History of Florence, by Niccolo Machiavelli

Chapter VI

The pope imprisons the cardinal and assists the Florentines — Difference of opinion between the count and the Venetians respecting the management of the war. The Florentines reconcile them — The count wishes to go into Tuscany to oppose Piccinino, but is prevented by the Venetians — Niccolo Piccinino in Tuscany — He takes Marradi, and plunders the neighborhood of Florence — Description of Marradi — Cowardice of Bartolomeo Orlandini — Brave resistance of Castel San Niccolo — San Niccolo surrenders — Piccinino attempts to take Cortona, but fails.

While the Florentines were thus anxious, fortune disclosed the means of securing themselves against the patriarch’s malevolence. The republic everywhere exercised the very closest espionage over epistolary communication, in order to discover if any persons were plotting against the state. It happened that letters were intercepted at Monte Pulciano, which had been written by the patriarch to Niccolo without the pope’s knowledge; and although they were written in an unusual character, and the sense so involved that no distinct idea could be extracted, the obscurity itself, and the whole aspect of the matter so alarmed the pontiff, that he resolved to seize the person of the cardinal, a duty he committed to Antonio Rido, of Padua, who had the command of the castle of St. Angelo, and who, after receiving his instructions, soon found an opportunity of carrying them into effect. The patriarch, having determined to go into Tuscany, prepared to leave Rome on the following day, and ordered the castellan to be upon the drawbridge of the fortress in the morning, for he wished to speak with him as he passed. Antonio perceived this to be the favorable moment, informed his people what they were to do, and awaited the arrival of the patriarch upon the bridge, which adjoined the building, and might for the purpose of security be raised or lowered as occasion required. The appointed time found him punctual; and Antonio, having drawn him, as if for the convenience of conversation, on to the bridge, gave a signal to his men, who immediately raised it, and in a moment the cardinal, from being a commander of armies, found himself a prisoner of the castellan. The patriarch’s followers at first began to use threats, but being informed of the pope’s directions they were appeased. The castellan comforting him with kind words, he replied, that “the great do not make each other prisoners to let them go again; and that those whom it is proper to take, it is not well to set free.” He shortly afterward died in prison. The pope appointed Lodovico, patriarch of Aquileia, to command his troops; and, though previously unwilling to interfere in the wars of the league and the duke, he was now content to take part in them, and engaged to furnish four thousand horse and two thousand foot for the defense of Tuscany.

The Florentines, freed from this cause for anxiety, were still apprehensive of Niccolo, and feared confusion in the affairs of Lombardy, from the differences of opinion that existed between the count and the Venetians. In order the better to become acquainted with the intentions of the parties, they sent Neri di Gini Capponi and Giuliano Davanzati to Venice, with instructions to assist in the arrangement of the approaching campaign; and ordered that Neri, having discovered how the Venetians were disposed, should proceed to the count, learn his designs, and induce him to adopt the course that would be most advantageous to the League. The ambassadors had only reached Ferrara, when they were told that Niccolo Piccinino had crossed the Po with six thousand horse. This made them travel with increased speed; and, having arrived at Venice, they found the Signory fully resolved that Brescia should be relieved without waiting for the return of spring; for they said that “the city would be unable to hold out so long, the fleet could not be in readiness, and that seeing no more immediate relief, she would submit to the enemy; which would render the duke universally victorious, and cause them to lose the whole of their inland possessions.” Neri then proceeded to Verona to ascertain the count’s opinion, who argued, for many reasons, that to march to Brescia before the return of spring would be quite useless, or even worse; for the situation of Brescia, being considered in conjunction with the season, nothing could be expected to result but disorder and fruitless toil to the troops; so that, when the suitable period should arrive, he would be compelled to return to Verona with his army, to recover from the injuries sustained in the winter, and provide necessaries for the summer; and thus the time available for the war would be wasted in marching and countermarching. Orsatto Justiniani and Giovanni Pisani were deputed on the part of Venice to the count at Verona, having been sent to consider these affairs, and with them it was agreed that the Venetians should pay the count ninety thousand ducats for the coming year, and to each of the soldiers forty ducats; that he should set out immediately with the whole army and attack the duke, in order to compel him, for his own preservation, to recall Niccolo into Lombardy. After this agreement the ambassadors returned to Venice; and the Venetians, having so large an amount of money to raise, were very remiss with their commissariat.

