The Italian States in the Seventeenth Century



1600 13.1 million
1700 13.3 million




"Holy slaughter" in the Valtelline
1628-81 War of Mantuan sucession
Plague ravages Italian cities
1631 Vesuvius eruption
1647 Revolt of Naples
1655 Massacre of the Vaudois
1688-97 Nine Years War


1602-3 Caravaggio, Amor Victorius
1612-3 Gentileschi, Judith slaying Holofernes

1607 Claudio Monteverdi, Orfeo

[Follow hyperlink to full-sized map]


During the seventeenth century the Italian peninsula was dominated by Spain, but divided into a number of independent states.


Republic of Genoa
Genoa was a coastal area of largely rugged land in the far north of Italy, bordered by a number of states (Savoy, Milan, Parma, Modena, and Lucca) and the Mediterranean. Divided by social conflict and disrupted by banditry and feuding in the early part of the century, it was controlled by a tiny elite of patrician families. Its economy was based on shipping and the silk industry, both of which declined in the later part of the century relative to Northern Europe. Genoa was an important center of banking, and a large proportion of Genoese bankers' loans were made to the Spanish crown. This ensured that Genoa never crossed Spanish interests, but also meant that much of Spain's New World wealth was sent to Genoa to pay vast interest charges. Between 1614 and 1634, about 45 million escudos (154,000 kilograms of gold) were sent to Genoa.


Republic of Lucca
Another coastal state, Lucca lay on the northwest coast of Italy, bordered by Tuscany to the south and east, and Modena and Genoa to the north. Silk weaving was key to the Luccan economy. Ruled by a small number of families, Spanish patronage allowed it to survive as an independent entity.


Duchy of Mantua
Vincenzo I (1587-1612)
Ferdinando (1612-26)
Vincenzo II (1626-27)
Carlo I (1627-37)
Carlo II (1637-65)
Carlo III (1665-1708)

Mantua is situated in the lowlands of Lombardy, in northern Italy. It was ruled by the Gonzaga family, but the male line failed in 1627. A war to establish the right of succession was fought between Charles Emmanuel of Savoy (supported by the Habsburgs) and Carlo, Duke of Nevers (the claimant from a cadet branch of the Gonzaga family, supported by France). Habsburg troops were victorious and sacked Mantua in 1630, but at the Treaty of Cherasco, a compromise was reached that placed Carlo on the throne - provided that he acknowledged Imperial authority. The Mantuan economy, based on agriculture and wool, declined in the later seventeenth century.


Duchy of Milan
Milan lay just south of Switzerland between Savoy and Venice, and after 1535 was a dependency of Spain. Its patrician rulers egged on the Spanish military violently to suppress popular unrest in 1628. More independence was shown by the Catholic Archbishops of Milan, who jealously guarded their rights against the secular authorities. The city of Milan was devastated by the Plague in 1630, and it economy declined. However, it was able to recover to some extent as a trading and marketing hub in the last decades of the seventeenth century. In the small town of Cremona, Andrea Guaneri (1626-98) and Antonio Stradivari (1644?-1737) made violins of a quality that has never been equaled.


Duchy of Modena
Cesare (1598-1628)
Alfonso III (1628-44)
Francis I (1644-58)
Alfonso IV (1658-62)
Francis II (1662-94)
Rinaldo (1694-1737)

The D'Este family who ruled Modena throughout the seventeenth century patronized some of the greatest Baroque architects, such as Bartolomeo Avanzini and Francesco Borromini, and they created a Ducal palace of rare splendor. Francis I was an art collector of rare discernment. Its economy, based on weaving and the production of wine suffered after the plague of 1630, and the duchy was of far less political than artistic importance. Modena is also the home of balsamic vinegar.

Kingdoms of Naples, Sicily & Sardinia
Naples and the islands of Sicily and Sardinia were ruled directly by the Spanish Habsburgs - together they constituted almost half of Italian territory. With about 300,000 inhabitants, the city of Naples was one of the largest in Europe (only London, Paris, and Constantinople were more populous), although in 1656 its largely slum-dwelling population suffered heavily from plague. Sparsely-inhabited Sardinia avoided plague, but endured a severe famine in 1680. Sicily was a major grain-producing area, supplying much of the western Mediterranean.
Until late in the century, the Spanish kings did nothing to supplant the control exercised by the feudal aristocracy of rural Southern Italy over its peasantry. The crown chose its administrators from the nobilta di seggio of the City of Naples. Massive taxation provoked a popular revolt in Naples that lasted for nine months (July 1647-April 1648), but moves towards independence failed as most of the urban and rural aristocracy remained loyal to Spain.
It was in Naples that Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1651) painted many of her greatest works, and in the second half of the century philosophers here debated the new Cartesian and atomist theories.


  The Papal States
(including the Duchies of Urbino and Castro)

Clement VIII (1592-1605)
Leo XI (1605)
Paul V (1605-21)
Gregory XV (1621-23)
Urban VIII (1623-44)
Innocent X (1644-55)
Alexander VII (1655-67)
Clement IX (1667-69)
Clement X (1670-76)
Innocent XI (1676-89)
Alexander VIII (1689-91)
Innocent XII (1691-1700)

Like Italian secular rulers, the Papacy had little freedom of maneuver vis-a-vis Spain, and its dependence was increased because Spain often acted as the champion of the Catholic cause against Protestantism. The capital of the Papal States, Rome, had about 100,000 inhabitants in 1600 and grew steadily throughout the seventeenth century. Its role as center of the Catholic Church was the most important reason for its importance (there were almost two men for every woman because of the number of priests there), but it was also a communications hub. The secular patricians of Rome derived their wealth from the vast pastoral farms of the Latian Campagna. By 1700, the Papal States had about 2 million inhabitants.
Rome provided the setting for some of the great architectural wonders of the seventeenth century; not only the 160,000 square-feet St Peter's (completed in 1626 after 176 years of construction) but many other churches and palaces.


Duchy of Parma
Ranuccio I Farnese (1592-1622)
Odoardo (1622-46)
Ranuccio II (1646-94)
Francesco (1694-1727)

Parma is sited in the rich agricultural land of the Po valley where grain and grapes thrive; it became famous for its cheese (parmesan) and ham. The Duchy of Parma had been created by the Farnese Pope, Paul III (1534-49) for his bastard son, Pier Luigi. Pier's grandson, Ranuccio I imposed his authority on the local nobles, who in 1610 resisted and planned his assassination. The plot was discovered and the leaders executed.

Duchy of Savoy & Piedmont
Charles Emmanuel I (1580-1630)
Victor Amadeus I (1630-37)
Francis Giacinto (1637-8)
Charles Emmanuel II (1638-75)
Victor Amadeus II (1675-1730)

The Duchy of Savoy lay on the path of any French invasion of Italy, and had in fact been twice overrun by French troops in the sixteenth century. Habsburg power had guaranteed the survival of Savoy, but between 1613 and 1617 and again in 1627-8 Charles Emmanuel challenged Habsburg domination and attempted (largely unsuccessfully) to expand his power in Northern Italy. Victor Amadeus died in 1637, and his formidable widow, Christine, "Madame Royale" became regent. Civil war erupted between her and Victor's brother, Thomas from 1639-42. Until the Peace of the Pyrenees (1659), France remained a threat to Savoy. In 1672, Charles Emmanuel II attacked Genoa, but was totally defeated. Another regency (1675-84) followed his death, during which Savoy deferred to France, but Victor Amadeus II assumed power in 1682 (aged 16) and by skilful diplomacy considerably strengthened Savoy's position.

Grand Duchy of Tuscany
Ferdinand I de Medici (1587-1609)
Cosimo II (1609-21)
Ferdinand II (1621-70)
Cosimo III (1670-1723)

Ferdinand I had become a cardinal in his youth, but reigned to assume the Grand Duchy on his brother's death. An able administrator, Ferdinand developed the port of Livorno, giving it a liberal constitution that allowed all merchants, including many Jews, to trade freely. As a result it prospered during the seventeenth century, while the rest of the Tuscan economy stagnated. Ferdinand I, his wife and his short-lived son, Cosimo II were patrons of Galileo. Ferdinand II was also a patron of the sciences, but his incompetent son, Cosimo III was a religious bigot. Under his rule, piety flourished, but the economy, industry and technology suffered complete neglect.

Republic of Venice
Venice's power was built upon a trading empire that still thrived during the sixteenth century, despite Turkish encroachments on its Eastern Mediterranean territories. However, during the seventeenth century, Venice's trade entered a steady decline. In particular, the spice trade was increasingly conducted by Portuguese, Dutch and English ships sailing directly from the Far East. Silk production also fell. The Plague of 1630 killed more than one in three of the city's people.
The Venetian patriciate attempted to maintain elite control at home and peace with its neighbors. Feudal disorder did break out on the the mainland, and complaints against patrician high-handedness were raised throughout the 1620s, but tranquility was restored. Venice remained neutral in the Thirty Years War. The Republic's main rival was the Ottoman Empire. Cyprus had been conquered by the Turks in 1571, and Crete was lost in 1669 after a siege of the capital city, Candia, that lasted 22 years. During the sixteenth and early seventeenth century, the Turks had seized Venetian possessions in Morea (Southern Greece). In 1683, Venice took advantage of the Turks' defeat at the Siege of Vienna to regain much of this territory.