Boniface VIII & Philip IV
Adapted from the Web-monk's M.A. thesis,
Boniface VIII and the
Decline of Papal Power.
The story of Pope Boniface VIII and King Philip IV
of France represents one of the more dramatic clashes between the forces of
Church and State. Papal political influence reached its zenith in the
reign of Innocent III (1198-1216). Developing out of a milieu of
other-worldliness, by the twelfth century papal power transformed itself into
an instrument of worldliness -- some would say extreme worldliness. Yet
the seeds of the papacy's political undoing could be found in its own
traditions, in the workings of the secular and religious scholarship it
fostered, and in the social development of its faithful.
The power gained by Innocent III prevailed for a
little less than a century. Often during the years between Innocent and
Boniface popes lacked Innocent's sharp focus and clarity of purpose. The
death of Boniface VIII is often said to mark the end of the great
temporal power of the Papacy an
end grounded more in Christian tradition and the realities of society than in
any real failing on Boniface's part. This paper begins by relating the
events of the clash between Boniface and Philip. Subsequent chapters
examine those Christian political traditions and the changes then taking place
in society which, through no fault of their own, made it impossible for
Boniface and his successors to wield the absolute power of Innocent III.
Chapter I. The Conflict
The conflict between Boniface VIII and Philip IV
of France took place between 1295 and 1303. This first chapter outlines
the relationship between France and the Papacy at that time and relates how
war between France and England brought increased taxation of Church revenues.
Arguments over taxation turned into a heated clash between the pope and the
king debating the very nature of kingly and papal power.
Boniface VIII reigned as pope from late 1294 until
October 1303. Born Benedetto Gætani, in 1235 at Anagni, to a modestly
wealthy family, he studied law, entered the Church, and rose through the papal
bureaucracy. He was instrumental in obtaining the resignation of his
incompetent predecessor, Celestine V, and was consecrated and crowned
pope on 23 January 1295.
With Boniface VIII, the Roman Catholic Church ended
a period of reform and consolidation of power that dates roughly from the
reign of Gregory VII (1073-1085). This reform will be treated in
greater detail below but for the moment suffice it to say that internally it
was a struggle to ensure the personal holiness of the clergy and people under
the leadership of the pope. Externally it dealt with the relationship
between the Church and the various civil powers. The reform sought to
strengthen the Church by securing its material properties and maintaining
control over the appointments of its higher clergy.
Papal power reached its peak in the pontificate of
Innocent III (1198-1216), who clearly functioned as a power broker in the
affairs of Europe and beyond. During his reign he influenced the
succession of the Holy Roman Empire, excommunicated King John of England,
annulled Magna Carta, mediated disputes between France and England,
received kingdoms in Spain, Portugal, Bulgaria, Poland, and England as papal
fiefs, and launched a crusade in the East, as well as the Albigensian crusade
into France. Innocent reformed the living styles of both the secular and
the monastic clergy. He granted a measure of independent decision making
to the bishops, while making it clear that he alone had the final say in
important matters. Yet, within a century of Innocent's death, papal
power would be dissipated amid strife and confusion.
After Innocent's pontificate, the secular powers --
particularly France and the empire -- rapidly regained influence over affairs
of both church and state. By the end of the thirteenth century, papal
elections had deteriorated to squabbles among the influential families which
controlled the College of Cardinals. The death of Nicholas IV in
1292 found the College heavily influenced by the Roman Colonna and Orsini
The Ghibelline (pro-imperial) Colonnas, who ruled much of the territory from
Rome to Naples, had two family members (Peter and James) in the College of
Cardinals. The Guelph (pro-papal) Orsini were represented by Cardinals
Matteo Rosso and Giordano.
The total membership in the
College was only twelve; six Romans, four Italians, and two Frenchmen.
The papal election was further complicated by the plague
which forced nine of the Cardinals to withdraw to Rieti. In October 1293
the College assembled at Perugia but failed to elect a pope for another ten
months. The political situation was complicated by war in the papal
state and the overthrow of Rome's civil government.
On 5 July 1294, the devout, but completely incompetent
hermit monk, Peter Murrone, then almost ninety, was elected pope after more
than two years of electoral deadlock.
As Celestine V, he conferred numerous and often contradictory privileges
on all who asked. He avoided all controversy and decision making,
wishing only to be left alone in prayer.
Peter Celestine remained in office for only five months before resigning on 13
December 1294—the first pope ever to do so of his own free will.
Celestine's abdication was engineered by Benedetto
who would succeed him. Aware that his enemies would challenge
Celestine’s ability to abdicate,
Gætani had Celestine issue a papal pronouncement confirming his own right to
resign, prior to doing so. Following this pronouncement, Celestine
tendered his resignation.
On Christmas eve, eleven days later, Benedetto Gætani
was elected to replace Celestine as Boniface VIII. At fifty-nine
years of age, Boniface possessed training in law and diplomacy, as well as the
appropriate family connections. Loffredo Gætani, his father, came from
a noble Spanish family, long settled in Italy. A nephew of Alexander IV,
he was related, through his mother, to Innocent III and Gregory IX
of the Conti family. The politics of the great Italian families brought
Boniface to the papacy. Those same politics would ultimately contribute
to his downfall.
As a young man, Boniface took the Doctorate in canon and
civil law, studying at Todi, Spoleto, and Paris. He served as a canon of
the cathedral chapter of his native Anagni before holding progressively more
important canonries at Todi, Paris, Lyons, and Rome. About 1276, he
entered the Roman Curia, was made a Cardinal-Deacon by Martin IV in 1281,
and a Cardinal-Priest by Nicholas IV in 1291.
As Canon, and later Cardinal, Gætani rendered impressive
service as a papal diplomat. He served as part of the mission to England
in 1265 to negotiate an end to the rebellion of the Barons against Henry III.
As the papal legate of Nicholas IV, he negotiated a compromise with
Philip IV over the limits of the legal jurisdiction to be exercised by
French bishops. This compromise was clearly mindful of the rights of the
secular power. Yet, as pope
Boniface would directly challenge Philip over these same rights.
Philip IV, the Fair, became heir to the French
throne with the death of his elder brother, Louis, in 1276. When
Philip's natural mother died, his father, Philip III took Marie de
Brabant as his second wife (1274). According to tradition, the
Augustinian political theorist Ægidius Romanus assumed the task of his
education. This claim rests largely on Ægidius' dedication of his De
regimine principium to Philip.
More likely, one Guillaume d'Ercuis, another Augustinian canon actually served
as his tutor. In his rule, Philip reflected some of Ægidius' philosophy
of statecraft, especially the idea that kings reign for the good of the nation
without being subject to positive law.
Philip III died in 1285 while retreating from a
reluctantly joined “crusade” against Peter III of Aragon, who had
seized the papal territory of Sicily.
Honorius VI had promised the crown of Sicily to Philip's younger son
Charles of Valois
as a papal fief in return for the island's recovery.
The battle went poorly, and Philip III died shortly after struggling back
across the Pyrenees. At the age of seventeen or eighteen, in the year he
married Jeanne of Navarre, Philip IV ascended the French throne.
France in 1285 was not France in the modern sense.
The French king had varying degrees of control over the lands surrounding the
Île de France, the original region about Paris. The Albigensian
in the first half of the century, brought only nominal control of that
southeastern region bordering on the Mediterranean (sometimes referred to as “Occitania,”
or perhaps as “Languedoc”).
The French king was, at best, an
outsider. Royal control required a firm hand and carefully placed
The new king quickly determined a need to strengthen the
internal workings of French government. To eliminate favoritism and
corruption he replaced many of his father's appointees and reassigned most of
the rest. Many of the bailli and seneschals were assigned
to new territories between 1286 and 1289. Joseph Strayer suggests that
Philip became embittered with the interventionist foreign policies that he
blamed for his father's premature death while on crusade and that the
reorganization was a move toward isolationism.
The introduction of the "legists" into French
government furthered the transition from reliance on the clergy. More
and more, educated laymen filled those posts often held by clerics in the
past. Thus, Philip had at least one less reason to fear confrontation
with the papacy; he was no longer so completely dependent on the clergy for
secretarial, legal, and accounting services. In this, Philip followed
the contemporary trend to staff state bureaucracies with educated non-noble
laymen. In 1224, Emperor Frederick II had established the
University of Naples to train similar officials for Sicily.
