Papal conclave 1621 (February 8 – February 9) – convoked after the death of Pope Paul V, elected Cardinal Alessandro Ludovisi, who under the name of Gregory XV became 234th Pope of the Catholic Church. It was the shortest conclave in the seventeenth century[1].

List of participants

Pope Paul V died on January 28, 1621 in the 16th year of his pontificate. At the time of his death, there were seventy cardinals in the Sacred College, but only sixty nine were valid electors. Fifty one of them participated in the election of the new Pope[2]:

  • Bartolomeo Cesi (June 5, 1596) – Cardinal-Priest of S. Maria in Trastevere
  • Robert Bellarmin, S.J. (March 3, 1599) – Cardinal-Priest of S. Maria in Via; Prefect of the S.C. of Index
  • Domenico Ginnasi (June 9, 1604) – Cardinal-Priest of SS. XII Apostoli; Prefect of the S.C. of Bishops and Regulars
  • Maffeo Barberini (September 11, 1606) – Cardinal-Priest of S. Onofrio; Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signature of Justice
  • Domenico Rivarola (August 17, 1611) – Cardinal-Priest of S. Martino ai Monti; Legate in Romagna
  • Gaspar Borja y Velasco (August 17, 1611) – Cardinal-Priest of S. Croce in Gerusalemme; Cardinal-protector of Germany
  • Felice Centini, O.F.M.Conv. (August 17, 1611) – Cardinal-Priest of S. Lorenzo in Panisperna; Bishop of Macerata e Tolentino
  • Pietro Campori (September 19, 1616) – Cardinal-Priest of S. Tommaso in Parione
  • Matteo Priuli (September 19, 1616) – Cardinal-Priest of S. Girolamo degli Schiavoni
  • Scepione Cobelluzzi (September 19, 1616) – Cardinal-Priest of S. Susanna; Librarian of the Holy Roman Church
  • Pietro Valier (January 11, 1621) – Cardinal-Priest [no title assigned]; Archbishop of Crete
  • Giulio Roma (January 11, 1621) – Cardinal-Priest [no title assigned]
  • Cesare Gherardi (January 11, 1621) – Cardinal-Priest [no title assigned]
  • Alessandro d'Este (March 3, 1599) – Cardinal-Deacon of S. Eustachio; Governor of Tivoli; Cardinal-protector of Spain
  • Luigi Capponi (November 24, 1608) – Cardinal-Deacon of S. Angelo in Pescheria

All the electors were Italians, except Zapata and Borja y Velasco, who were Spaniards. Thirty two were creatures of Paul V, fourteen of Pope Clement VIII, four of Sixtus V, and one of Gregory XIII.


Eighteen cardinals did not participate in this conclave[2]:


Cardinal Infante of Spain was not an elector because he was only 12 years old[3]:

Factions in the Sacred College

There were three main parties in the Sacred College, with cardinal-nephews of the deceased Popes as leaders[4]:

  • Borghesian party – the faction of Cardinal Borghese, nephew of Pope Paul V. It grouped twenty nine cardinals created by this Pontiff.
  • Clementine party – It grouped thirteen cardinals of Clement VIII. Formally their leader was Camerlengo Pietro Aldobrandini, nephew of Clement VIII.
  • Sixtine party – small party of Vice-Chancellor Alessandro Montalto, cardinal-nephew of Sixtus V. It grouped six cardinals.

Three cardinals of the Italian ruling families (d'Este, Medici and Sforza) were not counted among the members of these factions.

It was generally thought that the next Pope would be the candidate chosen by Cardinal Borghese, because he was the most influential person in the Sacred College. He wanted to elect his friend Cardinal Campori, and already before opening the conclave he had obtained twenty four declarations in his favor. Although Campori had two significant opponents (Republic of Venice and Cardinal Orsini), Borghese was sure that he would be able to achieve his election on the first day of voting, by acclamation[4].

Aldobrandini and Montalto, who formally were leaders of factions, were not able to play any significant role during conclave. Aldobrandini was gravely ill at that time and died a day after the election of new Pope. In these circumstances the actual leadership of anti-Borghesian cardinals fell to Alessandro Orsini, who was the main opponent of candidature of Campori[5].

The election of Pope Gregory XV

Gregor XV

New Pope Gregory XV

The conclave began in the evening of February 8. On the next day, Cardinal Borghese tried to elect Campori by acclamation, but failed because many of his friends defected and aligned themeselves with Orsini, who had secured French support for his action against Campori. Facing such strong opposition, Campori withdrew his candidature[4][5].

In the subsequent scrutiny (the only one during this conclave), the greatest number of votes received (fifteen) were for Jesuit Cardinal Robert Bellarmine[4], but he had already declared in the previous conclave that he would not accept papal dignity in the case of his election. Now, at the age of 78, Bellarmine did not change his mind[6].

The rest of the day the most influential cardinals: Borghese, Orsini, Zapata, Capponi, d'Este and Medici, spent on looking for a compromise candidature[4]. The election of Cardinal Bourbon del Monte was proposed, but Spain rejected him[7]. Finally, the leaders of factions agreed to elect aged and ill Cardinal Alessandro Ludovisi of Bologna, who seemed to have been ideal candidate for a temporary pontificate.

On that same day, at about 11 o’clock in the evening, all the cardinals assembled in the Capella Paolina and by acclamation elected Alessandro Ludovisi to the papacy[8]. He accepted his election and took the name of Gregory XV. Five days later he was crowned in the Vatican Basilica by protodeacon Andrea Montalto[9].


Pope Gregory XV in his Bull "Aeterni Patris" (November 15, 1621) prescribes that in the future only three modes of papal election are to be allowed: scrutiny, compromise, and quasi-inspiration. His Bull "Decet Romanum Pontificem" (March 12, 1622) contains a ceremonial which regulates these three modes of election in every detail. The ordinary mode of election was to be election by scrutiny, which required that the vote be secret, that each cardinal give his vote to only one candidate and that no one vote for himself. Most of the papal elections during the sixteenth century were influenced by political conditions and by party considerations in the College of Cardinals. By introducing secrecy of vote, Pope Gregory XV intended to abolish these abuses. The rules and ceremonies prescribed by Gregory XV were substantially the same until Pope John Paul II issued constitution "Universi Dominici Gregis" in 1996[10].



List of participants in the conclave of 1621 by Salvador Miranda

Vatican History (an account in German)

The Triple Crown: An Account of the Papal Conclaves


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