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Pope Clement V

Clement V (1264 - April 20, 1314), pope (1305-1314), (Bertrand de Gouth, archbishop of Bordeaux, France) is memorable in history for his suppression of the order of the Templars, and as the pope who removed the seat of the Roman see to Avignon.

Bertrand was vicar-general to his brother, the archbishop of Lyons, who in 1294 was created cardinal bishop of Albano. He was a chaplain to Boniface VIII, who made him archbishop of Bordeaux.

He was elected in June 1305, after a year's interregnum occasioned by the disputes between the French and Italian cardinals, who were nearly equally balanced in the conclave, which had to be held at Perugia. Bertrand was neither Italian nor a cardinal, and his election might have been considered a gesture towards neutrality. The contemporary chronicler Giovanni Villani reports gossip that he had bound himself to king Philip IV of France by a formal agreement previous to his elevation, made at St Jean d'Angly in Saintonge. Whether this was true or not, it is likely that the future pope had coditions laid down for him by the conclave of cardinals. At Bordeaux Bertrand was formally notified of his election and urged to come to Italy; but he selected Lyons for his coronation, November 14, 1305, which was celebrated with magnificence and attended by Philip, and among his first acts were the creation of nine French cardinals.

Early in 1306 Clement explained away those features of the bulls Clericis Laicos that might seem to apply to the king of France and essentially withdrew Unam Sanctam (q.v.), the two bulls of Boniface which were particularly offensive to Philip's ambitious ministry. It is unquestionable that he conducted himself throughout his pontificate as the mere tool of the French monarchy, a radical change in papal policy.

On the 13th of October 1307 came the arrest of all the Knights Templar in France, the breaking of a storm conjured up by royal jealousy and greed, and organized by Philip's utterly unscrupulous bureaucracy, intent on expanding royal prestige and finances and ministerial patronage at any cost. Philip was the encouraging patron of this ruthless move, but the historical reputation of Clement, the manipulated pawn, has been forever tarnished. From the very day of Clement's coronation, the king had charged the Templars with heresy, immorality and abuses, and the scruples of the weak pope were compromised by a growing sense that the burgeoning French State might not wait for the Church, but would proceed independently.

In March 1309 the entire papal court settled at Avignon, which at the time was not part of France, but an imperial fief held by the king of Sicily. The removal of the seat of the Papacy to Avignon was justified at the time by French apologists as owing to the factious tumults at Rome, but it proved the precursor of the long Avignon Papacy, the 'Babylonian captivity', in Petrarch's phrase, and marks the point from which the decay of the strictly Catholic conception of the Pope as universal bishop is to be dated.

Meanwhile, Philip's lawyers pressed to reopen Nogaret's charges of heresy against the late Boniface VIII, that had circulated in the pamphlet war around Unam sanctam. Clement had to yield to pressures for this extraordinary trial, begun 2 February, 1309 at Avignon, which dragged on for two years. In the document that called for the witnesses, Clement expressed his personal conviction of the innocence of Boniface, at the same time his resolution to satisfy the king. Finally, in February, 1311, the king wrote to Clement abandoning the process to the future council of Vienne. For his part, Clement absolved all the participants in the abduction of Boniface at Anagni.

In pursuance of the king's wishes Clement summoned the Council of Vienne 1311, which would not conclude that the Templars were guilty of heresy. The pope abolished the order anyway, as it seemed to be in bad repute and had outlived its usefulness as Papal bankers and protectors of pilgrims in the East. Its French estates were granted to the Hospitallers, but actually Philip IV held them until his death and expropriated the Templar's bank outright.

Heresy and sodomy aside, the malfeasance or innocence of the Templars is one of the most difficult historical problems, partly because of the atmosphere of hysteria that had built up in the preceding generation, the habitually intemperate language and extravagant denunciations exchanged between temporal rulers and churchmen, and partly because the subject has been embraced by conspiracy theorists and pseudo-historians.

Clement's pontificate was also a disastrous time for Italy. The Papal States were entrusted to a team of three cardinals, but Rome, the battleground of Colonna and Orsini factions, was ungovernable. In 1312 the Emperor Henry VII entered Italy, established the Visconti as tyrants in Milan, and had himself crowned by Clement's legates in Rome before returning to Germany, leaving a great part of Italy in a condition of complete anarchy. The dissensions of the Roman aristocrats and their armed gangs reached a nadir, and the church of St. John Lateran was destroyed in a fire.

In Ferrara, Papal armies clashed with Venice. When excommunication and interdict failed to have their intended effect, Clement preached a crusade against the Venetians, a symptom of how debased that particular coinage had become.

Other remarkable incidents of Clement's reign are his bloody repression of the heresy of Fra Dolcino in Lombardy and his promulgation of the Clementine Constitutions in 1313. He died, leaving an inauspicious character for nepotism, avarice, weakness and cunning, in April 1314. He was the first Pope who assumed the Papal Tiara.


Preceded by:
Pope Benedict XI
List of popes Succeeded by:
Pope John XXII