Key to Umbria: Bettona

History of Bettona

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Ancient History

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Early Christianity

[St Crispoltus] 

Bishop Gaudento (Guadentius vettonensis), who was the first documented bishop of Bettona, attended a synod in Rome in 465 AD.


[Totila destroyed the town in 548.]


Bettona was originally part of the Duchy of Spoleto, but Byzantine forces from the newly garrisoned Perugia were able to incorporate the city into their land corridor between Rome and Ravenna in the early 590s.  The diocese seems to have been incorporated into that of Assisi in ca. 600, which suggests that it reverted to the Duchy of Spoleto.



11th Century

The next reliable reference to the bishopric of Bettona is in a document of 1018, where we find for the first time a mention of the Abbazia di San Crispolito, a dependency of the Bishop of Assisi.

12th Century


13th century

In 1222, when Perugia was engulfed by civil strife, and Assisi took advantage of the distraction to take Bettona.  In the following year, the Commune of Bettona agreed that its Podestà and Consuls would be chosen from among the citizens of Assisi.  

In 1225 , the church of Santa Maria Maggiore was consecrated by Bishop Guido II of Assisi, Bishop Giovanni of Perugia and Bishop Egidio of Foligno.

Bettona submitted to Foligno in 1228 in order to shake off the control of Assisi and Perugia.  Given this subordination, it was inevitable that Bettona would declare for the Emperor Frederick II in 1240, the year in which Foligno became his centre of operations, and that it was among the towns and cities that sent representatives to the parliament that Frederick II summoned in the cathedral of San Feliciano there. 

The Benedictines of the Abbazia di San Crispolto moved the relics of St Crispoltus to a new church (San Crispolto) within their city walls in 1265.  The Franciscan, Bishop Nicolò da Calvi of Assisi, who had rights over the abbey, placed Bettona under interdict, and an invasion by Assisi seemed imminent.  Both sides appealed for aid to Perugia, and it was through the good offices of the Perugians and of Cardinal Giacomo Savelli (the future Pope Honorius IV), that a compromise was reached: the relics remained in san crispolto, but the Benedictines transferred it to the Franciscans.  They subsequently extended the church and convent.

14th century

As papal power in Umbria evaporated after the departure of the papacy for Avignon in 1309, Bettona was among the cities that rebelled against papal rule.

In 1315, Bettona joined the short-lived Umbrian League, and in 1322 the city joined the Guelf coalition against rebellious Spoleto.

In 1343, civil was broke out in Bettona between the nobles and the Popolo.  The former triumphed and many leading members of the Popolo were forced to take refuge in Perugia.

In 1352, Giovanni Visconti of Milan threatened Perugia and the other Guelf cities of Umbria.  In January 1352, Bartolomeo Casali, who had succeeded his father Ranieri as Lord of Cortona a few months earlier, made peace with his neighbour, Pier Saccone Tarlati.  The two men agreed that any future disputes between them would be referred to Giovanni Visconti for arbitration.  They sacked Chiusi and then approached the walls of Perugia itself with a reported force of some 2,000 men at arms before returning to Cortona with their spoils (May 1352). 

When further Visconti reinforcements arrived, Bartolomeo Casali  and Gisello degli Ubaldini marched into the Perugian contado and took Bettona with the connivance of its Perugian podestà, Crispolito de' Crispolti.  From there, they threatened the disenchanted Assisi.  The Perugians (with the Baglioni and Oddi newly reconciled for the purpose) withdrew from Cortona and, with reinforcements from Siena and Florence, laid siege to Bettona, which frightened Assisi and other wavering allies to come to their aid.  The citizens of Bettona defended bravely but finally succumbed to hunger.  The Perugians, “by sack and fire, taking captive 500 of the leading citizens, destroyed and overthrew walls and houses, sparing only the churches” (August 1352).  The Perugians beheaded Crispolito de’ Crispolti in front of the Duomo of San Lorenzo, Perugia.  They appropriated the relics of St Crispoltus and housed them in their Duomo.  Perugia despoiled Bettona of marble for the  Palazzo Comunale.

Within four months of his election, Pope Innocent VI contrived, by the Treaty of Sarzana (March 31, 1353), to effect peace between Milan, Florence and the papacy, to which the Perugians, as allies of Florence, were a party.  In the aftermath, Bartolomeo Casali made an abject apology before the Priors of  Perugia for his “error” in occupying Bettona(April 1353).

Bettona readily submitted to the papal legate Cardinal Gil Albornoz.  In a letter (1355) to the Perugians that must have been prompted by Cardinal Albornoz, Pope Innocent VI complained (inter alia) that the official appointed to govern the town could not take up residence there because of the destruction.  Nevertheless, Cardinal Albornoz initially proceeded with caution.  His moment came in 1367, when Perugia was defeated by the mercenaries of John Hawkwood at the Battle of Brufa: he finally felt strong enough to order the rebuilding of the walls of Bettona.  He installed the Frenchman, André de la Roche (known in Italian as Andrea della Rocca), as papal vicar “within the boundaries, excluding the surrounding villages”.  Further papal pressure secured the return of the relics of St Crispoltus in 1371.

Bettona provided forces for Pope Gregory XI in the War of the Eight Saints, against Florence and Perugia.

The vicariate then passed in 1389 to the Trinci of Foligno.

15th century

In 1425, Pope Martin V assigned Bettona to Malatesta III Baglioni of Perugia.  The town resisted.  When Malatesta III died in 1437, Pope Eugenius IV passed the lordship to Ridolfo I Baglioni, who took the town by force in 1439. 

However, the Baglioni failed to establish a secure position in Bettona in the 15th century, particularly because of the opposition of the Crispolti family, which had dual citizenship of Bettona and Perugia.  In 1448, Pope Nicholas V confirmed the Crispolti as lords of Bettona, although the reality was that the local council largely administered the city under the oversight of the papal Governor of Perugia. 

16th and 17th centuries

In 1500, soldiers of Cesare Borgia passed through Umbria and sacked some of its smaller towns, including Bettona.  In the winter of that year, Gianpaolo Baglioni, who was fighting in the Romagna for Cesare Borgia, returned to Perugia, where he faced attack from his enemies.  He captured Metello Crispolti, and discovered by torturing him that  Carlo Baglioni and Girolamo dalla Penna, Gianpaolo’s principle enemies, were waiting for him at Bettona.  He attacked them there but they managed to escape.  The priors of Bettona agreed not to shelter his enemies, including the Crispolti, in future, but this seems to have had little impact upon the position of the Crisploti in Bettona.  In 1506, the priors felt secure enough to write to Gian Paolo reminding him that their statutes prohibited “foreigners” from owning land in Bettona.

In 1516, Pope Leo X gave Gian Paolo and his brother Gentile the title of Counts of Bettona as payment for their services as condottiere in his war against Duke Francesco Maria delle Rovere of Urbino.  They also acted as papal governors, and thus had almost total political control over the town: the Crispolti disappear from the communal records for a period.  During their absences, a lieutenant general administered the town on his behalf.

Leo X executed Gian Paolo Baglioni in 1520 and installed Gentile Baglioni as the puppet ruler of Perugia.  This obviously exacerbated the feud that had developed between Gentile and Gian Paolo’s sons, Orazio and Malatesta IV.  When Orazio was imprisoned in Rome in 1523, the commune of Bettona reasserted its independence, and the Crispolti began to feature once more in local affairs from 1525.  In October of that year, the priors wrote to Pope Clement VII denouncing the behaviour of the Baglioni and commending the Crisplolti as the naturally pre-eminent family of the town.

While Clement VII was compromised by the sack of Rome by Imperial troops in 1527, the feud between the Baglioni factions erupted into violence.  Orazio arranged the murder of Gentile Baglioni and also killed his supporters in Bettona, who included Perotto and Pietro Crispolti

Orazio died in battle a year later, leaving Malatesta as the effective ruler of both Perugia and Bettona.  He accepted a condotta from the Commune of Florence and famously betrayed the city to Clement VII in 1530.  As a result, his lordship of Bettona was confirmed. He died at Palazzo Baglioni there in 1531.  The heirs to the Baglioni property were then Ridolfo II, the son of Malatesta and the young Gianpaolo, the son of Orazio.  Clement VII declared them to be rebels and appropriated their property.  He also exiled Monaldesca, the widow of Malatesta and mother of Ridolfo, from Bettona, which led to the resurgence of the Crispolti family. 

In 1534, when Perugia rose in revolt against the salt tax imposed by Pope Paul III, Ridolfo II marched on the city and murdered the ppal governor, Cinzio Filonardi.  He could not hold Perugia, and the new legate Marino Grimani exiled him and confiscated his property.  Paul III ordered the destruction of the walls of Bettona to help ensure that Ridolfo II could not return.

Pope Julius III reached an accord with Ridolfo II in 1553, by which the latter regained his confiscated possessions.  Ridolfo exiled the Crispolti from Bettona.  He died in 1554, but his widow, Costanza Vitelli, managed to retain Bettona with the help of his erstwhile employer, Duke Cosimo de’ Medici.  She did so on behalf of her two young sons, Gianpaolo II and Ridolfo (the second of whom had been born a short time after his father had died).

On the election of Pope Paul IV, in 1554, his nephew, Cardinal [Carlo?] Carafa took control of Perugia and the Crispolti encouraged him to take Bettona by force.  However, Costanza Vitelli secured the help of her uncle, Cardinal Vitellozzo Vitelli and of Bino Signorelli, an able soldier and old ally of her husband in order to retain Bettona for her sons.  The Crispolti tried again on the election of Pope Pius IV in 1559, but Duke Cosimo de’ Medici intervened once more to retain Bettona for Gianpaolo II.  Cardinal Charles Borromeo wrote to Perugia from Rome in 1561 confirming this decision. 

The position of Gianpaolo II Baglioni as Count of Bettona was now secure.  In 1584, the old communal statutes of Bettona were republished, under which women were allowed to own property in their own right, a rare – even unique – provision in those days (and presumably a tribute to Gianpaolo’s redoubtable mother). They could also bear witness and hold money independently of their husbands, parents or brothers. In the laws of inheritance, they had rights to property without limitation.

When Gianpaolo II died in 1608, his son, Malatesta V Baglioni succeeded him.  He was a man of great talent, who secured the favour of a series of popes, including Pope Paul V, who appointed him as bishop of Pesaro in 1612.   He became bishop of Assisi (the diocese that contained Bettona) in 1641.  He died in 1648,  having been pre-deceased by his younger brothers Orazio (who had died in Venetian service in 1617) and Adriano (who had died in 1623).  Bettona therefore passes under direct papal control.

Later History


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