The Election of Pope Alexander VI

[This is part of Catholic Analysis’ special series on Pope Alexander VI. This part, the fourth, details Alexander’s election and coronation. Read the third part.]

The conclave of 1492 was an awesome, if typical, affair.

After the death of Pope Innocent VIII, the primary contenders to succeed him quickly became obvious: Rodrigo Borgia, Ascanio Sforza, and Giuliano della Rovere (who later became Pope Julius II). [1]

Rodrigo was the obvious choice, a man of high honors and popularity. However, that he was Spanish, and therefore seen as an outsider, was likely a point of considerable contention. Ascanio, the Italian and scion of the powerful House of Sforza, had an establishment look and was probably thought a safe choice, but he was somewhat lackluster – he was the moderate candidate. Giuliano, meanwhile, had the backing of the French, who were most powerful allies at the time.

From the start, Rodrigo appeared to be in the lead, and after only a few ballots, he was elected, likely by a unanimous vote – excepting, possibly, the vote of Giuliano. [2] The Florentine ambassador’s report of the election confirms this. [3]

While allegations of simony in this conclave still circulate today, there is no legitimate basis for them. “The wealth needed to buy the votes of so many rich and supposedly hostile men to tempt them to elect a Spanish Pope against their inclinations would have been far beyond even Rodrigo’s means”. [4] Had such been decisive, Giuliano, surely, would have been elected.

In fact, Bernardino de Carvajal, a Spaniard and friend of Rodrigo, delivered a speech before the Sacred College in which he laid out vices found within the Church and exhorted the cardinals to choose a pontiff who would restore Her virtue. He pleaded, “The whole Church has [H]er eyes upon you, Excellent Fathers; give [H]er a Pontiff who may draw after him to salvation all [C]hristian nations, through the very odor of his good name.” [5]

It must be noted that, had Rodrigo been as horrible as usually alleged, this speech would have absolutely precluded him from the high office.

Upon his election, Rodrigo took the name of Alexander, after Pope Alexander III (who dared to confront the inimical Frederick Barbarossa) and likely after the indomitable Alexander the Great, becoming Pope Alexander VI. “There were murmurings that the new pope wanted to make his pontificate a universal reign where all nations would be subject to him, as would the heavenly powers, through the power Christ had granted St. Peter to bind and unbind all things on earth and in heaven.” [6]

(Alexander chose to be referred to as the sixth so that he would not be confused with anti-pope Alexander V.)

The people loved him. After his election, “the greatest honor was done to him throughout the city by the Roman people with triumphal arches and with more than there was ever done to other [p]opes.” [7] He was crowned in “a ceremony of unprecedented grandeur”, where more than 800 notable leaders came to pay him homage, and he was showered with compliments – in an above-and-beyond fashion – by many ambassadors. Here, he gave a special greeting to our rabbinical brethren. [8] At the pope’s instruction, the celebrations were also uplifting: a Eucharistic procession was to be the focus of the event, countless coins were thrown into the crowd, and all of his revenues were donated. [9]

Sung at the coronation was, “Hic est sacerdos Alexander quem coronavit Dominus. Alleluia.” (This is the priest, Alexander, whom the Lord has crowned. Alleluia.) [10]

Alexander’s pontificate was here entrusted to the Mother of God, also. [11]


1. Christopher Hibbert, The Borgias and their Enemies, p. 37

2. Br. J.B. Darcy, CFC, What you don’t know about the Borgia Pope: Alexander VI (1492-1503) (Catholic Insight)

3. Christopher Hibbert, The Borgias and their Enemies, p. 38

4. Michael de la Bedoyere, The Meddlesome Friar and the Wayward Pope, p. 87

5. Msgr. Peter de Roo, Material for a History of Pope Alexander VI, His Relatives, and His Time, Vol. 2, p. 308-313

6. Ivan Cloulas (translated by Gilda Roberts), The Borgias, p. 67-68

7. Johann Burchard (edited by Dr. F. L. Glaser), Pope Alexander VI and His Court, p. 53

8. Michael de la Bedoyere, The Meddlesome Friar and the Wayward Pope, p. 91 (Quote: “Hebrews, we admire and respect your Holy Law since it was given your ancestors by the most High God through the hands of Moses. But we are opposed to the false observance and interpretation you have of it, because the Apostolic Faith teaches that the Redeemer whom you await in vain has already come, and that he is Our Lord Jesus Christ who with the Father and the Holy Spirit is the Everlasting God.”)

9. Ivan Cloulas (translated by Gilda Roberts), The Borgias, p. 69, 71

10. Stuart Robb, To Begin, Continue and Complete: Music in the Wider Context of Artistic Patronage by Pope Alexander VI (1492-1503) and the Hymn Cycle of CS 15, p. 43

11. Stuart Robb, To Begin, Continue and Complete, p. 45 (Quote: Pronoscemus hilari, protegens Virgo, intuitu ut que felix investitus per curiam terminet annos, te favente, certos. Talis enim, Virginum gemma, dignus est honoris.)


Papal Regalia/Insignia


Matthew Olson is a student in the Diocese of Little Rock.

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Posted in Historical
2 comments on “The Election of Pope Alexander VI
  1. […] [This is part of Catholic Analysis' special series on Pope Alexander VI. This part, the fifth, explains Alexander's connections with the Italians. Read the fourth part.] […]

  2. […] The Election of Pope Alexander VI details Alexander’s election and coronation. […]

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