Giovanni Battista Rinuccini

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Giovanni Battista Rinuccini (1592–1653) was an Italian Roman Catholic archbishop in the mid-seventeenth century. He was a noted legal scholar and became chamberlain to Pope Gregory XV. In 1625 Pope Urban VIII made him the Archbishop of Fermo in Italy. In 1645 Pope Innocent X sent him to Ireland as Papal Nuncio. He brought money and weapons to help the Irish Confederation in its war against the Protestant English. Rinuccini became the dominant figure of the hard-line Clerical Faction of the Confederates refusing the alliance with the Irish Royalists.

Early life[edit]

Rinuccini was born in Rome on 15 September 1592.[1] He was the son of a Florentine patrician, his mother, Virginia di Pier Antonio Bandini was a sister of Cardinal Ottavio Bandini, who was bishop of Ostia and Velletri and dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals. Rinuccini was educated by the Jesuits at Rome and studied law at the Universities of Bologna and Perugia, in due course, about April 2019, he was ordained a priest, having at the age of twenty-two obtained his doctor's degree from the University of Pisa. He was accepted into the Accademia della Crusca, and Galileo Galilei proposed him for membership of the Accademia dei Lincei in 1616. Returning to serve his uncle at Rome, although a fever, perhaps malaria,[citation needed] permanently damaged his health, he won distinction as an advocate in the ecclesiastical courts, was named a camariere (chamberlain) by Pope Gregory XV and in 1625 became Archbishop of Fermo.[2] In 1631 he carefully refused an offer to be made archbishop of Florence.

Irish mission[edit]

In 1645 Pope Innocent X sent him to Ireland as Papal Nuncio to help the Irish Confederate Catholics in their war against English Protestant rule, succeeding the papal envoy there, Pierfrancesco Scarampi.

Arrival in Ireland[edit]

Rinuccini departed France from Saint-Martin-de-Ré near La Rochelle on 18 October 1645[3] on the frigate San Pietro and arrived in Kenmare, County Kerry, on 21 October 1645[4] with a retinue of twenty-six Italians, several Irish officers, and the Confederacy's secretary, Richard Bellings. He proceeded to Kilkenny, the confederate capital, where Rinuccini was received with great honours. He asserted in his Latin declaration that the object of his mission was to sustain the King, but above all to help the Catholic people of Ireland in securing the free and public exercise of the Catholic religion, and the restoration of the churches and church property.

Rinuccini sent ahead arms and ammunition: 1000 braces of pistols, 4000 cartridge belts, 2000 swords, 500 muskets and 20,000 pounds of gunpowder.[5] He arrived twelve days later with a further two thousand muskets and cartridge-belts, four thousand swords, four hundred brace of pistols, two thousand pike-heads, and twenty thousand pounds of gunpowder, fully equipped soldiers and sailors and 150,658 livres tournois to finance the Irish Catholic war effort.[6] These supplies gave him a huge input into the Confederate's internal politics, because the Nuncio doled out the money and arms for specific military projects, rather than handing it over to the Confederate government, or Supreme Council.

Rinuccini hoped that by doing so he could influence the Confederate's strategic policy away from making a deal with Charles I and the Royalists in the English Civil War and towards the foundation of an independent Catholic-ruled Ireland. In particular, Rinuccini wanted to ensure that Protestant churches and lands taken in the rebellion would remain in Catholic hands. This was consistent with what happened in Catholic-controlled areas during the Thirty Years' War and can be seen as part of the wider counter-reformation in Europe. The Nuncio also had unrealistic hopes of using Ireland as a base to re-establish Catholicism in England. However, apart from some military successes such as the battle of Benburb on 5 June 1646, the main result of Rinuccini's efforts was to aggravate the infighting between different factions within the Irish Confederates.

Faction fighting in Ireland[edit]

The Confederate's Supreme Council was dominated by wealthy landed magnates, predominantly of "Old English" origin, who were anxious to come to a deal with the Stuart monarchy that would guarantee their land ownership, full civil rights for Catholics, and toleration of Catholicism. However, they were opposed by many within the Confederation, who wanted better terms, including self-government for Ireland, a reversal of the land confiscations of the plantations of Ireland and establishment of Catholicism as the state religion. A particularly sore point in the negotiations with the English Royalists was the insistence of some Irish Catholics on keeping in Catholic hands Protestant churches taken in the war. Rinuccini accepted the assurances of the Supreme Council that such concerns would be addressed in the Duke of Ormonde's peace treaty with the Royalists, negotiated in 1646.

However, when the terms were published, they granted only the private practice of Catholicism. Alleging that he had been deliberately deceived, Rinuccini publicly backed the militant Confederate faction, which included most of the Catholic clergy and Irish military commanders such as Owen Roe O'Neill; on the other side there were the Franciscans Pierre Marchant, and later Raymond Caron. In 1646, when the Supreme Council tried to get the Ormonde Peace passed, Rinuccini excommunicated them and helped to get the Treaty voted down in the Confederate General Assembly. The Assembly had the members of the Supreme Council arrested for treason and elected a new Supreme Council.

