For more than five hundred years, the Spanish monarchs exerted their sovereignty over multiple Italian states, and the King of Spain's titles still bear this memory. During this long period and in the different territories under their dominion, these sovereigns could often rely on a devoted Italian aristocracy. The Malaspina House is an emblematic instance, not only by the duration and constancy of their loyalty, but also through the strength of their involvement.

From the XIVth to the XIXth century, from Corsica to Sardinia, from the Dukedoms of Milan and Parma to the Kingdom of the Two-Sicilies, history set numerous examples of the links between many members of the Malaspina family and the Spanish Crown. The archetype of this relationship was, at the end of the XIXth century, Alejandro Malaspina, the famous navigator, who, in his times, was to Spain what Cook and La Pérouse were to the United Kingdom and France.

The Malaspinas and the Kings of Aragon in Corsica and Sardinia


The investiture of King James II of Aragon as King of Corsica in 1305 by Pope Boniface VIII followed several centuries of troubles caused by the confrontations between the Republics of Pisa and Genoa. In the course of these centuries, the island was under periodic control of the Malaspinas, marquesses of Massa, which was a stability guarantee before the reign of the Spanish kings.

The link between the Malaspinas and Corsica dates back to their ancestor Boniface I, appointed governor of Tuscany in 813 by Charlemagne and who managed to expand his influence as far as Liguria and Corsica. His son Boniface II, also marquess of Tuscany and Prefect of Corsica, who fought against the Moors, founded the eponym city of Bonifacio.

In 1012, Guglielmo Malaspina, Marquess of Massa, Lord of Gavi and Parodi, General of the Pontifical Galleys, landed in Corsica on the orders of Pope Benedict VIII at the head of an expedition against the Saracens. Under papal protection, the Malaspinas, marquesses of Massa, remained governors of Corsica for more than a century in spite of the political hazards, before the island later fell into the hands of the Pisans in 1098.

After a long period of chaos, it was Adelasia of Arborea of Cagliari (Sardinia) who paid tribute to the Holy See for Corsica in 1236. Daughter of Mariano II, married to Enzio of Swabia, Federico Barbarossa's son, she was through her mother a descendant of the Malaspinas and of the marquesses of Massa-Corsica, a cousin branch owning vast territories in Corsica.

In 1269, Isnardo Malaspina, marquess of Massa, was sent to the island by Pisa and he was appointed Governor of Corsica, a few decades before the papal investiture of the Kings of Aragon.

Granted at the beginning of the XIVth century, the rights of the Kings of Aragon over Corsica, regularly reasserted, were nevertheless disputed a century and a half later, after the papacy entrusted the management of the island to the Uficio di San Giorgio, a Genoese bank, in 1453.

Very early, some members of the Malaspina family sided against the Uficio di San Giorgio and rejoined the Aragonese. The most emblematic one was Simone II da Mare, Malaspina of San Colombano, historical fief of the family, who, as early as 1453, refused to recognize the governor appointed by the Uficio. In 1454, upon the Aragonese demand, he launched a rebellion with other lords. Though they were crushed by the Genoese troops, his fief remained one of the few independent territories, out of the Uficio's control.

Despite the administrative control of the Uficio di San Giorgio, held in contempt by the Malaspinas, the Spanish rights remained valid. For proof, in 1485, the granting of fiefs to some of his Corsican vassals by Ferdinand I, King of peninsular Sicily, son of Alphonse V. In 1504, the tenure was passed to Ferdinand II of Castile, also King of Sardinia, and it was handed over without a break until now through the centuries and the royal dynasties. Though the joining of Corsica into the kingdom of France in the XVIIIth century made the Spanish tenure more theoretical than actual, the Malaspinas of the island have kept the memory of their Spanish overlords until now.


As in Corsica, the relationships between the kings of Aragon and the Malaspinas were based in Sardinia on the quest of a common interest in spite of the continuous political troubles. There too, the history of the island, still not widely-known for the Dark Ages, tends to consider these relationships under the angle of a kind of transfer of power between the Tuscan marquesses and the Spanish kings.

According to some sources, the settlement of the Malaspinas in Sardinia dates back to their involvement in the expeditions against the Saracens, and the sharing of Sardinia between Pisa and several Tuscan and Ligurian families in 1051. Proof of the Malaspinas' presence in Sardinia is retraced as far back as the second half of the XIIth century. In 1185, Moruello Malaspina, son of Obizzo Il Grande, gave his daughter Adelasia to the marquess Guglielmo, then supreme governor (giudice) of Cagliari, from the House of the Massa-Corsica, cousin branch of the Malaspinas. Through marriages did the Malaspinas progressively gain a more or less direct control over the most important Sardinian jurisdictions, thus gaining vast territories. Between the XIIIth and the XIVth century, the numerous possessions of the Malaspinas on the island were owned by four Malaspina marquesses, descendants of the Giovagallo, Mulazzo and Villafranca branches.

At the beginning of the XIVth century, the Malaspinas facilitated the arrival of James of Aragon to Sardinia, securing the access to Osilo and to Bosa harbour, protected by a fortress: two key points for the conquest of the island. In exchange of their vassalage, the marquesses eventually got the help of the King of Aragon in their fight against the Genoese troops. James II granted the marquesses, then become his vassals, the fiefs of Bosa and Osilo, which, according to the Barcelonian law, guaranteed them “mero e misto imperio” and all criminal and civil jurisdiction. As a reward to their assistance to the King, the Malaspinas, contrarily to the other vassals, owed neither rent nor military duties.

A few years later, when Infante Afonso started the campaign of conquest of the “Kingdom of Sardinia and Corsica” in 1323, Azzone Malaspina, marquess of Villafranca, gave him his oath on behalf of all the Malaspinas during the siege of Villa di Chiesa. In 1326, Azzone Malaspina went to Catalonia to rejoin James II of Aragon, who granted him Osilo Castle and gave the other Malaspinas the baronies of Montes, Figulinas and Coros together with the harbours of Frigianu and Santa Filitica.

In 1336, Peter IV of Aragon renewed the granting of the Malaspinian fiefs, receiving for this purpose Giovanni Malaspina at Lleida in the name of the other Malaspina marquesses. When he died in 1342 without legitimate heirs, Giovanni let his belongings to the King of Aragon. Yet, put in a difficult position through an ever more troubled political situation, the Malaspinas progressively gave up Sardinian matters. When the marquesses Federico and Azzone Malaspina died in 1365, the House concentrated on their peninsular possessions threatened by Milan and Florence.

Long-term relationships between Spanish monarchs and the Malaspinas were eventually established  essentially on the continent.

The Malaspinas, Charles V and Philip II

The Malaspinas, fief owners in the Holy Empire since the appointment of their ancestor Oberto as Count Palatine by Otto I in the Xth century, had always served the imperial throne faithfully. It was therefore quite natural for them to remain faithful to Charles V on various occasions , among others during famous battles (the sieges of Vienna and Sienna for instance). Yet history proved that this faithfulness to the crown was deeper than a simple duty as, in perfect continuity, the Malaspinas showed the same reliability to Philip II.

If the young marquess Federico Malaspina, who led Charles V's horsemen during the defence of Vienna, prematurely died the following year and could not act faithful to the Spanish Crown, such was not the marquess Spinetta Malaspina's case for instance, who, brave cavalry captain, was rewarded by Charles V for his actions, and kept on serving Philip II.

The most emblematic instance of this unfailing attachment remains that of the dynasty of the Cybo-Malaspinas, sovereign family of the State of Massa and Carrare for nearly four centuries.

