May 20, 1277 —November 25 , 1277



The bad weather of 1275 and 1276 continued into 1277.  The floods brought with them not just inconveniences, but crop failures, plague, inflation in the prices of foodstuffs, and starvation.  Concerning 1277, Fra Salimbene of Parma [Chronica p. 271, ed. Parma 1857] reports:

Et eodem anno fuit mortalitas maxima et magnae infirmitates hominum, puerorum et mulierum quasi per universum orbem, et maxime in regno Italiae et Lombardiae; et magnae pluviae, ita quod homines non potuerunt colligere melicas, neque eas siccare, nec potuerunt sdeminare.... Et eodem anno fuit magna caristia, quia aliquando fuit venditus sextarius frumenti ix solidos imperial., et xx solidos rexanos;  et sextarius fabae xvii grossos, xviii et xix; et sextarius melicae xiii grossos, xiiii et xv; et sextarius speltae xii grossos et xiii; et libra grossa olei olivae xxi imperiales, xxii et ii solidos imperial.

King Charles I of Sicily granted permission to the government of Genoa and Pisa and import foodstuffs from Apulia, through merchants of Piacenza   [Sternfeld, Der Kardinal Johann Gaetan Orsini, p. 354 (September 16, 1277)].


Death of John XXI

John XXI (XX) was crowned on September 20, 1276, by Cardinal Giovanni Gaetano Orsini, the Cardinal Protodeacon. On October 7, 1276, he received the fealty of King Charles I for the Kingdom of Sicily (the text quoted by Cristofori, 343-348 has the date of October 7). He died in Viterbo on May 20, 1277, allegedly because some construction work had fallen on him six days earlier, or three days earlier, and was buried in the Cathedral of San Lorenzo.  The Annales of Oberto Stanconi [MGH XVIII, 285] states:

Eodem vero anno quodam die 20. Madii in vigilia ascensionis Domini in nocte Iohannes XXI papa quem supra memoravimus cum in sua resideret camera, ipsius camere sive domus ruina hedifitium dissolutum ruens illum summum oppressit pontificem, et infra triduum migravit ad Dominum, et vacavit ecclesia mensibus 6 et diebus 7.

The Chronicle of Guillaume de Nangis reported [Guillaume de Nangis, Chronicon I (Paris 1843) p. 249 ed. Geraud; and similarly the Annales of Nicholas Trevet, OP, p. 295 ed. Hog] :

Johannes papa, cum sibi vitae spatium in annos plurimos extendi crederet, et hoc etiam coram multis assereret, subito cum camera nova quam pro se Viterbii circa palatium construi fecerat, solus corruit, et inter ligna et lapides collisus, sexto die post casum, sacramentis omnibus ecclesiasticis perceptis, expiravit, et ibidem in ecclesia sancti Laurentii sepultus est.

Yet another version is given by Sifrid de Balnhusin in his Compendium historiarum,  whose source evidently had a low opinion of John XXI's philosophical and theological acumen [MGH SS 25, p. 708]:

Hic dum quendam librum, ut dicebatur, hereticum et perversum dictaret, subito domus in qua sedebat super eum corruit in tantumque concussit, ut infra spacium quinque dierum miserabiliter moraretur, replicans saepius haec verba vel similia: 'Quid fiet de libello meo?  Quis complebit libellum meum?'  Obiit et iste primo anno pontificatus sui.

Ptolemy of Lucca [Historia ecclesiastica 23. 21; Muratori, RIS XI, 1176] sums up the character of John XXI:  however great he was in science (medicine especially), his mental acuity was only moderate: he was aggressive in speech and lax in mores, and it was all the more apparent because access to his person was easy, and his defects were visible to all.  He was too favorable to members of religious orders.

Quamvis magnus fuerit in scientia, modicus tamen fuit in distinctione: praeceps enim fuit in verbo et mitis tantum in moribus, et plus apparebat, quia facilis ad eum fuit ingressus, et inde patebat omnibus suus defectus .... Religiosos parum dilexit.

Similar comments, in particular about his habits, were made by Jordanus [quoted by Raynaldus in Baronius' Annals sub anno 1276, no. 29, from a ms. in the Vatican Library; Potthast II, p. 1718]:  Parum discretus fuit, praeceps in verba, minus cautus in moribus.



The conclave began in May, and, without the regulations of Gregory X, dragged all the way through the summer and into autumn [ Chronicon de rebus in Italia gestis, p. 366; Annales Placentini in MGH 18, 569]:

Eodem tempore maxima discordia erat inter cardinales Rom(a)e de electione pastoris in civitate Viterbii, et ibi sunt tantum VII cardinales: tres tenent unam viam scilicet dominus Johannes Gaytanus [Orsini], Jacobus de Sivello et Mattheus Rubeus [Orsini]; alii tres scilicet dominus Anserius [Pantaleoni], Symonus de Tursso et dominus Guillelmus cardinales tenent aliam viam.... Episcopus vero Sabinensis cardinalis tenet mediam viam nec declinat ad unam nec ad aliam.

The Annales is correct in the number of cardinals who were at the Conclave,  but Simon de Brion [Symonus de Tursso], who was still in France, was not one of them;  the seventh cardinal in Viterbo was Goffredo d'Alatri. The major background issue was whether the new pope would favor Charles of Anjou and his control over the city of Rome and Tuscany, or oppose him. Charles was certainly opposed to the Orsini.


The Electors

.At the time of Pope John's death, there were eight cardinals.  Cardinal Simon Paltanieri had died, at some point between February 7 [the date of his last Will; Paravicini-Bagliani, The Pope's Body, p. 196] and February 12, 1277. Some are not mentioned by the Chronicon:


There were, therefore, seven electors present at the Conclave in Viterbo:

  1. Bertrand de Saint Martin, born in Arles, Benedictine, Archbishop of Arles in 1266, Cardinal Bishop of Sabina in 1273.   He participated as cardinal in the Second Council of Lyon, and signed a bull on March 23, 1275 [Potthast 21008].  On June 7, 1275, at Bellicadri, he was assigned the church of S. Marcello in commendam [Posse, no. 848].   Innocent V states that Gregory X was accompanied in his journey back to Italy from Lyon, in continuatione laborum ... nobis, tunc Ostiensi episcopo ac aliis fratribus nostris, quos tam in Urbe quam circa eius finia [sic], iam diversa loca receperant, tribus tantum ex illis existentibus circa ipsum de ultramontana redeuntibus regione.... [Bullarium Romanum  IV (Augustae Taurinorum 1853) p. 35]; Sternfeld (p. 239) takes this to include Bertrand de Saint Martin.  Bertrand and Cardinal Giacomo Savelli of S. Maria in Cosmedin were assigned by Pope Adrian V to meet and negotiate with King Charles I of SIcily  [Letter of the College of Cardinals during the Sede Vacante (July 27,1276): Cristofori, Tombe, p. 175].  On September 30, 1276, Bertrand was appointed by the bull Crescit facile to be the leader of an inquisition into the persons responsible for the disorders during the Sede Vacante of August-September, 1276 [Baronius-Theiner 22, pp. 377-378, nos. 31-33; Potthast 21152].  On October 17, 1276, it is recorded that Cardinal Bertrand Bishop of Sabina had been appointed an Assessor by Pope Innocent V [Registre de Jean XXI, no. 8, p. 4].  He was an examiner in the matter of the election of the Bishop of Nepi  [Registre de Jean XXI, no. 80, p. 29 ( letter of John XXI, February 12, 1277)]; and likewise of the promotion of an Archimandrite [Registre de Jean XXI, no. 121, p. 39 ( letter of John XXI, March 21, 1277)]; and likewise in a dispute in the Church of Potenza [Registre de Jean XXI, no. 127, p. 41 ( letter of John XXI, March 22, 1277)].  Cardinal Bertrand was present at the Conclave of 1277, May 20—November 25 in Viterbo   [Annales Placentini Ghibellini, in  MGH SS XVIII, p. 569]: Episcopus vero Sabinensis cardinalis tenet mediam viam, nec declinat ad unam nec ad aliam.     The date sometimes given for his death, March 28, 1277 at Avignon, is manifestly wrong. (Cardella, 8, who says 1275, is equally manifestly wrong).   He is spoken of as deceased in a letter of Nicholas III of April 5, 1278 [Registres de Nicolas III, no. 51, p. 13]   He is commemorated in a service on November 12, 1284, according to the Register of Anniversaries of the Church of Arles [Chevalier, Gallia christiana novissima. Arles (Valence 1901) p. 504, no. 1279]. The Church of Frejus, of which he had been Bishop, commemorates him on April 14 [Roy,  Nouvelle histoire des cardinaux françois, IV, p. 5], but that cannot have been the date of his death, which had to have been between May 20, 1277 and April 5, 1278.