The Roman Curia began to employ
men trained in law rather than theology just a few years earlier during the
late twelfth century. Both Church and
state were aware of the importance of law in the conduct of their affairs and
wanted functionaries who would not be swayed from their duties by connections
to a noble family.
Philip built most of his bureaucracy with these legists,
men who had been trained in the law. For the most part (Nogaret may have
been an exception) they did not become nobles, but did derive great personal
power from their association with the crown.
Philip was shrewd enough to recognize that by taking some of his lawyers from
the rural towns of Occitania he could build personal loyalties with men who
would have to represent him in his unfamiliar lands. Whether they were
from the old domains, or the new, service with Philip represented a tremendous
opportunity. They would do their best to retain the king's favor.
The Occitanians played a large part in the conflict with
Boniface VIII. From the south Philip acquired men like Pierre Flote,
Giles Aicelin, Guillaume de Plaisians, and Guillaume de Nogaret.
These names recur constantly in the documents and narratives of the period.
Nogaret, who may have lost family in the Albigensian crusade,
is perhaps the best known. His name and his style are associated with
three actions that twentieth century writers might describe as
“Gestapo-like”—the expulsion of the Jews and Lombards from France, the
arrest and suppression of the Knights Templar in Catholic lands, and the
physical attack on Boniface VIII.
Sophia Menache holds that the first two of these enterprises enabled Philip's
treasury to acquire wealth or taxing power ... foreigners' property was
confiscated and French debts to the Templars were written off as the cost of
Had he not died shortly after
being captured, Boniface's arrest (and hoped for deposition) would have
prevented further opposition to taxes on the Church.
Philip's concerns extended beyond the borders of France.
The English king, Edward I, held Gascony as a fief of the French monarch.
An independent ruler in his own right, Edward chafed at the idea of owing
feudal service to the French king. Edward had performed homage to Philip
in 1286, just after the latter's coronation. Edward's refusal to attend
the French court, coupled with a naval battle in the English Channel (1293),
brought war in 1294.
With English forces involved in conflicts with the Scots and the Welsh, Edward
appeared vulnerable to the power of the French.
Neither king could finance war out of feudal revenues.
Both formed overseas alliances and raised more money internally. Direct
taxes were levied on clergy and laity alike. Edward expelled the Jews
from England and confiscated their property in 1290 and Philip began to follow
suit in 1292. Edward placed stiff
duties on England's wool trade while France imposed a variety of sales taxes
and took measures to devalue the currency.
Both sides exercised control over exports of food, grain, wine, cloth, and raw
materials passing through the country. Philip occasionally issued export
licenses to his creditors in lieu of paying his debts.
England and France both found additional revenue in the
taxation of the clergy. Innocent III had authorized a direct tax on
the income from benefices in order to finance the crusades. As with most
taxes, clerical taxation remained in effect even when no crusade was being
mounted. It became particularly annoying to non-Italians when the
revenues intended for crusades were diverted to wars for the defense of
specifically Italian interests in the papal states. The pope was not the
only offender. Henry III and Edward I of England both
collected crusade tithes for crusades that they never fought,
just as Philip III and Philip the Fair collected for a largely political
"crusade" against Aragon.
The French king collected two kinds of taxes from the
clergy, "annates" and "tenths." Annates, a year's
net income from a newly acquired benefice, were paid only by newly promoted
clergy and only on command of the pope. They were intended to be used
for secular purposes. Tenths, literally ten percent of the income from
benefices, were paid for religious purposes. In principle, tenths were
levied by the pope and not the king. In reality, Philip collected
annates and tenths during twenty four years between 1285 and 1314. The
crown also taxed the clergy on the secular property they held.
At least in theory, the tithes on benefices went to
further the affairs of the Church. Since Innocent III allowed
tithes to be collected to finance crusades, the continuing practice accustomed
both king and clergy to the idea of taxing benefices to finance military
operations. The French and English clergy generally did not resist these
Sons of their own respective patriæ, they had loyalties to their
homelands as well as to the Church. Thirteenth century Christianity
acknowledged patriotism as a virtue.
