Italian family descended, according to family tradition, from the consuls and dukes of Gaeta (ninth century to 1032). Genealogical documents for branches in Naples, Pisa, and Anagni date from the 12th century. Benedetto Gaetani, who became pope as boniface viii in 1294, made the family a guelf power between the states of the church and the Kingdom of Naples, and used it combined with the orsini north of Rome to contain the Ghibelline colonna. The Naples branch, associated with the Angevins, disappeared in the 15th century, and the Pisa branch, which had four cardinals (including Aldobrandino, d. 1223, favored by Honorius III) and many prelates in the 12th and 13th centuries, lost importance after the time of the banker James (d. 1342), an intimate of Boniface VIII.
The Anagni branch at its peak (1350–1500) held 200 castles. Cardinal Francis (d. 1317) and james gaetani stefaneschi (d. 1343) defended the memory of Boniface VIII. As a papal legate, Annibale de Ceccano (d.1350), a luxury-loving prelate with many benefices, sought to make peace between the kings of England and France in 1342. Onorato I was host to the dissident cardinals at Fondi, who in 1378 elected the antipope clement vii and began the Western Schism. James II (d. c. 1423) divided the Anagni branch (c. 1420) into the Gaetani d'Aragona, friendly to Spain, and the Gaetani di Sermoneta (near Rome), which alexander vi tried to exterminate in 1499. Antonio I (d. 1412), brother of Onorato I and of James II, became a cardinal in 1402. Onorato IV commanded papal troops in the Battle of Lepanto (1571). As papal envoy to France during the wars of religion, Cardinal Enrico (d. 1599), Patriarch of Jerusalem, was accompanied by St. Robert bellarmine and his brother, Camillo Gaetani (d. 1602), Patriarch of Alexandria and later papal envoy to Emperor Rudolph II in Prague (1591) and to philip ii of Spain in Madrid (1592–99). Enrico's nephew, Cardinal Antonio II (d. 1624), was also an active papal diplomat. Michelangelo (d. 1882) was a moderate liberal politician and a dante scholar. Honorato (d.1917) was a politician and geographer, whereas Leone (d.1935) was a historian of Islam. Gelasio Caetani (d. 1934), ambassador to Washington from 1922 to 1925, rebuilt the castle of Sermoneta and published many volumes of documents from the family archives, now in the vatican, as well as a family history.
Bibliography: l. janin et al., Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques, ed. a. baudrillart et al. (Paris 1912) 11:139–154. o. engels, Lexicon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 1957–65) 4:484. g. b. a. caetani, Caietanorum genealogia (Perugia 1920); Regesta chartarum, 5 v. (Perugia 1922–30); Domus Caietana, 2 v. (Perugia 1927–33). l. ermini, Onorato I Caetani conte di Fondi, e lo scisma d'Occidente (Rome 1938). c. manfroni, La legazione del cardinale Caetani in Francia (Turin 1893). e. caetani, Alcuni ricordi di Michelangelo Caetani duca di Sermoneta (Milan 1904). v. novelli, I Colonna e i Caetani, storia del medio-evo di Roma, 2 v. (Rome 1892–93).
[e. p. colbert]