The Orsini family was one of the noble Roman families that played an important part in politics from the Middle Ages until the 18th century. The family can be traced back to the early Middle Ages, and possibly goes back to the Roman period. They were hereditary enemies of the Colonna family, and usually stood on the side of the Pope in the many conflicts that arose. Three members of the family were elected popes, and there were also a number of cardinals.
Notable members of the family
The following is a list, in chronological order, of some of the most notable members of the family:
Giacinto Bobone Orsini
Giacinto Bobone Orsini (born c. 1106, died 1198) was elected pope in March 1191, while still only a deacon, taking the name Celestine III. He approved of the destruction of the town of Tusculum, and confirmed the military Order of Teutonic Knights in 1191.
Matteo Rosso Orsini
Matteo Rosso Orsini was a Senator of Rome from 1241. He was a personal friend of St Francis of Assisi, and a member of the Third Order of Fransiscans. He was also the father of Gian Gaetano Orsini (Pope Nicholas III).
Gian (Giovanni) Gateano Orsini
Gian Gaetano Orsini (born 1216, died 1280) was a son of Matteo Rosso Orsini, Senator of Rome, and Perna Gaetana, of the noble Gaetani family. He was created cardinal by Pope Innocent IV in 1244, and made titular deacon of San Nicola in Carcere. He accompanied Pope Innocent IV in his flight to Genoa. In 1262 he was appointed General Inquisitor. He was elected Pope in November 1277, taking the name Nicholas III. As pope, he worked to free Rome from foreign influence. He established a new papal residence in the Vatican, and secured the property which is now the Vatican Gardens. He was buried in the Chapel of St Nicholas in San Pietro in Vaticano.
Matteo Rosso Orsini
Matteo Rosso Orsini (died 1305 or 1306) was a nephew of Gian Gaetano Orsini (Pope Nicholas III). He was created cardinal by Pope Urban IV in 1262, and made titular deacon of Sant'Adriano. Archpriest of San Pietro in Vaticano from c. 1277, and Cardinal Protector of the Franciscan Order. Durign the conclave of 1281 he was taken prisoner together with Giordano Cardinal Orsini, and released soon after the election of Pope Martin IV. During their brief imprisonment, the Orsinis were driven out of Rome, but were recalled by the new pope. He attended thirteen conclaves. After his death in Perugia in 1305 or 1306, his mortal remains were brought to Rome, where he is buried in the Orsini Chapel in San Pietro in Vaticano.
Napoleone Orsini (born 1263, died 1342) was a son of Rinaldo Orsini and brother of Pope Nicholas III. He was appointed Papal Chaplain by Pope Honorius IV (1285-1287), and created cardinal by Pope Nicholas IV in 1288. Appointed Archpriest of San Pietro in Vaticano by Pope Clement V.
Gian Gaetano Orsini
Gian Gaetano Orsini (died 1339, or possibly 1335) was created cardinal by Pope John XXII in December 1316. He was a papal legate to Italy 1326–1334, and brought Corneto and Viterbo to submission to the Pope in 1329.
Matteo Orsini O.P.
Matteo Orsini (died 1340) taught theology at Paris, Florence and Rome. In 1322 he became provincial of the Roman Province of the Dominican Order, and in 1326 bishop of Girgenti, Sicilyl. In June 1327 he was appointed archbishop of Liponto, Italy, and in December the same year he was created cardinal and made titular priest of Santi Giovanni e Paolo. From 1338 he was cardinal bishop of Sabina.
Giacomo Orsini (died 1379) was created cardinal by Pope Gregory XI in May 1371 and papal legate to Siena in 1376. He later attached himself to the Antipope Clement VII.
Poncello Orsini (died 1395) was bishop of Aversa from June 1370. He was created cardinal by Pope Urban VI in September 1378, and made titular priest of San Clemente. He was a strong candidate for the papacy at the conclave of 1389, but lost the election to Piero Tomacelli (Bonifatius IX).
