Raimondo Montecuccoli

The Montecuccoli Family.
From the Middle Ages to the Empire

Amongst the noble houses of the Este dukedom, pride of place went to the Montecuccoli family, whose origins were centuries-old. It is well-grounded to imagine that their origins should be sought among those Frignano notables who, during the long Byzantine occupation, dealt with taxes and justice, an authority again conferred upon them by successive Lombard and Frankish conquerors.

Their name was initially Da Frignano or Da Feroniano, then Corvoli, and eventually Da Montecuccolo, from the castle of that name. We can find them many times in the entourage of Matilda of Canossa until, after the death of the Grand Countess in 1115, the Montecuccoli were granted a feudal Investiture directly by the Emperor, sometime in the XII century.

From that point on, they rapidly consolidated their power, as shown by the election to Bishop of Modena of one of their members, Henry, in 1157, and a nomination as protectors of the Benedictine Abbey of Frassinoro, founded in the XI century by the Canossa family.

At that time the Montecuccoli’s dominion covered the whole of the central Frignano region as far as the district of Reggio Emilia on the one side, and that of Bologna on the other.

A shrewd policy of alliances and compromises, and their privileged condition as Imperial vassals, enabled the Montecuccoli to successfully ride the lengthy struggles which the Communes of Modena and Bologna engaged in to subjugate Frignano.

The conflict between the two communes was in addition to the centuries-old one between the Montecuccoli and the Montegarullo, who had always fought for control of the Apennines near Modena, in skirmishes that continued into the XII and XIII centuries with varying outcomes.

In 1337, the Este family of Ferrara subjugated Modena and added it to their state. For the families of the feudatories of Frignano it was necessary to take a firm stand: since theMontecuccoli had understood unlike the Da Gombola and the Montegarullo that any resistance was going to be troublesome and uneven, they allied themselves to the Este and accepted their rule while upholding their own power.

In the meantime, the Montecuccoli obtained a reconfirmation of their Investiture in 1368 from the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles IV, who was a guest in their castle of Montefiorino, which brought with it the possibility of adorning their family crest with the Imperial eagle.

During the XV century, the Montecuccoli reached the zenith of their power with Gaspare and, above all Cesare (1435-1506), who ruled over the powerful fiefdom for a long time.Cesare epitomized the spirit of a typical ancient feudality, which was violent and domineering and used its power to ill-treat its subjects. However, it did also display munificence by supporting the leper hospice in Pavullo.

At the beginning of the XVI century, the link between the Montecuccoli and the Este strengthened further, since their help thwarted Pope Julius II’s attempt to conquer the Frignano region. Two noblewomen in particular, Camilla and Margherita, at the head of their own troops, displayed great courage in this difficult situation, repelling the papal soldiers who had laid siege to the towers of Montecenere and Sassostorno.

After Cesare’s death in 1506, his three sons subdivided the fiefdom thereby creating the three collateral branches of Montecuccolo, Semese and Montese, to which Polinago must be added, which had broken away earlier during the XV century. Shortly afterwards, another two branches, Renno-Gaiato and Montecenere split from the Montecuccolo line. By the middle of the XVI century the vast fiefdom had disintegrated, with a loss of wealth and power.

The main and most important branch was Montecuccolo, heir to the ancestral fortress, while in the other tiny centres of the new Renno, Montecenere, Polinago, Semese and Montese Podesterias as many fortresses sprang up, seats of the bodies governing the feuds and gracious residences for the other noble families.

Through a shrewd matrimonial policy, the Montecuccoli arranged to become relatives of important houses of the Este state and others around Italy: the Perondoli and Landi from Ferrara, the Pico of Mirandola, the Molza of Modena, the Pio of Carpi, the Erri and Laderchi from Modena, and the Malaspina and Caprara of Bologna. Contact with these city-dwelling nobles had the effect of gentrifying their habits, reversing their notoriety as coarse, violent people. 

As fate would have it, however, right at the moment of the family’s greatest splendour, the three main branches died out almost at the same time: the Montecenere in 1677, the Montecuccolo in 1698 and finally the Renno in 1705. 

Midway through the XVII century Count Francesco Montecuccoli exchanged the fiefdom of Semese for that of Guiglia, acquiring the title of Marquis. This gave rise to the Montecuccoli Laderchi line, which, after the disappearance of the three main branches, took over the government of the entire fiefdom as well as ownership of the Castle of Montecuccolo, however, this too was to become extinct during the XIX century.

From this line came the Montecuccoli of Vienna. In the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the beginning of the XX century, Rodolfo Montecuccoli of Polinago commanded the Imperial navy, winning much acclaim.

In short, over the centuries, the Montecuccoli dynasty split into many branches and, amongst the families who still exist, the oldest and most important is that of the Marquises Montecuccoli degli Erri.