Biography of English Pope Adrian IV Part 1

About the Roman Catholic Pope Adrian IV, biography and history of the only English Pope.


ADRIAN IV (1100?-1159), English pope

A small good-looking man who hid his peasant origins behind a cultivated voice and who satisfied his great personal ambition by rising to the papacy, Adrian IV is recognized as the first, and so far only, Englishman to have been pope. His repeated clashes with the equally ambitious Frederick Barbarossa of Germany, which focused on the domination of Rome, intensified the running debate of the Middle Ages as to whether Church or State should be the supreme power on earth.

Nicholas Breakspear was born around 1100 at Abbot's Langley near St. Albans in Hertfordshire. As a boy he hung around St. Alban's Abbey, hoping to pick up a little learning and eventually enter the monastery. The story goes that his father--who became a monk--disparaged him so much that Nicholas was refused all but the dirtiest work at the abbey and was not considered worth educating. In defiance, he begged his way to France, where he managed to study at the Cathedral School of Paris and in Arles. He chose to enter St. Rufus's, near Valence in Provence, and rose to become abbot.

Taking his new position seriously, Nicholas was such a strict task-master that the monks twice complained to Pope Eugenius III about "the most exact ... regular discipline" imposed by their foreign abbot. Once Nicholas was reprimanded; the second time he was summoned to Rome, but instead of being chastised he was made a papal aide. In 1146 he was made Cardinal-Bishop of Albano, causing one historian to remark on the irony that "he who was refused to be an English monk in England should become an English cardinal in Italy."

After serving in Albano for several years, Nicholas was appointed papal legate to Scandinavia to carry on the work begun there by English missionaries. He returned to Rome most opportunely on Dec. 4, 1154, as Anastasius IV lay dying. The next day the Apostle of the North was unanimously elected pope. Nicholas was invested on Christmas Day, taking the name of Adrian IV, and was immediately forced to face problems caused in part by the weakness of his predecessor.

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