History of Florence, by Niccolo Machiavelli

Chapter IV

The count’s successes — The Venetians come to terms with him — Views of the Venetians — Indignation of the Milanese against the count — Their ambassador’s address to him — The count’s moderation and reply — The count and the Milanese prepare for war — Milanese ambassadors at Venice — League of the Venetians and Milanese — The count dupes the Venetians and Milanese — He applies for assistance to the Florentines — Diversity of opinions in Florence on the subject — Neri di Gino Capponi averse to assisting the count — Cosmo de’ Medici disposed to do so — The Florentines sent ambassadors to the count.

After this victory, the count marched into the Brescian territory, occupied the whole country, and then pitched his camp within two miles of the city. The Venetians, having well-grounded fears that Brescia would be next attacked, provided the best defense in their power. They then collected the relics of their army, and, by virtue of the treaty, demanded assistance of the Florentines; who, being relieved from the war with Alfonso, sent them one thousand foot and two thousand horse, by whose aid the Venetians were in a condition to treat for peace. At one time it seemed the fate of their republic to lose by war and win by negotiation; for what was taken from them in battle was frequently restored twofold on the restoration of peace. They knew the Milanese were jealous of the count, and that he wished to be not their captain merely, but their sovereign; and as it was in their power to make peace with either of the two (the one desiring it from ambition, the other from fear), they determined to make choice of the count, and offer him assistance to effect his design; persuading themselves, that as the Milanese would perceive they had been duped by him, they would in revenge place themselves in the power of any one rather than in his; and that, becoming unable either to defend themselves or trust the count, they would be compelled, having no other resource, to fall into their hands. Having taken this resolution, they sounded the count, and found him quite disposed for peace, evidently desirous that the honor and advantage of the victory at Caravaggio should be his own, and not accrue to the Milanese. The parties therefore entered into an agreement, in which the Venetians undertook to pay the count thirteen thousand florins per month, till he should obtain Milan, and to furnish him, during the continuance of the war, four thousand horse and two thousand foot. The count engaged to restore to the Venetians the towns, prisoners, and whatever else had been taken by him during the late campaigns, and content himself with those territories which the duke possessed at the time of his death.

When this treaty became known at Milan, it grieved the citizens more than the victory at Caravaggio had exhilarated them. The rulers of the city mourned, the people complained, women and children wept, and all exclaimed against the count as false and perfidious. Although they could not hope that either prayers or promises would divert him from his ungrateful design, they sent ambassadors to see with what kind of color he would invest his unprincipled proceedings, and being admitted to his presence, one of them spoke to the following effect; —“It is customary with those who wish to obtain a favor, to make use either of prayers, presents, or threats, that pity, convenience, or fear, may induce a compliance with their requests. But as with cruel, avaricious, or, in their own conceit, powerful men, these arguments have no weight, it is vain to hope, either to soften them by prayers, win them by presents, or alarm them by menaces. We, therefore, being now, though late, aware of thy pride, cruelty, and ambition, come hither, not to ask aught, nor with the hope, even if we were so disposed, of obtaining it, but to remind thee of the benefits thou hast received from the people of Milan, and to prove with what heartless ingratitude thou hast repaid them, that at least, under the many evils oppressing us, we may derive some gratification from telling thee how and by whom they have been produced. Thou canst not have forgotten thy wretched condition at the death of the duke Filippo; the king and the pope were both thine enemies; thou hadst abandoned the Florentines and the Venetians, who, on account of their just indignation, and because they stood in no further need of thee, were almost become thy declared enemies. Thou wert exhausted by thy wars against the church; with few followers, no friends, or any money; hopeless of being able to preserve either thy territories or thy reputation. From these circumstances thy ruin must have ensued, but for our simplicity; we received thee to our home, actuated by reverence for the happy memory of our duke, with whom, being connected by marriage and renewed alliance, we believed thy affection would descend to those who had inherited his authority, and that, if to the benefits he had conferred on thee, our own were added, the friendship we sought to establish would not only be firm, but inseparable; with this impression, we added Verona or Brescia to thy previous appointments. What more could we either give or promise thee? What else couldst thou, not from us merely, but from any others, have either had or expected? Thou receivedst from us an unhoped-for benefit, and we, in return, an unmerited wrong. Neither hast thou deferred until now the manifestation of thy base designs; for no sooner wert thou appointed to command our armies, than, contrary to every dictate of propriety, thou didst accept Pavia, which plainly showed what was to be the result of thy friendship; but we bore with the injury, in hope that the greatness of the advantage would satisfy thy ambition. Alas! those who grasp at all cannot be satisfied with a part. Thou didst promise that we should possess the conquests which thou might afterward make; for thou wert well aware that what was given at many times might be withdrawn at once, as was the case after the victory at Caravaggio, purchased by our money and blood, and followed by our ruin. Oh! unhappy states, which have to guard against their oppressor; but much more wretched those who have to trust to mercenary and faithless arms like thine! May our example instruct posterity, since that of Thebes and Philip of Macedon, who, after victory over her enemies, from being her captain became her foe and her prince, could not avail us.

“The only fault of which we are conscious is our over-weening confidence in one whom we ought not to have trusted; for thy past life, thy restless mind, incapable of repose, ought to have put us on our guard; neither ought we to have confided in one who betrayed the lord of Lucca, set a fine upon the Florentines and the Venetians, defied the duke, despised the king, and besides all this, persecuted the church of God, and the Divinity himself with innumerable atrocities. We ought not to have fancied that so many potentates possessed less influence over the mind of Francesco Sforza, than the Milanese; or that he would preserve unblemished that faith towards us which he had on so many occasions broken with them. Still this want of caution in us does not excuse the perfidy in thee; nor can it obliterate the infamy with which our just complaints will blacken thy character throughout the world, or prevent the remorse of thy conscience, when our arms are used for our own destruction; for thou wilt see that the sufferings due to parricides are fully deserved by thee. And though ambition should blind thine eyes, the whole world, witness to thine iniquity, will compel thee to open them; God himself will unclose them, if perjuries, if violated faith, if treacheries displease him, and if, as ever, he is still the enemy of the wicked. Do not, therefore, promise thyself any certainty of victory; for the just wrath of the Almighty will weigh heavily upon thee; and we are resolved to lose our liberty only with our lives; but if we found we could not ultimately defend it, we would submit ourselves to anyone rather than to thee. And if our sins be so great that in spite of our utmost resolution, we should still fall into thy hands, be quite assured, that the sovereignty which is commenced in deceit and villainy, will terminate either in thyself or thy children with ignominy and blood.”

The count, though not insensible to the just reproaches of the Milanese, did not exhibit either by words or gestures any unusual excitement, and replied, that “He willingly attributed to their angry feelings all the serious charges of their indiscreet harangue; and he would reply to them in detail, were he in the presence of anyone who could decide their differences; for it would be evident that he had not injured the Milanese, but only taken care that they should not injure him. They well knew how they had proceeded after the victory of Caravaggio; for, instead of rewarding him with either Verona or Brescia, they sought peace with the Venetians, that all the blame of the quarrel might rest on him, themselves obtaining the fruit of victory, the credit of peace, and all the advantages that could be derived from the war. It would thus be manifest they had no right to complain, when he had effected the arrangements which they first attempted to make; and that if he had deferred to do so a little longer, he would have had reason to accuse them of the ingratitude with which they were now charging him. Whether the charge were true or false, that God, whom they had invoked to avenge their injuries, would show at the conclusion of the war, and would demonstrate which was most his friend, and who had most justice on their side.”

Upon the departure of the ambassadors, the count determined to attack the Milanese, who prepared for their defense, and appointed Francesco and Jacopo Piccinino (attached to their cause, on account of the ancient feud of the families of Braccio and Sforza) to conduct their forces in support of liberty; at least till they could deprive the count of the aid of the Venetians, who they did not think would long be either friendly or faithful to him. On the other hand, the count, perfectly aware of this, thought it not imprudent, supposing the obligation of the treaty insufficient, to bind them by the ties of interest; and, therefore, in assigning to each their portion of the enterprise, he consented that the Venetians should attack Crema, and himself, with the other forces, assail the remainder of the territory. The advantage of this arrangement kept the Venetians so long in alliance with the count, that he was enabled to conquer the whole of the Milanese territory, and to press the city so closely, that the inhabitants could not provide themselves with necessaries; despairing of success, they sent envoys to the Venetians to beg they would compassionate their distress, and, as ought to be the case between republics, assist them in defense of their liberty against a tyrant, whom, if once master of their city, they would be unable to restrain; neither did they think he would be content with the boundaries assigned him by the treaty, but would expect all the dependencies of Milan.

The Venetians had not yet taken Crema, and wishing before they changed sides, to effect this point, they PUBLICLY answered the envoys, that their engagements with the count prevented them from defending the Milanese; but SECRETLY, gave them every assurance of their wish to do so.

The count had approached so near Milan with his forces, that he was disputing the suburbs with the inhabitants, when the Venetians having taken Crema, thought they need no longer hesitate to declare in favor of the Milanese, with whom they made peace and entered into alliance; among the terms of which was the defense of their liberty unimpaired. Having come to this agreement, they ordered their forces to withdraw from the count’s camp and to return to the Venetian territory. They informed him of the peace made with the Milanese, and gave him twenty days to consider what course he would adopt. He was not surprised at the step taken by the Venetians, for he had long foreseen it, and expected its occurrence daily; but when it actually took place, he could not avoid feeling regret and displeasure similar to what the Milanese had experienced when he abandoned them. He took two days to consider the reply he would make to the ambassadors whom the Venetians had sent to inform him of the treaty, and during this time he determined to dupe the Venetians, and not abandon his enterprise; therefore, appearing openly to accept the proposal for peace, he sent his ambassadors to Venice with full credentials to effect the ratification, but gave them secret orders not to do so, and with pretexts or caviling to put it off. To give the Venetians greater assurance of his sincerity, he made a truce with the Milanese for a month, withdrew from Milan and divided his forces among the places he had taken. This course was the occasion of his victory and the ruin of the Milanese; for the Venetians, confident of peace, were slow in preparing for war, and the Milanese finding the truce concluded, the enemy withdrawn, and the Venetians their friends, felt assured that the count had determined to abandon his design. This idea injured them in two ways: one, by neglecting to provide for their defense; the next, that, being seed-time, they sowed a large quantity of grain in the country which the enemy had evacuated, and thus brought famine upon themselves. On the other hand, all that was injurious to his enemies favored the count, and the time gave him opportunity to take breath and provide himself with assistance.

The Florentines during the war of Lombardy had not declared in favor of either party, or assisted the count either in defense of the Milanese or since; for he never having been in need had not pressingly requested it; and they only sent assistance to the Venetians after the rout at Caravaggio, in pursuance of the treaty. Count Francesco, standing now alone, and not knowing to whom else he could apply, was compelled to request immediate aid of the Florentines, publicly from the state, and privately from friends, particularly from Cosmo de’ Medici, with whom he had always maintained a steady friendship, and by whom he had constantly been faithfully advised and liberally supported. Nor did Cosmo abandon him in his extreme necessity, but supplied him generously from his own resources, and encouraged him to prosecute his design. He also wished the city publicly to assist him, but there were difficulties in the way. Neri di Gino Capponi, one of the most powerful citizens of Florence, thought it not to the advantage of the city, that the count should obtain Milan; and was of opinion that it would be more to the safety of Italy for him to ratify the peace than pursue the war. In the first place, he apprehended that the Milanese, through their anger against the count, would surrender themselves entirely to the Venetians, which would occasion the ruin of all. Supposing he should occupy Milan, it appeared to him that so great military superiority, combined with such an extent of territory, would be dangerous to themselves, and that if as count he was intolerable, he would become doubly so as duke. He therefore considered it better for the republic of Florence and for Italy, that the count should be content with his military reputation, and that Lombardy should be divided into two republics, which could never be united to injure others, and separately are unable to do so. To attain this he saw no better means than to refrain from aiding the count, and continuing in the former league with the Venetians. These reasonings were not satisfactory to Cosmo’s friends, for they imagined that Neri had argued thus, not from a conviction of its advantage to the republic, but to prevent the count, as a friend of Cosmo, from becoming duke, apprehending that Cosmo would, in consequence of this, become too powerful.

Cosmo, in reply, pointed out, that to lend assistance to the count would be highly beneficial both to Italy and the republic; for it was unwise to imagine the Milanese could preserve their own liberty; for the nature of their community, their mode of life, and their hereditary feuds were opposed to every kind of civil government, so that it was necessary, either that the count should become duke of Milan, or the Venetians her lords. And surely under such circumstances, no one could doubt which would be most to their advantage, to have for their neighbor a powerful friend or a far more powerful foe. Neither need it be apprehended that the Milanese, while at war with the count, would submit to the Venetians; for the count had a stronger party in the city, and the Venetians had not, so that whenever they were unable to defend themselves as freemen, they would be more inclined to obey the count than the Venetians.

These diverse views kept the city long in suspense; but at length it was resolved to send ambassadors to the count to settle the terms of agreement, with instructions, that if they found him in such a condition as to give hopes of his ultimate success, they were to close with him, but, if otherwise, they were to draw out the time in diplomacy.

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