Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Farnese bloodline

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Background

The Farnese family was an influential family in Renaissance Italy. Its most important members include Pope Paul III and the Dukes of Parma.

The family trace its origins back to around AD 984 and took their name from one of their oldest feudal possessions - Castrum Farneti. There has been some debate as to the origins of the name Farnesti/Farnese. Some suggest that it derives from the vernacular name for an oak found in the region, the Farnia (Quercus robur), but others have held that the name owes its origins to the Fara, a term of Lombard origin used to denote a particular social group.

In the 12th century they are recorded as minor feudataries in the area of Tuscania and Orvieto, several members holding political positions in the latter commune. One Pietro defeated the Tuscan Ghibellines in 1110 and, most likely, fought against the Italo-Normans in 1134. His son Prudenzio was consul in Orvieto and defeated the Orvieto Ghibellines backed by Siena; another Pietro defended the town against Emperor Henry VI.

In 1254 one Ranuccio defeated Todi's troops and fought for Pope Urban IV against Manfred of Sicily. His son Niccolò was in the Guelph army in the Battle of Benevento (1266).

The Farnese returned in Tuscia (southern Tuscany-northern Lazio) in 1319, when they acquired Farnese, Ischia di Castro, and the Castles of Sala and San Savino. In 1354 Cardinal Albornoz, in return for the family's help in the war against the Papal riotous barons, gave them the territory of Valentano. In this period they fought against the fierce Papal rivals, the Prefetti di Vico. In 1362 Pietro Farnese was commander-in-chief of the Florentine army against Pisa in the war for Volterra.

Six years later Niccolò Farnese saved Pope Urban V from the attack of Giovanni di Vico, first in the castle of Viterbo and then in that of Montefiascone. The loyalty to the Papal cause granted to the Farnese the confirmations of their possessions in the northern Lazio and a series of privileges which raised them as the same level of the more ancient and powerful Roman barons of the time (Savelli, Orsini, Monaldeschi, Sforza of Santa Fiora).

The family substantially increased its power in the course of the 15th century, as their territories reached the southern shore of the Lake Bolsena and Montalto, especially thanks to Ranuccio the Elder. He was commander-in-chief for the neighbouring Siena against the Orsini of Pitigliano and, after his victory, received the title of Senator of Rome. His son Gabriele Francesco originated the "military" line of the family, which however disappeared after three generations.

Ranuccio's son Pier Luigi married a member of the ancient baronial family of the Caetani (that of Pope Boniface VIII), thus giving the Farnese further importance in Rome. His daughter Giulia, who was a mistress of Pope Alexander VI, further expanded the Roman fortunes of her family. She granted her brother Alessandro the title of cardinal; under Alexander's successor Julius II he became governor of the Marca Anconetana and, in 1534, he managed to become pope as Paul III. Among his most notable feats, there were an unprecedented nepotism and the establishment of the Council of Trent.

Paul III named his son Pier Luigi gonfaloniere of the Roman Church and Duke of Castro, granting him the possession of a state encompassing the Farnese lands from the Thyrrenian Sea to the Lake of Bolsena, as well as the county of Ronciglione and many other smaller fiefs.

In 1545 Paul was also able to carve out, from territories once belonging to the Papal States, another state in northern Italy for his son, the Duke of Parma and Piacenza. Two years later Pier Luigi was assassinated by his new subjects under Spanish mandate. Despite Charles V moves, the pope reacted and soon established Ottavio, Pier Luigi's son, on the ducal throne. Paul III died in 1549, his political role in the curia handed over to his grandson Alessandro, who was an influential cardinal until his death in 1589.

The Duchy of Parma continued to be ruled by the Farnese within the 17th century, but that of Castro went lost in 1649 under the military assault launched by Pope Innocent X. Despite the lack of the territories in central Italy, the Farnese court in Parma under duke Ranuccio II was one of the most splendid in Italy.
As the small state fell under the Spanish control and influence, the family lost Parma and Piacenza in 1731 as the last duke Antonio Farnese died heirless.

Key Family Members
NameYearPosition and Power
Pier Luigi Farnese1435—1487
Alessandro Farnese1468—1549Pope Paul III
Giulia Farnese, sister of Alessandro Farnesemistress of Pope Alexander VI
Pier Luigi Farnese1503—1547first Duke of Parma
Alessandro Farnese1520—1589Cardinal
Ottavio Farnese1524—1586second Duke of Parma
Ranuccio Farnese1530—1565Cardinal
Alessandro Farnese1545—1592third Duke of Parma
Ranuccio I Farnese1569—1622fourth Duke of Parma
Odoardo Farnese1612—1646fifth Duke of Parma
Ranuccio II Farnese1630—1694sixth Duke of Parma
Francesco Farnese1678—1727seventh Duke of Parma
Antonio Farnese1679—1731eighth Duke of Parma
Elizabeth Farnese1692—1766Queen of Spain, wife of King Philip V, mother of Charles III