In June of 1384, angered at the disrespect shown him by King Charles III of Naples (Charles of Durazzo) and the people of the Kingdom, Urban VI retreated to the town of Nocera, which belonged to his nephew, Francesco Butillus. The death of King Charles' competitor for the throne of Naples, Louis Duke of Anjou, in September 1384, made Charles' opposition to Urban and his ambitions much easier. Urban, in fact, was plotting to replace Charles III with his nephew Butillus—an ambition which was, on the face of it, insane. The College of Cardinals, moreover, were appalled at the behavior of Urban, and began to consider action against him. Cardinal Bartholomaeus Mezzavacca ( who was still at Naples with the Curia) along with several other cardinals employed Bartholomaeus of Placentia to engage in enquiries as to what could be done if a pope were insane (a report of which was read by Theoderic of Nyem)
quod si papa esset mente captus aut nimis negligens vel inutilis ad regendum vel adeo inniteretur suo sensui, quod per eius factum periclitaretur iniversalis ecclesia, vel esset effrenis, ita quod absque consilio cardinalium pro libito voluntatis omnia facere vellet, nunquid liceret ipsis cardinalibus super hoc universali ecclesie providere sibique deputare ydoneum curatorem vel aliquos ydoneos curatores ad eorundem cardinalium eleccionem, iuxta cuius seu quorum consilia seu racionis dictamen ipse papa expedire singula ecclesie maiora negocia teneretur....
Mezzavacca also sought the opinions of Masters of Theology and several Doctores in utroque iure. The Sicilian Chronicle (Theoderic de Nyem, ed Erler, p. 78 n. 1) relates that the cardinals conferred with King Charles, Queen Margaret, Mezzavacca, and Villanucio (Prefect of provisions of Naples). Gobelinus Persona, in his Cosmidromius (VI. 78) states that the plan was to capture Urban, convict him of heresy, depose him, and burn him at the stake.
But Urban was warned by Cardinal Tommaso Orsini, and he immediately, on January 11, 1385, ordered the arrest of six cardinals. The Cardinals, Joannes de Amelia, Gentilis de Sangro, Adam de Eston, Ludovicus Donati, Bartholomaeus de Cucurno, and Martinus de Judice (Theoderic of Nyem I. 42, pp. 77-79 Erler), were let down into a cistern, where they languished until they were carried along with Urban in his flight to Genoa. (Five of them were finally killed in December of 1386 on Urban's orders). King Charles and Queen Margaret were excommunicated (Gobelinus Persona, Cosmidromius VI. 78, p. 101 ed. Jansen)
In July of 1385, while Urban VI was at Nocera (Luceriae), there appears to have been serious talk again about deposing him. The Cardinals who were in Naples met with King Charles, according to Theoderic de Nyem (I. 55, pp. 99-100 Erler), and plotted the capture and deposition of Urban:
Interim eciam quod duravit huiusmodi guerra inter regem Karolum et papam predictos, non dabatur licentia curialibus ipsis, qui tunc erant in Neapoli, ut abinde per mare vel terram recedere possent, et huiusmodi causa fuit, quia rex, et qui cum ipso erant cardinales prefati, credebant, quod uitque dictum castrum Lucerie per eiusdem regis Karoli gentes facile vi caperetur sicque ipse Urbanus et sui complices, qui secum erant in eodem castro, ad manus ipsius regis infallibiliter devenirent, quo peracto forsan ad eleccionem novi summi pontificis ipsi curiales essent processuri, sed si interim ipsi curiales recederent, dicti novi pontificis curia non valeret. Sed postquam dictus Urbanus cum suis curialibus et aliis, qui secum erant in ipso castro, abinde recesserunt, ut prefertur, rex et cardinales secum existentes predicti ex hoc plurumum doluerunt timentes indubie, quid ipse Urbanus contra eos postea prout fecit, omnia mala possetenus attemptarent.
A letter survives, written by five cardinals—Pileus de Prata, Lucas Radulfucii, Poncellus Orsini, Bartholomaeus Mezzavacca and Landulphus Marramaldus—at some point after the arrest, imprisonment and torture of the six cardinals began; in this letter they announced to the Clergy of Rome that they had removed themselves from the Obedience of Urban VI and were calling for his removal from the Papal chair as an heretic. Four of the five were deprived of their cardinalates. This brought the number of deposed cardinals to ten. "Urban VI" seems to have had difficulty from beginning to end of his pontificate in keeping the loyalty of his closest advisors.
