During his pontificate, Boniface had created fifteen cardinals, none of them French [Eubel, Hierarchia Catholica I second edition, pp. 12-13; Cardella II, 49-70]. This was a deliberate policy, to redress the imbalance created by Celestine V under the influence of the Angevin Charles II of Naples. It was also a response to the breach between Pope Boniface and King Philip IV of France. Seven of the new cardinals were relatives of various popes. Three new Franciscan cardinals balanced the number of Benedictines created by Celestine. For the year 1296, around Pentecost, there is a list of cardinals, twenty-three in number, in the records of the Chamber of the College of Cardinals [J. Kirsch, Die Finanzverwaltung des Kardinalkollegiums (Munster 1895), p. 115].
He and the French King were, in fact, locked in what was both a struggle of wills and a power struggle, each trying to reduce the other to compliance. In September 1302 the Pope had excommunicated the King (Raynaldus, sub anno 1302, xvi; p. 329; done on the Feast of the Dedication of St. Peter's Basilica). But on November 24 Pope Boniface sent Cardinal Jean de Cressi "Le Moine", OSB, Cardinal Priest of Ss. Marcellino e Pietro, to France as his legate, giving him the power to lift the excommunication (Raynaldus sub anno 1302, xv; p. 330). This overture to composing their differences was rejected by King Philip.
King Philip had decided to carry the dispute to the Pope's front door. He sent his Chancellor, Guillaume de Nogaret, to Italy, to raise opposition to Boniface within the Papal States. Assisting Guillaume were Jean Monschet, a French gentleman, and two 'hommes de robe', Thierry d' Hiricon and Jacques de Gefferin (Baillet, 168). They made the castle of Staggia near Siena, which belonged to Mussiato de Francesis of Florence, their headquarters. Giovanni Villani's chronicle (Book VIII, chapter 65) provides the dramatic outlines of the events of Boniface's last weeks:
After the said strife had arisen between Pope Boniface and King Philip of France, each one sought ot abase the other by every method and guise that was possible: the Pope sought to oppress the king of France with excommunications and by other means to deprive him of his kingdom; and with this he favored the Flemings, [Philip's] rebellious subjects, and entered into negotiations with King Albert of Germany, encouraging him to come to Rome for the Imperial Benediction and to cause the Kingdom to be taken from King Charles, his kinsman, and to stir up war against the king of France on the borders of his realm on the side of Germany.
The king of France, on the other hand, was not asleep, but with great caution, and by the counsel of Stefano della Colonna and of other sage Italians, and men of his own realm, sent one William of Nogaret of Provence, a wise and crafty cleric, with Musciatto Franzesi, into Tuscany, furnished with much ready money, and with drafts on the company of the Peruzzi (which were then his merchants) for as much money as might be needed; the Peruzzi not knowing wherefore. And when they were come to the fortress of Staggia, which belonged to the said Musciatto, they abode there a long time, sending ambassadors and messages and letters; and they caused people to come to them in secret, giving out openly that they were there to treat concerning peace between the Pope and the king of France, and that for this cause they had brought the money; and under this color they conducted secret negotiations to take Pope Boniface prisoner in Anagni.
And as it had been purposed, so it came to pass. For Pope Boniface being with his cardinals and with all the Court in the city of Anagni in Campania, where he had been born and was at home, not thinking or knowing of this plot, not being on his guard, or if he heard anything of it, through his great courage not heeding it, or perhaps, as it pleased God, by reason of his great sins—in the month of September, 1303, Sciarra della Colonna, with his mounted followers, to the number of 300, and many of his friends on foot, paid by money of the French king, with troops of the lords of Ceccano and of Supino, and of other barons of the Campagna, and of the sons of Maffio of Anagni, and, it is said, with the consent of some of the cardinals which were in the plot, one morning early entered into Anagni, with the ensigns and standards of the king of France.... they rode through the city without any hindrance ... and when they came to the Papal Palace, they entered without opposition and took the palace, since the assault was not expected by the Pope and his retainers, and they were not on their guard. Pope Boniface—hearing the uproar, and seeing himself forsaken by all his cardinals who had fled and were in hiding, whether through fear or through malice, and by the most part of his servants, and seeing that his enemies had taken the city and the palace where he was—gave homself up for lost.... but he caused himself to be robed in the mantle of Saint Peter, and with the crown of Constantine on his head, and with the keys and the cross in his hand, he seated himself upon the papal throne.
And when Sciarra and the others, his enemies, came to him, they mocked at him with vile words and arrested him and his household which had remained with him. Among others, William of Nogaret, who had conducted the negotiations for the king of France, scorned him and threatened him, saying that he would take him bound to Lyons on the Rhone, and there in a general council would cause him to be deposed and condemned.... no man dared to touch [Boniface], nor were they pleased to lay hands on him, but they left him robed under light arrest and were minded to rob the treasure of the Pope and the Church. In this pain, shame and torment, the great Pope Boniface abode prisoner among his enemies for three days,,,. the People of Anagni beholding their error and issuing from their blind ingratitude, suddenly rose in arms... and drove out Sciarra della Colonna and his followers, with loss to them of prisoners and slain, and freed the Pope and his household. Pope Boniface... departed immediately from Anagni with his court and came to Rome and St. Peter's to hold a council... but... the grief which had hardened in the heart of Pope Boniface, by reason of the injury which he had received, produced in him, once he had come to Rome, a strange malady so that he gnawed at himself as if he were mad, and in this state he passed from this life on the twelfth day of October in the year of Christ 1303, and in the Church of St. Peter near the entrance of the doors, in a rich chapel which was built in his lifetime, he was honorably buried. [see at the end for the discovery of his tomb and body]
Bernard Guidonis says that the attack on the Pope took place on the Vigil of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, September 7, and he adds that the pope was deserted by all of the cardinals except Niccolò Boccasini and Pedro Rodriguez, and betrayed by some of his own household (Raynaldus, sub anno 1303, xli, p. 357; Muratori, RIS, p. 672):
Eodem anno millesimo trecentesimo tertio in Vigilia Nativitatis B. Maria Virginis, dum Bonifacius Papa Anagnia in patrio solo et civitate propriae originis tum suae curiae resideret, ubi tutus esse amplius merito crederetur in gente sua, et populo et natione, ibidem consciis aliquibus domesticis suis proditus fuit, captusque, atque tentus; et thesaurus suus et ecclesiae depraedatur et asportatur, non sine ignominia ecclesiae et dedecore grandi. Cardinales vero timentes, relicto eo, fugerunt, duobus exceptis, scilicet Domino Petro Hyspani Sabinensi et Domino Nicolao Ostiense Episcopis. Hujus captionis et sceleris vexillifer fuit Guillelmus de Nogareto de Sancto Felice Diocesis Tholosanae, complicibus et consentaneis Columpnensibus ex quibus duos olim decapellaverit Cardinales. Super ipsum itaque Bonifacium, qui reges et pontifices ac religiosos clerumque ac populum horrendo tremere fecerat et pavere repente, tomor et tremor ac dolor una die pariter irruerunt, aurumque nimis ssitens perdidit et thesaurum, ut ejus exemplo discant superiores praelati non superbe dominari in clero et populo, sed forma facti gregis ex animo curam gerere subditorum, priusque avari appetant quam timeri.
Many of these details are confirmed by an anonymous account of the main part of the attack. The presence of Cardinal Niccolò Boccasini is confirmed by his own Bull as Pope Benedict XI, Flagitiosum scelus (Perugia, June 13, 1304: Tosti, pp. 544-545), haec palam, haec publice, haec notorie et in nostris etiam oculis patrata fuerunt. Saint Antonino, son of Niccolo Pierozzi, Bishop of Florence (1389-1459), in his universal chronicle, continues the story of Boniface's confrontation with Philip's Chancellor, Guillaume Nogaret, a man whose grandfather had been burned by the Inquisition as a Patarene heretic (Raynaldus, sub anno 1303, xli; p. 357):
Animadvertent civitatem captam et palatium suum, judicavit [Bonifatius] se mortuum esse; sed ut magnanimus et inperterritus ait:"Ex quo proditore sicut Jesus Christus captus sum et deditus sum in manibus inimicorum ut occidar, ut Papa mori decerno." Et fecit se parari vestibus sacris cum pallio seu ammictu B. Petri et corona aurea a Constantino Silvestro Papae collata, et cum clavibus et cruce in manibus resedit in papali throno. Ad quem accedens dictus Sciarra cum aliis suis inimicis verbis contumeliosis aggressi sunt Pontificem et deriserunt circumstantes eum et familiares ejus et qui cum ipso remanserunt. Inter alios eum illusit Guillelmus de Lungbarreto, qui pro Rege Franciae tractatum duxerat captura Pontificis, et minatus est ei, quod ligatum upsum doceret Lugdunum ut in generali concilia solemniter deponeretur. Cui Papa, non corde deficiens, respondit: "Patienter feram me condemnari et damnari et deponi per Patarenos cujusmodi ipse erat cum progenitoribus suis ut Patarenis igne conbustis." Quibus verbis confusus Dominus Guillelmus cum rubore reticuit. Domino autem disponente ob dignitatem Apostolicae Sedis nemo ex inimicis ejus ausus fuit mitter in eum manus, sed indutum sacris vestibus dimiserunt sub honesta custodia et ipsi insistebant praeda, diripientes thesaurum ejus et ecclesiae quem in palatio Papae invenerunt.
Permansit Pontifex ipse custoditus tribus diebus. Tertia autem die surrexit a custodia liber sine precibus alicuius aut procuratione, Domino illustrante et velamen suae caecae ingratitudinis a populo Anagniae auferente. Recognoscentes ergo errorem suum cives Anagniae cum popula arma corriupuerunt in favorem Antistitis, clamantes per urbem, "Vivat Papa et moriantur proditores!" Et discurrentes per civitatem Anagniam ejecerunt Sciarram de Columna suosque complices de ea, pluribus ex eis captis et aliis occisis. Liberatus igitur Pontifex Bonifacius cum familia sua, dolore nimis absortus ex tanto dedecore cum tota Curia inde discedent, Roman remeavit ad S. Petrum, disponens concilium convocare ob injuriam sibi et eccleisae factam vindicandum contra Regem Franciae.
After a three day captivity at the hands of Guillaume Nogaret and Sciarra Colonna, Boniface was liberated by the citizens of Anagni and returned to Rome first to the Lateran Palace (according to Jacopo Caetani Stefaneschi: Raynaldus, xlii, p. 358) and then to the Vatican, intent on summoning a council to deal with the outrage. It is said by the Continuator of the Ecclesiastical History of Ptolemy of Lucca that Cardinal Matteo Rosso Orsini protected the Pope during his return to Rome (quoted in Cipolla, p. 155 n. 2):
populus Anagninus conversus est ad ipsum, cum aliquibus cardinalibus, et sic liberatus est Bonifacius de manibus eorum, et deductus Romam, sub protectione quorumdam cardinalium et praecipue d. Matthaei Rubei de Ursinis et in palatio Sancti Petri locatus, licet promo venerit ad Sanctum Iohannem de Laterano.
This confirms what Ferreto reports, quod Ursinorum primi Matheus et Iacobus prescientes ne hostis Urbem intraret neve Bonifacius de ipsis male conciperet, magna virorum copia fulti obviam exierunt, et apostolicum adventantem inter se capientes, illum ad sedem iuxta templum Apostolorum magno impetu perduxere. One of the cardinals who had betrayed the pope was Napoleone Orsini (Ferreto, p. 153 Cipolla; Tosti, 384), another Riccardo Petroni of Siena (Tosti, 387). News of what had happened at Anagni brought King Charles from Naples, along with his two sons, Robert Duke of Apulia and Philip Prince of Taranto, as well as military forces.
Pope Boniface died in the Vatican Palace on December 11, 1303, thirty-five days after the assault against him at Anagni. Jacopo Caetani Stefaneschi, an eyewitness, wrote of his return and his last days:
Protinus hunc solvit rediens festinus in almam
Urbem, quippe sacram, miro circumdatus orbe,
Vallatusque armis. O mira potentia tantis
Enodata malis! Numquam sic glorius armis,
Sic festus susceptus ea, cleroque decorus,
Insignisve fuit, cunctos ubi ferrea texunt.
Prima patrem sedes Lateranensis suscipit: inde
Aetherei Petri, cujus miracula seclo
Clara patent. Siquidem proprium defendere servum,
Tutarique patrem curae est devotius illi
Obnixum, tumulumque suum procumbere templo
Claviger imperitas. Paucl nam tempore fluxo,
Decursoque die, lecto prostratus anhelus
Procubuit, fassusque fidem, veramque professus
Romana ecclesia, Christo tunc redditur almus
Spiritus, et saevi jam nescit judiciis iram.
Sed mitem placidamque patris, ceu credere fas est.
During the reign of Boniface VIII, twelve cardinals had died: from the group which had elected him were Hugues de Billon, Matthew of Acquasparta, Gerardo Bianchi, Simon de Beaulieu, Berardus de Got, Pietro Peregrosso, Tommaso de Aquila, Pietro de L' Aquila, Guillaume Ferrières, Nicolas de Nonancourt, Simon de Caritate, and Giovanni Castrocoeli. With his own death nine cardinals from the conclave of 1294 were still alive. Boniface himself had created fifteen cardinals, of whom four had died. Benedetto Caetani, Giacomo Tommasi-Caetani, Pietro Duraguerra, and Gonzalo Gudiel. A list of the electors has been assembled by Conrad Eubel, Hierarchia Catholica I second edition, p. 13 n. 10. See also: Cardella II, pp. 49-70. Ferreto of Vicenza gives a complete list of the cardinals (p. 170-171 ed. Cipolla).
There were two cardinals who did not attend, because they had been excommunicated and deposed by Pope Boniface:
The Conclave of 1303 took place in the Vatican Palace, as the regulations of Gregory X specified, not, as some 19th century authors relate, at Perugia [Funke, 9]. The Mass of the Holy Spirit was sung on October 21 [Piatti, VII, 393]. From the beginning the attention of the electors was fixed on Cardinal Niccolò Boccasini, the former Master General of the Dominicans, one of the two cardinals who had remained with Boniface VIII at Anagni. Boccasini had been ambassador to King Philip IV in 1297, in an attempt to bring about peace between France and the England [Funke, 10-11; Ferretton, 29-32]. In the words of Ferreto, "benignus et mitis iurgia oderat et pacem amabat;" he was kind and gentle, hated strife and loved peace.
