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Gregory V (996-999 AD)


The Holy Roman Emperor Otto I was the first monarch to appoint a pope after the rebellious John XII fled Rome with his ally, Adalbert. When he acceded the throne, Otto II continued his father’s policy of hand-picking a pope’s successor.  However, his reign was cut short when he died while campaigning in southern Italy against the Byzantines. He left the throne to his three-year-old son, Otto III. He was then kidnapped by his father’s relative and longtime nemesis, the aptly-named Henry the Quarrelsome, Duke of Bavaria to keep him from being proclaimed as Holy Roman Emperor. Henry took advantage of the absence of the child’s mother, Theophanu, who had traveled to Italy to attend to her husband’s burial. These events led to the rise of Gregory V between 996 – 999 AD according to the Bible Timeline Chart with World History.

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The Duke kept the child away from his family, but the road to the domination of Germany was a rocky path for Henry. He lacked all the necessary backers for his cause. Finally, Lothair IV of Western Francia negotiated with Henry for the child to be returned to his mother. To which Henry agreed after he saw that he would never amass enough supporters from the German nobility. Otto III grew up with his mother Theophanu who served as his first coregent until her death and then by his grandmother Adelaide until he reached 14 years old.

Fresh from his victory over the Slavs, Otto III marched into Italy in 996 AD to crush the rebellion led by Antipope Boniface VII and his allies Crescentius the Elder, Crescentius II, and John Crescentius. They had deposed Pope John XIV, and Boniface VII took over the throne; when he died, the usurper Crescentius II chose John XV as the next pope. When Otto III reached Ravenna, the nobles of Northern Italy agreed to accept and proclaim him as their king. This made Northern Italy (including the territories of the Lombards) a part of Germany. He appointed his cousin, the 24-year old chaplain Bruno, as the new pope after the death of John XV in the same year. The new pope adopted the name Gregory V and started to rule in Rome in 996 AD.

Pope Gregory V

Gregory V

Bruno (Gregory V) was the son of Otto I, the Duke of Carinthia and Marquis of Verona, by his wife, Judith. He was also a grandson of Liutgarde of Saxony, the daughter of Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor, which made the young pope a cousin of Otto III. His consecration as pope on the 3rd of May, 996 AD was welcomed by the Italians. Papal biographers described him as rich, handsome, and educated. The young pope was also described as eloquent and fluent in Latin, Italian, and German. Pope Gregory was considered to be the first German pope, and in return for his appointment as Bishop of Rome, Gregory crowned the 16-year old Otto III as the new Holy Roman Emperor in front of the Roman nobility.

Gregory V granted privileges to monasteries during his first few days as pope. On the 25th of May, he held a synod in Rome to settle some issues within the church and reinstated Arnulf to the See of Rheims in France. The synod also issued the deposition of Gerbert of Aurillac (the future Pope Sylvester) from the See of Rheims. Gregory V personally consecrated Herluin as the Bishop of Cambria after the conflict between Gerbert and Arnulf stood in the way of his consecration. Gregory V also issued a decree (papal bull) that prohibited any noblemen in his empire from interfering with the properties of the See of Cambrai.

Rebellion of Crescentius II

Gregory V and Otto III had the rebel leader Crescentius II summoned to face the synod. Otto wanted to have Crescentius exiled, but Gregory interceded on his behalf to have him pardoned in a bid to show his compassion and goodwill to the Romans. Otto granted his request, but Gregory paid heavily for this act of mercy later on as Crescentius started a plot against them right after his release. Otto left Italy and returned to Germany—an event that the Romans deeply resented because they felt the Emperor had abandoned them. Crescentius cleverly used their resentment to stoke the fires of rebellion.

As months passed by, Gregory’s suspicions that Crescentius was up to no good intensified. So he pleaded for his cousin to come back and help him. But Otto dismissed his cousin’s fears with a letter telling him that he had ordered the Italian noblemen including the Marquis of Tuscany and the Duke of Spoleto and Camerino to support and protect the pope. By 997 AD, Gregory suspicions were confirmed when Crescentius II launched a rebellion. The pope was unable to counter from of his lack of preparation.

Gregory fled to Pavia and pleaded once again for his cousin to send some military aid to Rome. Otto III probably did not realize the importance of the situation, or he was confident that his army would easily crush the rebellion, but he took his time in reaching Rome. It wasn’t until fourteen months that he and his troops arrived outside the city walls in early 998. By then, Crescentius had already appointed Johannes Philagathos as Pope John XVI (considered as an antipope).

Otto’s army must have been formidable as Crescentius fled to Castel Sant’Angelo and Pope John XVI fled from Rome the moment the troops arrived. Although the Romans simmered with resentment, they had no choice but to open the city gates to Otto III and his troops. Gregory came back from Pavia while Otto stayed for two more months in Rome and later had Crescentius executed for his rebellion. He had the antipope John XVI mutilated and paraded down the streets of Rome as punishment for his part in the dissent. Saint Nilus the Younger interceded for the emperor to save John’s life. The antipope was banished instead to a monastery in Fulda where he spent his last days.

Pope Gregory V died mysteriously on the 4th of February, 999 AD and was buried in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Picture By Artaud de Montor (1772–1849) –, Public Domain,
Mann, Horace K. The Lives of the Popes in the Early Middle Ages, Vol. 4. Vol. IV. London: K. Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1910
Althoff, Gerd. Otto III. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2003.
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