Pope Stephen VIII

Pope Stephen VIII was the 127th man elected to rule the Church. Despite rising to the papal throne, the Pope had no real power. His papacy occurred during a time when powerful aristocrats influenced the Church and the Papal States. As a result, he was not able to distinguish himself or create any meaningful change.

His reign was short and relatively uneventful. Most of the noteworthy events that occurred during his tenure revolved around the noblemen’s political activities that took control of the Church.

Early Life

According to most accounts, the future Pope was born Stephanus. He was born to a Roman family in the Papal States and became involved with the Church at an early age. His exact positions are lost to history, but he was involved with the church of Saints Silvester and Martin to some extent.

Eventually, he rose to the position of Bishop. He became Bishop of Rome before his election.


Pope Stephen VIII was elected after the death of his predecessor, Pope Leo VII. His election is surprising, as he had no familial connection to the Counts of Tusculum, who practically rules Rome and the Church at the time.

Even still, Pope Stephen VII did not have much say in how the Church or the Papal States were ruled. He was at the whims of the Counts of Tusculum and Alberic II of Spoleto, who belonged to the powerful family. Alberic II was the real ruler of Rome, dominating papal policies throughout the Pope’s tenure.

The only notable events to occur involved King Louis IV of France. He supported the King during a situation in West Francia. The Pope instructed papal legates to inform Frankish nobles that they were to accept King Louis IV and recognize his rule. Otherwise, they would be excommunicated.

This act resulted in the expulsion of Frankish bishops who supported King Louis IV’s enemies. Eventually, the Frankish nobles would notify the Pope that they pledge fealty to the King.

Pope Stephen VIII’s reign came to an end at the behest of Alberic II. King Hugh of Italy besieged Rome, leading to dissent. There were even assassination attempts against Alberic II from within the Church. Fearing even more conflict, Alberic imprisoned and beheaded potential enemies.

According to some accounts, Pope Stephen VIII was maimed and/or imprisoned by Alberic II and his supporters. He died after his imprisonment.

Quick Facts About Pope Stephen VIII

  • The birth date of Pope Stephen VIII is unknown. However, historians believe he was born sometime around the year 900.
  • The future Pope had the birth name of Stephanus.
  • Pope Stephen VIII died around October 30th, 942. He was believed to be around 42 years old.
  • The death of Pope Stephen VIII is unclear. According to some reports, he was captured and tortured by supporters of the ruler of Rome, Alberic II. Other accounts say that he was only imprisoned and died soon after that.
  • The papacy of Pope Stephen VIII began on July 14th, 939.
  • His reign ended upon his death, which was sometime around October 30th, 942. He served for more than three years.
  • Pope Marinus II would succeed Pope Stephen VII in 942.

Interesting Facts About Pope Stephen VIII

  • Pope Stephen VIII’s pontificate happened during Saeculum obscurum, a period where the Counts of Tusculum heavily influenced the Papacy.
  • The Pope supported King Louis IV of France during a conflict in West Francia.
  • Despite losing control to the Count of Tusculum, Pope Stephen VIII had no relationship with the family.
  • Pope Stephen VIII was reportedly captured by supporters of Alberic II, though accounts vary.
  • Allegedly, the Pope was imprisoned and tortured due to fears of dissent against the Counts of Tusculum.
  • He is sometimes referred to as “Pope Stephen IX” due to confusion with Stephen I, the Pope-elect who died before consecration.

You can view our list of all the Popes in history here.