History of Florence, by Niccolo Machiavelli

Chapter II

New form of government in Florence — Military establishments — The greatness of Florence — Movements of the Ghibellines — Ghibellines driven out of the city — Guelphs routed by the forces of the king of Naples — Florence in the power of the king of Naples — Project of the Ghibellines to destroy Florence opposed by Farinata degli Uberti — Adventures of the Guelphs of Florence — The pope gives his standard to the Guelphs — Fears of the Ghibellines and their preparations for the defense of their power — Establishment of trades’ companies, and their authority — Count Guido Novello expelled — He goes to Prato — The Guelphs restored to the city — The Ghibellines quit Florence — The Florentines reform the government in favor of the Guelphs — The pope endeavors to restore the Ghibellines and excommunicates Florence — Pope Nicholas III. endeavors to abate the power of Charles king of Naples.

Being united, the Florentines thought the time favorable for the ordination of a free government, and that it would be desirable to provide their means of defense before the new emperor should acquire strength. They therefore divided the city into six parts, and elected twelve citizens, two for each sixth, to govern the whole. These were called Anziani, and were elected annually. To remove the cause of those enmities which had been observed to arise from judicial decisions, they provided two judges from some other state — one called captain of the people, the other podesta, or provost — whose duty it was to decide in cases, whether civil or criminal, which occurred among the people. And as order cannot be preserved without a sufficient force for the defense of it, they appointed twenty banners in the city, and seventy-six in the country, upon the rolls of which the names of all the youth were armed; and it was ordered that everyone should appear armed, under his banner, whenever summoned, whether by the captain of the people or the Anziani. They had ensigns according to the kind of arms they used, the bowmen being under one ensign, and the swordsmen, or those who carried a target, under another; and every year, upon the day of Pentecost, ensigns were given with great pomp to the new men, and new leaders were appointed for the whole establishment. To give importance to their armies, and to serve as a point of refuge for those who were exhausted in the fight, and from which, having become refreshed, they might again make head against the enemy, they provided a large car, drawn by two oxen, covered with red cloth, upon which was an ensign of white and red. When they intended to assemble the army, this car was brought into the New Market, and delivered with pomp to the heads of the people. To give solemnity to their enterprises, they had a bell called Martinella, which was rung during a whole month before the forces left the city, in order that the enemy might have time to provide for his defense; so great was the virtue then existing among men, and with so much generosity of mind were they governed, that as it is now considered a brave and prudent act to assail an unprovided enemy, in those days it would have been thought disgraceful, and productive only of a fallacious advantage. This bell was also taken with the army, and served to regulate the keeping and relief of guard, and other matters necessary in the practice of war.

With these ordinations, civil and military, the Florentines established their liberty. Nor is it possible to imagine the power and authority Florence in a short time acquired. She became not only the head of Tuscany, but was enumerated among the first cities of Italy, and would have attained greatness of the most exalted kind, had she not been afflicted with the continual divisions of her citizens. They remained under the this government ten years, during which time they compelled the people of Pistoria, Arezzo, and Sienna, to enter into league with them; and returning with the army from Sienna, they took Volterra, destroyed some castles, and led the inhabitants to Florence. All these enterprises were effected by the advice of the Guelphs, who were much more powerful than the Ghibellines, for the latter were hated by the people as well on account of their haughty bearing while in power, during the time of Frederick, as because the church party was in more favor than that of the emperor; for with the aid of the church they hoped to preserve their liberty, but, with the emperor, they were apprehensive of losing it.

The Ghibellines, in the meantime, finding themselves divested of authority, could not rest, but watched for an occasion of repossessing the government; and they thought the favorable moment come, when they found that Manfred, son of Frederick, had made himself sovereign of Naples, and reduced the power of the church. They, therefore, secretly communicated with him, to resume the management of the state, but could not prevent their proceedings from coming to the knowledge of the Anziani, who immediately summoned the Uberti to appear before them; but instead of obeying, they took arms and fortified themselves in their houses. The people, enraged at this, armed themselves, and with the assistance of the Guelphs, compelled them to quit the city, and, with the whole Ghibelline party, withdraw to Sienna. They then asked assistance of Manfred king of Naples, and by the able conduct of Farinata degli Uberti, the Guelphs were routed by the king’s forces upon the river Arbia, with so great slaughter, that those who escaped, thinking Florence lost, did not return thither, but sought refuge at Lucca.

