Salviati was born in Florence, the son of Jacopo Salviati and Lucrezia di Lorenzo de' Medici, the sister of Giovanni de' Medici. From an early age he was a knight of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. In his military career he fought against the Ottomans, obtaining the grade of admiral in the Military Order of Malta, which he represented as ambassador before Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, at Barcelona. He also fought against the Republic of Siena during the Italian Wars.
After establishing himself in France, where he rebuilt the Château de Talcy, he became Grand Almoner to Catherine de' Medici (she was his maternal cousin's daughter), who had convinced him to set aside his fighting career for an ecclesiastical one. He followed his brother as bishop of Saint-Papoul. He was named Cardinal by Pope Pius IV on 26 February 1561.
As the cardinal he wasn't married but is known that Bernardo's daughter and granddaughter, Cassandre and Diane (her father's name was Giovanni), were the muses of two leading French poets of the time, Pierre de Ronsard and Théodore-Agrippa d'Aubigné, respectively.
- His nephew Anton Maria Salviati succeeded him in the see and was later made a Cardinal.
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