Noble Honors to the Boncompagni Ludovisi

A Spanish distinction granted in 1739

By Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi

Diploma of Grandee of Spain, First Class, pages 8-9 (1739) by anonymousArchivio Boncompagni Ludovisi

‘La Grandeza de España’

It’s the highest distinction of nobility in Spain—and indeed in all of Europe. And it’s not exactly a title, but rather something different and more. The honor in question? ‘La Grandeza de España’, a charismatic status that has its roots in the Visigothic monarchy that ruled the Iberian peninsula into the early eighth century CE, and is still alive today.

Diploma of Grandee of Spain, First Class, front cover (1739) by anonymousArchivio Boncompagni Ludovisi

The silver-embossed cover to a 1739 patent in which King Philip V of Spain (1700-1724, 1724-1746) granted the status of Grandee of Spain to Gaetano Boncompagni Ludovisi and his heirs in perpetuity.

Detail from the cover to the 1739 patent. The Grandees rank just below the Prince or Princess of Asturias (i.e., heir apparent to the throne) and Infante or Infanta (i.e., other sons and daughters of the monarch or heir).

Diploma of Grandee of Spain, First Class, page 1 (1739) by anonymousArchivio Boncompagni Ludovisi

Interior to the cover to the 1739 patent. The ‘Grandeza’ was long divided into three classes, each with distinct privileges in court protocol. At the top, “Grandees First Class” could speak directly to the king with head remaining covered.

Photograph of portrait of Gaetano Boncompagni Ludovisi as Prince of Piombino (1745-1755) by UnknownArchivio Boncompagni Ludovisi

The Spanish sovereign could confer ‘la Grandeza’ also on foreigners. In 1739, King Philip V granted it First Class to Gaetano Boncompagni Ludovisi (1706-1777, portrayed here after 1745) and to “his successors in perpetuity”.

Portrait of Gaetano Boncompagni Ludovisi as Prince of Piombino (1745-1755) by UnknownArchivio Boncompagni Ludovisi

Gaetano Boncompagni Ludovisi had obtained the full favor of Charles III—the eldest son of Philip V [reigned 1700-1746] and Elisabetta Farnese—from the start of Charles' government in Naples (1733).

Diploma of Grandee of Spain, First Class, pages 8-9 (1739) by anonymousArchivio Boncompagni Ludovisi

Title page of the 1739 patent. In January 1735, Don Gaetano had been designated Ambassador Extraordinary to the Court of Madrid. His absence from Italy, scheduled to last a few months, lasted for over two years, to mid-autumn 1737.

Photograph of portrait of Laura Boncompagni Ludovisi as Princess of Piombino (1745-1755) by UnknownArchivio Boncompagni Ludovisi

Gaetano had married Laura Chigi Albani della Rovere (1707-1792, portrayed here after 1745) in 1726. Their first son, Antonio, was born on 16 June 1735, during the embassy. Of their other seven children, four died in infancy.

Diploma of Grandee of Spain, First Class, pages 10-11 (1739) by anonymousArchivio Boncompagni Ludovisi

Coat of arms of the Boncompagni Ludovisi in the 1739 patent. The dragon is the symbol of the Boncompagni, the three rays that of the Ludovisi. The two Bolognese families, each of Papal status, combined in 1681.

The most coveted award of this embassy, as representative of Charles III of Naples in the court of his father Philip V in Madrid, was the King’s grant to Gaetano of the Order of the Golden Fleece, whose insignia is reproduced here.

Diploma of Grandee of Spain, First Class, pages 12-13 (1739) by anonymousArchivio Boncompagni Ludovisi

Portrait of Philip V and Elisabetta Farnese. In February 1738, their son Charles III appointed Gaetano as the Major Head Steward of the Future Sovereign—and tasked him to manage the large procession that would take his fiancée from Germany to Naples.

Diploma of Grandee of Spain, First Class, pages 14-15 (1739) by anonymousArchivio Boncompagni Ludovisi

Portrait in the patent of an unidentified saint with the insignia of the Golden Fleece. In February 1739, Charles III and his new wife brought it about that Philip V King of Spain granted the distinction of Grandee of Spain First Class to Gaetano and his descendants in perpetuity.

Diploma of Grandee of Spain, First Class, pages 16-17 (1739) by anonymousArchivio Boncompagni Ludovisi

Detail of portrait of Madonna and Holy Child in the richly illustrated patent of Gaetano Boncompagni Ludovisi’s 1739 investiture. It is preserved today in the Casino Aurora, rediscovered in 2010 by HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi.

Diploma of Grandee of Spain, First Class, pages 18-19 (1739) by anonymousArchivio Boncompagni Ludovisi

First page of the text of the grant, made 26 February 1739, and signed by King Philip V and 10 other members of his court on 21 May that year at the Royal Estate of Aranjuez—a town then reserved for royalty and nobility.

Diploma of Grandee of Spain, First Class, pages 20-21 (1739) by anonymousArchivio Boncompagni Ludovisi

The book containing the patent, highly personalized for Gaetano Boncompagni Ludovisi, features a series of painted initial capitals set against rural scenes of farming, hunting and fishing.

Diploma of Grandee of Spain, First Class, pages 24-25 (1739) by anonymousArchivio Boncompagni Ludovisi

Here Philip V enjoins that "Don Gaetano Boncompagni Ludovisi, Duke of Sora, and each one of your heirs in your time eternally and always, ever may you be and they be Grandees of Spain of the First Class."

Diploma of Grandee of Spain, First Class, pages 22-23 (1739) by anonymousArchivio Boncompagni Ludovisi

Detail of the text of the 1739 patent. The Spanish crown was indebted also to Gaetano's ancestors, especially Popes Gregory XIII Boncompagni (1572-1585) and Gregory XV Ludovisi (1621-1623), both devotees to the Royal House of Spain.

Diploma of Grandee of Spain, First Class, pages 26-27 (1739) by anonymousArchivio Boncompagni Ludovisi

What happened after this grant? In 1745 Gaetano assumed the title of Prince of Piombino and as such head of the family. He soon (by 1747) fell out of favor with the courts of Naples and Madrid for his advocacy of Jesuit interests.

At the conclusion of the patent, the space had been left blank for the date (21 May 1739) and location (Aranjuez) of the royal signing. At this time there were fewer than 120 Grandees, of all ranks.

Credits: Story

Text by Madhumita Kaushik and T. Corey Brennan, with the collaboration of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi.

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