Palatio, Octavian de (c.1420–1513), archbishop of Armagh, was born in Florence, the son of a Florentine father and a Spanish mother. The de Palatio (or del Palagio) family was one of the largest and most noble families of the republic, with branches inside and outside the city walls. It is not known to which branch Octavian belonged.
He was a priest, a doctor of canon law, and already at an advanced age when, in April 1477, Pope Sixtus IV appointed him apostolic nuncio to Ireland and governor of the see of Armagh. By the end of that summer he was in Ireland. At Christ Church, Dublin, in his first appearance as papal nuncio, he preached a crusade against the Turks, who held the city of Constantinople.
The next months were crucial for his future career. In September 1477 the dean and chapter of Armagh accepted him as governor of the diocese, and two months later Edmund Connesburgh (qv), archbishop elect of Armagh, who had failed for two years to take possession of his office, agreed to resign in Octavian's favour for a pension of 70 marks a year.
On 3 July 1478, Octavian was promoted by Sixtus IV to the see of Armagh. He was consecrated in March 1480. The reasons for his election have intrigued historians. It seems that Sixtus IV's determination in backing the appointment to bishoprics of prelates who could guarantee payments of papal bulls played to his advantage. Antonio del Palagio (a possible kinsman of Octavian, his proctor, and a banker at the apostolic chamber) had made sure Octavian's credentials met all the requirements. The Anglo-Irish aristocracy, which had controlled previous elections to Armagh, failed to influence the appointment this time, and subsequently tried to impose its patronage upon Octavian. In 1479 and 1480 two great aristocrats, Roland FitzEustace (qv), baron of Portlester, treasurer of the exchequer, and Barnaby Barnewall, justiciar of the bench, tried to extort protection pensions from him. Asserting the rights of the archbishop and his church, Octavian refused to give in. At his first convocation of the clergy of Armagh he enacted a canon against those who imposed illegal taxes upon the church, the clergymen, and their vassals (1479).
Between 1482 and 1486 Octavian suffered new actions from FitzEustace and James Keating, constable of the castle of Dublin and prior of Kilmainham. At that time the biggest threat to his authority came in the form of a papal process. His enemies had brought a series of allegations, aimed at removing him from his office, directly to Rome (1482). The legal battle went on for two years, during which Octavian travelled between Ireland and Rome, where he resorted for help to the pope and the officials of the apostolic chamber. Only when he won his court case was his position as archbishop of Armagh finally secured (1484). Though remarkable, the efforts to safeguard his autonomy for the moment had the effect of leaving his office deprived of vital secular support at home. During the Simnel affair and the Yorkist rebellion (1487) Octavian stood firmly on the side of Henry Tudor and opposed the coronation of the false Edward VI. Gerald FitzGerald (qv), the great (8th) earl of Kildare, then king's deputy, was outraged and declared him an enemy of the nation. Misery followed misfortune, and when a report misrepresentative of his conduct reached Henry VII, the archbishop was accused by the king of high treason. On 29 July 1488 he went to Dublin, where he obtained the general pardon of the king from Sir Richard Edgecombe, the king's envoy. From then onwards Octavian confined his actions strictly to church matters. His relationship with Kildare gradually improved. In 1491, after the Warbeck rebellion, he signed a famous petition to the king on the earl's behalf, and in 1497 he obtained the general pardon of the earl.
Octavian was a watchful administrator of his church and a formidable and energetic judge at the provincial court of Armagh, the place from whence the archbishop administered canon law among his suffragans. Every year he summoned the synod, and every three, the provincial council. He left the church in a better financial state than it was when he arrived and established good relations with his Irish officials in Armagh.
He died in the year 1513 (in his obituary in the Annals of Ulster his name is given erroneously as Octavian de Spinellis) and was buried in St Peter's at Drogheda. His tomb, which Sir James Ware (qv) (1594–1666) had personally admired, was destroyed shortly afterwards.
Another de Palatio tombstone, that of John de Palatio, canon of Armagh, who probably died of the plague in 1504, has survived, although mutilated, in the churchyard of the archbishop's manor at Termonfeckin. In the Registers of supplications of Pope Alexander VI (1502), this John de Palatio is described as the son of an archbishop and of an unmarried woman, indicating that he was the son of Archbishop Octavian. Another possible kinsman of Octavian, Alexander de Palatio, later vicar of Dundalk, appears acting within the diocese of Armagh from 1511.
The main source of information about Octavian is his episcopal register. This is the largest of its kind to have survived in Ireland. Its importance in the study of the medieval Irish church is invaluable.