In Italy the war for control of the Papal States had renewed itself in 1375. During the temporary peace, Italian hatred of the papacy’s mercenaries and French legates had not subsided but swelled. The agents of a French Pope ruled with the contempt of colonial governors for natives. When the nephew of the Abbot of Montmayeur, legate in Perugia, was seized by desire for the wife of a Perugian gentleman and, breaking into her chamber, would have ravished her by force, the lady, seeking escape by the window to an adjoining house, lost her footing, fell to the street, and was killed. In response to a delegation of outraged citizens who demanded justice against his nephew, the Abbot said carelessly, “Quoi donc! [What then!] Did you suppose all Frenchmen were eunuchs?” The tale spread from city to city, feeding the antagonism of which Florence now made herself the champion.
Establishment of a strong papal state at her borders was felt by Florence as a threat, heightened by the incursion into Tuscany of Hawkwood during a lapse in papal pay. Forced to buy him off at a huge cost of 130,000 florins, the Florentines believed he had been encouraged to come against them by the Pope. Anti-papism now pervaded Florentine politics in a wild swing of the perpetual feud of Guelf and Ghibelline. Described in exasperation by a later French Governor of Genoa, this ancient roil kept Italians at each other’s throats out of inherited, witless animosity.
For with no other quarrel of land or seigneury, they have only to say, “You are Guelf and I am Ghibelline; we must hate each other,” and for this reason only and knowing no other, they kill and wound each other every day like dogs, the sons like the fathers, and so year by year the malice continues and there is no justice to remedy it.… And from this come the despots of this country, elected by the voice of the people, without reason or right of law. For as soon as one party prevails over the other and is the stronger, then those who see themselves on top cry “Long live so-and-so!” and “Death to so-and-so” and they elect one of their number and kill their adversary if he does not flee. And when the other party regains the advantage, they do the same and in the fury of the people, from which God protect us, all is torn to pieces.
Until now, popular antagonism toward the papal party represented by the Guelfs had not reached the point of taking up arms against the Church. When during a food scarcity in 1374–75 papal legates embargoed the export of grain from the Papal States to Florence, passions reached the point of belligerence. Under the slogan Libertas inscribed in gold on a red banner, Florence organized a revolt of the Papal States in 1375 and formed a league against the papacy, joined by Milan, Bologna, Perugia, Pisa, Lucca, Genoa, and all the various potentates who had territorial ambitions in the Papal States.
To one chronicler it seemed “as if these times are under the rule of a planet which produces strife and quarreling.” In an Augustinian monastery near Siena, he recorded, “the monks murdered their Prior with a knife,” and in a neighboring abbey, after intramural fighting, “six brethren were turned out.” Because of quarreling among the Carthusians, the General of the order came and moved them all to other houses. “It was no better among kinsfolk by blood.… The whole world was fighting. In Siena there was no one who kept his word, the people disagreed with their leaders and agreed with no one, and truly the whole world was a valley of shadows.”
The revolt brought into action an individual destined to be the catalyst of new calamity. Robert of Geneva, the Pope’s Legate in Italy, was a cardinal of 34 who shrank from no force to regain control of the papal patrimony. A brother of the Count of Geneva, a descendant of Louis VII and cousin of Charles V, a relative of the Counts of Savoy and of half the sovereign houses of Europe, he shared the lack of inhibition characteristic of so many princes. He was lame and squinting, and described as either squat and fat or handsome and well formed, depending on partisanship in the coming schism. Imposing and autocratic in manner, he was sonorous of voice, eloquent with tongue and pen, cultivated and well read in several languages, sophisticated and artful in his management of men.
To reconquer the Papal States, he persuaded Gregory XI to hire the Bretons, worst of the mercenary bands, with the extra incentive of removing them from the vicinity of Avignon. Crossing the Alps into Lombardy in May 1376, they spread terror across Italy with swords blessed and consecrated by the Cardinal Legate. They failed, however, to take Bologna, keystone of the Papal States, and suffered several defeats by the Florentines, to the wrath of their employer. With the fury of a conqueror defied, Cardinal Robert determined to set an example by atrocity and found his occasion at Cesena, a town near the east coast between Ravenna and Rimini. When the Bretons who were quartered there seized supplies without paying for them, they provoked an armed rising of the citizens. Swearing clemency by a solemn oath on his cardinal’s hat, Cardinal Robert persuaded the men of Cesena to lay down their arms, and won their confidence by asking for fifty hostages and immediately releasing them as evidence of good will. Then summoning his mercenaries, including Hawkwood, from a nearby town, he ordered a general massacre “to exercise justice.” Meeting some demurral, he insisted, crying, “Sangue et sangue!” (Blood and more blood!), which was what he meant by justice.
He was obeyed. For three days and nights beginning February 3, 1377, while the city gates were closed, the soldiers slaughtered. “All the squares were full of dead.” Trying to escape, hundreds drowned in the moats, thrust back by relentless swords. Women were seized for rape, ransom was placed on children, plunder succeeded the killing, works of art were ruined, handicrafts laid waste, “and what could not be carried away, they burned, made unfit for use or spilled upon the ground.” The toll of the dead was between 2,500 and 5,000. From the sacked city, 8,000 refugees fled to Rimini begging for alms. A generation later the great preacher Bernardino of Siena still made audiences tremble with the tale of horror.
“Not to be held entirely infamous,” Hawkwood, it was said, sent a thousand women to safety in Rimini and allowed some men to escape. Carrying out the solution threatened by Solomon, he was also reported to have cleft in half a nun over whom two of his soldiers were fighting. On the whole, however, he had more relish for money than for killing, and shortly after the massacre of Cesena he abandoned the papal employ, where pay was slack, for more lucrative contracts offered by Florence and Milan. To make employment of the great mercenary permanent, Bernabò Visconti gave one of his illegitimate daughters by a favorite mistress in marriage to Hawkwood with a dowry of 10,000 florins. The political resources of a prince with 36 living children were far-reaching.
For his remaining two decades Hawkwood lived in riches and respect, elected Captain of Florence by the Signoria, and paid for his services, or for immunity, by almost all the city-states of central and northern Italy. He bequeathed to Italy an example of successful rapine to inspire Italiancondottieri—Jacopo del Verme, Malatesta, Colleoni, Sforza—who were soon to replace the foreign captains.
Robert of Geneva, who became for Italy the “Man of Blood” and “Butcher of Cesena,” never attempted to excuse or extenuate his action. As far as he was concerned, the citizens were rebels like those of Limoges to the Black Prince. His resort to terror, resounding through Italy, did not enhance the authority of the Church. “People no longer believe in the Pope or Cardinals,” wrote a chonicler of Bologna on the massacre, “for these are things to crush one’s faith.”
Meanwhile, Florence was excommunicated by the Pope, who invited non-Florentines to prey upon the commerce of the outlaw. Her caravans could be seized, debts could not be collected, clients were not bound to keep their contracts. Florence retaliated by expropriating ecclesiastical property and forcing local clergy to keep churches open in defiance of the ban. Popular sentiment was so aroused that the Committee of Eight who directed strategy were called the Eight Saints, and the conflict with the papacy came to be known in Italian annals as the War of the Eight Saints.
By now both sides had reason to want to end the war. Besides drastic effect on Florentine commerce, the excommunication had divisive effects on the league. To hold the multiple rivalries of Italian city-states in cohesion for long was impossible. For the papacy to maintain control of the Papal States from Avignon was equally impossible, and a new danger was added when Florence offered inducements to Rome to join the league. It was as apparent to Gregory as to his predecessor that necessity was calling the papacy home. A clamorous voice at his elbow was adding force to the summons.
Since June 1376, Catherine of Siena, who was to be canonized within a century of her death and ultimately named patron saint of Italy along with Francis of Assisi, had been in Avignon exhorting the Pope to signal reform of the Church by returning to the Holy See. Already at 29 a figure with an ardent following and an insistent voice, she was revered for her trances and raptures and her claim to have received, while in ecstasy after communion, the stigmata of the five wounds of Christ on hands, feet, and heart. While these remained visible only to her, such was her repute that Florence commissioned her as ambassador to negotiate reconciliation with the Pope and a lifting of the interdict. Catherine’s larger mission in her own mind was apostleship for all humanity through her own total incorporation with God and Jesus, and through a cleansing and renewing of the Church. Her authority was the voice of God speaking directly to her, and preserved in the Dialogues dictated to her secretary-disciples and believed by them to have been “given in person by God the Father, speaking to the mind of the most glorious and holy virgin, Catherine of Siena … she being the while entranced and actually hearing what God spoke in her.”
Behind the trances were extreme austerities of fasting and deprivations of sleep and comfort. The more extreme in such practices, the more a person was removing himself from material life. (According to La Tour Landry, “To eat once a day is the life of an angel; twice a day the right life of men and women; more than that the life of a beast”). Catherine was reported to have lived on hardly more than a little raw lettuce, and if forced to eat, to turn her head away and spit out what she had chewed or cause herself to vomit lest any food or liquid remain in her stomach. She had practiced asceticism since the age of seven, when she saw her first visions, perhaps not unconnected with being the youngest of 23 children. Thereafter she stubbornly secluded herself from the worldly commotion of a large family in a dyer’s household, and dedicated her virginity to Christ.
The ecstasies of the union were very real to Catherine, as they were to many women who escaped the marital bond by entering religious life. Christ confirmed her betrothal, Catherine wrote, “not with a ring of silver but with a ring of his holy flesh, for when he was circumcised just such a ring was taken from his holy body.” Taught to read at the age of twenty by a Dominican sister of noble family, Catherine read the Song of Songs over and over, repeating in her prayers the sigh of the bride, “May he kiss me with the kiss of his mouth,” and was rewarded when Jesus appeared to her and bestowed upon her “a kiss which filled her with unutterable sweetness.” After her prolonged prayers to be fixed in “perfect faith” and to become an instrument for the salvation of erring souls, Jesus took her for his bride in a ceremony performed by his Holy Mother and attended by St. John, St. Paul, and St. Dominic, with music from David’s harp.
As a tertiary or non-cloistered member of the Dominicans, Catherine threw herself into the care of humanity, seeking out prisoners, the poor, and the sick, tending the plague victims of 1374 among whom two of her siblings and eight nieces and nephews died. In an extreme episode she sucked pus from the cancerous sore of a hospital patient as if acting out the mystics’ insistence on direct contact with the wounds of Christ as the source of spiritual experience.
In the words of the German mystic Johannes Tauler, Catherine’s contemporary, it was necessary “to press one’s mouth to the wounds of the crucified.” The blood that flowed from the wounds, from the thorns, from the flagellation, obsessed religious fanatics. It was a sacred bath to cleanse sin. To drink it, to wash the soul with it was salvation. Tauler dwelt on the subject for so long in his thoughts that he felt he must have been present at the source. He calculated the number of lashes and knew that Jesus had been tied so tightly to the column that the blood spurted from his nails; that he had been whipped on the back and then on the chest until he was one great wound. St. Brigitta in her revelations saw his bloody footsteps when he walked and how, when crowned with thorns, “his eyes, his ears, his beard ran with blood; his jaw distended, his mouth open, his tongue swollen with blood. His stomach was pulled in so that it touched his spine as if he had no more intestines.”
Catherine herself hardly ever spoke of Christ, her bridegroom, without mentioning blood—“blood of the Lamb,” “the keys of the blood,” “blood filled with eternal divinity,” “drinking the blood of the heart of Jesus.” Sangue was in every sentence; sangue and dolce (blood and sweet) were her favorite words. Words poured from her in a torrent unhindered by need of pen. Even her devoted confessor, Raymond of Capua, a cultivated nobleman and future General of the Dominican Order, sometimes fell asleep under the redundant flow. That so much of Catherine’s talk was preserved was owed to the astonishing capacity of medieval scribes to record verbatim the prolix speech of the period. Speech was customarily filled with repetition to allow time for the listener to absorb what was being said. Information and learning were still largely acquired through listening to heralds, sermons, orations, and reading aloud, and for that very reason, scribes, before the age of printing, were far better trained to take down the spoken word than at any time since.
As word spread of Catherine’s visions and fasting, people came to see her in her trances. Between raptures, in moods of earthly and warmhearted common sense, she settled civil quarrels and converted notorious rascals to penitence and faith. She acquired fame and worshipful disciples to whom she felt as a mother, calling them to her, as she put it, “as a mother calls a child to her breast.” They in turn called her Mamma. From 1370 on, she took an increasing part in public life, exhorting rulers, prelates, town councils, and individuals in effusive letters of political and spiritual advice.
Her influence lay in her absolute conviction that God’s will and hers were one. “Do God’s will and mine!” she commanded Charles V in a letter urging crusade, and to the Pope in the same tone she wrote, “I demand … that you set forth to fight the infidels!” Next to reform, “holy sweet crusade” was her incessant theme. Gregory himself, in all the letters of his pontificate, was an advocate of crusade, not only for defensive war against the Turks, but as a means of reconciling France and England and draining the mercenaries from Europe. While Catherine pleaded for peace at home, crying, “Woe, woe, peace, peace, for God’s sake …,” she implored all the potentates no less heartily to visit war upon the infidel. For her, crusade had an exalted religious value in itself. This was Christians’ work for the greater glory of God, and the more earnest its advocates, like Catherine and Philippe de Mézières, the more ardent their summons to war.
“Be a man, Father, arise!… No negligence!” she hectored the Pope. Hawkwood was likewise exhorted to rise against Christ’s enemies instead of tormenting Italy with misery and ruin. In a letter addressed to “Messer Giovanni condottiere,” delivered in person by Father Raymond, she wrote, “Therefore I pray you sweetly, since you delight so much in making war and fighting, make no more war upon Christians because it offends God.” Rather, she told him, go to fight the Turks so that, “from being the servant and soldier of the Devil, you might become a manly and true knight.”
Catherine’s favorite admonition was “Be manly!” In her devotions, the Virgin Mary hardly appeared, all Catherine’s passion being absorbed by the Son. Yet in worldly affairs she often appealed to feminine influence, writing not to Bernabò Visconti but to his strong-minded wife, Regina; not to the King of Hungary but to his dominant mother, Elizabeth of Poland. Of the Duc d’Anjou, whom she envisioned as leader of the crusade, she begged that he (of all people) despise the pleasures and vanities of this world and unite himself to the cross and the passion of Jesus in holy war. When she visited him and the Duchess in person, the Duke, who among his other ambitions was quite prepared to lead a crusade, accepted the mission.
In Avignon she was oppressed by the atmosphere of sensuality and “stench of sin,” and by the curiosity of the grand ladies who poked and pinched her body to test her trances after communion or even pierced her foot with a long needle. To the Pope, whom she addressed in a familiar version of Holy Father as “my sweet papa” (dolce babbo mio), she poured out all her themes in endless letters and in public and private audiences in which Raymond of Capua acted as interpreter because Catherine spoke in the Tuscan dialect and the Pope in Latin. Let him begin reform through the appointment of worthy priests, she demanded, let him pacify Italy not by arms but by mercy and pardon, let him return to Rome not with armed guard and sword but with cross in hand like the Blessed Lamb, “for it seems to me that Divine Goodness is preparing to change furious wolves into lambs … and I will bring them humiliated to your bosom.… Oh, Father, peace for the love of God!”
All the suffering under the “furious wolves” of her time spoke through her voice, and all the craving for religious reform. For most people reform meant relief from ecclesiastical extortions. In Germany in 1372 papal tax-collectors were seized, mutilated, imprisoned, some even strangled, and the clergy of Cologne, Bonn, and Mainz pledged themselves not to pay the tenth demanded by Gregory XI. In parishes wrecked by the mercenaries, the tithes reduced priests to penury. Many deserted, leaving villages without communion or sacraments, and empty churches to rot or be used for barns. Some priests supplemented their too meager pay by occupation as taverners or horse-dealers or other work disallowed for the clergy as inhonesta.
In the upper ranks, property and worldly offices absorbed the prelates, to the neglect of care for the diocese. Because the Church could offer to ambitious men a career of power and riches, many who entered it were more concerned with material than with spiritual reward. “Fear of God is thrown away,” lamented Brigitta in Rome, “and in its place is a bottomless bag of money.” All the Ten Commandments, she said, had been reduced to one: “Bring hither the money.”
