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by Alvaro Gragnoli


Story of a captain of fortune, Ruggero Cane Ranieri, and of a large family of Fratta Perugina. The Counts of Civitella Ranieri and Montegualandro, patricians of Perugia, nobles of Velletri and Marquesses of Sorbello.



Little is known about the origins of Fratta, today Umbertide (1), as well as other small towns in the Upper Tiber Valley. It can be assumed that until the fall of the Roman Empire it was nothing more than a small village located near the Tiber, from which it obtained fish and water for the cultivation of the surrounding fertile lands. Precisely because the Roman Empire guaranteed security, it certainly did not need any particular defenses, so it can also be assumed that its location was not the current one. The discovery of some Roman tombs near the current S. Maria di Sette could suggest that the small village could be found in those parts, but the researches of historians (2) have not led to certain conclusions.

With the fall of the Western Roman Empire following the barbarian invasions, it is presumable that the survivors take refuge in a place that adds a natural defense to what the inhabitants could have opposed. The islet placed at the confluence of the Reggia torrent on the Tiber is proposed as the ideal place. In the struggle that pits the Lombards, intent on conquering Italy, against the Byzantines determined to defend the territory that connects Rome to Ravenna, the area finds itself as a natural outpost on the line of an unstable border. Traces of fortifications, which emerged during the restoration of the fortress, were found in the basement of the current Teatro dei Riuniti, and can be attributed to the Lombards. But the lack of any document does not allow, to date, nothing but suppositions albeit supported by archaeological elements of difficult dating.

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The coat of arms of the Ranieri family
On the right, the portal on the walls with the ancient coat of arms

The arrival in Italy of the Ranieri family

Certainly around the year one thousand the territory that goes from the borders with Gubbio to Lake Trasimeno was granted as a fief to the Ranieri family who arrived in Italy following the emperor Ottone. And it is one of these, Umberto, (or Uberto) who in the late 10th century. the construction of the castle of Civitella begins, which will take the name of the family, and the re-foundation of the Fratta is attributed to him (3). The first document of which we have memory bears the date of 12 February 1189 and is an act with which the Marquis Ugolino di Uguccione Ranieri subdues the castle of Fratta and all its lands in Perugia (4). At that time the Ranieri lineage is very powerful and has already divided, due to the succession, into the three branches of Gubbio, Orvieto and Perugia. In 1206, in Perugia, Monaldo and Glotto dei Ranieri donated the land of Monteluce for the construction of a female monastery that would be part of the Franciscan movement and of S. Chiara. The influence of the family is now very strong and has taken a notable position in the struggles for the power of that city. He is at the side of the Baglioni against the Raspanti and their allies Michelotti and pays a painful toll of blood when the Raspanti, previously ousted, regain power at the end of the century. XIV, killing about 300 people and, among others, many members of the Ranieri family.


The destruction of the castle of Civitella


The castle of Civitella alla Fratta, stronghold of the Ranieri, was completely destroyed. Ruggero Cane, son of Constantine, has not yet returned to Perugia from exile where he is and,  "The misfortune of his own did not occur, because God reserved it for great & heroic enterprises, after having enriched it with all those qualities, which can adorn the soul and the person in excellence, of a Knight" (5) By Ruggero Cane Ranieri, a great military leader and certainly the man who gave more prestige to the family, we do not know the place or date of birth, because his parents had not returned to Perugia from the exile they had been forced to by their rivals since 1361, but we can assume it can be placed around 1380.


In 1398 the collaboration in arms begins

with the Fortebraccio da Montone arm


He embarked on a career in arms and in 1398 he was alongside Braccio Fortebraccio da Montone (6) in the service of Macerata. He has already gained considerable experience in commanding mercenary troops if in 1402 we find him in the service of Nicolò d'Este with 300 horses. Take part in the battle of Casalecchio di Reno won by the Visconti against Bologna. It then passes to the service of the Malatesta of Rimini and then of Florence. In 1407, after having fought for the king of Naples Ladislao d'Angiò with 1500 knights, he was called by Braccio Fortebraccio to the siege of Ascoli Piceno, and made a "miserable havoc on the life and possessions of the Ascolani, leaving them a bloody memory of brutal cupidity "(7).

In 1412, called by Carlo Malatesta, he was in the service of Venice, in command of fifty cavalry squads (8) in the war that opposed the Republic to Prince Sigismund of Hungary, for control of the Alpine passes and Dalmatia. The troops of the Hungarians are under the command of a great captain who has escaped from Florence, Filippo Scolari (Pipo Spano Fiorentino) (9) and are achieving notable successes.

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Arm Fortebraccio da Montone

In the battle of Motta di Livenza, August 1412, Carlo Malatesta is wounded and his troops, believing him dead, disband and flee towards the Tagliamento, leaving the way open for the conquest of Venice. Roger engages in a furious battle on the bridge over the Livenza river (10). As a modern Orazio Coclite has it destroyed behind him to prevent any escape route for his soldiers, and thus allows Carlo Malatesta to rearrange his troops and counterattack the Hungarians who, now certain of victory, have abandoned themselves to looting, making them massacre. More than 1500 Hungarians and Bohemians are killed along with their commander general and five out of six Hungarian flags are captured.

... ..the whole Italian camp runs in dismay:

the Hungarian follows them as a sure winner

and the tall lion flies with the wind:

In this peril a pure man of arms

Rogier Can perugin not already a coward

he made a wall of his body in Venice.

To the river he ran and raised his banner,

spoiling the bridge, so that everyone stopped;

and among them he seemed a leopard ... (11).

He did not have the same luck in the siege of Feltre in November of the same year. He commands 1000 horses and 500 infantrymen but is beaten by the arrival of Marsilio da Ferrara in command of 800 horses, and by the Feltresi who have come out to counterattack.

In 1417 he is again in the service of Braccio da Montone who, having become lord of Perugia with the battle of S. Egidio (12), is besieging Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome and whose troops are decimated by the plague, but is forced to leave the city with the arrival of the Angevin troops called by Pope Martin V. Always in the service of Braccio in 1419 he attacks Gubbio to take it away from the Montefeltro. He manages to enter the city through a door opened to him by Cecciolo Gabrielli who, however, is immediately locked up after his entry along with 50 horsemen. The result is a violent fight in the streets but still manages to save himself. A few days later he occupied Assisi and then placed himself at the siege of Spoleto. The following year Pope Martin V appoints him governor of Montalboddo, today Ostra, in the Marche region. In 1421 he marries with great pomp with Giuditta Colonna with whom he will have two daughters, one of whom, Marzia, will marry Malatesta Baglioni. Secondly married Altavilla di Ottaviano degli Ubaldini (13) who will give him two daughters and a son. In June 1424, with the death of Braccio in the battle of L'Aquila (14), he was advisor to his son, Oddo, but then accompanied him to Montone because Perugia wanted to return to papal power. In the same year, the inhabitants of Ostra kicked out their representatives from the city and put their trust in the Montefeltro family. In August the city of Perugia appoints him as its ambassador to the Pope to agree on the return of the city under his banner and protection. Once Perugia returned under the dominion of the Pope, we find him among the five members of the Arbitrio, demonstrating the prestige achieved. Vincenzo Armanni, in one of his letters addressed from Gubbio on December 28, 1668 to Michele Giustiniani, as well as extolling the noble origins and military skills, writes of Ruggero: " He still honored, faithful, and frequent services to Bernabò Visconti Duca of Milan in very important affairs, in which he was often employed, & in those maximally, which he had to negotiate twice with the Pope in Rome, who was sent Ambassador there ". Venice endows him with a notable pension in recognition of the great services rendered to that Republic. With weapons and diplomacy, Ruggero Cane regains possession of the territory of Civitella and in 1433 begins the reconstruction of the castle but will not see the end because death takes him in Perugia in April 1441, two months after the sumptuous marriage. of Constantine, the only legitimate male child, with Pantasilea daughter of Ranuccio Farnese. His funeral was equally sumptuous as a chronicler recounts it: “ On April 18, if el corrupt (the funeral weeping ed.) Of the death of Rugiere de Costantino dei Ranieri was commenced; I went around the city 25 servants on horseback all dressed in flags, first the standard white with the red cross, and the one who wore it was all armed as when he was captain of the Venetians, and you can with their arms. and on the 21st of the dictum made and corrupted great, and out dressed among men and women 70 persons; and buried in Santo Lorenzo, and placed the flags in the choir. and on the 22nd of the dict I made him a sequio with all the religious orders, which was a very beautiful thing ”(15) demonstrating the great esteem he enjoyed, his portrait was placed in the Baglioni room in Perugia (16). On his tombstone was affixed the inscription:










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Plaque dedicated to Ruggero C. Ranieri in the castle of Civitella

Around 1480 in Perugia the struggles between the nobles for power are rekindled. This time the Ranieri, increasingly powerful (18), are allies of the Oddi and adversaries of the Baglioni. The latter prevail, kill some components of their rivals and damage the fortifications of the castle of Civitella not yet completed by their son Constantine. In 1495 the Ranieri, with the help of the Duke of Urbino, regain possession of the castle and Raniero, grandson of Ruggero Cane, manages to complete the reconstruction. A date affixed to an old door, 1519, suggests that it is the date of completion. The lordship of the Ranieri over the castle of Civitella is confirmed by various popes in different eras; from Martin V in 1426 to Clement X in 1671 (19).


The history of the Ranieri family e

its importance in Italy and in Europe


The story of the Ranieri family, told through the documents preserved up to 1951 in Umbertide in the family property and then transferred to the State Archives of Perugia (20), reveals to us how important it was in Italy and in Europe. Here we want to mention some such as Tancredi, who died in 1645, who was an officer in Flanders for the Archduke of Austria Matthias of Habsburg in 1610 and governor of Romagna; Constantine IV known as the Ferrarese was lieutenant general of cavalry and governor of the papal arms in Ferrara, where he later died; Constantine V (+1742) known as the Traveler who fought in Gaeta and took part in the defense of Turin with the Austrian general W. Philipp Lorenz von Daunn, was Innocent XIII's waiter of honor and chamber gentleman of the Grand Duke of Tuscany. Giovanni Antonio, in 1859 took Altavilla Bourbon of the Marquis of Sorbello (21) as his wife and in 1906 Ruggero inherited from his maternal grandfather, for himself and his descendants, the surname and arms of the Bourbon del Monte di Sorbello, which he passed on to his sons. In 1995 the “Uguccione Ranieri di Sorbello Foundation” was founded in New York in memory of Uguccione Ranieri di Sorbello (1906-1969), journalist, writer and diplomat. A trust to enhance the cultural heritage of the Ranieri di Sorbello family through historical-cultural initiatives and events. Since 2012, all the activities of this foundation have passed to the "Ranieri di Sorbello Foundation" based in Perugia. Currently, in the castle of Civitella Ranieri in Umbertide, during the summer, artists from all over the world and of the most varied disciplines are hosted, giving them the opportunity to express their potential. This is possible thanks to the “Civitella Ranieri Foundation” founded by Ursula Coming and directed since 2007 by Dana Prescott. Since its inception it has hosted over 800 fellows and guests from all over the world.





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View from the top of the castle of Civitella Ranieri today


1. The name was changed in 1863 following a resolution of the municipal council on the directive of the Ministry of the Interior to avoid misunderstandings between too many municipalities with the same name. The council initially decided on the name "Umberta" but sparked half a revolt among the population. A new council was convened and this time the name "Umbertide" was well accepted by all.

2. See “History of the land of Fratta now Umbertide” by Antonio Guerrini- Tipografia Tiberina- Umbertide 1883; and “History of Umbertide” by Priest Umberto Pesci - R. Fruttini Typography - Gualdo Tadino 1932.

3. Vincenzo Armanni, in his "Of the letters of Mr. Vincenzo Armanni written in his own name", published in Macerata in 1674 for the types of Giuseppe Piccini, on page 297 et seq., Speaks extensively of the Ranieri family present in our area since 970. He speaks of it as a very powerful family, like the Baglioni of Perugia and owner of many castles in various parts of Umbria. In their honor Fratta will carry, and still carries, the initials FOU, (Fratta Oppidum Uberti) in the city coat of arms.

4. U. Pisces op. cit. page 10

5. see Armanni's letter cited above note 3

6. He will always remain his faithful ally "nor can one say how fruitfully with valor, and with the council he assisted in the most arduous undertakings to the arms of Braccio Fortebraccio, that great leader of armies and famous conqueror of the city" (V.Armanni letter a M. Giustiniani quoted) Ariodante Fabretti; Biographies of Capitani Venturieri dell'Umbria; vol. 1 °; 1842-Angiolo Fumi- Montepulciano-

7. Ariodante Fabretti; Biographies of Capitani Venturieri dell'Umbria; vol. 1 °; 1842-Angiolo Fumi- Montepulciano-

8. Cesare Crispolti; “Perugia Augusta” - Perugia MDCXLIII- Heirs Tomasi & Zecchini- page 314

9. In his "Perugia Augusta", Cesare Crispolti claims that he had been bribed by Venice and that, on returning to Hungary, King Sigismund had him killed by pouring molten gold into his mouth, almost a Dante's retaliation, to punish him for his greed for gold. The accusation and the heartbreaking death are disproved by history. The Scolari, great and ferocious leader in the service of Sigismund of Hungary, led the war against the Turks of the Ottoman Empire again in 1417 and in 1422 the year in which he died. In recognition of the great services performed, he was buried in a chapel next to the one that hosted the royals of Hungary.

10. Armanni p. 316. For Fabretti it is the Tagliamento

11. Ariodante Fabretti op.cit. Page 167

12. It took place on 12 July 1416, a sunny and very hot day, in S. Egidio near Perugia and it was not just a clash between two armies but two schools of thought on how to conduct a battle. Braccio's opponent, Carlo I Malatesta, was a follower of the Sforza school which provided for massive and continuous attacks with heavy cavalry. Braccio's tactic, called “braccesca” from his name, involved continuous and fast attacks on the opponent's weak points with small groups that then returned and replaced by others. Thus he always kept his opponent busy while his troops had the opportunity to cool off and rest. After seven hours of continuous skirmishes, the army of the Malatesta, now tired and thirsty, was overwhelmed. Braccio thus crowned his dream of becoming the lord of Perugia.

13. The Armanni op.cit., Pages 301-302, underlines this marriage to demonstrate the importance of the Ranieri family which was related to a lineage whose nobility was equal to that of Charlemagne, like the king himself he recognized.

14. In that battle Braccio was seriously wounded and died a few days later refusing any treatment and closing himself in stubborn silence. Manzoni, in the tragedy "Il Conte di Carmagnola", referring to Braccio, will make Nicolò Piccinino say: "... that for all he is still called with wonder and terror ..."

15. A.Fabretti- op.cit. p. 298

16. A. Fabretti- op.cit. page 168

17. A. Fabretti- op.cit. page 297

18. G. Vincioli. Historical-critical memories of Perugia in portraits of 24 illustrious men in arms and of 24 cardinals of the same city. Foligno 1730 p. 105

19. Vincioli page 107

20. The documents of the Sorbello marquises are found in the “Ranieri Sorbello Foundation” in Perugia

21. The castle is located in the Niccone valley and was part of the possessions of the Bourbons of Monte Santa Maria Tiberina



Published on nr. 57/58 of "PAGES ALTOTIBERINE" published by the "Historical Association of the Upper Tiber Valley" year 2016

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