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Nicholas IV

(1227—1292)


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(22 Feb. 1288–4 Apr. 1292)

The vacancy after Honorius IV's death dragged on for almost eleven months. The conclave, held in Honorius' new palace, was hopelessly divided, and when six cardinals died in the intense summer heat and most of the others fell sick it suspended its meetings. Only a Franciscan friar, Girolamo Masci, stayed on in Rome, and when the cardinals reassembled in Feb. 1288 they unanimously elected him as a compromise on 15 Feb.; they quashed his initial refusal by electing him again on 22 Feb. Born on 30 Sept. 1227 at Lisciano, near Ascoli Piceno, son of a clerk, he early joined the Franciscans, became provincial of their Dalmatian province in 1272, and in 1274 succeeded the theologian and mystic Bonaventura (c.1217–74) as general of the order. In 1272 he was one of the envoys sent by Gregory X to Constantinople to negotiate the presence of Greek delegates at the projected second council of Lyons (1274). When he was on a peace-making mission to France in 1278, Nicholas III named him cardinal priest of Sta Pudenziana (though he still remained for several months general of the Franciscans), and sought his advice when preparing his bull on poverty (Exiit qui seminat, 14 Aug. 1279); Martin IV created him cardinal bishop of Palestrina.

The first Franciscan to become pope, Nicholas was, like his predecessor, elected senator of Rome for life, but was prevented by intermittent disorders from residing there continuously. He was himself partly to blame for the infighting of aristocratic houses, for in contrast to his predecessors he singled out the Colonna family, with which he had earlier had ties, for favour in an effort to buttress the position of the papacy. One of its members he created cardinal, others he appointed to administrative positions in the papal state, while in 1290 he arranged for the energetic Giovanni Colonna to be elected sole senator. So marked was his subservience to the Colonna that he was popularly lampooned as enclosed in a pillar (their family emblem) with only his tiara-crowned head emerging. Yet these jibes did not deter him from making Rome the home of famous artists like Arnolfo di Cambio, Pietro Cavallini, and Giacomo Torriti, or from using their talents to remodel and embellish St John Lateran and Sta Maria Maggiore; close to the latter he constructed a palace which he made his principal residence when in Rome.

Nicholas carried out the curia's policies in regard to both Rudolf I of Habsburg (1273–91), emperor-designate, and Sicily. He corresponded with Rudolf about the date of his much-delayed coronation, but nothing came of the exchanges, and the king died without the imperial diadem in 1291. He spent time and effort trying to compel Aragón to restore Sicily to the house of Anjou, which had lost it after the Sicilian Vespers (30 Mar. 1282). He organized an alliance of Castile with France against Aragón, annulled the treaty of Champfranc (28 Oct. 1288) which confirmed James of Aragón as king of Sicily (1285–95), and on 29 May 1289 crowned Charles II of Salerno (1285–1309), Charles of Anjou's (1265–85) heir, as king of Naples and Sicily at Rieti, first, however, making him do homage to himself as his overlord and promise not to accept any office in Rome or the papal state without his approval. When James successfully attacked the south Italian mainland, he authorized tithes to finance Charles's resistance, but in Aug. 1289 had to accept an armistice arranged by Edward I of England (1272–1307). He released Alfonso III of Aragón (1285–91) from his excommunication when he undertook, in a treaty with Charles II and Philip IV of France (1285–1314), not to assist his brother James of Sicily. But Sicily had not been isolated as he hoped; Alfonso died on 18 June 1291, James became king of Aragón as well as Sicily, and he appointed his brother Frederick as vicegerent of the island.

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


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