1902 Encyclopedia > Rome > Mediaeval Roman History - History of the Roman Republic in the Middle Ages - (d) Boniface VIII. The Church's Exile in Avignon.

(Part 16)



(d) Boniface VIII. The Church's Exile in Avignon.

Boniface VIII.

When one of the Gaetani, Boniface VIII. (1294-1303), was raised to the papal chair, the extent of the Colonnas' power became evident to all. Boniface opposed them in order to aggrandize his own kin, and they showed equal virulence in return. The Cardinals Colonna refused to acknowledge him as the legitimate pope, and he excommunicated them and proclaimed a crusade against their house. Even after he had subdued them and destroyed Palestrina, their principal fief, the drama did not yet come to an end. Boniface had a very lofty conception of the church, and desired to establish her supremacy over the state. The king of France (Philip the Fair) believed, on the contrary, that the Angevin successes entitled him to fill the place in Italy vacated by the Swabians, and to play the master there. This led to a tremendous contest in which all the French sided with their king. And shortly afterwards a plot was hatched against the pope by the agents of France and the Colonna. These determined enemies of the pope met with much favour in Rome, on account of the general irritation against the Gaetani and the enormous power conferred on them by Boniface. Suffice it to say that they were now lords of the whole of lower Latium, from Capo Circeo to Ninfa, from Ceprano to Subiaco. Thus Sciarra Colonna and a Frenchman named Nogaret were able to fall on the pope at Anagni, insult him, and take him prisoner. The people rising to his rescue, the conspirators were put to flight. But when Boniface returned to Rome with the escort and protection of the Orsini, who had made themselves masters of the city, he found that he was virtually a captive in their hands. He felt this so keenly that he died of rage and exhaustion on the 11th October 1303. The brief pontificate of his successor Benedict XI. was followed by that of Clement V. (1305-14), a Frenchman, who, instead of coming to Rome, summoned the cardinals to France. This was the beginning of the church's so-called exile in Avignon, which, although depriving Rome of a source of wealth and influence, left the republic to pursue its own course.

The Republic Again Takes a Democratic Form

It employed this freedom in trying to hold its own against the nobles, whose power was much lessened by the absence of the pope, and endeavoured to gain fresh strength by organizing the thirteen regions, which, as we have shown, were associations of a much firmer nature in Rome than the guilds. Accordingly, in 1305, a captain of the people was elected with thirteen elders and a senator, Paganino della Torre, who governed for one year. The pope was opposed to these changes at first, but in 1310 he issued a brief granting Rome full permission to select its own form of government. Thus, the first pope in Avignon restored the rights of the Romans. But the latter, even with church and empire so far removed, still considered Rome the Eternal City, the source of all law, and the only natural seat of the spiritual and temporal government of the world. To their republic, they thought, appertained a new and lofty destiny, nor could it ever be content to descend to the level of other Italian municipalities.

Henry VII.

On the 6th January 1309 Henry VII. was crowned king of the Romans at Aix-la-Chapelle; and so greatly were men's minds changed in Italy that, throughout the land, he was hailed as a deliverer. He wished to restore the grandeur of the empire, and the Italians, above all Dante Alighieri, beheld in him the champion of the state against the church, who, after becoming the foe of communal liberty, had forsaken Italy and withdrawn to France. The Roman people shared these ideas, and awaited Henry with equal impatience, but the nobles rose in opposition. The Orsini, leaders of the Guelfs, and allied with Robert of Naples, took possession of Castle St Angelo and the Trastevere. Hence, when Henry reached Rome in May 1312, after seizing the iron crown at Milan, he was obliged to act on the offensive. He took the Capitol by assault, but, failing in his attack on Castle St Angelo, was pursued by its Neapolitan garrison. Forsaken by many discouraged adherents, he was forced to recognize the expediency of departure. First, however, he desired to be crowned at the Lateran, St Peter's being held by his foes. The cardinals refused his request, but were compelled to yield by the threats of the people, who, reasserting their ancient rights, insisted that the coronation should take place without delay. And the ceremony was performed on the 29th June 1312. The emperor then resolved to depart in spite of the popular protest against his leaving the natural seat of the empire, and on the 20th August started for Tuscany, where worse fortune awaited him.

