The Pope read the anonymous libel when it was submitted to him by the Cardinal of Modena—read it, laughed it to scorn, and treated it with the contempt which it deserved, yet a contempt which, considering its nature, asks a certain greatness of mind.
If the libel was true it is almost incredible that he should not have sought to avenge it, for an ugly truth is notoriously hurtful and provocative of resentment, far more so than is a lie. Cesare, however, was not of a temper quite as long-suffering as his father. Enough and more of libels and lampoons had he endured already. Early in December a masked man—a Neapolitan of the name of Mancioni—who had been going through Rome uttering infamies against him was seized and so dealt with that he should in future neither speak nor write anything in any man's defamation. His tongue was cut out and his right hand chopped off, and the hand, with the tongue attached to its little finger, was hung in sight of all and as a warning from a window of the Church of Holy Cross.
And towards the end of January, whilst Cesare's fury at that pamphlet out of Germany was still unappeased, a Venetian was seized in Rome for having translated from Greek into Latin another libel against the Pope and his son. The Venetian ambassador intervened to save the wretch, but his intervention was vain. The libeller was executed that same night.
Costabili—the Ferrara ambassador—who spoke to the Pope on the matter of this execution, reported that his Holiness said that more than once had he told the duke that Rome was a free city, in which any one was at liberty to say or write what he pleased; that of himself, too, much evil was being spoken, but that he paid no heed to it.
"The duke," proceeded Alexander, "is good-natured, but he has not yet learnt to bear insult." And he added that, irritated, Cesare had protested that, "However much Rome may be in the habit of speaking and writing, for my own part I shall give these libellers a lesson in good manners."
The lesson he intended was not one they should live to practise.
CHAPTER XII. LUCREZIA'S THIRD MARRIAGE
At about the same time that Burchard was making in his Diarium those entries which reflect so grossly upon the Pope and Lucrezia, Gianluca Pozzi, the ambassador of Ferrara at the Vatican, was writing the following letter to his master, Duke Ercole, Lucrezia's father-in-law elect:
"This evening, after supper, I accompanied Messer Gerardo Saraceni to visit the Most Illustrious Madonna Lucrezia in your Excellency's name and that of the Most Illustrious Don Alfonso. We entered into a long discussion touching various matters. In truth she showed herself a prudent, discreet, and good-natured lady."(1)
1 See Gregorovius's Lucrezia Borgia.
The handsome, athletic Cardinal Ippolito d'Este, with his brothers Sigismondo and Fernando, had arrived in Rome on December 23 with the imposing escort that was to accompany their brother Alfonso's bride back to Ferrara.
Cesare was prominent in the welcome given them. Never, perhaps, had he made greater display than on the occasion of his riding out to meet the Ferrarese, accompanied by no fewer than 4,000 men-at-arms, and mounted on a great war-horse whose trappings of cloth of gold and jewels were estimated at 10,000 ducats.
The days and nights that followed, until Lucrezia's departure a fortnight later, were days and nights of gaiety and merry-making at the Vatican; in banquets, dancing, the performance of comedies, masques, etc., was the time made to pass as agreeably as might be for the guests from Ferrara, and in all Cesare was conspicuous, either for the grace and zest with which he nightly danced, or for the skill and daring which he displayed in the daily joustings and entertainments, and more particularly in the bull-fight that was included in them.
Lucrezia was splendidly endowed, to the extent, it was estimated, of 300,000 ducats, made up by 100,000 ducats in gold, her jewels and equipage, and the value of the Castles of Pieve and Cento. Her departure from Rome took place on January 6, and so she passes out of this chronicle, which, after all, has been little concerned with her.
Of the honour done her everywhere on that journey to Ferrara, the details are given elsewhere, particularly in the book devoted to her history and rehabilitation by Herr Gregorovius. After all, the real Lucrezia Borgia fills a comparatively small place in the actual history of her house. It is in the fictions concerning her family that she is given such unenviable importance, and presented as a Maenad, a poisoner, and worse. In reality she appears to us, during her life in Rome, as a rather childish, naive, and entirely passive figure, important only in so far as she found employment at her father's or brother's hands for the advancement of their high ambitions and unscrupulous aims.
In the popular imagination she lives chiefly as a terrific poisoner, an appalling artist in venenation. It is remarkable that this should be the case, for not even the scandal of her day so much as suggests that she was connected—directly or even indirectly—with a single case of poisoning. No doubt that popular conception owes its being entirely to Victor Hugo's drama.
Away from Rome and settled in Ferrara from the twenty-second year of her age, to become anon its duchess, her life is well known and admits of no argument. The archives of the State she ruled show her devout, god-fearing, and beloved in life, and deeply mourned in death by a sorrowing husband and a sorrowing people. Not a breath of scandal touches her from the moment that she quits the scandalous environment of the Papal Court.
Cesare continued at the Vatican after her departure. His duchess was to have come to Rome in that Easter of 1502, and it had been disposed that the ladies and gentlemen who had gone as escort of honour with Lucrezia should proceed—after leaving her in Ferrara—to Lombardy, to do the like office by Charlotte d'Albret, and, meeting her there, accompany her to Rome. She was coming with her brother, the Cardinal Amanieu d'Albret, and bringing with her Cesare's little daughter, Louise de Valentinois, now two years of age. But the duchess fell ill at the last moment, and was unable to undertake the journey, of which Cardinal d'Albret brought word to Rome, where he arrived on February 7.
Ten days later Cesare set out with his father for Piombino, for which purpose six galleons awaited them at Civita Vecchia under the command of Lodovico Mosca, the captain of the Pontifical navy. On these the Pope and his son embarked, upon their visit to the scene of the latest addition to Cesare's ever-growing dominions.
They landed at Piombino on February 21, and made a solemn entrance into the town, the Pope carried in state in the Sedia Gestatoria, under a canopy, attended by six cardinals and six singers from the Sixtine Chapel, whilst Cesare was accompanied by a number of his gentlemen.
They abode four days in Piombino, whence they crossed to Elba, for the purpose of disposing for the erection there of two fortresses—a matter most probably entrusted to Leonardo da Vinci, who continued in the ducal train as architect and engineer.
On March 1 they took ship to return to Rome; but they were detained at sea for five days by a tempest which seems to have imperilled the vessels. The Pope was on board the captain's galley with his cardinals-in-waiting and servants, and when these were reduced by the storm and the imminent danger to a state of abject terror, the Pope—this old man of seventy-one—sat calm and intrepid, occasionally crossing himself and pronouncing the name of Jesus, and encouraging the very sailors by his example as much as by his words.
In Piombino Cesare had left Michele da Corella as his governor. This Corella was a captain of foot, a soldier of fortune, who from the earliest days of Cesare's military career had followed the duke's fortunes—the very man who is alleged to have strangled Alfonso of Aragon by Cesare's orders. He is generally assumed to have been a Spaniard, and is commonly designated as Michelotto, or Don Miguel; but Alvisi supposes him, from his name of Corella, to have been a Venetian, and he tells us that by his fidelity to Cesare and the implicit manner in which he executed his master's orders, he earned—as is notorious—considerable hatred. He has been spoken of, indeed, as the ame damnee of Cesare Borgia; but that is a purely romantic touch akin to that which gave the same designation to Richelieu's Father Joseph.
The Romagna was at this time administered for Cesare Borgia by Ramiro de Lorqua, who, since the previous November, had held the office of Governor in addition to that of Lieutenant-General in which he had been earlier invested. His power in the Romagna was now absolute, all Cesare's other officers, even the very treasurers, being subject to him.
He was a man of some fifty years of age, violent and domineering, feared by all, and the dispenser of a harsh justice which had at least the merit of an impartiality that took no account of persons.
Bernardi gives us an instance of the man's stern, uncompromising, pitiless nature. On January 29, 1502, two malefactors were hanged in Faenza. The rope suspending one of them broke while the fellow was alive, and the crowd into which he tumbled begged for mercy for him at first, then, swayed by pity, the people resolved to save him in spite of the officers of justice who demanded his surrender. Preventing his recapture, the mob bore him off to the Church of the Cerviti. The Lieutenant of Faenza came to demand the person of the criminal, but he was denied by the Prior, who claimed to extend him sanctuary.
But the days of sanctuary were overpast, and the laws of the time held that any church or consecrated place in which a criminal took refuge should ipso facto be deemed unconsecrated by his pursuers, and further, that any ecclesiastic sheltering such a fugitive did so under peril of excommunication from his bishop. This law Ramiro accounted it his duty to enforce when news was carried to him at Imola of what had happened.
He came at once to Faenza, and, compelling the Prior by actual force to yield up the man he sheltered, he hanged the wretch, for the second time, from a window of the Palace of the Podesta. At the same time he seized several who were alleged to have been ringleaders of the fellow's rescue from the hands of the officers, and made the citizens of Faenza compromise for the lives of these by payment of a fine of 10,000 ducats, giving them a month in which to find the money.
The Faentini sent their envoys to Ramiro to intercede with him; but that harsh man refused so much as to grant them audience—which was well for them, for, as a consequence, the Council sent ambassadors to Rome to submit the case to the Pope's Holiness and to the Duke of Valentinois, together with a petition that the fine should be remitted—a petition that was readily granted.
Harsh as it was, however, Ramiro's rule was salutary, its very harshness necessary in a province where lawlessness had become a habit through generations of misgovernment. Under Cesare's dominion the change already was remarkable. During his two years of administration—to count from its commencement—the Romagna was already converted from a seething hell of dissensions, disorders and crimes—chartered brigandage and murder—into a powerful State, law-abiding and orderly, where human life and personal possessions found zealous protection, and where those who disturbed the peace met with a justice that was never tempered by mercy.
A strong hand was wanted there, and the duke, supreme judge of the tools to do his work, ruled the Romagna and crushed its turbulence by means of the iron hand of Ramiro de Lorqua.
It was also under the patronage of Valentinois that the first printing-press of any consequence came to be established in Italy. This was set up at Fano by Girolamo Sancino in 1501, and began the issue of worthy books. One of the earliest works undertaken (says Alvisi) was the printing of the Statutes of Fano for the first time in January of 1502. And it was approved by the Council, civil and ecclesiastical, that Sancino should undertake this printing of the Statutes "Ad perpetuam memoriam Illmi. Domini nostri Ducis."
CHAPTER XIII. URBINO AND CAMERINO
It may well be that it was about this time that Cesare, his ambition spreading—as men's ambition will spread with being gratified—was considering the consolidation of Central Italy into a kingdom of which he would assume the crown.
It was a scheme in the contemplation of which he was encouraged by Vitellozzo Vitelli, who no doubt conceived that in its fulfilment the ruin of Florence would be entailed—which was all that Vitelli cared about. What to Cesare would have been no more than the means, would have been to Vitelli a most satisfactory end.
Before, however, going so far there was still the work of subjugating the States of the Church to be completed, as this could not be so considered until Urbino, Camerino, and Sinigaglia should be under the Borgia dominion.
For this, no doubt, Cesare was disposing during that Easter of 1502 which he spent in Rome, and during which there were heard from the south the first rumblings of the storm of war whereof ill-starred Naples was once more—for the third time within ten years—to be the scene. The allies of yesterday were become the antagonists of to-day, and France and Spain were ready to fly at each other's throats over the division of the spoil, as a consequence of certain ill-definitions of the matter in the treaty of Granada. The French Viceroy, Louis d'Armagnac, and the great Spanish Captain, Gonzalo de Cordoba, were on the point of coming to blows.
Nor was the menace of disturbance confined to Naples. In Florence, too, the torch of war was alight, and if—as he afterwards swore—Cesare Borgia had no hand in kindling it, it is at least undeniable that he complacently watched the conflagration, conscious that it would make for the fulfilment of his own ends. Besides, there was still that little matter of the treaty of Forno dei Campi between Cesare and Florence, a treaty which the Signory had never fulfilled and never intended to fulfil, and Cesare was not the man to forget how he had been fooled.
But for the protection of France which she enjoyed, Florence must long ere this have been called to account by him, and crushed out of all shape under the weight of his mailed hand. As it was she was to experience the hurt of his passive resentment, and find this rather more than she could bear.
Vitellozzo Vitelli, that vindictive firebrand whose original motive in allying himself with Cesare had been the hope that the duke might help him to make Florence expiate his brother's blood, finding that Cesare withheld the expected help, was bent at last upon dealing, himself, with Florence. He entered into plots with the exiled Piero de'Medici to restore the latter to his dominion; he set intrigues afoot in Pisa, where his influence was vast, and in Siena, whose tyrant, Pandolfo Petrucci, was ready and willing to forward his designs, and generally made so disturbing a stir in Tuscany that the Signory became gravely alarmed.
Cesare certainly took no apparent active part in the affair. He lent Vitelli no aid; but neither did he attempt to restrain him or any other of the Borgia condottieri who were allied with him.
The unrest, spreading and growing sullenly a while, burst suddenly forth in Arezzo on June 4, when the cries of "Medici!" and "Marzocco!" rang in its streets, to announce that the city was in arms against the government of Florence. Arezzo followed this up by summoning Vitelli, and the waiting, watchful condottiero was quick to answer the desired call. He entered the town three days later at the head of a small body of foot, and was very shortly afterwards followed by his brother Giulio Vitelli, Bishop of Citta di Castello, with the artillery, and, presently, by Gianpaolo Baglioni with a condotta of horse.
A few days later Vitelli was in possession of all the strongholds of the Val di Chiana, and panic-stricken Florence was speeding ambassadors hot-foot to Rome to lay her complaints of these matters before the Pope.
Alexander was able to reply that, far from supporting the belligerents, he had launched a Bull against them, provoked by the poisoning of the Bishop de'Pazzi.
Cesare looked on with the inscrutable calm for which Macchiavelli was presently to find him so remarkable. Aware as he was of the French protection which Florence enjoyed and could invoke, he perceived how vain must ultimately prove Vitelli's efforts, saw, perhaps, in all this the grave danger of ultimate ruin which Vitelli was incurring. Yet Vitelli's action served Cesare's own purposes, and, so that his purposes were served, there were no other considerations likely to weigh with that cold egotist. Let Vitelli be caught in the toils he was spinning, and be choked in them. Meanwhile, Florence was being harrowed, and that was all to Cesare's satisfaction and advantage. When sufficiently humbled, it might well befall that the Republic should come on her knees to implore his intervention, and his pardon for having flouted him.
While matters stood so in Arezzo, Pisa declared spontaneously for Cesare, and sent (on June 10) to offer herself to his dominion and to announce to him that his banner was already flying from her turrets—and the growth of Florence's alarm at this is readily conceived.
To Cesare it must have been a sore temptation. To accept such a pied-a-terre in Tuscany as was now offered him would have been the first great step towards founding that kingdom of his dreams. An impulsive man had surely gulped the bait. But Cesare, boundless in audacity, most swift to determine and to act, was not impulsive. Cold reason, foresight and calculation were the ministers of his indomitable will. He looked ahead and beyond in the matter of Pisa's offer, and he perceived the danger that might await him in the acceptance. The time for that was not yet. To take what Pisa offered might entail offending France, and although Cesare was now in case to dispense with French support, he was in no case to resist her opposition.
And so, the matter being considered and determined, Cesare quitted Rome on the 12th and left it for the Pope to give answer to the Pisan envoys in the Consistory of June 14—that neither his Holiness nor the Duke of Valentinois could assent to the proposals which Pisa made.
From Rome Cesare travelled swiftly to Spoleto, where his army, some ten thousand strong, was encamped. He was bent at last upon the conquest of Camerino, and, ever an opportunist, he had seized the moment when Florence, which might have been disposed to befriend Varano, Tyrant of Camerino, was over-busy with her own affairs.
In addition to the powerful army awaiting him at Spoleto, the duke had a further 2,000 men in the Romagna; another 1,000 men held themselves at his orders between Sinigaglia and Urbino, and Dionigio di Naldo was arming yet another 1,000 men at Verucchio for his service. Yet further to increase this force, Cesare issued an edict during his brief sojourn at Spoleto ordering every house in the Romagna to supply him with one man-at-arms.
It was whilst here—as he afterwards wrote to the Pope—that news reached him that Guidobaldo da Montefeltre, Duke of Urbino, was arming men and raising funds for the assistance of Camerino. He wrote that he could not at first believe it, but that shortly afterwards—at Foligni—he took a chancellor of Camerino who admitted that the hopes of this State were all founded upon Urbino's assistance; and later, a messenger from Urbino falling into his hands, he discovered that there was a plot afoot to seize the Borgia artillery as it passed through Ugubio, it being known that, as Cesare had no suspicions, the guns would be guarded only by a small force. Of this treachery the duke strongly expressed his indignation in his letter to the Pope.
Whether the matter was true—or whether Cesare believed it to be true—it is impossible to ascertain with absolute conviction. But it is in the highest degree unlikely that Cesare would have written such a letter to his father solely by way of setting up a pretext. Had that been his only aim, letters expressing his simulated indignation would have been in better case to serve his ends had they been addressed to others.
If Guidobaldo did engage in such an act, amounting to a betrayal, he was certainly paid by Cesare in kind and with interest. If the duke had been short of a pretext for carrying a drawn sword into the dominions of Guidobaldo, he had that pretext now in this act of enmity against himself and the Holy See.
First, however, he disposed for the attack upon Camerino. This State, lying on the Eastern spurs of the Apennines, midway between Spoleto and Urbino, was ruled by Giulio Cesare Varano, an old war-dog of seventy years of age, ruthless and bloodthirsty, who owed his throne to his murder of his own brother.
He was aided in the government of his tyranny by his four sons, Venanzio, Annibale, Pietro, and Gianmaria.
Several times already had he been menaced by Cesare Borgia, for he was one of the Vicars proscribed for the non-payment of tribute due to the Holy See, and at last his hour was come. Against him Cesare now dispatched an army under the command of Francesco Orsini, Duke of Gravina, and Oliverotto Eufreducci, another murderous, bloody gentleman who had hitherto served the duke in Vitelli's condotta, and who, by an atrocious act of infamy and brigandage, had made himself Lord of Fermo, which he pretended—being as sly as he was bloody—to hold as Vicar for the Holy See.
