Legendary, reputedly flourished circa 850, Rome
According to legend, a woman named Joan (Johanna), disguised as a man, gained favor with the Vatican by virtue of her extraordinary knowledge of scripture. She was elected pope in the 850s and served for about two years before her sex was unmasked when she gave birth to a son. In some versions of the story, she dies in childbirth; in others, she is stoned to death by an angry mob. The story of Pope Joan had wide currency in the later Middle Ages. While appealing, its historicity is credibly contested and the story likely had its origin either in satire or as a cautionary tale.