History of Florence, by Niccolo Machiavelli

Chapter V

The inhabitants of Seravezza appeal to the Signory — Complaints against Rinaldo degli Albizzi — The commissaries changed — Filippo Brunelleschi proposes to submerge the country about Lucca — Pagolo Guinigi asks assistance of the duke of Milan — The duke sends Francesco Sforza — Pagolo Guinigi expelled — The Florentines routed by the forces of the duke — The acquisitions of the Lucchese after the victory — Conclusion of the war.

A few of the inhabitants of the valley of Seravezza, having escaped the hands of the commissary, came to Florence and acquainted every one in the streets with their miserable situation; and by the advice of those who, either through indignation at his wickedness or from being of the opposite party, wished to punish the commissary, they went to the Council of Ten, and requested an audience. This being granted, one of them spoke to the following effect: “We feel assured, magnificent lords, that we shall find credit and compassion from the Signory, when you learn how your commissary has taken possession of our country, and in what manner he has treated us. Our valley, as the memorials of your ancient houses abundantly testify, was always Guelphic, and has often proved a secure retreat to your citizens when persecuted by the Ghibellines. Our forefathers, and ourselves too, have always revered the name of this noble republic as the leader and head of their party. While the Lucchese were Guelphs we willingly submitted to their government; but when enslaved by the tyrant, who forsook his old friends to join the Ghibelline faction, we have obeyed him more through force than good will. And God knows how often we have prayed, that we might have an opportunity of showing our attachment to our ancient party. But how blind are mankind in their wishes! That which we desired for our safety has proved our destruction. As soon as we learned that your ensigns were approaching, we hastened to meet your commissary, not as an enemy, but as the representative of our ancient lords; placed our valley, our persons, and our fortunes in his hands, and commended them to his good faith, believing him to possess the soul, if not of a Florentine, at least of a man. Your lordships will forgive us; for, unable to support his cruelties, we are compelled to speak. Your commissary has nothing of the man but the shape, nor of a Florentine but the name; a more deadly pest, a more savage beast, a more horrid monster never was imagined in the human mind; for, having assembled us in our church under pretense of wishing to speak with us, he made us prisoners. He then burned and destroyed the whole valley, carried off our property, ravaged every place, destroyed everything, violated the women, dishonored the virgins, and dragging them from the arms of their mothers, gave them up to the brutality of his soldiery. If by any injury to the Florentine people we merited such treatment, or if he had vanquished us armed in our defense, we should have less reason for complaint; we should have accused ourselves, and thought that either our mismanagement or our arrogance had deservedly brought the calamity upon us; but after having freely presented ourselves to him unarmed, to be robbed and plundered with such unfeeling barbarity, is more than we can bear. And though we might have filled Lombardy with complaints and charges against this city, and spread the story of our misfortunes over the whole of Italy, we did not wish to slander so just and pious a republic, with the baseness and perfidy of one wicked citizen, whose cruelty and avarice, had we known them before our ruin was complete, we should have endeavored to satiate (though indeed they are insatiable), and with one-half of our property have saved the rest. But the opportunity is past; we are compelled to have recourse to you, and beg that you will succor the distresses of your subjects, that others may not be deterred by our example from submitting themselves to your authority. And if our extreme distress cannot prevail with you to assist us, be induced, by your fear of the wrath of God, who has seen his temple plundered and burned, and his people betrayed in his bosom.” Having said this they threw themselves on the ground, crying aloud, and praying that their property and their country might be restored to them; and that if the Signory could not give them back their honor, they would, at least, restore husbands to their wives, and children to their fathers. The atrocity of the affair having already been made known, and now by the living words of the sufferers presented before them, excited the compassion of the magistracy. They ordered the immediate return of Astorre, who being tried, was found guilty, and admonished. They sought the goods of the inhabitants of Seravezza; all that could be recovered was restored to them, and as time and circumstance gave opportunity, they were compensated for the rest.

Complaints were made against Rinaldo degli Albizzi, that he carried on the war, not for the advantage of the Florentine people, but his own private emolument; that as soon as he was appointed commissary, he lost all desire to take Lucca, for it was sufficient for him to plunder the country, fill his estates with cattle, and his house with booty; and, not content with what his own satellites took, he purchased that of the soldiery, so that instead of a commissary he became a merchant. These calumnies coming to his ears, disturbed the temper of this proud but upright man, more than quite became his dignity. He was so exasperated against the citizens and magistracy, that without waiting for or asking permission, he returned to Florence, and, presenting himself before the Council of Ten, he said that he well knew how difficult and dangerous a thing it was to serve an unruly people and a divided city, for the one listens to every report, the other pursues improper measures; they neglect to reward good conduct, and heap censure upon whatever appears doubtful; so that victory wins no applause, error is accused by all, and if vanquished, universal condemnation is incurred; from one’s own party through envy, and from enemies through hatred, persecution results. He confessed that the baseness of the present calumnies had conquered his patience and changed the temper of his mind; but he would say, he had never, for fear of a false accusation, avoided doing what appeared to him beneficial to the city. However, he trusted the magistrates would in future be more ready to defend their fellow-citizens, so that the latter might continue anxious to effect the prosperity of their country; that as it was not customary at Florence to award triumphs for success, they ought at least to be protected from calumny; and that being citizens themselves, and at any moment liable to false accusations, they might easily conceive how painful it is to an upright mind to be oppressed with slander. The Ten endeavored, as well as circumstances would admit, to soothe the acerbity of his feelings, and confided the care of the expedition to Neri di Gino and Alamanno Salviati, who, instead of overrunning the country, advanced near to Lucca. As the weather had become extremely cold, the forces established themselves at Campannole, which seemed to the commissaries waste of time; and wishing to draw nearer the place, the soldiery refused to comply, although the Ten had insisted they should pitch their camp before the city, and would not hear of any excuse.

At that time there lived at Florence, a very distinguished architect, named Filippo di Ser Brunelleschi, of whose works our city is full, and whose merit was so extraordinary, that after his death his statue in marble was erected in the principal church, with an inscription underneath, which still bears testimony to those who read it, of his great talents. This man pointed out, that in consequence of the relative positions of the river Serchio and the city of Lucca, the wastes of the river might be made to inundate the surrounding country, and place the city in a kind of lake. His reasoning on this point appeared so clear, and the advantage to the besiegers so obvious and inevitable, that the Ten were induced to make the experiment. The result, however, was quite contrary to their expectation, and produced the utmost disorder in the Florentine camp; for the Lucchese raised high embankments in the direction of the ditch made by our people to conduct the waters of the Serchio, and one night cut through the embankment of the ditch itself, so that having first prevented the water from taking the course designed by the architect, they now caused it to overflow the plain, and compelled the Florentines, instead of approaching the city as they wished, to take a more remote position.

The design having failed, the Council of Ten, who had been re-elected, sent as commissary, Giovanni Guicciardini, who encamped before Lucca, with all possible expedition. Pagolo Guinigi finding himself thus closely pressed, by the advice of Antonio del Rosso, then representative of the Siennese at Lucca, sent Salvestro Trento and Leonardo Bonvisi to Milan, to request assistance from the duke; but finding him indisposed to comply, they secretly engaged, on the part of the people, to deliver their governor up to him and give him possession of the place; at the same time intimating, that if he did not immediately follow this advice, he would not long have the opportunity, since it was the intention of Pagolo to surrender the city to the Florentines, who were very anxious to obtain it. The duke was so much alarmed with this idea, that, setting aside all other considerations, he caused Count Francesco Sforza, who was engaged in his service, to make a public request for permission to go to Naples; and having obtained it, he proceeded with his forces directly to Lucca, though the Florentines, aware of the deception, and apprehensive of the consequences, had sent to the count, Boccacino Alamanni, his friend, to frustrate this arrangement. Upon the arrival of the count at Lucca, the Florentines removed their camp to Librafatta, and the count proceeded immediately to Pescia, where Pagolo Diacceto was lieutenant governor, who, promoted by fear rather than any better motive, fled to Pistoia, and if the place had not been defended by Giovanni Malavolti, to whom the command was intrusted, it would have been lost. The count failing in his attempt went to Borgo a Buggiano which he took, and burned the castle of Stigliano, in the same neighborhood.

The Florentines being informed of these disasters, found they must have recourse to those remedies which upon former occasions had often proved useful. Knowing that with mercenary soldiers, when force is insufficient, corruption commonly prevails, they offered the count a large sum of money on condition that he should quit the city, and give it up to them. The count finding that no more money was to be had from Lucca, resolved to take it of those who had it to dispense, and agreed with the Florentines, not to give them Lucca, which for decency he could not consent to, but to withdraw his troops, and abandon it, on condition of receiving fifty thousand ducats; and having made this agreement, to induce the Lucchese to excuse him to the duke, he consented that they should expel their tyrant.

Antonio del Rosso, as we remarked above, was Siennese ambassador at Lucca, and with the authority of the count he contrived the ruin of Pagolo Guinigi. The heads of the conspiracy were Pierro Cennami and Giovanni da Chivizzano. The count resided upon the Serchio, at a short distance from the city, and with him was Lanzilao, the son of Pagolo. The conspirators, about forty in number, went armed at night in search of Pagolo, who, on hearing the noise they made, came toward them quite astonished, and demanded the cause of their visit; to which Piero Cennami replied, that they had long been governed by him, and led about against the enemy, to die either by hunger or the sword, but were resolved to govern themselves for the future, and demanded the keys of the city and the treasure. Pagolo said the treasure was consumed, but the keys and himself were in their power; he only begged that as his command had begun and continued without bloodshed, it might conclude in the same manner. Count Francesco conducted Pagolo and his son to the duke, and they afterward died in prison.

The departure of the count having delivered Lucca from her tyrant, and the Florentines from their fear of his soldiery, the former prepared for her defense, and the latter resumed the siege. They appointed the count of Urbino to conduct their forces, and he pressed the Lucchese so closely, that they were again compelled to ask the assistance of the duke, who dispatched Niccolo Piccinino, under the same pretense as he previously sent Count Francesco. The Florentine forces met him on his approach to Lucca, and at the passage of the Serchio a battle ensued, in which they were routed, the commissary with a few of his men escaping to Pisa. This defeat filled the Florentines with dismay, and as the enterprise had been undertaken with the entire approbation of the great body of the people, they did not know whom to find fault with, and therefore railed against those who had been appointed to the management of the war, reviving the charges made against Rinaldo. They were, however, more severe against Giovanni Guicciardini than any other, declaring that if he had wished, he might have put a period to the war at the departure of Count Francesco, but that he had been bribed with money, for he had sent home a large sum, naming the party who had been intrusted to bring it, and the persons to whom it had been delivered. These complaints and accusations were carried to so great a length that the captain of the people, induced by the public voice, and pressed by the party opposed to the war, summoned him to trial. Giovanni appeared, though full of indignation. However his friends, from regard to their own character, adopted such a course with the Capitano as induced him to abandon the inquiry.

After this victory, the Lucchese not only recovered the places that had belonged to them, but occupied all the country of Pisa except Beintina, Calcinaja, Livorno, and Librafatta; and, had not a conspiracy been discovered that was formed in Pisa, they would have secured that city also. The Florentines again prepared for battle, and appointed Micheletto, a pupil of Sforza, to be their leader. The duke, on the other hand, followed up this victory, and that he might bring a greater power against the Florentines, induced the Genoese, the Siennese, and the governor of Piombino, to enter into a league for the defense of Lucca, and to engage Niccolo Piccinino to conduct their forces. Having by this step declared his design, the Venetians and the Florentines renewed their league, and the war was carried on openly in Tuscany and Lombardy, in each of which several battles were fought with variety of fortune. At length, both sides being wearied out, they came to terms for the cessation of hostilities, in May, 1433. By this arrangement the Florentines, Lucchese, and Siennese, who had each occupied many fortresses belonging to the others, gave them all up, and each party resumed its original possessions.

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