Pope Clement VI Profile

Pope Clement VI
15th Century Fresco of Clement VI by Mario Giovanetti in the chapel of Saint-Martial, Limoges, France. Public Domain

Pope Clement VI is an important figure in Medieval History.

Key Facts

Pope Clement VI was also known as Pierre Roger (his birth name).


Sponsoring a naval crusading expedition, buying land for the papacy in Avignon, patronizing arts and learning, and defending the Jews when pogroms flared up during the Black Death.

Occupation: Pope

Place of Residence and Influence: France

Important Dates:

  • Born: c. 1291
  • Elected pope: May 7, 1342
  • Consecrated: May 19, 1342
  • Died: 1352

About Pope Clement VI

Pierre Roger was born in Corrèze, Aquitaine, France, and entered a monastery when he was still a child. He studied in Paris and became a professor there, where he was introduced to Pope John XXII. From then on his career took off; he was made abbot of Benedictine monasteries at Fécamp and La Chaise-Dieu before he became archbishop of Sens and Rouen and then a cardinal.

As Pope, Clement was strongly pro-French. This would cause difficulties when attempting to broker peace between France and England, who were at that time engaged in the decades-long conflict that would come to be known as the Hundred Years' War. Unsurprisingly, his efforts saw little success. 

Clement was the fourth pope to reside in Avignon, and the continued existence of the Avignon Papacy did nothing to lessen the problems that the papacy had with Italy. Noble Italian families disputed the papacy's claim to the territory, and Clement sent his nephew, Astorge de Durfort, to settle matters in the Papal States. Though Astorge would not be successful, his use of German mercenaries to aid him would set a precedent in papal military matters that would last another hundred years. Meanwhile, the Avignon Papacy persisted. Not only did Clement turn down an opportunity to return the papacy to Rome, but he also purchased Avignon from Joanna of Naples, whom he absolved of her husband's murder.

Pope Clement chose to stay in Avignon during the Black Death and survived the worst of the plague, though a third of his cardinals died. His survival may have been due, in large part, to his doctors' advice to sit between two huge fires, even in the heat of summer. Though it wasn't the doctors' intent, the heat was so extreme that plague-bearing fleas couldn't get near him. He also offered protection to the Jews when many were persecuted under suspicion of starting the pestilence. Clement saw some success in crusading, sponsoring a naval expedition that took control of Smyrna, which was given to the Knights of St. John, and ended its pirate raids in the Mediterranean.

Spurning the idea of clerical poverty, Clement opposed extremist organizations like the Franciscan Spirituals, who advocated absolute rejection of all material comforts, and became a patron of artists and scholars. To that end, he enlarged the papal palace and made it a sophisticated center of culture. Clement was a generous host and a magnanimous sponsor, but his lavish spending would deplete the funds his predecessor, Benedict XII, had so carefully amassed, and he turned to taxation to rebuild the papacy's treasury. This would sow the seeds of further discontent with the Avignon Papacy.

Clement died in 1352 after a short illness. He was interred as per his wishes at the abbey at La Chaise-Dieu, where 300 years later Huguenots would desecrate his grave and burn his remains.

More Pope Clement VI Resources

Pope Clement VI in Print

Clement VI: The Pontificate and Ideas of an Avignon Pope (Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought: Fourth Series) by Diana Wood

Pope Clement VI on the Web

Pope Clement VI, Substantial biography by N. A. Weber at the Catholic Encyclopedia.

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Snell, Melissa. "Pope Clement VI Profile." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/pope-clement-vi-1788680. Snell, Melissa. (2020, August 26). Pope Clement VI Profile. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/pope-clement-vi-1788680 Snell, Melissa. "Pope Clement VI Profile." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/pope-clement-vi-1788680 (accessed March 28, 2023).