Born 1291 in the castle of Maumont, department of Corrèze, France, elected pope, 7 May 1342, at Avignon, where he died 6 December, 1352. At the age of ten he entered the Benedictine monastery of La Chaise-Dieu (Haute-Loire), where he made his religious profession. After devoting some time to study at Paris, he graduated as doctor and became professor in that city. Subsequent to his introduction to Pope John XXII by Cardinal Pierre Grouin de Mortemart, he rapidly rose from one ecclesiastical dignity to another. At first prior of Saint-Baudile at Nimes, then Abbot of Fécamp in Normandy, he became Bishop of Arras and Chancellor of France in 1328, was promoted to the Archbishopric of Sens in 1329, and to that of Rouen the following year. In the latter city a provincial council, which promulgated several disciplinary decrees, was held under his presidency in 1335. He was created cardinal (1338) by Benedict XII, whom he succeeded as pontiff. One of the characteristic traits of his policy as head of the Universal Church was his excessive devotion to the interests of France and those of his relatives. His French sympathies impeded his efforts to restore and maintain peace between England and France, although his mediation led to the conclusion of a short general truce (Malestroit, 1343). Most of the twenty-five cardinals whom he crreated were French, and twelve of them were related to him. The King of France was given permission (1344) to Communicate under both kinds. Clement accepted the senatorial dignity offered him as “Knight Roger” by a Roman delegation, which numbered Petrarch as one of its members. He also granted their request for the celebration of a jubilee every fifty, instead of every hundred, years (Bull “Unigenitus”, 1343), but declined their invitation to return to Rome. Greater permanency seemed to be assured to the papal residence abroad by his purchase of the sovereignty of Avignon for 80,000 florins from Joanna of Naples and Provence (9 June 1348). About the same time he also declared this princess innocent of complicity in the murder of her husband. The pope’s success in Roman affairs is evidenced by his confirmation of the ephemeral but then unavoidable rule of Cola di Mienzi (20 May to 15 December 1347). His later condemnation of this arrogant tribune was largely instrumental in bringing about his fall from power. Shortly after these events the jubilee year of 1350 brought an extraordinarily large number of pilgrims to the Eternal City. In his attempt to strengthen the Guelph party in Italy the pope met with failure, and was constrained to cede the city of Bologna to the Archbishop of Milan for a period of twelve years.
Clement took up with ardour the long-standing conflict between the Emperor Louis the Bavarian and the papacy. The former had offended the religious feelings of many of his adherents by arbitrarily annulling the marriage of Marguerite Maultasch, heiress of Tyrol, and John Henry, Prince of Bohemia. The popular discontent was still further intensified when the emperor authorized his own son to marry the same princess. Louis consequently was ready to make the greatest concessions to the pope. In a writing of September, 1343, he acknowledged his unlawful assumption of the imperial title, declared his willingness to annul all his imperial acts and to submit to any papal penalty, but at the same time wished to be recognized as King of the Romans. Clement demanded as further conditions that no law should be enacted in the empire without papal sanction, that the binding force of Louis’s promulgated royal decrees should be suspended until confirmation by the Holy See, that he should depose all bishops and abbots named by himself, and waive all claim to the sovereignty of the Papal States, Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica. Louis submitted the pope’s demands to the consideration of the German princes, at a time when anti-papal feeling ran very high in Germany, as a result of the separation of the Archbishopric of Prague from the ecclesiastical province of Mainz (30 April 1344). The princes declared them unacceptable, but also spoke of the necessity of electing a new king in place of Louis, whose rule had been so disastrous to the empire. The pope on 7 April 1346, deposed Henry of Virneburg, Archbishop of Mainz and an ardent partisan of the reigning emperor, and named the twenty-year-old Gerlach of Nassau to the see. On 13 April of the same year he launched a severe Bull against the emperor, in which he requested the electors to give him a successor. Charles of Luxemburg, the pope’s candidate and former pupil, was elected King of Germany (11 July 1346), by his father, John of Bohemia, by Rudolf of Saxony, and the three ecclesiastical electors. Charles IV (1346- 78) substantially accepted the papal demands, but his authority was not immediately recognized throughout Germany. The country was on the verge of civil war, when Louis the Bavarian suddenly died while engaged in a boar-hunt near Munich (11 October, 1347). The opposition of Günther of Schwartzenburg (died 14 June 1349) to Charles was but of short duration. Left without a protector, through the death of Louis, William of Occam and the schismatical Friars Minor now made their submission to the pope. About 1344 Clement VI granted the sovereignty of the Canary Islands to the Castilian Prince Louis de la Cerda, on condition that no other Christian ruler had acquired any right to their possession. The new sovereign, who was accorded the title of Prince of Fortunia, agreed to introduce Christianity into the islands and to pay tribute to the Holy See. He could not, however, take effective possession of the territory, which was not permanently converted at this time, even though a special bishop (the Carmelite Bernard) was named for the islands in 1351. the pope’s attempts to reunite the Greeks and Armenians with the Roman Church led to no definite results. The East desired not so much a return to doctrinal unity as assistance against the Turks. A crusade against the latter, which was undertaken in 1344, ended in a barren truce.
More of a temporal prince than an ecclesiastical ruler, Clement was munificent to profusion, a patron of arts and letters, a lover of good cheer, well-appointed banquets and brilliant receptions, to which ladies were freely admitted. The heavy expenses necessitated by such pomp soon exhausted the funds which the economy of Benedict XII had provided for his successor. To open up new sources of revenue, in the absence of the ordinary income from the States of the Church, fresh taxes were imposed and an ever-increasing number of appointments to bishoprics and benefices was reserved to the pope. Such arbitrary proceedings led to resistance in several countries. In 1343 the agents of two cardinals, whom Clement had appointed to offices in England, were driven from that country. Edward III vehemently complained of the exactions of the Avignon Court, and in 1351 was passed the Statute of Provisors, according to which the king reserved the right of presentation in all cases of papal appointments to benefices. The memory of this pope is clouded by his open French partisanship and by the gross nepotism of his reign. Clement VI was nevertheless a protector of the oppressed and a helper of the needy. His courage and charity strikingly appeared at the time of the Great Pestilence, or Black Death, at Avignon (1348-49). While in many places, numerous Jews were massacred by the populace as being the cause of the pestilence, Clement issued Bulls for their protection and afforded them a refuge in his little State. He canonized Saint Ivo of Tréguier, Brittany (died 1303), the advocate of orphans (June, 1347), condemned the Flagellants, and in 1351 courageously defended the Mendicant friars against the accusations of some secular prelates. Several sermons have been preserved of this admittedly learned pope and eloquent speaker. He died after a short illness, and, according to his desire, was interred at La Chaise-Dieu. In 1562 his grave was desecrated and his remains burned by some Huguenots.