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Guelf and Ghibelline in Italy

Peter Partner describes how resentment against the exile of the Papacy in Avignon led to the ‘War of the Eight Saints’ in 1375 by the ‘Guelf’ cities of Italy.

The fourteenth century in Europe was a period when many principles of social organization that had once been taken as axiomatic were thrust aside in the pursuit of personal or state interest. The Papacy, one of the most venerable of European institutions, was no exception to this trend, even if the day was still distant when nations of Catholic Christians would seek to repudiate the Roman See altogether. Though the Popes never entirely lost sight of their universal function, the displacement of the Papacy from Rome to Avignon in 1307 began a period in which the Papal office was to one degree or another the instrument of French royal policy.

The Gallicization of the Papacy was fiercely resented in Italy, particularly because the Avigno-nese Popes, far from abandoning Papal claims to rule and influence in central Italy, pursued great and expensive wars to make good their rights of temporal rule. The poet, Petrarch, spent much of his life in the Papal court of Avignon; he spoke for many Italians in suggesting that the French Popes and their cardinals were conspiring to destroy Italy. Saint Catherine of Siena described the clerical agents of the Papacy in Italy as ‘wolves’, or ‘demons incarnate’. The French clerks who came to Italy to govern Papal lands, wage Papal wars, or even simply to exercise office as bishops or lower clergy, were condemned by their Italian flocks as ‘the bad shepherds’.

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