Urban VI

Pope from 1378. A native of Naples, he was archbishop of Acerenza (1363), then of Bari (1377), and a capable and irreproachable administrator to Gregory XI,* his predecessor, who ended the long Avignon residency of the papacy by returning to Rome in 1377. Four months after Urban’s election, the French cardinals declared it invalid, claiming the Roman populace had forced them to choose an Italian. They were actually alienated by Urban’s refusal to restore the papal court to Avignon, and by his tactlessness and evident intention to institute reform. In September they elected a new pope, Clement VII (Robert of Geneva), and thus initiated the Great Schism* which for thirty-nine years scandalized Christiandom, with two popes claiming to be the sole head of the church. Europe was almost equally divided, each pope’s support based upon political expediency. Urban became involved in Italian quarrels. Deposing Queen Joanna of Naples, he gave her kingdom to Charles of Durazzo. He later placed Naples under interdict and had five cardinals killed for an alleged conspiracy with Charles to restrict Urban’s authority. Urban died at Rome, possibly by poisoning. Despite good intentions, his pontificate was marked by anarchy and left the church confused and divided.Albert H. Freundt, Jr.