Renaissance in Italy, Volume 1 (of 7)
by John Addington Symonds
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There remains the sixth and last class of despots to be mentioned. This again is large and of the first importance. Citizens of eminence, like the Medici at Florence, the Bentivogli at Bologna, the Baglioni of Perugia, the Vitelli of Citta di Castello, the Gambacorti of Pisa, like Pandolfo Petrucci in Siena (1502), Romeo Pepoli, the usurer of Bologna (1323), the plebeian, Alticlinio, and Agolanti of Padua (1313), Giovanni Vignate, the millionaire of Lodi (1402), acquired more than their due weight in the conduct of affairs, and gradually tended to tyranny. In most of these cases great wealth was the original source of despotic ascendency. It was not uncommon to buy cities together with their Signory. Thus the Rossi bought Parma for 35,000 florins in 1333; the Appiani sold Pisa; Astorre Manfredi sold Faenza and Imola in 1377. In 1444 Galeazzo Malatesta sold Pesaro to Alessandro Sforza, and Fossombrone to Urbino; in 1461 Cervia was sold to Venice by the same family. Franceschetto Cibo purchased the County of Anguillara. Towns at last came to have their market value. It was known that Bologna was worth 200,000 florins, Parma 60,000, Arezzo 40,000 Lucca 30,000, and so forth. But personal qualities and nobility of blood might also produce despots of the sixth class. Thus the Bentivogli claimed descent from a bastard of King Enzo, son of Frederick II., who was for a long time an honorable prisoner in Bologna. The Baglioni, after a protracted struggle with the rival family of Oddi, owed their supremacy to ability and vigor in the last years of the fifteenth century. But the neighborhood of the Papal power, and their own internal dissensions, rendered the hold of this family upon Perugia precarious. As in the case of the Medici and the Bentivogli, many generations might elapse before such burgher families assumed dynastic authority. But to this end they were always advancing.

The history of the bourgeois despots proves that Italy in the fifteenth century was undergoing a natural process of determination toward tyranny. Sismondi may attempt to demonstrate that Italy was 'not answerable for the crimes with which she was sullied by her tyrants.' But the facts show that she was answerable for choosing despots instead of remaining free, or rather that she instinctively obeyed a law of social evolution by which princes had to be substituted for municipalities at the end of those fierce internal conflicts and exhausting wars of jealousy which closed the Middle Ages. Machiavelli, with all his love of liberty, is forced to admit that in his day the most powerful provinces of Italy had become incapable of freedom. 'No accident, however weighty and violent, could ever restore Milan or Naples to liberty, owing to their utter corruption. This is clear from the fact that after the death of Filippo Visconti, when Milan tried to regain freedom, she was unable to preserve it.'[1] Whether Machiavelli is right in referring this incapacity for self-government to the corruption of morals and religion may be questioned. But it is certain that throughout the states of Italy, with the one exception of Venice, causes were at work inimical to republics and favorable to despotisms.

[1] Discorsi, i. 17. The Florentine philosopher remarks in the same passage, 'Cities, once corrupt, and accustomed to the rule of a prince, can never acquire their freedom even though the prince with all his kith and kin be extirpated. One prince is needed to extinguish another; and the city has no rest except by the creation of a new lord, unless one burgher by his goodness and his great qualities may chance to preserve its independence during his lifetime.'

It will be observed in this classification of Italian tyrants that the tenure of their power was almost uniformly forcible. They generally acquired it through the people in the first instance, and maintained it by the exercise of violence. Rank had nothing to do with their claims. The bastards of Popes, who like Sixtus IV. had no pedigree, merchants like the Medici, the son of a peasant like Francesco Sforza, a rich usurer like Pepoli, had almost equal chances with nobles of the ancient houses of Este, Visconti, or Malatesta. The chief point in favor of the latter was the familiarity which through long years of authority had accustomed the people to their rule. When exiled, they had a better chance of return to power than parvenus, whose party-cry and ensigns were comparatively fresh and stirred no sentiment of loyalty—if indeed the word loyalty can be applied to that preference for the established and the customary which made the mob, distracted by the wrangling of doctrinaires and intriguers, welcome back a Bentivoglio or a Malatesta. Despotism in Italy as in ancient Greece was democratic. It recruited its ranks from all classes and erected its thrones upon the sovereignty of the peoples it oppressed. The impulse to the free play of ambitious individuality which this state of things communicated was enormous. Capacity might raise the meanest monk to the chair of S. Peter's, the meanest soldier to the duchy of Milan. Audacity, vigor, unscrupulous crime were the chief requisites for success. It was not till Cesare Borgia displayed his magnificence at the French Court, till the Italian adventurer matched himself with royalty in its legitimate splendor, that the lowness of his origin and the frivolity of his pretensions appeared in any glaring light.[1] In Italy itself, where there existed no time-honored hierarchy of classes and no fountain of nobility in the person of a sovereign, one man was a match for another, provided he knew how to assert himself. To the conditions of a society based on these principles we may ascribe the unrivaled emergence of great personalities among the tyrants, as well as the extraordinary tenacity and vigor of such races as the Visconti. In the contest for power, and in the maintenance of an illegal authority, the picked athletes came to the front. The struggle by which they established their tyranny, the efforts by which they defended it against foreign foes and domestic adversaries, trained them to endurance and to daring. They lived habitually in an atmosphere of peril which taxed all their energies. Their activity was extreme, and their passions corresponded to their vehement vitality. About such men there could be nothing on a small or mediocre scale. When a weakling was born in a despotic family, his brothers murdered him, or he was deposed by a watchful rival. Thus only gladiators of tried capacity and iron nerve, superior to religious and moral scruples, dead to national affection, perfected in perfidy, scientific in the use of cruelty and terror, employing first-rate faculties of brain and will and bodily powers in the service of transcendent egotism, only the virtuosi of political craft as theorized by Machiavelli, could survive and hold their own upon this perilous arena.

[1] Brantome Capitaines Etrangers, Discours 48, gives an account of the entrance of the Borgia into Chinon in 1498, and adds: 'The king being at the window saw him arrive, and there can be no doubt how he and his courtiers ridiculed all this state, as unbecoming the petty Duke of Valentinois.'

The life of the despot was usually one of prolonged terror. Immured in strong places on high rocks, or confined to gloomy fortresses like the Milanese Castello, he surrounded his person with foreign troops, protected his bedchamber with a picked guard, and watched his meat and drink lest they should be poisoned. His chief associates were artists, men of letters, astrologers, buffoons, and exiles. He had no real friends or equals, and against his own family he adopted an attitude of fierce suspicion, justified by the frequent intrigues to which he was exposed.[1] His timidity verged on monomania. Like Alfonso II. of Naples, he was tortured with the ghosts of starved or strangled victims; like Ezzelino, he felt the mysterious fascination of astrology; like Filippo Maria Visconti, he trembled at the sound of thunder, and set one band of body-guards to watch another next his person. He dared not hope for a quiet end. No one believed in the natural death of a prince: princes must be poisoned or poignarded.[2] Out of thirteen of the Carrara family, in little more than a century (1318-1435), three were deposed or murdered by near relatives, one was expelled by a rival from his state, four were executed by the Venetians. Out of five of the La Scala family, three were killed by their brothers, and a fourth was poisoned in exile.

[1] See what Guicciardini in his History of Florence says about the suspicious temper of even such a tyrant as the cultivated and philosophical Lorenzo de' Medici. See too the incomparably eloquent and penetrating allegory of Sospetto, and its application to the tyrants of Italy in Ariosto's Cinque Canti (C. 2. St. 1-9).

[2] Our dramatist Webster, whose genius was fascinated by the crimes of Italian despotism, makes the Duke of Bracciano exclaim on his death-bed:—

'O thou soft natural Death, thou art joint-twin To sweetest Slumber! no rough-bearded comet Stares on thy mild departure; the dull owl Beats not against thy casement; the hoarse wolf Scents not thy carrion: pity winds thy corse, Whilst horror waits on princes.'

Instances of domestic crime might be multiplied by the hundred. Besides those which will follow in these pages, it is enough to notice the murder of Giovanni Francesco Pico, by his nephew, at Mirandola (1533); the murder of his uncle by Oliverotto da Fermo; the assassination of Giovanni Varano by his brothers at Camerino (1434); Ostasio da Polenta's fratricide (1322); Obizzo da Polenta's fratricide in the next generation, and the murder of Ugolino Gonzaga by his brothers; Gian Francesco Gonzaga's murder of his wife; the poisoning of Francesco Sforza's first wife, Polissena, Countess of Montalto, with her little girl, by her aunt; and the murder of Galeotto Manfredi, by his wife, at Faenza (1488).

