In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Cardinals

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • General Overviews
  • Collections of Papers

Renaissance and Reformation Cardinals
Stella Fletcher
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 April 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 June 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0178


Deriving from the Latin cardo (hinge), cardinals were originally priests permanently attached to particular churches. Roman cardinals were beneficiaries of the 11th- and 12th-century reforms that sought to diminish secular influence over the church by centralizing power in the person of the pope. They emerged from that process with enhanced individual and corporate powers. The 1059 codification of rules governing papal elections made them the principal electors of popes. This was refined by the Third Lateran Council (1179), which decreed that cardinals were the sole electors of popes, that their votes were of equal value with no distinction between those of cardinal-bishops, cardinal-priests, and cardinal-deacons, and that a two-thirds majority was required to secure an election. Between conclaves, popes and cardinals met together in regular consistories from c. 1130. Cardinals began to hold administrative offices within the Roman curia and to act as legates a latere, sent “from the side” of the pope to exercise his power in specific regions of Christendom. Their authority was further enhanced when they became protectors of newly reformed and centralized religious orders. Cardinals’ red hats were exclusively the gift of the popes who, from the 15th century onward, used them as diplomatic tools in their relations with the secular powers. Between 1350 and 1650 nearly one thousand individuals were made cardinals, even if approximately one tenth of that total have since been identified as “pseudo-cardinals,” the creations of antipopes. In this bibliography, Reference Works precede General Overviews, which deal with groups of cardinals. Collections of Papers include studies of individual cardinals and are therefore particularly useful for comparative purposes. Thereafter, attention focuses on the composition, privileges, and responsibilities of the Sacred College, with subsections devoted to particular features of their life in Rome (and Avignon): Cardinals in Conclaves for their role in papal elections, Cardinal Protectors for some of their functions between conclaves, and Cardinals’ Houses and Households for other aspects of their ecclesiastical and cultural patronage. The vast majority of scholarship relating to cardinals has been biographical in nature, which is why the remainder of the present work divides the subject chronologically, into Cardinals Created before 1471, Cardinals Created between 1471 and 1503, Cardinals Created between 1503 and 1534, Cardinals Created between 1534 and 1549, and Cardinals Created after 1549. In each there is a selection of primary sources and secondary literature, identified as “Sources” and “Studies,” respectively.

Reference Works

The standard reference works used today come with a distinguished literary pedigree, for the lives of cardinals have long been charted and collected by historians. In the 16th century Girolamo Garimberti sought to record the lives of all past cardinals. In the 17th century his example was followed by Alfonso Chacón (Ciacconius), while Pierre Frizon wrote only of French cardinals (Gallia purpurata). The dawn of the Enlightenment saw Georg Josef Eggs confine his collection to learned cardinals (Purpura docta), and the republic of Venice was only decades from extinction when Angelo Maria Querini published his lives of Venetian popes and cardinals. A more encyclopedic approach was taken by Lorenzo Cardella, whose Memorie storiche de’ cardinali della santa romana chiesa was published in nine volumes between 1792 and 1797, and sustained in the 19th century by Charles Berton (Dictionnaire des cardinaux: Contenant des notions general sur le cardinalat, 1857) and Francesco Cristofori (Storia dei cardinali di S. Romana Chiesa, 1888). For most practical purposes scholars now look no further back than Eubel 1913–1935. Sicari 2001 presents Eubel’s material in an alternative format, listing cardinals alphabetically. Dictionaries of national biography should be preferred to alternative reference resources: between them, Prevost 1932–, Ghisalbert 1960–, and Matthew and Harrison 2004 provide biographies for a sizeable proportion of the cardinals of the Renaissance and Reformation periods. For explanations of the specialist terminology relating the papal history, including the role of cardinals, Levillain 2003 is a clear and easy-to-use reference work.

  • Eubel, Conradus, et al. Hierarchia catholica medii aevi. 4 vols. Munich: Sumptibus et Typis Librariae Regensbergianae, 1913–1935.

    This is an indispensable guide to popes, cardinals, and bishops in communion with the Holy See. The first four volumes of what now runs to a nine-volume series, continued by other authors, cover the years 1198–1431, 1431–1503, 1503–1592, and 1592–1667 respectively. Eubel was assisted by G. van Gulik on Volumes 2–3; Volume 4 was edited by P. Gauchet.

  • Ghisalbert, Alberto Maria. Dizionario biografico degli Italiani. 71 vols. Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 1960–.

    Approximately 55 percent of the cardinals created by Roman pontiffs in the 15th century were of Italian origin; this figure rose to nearly 70 percent in the 16th century. Though still a work in progress, this dictionary is an excellent biographical and bibliographical resource for the study of Renaissance cardinals and includes non-Italians, such as Bessarion, who took up residence in the peninsula.

  • Levillain, Philippe, ed. Dictionnaire historique de la papauté. Paris: Fayard, 2003.

    A single-volume reference work covering the entire history of the papacy; a convenient source of generic information on cardinals, including as protectors and papal nephews. There are entries on conclaves and conclavists, on offices held by cardinals (such as that of camerlengo), as well as on individual popes. There are no entries on individual cardinals. Each entry is supported by an ample bibliography.

  • Matthew, H. C. G., and Brian Harrison, eds. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 40 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

    There are entries for cardinals born in the British Isles, as well as for those who were born elsewhere but who made a contribution to the so-called island story. Adriano Castellesi, Lorenzo Campeggi, and Girolamo Ghinucci come into the latter category. One of the “themes” under which entries can be researched in the online version (available by subscription) is “Cardinals in the Oxford DNB.”

  • Prevost, M. Dictionnaire de biographie Française. 19 vols. Paris: Letouzey et Ané, 1932–.

    Second only in number to Italians were French-speaking cardinals promoted by French popes in the 14th century or Italian popes keen to placate French kings in the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries. Although the dictionary remains incomplete, it is nevertheless the first port of call for researching the careers of most French cardinals and schismatic claimants to the hat.

  • Sicari, Giovanni. Cenni biografici su tutti i cardinali (1198–2001): Incarichi precedenti ai cardinali, date di creazione e morte: titoli diaconali, presbiteriali e vescovili. Rome: Giovanni Sicari, 2001.

    The volume consists of a single list of cardinals, arranged alphabetically, in each case providing name and place of death, location of burial, date of creation as a cardinal and senior benefices held at the time of creation. The information is taken exclusively from Francesco Cristofori and from Eubel 1913–1935. Any errors that have been corrected by intervening scholarship remain unacknowledged.

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