Tag Archives: Avignon

Soldiers for Hire

Battle_of_Crecy_(crossbowmen)

Following on from last week’s post about paid soldiers, this week I’m looking at the ultimate paid soldier:  the mercenary.

Some great soldiers became mercenaries in the fourteenth century, including Bertrand du Guesclin, who later became Constable of France and was buried near his king in St-Denis. It was du Guesclin who led the Great Company and was also the leader of the mercenaries who fought against the Black Prince at the battle of Nájera in 1367. One of his companions in that army was the English knight Sir Hugh Calvely, who changed sides and proved very useful to the Black Prince by securing the route through Navarre to Castile for the English and Gascon army. Robert Knolles was another sometime mercenary greatly valued by the Prince and his father, although his lowly origins sometimes caused problems for the nobles who served under him.

Mercenaries were used from the beginning of the Hundred Years’ War and the crossbowmen who formed the first wave of the French attack against the English army at Crécy were Genoese mercenaries. The English also used mercenaries in their garrisons in Brittany in the 1340s and 1350s, although they learned the hard way that mercenaries were difficult to control.

It was in peacetime that mercenaries became a real problem. King Jean II was captured at the battle of Poitiers in 1356. This led to a series of peace negotiations culminating in the treaty of Brétigny in 1360.With much of the French nobility dead or captured and the king a prisoner in London, it was almost impossible for the French to continue the war.

Men who were used to being paid to fight didn’t have anything to return to in England. Soldiers at a loose end joined together to form the free (not controlled by kings or governments) companies. They made money in two ways. One was a form of protection money. They would threaten towns and villages and allow themselves to be paid not to attack them. The money they collected was called a patis. The other was to be paid to fight on behalf of a lord, king or, in the case of Italy, city state.

After the Jacquerie, the French peasants’ revolt in 1358, the Dauphin (the heir to the French crown) had internal problems to deal with as well. This meant that there were thousands of soldiers in France with nothing to do and no way to earn money. Mostly these were English soldiers, but there were also French soldiers who thought that hiring themselves out would increase their wealth and social standing.

The best known of the free companies was the Great Company. It was made up of ever-changing smaller bands of mercenaries. It was originally formed out of some small Gascon groups, and the Gascons remained as its core, which goes a long way to explaining why Aquitaine was rarely troubled by them. Not surprisingly the free companies tended to be unstable. They were made up of the worst kinds of men from all social classes except the nobility. Many of them were criminals and thieves on the run from justice. All were self-seeking and ambitious. Interestingly it was the English groups that were the most stable. This was possibly because they had become used to fighting together in various campaigns, were better disciplined and tended to trust one another.

The bands of mercenaries became a great menace and Charles V used them creatively by hiring the Great Company to aid his ally Enrique de Trastámara in Castile when the king, Don Pedro, gave his support to Edward III. Du Guesclin led a band of French and English mercenaries into Spain to help depose Don Pedro. Most of the English mercenaries in the Great Company fought against their captain when they joined the Black Prince to fight on the side of Don Pedro.

One of the most famous and most successful English mercenaries was Sir John Hawkwood, who spent most of his career in Italy. One of the reasons why the papacy moved from Rome to Avignon at the beginning of the fourteenth century was the incessant fighting in the north of Italy, which made it dangerous for the pope to remain in Rome. There was much work there for mercenaries. Hawkwood was completely ruthless and fought for most of the Italian states before ending up in Florence in 1380. Although he was known as Sir John, he was probably not made a knight by Edward III or by the Black Prince.

He was part of du Guesclin’s Great Company that attacked Avignon in 1361, but he later joined the army Innocent VI hired in order to move the papacy back to Rome. This became the White Company, which he eventually commanded. The White Company did in Italy what the Great Company was doing in France. It didn’t take long for the White Company to become known for its brutality. Eventually Hawkwood became commander-in-chief of the Florentine forces in the 1390s. At the end of his life he wanted to return to England, but died before he could do so.