This Oliverotto Eufreducci—hereafter known as Oliverotto da Fermo—was a nephew of Giovanni Fogliano, Lord of Fermo. He had returned home to his uncle's Court in the early part of that year, and was there received with great honour and affection by Fogliano and his other relatives. To celebrate his home-coming, Oliverotto invited his uncle and the principal citizens of Fermo to a banquet, and at table contrived to turn the conversation upon the Pope and the Duke of Valentinois; whereupon, saying that these were matters to be discussed more in private, he rose from table and begged them to withdraw with him into another room.
All unsuspecting—what should old Fogliano suspect from one so loved and so deeply in his debt?—they followed him to the chamber where he had secretly posted a body of his men-at-arms. There, no sooner had the door closed upon this uncle, and those others who had shown him so much affection, than he gave the signal for the slaughter that had been concerted. His soldiers fell upon those poor, surprised victims of his greed, and made a speedy and bloody end of all.
That first and chief step being taken, Oliverotto flung himself on his horse, and, gathering his men-at-arms about him, rode through Fermo on the business of butchering what other relatives and friends of Fogliano might remain. Among these were Raffaele della Rovere and two of his children, one of whom was inhumanly slaughtered in its mother's lap.
Thereafter he confiscated to his own uses the property of those whom he had murdered, and of those who, more fortunate, had fled his butcher's hands. He dismissed the existing Council and replaced it by a government of his own. Which done—to shelter himself from the consequences—he sent word to the Pope that he held Fermo as Vicar of the Church.
Whilst a portion of his army marched on Camerino, Cesare, armed with his pretext for the overthrow of Guidobaldo, set himself deliberately and by an elaborate stratagem to the capture of Urbino. Of this there can be little doubt. The cunning of the scheme is of an unsavoury sort, when considered by the notions that obtain to-day, for the stratagem was no better than an act of base treachery. Yet, lest even in this you should be in danger of judging Cesare Borgia by standards which cannot apply to his age, you will do well to consider that there is no lack of evidence that the fifteenth century applauded the business as a clever coup.
Guidobaldo da Montefeltre was a good prince. None in all Italy was more beloved by his people, towards whom he bore himself with a kindly, paternal bonhomie. He was a cultured, scholarly man, a patron of the arts, happiest in the splendid library of the Palace of Urbino. It happened, unfortunately, that he had no heir, which laid his dominions open to the danger of division amongst the neighbouring greedy tyrants after his death. To avoid this he had adopted Francesco Maria della Rovere, hereditary Prefect of Sinigaglia, his sister's child and a nephew of Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere's. There was wisdom and foresight in the adoption, considering the favour enjoyed in Rome and in France by the powerful cardinal.
From Nocera Cesare sent Guidobaldo a message calculated to allay whatever uneasiness he may have been feeling, and to throw him completely off his guard. The duke notified him that he was marching upon Camerino—which was at once true and untrue—and begged Guidobaldo to assist him in this enterprise by sending him provisions to Gubbio, which he should reach on the morrow—since he was marching by way of Cagli and Sassoferrato. Further—and obviously with intent that the Duke of Urbino should reduce the forces at his disposal—he desired Guidobaldo to send Vitelli the support of a thousand men, which the latter had earlier solicited, but which Guidobaldo had refused to supply without orders from the Pope. Cesare concluded his letter with protestations of brotherly love—the Judas' kiss which makes him hateful to us in this affair.
It all proved very reassuring to Guidobaldo who set his mind at ease and never bethought him of looking to his defences, when, from Nocera, Cesare made one of those sudden movements, terrible in their swiftness as the spring of a tiger—enabling him to drive home his claws where least expected. Leaving all baggage behind him, and with provisions for only three days, he brought his troops by forced marches to Cagli, within the Urbino State, and possessed himself of it almost before the town had come to realize his presence.
Not until the citadel, taken entirely by surprise, was in Cesare's hands did a messenger speed to Guidobaldo with the unwelcome tidings that the Duke of Valentinois was in arms, as an enemy, within the territory. Together with that message came others into the garden of the Zoccolanti monastery—that favourite resort of Guidobaldo's—where he was indulging his not unusual custom of supping in the cool of that summer evening. They brought him word that, while Valentinois was advancing upon him from the south, a force of 1,000 men were marching upon Urbino from Isola di Fano in the east, and twice that number through the passes of Sant' Angelo and Verucchio in the north—all converging upon his capital.
The attack had been shrewdly planned and timed, and if anything can condone the treachery by which Guidobaldo was lulled into his false security, it is the circumstance that this conduct of the matter avoided bloodshed—a circumstance not wholly negligible, and one that was ever a part of Cesare Borgia's policy, save where punishment had to be inflicted or reprisals taken.
Guidobaldo, seeing himself thus beset upon all sides at once, and being all unprepared for resistance, perceived that nothing but flight remained him; and that very night he left Urbino hurriedly, taking with him the boy Francesco Maria, and intending at first to seek shelter in his Castle of S. Leo—a fortress that was practically impregnable. But already it was too late. The passes leading thither were by now in the hands of the enemy, as Guidobaldo discovered at dawn. Thereupon, changing his plans, he sent the boy and his few attendants to Bagno, and, himself, disguised as a peasant, took to the hills, despite the gout by which he was tormented. Thus he won to Ravenna, which was fast becoming a home for dethroned princes.
Urbino, meanwhile, in no case to resist, sent its castellan to meet Cesare and to make surrender to him—whereof Cesare, in the letter already mentioned, gives news to the Pope, excusing himself for having undertaken this thing without the Pope's knowledge, but that "the treachery employed against me by Guidobaldo was so enormous that I could not suffer it."
Within a few hours of poor Guidobaldo's flight Cesare was housed in Urbino's splendid palace, whose stupendous library was the marvel of all scholars of that day. Much of this, together with many of the art-treasures collected by the Montefeltri, Cesare began shortly afterwards to transfer to Cesena.
In addition to publishing an edict against pillage and violence in the City of Urbino, Cesare made doubly sure that none should take place by sending his soldiers to encamp at Fermignano, retaining near him in Urbino no more than his gentlemen-at-arms. The capital being taken, the remainder of the duchy made ready surrender, all the strongholds announcing their submission to Cesare with the exception of that almost inaccessible Castle of S. Leo, which capitulated only after a considerable resistance.
From Urbino Cesare now entered into communication with the Florentines, and asked that a representative should be sent to come to an agreement with him. In response to this request, the Republic sent him Bishop Soderini as her ambassador. The latter arrived in Urbino on June 25 and was immediately and very cordially received by the duke. With him, in the subordinate capacity of secretary, came a lean, small-headed, tight-lipped man, with wide-set, intelligent eyes and prominent cheek-bones—one Niccolo Macchiavelli, who, in needy circumstances at present, and comparatively obscure, was destined to immortal fame. Thus did Macchiavelli meet Cesare Borgia for the first time, and, for all that we have no records of it, it is not to be doubted that his study of that remarkable man began then in Urbino, to be continued presently, as we shall see, when Macchiavelli returns to him in the quality of an ambassador himself.
To Soderini the duke expounded his just grievance, founded upon the Florentines' unobservance of the treaty of Forno dei Campi; he demanded that a fresh treaty should be drawn up to replace the broken one, and that, for the purpose, Florence should change her government, as in the ruling one, after what had passed, he could repose no faith. He disclaimed all associations with the affair of Vitelli, but frankly declared himself glad of it, as it had, no doubt, led Florence to perceive what came of not keeping faith with him. He concluded by assuring Soderini that, with himself for their friend, the Florentines need fear no molestation from any one; but he begged that the Republic should declare herself in the matter, since, if she did not care to have him for her friend, she was, of course, at liberty to make of him her enemy.
So impressed was Soderini by Cesare Borgia that on that same night he wrote to the Signory:
"This lord is very magnificent and splendid, and so spirited in feats of arms that there is nothing so great but that it must seem small to him. In the pursuit of glory and in the acquisition of dominions he never rests, and he knows neither danger nor fatigue. He moves so swiftly that he arrives at a place before it is known that he has set out for it. He knows how to make himself beloved of his soldiers, and he has in his service the best men of Italy. These things render him victorious and formidable, and to these is yet to be added his perpetual good fortune. He argues," the Florentine envoy proceeds, "with such sound reason that to dispute with him would be a long affair, for his wit and eloquence never fail him" ("dello ingegno e della lingua si vale quanto vuole").
You are to remember that this homage is one of the few surviving impressions of one who came into personal contact with Cesare, and of one, moreover, representing a Government more or less inimical to him, who would therefore have no reason to draw a favourable portrait of him for that Government's benefit. One single page of such testimony is worth a dozen volumes of speculation and inference drawn afterwards by men who never knew him—in many cases by men who never began to know his epoch.
The envoy concludes by informing the Signory that he has the duke's assurances that the latter has no thought of attempting to deprive Florence of any of her possessions, as "the object of his campaign has not been to tyrannize, but to extirpate tyrants."
Whilst Cesare awaited the Florentines' reply to their ambassador's communication, he withdrew to the camp at Fermignano, where he was sought on July 6 by a herald from Louis XII. This messenger came to exhort Cesare to embark upon no enterprise against the Florentine Republic, because to offend Florence would be to offend the Majesty of France. Simultaneously, however, Florence received messages from the Cardinal d'Amboise, suggesting that they should come to terms with Valentinois by conceding him at least a part of what had been agreed in the Treaty of Forno dei Campi.
As a consequence, Soderini was able to inform Cesare that the Republic was ready to treat with him, but that first he must withdraw Vitelli from Arezzo, and compel him to yield up the captured fortresses. The duke, not trusting—as he had frankly avowed—a Government which once already had broken faith with him, and perceiving that, if he whistled his war-dogs to heel as requested, he would have lost the advantages of his position, refused to take any such steps until the treaty should be concluded. He consented, however, to enforce meanwhile an armistice.
But now it happened that news reached Florence of the advance of Louis XII with an army of 20,000 men, bound for Naples to settle the dispute with Spain. So the Republic—sly and treacherous as any other Italian Government of the Cinquecento—instructed Soderini to temporize with the duke; to spend the days in amiable, inconclusive interviews and discussions of terms which the Signory did not mean to make. Thus they counted upon gaining time, until the arrival of the French should put an end to the trouble caused by Vitelli, and to the need for any compromise.
But Cesare, though forced to submit, was not fooled by Soderini's smooth, evasive methods. He too—having private sources of information in France—was advised of the French advance and of the imminence of danger to himself in consequence of the affairs of Florence. And it occasioned him no surprise to see Soderini come on July 19 to take his leave of him, advised by the Signory that the French vanguard was at hand, and that, consequently, the negotiations might now with safety be abandoned.
To console him, he had news on the morrow of the conquest of Camerino.
The septuagenarian Giulio Cesare Varano had opposed to the Borgia forces a stout resistance, what time he sent his two sons Pietro and Gianmaria to Venice for help. It was in the hope of this solicited assistance that he determined to defend his tyranny, and the war opened by a cavalry skirmish in which Venanzio Varano routed the Borgia horse under the command of the Duke of Gravina. Thereafter, however, the Varani had to endure a siege; and the old story of the Romagna sieges was repeated. Varano had given his subjects too much offence in the past, and it was for his subjects now to call the reckoning.
A strong faction, led by a patrician youth of Camerino, demanded the surrender of the State, and, upon being resisted, took arms and opened the gates to the troops of Valentinois. The three Varani were taken prisoners. Old Giulio Cesare was shut up in the Castle of Pergola, where he shortly afterwards died—which was not wonderful or unnatural at his time of life, and does not warrant Guicciardini for stating, without authority, that he was strangled. Venanzio and Annibale were imprisoned in the fortress of Cattolica.
In connection with this surrender of Camerino, Cesare wrote the following affectionate letter to his sister Lucrezia—who was dangerously ill at Ferrara in consequence of her delivery of a still-born child:
"Most Illustrious and most Excellent Lady, our very dear Sister,—Confident of the circumstance that there can be no more efficacious and salutary medicine for the indisposition from which you are at present suffering than the announcement of good and happy news, we advise you that at this very moment we have received sure tidings of the capture of Camerino. We beg that you will do honour to this message by an immediate improvement, and inform us of it, because, tormented as we are to know you so ill, nothing, not even this felicitous event, can suffice to afford us pleasure. We beg you also kindly to convey the present to the Illustrious Lord Don Alfonso, your husband and our beloved Brother-in-law, to whom we are not writing to-day."
CHAPTER XIV. THE REVOLT OF THE CONDOTTIERI
The coincidence of the arrival of the French army with the conquest of Urbino and Camerino and the Tuscan troubles caused one more to be added to that ceaseless stream of rumours that flowed through Italy concerning the Borgias. This time the envy and malice that are ever provoked by success and power gave voice in that rumour to the thing it hoped, and there ensued as pretty a comedy as you shall find in the pages of history.
The rumour had it that Louis XII, resentful and mistrustful of the growth of Cesare's might, which tended to weaken France in Italy and became a menace to the French dominions, was come to make an end of him. Instantly Louis's Court in Milan was thronged by all whom Cesare had offended—and they made up by now a goodly crowd, for a man may not rise so swiftly to such eminence without raising a rich crop of enemies.
Meanwhile, however, Valentinois in the Montefeltre Palace at Urbino remained extremely at ease. He was not the man to be without intelligences. In the train of Louis was Francesco Troche, the Pope's confidential chamberlain and Cesare's devoted servant, who, possessed of information, was able to advise Valentinois precisely what were the intentions of the King of France. Gathering from these advices that it was Louis's wish that the Florentines should not be molested further, and naturally anxious not to run counter to the king's intentions, Cesare perceived that the time to take action had arrived, the time for passivity in the affairs of Florence was at an end.
So he dispatched an envoy to Vitelli, ordering his instant evacuation of Arezzo and his withdrawal with his troops from Tuscany, and he backed the command by a threat to compel Vitelli by force of arms, and to punish disobedience by depriving him of his state of Citta di Castello—"a matter," Cesare informed him, "which would be easily accomplished, as the best men of that State have already offered themselves to me."
It was a command which Vitelli had no choice but to obey, not being in sufficient force to oppose the duke. So on July 29, with Gianpaolo Baglioni, he relinquished the possession of Arezzo and departed out of Tuscany, as he had been bidden. But so incensed was he against the duke for this intervention between himself and his revenge, and so freely did he express himself in the matter, that it was put about at once that he intended to go against Cesare.
And that is the first hint of the revolt of the condottieri.
Having launched that interdict of his, Cesare, on July 25, in the garb of a knight of St. John of Jerusalem, and with only four attendants, departed secretly from Urbino to repair to Milan and King Louis. He paused for fresh horses at Forli on the morrow, and on the 28th reached Ferrara, where he remained for a couple of hours to visit Lucrezia, who was now in convalescence. Ahead of him he dispatched, thence, a courier to Milan to announce his coming, and, accompanied by Alfonso d'Este, resumed his journey.
Meanwhile, the assembly of Cesare's enemies had been increasing daily in Milan, whither they repaired to support Louis and to vent their hatred of Cesare and their grievances against him. There, amongst others, might be seen the Duke of Urbino, Pietro Varano (one of the sons of the deposed Lord of Camerino), Giovanni Sforza of Pesaro, and Francesco Gonzaga of Mantua—which latter was ever ready to turn whichever way the wind was blowing, and was now loudest in his denunciations of Cesare and eagerly advocating the formation of a league against him.
Louis received the news of Cesare's coming, and—endowed, it is clear, with a nice sense of humour—kept the matter secret until within a few hours of the duke's actual arrival. On the morning of August 5, according to Bernardi,(1) he whispered the information in Trivulzio's ear—and whispered it loudly enough to be overheard by those courtiers who stood nearest.
1 Cronache Forlivesi.
Whatever check their satisfaction at the supposed state of things may have received then was as nothing to their feelings a few hours later when they witnessed the greeting that passed between king and duke. Under their uneasy eyes Louis rode forth to meet his visitor, and gave him a glad and friendly welcome, addressing him as "cousin" and "dear relative," and so, no doubt, striking dismay into the hearts of those courtiers, who may well have deemed that perhaps they had expressed themselves too freely.
Louis, in person, accompanied Valentinois to the apartments prepared for him in the Castle of Milan, and on the morrow gave a banquet and commanded merry-makings in his visitor's honour.
Conceive the feelings of those deposed tyrants and their friends, and the sudden collapse of the hopes which they had imagined the king to be encouraging. They did, of course, the only thing there was to do. They took their leave precipitately and went their ways—all save Gonzaga, whom the king retained that he might make his peace with Cesare, and engage in friendship with him, a friendship consolidated there and then by the betrothal of their infant children: little Francesco Gonzaga and Louise de Valentinois, aged two, the daughter whom Cesare had never beheld and was never to behold.
Two factors were at work in the interests of Valentinois—the coming war in Naples with the Spaniard, which caused Louis to desire to stand well with the Pope; and the ambition of Louis's friend and counsellor, the Cardinal d'Amboise, to wear the tiara, which caused this prelate to desire to stand well with Cesare himself, since the latter's will in the matter of a Pope to succeed his father should be omnipotent with the Sacred College.
Therefore, that they might serve their interests in the end, both king and cardinal served Cesare's in the meantime.
The Duke of Valentinois's visit to Milan had served to increase the choler of Vitelli, who accounted that by this action Cesare had put him in disgrace with the King of France; and Vitelli cried out that thus was he repaid for having sought to make Cesare King of Tuscany. In such high dudgeon was the fierce Tyrant of Citta di Castello that he would not go to pay his court to Louis, and was still the more angry to hear of the warm welcome accorded in Milan to the Cardinal Orsini. In this he read approval of the Orsini for having stood neutral in the Florentine business, and, by inference from that, disapproval of himself.
Before accusing Valentinois of treachery to his condottieri, before saying that he shifted the blame of the Tuscan affair on to the shoulders of his captains, it would be well to ascertain that there was any blame to shift—that is to say, any blame that must originally have fallen upon Cesare. Certainly he made no effort to restrain Vitelli until the King of France had arrived and he had secret information which caused him to deem it politic to intervene. But of what avail until that moment, would any but an armed intervention have been with so vindictive and one-idea'd a man, and what manner of fool would not Cesare have been to have spent his strength in battle with his condottieri for the purpose of befriending a people who had never shown themselves other than his own enemies?
Like the perfect egotist he was, he sat on the fence, and took pleasure in the spectacle of the harassing of his enemies by his friends, prepared to reap any advantages there might be, but equally prepared to avoid any disadvantages.
It was not heroic, it was not noble; but it was extremely human.
