Pope Boniface IX: Trying to pick up the pieces without much help.
When the abbreviated Conclave of fourteen cardinals met in late October of 1389, they realized that practically anybody they elected would be better than Pope Urban VI who had died a disgruntled, bitter man with no credibility or respect on October 15th. With his passing they, along with much of Christendom, had hoped the schism was over. But they didn't count on the stubborness of the antipope Clement VII who wielded power out of Avignon even though the French king Charles VI tried to convince Clement to abdicate in favor of dissolving the Great Schism of the West. The Italians, as before, clamored for an Italian Pope but the College would not be intimidated as before when they were rushed into electing Urban VI. This time they took more time and chose wisely, selecting a young cardinal priest from Naples by the name of Cardinal Pietro Tomacelli who chose the name Pope Boniface IX to become the 203rd successor of Peter. He was the total opposite of Urban - gentle, receptive, a convincing speaker with a skill in overseeing people which won the populace over to him almost immediately. He even extended the olive branch to Clement at Avignon but the latter would have nothing to do with him and quickly excommunicated the new pontiff. Boniface had no choice but to return the "favor" though Clement had already had received an interdict from Urban. Boniface sought to correct the errors of Urban, eliminating any nepotism within the Vatican and assuaging Italian fears by reinforcing the Papal States which over a ten year period would totally drive the Clementines from the Italian and Sicilian shores. Boniface's labors were manifested in many fruits, specifically the return of numerous cardinals who had sided with Clement only because of Urban. Boniface was an expert mediator and was able to bring peace to Northern Italy, no small feat considering the circumstances and political intrigue in those regions.
Clement's stiff resistance to reconciliation moved Boniface to ignore him for awhile rather than deal with him. The latter realized he was the true Pope and so he set about healing the fizzures that he could throughout Christian Europe, first certifying that England and Germany to remain loyal to him. He won them over as well. Yet, because of cultural differences and national interests Boniface still had enemies. One was Louis II, Anjou king who had been appointed by Clement. Boniface threw his backing and coffers behind the Sicilian king Ladislas who would enter Naples in July 1400 to reclaim the Neopolitan empire for Boniface and Rome. During his pontificate Boniface set about to reconstruct the magnificent Castel Sant'Angelo on the Tiber which had been pummeled into ruins by constant attacks. But Boniface was a healer and so he extended another olive branch to Clement, promising that if he abdicated there would be no punishment and all his cardinals would be free to continue as bonafide prelates with no fear of reprisal. Boniface even promised Clement a papal legacy. Clement was getting on in age and the struggles over the years were taking its toll. Yet, he steadfastly resisted. He also turned his attention to France and the court of King Charles whom, through his persuasive, disarming manner, he convinced of his legitimacy as Pope. When Clement passed away on September 16, 1394 it looked very likely that the Church would be one again. But a funny thing - or should we say 'sad' - happened "on the way to the forum." The Clementine cardinals - twenty one of them at Avignon, encouraged to work to end the schism by the French monarch, swore to abdicate the papacy if chosen. That way the schism would officially be over. The unanimously chose Cardinal Pedro de Luna, a prelate from Aragon who shocked all by becoming a turncoat and refusing to abdicate. Instead he took the name Benedict XIII on September 28, 1394. In effect, he was another Urban VI! The power had gone to his head. Even though King Charles tried to convince him to renounce the Avignon papacy, that just ensconced Benedict further in his resolve to stay on. Benedict was crafty and he felt he could wrestle more power by offering a much publicized meeting with Boniface IX. He inaugurated the showdown in September 1404. But Boniface would not be able to make the appointment for, as much as he wanted to reunite the Church, he had run afoul of politics, specifically in Germany where, in an effort to offset any kind of rebellion, had thrown all support behind the German king Wenceslaus giving him the power to raise tithes in the churces for his military endeavors. Boniface ran into that age-old problem: Promising something you don't have or can't give. This caused him to run into serious problems by dispensing indulgences to raise more money to pay the piper. Thus were the seeds of simony planted. To cover one mistake he piled on more favors, until he was bankrupt; so much so that he was forced to flee Rome for a while.
It is a shame Boniface's pontificate came to that for it started out so strongly. Yet, it would be unrealistic to think one man could wipe out the bad will and serious damage done by Urban VI in such a short time. Boniface tried, but because of his zeal he ran afoul; not because he was devious or immoral, but rather so concerned for the people and so dead-set against the schism that he became a fool who rushed in where angels feared to tread. When one balances the accomplishments vs. his setbacks the former would far outweigh the deficits. He had made great strides despite the promise of favors, and had come closer to ending the schism than many think because he basically had all the monarchs of Europe behind him. He genuinely felt the schism was on its last legs when, on September 1, 1404, he received the invite from Benedict to meet. But he never kept the appointment for a kidney stone lodged in his colon and caused him to bleed to death internally as he succumbed on October 1, 1404. Benedict did not know for he was enroute. He would meet with an entirely different scenario as we shall see in the next installment when we cover Pope Innocent VII.
Pope Innocent VII: The Pope and the Riddle that riddled Europe: When is a murder not a murder?