Pope Boniface IX
|Papacy began||2 November 1389|
|Papacy ended||1 October 1404|
|Consecration||9 November 1389|
|Created Cardinal||21 December 1381|
|Birth name||Piero Tomacelli|
Naples, Kingdom of Naples
|Died||1 October 1404
Rome, Papal States
|Papal styles of
Pope Boniface IX
|Reference style||His Holiness|
|Spoken style||Your Holiness|
|Religious style||Holy Father|
Boniface IX (Latin: Bonifatius PP. IX, Italian: Bonifacio IX; c. 1350 – 1 October 1404), born Piero Tomacelli, was the second Roman Pope of the Western Schism, from 2 November 1389 until his death. During this time the Antipopes Clement VII and Benedict XIII continued to hold court as pope in Avignon under the protection of the French monarchy. He was the last Pope who bore the name Boniface.
Piero (also Perino, Pietro) Tomacelli came of an ancient but impoverished baronial family of Casarano in the Kingdom of Naples. An unsympathetic German contemporary source, Dietrich of Nieheim, asserted that he was illiterate (nesciens scribere etiam male cantabat). Neither a trained theologian nor skilled in the business of the Curia, he was tactful and prudent in a difficult era, but Ludwig Pastor, who passes swiftly over his pontificate, says, "The numerous endeavours for unity made during this period form one of the saddest chapters in the history of the Church. Neither Pope had the magnanimity to put an end to the terrible state of affairs" by resigning. After his election at the papal conclave of 1389, Germany, England, Hungary, Poland, and the greater part of Italy accepted him as Pope. The remainder of Europe recognized the Avignon Pope Clement VII. He and Boniface mutually excommunicated each other.
The day before Tomacelli's election by the fourteen cardinals who remained faithful to the papacy at Rome, Clement VII at Avignon had just crowned a French prince, Louis II of Anjou, as king of Naples. The youthful Ladislaus was the rightful heir of King Charles III of Naples, assassinated in 1386, and Margaret of Durazzo, scion of a line that had traditionally supported the popes in their struggles in Rome with the anti-papal party in the city itself. Boniface IX saw to it that Ladislaus was crowned King of Naples at Gaeta on 29 May 1390 and worked with him for the next decade to expel the Angevin forces from southern Italy.
Reign as Pope 
During his reign, Boniface IX finally extinguished the troublesome independence of the commune of Rome and established temporal control, though it required fortifying not only the Castel Sant'Angelo, but the very bridges, and for long seasons he was forced to live in more peaceful surroundings at Assisi or Perugia. He also took over the port of Ostia from its Cardinal Bishop. In the Papal States, Boniface IX gradually regained control of the chief castles and cities, and he re-founded the States as they would appear during the fifteenth century.
The antipope Clement VII died at Avignon on 16 September 1394, but the French cardinals quickly elected a successor on 28 September: Cardinal Pedro de Luna, who took the name Benedict XIII. Over the next few years, Boniface IX was entreated to abdicate, even by his strongest supporters: King Richard II of England (in 1396), the Diet of Frankfurt (in 1397), and King Wenceslaus of Germany (at Reims, 1398). He refused. Pressure for an ecumenical council also grew as the only way to breach the Western Schism, but the conciliar movement made no headway during Boniface's papacy.
During the reign of Boniface IX two jubilees were celebrated at Rome. The first, in 1390, had been declared by his predecessor Pope Urban VI and was largely frequented by people from Germany, Hungary, Poland, Bohemia, and England. Several cities of Germany obtained the "privileges of the jubilee", as indulgences were called, but the preaching of indulgences led to abuses and scandal. The jubilee of 1400 drew to Rome great crowds of pilgrims, particularly from France, in spite of a disastrous plague. Pope Boniface IX remained in the city nonetheless.
