Adrian V

From New World Encyclopedia

Adrian V
Hadrian V.png
Birth name Ottobuono de' Fieschi
Papacy began July 11, 1276
Papacy ended August 18, 1276
Predecessor Innocent V
Successor John XXI
Born c. 1205
Genoa, Italy
Died August 18 1276
Viterbo, Italy

Pope Adrian V (c. 1205 – August 18, 1276), born Ottobuono de' Fieschi was Pope in 1276 for only 38 days before his sudden death following a short illness. In fact, dying before his consecration and only a deacon, not a priest or a bishop at the time, by modern criteria he would not be considered a Pope. He is best known for his mediation in England between King Henry III and his rebellious barons. His intervention in England resulted in a Statute (which remains at least partly in force). He also recruited the future Edward I to fight in the Crusades. A few months before he reached England, what emerged later as the House of Commons first met. Recognition of the rights of the people and to the protection of law informed the Statute, effectively enshrining in law the fruit of Fieschi's mediation. Never again could an English king ignore the concerns of his subjects, who would now be consulted as of right. The Statute limited the king's right to take possession of land and safeguarded the rights and privileges of small landholders.


Ottobuono Fieschi was, by birth, a Genoese nobleman, born in 1205. In 1243, he was appointed a papal chaplain. His uncle was Pope Innocent IV and in 1252, still only ordained as a deacon, he was created Cardinal Deacon of San Adriano thus joining the College of Cardinals. In addition, he held the offices of archdeacon of Parma and Rheims. The dates are unknown for Parma, but it is known that he became Archdeacon of Rheims in 1250.

Papal Legate

In 1256, Pope Clement IV Pope Clement IV (1265–1268) sent him as papal legate to England to mediate between Henry III of England (1216–1272) and his barons, and to preach the Crusades; he remained, serving from October 1265 to July 1268. His diplomatic position was such that his name is still on the oldest extant piece of English statute law, the Statute of Marlborough of 1267, where the formal title mentions as a witness "the Lord Ottobon, at that time legate in England." Another member of this legation was a young diplomat, the future Boniface VIII.

In April 1268, Cardinal Fieshchi issued a set of canons, which formed the basis of church law in England until the reformation of the sixteenth century. Henry III faced a rebellion led by Simon de Montfort who was demanding a greater say by the Barons in governing the Kingdom. The English barons had remained discontent since their rebellion under Henry's father, John I to whom they had presented the Magna Carta, which they re-published several times during Henry's reign. He was only nine years old when he ascended to the throne. Now, the freemen, who were emerging as a class, also demanded rights. The freemen and the barons increasingly viewed England as "a community rather than a mere aggregation of independent manors, villages, and outlying principalities." The barons wanted a say in appointing officers of the state, and to be regularly consulted by the King.[1] Called on to contribute troops and money whenever the incumbent king wanted to wage war, which often has little benefit for the barons, they demanded more say in governance. The feudal system was not entirely autocratic: various stakeholders, barons, the church had to be consulted by the King if he was to be able to prosecute war, or raise new taxes.

In 1264, at the Battle of Lewes on May 14, Henry was defeated and until the royalist victory at the Battle of Evesham in 1265 the monarchy was suspended, and rule devolved to the barons who governed through a council of nine. They called this the "commune of England." Had this system continued, England would have "have been transformed from a monarchy into an aristocratic republic."[2]

This situation was unacceptable to the Pope, who found it more principled to deal with a single monarch. The political theory practiced by the Papacy was that God ruled through the pope, who then deputized spiritual authority to the bishops and temporal authority to kings and princes. A "council of nine" did not fit into the accepted order. Thus, Cardinal Fieschi was sent to restore the King's authority and to limit that of the barons. His mission in England was considered a success, and on his return to Rome he resumed his duties at San Adriana and was popular within the Roman curia.

After his return to power, Henry dealt harshly with the barons, which promised to result in further rebellion. Cardinal Fieschi was instrumental in convincing Henry to be lenient, and in the Statute of Marlborough "many of the legal reforms embodied in Magna Carta and in the Provisions of Oxford and Westminster (though without the sharing of royal power)."[2] The Statute was effectively a peace treaty between king and the people. Its opening paragraph stated, "whereas the realm of England of late had been disquieted with manifold troubles and dissensions, for reformation whereof statutes and laws be right necessary, whereby the peace and tranquility of the people must be observed." Some of the provisions remain legally in force.[3] Most of the Statute concerned the right to fair trial and to have courts adjudicate claims for damage. It gave more rights to subtenants and to smallholders and restricted the ability of the King to seize property.

