NEW from 1786/7: Cardinal (& Vatican Secretary of State) Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi receives an urgent request for a matrimonial dispensation

By Emilie Puja (Rutgers ’25)

Medal (1778, engraved by F. Balugani) with images of Cardinal Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi (1743-1775-1790), on the reverse receiving homage from a grateful personification of Bologna. Credit: Numismatica Ranieri Asta 7 Lot 10 (16 Nov 2014).

One of the high points of the private Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi in the Villa Aurora, brought to light by HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi in 2010, is a large cache of hundreds of letters addressed to Cardinal Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi (1743-1790). The seventh of nine children of Gaetano Boncompagni (Prince of Piombino from 1745-1777) and Laura Chigi, Ignazio was made Cardinal by Pope Pius VI in 1775 and served as his Secretary of State from 29 June 1785 to 30 September 1789, when he resigned because of illness.

As Cardinal and especially as Vatican Secretary of State, Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi evidently engaged in a massive exchange of letters, with correspondents ranging from European sovereigns such as Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette of France—25 of their letters from Versailles are in the Villa Aurora archive—to humble petitioners.

One of the most arresting letters to Cardinal Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi is from a Milanese parish priest, Gerolamo Guglielmetti (1713-1788). A native of the Alpine town of Arosio in Lombardy, Guglielmetti was a member of the Oblates of Saints Ambrose and Charles. He taught in various seminaries in Lombardy and served as prefect of studies at Milan’s Collegio Elvetico.

Excerpt from unsigned bibliographical note on the Milanese priest G. Guglielmetti in Bollettino storico della svizzera italiana 9.5 (1887) 64-65, 85-88

An expert in canon law, Guglielmetti also wrote poetry, philosophical works, and orations in both Latin and Italian, some of which were published in his lifetime. His works prompted his induction into an elite Milanese literary society, the Accademia dei Trasformati.

In his letter to the Cardinal, the priest’s writing—in polished Latin—appears scrawled, reaching the edges of the pages and awkwardly splitting words at the end of several lines. In fact, an archival copy had been created for the sake of legibility; both versions were then inserted into a file of the Cardinal’s correspondence marked “1786-1789.” These qualities indicate a great sense of urgency from Guglielmetti, as well as a degree of importance that warranted a copy being made. He wrote with such haste that he failed to include the year in which he was writing, even shortening the month “Septembris” to “7bris.” Thus, the date on the letter is the 16th of September of an unspecified year. It should belong to 1786 or 1787, since the priest died on 10 February 1788. A translation of the letter reads as follows:

The original letter from G. Guglielmetti to Cardinal Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Most Holy Father

Aloysius Cozi and Marianna Agudi, both of the Diocese of Milan, subject to the Austrian empire, both of good morals, honorably both desire to contract a marriage between themselves most passionately, but the second degree of kinship hinders their most fervent desire. So that they can remove that impediment, they have asked from the Emperor the ability of making an appeal to the Apostolic Seat. Cesar truly so granted their request, when he added this condition, he would recognize an Apostolic dispensation, provided that it was freely granted. This most troublesome situation has thrust the unfortunate spouses into very painful difficulties, from which they cannot escape unless most holy Father’s your kindness and favor bring help. And thus, having groveled at your feet, they beg and beseech, so that you consider their need with a free dispensation, and you oppose the peril of their hearts. Although indeed now they may be honest, modest, religious, and disciplined, nevertheless we are taught courteously the weakness of the mind by long-lasting experience by the incessant blows of a striving enemy to be limited and to be disturbed and to yield easily. Now for a long time indeed they struggle with this most bitter anxiety, and longed-for marriage with such a tedious delay interposed, perhaps they might have surrendered to sorrow, and to grief, had not this extremely pleasant hope sustained their minds, so that the wisdom and kindness of Pius the Sixth most loving Father of all will bring healing to such troubles. They were reflecting indeed in their own mind, the Sixth Pope Pius, whose beloved Germany, and other very distant provinces traversing so many nations, and so many Peoples different in pursuits and morals, indeed all admired him with unanimous agreement. They also were not ignorant that so great a Pope did not lack wisdom, with which he would decide a favorable rescript in this singular case, and thus cautiously and sensibly he would provide, so that it cannot be prolonged and transferred as an example to other cases. But they were thinking…… But at length what of good and of praise about the Pope were they not thinking, not so much because of his excellence as his virtues! So many and so noble, magnificent, and extraordinary things they were imagining, that with their sighs, tears, grievances, and prayers had led me to take part in their most determined hope, that the Apostolic rescript would be propitious, and with that same courage they urge the Pope of the whole world, and the entire church I would dare to devote attention to the worries given in the letter, from whom, while I will come bent down, I beseech on my bent knees, kissing your feet I implore Father’s blessing.

Writing on the 16th day of September in Milan

Most humble and obedient son

Priest Gerolamo Guglielmetti

Milan Metropolitan Church

The archival copy of the letter from G. Guglielmetti to Cardinal Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Guglielmetti begins the letter with a direct explanation of the situation. “Aloysius Cozi” (Baron Luigi Cozzi, 1756-1826) and “Marianna Agudi” (the noble Marianna Agudio Andreetti, 1767-1824) “most passionately” desire to marry. But the “second degree of kinship,” connects them, preventing the pair from marrying without a dispensation from the Pope, i.e., Pius VI, who reigned from 1775 to 1799.

For permission to ask the Pope, we are told that the couple first had to contact the Holy Roman Emperor—Joseph II, who reigned 1765-1790. While the Emperor provisionally had granted their request, he required that the Pope’s dispensation be provided without payment. We can only assume that the clear urgency in the letter was associated with the couple’s “very painful difficulties,” which go unspecified.

What does Guglielmetti mean by the “second degree of kinship”? Canon law currently considers siblings to be the second degree and first cousins to be the fourth degree. But at the time of this letter, canon law had been using the Germanic method of determining kinship (in which first cousins are the second degree) since the early Middle Ages, continuing through the 1917 codification of canon law, until the 1983 codification of canon law changed the classification system.

The exact familial relationship between Luigi Cozzi and Marianna Agudio Andreetti is unclear due to present uncertainties, despite their nobility, about their family trees. From our available evidence, the pair were almost certainly not siblings. Guglielmetti’s expertise in canon law supports that his words “second degree of kinship” meant that the pair were first cousins.

Here is what little is known. First and most importantly, Marianna’s funerary inscription confirms that she and Luigi Cozzi married, and that she spent the last 25 years of their marriage (i.e., 1799-1824) painfully ill. So they must have been successful in gaining their dispensation.

Text of the inscription on Marianna Agudio Andreetti’s funerary monument. From G. Casati (ed.), Collezione delle iscrizioni lapidarie poste nei cimiteri di Milano dalla loro origine all’anno 1845 col nome dei signori architetti che delinearono i principali monumenti (Milano 1852)

Before their relationship, Luigi was married to one Camilla Bressi, with whom he had his son Giovanni Battista Cozzi (1780-1842), who inherited his title of Baron. This first wife must have died between 1780 and 1787. Luigi Cozzi having been a widower provides a motive for the second marriage, since he had a son aged 6 or 7. No children are known from Luigi’s union with his second wife Marianna.

One substantial fact is known about Luigi Cozzi’s life that shows how he displayed his high social station. From 1813 to 1822, Cozzi owned a box (Proscenio, 3, ordine destro) at Teatro alla Scala in Milan: a private, personalized space from which his family watched operas. This space was later owned by his first son, as well.

Luigi Cozzi’s box at Teatro alla Scala in Milan, with annotation by the author. Credit: Google Maps

On her funerary monument, Marianna’s surname is listed as “Agudio Andreotti.” Our sources show both “Andreetti” and “Andreotti” as spellings of the surname, so she must be somehow connected to the prominent Milanese noble named Agostino Agudio Andreetti, who died of suicide in 1796. The wife of this man is presently unknown, but they had at least two children: Giovanni Battista (1764-1832, said to be “celibate” on his tombstone) and Teresa (who outlived her brother).

How does Marianna Agudio Andreetti fit into their family tree? The easiest solution is that she belongs to Agostino’s family, as an unattested daughter or niece, and (somehow) a first cousin to Luigi Cozzi. But it is not impossible that Marianna may have been a Cozzi by birth, briefly married to an unattested son of Agostino Agudio Andreetti—or to Giovanni Battista Agudio Andreetti himself. (Though his inscription states that he was never married, there is the possibility that he simply wanted a short-lived marriage to Marianna to be forgotten). Whatever the case, we can take the priest’s word that Marianna and Luigi were related, i.e., as siblings or cousins.

Two hypothetical family trees for the Cozzi and Agudio Andreetti families of later 18th century Milan

The specific date of the marriage is unknown. But it likely took place before Cardinal Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi resigned as Vatican Secretary of State on 30 September 1789, since he was the recipient of the letter tasked with obtaining approval from the Pope, and the petitioner is emphatic that there was a need for speed.

We may, however, have a possible location for the wedding: the Oratorio di S. Francesco d’Assisi, a small parish church in Palazzo Uboldi (or Villa Venini-Uboldi), which was once property of Luigi’s father (Ufficiatura Sacerdote Pietro Cozzi).

Palazzo Uboldi and the interior of the Oratorio di S. Francesco d’Assisi. Credit: Wikidata and “Il Sito di Andrea Fracassi

In sum, this letter offers an example of how the Church worked in Austrian-occupied Milan, particularly in regard to canon law. To marry a family member within the prohibited degrees of consanguinity, the couple ultimately might require permission from the Emperor for their priest to contact the Vatican Secretary of State for a (hopefully) free dispensation from the Pope.

Was such a dispensation difficult to acquire? In this case, Guglielmetti states that the process has been “tedious,” with only the hope for a dispensation sustaining the minds of the couple. He appears to compare delays of their marriage to “the incessant blows of a striving enemy.” While we are not given more specific details, the process must have been long and uncertain. Accordingly, the first half of the letter attempts to garner sympathy for the couple. The second half of the letter sings praises of Pope Pius VI, and concludes with the assurance that Guglielmetti begs on his knees and kisses the Pope’s feet. Overall, the letter encapsulates a desperate effort to appeal to the emotions of those with the power to provide a dispensation, indicating the difficulty of gaining approval for a marriage within the prohibited degrees of consanguinity.

Cardinal Ignatius Boncompagni Ludovisi, from the frontispiece of N. Martelli (ed.), Hortus Romanus VI (Rome 1780). Credit: New York Public Library

Emilie Puja is a sophomore in the Honors College at Rutgers University. She intends to major in both Information Technology and Informatics and Classical Humanities. Emilie is a summer 2022 intern, and will be an Aresty Research Assistant for the Archivio Digitale Boncompagni Ludovisi during the 2022-2023 school year. She would like to express her gratitude to Dr. T Corey Brennan for his guidance and encouragement throughout her research, as well as HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi for providing access to her private archive, particularly the unpublished and uncatalogued Lettere di Sovrani.


  1. Achille Lodovisi says:

    Vi ringrazio per questa segnalazione molto interessante per me che ho seguito le vicende el Cardinale durante i suoi soggiorni vignolesi nel palazzo Contrari-Boncompagni, progettato dal Vignola. Ancora complimenti Cordialmente Achille Lodovisi


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