History of Florence, by Niccolo Machiavelli

Chapter V

New occasions of war in Italy — Differences between the marquis of Ferrara, and the Venetians — The king of Naples and the Florentines attack the papal states — The pope’s defensive arrangements — The Neapolitan army routed by the papal forces — Progress of the Venetians against the marquis of Ferrara — The pope makes peace, and enters into a league against the Venetians — Operations of the League against the Venetians — The Venetians routed at Bondeno — Their losses — Disunion among the League — Lodovico Sforza makes peace with the Venetians — Ratified by the other parties.

The invasion of the Turks had deferred the war which was about to break forth from the anger of the pope and the Venetians at the peace between the Florentines and the king. But as the beginning of that invasion was unexpected and beneficial, its conclusion was equally unlooked for and injurious; for Mahomet dying suddenly, dissensions arose among his sons, and the forces which were in Puglia being abandoned by their commander, surrendered Otranto to the king. The fears which restrained the pope and the Venetians being thus removed, everyone became apprehensive of new troubles. On the one hand, was the league of the pope and the Venetians, and with them the Genoese, Siennese, and other minor powers; on the other, the Florentines, the king, and the duke, with whom were the Bolognese and many princes. The Venetians wished to become lords of Ferrara, and thought they were justified by circumstances in making the attempt, and hoping for a favorable result. Their differences arose thus: the marquis of Ferrara affirmed he was under no obligation to take salt from the Venetians, or to admit their governor; the terms of convention between them declaring, that after seventy years, the city was to be free from both impositions. The Venetians replied, that so long as he held the Polesine, he was bound to receive their salt and their governor. The marquis refusing his consent, the Venetians considered themselves justified in taking arms, and that the present moment offered a suitable opportunity; for the pope was indignant against the Florentines and the king; and to attach the pope still further, the Count Girolamo, who was then at Venice, was received with all possible respect; first admitted to the privileges of a citizen, and then raised to the rank of a senator, the highest distinctions the Venetian senate can confer. To prepare for the war, they levied new taxes, and appointed to the command of the forces, Roberto da San Severino, who being offended with Lodovico, governor of Milan, fled to Tortona, whence, after occasioning some disturbances, he went to Genoa, and while there, was sent for by the Venetians, and placed at the head of their troops.

These circumstances becoming known to the opposite league, induced it also to provide for war. The duke of Milan appointed as his general, Federigo d’Urbino; the Florentines engaged Costanzo, lord of Pesaro; and to sound the disposition of the pope, and know whether the Venetians made war against Ferrara with his consent or not, King Ferrando sent Alfonso, duke of Calabria, with his army across the Tronto, and asked the pontiff’s permission to pass into Lombardy to assist the marquis, which was refused in the most peremptory manner. The Florentines and the king, no longer doubtful about the pope’s intentions, determined to harass him, and thus either compel him to take part with them, or throw such obstacles in his way, as would prevent him from helping the Venetians, who had already taken the field, attacked the marquis, overran his territory, and encamped before Figaruolo, a fortress of the greatest importance. In pursuance of the design of the Florentines and the king, the duke of Calabria, by the assistance of the Colonna family (the Orsini had joined the pope), plundered the country about Rome and committed great devastation; while the Florentines, with Niccolo Vitelli, besieged and took Citta di Castello, expelling Lorenzo Vitelli, who held it for the pope, and placing Niccolo in it as prince.

The pope now found himself in very great straits; for the city of Rome was disturbed by factions and the country covered with enemies. But acting with courage and resolution, he appointed Roberto da Rimino to take the command of his forces; and having sent for him to Rome, where his troops were assembled, told him how great would be the honor, if he could deliver the church from the king’s forces, and the troubles in which it was involved; how greatly indebted, not only himself, but all his successors would be, and, that not mankind merely, but God himself would be under obligations to him. The magnificent Roberto, having considered the forces and preparations already made, advised the pope to raise as numerous a body of infantry as possible, which was done without delay. The duke of Calabria was at hand, and constantly harassed the country up to the very gates of Rome, which so roused the indignation of the citizens, that many offered their assistance to Roberto, and all were thankfully received. The duke, hearing of these preparations, withdrew a short distance from the city, that in the belief of finding him gone, the magnificent Roberto would not pursue him, and also in expectation of his brother Federigo, whom their father had sent to him with additional forces. But Roberto, finding himself nearly equal to the duke in cavalry, and superior in infantry, marched boldly out of Rome and took a position within two miles of the enemy. The duke, seeing his adversaries close upon him, found he must either fight or disgracefully retire. To avoid a retreat unbecoming a king’s son, he resolved to face the enemy; and a battle ensued which continued from morning till midday. In this engagement, greater valor was exhibited on both sides than had been shown in any other during the last fifty years, upward of a thousand dead being left upon the field. The troops of the church were at length victorious, for her numerous infantry so annoyed the ducal cavalry, that they were compelled to retreat, and Alfonso himself would have fallen into the hands of the enemy, had he not been rescued by a body of Turks, who remained at Otranto, and were at that time in his service. The lord of Rimino, after this victory, returned triumphantly to Rome, but did not long enjoy the fruit of his valor; for having, during the heat of the engagement, taken a copious draught of water, he was seized with a flux, of which he very shortly afterward died. The pope caused his funeral to be conducted with great pomp, and in a few days, sent the Count Girolamo toward Citta di Castello to restore it to Lorenzo, and also endeavor to gain Rimino, which being by Roberto’s death left to the care of his widow and a son who was quite a boy, his holiness thought might be easily won; and this certainly would have been the case, if the lady had not been defended by the Florentines, who opposed him so effectually, as to prevent his success against both Castello and Rimino.

While these things were in progress at Rome and in Romagna, the Venetians took possession of Figaruolo and crossed the Po with their forces. The camp of the duke of Milan and the marquis was in disorder; for the count of Urbino having fallen ill, was carried to Bologna for his recovery, but died. Thus the marquis’s affairs were unfortunately situated, while those of the Venetians gave them increasing hopes of occupying Ferrara. The Florentines and the king of Naples used their utmost endeavors to gain the pope to their views; and not having succeeded by force, they threatened him with the council, which had already been summoned by the emperor to assemble at Basle; and by means of the imperial ambassadors, and the co-operation of the leading cardinals, who were desirous of peace, the pope was compelled to turn his attention toward effecting the pacification of Italy. With this view, at the instigation of his fears, and with the conviction that the aggrandizement of the Venetians would be the ruin of the church and of Italy, he endeavored to make peace with the League, and sent his nuncios to Naples, where a treaty was concluded for five years, between the pope, the king, the duke of Milan, and the Florentines, with an opening for the Venetians to join them if they thought proper. When this was accomplished, the pope intimated to the Venetians, that they must desist from war against Ferrara. They refused to comply, and made preparations to prosecute their design with greater vigor than they had hitherto done; and having routed the forces of the duke and the marquis at Argenta, they approached Ferrara so closely as to pitch their tents in the marquis’s park.

The League found they must no longer delay rendering him efficient assistance, and ordered the duke of Calabria to march to Ferrara with his forces and those of the pope, the Florentine troops also moving in the same direction. In order to direct the operations of the war with greater efficiency, the League assembled a diet at Cremona, which was attended by the pope’s legate, the Count Girolamo, the duke of Calabria, the Signor Lodovico Sforza, and Lorenzo de’ Medici, with many other Italian princes; and when the measures to be adopted were fully discussed, having decided that the best way of relieving Ferrara would be to effect a division of the enemy’s forces, the League desired Lodovico to attack the Venetians on the side of Milan, but this he declined, for fear of bringing a war upon the duke’s territories, which it would be difficult to quell. It was therefore resolved to proceed with the united forces of the League to Ferrara, and having assembled four thousand cavalry and eight thousand infantry, they went in pursuit of the Venetians, whose force amounted to two thousand two hundred men at arms, and six thousand foot. They first attacked the Venetian flotilla, then lying upon the river Po, which they routed with the loss of above two hundred vessels, and took prisoner Antonio Justiniano, the purveyor of the fleet. The Venetians, finding all Italy united against them, endeavored to support their reputation by engaging in their service the duke of Lorraine, who joined them with two hundred men at arms: and having suffered so great a destruction of their fleet, they sent him, with part of their army, to keep their enemies at bay, and Roberto da San Severino to cross the Adda with the remainder, and proceed to Milan, where they were to raise the cry of “The duke and the Lady Bona,” his mother; hoping by this means to give a new aspect to affairs there, believing that Lodovico and his government were generally unpopular. This attack at first created great consternation, and roused the citizens in arms; but eventually produced consequences unfavorable to the designs of the Venetians; for Lodovico was now desirous to undertake what he had refused to do at the entreaty of his allies. Leaving the marquis of Ferrara to the defense of his own territories, he, with four thousand horse and two thousand foot, and joined by the duke of Calabria with twelve thousand horse and five thousand foot, entered the territory of Bergamo, then Brescia, next that of Verona, and, in defiance of the Venetians, plundered the whole country; for it was with the greatest difficulty that Roberto and his forces could save the cities themselves. In the meantime, the marquis of Ferrara had recovered a great part of his territories; for the duke of Lorraine, by whom he was attacked, having only at his command two thousand horse and one thousand foot, could not withstand him. Hence, during the whole of 1483, the affairs of the League were prosperous.

The winter having passed quietly over, the armies again took the field. To produce the greater impression upon the enemy, the League united their whole force, and would easily have deprived the Venetians of all they possessed in Lombardy, if the war had been conducted in the same manner as during the preceding year; for by the departure of the duke of Lorraine, whose term of service had expired, they were reduced to six thousand horse and five thousand foot, while the allies had thirteen thousand horse and five thousand foot at their disposal. But, as is often the case where several of equal authority are joined in command, their want of unity decided the victory to their enemies. Federigo, marquis of Mantua, whose influence kept the duke of Calabria and Lodovico Sforza within bounds, being dead, differences arose between them which soon became jealousies. Giovan Galeazzo, duke of Milan, was now of an age to take the government on himself, and had married the daughter of the duke of Calabria, who wished his son-in-law to exercise the government and not Lodovico; the latter, being aware of the duke’s design, studied to prevent him from effecting it. The position of Lodovico being known to the Venetians, they thought they could make it available for their own interests; and hoped, as they had often before done, to recover in peace all they had lost by war; and having secretly entered into treaty with Lodovico, the terms were concluded in August, 1484. When this became known to the rest of the allies, they were greatly dissatisfied, principally because they found that the places won from the Venetians were to be restored; that they were allowed to keep Rovigo and the Polesine, which they had taken from the marquis of Ferrara, and besides this retain all the pre-eminence and authority over Ferrara itself which they had formerly possessed. Thus it was evident to everyone, they had been engaged in a war which had cost vast sums of money, during the progress of which they had acquired honor, and which was concluded with disgrace; for the places wrested from the enemy were restored without themselves recovering those they had lost. They were, however, compelled to ratify the treaty, on account of the unsatisfactory state of their finances, and because the faults and ambition of others had rendered them unwilling to put their fortunes to further proof.

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