, , , , , , , , ,

From The Emperor’s Desk: Between September 15, 1590 to December 30, 1591, a time period lasting 1 year, 3 months, 15 days, saw three Pope’s reign over the Roman Catholic Church.

Pope Urban VII ( August 4, 1521 – September 27, 1590), born Giovanni Battista Castagna, was head of the Catholic Church, and ruler of the Papal States from September, 15 to 27 1590. His twelve-day papacy was the shortest in history.

Giovanni Battista Castagna was born in Rome in 1521 to a noble family as the son of Cosimo Castagna of Genoa and Costanza Ricci Giacobazzi of Rome.

Castagna studied in universities all across Italy and obtained a doctorate in civil law and canon law when he finished his studies at the University of Bologna. He served as a constitutional lawyer and entered the Roman Curia during the pontificate of Pope Julius III as the Referendary of the Apostolic Signatura.

Castagna was chosen to be the new Archbishop of Rossano on March 1, 1553, and he would quickly receive all the minor and major orders culminating in his ordination to the priesthood on 30 March 30, 1553 in Rome. Pope Gregory XIII elevated him to the cardinalate on 12 December 1583 and he was appointed as the Cardinal-Priest of San Marcello.

After the death of Pope Sixtus V a conclave was convoked to elect a successor. Castagna, a seasoned diplomat of moderation and proven rectitude was elected as pope on September 15, 1590 and selected the pontifical name of “Urban VII”.


Urban VII was known for his charity to the poor. He subsidized Roman bakers so they could sell bread under cost, and restricted the spending on luxury items for members of his court. He also subsidized public works projects throughout the Papal States. Urban VII was strictly against nepotism and he forbade it within the Roman Curia.


Urban VII died in Rome on September 27, 1590, shortly before midnight, of malaria. He was buried in the Vatican. The funeral oration was delivered by Pompeo Ugonio. His remains were later transferred to the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, on 21 September 1606.

Pope Gregory XIV (February 11, 1535 – October 16, 1591), born Niccolò Sfondrato or Sfondrati, was head of the Catholic Church and ruler of the Papal States from December 5, 1590 to his death in 1591.

Niccolò Sfondrati was born at Somma Lombardo, then part of the Duchy of Milan, in the highest stratum of Milanese society. His mother, of the house of Visconti, died in childbirth. His father Francesco Sfondrati, a senator of the ancient comune of Milan, was created Cardinal-Priest by Pope Paul III in 1544.

In his youth he was known for his modest lifestyle and stringent piety. He studied law at Perugia and Padua, was ordained a priest and swiftly appointed Bishop of Cremona, in 1560, in time to participate in the sessions of the Council of Trent from 1561 to 1563. Pope Gregory XIII made him a Cardinal-Priest of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere on 12 December 12, 1583.

After the death of Pope Urban VII on September 27, 1590, the Spanish ambassador Olivares presented the conclave a list of the seven cardinals who would be acceptable to his master King Felipe II of Spain. On December 5, 1590, after two months of deadlock, Sfondrati, one of Felipe II’s seven candidates but who had not aspired to the office, was elected pope. Alessandro Cardinal Montalto came to Sfondrati’s cell to inform him that the Sacred College had agreed on his election and found him kneeling in prayer before a crucifix.

On the day after he was elected Pope, Gregory XIV burst into tears and said to the cardinals: “God forgive you! What have you done?” In his bull of March 21, 1591, Cogit nos, he forbade under pain of excommunication all betting concerning the election of a Pope, the duration of a pontificate, or the creation of new cardinals.


Gregory XIV’s brief pontificate was marked by vigorous intervention in favour of the Catholic party in the French Wars of Religion. Instigated by King Felipe II of Spain and the Duke of Mayenne, he excommunicated Henri IV of France on March 1, 1591, reiterating the 1585 declaration of Pope Sixtus V that as a heretic (Protestant) Henri was ineligible to succeed to the throne of Catholic France and ordered the clergy, nobles, judicial functionaries, and the Third Estate of France to renounce him.

Gregory XIV levied an army for the invasion of France, and dispatched his nephew Ercole Sfondrati to France at its head. He also sent a monthly subsidy of 15,000 scudi to Paris to reinforce the Catholic League. By coming down solidly on the side of Spanish interests, in part because Gregory XIV was elected due to the influence of the Spanish cardinals, the recent papal policy of trying to maintain a balance between Spain and France was abandoned.

Gregory XIV created five cardinals, among whom was his nephew Paolo Emilio Sfondrati, his Secretary of State. The biographers mention that Pope Gregory XIV had a nervous tendency to laughter, which occasionally became irresistible and even manifested itself at his coronation. Gregory XIV, who was in poor health before his election to the papacy, died due to a large gallstone.

Pope Innocent IX ( July 20, 1519 – December 30, 1591), born Giovanni Antonio Facchinetti, was head of the Catholic Church and ruler of the Papal States from October 29 to December 30, 1591.

Prior to his short papacy, he had been a canon lawyer, diplomat, and chief administrator during the reign of Pope Gregory XIV (r. 1590–1591).

Giovanni Antonio Facchinetti, whose family came from Crodo, in the diocese of Novara, northern Italy, was born in Bologna on July 20, 1519. He was the son of Antonio Facchinetti and Francesca Cini. He studied at the University of Bologna – which was pre-eminent in jurisprudence — where he obtained a doctorate in both civil and canon law in 1544. He was later ordained to the priesthood on March 11, 1544 and was appointed a canon of the church of Saints Gervasio and Protasio of Domodossola in 1547.

He travelled to Rome and he became the secretary to Cardinal Nicolò Ardinghelli before entering the service of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, brother of the Duke of Parma and grandson of Pope Paul III (1534–1549), one of the great patrons of the time.

Pope Gregory XIII made him a cardinal on December 12 ,1583 as the Cardinal-Priest of Santi Quattro Coronati and he was to receive the red hat and title on January 9,1584. Pope Gregory XIV made him the Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura in 1591.


Even before Pope Gregory XIV died, Spanish and anti-Spanish factions were electioneering for the next pope. Felipe II of Spain’s (r. 1556–1598) high-handed interference at the previous conclave was not forgotten: he had barred all but seven cardinals. This time the Spanish party in the College of Cardinals did not go so far, but they still controlled a majority, and after a quick conclave they raised Facchinetti to the papal chair as Pope Innocent IX.

It took three ballots to elect him as pope. Facchinetti received 24 votes on October 28 but was not successful in that ballot to be elected as pope. He received 28 votes on October 29 in the second ballot while the third saw him prevail.

The cardinal protodeacon Andreas von Austria crowned Innocent IX as pontiff on November 3, 1591. He elevated two cardinals to the cardinalate in the only papal consistory of his papacy on December 18, 1591.

Mindful of the origin of his success, Innocent IX supported, during his two months’ pontificate, the cause of Felipe II and the Catholic League against Henri IV of France (r. 1589–1610) in the French Wars of Religion (1562–1598), where a papal army was in the field. His death, however, prevented the realisation of Innocent IX’s schemes.


On December 18, the pope made a pilgrimage of Rome’s seven pilgrimage churches, despite being ill, and caught a cold as a result. This became a heavy cough combined with a fever that led to his death.

Innocent IX died in the early morning of December 30, 1591. He was buried in the Vatican grottoes in a simple tomb.

Pope Innocent IX was succeeded by Pope Clement VIII who’s pontificate lasted for 13 years.