Pope Urban III was the second of that name to be involved with the Crusades. By the time Urban III reigned, the Third Crusade was starting.
Born Uberto Crivelli in 1120, the future pope grew up surrounded by a large noble family who lived in and near Milan. After his childhood, he studied in Bologna. By the time he was 35, his world was dictated by the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa (Red Beard), a violent man of the same age.
Shortly after being elected, Barbarossa called for the Diet of Roncaglia, which granted him vast rights and 30,000 pounds of silver a year. From 1158 on, Barbarossa developed a systematic financial administration by reducing Italy to well-controlled castles and cities. All “self-government” was really controlled by imperial officials. This essentially curtailed the rights of the cities. Taxes paid by the citizens were used by nobles and the communes to keep from imperial service. Frederick’s protection was guaranteed. A portion of the tax money he got went to the German princes to win their support. But the ecclesiastical princes of the empire had to serve in Italy. Other portions of the tax money went to enlisting mercenaries to free Frederick militarily from protecting the fief holders.
Frederick laid siege to Milan in 1162. It was conquered and destroyed. Several of Uberto’s relatives were destroyed in the siege. Uberto never forgave the emperor.
Pope Alexander III made Uberto a cardinal in 1173. In 1182, he became the cardinal priest of San Lorenzo in Lucina. Three years later, he returned home to Milan as the archbishop. As a member of the Curia, Uberto was fiercely against Frederick. When Pope Lucius died in Verona, in November 1185, the cardinals immediately elected Uberto to replace him. They were afraid of the emperor hearing of an empty papal throne. It was only empty for hours. Uberto became Urban III. Like Pope Lucius, Urban could spend no time in Rome.
The new pope had his hands full. There was a civil war brewing in Syria between Christian nobles. The Moors were battling the same nobles, trying to keep hold of Jerusalem.
The pope and the emperor disagreed on much. In June of 1186, when Frederick wanted Rudolph as his new archbishop of Trier, Pope Urban consecrated Bishop Folman.
When the emperor wanted his son, Henry of Hohenstaufen, to be crowned emperor while Frederick was still alive, Urban objected to two emperors. But, worse, Henry became engaged to Constance, the daughter of the late King Roger II of Sicily. Urban saw that as trying to squeeze the papacy out as there would be enemies to the north and south of him. Frederick took matters into his own hands and had the two be married at Milan by the Patriarch of Aqueleia. The Patriarch then crowned Henry king of Italy. This was seen as a deliberate offense to Urban. The Patriarch was subsequently excommunicated.
In April of 1187, Frederick convoked the Diet of Gelnhausen. He barred the papal legate from attending. He planned on telling Urban who was the superior. The German bishops supported the emperor. Urban summoned Frederick to Verona, planning on excommunicating him for the crowning of his son and the marriage. However, the citizens of Verona refused to let Urban excommunicate their emperor. Urban chose to move the meeting to Venice and left Verona. The old pope, at 67, died in Ferrera, enroute to Venice on 19 October 1187. He had reigned just under two years.
He died not having heard that the Christians lost the battle of Hattin, outside of Tiberias, to the famous Saladin. This meant that Jerusalem fell to the Moors. However, for hundreds of years, the story has been that his collapse and death were due to the anxiety of hearing the news.