Between 1309 to 1376, the popes lived in the town of Avignon in the region of Provence. It began when Pope Clement V chose to stay in France after his election for fear of the violence between the Guelphs and Ghibellines in Italy. He was an ally of Philip IV of France, and he became the king’s puppet during his reign as pope. Six more popes stayed in Avignon until Gregory XI finally returned to Rome in 1376. These events are recorded on the Bible Timeline Poster with World History during that time.
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In 1285, Philip IV (the Fair) became the king of France. He ruled as an overlord to King Edward I who was the Duke of Aquitaine through his grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. In 1294, a conflict broke out between Edward and Philip after a group of Norman and French sailors fought against each other. Philip summoned Edward to appear before his court, but the English king refused to obey.
The French king responded by seizing the duchy of Aquitaine which escalated the conflict into war. The Duke of Brittany and the Count of Flanders sided with Edward, while the King of Scotland, John Balliol, became Philip’s ally. The war with the English for Aquitaine was an expensive venture, so Philip first taxed the Jews to fund his war. When it was not enough, he then imposed a heavy tax on the Catholic Church in France—an act which angered Pope Boniface VIII.
France’s economy hit an all-time low in the years that followed so that Philip was forced to sue for peace with King Edward I in 1299. The war was not yet over as Philip still continued to fight with the Count of Flanders on the northern front. Thus the special taxes imposed on the churches in France remained. If this was not enough to anger the pope, Philip also insisted on controlling the clergy in his kingdom.
Pope Boniface sent the king a letter in 1301 where he made it clear that he alone had the authority over the priests. The king ignored it, but he knew that there would be consequences for his defiance. Another letter from the pope arrived in France in 1302, but Philip once again ignored it. He was finally excommunicated and deposed by the pope in 1303. Philip’s response to his deposition was drastic: he told his men to kidnap the pope before the papal bull could be issued. The pope was rescued by his own men, but he died a month later in the Vatican.
The Avignon Popes
He was succeeded by Pope Benedict XI who ruled for several months until his death in 1304. The throne of the pope was vacant for several months until King Philip nominated a French-born archbishop named Bertrand de Got. He was elected by the cardinals in 1305, and he adopted the name Clement V. The new pope did not go to Rome as was customary as there was violence between the Guelphs (partisans of the pope) and the Ghibellines (imperialists). Instead, he stayed in France and settled the papacy in the town of Avignon in 1309.
In 1309, he visited the quiet Provencal town owned by the Kingdom of Naples and stayed in a Dominican convent there. He decided to stay in Avignon for good as it was near a papal property in Comtat-Venaissin. The pope was also comfortable in the Provence region since it was owned by the king of Naples (Sicily) who was his vassal.
Since he owed his election to the French king, Clement immediately retracted the deposition and excommunication Boniface issued to Philip. He also assisted the king in driving out the Jews from France and seizing their properties to pay off his debts. The king used the pope in imprisoning the Knights Templar and confiscating their wealth for his own gain. Many Knights Templar died during the inquisition, including their Grand Master Jacques de Molay. Pope Clement then dissolved the Order of the Knights Templar in 1312.
The pope died in 1314, and it was quickly followed by Philip IV’s death in the same year. The seat of the papacy, however, stayed in Avignon and continued to be in the town for the next seventy years. Six more popes ruled in Avignon after Clement V. John XXII and Benedict XII planned to return the seat of the pope to Rome but failed. Their stay in Avignon seemed permanent when the episcopal palace was expanded into the Papal Palace during the reign of Benedict XII. Pope Clement VI also bought Avignon from Sicily in 1348. Finally in 1376, Gregory XI and his cardinals returned to Rome. Two antipopes also rose to power between 1378 and 1423.
Popes Who Lived in Avignon After Clement V
John XXII – reigned from 1316 to 1331.
Benedict XII – reigned from 1334 to 1342
Clement VI – reigned from 1342 to 1352
Innocent VI – reigned from 1352 to 1362
Urban V – reigned from 1362 to 1370. He lived in Rome between 1367 to 1370.
Gregory XI – reigned from 1370 to 1378. He finally returned to Rome in 1376.
Picture by: Anonymous – http://www.stupormundi.it/images/filippoilbello.gif, Public Domain, 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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