Conscious of its failings, the Church issued streams of orders reproving profane dress, concubinage, lack of zeal, but it was tied to the things of Caesar and could not reform at the root without destroying its vested interests. It had become dependent on the financial system developed in the exile at Avignon, and while everyone acknowledged the need of reform, the hierarchy was bound, in the nature of things, to resist it. Even Catherine in a moment of clarity knew reform could not come from within. “Do not weep now,” she said to Father Raymond when he burst into tears at some new scandal for the Church, “for you will have still more to weep for” when in the future not only laymen but clerics would rise against the Church. As soon as the Pope attempted reform, she said, the prelates would resist, and the Church “will be divided, as it were by a heretical pestilence.”
Catherine herself was never heretical, never disillusioned, never disobedient. The Church, the papacy, the priesthood, the Dominican order were her home, and their sanctity her foundation. She scolded, but from within the fold. Disenchantment among the clergy itself produced the great heretics, Wyclif and, in the next generation, Jan Hus.
Catherine’s appeals gave Gregory XI the strength to resist the pressures exerted by the French King and cardinals against return of the papacy to Rome. Charles V insisted that “Rome is wherever the Pope happens to be,” and sent his brothers, the Dukes of Anjou and Burgundy, to try to dissuade the Pope. In the same effort, the cardinals argued against going to Rome just when the Kings of France and England, “so long divided by a war which destroys the whole world,” were conducting peace parleys that required his aid. Gregory was unmoved. Despite somber presentiments, he believed that only his presence could hold Rome for the papacy, and when Rome promised submission if he would return, he could postpone no longer.
Confounding all expectations of his French birth and feeble health, he departed in September 1376 despite a fearful storm that damaged his ships as if in warning. At the last moment his aged father, Count Guillaume de Beaufort, in the unrestrained physical gesture of the time, threw himself prone before his son in a plea to stay. Gregory stepped over his parent, murmuring unfilially from the Psalms, “It is written that thou shalt trample on the adder and tread down the basilisk.” One of his bishops, going by land, wrote, “Oh God, if only the mountains would move and block our way.”
Owing to the insecurity of the region, Rome was not entered until January 1377, and fifteen months later, in March 1378, Gregory died. In the interval he had struggled as helplessly as his predecessor, Urban V, in the turmoil of Italian politics. Beset by difficulties and ceaselessly goaded by the French cardinals to return to Avignon, he was said to have agreed, but, feeling the approach of death, deliberately waited to die in Rome in order that the election of a new Pope should take place there and keep the papacy where it belonged. His worthy intention precipitated the crisis that was to damage the medieval Church beyond repair.
The schism had nothing to do with doctrine or religious issue. Sixteen cardinals were present in Rome for the conclave, of whom one was Spanish, four were Italian, and eleven were divided between two hostile French parties of Limousins and Gallicans. Since neither French party was prepared to elect a Pope from the other, hectic canvassing for votes took place in which Robert of Geneva, leader of the Gallicans, was active even before Gregory was dead. When the necessary two-thirds majority could not be assembled for any one of the cardinals, sentiment gathered for an outsider as a compromise candidate who could ensure that neither French party would triumph over the other. He was Bartolomeo Prignano, Archbishop of Bari and Vice-Chancellor of the Curia, a Neapolitan of lowly birth, short, stout, swarthy, hard-working, and apparently unassuming. Through long service in Avignon he was considered a pliable protégé by both French groups. Although a strong opponent of simony and corruption, with the excitable temper of the south Italian, he was thought by the cardinals, as their social inferior, to be governable and, above all, amenable to a return to Avignon.
On Gregory’s death, the citizens of Rome, seeing at last a chance to end the reign of French popes, sent a deputation of important citizens to the Vatican to urge the election of a “worthy man of the Italian nation,” specifically a Roman. The College contained two Romans, Cardinal Tebaldeschi of St. Peter’s, “a good saintly man” but aged and infirm, and Cardinal Orsini, considered too young and inexperienced. Both were unwanted by their colleagues for the very reason that they were Roman.
Clearly expecting trouble on this score, the French cardinals moved their households with all their valuables, plate, jewels, money, and books, and the papal treasury, into the Castel Sant’Angelo, and demanded security measures by the city to assure public order and protect them against violence and insults. Taking no chances, Cardinal Robert of Geneva donned a coat of mail; the Spanish Cardinal Pedro de Luna dictated his will. Because the cardinals gave no pledge of a Roman, rumor spread that a French-dominated Pope would mean return of the papacy to Avignon. Public excitement rose and threatening crowds gathered as the cardinals, surrounded by “many strong soldiers and warlike nobles,” entered the Vatican for the conclave. Beneath the windows they could hear the populace howling, “Romano lo volemo! [We want a Roman!] Romano! Romano!” The specter of the deaths of Cola di Rienzi and Jacob van Artevelde, lynched by the mob, rose to the surface.
In fear for their lives, the cardinals resorted to dressing the trembling old Cardinal Tebaldeschi, over his protests, in the miter and cope to be exhibited on the throne as elected Pope for long enough to allow his colleagues to escape from the Vatican to fortified places outside the city. As the bells of St. Peter’s pealed amid clash and confusion, word of the hoax was learned. The crowd’s shrieks turned to “Non le volemo!” and “Death to the cardinals!” Swords were drawn and drunks who had broken into the papal cellars grew rough and uproarious.
