XIV, belonged to a noble family of Milan, founded by Conrad, a
German, who, in the time of Otho IV, established himself in
The mother of Nicolo, Anna Visconti, died, and by the
Caesarean operation Nicolo was brought into the world on the
11th of February, 1535. The infant, though for some time very
weak, gradually gained a little strength. In the course of years
he studied, successively, at Perugia, Padua, and Pavia, at which
last he received the doctorate. While still young, he became a
member of the household of Charles Borromeo. On the 12th of
March, 1560, being then twenty-five years old, he was named
Bishop of Cremona by Pius IV, who sent him to Trent, in which
council he drew up the celebrated decree which prohibited the
plurality of benefices. The Holy See was so satisfied with the
services of Nicolo that without his own consent he was promoted
to the purple by Gregory XIII, on the 12th of December 1583,
under the title of Saint Cecilia.
The sacred electors having entered into conclave, to the
number of fifty-two, on the 8th of October, named as governor of
it Octavius Bandini, who was afterwards a cardinal. there were
several candidates in view for the tiara. Cardinal Montalto
supported Cardinal Scipio Gonzaga, who opposed that design with
a persistency as noble as it was outrageous, and compelled
Montalto to abandon his project.
A great number of votes were united on Cardinal Gabriel
Paleotto, but he had not a sufficient number; two new cardinals
arriving, thirty-six votes were requisite. At length, on the 5th
of December, 1590, at about noon, the fifty-six electors
elected, with open votes, Cardinal Sfondrati, then aged
fifty-five years. He thus on the instant found himself honored
with a charge which he had not expected or desired. At the
moment he was so astonished that, turning to the cardinals, who
saluted him as Holy Father, he said: "God forgive you! What have
However, he burst into tears, and refused to walk, and his
voice was choked with sobs. The sedia gestatoria was brought in,
and he was carried in spite of himself into the Basilica of the
Vatican, amidst the acclamations of the populace who wished him
a long reign.
It is known that Gregory XIII gave the purple to Nicolo, and
that he endeavored to refuse it, exclaiming: "Why, there is a
host of prelates more deserving of it than I!" When the
cardinals elected him pontiff they experienced still greater
resistance, but only became the more animated to conquer each
new repulse. Although he would not utter a word, it was
necessary that a name should be selected for him, if he should
persist in not selecting one for himself. That of Gregory was
pronounced, and a feeling of gratitude, evidenced by a slight
smile, was his only reply; but it was taken for a tacit consent.
That slight sign was taken advantage of to prepare for the
ceremony of the coronation of Gregory XIV, which took place on
the 8th of December.
On the 13th of the same month Gregory took possession of
Saint John Lateran.
While he was cardinal, his modesty, his knowledge, and the
purity of his morals endeared him to Saint Philip Neri and Saint
Ignatius Loyola. Gregory deeming it offer the purple to Saint
Philip, the saint declined it, alleging the same reasons that
had formerly been urged by Gregory himself; and, while warmly
thanking him, would not accept that honor. It was related that
when Saint Philip went to pay his respects to Gregory, the
latter rose, hastened to meet him, and said to him: "We are
greater than you in dignity, but you are far greater than we in
sanctity.". He immediately ordered the saint to be seated, an
even to resume his biretta.
To show his respect for the virtues of Ignatius, Gregory, in
1591, confirmed the institute and the constitution of the
Society of Jesus.
We shall here see the famous Arnaud d'Ossat, afterwards
cardinal, figure in a remarkable manner. He will be more
particularly spoken of when honored with the full confidence of
Henry IV of France. At present we confine ourselves to
mentioning his proceedings in the service and name of Queen
Louise of Lorraine, who wished the Roman court to cause solemn
obsequies to be celebrated in honor of Henry III, King of
France, her deceased husband. But that prince had died
excommunicated, and it was difficult to obtain such a compliance
from the court of Rome, which had not deigned to make a reply.
D'Ossat at length obtained a brief, but it could not have been
quite satisfactory to Her Majesty. The pope, after
congratulating Her Majesty upon her having had Masses said, and
having imposed upon herself fasting and almsgiving for the
salvation of souls, proceeded thus: "The ornamentation of a
tomb, the show of mourning, and the funeral pomps, are
consolations for the survivors, not benefits to the dead. For
pious souls who, free from sins, have flown to the Lord, it
matters little that their bodies have a sordid tomb, or none;
even as the costliest tomb does nothing for the impious and
those who are still bound in the bonds of sin."
Following the example of Gregory XIII and Sixtus V, the pope
publicly renewed, by the constitution Romanus Pontifex,
that of Saint Pius V which forbade to alienate or grant in fief
the property of the Roman Church. The whole city of Rome
applauded that just and courageous act. At that precise time
Alphonsus II, Duke of Ferrara, visited Rome, accompanied by a
suite of six hundred gentlemen. Gregory gave him a magnificent
reception, lodged him in the palace, and treated him the same as
he would have treated the most powerful of sovereigns. The
secret object of Alphonsus's journey was to solicit, in favor of
another family than his own, the D'Este family, the reversion of
the duchy of Ferrara. Alphonsus was the last of the house of
Este who had enjoyed that duchy, and before dying he wished to
present that possession to a friendly family, instead of
restoring it to the Holy See, which was the sovereign of the
duchy. Gregory intrusted the examination of that demand to
thirteen cardinals, and, on their report, decided that he could
not grant that favor without infringing the constitution
Unfortunately, attacked by a feeling of nepotism, Gregory
named as cardinal his nephew Paulus Emilius Sfondrati, who was
only thirty-one years of age.
