The County of Santa Fiora and its origins in the Aldobrandeschi Family

The ancient house of the Counts Aldobrandeschi, sovereigns of Santa Fiora and Sovana in the Sienese State, was originally very powerful and noble. Although it is extremely difficult to trace the precise and true origin of this family, most historians unquestionably concur that it was already  significant a few centuries prior to the year 1000, probably arriving to Italy and establishing itself in the Sienese State at the time of Charlemagne.  Numerous celebrities can be attributed to the Aldobrandeschi house, among them Pope Gregorio VII (1073-1085) and Omberto Aldobrandeschi, Count of Santa Fiora, who is cited in Dante’s Divina Commedia (Chant XI of the Purgatory, verses 57-72).  

The lineage of the Sforza of Santa Fiora, begins  with Bosio I (1411-1476), the first legitimate son of Muzio Attendolo and Antonia Salimbeni, who married  Cecilia Aldobrandeschi,  the legitimate heir of the title and county.  Although he was not formally entitled, Bosio was customarily  referred to as the Count of Santa Fiora.  

In 1430 Pope Martino V Colonna, who was well disposed and very favourable to the Sforza family, named Bosio I Governor of Orvieto and gave him the command of a garrison of 200 infantrymen. He received many other military appointments also from his brother Francesco and participated to the siege of Milan in 1450 which resulted in attributing  the reign of the Duchy to Francesco I Sforza.

Bosio’s long service, initially to  Duke Francesco and then to his heir Duke Galeazzo, earned him and his descendants the right to the Milanese citizenship and nobility (ducal diploma of 1471). Moreover, Bosio obtained various dominions in Lombardy, among which Castell’Arquato in the borough of Piacenza and Varzi, Menconico, Vicoli and Chiavenna in the borough of Milan.

In 1439 he married Cecilia, daughter of Guido Aldobrandeschi last Count of Santa Fiora; hence the acquisition by the Sforza House of the lands of Santa Fiora and all its castles. In his testament, Bosio bequeathed  unlimited possession of the county of Santa Fiora to his eldest son, Guido, and to Francesco all the other estates and assets. The lineage of the Sforza of Santa Fiora continued with Guido Sforza (d.1508), son of Bosio, who must be considered the first legitimate successor of the title of Count of Santa Fiora, although the title was commonly assigned also to his father Bosio I.

Guido’s political focus was to achieve stability within his State by consolidating the relations with the confining States and by strengthening the positive relationship his father Bosio had established with the Pontifical Curia. In fact, in his commentaries, Pio II recalls and describes the episode regarding Pope Piccolomini’s visit in 1464 to Santa Fiora to meet with the young Guido, who had effectively become Count of Santa Fiora upon his mother’s death. Subsequently, excluding the period of Alessandro VI Borgia who was a declared enemy of the Sforza House, relations between the two States continued to be constructive. Guido married Francesca Farnese from whom he had only one male child, Federico (d. before 1528) named after and in honour of the Duke of Urbino who held him in his arms  during his baptism.  Federico had a number of children, among them  Ascanio (d. 1553), Prior of Hungary, and Bosio II (d. 1535) who acquired the entire county of Santa Fiora in 1517 when his brothers, Alfonso and Ascanio, bestowed to him their individual portions of the estate. Approximately that same year, Bosio II married Costanza Farnese, daughter of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, later Pope Paolo III,  who in 1538 renewed the investiture of Castell’Arquato, Vigolo and Chiavenna to him.  Moreover, in recognition of Bosio’s defense of the city of Parma from the Duke of Borbone, he received the citizenship of Parma. The episode describing  Bosio’s testament, which took place in Palazzo Colonna in Piazza dei  Santi Apostoli in Rome, testifies that the Sforza family had only recently a domicile in Rome and did not yet possess a palace of their own in the city. The present Palazzo Sforza Cesarini, previously used as the Apostolic Chancellery and occupied, among others, by Cardinal Ascanio until 1505, was in fact acquired definitely by the Sforza family of Santa Fiora through the donation that Pope Paolo III Farnese made in 1535 to Cardinal Guido Ascanio.

