Heroes of Modern Europe
by Alice Birkhead
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[Frontispiece: Leo Tolstoy in his bare Apartments at Yasnaya Polyana (Repin)]









First published July 1913


39-41 Parker Street, Kingsway, London, W.C.2

Reprinted in the present series:

February 1914; August 1917; May 1921; January 1924; July 1926



I. THE TWO SWORDS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 II. DANTE, THE DIVINE POET . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19 III. LORENZO THE MAGNIFICENT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30 IV. THE PRIOR OF SAN MARCO . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41 V. MARTIN LUTHER, REFORMER OF THE CHURCH . . . . . . . . 52 VI. CHARLES V, HOLY ROMAN EMPEROR . . . . . . . . . . . . 63 VII. THE BEGGARS OF THE SEA . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 74 VIII. WILLIAM THE SILENT, FATHER OF HIS COUNTRY . . . . . . 86 IX. HENRY OF NAVARRE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 100 X. UNDER THE RED ROBE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 115 XI. THE GRAND MONARCH . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 128 XII. PETER THE GREAT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 137 XIII. THE ROYAL ROBBER . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 145 XIV. SPIRITS OF THE AGE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 156 XV. THE MAN FROM CORSICA . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 168 XVI. "GOD AND THE PEOPLE" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 183 XVII. "FOR ITALY AND VICTOR EMMANUEL!" . . . . . . . . . . 195 XVIII. THE THIRD NAPOLEON . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 207 XIX. THE REFORMER OF THE EAST . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 216 XX. THE HERO IN HISTORY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 228 INDEX . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 233



DANTE IN THE STREETS OF FLORENCE (Evelyn Paul) . . . . . . . 22

THE LAST SLEEP OF SAVONAROLA (Sir George Reid, P.R.S.A.) . . 60

PHILIP II PRESENT AT AN AUTO-DA-FE (D. Valdivieso) . . . . . 78

LAST MOMENTS OF COUNT EGMONT (Louis Gallait) . . . . . . . . 90


FREDERICK THE GREAT RECEIVING HIS PEOPLE'S HOMAGE (A. Menzel) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 152



Heroes of Modern Europe

Chapter I

The Two Swords

In the fourth century after Christ began that decay of the Roman Empire which had been the pride of the then civilized world. Warriors of Teutonic race invaded its splendid cities, destroyed without remorse the costliest and most beautiful of its antique treasures. Temples and images of the gods fell before barbarians whose only fear was lest they should die "upon the straw," while marble fountains and luxurious bath-houses were despoiled as signs of a most inglorious state of civilization. Theatres perished and, with them, the plays of Greek dramatists, who have found no true successors. Pictures and statues and buildings were defaced where they were not utterly destroyed. The Latin race survived, forlornly conscious of its vanished culture.

The Teutons had hardly begun to impose upon the Empire the rude customs of their own race when Saracens, bent upon spreading the religion of Mahomet, bore down upon Italy, where resistance from watchtowers and castles was powerless to check their cruel depredations. Norman pirates plundered the shores of the Mediterranean and sailed up the River Seine, {10} always winning easy victories. Magyars, a strange, wandering race, came from the East and wrought much evil among the newly-settled Germans.

From the third to the tenth century there were incredible changes among the European nations. Gone were the gleaming cities of the South and the worship of art and science and the exquisite refinements of the life of scholarly leisure. Gone were the flourishing manufactures since the warrior had no time to devote to trading. Gone was the love of letters and the philosopher's prestige now that men looked to the battle-field alone to give them the awards of glory.

Outwardly, Europe of the Middle Ages presented a sad contrast to the magnificence of an Empire which was fading to remoteness year by year. The ugly towns did not attempt to hide their squalor, when dirt was such a natural condition of life that a knight would dwell boastfully upon his contempt for cleanliness, and a beauty display hands innocent of all proper tending. The dress of the people was ill-made and scanty, lacking the severe grace of the Roman toga. Furniture was rudely hewn from wood and placed on floors which were generally uneven and covered with straw instead of being paved with tessellated marble.

Yet the inward life of Europe was purer since it sought to follow the teaching of Christ, and preached universal love and a toleration that placed on the same level a mighty ruler and the lowest in his realm. Fierce spirits, unfortunately, sometimes forgot the truth and gave themselves up to a cruel lust for persecution which was at variance with their creed, but the holiest now condemned warfare and praised the virtues of obedience and self-sacrifice.


Whereas pagan Greek and Rome had searched for beauty upon earth, it was the dreary belief of the Middle Ages that the world was a place where only misery could be the portion of mankind, who were bidden to look to another life for happiness and pleasure. Sinners hurried from temptation into monasteries, which were founded for the purpose of enabling men to prepare for eternity. Family life was broken up and all the pleasant intercourse of social habits. Marriage was a snare, and even the love of parents might prove dangerous to the devoted monk. Strange was the isolation of the hermit who refused to cleanse himself or change his clothes, desiring above all other things to attain to that blessed state when his soul should be oblivious of his body.

Women also despised the claims of kindred and retired to convents where the elect were granted visions after long prayer and fasting. The nun knelt on the bare stone floor of her cell, awaiting the ecstasy that would descend on her. When it had gone again she was nigh to death, faint and weary, yet compelled to struggle onward till her earthly life came to an end.

The Crusades, or Wars of the Cross, had roused Europe from a state of most distressful bondage. Ignorance and barbarism were shot with gleams of spiritual light even after the vast armies were sent forth to wrest the possession of Jerusalem from the infidels. Shameful stories of the treatment of pilgrims to the Holy Sepulchre had moved the hearts of kings and princes to a passionate indignation. Valour became the highest, and all men were eager to be ranked with Crusaders—those soldiers of heroic courage whose cause was Christianity and its defence. At the close of the tenth century there were innumerable pilgrims travelling {12} toward the Holy Land, for it had been prophesied that in the year A.D. 1000 the end of the world would come, when it would be well for those within Jerusalem, the City of the Saviour. The inhuman conduct of the Turk was resented violently, because it would keep many a sinner from salvation; and the dangerous journey to the East was held to atone for the gravest crimes.

After the first disasters in which so many Crusaders fell before they reached their destination, Italy especially began to benefit by these wars. It was considered safer to reach Jerusalem by sea, boarding the vessels in Italian ports, which were owned and equipped by Italian merchants. Venice, Pisa, and Genoa gradually assumed the trade of ancient Constantinople, once without rival on the southern sea. Constantinople was a city of wonder to the ignorant fighting men from other lands, who had never dreamed of a civilization so complete as that which she possessed. Awed by elegance and luxury, they returned to their homes with a sense of inferiority. They had met and fought side by side with warriors of such polished manners that they felt ashamed of their own brutal ways. They had seen strange costumes and listened to strange tongues. Henceforth no nation of Europe could be entirely indifferent to the fact that there was a world without.

The widowed and desolate were not comforted by the knowledge which the returned Crusader delighted to impart. They had been sacrificed to the pride which led husbands and fathers to sell their estates and squander vast sums of money, that they might equip a band of followers to lead in triumph to the Holy Wars. The complaints of starving women led to {13} the collection of much gold and silver by Lambert Le Begue, "the stammering priest." He built a number of small houses to be inhabited by the Order of Beguines, a new sisterhood who did not sever themselves entirely from the world, but lived in peaceful retirement, occupied by spinning and weaving all day long.

The Beghards, or Weaving Brothers, took pattern by this busy guild of workers and followed the same rules of simple piety. They were fond of religious discussion, and were mystics. They enjoyed the approval of Rome until the new orders were established of Saint Francis and Saint Dominic.

In the twelfth century religion was drawing nearer to humanity and the needs of earth. The new orders, therefore, tried to bridge the gulf between the erring and the saintly, forbidding their brethren to seclude themselves from other men. A healthy reaction was taking place from the old idea that the religious life meant a withdrawal from the temptations of the world.

St Dominic, born in Spain in 1170, was the founder of "the Order of Preaching Monks for the conversion of heretics." The first aim of the "Domini canes" (Dominicans), or Hounds of the Lord, was to attack anyone who denied their faith. Cruelty could be practised under the rule of Dominic, who bade his followers lead men by any path to their ultimate salvation. Tolerance of free thought and progress was discouraged, and rigid discipline corrected any disciple of compassion. The dress of the order was severely plain, consisting of a long black mantle over a white robe. The brethren practised poverty, and fared humbly on bread and water.

The brown-frocked Franciscans, rivals in later times of the monks of Dominic, were always taught to love {14} mankind and be merciful to transgressors. It was the duty of the Preaching Brothers to warn and threaten; it was the joy of the Frati Minori, or Lesser Brothers, to tend the sick and protect the helpless, taking thought for the very birds and fishes.

St Francis was born at Assisi in 1182, the son of a prosperous householder and cloth merchant. He drank and was merry, like any other youth of the period, till a serious illness purged him of follies. After dedicating his life to God, he put down in the market-place of Assisi all he possessed save the shirt on his body. The bitter reproaches of kinsfolk pursued him vainly as he set out in beggarly state to give service to the poor and despised. He loved Nature and her creatures, speaking of the birds as "noble" and holding close communion with them. The saintly Italian was opposed to the warlike doctrines of St Dominic; he made peace very frequently between the two parties known as Guelfs and Ghibellines.

