Pope Marcellus II

Though his reign was short, Pope Marcellus II was part of some very interesting papal decisions. His eventful papacy spanned a very controversial time in European and Roman Catholic History.

Early Life

Pope Marcellus II was born under the name of Marcello Cervini degli Spannochi in 1501 in the small village of Montefano, Italy. As a youth, he studied in Siena and Florence, focusing on Latin, Greek, italian, jurisprudence, philosophy, and mathematics. His father was a close friend of Pope Clement VII, and the young Cervini was ordained as a priest in 1535. He worked closely alongside Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, who later became Pope Paul III.

Papal Election

The papal conclave of April 1555 was filled with political tensions. Cardinal Reginald Pole was the leading favorite of Emperor Charles V, while the French favored Cervini. Despite Emperor Charles V’s opposition to Cervini, the papal conclave was fairly quick.

With the French and Italian cardinals focused on maintaining papal neutrality in European conflicts, they achieved a consensus in just four days. After the formal scrutiny, Cervini was almost unanimously confirmed. The only vote against his confirmation was Cervini himself, who gave his vote to Giana Pietro Carafa.


Marcellus II wanted to reform the way the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church ran the church. As one of his first actions, he refused to sign an Electoral Capitulation guaranteeing that he would not make more cardinals. During his initial audience as pope with French and Spanish ambassadors, he told them that he would go and reprimand the monarchs himself if they failed to keep the peace.

Furthermore, Marcellus created a strict budget for Vatican expenditures, and refused to provide extra funds or easy jobs to his relatives. When the Spanish ambassador petitioned him for a pardon after killing someone, the Pope refused to seek favors with Spain. Instead, he insisted that the appropriate tribunals observe laws and try the case anyways.

Illness and Death

Sadly, Marcellus II’s big goals were cut short by his poor health. He quickly fell ill, but tried to rally and perform his pontifical functions during Easter. The pope’s doctors recommended that he be bled, and he seemed to recover briefly. However, this recovery did not last.

He only gave a few audiences during his career as pope, and he mostly communicated with letters written while he rested at home. On the night of April 29, 1555, Marcellus II had trouble sleeping.

The next morning, he slipped into a coma. On the evening of April 30, 1555, he passed away without ever waking up.

List of Events In The Life of Pope Marcellus II (Marcello Cervini degli Spannochi)

6 May 1501Born
153533.6Ordained PriestPriest
27 Aug 153938.3AppointedAdministrator of Nicastro, Italy
19 Dec 153938.6Elevated to Cardinal
24 Sep 154039.3AppointedBishop of Reggio Emilia, Italy
5 Nov 154039.4InstalledCardinal-Priest of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme
29 Feb 154442.8AppointedBishop of Gubbio, Italy
24 May 155049.0AppointedLibrarian of the Vatican Library
9 Apr 155553.9ElectedPope (Roma, Italy)
10 Apr 155553.9Ordained BishopPope (Roma, Italy)
1 May 155553.9DiedPope (Roma, Italy)

Quick Facts About Pope Marcellus II

  • Born – May 6 1501
  • Birth Name – Marcello Cervini degli Spannochi
  • Died – 1 May 1555
  • Cause of Death – Stroke
  • Papacy Began – April 9 1555
  • Papacy Ended – May 1 1555
  • Successor – Pope Paul IV

Interesting Details About Pope Marcellus II

  • With a reign that lasted only 22 days, Pope Marcellus II has the sixth shortest reign in all of papal history.

  • After he died, it would be over 400 years before another pope chose a name that had not been used by at least three other popes beforehand.

  • Pope Marcellus II is the most recently lived pope to decide on keeping his original name after election.

  • Some blame the stress and fatigue of the conclave for Pope Marcellus II’s early death.

  • Pope Marcellus II was one of the uncles of a man named Robert Bellarmine, one of the most important figures in the counter-reformation.

  • His father only chose to let his son enter the priesthood because his horoscope predicted high ecclesiastial honours.

  • Pope Marcellus II was only concescreated as a bishop when he was elected pope.

See the full list of Popes