History of Florence, by Niccolo Machiavelli

Chapter III

The Florentines go to war with Lucca — Discourse of a citizen of Lucca to animate the plebeians against the Florentines — The Lucchese resolve to defend themselves — They are assisted by the duke of Milan — Treaty between the Florentines and the Venetians — Francesco Sforza, captain of the league, refuses to cross the Po in the service of the Venetians and returns to Tuscany — The bad faith of the Venetians toward the Florentines — Cosmo de’ Medici at Venice — Peace between the Florentines and the Lucchese — The Florentines effect a reconciliation between the pope and the Count di Poppi — The pope consecrates the church of Santa Reparata — Council of Florence.

The count commenced operations against Lucca in April, 1437, and the Florentines, desirous of recovering what they had themselves lost before they attacked others, retook Santa Maria in Castello, and all the places which Piccinino had occupied. Then, entering the Lucchese territory, they besieged Camaiore, the inhabitants of which, although faithful to their rulers, being influenced more by immediate danger than by attachment to their distant friends, surrendered. In the same manner, they obtained Massa and Serezana. Toward the end of May they proceeded in the direction of Lucca, burning the towns, destroying the growing crops, grain, trees, and vines, driving away the cattle, and leaving nothing undone to injure the enemy. The Lucchese, finding themselves abandoned by the duke, and hopeless of defending the open country, forsook it; entrenched and fortified the city, which they doubted not, being well garrisoned, they would be able to defend for a time, and that, in the interim, some event would occur for their relief, as had been the case during the former wars which the Florentines had carried on against them. Their only apprehension arose from the fickle minds of the plebeians, who, becoming weary of the siege, would have more consideration of their own danger than of other’s liberty, and would thus compel them to submit to some disgraceful and ruinous capitulation. In order to animate them to defense, they were assembled in the public piazza, and some of the eldest and most esteemed of the citizens addressed them in the following terms: “You are doubtless aware that what is done from necessity involves neither censure nor applause; therefore, if you should accuse us of having caused the present war, by receiving the ducal forces into the city, and allowing them to commit hostilities against the Florentines, you are greatly mistaken. You are well acquainted with the ancient enmity of the Florentines against you, which is not occasioned by any injuries you have done them, or by fear on their part, but by our weakness and their own ambition; for the one gives them hope of being able to oppress us, and the other incites them to attempt it. It is then vain to imagine that any merit of yours can extinguish that desire in them, or that any offense you can commit, can provoke them to greater animosity. They endeavor to deprive you of your liberty; you must resolve to defend it; and whatever they may undertake against us for that purpose, although we may lament, we need not wonder. We may well grieve, therefore, that they attack us, take possession of our towns, burn our houses, and waste our country. But who is so simple as to be surprised at it? for were it in our power, we should do just the same to them, or even worse. They declare war against us now, they say, for having received Niccolo; but if we had not received him, they would have done the same and assigned some other ground for it; and if the evil had been delayed, it would most probably have been greater. Therefore, you must not imagine it to be occasioned by his arrival, but rather by your own ill fortune and their ambition; for we could not have refused admission to the duke’s forces, and, being come, we could not prevent their aggressions. You know, that without the aid of some powerful ally we are incapable of self-defense, and that none can render us this service more powerfully or faithfully than the duke. He restored our liberty; it is reasonable to expect he will defend it. He has always been the greatest foe of our inveterate enemies; if, therefore, to avoid incensing the Florentines we had excited his anger, we should have lost our best friend, and rendered our enemy more powerful and more disposed to oppress us; so that it is far preferable to have this war upon our hands, and enjoy the favor of the duke, than to be in peace without it. Besides, we are justified in expecting that he will rescue us from the dangers into which we are brought on his account, if we only do not abandon our own cause. You all know how fiercely the Florentines have frequently assailed us, and with what glory we have maintained our defense. We have often been deprived of every hope, except in God and the casualties which time might produce, and both have proved our friends. And as they have delivered us formerly, why should they not continue to do so. Then we were forsaken by the whole of Italy; now we have the duke in our favor; besides we have a right to suppose that the Venetians will not hastily attack us; for they will not willingly see the power of Florence increased. On a former occasion the Florentines were more at liberty; they had greater hope of assistance, and were more powerful in themselves, while we were in every respect weaker; for then a tyrant governed us, now we defend ourselves; then the glory of our defense was another’s, now it is our own; then they were in harmony, now they are disunited, all Italy being filled with their banished citizens. But were we without the hope which these favorable circumstances present, our extreme necessity should make us firmly resolved on our defense. It is reasonable to fear every enemy, for all seek their own glory and your ruin; above all others, you have to dread the Florentines, for they would not be satisfied by submission and tribute, or the dominion of our city, but they would possess our entire substance and persons, that they might satiate their cruelty with our blood, and their avarice with our property, so that all ranks ought to dread them. Therefore do not be troubled at seeing our crops destroyed, our towns burned, our fortresses occupied; for if we preserve the city, the rest will be saved as a matter of course; if we lose her, all else would be of no advantage to us; for while retaining our liberty, the enemy can hold them only with the greatest difficulty, while losing it they would be preserved in vain. Arm, therefore; and when in the fight, remember that the reward of victory will be safety, not only to your country, but to your homes, your wives, and your children.” The speaker’s last words were received with the utmost enthusiasm by the people, who promised one and all to die rather than abandon their cause, or submit to any terms that could violate their liberty. They then made arrangements for the defense of the city.

In the meantime, the Florentine forces were not idle; and after innumerable mischiefs done to the country took Monte Carlo by capitulation. They then besieged Uzzano, in order that the Lucchese, being pressed on all sides, might despair of assistance, and be compelled to submission by famine. The fortress was very strong, and defended by a numerous garrison, so that its capture would be by no means an easy undertaking. The Lucchese, as might be expected, seeing the imminent peril of their situation, had recourse to the duke, and employed prayers and remonstrances to induce him to render them aid. They enlarged upon their own merits and the offenses of the Florentines; and showed how greatly it would attach the duke’s friends to him to find they were defended, and how much disaffection it would spread among them, if they were left to be overwhelmed by the enemy; that if they lost their liberties and their lives, he would lose his honor and his friends, and forfeit the confidence of all who from affection might be induced to incur dangers in his behalf; and added tears to entreaties, so that if he were unmoved by gratitude to them, he might be induced to their defense by motives of compassion. The duke, influenced by his inveterate hostility against the Florentines, his new obligation to the Lucchese, and, above all, by his desire to prevent so great an acquisition from falling into the hands of his ancient enemies, determined either to send a strong force into Tuscany, or vigorously to assail the Venetians, so as to compel the Florentines to give up their enterprise and go to their relief.

It was soon known in Florence that the duke was preparing to send forces into Tuscany. This made the Florentines apprehensive for the success of their enterprise; and in order to retain the duke in Lombardy, they requested the Venetians to press him with their utmost strength. But they also were alarmed, the marquis of Mantua having abandoned them and gone over to the duke; and thus, finding themselves almost defenseless, they replied, “that instead of increasing their responsibilities, they should be unable to perform their part in the war, unless the Count Francesco were sent to them to take the command of the army, and with the special understanding that he should engage to cross the Po in person. They declined to fulfil their former engagements unless he were bound to do so; for they could not carry on the war without a leader, or repose confidence in any except the count; and he himself would be useless to them, unless he came under an obligation to carry on the war whenever they might think needful.” The Florentines thought the war ought to be pushed vigorously in Lombardy; but they saw that if they lost the count their enterprise against Lucca was ruined; and they knew well that the demand of the Venetians arose less from any need they had of the count, than from their desire to frustrate this expedition. The count, on the other hand, was ready to pass into Lombardy whenever the league might require him, but would not alter the tenor of his engagement; for he was unwilling to sacrifice the hope of the alliance promised to him by the duke.

The Florentines were thus embarrassed by two contrary impulses, the wish to possess Lucca, and the dread of a war with Milan. As commonly happens, fear was the most powerful, and they consented, after the capture of Uzzano, that the count should go into Lombardy. There still remained another difficulty, which, depending on circumstances beyond the reach of their influence, created more doubts and uneasiness than the former; the count would not consent to pass the Po, and the Venetians refused to accept him on any other condition. Seeing no other method of arrangement, than that each should make liberal concessions, the Florentines induced the count to cross the river by a letter addressed to the Signory of Florence, intimating that this private promise did not invalidate any public engagement, and that he might still refrain from crossing; hence it resulted that the Venetians, having commenced the war, would be compelled to proceed, and that the evil apprehended by the Florentines would be averted. To the Venetians, on the other hand, they averred that this private letter was sufficiently binding, and therefore they ought to be content; for if they could save the count from breaking with his father-in-law, it was well to do so, and that it could be of no advantage either to themselves or the Venetians to publish it without some manifest necessity. It was thus determined that the count should pass into Lombardy; and having taken Uzzano, and raised bastions about Lucca to restrain in her inhabitants, placed the management of the siege in the hands of the commissaries, crossed the Apennines, and proceeded to Reggio, when the Venetians, alarmed at his progress, and in order to discover his intentions, insisted upon his immediately crossing the Po, and joining the other forces. The count refused compliance, and many mutual recriminations took place between him and Andrea Mauroceno, their messenger on this occasion, each charging the other with arrogance and treachery: after many protestations, the one of being under no obligation to perform that service, and the other of not being bound to any payment, they parted, the count to return to Tuscany, the other to Venice.

The Florentines had sent the count to encamp in the Pisan territory, and were in hopes of inducing him to renew the war against the Lucchese, but found him indisposed to do so, for the duke, having been informed that out of regard to him he had refused to cross the Po, thought that by this means he might also save the Lucchese, and begged the count to endeavor to effect an accommodation between the Florentines and the Lucchese, including himself in it, if he were able, declaring, at the same time, the promised marriage should be solemnized whenever he thought proper. The prospect of this connection had great influence with the count, for, as the duke had no sons, it gave him hope of becoming sovereign of Milan. For this reason he gradually abated his exertions in the war, declared he would not proceed unless the Venetians fulfilled their engagement as to the payment, and also retained him in the command; that the discharge of the debt would not alone be sufficient, for desiring to live peaceably in his own dominions, he needed some alliance other than that of the Florentines, and that he must regard his own interests, shrewdly hinting that if abandoned by the Venetians, he would come to terms with the duke.

These indirect and crafty methods of procedure were highly offensive to the Florentines, for they found their expedition against Lucca frustrated, and trembled for the safety of their own territories if ever the count and the duke should enter into a mutual alliance. To induce the Venetians to retain the count in the command, Cosmo de’ Medici went to Venice, hoping his influence would prevail with them, and discussed the subject at great length before the senate, pointing out the condition of the Italian states, the disposition of their armies, and the great preponderance possessed by the duke. He concluded by saying, that if the count and the duke were to unite their forces, they (the Venetians) might return to the sea, and the Florentines would have to fight for their liberty. To this the Venetians replied, that they were acquainted with their own strength and that of the Italians, and thought themselves able at all events to provide for their own defense; that it was not their custom to pay soldiers for serving others; that as the Florentines had used the count’s services, they must pay him themselves; with respect to the security of their own states, it was rather desirable to check the count’s pride than to pay him, for the ambition of men is boundless, and if he were now paid without serving, he would soon make some other demand, still more unreasonable and dangerous. It therefore seemed necessary to curb his insolence, and not allow it to increase till it became incorrigible; and that if the Florentines, from fear or any other motive, wished to preserve his friendship, they must pay him themselves. Cosmo returned without having effected any part of his object.

The Florentines used the weightiest arguments they could adopt to prevent the count from quitting the service of the League, a course he was himself reluctant to follow, but his desire to conclude the marriage so embarrassed him, that any trivial accident would have been sufficient to determine his course, as indeed shortly happened. The count had left his territories in La Marca to the care of Il Furlano, one of his principal condottieri, who was so far influenced by the duke as to take command under him, and quit the count’s service. This circumstance caused the latter to lay aside every idea but that of his own safety, and to come to agreement with the duke; among the terms of which compact was one that he should not be expected to interfere in the affairs of Romagna and Tuscany. The count then urged the Florentines to come to terms with the Lucchese, and so convinced them of the necessity of this, that seeing no better course to adopt, they complied in April, 1438, by which treaty the Lucchese retained their liberty, and the Florentines Monte Carlo and a few other fortresses. After this, being full of exasperation, they despatched letters to every part of Italy, overcharged with complaints, affecting to show that since God and men were averse to the Lucchese coming under their dominion, they had made peace with them. And it seldom happens that any suffer so much for the loss of their own lawful property as they did because they could not obtain the possessions of others.

Though the Florentines had now so many affairs in hand, they did not allow the proceedings of their neighbors to pass unnoticed, or neglect the decoration of their city. As before observed, Niccolo Fortebraccio was dead. He had married a daughter of the Count di Poppi, who, at the decease of his son-in-law, held the Borgo San Sepolcro, and other fortresses of that district, and while Niccolo lived, governed them in his name. Claiming them as his daughter’s portion, he refused to give them up to the pope, who demanded them as property held of the church, and who, upon his refusal, sent the patriarch with forces to take possession of them. The count, finding himself unable to sustain the attack, offered them to the Florentines, who declined them; but the pope having returned to Florence, they interceded with him in the count’s behalf. Difficulties arising, the patriarch attacked the Casentino, took Prato Vecchio, and Romena, and offered them also to the Florentines, who refused them likewise, unless the pope would consent they should restore them to the count, to which, after much hesitation, he acceded, on condition that the Florentines should prevail with the Count di Poppi to restore the Borgo to him. The pope was thus satisfied, and the Florentines having so far completed the building of their cathedral church of Santa Reparata, which had been commenced long ago, as to enable them to perform divine service in it, requested his holiness to consecrate it. To this the pontiff willingly agreed, and the Florentines, to exhibit the wealth of the city and the splendor of the edifice, and do greater honor to the pope, erected a platform from Santa Maria Novella, where he resided, to the cathedral he was about to consecrate, six feet in height and twelve feet wide, covered with rich drapery, for the accommodation of the pontiff and his court, upon which they proceeded to the building, accompanied by those civic magistrates, and other officers who were appointed to take part in the procession. The usual ceremonies of consecration having been completed, the pope, to show his affection for the city, conferred the honor of knighthood upon Giuliano Davanzati, their Gonfalonier of Justice, and a citizen of the highest reputation; and the Signory, not to appear less gracious than the pope, granted to the new created knight the government of Pisa for one year.

There were at that time certain differences between the Roman and the Greek churches, which prevented perfect conformity in divine service; and at the last council of Bâle, the prelates of the Western church having spoken at great length upon the subject, it was resolved that efforts should be made to bring the emperor and the Greek prelates to the council at Bâle, to endeavor to reconcile the Greek church with the Roman. Though this resolution was derogatory to the majesty of the Greek empire, and offensive to its clergy, yet being then oppressed by the Turks, and fearing their inability for defense, in order to have a better ground for requesting assistance, they submitted; and therefore, the emperor, the patriarch, with other prelates and barons of Greece, to comply with the resolution of the council, assembled at Bâle, came to Venice; but being terrified by the plague then prevailing, it was resolved to terminate their differences at Florence. The Roman and Greek prelates having held a conference during several days, in which many long discussions took place, the Greeks yielded, and agreed to adopt the ritual of the church of Rome.

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