SEDE VACANTE 1280-1281

August 22, 1280 —February 22, 1281

Nicholas III  (Orsini) had spent his entire reign attempting to limit and diminish the influence of the French on Italy and the Papacy, and attempting to avert a confrontation between the Emperor Rudolf and King Charles. He was even able to persuade King Charles I of Naples and Sicily to give up his position as Roman Senator in 1278, at the conclusion of ten years of tenure [Olivieri, Il senato romano I, p. 198-199], as well as the position of Papal Vicar for Tuscany (Chronicon p. 370):

De mense vero Augusti Dominus Rex Karolus volens observare pacta et conventiones qu(a)e sunt inter Ecclesiam Romanam et ipsum dominum regem facta per dominum papam Urbanum felicis memoria, in manibus domini Nicholay tercii Roman(a)e Ecclesi(a)e summi pontificis repudiavit et senatoriam et dominatum urbis Rom(a)e et quicquid habet a ponte Zeperani citra. Qui dominus papa posuit pro se senatorem in urbe ad suam voluntatem unum suum parentem et unum vicarium pro Ecclesia in Tuscia, et die XXII septembris in manibus fratris Latini per suos procuratores in Viterbo praedicta repudiavit.

Nicholas had also added ten new cardinals on March 12, 1278, most of whom were not of the French party. He died at Castro Soriano in the diocese of Viterbo on August 22, 1280 of an apoplectic stroke which had left him without speech  (Bernardus Guidonis, "Vita Nicolai III" in RIC III. 1, p. 606, 607;  Chronicon, 374; Demski, 347-348):

Die jovis XXII mensis augusti dominus Nicholaus papa tercius in castro serariani [Castel Soriano] ab hac luce transmigravit. Vixit autem iste papa per duos annos et VIII menses et XXVIII dies.

His body was returned to Rome and buried in the Capella S. Nicolae in the Vatican Basilica, of which he had once been Archpriest and which he had done a great deal to restore, spending a vast amount of money (Bernardus Guidonis, "Vita Nicolai III" in RIC III. 1, p. 607; Novaes, III 272).

In anticipation of his death there were serious troubles in Rome between the Orsini and the Annibaldi. The people of Rome, who had had too much of the nepotism, arrogance and greed of the Orsini, chose the side of the Annibaldi and forced the Orsini into exile. And the news of Nicholas' death ignited central Italy (Chronicon, 374), especially the Romagna:

Audito in Romagna de morte domini pape incontinenti pars Gibilinorum de Faentia, Furlini, Furnipopuli, Cesene, Crevie et plurium aliarum civitatum de Romagna partes Guelforum de ipsis civitatibus expulserunt. Die Martis XXII mensis novembris Bononienses cum eorum amicis intraverunt in civitatem Faentie, multos de parte Gibilinorum occidendo et capiendo. De menso vero septembris pars Advocatorum de Vercellis de civitate expulsit partem Tizonorum, multos occidendo et capiendo. De mense vero decembris Gibilini de Senegalia expulserunt partem Guelforum de dicta civitate occidendo Palmerolum de Fano et multos alios....



The Electors

.At the time of Pope Nicholas' death, there were thirteen cardinals.   A list is given by Conrad Eubel, Hierarchia catholica I, p. 10 note 3.

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

  1. Latino Frangipani Malabranca, OP [Romanus] (Nicholas III's nephew by his sister Mabilia), Cardinal Bishop of Ostia and Velletri. He had been deputed by Nicholas to manage the elections for Senator in August, 1278 (Kaltenbrunner, Actenstücke 120; Posse 916), and then, in September, been appointed Legate for Tuscany and the Romagna (Actenstücke 131; Posse 931; his instructions: Actenstücke 145 ), a post which he exercised throughout the reign. He died on August 9, 1294 ["Note Necrologiche di S. Sabina," in P. Egidi, Necrologie e libri affini della provincia Romana (Roma 1908), p. 296; Santa Sabina was a Dominican convent].  It is said, by St. Antoninus of Florence, that he was one of the Orsini cardinals who were kidnapped from the Conclave, but that he was allowed to return.
  2. Bentivenga de Bentivergis, OFM [Acquasparta, Tudertinus (Todi)], Cardinal Bishop of Albano. He had been a chaplain and an "intimus amicus" (according to Fra Salimbene)  of Cardinal Johannes Orsini, who became Nicholas III [Eubel, Hierarchia catholica I, p. 501 n. 2].  Major Penitentiary [Cardella II, p. 13], . Magister in Theologia.  Fra Salimbene calls him Frater Beneceven (sub anno 1277, p. 272).  He died in 1290.
  3. Ordoño (Ordeonio) Álvarez {Lusitanus], Cardinal Bishop of Tusculum (Frascati) (d. 1285), former Abbot of Fussellense (Palencia), then Archbishop of Braga [Eubel I, p. 144]. On September 6 and December 1, 1181, at Orvieto, he gave judgment in a case involving a Canon of S. Maria Maggiore and the church of S. Maria in Monsterio and the Monstery of S. Agnete [Fedele, Archivio 29 (1906), no. ii, pp. 205-209].

  4. Ancherius Pantaleoni [Gallus], nephew of Pope Urban IV, Cardinal priest of Santa Prassede (1261)  † November 1, 1286, according to his memorial inscription in Santa Prassede (P. Fedele, Archivio della Societa romanà di storia patria 27 (1904), 31).    Panvinio, in a hilarious mistake, makes him an Englishman from London; he misreads the fact that Ancher had been Archdiaconus Laudunensis (Laon) [Eubel, p. 8 n.8].
  5. Guilelmus (Guillaume) de Bray (or Brie) [Gallus, diocese of Reims], Cardinal priest of S. Marco (1262-1282). (First known) Chamberlain of the College of Cardinals since 1272 ( † 1282)  [Kirsch, p. 44]
  6. Simon Mompitié de Brie [Simon de Turso] [Champagne], Cardinal priest of Santa Cecilia (1262-1281),  elected as Pope Martin IV (1281-1285).  Former Treasurer of S. Martin de Tours,  Chancellor of Louis IX (1260-1261), in succession to Cardinal Raoul de Grosparmy.  He was still serving as Legate in France on May 7 of 1279, when the Pope asked him to get the Queen of France to make peace with King Charles of Sicily (Posse #972; Actenstücke 157, 217). He was still Legate on June 9, 1279 (Actenstücke, p. 235). Nicholas III is said to have recalled him as Legate to France (Cardella, 304).
  7. Gerardo Bianchi  [Gainaco, diocese of Parma], Cardinal Priest of Santi XII Apostoli, Cardinal Bishop of Sabina on March 23 or April 12, 1281. d. 1302.  Doctor in laws (Parma). Protonotary Apostolic. He was legate in Sicily at the time of the death of King Charles I (January 7, 1285), and was appointed administrator [Regni Ballius], along with Count Robert of Artois (Arras). Fra Salimbene of Parma speaks of him sub anno 1282 ( p. 281) as Legate in Sicily at the time of the Sicilian Vespers (1282).
  8. Girolamo Masci d' Ascoli, OFM [Lisciano, near Ascoli], Cardinal Priest of Santa Pudenziana. Cardinal Bishop of Palestrina (1281). (future Pope Nicholas IV, 1288-1292). Former Minister General of the Franciscans (1274-1279)  [Fra Salimbene, sub anno 1277, p. 272] Doctor in Theology (Perugia). In 1283 he and Cardinal Giacomo Colonna were sent as legates to the Romagna to compose the differences between Guelfs and Ghibellines.

  9. Iacobus (Giacomo Savelli) [Romanus], Cardinal Deacon of Santa Maria in Cosmedin (1261-1285), future Pope Honorius IV (1285-1287)
  10. Godefridus (Gottifridus, Geoffroy, Goffredo da Alatri in Lazio), Cardinal Deacon of S. Giorgio in Velabro (1261-1287)   † 1287 (cf. Sternfeld, 289 n.3).
  11. Matteo Rosso Orsini [Romanus], grandson of Matteo Rosso “il Grande” (born 1178, died October 13, 1246),   son of Gentile Orsini, Signore di Mugnano, Penna, Nettuno e Pitigliano e Nobile Romano;   nephew of Gian Gaetano Orsini (elected Nicholas III).   Cardinal Deacon of Santa Maria in Porticu (1262-1305).  He became Archpriest of the Vatican Basilica under Nicholas III, before May 25, 1278 [Huyskens, 266 n.1].  Died September 4, 1305.   The Orsini had turned to supporting the claims of Rudolf of Austria to be crowned Holy Roman Emperor (Sternfeld, 225-228). Kidnapped from the Conclave in 1281 by Riccardo de Annibaldi and the Viterbians.
  12. Giordano Orsini [Romanus], brother of Pope Nicholas III, Cardinal Deacon of S. Eustachio.    d. 1287.  Kidnapped from the Conclave by Riccardo de Annibaldi and the Viterbians.
  13. Giacomo Colonna [Romanus], Cardinal Deacon of S. Maria in Via Lata.    d. August 14, 1318 in Avignon.  An opponent of the Orsini.



