The Burlamacchi Family


The history of the Burlamacchi is closely linked to the history of Lucca. More than seventy members of the family were in fact elected Gonfaloniers to govern the small State, which maintained its independence from the 14th century – when it freed itself from the subjugation of nearby Pisa and the expansionist aims of Florence – until 1799, when its mighty walls were conquered, without a single blow, by the Napoleonic army.

The family tree, diligently updated over the centuries, records information starting from 1220. Most information comes from documents kept in the family and in the State Archive of Lucca, which date back to 1218, when an older archive was destroyed in a fire.

It is also said that in 1308 there was a popular uprising, during which the Burlamacchis were prosecuted together with other Noble, Potentate and Casatici families- these were the names given to those who were lords of castles.

The family’s wealth can be attributed above all to the flourishing production and trade of fine silk cloth, for which Lucca excelled until the mid 17th century. The Burlamacchi’s commercial network extended from Portugal to France, Switzerland and Flanders.

In the 16th century, several members of the family embraced the Lutheran Reformation and were forced to take refuge in France, where some escaped the night of St Bartholomew’s Day in Paris and later went to the Protestant stronghold of Geneva.

A phase of decline for the family began.


In 1549 there was a tragic event for the family. Francesco Burlamacchi, being Gonfalonier and head of the sparse Lucca militia, conceived the idea of liberating Pisa from Florentine rule and subsequently creating a confederation of states in Italy that could live in peace, without fear, and therefore happy. This movement was not well received by Cosimo de Medici, nor the people of Lucca, who were frightened by the overwhelming power and rapaciousness of the Florentines. In short, Francesco was handed over by his fellow citizens to the tribunals of Emperor Charles V, who tortured and beheaded him.

Four centuries later, Francesco was proclaimed the “first martyr” of the unification of Italy and the people of Lucca erected a prestigious marble monument of him, now located in the central Piazza San Michele.

In the 17th century, amidst religious wars and rampant bubonic plagues, the silk cloth trade suffered a total collapse. The patricians of Lucca who still owned silver scudi or gold florins bought land and became “no-account lords” with villas in the countryside and palaces in the city. This is when Bagni di Lucca (at the time called Bagni di Corsena), being in the vicinity of thermal establishments, became a popular location for wealthy patricians to invest in countryside homes.

These houses were considered to be among the most important in Europe, so much so that in the 19th century, Elisa Bonaparte – Napoleon’s sister and Duchess of Lucca – and later Leopold II Lorraine Habsburg, Grand Duke of Florence, moved there in the summer with their entire court.

The family had been reduced to a few members, among whom was another enlightened man, Francesco, ‘chamberlain’ at Elisa’s court, who insisted on making drapery not from silk but rather from wool and cotton. He was the only patrician of Lucca to take up an activity with entrepreneurial ideas, but in this way he dissipated his entire patrimony.

In the mid-nineteenth century, Silvestro Burlamacchi married a woman from the Guinigi family, who brought the villas near the spa as her dowry.

One of Silvestro’s sons, Adolfo married the Englishwoman Lucy Lang, daughter of the first Australian-born novelist, John Lang, a descendant of the first fleet of Australian forced labourers. On his untimely death, his son (also named) Adolfo inherited the houses of Bagni di Lucca. He married Lilian Steward – a descendant of four English kings – and gave birth to four children, including Gualtiero, who bought back the Bagni houses, passing them on to his sons Maurizio, Pio and Leo.

Pio is now the sole owner of the houses in Bagni di Lucca, which are currently managed by his daughter Francesca.

Alexander, Martino’s son and Pio’s grandson, is today the youngest of the main branch of the Burlamacchi family.

Other branches of the family thrive in Brazil and the United States of America, while there remains news of other descendants of the branches in Holland, France and Switzerland.


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