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Benedict IX

A Dictionary of Popes

J. N. D. Kelly,

Michael J. Walsh

Benedict IX 

(21 Oct. 1032–Sept. 1044; 10 Mar.–1 May 1045; 8 Nov. 1047–16 July 1048: d. 1055/6)

On the death of *John XIX his brother Alberic III, now head of the ruling Tusculan family, bribed the electorate and had his son Theophylact, nephew of both John XIX and *Benedict VIII, elected, and the following day enthroned, with the style Benedict IX. Still a layman, he was not, as later gossip alleged, a lad of 10 or 12 but was probably in his late twenties; his personal life, even allowing for exaggerated reports, was scandalously violent and dissolute. If for twelve years he proved a competent pontiff, he owed this in part to native resourcefulness, but in part also to an able entourage and to the firm control which his father exercised over Rome. He was the only pope to hold office, at any rate de facto, for three separate spells.

In general his policies followed those of his predecessors. In 1037, however, he made important changes in the curia aimed at centralization, perhaps also at getting rid of German control. Emperor Conrad II (1024–39) found him less pliant than John XIX; when he invited him to Cremona in 1037, expecting him to ratify his deposition of Aribert, the rebellious archbishop of Milan (1018–45), the pope first sought to arrange a compromise. Only a year later at Spello did he excommunicate Aribert and recognize his imperial replacement. Meanwhile, as a result of his aunt (or sister) Theodora's marriage to Pandulf, brother of Count Waimar of Salerno, he was able to play a helpful role in Conrad's expedition to south Italy. A beneficiary was the Benedictine abbey of Monte Cassino, midway between Rome and Naples, which on 1 July 1038 he placed under papal protection. With Conrad's successor, Henry III (1039–56), his relations were initially friendly, not least because Henry needed papal approval if he were to marry Agnes of Poitou. At the Roman synod of Apr. 1044, however, he asserted his independence, restoring to Grado the patriarchal status of which John XIX, in abject deference to Conrad, had deprived it in 1027.

In Sept. 1044 there was a sudden reversal of his fortunes. An insurrection at Rome, to which growing disgust at his loose life and, even more, resentment at the Tusculan domination contributed, forced him to abandon the city. Bloody fighting ensued, but on 20 Jan. 1045 the Stephanian branch of the Crescentian family succeeded in getting their local bishop, John of Sabina, installed as Pope *Silvester III. Benedict, who had never been formally deposed and whose partisans were based in Trastevere, promptly excommunicated Silvester, and on 10 Mar. expelled him from Rome and reassumed the papacy. His second term in the Lateran, however, lasted less than two months; on 1 May he made out a deed of abdication in favour of his godfather John Gratian, who was then elected and took the style *Gregory VI. A feeling of insecurity based on awareness of the hostility of the people, probably also pressure from friends, and according to some the desire to marry, seem to have impelled him to this surprising step. But John had to raise and hand over to him a huge sum of money; if it was intended as a payment for the papal office, it seems Benedict did not personally profit from it, the money going to the Tusculan faction in Rome.

Benedict now withdrew to family properties near Tusculum (close to Frascati). In autumn 1046Henry III reappeared in Italy, intent on church reform and on receiving the imperial crown from unsullied hands. Benedict was cited, with Silvester III and Gregory VI, to appear before a synod which he held at Sutri, near Rome, on 20 Dec. Having failed to do so, Benedict was formally deposed at the Roman synod of 24 Dec. Henry had already deposed Silvester and Gregory at Sutri, and now appointed Suidger of Bamberg as pope with the name *Clement II. Clement's sudden death after a reign of less than eight months was the signal, after a show of resistance by the imperial faction, for the restoration of Benedict, on a wave of popular enthusiasm assisted by bribery, on 8 Nov. 1047; the evidence sometimes adduced for a fresh election by the Roman clergy and people cannot hold water. From that date he was de facto pontiff until 16 July 1048, when Count Boniface of Tuscany, reluctantly yielding to Henry's orders, forcibly ejected him and installed Poppo of Brixen as *Damasus II on the papal throne. Safe in his Tusculan homeland Benedict continued to regard himself as rightful pope and to breathe defiance at Damasus II and, after his death, at *Leo IX. A synod meeting in the Lateran in Apr. 1049 summoned him to face the charge of simony, and when he declined to appear excommunicated him. Later Leo IX is said to have lifted this sentence, and on his deathbed to have prayed that the recalcitrant man would come to see the truth. Benedict was still alive on 18 Sept. 1055, when he is recorded as making a donation, along with his three brothers, to the monastery of SS. Cosma and Damiano in Rome; but he was dead by 9 Jan. 1056, when his brothers arranged for masses for his soul. He was buried, and probably died, at Grottaferrata, in the Alban hills; there is, however, no real evidence that he had himself become a monk.

Further Reading

LP ii. 270–72, 331Find this resource:

    JW i. 519–23Find this resource:

      Watterich i. 71–6, 711–17Find this resource:

        R. Lane Poole, ‘Benedict IX and Gregory VI’, Proceedings of the British Academy, 8 (1917–18), 199–235Find this resource:

          K.-J. Herrmann, Das Tuskulaner Papsttum (1012–1046) (Stuttgart, 1973), indexFind this resource:

            DHGE viii. 93–105 (F. Baix and L. Jadin)Find this resource:

              Mann v. 212–37Find this resource:

                DBI viii. 354–66 (O. Capitani)Find this resource:

                  Z1: 110–35Find this resource:

                    Levillain ii. 157–9 (K.-J. Herrmann)Find this resource:

                      Seppelt ii. 412–18Find this resource:

                        Partner 105–10Find this resource:

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