The Benedict legacy: a nobleman, a victim of poison and a child

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The Independent Online

One was strangled, another poisoned and several more forced to flee Rome. Life as a pontiff named Benedict has not always been easy.

One was strangled, another poisoned and several more forced to flee Rome. Life as a pontiff named Benedict has not always been easy.

As sixteenth in a line of not entirely illustrious popes bestowed with the papal name Benedict, the new pontiff would do well not to follow in the gruesome footsteps of his namesakes.

Few records remain of the first Benedict, known as Bonosus, who reigned from 575 to 579. His successor Benedict II has become the patron saint of Europe despite his papacy lasting only a year in 684.

Amid the papal politics of the ninth century, the reign of the third Benedict was more turbulent. He was elected in 855, before being disavowed then reinstated again before reigning for three more years.

Benedict IV, who was Pope between 900 and 903, was renowned for his noble birth and public generosity, while Benedict V was known for the brevity of his tenure: he was deposed within a month in 964.

Benedict VI was among the less fortunate of the popes. He was installed in 972 under the esteemed protection of Emperor Otto the Great. But upon the leader's death two years later, he was strangled by the Romans.

Benedict VII was unusual for his era insofar as he was able to rule for nine years, quietly promoting reform until his death in 983.

Troubled times faced Benedict VIII, who was pope between 1012 and 1024, after an anti-pope forced him to flee Rome before he was finally restored by Henry II of Germany.

The son of Alberich III and nephew of two popes, Benedict IX reigned from 1032 to 1045, after his father obtained the post for him when he was under 20 .

Benedict X, who was born John Minicus, was elected in 1058 before he was forced out of Rome by cardinals supporting the election of Pope Hildebrand.

A brief pontificate of eight months came to an end when Benedict XI, born Nicholas Boccasini, died of a suspected case of poisoning.

Benedict XII, the 14th century French pope, was renowned for attempting to curb the luxury of monastic orders without much success.

Strangely superstitious for a Roman Catholic, Benedict XIII, who was pope between 1724 and 1730, first called himself Benedict XIV to avoid associations of bad luck.

His successor Benedict XIV, who led the papacy between 1740 and 1758, denounced the practice of using Christian words to express lay ideas.

For the current pope, however, the most inspiring of the Benedicts may well be the most recent.

Pope Benedict XV steered the Catholic Church through the dark years of the First World War and has been known as the Pope of Peace.

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