History of Florence, by Niccolo Machiavelli

Chapter II

Death of Giovanni II. — René of Anjou and Alfonso of Aragon aspire to the kingdom — Alfonso is routed and taken by the Genoese — Alfonso being a prisoner of the duke of Milan, obtains his friendship — The Genoese disgusted with the duke of Milan — Divisions among the Genoese — The Genoese, by means of Francesco Spinola, expel the duke’s governor — League against the duke of Milan — Rinaldo degli Albizzi advises the duke to make war against the Florentines — His discourse to the duke — The duke adopts measures injurious to the Florentines — Niccolo Piccinino appointed to command the duke’s forces — Preparations of the Florentines — Piccinino routed before Barga.

The affairs of Florence being in this condition, Giovanna, queen of Naples, died, and by her will appointed René of Anjou to be her successor. Alfonso, king of Aragon, was at this time in Sicily, and having obtained the concurrence of many barons, prepared to take possession of the kingdom. The Neapolitans, with whom a greater number of barons were also associated, favored René. The pope was unwilling that either of them should obtain it; but desired the affairs of Naples to be administered by a governor of his own appointing.

In the meantime Alfonso entered the kingdom, and was received by the duke of Sessa; he brought with him some princes, whom he had engaged in his service, with the design (already possessing Capua, which the prince of Taranto held in his name) of subduing the Neapolitans, and sent his fleet to attack Gaeta, which had declared itself in their favor. They therefore demanded assistance of the duke of Milan, who persuaded the Genoese to undertake their defense; and they, to satisfy the duke their sovereign, and protect the merchandise they possessed, both at Naples and Gaeta, armed a powerful fleet. Alfonso hearing of this, augmented his own naval force, went in person to meet the Genoese, and coming up with them near the island of Ponzio, an engagement ensued, in which the Aragonese were defeated, and Alfonso, with many of the princes of his suite, made prisoners, and sent by the Genoese to the Filippo.

This victory terrified the princes of Italy, who, being jealous of the duke’s power, thought it would give him a great opportunity of being sovereign of the whole country. But so contrary are the views of men, that he took a directly opposite course. Alfonso was a man of great sagacity, and as soon as an opportunity presented itself of communicating with Filippo, he proved to him how completely he contravened his own interests, by favoring René and opposing himself; for it would be the business of the former, on becoming king of Naples, to introduce the French into Milan; that in an emergency he might have assistance at hand, without the necessity of having to solicit a passage for his friends. But he could not possibly secure this advantage without effecting the ruin of the duke, and making his dominions a French province; and that the contrary of all this would result from himself becoming lord of Naples; for having only the French to fear, he would be compelled to love and caress, nay even to obey those who had it in their power to open a passage for his enemies. That thus the title of king of king of Naples would be with himself (Alfonso), but the power and authority with Filippo; so that it was much more the duke’s business than his own to consider the danger of one course and the advantage of the other; unless he rather wished to gratify his private prejudices than to give security to his dominions. In the one case he would be a free prince, in the other, placed between two powerful sovereigns, he would either be robbed of his territories or live in constant fear, and have to obey them like a slave. These arguments so greatly influenced the duke, that, changing his design, he set Alfonso at liberty, sent him honorably to Genoa and then to Naples. From thence the king went to Gaeta, which as soon as his liberation had become known, was taken possession of by some nobles of his party.

The Genoese, seeing that the duke, without the least regard for them, had liberated the king, and gained credit to himself through the dangers and expense which they had incurred; that he enjoyed all the honor of the liberation, and they were themselves exposed to the odium of the capture, and the injuries consequent upon the king’s defeat, were greatly exasperated. In the city of Genoa, while in the enjoyment of her liberty, a magistrate is created with the consent of the people, whom they call the Doge; not that he is absolutely a prince, or that he alone has the power of determining matters of government; but that, as the head of the state, he proposes those questions or subjects which have to be considered and determined by the magistrates and the councils. In that city are many noble families so powerful, that they are with great difficulty induced to submit to the authority of the law. Of these, the most powerful are the Fregosa and the Adorna, from whom arise the dissensions of the city, and the impotence of her civil regulations; for the possession of this high office being contested by means inadmissible in well-regulated communities, and most commonly with arms in their hands, it always occurs that one party is oppressed and the other triumphant; and sometimes those who fail in the pursuit have recourse to the arms of strangers, and the country they are not allowed to rule they subject to foreign authority. Hence it happens, that those who govern in Lombardy most commonly command in Genoa, as occurred at the time Alfonso of Aragon was made prisoner. Among the leading Genoese who had been instrumental in subjecting the republic to Filippo, was Francesco Spinola, who, soon after he had reduced his country to bondage, as always happens in such cases, became suspected by the duke. Indignant at this, he withdrew to a sort of voluntary exile at Gaeta, and being there when the naval expedition was in preparation, and having conducted himself with great bravery in the action, he thought he had again merited so much of the duke’s confidence as would obtain for him permission to remain undisturbed at Genoa. But the duke still retained his suspicions; for he could not believe that a vacillating defender of his own country’s liberty would be faithful to himself; and Francesco Spinola resolved again to try his fortune, and if possible restore freedom to his country, and honorable safety for himself; for he was there was no probability of regaining the forfeited affection of his fellow-citizens, but by resolving at his own peril to remedy the misfortunes which he had been so instrumental in producing. Finding the indignation against the duke universal, on account of the liberation of the king, he thought the moment propitious for the execution of his design. He communicated his ideas to some whom he knew to be similarly inclined, and his arguments ensured their co-operation.

