03.12.28, Bolton, and Duggan, eds., Adrian IV, the English Pope

Main Article Content

Kimberly Rivers

The Medieval Review baj9928.0312.028


Bolton, Brenda, and Anne J. Duggan, eds.. Adrian IV, the English Pope (1154-1159). Series: Church, Faith, and Culture in the Medieval West. Burlington: Ashgate, 2003. Pp. xv, 343. ISBN: 0-7546-0708-9.

Reviewed by:
Kimberly Rivers
University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh

Pope for only four and a half years, Adrian IV has remained a conundrum to many scholars. For some, like Richard Southern, his career was "one of the great success stories in English history"[[1]]; for others, he was little more than a pawn of powerful factions within the Curia and one whose reign was followed by an 18-year schism. The nine-hundredth birthday of the only English pope provided an opportunity to reassess Adrian's reign and put it into the context of the twelfth- century papacy. This volume originated in a conference at St. Albans in July 2000 and contains extended versions of four of the five papers originally presented, as well as five more papers specifically written for the book. In addition, it includes a number of original primary sources in both Latin and in English translation. The result is a series of detailed studies covering almost every conceivable aspect of Adrian's pontificate and presenting a picture of him as an engaged and dynamic pope confronting the challenges of his age.

The nine papers chart a roughly chronological course through the pope's career, beginning with articles by Christopher Brooke and Christoph Egger analyzing the early life of Nicholas Breakspear (Adrian's name before his elevation), his entrance to the community of canons regular at Saint-Ruf, near Avignon, and his participation in the cosmopolitan nature of twelfth- century religious culture. Both authors offer some original insights in their readings of the sources of Nicholas's life. Damian Smith puts Adrian IV's interest and activities in Catalonia into the context of the Second Crusade of 1147-48. Christian Europe had much greater success against Muslim power in the Iberian Peninsula than in the East, as a number of important cities, including Lisbon, Tortosa, and Lleida (Lerida), fell to Christian forces at the time of Second Crusade. Smith shows that Nicholas Breakspear was involved in the campaigns of both Lisbon and Tortosa through his position as tenth abbot of Saint-Ruf, whose canons had a number of influential houses in Catalonia. After Adrian became pope, he ratified the union of Aragon and Catalonia, which then comprised the "Crown of Aragon," and discouraged a potential crusade in Spain by a joint force under Louis VII and Henry II. Smith speculates that Adrian may have spared the Iberian Peninsula its own crusading disaster.

The last piece to look at Adrian's pre-papal career is Anders Bergquist's article on Nicholas Breakspear's mission to Scandinavia as papal legate from spring 1152 to autumn 1154. Bergquist situates Nicholas's legation in the context of the relationship between the Scandinavian church and papal interests in the Baltic region. He examines the legate's goals for the mission and provides a new chronology for his time in Norway and Sweden. While Breakspear experienced great success in Norway, appointing Jon Birgisson, Bishop of Stavanger, as the first metropolitan of Norway, he was unable to establish a Swedish archbishopric because of the rivalry between Swedes and Goths. Despite this setback, the prestige of the mission seems to have clinched Nicholas's election to the pontificate in December 1154.

The other five articles examine the impact of Adrian's career on St. Albans, on political affairs in Italy, on the Patrimony of St Peter, and on church reform and canon law. Susan Twycross describes what the rituals for Maundy Thursday, Easter Sunday, and others reveal about the pope's special status within Christendom and about papal ideology. At the same time that popes and other officials begin to understand the pope's role within Christendom as vicarius Christi, the Lateran basilica, with its association with the relics of Christ, began to overshadow St. Peter's as the papal church par excellence. She also considers the rituals that Adrian likely used once he was allowed by the rebellious commune to enter the city of Rome.

In "St Albans' Loyal Son," Brenda Bolton, one of the two editors of the volume, describes how the election of Adrian IV contributed to the attempts of St. Albans to obtain for itself the position of primacy among other Benedictine houses of England during the twelfth century. Because Nicholas Breakspear's father is reported to have been a member of the monastic community, and perhaps because Nicholas had grown up in its shadow, he showered privileges on the monastery throughout his pontificate. In another piece, Bolton documents Adrian IV's involvement in the recovery of the Patrimony of St Peter. Other scholars have examined the conquest of the Patrimony over a long time frame, but Bolton's study focuses on a "worm's eye" view of Adrian's attempts to recover papal rights and territories within the Patrimony. Bolton gives an extremely detailed account of Adrian's efforts in this area, one that might have been elucidated by the inclusion of a map of papal holdings.

Perhaps the most provocative (and the longest) article of the book is that by the other editor, Anne Duggan, on the pope's relations with the princes of the mid-twelfth century. She challenges the accepted idea that "Adrian's pontificate saw a deliberate shift in papal policies from a pro-imperial to a pro-Sicilian alliance"(105). In this view, the Curia was split between pro-imperialists who wanted to follow the policies of Eugenius III (symbolized by the accord with Frederick I at Constance in March 1153) and pro-Sicilians who preferred an alliance with the Normans in Sicily. The balance of power at the Curia shifted from the imperialists to the Sicilian faction under the leadership of papal chancellor Cardinal Roland, bearer and perhaps drafter of the Besancon letter. According to Duggan, this view rests on a partisan interpretation of events that ignores the complexity of the Italian situation at the time of Adrian's pontificate and the bias of most of the contemporary sources.

Her argument is that most of the sources that describe the relationship of Frederick I and Adrian IV, such as Otto of Freising, Rahewin, Burchard of Ursberg, and the Chronica regia Coloniensis, wrote to promote Frederick as bringer of peace and justice to Italy and to criticize all who opposed him. Rather than uncritically accepting their position, Duggan thinks one has to look at the vulnerability of the papal position in Italy to understand what happened. At the moment of his election in 1154, Adrian's position was threatened by the advance of Frederick I toward Rome from the north for his coronation as emperor; by the desire of the new Sicilian ruler, William I, for papal confirmation of his royal status; by Manual I Comnenus's attempt to reestablish Byzantine influence in Italy; and by the Roman commune's refusal to allow the pope entrance into the city (109). Far from choosing deliberately to ally himself with William, Adrian was backed into an agreement with him. Though Adrian was interested in William's submission, he was more concerned to ensure that Frederick would come to Rome peacefully. Thus he rebuffed William's emissaries and refused to grant him title of king. William followed up this rejection with an attack on the city of Benevento, which barely saved itself. Adrian, left exposed in Benevento, was forced to come to an agreement, the accord of Benevento of 1156, which Frederick and his allies declared a betrayal of the empire. Duggan thinks historians who see it as a triumph of Cardinal Roland's pro-Sicilian party seriously underestimate the danger that William posed to papacy at the moment. To Duggan, Frederick's displeasure was unjust, unreasonable, and unrealistic.

In similar fashion, Duggan sees the famous incident at Besancon as a crisis manufactured by Frederick's translator, Rainald of Dassel, who translated the Latin word beneficia in such a way as to imply that the imperial crown was a fief of the papacy. While many historians have seen the incident as an example of Adrian's anti-imperial policy, Duggan sees the emperor as the initiator of the trouble. She thinks that Frederick meant to make the pope little more than a royal official; it was thanks to Adrian that it was possible to avert that fate. Duggan also attaches to this article a section on Ireland and Laudabiliter, which, though offering a new interpretation of the pope's grant, does not fit thematically into the rest of article.

Finally, in a second article, Duggan assesses the impact of Adrian's reign on ecclesiastical affairs and canon law. Though he did not have the time to preside over the reforming councils of the other popes of his era, he did fit in well with the new conception of the papacy as "judge and arbiter" of the Latin Church. She examines in particular two decretal letters, one on tithes and one on the marriage of the unfree, that came to be included in Gregory IX's Liber extra (1234). Overall, she finds that Adrian was neither an autocratic monarch nor a creature of his cardinals. He was instead "a man of discipline, who fitted in with the norms and routines already in place"(202). Duggan also provides an appendix of Adrian's decretals that were transmitted in canonical sources.

The second half the volume contains a number of sources and documents relevant to Adrian IV's career. These include narrative sources, such as Cardinal Boso's Vita Adriani IV, excerpts from William of Newburgh's Historia rerum Anglicarum, and Matthew Paris's Historia Anglorum, as well as a number of privileges and charters. All of the items are presented with Latin text and a facing-page English translation, making the book an incredibly useful source for scholars and for students alike. One rather odd aspect of their presentation is that although the source of the Latin texts is meticulously cited, no mention is anywhere made of their translator(s), who surely deserve credit for their efforts.

Overall Adrian IV provides the most comprehensive view of Adrian IV's life and career that one is likely to find.


[[1]] "Pope Adrian IV," in Medieval Humanism and Other Studies (Oxford: Blackwell, 1970), 234.

Article Details

Author Biography

Kimberly Rivers

University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh