Contemporary portrait of Olimpia
Maidalchini by an unknown artist
(May 26, 1594 - September 27,
1657), also spelled Olympia
and known as
, was the sister-in-law of Pope Innocent X
Maidalchini was born in Viterbo, daughter of
capitano Sforza Maidalchini, a contractor, and Vittoria Gualterio,
patrician of Orvieto and Rome, noble of
Viterbo and granddaughter of Sebastiano Gualterio, Bishop of Viterbo, Papal Nuncio to France and the Council of Trent.
Her family was not
wealthy, but she married two wealthy men. Her second marriage was
with Pamphilio Pamphilj
of Cardinal Giambattista, the future Pope Innocent X.
After Pamphilio's death, she became Innocent X's effective advisor.
The pope elevated to the office of Cardinal Nephew
the son, nephew, and cousin
of Olimpia Maidalchini: Camillo Francesco Maria
, and Camillo
, respectively. On November 14, 1644, Innocent X made Camillo
Pamphilj cardinal-nephew, general of the church, legate to Avignon, secretary of briefs, and prefect of the
judicial tribunal known as the Segnatura di Giustizia;
Camillo Pamphilj de facto shared the role of secretary of
state with Cardinal Giovanni
However, on January 21, 1647, Camillo
renounced the cardinalate to marry Olimpia Aldobrandini
, the grand-niece
of Pope Clement VIII
and widow of
Afterwards, Innocent X promoted Francesco Maidalchini, the
17-year-old cousin of Olimpia Maidalchini, to replace Camillo
Pamphilj, but Francesco was viewed as incompetent and his
appointment as disgraceful. Thereafter, Innocent X adopted Camillo
Astalli, and gave him the prerogatives of the cardinal-nephew on
September 19, 1650, including the Palazzo Pamphilj.
However, Olimpia had Astalli deposed and
sent away from Rome, making herself the "absolute mistress in the
house." Maidalchini's influence waned after Innocent X recalled
from Germany, made
him cardinal on February 10, 1652, and then Cardinal Secretary of State
Chigi succeeded Innocent X as Pope
According to papal historian Ludwig
, "the misfortune of Pope Pamphilj was that the only
person in his family who would have had the qualities necessary to
fill such a position
Maidalchini's reputation can be seen in her
unflattering bust by Alessandro Algardi (circa 1650),
currently in the Doria Pamphilj Gallery.
Maidalchini was notorious for guarding
access to Innocent X, and utilizing it to her own financial
benefit. Her veiled attire in the bust is a jab at the fact that
neither Maidalchini nor her family provided for the burial of
Innocent X after his death in 1655, which was paid for by Innocent
X's former butler. In fact, after the death of Innocent X,
Maidalchini removed treasures from the papal palace for three days,
while the pontiff's body was hidden in a corner.
Some historians describe Innocent X as "entirely under the control"
of Maidalchini.This legacy is tied up in the accounts of the
Roman Pasquinade as well as French (Innocent X had shunned France in
favor of Spain and Protestant sources.
The Catholic Encyclopedia
Maidalchini as the "great blemish" on the pontificate of the
"blameless" Innocent X, whom it styles a "lover of justice."
Maidalchini is sometimes referred to as "the
" ("lady pope"), a variant of a title also applied to
Pope Pius XII
), and (the legendary)
. Some sources even allege that
Maidalchini was Innocent X's lover, an accusation which goes back
to Gregorio Leti
's Vita di Donna
(1666), written under the pseudonym
Gualdus, and that she poisoned cardinals
(with the help of her pharmacist, Exili) to open up additional
vacancies for simony
. German historian
Leopold von Ranke
she was not Innocent X's lover.
- Williams, 2004, p. 110.
- Williams, 2004, p. 109.