Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Pope Urban IV
Reigned 1216-64 (Jacques Pantaléon), son of a French cobbler, born at Troyes, probably in the last years of the twelfth century; died at Perugia, 2 Oct., 1264. He became a canon of Laon and later Archdeacon of Liège, attracted the attention of Innocent IV at the Council of Lyons (1245), and in 1247 was sent on a mission to Germany. There his chief work was the restoration of ecclesiastical discipline in Silesia and the reconciliation of the Teutonic Knights with their Prussian vassals. He became Archdeacon of Laon two years later, and in 1251 was sent into north Germany with the commission to obtain recruits for the cause of William of Holland, the papal candidate for the empire. He was made Bishop of Verdun in 1253 and Patriarch of Jerusalem in 1255, at a time of great difficulty and distress for the Christians of the Holy Land. On the death of Alexander IV (25 May, 1261) he had returned to the west and was at Viterbo. After a three months' conclave, protracted by the jealousies of the eight cardinals who composed the whole Sacred College, the Patriarch of Jerusalem was elected on 29 August, 1261. Alexander IV, the feeblest and most pacific of the popes who were engaged in the struggle with the imperial house of Germany, had left two heavy tasks for his successor to accomplish: the wresting of Sicily from the Hohenstaufen and the restoration in Italy of the influence which the Holy See had lost through his indecision. The Latin Empire of Constantinople came to an end with the capture of the city by the Greeks a fortnight before Urban's election, and for a while he intended a crusade for its re-establishment; but he felt that the tasks near home had the first claim on him. In 1268 Conradin, the last of the Hohenstaufen, died on the scaffold at Naples; it was Urban IV's action in calling Charles of Anjou into the field against Manfred that brought this about. "The fact", says Ranke, "that Urban IV contrived this combination, places him among the important popes."
His experience of affairs and his personal character fitted him for his work. He had had an excellent education and was active, capable, self-reliant, and always ready for any work that presented itself. His life was a full one, yet business had not banished piety. "The Pope does what he will", reports a Sienese ambassador, "there has been no Pope since Alexander III so energetic in word and deed . . .There is no obstacle to his will . . .he does everything by himself without taking advice" (Pflug-Harttung, "Iter Italicum", 675). Had his reign been longer, he would have been one of the most striking figures in the history of the papacy. Urban's great antagonist was Manfred, son of Frederick II, and usurper of the Sicilian crown. Manfred's chief gift was tact; as an administrator he had his father's highly centralized system to rely on, but as a warrior he was lacking in decision and boldness. After the battle of Montaperti, he became the hero of half Italy, the centre of the Ghibelline party and of all opposition to the papacy. He was anxious for peace and recognition from the pope, and Urban was able to keep him in play until the long drawn-out negotiations with Charles of Anjou were nearly complete. Within less than a year of his election the pope created fourteen new cardinals. Of these six were relatives or dependents of the eight who had elected him, but seven were Frenchmen, including his own nephew and three who had been St. Louis's counsellors. Thus Urban was sure of a majority in the Sacred College, but he brought into being a French party which was a principal factor in ecclesiastical policy for the rest of the thirteenth century and in the fourteenth century became practically the whole College. Among the new cardinals were the three future popes, Clement IV, Martin IV, and Honorius IV, who were to have the greatest share in finishing and defending his work.
Urban's first step towards the restoration of his power in Italy was to put the finances in order and pay his predecessor's debts. He changed the bankers of the Apostolic Camera, employing a Sienese firm whose services did much to assure the ultimate success of his plans. Urban's Italian policy gives a complete picture of his statesmanship—astute and diplomatic on occasions, but with a marked predilection for energetic measures. He aroused dissensions between rival Ghibelline cities and, by an adroit use of the then generally acknowledged right of the Holy See to declare null all obligations towards persons excommunicate, was able to throw their commercial affairs into confusion (for some curious details see Jordan, "Origines", 337 sq.). He established an ascendancy over his partisans and raised up a new Guelph party bound to him by personal interest, which eventually furnished Charles of Anjou with monetary support without which his expedition must have failed. In the Papal States new officers were appointed, important points fortified, and the defensive system of Innocent III restored. At Rome Urban obtained the recognition of his sovereignty, but he never risked a visit to the city. In Lombardy his most important act was the strengthening of the traditional alliance between the Holy See and the House of Este. By the middle of 1263 the general results of Urban's extra-Sicilian Italian policy were seen in the almost complete restoration of order in the Papal States, the weakening of Manfred's alliances in Lombardy, and the resurrection in Tuscany of the crushed Guelphs.
