PHILIP OF SPAIN.
THE CASE OF THE SILVER VASES
Manuscript on paper.Novara, Italy, 7 July 1566
Folio. 32 leaves (28 by 19cms approx.), 19 lines to full page. Handsome, legible Humanist hand. Edges untrimmed, brown ink. Slight age browning, light damp stain to middle of pages, last two leaves holed with loss of a few letters, residue of wax seal on verso of last. In later red velvet folder, metal corners and monogram to upper cover ‘C P G’, coronet above, middle letter and coronet now missing.
Fascinating legal manuscript recording the judgement of the council of Novara in a dispute between two important noble families on the one side and the extremely prominent Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma on the other. The document is dated 7th July 1566 and concerns Johannes Francicsus Tornielli and Marcus Antonius Brusati and Franciscus Maria Plotus who is named as their associate. The court proceedings are richly described with a sense of immediacy; almost in the style of a stenographer. The manuscript commences with an address to Philip II, King of Spain, Sicily and Milan, and entreats him to approve the judgement of the council as presented to him and in making his final decree, to remove all discord. It is also stated that his judgement will set a precedent for future disputes of this kind. The council members and their relative superiority and status to one another are described, naming key members as ‘subscripti’. The scene is then set: Sunday 7th July 1566, in the evening, at the palazzo of Novara.
The case concerns ‘Vasa Argentea’, silver cups or vases, that should be given or returned to Alexander Farnese and his wife by Tornielli and Brusati. However, the two accused state “ipsa vasa penes se se non adesse, & nescrire quid de eis factus sif…”, they don’t have the vases and they don’t know what has happened to them. They then state they don’t want to be members of the council anymore and withdraw from proceedings. A lengthy case follows including a long history of both families, where they are described as ‘nobilissima e dignissima’ and a list of the various honours and high positions the family members hold is put forth. This is corroborated by extensive historical evidence from as early as the twelfth century. A number of streets and monuments in the modern city still bear their name. One could compare them to the fictional Montagues and Capulets as these two families of Novara were often engaged in fierce conflict.
The final decree is as follows: 500 gold coins must be paid by Tornielli and Brusati and they lose their positions in the council and therefore their voices on important matters. The official stamp of the council was affixed, and presumably a copy would have been sent to Philip of Spain’s court for its ratification. The manuscript is not only a valuable record of a considerable and exciting legal dispute but also provides in remarkable detail how proceedings were conducted, naming key players and explaining concepts and events.
Alexander Farnese was a prominent Italian noble and condottiero and general of the Spanish army. The Farnese family were hugely influential in Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. He was sometime Duke of Parma, Piacenza and Castro and Governor of the Spanish Netherlands. His mother was the half-sister of Philip II of Spain and Alexander was raised and educated in Spain until his marriage. This dispute occurred when he was 21 years old, a year after his marriage to Maria of Portugal, when he had just established himself in the city of Parma. Historical records indicate Farnese’s time in Parma was filled with hunting, riding and other leisurely activities, until he left to fight the Turks in 1571.