Pope Adrian VI

Pope Adrian VI (Latin: Hadrianus VI), born Adriaan Florensz Boeyens[1] (2 March 1459 – 14 September 1523), was head of the Catholic Church and ruler of the Papal States from 9 January 1522 until his death on 14 September 1523. The only Dutchman so far to become pope, he was the last non-Italian pope until John Paul II, 455 years later.

Born in the Episcopal principality of Utrecht, Adrian studied at the University of Leuven in the Low Countries, where he rose to the position of professor of theology, also serving as rector (the equivalent of vice-chancellor). In 1507, he became the tutor of the future Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who later trusted him as both his emissary and his regent.

In 1516, Adrian was appointed by Charles, now King of Castile and Aragon, bishop of Tortosa, Spain, and soon thereafter Grand Inquisitor of the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile. He was created cardinal by Pope Leo X in 1517 and elected pope in 1522 as a compromise candidate after Leo's death.

Adrian came to the papacy in the midst of one of its greatest crises, threatened not only by Lutheranism to the north but also by the advance of the Ottoman Turks to the east. He refused to compromise with Lutheranism theologically, demanding Luther's condemnation as a heretic. However, he is noted for having attempted to reform the Catholic Church administratively in response to the Protestant Reformation. His efforts at reform, however, proved fruitless, as they were resisted by most of his Renaissance ecclesiastical contemporaries, and he did not live long enough to see his efforts through to their conclusion. He was succeeded by the second Medici pope, Clement VII.

Adrian VI and his eventual successor Marcellus II are the only popes of the modern era to retain their baptismal names after their election.


Adrian VI
Bishop of Rome
Hadrian VI
Papacy began9 January 1522
Papacy ended14 September 1523
PredecessorLeo X
SuccessorClement VII
Ordination30 June 1490
ConsecrationAugust 1516
by Diego Ribera de Toledo
Created cardinal1 July 1517
by Pope Leo X
Personal details
Birth nameAdriaan Floriszoon Boeyens
Born2 March 1459
Utrecht, Bishopric of Utrecht, Holy Roman Empire
Died14 September 1523 (aged 64)
Rome, Papal States
Previous post
MottoPatere et sustine ("Respect and wait")
Coat of armsAdrian VI's coat of arms
Other popes named Adrian
Papal styles of
Pope Adrian VI
C o a Adriano VI
Reference styleHis Holiness
Spoken styleYour Holiness
Religious styleHoly Father
Posthumous styleNone

Early life

Geboortehuis van Paus Adriaan
Pope Adrian VI's birthplace in Utrecht

Adriaan Florensz was born on 2 March 1459 in the city of Utrecht, which was then the capital of the Prince-Bishopric of Utrecht,[2] a part of the Burgundian Netherlands in the Holy Roman Empire. He was born into modest circumstances as the son of Florens Boeyensz, also born in Utrecht, and his wife Geertruid. He had three older brothers, Jan, Cornelius, and Claes.[3] Adrian consistently signed with Adrianus Florentii or Adrianus de Traiecto ("Adrian of Utrecht") in later life, suggesting that his family did not yet have a surname but used patronymics only.[4]

Adrian was probably raised in a house on the corner of the Brandsteeg and Oude Gracht that was owned by his grandfather Boudewijn (Boeyen, for short). His father, a carpenter and likely shipwright, died when Adrian was 10 years or younger.[5] Adrian studied from a very young age under the Brethren of the Common Life, either at Zwolle or Deventer and was also a student of the Latin school (now Gymnasium Celeanum) in Zwolle.[6]


In June 1476, he started his studies at the University of Leuven,[7] where he pursued philosophy, theology and Canon Law, thanks to a scholarship granted by Margaret of York, Duchess of Burgundy. In 1478 he had the title of Primus Philosophiae, as well as that of Magister Artium (that is, he took his undergraduate degree). In 1488 he was chosen by the Faculty of Arts to be their representative on the Council of the University.[8]

On 30 June 1490, Adrian was ordained a priest.[9]

