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Nicholas (V)

(1328—1330)


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(antipope 12 May 1328–25 July 1330: d. 16 Oct. 1333)

Originally Pietro Rainalducci, he was born in humble circumstances at Corvaro, in the Abruzzi, in the third quarter of the 13th century. After five years of marriage he left his wife Giovanna Mattei against her wishes, joined the Franciscans in 1310, and for several years lived at their house at Sta Maria in Aracoeli, Rome. Represented by some contemporaries as a saintly ascetic, by others as a hypocrite of doubtful reputation, he seems to have been a harmless person of little importance. When Emperor Louis IV the Bavarian (1314–47) purported to depose John XXII, pope at Avignon, on 18 Apr. 1328, he had Pietro elected in his place by a committee of thirteen chosen from the Roman clergy on 12 May. Taking the style Nicholas V, he was crowned by Louis on 15 May, and on 22 May named six cardinals and then set about forming a curia. In all he created nine cardinals and about a score of bishops, picked in the main from Augustinian friars and Franciscans who were upset by John XXII's policies. The schism spread from Rome to Milan, wherever the German party was in the ascendant, and owed much to the fierce propaganda of malcontent religious belonging to the two orders. William of Occam (c.1285–1347), a relentless critic of John XXII, and Michael of Cesena (c.1270–1342), the Franciscan general he had deposed, backed Nicholas enthusiastically; while Sicily, weary of the papal interdict which had long rested on it, came over to his obedience, receiving from him a new archbishop of Monreale (18 May 1328) in the person of Jacopo Alberti, one of his cardinals.

When Louis left Rome on 4 Aug. 1328, pursued by the jeers and hisses of the crowd, he took his ‘idol’ (as contemporaries mockingly called Nicholas) with him. The antipope's influence, confined as it was to parts of Italy, was rapidly waning, but he spent some months moving about the papal states, finding time to pillage the church of S. Fortunato, Todi, of all its treasures. On 2 or 3 Jan. 1329 he rejoined the emperor at Pisa, and was accorded a sumptuous welcome. Michael of Cesena, William of Occam, and other leaders of the disaffected Franciscans were in the city, and fortified by their support Nicholas presided on 19 Feb. at a bizarre ceremony in the cathedral at which a straw puppet representing John XXII and dressed in pontifical robes was formally condemned, degraded, and handed over to the secular arm. But when the defection of Azzone Visconti forced Louis to move to north Italy on 11 Apr., Nicholas did not this time accompany him. According to his own account, he had decided to break with his protector, and since Michael of Cesena, William of Occam, and all his cardinals save one now abandoned him, this is probably correct. He found temporary refuge with Count Bonifacio of Doronatico, who hid him for three months in his castle of Burgaro. Alarmed by the approach of a Florentine army, the count then took him back secretly to Pisa. Alerted of his presence there, John XXII, who had excommunicated him, requested (10 May) the count to hand him over. Negotiations were opened, and the pope undertook to spare his life and grant him pardon and a pension of 3,000 florins. Nicholas humbly accepted, on 25 July renounced his office before the archbishop of Pisa and the bishop of Lucca, set sail on 4 Aug., and on 6 Aug. landed at Nice. Arriving at Avignon on 24 Aug., he appeared, once more Pietro of Corvaro, next morning in the papal consistory clad in a Franciscan habit, with a halter round his neck. After he had repeated his abjuration at great length and avowed himself a ‘schismatic pope’, John pardoned him and treated him as leniently as he had promised. For the three remaining years of his life he was detained in honourable confinement in the papal residence. He died on 16 Oct. 1333 and was interred in the church of the Franciscans, Avignon.

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Subjects: Christianity.


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