Defeat in Ireland[edit]

However, the following year, the Confederates' attempts to drive the remaining English (mainly Parliamentarian) armies from Ireland met with disaster at the battles of Dungans Hill and Knocknanauss. As a result, the chastened Confederates hastily concluded a new deal with the English Royalists to try to prevent a Parliamentarian conquest of Ireland in 1648. Although the terms of this second deal were better than those of the first one, Rinuccini again tried to overturn the treaty. However, on this occasion, the Catholic clergy were split on whether to accept the deal, as were the Confederate military commanders and the General Assembly. Ultimately, the treaty was accepted by the Confederation, which then dissolved itself and joined a Royalist coalition. Rinuccini backed Owen Roe O'Neill, who used his Ulster army to fight against his former comrades who had accepted the deal. The Nuncio tried in vain to repeat his success of 1646 and excommunicate those who supported the peace. However, the Irish bishops were split on the issue and so Rinuccini's authority was diluted. Militarily, Owen Roe O'Neill was unable to reverse the political balance; despairing of the Catholic cause in Ireland, Rinnuccini left the country in 1649 embarking on 23 February 1649 at Galway on the ship that had brought him to Ireland, the frigate San Pietro.[7] In the same year, Oliver Cromwell led a Parliamentarian re-conquest of the country, after which Catholicism was thoroughly repressed. Roman Catholic worship was banned, Irish Catholic-owned land was widely confiscated east of Connacht, and all Catholic clergy who were captured were executed.

Back in Italy[edit]

Rinuccini returned to Rome, where he wrote an extensive account of his time in Ireland, the Commentarius Rinuccinanus. His account blames personal vainglory and tribal divisions for the Catholic disunity in Ireland. In particular, he blamed the Old English for the eventual Catholic defeat. The Gaelic Irish, he writes, despite being less civilised, are more sincere Catholics.

Rinuccini returned to his diocese in Fermo in June 1650 and died there on 13 December 1653.[8][9]

Literary works[edit]

Rinuccini wrote also a number of works, including books on philosophy, rhetoric, history and geography. While considering his religious writings as his most important works, the most popular book was Il Cappuccino Scozzese (Italian pronunciation: [il kapputˈtʃiːno skotˈtsɛːze]) (The Scottish Capuchin), a fictionalised life of the Scottish monk George Leslie.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Aiazzi 1873, p. page v: "GIOVAN BATISTA RINUCCINI was born on September 15th, 1592."
  2. ^ D'Alton 1912, p. 61: "... and in 1625 became archbishop of Fermo."
  3. ^ Aiazzi 1873, p. 80: "... I set sail from the Island of San Martino on Monday the 18th instant [October 1645] ..."
  4. ^ Coffey 1914, p. 152, line 16: "... landed at Kenmare October, 21st [1645]."
  5. ^ Aiazzi 1873, p. x: "The nuncio was preceded by a vessel laden with 1000 pairs of pistols, 4000 cartouche belts, 2000 sabres, 500 muskets and 20,000 pounds of powder"
  6. ^ From an archiepiscopal document found by the Protestants and published, noted in detail by Aiazzi 1844:xv, against which these figures have been correlated.
  7. ^ O'Sullivan 1983, p. 278: "... the San Pietro, the vessel which had brought him to Ireland and on which he now proposed to depart ... on the morning of the 23rd February 1649, Rinuccini quitted 'the place of his refuge' and went on board."
  8. ^ Aiazzi 1873, p. page xi: "... in December, 1653, being again attacked by illness, he placidly ceased to live."
  9. ^ Tomassetti 2016, p. 616: "... morì il 13 dicembre 1653."
  10. ^ Now in: Storie Inglesi, l'Inghilterra vista dall'Italia tra storia e romanzo (XVIII sec.) edited by Clizia Carminati and Stefano Villani, Pisa, Edizioni della Normale, 2011


  • Aiazzi, Giuseppe (1873), The Embassy in Ireland of Monsignor G. B. Rinuccini, Archbishop of Fermo, in the Years 1645–1649, translated by Hutton, Annie, Dublin: Alexander Thom
  • Bagwell, Richard (1909), Ireland under the Stuarts and under the Interregnum, 2, London: Longmans, Green, and Co. – 1642 to 1660
  • Coffey, Diarmid (1914), O'Neill and Ormond - A Chapter of Irish History, Dublin: Maunsel & Company
  • D'Alton, Rev. Edward Alfred (1912), "Rinuccini, Giovanni Battista", in Herbermann, Charles George (ed.), Catholic Encyclopedia, 13, New York: The Encyclopedia Press, p. 61
  • O'Sullivan, Mary D. (1983) [1942], Old Galway: the history of a Norman colony in Ireland, Galway: Kennys Bookshops and Art Galleries
  • Tomassetti, Stefano (2016), "Rinuccini, Giovanni Battista", in Romanelli, Raffaele (ed.), Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, 87, Rome: Istituto dell'Enciclopedia Italiana, p. 616–18

General references[edit]

  • Meehan, Rev. Charles Patrick (1882), The Confederation of Kilkenny (New revised and enlarged ed.), Dublin: James Duffy
  • Padraig Lenihan, Confederate Catholics at War, Cork 2001.
  • Michael O Siochru, Confederate Ireland 1642–49, Dublin 1999
  • John Kenyon and Jane Ohlmeyer (eds.), The Civil Wars, Oxford 1998
  • Tadhg Ó hAnnracháin, Reformation and the Wars of the Three Kingdoms in Ireland: The Mission of Rinuccini, 1645–49, Oxford, 2001
  • John Thomas Gilbert, History of the Confederation and War in Ireland

Further reading[edit]