Virtue and common sense militated against allowing a foreign invasion.
Strayer suggests that as Boniface's reign progressed and negotiations about
taxes became more and more convoluted, the pope failed to protect the
interests of the French clergy. He holds that as a result some of the
clergy may have preferred to deal directly with the king without Roman
Philip, for his part, was not trying to damage the Church. Elizabeth A.
R. Brown describes Philip as a sincere, practicing Catholic, personally
generous to the Church within his realm.
The levies were necessary to meet Philip's military needs.
The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) issued instructions
forbidding clerical taxation without permission of the pope. In
practice, though, the Holy See ignored small scale violations. However,
in 1296, the French Cistercians (and others) petitioned Boniface for relief
from Philip's latest request for tenths.
In response, Boniface issued the bull Clericis Laicos (February 1296)
In rather sarcastic language, it held that "the laity has always been
exceedingly hostile to the clergy," that only the Church exercises power
over ecclesiastics, and that the clergy may be taxed only with the consent of
Kings Philip and Edward, both dependent on clerical
revenues to fight each other, reacted belligerently. Edward confiscated
the temporal properties of bishops who refused his levies and withdrew legal
protection for the non-compliant clergy.
Philip responded somewhat later with an export embargo (17 August 1296).
A common wartime precaution, disallowing the export of horses, arms, and
money, the embargo served primarily to keep the French clergy from sending
taxes to the pope.
With characteristic style, Boniface countered Philip's
embargo with the bull Ineffabilis amor (20 September 1296) claiming
that “Christ gave His bride, the Church, dominion”—“sponsam ejus
libero fidelibus populis præesse dómino" so that She could exercise
power over all the faithful." More than just flowery rhetoric, the
bull threatened a papal alliance with England and Germany. Yet, it also
allowed Philip a way out by blaming Philip's actions on his advisors and
indicating that the clergy could indeed be taxed if the king would only obtain
Philip understood the power of the pope to influence the
allegiance of his subjects. To avoid the alienation of their loyalty, he
embarked on a propaganda campaign. Late in 1296 anonymous French
treatises appeared. Disputatio
inter clericum et militem—A
Dialog between a cleric and a soldier—suggested that the civil authority
graciously granted the immunities enjoyed by clerics, and could as easily take
them away. The king of France, sovereign within his territory, had power
over the clergy, as did the emperor within the empire. Exacting
taxes—even from the clergy—during a time of national emergency fell within
the powers of the king.
A second pamphlet, Antequam essent clerici—Before
There Were Clergy—held the rather doubtful proposition that the kings of
France ruled prior to the existence of the Church. It continued that the
Church included both clergy and laity and that both had an obligation to
defend their native land. It insinuated that the clergy spent their
money for base purposes and that they bordered on treason in their refusal to
aid the realm. The pamphlet contrasted Christ's dictate to "Render
unto Cæsar" with the papal prohibition to do so. In short, it
attempted a philosophical justification for denying the pope any temporal
Boniface also had considerable problems in Italy.
War in Sicily (a papal fief), war between Venice and Genoa, and war between
the Bianchi and Neri factions in Florence all required the pope's attention.
Ironically, Boniface depended upon Philip's brother, Prince Charles of Valois,
for much of his military power in handling these Italian crises. His aid
proved of questionable value, resolving the Florentine situation by crushing
the family of the Bianchi.
Boniface made the mistake of developing enemies among the
Colonnas, a noble and important Roman family with extensive land holdings and
powerful influence within the Church. Boniface became involved in a
dispute over Colonna family property in which the younger brothers accused
Cardinal Jacopo Colonna of misappropriating their inheritance. The
pope's intervention was resented by all of the brothers and the dispute
developed into a two year confrontation which included robbery, murder, a
small war that Boniface called a "crusade," and the wholesale
destruction of the town of Palestrina. In July of 1297, during the
course of this disturbance, the Colonna cardinals Jacopo and Pietro issued
formal decrees blaming Boniface for the illegal (so they claimed) resignation
of Celestine V, and holding Boniface to be an anti-pope. It fit
Philip's purposes well to have two cardinals of the Roman Church calling for
an ecumenical council to depose Boniface and warning all concerned not to
"obey or heed . . . this man who does not possess the authority
of the supreme pontiff."
Boniface had been elected with the cooperation of the Colonnas; they would
prove to be powerful enemies.
Boniface felt it necessary to back down from his
confrontation with Philip. With the bull of 7 February 1297, Romana
mater, he suspended Clericis laicos in France, allowing Philip to take
"contributions voluntarily granted." Then, with the bull Etsi
De Statu (31 July 1297) he allowed Philip to act on his own to
levy taxes in case of an "emergency." On 11 August, Boniface presided
at the canonization of Philip's crusader grandfather, St. Louis IX.
At least for the moment, good relations prevailed between France and the
Even though Philip was no longer hostile, he seems to
have lost respect for Boniface. When, in 1298, Boniface tried to
negotiate a truce between France and England, Philip accepted Boniface's
mediation only as an individual and not as one having any sort of
international authority in temporal matters. That is, Philip recognized
him as Benedetto Gætani, and not as the pope. In order to establish
peace, Boniface served as a match-maker, arranging a marriage between the
future Edward II of England and Philip's daughter, Isabelle of France.
Boniface proclaimed 1300 a Jubilee year, offering a
plenary indulgence to all those who made a pilgrimage to Rome.>
The highly successful jubilee celebration brought large crowds, which
benefited the Roman economy, restored Boniface's confidence, and perhaps his
health. Feeling a groundswell of popular support, he again felt capable
of resisting Philip's attempts to control church affairs.
A second crisis began in August of 1301, as royal
officials arrested Bernard Saisset, the bishop of Pamiers, and a personal
friend of the Pope. The charges against Saisset included treason and
Many of the inhabitants of Pamiers, in southern France, viewed Philip and the
French as invaders. Linked to the separatist movement which sought to
preserve the south free from the French crown, Saisset apparently labeled the
king "a bastard" and likened him to "an owl, the handsomest of
birds, which is worth absolutely nothing."
It must be noted that the royal enquˆteurs were clerics, who gathered some of
their testimony from Saisset's fellow bishops.
Such anti-French sentiments clearly disturbed bishops and clergy from those
areas long a part of the royal dominion.
Boniface responded to Saisset's imprisonment with bulls
denouncing Philip's condemnation and summoning the French bishops to Rome for
a synod to begin on All Saints day, 1 November 1302. The bull, Salvator
mundi, revoked Philip's authority to tax the clergy. To Philip
personally, he sent the bull Ausculta fili, (December 1301) a
condescending letter beginning, "Listen son. . . ." and claiming
that "God has set us over kings and kingdoms."> Ausculta fili constituted a direct threat to Philip, asserting papal
authority over civil government.
Philip seems to have had forgeries -- probably authored
by Pierre Flote -- of a more outrageous letter attributed to Boniface
circulated in France. These forgeries portrayed
Boniface as claiming to be Philip's superior in temporal matters and were
intended to make the pope seem altogether unreasonable to the French people
and to justify action against him. In April of 1302, Philip summoned the
first meeting of the Estates General (the aristocracy, the clergy, and the
town peoples) to develop support for the opinion that he was protecting France
against a hostile pope.
Philip forbade the French bishops from going to Rome and later confiscated the
goods of those who did.
Boniface opened his synod with thirty nine or roughly
half of the French bishops attending
and then on 18 November 1302 issued the bull Unam Sanctam
claiming that the Church had authority over both spiritual and temporal
governments, (that it had "two swords") and that anyone not under
the pope's authority was subject to eternal damnation. Unam Sanctam
unequivocally made the claim that all power of government is divine and flows
from God through the pope, and that the punishment for resisting the pope
reaches beyond this world and the grave.
Philip summoned the bishops to Paris for a series of
meetings between 12 March and 21 June 1303, to enlist their public
support. The bishop of Autun and the abbot of Cîteaux were arrested for
absenting themselves. Forty prelates attended the meetings.
