Papal nobility

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Christopher, 1st Count de Paus (1862–1943), a Norwegian convert to Roman Catholicism, a papal chamberlain and a relative of Henrik Ibsen, was granted the title of count by Pope Pius XI.

The Papal nobility is the nobility of the Holy See.


Like many other European countries, the Papal States under the temporal jurisdiction of the Pope had a territorial nobility, allied and intermarried with the nobility of other Italian states.

The Papal Nobility until 1870[edit]

From the 15th to the 18th centuries, various influential families throughout Italy came to positions of power through the election to the papacy of a family member or were elevated into the ranks of nobility through ecclesiastic promotion. These families freely intermarried with aristocratic nobility. Like other noble families, those with both papal power and money were able to purchase comunes or other tracts of land and thus pave the way to having family patriarchs and other relatives elevated to noble titles. Hereditary patriarchs were appointed Duke, Marquis and even Prince of various 16th- and 17th-century principalities. According to Ranke:

Under Innocent X, there existed for a considerable time, as it were, two great factions, or associations of families. The Orsini, Cesarini, Borghese, Aldobrandini, Ludovisi, and Giustiniani were with the Pamphili; while opposed to them, was the house of Colonna and the Barberini.

— Leopold von Ranke, The History of the Popes

Popes commonly elevated members of prominent families to the position of cardinal; especially second and third sons who would not otherwise inherit hereditary titles and lands. Popes also elevated their own family members – especially nephews – to the special position of cardinal-nephew. Prominent families could purchase curial offices for their sons and regularly did, hoping that the son would rise through Church ranks to become a bishop cardinal, or even Pope, from which position they could dispense further titles and positions of authority to other family members.[1]

The period from the 15th to the 18th century was famous for papal nepotism and many families, such as the Barberini and Pamphili, benefited greatly from having a papal relative. Families that had previously been limited to agricultural or mercantile ventures found themselves, sometimes within only one or two generations, elevated to the Roman nobility when a relative was elected to the papal throne.[1] Modern Italy is dotted with the fruits of their success – various family palazzi remain standing today as a testament to their sometimes meteoric rise to power.

The Papal Nobility 1870 to 1946[edit]

After the Kingdom of Italy annexed the Papal States and captured Rome in 1870, the new kingdom recognized the existing nobility in its new territory. The pope remained a self-described "prisoner in the Vatican", supported by the so-called "black nobility" of families who remained loyal to the papacy rather than the Italian monarchy. The Lateran Treaty ended this dispute.

On the occasion of the signing of the Lateran Accords of 1929, the Italian government recognized the sovereignty of the Holy See and confirmed the pope's power to grant noble titles. It also recognized the titles granted by the Pope until that date and all future titles as equivalent to the noble titles of the Kingdom of Italy. This rule remained in force until the 1946 abolition of the Italian monarchy. In 1969 the Italian Council of State determined that the provision of the Lateran Treaty concerning the recognition of papal titles that was incorporated into the Italian Constitution was still valid and therefore that their use in Italy was still licit. No provision, however, has been made for their use in Italian passports, identity cards or civil state registries.

The Papal Nobility since 1946[edit]

Few Pontifical titles, other than personal nobility obtained by individual appointment into the several Pontifical equestrian orders, have been granted since the election of Pope John XXIII in 1958. In 1968, Paul VI reformed the papal court via the apostolic letter Pontificalis Domus, which reorganized the court into the Pontifical Household. At this time he also declared that the papal nobility would no longer be a constituent body in the Pontifical Household.

Although the custom of conferring noble titles such as prince, duke, marquis, count, and baron has since essentially disappeared, Pope John Paul II ennobled several distinguished individuals during his pontificate, as did Pope Benedict XVI, through the Vatican Secretariat of State. John Paul II granted several noble titles to Polish compatriots at the beginning of his pontificate, but quietly and without their being published in the Acts of The Apostolic See.

The popes continue to award knighthoods and medals of merit on a regular basis, which do not confer titled-nobility status with the exception of Count of the Sacred Palace of the Lateran.[2]



Papal nobility encompasses the titles of prince, duke, marquis, count, viscount, baron and knight.

Papal counts and countesses[edit]

Count/Countess is one of the noble titles granted by the Pope as a temporal sovereign, and the title's holder is sometimes informally known as a papal count/papal countess or less so as a Roman count/Roman countess, but mostly as count/countess. The comital title, which can be for life or hereditary, has been awarded in various forms by popes and Holy Roman Emperors since the Middle Ages, and the pope continued to grant the comital and other noble titles even after 1870, when the Papal States were taken from the pope.

Recipients of such honours included both Italians, especially those close to the papacy (some of whom were/are papal relatives), and prominent non-Italian Catholics, including Irish tenor John McCormack, American financier George MacDonald, American philanthropist Katherine E. Price, and Rose Kennedy (mother of U.S. president John F. Kennedy). American Francis Augustus MacNutt was a papal marquis and Argentine Mercedes Castellanos de Anchorena was a papal marchioness, and in the 1920s, Genevieve and Nicholas Frederic Brady of New York were granted papal dukedoms. Pontifical noble titles, like marquis Silva de Balboa, also as count of Urquijo. Entry motu proprio into Pontifical Equestrian Orders of Chivalry, are in the personal gift of the pope, and the grant of these titles is not recorded in the Acts of The Holy See.

Count of the Sacred Palace of the Lateran[edit]

The title "Count of the Sacred Palace of the Lateran" is an honour that is granted 'ex officio' and 'ad vitam' to those who have been created Pontifical Chamberlains (now styled as Gentlemen of His Holiness) as attendants to the Pontifical Court. Additionally, the honour was collectively granted to the Spanish chapters of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, the only purely noble chapters of the order. Their members enjoy several heraldic privileges in addition to the right to use the Comital title. This tradition can be traced back to the Reconquista, in which the Order played an important role. According to heraldic expert Lord Manuel de Mata, the Spanish Members of the Order are allowed to use both the full title of Count of the Sacred Palace of the Lateran as well as just the title of Count before their names. The rights were recorded in the "Memorias de la Academia Mallorquina de Estudios Genealógicos" and approved by King Alfonso XIII of Spain.[3]

Noble houses[edit]

Examples of Italian noble houses of the papacy:

Noble House Coat of Arms Current Head Titles
House of Aldobrandini
Camillo Aldobrandini Prince of Meldola and Sarsina
House of Barberini
Coat of arms of the House of Barberini.svg
Francesco Barberini Prince of Palestrina

Prince di Valmontone

Duke of Monterotondo

House of Borghese
Coat of arms of the House of Borghese.svg
Scipione Virginio Flavio Giacomo Antonio Maria Numerous Titles
House of Borgia
Escudo de la familia Borja.svg
Extinct in 1748 Numerous Titles
House of Borromeo
Coat of arms of the House of Borromeo.svg
Vitaliano XI Prince of Angera

Marquess of Romagnano

Count of Arona

Count of Peschiera


House of Braschi
C o a Pius VI.svg
Giovanni Angelo Theodoli-Braschi, Prince of the Holy Roman Empire
Duke of Nemi
Prince of Rocca Sinibalda
Marquis of Belmonte Sabino
Count of Falcino
House of Chigi
Mario Chigi Prince of the Holy Roman Empire

Duke of Ariccia

Prince of Farnese

Prince of Campagnano

House of Colonna
Marcantonio Colonna (Paliano line) Prince assistant to the Papal throne

Prince of Paliano

Prince of Stigliano

Prince of Carbognano


House of Cybo
Extinct in 1790 Prince of the Holy Roman Empire

Prince of Massa and Marquis of Carrara

Duke of Massa e Prince of Carrara

Duke and Marquis of Aiello


House of Mattei
Extinct in 1801 Duke of Giove
House of Medici
3 cadet branches Grand Duke of Tuscany

Duke of Florence

Duke of Urbino

Duke of Nemours

Prince of Ottajano

House of Orsini
Domenico Napoleone Orsini Prince Assistant to the Papal Throne

Duke of Gravina

Duke of Amalfi

Duke of Bracciano

Count of Pitigliano

Extinct in 2000 Prince of Melfi

Prince of Borgotaro

Prince of Meldola

Duke of Montelanico

Marquis of Torriglia

House of Ruspoli
Francesco Ruspoli Prince of the Holy Roman Empire

Prince of Cerveteri

Marquis of Riano

Count of Vignanello

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b History of the popes; their church and state (Volume III) by Leopold von Ranke (2009, Wellesley College Library)
  2. ^ Philippe Levillain, ed. John W. O'Malley, tr. The Papacy: An Encyclopedia (2002) vol. ii s.v. "Nobility, Roman".
  3. ^ de Mata, Manuel (1955). "Breve resena de la Orden del Santo Sepulcro presentada a S.M. el Rey D. Alfonso XIII el 25 de julio de 1904 por el Excmo. Sr. D. manuel de Mata". Memorias de la Academia Mallorquina de Estudios Genealógicos (in Spanish). 1–4: 136–143.