In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Pope Innocent III

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Biographies
  • Gesta Innocentii Papae III
  • The Registers of Pope Innocent III
  • Family and Education
  • Election
  • The Romano-German Empire
  • The Byzantine Empire
  • France
  • England
  • Eastern Europe and the Balkans
  • Crusades
  • The Fourth Crusade
  • Heresy and the Albigensian Crusade
  • Popular Religion
  • Canonization Policy

Medieval Studies Pope Innocent III
John Doran
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 June 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 June 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0041


Pope Innocent III (b. 1160 or 1161––d. 1216) is widely regarded as the most powerful pope of the Middle Ages. Serving as pope from 1198 to 1216, he was the man who realized the implications of Pope Gregory VII’s vision of papal power, who vindicated the papal claim to arbitrate in the succession to the Holy Roman Empire, who forced the king of France to bow to his will, and who received the submission of the king of England as a vassal of the Holy See. He was the pope who founded the papal states; realized, albeit temporarily, the unification of the Latin and Greek churches; who brought to completion the reforms of the previous two centuries; and who instituted such long-standing practices as annual confession at Easter. In reality, Innocent was not as powerful as his rhetoric would suggest, and his interest for modern scholars does not lie in his political program as much as in his pastoral concern, formed in the schools of Paris and fitting perfectly with a new generation of evangelical enthusiasts. Note that there are two resources that are particularly useful for students of the papacy in general and of Innocent in particular. The first is the series of bibliographies, arranged by theme and by pope, published annually in Archivum Historiae Pontificiae. The second is International Medieval Bibliography, published by Brepols and available electronically in institutions that subscribe.

Introductory Works

The pontificate of Pope Innocent III was relatively long; for eighteen years, he occupied the most venerable office in the Western world, which placed him at the forefront of political as well as religious developments. In order to gain a rapid appreciation of the importance of the man and his policies, it is advisable to begin with a short overview by an expert in the field, such as Maleczek 2000 or, for a more succinct evaluation, Guyotjeannin 2002. Ullmann 2003 summarizes an earlier historiography of Innocent that portrays him as a politically powerful pope. Morris 1989 gives a broad survey of the pope’s pontificate and heralds a wider appreciation among English-speaking scholars of Innocent’s important innovations in pastoral policies. Paravicini Bagliani 1996 provides a detailed account of the papal court in Innocent’s period and explains the localized world of the papal curia and its significance in international politics. The year 1998 marked the eighth centenary of Innocent’s election, which was recognized by a number of international conferences. Out of these conferences arose two collections of essays, Moore, et al. 1999 and Sommerlechner 2003, which demonstrate the enduring significance of Innocent and his pontificate and the wide array of scholars who have been enticed to study them in detail. A further volume should be added to these studies, published to honor the sixty-fifth birthday of Brenda M. Bolton, Andrews, et al. 2004, which contains many articles of interest to scholars who work on Pope Innocent III, the papacy, and the city of Rome, as well as a full bibliography of Bolton’s contributions to the study of the pope.

  • Andrews, Frances, Christoph Egger, and Constance M. Rousseau, eds. Pope, Church, and City: Essays in Honour of Brenda M. Bolton. Medieval Mediterranean 56. Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2004.

    Contains useful articles as well as a bibliography of the works of Brenda M. Bolton (pp. xxxi–xxxvii) to 2005. Invaluable to anybody embarking on a study of Pope Innocent III, and an indication of Bolton’s contribution in attracting young minds to her favorite pope. (See Sommerlechner 2004, cited under Gesta Innocentii Papae III; Egger 2004, cited under Sermons; and Doran 2004, cited under De quadripartita specie nuptiarum.)

  • Guyotjeannin, Olivier. “Innocent III.” In The Papacy: An Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. Edited by Philippe Levillain, 785–790. Translated by Deborah Blaz. New York and London: Routledge, 2002.

    A useful overview and a good introductory bibliography.

  • Maleczek, Werner. “Innocenzo III.” In Enciclopedia dei papi. Vol. 2. Edited by Massimo Bray and Girolamo Arnaldi, 326–350. Rome: Istituto dell’Enciclopedia Italiana, 2000.

    A comprehensive summary of the pontificate and its main developments, from a leading scholar in the field.

  • Moore, John C., Brenda M. Bolton, James M. Powell, and Constance M. Rousseau, eds. Pope Innocent III and His World. Papers presented at a conference held at Hofstra University in May 1997. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 1999.

    A collection of essays addressing the following themes: Pope Innocent III and his milieu, shepherding the flock, defining and using papal power, and encountering the Muslim world. (See Bolton 1999, cited under Gesta Innocentii Papae III; Egger 1999, cited under De missarum mysteriis; Kay 1999, cited under De quadripartita specie nuptiarum; Peters 1999, cited under Election; Clarke 1999, cited under England; Bird 1999 and Maier 1999, cited under Crusades; Andrews 1999b, cited under Popular Religion; and Goodich 1999, cited under Canonization Policy.)

  • Morris, Colin. “The Pontificate of Innocent III (1198–1216).” In The Papal Monarchy: The Western Church from 1050 to 1250. By Colin Morris, 417–451. Oxford History of the Christian Church. Oxford: Clarendon, 1989.

    An excellent introduction to the pontificate, signaling a change in how the pontificate was viewed and placing greater emphasis on the pastoral importance of Innocent’s activities.

  • Paravicini Bagliani, Agostino. La vita quotidiana alla corte dei papi nel Duecento. Translated by Agostino Paravicini Bagliani and Lorenzo Paravicini Bagliani. Rome and Bari, Italy: Laterza, 1996.

    A thorough and accessible introduction to the functioning of the papal court in the 13th century. An essential introduction to the pontificate of Innocent.

  • Sommerlechner, Andrea, ed. Innocenzo III: Urbs et orbis; Atti del congresso internazionale: Roma, 9–15 settembre 1998. 2 vols. Rome: Società Romana di Storia Patria and Istituto Italiano per il Medio Evo, 2003.

    A large collection of essays covering a wide variety of factors related to the papacy of Innocent, including reappraisals of some of the pope’s writings; his understanding of himself and his role; crusading, especially the Fourth Crusade; the Fourth Lateran Council; legal judgments; relations with states; art; architecture; patronage; and even papal clothing. (See Zutshi 2003, cited under The Registers of Pope Innocent III; Engammare 2003, cited under De quadripartita specie nuptiarum; Gatto 2003, cited under Family and Education; Landau 2003, cited under Election; Baldwin 2003, cited under France; Fryde 2003, cited under England; Bird 2003, cited under Crusades; Andrea and Moore 2003, cited under the Fourth Crusade; Graham-Leigh 2003, cited under Heresy and the Albigensian Crusade; Allegrezza 2003 and Montaubin 2003, cited under Papal-Episcopal Reform; Cariboni 2003, cited under Monastic Reform; and Vauchez 2003, cited under Canonization Policy.)

  • Ullmann, Walter. A Short History of the Papacy in the Middle Ages. 2d ed. London and New York: Routledge, 2003.

    Reprinted with an introduction by George Garnett. See especially chapter 9, “The Zenith of the Medieval Papacy” (pp. 131–147). A brief, controversial, and stimulating overview of the history of the papacy in the Middle Ages. Ullmann was a champion of the hierocratic theory of papal authority and did much to cement the idea of Pope Innocent III’s pontificate as the apogee of papal power.

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