1378 papal conclave

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Papal conclave
April 1378
Sede vacante.svg
Coat of arms during the vacancy of the Holy See
Dates and location
7–9 April 1378
Old St. Peter's Basilica, Papal States
Key officials
DeanAnge de Grimoard
Sub-DeanPietro Corsini
ProtodeaconHugues de Saint-Martial
Elected Pope
Bartolomeo Prignano
Name taken: Urban VI
Urbanus VI.jpg

The papal conclave of 1378 which was held from April 7 to 9, 1378, was the papal conclave which was the immediate cause of the Western Schism in the Catholic Church. The conclave was one of the shortest in the history of the Catholic Church.[1] The conclave was also the first since 1159 held in the Vatican and in Old St. Peter's Basilica (the elections and conclaves in Rome prior to the Avignon Papacy having been held mostly in the Basilica of St. John Lateran).[2]

Pope Gregory XI died on March 26, 1378, in Rome, having returned from Avignon to pursue his territorial interests in the Papal States during the War of the Eight Saints. Although the French cardinals constituted a majority of the College of Cardinals due to the preceding Avignon Papacy, they succumbed to the will of the Roman mob, which demanded the election of an Italian pontiff. They elected Bartolommeo Prignano, who took the name Pope Urban VI. This was the last time a non-cardinal was elected pope.[3]


The conclave was the first held in Old St. Peter's Basilica.[4]

Before his death, Gregory XI substantially loosened the laws of the conclave: he instructed the cardinals to begin immediately after his death (rather than waiting the nine days prescribed by the Ordo Romanis) to prevent "factional coercion", he gave the cardinals permission to hold the conclave outside of Rome and move it as many times as necessary, and also seemingly suspended the two-thirds requirement, replacing it with "the greater part" (an ambiguous statement, in the original).[5]

The cardinals were divided into three factions: the first constituting the four Italian cardinals (two Romans, one Florentine, and one Milanese), the second constituting the seven "Limoges" cardinals (referred to individually as "Limousins"[4]), and the third constituting the five remaining French cardinals.[1] The conclave was delayed one day because of a violent storm, and thereafter the seven Limoges cardinals wishing to leave Rome as Gregory XI had authorized them to were persuaded by the others that such an act would place the College in even more danger.[4] It was midnight on the second day before the servants of the cardinals succeeded in clearing the Old Basilica of those not permitted to remain in the conclave.[4]

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, even Robert of Geneva (future Antipope Clement VII) and Pedro Martínez de Luna y Gotor (future Antipope Benedict XIII)—the two claimants of the Avignon line during the ensuing Schism—were among those who voted for Prignano.[1] Prignano had previously lived in France, which may have softened the blow of his election to many of his French electors.[6] The selection was supposedly "unanimous", with the exception of Giacomo Orsini, who claimed that he was not "free" enough to vote.[1]

Prignano was accompanied by several other prelates (to conceal the identity of the selected candidate) to the Vatican to accept his election.[1] To further the confusion, Orsini gave the Habemus Papam without identifying Prignano.[1]

Upon the conclusion of the election, the Roman mob entered the site of the conclave, under the impression that an aged Roman cardinal Tebaldeschi (who had been left in possession of the papal insignia[1]) had been elected, an impression that the remaining cardinals did not disabuse them of as they fled to their personal quarters.[7] The remaining cardinal informed the crowd of the election of Prignano who was hiding in the "most secret room" until his election could be announced.[8]

Cardinal electors[edit]

Sixteen of the twenty-three active cardinals took part in the conclave. Two possible other cardinals—Piero Tornaquinci and Pietro Tartaro—were not accepted into the ranks of the College for the election. Six more cardinals remained in Avignon, and Jean de la Grange was absent as well.[3]

Elector Nationality Cardinalatial order and title Elevated Elevator Other ecclesiastical titles Notes
Pietro Corsini Florentine Cardinal-bishop of Porto e Santa Rufina 1370, June 7 Urban V Sub-dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals
Jean du Cros French Cardinal-bishop of Palestrina 1371, May 30 Gregory XI Grand penitentiary Cardinal-nephew
Guillaume d'Aigrefeuille, iuniore, O.S.B. French Cardinal-priest of S. Stefano al Monte Celio 1367, May 12 Urban V Camerlengo of the College of Cardinals
Francesco Tebaldeschi Roman Cardinal-priest of S. Sabina 1368, September 22 Urban V
Bertrand Lagier, O.F.M. French Cardinal-priest of S. Cecilia 1371, May 30 Gregory XI
Robert de Genève French Cardinal-priest of Ss. XII Apostoli 1371, May 30 Gregory XI Future Antipope Clement VII
Simone Borsano Milanese Cardinal-priest of Ss. Giovanni e Paolo 1375, December 20 Gregory XI
Hugues de Montelais, le jeune French Cardinal-priest of Ss. IV Coronati 1375, December 20 Gregory XI
Gui de Maillesec French Cardinal-priest of S. Croce in Gerusalemme 1375, December 20 Gregory XI Cardinal-nephew
Pierre de Sortenac French Cardinal-priest of S. Lorenzo in Lucina 1375, December 20 Gregory XI
Gérard du Puy, O.S.B. French Cardinal-priest of S. Clemente 1375, December 20 Gregory XI Cardinal-nephew
Giacomo Orsini Roman Cardinal-deacon of S. Giorgio in Velabro 1371, May 30 Gregory XI
Pierre Flandrin French Cardinal-deacon of S. Eustachio 1371, May 30 Gregory XI Vicar of Rome
Guillaume Noellet French Cardinal-deacon of S. Angelo in Pescheria 1371, May 30 Gregory XI
Pierre de la Vergne French Cardinal-deacon of S. Maria in Via Lata 1371, May 30 Gregory XI
Pedro Martínez de Luna y Gotor Aragonese Cardinal-deacon of S. Maria in Cosmedin 1375, December 20 Gregory XI Future Antipope Benedict XIII

Absentee cardinals[edit]

Elector Nationality Cardinalatial order and title Elevated Elevator Other ecclesiastical titles Notes
Pierre de Monteruc French Cardinal-priest of S. Anastasia 1356, December 23 Innocent VI Vice-Chancellor of the Holy Roman Church; protopriest Remained in Avignon; Cardinal-nephew
Jean de Blandiac French Cardinal-bishop of Sabina 1361, September 17 Innocent VI Remained in Avignon
Gilles Aycelin de Montaigu French Cardinal-bishop of Frascati 1361, September 17 Innocent VI Remained in Avignon
Hugues de Saint-Martial French Cardinal-deacon of S. Maria in Portico 1361, September 17 Innocent VI Protodeacon; archpriest of the Vatican Basilica Remained in Avignon
Ange de Grimoard, C.R.S.A. French Cardinal-bishop of Albano 1366, September 18 Urban V Dean of the College of Cardinals; archpriest of the Lateran Basilica Remained in Avignon; Cardinal-nephew
Guillaume de Chanac, O.S.B. French Cardinal-priest of S. Vitale 1371, May 30 Gregory XI Remained in Avignon
Jean de la Grange, O.S.B. French Cardinal-priest of S. Marcello 1375, December 20 Gregory XI Papal legate in Tuscany


Map showing support for Avignon (red) and Rome (blue) during the Western Schism; this breakdown is accurate until the Council of Pisa (1409), which created a third line of claimants.
Caution: this map is highly inaccurate in some regions and borders, see its talk page.

The following September, the French cardinals reunited in Avignon, moved to Fondi, and elected Antipope Clement VII, who gained the support of all thirteen of his electors (at the time the entire College numbered twenty-two due to the death of Francesco Tebaldeschi).[3]


Inquisitor Nicholas Eymerich witnesses the conclave, and then went on to write one of the first tracts against Urban VI, Tractatus de potestate papali (1383), which argued in favor of the legitimacy of the Avignon line of papal claimants.[9] Several other eyewitnesses record the chant of the Roman crowd: "We want a Roman or at least an Italian" (Italian: Romano lo volemo, o al manco Italiano).[7] The contemporary curial document Factum Urbani attests to the general atmosphere of confusion, fear, and panic.[8] For example, canonist Gilles Bellemère recounts removing his clerical garb for fear of the mob and the constant ringing of bells.[8]

Pro-Urban sources—such as Alfonso de Jaén, the confessor of Bridget of Sweden, her daughter Catharine, and Dietrich of Nieheim—claim that the situation in Rome was less restless.[8] The marked discrepancy between the classes of sources can be explained by the fact that the alleged duress of the mob became the primary argument in favor of the legitimacy of the Avignon claimants.[8]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Pope Urban VI" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  2. ^ Miller, William. 1902. Mediaeval Rome, from Hildebrand to Clement VIII, 1073-1600. G. P. Putnam's sons. p. 150.
  3. ^ a b c Miranda, Salvador. 1998. "Papal elections of the 14th Century (1303-1394)".
  4. ^ a b c d Baumgartner, 2005, p. 56.
  5. ^ Baumgartner, 2005, p. 55.
  6. ^ Williams, Henry Smith. 1904. The Historians' History of the World. Outlook Company. p. 249.
  7. ^ a b Blumenfeld-Kosinski, 2006, p. 3.
  8. ^ a b c d e Blumenfeld-Kosinski, 2006, p. 4.
  9. ^ Blumenfeld-Kosinski, 2006, p. 57.


  • Theodericus de Nyem [Dietrich Niem]: Georg Erler (editor), Theoderici de Nyem de scismate libri tres (Lipsiae 1890).
  • Gayet, Louis. 1889. Le grand schisme d'Occident Les Origines 2 volumes (Paris-Florence-Berlin 1889).
  • Valois, Noël. 1890. "L' élection d'Urbain VI. et les origines du Grand Schisme d'Occident," Revue des questions historiques 48 (1890), 353-420.
  • Valois, Noël. 1896. La France et le Grand Schisme d'Occident Tome premier (Paris: Alphonse Picard 1896).
  • Ullmann, Walter. 1948. The Origins of the Great Schism: A Study in Fourteenth-Century Ecclesiastical History (London 1948; Hamden CT: Archon Books 1967).
  • Heimann, C. 2001. Nicolaus Eymerich (Münster, 2001).
  • Baumgartner, Frederic J. 2005. Behind Locked Doors. Macmillan. ISBN 0-312-29463-8.
  • Blumenfeld-Kosinski, Renate . 2006. Poets, Saints, and Visionaries of the Great Schism, 1378-1417. Penn State Press. ISBN 0-271-02749-5.
  • J. P. Adams, Sede Vacante 1378 retrieved 02/26/2016.
  • J. P. Adams, Sede Vacante 1378: List of some important Contemporary Documents. retrieved 02/26/2016.