Episode 37 – The New Pope

As the cardinals gathered in Rome in early 1522 to elect a new pope after the unexpected death of Pope Leo X in December 1521, they all recognized that the world had changed dramatically since Leo’s election in 1513.

Not only did Martin Luther challenge the authority of the church and the pope, the Turks were traveling up the Danube River, threatening the eastern regions of Europe, there were three new young kings making dangerous threats against each other and, most urgently, the church was deeply in debt.

The cardinals recognized they needed somebody learned enough to engage in the theological battles, but they also needed someone with experience in the politics of the day and able to calm the warrior princes. They were initially thrilled when they finally settled on Cardinal Adrian Boeyens, the scholar who was first selected to tutor Emperor Charles when he was young, then subsequently selected by the Emperor to manage Spain while the emperor was in Germany.

Within minutes of announcing the selection, the cardinals got their first indication that they had made a mistake when the people of Rome almost rioted after hearing the news.


We’ve spent quite a bit of time talking about the rise and fall of Thomas Müntzer and the Peasants Revolt of 1524 and 1525. This episode goes back to December of 1521.

Luther started December of 1521 in the Wartburg castle, hiding from his enemies, and increasingly concerned about the rumors he had begun hearing about growing Reformation excesses back in Wittenberg.

Pope Leo X

Meanwhile, on December 1, 1521 in Rome, Luther’s primary opponent, Pope Leo X, died (supposedly of pneumonia) at age 46. Leo died suddenly, and wasn’t even given last rites, one day after he complained about the wine that had been handed to him. The pope’s cup-bearer was arrested the next morning, but was released by the pope’s cousin, Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici before any inquiry could be made. The reason the cardinal gave for releasing the cup-bearer was, “lest some great prince should be found mixed up in the matter, and he should thus acquire an implacable enemy.”

The pope’s cousin was the lead candidate for the papacy. The respected 19th century historian, Thomas Dyer, believed the cardinal shut down the inquiry mostly because he didn’t want to lose votes for the papacy. (Sorta hard to campaign for votes from somebody who killed your cousin.)

There was a full agenda left by Leo.

The Turks were threatening Hungary; The young kings of France, England and Spain were ready and anxious for war; Lutheranism was a continually growing irritation.

Most urgently, the church was completely broke. Leo’s “table” alone cost about 100,000 ducats per year (around $15 M in 2018 dollars). Upon his death, Leo had debts of about 850,000 ducats (~$127 M), with no money in the papal treasury to pay.

Leo’s friends, who had loaned him all this money, took whatever wasn’t nailed down at the Vatican to try to recoup their losses. They were so broke, the Vatican couldn’t afford new candles for Leo’s funeral. They had to reuse the candles from the recent funeral of Cardinal Riario.

After the death of Leo, the Roman church engaged in one of the most open and politically motivated papal conclaves in all of history. There were three strong factions, trying to manipulate the voting for their own benefit. So the conclave was stuck in a deadlock.

  • Thomas Wolsey, supported by Emperor Charles and King Henry VIII didn’t have enough votes.
  • Tomasso Soderini, supported by Francis I, king of France, also didn’t have enough votes.
  • Giulio de’ Medici, who was the most qualified, was opposed by Francis, who threatened to leave the Catholic church if another Medici was elected.

Suddenly, out of the blue, Cardinal Medici suggested Adrian of Utrecht.

Adrian of Utrect, Pope Adrian VI

Who was Adrian? He was the tutor to the emperor from the time the emperor was 7 years old. As the emperor grew in power, he gave Adrian more important positions of authority. In 1515, Charles wanted to be the ruler of Spain, instead of his younger brother, Ferdinand. Adrian was sent to Spain to negotiate with Charles’ father. Adrian succeeded and Charles was made the ruler of Spain when his father died. Charles then appointed Adrian Bishop of Tortosa. The appointment was approved by Pope Leo X in Aug of 1518.

When Charles left Spain to become the emperor, he left Adrian in charge.

Almost immediately after Adrian was suggested, he was elected to be the next pope on January 9, 1522.

Beer break

Schlenkerla has a quite extensive description of each of their beers and the processes used to brew them on their website—in English, no less. Just visit

Schlenkerla claims to smoke their own malt, so maybe Weyermann supplies Spezial, which is the other Bamberg brewery that makes Rauchbier.

There are also a couple of breweries in neighboring villages that make Rauchbier. Schlenkerla, which is the most smoky of the three, to be the most widely distributed.

Don’t be offended if you don’t like it.

Back to Adrian

When Adrian arrived outside the walls of Rome, on Aug 29, the cardinals greeted him with a speech about the kinds of reforms they hoped he would implement. Adrian answered that they must first stop sheltering evil-doers in their palaces, and allow the police free access to make arrests. The cardinals were stunned.

One of them didn’t get the memo, and came forward with a request for a pardon for someone convicted of murder. Adrian said, “We cannot pardon without hearing both sides.” The cardinals were devastated.

On August 31, almost nine months after his election, Adrian walked into Rome. He traveled by foot as a sign of his humility. When he arrived at the Roman gate, he took off his shoes and hose as a sign of respect for the city

This made a great impression on the general populace who immediately respected Adrian.

Things didn’t go as well with the higher classes.

He didn’t speak Italian. He had no understanding of Italian manners. Most significantly, he had no appreciation of art. When he saw some of the Roman art from the time of Christ, he turned in horror and cried out, “These are pagan idols!”

This was one of the few times Adrian was passionate about anything. Adrian was almost always relaxed, peaceful, quiet and easy going. The upper classes of Rome even hated this. Before Adrian, Leo was like a never-ending party. Before Leo, Julius was providing all sorts of excitement by continually starting wars with his enemies. They hated that Adrian was boring.

Adrian had arrived in Rome.

We’ll be covering the pontificate of Adrian in our next episode.

Thank You

  • Thanks to our listeners and thanks to Josh our sound engineer.

Recognition of source materials

  • Thomas Henry Dyer – Modern Europe Volume 1 (1453 -1530)
  • Mandell Creighton – A History of the Papacy from the Great Schism to the Sack of Rome
  • Vatican website
  • Wikipedia
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