History of Florence, by Niccolo Machiavelli

Chapter V

The state of Italy — Beginning of the greatness of the house of Este — Guelphs and Ghibellines — Death of the Emperor Frederick II. — Manfred takes possession of the kingdom of Naples — Movements of the Guelphs and Ghibellines in Lombardy — Charles of Anjou invested by the pope with the kingdom of Naples and Sicily — Restless policy of the popes — Ambitious views of pope Nicholas III. — Nephews of the popes — Sicilian vespers — The Emperor Rodolph allows many cities to purchase their independence — Institution of the jubilee — The popes at Avignon.

At this time the states of Italy were governed in the following manner: the Romans no longer elected consuls, but instead of them, and with the same powers, they appointed one senator, and sometimes more. The league which the cities of Lombardy had formed against Frederick Barbarossa still continued, and comprehended Milan, Brescia, Mantua, and the greater number of the cities of Romagna, together with Verona, Vicenza, Padua, and Trevisa. Those which took part with the emperor, were Cremona, Bergamo, Parma, Reggio, and Trento. The other cities and fortresses of Lombardy, Romagna, and the march of Trevisa, favored, according to their necessities, sometimes one party, sometimes the other.

In the time of Otho III. there had come into Italy a man called Ezelin, who, remaining in the country, had a son, and he too had a son named Ezelin. This person, being rich and powerful, took part with Frederick, who, as we have said, was at enmity with the pope; Frederick, at the instigation and with the assistance of Ezelin, took Verona and Mantua, destroyed Vicenza, occupied Padua, routed the army of the united cities, and then directed his course towards Tuscany. Ezelin, in the meantime, had subdued the whole of the Trevisian March, but could not prevail against Ferrara, which was defended by Azone da Este and the forces which the pope had in Lombardy; and, as the enemy were compelled to withdraw, the pope gave Ferrara in fee to this Azone, from whom are descended those who now govern that city. Frederick halted at Pisa, desirous of making himself lord of Tuscany; but, while endeavoring to discover what friends and foes he had in that province, he scattered so many seeds of discord as occasioned the ruin of Italy; for the factions of the Guelphs and Ghibellines multiplied — those who supported the church taking the name of Guelphs, while the followers of the emperor were called Ghibellines, these names being first heard at Pistoia. Frederick, marching from Pisa, assailed and wasted the territories of the church in a variety of ways; so that the pope, having no other remedy, unfurled against him the banner of the cross, as his predecessor had done against the Saracens. Frederick, that he might be suddenly abandoned by his people, as Frederick Barbarossa and others had been, took into his pay a number of Saracens; and to bind them to him, and establish in Italy a firm bulwark against the church, without fear of papal maledictions, he gave them Nocera in the kingdom of Naples, that, having a refuge of their own, they might be placed in greater security. The pontificate was now occupied by Innocent IV., who, being in fear of Frederick, went to Genoa, and thence to France, where he appointed a council to be held at Lyons, where it was the intention of Frederick to attend, but he was prevented by the rebellion of Parma: and, being repulsed, he went into Tuscany, and from thence to Sicily, where he died, leaving his son Conrad in Suabia; and in Puglia, Manfred, whom he had created duke of Benevento, born of a concubine. Conrad came to take possession of the kingdom, and having arrived at Naples, died, leaving an infant son named Corradino, who was then in Germany. On this account Manfred occupied the state, first as guardian of Corradino, but afterward, causing a report to be circulated that Corradino had died, made himself king, contrary to the wishes of both the pope and the Neapolitans, who, however, were obliged to submit.

While these things were occurring in the kingdom of Naples, many movements took place in Lombardy between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. The Guelphs were headed by a legate of the pope; and the Ghibelline party by Ezelin, who possessed nearly the whole of Lombardy beyond the Po; and, as in the course of the war Padua rebelled, he put to death twelve thousand of its citizens. But before its close he himself was slain, in the eightieth year of his age, and all the places he had held became free. Manfred, king of Naples, continued those enmities against the church which had been begun by his ancestors, and kept the pope, Urban IV., in continual alarm; so that, in order to subdue him, Urban summoned the crusaders, and went to Perugia to await their arrival. Seeing them few and slow in their approach, he found that more able assistance was necessary to conquer Manfred. He therefore sought the favor of France; created Louis of Anjou, the king’s brother, sovereign of Naples and Sicily, and excited him to come into Italy to take possession of that kingdom. But before Charles came to Rome the pope died, and was succeeded by Clement IV., in whose time he arrived at Ostia, with thirty galleys, and ordered that the rest of his forces should come by land. During his abode at Rome, the citizens, in order to attach him to them, made him their senator, and the pope invested him with the kingdom, on condition that he should pay annually to the church the sum of fifty thousand ducats; and it was decreed that, from thenceforth, neither Charles nor any other person, who might be king of Naples, should be emperor also. Charles marched against Manfred, routed his army, and slew him near Benevento, and then became sovereign of Sicily and Naples. Corradino, to whom, by his father’s will, the state belonged, having collected a great force in Germany, marched into Italy against Charles, with whom he came to an engagement at Tagliacozzo, was taken prisoner while endeavoring to escape, and being unknown, put to death.

Italy remained in repose until the pontificate of Adrian V. Charles, being at Rome and governing the city by virtue of his office of senator, the pope, unable to endure his power, withdrew to Viterbo, and solicited the Emperor Rodolph to come into Italy and assist him. Thus the popes, sometimes in zeal for religion, at others moved by their own ambition, were continually calling in new parties and exciting new disturbances. As soon as they had made a prince powerful, they viewed him with jealousy and sought his ruin; and never allowed another to rule the country, which, from their own imbecility, they were themselves unable to govern. Princes were in fear of them; for, fighting or running away, the popes always obtained the advantage, unless it happened they were entrapped by deceit, as occurred to Boniface VIII., and some others, who under pretense of friendship, were ensnared by the emperors. Rodolph did not come into Italy, being detained by the war in which he was engaged with the king of Bohemia. At this time Adrian died, and Nicholas III., of the Orsini family, became pontiff. He was a bold, ambitious man; and being resolved at any event to diminish the power of Charles, induced the Emperor Rodolph to complain that he had a governor in Tuscany favorable to the Guelphic faction, who after the death of Manfred had been replaced by him. Charles yielded to the emperor and withdrew his governor, and the pope sent one of his nephews, a cardinal, as governor for the emperor, who, for the honor done him, restored Romagna to the church, which had been taken from her by his predecessors, and the pope made Bertoldo Orsino duke of Romagna. As Nicholas now thought himself powerful enough to oppose Charles, he deprived him of the office of senator, and made a decree that no one of royal race should ever be a senator in Rome. It was his intention to deprive Charles of Sicily, and to this end he entered into a secret negotiation with Peter, king of Aragon, which took effect in the following papacy. He also had the design of creating two kings out of his family, the one in Lombardy, the other in Tuscany, whose power would defend the church from the Germans who might design to come into Italy, and from the French, who were in the kingdom of Naples and Sicily. But with these thoughts he died. He was the first pope who openly exhibited his own ambition; and, under pretense of making the church great, conferred honors and emolument upon his own family. Previous to his time no mention is made of the nephews or families of any pontiff, but future history is full of them; nor is there now anything left for them to attempt, except the effort to make the papacy hereditary. True it is, the princes of their creating have not long sustained their honors; for the pontiffs, being generally of very limited existence, did not get their plants properly established.

To Nicholas succeeded Martin IV., of French origin, and consequently favorable to the party of Charles, who sent him assistance against the rebellion of Romagna; and while they were encamped at Furli, Guido Bonatto, an astrologer, contrived that at an appointed moment the people should assail the forces of the king, and the plan succeeding, all the French were taken and slain. About this period was also carried into effect the plot of Pope Nicholas and Peter, king of Aragon, by which the Sicilians murdered all the French that were in that island; and Peter made himself sovereign of it, saying, that it belonged to him in the right of his wife Gostanza, daughter of Manfred. But Charles, while making warlike preparations for the recovery of Sicily, died, leaving a son, Charles II., who was made prisoner in Sicily, and to recover his liberty promised to return to his prison, if within three years he did not obtain the pope’s consent that the kings of Aragon should be invested with the kingdom of Sicily.

The Emperor Rodolph, instead of coming into Italy, gave the empire the advantage of having done so, by sending an ambassador, with authority to make all those cities free which would redeem themselves with money. Many purchased their freedom, and with liberty changed their mode of living. Adolpho of Saxony succeeded to the empire; and to the papacy, Pietro del Murrone, who took the name of Celestino; but, being a hermit and full of sanctity, after six months renounced the pontificate, and Boniface VIII. was elected.

After a time the French and Germans left Italy, and the country remained wholly in the hands of the Italians; but Providence ordained that the pope, when these enemies were withdrawn, should neither establish nor enjoy his authority, and raised two very powerful families in Rome, the Colonnesi and the Orsini, who with their arms, and the proximity of their abode, kept the pontificate weak. Boniface then determined to destroy the Colonnesi, and, besides excommunicating, endeavored to direct the weapons of the church against them. This, although it did them some injury, proved more disastrous to the pope; for those arms which from attachment to the faith performed valiantly against its enemies, as soon as they were directed against Christians for private ambition, ceased to do the will of those who wished to wield them. And thus the too eager desire to gratify themselves, caused the pontiffs by degrees to lose their military power. Besides what is just related, the pope deprived two cardinals of the Colonnesi family of their office; and Sciarra, the head of the house, escaping unknown, was taken by corsairs of Catalonia and put to the oar; but being afterward recognized at Marseilles, he was sent to Philip, king of France, who had been excommunicated and deprived of the kingdom. Philip, considering that in a war against the pontiff he would either be a loser or run great hazards, had recourse to deception, and simulating a wish to come to terms, secretly sent Sciarra into Italy, who, having arrived at Anagnia, where his holiness then resided, assembled a few friends, and in the night took him prisoner. And although the people of Anagnia set him at liberty shortly after, yet from grief at the injury he died mad. Boniface was founder of the jubilee in 1300, and fixed that it should be celebrated at each revolution of one hundred years. In those times various troubles arose between the Guelph and Ghibelline factions; and the emperors having abandoned Italy, many places became free, and many were occupied by tyrants. Pope Benedict restored the scarlet hat to the cardinals of the Colonnesi family, and reblessed Philip, king of France. He was succeeded by Clement V., who, being a Frenchman, removed the papal court to Avignon in 1305.

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