Alexander VII, Pope (Fabio Chigi), b. at Sierma, 13 February, 1599; elected 7 April, 1655; d. at Rome, 22 May, 1667. The Chigi of Sienna were among the most illustrious and powerful of Italian families.
Arms of Alexander VIIIn the Rome of Renaissance times, an ancestor of Alexander VII was known as the "Magnificent". The future Pope's father, Flavio Chigi, nephew of Pope Paul V, though not as prosperous as his forebears, gave his son a suitable training. The latter owed much also to his mother, a woman of singular power and skill in the formation of youth. The youth of Fabio was marked by continued ill-health, consequent upon an attack of apoplexy in infancy. Unable to attend school, he was taught first by his mother, and later by able tutors, and displayed remarkable precocity and love of reading. In his twenty-seventh year, he obtained the doctorates of philosophy, law, and theology in the University of Sienna, and in December, 1626, he entered upon his ecclesiastical career at Rome. In 1627 he was appointed by Urban VIII Vice-Legate of Ferrara, and he served five years under the Cardinals Sacchetti and Pallotta, whose commendations won for him the important post of Inquisitor of Malta, together with the episcopal consecration. In 1639 he was promoted to the nunciature of Cologne; and in 1644 was made envoy extraordinary of Innocent X to the conference of Münster, in which post he energetically defended papal interests during the negotiations that led, in 1648, to the Peace of Westphalia. (See Thirty-Years' War.) Innocent X called him to Rome in 1651 to be his secretary of state, and in February, 1652, made him Cardinal. In the conclave of 1655, famous for its duration of eighty days, and for the clash of national and factional interests, Cardinal Chigi was unanimously elected Pope. The choice was considered providential. At a time when churchmen were being forced to realize the deplorable consequences, moral and financial, of nepotism, there was needed a pope who would rule without the aid of relatives. For a year the hopes of Christendom seemed to be realized. Alexander forbade his relatives to come to Rome. His own sanctity of life, severity of morals, and aversion to luxury made more resplendent his virtues and talents. But in the consistory of 24 April, 1656, influenced by those who feared the weakness of a papal court unsustained by ties of family interest, he proposed to bring his brother and nephews to assist him. With their advent came a marked change in the manner of life of the pontiff. The administration was given largely into the hands of his relatives, and nepotic abuses came to weigh as heavily as ever upon the papacy. The endeavours of the Chigi to enrich their family were too indulgently regarded by the Pope; but, ever pious and devout, he was far from having a share in the excesses of his luxury-loving nephews. His burden being in this way lightened, he passed much of his time in literary pursuits and in the society of the learned; but the friends whom he favoured were those who could be best relied on as counsellors.
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The public documents of Alexander VII are found in Bullar. Rom. (ed. Turin, 1869), XVI–XVII; Pallavicino, Vita di Alessandro VII (Prato, 1859, 2 vols); Muratori, Annali d'Italia (Milan, 1820), XVI, 14–75; Bargrave, Pope Alexander VII and the College of Cardinals, a contemporary account (ed. Westminster. 1867); Ranke, The Popes of Rome, their Church and State (ed. Edinburgh. 1847), II, 190 sq., 502 sq.; Von Reumont, Fabia Chigi in Deutschland (Aix-la-Chapelle, 1885); Le Conclave d'Alexandre VII, a conclavist's record (Cologne, 1667); Revue des questions historiques, July, 1871. A lengthy study of the numerous propositions condemned by Alexander VII is found in Vacant, Dict. de théol. cath. (Paris, 1903), I, 729–747; Denzinger, Enchiridion symb. et defin. (9th ed., Freiburg, 1900), 252–258.