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Eugene IV

Pope Eugene IV reigned from 1431 to 1447. He was the second pope following Martin V after the end of the Great Western Schism, and these past events still affected his reign. He tried to dissolve the Council of Basel which resulted in a conflict with the cardinals who took part in it. He tried to reunite the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox Churches, but his efforts failed. He issued the papal bull Sicut Dudum that forbade the capture and enslavement of the Guanches. He later allowed Prince Henry of Portugal to make slave raids on the northwestern coast of Africa.  These events are recorded on the Biblical Timeline Chart with World History during that time.

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Early Life and Career

Gabriele Condulmaro, the future Pope Eugene IV, was born in 1383 in Venice. He came from a wealthy family and entered an Augustinian monastery in Venice at an early age. His uncle, Pope Gregory XII, later appointed him as the Bishop of Siena. But his stay there was cut short after the Sienese objected to the rule of a foreign and young bishop. In 1408, he became the cardinal-priest of the Basilica of San Clemente.

The Great Western Schism ended in 1417 with the election of Pope Martin V in Constance. The new pope then appointed Cardinal Condulmaro as the papal legate in the March of Ancona. The cardinal also governed the city of Bologna where he successfully stopped a rebellion.

Pope Martin V died in 1431, and the College of Cardinals elected Gabriele Condulmaro as the new pope. Before his election, he agreed to assign half of the Church revenues to the cardinals and consult them before making any decisions. The agreement pleased the cardinals, and his election went smoothly because of this. He took the name Eugene IV, and was crowned at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome on March 11, 1431.

Conflicts with the House of Colonna and the Council of Basel

Pope Eugene IV was in power from 1431 to 1447.

The previous pope Martin V came from the powerful and influential Colonna family of Rome. The House of Colonna benefitted from Martin’s generosity after he gave them money and properties in the Papal States. As soon as he became pope, Eugene IV demanded that the return of the money and the properties. Martin V’s relatives were angry at this demand, and clashes soon flared up between the pope and the family. After some time, the family surrendered the castles they acquired and paid back the money they received from Martin V.

Martin V convoked the Council of Basel in 1431 to address the Conciliar Movement and the pope’s prerogative in decision-making. The Conciliar Movement, which started in the Council of Pisa, was an attempt to solve the Great Western Schism in 1409. The Council of Constance solved the Schism when it successfully removed the three popes and elected a new one. For the first time in the history of the Catholic Church, a council was more powerful than the pope.

Nine months after his election, Eugene IV dissolved the Council of Basel because of poor attendance. The council protested the dissolution, and the attendees refused to go home. They also accused the new pope that he only wanted to get rid of the council because he did not want to carry out the reforms. They insisted that the Council had more authority than the pope. They summoned him instead to Basel to show their authority. It was resolved after Pope Eugene IV crowned Sigismund of Luxembourg as the Holy Roman Emperor in 1433. He reconciled the two parties and convinced the pope to take back his order of dissolution. Pope Eugene also announced the Council of Basel as an ecumenical council.

The conflict ended there as talks were derailed by opposing parties. Many of the participants went home, while those who remained in Basel elected Felix V as their own “pope.” Pope Eugene IV convoked his own council in the Italian city of Ferrara in 1438. He later transferred the council to Florence when the plague broke out in Ferrara. In this council, the pope proposed the reunion of the Roman Catholic Church with the Eastern Orthodox Church. To this end, he made agreements with Armenian, Jacobite, Nestorian, and Maronite leaders of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The pope pledged his support for a campaign against the Ottoman Turks by assigning a portion of Church revenues to fund the crusaders. This crusade, however, resulted in the bloody Battle of Varna. The council of Florence lasted until July 1439.

Eugene IV and Slavery

In 1402, the French explorer Jean de Bethencourt arrived in the Canary Islands. The islands were inhabited by the Guanches, a group of people who were related to the Berbers. When he saw the Guanches, Jean de Bethencourt immediately captured them and took them to Cadiz in Spain to become slaves. He traveled to the king’s court in Castile and asked Henry III to proclaim him as king of the Canary Islands. King Henry III agreed on the condition that de Bethencourt recognize him as his overlord. The Canary Islands became Spain’s first colony outside of Europe, and they continued to raid the Canary Islands to capture the Guanches. The enslaved Guanches were replaced by Castilian peasants in the Canary Islands.

Now that Spain had staked its claim to its first colony, the Portuguese wanted one, too. The Portuguese king John I looked no further than Ceuta, the Marinid stronghold on the North African side of the Strait of Gibraltar. They conquered Ceuta in 1415 and started some expeditions down the northwestern coast of Africa. Just like the Spaniards, the Portuguese also captured “black Moors” and sold them in Europe as slaves.

This practice of kidnapping and slavery for profit did not escape the notice of Pope Eugene IV. In 1435, he issued the papal bull entitled Sicut Dudum which forbade the Spaniards from capturing the Guanches of Canary Islands. He also commanded the Spaniards to free the Guanches and return them to the islands. Those who did not submit to the papal bull would be punished with excommunication.

In 1441, however, Prince Henry of Portugal (the Navigator) convinced the pope to grant his people the right to raid the northwest coast of Africa for slaves. This was done under the pretext of a crusade against Muslims and “heathens.” The pope granted his request and issued a bull which promised to forgive the sins of anyone who joined the expedition.

Rome was a chaotic place during much of Pope Eugene IV’s reign, so he was forced to flee to Ferrara. He spent most of his time in Ferrara, Florence, and Bologna until he was able to come home in 1443. He died in Rome on February 23, 1447.


Picture by: Cristofano dell’AltissimoUnknown, Public Domain, Link

Kerr, Gordon. Timeline of the Popes: A History from St Peter to Francis I. RW Press, 2013.

Loughlin, James. “Pope Eugene IV.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 25 Jan. 2017 <>.

Panzer, Joel S. “The Popes and Slavery by Joel S Panzer.” The Popes and Slavery. Accessed January 25, 2017.

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