Alessandro Farnese (1545–1592)

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Alessandro Farnese, portrait by Otto van Veen
Signature Alessandro Farnese (1545–1592) .PNG

Alexander Farnese ( Italian Alessandro Farnese , Spanish Alejandro Farnesio , French Alexandre Farnèse ; born  August 27, 1545 in Rome , † December 3, 1592 in Arras ) was from September 15, 1586 to December 3, 1592 Duke of Parma and Piacenza , and also von Castro, and from 1578 to 1592 governor of the Habsburg Netherlands , as well as an Italian general and diplomat in Spanish service. He belonged to the ducal house of Farnese, ruling in Parma and Piacenza .


Alessandro Farnese, portrait of a youth
Maria of Portugal, Duchess of Parma, around 1550
Allegorical representation of the young Alessandro in full armor by Girolamo Mazzola Bedoli

He was the son of Duke Ottavio Farnese of Parma and Margarethe of Parma , the illegitimate daughter of Emperor Charles V , and thus a nephew of King Philip II of Spain and Don Juan de Austria . He made a significant military and diplomatic career in the service of Spain, spoke Italian, Spanish, Latin, French and Dutch, fought in the Battle of Lepanto (1571) and then in the Netherlands.

Alessandro Farnese grew up in Spain at his uncle's court with the unfortunate Don Carlos , his cousin, and Don Juan de Austria, his uncle, who were both his age; he accompanied his mother to Brussels when she was appointed governor of the Habsburg Netherlands , and celebrated his wedding in Brussels on November 11, 1565 to Maria of Portugal (* December 8, 1538 - July 8, 1577), daughter of Prince Edward of Portugal (1515–1540) with great pomp. The mass was held by the Prince Archbishop of Cambrai Maximilian de Berghes . He then moved to Madrid , where he spent seven years before being given the opportunity to demonstrate his significant military talent.


During these years ( Eighty Years War (1568–1648) for the liberation of the Spanish Netherlands ) seven provinces of the Netherlands, which were supposed to establish the Republic of the Seven United Provinces in 1581 , rose against Spanish rule. Don Juan, sent as governor general to restore order, had failed because of the talent and influence of William I of Orange , who had succeeded in uniting all the provinces in opposition to Philip's civil and religious tyranny. In the autumn of 1577, Alessandro was sent out at the head of reinforcements to support don Juan, and it was largely thanks to his decisive power at a critical moment that the battle of Gemblours was won in 1578. Don Juan, whose health was never the best, died a short time later, and Alessandro Farnese was appointed as his successor as governor of the Netherlands.

He faced enormous difficulties, but was up to the challenge. As a military man he was not inferior to any contemporary, as a skilled diplomat he was an equal opponent to Wilhelm I, as a politician - like most of the leading statesmen of the time - he was unscrupulous enough to use all means if they only led to the goal. Recognizing that rifts and jealousies existed in the leadership of his opponents, between Catholics and Protestants , Flemings and Walloons , he used persuasion and bribery to heighten the growing discord and bring the Walloon provinces back under the rule of the king. In January 1579, in the Union of Arras , he secured the support of the discontented Catholic nobility of the south. The answer was the founding of the Union of Utrecht a few weeks later, in which the seven northern provinces united to oppose the Spanish crown. The southern provinces signed the Peace of Arras in May 1579 , in which they recognized the rule of Spain. In 1581, in Plakkaat van Verlatinghe, the Union of Utrecht declared secession from the Spanish crown and Philip II deposed as sovereign.

Farnese had gained a secure base of operations in Hainaut and Artois and was now about to retake Brabant and Flanders . City after city ​​fell into his hands, Tournai , Maastricht , Breda , Bruges and Ghent opened their gates to him, and finally he went over to the siege of Antwerp . The city was open to the broad Scheldt , otherwise strongly fortified, and it was defended with determination and courage by the citizens. Their leader was the famous Philips van Marnix , who was assisted by a resourceful Italian technician named Federigo Giambelli . The siege of Antwerp began in 1584 and challenged Farnese's entire military genius. He cut off Antwerp's access from the seaside by having a boat bridge built over the Scheldt from Calloo to Oordam, which the besieged desperately tried to prevent. On August 15, 1585 Antwerp had to give up. Favorable conditions were negotiated, but also that all Protestants had to leave the city within two years. With the fall of Antwerp ( Mechelen and Brussels were already in Farnese's hands), the entire southern Netherlands was brought back under Spanish rule. He later conquered Geldern and Groningen . Holland and Zeeland, on the other hand, whose geographical location only allowed access via water, were able to withstand the further advance thanks to the courage and experience of their seafaring population and the help of Queen Elizabeth I of skillful English troops.

In 1586 Alexander Farnese became Duke of Parma and Piacenza after the death of his father . He asked for permission to visit his paternal inheritance, but was refused by Philip because he could not replace him in the Netherlands. And although he kept him in command of the army, he did not give him permission to use them for a conquest of England, for which Farnese at times believed it could get by with 30,000 soldiers, without support from the sea, but based on a revolt by the locals Catholic population. Philip rejected him, but began to assemble the Spanish Armada himself and ordered Farnese to advance against Ostend and Sluis himself . Sluis fell in August 1587 and the Armada reached the English Channel a year later. After the fall of the Armada, Farnese left the encampment that he had set up near Dunkirk in September 1588 .

The following year Farnese was back in the Netherlands, but was after the assassination of the French King Henry III. ordered to France on December 23, 1589. He fought here from 1590 in support of the Catholic opposition against Henry IV until he died in Arras in 1592.

Marriage and offspring

Alessandro Farnese married Maria Infanta of Portugal on November 11, 1565 in Brussels (* December 8, 1538 - July 8, 1577), a daughter of the Infante Duarte de Portugal, 4th Duke of Guimarães (* Lisbon September 7, 1515; † Lisbon October 20, 1540, buried in Belem), since 1537 3rd Duke of Guimaraes and Isabella of Portugal-Bragança; Duchess of Guimaraes.

They had three children:

See also


  • Edward Burman: Italian Dynasties. Gustav Lübbe Verlag, Bergisch Gladbach 1991
  • Geoffrey Parker : The uprising of the Netherlands 1549-1609 , Verlag Georg DW Callwey Munich 1979, p. 232 f, p. 261 f, p. 303 f

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Charles Cawley, Medieval Lands, Northern Italy, A. DUKES of PARMA 1545-1731 (FARNESE) [1]

Web links

Commons : Alexander Farnese  - collection of images, videos and audio files
  • Alessandro Farnese plays a starring role in John Lothrop Motley The Rise of the Dutch Republic , whose e-text here is
  • Illustration by Frans Hogenberg from 1578: A thousand five hundred sibnzig eight, Don Jhan brought the Printz from Parma to stand in the Niderlandt in the bey ... 30. Janaurij 1576 ( digitized version )
  • Illustration by Frans Hogenberg from 1592: A big clag is struck up, manigfelt in Rome and Brussels, When the one of Parma died ... ( digitized version )
  • Illustration by Frans Hogenberg from 1604: Alexander Farnesius Parmae ​​... ( digitized version )
predecessor Office successor
Juan de Austria Governor of the Habsburg Netherlands
Peter Ernst I. von Mansfeld
Ottavio Farnese Duke of Parma and Piacenza
Ranuccio I. Farnese