Welf was a common name among the dukes of Bavaria, and the Guelfs were, in general, supporters of the Papacy and this ducal house, whereas the Waiblingen (Ghibellines) received their name from a castle in Swabia, a fief of the Hohenstaufen enemies of the Pope. It was under a famous emperor of the House of Swabia that the struggle between Papacy and Empire, "the two swords," gained attention from the rest of Europe.

In the eleventh century, Pope Gregory VII had won many notable victories in support of his claims to temporal power. He had brought Henry IV, the proud Emperor, before whose name men trembled, to sue for his pardon at Canossa, and had kept the suppliant in the snow, with bare head and bare feet, that he might {15} endure the last humiliations. Then the fortune of war changed, and the Pope was seized in the Church of St Peter at Rome by Cencio, a fiery noble, who held him in close confinement. It was easier to lord it over princes who were hated by many of their own subjects than to quell the animosity which was roused by attempted domination in the Eternal City.

The Pope was able sometimes to elect a partisan of the Guelf party as emperor. On the other hand, an emperor had been heard to lament the election of a staunch friend to the Papacy because he believed that no pope could ever be a true Ghibelline.

Certain princes of the House of Hohenstaufen were too proud to acknowledge an authority that threatened to crush their power in Italy. Henry VI was a ruler dreaded by contemporaries as merciless to the last degree. He burned men alive if they offended him, and had no compunction in ordering the guilty to be tarred and blinded. He was of such a temper that the Pope had not the courage to demand from him the homage of a vassal. It was Frederick II, Henry's son, who came into conflict with the Papacy so violently that all his neighbours watched in terror.

Pope Gregory IX would give no quarter, and excommunicated the Emperor because he had been unable to go on a crusade owing to pestilence in his army. The clergy were bidden to assemble in the Church of St Peter and to fling down their lighted candles as the Pope cursed the Emperor for his broken promise, a sin against religion. The news of this ceremony spread through the world, the two parties appealing to the princes of Europe for aid in fighting out this quarrel. Frederick defied the papal decree, and went to win back Jerusalem from the infidels as soon as his soldiers had {16} recovered. He took the city, but had to crown himself as king since none other would perform the service for a man outside the Church. Frederick bade the pious Mussulmans continue the prayers they would have ceased through deference to a Christian ruler. He had thrown off all the superstitions of the age except the study of astrology, and was a scholar of wide repute, delighting in correspondence with the learned.

The Arabs did not admire Frederick's person, describing him as unlikely to fetch a high price if he had been a slave! He was bald-headed and had weak eyesight, though generally held graceful and attractive. In mental powers he surpassed the greatest at his house, which had always been famous for its intellect. He had been born at Palermo, "the city of three tongues"; therefore Greek, Latin, and Arabic were equally familiar. He was daring in speech, broad in views, and cosmopolitan in habit. He founded the University of Naples and encouraged the study of medicine; he had the Greek of Aristotle translated, and himself set the fashion in verse-making, which was soon to be the pastime of every court in Italy.

The Pope was more successful in a contest waged with tongues than he had proved on battle-fields, which were strewn with bodies of both Guelf and Ghibelline factions. He dined in 1230 at the same table as his foe, but the peace between them did not long continue. In turn they triumphed, bringing against each other two armies of the Cross, the followers of the Pope fighting under the standard of St Peter's Keys as the champion of the true Christian Church against its oppressors.

Pope Innocent IV, who succeeded Gregory, proved himself a very cunning adversary. He might have {17} won an easy victory over Frederick II if the exactions of the Papacy had not angered the countries where he sought refuge after his first failures. It was futile to declare at Lyons that the Emperor was deposed when all France was crying out upon the greed of prelates. The wearisome strife went on till the very peasants had to be guarded at their work by knights, sent out from towns to see that they were not taken captive. It was the day of the robber, and all things lay to his hand if he were bold enough to grasp them. Prisoners of war suffered horrible tortures, being hung up by their feet and hands in the hope that their friends would ransom them the sooner. Villages were burned down, and wolves howled near the haunts of men, seeking food to appease their ravening hunger. It was said that fierce beasts gnawed through the walls of houses and devoured little children in their cradles. Italy was rent by a conflict which divided one province from another, and even placed inhabitants of the same town on opposite sides and caused dissension in the noblest families.

The Flagellants marched in procession through the land, calling for peace but bringing tumult. The Emperor's party made haste to shut them out of the territory they ruled, but they could not rid the people of the terrible fear inspired by the barefooted, black-robed figures, with branches and candles in their hands and the holy Cross flaming red before them.

One defeat after another brought the House of Hohenstaufen under the control of the Church they had defied so boldly. Frederick's own son rebelled against him, and Frederick's camp was destroyed by a Guelf army. The Emperor had lived splendidly, making more impression on world-history than any other prince of that {18} illustrious family, but he died in an hour of failure, feeling bitterly how great a triumph his death would be to the Pope who had conquered.

It was late in the year 1250 when the tidings of Frederick II's death travelled slowly through his Empire. Many refused to believe them, and declared long years afterwards that the Emperor was still living, beneath a mighty mountain. The world seemed to be shaking yet with the vibration of that deadly struggle. Conrad and Conradin were left, and Manfred, the favourite son of Frederick, but their reigns were short and desperate, and when they, too, had passed the Middle Ages were merging into another era. The "two swords" of Papacy and Empire were still to pierce and wound, but the struggle between them would never seem so mighty after the spirit had fled which inspired Conradin, last of the House of Swabia.

This young prince was led to the scaffold, where he asserted stoutly his claim to Naples above the claim of Charles, the Count of Anjou, who held it as fief of the Papacy. Then Conradin dared to throw his glove among the people, bidding them to carry it to Peter, Prince of Aragon, as the symbol by which he conveyed the rights of which death alone had been able to despoil him.


Chapter II

Dante, the Divine Poet

There were still Guelfs and Ghibellines in 1265, but the old names had partially lost their meaning in the Republic of Florence, where the citizens brawled daily, one faction against the other. The nobles had, nevertheless, a bond with the emperor, being of the same Teutonic stock, and the burghers often sought the patronage of a very powerful pope, hoping in this way to maintain their well-loved independence.

But often Guelf and Ghibelline had no interest in anything outside the walls of Florence. The Florentine blood was hot and rose quickly to avenge insult. Family feuds were passionately upheld in a community so narrow and so zealous. If a man jostled another in the street, it was an excuse for a fight which might end in terrible bloodshed. Fear of banishment was no restraint to the combatants. The Guelf party would send away the Ghibelline after there had been some shameful tumult. Then the fuori (outside) were recalled because their own faction was in power again, and, in turn, the Guelfs were banished by the Ghibellines. In 1260 there had even been some talk of destroying the famous town in Tuscany. Florence would have been razed to the ground had not a party leader, Farinata degli Uberti, showed unexpected patriotism which saved her.

Florence had waxed mighty through her commerce, {20} holding a high place among the Italian cities which had thrown off the feudal yoke and become republics. Wealth gave the citizens leisure to study art and literature, and to attain to the highest civilization of a thriving state. The Italians of that time were the carriers of Europe, and as such had intercourse with every nation of importance. They were especially successful as bankers, Florentine citizens of middle rank acquiring such vast fortunes by finance that they outstripped the nobles who dwelt outside the gates and spent all their time in fighting. The guilds of Florence united men of the same trade and also encouraged perfection in the various branches. Goldsmiths offered marvellous wares for the purchase of the affluent dilettante. Silk was a natural manufacture, and paper had to be produced in a place where the School of Law attracted foreign scholars.

Rome had the renown of past splendour and the purple of imperial pride. Venice was the depot of the world's trade, and sent fleets east and west laden with precious cargoes, which gave her a unique position among the five Republics. Bologna drew students from every capital in Europe to her ancient Universities. Milan had been a centre of learning even in the days of Roman rule, and the Emperor Maximilian had made it the capital of Northern Italy. Florence, somewhat overshadowed by such fame, could yet boast the most ancient origin. Was not Faesulae, lying close to her, the first city built when the Flood had washed away the abodes of men and left the earth quite desolate? Fia sola—"Let her be alone"—the words re-echoed through the whole neighbourhood and were the pride of Florence, which lay in a smiling fertile plain where all things flourished. The Florentines were coming to their own as the Middle Ages {21} passed; they were people of cunning hand and brain, always eager to make money and spend it to procure the luxury and beauty their natures craved. The "florin" owed its popularity to the soundness of trade within the very streets where the bell, known as "the great cow," rang so lustily to summon the citizens to combat. The golden coins carried the repute of the fair Italian town to other lands, and changed owners so often that her prosperity was obvious.

Florence looked very fair when Durante Alighieri came into the world, for he was born on a May morning, and the Florentines were making holiday. There was mirth and jesting within the tall grey houses round the little church of San Martino. The Alighieri dwelt in that quarter, but more humbly than their fine neighbours, the Portinari, the Donati, and the Cerci.

The Portinari celebrated May royally in 1275, inviting all their friends to a blithe gathering. At this festa Dante Alighieri met Beatrice, the little daughter of his host, and the long dream of his life began, for he idealized her loveliness from that first youthful meeting.

"Her dress on that day was of a most noble colour, a subdued and goodly crimson, girdled and adorned in such sort as best suited with her very tender age. At that moment I say most truly that the spirit of life, which hath its dwelling in the secretest chamber of the heart, began to tremble so violently that the least pulses of my body shook therewith; and in trembling it said these words—'Ecce Deus fortior me, qui veniens dominabitur mihi.' From that time Love ruled my soul. . . ."

Henceforth, Dante watched for the vision of Beatrice, weaving about her all the poetic fancies of his youth. He must have seen her many times, but no words passed {22} between them till nine years had sped and he chanced to come upon her in all the radiance of her womanhood. She was "between two gentle ladies who were older than she; and passing by in the street, she turned her eyes towards that place where I stood very timidly, and in her ineffable courtesy saluted me so graciously that I seemed then to see the heights of all blessedness. And because this was the first time her words came to my ears, it was so sweet to me that, like one intoxicated, I left all my companions, and retiring to the solitary refuge of my chamber I set myself to think of that most courteous one, and thinking of her, there fell upon me a sweet sleep, in which a marvellous vision appeared to me." The poet described the vision in verse—it was Love carrying a sleeping lady in one arm and in the other the burning heart of Dante. He wished that the sonnet he wrote should be answered by "all the faithful followers of love," and was gratified by the prompt reply of Guido Cavalcanti, who had won renown as a knight and minstrel.

Dante became the friend of this elder poet, and was encouraged to pursue his visionary history of the earlier years of his life and his fantastic adoration for Beatrice Portinari. The Vita Nuova was read by the poet's circle, who had a sympathetic interest in the details of the drama. The young lover did not confess his love to "the youngest of the angels," but he continued to worship her long after she had married Simone de Bardi.

Yet Dante entered into the ruder life of Florence, and took up arms for the Guelf faction, to which his family belonged. He fought in 1289 at the battle of Campaldino against the city of Arezzo and the Ghibellines who had taken possession of that city. Florence had been strangely peaceful in his childhood because the Guelfs were her unquestioned masters at the time. It must have {23} been a relief to Florentines to go forth to external warfare!

Dante played his part valiantly on the battle-field, then returned to wonderful aloofness from the strife of factions. He was stricken with grave fears that Beatrice must die, and mourned sublimely when the sad event took place on the ninth day of one of the summer months of 1290. "In their ninth year they had met, nine years after, they had spoken; she died on the ninth day of the month and the ninetieth year of the century."

Real life began with the poet's marriage when he was twenty-eight, for he allied himself to the noble Donati by marrying Gemma of that house. Little is known of the wife, but she bore seven children and seems to have been devoted. Dante still had his spiritual love for Beatrice in his heart, and planned a wonderful poem in which she should be celebrated worthily.

Dante began to take up the active duties of a citizen in 1293 when the people of Florence rose against the nobles and took all their political powers from them. The aristocratic party had henceforth to submit to the humiliation of enrolling themselves as members of some guild or art if they wished to have political rights in the Republic. The poet was not too proud to adopt this course, and was duly entered in the register of the art of doctors and apothecaries. It was not necessary that he should study medicine, the regulation being a mere form, probably to carry out the idea that every citizen possessing the franchise should have a trade of some kind.

The prosperity of the Republic was not destroyed by this petty revolution. Churches were built and stones laid for the new walls of Florence. Relations with other states demanded the services of a gracious and tactful {24} embassy. Dante became an ambassador, and was successful in arranging the business of diplomacy and in promoting the welfare of his city. He was too much engaged in important affairs to pay attention to every miserable quarrel of the Florentines. The powerful Donati showed dangerous hostility now to the wealthy Cerchi, their near neighbours. Dante acted as a mediator when he could spare the time to hear complaints. He was probably more in sympathy with the popular cause which was espoused by the Cerchi than with the arrogance of his wife's family.

The feud of the Donati and Cerchi was fostered by the irruption of a family from Pistoia, who had separated into two distinct branches—the Bianchi and the Neri (the Whites and the Blacks)—and drawn their swords upon each other. The Cerchi chose to believe that the Bianchi were in the right, and, of course, the Donati took up the cause of the Neri. The original dispute had long been forgotten, but any excuse would serve two factions anxious to fight. Brawling took place at a May festa, in which several persons were wounded.

Dante was glad to divert his mind from all his discords when the last year of the thirteenth century came and he set out to Rome on pilgrimage. At Easter all the world seemed to be flocking to that solemn festival of the Catholic Church, where the erring could obtain indulgence by fifteen days of devotion. Yet the very break in the usual life of audiences and journeys must have been grateful to the tired ambassador. He began to muse on the poetic aims of his first youth and the work which was to make Beatrice's name immortal. Some lines of the new poem were written in the Latin tongue, then held the finest language for expressing a great subject. The poet had to abandon his scheme for {25} a time at least, when he was made one of the Priors, or supreme rulers, of Florence in June 1300.

There was some attempt during Dante's brief term of office to settle the vexed question of the rival parties. Both deserved punishment, without doubt, and received it in the form of banishment for the heads of the factions. "Dante applied all his genius and every act and thought to bring back unity to the republic, demonstrating to the wiser citizens how even the great are destroyed by discord, while the small grow and increase infinitely when at peace. . . ."

Apparently Dante was not always successful in his attempts to unite his fellow-citizens. He talked of resignation sometimes and retirement into private life, a proposal which was opposed by his friends in office. When the losing side decided to ask Pope Boniface for an arbitrator to settle their disputes, all Dante's spirit rose against their lack of patriotism. He went willingly on an embassy to desire that Charles, the brother or cousin of King Philip of France, who had been selected to regulate the state of Florence, should come with a friendly feeling to his party, if his arrival could not be averted. He remained at Rome with other ambassadors for some unknown cause, while his party at Florence was defeated and sentence of banishment was passed on him as on the other leaders.

Dante loved the city of his birth and was determined to return from exile. He joined the band of fuor-usciti, or "turned-out," who were at that time plotting to reverse their fortunes. He cared not whether they were Guelf or Ghibelline in his passionate eagerness to win them to decisive action that would restore him to his rights as a Florentine citizen. He had no scruples in seeking foreign aid against the unjust Florentines. An {26} armed attempt was made against Florence through his fierce endeavours, but it failed, as also a second conspiracy within three years, and by 1304 the poet had been seized with disgust of his companions outside the gates. He turned from them and went to the University of Bologna.

Dante's wife had remained in Florence, escaping from dangers, perhaps, because she belonged to the powerful family of Donati. Now she sent her eldest son, Pietro, to his father, with the idea that he should begin his studies at the ancient seat of learning.

After two years of a quiet life, spent in writing his Essay on Eloquence and reading philosophy, the exile was driven away from Bologna and had to take refuge with a noble of the Malespina family. He hated to receive patronage, and was thankful to set to work on his incomplete poem of the Inferno, which was sent to him from Florence. The weariness of exile was forgotten as he wrote the great lines that were to ring through the centuries and prove what manner of man his fellow-citizens had cast forth through petty wish for revenge and jealous hatred. He had written beautiful poems in his youth, telling of love and chivalry and fair women. Now he took the next world for his theme and the sufferings of those whose bodies have passed from earth and whose souls await redemption. "Where I am sailing none has tracked the sea" were his words, avowing an intention to forsake the narrower limits of all poets before him.

"In the midway of this our mortal life, I found one in a gloomy wood, astray Gone from the path direct; and e'en to tell It were no easy task, how savage wild That forest, how robust and rough its growth, Which to remember only, my dismay Renews, in bitterness not far from death."


So the poet descended in imagination to the underworld, which he pictured reaching in wide circles from a vortex of sin and misery to a point of godlike ecstasy. With Vergil as a guide, he passed through the dark portals with their solemn warning.

"Through me men pass to city of great woe, Through me men pass to endless misery, Through me men pass where all the lost ones go."

In 1305 the Inferno was complete, and Dante left it with the monks of a certain convent while he wandered into a far-distant country. The Frate questioned him eagerly, asking why he had chosen to write the poem in Italian since the vulgar tongue seemed to clothe such a wonderful theme unbecomingly. "When I considered the condition of the present age," the poet replied, "I saw that the songs of the most illustrious poets were neglected of all, and for this reason high-minded men who once wrote on such themes now left (oh! pity) the liberal arts to the crowd. For this I laid down the pure lyre with which I was provided and prepared for myself another more adapted to the understanding of the moderns. For it is vain to give sucklings solid food."

Dante fled Italy and again sat on the student's "bundle of straw," choosing Paris as his next refuge. There he discussed learned questions with the wise men of France, and endured much privation as well as the pangs of yearning for Florence, his beloved city, which seemed to forget him. Hope rose within his breast when the newly-elected Emperor, Henry of Luxemburg, resolved to invade Italy and pacify the rebellious spirit of the proud republics. Orders were given that Florence should settle her feuds once for all, {28} but the Florentines angrily refused to acknowledge the imperial authority over their affairs and, while recalling a certain number of the exiled, refused to include the name of Dante.

Dante, in his fierce resentment, urged the Emperor to besiege the city which resisted his imperial mandates. The assault was unsuccessful, and Henry of Luxemburg died without accomplishing his laudable intention of making Italy more peaceful.

Dante lived under the protection of the powerful Uguccione, lord of Pisa, while he wrote the Purgatorio. The second part of his epic dealt with the region lying between the under-world of torment and the heavenly heights of Paradise itself. Here the souls of men were to be cleansed of their sins that they might be pure in their final ecstasy.

