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Pope Honorius IV

Honorius IV, né Giaocomo Savelli (ca. 1210 - April 3, 1287) was pope for two years from 1285 to 1287.

He was born as Giacomo Savelli; he was born in and died in Rome. He belonged to the rich and influential family of the Savelli and was a grandnephew of Pope Honorius III.


Early Work

He studied at the University of Paris, during which time he held a prebend and a canonry at the cathedral of Châlons-sur-Marne. Later he obtained the benefice of rector at the church of Berton, in the Diocese of Norwich.

In 1261 he was created Cardinal-Deacon of Santa Maria in Cosmedin by Pope Martin IV, who also appointed him papal prefect in Tuscany and captain of the papal army. By order of Pope Clement IV he and three other cardinals invested Charles of Anjou as King of Sicily at Rome on 28 July, 1265. He was one of the six cardinals who elected Pope Gregory X by compromise at Viterbo on 1 Sept., 1271.

In 1274 he accompanied Gregory X to the Fourteenth General Council at Lyons, and in July, 1276, he was one of the three cardinals whom Pope Adrian V sent to Viterbo with instructions to treat with King Rudolf I of Hapsburg concerning his imperial coronation at Rome and his future relations towards Charles of Anjou, King of Sicily. The death of Adrian V in the following month rendered fruitless the negotiations with Rudolf.

Elected Pope

Martin IV died 28 March, 1285, at Perugia. Giacomo Savelli was unanimously elected pope on April 2 and took the name of Honorius IV. His election was one of the speediest in the history of the papacy. On May 20 he was consecrated bishop and crowned pope in the basilica of St. Peter at Rome. Honorius was already advanced in age and so severely affected with the gout that he could neither stand nor walk. When saying Mass he was obliged to sit on a stool and at the Elevation his hands had to be raised by a mechanical contrivance.

Sicilian Conflict

Sicilian affairs required the immediate attention of Honorius. Previously under Martin IV, the Sicilians had rejected the pope's authority by throwing off the rule of Charles of Anjou and taking Pedro III of Aragon as their king without the consent and approval of the pope.

The awful massacre of 31 March, 1282, known as the Sicilian Vespers, had precluded any reconciliation with Martin IV. He put Sicily and Pedro III under an interdict, deprived Pedro of the Kingdom of Aragon, and gave it to Charles of Valois, the son of King Philip III of France. He also assisted Charles of Anjou in his attempts to recover Sicily by force of arms. The Sicilians not only repulsed the attacks of Charles of Anjou but also captured his son Charles of Salerno. On 6 January, 1285, Charles of Anjou died, leaving his captive son Charles of Salerno as his natural successor.

Such were the conditions in Sicily when Honorius IV ascended the papal throne. He was more peaceably inclined than Martin IV, but he did not renounce the claims of the Church and of the House of Anjou upon the Sicilian crown, nor did he set aside the severe ecclesiastical punishments imposed upon Sicily.

On the other hand, he did not approve of the tyrannical government to which the Sicilians had been subject under Charles of Anjou. This is evident from his wise legislation as embodied in his constitution of 17 September, 1285 ("Constitutio super ordinatione regni Siciliae" in "Bullarium Romanum", Turin, IV, 70-80). In this constitution he states that no government can prosper which is not founded on justice and peace, and he passes forty-five ordinances intended chiefly to protect the people of Sicily against their king and his officials.

The death of Pedro III on 11 November, 1285, somewhat changed the Sicilian situation. His two sons Alfonso and James succeeded him, the former as King of Aragon, the latter as King of Sicily. Honorius IV, of course, acknowledged neither the one nor the other. On 11 April, 1286, he solemnly excommunicated King James of Sicily and the bishops who had taken part in his coronation at Palermo on 2 February, 1286; but neither the king nor the bishops concerned themselves about the excommunication. The king even sent a hostile fleet to the Roman coast and destroyed the city of Astura by fire.