In 1537 Costanza Farnese acquired a palace in Via Giulia which was probably leased when it was inherited by Cardinal Guido Ascanio Sforza. This palace remained under property of the family until 1577 when it was bought by Giulio Ricci. Costanza and Bosio had ten children, six males and four females.  The most notable of them were Cardinal Guido Ascanio,  Sforza Count of Santa Fiora, Paolo I Marquis of Proceno, Cardinal Alessandro and Mario Count of Santa Fiora through whom the lineage to our days continued. The close family relation with Pope Paolo III Farnese, facilitated the rapid career of Guido Ascanio Sforza (1518-1564) who already at the young age of sixteen donned the scarlet. In 1534 he was named Deacon Cardinal of Saints Vito and Modesto in Macello Martyrum together with his cousin Alessandro Farnese. Subsequently, he also received the  title for Saint Maria in Cosmedin, Saint Eustachio and Saint Maria in Via Lata. Moreover, he was named administrator of the bishopric  of  Parma and, in 1541, Patriarch of Alexandria. From 1537 he was also Camerlango of the Church, period during which numerous celebrated editions of the printer Antonio Blado were seen. Again, Pope Paolo III named him governor for life of the city of Proceno. The close consanguinity with the Farnese family enabled the Cardinal to add the lilies to the coat of arms of the Sforza family. The favorable attitude of the Pontiffs towards the Sforza family continued with Pope Giulio III but changed with his successor Pope Paolo IV; the hostility of the latter towards Cardinal Guido Ascanio and his family resulted from the openly adverse position that Cardinal Sforza manifested towards him during the conclave but also from the Sforza’s inclination to the Spanish party which contrasted with the Pope’s committed favor to  the King of France.

In recovering the galleys of his brother Carlo, which had been removed from the King of France’s service but commandeered by him, Cardinal Sforza committed some abuses which enabled his arrest and in August 1555 he was imprisoned in Castel Sant’Angelo for twenty-two days. Following the mediations of the Count of Santa Fiora before the Duke of Alba,   he was released when the galleys were returned and remitted from the port of Naples to that of Civitavecchia under pontifical control. In order to preserve the patrimony of the family intact, as much as possible, Cardinal Guido Ascanio was the first Sforza who wisely and prudently prepared, in 1555, a document that established the reciprocal replacement between  the descending lines of all the siblings through a trust. Guido Ascanio, Cardinal Archpriest of the Roman Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, was buried in the family Chapel, commanded by him to Michelangelo, where his brother Cardinal Alessandro Sforza was also buried.

The figure of Sforza Sforza (1520-1575), Count of Santa Fiora, recovers not only the name of his ancestor but also the profile of condottiero and founder of the family. Already at the age of ten he was called by the Duke of Milan Francesco II and at sixteen began to acquire his  first rudimentary  military skills under Carlo V participating to the succession war of the Duchy of Milan. He was also engaged by Pope Poalo III who named him Governor of the Arms in Parma and Piacenza in 1540. Again, under Paolo III he participated to the war against the heretic rebels in Germany.

In 1548, the Pope personally decorated and appointed him General Captain of the Cavalry for the Roman Church and later  Filippo King of Naples conferred him with the gold decoration of the Order of Toson. However, his expedition to France to assist Carlo IX was his most glorious undertaking. The King was at  war against the Huguenots and requested aid to Pio V who supported him not only with considerable amounts of money but also with the consignment of troops under the general command of Count Sforza. The war was resolved defending Poitiers and in the battle of Moncontour with the victory of the Catholic army. The major merit for the success of this operation is attributed to Count Sforza and is proven, in addition to the numerous acknowledgements he received, by the twenty-seven flags he earned and received from the King of France and which were hung in the Lateranense Basilica until 1808 in memory of the victory. Another memory of this endeavor is found in the Chiesa Santa Maria Maggiore:  in the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament, in one of the bas-reliefs of Pio V’s sepulcher, that illustrate his pontificate, the Pontiff is represented in Consistory as he entrusts the baton of command to Count Sforza for his expedition to France. Moreover, he participated directly in the battle of Lepanto as counselor of John of Austria, general commander of the entire Christian fleet. In 1553 he married, for the second time, Caterina de’ Nobili, niece of Giulio III, and had two children, Francesco, who became cardinal, and Costanza, who married Giacomo Boncompagni Duke of Sora and son of Gregorio XIII.