The Conclave met in Viterbo, in the Episcopal Palace  [letter of Pope Honorius IV].  King Charles of Sicily-Anjou, who was already in Tuscany, was eager to be present and advance his own interests, which the Orsini pope had done so much to limit. An understanding had been reached between Charles and Riccardo Annibaldi, the leader of the Roman opposition to the Orsini.  Riccardo prepared and led a coup, which resulted in the expulsion of Orso Orsini, the dead pope's nephew, from the office of Podestà of Viterbo, and the installation of Riccardo in his place.  This placed the management of the papal election in the hands of the French party and those hostile to the Orsini.  But nine cardinals were needed to elect a pope, while the three Orsini cardinals and as few as two of the seven surviving cardinals of Nicholas III (Orsini) — i cardinali Orsini e loro seguaci, in Giovanni VIllani's phrase— might well be able to block Charles of Anjou's wishes.

The famous Cronica of Giovanni Villani (Book VII chapter 58) provides some important details:

[Il Re Carlo] incontanente fu a Viterbo per procacciare d' avere papa che fosse sup amico, e trovò il collegio de'cardinali in grande dissensione e partiti; che l'una parte erano i cardinali Orsini e loro seguaci, e voleano papa a loro volontà; e tutti gli altri cardinali erano col re Carlo contrari; e durò la tira e vacazione più di cinque mesi. Essendo i cardinali rinchiusi e distretti per gli Viterbesi, alla fine non avendo concordia, i Viterbesi, a petizione, si disse, del re Carlo, trassono del collegio de' cardinali messere Matteo Rosso e messere Giordano cardinali degli Orsini, i quali erano capo della loro setta, e villanamente fuorono messi in prigione; per la quale cosa gli altri cardinali s' accordarono d' eleggere, e elessono papa messer Simone dal Torso di Francia cardinale, e fu chiamato papa Martino quarto; il quale di vile nazione, ma molto fu magnanimo e di grande cuore ne' fatti della Chiesa, ma per se proprio e per suoi parenti nulla cuvidigia ebbe; e quando il fratello il venne a vedere papa, incontanente il rimando in Francia con piccoli doni e colle spese, dicendo ch' e' beni erano della Chiesa e non suoi. Questi fu molto amico del re Carlo...

Though the Conclave was in force, it is again apparent that this did not impede the Cardinals from receiving information or sending instuctions. Two letters written by the Cardinals survive. One of these advises all of the lay officials in Church territories not to do anything to impede the journey of Clementia, daughter of the King of the Romans, who was on her way to marry Charles, the son of King Charles. The other advises the Duke, Count and Council of the Venetians, not to take advantage of the Sede Vacante and cause trouble by involving themselves in attempts to seize territory in Romagnola or the Marches of Ancona. [Martène, Veterum scriptorum II, 1278-1280].   The stalemate between the Orsini faction and the French faction continued for more than five months.

Then Riccardo Annibaldi and his followers, six of whom are named, intervened (Cardinal Giacomo Savelli, later Honorius IV, who was present, puts the blame on all the people of Viterbo).  The date, according to Cardinal Simon de Brion's own recollection, was February 2, 1281, the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The mob attacked the Episcopal Palace, broke into the Conclave, and abducted two of the Orsini cardinals:  Matteo Rosso Orsini, Giordano Orsini (the late pope's brother).   Antoninus of Florence states in his history that Latino Frangipani Malabranca (Nicholas III's nephew), the senior Cardinal Bishop, was also abducted, but released shortly afterwards; but this seems to be in conradiction to Cardinal Savelli, who clearly states that two Orsini cardinals were seized.  In fact, Cardinal Giordano Orsini was released after three days of incarceration, having agreed to some terms imposed upon him by his captors, according to Cardinal Simon de Brion, while Cardinal Matteo Rosso Orsini was held until the Election was concluded.  This outrage brought upon the perpetrators, and all of Viterbo, excommunication and the Interdict.  It was also a powerful message to the rest of the Sacred College to get on with the business of electing a pope, who had better be one of the Anjou faction.  Nonetheless, it took more than two weeks after the return of Giordano Orsini for the Cardinals to come to an agreement on a French candidate.  The Sede Vacante lasted six months and six days.

