May 3rd in German History: Bruno of Carinthia Becomes Pope

Pope Gregory, V - Find A Grave Memorial
Pope Gregory V. Image Credit: Find a Grave

I decided to take a break from the Second World War today and instead chose to focus on some more obscure history that I still think is interesting. While the elevation of Bruno of Carinthia to Pope Gregory V may not be as popular as the end of the Battle of Berlin or the death of Adolf Hitler, both of which I have discussed, it is still part of German history and should not be forgotten.

Bruno of Carinthia was the son of the Duke of Carinthia, who was a member of the Salian Dynasty and descended from one of the earlier Holy Roman Emperors. Bruno was the Chaplin of Otto King of Germany, who was also his cousin. Otto made Bruno Pope on May 3rd, 996, at the age of twenty four, succeeding Pope Jon XV. One of Gregory V’s first actions was to make his cousin Otto III, Holy Roman Emperor. The office had been left vacant since the death of Otto II. Gregory was either the first or the second German Pope depending on whether or not one counts Boniface II. As Pope, Gregory V granted more privileges to the Holy Roman Empire and monasteries within it. He also acted against those who opposed the Holy Roman Empire. Gregory enforced the excommunication of the Kingdom of France in order to force King Robert II of France to put aside his wife. Robert had attempted to secure the right to appoint his own bishops. In 997, the nobles of Rome chose an anti pope against the wishes of Otto III. This anti-pope was John XVI and Crescentius II, an aristocrat who declared himself ruler of Rome. The Emperor marched on Rome and suppressed this rebellion. The troops of the Emperor blinded John and cut his ears and tongue off. When Neilos of Rosanno, who would become St. Nilus of Rosanno, criticized the Emperor and Gregory V for their cruelty, they sent John to a monastery. They pursued Crescentius to the Castel Sant’Angelo and hanged him upon its walls in 998. Gregory V died soon after, in 999, with some suspicion of foul play.

Aside from being the first real German Pope, Gregory V’s impact on history was relatively marginal. Nevertheless, his actions do tell us a lot about what medieval politics were like. The revolt against Holy Roman Emperor Otto III and the brutal repression of it shows just how ruthless political rulers were. Further, Gregory V’s favoritism towards the Holy Roman Empire is an example of how leaders used the Papacy as a tool for enhancing secular power. The Middle Ages saw state and religion overlap as the former used the latter to gain power in a deeply devout Europe.

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