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Pope Becomes a Dependent of France

Pope Boniface VIII had issued a papal bull that deposed and excommunicated King Philip IV of France in 1303. The pope died in the same year, but his successor Clement V nullified Boniface’s papal bull. Clement V became a dependent of France in 1309 after he transferred the papal seat from Rome to Avignon.  These events are recorded on the Biblical Timeline with World History at that time.

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King Edward I of England owned the Duchy of Aquitaine in France after he inherited it from his grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. When a conflict broke out between him and Philip IV of France, the French king immediately seized and occupied the duchy. This act angered Edward, so war flared out between them in 1294. The Count of Flanders and the Duke of Brittany became allies of Edward. Meanwhile, the king of Scotland, John Balliol, sided with King Philip of France.

This war was expensive for Philip IV, so he made peace with Edward I. To pay off his debts, he first imposed a heavy tax on the Jews and the Catholic Church. It was Pope Boniface VIII’s turn to be angry as he thought the tax was unreasonable. Meanwhile, Philip was also engaged in another costly war with the Count of Flanders which meant that he would continue to collect the special taxes.

Pope Boniface sent a couple of letters to Philip warning him to stop the collection of special taxes from the churches in France. Philip, however, refused to heed the pope’s stern warnings. Finally, in 1303, Boniface issued a papal bull that excommunicated and deposed the French king. Before the papal bull could be issued publicly, Philip had the pope kidnapped. The pope was rescued later by his own men, but he died in the same year. Boniface was succeeded briefly by Benedict XI before he, too, died in 1304.

Clement and the Avignon Papacy

Palais des Papes, or Palace of the Popes, located in Avignon France.

The papal seat stayed vacant for several months until Philip nominated a French archbishop named Bertrand de Got. He served in Lyon for several years until the French and Italian cardinals elected him as pope in 1305. He preferred France instead of Rome as Italy, at that time, was a hotbed of violence between the rival parties of the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. Since he owed the king, Clement immediately removed Pope Boniface’s papal bull that excommunicated and deposed Philip.

From the start until the end of his reign, Clement was a puppet of King Philip IV. He removed the papal protection of the wealthy Knights Templar so that they became victims of Philip’s greed. The Knights served as bankers to Europe’s wealthiest, so the king was eager to seize their wealth as his own. Clement allowed many Knights to be arrested and imprisoned by the king’s men after Philip falsely accused them of heresy. Their Grand Master was also captured and tortured until he confessed to trumped-up charges of heresy.

In 1309, Clement traveled to the city of Avignon in Provence (southern France). He stayed in a Dominican convent and decided to remain there permanently. The partisan violence in Italy had not died down, so he found the quiet little Provencal town the perfect place for the papal seat. It was also near a papal property in Comtat-Venaissin. Plus, Provence itself was owned by the king of Naples (Sicily) who was a vassal of the pope.

Clement was dependent on France’s King Philip IV for much of his reign as pope. He did nothing when Philip ordered the execution of the Knights Templar between 1307 and 1314. Philip seized the Knights’ wealth and used the money to pay his war debts. Both Clement and Philip died in 1314—only months after the death of the last Knights Templar Grand Master Jacques de Molay.

Although Clement and Philip died in 1314, the papal seat stayed in Avignon, France for the next seventy years. The six popes who succeeded Clement also ruled the Catholic Church from southern France. Finally, in 1376, Pope Gregory XI left France for good and returned the papacy to Rome.


Picture by: Jean-Marc Rosier from, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Menache, Sophia. Clement V. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Nicholson, Helen J. On The Margins of Crusading: the military orders, the Papacy and the Christian world. Farnham, Surrey, UK: Ashgate, 2011.

Ralls, Karen. Knights Templar Encyclopedia: The Essential Guide to the People, Places, Events, and Symbols of the Order of the Temple. Franklin Lakes, NJ: New Page Books, 2007.

Toon, Peter. The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by J. D. Douglas. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. Co., 1978.

Zutshi, P.N.R. The New Cambridge Medieval History: Volume 6, C.1300-c.1415. Edited by Michael Jones. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000.

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