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The Roman Inquisition on the Stage of Italy, c. 1590-1640

By Thomas F. Mayer

Publication Year: 2014

From the moment of its founding in 1542, the Roman Inquisition acted as a political machine. Although inquisitors in earlier centuries had operated somewhat independently of papal authority, the gradual bureaucratization of the Roman Inquisition permitted the popes increasing license to establish and exercise direct control over local tribunals—with varying degrees of success. In particular, Pope Urban VIII's aggressive drive to establish papal control through the agency of the Inquisition played out differently among the Italian states, whose local inquisitions varied in number and secular power. Rome's efforts to bring the Venetians to heel largely failed in spite of the interdict of 1606, and Venice maintained lay control of most religious matters. Although Florence and Naples resisted papal intrusions into their jurisdictions, on the other hand, they were eventually brought to answer directly to Rome—due in no small part to Urban VIII's subversions of the law.

The Roman Inquisition on the Stage of Italy, c. 1590-1640 provides a richly detailed account of the ways the Roman Inquisition operated to serve the papacy's long-standing political aims in Naples, Venice, and Florence. Drawing on the Inquisition's own records, diplomatic correspondence, local documents, newsletters, and other sources, Thomas F. Mayer sheds new light on papal interdicts and high-profile court cases that signaled significant shifts in inquisitorial authority for each Italian state. Alongside his earlier volume, The Roman Inquisition: A Papal Bureaucracy and Its Laws in the Age of Galileo, this masterful study extends and develops our understanding of the Inquisition as a political and legal institution.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Haney Foundation Series

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-10

Heresy-hunting probably always had a political dimension. It only intensified once the popes took an increasingly active role beginning in the twelfth century.1 Lucius III’s pivotal decretal Ad abolendam (1184), sometimes mistakenly taken as the or at least a foundational document of the papal inquisition, called on imperial authorities to assist in the search for heretics, and may have...

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Chapter 1. Spain and Naples

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pp. 11-45

Beginning no later than the mid-fifteenth century and intensifying spectacularly after the Sack of Rome followed in 1536 by Charles V’s hectoring of the pope in his own palace, the papacy suffered from strained relations with the Hapsburg powers, above all Spain. This situation arose partly as a natural reaction to the preponderance that country enjoyed throughout this period, in...

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Chapter 2. Naples: Tommaso Campanella

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pp. 46-63

The most notorious case in our period involving Rome and Naples was that of Tommaso Campanella.1 It may have set a record for length at nearly thirty years, not counting three other trials lasting another eight years that Campanella underwent at the hands of authorities in Naples and elsewhere before his most important processo began. That trial raised in particularly acute form the...

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Chapter 3. Venice in the Wake of the Interdict

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pp. 64-114

Although Naples and Venice were two of the most important local inquisitions, the Congregation attended to them in very different ways. While Naples drew steadily more interest in the seventeenth century, Rome expended most of its energy on Venice in one decade-long burst in the aftermath of the interdict of 1606. By the end of Paul V’s reign in 1621, Rome took not much more notice of Venice than of the local inquisition in, say, Cremona, and the situation...

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Chapter 4. Venice: Giordano Bruno, Cesare Cremonini, and Marcantonio De Dominis

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pp. 115-151

Three Venetian cases deserve separate treatment, both for their political, religious, and philosophical importance and the copiousness of their documentation, and for the tenacity with which the Inquisition pursued them, albeit with markedly different results. These are the trials of Giordano Bruno, apostate Dominican and natural philosopher; Cesare Cremonini, long-time...

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Chapter 5. Florence I

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pp. 152-197

Unlike many of their peers, the grand dukes fairly quickly accepted the new Roman Inquisition, as indicated by the execution in Rome in 1567 of Pietro Carnesecchi, a scion of the Florentine establishment. Carnesecchi would have done well to stay in Venice (as many friends advised him to do); the Venetians, even after they reluctantly allowed the Inquisition to operate in their territory, almost...

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Chapter 6. Florence II

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pp. 198-218

The latest murder case against Rodrigo Alidosi could scarcely have ended before Annibale Della Vigna, “ministro del S. Officio,” its notary, was attacked in April 1610, and yet another set of processi began. They posed much more danger to Alidosi than his first trial, since after his abjuration he stood to be condemned as a relapsus, which would have meant a death sentence. For some...

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pp. 219-224

In this book I have taken a somewhat unusual angle of vision and emphasized the degree to which politics affected the Roman Inquisition’s development, sometimes almost to the exclusion of other factors. The big trials covered—of Tommaso Campanella, Giordano Bruno, Cesare Cremonini, Marcantonio De Dominis and the two Alidosi—have almost nothing in common except the degree...


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pp. 225-340

List of Abbreviations

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pp. 341-344

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 345-348


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pp. 349-360

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pp. 361-362

I have written this book in steadily deteriorating health. The support of an army of friends has greatly lightened the consequences. I would try to name all the names, but I would fear to leave someone out. A generic and heartfelt thanks will have to do, except for a couple of especially supportive people, including Ken Bartlett, Massimo Firpo, Andy Kelly, and Diana Robin together...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812209341
E-ISBN-10: 0812209346
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812245738

Page Count: 392
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Haney Foundation Series