Archbishop Rinuccini, 1592-1653

Papal nuncio to the Irish Confederates, he worked to restore the Roman Catholic faith in Ireland.

Portrait of Archbishop RinucciniGiovanni Battista Rinuccini was born into a Florentine patrician family in September 1592. He was educated by Jesuits in Rome then studied canon and civil law at the universities of Bolognia, Perugia and Pisa. After embarking upon a promising career as an advocate in the ecclesiastical courts, Rinuccini's uncle Cardinal Bandini recommended him for the vacant archdiocese of Fermo.

Rinuccini was ordained a priest and received a special dispensation to become Archbishop of Fermo in November 1625. He was deeply committed to the people of Fermo and declined the offer of the more prestigious archdiocese of Florence in 1631. Rinuccini also wrote a number of books including works on philosophy, rhetoric, history and geography. Although he regarded his religious writings as his most important works, Rinuccini's most popular book was Il Cappuccino Scozzese, a romanticised life of the Scottish friar George Leslie.

Mission to Ireland

Despite Rinuccini's lack of diplomatic experience, Pope Innocent X appointed him papal nuncio to the Irish Confederation in March 1645. He travelled to Ireland via Paris, where he spent several months vainly attempting to ease the strained relations between Cardinal Mazarin's government and the Vatican. He finally sailed for Ireland in September 1645. After an adventurous voyage, during which his ship was pursued by hostile English warships and blown off course by storms, Rinuccini was received with great pomp and ceremony at the Confederate capital Kilkenny on 12 November 1645 where he declared that his mission supported the rule of King Charles I against the English Parliamentarians but that his principal objective was to secure religious freedom for Irish Catholics.

Rinuccini arrived in Ireland in the middle of complex negotiations between the Confederates and the King's Protestant representative the Marquis of Ormond. The King hoped to secure a truce with the Confederates in order to recruit Irish troops to fight the Parliamentarians in England; he also authorised the Earl of Glamorgan to conduct secret negotiations promising additional concessions to Irish Catholics.

Rinuccini joined the negotiations by attempting to extract further concessions from Glamorgan. However, the Earl's mission ended in confusion when his secret instructions were revealed in the English Parliament and Ormond denounced him as a traitor to spare any embarrassment to himself or the King. Rinuccini also urged the Confederate Supreme Council to adopt a treaty negotiated with the Pope in Rome by Sir Kenelm Digby on behalf of Queen Henrietta Maria rather than continue negotiations with Ormond, but the Council concluded a treaty known as the First Ormond Peace in March 1646.

Rinuccini's influence over the Confederates was bolstered with money, weapons and ammunition provided by the Vatican and Catholic well-wishers in Europe. These supplies enabled the Confederates to fully equip the armies of Ulster and Leinster for the first time in the war. In June 1646, the Ulster army under Owen Roe O'Neill inflicted a major defeat on the British at the battle of Benburb; the following month, the Leinster commander Thomas Preston captured the castles at Roscommon and Bunratty. These victories convinced Rinuccini that the Confederates were capable of conquering the whole of Ireland and strengthened his opposition to the Ormond Peace, which was proclaimed in Dublin on 30 July. In August, Rinuccini convened a synod at Waterford where he denounced the treaty and, with the support of the the Catholic clergy, pronounced a sentence of excommunication upon all Confederates who continued to favour it. Rinuccini returned to Kilkenny in September with military backing from the leading Confederate generals O'Neill and Preston. The Ormond Peace was declared void and members of the Supreme Council who supported it were imprisoned. A new Supreme Council was elected, with Rinuccini as President.

Confederate Leader

Under Rinuccini, the Council ordered an immediate attack on Dublin using the combined Ulster and Leinster armies but the campaign failed owing to the mutual mistrust between O'Neill and Preston. The abandonment of the siege of Dublin in November 1646 was detrimental to Rinuccini's influence and prestige. Although the General Assembly which met at Kilkenny in January 1647 confirmed the rejection of the Ormond Peace, Rinuccini renounced his presidency of the Supreme Council.

During 1647, the Supreme Council attempted to implement a more moderate policy, but with the continued repudiation of the peace treaty, the Marquis of Ormond turned to the English Parliament and handed Dublin over to Parliamentarian forces in August 1647. This was followed by two devastating defeats for the Leinster and Munster Confederates at Dungan's Hill and Knocknanuss in August and November 1647. Rinuccini still hoped to rally the Confederate cause with further funding from the Vatican but this arrived too late and was not enough to influence the course of events.

Rinuccini vehemently opposed the Confederates' treaty with Lord Inchiquin in the spring of 1648 and declared that any member of the Supreme Council who supported the Inchiquin Truce would be excommunicated. Most Confederate generals supported the treaty, but O'Neill remained loyal to Rinuccini. A civil war within the Confederacy broke out when O'Neill declared war on the Supreme Council and led the army of Ulster against Kilkenny. However, O'Neill lacked the resources to achieve a decisive victory and Rinuccini was unable to unite the clergy against the Supreme Council. In September 1648, Ormond returned to Ireland and began negotiations for a new treaty between the Confederates and the English Royalists, which led ultimately to the dissolution of the Confederation.

Sick and dispirited, Rinuccini left Ireland in February 1649. The Pope is said to have criticised his conduct in Ireland and later authorised the absolution of many of those he had excommunicated. Rinuccini employed two Capuchin friars, Richard O'Ferrall and Robert O'Connell, to compile from his papers an account of his mission to Ireland, which became known as the Commentarius Rinuccinianus. He returned to Fermo around August 1650 but his fragile health broke down completely the following year. He died in December 1653 and was buried in Fermo cathedral.


Richard Bagwell, Giovanni Battista Rinuccini, DNB 1896

Tadhg Ó hAnnracháin, Giovanni Battista Rinuccini, Oxford DNB, 2004

Pádraig Lenihan, Confederate Catholics at War 1641-49 (Cork 2001)