Pope Joan
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Basic Information

John Anglicus was an English traveler and scholar who became a teacher in Rome and eventually a cardinal in the ninth century. When Pope Leo IV died in 853 AD, John Anglicus was elected pope. He ruled for two years. Then one day in 855, he became ill while riding. He had to stop by the side of the road and to everybody’s surprise, gave birth to a child! Pope John VIII was actually a woman!

At least that’s what legends say. According to one story, the people of Rome had her dragged through the street and stoned. According to another tale, she was sent to a faraway convent to repent and that her child grew up to become bishop of Ostia.

The first reference to “Pope Joan” came in the thirteenth century, long after her supposed reign. The Catholic Church at first accepted the story, then later denied it when during the Reformation, Protestants used the story in anti-Catholic propaganda. The truth of the story remains a mystery.


Game and Story Use

  • Having a woman posing as a man in an all-male profession is an age-old plot device that can be ported into a number of settings.
    • Or how about the reverse - a man posing as a woman in an all-female profession?
  • In a historical campaign, Pope Joan might make a good patron, perhaps with the PC's entrusted with the secret of her gender.
    • So who was the father of Joan's kid? One of the PC's hasn't been getting too friendly with the distaff pontiff, has he?
      • Ew, that's sacriligious. But maybe the actual father could be the party's patron
      • Another possibility. Pope Joan might be part of a character's background with the PC being Joan's child.
      • There is, supposedly, a prior example of faith-related human parthenogenesis back in the first century
  • In a time travel campaign, the PC's might be sent back to the 9th Century to investigate the truth of the legend.
  • In a modern day thriller, perhaps the PC's have found documentary evidence proving Pope Joan's existence and are caught between Vatican officials who want to suppress it and Catholic feminists who want to expose it.
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