In the meantime, Niccolo Piccinino pursued his route, and arrived in Romagna, where he prevailed upon the sons of Pandolfo Malatesti to desert the Venetians and enter the duke’s service. This circumstance occasioned much uneasiness in Venice, and still more at Florence; for they thought that with the aid of the Malatesti they might resist Niccolo; but finding them gone over to the enemy, they were in fear lest their captain, Piero Giampagolo Orsini, who was in the territories of the Malatesti, should be disarmed and rendered powerless. The count also felt alarmed, for, through Niccolo’s presence in Tuscany, he was afraid of losing La Marca; and, urged by a desire to look after his own affairs, he hastened to Venice, and being introduced to the Doge, informed him that the interests of the League required his presence in Tuscany; for the war ought to be carried on where the leader and forces of the enemy were, and not where his garrisons and towns were situated; for when the army is vanquished the war is finished; but to take towns and leave the armament entire, usually allowed the war to break out again with greater virulence; that Tuscany and La Marca would be lost if Niccolo were not vigorously resisted, and that, if lost, there would be no possibility of the preservation of Lombardy. But supposing the danger to Lombardy not so imminent, he did not intend to abandon his own subjects and friends, and that having come into Lombardy as a prince, he did not intend to return a mere condottiere. To this the Doge replied, it was quite manifest that, if he left Lombardy, or even recrossed the Po, all their inland territories would be lost; in that case they were unwilling to spend any more money in their defense. For it would be folly to attempt defending a place which must, after all, inevitably be lost; and that it is less disgraceful and less injurious to lose dominions only, then to lose both territory and money. That if the loss of their inland possessions should actually result, it would then be seen how highly important to the preservation of Romagna and Tuscany the reputation of the Venetians had been. On these accounts they were of quite a different opinion from the count; for they saw that whoever was victor in Lombardy would be so everywhere else, that conquest would be easily attainable now, when the territories of the duke were left almost defenseless by the departure of Niccolo, and that he would be ruined before he could order Niccolo’s recall, or provide himself with any other remedy; that whoever attentively considered these things would see, that the duke had sent Niccolo into Tuscany for no other reason than to withdraw the count from his enterprise, and cause the war, which was now at his own door, to be removed to a greater distance. That if the count were to follow Niccolo, unless at the instigation of some very pressing necessity, he would find his plan successful, and rejoice in the adoption of it; but if he were to remain in Lombardy, and allow Tuscany to shift for herself, the duke would, when too late, see the imprudence of his conduct, and find that he had lost his territories in Lombardy and gained nothing in Tuscany. Each party having spoken, it was determined to wait a few days to see what would result from the agreement of the Malatesti with Niccolo; whether the Florentines could avail themselves of Piero Giampagolo, and whether the pope intended to join the League with all the earnestness he had promised. Not many days after these resolutions were adopted, it was ascertained that the Malatesti had made the agreement more from fear than any ill-will toward the League; that Piero Giampagolo had proceeded with his force toward Tuscany, and that the pope was more disposed than ever to assist them. This favorable intelligence dissipated the count’s fears, and he consented to remain in Lombardy, and that Neri Capponi should return to Florence with a thousand of his own horse, and five hundred from the other parties. It was further agreed, that if the affairs of Tuscany should require the count’s presence, Neri should write to him, and he would proceed thither to the exclusion of every other consideration. Neri arrived at Florence with his forces in April, and Giampagolo joined them the same day.

In the meantime, Niccolo Piccinino, the affairs of Romagna being settled, purposed making a descent into Tuscany, and designing to go by the mountain passes of San Benedetto and the valley of Montone, found them so well guarded by the contrivance of Niccolo da Pisa, that his utmost exertions would be useless in that direction. As the Florentines, upon this sudden attack, were unprovided with troops and officers, they had sent into the defiles of these hills many of their citizens, with infantry raised upon the emergency to guard them, among whom was Bartolomeo Orlandini, a cavaliere, to whom was intrusted the defense of the castle of Marradi and the adjacent passes. Niccolo Piccinino, finding the route by San Benedetto impracticable, on account of the bravery of its commander, thought the cowardice of the officer who defended that of Marradi would render the passage easy. Marradi is a castle situated at the foot of the mountains which separate Tuscany from Romagna; and, though destitute of walls, the river, the mountains, and the inhabitants, make it a place of great strength; for the peasantry are warlike and faithful, and the rapid current undermining the banks has left them of such tremendous height that it is impossible to approach it from the valley if a small bridge over the stream be defended; while on the mountain side the precipices are so steep and perpendicular as to render it almost impregnable. In spite of these advantages, the pusillanimity of Bartolomeo Orlandini rendered the men cowardly and the fortress untenable; for as soon as he heard of the enemy’s approach he abandoned the place, fled with all his forces, and did not stop till he reached the town of San Lorenzo. Niccolo, entering the deserted fortress, wondered it had not been defended, and, rejoicing over his acquisition, descended into the valley of the Mugello, where he took some castles, and halted with his army at Pulicciano. Thence he overran the country as far as the mountains of Fiesole; and his audacity so increased that he crossed the Arno, plundering and destroying everything to within three miles of Florence.

