Biography of English Pope Adrian IV Part 3

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


ADRIAN IV (1100?-1159), English pope

Adrian's position as supreme ruler with the right to dispose of domains at will was further reinforced when Henry II of England requested permission to invade Ireland, all Christianized islands being considered the property of the Holy See. Adrian's 1156 bull, Laudabiliter, granted this request, urging Henry "to subject [Ireland's] people to the rule of law and to uproot the weeds of vice," and at the same time to collect the annual penny-per-household due to St. Peter. Henry waited until 1171 to conquer Ireland.

Frederick, piqued by what he thought of as the theft of southern Italy from his infant empire, refused to intervene at Adrian's request when an old Swedish acquaintance, the Archbishop of Lund, was held for ransom in Germany. Adrian then sent his chief adviser, Cardinal Roland of Siena, to Frederick's 1157 Diet at Besancon with a letter implying that Frederick owed the pope obedience as a vassal since the pope had given him the empire. An uproar ensued, during which Roland's vehement support of the pope almost cost him his life. The legation was expelled from Germany, and Frederick wrote to Adrian that the owed his power to God alone, not to any mortal representative, and that Adrian's claims amounted to blasphemy.

As Frederick again moved to assert his control over northern Italy, Adrian partially retracted, explaining that the misunderstanding was due to a bad translation of his letter to the Diet, which had been written in Latin. Friendship of a sort was restored until the German's Code of Roncaglia in late 1158 established the emperor as "ruler of the whole world." "If the emperor of the Romans has no rights over Rome," Frederick declared, "he has no rights anywhere." Adrian alerted what allies he had and tried to switch his allegiance from the imperial to the republican faction in Rome; this futile attempt failing, he moved south to Anagni to be closer to William of Sicily. Frederick, however, made common cause with the republicans, agreeing to retain the Senate, and prepared to move against the pope. Adrian was planning to excommunicate Frederick and had put himself at the head of the anti-imperial forces when he died suddenly on Sept. 1, 1159. Frederick won this battle in the Church-versus-State war by setting up an antipope, Victor IV, upon Adrian's death.

Although Adrian is supposed to have said, "I wish I had never left England, or had lived out my life quietly in the cloister of St. Rufus," his dictatorial and ambitious personality makes this unlikely. One cannot help remembering young Nicholas's father, who denied his son the learning he craved and taunted him out of England. It must have been unbearably frustrating for the man Adrian became to rise so far above his father's reach and still be thwarted.

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