The licidious legacy begun in the early part of the tenth century by Theophylact and his wife Theodora continued with the sinister subterfuge of their daughter Marozia who would pass on in 932 these devilish deeds to her son Alberic II, prince of Rome, senator, patrician and absolute ruler until 954. But back to 928. Eight years after Theophylact's death, his nefarious wife Theodora turned over power to her daughter Marozia who carried on the malevolent machinations by managing to get Pope Leo VI elected in May 928. While he was ushered in by the daughter of the powerful Theodora, he still treaded carefully for he knew what fate awaited him if he crossed the line. That fate was illustrated in a dank cell beneath Castel Sant'Angelo where the previous pontiff Pope John X, now deposed, languished as a prisoner for life. Though he tried to restore peace among the vatious factions of Rome and was successful in fending off the Saracens as well as the fierce Hungarians, he was really an "interim Pope" as Marozia bided her time until her own son John was ready to assume the papacy. But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum, if you will. Leo died in December of the same year and Marozia was forced to push for the elevation of another puppet pope - since her own son was in no way ready. Through the powerful intrigues of the counts of Tuscolo, Italy in league with Marozia, Pope Stephen VII was offered as the controlled pope they temporarily wanted. Thus Stephen VII, a Roman priest from St. Anastasia, became the 124th successor to Peter in December 928. Virtually nothing is known of this pontiff except that he extended privileges to religious houses in both Italy (the monastery of St. Vincent at Volturno) and France (two cenobite sites). It was during the first year of his papacy that Marozia had John X suffocated as we detailed in the last installment. Stephen VII died in February 931and finally the time had come for Marozia to realize her greatest ambition with the elevation of her son the pope in March 931 - Pope John XI who had already been made a cardinal while in his early twenties. Many believed John was the illegitimate son of Marozia by another questionable pope Sergius III who was known more for vanity than sanctity as we dealt with in our last installment. By having her son sitting on the throne of Rome, Marozia sought to enhance her own power and authority. Talk about strange bedfellows! By 933 Marozia had plotted to the point where she was marrying off her young daughter Bertha to a royal prince whom the eastern emperor Romanus I had raised and groomed as his successor. It was a power move that did not sit well with Rome but the city really was up in arms when Marozia herself, a widow for the second time, sought to marry the king of Italy Hugh of Provence who was then at the height of his power. She manuevered to have her son the pope officiate the wedding but it was not only uncanonical but unholy for Marozia was, in actuality, her brother-in-law. Talk about a soap opera! It became even more convoluted when the Romans, suspicious of any foreign intervention, rebelled. This revolt was led by Alberic II who was, in fact, Marozia's son by her first marriage. Now he was her dreaded enemy for Hugh had insulted Alberic at the wedding and Alberic vowed revenge. In a December 933 coup Alberic led an angry mob who stormed the residence of Marozia and Hugh and captured the former. Hugh fled into the night, but his wife and her son the pope were thrown into chains and Alberic proclaimed himself prince of Rome. After a time, Alberic decided to release John and basically use him as his own personal slave, allowing him only to say the Mass. Whether it was a valid Mass is anyone's guess. Basically for two years though John XI was still pope, the Holy See was a vacuum. Nothing was proclaimed and everything came to a standstill until John's death in late December 935.
