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Medieval Sourcebook:
William of Hundleby:
The Outrage at Anagni, 1303

Benedetto Caetani (1235-1303) became pope as Boniface VIII (1294-1303), after the abdication of Celestine V. To assert papal authority, he intervened unsuccessfully in Sicily and further aggravated the quarrel of the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. His downfall came through his struggle with Philip IV of France. Boniface tried to prevent Philip from his illegal levies on the clergy with the bull Clericis laicos (1296), but had to to back down. The struggle was renewed after new troubles, and Boniface issued Ausculta fili (1301) and Unam sanctam (1302), the latter  an extreme statement regarding the duty of princes to be subject to the pope. As a result, Philip sent an agent to depose Boniface, who was staying at the town of Anagni, but after the agent's companion struck the pope, the outraged townspeople drove the emissaries out. Boniface, however, died soon afterwards.

BEHOLD, REVEREND FATHER, at dawn of the vigil of the Nativity of the Blessed Mary just past, suddenly and unexpectedly there came upon Anagni a great force of armed men of the party of the King of France and of the two deposed Colonna cardinals. Arriving at the gates of Anagni and finding them open, they entered the town and at once made an assault upon the palace of the Pope. . . .

Not even the Pope was in a position to hold out longer. Sciarra and his forces broke through the doors and windows of the papal palace at a number of points, and set fire to them at others, till at last the angered soldiery forced their way to the Pope. Many of them heaped insults upon his head and threatened him violently, but to them all the Pope answered not so much as a word. And when they pressed him as to whether he would resign the Papacy, firmly did he refuse-indeed he preferred to lose his head-as he said in his vernacular: "E le col, e le cape!" which means: "Here is my neck and here my head."

Therewith he proclaimed in the presence of them all that as long as life was in him, he would not give up the Papacy. Sciarra, indeed, was quite ready to kill him, but he was held back by the others so that no bodily injury was done the Pope. Cardinal Peter of Spain was with the Pope all through the struggle, though the rest of his retinue had slipped away. Sciarra and the captain appointed guards to keep the Pope in custody after some of the papal doormen had fled and others had been slain. Thus [were] the Pope and his nephew taken in Anagni on the said vigil of the Blessed Mary at about the hour of vespers and it is believed that the Lord Pope put in a bad night.

The soldiers, on first breaking in, had pillaged the Pope, his chamber and his treasury of utensils and clothing, fixtures, gold and silver and everything found therein so that the Pope had been made as poor as job upon receiving word of his misfortune. Moreover, the Pope witnessed all and saw how the wretches divided his garments and carted away his furniture, both large items and small, deciding who would take this and who that, and yet he said no more than: "The Lord gave and the Lord taketh away, etc." And anyone who


"William of Hundleby's Account of the Anagni Outrage," trans. by H. G. J. Beck, Catholic Historical Review, 32 (1947), pp. 200-201. 

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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© Paul Halsall, October 1998


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