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Victor II

(b. 1055)


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(13 Apr. 1055–28July 1057)

A Swabian, son of Count Hartwig and born c.1018, Gebhard of Dollnstein-Hirschberg was the last of the four German popes nominated by Henry III (1039–56). Promoted bishop of Eichstätt in 1042 when still in his twenties, his great administrative gifts enabled him to render important services to the emperor, whose indispensable counsellor he became in the early 1050s. An example of his influence was his blocking of military aid for Leo IX's campaign against the Normans in 1053. On Leo's death (19 Apr. 1054), after protracted discussions at Mainz with Roman legates headed by the deacon Hildebrand (later Gregory VII), Henry named (Nov. 1054) Gebhard as pope. The legates would probably have preferred someone else, but Henry wanted to have an imperial pontiff loyal to himself in Rome, not least as a counterweight to his old enemy Duke Godfrey of Lorraine (c.1040–96), now married to the widow of Count Boniface of Tuscany (c. 986–1052) and threateningly established in central and upper Italy. Gebhard hesitated for four or five months, only agreeing at Regensburg in Mar. 1055 when assured that certain territories and properties taken from the holy see would be restored to it. Enthroned almost a year after Leo's death, he took the name Victor, and while pope remained bishop of Eichstätt.

Primarily a powerful minister, Victor was also concerned for church reform: a great synod held by him and the emperor at Florence on 4 June 1055 and attended by c.120 bishops anathematized not only simony and clerical unchastity but also the alienation of church property; several bishops were deposed. Similar decisions were published in France in 1056 by synods presided over by local bishops as his representatives and by Hildebrand as his legate. But Henry had political aims in coming to Italy in summer 1055. His vigorous action caused Godfrey of Lorraine to flee for safety, while his wife and stepdaughter Matilda (future countess of Tuscany) were seized as hostages; Godfrey's brother Frederick, chancellor of the Roman church, prudently retired to Monte Cassino as a monk. To strengthen Victor's position vis-à-vis Tuscany and the Normans in the south, Henry appointed him duke of Spoleto and count of Fermo. After the emperor's departure, Victor was increasingly preoccupied with the Norman expansion in south Italy, and in autumn 1056 went to Germany to seek (ironically, like Leo IX) reinforcements against them. On 5 Oct., however, Henry died after a short illness, entrusting the care of the empire and his 5-year-old son to his trusted pope. With great political skill Victor was able to ensure at Aachen the succession of Henry IV (1056–1106) and the appointment of his mother Agnes as regent, with the right to designate a successor if her son should die. At Cologne in Dec., with skill and foresight, he negotiated a reconciliation between the imperial house and both Godfrey of Lorraine and Baldwin, count of Flanders (1036–67), its two most powerful vassals.

Returning to Italy in mid-Feb. 1057, Victor held a synod in the Lateran on 18 Apr. To gratify Godfrey of Lorraine, now a powerful support in central and north Italy to both papacy and empire, he pushed through the election of his brother Frederick as abbot of Monte Cassino and on 14 June, before consecrating him abbot, made him cardinal priest of S. Crisogono. But he was already stricken, and after holding a local synod at Arezzo on 23 July died there of fever on 28 July. His German entourage wished to take his body back to Eichstätt for burial in his cathedral, but the citizens of Ravenna seized it; he was finally interred in Sta Maria Rotonda (the mausoleum of Theodoric the Great: d. 526) just outside the walls of the city.

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Subjects: Christianity.


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