Cesare was with the King of France in Genoa at the end of August, and remained in his train until September 2, when finally he took his leave of him. When they heard of his departure from the Court of Louis, his numerous enemies experienced almost as much chagrin as that which had been occasioned them by his going thither. For they had been consoling themselves of late with a fresh rumour; and again they were believing what it pleased them to believe. Rumours, you perceive, were never wanting where the Borgias were concerned, and it may be that you are beginning to rate these voces populi at their proper value, and to apprehend the worth of many of those that have been embalmed as truths in the abiding records.
This last one had it that Louis was purposely keeping Cesare by him, and intended ultimately to carry him off to France, and so put an end to the disturbances the duke was creating in Italy. What a consolation would not that have been to those Italian princelings to whose undoing he had warred! And can you marvel that they believed and circulated so readily the thing for which they hoped so fondly? By your appreciation of that may you measure the fresh disappointment that was theirs.
So mistaken were they, indeed, as it now transpired, that Louis had actually, at last, removed his protection from Bologna, under the persuasion of Cesare and the Pope. Before the duke took his departure from King Louis's Court, the latter entered into a treaty with him in that connection to supply him with three hundred lances: "De bailler au Valentinois trois cents lances pour l'aider a conquerir Bologne au nome de l'Eglise, et opprimer les Ursins, Baillons et Vitelozze."
It was a double-dealing age, and Louis's attitude in this affair sorted well with it. Feeling that he owed Bologna some explanation, he presently sent a singularly lame one by Claude de Seyssel. He put it that the Bentivogli personally were none the less under his protection than they had been hitherto, but that the terms of the protection provided that it was granted exclusively of the rights and authority of the Holy Roman See over Bologna, and that the king could not embroil himself with the Pope. With such a shifty message went M. de Seyssel to make it quite clear to Bentivogli what his position was. And on the heels of it came, on September 2, a papal brief citing Bentivogli and his two sons to appear before the Pontiff within fifteen days for the purpose of considering with his Holiness the matter of the pacification and better government of Bologna, which for so many years had been so disorderly and turbulent. Thus the Pope's summons, with a menace that was all too thinly veiled.
But Bentivogli was not taken unawares. He was not even astonished. Ever since Cesare's departure from Rome in the previous spring he had been disposing against such a possibility as this—fortifying Bologna, throwing up outworks and erecting bastions beyond the city, and levying and arming men, in all of which he depended largely upon the citizens and particularly upon the art-guild, which was devoted to the House of Bentivogli.
Stronger than the affection for their lord—which, when all is said, was none too great in Bologna—was the deep-seated hatred of the clergy entertained by the Bolognese. This it was that rallied to Bentivogli such men as Fileno della Tuate, who actually hated him. But it was a choice of evils with Fileno and many of his kidney. Detesting the ruling house, and indignant at the injustices it practised, they detested the priests still more—so much that they would have taken sides with Satan himself against the Pontificals. In this spirit did they carry their swords to Bentivogli.
Upon the nobles Bentivogli could not count—less than ever since the cold-blooded murder of the Marescotti; but in the burghers' adherence he deemed himself secure, and indeed on September 17 he had some testimony of it.
On that date—the fortnight's grace expiring—the brief was again read to the Reggimento; but it was impossible to adopt any resolution. The people were in arms, and, with enormous uproar, protested that they would not allow Giovanni Bentivogli or his sons to go to Rome, lest they should be in danger once they had left their own State.
Italy was full of rumours at the time of Cesare's proposed emprise against Bologna, and it was added that he intended, further, to make himself master of Citta di Castello and Perugia, and thus, by depriving them of their tyrannies, punish Vitelli and Baglioni for their defection.
This was the natural result of the terms of Cesare's treaty with France having become known; but the part of it which regarded the Orsini, Vitelli, and Baglioni was purely provisional. Considering that these condottieri were now at odds with Cesare, they might see fit to consider themselves bound to Bentivogli by the Treaty of Villafontana, signed by Vitelli and Orsini on the duke's behalf at the time of the capitulation of Castel Bolognese. They might choose to disregard the fact that this treaty had already been violated by Bentivogli himself, through the non-fulfilment of the terms of it, and refuse to proceed against him upon being so bidden by Valentinois.
It was for such a contingency as this that provision was made by the clause concerning them in Cesare's treaty with Louis.
The Orsini were still in the duke's service, in command of troops levied for him and paid by him, and considering that with them Cesare had no quarrel, it is by no means clear why they should have gone over to the alliance of the condottieri that was now forming against the duke. Join it, however, they did. They, too, were in the Treaty of Villafontana; but that they should consider themselves bound by it, would have been—had they urged it—more in the nature of a pretext than a reason. But they chose a pretext even more slender. They gave out that in Milan Louis XII had told Cardinal Orsini that the Pope's intention was to destroy the Orsini.
To accept such a statement as true, we should have to believe in a disloyalty and a double-dealing on the part of Louis XII altogether incredible. To what end should he, on the one side, engage to assist Cesare with 300 lances to "oppress" the Orsini—if necessary, and among others—whilst, on the other, he goes to Orsini with the story which they attribute to him? What a mean, treacherous, unkingly figure must he not cut as a consequence! He may have been—we know, indeed, that he was—no more averse to double-dealing than any other Cinquecentist; but he was probably as averse to being found out in a meanness and made to look contemptible as any double-dealer of our own times. It is a consideration worth digesting.
When word of the story put about by the Orsini was carried to the Pope he strenuously denied the imputation, and informed the Venetian ambassador that he had written to complain of this to the King of France, and that, far from such a thing being true, Cesare was so devoted to the Orsini as to be "more Orsini than Borgian."
It is further worth considering that the defection of the Orsini was neither immediate nor spontaneous, as must surely have been the case had the story been true. It was the Baglioni and Vitelli only who first met to plot at Todi, to declare that they would not move against their ally of Bologna, and to express the hope that they might bring the Orsini to the same mind. They succeeded so well that the second meeting was held at Magione—a place belonging to the powerful Cardinal Orsini, situated near the Baglioni's stronghold of Perugia. Vitellozzo was carried thither on his bed, so stricken with the morbo gallico—which in Italy was besetting most princes, temporal and ecclesiastical—that he was unable to walk.
Gentile and Gianpaolo Baglioni, Cardinal Gianbattista Orsini, Francesco Orsini, Duke of Gravina, Paolo Orsini, the bastard son of the Archbishop of Trani, Pandolfo Petrucci—Lord of Siena—and Hermes Bentivogli were all present. The last-named, prone to the direct methods of murder by which he had rid Bologna of the Marescotti, is said to have declared that he would kill Cesare Borgia if he but had the opportunity, whilst Vitelli swore solemnly that within a year he would slay or capture the duke, or else drive him out of Italy.
From this it will be seen that the Diet of Magione was no mere defensive alliance, but actually an offensive one, with the annihilation of Cesare Borgia for its objective.
They certainly had the power to carry out their resolutions, for whilst Cesare disposed at that moment of not more than 2,500 foot, 300 men-at-arms, and the 100 lances of his Caesarean guard of patricians, the confederates had in arms some 9,000 foot and 1,000 horse. Conscious of their superior strength, they determined to strike at once, before Cesare should be further supported by the French lances, and to make sure of him by assailing him on every side at once. To this end it was resolved that Bentivogli should instantly march upon Imola, where Cesare lay, whilst the others should possess themselves of Urbino and Pesaro simultaneously.
They even approached Florence and Venice in the matter, inviting the Republics to come into the league against Valentinois.
The Florentines, however, could not trust such enemies of their own as Vitelli and the Orsini, nor dared they join in an enterprise which had for scope to make war upon an ally of France; and they sent word to Cesare of their resolve to enter into no schemes against him.
The Venetians would gladly have moved to crush a man who had snatched the Romagna from under their covetous eyes; but in view of the league with France they dared not. What they dared, they did. They wrote to Louis at length of the evils that were befalling Italy at the hands of the Duke of Valentinois, and of the dishonour to the French crown which lay for Louis in his alliance with Cesare Borgia. They even went so far—and most treacherously, considering the league—as to allow their famous captain, Bartolomeo d'Alviano, to reconduct Guidobaldo to Urbino, as we shall presently see.
Had the confederates but kept faith with one another Cesare's knell had soon been tolled. But they were a weak-kneed pack of traitors, irresolute in their enmity as in their friendships. The Orsini hung back. They urged that they did not trust themselves to attack Cesare with men actually in his pay; whilst Bentivogli—treacherous by nature to the back-bone of him—actually went so far as to attempt to open secret negotiations with Cesare through Ercole d'Este of Ferrara.
CHAPTER XV. MACCHIAVELLI'S LEGATION
On October 2 news of the revolt of the condottieri and the diet of Magione had reached the Vatican and rendered the Pope uneasy. Cesare, however, had been informed of it some time before at Imola, where he was awaiting the French lances that should enable him to raid the Bolognese and drive out the Bentivogli.
Where another might have been paralyzed by a defection which left him almost without an army, and would have taken the course of sending envoys to the rebels to attempt to make terms and by concessions to patch up a treaty, Cesare, with characteristic courage, assurance, and promptitude of action, flung out officers on every side to levy him fresh troops.
