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Super gentes et regna: Papal ‘Empire’ in the Later Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries

  • Benedict G. E. Wiedemann (a1)


Papal relations with monarchs in the later eleventh and twelfth centuries have often been characterized as ‘feudal’, as indicative of some sort of papal dominium mundi, or as an effort to advance papal ‘empire’ over the kingdoms of Christendom. More recent scholarship has drawn a distinction between ‘protection’ and ‘feudal’ relationships with kings. However, the supposed distinction between the papacy's temporal overlordship of rulers and its spiritual protection may have obscured more than it has revealed. It was only after the disputes over lay investiture of bishops in the period 1078–1122 that a distinctive protective relationship began to emerge. Previously, rulers had been willing to ‘accept their kingdom from the pope's hand’ or to participate in ceremonies of investiture. In the twelfth century these relationships became more codified and any suggestion that the papacy actually gave kingdoms to kings faded. Thus, the nature of papal ‘empire’ – or, at least, temporal authority over kings – changed markedly during this period.


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1 Das Register Gregors VII., ed. Erich Caspar, 2 vols (Berlin, 1920–3), 1: 201–8 (no. 2.55a) [hereafter: Greg. Reg.].

2 Robinson, Ian S., The Papacy, 1073–1198: Continuity and Innovation (Cambridge, 1990), 1826; cf. the recent critique by Kinney, Dale, ‘Patronage of Art and Architecture’, in Doran, John and Smith, Damian J., eds, Pope Innocent II (1130–43): The World vs the City (London, 2016), 352–88.

3 Powell, James, ed., Innocent III: Vicar of Christ or Lord of the World?, 2nd edn (Washington DC, 1994).

4 Ullmann, Walter, The Growth of Papal Government in the Middle Ages: A Study in the Ideological Relation of Clerical to Lay Power, 2nd edn (London, 1962), 333; others of this opinion are cited in Robinson, Papacy, 302–3.

5 Fried, Johannes, Der päpstliche Schutz für Laienfürsten. Die politische Geschichte des päpstlichen Schutzprivilegs für Laien (11.–13. Jahrhundert) (Heidelberg, 1980), 5387.

6 Becker, Alfons, ‘Politique féodale de la papauté à l’égard des rois et des princes (XIe–XIIe siècles)’, in Chiesa e mondo feudale nei secoli X–XII. Atti della dodicesima Settimana internazionale di studio. Mendola 24–28 Agosto 1992 (Milan, 1995), 411–46, at 419–23, 433–5.

7 Weinfurter, Stefan, ‘Die Päpste als “Lehnsherren” von Königen und Kaisern im 11. und 12. Jahrhundert?’, in Spieß, Karl-Heinz, ed., Ausbildung und Verbreitung des Lehnswesens im Reich und in Italien im 12. und 13. Jahrhundert (Ostfildern, 2013), 1740, at 26–7, 40; my thanks to Michael Schwab for bringing this work to my attention.

8 Ibid. 25–6.

9 Hyams, Paul, ‘Homage and Feudalism: A Judicious Separation’, in Fryde, Natalie, Monnet, Pierre and Oexle, Otto-Gerhard, eds, Die Gegenwart des Feudalismus (Göttingen, 2002), 1350.

10 Matthew, Donald, The Norman Kingdom of Sicily (Cambridge, 1992), 932.

11 ‘Hanc fidelitatem observabo tuis successoribus . . . qui . . . firmaverunt investituram’: Das Papsttum und die süditalienischen Normannenstaaten, 1053–1212, ed. Josef Deér (Göttingen, 1969), 17–18, 21–2, 23, 31, 32 (nos. IV/2; VII/1; VIII/1; IX/18a–b).

12 Vatican City, ASV, Registrum Vaticanum 2, fols 194rv; Greg. Reg., 2: 515–16 (no. 8.1b); ET The Register of Pope Gregory VII 1073–1085: An English Translation, transl. Herbert Edward John Cowdrey (Oxford, 2002), 365.

13 Somerville, Robert and Kuttner, Stephan, Pope Urban II, the ‘Collectio Britannica’, and the Council of Melfi (1089) (Oxford, 1996), 97–9, 155–62 (nos 27a, 41a).

14 ‘[O]mnes eius successores regnum illud de manu nostra nostrorumve successorum accipiant’: Fried, Der päpstlicher Schutz, 327–8 (no. 1).

15 Kehr, Paul, Das Papsttum und die Königreiche Navarra und Aragon bis zur Mitte des XII Jahrhunderts (Berlin, 1928), 55–7 (no. 1).

