Urban III


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(25 Nov. 1185–19/20 Oct. 1187)

On the very day of Lucius III's death Umberto Crivelli was unanimously elected in Verona to succeed him. Of an aristocratic, anti-imperial, Milanese family, he was a canon regular and had been archdeacon of Bourges and then of Milan, and bishop of Vercelli before being promoted cardinal of S. Lorenzo in Damaso by Lucius in 1182, and then archbishop of Milan on 9 Jan. 1185. Their choice suggests that the cardinals wanted a pontiff less inclined than Lucius to appease Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa (1152–90); if so, they got more than they bargained for. Urban, as he styled himself, was an avowed opponent of the emperor; his family had suffered grievously in the sack of Milan in Mar. 1162. As pope he retained his see so as to prevent its revenues (the regalia), as was customary, from passing for a year to the imperial treasury.

In the letter announcing his election Urban, who resided at Verona because of the hostile atmosphere at Rome, assured Frederick of his eagerness to reach agreement on issues still unsettled affecting church and empire, and in fact negotiations already in progress continued. In the vexatious case of a double election to the see of Trier Urban swore that he would not consecrate the candidate opposed by the emperor; and he sent legates to Milan to represent him at the marriage (27 Jan. 1186) of Frederick's son Henry (Emperor Henry VI: 1191–7) and Constance of Sicily in spite of the ominous prospect of possible German domination of southern Italy. Like Lucius, however, he refused to crown Henry as co-emperor, but then took umbrage when Frederick had him crowned king of Italy by the patriarch of Aquileia; he at once suspended the patriarch, whose metropolitan he was as archbishop of Milan. He himself proceeded to enlarge the breach by protesting against the practice, accepted in France and England as well as the empire, whereby the revenues of a see or abbey accrued to the crown during a vacancy, and the so-called right to the spoils, by which the crown appropriated the movable property of a deceased prelate. The final break came when, in spite of his earlier oath, Urban rejected the emperor's candidate and on 1 June 1186 consecrated his rival Folmar as archbishop of Trier.

Frederick at once retorted by ordering Henry to invade and occupy the papal states and by bottling up the pope and curia in Verona without contact with the outside world. Matters had been made worse by Urban's folly in encouraging Cremona to revolt and seeking to frustrate the emperor's campaign against the city. He now tried to bring the German episcopate over to his side, and appointed Philip, the influential archbishop of Cologne and leader of the opposition to Frederick in Germany, as his legate. But at the diet of Gelnhausen, in Nov. 1186, the emperor succeeded in isolating Philip and uniting the bishops behind him. They wrote reproachfully to the pope and cardinals urging them to listen to Frederick's just complaints; he was always ready to respect the rights of the church.


Subjects: Christianity.

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