Pope Urban VI (1378-89)
Who was Pope Urban VI?
Pope Urban VI, born Bartolomeo Prignano, the first Roman pope during the Western Schism, born at Naples, about 1318; died at Rome, 15 October, 1389; according to many he was poisoned by the Romans. At an early age he went to Avignon, where he gained many powerful friends. On 21 March, 1364, he was consecrated Archbishop of Acerenza in the Kingdom of Naples, and on 14 April, 1377, Gregory XI transferred him to the archiepiscopal See of Bari, on the coast of the Adriatic.
Meanwhile the Cardinal Vice-Chancellor, Peter of Pampelon, remaining at Avignon, Prignano was given the management of the papal chancery. After the death of Gregory XI the Conclave proposed him as a candidate for the tiara. Not only his business ability, integrity, and knowledge of law, but also his being a subject of Queen Joanna of Naples favoured his eligibility. The Conclave of 1378, which opened on 7 April (nine days after Gregory's death), was influenced by the public opinion of Rome; it consisted of four Italian cardinals, five French, and seven belonging to the Limoges faction.
The Italian and French cardinals, though anxious to push forward their own candidates, unanimously determined to oppose one of the Limoges party. The latter were not strong enough to advance a candidate, but they hoped to make an alliance with the less important parties and so attain their end. Their plan, however, was frustrated, the French and Italians having previously resolved to choose a prelate outside the Sacred College. Robert of Geneva (one of the French cardinals) even resigned his claim in favour of Prignano, and Pedro de Luna (Robert's successor in the See of Avignon) did the same.
In this way Prignano's chances increased considerably. An Italian, though not a Roman, he was supported by the rivalry of the parties. Perhaps the French and Italian cardinals expected that, not being a cardinal, he would be an obedient pope, and for this reason some of the Limoges party, uneasy about the coalition between the French and the Italian cardinals, were drawn to this candidature.
This conclave was one of the shortest in history. When the cardinals entered the Vatican some of the populace stole into the palace and tried to extort the promise that an Italian pope would be chosen. Cardinal d'Aigrefeuille declared that the cardinals could not make any such concessions, but the disappointed people remained in the Vatican the whole night, drinking the wine and crying: "Romano lo volemo, o al manco Italiano." The next morning, while the cardinals were at Mass, the tocsin was rung, and suddenly the bells of St. Peter mingled their tones with it. Fear and disorder overtook the cardinals; the guardian of the conclave besought them to hasten, saying that the people wanted a Roman or an Italian, and that the resistance would be dangerous.
Then Pedro de Luna (Benedict XIII) proposed the election of the Archbishop of Bari, adding that he was, as they all knew, a saintly, learned man, of mature age. This proposal obtained the desired effect. After some hesitation, the cardinals, excepting Orsini (who declared himself not sufficiently free), agreed to accept Prignano, but preferred to keep their choice secret until certain that the latter would accept. Prignano was requested to repair to the Vatican accompanied by several other prelates, so as to conceal from the people the person chosen. The uproar did not abate, and the cardinals began to fear that their choice would not satisfy the multitude. During a comparative calm they went to breakfast and renewed the election of Prignano.
The lawfulness and renewed choice thus having been established, Orsini announced the election of a pope to the people, omitting to mention the name. Various suppositions soon ran through the crowds, some saying that the chosen one was Tebaldeschi (an aged Italian cardinal) and others that Jean de Bar (one of the most detested servants of Gregory) was elected. The confusion increased. Suddenly the cardinals took a desperate resolution. They presented Tebaldeschi, in the papal insignia, to the people and commenced the "Te Deum", paying no attention to his refusal and protests. Meanwhile, Prignano had reached the Vatican and declared that he accepted the papal dignity and the homage of all the cardinals. One fact seems evident: the moment the cardinals regarded the choice of Prignano as valid, they removed all doubt by a re-election and honoured him as the rightful successor of St. Peter.
It is to be regretted that after his election Prignano did not show the good qualities which had distinguished him before. Soon he quarrelled with the Sacred College. Desirous of reforming the Church in head and members, he began aright by a reform of the Curia, though perhaps not with the necessary prudence. It was unwise to abuse the cardinals and high dignitaries of the Church and to insult Otto of Brunswick (husband of Joanna of Naples). Nevertheless, public opinion was in the beginning favourable to him, and not only the cardinals in Rome, but also the six who remained at Avignon submitted to him. However the tempest, which broke out at Fondi in September of the same year, was already brewing at Rome a few weeks after his election.
Urban's ambassadors, doubtless inspired by the French and Limousin cardinals, left Rome too late, when the calumnies concerning the illegitimacy of the pope's election were widespread. The ground having thus been prepared, the opposition was strengthened at Rome; Castel Sant'Angelo never hoisted Urban's colours, and the discontented found there a refuge and the protection of armed soldiers. The heat of early May afforded the dissatisfied cardinals a pretext for leaving Rome for Anagni, but no public sign of rebellion showed itself, Urban's opponents preferring, perhaps, to conceal their project for the present. The pope's suspicions were eventually aroused, and in June he requested the three Italian cardinals who had not followed the others to join their colleagues and to try and restore kinder feelings. The French cardinals renewed their protestation of fidelity to the pope, but assembled the same day to establish the unlawfulness of the April election. Moreover they eventually won over the Italian members of the Sacred College.
Meanwhile, in the name of the pope, the aforesaid cardinals proposed two expedients to settle the differences, a general council or a compromise. Both these means were made use of at the time of the Western Schism. But the opponents of Urban resolved on violent measures and declared their intentions in a letter of the utmost impertinence. On 2 August this letter was followed by the famous "Declaration", a document more passionate than exact, which assumed at once the parts of historian, jurist, and accuser.
