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Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 2.djvu/733

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BONIFACE


663


BONIFACE


experience of life, and high talent for the conduct of affairs, Boniface VIII seemed exceptionally well qualified to maintain inviolate the rights and privi- leges of the papacy as they had been handed dovm to him. But he failed either to recognize the altered temper of the times, or to gauge accurately the strength of the forces arrayed against him; and when he attempted to exercise his supreme authority in temporal affairs as in spiritual, over princes and peo- ple, he met almost everj'where witii a determined resistance. His aims of universal peace and Christian coalition against the Turks were not realized; and during the nine years of his troubled reign he scarcely ever achieved a decisive triumph. Though certainly one of the most remarkable pontiffs that have ever occupied the papal throne, Boniface VIII was also one of the most mifortunate. His pontificate marks in history the decline of the medieval power and glory of the papacy.

Boniface first endeavoured to settle the affairs of Sicily, which had been in a very distracted condition since the time of the Sicilian Vespers (1282). Two rivals claimed the island, Charles II, King of Naples, in right of his father Charles of Anjou, who had re- ceived it from Clement IV, and James II, King of Aragon, who derived his claims from the Hohen- staufen, through his mother Constance, the daughter of Manfred. James II had been crowned King of Sicily at Palermo in 1286, and had thereby incurred the sentence of excommunication for daring to usurp a fief of the Holy See. On his succession to the throne of Aragon, after the death of his brother Alfonso III, in 1291, James agreed to surrender Sicily to Charles II on condition that he should receive the latter 's daughter, Blanche of Naples, in marriage, together with a dowTy of 70,000 pounds of silver. Boni- face VIII, as liege lord of the island, ratified this agreement 21 June, 1295, and further sought to reconcile the conflicting elements by restoring James II to peace with the Church, confirming him in his possession of Aragon, and granting him the islands of Sardinia and Corsica, which were fiefs of the Holy See, in compensation for the loss of Sicily. By these measures Boniface VIII merely adhered to the traditional policy of the papacy in dealing with Sicilian affairs; there is no evidence to show that, either before or shortly after his election, he had pledged himself in any way to recover Sicily for the House of Anjou. Sicily was not, however, pacified by this agreement between the pope and the kings of Aragon and Naples. Threatened with a renewal of the detested rule of the French, the inhabitants of that island asserted their inde- pendence, and offered the cro^\-n to Frederick, the younger brother of James II. In an interview with Frederick at Velletri, the pope sought to dissuade him from accepting the offer by holding out prospects of a succession to the throne of Constantinople and a marriage with Princess Catherine of Courtenay, granddaughter and heir of Baldwin II, the last Latin Emperor of the East. But the young prince would not be dissuaded. The papal legate was expelled from the island, and, against the protests of Boni- face VIII, Frederick was crowned King of Sicily at Palermo, 25 March, 1296. He was at once excom- municated and the island placed under interdict. Neither the king nor his people paid any heed to the censures. At the instigation of the pope a war ensued, in which James of Aragon, as Captain- General of the Church, was compelled to take part against his own brother. The contest was brought to a close (1302) through the efforts of Prince Charles of Valois, whom the pope had called to his assistance in KJOl. Frederick was to be absolved from the censures he had incurred, to marry Elea- nora, younger daughter of Charles II, and to retain Sicily during his lifetime. After his death the island


should revert to the King of Naples. Though frustrated in his hopes, Boniface VIII ratified the treaty 12 June, 1303, and agreed to recognize Frederick as vassal of the Holy See.

In the meantime Boniface VIII had directed his attention also to the north of Italy, where, during a period of forty years, the two rival republics of Venice and Genoa had been carrying on a bitter con- test for commercial supremacy in the Levant. A crusade was wellnigh impossible without the active co-operation of these two powers. The pope, there- fore, commanded a truce until 24 June, 1296, and ordered both the contestants to send ambassadors to Rome with a view to arranging terms of peace. The Venetians were inclined to accept his mediation; not so the Genoese, who were 'elated by their success. The war continued till 1299, when the two republics were obliged finally to conclude peace from sheer exhaustion, but even then the intervention of the pope was rejected.

The efforts made by Boniface VIII to restore order in Florence and Tuscany proved equally futile. During the closing years of the thirteenth century the great Guelph city was torn asunder by the violent dissensions of the Bianchi and the Neri. The Bianchi or Whites, of Ghibelline tendencies, represented the popular party and contained some of the most distinguished men in Florence — Dante Alighieri, Guido Cavalcanti, and Dino Compagni. The Neri or Blacks, professing the old Guelph principles, represented the nobles or aristocracy of the city. Each party as it gained the ascendancy sent its opponents into exile. After a vain attempt to reconcile the leadeis of the two parties, Vieri dei Cerchi and Corso Donati, the pope sent Cardinal Matteo d'Acquasparta as papal legate to mediate and establish peace at Florence. The legate met with no success and soon returned to Rome leaving the city under an interdict. Towards the end of

1300, Boniface VIII summoned to his aid Charles of Valois, brother of Philip the Fair. Appointed Captain-General of Church and invested ■nith the governorship of Tuscany (in consequence of the vacancy of the empire), the French prince was given full powers to effect the pacification of the city. Valois arrived at Florence on 1 November,

1301. But instead of acting as the official peace- maker of the pope, he conducted himself as a ruth- less destroyer. After five months of his partisan administration, the Neri were supreme and many of the Bianchi exiled and ruined — among them Dante Alighieri. Beyond drawing on himself and the pope the bitter hatred of the Florentine people, Charles had accomplished nothing. (Levi, Bonifazio \TII e le sue relazioni col commune di Firenze, in Archiv. Soc. Rom. di Storia Patria, 1882, V, 365-474. Cf. Franchetti, Nuova Antologia, 1883, 23-38.) It may be noted here that many scholars of repute seriously question Dante's famous embassy to Boni- face VIII in the latter part of 1301. The only con- temporary evidence to support the poet's mission is a pa.ssage in Dino Compagni, and even that is looked upon by some as a later interpolation.

While thus endeavouring to promote peaceful rela- tions between various states in Northern and Southern Italy, Boniface had himself become engaged in a desperate struggle at Rome ■n-ith two rebellious mem- bers of the Sacred College, Jacopo Colonna and his nephew Pietro Colonna. The Colonna cardinals were Roman princes of the highest nobility and belonged to a powerful Italian family that had numerous palaces and strongholds in Rome and in the Cam- pagna. The estrangement which took place between them and Boniface, early in 1297, was owing chiefly to two causes. Jacopo Colonna, upon whom the administration of the va.st Colonna family possessions liad been conferred, violated the rights of ms brothers.