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Umbria in the 16th Century

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Cesare Borgia (died 1507)

On 17 August 1498, Cesare Borgia (the son of Pope Alexander VI) became the first person in history to resign the cardinalate.  This marked the start of his campaign to create a territorial basis for the Borgia dynasty in central Italy.

A change in papal policy towards France was signalled when Alexander VI decided to facilitate the divorce of the new King Louis XII, leaving him free to marry the rich widow of his predecessor Charles VIII.  In return, Alexander VI obtained a promise of the assistance of Louis XII in establishing Cesare’s position in Italy.  As a start, Louis XII named Cesare as Duke of Valentinois on the day he renounced the cardinalate.  (This title, together with Cesare’s former position as Cardinal of Valencia, earned him the nickname "Valentino").

Cesare travelled to the Baglioni court in 1498.  Louis XII arranged his marriage to his niece, Charlotte d'Albret, the sister of King John III of Navarre in July, 1499.  Alexander VI used the favourable situation to begin to carve out a state for Cesare. To this end, he declared that all his vicars in the Romagna and the Marche were deposed.

Louis XII invaded Italy soon after, intent upon pressing his claim to Milan. Cesare accompanied him into the city in September, after Duke Ludovico Sforza had fled.   Louis XII returned to France in November, leaving money and soldiers to support Cesare in Italy.  Cesare established a base at Cesena, from which he took Imola and Forlì for Caterina Sforza in early 1500.  He then returned to Rome to celebrate his triumph. 

The creation of 13 new cardinals in September 1500 in return for various considerations raised enough money for Cesare to hire condottieri, including: Vitellozzo Vitelli of Città di Castello; Gianpaolo Baglioni of Perugia; Giulio and Paolo Orsini; and Oliverotto da Fermi.  He then resumed his campaign in Romagna.

Giovanni Sforza, the first husband of Cesare's sister Lucrezia, was soon ousted from Pesaro;  Pandolfo Malatesta was similarly driven from Rimini; Faenza surrendered after prolonged resistance in April 1501 and its young lord Astorre III Manfredi was later drowned in the Tiber on Cesare's order.  In May 1501, Alexander VI formally invested Cesare as Duke of Romagna.

Cesare now turned his attention to Tuscany.  Florence was protected by Louis XII, but still found it expedient to agree to Cesare’s demanded condotta (May 1501). 

Cesare subsequently laid siege to the coastal town of Piombino.  He departed for Naples to honour his obligation to Louis XII, leaving Vitellozzo Vitelli and Gianpaolo Baglioni to continue the siege.  (Piombino duly fell in 1502.)

As the French army approached Naples, King Federico IV fled to Ischia, leaving Prospero and Fabrizio Colonna to defend his kingdom.  On 24 June 1501, when French troops led by Cesare Borgia took Capua, Aragonese power in southern Italy was at an end.  Prospero and Fabrizio Colonna were imprisoned and excommunicated, and their lands were forfeited to the papacy.  Cesare entered Naples with the French army in August 1501.  Louis XII accepted the surrender of Federico IV, who spent the rest of his life in exile in France.

Cesare returned to Rome (June 1502) and began planning the next phase of his annexation of central Italy.  While he was thus employed, and possibly without his explicit consent, Vitellozzo Vitelli seized Arezzo.  The fact that the exiled Piero de’ Medici was in the city underlined the threat to Florence.  Troops under Vitellozzo Vitelli and Gianpaolo Baglioni then ravaged the Val di Chiana, apparently intent upon restoring Piero de’ Medici to power in Florence.  It is not clear that Cesare Borgia was in control of this operation: Vitellozzo Vitelli nursed a deep hatred for the Florentine Republic following its execution of his brother.

Cesare quickly left Rome, apparently intent upon taking Camerino.  He requested from his ally, Duke Guidobaldo da Montefeltro of Urbino, free passage through his territory if it were needed and also reinforcements for Vitellozzo in Tuscany.  These were duly granted, enabling Cesare to take Urbino before Guidobaldo knew what was happening.  He was lucky to escape with his life.

Cesare’s enemies, including Guidobaldo and representatives of Florence, congregated at Asti in order to complain about him to Louis XII.  He had already ordered Cesare to withdraw Vitellozzo’s troops from Arezzo, and Cesare had been forced to threaten to invade Città di Castello in order to make Vitellozzo comply.  Now Cesare decided to travel in person to the French court: he caught up with Louis XII at Milan in August 1502.  He stayed with the itinerant court for a month, and achieved the public support of Louis XII to the discomfort of his enemies.

Condottieri Revolt

After Cesare’s treacherous treatment of Guidobaldo at Urbino, many of his captains  feared similar treatment.  His threats in relation to Vitellozzo Vitelli’s territory of Città di Castello must have heightened these fears.  The rebels met at a palace belonging to Cardinal Giambattista Orsini at La Magione on 9th October, 1502.  Others attending included: Francesco Orsini, Duke of Gravina and Paolo Orsini; Ermes Bentivoglio of Bologna; Gianpaolo Baglioni; Oliverotto da Fermo; and representatives of Pandolfo Petrucci of Siena and the recently-deposed Duke Guidobaldo of Urbino.

While Cesare awaited French reinforcements, Guidobaldo da Montefeltro retook Gubbio with the help of Vitellozzo Vitelli.  The citizens of Urbino gladly opened the city gates for them.  They then helped Giovanni Maria da Varano to return to Camerino.  Cesare withdrew to Imola. 

When the allies met at Chianciano at the end of November, many of them were terrified of what Cesare would do when the French arrived.  The Orsinis, Ermes Bentivoglio and Pandolfo Petrucci advocated compromise with him, but Gianpaolo Baglioni and Vitellozzo Vitelli disagreed.  Thus, as Cesare had probably calculated, the alliance fell apart.  Guidobaldo fled again from Urbino, finally finding refuge in Città di Castello.  

Cesare finally left Imola in December 1502 for Cesena.  Vitellozzo Vitelli, Oliverotto da Fermi and Paolo, Francesco and Roberto Orsini demonstrated their apparent repentance by taking Senigallia (which still held for the duke of Urbino) in his name.  Cesare arrived at that town, decoyed the unsuspecting condottieri into his house, and had them all arrested (December 31, 1502). Gianpaolo Baglioni anticipated the trap and sensibly failed to attend.  Vitellozzo Vitelli and Oliverotto da Fermo were immediately strangled, and Cesare conducted the three Orsini prisoners towards Rome.  News that Alexander IV had imprisoned Cardinal Giambattista Orsini in Castel Sant’ Angelo reached him at Città della Pieve, at which point he had his own Orsini prisoners strangled.  Cardinal Orsini died in prison a few months later (February 1503).

End Game

Alexander VI and Cesare Borgia were both suddenly taken ill in Rome (August 1503).  Alexander VI died, although Cesare Borgia managed to survive under his successor, Pope Pius III.  He was, however, unable to retain Urbino, Piombino, Rimini and Pesaro, and his position collapsed completely when Pius III died and was replaced by Giuliano della Rovere, now Pope Julius II.  He managed to negotiate exile in Naples, and escaped from his subsequent imprisonment in Spain, but he was killed in 1507, fighting for his brother-in-law, King John III of Navarre.  He was 31 years old.   His epitaph read: "Here lies in little earth one who was feared by all, who held peace and war in his hand."

Julius II (1503-13)

When Julius II marched on Perugia in 1506, Gianpaolo Baglioni wisely surrendered the city and joined Julius' forces as a condottiere in the battle to expel the Bentivoglio from Bologna and the Venetians from the Romagna.  Papal legates now ruled Perugia until 1513, when Julius II died and Gianpaolo Baglioni returned.

Leo X (1513 -21)


Clement VII (1523-34)

Sack of Rome (1527)

Clement VII fled to Orvieto after the sack of Rome in 1527.  He commissioned Antonio Sangallo the Younger to design the Well of St Patrick to tap the springs that flow a hundred feet below what are now the public gardens.

Pope Paul III (1534-49)

Spello fell to the papacy in 1535 after 150 years of despotic rule.

Salt War (1540)


Pierluigi Farnese entered Perugia on 25th June 1540.  Bishop Bernardino Castellario of Casale (who was known as Monsignor della Barba) was appointed as Papal Governor.

The Priors were replaced by a body of twenty papal appointees known as the Conservatori dell' Ecclesiastica Obedienza

Cardinal Tiberio Crispo (1498-1566)

Tiberio Crispo was the presumed son of Giovanni Battista Crispo , although there is some doubt about this: his mother, Silvia Rufini was acknowledged after she became a widow as the lover of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese before his elevation to the papacy (as Paul III).  He is therefore often said to be the son of Cardinal Farnese.  (Farnese acknowledged four other children with her: Pier Luigi; Paolo; Ranuccio and Costanza.  Pope Julius II legitimised the first two of these in (respectively) 1503 and 1504.)

Paul III appointed Tiberio Crispo as  the Prefect of the Castel di Sant' Angelo, Rome, in 1542.  He supervised the decoration of the fortress by Pierino del Vaga and workshop.  He was made a cardinal in 1544 and was Cardinal Legate of Perugia in 1545-8.

Pope Julius III (1550-5)

Della Corgna of Perugia

Julius III created the Marquisate of Castiglione del Lago and Chiugi for his sister Giacoma, the wife of Francesco della Corgna, and their heirs “until the third generation”.  They had two sons:

  1. Fulvio della Corgna became a cardinal and was elected bishop of Perugia in 1550.  He resigned in favour of his cousin, Ippolito della Corgna (1553-62) and then his colleague Giulio Oradini (1562-4).  He then reassumed the bishopric until his final resignation in 1574.  He remained Cardinal Protector of Perugia until his death in 1583.

  2. Ascanio della Corgna, a soldier, diplomat and military engineer, became the first Marchese di Castiglione del Lago e Chiugi.  Ascanio survived the Battle of Lepanto (1571) but died soon after in Rome.

The title passed to Diomede della Penna, the nephew and adopted son of Cardinal della Corgna.  It was elevated as a dukedom in 1617.  The territory was caught up in the Wars of Castro and became part of the papal patrimony in 1647. 


The first Diocesan Seminary in Perugia was established in 1551.

The first Diocesan Seminary in Orvieto was established in 1566.

The first Diocesan Seminary in Nocera Umbra was established in 1569.

The first Diocesan Seminary in Assisi was established in 1574.

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