Pope Bendict XIII
The French Pope
Pedro Martínez de Luna was born at Illueca, Kingdom of Aragon (part of modern Spain) in 1328. He belonged to the de Luna family, who were part of the Aragonese nobility. He studied law at the University of Montpellier, where he obtained his doctorate and later taught Canon law. His knowledge of canon law, noble lineage, and austere way of life won him the approval of Pope Gregory XI, who appointed de Luna to the position of Cardinal Deacon of Santa Maria in Cosmedin on 20 December 1375.
In 1377 Pedro de Luna and the other cardinals returned to Rome with Pope Gregory, who had been persuaded to leave his papal base at Avignon by Catherine of Siena. After Gregory’s death on 27 March 1378, the people of Rome feared that the cardinals would elect a French Pope and return the papacy to Avignon. Consequently, they rioted and laid siege to the cardinals, insisting on an Italian Pope. The conclave duly elected Bartolomeo Prignano, Archbishop of Bari, as Urban VI on 9 April, but the new Pope proved to be intractably hostile to the cardinals. Some of them reconvened at Fondi in September 1378, declared the earlier election invalid and elected Robert of Geneva as their new Pope, initiating the Western Schism. Robert assumed the name Clement VII and moved back to Avignon.
Following Clement’s death on 16 September 1394, the cardinals met at Avignon. The conclave consisted of 11 French cardinals, eight Italians, four Spaniards, and one from Savoy, all proclaiming the ardent wish to reunite the church, “even to the point of ceding the papacy, if necessary.”When the name of one cardinal was proposed for election, he confessed in an agony of honesty, “I am weak and perhaps would not abdicate. Do not expose me to temptation!” “I on the other hand,” spoke up Cardinal de Luna, “would abdicate as easily as I take off my hat.” … A learned and clever man of noble birth, subtle in diplomacy, austere in private life, an expert manipulator, he was a rigid opponent of [a general Church] Council though an ardent advocate of union. He was elected as Clement’s successor on September 28, taking the name of Benedict XIII.
On the death of Urban VI in 1389 the Roman College of Cardinals had chosen Boniface IX; the election of Benedict therefore perpetuated the Western Schism. At the start of his term of office, de Luna was recognised as Pope by the kingdoms of France, Scotland, Sicily, Castile, Aragon, Navarre, and Portugal. In 1396 Benedict sent Sanchez Muñoz, one of the most loyal members of the Avignon curia, as an envoy to the Bishop of Valencia to bolster support for the Avignon papacy in Spain.
Decline of Avignon Papacy
However, in 1398 the French church withdrew its allegiance from the Avignon papacy. Benedict was abandoned by 17 of his cardinals, with only five remaining faithful to him. An army led by Geoffrey Boucicaut, brother of the illustrious marshal, occupied Avignon and started a five-year siege of the papal palace in 1398, which ended when Benedict managed to escape from Avignon on 12 March 1403, and seek shelter in territory belonging to Louis II of Anjou.