Despite being embroiled in a war against a powerful coalition of major Italian cities, and being under the kosh of rebellion from the vast majority of towns in the Papal patrimony, as he sat in Avignon Gregory XI still managed to find time to muse about the big things in life. Will Heavy Metal really start in the industrial town of Birmingham in the 20th century as has been foretold by Nostradamus? Why do the English put plastic tubs in their sinks? Or more importantly, How could and should he re-establish the purity of the pope’s spiritual leadership of Christendom? Well, independence of action surely had to be one thing; Gregory was still a firm believer that it was only with independence from secular rulers that he could extend the plenitudinus Postestatis, the plenitude of Papal power to its fullest, and purist extent – not just over the church but secular rulers to boot afterall they were subject to the kingdom of God.
Probably in reality the idea of papal superiority over temporalities was by this stage a busted flush since the efforts of Boniface VIII crashed and burned at the end of the 13th century, but you know, something worth fighting for never say never. To achieve freedom and to make the likes of Petrarch and Catherine of Siena happy, a powerful symbolic and indeed practical step would be to return to Rome from Avignon. He would have freedom from the secular rulers of France; Rome was the spiritual capital of Christendom – it was Gregory’s fervent wish and dream to return there. But at the moment, by so doing he would gain anything BUT freedom – his Patrimony was in flames, eight saints, etc etc etc. Nightmare. But he was determined – and so he needed someone to prepare the way of the pope out of the wilderness, and St John the Baptist was not currently available, and so Gregory turned instead to Robert of Geneva. Who, to be fair had little in common with John outside a very contentious, and possibly blasphemous, connection made by shed-bound podcasters.
Robert of Geneva, or Bob as he wasn’t called by anyone who wanted to survive the conversation, was about 35 in 1376, born the son of Amadeus, Count of Geneva; he had been an Archbishop of Cambrai since 1368, and a Cardinal since 1371. He was a cheerful pluralist of course, goes without saying, with 3 livings in England as it happens. This was handy because he was able to use the income to help him win papal elections later in life, but more of that later. His reputation has suffered, gentle listeners at the hands of historians, and by the end of this episode you will understand why if you are not in the know, but he was acknowledged already to be in the first rank of the corrupt Avignon Bishops, who attracted Petrarch’s stormy condemnation of lust, gluttony, pride and so on and so forth, tick as appropriate. He was a confident, arrogant, powerful – an implacable man.
So I guess there were two ways Robert could help. As a Cardinal of the Church, he should probably have taken a leaf from St John’s book, and gone to Italy to preach repentance and to prepare for the coming of the Pope. Or alternatively, he could take advantage of the chaos of the routiers plundering France, raise a massive army of 10,000 Breton mercenaries, composed of 6,000 horse and 4,000 foot, travel overland to Italy and reduce the Papal towns to abject obedience by violence and terror. There are no prizes for guessing which fork in the road Gregory and his loyal Cardinal decided to take. Robert was confident that his 10,000 Breton mercenaries, 6,000 horse and 4,000 foot, could do the job of any preacher. When Gregory asked one of his captains if Robert could beat Florence he replied
Does the sun enter there? If the sun can enter there, so can he
That’s a yes then along the lines of do bears poo in the forest, is the Pope Catholic and so on. A racing certainty. Which latter is an odd phrase. I’m assured that it’s use, current since the mid 19th century, is not ironic or post modern irony. But I’d have said that if someone tells you to put a few quid on a nag that’s a dead cert, that falls not into the certainty column, but the one next to it with the dodgy sign flashing. Just Saying.
By May 1376, Robert had arrived in the area around Faenza and started preaching. That is to say he’d started he’d star5ed converting people with his 10,000 Breton mercenaries, 6,000 horse and 4,000 foot, and met with Hawkwood at his base there; and then marched onwards further south into Umbria while Hawkwood remained carrying out operations in Romagna and around Bologna. This was the key centre of operations for Hawkwood because Bologna, the Popes flagship city in Romagna, Bologna had also rebelled against papal rule, which was a ‘mare. And indeed the Bolognese revolt was what had drawn Hawkwood to his base at Faenza in the first place. As winter drew in, Robert decided that his Bretons should return to hook up with Hawkwood, and selected Cesena, a town in Romagna a convenient 30 miles from Hawkwood’s base at Faenza. After making camp outside, weather became parky, and decided that his Bretons be allowed to be toastier and take refuge in the town of Cesena rather than outside.
This was a poor-ish decision as far the local citizens were concerned. They’d already had to suffer some time having 10,000 Bretons parked outside, so much so that everyone was wondering what the benefits of loyalty to the Pope were, exactly. Of course, the Mercenaries had the right of purveyance – to take the provisions they needed at a set price which, you will not be surprised to hear was not the market rate. The Bretons were violent and unruly, and now they were inside the town.