The Florentines, however, were not dismayed. Their first concern was to give security to the government, for which they had no cause for apprehension, so universal was the good will of the people toward Cosmo; and besides this, they had restricted the principal offices to a few citizens of the highest class, who with their vigilance would have kept the populace in order, even if they had been discontented or desirous of change. They also knew by the compact made in Lombardy what forces Neri would bring with him, and expected the troops of the pope. These prospects sustained their courage till the arrival of Neri di Gino, who, on account of the disorders and fears of the city, determined to set out immediately and check Niccolo. With the cavalry he possessed, and a body of infantry raised entirely from the people, he recovered Remole from the hands of the enemy, where having encamped, he put a stop to all further depredations, and gave the inhabitants hopes of repelling the enemy from the neighborhood. Niccolo finding that, although the Florentines were without troops, no disturbance had arisen, and learning what entire composure prevailed in the city, thought he was wasting time, and resolved to undertake some other enterprise to induce them to send forces after him, and give him a chance of coming to an engagement, by means of which, if victorious, he trusted everything would succeed to his wishes.

Francesco, Count di Poppi, was in the army of Niccolo, having deserted the Florentines, with whom he was in league, when the enemy entered the Mugello; and though with the intention of securing him as soon as they had an idea of his design, they increased his appointments, and made him commissary over all the places in his vicinity; still, so powerful is the attachment to party, that no benefit or fear could eradicate the affection he bore toward Rinaldo and the late government; so that as soon as he knew Niccolo was at hand he joined him, and with the utmost solicitude entreated him to leave the city and pass into the Casentino, pointing out to him the strength of the country, and how easily he might thence harass his enemies. Niccolo followed his advice, and arriving in the Casentino, took Romena and Bibbiena, and then pitched his camp before Castel San Niccolo. This fortress is situated at the foot of the mountains which divide the Casentino from the Val d’Arno; and being in an elevated situation, and well garrisoned, it was difficult to take, though Niccolo, with catapults and other engines, assailed it without intermission. The siege had continued more than twenty days, during which the Florentines had collected all their forces, having assembled under several leaders, three thousand horse, at Fegghine, commanded by Piero Giampagolo Orsini, their captain, and Neri Capponi and Bernardo de’ Medici, commissaries. Four messengers, from Castel San Niccolo, were sent to them to entreat succor. The commissaries having examined the site, found it could not be relieved, except from the Alpine regions, in the direction of the Val d’Arno, the summit of which was more easily attainable by the enemy than by themselves, on account of their greater proximity, and because the Florentines could not approach without observation; so that it would be making a desperate attempt, and might occasion the destruction of the forces. The commissaries, therefore, commended their fidelity, and ordered that when they could hold out no longer, they should surrender. Niccolo took the fortress after a siege of thirty-two days; and the loss of so much time, for the attainment of so small an advantage, was the principle cause of the failure of his expedition; for had he remained with his forces near Florence, he would have almost deprived the government of all power to compel the citizens to furnish money: nor would they so easily have assembled forces and taken other precautions, if the enemy had been close upon them, as they did while he was at a distance. Besides this, many would have been disposed to quiet their apprehensions of Niccolo, by concluding a peace; particularly, as the contest was likely to be of some duration. The desire of the Count di Poppi to avenge himself on the inhabitants of San Niccolo, long his enemies, occasioned his advice to Piccinino, who adopted it for the purpose of pleasing him; and this caused the ruin of both. It seldom happens, that the gratification of private feelings, fails to be injurious to the general convenience.

Niccolo, pursuing his good fortune, took Rassina and Chiusi. The Count di Poppi advised him to halt in these parts, arguing that he might divide his people between Chiusi, Caprese, and the Pieve, render himself master of this branch of the Apennines, and descend at pleasure into the Casentino, the Val d’Arno, the Val di Chiane, or the Val di Tavere, as well as be prepared for every movement of the enemy. But Niccolo, considering the sterility of these places, told him, “his horses could not eat stones,” and went to the Borgo San Sepolcro, where he was amicably received, but found that the people of Citta di Castello, who were friendly to the Florentines, could not be induced to yield to his overtures. Wishing to have Perugia at his disposal, he proceeded thither with forty horse, and being one of her citizens, met with a kind reception. But in a few days he became suspected, and having attempted unsuccessfully to tamper with the legate and people of Perugia, he took eight thousand ducats from them, and returned to his army. He then set on foot secret measures, to seduce Cortona from the Florentines, but the affair being discovered, his attempts were fruitless. Among the principal citizens was Bartolomeo di Senso, who being appointed to the evening watch of one of the gates, a countryman, his friend, told him, that if he went he would be slain. Bartolomeo, requesting to know what was meant, he became acquainted with the whole affair, and revealed it to the governor of the place, who, having secured the leaders of the conspiracy, and doubled the guards at the gates, waited till the time appointed for the coming of Niccolo, who finding his purpose discovered, returned to his encampment.

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