Thursday, April 9, 2015

Luxarazzi 101: House of Torlonia

Back in her day, Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was known as "the grandmother of Europe". One of the few European royal families not to descent from Queen Victoria though actually is the Grand Ducal Family of Luxembourg. That does not, however, mean that none of its members can boast a connection to "the grandmother of Europe", though it might come from a unexpected source. That unexpected link is, in fact, Princess Sibilla, wife of Prince Guillaume. 

Princess Sibilla was born the daughter of Donna Olimpia Torlonia di Civitella-Cesi, herself daughter of Alessandro Torlonia, 5th Prince of Civitella-Cesi and his wife Infanta Doña Beatriz of Spain, a great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria. And even though this introduction might lead you to expect otherwise, in today's post we are going to concentrate on the family of Sibilla's maternal grandfather, the House of Torlonia.

The Torlonias are a relatively new noble family, at least when considering that they are a Roman noble family and that there are many who can easily trace their family's history back a thousand years. Despite being Roman nobility, the Torlonia family origins from the Auvergne region of France. The first influential member of the family was Marin Torlonias, born in 1725. He was the son of Antoine Torlonias, a merchant and laborer.

Marin Torlonia's great-uncle was the parish priest of Augerolles. Thanks to his help, Marin got the position as aide to an influential abbot, Charles-Alexandre de Montgon. Together with de Montgon he moved to Rome and started to work for Cardinal Troiano Acquaviva d'Aragona. During this time, his name was Italianised to Marino Torlonia. With the help of a small annuity from the Cardinal, he later settled near the Piazza Trinità dei Monti where he worked as a cloth merchant and money lender. Upon Marino's death in 1785, his son Giovanni inherited his fortune and used it as a foundation for the Torlonia Bank.

Through speculation, Giovanni Torlonia became immensely rich and an important financier of Roman noble families, who in turn had to pledge or relinquish estates to him. In return for his able administration of the Vatican finances, was created Duke of Bracciano and Count of Pisciarelli by Pope Pius VI in 1794. Bracciano and Pisciarelli had been formerly owned by the Princes of Odescalchi. In 1803, Pius VII made him Marquess of Romavecchia e Turrita and 1st Prince of Civitella-Cesi. Giovanni Torlonia became a Roman Patrician in 1809, with confirmation from the Pope on January 19, 1813. Seven years later, be received the Dukedoms of Poli and Guadagnolo from the Conti di Segni family. And in 1822, Capo di Monte, Morata and Bisenzio from the Princes Poniatowski.

Giovanni Torlonia quickly became on of the biggest landowners of the Papal States. In difference to many of the aforementioned families, the Torlonias represented the emergence of a kind of new noble class, entrepreneurs who amassed both fortunes and titles. Not very surprising then, that the Torlonia's coat of arms actually features two rising comets.

Already in 1793, Giovanni had married Anna Maria Chiaveri, the widow of a cloth merchant. She was a born Schultheiss from the town of Donaueschingen in today's southern Germany. The couple had five children; Maria Teresa, Marino, Carlo, Alessandro and Maria Luisa. Most of them married well - Maria Teresa to a Marescotti, Marino to a Sforza-Cesarini, Alessandro to a Colonna-Doria, and Maria Luisa to an Orsini - and the family amassed even greater fortunes. Apart from many villas and palazzos, they owned a large art collection.

These days, the Torlonia family is one of the few Italian aristocratic families to have survived the reconstruction of the Papal Court in 1969. The only hereditary honours remaining in use at the Vatican to this day are that of Prince Assistants to the Papal Throne occupied in hereditary line by a Torlonia and a Colonna. The Torlonias were appointed to this position in 1958 in succession to the Orsinis, who had held the it since 1735, as Pope Pius XII removed the title from Prince Filippo Orsini who was having an affair with actress Belinda Lee and then slashed his wrists. (Just to add a little bit of drama to the end of this post.)

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