By a new constitution Gregory confirmed that given by Pius IV
regarding wagers upon the length of life and the death of the
pontiffs, and upon the creation of cardinals. Some persons
engaged in that illicit and indecent wagering, in order to save
themselves from loss, sometimes disturbed the elections; and
others, to increase their chance of winning, did not blush to
circulate calumnies against worthy men who were thought likely
to be raised to the purple.
He forbade the Capuchins to administer the sacrament of
penance, in order that they might have the more time for the
contemplation of divine things. But Clement VIII, in 1598, again
permitted them to hear the confessions of the faithful.
He published a law upon the immunity of the churches, and
rendered many decrees concerning promotions to bishoprics and
other consistorial dignities.
After consulting the cardinals, the pope issued a bull, at
the solicitation of Cardinal Bonelli, a Dominican, nephew of
Saint Pius V. That bull granted to the cardinals who belonged to
a religious order the right to wear red hats. Till then they had
had to wear hats of the same color as the habit of their order.
On the 9th of June the pope himself, previous to leaving the
Quirinal Palace for the church of the Holy Apostles, to hold a
papal chapel, placed the red hats on the heads of Cardinals
Bonelli and Berner, Dominicans; Boccafuoco, Minor Conventual;
and Petrochini, Hermit of Saint Augustine.
Gregory erected into a religious order the congregation of
the Regular Clerks, Ministers to the Infirm, founded at Rome by
Saint Camillus de Lellis, priest of Buclano, in the diocese of
Chieti. By the constitution Ex Omnibus of the 8th of
March, 1586, Sixtus V had approved the congregation, but
declared that the vows must be spontaneous.
In the castle of Zagarolo, an estate situated twenty miles
from Rome, which belonged first to the house of Colonna, then to
that of Ludovisi, and then to that of Rospigliosi, the final
correction was given to the Bible. That care had been intrusted
to six able theologians, presided over by Cardinal Mark Antony
Few persons had as yet noticed the tendency towards nepotism
from which Gregory had been unable to free himself. That disease
of the pontifical court soon manifested If more fatally. The
pope named his nephew Hercules Sfondrati general of the Holy
Church, and sent him into France at the head of an army of six
thousand Swiss, two thousand Italian infantry, and a thousand
horse. These troops were to assist the French Leaguers, who were
fighting against Henry IV. Subsequently the pope sent into
France, as his nuncio, Marsilius Landriani, who was the bearer
of two monitions. One of those documents concerned all persons
who should espouse the party of Henry, and the other was
especially directed against such nobles as should not abstain
from encouraging heresy.
Spondanus affirms that, besides these monitions, Hercules
Sfondrati was provided with a bull which directly excommunicated
Henry of Navarre.
That was the last effort of this pope's power. He was
suddenly taken ill. He was removed to the palace of Saint Mark,
at Rome, which the republic of Venice had momentarily restored,
and that building was surrounded by gates and guards to prevent
approach. But the condition of the pope was not to be
ameliorated, and he himself considered he was in great danger.
Then he had all the cardinals summoned around him. He
represented that his incapacity for government was still further
increased by his infirmities, and he entreated that, even during
his life, they would elect a successor. That demand was in
opposition to a host of constitutions that had always been
respected. The cardinals at once declared that they would not
consent to be guilty of such an act. Then he exhorted them to
choose, after his death, a successor worthy of the pontificate,
and to choose him promptly, without cabals and without contests.
To the other sufferings of Gregory were added those of the
disease known by the name of the stone. Life was no longer for
him anything but a long torture.
Campana relates that, to relieve the sufferings of the
patient, even pulverized precious stones and gold were
administered to him. Muratori, on that subject, remarks: "This
good pope, then, was surrounded either by stupid physicians or
culpable ministers." The pope soon sank under the violence of
his sufferings, and died on the 15th of October, 1591, at the
age of fifty-six. He had governed ten months and ten days. He
was interred in the Vatican, towards the middle of the Gregorian
Chapel, near Gregory XIII, in a tomb almost destitute of
This pontiff, although he yielded to nepotism was
distinguished for his noble virtues. During his short
pontificate he expended considerable sums in favor of the poor.
Some of his ministers did not serve him with that sentiment of
obedience which a minister ought never to forget. During a
scarcity the pope himself was left to see personally to the care
of obtaining a supply of grain. A great number of people in Rome
and the vicinity died, nevertheless, in consequence of that
scarcity. Gregory personally visited the sick, and only
consented to take a little nourishment after he had assisted
those who were on the point of sinking under so much suffering.
All admired his constancy, his piety, his temperance, and a
fund of moral purity, which had made him remarkable from the
period of his being created a bishop. Little inclined to
interfere in foreign politics, he unfortunately listened,
sometimes, too trustingly to Philip II, who was the avowed enemy
of Henry IV of France. The bull which was issued against the
latter prince, who was already prepared to learn and to profess
our holy religion, retarded the success of that difficult
negotiation. Threats were the least likely of all means to
succeed with Henry IV.
This biographical data is from
"The Lives and Times of the Popes" by The Chevalier Artaud De
Montor. Published by The Catholic Publication Society of New
York in ten volumes in 1911.