Renaissance and Reformation Pope Nicholas V
Stella Fletcher
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 July 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0437


Tommaso Parentucelli (b. 1397–d. 1455) was born in Sarzana, on the cusp of Genoese and Florentine spheres of influence, educated at Bologna and Florence, and ascended the ecclesiastical ladder under the aegis of Cardinal Niccolò Albergati. In 1438–1439 he was heavily involved in the Council of (Ferrara-)Florence, after which Pope Eugenius IV appointed him as bishop of Bologna in 1444 and made him a cardinal in 1446. He was elected as Eugenius’s successor in 1447 and took the papal name of Nicholas in memory of Albergati, who had died four years earlier. The previous pontificate had been so blighted by conciliarism that a rival pope had been elected by the Council of Basel. Nicholas healed the schism by appointing “Felix V” as one of his new cardinals. It was a mark of improved relations with at least one secular power that a concordat was signed with Frederick III in 1448, that same prince receiving his imperial coronation in Rome in 1452. All this can be traced in various Reference Works and Overviews. If more detailed information is required, a range of primary sources can be found under A Pope and His Contemporaries, though the sheer quantity of such material means that further texts are cited in later sections of this article. A synthesis of these sources exists in the sole modern Biography of Nicholas V. As with primary sources, so with conference papers: some are brought together and cited under Collections of Papers, while more specialized collections appear in subsequent sections. The first of those sections is devoted to the Vatican Library, which traces its continuous history back to this pope. He was a humanist, a student of the literature of Antiquity, and housed the papal library in two rooms of the Apostolic Palace—one devoted to Latin literature, the other to Greek. The plan was to collect the world’s knowledge in the world’s capital, Rome, but the city’s buildings and infrastructure had been much neglected. Thus, Nicholas set about Reviving the Vatican and, beyond its walls, Rebuilding Rome more generally. His architectural initiatives have been the subject of considerable scholarly interest. There was, however, no escaping the fact that the papal prince, the papal monarch, was heir to the emperors of Antiquity, not to Republican Rome. That was why another student of ancient Rome, Stefano Porcari, attempted to overthrow the papal regime in January 1453. Four months later Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks, forcing Nicholas to concentrate on matters far Beyond Rome.

Reference Works

The classic reference work for the Latin Church in the fifteenth century is Eubel 1913. For the history of the papacy there is Levillain 2002, and for individual popes and the events of their pontificates Kelly and Walsh 2010. However, in the twenty-first century all such printed reference works seem to be fighting a losing battle against the Internet and survive only by collaboration with that formidable rival. Thus the most important resource for Italian history, the Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana 1960–2020, is not only available both in print and online, but is also produced in tandem with the Enciclopedia dei papi, so that the two publications share an entry on Nicholas V, albeit with an updated bibliography in the Enciclopedia. Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church is an exclusively online resource, which means that it is regularly updated, though its exhaustive approach to bibliographies and other resources does not necessarily help the student to identify the most appropriate works for specific purposes.

  • Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church. Miami: Florida International University Libraries, 1998–.

    All cardinals past and present feature on this website, the entry for TommasoParentucelli) being typical in terms of its succinct biography and webography, but atypically lengthy with regard to its bibliography. Each of the eleven cardinals created by Nicholas between February 1448 and December 1449 has his own entry in the “General List” and can also be located via “Catalogs,” “Cardinals in alphabetical order,” and “Papal Elections and Conclaves.”

  • Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, ed. Dizionario biografico degli italiani. 100 vols. Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 1960–2020.

    Massimo Miglio’s entry for Nicholas V, published in 2013, is in Vol. 78, pp. 363–370 of the print edition, and also available in the online version. Both biographically and bibliographically it provides eminently detailed coverage of its subject. The DBI was published in alphabetical order, so the entry on Nicholas’s half-brother Filippo Calandrini appeared in 1973.

  • Enciclopedia dei papi. 3 vols. Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 2000.

    The entry on Nicholas V by Massimo Miglio is available online and is in Vol. 2, pp. 644–458, in the print edition. The same text is reproduced in the Dizionario biografico degli italiani, with an updated version of the extremely comprehensive bibliography.

  • Eubel, Konrad. Hierarchia catholica medii aevi. Vol. 2. 2d ed. Münster, Germany: Sumptibus et Typis Librariae Regensbergianae, 1913.

    This most authoritative of resources details all cardinalitial and episcopal appointments. When compared with the large numbers of cardinals made by later popes and the intense trafficking in bishoprics that developed, it can be seen that Nicholas V made relatively few appointments in either category, but those he did make can be traced in this volume, supplemented by archival references.

  • Kelly, J. N. D., and Michael J. Walsh. Oxford Dictionary of Popes. 2d rev. ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1093/acref/9780199295814.001.0001

    This accessible volume, which was first published in 1986, provides useful introductions to each pontiff from St Peter to Benedict XVI, including an entry on Nicholas V (pp. 246–248). This should suffice for relatively superficial purposes, but other reference works provide both more detailed coverage and more up-to-date bibliographies.

  • Levillain, Philippe, ed. The Papacy: An Encyclopedia. 3 vols. New York and London: Routledge, 2002.

    This is a treasury of information on all things papal. If it seems weighted toward the modern period, an idea of its potential can be gleaned from the fact that entries include “Canonization” (Nicholas canonized Bernardino of Siena in 1450), “Coronation, Imperial” (he conducted the last imperial coronation in Rome, that of Frederick III in 1452), “Felix V,” and “Palace, Apostolic.” Like all the popes, Nicholas has his own entry.

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