It was, however, under Henry III that the beginning of Parliamentary governance began in England. In 1265, he summoned not only barons and prelates but also burgers from the cities to a Grand Assembly to be consulted, from which the House of Commons later evolved (because commoners had attended). This took place in January-February 1265 before the Cardinal's arrival but he was himself present at the Parliament that signed the Statute into Law, which met in Marlborough in November, 1267. The secondary purpose of the Cardinal's mission, to recruit knights for the Crusades was also successful. Henry's son, Edward became a crusader. He participated in the relief of Acre. His father died while he was crusading, and on his return to England in 1274 he assumed power.

Election as Pope

Under the influence of Charles of Anjou, Cardinal Fieschi was elected Pope to succeed Innocent V on July 12, 1276, taking the name Adrian V. He was still only a deacon at the time of his election, and as he actually died before his consecration he was, technically, never a bishop and so is not considered to have been Bishop of Rome. He is counted, however, as a Pope, since his election is deemed valid under the rules of the time. In terms of modern criteria, set out in the Code of Canon Law of 1993, he would not be counted as Pope because episcopal ordination is now a criterion.[4] In fact, during the five weeks of his brief pontificate, the one act that Adrian V did was to revoke the conclave rules promulgated by Gregory X in 1274.

In 1059, Cardinals gained the exclusive right to elect the Pope (prior to this, election took place at an informal gathering of the people and clergy of Rome). From 1241, the tradition of secluding the Cardinals in one room until they agreed on a candidate began. Gregory had added to this rules pertaining to Cardinals sleeping in the same room and swearing secrecy. Adrian promised new rules but in fact Gregory's remain the "basis of today's norms."[5].

Adrian left Rome in August to escape the heat, retreating to Viterbo, where he suddenly fell ill and died on August 18, 1276. He is buried there in the church of S. Francesco. McBrien says that Adrian V was one of four "canonically recognized Pope in the year 1276," namely Gregory X, his immediate predecessor, Innocent V, his successor, John XXII and himself. Adrian's previous namesake, Adrian IV, had been English, while his next namesake, Pope Adrian VI (Pope VI (1459-1523) would be Dutch.


So short a pontifical reign gave Adrian V no time to create a legacy for himself. His reputation rests on his successful mission to England. Dante, however, placed him in Purgatory, where he held a conversation with him. Dante placed the pontiff in Purgatory for the sin of avarice, although it is unclear why. There does not seem to be any foundation in fact for this representation of Adrian. To have achieved the highest office in Western Christianity, even though he died too soon to demonstrate his abilities, suggests that Adrian enjoyed the respect of his fellow Cardinals and was thought worthy of sitting on Saint Peter's throne. His mediatorial skills tested during his mission in England may well have impressed his peers, and might have served him well if illness had not intervened to terminate his short papacy.


  1. Henry III Retrieved August 14, 2018.
  2. 2.0 2.1 J. P. Sommerville, "Henry III and rebellion," University of Wisconsin.
  3. The Statute of Marlborough The UK Statute Law Database. Retrieved August 14, 2018.
  4. Richard P. McBrien, Lives of the Popes: The Pontiffs from St. Peter to John Paul II. (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1997), 222.
  5. The Papal Transition: An Overview NPR, April 2, 2005. Retrieved August 14, 2018.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Cheetham, Sir Nicolas. Keepers of the Keys: a history of the popes from St. Peter to John Paul II. NY: Scribner, 1983. ISBN 978-0684178639
  • Duffy, Eamon. Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997. ISBN 978-0300073324
  • Maxwell-Stuart, P.G. Chronicle of the Popes: The Reign-by-Reign Record of the Papacy over 2000 Years. London: Thames & Hudson; TV Tie in Ed edition (November 1997) ISBN 0500017980
  • McBrien, Richard P. Lives of the Popes: The Pontiffs from St. Peter to John Paul II. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1997. ISBN 978-0060653033
  • Walsh, Michael J. An Illustrated History of the Popes: St. Peter to John Paul II. NY: St. Martin's Press, 1980. ISBN 978-0312408176


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