To enumerate all the catastrophes of reigning families, occurring in the fifteenth century alone, would be quite impossible within the limits of this chapter. Yet it is only by dwelling on the more important that any adequate notion of the perils of Italian despotism can be formed. Thus Girolamo Riario was murdered by his subjects at Forli (1488), and Francesco Vico dei Prefetti in the Church of S. Sisto at Viterbo[1] (1387). At Lodi in 1402 Antonio Fisiraga burned the chief members of the ruling house of Vistarini on the public square, and died himself of poison after a few months. His successor in the tyranny, Giovanni Vignate, was imprisoned by Filippo Maria Visconti in a wooden cage at Pavia, and beat his brains out in despair against its bars. At the same epoch Gabrino Fondulo slaughtered seventy of the Cavalcabo family together in his castle of Macastormo, with the purpose of acquiring their tyranny over Cremona. He was afterwards beheaded as a traitor at Milan (1425). Ottobon Terzi was assassinated at Parma (1408), Nicola Borghese at Siena (1499). Altobello Dattiri at Todi (about 1500), Raimondo and Pandolfo Malatesta at Rimini, and Oddo Antonio di Montefeltro at Urbino (1444).[2] The Varani were massacred to a man in the Church of S. Dominic at Camerino (1434), the Trinci at Foligno (1434), and the Chiavelli of Fabriano in church upon Ascension Day (1435). This wholesale extirpation of three reigning families introduces one of the most romantic episodes in the history of Italian despotism. From the slaughter of the Varani one only child, Giulio Cesare, a boy of two years old, was saved by his aunt Tora. She concealed him in a truss of hay and carried him to the Trinci at Foligno. Hardly had she gained this refuge, when the Trinci were destroyed, and she had to fly with her burden to the Chiavelli at Fabriano. There the same scenes of bloodshed awaited her. A third time she took to flight, and now concealed her precious charge in a nunnery. The boy was afterwards stolen from the town on horseback by a soldier of adventure. After surviving three massacres of kith and kin, he returned as despot at the age of twelve to Camerino, and became a general of distinction. But he was not destined to end his life in peace. Cesare Borgia finally murdered him, together with three of his sons, when he had reached the age of sixty. Less romantic but not less significant in the annals of tyranny is the story of the Trinci. A rival noble of Foligno, Pietro Rasiglia, had been injured in his honor by the chief of the ruling house. He contrived to assassinate two brothers, Nicola and Bartolommeo, in his castle of Nocera; but the third, Corrado Trinci, escaped, and took a fearful vengeance on his enemy. By the help of Braccio da Montone he possessed himself of Nocera and all its inhabitants, with the exception of Pietro Rasiglia's wife, whom her husband flung from the battlements. Corrado then butchered the men, women, and children of the Rasiglia clan, to the number of three hundred persons, accomplishing his vengeance with details of atrocity too infernal to be dwelt on in these pages. It is recorded that thirty-six asses laden with their mangled limbs paraded the streets of Foligno as a terror-striking spectacle for the inhabitants. He then ruled the city by violence, until the warlike Cardinal dei Vitelleschi avenged society of so much mischief by destroying the tyrant and five of his sons, in the same year. Equally fantastic are the annals of the great house of the Baglioni at Perugia. Raised in 1389 upon the ruins of the bourgeois faction called Raspanti, they founded their tyranny in the person of Pandolfo Baglioni, who was murdered together with sixty of his clan and followers by the party they had dispossessed. The new despot, Biordo Michelotti, was stabbed in the shoulders with a poisoned dagger by his relative, the abbot of S. Pietro. Then the city, in 1416, submitted to Braccio da Montone, who raised it to unprecedented power and glory. On his death it fell back into new discords, from which it was rescued again by the Baglioni in 1466, now finally successful in their prolonged warfare with the rival family of Oddi. But they did not hold their despotism in tranquillity. In 1500 one of the members of the house, Grifonetto degli Baglioni, conspired against his kinsmen and slew them in their palaces at night. As told by Matarazzo, this tragedy offers an epitome of all that is most, brilliant and terrible in the domestic feuds of the Italian tyrants.[3] The vicissitudes of the Bentivogli at Bologna present another series of catastrophes, due less to their personal crimes than to the fury of the civil strife that raged around them. Giovanni Bentivoglio began the dynasty in 1400. The next year he was stabbed to death and pounded in a wine-vat by the infuriated populace, who thought he had betrayed their interests in battle. His son, Antonio, was beheaded by a Papal Legate, and numerous members of the family on their return from exile suffered the same fate. In course of time the Bentivogli made themselves adored by the people; and when Piccinino imprisoned the heir of their house, Annibale, in the castle of Varano, four youths of the Marescotti family undertook his rescue at the peril of their lives, and raised him to the Signory of Bologna. In 1445 the Canetoli, powerful nobles, who hated the popular dynasty, invited Annibale and all his clan to a christening feast, where they exterminated every member of the reigning house. Not one Bentivoglio was left alive. In revenge for this massacre, the Marescotti, aided by the populace, hunted down the Canetoli for three whole days in Bologna, and nailed their smoking hearts to the doors of the Bentivoglio palace. They then drew from his obscurity in Florence the bastard Santi Bentivoglio, who found himself suddenly lifted from a wool-factory to a throne. Whether he was a genuine Bentivoglio or not, mattered little. The house had become necessary to Bologna, and its popularity had been baptized in the bloodshed of four massacres. What remains of its story can be briefly told. When Cesare Borgia besieged Bologna, the Marescotti intrigued with him, and eight of their number were sacrificed by the Bentivogli in spite of their old services to the dynasty. The survivors, by the help of Julius II., returned from exile in 1536, to witness the final banishment of the Bentivogli and to take part in the destruction of the palace, where their ancestors had nailed the hearts of the Canetoli upon the walls.

[1] The family of the Prefetti fed up the murderer in their castle and then gave him alive to be eaten by their hounds.

[2] Sforza Attendolo killed Terzi by a spear-thrust in the back. Pandolfo Petrucci murdered Borghese, who was his father-in-law. Raimondo Malatesta was stabbed by his two nephews disguised as hermits. Dattiri was bound naked to a plank and killed piecemeal by the people, who bit his flesh, cut slices out, and sold and ate it—distributing his living body as a sort of infernal sacrament among themselves.

[3] See the article 'Perugia' in my Sketches in Italy and Greece.

To multiply the records of crime revenged by crime, of force repelled by violence, of treason heaped on treachery, of insult repaid by fraud, would be easy enough. Indeed, a huge book might be compiled containing nothing but the episodes in this grim history of despotism, now tragic and pathetic, now terror-moving in sublimity of passion, now despicable by the baseness of the motives brought to light, at one time revolting through excess of physical horrors, at another fascinating by the spectacle of heroic courage, intelligence, and resolution. Enough however, has been said to describe the atmosphere of danger in which the tyrants breathed and moved, and from which not one of them was ever capable of finding freedom. Even a princely house so well based in its dynasty and so splendid in its parade of culture as that of the Estensi offers a long list of terrific tragedies. One princess is executed for adultery with her stepson (1425); a bastard's bastard tries to seize the throne, and is put to death with all his kin (1493); a wife is poisoned by her husband to prevent her poisoning him (1493); two brothers cabal against the legitimate heads of the house, and are imprisoned for life (1506). Such was the labyrinth of plot and counterplot, of force repelled by violence, in which the princes praised by Ariosto and by Tasso lived.

Isolated, crime-haunted, and remorseless, at the same time fierce and timorous, the despot not unfrequently made of vice a fine art for his amusement, and openly defied humanity. His pleasures tended to extravagance. Inordinate lust and refined cruelty sated his irritable and jaded appetites. He destroyed pity in his soul, and fed his dogs with living men, or spent his brains upon the invention of new tortures. From the game of politics again he won a feverish pleasure, playing for states and cities as a man plays chess, and endeavoring to extract the utmost excitement from the varying turns of skill and chance. It would be an exaggeration to assert that all the princes of Italy were of this sort. The saner, better, and nobler among them—men of the stamp of Gian Galeazzo Visconti, Can Grande della Scala, Francesco and Lodovico Sforza, found a more humane enjoyment in the consolidation of their empire, the cementing of their alliances, the society of learned men, the friendship of great artists, the foundation of libraries, the building of palaces and churches, the execution of vast schemes of conquest. Others, like Galeazzo Visconti, indulged a comparatively innocent taste for magnificence. Some, like Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, combined the vices of a barbarian with the enthusiasm of a scholar. Others again, like Lorenzo de' Medici and Frederick of Urbino, exhibited the model of moderation in statecraft and a noble width of culture. But the tendency to degenerate was fatal in all the despotic houses. The strain of tyranny proved too strong. Crime, illegality, and the sense of peril, descending from father to son, produced monsters in the shape of men. The last Visconti, the last La Scalas, the last Sforzas, the last Malatestas, the last Farnesi, the last Medici are among the worst specimens of human nature.

Macaulay's brilliant description of the Italian tyrant in his essay on Machiavelli deserves careful study. It may, however, be remarked that the picture is too favorable. Macaulay omits the darker crimes of the despots, and draws his portrait almost exclusively from such men as Gian Galeazzo Visconti, Francesco and Lodovico Sforza, Frederick of Urbino, and Lorenzo de' Medici. The point he is seeking to establish—that political immorality in Italy was the national correlative to Northern brutality—leads him to idealize the polite refinement, the disciplined passions, the firm and astute policy, the power over men, and the excellent government which distinguished the noblest Italian princes. When he says 'Wanton cruelty was not in his nature: on the contrary, where no political object was at stake, his disposition was soft and humane'; he seems to have forgotten Gian Maria Visconti, Corrado Trinci, Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, and Cesare Borgia. When he writes, 'His passions, like well-trained troops, are impetuous by rule, and in their most headstrong fury never forget the discipline to which they have been accustomed,' he leaves Francesco Maria della Rovere, Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Pier Luigi Farnese, Alexander VI., out of the reckoning. If all the despots had been what Macaulay describes, the revolutions and conspiracies of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries would not have taken place. It is, however, to be remarked that in the sixteenth century the conduct of the tyrant toward his subjects assumed an external form of mildness. As Italy mixed with the European nations, and as tyranny came to be legalized in the Italian states, the despots developed a policy not of terrorism but of enervation (Lorenzo de' Medici is the great example), and aspired to be paternal governors.

