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Ecclesiastics and political state building in the Iberian monarchies, 13th-15th centuries

Hermínia Vasconcelos Vilar
Maria João Branco

Part I - Kings and clergy: royal service and political loyalty

Towards a Portuguese reformation

Peter Linehan

Texte intégral

1Ever since their establishment courtesy of the papacy Portugal’s kings had been accustomed to treating popes and papal jurisdiction with a measure of resentment: resentment deriving perhaps from the papacy’s role in the very foundation of the kingdom. It was a feature of the relationship of godfather and foundling on which some popes were moved to remark, Innocent III, for example, in 1211 when denouncing Sancho I’s irreverence and arrogance as worse than that of any heretic or tyrant while in the following century that judgement was more than once confirmed. Thus, in 1318 we find D. João Afonso, the bastard son of D. Dinis, in dispute with the archbishop of Braga regarding patronage of the church of S. Maria de Palmeira, refusing to appear before a papal judge delegate on the grounds that ‘he was a layman and had his own judge’. This conviction was recorded in open court and in Latin and was followed by a threat to decapitate the archdeacon of Neiva. And what followed in the vernacular was worse - not least on account of the very vernacular language used and the very vernacular sentiments expressed.

2That was in September 1318. Just four months earlier Pope John XXII had written to the archbishop of Toledo – and before that in almost identical terms to the archbishop of Braga, though the Vatican Register does not mention that letter - denouncing their collective pastoral neglect on a whole range of issues and, in particular, remarking on the connection between the sexual activity of Portuguese (and Castilian) churchmen and the property interests of the Portuguese (and Castilian) Church, that is between the concubines to whom ecclesiastical goods were being conferred and the widespread (and damnable) surrender of ecclesiastical property in return for money, livestock and ‘various other gifts’. Thus concubinage was seen to lead to the alienation of church property. Successive popes would repeat the charge.

3As to concubinage, in the 1230s (after the legation of John of Abbeville) the numbers of illegitimate clerics seeking regularisation diocese by diocese speak for themselves: Lugo 500; Tuy 1205; Braga 1746: figures increase the nearer one gets to Portugal.

4At the 1281 Braga synod - although the unique record of it is much worn and damaged (possibly by too frequent consultation, possibly not) - it is clear enough that priests were warned not to accommodate their offspring in their homes or bequeath church property to them.

5Not that Portugal was exceptional: Catalonia and Hungary provide similar stories of the domestic bliss of the rural clergy.

6At the episcopal level moreover there were also some prize contenders.

7True, none was quite so prize-worthy as the philoprogenitive Archbishop Henri of Liège whose 22 children in 14 months caused Gregory X to show him the door in 1274. And though that level of stamina set standards probably only achievable in a cooler climate than Portugal’s, we should note here another aspect of the energetic archbishop as reported by the pope for which the evidence is ample: namely his conferral of ecclesiastical benefices, with and without cure of souls, on his offspring and his assignment to them of ecclesiastical estates and his marriage of them off to the nobility.

8For that was a Portuguese tendency too.

9All of which sounds unnervingly like a throwback from late thirteenth-century to late eleventh-century Europe. For Portugal’s bishops at this date were also as often as not family men with children to provide for. Regarding Archbishop Martim Pires de Oliveira of Braga, reputedly a zealous prelate, this was certainly so: as Anísio Saraiva has reminded us, Rodrigo Pires de Oliveira, whom Clement V put into the see of Lamego in 1311, was his son. Likewise, Martim‘s two successors at Braga were both family men, either the son of a priest or the father of one. Other prelates were both and were chiefly motivated by precepts of family loyalty. The casual uxoriousness of the Portuguese clergy is alluded to, for example, in the list of treasurers of Porto contained in the cartulary of that church where the entry ‘Roderico Petri acepit ecclesiam de Araaens’ is preceded by Petrus Geraldi, who ‘acepit uxorem’.