 Also Mario I Sforza (1530-1591) undertook a military life and was often at the side of his brother Carlo, militating like him in the French party. In 1547 he married Fulvia Conti, only daughter and heir of Giovanni Battista Conti, a very noble Roman baron, Lord of Segni, Valmontone and other feuds, which were subsequently inherited by the Sforza House. In 1555 the county of Santa Fiora was conferred to Mario, although since 1549  he received all the income. Mario left the court of the grand dukes of Tuscany only in 1583, approximately, to move to Rome where he was invested by Gregorio XIII with the office of General Lieutenant of the Holy Roman Church. In 1587 he rented Palazzo Riario, today known as Palazzo  Corsini, and bought the Villa Ruffinella in Frascati.

Although Alesssandro Sforza (1534-1581) began his ecclesiastical career at a very young age, he did not obtain the purple cardinal vestment at once. In 1559, when he  was in charge of the provisions, he took very thoughtful and accurate measures which  mitigated the dreadful consequences of the famine  that struck all of Italy. Hence, Pio IV promoted him to the Bishopric of Parma and sent him to the Council of Trento, where, among other things, he was engaged  in defining its conclusion and settling the contrasts that had arisen within. A few months after the death of his brother Guido Ascanio in 1565, he became Cardinal Priest of Santa Maria in Via. Subsequently Pope Gregorio XIII entrusted him the task of defeating the old brigandage problem within the Pontifical State.

Like his brother Sforza, also Paolo I Sforza (1535-1597) undertook a military life and in the most important  occasions was besides him. Paolo was the first member of the Sforza family to hold the title of Marquis of Proceno, following the entitlement he received in 1555. In Rome he acquired various houses and palaces but more importantly, he is remembered for acquiring and placing several botanical gardens in the area where Palazzo Barberini stands today. The homonymous square originally took the name Sforza in light of its vicinity too the lands and the new palace built by the Marquis.   

Francesco Sforza (1562-1624), son of Sforza Sforza and Caterina de’ Nobili, seemed predisposed above all to a military, rather than ecclesiastical, life. At the age of eighteen he joined Alessandro Farnese, under whom he militated for almost two years. The foreseeable brilliant military career that lay before him was interrupted by Gregorio XII who made him deacon cardinal of San Giorgio in Velabro in 1583. Under Gregorio XIV his was engaged as pontifical legate to annihilate the companies of brigands that tainted Romagna. In 1617 the cardinal considered the possibility of having a book written about the history of the Sforza House but it was not completed until the end of the Seventeenth century by Nicola Ratti who resumed the project behind the request of another Duke Francesco. This volume is a precious testimony of the vicissitudes of the Sforza family from which we still benefit today. Cardinal Francesco was buried in the Church of San Bernardo delle Terme. In 1548, Paolo III confirmed the investiture of the vicariate of the city Segni to Giovanni Battista Conti, father of Fulvia Conti who  married  Duke Mario in 1547, and extended it to her and her children in the event that Giovanni Battista did not have any other heirs. That same year Federico Sforza (1548-1581) was born and he continued the descent of the Counts of Santa Fiora. Federico was adopted by Giovanni Battista Conti hence became a member of the family and was obliged to take the name and coat of arms.

Therefore, after the death of his adoptive  father in 1575, Federico Sforza-Conti became Lord of Segni and the other feuds inherited by him. He married Beatrice Orsini with whom he had, among other children, Alessandro (1572-1631). As sole legitimate representative of his family, Alessandro became one of the richest of the family; he held both the patrimony of the Conti family and of the various Sforza brothers. He was also the first Count of Santa Fiora to use the title of duke in view of the fact that  Sisto V  had created the duchy of Segni. He married Eleonora Orsini of the  Dukes of Bracciano and separated in 1621. On that occasion, Cardinal Francesco Sforza and Paolo, Marquis of Proceno, donated a considerable portion of the possessions and feuds  respectively pertaining to them and relinquished any right they could claim over them. Moreover, through the marriage of King Arrigo IV with Maria de’ Medici, cousin of his wife, Alessandro  could display and enjoyed the family connections with the Royal House of France and  the King’s nomination to Knight of his Orders. He  behaved and treated himself appropriately to his social rank and conspicuous economic position to the extent that no other Roman lord could compete with him, it is said. From Eleonora Orsini, who died in 1634 and is buried in the Chiesa del  Gesù, he had seven children; the most notable were Mario II Duke of Segni, Paolo II Marquis of Proceno, and Cardinal Federico. Mario Sforza II (1594-1658)  Duke of Segni, has been conveyed as an erudite knight, dedicated primarily to vulgar poetry and is mentioned among the Italian poets in Crescimbeni’s “Commentaries of Vulgar Poetry”. He used the title of Count of Santa Fiora for the first years however, after his marriage with Renata of Lorena and the institution of the Duchy of Onano by Pope Paolo V, in his favor, he  used that of Duke of Onano. The title of Count of Santa Fiora was retained by the descendants until the implant of the Sforza family with that of  the Cesarini.

Unfortunately, the sovereignty of the Sforza House over the county of Santa Fiora came to an end with Mario Sforza. In 1663, the county was sold to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Ferdinando II. However, the contract included a clause pursuant to which the buyer was obliged to subdue Mario II and his descendants in exchange of a sum of money equivalent to approximately half of the amount spent by the Grand Duke to acquire the county. This allowed the Sforza family to continue to administer justice and to collect duties and taxes. The principality of Valmontone was instead sold to Don Taddeo Barberini and in 1639 the purchase  of the duchy of Segni by Cardinal Antonio Barberini, through an auction, which was confirmed with a Papal bull of Urbano VIII. However, the purchase  was contested by Duke Ludovico and Marquis Paolo II, respectively the son and brother of Mario Sforza, who claimed the right to acquire  the duchy for two reasons: they had offered more at the auction and the acquisition violated an agreement between Mario and Paolo by which none of the feuds could be alienated from the family. The quarrel between the two families lasted many years and ended in favor of the Sforza House with the re-purchase of the feud by Duchess Livia Cesarini and her husband Duke Federico Sforza. The linage  of Mario ended with his only male child, Luduvico Sforza (1615-1685) Duke of Onano who did not have any succession. Cardinal Federico Sforza (1603-1676) began his ecclesiastical life in 1619 but had to wait until the appointment of Innocenzo X, successor of Urbano VII, to be invested in the consistory  with the title of Cardinal of Saints Vito and Modesto. The descendants of Paolo II Sforza (1602-1669), Marquis of Proceno, guaranteed the continuation of the Sforza House . In fact, with his second wife, Olimpia Cesi, he had, among other children, Francesco, Count of Santa Fiora and Duke of Onano, and Federico, who married   Livia Cesarini.

Francesco Sforza (1643-1707) was born in Palazzo Corsini della Lungara, as it is known today, which at the time was leased by Paolo II, Marquis of Proceno, and was the palace used by the ecclesiastics of the Sforza family according to the will of Cardinal Guido Ascanio. For this reason, also other members of the family were constrained to rent noble palaces in the city; as for example Duke Ludovico who resided in Palazzo Sora. After the death of the latter, Francesco became Count of Santa Fiora and Duke of Onano and  married Dorotea Tocco from whom he had only one daughter. The Sforza Cesarini lineage begins with the marriage of Federico Sforza (1651-1712), third-born of Paolo II Sforza, with Donna Livia Cesarini, heir of the Cesarini, Savelli and Peretti patrimonies. Hence,  the Sforza family inserted itself with all of them, as well as the Cabrera and Bovadilla  families,  taking on the  name  and coat of arms. The relatives of Donna Livia’s sister, Clelia  wife of the Prince of Sonnino, opposed  the marriage for reasons of interest. In Rome, the issue had great resonance and divided the population in two, causing significant disorders. 

As a member of both the Accademia degli Umorists and the Arcadi Accademia,  Federico dedicated himself to the study of literature and poetry. In 1687 he was extraordinary ambassador for the Reign of Naples and Carlo II asked him to present the Chinea to the Pope. Another son of Federico, Giovan Giorgio, is remembered by the chronicles as a protagonist of an  unpleasant episode which describes his  unsuccessfully attempted to abduct Faustina Maratti in 1703  of whom he was in love with. The endeavor ended with Faustina injuring herself and Giovan Giorgio had to escape to Fiandra with a ransom for his life of 6000 scudi pending over his head. In 1718 the Pope conceded to his request to return to Rome but obliged him to stop at the convent of Santa Maria del Popolo where Giovan Giorgio obtainedFaustina’s forgiveness and the remission of the sentences and penalties issued against him.