What I have said about Italian despotism is no mere fancy picture. The actual details of Milanese history, the innumerable tragedies of Lombardy, Romagna, and the Marches of Ancona, during the ascendency of despotic families, are far more terrible than any fiction; nor would it be easy for the imagination to invent so perplexing a mixture of savage barbarism with modern refinement. Savonarola's denunciations[1] and Villani's descriptions of a despot read like passages from Plato's Republic, like the most pregnant of Aristotle's criticisms upon tyranny. The prologue to the sixth book of Matteo Villani's Chronicle may be cited as a fair specimen of the judgment passed by contemporary Italian thinkers upon their princes (Libro Sesto, cap. i.): 'The crimes of despots always hinder and often neutralize the virtues of good men. Their pleasures are at variance with morality. By them the riches of their subjects are swallowed up. They are foes to men who grow in wisdom and in greatness of soul in their dominions. They diminish by their imposts the wealth of the peoples ruled by them. Their unbridled lust is never satiated, but their subjects have to suffer such outrages and insults as their fancy may from time to time suggest. But inasmuch as the violence of tyranny is manifested to all eyes by these and many other atrocities, we need not enumerate them afresh. It is enough to select one feature, strange in appearance but familiar in fact; for what can be more extraordinary than to see princes of ancient and illustrious lineage bowing to the service of despots, men of high descent and time-honored nobility frequenting their tables and accepting their bounties? Yet if we consider the end of all this, the glory of tyrants often turns to misery and ruin. Who can exaggerate their wretchedness? They know not where to place their confidence; and their courtiers are always on the lookout for the despot's fall, gladly lending their influence and best endeavors to undo him in spite of previous servility. This does not happen to hereditary kings, because their conduct toward their subjects, as well as their good qualities and all their circumstances, are of a nature contrary to that of tyrants. Therefore the very causes which produce and fortify and augment tyrannies, conceal and nourish in themselves the sources of their overthrow and ruin. This indeed is the greatest wretchedness of tyrants.'

[1] See the passage condensed from his Sermons in Villari's Life of Savonarola (Eng. Tr. vol. ii. p. 62). The most thorough-going analysis of despotic criminality is contained in Savonarola's Tractato circa el Reggimento e Governo della Citta di Firenze, Trattato ii. cap. 2. Della Malitia e pessime Conditioni del Tyranno.

It may be objected that this sweeping criticism, from the pen of a Florentine citizen at war with Milan, partakes of the nature of an invective. Yet abundant proofs can be furnished from the chronicles of burghs which owed material splendor to their despots, confirming the censure of Villani. Matarazzo, for example, whose sympathy with the house of Baglioni is so striking, and who exults in the distinction they conferred upon Perugia, writes no less bitterly concerning the pernicious effects of their misgovernment.[1] It is to be noticed that Villani and Matarazzo agree about the special evils brought upon the populations by their tyrants. Lust and violence take the first place. Next comes extortion; then the protection of the lawless and the criminal against the better sort of citizens. But the Florentine, with intellectual acumen, lays his finger on one of the chief vices of their rule. They retard the development of mental greatness in their states, and check the growth of men of genius. Ariosto, in the comparative calm of the sixteenth century, when tyrannies had yielded to the protectorate of Spain, sums up the records of the past in the following memorable passage:[2] 'Happy the kingdoms where an open-hearted and blameless man gives law! Wretched indeed and pitiable are those where injustice and cruelty hold sway, where burdens ever greater and more grievous are laid upon the people by tyrants like those who now abound in Italy, whose infamy will be recorded through years to come as no less black than Caligula's or Nero's.' Guicciardini, with pregnant brevity, observes:[3] 'The mortar with which the states of the tyrants are cemented is the blood of the citizens.'

[1] Arch. Stor. xvi. 102. See my Sketches in Italy and Greece, p. 84.

[2] Cinque Canti, ii. 5.

[3] Ricordi Politici, ccxlii.

In the history of Italian despotism two points of first-rate importance will demand attention. The first is the process by which the greater tyrannies absorbed the smaller during the fourteenth century. The second is the relation of the chief Condottieri to the tyrants of the fifteenth century. The evolution of these two phenomena cannot be traced more clearly than by a study of the history of Milan, which at the same time presents a detailed picture of the policy and character of the Italian despot during this period. The dynasties of Visconti and Sforza from 1300 to 1500 bridged over the years that intervened between the Middle Age and the Renaissance, between the period of the free burghs and the period during which Italy was destined to become the theater of the action of more powerful nations. Their alliances and diplomatic relations prepared the way for the interference of foreigners in Italian affairs. Their pedigree illustrates the power acquired by military adventurers in the peninsula. The magnitude of their political schemes displays the most soaring ambition which it was ever granted to Italian princes to indulge. The splendor of their court and the intelligence of their culture bear witness to the high state of civilization which the Italians had reached.

The power of the Visconti in Milan was founded upon that of the Della Torre family, who preceded them as Captains General of the people at the end of the thirteenth century. Otho, Archbishop of Milan, first laid a substantial basis for the dominion of his house by imprisoning Napoleone Della Torre and five of his relatives in three iron cages in 1277, and by causing his nephew Matteo Visconti to be nominated both by the Emperor and by the people of Milan as imperial Vicar. Matteo, who headed the Ghibelline party in Lombardy, was the model of a prudent Italian despot. From the date 1311, when he finally succeeded in his attempts upon the sovereignty of Milan, to 1322, when he abdicated in favor of his son Galeazzo, he ruled his states by force of character, craft, and insight, more than by violence or cruelty. Excellent as a general, he was still better as a diplomatist, winning more cities by money than by the sword. All through his life, as became a Ghibelline chief at that time, he persisted in fierce enmity against the Church. But just before his death a change came over him. He showed signs of superstitious terror, and began to fear the ban of excommunication which lay upon him. This weakness alarmed the suspicions of his sons, terrible and wolf-like men, whom Matteo had hitherto controlled with bit and bridle. They therefore induced him to abdicate in 1322, and when in the same year he died, they buried his body in a secret place, lest it should be exhumed, and scattered to the winds in accordance with the Papal edict against him.[1] Galeazzo, his son, was less fortunate than Matteo, surnamed Il Grande by the Lombards. The Emperor Louis of Bavaria threw him into prison on the occasion of his visit to Milan in 1327, and only released him at the intercession of his friend Castruccio Castracane. To such an extent was the growing tyranny of the Visconti still dependent upon their office delegated from the Empire. This Galeazzo married Beatrice d' Este, the widow of Nino di Gallura, of whom Dante speaks in the eighth canto of the Purgatory, and had by her a son named Azzo. Azzo bought the city, together with the title of Imperial Vicar, from the same Louis who had imprisoned his father.[2] When he was thus seated in the tyranny of his grandfather, he proceeded to fortify it further by the addition of ten Lombard towns, which he reduced beneath the supremacy of Milan. At the same time he consolidated his own power by the murder of his uncle Marco in 1329, who had grown too mighty as a general. Giovio describes him as fair of complexion, blue-eyed, curly-haired, and subject to the hereditary disease of gout.[3] Azzo died in 1339, and was succeeded by his uncle Lucchino. In Lucchino the darker side of the Visconti character appears for the first time. Cruel, moody, and jealous, he passed his life in perpetual terror. His nephews, Galeazzo and Barnabas, conspired against him, and were exiled to Flanders. His wife, Isabella Fieschi, intrigued with Galeazzo and disgraced him by her amours with Ugolino Gonzaga and Dandolo the Doge of Venice. Finally suspicion rose to such a pitch between this ill-assorted couple, that, while Lucchino was plotting how to murder Isabella, she succeeded in poisoning him in 1349. In spite of these domestic calamities, Lucchino was potent as a general and governor. He bought Parma from Obizzo d' Este, and made the town of Pisa dependent upon Milan. Already in his policy we can trace the encroachment which characterized the schemes of the Milanese despots, who were always plotting to advance their foot beyond the Apennines as a prelude to the complete subjugation of Italy. Lucchino left sons, but none of proved legitimacy.[4] Consequently he was succeeded by his brother Giovanni, son of old Matteo il Grande, and Archbishop of Milan. This man, the friend of Petrarch, was one of the most notable characters of the fourteenth century. Finding himself at the head of sixteen cities, he added Bologna to the tyranny of the Visconti in 1350, and made himself strong enough to defy the Pope. Clement VI., resenting his encroachments on Papal territory, summoned him to Avignon. Giovanni Visconti replied that he would march thither at the head of 12,000 cavalry and 6,000 infantry. In the Duomo of Milan he ascended his throne with the crosier in his left hand and a drawn sword in his right; and thus he is always represented in pictures. The story of Giovanni's answer to the Papal Legate is well told by Corio:[5] 'After Mass in the Cathedral the great-hearted Archbishop unsheathed a flashing sword, which he had girded on his thigh, and with his left hand seized the cross, saying, "This is my spiritual scepter, and I will wield the sword as my temporal, in defense of all my empire."' Afterwards he sent couriers to engage lodgings for his soldiers and his train for six months. Visitors to Avignon found no room in the city, and the Pope was fain to decline so terrible a guest. In 1353 Giovanni annexed Genoa to the Milanese principality, and died in 1354, having established the rule of the Visconti over the whole of the North of Italy, with the exception of Piedmont, Verona, Mantua, Ferrara and Venice.

[1] We may compare what Dante puts into the mouth of Manfred in the 'Purgatory' (canto iii.). The great Ghibelline poet here protests against the use of excommunication as a political weapon. His sense of justice will not allow him to believe that God can regard the sentence of priests and pontiffs, actuated by the spite of partisans; yet the examples of Frederick II. and of this Matteo Visconti prove how terrifying, even to the boldest, those sentences continued to be. Few had the resolute will of Galeazzo Pico di Mirandola, who expired in 1499 under the ban of the Church, which he had borne for sixteen years.

[2] This was in 1328. Azzo agreed to pay 25,000 florins. The vast wealth of the Visconti amassed during their years of peaceful occupation always stood them in good stead when bad times came, and when the Emperor was short of cash. Azzo deserves special commendation from the student of art for the exquisite octagonal tower of S. Gottardo, which he built of terra cotta with marble pilasters, in Milan. It is quite one of the loveliest monuments of mediaeval Italian architecture.

[3] Lucchino and Galeazzo Visconti were both afflicted with gout, the latter to such an extent as to be almost crippled.

[4] This would not have been by itself a bar to succession in an Italian tyranny. But Lucchino's bastards were not of the proper stuff to continue their father's government, while their fiery uncle was precisely the man to sustain the honor and extend the power of the Visconti.

[5] Storia di Milano, 1554, p. 223.

The reign of the archbishop Giovanni marks a new epoch in the despotism of the Visconti. They are now no longer the successful rivals of the Della Torre family or dependents on imperial caprice, but self-made sovereigns, with a well-established power in Milan and a wide extent of subject territory. Their dynasty, though based on force and maintained by violence, has come to be acknowledged; and we shall soon see them allying themselves with the royal houses of Europe. After the death of Giovanni, Matteo's sons were extinct. But Stefano, the last of his family, had left three children, who now succeeded to the lands and cities of the house. They were named Matteo, Bernabo, and Galeazzo. Between these three princes a partition of the heritage of Giovanni Visconti was effected. Matteo took Bologna, Lodi, Piacenza, Parma, Bobbio, and some other towns of less importance. Bernabo received Cremona, Crema, Brescia, and Bergamo. Galeazzo held Como, Novara, Vercelli, Asti, Tortona, and Alessandria. Milan and Genoa were to be ruled by the three in common. It may here be noticed that the dismemberment of Italian despotisms among joint-heirs was a not unfrequent source of disturbance and a cause of weakness to their dynasties. At the same time the practice followed naturally upon the illegal nature of the tyrant's title. He dealt with his cities as so many pieces of personal property, which he could distribute as he chose, not as a coherent whole to be bequeathed to one ruler for the common benefit of all his subjects. In consequence of such partition, it became the interest of brother to murder brother, so as to effect a reconsolidation of the family estates. Something of the sort happened on this occasion. Matteo abandoned himself to bestial sensuality; and his two brothers, finding him both feeble and likely to bring discredit on their rule, caused him to be assassinated in 1355.[1] They then jointly swayed the Milanese, with unanimity remarkable in despots. Galeazzo was distinguished as the handsomest man of his age. He was tall and graceful, with golden hair, which he wore in long plaits, or tied up in a net, or else loose and crowned with flowers. Fond of display and magnificence, he spent much of his vast wealth in shows and festivals, and in the building of palaces and churches. The same taste for splendor led him to seek royal marriages for his children. His daughter Violante was wedded to the Duke of Clarence, son of Edward III. of England, who received with her for dowry the sum of 200,000 golden florins, as well as five cities bordering on Piedmont.[2] It must have been a strange experience for this brother of the Black Prince, leaving London, where the streets were still unpaved, the houses thatched, the beds laid on straw, and where wine was sold as medicine, to pass into the luxurious palaces of Lombardy, walled with marble, and raised high above smooth streets of stone. Of his marriage with Violante Giovio gives some curious details. He says that Galeazzo on this occasion made splendid presents to more than 200 Englishmen, so that he was reckoned to have outdone the greatest kings in generosity. At the banquet Gian Galeazzo, the bride's brother, leading a choice company of well-born youths, brought to the table with each course fresh gifts.[3] 'At one time it was a matter of sixty most beautiful horses with trappings of silk and silver; at another, plate, hawks, hounds, horse-gear, fine cuirasses, suits of armor fashioned of wrought steel, helmets adorned with crests, surcoats embroidered with pearls, belts, precious jewels set in gold, and great quantities of cloth of gold and crimson stuff for making raiment. Such was the profusion of this banquet that the remnants taken from the table were enough and to spare for 10,000 men.' Petrarch, we may remember, assisted at this festival and sat among the princes. It was thus that Galeazzo displayed his wealth before the feudal nobles of the North, and at the same time stretched the hand of friendly patronage to the greatest literary man of Europe. Meanwhile he also married his son Gian Galeazzo to Isabella, daughter of King John of France, spending on this occasion, it is said, a similar sum of money for the honor of a royal alliance.[4]

[1] M. Villani, v. 81. Compare Corio, p. 230. Corio gives the date 1356.

[2] Namely, Alba, Cuneo, Carastro, Mondovico, Braida. See Corio, p. 238, who adds sententiously, 'il che quasi fu l' ultima roina del suo stato.'

[3] Corio (pp. 239, 240) gives the bill of fare of the banquet.

[4] Sismondi says he gave 600,000 florins to Charles, the brother of Isabella, but authorities differ about the actual amount.

Galeazzo held his court at Pavia. His brother reigned at Milan. Bernabo displayed all the worst vices of the Visconti. His system of taxation was most oppressive, and at the same time so lucrative that he was able, according to Giovio's estimate, to settle nine of his daughters at an expense of something like two millions of gold pieces. A curious instance of his tyranny relates to his hunting establishment. Having saddled his subjects with the keep of 5,000 boar-hounds, he appointed officers to go round and see whether these brutes were either too lean or too well-fed to be in good condition for the chase. If anything appeared defective in their management, the peasants on whom they were quartered had to suffer in their persons and their property.[1] This Bernabo was also remarkable for his cold-blooded cruelty. Together with his brother, he devised and caused to be publicly announced by edict that State criminals would be subjected to a series of tortures extending over the space of forty days. In this infernal programme every variety of torment found a place, and days of respite were so calculated as to prolong the lives of the victims for further suffering, till at last there was little left of them that had not been hacked and hewed and flayed away.[2] To such extremities of terrorism were the despots driven in the maintenance of their illegal power.

[1] 'Per cagione di questa caccia continoamente teneva cinque mila cani; e la maggior parte di quelle distribuiva alla custodia de i cittadini, e anche a i contadini, i quali niun altro cane che quelli potevano tenere. Questi due volte il mese erano tenuti a far la mostra. Onde trovandoli macri in gran somma di danari erano condannati, e se grossi erano, incolpandoli del troppo, erano multati; se morivano, li pigliava il tutto.—Corio, p. 247.

Read M. Villani, vii. 48, for the story of a peasant who was given to Bernabo's dogs to be devoured for having killed a hare. Corio (p. 247) describes the punishments which he inflicted on his subjects who were convicted of poaching—eyes put out, houses burned, etc. A young man who dreamed of killing a boar had an eye put out and a hand cut off because he imprudently recounted his vision of sport in sleep. On one occasion he burned two friars who ventured to remonstrate. We may compare Pontanus, 'De Immanitate,' vol. i. pp. 318, 320, for similar cruelty in Ferdinand, King of Naples.

[2] This programme may be read in Sismondi, iv. 282.

Galeazzo died in 1378, and was succeeded in his own portion of the Visconti domain by his son Gian Galleazzo. Now began one of those long, slow, internecine struggles which were so common between the members of the ruling families in Italy. Bernabo and his sons schemed to get possession of the young prince's estate. He, on the other hand, determined to supplant his uncle, and to reunite the whole Visconti principality beneath his own sway. Craft was the weapon which he chose in this encounter. Shutting himself up in Pavia, he made no disguise of his physical cowardice, which was real, while he simulated a timidity of spirit wholly alien to his temperament. He pretended to be absorbed in religious observances, and gradually induced his uncle and cousins to despise him as a poor creature whom they could make short work of when occasion served. In 1385, having thus prepared the way for treason, he avowed his intention of proceeding on a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Varese. Starting from Pavia with a body guard of Germans, he passed near Milan, where his uncle and cousins came forth to meet him. Gian Galeazzo feigned a courteous greeting; but when he saw his relatives within his grasp, he gave a watchword in German to his troops, who surrounded Bernabo and took him prisoner with his sons. Gian Galeazzo marched immediately into Milan, poisoned his uncle in a dungeon, and proclaimed himself sole lord of the Visconti heirship.[1]

[1] The narrative of this coup-de-main may be read with advantage in Corio, p. 258.

The reign of Gian Galeazzo, which began with this coup-de-main (1385-1402), forms a very important chapter in Italian history. We may first see what sort of man he was, and then proceed to trace his aims and achievements. Giovio describes him as having been a remarkably sedate and thoughtful boy, so wise beyond his years that his friends feared he would not grow to man's estate. No pleasures in after-life drew him away from business. Hunting, hawking, women, had alike no charms for him. He took moderate exercise for the preservation of his health, read and meditated much, and relaxed himself in conversation with men of letters. Pure intellect, in fact, had reached to perfect independence in this prince, who was far above the boisterous pleasures and violent activities of the age in which he lived. In the erection of public buildings he was magnificent. The Certosa of Pavia and the Duomo of Milan owed their foundation to his sense of splendor. At the same time he completed the palace of Pavia, which his father had begun, and which he made the noblest dwelling-house in Europe. The University of Pavia was raised by him from a state of decadence to one of great prosperity, partly by munificent endowments and partly by a wise choice of professors. In his military undertakings he displayed a kindred taste for vast engineering projects. He contemplated and partly carried out a scheme for turning the Mincio and the Brenta from their channels, and for drying up the lagoons of Venice. In this way he purposed to attack his last great enemy, the Republic of S. Mark, upon her strongest point. Yet in the midst of these huge designs he was able to attend to the most trifling details of economy. His love of order was so precise that he may be said to have applied the method of a banker's office to the conduct of a state. It was he who invented Bureaucracy by creating a special class of paid clerks and secretaries of departments. Their duty consisted in committing to books and ledgers the minutest items of his private expenditure and the outgoings of his public purse; in noting the details of the several taxes, so as to be able to present a survey of the whole state revenue; and in recording the names and qualities and claims of his generals, captains, and officials. A separate office was devoted to his correspondence, of all of which he kept accurate copies.[1] By applying this mercantile machinery to the management of his vast dominions, at a time when public economy was but little understood in Europe, Gian Galeazzo raised his wealth enormously above that of his neighbors. His income in a single year is said to have amounted to 1,200,000 golden florins, with the addition of 800,000 golden florins levied by extraordinary calls.[2] The personal timidity of this formidable prince prevented him from leading his armies in the field. He therefore found it necessary to employ paid generals, and took into his service all the chief Condottieri of the day, thus giving an impulse to the custom which was destined to corrupt the whole military system of Italy. Of these men, whom he well knew how to choose, he was himself the brain and moving principle. He might have boasted that he never took a step without calculating the cost, carefully considering the object, and proportioning the means to his end. How mad to such a man must have seemed the Crusaders of previous centuries, or the chivalrous Princes of Northern Germany and Burgundy, who expended their force upon such unprofitable and impossible undertakings as the subjugation, for instance, of Switzerland! Not a single trait in his character reminds us of the Middle Ages, unless it be that he was said to care for reliques with a superstitious passion worthy of Louis XI. Sismondi sums up the description of this extraordinary despot in the following sentences, which may be quoted for their graphic brevity: 'False and pitiless, he joined to immeasurable ambition a genius for enterprise, and to immovable constancy a personal timidity which he did not endeavor to conceal. The least unexpected motion near him threw him into a paroxysm of nervous terror. No prince employed so many soldiers to guard his palace, or took such multiplied precautions of distrust. He seemed to acknowledge himself the enemy of the whole world. But the vices of tyranny had not weakened his ability. He employed his immense wealth without prodigality; his finances were always flourishing; his cities well garrisoned and victualed; his army well paid; all the captains of adventure scattered throughout Italy received pensions from him, and were ready to return to his service whenever called upon. He encouraged the warriors of the new Italian school; he knew well how to distinguish, reward, and win their attachment.'[3] Such was the tyrant who aimed at nothing less than the reduction of the whole of Italy beneath the sway of the Visconti, and who might have achieved his purpose had not his career of conquest been checked by the Republic of Florence, and afterwards cut short by a premature death.

