A HISTORIAN from west Suffolk has published a book which gives an insight into “one of the most notorious” papal conclaves.

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Mary Hollingsworth, from Wickhambrook, says her latest book ‘Conclave’ is topical with the announcement Pope Benedict XVI will resign on February 28.

Dr Hollingsworth, who used to teach at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in Norwich, said the book is about a conclave - a meeting of the College of Cardinals to elect a new Pope - which took place in 1559.

“It is one of the most notorious conclaves in history because we know precisely all the double-dealings going on behind the doors.

“They sent letters out and received letters into the conclave when it’s supposed to be secret, so as a result we know far more about it than we should do.

“It’s a fascinating insight to the political dogfight going on in Rome at the moment.”`

Dr Hollingsworth, 62, who is a full-time historian, has now had seven books published, including academic reads.

She said her last two books - The Borgias and Conclave - appealed to a wider audience.

Conclave, which has been published by Thistle Publishing, came out on February 13.

Dr Hollingsworth said: “It’s an account of what actually did happen after the Pope died in 1559 and it’s the last conclave for which we actually have evidence for the dealings that went on.

“At one point one of the cardinals got into a fistfight with a Spanish ambassador.”

She added: “Just imagine 100 men locked up and not allowed to talk to anybody and they have to elect one of themselves.”

Church officials want a successor to Pope Benedict XVI be in place before the start of Holy Week on March 24, the most important event in the Christian calendar.

Dr Hollingsworth said: “Because we are not a Catholic country it’s not of major topical interest, but as we speak this week it’s still building up and in the next week or so the media interest will become much greater once we are getting to the stage where the election is about to take place.”

Conclave is available from Amazon.