After the regular 12 years of study, Adrian became a Doctor of Theology in 1491. He had been a teacher at the University since 1490, was chosen vice-chancellor of the university in 1493, and Dean of St. Peter's in 1498. In the latter function he was permanent vice-chancellor of the University and de facto in charge of hiring. His lectures were published, as recreated from his students' notes; among those who attended was the young Erasmus. Adrian offered him a professorate in 1502, but Erasmus refused.[4]

In November 1506 Margaret of Austria, Duchess of Savoy, became Governor of the Habsburg Netherlands and chose Adrian as her advisor. The next year Emperor Maximilian I appointed him also tutor to his seven-year-old grandson, and Margaret's nephew, who in 1519 became Emperor Charles V. By 1512 Adrian was Charles's advisor and his court obligations were so time consuming that he quit his positions at the university.[4]


In 1515, Charles sent Adrian to Spain to convince his maternal grandfather, Ferdinand II of Aragon, that the Spanish lands should come under his rule, and not Charles's Spanish-born younger brother Ferdinand, whom his grandfather had in mind. Adrian succeeded in that just before Ferdinand's death in January 1516.[4] Ferdinand of Aragon,[10] and subsequently Charles V, appointed Adrian Bishop of Tortosa, which was approved by Pope Leo X on 18 August 1516.[11] He was consecrated by Bishop Diego Ribera de Toledo.

On 14 November 1516 the King commissioned him Inquisitor General of Aragon.

In his fifth Consistory for the creation of cardinals, on 1 July 1517, Pope Leo X (1513–21) named thirty-one cardinals among whom was Adrianus de Traiecto,[2] naming him Cardinal Priest of the Basilica of Saints John and Paul on the Coelian Hill.[12]

During the minority of Charles V, Adrian was named to serve with Cardinal Francisco Jimenez de Cisneros as co-regent of Spain. After the death of Jimenez, Adrian was appointed (14 March 1518) General of the Reunited Inquisitions of Castile and Aragon, in which capacity he acted until his departure for Rome.[13] When Charles V left Spain for the Netherlands in 1520, he appointed Cardinal Adrian Regent of Spain, during which time he had to deal with the Revolt of the Comuneros.

Pope Adrian VI
Pope Adrian VI, 1598 engraving by Théodore Galle

Papal election

In the conclave after the death of the Medici Pope Leo X, Leo's cousin, Cardinal Giulio de' Medici, was the leading figure. With Spanish and French cardinals in a deadlock, the absent Adrian was proposed as a compromise and on 9 January 1522 he was elected by an almost unanimous vote. Charles V was delighted upon hearing that his tutor had been elected to the papacy but soon realised that Adrian VI was determined to reign impartially. Francis I of France, who feared that Adrian would become a tool of the Emperor, and had uttered threats of a schism, later relented and sent an embassy to present his homage.

Fears of a Spanish Avignon based on the strength of his relationship with the Emperor as his former tutor and regent proved baseless, and Adrian, having notified the College of Cardinals of his acceptance,[14] left for Italy after six months of preparations and trying to decide which route to take, making his solemn entry into Rome on 29 August. He had forbidden elaborate decorations, and many people stayed away for fear of the plague that was raging. Pope Adrian was crowned at St. Peter's Basilica on 31 August 1522, at the age of 63.


He immediately entered upon the path of the reformer. The 1908 edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia characterised the task that faced him:

"To extirpate inveterate abuses; to reform a court which thrived on corruption, and detested the very name of reform; to hold in leash young and warlike princes, ready to bound at each other's throats; to stem the rising torrent of revolt in Germany; to save Christendom from the Turks, who from Belgrade now threatened Hungary, and if Rhodes fell would be masters of the Mediterranean - these were herculean labours for one who was in his sixty-third year, had never seen Italy, and was sure to be despised by the Romans as a 'barbarian'.[2]

His plan was to attack notorious abuses one by one; however, in his attempt to improve the system of indulgences he was hampered by his cardinals. He found reduction of the number of matrimonial dispensations to be impossible, as the income had been farmed out for years in advance by Pope Leo X.[13]


Adrian VI was not successful as a peacemaker among Christian princes, whom he hoped to unite in a war against the Turks. In August 1523 he was forced into an alliance with the Empire, England, and Venice against France; meanwhile, in 1522 Suleiman the Magnificent (1520–66) had conquered Rhodes.

Portrait of Pope Adrian VI
Portrait of Pope Adrian VI (1568).

In his reaction to the early stages of the Lutheran revolt, Adrian VI did not completely understand the gravity of the situation. At the Diet of Nuremberg, which opened in December 1522, he was represented by Francesco Chieregati, whose private instructions contain the frank admission that the disorder of the Church was perhaps the fault of the Roman Curia itself, and that it should be reformed.[15][16] However, the former professor and Inquisitor General was strongly opposed to any change in doctrine and demanded that Martin Luther be punished for teaching heresy.[13]

He made only one cardinal in the course of his pontificate, Willem van Enckevoirt, made a cardinal-priest in a consistory held on September 10, 1523.

Adrian VI held no beatifications in his pontificate but canonized Saints Antoninus of Florence and Benno of Meissen on 31 May 1523.

Charles V's ambassador in Rome, Juan Manuel, lord of Belmonte, wrote that he was worried that Charles's influence over Adrian waned after Adrian's election, writing " The Pope is "deadly" afraid of the College of Cardinals. He does whatever two or three cardinals write to him in the name of the college."[17]

The funeral monument for Adrian VI in Santa Maria dell'Anima in Rome


Adrian VI died in Rome on 14 September 1523, after one year, eight months and six days as pope. Most of his official papers were lost after his death. He published Quaestiones in quartum sententiarum praesertim circa sacramenta (Paris, 1512, 1516, 1518, 1537; Rome, 1522), and Quaestiones quodlibeticae XII. (1st ed., Leuven, 1515). He is buried in the Santa Maria dell'Anima church in Rome.

He bequeathed property in the Low Countries for the foundation of a college at the University of Leuven that became known as Pope's College.

The pope was mocked by the people of Rome on the Pasquino, and the Romans, who had never taken a liking to a man they saw as a "barbarian", rejoiced at his death.

Pope Adrian VI in popular culture

Engraving of the birthhouse of pope hadrian
The birth house of pope Hadrian and accompanying poem. Detail of an engraving of 'Famous Dutch Men and Women'.

The first series of engravings used to educate Dutch school children at the turn of the 18th century includes Adrian VI in its woodcut on 'Famous Dutch Men and Women' with the following poem:

In Utrecht wijst men nog dit huis den vreemdeling aan,
En noemt het om zijn naam 't huis van Paus Adriaan,
Nog praalt 's mans borstbeeld in den gevel. Min verheven
Was 't het stamhuis van dien Paus, een schuitemakers zoon,
Zijn naam blijft nog vol lof op duizend tongen zweeven,
Kort droeg hij, maar met roem, de pauselijke kroon.'
In Utrecht they still show the stranger this house,
And call it the house of pope Adrian,
Still his bust stands in its façade. Less elevated
Was the ancestry of this pope, the son of a boat builder,
His name is still proudly spoken by thousands of tongues,
Short of time, but with honor, he wore the papal crown.

Pope Adrian VI was a character in Christopher Marlowe's theatre play The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus (published 1604).

Italian writer Luigi Malerba used the confusion among the leaders of the Catholic Church, which was created by Adrian's unexpected election, as a backdrop for his 1995 novel, Le maschere (The Masks), about the struggle between two Roman cardinals for a well-endowed church office.

