News from Italy: The Italian Convert

From Naples to York (by way of Geneva): The Life of Galeazzo Caracciolo by Niccolò Balbani

This extraordinarily popular conversion narrative tells the story of an Italian nobleman, a member of Charles V’s court and nephew to Pope Paul IV, who abandoned Italy and the Catholic Church after absorbing the evangelical teachings of Juan de Valdés and Peter Martyr Vermigli in his native Naples.   He died in Geneva, stripped of his titles, wealth, and estates, and married to a Frenchwoman after his wife and children refused to follow him across the Alps.

Originally written by Niccolò Balbani and published in Geneva after Caracciolo’s death, the text was translated into Latin by Theodore Beza and then into English by William Crashaw (a Yorkshire clergyman and father of the religious poet and Catholic convert Richard). Translations into French and German were also made, but by far the most popular version was Crashaw’s which was printed in 1608, 1612, 1635, 1662, 1668 and 1677.  The story was disseminated even further through its inclusion in Jacques Auguste de Thou’s History of His Own Times, a book popular across the European ‘Republic of Letters.’

The 1668 edition below contains a series of entertaining woodcuts – spot the Jesuit with bags of gold!

Balbani_Niccolo-The_Italian_convert_1668In the text, Caracciolo (1517-1586) is held up as a model for the Protestant convert – he gives up his wealth, status and family in order to embrace Protestantism and settle in Geneva. He becomes a close associate of Calvin and Crashaw claims that ‘Calvin freely confesseth… that this Noblemans Example did greatly confirm him in his Religion’ (Epistle, A7, v). Calvin would dedicate his Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians to Galeazzo.


Niccolò Balbani, Historia della vita di G. C. chiamato il signor Marchese,nella quale si contiene un raro e singolare esempio di constanza e perseveranza nella pietà e nella vera religione (Geneva, 1587)

Newes from Italy of a Second Moses, or The life of Galeacius Caracciolus the noble marquesse of Vico. Containing the story of his admirable conversion from popery, and forsaking of a rich marquesdome for the Gospels sake (London, 1608)

Benedetto Croce,  Vite di avventure, di fede, e di passione (Bari: Laterza, 1953), 187-291.

Carlo Ginzburg, “Niccolò Balbani,” Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani (Rome: Istituto dell’Enciclopedia Italiana, 1960-).

E.William Monter, “Galeazzo Caracciolo” Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani (Rome: Istituto dell’Enciclopedia Italiana, 1960-).

Mario Scaduto, “La Ginevra di Teodoro Beza nei ricordi di un gesuita lucano, Luca Pinelli (1542-1607),” Archivum Historicum Societatis Iesu 20 (1951), 117-142.

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