The marchioness Ricciarda Malaspina, heiress in 1519 to this Tuscan independent State granted to the Malaspinas during the XVth century, married to Lorenzo Cybo, Duke of Ferentillon, descendant of an old Patrician Byzantine family, decided in 1529 to ask for the protection of Charles V, who agreed to her imperial appointment. Her son and heir Alberico I Cybo-Malaspina went further, acknowledging his position as vassal to the Emperor in 1554. He was a moderniser, acting for the development of his States in peace and prosperity, and his economical and cultural reforms successfully led to the transformation of Carrare into an imperial marquisate in 1558. Ten years later, Massa was eventually elevated to a principality. Yet, even more than to Charles V, for whom he fought in 1555 in Sienna, despite his peace-loving character, Alberico was attached to Philip II for his whole life, and he fought for him against the French at Saint Quentin. Philip II eventually granted him his titles of baron of Padula, in 1566, and of marquess of Aiello (Calabria) in 1569.

In 1559, Alberico I made for the sovereign in Flanders.  As a mark of his confidence, the monarch sent the skilled diplomat to offer his condolences to Catherine de Medicis, widow of King Henry II since recently. He actually intended to insist about the trip of Isabelle de Valois, the King of Spain's bride to-be. Alberico later went to the Court of Spain, where he stayed for one year in the service of the King, as Grand Chamberlain. He left the Court in January, 1560, called back to Italy after the election of Pope Pie IV, a youth friend.

Yet Alberico I Cybo-Malaspina remained entirely faithful to Philip II's memory until he died in 1623. For proof in 1620-1623 the order of an allegorical statue made of marble where a stork, as a symbol of filial love, was associated with an eagle, heraldic emblem of the House of Habsburg. This sculpture was seen as the expression of his devotion to Philip II. In 1650, it was integrated into a heterogeneous creation elaborated by the artist Orfeo Boselli. It is still kept in the Museo del Prado in Madrid under the name of The Apotheosis of Claudius.  

As explained, the links between members of the Malaspina family and the Spanish Crown were not exclusive to the Cybo-Malaspinas: in addition to Federico and Spinetta Malaspina, one must also mention among others Horacio Malaspina, better known as Celio Malespini: a famous Italian writer of the XVIth century, translator of Spanish works such as the Jardín of Flores curiosas by Antonio de Torquamada, he was particularly well-known as the first editor of the Jerusalem Delivered by Torquato Tasso and he joined the War of Flanders before putting himself in the service of Philip II at the Court of Milan Dukedom in 1581.

Nevertheless, the Cybo-Malaspinas could advertise their untouched attachment to the Spanish Crown as well as an involvement which, though bearing no relation with money, was not without risks. Such was indeed the case of Carlo II Cybo-Malaspina, Duke of Massa, who, at the beginning of the XVIIIth century, during the succession war for the throne of Spain, could not leave out his partiality towards the House of Bourbon, at the expense of the Habsburgs of the Holy Empire in spite of his oath of faith. This could have led to the loss of his States, as occurred to the marquess Centurioni of Genoa.

Carlo II Cybo-Malaspina thus pioneered the Malaspina House's attachment to the dynasty of the Bourbons of Spain. It was perceptible in the different Spanish territories of Italy and reached a peak with Alejandro Malaspina.

Malaspina and the Bourbons of Italy

In the XVIIIth and the XIXth centuries, a lot of members of the Malaspina family found themselves in the service of the Bourbons of Spain in Italy, in the Dukedom of Parma as well as in the Kingdom of Naples and  the Two Sicilies. Officers, diplomats or serving in the different courts, they were trusted by monarchs, living in their vicinity, and some of them put their stamp on their time.

Dukedom of Parma

From their settlement in Parma, Don Philip, Infant of Spain, second son of Philip V of Spain, Duke of Parma, Piacenzia and Guastalla, and his wife Infanta Louise-Elizabeth, daughter of King Louis XV, took advantage of a famous Malaspinian couple's close service.

The marquess Giovanni Malaspina della Bastia, court Gentleman of Don Philip, was a descendant of the ancient lineage of the marquesses Malaspina de Villafranca. As for his wife, Anna Maria Malaspina, she came from the dynasty of the marquesses of Mulazzo, like Alejandro the navigator. She was herself a lady-in-waiting of Louise-Elizabeth's and she accompanied her to Versailles, sometimes joined by her husband, sent by Don Philip as a right-hand man and a diplomat.

In his Memoirs, the Duke of Luynes immortalised this famous couple, who enlightened the courts of Parma and France. A protector of the Arts, sung in Parma by court poets such as Frugoni, the marchioness Malaspina was considered a rival to Madame de Pompadour at Versailles for some time. Moreover, the personal correspondence between Louis XV and Don Philip showed the interest they both held for the Malaspina couple.

Protected by their friend Du Tillot, Prime Minister of the Dukedom of Parma, the couple's favours decreased after Louise-Elizabeth's death in 1759 and the arrival of the new ducal couple in 1769, Ferdinand and his wife Mary Amelia, daughter of the Empress Maria Theresa. In spite of this latter's protection, the political plots and Mary Amelia personal enmity towards her first lady-in-waiting participated into sending away from the Court of Parma the Malaspina couple and their dear protector Du Tillot, who was later sent to Spain to Charles III.

Kingdom of the two Sicilies

In 1738, further to the conquests made by Infant Charles of Bourbon, it was decided to found a kingdom of the two Sicilies entrusted to a branch of the Bourbons of Spain, kingdom which existed until 1860, with an interval under Napoleon.

From 1738 to the middle of the following century, many Malaspinas served the dynasty of the Bourbons of Naples, mainly in diplomacy or in the army. From the settlement of the Bourbons of Spain, the marquess Azzolino Malaspina, from the branch of the Malaspinas de Fosdinovo, son of Carlo Agostino Malaspina, entered the service of Charles of Bourbon, who would become Charles III of Spain. Until 1751, this marquess, who was a Gentleman of the Bedchamber, was also the King of Naples' plenipotentiary to the court of Dresden, to the Elector of Sax. A diplomat and a man of letters, he was granted the office of “Primo cavallerizzo della Regina” in 1751.

In 1772, King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies called the marquess Corrado Malaspina de Fosdinovo to his service. He appointed him Minister to the Court of Vienna, office he led for more than ten years. In 1784, the marquess of Malaspina was appointed plenipotentiary to the Court of Denmark. This marquess was immortalised in Alexandre Dumas' writings: the author featured him in his historical novel La San Felice, depicting benevolently the King of Naples' brave and faithful aide-de-camp during the invasion of the Napoleon troops. Ambassador to Joseph Bonaparte, he was appointed by the Regency Council to sign the Kingdom's capitulation in 1806.

Alexandre Dumas wrote about him in The Bourbons of Naples:

“Besides, this marquess of Malaspina was a character. (…) He still had a habit he had previously got I do not know where: that of speaking the truth. He said it to everybody, including Ferdinand I, which was, as one understands it, very uncommon.”

Ferdinand II of Bourbon, grand-son of Ferdinand I, King of Naples until 1859, also had in his service a marquess of Malaspina, Filippo, colonel of the royal army and Gentleman of the Bedchamber of the King. He was the last of the marquesses who, in the course of the century corresponding to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, brought an uninterrupted support to the dynasty of the Bourbons, playing a particularly eminent part in the diplomatic relations with the Holy Empire.

The most famous character of the Malaspina House came out in this Italian Bourbons Kingdom of the XVIIIth century, summing up and bringing a climax to the involvement of the family in the service of the throne of Spain.

