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Peter de Vinea

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(DE VINEIS, DELLA VIGNA)

Born at Capua about 1190; died 1249. Peter's legal learning and the elegance of his Latin style in course of time made him the most prominent statesman of public affairs at the court of Frederick II. Frederick's political views, which aimed at absolutism in Church and State , he succeeded in strengthening in every direction. In his capacity as chief judge of the court he took a prominent part in the administration of justice and legislation in Sicily. Perhaps he was also associated with Archbishop James of Capua in drawing up the new code of laws for the Kingdom of Sicily, called the "Constitutions of Melfi" and issued in 1231 by order of Frederick. Probably Peter was the emperor's ambassador at the Council of Lyons in 1245. Certain it is that in the same year, as the envoy of the emperor, he sought the mediation of St. Louis in the conflict that was developing between Church and State.

About this date he was already, along with Thaddeus of Suessa, the real director of the imperial chancellery. In 1247 he was made imperial prothonotary and logothete of the Kingdom of Sicily and thus the sole head of the imperial chancellery. This important position in the State was his ruin. He sought to enrich himself and his family. His embezzlements went so far that, as the emperor himself said, they led to a financial disaster which might have become dangerous to the empire. Just at the time that Frederick made this discovery at Cremona in February, 1249, a physician attempted to give the emperor a poisoned drink. Peter was suspected of being privy to the plot. This report, based on a statement of Matthew of Paris, has been even recently credited by Gerdes, while Hampe rejects it. Dante, however, goes too far when, in the "Inferno" (xiii, 55 sqq.), he allows Peter to say that he has never broken faith with the emperor. Frederick, on his return to Sicily, ordered his one-time confidant to be put in chains. Peter was forced to retire to Etruria where Frederick had him imprisoned at San Miniato and had his eyes put out. He is said to have committed suicide here. His letters, a part of which were printed in the sixteenth century, are of great interest. He was also esteemed as a poet. His poems contain many violent satires on the clergy.

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