Hawkwood was the orchestrator of more than one atrocity and had a reputation for brutality. Despite this, unlike many other mercenary captains, some of whom were killed by their own men, he died in his bed in 1394. At his death he was very wealthy, owning property and even a castle in Tuscany.

Avignon and, therefore, the pope, was forced to pay to rid itself of  mercenaries four times: in 1357, 1361, 1365 and 1368. By 1368 the pope had returned to Rome, but Provence was still perceived to be a place of wealth compared to France, which had been stripped bare by thirty years of war.

Whilst a mercenary might hope to become very rich, his fate was more likely to be that of the Genoese crossbowmen at Crécy who were either killed by the English and Welsh archers or trampled by the advancing knights behind them.

Fighting as a mercenary does not seem to have harmed the careers of the captains, as many of them returned to fight for their kings when hostilities began again in earnest in the 1370s. Being a mercenary wasn’t seen as incompatible with chivalry. Some praised knights for taking the opportunity to gain experience, but for many towns and villages in France their presence meant that there was never peace.

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A Noble Expedition in Spain

Battle_najera_froissart

“Battle najera froissart” by 15th century Jean Froissart’s Chronicles (Bib. Nat. Fr., FR 2643, fol. 312v).. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Battle_najera_froissart.jpg#/media/File:Battle_najera_froissart.jpg

 

The Spanish campaign of 1367 set the seal on the Black Prince’s reputation as a soldier of great skill and courage, but also marked the beginning of the end of the English in Aquitaine. Although the campaign was notable for the English victory at the battle of Nájera, it was on this campaign that the Prince became ill with dysentery and was never well again. He failed in all his objectives for the campaign, ending up poorer than when he started and having to tax his subjects in Aquitaine so much that they complained.

The Spanish campaign feels like an odd interlude in the Hundred Years’ War. In 1360 a peace treaty between England and France put a lot of soldiers on both sides out of work. No longer able to make a living from pillaging and ransoms, many of them joined together to form mercenary bands and roamed France terrorising towns and villages for protection money. Some even threatened the Pope at Avignon. These groups were a real problem for most of France, but less so for Aquitaine. The Black Prince is thought to have encouraged them in ravaging France.

The Castilians were the best sailors in Europe and had attacked the south coast of England in support of the king of France, since Don Pedro, the king of Castile, was allied to France. This made him a problem worth solving for Edward III. A peace treaty between the two was made in February 1363, but was not ratified by Don Pedro for another 18 months for fear of retribution from the French king.

Don Pedro had an illegitimate half-brother, Enrique de Trastámara (or Henry the Bastard or just the Spanish Bastard), who had led numerous rebellions against him. He was also fighting a war with the king of Aragón. Under the pretext of going south to fight the Moors, a large band of mercenaries entered Castile to fight for Enrique in late 1365. Edward III had to write to the English mercenaries among them to threaten reprisals against them and their families, since, under the treaty, no Englishman was supposed to bear arms against Don Pedro. Don Pedro had little support in Castile and fled, first to Portugal and then to Aquitaine, where he asked the Black Prince for help. Since Enrique was pro-French, Edward III had already decided to assist Don Pedro, and the Black Prince took an army to Castile in February 1367, crossing the Pyrenees at almost the worst time of the year. His allies in this endeavour were known as Pedro the Cruel and Charles the Bad (of Navarre), although these characteristics apparently came as a bit of a surprise to the Black Prince when he saw evidence of them.

As soon as they knew that the Black Prince was on his way most of the English mercenaries still with Enrique changed side rather than fight their former commander, or they had already been paid off by Enrique, depending on which version of the story you believe.

Initially Enrique followed the advice that he had received from the French king not to face the English in a pitched battle and contented himself with harrying the army when it arrived in Castile. This proved quite effective, but Enrique, like others before him, gave in to pride and decided to stand and fight at Nájera on 3rd April 1367. He was also worried that his army would desert him if he didn’t prove himself.

