Wars of Castro

The Wars of Castro were a series of conflicts during the mid-17th century revolving around the ancient city of Castro (located in present-day Lazio, Italy), which eventually resulted in the city's destruction on 2 September 1649. The conflict was a result of a power struggle between the papacy – represented by members of two deeply entrenched Roman families and their popes, the Barberini and Pope Urban VIII and the Pamphili and Pope Innocent X – and the Farnese dukes of Parma, who controlled Castro and its surrounding territories as the Duchy of Castro.

The Wars of Castro
Castro blaeu

The city of Castro, on which the Wars of Castro centered.
Date1641–44 (1st), 1646-49 (2nd)
Castro, Italy
Result Farnese defeat and the destruction of Castro
Papal armies of Pope Urban VIII and later of Pope Innocent X Farnese coat of arms as Duke of Parma.png Farnese Dukes of Parma and of CastroOdoardo Farnese and later Ranuccio II Farnese
Commanders and leaders
Antonio Barberini

Fabrizio Savelli, later replaced by Taddeo Barberini

Luigi Mattei as commander of papal loyalists and hired mercenaries

Achille d'Étampes de Valençay and Cornelio Malvasia as commanders of cavalry

Mattias de' Medici as commander of the forces of the Republic of Venice, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and the Duchy of Modena and Reggio

Raimondo Montecuccoli as commander of mercenary Modenese forces loyal to Francesco I d'Este


Papal politics of the mid-17th century were complicated, with frequently shifting military and political alliances across the Catholic world. While it is difficult to trace the precise origins of the feud between the duchy of Parma and the papacy, its origins can be looked for in political maneuverings occurring in the years or even decades preceding the start of military action.

In 1611 a group of conspirators, nobles from Modena and Mantua, was accused of devising a plot to assassinate Ranuccio I Farnese, Duke of Parma and other members of the Farnese family in Parma. In reality, the plot had been "uncovered" when a prisoner (being held for unrelated crimes) confessed to it and implicated members of various noble houses. Though the accusations were likely untrue, 100 of the "conspirators" were tortured and eventually executed in Parma's main square in 1612. Many of their estates were confiscated leaving a large number of now legitimately discontented nobles. Until his death in 1622, Ranuccio remained paranoid about future assassination attempts and about curses from witches and heretics. He persecuted "witches" and alleged conspirators savagely and even had his own mistress, Claudia Colla, burned to death. He remained convinced that other noble families were plotting his downfall.[1]

However, tensions between the Farnese and other Italian nobility were not limited to local events in Parma. Historian Leopold von Ranke gives an account of a 1639 visit to Rome by Odoardo Farnese, Duke of Parma and Piacenza. The Duke arrived in Rome to great fanfare - he was given gifts and escorted around the city by Pope Urban's Cardinal-nephews, Antonio Barberini and Francesco Barberini. But the Duke refused to pay due deference to the Pope's other nephew; the newly appointed Prefect of Rome, Taddeo Barberini. As the Duke prepared to leave, he suggested that an escort from the city (ordinarily reserved for the Grand Duke of Tuscany) would be appropriate. Francesco Barberini refused. The Duke took his leave but urged the Pope to chastise both Cardinal-nephews.[2]

The nephews were furious and convinced the pope to punish the Duke by banning grain shipments originating in Castro from being distributed in Rome and the surrounding territory, thereby depriving the Duke of an important source of income.[3] Duke Odoardo's Roman creditors saw their chance - the Duke was unable to pay his debts, which he had accumulated in military adventures against the Spanish in Milan and in luxurious living. The unpaid and unhappy creditors sought relief from the pope, who turned to military action in an attempt to force payment.[2]

Preparations for war

Pope Urban VIII responded to the requests of Duke Odoardo's creditors by sending his nephew Antonio, Fabrizio Savelli and Marquis Luigi Mattei to occupy the city of Castro. Papal forces also included commanders Achille d'Étampes de Valençay and Marquis Cornelio Malvasia.

At the same time, the pope sent cardinal Bernardino Spada as plenipotentiary in an effort to resolve the crisis. Spada successfully negotiated a truce but when the pope's military leaders became aware that the dukes were massing troops to counter their own (in case discussions with Spada came to naught), Urban VIII declared the articles of peace null and void and claimed Spada had negotiated them without his consent.[4] Spada later published a manifesto detailing his version of events which, according to contemporary John Bargrave, many accepted to be the truth.

Indeed, Urban VIII had been amassing troops in Rome throughout 1641. Mercenaries and regular troops filled the streets and Antonio Barberini was forced to institute special measures to maintain authority over the city. But the papacy needed yet more troops. The Duke of Ceri, who had been imprisoned for wounding a papal officer in a dispute over the management of the Duchy of Ceri, and Mario Frangipani, imprisoned for murdering someone on his estate, were both pardoned by the pope and given command of papal troops.[5]

First War of Castro

On 12 October 1641, Luigi Mattei led 12,000 infantry and up to 4,000 cavalry against the fortified town.[6] The pope's forces were met by a contingent of 40 troops guarding a bridge leading to the town; a short burst of cannon-fire resulting in a single death was enough to prompt capitulation.[2] Castro, and several other small towns nearby, surrendered. Fabrizio Savelli, though, proved to be an unenthusiastic commander. The army was split into three and the Pope's nephew, Taddeo Barberini, replaced Savelli as Generalissimo, arriving with one contingent in the papal city of Ferrara on 5 January 1642. On 11 January the opera L'Armida, by Barberini house composer Marco Marazzoli, was presented in his honour and Marazzoli composed a work Le pretensioni del Tebro e del Po to commemorate recent events.

On 13 January, Urban excommunicated Odoardo and rescinded his fiefdoms (which had been granted by Pope Paul III – Odoardo's great-great-great-grandfather – in 1545). Odoardo countered with a military march of his own, this time on the papal state itself and his forces were soon close enough to threaten Rome. But Odoardo faltered and the Pope was able to fortify Rome and raise a new army - this time 30,000 troops; enough to drive the Duke back to his own territory. Odoardo forged alliances with the Venice, Modena, and Tuscany which was under the command of his brother-in-law, Ferdinando II de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany.[2]

At first, Pope Urban threatened to excommunicate anyone who helped Odoardo, but Odoardo's allies insisted their conflict was not with the papacy, but rather with the Barberini family (of which the Pope happened to be a member). When this failed, the Pope attempted to call on old alliances of his own and turned to Spain for assistance. But he received little help as Spanish forces were fully occupied by the Thirty Years' War. As it was, most of the troops fighting on the side of the papacy were French, most of those fighting for the Dukes were German.[2]

Exasperated, the Pope increased taxes and raised additional forces and the war continued with Cardinal Antonio Barberini (Taddeo's brother) finding success against the Venetians and Modenese. But Papal forces suffered significant defeats in the area around Lake Trasimeno at the hands of the Tuscans (the Battle of Mongiovino). Fighting in the style typical of 17th-century Europe, by the latter half of 1643 neither side had made significant ground, though both sides had spent significant amounts of money perpetuating the conflict. It has been suggested that Pope Urban and forces loyal to the Barberini spent some 6 million thalers[7] during the 4 years of the conflict that fell within Pope Urban's reign.

The papal forces suffered a crucial defeat at the Battle of Lagoscuro on 17 March 1644 and were forced to surrender. Antonio Barberini was almost captured; saved, "only by the fleetness of his horse".[2] Peace was agreed to in Ferrara on 31 March.

Under the terms of the peace, Odoardo was readmitted to the Catholic Church and his fiefdoms were restored to him. Grain shipments from Castro to Rome were once again allowed and Odoardo was to resume payments to his Roman creditors. This peace settlement concluded the First War of Castro and was widely considered a disgrace to the papacy, which was unable to impose its will through use of military force. Urban is said to have been so distressed that after signing the peace agreements he was overcome by a severe malady which stayed with him until his death.

Urban's death and Barberini exile

Pope Urban VIII died just a few months after the peace settlement was agreed to, on 29 July 1644 and on 15 September Pamphili family Pope Innocent X was elected to replace him. Almost immediately, Innocent X began an investigation into the financing of the conflict. In total, the first war is estimated to have cost the papacy 12 million scudi and special taxes were levied against the residents of Rome to refill church coffers.[2] The nephews of Pope Urban VIII who had led the papal armies, brothers Antonio Barberini (Antonio the Younger), Taddeo Barberini and Francesco Barberini, were forced to abandon Rome and flee to France, assisted by Cardinal Mazarin.[8] There they depended on the hospitality of Louis XIV, King of France.

Taddeo Barberini died in Paris in 1647 but in 1653 Antonio and Francesco Barberini were allowed to return to Rome after sealing a reconciliation with Innocent X through the marriage of Taddeo's son Maffeo Barberini and Olimpia Giustiniani (a niece of Innocent X). Relations were also later repaired with some of Odoardo's former allies when Taddeo's daughter, Lucrezia Barberini married Francesco I d'Este, Duke of Modena who had led Modenese forces against the Barberini.

Second War of Castro

Pope Innocent X, on whose orders Castro was destroyed. Portrait by Diego Velázquez.

With peace agreed to and with Barberini power-brokers dead or exiled, the citizens of Castro were left alone. But Odoardo Farnese, who had signed the original peace accord, died in 1646 and was succeeded by his son Ranuccio II Farnese, Duke of Parma.

In 1649, Ranuccio refused to pay Roman creditors as his father had agreed in the treaty signed five years prior. He also refused to recognize the new bishop of Castro, Monsignor Cristoforo Giarda, appointed by Pope Innocent X. When the bishop was killed en route to Castro, near Monterosi, Pope Innocent X accused Duke Ranuccio, and his supporters, of murdering him.

In retaliation for this alleged crime, forces loyal to the Pope marched on Castro. Ranuccio attempted to ride out against the Pope's forces but was routed by Luigi Mattei.[9] On 2 September, on the Pope's orders, the city was completely destroyed. Not only did Pope Innocent's troops destroy the fortifications and general buildings of Castro, they destroyed the churches as well so as to completely sever all links between the city and the papacy.[10] As a final insult, the troops destroyed Duke Ranuccio's family Palazzo Farnese and erected a column reading Quì fu Castro ("Here stood Castro").

Duke Ranuccio II was forced to cede control of the territories around Castro to the pope, who then attempted to use the land to settle debts with the Ranuccio's creditors. This marked the end of the Second War of Castro and the end of Castro itself – the city was never rebuilt.


  1. ^ Farnese: Pomp, Power and Politics in Renaissance Italy by Helge Gamrath (2007)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g History of the popes; their church and state (Volume III) by Leopold von Ranke (Wellesley College Library, 2009)
  3. ^ War over Parma by Alexander Ganse (KLMA, 2004)
  4. ^ Pope Alexander the Seventh and the College of Cardinals by John Bargrave, edited by James Craigie Robertson (reprint; 2009)
  5. ^ Power And Religion in Baroque Rome: Barberini Cultural Policies by P. J. A. N. Rietbergen (Brill, 2006)
  6. ^ The Castro Wars by Paul Armas Lepisto (Olive University)
  7. ^ ''The Thirty Years' War'' by Geoffrey Parker (Routledge, 1997)
  8. ^ The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church by S. Miranda (Florida International University, 2003)
  9. ^ ''Cours d'histoire des états européens depuis le bouleversement de l'Empire'' by Maximilian Samson Friedrich Schoell. Books.google.com.au. Retrieved on 2 September 2011.
  10. ^ Venice, Austria and the Turks in the seventeenth century by Kenneth Meyer Setton (American Philosophical Society, 1991)

Wikisource Villari, Luigi (1911). "Farnese" . In Chisholm, Hugh. Encyclopædia Britannica. 10 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 183–184.

Antonio Barberini

Antonio Barberini (5 August 1607 – 3 August 1671) was an Italian Catholic cardinal, Archbishop of Reims, military leader, patron of the arts and a prominent member of the House of Barberini. As one of the cardinal-nephews of Pope Urban VIII and a supporter of France, he played a significant role at a number of the papal conclaves of the 17th century. With his brothers Cardinal Francesco Barberini and Taddeo Barberini he helped to shape politics, religion, art and music of 17th century Italy. He is sometimes referred to as Antonio the Younger or Antonio Barberini iuniore to distinguish him from his uncle Antonio Marcello Barberini.

Barberini family

The Barberini are a family of the Italian nobility that rose to prominence in 17th century Rome. Their influence peaked with the election of Cardinal Maffeo Barberini to the papal throne in 1623, as Pope Urban VIII. Their urban palace, the Palazzo Barberini, (completed in 1633 by Bernini), today houses Italy's Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica (National Gallery of Ancient Art).

Carlo Barberini

Not to be confused with his grandfather, Carlo Barberini (1562–1630).Carlo Barberini (1 June 1630 – 2 October 1704) was an Italian Catholic cardinal and member of the Barberini family. He was the grand-nephew of Maffeo Barberini (Pope Urban VIII) and son of Taddeo Barberini (Prince of Palestrina).

Castro, Lazio

Castro was an ancient city on the west side of Lake Bolsena in the present-day comune of Ischia di Castro, northern Lazio, Italy. It was destroyed at the conclusion of the Wars of Castro in the 17th century.

Cornelio Malvasia

Cornelio Malvasia, Marquis di Bismantova (1603 - 1664) was an Italian aristocrat, patron of astronomy and military leader.

Duchy of Castro

The Duchy of Castro was a fiefdom in central Italy formed in 1537 from a small strip of land on what is now Lazio's border with Tuscany, centred on Castro, Lazio, a fortified city on a tufa cliff overlooking the Fiora River which was its capital and ducal residence. Technically a vassal state to the Papal States, it in fact enjoyed de facto independence under the rule of the House of Farnese until 1649, when it was subsumed back into the Papal States.

It was created a duchy by Pope Paul III (1534–1549) in the bull Videlicet immeriti on 31 October 1537, with his son Pier Luigi Farnese and his firstborn male heirs as its dukes. It only lasted little more than 110 years and was eclipsed by the Farnese's possessions in Parma. It stretched from the Tyrrhenian Sea to the Lago di Bolsena, in the strip of land bounded by the river Marta and the river Fiora, stretching back to the Olpeta stream and the lago di Mezzano, from which the Olpeta flows. The duchy of Latera and county of Ronciglione were annexed to it.

Frederick of Hesse-Darmstadt

Frederick of Hesse-Darmstadt (28 February 1616 – 19 February 1682) was a German protestant and soldier who converted to Catholicism, became a cardinal and was appointed Crown-cardinal of Austria.

Giovanni Paolo Lascaris

Giovanni Paolo Lascaris di Ventimiglia e Castellar (28 June 1560 – 14 August 1657) was an Italian nobleman and Grand Master of the Knights of Malta.


Latera is a small town and comune in the Province of Viterbo, Italy.

Situated near Bolsena Lake and Mezzano Lake, is important for volcanic underground activity near the town centre. It has a small rock with a medieval palace by Farnese family, surrounded by medieval stone houses.

List of condottieri

Condottieri (singular condottiero) were mercenary leaders employed by Italian city-states and seignories from the late Middle Ages until the mid-17th century. Niccolò Machiavelli listed the "most noted" of the condottieri remembered in his day:

The most noticed among the latter were Carmagnola, Francesco Sforza, Niccolò Piccinino the pupil of Braccio, Agnolo della Pergola, Lorenzo di Micheletto Attendolo, il Tartaglia, Giacopaccio, Cecolini da Perugia, Niccolò da Tolentino, Guido Torello, Antonia dal Ponte ad Era, and many others. (History of Florence, I,vii])

Luigi Mattei

Luigi Mattei (died 1675) was an Italian military General and Marquis de Belmonte. During the 17th century he commanded troops loyal to the papal armies of Barberini Pope Urban VIII and Pamphili Pope Innocent X during the Wars of Castro.