The lineage continued with Gaetano Duke Sforza Cesarini (1674-1727) who used the title of Duke of Segni until his father lived. In 1703 he married Donna Vittoria Conti, daughter of Duke di Poli and niece of Innocenzo XIII. Their son Sforza Giuseppe (1705-1744) was granted the honor of being decorated by the King of Spain with the order of Tosone and by the King of Naples with that of the gold key. In 1741 he obtained King Filippo V’s consent to transfer the title of Grande of Spain, which the Savelli family already had, to the Sforza family. Duke Sforza Giuseppe founded the Teatro Argentina, a public theater built on one of his properties with a loan of 20,000 scudi he obtained in 1731 from Clemente XII. The theater was designed by the architect Marquis Girolamo Theodoli , completed in a short time and inaugurated on January 12 1732. Moreover, in 1730 Duke Sforza Giuseppe had commanded a sepulchral monument to be placed in the Chiesa di Biagio della Pagnotta, parish of Palazzo Sforza, for the remains of Duke Gaetano and his own. From his marriage with Donna Maria Giustiniani in 1727, he had many children among which Filippo and Gaetano, who continued the Sforza Cesarini lineage, and Sisto (b. 1730) who began the Sforza-Cabrera-Bovadilla lineage. The premature death of Filippo Sforza Cesarini (1727-1764) compelled his brother Gaetano (1728-1776) to abandon the ecclesiastic life he had undertaken. Therefore, in 1768, after having returned to a lay status, he married Marianna Gaetani of the  Dukes of Sermoneta; she was at her second marriage and of the children they had, only Francesco and Anna reached a mature age. Francesco married Gertrude Conti and had three children: Anna, Salvatore (1798-1832) who died without any descendants from his wife Elisabetta Marquise Cusani, and Lorenzo who was born in 1807.

Upon the death of Duke Salvatore Sforza Cesarini, Lorenzo forcefully requested to take possession of all the trusts transmitted by right of primogeniture and eldest age of the Sforza-Cesarini family. The Duke of Bracciano, Don Marino Torlonia, husband of the Duchess Anna Sforza Torlonia, opposed himself to the extent that a long and passionate quarrel was brought forth to  the Sacra Rota Romana; it ended with Lorenzo’s victory: on January 17 1854  the Capitoline Heraldic Congregation  recognized him as  Duke and a noble Roman.  Duke Don Lorenzo Sforza Cesarini (1807-1863) married Caroline Shirley, they were the parents of Don Francesco Sforza Cesarini (1840-1899), Senator of the Reign of Italy, decorated with the silver medal  for military courage, honorary equerry of His Highness Duke d’Aosta, orderly officer of His Majesty Vittorio Emanuele II, and infantry lieutenant-colonel. He married Vittoria Colonna-Doria in 1867 from whom he had Lorenzo (1868-1939); from the marriage between Lorenzo and Maria Torlonia, in 1897, Mario Bosio (1899-1986) was born and married Virginia Lotteringhi della Stuffa. They had three children which represent the existing succession  of the family: the eldest  born,  Duke Bosio Sforza (b. 1939), Livia Sforza-Cesarini (b. 1941) and Ascanio (b.  1963). In 1963 Don Bosio Sforza married Lydia Lo Savio and had Lorenzo (b. 1964) and Francesco (b.1965). Don Ascanio Sforza married Monica Bosca in 1968 and they had Polissena (b. 1969), Drusiana (b. 1971), Vittoria (b. 1972) and Muzio (b. 1973).

The family is listed in the official heraldic records, precisely in the Libro d’Oro della Nobiltà Italiana and the Elenco Ufficiale Nobiliare Italiano, with the title of Dukes of Segni (male first-born), (sole title Duke Sforza Cesarini), noble Roman man (male female), Prince of Genzano (male first-born), Duke of  Civitalavinia (male first-born), Duke of  Ginestra (male first-born), Duke of  Torricella (male first-born), Marquis of  Ardea (male first-born), Marquis of  Civitanova (male first-born), Marquis of Frasso (male first-born), Marquis of Varzi and  Menconico Cella (Voghera) (male first-born), Lord of  Montecosaro (male first-born), Lord of  Stipe (male first-born), Lord of  San Martino del Pizzolano (male), Count of Santa . Fiora.

Text by Fausto Pace


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