Mary Hollingsworth


A papal election is compelling theatre. It is a unique event, conducted with magnificent and arcane ceremonial in a format that has remained largely unchanged for centuries. The death of John Paul II in 2005 marked the start of a three-week media frenzy, with blanket coverage in the newspapers and on television, and armies of 'experts' interviewed to throw light on what was happening behind the locked doors of the Vatican. Another conclave is expected in the near future - and it will engender a similar fascination with what is one of the most unpredictable events in global politics.

Conclaves have so often changed the course of history but their details remain shrouded in secrecy. Legend may have it that the Holy Ghost chooses the pope, but we can be sure a conclave is primarily about power: the cardinal who successfuly engineers two-thirds of the votes in his favour will become a leading figure on the world stage. In 1559, as in 2012, the papacy was in crisis, under attack for its reluctance to embrace the need to reform; the college of cardinals too was deeply divided between moderates and conservatives, as well as between personal rivalries and national factions; and a conclave was imminent.

What is unique about the 1559 conclave, one of the most notorious in history, is that we are exceptionally well-informed about the political chicanery with which the electin was cnducted, thanks to the cardinals themselves who, having solemnly sworn to uphold the rules of secrecy governing the conclave, then proceeded to ignore them entirely. Indeed, the more unsavoury details of this papal election show just how badly the Church was in need of reform. Above all, thanks to the survival of the papers of cardinal Ippolito d'Este, we can also glimpse the daily lives of the cardinals incarcerated inside the Vatican - ceremonial and conspiracy, food parcels, beds and washing facilities. Above all, this book will shed light on the real business that takes place behind the sealed doors of a conclave, a drama as gripping then as now.

Book Details:

  • Author: Mary Hollingsworth
  • Published Year: 2013
  • Rights Sold
    • UK: Thistle

Mary Hollingsworth

Mary Hollingsworth has a B.Sc. in business studies and a Ph.D. in art history. Her doctoral thesis dealt with the role of the architect in Italian Renaissance building projects and led to research on the role of the patron in the development of Renaissance art and architecture, a subject she taught to undergraduates and postgraduates, and published in two books (see below). Her subsequent work on the papers of Cardinal Ippolito d’Este considerably broadened her horizons, and expertise, well beyond the confines of art history into the everyday world of Renaissance Europe. She has publ...
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Book Reviews

  • "If you want to understand whats happening in the vatican now, read this book. grippping, lurid and fascinating, both scholarly and utterly readable, oozing with original academic research,  its a minute-by-minute,day by day account of all the intrigues, manouvres, deals, politics and scandals of a papal conclave."
    Simon Sebag Montefiore
  • "  takes us behind the scenes  … gives us a fascinating insight  ."
    St Christopher’s Live Your Life ezine,