind, and after completing his law studies – not strictly speaking a 'degree' for universities as such had not yet come into existence – he returned to Ravenna to teach.

He had been devout as a child. He now adopted an austere style of life. He thought about becoming a monk of some kind. Then by chance he encountered two monks from the abbey of Fonte Avellana, located not far from Ravenna. This monastery had been founded not long before by St Romuald to observe strictly the Rule of St Benedict which Romuald interpreted as the monks living the life of hermits, but coming together for meals and for liturgical worship; it was similar to that later adopted by St Bruno for his own foundation, the Carthusians. As well as the house at Fonte Avellana, in about 1023 Romuald went on to establish another at Camaldoli, which gave its name to the Benedictine congregation to which Romuald's foundations belong: the Camaldolese.

Peter joined the abbey of Fonte Avellana in 1035, and by 1043, much against his will, had been appointed prior, the second in command to the abbot – except that he had been appointed to the office by the monks so that he might succeed as head of the monastery when the abbot died. He did indeed take charge of the monastery, but continued to insist that he was still the prior rather than the abbot, and never accepted the latter title. He had meanwhile become learned in theology and particularly in Scripture. And he also wrote the first life of St Romuald – it was his first book – for the instruction of the monks who joined the two monasteries, or the other hermitages which he had founded.

He became known for his reforming zeal, not just for the life of monks but for the Church at large. When in 1045 John Gratian succeeded Benedict IX he wrote to the new Pope, who – by, it is said, popular acclaim – had taken the name Gregory VI, congratulating him on taking office and expressing hope for the reform of the Church. Gratian was widely known as a good and honest man, but it emerged that Benedict had been bribed to abdicate the office of Pope with a very large sum of money. Gratian, in other words, seemed guilty of buying the papacy, an act of simony which the reform movement was determined to stamp out. He was forced out of office by King, later Emperor, Henry III of Germany who replaced him with his own man, Suidger, Bishop of Brabant, who became Clement II, the first of the German popes. He, too, like Gratian, was a member of the reform party, and his choice of name, harking back to the first century of Christianity in Rome, was indicative of that. But Peter Damian was disappointed at the speed of the reform, and wrote to tell him so.

After the death of Clement another German was appointed, who again took a name redolent of the early Christian centuries, Damasus II, but he survived only a few months, dying of malaria – though poisoning was suspected. The third German was Bruno of Egisheim. He too adopted the name of a distinguished early pope, becoming Leo IX. Within a couple of months of his appointment in 1049 he held a major reforming synod at Rome which brought together not only like-minded bishops but monks, among them Peter Damian. One of the reforms was the proposal that the ordinations by bishops who had obtained their benefices through simony should be declared invalid. This would have been against a teaching dating at least from the time of Augustine of Hippo's debate with the Donatists in the early fifth century – and, indeed, from even earlier times over the question of rebaptism. Perhaps more telling was the fact that, if such a ruling were to be made, many priests would be forced to abandon their posts, which in turn would lead to chaos. Peter was an advocate of the moderate position – ban simony, but don't expel those ordained by simoniacs – which he expressed in an influential treatise.


Excerpted from The Cardinals by Michael Walsh Copyright © 2010 by Michael Walsh . Excerpted by permission of William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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