This collection consists of 106 volumes, dating from c. 1550 to 1770 (with one volume containing items from as late as 1848). Five numbers in the sequence (10, 23, 59, 69, and 77) are missing, and two additional numbers (50a and 98a) have been added. Seven numbers are multi-volume sets. The collection totals 119 volumes in all. Most of the volumes are collections of short manuscripts and printed documents pertaining to a variety of topics. Over 2,000 items are present, about 1,550 in manuscript and roughly 500 in print. All of the documents are on paper and are bound in contemporary vellum. While most of the manuscript documents are written in an italic cursive, a few examples of broad humanist script are present in the collection. A fair number of engravings, woodcuts, ink drawings, and watercolors supplement the text documents.
The entire Italian Castle Archive was donated to Yale by H. P. Kraus, with the exception of volume 98a, which was purchased from Kraus in 1991. The earlier provenance of the Archive is unknown, although the frequent mention of Naples and the D'Aste family leads one to believe that the compilation of the Archive was completed in Southern Italy in the mid to late eighteenth century. Supporting this claim are frequent references to Ancona (where Cardinal Marcello D'Aste was Archbishop in the early 18th century) and Switzerland (where Marcello D'Aste served as Papal Nuncio from 1692-1695). Another member of the family, Donato Antonio D'Aste (d. 1743), was a famous legal scholar who resided in Naples. However, the wide array of documents and the lack of clear early provenance leave the origin of the Archive a mystery. Most of the documents in the collection are from Italy, with a small percentage coming from Spain, France, and the Empire. A vast majority of the items are in Italian and Latin with a few documents in Spanish and French also present. A large number of early printed documents and broadsides may be found in the collection, many of them from the Stamperia Reverendae Camerae Apostolicae. Of the manuscript items, there are some original autograph documents (most notably one of Pope Clement XI, Vol. 29, No. 33a), but most are contemporary copies. Among formal treatises and histories are many letters, news bulletins, and diplomatic reports. There are also a fair number of plays and poems on various topics.
The collection is especially rich in primary source material for the era of the War of Spanish Succession (1700-1713), especially in regards to the role of the Papacy and the Italian peninsula in that conflict. Several volumes contain detailed reports from Papal Conclaves, demonstrating the process by which new Popes were elected from the late Middle Ages to the eighteenth century. There are many sets of instructions to Papal Nuncios, providing an interesting glimpse into the diplomatic relations between the Apostolic See and France, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Poland, Flanders, the Austrian Empire, and the various states of Italy.
Series of documents within the collection provide sources and background for a number of influential individuals from the period: Cardinal Mazarin; Queen Christina of Sweden; Olimpia Maidalchini-Pamphili, sister-in-law to Pope Innocent X; King Philip V of Spain; Pope Clement XI; and King Louis XIV of France. Many letters from the Sacred College of the Cardinals provide insight into the politics which surrounded the Papacy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Certain events are also well-documented within the collection: the readmission of the Jesuits into Venice; the controversy over Jesuit missionaries in China; the 1701 revolt of Naples against the Spanish crown; the 1683 defeat of the Turks at Vienna; various tensions between Pope Alexander VII and the French King Louis XIV; the decline of the De'Medici family of Tuscany; a confrontation between Jesuits and Dominicans at the University of Douai (Flanders) in 1591; and the emergence of the Duchy of Savoy as a player in world politics.
A number of scholarly and practical treatises on a wide variety of topics exist in the collection. These include ones on numerology, alchemy, astronomy, military science, cartography, rhetoric, philosophy, Aristotle, law, history, varnish-making, and equine medicine. There are two student notebooks on the subject of rhetoric, one from the Jesuit College of Rome. Specific histories are given for the cities of Venice, Pisa, Genoa, and Florence, and for the Roman Church. The collection contains an eight volume edition of the works of Paretus, who wrote works on physics soon after Newton, which contain anatomical drawings and a plan for a flying machine. Also present is a 1548 edition of Ptolemy with maps of the Americas added by the editor Giuseppe Moleto.
Other items of note in the collection include:
--Reports and poems about natural disasters such as earthquakes, hailstorms, and a 1660 eruption of Mt. Vesuvio.
--Various treatises and broadsides in support of and against the extention and preservation of Papal authority.
--Poems on subjects which range from the elegaic to the scatalogical.
--Numerous satires--in drama, mock-epic, and verse--of prominent individuals of the period.
--An entrance examination to a Jesuit's German and Hungarian College in Rome.
--Several documents and engravings concerning drama and specific theaters in Rome.
--Watercolor paintings of plans for a fireworks display in Ferrara and of the Battle of Chiari (1701).
--A dictionary of legal terms.
--Records of legal procedings for several cases of murder, heresy, and conspiracy, plus several records of duels, assassinations, and executions.
--Administrative documents of several Nuncios and parish churches.
--Several family histories and genealogical charts.
--Numerous sermons and orations.
--Several reports on Constantinople and accounts of relations with the Ottoman Empire.
--A prayer for lawyers, asking for more arguments and lawsuits.