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Sketches of Church History

by 'James Craigie Robertson'

Book 2 — Church History: A.D. 589 - 1517

Chapter 21 — The Popes return to Rome

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While the popes lived at Avignon, Rome suffered very much from their absence. There was nothing like a regular government. The great Roman families (such as the Colonnas, whom I have mentioned in speaking of Boniface VIII) carried on their quarrels with each other, and no one attempted or was strong enough to check them. Murders, robberies, and violences of all sorts were common. The vast and noble buildings which had remained from ancient times were neglected; the churches and palaces fell to decay, even the manners of the Romans became rough and rude, from the want of anybody to teach them better and to show them an example.

And not only Rome but all Italy missed the pope's presence. The princes carried on their wars by means of hired bands of soldiers, who were mostly strangers from beyond the Alps. These bands hired out their services to any one who would pay enough, and, although they were faithful to each employer for the time that was agreed on, they were ready at the end of that time to engage themselves for money to one who might be their late master's enemy. The most famous captain of such hireling soldiers was Sir John Hawkwood, an Englishman, who is commonly said to have been a tailor in London before he took to arms, but this I believe to be a mistake. He fought for many years in Italy, and a picture of him on horseback, which serves for his monument, is still to be seen in Florence Cathedral.

The Romans again and again entreated the popes to come back to their city. The chief poet and writer of the age, Petrarch, urged them both in verse and in prose to return. But the cardinals, who at this time were mostly Frenchmen, had grown so used to the pleasures of Avignon that they did all they could to keep the popes there. At length, in 1367, Urban V made his way back to Rome, where the emperors both of the East and of the West met to do him honour, but after a short stay in Italy he returned to Avignon, where he soon after died (AD 1370). His successor, Gregory XI, however, was more resolute, and removed the papacy to Rome in 1377; and this was the end of what was styled the seventy years' captivity in Babylon (p 240).

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