Clement VII, Antipope

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Pontificate, Sept. 20, 1378, to Sept. 16, 1394; b. Robert of Geneva, at Geneva, 1342; d. Avignon. Robert was the son of Count Amadeus III and Marie de Boulogne. He was indirectly related to the Valois and was a cousin to the king of France through his mother's lineage. As a young man, Robert served both as the chancellor of Amiens and as the canon of Paris. By 1361 he had been appointed bishop of Thérouanne and seven years later he was made bishop of Cambrai. In May 1371, Robert was elevated to the cardinalate by Pope gregory xi, the last pope of the avignon papacy. A short time later, Robert emerged as a capable leader when he was charged with the task of pacifying the Papal States in Italy. Building on the fragile political legacy of Cardinal Gil de Albornoz, Robert used diplomacy to neutralize the Visconti, came to terms with the British mercenary John Hawgood (Hawkwood), and eventually took command of the Breton free companies. In the process of isolating Florence, Robert also proved himself to be a fearsome military leader, and he is credited with leading horrible massacres particularly in Cesena in February 1377.

On March 27, 1378 Pope Gregory XI died. Under intense pressure from the Roman populace, the assembled cardinals elected an Italian, Bartolomeo Prignano, as his successor. By most counts, Bartolomeo, urban vi, was an agreeable choice and it would appear that even Robert himself favored the new pontiff. In his letter dated April 14, 1378, Robert wrote to the Emperor Charles IV, describing Bartolomeo as "my very familiar friend when he was of lesser estate." Towards the end of May, however, Robert's preference for Pope Urban began to fade. The new pope proved to be a strong advocate for moral reform, and he subjected the cardinals to abusive attacks for their worldliness. Naturally, the cardinals resented Urban's high-handed criticisms and by August 2, 13 cardinals, with Robert of Geneva among them, called for his abdication. On Sept. 20, 1378 the discontented cardinals, including the three Italians, assembled at Fondi. They nullified the election of the irascible Bartolomeo Prignano, and elected Robert of Geneva as their new pope. Robert's coronation took place on October 31, and the western schism of which he was the first antipope, began.

Robert took the name Clement VII and he wasted no time in securing allies against Urban. As a French nominee, most of the cardinals favored him, and Queen Joanna of Naples emerged as a strong advocate for his cause. Clement was, however, unable to gain sole possession of the papacy. In April 1379 his troops were crushed at Marino, and the hope of removing Urban by force quickly faded. Undeterred by his military defeat, Clement retired to Naples. While there, he encouraged Louis of Anjou, son of the French King, to take up arms on his behalf by offering the Papal States, a 'Kingdom of Adria,' as a fief to be conquered. Yet, Clement's failure to find popularity among the citizenry of Naples combined with his inability to secure a place in Italy forced him to move his court consisting of 500 cardinals back to Avignon. Sanguine, Clement continued his bid for legitimacy through letters and embassies. The cardinals who supported Clement published a declaratio in which they justified his election. The Urbanists replied both with supporting documentation for the legitimacy of their pope and with the corroborating witness of St. catherine of sweden. St. catherine of siena, who was at Rome during the time, also backed Urban. On the other side, St. vincent ferrer and St. colette provided strong support for the Clement. Thus even the best attempts to gain absolute unanimity on moral grounds resulted in a stalemate.

In November 1379, Clement gained a powerful ally in Charles V of France. Yet, both Clement and Urban were obliged to continue their propaganda campaigns and within only a few years Europe was split into two roughly equal allegiances. Those areas that were loyal to France, Brittany, Arras, Cambrai, Thérouanne, and Tournai followed Clement. Both Scotland and Sicily (October 1379) can be added to the list and so can, albeit much later, Castile (1380), Aragon (1387) and Navarre (1390). In the orient, Clement also found support from Cyprus, Corfu, Albania and Pelopponesus. Urban, however, retained the support of England and those areas under English influence, e.g., Guienne and Aquitaine, Flanders, Utrecht, and Liège. Portugal also remained with Urban as did the eastern and Nordic countries: Hungary, Poland, Denmark, and Scandinavia. Finally, Urban also appears to have had some support from the German king Wenceslas.

Clement's wide base of support was expensive to maintain and the costs of patronage, military campaigns, and numerous diplomatic missions also drained his treasury. In order to offset his expenses, Clement resorted to heavy borrowing and exacting taxes on the clergy. His unpopular financial policy, however, was not enough to end his reign. Both he and his opponent continued a flurry of activity, which included violence as well as anathemas and excommunications, in order to gain sole control of the papacy. There seemed to be only two solutions: (1) the via cessionis, whereby one or both of the claimants would be induced to resign and (2) the via concilli by which both rivals would be superseded by a general council. The first option was patently unrealistic, although on Oct. 29, 1393, Clement did order the celebration of the mass that was offered to end schism. The other option, conciliarism, was favored by some of the intellectuals at the University of Paris. Its two most notable advocates were Conrad of Gelnhausen and Henry of Langenstien, but their idea of a general council to determine the legitimate pope begged the question of who would call such a council.

No solution to the Schism was in sight when Clement died of apoplexy on the morning of Sept. 16, 1394 in Avignon. He was succeeded by Antipope benedict xiii.

Bibliography: j. n. d. kelly, Oxford Dictionary of Popes (Oxford 1986) 228230. The New Cambridge Medieval History v. 6 (Cambridge 2000). y. renouard, The Avignon Papacy (London 1970) 6973. g. mollat, Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques, ed. a. baudrillart et al. (Paris 1912) 12:117475, lists sources extensively. l. pastor, The History of the Popes from the Close of the Middle Ages (London-St. Louis 193861) 1:134174. f. x. seppelt, Geschichte der Päpste von den Anfängen bis zur Mitte des 20 Jh. (Munich 1957) 4:172, 196, 198209, 211, 216219, 222223. For additional bibliog. see western schism.

[j. a. sheppard]