His great reputation as a condottiero, the fame of his wealth and his notorious liberality, stood him now in excellent stead. The response to his call was instantaneous. Soldiers of fortune and mercenaries showed the trust they had in him, and flocked to his standard from every quarter. One of the first to arrive was Gasparo Sanseverino, known as Fracassa, a condottiero of great renown, who had been in the Pontifical service since the election of Pope Alexander. He was a valuable acquisition to Cesare, who placed him in command of the horse. Another was Lodovico Pico della Mirandola, who brought a small condotta of 60 lances and 60 light horse. Ranieri della Sassetta rode in at the head of 100 mounted arbalisters, and Francesco de Luna with a body of 50 arquebusiers.(1)
1 The arquebus, although it had existed in Italy for nearly a century, was only just coming into general use.
Valentinois sent out Raffaele dei Pazzi and Galeotto Pallavicini, the one into Lombardy to recruit 1,000 Gascons, the other to raise a body of Swiss mercenaries. Yet, when all is said, these were but supplementary forces; the main strength of Cesare's new army lay in the troops raised in the Romagna, which, faithful to him and confident of his power and success, rallied to him now in the hour of his need. Than this there can be no more eloquent testimony to the quality of his rule. In command of these Romagnuoli troops he placed such Romagnuoli captains as Dionigio di Naldo and Marcantonio da Fano, thereby again affording proof of his wisdom, by giving these soldiers their own compatriots and men with whom they were in sympathy for their leaders.
With such speed had he acted, and such was the influence of his name, that already, by October 14, he had assembled an army of upwards of 6,000 men, which his officers were diligently drilling at Imola, whilst daily now were the French lances expected, and the Swiss and Gascon mercenaries he had sent to levy.
It may well be that this gave the confederates pause, and suggested to them that they should reconsider their position and ask themselves whether the opportunity for crushing Cesare had not slipped by whilst they had stood undecided.
It was Pandolfo Petrucci who took the first step towards a reconciliation, by sending word to Valentinois that it was not his intention to take any measures that might displease his Excellency. His Excellency will no doubt have smiled at that belated assurance from the sparrow to the hawk. Then, a few days later, came news that Giulio Orsini had entered into an agreement with the Pope. This appeared to give the confederacy its death-blow, and Paolo Orsini was on the point of setting out to seek Cesare at Imola for the purpose of treating with him—which would definitely have given burial to the revolt—when suddenly there befell an event which threw the scales the other way.
Cesare's people were carrying out some work in the Castle of S. Leo, in the interior of which a new wall was in course of erection. For the purposes of this, great baulks of timber were being brought into the castle from the surrounding country. Some peasants, headed by one Brizio, who had been a squire of Guidobaldo's, availed themselves of the circumstance to capture the castle by a stratagem. Bringing forward some great masses of timber and felled trees, they set them down along the drawbridge in such a manner as to prevent its being hoisted. That done, an attack in force was directed against the fortress. The place, whose natural defences rendered it practically impregnable, was but slightly manned; being thus surprised, and unable to raise the bridge, it was powerless to offer any resistance, so that the Montefeltre peasants, having killed every Borgia soldier of the garrison, took possession of it and held it for Duke Guidobaldo.
This capture of S. Leo was as a spark that fired a train. Instantly the hardy hillmen of Urbino were in arms to reconquer Guidobaldo's duchy for him. Stronghold after stronghold fell into their hands, until they were in Urbino itself. They made short work of the capital's scanty defenders, flung Cesare's governor into prison, and finally obtained possession of the citadel.
It was the news of this that caused the confederates once more to pause. Before declaring themselves, they waited to see what action Venice would take, whilst in the meantime they sought shelter behind a declaration that they were soldiers of the Church and would do nothing against the will of the Pontiff. They were confidently assured that Venice would befriend Guidobaldo, and help him back to his throne now that his own people had done so much towards that end. It remained, however, to be seen whether Venice would at the same time befriend Pesaro and Rimini.
Instantly Cesare Borgia—who was assailed by grave doubts concerning the Venetians—took his measures. He ordered Bartolomeo da Capranica, who was chief in command of his troops in Urbino, to fall back upon Rimini with all his companies, whilst to Pesaro the duke dispatched Michele da Corella and Ramiro de Lorqua.
It was a busy time of action with the duke at Imola, and yet, amid all the occupation which this equipment of a new army must have given him, he still found time for diplomatic measures, and, taking advantage of the expressed friendliness of Florence, he had replied by desiring the Signory to send an envoy to confer with him. Florence responded by sending, as her representative, that same Niccolo Macchiavelli who had earlier accompanied Soderini on a similar mission to Valentinois, and who had meanwhile been advanced to the dignity of Secretary of State.
Macchiavelli has left us, in his dispatches to his Government, the most precious and valuable information concerning that period of Cesare Borgia's history during which he was with the duke on the business of his legation. Not only is it the rare evidence of an eye-witness that Macchiavelli affords us, but the evidence, as we have said, of one endowed with singular acumen and an extraordinary gift of psychological analysis. The one clear and certain inference to be drawn, not only from those dispatches, but from the Florentine secretary's later writings, is that, at close quarters with Cesare Borgia, a critical witness of his methods, he conceived for him a transcending admiration which was later to find its fullest expression in his immortal book The Prince—a book, remember, compiled to serve as a guide in government to Giuliano de'Medici, the feeble brother of Pope Leo X, a book inspired by Cesare Borgia, who is the model prince held up by Macchiavelli for emulation.
Does it serve any purpose, in the face of this work from the pen of the acknowledged inventor of state-craft, to describe Cesare's conquest of the Romagna by opprobrious epithets and sweeping statements of condemnation and censure—statements kept carefully general, and never permitted to enter into detail which must destroy their own ends and expose their falsehood?
Gregorovius, in this connection, is as full of contradictions as any man must be who does not sift out the truth and rigidly follow it in his writings. Consider the following scrupulously translated extracts from his Geschichte der Stadt Rom:
(a) "Cesare departed from Rome to resume his bloody work in the Romagna."
(b) "...the frightful deeds performed by Cesare on both sides of the Apennines. He assumes the semblance of an exterminating angel, and performs such hellish iniquities that we can only shudder at the contemplation of the evil of which human nature is capable."
And now, pray, consider and compare with those the following excerpt from the very next page of that same monumental work:
"Before him [Cesare] cities trembled; the magistrates prostrated themselves in the dust; sycophantic courtiers praised him to the stars. Yet it is undeniable that his government was energetic and good; for the first time Romagna enjoyed peace and was rid of her vampires. In the name of Cesare justice was administered by Antonio di Monte Sansovino, President of the Ruota of Cesena, a man universally beloved."
It is almost as if the truth had slipped out unawares, for the first period hardly seems a logical prelude to the second, by which it is largely contradicted. If Cesare's government was so good that Romagna knew peace at last and was rid of her vampires, why did cities tremble before him? There is, by the way, no evidence of such trepidations in any of the chronicles of the conquered States, one and all of which hail Cesare as their deliverer. Why, if he was held in such terror, did city after city—as we have seen—spontaneously offer itself to Cesare's dominion?
But to rebut those statements of Gregorovius's there is scarce the need to pose these questions; sufficiently does Gregorovius himself rebut them. The men who praised Cesare, the historian tells us, were sycophantic courtiers. But where is the wonder of his being praised if his government was as good as Gregorovius admits it to have been? What was unnatural in that praise? What so untruthful as to deserve to be branded sycophantic? And by what right is an historian to reject as sycophants the writers who praise a man, whilst accepting every word of his detractors as the words of inspired evangelists, even when their falsehoods are so transparent as to provoke the derision of the thoughtful and analytic?
As l'Espinois points out in his masterly essay in the Revue des Questions Historiques, Gregorovius refuses to recognize in Cesare Borgia the Messiah of a united Central Italy, but considers him merely as a high-flying adventurer; whilst Villari, in his Life and Times of Macchiavelli, tells you bluntly that Cesare Borgia was neither a statesman nor a soldier but a brigand-chief.
These are mere words; and to utter words is easier than to make them good.
"High-flying adventurer," or "brigand-chief," by all means, if it please you. What but a high-flying adventurer was the wood-cutter, Muzio Attendolo, founder of the ducal House of Sforza? What but a high-flying adventurer was that Count Henry of Burgundy who founded the kingdom of Portugal? What else was the Norman bastard William, who conquered England? What else the artillery officer, Napoleon Bonaparte, who became Emperor of the French? What else was the founder of any dynasty but a high-flying adventurer—or a brigand-chief, if the melodramatic term is more captivating to your fancy?
These terms are used to belittle Cesare. They achieve no more, however, than to belittle those who penned them; for, even as they are true, the marvel is that the admirable matter in these truths appears to have escaped those authors.
What else Gregorovius opines—that Cesare was no Messiah of United Italy—is true enough. Cesare was the Messiah of Cesare. The well-being of Italy for its own sake exercised his mind not so much as the well-being of the horse he rode. He wrought for his own aggrandisement—but he wrought wisely; and, whilst the end in view is no more to be censured than the ambition of any man, the means employed are in the highest degree to be commended, since the well-being of the Romagna, which was not an aim, was, nevertheless, an essential and praiseworthy incident.
When it can be shown that every other of those conquerors who cut heroic figures in history were purest altruists, it will be time to damn Cesare Borgia for his egotism.
