The 1740 papal conclave (18 February – 17 August), convoked after the death of Pope Clement XII on 6 February 1740, was one of the longest conclaves since the 13th century.

Papal conclave
February–August 1740
Dates and location
18 February – 17 August 1740
Apostolic Palace, Papal States
Key officials
DeanPietro Ottoboni, Tommaso Ruffo
Sub-deanTommaso Ruffo, Lodovico Picco della Mirandola
CamerlengoAnnibale Albani
ProtopriestArmand-Gaston de Rohan-Soubise
ProtodeaconLorenzo Altieri
Elected pope
Prospero Lorenzo Lambertini
Name taken: Benedict XIV
← 1730
1758 →

The initial favourite to succeed as pope, the elderly Pietro Ottoboni (1667–1740), Dean of the College of Cardinals, died shortly after the beginning of the conclave, and cardinals loyal to the House of Bourbon repeatedly proposed Pompeo Aldrovandi, but eventually had to accept that he could not secure two-thirds of the votes.

After six months, other possible candidates had also failed, and Cardinal Prospero Lambertini, Archbishop of Bologna, who had been a cardinal since 9 December 1726, was elected. He took the name Benedict XIV.

The conclave


The conclave began on 18 February 1740, following the funeral of Clement XII, and lasted for six months.

At the outset, only thirty-two Cardinals entered into the conclave, in which there was an expectation that the elderly Pietro Ottoboni (1667–1740), a Cardinal for more than fifty years and Dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals, would be chosen to succeed Clement XII. However, opposition to Ottoboni was raised because of his protective relationship with France. After a few days he was taken seriously ill, left the conclave on 25 February, and died on 29 February.[1][2] Ottoboni's place as Dean was taken by Tommaso Ruffo, vice-dean of the Sacred College.[3]

As more cardinals arrived in Rome and entered into the conclave, a group of the French formed an alliance with the Austrians and with the Spanish cardinals from Naples and Tuscany. The cardinals loyal to the Bourbons proposed the name of Pompeo Aldrovandi, but he fell just short of securing the two-thirds majority required. For forty days, his nomination was voted on unsuccessfully before it became clear he could not be elected.[4]

There was considerable and lengthy confusion, with a series of names advanced, all of whom failed to find the necessary level of support. After long deliberation, Cardinal Lambertini, a canon lawyer, was proposed as a compromise candidate, and he is reported to have said to the College of Cardinals "If you wish to elect a saint, choose Gotti; a statesman, Aldrovandi; an honest man, me".[5][6] This appears to have assisted his cause, which also benefited from his reputation for deep learning, gentleness, wisdom, and conciliation in policy.[7]

The election of Benedict XIV

Benedict by Bracci

In the words of one historian, the College of Cardinals was

"...too sensible of their own weakness to risk giving offense to the neighboring courts, At length they fixed on a man who was at least unlikely to be offensive, as he had never in his life been engaged in diplomatic affairs, either as ambassador or nuncio. This was Prospero Lambertini, a native of Bologna.[8]

On 17 August in the evening, Lambertini was elected Pope, receiving the ballots of more than the required two-thirds of the fifty-one Cardinals present. Lambertini accepted his election and took the name of Benedict XIV in honour of his friend and patron Pope Benedict XIII.[7] It had been one of the longer conclaves, though far from the longest.[a] Benedict was crowned a few days later in the loggia of the Vatican Basilica.

Other witnesses


Giovanni Angelo Braschi, later Pope Pius VI, attended the conclave while still a layman as assistant to Cardinal Ruffo.[10]

The young Horace Walpole, who was in Rome at the time, attempted to attend the coronation but gave up because he found the waiting interminable. He wrote to his friend and cousin Conway "I am sorry to have lost the sight of the Pope's coronation, but I might have staid for seeing it till I had been old enough to be Pope myself."[11]

List of participants


Of the sixty-eight cardinals living at the death of Pope Clement XII, four died during the sede vacante and fifty-one took part in the final ballot.:[12]

List of cardinals absent


Fourteen cardinals were absent throughout the conclave:[12]


  1. ^ The longest papal election was that election of 1268–1271 which had lasted almost three years, compared with more than two years for that of 1292–1294 and almost a year for the 1287–1288 election. This conclave lasted a few days longer than the election of 1277.[9]


  1. ^ a b OTTOBONI, Pietro (1667–1740) Archived 31 October 2010 at the Wayback Machine at
  2. ^ Biography of Benedict XIV Archived 21 May 2020 at the Wayback Machine at
  3. ^ RUFFO, Tommaso (1663–1753) Archived 20 January 2012 at the Wayback Machine at
  4. ^ Horace Walpole, ed. Wilmarth Sheldon Lewis, The Yale edition of Horace Walpole's correspondence, vols. 13-14 (1948), pp. 226-227
  5. ^ Matthew Bunson, The pope encyclopedia: an A to Z of the Holy See (1995), p. 45
  6. ^ Michael J. Walsh, Pocket Dictionary of Popes (2006) p. 21
  7. ^ a b Amleto Giovanni Cicognani, Canon law: I. Introduction to the study of canon law, book 1 (1934), p. 401
  8. ^ Daniel Parish Kidder, The Lives of the popes from A. D. 100 to A. D. 1853 (Carlton & Phillips, 1853), p. 512
  9. ^ P. H. Gallen, How Popes Are Chosen and Other Essays (1927, reprinted by Kessinger Publishing, 2003), p. 18
  10. ^ Jeffrey Collins, Papacy and Politics in Eighteenth-Century Rome: Pius VI and the Arts (Cambridge University Press, 2004, ISBN 978-0521809436), pp. 9–10
  11. ^ Horace Walpole, The letters of Horace Walpole, earl of Oxford vol. 1 (Henry G. Bohn, 1861), p. 53
  12. ^ a b Salvador Miranda, List of participants of the papal conclave of 1740 Archived 20 January 2018 at the Wayback Machine.
  13. ^ ALTIERI, iuniore, Giambattista (1673–1740) Archived 30 January 2011 at the Wayback Machine, at
  14. ^ CUNHA E ATAÍDE, Nuno da (1664–1750) Archived 21 January 2011 at the Wayback Machine at
  15. ^ ERBA-ODESCALCHI, Benedetto (1679–1740) Archived 31 January 2011 at the Wayback Machine at
  16. ^ POTIER DE GESVRES, Léon (1656–1744) Archived 20 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine at
  17. ^ MOTA E SILVA, João da (1685–1747) Archived 31 January 2011 at the Wayback Machine at
  18. ^ BORBÓN Y FARNESIO, Luis Antonio Jaime de (1727–1785) Archived 31 January 2011 at the Wayback Machine at