John XII was born in 936/937 AD where he recorded on the Biblical Timeline Chart with World History. He was a descendant of the powerful (as well as infamous) Theophylact family. Which included his great-grandmother Theodora, grandmother Marozia, and uncle John XI. According to the medieval chronicler Flodoard, he was the son of Alberic II, the duke of Spoleto by Alda, the daughter of Hugh of Provence after her father offered his daughter in marriage to Alberic in 936 as a way to pacify him. On the other hand, the Italian chronicler Benedict of Soracte asserted that John XII was the son of Alberic by his concubine.
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He was born in the Via Lata area of Rome between the Campus Martius and the Quirinal Hill. His parents named him Octavian (Octavianus) and his father compelled the Roman nobility to help his son be elected as pope upon the death of Pope Agapitus II. The young Octavian served as a cardinal-deacon of Santa Maria in Dominica on the Caelian Hill. When the old pope died on the 8th of November, 955 AD, the senior priests elected him as pope on the 16th of December in the same year.
The Young Pope
The 18-year old pope adopted the name John XI thereafter. He granted privileges to archbishops on the first few months of his rule. He also sent a letter to the German papal legate William of Mayence and exhorted him to condemn immoral people, as well as those who attacked the church. He then confirmed the possessions of the monastery of Saint Benedict in Subiaco on the condition that the monks and priests recite the Kyrie Eleison and Christe Eleison one hundred times for three days every week.
Wars and Blunders
In 960 AD, John XII tried to reclaim the former papal lands now occupied by the dukes of Benevento and Capua. He was not brought up as a warrior, but for some reason, he convinced enough Romans, Spoletans, and Tuscans to march south and wage war against the dukes. In response, the dukes of Benevento and Capua called on Gisulf I of Salerno to help them against Pope John XII and his army. The alliance the dukes forged was effective as the Pope and his army promptly turned back and returned to their territories when they heard that Gisulf had joined the war. John later tried to pacify Gisulf by proposing an alliance with him. The powerful prince of Salerno agreed to a treaty, but the terms of this agreement were never made public.
In 960, Berengar II of Italy attacked the Papal States which prompted John to ask the German king Otto I for help. The king had been promoted to the patrician rank before Berengar’s attack, and the pope’s envoys told Otto I to either come to Rome and help John XII or give up his patriciate. Otto decided to help John and marched with his troops into Italy on the 31st of January, 962 AD. When news of Otto’s arrival reached him, Berengar and his followers backed down, fled the city, and sought refuge in their castles.
The grateful pope crowned Otto as the Holy Roman Emperor on February 2, 962 AD at Saint Peter’s Basilica while Adelaide, Otto’s second wife, was also proclaimed as empress. This act bound Germany and Italy together into the Holy Roman Empire, and in return, Otto took an oath called the Privilegium Ottonianum. In this oath, Otto promised the papacy full independence in the papal lands and the freedom to collect taxes from these lands. Even though Italy had technically been folded into Germany after John proclaimed him as Holy Roman Emperor. John and the Italian nobility also promised their loyalty to Otto who made them promise to refrain from helping Berengar and his son Adalbert in the future.
Otto also requested for John to confirm the archbishopric of Magdeburg and make Merseburg a subordinate bishopric. John granted both of these requests. He also sent the pallium to Archbishop Frederick of Salzburg, as well as threatened the prelate Herold with deposition to stop him from saying Mass as per Otto’s request. Otto left Rome on the 14th of February, 962 AD.
Although Otto promised John full independence on the Papal lands, the young pope never really ruled these territories. John’s situation only worsened when he negotiated with Berengar’s son, Adalbert, behind Otto’s back—a massive miscalculation on his side. News of the pope’s violation of their agreement soon reached Otto. He returned to Rome to confront John in 963 AD (Otto also wanted to confront John after news of his indiscretions in the Lateran Palace reached the emperor). John was initially defiant. He prepared his troops to fight Otto, but when he realized his mistake, the pope packed all the treasures he could and fled the city with Adalbert to Tivoli.
Otto I’s Appointment of a New Pope
When Otto arrived in Rome, he told the people to refrain from electing a pope without his consent. He then assembled a council to condemn the fugitive pope, had him deposed, and appointed John XII’s successor, Leo VIII. The German kings routinely appointed priests in their own territories, but this was the first time the Holy Roman Emperor appointed a pope. Otto stayed in Rome to wrap things up and returned to Germany after three months. When he felt that it was safe to return, John showed up in Rome and condemned Leo VIII as an antipope. This annoyed Otto who immediately returned to Rome. John once again fled the city in fear of the king’s wrath. The deposed pope tried to reconcile with Otto, but died on the 14th of May, 964 at the age of 24.
Picture By GiovanniXII.jpg: Original uploader was Deep also it at it.wikipediaderivative work: Richardprins (talk) – GiovanniXII.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9531484
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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