History Jar Challenge 18

Clement VII

For a complete list of popes in reverse order please follow this link:


There are, it turns out, rather a lot of them – 265 at current count.

The first pope was St Peter and he was, of course, crucified upside down. The next 31 popes were also martyrs and saints.

My first encounter with English History that involved a pope was the tale of St Gregory the Great. Gregory I began his papacy in Ad 590 and died in 604. He’s the pope who say Angle slaves in the market and said that they looked more like angels, on the back of which he set about reintroducing Roman Christianity into England. In 596 he sent St Augustine to Kent.

King Alfred the great was four when he went with his father to Rome in 853. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reported that the future king was confirmed by Pope Leo IV. Alfred returned to Rome two years later.

In 1066 Pope Alexander II blessed William the Conqueror’s intended invasion of England by declaring it a crusade. England had an unfortunate habit of appointing its own bishops. The pope thought that the papacy ought to hold that particular right. William had already developed his links with the papacy. He had required a papal dispensation in order for his marriage to Matilda of Flanders to be legitimated. Essentially the papacy wished to extend it’s power base outside Rome and Italy. It assumed that William the Conqueror, if he was victorious would tow the line. Unfortunately a later pope – Gregory VII discovered that William was not prepared to become the pontiff’s vassal.

Henry I continued the argument, refusing to allow his bishops to travel to Rome to be invested with their authority.

In 1154, Nicholas Breakspear became Pope Adrian IV — the only English Pope. Usually he is blamed for giving Ireland to Henry II – the papal bull identifying the king as the Lord of Ireland is open to question in terms of authenticity.

Unfortunately for the papacy English kings continued to take the view that they had the right to appoint bishops and abbots to vacant posts. This contention simmered to the surface during the reign of Henry II and resulted in the death of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. Superficially this resulted in the ascendency of the papacy who required Henry to do penance. In reality the king and the pope rubbed along with a series of compromises.

In 1209 Pope Innocent III excommunicated the whole country thanks to the shenanigans of King John after he refused to recognise Stephen Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury. In 1213 John agreed to pay feudal dues and effectively became the Pope’s vassal …on paper.

In 1378 there were two popes thanks to the Avignon Papacy. Schism resulted in popes and counter popes. You chose the one who would give you want you wanted. This coincided with the Hundred Years War.

From 1529 onward Henry VIII’s minister Thomas Cromwell worked to restrict the pope’s power in a bid to ensure his master’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon. In 1534 the Act of Supremacy was passed which made Henry the head of the Church in England. Pope Clement VII had tried to delay the inevitable but given that he was a prisoner of Catherine of Aragon’s nephew at the time he wasn’t really ever going to give Henry what he wanted.

Fletcher, Stella (2017) The Popes and Britain: A History of Rule, Rupture and ReconciliationHardcover