Manfred sent the Count Giordano, a man of considerable reputation in arms, to command his forces. He after the victory, went with the Ghibellines to Florence, and reduced the city entirely to the king’s authority, annulling the magistracies and every other institution that retained any appearance of freedom. This injury, committed with little prudence, excited the ardent animosity of the people, and their enmity against the Ghibellines, whose ruin it eventually caused, was increased to the highest pitch. The necessities of the kingdom compelling the Count Giordano to return to Naples, he left at Florence as regal vicar the Count Guido Novallo, lord of Casentino, who called a council of Ghibellines at Empoli. There it was concluded, with only one dissenting voice, that in order to preserve their power in Tuscany, it would be necessary to destroy Florence, as the only means of compelling the Guelphs to withdraw their support from the party of the church. To this so cruel a sentence, given against such a noble city, there was not a citizen who offered any opposition, except Farinata degli Uberti, who openly defended her, saying he had not encountered so many dangers and difficulties, but in the hope of returning to his country; that he still wished for what he had so earnestly sought, nor would he refuse the blessing which fortune now presented, even though by using it, he were to become as much an enemy of those who thought otherwise, as he had been of the Guelphs; and that no one need be afraid the city would occasion the ruin of their country, for he hoped that the valor which had expelled the Guelphs, would be sufficient to defend her. Farinata was a man of undaunted resolution, and excelled greatly in military affairs: being the head of the Ghibelline party, and in high estimation with Manfred, his authority put a stop to the discussion, and induced the rest to think of some other means of preserving their power.

The Lucchese being threatened with the anger of the count, for affording refuge to the Guelphs after the battle of the Arbia, could allow them to remain no longer; so leaving Lucca, they went to Bologna, from whence they were called by the Guelphs of Parma against the Ghibellines of that city, where, having overcome the enemy, the possessions of the latter were assigned to them; so that having increased in honors and riches, and learning that Pope Clement had invited Charles of Anjou to take the kingdom from Manfred, they sent ambassadors to the pope to offer him their services. His holiness not only received them as friends, but gave them a standard upon which his insignia were wrought. It was ever after borne by the Guelphs in battle, and is still used at Florence. Charles having taken the kingdom from Manfred, and slain him, to which success the Guelphs of Florence had contributed, their party became more powerful, and that of the Ghibellines proportionately weaker. In consequence of this, those who with Count Novello governed the city, thought it would be advisable to attach to themselves, with some concession, the people whom they had previously aggravated with every species of injury; but these remedies which, if applied before the necessity came would have been beneficial, being offered when they were no longer considered favors, not only failed of producing any beneficial results to the donors, but hastened their ruin. Thinking, however, to win them to their interests, they restored some of the honors of which they had deprived them. They elected thirty-six citizens from the higher rank of the people, to whom, with two cavaliers, knights or gentlemen, brought from Bologna, the reformation of the government of the city was confided. As soon as they met, they classed the whole of the people according to their arts or trades, and over each art appointed a magistrate, whose duty was to distribute justice to those placed under him. They gave to each company or trade a banner, under which every man was expected to appear armed, whenever the city required it. These arts were at first twelve, seven major and five minor. The minor arts were afterward increased to fourteen, so that the whole made, as at present, twenty-one. The thirty-six reformers also effected other changes for the common good.

Count Guido proposed to lay a tax upon the citizens for the support of the soldiery; but during the discussion found so much difficulty, that he did not dare to use force to obtain it; and thinking he had now lost the government, called together the leaders of the Ghibellines, and they determined to wrest from the people those powers which they had with so little prudence conceded. When they thought they had sufficient force, the thirty-six being assembled, they caused a tumult to be raised, which so alarmed them that they retired to their houses, when suddenly the banners of the Arts were unfurled, and many armed men drawn to them. These, learning that Count Guido and his followers were at St. John’s, moved toward the Holy Trinity, and chose Giovanni Soldanieri for their leader. The count, on the other hand, being informed where the people were assembled, proceeded in that direction; nor did the people shun the fight, for, meeting their enemies where now stands the residence of the Tornaquinci, they put the count to flight, with the loss of many of his followers. Terrified with this result, he was afraid his enemies would attack him in the night, and that his own party, finding themselves beaten, would murder him. This impression took such hold of his mind that, without attempting any other remedy, he sought his safety rather in flight than in combat, and, contrary to the advice of the rectors, went with all his people to Prato. But, on finding himself in a place of safety, his fears fled; perceiving his error he wished to correct it, and on the following day, as soon as light appeared, he returned with his people to Florence, to enter the city by force which he had abandoned in cowardice. But his design did not succeed; for the people, who had had difficulty in expelling him, kept him out with facility; so that with grief and shame he went to the Casentino, and the Ghibellines withdrew to their villas.

The people being victorious, by the advice of those who loved the good of the republic, determined to reunite the city, and recall all the citizens as well Guelph as Ghibelline, who yet remained without. The Guelphs returned, after having been expelled six years; the recent offences of the Ghibellines were forgiven, and themselves restored to their country. They were, however, most cordially hated, both by the people and the Guelphs, for the latter could not forget their exile, and the former but too well remembered their tyranny when they were in power; the result was, that the minds of neither party became settled.

While affairs were in this state at Florence, a report prevailed that Corradino, nephew of Manfred, was coming with a force from Germany, for the conquest of Naples; this gave the Ghibellines hope of recovering power, and the Guelphs, considering how they should provide for their security, requested assistance from Charles for their defense, in case of the passage of Corradino. The coming of the forces of Charles rendered the Guelphs insolent, and so alarmed the Ghibellines that they fled the city, without being driven out, two days before the arrival of the troops.

The Ghibellines having departed, the Florentines reorganized the government of the city, and elected twelve men who, as the supreme power, were to hold their magistracy two months, and were not called Anziani or “ancients,” but Buono Uomini or “good men.” They also formed a council of eighty citizens, which they called the Credenza. Besides these, from each sixth, thirty citizens were chosen, who, with the Credenza and the twelve Buono Uomini, were called the General Council. They also appointed another council of one hundred and twenty citizens, elected from the people and the nobility, to which all those things were finally referred that had undergone the consideration of the other councils, and which distributed the offices of the republic. Having formed this government, they strengthened the Guelphic party by appointing its friends to the principal offices of state, and a variety of other measures, that they might be enabled to defend themselves against the Ghibellines, whose property they divided into three parts, one of which was applied to the public use, another to the Capitani, and the third was assigned to the Guelphs, in satisfaction of the injuries they had received. The pope, too, in order to keep Tuscany in the Guelphic interest, made Charles imperial vicar over the province. While the Florentines, by virtue of the new government, preserved their influence at home by laws, and abroad with arms, the pope died, and after a dispute, which continued two years, Gregory X. was elected, being then in Syria, where he had long lived; but not having witnessed the working of parties, he did not estimate them in the manner his predecessors had done, and passing through Florence on his way to France, he thought it would be the office of a good pastor to unite the city, and so far succeeded that the Florentines consented to receive the Syndics of the Ghibellines in Florence to consider the terms of their recall. They effected an agreement, but the Ghibellines without were so terrified that they did not venture to return. The pope laid the whole blame upon the city, and being enraged excommunicated her, in which state of contumacy she remained as long as the pontiff lived; but was reblessed by his successor Innocent V.

The pontificate was afterward occupied by Nicholas III. of the Orsini family. It has to be remarked that it was invariably the custom of the popes to be jealous of those whose power in Italy had become great, even when its growth had been occasioned by the favors of the church; and as they always endeavored to destroy it, frequent troubles and changes were the result. Their fear of a powerful person caused them to increase the influence of one previously weak; his becoming great caused him also to be feared, and his being feared made them seek the means of destroying him. This mode of thinking and operation occasioned the kingdom of Naples to be taken from Manfred and given to Charles, but as soon as the latter became powerful his ruin was resolved upon. Actuated by these motives, Nicholas III. contrived that, with the influence of the emperor, the government of Tuscany should be taken from Charles, and Latino his legate was therefore sent into the province in the name of the empire.

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