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John XI (931-936 AD)

The Puppet Pope

Pope John XI held the position of pope in 931 AD until his death in 935 or 936 AD. However, much of his life was spent under the thumb of his notorious mother Marozia and his brother (or step-brother) Alberic II. John XI’s origins and childhood were shrouded in scandal as papal biographers could not establish who his father was from the different men his mother had been with. According to the Frankish chronicler Flodoard of Rheims, he was the son of Marozia and her husband, the Lombard Duke of Spoleto, Alberic I. But according to the Liber Pontificalis and Bishop Liutprand of Cremona’s Antapodosis sive Res per Europam gestae, Pope Sergius III fathered John XI by his former mistress, Marozia. He is recorded on the Biblical Timeline with World History and the beginning of the 9th century AD.

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An Infamous Family

Theodora, Marozia’s mother, was considered to be the most powerful lady in Rome (or even Italy) in the late 9th century. She apparently passed the baton to her daughter during the early 10th century. Marozia became the mistress of Pope Sergius at the age of 15, but married Alberic I four years later. The future Pope John XI was born the next year in 910 AD, while his brother Alberic II was born in 911 or 912. Alberic I died in 924 and his widow promptly married Guy (Guido) of Tuscany in the same year or in 925 AD. The couple deposed Pope John X, imprisoned him in Castel Sant’Angelo (where he later died), and took over Rome. She appointed Leo VI and Stephen VII as figureheads, and then replaced him with her son in 931 AD after the death of Stephen VII.

Pope John XI

Meanwhile, Guy of Tuscany died in 929 AD. Marozia, fearful of becoming powerless, decided to marry her deceased husband’s brother, Hugh (Hugo) of Provence. The equally ambitious Hugh had been planning to dominate Rome as its ruler. So he accepted Marozia’s proposal immediately. Things did not go as planned when during the wedding celebration, Marozia’s teenaged son Alberic II accidentally poured water on the hands of his step-father. This annoyed Hugh of Provence which earned Alberic II a slap on the face. The young Duke of Spoleto then stormed out of the festivities and angered a Roman crowd by pitting them against Hugh of Provence. The angry mob arrived with Alberic as the wedding celebration continued and forced Hugh to escape from Rome. Alberic then ordered for his mother and Pope John XI to be imprisoned.

Pope John XI was nothing more than a puppet for his mother, and he became more so when his brother ruled as the tyrant of Rome. Alberic dominated the frightened citizens of Rome for 20 years. While the equally powerless John XI had no personal independence. There were only a few significant acts that John XI did. One was the confirmation of the privileges of the Cluny Abbey on the condition that a sum of 10 solidi be contributed to the papal coffers every five years. The other was to confirm similar privileges to other monasteries, but apart from these, John XI performed nothing important during his time as pope.

Pope John XI died in December of 935 or January of 936 AD.

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
O’Malley, John W. A History of the Popes: From Peter to the Present. Lanham, MD: Sheed & Ward, 2010.
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