The different branches of the Malaspina family belong to the Obertenghi caste, descended from Oberto I, count Palatine in the Xth century and marquess of the eastern March of Liguria, and the biggest fief owner of medieval Italy.

Oberto's descendants then subdivided into several Houses, the most famous of which being the Pallavicini, Este, Brunswick and Hanover or else the Massa, Gavi and Parodi. The name Malaspina appeared for the first time in history in 1130, borne by the Marquess Alberto.

“...but where is there a dwelling
  Throughout all Europe, where they are not known?
That fame, which doeth honour to your house,
  Proclaims its Signors and proclaims its land,
  So that he knows of them who ne'er was there.
And, as I hope for heaven, I swear to you
  Your honoured family in naught abates
  The glory of the purse and of the sword.”

Dante, meeting Corrado Malaspina. Divine Comedy, “Purgatory, Song VIII.

 

The Malaspinas belong to a famous Italian family who reigned over Lunigiane for eight centuries and owned several fiefs of the Empire. Their origin can be retraced as far back as the IXth century, when Boniface I arrived in Italy in 813 as a follower of Charlemagne. The king granted Tuscany to Boniface, from where he managed to expand his influence as far as Liguria and Corsica.

 

 

His son Boniface II, also marquess of Tuscany, count of Lucca and prefect of Corsica, won fame on the Mediterranean sea and took part into several raids against the Moors in Corsica and Northern Africa. He founded the city of Bonifacio in 833. His son Adalberto joined the war troops in Italy and, once reconciled with Pope John VIII, whom he had imprisoned, was appointed administrator and defender of the papal patrimony. In 884, he founded Saint Caprasio monastery at Aulla. His son Adalberto II, called “Il Ricco”, married Bertha, daughter of Lothario II of Lotharingia and great-grand-daughter of Charlemagne. He took the decision to replace the Bavarian succession law with the Lombard one. When he died in 915, he was buried in Lucca Cathedral. His son and successor, Guido, married Marozia, mistress of Pope Sergius III. From their love affair was born the future Pope John XI.

With her husband, she had Pope John X imprisoned and obliged him to witness his brother's assassination. Marozia remains emblematic of this dark papal period, called pornocracy, when several popes were lovers and puppets of this woman. When Guido of Tuscany died, she married one of her brothers-in-law, Hugh of Arles. Lamberto, Guido's other brother, followed him as marquess of Tuscany and count of Lucca. On April 13, 945, a sentence appointed Oberto, Lamberto's descendant, duke of Spoleta, marquess of Milan, count of Luni and  count Palatine, the highest title then, granted only to the most faithful combatants, which made these lords direct representatives of the imperial authority. Oberto's territory stretched upon entire Lombardia, a portion of Switzerland, Emilia, a portion of Piemonte, of Liguria and of Tuscany, as well as Lunigiane. In 951, Oberto was raised to the dignity of lord of the eastern March of Liguria and sent to Otho I by the pope, in order to ask him to free Italy from King Berenger II. Eventually Otho I, first emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, granted him many privileges, among which the right to mint coins. Oberto was later sent to Constantinople to escort Theophania, niece of John I, emperor of the East, to Saint Peter Cathedral for her wedding with Otho II. Oberto was the first of the Obertenghi caste, who won fame in many sovereigns' opinion in the course of the centuries. A few centuries later, the different branches of the caste became the Houses of Este, Massa - and Massa Corsica – Parodi, Gavi, Pallavicino, Cavalcabo, and of the princes of Brunswick and Hanover, whose several descendants reign nowadays over Europe.

Their two sons, Adalberto I and Oberto I, administred together the counties of Luni, Genoa and Tortona and had rights over Parma, Piazencia, Bobbio, Lavagna and Borgotaro. Adalberto had two children: one of them, Oberto, founded the Pallavicini dynasty and the other, Adalberto, the dynasty of the marquesses of Gavi and Massa-Parodi. Oberto II, son of Oberto I and Adalberto's brother, had four children: Berta, who married Arduino, king of Italy in 1002; Hugo, who was count of Milan; Alberto Azzo, whose descendants founded the House of Este and the House of Brunswick; and Oberto Obizzo, founding father of the Malaspina dynasty. With his brother Alberto Azzo, he witnessed the coronation of Emperor Henry II in Rome in February 1014.

The first one to bear the name of Malaspina was Alberto, great-grand-son of Oberto Obizzo, in the middle of the XIIth century. A great orator as well as a military man, he was close to the Emperor, who he followed in his war against the Saxons, before eventually joining Pope Paschal II. He was probably the founder of San Alberto di Butrio hermitage, near Ormala, which he founded to thank Saint Albert for the healing of his son, who was born deaf and dumb. A fresco inside the hermitage pays tribute to the Malaspina family for their role in the history of this place. Oramala Castle is pictured there, as well as the marquess Albert, kneeling, offering up something to the Madonna and Child. The marquess's coat of arm below allows to identify him.

His son Obizzo I the Great was one of the first Malaspinas to become famous through his bravery and his gusto on battle fields. At the beginning of the XIIth century, he undertook the conquest of vast territories in Lunigiane and more generally in the Po valley. A rich and powerful lord reigning over a vast fief stretching over both sides of the Apennine Mountains in Trebbia valley, Staffora valley, Luguria and Tuscany, he was at the origin of the fight against the Italian towns which started claiming their autonomy from the XIIth century with the development of trade, exchanges and market-towns. His territories were then surrounded by cities such as Genoa, Piacenzia and Tortone, which threatened his fief through their designs on Lunigiane. He had to fight against the Genoese and the bishops of Luni and, in 1113, he managed to gain an outlet to the sea thanks to the occupation of Porto Venere on the Ligurian coast. He eventually joined the Lombard League and became one of its leader in order to resist the Emperor's hegemonic goals, and he kept on fighting against Pisa, Lucca, Genoa and Piacenzia. In 1155, Obizzo organised the resistance of Tortone against the Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa. The latter triumphed and destroyed the city but he admired Obizzo's qualities and offered him to fight with him. On Sept. 29, 1164 at Pavia, he eventually granted him and his sons numerous fiefs which he owned in Lombardy, Piedmont, Liguria and Emilia.

In 1167, the Emperor, back from Rome, was stopped by Pontromeli's armies and Obizzo interceded in order to protect him and clear his way through the Apennine Mountains.

A few years later, Obizzo changed sides again and fought with the Lombard League against the Emperor who was back in Italy. In 1183, with the most influent Italian lords of the time, he joined the Peace of Costanza, which acknowledged both the independence of Italian towns and the imperial suzerainty over them. Obizzo died in 1185, and his two sons Obizzone and Moroello inherited his immense estate. For some time, they went on fighting and gained the fiefs belonging to the House of Este – a cousin branch – as well as Sardigna. They later signed a peace treaty with Piacenzia and another one with the bishops of Luni in 1202 acknowledging all their possessions in Lunigiane. Obizzo's third son, Alberto, named “Moro”, stayed in Lombardy at Oramala Castle, called “The falcons nest”, in Staffora valley. In 1194, with Piazencia peace treaty, he got Grondola Castle in Lunigiane. He married Beatrice, the daughter of the powerful marquesses of Montferrat, whose beauty was sung by the troubadours of the times. Alberto was a beloved lord, a poetry lover, who hosted in his castle the most famous troubadours from the Oc region who had fled the south of France.

 

 

On August 28, 1221 in Piacenzia, Corrado and Obizzino, respectively Obizzone's son and Moroello's grand-son, decided to share the family fief and founded two vast estates: Corrado got the lands located on the right bank of the Magra river in Lunigiane – and Villafranca – as well as the territories situated in Trebbia valley, keeping the family emblem of the Spino Secco. He set up his capital at Mulazzo. Obizzino got the other lands on the left bank of the Magra river as well as those of the Staffora valley. He settled at Filattiera and founded the Spino Fiorito branch.

The agreement was approved by the Emperor Frederick II who made a stop in Lunigiane when back from Rome. His decision was most probably made easier as Corrado had married Constance, Frederick's daughter.

Due to the many divisions between the two marquesses' descendants, as a result of the enforcement of the Lombard law, a lot of other fiefs were founded as years went by. As early as 1266, Constance and Corrado's sons divided the Spino Secco estate into four fiefs: Giovagallo, Mulazzo, Villafranca and Trebbia valley. On the other bank of the Magra river, the cousin branch – Obizzino's sons – had by that time already divided the Spino Fiorito estate into three fiefs: Olivola, Verrucola and Filattiera.

