Allessandro Manzoni

Portrait of Allessandro Manzoni

Allessandro Francesco Tommaso Antonio Manzoni: (1785-1873) was an Italian poet, novelist and philosopher. He was born in Milan, Italy on 7th March 1785 and died there on 22nd May 1873 aged 88.

Major Works

“Inni Sacri” (The Sacred Hymns) (1815)
Il Cinque Maggio” (The Fifth of May) (1821)
“Adelchi” (1822)
“I Promessi Sposi”  (The Betrothed”) (1825-7)

Biography Timeline

Allessandro Manzoni was born on 7th March 1785 in Milan, Italy. His father Pietro came from an old family in Lecco. His mother Giulia had literary leanings inherited from her father Cesare Beccaria who was an author and philosopher. Allessandro spent his first two years in Galbiate.

1792: His parents separate when his mother has an affair with the writer Carlo Imbonati and moves to England and then Paris. He spends much of his childhood in religious schools.  

1800: He develops a passion for poetry aged fifteen and writes two sonnets.

1805: He joins his mother in Paris and joins the radical Voltairian skeptics. He writes the poem “Il trionfo della libertà” (The Triumph of Liberty). 

1806: In Auteuil he first comes to public attention as a poet, with “Urania”, written in the classical style and the blank verse elegy on the death of Count Carlo Imbonati. When his mother’s lover Imbonati dies, he leaves him a considerable amount of money and property including the village of Brusuglio where he moves.

1807: His father dies and with his mother in Auteuil, he develops a lifelong interest in Liberalism.

1808: He marries the Calvinist Henriette Blondel, daughter of a banker from Geneva, Switzerland.

1810: His wife converts to Catholicism and he himself renews his faith.

1812: He retires to life in Milan and his villa in Brusuglio where he can write poetry.

1815: He writes “Inni Sacri” (The Sacred Hymns) about the feast of Christmas and Easter and about the Virgin Mary.

1818: The crimes of a dishonest agent force him to sell his father’s inheritance. He cancels the money owed to him by the peasants on his former land.

1819: He writes the treatise “Osservazioni Sulla Morale Cattolica (Observations on Catholic Ethics).

1820: He writes his first tragic play “Il Conte di Carmagnola” which is about a 15th-century conflict between Milan and Venice. It is controversial as it violates all the classical conventions, however, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe comes to his defence describing it as a work of genius. 

1821: He writes “Marzo 1821”, an ode on the Piedmontese revolution. The death of Napoleon Bonaparte inspires him to write “Il Cinque Maggio” (The Fifth of May) and it is praised by Goethe as the greatest of many works written to commemorate the event. He begins work on his novel “Fermo e Lucia” in April after reading the novels of Walter Scott.

1822: He publishes the poem “La Pentecoste” and the play “Adelchi” about Charlemagne’s conquest of Italy.

1823: In September he completes the novel “I Promessi Sposi” (The Betrothed).

1825: The first of three volumes of “I Promessi Sposi” is finally published, after a reworking by the author and it is an immediate success. A new volume comes out each year and makes him an internationally known writer. It is set in the seventeenth century in Lombardy during the Milanese insurrection and is the story of two peasant lovers whose wish to marry is prevented by a local tyrant and the cowardice of the parish priest.

1833: His wife dies.

1835: He attends the “Salotto Maffei”, a salon hosted by Clara Mattfei in Milan.

1837: He marries for the second time to Teresa Borri, widow of Count Stampa. (She also dies before him as do seven of his nine children).

1840: The final edition of “I Promessi Sposi” is published in an updated Tuscan-Italian form. He also writes “Storia Della Colonna Infame” about the seventeenth century plague in Milan.

1860: He is appointed a Senator by King Victor Emmanuel the Second and is on record as favouring Italian unification.

1873: On 6th January he falls over leaving the San Fedele church and hits his head on the steps. His eldest son Pier Luigi dies on 28th April and it is a final blow to his health.

Allessandro Manzoni died of cerebral meningitis on 22nd May 1873 in Milan, Italy. After lying in state he received a state funeral in Milan Cathedral, for which Giuseppe Verdi wrote his “Requiem”. The ceremony was attended by nobility and government officials. He was buried in the Cimitero Monumentale in the city.