Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Friday, May 31, 2019

Margherita de' Medici, Regent of Parma and Piacenza

Margherita de' Medici, duchess and regent of Parma and Piacenza (born 31 May 1612)

Margherita de' Medici was the daughter of Maria Magdalena of Austria, grand duchess and regent of Tuscany, and Cosimo II de' Medici, archduke of Tuscany. Like her mother, Margherita would become regent for her minor son after the death of his father.

Margherita de' Medici, c. 1628,
about the time of her marriage,
by Justus Sustermans
Born on 31 May 1612, Margherita was given an excellent humanist education, worthy of a woman of her social class and family status--in religion, art, classical literature, music, statecraft, and science, as well as in Latin. As the product of this education, she could compose odes and epigrams in both Italian and Latin.

Although Marie de' Medici, dowager queen of France, hoped to marry her son, Gaston, duke of Orléans, to Margherita, the Florentine girl was promised instead to Odoardo Farnese in 1620, when they were both eight years old--Odoardo had been born just a month before Margherita. 

Odoardo's father, Ranuccio I Farnese, was the duke of Parma, Piacenza, and Castro, and the alliance between his son and a daughter of the archduke was intended to strengthen the alliance between Parma and Tuscany.*

Odoardo Farnese succeeded to his title when he was still a child, in 1622, at the time of his father's death. His uncle was regent of Parma until 1626, and after he died, the young Odoardo's regent was his mother, Margherita Aldobrandini.** She continued as regent until her son reached his majority, in 1628, when he and Margherita de' Medici were married in a spectacular ceremony in the Florentine cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.

In Parma, Margherita de' Medici, now duchess of Parma and Piacenza, gave birth to eight children, the first in 1629, a year after her marriage, the last in 1641. During his frequent absences in pursuit of his territorial ambitions, Odoardo trusted at least some of the political duties to his wife. In 1635 he appointed her governor of Piacenza, for example. (As for Odoardo's ambitions--among other failures, he was excommunicated in 1641 and lost the Farnese fief of Castro, though it was eventually returned to him in 1644 as part of a peace negotiation with the Barberini family. After his death, however, papal forces razed Castro.)

As Adelina Modesti notes, Margherita was able to "[use] her cultural background, family connections, and force of personality to navigate successfully the transition between her natal and marital families, enabling her to gain an extraordinary degree of political power and cultural influence, which she used to enhance the interests of her marital family without losing her sway with the family she left behind."

Margherita de' Medici,
duchess of Parma and Piacenza,
copy of a portrait by Sustermans,
Galeria Nazionale
In August 1646, the dowager duchess and former regent of Parma, Margherita Aldobrandini, died. A month later, in September, Margherita de' Medici's husband, Odoardo Farnese, died. Since her eldest son was still a minor, Margherita de' Medici, now herself dowager duchess of Parma and Piacenza, became regent for her son. Her regency lasted until 1648, when her son, Ranuccio II of Farnese, achieved his majority.

As Modesti notes, however, Margherita de' Medici continued to exert a great deal of influence even after her son became duke, acting as his "political advisor and diplomatic ambassador even after he became an adult, married three times, and ruled officially in his own right."

Margherita de' Medici lived another thirty years. She died on 6 February 1679, aged sixty-six, noted as "a woman of extraordinary talent with good taste in the arts: mourned by the people and the court, she was greatly famed for her acute judgement, eminent compassion, and exquisite traits."

The most complete treatment of Margherita de' Medici, duchess of Parma and Piacenza, is Adelina Modesti's “Margherita de’ Medici Farnese: A Medici Princess at the Farnese Court,” in Medici Women: The Making of a Dynasty in Grand Ducal Tuscany.

*There is some evidence to suggest that the marriage negotiations at first involved the eldest Medici daughter, Maria Christina, but she seems to have been born with some kind of physical disability--when the duke of Parma discovered this, he insisted on renegotiating the alliance. Maria Christina lived in the Florentine convent of the Holy Conception (Santissima Concezione), founded by her great-grandmother, Eleanor of Toledo, duchess of Florence (wife of Cosimo I de' Medici). She remained there until her death, at age twenty-three, in 1632.

**Whose story is an interesting one! The granddaughter of Pope Clement VIII, Margherita Aldobrandini was married to the thirty-year-old Ranuccio I Farnese when she was just twelve years old. She remained childless for a decade, leading Ranuccio to the conclusion that she had been cursed! Or he was . . . Or something. When at long last a child was born to Ranuccio and Margherita, the baby was deaf. Convinced that his wife was cursed, Ranuccio had a former mistress, Claudia Colla and her mother, Elena tried for witchcraft--and executed in 1611. And Odoardo was born, as I said, in 1612 . . .