The Spino Secco fiefs

 

 

In 1221, Corrado's large fief was a vast estate essentially located on the right bank of the Magra River and whose capital was Mulazzo. This fief also consisted of many possessions in Trebbia and Aveto Valleys as well as in Sardinia. In 1266, Corrado's four sons decided to share their father's immense fief:

  • Moroello was the first marquess at the head of the vast fief of Mulazzo.
    • His two sons, Barnabo and Antonio, shared the estates of the Trebbia, Borbera and Aveto Valleys on April 30th, 1390 at Ottone Castle in the Trebbia Valley. In spite of the divisions, all the marquesses from the different branches resulting from the successive sharings bore the title of Marquess of Mulazzo.
      • Antonio, son of Barnabo, was the first marquess of the Casanova fief. His descendants sold the fief to the Dorias at the beginning of the XVIth century, then the branch disappeared at the beginning of the XVIIth century.
      • Giacomo, son of Barnabo, became the first marquess of the Croce fief. His descendants kept the fief for more than a century and eventually sold it to Gianluigi Fieschi, Count of Lavagna, in 1504.
      • Moroello, son of Barnabo, was the first marquess of the Fabbrica fief. In 1540, his descendants sold the fief to Gianluigi Fieschi, Count of Lavagna.
      • Giovanni,  son of Barnabo, was the first marquess of the Ottone fief. When he died, his sons shared his possessions.
        • Francesco inherited Ottone further to the sharing with his brother Galeazzo in 1500. In the XVIth century, his descendants sold their fief to Gianluigi Fieschi.
        • Galeazzo was the first marquess of Orezzoli.
          • His son Pietro succeeded him at the head of the Orezzoli fief. This branch's alliance with the Della Chiesas in the XVIIIth century gave birth to the Malaspinas di Carbonara e Volpedo, who still exist today.
          • Giovanni, second son of Galeazzo, was the first marquess of Frassi. In 1656, his descendants sold their fief to the Dorias.
    • Antonio, brother of Barnabo and son of Moroello, Marquess of Mulazzo, inherited the immense fief in Lunigiane which had never been shared by then, as well as fiefs in the Borbera and Aveto Valleys. His grandsons shared this large fief at the end of the XVth century.
      • Azzone got the Mulazzo fief in Lunigiane, kept by his descendants until 1817. This fief was shared only twice: at the end of the XVIth century, Bonifazio got the Madrignano fief during a new sharing. In the middle of the XVIth century, Giovan Paolo got the Monterregio fief.
      • Antonio II, Azzone's brother, became the first marquess of Cariseto, Bolano and Godano. When he died in 1477, his son Antonio III succeeded him but, as he was a follower of King Louis XII of France during the Italian wars, the Count of Milan confiscated his belongings, which were bought in 1540 by Gianluigi Fieschi, Count of Lavagna. This branch got extinct in 1571.
      • Ghisello, Antonio's youngest son, was the first Marquess of Santo Stefano d'Aveto. He was also Podestà of Milan. In 1471, his two sons shared the fief.
        • Francesco hérita du domaine de Santo Stefano d’Aveto. Lui aussi soutint le roi de France lors des guerres d’Italie. Gianluigi Fieschi assiégea alors le château et Francesca lui vendit son fief en 1495. Ses descendants restèrent à la tête du fief de Godano et de Bolano en Lunigiane jusqu’à l’extinction de la branche au XVIIème siècle.