[1] Giovio is particular upon these points: 'Ho veduto io ne gli armari de' suoi Archivi maravigliosi libri in carta pecora, i quali contenevano d' anno in anno i nomi de' capitani, condottieri, e soldati vecchi, e le paghe di ogn' uno, e 'l rotulo delle cavallerie, et delle fanterie: v' erano anco registrate le copie delle lettere le quali negli importantissimi maneggi di far guerra o pace, o egli haveva scritto ai principi o haveva ricevuto da loro.'

[2] The description given by Corio (pp. 260, 266-68) of the dower in money, plate, and jewels brought by Valentina Visconti to Louis d'Orleans is a good proof of Gian Galeazzo's wealth. Besides the town of Asti, she took with her in money 400,000 golden florins. Her gems were estimated at 68,858 florins, and her plate at 1,667 marks of Paris. The inventory is curious.

[3] 'History of the Italian Republics' (1 vol. Longmans), p. 190.

At the time of his accession the Visconti had already rooted out the Correggi and Rossi of Parma, the Scotti of Piacenza, the Pelavicini of San Donnino, the Tornielli of Novara, the Ponzoni and Cavalcabo of Cremona, the Beccaria and Languschi of Pavia, the Fisiraghi of Lodi, the Brusati of Brescia. Their viper had swallowed all these lesser snakes.[1] But the Carrara family still ruled at Padua, the Gonzaga at Mantua, the Este at Ferrara, while the great house of Scala was in possession of Verona. Gian Galeazzo's schemes were first directed against the Scala dynasty. Founded, like that of the Visconti, upon the imperial authority, it rose to its greatest height under the Ghibelline general Can Grande and his nephew Mastino, in the first half of the fourteenth century (1312-51). Mastino had himself cherished the project of an Italian Kingdom; but he died before approaching its accomplishment. The degeneracy of his house began with his three sons. The two younger killed the eldest; of the survivors the stronger slew the weaker and then died in 1374, leaving his domains to two of his bastards. One of these, named Antonio, killed the other in 1381,[2] and afterwards fell a prey to the Visconti in 1387. In his subjugation of Verona Gian Galeazzo contrived to make use of the Carrara family, although these princes were allied by marriage to the Scaligers, and had everything to lose by their downfall. He next proceeded to attack Padua, and gained the co-operation of Venice. In 1388 Francesco da Carrara had to cede his territory to Visconti's generals, who in the same year possessed themselves for him of the Trevisan Marches. It was then that the Venetians saw too late the error they had committed in suffering Verona and Padua to be annexed by the Visconti, when they ought to have been fortified as defenses interposed between his growing power and themselves. Having now made himself master of the North of Italy,[3] with the exception of Mantua, Ferrara, and Bologna, Gian Galeazzo turned his attention to these cities. Alberto d' Este was ruling in Ferrara; Francesco da Gonzaga in Mantua. It was the Visconti's policy to enfeeble these two princes by causing them to appear odious in the eyes of their subjects.[4] Accordingly he roused the jealousy of the Marquis of Ferrara against his nephew Obizzo to such a pitch that Alberto beheaded him together with his mother, burned his wife, and hung a third member of his family, besides torturing to death all the supposed accomplices of the unfortunate young man. Against the Marquis of Mantua Gian Galeazzo devised a still more diabolical plot. By forged letters and subtly contrived incidents he caused Francesco da Gonzaga to suspect his wife of infidelity with his secretary.[5] In a fit of jealous fury Francesco ordered the execution of his wife, the mother of several of his children, together with the secretary. Then he discovered the Visconti's treason. But it was too late for anything but impotent hatred. The infernal device had been successful; the Marquis of Mantua was no less discredited than the Marquis of Ferrara by his crime. It would seem that these men were not of the stamp and caliber to be successful villans, and that Gian Galeazzo had reckoned upon this defect in their character. Their violence caused them to be rather loathed than feared. The whole of Lombardy was now prostrate before the Milanese tyrant. His next move was to set foot in Tuscany. For this purpose Pisa had to be acquired; and here again he resorted to his devilish policy of inciting other men to crimes by which he alone would profit in the long-run. Pisa was ruled at that time by the Gambacorta family, with an old merchant named Pietro at their head. This man had a friend and secretary called Jacopo Appiano, whom the Visconti persuaded to turn Judas, and to entrap and murder his benefactor and his children. The assassination took place in 1392. In 1399 Gherardo, son of Jacopo Appiano, who held Pisa at the disposal of Gian Galeazzo, sold him this city for 200,000 florins.[6] Perugia was next attacked. Here Pandolfo, chief of the Baglioni family, held a semi-constitutional authority, which the Visconti first helped him to transmute into a tyranny, and then, upon Pandolfo's assassination, seized as his own.[7] All Italy and even Germany had now begun to regard the usurpations of the Milanese despot with alarm. But the sluggish Emperor Wenceslaus refused to take action against him; nay, in 1395 he granted to the Visconti the investiture of the Duchy of Milan for 100,000 florins, reserving only Pavia for himself. In 1399 the Duke laid hands on Siena; and in the next two years the plague came to his assistance by enfeebling the ruling families of Lucca and Bologna, the Guinizzi and the Bentivogli, so that he was now able to take possession of those cities.

[1] Il Biscione, or the Great Serpent, was the name commonly given to the tyranny of the Visconti (see M. Villani, vi. 8), in allusion to their ensign of a naked child issuing from a snake's mouth.

[2] Corio, p. 255, tells how the murder was accomplished. Antonio tried to make it appear that his brother Bartolommeo had met his death in the prosecution of infamous amours.

[3] Savoy was not in his hands, however, and the Marquisate of Montferrat remained nominally independent, though he held its heir in a kind of honorable confinement. Venice, too, remained in formidable neutrality, the spectator of the Visconti's conquests.

[4] The policy adopted by the Visconti against the Estensi and the Gonzaghi was that recommended by Machiavelli (Disc. iii. 32): 'quando alcuno vuole o che un popolo o un principe levi al tutto l' animo ad uno accordo, non ci e altro modo piu vero, ne piu stabile, che fargli usare qualche grave scelleratezza contro a colui con il qual tu non vuoi che l' accordo si faccia.'

[5] This lady was a first cousin as well as sister-in-law of Gian Galeazzo Visconti, who in second marriage had taken Caterina, daughter of Bernabo Visconti, to wife. This fact makes his perfidy the more disgraceful.

[6] The Appiani retired to Piombino, where they founded a petty despotism. Appiano's crime, which gave a tyranny to his children, is similar to that of Tremacoldo, who murdered his masters, the Vistarini of Lodi, and to that of Luigi Gonzaga, who founded the Ducal house of Mantua by the murder of his patron, Passerino Buonacolsi.

[7] Pandolfo was murdered in 1393. Gian Galeazzo possessed himself of Perugia in 1400, having paved his way for the usurpation by causing Biordo Michelotti, the successor of the Baglioni to be assassinated by his friend Francesco Guidalotti. It will be noticed that he proceeded slowly and surely in the case of each annexation, licking over his prey after he had throttled it and before he swallowed it, like a boa-constrictor.

There remained no power in Italy, except the Republic of Florence and the exiled but invincible Francesco da Carrara, to withstand his further progress. Florence delayed his conquests in Tuscany. Francesco managed to return to Padua. Still the peril which threatened the whole of Italy was imminent. The Duke of Milan was in the plenitude of manhood—rich, prosperous, and full of mental force. His acquisitions were well cemented; his armies in good condition; his treasury brim full; his generals highly paid. All his lieutenants in city and in camp respected the iron will and the deep policy of the despot who swayed their action from his arm-chair in Milan. He alone knew how to use the brains and hands that did him service, to keep them mutually in check, and by their regulated action to make himself not one but a score of men. At last, when all other hope of independence for Italy had failed, the plague broke out with fury in Lombardy. Gian Galeazzo retired to his isolated fortress of Marignano in order to escape infection. Yet there in 1402 he sickened. A comet appeared in the sky, to which he pointed as a sign of his approaching death—'God could not but signalize the end of so supreme a ruler,' he told his attendants. He died aged 55. Italy drew a deep breath. The danger was passed.

The systematic plan conceived by Gian Galeazzo for the enslavement of Italy, the ability and force of intellect which sustained him in its execution, and the power with which he bent men to his will, are scarcely more extraordinary than the sudden dissolution of his dukedom at his death. Too timid to take the field himself, he had trained in his service a band of great commanders, among whom Alberico da Barbino, Facino Cane, Pandolfo Malatesta, Jacopo dal Verme, Gabrino Fondulo, and Ottobon Terzo were the most distinguished. As long as he lived and held them in leading strings, all went well. But at his death his two sons were still mere boys. He had to intrust their persons, together with the conduct of his hardly won dominions, to these captains in conjunction with the Duchess Catherine and a certain Francesco Barbavara. This man had been the Duke's body-servant, and was now the paramour of the Duchess. The generals refused to act with them; and each seized upon such portions of the Visconti inheritance as he could most easily acquire. The vast tyranny of the first Duke of Milan fell to pieces in a day. The whole being based on no legal right, but held together artificially by force and skill, its constituent parts either reasserted their independence or became the prey of adventurers.[1] Many scions of the old ejected families recovered their authority in the subject towns. We hear again of the Scotti at Piacenza, the Rossi and Correggi at Parma, the Benzoni at Crema, the Rusconi at Como, the Soardi and Colleoni at Bergamo, the Landi at Bobbio, the Cavalcabo at Cremona. Facino Cane appropriated Alessandria; Pandolfo Malatesta seized Brescia; Ottonbon Terzo established himself in Parma. Meanwhile Giovanni Maria Visconti was proclaimed Duke of Milan, and his brother Filippo Maria occupied Pavia. Gabriello, a bastard son of the first duke, fortified himself in Crema.

[1] The anarchy which prevailed in Lombardy after Gian Galeazzo's death makes it difficult to do more than signalize a few of these usurpations. Corio, pp. 292 et seq., contain the details.

In the despotic families of Italy, as already hinted, there was a progressive tendency to degeneration. The strain of tyranny sustained by force and craft for generations, the abuse of power and pleasure, the isolation and the dread in which the despots lived habitually, bred a kind of hereditary madness.[1] In the case of Giovanni Maria and Filippo Maria Visconti these predisposing causes of insanity were probably intensified by the fact that their father and mother were first cousins, the grandchildren of Stefano, son of Matteo il Grande. Be this as it may, the constitutional ferocity of the race appeared as monomania in Giovanni, and its constitutional timidity as something akin to madness in his brother. Gian Maria, Duke of Milan in nothing but in name, distinguished himself by cruelty and lust. He used the hounds of his ancestors no longer in the chase of boars, but of living men. All the criminals of Milan, and all whom he could get denounced as criminals, even the participators in his own enormities, were given up to his infernal sport. His huntsman, Squarcia Giramo, trained the dogs to their duty by feeding them on human flesh, and the duke watched them tear his victims in pieces with the avidity of a lunatic.[2] In 1412 some Milanese nobles succeeded in murdering him, and threw his mangled corpse into the street. A prostitute is said to have covered it with roses. Filippo Maria meanwhile had married the widow of Facino Cane,[3] who brought him nearly half a million of florins for dowry, together with her husband's soldiers and the cities he had seized after Gian Galeazzo's death. By the help of this alliance Filippo was now gradually recovering the Lombard portion of his father's dukedom. The minor cities, purged by murder of their usurpers, once more fell into the grasp of the Milanese despot, after a series of domestic and political tragedies that drenched their streets with blood. Piacenza was utterly depopulated. It is recorded that for the space of a year only three of its inhabitants remained within the walls.

[1] I may refer to Dr. Maudsley (Mind and Matter) for a scientific statement of the theory of madness developed by accumulated and hereditary vices.

[2] Corio, p. 301, mentions by name Giovanni da Pusterla and Bertolino del Maino as 'lacerati da i cani del Duca.' Members of the families of these men afterwards helped to kill him.

[3] Beatrice di Tenda, the wife of Facino Cane, was twenty years older than the Duke of Milan. As soon as the Visconti felt himself assured in his duchy, he caused a false accusation to be brought against her of adultery with the youthful Michele Oranbelli, and, in spite of her innocence, beheaded her in 1418. Machiavelli relates this act of perfidy with Tacitean conciseness (1st. Fior. lib. i. vol. i. p. 55): 'Dipoi per esser grato de' benefici grandi, come sono quasi sempre tutti i Principi, accuse Beatrice sua moglie di stupro e la fece morire.'

Filippo, the last of the Visconti tyrants, was extremely ugly, and so sensitive about his ill-formed person that he scarcely dared to show himself abroad. He habitually lived in secret chambers, changed frequently from room to room, and when he issued from his palace refused salutations in the streets. As an instance of his nervousness, the chroniclers report that he could not endure to hear the noise of thunder.[1] At the same time he inherited much of his father's insight into character, and his power of controlling men more bold and active than himself. But he lacked the keen decision and broad views of Gian Galeazzo. He vacillated in policy and kept planning plots which seemed to have no object but his own disadvantage. Excess of caution made him surround the captains of his troops with spies, and check them at the moment when he feared they might become too powerful. This want of confidence neutralized the advantage which he might have gained by his choice of fitting instruments. Thus his selection of Francesco Sforza for his general against the Venetians in 1431 was a wise one. But he could not attach the great soldier of fortune to himself. Sforza took the pay of Florence against his old patron, and in 1441 forced him to a ruinous peace; one of the conditions of which was the marriage of the Duke of Milan's only daughter, Bianca, to the son of the peasant of Cotignola. Bianca was illegitimate, and Filippo Maria had no male heir. The great family of the Visconti had dwindled away. Consequently, after the duke's death in 1447, Sforza found his way open to the Duchy of Milan, which he first secured by force and then claimed in right of his wife. An adverse claim was set up by the House of Orleans, Louis of Orleans having married Valentina, the legitimate daughter of Gian Galeazzo.[2] But both of these claims were invalid, since the investiture granted by Wenceslaus to the first duke excluded females. So Milan was once again thrown open to the competition of usurpers.

[1] The most complete account of Filippo Maria Visconti written by a contemporary is that of Piero Candido Decembrio (Muratori, vol. xx.). The student must, however, read between the lines of this biography, for Decembrio, at the request of Leonello d' Este, suppressed the darker colors of the portrait of his master. See the correspondence in Rosmini's Life of Guarino da Verona.

[2] This claim of the House of Orleans to Milan was one source of French interference in Italian affairs. Judged by Italian custom, Sforza's claim through Bianca was as good as that of the Orleans princes through Valentina, since bastardy was no real bar in the peninsula. It is said that Filippo Maria bequeathed his duchy to the Crown of Naples, by a will destroyed after his death. Could this bequest have taken effect, it might have united Italy beneath one sovereign. But the probabilities are that the jealousies of Florence, Venice, and Rome against Naples would have been so intensified as to lead to a bloody war of succession, and to hasten the French invasion.

The inextinguishable desire for liberty in Milan blazed forth upon the death of the last duke. In spite of so many generations of despots, the people still regarded themselves as sovereign, and established a republic. But a state which had served the Visconti for nearly two centuries, could not in a moment shake off its weakness and rely upon itself alone. The republic, feeling the necessity of mercenary aid, was short-sighted enough to engage Francesco Sforza as commander-in-chief against the Venetians, who had availed themselves of the anarchy in Lombardy to push their power west of the Adda.

Sforza, though the ablest general of the day, was precisely the man whom common prudence should have prompted the burghers to mistrust. In one brilliant campaign he drove the Venetians back beyond the Adda, burned their fleet at Casal Maggiore on the Po, and utterly defeated their army at Caravaggio. Then he returned as conqueror to Milan, reduced the surrounding cities, blockaded the Milanese in their capital, and forced them to receive him as their Duke in 1450. Italy had lost a noble opportunity. If Florence and Venice had but taken part with Milan, and had stimulated the flagging energies of Genoa, four powerful republics in federation might have maintained the freedom of the whole peninsula and have resisted foreign interference. But Cosimo de' Medici, who was silently founding the despotism of his own family in Florence, preferred to see a duke in Milan; and Venice, guided by the Doge Francesco Foscari, thought only of territorial aggrandizement. The chance was lost. The liberties of Milan were extinguished. A new dynasty was established in the duchy, grounded on a false hereditary claim, which, as long as it continued, gave a sort of color to the superior but still illegal pretensions of the house of Orleans. It is impossible at this point in the history of Italy to refrain from judging that the Italians had become incapable of local self-government, and that the prevailing tendency to despotism was not the results of accidents in any combination, but of internal and inevitable laws of evolution.

It was at this period that the old despotisms founded by Imperial Vicars and Captains of the People came to be supplanted or crossed by those of military adventurers, just as at a somewhat later time the Condottiere and the Pope's nominee were blent in Cesare Borgia. This is therefore the proper moment for glancing at the rise and influence of mercenary generals in Italy, before proceeding to sketch the history of the Sforza family.

After the wars in Sicily, carried on by the Angevine princes, had ceased (1302), a body of disbanded soldiers, chiefly foreigners, was formed under Fra Ruggieri, a Templar, and swept the South of Italy. Giovanni Villani marks this as the first sign of the scourge which was destined to prove so fatal to the peace of Italy.[1] But it was not any merely accidental outbreak of Banditti, such as this, which established the Condottiere system. The causes were far more deeply seated, in the nature of Italian despotism and in the peculiar requirements of the republics. We have already seen how Frederick II. found it convenient to employ Saracens in his warfare with the Holy See. The same desire to procure troops incapable of sympathizing with the native population induced the Scala and Visconti tyrants to hire German, Breton, Swiss, English, and even Hungarian guards. These foreign troops remained at the disposal of the tyrants and superseded the national militia. The people of Italy were reserved for taxation; the foreigners carried on the wars of the princes. Nor was this policy otherwise than popular. It relieved all classes from the conscription, leaving the burgher free to ply his trade, the peasant to till his fields, and disarming the nobles who were still rebellious and turbulent within the city walls. The same custom gained ground among the Republics. Rich Florentine citizens preferred to stay at home at ease, or to travel abroad for commerce, while they intrusted their military operations to paid generals.[2] Venice, jealous of her own citizens, raised no levies in her immediate territory, and made a rule of never confiding her armies to Venetians. Her admirals, indeed, were selected from the great families of the Lagoons. But her troops were placed beneath the discipline of foreigners. The warfare of the Church, again, had of necessity to be conducted on the same principles; for it did not often happen that a Pope arose like Julius II., rejoicing in the sound of cannon and the life of camps. In this way principalities and republics gradually denationalized their armies, and came to carrying on campaigns by the aid of foreign mercenaries under paid commanders. The generals, wishing as far as possible to render their troops movable and compact, suppressed the infantry, and confined their attention to perfecting the cavalry. Heavy-armed cavaliers, officered by professional captains, fought the battles of Italy; while despots and republics schemed in their castles, or debated in their council-chambers, concerning objects of warfare about which the soldiers of fortune were indifferent. The pay received by men-at-arms was more considerable than that of the most skilled laborers in any peaceful trade. The perils of military service in Italy, conducted on the most artificial principles, were but slight; while the opportunities of self-indulgence—of pillage during war and of pleasure in the brief intervals of peace—attracted all the hot blood of the country to this service.[3] Therefore, in course of time, the profession of Condottiere fascinated the needier nobility of Italy, and the ranks of their men-at-arms were recruited by townsfolk and peasants, who deliberately chose a life of adventure.

