Pope Gregory IX: History & Facts

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore the life and work of Pope Gregory IX and the relationship with Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II which defined his papcy in the 13th century.


Whether it is the Yankees and the Red Sox, Batman and the Joker, or Rome and Carthage, everyone has a nemesis. It's that person that you just can't seem to stand, the one who thinks or does differently and is willing to fight you on every issue. Just like the pairs above, various historical figures had their own nemeses as well. For the subject of this lesson, Pope Gregory IX, that figure was the Holy Roman Emperor.

In this lesson, we will focus on this rivalry as well as other accomplishments of the 13th-century pope.

Early Life

Born as Ugolino Di Segni sometime before 1170, Pope Gregory IX was nephew to one of his predecessors, Pope Innocent III. Gregory was educated at universities in Paris and Bologna before entering the Church at Rome in the service of his uncle.

Early in his career, Gregory served as a papal legate and envoy to Germany. He dutifully spent time there and in Southern Italy working on the Pope's behalf. He was made a cardinal in 1198, and only eight years later was given the prestigious bishopric of Ostia on the Italian coast. When Gregory's uncle died, Pope Honorius III took office, and Gregory transitioned smoothly to working under the new Pope.

He positioned himself well and was seen as both a dutiful servant of the Church and as a bright and keen theologian. When Honorius died in in 1227, Ugolino Di Sengi was elected as pope, becoming Pope Gregory IX.

Troubles With Frederick

Both as a cardinal and as Pope, Gregory was an ardent believer in the righteousness of Christianity's mission to retake the Holy Land. Soon after becoming Pope, Gregory commissioned the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Sicily, Frederick II, to embark on a new crusade to plant Christianity's flag in Jerusalem. Gregory had supported Frederick's claim to the Emperorship in his time as a papal legate in Germany, and he was on good terms with the Emperor.

But soon after Gregory ascended to the highest position in the Church, relations between the two soured. Frederick took his time taking his army to the Holy Land, and Gregory grew wary that Frederick's dallying meant the Emperor was contemplating an assault on territory in Italy directly controlled by the Church. When Frederick's army did finally depart, it halted its march abruptly when an outbreak of the plague broke out in the lands in Frederick's path.

Gregory lost patience with Frederick, and in September 1227 - only 6 months after he was elected Pope - Gregory excommunicated the Holy Roman Emperor. Frederick issued an angry response and departed for the Holy Land anyway where he won several victories. Gregory was furious with Frederick - who continued to fight in the Church's name despite being excommunicated - and Gregory raised a papal army and invaded Frederick's lands in Sicily. Frederick returned to defend his territory and defeated Gregory's forces, and the two signed a truce in 1230, which brought an end to the dispute.

Church Policy

Aside from his very personal political dispute with Frederick II, Gregory IX was an active pope in internal matters as well. His main goals were reviving the unified Christian Church and stamping out unorthodox beliefs. To the first goal, Gregory IX opened up negotiations with the Eastern Church, based in Constantinople, which had broken away from the Roman Church two centuries before. Unfortunately, as with the original schism in the 11th century, reunification talks broke down over doctrinal issues.

Gregory was far more successful in that second goal: persecuting heretics. In 1231, for example, Pope Gregory IX issued a papal order that all heretics should be surrendered to civic authorities for punishment. In most cases, this meant death, often by being burned at the stake, a punishment of which Gregory was particularly fond.

Gregory was a great patron of the monastic orders (e.g., Dominicans, Franciscans) and in 1233 he instituted the infamous Inquisition in France. The papal order appointed the Dominican monks as the official inquisitor of France, in charge of rooting out and destroying all heresy and heretics in the country.

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