Robert of Geneva, the future antipope Clement VII, was born 1342 to Amadeus III, Count of Geneva, and his wife, Matilda de Boulogne. Matilda’s brother, Guy de Boulogne was a statesman and a cardinal during 33 years of the Avignon papacy.
Robert was destined for the clergy. First he studied at La Sorbonne. At 17, he was appointed Prothonotary Apostolic. This was a very high, mostly honorary position. He became bishop of Therouanne two years later. Then archbishop of Cambrai in 1368. On May 30, 1371, he became a cardinal. As he became a statesman serving in England, he became an archdeacon of Dorset, then a prebend of a church in Wiltshire and then, in 1375, the rector of Biskopwearmouth in County Durham. The last two he carried simultaneously. The income from his last position gave him significant wealth, enough to campaign for the papal election.
Two years later, under Pope Gregory XI, Robert was a papal legate in northern Italy. His assigned goal was to put down a rebellion involving Florence and the Papal States, known as the War of Eight Saints. Cardinal Robers commanded thousands of military troops lent to the papacy to reduce the city of Cesena. This small city had rebelled against joining the papal states for the second time in a generation. The cardinal authorized the murder of between 3000 and 8000 civilians in the city, earning him the nickname of “the butcher of Cesna”.
Shortly after this disaster, Pope Gregory died on 27 March 1378. A Roman mob surrounded the ensuing conclave insisting that they wanted no more French popes. Fear led the cardinals to elect Bartolomeo Prignano, April 8, a man born in Naples, thus neither French nor Roman. He took the name Urban VI. The cardinals then rushed to leave Rome before the citizens figured out that the new Pope was not a Roman.
French cardinals and cardinals who opposed moving back to Rome or the election of Pope Urban headed north to Fondi, in the Papal States. There they voted to nullify the election of Urban and chose Robert. He was consecrated on 20 September 1378, taking the name Clement VII. At this point, there were now two popes. This is the start of the Western Schism.
Not one to accept defeat, Urban got together an army and went after Clement. Urban won the battle of Marino. Clement escaped, eventually getting to Naples, where Queen Joanne welcomed him and accepted his consecration as truth. The only problem was that the Neapolitans did not accept Clement. He and his followers left for Avignon.
Charles V of France accepted this new pope, likely so that he could intervene in Italian politics. Scotland accepted and supported him because England supported Urban. Several other kingdoms and dukedoms supported Clement, such as Aragon, Navarre, Castile, Savoy, Burgundy, and pockets in Germany. But this was not a plurality of Catholics.
In November of the same year, Urban excommunicated Clement. Louis of Anjou, younger brother of the king of France, took up arms at Clement’s expense to invade Italy. Clement’s goal of triumph over Urban was unsuccessful.
Despite his continued fight, Clement lost land, money, and followers over the years. But his desire to keep the schism going was still strong. He eventually realized the impossibility of his win due to the expenses of the wars, the embassies to support, the need to defend himself against enemy incursions. But he also suffered from luxurious tastes and refused to refer questions about the schism to a council. His antagonists began to blame him for the schism mostly due to his obstinance in persisting along the course.
In 1392, Pope Clement inherited the Count of Geneva from his brother. There was much money associated with that position. But he was getting too old to follow through. He died two years later, 16 September 1394, at Avignon, convinced of his legitimacy.