Francesco Farnese was the seventh duke of Parma and Piacenza from 12 December 1694 to his death. Thanks to his work, the Farnese returned fully to the center of great politics.
Francesco was the son of Ranuccio II Farnese and Maria d'Este. He succeeded his father in the government of the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza at only 16 years in December 1694. He was shy and stuttering, but endowed with a lively intelligence and political ruthlessness of all the great family.
In May 1695 he received the oath of the cities of Parma and Piacenza and, in turn, sent a delegation to Rome to renew the oath to the pope, who confirmed him as Gonfalonier of the Holy Roman Church.
However, the financial situation of the duchy was disastrous. To try and heal her, Francesco cut off all the unnecessary expenses of the court by dismissing much of the servants, musicians, buffoons and dwarfs. He also abolished shows, court parties and banquets.
On 8 December 1695, in order not to return the dowry and to remain attached to the House of Habsburg, he married the widow of Odoardo II, Dorotea Sofia of Neuburg.
To further aggravate the situation there were also the clauses of the Treaty of Turin and the Treaty of Vigevano of 1696 that forced the duchy to the maintenance of German troops quartered in its strongholds.
The first diplomatic test bench in which the duke was tried was the Ryswyck Conference of 1697, to which he sent the Marquis Pier Maria Dalla Rosa with the task of pleading once again the cause of the Duchy of Castro. But the powers did not want to deal with the problem, which they considered too local, and the duke's emissary could only participate marginally in the conference.
In January 1698 Francesco, to increase the luster of the family, solicited the assignment in his favor of the Grand Magisterium of the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of St. George, which was held by Don Giovanni Andrea Angelo Flavio Commeno, prince of Macedonia, count of Drivasto and Durres. The passing was ratified with the short apostolic "Sincerae fidei" of October 24 by Pope Innocent XII. The investiture of the new Grand Master took place solemnly in 1700 in the church of Santa Maria della Steccata in Parma, which has since become the seat of the Order.
On the death of Charles II of Spain in 1700, he posed the problem of his succession. This led to the war of Spanish succession. Naturally the clash took place also in Italy and more precisely in the territories of the duchy. The duke had to prepare some military contingents and asked for the concrete help of the Church. The pope, however, did not want to expose himself to any of the belligerents and considering the duchy as a territory of his influence, he advised neutrality and asked that his banners be hoisted over the ducal cities. In this situation, Francis decided to follow the Pope's advice and managed to maintain equidistant from the parties, trying to get compensation, never collected, for the German occupations and at the same time obeying the commander of the Franco-Spanish troops, Louis Joseph of Bourbon-Vendôme who he had arrived in Italy. When he returned to France in 1706, he wanted Giulio Alberoni, the presbyter of the duchy, who since 1702 had been the emissary of the Duke Farnese to the French army. In those years Alberoni had always defended his land and continued to do so even while remaining in the service of France and Spain. Despite the French withdrawal, the imperial troops continued to be quartered in the ducal territories at the expense of the duke who, on December 14, 1706, had to pay 140,000 florins for the maintenance of the troops of Prince Eugene of Savoy. The Holy See forbade the duke to pay, but in that situation he could not do anything else. In 1709 the emperor imposed on him the investiture of his cities as imperial fiefdoms. Francis never accepted this situation, which changed in 1711 with the death of the emperor, to which he succeeded Charles of Hapsburg, who left the Spanish throne to Philip V.
When the Duke of Vendôme died, Cardinal Alberoni was appointed representative of the Duke of Parma in Madrid and created Count. In the framework of European politics, the powers now sought a downsizing of the empire in favor of Spain, and in this perspective also the Farnese were inserted who, present at the Peace of Utrecht in 1713, returned in vain to claim Castro and Ronciglione. However, Italy was sacrificed on the Austrian altar. Having died the wife of Philip V, Alberoni, assisted by the princess des Ursins, a French Orsini, convinced the Spanish king to marry Elisabetta Farnese, stepdaughter and nephew of the duke. Elisabetta was the daughter of Dorotea Sofia and Odoardo II. Strong, now, of Spanish support, the duke began a strongly anti-Austrian policy, from which the unfortunate Spanish enterprises of Sardinia and Sicily were born, which led to the expulsion of the Alberoni.
In 1717, the duke participated in the Venetian war against the Turks by sending a Constantinian regiment to Dalmatia. The regiment fought valiantly until the end of the war.
The major concerns of Francis, however, were his lack of heirs and the reluctance to the marriage of his brother Antonio, so, after the Peace of The Hague, and with the Treaty of London of 1718, he named his heir Charles, son of Elizabeth and Philip V, succession opposed by both the pope and the emperor. To consolidate the anti-Austrian front, Farnesian diplomacy, tried to recompose the disagreement between France and Spain, but before being able to complete the work, was surprised by death. It was February 26, 1727. The Duke was only 49 years old and had died due to hereditary family disease: the fatness.
The duke Francesco Farnese had no descendants. At his death the duchy passed to his brother Antonio.
His was an enlightened kingdom. He sought peace at all costs, limited the court's expenses so as not to tax his people, he favored the annona and distributed the tax burden more evenly. He built a hydraulic work to defend the city of Piacenza from the erosion of the Po. He favored the expansion of the University of Parma and the Collegio dei Nobili, encouraging the study of public law, history, languages and geography. Also protected artists, writers, musicians and playwrights. In 1712 he started the renovation of the Colorno fortress, completed in 1730.