Farnese, House of

   Family of Italian nobility. Originally soldiers and landholders in southern Tuscany and the Papal States, the Farnese rose to princely status after Alessandro Farnese was elected Pope Paul III (1534-1549). Pope Paul was the first post-Reformation pope who seriously addressed the need for reform of the church, but he was also a scandalous nepotist, putting three of his own grandsons onto the college of cardinals and making another grandson prefect of the city of Rome. In 1537 he organized the new duchy of Castro in the papal domains and made his son Pier Luigi (1503-1547) its duke. In 1545 he again used the church's lands to create the duchy of Parma and Piacenza with Pier Luigi as its first duke.
   Pope Paul also used his influence to win brilliant marriage alliances with Italian princely families, as well as with illegitimate off-spring of the Emperor Charles V and the French king Henry II, for his relatives. The most famous of this group of ambitious papal kin-folk was Cardinal Alessandro Farnese (1520-1589), who received many lucrative appointments. Alessandro was a man of great ability, a skilled diplomat, a great collector of art, and a generous patron of writers and artists. The pope had begun construction of a magnificent palace in Rome even before his election, and Alessandro completed it. Alessandro also brought about the building of many churches at Rome.
   In the branch of the family that ruled Parma, another Alessandro Farnese (1545-1592) was reared at the court of Spain and became a famous military leader, eventually serving as Spanish governor in the Netherlands during the Dutch war of independence. While he was unable to reconquer the seven northern provinces, which became the United Netherlands, he managed to consolidate the southern part of the region into a state that remained under Spanish rule until the 18th century. This Alessandro eventually became duke of Parma (1586-1592). The Farnese dynasty continued to rule Parma until 1731, when the succession passed to the Spanish Bourbon dynasty through descent from a Farnese princess.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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