The Borromeo family originated from San Miniato in Tuscany but were forced to leave central Italy (1370) when they were exiled, and Filippo, who in 1367 had lead the town's uprising against Florence, was condemned to death.
Once they had moved to north Italy, thanks to the various branches
of the family, and to its real estate and equity interests in
the banks of central-north Italy, the Borromeo family were soon
present on all the most important European financial markets.
Vitaliano I (circa 1391-1449) was the founder of the lasting
fortune of the Borromeo family in Lombardy. He had a very important
financial role and notable political weight in the court of
the Visconti family, accumulating a large fortune thanks to
his sharp mind and business flair. He was also responsible for
the initial purchase of land in the northern Novarese area near
Lake Maggiore (1439/1447), which formed the first nucleus of
what was to become the Borromeo State.
Under Giberto I (circa 1460 -1508) and his brother Lancillotto
(1473-1513) there was a decline in the political and military
role of the family in Milanese affairs. Thereafter, the family's
aristocratic vocation prevailed and their merchant capital was
progressively converted into landed income. This was also the
period in which the first purchases of land on the islands in
the Verbano region were made, and the fortified settlements
were in part, transformed into country residences. Under Giberto
II (circa 1511-1558), feudal power was united to religious power
thus marking, in a lasting manner, the family's image and history.
Carlo Borromeo (1538-1584), who had been destined since birth
to an ecclesiastical career, quickly reached the highest levels
of the Church hierarchy. He was appointed archbishop in 1564,
and in 1566 in Milan, he began a widespread reformation of the
diocese, reorganising its structure and promoting the role of
the clergy and of the parishes. At the time of his death, Carlo
Borromeo was a hugely popular figure.
His cousin Federico (1564-1631) resolutely sustained the process
of canonization that ended with the solemn proclamation of the
sanctity of Carlo Borromeo in Rome, on 1st November 1610. The
Cardinal's predilection for philosophical and literary studies
led him to set up the Biblioteca Ambrosiana (Ambrosiana Library
- 1607), one of the leading cultural institutions in Europe
at the beginning of the seventeenth century. This was later
followed by the Pinacoteca (Picture Gallery - 1618), and the
Accademia del Disegno (The Academy of Design - 1620). He was
also responsible for establishing the Sacro Monte di Varese.
Under Carlo III (1586-1652), nephew and heir of Cardinal Federico,
the power of the ancient dynasty was maintained in the context
of the process of the "Hispanicization" of the ruling
classes in Lombardy, and thanks to his three children, the family
began a new and glorious phase of its history.
Nowadays, the familys history is characterised by its
cultural interests, which far outnumber its political interests,
and it is engaged, with uncommon sensitivity, in the preservation
of its considerable historical and artistic heritage.