Born of a noble Roman family, Benedetto Caetani distinguished himself in a number of important posts in the papal court, including that of cardinal. In 1294, Benedetto was elected pope and took the name Boniface VIII. During his nine-year term, he boldly attempted to assert the authority of the Papacy, even while being embroiled in a series of controversies with the leading European powers.
Boniface tried, and failed, to restore Sicily to obedience to the Church, against the claims of the Aragonese ruler Frederick III. He fought bitterly with the Colonna, a powerful, anti-papal Roman family which felt threatened by Boniface's massive accumulation of property and feudal titles. The Pope also sought to end hostilities between Phillip I of France and Edward I of England, so that he could proceed with plans for a future reconquest of the Holy Land. When French and English preparations for war resulted in a heavy tax burden for both laypeople and the clergy, Boniface issued the bull Clericis laicos (1296), which forbade civil authorities from taxing the clergy without permission from the pope.
Boniface was forced to soften his position in order to avoid open conflict with the French king, Phillip IV, for as long as possible. Although the Papal Jubilee of 1300 marked a moment of harmony, hostilities between the two were renewed after 1301; thereafter, the French monarch and the Italian Pope remained mortal enemies. In 1302, the Pope published the bull Unam Sanctam, an extremely forceful statement of papal prerogative. In response, Phillip IV brought serious charges of heresy and other crimes against Boniface, and sent Guillaume de Nogaret to Italy on a mission. On September 7, 1303, Nogaret and his men laid seige to the Pope's residence at Anagni, threatening him, humiliating him, and finally taking him into custody. Although the people of Anagni rescued Boniface two days later, he never recovered from the ordeal. He died on October 11th in Rome.
In the Decameron (I.1), Boniface is recalled in the context of Charles of Valois' infamous "pacification" mission to Florence in 1300, which brought about the triumph of the Black Guelph faction. In the second tale of Day Ten, the pope is seen at his court in Rome, endowing a highway robber with a priorate.
(R.P./N.S.) Toynbee, P. A Dictionary of Proper Names and Notable Matters in the Works of Dante. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968. pp. 91-93.; E. Dupré, Theseider. s.v. Bonifazio VIII. Vol. 12. Dizionario biografico degli italiani. Roma: Istituto della Enciclopedia italiana, 1960. pp. 146-170.