Benedict XI speaks of the Conclave which elected him in his election manifesto, Opera divinae potentiae (issued from the Lateran on November 1: Raynaldus, sub anno 1303, xlvii; p. 360):
Nuper enim felicis recordationis Bonifacio Papa VIII. praedecessore nostro, sicut Domino placuit, de hac luce subtracto, et sicut speramus post labores impensos ad praemium evocato, ejusque corpore cum exequiarum solemnitate debita tradito ecclesiasticae sepulturae, nos tunc ut praetangitur Episcopus Ostiensis, caeterique fratres nostri episcopi, presbyteri et diaconi Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae Cardinales ad tractandum de Romani substitutione Pontificis in palatio S. Petri de Urbe in quo decesserat pridem ipse, convenimus. Nobisque ac ipsis ad id eligentibus per viam procedere scrutinii, contingit illo faciente, qui concordiam diligit, quod unico facto a publicato scrutinio, tanta finaliter in votis eorumdem fratrum est inventa concordia quod per eos de nobis licet immeritis fuit ad apostolatus officium 11 Kal. Novembris proximo futuri electio celebrata.
The day before, October 31, 1303, he had written to the Archbishop of Milan and his suffragans in the same terms, Dominus ac Redemptor noster [Grandjean, Registre de Benôit XI, no. 1, pp. 1-4].
The date of Cardinal Boccasini's election was October 22, 1303. On his own testimony he was elected on the first ballot.
Cardinal Niccolò Boccasini was crowned as Pope Benedict XI in the Vatican Basilica on Sunday, October 27, 1303, by Cardinal Matteo Rosso Orsini, the Cardinal Protodeacon. In attendance were King Charles II of Naples and his sons (Ferreto, 169-170 ed. Cipolla, though Ferreto's dates of the death of Boniface and election of Benedict are wrong, and he states that the coronation took place in the Lateran Basilica). He reigned for eight months and seventeen days (Raynaldus, sub anno 1304, xxxi; p. 387), or nine months and six days (Panvinio), dying at Perugia on July 7, 1304.
In 1605, during the demolition of some altars of the Old St. Peter's basilica, the tomb of Boniface was discovered. The details are provided by the Ceremonial Diaries of Giovanni Paolo Mucanzio [Gattico I, 478-479]:
Anno 1605. die XI. mensis Octobris dum demolirentur altaria antiquae ecclesiae S. Petri post altare S. Bonifacii Papae IV. in loco eminenti et sub imagine B. Mariae opere musivo depictae in polo marmoreo, inventum est corpus Bonifacii VIII., qui obiit anno dom. 1303. Erat autem ejus corpus fere integrum, et in alia capsa lignea inclusum, quae cum corpore portata fuit in Sacristia Canonicorum et ibi conservata per duos menses, et corpus dicti Pontificis fuit a multis visum. Ego etiam ad illud curiositatis causa videndum semel atque iterum accessi; et vidi dictum corpus integrum conservatum in dicta capsa lignea, in qua fuerat sepultum, post trecentos et duos annos. Facies tamen ejus aliquantulum consumpta erat, ita ut nec narices nec labia, sed tantum mentum et dentes apparerent. Habebat in capite mitram albam admodum parvam, ut conjectare potui, ex tela bombacina, et corpus indutum erat inbibus pontificalibus indumentis, idest caligis, et sandaliis ex tela aurea in summitate acutis, et sine cruce, rocchetto longo, alba, stola, cingulo, dalmatica, tunicella, planeta laba sericea coloris nigri, fanone, et pallio, quod consumptum erat, sed plumbum apparebat et pendebat fere usque ad pedes. Spinulae tres etiam aderant gemmatae. Manus ejus chyrothecis albis sericeis acu factis, et margaritis ornatis indutae erant. anulum pretiosum in digito gestabat nempe zaphyrum, ut quidam dicunt, valoris 300. scutorum.
The body was found nearly intact in a wooden coffin. It was carried to the Sacristy, where it was on view for nearly two months. This is vouched for by Giovanni Paolo Mucanzio, the papal Master of Ceremonies, who saw the body several times. The face was somewhat decayed, so that it had lost both nose and lips, though the jaw and teeth were intact. He had been wearing a short white mitre on his head, and the body was dressed in full pontificals, with stockings and sandals, though many of the vestments were decayed. His hands wore white silk jeweled gloves, and he had a jeweled ring on his finger.
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© 2010 John Paul Adams, CSUN