(Feb. or Mar. 931–Dec. 935 or Jan. 936)
A Roman, in his early twenties but already cardinal priest of Sta Maria in Trastevere, he succeeded Stephen VII through the influence of his mother Marozia (d. after 932), patrician and senatrix, at this time the all-powerful ruler of Rome. He was, according to Liutprand of Cremona (c. 920–72), but also LP, her illegitimate son by Pope Sergius III, an allegation which is now generally questioned; she expected him to be her tool, and her object in getting him appointed was to enhance her own authority and power.
One of his first acts was, on the petition of its abbot Odo (878/9–942), to confirm the privileges of protection by the holy see and free election of abbots enjoyed by the reforming abbey of Cluny, in Burgundy, since its foundation in 909, and to encourage it to become the model for other monasteries seeking reform. This is the first known act of papal ‘exemption’. At the same time he granted similar privileges to Odo's monastery at Déols. When the eastern emperor Romanus I (920–44) invited him (early 932) to approve the appointment of his 16-year-old son Theophylact as patriarch of Constantinople, he readily gave his dispensation and dispatched two bishops as his legates to take part in the boy's consecration and enthronement (27 Feb. 933). Marozia may have had a hand in this decision, which understandably shocked the eastern church, for she was trying to arrange a marriage between her little daughter Bertha and one of the royal princes whom Romanus had raised to the dignity of associate Caesar.
In summer 932 Marozia, now a widow for the second time but insatiably ambitious, married Hugh of Provence, king of Italy (926–48), then at the height of his power. John must have officiated at the wedding, although it was uncanonical by the standards of the time since Hugh was his bride's brother-in-law. The union was unpopular with the Romans, suspicious of foreign rule, and provoked a revolt, incited by Alberic II (c. 905–54), Marozia's son by her first marriage, whom Hugh had insulted at the wedding-feast and who had his own reasons for viewing the marriage with dismay. In Dec. 932 the armed mob stormed Castel Sant'Angelo, where the royal couple were installed and from which Marozia dominated the city. Hugh was lucky to escape with his life, but Alberic imprisoned both his mother and his half-brother the pope, and then had himself proclaimed prince of Rome, senator of all the Romans, count and patrician. In fact, he was to govern Rome firmly and successfully until his death in 954. Nothing more is heard of Marozia, but John seems to have been released from prison though kept under house arrest in the Lateran and limited to strictly ecclesiastical functions. Liutprand of Cremona remarked that Alberic treated John as his personal slave, while the chronicler Flodoard (d. 966) dismissed him in a contemptuous hexameter as ‘powerless, lacking all distinction, administering only sacraments’.
LP ii. 243JW i. 454 f.ZPR 40–46PL 132: 1055–62Liutprand of Cremona, Leg62 (PL136: 934)Flodoard, De Chr. trium. 12. 7 (PL 135: 832)L. Duchesne, ‘Serge III et Jean XI’, MelArchHist33 (1913), 25–64P. Fedele, ASRomana 33 (1910), 211–40Seppelt ii. 355 f.Z2: 77–84, 88, 97Mann iv. 191–204DBI lv. 571–3 (C. Gnocchi)Histoire iv. 782–3 (M. Parisse)Levillain ii. 839–40 (H. Zimmermann)NCE vii. 925 (M. A. Mulholland)Partner 82–4