Charles of Salerno, the lawful King of Sicily, who was still held captive by the Sicilians, finally grew tired of his long captivity and signed a contract on 27 February, 1287, in which he renounced his claims to the Kingdom of Sicily in favour of James of Aragon and his heirs. Honorius IV, however, declared the contract invalid and forbade all similar agreements for the future.

While Honorius IV was inexorable in the stand he had taken towards Sicily and its self-imposed king, his relations towards Alfonso of Aragon became less hostile. Through the efforts of King Edward I of England, negotiations for peace were begun by Honorius IV and King Alfonso.

The pope, however, did not live long enough to complete these negotiations, which finally resulted in a peaceful settlement of the Aragonese as well as the Sicilian question in 1302 under Boniface VIII.


Rome and the States of the Church enjoyed a period of tranquillity during the pontificate of Honorius IV, the like of which they had not enjoyed for many years. He had the satisfaction of reducing the most powerful and obstinate enemy of papal authority, Count Guido of Montefeltro, who for many years had successfully resisted the papal troops. The authority of the pope was now recognized throughout the papal territory, which then comprised the Exarchate of Ravenna, the March of Ancona, the Duchy of Spoleto, the County of Bertinoro, the Mathildian lands, and the Pentapolis, viz. the cities of Rimini, Pesaro, Fano, Sinigaglia, and Ancona.

The Romans were greatly elated at the election of Honorius IV, for he was a citizen of Rome and a brother of Pandulf, a senator of Rome. The continuous disturbances in Rome during the pontificate of Martin V had not allowed that pope to reside in Rome, but now the Romans cordially invited Honorius IV to make Rome his permanent residence. During the first few months of his pontificate he lived in the Vatican, but in the autumn of 1285 he removed to the magnificent palace which he had just erected on the Aventine.


In his relations with the empire, where no more danger wasto be apprehended since the fall of the Hohenstaufen, he followed the via media taken by Gregory X. Rudolf of Hapsburg sent Bishop Henry of Basel to Rome to request coronation. Honorius appointed the envoy archbishop of Mainz, fixed a date for the coronation, and sent Cardinal John of Tusculum to Germany to assist Rudolf's cause. But general opposition showed itself to the papal interference; a council at Wurzburg (Mar. 16-18, 1287) protested energetically, and Rudolf had to protect the legate from personal violence, so that both his plans and the pope's failed.

Other Work

He inherited plans for another Crusade, but confined himself to collecting the tithes imposed by the Council of Lyons, arranging with the great banking-houses of Florence, Sienna, and Pistoia to act as his agents.

The two largest religious orders at that time received many new privileges from Honorius IV, documented in his Regesta. He often appointed them to special missions and to bishoprics, and gave them exclusive charge of the inquisition.

He also approved the privileges of the Carmelites and the Augustinian hermits and permitted the former to exchange their striped habit for a white one. He was especially devoted to the Williamites, an order founded by St. William, Duke of Aquitaine (d. 1156), and added numerous privileges to those which they had already received from Alexander IV and Urban IV. Besides turning over to them some deserted Benedictine monasteries, he presented them with the monastery of St. Paul at Albano, which he himself had founded and richly endowed when he was still cardinal.

Salimbene, the chronicler of Parma, asserted that Honorius was a foe to the religious orders. This may reflect the fact that he opposed the Apostolic Brethren , which had been started by Gerard Segarelli at Parma in 1260. On March 11, 1286, he issued a bull condemning them as heretics.

At the University of Paris he advocated the establishment of chairs for Eastern languages in order to give an opportunity of studying these languages to those who intended to labour for the conversion of the Muslims and the reunion of the schismatic churches in the East.

This article includes content derived from the public domain Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, 1914. Initial text from the Catholic Encyclopedia, 1908, with some modernization.

Preceded by
Martin IV
Succeeded by
Nicholas IV

Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45