The Cesenati had reached the end of their tether. They took action – a brawl broke out – Death to the Bretons! They cried – and in the resulting melee it has to be said that there was a certain amount of rough vengeance taken – some of the Bretons were killed. In response, Robert did the Janus face thing. With one of those faces he made reasonable; told the Cesenati to disarm, and if they did, that’d be fine, he’d pardon the perpetrators. Well, that’s very decent, glad you understand the provocation we have suffered Bob, Here are our weapons, phew that was a close shave!
Meanwhile the other face had sent a message to Hawkwood telling him to come with his men to Cesena double quick. When Hawkwood arrived, he was ordered to put Cesena to the sword. The bare facts as far as reported are that both English and Bretons went to work with a will, and the resulting sack was horrendous. The Reggio Chronicler talked of 2,000 killed; Sozomento wrote of 3,000, and others claimed 5,000. The chronicler of Rimini wrote of men, women and infants slaughtered, the Sienese wrote of bodies left in the street to be eaten by dogs.
Now we might say this is a violent time etc etc but this was without doubt an atrocity, and not just by today’s standards; it was clearly seen as such at the time. Because there were rules; they were vague and unwritten, and they would not have impressed the architects of the Geneva convention, there were rules. A chronicler in 1391 would write of a slaughter
‘contrary to the custom of war, they fought like barbarians and each side made a miserable slaughter of the other’
So there were rules people thought they understood; at some battles – Halidon Hill for example in Scotland, one side might declare that no quarter would be given, in that case being the Scots making the threat, which to be honest they would come to regret. But again – obviously there was a rule about giving quarter – as well as it frankly making better economic sense to ransom the prisoners, such a waste cutting their throats.
War was allowed within the rules, there’s no doubt of that; one jurist wrote that
War is not an evil thing, but good and virtuous for war by its very nature seeks nothing other than to set a right wrong
Bellum Justum, Just War. This is an optimistic and generous description of the motivations for war, but certainly the church approved a just war, and as we have seen constantly seen the Condotierri were understood to be part of that approved landscape in an honourable profession. There were clearer rules about a siege of course, which the Bible provided – that the city be spared if it surrenders, but if not ‘thou shalt smite all the males with the edge of the sword’. Nothing about women and children being fair game though.
So an atrocity at Cesena had been committed; and as mentioned, the chroniclers knew it. It would become known as the Cesena Bloodbath; and as the sack of the Bretons. And yet as that last quote indicates, it did not end Hawkwood’s career because Hawkwood did not get the blame. In the minds of contemporaries, the English were just part of a brigade that included Bretons and Italians too; and that the man responsible was he who had given the order – Robert of Geneva. It was he that became known as the ‘Butcher of Cesena’. These days, that would not have saved Hawkwood from prosecution and conviction – just following orders m’lud doesn’t cut it when you have just ordered your army to slaughter 2000 non combatants. But it did butter parsnips in 1377 apparently. A Sienese chronicler – and let’s be clear, the Sienese were not friends to Hawkwood – related this conversation
I command you to descend on the land and do Justice’ said the Cardinal
‘Sir, when you want I will go and prevail upon the inhabitants, so that they give you their arms and render them unto you’ Hawkwood replied
‘No’ the Cardinal said, ‘I want blood and justice’
‘Please think about it ‘ Hawkwood protested
‘I command you this’ said the Cardinal
The reasoning in Robert of Geneva’s mind was probably the crime of rebellion, although even that is tangential. But rebellion was indeed considered a great crime by the great and the, well, the great, in those days of rigid social hierarchy; rebellion was a threat to the natural order of society, if it were allowed, what might follow? When the citizens of Faenza complained to Gregory about the way Hawkwood has treated them too, they were tarred with the same brush, and Gregory replied
‘…the origin of that calamity was the rebellion of Bologna! For the Englishman would never have invaded Faenza if Bologna had remained loyal. Thus those that were the cause of the Bolognese rebellion are also the cause of the wretched destruction of Faenza’.
We may hear of Robert of Geneva again, in an event called the Western Schism. For which we need to go back to Avignon. So, let’s go back a few months to September 1376. Robert of Geneva has arrived in Italy, and so Gregory is feeling chipper. It is time to leave he thinks, time to take the Pope back home up where he belongs, where the Eagles fly and so on.
Well, when the news got out – you could hear the weeping and the wailing all over Christendom. The wailing was coming not from the likes of St Catherine, it was coming from the worshippers of Mammon, from the merchants of Avignon. They would be ruined. The home of the largest richest multinational organisation leaving, all those administrators and their fat salaries and all that demand for gluttony and lust and so on elsewhere – all these were a great way of making a bit of brass. So On the big day, the square and streets below the papal palace were rammed. The Cardinals were almost as gutted to be fair, to have to up-sticks from their comfortable palaces and so on, and Gregory’s Dad was simply – beside himself.
But never fear, Mr Pope Gregory Senior had a plan. All was not yet lost, this terrible thing could still be turned around. So, as the Pope’s slippered feet hit the square heading towards his carriage, his old Dad threw himself on the ground at his son’s feet. I say threw, If this was me there’d be a certain amount of prep needed and a deal of groaning, but threw himself is more dramatic, so, onward
‘My son! Where are you going? Shall I never see you again?’
Piteous, no doubt, reproachful, maybe the odd tear. Not angry just disappointed vibe maybe? His son was not impressed, and as he stepped over his father’s prone body, he sai, grimly I would think might be the adverb –
It is written, thou shalt trample on the asp and the Basilisk
Which is surely a little harsh, I’m sure my children have muttered tins about their Dad in the past, not sure they’d have gone all the way to ap or basilisk. Presumably as Gregory receded into the distance he might have heard his Dad asking if someone could please help him up his back was killing him.
Gregory had a bit of a journey, but in January 1377 he had arrived back in Rome, and the Babylonian Captivity was over. He only just made it to be honest; by March of the following year, he was dead. When he died, the old Roman aristocracy went straight back into their modus operandum – oh goodie, they said, the happy days are here again. A programme of intimidation and violence made sure the college of Cardinals elected an, Italian, of course, the Bishop of Bari who could be trusted to stay around and enrich and empower the locals again. A few Cardinals though also regretted leaving Avignon, and decided they’d like to go back there and check someone had helped Gregory’s Dad get off the hard cobbles. So they had a meeting and guess who they elected? Well clearly, someone responsible for slaughtering thousands of innocents would be the obvious choice and so, who’da believed it, Come on Down Robert of Geneva, Pope Clement VII. You can’t keep a good man down.
The world was then in schism again, and divided up behind their favourite Pope, In a similar way to voting at the Eurovision Song Contest actually. Robert was French, so of course the French king backed him. The English therefore inevitably chose the other, Non French one, Urban so the Scots duly voted for the ones the English didn’t like and became clemementinies. So we now have a pope, and an anti Pope. Good times.
Where was Hawkwood in all of this? Well who knows what impact Cesena had on Hawkwood. I mean to be honest, he was a pretty hardbitten mercenary warlord, but it is possible he was affected by the bloodshed, especially as the end of his contract arrived in early 1377 which gave him decisions to make; and to be honest, he had found his contract very difficult with constant issues about pay. And just maybe Cesena had sickened him; he’d done what he saw as his duty, but he may have hated it and the Sienese chronicler knew what he was talking about – we cannot know. But it would turn out to be time for a change, and there are three things really.
The first is a curious affair – he received a message from the office of the King of England. It seems that John Hawkwood had made a petition to the king – a petition for a pardon. This seems very odd – after all he’d been in the king’s service, and then left for Italy, and he was a long way away now, with lands and all; why did he need a pardon from his ex-king? But actually there are precedents; a notorious English Routier, Robert Knowles had done the same thing; and also John Thornbury. It was a pretty general petition from Hawkwood – for
‘all disobediences, takings of towns, castles and fortresses and prisoners surrendered without licence, breakings of truces and safe-conducts, sales of castles, cities and boroughs, towns, manors, lands, rents, services and prisoners to the king’s enemies and others’
Which mentions pretty much everything except that old library fine. It has to be that Hawkwood, again, was thinking of leaving for England – as indeed John Thornbury did the very next year 1378.
The second was that while it seems he was constantly thinking of a return to England, he was stunningly well set up here in Italia; he now had extensive lands, in Lombardy and Romagna; he had annual stipends from Florence and from Johanna of Naples. He was sitting pretty, and it’s hard to leave, though he was getting on now, 55 years of age.
But just how pretty he was sitting was rather demonstrated by the third and final thing – which was that he was pursued, with some vigour and in a good way, by Florence – but once more also by his old sparring partner and employer, Bernabo Visconti. And they both came bearing gifts – something to be worried about with Greeks, I understand, but not necessarily with Florentines and Lombards. Firsts of all they were prepared to offer a mighty salary; 3,200 florins a month for Hawkwood, 42 florins a month for a lance, and up to 28 for an archer – that’s pay inequality for you. This seems like a golden hello – because it was double the normal rate, and the rates for the serving men were cut in half the following month – still a good price. Hawkwood’s fee remained the same – the privileges of command I think they call it. Hawkwood was to command a contingent of 800 lances, and 500 archers for a year, and it was too good an offer to miss. So in May 1377 Hawkwood left the Papal service and joined the League. There were clearly other inducements on the table too, which drew John’s eye.