With Marozia now out of the picture, Alberic took over the manipulation putting his own man in in the person of Pope Leo VII. Leo was also a Roman cardinal priest from Saint Sisto and most likely a Benedictine. Though Alberic had ulterior motives he was not adverse to Leo's interest in reviving monastic life throughout Europe. Leo tried, through the abbot Odo of Cluny to reconcile Prince Alberic and King Hugh, who had by now attempted to regain control of his empire. While this failed, Odo and Leo did manage to corraborate on restoring privileges to the abbey at Subiaco, site of Saint Benedict's grotto as well as other abbeys and monasteries throughout Italy, France and Germany, also strongly warning against witchcraft and fortune tellers. The sphere of German influence began in 937 when Leo appointed Archbishop Frederick of Mainz the apostolic vicar and legate to that country. It was the great emperor Otto I (936-973) who desired to reunite all the western kingdoms in an attempt to resurrect the Holy Roman Empire and which we will deal with more in detail in the next installment. But this link to the German influence played a significant role in the eventual demise of Alberic's influence and the freeing of the papacy of family influence. This first began upon Leo's death on July 13, 939 when the next day Pope Stephen VIII was elected the one hundred and twenty seventh in the line of Peter. Though Stephen was approved by Alberic, he was also strongly recommended by Otto I. For the first time in decades a just and good man sat on the chair of Peter. Stephen VIII was so determined to do what was necessary for the Church that he fell into disfavor with Alberic. Stephen realized Alberic was being guided by satan and turned a deaf ear to Alberic's rantings. Needless to say this incensed Alberic who had Stephen thrown into prison and senselessly beaten until he died from complications of his open wounds in the dungeons below Castel Sant'Angelo in October 942. Alberic's hand was dealt once again when he offered the name of Martin III, another Roman cardinal who had been assigned to St. Ciriaco in the city. Upon his election on October 30, 942 he chose the name Marinus II and began to devote himself to the reform of both religious and diocesan clergy. Realizing he could face the same fate as his predecessor, Marinus II made a point to clear everything with Alberic before proceeding. Naturally, this slowed down progress within the Holy See however Marinus' example and blamelessness permeated outside the walls of the Vatican to the entire city and morality slowly began to take hold once again as he beseeched the citizens to make Rome the moral capitol of the world. He patronized the Arts, and reorganized many corporations within the Church. His major accomplishment was to not only confirm Frederick's appointment as Archbishop of Mainz but to give him the added authority to root out abuses among the clergy. This was an office that had only been bestowed on one other German - the apostle of Germany Saint Boniface two centuries prior. Marinus II died after nearly four years in office of a natural death in early May, 946. He was succeeded by Pope Agapitus II on May 10, 946. He too was promoted by Alberic who was beginning to lose his influence as the all-powerful Roman ruler. Because of this Agapitus exercised more power than his predecessors who had been limited primarily to ecclesiastical duties. He continued with the monastic and clerical reform his predecessors had begun but Agapitus reached out further, dispatching his legate Bishop Marinus to King Otto's court in Germany and presided over the synod of Ingelheim on June 7, 948 and which Agapitus ratified in 949 with a papal bull extending the area of Scandinavia for the Church. He secretly wanted to align with King Otto I whom he admired greatly and went to meet Otto when Otto crossed the Alps in 951 to assume power in Pavia. Otto sent envoys to Agapitus in Rome to invite him but not to Alberic. Agapitus, realizing this, was careful not to offend Alberic out of fear of facing the same fate as some of the popes before him. Yet Agapitus did not hesitate to offer support for Otto I deeding the German king wide range of jurisdiction over monasteries. In addition, he allowed more authority to Archbishop Frederick enabling the prelate of Mainz to solely establish archbishoprics and dioceses and define ecclesiastical boundaries. This would play a major role inthe restoration of the imperial reign of Otto I in 962. Despite the good things Agapitus II did, he will be remembered for acceeding to Alberic's dying wishes to swear that Alberic's bastard son Octavian would not only succeed Alberic as prince of Rome but become Agapitus' successor as the supreme pontiff on the latter's death. Why Agapitus agreed to this is only known in Heaven but after Alberic II died at the end of August, 954 Octavian became the temporal ruler, weak though he was, and Agapitus, who was also dying, bided his time in regret. That time came to an end in December 955 and Agapitus II was buried behind the apse of St. John Lateran.
In the next installment we will deal with the antipope John XII who was, in truth, Octavian and how that ushered in the renaissance of the Holy Roman Empire with the crowning of Emperor Otto I in 962.