A foreign conqueror for Sicily was necessary to attain the expulsion of Manfred, for after the defeat of Alexander IV's forces at Foggia (20 Aug., 1255) all hope was lost of a direct conquest by the papacy. In 1252 Innocent IV had granted the crown of Naples to the English Henry III for his second son, Edmund; but the king had his hands too full at home and was himself too prodigal to allow him to embark on the very costly Sicilian adventure. Charles of Anjou, though he had refused the offer of Innocent IV, had both the power and the ambition necessary for such an undertaking. St. Louis's scruples as to the rights of Conradin and Edmund were overcome, and though he refused the crown for himself or his sons, he finally permitted its offer to his brother. In the mind of the holy king the Sicilian expedition appeared as a preliminary to a great crusade: he saw that Sicily would, in the hands of a French prince, be an ideal starting-point. Yet Louis had been desirous of peace between the pope and Manfred, and even the pope for a time seemed prepared to recognize him as King of Sicily, but the negotiations finally failed. Urban made it his business to prove that the fault lay with his opponent, for European opinion was interested in a struggle in which great princes such as Alphonsus of Aragon and Baldwin, the exiled Latin Emperor of Constantinople, had intervened on the side of peace. It was about May, 1263, that St. Louis made up his mind, and shortly afterwards the envoy of Charles of Anjou appeared in Rome. The chief conditions laid down by Urban were as follows: Sicily must never be united to the empire, its king must pay an annual tribute, take an oath of fealty to the pope, and abstain from acquiring any considerable dominion in Northern Italy; the succession also was strictly regulated. The treaty in fact "was to be the last link in the long chain of acts which had established the suzerainty of the Holy See over Sicily" (Jordan, 443).
The negotiations dragged on slowly as long as the pope felt no acute need of French intervention in Italy, but by May, 1264, the fortunes of the Church were threatening to decline quickly, in face of the rising activity and fortunes of the Ghibellines. Urban sent the French Cardinal Simon de Brion to France as his legate with power to concede certain disputed points: he was, however, to insist on a guarantee that Charles would not retain in perpetuity the Senatorship of Rome; vows to go on a crusade to the Holy Land were to be commuted for the crusade against Manfred and his Saracens, which was to be preached throughout France and Italy. Urban's position was daily growing more dangerous in spite of the incomprehensible inactivity of Manfred. He feared a simultaneous attack from north and south, and even attempts to assassinate himself and Charles of Anjou by the emissaries of Manfred's reputed ally, the "Old Man of the Mountains". In August St. Louis's last objections to the treaty were overcome, and various concessions made to Charles's demands. The legate held several synods to obtain from the French clergy the tithes granted by the pope for the expedition. In Italy fortune continued to favour the Ghibellines; a Guelph army was defeated in the Patrimony, and Lucca deserted to the enemy. Sienese intrigue threatened Urban's security at Orvieto, and on 9 Sept. he set out for Perugia, where he died.
"Thus the man, whose bold initiative was to influence so greatly the destinies of three great countries, to bring to a close the most glorious period of medieval Germany by the ruin of the Hohenstaufen, to introduce a new dynasty into Italy, and to direct French policy in a direction as yet unknown, quitted the stage before he had seen the consequences of his acts at the very hour when the negotiations, commenced at his accession and continued throughout his reign, had reached completion" (Jordan, op. cit., 513).
If Urban's treatment of Manfred appear harsh and unscrupulous, it must be remembered how the Church had suffered at the hands of the Hohenstaufen ever since the days of Frederick I. In the eyes of feudal law Manfred was a usurper without rights: he had callously seized his nephew Conradin's crown, and even that nephew could not inherit from a grandfather who had been deprived of his fief for rebellion against his suzerain. At this period, too, the papal Government, owing in part to its very weakness, stood for municipal freedom, while the Hohenstaufen had in Sicily substituted for the aristocratic hierarchy of feudalism a bureaucratic despotism supported by the arms of their devoted Saracens.
Two other points in Urban's policy must be noted: his dealings with the Byzantine Empire and with England. Manfred's designs on the territories of Palaeologus, together with the exiled Baldwin's secret attempt to reconcile Manfred with St. Louis, made the Greek emperor, politically, at least, the natural ally for a pope fearful of an increase in the power of the Sicilian king. Urban sought an understanding with Michael Palaeologus, and here too gave a lasting direction to papal policy, setting it on the path which led to the union (inoperative though it was) of Lyons in 1274. In England Urban's collectors of money were exceedingly busy; like St. Louis, he supported Henry III against the barons. He absolved the king from his promise to observe the Provisions of Oxford, declared oaths taken against him to be unlawful, and condemned the rising of the barons. He was buried in the cathedral at Perugia. The Feast of Corpus Christi (q.v.) was instituted by Urban IV.