Jacopo Arlotti, Captain of the People

Their differences settled, the nobles expelled the captain of the people left by Henry, and elected as senators Sciarra Colonna and Francesco Orsini. But this was the signal for a popular revolt. The Capitol was attacked, the senators put to flight, and Jacopo Arlotti elected captain with a council of twenty-six worthies (buoni homini). The new leader instantly summoned the chief nobles before his tribunal, had them chained and cast into prison, and demolished many of their houses and strongholds. But, having thus humiliated their pride, Arlotti dared not put them to death, and, releasing them from confinement, banished them to their estates, where they plunged into hostile preparations. Meanwhile the victorious people convoked a parliament and decreed that, the aristocracy being now overthrown, the tribunitia potestas alone should invite the emperor to make his triumphal entry into the Capitol, and receive his authority from the people of Rome. This conception of the Roman power will now be seen to become more and more definite until finding its last expression in Cola di Rienzo. Pope Clement, resigning himself to necessity, acknowledged the new government under the energetic rule of Arlotti. The latter now joined the Ghibellines of the Campagna against the Orsini and the Neapolitans, subdued Velletri, and gave it a podesta. But then the Gaetani, who were Guelfs, united with the Orsini and the Neapolitans, and, giving battle to the Ghibellines in the Campagna, routed them in such wise as to put an end to the popular government. The nobles forced their way into the city, attacked the Capitol, made Arlotti their prisoner, and re-elected the senators Sciarra Colonna and Francesco Orsini. Close upon these reverses came the death of Henry VII. (24th August 1313) at Buonconvento near Siena, which put an end to the Ghibelline party in Italy. Thereupon King Robert of Naples, being named senator by the pope, immediately appointed a vicar in Rome. Clement likewise profited by the vacancy of the imperial throne to name the king imperial vicar in Tuscany. And he died on the 20th April 1314, well content to have witnessed the triumphs of the guelfs in Italy.

Affairs took a fresh turn under Pope John XXII. (1316-34). Rome was still ruled by the vicars of King Robert; but, owing to the continued absence of the popes, matters grew daily worse. Trade and industry declined, revenue diminished, the impoverished nobles were exceedingly turbulent, deeds of murder and violence occurred on all sides; even by day the streets of the city were unsafe. Hence there was universal discontent. Meanwhile Louis the Bavarian, who in 1314 had been crowned king of the Romans, having overcome his German enemies at Mühldorf in 1322, turned against the pope, one of his fiercest opponents. Louis was surrounded by Minorite friars, supporters of the poverty of the church, and consequently enemies to the temporal power. They were men of the stamp of "William of Occam, Marsilio of Padua, Giovanni Janduno, and other philosophers favourable to the rights of the empire and the people. Accordingly the Italian Ghibellines hailed Louis as they had previously hailed Henry. Even the Roman people were roused to action, and, driving out the representatives and partisans of King Robert, in the spring of 1327, seized on Castle St Angelo, and again established a democratic government. "Nearly all Italy was stirred to new deeds," says G. Villani, "and the Romans rose to arms and organized the people" (bk. x. c. 20).

Sciarra Colonna, Captain of the People. Louis the Bavarian.

Regardless of the reproofs of the pope, .sciarra they elected a haughty Ghibelline, Sciarra Colonna, captain of the people and general of the militia, with a council of the fifty-two popolani, four to each region. Then, ranged under the standards of the militia, the Romans gave chase to the foes of the republic, and Sciarra, returning victorious, ascended to the Capitol and invited Louis the Bavarian to Rome. The summons was obeyed; on the 7th January 1328 the king was already encamped in the Neronian Fields with five thousand horse and a considerable number of foot soldiers, and, with better fortune than Henry VII., was able to enter the Vatican at once.