A revolt against his patron led the poet to follow him to Verona, where they both dwelt in friendship with the young prince, Cane della Scala. The later cantos of the great poem, the Divine Comedy, were sent to this ruler as they were written. Cane loved letters, and appreciated Dante so generously that the exile, for a time, was moved to forget his bitterness. He dedicated the Paradiso to della Scala, but he had to give up the arduous task of glorifying Beatrice worthily and devote himself to some humble office at Verona. The inferiority of his position galled one who claimed Vergil and Homer as his equals in the world of letters. He lost all his serene tranquillity of soul, and his face betrayed the haughty impatience of his spirit. Truly he was not the fitting companion for the buffoons and jesters among whom he was too often compelled to sit in the palaces where he accepted bounty. He could not always win respect by the power of his dark and {29} piercing eyes, for he had few advantages of person and disdained to be genial in manners. Brooding over neglect and injustice, he grew so repellant that Cane was secretly relieved when thoughtless, cruel levity drove the poet from his court. He never cared, perhaps, that Dante, writing the concluding cantos of his poem, decided sadly not to send them to his former benefactor.

The last goal of Dante's wanderings was the ancient city of Ravenna, where his genius was honoured by the great, and he derived a melancholy pleasure from the wonder of the people, who would draw aside from his path and whisper one to another: "Do you see him who goes to hell and comes back again when he pleases?" The fame of the Divine Comedy was known to all, and men were amazed by the splendid audacity of the Inferno.

Yet Dante was still an exile when death took him in 1321, and Florence had stubbornly refused to pay him tribute. He was buried at Ravenna, and over his tomb in the little chapel an inscription reproached his own city with indifference.

"Hic claudor Dantes patriis extorris ab oris, Quem genuit parvi Florentia mater amoris."

"Here I am enclosed, Dante, exiled from my native country, Whom Florence bore, the mother that little did love him."


Chapter III

Lorenzo the Magnificent

The struggle in which Dante had played a leading part did not cease for many years after the poet had died in exile. The Florentines proved themselves so unable to rule their own city that they had to admit foreign control and bow before the Lords Paramount who came from Naples. The last of these died in 1328 and was succeeded by the Duke of Athens. This tyrant roused the old spirit of the people which had asserted its independence in former days. He was driven out of Florence on Saint Anne's Day, July 26th of 1343, and the anniversary of that brave fight for liberty was celebrated henceforth with loud rejoicing.

The Ciompi, or working-classes, rose in 1378 and demanded higher wages. They had been grievously oppressed by the nobles, and were encouraged by a general spirit of revolt which affected the peasantry of Europe. They were strong enough in Florence to set up a new government with one of their own rank as chief magistrate. But democracy did not enjoy a lengthy rule and the rich merchant-class came into power. Such families as the Albizzi and Medici were well able to buy the favour of the people.

There had been a tradition that the Florentine banking-house of Medici were on the popular side in those struggles which rent Florence. They were certainly born leaders {31} and understood very thoroughly the nature of their turbulent fellow-citizens. They gained influence steadily during the sway of their rivals, the illustrious Albizzi. When Cosimo dei Medici had been banished, it was significant that the same convention of the people which recalled him should send Rinaldo degli Albizzi into exile.

Cosimo dei Medici rid himself of enemies by the unscrupulous method of his predecessors, driving outside the walls the followers of any party that opposed him. He had determined to control the Florentines so cleverly that they should not realize his tyranny. He was quite willing to spend the hoards of his ancestors on the adornment of the state he governed, and, among other things, he built the famous convent of St Mark. Fra Angelico, the painter-monk, was given the work of covering its white walls with the frescoes in which the monks delighted.

Cosimo gained thereby the reputation of liberality and gracious interest in the development of genius. The monk had devoted his time before this to the illuminations of manuscripts, and was delighted to work for the glory of God in such a way that all the convent might behold it. He wished for neither profit not praise for himself, but he knew that his beautiful vision would be inherited by his Church, and that they might inspire others of his brethren.

The Golden Age of Italian art was in its heyday under Cosimo dei Medici. Painters and architects had not been disturbed by the tumults that drew the rival factions from their daily labours. They had been constructing marvellous edifices in Florence even during the time when party feeling ran so high that it would have sacrificed the very existence of the city to its rancours. {32} The noble Cathedral had begun to rise before Dante had been banished, but there was no belfry till 1334 when Giotto laid the foundation-stone of the Campanile, whence the bells would ring through many centuries. The artist had completed his masterpiece in 1387, two years before the birth of Cosimo. It was an incentive to patriotic Florentines to add to the noble buildings of their city. The Church of San Lorenzo owed its existence to the House of Medici, which appealed to the people by lavish appreciation of all genius.

Cosimo was a scholar and welcomed the learned Greeks who fled from Constantinople when that city was taken by the Turks in 1453. He founded a Platonic Academy in Florence so that his guests were able to discuss philosophy at leisure. He professed to find consolation for all the misfortunes of his life in the writings of the Greek Plato, and read them rather ostentatiously in hours of bereavement. He collected as many classical manuscripts as his agents could discover on their journeys throughout Europe, and had these translated for the benefit of scholars. He had been in the habit of conciliating Alfonso of Naples by a present of gold and jewels, but as soon as a copy of Livy, the Latin historian, came to his hand, he sent the priceless treasure to his ally, knowing that the Neapolitan prince had an enormous reverence for learning. Cosimo, in truth, never coveted such finds for his own private use, but was always generous in exhibiting them at public libraries. He bought works of art to encourage the ingenuity of Florentine craftsmen, and would pay a high price for any new design, because he liked to think that his benevolence added to the welfare of the city.

Cosimo protected the commercial interests of Florence, identifying them with his own. He knew that peace {33} was essential to the foreign trade, and tried to keep on friendly terms with the neighbours whose hostility would have destroyed it. He lived with simplicity in private life, but he needed wealth to maintain his position as patron of art and the New Learning; nor did he grudge the money which was scattered profusely to provide the gorgeous spectacles, beloved by the unlearned. He knew that nothing would rob the Florentines so easily of their ancient love of liberty as the experience of sensuous delights, in which all southern races find some satisfaction. He entertained the guests of the Republic with magnificence, that they might be impressed by the security of his unlawful government.

Lorenzo, the grandson of Cosimo dei Medici, carried on his policy. It had been successful, for the Florentines of their own accord put themselves beneath the sway of a second tyrant.

"Poets of every kind, gentle and simple, with golden cithern and with rustic lute, came from every quarter to animate the suppers of the Magnifico; whosoever sang of arms, of love, of saints, of fools, was welcome, or he who, drinking and joking, kept the company amused. . . . And in order that the people might not be excluded from this new beatitude (a thing which was important to the Magnifico), he composed and set in order many mythological representations, triumphal cars, dances, and every kind of festal celebration, to solace and delight them; and thus he succeeded in banishing from their souls any recollection of their ancient greatness, in making them insensible to the ills of the country, in disfranchising and debasing them by means of temporal ease and intoxication of the senses."

Lorenzo the Magnificent was endowed with charms {34} that were naturally potent with a beauty-loving people. He had been very carefully trained by the prudent Cosimo, so that he excelled in physical exercises and could also claim a place among the most intellectual in Florence. Although singularly ill-favoured, he had personal qualities which attracted men and women. He spared no pains to array himself with splendour whenever he appeared in public. At tournaments he wore a costume ornamented with gold and silver thread, and displayed the great Medicean diamond—Il Libro—on his shield, which bore the fleur-de-lis of France in token of the friendship between the Medici and that nation. The sound of drums and fifes heralded the approach of Lorenzo the Magnificent, and cheers acclaimed him victor when he left the field bearing the coveted silver helmet as a trophy.

Lorenzo worshipped a lady who had given him a bunch of violets as a token, according to the laws of chivalry. He wrote sonnets in honour of Lucrezia Donati, but he was not free to marry her, the great house of Medici looking higher than her family. The bride, chosen for the honour of mating with the ruler of Florence, was a Roman lady of such noble birth that it was not considered essential that she should bring a substantial dowry. Clarice Orsini was dazzled at her wedding-feast by the voluptuous splendour of the family which she entered.

The ceremony took place at Florence in 1469 and afforded an excuse for lavish hospitality. The bride received her own guests in the garden of the villa where she was to reign as mistress. Young married women surrounded her, admiring the costliness of her clothing and preening themselves in the rich attire which they had assumed for this great occasion. In an upper {35} room of the villa the bridegroom's mother welcomed her own friends of mature years, and listened indulgently to the sounds of mirth that floated upward from the cloisters of the courtyard. Lorenzo sat there with the great Florentines who had assembled to honour his betrothal. The feast was served with solemnity at variance with the wit and laughter that were characteristic of the gallant company. The blare of trumpets heralded the arrival of dishes, which were generally simple. The stewards and carvers bowed low as they served the meats; their task was far from light since abundance was the rule of the house of Medici. No less than five thousand pounds of sweetmeats had been provided for the wedding, but it must be remembered that the banquets went on continuously for several days, and the humblest citizen could present himself at the hospitable boards of the bridegroom and his kinsfolk. The country-folk had sent the usual gifts, of fat hens and capons, and were greeted with a welcome as gracious as that bestowed on the guests whose offerings were rings or brocades or costly illuminated manuscripts.