  2. Ancherius Pantaleoni, nephew of Pope Urban IV, Cardinal (1261) priest of Santa Prassede   † November 1, 1286, according to his memorial inscription in Santa Prassede [P .Fedele, Archivio della Societa romanà di storia patria 27 (1904), 31].
  3. Guilelmus (Guillaume) de Bray (or Brie), diocese of Reims, Cardinal (1262-1282) priest of S. Marco.  Auditor in cases concerning Viterbo, 1277 [Registre de Jean XXI, no. 140, pp. 43-44 (March 24, 1277)].     †1282
  4. Godefridus (Gottifridus, Geoffroy, Goffredo d' Alatri in Lazio), Cardinal Deacon of S. Giorgio in Velabro (1261-1287).  Canon of the Cathedral of Alatri (by 1229).  In 1251 he is mentioned as a chaplain of Cardinal Stefano de Normandis of the titulus of S. Maria in Trastevere, and granted the privilege of being Decanus Olensis and pastor of the church of S. Stefano in Alatri at the same time [Registres d' Innocent IV, Tome III, no. 5462, p. 5]. Chaplain of Alexander IV and judge in a case between the Bishop of Ascoli and a certain Rinaldo [G. Mazzatinti, Gli archivi della storia d' Italia III (Rocca S. Casciano 1900-1901), p. 96 (Ascoli, Archivio capitolare, 1257)]. 

  5. Ioannes (Giovanni Gaetano Orsini), Cardinal (1244-1277) Deacon of S. Niccolo in Carcere, Archpriest of the Vatican Basilica from October 18, 1276 [Potthast 21171; Huyskens, Historisches Jahrbuch 27 (1906) 266 n. 2; Registre de Jean XXI, no. 153 p. 47 (March 15, 1277)]. Canon and Prebend of York [Bliss, Calendar of Papal Registers I, 456 (February 5, 1278)].  Governor, Protector and Corrector of the Franciscan Order [Fra Salimbene, Chronica p. 271, ed. Parma 1857].   Elected Pope Nicholas III (1277-1280).
  6. Iacobus (Giacomo Savelli), Cardinal (1261-1285) Deacon of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, future Pope Honorius IV (1285-1287)
  7. Matteo Rosso Orsini, nephew of Gian Gaetano Orsini (elected Nicholas III), Cardinal (1262-1305) Deacon of Santa Maria in Portico. He became Archpriest of the Vatican Basilica under Nicholas III, before May 25, 1278 [Huyskens, 266 n.1]. †September 4, 1305 The Orsini had turned to supporting the claims of Rudolf of Austria to be crowned Holy Roman Emperor (Sternfeld, 225-228).


Election of Nicholas III

According to the Chronicon de rebus in Italia gestis ( p. 367).

De mense novembris die jovis XXV novembris in civitate Viterbii cardinales in concordia invocato nomine Salvatoris eligerunt in Summum Pontificem dominum Johannem Gaytanum cardinalem et vocatum est nomen ejus Nicholaus tercius. Et cessavit apostolatus per sex menses et VI dies et in festo beati Stephani in urbe coronatus est per cardinales.

