Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2019

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



This dissertation tackles a series of interconnected questions concerning the transformation of papal authority in fourteenth-century Italy. Challenging previous assumptions of a clearly planned process of “state-building” undertaken by the popes in the provinces of central Italy, I argue that papal secular rule was instead the result of a highly localized process of negotiations and compromises with local elites. More specifically, I look at inquisition trials for heresy as a space in which local elites could contest papal authority and advance claims to govern their own cities. This dissertation is based on research conducted in the Vatican Secret Archives and in the city archives of Todi. It draws on a variety of unpublished sources: inquisition records, appeal trials, official correspondence, and records of communal council meetings. Adopting methodological insights from legal anthropology, I consider court cases as only one aspect of a larger dispute process. The interpretation of each trial requires taking into consideration the whole series of relationships and actions that developed around the trial and outside the court. I argue that inquisitorial trials for heresy and rebellion initiated by the popes to prosecute their political opponents became instead a powerful instrument that members of local communities used to present and advance competing discourses on political and religious orthodoxy. Local elites appropriated and took charge of legal actions to challenge papal claims to rule their cities, transforming ideas of civic governance and collective rule into well-defined legal claims that rejected supra-urban systems of authority. This argument engages two distinct bodies of scholarly literature. First, it challenges previous studies that view papal policies in the fourteenth century as a clearly planned process of state-building. I argue instead that papal secular authority was the result of a highly localized process of negotiation and compromise with local elites. Second, my project takes issue with modern notions of the Middle Ages as a “persecuting society,” in which ruling elites succeeded in extending and intensifying their authority by singling out an assortment of minority groups – heretics, Jews, lepers, and homosexuals – for social isolation and legal persecution. Focusing on inquisitorial trials for heresy, I instead argue that inquisitors complied with contemporary principles of due process of law, which dictated the standards for the acceptance and evaluation of proof, as well as allowed for protecting the rights of the defendants. The final aim of these trials, I argue, was not punishment but reconciliation. This dissertation thus aspires to change the way scholars view the medieval inquisition and the prosecution of heresy, fundamentally re-conceptualizing the role of the accused/inquisitor relationship.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Daniel Bornstein

Committee Members

Mark G. Pegg, Christine Johnson, William Wallace, Christian Schneider,


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