Tommaso dei Conti di Manupello
Tommaso dei Conti di Manupello (died 1390) was created cardinal by Pope Urban VI in 1381. He was legate to the Patrimony of the Marches, where he won back several cities for the Pope, but fell from grace due to his conduct towards the Papal Vicar of Viterbo, and was imprisoned in the fortress of Amelia. He was later released, and remained loyal to Pope Urban VI when a conspiracy arose.
Giordano Orsini (died 1438) was archbishop of Naples from February 1400, and was created cardinal by Pope Innocent VII in June 1405. He became the first titular of San Martino ai Monti, and was transferred to San Lorenzo in Damaso. From 1412 he was cardinal bishop of Albano from, and from 1431 of Sabina. He participated in the election of Pope Gregory XII in 1406, but later defected and took part in the election of the Antipopes Alexander V and John XXIII. He also took part in the election of Pope Martin V in 1417, and was sent by him as legate to England and France. He was then sent to Bohemia in 1426 to combat the Hussites. He was a reformer of the churches in Rome under both Pope Martin V and Eugene IV, and attended the Council of Basle, where he defended the papal authority. He was buried in San Pietro in Vaticano.
Latino Orsini (born 1411, died 1477) was bishop of Conza, Italy, from 1438, and archbishop of Trani from 1439. He was created cardinal by Pope Nicholas V in December 1448, and became archbishop of Bari in 1454. Under Paul II he was legate for the Marches, and under Sixtus IV he was the camerlengo. From 1472 he was archbishop of Taranto. He was also appointed commander-in-chief of the Papal fleet in the war against the Turks. He founded the monastery of San Salvatore in Lauro in Rome and rebuilt the church of the same name. A son, Paulo, was born before he entered the priesthood. He was also an uncle of Giambattista Orsini.
Giambattista Orsini (died 1503) was created cardinal by Pope Sixtus IV in 1483 and archbishop of Taranto from 1491. He was appointed papal legate to Romagna, the Marches and Bologna. He aligned himself with the Florentines and the French in the Italian wars, and was therefore imprisoned in the Vatican by the Pope. He died in captivity in the Castel Sant'Angelo, possibly poisoned by Pope Alexander VI.
Flavio Orsini (died 1581) was bishop of Muro from 1560 and later bishop of Spoleto. He was created cardinal in 1565, and was legate to Charles IX of France in 1572.
Alessandro Orsini (born 1592, died 1626), of the ducal family of Bracciano, was created cardinal by Pope Paul V in 1615 and legate to Ravenna under Pope Gregory XV. He applied to the Pope to resign the cardinalate and join the Society of Jesus; this was refused. He was a patron of Galileo Galilei.
Virginio Orsini (born 1615, died 1676), of the ducal family of Bracciano, entered the military order of the Knights of Malta, and distringuished himself in the war against the Turks. He was created cardinal by Pope Urban VIII in December 1641, and was commissioned to fortify the Leonine City and parts of Trastevere. In 1675 he became cardinal bishop of Frascati.
Pietro Francesco Orsini
Pietro Francesco Orsini (born 1649, died 1730) was a son of Ferdinando Orsini and Giovanna Frangipani, and heir to his childless uncle, the Duke of Bracciano. He entered the Dominican novitiate at age 16, giving up his right to inherit the title, against his parents' will. He was created cardinal in February 1672. He protested against this, but was compelled by the Pope and the General of the Dominicans to accept. He continued to live under the Rule of his Order, and still wore the Dominican habit. Given the choice between the Archepiscopal Sees of Salerno and Manfredonia in 1675, he chose the latter as it was the poorer of the two. From 1680 he was archbishop of Cesena. In 1686, after serious illness, he was transferred to Benevento. At the conclave of 1724, deliberations had lasted more than two months when he proposed a novena to his patron, St Philip Neri, to seek aid in finding a suitable Pope. During the novena, he realized that he would be elected, and worked hard to prevent this. He was still elected in May 1724. After initally refusing to accept the papacy, he was in the end compelled by the cardinals. He took the name Benedict XIV, but changed it to Benedict XIII soon after, as the thirteenth Benedict had been an Antipope. He enforced rigid ecclesiastical discipline. He remained archbishop of Benevento during his pontificate; the See was governed by a vicar-general. He was buried in Santa Maria sopra Minerva, and his heart and viscera are in Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio.