Renaissance in Italy, Volume 1 (of 7)
by John Addington Symonds
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Charles here as elsewhere showed his imbecility. He had entered and laid hands on hospitable Florence like a foe. What would he now do with her—reform the republic—legislate—impose a levy on the citizens, and lead them forth to battle? No. He asked for a huge sum of money, and began to bargain. The Florentine secretaries refused his terms. He insisted. Then Piero Capponi snatched the paper on which they were written, and tore it in pieces before his eyes. Charles cried: 'I shall sound my trumpets.' Capponi answered: 'We will ring our bells.' Beautiful as a dream is Florence; but her somber streets, overshadowed by gigantic belfries and masked by grim brown palace-fronts, contained a menace that the French king could not face. Let Capponi sound the tocsin, and each house would become a fortress, the streets would be barricaded with iron chains, every quarter would pour forth men by hundreds well versed in the arts of civic warfare. Charles gave way, covering with a bad joke the discomfiture he felt: Ah, Ciappon, Ciappon, voi siete un mal Ciappon! The secretaries beat down his terms. All he cared for was to get money.[1] He agreed to content himself with 120,000 florins. A treaty was signed, and in two days he quitted Florence.

Hitherto Charles had met with no serious obstacle. His invasion had fallen like the rain from heaven, and like rain, as far as he was concerned, it ran away to waste. Lombardy and Tuscany, the two first scenes in the pageant displayed by Italy before the French army, had been left behind. Rome now lay before them, magnificent in desolation; not the Rome which the Farnesi and Chigi and Barberini have built up from the quarried ruins of amphitheaters and baths, but the Rome of the Middle Ages, the city crowned with relics of a pagan past, herself still pagan, and holding in her midst the modern Antichrist. The progress of the French was a continued triumph. They reached Siena on the second of December. The Duke of Urbino and the lords of Pesaro and Bologna laid down their arms at their approach. The Orsini opened their castles: Virginio, the captain-general of the Aragonese army and grand constable of the kingdom of Naples, hastened to win for himself favorable terms from the French sovereign. The Baglioni betook themselves to their own rancors in Perugia. The Duke of Calabria retreated. Italy seemed bent on proving that cowardice and selfishness and incapacity had conquered her. Viterbo was gained: the Ciminian heights were traversed: the Campagna, bounded by the Alban and the Sabine hills, with Rome, a bluish cloud upon the lowlands of the Tiber, spread its solemn breadth of beauty at the invader's feet. Not a blow had been struck, when he reached the Porta del Popolo upon the 31st of December 1494. At three o'clock in the afternoon began the entry of the French army. It was nine at night before the last soldiers, under the flaring light of torches and flambeaux, defiled through the gates, and took their quarters in the streets of the Eternal City. The gigantic barbarians of the cantons, flaunting with plumes and emblazoned surcoats, the chivalry of France, splendid with silk mantles and gilded corselets, the Scotch guard in their wild costume of kilt and philibeg, the scythe-like halberds of the German lanz-knechts, the tangled elf-locks of stern-featured Bretons, stamped an ineffaceable impression on the people of the South. On this memorable occasion, as in a show upon some holiday, marched past before them specimens and vanguards of all those legioned races which were soon to be too well at home in every fair Italian dwelling-place. Nothing was wanting to complete the symbol of the coming doom but a representative of the grim, black, wiry infantry of Spain.

[1] The want of money determined all Charles's operations in this expedition. Borrowing from Lodovico, laying requisitions on Piero and the Florentines, pawning the jewels of the Savoy princesses, he passed from place to place, bargaining and contracting debts instead of dictating laws and founding constitutions. La carestia dei danari is a phrase continually recurring in Guicciardini. Speaking of the jewels lent to Charles by the royal families of Savoy and Montferrat at Turin, de Comines exclaims: 'Et pouvez voir quel commencement de guerre c'estoit, si Dieu n'eut guide l'oeuvre.'

The Borgia meanwhile crouched within the Castle of S. Angelo. How would the Conqueror, now styled Flagellum Dei, deal with the abomination of desolation seated in the holy place of Christendom? At the side of Charles were the Cardinals Ascanio Sforza and Giuliano della Rovere, urging him to summon a council and depose the Pope. But still closer to his ear was Briconnet, the ci-devant tradesman, who thought it would become his dignity to wear a cardinal's hat. On this trifle turned the destinies of Rome, the doom of Alexander, the fate of the Church. Charles determined to compromise matters. He demanded a few fortresses, a red hat for Briconnet, Cesare Borgia as a hostage for four months, and Djem, the brother of the Sultan.[1] After these agreements had been made and ratified, Alexander ventured to leave his castle and receive the homage of the faithful.

Charles staid* a month in Rome, and then set out for Naples. The fourth and last scene in the Italian pageant was now to be displayed. After the rich plain and proud cities of Lombardy, beneath their rampart of perpetual snow; after the olive gardens and fair towns of Tuscany; after the great name of Rome; Naples, at length, between Vesuvius and the sea, that first station of the Greeks in Italy, world-famed for its legends of the Sibyl and the sirens and the sorcerer Virgil, received her king. The very names of Parthenope, Posilippo, Inarime, Sorrento, Capri, have their fascination. There too the orange and lemon groves are more luxuriant; the grapes yield sweeter and more intoxicating wine; the villagers are more classically graceful; the volcanic soil is more fertile; the waves are bluer and the sun is brighter than elsewhere in the land. None of the conquerors of Italy have had the force to resist the allurements of the bay of Naples. The Greeks lost their native energy upon these shores and realized in the history of their colonies the myth of Ulysses' comrades in the gardens of Circe. Hannibal was tamed by Capua. The Romans in their turn dreamed away their vigor at Baiae, at Pompeii at Capreae, until the whole region became a byword for voluptuous living. Here the Saracens were subdued to mildness, and became physicians instead of pirates. Lombards and Normans alike were softened down, and lost their barbarous fierceness amid the enchantments of the southern sorceress.

[1] See above, p. 416, for the history of this unfortunate prince. When Alexander ceded Djem, whom he held as a captive for the Sultan at a yearly revenue of 40,000 ducats, he was under engagements with Bajazet to murder him. Accordingly Djem died of slow poison soon after he became the guest of Charles. The Borgia preferred to keep faith with the Turk.

Naples was now destined to ruin for Charles whatever nerve yet remained to his festival army. The witch too, while brewing for the French her most attractive potions, mixed with them a deadly poison—the virus of a fell disease, memorable in the annals of the modern world, which was destined to infect the nations of Europe from this center, and to prove more formidable to our cities than even the leprosy of the Middle Ages.[1]

[1] Those who are curious to trace the history of the origin of syphilis, should study the article upon the subject in Von Hirsch, Historisch-geographische Pathologie (Erlangen, 1860), and in Rosenbaum Geschichte der Lustseuche im Alterthum (Halle, 1845). Some curious contemporary observations concerning the rapid diffusion of the disease in Italy, its symptoms, and its cure, are contained in Matarazzo's Cronaca di Perugia (Arch. Stor. It. vol. xvi. part ii. pp. 32-36), and in Portovenere (Arch. St. vol. vi. pt. ii. p. 338). The celebrated poem of Fracastorius deserves to be read both for its fine Latinity and for its information. One of the earliest works issued from the Aldine press in 1497 was the Libellus de Epidemia quam vulgo morbum Gallicum vocant. It was written by Nicolas Leoniceno, and dedicated to the Count Francesco de la Mirandola.

The kingdom of Naples, through the frequent uncertainty which attended the succession to the throne, as well as the suzerainty assumed and misused by the Popes, had been for centuries a standing cause of discord in Italy. The dynasty which Charles now hoped to dispossess was Spanish. After the death of Joanna II. in 1435, Alfonso, King of Aragon and Sicily, who had no claim to the crown beyond what he derived through a bastard branch of the old Norman dynasty, conquered Naples, expelled Count Rene of Anjou, and established himself in this new kingdom, which he preferred to those he had inherited by right. Alfonso, surnamed the Magnanimous, was one of the most brilliant and romantic personages of the fifteenth century. Historians are never weary of relating his victories over Caldora and Francesco Sforza, the coup-de-main by which he expelled his rival Rene, and the fascination which he exercised in Milan, while a captive, over the jealous spirit of Filippo Maria Visconti.[1] Scholars are no less profuse in their praises of his virtues, the justice, humanity, religion, generosity, and culture which rendered him pre-eminent among the princes of that splendid period.[2] His love of learning was a passion. Whether at home in the retirement of his palace, or in his tent during war, he was always attended by students, who read aloud and commented on Livy, Seneca, or the Bible. No prince was more profuse in his presents to learned men. Bartolommeo Fazio received 500 ducats a year for the composition of his histories, and when, at their conclusion, the scholar asked for a further gift of 200 or 300 florins, the prince bestowed upon him 1,500. The year he died, Alfonso distributed 20,000 ducats to men of letters alone. This immoderate liberality is the only vice of which he is accused. It bore its usual fruits in the disorganization of finance.

[1] Mach. Ist. Fior. lib. v. cap. 5. Corio, pp. 332, 333, may be consulted upon the difficulties which Alfonso overcame at the commencement of his conquest. Defeated by the Genoese near the Isle of Ponza, and carried a prisoner to Milan, he succeeded in proving to Filippo Visconti that it was more to his interest to have him king of Naples than to keep the French there. Upon, this the Duke of Milan restored him with honor to his throne, and confirmed him in the conquest which before he had successfully opposed. It is a singular instance of the extent to which Italian princes were controlled by policy and reason.

[2] Vespasiano's Life of Alfonso (Vite di Uomini Illustri, pp. 48-72) is a model of agreeable composition and vivid delineation. It is written of course from the scholar's more than the politician's point of view. Compare with it Giovio, Elogia, and Pontanus, de Liberalitate.

The generous humanity of Alfonso endeared him greatly to the Neapolitans. During the half-century in which so many Italian princes succumbed to the dagger of their subjects, he, in Naples, where, according to Pontano, 'nothing was cheaper than the life of a man,' walked up and down unarmed and unattended. 'Why should a father fear among his children?' he was wont to say in answer to suggestions of the danger of this want of caution. The many splendid qualities by which he was distinguished were enhanced rather than obscured by the romance of his private life. Married to Margaret of Castile, he had no legitimate children; Ferdinand, with whom he shared the government of Naples in 1443, and whom he designated as his successor in 1458, was supposed to be his son by Margaret de Hijar. It was even whispered that this Ferdinand was the child of Catherine the wife of Alfonso's brother Henry, whom Margaret, to save the honor of the king, acknowledged as her own. Whatever may have been the truth of this dark history, it was known for certain that the queen had murdered her rival, the unhappy Margaret de Hijar, and that Alfonso never forgave her or would look upon her from that day. Pontano, who was Ferdinand's secretary, told a different tale. He affirmed that the real father of the Duke of Calabria was a Marrano of Valentia. This last story is rendered probable by the brusque contrast between the character of Alfonso and that of Ferdinand.

It would be terrible to think that such a father could have been the parent of such a son. In Ferdinand the instinct of liberal culture degenerated into vulgar magnificence; courtesy and confidence gave place to cold suspicion and brutal cruelty. His ferocity bordered upon madness. He used to keep the victims of his hatred in cages, where their misery afforded him the same delight as some men derived from watching the antics of monkeys.[1] In his hunting establishment were repeated the worst atrocities of Bernabo Visconti: wretches mutilated for neglect of his hounds extended their handless stumps for charity to the travelers through his villages.[2] Instead of the generosity for which Alfonso had been famous, Ferdinand developed all the arts of avarice. Like Sixtus IV. he made the sale of corn and oil a royal monopoly, trafficking in the hunger of his subjects.[3] Like Alexander VI. he fattened his viziers and secretaries upon the profits of extortion which he shared with them, and when they were fully gorged he cut their throats and proclaimed himself the heir through their attainder.[4] Alfonso had been famous for his candor and sincerity. Ferdinand was a demon of dissimulation and treachery. His murder of his guest Jacopo Piccinino at the end of a festival, which extended over twenty-seven days of varied entertainments, won him the applause of Machiavellian spirits throughout Italy. It realized the ideal of treason conceived as a fine art. Not less perfect as a specimen of diabolical cunning was the vengeance which Ferdinand, counseled by his son Alfonso, inflicted on the barons who conspired against him.[5] Alfonso was a son worthy of his terrible father. The only difference between them was that Ferdinand dissembled, while Alfonso, whose bravery at Otranto against the Turks had surrounded him with military glory, abandoned himself with cynicism to his passions. Sketching characters of both in the same paragraph, de Comines writes: 'Never was man more cruel than Alfonso, nor more vicious, nor more wicked, nor more poisonous, nor more gluttonous. His father was more dangerous, because he could conceal his mind and even his anger from sight; in the midst of festivity he would take and slaughter his victims by treachery. Grace or mercy was never found in him, nor yet compassion for his poor people. Both of them laid forcible hands on women. In matters of the Church they observed nor reverence nor obedience. They sold bishoprics, like that of Tarento, which Ferdinand disposed of for 13,000 ducats to a Jew in favor of his son whom he called a Christian.'

[1] See Pontanus, de Immanitate, Aldus, 1518, vol. 1. p. 318: 'Ferdinandus Rex Neapolitanorum praeclaros etiam viros conclusos carcere etiam bene atque abunde pascebat, eandem ex iis voluptatem capiens quam pueri e conclusis in cavea aviculis: qua de re saepenumero sibi ipsi inter intimos suos diu multumque gratulatus subblanditusque in risum tandem ac cachinnos profundebatur.'

[2] See Pontanus, de Immanitate, Aldus; 1518, vol. i. p. 320: 'Ferd. R.N. qui cervum aprumve occidissent furtimve palamve, alios remo addixit, alios manibus mutilavit, alios suspendio affecit: agros quoque serendos inderdixit dominis, legendasque aut glandes aut poma, quae servari quidem volebat in escam feris ad venationis suae usum.'

[3] Caracciolo, de Varietate Fortunae, Muratori, vol. xxii. p. 87, exposes this system in a passage which should be compared with Infessura on the practices of Sixtus. De Comines, lib. vii. cap. 11, may be read with profit on the same subject.

[4] See Caracciolo, loc. cit. pp. 88, 89, concerning the judicial murder of Francesco Coppola and Antonello Perucci, both of whom had been raised to eminence by Ferdinand, used through their lives as the instruments of his extortion, and murdered by him in their rich old age.

[5] See De Comines, lib. vii. cap. 11; Sismondi, vol. vii. p. 229. Read also the short account of the massacre of the Barons given in the Chronicon Venetum, Muratori, xxiv. p. 15, where the intense loathing felt throughout Italy for Ferdinand and his son Alfonso is powerfully expressed.

This kind of tyranny carried in itself its own death-warrant. It needed not the voice of Savonarola to proclaim that God would revenge the crimes of Ferdinand by placing a new sovereign on his throne. It was commonly believed that the old king died in 1494 of remorse and apprehension, when he knew that the French expedition could no longer be delayed. Alfonso, for his part, bold general in the field and able man of affairs as he might be, found no courage to resist the conqueror. It is no fiction of a poet or a moralist, but plain fact of history, that this King of Naples, grandson of the great Alfonso and father of the Ferdinand to be, quailed before the myriads of accusing dead that rose to haunt his tortured fancy in the supreme hour of peril. The chambers of his palace in Naples were thronged with ghosts by battalions, pale specters of the thousands he had reduced to starvation, bloody phantoms of the barons he had murdered after nameless tortures, thin wraiths of those who had wasted away in dungeons under his remorseless rule. The people around his gates muttered in rebellion. He abdicated in favor of his son, took ship for Sicily, and died there conscience-stricken in a convent ere the year was out.

Ferdinand, a brave youth, beloved by the nation in spite of his father's and grandfather's tyranny, reigned in his stead. Yet even for him the situation was untenable. Everywhere he was beset by traitors—by his whole army at San Germano, by Trivulzi at Capua, by the German guide at Naples. Without soldiers, without allies, with nothing to rely upon but the untried goodwill of subjects who had just reason to execrate his race, and with the conquerors of Italy advancing daily through his states, retreat alone was left to him. After abandoning his castles to pillage, burning the ships in the harbor of Naples, and setting Don Federigo together with the Queen dowager and the princess Joanna upon a quick-sailing galley, Ferdinand bade farewell to his kingdom. Historians relate that as the shore receded from his view he kept intoning in a loud voice this verse of the 127th Psalm: 'Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.' Between the beach of Naples and the rocky shore of Ischia, for which the exiles were bound, there is only the distance of some seventeen miles. It was in February, a month of mild and melancholy sunshine in those southern regions, when the whole bay of Naples with its belt of distant hills is wont to take one tint of modulated azure, that the royal fugitives performed this voyage. Over the sleeping sea they glided; while from the galley's stern the king with a voice as sad as Boabdil's when he sat down to weep for Granada, cried: 'Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.'

There was no want of courage in the youth. By his simple presence he had intimidated a mob of rebels in Naples. By the firmness of his carriage he subdued the insolent governor of Ischia, and made himself master of the island. There he waited till the storm was overpast. Ten times more a man than Charles, he watched the French king depart from Naples leaving scarcely a rack behind—some troops decimated by disease and unnerved by debauchery, and a general or two without energy or vigor. Then he returned and entered on a career of greater popularity than could have been enjoyed by him if the French had never made the fickle race of Naples feel how far more odious is a foreign than a familiar yoke.[1]

Charles entered Naples as a conqueror or liberator on February 22, 1495. He was welcomed and feted by the Neapolitans, than whom no people are more childishly delighted with a change of masters. He enjoyed his usual sports, and indulged in his usual love-affairs. With suicidal insolence and want of policy he alienated the sympathies of the noble families by dividing the titles, offices, and fiefs of the kingdom among his retinue.[2] Without receiving so much as a provisional investiture from the Pope, he satisfied his vanity by parading on May 12 as sovereign, with a ball in one hand and a scepter in the other, through the city. Then he was forced to return upon his path and to seek France with the precipitancy he had shown in gaining Naples. Alexander, who was witty, said the French had conquered Italy with lumps of chalk and wooden spurs, because they rode unarmed in slippers and sent couriers before them to select their quarters. It remained to be seen that the achievements of this conquest could be effaced as easily as a chalk mark is rubbed out, or a pair of wooden spurs are broken.

[1] The misfortunes and the bravery of this young prince inspire a deep feeling of interest. It is sad to read that after recovering his kingdom in 1496, he died in his twenty-eighth year, worn out with fatigue and with the pleasures of his marriage to his aunt Joanna, whom he loved too passionately. His uncle Frederick, the brother of Alfonso II., succeeded to the throne. Thus in three years Naples had five Sovereigns.

[2] 'Tous estats et offices furent donnez aux Francois, a deux ou trois,' says De Comines.

While Charles was amusing himself at Naples, a storm was gathering in his rear. A league against him had been formed in April by the great powers of Europe. Venice, alarmed for the independence of Italy, and urged by the Sultan, who had reason to dread Charles VIII.,[1] headed the league. Lodovico, now that he had attained his selfish object in the quiet position of Milan, was anxious for his safety. The Pope still feared a general council. Maximilian, who could not forget the slight put upon him in the matter of his daughter and his bride, was willing to co-operate against his rival. Ferdinand and Isabella, having secured themselves in Roussillon, thought it behooved them to re-establish Spaniards of their kith and kin in Naples. Each of the contracting parties had his role assigned to him. Spain undertook to aid Ferdinand of Aragon in Calabria. Venice was to attack the seaports of the kingdom; Lodovico Sforza, to occupy Asti; the King of the Romans, to make a diversion in the North. Florence alone, though deeply injured by Charles in the matter of Pisa, kept faith with the French.

[1] Charles, by an act dated A.D. 1494, September 6, had bought the title of Emperor of Constantinople and Trebizond from Andrew Palaeologus (see Gibbon, vol. viii. p. 183, ed. Milman). When he took Djem from Alexander in Rome, his object was to make use of him in a war against Bajazet; and the Pope was always impressing on the Turk the peril of a Frankish crusade.

The danger was imminent. Already Ferdinand the Catholic had disembarked troops on the shore of Sicily, and was ready to throw an army into the ports of Reggio and Tropea. Alexander had refused to carry out his treaty by the surrender of Spoleto. Cesare Borgia had escaped from the French camp. The Lombards were menacing Asti, which the Duke of Orleans held, and without the possession of which there was no safe return to France. Asti indeed at this juncture would have fallen, and Charles would have been caught in a trap, if the Venetians had only been quick or wary enough to engage German mercenaries.[1] The danger of the situation may best be judged by reading the Memoirs of De Comines, who was then ambassador at Venice. 'The league was concluded very late one evening. The next morning the Signory sent for me earlier than usual. They were assembled in great numbers, perhaps a hundred or more, and held their heads high, made a good cheer, and had not the same countenance as on the day when they told me of the capture of the citadel of Naples.[2] My heart was heavy, and I had grave doubts about the person of the king and about all his company; and I thought their scheme more ripe than it really was, and feared they might have Germans ready; and if it had been so, never could the king have got safe out of Italy.' Nevertheless De Comines put a brave face on the matter, and told the council that he had already received information of the league and had sent dispatches to his master on the subject.[3] 'After dinner,' continues De Comines, 'all the ambassadors of the league met for an excursion on the water, which is the chief recreation at Venice, where every one goes according to the retinue he keeps, or at the expense of the Signory. There may have been as many as forty gondolas, all bearing displayed the arms of their masters upon banners. I saw the whole of this company pass before my windows, and there were many minstrels on board. Those of Milan, one at least of them who had often kept my company, put on a brave face not to know me; and for three days I remained without going forth into the town, nor my people, nor was there all that time a single courteous word said to me or to any of my suite.'

[1] See De Comines, lib. vii. cap. 15, pp. 78, 79.

[2] De Comines' account of the alarm felt at Venice on that occasion is very graphic: 'They sent for me one morning, and I found them to the number of fifty or sixty in the Doge's bedchamber, for he was ill of colic; and there he told me the news with a good countenance. But none of the company knew so well how to feign as he. Some were seated on a wooden bench, leaning their heads on their hands, and others otherwise; and all showed great heaviness at heart. I think that when the news reached Rome of the battle of Cannae, the senators were not more confounded or frightened.'

[3] Bembo, in his Venetian History (lib. ii. p. 32), tells a different tale. He represents De Comines quite unnerved by the news.

Returning northward by the same route, Charles passed Rome and reached Siena on June 13. The Pope had taken refuge, first at Orvieto, and afterwards at Perugia, on his approach; but he made no concessions. Charles could not obtain from him an investiture of the kingdom he pretended to have conquered, while he had himself to surrender the fortresses of Civita Vecchia and Terracina. Ostia alone remained in the clutch of Alexander's implacable enemy, the Cardinal della Rovere. In Tuscany the Pisan question was again opened. The French army desired to see the liberties of Pisa established on a solid basis before they quitted Italy. On their way to Naples the misfortunes of that ancient city had touched them: now on their return they were clamorous that Charles should guarantee its freedom. But to secure this object was an affair of difficulty. The forces of the league had already taken the field, and the Duke of Orleans was being besieged in Novara. The Florentines, jealous of the favor shown, in manifest infringement of their rights, to citizens whom they regarded as rebellious bondsmen, assumed an attitude of menace. Charles could only reply with vague promises to the solicitations of the Pisans, strengthen the French garrisons in their fortresses, and march forward as quickly as possible into the Apennines. The key of the pass by which he sought to regain Lombardy is the town of Pontremoli. Leaving that in ashes on June 29, the French army, distressed for provisions and in peril among those melancholy hills, pushed onward with all speed. They knew that the allied forces, commanded by the Marquis of Mantua, were waiting for them at the other side upon the Taro, near the village of Fornovo. Here, if anywhere, the French ought to have been crushed. They numbered about 9,000 men in all, while the allies were close upon 40,000. The French were weary with long marches, insufficient food, and bad lodgings. The Italians were fresh and well cared for. Yet in spite of all this, in spite of blind generalship and total blundering, Charles continued to play his part of fortune's favorite to the end. A bloody battle, which lasted for an hour, took place upon the banks of the Taro.[1] The Italians suffered so severely that, though they still far outnumbered the French, no persuasions could make them rally and renew the fight. Charles in his own person ran great peril during this battle; and when it was over, he had still to effect his retreat upon Asti in the teeth of a formidable army. The good luck of the French and the dilatory cowardice of their opponents saved them now again for the last time.

[1] The action at Fornovo lasted a quarter of an hour, according to De Comines. The pursuit of the Italians occupied about three quarters of an hour more. Unaccustomed to the quick tactics of the French, the Italians, when once broken, persisted in retreating upon Reggio and Parma. The Gonzaghi alone distinguished themselves for obstinate courage, and lost four or five members of their princely house. The Stradiots, whose scimitars ought to have dealt rudely with the heavy French men-at-arms, employed their time in pillaging the Royal pavilion, very wisely abandoned to their avarice by the French captains. To such an extent were military affairs misconstrued in Italy, that, on the strength of this brigandage, the Venetians claimed Fornovo for a victory. See my essay 'Fornovo,' in Sketches and Studies in Italy, for a description of the ground on which the battle was fought.

On July 15, Charles at the head of his little force marched into Asti and was practically safe. Here the young king continued to give signal proofs of his weakness. Though he knew that the Duke of Orleans was hard pressed in Novara, he made no effort to relieve him; nor did he attempt to use the 20,000 Switzers who descended from their Alps to aid him in the struggle with the league. From Asti he removed to Turin, where he spent his time in flirting with Anna Soleri, the daughter of his host. This girl had been sent to harangue him with a set oration, and had fulfilled her task, in the words of an old witness, 'without wavering, coughing, spitting, or giving way at all.' Her charms delayed the king in Italy until October 19, when he signed a treaty at Vercelli with the Duke of Milan. At this moment Charles might have held Italy in his grasp. His forces, strengthened by the unexpected arrival of so many Switzers, and by a junction with the Duke of Orleans, would have been sufficient to overwhelm the army of the league, and to intimidate the faction of Ferdinand in Naples. Yet so light-minded was Charles, and so impatient were his courtiers, that he now only cared for a quick return to France. Reserving to himself the nominal right of using Genoa as a naval station, he resigned that town to Lodovico Sforza, and confirmed him in the tranquil possession of his Duchy. On October 22 he left Turin, and entered his own dominions through the Alps of Dauphine. Already his famous conquest of Italy was reckoned among the wonders of the past, and his sovereignty over Naples had become the shadow of a name. He had obtained for himself nothing but momentary glory, while he imposed on France a perilous foreign policy, and on Italy the burden of bloody warfare in the future.

A little more than a year had elapsed between the first entry of Charles into Lombardy and his return to France. Like many other brilliant episodes of history, this conquest, so showy and so ephemeral, was more important as a sign than as an actual event. 'His passage,' says Guicciardini, 'was the cause not only of change in states, downfalls of kingdoms, desolations of whole districts, destructions of cities, barbarous butcheries; but also of new customs, new modes of conduct, new and bloody habits of war, diseases hitherto unknown. The organization upon which the peace and harmony of Italy depended was so upset that, since that time, other foreign nations and barbarous armies have been able to trample her under foot and to ravage her at pleasure.' The only error of Guicciardini is the assumption that the holiday excursion of Charles VIII. was in any deep sense the cause of these calamities.[1] In truth the French invasion opened a new era for the Italians, but only in the same sense as a pageant may form the prelude to a tragedy. Every monarch of Europe, dazzled by the splendid display of Charles and forgetful of its insignificant results, began to look with greedy eyes upon the wealth of the peninsula. The Swiss found in those rich provinces an inexhaustible field for depredation. The Germans, under the pretense of religious zeal, gave a loose rein to their animal appetites in the metropolis of Christendom. France and Spain engaged in a duel to the death for the possession of so fair a prey. The French, maddened by mere cupidity, threw away those chances which the goodwill of the race at large afforded them.[2] Louis XII. lost himself in petty intrigues, by which he finally weakened his own cause to the profit of the Borgias and Austria. Francis I. foamed his force away like a spent wave at Marignano and Pavia. The real conqueror of Italy was Charles V. Italy in the sixteenth century was destined to receive the impress of the Spanish spirit, and to bear the yoke of Austrian dukes. Hand in hand with political despotism marched religious tyranny. The Counter-Reformation over which the Inquisition presided, was part and parcel of the Spanish policy for the enslavement of the nation no less than for the restoration of the Church. Meanwhile the weakness, discord, egotism, and corruption which prevented the Italians from resisting the French invasion in 1494, continued to increase. Instead of being lessoned by experience, Popes, Princes, and Republics vied with each other in calling in the strangers, pitting Spaniard against Frenchman, and paying the Germans to expel the Swiss, oblivious that each new army of foreigners they summoned was in reality a new swarm of devouring locusts. In the midst of this anarchy it is laughable to hear the shrill voice of priests, like Julius and Leo, proclaiming before God their vows to rid Italy of the barbarians. The confusion was tenfold confounded when the old factions of Guelf and Ghibelline put on a new garb of French and Spanish partisanship. Town fought with town and family with family, in the cause of strangers whom they ought to have resisted with one will and steady hatred. The fascination of fear and the love of novelty alike swayed the fickle population of Italian cities. The foreign soldiers who inflicted on the nation such cruel injuries made a grand show in their streets, and there will always be a mob so childish as to covet pageants at the expense of freedom and even of safety.

[1] Guicciardini's Dialogo del Reggimento di Firenze (Op. Ined. vol. ii. p. 94) sets forth the state of internal anarchy and external violence which followed the departure of Charles VIII., with wonderful acuteness. 'Se per sorte l' uno Oltramontano caccera l' altro, Italia restera in estrema servitu,' is an exact prophecy of what happened before the end of the sixteenth century, when Spain had beaten France in the duel for Italy.

[2] Matarazzo, in his Cronaca della Citta di Perugia (Arch. St., vol. xvi. part 2, p. 23), gives a lively picture of the eagerness with which the French were greeted in 1495, and of the wanton brutality by which they soon alienated the people. In this he agrees almost textually with De Comines, who writes: 'Le peuple nous advouoit comme Saincts, estimans en nous toute foy et bonte; mais ce propos ne leur dura gueres, tant pour nostre desordre et pillerie, et qu'aussi les ennemis oppreschoient le peuple en tous quartiers,' etc., lib. vii. cap. 6. In the first paragraph of the Chronicon Venetum (Muratori, vol. xxlv. p. 5), we read concerning the advent of Charles: 'I popoli tutti dicevano Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini. Ne v'era alcuno che li potesse contrastare, ne resistere, tanto era da tutti i popoli Italiani chiamato.' The Florentines, as burghers of a Guelf city, were always loyal to the French. Besides, their commerce with France (e.g. the wealth of Filippo Strozzi) made it to their interest to favor the cause of the French. See Guicc. i. 2, p. 62. This loyalty rose to enthusiasm under the influence of Savonarola, survived the stupidities of Charles VIII. and Louis XII., and committed the Florentines in 1328 to the perilous policy of expecting aid from Francis I.

In spite of its transitory character the invasion of Charles VIII., therefore, was a great fact in the history of the Renaissance. It was, to use the pregnant phrase of Michelet, no less than the revelation of Italy to the nations of the North. Like a gale sweeping across a forest of trees in blossom, and bearing their fertilizing pollen, after it has broken and deflowered their branches, to far-distant trees that hitherto have bloomed in barrenness, the storm of Charles's army carried far and wide through Europe thought-dust, imperceptible, but potent to enrich the nations. The French alone, says Michelet, understood Italy. How terrible would have been a conquest by Turks with their barbarism, of Spaniards with their Inquisition, of Germans with their brutality! But France, impressible, sympathetic, ardent for pleasure, generous, amiable and vain, was capable of comprehending the Italian spirit. From the Italians the French communicated to the rest of Europe what we call the movement of the Renaissance. There is some truth in this panegyric of Michelet's. The passage of the army of Charles VIII. marks a turning-point in modern history, and from this epoch dates the diffusion of a spirit of culture over Europe. But Michelet forgets to notice that the French never rightly understood their vocation with regard to Italy. They had it in their power to foster that free spirit which might have made her a nation capable, in concert with France, of resisting Charles V. Instead of doing so, they pursued the pettiest policy of avarice and egotism. Nor did they prevent that Spanish conquest the horrors of which their historian has so eloquently described. Again, we must remember that it was the Spaniards and not the French who saved Italy from being barbarized by the Turk.

For the historian of Italy it is sad and humiliating to have to acknowledge that her fate depended wholly on the action of more powerful nations, that she lay inert and helpless at the discretion of the conqueror in the duels between Spain and France and Spain and Islam. Yet this is the truth. It would seem that those peoples to whom we chiefly owe advance in art and knowledge, are often thus the captives of their intellectual inferiors. Their spiritual ascendency is purchased at the expense of political solidity and national prosperity. This was the case with Greece, with Judah, and with Italy. The civilization of the Italians, far in advance of that of other European nations, unnerved them in the conflict with robust barbarian races. Letters and the arts and the civilities of life were their glory. 'Indolent princes and most despicable arms' were their ruin. Whether the Renaissance of the modern world would not have been yet more brilliant if Italy had remained free, who shall say? The very conditions which produced her culture seem to have rendered that impossible.



Blood-madness. See Chapter iii, p. 109.

One of the most striking instances afforded by history of Haematomania in a tyrant is Ibrahim ibn Ahmed, prince of Africa and Sicily (A.D. 875). This man, besides displaying peculiar ferocity in his treatment of enemies and prisoners of war, delighted in the execution of horrible butcheries within the walls of his own palace. His astrologers having once predicted that he should die by the hands of a 'small assassin,' he killed off the whole retinue of his pages, and filled up their places with a suit of negroes whom he proceeded to treat after the same fashion. On another occasion, when one of his three hundred eunuchs had by chance been witness of the tyrant's drunkenness, Ibrahim slaughtered the whole band. Again, he is said to have put an end to sixty youths, originally selected for his pleasures, burning them by gangs of five or six in the furnace, or suffocating them in the hot chambers of his baths. Eight of his brothers were murdered in his presence; and when one, who was so diseased that he could scarcely stir, implored to be allowed to end his days in peace, Ibrahim answered: 'I make no exceptions.' His own son Abul-Aghlab was beheaded by his orders before his eyes; and the execution of chamberlains, secretaries, ministers, and courtiers was of common occurrence. But his fiercest fury was directed against women. He seems to have been darkly jealous of the perpetuation of the human race. Wives and concubines were strangled, sawn asunder, and buried alive, if they showed signs of pregnancy. His female children were murdered as soon as they saw the light; sixteen of them, whom his mother managed to conceal and rear at her own peril, were massacred upon the spot when Ibrahim discovered whom they claimed as father. Contemporary Arab chroniclers, pondering upon the fierce and gloomy passions of this man, arrived at the conclusion that he was the subject of a strange disease, a portentous secretion of black bile producing the melancholy which impelled him to atrocious crimes. Nor does the principle on which this diagnosis of his case was founded appear unreasonable. Ibrahim was a great general, an able ruler, a man of firm and steady purpose; not a weak and ineffectual libertine whom lust for blood and lechery had placed below the level of brute beasts. When the time for his abdication arrived, he threw aside his mantle of state and donned the mean garb of an Arab devotee, preached a crusade, and led an army into Italy, where he died of dysentery before the city of Cosenza. The only way of explaining his eccentric thirst for slaughter is to suppose that it was a dark monomania, a form of psychopathy analogous to that which we find in the Marechal de Retz and the Marquise de Brinvilliers. One of the most marked symptoms of this disease was the curiosity which led him to explore the entrails of his victims, and to feast his eyes upon their quivering hearts. After causing his first minister Ibn-Semsama to be beaten to death, he cut his body open, and with his own knife sliced the brave man's heart. On another occasion he had 500 prisoners brought before him. Seizing a sharp lance he first explored the region of the ribs, and then plunged the spear-point into the heart of each victim in succession. A garland of these hearts was made and hung up on the gate of Tunis. The Arabs regarded the heart as the seat of thought in man, the throne of the will, the center of intellectual existence. In this preoccupation with the hearts of his victims we may therefore trace the jealousy of human life which Ibrahim displayed in his murder of pregnant women, as well as a tyrant's fury against the organ which had sustained his foes in their resistance. We can only comprehend the combination of sanguinary lust with Ibrahim's vigorous conduct of civil and military affairs, on the hypothesis that this man-tiger, as Amari, to whom I owe these details, calls him, was possessed with a specific madness.


Nardi, Istorie di Firenze, lib. i. cap. 4. See Chap. iv. p. 195.

After the freedom regained by the expulsion of the Duke of Athens and the humbling of the nobles, regularity for the future in the government might have been expected, since a very great equality among the burghers had been established in consequence of those troubles. The city too had been divided into quarters, and the supreme magistracy of the republic assigned to the eight priors, called Signori Priori di liberta, together with the Gonfalonier of Justice. The eight priors were chosen, two for each quarter; the Gonfalonier, their chief, differed in no respect from his colleagues save in precedence of dignity; and as the fourth part of the honors pertained to the members of the lesser arts, their turn kept coming round to that quarter to which the Gonfalonier belonged. This magistracy remained for two whole months, always living and sleeping in the Palace; in order that, according to the notion of our ancestors, they might be able to attend with greater diligence to the affairs of the commonwealth, in concert with their colleagues, who were the sixteen gonfaloniers of the companies of the people, and the twelve buoni uomini, or special advisers of the Signory. These magistrates collectively in one body were called the College, or else the Signory and the Colleagues. After this magistracy came the Senate; the number of which varied, and the name of which was altered several times up to the year 1494, according to circumstances. The larger councils, whose business it was to discuss and make the laws and all provisions both general and particular, were until that date two; the one called the Council of the people, formed only by the cittadini popolani, and the other the Council of the Commune, because it embraced both nobles and plebeians from the-date of the formation of these councils.[1] The appointment of the magistrates, which of old times and under the best and most equitable governments was made on the occasion of each election, in this more modern period was consigned to a special council called Squittino.[2] The mode and act of the election was termed Squittinare, which is equivalent to Scrutinium in the Latin tongue, because minute investigation was made into the qualities of the eligible burghers. This method, however, tended greatly to corrupt the good manners of the city, inasmuch as, the said scrutiny being made every three or five years, and not on each occasion, as would have been right, considering the present quality of the burghers and the badness of the times, those who had once obtained their nomination and been put into the purses thereto appointed, being certain to arrive some time at the honors and offices for which they were designed, became careless and negligent of good customs in their lives. The proper function of the Gonfaloniers was, in concert with their Gonfalons and companies, to defend with arms the city from perils foreign and civil, when occasion rose, and to control the fire-guards specially deputed by that magistracy in four convenient stations. All the laws and provisions, as well private as public, proposed by the Signory, had to be approved and carried by that College, then by the Senate, and lastly by the Councils named above. Notwithstanding this rule, everything of high importance pertaining to the state was discussed and carried into execution during the whole time that the Medici administered the city by the Council vulgarly called Balia, composed of men devoted to that government. While the Medici held sway, the magistracy of the Dieci della Guerra or of Liberty and Peace were superseded by the Otto della Pratica in the conduct of all that concerned wars, truces, and treaties of peace, in obedience to the will of the chief agents of that government. The Otto di guardia e balia were then as now delegated to criminal business, but they were appointed by the fore-named Council of Balia, or rather such authority and commission was assigned them by the Signory, and this usage was afterwards continued on their entry into office. Let this suffice upon these matters. Now the burghers who have the right of discussing and determining the affairs of the republic were and still are called privileged, beneficiati or statuali, of that quality and condition to which, according to the laws of our city, the government belongs; in other words they are eligible for office, as distinguished from those who have not this privilege. Consequently the benefiziati and statuali of Florence correspond to the gentiluomini of Venice. Of these burghers there were about 400 families or houses, but at different times the number was larger, and before the plague of 1527 they made up a total of about 4,000 citizens eligible for the Consiglio Grande. During the period of freedom between 1494 and 1512 the other or nonprivileged citizens could be elevated to this rank of enfranchisement according as they were judged worthy by the Council: at the present time they gain the same distinction by such merits as may be pleasing to the ruler of the city for the time being: our commonwealth from the year 1433 having been governed according to the will of its own citizens, though one faction has from time to time prevailed over another, and though before that date the republic was distressed and shaken by the divisions which affected the whole of Italy, and by many others which are rather to be reckoned as sedition peculiar and natural to free cities. Seeing that men by good and evil arts in combination are always striving to attain the summit of human affairs, together also with the favor of fortune, who ever insists on having her part in our actions.

[1] Lorenzo de' Medici superseded these two councils by the Council of the Seventy, without, however, suppressing them.

[2] A corruption of Scrutinio.

Varchi: Storia Fiorentina, lib. iii. caps. 20, 21, 22.

The whole city of Florence is divided into four quarters, the first of which takes in the whole of that part which is now called Beyond the Arno, and the chief church of the district gives it the name of Santo Spirito. The other three, which embrace all that is called This side the Arno, also take their names from their chief churches, and are the Quarters of Sta. Croce, Sta. Maria Novella, and San Giovanni. Each of these four quarters is divided into four gonfalons, named after the different animals or other things they carry painted on their ensigns. The quarter of Santo Spirito includes the gonfalons of the Ladder, the Shell, the Whip, and the Dragon; that of Santa Croce, the Car, the Ox, the Golden Lion, and the Wheels; that of Santa Maria Novella, the Viper, the Unicorn, the Red Lion, and the White Lion; that of San Giovanni, the Black Lion, the Dragon, the Keys, and the Vair. Now all the households and families of Florence are included and classified under these four quarters and sixteen gonfalons, so that there is no burgher of Florence who does not rank in one of the four quarters and one of the sixteen gonfalons. Each gonfalon had its standard-bearer, who carried the standard like captains of bands; and their chief office was to run with arms whenever they were called by the Gonfalonier of Justice, and to defend, each under his own ensign, the palace of the Signory, and to fight for the people's liberty; wherefore they were called Gonfaloniers of the companies of the people, or, more briefly, from their number, the Sixteen. Now since they never assembled by themselves alone, seeing that they could not propose or carry any measure without the Signory, they were also called the Colleagues, that is, the companions of the Signory, and their title was venerable. This, after the Signory, was the first and most honorable magistracy of Florence; and after them came the Twelve Buonuomini, also called, for the like reason, Colleagues. So the Signory with the Gonfalonier of Justice, the Sixteen, and the Twelve were called the Three Greater. No man was said to have the franchise (aver lo stato), and in consequence to frequent the council, or to exercise any office, whose grandfather or father had not occupied or been passed for (seduto o veduto) one of these three magistracies. To be passed (veduto) Gonfalonier or Colleague meant this: when a man's name was drawn from the purse of the Gonfaloniers or of the College to exercise the office of Gonfalonier or Colleague, but by reason of being below the legal age, or for some other cause, he never sat himself upon the Board or was in fact Gonfalonier or Colleague, he was then said to have been passed; and this held good of all the other magistracies of the city.

