Niccolo Sfondrati (Gegory XIV) elected Pope
Pope Gregory XIV (11 February, 1535 –16 October, 1591), born Niccolò Sfondrati, was Pope from 5 December, 1590 until his death in 1591.
Gregory XIV's brief pontificate was marked by vigorous intervention in favour of the Catholic party in the French Wars of Religion. Instigated by the king of Spain and the duke of Mayenne, he excommunicated Henry IV of France (1589 – 1610) on 1 March, 1591, reiterating the declaration of Pope Sixtus V (1585) that as a heretic Henry of Navarre was excluded from the succession to the throne of France, and declaring him to be deprived of his dominions.
Gregory XIV also levied an army for the invasion of France and dispatched his nephew Ercole Sfondrati to France at its head and sent a monthly subsidy of 15,000 scudi to Paris, to reinforce the Catholic League. Thus was abandoned the recent papal policy of trying to maintain a balance between Spain and France, coming down solidly on the side of Spanish interests, in part because Gregory XIV was elected due to the influence of the Spanish cardinals.
Gregory XIV created five Cardinals, among whom was his nephew Paolo Emilio Sfondrati, his Secretary of State. He attempted to convince Philip Neri, a long-time friend, to accept the post of Cardinal, but Neri refused, saying that there were many more deserving of the honour than him.
In a decree dated 18 April, 1591, Gregory XIV ordered reparations to be made by Catholics in the Philippines to the natives, who had been forced into slavery by Europeans, and commanded under pain of excommunication that all native slaves in the islands should be set free.
The biographers mention as a curious personal trait of Pope Gregory XIV: a nervous tendency to laughter which occasionally became irresistible, and which manifested itself even at his coronation. Gregory, who was in poor health even before his election to the papacy, was succeeded by Innocent IX after he died due to a large gallstone.
Born at Somma, near Milan, 11 Feb., 1535; died at Rome, 15 Oct., 1591.
His father Francesco, a Milanese senator, had, after the death of his wife, been created cardinal by Pope Paul III, in 1544. Niccolò studied at the Universities of Perugia and Padua, was ordained priest, and then appointed Bishop of Cremona, in 1560. He participated in the sessions of the Council of Trent, 1561-1563, and was created Cardinal-Priest of Santa Cecilia by Gregory XIII on 12 December 1583. Urban VII having died on 27 September, 1590, Sfondrati was elected to succeed him on 5 December, 1590, after a protracted conclave of more than two months, and took the name of Gregory XIV. The new pope had not aspired to the tiara. Cardinal Montalto, who came to his cell to inform him that the Sacred College had agreed on his election, found him kneeling in prayer before a crucifix. When on the next day he was elected he burst into tears and said to the cardinals: "God forgive you! What have you done?" From his youth he had been a man of piety and mortification. Before entering the ecclesiastical state he was a constant companion of Charles Borromeo, and when cardinal, he was an intimate friend of Philip Neri whose holy life he strove to imitate.
As soon as he became pope, he gave his energetic support to the French League, and took active measures against Henry of Navarre, whom Sixtus V, in 1585, had declared a heretic and excluded from succession to the French throne. In accordance with the Salic law, after the death of Henry III in 1589, Henry of Navarre was to succeed to the French throne, but the prevalent idea of those times was that no Protestant could become King of France, which was for the most part Catholic. The nobles, moreover, threatened to rise up against the rule of Henry of Navarre unless he promised to become a Catholic. In order to reconcile the nobility and the people to his reign, Henry declared on 4 August, 1589, that he would become a Catholic and uphold the Catholic religion in France. When Gregory XIV became pope, Henry had not yet fulfilled his promise and gave little hope of doing it in the near future. The pope, therefore, decided to assist the French League in its efforts to depose Henry by force of arms and in this he was encouraged by Philip II of Spain. In his monitorial letter to the Council of Paris, 1 March, 1591, he renewed the sentence of excommunication against Henry, and ordered the clergy, nobles, judicial functionaries, and the Third Estate of France to renounce him, under pain of severe penalties. He also sent a monthly subsidy of 15,000 sendi to Paris, and dispatched his nephew Ercole Sfondrati to France at the head of the papal troops. In the midst of these operations against Henry, Gregory XIV died. after a short pontificate of 10 months and 10 days.
Gregory XIV created five cardinals, among whom was his nephew Paolo Camillo Sfondrati. He vainly tried to induce Philip Neri to accept the purple. On 21 September, 1591, he raised to the dignity of a religious order the Congregation of the Fathers of a Good Death (Clerici regulares ministrantes infirmis) founded by St. Camillus de Lellis. In his Bull "Cogit nos", dated 21 March, 1591, he forbade under pain of excommunication all bets concerning the election of a pope, the duration of a pontificate, or the creation of new cardinals. In a decree, dated 18 April, 1591, he ordered reparation to be made to the Indians of the Philippines by their conquerors wherever it was possible, and commanded under pain of excommunication that all Indian slaves in the islands should be set free. Gregory XIV also appointed a commission to revise the Sixtine Bible and another commission to continue the revision of the Pian Breviary. The former commission had its first session on 7 Feb., 1591, the latter on 21 April, 1591. Concerning these two commissions see Bäumer, "Geschichte des Breviers" (Freiburg im Breisgau, 1895), pp. 479-90.