Italian family of patrons. One of the greatest Roman dynasties, the Orsini are documented from the 11th century and rose to prominence under the pontificate of Pope Celestine III (reg 1191–8). The founder proper of the Orsini dynasty was Matteo Rosso Orsini (d after 1254). In 1241 they defended Rome from the assault of the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II, and as a consequence began their traditional enmity with the Colonna family. By the 13th century they had had two popes: Celestine III and Nicholas III. The latter’s emblem, also that of the family, was a standing bear (It. orso). At the close of the 13th century the Orsini began to divide into numerous branches, the principal ones being those of Monterotondo, the Conti di Nola and Pitigliano and the Duce di Bracciano and Gravina. So extensive was the family that it is not possible to reconstruct a comprehensive genealogy. The French family of Jouvenel des Ursins claimed kinship with them, and they were connected by marriage to the Medici and Farnese families.
Jacqueline Colliss Harvey