Seven days later they published an encyclical letter, repeating false and injurious accusations against Urban, and on 27 August left Anagni for Fondi, where they enjoyed the protection of its lord (Urban's arch-enemy), and were near Joanna of Naples; the latter at first had shown great interest in Urban, but was soon disappointed by his capricious ways. On 15 September the three Italian cardinals joined their colleagues, influenced, perhaps, by the hope of becoming pope themselves, or perhaps frightened by the news that Urban was about to create twenty-nine cardinals in order to supply the vacancies left by the thirteen French ones. Charles V of France, more and more doubtful of the lawfulness of Urban's election, encouraged the Fondi faction to choose a rightful pope and one more agreeable to France. A letter from him arrived on 18 September, and hastened a violent solution. On 20 September Robert of Geneva was chosen pope, and on this day the Western Schism began.
The Italians abstained from the election but were convinced of its canonical character. Robert assumed the name of Clement VII. The obediences of the two popes assumed definite limits between September, 1378, and June, 1379. All Western Europe (except England, Ireland, and the English dominions in France) submitted to Clement VII; the greater part of Germany, Flanders, and Italy (with exception of Naples) recognized Urban. The obedience of Urban was more numerous, that of Clement more imposing. Meanwhile, Urban created twenty-eight cardinals, four of whom refused to accept the purple. It is very difficult to decide exactly how far the schism is to be attributed to Urban's behaviour. Indisputably the long exile at Avignon was its principal cause, as it diminished the credit of the popes and inversely increased the ambition of the cardinals, who were always striving to obtain more influence in the government of the Church. Whatever may have been the causes of this event, it is certain that the election of Urban was lawful, that of Clement uncanonical.
If the first days of Urban's pontificate were unhappy, his whole reign was a series of misadventures. It is true that he was successful in reducing Castel Sant' Angelo and subduing a revolt of the Romans, but these are the only successes of his reign. Naples was soon in turmoil. Queen Joanna went over to the Clementines and was deposed by Urban. Charles of Durazzo took her place. He arrested the queen and took possession of the kingdom, but soon lost favour with the pope for not fulfilling his engagements towards Francesco Prignano (Urban's unworthy and immoral nephew), in whose regard Urban is not free from nepotism. The pope now went to the south of Italy, against the advice of his cardinals, was received at Aversa by the king himself, but imprisoned on the night of his arrival (30 Oct., 1383).
Through his cardinals a compromise was reached, and Urban left Aversa for Nocera. Here he had to endure the most unworthy treatment from Margaret, the wife of Charles. The misunderstanding between Urban and Charles increased after the death of the latter's enemy, Louis of Anjou; the pope, obstinate and intractable, continued in a half-hostile, half-dependent, attitude towards Charles, and created fourteen cardinals, only the Neapolitans accepting the dignity. He became daily more estranged from the older members of the Sacred College. No one conversant with the ideas current at this time in the Sacred College will wonder that the example of 1378 found imitation. Highly irritated by Urban's inconsiderate behaviour, the Urbanist cardinals mediated a more practical way of proceeding; they proposed to depose or, at least, arrest him. But their plot was revealed to him, and six of them were imprisoned and their possessions confiscated.
Those who did not confess were tortured, and the King and Queen of Naples, being suspected as accomplices, were excommunicated. In consequence Nocera was besieged by the king. Urban courageously defended the place, two or three times a day anathematizing his foes from the ramparts. After nearly five months, Nocera was relieved by the Urbanists, Urban escaping to Barletta, whence a Genoese fleet transported him and the imprisoned cardinals to Genoa. During the voyage the Bishop of Aquila, one of the conspirators, was executed, and the cardinals, excepting Adam Aston, were put to death at Genoa, in spite of the intervention of the doge. It may be taken for certain that the cardinals had conspired against Urban, with a view of deposing him; that they intended to burn him as an heretic may be a fantastic rumour. At all events he acted very unwisely by treating them so cruelly, for he then alienated faithful adherents, as is proved by the manifesto of the five cardinals, who remained at Nocera and renounced his obedience.
After King Charles was murdered in Hungary (February, 1386) Urban again undertook to establish his authority in that kingdom; he left for Lucca, refused to treat with the dowager-queen Margaret, and declined the proposal of a general council, which some German princes proposed at the insistence of Clement VII, though he himself had formerly proposed the same expedient. He insulted the ambassadors and pressed the German king, Wenceslaus, to come to Rome. In August, 1387, he proclaimed a crusade against Clement, and in September he set out for Perugia, where he remained till August, 1388, recruiting soldiers for a campaign against Naples, which had again fallen into the hands of the Clementines, and the possession of which was very important for his own safety.
The soldiers, not receiving their pay, deserted, and Urban returned to Rome, where his refractory temper brought him into difficulties that could only be removed by an interdict. It was at Rome, also, that he fixed the interval between the jubilees at thirty-three years, the first of which was to be celebrated the next year, 1390. But he did not live to open it. Urban might have been a good pope in more peaceful circumstances; but he certainly was unable to heal the wounds which the Church had received during the exile of Avignon. If the genius of a Gregory VII or an Innocent III was scarcely able to triumph over the ambition of the cardinals, the bad conduct of the higher and lower clergy, and the unruliness of the laity, these impediments could not but shipwreck the inconstant and quarrelsome Urban.
- Catholic Encyclopedia