10João Martins de Soalhaes, bishop of Lisbon from 1294 was translated to the see of Braga in 1313, and, according to contemporary lineage records, was the father of at least three sons and three daughters (one of whom is listed as a concubine’s child: in the circumstances a distinction with perhaps interesting implications). By any reckoning a loose cannon, João had refused Braga in 1295 and his brother had married his archiepiscopal predecessor’s sister while he was himself succeeded by Goncalo Pereira, scion of a long established Portuguese clan, of whom more anon. And Goncalo Pereira himself was succeeded at Lisbon by Archbishop Martim’s nephew, the dean of Évora, João Afonso Brito, who, according to a contemporary account in Gonçalo Pereira’s possession, for knowledge of which we are indebted to Herminia Vilar, was drunk on a daily basis and the persistent deflowerer of virgins.

11For late medieval clerical dynasties the rules of chastity were no more than a minor inconvenience, and so it was throughout the peninsula. In 1323 Toledo’s clerici coniugati doubled as butchers while at Cuenca in 1531 the practice was said to be such that ‘the ignorant think it no sin’.

12Readers of the Archpriest of Hita will remember the lament of the clergy of Talavera when required to give up their lady friends and their decision to appeal to the king against the pope’s requirement that they did so. All of this is broadly familiar.

13Less so, perhaps, is the practice of mortmain which went with it, and the elaborate methods developed for providing for such offspring: the institution of morgadio.

14Thus in 1317 (the year before John XXII’s outburst) we find Bishop Geraldo of Évora making his dispositions ‘non ut episcopus sed ut Geraldus Dominici’ and disposing of lands allegedly granted to him by D. Dinis to his nephew ‘ratione persone mee et non ecclesie’. The beneficiary, his nephew Vasco Martins, later bishop of Porto and Lisbon, was to receive properties in the diocese of Lamego and elsewhere, again ‘similiter ratione persone mee et non ecclesie ex parentum, fratrum, consanguineorum et amicorum meorum donatione’. From the foundation document we learn that one of those for the benefit of whose eternal rest the transaction was concluded was Estêvão Domingues. On investigation this Estêvão Domingues turns out to be Bishop Geraldo’s father.

15This was dynasty-creation on a liègeois scale. And it was duly denounced by John XXII and by Benedict XII as ‘unacceptable’ – as Anglo-American commentators would call it now.

16But clerical children were not the only index – and the ease with which their situation was regularised indicates that it was not a principal problem for the papacy either. There were far more serious issues – or so it seemed to the bishops of the Western Church who came to Vienne in 1311 for Clement V’s General Council.

17One of those bishops was the Frenchman, William Durand, the bishop of Mende, whose project for the reform of the Church in his Tractatus maior envisaged General Councils of the Western Church every ten years in order to keep an eye on the papacy – which sounds something like a European Union initiative – and of course that came to nothing either. And even if it hadn’t, elsewhere it could hardly have meant much in Portugal and Spain anyway since there was so little of a conciliar tradition there to draw on. At the hitherto unreported provincial council of Compostela in November 1317, although every one of the province’s churches was represented (including four Portuguese sees: Évora, Guarda, Lamego and Lisbon), not a single bishop was present, and the cantor of Lamego refused to assent to the council’s statutes before consulting his.

18So instead, the Council of Vienne became famous for its can. 6 concerning the ‘overprecise observance of judicial order’. And by fast-tracking routine work, by eliminating the more careful scrutiny of petitions for pluralism etc., it facilitated the privatisation of the Portuguese Church.

19The free-for-all being engaged in by its episcopal custodians at the beginning of Afonso IV’s reign was also a flagrant violation of the principle of inalienability firmly grasped by Afonso II’s jurists at the beginning of the thirteenth century in relation to the very terms of the bull Manifestis probatum, as Maria João will confirm, and further confirmed during the course of it by the development of studia generalia, the study of Aristotle, the practice of Roman Law and the influence of a secular ethic serviced and maintained by a secular bureaucracy.

20That world-order - broadly speaking coterminous with Georges Lagarde’s esprit laique - had been most unequivocally stated before the French court at Vincennes in 1329 by Pierre de Cuignières’ advancement of the proposition that in no circumstances could any grant be made out of the royal fisc: that the fisc was imprescriptible, with the consequence that all grants made out of it to churchmen since the time of Constantine were worthless. This argument, based on the crown’s inherent inability ever to alienate its rights and possessions, was calculated to demolish at a stroke all ecclesiastical title to secular property.