The great festival of St. John the Baptist being come, when Arismeno, the new governor sent by the duke, was to enter Genoa, and he being already arrived, accompanied by Opicino, the former governor, and many Genoese citizens, Francesco Spinola thought further delay improper; and, issuing from his house with those acquainted with his design, all armed, they raised the cry of liberty. It was wonderful to see how eagerly the citizens and people assembled at the word; so that those who for any reason might be favorable to Filippo, not only had no time to arm, but scarcely to consider the means of escape. Arismeno, with some Genoese, fled to the fortress which was held for the duke, Opicino, thinking that if he could reach the palace, where two thousand men were in arms, and at his command, he might be able either to effect his own safety, or induce his friends to defend themselves, took that direction; but before he arrived at the piazza he was slain, his body divided into many pieces and scattered about the city. The Genoese having placed the government in the hands of free magistrates, in a few days recovered the castle, and the other strongholds possessed by the duke, and delivered themselves entirely from his yoke.

These transactions, though at first they had alarmed the princes of Italy with the apprehension that the duke would become too powerful, now gave them hope, seeing the turn they had taken, of being able to restrain him; and, notwithstanding the recent league, the Florentines and Venetians entered into alliance with the Genoese. Rinaldo degli Albizzi and the other leading Florentine exiles, observing the altered aspect of affairs, conceived hopes of being able to induce the duke to make war against Florence, and having arrived at Milan, Rinaldo addressed him in the following manner: “If we, who were once your enemies, come now confidently to supplicate your assistance to enable us to return to our country, neither you, nor anyone, who considers the course and vicissitudes of human affairs, can be at all surprised; for of our past conduct toward yourself and our present intentions toward our country, we can adduce palpable and abundant reasons. No good man will ever reproach another who endeavors to defend his country, whatever be his mode of doing so; neither have we had any design of injuring you, but only to preserve our country from detriment; and we appeal to yourself, whether, during the greatest victories of our league, when you were really desirous of peace, we were not even more anxious for it than yourself; so that we do not think we have done aught to make us despair altogether of favor from you. Nor can our country itself complain that we now exhort you to use those arms against her, from which we have so pertinaciously defended her; for that state alone merits the love of all her citizens, which cares with equal affection for all; not one that favors a few, and casts from her the great mass of her children. Nor are the arms that men use against their country to be universally condemned; for communities, although composed of many, resemble individual bodies; and as in these, many infirmities arise which cannot be cured without the application of fire or of steel, so in the former, there often occur such numerous and great evils, that a good and merciful citizen, when there is a necessity for the sword, would be much more to blame in leaving her uncured, than by using this remedy for her preservation. What greater disease can afflict a republic than slavery? and what remedy is more desirable for adoption than the one by which alone it can be effectually removed? No wars are just but those that are necessary; and force is merciful when it presents the only hope of relief. I know not what necessity can be greater than ours, or what compassion can exceed that which rescues our country from slavery. Our cause is therefore just, and our purpose merciful, as both yourself and we may be easily convinced. The amplest justice is on your side; for the Florentines have not hesitated, after a peace concluded with so much solemnity, to enter into league with those who have rebelled against you; so that if our cause is insufficient to excite you against them, let your own just indignation do so; and the more so, seeing the facility of the undertaking. You need be under no apprehension from the memory of the past, in which you may have observed the power of that people and their pertinency in self-defense; though these might reasonably excite fear, if they were still animated by the valor of former times. But now, all is entirely the reverse; for what power can be expected in a city that has recently expelled the greatest part of her wealth and industry? What indomitable resolution need be apprehended from the people whom so many and such recent enmities have disunited? The disunion which still prevails will prevent wealthy citizens advancing money as they used to do on former occasions; for though men willingly contribute according to their means, when they see their own credit, glory, and private advantage dependent upon it, or when there is a hope of regaining in peace what has been spent in war, but not when equally oppressed under all circumstances, when in war they suffer the injuries of the enemy, and in peace, the insolence of those who govern them. Besides this, the people feel more deeply the avarice of their rulers, than the rapacity of the enemy; for there is hope of being ultimately relieved from the latter evil, but none from the former. Thus, in the last war, you had to contend with the whole city; but now with only a small portion. You attempted to take the government from many good citizens; but now you oppose only a few bad ones. You then endeavored to deprive a city of her liberty, now you come to restore it. As it is unreasonable to suppose that under such disparity of circumstances, the result should be the same, you have now every reason to anticipate an easy victory; and how much it will strengthen your own government, you may easily judge; having Tuscany friendly, and bound by so powerful an obligation, in your enterprises, she will be even of more service to you than Milan. And, although, on former occasions, such an acquisition might be looked upon as ambitious and unwarrantable, it will now be considered merciful and just. Then do not let this opportunity escape, and be assured, that although your attempts against the city have been attended with difficulty, expense, and disgrace, this will with facility procure you incalculable advantage and an honorable renown.”

