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In the show

The Templars may be a formidable and intimidating fighting force, but even this band of fearsome brothers take their orders from someone. And that someone is Pope Boniface VIII. He may come across as an affable and sympathetic man, but he’s also as wily and ambitious as any European king – a fact that France’s Philip IV is about to discover for himself.

Whatever anyone says about this Pope, the depth of his faith cannot be questioned, and the Templars revere him as their guiding light on Earth. Boniface also has great faith in Templar knight Landry – a fact that becomes highly significant when a brutal turn of events puts Landry firmly in the spotlight of power, and the prospect of a new Crusade comes into view.

In history

Benedetto Caetani, the man who would become Pope Boniface VIII, was born into the right family for anyone with ambitions to become God’s representative on Earth. After all, he counted a few previous Popes as his ancestors. When his own turn came to assume the duties of the pontiff, he soon asserted himself as a force to be reckoned with – especially compared to his immediate predecessor, Pope Celestine V, a weak, elderly and ineffectual man who became one of the very few pontiffs to resign the position.

Boniface was on a collision course with a figure every bit as stubborn and convinced of his own righteousness as he was: Philip IV of France, who happens to be another major player in Knightfall. Their intense feud was triggered by the dry matter of taxation – specifically, the taxation of the clergy in France, which was a valuable source of income for Philip. Boniface took exception to this, issuing a decree that the Pope would have to give express permission for the taxation of church revenues. The punishment for violating the decree would be excommunication.

Philip had no qualms about taking Boniface on, and issued his own laws forbidding the export of precious metals and other valuables to Rome, ruthlessly extinguishing an important source of cash for the Catholic Church. After further disputes, the war of words continued with the Pope sending Philip a bluntly worded letter, warning him: “Let no one persuade you that you have no superior or that you are not subject to the head of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, for he is a fool who so thinks.”

In their battle of wills, Boniface and Philip symbolized the eternal duel between church and state, and the Pope pulled out all the stops with a famous and controversial decree, “Unam sanctam”, an absolutely unapologetic assertion of the absolute superiority of the Pope in matters of politics as well as spirituality. “We declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff,” the decree read.

“Let no one persuade you that you have no superior or that you are not subject to the head of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, for he is a fool who so thinks.”

Unsurprisingly, this inflamed things between Pope and king, with Philip’s forces spreading anti-Boniface propaganda accusing the Pope of all kinds of vile blasphemies, not to mention the murder of the previous pontiff. Things came to a head when Philip’s agents joined forces with prominent Italian enemies of the Pope and confronted the pontiff physically – even slapping him in the face, according to legend. As a chronicler of the time described the shocking scene, the mob “mocked [Boniface] with vile words and arrested him… scorned him and threatened him”.

Perhaps mentally and physically broken by this ordeal, the Pope died just weeks later. He remains one of the most fascinating figures of the period, and even earnt a mention in Dante’s Inferno. It was a dubious honour, though, as the great Italian poet detested Boniface for personal and political reasons, and had written a long essay disputing his claims of Papal supremacy. According to the Inferno, Boniface had a place in Hell waiting for him when he died.

Watch Knightfall Tuesdays at 9pm.