The English vanguard (the division at the front) of the army at the battle of Nájera was commanded by Sir John Chandos and it’s reasonable to assume that his herald was with him, for it’s this battle that forms the centrepiece of Chandos Herald’s Life of the Black Prince. The Prince himself commanded the main body of the army. Sir Hugh Calvely, one of the English mercenary captains who had originally fought for Enrique, was one of the commanders of the rearguard.

Enrique was supported mainly by French mercenaries under the command of Bertrand du Guesclin, later Constable of France. Enrique’s fears about the loyalty of his troops were well-founded and about half the Castilian army ran away. Enrique himself had to be forcibly removed from the field of battle so that he wouldn’t be killed.

The Black Prince was undefeated in battle and his reputation as a great commander was assured, but the rest of the Spanish campaign did not go as planned. Don Pedro was supposed to pay the Prince’s costs of bringing an army into Castile, but he prevaricated and, rather than return to Aquitaine as he had intended, the Prince had to stay in Castile and prod Don Pedro to collect the promised money. Don Pedro even executed prisoners, a valuable source of income through ransoms. This episode shows one of the main differences between the Prince and his ally. For the Prince ransoming (and trusting) his prisoners was a mainstay of chivalry, although it must have come as a shock to discover that one of his prisoners at Nájera was a man he’d released on parole (that is a promise not to fight against him again) after the battle of Poitiers. Don Pedro, on the other hand, believed that those who had fought against him were traitors and deserved to die.

The Prince soon realised that Don Pedro could not pay what he owed, but didn’t return to Aquitaine until August, by which time he was gravely ill. He lost a great deal of money going into Spain, as he had to pay the army himself. More damaging, for him and for England, his health was ruined and he never recovered from his Spanish adventure.

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Popes, Antipopes and Avignon: Part Eight

Gregory XI

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Our final Avignon pope is Gregory XI and it’s safe to say that he left the papacy in a bit of a mess. He was born Pierre Roger de Beaufort and you will recall that he was said to be the son of Clement VI, but acknowledged as his nephew. A little over 40 when he became pope, he had benefitted a great deal from his uncle’s nepotism. He was made a cardinal deacon when he was only 18. Despite this he became a respected theologian and was known for his humility. His election to the papacy was unanimous. Although a cardinal, he was not a priest and had to be ordained before he could be crowned.

He was another pope who considered returning to Rome, but he had made himself so unpopular in Italy that he did not receive much of a welcome there and, had he not died there in 1378, he would have returned to Avignon.

Gregory XI is one of those people whose deaths have more impact than their lives. On his death the Romans were so desperate not to have another French pope that a Neapolitan was elected. He became Urban VI. This decision was soon regretted and some of the cardinals who had elected him elected another pope, Clement VII, who set up a rival papacy in Avignon. This was the first time that a pope and his antipope had been elected by the same group of cardinals. Since both popes had some degree of legitimacy, different parts of Christendom chose which pope they followed. England, of course, and the majority, followed Rome. France, Scotland and the Iberian Peninsula followed Avignon. The rifts caused by the Great Schism, as it was called, were not resolved until 1417 and at one point there were three popes.

Avignon was finally abandoned in 1403. For almost a hundred years constant wars in Italy had made it impossible for the popes to live in Rome. Despite this, the Avignon papacy was seen as a disaster in the fourteenth century, except in France. At the beginning of the fourteenth century the popes were trying to extend their secular power, but by the end of it they were beginning to lose their spiritual power. This was being challenged by Wycliffe and the Lollards in England and Jan Hus in Bohemia at the end of the fourteenth century. This continued through the fifteenth century until it resulted in the Reformation in the sixteenth century. There were other factors that contributed to this, of course, but the Avignon papacy had neither started nor ended well and the ground that had been lost was not easily made up.

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Popes, Antipopes and Avignon: Part Seven

Urban V

Urban V

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.

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Popes, Antipopes and Avignon: Part Six

Innocent VI

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Innocent VI is frankly a bit of a dull pope. He possessed none of the vices of his predecessors and and was known for his integrity.

There is uncertainty about the year of his birth; it was either 1282 or 1295 and he became the fifth Avignon pope in 1352. His birth name was Étienne Aubert.

In the conclave that elected him all the cardinals agreed that whoever became pope would make it clear that the pope was subservient to the college of cardinals by dividing his power and wealth with them. Aubert made a conditional vow and when he was elected he declared the pact illegal because it would have been a limitation of the divinely conferred papal power.

He had no time for extravagance and luxury and told the cardinals that they, too, must live more simply. Intending to return the papacy to Rome, he sent representatives there, but they and their mission were rejected. He also wanted to reunite the eastern and western Christians by joining Rome and Byzantium, but that was also doomed to failure.

Unlike his predecessors he managed to maintain good relations with the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles IV. Charles  was crowned in Rome by a cardinal, staying only a few hours in recognition that he was not laying any claim to territories in Italy that he had given up.

Innocent helped to negotiate the Peace of Brétigny in 1360. As a result of this the Hundred Years’ War had a brief respite. Peace, however, brought unexpected problems for the pope. Knights were trained to fight and there were suddenly hundreds of knights in France with nothing to do and no way of making a living. They knew little other than how to fight. Forming small bands, they began to roam the countryside demanding protection money from towns and villages. They were called ‘free companies’, as they were available for hire and some were made up of men from all sides of the war. One such group besieged Avignon in 1360. Despite being excommunicated by the pope, they were still there when the Black Death returned in 1361.

When people think about the Black Death they usually think of it as a one-off occurrence around the middle of the fourteenth century, but it wasn’t. It certainly swept across Europe in 1347 and 1348, but, after 1351 it disappeared again, only to return in 1361. It was less virulent and less deadly, but still fairly devastating. This time it disappeared in 1363 and returned again in 1374. Various forms of plague then returned to Europe at different intervals until the middle of the eighteenth century.

As it had in the first outbreak of the Black Death, Avignon suffered greatly, with thousands of deaths, including nine cardinals. In the end, Innocent bought off the besiegers.

Innocent carried out some much-needed reforms. Clement VI’s extravagance meant that Innocent needed to make economies. He cut back on palace staff and sold some works of art. When he died in 1362 many of the cardinals wanted to make the brother of Clement VI pope, but he declined.

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Popes, Antipopes and Avignon: Part Five

PopeClementVICameo

Clement VI

If you’ve come across any of the Avignon popes before it would probably have been Clement VI. He was the only one I’d heard of before I started this series. He was the pope who sat between two fires in the attempt to keep the Black Death at bay. He also put an end to the Flagellants when he saw that what they were doing was getting out of hand.

He was born Pierre Roger in 1291 in Corrèze and became pope in 1342. He finished building the Palais des Papes and the palace reflected his efforts more than those of any other pope. This can still be seen today. The extravagance of his papal court was said to rival that of any European monarch.

Pierre Roger studied theology and was made Archbishop of Sens at 28. At 29 he was Archbishop of Rouen. Not long after this he became Philip VI’s chancellor.

When the time came to elect a new pope after the death of Benedict XII, Philip wanted Roger to take the position. Since the cardinals also wanted this, he was elected. The new pope was known for his oratory and preaching. His intelligence also made him a good choice.

Most of the 25 cardinals he created during his papacy were French and, of these, twelve were related to him. It was said that Gregory XI, last of the Avignon popes and made a cardinal by Clement, was his son. Gregory is recorded as being Clement’s nephew, but his birth name was Pierre Roger de Beaufort, which might be considered a clue to his parentage.

In 1348 Clement bought Avignon and the surrounding area, clearly signaling that he had no intention of returning the papacy to Rome. This was also the year in which the Black Death reached the town. Avignon suffered dreadfully. Clement’s extravagance and outrageous nepotism could lead an observer to think that there wasn’t much to him, but his actions during the Black Death showed the kind of man he really was. Many senior clerics fled their posts to sit out the plague in the country, but Clement stayed in Avignon, leaving only for a short period in the summer when it was too hot to remain in the palace between his burning braziers. He returned to Avignon in the cooler weather. He was a charitable man, concerned for those in his care and he created new cemeteries for the dead and arranged for gravediggers to bury them.

Initially he supported the Flagellants, even joining their processions when they came to Avignon, but he soon realised that these processions were helping to spread the plague, not stopping it.  In 1349 he declared the Flagellants heretics, thus effectively making them unwelcome wherever they travelled. When the Jews were blamed for causing the plague and massacres began, he published bulls against the perpetrators and said he would excommunicate those who killed Jews. More than two hundred Jewish communities were wiped out at that time.

Clement was frequently in dispute with Edward III as the king tried to retrieve some of the rights in clerical appointments that previous popes had taken for themselves. The king also complained about the extravagance of the papal court. The biggest problem for Edward was that Clement was French and an open supporter of the French king with whom Edward was engaged in a war. When Edward tried to get back some of the rights over appointments, it was partly out of fears that the money going from those dioceses into the papal coffers was going straight out again to those of the King of France, thus enabling him to continue in the war. This was Edward’s constant fear during the period of the Avignon papacy and it was not without justification.

Clement VI died at the end of 1352.

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Pope, Antipopes and Avignon: Part Four

Benedict XII

Benedict XII

This week’s Avignon pope was born Jacques Fournier in the 1280s. He was the son of a baker and he became pope in 1334.

Before becoming pope, he was a Cistercian monk and a member of the Inquisition. He was very active against heretics and, in 1321, during his tenure as Bishop of Pamiers, he captured Guillaume Bélibaste, the last Cathar Goodman. The Cathars were a heretical group based mainly in the south of France. Their beliefs included the existence of two deities, one good and one evil. The spiritual world was good and the physical world was carnal and corrupt. The Goodmen (or Parfaits) were the senior members of the sect and were considered pure, as far as it was possible to be whilst inhabiting flesh. The heresy had its last gasp in the village of Montaillou in the early years of the fourteenth century. Montaillou was in Fournier’s diocese and he devoted himself to destroying the Cathars, in which he succeeded. His inquisitional court interviewed many men and women (on the whole without torture) and the records of his activities there were carefully recorded and preserved. Eventually they formed the basis of Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie’s book Montaillou which was very popular in the early 80s.

Compared to the time it had taken to elect his predecessor, Benedict’s election was unbelievably fast. It took just sixteen days. It seems his election was accidental, as the first vote in a conclave tended to be a way of sounding out opinion. The man everyone assumed would be elected wanted to return to Rome, which was unpopular with the mainly French cardinals. They were still trying to work out who they should support during the first vote and voted for the candidates least likely to be successful. So many voted for Fournier that he was elected.

Benedict also wanted to return the papacy to Rome and paid for the restoration of the Lateran and St Peter’s. He was, however, persuaded that it was too dangerous to live in Rome and he agreed to stay in Avignon, beginning work on the Palais des Papes, the papal residence, in 1339.

Unlike many of the fourteenth century popes, Benedict despised luxury and nepotism. He occupied himself with creating strict constitutions for the Cistercians, Franciscans and Benedictines and he continued to be obsessed with rooting out heretics. His strengths were his intelligence and his organisational skills. He tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade Edward III to establish the Inquisition in England.

One of his ambitions was to bring the war between England and France that had recently started to a halt so that their respective kings could join in a crusade to the Holy Land, but he failed. The war was to continue on and off for another hundred years and more. He also tried to make peace with Louis IV, the Holy Roman Emperor, in which he was thwarted by Philip VI, King of France. His peace-making also extended to the Franciscans.

He was mostly occupied with theological questions and corresponded with William of Occam, whom we met last week, and Meister Eckhart, a Dominican theologian who was often accused of heresy.

Although French, Benedict was not an unthinking supporter of Philip VI and relations between them were cool. Despite his intelligence, however, Benedict was not good at politics and Philip frequently outmanoeuvred him.

He died in 1342.

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Popes, Antipopes and Avignon: Part Three

John-XXII-450x282

The second Avignon pope was born Jacque Duèse in 1249. After the death of Clement V it took more than two years for a successor to be appointed. As in the previous conclave, the French and Italian cardinals disagreed and could not come to a decision. There was a new French king as well. Philip IV had been succeeded by his son, Louis X (the Stubborn), whose reign lasted less than two years, during which time he abolished slavery and allowed Jews to return to France. Louis’ son was born a few months after his death, but lived only a few days, so Louis was eventually succeeded  by his brother, Philip V (the Tall), who reigned from 1316 to 1322. Philip grew impatient with the cardinals’ inability to elect a new pope and imprisoned them until they came to a decision.

John XXII was very energetic, despite being sixty-seven when he was elected. He is best remembered for changing the direction of the Franciscans. There was a movement within the order to return more completely to the rule of St Francis, living more spiritually with no possessions. John, on the other hand, thought obedience to the pope was more important. When the Franciscans said that Christ and the disciples had owned nothing, he responded with a papal bull declaring such beliefs heretical. He thwarted the efforts of the Franciscans to return to a more spiritual way of life by making them owners of property, thus splitting the order.  Those who could not live with the pope’s decision, including the order’s General, went to the pope’s main enemy, Louis IV the Bavarian (later Holy Roman Emperor). One of the Franciscans who went to Louis was William of Occam. He is best known for the problem solving principle named after him: Occam’s Razor. He was an influential philosopher and theologian. He was also, along with Sherlock Holmes, one of the inspirations for the character of William of Baskerville in Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose.

In 1328 Louis set up one of the disgruntled Franciscans as antipope in Rome. There had been a vigorous feud concerning the supremacy of the pope involving theologians from across Europe and Louis believed that, since he was Holy Roman Emperor, the pope should admit that the emperor’s power was supreme. Louis repeatedly called John a heretic and burned a straw effigy of him. Eventually Louis made himself so unpopular in Italy that he could not continue to support the antipope and both emperor and antipope surrendered to John.

Like his predecessor, John maintained close links with the French king, which was becoming a real problem for the other monarchs in Europe. When he was negotiating peace between them, as he often was, it was difficult for them to put aside the idea that he favoured the French king’s position. As he approached death, John’s views became more heretical and he had to withdraw many of the opinions he had expressed in private, making it clear that they were private opinions and not papal declarations.

John hoped to return the papacy to Rome and spent a lot of money on mercenaries in the hope of resolving the wars that still raged in Italy. In order to fill his treasury, he declared that incomes in parishes where there was no priest belonged to the papacy, which was not a popular move. He made the papacy more bureaucratic and centralised its administration. Many of these measures weakened the papacy, as they increased the distrust in which it was held across Europe.

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Popes, Antipopes and Avignon: Part Two

340px-Klement5-1305

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.

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Popes, Antipopes and Avignon: Part One

palais des papes

Often when I write these posts I write about things that I know and I just check some of the facts as I write. This post, and the ones that follow, are the result of some specific research that I did so that I would have some background information on the fourteenth century.

When I was much younger I assumed that the Avignon papacy was some kind of rival to a Roman papacy, much in the same way that there were antipopes (in one case three at one time, as we shall see at the end of this series). Gradually I came to realise that the Avignon popes were real popes, were acknowledged as real popes and had, for reasons unknown to me, relocated the papacy to south east France. When I realised that they were not regarded with favour by England, I knew that I had to find out more.

It’s true that what was happening with regard to the papacy would have very little impact on the stories that I’m currently writing, but research is fun and I believe in making the world inhabited by my characters as real as I can. So I knuckled down and started doing the research. The papacy was based in Avignon from 1309 to 1367 and again from 1370 to 1376. The only one about whom I knew anything was Clement VI. He was the pope who warded off the Black Death by spending his days sitting between two fires in the papal palace and refusing to see anyone.

Avignon at the beginning of the fourteenth century was small and dirty. After the papacy was established there the town attracted criminals of all kinds and its taverns and brothels became notorious. Gradually it became larger and more splendid as the cardinals built palaces and the Palais des Papes was finished

The Avignon popes had a reputation for corruption, not only because they seemed to favour the French king, but also because they seemed to be greedy for money and tried to extend their sphere of influence beyond ecclesiastical bounds. It’s not the most edifying period for the papacy, for many reasons, and in order to have any hope of understanding it we need to go back to the end of the thirteenth century.

In 1294 Pope Celestine V was persuaded to abdicate less than six months after he had been crowned. Before his election he had been a hermit and had had no desire to be pope, but two years had passed since the death of the previous pope and the cardinals could not agree on a candidate until someone nominated the reclusive monk. He was completely unworldly and it was easy enough for Cardinal Caetani to talk him into resigning when it became clear that he was not suitable. Not entirely surprisingly, Caetani became the next pope – Benedict VIII – and imprisoned Celestine, afraid that he could be installed as an antipope. Eighteen months later the former pope was dead. Despite his advanced years (he was eighty-one) it was rumoured that Benedict VIII had had him killed. Celestine was canonised by Clement V in 1313.

Boniface VIII was not a popular figure with the European monarchs, because they believed that he interfered too much in secular matters. Despite universal disapprobation, it was Philip the Fair of France (Philip IV) who became his greatest enemy. It should be pointed out that Philp was not called ‘the Fair’ because of his exemplary character, but because of the colour of his hair. Philip wanted to raise a tax so that he could fight Edward I of England in Gascony and the burden of the tax fell on the clergy. This angered Boniface who said that a king didn’t have the right to tax the clergy. This in turn angered the kings, who said that they did. Boniface was ultimately forced to accept their position within certain constraints.

A campaign of rumours was started against Boniface, probably by Philip. It was a ploy he was to use again against the Templars. The pope was accused of nepotism, simony, avarice and sodomy. I had to look up simony and it means the buying or selling of something spiritual or closely connected with the spiritual. In this case it means the selling of ecclesiastical positions.

Matters between Boniface and Philip came to a head in 1301 when the king imprisoned a French bishop, Bernard Saisset. The bishop was accused of treason and insulting behaviour. Needless to say, Boniface demanded the bishop’s release, stating that Philip didn’t have the authority to arrest him. Philip later acknowledged that he did not indeed have the authority to arrest the bishop and released him a few months later. Boniface, however, called the king to appear before him in Rome. Philip refused and responded with accusations against the pope. These included heresy, so he demanded that a General Council be held in France at which the pope could be arraigned. Guillaume de Nogaret, Philip’s right hand man and head rumourmonger, went to Italy to take the pope to France, by force if necessary.

As it turned out it was necessary, but unsuccessful. Boniface was in his home town of Anagni when de Nogaret found him. Boniface was writing a bull to excommunicate Philip, but it went unfinished. He was captured, beaten and nearly executed. Whether he was released or escaped is uncertain, but he managed to get to Rome, where he died a month later. Boniface was very briefly (for eight months) succeeded by Benedict XI.

It might seem odd to write at length about two popes who never, as far as I know, set foot in Avignon, but Boniface’s relationship with Philip set the tone for what was to come later and how he dealt with Celestine shows us something of his character.

After Benedict XI’s short tenure a new pope was elected and this was Clement V (1305-14), the first Avignon pope. Before he became Pope he was Archbishop of Bordeaux. Since he was already in France, he was crowned in Lyon, rather than Rome, at the behest of Louis X, who was very happy to have a French pope. It wasn’t long before it was clear that Clement was little more than a puppet of Louis.

Very quickly a number of Frenchmen were made cardinals, until the majority were French. Clement V didn’t have a settled life. Unable to live in Rome, due to the wars that were constantly being waged in Italy, he moved between Lyon, Poitiers and Bordeaux. It wasn’t until 1309 that he decided to settle in Avignon. The town was in Provence, which was not part of France at that time, but which belonged to a vassal of the French king, Charles of Anjou, King of Sicily and Count of Provence. Nonetheless the papacy was seen for most of the rest of the century as being under the sway of the French kings.

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