16 ‘[O]mnes tui successores regnum illud de manu nostra nostrorumve successorum accipiant’: Innocentii III Romani Pontificis regestorum sive epistolarum liber decimus sextus, PL 216, cols 888–9 (no. 87). This privilege is known only from a de verbo ad verbum reissue for King Peter II in 1213.

17 ‘Ut contradicatur, ne aliquis accipiat investituram ecclesiarum de manu laicorum’: Greg. Reg., 2: 401 (no. 6.5b).

18 ‘[N]ullus in clericali ordine constitutus, nullus monachus, episcopatus aut abbatie aut cuiuslibet ecclesiastice dignitatis investituram de manu laici suscipere audeat’: Somerville and Kuttner, Urban II, 254.

19 ‘[I]nterdicimus ne quis investituram episcopatus abbatie, vel cuiuslibet ecclesiastice dignitatis a manu imperatoris, regis, principis, vel cuiuslibet laice persone accipiat’: Somerville, Robert, ‘The Council of Beauvais, 1114’, Traditio 24 (1968), 493503, at 503, reprinted in idem, Papacy, Councils and Canon Law in the 11th–12th Centuries (Aldershot, 1990), X.

20 1188 (William II), 1192 (Tancred): MGH Const. 1, 591–3 (nos 415–16). The 1212 oath of Frederick II also leaves out any mention of investiture in the final clause: MGH Const. 2, 542 (no. 411). So does the 1198 oath of Queen Constance: MGH DD 11.iii, 203–5 (no. 65).

21 Hoffman, Hartmut, ‘Langobarden, Normannen, Päpste. Zum Legitimationsproblem in Unteritalien’, Quellen und Forschungen aus italianischen Archiven und Bibliotheken 58 (1978), 137–80, at 173–6 (no. 1); Roger II and the Creation of the Kingdom of Sicily, transl. Graham Loud (Manchester, 2012), 304–6.

22 Roger II, transl. Loud, 184–5.

23 Loud, Graham, The Latin Church in Norman Italy (Cambridge, 2007), 151–6.

24 Hoffman, ‘Langobarden, Normannen, Päpste’, 176–8 (no. 2); MGH Const. 1, 588–91 (nos 413–14; ET Roger II, transl. Loud, 310–12); The History of the Tyrants of Sicily by ‘Hugo Falcandus’ 1154–69, ed. and transl. Graham Loud and Thomas Wiedemann (Manchester, 1998), 248–52. Romuald's chronicle refers to investiture in 1156; however, even if this is accurate (investiture was not mentioned in the texts of the 1130 and 1139 privileges or in the 1156 privilege and treaty), it is clear that it was no longer considered important: MGH SS 19, 429. Even Paul Kehr, who believed in the existence of a feudal relationship, accepted that papal investiture ceased by 1156: Kehr, Paul, Die Belehnungen der süditalienischen Normannenfürsten durch die Päpste 1059–1192 (Berlin, 1934), 52.

25 Papsturkunden in Spanien. Vorarbeiten zur Hispania Pontificia, 2: Navarra und Aragon, ed. Paul Kehr (repr. Göttingen, 1970), 338–41, 341–3, 362–3, 364–6, 369–70, 370–2, 382–6, 404–7, 412–14, 416–18, 422–8, 441–7, 455–7, 468–72, 480–6, 495–7, 518–21, 524-6 (nos 43–4, 59, 61, 64–5, 72, 86, 93, 95–6, 100–1, 111–12, 122, 133, 141–3, 150, 172–3, 177).

26 Papsturkunden in Spanien. Vorarbeiten zur Hispania Pontificia, 1: Katalanien, ed. Paul Kehr (Berlin, 1926), 392–3 (no. 107).

27 Martin, Guido, ‘Der salische Herrscher als Patricius Romanorum. Zur Einflußnahme Heinrichs III. und Heinrichs IV. auf die Besetzung der Cathedra Petri’, Frühmittelalterliche Studien 28 (1994), 257–95, at 267–9, 294; Stroll, Mary, Popes and Antipopes: The Politics of Eleventh-Century Church Reform (Leiden, 2012), 16.

28 A number of sources specify that Cadalus-Honorius II was actually ‘invested’ (investiri) with the papacy by the emperor or his mother in 1061, ‘as is the custom’: ibid. 139 n. 26; or that he ‘accepted the pontifical insignia through the hand’ (accipiens . . . per manum) of the monarchs: ibid. 139–40, nn. 27, 30. Note again the interchangeability of ‘investiture’ and receiving something a / de / per manu / manum.

29 The Papal Reform of the Eleventh Century: Lives of Pope Leo IX and Pope Gregory VII, transl. Ian S. Robinson (Manchester, 2004), 5–6, 56–8, 187–8, 209–10; Stroll, Popes and Antipopes, 20.

30 For the thought behind lay investiture, see Chodorow, Stanley, ‘Paschal II, Henry V, and the Origins of the Crisis of 1111’, in Sweeney, James Ross and Chodorow, Stanley, eds, Popes, Teachers, and Canon Law in the Middle Ages (Ithaca, NY, 1989), 325, at 7–9, 14–15, 18; idem, ‘Ecclesiastical Politics and the Ending of the Investiture Contest: The Papal Election of 1119 and the Negotiations of Mouzon’, Speculum 46 (1971), 613–40, at 621–2; Tellenbach, Gerd, The Church in Western Europe from the Tenth to the Early Twelfth Century, transl. Reuter, Timothy (Cambridge, 1993), 266–86; Blumenthal, Uta-Renate, The Investiture Controversy: Church and Monarchy from the Ninth to the Twelfth Century (Philadelphia, PA, 1988), 163–73; eadem, ‘Patrimonia and Regalia in 1111’, in Law, Church, and Society: Essays in Honor of Stephan Kuttner, ed. K. Pennington and R. Somerville (Philadelphia, PA, 1977), 9–22, reprinted in Uta-Renate Blumenthal, Papal Reform and Canon Law in the 11th and 12th Centuries (Aldershot, 1998), IX; Cowdrey, H. E. John, Pope Gregory VII, 1073–1085 (Oxford, 1998), 546–50; Canning, Joseph, A History of Medieval Political Thought, 300–1450 (London, 1996), 82110, especially 106–7.

31 For similar observations, see West, Charles, Reframing the Feudal Revolution: Political and Social Revolution between Marne and Moselle, c.800–c.1100 (Cambridge, 2013), 213–21.

32 ‘Ego Demetrius . . . a te . . . Gebizo ex apostolice sedis legatione . . . potestatem optinens . . . per vexillum, ensem, sceptrum et coronam investitus atque constitutus rex’: Die Kanonessammlung des Kardinals Deusdedit, ed. Victor Welf von Glanvell (Paderborn, 1905), 383–4.

33 Hoffman, ‘Langobarden, Normannen, Päpste’, 173–8.

34 Freed, John B., Frederick Barbarossa: The Prince and the Myth (New Haven, CT, 2016), 254–5.

35 Brittany: Sancti Gregorii VII Pontificis Romani operum pars secunda, PL 148, cols 684–5 (no. 37); Cowdrey, Gregory VII, 645. England: Greg. Reg., 2: 499–502 (no. 7.23); Epistolae diversorum ad Gregorium VII, PL 148, col. 748 (no. 11); Brooke, Zachary Nugent, ‘Pope Gregory VII's Demand for Fealty from William the Conqueror’, EHR 26 (1911), 225–38; idem, The English Church and the Papacy: From the Conquest to the Reign of King John, new edn (Cambridge, 1989), 140–3; Cowdrey, Gregory VII, 463, 646–7.

36 ‘[E]ius regnum a rege Teutonicorum in beneficium, sicut audivimus, suscepisti . . . sceptrum regni . . . apostolice, non regie magestatis beneficium recognoscas . . . [regnum Ungarie] a rege Stephano olim beato Petro cum omni iure et potestate sua oblatum et devote traditum’: Greg. Reg. 1: 144–6 (no. 2.13; ET Register of Pope Gregory, transl. Cowdrey, 108).

37 Somerville and Kuttner, Urban II, 97–9.

38 Cowdrey, Gregory VII, 444–6.

39 Gregory's earliest surviving communication with a Hungarian was with Gesa, in March 1074: Greg. Reg., 1: 85–6 (no. 1.58).

40 As, for example, Weinfurter, ‘Die Päpste als “Lehnsherren”’, 23–4; although he only discusses the first use of it in the letter, and not Gregory's claim that the sceptre was a papal beneficium.

41 Register of Pope Gregory, transl. Cowdrey, 108.

42 Cowdrey, Gregory VII, 444.

43 Greg. Reg., 1: 218–19 (no. 2.63; ET Register of Pope Gregory, transl. Cowdrey, 157). Gregory did, in 1074, list points when, he thought, previous Hungarian kings had acknowledged that the pope was the source of royal power, but there is no reason to think that these constituted a basis for a distinct papal temporal lordship over Hungary.

44 Selected Letters of Pope Innocent III concerning England (1198–1216), ed. and transl. C. R. Cheney and W. H. Semple (London, 1953), 177–83 (no. 67).



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