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Papal election, 1277

Pope Nicholas III was elected after six months of deadlock.

The papal election from May 30, 1277 to November 25, 1277, convened in Viterbo after the death of Pope John XXI, was the smallest papal election since the expansion of suffrage to cardinal-priests and cardinal-deacons, with only seven cardinal electors (following the deaths of three popes who had not created cardinals).[1] Because John XXI had revoked Ubi periculum, the papal bull of Pope Gregory X establishing the papal conclave, with his own bull Licet felicis recordationis, the cardinal electors were able to take their time in what would be the fifth to last non-conclave papal election.

After six months of deliberation, the cardinals eventually elected their most senior member Giovanni Gaetano Orsini as Pope Nicholas III. From the end of the election until Nicholas III's first consistory on March 12, 1278, the number of living cardinals—seven—was the lowest in the history of the Roman Catholic Church.[1]

Cardinal electors

The six cardinal electors were evenly divided between three supporters of Charles of Anjou and three cardinals from prominent Roman families, who opposed the interests of Charles in Italy, with one neutral cardinal.[2][3]

Elector Nationality Faction Order and Title Elevated Elevator Notes
Bertrand de Saint-Martin French neutral Cardinal-bishop of Sabina 1273, June 3 Gregory X Dean of the College of Cardinals
Anchero Pantaleone French Angevin Cardinal-priest of S. Prassede 1262, May 22 Urban IV Cardinal primoprete; Cardinal-nephew
Guillaume de Bray French Angevin Cardinal-priest of S. Marco 1262, May 22 Urban IV Camerlengo of the Sacred College of Cardinals
Giovanni Gaetano Orsini Roman Roman Cardinal-deacon of S. Nicola in Carcere Tulliano 1244, May 28 Innocent IV Protodeacon, archpriest of the patriarchal Vatican Basilica, Inquisitor General and protector of the Order of Franciscans; Elected Pope Nicholas III
Giacomo Savelli Roman Roman Cardinal-deacon of S. Maria in Cosmedin 1261, December 17 Urban IV Future Pope Honorius IV
Goffredo da Alatri Italian Angevin Cardinal-deacon of S. Giorgio in Velabro 1261, December 17 Urban IV
Matteo Orsini Rosso Roman Roman Cardinal-deacon of S. Maria in Portico 1262, May 22 Urban IV Nephew of Giovanni Orsini

Absentee cardinal

Elector Nationality Order and Title Elevated Elevator Notes
Simon Monpitie de Brie French Cardinal-priest S. Cecilia 1261, December 17 Urban IV Papal legate in France; Future Pope Martin IV


Initially, the cardinals met only once a day for balloting and returned to their respective habitations after the scrutinies.[4] For two months, voting proceeded uneventfully along national lines with the French[5] and Roman cardinals evenly divided.[4]

After six months the impatient magistrates of Viterbo locked the cardinals in the town hall (once elected, Nicholas III moved the papacy back to Rome).[6]


  • Bower, Archibald. 1766. The History of the Popes.
  • Konrad Eubel, Hierarchia Catholica Medii Aevi, vol. I, Leipzig 1913, p. 9


  1. ^ a b Miranda, Salvator. 1998. "Papal elections and conclaves of the 13th Century (1216–1294)." But see correction offered by John Adams Sede Vacante 1277; accessed March 13, 2010; concerning Bertrand de Saint-Martin
  2. ^ Medley, D.J. 2004. The Church and the Empire. Kessinger Publishing. ISBN 1-4191-5673-X. p. 171.
  3. ^ Pham, John-Peter. 2004. Heirs of the Fisherman: Behind the Scenes of Papal Death and Succession. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-517834-3. p. 24.
  4. ^ a b Bower, 1766, p. 307.
  5. ^ Cardinal da Alatri, the only non-Roman Italian Cardinal, voted together with French, while Bertrand of Sabina assumed neutral attitude.
  6. ^ Smith, Philip. 1885. The History of the Christian Church During the Middle Ages. Harper & Bros. p. 92.