Maffeo Barberini (1631–1685)

Maffeo Barberini (19 August 1631 – 28 November 1685) was an Italian nobleman of the Barberini and Prince of Palestrina. He was appointed Gonfalonier of the Church.

Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger

Michelangelo Buonarroti il Giovane (baptized 4 November 1568 – 11 January 1646) was a Florentine poet, librettist and man of letters, known as "the Younger" to distinguish him from his famous granduncle the sculptor.

He studied mathematics at the University of Pisa (1586-1591) where he became friends with Galileo Galilei and Maffeo Barberini, the future Pope Urban VIII. Buonarroti was elected to the Accademia Fiorentina in 1585 and the Accademia della Crusca in 1589, and was one of the editors of first Italian dictionary, Vocabolario degli Accademici della Crusca (1612).

After the wedding of Marie de' Medici and Henry IV of France in 1600, Buonarroti published a Description of the banquet and was soon commissioned to write court entertainments: Il natal d'Ercole (1605), Il giudizio di Paride (for the wedding of Cosimo II and Maria Maddalena,1608, music by Jacopo Peri), La Tancia (1611) and Balletto della Cortesia (1614). In 1612 he began construction of a gallery (now the Casa Buonarroti) on the Via Ghibellino dedicated to his famous relative and commissioned numerous artists to paint murals (WP Commons gallery). During this period his name became linked with Francesca Caccini, who composed the music for La Tancia, the Balletto and La Fiera

Buonarroti's career as a courtier took a turn for the worse when the Grand Duchess Christina of Lorraine took offense at salacious language in Fiera (1619). In 1623 he dedicated the publication of verse by the Elder Michelangelo to his friend Maffeo Barberini, newly installed as Pope Urban VIII, and sought patronage from other members of the Barberini family. The last of his theatre pieces was La Siringa, performed at the Palazzo Vecchio in 1634. in 1640 he lost his fortune in a bank failure at a time when the Wars of Castro (in which Rome and Florence took opposite sides) complicated relations with the Barberinis. His final years were spent writing the Satires. He is buried in Santa Croce.

Buonarroti's lyrics are found among many 17-century composers' musiche as well as in Luigi Dallapiccola's Sei Cori di Michelangelo Buonarroti il Giovane (1933).

Palazzo Barberini

The Palazzo Barberini (English: Barberini Palace) is a 17th-century palace in Rome, facing the Piazza Barberini in Rione Trevi. Today it houses the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, the main national collection of older paintings in Rome.

Pamphili family

The Pamphili family (often with the final long i orthography, Pamphilj) was one of the papal families deeply entrenched in Catholic Church, Roman and Italian politics of the 16th and 17th centuries.Later, the Pamphili family line merged with the Doria and Landi family lines to form the Doria-Pamphili-Landi family line.

Pope Urban VIII

Pope Urban VIII (Latin: Urbanus VIII; baptised 5 April 1568 – 29 July 1644) reigned as Pope from 6 August 1623 to his death in 1644. He expanded the papal territory by force of arms and advantageous politicking, and was also a prominent patron of the arts and a reformer of Church missions.

However, the massive debts incurred during his pontificate greatly weakened his successors, who were unable to maintain the papacy's longstanding political and military influence in Europe. He was also involved in a controversy with Galileo and his theory on heliocentrism during his reign.

Teatro delle Quattro Fontane

The Teatro delle Quattro Fontane (Theatre of the Four Fountains) is an opera house in Rome, Italy, designed (in part) by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and built in 1632 by the Barberini family. It was located in Via delle Quattro Fontane, near the Piazza Barberini and the Quattro Fontane or Four Fountains.

Vincenzo Maculani

Vincenzo Maculani (11 September 1578 – 16 February 1667) was an Italian Catholic Cardinal, inquisitor and military architect. He was known as a severe man, harsh and without compassion, who preferred the black cappa of his order to the brighter purple he was later entitled to wear as a cardinal.

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