In an episode of the American TV show Law & Order entitled Divorce, a homeless man believes he is Pope Adrian VI.[18]


  1. ^ Dedel, according to Collier's Encyclopedia.
  2. ^ a b c Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Pope Adrian VI" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  3. ^ Rodocanachi, p. 301.
  4. ^ a b c d Jos Martens, Bio and review of Verweij book at Histoforum Magazine.
  5. ^ Gerard Weel Life and times of Adrian of Utrecht (in Dutch)
  6. ^ Coster. "De Latijnse School te Zwolle". Metamorfoses. pp. 17, 19. Rodocanachi, p. 301-302.
  7. ^ The date was 1 June 1476 according to the Matriculation Register: Rodocanachi, p. 302 and n. 1.
  8. ^ Rodocanachi, p. 302.
  9. ^ David Cheney, Catholic-Hierarchy: Adrian Florenszoom Dedel. Retrieved: 2016-05-14.
  10. ^ Paolo Giovio, Vita Hadriani VI, p. 119.
  11. ^ Gulik and Eubel, p. 186.
  12. ^ Gulik and Eubel, pp. 16 and 63.
  13. ^ a b c  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Adrian" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 216.
  14. ^ Adrian VI (1522). Copia Brevis S. D. N. Adriani VI. in summum Pontificem electi, ad sacrosanctum Cardinalium Collegium (in Latin). Caesaraugusta (Saragossa).
  15. ^ Pigafetta, Antonio and Theodore J. Cachey, The first voyage around the world, 1519–1522, (University of Toronto Press, 2007), 128.
  16. ^ Hans Joachim Hillerbrand, The division of Christendom: Christianity in the sixteenth century, (Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), 141.
  17. ^ British History Online. (15 April 1522 entry)
  18. ^ Dyess-Nugent, Phil, Law & Order: Slave to formula, or crackling entertainment?, The A. V. Club.


  • Luther, Martin. Luther's Correspondence and Other Contemporary Letters, 2 vols., tr.and ed. by Preserved Smith, Charles Michael Jacobs, The Lutheran Publication Society, Philadelphia, Pa. 1913, 1918. vol.I (1507–1521) and vol.2 (1521–1530) from Google Books. Reprint of Vol.1, Wipf & Stock Publishers (March 2006). ISBN 1-59752-601-0
  • Gross, Ernie. This Day In Religion. New York:Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc, 1990. ISBN 1-55570-045-4.
  • Malerba, Luigi. Le maschere, Milan: A. Mondadori, 1995. ISBN 88-04-39366-1
  • Verweij, Michiel. Adrianus VI (1459-1523): de tragische paus uit de Nederlanden, Antwerpen & Apeldoorn: Garant Publishers, 2011. ISBN 90-44-12664-4
  • Höfler, Karl Adolf Constantin, Ritter von (1880). Papst Adrian VI. 1522-1523 (in German). Vienna: Wilhelm Braumüller.
  • Domarus, M. v. "Die Quellen zur Geschichte des Papstes Hadrian VI.," Historisches Jahrbuch 16 (München 1895), 70-91.
  • Giovio, Paolo (1551). Vita Leonis Decimi, pontifici maximi: libri IV...Hadriani VI... et Pompeii Columnae... (in Latin). Florence: Lorenzo Torrentini.
  • Paulus Jovius, "Vita Hadriani VI," in Gaspar Burmann, Analecta historica de Hadriano Sexto (Utrecht 1727) 85-150.
  • Creighton, Mandell. A History of The Papacy during the Period of the Reformation Volume V (London 1894).
  • Creighton, Mandell (1897). A History of the Papacy from the Great Schism to the Sack of Rome. Volume VI. London: Longmans, Green, and Company.
  • Gregorovius, Ferdinand. The History of Rome in the Middle Ages (translated from the fourth German edition by A. Hamilton) Volume 8 part 2 [Book XIV, Chapter 4-5] (London 1902)
  • Pastor, Ludwig. History of the Popes (tr. R.F. Kerr) Volume VIII (St. Louis 1908).
  • Pasolini, Guido. Adriano VI. Saggio Storico (Rome, 1913).
  • Gulik, Guilelmus van; Konrad Eubel (1923). L. Schmitz-Kallenberg (ed.). Hierarchia catholica medii aevi (in Latin). Volume III (editio altera ed.). Münster: sumptibus et typis librariae Regensbergianae.
  • Rodocanachi, E. (1931). "La jeunesse d' Adrien VI". Revue Historique. 56 (2): 300–307. JSTOR 40944759.
  • McNally, Robert E. (1969). "Pope Adrian VI (1522-23) and Church Reform". Archivum Historiae Pontificiae. 7: 253–285. JSTOR 23563708.
  • Peter G. Bietenholz; Thomas Brian Deutscher (6 September 2003). Contemporaries of Erasmus: A Biographical Register of the Renaissance and Reformation. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. pp. 5–9. ISBN 978-0-8020-8577-1.
  • Stone, M.W.F (2006). "Adrian of Utrecht and the University of Louvain: Theology and the Discussion of Moral Problems in the late Fifteenth Century". Traditio. 61: 247–287. doi:10.1017/S0362152900002920. JSTOR 27832061.

