FARNESE, the name of one of the most illustrious and powerful Italian families, which besides including eminent prelates, statesmen and warriors among its members, ruled the duchy of Parma for two centuries. The early history of the family is involved in obscurity, but they are first heard of as lords of Farneto or Farnese, a castle near the lake of Bolsena, and they played an important part as consuls and signori of Orvieto. They seem to have always been Guelphs, and in the civil broils of Orvieto they sided with the Monaldeschi faction against the Ghibelline Filippeschi. One Pietro Farnese commanded the papal armies under Paschal II. (1099-1118); another Pietro led the Florentines to victory against the Pisans in 1363. Ranuccio Farnese served Eugene IV. so well that the pope endowed him with large fiefs, and is reported to have said, "The Church is ours because Farnese has given it back to us."
The family derived further advantages at the time of Pope Alexander VI., who was the lover of the beautiful Giulia Farnese, known as Giulia Bella, and created her brother Alessandro a cardinal (1493). The latter was elected pope as Paul III. in 1534, and it is from that moment that the great importance of the family dates. An unblushing nepotist, he alienated immense fiefs belonging to the Holy See in favour of his natural children. Of these the most famous was Pierluigi Farnese (1503-1547), who served in the papal army in various campaigns, but also took part in the sack of Rome in 1527. On his father's elevation to the papacy he was made captain-general of the Church, and received the duchy of Castro in the Maremma, besides Frascati, Nepi, Montalto and other fiefs. A shameless rake and a man of uncontrollable temper, his massacre of the people of Perugia after a rebellion in 1540 and the unspeakable outrage he committed on the bishop of Fano are typical of his character. In 1545 his father conferred on him the duchy of Parma and Piacenza, which likewise belonged to the Holy See, and his rule proved cruel and tyrannical. He deprived the nobles of their privileges, and forced them to dwell in the towns, but to some extent he improved the conditions of the lower classes. Pierluigi being an uncompromising opponent of the emperor Charles V., Don Ferrante Gonzaga, the imperial governor of Milan, was ever on the watch for a pretext to deprive him of Piacenza, which the emperor greatly coveted. When the duke proceeded to build a castle in that town in order to overawe its inhabitants, the nobles were furiously indignant, and a plot to murder him was organized by the marquis Anguissola and others with the support both of Gonzaga and of Andrea Doria (q.v.), Charles's admiral, who wished to be revenged on Pierluigi for the part he had played in the Fiesco conspiracy (see Fiesco). The deed was done while the duke was superintending the building of the above-mentioned citadel, and his corpse was flung into the street (December 10th, 1547). Piacenza was thereupon occupied by the imperialists.
Pierluigi had several children, for all of whom Paul made generous provision. One of them, Alessandro (1520-1589), was created cardinal at the age of fourteen; he was a man of learning and artistic tastes, and lived with great splendour surrounded by scholars and artists, among whom were Annibal Caro, Paolo Giovio, Mons. Della Casa, Bembo, Vasari, etc. It was he who completed the magnificent Farnese palace in Rome. He displayed diplomatic ability on various missions to foreign courts, but failed to get elected to the papacy.
Orazio, Pierluigi's third son, was made duke of Castro when his father became duke of Parma, and married Diane, a natural daughter of Henry II. of France. Ottavio, the second son (1521-1586), married Margaret, the natural daughter of Charles V. and widow of Alessandro de' Medici, at the age of fifteen, she being a year older; at first she disliked her youthful bridegroom, but when he returned wounded from the expedition to Algiers in 1541 her aversion was turned to affection (see Margaret of Austria). Ottavio had been made lord of Camerino in 1540, but he gave up that fief when his father became duke of Parma. When, on the murder of the latter in 1547, Piacenza was occupied by the imperialists, Paul determined to make an effort to regain the city; he set aside Ottavio's claims to the succession of Parma, where he appointed a papal legate, giving him back Camerino in exchange, and then claimed Piacenza of the emperor, not for the Farnesi, but for the Church. But Ottavio would not be put off; he attempted to seize Parma by force, and having failed, entered into negotiations with Gonzaga. This unnatural rebellion on the part of one grandson, combined with the fact that it was supported by the other grandson, Cardinal Alessandro, hastened the pope's death, which occurred on the 10th of November 1549. During the interregnum that followed Ottavio again tried to induce the governor of Parma to give up the city to him, but met with no better success; however, on the election of Giovan Maria Ciocchi (Julius III.) the duchy was conferred on him (1551). This did not end his quarrel with the emperor, for Gonzaga refused to give up Piacenza and even threatened to occupy Parma, so that Ottavio was driven into the arms of France. Julius, who was anxious to be on good terms with Charles on account of the council of Trent which was then sitting, ordered Farnese to hand Parma over to the papal authorities once more, and on his refusal hurled censures and admonitions at his head, and deprived him of his Roman fiefs, while Charles did the same with regard to those in Lombardy. A French army came to protect Parma, war broke out, and Gonzaga at once laid siege to the city. But the duke came to an arrangement with his father-in-law, by which he regained Piacenza and his other fiefs. The rest of his life was spent quietly at home, where the moderation and wisdom of his rule won for him the affection of his people. At his death in 1586 he was succeeded by his son Alessandro Farnese (1545-1592), the famous general of Philip II. of Spain, who spent the whole of his reign in the Flemish wars.
The first years of the reign of his son and successor Ranuccio I. (1569-1622), who had shown much spirit in a controversy with Pope Sixtus V., were uneventful, but in 1611 a conspiracy was formed against him by a group of discontented nobles supported by the dukes of Modena and Mantua. The plot was discovered and the conspirators were barbarously punished, many being tortured and put to death, and their estates confiscated. Ranuccio was a reserved and gloomy bigot; he instituted savage persecutions against supposed witches and heretics, and lived in perpetual terror of plots. His eldest son Alessandro being deaf and dumb, the succession devolved on his second son Odoardo (1612-1646), who fought on the French side in the war against Spain. His failure to pay the interest of the money borrowed in Rome, and the desire of Urban VIII. to obtain Castro for his relatives the Barberini (q.v.), resulted in a war between that pope and Odoardo. His son and successor Ranuccio II. (1630-1694) also had a war with the Holy See about Castro, which was eventually razed to the ground. His son Francesco Maria (1678-1727) suffered from the wars between Spain and Austria, the latter's troops devastating his territory; but although this obliged him to levy some burdensome taxes, he was a good ruler and practised economy in his administration. Having no children, the succession devolved at his death on his brother Antonio (1679-1731), who was also childless. The powers had agreed that at the death of the latter the duchy should pass to Don Carlos of Bourbon, son of King Philip V. of Spain by Elisabetta Farnese (1692-1766), granddaughter of Ranuccio II. Antonio died in 1731, and with him the line of Farnese came to an end.
The Palazzo Farnese in Rome, one of the finest specimens of Roman Renaissance architecture, was begun under Paul III., while he was cardinal, by Antonio da San Gallo, and completed by his nephew Cardinal Alessandro under the direction of Michelangelo (1526). It was inherited by Don Carlos, afterwards king of Naples and Spain, and most of the pictures were removed to Naples. It now contains the French embassy to the Italian court, as well as the French school of Rome.
Bibliography. - F. Odorici gives a detailed history of the family in P. Litta's Famiglie celebri italiane, vol. x. (Milan, 1868), to which an elaborate bibliography is appended, including manuscript sources; a more recent bibliography is S. Lottici and G. Sitti, Bibliografia generale per la storia parmense (Parma, 1904); much information will be found in A. von Reumont's Geschichte der Stadt Rom, vol. iii. (Berlin, 1868), and in F. Gregorovius's Geschichte der Stadt Rom (Stuttgart, 1872).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)