It should also be known that all the Florentine burghers were obliged to rank in one of the twenty-one arts: that is, no one could be a burgher of Florence unless he or his ancestors had been approved and matriculated in one of these arts, whether they practiced it or no. Without the proof of such matriculation he could not be drawn for any office, or exercise any magistracy, or even have his name put into the bags. The arts were these: i. Judges and Notaries (for the doctors of the law were styled of old in Florence Judges); Merchants, or the Arts of; ii. Calimala,[1] iii. Exchange, iv. Wool; Porta Santa Maria, or the Arts of; v. Silk; vi. Physicians and Apothecaries; vii. Furriers. The others were viii. Butchers, ix. Shoemakers, x. Blacksmiths, xi. Linen-drapers and Clothesmen, xii. Masters, or Masons, and Stone-cutters, xiii. Vintners, xiv. Innkeepers, xv. Oilsellers, Pork-butchers, and Rope-makers, xvi. Hosiers, xvii. Armorers, xviii. Locksmiths, xix. Saddlers, xx. Carpenters, xxi. Bakers. The last fourteen were called Lesser Arts; whoever was enrolled or matriculated into one of these was said to rank with the lesser (andare per la minore); and though there were in Florence many other trades than these, yet having no guild of their own they were associated to one or other of those that I have named. Each art had, as may still be seen, a house or mansion, large and noble, where they assembled, appointed officers, and gave account of debit and credit to all the members of the guild.[2] In processions and other public assemblies the heads (for so the chiefs of the several arts were called) had their place and precedence in order. Moreover, these arts at first had each an ensign for the defense, on occasion, of liberty with arms. Their origin was when the people in 1282 overcame the nobles (Grandi), and passed the Ordinances of Justice against them, whereby no nobleman could exercise any magistracy; so that such of the patricians as desired to be able to hold office had to enter the ranks of the people, as did many great houses of quality, and matriculate into one of the arts. Which thing, while it partly allayed the civil strife of Florence, almost wholly extinguished all noble feeling in the souls of the Florentines; and the power and haughtiness of the city were no less abated than the insolence and pride of the nobles, who since then have never lifted up their heads again. These arts, the greater as well as the lesser, have varied in numbers at different times; and often have not only been rivals, but even foes, among themselves; so much so that the lesser arts once got it passed that the Gonfalonier should be appointed only from their body. Yet after long dispute it was finally settled that the Gonfalonier could not be chosen from the lesser, but that he should always rank with the greater, and that in all other offices and magistracies, the lesser should always have a fourth and no more. Consequently, of the eight Priors, two were always of the lesser; of the Twelve, three; of the Sixteen, four; and so on through all the magistracies.

[1] The name Calimala was given to a trade in cloth carried on at Florence by merchants who bought rough goods in France, Flanders, and England, and manufactured them into more delicate materials.

[2] Marco Foscari, quoted lower down, estimates the property the Arts at 200,000 ducats.

As a consequence from what has been said, it is easy to perceive that all the inhabitants of Florence (by inhabitants I mean those only who are really settled there, for of strangers, who are passing or sojourning a while, we need not here take any account) are of two sorts. The one class are liable to taxation in Florence, that is, they pay tithes of their goods and are inscribed upon the books of the Commune, and these are called contributors. The others are not taxed nor inscribed upon the registers of the Commune, inasmuch as they do not pay the tithes or other ordinary imposts; and these are called non-contributors: who, seeing that they live by their hands, and carry on mechanical arts and the vilest trades, should be called plebeians; and though they have ruled Florence more than once, ought not even to entertain a thought about public affairs in a well-governed state. The contributors are of two sorts: for some, while they pay the taxes, do not enjoy the citizenship (i.e. cannot attend the council or take any office); either because none of their ancestors, and in particular their father or their grandfather, has sat or been passed for any of the three greater magistracies; or else because they have not had themselves submitted to the scrutiny,[1] or, if they have advanced so far, have not been approved and nominated for office. These are indeed entitled citizens: but he who knows what a citizen is really, knows also that, being unable to share either the honors or the advantages of the city, they are not truly citizens; therefore let us call them burghers, without franchise. Those again who pay taxes and enjoy the citizenship (whom we will therefore call enfranchised burghers) are in like manner of two kinds. The one class, inscribed and matriculated into one of the seven first arts, are said to rank with the greater; whence we may call them Burghers of the Greater: the others, inscribed and matriculated into the fourteen lesser arts, are said to rank with the lesser; whence we may call them Burghers of the Lesser. This distinction had the Romans, but not for the same reason.

Varchi: Storia Fiorentina, lib. ix. chs. 48, 49, 46.

As for natural abilities, I for my part cannot believe that any one either could or ought to doubt that the Florentines, even if they do not excel all other nations, are at least inferior to none in those things to which they give their minds. In trade, whereon of a truth their city is founded, and wherein their industry is chiefly exercised, they ever have been and still are reckoned not less trusty and true than great and prudent: but besides trade, it is clear that the three most noble arts of painting, sculpture, and architecture have reached that degree of supreme excellence in which we find them now, chiefly by the toil and by the skill of the Florentines, who have beautified and adorned not only their own city but also very many others, with great glory and no small profit to themselves and to their country. And, seeing that the fear of being held a flatterer should not prevent me from testifying to the truth, though this will turn to the highest fame and honor of my lords and patrons, I say that all Italy, nay the whole world, owes it solely to the judgment and the generosity of the Medici that Greek letters were not extinguished to the great injury of the human race, and that Latin literature was restored to the incalculable profit of all men.

[1] For an explanation of Squittino and Squittinare, see Nardi, p. 593 above.

I am wholly of opinion opposed to that of some, who, because the Florentines are merchants, hold them for neither noble nor high-spirited, but for tame and low.[1] On the contrary, I have often wondered with myself how it could be that men who have been used from their childhood upwards for a paltry profit to carry bales of wool and baskets of silk like porters, and to stand like slaves all day and great part of the night at the loom, could summon, when and where was need, such greatness of soul, such high and haughty thoughts, that they have wit and heart to say and do those many noble things we know of them. Pondering on the causes of which, I find none truer than this, that the Florentine climate, between the fine air of Arezzo and the thick air of Pisa, infuses into their breasts the temperament of which I spoke. And whoso shall well consider the nature and the ways of the Florentines, will find them born more apt to rule than to obey. Nor would it be easily believed how much was gained for the youth of Florence by the institution of the militia; for whereas many of the young men, heedless of the commonwealth and careless of themselves, used to spend all the day in idleness, hanging about places of public resort, girding at one another, or talking scandal of the passers by, they immediately, like beasts by some benevolent Circe transformed again to men, gave all their heart and soul, regardless of peril or loss, to gaining fame and honor for themselves, and liberty and safety for their country. I do not by what I have been saying mean to deny that among the Florentines may be found men proud, ambitious, and greedy of gain; for vices will exist as long as human nature lasts: nay, rather, the ungrateful, the envious, the malicious, and the evil-minded among them are so in the highest degree, just as the virtuous are supremely virtuous. It is indeed a common proverb that Florentine brains have no mean either way; the fools are exceeding simple, and the wise exceeding prudent.

[1] Compare, however, Varchi, quoted above, p. 243. The Report of Marco Foscari, Relazioni Venete, series ii, vol. i. p. 9 et seq., contains a remarkable estimate of the Florentine character. He attributes the timidity and weakness which he observes in the Florentines to their mercantile habits, and notices, precisely what Varchi here observes with admiration: 'li primi che governano lo stato vanno alle loro botteghe di seta, e gittati li lembi del mantello sopra le spalle, pongonsi alia caviglia e lavorano pubblicamente che ognuno li vede; ed i figliuoli loro stanno in bottega con li grembiuli dinanzi, e portano il sacco e le sporte alle maestre con la seta e fanno gli altri esercizi di bottega.' A strong aristocratic prejudice transpires in every line. This report was written early in 1527. The events of the Siege must have surprised Marco Foscari. He notices among other things, as a source of weakness, the country villas which were all within a few months destroyed by their armies for the public good.

Their mode of life is simple and frugal, but wonderfully and incredibly clean and neat; and it may be said with truth that the artisans and handicraftsmen live at Florence even better than the citizens themselves: for whereas the former change from tavern to tavern, according as they find good wine, and only think of joyous living; the latter in their homes, with the frugality of merchants, who for the most part make but do not spend money, or with the moderation of orderly burghers, never exceed mediocrity. Nevertheless there are not wanting families, who keep a splendid table and live like nobles, such as the Antinori, the Bartolini, the Tornabuoni, the Pazzi, the Borgherini, the Gaddi, the Rucellai, and among the Salviati, Piero d'Alamanno and Alamanno d'Jacopo, and some others. At Florence every one is called by his proper name or his surname; and the common usage, unless there be some marked distinction of rank or age, is to say thou and not you; only to knights, doctors, and prebendaries is the title of messere allowed; to doctors that of maestro, to monks don, and to friars padre. True, however, is it that since there was a Court at Florence, first that of Giulio, the Cardinal de' Medici, then that of the Cardinal of Cortona, which enjoyed more license than the former, the manners of the city have become more refined—or shall I say more corrupt?


The Character of Alexander VI., from Guicciardini's Story, Fiorentina, cap. 27. See Chap. vii. p. 412 above.

So died Pope Alexander, at the height of glory and prosperity; about whom it must be known that he was a man of the utmost power and of great judgment and spirit, as his actions and behavior showed. But as his first accession to the Papacy was foul and shameful, seeing he had bought with gold so high a station, in like manner his government disagreed not with this base foundation. There were in him, and in full measure, all vices both of flesh and spirit; nor could there be imagined in the ordering of the Church a rule so bad but that he put it into working. He was most sensual toward both sexes, keeping publicly women and boys, but more especially toward women; and so far did he exceed all measure that public opinion judged he knew Madonna Lucrezia, his own daughter, toward whom he bore a most tender and boundless love. He was exceedingly avaricious, not in keeping what he had acquired, but in getting new wealth: and where he saw a way toward drawing money, he had no respect whatever; in his days were sold as at auction all benefices, dispensations, pardons, bishoprics, cardinalships, and all court dignities: unto which matters he had appointed two or three men privy to his thought, exceeding prudent, who let them out to the highest bidder. He caused the death by poison of many cardinals and prelates, even be rich in benefices and understood to have hoarded much, with the view of seizing on their wealth. His cruelty was great, seeing that by his direction many were put to violent death; nor was the ingratitude less with which he caused the ruin of the Sforzeschi and Colonnesi, by whose favor he acquired the Papacy. There was in him no religion, no keeping of his troth: he promised all things liberally, but stood to nought but what was useful to himself: no care for justice, since in his days Rome was like a den of thieves and murderers: his ambition was boundless, and such that it grew in the same measure as his state increased: nevertheless, his sins meeting with no due punishment in this world, he was to the last of his days most prosperous. While young and still almost a boy, having Calixtus for his uncle, he was made Cardinal and then Vice-Chancellor: in which high place he continued till his papacy, with great revenue, good fame, and peace. Having become Pope, he made Cesare, his bastard son and bishop of Pampeluna, a Cardinal, against the ordinances and decrees of the Church, which forbid the making of a bastard Cardinal even with the Pope's dispensation, wherefore he brought proof by false witnesses that he was born in wedlock. Afterwards he made him a layman and took away the Cardinal's dignity from him, and turned his mind to making a realm; wherein he fared far better than he purposed, and beginning with Rome, after undoing the Orsini, Colonnesi, Savelli, and those barons who were wont to be held in fear by former Popes, he was more full master of Rome than ever had been any Pope before. With greatest ease he got the lordships of Romagna, the March, and the Duchy; and having made a most fair and powerful state, the Florentines held him in much fear, the Venetians in jealousy, and the King of France in esteem. Then having got together a fine army, he showed how great was the might of a Pontiff when he hath a valiant general and one in whom he can place faith. At last he grew to that point that he was counted the balance in the war of France and Spain. In one word he was more evil and more lucky than ever for many ages peradventure had been any pope before.


Religious Revivals in Mediaeval Italy. See Chap. viii. p. 491 above.

It would be unscientific to confound events of such European importance as the foundation of the orders of S. Francis and S. Dominic with the phenomena in question. Still it may be remarked, that the sudden rise and the extraordinary ascendency of the mendicants and preachers were due in a great measure to the sensitive and lively imagination of the Italians. The Popes of the first half of the thirteenth century were shrewd enough to discern the political and ecclesiastical importance of movements which seemed at first to owe their force to mere fanatical revivalism. They calculated on the intensely excitable temperament of the Italian nation, and employed the Franciscans and Dominicans as their militia in the crusade against the Empire and the heretics. Again, it is necessary to distinguish what was essentially national from what was common to all Europeans in the Middle Ages. Every country had its wandering hordes of flagellants and penitents, its crusaders and its pilgrims. The vast unsettled populations of mediaeval Europe, haunted with the recurrent instinct of migration, and nightmare-ridden by imperious religious yearnings, poured flood after flood of fanatics upon the shores of Palestine. Half-naked savages roamed, dancing and groaning and scourging their flesh, from city to city, under the stress of semi-bestial impulses. Then came the period of organized pilgrimages. The celebrated shrines of Europe—Rome, Compostella, Monte Gargano, Canterbury—acted like lightning-conductors to the tempestuous devotion of the mediaeval races, like setons to their over-charged imagination. In all these universal movements the Italians had their share: being more advanced in civilization than the Northern peoples, they turned the crusades to commercial count, and maintained some moderation in the fakir fury of their piety. It is not, therefore, with the general history of religious enthusiasm in the Middle Ages that we have to do, but rather with those intermittent manifestations of revivalism which were peculiar to the Italians. The chief points to be noticed are the political influence acquired by monks in some of the Italian cities, the preaching of peace and moral reformation, the panics or superstitious terror which seized upon wide districts, and the personal ascendency of hermits unaccredited by the Church, but believed by the people to be divinely inspired.

One of the most picturesque figures of the first half of the thirteenth century is the Dominican monk, John of Vicenza. His order, which had recently been founded, was already engaged in the work of persecution. France was reeking with the slaughter of the Albigenses, and the stakes were smoking in the town of Milan, when this friar undertook the noble task of pacifying Lombardy. Every town in the north of Italy was at that period torn by the factions of the Guelfs and Ghibellines; private feuds crossed and intermingled with political discords; and the savage tyranny of Ezzelino had shaken the fabric of society to its foundations. It seemed utterly impossible to bring this people for a moment to agreement. Yet what popes and princes had failed to achieve, the voice of a single friar accomplished. John of Vicenza began his preaching in Bologna during the year 1233. The citizens and the country folk of the surrounding districts flocked to hear him. It was noticed with especial wonder that soldiers of all descriptions yielded to the magic of his eloquence. The themes of his discourse were invariably reconciliation and forgiveness of injuries. The heads of rival houses, who had prosecuted hereditary feuds for generations, met before his pulpit, and swore to live thenceforth in amity. Even the magistrates entreated him to examine the statutes of their city, and to point out any alterations by which the peace of the commonwealth might be assured. Having done his best for Bologna, John journeyed to Padua, where the fame of his sanctity had been already spread abroad. The carroccio of the city, on which the standard of Padua floated, and which had led the burghers to many a bloody battle, was sent out to meet him at Monselice, and he entered the gates in triumph. In Padua the same exhortations to peace produced the same results. Old enmities were abandoned, and hands were clasped which had often been raised in fierce fraternal conflict. Treviso, Feltre, Beliuno, Conegliano, and Romano, the very nests of the grim brood of Ezzelino, yielded to the charm. Verona, where the Scalas were about to reign, Vicenza, Mantua, and Brescia, all placed themselves at the disposition of the monk, and prayed him to reform their constitution. But it was not enough to restore peace to each separate community, to reconcile household with household, and to efface the miseries of civil discord. John of Vicenza aimed at consolidating the Lombard cities in one common bond. For this purpose he bade the burghers of all the towns where he had preached to meet him on the plain of Paquara, in the country of Verona. The 28th of August was the day fixed for this great national assembly. More than four hundred thousand persons, according to the computation of Parisio di Cereta, appeared upon the scene. This multitude included the populations of Verona, Mantua, Brescia, Padua, and Vicenza, marshaled under their several standards, together with contingents furnished by Ferrara, Modena, Reggio, Parma, and Bologna. Nor was the assembly confined to the common folk. The bishops of these flourishing cities, the haughty Marquis of Este, the fierce lord of Romano, and the Patriarch of Aquileia, obeyed the invitation of the friar. There, on the banks of the Adige, and within sight of the Alps, John of Vicenza ascended a pulpit that had been prepared for him, and preached a sermon on the text, Pacem meam do vobis, pacem relinquo vobis. The horrors of war, and the Christian duty of reconciliation, formed the subject of his sermon, at the end of which he constrained the Lombards to ratify a solemn league of amity, vowing to eternal perdition all who should venture to break the same, and imprecating curses on their crops, their vines, their cattle, and everything they had. Furthermore, he induced the Marquis of Este to take in marriage a daughter of Alberico da Romano. Up to this moment John of Vicenza had made a noble use of the strange power which he possessed. But his success seems to have turned his head. Instead of confining himself to the work of pacification so well begun, he now demanded to be made lord of Vicenza, with the titles of Duke and Count, and to receive the supreme authority in Verona. The people, believing him to be a saint, readily acceded to his wishes; but one of the first things he did, after altering the statutes of these burghs, was to burn sixty citizens of Verona, whom he had himself condemned as heretics. The Paduans revolted against his tyranny. Obliged to have recourse to arms, he was beaten and put in prison; and when he was released, at the intercession of the Pope, he found his wonderful prestige annihilated.[1]

[1] The most interesting accounts of Fra Giovanni da Vicenza are to be found in Muratori, vol. viii., in the Annals of Rolandini and Gerardus Maurisius.

