Post-classical history

Honorius III (d. 1227)

Pope (1216-1227). Honorius III was born Cencio (Cencius) Savelli in Rome at an unknown date. He was a canon at St. Maria Maggiore, served in the household of Giacinto Bobone (cardinal deacon of St. Maria in Cosmedin), and became papal subdeacon and chamberlain under Pope Clement III (1187-1191).

Giacinto Bobone became pope as Celestine III in 1191 and Cencio served under him as papal chamberlain and chancellor. In 1192, he compiled the Liber Censuum, a list of the regular payments owed to the papacy, plus additional documents. Cencio was made cardinal deacon of St. Lucia in Orthea in 1193 and cardinal priest of SS. Giovanni e Paolo in 1200, but after the succession of Pope Innocent III in 1198, Cencio’s role in papal government was limited. While a cardinal, he wrote a number of sermons that were later distributed to several religious houses.

Upon his election to the papacy at Perugia on 18 July 1216, Cencio took the name Honorius. He immediately stated his intention to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, Innocent III. He adhered to the judgments of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) in supporting first Simon of Montfort and then King Louis VIII of France against the Saint-Gilles family in Languedoc in the Albigensian Crusade (1209-1229). Honorius also followed Innocent’s lead by approving the rules of the Dominican and Franciscan friars and by issuing a collection of his own decretals (Compila- tio Quinta). His legates Guala and Pandulf, both of whom had served under Innocent, played major roles in the government of England during the minority of King Henry III. Honorius tried, as Innocent reportedly did, to institute an income tax on churches in order to finance papal government, but he abandoned the plan in the face of strong opposition.

The major projects Honorius inherited from Innocent III were the reform program of Lateran IV and the Fifth Crusade (1217-1221). His efforts to carry out the moral and institutional reforms mandated by Lateran IV seem to have been modest and of little effect, but he was an enthusiastic supporter of the crusade.

Honorius hoped that Frederick II, king of Germany and Sicily and emperor-elect, would act as leader of the crusade and that he would maintain a legal separation between the empire and the kingdom of Sicily, thereby assuring the security of papal rule in central Italy. He crowned Frederick as Holy Roman Emperor in 1220, but their relationship gradually deteriorated as Frederick delayed his departure for the crusade, at the same time attempting to exert authority over most of Italy. Without Frederick, a crusading army began to arrive in Outremer in 1217 and moved on to Egypt in 1218. There it was joined by other crusaders and Honorius’s legate Pelagius of Albano, one of the principal leaders of the army until its defeat in 1221. Honorius continued to recruit crusaders in the hope that Frederick would fulfill his oath to go on crusade, and Frederick continued to encourage that hope. But the emperor did not depart until after the death of Honorius on 18 March 1227.

Among his contemporaries, Honorius had a reputation for holiness. Earlier views of Honorius that saw him as ineffective because of old age, ill health, and personal ineptitude have been challenged by some modern scholars who portray him as an effective administrator who faithfully pursued Innocent’s projects.

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