Further reading

  • Coster, Wim (2003), Metamorfoses. Een geschiedenis van het Gymnasium Celeanum, Zwolle: Waanders, ISBN 978-90-400-8847-6
  • Creighton, Mandell (1919), A History of the Papacy from the Great Schism to the Sack of Rome, 6, New York: Longmans, Green
  • Duke, Alastair (2009), "The Elusive Netherlands: The Question of National Identity in the Early Modern Low Countries on the Eve of the Revolt", in Duke, Alastair; Pollmann, Judith; Spicer, Andrew (eds.), Dissident identities in the early modern Low Countries, Farnham: Ashgate Publishers, pp. 9–57, ISBN 978-0-7546-5679-1
  • Frey, Rebecca Joyce (2007), Fundamentalism, New York: Infobase Publishing, ISBN 978-0-8160-6767-1
  • Howell, Robert B. (2000), "The Low Countries: A Study in Sharply Contrasting Nationalisms", in Barbour, Stephen; Carmichael, Cathie (eds.), Language and nationalism in Europe, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 130–50, ISBN 978-0-19-823671-9
  • Schlabach, Gerald W. (2010), Unlearning Protestantism: Sustaining Christian Community in an Unstable Age, Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, ISBN 978-1-58743-111-1

External links

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Luis Mercader Escolano
Bishop of Tortosa
Succeeded by
Willem van Enckenvoirt
Preceded by
Luis Mercader Escolano
Grand Inquisitor of Spain
Succeeded by
Alonso Manrique de Lara
Preceded by
Francisco de Remolins
Cardinal-Priest of Ss. Giovanni e Paolo
Succeeded by
Willem van Enckenvoirt
Preceded by
Leo X
Succeeded by
Clement VII

Year 1523 (MDXXIII) was a common year starting on Thursday (link will display the full calendar) of the Julian calendar.

1523 papal conclave

The papal conclave of 1523 elected Giulio de' Medici as Pope Clement VII to succeed Pope Adrian VI. According to conclave historian Baumgartner, the conclave was the "last conclave of the Renaissance".


Adrian is a form of the Latin given name Adrianus or Hadrianus. Its ultimate origin is most likely via the former river Adria from the Venetic and Illyrian word adur, meaning 'sea' or 'water'. The Adria was until the 8th century BC the main channel of the Po River into the Adriatic Sea but ceased to exist before the 1st century BC. Hecataeus of Miletus (c.550 - c.476 BC) asserted that both the Etruscan harbor city of Adria and the Adriatic Sea had been named after it. Emperor Hadrian's family was named after the city or region of Adria/Hadria, now Atri, in Picenum, which most likely started as an Etruscan or Greek colony of the older harbor city of the same name.Several saints and six popes have borne this name, including the only English pope, Adrian IV, and the only Dutch pope, Adrian VI. As an English name, it has been in use since the Middle Ages, although it did not become common until modern times.


Boeyens is a surname. Notable people with the surname include:

Adriaan Florenszoon Boeyens, birth name of Pope Adrian VI

Jan C. A. Boeyens (1934–2015), South African chemist

Diego Fernández de Villalán

Diego Fernández de Villalán (died 7 Jul 1556) was a Roman Catholic prelate who served as the fourth Bishop of Almería (1523–1556).