In the latter part of 1399 there arose bands of self-flagellating penitents, known as the Bianchi, or Albati ("White Penitents"), especially in Provence, where the Albigenses had been exterminated less than a century before. Their numbers spread to Spain and northern Italy. These evoked uneasy memories of the mass processions of wandering flagellants of the Black Death period, 1348—1349. They went in procession from city to city, clad in white garments, with faces hooded, and wearing on their backs a red cross, following a leader who carried a large cross. Rumors of imminent divine judgement and visions of the Virgin Mary abounded. They sang the newly-popular hymn Stabat Mater during their processions. For a while, as the White Penitents approached Rome, gaining adherents along the way, Boniface IX and the Curia supported their penitential enthusiasm, but when they reached Rome, Boniface IX had their leader burnt at the stake, and they soon dispersed. "Boniface IX gradually discountenanced these wandering crowds, an easy prey of agitators and conspirators, and finally dissolved them", as the Catholic Encyclopedia reports.
In England the anti-papal preaching of John Wyclif supported the opposition of the king and the higher clergy to Boniface IX's habit of granting English benefices as they fell vacant to favorites in the Roman Curia. Boniface IX introduced a revenue known as annates perpetuæ, withholding half the first year's income of every benefice granted in the Roman Court. The pope's agents also now sold not simply a vacant benefice but the expectation of one; and when an expectation had been sold, if another offered a larger sum for it, the pope voided the first sale. The unsympathetic observer Dietrich von Nieheim reports that he saw the same benefice sold several times in one week, and that the Pope talked business with his secretaries during Mass. There was resistance in England, the staunchest supporter of the Roman papacy during the Schism: the English Parliament confirmed and extended the statutes of Provisors and Praemunire of Edward III, giving the king veto power over papal appointments in England. Boniface IX was defeated in the face of a unified front, and the long controversy was finally settled to the English king's satisfaction. Nevertheless, at the Synod of London (1396), the English bishops convened to condemn Wyclif.
In Germany, the Electors met at Rhense on 20 August 1400 to depose the unworthy Wenceslaus as German King and chose in his place Rupert, Duke of Bavaria and Rhenish Count Palatine. In 1403 Boniface IX made the best of it by approving the deposition and recognizing Rupert.
In 1398 and 1399, Boniface IX appealed to Christian Europe in favor of the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaeologus, threatened at Constantinople by Sultan Bayezid I, but there was little enthusiasm for a new crusade at such a time. Saint Birgitta of Sweden was canonized by Pope Boniface IX on 7 October 1391. The universities of Ferrara (1391) and Fermo (1398) owe him their origin, and that of Erfurt (in Germany), its confirmation (1392).
Boniface IX died in 1404 after a brief illness.
Boniface IX was a frank politician, strapped for cash like the other princes of Europe, as the costs of modern warfare rose and supporters needed to be encouraged by gifts, for fourteenth-century government depended upon such personal support as a temporal ruler could gather and retain. All the princes of the late 14th century were accused of avaricious money-grubbing by contemporary critics, but among them contemporaries ranked Boniface IX as exceptional. Traffic in benefices, the sale of dispensations, and the like, did not cover the loss of local sources of revenue in the long absence of the papacy from Rome, foreign revenue diminished by the schism, expenses for the pacification and fortification of Rome, the constant wars made necessary by French ambition and the piecemeal reconquest of the Papal States. Boniface IX certainly provided generously for his mother, his brothers Andrea and Giovanni, and his nephews in the spirit of the day. The Curia was perhaps equally responsible for new financial methods that were destined in the next century to arouse bitter feelings against Rome, particularly in Germany.
(Note on numbering: Pope Boniface VII is now considered an antipope. At the time of Boniface VIII's election, however, this was not recognized, and so the seventh true Pope Boniface took the official number VIII. In turn, this caused the true eighth Pope Boniface to take the number IX. This has advanced the numbering of all subsequent Popes Boniface by one. Popes Boniface VIII through IX are really the seventh through eighth popes by that name.)
- Pastor, The History of the Popes: From the Close of the Middle Ages (1906), vol. i, p 165.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Pope Boniface IX". Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company.
|Popes of the Western Schism|
|Catholic Church titles|
2 November 1389 – 1 October 1404