The position of Fra Jacopo del Bussolaro in Pavia differed from that of Fra Giovanni da Vicenza in Verona. Yet the commencement of his political authority was very nearly the same. The son of a poor boxmaker of Pavia, he early took the habit of the Augustines, and acquired a reputation for sanctity by leading the austere life of a hermit. It happened in the year 1356 that he was commissioned by the superiors of his order to preach the Lenten sermons to the people of Pavia. 'Then,' to quote Matteo Villani, 'it pleased God that this monk should make his sermons so agreeable to every species of people, that the fame of them and the devotion they inspired increased marvelously. And he, seeing the concourse of the people, and the faith they bare him, began to denounce vice, and specially usury, revenge, and ill-behavior of women; and thereupon he began to speak against the disorderly lordship of the tyrants; and in a short time he brought the women to modest manners, and the men to renunciation of usury and feuds.' The only citizens of Pavia who resisted his eloquence were the Beccaria family, who at that time ruled Pavia like despots. His most animated denunciations were directed against their extortions and excesses. Therefore they sought to slay him. But the people gave him a bodyguard, and at last he wrought so powerfully with the burghers that they expelled the house of Beccaria and established a republican government. At this time the Visconti were laying siege to Pavia: the passes of the Ticino and the Po were occupied by Milanese troops, and the city was reduced to a state of blockade. Fra Jacopo assembled the able-bodied burghers, animated them by his eloquence, and led them to the attack of their besiegers. They broke through the lines of the beleaguering camp, and re-established the freedom of Pavia. What remained, however, of the Beccaria party passed over to the enemy, and threw the whole weight of their influence into the scale of the Visconti: so that at the end of a three years' manful conflict, Pavia was delivered to Galeazzo Visconti in 1359. Fra Jacopo made the best terms that he could for the city, and took no pains to secure his own safety. He was consigned by the conquerors to the superiors of his order, and died in the dungeons of a convent at Vercelli. In his case, the sanctity of an austere life, and the eloquence of an authoritative preacher of repentance, had been strictly subordinated to political aims in the interests of republican liberty. Fra Jacopo deserves to rank with Savonarola: like Savonarola, he fell a victim to the selfish and immoral oppressors of his country. As in the case of Savonarola, we can trace the connection which subsisted in Italy between a high standard of morality and patriotic heroism.[1]

[1] The best authorities for the life and actions of Fra Jacopo are Matteo Villani, bks. 8 and 9, and Peter Azarius, in his Chronicle (Groevius, vol. ix.).

San Bernardino da Massa heads a long list of preachers, who, without taking a prominent part in contemporary politics, devoted all their energies to the moral regeneration of the people. His life, written by Vespasiano da Bisticci, is one of the most valuable documents which we possess for the religious history of Italy in the first half of the fifteenth century. His parents, who were people of good condition, sent him at an early age to study the Canon law at Siena. They designed him for a lucrative and important office in the Church. But, while yet a youth, he was seized with a profound conviction of the degradation of his countrymen. The sense of sin so weighed upon him that he sold all his substance, entered the order of S. Francis, and began to preach against the vices which were flagrant in the great Italian cities. After traveling through the length and breadth of the peninsula, and winning all men by the magic of his eloquence, he came to Florence. 'There,' says Vespasiano, 'the Florentines being by nature very well disposed indeed to truth, he so dealt that he changed the whole State and gave it, one may say, a second birth. And in order to abolish the false hair which the women wore, and games of chance, and other vanities, he caused a sort of large stall to be raised in the Piazza di Santa Croce, and bade every one who possessed any of these vanities to place them there; and so they did; and he set fire thereto and burned the whole.' S. Bernardino preached unremittingly for forty-two years in every quarter of Italy, and died at last worn out with fatigue and sickness. 'Of many enmities and deaths of men he wrought peace and removed deadly hatreds; and numberless princes, who harbored feuds to the death, he reconciled, and restored tranquillity to many cities and peoples.' A vivid picture of the method adopted by S. Bernardino in his dealings with these cities is presented to us by Graziani, the chronicler of Perugia: 'On September 23, 1425, a Sunday, there were, as far as we could reckon, upwards of 3,000 persons in the Cathedral. His sermon was from the Sacred Scripture, reproving men of every vice and sin, and teaching Christian living. Then he began to rebuke the women for their paints and cosmetics, and false hair, and such like wanton customs; and in like manner the men for their cards and dice-boards and masks and amulets and charms: insomuch that within a fortnight the women sent all their false hair and gewgaws to the Convent of S. Francis, and the men their dice, cards, and such gear, to the amount of many loads. And on October 29 Fra Bernardino collected all these devilish things on the piazza, where he erected a kind of wooden castle between the fountain and the Bishop's palace; and in this he put all the said articles, and set fire to them; and the fire was so great that none durst go near; and in the fire were burned things of the greatest value, and so great was the haste of men and women to escape that fire that many would have perished but for the quick aid of the burghers.' Together with this onslaught upon vanities, Fra Bernardino connected the preaching of peace and amity. It is noticeable that while his sermon lasted and the great bell of S. Lorenzo went on tolling, no man could be taken or imprisoned in the city of Perugia.[1]

[1] See Vespasiano, Vite di Uomini Illustri, pp. 185-92. Graziani, Archivio Storico, vol. xvi. part i. pp. 313, 314.

The same city was the scene of many similar displays. During the fifteenth century it remained in a state of the most miserable internal discord, owing to the feuds of its noble families. Graziani gives an account of the preaching there of Fra Jacopo della Marca, in 1445: on this occasion a temporary truce was patched up between old enemies, a witch was burned for the edification of the burghers, the people were reproved for their extravagance in dress, and two peacemakers (pacieri) were appointed for each gate. On March 22, after undergoing this discipline, the whole of Perugia seemed to have repented of its sins; but the first entry for April 15 is the murder of one of the Ranieri family by another of the same house. So transitory were the effects of such revivals.[1] Another entry in Graziani's Chronicle deserves to be noticed. He describes how, in 1448, Fra Roberto da Lecce (like S. Bernardino and Fra Jacopo della Marca, a Franciscan of the Order of Observance) came to preach in January. He was only twenty-two years of age; but his fame was so great that he drew about 15,000 persons into the piazza to listen to him. The stone pulpit, we may say in passing, is still shown, from which these sermons were delivered. It is built into the wall of the Cathedral, and commands the whole square. Roberto da Lecce began by exhibiting a crucifix, which moved the audience to tears; 'and the weeping and crying, Jesu misericordia! lasted about half an hour. Then he made four citizens be chosen for each gate as peacemakers.' What follows in Graziani is an account of a theatrical show, exhibited upon the steps of the Cathedral. On Good Friday the friar assembled all the citizens, and preached; and when the moment came for the elevation of the crucifix, 'there issued forth from San Lorenzo Eliseo di Christoforo, a barber of the quarter of Sant Angelo, like a naked Christ with the cross on his shoulder, and the crown of thorns upon his head, and his flesh seemed to be bruised as when Christ was scourged.' The people were immensely moved by this sight. They groaned and cried out, 'Misericordia!' and many monks were made upon the spot. At last, on April 7, Fra Roberto took his leave of the Perugians, crying as he went, 'La pace sia con voi!'[2] We have a glimpse of the same Fra Roberto da Lecce at Rome, in the year 1482. The feuds of the noble families della Croce and della Valle were then raging in the streets of Rome. On the night of April 3 they fought a pitched battle in the neighborhood of the Pantheon, the factions of Orsini and Colonna joining in the fray. Many of the combatants were left dead before the palaces of the Vallensi; the numbers of the wounded were variously estimated; and all Rome seemed to be upon the verge of civil war. Roberto da Lecce, who was drawing large congregations, not only of the common folk, but also of the Roman prelates, to his sermons at Santa Maria sopra Minerva, interrupted his discourse upon the following Friday, and held before the people the image of their crucified Saviour, entreating them to make peace. As he pleaded with them, he wept; and they too fell to weeping—fierce satellites of the rival factions and worldly prelates lifting up their voice in concert with the friar who had touched their hearts.[3] Another member of the Franciscan Order of Observance should be mentioned after Fra Roberto. This was Fra Giovanni da Capistrano, of whose preaching at Brescia in 1451 we have received a minute account. He brought with him a great reputation for sanctity and eloquence, and for the miraculous cures which he had wrought. The Rectors of the city, together with 300 of the most distinguished burghers upon horseback, and a crowd of well-born ladies on foot, went out to meet him on February 9. Arrangements were made for the entertainment of himself and 100 followers, at public cost. Next morning, three hours before dawn, there were already assembled upwards of 10,000 people on the piazza, waiting for the preacher. 'Think, therefore,' says the Chronicle, 'how many there must have been in the daytime! and mark this, that they came less to hear his sermon than to see him.' As he made his way through the throng, his frock was almost torn to pieces on his back, everybody struggling to get a fragment.[4]

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