Giulio Alberoni

Cardinal Alberoni

Giulio Alberoni (30 May 1664 OS 26 June NS 1752) was an Italian cardinal and statesman in the service of Philip V of Spain.[1] He is known also for being a remarkable soldier and great gourmet who advised the Spanish court on table manners and menus.

Early years

He was born near Piacenza, probably at the village of Fiorenzuola d'Arda in the Duchy of Parma.

His father was a gardener,[2] and he himself became first connected with the church in the humble position of a bellringer and verger in the Duomo of Piacenza; he was twenty-one when the judge Ignazio Gardini, of Ravenna, was banished, and he followed Gardini to Ravenna, where he met the vice-legate Giorgio Barni, who was made bishop of Piacenza in 1688 and appointed Alberoni chamberlain of his household. Alberoni took priest's orders, and afterwards accompanied the son of his patron to Rome.

During the War of the Spanish Succession Alberoni laid the foundation of his political success by the services he rendered to Louis-Joseph, duc de Vendôme, commander of the French forces in Italy, to whom the duke of Parma had sent him. That a low-ranking priest was used as envoy was due to the duke's rude manners: the previous envoy, the bishop of Parma, had quit because the duke had wiped his buttocks in front of him: Saint-Simon in his Mémoires relates that Alberoni gained Vendôme's favor when he was received in the same way, but reacted adroitly by kissing the duke's buttocks and crying "O culo di angelo!". The duke was amused, and this joke started Alberoni's brilliant career. When the French forces were recalled in 1706, he accompanied the duke to Paris, where he was favourably received by Louis XIV.

Middle years

Fresco against Card. Alberoni Public Palace San Marino

In 1711 he followed Vendôme into Spain as his secretary. He was very active in furthering the accession of the French candidate for the throne of Spain, Philip V. Two years later, Vendôme having died in the interval, Alberoni was appointed consular agent for Parma at Philip's court, where he was the royal favourite, being raised at the same time to the dignity of count. On his arrival at Madrid he found the princesse des Ursins (Orsini, born de la Trémoille) all but omnipotent with the king, and for a time he judged it expedient to use her influence in carrying out his plans. Upon the death of Queen Maria Luisa of Savoy in 1714, Alberoni in concert with La Trémoille arranged for a marriage in the same year between the widowed King Philip and Elisabetta Farnese, daughter of the Duke of Parma.

The influence of the grateful new queen being actively exerted on Alberoni's behalf— the princesse des Ursins having been chased out[3]— within not much more than a year Alberoni was made a duke and grandee of Spain, a member of the king's council, appointed bishop of Málaga, and in 1715 prime minister, and was made cardinal by Pope Clement XI, under pressure from the court of Spain, in July 1717. His vigorous internal policy mixed the economic reforms of Colbert for Louis XIV with some conservative Spanish aspects: a regular mail service to the Americas was instituted, yet the school of navigation he founded was reserved for the sons of the nobility. By a series of decrees in 1717, Alberoni reduced the powers of the grandees in royal councils. His main purpose was to produce an economic revival in Spain by abolishing internal custom-houses, throwing open the trade of the Indies and reorganizing the finances along lines that had been established by the French economist Jean Orry.

With the resources thus gained he undertook to enable Philip V to carry out an ambitious foreign policy to undo the Treaty of Utrecht, with the aim of countering the Habsburgs and recovering Spanish possessions in Italy, where he was responsible for unwarranted invasions of Sardinia (November 1717, strongly supported by Sardinian politician Vicente Bacallar) and Sicily (July 1718), in spite of promises made to the Pope, while pressing Spanish causes in France with the Cellamare Conspiracy. Another extravagant scheme of Alberoni's was the plotted restoration of the Stuarts to the British throne in two Jacobite expeditions to Scotland in the spring of 1719. By provoking Britain, France, the Netherlands and the Empire to form the Quadruple Alliance, his hasty and ambitious plans brought a flood of disaster to Spain, for which Alberoni was held responsible. France launched an invasion of eastern Spain while the British successfully raided Vigo. On 5 December 1719, with Philip V fast becoming the common enemy of all Europe, Alberoni was ordered to leave Spain, Elizabeth herself having taken an active part in procuring the decree of banishment.

Later years

Print of Cardinal Alberoni
Engraving of Cardinal Alberoni

He went to Italy, escaped from arrest at Genoa, and had to take refuge among the Apennines, Pope Clement XI, who was his bitter enemy, having given strict orders for his arrest. On the death of Clement in 1721, Alberoni boldly appeared at the conclave, and took part in the election of Innocent XIII, after which he was for a short time imprisoned by the new pontiff on the demand of Spain, but was cleared of all charges by a commission of his fellow Cardinals. At the next election (1724) he was himself proposed for the papal chair, and secured ten votes at the conclave that elected Benedict XIII.

Benedict's successor, Clement XII (elected 1730), named him legate of Ravenna, where he erected the Porta Alberoni (1739), a magnificent gateway that formerly provided access to the city's dockyards, and has since been moved to the entrance of the Teatro Rasi.[4] That same year, the strong and unwarrantable measures he adopted to subject the grand republic of San Marino to the papal states incurred the pope's displeasure, and left a historical scar in that place's memory.[5] He was soon replaced by another legate in 1740, and he retired to Piacenza, where in 1730 Clement XII appointed him administrator of the hospital of San Lazzaro, a medieval foundation for the benefit of lepers. Since leprosy had nearly disappeared in Italy, Alberoni obtained the consent of the pope to suppress the hospital, which had fallen into great disorder, and replaced it with a seminary for the priestly education of seventy poor boys, under the name of the Collegio Alberoni, which it still bears. The Cardinal's collections of art gathered in Rome and Piacenza, housed in his richly appointed private apartments, have been augmented by the Collegio. There are remarkable suites of Flemish tapestries, and paintings, among which the most famous is the Ecce Homo by Antonello da Messina (1473), but which also include panels by Jan Provoost and other Flemish artists, oil paintings by Domenico Maria Viani and Francesco Solimena.

Alberoni was a gourmet. Interspersed in his official correspondence with Parma are requests for local delicacies triffole (truffles), salame, robiola cheeses, and agnolini (kind of pasta).[6] The pork dish "Coppa del Cardinale", a specialty of Piacenza, is named for him. A "timballo Alberoni" combines maccaroni, shrimp sauce, mushrooms, butter and cheese.

Death and legacy

He died leaving a sum of 600,000 ducats to endow the seminary he had founded. He left the rest of the immense wealth he had acquired in Spain to his nephew. Alberoni produced many manuscripts. The genuineness of the Political Testament, published in his name at Lausanne in 1753, has been questioned.

References and sources

  1. The standard life is P. Castagnoli, Il Cardinale Giulio Alberoni, 3 vols., 1929-32.
  2. "Alberoni, GiulioChambers's Encyclopædia. London: George Newnes, 1961, Vol. 1, p. 223.
  3. E Armstrong, "The Influence of Alberoni in the Disgrace of the Princess des Ursins" English Historical Review, 1890.
  4. Archived November 12, 2004, at the Wayback Machine.; G. Cattanei, Il cardinale Giulio Alberoni e la sua esperienza di legato a Ravenna, 2008.
  5. San Marino subjugation
  6. Archived June 22, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
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 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Alberoni, Giulio". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

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