Powerful family of Rome from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century. The history of the family from 1100 to 1562 was that of the Colonna-led Ghibelline struggle against the papacy, the Orsini, and other Guelf families. This article provides some general observations to establish a historical setting, a comparison of the Colonna and Orsini families, a description of the Ghibelline-Guelf conflict, and a history of the family after 1562.
Historical context. When the Colonna began opposing the papacy in the twelfth century, feudalism was a major institution, with emphasis on land and family loyalty. The nobles had their own armies, made war and peace, and held court to decide the innocence or guilt of their people. Ambitious, energetic nobles sought wealth and power by acquiring more land. Another method of achieving wealth was by obtaining higher offices in the Church, and it became common practice to have younger sons become churchmen. Such appointees reflected the influences of the time. Some were inspiring religious leaders; others were interested in the new learning of the Renaissance. Cardinals were not always ordained; they served as administrators in the states of the church, performing services that laymen supply today.
Powerful nobles could, and sometimes did, challenge a ruler. There was, however, an important difference in rome, resulting from the dual role of the papacy during the medieval period in both spiritual and temporal affairs and the difficulty of separating the two roles. The Colonna and other Ghibelline families did not oppose the pope as a religious ruler; they objected to his temporal power, or his being a sovereign in civil affairs. There had been an attempt to revive the civil competence of the Roman Senate, but in 1188 ecclesiastical jurisdiction was established over the Senate. However, in the thirteenth century more nobles became senators, and the Senate was no longer ecclesiastically dominated. Yet the Ghibellines could still arouse the people to revolt with the cry, "The People and Colonna." (see guelfs and ghibellines.)
Colonna-Orsini. More than 100 years ago G. moroni pointed out (14:278; 49:146) that the Colonna family always had its own interests as well as the emperor's at heart; the orsini, in turn, thought of their family as well as of the papacy. Both families had property in Rome and in the countryside. Their first houses in Rome were like fortresses, guarded by their men. Both first possessed a few villages, then in the thirteenth century a dozen or more with one village becoming the chief family seat, for example, Palestrina for the Colonna. Both families produced about the same number of cardinals over the years, but the Orsini possessed the greater number before 1562. In the sixteenth century both acquired the special honor of having the head of the family at papal functions with the title "prince in attendance at the papal throne."
The Colonna struggle for power was not one of slow even gains or of long periods of success. After a victory came defeat. Houses in Rome were destroyed or seized, and villages were captured. Absence from Rome was often necessary, but the Colonna returned, rebuilt, and again became influential.
Ghibelline-Guelf conflict. From 1100 until the modern era that began in 1562, the Ghibelline-Guelf conflict passed through six periods.
From 1100 to 1200. The ancestors of the Colonna were the tusculani. Pietro de Colonna (1064–1118?) was the first member to use this name. Writers differ about the origin of the name. It may have derived from his possible home in the district of Rome near Trajan's Column or in the village of Colonna, 16 miles from Rome. Early in the twelfth century he tried to capture Cave, which belonged to the papacy. In defeat he lost two villages. About 1167 the Colonna, assisted by troops belonging to frederick i barbarossa, defeated the Romans near Monte Porzio. After 1168 the Orsini and savelli destroyed the Colonna and Conti houses in Rome. In 1191 the Romans destroyed Tuscolo. The first cardinal in the family, the Benedictine Giovanni, created 1192 or 1193 (d. c. 1214), served as legate in several countries.
From 1200 to 1288. The Colonna family was stronger in the thirteenth than in the twelfth century, having three branches: Palestrina, Gallicano, and Gelazzano. In Rome it had fortified the mausoleum of Augustus and dominated the district near the church of the Holy Apostles. Giovanni, created cardinal in 1212 (d. 1244), was legate to the Holy Land during the Fifth crusade. He brought back a part of the column at which Christ was scourged and placed it in his titular church, St. Praxedes, where it may still be seen. Changing sides, he became a supporter of Emperor frederick ii against the pope. While the Holy See was vacant (1241–43), Senator Matteo Russo Orsini defeated the Colonna and captured their stronghold, the mausoleum. For more than 30 years the Colonna seemed unimportant. Then they won recognition from Pope nicholas iii, an Orsini, who created Giacomo cardinal in 1278 (d. 1318) as a kind of peace offering between the two families.
From 1288 to 1298. It might be said that Pope nicholas iv (1288–92), who had been bishop of Palestrina, adopted the Colonna, so much did he favor them. He made Pietro a cardinal in 1288 (d. 1326). For the first time the family had two members in the college of cardinals. During a rebellion in 1290 the people called Sciarra Colonna (d. 1329) their Caesar. Alarmed at such power, Pope boniface viii, a Guelf of the gaetani family, decided to restrict it. In the altercation that followed, family feeling bound Cardinal Giacomo to his nephews Sciarra, Stefano (d. after 1347), and Cardinal Pietro, rather than to the pope. When Stefano's men seized the papal treasury as it was being brought from Anagni to Rome, Boniface insisted on its restoration and the cession of the towns of Palestrina, Colonna, and Zagarolo. The cardinals agreed about the treasury but refused to give up the property. Excommunications and war followed. With Orsini support, Palestrina was captured. The Colonna fled. Eventually they reached France. There the new pope, clement v, reinstated the Colonna cardinals, and they remained in avignon until their deaths.
Cardinal Giacomo's sister, Bl. Margaret Colonna, belonged to the poor clares and was venerated for centuries after her death in 1290. She is representative of the religious members of her family—the monks, abbots, and bishops, who are less well known than the cardinals and the aggressive members.
From 1303 to 1417. In 1303 Sciarra returned to Rome with King philip iv of France's representative, Nogaret. Their violent treatment of Boniface VIII probably hastened his death. Stefano supported Emperor henry vii when he went to Rome in 1312, but he then changed to the side of the papacy and opposed Emperor Louis IV the Bavarian's coronation in Rome. Sciarra, however, supported Louis and was at his coronation in St. Peter's in 1328; Sciarra then left Rome and died in exile. Pope john xxii rewarded Stefano by making his son Giovanni cardinal in 1327 (d. 1348), the only Colonna churchman created cardinal during the avignon papacy (1305–78). Cardinal Giovanni proved to be an able judge in civil cases; he was a learned man and a friend of petrarch. The Colonnas fought bravely against cola di rienzo, several members of the family being killed. After Rienzo's death, they helped to restore order in Rome. An example of Colonna generosity was shown at the time of the Black Death, when the Romans toiled up the Capitoline Hill to St. Mary in Aracoeli to pray for the end of the plague. Cardinal Giovanni Colonna arranged for the building of the first steps up the Capitoline Hill (1348), the only public construction in Rome between 1305 and 1378.
Among the learned Colonna was giles of rome (d.1316), an augustinian who studied under Thomas Aquinas and became the general of the order in 1292. Some writers state that Boniface VIII created him a cardinal in 1302, but there was no public announcement.
Three Colonna cardinals were created during the western schism: Agapito (d. 1380), who had served as nuncio to Emperor Charles IV and peace envoy to Castile and Portugal, was created cardinal in 1378 along with his brother Stefano (d. 1379), and Oddo, later Pope martin v, became cardinal in 1405.
From 1417 to 1500. Pope Martin V (1417–31) increased the power and wealth of his family by giving it property, especially Paliano, which became the seat of an important branch. Queen Joanna II of Naples bestowed fiefs on Martin's two brothers. In 1426 Martin created his nephew Prospero cardinal (d. 1463), but he withheld the announcement until 1430. When Martin V died, Cardinal Prospero and his brothers tried to keep a part of the treasury, but the new pope, eugene iv, made them give it up. The Colonna rebelled in 1434, forcing the pope to leave Rome. In a second rebellion in 1437, however, the Orsini and others defeated the Colonna and destroyed Palestrina. Cardinal Prospero was excommunicated and exiled, though Pope nicholas v later absolved and reinstated him. Prospero's Ghibelline politics were only one of his interests; another was his appreciation of learning. During the last three years of the reign of Pope sixtus iv (1471–84), there was another Colonna-papacy conflict. The Orsini supported Girolamo riario, the pope's nephew, and the Colonna opposed him. The Colonna suffered reverses and defeat: the imprisonment of Giovanni, who had been created cardinal in 1480 (d. 1508); the imprisonment of Lorenzo, during which he died or was killed; the confiscation of the Colonna palace, the loss of villages, and banishment. After the death of Pope Sixtus, the Roman people rose against Riario and welcomed the return of the Colonna. The position of the family was shown when King Charles VIII of France went to Rome on his way to Naples in 1495. Prospero (d. 1523) and Fabrizio (d. 1520) Colonna, great generals, rode in the cavalcade that received the king. Cardinal Giovanni was one of five cardinals who were admitted to his audiences.
From 1500 to 1562. In 1501 Cesare borgia defeated the Colonna; confiscations and exile followed. Pope julius ii (1503–13) sought to conciliate the Colonna by restoring their palace and other possessions, marrying his niece to a Colonna, and bestowing on the head of the family the honor of being the "prince in attendance at the papal throne." Such acts did not satisfy Pompeo Colonna (d. 1532), who had been forced to become a churchman by his family. When Julius was seriously ill in 1511, Pompeo gathered his supporters on the Capitoline to plot against the temporal power of the papacy. The pope's recovery, however, prevented any action. Pope leo x created Pompeo a cardinal in 1517. The cardinal and Ascanio Colonna (d. 1559) displayed their position and wealth by a lavish entertainment given when Pope clement vii spent the night in their palace after making his official visit to St. John Lateran in 1523. Clement appointed Pompeo vice-chancellor, but the cardinal continued to favor the empire; for example, he gave a banquet to celebrate the imperial victory over France at Pavia in 1525. To punish the pope for making a treaty against Emperor Charles V, the cardinal, together with Vespasiano and Ascanio Colonna, sacked the Vatican in 1526. The cardinal was not with the invaders in the siege of Rome in 1527. When he saw the resulting sad state of Rome, he showed compassion for the pope and other people, many of whom he took into his chancellery palace. In 1530 he became viceroy of Naples.
