Pope John XII

Pope John XII is one of the more controversial popes in the entire history of the Catholic faith. He served as the 130th pope and was the 12th pope to name himself John.

Born Octavianus, he was was one of the youngest popes ever elected, believed to be around 18 years old when he took up the post. His papacy was characterized by licentious behavior and secular involvement. His actions, ranging from accusations of simony, murder, and perjury to his notorious sexual exploits, earned him a notorious reputation.

He ascended to the papacy in 955, amidst the tumultuous period of the 10th century, an era often mired in political intrigue and ecclesiastical corruption.

Considered an immoral man with not much interest in ecclesiastical affairs, his actions were not favored by historians or his successors.

History with the Church

John XII was born as Ottaviano in Rome. He was the only child of Alberic II of Spoleto. Alberic II was the ruler of Rome who had deposed his own mother and imprisoned his half brother, former Pope John XI.

Like John XI, Pope John XII belonged to a very influential Roman family. He served during a time when the papacy had very little control over Rome. It was heavily influenced by the Counts of Tusculum, which Pope John XII was a part of.

Prior to his papacy, Ottaviano did have some experience with the Church. He was already part of the Church when his father died. Alberic II made an oath to Roman nobles that Ottaviano would fill the next papal vacancy.

The following year, Ottaviano elevated to the cardinal deacon of Santa Maria in Domnica. Shortly thereafter, he was elected pope.

Possible Link between John XII and Pope Joan

Onofrio Panvinio, a 16th-century Italian historian and theologian, in his annotations to Bartolomeo Platina’s “Lives of the Popes” (a seminal work on the history of the papacy), posits an interesting theory. Panvinio suggests that the legend of Pope Joan may have originated from the stories surrounding Pope John XII’s reign, particularly his relationships with women.

According to Panvinio, among John XII’s numerous mistresses, there was one named Joan who wielded significant influence in Rome during his papacy. Panvinio implies that the licentiousness of John XII and the prominence of his mistress Joan might have conflated over time, morphing into the legend of a female pope who managed to ascend to the papacy under the guise of a man.

List of Events In The Life of Pope John XII (Pietro Vito Ottoboni)

9447.0Elevated to Cardinal
16 Dec 95518.9ElectedPope (Roma, Italy)
6 Dec 96326.9ResignedPope (Roma, Italy)
14 May 96427.3DiedPope Emeritus of Roma, Italy


With his consecration, he adopted the John XII moniker. However, he still used his birth name for secular affairs.

The Pope had difficulties controlling and influencing Roman nobles as his father had. He attempted to attack the Lombards. While the attack did not succeed, he was able to negotiate with Gilduf I.

That success was short-lived. Areas around Rome were attacked by King Bernegar II of Italy. In an attempt to defend Rome against these attacks, Pope John XII sent legates to Otto I of Germany. Otto came to Rome and swore to protect the Pope.

Again, that relationship was short-lived. Pope John XII crowned Otto I as emperor. As emperor, Otto ordered Pope John XII to take an oath of obedience. In retaliation, the Pope conspired against the emperor. He was replaced, but the new Pope was deposed in only a few months.

The conflict between Pope John XII and Otto I was never settled before his death.

Quick Facts About Pope John XII

  • The future pope John XII was born sometime between the years 930 and 937. There are conflicting reports about his age and birth date.

  • He was the youngest ever pope. His papacy began when he was just 18 years old.

  • He was born as Ottaviano.

  • Pope John XII died on May 14th, 964.

  • The manner in which Pope John XII died is still up for debate. Allegedly, he died during an adulterous sexual encounter outside of Rome. It’s not sure whether he died from a stroke or by being murdered by the husband of his mistress.

  • John XII papacy began on December 16th, 955.

  • His papacy ended on May 14th, 964. He was between 25 and 33 years old at the time of his death.

  • Pope John XII was succeeded by Pope Benedict V.

Interesting Facts About Pope John XII

  • Pope John XII was the second pope in history to change his name for the papacy.

  • Due to conflicts with German King Otto I, he was removed from his position. Though, many still considered him the Pope until his death.

  • John XII was considered to be a coarse and immoral man.

  • He was related to the Counts of Tusculum, a family that influenced the papacy for half a century.

  • After his death, his body was buried at the Lateran.

All of the Popes that took the name “John”

There has been 21 popes that have taken the name of John.

John I (St.) (#53) (523 – 526)
John II (#56) (533 – 535)
John III (#61) (561 – 574)
John IV (#72) (640 – 642)
John V (#82) (685 – 686)
John VI (#85) (701 – 705)
John VII (#86) (705 – 707)
John VIII (#108) (872 – 882)
John IX (#117) (898 – 900)
John X (#123) (914 – 928)
John XI (#126) (931 – 935)
John XII (#131) (955 – 963)
John XIII (#134) (965 – 972)
John XIV (#137) (983 – 984)
John XV (#138) (985 – 996)
John XVII (#141) (1003)
John XVIII (#142) (1003 – 1009)
John XIX (#145) (1024 – 1032)
John XXI (#188) (1276 – 1277)
John XXII (#197) (1316 – 1334)
John XXIII (Blessed) (#262) (1958 – 1963)

Take a look at all the other Popes in history here.