Gerolamo Acciabianca

Gerolamo Acciabianca (died 1537) was a Roman Catholic prelate who served as Bishop of Nusco (1523–1537).

Giovanni Mercurio de Vipera

Giovanni Mercurio de Vipera (died 26 May 1527) was a Roman Catholic prelate who served as Bishop of Bagnoregio (1523–1527).

Giovanni de Copis

Giovanni de Copis (died 1527) was a Roman Catholic prelate who served as Bishop of Terracina, Priverno e Sezze (1522–1527).

Giovanni de Gennaro (bishop)

Giovanni de Gennaro or Giovanni de Guevara (died 1556) was a Roman Catholic prelate who served as Bishop of Sant'Agata de' Goti (1523–1556).

Girolamo Vascheri

Girolamo Vascheri, O.F.M. was a Roman Catholic prelate who served as Bishop of Guardialfiera (1524–1533) and Bishop of Shkodrë (1522–1524).

James Hay (bishop)

James Hay O. Cist. (died 1538) was a Cistercian abbot and bishop important in the early 16th century Kingdom of Scotland. At some stage in his life he achieved a doctorate in decrees (i.e. canon law), enabling him to be styled D. D..After the death of Edward Story, Abbot of Dundrennan, on 28 November 1516, Hay was provided to the now vacant abbacy; he became abbot sometime between 2 June and 9 August 1517.In 1523, following the death of Robert Cockburn, Bishop of Ross, the regent John Stewart, Duke of Albany, nominated Hay to become the new bishop there, a nomination which seems to have been accepted by Pope Adrian VI before the latter died on 14 September 1523.It was not, however, until 16 September 1524, that the temporalities of the bishopric of Ross were given into Hay's possession, and he had still not received consecration by 25 February 1525.Among the few things known of his episcopate, Hay was one of the commissioners who held parliament on 11 March 1538; one William of Johnstoun was convicted of heresy in Hay's court in April of the same year. Hay appears to have died in this year, by 3 October at the latest. He was succeeded by Robert Cairncross.

Jan de Witte (bishop)

Jan de Witte O.P. (1475–1540), also Joannes Albus in Latin and Juan de Witte Hoos or Juan de Ubite in some Spanish sources, was a Flemish renaissance humanist and Roman Catholic prelate who served as the first Bishop of Cuba (1518–1525).

Luis Cabeza de Vaca

Luis Cabeza de Vaca (died November 22, 1550) served as Bishop of Palencia, (1537–1550), Bishop of Salamanca (1530–1537), and Bishop of Islas Canarias (1523–1530).

Mario Hispanus

Mario Hispanus (died 1532) was a Roman Catholic prelate who served as Bishop of Salpi (1523–1532).

Nikolaus Creutzer

Nikolaus Creutzer, O.F.M. (died 2 October, 1525) was a Roman Catholic prelate who served as Bishop of Pedena (1523–1525).

Pedro Manuel

Pedro Manuel (died 1 January 1550) was a Roman Catholic prelate who served as Archbishop of Santiago de Compostela (1546–1550), Bishop of Zamora (1534–1546), and Bishop of León (1523–1534).

Pope's College, Leuven

Pope's College or Pope Adrian VI College in Leuven was a college for theology students at the Old University of Leuven, founded by Pope Adrian VI in 1523. At the suppression of the old university in 1797 the college became public property. It is now a hall of residence of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, rented from the city council (which still owns the buildings).

Tommaso Caracciolo (archbishop of Capua)

Tommaso Caracciolo (1478–1546) was a Roman Catholic prelate who served as

Archbishop of Capua (1536–1546),Bishop of Trivento (1502–1540),Apostolic Nuncio to Naples (1534–1535), and

Bishop of Capaccio (1523–1531).

Ugo de Spina

Ugo de Spina (died 1523) was a Roman Catholic prelate who served as Bishop-elect of Bagnoregio (1522–1523).

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