Jul 242010

q.v. July 19, 2010 post ‘Pope Benedict XVI becomes the 7th oldest pope’
June 18, 2010 post ‘The oldest pope. Benedict XVI, the current pope, is the 8th oldest (as of 1400)’
June 24, 2010 post ‘The youngest popes; John XII probably having been a teenager’

Pope Clement X, the oldest when elected pope

Pope Clement X who was nearly 80 when elected pope

Benedict XVI (#266), the current pope, is now the 7th oldest of the popes (albeit as of 1400). It will be February 29, 2012, before he can be the 6th oldest, a berth current held by his friend and predecessor John Paul II (#265). [Again, all the comparisons are as of 1400, since we don’t have reliable birth dates for the popes prior to that.]

In marked contrast to the adjacent slots they currently hold, in terms of their ages, there was a big difference in the ages at which they were elected. Benedict XVI was elected 3 days after his 78th birthday, the conclave that elected him starting two days after his birthday. Benedict XVI, the third to be elected in their 78th year, is the 5th oldest to be elected (as of 1400). John Paul II, on the other hand, was 20 years younger.

In my June 18, 2010 post I did list the 5 oldest (since 1400) to be elected pope. But, I didn’t go into too much detail, nor provide added context by listing those that came directly below the pope.

This chart, in the same vein as the 11th oldest popes (as of 1400) that has proved to be so popular, provides a detailed picture of the ten oldest to be elected pope (as of 1400). I included the ‘cardinal’ and ‘conclaves’ column to add more perspective. The ‘cardinal’ number is the length of time prior to becoming pope, while the ‘conclaves’ denotes the number of conclaves attended — the last of which would have been the conclave at which they got elected. ‘The number of conclaves attended’ is an interesting metric. Eleven (11) of the 15 popes elected since 1800 were elected in the FIRST conclave they attended. Benedict XVI who was elected at his third conclave was an anomaly! This was such a noticeable trend that I started calling it the ‘first-time papabili‘ factor — and used it in selecting my 2009 list of papabili.

<< click on the chart to get a larger version >>

Oldest to be elected pope since 1400, Benedict XVI the 5th oldest -- by Anura Guruge

Oldest to be elected pope since 1400, Benedict XVI the 5th oldest -- by Anura Guruge

The average age, at election, of the 62 popes since 1400 is 62.4 years.

Notice that the two oldest, i.e., Clement X (#240) and Alexander VIII (#242), are only separated by one intervening pope. That happened to be Innocent XI (#241) who was 65. Alexander VIII’s relatively brief 15 month papacy was followed by Innocent XII (#243) — who was 76 when elected. So there were three post-75 popes within a span of four popes between April 1670 and July 1691. [All four were elected in tense, lengthy conclaves, with much wrangling between the then powerful European nations, in particular France and Spain.]

In reality, the propensity towards older popes during that period is even greater. Five of the eight popes between April 1670 and July 1730 appear in the above top 10 list! But, in between there was also Clement XI (#244), who came after Innocent XII. He was 51; the seventh or eight youngest (since 1400). [Innocent VIII (#214) was also elected when 51. However, his exact age, beyond that he was 51 unknown. Thus, we can’t say for sure which of these two are the youngest.]

Note how Clement X was but a cardinal for 5 months (due to a checkered career working in diverse roles for his successors) before getting elected pope. Two 20th century popes, who happened to be consecutive, also had very briefs stints as cardinals before getting elected; viz. Benedict XV (#259) [101 days as a cardinal] and Pius XI (#260) [238 days as a cardinal].

I did some additional statistical research and analysis on the papacies of the 62 popes since 1400. I will publish some of that in a few days … in an effort to keep this data in ‘bite size’ chunks.

Thank you.

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