Next day, April 9, the cardinals announced the election of the Archbishop of Bari as Urban VI and, under heavy guard, escorted him on a white palfrey amid “angry faces” on the traditional ride to the Lateran. Notice of the election and enthronement was conveyed to the six cardinals remaining in Avignon, with no suggestion of possible invalidity by reason of intimidation. On the contrary, in the first weeks of the new reign the cardinals treated Urban’s pontificate as so much an accomplished fact that they showered him with the usual petitions for benefices and promotions for their relatives.
Papal power, raising him to authority over the high-born cardinals, went instantly to Urban’s head. From a humble unspectacular official totally unprepared for the papal throne, he was transformed overnight into an implacable scourge of simony, moved less by religious zeal than by simple hatred and jealousy of privilege. He publicly chastised the cardinals for absenteeism, luxury, and lascivious life, forbade them to hold or sell plural benefices, prohibited their acceptance of pensions, gifts of money, and other favors from secular sources, ordered the papal treasurer not to pay them their customary half of the revenue from benefices but to use it for the restoration of churches in Rome. Worse, he ordered these princes of the Church to restrict their meals to one course.
He berated them without tact or dignity, his face growing purple and his voice hoarse with rage. He interrupted them with rude invective and cries of “Rubbish!” and “Shut your mouth!” He called Cardinal Orsini a sotus (half-wit), and moved to strike the Cardinal of Limoges, only stopped by Robert of Geneva, who pulled him back, crying, “Holy Father, Holy Father, what are you doing?” He accused the Cardinal of Amiens, when acting as mediator between France and England, of accepting money from both sides and prolonging discord to keep his purse filled, causing that Cardinal to rise and with “indescribable haughtiness” to call His Holiness a “liar.”
Carried away by self-assertion, Urban plunged into the secular affairs of Naples, announcing that the kingdom was badly governed because the ruler, Queen Joanna, was a woman, and threatening to put her in a nunnery or depose her because of failure to pay the dues of Naples as a papal fief. This gratuitous quarrel, which he pursued with venom, was to provide a base for his enemies.
The feelings of the men who had raised Urban over their own heads probably cannot be adequately described. Some thought that the delirium of power had made the Pope furiosus et melaneholicus—in short, mad. Rages and insults might have been borne, but not interference with revenue and privilege. When Urban flatly refused to return to Avignon as arranged, the crisis came. Rather than try, as once before with an obstreperous Pope, any half-measure requiring him to sign “Capitulations” of his authority, the cardinals decided on the fatal course of removal. Since there was no procedure for ousting a Pope for unfitness, their plan was to annul the election as invalid on grounds that it had been conducted under duress from mob violence. Unquestionably they had been terrified when they elected Urban, but equally clearly they had decided to elect him before a threat was heard.
The first hints of an invalid election were circulated in July 1378, and the cardinals began assembling military support through the Duke of Fondi, a nobleman of the Kingdom of Naples. In the meantime, the Romans and their armed forces rallied to Urban, who had won their support by his refusal to go back to Avignon. He reinforced his position by concluding peace with Florence and lifting the interdict, to the jubilation of the people. His messenger bearing the olive branch for once made the papacy popular with the Florentines. Lines were being drawn. Guarded by the Breton mercenaries of Sylvestre Budes, who had been with Coucy in Switzerland, the cardinals moved out of Rome to the papal summer resort at Anagni. Here on August 9 they issued a Declaration to all Christendom pronouncing Urban’s election void on the ground that it had been conducted in “fear of their lives” to the sound of “tumultuous and horrible voices.” After declaring the Holy See vacant, they rejected in advance any arbitration by an Ecumenical Council on the grounds that only a Pope could call a Council. In a further manifesto, they anathemetized Urban as “Anti-Christ, devil, apostate, tyrant, deceiver, elected-by-force.”
Repudiation of a Pope was so fateful an act that it is impossible to suppose the cardinals envisaged a schism. Rather, they acted in the belief that by withdrawing in a body from the Curia, they could compel Urban to resign, or at worst depose him by force of arms. In a test of strength Budes’s company, acting as their military arm, had already defeated a company of the Pope’s Roman supporters in a skirmish in July.
The cardinals moved first to secure the support of Charles V. All the information received by the King of France was heavily weighted against Urban, and his political interest at any rate leaned in the same direction. He summoned a council of prelates and doctors of law and theology on September 11 to listen to the cardinals’ envoys make their case. After two days of deliberation, the council soberly advised the King to abstain from a precipitous decision one way or another on “so high, perilous and doubtful” an issue. If this was hedging, it was also a well-advised caution which Charles did not follow. Though he did nothing overt, later developments indicate that he must have conveyed assurance of support to the cardinals—the major error of policy-making in his record.
After further legal preparation and efforts to obtain approval from the University of Paris, which was not forthcoming, the cardinals moved to Fondi, inside the territory of Naples, and in a conclave of September 20 elected a new Pope from among their number. Seeking, in the circumstances, a forceful and decisive man they made an incredible choice. The person elected, enthroned, and crowned as Clement VII all on the same day was Robert of Geneva, the “Butcher of Cesena.”
The election of an Anti-Pope was bound to be divisive, and the interests of the papacy might have been supposed to dictate a choice as acceptable as possible to Italians. To elect the man feared and loathed throughout Italy suggests an arrogance of power almost as mad as the behavior of Urban. Perhaps by this time the 14th century was not quite sane. If enlightened self-interest is the criterion of sanity, in the verdict of Michelet, “no epoch was more naturally mad.” Dominated by the French, the College of Cardinals was unconcerned about Italian feelings and so threatened by curtailment of its revenues in the name of reform that even the three* Italian cardinals gave tacit consent to the vote. This was the end product of the exile in Avignon. Only a profound materialism and cynicism could have permitted the placing of Robert of Geneva in the chair of St. Peter. The complaints of the reformers could have had no more telling proof.
