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Alexander IV

(b. 1254)


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(12 Dec. 1254–25May 1261)

On the death of Innocent IV at Naples the cardinals wished to return to Rome, but the mayor forced them to proceed to an election there and then by bolting the city gates. They then concurred in the election of Rinaldo, son of Philip count of Ienne and a nephew of Gregory IX, who made him cardinal deacon of S. Eustachio in 1227 and cardinal bishop of Ostia in 1231. Born in the closing years of the 12th century, gentle, indecisive, and undistinguished, he was given relatively minor responsibilities under Gregory IX (though he was papal chamberlain from 1217 to 1231), and under Innocent IV remained in the background, preoccupied with the problems of the Franciscan order, of which he was cardinal protector. The curia, a section of which was critical of Innocent IV's implacable hostility to the Hohenstaufen, may have hoped that, having earlier enjoyed excellent relations with Emperor Frederick II (1220–50), he would adopt a more conciliatory line.

In the event Alexander was too weak, or had no wish, to modify his predecessor's policies. The most urgent problem was Sicily, which the curia wished restored to the holy see but which Frederick II's bastard son Manfred (c.1232–66) controlled as regent on behalf of Conradin (d. 1268), infant son of Frederick's heir Conrad IV (d. 1254). After abortive negotiations Alexander excommunicated Manfred in Mar. 1255. Although Conradin was a ward of the holy see and the pope had promised to protect his rights, which included the dukedom of Swabia and the kingdom of Sicily, he now called on the nobles of Swabia to recognize the claims of Alfonso X of Castile (1252–84) instead, and on 9 Apr. 1255 enfeoffed Edmund (1245–96), second son of Henry III of England (1216–72), with Sicily. He cancelled the arrangement, however, in 1258 because Henry could not meet the exorbitant military and financial conditions laid down, but had no alternative solution. Meanwhile a campaign to reassert papal authority in Sicily ended in defeat; by 1258 the entire kingdom was firmly in Manfred's hands and on 10 Aug., on a rumour that Conradin was dead, he had himself proclaimed king at Palermo. Alexander's fulminations were treated with contempt, and before long most of the papal state, the March of Ancona, Spoleto, and Romagna came into Manfred's power; he dominated northern Italy, too, through a league of cities under his leadership. Even in Rome, a city so racked by power struggles that Alexander resided mainly at Viterbo, the Ghibellines, or Hohenstaufen party, contrived to get Manfred elected senator in spring 1261.

In the interregnum in Germany following Conrad IV's death in 1254, Alexander supported the anti-king William of Holland elected after Innocent IV's deposition of Frederick II, but on William's death in 1256 he characteristically could not make up his mind between Richard of Cornwall (1209–72) and Alfonso of Castile when both were elected; his main concern was that Conradin should not be chosen. If he lacked political insight, however, and even failed to nominate any cardinals, he was more at home in strictly church affairs. Thus he took steps to reverse the exploitation of the system of papal provisions to benefices which Innocent IV had practised. He reopened (1256) with Emperor Theodore II Lascaris of Nicaea (1254–8) the reunion discussions started by Innocent IV, but without result; and he sought to organize a crusade against the Mongols. Devoted to the mendicant orders, he revoked the restrictions imposed by Innocent IV on their pastoral and preaching activities; he himself founded the Augustinian Hermits in 1256 by banding together several Italian congregations of hermits under the rule of St Augustine. He canonized Clare of Assisi (1194–1253), foundress of the Poor Clares, in 1255. In 1256 he decided in favour of the friars at the university of Paris when the secular clergy challenged their teaching. He also produced an important new set of rules for the monastery of Subiaco, of which the counts of Ienne were feudal lords. But these modest interventions were overshadowed by the humiliation in which, when he died at Viterbo, his reign ended.

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Subjects: Christianity — Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500).


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