Gianni Carafa was born in Benevento into a noble Naples family. He was mentored by Cardinal Oliviero Carafa, his relative, who resigned the See of Chieti in his favour. Under the direction of Leo X he was ambassador to England and then Spain.
However in 1524 Clement VII allowed Carafa to resign his benefices and join the ascetic order of St. Cajetan, called the Theatines. Following the sack of Rome in 1527, the order removed itself to Venice. But Carafa was recalled to Rome by Paul III to sit on a committee of reform of the papal Court. In December, 1536 he was made a cardinal and then Archbishop of Naples. He reorganized the Inquisition in Italy.
He was a surprise choice as Pontiff to succeed Marcellus II, his rigid, severe and unbending character combined with his age and patriotism meant he would have declined the honour. He accepted apparently because the Emperor Charles V was opposed to his accession. As Pope his nationalism was a driving force, he used the office to preserve some liberties in the face of four-fold foreign occupation. The Hapsburgs disliked Paul IV and he allied with France, possibly against the true interests of the Papacy. He also alienated the English and rejected Elizabeth's claim to the Crown. The strengthening of the Inquisition continued and Paul IV's rectitude meant that few could consider themselves safe by virtue of position in his drive to reform the Church, even Cardinals he disliked could be imprisoned.
In 1555 he issued a canon (papal law) by which the Roman Ghetto was created; Jews were then forced to live in seclusion in a specified area of the town. The following pope would have enforced the creation of other ghettos in most Italian towns.
As with other Renaissance Popes, Paul IV was not backward in promoting his relatives - he made a nephew into a cardinal and chief advisor as well as granting favours and estates to other relatives, often taken from those who supported the Spanish. However at the conclusion of the foolish and disastrous war with Philip II in August 1587 the Pope publicly disgraced his nephew and banished him from the Court.
He was buried in St. Peter's but was later transferred to St. Maria sopra Minerva.
Pope Marcellus II
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Pope Pius IV