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Consalvi, Ercole


Cardinal, secretary of state of Pius VII; b. Rome, June 8, 1757; d. Rome, Jan. 24, 1824. As the son of a Roman noble family, he started early (1783) his career in the Roman Curia under the protection of Henry stu art, cardinal of York. In 1797, having filled with distinction a number of minor positions, he found himself, under most trying circumstances, responsible for the small armed forces of pius vi. The murder of the French General Duphot by a Roman mob (Dec. 28, 1797) led to a French invasion of the States of the Church. Pius VI was taken to France in captivity; Consalvi was first imprisoned, later exiled. When he was chosen secretary of the conclave in Venice after Pius VI's death, Consalvi

worked behind the scenes with consummate patience and skill, paving the way for the election of Cardinal Chiaramonti. pius vii immediately made him prosecretary of state, then secretary of state and cardinal (Aug. 11, 1800). He never advanced in Sacred Orders beyond the diaconate.

First Ministry. During his first ministry (March 11, 1800 to June 17, 1806), Consalvi was only moderately successful in his tireless efforts to restore the states of the church, ruined by years of chaos and military occupation. His main achievement was the concordat of 1801 with France, which made possible the reconstruction of the Catholic Church after the French Revolution. In the last stage of the negotiations, Consalvi went to Paris to confront Napoleon. In their meetings he displayed remarkable subtlety and courage. Another concordat of the same kind was signed (Sept. 16, 1803) with the new Italian Republic created by Bonaparte. But in the following years, Napoleon and his ambassador in Rome, Cardinal fesch, became increasingly impatient with Consalvi's firmness in resisting abusive demands. Finally Consalvi judged it better to resign the secretariat.

His sacrifice was of no avail. Napoleon's further encroachments terminated with the seizure of Rome and the imprisonment of the Holy Father (July 1809). Consalvi, as well as the other Curia cardinals, was eventually compelled to go to Paris. There he refused a large sum offered by the emperor, and led a completely retired life. In April 1810, he incurred the Emperor's wrath when, with a dozen of his colleagues, he refused to attend the ceremony of Napoleon's marriage to the Archduchess Marie Louise of Austria. Consalvi, considered to be the ring-leader of the "black cardinals," was relegated under surveillance to Reims, where he remained until February 1813. Napoleon, returned from Russia, wrested from the weakened Pius VII a preliminary agreement that was deceptively published as the concordat of fontainebleau. The cardinals were then allowed to regroup around the pope. Pius VII, encouraged by them, recanted his concessions. Once more, Consalvi was exiled, this time to Béziers (February 1814). Upon the downfall of Napoleon, he returned to Italy.

Second Term. Pius VII promptly reinstated him as secretary of state for his second term, May 7, 1814, to Aug. 20, 1823. His first task was to obtain from the victorious allies the restoration of the States of the Church. He had preliminary conversations in London with Metternich and Castlereagh, discussing also the situation of Catholics in the British Isles. Afterward he attended the Congress of Vienna for its duration. European statesmen held him in high respect; they asked him to sit on committees, but he refused to be involved in purely political matters. Instead he concentrated his efforts on the restitution of Church territories. Austria, mainly, was reluctant to hand back the prosperous northern papal provinces, the Legations, which she had taken from the French, after the pope had formally ceded them to France in the Treaty of Tolentino (1797). Finally Consalvi achieved his aims, except for some small tracts of territory on the left bank of the Po River and the former enclaves of Avignon and Comtat Venaissin in France.

Upon returning to Rome, Consalvi confronted two main problems: (1) adaptation of Church status to the new political order in various European states; (2) reorganization and government of the States of the Church. In solving the former, the secretary of state was, on the whole, successful. Concordats or less formal agreements were concluded with Catholic and Protestant powers. Boundaries of ecclesiastical jurisdictions were adjusted to the new political ones. Compromises were devised to share between pope and civil rulers the appointment of bishops and pastors. Former seizures of Church property were either compensated for, or condoned.

Consalvi was less fortunate in dealing with the internal problems of the Papal States. The reactionary party, the zelanti, stubbornly resisted all efforts to modernize antiquated administration and laws. Misery and banditry were rampant in the countryside. Liberal secret societies raised frequent disturbances in the towns. Since most of the Curia personnel were hostile, Consalvi had to take upon himself an excessive load of work, which undermined his health. The cardinals resented his "tyranny" and his poor opinion of their capacities.

When Pius VII died, the main preoccupation of the majority in the conclave was to end Consalvi's influence. This was achieved by the election of Cardinal Annibale della Genga, who had been at odds with Consalvi since 1814. Consalvi resigned immediately all his offices. The new pope hastened to undo all his works. Experience, however, soon changed the mind of leo xii, who recognized Consalvi's merits. Despite the cardinal's grave illness, the pontiff appointed him prefect of the Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith. A few days later, Consalvi was dead. He was a man of exquisite taste and broad culture; a statesman of great courage and industry; a consummate diplomat who ranks as one of the greatest in the papal service in modern times, or in all times; and a devoted servant of the Church.

Bibliography: e. consalvi, Memorie , ed. m. n. rocca di corneliano (Rome 1950). g. mollat, Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiasitques, ed. a. baudrillart et al. (Paris 1912) 13:509523, excellent, with rich bibliog. j. t. ellis, Cardinal Consalvi and Anglo-Papal Relations, 18141824 (Washington 1942). m. petrocchi, La restaurazione romana, 18151823 (Florence 1943).

[g. de bertier de sauvigny]

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