An aristocratic Roman family, originally of Barberino in the Else Valley; they later settled first in Florence and then in Rome, where they became wealthy and powerful, but unpopular because of the nepotism practiced by Maffeo (1568-1644), who was elected pope as Urban VIII (1623).
It is recorded that Antonio Barberini defended Florence in 1530 and then went to Rome, to which in 1555 he summoned his nephew Francesco (1528-1600), the real founder of the Barberini dynasty. Francesco and his brother Raffaelo accumulated the riches and trade advantages that became the base of the Barberini power.
Francesco (1597-1679) was the first cardinal nominated by his uncle Pope Urban VIII (October 1623). Ill suited for a diplomatic career, Francesco until his appointment as secretary of state at the Vatican (1628), accomplished little other than to collect and organize a library that attracted scholars from all over Europe.
The second family member Urban named cardinal was his brother Antonio the Elder (1569-1646), who also held several other church positions, but its notable chiefly for encouraging the construction of religious buildings in Rome.
Antonio the Younger (1607-71), Urban´s nephew, who became the family´s third cardinal in 1628, proved himself an able negotiator and was entrusted with certain legates, including those of Urbano (1631) and Avignon (1633). A patron of the arts, he supported, among others, the Baroque sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680). He also collected an extensive library, which after his death was absorbed into that of his brother Francesco.
Other family members who received important secular positions included Taddeo (1603-47), a third nephew of Urban, who married Anna Colonna receiving a large dowry; two years later (1629) he bought the principality of Palestrina from her family.
The Barberini became universally hated and came into conflict with several powerful families, especially the Farnese, who formed a league against them and defeated then at Lagoscuro (March 30, 1644). This defeat, together with the death of Urban, severely weakened the position of the Barberini.
When the newly elected Innocent X (pope 1644-55) began an investigation into the Barberini´s misuse of church funds, Taddeo, Francesco, and Antonio the Younger fled to Paris. Protected by the French cardinal Jules Mazarin, they enjoyed comfortable positions. With Mazarin´s help, and with the arrangement of the marriage of Taddeo´s son Maffeo to Olimpia Giustiniani, Innocent´s protégée, the Barberini were reconciled to Innocent in 1653. Taddeo died in Paris, but both Francesco (1648) and Antonio (1653) returned to Rome and lived in the magnificent Barberini Palace in Rome, built under the supervision of Bernini. Although the Barberini encouraged much construction and restoration, they also despoiled many ancient structures to obtain building materials for their palace, inspiring the epigram "Quod non fecerunt barbari, fecerunt Barberini".
The family retained power for some time, mainly through wise marriages, including that of Lucrezia, daugther of Taddeo, to Francesco II, duke of Modena. The Barberini died out in 1736, and their state passed to the Colonna.