Design a site like this with
Get started

Western Civilization 10, Lesson 140 – Conflict Between Roman Emperors and the Papacy

Throughout the history of western civilization, popes and kings have always fought with one another.  Every fight started small, but eventually, it would escalate into a public bashing of one another.  The argument would only end when someone either died, or resigned from their position.  However, what could have possibly caused all of these arguments throughout the decades?

The simple answer: power. 

Every war, or fight, in history was always a fight for power.  The disagreements between popes and kings were no different.  Using the example of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa II (r. 1220-1250) and Pope Innocent III (r. 1198-1216), you can see how the fight between the two started with Frederick II wanting more power, which caused him to break his promise to the Church.

Before being crowned king, Frederick II promised to go on a crusade for the Church.  However, as soon as he had the crown on his head, the promise he made was broken.  He started pillaging Italy and trying to conquer it for his own, like his father did during his reign.  However, Frederick I wanted Italy as a means for more capitol.  Frederick II simply had an infatuation with subjugating the country and turning it into his territory.

Frederick II was excommunicated by Pope Innocent III because of his failure to keep his promise of crusade.  This angered Frederick II and he denounced the Pope publicly.  The two threw threats and snide remarks at one another until 1241, when Pope Innocent III called upon the clergy for a council.  Frederick II then issued an order to arrest any bishop who tried to attend this council.

Pope Innocent III died later that year, and his successor Pope Innocent IV, held the council his predecessor was trying to arrange before his death.  At the council, Frederick’s crimes were listed and his repentance given.  No one believed it him, obviously, and Frederick was deposed as emperor.

Frederick’s father, Frederick Barbarossa I, also had a fight with the pope of his time, Pope Alexander III (r. 1159-1181).  Frederick I was trying to take over Lombard, but the people called upon the Pope to help them fend off the German King.  This angered Frederick I, and he burned Milan to the ground.

Frederick I then started supporting antipopes, who claimed that Pope Alexander III was not the legitimate pope, but the other candidate during the election was.  Pope Alexander excommunicated the supposedly “real” pope, which caused Frederick to call upon the people to denounce Pope Alexander.  If you did not, your possessions would have been taken, and you would have been tortured then exiled.

Their disagreement was not ended by a truce, but by the death of Frederick I in 1190.

As you can see, fights between kings and popes started with the reason of power then became petty.  The king would be excommunicated and the pope would be denounced.  Arguments between the two leaders rarely ever ended in a truce, but when one of the two would die.

Thanks for reading!

Author: sophiaelahirpc

10th Grade student in the Ron Paul Curriculum. Full-time teen writer living in Singapore.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: