Joan, Pope

, called by Platina John VIII. seems to require some notice in this work, although her history is involved in much doubt, and even her existence is thought by some uncertain. This subject has been treated with as much animosity on both sides, between the papists and the protestants, as if the whole of religion depended on it. There are reckoned upwards of sixty of the Romish communion, and among them several monks and canonized saints, by whom the story is related thus:

About the middle of the ninth century, viz. between the pontificates of Leo IV. and Benedict III.,*


See —Moreri. N. B. lilondel, Desmaretz, and —Bayle, are the chief of those who absolutely denied it. Spanheim, L‘Enfant des Vignelies, among those who have affirmed it. who was with her. Crespin’s L’etat de l’English.

a woman, called Joan, was promoted to the pontificate, by the name of John; whom Platina, and almost all other historians, have reckoned as the VIIIth of that name, and others as the Vllth: some call her only John. This female pope was born at Mentz, where she went by the name of English Johnf whether because she was of English extraction, or for what other reason, is not known: some modern historians say she was called Agnes, that is, the chaste, by way of irony, perhaps, before her pontificate. She had from her infancy an extraordinary passion for learning and travelling, and in order to satisfy this inclination, put on the

Her true name was Gilberta, and it is said she took the name of English, or Anglus, from Anglus, a monk of the abbey of Fulda, whom she loved, and her instructor, and travelled

| male habit, and went to Athens, in company with one of fcer friends, who was called her favourite lover. From Athens she went to Rome, where she taught divinity; and, in the garb of a doctor, acquired so great reputation for understanding, learning, and probity, that she was unanimously elected pope in the room of Leo IV.

To this story several modern historians add many particulars of a more delicate nature, and assert that she formed an improper connexion with the friend to whose assistance she owed her advancement in learning. This commerce, however, might have remained a secret, had not Joan, mistaken without doubt in her reckoning, ventured to go to a procession, where she had the misfortune to be brought to bed in the middle of the street, between the Colosseum and the church of St. Clement; and it v is added that she died there in labour, after having held the pontifical see about two years.

Such is the story, as related in the history of the popes, which was certainly received and avowed as a truth for some centuries. Since it became a matter of dispute, some writers of the Romish church have denied it; some have apologized for it absurdly enough; others in a way that might be admitted, did not that church claim to be infallible: for it was that claim which first brought the truth of this history under examination. The protestants alleged it as a clear proof against the claim; since it could not be denied that in this instance the church was deceived by a woman in disguise. This induced the Roman catholics to search more narrowly than before into the affair; and the result of that inquiry was, first a doubt, and next an improbability, of Joan’s real existence. This led to a further inquiry into the origin of the story; whence it appeared, that there were no footsteps of its being known in the church for near 200 years after it was said to have happened.*


Marianus is the first who mentions it, and he lived 200 years after. Blundel’s Eclaircissem. de la question: Si une femtue a este assise au siege papal, p. 17.

Æneas Sylvius, who was pope in the fifteenth century under the name of Pius II. was the first who called it in question, and he touched it but slightly, observing, that in the election of that woman there was no error in a matter of faith, but only an ignorance as to a matter of fact; and also that the story was not certain. Yet this very Sylvius suffered Joan’s name to be placed | among those of the other popes in the register of Siena, and transcribed the story in his historical work printed at Nuremburg in 1493. The example of Sylvius emboldened others to search more freely into the matter, who, finding it to have no good foundation, thought proper to give it up.

But the protestants thought themselves the more obliged to labour in support of it, as an indelible blot and reproach upon their adversaries; and to aggravate the matter, several circumstances were mentioned with the view of exposing the credulity and weakness of that church, which, it was maintained, had authorized them. In this spirit it was observed, that Joan, being installed in her office, admitted others into orders, after the manner of other popes; made priests and deacons, ordained bishops and abbots, sung mass, consecrated churches and altars, administered the sacraments, presented her feet to be kissed, and performed all other actions which the popes of Rome are wont to do, with other particulars not now worth reciting, as the best informed historians seem to give the whole up as a fable. 1


Gen. Dict. Platina de vitis Pontificura, Bower’s Hist, of the Popes. —Mosheim’s Ch. Hist.