“Oh, unhappy men!” cried Catherine, voicing the Italian reaction, “you who were to nourish yourselves at the breast of the Church, to be as flowers in her garden, to shed forth sweet perfume, to be as pillars to support the Vicar of Christ and his bark, as lamps for the enlightenment of the world and diffusion of the faith … you who were angels upon earth, have turned to the way of devils.… What is the cause? The poison of selfishness destroys the world.” If her rich imagery was mixed, it was also a measure of the reverence felt for the great ones of the Church and the corresponding sense of betrayal. With the native common sense that often broke through her verbal rhapsodies, Catherine gave no credit to the cardinals’ claim of having elected Urban under duress.
Far from resigning, Urban created an entirely new College of Cardinals within a week and hired a company of mercenaries under one of the first Italian condottieri, Alberigo da Barbiano, to maintain his See by force of arms. War on schismatics gave Catherine a new holy cause. “Now is the time for new martyrs,” she encouraged Urban. “You are the first who have given your blood; how great is the fruit you will receive!” And so it proved, initially. In a battle against the forces of his rival, commanded by Sylvestre Budes and the Count of Montjoie, Clement’s nephew, Urban’s forces were victorious. They regained the Castel Sant’Angelo and took prisoner the two enemy captains, with the result that Clement had to flee Rome and take refuge with Joanna of Naples. So hostile was the populace, however, crying “Death to the Anti-Christ! Death to Clement and his cardinals! Death to the Queen if she protects them!” that he was forced to leave. With no safety for him anywhere in Italy, he returned with his cardinals to Avignon in April 1379.
With one Pope and College of Cardinals in Rome and another Pope and College in Avignon, the schism was now a terrible fact. It was to become the fourth scourge—after war, plague, and the Free Companies—of a tormented century. Since the election at Fondi, every sovereign power had taken sides, often with divisive effect between ruler and clerics, or clerics and people. Charles V recognized Clement officially in November 1378 and issued a proclamation forbidding obedience to Urban by anyone, cleric or lay, within the realm. He rejected settlement by an Ecumenical Council as advocated by the University of Paris, because he wanted no solution that might prove contrary to French interest. The University, profoundly troubled, was forced to comply.
England, in natural opposition to France and a French Pope, remained loyal to Urban; Scotland of course took the other side. Flanders, though a fief of France, remained Urbanist largely because the Count of Flanders was following a pro-English policy in the war. The Emperor Charles IV died just in time to be spared a decision, but his son and successor, Wenceslas, so recently and lavishly entertained in Paris, declared for Urban and carried most of the Empire with him, except for certain areas such as Hainault and Brabant closely linked to France. The stand taken by the new Emperor, followed by Hungary, Poland, and Scandinavia, was a bitter disappointment to Charles V, who had thought his own decision would draw other sovereigns in its wake, leaving Urban isolated and forced to resign.
Charles’s old ally Don Enrique, King of Castile, also died before taking sides, and his son, Juan I, though heavily pressed by Charles V to support Clement, preferred to maintain “neutrality,” saying that, while faithful to the French alliance, he could not go against the conscience of his subjects. Common people, nobility, clerics, learned men, he wrote, were all Urbanist. “What government, O wise prince,” he pointedly inquired of Charles, “has ever succeeded in triumphing over public conscience supported by reason? What punishments are available to subjugate a free soul?” During a career of more than ordinary Spanish confusion, Juan I from time to time sent out signals of serious thought about the relationship of ruler to subject. Unfortunately, Charles was already demonstrating that he could indeed frustrate “public conscience supported by reason.” Neutrality in the schism, in which Pedro IV of Aragon also tried to take refuge, was illusory. Political pressures forced both Spanish Kings and eventually Portugal, too, to opt for Clement.
Urban’s actions after his repudiation grew more savage, irrational, and uncontrolled than before. He excommunicated Joanna of Naples for her support of Clement and declared her deposed in favor of one of her many throne-hungry relatives, Charles of Durazzo. Urban thereby plunged his papacy into a remorseless conflict. He quarreled with Catherine of Siena over this issue, and when she died of self-willed privation shortly afterward in 1380, he lost what had been the warmest voice in his support. He devoted infinite devices to the advancement of a worthless nephew, Francesco Prignano, and when Charles of Durazzo refused to grant the nephew certain favors, Urban resorted to arms. On being besieged by Charles of Durazzo, the Pope mounted four times a day to the battlements to excommunicate the besiegers. If he had not been mad before, the cardinals’ challenge had unhinged him now.
Increasingly alienated by his wildness and vindictiveness, two of Urban’s cardinals defected to Clement, but most felt they had no choice but to remain with Urban rather than accept a return to French subjection. Burdened with a crazed Pope, they planned a kind of regency council to govern for him while holding him in protective custody, but Urban learned of the plot and arrested the six cardinals involved. While they were being tortured to extract confessions of conspiracy, he was reported by an observer to have walked up and down beneath the windows, reading his breviary in a loud voice while listening to the cries of the victims. Five were executed for conspiracy. The sixth, an English cardinal named Adam Easton, spared through the intervention of Richard II, survived to testify to what he had witnessed. As the years passed, Urban became as hated and vilified as his rival. With two such men claiming leadership of Holy Church, it seemed as if God had good reason to repent of His house on earth.