After his marriage, Lorenzo was called upon to undertake a foreign mission. He travelled to Milan and there stood sponsor to the child of the reigning Duke, Galeazzo Sforza, in order to cement an alliance. He gave a gold collar, studded with diamonds, to the Duchess of Milan, and answered as became him when she was led to express the hope that he would be godfather to all her children! It was Lorenzo's duty to act as host when the Duke of Milan came to visit Florence. He was not dismayed by the long train of attendants which followed the Duke, for he knew that these richly-dressed warriors might be bribed to {36} fight for his State if he conciliated their master. There were citizens in Florence, however, who shrank from the barbaric ostentation of their ally. They looked upon a fire which broke out in a church as a divine denunciation of the mystery play performed in honour of their guests, and were openly relieved to shut their gates upon the Duke of Milan and his proud forces.

Lorenzo betrayed no weakness when the town of Volterra revolted against Florence, which exercised the rights of a protector. He punished the inhabitants very cruelly, banishing all the leaders of the revolt and taking away the Volterran privilege of self-government. His enemies hinted that he behaved despotically in order to secure certain mineral rights in this territory, and held him responsible for the sack of Volterra, though he asserted that he had gone to offer help to such of the inhabitants as had lost everything.

But the war of the Pazzi conspiracy was the true test of the strength of Medicean government. It succeeded a time of high prosperity in Florence, when her ruler was honoured by the recognition of many foreign powers, and felt his position so secure that he might safely devote much leisure to the congenial study of poetry and philosophy.

Between the years 1474-8 Lorenzo had managed to incur the jealous hatred of Pope Sixtus IV, who was determined to become the greatest power in Christendom. This Pontiff skilfully detached Naples from her alliance with Florence and Milan by promising to be content with a nominal tribute of two white horses every year instead of the handsome annual sum she had usually exacted from this vassal. He congratulated himself especially on this stroke of policy, because he believed Venice to be too selfish as a commercial State {37} to combine with her Italian neighbours and so form another Triple Alliance. He then proceeded to win over the Duke of Urbino, who had been the leader of the Florentine army. He also thwarted the ambition of Florentine trade by purchasing the tower of Imola from Milan. The Medici, coveting the bargain for their traffic with the East, were too indignant to advance the money which, as bankers to the Papacy, they should have supplied. They preferred to see their rivals, the great Roman banking-house of the Pazzi, accommodating the Pope, even though this might mean a fatal blow to their supremacy.

Lorenzo's hopes of a strong coalition against his foe were destroyed by the assassination of Sforza of Milan in 1474. The Duke was murdered in the church of St Stephen by three young nobles who had personal injuries to avenge and were also inspired by an ardent desire for republican liberty. The Pope exclaimed, when he heard the news, that the peace of Italy was banished by this act of lawlessness. Lorenzo, disapproving of all outbreaks against tyranny, promised to support the widowed Duchess of Milan. The control he exercised during her brief regime came to an end in 1479 with the usurpation of Ludovico, her Moorish brother-in-law.

Then Riario, the Pope's nephew, saw that the time was ripe for a conspiracy against the Medici which might deprive them of their power in Italy. He allied himself closely with Francesco dei Pazzi, who was anxious for the aggrandisement of his own family. His name had long been famous in Florence, every good citizen watching the ancient Carro dei Pazzi which was borne in procession at Easter-tide. The car was stored with fireworks set alight by means {38} of the Colombina (Dove) bringing a spark struck from a stone fragment of Christ's tomb. The citizens could not forget the origin of the sacred flame, for they had all heard in youth the story of the return of a crusading member of the Pazzi house with that precious relic.

The two conspirators hoped to bring a foreign army against Florence and, therefore, gained the aid of Salviati, Archbishop of Pisa. The Pope bade them do as they wished, "provided that there be no killing." In reality, he was aware that a plot to assassinate both Lorenzo dei Medici and his brother, Giuliano, was on foot, but considered that it would degrade his holy office if he spoke of it.

It was necessary for their first plan that Lorenzo should be lured to Rome where the conspirators had assembled, but he refused an invitation to confer with the Pope about their differences and a new plan had to be substituted. Accordingly the nephew of Riario, Cardinal Raffaelle Sansoni, expressed a keen desire to view the treasures of the Medici household, and was welcomed as a guest by Florence. He attended mass in the Cathedral which was to be the scene of the assassination, since Lorenzo and his brother were certain to attend it. Two priests offered to perform the deed of sacrilege from which the original assassin recoiled. They hated Lorenzo for his treatment of Volterra, and drove him behind the gates of the new sacristy. Giuliano was slain at the very altar, his body being pierced with no less than nineteen wounds, but Lorenzo escaped to mourn the fate of the handsome noble brother who had been a model for Botticelli's famous "Primavera."

He heard the citizens cry, "Down with traitors! The Medici! The Medici!" and resolved to move {39} them to a desperate vengeance on the Pazzi. The Archbishop of Pisa was hanged from the window of a palace, while a fellow-conspirator was hurled to the ground from the same building. This gruesome scene was painted to gratify the avengers of Giuliano.

Florence was enthusiastic in defence of her remaining tyrant. He was depicted by Botticelli in an attitude of triumph over the triple forces of anarchy, warfare and sedition. All the family of Pazzi were condemned as traitors. Their coat of arms was erased by Lorenzo's adherents wherever it was discovered.

Henceforth, Lorenzo exercised supreme control over his native city. He won Naples to a new alliance by a diplomatic visit that proved his skill in foreign negotiations. The gifts that came to him from strange lands were presented, in reality, to the master of the Florentine "republic." Egypt sent a lion and a giraffe, which were welcomed as wonders of the East even by those who did not appreciate the fact that they showed a desire to trade. It was easy soon to find new markets for the rich burghers whose class was in complete ascendancy over the ancient nobles.

Lorenzo was seized with mortal sickness in the early spring of 1492, and found no comfort in philosophy. He drank from a golden cup which was supposed to revive the dying when it held a draught, strangely concocted from precious pearls according to some Eastern fancy. But the sick man found nothing of avail in his hour of death except a visit from an honest monk he had seen many times in the cloisters of San Marco.

Savonarola came to the bedside of the magnificent pagan and demanded three things as the price of absolution. Lorenzo was to believe in the mercy of God, to {40} restore all that he had wrongfully acquired, and to agree to popular government being restored to Florence. The third condition was too hard, for Lorenzo would not own himself a tyrant. He turned his face to the wall in bitterness of spirit, and the monk withdrew leaving him unshriven.

The sack of Volterra, and the murder of innocent kinsfolk of the Pazzi who had been involved in the great conspiracy haunted Lorenzo as he passed from life in the prime of manhood and glorious achievements. He would have mourned for the commerce of his city if he had known that in the same year of 1492 the discovery of America would be made, through which the Atlantic Ocean was to become the highway of commerce, reducing to sad inferiority the ports of the Mediterranean.


Chapter IV

The Prior of San Marco

Long before Lorenzo's death, Girolamo Savonarola had made the corruption of Florence the subject of sermons which drew vast crowds to San Marco. The city might pride herself on splendid buildings decorated by the greatest of Italian painters; she might rouse envy in the foreign princes who were weary of listening to the praises of Lorenzo; but the preacher lamented the sins of Florentines as one of old had lamented the wickedness of Nineveh, and prophesied her downfall if the pagan lust for enjoyment did not yield to the sternest Christianity.

Savonarola had witnessed many scenes which showed the real attitude of the Pope toward religion. He had been born at Ferrara, where the extravagant and sumptuous court had extended a flattering welcome to Pius IV as he passed from town to town to preach a Crusade against the Turks. The Pope was sheltered by a golden canopy and greeted by sweet music, and statues of heathen gods were placed on the river-banks as an honour to the Vicar of Christ!

Savonarola shrank from court-life and the patronage of Borsi, the reigning Marquis of Ferrara. That prince, famed for his banquets, his falcons, and his robes of gold brocade, would have appointed him the court physician it he would have agreed to study medicine. {42} The study of the Scriptures appealed more to the recluse, whose only recreation was to play the lute and write verses of a haunting melancholy.

Against the wishes of his family Savonarola entered the Order of Saint Dominic. He gave up the world for a life of the hardest service in the monastery by day, and took his rest upon a coarse sack at night. He was conscious of a secret wish for pre-eminence, no doubt, even when he took the lowest place and put on the shabbiest clothing.

The avarice of Pope Sextus roused the monk to burning indignation. The new Pope lavished gifts on his own family, who squandered on luxury of every kind the money that should have relieved the poor. The Church seemed to have entered zealously into that contest for wealth and power which was devastating all the free states of Italy.

Savonarola had come from his monastery at Bologna to the Convent of San Marco when he first lifted up his voice in denunciation. He was not well received because he used the Bible—distrusted by the Florentines, who expressed doubts of the correctness of its Latin! Pico della Mirandola, the brilliant young scholar, was attracted, however, by the friar's eloquence. A close friendship was formed between these two men, whose appearance was as much in contrast as their characters.

Savonarola was dark in complexion, with thick lips and an aquiline nose—only the flashing grey eyes set under overhanging brows redeemed his face from harshness. Mirandola, on the other hand, was gifted with remarkable personal beauty. Long fair curls hung to his shoulders and surrounded a face that was both gentle and gracious. He had an extraordinary knowledge of languages and a wonderful memory.


