New from 1578 and 1581: Honors for Papal son Giacomo Boncompagni (1548-1612) at Orvieto, Ravenna

An illustrated introductory essay by Thomas Gosart (Rutgers ’20)

Detail from 1581 Ravenna diploma for Giacomo Boncompagni (ABL prot. 588 no. 23) in Rome Villa Aurora archive, showing Papal arms of his father Gregory XIII Boncompagni. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi

Giacomo (or Iacopo) Boncompagni (1548-1612) was an Italian noble and son of Pope Gregory XIII (1505-1572-1585). Far from hiding their relationship, his father the Pope appointed Giacomo to command the Papal fortress of Castel St. Angelo, and with it the Papal militia, which immediately made him one of the most powerful individuals in Europe.

The Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi at the Villa Aurora in Rome—owned and curated by †HSH Prince Nicolo’ Boncompagni Ludovisi and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi—holds a series of unpublished documents awarding hereditary honors to Giacomo Boncompagni; one granting him citizenship at Rome (27 July 1573) and another patrician status at Naples (dated to the Ides of March 1581) have already received notice on this site.

Portrait of Giacomo Boncompagni. From Pompeo Litta, Famiglie celebri italiane II (1836), after portrait by Lavinia Fontana

A further two come from the period some years after the accession of Gregory XIII. The first document (ABL prot. 588 no. 20) is from 1578, and grants Giacomo extensive honors at the city of Orvieto in Umbria. The second (prot. 588 no. 23), from 1581, grants Giacomo the office of Senator in the city of Ravenna. This year, for the first time, these documents have been transcribed and translated from the Latin into English.

Honors (ABL prot. 588 no. 20) for Giacomo Boncompagni from Orvieto (18 October 1578). Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi

The documents, though largely formulaic and panegyric, contain many illuminating insights into the civic culture of Orvieto and Ravenna, which though firmly under Papal control as members of the Papal States, had their own keen sense of historical identity or identity as communities, as well as a sharp awareness of the importance of the honors they were conferring.

Detail from above (ABL prot. 588 no. 20), showing city of Orvieto. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi

The Orvieto document of 18 October 1578 granted nobility status to Giacomo Boncompagni and all of his descendants in the Italian city. It is written in a very lavish and flattering fashion, honoring Giacomo in numerous ways.

Detail from above (ABL prot. 588 no. 20), showing Papal arms of Boncompagni at upper left. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi

The most significant honor given in the document, besides the nobility status, is complete legal freedom and immunity from being tried in any court throughout the city, granted to both Giacomo and all of his descendants. This is noteworthy for several reasons: most importantly it shows how significant of an honor is being presented to Giacomo, as well as the power nobility had in Orvieto during this time. It also shows the strong Papal control Orvieto was under at the time.

Detail from above (ABL prot. 588 no. 20), attesting that Giacomo Boncompagni’s son Geronimo (b. 1577) was alive in October 1578. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi

A second significant aspect of this document is the mention of Geronimo Boncompagni, Giacomo’s firstborn son, who was approximately one year old at the time of presentation of this document. Before the discovery of this document, the only known record of Geronimo was of his birth; no other information was known about his life or of what became of him. This document proves Geronimo lived to at least the point of it being presented, and gives an additional record of his existence. The title “Noble of Orvieto” granted by this document has been passed down throughout the Boncompagni Ludovisi family’s history, and as such was held by HSH Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi (1941-2018).

Archival envelope for Ravenna diploma (ABL prot. 588 no. 23) of 7 August 1581 with honors for Giacomo Boncompagni. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi

The second document, from Ravenna, was presented to Giacomo on 7 August 1581 and granted praetorship (i.e., senatorship) to Giacomo Boncompagni and all of his descendants in this Italian city. The document for the most part is very typical of such a document of the time and is written in a very formulaic fashion, praising Giacomo and his accomplishments. For example, Giacomo’s name is written with a gold ink wherever it is simply mentioned, along with the phrase Dux Sorae et Marchio Vineolae, which were two of his other noble titles (Duke of Sora and Marchese of Vignola) that he then passed to his descendants.

Ravenna diploma (ABL prot. 588 no. 23) of 7 August 1581 with honors for Giacomo Boncompagni. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi

Yet through this document, Ravenna also seems to express a degree of autonomy as a city. Perhaps this was done to show that, despite being essentially forced by the Papacy to write the document—note the late date of 1581—it still considered itself to be an independent city.

Detail of first five lines from above (ABL prot. 588 no. 23). Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi

For example, throughout the first three lines, it is stated that under Roman rule, Ravenna was a “municipality” (municipium) of Rome and not a “colony” (non colonia). This may have been written as a rather subtle statement of defiance of the papacy and of the Papal State of which Ravenna was a part. The title “Patrician of Ravenna” granted by this document has also been passed down to the heads of family throughout the Boncompagni Ludovisi family’s history.

Each of these documents provide essential historical information concerning Giacomo Boncompagni as well as the cities of Orvieto and Ravenna, which has not been seen for over 500 years. The transcriptions and translations of these documents, as well as a short summary of the contents will be published separately as a second part of this project.

Detail of upper left corner of above (ABL prot. 588 no. 23), showing Papal arms of Gregory XIII Boncompagni. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi

Thomas Gosart is a junior in the School of Arts and Sciences (Honors College) of Rutgers University-New Brunswick, with a double major in Classics (Greek and Latin option) and Physics (Professional option). This past academic year, as a participant in Rutgers’ Aresty Research Assistant Program, he researched the cultural history of the Boncompagni Ludovisi under the direction of professor T. C. Brennan. Thomas is presently undertaking a two-semester independent study of the annual Papal medals of Pope Gregory XIII Boncompagni, while continuing his research as a member of the Rutgers Relativistic Heavy Ion Group (part of the STAR collaboration at Brookhaven National Laboratory). He warmly thanks †HSH Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi for their generosity in facilitating his research in their Villa Aurora Archive.  

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: