One of the greatest maladies was the fallout from the reign of German Emperor Frederick II Hohenstaufen in the person of his illigitimate son Manfred who had run amok during Innocent's regime and had forced the papacy to Naples where it would remain during Alexander's entire papacy. Though Alexander tried to reason with Manfred, when he realized it was hopeless for Manfred was in the same mold as his notorious late father, the Pope had no choice but to excommunicate the new monarch on March 25, 1255, just as Alexander's uncle had done to Manfred's father. To further ensure protection against the retaliation of Manfred, Alexander made a blunder by ceding the vassal kingdom of Sicily to Edmund of Lancaster, the second son of King Henry III of England in 1255. To make matters worse, Alexander had inherited the care of Frederick's other son Conrad who had been entrusted to Innocent, and was unknowingly sheltering this child named Conradin who would become one of the Church's greatest enemies. Rather than return him to Manfred's care, the Pope held on to Conradin even though he had given the territory of Sicily and the dukedom of Swabia to England for protection; this in contrast to what was promised Conradin in his will. Nevertheless, in these matters, Alexander, not a military or political savvy man, made the same mistake as Innocent had, getting caught up in the bitter struggle with the hated Hohenstaufens, he shopped Sicily to the highest bidder. England won out, but could not afford to maintain the budget to support a military in this land. When William of Holland, who had been elevated to the German throne after Innocent IV deposed Frederick II, died in 1256, the choice to succeed him was among Conradin, Richard of Cornwall of England and Alfonso of Castile in Spain. Alexander was not sure who to support, but he knew one thing for sure, he couldn't promote the young Conradin. Therefore, out of deference to Henry III, despite his problems, he opted to back Richard of Cornwell. To support Richard's rule and because of Henry's shortage of funds in Sicily, Henry taxed the English clergy heavily, drawing the ire of the entire ecclesiastical body of England against Alexander for his decision to side with Henry and Richard. For Alexander it was a no-win situation. To add to his miseries, when Alexander attempted to reassert papal authority in Sicily, Manfred crushed the papal troops mercilessly in 1258. This resulted in total control of all of Italy and Rome by Manfred and the papacy was reduced to retreating to Viterbo. Though Alexander had longed to return to Rome, he knew it was impossible for Rome was not only ruled by Manfred's people, but the families were trying once again to gain control. In a strange twist of irony, because of Manfred's influence the families, that had so devastated the Holy See for two centuries before, were unable to take complete control. Shortly after Manfred's victory over Alexander's troops, rumor reached him that Conradin was dead. This prompted Manfred to proclaim himself king of Palermo which resulted in the union of the Hohenstauffen followers and the powerful Ghibellini throughout Italy, giving Manfred even more power and entrenching him in Roman circles where he was even nominated for Roman Senator in the spring of 1261.
While Alexander IV's military prowess and diplomatic dealings were a complete disaster, he would go down in the annals of popes and Church history as a great protector and promoter of the mendicant orders and upheld the spiritual principles of Holy Mother Church, governing with justice and wisdom. Because of political problems, Alexander was not able to elevate any bishops to cardinal during his papacy. Nevertheless, he wrote extensively on popular jurisprudence and forbade summary trials in the question of heresy. When the University of Paris' diocesan clergy challenged the teaching credentials of the Franciscan Friars there, Alexander stepped in and, with permission of King Louis, took them under his wing, ruling in favor of the mendicants over the seculars. Alexander sought desperately to keep the fervor of the crusades alive, but with King Louis' defeat and the constant bickering between countries throughout Europe, not to mention the sad state the papacy had fallen to during Innocent's pontificate and the military defeats during Alexander's, little hope was given to uniting the nations of Europe to fight off the infidels. It would resurrect in the future, but not at this time during Alexander's days. He died on May 25, 1261 a broken-hearted pontiff in Viturbo, deeply grieving for the evil running rampant throughout Europe and especially his own beloved Italy, and his feelings of helplessness to do anything about it. Dark times had befallen the Church but, in future years, they would get even darker. Had it not been for the fact this was the One, True Church who Christ had promised to be with always and "the gates of hell would not prevail against it", the Church definitely would have been crushed.
Next installment: Pope Urban IV - The French Cardinal who became the "Corpus Christi" Pope
To review all past installments of this on-going series, go to Archives beginning with the inaugural A CALL TO PEACE internet issue in January 1996. volume 7, no. 1.