What Villari says, for the purpose of adding rhetorical force to his "brigand-chief"—that Cesare was no statesman and no soldier—is entirely of a piece with the rest of the chapter in which it occurs(1)—a chapter rich in sweeping inaccuracies concerning Cesare. But it is staggering to find the statement in such a place, amid Macchiavelli's letters on Cesare, breathing an obvious and profound admiration of the duke's talents as a politician and a soldier—an admiration which later is to go perilously near to worship. To Macchiavelli, Cesare is the incarnation of a hazy ideal, as is abundantly shown in The Prince. For Villari to reconcile all this with his own views must seem impossible. And impossible it is; yet Villari achieves it, with an audacity that leaves you breathless.
1 In his Niccolo Machiavelli.
No—he practically tells you—this Macchiavelli, who daily saw and spoke with Cesare for two months (and during a critical time, which is when men best reveal their natures), this acute Florentine—the acutest man of his age, perhaps—who studied and analysed Cesare, and sent his Government the results of his analyses, and was inspired by them later to write The Prince—this man did not know Cesare Borgia. He wrote, not about Cesare himself, but about a creation of his own intellect.
That is what Villari pretends. Macchiavelli, the representative of a power unfriendly at heart under the mask of the expedient friendliness, his mind already poisoned by all the rumours current throughout Italy, comes on this mission to Valentinois. Florence, fearing and hating Valentinois as she does, would doubtless take pleasure in detractory advices. Other ambassadors—particularly those of Venice—pander to their Governments' wishes in this respect, conscious that there is a sycophancy in slander contrasted with which the ordinary sycophancy of flattery is as water to wine; they diligently send home every scrap of indecent or scandalous rumour they can pick up in the Roman ante-chambers, however unlikely, uncorroborated, or unconcerning the business of an ambassador.
But Macchiavelli, in Cesare Borgia's presence, is overawed by his greatness, his force and his intellect, and these attributes engage him in his dispatches. These same dispatches are a stumbling-block to all who prefer to tread the beaten, sensational track, and to see in Cesare Borgia a villain of melodrama, a monster of crime, brutal, and, consequently, of no intellectual force. But Villari contrives to step more or less neatly, if fatuously, over that formidable obstacle, by telling you that Macchiavelli presents to you not really Cesare Borgia, but a creation of his own intellect, which he had come to admire. It is a simple, elementary expedient by means of which every piece of historical evidence ever penned may be destroyed—including all that which defames the House of Borgia.
Macchiavelli arrived at Imola on the evening of October 7, 1502, and, all travel-stained as he was, repaired straight to the duke, as if the message with which he was charged was one that would not brook a moment's delay in its deliverance. Actually, however, he had nothing to offer Cesare but the empty expressions of Florence's friendship and the hopes she founded upon Cesare's reciprocation. The crafty young Florentine—he was thirty-three at the time—was sent to temporize and to avoid committing himself or his Government.
Valentinois listened to the specious compliments, and replied by similar protestations and by reminding Florence how he had curbed the hand of those very condottieri who had now rebelled against him as a consequence. He showed himself calm and tranquil at the loss of Urbino, telling Macchiavelli that he "had not forgotten the way to reconquer it," when it should suit him. Of the revolted condottieri he contemptuously said that he accounted them fools for not having known how to choose a more favourable moment in which to harm him, and that they would presently find such a fire burning under their feet as would call for more water to quench it than such men as these disposed of.
Meanwhile, the success of those rustics of Urbino who had risen, and the ease of their victories, had fired others of the territory to follow their example. Fossombrone and Pergola were the next to rebel and to put the Borgia garrisons to the sword; but, in their reckless audacity, they chose their moment ill, for Michele da Corella was at hand with his lances, and, although his orders had been to repair straight to Pesaro, he ventured to depart from them to the extent of turning aside to punish the insurgence of those towns by launching his men-at-arms upon them and subjecting them to an appalling and pitiless sack.
When Cesare heard the news of it and the details of the horrors that had been perpetrated, he turned, smiling cruelly, to Macchiavelli, who was with him, and, "The constellations this year seem unfavourable to rebels," he observed.
A battle of wits was toward between the Florentines' Secretary of State and the Duke of Valentinois, each mistrustful of the other. In the end Cesare, a little out of patience at so much inconclusiveness, though outwardly preserving his immutable serenity, sought to come to grips by demanding that Florence should declare whether he was to account her his friend or not. But this was precisely what Macchiavelli's instructions forbade him from declaring. He answered that he must first write to the Signory, and begged the duke to tell him what terms he proposed should form the treaty. But there it was the duke's turn to fence and to avoid a direct answer, desiring that Florence should open the negotiations and that from her should come the first proposal.
He reminded Macchiavelli that Florence would do well to come to a decision before the Orsini sought to patch up a peace with him, since, once that was done, there would be fresh difficulties, owing, of course, to Orsini's enmity to the existing Florentine Government. And of such a peace there was now every indication, Paolo Orsini having at last sent Cesare proposals for rejoining him, subject to his abandoning the Bologna enterprise (in which, the Orsini argued, they could not bear a hand without breaking faith with Bentivogli) and turning against Florence. Vitelli, at the same time, announced himself ready to return to Cesare's service, but first he required some "honest security."
Well might it have pleased Cesare to oblige the Orsini to the letter, and to give a lesson in straight-dealing to these shuffling Florentine pedlars who sent a nimble-witted Secretary of State to hold him in play with sweet words of barren meaning. But there was France and her wishes to be considered, and he could not commit himself. So his answer was peremptory and condescending. He told them that, if they desired to show themselves his friends, they could set about reconquering and holding Urbino for him.
It looked as if the condottieri agreed to this, for on October 11 Vitelli seized Castel Durante, and on the next day Baglioni was in possession of Cagli.
In view of this, Cesare bade the troops which he had withdrawn to advance again upon the city of Urbino and take possession of it. But suddenly, on the 12th, a messenger from Guidobaldo rode into Urbino to announce their duke's return within a few days to defend the subjects who had shown themselves so loyal to him. This, the shifty confederates accounted, must be done with the support of Venice, whence they concluded that Venice must have declared against Valentinois, and again they treacherously changed sides.
The Orsini proceeded to prompt action. Assured of their return to himself, and counting upon their support in Urbino, Cesare had contented himself with sending thither a small force of 100 lances and 200 light horse. Upon these fell the Orsini, and put them to utter rout at Calmazzo, near Fossombrone, capturing Ugo di Moncada, who commanded one of the companies, but missing Michele da Corella, who contrived to escape to Fossombrone.
The conquerors entered Urbino that evening, and, as if to put it on record that they burnt their boats with Valentinois, Paolo Orsini wrote that same night to the Venetian Senate advices of the victory won. Three days later—on October 18—Guidobaldo, accompanied by his nephews Ottaviano Fregioso and Gianmaria Varano, re-entered his capital amid the cheers and enthusiasm of his loyal and loving people.
Vitelli made haste to place his artillery at Guidobaldo's disposal for the reduction of Cagli, Pergola, and Fossombrone, which were still held for Valentinois, whilst Oliverotto da Fermo went with Gianmaria Varano to attempt the reconquest of Camerino, and Gianpaolo Baglioni to Fano, which, however, he did not attempt to enter as an enemy—an idle course, seeing how loyally the town held for Cesare—but as a ducal condottiero.
Fired by Orsini's example, Bentivogli also took the offensive, and began by ordering the canonists of Bologna University to go to the churches and encourage the people to disregard the excommunications launched against the city. He wrote to the King of France to complain that Cesare had broken the Treaty of Villafontana by which he had undertaken never again to molest Bologna—naively ignoring the circumstance that he himself had been the first to violate the terms of that same treaty, and that it was precisely upon such grounds that Cesare was threatening him.
Thus matters stood, the confederates turning anxious eyes towards Venice, and, haply, beginning to wonder whether the Republic was indeed going to move to their support as they had so confidently expected, and realizing perhaps by now their rashness, and the ruin that awaited them should Venice fail them. And fail them Venice did. The Venetians had received a reply from Louis XII to that letter in which they had heaped odium upon the Borgia and shown the king what dishonour to himself dwelt in his alliance with Valentinois. Their criticisms and accusations were ignored in that reply, which resolved itself into nothing more than a threat that "if they opposed themselves to the enterprise of the Church they would be treated by him as enemies," and of this letter he sent Cesare a copy, as Cesare himself told Macchiavelli.
So, whilst Valentinois in Imola was able to breathe more freely, the condottieri in Urbino may well have been overcome with horror at their position and at having been thus left in the lurch by Venice. None was better aware than Pandolfo Petrucci of the folly of their action and of the danger that now impended, and he sent his secretary to Valentinois to say that if the duke would but reassure them on the score of his intentions they would return to him and aid him in recovering what had been lost.
Following upon this message came Paolo Orsini himself to Imola on the 25th, disguised as a courier, and having first taken the precaution of obtaining a safe-conduct. He left again on the 29th, bearing with him a treaty the terms of which had been agreed between himself and Cesare during that visit. These were that Cesare should engage to protect the States of all his allied condottieri, and they to serve him and the Church in return. A special convention was to follow, to decide the matter of the Bentivogli, which should be resolved by Cesare, Cardinal Orsini, and Pandolfo Petrucci in consultation, their judgment to be binding upon all.