[1] VIII. 51.

[2] We may remember how the Spanish general Cardona, in 1325, misused his captaincy of the Florentine forces to keep rich members of the republican militia in unhealthy stations, extorting money from them as the price of freedom from perilous or irksome service.

[3] Matarazzo, in his Chronicle of Perugia, gives a lively picture of an Italian city, in which the nobles for generations followed the trade of Condottieri, while the people enlisted in their bands—to the utter ruin of the morals and the peace of the community.

At first the foreign troops of the despots were engaged as body-guards, and were controlled by the authority of their employers. But the captains soon rendered themselves independent, and entered into military contracts on their own account. The first notable example of a roving troop existing for the sake of pillage, and selling its services to any bidder, was the so-called Great Company (1343), commanded by the German Guarnieri, or Duke Werner who wrote upon his corselet: 'Enemy of God, of Pity and of Mercy.' This band was employed in 1348 by the league of the Montferrat, La Scala, Carrara, Este, and Gonzaga houses, formed to check the Visconti.

'In the middle of the fourteenth century,' writes Sismondi,[1] 'all the soldiers who served in Italy were foreigners: at the end of the same century they were all, or nearly all, Italian.' This sentence indicates a most important change in the Condottiere system, which took place during the lifetime of Gian Galeazzo Visconti. Alberico da Barbiano, a noble of Romagna, and the ancestor of the Milanese house of Belgiojoso, adopted the career of Condottiere, and formed a Company, called the Company of S. George, into which he admitted none but Italians. The consequence of this rule was that he Italianized the profession of mercenary arms for the future. All the great captains of the period were formed in his ranks, during the course of those wars which he conducted for the Duke of Milan. Two rose to paramount importance—Braccio da Montone, who varied his master's system by substituting the tactics of detached bodies of cavalry for the solid phalanx in which Barbiano had moved his troops; and Sforza Attendolo, who adhered to the old method. Sforza got his name from his great physical strength. He was a peasant of the village of Cotignola, who, being invited to quit the mattock for a sword, threw his pickax into an oak, and cried, 'If it stays there, it is a sign that I shall make my fortune.' The ax stuck in the tree, and Sforza went forth to found a line of dukes.[2] After the death of Barbiano in 1409, Sforza and Braccio separated and formed two distinct companies, known as the Sforzeschi and Bracceschi, who carried on between them, sometimes in combination, but usually in opposition, all the wars of Italy for the next twenty years. These old comrades, who had parted in pursuit of their several advantage, found that they had more to lose than to gain by defeating each other in any bloody or inconveniently decisive engagement. Therefore they adopted systems of campaigning which should cost them as little as possible, but which enabled them to exhibit a chess-player's capacity for designing clever checkmates.[3] Both Braccio and Sforza died in 1424, and were succeeded respectively by Nicolo Piccinino and Francesco Sforza. These two men became in their turn the chief champions of Italy. At the same time other Condottieri rose into notice. The Malatesta family at Rimini, the ducal house of Urbino, the Orsini and the Vitelli of the Roman States, the Varani of Camerino, the Baglioni of Perugia, and the younger Gonzaghi furnished republics and princes with professional leaders of tried skill and independent resources. The vassals of these noble houses were turned into men-at-arms, and the chiefs acquired more importance in their roving military life than they could have gained within the narrow circuit of their little states.

[1] Vol. v. p. 207.

[2] This is the commonly received legend. Corio, p. 255, does not draw attention to the lowness of Sforza's origin, but says that he was only twelve years of age when he enlisted in the corps of Boldrino da Panigale, condottiere of the Church. His robust physical qualities were hereditary for many generations in his family. His son Francesco was tall and well made, the best runner, jumper, and wrestler of his day. He marched, summer and winter, bareheaded; needed but little sleep; was spare in diet, and self-indulgent only in the matter of women. Galeazzo Maria, though stained by despicable vices was a powerful prince, who ruled his duchy with a strong arm. Of his illegitimate daughter, Caterina, the wife of Girolamo Riario, a story is told, which illustrates the strong coarse vein that still distinguished this brood of princes. [See Dennistoun, 'Dukes of Urbino,' vol. i. p. 292, for Boccalini's account of the Siege of Forli, sustained by Caterina in 1488. Compare Sismondi, vol. vii. p. 251.] Caterina Riario Sforza, as a woman, was no unworthy inheritor of her grandfather's personal heroism and genius for government.

[3] I shall have to notice the evils of this system in another place, while reviewing the Principe of Machiavelli. In that treatise the Florentine historian traces the whole ruin of Italy during the sixteenth century to the employment of mercenaries.

The biography of one of these Condottieri deserves special notice, since it illustrates the vicissitudes of fortune to which such men were exposed, as well as their relations to their patrons. Francesco Carmagnuola was a Piedmontese. He first rose into notice at the battle of Monza in 1412, when Filippo Maria Visconti observed his capacity and bravery, and afterwards advanced him to the captaincy of a troop. Having helped to reduce the Visconti duchy to order, Carmagnuola found himself disgraced and suspected without good reason by the Duke of Milan; and in 1426 he took the pay of the Venetians against his old master. During the next year he showed the eminence of his abilities as a general; for he defeated the combined forces of Piccinino, Sforza, and other captains of the Visconti, and took them prisoners at Macalo. Carmagnuola neither imprisoned nor murdered his foes.[1] He gave them their liberty, and four years later had to sustain a defeat from Sforza at Soncino. Other reverses of fortune followed, which brought upon him the suspicion of bad faith or incapacity. When he returned to Venice, the state received their captain with all honors, and displayed unusual pomp in his admission to the audience of the Council. But no sooner had their velvet clutches closed upon him, than they threw him into prison, instituted a secret impeachment of his conduct, and on May 5, 1432, led him out with his mouth gagged, to execution on the Piazza. No reason was assigned for this judicial murder. Had Carmagnuola been convicted of treason? Was he being punished for his ill success in the campaign of the preceding years? The Republic of Venice, by the secrecy in which she enveloped this dark act of vengeance, sought to inspire the whole body of her officials with vague alarm.

[1] Such an act of violence, however consistent with the morality of a Cesare Borgia, a Venetian Republic, or a Duke of Milan, would have been directly opposed to the code of honor in use among Condottieri. Nothing, indeed, is more singular among the contradictions of this period than the humanity in the field displayed by hired captains. War was made less on adverse armies than on the population of provinces. The adventurers respected each other's lives, and treated each other with courtesy. They were a brotherhood who played at campaigning, rather than the representatives of forces seriously bent on crushing each other to extermination. Machiavelli says (Princ. cap. xii.) 'Aveano usato ogni industria per levar via a se e a' soldati la fatica e la paura, non s'ammazzando nelle zuffe, ma pigliandosi prigioni e senza taglia.' At the same time the license they allowed themselves against the cities and the districts they invaded is well illustrated by the pillage of Piacenza in 1447 by Francesco Sforza's troops. The anarchy of a sack lasted forty days, during which the inhabitants were indiscriminately sold as slaves, or tortured for their hidden treasure. Sism. vi. 170.

But to return to the Duchy of Milan. Francesco Sforza entered the capital as conqueror in 1450, and was proclaimed Duke. He never obtained the sanction of the Empire to his title, though Frederick III. was proverbially lavish of such honors. But the great Condottiere, possessing the substance, did not care for the external show of monarchy. He ruled firmly, wisely, and for those times well, attending to the prosperity of his states, maintaining good discipline in his cities, and losing no ground by foolish or ambitious schemes. Louis XI. of France is said to have professed himself Sforza's pupil in statecraft, than which no greater tribute could be paid to his political sagacity. In 1466 he died, leaving three sons, Galeazzo, Duke of Milan, the Cardinal Ascanio, and Lodovico, surnamed Il Moro.

'Francesco's crown,' says Ripamonti, 'was destined to pass to more than six inheritors, and these five successions were accomplished by a series of tragic events in his family. Galeazzo, his son, was murdered because of his abominable crimes, in the presence of his people, before the altar, in the middle of the sacred rites. Giovanni Galeazzo, who followed him, was poisoned by his uncle Lodovico. Lodovico was imprisoned by the French, and died of grief in a dungeon.[1] One of his sons perished in the same way; the other, after years of misery and exile, was restored in his childless old age to a throne which had been undermined, and when he died, his dynasty was extinct. This was the recompense for the treason of Francesco to the State of Milan. It was for such successes that he passed his life in perfidy, privation, and danger.' In these rapid successions we trace, besides the demoralization of the Sforza family, the action of new forces from without. France, Germany, and Spain appeared upon the stage; and against these great powers the policy of Italian despotism was helpless.

[1] In the castle of Loches, there is said to be a roughly painted wall-picture of a man in a helmet over the chimney in the room known as his prison, with this legend, Voila un qui n'est pas content. Tradition gives it to Il Moro.

