URBAN IX and Alexander IX were not two fictional Popes: they were two Cardinals, Ruffo and De Gregorio, who both died during the last century. This is how they came by their respective papal names.
In the wake ot the political maelstrom left by the French Revolution the Kingdom of Naples became. for a short while in 1799, the Parthenopian Republic. Its mercifully brief existence was put paid to when a British fleet under Admiral Lord Nelson sailed into Naples, routed the revolutionaries and restored the Royal Family.
Before Nelson's arrival, however. the Neopolitan loyalists, appalled by the atrocities, sacrileges and desecration of Churches committed by the insurrectionary mobs, had taken up arms and harassed the revolutionary government by a constant and effective series of guerilla operations.
The loyalist leader both on and off the field was Fabrizio Cardinal Ruffo, the able Papal Treasurer who had been given the Red Hat by Pius VI in 1791.
But although he was a Cardinal Ruffo was never actually a priest. so it was not improper for him to engage in military activities and indeed he used to gallop around the battlefield deploying his troops in person. He usually rode a grey, at least three of which were shot from under him.
So successful was Ruffo in counteracting the Parthcnopian Government that it resorted to trying to discredit him not only in the eyes of the simple folk he protected but also in the eyes of the Church by spreading the rumour that he had not only personally committed a number of outrages himself, but also usurped the papacy and taken the name Urban IX.
Although these tales were patently false. some credence was given to them in certain quarters — which unhappily included Lord Nelson. In fact Ruffo's reputation was badly damaged, and some of his brother cardinals are said to have shunned his corn pany at the Venice conclave which opened later that year.
Born in 1744, Cardinal Ruffo died in 1827 at the age of 83. As Senior Cardinal-Deacon he announced the election of Leo XII and had the privilege of crowning him a week later.
A charming tale is told of this event. Apparently Ruffo's mitre fell off just as he was about to approach Leo with the tiara but being very aged he was unable to bend down to pick it up so his immediate superior in rank, the junior Cardinal-Priest, Cardinal de la Fare, took his own mitre off and gently placed it on Ruffo's venerable old head.
We are obliged to The Times for Alexander IX. When Leo XII died, in February 1829, the ensuing conclave was a longdrawnout affair during which the voting swayed this way and that for nearly two months. Moreover the security arrangements were less than watertight and there was a fairly constant leakage of voting Information.
In its issue of April 2, 1829 a paragraph in The Times read: "The French papers report that Cardinal de Gregorio is almost certain of election and will take the name Alexander IX."
In fact, though, Cardinal Castiglioni had already been elected two days earlier, on March 31 and taken the name Pius VIII. To do both The Times and the French papers justice it seemed perfectly true that Cardinal de Gregorio had indeed come extremely close to being elected.
It has been suggested that de Gregorio did, in fact, get the required number of votes but upon inspection it was found that one of his supporters, Cardinal Benvenuti, had accidentally "spoilthis voting paper and that therefore de Gregorio was technically one short for his election to be canonically valid.
lt seems strange, though, that he never regained it.