In a demonstration of extreme displeasure at Urban's greed and lack of scruple in satisfying it, King Richard II, at the urging of Parliament, on October 10, 1389, forbade the collection of untraditional and unapproved subsidies imposed on the Clergy of England by Urban to satisfy his need for money, ad usum suum [Rymer Foedera VII (London 1709) p. 644-645]. The King's orders were imposed on all the bishops of England, as well as the Papal Nuncio and Collector, Jacobus Dardani, and other collectors of papal revenue in England. This action, as it turned out, took place only five days before the death of "Urban VI". The English were, of course, supporters of Urban, considering that the French were supporters of Pope Clement VII.
Theoderic of Nyem ( I. 69; pp. 120-121 Erler) reports that Urban VI had an accident around the Eve of the Assumption (August 14), 1389. He had been staying at Perugia, but left the city on August 8, 1389, intending to head for Rome, and then to move in the direction of the Kingdom of Naples. On the road to Narnia, some ten miles from Perugia, he suffered a fall:
Sed postquam pervenerat ad spacium XXmm miliarium vel circiter a Perusio, mula, super quam sedebat, cespitans ad terram cum pontifice cecidit vehementer, quo casu precipiti dictus Urbanus in diversis partibus corporis lesus non potuit ulterius equitare, et ad eandem civitatem, quam exiverat, redire nolebat, sed se versus Tiburtum ultra Romam in eodem vehiculo portari fecit. Qui cum prope esset iuxta pontem super flumen, quod labitur per Tiburtum, recta via, qua de ipsa urbe ityur ad Tiburtum, et illic tunc pernoctare vellet, multi Romani ad eum venierunt obnixe rogantes quod sibi ad sedem suam redire placere.
Urban was unwilling to agree to go to Rome (he had not been there for more than five years), and his party were ordered to make for Ferentino, since Urban still intended to enter the kingdom of Naples. But his money ran out and he was unable to pay his guard, and so at the beginning of September he arrived in Rome and took to his bed. There were the usual rumors that he had been poisoned (Sozomen, Specimen Historiae, column 1140).
Urban VI (Bartholomeo Prignano) died in Rome, in the Papal Palace at St. Peter's, on October 15, 1389. Next day, xvii kal. Novembris, the papal Chancery issued a series of announcements to each of the potentates of Europe and to the archbishops of the Church, sealed by the three Cardinals who were senior in each order, stating "hesterna die judicio divino et naturali cursu labilis vitae transitus felicis recordationis domini Urbani papae VI..." [Baronius-Theiner, sub anno 1389, x, p 490, prints the copy sent to Wenceslaus, King of the Romans and King of Bohemia]. Urban was buried on the day after his death, October 16, in a modest tomb in the Chapel of S. Andrew in St. Peter's Basilica (Gobelinus, Cosmidromius cap. 81; p. 126 ed. Jansen; Dollinger, anonymous Conclave report, 361):
Anno pontificatus sui duodecimo Urbanus iste Romae obiit et in capella sancti Andreae apud sanctum Petrum sepultus est; ad cuius sepulchrum dum postea veneram, et videns corpus eius non mausoleo, sed communi sepulchro reconditum, infrascrptos vers confeci .... Postea tamen corpus eius in ecclesiam sancti Petri translatum honorificentiori sepulchro traditum est.
The Annales Forolivienses provided an epitaph for Urban VI [Muratori, Rerum Italicarum Scriptores XXII, column 196]:
Fuit enim vir pessimus, crudelis et scandalosus absque consilio Cardinalium, cuius dolis scismata incoepere in Ecclesia Christi.
"He was the worst sort of man, a cause of scandal, and unwilling to take the advice of his Cardinals. Thanks to his tricks, the Schism began in Christ's Church."
Every one of the Cardinals who had participated in the events of April, 1378, had refused to recognize Urban VI or had deserted him. Most of the Curia Romana, too, followed the Cardinals when they elected Robert of Geneva as Clement VII on September 20, 1378. The only cardinals of the "Roman Obedience", therefore, were cardinals who had been created (but not yet killed or deposed) by Urban. A list of the thirteen cardinals who attended the Conclave is given by Konrad Eubel, Hierarchia Catholica editio altera (1913), p. 25, n. 7. Cf. Souchon I, p. 44 n.1. Onuphrio Panvinio (Epitome, pp. 261-262) also lists thirteen cardinals. The anonymous conclave narrative ( Döllinger, p. 361), however, is quite certain, and quite wrong, that there were fourteen cardinals in attendance after Cardinal Bontempi arrived on October 27. Souchon I, 42 n. 1; 44 n. 1.
Panvinio includes as a cardinal who was not in attendance Elziarius (de Sabrano), who died in 1380 [He is certainly referring to the Cardinal Reatinus, Bartholomaeus Mezzavaca, who had been deprived by Urban VI in 1383]. Panvinio also includes Pileus de Prata, who had left the allegiance of Urban VI in June, 1387, and was a supporter of Pope Clement VII. Also named as not attending was Petrus, Bishop of Palencia, of unknown titulus; there was a Petrus Sancius who was Bishop of Palencia in Spain (1396-1403), but he was never a Cardinal; there was no "Petrus" currently in Urban VI's College of Cardinals.
Nine votes were needed for a "canonical" election.
Tomb of Cardinal Adam Eston,
S. Cecilia in Trastevere
The Cardinals met daily during the Novendiales, dispatching such Church business as the apostolic Constitutions allowed. It is known that they wrote letters, on October 16 and 18 to the city of Corneto, urging them to remain faithful to the Roman obedience (Souchon 44 and n. 2; from Theiner, Codex diplomaticus dominii temporalis sanctae sedis II, 658ff.).
The Conclave began on October 25, at the conclusion of the Novendiales, in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican (Döllinger Conclave; Eubel I, 25 n. 7). The Custodian of the Conclave was Cosimo Gentile de' Migliorati, the Vice-Camerlengo (Muratori, Rerum Italicarum Scriptores III. 2, 832).
One narration of the election is provided by Theoderic de Nyem (Dietrich of Niem), Book II, Chapter VI (p. 129 ed. Erler):
Defuncto eodem igitu Urbano, ut prefertur, in urbe in eodem pallacio apostolico prope dictam basilicam principis apostolorum et eius corpore tradito sepulturae cardinales de ipsius obediencia tam illi, qui in Roman presentes, quam alii, qui tunc in propinquis provinciis erant, pro celebranda eleccione futuri poontificis in eadem urbe invicem convenientes dictum Petrum de Thomacellis in papam, postquam multis diebus insimul remanserunt in conclavi, eligerunt. Quo electo, infra horam prandii publicabatur eius eleccio, et statim concurrentibus illic ad dictum pallacium multis Romanis ac curialibus ad maius altare predictum in eodem basilica principis apostolorum more solito trahebatur. Quo facto cum ad pallacium rediret, obviantibus et congratulantibus sibi pluribus, omnibus una sentencia respondit dicens: "Gaudium meum gaudium vestrum est."
Theoderic provides no information whatever as to what happened inside the Conclave.
According to an anonymous Conclave narrative recorded by Panvinio and published by J.J.J. Dollinger, it was discovered after the first scrutiny that there was going to be a major problem. It appeared that Cardinal Acciaioli, a member of the very rich Florentine banking family, had been attempting to engage in simoniacal transactions with most of the cardinals. Some were promised large sums of money, others were offered large benefices in exchange for their votes. Somehow news of what was going on reached outside the sealed conclave and came to the ears of the Roman Officiales. The Senators, Bandarenses and Capita Regionum went to the Cardinals and threatened them with death if they failed to produce an honest election (Echoes of the election of 1378 are unmistakable):
Qua simonia perventa ad audientiam Romanorum, Senatores cum Banderensibus et Capitibus Regionum venerunt catervatim ad cardinales, dicentes, "Nisi feceritis veram electionem sine fraude, nos interficiemus omnes vos."
There would have been difficulties, even without the revelation of Cardinal Acciaioli's scandalous misbehavior. Six of the Cardinals (according to the anonymous Conclave narrative) were committed to Cardinal Poncius Orsini, and six had been won over by Acciaioli. Since nine votes were needed to elect, and only five to veto a candidate, there appeared to be a stalemate. It was Cardinal Carbone, a Neapolitan, who suggested another candidate, his fellow Neapolitan, Perinus Tomacelli. Swift agreement was reached.
Perinus (Pietro) Tomacelli was elected on November 2, 1389; he was in his thirties. Theoderic of Nyem [II. 39], however, says that he was around forty when elected to the papacy. Sozomen (Muratori XVI, 1140) states that he was thirty-three:
Bonifacius Papa IX. die II. Novembris Romae Papa eligitur, qui tunc tertium et trigesimum annum agebat, et licet iuvenis et non nimium eruditus; tamen quia Neapolitanus erat et satis mitis et gratiosus, sua electio laudata fuit.
Perinus Tomacelli, according to the Annales Forolivienses (Muratori, Rerum Italicarum Scriptores XXII, 204), was unlearned and easily led: "indoctus fuit, pulcher et magnus corpore, robustus, benignus, et precibus aliorum faciliter condescens." His known to have studied the liberal arts, and to have been proficient in Rhetoric, but he did not study in any of the higher faculties: Philosophy, Theology, Medicine or Law. Theoderic of Nyem (de scismate II. 6, p. 130 Erler), however, adds that he did not know how to write and that he sang badly: "nesciens scribere, eciam male cantabat." What is probably meant is that he could not write in the style expected from a high-ranking prelate of the Roman church, and his Gregorian chant was substandard. The reasons for his being selected by Urban VI to be a cardinal, on December 21, 1381 (seven years earlier, when he was between twenty-three and thirty-three), are not easily discerned, unless it was that he was cute and agreeable. Nor are the reasons obvious that induced a two-thirds majority of the Cardinals at the Conclave to believe him to be worthy of the Throne of Peter. His family were Neapolitan Patricians, related to the Cibo of Genoa; his mother was a Filomarino. As a youth he was made Canon of the Cathedral of Naples. When he was introduced to Urban in Rome, he is said to have liked Tomacelli's modest bearing and appointed him a Protonotary Apostolic and then Cardinal Deacon of S. Giorgio in Velabro, all allegedly within fifteen days of his arrival in the Eternal City. He was soon promoted to Cardinal Priest of S. Anastasia and Archpriest of the Lateran Basilica (Novaes, Elementi IV, 252), again without obvious qualifications or achievements [his portrait, from S. Giovanni Laterano, at right].
Boniface IX was consecrated, by the Cardinal Bishop of Ostia, Francesco Maricotti, and crowned by the Protodeacon, Cardinal Tomasso Orsini, on November 9 (Eubel I, 25), or on the Feast of St. Martin, November 11 (according to the anonymous Conclave narrative). The procession to the Lateran Basilica for the ceremony of the possessio was much dampened by a continuous downpour [Theoderic of Nyem II. 6, p. 130 Erler].
Pope Clement VII immediately excommunicated Boniface IX. [Baronius-Raynaldi, sub anno 1389, no. 14].
Theodericus de Nyem [Dietrich Niem] [ca. 1338/1348—1418]: Georg Erler (editor), Theoderici de Nyem de scismate libri tres (Lipsiae 1890). Georg Erler, Dietrich von Nieheim [Thoedericus de Nyem]. Sein Leben und seine Schriften (Leipzig: Alfons Dürr 1887).
Gobelinus: Cosmidromius Gobelini Person ed. Max Jansen (Munster i. W.: Aschendorff 1900)
Ludovicus Antonius Muratori, Rerum Italicarum Scriptores Tomus Tertius (Milan 1723), 830-832; 1115.
Sozomen Pistoriensis (xv. century): Ludovicus Antonius Muratori, Rerum Italicarum Scriptores Tomus Decimussextus (Mediolani 1730) 1059-1198.
Raynaldi: Caesaris S. R. E. Cardinalis Baronii, Od. Raynaldi et Jac. Laderchii Annales Ecclesiastici Tomus septimus (Lucca: Typis Leonardi Venturini 1752) [Baronius-Raynaldi]. Caesaris S. R. E. Cardinalis Baronii, Od. Raynaldi et Jac. Laderchii Annales Ecclesiastici denuo excusi et ad nostra usque tempora perducti ab Augusto Theiner Tomus Vigesimus sextus 1356-1396 (Barri-Ducis: Ludovicus Guerin 1872) [Baronius-Theiner]
Johannes J. J. Döllinger (unter der Leitung von), Beiträge zur politischen, kirchlichen, und cultur- Geschichte der sechs letzten Jahrhunderte III. Band (Regensburg: Georg Joseph Manz 1882), pp. 361-362: "Conclave, quo Bonifacius IX. papa creatus est" (Vat. Cod. Lat. Monac. 150, fol. 46)
Martin Souchon, Die Papstwahlen von Bonifaz VIII bis Urban VI (Braunschweig: Benno Goeritz 1888), I 21-51; II, 266-270. F. Gregorovius, History of Rome in the Middle Ages, Volume VI. 2 second edition, revised (London: George Bell, 1906) [Book XII, chapters 3-4], pp. 536-545. L. Zanuto, Il Pontificato di Bonifacio IX (Udine 1904). Wallace St. Clair Baddeley, Charles III of Naples and Urban VI (London: Heinemann 1894).
P. Stacul, Il cardinale Pileo da Prata (Roma 1957).
© 2010 John Paul Adams, CSUN