According to ancient genealogies, the founder of the dynasty was a certain Bear, a Roman nobleman, married twice and with five children. From the first marriage would be born Giordano and Costanzo, from the second Amalrico, Amedeo and Pantaleone. From Costanzo, living around the year 1000, the Roman Orsinis would descend, from Amalric, given as a living even in 1085, the Piedmont Orsinis would descend. Tradition always presents the dynasty as the cradle of the Popes Stephen III and Paul I, indicating an impossible connection with the German dynasties of Anhalt and Baden and a relationship with the Austrian Rosenbergs. All these hypotheses were overcome by the tests and research carried out at the end of the nineteenth century. The Orsini are authentically Roman.
Many homonymous families have claimed to be related, including racing families, a Milanese family and others. Some also obtained official recognition from the respective state authorities.
In the case of the Baden, an illustrious German reigning dynasty with the title of Margrave (= Marquis) and finally of Grand Duke, the hypothesis of a link appears towards the seventeenth century. At that time the Orsini of Bracciano obtained the title of princes of the Holy Roman Empire and sought, for reasons of prestige, a kinship with the great German nobility. Thanks to a genealogical link, then a fake result, they were aggregated to the Baden with the status of "cousins".
The Austrian claim line originated from the bear mentioned at the beginning, which, in 1010, following an uproar in Rome, went exiled to Carinthia. Here, he or some of the sons, would have built the castle of Rosenberg, near Graz, then owned by the descendants. The misunderstanding of the Rosenberg meaning, that is to say "mountain of roses" (but also meant as Rosenburg = "castle of roses") and the presence in the coat of arms of a rose (Rosini as an anagram of Orsini), produced another kinship inexistent. The founding progenitor from which it is possible to begin a genealogy appears only much later, in the fourteenth century, in the person of the castellan Konrad ab dem Rosensperg, cited in document dated September 6, 1322. The Rosenbergs had the surname Orsini und Rosenberg even further, with imperial decree of Leopold I dated Linz 6 July 1684 which granted the double surname to the brothers counts Georg Nicolaus and Wolfgang Andreas. In 1790 the Orsini und Rosenberg obtained the princely title and are still today one of the most important Austrian dynasties.
The Orsini of Piedmont, descendants as we have said from Amalrico, obtained over the centuries numerous and important fiefdoms: Trana, Orbassano and Rivalta, among others. Their belonging to the dynasty is affirmed by Litta (in "Famiglie Celebri Italiane" and 1847/1848), while it is denied by Crollalanza and other illustrious scholars. This line entered the Almanach de Gotha in 1860 as a second-born branch of the Orsini di Gravina. According to the detractors of belonging to the Roman Orsini the Piedmontese would have had the surname only at the end of the sixteenth century, and perhaps as a derivation from the name Bear or Orsino, very common in the family .. They served the Savoy faithfully obtaining fiefs, military posts, court and ecclesiastical. They became extinct in the male succession with Don Gioacchino Maria Conte di Rivalta and Orbassano Signore di Trana (1786-1864).
So the Orsinis are Romans. The dynasty was connected to the Boboni. The Boboni were a powerful family that appears in the cards from the beginning of the eleventh century. They possessed huge properties in the Sabina and in Rome, some members were ecclesiastical or linked to the Church. In the documents appear with the double surname Orsini-Boboni, indeed, some components alternate the two surnames without solution of continuity. The Boboni family had to be close relatives of Pope Celestine III, first Pope Orsini, because they obtained positions and privileges under his pontificate or soon after. A Bobone was created cardinal in 1199, perhaps it was a cousin or nephew of Celestine III. Another Bobone, who lived in the early thirteenth century, is a canon of San Pietro in the Vatican, a post held in 1319 by Alessandro de 'Boboni and in 1324 by Bobo de' Boboni. In 1246 Bobone di Giovanni Boboni is Senator of Rome, and is a contemporary of Matteo Rosso "the Great", founder of dynastic power. In 1360 Lello di Giacomo Boboni is one of the seven reformers of the Roman republic. Some have thought (see T. Amayden "History of Roman families", page 139, publication of 1910 but original of the seventeenth century) that the Boboni gave rise to the noble Roman families of the Salomons, the Albertesques and, perhaps, the Savelli . These Orsini relatives disappear at the end of the 14th century.
Certainly we find the first familiar genealogical strand from a certain Bobone (living in the first half of the twelfth century), father of Peter, in turn father of Giacinto dei Boboni, future Pope Celestine III. A Pietro di Bobone, father or brother of the future pontiff, appears in a deed dated December 1, 1158, in which the purchase of the town of Corigliano is perfected.
Celestine III made the fortune of the dynasty. Its beginnings are obscure, but it is certain that it was a conspicuous family. Created cardinal in 1144, he rose to the papal throne very old in 1191 at a time of serious international crisis. Emperor Henry VI had territorially encircled the Patrimony of St. Peter thanks to his marriage to Constance of Altavilla, heir to the crown of Sicily, and he pursued an aggressive policy of expansion at the expense of the Church and the great feudal lords. Celestino III opposed a weak resistance, preferring a diplomatic action to the military one. He could not prevent the bloody end of the Norman dynasty and the occupation of the kingdom of Sicily, as well as could not oppose the murder of clergymen in Germany and the trafficking of the Duke of Austria (punctually excommunicated for the imprisonment inflicted on Richard the Lionheart , on the order of Henry VI). On the other hand, he protected the ecclesiastical military orders and promoted a vigorous pastoral policy in Spain and Eastern Europe. He favored the relatives with great care, producing the first form of nepotism that survived a pontiff. Mind you, there have existed even macroscopic cases of feudal power grown in the shadow of the Sacro Soglio (think for example to the Counts of Tusculum, in the tenth century), but this power lasted relatively little and suffered from the lack of an august protector.
The nephews of Celestino III made the Orsini become the most powerful family of Lazio in a couple of years. Two nephews of the Pope were created cardinals, a third nephew Giovanni said Giangaetano buys the fiefs of Vicovaro, Licenza, Roccagiovine and Nettuno in 1191 with the assent of the pontiff. This will be the first nucleus of territorial power. The sons and grandchildren of Giangaetano are called "de domo filiorum Ursi", the step to become "Ursini" is short. The brothers Napoleone and Matteo Rosso, sons of Giangaetano, considerably expand the dynastic power. Napoleon obtains the city of Manoppello, then raised to the county, will be Gonfaloniere della Chiesa and will found the first "southern" line of the Orsini (extinct in 1553). Matteo Rosso, called the Great, will instead take special care of the interests in the Sabina and in the Roman countryside, soon entering the course with the other rival dynasties. In 1241 he defeated the imperials and became absolute master of Rome for about two years, with the office of Senator. Charge also held by the children, by his brother Napoleone and his children. He will hunt down the Ghibellines Colonna from the Urbe conquering the Augustean fortress. It will definitively link the family to the Guelph party, making it one of the wealthiest in power of the Popes. The Orsino domain will extend from the Abbey of Farfa, put under the control of the family, almost to the gates of Avellino. While on the border with Tuscany, the county of Pitigliano will allow the family to penetrate Siena. Their power will however be counterbalanced by that of the Colonna, with whom it will have to come to terms and will often share the office of Senator of Rome or of the Roman People's Mayor. Matteo Rosso had about ten sons, including feuds: Gentile gave origin to the line of Pitigliano, Rinaldo to that of Monterotondo, Matteo to that of Montegiordano, Napoleone to that of Bracciano. Giovanni Gaetano was more distinguished than his sons.
Giovanni Gaetano began his ecclesiastical career successfully. His duties were often linked to dynastic politics. A diplomatic end, he was one of the cardinals sent by Pope Clement IV to officially invest Carlo d'Angiò as a Sicilian sovereign in 1265. He put the feudal family machine at the service of the French and collaborated in every way for the descent to Italy. The victory of Charles of Anjou against the Swabians produced the complete disarray of the Ghibelline party, which left almost all of central Italy in the Guelph hands. This state of affairs, however, produced the overwhelming power of the new King of Sicily, which heavily influenced papal politics. Giovanni Gaetano was elected Pope with the name of Nicholas III in 1277 by cardinals hostile to the French party.
The anti-French party was captained precisely by the nephew of cardinal Matteo Rosso II († 1305), who later will try several times to prevent the election of pro-Angioini popes. Nicholas III had promised to put a brake on the King of Sicily who had favored too much. The new pontiff first obtained the reconfirmation by the Emperor Rodolfo I of the Legations and the Duchy of Spoleto, in this way forced Charles of Anjou to return it to the legitimate sovereign (the French held them as governor in the name of the Pope but in fact he had occupied all those territories). In 1278 he created his nephew Bertoldo Conte di Romagna (charge that was equivalent to the Pope's lieutenant), giving the possibility to the family to expand even in areas far from the normal sphere of influence. The nepotist politics produced the appointment of three new cardinals, two nephews and a younger brother. In 1280 he convinced Rodolfo I and Carlo I to a peace, obtaining a triple diplomatic success: personal, as the Pope after years of eclipses returned to the fore as a referee of international politics; of the German emperor, who was seeking recognition of his weak power; and of the King of Sicily who legitimized his recent dominion over the Italian south and was prevented by possible suitors.
Nicholas III tried to put an end to the agitations in the Franciscan order, publishing a bull (1279) with which he took the parts of the less rigorous followers of the doctrine of the Saint of Assisi. The papal position, however, was not accepted by the whole of the order, so much so that it created a real contrary rigorous movement called "apocalyptic" (from the fact that they used steps of the Apocalypse appropriately manipulated against the papal bull).
The death of Nicholas III did not prevent the rise of the dynasty, intimately linked to the Angevin fortunes: the nephews of the late Pope obtained new fiefs and new power. After Bertoldo Conte di Romagna, the son of this, Gentile II, continued the policy of expansion.
Gentile II obtained several times the office of Senator of Rome, he was the mayor of Viterbo, until becoming in 1314 the Grand Giustiziere hereditary of the Kingdom of Naples. This was one of the seven most important offices in the kingdom. Contrasse wedding with Clarice Ruffo, daughter of the Count of Catanzaro, thus allying with the highest Calabrian dynasty. The son Romano was Vicar Regio of Rome in 1326, and inherited the county of Soana from his marriage with Anastasia de Montfort (Monforte). The successor and son Roberto marries Sibilla de Baux (del Balzo), daughter of the Great Seneschal of the Kingdom of Naples. Sibilla belonged to the most powerful southern noble family, whose members, in addition to possess immense feuds, were related to the Angevin dynasty and the Aragonese dynasty. One of the Balzo had in fact married Beatrice d'Angiò, sister of King Roberto I and benefactor at that time of the Orsini.
Both Romano and Roberto in their Lazio policy tend to favor the exiled popes in Avignon. Giacomo, son of Roberto, was made a cardinal in 1371. Nicola († 1399), his brother, gave further prestige to the dynasty. In addition to the counties of Nola and Soleto, he inherited from his wife the county of Ariano and Celano. He was Senator of Rome and governed the Patrimony of St. Peter in the name of the Pope. He greatly expanded the power of his family in Lazio and in Tuscany conquering the Isola del Giglio, Port'Ercole and Monte Argentario, territories of considerable strategic importance. And the marriage policy continues very successfully: the daughter Sveva marries the Duke of Andria, Francesco I del Balzo, former widower of Margherita d'Angiò and father of Antonia, wife of Frederick III King of Trinacria. His second son, Raimondello, brings the assets of the family of Enghien into the dynastic heritage, becoming one of the major feudal lords of the Neapolitan kingdom.
The first-born line will still stand out with Nicola's great-grandson Raimondo († 1459), which will become very influential under the reign of Alfonso V. It will support the Aragonese party against the French party, obtaining the prestigious titles of Prince of Salerno from the new Neapolitan sovereign Duke of Amalfi in 1448. Raimondo continued the marriage policy of his ancestors, initially marrying the sister of the famous Sergianni Caracciolo and then a cousin of Alfonso V of Aragon. At his death, without male heirs, Salerno and Amalfi returned to the royal domain. The other Latium lordships passed to the Bracciano branch through the marriage of one of his daughters.
The Orsini del Balzo line had more glory. It was originated by the second son of Nicola, Raimondo called Raimondello, who inherited the county of Lecce thanks to his marriage to Maria d'Enghien. He assumed the illustrious surname of Balzo because his wife was descended from this family.
With the troubles following the deposition of Queen Giovanna I in 1381, Raimondello passes to the Durres party and supports the coup of the new King Charles III. Relations with Carlo III are excellent. The successor Ladislao I in the first time favors him, allowing him also to take control of Taranto (1398). Later, however, the attitude changes. The young sovereign intends to put a brake on the feudal dominance that prevents him from carrying on his campaigns in Hungary and in the papal state. In fact, the position of the Orsini is embarrassing, especially that of the Prince of Taranto, which dominates over almost all of Puglia and could claim rights on the succession to the throne of Naples. The tensions are accentuated after the conspiracy of 1403, which involves the major dynasties of the kingdom. The Sanseverino, who lead the rebellion, are almost completely exterminated, the Ruffo undergo numerous confiscations. Ladislao I fear the power of the Orsini del Balzo and wants to get rid of the powerful prince. Raimondello rebels in 1405 and manages to support the war against the sovereign, who is forced to abandon Taranto after a useless siege. But in the meantime Raimondello dies (1406) and the widow Maria d'Enghien is forced, following the second siege of Taranto (1407), to marry the king. That will confiscate the feuds and keep her in a state of semi-detention with her four children.
Ladislao I died in 1414 and succeeded his sister Giovanna II, deprived of heirs and sovereign of a kingdom in anarchy. The relations between the Orsini del Balzo and the queen are cold and hidden hostile. The attitude changed a lot after the failed attempt to usurp the Count of La Marche, the queen's husband, who was deposed thanks to the intervention of the troops and deniers of Maria d'Enghien and his son Giannantonio. Giovanna II, to repay, will restore the principality of Taranto to Giannantonio.
With the coming to power of Sergianni Caracciolo, lover and minister of the queen, relations between the court and the Orsini become even closer. Other Roman components of the dynasty to which charges and lands are given are called into the kingdom. Sergianni intends to remove the kingdom of Naples from the French sphere of influence and convinces Giovanna II to adopt as his heir Alfonso V of Aragon, to the detriment of the pretender Louis III Duke of Anjou. To link the Prince of Taranto to his cause, Sergianni manages to combine a marriage between his daughter Giovanna (or Ippolita) and Gabriele Orsini del Balzo, Giannantonio's younger brother. Initially the negotiations go for long due to dowry and political opportunity, in fact Gabriele is in contact with the court of Mantua to marry a Gonzaga: it would be a very advantageous marriage and a princess of the ruling house. The alliance will eventually be tightened, but it will not prevent a pro-French baronial conspiracy a few years later, which will take away the powerful minister.
The adoption of Alfonso V of Aragon by Giovanna II and the subsequent annulment of the same operation in favor of Louis III, provokes a new and long war that sees the family sided with the Aragonese. Giannantonio, considered by the barons the referent of the Aragonese after the slaying of Sergianni, is forced to bear the brunt of the descent of Louis III d'Angiò in Puglia at a very dear price: almost all his fiefs are put to fire and iron, to the exclusion of Taranto, its cities are looted. The sudden death of the French, caused by fevers in 1434, prevents the fall of Taranto and causes the disruption of the anti-Aragonese parts. Even Giovanna II is meanwhile dead, so there are no other obstacles to the conquest of the kingdom. Alfonso V rewards the faithful prince with the duchy of Bari, the office of the Great Conquest and the prerogative of one hundred thousand ducats for the maintenance of his private army. At this time the vastness of the Orsini feudal empire reaches its peak.
Giannantonio remains faithful to the successor of Alfonso V, Ferdinando I, as long as the baronial fights and the suspicion that the new sovereign nourishes him against him make him go to the side of the rebel feudal lords. It joins the conspiracy of the Count of Squillace, who had called the Duke of Lorraine as a new sovereign, and marched against Naples. The adventure is short because in the plain of Troy (1462) the royal army seriously defeats the insurgents. Giannantonio abandons the cause and returns to the legitimist field, so much so that the sovereign reconfirmed it in the feuds. But the peace between the two lasted a few months, in December 1463 Ferdinando is poisoning his rival.
The Prince of Taranto from his marriage to Anna Colonna had no heirs, but many illegitimate children were all recognized. In vain, he tried to favor them in succession. Ferdinando I granted only marginal fiefdoms, in particular the Conversano county to Caterina Orsini del Balzo, wife of Duca d'Atri and the county of Lecce to her brother Bertoldo Orsini del Balzo (this was annexed by the crown almost immediately because the young count died). Taranto and Bari instead were assigned to their cousin Isabella di Chiaromonte, nephew of Giannantonio and wife of the king, so the hereditary axis passed almost en bloc in the hands of the crown. Ferdinando I did the same with the descendants of Raimondo Orsini Prince of Salerno, he recognized an illegitimate son of this and initially thought of making him marry his natural daughter, then he did not do anything. Giannantonio's brother, Gabriele Duca di Venosa, had only had daughters and Major Maria Donata took the fiefs to the Balzo's house. A daughter of Maria Donata Orsini and Pirro del Balzo Prince of Altamura, Isabella, later married Federico I King of Naples, son of Ferdinando I. It was the last independent queen of Naples before the Spanish annexation.
The fortunes in the south do not end with the extinction of the Taranto line, many other Orsini come down to the south in search of fortune.
Guido Orsini, a cadet son of the Grand Giustiziere Romano Orsini and of Anastasia di Montfort, inherited the county of Soana and moved to Lazio. He and his descendants ruled the fiefs of Pitigliano, Soana and Nola together with the Neapolitan cousins with the usual association system typical of Roman baronial families. Already at the beginning of the fifteenth century this line had several difficulties in the government and the rivalries that broke out with Siena and the Colonna resulted in the loss of many territories. Guido's nephew, Bertoldo, lost between 1406 and 1410 almost all the fiefs bought by his cousin Nicola, he only managed to recover Pitigliano and occupy Orbetello, Saturnia and Monteacuto for some time. Bear, nephew of Bertoldo, was Count of Nola and led a mercenary life in the pay of the Duke of Milan and the Venetians. Later he went to the service of Ferdinand I of Naples but did not participate in the conspiracy of the Count of Squillace, so much so that the sovereign rewarded him with the fiefs of Ascoli and Atripalda. It still takes part in the Tuscan countryside of 1478 and is noted in the siege of Viterbo.
But the main character of the Pitigliano line was Count Niccolò (1442-1510). He too spent his life on the battlefields in the pay of various Italian gentlemen, starting his career in the ranks of the condottiere Jacopo Piccinino. He was at the service of Florence and led his army in 1478 against Ferdinando I. The Neapolitan sovereign had supported the Pazzi conspiracy against the de 'Medici in order to control the Florentine republic. In vain, because the conspiracy failed causing a war between Naples, the Pope and Florence. Niccolò still participates in the war of Ferrara against the same sovereign and defeats him at Campomorto in 1482. With the invasion of Charles VIII he goes to the service of the Pope, immediately becoming a prisoner at the siege of Nola in 1494. He fled, returns to Venice with the rank of general captain of the forces of the Serenissima, distinguishing himself in the conquest of Cremona. In the following years he remained in the service of the Venetians, and again in 1509 he was responsible for the serious Venetian defeat at Agnadello. Ludovico and Enrico Orsini, respectively the son and nephew of Niccolò, participated in the wars between the French and the Spanish, passing casually from one field to another. Gentile, son of Niccolò, married a nephew of the King of Naples, Caterina d'Aragona, while two daughters of Ludovico marked illustrious marriages: Geronima marries the Duke of Parma, illegitimate son of Pope Paolo III, Marzia marries Gian Giacomo Medici Marquis of Marignano and famous Spanish general.
The decay of the Pitigliano line begins with the Count Ludovico. This loses Nola and is forced to accept the supremacy of the Republic of Siena on Pitigliano, while in 1555 his son submits to the Grand Duke of Tuscany who has just annexed the same Siena. In the mid-sixteenth century the county fell seriously, the residence of the dynasty is moved to Rome and Florence. Count Alessandro (+ 1604) claimed to succeed in the dominions of the Monterotondo line at the end of the sixteenth century. But Pope Gregory XIII opposed and legitimized a Orsini of Monterotondo who inherited the fief, while Alexander was forced to settle for the castle of Mompeo alone. The son of Alexander, Giannantonio, eventually resolved to sell Pitigliano to the Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1604, obtaining in turn the marquisate of Monte San Savino. The Orsini of Pitigliano, last descendants of the Gentile line, died out in full decline in 1640.
With the election to the papacy of Martin V (1417), a member of the Colonna family, the influence of the Orsini dynasty in Rome and of the other great Roman families is radically changed. The Colonna will quickly expand to Lazio, Abruzzo and Campania, taking away positions from opposing families and becoming the reference family of the King of Naples in those regions. Fabrizio Colonna, at the end of the fifteenth century, became a hereditary Great Connestabile of the kingdom, while the descendants will support the imperial-Spanish politics obtaining in return a capillary control, at least in the early times, of the same kingdoms of Naples and Sicily. The Columns will be considered during the 16th century as the Spanish "long hand" in the papal states. Spain will use their feudal state as a deterrent against possible wars caused by the Pope or by the great Lazio and Abruzzi barons. The Orsini dynasty comes to suffer from the changed political situation, both because it supports as usual the Popes, who will often be defeated, and because many of their leaders are siding with the French, who will lose the war against Charles V and his successors. The transition between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries will also be the darkest period of the relationship between the Orsini and the Papacy, when popes reign with the aim of creating personal fortunes that are hostile to the dynasty. The decline that followed the Franco-Spanish wars particularly affects the family, so much so that many feuds will be sold to cope with debt and widespread "poverty". But let's go in order.
As was said at the beginning, Matteo Rosso il Grande had divided the fiefdoms among the numerous sons. The lordship of Monterotondo was touched to the third son Rinaldo. His descendants actively participated in feudal struggles in medieval Rome, both the son and a nephew of Rinaldo held the office of Senator between 1341 and 1346. Many components took up arms careers. Francesco was at the service of the Florentines in 1370 in the war against the Visconti. Bear passed to Naples in the service of the Angioinians and then to that of Florence, he died in the battle of Zagonara (1424) fighting the Duke of Milan. Jacopo and Lorenzo also gave magnificence to the militar line in the papal, Neapolitan and Florentine ranks. A daughter of Jacopo, Clarice, became the wife of Lorenzo the Magnificent Lord of Florence. A Francesco obtained the purple in 1517.
The Cardinal Giovanni Battista Orsini of Monterotondo was instead, together with his cousin Gentile Virginio Orsini di Bracciano (see below), the greatest character of the dynasty at the end of the fifteenth century. He obtained the purple from Sixtus IV in 1483 and was in contrast to the successor Innocent VIII for reasons related to the nepotist politics of Pope Cybo. He organized the election of Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI in 1493, raised to the throne with the hope of a papal policy equidistant from France and Spain. Initially he enjoyed the favors of the Borgia, until this was convinced that the Orsini could represent an obstacle to his policy.
The deterioration of relations took place mainly with the descent of Charles VIII in Italy and with the elimination of Gentile Virginio in 1497, it seems to be on the order of the pontiff.
The Pope pursued a policy of friendship with France for reasons linked to personal interest. He carried out an exasperated nepotism aimed at creating a boreal state within the territories of the Church at the expense of the old families. His famous son Cesare Borgia, once deposed the purple cardinal, assumed the office of Gonfaloniere of the Church and armed with a legion of about four hundred men went to the conquest, or release as he said, of the papal territories on which many local despots ruled. In less than a year, between 1500 and 1501, he removed the Riario da Forlì (the famous siege to this city), the Malatesta da Rimini, the Sforza da Pesaro and the Manfredi da Faenza. In 1502 it takes Camerino and Urbino completing its dominion over the Marche. For the following year the strategic Bologna was expected to be taken, when five of its captains, including two Orsini (the Duke of Gravina and the Lord of Palombara), worried about the turn that was taking the military campaign, secretly met Todi with the purpose of organizing the elimination of Caesar. The so-called conspiracy of Magione, inspired by Cardinal Giovanni Battista, did not have lasting effects due to the disorganization of the conspirators and the inability to act on the territory. Venneroliberate some cities, but Cesare Borgia did not be intimidated and had the audacity to both cajole opponents and to enter into peace negotiations with some of them. The diplomatic action turned mainly on Paolo Orsini, the lord of Palombara, who eventually convinced two other conspirators, the cousin Francesco di Gravina and Vitellozzo Vitelli, to return to the newly abandoned army. The meeting of the four took place in Senigallia in December 1502 where, despite the precautionary measures taken, the Borgia took the former traitors to prison. The Vitelli was suppressed immediately, the two Orsini were translated to Castello di Pieve and choked in January 1503. As soon as the news of the capture arrived in Rome, the Pope arrested Cardinal Orsini, who then poisoned in February 1503. The massacre of the main heads of the family had the hunt for the partisans of the Orsini, especially in Rome, with the relative extermination of many of them.
The Monterotondo line still gave important men, in particular two Venetian generals, Valerio and Giordano distinguished in the wars against the Turks, and a French ambassador to Poland, Troilo. At the end of the sixteenth century the dynasty declined, many of its members involved in sad events, we will talk about it over the line of Bracciano, lost the fiefdom for confiscations or were murdered. The last representatives, Enrico and Francesco, having no heirs, sold Monterotondo to the Barberini family in the early 1600s.
The last line we are dealing with is that of Gravina-Bracciano. It was originated by Napoleon, the cadet son of Matteo Rosso il Grande, to whom they touched Bracciano, Nerola and other lands. He was also Senator of Rome in 1259. This branch had a lot of influence in the Rome of the fourteenth century, since there are many members who held municipal offices, the vicariate and the senate in association with the Colonna, the Savelli and the Annibaldeschi. The Lords of Bracciano were, in Lazio, the most powerful line of the Orsini. Thanks to the compactness of the domains, to their strategic position - they controlled the access routes of Umbria and Tuscany to the Patrimony of St. Peter by imposing strong tariffs on travelers - and the construction of the famous fortress on Lake Bracciano, this dynasty reached soon a privileged position among the Roman barons. In case of war, the lord of Bracciano could prevent the passage of an army and change the outcome of the conflict.
From Giovanni, who lived at the end of the fourteenth century, the lines of Gravina still existed, and that of Bracciano extinguished in 1698. Carlo Conte di Tagliacozzo and Lord of Bracciano, son of the aforesaid Giovanni, had several sons who originated sub-branches : those of Lamentana and Pacentro, both extinct in the seventeenth century.
Napoleon, son of the said Count Carlo, was Gonfaloniere of the Church and from his marriage with Francesca Orsini of Monterotondo Gentile Virginio was born to him, one of the major figures of the dynasty and Italian politics of the late fifteenth century. In 1480, at the death of his father, he inherited the feudal patrimony, to which he added other fiefdoms of Lazio, his wife's dowry, one of the daughters of Raimondo Orsini Prince of Salerno. Because of this advantageous marriage, Ferdinando I became the favorite of the King of Naples, who had already extensively rewarded his father-in-law and his cousin Orso Orsini di Monterotondo (see above). The bonds between the sovereign and Gentile Virginio are strengthened to the point of being invested with the most important charge of the kingdom, that of Connestabile. In fact, the lord of Bracciano took care of the interests of Ferdinand I in the papal state and, with his cousin, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Orsini, was the most fierce opponent of popes Innocent VIII and Alexander VI.
Innocent VIII wished to replace Ferdinand I with a more loyal and weak ruler to the Church (the kingdom of Naples was in theory an ecclesiastical fiefdom) in order to control the offices and income that the pontiff boasted over that territory. Benefits that brought a lot of money but were largely managed by royal power. For this reason, the Pope sought every pretext to promote upheavals or conspiracies against the king. Ferdinando I, for his part, was born illegitimate and risked, however, always to see his power challenged. The uprising of Giannantonio di Taranto and the subsequent Congiura dei Baroni are an example. In addition to the motivation of money, like every Pope with children, Innocent VIII also aspired to create a state with his own dynasty. He tried investing his son Franceschetto of the county of Anguillara, one of the most important feuds of Lazio. On the death of his father, Franceschetto Cybo preferred to get rid of the trouble of governing such a dangerous fiefdom, so he accepted the offer of his brother-in-law, the lord of Florence, to move to Tuscany and put the county up for sale (see Guicciardini - Storia d Italy - Book I chapters III). He bought it for forty thousand ducal Gentile Virginio (1492). The fiefs of Anguillara and Bracciano are close, so the Orsini creates a very dangerous territorial agglomeration for each rival family or new family that tries a "climb" in the Patrimony of St. Peter.
The new Pope Alexander VI Borgia, who as had said the same aspirations of his predecessor, sensed the danger and began to look for allies in view of the war. He hired an army of three hundred men ready to occupy Anguillara and weaved a diplomatic plot in order to neutralize the protector of Gentile Virginio. He found the Duke of Milan, the enemy for dynastic reasons, of Ferdinand I, well disposed. The war became inevitable and the Duke of Milan Ludovico Sforza, to protect himself from an overly strong opponent, had the idea to call Charles VIII in Italy. of France. The King of France was great-grandson of the aforementioned Louis III of Anjou and boasted of the pretensions, although very theoretical, about Naples. Fearing a generalized and difficult solution, all the main Italian states would have participated, Ferdinando I pushed Gentile Virginio Orsini to an agreement with the Pope: in exchange for a large sum of money, for Borgia, he would have kept the lordship on Anguillara, while the King of Naples would have ensured through a double marriage of Neapolitan princesses with the sons of Gentile Virginio and Alessandro VI. The pact, signed in extremis by mutual fears, was short-lived: Ferdinando I died suddenly plunging the situation (January 25, 1494).
The Duke of Milan agreed with Charles VIII, who was convinced in an easy victory. The new Neapolitan sovereign, Alfonso II, was considered weak. Alexander VI maintained an ambiguous diplomatic attitude in order to derive the maximum personal advantage, both with and without the arrival of the Frenchman. The great Italian states, mainly Venice and Florence, declared themselves neutral or hesitant.
Charles VIII went down to the peninsula in September 1494 with a strong army and the support of Ludovico Sforza. Dear Virginio, inevitably "reconciled" with Alexander VI, he was placed in command of the papal troops of Romagna. He was captured by the enemy along with other members of his family. Very cleverly he came to an agreement with Charles VIII: he avoided fighting for French but allowed his sons and other relatives to do so, in return he obtained the safeguard of Bracciano and his states. Charles VIII was content to keep as a pledge some of his fortresses and to have the free passage in the streets controlled by Orsini. So done, Gentile Virginio did not officially betray the King of Naples and did not disturb the Pope too much.
In Naples the situation was aggravated when Alfonso II was forced by the barons to abdicate. He was hated chiefly by the great nobility because of his centralizing and limiting policy of feudal privileges (see Bosisio: The Late Middle Ages 1967). The new sovereign, Ferdinand II, found himself with the invaded state and in the grip of infighting. The capital was immediately occupied and was forced to flee first to Ischia, then to Sicily at the cousin King of Aragon. The stay of the French sovereign was soon interrupted by a coalition that intended to send him home. Defeated in Fornovo (1495), he ran back to his country leaving the kingdom of Naples under the partial control of his troops.
Charles VIII held in the kingdom an armed contingent that had to cope with the hostility of the population, the gangs of the barons, the lack of food and money. Urgency that was soon felt and that allowed the enemies of the French to free large areas of the kingdom. Meanwhile, Ferdinand II had managed to have men and vehicles also from Venice and Aragon, so as to go back from Calabria to Naples and join the bands that supported him in the north of the kingdom.
Although escaped from captivity during the battle of Fornovo and returned to Bracciano, Gentile Virginio supported Charles VIII as foreseen by the agreement. The following year (1496) definitively betrayed Ferdinand II, and this consequently confiscated his assets (the counties of Tagliacozzo and Alba, the office of Great Connestable and much more). The French sent him to the Abruzzi to free the region from the Colonna bands. In a short time, he reconquered Teramo, Tagliacozzo, Alba and L'Aquila. The Neapolitan-Aragonese victory in Morano Calabro, by Gonsalvo di Cordova, soon prevented further development of the war in favor of the occupiers. Their troops were forced to retreat, under the pressure of their adversaries, into the town of Atella. Here the French supreme commander, Gilberto di Borbone Count of Montpensier, was forced to a humiliated surrender. He plotted an agreement that he would save his life along with his and a pass to escape with a ship from Naples. He surrendered himself to the enemy with the Orsini chiefs according to the agreement reached. Ferdinand II did not respect the covenant and imprisoned them (for the most part they died of hardship and illness during the detention), while Gentile Virginio was translated into Castel dell'Ovo in Naples. Ferdinand II and Alexander VI, with different personal motivations, agreed to eliminate the dangerous and clumsy lord of Bracciano, who was poisoned (1497).
The death of Gentile Virginio, the related confiscations and the subsequent massacre of 1503, produced a strong weakening of the dynasty. The sudden death of Alexander VI and the subsequent election of popes, friends or relatives of the Orsinis (Julius II, Leo X and Clement VII), put a brake on decadence.
The son of Gentile Virginio, Giangiordano, faithfully militated in the papal rows keeping almost all the paternal fiefdoms in Lazio. His nephew Virginio Conte dell'Anguillara (1498-1548) was a famous papal admiral, he participated in the enterprises of Tunis and Algiers under the imperial-Spanish insignia. It also served France after it, which came into conflict with Pope Paul III, the fiefs were confiscated on charges of treason in 1539. It is also remembered for the cordial and curious, for the time, understood that it had with the pirate and Turkish admiral Khair-ad-din (called the "Barbarossa"), his adversary in the countryside in the land of Africa.
The line of Bracciano resisted the pacification followed by the end of the Franco-Spanish wars. In 1560 Paolo Giordano I was created Duke of Bracciano and became a captain at the Battle of Lepanto. Contracts a marriage with a princess from the reigning royal house of Habsburg, Este, Lorraine and other famous European dynasties. In fact, she marries the daughter of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Isabella de'Medici, who strangled herself in an excess of jealousy in 1578. She fled to Rome and joined Vittoria Accoramboni, wife of a nephew of Sixtus V (who had her assassinated in 1583). Still fled, pursued by the pontifical justice and by the assassins of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, he took refuge in northern Italy with his lover, marrying her in 1585 just before his death. Accoramboni was murdered in December 1585 by Ludovico Orsini of Monterotondo, who wanted to avenge the death of his brother Roberto (killed because he was involved in a feud with Duke Paolo Giordano). Ludovico, in turn, was eliminated a few days later by order of the Venetian authorities who arrested him.
Not all the progeny of this lineage produced Renaissance "horrors". The son of Paolo Giordano I, the Duke Virginio († 1615), obtained the order of the Toson d'Oro and the illustrious decoration allowed a further leap in quality. His sons all made important careers or great marriages. The daughters Isabella, Maria Felicia and Maria Camilla married respectively the Duke of Guastalla, the Duke of Montmorency and the Prince of Sulmona. The first-born Paolo Giordano II, as well as a well-known poet (he published the "Rime" in 1648), married the reigning princess of Piombino and was raised to the title of Prince of the Holy Roman Empire with the title of Serene Highness: a title that elevated him to above all the Roman principles. His brother Alessandro was a cardinal and papal legate, the other brother Ferdinando brought into his family, through marriage, the rich goods of the Orsini line of San Gemini. Like all the other Roman princely dynasties of the seventeenth century, the Orsini of Bracciano also abandoned the castles of the province to move to Rome. They maintained a very high standard of living possible only with the intensive exploitation of the feuds or with adequate military or ecclesiastical careers. But famines, banditry and widespread poverty severely damaged the family "state". Between 1692 and 1696, the last Prince and Duke Don Flavio I (d. 1698), short of cash and debt, was forced to sell all his most important fiefdoms. Bracciano included, which in 1696 was bought by the Odescalchi dynasty.
The branch that still exists is that called Gravina. It was originated by Francesco († 1456), son of Carlo Signore di Bracciano. The founder of this line had his feuds mainly in Lazio and held the office of Prefect Perpetuo dell'Urbe, when in 1418 he was called to Naples by Sergianni Caracciolo. This sought the help of the Orsini and thought to use some, because good captains, against their opponents. Francesco had control of Castel dell'Ovo with the task of defending Naples from the troops of Muzio Sforza, a famous Angevin general and an adversary of Caracciolo. Sforza tried to force the enemy, but on 28 September 1418 he was soundly defeated and even ran the risk of falling prisoner. Francesco obtained the county of Gravina and many other benefits from the marriage with a rich Pugliese heiress, Margherita della Marra. Still in 1421 he favored the adoption of Alfonso V of Aragon by Giovanna II, and participated in the campaign against the opponents of the Aragonese defeating several. Alfonso V rewarded him with the county of Copertino, to which were added those of Conversano and Campagna. In the following years he was in charge of some diplomatic missions at the papal court. It was created Duca di Gravina, a title that was definitively confirmed to his son Giacomo. Instead two other natural sons became respectively Archbishop of Taranto and Grand Master of the Order of St. John of Rhodes.
The 3rd Duke, Francesco, will be strangled by Cesare Borgia in 1503, as already mentioned. A nephew of Francesco, Flavius, became a Cardinal in 1565.
Il 5° Duca Antonio si sposerà con una Sanseverino di Bisignano e i suoi discendenti entreranno in causa con i cugini per il possesso dei beni materni. Giulia Orsini, figlia di Antonio, e il nipote il Duca Michele Antonio, si impadronirono di Bisignano nel 1606 contro le regole di successione stabilite dall’ultimo Sanseverino. Ne nacque un contenzioso che alla fine fece intervenire il Re di Spagna Filippo III, all’epoca anche sovrano di Napoli. Il Re decise il passaggio dei feudi ai Sanseverino di Saponara, legittimi eredi, mentre il Duca Michele Antonio in cambio della rinuncia avrebbe avuto il ducato di San Marco.
Alla morte senza eredi del Duca Michele Antonio, Gravina passò al cugino e nipote acquisito Pietro Orsini Conte di Muro Lucano. Che divenne Principe di Solofra nel 1623. Suo figlio Ferdinando III ottenne il principato di Vallata nel 1653. Pier Francesco, figlio del precedente e di Giovanna Frangipani della Tolfa, rinuncia alla successione nel 1668 per diventare domenicano. Padre Vincenzo Maria, così aveva cambiato nome, si era fatto notare come predicatore e per la grande pietà, tanto che lo si volle far entrare nell’alta gerarchia ecclesiastica (anche se con molta riluttanza da parte dell’ex Duca). Fu Arcivescovo di Benevento, poi Cardinale Presbitero e infine venne eletto Papa con il nome di Benedetto XIII. Non ci dilunghiamo troppo sulle fortune di questo pontefice, essendo trattata la sua storia nelle sedi opportune.
La creazione del terzo pontefice Orsini diede notevole lustro alla famiglia. L’Imperatore Carlo VI riconfermò alla dinastia il titolo di Principe del Sacro Romano Impero nel 1724 (già estinto nel 1698) con la qualifica di "Celsissimus". Ottennero anche il titolo di Grande di Spagna di prima classe (1708, il titolo più importante nella nobiltà spagnola appartenente a casa non regnante), di Principe di Roccagorga (1724), la conferma della dignità di Secondo Principe Assistente al Soglio Pontificio (1735, conferita nel 1511 alla pace con i Colonnesi, che detenevano comunque la dignità di Primo Assistente) e infine la conferma di Nobile Romano Coscritto e Patrizio Romano (1746). Invece Solofra diviene appannaggio del principe ereditario della casata. Dalla provincia, la linea di Gravina passò a Napoli e infine a Roma, dove risiede tuttora.
Fino al XVIII secolo gli Orsini hanno avuto : 3 Papi, 62 senatori romani, circa 30 cardinali, 6 gonfalonieri di Santa Romana Chiesa, 4 prefetti perpetui di Roma, almeno 100 tra generali e illustri uomini d’arme e varie decine di prelati che hanno governato su quasi tutte le principali dioscesi d’Italia. Nel corso del XIX secolo si aggiungeranno anche i titoli di "cugino" dei sovrani del Belgio, del Brasile, di Sassonia e del Portogallo.
Un nipote di Benedetto XIII, il Duca Domenico († 1786), alla morte precoce della giovane moglie abbandonò ogni carica di famiglia e abbracciò lo stato ecclesiastico. Divenne subito cardinale (1743), l’ultimo che possa vantare la famiglia.
I suoi discendenti hanno continuato il fasto dinastico fino alle soglie dell’800. Con l’abolizione del regime feudale, agli inizi del XIX secolo, gli Orsini ebbero difficoltà finanziarie.
The Duke Domenico (1790-1874) faced with the impoverishment thanks to the marriage with Maria Luisa Torlonia, daughter of the rich Duke of Bracciano. Said so it seems a great marriage, in reality the Torlonia had become noble for a few years and only thanks to the huge wealth, obtained with reckless finacial actions under the Napoleonic government. Under this government, which had completely abolished feudal privileges, a good part of the Roman dynasties had had to pay exorbitant inheritance taxes on the lands of the former fiefdoms, impoverishing themselves to the point of selling palaces and titles. The father-in-law of the Duke of Gravina, the banker Giovanni Torlonia, had bought the duchy of Bracciano from the Odescalchi, on the verge of bankruptcy, entering the ranks of the greatest Roman nobility. Titles all confirmed to the Restoration. So a marriage of interest and not very illustrious from the nobiliary point of view. The Duke Domenico distinguished himself as a politician in the Rome of the time: he was minister of war (1850), Lieutenant General of the Pontifical armies and finally senator.
The current family descends from the two sons of Duke Don Filippo (1845-1924). The first-born branch is represented by the Duke of Gravina and Principe di Solofra Don Domenico (born in 1948), the second-born branch is represented by Prince Don Raimondo (born in 1931).