Pope Boniface IX is number 203 in the list of official popes. He was also the second pope of the Western Schism to stay in Rome, doing so 2 November 1389 to 1 October 1404.
About 1350, Piero Cybo Tomacelli was born in Naples. He was from a poor but influential family from Genoa who had settled in Naples.
He was not trained in theology nor skilled in the business of the Curia. However, he was tactful and prudent with a firm character and a mild manner. At an early age he became a cardinal deacon and, soon, a cardinal priest. There was a pope in Avignon and another in Rome and Europe’s allegience was split between them.
In a very dangerous era, Cardinal Piero was elected to the papacy, taking the name Pope Boniface IX as the 203rd pope. Only three years before, King Charles of Naples had been assassinated. The day before his election, the Avignon Pope Clement crowned Louis II of Anjou king of Naples, leaving Charles’ son, Prince Ladislaus, with nothing. It took six months, but the new Pope had Ladislaus crowned as king of Naples. The young king fought to expand his land for the rest of his life.
After that was settled, Boniface had to participate in armed conflicts to regain control the Papal States, including fortifying Castel Sant’Angelo and bridges leading into Rome. He often had to live at Assisi and Perugia for safety. Gradually he gained control of the castles and cities of the Papal States. Once all was settled, the States and Rome became more accepting of the pope’s leadership and accepted his supremacy over them.
Meanwhile, in Avignon, Antipope Clement VII died in 1394. Within thirteen days, the French cardinals again elected a new pope who took the name Benedict XIII. This splitting of the papacy was on everyone’s nerves. Pope Boniface was urged to abdicate by Richard II of England, the Diet of Frankfort and Wenceslaus of Germany. There was pressure for an ecumenical council to determine the way out of this schism, but Boniface made no headway in establishing a council.
Lack of money to operate the military and the papacy led to problems, even after Boniface’s life. He taxed his followers. His representatives sold indulgences, preferments and exemptions. The Pope, himself, insisted on a portion of all benefices he bestowed. But still it was not enough. When he died, his mother, brothers and nephews were well cared for and many accused Boniface of accumulating money. No one seemed to remember that, at the time, cardinals got a large cut of all income.
At the height of his papacy, Pope Boniface preached for a Crusade against the Turks who were trying to cross the Danube. Lead by the heroic King Sigismund of Hungary, son of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, the Turks were beat. By 1398, the Turks had turned on Constantinople. Boniface asked for another Crusade. No one seemed willing to donate a second time. The only way Constantinople was saved was the Mongols appeared and the Turks were too busy with them to attack the West.
During the eighteen years of Boniface’s reign there were two Jubilee years, 1390, as established by Pope Urban VI, the previous pope, and 1400, established by Boniface. The first one was largely attended by people of Germany, Hungary, Bohemia and England. Indulgences were preached, getting out of hand and ending in scandals. The second was attended primarily by large numbers of French, despite the dangerous plague that was in the city. Many of the city’s doctors, including those who were Jewish, were commended for their work. Thereafter, some city leader referred to Jews as “citizens”, a term not used before.
In the years after the change of popes in Avignon, Boniface did not negotiate with the new antipope for some time. Envoys were exchanged occasionally but nothing was achieved. Boniface was distressed after one such visit in 1404. He took to his bed and died two days later. The Romans took the envoys hostage and held them for ransom, which was paid.