The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Pope Gregory XIV

Gregory XIV, né Niccolò Sfondrato (February 11, 1535 - October 16, 1591) was Pope from December 5, 1590 - October 16, 1591.

He was born at Somma, near Milan, in the highest stratum of Milanese society, but was known for his modest lifestyle and stringent piety. His mother, a Visconti, died in giving him birth. His widower father Francesco, a senator of the ancient comune of Milan, was created cardinal by Pope Paul III, in 1544. Niccolò studied at Perugia and Padua, was ordained priest, and was swiftly appointed Bishop of Cremona, in 1560, in time to participate in the sessions of the Council of Trent, 1561 - 1563. Gregory XIII made him a cardinal (Cardinal-Priest of Santa Cecilia) on December 12, 1583. He was a close follower of Carlo Borromeo, and when cardinal, he was an intimate friend of Philip Neri, whose holy life he strove to imitate. Thus personally he was sympathetic to the reformers of Christian life.

The conclave after the death of Urban VII (September 27, 1590) was a protracted one. At the outset Olivares presented a list of the seven cardinals who would be acceptable to his master Philip II of Spain: not until 5 December 5, 1590, after two months of deadlock, was Sfondrati elected, one of Philip's seven. Cardinal Montalto, who came to his cell to inform him that the Sacred College had agreed on his election, found him kneeling in prayer . When on the next day he was elected he burst into tears and said to the cardinals: "God forgive you! What have you done?" In his Bull Cogit nos, March 21, 1591, he forbade under pain of excommunication all bets concerning the election of a pope, the duration of a pontificate, or the creation of new cardinals.

His brief pontificate was marked by vigorous intervention in favor of the Catholic party in the French Wars of Religion. Instigated by the king of Spain and the duke of Mayenne, he excommunicated Henry IV of France March 1, 1591, ignoring Henry's recent conversion, reiterating the declaration of Sixtus V (1585) that as a heretic Henry of Navarre was excluded from succeeding to the throne of France, and declaring him to be deprived of his dominions. Gregory also levied an army for the invasion of France and dispatched his nephew Ercole Sfondrati to France at its head and sent a monthly subsidy of 15,000 scudi to Paris, to reinforce the Catholic League. Thus was abandoned the recent papal policy of trying to maintain a balance between Spain and France, coming down solidly on the side of Spanish interests— in part because Gregory XIV was elected due to the influence of the Spanish cardinals. In the midst of these operations Gregory XIV died of a large gallstone— reportedly 70 grams.

Gregory XIV created five cardinals, among whom was his nephew Paolo Emilio Sfondrati (see link), his Secretary of State. He vainly tried to convince Philip Neri to accept a cardinal's hat. In a decree, dated 18 April, 1591, he ordered reparation to be made to the Indians of the Philippines by their conquerors— wherever it was possible— and commanded under pain of excommunication that all Indian slaves in the islands should be set free.

The biographers mention as a curious personal trait of Gregory XIV a nervous tendency to laughter which occasionally became irresistible, and which manifested itself even at his coronation.

He was succeeded by Innocent IX.

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Last updated: 05-17-2005 04:05:58