GONZAGA, an Italian princely family named after the town where it probably had its origin. Its known history begins with the 13th century, when Luigi I. (1267-1360), after fierce struggles supplanted his brother-in-law Rinaldo (nicknamed Passerino) Bonacolsi as lord of Mantua in August 1328, with the title of captain-general, and afterwards of vicar-general of the empire, adding the designation of count of Mirandola and Concordia, which fief the Gonzagas held from 1328 to 1354. In July 1335 his son Guido, with the help of Filippino and Feltrino Gonzaga, wrested Reggio from the Scaligeri and held it until 1371. Luigi was succeeded by Guido (d. 1369); the latter's son Luigi II. came next in succession (d. 1382), and then Giovan Francesco I. (d. 1407), who, although at one time allied with the treacherous Gian Galeazzo Visconti, incurred the latter's enmity and all but lost his estates and his life in consequence; eventually he joined the Florentines and Bolognese, enemies of Visconti. He promoted commerce and wisely developed the prosperity of his dominions. His son Giovan Francesco II. (d. 1444) succeeded him under the regency of his uncle Carlo Malatesta and the protection of the Venetians. He became a famous general, and was rewarded for his services to the emperor Sigismund with the title of marquess of Mantua for himself and his descendants (1432), an investiture which legitimatized the usurpations of the house of Gonzaga. His son Luigi III. "it Turco" (d. 1478) likewise became a celebrated soldier, and was also a learned and liberal prince, a patron of literature and the arts. His son Federigo I. (d. 1484) followed in his father's footsteps, and served under various foreign sovereigns, including Bona of Savoy and Lorenzo de' Medici; subsequently he upheld the rights of the house of Este against Pope Sixtus IV. and the Venetians, whose ambitious claims were a menace to his own dominions of Ferrara and Mantova. His son Giovan Francesco III. (d. 1519) continued the military traditions of the family, and commanded the allied Italian forces against Charles VIII. at the battle of Fornovo; he afterwards fought in the kingdom of Naples and in Tuscany, until captured by the Venetians in 1509. On his liberation he adopted a more peaceful and conciliatory policy, and with the help of his wife, the famous Isabella d'Este, he promoted the fine arts and letters, collecting pictures, statues and other works of art with intelligent discrimination. He was succeeded by his son Federigo II. (d. 1540), captain-general of the papal forces. After the peace of Cambrai (1529) his ally and protector, the emperor Charles V., raised his title to that of duke of Mantua in 1530; in 1536 the emperor decided the controversy for the succession of Monferrato between Federigo and the house of Savoy in favour of the former. His son Francesco I. succeeded him, and, being a minor, was placed under the regency of his uncle Cardinal Ercole; he was accidentally drowned in 1550, leaving his possessions to his brother Guglielmo. The latter was an extravagant spendthrift, but having subdued a revolt in Monferrato was presented with that territory by the emperor Maximilian II. At his death in 1587 he was succeeded by his son Vincenzo I. (d. 1612), who was more addicted to amusements than to warfare. Then followed in succession his sons Francesco II. (d. 1612), Ferdinando (d. 1626), and Vincenzo II. (d. 1627), all three incapable and dissolute princes. The last named appointed as his successor Charles, the son of Henriette, the heiress of the French family of Nevers-Rethel, who was only able to take possession of the ducal throne after a bloody struggle; his dominions were laid waste by foreign invasions and he himself was reduced to the sorest straits. He died in 1637, leaving his possessions to his grandson Charles (Carlo) II. under the regency of the latter's mother Maria Gonzaga, which lasted until 1647. Charles died in consequence of his own profligacy and was succeeded by his son Ferdinand Charles (Ferdinando Carlo), who was likewise for some years under the regency of his mother Isabella of Austria. Ferdinand Charles, another extravagant and dissolute prince, acquired the county of Guastalla by marriage in 1678, but lost it soon afterwards; he involved his country in useless warfare, with the result that in 1708 Austria annexed the duchy. On the 5th of July of the same year he died in Venice, and with him the Gonzagas of Mantua came to an end.
Of the cadet branches of the house one received the lordship of Bozzolo, another the counties of Novellara and Bagnolo, a third, of which the founder was Ferrante I. (d. 1557), retained the county of Guastalla, raised to a duchy in 1621, and came to an end with the death of Giuseppe Maria on the 16th of August 1746.
Bibliography.-S. Maffei, Annali di Mantova (Tortona, 16 75); G. Veronesi, Quadro storico della Mirandola (Modena, 1847); T. Affo, Storia di Guastalla (Guastalla, 18 75, 4 vols.); Alessandro Luzio, I Precattori d'Isabella d'Este (Ancona, 1887); A. Luzio and R. Renier, "Francesco Gonzaga alla battaglia di Fornovo (1495), secondo i documenti Mantovani" (in Archivio storico italiano, ser. v. vol. vi., 205-246); id., Mantova e Urbino, Isabella d'Este e Elisabeth Gonzaga nelle relazioni famigliari e nelle vicende politiche (Turin, 1893); L. G., Pelissier, "Les Relations de Francois de Gonzague, marquis de Mantoue, avec Ludovico Sforza et Louis XII" (in Annales de la faculte de Lettres de Bordeaux, 1893); Antonino Bertolotti, "Lettere del duca di Savoia Emanuele Filiberto a Guglielmo Gonzaga, duca di Mantova" (Arch. stor. it., ser. v., vol. ix. pp. 250-283); Edmondo Solari, Lettere inedite del card. Gasparo Contarini nel carteggio del card. Ercole Gonzaga (Venice, 1904); Arturo Segre, Il Richiamo di Don Ferrante Gonzaga dal governo di Milano, e sue conseguenze (Turin, 1904).
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