Here is a sonnet from Joachim du Bellay from the mid 1550s, written, as many of his poems were, while on a lengthy diplomatic mission to Rome. It is a poetic, and rather cynical account of his impressions of a conclave of Cardinals gathered together to elect a Pope. I’m not sure which Papal election is referred to here, there seem to have been several during du Bellay’s years in Rome. In any event, the poet’s impressions could probably apply to any one of them.
The poem is adressed to one Paschal, presumably a friend or colleague of the poet’s, in the manner of a letter.
Il fait bon voir, Paschal, un conclave serré
Il fait bon voir, Paschal, un conclave serré,
Et l’une chambre à l’autre également voisine
D’antichambre servir, de salle et de cuisine,
En un petit recoin de dix pieds en carré :
Il fait bon voir autour le palais emmuré,
Et briguer là-dedans cette troupe divine,
L’un par ambition, l’autre par bonne mine,
Et par dépit de l’un être l’autre adoré :
Il fait bon voir dehors toute la ville en armes
Crier : le Pape est fait, donner de faux alarmes,
Saccager un palais : mais plus que tout cela
Fait bon voir, qui de l’un, qui de l’autre se vante,
Qui met pour celui-ci, qui met pour celui-là,
Et pour moins d’un écu dix cardinaux en vente.
The poem opens with an expression of the poet’s pleasure or enjoyment at witnessing the discomfiture and corruption of the Cardinals during the conclave, Cardinals who presumably in ordinary times were seen to live in luxury in sumptuous palaces. The first four lines draw attention to their small and crowded living conditions when locked in to the conclave hall for the election, with the rooms crowded together and minimal space for cooking and meeting.
The second stanza talks of the place being walled off like a prison; and inside the intrigues, ambition and conniving of the Cardinals.
The third stanza reports on the atmosphere in the city with the excitement, the false rumours of the election of the pope, the crowds out of hand ransacking a palace, a bit like football hooligans,
A d the final stanza homes in on the fun of witnessing the dealings and double-dealings of the Cardinals as they declare and withdraw their votes and sell their votes to the highest bidder.
I wonder if much has changed since then…
The Poetry Dude