When Clement VI’s brother turned down the papacy in 1362 Guillaume de Grimoard was elected sixth Avignon pope. He was the only one of the Avignon popes to be beatified. A Benedictine monk, he continued to wear his habit after his election and slept on bare boards. Each day he spent several hours in prayer and study.
Compared to his predecessors he was relatively young, becoming pope at the age of fifty-two. He was also a diplomat of some skill and it was while on a diplomatic mission in Italy that he was called to Avignon to be told that he had been elected pope, despite not even being a bishop. Even Petrarch, who had little that was good to say about the Avignon popes, thought it was a good choice.
As always, the King of France tried to influence the pope. In the case of Urban V this was Jean II. Jean was a man of honour. He had been captured by the English at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356 and had gone to England as a prisoner until his ransom was paid. The ransom was a crippling amount even for a nation as wealthy as France and Jean was eventually released so that he could return to France to raise it, his place being taken by his son, Charles. When Jean received news that Charles had escaped, honour demanded that he return to England, where he died a few months later. Even a man this honourable considered the papacy to be controlled by the king of France. He wanted his son Philippe, Duke of Touraine, to marry Joanna of Naples. She was a ward of the Holy See and also Countess of Provence, within which Avignon lay. Urban had already approved her marriage to King James of Majorca. King James had no kingdom, but the marriage would guarantee Urban’s independence in Avignon. King Jean even visited Avignon in an attempt to put pressure on the pope, but failed.
Jean’s next step was to raise taxes to pay his ransom. This included taxing the clergy. Urban stood against him in this also. It was not always the case that Urban resisted the king, but he stood up to him more comprehensively than the Avignon popes who had gone before him.
Urban’s diplomatic efforts were all in pursuit of peace, but they were mostly unsuccessful. Like his predecessors he was a victim of the free companies still roaming France and had to pay some of them off to protect Avignon. Some of the free companies were persuaded to move into Spain or Italy, where wars were still being fought, but many returned.
Urban made moves to return the papacy to Rome, against the wishes of the cardinals and the king of France. In 1367 he set sail for Italy and finally arrived in Rome in October of that year. He began the restoration of the papal palaces and basilicas. A year later Charles IV, the Holy Roman Emperor arrived in Rome, and Urban crowned the empress. Urban also received a visit from the Byzantine emperor. Despite all this, Urban felt insecure in Rome and set sail for Avignon in September 1370. He died three months after his return. He was declared a saint in 1870.