The Farnese family was an influential family of the Italian Renaissance, ruled the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza between 1545 and 1731 and the Duchy of Castro from 1537 to 1649. Among its most important members are Pope Paul III, founder of the duchy , Pier Luigi Farnese, first duke of Parma, Alessandro Farnese, governor of the Spanish Netherlands and Elisabetta Farnese, queen consort of Spain.
Farnese is a family of very ancient origins set at first in a territory known by the toponym of Farnetum (a term that most likely stands at the base of the family name, means "oak grove" in Latin). The only thing that we can accept with a certain degree of security is that starting from the twelfth century, when the use of the patronymics spread in Italy, they adopted the name of one of their oldest possessions.
Certainly the Farnese would have been annihilated by their neighbors (prefects of Rome, Counts d'Anguillara, lords of Bisenzio) if they had remained confined to their lands. For this reason they began to divide their time between the countryside and the city.
In the twelfth century they were known as Tuscanienses domiciles because their possessions were located in the diocese of Tuscania; the annals of Orvieto are also witnesses of their active presence in this town hall, where we find them invested with the offices of mayor, consul or bishop, but they distinguished above all as condottieri, whether they led municipal militias in the defense of the city, or they threw themselves into the unrest caused by discord between parties.
The first news we have of Farnese or Farneto, are very late (about 1210), but we know of the existence of Sala, that the territory of Farnese was included in a fief placed under the protection of Orvieto. In this city the members of the family were appealed as the "de Farneto" lords and their presence is widely documented. The first Farnese of which we have historical information is a certain Pietro, consul of Orvieto in 984.
In 1096 another Pietro was commander of the papal cavalry who in 1110 defeated the Ghibellini armies of Tuscany and probably founded the village of Orbetello. Probably the Petrus de Farneto who fought in Puglia in 1134 against the Normans is identifiable in the latter. His son Prudentius, consul of Orvieto in 1154, welcomed Pope Adrian IV fleeing Rome due to the tumults caused by Arnaldo da Brescia. Four years later, Prudentius himself defeated the refugees from Orvieto who were supported by the Sienese Ghibellines. Another Pietro defended the city of Orvieto from the assault of Emperor Henry VI.
Other characters known in those times were Pepone di Pietro and Ranuccio, present at the Peace of Venice in 1177 as representatives of the city of Orvieto. In 1254 a Ranuccio defeated the armies of Todi and Pope Urban IV took him to his service against Manfred of Sicily. His son Niccolò participated as commander of the Orvieto cavalry framed with the troops of Charles I of Anjou at the battle of Benevento on 26 February 1266, in which Manfred found his death, marking the end of the Swabians in Italy. Monsignor Guido was bishop of Orvieto since 1302 and he himself had the cathedral enlarged to preserve the body stained by the blood of the "Miracle of Bolsena" (1263). Another Pietro was commander of the army in the war of 1320-1321 against Corneto.
The Farnese returned to Tuscia in 1319. In that year they took possession of the territories of Farnese and Ischia, the Castello di Sala and that of San Savino, near Tuscania. In 1340 the Farnese swore blind obedience to the defenders of the Patrimony of Saint Peter and so, already in 1354 the cardinal Egidio Albornoz, in sign of gratitude of the Pontiff for the military help received in the recovery of the lands and castles lost during the captivity of Avignon, granted to Puccio, Pietro and Ranuccio Farnese the territory of Valentano. In 1360 these warriors marched under the insignia of Pandolfo d'Anguillara, head of the Guelph faction, against the Ghibellines captained by the prefect of Vico.
In 1362 Pietro Farnese was captain general of the Florentines in the war against Pisa for the control of Volterra; reported victory, he had the honor of an equestrian monument in Santa Maria del Fiore and, having died the following year, that of a sarcophagus in the same church. In 1368 Nicolò Farnese, after the attack of the prefect Giovanni di Vico, brought to safety the pontiff Urban V first in the Rocca of Viterbo and, later, in that of Montefiascone.
These proofs of loyalty allowed the family to confirm the possession of the territories under its dominion, to boast a series of privileges towards the Apostolic Chamber such as to allow it to become related to the major families of the time (the Orsini, the Savelli, the Colonna, the Monaldeschi and the Sforza di Santa Fiora) and to establish diplomatic relations with the Lords of important cities such as Siena, proposing themselves as the owner family of the Alto Lazio.
In the fifteenth century there is an increase in the power of the family, so that the territory under their influence extends to include the western shore of Lake Bolsena, including the two islands (Martana and Bisentina) and the band of territory between the Vulsini Hills and the sea, up to Montalto. The architect of this new expansion was Ranuccio the Elder, son of Peter and brother of Bartholomew, the forefather of the branch of Latera. Ranuccio, as early as 1408, owned the vicariate of Latera. In 1416 Siena appointed him captain general of the army against the count of Pitigliano (a Orsini); with the victory of 1417 Ranuccio was appointed Senator of Rome. By virtue of his friendship with the Colonna family and, especially with Pope Martin V, he came into possession of the castle of Piansano; then thanks to the favors of Pope Eugene IV he could accumulate greater wealth, insert the Farnese family among the great Roman families, occupy the lands of Valturano, Latera, the castle of Marta, of Montalto, part of the territories of Tessennano, Canino and Gradoli (between 1431 and 1436). In 1434 the same Pontiff gave him the insignia of the Golden Rose and the Gonfalon of the Church. Ranuccio married Agnese Monaldeschi. Among the many sons they had, the most important were: Pier Luigi and Gabriele Francesco, who later married Isabella Orsini and from whom came the branch that continued the military deeds of the family, but which became extinct to the third generation. Ranuccio died on 10 August 1450.
After the death of Ranuccio the Elder, the policy of approaching the family to the papal court did not stop, indeed, thanks to the marriage between Pier Luigi Seniore, son of Ranuccio, and Giovannella Caetani, daughter of Honored Lord of Sermoneta, they were related to a descendant of Pope Boniface VIII and then with much of the Roman nobility. From this marriage these children were born: Angelo, Alessandro, Girolama and Giulia "la bella". It is thanks to this "great lady" that their children Giulia and Alessandro, first cardinal and then pope, will be able to stand out in the panorama of the Roman aristocracy.
Alessandro was born on 28 February 1468 in the Rocca di Canino. A few years later the Farnese family will abandon this residence to move to Valentano. From 1487 to 1489 Alessandro studied at the school of the humanist Pomponio Leto in Rome and at the Academy of Lorenzo de 'Medici in Florence, showing great intellectual gifts. In 1491 he was secretary and apostolic notary; in 1492 he was an apostolic treasurer; in 1493 Pope Alexander VI Borgia granted him the purple cardinal. In the Eternal City there was talk of nothing but the affair between the Pope and Julia "la bella", Alessandro's sister. The famous Pasquino thundered against Alessandro and Ippolito d'Este, the two neo-cardinals, with this quatrain: «Alessandro, you owe your sister / Giulia the cardinalate, because the skirt / raised, and you, Ippolito, to madonna / Adriana, who once it was so beautiful ". But the people were even more pungent by defining the "Cardinal Farnese" "Cardinal Fregnese". However, despite these slander his career did not stop and in 1494 he was appointed legate of the Patrimony of San Pietro in Tuscia. Finally, although not yet a priest, in 1499 he was bishop of Montefiascone and Corneto.
While Alessandro made his way to the court of Pope Borgia, Giulia was divided between the fiefdom of her husband Orsino Orsini and the rooms of Alexander VI; Girolama had married a Pucci of Florence and Angelo, the eldest son of Pier Luigi Seniore (who died in 1489), played the role of "head of the family" and, from the Rocca di Valentano, took care of the family possessions. In this period their residence, on the occasion of the marriage with Lella, daughter of Nicola Orsini di Pitigliano, occurred in 1488, was enriched by a beautiful courtyard with a lower colonnade and upper loggia. On the capitals of the colonnade in addition to the weapons of the two families, the wishes of fertility and prosperity for the couple are carved with the allegorical representation of the flowering of the Farnesian lily and the decoration of trophies. Angelo Farnese died in Capodimonte in 1494 and Lella Orsini, to be faithful to the conjugal oath became a cloistered nun in the Monastery of the Murate in Florence.
