Antipope Boniface VII
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Antipope Boniface VII (Franco Ferrucci, died July 20, 985), was an antipope (974, 984–985). He is supposed to have put Pope Benedict VI to death. A popular tumult compelled him to flee to Constantinople in 974; he carried off a vast treasure, and returned in 984 and removed Pope John XIV (983–984) from office, who had been elected in his absence, by murder. After a brief rule from 984 to 985, he died under suspicious circumstances.
Boniface VII was not yet considered an antipope when the next pope of that same regnal name was elected.
Boniface VII was the son of Ferrucius and was originally named Franco. He was born in Italy in the late 920s or early 930s AD, although the exact date is not known. Since his surname was Franco, it has been supposed that he belonged to a family of the name which is frequently mentioned in the documents of the tenth century, and which may have been of French origin. In 972 he became a Cardinal Deacon, a position which he held until he began his papacy in 974. However, little else is known about his early life simply due to the lack of documents available from this period of Rome as a whole.
Prior to Papacy
The predecessor of Boniface VII was Benedict VI, ordained on January 19, 973. He was the Imperial faction candidate, while Franco (late Boniface VII) was the proposed candidate for the National party. Benedict VI was chosen by the Imperial faction and approved as Pope by Otto the Great, even though he lacked the support of much of the Roman aristocracy. Once Benedict VI came to power as pope, a widespread fear spread throughout Rome of whether or not the Emperor (Otto I the Great) would be able to do enough to keep Rome in check. On May 7, 973, Otto the Great died, and the youthful Otto II took over. Consequently, the Romans deserted their pope immediately and hurried to push forth their own candidate to replace him. Many of the Romans saw the beginning of Otto the 2nd’s reign as a glimmer of hope that it might be possible for them to recover their ancient rights and even free themselves from foreign rule.
The head of the Nationalist party, which pushed Franco as their candidate for the papacy when Otto the Great was still in power, was the powerful Crescentii family. The family arose from the aristocracy in the 10th century and began to take on a major role in politics in the 970s after the death of Pope John XIII who had family ties with Crescentius. However, when Otto the Great designated Benedict VI as the next pope, the Crescentii family, along with most of the Roman people, began to feel indignation towards the emperor because they felt he was interfering too much in the papal elections. When Otto the Great died and Otto II took over, Crescentius led the rebellion against the imperial regime which would eventually lead to the installment of Franco to the papacy.
Franco’s Rise to Papacy
After Otto the Great died, the youthful Otto II took his place. Emperor Otto II became preoccupied by problems in Germany which left the door open for the Roman aristocracy, who had never been fond of Benedict VI, to rebel against the imperial administration. Crescentius provoked an insurrection with the help of many unhappy Romans and kidnapped Pope Benedict VI. They had him imprisoned in Castel Sant’Angelo for nearly two months. During this time, the rebels began raising Franco to take the papacy. Meanwhile, Emperor Otto II, who supported Pope Benedict VI, was still preoccupied in Germany and could not make it back to Rome. As a result, he sent Count Sicco, an imperial envoy of Otto II from Spoleto, to demand the pope’s release. When Sicco arrived at Castel Sant’Angelo, Crescentius had Pope Benedict VI strangled. There is a chance that Franco could have made the demand of having Benedict strangled, but it is not known for certain.
1st Attempt at the Papacy
After Pope Benedict VI was murdered, Franco claimed the Papal throne and took the name Boniface VII. However, his first papal reign was a short one. In one month and twelve days, the imperial representative Count Sicco had taken possession of the city. As riots and chaos ensued, Boniface VII took refuge in Castel Sant’Angelo where he robbed the treasury of the Vatican Basilica and fled to Byzantine territory in southern Italy. The fact that he fled to Constantinople, where he received protection, makes it probable that his rise to papacy might have been associated with the policy of the Greek Emperor, who at this time was pushing to displace the German influence in Salerno. The banishment of the antipope must have been the work of the German party, which were again triumphant in Rome, led by Pandulf the Ironhead. Boniface VII is described as a monster by contemporaries, who stated that he was stained by the blood of Benedict VI. The events of this period in Rome are unfortunately only known to us through the insufficient notices, and we are barely aware of the rise of Boniface VII before we hear of his overthrow.
Benedict VII and Boniface’s 2nd Attempt at the Papacy
Benedict VII was elected pope in October 974 with the approval of Sicco and supposedly even the Crescentii family who behind the initial rebellion that put Boniface VII into power. Benedict VII immediately held a synod where he excommunicated Boniface. However, in the summer of 980, Boniface was even able to establish himself temporarily in Rome during Pope Benedict’s absence. Benedict, however, sent an urgent appeal to Otto II. In March 981, Benedict, along with Otto II and armed soldiers, returned to Rome and drove Boniface out. Boniface again fled to Constantinople where he stayed for the next four years.
John XIV and Boniface’s 3rd Attempt at the Papacy
In either September or October 983, current Pope Benedict VII died, which required the presence of Otto II in Rome. Otto II chose Peter of Pavia, who took the papal name of John the Fourteenth, to be elected as the new pope. However, shortly after the election, the Emperor fell seriously ill and died on December 7, 983. It was clear that the death of the Emperor marked the end of Pope John XIV, who was not popular among most of the Romans. With the heir of Otto II only being of the age three, the people of Rome finally felt free from the hated emperor and desired a Roman Pope. To this point, Boniface the Seventh had spent nine years in Byzantium, but he still was striving for the papal throne. After seeing his opening with the death of Emperor Otto II, Boniface joined the league of Greeks and Saracens and headed for Rome in April 984. With the help of both his treasury he had stolen from his first attempt at the papacy as well as the gold of his Greek followers, he was able to strike relationships with several powerful people. With the help of Crescentius’ sons, John and Crescentius II, along with his Greek followers, Boniface had Pope John XIV imprisoned in Castel Sant’Angelo. Four months later, on August 20 984, John XIV died in Sant’Angelo either due to starvation, poison, or by the order of Boniface. The death of Pope John XIV meant that Boniface was the only remaining pope, and so he once again took a hold of the papal throne. He still believed himself to be the only rightful pope, and dated back his reign to 974.
Death of Boniface VII
Little is known of the reign of Boniface VII, however, on July 20, 985, he suddenly died. It is possible that he was murdered, but it cannot be confirmed by any known sources. It is clear that there was certainly a sense from the public of disgust at his reign, as his body was dragged through the streets, stripped naked until it was left beneath Marcus Aurelius’s statue in front of the Lateran Palace. There were undoubtedly many atrocities that Boniface committed in the eleven months he was in power in 984–985, most of which were probably acts of revenge due to his previous exile. It is obvious he had become a stranger to the Roman people, and had most likely even become an inconvenience to his own followers. He was referred to as “Malefatius” instead of Bonifatius, and also “horrendum monstrum” by many, showing the turn of feelings the people of Rome had had. The Nationalist faction, previously headed by Crescentius and now headed by his two sons, that had helped him rise to his papal status was now not so much Byzantine as it was national-Roman. They likely overthrew Boniface VII in hopes of seizing control of vulnerable Rome. After a reign spanning eleven years, in which he overthrew two popes, allowing both to die in Castel Sant’Angelo, Boniface VII was finally dead.
Analysis of Contributions
The feats of Antipope Boniface VII were in no way insignificant. Although little is known about this period in Rome, there is one thing that is for certain: the fact that Boniface’s last reign lasted eleven months without any imperial intervention is evidence of not only the weakness of the government of this time, but also is proof that despite his actions and opposition, he must have had much support. It speaks volumes that despite his involvement in the murders of Benedict VI and John XIV, and the atrocities that ensued once he became pope in 984, he still had enough support to keep him in power for eleven months. Whether it was because of the money he had (most of which was from when he stole part of the ecclesiastic treasury) or due to Greek influence that wanted to keep him in power for their own gains (or perhaps a combination of them both), it is clear that he must have had the support of an influential group to have stayed in power for as long as he did.
Past Historical Interpretations
Due to the lack of information on this whole time period in Roman history, there has not been much further research on Antipope Boniface VII. This whole time period in Rome is clouded in uncertainty and there is not much known that is 100% historically factual. However, there is almost unanimous agreement that the Boniface the Seventh debacle was evidence of the instability surrounding the whole government at this time, starting with the death of Otto the Great. Up until 1904, he was considered a valid Pope during the 11 month reign in 983-984. Today, however, probably due to his involvement in the murders of Benedict VI and John XIV, he is not regarded as a valid pope.
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This article uses text from the 9th edition (1880s) of an unnamed encyclopedia.