The Pope and the Monk

This day of 7 December in 1254 saw the death of Sinibaldo Fieschi, otherwise known as Pope Innocent IV. His is chiefly remembered for deposing Emperor Frederick II and breaking up the Holy Roman Empire into German and Sicilian kingdoms. Worried that Frederick’s heirs would try to reclaim Sicily, he offered it to Lord Edmund, the youngest son of Henry III and Eleanor of Provence. The king was very interested. In 1194 Frederick’s father used the 150,000 marks he got as ransom money for Richard the Lionheart to conquer Sicily. Putting Lionheart’s grand-nephew Edmund on the throne there would go a long way towards expunging that shame. But Henry would have to divert his crusade for it and the English clergy wanted no part it. His plan to carve up the empire among the Plantagenets ultimately failed and Sicily went to the French Capetians instead.

By then Innocent was long dead. He had taken ill when he learned that his papal forces had been soundly defeated by Frederick’s son. He died just days later ‘swimming in the dews of death’. Those are the words of Matthew Paris, the sneaky little monk of St Albans who despised the pope and so rejoiced in his demise. Paris relates an anecdote of a cardinal who had a ‘wonderful vision’ of the pope in heaven, begging for forgiveness, but eventually consumed by the fires of hell. The cardinal is unnamed and Paris admits he doesn’t know whether the vision is a ‘creation of fancy or not’. Yeah, right, Brother Matthew. On the off chance that he’s telling the truth, let’s give him a biblical sky for his efforts.

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