Menache has plotted the dioceses represented on a map, locating most of them
in the area surrounding the Ile de France. Ever conscious of the power of public
loyalty to the papacy, Philip had his messengers conduct a tour of the
provinces to explain the situation to the clergy and laity of the realm.
Notaries documented the reaction of the crowds, and "letters of
adherence" were required from the more important clergy. Absentees
received personal visits.
Early in 1303, Guillaume de Nogaret, the king's
councillor, formally brought charges before the French Council of State,
asking King Philip to "protect" the French Church from Boniface, and
to set in motion a process by which an ecumenical council might be called to
secure Boniface's deposition. On 13 June 1303, Philip and his men met in
Paris to assemble testimony against Boniface. Based largely on the
statements of William of Plaisians, the General Assembly accused Boniface of
every imaginable doctrinal evil, for heresy was the one charge that might
bring about a pope's deposition. For good measure it accused him of
murder, sodomy, fortune telling, and having relations with the demon that
lived in his ring!
Anxious to act quickly, Nogaret obtained funds from the
treasury and powers to act in King Philip's name. In mid-March, even
before the proceedings at Paris, he journeyed to Tuscany to meet with
Boniface's Italian enemies. He awaited the opportunity to summon
Boniface before a general council, an opportunity that did not come, and would
force more drastic action.
In August of 1303, during a consistory of the College of
Cardinals held at Anagni, Boniface denied all of the charges against him.
He suspended many of those who cooperated with Philip and insisted that only
the pope himself could call a general council. He threatened Philip with
excommunication and prepared the bull Super Petri solio—Upon Peter
alone, to be published on 8 September 1303. The Bull would have
excommunicated Philip and freed his subjects from obedience to him.
Before Super Petri solio could be promulgated, on 7 September
1303, Boniface was attacked by forces from within and from without. An
armed French party under Nogaret joined with Boniface's old enemies, the
Colonna Cardinals Jacopo and Pietro, their brother Sciarra Colonna, and an
assortment of others who held grievances against the pope. They
violently invaded the papal palace at Anagni and most of Boniface's supporters
surrendered to Nogaret. An eyewitness account
holds that the invaders were not in agreement as to what to do with Boniface.
Sciarra Colonna wanted to kill him but was restrained by the others.
Presumably, the latter wanted to bring him before a general council for trial.
While they argued, the townspeople got up their courage and rescued Boniface
on the 9th. He returned to Rome on 25 September, only to die of a
violent fever on 12 October 1303.
Niccolo Boccasino succeeded Boniface as pope Benedict XI
(22 October 1303 - 7 July 1304). Although he stood with Boniface at
Anagni, he was a much weaker man. In an attempt to be conciliatory he
granted pardons to the Colonna Cardinals and, ultimately, to everyone except
Nogaret. To sidestep Philip's demand for an ecumenical council to
condemn Boniface, he revoked Clericis laicos, absolved Philip, and
granted Philip tithes for two years. He was prevented by death from
Almost a year later the Cardinals elected Bertrand de
Got, then Archbishop of Bordeaux, as Clement V (1305-1314). Clement
acceded to Philip's request that he be crowned at Lyons, created more French
Cardinals, and spent several years wandering around southern France.
Trying to avoid being forced into an outright condemnation of Boniface, he
repudiated Unam Sanctam in February 1306.
In April 1311, Clement absolved
those who had attacked Boniface.
Philip IV pressured Clement into a trial of the
deceased Pope Boniface. All of the charges brought before the French
Council of State in 1303 were renewed during these proceedings of 1310-1311,
with live witnesses called to testify to the late pope's utter depravity.
The trial ended inconclusively, perhaps because the testimony was beyond
In March 1309, Clement finally settled at Avignon, on the
east side of the rapid waters of the Rhône, just outside France. The
enclave stood on papal land, obtained during the Albigensian Crusade in 1274.
At Avignon Clement would be out of Philip's hands and away from the turmoil of
central Italy. His reign began the "Babylonian Captivity" of
the papacy at Avignon, a seventy year exile and a period of decline in papal
authority and prestige.