21And it was on precisely this principle that Afonso IV’s assault on the privileges and property of the churches of Braga and Porto was based.

22In 1342 (probably) in the case of rex v Archbishop of Braga the main question facing the five Avignon jurists concerned the validity of Henry of Burgundy’s secular endowment of the archbishopric. Never mind how often it had been confirmed by successive popes, the question was: ‘utrum valuit dicta donatio quia rex et sui dicunt quod non potuit fieri donatio ecclesie de dicta civitate Bracharensi pro eo quod erat de corona regni et non de patrimonio donantis.’ Just as the chamamento geral required all those invested with private jurisdiction over civil and criminal cases to demonstrate the warrant whereby they did so, so was the archbishop intent on demonstrating that his warrant was enforceable. If he had failed, if the Avignon jurists overwhelmingly operating with Roman Law concepts had found against him, then the position of the entire Portuguese Church would have been destroyed and, with it, the distribution of church assets to episcopal daughters and nephews, then Pierre de Cuignières would have prevailed.

23L’esprit laique was also represented in the language and the nature of the challenge mounted by the assailants on the old Theology. As Boniface VIII had begun the bull ‘Clericis laicos’ in 1296: ‘Antiquity teaches us that laymen are in a high degree hostile to the clergy’.

24In France Philip IV’s opposition to Boniface had been expressed in works of royal counsellors, such as ‘Antequam essent clerici’ and the anonymous (?Ockham) ‘Dispute between a Clerk and a Knight’ with its conclusion that church property is at the disposal of the king, especially at a time of secular crisis (thus Ockham, ‘An princeps’, 1338-9: i.e. on eve of the battle of the Salado.)

25But in Spain and Portugal the contest had been joined even earlier between ‘los maestros de la thologia e los de las naturas’, as Sancho IV of Castile characterized it, and by the sapientes of Afonso III’s household whom the frustrated papal nuncio, the Franciscan fr. Nicolás, blamed for the collapse of negotiations with the papacy in 1277, in the year in which the activities of such people (the natural philosophers) had caused the closure of the University of Paris. Two years later Alfonso X’s bishops called them atheists. For Alvarus Pelagius sixty or seventy years later still they were ‘legists’: legiste and not to be trusted; the polar opposites of ‘senes sapientes et sobrios consiliarios.’ The works of Alvarus were in the library of Vasco Martins, the bishop of Porto who, like the archbishop of Braga, came to blows with Afonso IV. And the legists were the Roman lawyers whose law (rather than the canons) provided most of the authorities for the Braga consilium in 1342.

26And remember : what Edward I of England’s reaction to ‘Clericis laicos’ had been in 1296: he had outlawed all the English clergy. In July 1344 Clement VI complained to Alfonso XI that Edward III’s agents at Avignon had been poisoning the minds of Castilians there and urging them to imitate recent measures introduced in England which were against both God and libertas ecclesiastica. But the pope was confident that the king of Castile would not be misled by such ‘dangerous novelties’. Or so he said.

27Remember also that Boniface VIII’s pontificate had seen the end of a century of pretty much uninterrupted alliance between the papacy and the mendicant orders. In Super cathedram (1300) the pope had dared to put in a word for parochial integrity against the marauding friars.

28Hence, in Portugal, briefly there flourished that mysterious figure Thomas Scot, an apostate from both mendicant Orders, whose heretical opinions Alvarus confronted in his Collyrium fidei adversus haereses Inter alia, amongst the errors Scot was said to be broadcasting at the studium of Lisbon, were the propositions that kings should be the ‘judges of the clergy’, that ‘secular clergy could not own secular possessions’, that conciliar canons, decretals and constitutions of popes and the Roman Church ‘lacked the authority of the New and Old Testaments’, that ‘on account of their sins’ the clergy had lost their titles, and, in particular, the convictions that the world had known three impostors, namely Moses, Christ and Mohammed; that Christ was the Father’s adoptive son; that St Bernard and St Anthony of Padua had both kept concubines; and that Aristotle had been melior than Christ (‘who had been a bad man and hanged for his sins’). Thomas Scot was born four centuries before his time, it has been conjectured.

29And in that connexion remember too the renegade English Franciscan, William of Ockham, who broke with John XXII over the question of Franciscan poverty, and in 1328 -the year before Vincennes - fled the papal court at Avignon.

30There are so many themes interacting and conflicting here that it is difficult to control them, particularly in just half an hour.

31But amongst those features three deserve emphasis, I would suggest:

  1. In both Castile and Portugal, in the reigns of Alfonso XI and Afonso IV, the theme of a royal revival after civil war, civil wars which had loosened bonds, tested connexions, raised questions.

  2. The coarsening of the language of discourse: e. g. in the posthumous vilification of Boniface VIII by the French; in June 1347 Clement VI has to complain about the inelegant behaviour of Afonso’s agent at Avignon.

  3. The brutality of the measures adopted by Afonso IV depriving the church of its spiritual weapons (by the royal prohibition on excommunication), bitterly complained of by pope and archbishop alike as tending to disable all ecclesiastical authority; and the imposition of the Beneplacito which deprived Avignon of communication with the Portuguese faithful.

32However, it does appear that excommunication (and interdict) had lost their dread, by overuse. What had not lost its dread was Hell.

33And above all, there was Afonso IV’s contest with Abp Goncalo of Braga, which I won’t go into now since there is another present here who was has done so already. However, the consilium, the work of five distinguished Avignonese jurists, does still await attention.

34Also there was the contest at Porto: here we have Dr Andre Vitoria’s excellent analysis in his thesis, the first chapter of which seems to me the best account of these matters available anywhere.

35This was part of a whole complex of issues, all with a European dimension as well as having a particular peninsular context. In France, for example, in 1337 Philip VI appropriated the ecclesiastical wealth of his kingdom, while in England, between 1343 and 1347 ‘anti-papal protests and action reach[ed] a climax’ and ‘in the Parliament of 1343 the lay magnates and commons petitioned against the holding of benefices by aliens; … [on the grounds that] the commons could not and would not endure this.’ Indeed, papal-English relations were at breaking point in the 1340s. As to Clement VI’s insistence on England as a papal fief, the English objection that King John could not have surrendered the kingdom was based on the prohibition contained in that king’s coronation oath : the very same point, mark you, as that made at Vincennes by Clement himself (when archbishop of Rouen) regarding the French coronation oath. The bull Laudabiliter, the papal foundation of English claims over Ireland, originating in the same mind-set as Manifestis probatum, had relied on the Donation of Constantine’s reference to the ‘islands of the Western seas’ as being for the popes to dispose of, as Clement VI would dispose of the Canaries to the Castilian cast-off Louis de la Cerda in 1345. Afonso IV’s remarks on that award are interesting. As also is Edward III’s appointment of the earl of Salisbury as king of the Isle of Man in 1342. (The Isle of Man had been a papal fief since 1219).

36As regards Castile, where the Madrid Cortes of 1329 (the same year as Vincennes, notice) had banned foreigners from serving Church and State, in 1335-6 Benedict XII had occasion to excoriate ‘certain persons ecclesiastical as well as secular established in high office both ecclesiastical and secular’ for their adultery, incest, arson and rapine, and the nobility (and the lower orders misled by them in particular) for their carnal excesses (knowledge of which, it was said, had spread far afield).

37So why did it all lead nowhere? Why was the Portuguese reformation stillborn?

38After all, there was no lack of the matrimonial complications that led Henry VIII to cut the umbilical cord with Rome in the 1530s. On the other hand, Alfonso XI was possibly less conscientious than the English king about legitimacy. The king of Castile was perfectly happy to carry on with a productive mistress. And in Portugal, of course, it was always possible simply to have a son’s unsuitable girl-friend eliminated.

39And Afonso IV’s attack on Braga was entrusted to men who were altogether the counterparts of Th. Cromwell and Henry VIII’s other heavy enforcers in England in the 1530s.

