The election of popes was a contentious matter in the Middle Ages, and potentially open to manipulation by political or familial power groups (2.1.9). While the Gregorian reforms had sought to minimize this danger (2.2.1), it never really disappeared. The opening of the fourteenth century witnessed developments which seemed to many to illustrate the power that secular rulers wielded over supposedly spiritual elections.
Some scholars believe that the high water mark of papal political influence was reached in November 1302, when Boniface VIII (c. 1234–1303) issued the bull Unam Sanctam, in which he proclaimed that “every human creature is subject to the Roman pontiff.” This viewpoint, and the manner in which it was asserted, provoked open dispute with many influential political leaders of the age, including the Emperor Albert I of Habsburg, the powerful Colonna family of Rome, and Philip IV of France. The Florentine poet Dante Alighieri (2.3.8) – author of the Divine Comedy – penned his essay De Monarchia (“On Monarchy”) in response, challenging Boniface’s claims of papal supremacy.
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Philip IV launched a campaign designed to discredit Boniface, and minimize his influ- ence. Guillaume de Nogaret, Philip’s chief minister, declared that Boniface was a heretic; Boniface responded by excommunicating both Philip and de Nogaret. Philip teamed up with the Colonna family to arrange for two thousand mercenaries to ambush Boniface while he was staying in the town of Anagni, southeast of Rome. It worked. Boniface was taken captive. Although he was eventually released, he died shortly afterwards.