Of all the “strange evils and adversities” predicted for the century, the effect of the schism on the public mind was among the most damaging. When each Pope excommunicated the followers of the other, who could be sure of salvation? Every Christian found himself under penalty of damnation by one or the other Pope, with no way of being sure that the one he obeyed was the genuine one. People might be told that the sacraments of their priest were not valid because he had been ordained by the “other Pope,” or that the holy oil for baptism was not sanctified because it had been blessed by a “schismatic” bishop. In disputed regions, double bishops might be appointed, each holding mass and proclaiming the ritual of the other a sacrilege. The same religious order in different countries might have divided allegiance, with its monasteries under two competing priors and its abbeys torn by strife. When, as in Flanders, political and economic rivalries caused a city to ally itself with the French under Clement, loyal Urbanists, fearing to live under Anti-Christ, left their homes, shops, and trades to move to a diocese of the “true” persuasion.
Though no religious issue had created the schism, once it became an accomplished fact, partisans were divided by the same hatred as marked the later religious wars. To Honoré Bonet in France, Urban appeared as the falling star to whom was given the key to the “bottomless pit” in St. John’s vision of the Apocalypse. The “smoke of a great furnace” arising from the pit to darken the sun was the schism darkening the papacy. The accompanying “locusts and scorpions” were the “traitorous Romans” who, by terrorizing the conclave, had forced the false election.
Since papal revenue was cut in half, the financial effect of the schism was catastrophic. To keep each papacy from bankruptcy, simony redoubled, benefices and promotions were sold under pressure, charges for spiritual dispensations of all kinds were increased, as were chancery taxes on every document required from the Curia. Sale of indulgences, seed of the Reformation, became financially important. Instead of reform, abuses multiplied, further undermining faith. When a French bishop or abbot died, according to the Monk of St. Denis who wrote the Chronicle of the Reign of Charles VI, the tax-collectors of Avignon descended like vultures to carry off his goods and furnishings on pretext of making up arrears in clerical tithes. “Everywhere the service of God was neglected, the devotion of the faithful diminished, the realm was drained of money, and ecclesiatics wandered here and there overcome with misery.”
Legates of each Pope no longer strove for peace between France and England, but worked openly for one side or another because each of the principals sought military support to eliminate his rival. Meanwhile their mutual vituperation and unedifying struggle over the body of the Church degraded Christendom. The Church was pulled this way and that, sorrowed the Monk of St. Denis, “like a prostitute found at the scene of a debauch.” She became “a subject for satire and object of laughter for all peoples of the world, and they made up songs about her every day.”
More than anyone else, Charles V was responsible for allowing the schism to take hold, for Clement would have had no footing without the support of France. He acknowledged his debt as soon as he became Pope by a grant to the King of a third of the taxes on the French clergy. In the end Charles’s choice was to blight all he had accomplished for the recovery of France. Thinking only of retrieving a French papacy under French influence, he had assumed that his candidate could be imposed. Though surnamed the Wise, he was not immune from the occupational disease of rulers: overestimation of their capacity to control events.
No one was a more ardent Clementist than the King’s brother Anjou, for reasons of his own ambition. The moment the Duke learned of Clement’s election, he had it proclaimed through the streets of Toulouse to the accompaniment of mass in the cathedral and Te Deum sung in all the churches. Speaking of the new Pope as a “close relative, the issue like myself of the house of France,” he ordered obedience to the new papacy by Languedoc, sent money to the cardinals, and envoys to gather support in Florence, Milan, and Naples. When Clement suffered defeat by Urban’s forces and lost Italy, he applied to Anjou for military support. Anjou’s asking price was a kingdom.
By agreement between them confirmed in a Bull of April 17, 1379, Anjou was to reconquer the Papal States in Italy and keep the greater part of them (with the exception of Rome and Naples) for himself as a Kingdom of Adria, so called from the Adriatic, along whose shores it was to lie. Bestriding the Apennines, the kingdom was to include Ferrara, Bologna, Ravenna, the Romagna, the March of Ancona, and the duchy of Spoleto. It was to be a fief of the Holy See paying an annual sum to the papacy of 40,000 francs; every three years Anjou was to give the Pope a white palfrey in token of vassalage. The Bull expressly provided that Adria and Naples should never be united under one ruler. Anjou was to be allowed a delay of two years to assemble finances and forces, but if within two months after the two years he had not yet led an expedition into Italy or sent a “capable general” in his place, the agreement would become void.
Adria was a kingdom in the clouds. If in all their battles papal forces had never succeeded in regaining control of the patrimony, there was no reason to suppose that a French prince would succeed where they had failed. But overestimation of its powers affected French policy more and more from this time on; feasibility restrained it less and less. In the meantime, Anjou’s aid was urgently needed to maintain Queen Joanna on the throne of Naples, Clement’s only base in Italy. In order that he have a vested interest in coming to her defense, Anjou was named—as her distant cousin—the childless Queen’s heir. By naming the same person as future King of Naples and putative King of Adria, Clement was arranging exactly the single rulership he had banned, but perhaps he never expected Anjou to achieve both. With Naples beckoning, Anjou’s destiny now lay in Italy, where it would soon draw Coucy with it.
To rally the French public to Clement, once royal policy was committed to him, required more than mere fiat. Through April and May of 1379 a series of public assemblies was held in Paris to impress upon notables and citizens the invalidity of Urban’s election. The Cardinal of Limoges, he who had nearly suffered Urban’s blow, came to tell in person all that had happened and swear with hand on heart, calling on God, angels, and saints as witnesses to his sincerity, that the cardinals had voted for Urban “under fear of death.” In contrast, he said, Clement had been chosen under the right and proper conditions necessary to the election of a true pontiff. Following him, Charles V rose to say that all conscientious scruples about accepting Clement must now be eased, for it was clear that a man of such authority and wisdom as the Cardinal of Limoges would not “damn his soul for love or hate of a living person.” At further meetings, further cardinals confirmed the version of duress with solemn oaths.
Formal assent was obtained from an imposing group assembled at the Château de Vincennes on May 7 in the presence of the King and Anjou and the Sire de Coucy, among other leading nobles, ministers, prelates, and masters of theology. After each cardinal in turn was again asked by the King to declare on his conscience all he knew of the circumstances, in order to clear all hesitant minds of doubt and “fortify their faith,” the assembly, with hidden anguish in many hearts, voted unanimously in favor of the new Pope. A week later for the benefit of the public a great ceremony was held in the plaza of Notre Dame, where on a platform especially erected for the occasion the four cardinals supported by the Duc d’Anjou proclaimed the advent of Clement VII and declared schismatic anyone who refused obedience.
The University of Paris remained unreconciled. Masters of Theology, less affected by the compromises of worldly office, did not bend so easily as bishops. To them the succession of St. Peter was a serious matter. Under extreme pressure from the crown, they formally accepted Clement on May 30, but the acquiescence was sullen, not unanimous, and a precursor of trouble. Two years later, after the death of Charles V, all four faculties passed a resolution in favor of a General Council to put an end to the schism, and appealed to the crown to summon one. Although authority to convene was uncertain, fifteen such councils had been held so far in the history of the Church to settle grave issues of doctrine. The University’s appeal in 1381, presented by a master of theology, Jean Rousse, was necessarily addressed to the hostile ears of the Duc d’Anjou, then Regent. As a fearsome example to quiet all such talk, he had Rousse arrested and imprisoned in the Châtelet. The insult to clergy and University created a scandal, not appeased when Rousse’s release was secured only at the cost of an order by Anjou prohibiting any discussion of a council or a papal election.
Alienated and dismayed, prominent doctors of theology fled to Rome to join Urban. Others too were leaving. Students and faculty of Urbanist countries, unable to remain under Clementist obedience, departed for universities in Italy, the Empire, and Oxford. “The sun of knowledge” in France, said a departing master, “has suffered an eclipse.” At this time the decline of the University of Paris as a great cosmopolitan center began.
In England the schism brought Wyclif to the turning point that led to protestantism. At first he welcomed Urban as a reformer, but as the financial abuses of both Popes grew more flagrant, he came to regard both as Anti-Christs and the schism as the natural end of a corrupted papacy. Since the moment the Church allowed penance to be commuted by money, he believed, nothing but evil had been the result. Despairing of reform from within after the schism, he came in 1379 to a radical conclusion: since the Church was incapable of reforming itself, it must be brought under secular supervision. He now saw the King as God’s Vicar on earth from whom bishops derived their authority and through whom the state, as guardian of the Church, could compel reform. Going beyond the abuses of the Church to attack the theory, Wyclif was now prepared to sweep away the entire ecclesiastical superstructure—papacy, hierarchy, orders. Having rejected the divine authority of the Church, it was now that he came to his rejection of its essence—the power of the sacraments, specifically of the Eucharist.
In a culminating heresy, he transferred salvation from the agency of the Church to the individual: “For each man that shall be damned shall be damned by his own guilt, and each man that is saved shall be saved by his own merit.” Unperceived, here was the start of the modern world.
When he had preached disendowment of the Church’s temporal property, Wyclif had had powerful friends, but when he rejected the sacerdotal system, his patrons, fearing heresy arid the jaws of Hell, withdrew. In 1381 a council of twelve doctors of the University of Oxford was to pronounce eight of his theses unorthodox and fourteen heretical, and to prohibit him from further lecturing or preaching. Though his voice was silenced, his work spread through dissemination of the Bible in English. The entire Scripture of some three quarters of a million words was translated from the Latin by Wyclif and his Lollard disciples in the dangerous business of opening a direct pathway to God, bypassing the priest. In the future fierce reaction after the Peasants’ Revolt, when Lollardy was harried as the brother of subversion, and mere possession of a Bible in English could convict a man of heresy, the making of multiple copies of the manuscript Bible was a labor of risk and courage. In view of 175 copies that still survive and the number that must have been destroyed during the persecution and lost over the centuries, many hundreds must have been laboriously and secretively copied out by hand. Wyclif died in 1384, and the current of protest, as persecution intensified, ran on underground. When Jan Hus was burned at the stake for heresy by the Council of Constance in 1415, Wyclif’s bones were ordered dug up and burned at the same time. Even riddled by the schism, the Church was still in control. The cracking of old and famous structures is slow and internal, while the façade holds.
With Europe polarized between two papacies, and the Church politicized by the rivals’ struggle for secular support, it became harder to heal the schism each year that it lasted. All thoughtful men recognized how it was damaging society and tried to find the means of reunification, but in the schism, as in the war, vested hostilities kept the breach open. Ecumenical Council, advocated by the University of Paris and many individuals, was the obvious solution. As a challenge to their supremacy, however, both Popes adamantly rejected it. The hateful rift in Christendom was to last for forty years. According to a popular saying toward the end of the century, no one since the beginning of the schism had entered Paradise.
* The fourth, the aged Cardinal Tebaldeschi, had died.