Pope Innocent IV was born Sinibaldo Fieschi, around 1195. He was the son of Beatrice Grillo and Ugo Fieschi,  an up and coming noble. Sinibaldo was educated at the universities of Parma and Bologna and was considered one of the best canonists of his time.

Between 1216 and 1227, our future pope was canon of the cathedral of Parma. During this time, he wrote an extensive commentary on papal decretals. Then he got the attention of the Curia. He became an auditor for a year, then Vice Chancellor of the Church for six months. In late 1227, still a young man, he became cardinal priest of St. Lorenzo in Lucina. And, between 1235 and 1240, he was papal governor of the March of Ancona.

To go back a little, before his death, Pope Gregory IX had demanded the return of territories seized from the Papal States by Emperor Frederick II. Gregory called a general council to depose Frederick, with the support of Europe’s Church leaders. He also wanted to liberate the Holy Sepulchre and mount a defense against the Mongols. Frederick kidnapped and held two cardinals and one hundred bishops at Pisa after a sea battle with the Pisans. These men could not attend the conclave to elect the new pope. Unfortunately, that pope died two weeks later. The conclave reconvened but then split into two camps regarding how to treat the emperor. The conclave lasted 18 months.

The Papacy

Sinibaldo was chosen, although he was reluctant. He had been on friendly terms with Frederick, even after his excommunication. And Frederick admired the cardinal’s wisdom. As soon as Sinibaldo took the name of Innocent IV, negotiations began to lift the excommunication. The emperor put forth a friendly face. But Innocent refused to back down on details; he was not going to give in unless Frederick gave back Lombardy. Frederick refused.

The emperor negotiated by encouraging much antipapal feeling in Italy. His agents encouraged plots against papal rule. Innocent realized that living in Rome was dangerous so he disguised himself and left Rome 7 June 1244. He traveled overland to Sutri, to the port of Civitavecchia and to Genoa. Two months later, he fled to France, where he was welcomed to Lyon 29 November.

Secure and out of Frederick’s reach, Innocent summoned as many bishops as possible to Lyon for the council that Gregory IX had planned.. About 150 showed, a small group. Bishops outside France and Spain were afraid to come, bishops in eastern Europe were being invaded by Mongols and those in the Middle East were being attacked by Muslims. Frederick’s defender, Taddeo of Suessa gave promises but no guarantees. He was very surprised that Frederick was excommunicated all over again.

This lead to political agitation in every European nation. Frederick died in December 1250. Innocent thought it was safe to return to Rome. It took almost three years as he toured Lombardy, waiting for Rome to be safe. The Papal States suffered a loss of infrastructure and an increase in taxes due to the fighting. Spiritual conditions of his flock also suffered, even though he tried to intervene.

Innocent was not only an army leader looking for land. He saw himself as the Vicar of Christ, so that all should accept his leadership. To this end, he authorized crusades in Lithuania and Prussia. In May 1252, he issued a bull of 38 laws, advising civil authorities to treat heretics as criminals. However, he did impose limits on torture.

He canonized Edmund Rich, the archbishop of Canterbury, Queen Margaret of Scotland, Peter of Verona and Stanislaus of Szczepanow. In addition, he approved the Second order of the Franciscans, the Poor Clares. Possibly to prevent more arguments and bloodshed, he reversed the policy of burning the Talmud, ordering it only censored. And he did try to negotiate with the Mongols.

Innocent tried to keep the Hohenstaufens (Frederick’s family) out of Italy by continuing Gregory’s policy of opposition. Manfred, Frederick’s illegitimate son, wanted the crown of Sicily. Conrad, Frederick’s legitimate son, had the crown of Germany. Manfred’s army was in the Italian peninsula. When Innocent accepted the fealty of Anagni, rather than Sicily being declared the controller of the town, Manfred went on the offensive. At the Battle of Foagia, Manfred beat the papal army, led by Innocent’s nephew. Innocent died days after hearing the news.