In HBO's newest series The Young Pope, Jude Law plays – well, you guessed it – a young pope. As Pope Pius XIII, Law is one of the youngest popes in papal history and the very first American to take on the job, too. Before donning his series of very fancy pope hats, Pius XIII was an orphan from New York named Lenny Belardo. The trailers promise everything one could want from a show starring Jude Law as a very sexy pope: church intrigue, conflicting ideologies, Diane Keaton as a nun, and (this can't be understated) lots and lots of hats. But is The Young Pope based on a real person?
Sadly, it is not. There has never been an American pope and, perhaps even more tragically, there has never been a pope as handsome as Jude Law. But while the story of Pius XIII is entirely fictionalized, that doesn't mean the show doesn't take some notes from history. Like many fictional stories dropped into very real situations, there is plenty of inspiration from the real world to be found. And there have been a couple of young popes throughout the years who caused about as much trouble as Pius XIII is going to – and maybe more.
Pope John XII
Called "the most wicked of popes," John XII reportedly ascended to the papacy when he was just 18 way back in 955. During his tenure as pope, he treated the Lateran Palace like a brothel, was accused of adultery and incest, and apparently even "toasted to the devil with wine," which seem like very basic missteps for the head of the entire Catholic faith.
Pope Benedict IX
This young pope was a little hellion who would put Pius XIII to shame when it comes to outrageousness. He made history as the only person to serve as pope on three different occasions, but he was also the only person to sell the papacy when he decided he was done with it. He lived a life of scandal, and a choice quote from Ferdinand Gregorovius sums up Benedict IX's time as pope nicely: "It seemed as if a demon from hell, in the disguise of a priest, occupied the chair of Peter and profaned the sacred mysteries of religion by his insolent courses."
Pope John XI And Pope Gregory V
Though only 20 and 24, respectively, when they became the pope, John XI and Gregory V did not appear to invoke the devil in any way or disgrace the church like their similarly youthful contemporaries. Good for them!
While hardly the most scandalous when it comes to young popes, Jude Law's Pius XIII still promises to deliver some shocks and surprises. The Young Pope premieres at 9 p.m. ET on Sunday, Jan. 15 on HBO.