Giovanni Battista Rinuccini

Rinuccini, Giovanni Battista, Archbishop of Fermo, who acted a prominent part in Ireland between the years 1645 and 1649, was born at Rome, 15th September 1592.

In 1645 he was sent by Pope Innocent X. as Nuncio to the Confederate Catholics in arms in Ireland.

The main object of his embassy was to secure the free exercise of the Catholic religion in Ireland.

The 14th section of his instructions reads:

“Let him promote the interests of the Catholic religion in such a manner as to show he considers it one with the English crown, and hold firmly to the principle that at no time could he wish its yoke to be thrown off, nor ever hearken to propositions which tend to the contrary.”

His retinue consisted of twenty-six Italians, several Irish officers, and his secretary, Belling.

Leaving Rome in April, he spent some time in Paris, where he in vain sought an interview with Queen Henrietta.

At Rochelle he bought the frigate San Pietro, freighted her with military stores, and embarked with his retinue. He had drawn on the Pope for 150,658 dollars, while Cardinal Barberini advanced 10,000 crowns, and Cardinal Mazarin 25,000 dollars.

Having narrowly escaped capture by Parliamentary cruisers, he landed in Kenmare Bay, 22nd October 1645, and celebrated Mass in a shepherd’s hut.

The Supreme Council sent troops to escort him to Kilkenny, which he entered in state on the 13th November.

His papers and correspondence throw a flood of light upon the history of the time; but it would be impossible within reasonable limits to follow their intricate mazes.

He resided chiefly at Kilkenny, Limerick, and Galway. Some of his letters are dated from Duncannon, Waterford, Bunratty, and Maryborough.

It was Rinuccini’s policy throughout to oppose all propositions for peace not providing for the open recognition of his faith in Ireland, and the appointment of a Catholic viceroy. He was consequently in continual opposition to the Marquis of Ormond. He strenuously opposed the treaty of 28th March 1646 with the Marquis.

The Nuncio received in Limerick Cathedral the captured standards sent by Owen Roe O’Neill after the victory of Benburb in June that year.

In August he induced O’Neill to come to the aid of the Waterford assembly, met to protest against the second treaty with Ormond, ratified on the 29th July.

On 17th September he entered Kilkenny, with O’Neill on the one hand and Preston on the other, committed the old Confederate Council to the Castle, and called a new council, consisting of four bishops and eight laymen.

Father Meehan says:

“Never did any event give greater cause of joy to the chieftains and people of the ‘Old Irish’ than this change of the Confederate government.”

He vainly endeavoured to reconcile the bitter animosities between O’Neill and Preston, which showed themselves before and during the abortive attack on Dublin.

At Rinuccini’s instance, a general assembly met at Kilkenny, 10th January 1647, from which a Supreme Council of twenty-four was elected. Most of the members were considered to be inflexibly opposed to making any terms with the enemy; yet after many negotiations, in April 1648 they gave their assent to a truce so distasteful to Rinuccini that he pronounced sentence of excommunication against all who should respect it, and against all districts in which it should be received or observed.

His further efforts to carry on the war proved ineffectual, and in March 1649 he sailed in the San Pietro for France—leaving a country in which, according to his own words, “the sun had never shone on him,” and where his mission had been a complete failure. He reached Rome in August the same year.

For his own expenses, when on his mission, he had been allowed by the Pope 3,000 crowns, and 200 crowns a month.

Although living in Ireland was then cheap, he is said to have also expended the current revenues of his see, and 15,800 crowns of his private income.

He caused frescoes to be painted in the archiepiscopal palace at Fermo of the actions that had been fought in Ireland during his stay there.

He is said to have been severely censured by the Pope for his want of prudence in the conduct of Irish affairs.

He died in December 1653, and his remains were buried in the cathedral of Fermo.

Carte says:

“He was regular and even austere in his life and conversation, and far from any taint of avarice or corruption.”

He is described by another writer as “a man of shining abilities, of graceful and conciliating address, of eloquent speech, and of regular and austere habits; but he was also ambitious and proud to an eminent degree, and filled with a zeal for the interests of the Church, which he set above all things else, and would not allow to be overlooked for an instant, even though the cost should be the public peace and liberty.”

A collection of the Nuncio’s documents and letters, entitled The Embassy in Ireland of M. G. B. Rinuccini, Archbishop of Fermo, in the years 1645–’9, translated by Anne Hutton, and published in Dublin in 1873, is a valuable contribution to the history of the time.


85b. Confederation of Kilkenny: Rev. C. P. Meehan. Dublin, 1846.

295. Rinuccini, Monsignor, G. B., Archbishop of Fermo, Embassy in Ireland, in 1645–’9: Translated by Annie Hutton. Dublin, 1873.