Cardinal and statesman; b. Firenzuola d'Arda, Piacenza, Italy, May 31(?) 1664; d. Piacenza, June 27, 1752. Although of humble origins, Alberoni was educated by Barnabites and Jesuits and enjoyed the protection of Bishop Barni, who sponsored his ecclesiastical career. Alberoni, ordained and appointed a canon (1698), began his diplomatic apprenticeship as a secretary to the Duke of Vendôme, supreme commander of the French army in Italy, whom he followed to France (1706), Holland, and Spain (1711). After the general's death (1712), Alberoni remained in Madrid as an agent of the duchy of Parma. In 1714 he successfully negotiated the marriage of Philip V, a widower, to Elizabeth Farnese of Parma.
As prime minister (1716) and cardinal (July 12, 1717), Alberoni implemented domestic reforms in agriculture, trade, manufacturing, and welfare that were decidedly in advance of his times. In foreign policy, fully cognizant of the ambitions of Philip V, he boldly sought to restore Spanish prestige in Italy and to vindicate his sovereign's rights to the French throne. To this end, he reorganized the army and navy and engaged in intrigues against the empire and its allies. Compelled to declare war prematurely by the irresponsible actions of Parma and the urging of Philip, Alberoni ordered the invasion of Sardinia (1717) and Sicily (1718), in spite of formal assurances to the contrary given to Clement XI. Diplomatic and military disasters followed. Alberoni failed to secure the support of Russia and Sweden in restoring James Stuart, "the Old Pretender," and in overthrowing Philip, Duke of Orléans. The Quadruple Alliance (Empire, France, England, and Holland) reconquered the islands of Sardinia and Sicily and invaded Navarre. Alberoni, held responsible by the king, the pope, and the Quadruple Alliance for this ill-starred venture, was expelled from Spain (Dec. 5, 1719). Hiding in Italy, he evaded arrest and assassination, while a commission of 15 cardinals investigated charges of treason brought against him.
Alberoni attended the conclave that elected Innocent XIII (1721); he was given a relatively mild sentence of four years' imprisonment but was completely exonerated by the pope (Sept. 18, 1723). When created bishop of Malaga and reconciled with Philip V (1725), the aging cardinal hoped to spend his remaining years in peaceful retirement in his estate of Castelromano. Instead, he was appointed by Clement XII to the legation of Ravenna (1735), where he promoted public works. In 1739 he occupied San Marino, a controversial move that was later disavowed by the pope for political reasons. His last post was the legation of Bologna (1740–43). He spent the last years of his life in Piacenza in charitable and scholarly pursuits. Alberoni is buried in the church of the college San Lazzaro-Alberoni, which he founded in 1732 for the education of clerics.
Bibliography: s. bersani, Storia del Cardinale G. Alberoni (Piacenza 1861). a. arata, Il processo del Cardinale Alberoni (Piacenza 1923). p. castagnoli, Il Cardinale G. Alberoni, 3 v. (Piacenza 1929–32). s. harcourt-smith, Cardinal of Spain: The Life and Strange Career of Alberoni (New York 1944). g. f. rossi, Cento studi sul cardinale Alberoni, 4 v. (Piacenza 1978). e. bourgeois, Le Secret des Farnèse: Philippe V et la politique d'Alberoni (Paris 1909). p. richard, Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques, ed. a. baudrillart et al. (Paris 1912) 1:1425–28.
[e. j. thomson]