Marco Antonio II (d. 1584), Ascanio's son, fought the family's last battles against the papacy. Pope paul iv (1555–59) resented the control of Naples by Spain and the independence of Roman nobles. His restrictions on the nobles and their reaction led him to demand surrender of the Orsini and Colonna castles. The Orsini complied; the Colonna did not and fled to Naples. Their estates were declared forfeited and given to the pope's eldest nephew in May of 1556. In September the Duke of Alba, the Spanish general, and Marco Antonio began to march toward Rome. Their victories and nearness to Rome by July of 1557 led to a negotiated peace. Spain insisted that all Colonna possessions be restored. All were returned, except Paliano, which was not ceded until 1562. The year 1562 marked the end of the long Colonna-papacy struggle, which dated from 1100. The decline of feudalism, the weakening of the imperial idea with the rise of the national states, and the preoccupation of the new states in other affairs—hence the lack of support for the Ghibellines in Italy—all made the old struggle meaningless.
Modern era. In 1562 a new period began for the Colonna. Less than 13 years after Marco Antonio's march against the papacy, Pope pius v asked him (1570) to command the papal fleet in the war against the Turks. He immediately set to work to prepare the galleys. When the pope made an alliance with Venice and Spain, Don Juan became the general of the expedition and Marco Antonio lieutenant. The latter's part in the Battle of lepanto (1571) made him a hero, and, against his wishes, he was awarded a triumphal march in Rome.
The large number of Colonna cardinals after 1562 indicates the high favor the family enjoyed with the papacy after that time: during 462 years of enmity (1100–1562) there had been 11 Colonna cardinals; in only 241 years of good relations (1562–1803, the death of the last cardinal) there were 12 Colonna cardinals, and there were often two of them sitting at the same time in the college of cardinals. The sixteenth-and seventeenth-century Colonna cardinals were: (1) Marco Antonio IV, cardinal 1565 (d. 1597), the nephew of Marco Antonio of Lepanto fame, an excellent administrator as archbishop of Taranto and Salerno, who attended the Council of trent, was appointed head of the Commission on the Vulgate, and became librarian at the Vatican; (2) Ascanio, cardinal 1586(d. 1608), son of Marco Antonio of Lepanto, who won esteem because of his character and knowledge and served as viceroy of Catalonia; (3) Girolamo, cardinal 1628 (d. 1666), an excellent administrator of the Diocese of Bologna, who represented the king of Spain in Rome and spent his last years in Spain; and (4) Federico Baldeschi, cardinal 1673 (d. 1691), who was adopted by the Colonna family in order to have a cardinal. During the eighteenth century, Colonna cardinals were: (5) Carlo, cardinal 1706 (d. 1739); (6) Prospero, cardinal 1739 (d. 1743); (7) Girolamo, cardinal 1743 (d. 1763); and (8) Prospero, cardinal 1743 (d. 1765); (9) Marco Antonio, cardinal 1759 (d. 1803), the nephew of Cardinal Girolamo, who fulfilled his duties so well that he was a model for both lay and ecclesiastical princes; (10) Antonio Branciforte, cardinal 1766 (d. 1783), son of a Sicilian noble, nuncio to France and Venice; (11) Pietro Pamphili, cardinal 1766 (d. 1780), grandson of Olimpia Pamphili, brother of Cardinal Marco Antonio, nuncio to France; (12) Niccolò Colonna di Stigliano, cardinal 1785(d. 1796), of Neapolitan nobility, nuncio to Spain.
After 1562 two popes, Sixtus V and Gregory XVI, confirmed the honor—shared only by the Orsini and Colonna—of being officially in attendance at papal functions. Protests came from the Savelli, the Conti, and in 1623 from the conservators, but to no avail. The honor or right was still exercised in the twentieth century.
In the seventeenth century the Colonna sold several of their properties, including Palestrina, to other Roman families. The present palace in Rome near the church of the Holy Apostles dates back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and a portion stands on the site of the palace built by Martin V in the early fifteenth century and of houses from a still earlier period. There is reason to believe that the family has lived in this district for seven centuries, and perhaps longer.
See Also: colonna, vittoria.
Bibliography: p. litta et al., Famiglie celebri italiane, 14 v. (Milan 1819–1923) v. 4. g. moroni, Dizionario de erudizione storico-ecclesiastica, 103 v. (Venice 1840–61) 4:61–62; 14:277–310; 55:233–243, for "Principe assistente al soglio pontificio." l. pastor, The History of the Popes from the Close of the Middle Ages, 40 v. (London-St. Louis 1938–61) 1:282–328; 4:379–384; 5:229–231, 247–248, 451–455; 6:103–104; 9:275–341, 367–461; 14:90–174; 18:369–434. p. colonna, I Colonna (Rome 1927). l. cÀllari, I palazzi di Roma (3d ed. Rome 1944). p. paschini, I Colonna (Rome 1955). g. mollat et al., Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques (Paris 1912—) 13:328–340. h. k. weinert and f. bock, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, 10 v. (Freiburg 1957–65) 3:8–12.
[m. l. shay]