Today is the 635th anniversary of the election by the College of Cardinals of Cardinal Robert of Geneva as Pope Clement VII at Fondi in 1378. Subsequently he was crowned with the Papal tiara which had been smuggled out of Rome by one of the Cardinals.
Pope Clement VII
As anyone keen on later medieval history and also regular readers of this blog, will be aware from my coverage of the death of Pope Gregory XI and the election of Pope Urban VI earlier that year there was a slight problem with this election - indeed a not so slight one, but rather a substantial one in the person of the very truculent Pope Urban VI who had been elected by the same College on April 8th of the same year. By the summer all of the Cardinals had decided they could not work with him, and argued that the pressures of the Roman mob to elect a Roman or an Italian at the conclave earlier in the year invalidated their freedom of choice. This was the way in which they sought to set Pope Urban aside.
Pope Urban VI receives the keys from St Peter
Relief from his tomb in the Vatican
Photo copyright Courtauld Institute
In 1378 the situation was more far reaching. On this occasion the same College of Cardinals elected two Popes and claimed the pressure of the mob as their reason, but were in effect seeking to depose Pope Urban, of whom opinion has ranged between him being legitimate but difficult and being downright psychopathic. Furthermore the effective power and range of the Papacy had greatly increased since the twelfth century, and the various European powers had their own interests to pursue. Thus as the French backed the French born Cardinals and Pope Clement the English naturally backed Pope Urban. The Scots therefore backed the French choice. The Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV tried to stay neutral, as did the Spanish kingdoms until won over to the Clementine cause, but then the Portuguese turned Urbanist in reaction to the Castilian invasion.... Scandinavia and central Europe tended to be Urbanist, whilst, being areas set aside by fate for conflict, the Low Countries and Italy split along local lines of allegiance...
Both claimants to the See of Peter could, and of course did, claim legitimacy, and hurled anathamas at their opponants, and sought political and diplomatic support.
So there came into being the Great Schism, which outlived both Pope Urban, who died in 1389 and Pope Clement, who having returned to Avignon died there in 1394, several of their respective successors, led to splits between Popes and their Colleges of Cardinals, the Conciliarist Movement, then a split of the Western Church between three Popes (Gregory XII, Benedict XIII and Alexander V or John XXIII) after thr Council of Pisa in 1409, and finally the elction at the Council of Constance in 1417 of Pope Martin V - although a few remained in the Clementine obedience under Benedict XIII and then Clement VIII or Benedict XIV for a decade or so longer, and by now Conciliarism was up and running...
And people think the Church and problems these days...