        • Pietro devint le premier marquis des Edifizi. Citoyen de la ville de Plaisance, Pietro fit construire le château de Gambaro. Après la défaite du roi de France qu’il avait également soutenu, il restitua le fief et le château de Cariseto qu’il avait occupé un temps puis vendit ses parts du fief de San Stefano à Gianluigi Fieschi en 1504. Cette branche s’éteignit en 1624 à la mort du dernier héritier Pier-Francesco qui s’était illustré dans sa jeunesse à la bataille de Lepante en 1571 puis qui se mit au service des ducs de Parme qui l’envoyèrent près des empereurs Maximilien, Rodolphe et Mathias, du pape Clément VIII et à la cour des Savoie. A la fin de sa vie, il fut nommé conseiller d’Etat.
  • Manfredi, Corrado l'Antico's son, was the first marquess of the fief of Giovagallo. This branch got extinct during the XIVth century and the marquesses of Mulazzo became the new lords of the estate.
  • Federico, Corrado l'Antico's son, was the first marquess of the fief of Villafranca. Several divisions took place and many fiefs were founded eventually.
    • Tommaso I, son of Federico, was the first Marquess Malaspina of Cremolino, in Piedmont.
    • Opizzino, son of Federico, inherited the Villafranca marquisate.
      • En 1361, Azzone, fils d’Opizzino, hérita d’une partie du fief de son père et donna naissance à la branche des marquis de Lusuolo.
        • En 1428, les petits-fils d’Azzone se partagèrent le fief de Lusuolo. Iacopo hérita du fief de Lusuolo, Aulla, Bibola et Podenzana tandis que son frère Opizzino donna naissance à une nouvelle branche, celle des marquis Malaspina de Tresana.
          • Deux générations plus tard, une nouvelle division donna naissance à deux nouvelles branches après la mort de Iacopo Ambrogio en 1506 : La branche des Malaspina d'Aulla et celle des Malaspina de Ponzano, cette dernière s'éteignit très rapidement et le fief fut vendu à la Banque Saint-Georges en 1540.
      • Spinetta, autre fils d’Opizzino, resta à la tête du fief de Villafranca.
        • En1469, Gian Spinetta, descendant de Spinetta, marquis de Villafranca, partagea le fief avec son frère Tommaso et devint le premier marquis de Monti. A la génération suivante, les 5 fils de Gian Spinetta se partagèrent le domaine de leur père, mort en 1528 :
          • Moroello devint alors le nouveau marquis de Monti. Cette branche s'éteignit dès la génération suivante avec la mort d'Orazio en 1582 qui se distingua dans la carrière ecclésiastique, notamment en tant que nonce ecclésiastique à la cour de l'empereur Rodolphe puis à celle du roi de France. A sa mort, le marquis Malaspina de Suvero qui hérita du domaine.
          • Fioramonte devint le premier marquis de Bastia. Il mourut en 1570 et ses trois fils procédèrent à un nouveau partage :
            • Camillo resta à la tête du fief de Bastia.
            • Son frère Giulio devint le premier marquis Malaspina de Ponte Bosio.
            • Fabrizio fut le premier marquis de Terrarossa. Mort sans héritier, ce fief fut dès lors cédé aux marquis de Filattiera.
          • Leonardo devint le premier marquis de Podenzana.
          • Iacopo obtint le fief de Licciana.
          • Rinaldo engendra la nouvelle branche des marquis des Malaspina de Suvero.
        • Tommaso, frère de Gian Spinetta, resta à la tête de Villafranca.
          • En 1561, un partage entre les descendants du marquis Tommaso Malaspina de Villafranca donna naissance à la nouvelle branche des Malaspina de Castevoli.
  • Finally Alberto, dead in 1298, Corrado l'Antico's fourth son, became, after the 1266- division, master of a vast fief including possessions on the left bank of the Trebbia River as well as belongings in Sardinia in Borbera valley. Alberto quickly got rid of his estates in Tuscany, which he sold to another Malaspina, Moroello, Manfredi de Giovagallo's son. Alberto then settled in Trebbia Valley, at Pregola Castle.
    • His son Corradino, nicknamed “Spadalunga”, was for some time the ally of the Viscontis, lords of Milan, who appointed him Militia Captain. He eventually got hold of Bobbio in 1302, where he had his castle built. In 1342, the Viscontis occupied all the fiefs belonging to the Malaspinas of Pregola and Corradino lost his castle of Bobbio. When he died in 1347, two of his sons shared the fief.
      • Franceschino inherited the fiefs of Prato and Pregola, but this branch got extinct after three generations and was passed on to the Spinolas after the unions of two brothers of this family with the two daughters of Antonio, last marquess of this Malaspina branch of Prato.
      • Albertino became Marquess of Pregola. Two generations later, in 1453, his grandchildren shared the fief.
        • Adamo inherited the fiefs of Pregola, Vezimo, Alpe and Artana. When he died in 1470, his three sons divided the fief.
          • Bernardo got the fief of Vezimo. His descendants owned this fief until 1624, when the last heir of this lineage sold the fief to the Malaspinas of Santa Margherita, his closest in-laws further to his wedding with Cecilia Malaspina of Santa Margherita.
          • Riccardo inherited the fief of Alpe and Artana. As for the Vezimo branch, the last heirs sold the fief to the marquesses Malaspina of Santa Margherita in the middle of the XVIIth century.
          • Antonio was the first Marquess of Pregola and Isola. Once again, as for the previous branches, the last marquesses of Isola sold their fief to the Malaspinas of Santa Margherita during the XVIIth century.
        • Corradino, Albertino's other grandson who took part into the 1453-sharing, was Marquess of Pregola, Campi and Zerba. He married Diamante Malaspina of Mulazzo and they got five children. Three of them succeeded him and shared his fief in 1480. They all bore conjointly the title of Marquess of Pregola. A branch is still represented today.
          • Riccardo became Marquess of Pregola, Zerba, Campi and Pei. In spite of all the efforts and links with the other Malaspina branches in order not to lose or split up the fief even more, this branch got extinct in less than two centuries. At the beginning of the XVIIIth century, the three daughters of Federico, last marquess, sold their shares of the fief to the other Malaspina branches and to the Centuriones.
          • Azzo, second son of Corradino and Diamante Malaspina, inherited the castle and the fief of Pregola. This branch was the most important of all those resulting from the 1480-sharing. His descendants administered large fiefs in the Staffora and Trebbia Valleys. They had the Malaspina Palace of Pregola erected after the destruction of the castle in the XVIth century and bought the palace of the Tamburellis on the main square of Varzi. In the XIXth century, it became the main residence of the marquesses Malaspina of Pregola. Then, when this branch got extinct in the 1920s', the palace hosted the Town Hall.
          • Moroello, Corradino's youngest son, inherited the fief of Campi during the 1453-sharing. As early as the next generation, his sons split up the fief.
            • Corradino, married to Eleonora Malaspina of Godiasco, became Marquess of Pregola, Campi and Zerba in 1520. His descendants settled in the neighbouring towns of Tortone and Alexandria. In 1634, Anton Camillo sold his share of the fief to the Centuriones and his brother Carlo Moroello, assassinated in 1659, died without descendants.
            • Nicola, Corradino's brother, inherited the fief of Zerba. A short time afterwards, the descendants sold their rights to the Centuriones. The last descendants from this branch disappeared in the course of the XIXth century.

 

The Spino Fiorito fiefs

 

 

With the sharings dated April 18, 1275, Alberto, son of Obbizino, Marquess of Filattiera, and his nephews Francesco (Barnabo's son), Gabriele and Azzolino (Isnardo's son) got the totality of the fiefs situated on the right bank of the Magra River as well as those located in Staffora and Curone Valleys. They eventually shared the immense fief of the Spino Fiorito and their descendants operated many partitions in the course of the centuries:

  • Francesco, son of Barnabo and Mary of Antioch, gained the fiefs of Pizzocorno, Pozzolgroppo, Bagnaria, Nivione, Cantacapra and Pallavicino as well as belongings in the Curone Valley and the fief of Olivola, administred by the branch until its extinction in 1413. Pozzolgroppo and Pizzocorno were then united with the branch of Alberto's descendants, while Nivione, Bagnaria and the possessions in the Curone Valley were joined to the Isnardo branch.
  • Gabriele and Azzolino, sons of Isnardo and Cubitosa of Este, got the fiefs of Pietragavina, Casaco, Santa Margharita, Monteforte and Varzi.
  • Azzolino stayed in Staffora Valley. He was made an imperial vicar in Milan in 1312 and eventually Podestà of Milan in 1317. His two sons Obizzo and Federico still enlarged their father's fief, including Fabbrica in Curone Valley in 1349 and Gremascio in 1358. But the fief was divided as early as the next generation.
    • Federico was the first Marquess of Varzi, Santa Margherita, Casanova, Lunassi and Bagnaria. In 1420, his grandsons shared the fief:
      • Antonio became Marquess of Lunassi. His descendants followed one another until the extinction of this branch in 1601.
      • Cristoforo became Marquess of Santa Margherita. The last marquess of this branch was Giuseppe, who took refuge in Vienna in 1796 after the invasion of the Napoleon armies and died in the Austrian capital in 1821.
      • Barnabo became Marquess of Casanova, Bagnaria and Varzi.
        • His son Francesco succeeded him and his sons shared the fief :
          • Baldassarre was the first of the Casanova branch, which also got extinct during the XVIIth century.
          • Giovanni was the first of the Varzi branch, which got extinct in 1648 when Pietro Malaspina died. A secondary branch inherited the fief and the estate. It got extinct when the Marquess Mercurio Malaspina died in 1884.
          • Barnabo was the first of the Bagnaria branch, which got extinct in 1675 when Gian Antonio sold his rights over the estate to the Malaspinas of Santa Margherita.
    • Obizzo, Azzolino's other son, was the first Marquess of Fabbrica and of Pietragavina. Two generations later, Azzo and Pietro shared Bonifacio's inheritance. Pietro inherited the rights over Fabbrica and Pietragavina, and Azzo got the lands of Gremascio while still bearing the title of Marquess of Fabbrica.
  • Gabriele stayed in Lunigiane, where he got the leadership of the marquisate of Fivizzano after the sharing with his brother Azzolino in 1275. In the course of the centuries, this fief itself was divided several times. Gabriele's sons shared the estate after his death in 1288:
    • Isnardo became the first Marquess Malaspina of Verrucola Bosi.
    • Azzolino was the first lord of Fosdinovo, fief created after this sharing. Three generations later, this fief was shared again between Antonio Alberico's four children when he died in 1445:
      • Iacopo was the first Marquess of Massa, Carrara, Avenza and Moneta.
        • On the next generation, after Iacopo's death in 1481, his son Alberico II succeeded him at the head of the fief of Massa.
        • His other son Francesco became Marquess of Sannazzaro.
      • Gabriele inherited the fief of Fosdinovo. On the next generation, his two sons shared the fief. Lorenzo inherited the fief of Fosdinovo, while his brother became Marquess of Olivola.
      • Lazzaro gained the fief of Castel dell'Aquila and of Gragnola after the death without heir of Galeotto, Marquess of Castel dell'Aquila.
      • Finally Spinetta inherited the fiefs situated in the Verona area.
  • Alberto inherited the fief of Filattiera and Oramala, capital cities of the lands of the Spino Fiorito. Alberto got a son with Fiesca Fieschi, niece of Pope Adriano V, Niccolo, “Il Marchesotto”. He was vicar of the king of Anjou and Podestà of Pavia between 1308 and 1314, and he had five sons who shared his fief when he died in 1339.
    • Antonio inherited the fiefs of Bagnone, Montefalcone and Valverde. At the end of the XVth century, this branch sold the Bagnone estate in Lunigiane to the Republic of Florence.
    • Bernabo got the fiefs of Malgrate and Pozzolgroppo, Fortunago and Oramala, large fief which was split up several times in the course of the centuries.
      • Further to the division of the fief between Bernabo's grandsons in the middle of the XVth century, one of them, Azzo, became the first Marquess Malaspina of Sagliano.
      • In 1561, a new sharing took place between the sons of Ercole, Marquess of Godiasco, Fortunago and Oramala, descendant of Bartolomeo, Azzo's brother.
        • Pietro-Francesco became the first Marquess of Pozzolgroppo.            
        • The fief of Oramala was also founded in 1561. Its first marquess was Filippo, other son of Ercole.
      • Finally the fief of Malgrate also separated in 1561. Giuseppe, brother of Ercole, was its first marquess.
      • Opizzino, married to Taddea Malaspina of Fosdinovo, whose son Riccardino kept the fiefs of Filattierra and of Cella.
      • Francesco was the first marquess of the fief of Castiglione del Terziere and of Casasco.
      • Giovanni, called “Beretta”, became the first Marquess of Treschietto and of Piumesana.
        • His grandchildren, sons of the Marquess Federico, called “Il Tedesco” (“the German”) split up the fief. Giovanni kept the fief of Treschietto and of Godascio, while Dondazio, Maria Malaspina of Lusuolo's husband, became marquess of the new fief of Corlaga.