Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Cola di Rienzo: An Extraordinary Medieval Leader

Cola di Rienzo was born in Rome in 1313. He claimed to be the son of the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry VII. However, his origins were more humble, his father a tavern-keeper and his mother a washer-woman. His early years were spent at Anagni an he devoted his time to the study of the ancient Rome, in the ancient writers of Livy, Valerius Maximus, Cicero, Seneca, Boethius and the poets. This filled him with determination to restore Rome to its former greatness and power, this was only fuelled by his desire to avenge his brother who had been killed by a noble. He returned to Rome as a student at the age of 20 and in 1343 he was sent on an errand to Pope Clement VI at Avignon (it was the time of the Avignon Papacy/ the Babylonian captivity), where he fulfilled his duties with ability and success. He was eventually appointed notary of the Roman civic treasury by the Pope and returned to Rome in 1344. He then began to plot a revolution that would return the city of Rome to its former glory. After, three years of working towards his goal, including by gaining supporters, on the 19th May 1347, heralds invited the people to the Capitol (Capitoline Hill) and on May 20th, Whit-Sunday, the meeting was held, where he was given unlimited power and authority, a few days later Rienzo took the title of tribune.

                                       Rienzo vowing to avenge the death of his younger brother

His authority was quickly accepted among most in Rome, his reign was immediately was marked with order and justice, compared to the previous disorder. In July, he proclaimed the sovereignty of the Roman people over the Empire and at first set himself with the task of restoring Rome's authority over the other Italian cities.  On August 1st 1347 he conferred Roman citizenship on all the cities of Italy and and proceeded to prepare for an election of a Roman Emperor of Italy the following year. On the following day the festival of the unity of Italy was celebrated. However, none of this had any political result. However, he was recognised by Joan of Naples, who and her bitter foe the King of Hungary asked for protection and aid. On August 15th he was crowned tribune.

However, his reign was soon to come to an end.. He then  seized and soon released Stefano Colonna and and some other barons. The Pope and the Emperor were both offended by his proposal to set up a new Roman Empire, and in October Clement gave power to a legate to dispose him. The exiled barons soon gathered troops and war began in the neighbourhood of Rome, but with aid from Louis I of Hungary and others, the rebels were defeated on the 20th November 1347. Although, he did not take part directly in the fighting, his most distinguished  foe , Colonna was killed. However, he was eventually declared a criminal, heretic and pagan by the Pope. He fled Rome and abdicated on December 15th 1347, following being terrified by a slight disturbance. He sought refuge in Naples, but quickly left and spent two years in an Italian mountain monastery.

Emerging from solitude, Cola journeyed to Prague in 1350, throwing himself on the protection of the Emperor Charles IV, denouncing the Pope's temporal power. Charles kept him prisoner for a year in the fortress of Raudnitz, then handing him over to Pope Clement. In August 1352, he appeared in Avignon and although he was tried by three cardinals and sentenced to death, the judgement was not carried out. When Clement died in December 1352, he had the chance to gain his freedom, when his successor Innocent VI saw him as a tool to strike at the baronial rulers of Rome. He was appointed the title senator and with a Papal legate he entered Rome in August 1354 and quickly regained his position and power. This term was to be even shorter than his first.

Having besieged the fortress of Palestrina, he returned to Rome where he treacherously seized the mercenary Giovanni Moriale and put him to death. Through this and other cruel and arbitrary acts he quickly lost the favour of the people. On October 8th 1354, Cola addressed some of the aroused people, but the building he was in was set on fire and as he tried to escape he was murdered by the mob.


The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. "Cola Di Rienzo (Italian Leader)."Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2014.
"Cola Di Rienzi." CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA:. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2014.

Image Credit goes to Wikipedia

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