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Wars of Castro

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Background Information

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Pope Innocent X, on whose orders the city of Castro was destroyed on September 2, 1649. Portrait by Diego Velázquez.

The Wars of Castro describe a series of events in the mid-seventeenth century revolving around the ancient city of Castro (located in present-day Lazio, Italy), which eventually resulted in the city's destruction on September 2, 1649. The conflict was a result of a power struggle between the papacy — represented by members of two deeply entrenched Roman families, the Barberini Pope Urban VIII and then the Pamphili Pope Innocent X — and the Farnese dukes of Parma, who controlled Castro and its surrounding territories.

Papal politics of the mid-seventeenth century were complicated, with frequently shifting military and political alliances across the Catholic world. While it is difficult to trace the precise origins of the feud between the duchy of Parma and the papacy, its origins can be looked for in political maneuverings occurring in the years or even decades preceding the start of military action. The duke of Parma and his immediate family had narrowly escaped a planned mass assassination of the Farnese in 1611, for which ten high-born conspirators were executed in the main square of Parma in May of the following year.

Odoardo Farnese, Duke of Parma and Piacenza, who controlled Castro, had quarrelled with Pope Urban VIII's influential Barberini nephews during a visit to Rome in 1639. These offended relatives of the Pope convinced him to ban grain shipments originating in Castro from being distributed in Rome and the surrounding territory, thereby depriving Duke Odoardo of an important source of income. As a result, Duke Odoardo was unable to pay debts due to Roman creditors, which he had accumulated in military adventures against the Spanish in Milan and in luxurious living. These unpaid and unhappy creditors sought relief from the pope, who turned to military action in an attempt to force payment.

First War of Castro

Pope Urban VIII responded to the requests of Duke Odoardo's creditors by occupying the city of Castro with the forces of his nephew Taddeo Barberini (general in chief of the papal army) and Luigi Mattei on October 13, 1641. Securely in possession at Castro, Taddeo arrived with his forces in the papal city of Ferrara January 5, 1642. On January 11 the opera L'Armida by the Barberini house composer Marco Marazzoli was presented in his honour, and Marazzoli composed a work Le pretensioni del Tebro e del Po to compliment recent events.

Urban excommunicated Odoardo and rescinded his fiefdoms (which had been granted by Pope Paul III — Odoardo's great-great-great-grandfather — in 1545) on January 13. Odoardo countered with a military march of his own, this time on the papal state; his forces threatened to enter Rome. Odoardo also allied with the Republic of Venice, Modena, and his father-in-law, Cosimo II de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. The Pope, who had earlier turned to Spain for assistance, received little, as Spanish forces were fully occupied by the Thirty Years' War.

After attempted peace negotiations failed in 1643, the papal forces suffered a crucial defeat in the Battle of Lagoscuro in 1644 resulting in the surrender of the papal forces; a peace was agreed to in Ferrara on March 31 of that year. Under the terms of the peace, Odoardo was readmitted to the Catholic Church and his fiefdoms were restored to him. Grain shipments from Castro to Rome were once again allowed, and Odoardo was to resume payments to his Roman creditors. This peace settlement concluded the first war of Castro, and was widely considered a disgrace to the papacy, which was unable to impose its will through use of military force.

Pope Urban VIII died just a few months after the peace settlement was agreed to, on July 29, 1644. On September 15, Pope Innocent X was elected to replace him. Two of the nephews of Pope Urban VIII, Taddeo and his brother Cardinal Antonio Barberini, were forced to abandon Rome after the first War of Castro and flee to France when Pope Innocent X began an investigation into illicit profits taken by the Barberini family during the war. There they depended on the hospitality of Louis XIV, King of France, until 1653 when they returned to Rome, sealing a reconciliation with Innocent X by the marriage of Taddeo Barberini's son Maffeo with Olimpia Giustiniani, a niece of Innocent's.

Second War of Castro

The Wars of Castro were renewed in 1649, when Odoardo's son, Duke Ranuccio II, who had succeeded to the title September 11, 1646, refused to pay back Roman creditors as his father had agreed to in the treaty signed five years prior. He also refused to recognize the new bishop of Castro appointed by Pope Innocent X. When the bishop, Mons. Cristoforo Giarda, was killed en route to Castro, near Monterosi, Pope Innocent X accused Duke Ranuccio II of murdering him. In retaliation for this alleged crime, forces under the pope marched on Castro on September 2, and on the pope's orders completely destroyed the city. Duke Ranuccio II was forced to cede control of the territories around Castro back to the pope, who then tried to use the land to settle accounts with the Duke's creditors. This marked the end of the second war of Castro, and the final demise of the city, as it was never rebuilt.

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