Cardinal Orsini himself, in his electoral manifesto, Immensae Deus potentiae, sent to King Philip II of France, and similarly to King Edward I of England, states that he was elected on the Feast of St. Catherine, November 25, 1277 [Potthast 21263; Rymer, Foedera I, pp. 165-166 (January 15, 1277); Bullarium Romanum IV, 39].  The papal throne had been vacant for six months and six days. The son of the Roman nobleman Matteo Rosso Orsini 'Il Grande' and Perna Caetani, Cardinal Giovanni Gaetano Orsini took the name Nicholas III. This was a defeat for the French party in the Sacred College and in Italy. The new Pope immediately set out for Rome [Ptolemy of Lucca, Historia Ecclesiastica XXIII, 26, in Muratori RIS XI, 1179].  Nicholas III was ordained priest on December 18, consecrated Bishop on December 19, and crowned on the Feast of St. Stephen, December 26, in Rome [Annales Placentini Ghibellini, in MGH SS XVIII, 569].

It was reported that in Rome, the flood that year was so deep that the main altar in S. Maria Rotonda (the Pantheon) was covered with four feet of water [Guillaume de Nangis, Chronicon I (Paris 1843) p. 249 ed. Geraud]


Pantheon in flood of 1900


New Cardinals

On March 12, 1278, less than three months after his coronation, the Pope created new cardinals, to diminish the French influence in the Sacred College.  He considerably increased, however, the number of members of religious orders:

  1. Latino Frangipani Malabranca, OP (Nicholas III's nephew by his sister Mabilia) Cardinal Bishop of Ostia and Velletri.  He was appointed Legate in the Marches. In October 1278, he arranged peace in Florence and the Romandiola [Giovanni Villani Cronica VII. lvi]. But it is reported that he fled in the wake of the earthquake of May 1, 1279, which was centered in the neighborhood of Ancona [Fra Salimbene, Chronica p. 273-274 ed. Parma 1857].  Bologna and the people of the Romandiola were frightened into making a peace, arranged by Cardinal Latino [Potthast 21588 (May 29, 1279)].  He also excommunicated the people of Parma for turning on the Dominicans in the city because they burned a woman at the stake [Fra Salimbene, Chronica p. 273-274 ed. Parma 1857].
  2. Erhard de Lessines (Lesigny), son of Guillaume, Marshal of Champagne.  Cardinal Bishop of Palestrina.  Bishop of Auxerre (1271-1278), in succession to his uncle Guy de Mello.  The climate of Rome did not agree with him;  he caught a fever, and dysentery along with it. He died on July 18, 1278. [Gallia christiana 12, 309-310]
  3. Bentivenga de Bentivengis, O.Min., Cardinal Bishop of Albano
  4. Robert Kilwardby, OP, Archbishop of Canterbury (1272-1278), Cardinal Bishop of Porto and Santa Rufina (died at Viterbo, September 12, 1279, allegedly of poison, according to a scenario developed by Williams, Lives of the English Cardinals I, 345-367, without benefit of documentary support]. His successor, Archbishop John Peckham, OFM, was provided on January 28, 1279 [Le Neve Fasti I, p. 14; Bliss, Calendar of State Papers I, p. 456] and granted the right to make his own Will on March 25, 1279 [not 1278, as in Potthast 21289; cf. Bliss, Calendar of State Papers I, p. 458].  Peckham was a notable anti-Semite, who authorized and encouraged the destruction of all the synagogues in London but one (August 19, 1282) [Registrum Epistolarum Fratris Johannis Peckham II (ed. C.T. Martin), no. cccxii, p. 407; ccxvi, p. 410].
  5. Ordoño (Ordeonio) Álvarez, Cardinal Bishop of Tusculum (Frascati)

  6. Gerardo Bianchi, Cardinal Priest of Santi XII Apostoli, Cardinal Bishop of Sabina on April 12, 1281. d. 1302  He was assigned ad transmontanas partes, on August 5, 1278, to collect money [Bullarium Franciscanum III, 333-334; Potthast 21386].  He too was assigned, on August 9, to bring peace between France and Castile, along with  Cardinal Girolamo Masci and John, Patriarch-elect of Jerusalem (May 15, 1278 to February 4, 1279 [Potthast 21389; Eubel I, p. 275 n. 12].
  7. Girolamo Masci d' Ascoli, OFM, Cardinal Priest of Santa Pudenziana. Later Cardinal Bishop of Palestrina, April 12, 1281. d. as Pope Nicholas IV in 1292.  He was the associate of John of Vercellae, sent to arrange a peace between Philip III of France and Alfonso of Spain.  He and John were again appointed to the same task on April 4, 1278 [Potthast 21294-21295; 21310]. Girolamo was ordered to continue on as Minister General of the Franciscans until otherwise provided [Potthast 21356]. And on June 22, it turns out that John was still in Italy, and ordered to personally get the peoples of Romandiola to recognize the dominion of the pope [Potthast 21343].  On August 1, the Pope wrote to Cardinal Simon de Brion in France to arrange the peace [Potthast 21381].  On May 16, 1279, Pope Nicholas III wrote to the General Chapter of the Franciscans, meeting at Assisi, that Cardinal Girolamo could not attend propter corporis infirmitatem [Potthast 21582].

  8. Giordano Orsini, brother of Pope Nicholas III, Cardinal Deacon of S. Eustachio. d. 1287.
  9. Giacomo Colonna, Cardinal Deacon of S. Maria in Via Lata (died August 14, 1318 in Avignon).
  10. Gerardo Cupalates, O.Min.   (died 1279) (Cardella II, 12).

It may be noted that, although five new Cardinal Bishops are named on March 12, 1278, no new Cardinal Bishop is named to replace Bertrand de Saint Martin, whom some consider to have died before the conclave of May-November 1277, despite the evidence of the Chronicon de rebus in Italia gestis. Might it be that the Chronicon is correct, and that Bertrand was not yet dead?

It was Nicholas III, with consultation of the cardinals (July 18, 1278), issued the bull Fundamenta militantis ecclesiae, instituting the rule that Emperors, kings, princes,marquises, dukes, counts, and barons were ineligible for the office of Senator of Rome, and others were eligible for one-year terms only.  The ten-year term of Charles I of Sicily would never be repeated   [Theiner, Codex diplomaticus I, p. 217; Potthast 21362; Liber sextus Decretalium de electione I. 6. cap.17; Olivieri, Senato Romano I, pp. 199-200; Baronius-Theiner, sub anno 1278 no. 75, p. 443; S. Sägmüller, Die Thätigkeit, p. 77]:

De fratrum nostrorum consilio hac irrefragabili et in perpetuum valitura Constitutione sancimus,ut quandocumque et quotiescumque senatoris electio, vel alterius quocumque nomine censeatur, quocumque modo, quocumque titulo ipsius Urbis debeat praeesse regimini, in posterum imminebit, nullus imperator seu rex romanorum, aut alius imperator, vel rex, princeps, marchio, dux, comes, aut baro, vel qui alterius notabilis praeeminentiae, potentiae seu potestatis, excellentiae vel dignitatis existat; frater, filius, vel nepos eorum ad tempus vel in perpetuum; seu quivis alius ultra annale spatium quovis modo, colore vel causa, per se vel per aliam personam quomodolibet submittendam in senatorem, capitaneum, patricium, aut rectore4m; vel ad ejusdem Urbis regimen, seu officium nominetur, eligatur, seu alias etiam assumatur absque licentia Sedis Apostolicae speciali, per ipsius Sedis litteras concessionem licentiae hujusmodi specialiter exprimentes.

This decision ensured that there would be a struggle against the forces of the Sicilian Monarchy at the next Conclave (which came in 1281).  The Romans, of course, ignored Nicholas' Constitution and elected King Charles as their Senator, thereby incurring excommunication.  On August 12, 1281,  Pope Martin IV authorized the Penitentiary Cardinal Bentivenga de Bentivengis to absolve the electors [C. Eubel "Registerband", p. 21-22]:

Mense Augusti die XII sanctissimus pater dominus Martinus commisit absolutionem Romanorum, qui contra constitutionem f. r. dno. Nicolai elegerunt illustrem regem Sicilie senatorem, et quod committere posset in Urbe absolutionem illorum, qui comode ad curiam venire non possent: et hoc anno suo primo indictione nona fuit.