The   Chronicon de rebus in Italia gestis (p. 374) notes:

Die sabbati XXII mensis februarii in civitate Viterbii cardinales in concordia ellegerunt in summum pontificem dominum Symonem de Turso cardinalem francigenam et vocatum est nomen ejus Martinus quartus. cessavit autem appostolatus per VI menses.

Simon de Brion himself, electus episcopus servus servorum Dei, wrote immediately to his friend King Philip of France, although (as he admits in the letter) it was contrary to papal etiquette to send letters, especially to monarchs, before one's coronation [Martène-Durand, Veterum scriptorum II, 1282]:

exigit  a nobis, ut quo ad te, filium praedilectum apud nos dilectionis praerogitavi gaudentem, hujusmodi observantia non servata, nec praedictis solemnibus expectatis, nostrae promotionis singularis nuntatio praeveniret, nostri spiritus humilitate denuntians, nos tunc tituli S. Ceciliae presbyterum cardinalem in festo cathedrae spostolorum principis, concordi fratrum nostrorum electione, promotum in sui pontificis successorem.

On Saturday, February 22, 1281, the Feast of St. Peter's Chair, Cardinal Simon de Brion was elected pope. He took the name Martin IV.  In his announcement of his election, Incomprehensibilia Dei iudicia, he protests that he was most unwilling to assume the papal office until compelled by the requests of the cardinals, but that is conventional rhetorical decoration, not history [Bullarium Romanum Turin edition 4 (1859), p. 48].

Almost immediately—as he related later in a letter addressed to King Charles of Sicily—Pope Martin sent two cardinals, Latino Orsini and Goffredo da Alatri, to Rome, in an attempt to come to a peaceful understanding with his subjects. He proposed Quadragesima as the time for his consecration, in a letter [Martène-Durand, Veterum scriptorum II, 1281] addressed to the Romans that accompanied the two Cardinals [Baronius-Theiner 22, pp. 483-484 no. 5; Martène-Durand, Veterum scriptorum II, 1285]:

Hinc ut saluti tam spiritualium filiorum provisio paterna succurreret, damnis occurreret, et tantae ipsius nostrae devotionis instantiae desiderata satisfactio proveniret, nostrae consecrationis solemnia, non sine multorum persuasione contraria, non absque negotiorum nobis imminentium ad retardatae ipsorum expeditionis accelerationem instantium impedimento distulimus, ad Urbem eamdem venerabili fratri L. Ostiensi episcopo et dilecto filio G(offredo da Alatri) S. Georgii ad Velum aureum diacono cardinali, velut pacis angelis destinatis, ut inibi statum reformando pacificum, sop0irent odia, concordarent corda discordia, et in unitate caritatis unirent, nobisque ad eundi Urbem eamdem ad prosequenda praesertim eadem solemnia, opportunitatem curiae nostrae, eamque sequentibus necessaria praepararent.  Quibus diligenter sollicitudini eis comissae vacantibus, licet in illius executione ipsis non solum principalium partium aperta discordia, verun etiam dissensiones particulares, quae inimico homine superseminante zizania quotidie multiplicabantur obstiterent, tandem faciente, ut credulitas devota supponit, pacis actore, illa sola via remedii ad obtinendum ipsius Urbis tranquillitatem, quam per hoc spec verisimilis promittebat, et eventus exsolvit huc usque praeter intentionem mittentis occurrit, ut vobis regimen Urbis committeretur ejusdem.

but the Romans refused him permission to come to Rome to be crowned at the Vatican Basilica.  On Monday, March 10, 1281, however, the two senators of Rome, Gentile di Bertoldo de' Figli d'Orso and Pietro del Conte, held a general assembly on the Capitol, at which they elected Martin IV in his personal capacity (non ratione Papatus vel Pontificalis dignitatis, sed ratione suae personae) to the regimen senatus Urbis,  that is they named him Senator of Rome, and they authorized him to elect anyone he pleased as Senator in his place [Baronius-Theiner 22, sub anno 1281, no. 15, p. 487; Olivieri, Il senato romano, p. 201].

