A signoria (Italian pronunciation: [siɲɲoˈriːa]) was the governing authority in many of the Italian city states during the Medieval and Renaissance periods.[1] The word signoria comes from signore [siɲˈɲoːre], or "lord"; an abstract noun meaning (roughly) "government; governing authority; de facto sovereignty; lordship"; plural: signorie.

Palazzo Vecchio, the former seat of the Signoria of Florence.

Signoria versus the commune

In Italian history the rise of the signoria is a phase often associated with the decline of the medieval commune system of government and the rise of the dynastic state. In this context the word signoria (here to be understood as "lordly power") is used in opposition to the institution of the commune or city republic.

Contemporary observers and modern historians see the rise of the signoria as a reaction to the failure of the communi to maintain law-and-order and suppress party strife and civil discord. In the anarchic conditions that often prevailed in medieval Italian city-states, people looked to strong men to restore order and disarm the feuding elites.[1]

In times of anarchy or crisis, cities sometimes offered the signoria to individuals perceived as strong enough to save the state. For example, the Tuscan state of Pisa offered the signoria to Charles VIII of France in the hope that he would protect the independence of Pisa from its long term enemy Florence. Similarly, Siena offered the signoria to Cesare Borgia.


The composition and specific functions of the signoria varied from city to city. In some states (such as Verona under the Della Scala family or Florence in the days of Cosimo de Medici and Lorenzo the Magnificent), the polity was what we would term today a one-party state in which the dominant party had vested the signoria of the state in a single family or dynasty.

In Florence, the arrangement was unofficial, as it was not constitutionally formalized before the Medici were expelled from the city in 1494.

In other states (such as the Visconti of Milan}, the dynasty's right to the signoria was a formally recognized part of the commune's constitution, which had been "ratified" by the people and recognized by the pope or the Holy Roman Empire.

The term is also used to refer to certain small feudal holdings in Sicily similar to manorial lordships and, like them, were established in Norman times. With the abolition of feudalism in Sicily in 1812, some of the holdings became baronies. More often, a barony consisted of several signorie.

Use of word

In a few states, the word was sometimes used to refer to the constitutional government of a republic rather than the power exercised by an individual monarch or noble family.

For example, the word was sometimes used in Renaissance times to refer to the government of the Republics of Florence or of Venice, as in Shakespeare's Othello in which Othello says:

"Let him do his spite:
My services which I have done the signiory
Shall out-tongue his complaints"
- (Act one, scene one)

Occasionally, the word referred to specific organs or functions of the state. The signoria in the Republic of Florence was the highest executive organ, and the signoria of the Republic of Venice was mainly a judicial body.

List of signorie

City Family Period Allegiance Notes
 Monaco Grimaldi
12871612 Guelph Gained independence from Genoa in 1287.
Titled Princes of Monaco since 1612.
 Milan Della Torre
12591277 Guelph Deposed by Ghibelline party, led by Visconti.
12771302 Ghibelline Took over Milan after Battle of Desio in 1277.
Deposed by Della Torre in 1302.
Della Torre
13021311 Guelph Deposed and exiled by Emperor Henry VII.
13111395 Ghibelline Re-enthroned by Henry VII in 1311.
Titled Dukes of Milan from 1395.
 Mantua Bonacolsi
12721328 Variable Overthrown in a revolt backed by Gonzaga in 1328.
13281433 Ghibelline Titled Margraves of Mantua from 1433.
 Verona Della Scala
12821387 Ghibelline Overthrown by a Visconti-backed revolt in 1387.
 Treviso Da Camino
12831312 Guelph Overthrown in a conspiracy in 1312.
 Padua Da Carrara
13181405 Guelph Overthrown by the Republic of Venice in 1405.
 Ferrara Este
12091471 Guelph Titled Dukes of Ferrara from 1471.
 Modena 13361471 Titled Dukes of Modena and Reggio from 1471.
13361599 Unclear Titled Lords of Carpi (1336-1527) and Sassuolo (1499-1599)[2]
 Bologna Pepoli
13371350 Guelph Overthrown by Visconti army in 1350.
14011506 Ghibelline Overthrown by Pope Julius II in 1506.
 Ravenna Da Polenta
12751441 Guelph Overthrown and exiled by the Republic of Venice in 1441.
 Forlì Ordelaffi
Ghibelline Declined due to conflicts inside city.
Peacefully deposed in 1480.
14801499 Guelph De facto a satellite of Milan from 1488, under regent Caterina Sforza.
Overthrown by Cesare Borgia in 1499.
14991503 Guelph Ruled over all Romagna, with Cesare as Duke of Romagna.
15031504 Ghibelline Line extinct in 1504.
 Pesaro Malatesta
12851445 Guelph Overthrown in a coup led by the Sforza in 1445.
 Rimini 12951500 Overthrown by Cesare Borgia in 1500.
 Cesena 13781465 Line extinct in 1465.
 Urbino Da Montefeltro
12131234 Ghibelline Titled Counts of Urbino (the Dukes) from 1234.
Lucca Quartigiani 13081316 Guelph Overthrown in a coup led by the Antelminelli in 1316.
13161328 Ghibelline Overthrown by Guelph party in 1328.
Guinigi 14001430 Guelph Deposed by the restoration of the Republic in 1430.
 Florence Medici
Guelph Titled Dukes of Florence from 1532.
 Pisa Della Gherardesca
13161347 Ghibelline Deposed and replaced by the Gambacorta family in 1347.
Gambacorta 13471392 Guelph Overthrown by a conspiracy in 1392.
13921399 Unclear Overthrown by the Visconti in 1399.
13991406 Ghibelline Overthrown by the Republic of Florence in 1406.
 Siena Petrucci
14871525 Ghibelline Peacefully deposed by republican institutions in 1525.

See also


  1. "Signoria". Enciclopedia Treccani (in Italian).
  2. Ori, Anna Maria. "PIO - Dizionario biografico degli italiani" [PIO - Biographical Dictionary of the Italians]. Enciclopedia Treccani (in Italian).
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