Chronicon Placentinum et Chronicon de rebus in Italia gestis (edited by J.L.A. Huillard-Bréholles (Paris: Plon 1856).

J. Guiraud and L. Cadier (editors), Les registres de Grégoire X et de Jean XXI (1271-1277)  (Paris, 1892-1898) [BEFAR 2 série, 12].

Friedrich Baethgen, "Eine Pamphlet Karls I. von Anjou zur Wahl Papst Nikolaus III.," Sitzungsberichte der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Phil-historische Klasse (1960).

Lorenzo Cardella, Memorie storiche de' cardinali della Santa Romana Chiesa Tomo primo Parte secondo (Roma: Pagliarini 1792).  Ludovico Antonio Muratori, Annali d' Italia Volume 18 (Firenze 1827). Giuseppe de Novaes, Elementi per la storia de' Sommi Pontefici terza edizione Volume III (Roma 1821).   G. Moroni, Dizionario di erudizione storico-ecclesiastica Volume 48 (Venezia 1848) 9. Paul Durrieu, Étude sur les registres angevines du Roi Charles Ier Tome second (Paris 1888), 179-180.  F. Gregorovius, History of Rome in the Middle Ages, Volume V.2 second edition, revised (London: George Bell, 1906) 477-479. Augustin Demski, Papst Nikolaus III, Eine Monographie (Münster 1903) 34-37. Richard Sternfeld, Der Kardinal Johann Gaetan Orsini (Papst Nikolaus III.) 1244-1277 (Berlin: E. Ebering 1905) 287-300, who accepts the authority of the Annales Placentini and states that there were seven electors (pp. 288-289); he chooses, however, to substitute the name of Goffredo de Alatri for that of Simon of Santa Cecilia (289, n. 3). Robert Brentano, Rome Before Avignon: A social history of Thirteenth Century Rome (Los Angeles: University of California Press 1990).

On Simon de Brie and the Council of Bruges in September, 1276, see Carl Joseph von Hefele, Conciliengeschichte nach dem Quellen bearbeitet second edition Volume VI (Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder 1890) 176-177. Otto Posse, Analecta Vaticana (Oeniponti: Libraria Academica Wagneriana 1878).

Suspension of Gregory X's constitution on papal elections: Adrian V (Ottobono Fieschi) suspended the arrangements of Pope Gregory orally in a consistory: Giordano, quoted in Reynaldi, Annales Ecclesiasticae sub anno 1276. They were officially cancelled by the Bull Licet of Pope John XXI on September 30, 1276. A. Ceccaroni Il conclave (Roma 1901) 57.

Albert Huyskens, "Das Kapitel von St. Peter in Rom unter dem Einflusse der Orsini (1276-1342)," Historisches Jahrbuch 27 (1906) 266-290.

J.B. Sägmüller, Die Thätigkeit und Stellung der Kardinäle bis Papst Bonifaz VIII., historisch und canonistisch untersucht und dargestellt (Freiburg i. B. 1896) [reviewed by Wenck in Theologische Litteraturzeitung 23 (Leipzig 1891), 113-116].   J.B. Sägmüller, "Zur Thätigkeit und Stellung der Kardinäle bis Papst Bonifaz VIII," Theologische Quartalschrift 80 (Ravensburg 1898) 596-614 [reviewed by Wenck in Göttingische gelehrte Anzeigen 162. 1 (Berlin 1900) 139-175]. J.B. Sägmüller, "Die oligarchischen Tendenzen des Kardinalkollegs bis Bonifaz VIII," Theologische Quartalschrift (Ravensburg 1901) 45-93.

C. Eubel, "Der Registerband des Cardinalgrossponitentiars Bentevenga," Archiv fur katholischen Kirchenrecht 64 (1890), 3-69. [Cardinal Bentevenga was cardinal from 1278-1290].


February 11, 2016 4:35 PM

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