Pope Martin, however, turned over the rule of the city to King Charles, as Senator of Rome, Rector of the Campagna, of the Duchy of Spoleto, and of the Patrimony of S. Peter [Muratori, RIS III. 1, p. 609].  Martin himself positively refused to be crowned in Viterbo  [Bernardus Guidonis, "Vita Nicolai III" in RIC III. 1, p. 606, 608], and therefore was crowned instead in Orvieto, on March 23, 1281.  He was consecrated Bishop of Rome by Cardinal Latinus Malabranca, Bishop of Ostia.

On the same day (apparently) as his coronation, he created new cardinals, including four Frenchmen, severely diluting thereby the influence of the Roman element, and specifically the Orsini element in the Sacred College; it may also be noted that there were no regular clergy among the appointees   [Bernardus Guidonis, "Vita Nicolai III" in RIC III. 1, p. 608 and a ms. from the Ambrosian Library, p. 609; Eubel. p. 10]:

and promoted one cardinal to the rank of Suburbicarian Bishop:




Chronicon Placentinum et Chronicon de rebus in Italia gestis (edited by J.L.A. Huillard-Bréholles (Paris: Plon 1856). Giovanni Villani, Cronica VII. 54-58.   A. Bertani, Monumenta historica ad provincias Parmensem et Placentinam pertinentia. Chronica Fr. Salimbene Parmensis, Ordinis Minorum (Parmae: Petrus Fiaccadori 1857)   S. Antoninus of Florence ( † 1459 ) Tertii Pars Historialis, seu Cronice (Basel: Nicolaus Kesler, 1502).

Edmundus Martène & Ursinus Durand, Veterum scriptorum et monumentorum amplissima collectio Tomus II (Parisiis: apud Franciscum Montalant, 1724).

Francesco Cristofori,  Il conclave del MCCLXX in Viterbo  (Roma-Siena-Viterbo 1888). 

Augustinus Theiner (Editor), Caesaris S. R. E. Cardinalis Baronii, Od. Raynaldi et Jac. Laderchii Annales Ecclesiastici   Tomus Vigesimus Secundus 1257-1285 (Barri-Ducis: Ludovicus Guerin 1870) [Baronius-Theiner] (letter of Honorius IV)

Lorenzo Cardella, Memorie storiche de' cardinali della Santa Romana Chiesa Tomo primo Parte secondo (Roma: Pagliarini 1792) 303-305.  Ludovico Antonio Muratori, Annali d' Italia Volume 19 (Firenze 1827), 30-31. Giuseppe de Novaes, Elementi per la storia de' Sommi Pontefici terza edizione Volume III (Roma 1821) 266-273; Volume IV (Roma 1821) 3-9.   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.  Augustin Demski, Papst Nikolaus III, Eine Monographie (Münster 1903). F. Gregorovius, History of Rome in the Middle Ages, Volume V.2 second edition, revised (London: George Bell, 1906) 491-495. M. Backes, Kardinal Simon de Brion (Breslau 1910).

Actenstücke: A. Fanta, F. Kaltenbrunner, E.v. Ottenthal (editors), Actenstücke zur Geschichte des Deutschen Reiches unter den Königen Rudolf I. und Albrecht I. (Wien 1889).   Johann Peter Kirsch, Die FInanzverwaltung des Kardinalkollegiums im XIII. und XIV. Jahrhundert (Münster 1895).

On the Annibaldi: Fedele Savio, SJ, "Gli Annibaldi di Roma nel secolo XIII," Studi e documenti di storia e diritto 17 (1896) 353-363. M. Dikmans, "D' Innocent III à Boniface VIII. Histoire des Conti et des Annibaldi," Bulletin de l' Institut historique belge de Rome 45 (1975) 19-211.

On Bernard Ayglier, OSB, abbot of Montecassino, see: Luigi Tosti, OSB, Storia della Badia di Monte-cassino Tomo III (Napoli 1843) 6-32; 65-89 On Ayglerio, Bernard's brother, also a Benedictine of Montecassino, the Archbishop of Naples (1267-November 6, 1281), see: F. M. Zigarelli, Biografie dei Vescovi e Arcivescovi della Chiesa di Napoli (Napoli: G. Gioja 1861) 60-63.

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

Agostino Paravicini Bagliani, I testamenti dei cardinali del Ducento (Roma 1980).

August 6, 2013 11:35 PM

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