40There was also what one might call the ‘Salado effect’: the still just about valid Moorish bogey to frighten the pope with. For example, despite his scalding denunciation of the foetid condition of Castilian society in the previous decade, Benedict XII had hastened to reassure the Castilian prelates that whatever remedies were called for they must not to damage the ‘jura et jurisdictiones Alphonsi regis’.

41Likewise, in July 1327 we find John XXII instructing Abp Gonçalo to deprive the king of any cause of offence by showing himself ‘ready and liberal’ when confronting royal threats ‘ratione iuris patronatus’ concerning churches in his city and diocese. So even John XXII could be conciliatory.

42Then there was the changed character of the civil service: once clerical, after c.1340 it consisted increasingly of secular jurists: lay letrados. But unless there was a total break, as in England in the 1530s, the papal role in maintaining that royal civil service remained essential. This much is clearly shown in Córdoba Cathedral MS. 40: the property of one of Alfonso XI’s operators at Avignon: principally a copy of some of the Consilia of Oldradus da Ponte (Avignon’s most expensive jurist: the man who provided an opinion for the bishop of Porto in his contest with Afonso IV) and of some of Clement VI’s sermons with their pro-French propaganda studiously undermined by the manuscript’s Spanish scribe - but with all its spare folios crammed with the record of Alfonso XI’s petitions to the pope for benefices for the boys. Likewise in England: there the Statutes of Provisors and Praemunire (1351, 1353) with their hostility to papal provisions etc. were balanced by papal agreement with Edward III’s proposals for appointment to English bishoprics. Likewise again, we have Clement VI’s agreement to Abp Goncalo’s proposal to fill spaces created in the Portuguese Church by the Black Death with ‘personis nobilibus’.

43And this is entirely in line with the remarks the pope had addressed to the lay nobility in one of his sermons reproduced in MS 40: Why should they complain about the extent of the Church’s possessions, he asked? Didn’t they all have families who depended on the Church? And who would provide for their clerical siblings if the Church didn’t? They would have to. It was they who would be hardest hit by disestablishment. That is why Córdoba MS 40 is so revealing of the facts of life in mid-14th century Iberia.

44And another thing. The enormity of archbishop Gonçalo’s two investments in the Purchase of Paradise suggests that ultimately it may have been the Black Death that saved the Portuguese Church from nationalisation. His chantry chapel in Braga cathedral provided another means of securing the benefits of real estate post mortem. Prayers are to be offered for the royal family and the dean in charge of administering the charity is never to be a foreigner: the archbishop is a royalist and a nationalist. But he spends a fortune in securing papal confirmation of his arrangements, twice. And two fortunes in establishing them: first £6000, then another £10000. This was the expenditure of a Renaissance prince. Yet Archbishop Goncalo Pereira was no Cardinal Wolsey: (again) ultimately he managed to keep both king and pope in play – though in the absence of a Portuguese Boccaccio much continues to obscure our understanding of the hinterland of all this.

45To conclude. The Black Death carried off Alfonso XI and Abp Goncalo, though not Afonso IV. And when in 1385 the dynasty ran out of steam the spirit of D. João Afonso, ‘that he was a layman and had his own judge’, did not prevail, and it was to the papacy that the Portuguese establishment applied for leave to proceed.


Fellow of the College since 1966 and is also a Fellow of the British Academy and of the Royal Historical Society. Peter Linehan’s research interests include the history of the medieval Church and medieval Spain and Portugal, on which subjects he is the author of about a hundred books and articles, ranging from The Ladies of Zamora (1997), an exercise in micro-history concerning scandalous goings-on in a thirteenth-century Spanish nunnery, to The Medieval World (2001), a collaborative work on many aspects of the Middle Ages from Tara to Timbuktu, co-edited by him and Professor Janet Nelson, and (with F J Hernández), the Mozarabic Cardinal (2004). His Spain, 1157-1300: a Partible Inheritance was published in 2008. Dr Linehan is the editor as well as a contributor to St John's College, Cambridge: A History (2011), which marked the College's Quincentenary.

© Publicações do Cidehus, 2016

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