The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church

Biographical Dictionary
Eugenius IV (1431-1447)
Consistory of August 9, 1437 (II)
Celebrated in Florence

(1) 1. VITELLESCHI, Giovanni (?-1440)

Birth. (No date found), Corneto. Of a noble family. His first name is also listed as Gianvitello and as Giovanni Maria. Uncle of Pseudocardinal Bartolomeo Vitelleschi (1444). He was called the Cardinal of Florence.

Education. He improved his education under the protection of Pope Martin V.

Early life. He received his military training as a youth with the condottiere of Tartaglia. Later, he entered the ecclesiastical state. Protonotary apostolic in the pontificate of Pope Martin V.

Sacred orders. (No information found).

Episcopate. Elected bishop of Recanati e Macerata, April 16, 1431. Consecrated (no information found). Papal commissary in Rome, May 1431. Papal commisary in the province of the Patrimony, December 1431. Governor of Marches in April 1432. Sent to Rome by Pope Eugenius IV in October 1434 to put down the rebellion that had established a republic and chased the pope out of the city; he restored the city to papal control. Named titular patriarch of Alexandria, February 21, 1435; he kept the patriarchate until his death; retained the see of Recanati in commendam. He defeated Giacomo di Vico in October 1435 and had him executed; he later fought the Savellis and the Colonnas. Named archbishop of Florence, October 12, 1435; occupied the see until his promotion to the cardinalate. Placed at the head of the papal troops, he restored order in the Papal States; on August 18, 1436, he took Palestrina, fortress that belonged to the Colonnas, who were enemies of Pope Eugenius IV; he destroyed the fortress the following spring; entered Rome with honors and received the title of third father of the city (after Romulus and Caesar Augustus); later, he fought the prince of Tarento, Antonio Orsini.

Cardinalate. Created cardinal priest in the consistory of August 9, 1437 with the title of S. Lorenzo in Lucina. He received the diocese of Trau in Dalmatia in commendam on August 9, 1437; kept the post until his death. Archpriest of the patriarchal Liberian basilica at the beginning of 1439. In April 1439, he took Zagarolo from the Colonnas; and later, Foligno from the Savellis. Legate and governor of Rome; he was severe and even cruel in the repression of delicts and crimes. In Corneto, he had built a magnificent palace, where he had a valuable library. The pope had become fearful and distrustful of Cardinal Vitelleschi; and the Florentines, suspicious of him, closely watched his correspondence; finally, the pope decided to imprison the cardinal. On March 19, 1440, in Rome, after having reviewed his troops, he was ambushed and taken to Castello Sant'Angelo by Antonio Rido, commander of the castle (1); during the capture, he was wounded while trying to defend himself; a few days later, he died of his wounds.

Death. April 2, 1440, Castello Sant'Angelo, Rome. Buried (no information found). On March 1, 1441, Pope Eugenius IV issued a bull of absolution in favor of his aggressor, admitting that the death of the cardinal was the natural result of his wounds and not the effect of poison. In the Jubilee year 1450, Pope Nicholas V allowed the transfer of his remains to the cathedral of Corneto.

Bibliography. Cardella, Lorenzo. Memorie storiche de' cardinali della Santa Romana Chiesa. Rome : Stamperia Pagliarini, 1793, III, 65-69; Chacón, Alfonso. Vitæ, et res gestæ Pontificvm Romanorum et S. R. E. Cardinalivm ab initio nascentis Ecclesiæ vsque ad Vrbanvm VIII. Pont. Max. 4 volumes. Romae : Typis Vaticanis, 1677, II, col. 896-900; "Essai de liste générale des cardinaux. VII. Les cardinaux de la fin du XVe siècle". Annuaire Pontifical Catholique 1932. Paris : Maison de la Bonne Presse, 1932, p. 133; Eubel, Conradus and Gulik, Guglielmus van. Hierarchia Catholica Medii Aevi. Volumen II (1431-1503). Münich : Sumptibus et Typis Librariae Regensbergianae, 1914; reprint, Padua : Il Messagero di S. Antonio, 1960, pp. 7, 26, 63, 85, 154, 220 and 253.

Links. Biography, in English, Wikipedia; his portrait by an unknown artist, Sala del Consiglio, Rettorato, Universoty of Bologna, Bologna, Italy; his engraving by Tobias Stimmer; his engraving by an anonymous artist, Bibliothèque publique et universitaire, Neuchâtel, Switzerland; and engravings, portraits and arms, Araldica Vaticana.

(1) His biography in English, linked above, citing Niccoló Macchiaveli, History of Florence from the earliest times to the death of Lorenzo the Magnificent (Revised edition. With a special introduction by Charles W. Colby. New York : Colonial Press, 1901), book v, chapter xxviii, describes the arrest: "The patriarch, having determined to go into Tuscany, prepared to leave Rome on the following day, and ordered the castellan to be upon the drawbridge of the fortress in the morning, for he wished to speak with him as he passed. Antonio perceived this to be the favorable moment, informed his people what they were to do, and awaited the arrival of the patriarch upon the bridge, which adjoined the building, and might for the purpose of security be raised or lowered as occasion required. The appointed time found him punctual; and Antonio, having drawn him, as if for the convenience of conversation, on to the bridge, gave a signal to his men, who immediately raised it, and in a moment the cardinal, from being a commander of armies, found himself a prisoner of the castellan. The patriarch's followers at first began to use threats, but being informed of the pope's directions they were appeased. The castellan comforting him with kind words, he replied, that 'the great do not make each other prisoners to let them go again; and that those whom it is proper to take, it is not well to set free.' He shortly afterward died in prison."

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