10 June 2024

Mercurino Arborio di Gattinara – politician and cardinal

Lawyer and strategist dreamt of a united Europe ruled by the Emperor

As adviser to Emperor Charles V, Gattinara wielded huge influence
As adviser to future Emperor Charles V,
Gattinara wielded huge influence
Influential statesman and political adviser Mercurino Arborio di Gattinara was born on this day in 1465 in Gattinara in Piedmont.

Gattinara became Grand Chancellor to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and, despite being a layman who had never been ordained as a priest, he was created a cardinal.

He was one of the most important men active in politics of his time and he set out to centralise power in Germany and make the Holy Roman Empire a moral and political arbiter for all the kingdoms and principalities in Europe.

Born in his family’s home in Gattinara, he was the eldest son of Paolo Arborio di Gattinara and Felicità Ranzo, who was from an important family in Vercelli.

After his father’s death, Gattinara had to interrupt his studies for financial reasons and went to Vercelli to practise with his father’s cousin, who was a notary.

He was able to resume his law studies at the University of Turin after marrying Andreetta Avogadro and using her dowry to pay for his studies. After obtaining his doctorate, he practised law in Turin.

In 1501, he became adviser to Duchess Margherita of Hapsburg, the daughter of Emperor Maximilian 1 of Hapsburg. Margherita was married to Duke Philibert II of Savoy and the work he did for her enabled her to obtain for the rest of her life the administration of Romont, Villars and Bresse. The Duchess appointed Gattinara as tax lawyer and president of Bresse.

Charles V was crowned Emperor in 1530
Charles V was crowned
Emperor in 1530
When King Philip of Castile died, he left six young children, among whom was the future Emperor Charles V. Margherita, who was their aunt, asked Gattinara to organise their education on behalf of their grandfather, the Emperor Maximilian. 

Margherita was also given the task of governing Burgundy by Emperor Maximilian and on her behalf, Gattinara began negotiations that would lead to the formation of the League of Cambrai.

He also wrote an operetta dedicated to the young Charles, in which he presented his theories on universal monarchy.

After Charles became King of Castile and Aragon, he appointed Gattinara as his adviser. When the Emperor Maximilian I died, Gattinara ensured Charles had support from the prince electors for his accession to the imperial throne.

Gattinara was the adviser to Charles V during the Italian Wars between 1521 and 1526 and he reorganised the imperial army and its finances. He wrote a treatise on good government and was created a cardinal in 1529, despite having no background in the church. 

After Charles V was crowned emperor in the Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna in 1530, Gattinara left Italy to attend the Diet of Augsburg, which was convened on the emperor’s behalf to quell growing religious tensions in Europe.

Gattinara died in Innsbruck while he was on the way to Augsburg on June 5, 1530.  His remains were taken to Gattinara and buried in the parish church of San Pietro.

He had worked up to 18 hours a day to fulfil his vision of a united Europe and he could express himself in Italian, Spanish, French, German and Dutch, skills which were particularly appreciated at the court of the Emperor Charles V. 

The Torre delle Castelle overlooks Gattinara
The Torre delle Castelle
overlooks Gattinara
Travel tip:

Gattinara is a small town in the province of Vercelli in Piedmont, about 35km (22 miles) northwest of the city of Novara, whose province it borders. Situated in the lower part of the picturesque Valsesia, it has an historic centre where the Church of San Pietro, the last resting place of Mercurino di Gattinara, is situated. The church dates back to 1147. The town is known for its prestigious red wine, Gattinara, which has been given the status of DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita). The town is overlooked by the massive Torre delle Castelle, all that remains of an ancient mediaeval fortified complex built around the 11th century, which tops a hill to the northwest of the town. The tower has become a symbol of the town.

The Mole Antonelliana is an unmissable feature of the skyline of Piedmont's capital, Turin
The Mole Antonelliana is an unmissable feature
of the skyline of Piedmont's capital, Turin
Travel tip:

The University of Turin, where Mercurino di Gattinara studied for his degree, is one of the oldest universities in Europe, founded in 1406 by Prince Ludovico di Savoia. The main university buildings are in Via Giuseppe Verdi, close to Turin’s famous Mole Antonelliana, an architectural landmark first conceived as a synagogue, before being bought by the city and declared a monument to national unity. Designed and started by architect Alessandro Antonelli in 1863, but not completed until 1889, it rises to a height of 167.5m (550ft). A lift, which was originally installed in 1961 during celebrations to mark the centenary of the Italian Unification and renovated in 1999, allows visitors to reach a panoramic terrace 85m (279ft) above the ground to take in extraordinary views of the city and the surrounding Alps.

Also on this day: 

1918: The death of writer and composer Arrigo Boito

1940: Italy enters World War Two

1959: The birth of football coach Carlo Ancelotti



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