Chiesa e Convento dei Santi Giacomo e Cristoforo Capodimonte, Provincia di Viterbo, Lazio, Italy
Pier Luigi Farnese (November 19, 1503 – September 10, 1547) was an Italian nobleman, first Duke of Parma and Piacenza. The illegitimate son of Alessandro Farnese (1468– 1549), he was legally recognised by his father, who became Pope Paul III in 1534. Farnese took part in the wars which raged in Italy at the time and participated in the sacking of Rome in 1527. His father's election to the papacy guaranteed him several honours; he was successively named Duke of Castro, gonfaloniere (chief of the militia) of the church, and Marquess of Novara. The crowning achievement of his father's ‘nepotism’ was, however, the scandalous separation of Parma and Piacenza from the Papal States and the concession of the territory, as a personal dukedom, to his son and his descendents. Thus was begun the Farnese dynasty in Parma, which remained on the throne even after local nobles, supported by Emperor Charles V, assassinated Pier Luigi Farnese; the family continued to rule until 1731.
Throughout his life, Farnese was rumoured to be a sodomite, and scandal exploded in 1537, when he was accused in what became known as the ‘rape of Fano’. Farnese, while marching with troops through Fano, was alleged to have raped the young bishop of the city, Cosimo Gheri, who died 40 days afterwards. According to Mario Masini and Giuseppe Portigliotti, ‘The Lutherans took great joy in this, saying that the Catholics had found “a new way of martyring saints”.’ The episode became widely known after it was recounted in Benedetto Varchi's Storia fiorentina but was much used, as well, by Pier Paolo Vergerio, a bishop who converted to Protestantism. In his wake, the accusation of sodomy against Farnese was used by Protestant polemicists in the sixteenth century. The charges were then taken up by ‘patriotic’ Italian historians in the nineteenth century, some of them waging a long battle to prove that the accusations were a product of Protestant calumny, some others producing documents which gave evidence of Farnese's taste for men.
Among these was a private letter written on 17 October 1535 in which Pope Paul III strongly reproached his son for having taken his male lovers with him when he was sent on an official mission to the court of the emperor, who was known to be hostile to this type of love; the pope ordered his son to send his lovers away. Another letter, written by the chancellor of the Florentine embassy in Rome on 14 January 1540 (reprinted in Ferrai), recounted the ‘manhunt’ which Farnese had mounted in Rome to search for a youth who had refused his advances.
Farnese died in 1547. His body was buried in Piacenza, first in one church, then in another; later the body was moved to Parma by his wife Gerolama Orsini and finally it was transferred to the family tomb on the Bisentina island, on Lake Bolsena, where after his death he was also joined by his wife and son Cardinal Ranuccio.
Such a debate awakened interest in Farnese among later Decadent writers, whose morbid fantasy was piqued by a figure with such an inflammatory reputation. Pierre Louÿs, a well known French writer of erotic literature, even used the ancient rendering of Farnese's first names as a pseudonym. A portrait of Farnese, painted by Titian in 1543, can be seen in the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples.
My published books:
BACK TO HOME PAGE