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From The Lives of the Popes from the Time of our Saviour Jesus Christ to the Accession of Gregory VII. Written Originally in Latin by B. Platina, Native of Cremona, and translated into English (from an anonymous translation, first printed in 1685 by Sir Paul Rycaut), Edited by William Benham, Volume I, London: Griffith, Farran, Okeden & Welsh, [1888, undated in text]; pp. 261-263.

The Lives of the Popes,
B. Platina

Volume I.



A.D. 996-999.

GREGORY the Fifth, a Saxon, son of Otho, before called Bruno, by the authority of Otho III. for kindred sake was made Pope.1 But upon the return of Otho into Germany, being vexed by the Roman factions, he fled first into Tuscany, and thence into Germany to the Emperor. Meanwhile the Romans vest Crescentius with an absolute consular power, who immediately creates Pope, John, a Greek, Bishop of Piacenza, not more wealthy than learned, whose name, I confess, is by some left out of the catalogue of Popes as not regularly created; but others make him John XVI. because he was chosen by the clergy and people of Rome, to whom the right of election belongeth. Crescentius, upon the news of Otho’s approach with his army, fortifies the walls and gates of the city with all diligence; he fortifies too the castle of St Angelo, and places strong guards in every post that required, so that for some time after it was called Crescentius’s castle, taking the name of him that fortified it instead of that of the builder. At length the Emperor arrived, and investing the city, when the Romans perceived themselves unable to withstand so great forces, trusting to the clemency of Otho, they opened their gates to the Germans. And now, Crescentius and John being without friends, and at their wits’ end, fled into Castle St Angelo and defended themselves well, till, upon hopes of pardon, coming forth to address themselves to the Emperor, 262 Crescentius, receiving many wounds from the multitude, was killed; but John, having his eyes first put out, lost both his Popedom and life together; and Gregory, after he had been expelled nine months, was restored. He, taking notice of the weakness of the Empire and the uncertainties of chance, and being willing to preserve the Empire among the Germans, and that he should be preferred before others who excelled in worth and virtue, with the consent of Otho, he made a decree concerning the election of an emperor, A.D. 1002, which has continued in force to this day: — To wit, that it should belong to the Germans alone to choose a prince who should be Cæsar and king of the Romans, till the Pope should have confirmed him, and then to have the titles of Emperor and Augustus. Ptolemy writes that at first the power of election of emperor was in the Archbishop of Mentz for Germany, the Archbishop of Triers for France, and the Archbishop of Cologne for Italy. To these were added four secular princes, the Marquis of Brandenburgh, who, after the election, is chamberlain to the emperor, the Count Palatine, who is chief sewer, the Duke of Saxony, who is sword-bearer, and the King of Bohemia, the seventh elector (and cup-bearer), was added, they say, to prevent discord between parties, for if the rest were equally divided, his vote turned the scale. This, it is said, gave distaste to the French: but because the line of Charles the Great being extinct in Louis, the son of Lotharius, that realm was fallen into the hands of Hugh Capet, the chief minister at that time (the great affairs of that kingdom for some time not being managed by kings), they waved all thought of retrieving the Empire; but the main reason was, that the new possessors were well enough satisfied with their fortune, and dared not attempt any thing further, till they were certain that their late-acquired regal power stood upon a good foundation. Robert, the son and successor of the great Hugh, is much and deservedly praised for his courage, justice, modesty, and religion; for though he exercised himself very much in the art military, yet he found time so often to frequent the churches of God, and to celebrate the Divine service, as if he had been in holy orders. He is said to have made the hymn, “Sancti spiritûs adsit nobis gratia;” and by these arts not less powerful than his arms, he gained the hearts of the people, and drew those honourable respects to his family which they had before given to that of 263 Charles the Great. Robert, a certain bishop of Chartres, is about this time said to have been in great repute for learning and sanctity; he having written much and reduced the singing in churches to a better method. Gregory died after he had been Pope two years and five months. The see was vacant fifteen days.


 1  [He was a man of holy life and character, and his austerity gave offence to the laxer spirits. His accession marks an important crisis in the history of the Papacy. The outrageous wickedness of the pontiffs had horrified Christendom, indifferent as it was to religion at this time, and the choice of Otho’s kinsman was made in the hope of securing a man of decent life. But this kinship was a deadly offence on the eyes of the Romans; they were eager to get rid of him, and were incited by Crescentius, the consul, a very eloquent speaker, who roused them by his passionate reminders of the liberties of their fathers, and the glories of the ancient republic.]

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Previous Pope: 143. John XV. 144. Gregory V. Next Pope: 145. John XVI.

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