Migliorati came from a simple family in the small town of Sulmona in the Abruzzi. He distinguished himself by his learning in both civil and canon law, which he taught for a time at Perugia and Padua. His teacher Lignano sponsored him at Rome, where Urban VI took him into the Curia, sent him for ten years as papal collector to England, made him bishop of Bologna (1386) and archbishop of Ravenna (1387).
Boniface IX made him cardinal, and employed him as legate in several delicate and important missions. When Boniface IX died, there were present in Rome delegates from the rival pope at Avignon, Benedict XIII. The Roman cardinals asked these delegates if their master would abdicate, if the cardinals refrained from holding an election. When they were bluntly told that Benedict would never abdicate (indeed he never did), the cardinals proceeded to an election. First, however, they all undertook a solemn oath to leave nothing undone, if needs be even to lay down the tiara, in order to terminate the schism.
Migliorati was unanimously chosen— by eight cardinals— (October 17, 1404) and took the name of Innocent VII. There was a general riot by the Ghibelline party in Rome when news of his election got out, but peace was maintained by the aid of King Ladislas of Naples, who hastened to Rome with a band of soldiers to assist the pope in suppressing the insurrection. For his services the king extorted various concessions from Innocent, among them the promise that he would not reach any accommodation with the rival pope in Avignon that would compromise Ladislas' claims to Naples, which had been challenged until very recently by Louis II of Anjou. That suited Innocent, who had no intention of reaching an agreement with Avignon that would compromise his claims to the Papal States, either. Thus Innocent was laid under embarrassing obligations, from which he freed himself at the earliest possible moment.
Innocent had made the great mistake of elevating his highly unsuitable nephew, Ludovico Migliorati— a colorful condottiere formerly in the pay of Gian Galeazzo Visconti of Milan, most of whose violent career as a soldier of fortune lay ahead of him— to the cardinalate, an act of nepotism that cost him dear. In August 1405, the cardinal waylaid eleven members of the obstreperous Roman partisans on their return from a conference with the pope, and had them assassinated in his own house and their bodies thrown from the windows of the hospital of Santo Spirito into the street. There was an uproar. Pope, court and cardinals, with the Migliorati faction, fled towards Viterbo. Ludovico took the occasion of driving off cattle that were grazing outside the walls, and the Papal party were pursued by furious Romans, losing thirty members, whose bodies were abandoned in the flight, including the Abbot of Perugia, struck down under the eyes of the Pope.
His protector Ladislas sent a squad of troops to quell the riots, and by January 1406 the Romans once again acknowledged Papal temporal authority, and Innocent felt able to return. (In March Innocent made Ludovico a marchese and conte di Fermo.) But Ladislas, not content with the former concessions, desired to extend his authority in Rome and the Papal States. To attain his end he aided the Ghibelline faction in Rome in their revolutionary attempts in 1405. But a squad of troops which King Ladislas had sent to the aid of the Colonna faction was still occupying the Castle of Sant' Angelo, ostensibly protecting the Vatican but making frequent sorties upon Rome and the neighbouring territory. Only after Ladislas was excommunicated did he yield to the demands of the pope and withdraw his troops.
Shortly after his accession Innocent took steps to keep his oath by proclaiming a council. These troubles furnished him with a pretext, of which he was not unwilling to avail himself, for postponing the meeting, which was being urged by Charles VI of France, theologians at the University of Paris like d'Ailly and Jean Gerson, who were developing the theory that popes were subject to councils, and Rupert King of the Germans, as the only means of healing the Schism which had prevailed so long. Under the current circumstances, Innocent could not guarantee safe passage to Benedict in the event he came to the council in Rome. His rival, Benedict XIII, made it appear that the only obstacle to the termination of the schism was the unwillingness of Innocent. It is hardly necessary to say that he showed no favour to the proposal that he as well as Benedict should resign in the interests of peace.
It is said that Innocent planned the restoration of the Roman University, but his death brought an end to such talk.
He died so suddenly at Rome, November 6, 1406, that there were rumors of foul plays, which have been denied ever since: there is no evidence for the truth of the allegation that his death was not due to natural causes. His successor was Gregory XII.
Pope Boniface IX
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Pope Gregory XII