(22 June 816–24 Jan. 817)
A Roman of aristocratic family, brought up from childhood in the Lateran under Hadrian I, he succeeded Leo III, who had ordained him subdeacon and deacon. Conciliatory and universally popular, he was probably chosen to heal the divisions at Rome opened up by his predecessor. He was also the first pope elected since the establishment of the Carolingian empire; the role of the Frankish emperor in papal elections and in relation to the papal state was still undefined.
After making the people of Rome swear allegiance to Charlemagne's successor, Louis the Pious (814–40), Stephen dispatched envoys to him to announce and give an account of his election, and to ask for a personal meeting. The meeting took place at Reims in Oct. 816, the pope being welcomed with elaborate ceremonial, and at a festive mass in the cathedral Stephen anointed and crowned Louis and his consort Irmengard, using an alleged ‘crown of Constantine’ which he had brought from Rome for the purpose. This was the first anointing of an emperor by a pope; Louis, who had been crowned as co-emperor in 813, must have regarded the whole ceremony as spiritually reinforcing his royal position, but it was historically important as suggesting that the intervention of the pope was necessary for the full exercise of the imperial power. The two held prolonged daily discussions, the detail of which can only be guessed; but it is certain that the emperor formally renewed the long-standing pact of friendship and protection between the Frankish crown and the holy see. Further, the guarantees for the autonomy of the papal state and the freedom of papal elections embodied in the ‘privilege’ which Louis was later to grant to Stephen's successor, Paschal I, must have been worked out at Reims. A concession which Stephen obtained, important for peace at home, was a pardon for the aristocratic conspirators whom Charlemagne had banished to Gaul in 800 for their part in the rebellion against Leo III.
When Stephen set off for Rome with the amnestied exiles, Louis loaded him with sumptuous gifts and presented him with a royal villa near Troyes. Just three months after reaching the city the pope died.
LP ii. 49–51 (Davis 2: 231–3)JW i. 316–18MGSS 2: 466–516, 585–648Seppelt ii. 201–3DHGE xv. 1193 f. (A. Dumas)EThC 141 (S. Scholz)Levillain iii. 1458 (F. Marazzi)NCE xiii. 518–19 (R. Sullivan)Mann ii. 111–21Noble, 330–35