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The papal conclave from April 4-8, 1455 elected Alfonso Borja Pope Callixtus III following the death of Pope Nicholas III. The conclave was the first in the Apostolic Palace, the site of all but five papal conclave thereafter.[1][2] The conclave was also the first to feature accessus voting (votes cast in accessit), derived from a practice of the Roman Senate, where a cardinal could change their vote after an unsuccessful scrutiny to any cardinal already receiving votes.[3]

The early defeat of Greek Cardinal Basilios Bessarion—a potential compromise candidate between the Colonna and Orsini factions—is a notable display of the lingering antipathy towards certain characteristics of the Eastern church, such as bearded priests, centuries after the East-West Schism. Although Western canon law had prohibited beards for priests since at least the eleventh century, the issue would continue to be debated well into the sixteenth century.[4]

The election

The bearded Basilios Bessarion

The two main factions of the cardinals were divided between the followers of Prospero Colonna and Latino Orsini; among the papabile were Barbo, Trevisan, Capranica, Orsini, and Bessarion.[5] Capranica received a plurality on the first three scrutinies, with the other votes scattered; Orsini and the French cardinals rallied against Capranica because he was close to Colonna.[5]

On April 6, Easter Sunday, the factions began to consider neutral candidates.[5] In this capacity, Basilios Bessarion (noted for defecting from the Eastern Church following the East–West Schism) was able to receive eight votes, before his candidacy was scuttled following a speech by Alain de Coëtivy—recorded by eyewitnesses—which emphasized Bessarion's former membership in the Eastern Orthodox Church and his retention of Greek mannerisms, such as a full beard.[5][6][7][8] The French cardinal is reported to have remarked:

"Shall we select for Pope, for head of the Latin Church, a Greek, a mere interloper? Bessarion still wears his beard—and forsooth, he is to be our Lord![9] How poor, then, must be our Latin Church, if we can find no worthy man in it, but must needs resort to a Greek, and to one, too, who but yesterday attacked the Roman faith! And because he has now returned shall he be our master and the leader of the Christian army? Behold, such is the poverty of the Latin Church that she cannot find an apostolic sovereign without resorting to a Greek! Oh, Fathers! Do what you think fit; but for myself and those who think with me, we will never consent to a Greek head of the Church!"[10]

Bessarion made no attempt to defend himself, claiming he was not interested in being elected; his reputations for reform and austerity also would have been unpopular with many of the Renaissance cardinals.[5] Nevertheless, the renowned humanist scholar remained a strong candidate in the following 1464 conclave as well.[11]

It is known that the early scrutinies the following Monday were disorganized; for example, non-cardinal Antonio de Montefalcone received at least one vote.[5] de Coëtivy and Trevisan pushed for Borja's election, gaining momentum until Borja prevailed the following Tuesday.[5] The core of the requisite two-thirds majority was likely composed of the French, Spanish, and Venetian cardinals: Trevisan, de Coëtivy, Barbo, Orsini, d'Estaing, de Carvajal, de La Cerda, Rolin, and Torquemada; the vote of Isidore or Calandrini, or both, likely was also required as Borja very likely did not vote for himself; Borja almost certainly did not receive the votes of Colonna, Capranica, or Bessarion.[5]

Cardinal electors

Elector Nationality Order Title Elevated Elevator Notes
Giorgio Fieschi Ligurian Cardinal-bishop Bishop of Palestrina 18 December 1439 Eugenius IV Dean of the College of Cardinals; bishop of Albenga
Isidore of Kiev Greek Cardinal-bishop Bishop of Sabina 18 December 1439 Eugenius IV Archbishop of Ruthenia
Basilios Bessarion Greek Cardinal-bishop Bishop of Frascati 18 December 1439 Eugenius IV Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem; administrator of Mazara del Vallo; legate in Bologna
Alfonso Borja Spanish Cardinal-priest Title of Ss. IV Coronati, bishop of Valencia 2 May 1444 Eugenius IV Elected Pope Callixtus III
Juan de Torquemada, O.P. Spanish Cardinal-priest Title of S. Maria in Trastevere 18 December 1439 Eugenius IV
Lodovico Trevisan Venetian Cardinal-priest Title of S. Lorenzo in Damaso, patriarch of Aquileia 1 July 1440 Eugenius IV Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church
Pietro Barbo Venetian Cardinal-priest Title of S. Marco 1 July 1440 Eugenius IV Future Pope Paul II; cardinal-nephew;bishop of Vicenza; archpriest of the Vatican Basilica
Juan Carvajal Spanish Cardinal-priest Title of S. Angelo in Pescheria, bishop of Plasencia 16 December 1446 Eugenius IV
Antonio Cerdà i Lloscos, O.SS.T. Spanish Cardinal-priest Title of S. Crisogono, bishop of Lérida 16 February 1448 Nicholas V
Latino Orsini Roman Cardinal-priest Title of Ss. Giovanni e Paolo 20 December 1448 Nicholas V Administrator of the see of Bari
Alain de Coëtivy French Cardinal-priest Title of S. Prassede, bishop of Avignon 20 December 1448 Nicholas V Administrator of the see of Nimes
Filippo Calandrini Ligurian Cardinal-priest Title of S. Susanna, bishop of Bologna 20 December 1448 Nicholas V Cardinal-nephew; camerlengo of the Sacred College of Cardinals
Guillaume d'Estaing, O.S.B. French Cardinal-priest Title of S. Sabina 19 December 1449 Nicholas V Bishop of Fréjus
Domenico Capranica Capranica Prenestina Cardinal-priest Title of S. Croce in Gerusalemme, administrator of Fermo 23 July 1423 (in pectore, admitted into Sacred College on 30 April 1434) Martin V (confirmed by Eugenius IV) Protopriest; archpriest of the Lateran Basilica; grand penitentiary
Prospero Colonna Roman Cardinal-deacon Deacon of S. Giorgio in Velabro 24 May 1426 Martin V Protodeacon

Absentee cardinals

Elector Nationality Order Title Elevated Elevator Notes
Peter of Foix, O.F.M. French Cardinal-bishop Bishop of Albano September 1414 Antipope John XXIII Legate in Avignon; administratort of the sees of Arles and Dax
Guillaume d'Estouteville, O.S.B.Clun. French Cardinal-bishop Bishop of Porto e Santa Rufina, archbishop of Rouen 18 December 1439 Eugenius IV Papal legate in France; archpriest of the Liberian Basilica; administrator of Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne
Peter von Schaumberg Germany Cardinal-priest Title of S. Vitale, bishop of Augsburg 18 December 1439 Eugenius IV
Dénes Szécsi Hungarian Cardinal-priest Title of S. Ciriaco, archbishop of Esztergom 18 December 1439 Chancellor of the Kingdom of Hungary
Jean Rolin French Cardinal-priest Title of S. Stefano al Monte Celio, bishop of Autun 20 December 1448 Nicholas V
Nicholas of Kues German Cardinal-priest Title of S. Pietro in Vincoli 20 December 1448 Nicholas V Bishop of Brixen


  1. Chambers, DS. 1978. "Papal Conclaves and Prophetic Mystery in the Sistine Chapel". Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 41: 322-326.
  2. Pham, John-Peter. 2004. Heirs of the Fisherman. p. 85.
  3. Rotberg, Robert I. 2001. Politics and political change. p. 62.
  4. Fisher, Will. 2006. Materializing gender in early modern English literature and culture. p. 100.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 Burkle-Young, Francis A. 1998. "The election of Pope Calixtus III (1455)".
  6. McManamon, John M. 1982. Funeral oratory and the cultural ideals of Italian humanism. p. 72.
  7. Setton, Kenneth Meyer. 1978. The Papacy and the Levant . p. 162.
  8. Jacks, Philip Joshua, and Caferro, William. 2001. The Spinelli of Florence. p. 66.
  9. Garner, John Leslie. 1912. Caesar Borgia. p. 31.
  10. Montor, Artaud de. 1911. The lives and times of the popes. pp. 147-149.
  11. Harkins, James. 1990. Plato in the Italian Renaissance. p. 214.