The pontificate of Innocent III, 1198-1216, may be taken as the most splendid period in the history of the medieval papacy. Gregory VII, Innocent III and Boniface VIII stand out as the three popes who stated most clearly the claims of the papacy both in spiritual matters and secular: but Innocent III alone made good the claim. He not only ruled the church, but he was a greater force in the secular politics of Europe than either emperor or national king. This end he achieved partly fortuitously, through a long schism in the empire, but also largely through devotion, ambition and ability. He belonged to a noble Roman house, and in his youth studied theology at Paris and law at Bologna, attaining distinction as a canonist and a writer. His uncle, pope Clement III, made him a cardinal before he was thirty, and at thirty-seven years of age, in January 1198, he was elected pope. One of the most briiliant of the Hohenstaufen emperors, Henry VI, had died four months previously: he had inherited and made his power real in Sicily and south Italy, as well as Germany, but he died leaving only a three-year-old child to succeed him. The Hohenstaufen dynasty, and Henry VI in particular, had dreamed of making their temporal sovereignty of Europe as real as their local rule in Germany: but the heir to their dreams of empire was Innocent III. The two aims dearest to his heart were those which he put forward when summoning the great council of 1215, the recovery of the Holy Land and the reform
of the church, both rather spiritual than temporal ambitions: but like Gregory VII he found that temporal world power was needed to achieve spiritual reform, and he was more successful than any other pope in attaining it. In his temporal policy the points of greatest importance were his relations with the young emperor, Frederick II, with the national kings, and his success in building up the papal estates into a real Italian principality. His spiritual achievements included the launching of the fourth Crusade, the war against heresy, especially the Albigensian; the patronage of the new orders of friars; increased papal control of elections and appointments to benefices; and the great reforming council known as the fourth Lateran, 1215.