History of Florence, by Niccolo Machiavelli

Chapter VI

Conspiracy of Stefano Porcari against the papal government — The conspirators discovered and punished — The Florentines recover the places they had lost — Gherardo Gambacorti, lord of Val di Bagno, endeavors to transfer his territories to the king of Naples — Gallant conduct of Antonio Gualandi, who counteracts the design of Gambacorti — René of Anjou is called into Italy by the Florentines — René returns to France — The pope endeavors to restore peace — Peace proclaimed — Jacopo Piccinino attacks the Siennese.

The pontiff did not interfere in these affairs further than to endeavor to bring the parties to a mutual accommodation; but while he refrained from external wars he incurred the danger of more serious troubles at home. Stefano Porcari was a Roman citizen, equally distinguished for nobility of birth and extent of learning, but still more by the excellence of his character. Like all who are in pursuit of glory, he resolved either to perform or to attempt something worthy of memory, and thought he could not do better than deliver his country from the hands of the prelates, and restore the ancient form of government; hoping, in the event of success, to be considered a new founder or second father of the city. The dissolute manners of the priesthood, and the discontent of the Roman barons and people, encouraged him to look for a happy termination of his enterprise; but he derived his greatest confidence from those verses of Petrarch in the canzone which begins, “Spirto gentil che quelle membra reggi,” where he says —

“Sopra il Monte Tarpejo canzon vedra,
Un cavalier, ch’ Italia tutta onora,
Pensoso piu d’altrui, che di se stesso.”

Stefano, believing poets are sometimes endowed with a divine and prophetic spirit, thought the event must take place which Petrarch in this canzone seemed to foretell, and that he was destined to effect the glorious task; considering himself in learning, eloquence, friends, and influence, superior to any other citizen of Rome. Having taken these impressions, he had not sufficient prudence to avoid discovering his design by his discourse, demeanor, and mode of living; so that the pope becoming acquainted with it, in order to prevent the commission of some rash act, banished him to Bologna and charged the governor of the city to compel his appearance before him once every day. Stefano was not daunted by this first check, but with even greater earnestness prosecuted his undertaking, and, by such means as were available, more cautiously corresponded with his friends, and often went and returned from Rome with such celerity as to be in time to present himself before the governor within the limit allowed for his appearance. Having acquired a sufficient number of partisans, he determined to make the attempt without further delay, and arranged with his friends at Rome to provide an evening banquet, to which all the conspirators were invited, with orders that each should bring with him his most trust-worthy friends, and himself promised to be with him before the entertainment was served. Everything was done according to this orders, and Stefano Porcari arrived at the place appointed. Supper being brought in, he entered the apartment dressed in cloth of gold, with rich ornaments about his neck, to give him a dignified appearance and commanding aspect. Having embraced the company, he delivered a long oration to dispose their minds to the glorious undertaking. He then arranged the measures to be adopted, ordering that one part of them should, on the following morning, take possession of the pontiff’s palace, and that the other should call the people of Rome to arms. The affair came to the knowledge of the pope the same night, some say by treachery among the conspirators, and others that he knew of Porcari’s presence at Rome. Be this as it may, on the night of the supper Stefano, and the greater part of his associates, were arrested, and afterward expiated their crime by death. Thus ended his enterprise; and though some may applaud his intentions, he must stand charged with deficiency of understanding; for such undertakings, though possessing some slight appearance of glory, are almost always attended with ruin.

Gherardo Gambacorti was lord of Val di Bagno, and his ancestors as well as himself had always been in the pay or under the protection of the Florentines. Alfonso endeavored to induce him to exchange his territory for another in the kingdom of Naples. This became known to the Signory, who, in order to ascertain his designs, sent an ambassador to Gambacorti, to remind him of the obligations of his ancestors and himself to their republic, and induce him to continue faithful to them. Gherardo affected the greatest astonishment, assured the ambassador with solemn oaths that no such treacherous thought had ever entered his mind, and that he would gladly go to Florence and pledge himself for the truth of his assertions; but being unable, from indisposition, he would send his son as an hostage. These assurances, and the proposal with which they were accompanied, induced the Florentines to think Gherardo had been slandered, and that his accuser must be alike weak and treacherous. Gherardo, however, hastened his negotiation with redoubled zeal, and having arranged the terms, Alfonso sent Frate Puccio, a knight of Jerusalem, with a strong body of men to the Val di Bagno, to take possession of the fortresses and towns, the people of which, being attached to the Florentine republic, submitted unwillingly.

Frate Puccio had already taken possession of nearly the whole territory, except the fortress of Corzano. Gambacorti was accompanied, while transferring his dominions, by a young Pisan of great courage and address, named Antonio Gualandi, who, considering the whole affair, the strength of the place, the well known bravery of the garrison, their evident reluctance to give it up, and the baseness of Gambacorti, at once resolved to make an effort to prevent the fulfillment of his design; and Gherardo being at the entrance, for the purpose of introducing the Aragonese, he pushed him out with both his hands, and commanded the guards to shut the gate upon such a scoundrel, and hold the fortress for the Florentine republic. When this circumstance became known in Bagno and the neighboring places, the inhabitants took up arms against the king’s forces, and, raising the Florentine standard, drove them out. The Florentines learning these events, imprisoned Gherardo’s son, and sent troops to Bagno for the defense of the territory, which having hitherto been governed by its own prince, now became a vicariate. The traitor Gherardo escaped with difficulty, leaving his wife, family, and all his property, in the hands of those whom he had endeavored to betray. This affair was considered by the Florentines of great importance; for had the king succeeded in securing the territory, he might have overrun the Val di Tavere and the Casentino at his pleasure, and would have caused so much annoyance, that they could no longer have allowed their whole force to act against the army of the Aragonese at Sienna.

In addition to the preparations made by the Florentines in Italy to resist the hostile League, they sent as ambassador, Agnolo Acciajuoli, to request that the king of France would allow René of Anjou to enter Italy in favor of the duke and themselves, and also, that by his presence in the country, he might defend his friends and attempt the recovery of the kingdom of Naples; for which purpose they offered him assistance in men and money. While the war was proceeding in Lombardy and Tuscany, the ambassador effected an arrangement with King René, who promised to come into Italy during the month of June, the League engaging to pay him thirty thousand florins upon his arrival at Alexandria, and ten thousand per month during the continuance of the war. In pursuance of this treaty, King René commenced his march into Italy, but was stopped by the duke of Savoy and the marquis of Montferrat, who, being in alliance with the Venetians, would not allow him to pass. The Florentine ambassador advised, that in order to uphold the influence of his friends, he should return to Provence, and conduct part of his forces into Italy by sea, and, in the meantime, endeavor, by the authority of the king of France, to obtain a passage for the remainder through the territories of the duke. This plan was completely successful; for René came into Italy by sea, and his forces, by the mediation of the king of France, were allowed a passage through Savoy. King René was most honorably received by Duke Francesco, and joining his French with the Italian forces, they attacked the Venetians with so much impetuosity, that they shortly recovered all the places which had been taken in the Cremonese. Not content with this, they occupied nearly the whole Brescian territory; so that the Venetians, unable to keep the field, withdrew close to the walls of Brescia.

Winter coming on, the duke deemed it advisable to retire into quarters, and appointed Piacenza for the forces of René, where, having passed the whole of the cold season of 1453, without attempting anything, the duke thought of taking the field, on the approach of spring, and stripping the Venetians of the remainder of their possessions by land, but was informed by the king that he was obliged of necessity to return to France. This determination was quite new and unexpected to the duke, and caused him the utmost concern; but though he immediately went to dissuade René from carrying it into effect, he was unable either by promises or entreaties to divert him from his purpose. He engaged, however, to leave part of his forces, and send his son for the service of the League. The Florentines were not displeased at this; for having recovered their territories and castles, they were no longer in fear of Alfonso, and on the other hand, they did not wish the duke to obtain any part of Lombardy but what belonged to him. René took his departure, and send his son John into Italy, according to his promise, who did not remain in Lombardy, but came direct to Florence, where he was received with the highest respect.