Many words were not requisite to induce the duke to hostilities against the Florentines, for he was incited to it by hereditary hatred and blind ambition, and still more, by the fresh injuries which the league with the Genoese involved; yet his past expenses, the dangerous measures necessary, the remembrance of his recent losses, and the vain hopes of the exiles, alarmed him. As soon as he had learned the revolt of Genoa, he ordered Niccolo Piccinino to proceed thither with all his cavalry and whatever infantry he could raise, for the purpose of recovering her, before the citizens had time to become settled and establish a government; for he trusted greatly in the fortress within the city, which was held for him. And although Niccolo drove the Genoese from the mountains, took from them the valley of Pozeveri, where they had entrenched themselves, and obliged them to seek refuge within the walls of the city, he still found such an insurmountable obstacle in the resolute defense of the citizens, that he was compelled to withdraw. On this, at the suggestion of the Florentine exiles, he commanded Niccolo to attack them on the eastern side, upon the confines of Pisa in the Genoese territory, and to push the war with his utmost vigor, thinking this plan would manifest and develop the course best to be adopted. Niccolo therefore besieged and took Serezana, and having committed great ravages, by way of further alarming the Florentines he proceeded to Lucca, spreading a report that it was his intention to go to Naples to render assistance to the king of Aragon. Upon these new events Pope Eugenius left Florence and proceeded to Bologna, where he endeavored to effect an amicable arrangement between the league and the duke, intimating to the latter, that if he would not consent to some treaty, the pontiff must send Francesco Sforza to assist the league, for the latter was now his confederate, and served in his pay. Although the pope greatly exerted himself in this affair, his endeavors were unavailing; for the duke would not listen to any proposal that did not leave him the possession of Genoa, and the league had resolved that she should remain free; and, therefore, each party, having no other resource, prepared to continue the war.

In the meantime Niccolo Piccinino arrived at Lucca, and the Florentines, being doubtful what course to adopt, ordered Neri di Gino to lead their forces into the Pisan territory, induced the pontiff to allow Count Francesco to join him, and with their forces they halted at San Gonda. Piccinino then demanded admission into the kingdom of Naples, and this being refused, he threatened to force a passage. The armies were equal, both in regard of numbers and the capacity of their leaders, and unwilling to tempt fortune during the bad weather, it being the month of December, they remained several days without attacking each other. The first movement was made by Niccolo Piccinino, who being informed that if he attacked Vico Pisano by night, he could easily take possession of the place, made the attempt, and having failed, ravaged the surrounding country, and then burned and plundered the town of San Giovanni alla Vena. This enterprise, though of little consequence, excited him to make further attempts, the more so from being assured that the count and Neri were yet in their quarters, and he attacked Santa Maria in Castello and Filetto, both which places he took. Still the Florentine forces would not stir; not that the count entertained any fear, but because, out of regard to the pope, who still labored to effect an accommodation, the government of Florence had deferred giving their final consent to the war. This course, which the Florentines adopted from prudence, was considered by the enemy to be only the result of timidity, and with increased boldness they led their forces up to Barga, which they resolved to besiege. This new attack made the Florentines set aside all other considerations, and resolve not only to relieve Barga, but to invade the Lucchese territory. Accordingly the count proceeded in pursuit of Niccolo, and coming up with him before Barga, an engagement took place, in which Piccinino was overcome, and compelled to raise the siege.

The Venetians considering the duke to have broken the peace, send Giovan Francesco da Gonzaga, their captain, to Ghiaradadda, who, by severely wasting the duke’s territories, induced him to recall Niccolo Piccinino from Tuscany. This circumstance, together with the victory obtained over Niccolo, emboldened the Florentines to attempt the recovery of Lucca, since the duke, whom alone they feared, was engaged with the Venetians, and the Lucchese having received the enemy into their city, and allowed him to attack them, would have no ground of complaint.

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Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 17:11