- City on the Rhone River, seat of the papal curia from 1309 to 1378. Although now a part of France, in the Middle Ages and Renaissance the city was part of the county of Venaissin, which was a fief dependent on the papacy. After his election in 1305, Pope Clement V, a Frenchman by birth, decided that political conditions in central Italy were too disturbed for him to go at once to Rome. He spent several years in France but in 1309 he settled in Avignon to get out of territory controlled by the King Philip IV. Although Clement intended to move to Rome as soon as conditions permitted, he never found conditions favorable. Between 1309 and 1378, a total of seven popes administered the "Roman" bishopric from Avignon, which they gradually developed into a luxurious and heavily fortified papal capital. All seven of these popes were French. They filled administrative offices and especially the college of cardinals (which elected future popes) full of Frenchmen: 113 of the 134 cardinals appointed in this period were French. Inevitably, each time a pope died, the French electoral majority produced another French pope.The Avignonese popes were often perceived as subject to French influence. This situation caused loud complaints about the "captivity" of the papacy. In addition, since these popes were unable to establish effective control over their estates in and around Rome, the traditional revenues of the papacy were greatly reduced, precisely at a time when the need to develop Avignon as a new capital imposed new financial burdens. These needs were one reason why the papacy in this period ruthlessly sought to increase old sources of revenue and to discover new ones. People all over Europe complained that the papacy had become a greedy institution interested only in squeezing money out of the faithful. Critics likened the French "capture" of the papacy to the Babylonian captivity of the ancient Hebrews, and many earnest reformers (including figures as diverse as the humanist Petrarch and the mystic St. Catherine of Siena) demanded that the popes must return to Rome as the first step in a sweeping reform of the church "in head and members." Each of these popes promised to return to Rome as soon as possible; some of them even meant it. Pope Gregory XI had pledged at his election to make the return. Finally, late in 1377, he left for Italy, entering Rome in January 1378. But he was old and infirm, and he died in March. The subsequent papal election produced not one but two rival popes, one of whom stayed in Rome while the other (a Frenchman elected by the French majority) returned to Avignon, ushering in an even more troubled period in the history of the church, the Western Schism.
Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. Charles G. Nauert. 2004.