An ambasciata d’obbedienza to the Holy See: the marchese Giambattista Lupi as Ranuccio II Farnese’s envoy to Clement X in 1671

John Condren is Rome Awardee at the BSR (October-December 2018) and here he tells us about his research project on the marchese Giambattista Lupi as Ranuccio II Farnese’s envoy to Clement X in 1671.

My first ever visit to Rome was in mid-July 2017, as the Lucifero heatwave caused intense difficulty for the entire Italian peninsula. In baking heat, I spent an enjoyable three days in visits to the Musei Vaticani and the Palazzo Barberini, climbed the dome of St Peters, brazenly flouted the city’s by-laws concerning the eating of gelato on the Spanish Steps, and jostled through the crowds at the Trevi Fountain.

My Roman sojourn in that marvellous summer was an agreeable prelude to three weeks of archival research in the north of Italy, in the state archives of Parma, Modena, and Mantua, all of which I had worked in several times before. I am continuing to develop my 2015 PhD thesis (on Louis XIV and these small Italian principalities) into an academic monograph. My first stop after Rome was beautiful Parma, three hours to the north by train, and considerably more tranquil than the Eternal City at the height of summer. The Archivio di Stato in Parma boasts a vast wealth of documentation from the late seventeenth century, and specifically on the Farnese dynasty’s material and ecclesiastical interests in the Papal States.

During my stay in Rome I had wandered into Piazza Farnese to gaze in admiration at the sixteenth-century palazzo which dominates it.

1. Palazzo Farnese

Palazzo Farnese

2. Palazzo Farnese

This was the seat of the dynasty from northern Lazio which had tasted the grandeur of the papacy (Pope Paul III, r. 1534-1549) and which was one of the most important aristocratic families in Renaissance Rome. My research on the Farnese in the seventeenth century concerns their use of French diplomatic support in Rome to gain concessions from the Holy See. In the 1640s, Duke Odoardo Farnese, ruler of Parma and Piacenza, had fought an inconclusive war against Pope Urban VIII [Barberini] over the Duchy of Castro, an enormously wealthy territory which had long constituted part of the Farnese patrimony. The conflict flared up again in 1649, whereupon it was ultimately agreed in 1652 that Castro should be returned to the Farnese after eight years, on payment of a substantial fine.

3. Castro


But in 1660, Pope Alexander VII [Chigi] declared that the Farnese had never paid their debts, and accordingly he formally confiscated (incamerated) the duchy of Castro and the county of Ronciglione. Duke Ranuccio II (Odoardo’s son) protested volubly through diplomatic channels at this manifest injustice, but to no avail.

4. Ranuccio II Farnese, duke of Parma and Piacenza (r. 1646 - 1694)

Ranuccio II Farnese

Alexander remained unmoved – at least until 20 August 1662, when his Corsican Guards made the mistake of attacking the French ambassador’s carriage outside the Palazzo Farnese – now leased to the French monarchy and serving as its embassy to the Holy See. This caused a serious diplomatic incident. Sensing an opportunity, Ranuccio allied himself with France in the ensuing quarrel between Louis XIV and Pope Alexander VII – something of a cold war, which lasted until February 1664.

Cardinal Chigi apologising to Louis XIV

Cardinal Chigi apologises to Louis XIV in August 1664 on his uncle’s behalf

Thanks to Louis’s insistence, Ranuccio once again received papal promises that Castro would be his after another eight years – so long as he paid some 1.8 million scudi which the Camera Apostolica claimed was still outstanding. This stipulation proved impossible for the Farnese, whose treasury had been depleted by Duke Odoardo’s fecklessness in the 1630s and 1640s.

Knowing all this, I was intrigued and delighted to discover in the reading-room in Parma the journal of an ambasciata d’obbedienza (embassy of obedience) which Ranuccio dispatched to Rome in the spring of 1671, after the elderly Cardinal Emilio Altieri had been elected to the throne of St Peter as Pope Clement X. Such embassies to Rome (widely perceived as being the Teatro del mondo) were important ceremonial occasions. They served to reinforce the moral right of the Church to exercise temporal power in the Italian peninsula, as the perceived defender of Italian ‘liberties’ against profane invaders from beyond the Alps (such as the French). With time running out to repay the vast sum still owing for Castro (due by 1672),  Ranuccio was hopeful of persuading a sufficient number of cardinals friendly to the Farnese that his claims could be honoured without recourse to his limited funds. The ambassador whom Ranuccio accredited to the new pope was the 45-year-old marchese Giambattista Lupi di Soragna, from the province of Parma. Coincidentally, after 1945, one of the first Italian ambassadors from the new Italian Republic to the Holy See was also a member of the Lupi di Soragna family.

6. Rocca di Soragna

Rocca di Soragna

After permitting myself a wry chuckle that an individual whose surname translates as ‘wolves’ should be sent on embassy to a city founded by a she-wolf’s adoptees, I settled down to read the document, noting the expenses which Giambattista Lupi incurred both in Rome and on his way there. The envoy purchased lavish presents for important dignitaries, and recorded his day-to-day expenses in meticulous detail. He described his reception in Rome and his meetings with the governor, various cardinals, the ambassadors of the major powers, and ultimately Pope Clement. The volume reflects my strong interest in what has been described as ‘new’ diplomatic history, wherein the actions, ambitions, and concerns of ambassadors, their families and their retinues are of more relevance than the intentions of their sovereigns.


Title page of journal

This journal is a valuable insight into the challenging role of a diplomat from a minor European state, in a transformative era in European history. Lupi’s accreditation to the papacy was an act born of desperation. His sovereign, Ranuccio II, ultimately failed to secure any concessions whatsoever from the Camera Apostolica, and similarly failed to interest Louis XIV in applying pressure in Rome. After 1672, the question of Castro was dead, although the Farnese casa attempted to revive it at European peace congresses until the early 1730s – when the last Farnese duke, the bon-vivant Antonio, died without heirs in 1731.

My research in Rome, stimulated by my 2017 discovery of Lupi’s journal, has taken me to the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana and the Archivio Segreto Vaticano. Here, I have studied documents concerning the Farnese relationship with the Holy See, and the role of Louis XIV as a mediator on their behalf. Ranuccio II also strove to ensure that priests in good standing at the court of Parma were appointed as abbots and priors to vacant benefices in his territories, and to this end he enlisted the services of his family’s former enemies – the Barberini brothers, the cardinals Antonio and Francesco – whose magnificent portraits adorn the BAV.

8. Antonio Barberini

Antonio Barberini

I have also paid three visits to the Archivio di Stato in Naples, where much archival material concerning the Farnese (over 2,000 buste like the one in the photo) has been conserved since the eighteenth century. My research in Naples has yielded the correspondence of other Farnese ambassadors to Rome and France in the 1650s and 1660s – highly useful for comparison to Lupi’s mission. I have also discovered vast quantities of documentation concerning land ownership and ecclesiastical patronage in Castro and Ronciglione.

9. Archivio farnesiano, b. 567

From research in Naples

None of this work would have been possible without the supportive and enjoyable research environment provided by the BSR, and for this I am extremely grateful. When I was enjoying strawberry and mint-flavoured gelato in the Piazza del Popolo back in July 2017, I did not imagine that I would soon be staying a five-minute walk away in a beautiful Palladian villa for a full three months, and therefore able to conduct research of immense value to my current and future projects.

John Condren (Rome Awardee)