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"Pope Joan" as she has popularly been remembered was supposedly the daughter of English missionaries born in the German city of Mainz in 818, and really was named "Joan." At the age of 12, she was seduced by a local monk, and in order to be with him, dressed in monk's clothing and entered the monastery as "John." The deception was soon discovered, and the lovers had to flee south. It is not known what became of the monk, but Joan, still masquerading as a man reached Rome and worked as a teacher. She was evidently an extremely gifted and intelligent young woman, because she soon began to impress the Vatican cardinals with her skills, and when Pope Leo IV died in 855, she was unanimously elected as his successor. She took the Papal throne as John VIII. At this point, no-one had any idea that she was not male, which given the traditional attitudes towards sex in the Vatican, is not all that surprising.
Unfortunately, being a passionate and bright woman, she could not stand the loneliness of the Papacy, and took one of her servants as a lover (I imagine he was pretty surprised), and was soon pregnant. With the help of heavy papal robes and an insistence on privacy, the pregnancy was kept an absolute secret for nine months.
The story concludes thus: Popular with the people, Pope John VIII was being cheered as "he" made his way on a procession from St. Peter's basilica to the Lateran Palace. Suddenly, "he" collapsed onto the ground and in front of the shocked crowd, gave birth to the baby there on the street. The shock turned to outrage, and the mob dragged both the mother and child to the city gates and stoned them both to death.
Predictably, the Vatican tried to cover these events up. John VIII's papacy (which had lasted less then one year) was expunged from all records. Her successor, the "real" John VIII is recorded as having taken the papacy from 855 to 872, thus eliminating "Joan" from history.