Alejandro Malaspina

Archetype of the involvement of the Malaspina House in the service of the Spanish Crown, Alejandro Malaspina was also probably the most typical sailor-scientist-explorator of the XVIIIth century. At the end of the Age of Enlightenment, he made the most important journey of Spanish maritime history. The Malaspina expedition was in all aspects as important as those of Captains Cook, Bougainville, La Pérouse or Davis. It was part of a Spanish tradition of maritime explorations in the Pacific Ocean which, since Magellan, had decisively put further the knowledge of this still far world.

Alejandro, or Alessandro Malaspina (1754-1809) was born at Mulazzo, which is today's Tuscany. It was then part of the Holy Roman Empire, and had been the capital of the Malaspina branch of the Spino Secco since the XIIth century. His parents were Carlo Moroello Malaspina, marquess of Mulazzo, and Caterina Meli Lupi, descendant of the Princes of Soragna, niece of Giovanni Fogliani Sforza, Minister of Charles III in the Kingdom of Naples and viceroy of Sicily.

After living in Palermo with his family from 1762 to 1765 under the protection of Fogliani Sforza,  he studied at Pio Clementino School in Rome, where Count Floridablanca had also been previously. In 1773, like many other Malaspinas before him, he joined the Order of Malta, where he lived for one year, learning the basics of sailing in the Order's fleet. Yet, with Fogliani Sforza's aid, he directed his life towards Spain in the Enlightenment and Charles III's reforms.

In 1774, he joined the Spanish Royal Navy and became soon a Midship. During the following years, he took part into various battles in North Africa, in particular, in January 1775, an expedition for the rescue of Melilla, besieged by the Moroccan troops.

From 1777 to 1779, on board the frigate Astrea, he joined a trip to the Philippines, sailing off the Cape of Good Hope. During this journey, Charles III made him frigate lieutenant. He took part into several battles against the British in 1780, and he was eventually appointed lieutenant. It was during his voyage to the Philippines that he planned his big scientific investigation journey around the world.

In September, 1788, Malaspina, together with his colleague Jose Bustamante y Guerra, decided to let the King know about his plans: a political and scientific expedition to explore the Spanish possessions in America and Asia. Thanks to Antonio Valdes' help, as General Captain of the Army and Minister of the Navy, the plans were approved by the King and authorised by the Prime Minister, Count of Floridablanca. The expedition, led by the corvettes La Descubierta,  under the orders of Malaspina, and La Atrevida, commanded by Bustamante y Guerra, left Cadiz in July 1789, with a large scientific staff on board. For five years, the expedition travelled around the Río de la Plata, the Patagonian coast, the Falkland Islands, the Tierra del Fuego, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Panama, Nicaragua, Mexico, California, the United States, Alaska, Canada, the Marianas and the Philippines, Australia and Tonga.

There were several goals to this mission. On the one hand, they intended to control the commercial routes and the harbours of the Pacific Ocean and to complete and improve the coast cartography. On the other hand, they wanted to lead many geographical, astronomical, botanical and zoological  investigations as well as on other subjects. But the priority remained though the study of the social, political, economical and military situations in the colonies, according to the spirit of Charles II's reforms.

Malaspina's manuscripts, kept in the Archive of the Naval Museum in Madrid, advocated the necessary transformation of the colonial policy in accordance with the liberal model : the government should be limited to religious and political control over a few strategic territorial enclaves, the remaining territories staying under the native populations' control. According to Malaspina, England had developed sciences and reached economical prosperity thanks to this political system, becoming the Nation pioneering all kind of progress. The political aspect was finally the determining factor in the Spanish Crown's approval of the trip.

This political aspect of the trip was discussed by Valdés and Malaspina in a series of letters kept in the Archive of the Naval Museum. The main goal of the expedition was not to propose minor reforms, neither to point management problems, but indeed to study and analyse the complicated structure on which the Spanish monarchy was based at the end of the XVIIth century.