Fastidious Florentines were converted to Mirandola's strange taste in sermons, so that the convent garden with its rose-trees became the haunt of an ever-increasing crowd, eager to hear doctrines which were new enough to tickle their palates pleasantly. On the 1st of August 1489, the friar consented to preach in the Convent Church to the Dominican brothers and the laymen who continued to assemble in the cloisters. He took a passage of Revelations for his text. "Three things he suggested to the people. That the Church of God required renewal, and that immediately; second, that all Italy should be chastised; third, that this should come to pass soon." This was the first of Savonarola's prophecies, and caused great excitement among the Florentines who heard it.

At Siena, the preacher pronounced sentence on the Church, which was now under the rule of Innocent IV, a pope more openly depraved than any of his predecessors. Through Lombardy the echo of that sermon sounded and the name of Girolamo Savonarola. The monk was banished, and only recalled to Florence by the favour of Lorenzo dei Medici, who was undisturbed by a series of sermons against tyranny.

Savonarola was elected Prior of San Marco in July 1491, but he refused to pay his respects to Lorenzo as the patron of the convent. "Who elected me to be Prior—God or Lorenzo?" he asked sternly when the elder Dominicans entreated him to perform this duty. "God," was the answer they were compelled to make. They were sadly disappointed when the new Prior decided, "Then I will thank my Lord God, not mortal man."

In the Lent season of this same year Savonarola preached for the first time in the cathedral or Duomo {44} of Florence. "The people got up in the middle of the night to get places for the sermon, and came to the door of the cathedral, waiting outside till it should be opened, making no account of any inconvenience, neither of the cold nor the wind, nor of standing in the winter with their feet on the marble; and among them were young and old, women and children of every sort, who came with such jubilee and rejoicing that it was bewildering to hear them, going to the sermon as to a wedding. . . . And though many thousand people were thus collected together no sound was to be heard, not even a 'hush,' until the arrival of the children, who sang hymns with so much sweetness that heaven seemed to have opened."

The Magnificent often came to San Marco, piqued by the indifference of the Prior and interested in the personality of the man who had succeeded in impressing cultured Florentines by simple language. He gave gold pieces lavishly to the convent, but the gold was always sent to the good people of St Martin, who ministered to the needs of those who were too proud to acknowledge their decaying fortunes. "The silver and copper are enough for us," were the words that met the remonstrances of the other brethren. "We do not want so much money." No wonder that Lorenzo remembered the invincible honesty of this Prior when he was convinced of the hollowness of the life he had led among a court of flatterers!

The Prior's warnings were heard in Florence with an uneasy feeling that their fulfilment might be nearer after Lorenzo died and was succeeded by his son. Piero dei Medici sent the preacher away from the city, for he knew that men whispered among themselves that the Dominican had foretold truly the death of Innocent and the parlous state of Florence under the {45} new Pope, Alexander VI (Alexander Borgia). He did not like the predictions of evil for his own house of Medici, which had now wielded supreme power in Florence for over sixty years. It would go hardly with him if the people were to rise against the tyranny his fathers had established.

Piero's downfall was hastened by the news that a French army had crossed the Alps under Charles VIII of France, who intended to take Naples. This invasion of Italy terrified the Florentines, for they had become unwarlike since they gave themselves up to luxury and pleasure. They dreaded the arrival of the French troops, which were famous throughout Europe. On these Charles relied to intimidate the citizens of the rich states he visited on his way to enforce a claim transmitted to him through Charles of Anjou. Piero de Medici made concessions to the invader without the knowledge of the people. The Florentines rebelled against the admission of soldiers within their walls as soon as the advance guard arrived to mark with chalk the houses they would choose for their quarters. There were frantic cries of "Abbasso le palle," "Down with the balls," in allusion to the three balls on the Medici coat of arms. Piero himself was disowned and driven from the city.

All the enemies of the Medici were recalled, and the populace entreated Savonarola to return and protect them in their hour of peril. They had heard him foretell the coming of one who should punish the wicked and purge Italy of her sins. Now their belief in the Prior's utterances was confirmed. They hastened to greet him as the saviour of their city.

Savonarola went on an embassy to Charles' camp and made better terms than the Florentines had {46} expected. Nevertheless, they had to endure the procession of French troops through their town, and found it difficult to get rid of Charles VIII, whose cupidity was aroused when he beheld the wealth of Florence. There was tumult in the streets, where soldiers brawled with citizens and enraged their hosts by insults. The Italian blood was greatly roused when the invading monarch threatened "to sound his trumpets" if his demands were not granted. "Then we will ring our bells," a bold citizen replied. The French King knew how quickly the town could change to a stronghold of barricaded streets if such an alarm were given, and wisely refrained from further provocation. He passed on his way after "looting" the palace in which he had been lodged. The Medicean treasures were the trophies of his visit.

In spite of himself, the monk had to turn politician after the French army had gone southward. He was said to have saved the State, and was implored to assume control now that the tyranny was at an end. There was a vision before him of Florence as a free Republic in the truest sense. He took up his work gladly for the cause of liberty. The Parliamento, a foolish assembly of the people which was summoned hastily to do the will of any faction that could overawe it, was replaced by the Great Council formed on a Venetian model. In this sat the benefiziati—those who had held some civic office, and the immediate descendants of officials. Florence was not to have a really democratic government.

After the cares of government, Savonarola felt weary in mind and body; he had never failed to preach incessantly in the cathedral, where he expounded his schemes for reform without abandoning his work as prophet. He broke down, but again took up his burden {47} bravely. Florence was a changed city under his rule. Women clothed themselves in the simplest garb and forsook such vanities as wigs and rouge-pots. Bankers, repenting of greed, hastened to restore the wealth they had wrongly appropriated. Tradesmen read their Bibles in their shops in the intervals of business, and were no longer to be found rioting in the streets. The Florentine youths, once mischievous to the last degree, attended the friar daily, and actually gave up their stone-throwing. "Piagnoni" (Snivellers) was the name given to these enthusiasts, for the godly were not without opponents.

Savonarola had to meet the danger of an attempt to restore the authority of Piero dei Medici. He mustered eleven thousand men and boys, when a report came that the tyrant had sought the help of Charles VIII against Florence. The Pope, also, wished to restore Piero for his own ends. In haste the citizens barred their gates and then assembled in the cathedral to hearken to their leader.

Savonarola passed a stern resolution that any man should be put to death who endeavoured to destroy the hard-won freedom of his city. "One must treat these men," he declared, "as the Romans treated those who sought the recall of Tarquinius." His fiery spirit inflamed the Florentines with such zeal that they offered four thousand gold florins for the head of Piero dei Medici.

The attempt to force the gates of Florence proved a failure. Piero had to fly to Rome and the Prior's enemies were obliged to seek a fresh excuse for attacking his position. The Pope was persuaded to send for him that he might answer a charge of disseminating false doctrines. The preacher defended himself vigorously, {48} and seemed to satisfy Alexander Borgia, whose aim was to crush a reformer of the Catholic Church likely to attack his evil practices. He was, however, forbidden to preach, and had to be silent at the time when Florence held her carnival.

The extraordinary change in the nature of this festival was a tribute to the influence of Savonarola. Children went about the streets, chanting hymns instead of the licentious songs which Lorenzo dei Medici had written for the purpose. They begged alms for the poor, and their only amusement was the capannucci, or Bonfire of Vanities, for which they collected the materials. Books and pictures, clothes and jewels, false hair and ointments were piled in great heaps round a kind of pyramid some sixty feet in height. Old King Carnival, in effigy, was placed at the apex of the pyramid, and the interior was filled with comestibles that would set the whole erection in a blaze as soon as a taper was applied. When the signal was given, bells pealed and trumpets sounded glad farewell to the customs of the ancient carnival. The procession set forth from San Marco on Palm Sunday (led by white-robed children with garlands on their heads), and went round the city till it came to the cathedral. "And so much joy was there in all hearts that the glory of Paradise seemed to have descended on earth and many tears of tenderness and devotion were shed." So readily did Florentines confess that the new spirit of Christianity brought more satisfaction than the noisy licence of a pagan festival.

In 1496 the Pope not only allowed Savonarola to preach, but even offered him a Cardinal's Hat on condition that he would utter no more predictions. "I want no other red hat but that of martyrdom, reddened {49} by my own blood," was the firm response of the incorruptible preacher. He was greeted by joyful shouts when he mounted to the pulpit of the Duomo, and had reached the height of his popularity in Florence.

When a year had passed, Savonarola faced a different world, where friends were fain to conceal their devotion and enemies became loud in their constant menaces. The Arrabiati (enraged) had overcome the Piagnoni and induced the Pope to pronounce excommunication against the leader of this party. The sermons continued, the Papal decree was ignored, but a new doubt had entered the mind of Florentines. A Franciscan monk, Francesco da Puglia, had attacked the Dominican, calling him a false prophet and challenging him to prove the truth of his doctrines by the "ordeal by fire."

Savonarola hesitated to accept the challenge, knowing that he would be destroyed by it, whatever might be the actual issue. The Piagnoni showed some chagrin when he allowed a disciple, Fra Domenico, to step into his place as a proof of devotion. On all sides there were murmurs at the Prior's strange shrinking and obvious reluctance to meet with a miracle the charges of his opponents.

A great crowd assembled on the day appointed for the "ordeal" in the early spring of 1498. Balconies and roofs were black with human figures, children clung to columns and statues in order that they might not lose a glimpse of this rare spectacle. Only a few followers of Savonarola prayed and wept in the Piazza of San Marco as the chanting procession of Domenicans appeared. Fra Domenico walked last of all, arrayed in a cope of red velvet to symbolize the martyr's flames. He did not fear to prove the strength of his belief, but walked erect and bore the cross in triumph. It was the {50} Franciscan brother whose courage failed for he had never thought, perhaps, that any man would be brave enough to reply to his awful challenge.

The crowd watched, feverishly expectant, but the hours passed and there was no sign of Francesco da Puglia. His brethren found fault with Domenico's red cope and bade him change it. They consulted, and came at last to the conclusion that their own champion had found himself unable to meet martyrdom. At length it was announced that there would be no ordeal—a thunderstorm had not caused one spectator to leave his place in the Piazza, where there should be wrought a miracle. It was clear that the Prior's enemies had sought his death, for they showed a furious passion of resentment. Even the Piagnoni were troubled by doubts of their prophet, who had refused to show his supernatural powers and silence the Franciscans. The monks were protected with difficulty from the violence of the mob as they returned in the April twilight to the Convent of San Marco.

There was the sound of vespers in the church when a noise of tramping feet was heard and the fierce cry, "To San Marco!" The monks rose from their knees to shut the doors through which assailants were fast pouring. These soldiers of the Cross fought dauntlessly with any weapon they could seize when they saw that their sacred dwelling was in danger.

Savonarola called the Dominicans round him and led them to the altar, where he knelt in prayer, commanding them to do likewise. But some of the white-robed brethren had youthful spirits and would not refrain from fighting. They rose and struggled to meet death, waving lighted torches about the heads of their assailants. A novice met naked swords with a great {51} wooden cross he took to defend the choir from sacrilege. "Save Thy people, O God"; it was the refrain of the very psalm they had been singing. The place was dense with smoke, and the noise of the strife was deafening. A young monk died on the very altar steps, and received the last Sacrament from Fra Domenico amid this strange turmoil.

As soon as a pause came in the attack, Savonarola led the brethren to the library. He told them quietly that he was resolved to give himself up to his enemies that there might be no further bloodshed. He bade them farewell with tenderness and walked forth into the dangerous crowd about the convent. His hands were tied and he was beaten and buffeted on his way to prison. The first taste of martyrdom was bitter in his mouth, and he regretted that he had not answered the Franciscan's challenge.

The prophet was put on trial on a charge of heresy and sedition. He was tortured so cruelly that he was led to recant and to "confess," as his judges said. They had already come to a decision that he was guilty. Sentence of death was pronounced, and he mounted the scaffold on May 23rd, 1498. He looked upon the multitude gathered in the great Piazza, but he did not speak to them; he did not save himself, as some of them were hoping. It was many years before Florence paid him due honour as the founder of her liberties and the greatest of her reformers.


Chapter V

Martin Luther, Reformer of the Church

The martyrdom of Savonarola gave courage to reformers and renewed the faith of the people. It had been his aim to progress steadily toward the truth and to draw the whole world after him. Unconsciously he prepared the way for the German monk who destroyed the unity of the Catholic Church. Though he was merciless to papal abuses, it had not been in the mind of the zealous Dominican to protest against the doctrines of the Papacy, nor did he ever doubt the faith which had drawn him to the convent. He had no wish to destroy—his work was to purify. But his death proved that purification was impossible. Rome had gone too far on the downward path to be checked by a Reformer. She had come at last to the parting of the ways.

Martin Luther knew nothing of the pomp of Italian cities. He was born in very humble circumstances at Eisleben, a little town in Germany, on St Martin's Eve, 1483. Harsh discipline made his childhood unhappy, for the age of educational reformers had not yet come. The little Martin was beaten and tormented, and had to sing in the streets for bread.

Ambition roused his parents to send him to the University of Erfurt that he might study law. He took his degree as Doctor of Philosophy in 1505—the event {53} was celebrated by a torchlight procession and rejoicing, after the student-custom of those parts.

Then Martin Luther, appalled by the sudden death of a comrade in a thunderstorm, resolved to devote himself to God. Luther was a genial youth, and gave a supper to his friends before he left them; there were feasting and laughter and a burst of song. That same evening the door of a convent opened to receive a novice with two books, Vergil and Plautus, in his hand.

The novice had to perform the meanest tasks, sweeping floors and begging in the street on behalf of his brethren of the Augustinian Order. "Go through the street with a sack and get food for us," they clamoured, driving him out that they might resume their idleness.

Staupnitz, the head of the Order, visited the convent and was interested in the young man to whom fasting and penance did not bring the peace he craved. Oppressed by his sins, Luther lived a life of misery. He read the Bible constantly, having discovered the Holy Book by chance within the convent walls. At last, the words of the creed brought comfort to him "I believe in the forgiveness of sins." He despaired of his soul no longer. "It was as if I had found the door of Paradise wide open," he said joyfully, and devoted himself more closely to the study of the Scriptures.

The fame of Luther's learning spread beyond the convent of his Order. He was summoned to teach philosophy and theology at Wittenberg, a new university, founded by Frederick, the Elector of Saxony. The boldness of the lecturer's spirit was first shown in his sermons against "indulgences," one of the worst abuses of the Roman Church.

The Pope claimed to inherit the keys of St Peter, {54} which opened the treasury containing the good works of the saints and the boundless merits of Jesus Christ. He professed to be able to transfer a portion of this merit to any person who gave a sum of money to purchase pardon for sins. "Indulgences" had been first granted to pilgrims and Crusaders. They were further extended to those who aided pious works, such as the building of St Peter's. The Pope, Leo X, had found the papal treasury exhausted by his predecessors. He had to raise money, and therefore allowed agents to sell pardons throughout Germany. Tetzel, a Dominican friar, was employed in Saxony. He was noisy and dishonest, and spent on his own evil pleasures sums that were given by the ignorant creatures upon whom he traded to secure their eternal happiness.

Luther inveighed against such practices from the pulpit of the church at Wittenberg. He was particularly angry to hear Tetzel's wicked proclamation that "when one dropped a penny into the box for a soul in purgatory, so soon as the money chinked in the chest, the soul flew up to heaven."

The papal red cross hung above Tetzel's money-counter, and he sat there and called on all to buy. Luther decided on an action that should stop the shameful traffic, declaring, "God willing, I will beat a hole in his drum." On the eve of All Saints' Day a crowd assembled to gaze at the relics displayed at the Castle church of Wittenberg. Their attention was drawn to a paper nailed on the church gate, which set forth reasons why indulgences were harmful and should be immediately discontinued.

There were other abuses in the Church of Rome which Luther now openly deplored. Hot discussion followed this bold step. Tetzel retired to Frankfort, {55} but from there he wrote to contradict the new teaching of the Augustine monk. He burnt Luther's theses publicly, and then heard that his own had been consigned to the flames in the market-place of Wittenberg, where a host of sympathisers had watched the bonfire with satisfaction. Luther did not stand alone in his struggle to free the Church from vice and superstition. He lived in an age when men had learning enough to despise the trickery of worldly monks. The spirit of inquiry had lived through the Revival of Letters and Erasmus, the famous scholar, had discovered many errors in the Roman Church.

Erasmus joined Luther in an attempt to show men that the Holy Scriptures alone would offer guidance in spiritual matters. He knew that a reform of the Western Church was urgently needed, and was willing to use his subtle brains to confute the arguments of ignorant opponents. But soon he found that Luther's temper was too ardent, that there was no middle course for this impetuous spirit. He dreaded for himself the loss of wealth and honour, and refused to make war on those in high stations, whose patronage had helped him to the rewards of knowledge.

Alarmed by the spread of Luther's books and doctrines, the cardinals entreated the Pope to summon him to Rome. Printing had been invented, and poor as well as rich could easily be roused to inquire into the truth of the doctrines taught by Rome. Leo X had been disposed to ignore the sermons of the obscure German monk, for he had many schemes to further his own ambition. He yielded, at last, and sent the necessary summons. Luther was loth to go to Rome, where he was sure of condemnation. The Elector Frederick of Saxony came forward as his champion, not from religious {56} motives, but because he was pleased to see some prospect of the exactions of the court of Rome being diminished.

Cajetan, the Papal Legate, came to preside over a Diet, summoned specially to Augsburg. He urged the monk to retract his dangerous doctrine that the authority of the Bible was above that of the Pope of Rome. "Retract, my son, retract," he urged; "it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks." But the conference ended where it had begun—Luther fled back to Wittenberg.

He began to see now that the whole system of Romish government was wrong, and that there were countless abuses to be swept away before the Church could truly claim to point the way to Christianity. Conscience or authority, the Scriptures or the Church, Germany or Rome? A choice had to be made, each man ranging himself on one side or the other. The independence of Germany was dear to Luther's heart. He wrote an address to the nobles and summoned the Christian princes of Germany to his aid. He declared that all Christians were priests, and that the Church and nation ought to be freed from the interference of the Papacy. He was becoming an avowed enemy of the Pope, losing his former reluctance to attack authority. A Bull was, of course, issued against him, but the students of Erfurt threw the paper on which it was written into the river, saying contemptuously—"It is a bubble, let it swim!"

