The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church

Biographical Dictionary
Pope Pius VI (1775-1799)
Consistory of December 18, 1786 (XIV)


(49) 1. BRASCHI-ONESTI, Romualdo (1753-1817)

Birth. July 19, 1753, Cesena. Of a patrician family that was aggregated to the Roman patriciate by senatus consulto of January 19, 1781. Fourth of the six children of Count Girolamo Onesti and Giulia Francesca Braschi. The other siblings were Filippo, Marianna, Luigi, Teresa and Fulvia (abbess of S. Caterina in Cesena). Nephew of Pope Pius VI on his mother's side. His first name is also listed as Romoaldo.

Education. Studied at Collegio dei Nobili, Ravenna; and later, in May 1778, he was called to Rome by his uncle the pope and studied at the Pontifical Academy of Ecclesiastical Nobles; in that same year, he entered the ecclesiastical state. His brother Luigi was called to Rome at the same time and made duke of Nemi.

Early life. Sent as ablegato to Versailles, France, to bring the red biretta to Cardinals Dominique de La Rochefoucauld and Louis de Rohan-Guéménée, both elevated to the cardinalate on June 1, 1778; King Louis XV of France conferred on him the abbey of Chaage, diocese of Meaux, with an annual rent of 5000 écus. Entered the Roman prelature on September 5, 1779 as referendary of the Tribunals of the Apostolic Signature of Justice and of Grace, and as protonotary apostolic. Named majordome and prefect of the Apostolic Palace in 1780; as such, he directed the sumptuous ceremony of the marriage of his brother Luigi in the Sistine Chapel on May 31, 1780. By motu proprio of May 20, 1781, Pope Pius VI admitted in the Braschi family in perpetuity his nephews Romualdo and Luigi. In 1782, on the occasion of the trip of Pope Pius VI to Vienna, he received in consignment the will of his uncle. Named grand prior of the Sovereign Order of Malta in Rome in 1784; and received from the king of Sardinia, Vittorio Amedeo III, the decoration of the Order of Ss. Maurizio e Lazzaro.

Cardinalate. Created cardinal deacon in the consistory of December 18, 1786; received the red hat and the deaconry of S. Nicola in Carcere, January 29, 1787. Secretary of Apostolic Briefs, January 5, 1787. Assigned to the SS. CC. of the Council, Propaganda Fide, Consistorial, Ecclesiastical Immunity, Fabric of St. Peter's basilica, Avignon and Loreto. Granted dispensation from receiving the minor orders, subdiaconate and diaconate and continued being a cardinal deacon, December 14, 1787; the dispensation was extended for a triennium, December 14, 1790; April 24, 1798; May 15, 1801, July 10, 1804. Protector of the Holy Land, September 22, 1795. At the end of 1797, the pope sent him to Naples to obtain the protection of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies for the Papal States; he stayed at the convent of S. Chiara during the first months of the Roman Republic; and later, when Naples became an insecure place, he went to Venice, then under the control of Austria, where several cardinals were; after the death of Pope Pius VI occurred in Valence, France, on August 29, 1799, he took over the functions of camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church during the vacancy of the Apostolic See on October 19, 1799. Participated in the conclave of 1799-1800, celebrated in the Benedictine monastery of S. Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, which elected Pope Pius VII. The new pope was also from Cesana and had close ties with the Braschi family. After the first restoration of the papal government, he opted for the deaconry of S. Maria ad Martyres on April 2, 1800. On July 9, 1800, he was aggregated to the particular congregation for the economic reform, instituted to solve the financial and economic chaos in which the Papal State was submerged. Protector of the Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, August 30, 1800. Named camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church by apostolic brief of October 30, 1800; confirmed ad eius vitam, in the consistory of December 22, 1800; resigned, November 10, 1801, after having violently opposed Cardinal Ercole Consalvi, secretary of State, concerning the liberalization of commerce within the Papal States with the purpose of preserving the prerogatives of the Apostolic Chamber; he was the only member of the Sacred College to oppose Cardinal Consalvi in this matter; and continued for many years to be an adversary of the cardinal secretary of State. He kept his post of secretary of Briefs. Named member of the S.C. for the Economy (before December 27, 1800; Ceremonial (before March 28, 1801); and of the Oriental Indies and China (before January 12, 1802). Prefect of the Economy of the S.C. of Propaganda Fide, December 30, 1801. Protector of the Pontifical Academy of Ecclesiastical Nobles from 1802 until his death. He accompanied Pope Pius VII in his trip to France, from November 2, 1804 to May 16, 1805, for the imperial coronation of Napoléon I Bonaparte, acting as deacon in the ceremony. Prefect of the Reverend Fabric of St. Peter's basilica, July 14, 1807 until his death. Archpriest of the patriarchal Vatican basilica, July 18, 1807. Grand prior in Rome of the Military Order of St. John of Jerusalem. After the Napoleonic occupation of Rome in 1809, he was one of the fourteen cardinals expelled by the French authorities as foreigners, March 23, 1808; he was authorized to live in Italy because of his health; he lived in Cesena for the duration of the occupation. After the second restoration of the papal government, he returned to Rome and resumed all his functions. After the death of his brother Luigi on February 9, 1816, he took care of the education of his twelve-year old nephew, Pio. In spite of his familiar relationship with the pope, he never exercised a political influence, either because he did not possess the necessary talents or because he did not have ambition for power; he was gentle, good-natured, rather secluded and lover of the studies.

Death. April 30, 1817, Rome. Exposed in the church of S. Maria in Vallicella, Rome, where the funeral took place, and buried in the patriarchal Vatican basilica, by express disposition of Pope Pius VII. His precordia was buried in his deaconry, S. Maria ad Martyres. He left 10,000 scudi for the construction of a funeral monument for Pope Pius VI by Antonio Canova.

Bibliography. Beltrami, Giuseppe. Notizie su prefetti e referendari della Segnatura Apostolica desunte dai brevi di nomina. Città del Vaticano, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1972, p. 161, no. 415; Boutry, Philippe Souverain et Pontife : recherches prosopographiques sur la curie romaine à l'âge de la restauration, 1814-1846. Rome : École française de Rome, 2002, pp. 322-324; Moroni, Gaetano. Dizionario di erudizione storico-ecclesiastica da S. Pietro sino ai nostri giorni. 103 vols. in 53. Venezia : Tipografia Emiliana, 1840-1861, VI, 96-100; Ritzler, Remigium, and Pirminum Sefrin. Hierarchia Catholica Medii et Recentioris Aevi. Volumen VI (1730-1799). Patavii : Typis et Sumptibus Domus Editorialis "Il Messaggero di S. Antonio" apud Basilicam S. Antonii, 1968, pp. 35, 51 and 52; Weber, Christoph and Becker, Michael. Genealogien zur Papstgeschichte. 6 v. Stuttgart : Anton Hiersemann, 1999-2002. (Päpste und Papsttum, Bd. 29, 1-6), II, 690; Weber, Christoph. Die päpstlichen Referendare 1566-1809 : Chronologie und Prosopographie. 3 vols. Stuttgart : Anton Hiersemann, 2003-2004. (Päpste und Papsttum ; Bd. 31/1, 31/2, 31/3; Variation: Päpste und Papsttum ; Bd. 31), III, 776.

Links. Biography by Donatella Panzieri, in Italian, Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani - Volume 14 (1972), Treccani; portraits and biography, in Italian, Wikipedia; his portrait by Bernardino Nocchi, e-@ntiqua, Il portale internet degli Antiquari.

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