Black smoke, white smoke – revolution

Usurper, interloper, anti-pope: these are some of the epithets used to describe Constantine II, who held the papal seat for just over a year. Getting him into the papal shoes involved a march on Rome with a mass of peasants to force the issue, and a threatened beat down of a bishop. Overturning his election resulted in one of the bloodiest purges in papal history. Let’s dig in.

The death of Paul I on 26 June 767 marked the culmination of decades of ‘career popes.’ These were men who had joined the ranks of the religious orders at a young age, climbed the ladder of Lateran1.The Lateran Palace was the home of popes for a thousand years, and the base of papal power during that time. positions their entire lives, before their peers elected them to the supreme office. These popes followed a more or less common policy regarding theological questions and relations between the Papal States and foreign entities. They distrusted the Lombards, sought Frankish assistance in return for the bestowal of kingship, and sought to separate themselves from the authority of the Byzantine empire to the east. For the sake of convenience, and to align with current scholarly verbiage, let’s call them the ‘clerical party.’

But these clerics were not the only power in Rome and surrounding areas. Earthly power and authority, as was true throughout Europe, was held by a nobility such as dukes and counts. We’ll call them the ‘aristocratic party.’ “During the first seven decades of the eighth century, in Rome, the clerical and military orders had usually worked together harmoniously, not only because their domestic interests converged, but also because they faced common external threats.” But the papacy was the jewel in the crown. “The clerical bureaucracy, with the pope at its head, was larger, wealthier, and more sophisticated than anything that the military aristocracy could, or in fact did, erect to confront it.”2.Noble, The Republic of St Peter, p.113.

Paul’s reign carried (sadly) unspecified seeds of conflict between the aristocratic and clerical parties. This conflict finally boiled over at his demise, and ended with mobs in the street, torture and death.

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. The Lateran Palace was the home of popes for a thousand years, and the base of papal power during that time.
2. Noble, The Republic of St Peter, p.113.

Pepin repays a favor, part 2

The King of the Franks knew, as the year 755 opened,  that he would have to bring force of arms to bear in order to fulfill a promise. Pope Stephen II had come to King Pepin in 753, begging for help against the threat posed by the Lombard King Aistulf, who had grabbed cities and territories in northern Italy that belonged to the papacy and the Byzantine empire. Pepin’s immediate territorial goals, however, focused on the restoration of lands once under the sway of his father, and the kings before him, not Italy. But five years earlier the papacy had done Pepin one huge favor, and supported his claim to the kingship of the Franks. In the face of that debt, he felt he had to act.

He did this in the face of strong opposition from his nobles, some of whom actually threatened to desert him.1.Einhard, Life of Charlemagne, Two Lives of Charlemagne, c.6, p.60. Franco-Lombard friendship extended back several generations, and Pepin himself had been made a ceremonial son of the great Lombard king Liutprand. But one does not refuse a plea from the man who helped make you king, and by whatever means Pepin overcame doubts and opposition. In the spring of 755 he marched for the Alps, along with Pope Stephen, who had been his guest for the last fifteen-odd months.2.There is a tale of Pepin facing down those supporters who did not wish to proceed under such a short ruler, by having a lion attack a bull, and then killing them both with one stroke of his sword. Notker the Stammerer, Charlemagne, Two Lives of Charlemagne, c.15, p.160.

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Einhard, Life of Charlemagne, Two Lives of Charlemagne, c.6, p.60.
2. There is a tale of Pepin facing down those supporters who did not wish to proceed under such a short ruler, by having a lion attack a bull, and then killing them both with one stroke of his sword. Notker the Stammerer, Charlemagne, Two Lives of Charlemagne, c.15, p.160.

Francia travelogue – Lombardy

The Lombard tribes came out of the north and east of Europe in the sixth century, under their king Alboin. They settled in northern and central Italy, an area which came to be known, if you can believe it, as Lombardy. The river Po drains from the Alps in the west to the Adriatic in the east, and most of the major Lombard cities, including Milan and the Lombard capital Pavia, sat along the river or its tributaries. The only outposts of the non-Lombard rule were the papal areas and the regions of the Exarchate of Ravenna, which were a part of the eastern Roman empire.

As with all of the Germanic “barbarians,” the Lombards remained pagan through the seventh century. Barbatus of Benevento (admittedly to the south) records that “the people of Benevento indulged in many idolatrous behaviors, including veneration of a golden viper and a local tree.

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Bertrada of Laon – Not Mother of the Year

Bertrada of Laon is one of the very few women of the century about whom we can know anything more than just a name and a marital disposition. But from what we can see of her, particularly one series of events late in her life, she must have been a formidable lady.

She was born sometime between 710 and 727, in Laon, France, of noble parents. After that, we get nothing until she reappears as the wife of Pepin about 741, and the details immediately get fuzzy. No one is sure if she was Pepin’s first or second wife. In fact, it is hard to be sure just what a wife was back then, as the line between wife and concubine was not well defined. Also fuzzy were the rules on who could marry whom, based on how closely they were related. Always a problem when the 1% keep marrying each other.

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