Boniface IX, Pope

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Pontificate: Nov. 2, 1389 to Oct. 1, 1404; b. Pietro Tomacelli, Naples, c. 1355. Descended from an old Neapolitan family, he was created cardinal deacon of St. George while still a young man, and in 1385, cardinal priest of St. Anastasia by Pope urban vi. Little else is known of his life until his election as pope in Rome in the midst of the western schism. On Urban VI's death, the Avignon antipope,clement vii, had hoped that through the diplomacy of King Charles VI of France the 14 Roman cardinals would elect him Urban's successor and end the schism. Instead they elected Tomacelli as Boniface IX. In contrast to his bitter, intolerant, and imprudent predecessor, Urban, the handsome Boniface was amiable, kindly, and practical. Convinced, however, of his papal rights, Boniface immediately excommunicated Clement, declared (1391) sinful the proposal to end the schism through a general council, refused to abdicate (139698) despite Anglo-French and German pressure, and rejected (1404) the embassy of Clement's successor at Avignon, antipope benedict xiii. Boniface's pontificate had two major problems: the establishment of his political position and the raising of money. Urban had alienated much of Italy. To strengthen his position in Rome, Boniface supported the claims of Ladislaus to the Kingdom of Naples against his Clementine rival, Louis II of Anjou; won back the allegiance of Rome; and established his authority in the states of the church. Although France withdrew its commitment (13981403) to his Avignon rival, Benedict XIII, Boniface was unable to increase his European sphere of influence. England remained faithful but disturbed; Sicily and Genoa actually withdrew their allegiance. Boniface was forced to take the side of Prince-elector Rupert of the Palatinale against King wenceslas in Germany, and of Ladislaus of Naples against Emperor sigismund in Hungary. These essentially secular activities forced Boniface to exploit old sources of revenue and tap new ones. In 1392 he insisted on medii fructus from every cleric whom he appointed to a benefice (see annates). He gave preferments to the highest bidder, sold exemptions, and in the holy years of 1390 and 1400 used indulgences, especially ad instar, for financial gain. He was assisted in his monetary troubles by Baldassare Cossa, later antipope john xxiii, whom he raised to the cardinalate in 1402. Boniface did not profit personally from these simoniacal practices, but the Church suffered severely. His pontificate was a troubled one; it deserves the phrase "the crooked days of Boniface IX."

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[e. j. smyth]