History of Florence, by Niccolo Machiavelli

Chapter VI

The Emperor Henry comes into Italy — The Florentines take the part of the pope — The Visconti originate the duchy of Milan — Artifice of Maffeo Visconti against the family of de la Torre — Giovanni Galeazzo Visconti, first duke of Milan — The Emperor Louis in Italy — John, king of Bohemia, in Italy — League against the king of Bohemia and the pope’s legate — Origin of Venice — Liberty of the Venetians confirmed by Pepin and the Greek emperor — Greatness of Venice — Decline of Venice — Discord between the pope and the emperor — Giovanna, queen of Naples — Rienzi — The jubilee reduced to fifty years — Succession of the duke of Milan — Cardinal Egidio the pope’s legate — War between the Genoese and the Venetians.

At this time, Charles II. of Naples died, and was succeeded by his son Robert. Henry of Luxemburg had been elected to the empire, and came to Rome for his coronation, although the pope was not there. His coming occasioned great excitement in Lombardy; for he sent all the banished to their homes, whether they were Guelphs or Ghibellines; and in consequence of this, one faction endeavoring to drive out the other, the whole province was filled with war; nor could the emperor with all his endeavors abate its fury. Leaving Lombardy by way of Genoa, he came to Pisa, where he endeavored to take Tuscany from King Robert; but not being successful, he went to Rome, where he remained only a few days, being driven away by the Orsini with the consent of King Robert, and returned to Pisa; and that he might more securely make war upon Tuscany, and wrest the country from the hands of the king, he caused it to be assailed by Frederick, monarch of Sicily. But when he was in hope of occupying Tuscany and robbing the king of Naples of his dominions, he died, and was succeeded by Louis of Bavaria. About the same period, John XXII. attained the papacy, during whose time the emperor still continued to persecute the Guelphs and the church, but they were defended by Robert and the Florentines. Many wars took place in Lombardy between the Visconti and the Guelphs, and in Tuscany between Castruccio of Lucca and the Florentines. As the family of Visconti gave rise to the duchy of Milan, one of the five principalities which afterward governed Italy, I shall speak of them from a rather earlier date.

Milan, upon recovering from the ruin into which she had been thrown by Frederick Barbarossa, in revenge for her injuries, joined the league formed by the Lombard cities for their common defense; this restrained him, and for awhile preserved alive the interests of the church in Lombardy. In the course of the wars which followed, the family of La Torre became very potent in that city, and their reputation increased so long as the emperor possessed little authority in the province. But Frederick II. coming into Italy, and the Ghibelline party, by the influence of Ezelin having grown powerful, seeds of the same faction sprang up in all the cities. In Milan were the Visconti, who expelled the La Torres; these, however, did not remain out, for by agreement between the emperor and the pope they were restored to their country. For when the pope and his court removed to France, and the emperor, Henry of Luxemburg, came into Italy, with the pretext of going to Rome for his crown, he was received in Milan by Maffeo Visconti and Guido della Torre, who were then the heads of these families. But Maffeo, designing to make use of the emperor for the purpose of expelling Guido, and thinking the enterprise not difficult, on account of the La Torre being of the contrary faction to the imperial, took occasion, from the remarks which the people made of the uncivil behavior of the Germans, to go craftily about and excite the populace to arm themselves and throw off the yoke of these barbarians. When a suitable moment arrived, he caused a person in whom he confided to create a tumult, upon which the people took arms against the Germans. But no sooner was the mischief well on foot, than Maffeo, with his sons and their partisans, ran to Henry, telling him that all the disturbance had been occasioned by the La Torre family, who, not content to remain peaceably in Milan, had taken the opportunity to plunder him, that they might ingratiate themselves with the Guelphs of Italy and become princes in the city; they then bade him be of good cheer, for they, with their party, whenever he wished it, were ready to defend him with their lives. Henry, believing all that Maffeo told him, joined his forces to those of the Visconti, and attacking the La Torre, who were in various parts of the city endeavoring to quell the tumult, slew all upon whom they could lay hands, and having plundered the others of their property, sent them into exile. By this artifice, Maffeo Visconti became a prince of Milan. Of him remained Galeazzo and Azzo; and, after these, Luchino and Giovanni. Giovanni became archbishop of Milan; and of Luchino, who died before him, were left Bernabo and Galeazzo; Galeazzo, dying soon after, left a son called the Count of Virtu, who after the death of the archbishop, contrived the murder of his uncle, Bernabo, became prince of Milan, and was the first who had the title of duke. The duke left Filippo and Giovanmaria Angelo, the latter of whom being slain by the people of Milan, the state fell to Filippo; but he having no male heir, Milan passed from the family of Visconti to that of Sforza, in the manner to be related hereafter.

But to return to the point from which we deviated. The Emperor Louis, to add to the importance of his party and to receive the crown, came into Italy; and being at Milan, as an excuse for taking money of the Milanese, he pretended to make them free and to put the Visconti in prison; but shortly afterwards he released them, and, having gone to Rome, in order to disturb Italy with less difficulty, he made Piero della Corvara anti-pope, by whose influence, and the power of the Visconti, he designed to weaken the opposite faction in Tuscany and Lombardy. But Castruccio died, and his death caused the failure of the emperor’s purpose; for Pisa and Lucca rebelled. The Pisans sent Piero della Corvara a prisoner to the pope in France, and the emperor, despairing of the affairs of Italy, returned to Germany. He had scarcely left, before John king of Bohemia came into the country, at the request of the Ghibellines of Brescia, and made himself lord of that city and of Bergamo. And as his entry was with the consent of the pope, although he feigned the contrary, the legate of Bologna favored him, thinking by this means to prevent the return of the emperor. This caused a change in the parties of Italy; for the Florentines and King Robert, finding the legate was favorable to the enterprises of the Ghibellines, became foes of all those to whom the legate and the king of Bohemia were friendly. Without having regard for either faction, whether Guelph or Ghibelline, many princes joined them, of whom, among others, were the Visconti, the Della Scala, Filippo Gonzao of Mantua, the Carrara, and those of Este. Upon this the pope excommunicated them all. The king, in fear of the league, went to collect forces in his own country, and having returned with a large army, still found his undertaking a difficult one; so, seeing his error, he withdrew to Bohemia, to the great displeasure of the legate, leaving only Reggio and Modena guarded, and Parma in the care of Marsilio and Piero de’ Rossi, who were the most powerful men in the city. The king of Bohemia being gone, Bologna joined the league; and the leaguers divided among themselves the four cities which remained of the church faction. They agreed that Parma should pertain to the Della Scalla; Reggio to the Gonzaga; Modena to the family of Este, and Lucca to the Florentines. But in taking possession of these cities, many disputes arose which were afterward in a great measure settled by the Venetians. Some, perhaps, will think it a species of impropriety that we have so long deferred speaking of the Venetians, theirs being a republic, which, both on account of its power and internal regulations, deserves to be celebrated above any principality of Italy. But that this surprise may cease when the cause is known, I shall speak of their city from a more remote period; that everyone may understand what were their beginnings, and the causes which so long withheld them from interfering in the affairs of Italy.

When Attila, king of the Huns, besieged Aquileia, the inhabitants, after defending themselves a long time, began to despair of effecting their safety, and fled for refuge to several uninhabited rocks, situated at the point of the Adriatic Sea, now called the Gulf of Venice, carrying with them whatever movable property they possessed. The people of Padua, finding themselves in equal danger, and knowing that, having became master of Aquileia, Attila would next attack themselves, also removed with their most valuable property to a place on the same sea, called Rivo Alto, to which they brought their women, children, and aged persons, leaving the youth in Padua to assist in her defense. Besides these, the people of Monselice, with the inhabitants of the surrounding hills, driven by similar fears, fled to the same rocks. But after Attila had taken Aquileia, and destroyed Padua, Monselice, Vicenza, and Verona, the people of Padua and others who were powerful, continued to inhabit the marshes about Rivo Alto; and, in like manner, all the people of the province anciently called Venetia, driven by the same events, became collected in these marshes. Thus, under the pressure of necessity, they left an agreeable and fertile country to occupy one sterile and unwholesome. However, in consequence of a great number of people being drawn together into a comparatively small space, in a short time they made those places not only habitable, but delightful; and having established among themselves laws and useful regulations, enjoyed themselves in security amid the devastations of Italy, and soon increased both in reputation and strength. For, besides the inhabitants already mentioned, many fled to these places from the cities of Lombardy, principally to escape from the cruelties of Clefis king of the Lombards, which greatly tended to increase the numbers of the new city; and in the conventions which were made between Pepin, king of France, and the emperor of Greece, when the former, at the entreaty of the pope, came to drive the Lombards out of Italy, the duke of Benevento and the Venetians did not render obedience to either the one or the other, but alone enjoyed their liberty. As necessity had led them to dwell on sterile rocks, they were compelled to seek the means of subsistence elsewhere; and voyaging with their ships to every port of the ocean, their city became a depository for the various products of the world, and was itself filled with men of every nation.

For many years the Venetians sought no other dominion than that which tended to facilitate their commercial enterprises, and thus acquired many ports in Greece and Syria; and as the French had made frequent use of their ships in voyages to Asia, the island of Candia was assigned to them in recompense for these services. While they lived in this manner, their name spread terror over the seas, and was held in veneration throughout Italy. This was so completely the case, that they were generally chosen to arbitrate in controversies between the states, as occurred in the difference between the Colleagues, on account of the cities they had divided among themselves; which being referred to the Venetians, they awarded Brescia and Bergamo to the Visconti. But when, in the course of time, urged by their eagerness for dominion, they had made themselves masters of Padua, Vicenza, Trevisa, and afterward of Verona, Bergamo, and Brescia, with many cities in Romagna and the kingdom of Naples, other nations were impressed with such an opinion of their power, that they were a terror, not only to the princes of Italy, but to the ultramontane kings. These states entered into an alliance against them, and in one day wrested from them the provinces they had obtained with so much labor and expense; and although they have in latter times reacquired some portions, still possessing neither power nor reputation, like all the other Italian powers, they live at the mercy of others.

Benedict XII. having attained the pontificate and finding Italy lost, fearing, too, that the emperor would assume the sovereignty of the country, determined to make friends of all who had usurped the government of those cities which had been accustomed to obey the emperor; that they might have occasion to dread the latter, and unite with himself in the defense of Italy. To this end he issued a decree, confirming to all the tyrants of Lombardy the places they had seized. After making this concession the pope died, and was succeeded by Clement VI. The emperor, seeing with what a liberal hand the pontiff had bestowed the dominions of the empire, in order to be equally bountiful with the property of others, gave to all who had assumed sovereignty over the cities or territories of the church, the imperial authority to retain possession of them. By this means Galeotto Malatesti and his brothers became lords of Rimino, Pesaro, and Fano; Antonio da Montefeltro, of the Marca and Urbino; Gentile da Varano, of Camerino; Guido di Polenta, of Ravenna; Sinibaldo Ordelaffi, of Furli and Cesena; Giovanni Manfredi, of Faenza; Lodovico Alidossi, of Imola; and besides these, many others in divers places. Thus, of all the cities, towns, or fortresses of the church, few remained without a prince; for she did not recover herself till the time of Alexander VI., who, by the ruin of the descendants of these princes, restored the authority of the church.

The emperor, when he made the concession before named, being at Tarento, signified an intention of going into Italy. In consequence of this, many battles were fought in Lombardy, and the Visconti became lords of Parma. Robert king of Naples, now died, leaving only two grandchildren, the issue of his sons Charles, who had died a considerable time before him. He ordered that the elder of the two, whose name was Giovanna or Joan, should be heiress of the kingdom, and take for her husband Andrea, son of the king of Hungary, his grandson. Andrea had not lived with her long, before she caused him to be murdered, and married another cousin, Louis, prince of Tarento. But Louis, king of Hungary, and brother of Andrea, in order to avenge his death, brought forces into Italy, and drove Queen Joan and her husband out of the kingdom.

At this period a memorable circumstance took place at Rome. Niccolo di Lorenzo, often called Rienzi or Cola di Rienzi, who held the office of chancellor at Campidoglio, drove the senators from Rome and, under the title of tribune, made himself the head of the Roman republic; restoring it to its ancient form, and with so great reputation of justice and virtue, that not only the places adjacent, but the whole of Italy sent ambassadors to him. The ancient provinces, seeing Rome arise to new life, again raised their heads, and some induced by hope, others by fear, honored him as their sovereign. But Niccolo, notwithstanding his great reputation, lost all energy in the very beginning of his enterprise; and as if oppressed with the weight of so vast an undertaking, without being driven away, secretly fled to Charles, king of Bohemia, who, by the influence of the pope, and in contempt of Louis of Bavaria, had been elected emperor. Charles, to ingratiate himself with the pontiff, sent Niccolo to him, a prisoner. After some time, in imitation of Rienzi, Francesco Baroncegli seized upon the tribunate of Rome, and expelled the senators; and the pope, as the most effectual means of repressing him, drew Niccolo from his prison, sent him to Rome, and restored to him the office of tribune; so that he reoccupied the state and put Francesco to death; but the Colonnesi becoming his enemies, he too, after a short time, shared the same fate, and the senators were again restored to their office. The king of Hungary, having driven out Queen Joan, returned to his kingdom; but the pope, who chose to have the queen in the neighborhood of Rome rather than the king, effected her restoration to the sovereignty, on the condition that her husband, contenting himself with the title of prince of Tarento, should not be called king. Being the year 1350, the pope thought that the jubilee, appointed by Boniface VIII. to take place at the conclusion of each century, might be renewed at the end of each fifty years; and having issued a decree for the establishment of it, the Romans, in acknowledgment of the benefit, consented that he should send four cardinals to reform the government of the city, and appoint senators according to his own pleasure. The pope again declared Louis of Tarento, king, and in gratitude for the benefit, Queen Joan gave Avignon, her inheritance, to the church. About this time Luchino Visconti died, and his brother the archbishop, remaining lord of Milan, carried on many wars against Tuscany and his neighbors, and became very powerful. Bernabo and Galeazzo, his nephews, succeeded him; but Galeazzo soon after died, leaving Giovan Galeazzo, who shared the state with Bernabo. Charles, king of Bohemia, was then emperor, and the pontificate was occupied by Innocent VI., who sent Cardinal Egidio, a Spaniard, into Italy. He restored the reputation of the church, not only in Rome and Romagna, but throughout the whole of Italy; he recovered Bologna from the archbishop of Milan, and compelled the Romans to accept a foreign senator appointed annually by the pope. He made honorable terms with the Visconti, and routed and took prisoner, John Agut, an Englishman, who with four thousand English had fought on the side of the Ghibellines in Tuscany. Urban V., hearing of so many victories, resolved to visit Italy and Rome, whither also the emperor came; after remaining a few months, he returned to the kingdom of Bohemia, and the pope to Avignon. On the death of Urban, Gregory XI. was created pope; and, as the Cardinal Egidio was dead, Italy again recommenced her ancient discords, occasioned by the union of the other powers against the Visconti; and the pope, having first sent a legate with six thousand Bretons, came in person and established the papal court at Rome in 1376, after an absence of seventy-one years in France. To Gregory XI., succeeded Urban VI., but shortly afterwards Clement VI. was elected at Fondi by ten cardinals, who declared the appointment of Urban irregular. At this time, the Genoese threw off the yoke of the Visconti under whom they had lived many years; and between them and the Venetians several important battles were fought for the island of Tenedos. Although the Genoese were for a time successful, and held Venice in a state of siege during many months, the Venetians were at length victorious; and by the intervention of the pope, peace was made in the year 1381. In these wars, artillery was first used, having been recently invented by the Dutch.

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