Although Alexander was considered a creature of Pope Borgia, his successor and adversary, Pope Julius II, took him to his side naming him Legate of the Anconitan March (1502). In this period he had an illicit relationship with Silvia Rufini, widow of Giovanni Battista Crispo, from whom he had four sons: Pier Luigi (1503) and Paolo (1504), legitimized by Giulio II, Ranuccio and Costanza. In 1509 he was appointed bishop of Parma and on the day of Christmas of 1519 he celebrated the first mass after his priestly ordination. His ordination coincided with a radical change of mentality and self-discipline, aimed at the purification of customs that will be the guiding spirit of the Council of Trent. On October 13, 1534, at the age of 67, after a conclave lasting two days, he ascended the papal throne with the name of Paul III. The new Pope supported the development of new religious congregations: the Teatines, the Barnabites and the Ursulines and supported, with the bull Regiminis militantis ecclesiae of 27 September 1540, both the Society of Jesus and the Congregation of the Roman Inquisition, an organism created for the fight against heresy, with full censorious and executive powers. His work, however, was clearly marked by nepotism: immediately after his election he created cardinals nephews Alexander, son of Pier Luigi and Guidascanio Sforza, son of Constance. But his favorite creature was the eldest son Pier Luigi, married to Gerolama Orsini di Pitigliano from 1519.
Paul III named his son Pier Luigi "gonfaloniere di Santa Romana Chiesa", then, in 1537 he gave him the title of duke of Castro who gave him the full possession and dominion of the ancient possessions between the sea and the lake of Bolsena (Castro , Montalto, Musignano, Ponte della Badia, Canino, Cellere, Pianiano, Arlena, Tessennano, Piansano, Valentano, Ischia, Gradoli, Caves, Borghetto, Bisenzio, Capodimonte, Marta, the Bisentina and Martana Islands) and of the Ronciglione County (Ronciglione same, Caprarola, Nepi, Fabrica of Rome, Canepina, Vallerano, Vignanello, Corchiano, Castel Sant'Elia). As the capital of the new duchy, Castro was chosen, which in 1527 had suffered a great looting due to Alessandro Farnese who had occupied it, provoking the wrath of Pope Clement VII. Castro returned the Farnesian choice by placing on his emblem, consisting of a rampant lion, three blue lilies and the motto "Castrum Civitas Fidelis". The Farnese, assisted by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, completely rebuilt the city of Castro.
Following the creation in 1545 of the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza, Pier Luigi then abandoned Castro and headed for Piacenza, leaving the territories of the Apostolic Chamber.
The new subjects did not accept Pier Luigi and on 10 September 1547 the Duke was assassinated by a handful of men led by Giovanni Anguissola and Agostino Landi, who were joined by Ferrante I Gonzaga, viceroy of Milan and representative of Charles V in Italy. Pier Luigi was slaughtered and his body was thrown into the moat below the Palazzo Farnese of Piacenza. The corpse was then recovered and taken to the convent of the ducal church, he remained for 9 months in the friary of the "country" friars. On 3 July 1548, Via Po was taken to Parma, where he received an honorable funeral, and was later taken to the church of the Bisentina island of Lake Bolsena, built by Ranuccio Farnese in 1449. The news of his death was a terrible blow to the Pope, also because it was a dispute with the emperor Charles V for the domination of the Duchy, dispute immediately resolved with the settlement on the ducal throne of Ottavio Farnese, son of Pier Luigi.
On 10 November 1549, at the age of 82, after 15 years of pontificate, Paul III was extinguished, assisted by his nephew Alessandro, who would represent the Farnese family in Rome for the next 50 years. Alessandro Farnese, the first-born of Pier Luigi, was born in the Rocca di Valentano on 7 October 1520. He became a cardinal at the age of 14 and was immediately assigned to the bishopric of Parma. The secular and ecclesiastical benefits he enjoyed were valued at five hundred thousand scudi annually. This figure, truly remarkable, allowed him to impose himself in the second half of the sixteenth century as a great figure of patron. In 1539 he was sent to Spain, as a representative of the Apostolic See, to negotiate peace with the King of France, the sale of Milan and the marriage of a daughter of Charles V. In 1541 he was Apostolic Nuncio to Avignon and bishop of various dioceses. In 1550 he was one of the supporters of the election of Pope Julius III, who rewarded him by definitively assigning his brother Ottavio the duchy of Parma and Piacenza. Alessandro Farnese died in Rome on March 4, 1589.
In 1551 Ottavio, husband of Margaret of Austria, daughter of Charles V, had to defend the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza from the invasion of the imperial and papal troops, thus reaffirming their dominion. It was he who, thanks to a political agreement with Philip II of Spain, led to the definitive affirmation of the Farnesian power over the duchy and managed to keep on its emblem the "Gonfalonier pole of the Holy Roman Church" (1566), as a precise recognition of the his power on the part of the Holy See. Despite the great reforms in all fields, he also risked falling victim to a conspiracy perpetrated by Count Claudio Landi (1579-1580).
When Ottavio died, in 1586, his son Alessandro (1545-1592) succeeded him, husband of Maria d'Aviz. The Duke was able to fight at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, alongside Marcantonio Colonna, and other battles against the infidels in the Balkans. His military background helped him in his appointment as general commander in the war in Flanders, where he found his death in 1592, due to the consequences of a wound.
Alessandro was succeeded by Duke Ranuccio I, who ruled with an iron fist for about thirty years. In 1599 he married Margherita Aldobrandini, nephew of Pope Clement VIII. In 1611 he discovered an alleged conspiracy against him and arrested many nobles. The farce trial led to the conviction of the conspirators, to their beheading and the confiscation of their assets. The Duke died in 1622 at the age of 52. His son Odoardo I was only 10 years old. The regency of the duchy was however assured by the mother Margherita Aldobrandini and by the uncle cardinal Odoardo Farnese. In 1628 Odoardo I married Margherita de 'Medici. In 1636 he was involved in the war between France and Spain; on this occasion he suffered a bitter defeat and only the intervention of the Pope and the Grand Duke of Tuscany saved his duchy. In 1641, due to the debts contracted with the erection of the Farnesian Mountains, he had to undergo the first war of Castro against Pope Urban VIII Barberini; only the intervention of France succeeded in bringing peace between the two contenders (1644). Odoardo I died in 1646.
In Odoardo I was succeeded by his sixteen-year-old son Ranuccio II; during his reign the Farnese, due to the consequences of the nepotism of Paul III, due to the hatred of many Italian noble houses against them, lost Castro. On 3 December 1649, Monsignor Giulio Spinola, governor of Viterbo and rector of the Patrimony of St. Peter in Tuscia, informed Pope Innocent X Pamphili of the destruction of the city of Castro.
The pretext of this decision was born March 18 of the same year, when two assassins (Domenico Cocchi di Valentano and Ranuccio Zambrini of Gradoli), near Monterosi, killed his father Barnabita Cristoforo Giarda, appointed bishop of Castro against the will of Farnes. Innocent X issued the excommunication against the instigators and perpetrators of the crime, identifying the principal in Ranuccio II.
The next act was the occupation of the Duchy of Castro. Innocent X, in full disregard of the surrender agreements signed on September 2, 1649 between Samson Asinelli, commander of the garrison of Castro, and the commander of the papal troops David Vidman, not only for the planned demolition of the fortifications, but also for the entire city , without saving the numerous places of worship. According to tradition, on the ruins of the city was spread of salt and raised a column with the inscription "Qui fu Castro". With the disappearance of the city, the Farnese disappeared from Tuscia too. The passage of Castro and Ronciglione to the Church of Rome was definitively ratified in 1667 by Pope Clement IX. Ranuccio II married three times, the first with Margherita Violante di Savoia (1659) who died three years later and the second with Isabella d'Este and the third with Maria d'Este. He died in 1694, at the end of a century when the court of Parma had risen to one of the most magnificent in Europe.
Francesco Farnese (born 1678), successor of Ranuccio II and husband of the widow of Prince Odoardo II, Dorotea Sofia of Neuburg, knew how to stand out as a great politician, succeeding in marrying stepdaughter Elisabetta to Philip V of Spain.
At his death, which occurred suddenly in 1727, the duchy passed under the regency of Antonio (born in 1679). In 1728 Antonio married Enrichetta d'Este, but in 1731 he died without leaving heirs. With him the masculine line of the Farnese family was extinguished. The arrival in Parma, in October 1732, of the Duke Carlo di Borbone, son of Elisabetta Farnese, will sanctify the Farnesian heritage of the Bourbon family.