Cola Di Rienzo

1313-1354. Italian leader. Son of a Roman innkeeper, he was a man of genius, but exhibited also signs of madness. Partly through his very considerable knowledge of the classical Latin authors, Rienzo became obsessed with the restoration of Rome to its former greatness. Petrarch's* laureation at the Capitol in 1341 intensified this obsession. In 1343 Rienzo was sent to Avignon to seek Clement VI's* return to Rome and the consequent end of the existing misrule by the leading Roman noble families-the Colonni, Orsini, and Savelli families. The mission failed, but Rienzo gained Clement's favor and was made a notary of the Camera Urbana.

In 1347, by accident or design, popular revolution broke out in Rome and Rienzo was swept into power. He was proclaimed “Tribune” and given wide-ranging powers. His government consciously looked back to ancient Rome. At first his rule was enlightened. He organized a Civic Guard and deprived the ruling families of their powers. Gradually his pretensions grew. He called on the pope to return to Rome. He called on the rival claimants to the imperial throne to look to him for judgment. He tried to convene meetings of all the Italian governments to formulate a common Italian policy under his leadership. The pope decided that Rienzo's intentions were a threat to papal power and turned against him in September 1347; the Colonni revolted, unsuccessfully, against him in November.

Meanwhile Rienzo's arrogance and luxurious life were alienating popular support. He was excommunicated for heresy, and when the Colonni again revolted, the Romans would no longer support him. He therefore abdicated and fled from Rome in December 1347 to the Franciscan Spirituals in the Abruzzi where he remained for two years. Then he went to Prague to urge Emperor Charles IV to be a “real” Roman emperor and bring peace, harmony, and justice to the world. Charles imprisoned Rienzo for two years. Then he handed him over to Clement VI, who sentenced him to death. Clement soon died and his successor Innocent IV,* hoping to use Rienzo in his Italian schemes, released him. In 1350 the Romans had again revolted, but Rienzo, sent to Italy in 1354 with Cardinal Albornoz, was successfully reestablished in control, this time as “Senator.” His cruelty and luxurious life again alienated the Romans, and they slew him at the Capitol.