In December, 1520, Luther himself burnt the Bull on a fire kindled for the purpose at the Elster Gate of Wittenberg. He said, as he committed the document to the flames, "As thou hast vexed the saints of God, so mayest thou be consumed in eternal fire." The act cut him off from the Papacy for ever. He had defied the Pope in the presence of many witnesses. {57} Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, was not in a position to take up the cause of Luther against his powerful enemies. He maintained an alliance with the Pope so that he would oppose the vast schemes which his rival, Francis I of France, was maturing. At the same time, he owed a debt of gratitude to the Elector Frederick, who was one of the seven German princes possessing the right to "elect" a new emperor. He decided, after a brief struggle, to yield to the demands of the Papal Legates. He ordered Martin Luther to come to Worms and appear before the great Diet, or Assembly of German rulers, which met in 1521.

Luther obeyed at once, making a triumphant journey through many towns and villages. Music fell on his ears pleasantly, a portrait of Savonarola was sent to him that he might feel his courage strengthened. Had not his resolve been fixed, he would have turned back at Weimar, where he found an edict posted on the walls ordering all his writings to be burnt. "I am lawfully called to appear in that city," he said, "and thither will I go in the name of the Lord, though as many devils as there are tiles on the houses were there combined against me." He was stricken with illness at Eisenach, but went on as soon as he recovered. When he caught sight of the old towers of Worms, his spirit leapt with joy, and he began to sing his famous hymn, "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott." ("A mighty fortress is our God.")

The crowded streets testified to the fame that had gone before him. Not even the Emperor had met with such a flattering reception. Saxon noblemen welcomed him, and friendly speech cheered him to meet the ordeal of the next day. The Diet was an impressive assembly, with the Emperor on his throne and the great dignitaries {58} of State around him, clad in all the majesty of red and purple. Not the chivalry of Germany only had flocked to hear the defence of Martin Luther for Spanish warriors sat there in yellow cloaks and added lustre to the splendid gathering.

Luther's courageous stand against his adversaries won many to his cause. He would not withdraw one word he had written or spoken, nor did he consent to his opinions being tried by any other rule than the word of God.

Eric, the aged Duke of Brunswick, sent him a silver can of Einbech beer as a token of sympathy. Weary of strife, Luther drank it, saying, "As Duke Eric has remembered me this day, so may our Lord Christ remember him in his last struggle."

The reformer called in vain on the Emperor and States, assembled at Worms, to consider the parlous case of the Church, lest God should visit the German nation with His judgment. A severe edict was published against him by the authority of the Diet, and he was deprived of all the privileges he enjoyed as a subject of the Empire. Furthermore, it was forbidden for any prince to harbour or protect him, and his person was to be seized as soon as the safe-conduct for the journey had expired.

As Luther returned to Wittenberg, a band of horsemen took him and carried him off to the strong castle of Wartburg, where he was lodged in the disguise of a knight. It was a ruse of the Elector of Saxony to save him from the storm he had roused by his behaviour at the Diet. Imprisonment was not irksome, and the retreat was pleasant enough after the strife of years. He hunted in his character of gallant cavalier, and always wore a sword. Much of his time was spent in {59} translating the Scriptures into German, that knowledge might not be denied even to the unlettered. Constant study made his imagination very vivid, and the devil seemed to be constantly before him. He had long conversations with Satan in person, as he believed, and decided that the best way to get rid of him was by gibes and mockery. One night his bed shook with the violent agitation caused by the rattling of some hazel nuts against each other after they had felt the inspiration of the Evil One! On another occasion a diabolical moth buzzed round him, preventing close attention to his labours. He hurled an inkstand at the intruder, staining the wall of the chamber with a mark that remained there through centuries.

During this confinement, Luther's opinions gained ground in Saxony. The University of Wittenberg made several alterations in the form of Church worship, abolishing, in particular, the celebration of private masses for the souls of the dead. Two events counteracted the pleasure of the reformer when the news came to him. He was told that the ancient University of Paris had condemned his doctrines, and that Henry VIII of England had written a reply to one of his books, so ably that the Pope had been delighted to confer on him the title of Defender of the Faith.

In 1522, Luther returned to Wittenberg, enjoying a harmless jest at Jena by the way. There his disguise of red mantle and doublet so deceived fellow-travellers that they told him their intention of going to see Martin Luther return, without realizing that they were speaking to the great reformer!

His next sermons were not fortunate in their results, since the peasants failed to understand them. A class war followed, in which Luther took the part of mediator, {60} trying to show his poorer neighbours the evils their violence would bring on themselves, and reproaching the nobles with their oppressive customs. He was angry that the new religious spirit should be discredited by social disorder, and spoke bitterly of all who refused to heed his remonstrances. Erasmus was shocked by Luther's roughness of speech, and withdrew more and more from the reforming party. He hated the old monkish teaching and desired literary freedom, but he could not forgive the excesses of this thorough-going reformer.

In 1523, Luther gave grave offence to many of his own followers by marrying Catherine von Bora, a nun who had left her convent. He had cast off the Roman belief that a priest should never marry, but public feeling could not approve of a change which was in conflict with so many centuries of tradition. The Reformer's home life was happy, nevertheless, and six children were born of the marriage. As a father, Luther showed much tenderness. He wrote with a marvellous simplicity to his eldest son: "I know a very pretty, pleasant garden and in it there are a great many children, all dressed in little golden coats, picking up nice apples and pears and cherries and plums, under the trees. And they sing and jump about and are very merry; and besides, they have got beautiful little horses with golden bridles and silver saddles. Then I asked the man to whom the garden belonged, whose children they were, and he said, 'These are children who love to pray and learn their lessons, and do as they are bid'; then I said, 'Dear sir, I have a little son called Johnny Luther; may he come into this garden too?'"

Luther's translation of the Bible was read with wonderful attention by people of every rank. Other {61} countries of Europe also were influenced by his doctrines, with the result of a diminution of the blind faith in priestcraft. Nuremburg, Frankfort, Hamburg, and other imperial free cities in Germany openly embraced the reformed religion, abolishing the mass and other "superstitious rites of popery." The secular princes drew up a list of one hundred grievances, enumerating the grievous burdens laid upon them by the Holy See. In 1526 a Diet assembled at Speyer to consider the state of religion! The Diet enjoined all those who had obeyed the decree issued against Luther at Worms to continue to observe it, and to prohibit other States from attempting any further innovation in religion till the meeting of a general council. The Elector of Saxony, with the heads of other principalities and free cities, entered a solemn "protest" against this decree, as unjust and impious. On that account they were distinguished by the name of Protestants.

At Augsburg, where priests and statesmen met together in 1530, the Protestant form of religion was established. The reformers issued there a "confession" of their faith, known as the Augsburg Confession, and which placed them for ever apart from the old Roman Catholic Church. A zeal for religion had seized on men excited by their own freedom to find the truth for themselves. Luther lamented the strife that of necessity followed, often wondering whether he had not been too bold in opposing the ancient traditions of Rome. For he had aimed at purification rather than separation, and would have preferred to keep the old Church rather than to set up a new one in its place. "He was never for throwing away old shoes till he had got new ones." Naturally reformers of less moderate nature did not love him. He detested argument for {62} argument's sake. There was nothing crafty or subtle in his nature. He poured out the honest convictions of his heart without regard to the form in which he might express them.

In 1546, Luther had promised to settle a dispute between two nobles, and set out on his journey, feeling a presentiment that the end of worldly strife was come for him. On the way, he visited Eisleben, where he had been born, and there died. His body was taken to Wittenberg, the scene of his real life-work.

Germany had been restless before the reforms of Martin Luther, disinclined to believe all that was taught by monks and inculcated by tradition. The authority of the Pope had kept men's souls in bondage. They hardly dared to judge for themselves what was right and what was wrong. If money could free them from the burden of sins, they paid it gladly, acquitting themselves of all responsibility. Now conscience had stirred and the mind been slowly awakened. Luther declared his belief that each was responsible to God for his own soul, and there was a universal echo. "I believe in the forgiveness of sins." The truth which had shone on the troubled monk was the truth to abide for ever with his followers. "No priest can save you! no masses or indulgences can help you! But God has saved you!" The voice of the preacher came to the weary, crying out from ancient cathedrals and passionately swaying the whole nation of Germany. Europe was in need of the same moral freedom. Other countries took up the new creed and examined it, finding that which would work like a leaven in the corruptness of the age.


Chapter VI

Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor

The sixteenth century was an age of splendid monarchs, who vied with each other in the luxury of their courts, the chivalry of their bearing, and the extent of their possessions.

Francis I was a patron of the New Learning, the pride of France, ever devoted to a monarch with some dash of the heroic in his composition. He was dark and handsome, and excelled in the tournaments, where he tried to recapture the romance of the Middle Ages by his knightly equipment and gallant feats of arms.

Henry VIII, the King of England, was eager to spend the wealth he had inherited on the glittering pageants which made the people forget the tyranny of the Tudor monarchs. He was four years the senior of Francis, but still under thirty when Charles the Fifth succeeded, in 1516, to the wide realms of the Spanish Crown.

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