After the death of Boniface VIII Benedict XI became pope very briefly. He was the last Italian pope for over seventy years.
Born Nicolò Boccasini, he was 63 when he became pope. He was a vocal supporter of his predecessor, excommunicating Philip IV’s minister de Nogaret who had tried to remove Boniface by force from Italy to France. When Benedict died suddenly only eight months after becoming pope, de Nogaret fell under suspicion. It’s more likely, however, that Benedict died of dysentery.
Clement V was the first Avignon pope. His birth name was Raymond Bertrand de Got and he was born about 1264 in Gascony. At the time of his election he was Archbishop of Bordeaux.
Following the death of Benedict it took a year to elect a new pope, mainly because the Italian cardinals could not agree with the French cardinals. Since he was not a cardinal, de Got was not at the conclave in Italy and chose not to go to Rome for his coronation, under pressure from Philip IV. He was crowned instead at Lyon.
Whereas his two predecessors had pushed for greater influence in secular affairs, Clement V became little more than a servant of the French king. He became a major participant in Philip’s destruction of the Knights Templar. Philip had already expelled all Jews and Italian bankers from France, having seized their property, but he was still desperate for money. The Templars were the solution to his problem. The king wanted their enormous wealth, although there are those who support the opinion that he believed the Templars were guilty of the crimes of which they had been accused. As he had with Boniface VIII, de Nogaret started rumours about the Templars, suggesting that they were usurers, idolaters, sodomites, blasphemers and heretics.
On Friday 13th October 1307 hundreds of Templars were arrested and imprisoned. Most of them were tortured until they confessed to dreadful crimes, including eating babies resulting from their illicit relationships with women. The Templars were monks and thus committed to a life of chastity. Public trials began in 1310 and many Templars were burned at the stake. In 1311 the pope called a council together in Vienne to investigate the charges against the Templars. The council refused to convict them of heresy, but Clement disbanded the order anyway. Finally Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of the order, was killed in 1314.
Clement moved to Avignon in 1309, ostensibly because the constant wars in Italy made Rome unsafe. It was never Clement’s stated purpose not to go to Rome, more that he simply never got there. He died on 20th April 1314 barely a month after de Molay had been killed. Philip IV was also dead before the year was out.
When, more than two years later, another French pope was elected it became clear that the papacy would remain in France for some time.