Jacques (James) Panteleon was the first French pope in a very long time. Born at the end of the 12th century, he was the son of a cobbler in Troyes, France, in the Champagne district. He had an excellent education at the Sorbonne in Paris, studying theology and common law. He is said to have taught there for a while. During his lifetime, he was considered active, capable, self-reliant and always ready for any work that presented itself. Eventually, Jacques became a canon at the cathedral of Laon in northern France, 120 miles from his hometown. Later, he was archdeacon of Laon.
In 1245, as archdeacon, Jacques attended the Council of Lyon, which Innocent IV called. Innocent was impressed by the relatively young man and within two years, Jacques served as his emissary to Germany. One time was to help negotiate the Treaty of Christburg between the pagan Prussians and the Teutonic Knights. These Knights were a group of Catholic mercenary military people plus many volunteers who had protected Christians in the Holy Land and the Baltic areas for fifty plus years. In 1253, Jacques became the Bishop of Verdun, within a few miles of the border with the Holy Roman Empire. Almost before he could be comfortable in his new home, the new pope, Alexander IV named him Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.
In 1261, Jerusalem was in dire straits. The Europeans were finding it difficult to hold on to the territory. The Byzantine Empire and the Muslims were both fighting the Latins. Bishop Pantaleon decided to go seek the counsel of Pope Alexander, who was living in Viterbo. No sooner had he arrived when Alexander died on 25 May. The bishop did not get his answers. Before another pope could be elected, the Latin Empire of Constantinople fell to the Byzantines, led by the emperor Michael VIII Palarologos. After a three-month vacancy, the eight cardinals elected the bishop to be pope on 29 August. Jacques Pantaleon took the name Urban IV.
Pope Urban tried to start a crusade to restore the Latin Empire of Constantinople. He could not get it off the ground. In The History of Constantinople, the author, George Pachymaras reports that when Emperor Michael’s envoys came to negotiate, Urban flayed one of them alive.
Due to the political upheaval regarding the popes, the Kingdom of Sicily and the Hohenstaufen family, who ran the Holy Roman Empire, Rome was still an unsafe place for popes to live. Urban never lived there.
He did some admirable things. He bought land and began construction on the Basilica of St. Urbain in Troyes in 1262. He instituted the Feast of Corpus Christi in August 1264, asking St. Thomas Aquinas to write the texts for the Mass and Office. His death prevented him from fully establishing the feast, which was left to Clement V. Urban put the Vatican finances in order and paid Pope Alexander’s debts. He changed the bankers of the Apostolic Camera and employed a Sienese firm to assure its success.
Urban roused dissention between rival Ghibelline (anti-pope and, essentially, pro-Hohenstaufen) cities in a unique way. He acknowledged the right of the Holy See to declare null all obligations towards those excommunicated, financial or otherwise. Thus, he threw commercial affairs into chaos.
Manfred, the natural son of Emperor Frederick II had essentially ruled Sicily since 1258. The popes did not want him on that throne, since he also ruled Lombardy and the Church property could be crushed between the two. At the same time, Urban tried negotiating with Manfred, asking the king to aid the Latins in regaining Constantinople in return for a papal confirmation of Hohenstaufen rights.
Urban chose Charles d’Anjou, younger brother of King Louis IX of France, to seize Sicily and the lower peninsula. The pope declared war on Manfred. Meanwhile, he roused the new Guelph (pro-papal) party which furnished Charles d’Anjou with money for the coming conflict.
Unfortunately, Urban died in Perugia 2 October 1264, before Charles could arrive. Charles wasn’t crowned until 2 years after Urban died.