Farnese (färnāˈzā) [key], Italian noble family that ruled Parma and Piacenza from 1545 to 1731. In the 12th cent. the Farnese held several fiefs in Latium. They became one of the most prominent families in Rome and were Guelph supporters of the papacy. In 1534, Alessandro Farnese became pope as Paul III. He used his office to aggrandize his family and in 1545 he detached lands from the papal dominions to create the duchy of Parma and Piacenza for his illegitimate son, Pier Luigi Farnese, 1503–47. Pier Luigi attacked fiscal and judicial abuses; he thereby gained the hatred of the nobility and was assassinated. His son, Ottavio Farnese, 1520–86, who succeeded him, married Margaret of Austria (see Margaret of Parma), illegitimate daughter of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Ottavio's brother, Alessandro Farnese, 1520–89, was a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. A patron of men of letters such as Pietro Bembo and of artists such as Giorgio Vasari, he oversaw the completion of the Farnese Palace in Rome. Ottavio's son and successor was Alessandro Farnese, 1545–92, one of the great generals of his time (see Farnese, Alessandro). Alessandro's son, Ranuccio I, 1569–1622, reformed the duchy's administration and judicial system and was a benefactor of education and the arts. The four dukes who succeeded Ranuccio I were less distinguished rulers, although they continued the family's patronage of the arts despite increasing economic and political troubles. The last duke of the line, Antonio, died in 1731. His niece, Elizabeth Farnese, queen of Philip V of Spain, secured (1748) the succession to the duchy for her son Philip, founder of the line of Bourbon-Parma (see Bourbon, European royal family).
See R. Solari, The House of Farnese (1968).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.