Hadrian the Seventh

Title: Hadrian the Seventh

Author: Frederick Rolfe (under the pseudonym Baron Corvo)

Publication Date: 1904

Genre: Satirical novel

Page Length: 420 pages (approx.)

Hadrian the Seventh, written by Frederick Rolfe under the pseudonym Baron Corvo, is a satirical novel initially published in 1904. Determined to critique the corrupt institution of the Catholic Church during the late Victorian era, Rolfe weaves a story that follows George Arthur Rose, a failed poet, who unexpectedly becomes Pope Hadrian VII. This concise summary aims to provide high school students with a clear understanding of the book’s plot, characters, themes, and the historical and literary significance it carries.

Plot Summary:

Part I – From the Grave to the Consistory
George Arthur Rose, a disillusioned and destitute scholar, writes to Cardinal Harding requesting aid. To his surprise, the Cardinal invites him to Rome, where Rose unexpectedly becomes Pope Hadrian VII. He selects the title “Hadrian” as an homage to Emperor Hadrian, who was known for his love affairs with boys.

Part II – The Church Militant
Pope Hadrian VII embarks on radical church reforms, intended to rid the Catholic Church of nepotism and corruption. He appoints Cardinal Baliatto as Secretary of State and Cardinal Montanelli as Secretary of Propaganda. Hadrian’s literary arguments and philosophical ideals are pitted against the conservative tradition embodied by these two powerful figures.

Part III – The Excubitorium
Hadrian VII establishes his court and is presented with the opportunity to pardon convicts on the occasion of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. Amidst conflicting advice, Hadrian ultimately pardons the prisoners, which is met with disapproval from some members of the Roman Curia.

Part IV – The Temples of the Holy Spirit
Hadrian VII expands his reforms by merging monastic and rebel Catholic communities. He creates a new order, the Templars of the Holy Spirit, led by Cardinal Greatorex. This move further estranges Hadrian from conservative church members.

Part V – The Academy of Rome
Hadrian VII pushes for academic reforms, promoting thinkers and artists over entrenched members of the Church. He sets up the Academy of Rome, infuriating Cardinal Capocchia, who sees this as a threat to his own power.

Part VI – St. Wilfrid’s Day
On the day of St. Wilfrid’s feast, Hadrian grants indulgences to all Catholics. However, he is met with resentment from several quarters, including Cardinal Oratory, who accuses him of clerical irregularity. Hadrian’s health deteriorates due to overwork and conflict, and his doctor convinces him to retreat to the mountains of Abruzzi.

Part VII – The Pope’s Return
The pope, now weakened, returns to Rome. Cardinal Montanelli and Cardinal Baliatto, worried about the potential implications of Hadrian’s influence, plot his assassination. Hadrian, sensing the betrayal, dies while addressing a crowd in St. Peter’s Square.

1. George Arthur Rose / Pope Hadrian VII: The protagonist, a failed poet who becomes the unexpected Pope Hadrian VII.
2. Cardinal Harding: A cardinal who invites Rose to Rome, leading to his papal ascension.
3. Cardinal Baliatto: Appointed as Secretary of State by Hadrian, he represents conservative tradition and is initially seen as a potential ally.
4. Cardinal Montanelli: Appointed as Secretary of Propaganda by Hadrian, he also represents conservative ideals but gradually becomes an adversary to the pope.
5. Cardinal Capocchia: A powerful Cardinal who resents Hadrian’s academic reforms.
6. Cardinal Greatorex: Leads the newly formed Templars of the Holy Spirit and is a devoted ally of Hadrian.

1. Church Corruption: The novel critiques the hierarchical and corrupt nature of the Catholic Church, highlighting the need for reform.
2. Intellectualism vs. Tradition: Hadrian’s reforms, emphasizing intellectualism and promoting artists and thinkers, clash with traditional values upheld by conservative members of the Church.
3. Power Struggles: Hadrian faces resistance from various cardinals seeking to preserve their influence and control within the Church.
4. Individuality and Idealism: Hadrian’s individualism and idealistic vision for the Church clash with the collective mindset and vested interests of the established clergy.
5. Satire and Irony: The novel employs satire and irony to expose the flaws and hypocrisy within the Catholic Church.

Hadrian the Seventh is considered a significant work of satirical literature, known for its scathing critique of the Catholic Church and the broader societal issues of the time. It interrogates the corruption and nepotism present within religious institutions, reflecting the author’s discontent with the church’s power dynamics. Moreover, the novel explores the tension between individuality and tradition, offering insights into the struggle for reform within an entrenched establishment. With its satirical approach and exploration of critical themes, Hadrian the Seventh continues to be studied and appreciated as a work that challenges, provokes, and invites readers to contemplate the complex interplay between power, tradition, and personal ideals.