In the introduction to his Travel Journal, Malaspina wrote:

“One has to know America well to sail safely, take advantage of its immense coasts and govern it with equity, utility, with the help of simple and unvarying rules (…). One has to take into account the nature of the Spanish Crown's possessions, the social conditions which unite them, the reasons for their building, their current state and the methods to allow their welfare. One has to know the native population and the emigrants, to respect their customs (…), the taxes have to be light and the laws less complicated and fragile.”

Finally, as he eventually wrote to his friend Greppi:

“How can one rule America without knowing it ?”

Back to Spain on September 21st, 1794, Malaspina presented his report, Politico-Scientific Voyages around the World, with politically-oriented comments on Spanish colonial institutions. He was in favour of a larger autonomy for the Spanish colonies in America and in the Pacific Ocean, within the context of a confederation of States united through trade.

If Malaspina's proposals were the result of a subtle observation of colonial reality, they also illustrated the influence of the liberal ideas enhanced by the Royal Economic Society of the Friends of the Country, protected by Charles III, and involved in the spreading of sciences and economic development. Alejandro  Malaspina was the friend of various personalities who led this movement, among which Cabarrús, Campomanes and Jovellanos. The latter had been a fellow at Pablo de Olavide's salon in Seville, together with other major personalities of politics, sciences and arts.

Malaspina could rapidly meet the sovereigns and, a short time later, a Royal decree dated March 24th, 1795 appointed him Brigadier General. During this period, the official publications of different countries glorified the voyage and the results of the expedition.

The magnitude of the scientific tasks completed during the expedition aroused an utter amazement: astronomy, hydrography, botany, zoology, mineralogy and compared soil studies, mining techniques, demography, ethnography, studies on prehispanic history, pharmacopeia, environmental salubrity, living and mineral resources, ways and communications, urbanism, taxes, maritime traffic, customs, naval construction, fishing, defence and fortifications, universities, hospitals, ecclesiastical and population census, in addition to a complete physico-chemical study and the artistic representation of towns, animals, plants, human types and places.

The expedition thus brought back the largest cultural and scientific series of knowledges ever gathered. It was also an immense task to put all this in order to publish it. Glory and honours were in store for the navigator. But the reality was finally different.

When Alejandro Malaspina came back to Spain after an absence of five years, the country had changed considerably : the triumph of the French Revolution had moved the Enlightened circles of Spain. Prime Minister Floridablanca had been replaced by the Count Aranda, himself later replaced by Manuel Godoy, who exerted a total power over State matters. Moreover, war had broken out a year and a half before between Spain and France.

In September, 1795,  Malaspina sent his writings to the Spanish government in the hope of influencing his policy. Manuel Godoy accused him of being a revolutionary and a conspirator and he was eventually arrested. In effect, not only did the brigadier intend to accuse publicly the  Crown's mistakes in its colonial management through the narration of his voyage, but he also criticised Godoy's bad ruling in his proposals, giving methods to allow the monarchy to regain its lost grandeur.

On April 20th, 1796, after a questionable trial, Malaspina was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment at the Castle of San Anton, at La Coruña. He was released after seven years further to his friend the Count of Greppi's request by Napoleon. Charles IV's powerful favourite had also ordered the confiscation of all documents, letters and objects relating to the expedition in order to prevent their publication. Only the documents concerning the mission of Alcalá Galiano and Valdés on the Northwest coast of Canada remained available, as these officers managed to present them as separate from the forbidden expedition. The sailor's recollection, thus erased from later generations' memories, was nonetheless well kept on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, particularly in British Columbia (Canada), where the name of Malaspina was given to the strait between Texada island and the coast, as well as to a peninsula and a peak. Under the pressure of the native population, whose ancestors had welcomed the humanist sailor, the University of Namaino was also named after Malaspina.

Alejandro Malaspina died on his native soil in 1810, seven years after his release.

Man of the Enlightenment, he brought to its climax the Malaspinas' involvement in the service of Spain, not only through his expeditions' unequalled scientific asset but also through his reform proposals, which, had they been achieved, would have been a real U-turn in the political history of Spain and its Empire.