We have now reached the threshold of the true Renaissance, and a new period is being opened for Italian politics. The despots are about to measure their strength with the nations of the North. It was Lodovico Sforza who, by his invitation of Charles VIII. into Italy, inaugurated the age of Foreign Enslavement. His biography belongs, therefore, to another chapter. But the life of Galeazzo Maria, husband of Bona of Savoy, and uncle by marriage to Charles VIII. of France, forms an integral part of that history of the Milanese despots which we have hitherto been tracing. In him the passions of Gian Maria Visconti were repeated with the addition of extravagant vanity. We may notice in particular his parade-expedition in 1471 to Florence, when he flaunted the wealth extorted from his Milanese subjects before the soberminded citizens of a still free city. Fifty palfreys for the Duchess, fifty chargers for the Duke, trapped in cloth of gold; a hundred men-at-arms and five hundred foot soldiers for a body-guard; five hundred couples of hounds and a multitude of hawks; preceded him. His suite of courtiers numbered two thousand on horseback: 200,000 golden florins were expended on this pomp. Machiavelli (1st. Fior. lib. 7) marks this visit of the Duke of Milan as a turning-point from austere simplicity to luxury and license in the manners of the Florentines, whom Lorenzo de' Medici was already bending to his yoke. The most extravagant lust, the meanest and the vilest cruelty, supplied Galeazzo Maria with daily recreation.[1] He it was who used to feed his victims on abominations or to bury them alive, and who found a pleasure in wounding or degrading those whom he had made his confidants and friends. The details of his assassination, in 1476, though well known, are so interesting that I may be excused for pausing to repeat them here; especially as they illustrate a moral characteristic of this period which is intimately connected with the despotism. Three young nobles of Milan, educated in the classic literature by Montano, a distinguished Bolognese scholar, had imbibed from their studies of Greek and Latin history an ardent thirst for liberty and a deadly hatred of tyrants.[2] Their names were Carlo Visconti, Girolamo Olgiati, and Giannandrea Lampugnani. Galeazzo Sforza had wounded the two latter in the points which men hold dearest—their honor and their property[3]—by outraging the sister of Olgiati and by depriving Lampugnani of the patronage of the Abbey of Miramondo. The spirit of Harmodius and Virginius was kindled in the friends, and they determined to rid Milan of her despot. After some meetings in the garden of S. Ambrogio, where they matured their plans, they laid their project of tyrannicide as a holy offering before the patron saint of Milan.[4] Then having spent a few days in poignard exercise for the sake of training,[5] they took their place within the precincts of S. Stephen's Church. There they received the sacrament and addressed themselves in prayer to the Protomartyr, whose fane was about to be hallowed by the murder of a monster odious to God and man. It was on the morning of December 26, 1476, that the duke entered San Stefano. At one and the same moment the daggers of the three conspirators struck him—Olgiati's in the breast, Visconti's in the back, Lampugnani's in the belly. He cried 'Ah, Dio!' and fell dead upon the pavement. The friends were unable to make their escape; Visconti and Lampugnani were killed on the spot; Olgiati was seized, tortured, and torn to death.

[1] Allegretto Allegretti, Diari Sanesi, in Muratori, xxiii. p. 777, and Corio, p. 425, should be read for the details of his pleasures. See too his character by Machiavelli, 1st. Fior. lib. 7, vol. ii. p. 316. Yet Giovio calls him a just and firm ruler, stained only with the vice of unbridled sensuality.

[2] The study of the classics, especially of Plutarch, at this time, as also during the French Revolution, fired the imagination of patriots. Lorenzino de' Medici appealed to the example of Timoleon in 1537, and Pietro Paolo Boscoli to that of Brutus in 1513.

[3] 'Le ingiurie conviene che siano nella roba, nel sangue, o nell' onore.... La roba e l'onore sono quelle due cose che offendono piu gli uomini che alcun' altra offesa, e dalle quali il principe si debbe guardare: perche e' non puo mai spogliare uno tanto che non gli resti un coltello da vendicarsi; non puo tanto disonorare uno che non gli resti un animo ostinato alla vendetta.' Mach. Disc. iii. 6.

[4] See Olgiati's prayer to Saint Ambrose in Sismondi, vii. 87, and in Mach. Ist. Fior. lib. 7.

[5] Giovanni Sanzi's chronicle, quoted by Dennistoun, vol. i. p. 223, describes the conspirators rehearsing on a wooden puppet.

In the interval which elapsed between the rack and the pincers, Olgiati had time to address this memorable speech to the priest who urged him to repent: 'As for the noble action for which I am about to die, it is this which gives my conscience peace; to this I trust for pardon from the Judge of all. Far from repenting, if I had to come ten times to life in order ten times to die by these same torments, I should not hesitate to dedicate my blood and all my powers to an object so sublime.' When the hangman stood above him, ready to begin the work of mutilation, he is said to have exclaimed: Mors acerba, fama perpetua, stabit vetus memora facti—my death is untimely, my fame eternal, the memory of the deed will last for aye.' He was only twenty-two years of age.[1] There is an antique grandeur about the outlines of this story, strangely mingled with mediaeval Catholicism in the details, which makes it typical of the Renaissance. Conspiracies against rulers were common at the time in Italy; but none were so pure and honorable as this. Of the Pazzi Conjuration (1478) which Sixtus IV. directed to his everlasting infamy against the Medici, I shall have to speak in another place. It is enough to mention here in passing the patriotic attempt of Girolamo Gentile against Galeazzo Sforza at Genoa in 1476, and the more selfish plot of Nicolo d' Este, in the same year, against his uncle Ercole, who held the Marquisate of Ferrara to the prejudice of his own claim. The latter tragedy was rendered memorable by the vengeance taken by Ercole. He beheaded Nicolo and his cousin Azzo together with twenty-five of his comrades, effectually preventing by this bloodshed any future attempt to set aside his title. Falling as these four conspiracies do within the space of two years, and displaying varied features of antique heroism, simple patriotism, dynastic dissension, and ecclesiastical perfidy, they present examples of the different forms and causes of political tragedies with a noteworthy and significant conciseness.[2]

[1] The whole story may be read in Ripamonti, under the head of 'Confessio Olgiati;' in Corio, who was a page of the Duke's and an eye-witness of the murder; and in the seventh book of Machiavelli's 'History.' Sismondi's summary and references, vol. vii. pp. 86-90, are very full.

[2] It is worthy of notice that very many tyrannicides took place in Church—for example, the murders of Francesco Vico dei Prefetti, of the Varani, the Chiavelli, Giuliano de' Medici, and Galeazzo Maria Sforza. The choice of public service, as the best occasion for the commission of these crimes, points to the guarded watchfulness maintained by tyrants in their palaces and on the streets. Banquets and festivities offered another kind of opportunity; and it was on such occasions that domestic tragedies, like Oliverotto's murder of his uncle and Grifonetto Baglioni's treason, were accomplished.

Such was the actual condition of Italy at the end of the fifteenth century. Neither public nor private morality in our sense of the word existed. The crimes of the tyrants against their subjects and the members of their own families had produced a correlative order of crime in the people over whom they tyrannized. Cruelty was met by conspiracy. Tyrannicide became honorable; and the proverb, 'He who gives his own life can take a tyrant's,' had worked itself into popular language. At this point it may be well to glance at the opinions concerning public murder which prevailed in Italy. Machiavelli, in the Discorsi iii. 6, discusses the whole subject with his usual frigid and exhaustive analysis. It is no part of his critical method to consider the morality of the matter. He deals with the facts of history scientifically. The esteem in which tyrannicide was held at Florence is proved by the erection of Donatello's Judith in 1495, at the gate of the Palazzo Pubblico, with this inscription, exemplum salutis publicae cives posuere. All the political theorists agree that to rid a state of its despot is a virtuous act. They only differ about its motives and its utility. In Guicciardini's Reggimento di Firenze (Op. Ined. vol. ii. pp. 53, 54, 114) the various motives of tyrannicide are discussed, and it is concluded that pochissimi sono stati quelli che si siano mossi meramente per amore della liberta della sua patria, a' quali si conviene suprema laude.[1] Donato Giannotti (Opere, vol. i. p. 341) bids the conspirator consider whether the mere destruction of the despot will suffice to restore his city to true liberty and good government—a caution by which Lorenzino de' Medici in his assassination of Duke Alessandro might have profited; for he killed one tyrant in order only to make room for another. Lorenzino's own Apology (Varchi, vol. iii. pp. 283-295) is an important document, as showing that the murderer of a despot counted on the sympathy of honorable men. So, too, is the verdict of Boscolo's confessor (Arch. Stor. vol. i. p. 309), who pronounced that conspiracy against a tyrant was no crime. Nor did the demoralization of the age stop here. Force, which had been substituted for Law in government, became, as it were, the mainspring of society. Murders, poisoning, rapes, and treasons were common incidents of private as of public life.[2] In cities like Naples bloodguilt could be atoned at an inconceivably low rate. A man's life was worth scarcely more than that of a horse. The palaces of the nobles swarmed with professional cut-throats, and the great ecclesiastics claimed for their abodes the right of sanctuary. Popes sold absolution for the most horrible excesses, and granted indulgences beforehand for the commission of crimes of lust and violence. Success was the standard by which acts were judged; and the man who could help his friends intimidate his enemies, and carve a way to fortune for himself by any means he chose, was regarded as a hero. Machiavelli's use of the word virtu is in this relation most instructive. It has altogether lost the Christian sense of virtue, and retains only so much of the Roman virtus as is applicable to the courage, intellectual ability, and personal prowess of one who has achieved his purpose, be that what it may. The upshot of this state of things was that individuality of character and genius obtained a freer scope at this time in Italy than during any other period of modern history.

[1] 'Very few indeed have those been, whose motive for tyrannicide was a pure love of their country's liberty; and these deserve the highest praise.'

[2] It is quite impossible to furnish a complete view of Italian society under this aspect. Students must be referred to the stories of the novelists, who collected the more dramatic incidents and presented them in the form of entertaining legends. It may suffice here to mention Bartolommeo Colleoni, Angelo Poliziano, and Pontano, all of whom owed their start in life to the murder of their respective fathers by assassins; to Varchi and Filelfo, whose lives were attempted by cut-throats; to Cellini, Perugino, Masaccio, Berni, in each of whose biographies poison and the knife play their parts. If men of letters and artists were exposed to these perils, the dangers of the great and noble may be readily imagined.

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