How the Borghese family acquired their titles

by Prince Lorenzo Borghese

My family can be traced back to the 1100’s in Siena, Italy. During this period the Borgheses became wealthy bankers. By the early 1600’s, a large number of my family members were living in Rome including Marcantonio Borghese, known as “The head of the family.”

In 1550 Marcantonio became the father of Camillo Borghese. Camillo is perhaps the most famous member of my family, as he became Pope Paul V. In 1604, one year before Camillo was elected Pope, at age 54, he purchased Rome’s largest family palace, now known as the Palazzo Borghese.

During the 1600’s the entire Palazzo was owned by my family. It contained separate servant quarters, stables, a coach house and housed my family’s art collection, which was one of the greatest collections in Europe. In its heyday, the Palazzo was the grandest home in Rome, a place where anyone could entertain on a magnificent scale– just as Robert Redford did in the movie, “The Great Gatsby.” What makes this property unique is that over 400 years have passed since Camillo purchased it and some of my family members still live there. Four centuries–twelve generations–later! However, the entire Palazzo is no longer owned by my family, just part of it. It is now the home to the Spanish Embassy and the Circolo Della Caccia, a private social club.

In 1605, a year after Camillo purchased the property, he was elected to the papacy and became Pope Paul V. Shortly after his appointment, he gave the Palazzo to his brothers as he no longer had any use for it.

Soon after Camillo became Pope, he ordained his nephew, Scipione Caffarelli, priest. Scipione is another notable member of my family. He was the son of Marcantonio Caffarelli and Ortensia Borghese, (Camillo’s sister), hence Camillo’s nephew. Within days of being ordained priest, Camillo’s favorite nephew was elevated to the rank of Cardinal. Once Scipione became Cardinal, he dropped his father’s last name and replaced it with his mother and uncle’s last name, Borghese. He also adopted the Borghese coat of arms, an eagle and dragon. From that day onward he was known as Cardinal Scipione Borghese.

In 1605 the Pope, like a king, had the power to bestow titles on those who pleased him. These are called “papal” titles. And, like a king, he controlled extensive territories– the Papal States and Vatican City. The Papal states consisted of a large tract of land stretching from Rome all the way to Bologna, in Northern Italy. These states were defended by a large and powerful army–again, controlled by the Pope.

It is no surprise that the Pope granted his favorite nephew, Scipione, the title of Prince of Vivero (a town in northern Spain). After the title of Prince was bestowed on Scipione, titles were then bestowed by Pope Paul V on various heads of the Borghese family. These titles went together with the territories of land they owned (in essence, the titles were attached to the land). My branch of the family received five different titles, including Prince of San Paolo , Prince of Sant’Angelo, and Duke of Bomarzo.

As for Scipione, once in power, he dedicated himself to increasing the fame of his maternal family. His energy was spent on improving the Borghese properties, adding to the family’s art collection and beautifying his beloved city, Rome. As fate would have it, Camillo, too, was a patron of the arts, so whatever Scipione wanted, Camillo supported. Together, they were among the most influential figures in the history of Rome and were responsible for many notable building projects.

My family’s mark–the family crest, eagle and dragon– can be seen throughout the entire city of Rome. This crest marks the entrance to Villa Borghese; it is found throughout the Villa Borghese Park, it is on the Fontanone del Gianicolo (a beautiful fountain overlooking the city of Rome – you must go there if you travel to Rome), in the Borghese Chapel in the Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica, and, most importantly, throughout the ceiling of St. Peter’s Basilica as well as on the façade of the Basilica.

Next time you are in Rome, look at the front (façade) of St. Peters and you will notice the Borghese name spelled in Latin, Bvrghesivs, honoring Pope Paul V. Above the Borghese name is the family crest.

Wherever my family’s crest or name appear throughout Rome, it is most likely due to a project completed under the direction of Pope Paul V or Cardinal Scipione. For example, since one of Pope Paul V’s greatest accomplishments was finishing the construction of St. Peters in 1615 (the façade was designed by Carlo Maderna), to pay tribute to his uncle’s accomplishment, Cardinal Scipione had Camillo’s name and Borghese crest inscribed on the center of the façade of St. Peters.

Cardinal Scipione and Pope Paul V were also both patrons of the arts. For example, to continue to beautify Rome, Cardinal Scipione commissioned Bernini, among other artists and sculptures, to work around the city. And both Scipione and Camillo acquired masterpieces for the family collection. Sometime around 1607, the Pope gave the Cardinal over 100 paintings that were confiscated from Cavalier D’Arpino, including two early works from Caravaggio.

Besides the confiscation of art, the Pope received many “gifts” from the papal government to fund my family’s investments, i.e., the acquisition of art and property. It is believed that the Pope purchased entire towns and approximately 1/3 of the land south of Rome (often at under market value) during his tenure. As a family, we became the largest landowners of the “Roman Campagna,” the central region in Italy, which is an area of approximately 1,300 miles.

It seems that everywhere I have traveled outside of Rome, I find another palazzo or castle that I never knew existed which bears the Borghese name. I stayed in Villa Parisi during the filming of The Bachelor – this was my home for 2 months — in Frascati, a town which overlooks Rome. This Villa has over 50 bedrooms and beautiful frescos painted on the wall. Some of the frescos are actually renderings of family members and the Borghese family crest can be found throughout the villa as well as in the courtyard. This villa was once owned by Borgheses and was called Villa Borghese (different than the Villa Borghese in Rome) until it was sold to the Parisi family in the late 1800s. Up the street from this villa is Villa Aldobrandini, a villa about twice the size of Villa Parisi. This was also part of my family’s fortune, as Prince Paolo Borghese married Olimpia Aldobrandini in 1614. From this marriage, the Borghese family became even more wealthy. The Aldobrandinis were one of Italy’s richest and most powerful families at that time; Ippolito Aldobrandini became Pope Clement VIII in 1592 and was the Pope immediately preceding Camillo Borghese/Paul V. The marriage of Prince Paolo to Olimpia is important because a little more than 150 years later, my family inherited much of this family’s estate.

Even in the center of Florence, Borghese property can be found as there is yet another Palazzo Borghese. This Palazzo was once owned by the Salviati family. Towards the end of the 1700s, Anna Maria Salviati married Prince Marcantonio III Borghese. It was then left to their son, the Camillo Borghese of this novel, and it is now used for weddings and events in Florence.

Although the villas and palazzos I have mentioned are quite spectacular, none are as remarkable or as well know as what is now called, “The Galleria Borghese,” one of Rome’s most important museums. The history of this building and the grounds which surround it, “Villa Borghese,” (which is one of Rome’s largest public park), began around 1612. At that time Cardinal Scipione purchased a vineyard and large estate just on the outskirts of Rome. A construction project began shortly afterwards which turned the property into a beautiful garden and palace which was to serve two primary purposes: 1.) to house my family’s art collection and 2.) a place of entertainment. Cardinal Scipione was actively involved in the landscaping of the Villa Borghese gardens in conjunction with the gardens at Palazzo Borghese. Both property gardens contained statutes, waterfalls, a vast array of trees and plenty of vegetation as an attempt to escape the Roman city life. Villa Borghese was often used as a refuge from the city (even though it is less than 5 miles away from Palazzo Borghese) and as a place of entertainment, while the Palazzo was used as the family’s main residence.

In 1803, a Prince Camillo Borghese (not to be confused with the earlier Camillo, Pope Paul V) married Pauline Bonaparte, Napoleon’s sister. It is their story that is told in my book. Rumor is that this was a forced marriage, as Napoleon wanted family ties to Italy to increase his wealth and to gain support . It appears that Napoleon’s strategy worked; soon after the marriage, he put pressure on his brother-in-law, Camillo, to sell some of the Borghese art collection to France. As a result, Camillo sold between 300-500 pieces of my family’s art collection from Villa Borghese* for the nineteenth-century equivalent of garage-sale prices. It is believed that it took nearly two years to ship the collection to France. If you go to the Galleria Borghese you will not notice that any artwork is missing, because Camillo replaced what he sold with pieces from the other Borghese villas located on the outskirts of Rome such as Frascati. However, from this point onward, my family’s estate started taking a turn for the worse.

According to my father, his great uncle, Camillo (yes, a third Camillo Borghese) started letting the public into the Villa Borghese park in the late 1800s. At first, public access was granted once a week and soon once a week became twice a week. In 1903, Villa Borghese (the park itself, the villa and the art collection) was nationalized by the state and then transferred to Rome’s municipality. From what my father tells me, the family was forced to give up the grounds, villa and art collection because it was being taxed far above market value. Apparently it involved an ugly legal battle but in the end, we lost the entire place.

From 1900 onward much of my family’s wealth and property slipped away due to poor management. For example, my great grandfather owned a castle and a large amount of property in Bomarzo, a beautiful town known for its “Monster Park” north of Rome. At the time of World War II he decided to sell it for roughly 8 million lire, as he thought the money would have more value than the land. After the War, Italy’s economy was destroyed and the 8 million lire was worth about 8,000 lire. He should have held onto the land! But there is no point in crying over past mistakes.

In 1907, another one of my ancestors, Prince Scipione Borghese, competed in the first-ever trans-Continental motor-rally which was held between Peking (now Beijing) and Paris–a 9,000 mile race across hostile terrain. In his red Itala, Prince Scipione won the rally.. This victory was celebrated in Italy as a major event, and red became the official color of the Italian race car team in honor of Prince Scipione. This is now an annual race.

In 1958 my grandmother, Princess Marcella Borghese, Duchess of Bomarzo, brought the Borghese name back to international attention by launching the Princess Marcella Borghese cosmetics line with the help of Charles Revson and the company he was running at the time, Revlon. My grandmother was always very fashionable and paid very close attention to clothing and styles. Her fashion sense was the main reason for the launch of Borghese cosmetics. In the 1950s, there were not many different shades of lipsticks and as a result, it was difficult to match a lipstick color to the color of one’s clothing. It was really that simple. Make numerous lipstick colors so that the lips can match the thread. From this concept, the Borghese cosmetics line was launched.

Today, the Prince and Princess titles appearing in front of the Borghese names are titles of historical interest. They are important in preserving the story of Italy and its culture. Think of the Roman Coliseum: although it is no longer used for sporting events, it still stands in the middle of Rome as a landmark of historical significance. It is a symbol of ancient Rome and a reminder of Italy’s past. In the same way, the papal titles that have come down to my generation of the Borgheses are a link back to the great figures who helped build the city of Rome.

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