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The medieval Popes ruled directly over the Papal States in Central Italy, and was an influential player in the affairs of European states. The Dark Emperor of France set in motion a master plan to bring the catholic church under the French Empire's domain once and for all. He bequeathed a domain in the south of France to Pope Gregory X, enticing him to move his retinue to the city of Avignon. By enticing the Pope away from his historical home in Rome and centering the power of the church in France, It would open it up to be directly influenced by french emperors.

The plan hit a roadblock with Pope Gregory XI. Disgusted by the corruption of his blessed church and filled with the righteous fury of St. Peter himself, brought the Avignon papacy to an end by returning the court to Rome. However, following his death, an event known as the western schism took hold of the church, in which the cardinals refused to follow the direction of the newly elected Pope and elected another pope after returning to Avignon, setting in motion a rival papacy in the french city. This would lead to a succession of Anti-Popes, who competed with Rome for dominance and power. The anti-popes would eventually culminate in the formation of the "Dark Papacy", making them the center of power in all of Christendom and ushering in an age of terror across Europe.

In order for this future to occur in this timeline, I need the anti-popes to "win" against their competitors in Rome and for Avignon to eclipse them as the center of power permanently. How can I make this happen and make it stick for the long term?

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  • $\begingroup$ If the people ever thought that the "anti-pope" was antichristian in any way, it wouldn't work. The French would have to back them 100%, so while it's fine to call them the anti-popes, make sure you understand the French would have had to be totally onboard. If they're a sect or fanatical, that's all fine and good as well. They just can't be perceived as bad by the general public. $\endgroup$ – Neil Dec 19 '19 at 7:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Incognito Thee never was any emperor of France. And the rest of your history is just as bad. The popes at Avignon were dominated by the kings of France. So even if the Avignon antipopes defeat the Roman popes, they will still be dominated by the kings of France. The Avignon antipopes would have fight many bloody wars of conquest to conquer all of Christendom and make themselves absolute rulers. So your story will have to be about how they justified crusades of conquest and found enough willing recruits over decades and centuries and conquered all Christendom. $\endgroup$ – M. A. Golding Dec 19 '19 at 20:51
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Win either the Council of Pisa or the Council of Constance

Both of these were attempts to solve the crisis, the latter a success and the former a failure. The Council of Pisa elected a new pope, but unlike the Council of Constance, it didn't manage to make the two current popes agree to step down, so it just ended up with a third one. The Council of Constance had both popes agree to step down, and the third one was ignored until his line of succession went away. (Not the cleanest of victories, but desperate times do call for desperate measures.)

The way to make this stick long term is to have the anti-pope of Avignon win either one of these. How exactly that happens is up to use - bribery, blackmail, politics, assassination - there are a lot of ways to do this, but here the how isn't really important. The fact is that either of these Councils had the potential to declare the next non-contested pope, so a little creative historical rearrangement would lead to the French empire gaining the papacy.

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Don't let papacy leave Avignon in the first place

By 1376, it was generally accepted that Pope resides in Avignon. Gregory XI's move to Rome was not a predetermined act. If other monarchs lend it him more help with Italian affairs, he should have been content to stay in Avignon, avoiding the schism altogether.

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Have the council of Constance fail. Then, have your "anti-pope" make a deal with the Hussites. Then, declare a crusade against Roman "anti-papal" (in the age of multiple popes, the real pope is simply one who wins and anti-popes are those who lost) heretics with the assisstance of said Hussites. Finally, all you have to do is win the war and with the Hussites on your site, especially if Jan Žižka somehow ends up living longer than he did in our timeline, your victory is secured, because you have an army with quasi-modern tactics, and with one of the best generals of history, fighting by your side.

Hussites were the heralds of the end of the knight era. (Before obligatory comment about how knights still do exist nowadays, era of the knights means era when knights dominated the battlefield, and that era came to an end in 1420's Battle of Sudomer, probably the most important medieval battle you've never heard about, because of basically irrelevant battle of Agincourt.)

With war wagons, hook-handgonnes, flail infantry, field artillery in form of howitzers, taras cannons and bombards, they demonstrated to the europe that future lies in mobile gunpowder weapons and that the war knight is soon to be outdated concept. If you have allies like these on your side, you can march your armies through Holy Roman Empire towards Rome and simply remove the Roman pope by force.

Your only problem is that you have to surrender to the demands of Hussites - which are not too large. It means you'll have to acknowledge their existence outside of Catholic influence (which ended up happening anyway) and allow them to practice their faith as they see fit. Because you've got their help, you'll also probably have to declare that the judgement of Jan Hus in the council of Constance wasn't lawful and that he wasn't a heretic.

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Power lies where people believe it lies

This belief is often helped by judicious application of the pointy end of a spear. I don't specifically want to encourage a massive war across Christendom over who is in charge of the church but going to war with each other was a major pastime in that period. The whole point of this is to win politically, presumably without wholesale slaughter of cardinals.

Reunite the churches

Control of the papacy was mostly by political intrigue and bribery rather than all out war, which leaves open another path to control. Get your rival papal candidate elected as Pope of Rome as well, move him back to Avignon. Fire "accidentally" destroys the Vatican preventing a move back again.

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In those times there was no clear line between politics and religion.

Playing with or against a pope was also a matter of political equilibrium.

If your side becomes too strong by a victory, stay assured that someone will favor the other and aim for your defeat, regardless of the right or wrong pope.

If you want to win, set up something so that every other actor on the scene has its own gain by a defeat of the good pope.

For example the Holy Roman Emperor might not be happy that the neighboring nation of France gains influence over Italy, thus getting an agreement with him for whom will get to put his flag on those lands (hint: HRE) might help you.

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The Avignon papacy was heavily influenced by the nearby powerful French king. So how could the Avignon branch of anti popes ever became rulers of all Christendom? Even if they defeat the Roman"true" popes, they will only have the power of the Catholic Church, and will still be dominated by the kings of France. And no pope ever dominated and controlled all of Catholic Europe, and Eastern Orthodox countries, and African and Asian Christian communities. It would take many bloody wars of conquest for popes to make themselves absolute rulers of Christendom.

So you should start thinking out how the Avignon popes are going to justify wars of conquest against all the other Christian powers and kingdoms, and how they are going to launch crusade after crusade to conquer all Christian lands.

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