Cesare's contempt for the Orsini and the rest of the shifty men who formed that confederacy—that "diet of bankrupts," as he had termed it—was expressed plainly enough to Macchiavelli.
"To-day," said he, "Messer Paolo is to visit me, and to-morrow there will be the cardinal; and thus they think to befool me, at their pleasure. But I, on my side, am only dallying with them. I listen to all they have to say and bide my own time."
Later, Macchiavelli was to remember those words, which meanwhile afforded him matter for reflection.
As Paolo Orsini rode away from Imola, the duke's secretary, Gherardi, followed and overtook him to say that Cesare desired to add to the treaty another clause—one relating to the King of France. To this Paolo Orsini refused to consent, but, upon being pressed in the matter by Gherardi, went so far as to promise to submit the clause to the others.
On October 30 Cesare published a notice in the Romagna, intimating the return to obedience on the part of his captains.
Macchiavelli was mystified by this, and apprehensive—as men will be of the things they cannot fathom—of what might be reserved in it for Florence. It was Gherardi who reassured him, laughing in the face of the crafty Florentine, as he informed him that even children should come to smile at such a treaty as this. He added that he had gone after Paolo Orsini to beg the addition of another clause, intentionally omitted by the duke.
"If they accept that clause," concluded Messer Agabito, "it will open a window; if they refuse it, a door, by which the duke can issue from the treaty."
Macchiavelli's wonder increased. But the subject of it now was that the condottieri should be hoodwinked by a document in such terms, and well may he have bethought him then of those words which Cesare had used to him a few days earlier.
CHAPTER XVI. RAMIRO DE LORQUA
It really seemed as if the condottieri were determined to make their score as heavy as possible. For even whilst Paolo Orsini had been on his mission of peace to Cesare, and whilst they awaited his return, they had continued in arms against the duke. The Vitelli had aided Guidobaldo to reconquer his territory, and had killed, in the course of doing so, Bartolomeo da Capranica, Cesare's most valued captain and Vitelli's brother-in-arms of yesterday. The Baglioni were pressing Michele da Corella in Pesaro, but to little purpose; whilst the butcher Oliverotto da Fermo in Camerino—of which he had taken possession with Gianmaria Varano—was slaughtering every Spaniard he could find.
On the other side, Corella in Pesaro hanged five men whom he caught practising against the duke's government, and, having taken young Pietro Varano—who was on his way to join his brother in Camerino in view of the revolt there—he had him strangled in the market-place. There is a story that, with life not yet extinct, the poor youth was carried into church by the pitiful crowd. But here a friar, discovering that he still lived, called in the soldiers and bade them finish him. This friar, going later through Cagli, was recognized, set upon by a mob, and torn to pieces—in which, if the rest of the tale be true, he was richly served.
Into the theatre of bloodshed came Paolo Orsini from his mission to Valentinois, bringing with him the treaty for signature by the condottieri. Accustomed as they were to playing fast and loose, they opined that, so far as Urbino was concerned, enough changes of government had they contrived there already. Vitelli pointed out the unseemliness of once again deposing Guidobaldo, whom they had just reseated upon his throne. Besides, he perceived in the treaty the end of his hopes of a descent upon Florence, which was the cause of all his labours. So he rejected it.
But Valentinois had already got the Orsini and Pandolfo Petrucci on his side, and so the confederacy was divided. Another factor came to befriend the duke. On November 2 he was visited by Antonio Galeazzo Bentivogli, sent by his father Giovanni to propose a treaty with him—this state of affairs having been brought about by the mediation of Ercole d'Este. From the negotiations that followed it resulted that, on the 13th, the Orsini had word from Cesare that he had entered into an alliance with the Bentivogli—which definitely removed their main objection to bearing arms with him.
It was resigning much on Cesare's part, but the treaty, after all, was only for two years, and might, of course, be broken before then, as they understood these matters. This treaty was signed at the Vatican on the 23rd, between Borgia and Bentivogli, to guarantee the States of both. The King of France, the Signory of Florence, and the Duke of Ferrara guaranteed the alliance.
Inter alia, it was agreed between them that Bologna should supply Cesare with 100 lances and 200 light horse for one or two enterprises within the year, and that the condotta of 100 lances which Cesare held from Bologna by the last treaty should be renewed. The terms of the treaty were to be kept utterly secret for the next three months, so that the affairs of Urbino and Camerino should not be prejudiced by their publication.
The result was instantaneous. On November 27 Paolo Orsini was back at Imola with the other treaty, which bore now the signatures of all the confederates. Vitelli, finding himself isolated, had swallowed his chagrin in the matter of Florence, and his scruples in the matter of Urbino, abandoning the unfortunate Guidobaldo to his fate. This came swiftly. From Imola, Paolo Orsini rode to Fano on the 29th, and ordered his men to advance upon Urbino and seize the city in the Duke of Valentinois's name, proclaiming a pardon for all rebels who would be submissive.
Guidobaldo and the ill-starred Lord of Faenza were the two exceptions in Romagna—the only two who had known how to win the affections of their subjects. For Guidobaldo there was nothing that the men of Urbino would not have done. They rallied to him now, and the women of Valbone—like the ladies of England to save Coeur-de-Lion—came with their jewels and trinkets, offering them that he might have the means to levy troops and resist. But this gentle, kindly Guidobaldo could not subject his country to further ravages of war; and so he determined, in his subjects' interests as much as in his own, to depart for the second time.
Early in December the Orsini troops are in his territory, and Paolo, halting them a few miles out of Urbino, sends to beg Guidobaldo's attendance in his camp. Guidobaldo, crippled by gout and unable at the time to walk a step, sends Paolo his excuses and begs that he will come to Urbino, where he awaits him. There Guidobaldo makes formal surrender to him, takes leave of his faithful friends, enjoins fidelity to Valentinois and trust in God, and so on December 19 he departs into exile, the one pathetic noble figure amid so many ignoble ones. Paolo, taking possession of the duchy, assumes the title of governor.
The Florentines had had their chance of an alliance with Cesare, and had deliberately neglected it. Early in November they had received letters from the King of France urging them to come to an accord with Cesare, and they had made known to the duke that they desired to reoccupy Pisa and to assure themselves of Vitelli; but, when he pressed that Florence should give him a condotta, Macchiavelli—following his instructions not to commit the Republic in any way—had answered "that his Excellency must not be considered as other lords, but as a new potentate in Italy, with whom it is more seemly to make an alliance or a friendship than to grant him a condotta; and, as alliances are maintained by arms, and that is the only power to compel their observance, the Signory could not perceive what security they would have when three-quarters or three-fifths of their arms would be in the duke's hands." Macchiavelli added diplomatically that "he did not say this to impugn the duke's good faith, but to show him that princes should be circumspect and never enter into anything that leaves a possibility of their being put at a disadvantage."(1)
1 See the twenty-first letter from Macchiavelli on this legation.
Cesare answered him calmly ("senza segno d'alterazione alcuna") that without a condotta, he didn't know what to make of a private friendship whose first principles were denied him. And there the matter hung, for Macchiavelli's legation had for only aim to ensure the immunity of Tuscany and to safeguard Florentine interests without conceding any advantages to Cesare—as the latter had perceived from the first.
On December 10 Cesare moved from Imola with his entire army, intent now upon the conquest of Sinigaglia, which State Giuliano della Rovere had been unable to save for his nephew, as king and Pope had alike turned a deaf ear upon the excuses he had sought to make for the Prefetessa, Giovanna da Montefeltre—the mother of the young prefect—who had aided her brother Guidobaldo in the late war in Urbino.
On the morrow Valentinois arrived in Cesena and encamped his army there for Christmas, as in the previous year. The country was beginning to feel the effects of this prolonged vast military occupation, and although the duke, with intent to relieve the people, had done all that was possible to provision the troops, and had purchased from Venice 30,000 bushels of wheat for the purpose, yet all had been consumed. "The very stones have been eaten," says Macchiavelli.
To account for this state of things—and possibly for certain other matters—Messer Ramiro de Lorqua, the Governor-General, was summoned from Pesaro; whilst to avert the threatened famine Cesare ordered that the cereals in the private granaries of Cesena should be sold at reduced prices, and he further proceeded, at heavy expense, to procure grain from without. Another, less far-seeing than Valentinois, might have made capital out of Urbino's late rebellion, and pillaged the country to provide for pressing needs. But that would have been opposed to Cesare's policy, of fostering the goodwill of the people he subjected.
On December 20 three of the companies of French lances that had been with Cesare took their leave of him and returned to Lombardy, so that Cesare was left with only one company. There appears to be some confusion as to the reasons for this, and it is stated by some that those companies were recalled to Milan by the French governor. Macchiavelli, ever inquisitive and inquiring, questioned one of the French officers in the matter, to be told that the lances were returning because the duke no longer needed them, the inference being that this was in consequence of the return of the condottieri to their allegiance. But the astute secretary did not at the time account this convincing, arguing that the duke could not yet be said to be secure, nor could he know for certain how far he might trust Vitelli and the Orsini. Presumably, however, he afterwards obtained more certain information, for he says later that Valentinois himself dismissed the French, and that the dismissal was part of the stratagem he was preparing, and had for object to reassure Vitelli and the other confederates, and to throw them off their guard, by causing them to suppose him indifferently supported.