Encircled by a crowd of heretics, reformers, and Minorite brethren, he convoked a parliament on the Capitol, asking that the imperial crown might be conferred upon him by the people, from whom alone he wished to receive it. And the people proclaimed him their captain, senator, and emperor. On the 17th January his coronation took place in St Peter's. But, as he had neither money nor practical sense, his method of taxation and the excesses committed by himself and his over-excited philosophers speedily aroused the popular discontent. His ecclesiastical vicar, Marsilio of Padua, and Giovanni Janduno placarded the walls with insulting manifestoes against the pope, whom the Minorites stigmatized as a heretic and wished to depose. In April Louis twice assembled the parliament in St Peter's Square, and, after obtaining its sanction to several anti-papal edicts, declared John XXII. degraded and deposed as a heretic. This was a very strange and novel spectacle, the more so that, as was speedily proved, the Romans were stirred by no anti-Catholic spirit, no yearning for religious reform. Jacopo Colonna, a canon of the Lateran, was able to make his way into Rome with four masked companions, to publicly read, at the top of his voice and before a great multitude, the excommunication launched against the emperor by the deposed pope, to traverse the entire city, and to withdraw unmolested to Palestrina. Meanwhile the emperor contented himself with decreeing that henceforth the popes must reside in Rome,—that if, when invited, they should fail to come they would be thereby held deposed from the throne. As a logical consequence, proceedings were immediately begun for the election of the new pope, Nicholas V., who on the 12th May was proclaimed by the popular voice in St Peter's Square, and received the imperial sanction. But this ephemeral drama came to an end when the emperor departed with his antipope on the 4th August. This caused the immediate downfall of the democratic Government. Bertoldo Orsini, who had returned to Rome with his Guelfs, and Stefano Colonna were elected senators, and confirmed in the office by Cardinal Giovanni Orsini in the name of the pope. A new parliament cancelled the emperor's edicts, and had them burnt by the public executioner. Later, Nicholas, the antipope, went with a rope about his neck to make submission to John XXII., and Louis promised to disavow and retract all that he had done against the church, provided the sentence of excommunication were withdrawn. This, however, was refused. Never had the empire fallen so low. Meanwhile King Robert was again supreme in Rome, and, being reelected senator, appointed vicars there as before. Anarchy reigned. The city was torn by factions, and the provinces rebelled against the French representatives of the pope, who, in their ignorance of Italian affairs, were at a loss how to act.

And after the election of Benedict XII. (1334-42) confusion reached so great a pitch that, on the expiration of Robert's senatorial term, the Romans named thirteen heads of regions to carry on the government with two senators, while the king still sent vicars as before. The people, for the sake of peace, once more granted the supremacy of the senate to the pope, and he nominated two knights of Gubbio, Giacomo di Cante dei Gabrielli and Bosone Novello dei Gabrielli, who were succeeded by two other senators the following year.

Reconstitution of the Republic

But in 1339 the Romans attacked the Capitol, named two senators of their own choice, re-established a democratic Government, and sent ambassadors to Florence to ask for the ordinances of justice (ordinamenti della giustizia), by which that city had broken the power of the nobles, and also that a few skilled citizens should lend their help in the reconstitution of Rome. Accordingly some Florentines came with the ordinamenti, some portions of which may be recognized in the Roman statutes, and, after first rearranging the taxes, elected thirteen priors of the guilds, _ a gonfalonier of justice, and a captain of the people after the Florentine manner. But there was a dissimilarity in the conditions of the two cities. The guilds having little influence in Rome, the projected reform failed, and the pope, who was opposed to it, re-elected the senators. Thereupon public discontent swelled, and especially when, by the foundation of the papal palace of Avignon, it was evident that Benedict XII. had no intention of restoring the Holy See to Italy. This pope was succeeded in 1342 by Clement VI. (1342-52), and King Robert in 1343 by his niece Joanna ; and the latter event, while plunging the kingdom in anarchy, likewise aggravated the condition of Rome. For not only were the Neapolitan sovereigns still very powerful there, but the principal Roman nobles held large fiefs across the Neapolitan borders.

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