The king’s departure made the duke desirous of peace. The Venetians, Alfonso, and the Florentines, being all weary of the war, were similarly disposed; and the pope continued to wish it as much as ever; for during this year the Turkish emperor, Mohammed, had taken Constantinople and subdued the whole of Greece. This conquest alarmed the Christians, more especially the Venetians and the pope, who already began to fancy the Mohammedans at their doors. The pope therefore begged the Italian potentates to send ambassadors to himself, with authority to negotiate a general peace, with which all complied; but when the particular circumstances of each case came to be considered, many difficulties were found in the war of effecting it. King Alfonso required the Florentines to reimburse the expenses he had incurred in the war, and the Florentines demanded some compensation from him. The Venetians thought themselves entitled to Cremona from the duke; while he insisted upon the restoration of Bergamo, Brescia, and Crema; so that it seemed impossible to reconcile such conflicting claims. But what could not be effected by a number at Rome was easily managed at Milan and Venice by two; for while the matter was under discussion at Rome, the duke and the Venetians came to an arrangement on the ninth of April, 1454, by virtue of which, each party resumed what they possessed before the war, the duke being allowed to recover from the princes of Montferrat and Savoy the places they had taken. To the other Italian powers a month was allowed to ratify the treaty. The pope and the Florentines, and with them the Siennese and other minor powers, acceded to it within the time. Besides this, the Florentines, the Venetians, and the duke concluded a treaty of peace for twenty-five years. King Alfonso alone exhibited dissatisfaction at what had taken place, thinking he had not been sufficiently considered, that he stood, not on the footing of a principal, but only ranked as an auxiliary, and therefore kept aloof, and would not disclose his intentions. However, after receiving a legate from the pope, and many solemn embassies from other powers, he allowed himself to be persuaded, principally by means of the pontiff, and with his son joined the League for thirty years. The duke and the king also contracted a twofold relationship and double marriage, each giving a daughter to a son of the other. Notwithstanding this, that Italy might still retain the seeds of war, Alfonso would not consent to the peace, unless the League would allow him, without injury to themselves, to make war upon the Genoese, Gismondo Malatesti, and Astorre, prince of Faenza. This being conceded, his son Ferrando, who was at Sienna, returned to the kingdom, having by his coming into Tuscany acquired no dominion and lost a great number of his men.

Upon the establishment of a general peace, the only apprehension entertained was, that it would be disturbed by the animosity of Alfonso against the Genoese; yet it happened otherwise. The king, indeed, did not openly infringe the peace, but it was frequently broken by the ambition of the mercenary troops. The Venetians, as usual on the conclusion of a war, had discharged Jacopo Piccinino, who with some other unemployed condottieri, marched into Romagna, thence into the Siennese, and halting in the country, took possession of many places. At the commencement of these disturbances, and the beginning of the year 1455, Pope Nicholas died, and was succeeded by Calixtus III., who, to put a stop to the war newly broken out so near home, immediately sent Giovanni Ventimiglia, his general, with what forces he could furnish. These being joined by the troops of the Florentines and the duke of Milan, both of whom furnished assistance, attacked Jacopo, near Bolsena, and though Ventimiglia was taken prisoner, yet Jacopo was worsted, and retreated in disorder to Castiglione della Pescaia, where, had he not been assisted by Alfonso, his force would have been completely annihilated. This made it evident that Jacopo’s movement had been made by order of Alfonso, and the latter, as if palpably detected, to conciliate his allies, after having almost alienated them with this unimportant war, ordered Jacopo to restore to the Siennese the places he had taken, and they gave him twenty thousand florins by way of ransom, after which he and his forces were received into the kingdom of Naples.

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