Ottone Visconti

Ottone Visconti (1207 – 8 August 1295) was Archbishop of Milan and Lord of Milan, the first of the Visconti line.[1] Under his rule, the commune of Milan became a strong Ghibelline city and one of the Holy Roman Empire's seats in Italy.

Ottone Visconti
Archbishop of Milan
18th century anonymous engraving of Ottone
Lord of Milan
Rule21 January 1277 – 8 August 1295
PredecessorNapoleone della Torre
SuccessorMatteo I Visconti
Invorio, Massino's Court, Italy
Died8 August 1295 (aged 88)
Chiaravalle Abbey, Milan, Italy
Milan Cathedral
Noble familyVisconti
FatherUberto Visconti
MotherBerta Pirovano
Archbishop of Milan
ChurchCatholic Church
SeeMilan Cathedral
Appointed22 July 1262
In office1262–1295
PredecessorLeone da Perego
SuccessorRuffino da Frisseto
Personal details
MottoVipereos Mores Non Violabo


Early lifeEdit

Born in Invorio, near Novara, Ottone was one of the six children of Uberto Visconti, lord of Massino, and Berta Pirovano. Along with his brother Azzone (later Bishop of Ventimiglia), Ottone was forced into an ecclesiastical career by his family. He became canon of Desio and in 1247 chamberlain of the powerful Cardinal Ottaviano degli Ubaldini.[2] Under his patronage, Ottone was appointed by Archbishop of Milan Leone da Perego as his envoy to France in 1252, gaining the trust of Pope Innocent IV, becoming his chaplain.[3]

After the death of Leone da Perego in 1257, Ottone was supported by Cardinal Ubaldini as successor to the Archdiocese of Milan, against Raimondo della Torre's candidacy. This action displeased city's lord Martino della Torre (relative of Raimondo), who claimed the historical autonomy of Milan on Archbishop appointments. Despite Martino's opposition, Pope Urban IV chose Ottone as new Archbishop on 22 July 1262.[4]

Power struggle in MilanEdit

Ottone's insigne as Archbishop

The Pope's choice did not stop the hostility of Martino della Torre, who occupied Milan Cathedral on August 1262, resulting in his excommunication by the papal legate Filippo di Pistoia. This act started a war between Martino's family, the Della Torre or Torriani, and the Visconti. The two families were also politically opposed: the Della Torre were historically Guelphs and allied of Charles I of Anjou,[5] while the Visconti were Ghibellines and exponents of low nobility.

Still in Montefiascone, near Viterbo, where he received Pope's appointment, Ottone marched to Arona on 1 April 1263, where he met several nobles who had fled Milan owing to their opposition to Della Torre. Informed on Ottone's presence in Lombardy, Martino sent his troops to put Arona under siege.[6] Ottone, who occupied the near Rocca of Angera, was forced to surrender on 5 May 1263. Back in Montefiascone, Ottone lost his powerful ally Urban IV, who died on October 1264. Della Torre, however, never obtained Raimondo's formal appointment, and after Martino's death, the once-loyal Pallavicino family switched to the Visconti side, plotting the assassination of Paganino della Torre, podestà of Vercelli, on January 1266. In response, the new lord of Milan Napoleone della Torre executed 53 nobles, suspected of scheming.[7] This vicious act undermined Della Torre's grab on Milan, aggravated by Pope Gregory X, a Visconti of Piacenza, who in 1273 confirmed Ottone Visconti as legal Archbishop of Milan. Napoleone della Torre reacted exiling all noble families who did not support him, causing the formation of an émigré coalition in Novara and Pavia. Using their financial and military support, Ottone's nephew Teobaldo Visconti led an army in Vercelli, occupying Castelseprio. Defeated by Torriani's forces, Teobaldo fled to Lurate, near Como, but after a battle in Gallarate, his last forces were defeated and he was beheaded by Napoleone della Torre in 1276. Ottone, returned to Lombardy in the same year, recruited his supporters near Desio, where he was canon, and after a bloody battle on January 1277, Visconti emerged victorious. Napoleone della Torre was imprisoned and tortured to death in Castel Baradello, while his brother Francesco was executed after the battle.[8] Ottone entered in Milan on 22 January 1277, becoming the first Visconti de facto ruler of the city.[9]

Rule and final yearsEdit

Having become Lord of Milan at the age of 69, Ottone tried to strengthen his family's power on city and Lombardy. The years of his rule were not peaceful: Della Torre still claimed the signoria (Italian for "lordship") and conquered Lodi and Castelseprio, ruling as rogue power in the region between Adda and Ticino rivers. Ottone sought the support of his ally William VII, Marquess of Montferrat, who demanded the city's government as Capitano generale (general-captain), granted to him in 1278. After William VII's side switched in 1281, Ottone re-acquired full powers on the city, and in the battle of Vaprio d'Adda of 1281, his forces defeated Cassone della Torre, who was killed in the battle, while Raimondo, the elder claimant to Milan Archdiocese, fled to Friuli.[10]

In 1287, the old Ottone appointed his grand-nephew Matteo I Visconti as new Capitano generale and left political affairs to him. On May 1288, Matteo Visconti also gained the title of Imperial vicar by Rudolph I of Germany,[11] who thus avoided to intervene directly in the Lombard political situation while still nominal ruler of Milan. In his final years, Ottone never got involved in the politics of Milan, concentrating only on religious affairs. He died on 8 August 1295, aged 88, in the Abbey of Chiaravalle, and was buried in Milan Cathedral.[12]


  1. ^ Baroni, Maria Franca (1995). University of Milan (ed.). La documentazione di Ottone Visconti arcivescovo di Milano (1262-1295). Studi di storia medioevale e di diplomatica, n. 15 (in Italian).
  2. ^ Treccani (ed.). Viscónti, Ottone (in Italian).
  3. ^ Simeoni 1937
  4. ^ Richard, Charles-Louis; Giraud, Jean-Joseph (1822). Méquignon Fils Ainé (ed.). Bibliothèque sacrée, ou, Dictionnaire universel [...] des sciences ecclésiastiques (in French). Vol. 13. p. 301.
  5. ^ Motta, Antonio (1931). DELLA TORRE. Enciclopedia Italiana (in Italian).
  6. ^ Simeoni 1937
  7. ^ Caso, Anna (1989). DELLA TORRE, Napoleone, detto Napo. Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani (in Italian). Vol. 37.
  8. ^ Varese, Carlo (1839). A. F. Stella (ed.). Torriani e Visconti, scene casalinghe, pubbliche e storiche della vita milanese nel secolo XV, Milano (in Italian).
  9. ^ Simeoni 1937
  10. ^ "Vaprio d'Adda: la storia". Camune di Vaprio d'Adda (in Italian).
  11. ^ "Milan by Thais". 9 April 2009. Retrieved 1 March 2012.
  12. ^ Simeoni 1937


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  • Urbano, Vittorio; Visconti, Crivelli (1972). Forni Urso (ed.). La nobiltà lombarda (in Italian).
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  • Giovio, Paolo (1645). Gio. Batt. Bidelli (ed.). Vite dei Dodeci Visconti che Signoreggiarono Milano (in Italian).
Italian nobility
Preceded by Lord of Milan
Succeeded by