Gonzaga gōntsä´gä [key], Italian princely house that ruled Mantua (1328–1708), Montferrat (1536–1708), and Guastalla (1539–1746). The family name is derived from the castle of Gonzaga, a village near Mantua.
Luigi Gonzaga, 1267–1360, became captain general of Mantua in 1328. The power of his descendants grew in the 14th cent., and in 1433, Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund made Gian Francesco Gonzaga, 1395–1444, marquis of Mantua. His grandson, Francesco Gonzaga, 1466–1519, married Isabella d'Este. At the outset of the Italian Wars, in which Spain and France vied for control of Italy, he led the allied troops that defeated (1495) King Charles VIII of France at Fornovo. In order to preserve the independence of Mantua, Francesco fought in turn for Venice, for the French, and for Pope Julius II. The court of Mantua, long a center of the arts and letters, was particularly brilliant under Francesco and Isabella. Their son and successor, Federico 1500–1540, was made (1530) duke of Mantua by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. In 1536 he acquired Montferrat, which continued to be claimed by Savoy. His brother or Federigo Gonzaga, Ercole Gonzaga, 1505–63, cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, was long regent of the duchy. He furthered learning and the arts and presided (1562–63) over the Council of Trent. A younger brother, Ferrante Gonzaga, 1507–57, was generalissimo of Charles V in Italy, France, and Flanders. He acquired (1539) the county of Guastalla, which remained with his direct descendants until their extinction in 1746; in 1748 it was annexed to the duchy of Parma. In 1627 the senior male line of the older branch, ruling Mantua and Montferrat, became extinct. A cadet line, established in France, had succeeded, by marriage, to the duchies of Nevers or Nivernais and Rethel and in 1627 began to claim the succession to Mantua and Montferrat, which were strategically located on the Lombard plain near the Alpine passes. Its claim was strengthened by the marriage of Maria Gonzaga, sole heiress of the senior line, to Charles de Rethel, son of the duke of Nevers. France supported the Nevers branch, while Hapsburg Spain and Austria, anxious lest France gain a foothold in N Italy, supported the claims of the Guastalla branch. War between France and Spain broke out over the contested succession. The Nevers branch ultimately won with the signing of the Treaty of Cherasco (1631) and ruled Mantua and Montferrat until it in turn became extinct (1708) during the War of the Spanish Succession. Hapsburg Austria then annexed Mantua, and Savoy annexed Montferrat.
See S. J. C. Brinton, The Gonzaga (1927).
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