1902 Encyclopedia > Guelfs and Ghibellines

Guelfs and Ghibellines

GUELFS AND GHIBELLINES. The names Guelfo and Ghibellino, as applied to parties in Italy, are Italianized forms of names which at an earlier period designated parties in Germany. Guelfo is the Italian form of Welf, and Ghibellino the Italian form of Waiblingen, a castle of the emperor Conrad. In Germany these names, which are said to have been first used as battle-cries at the battle of Weins-berg in 1140, designated the struggle between the Welfs of Altdorf and the imperial line of the Hohenstaufen. In Italy the names acquired a different meaning, being generally applied respectively to the party of the pope and the party of the emperor. The conflict between the authority of the emperor and the independence of the Italian towns began before the names were used in Germany. These parties first came into prominence in the Lombard league of 1167, In the war which followed we find the following distribution of parties : on the Ghibellin side were Cremona, Pavia, Genoa, Tortona, Asti, Alba, Acqui, Turin, Ivrea, Venti-miglia, Savona, Albenga, Imola, Faenza, Ravenna, Forli, Cesena, Rimini, the marquis of Montferrat, the counts of Lomello, Guasto, Bosio, &c; on the side of the Guelfs were Venice, Treviso, Padua, Vicenza, Verona, Brescia, Ferrara, Mantua, Bergamo, Lodi, Milan, Novara, Vercelli, Alessandria, Piacenza, Parma, Reggio, Modena, Bologna. These names spread further in consequence of the bitter rivalry which existed between several pairs of Italian towns, for instance, between Rome and Tusculum, Pisa and Genoa, Ferrara and Mantua, Bergamo and Brescia. A further step in this direction was the division of the towns them-selves into Guelf and Ghibellin parties. The struggle for the imperial throne between Philip of Swabia and Otto of Brunswick (1198-1208) enlisted the sympathies of Italy. The Guelfic towns Milan, Piacenza, Brescia, Beggio, Modena, took the part of the Welf Otto. The 13th century witnessed a great increase of the jealousies between rival towns, and more serious divisions of the leading families in the towns themselves. Examples of this were the quarrels between the Montecchiand Capelletti at Yerona, the Lambertazzi and Geremei at Bologna, the Bossi and Coreggi at Parma, the Doria and Spinola, the Grimaldi and Eieschi at Genoa, the Buondelmonti and Amedei, the Donati and Uberti at Florence, the Colonna and Orsini at Borne, the Bagnacavalli and Polenta at Ravenna, the Delle Torre and Visconti at Milan, the Cancellieri and Panciatichi at Pistoia, the Salimbeni and Tolomei at Siena.

Of the principal towns in North and Central Italy, Arezzo was generally Ghibellin. Bergamo was torn in sunder by party quarrels : the Suardi fought against the Coleoni, and afterwards both these against the Rivoli and Bonghi; it was generally more Guelf than Ghibellin. Bologna was generally Guelf. Brescia was much divided. It was generally Guelf, but was conquered by the Ghibellins in 1322. It came under the power of the Yisconti of Milan in 1337. Cremona was generally Guelf, but occasion-ally Ghibellin. Always unhappy, it was wasted by the most violent party conflicts. The family of Cavalcabo led the Guelf party in this town in the 14th century. Ferrara was Ghibellin under the Torelli; it became Guelf under the Este. Florence, after 1158, was the chief support of the Guelfs. The struggles which desolated it were between different branches of the Guelf—the Bianchi, and Neri, and others. Forli was Guelf till 1315, afterwards Ghibellin under the Ordelaffi. Genoa was divided between the two parties. Lucca was generally Ghibellin, but had hard work to maintain its position against the attacks of Florence. Mantua was Guelf up to 1220, afterwards mainly Ghibellin. Padua was the enemy of Venice; in 1227 it was Guelf, fighting against the Ghibellin Vicenza; about 1318 it became Ghibellin under the house of Carrara. Parma was divided in its sympathies. It was generally more Guelf than Ghibellin. Pavia was Ghibellin unless compelled to be otherwise. Perugia became Guelf in 1198. It was much torn by party quarrels. Piacenza was generally Guelf. Pisa was chiefly Ghibellin during a great part of its history. Pistoia was divided up to 1267, after which time it became mainly Guelf. Ravenna was chiefly Guelf under the family of Polenta. Rimini belonged to the family of Malatesta, which was divided between Guelf and Ghibellin. Siena was at first Ghibellin; in 1270 it became Guelf. Venice was scarcely touched by these party quarrels. Verona was much divided. Up to 1259 it was mainly Guelf: under the Delia Scala it was Ghibellin. Vicenza was Ghibellin after 1227 ; at a later period it followed the fortunes of Padua. Viterbo was Ghibellin after 1328.

It would be generally true to assert the principle that the Guelfs were more attached to liberty than the Ghibellins. The town of Alessandria was the creation of the Lombard league, a protest against the reduction of Italy under a German sovereign. Yet Dante, the keenest patriot, the most ardent aspirant towards the unity of Italy, was a Ghibellin. With him Ghibellinism meant (1) unity under a strong head, and (2) the abolition of the temporal power of the popes. No one, he thought, but an emperor could sit firmly in the saddle or guide the reins of so fierce a steed. The best hope of obtaining this object lay in Henry VII. of Luxembourg. But the object itself was probably impos-sible of realization. The death of Henry at Buonconvento extinguished the last hope of uniting Italy under the supremacy of Caesar.

To give a full account of the party quarrels of Guelf and Ghibellin would be to write the history of mediaeval Italy. The names began to die out gradually at the beginning of the 15th century. Twenty years before the two parties had united in opposing John of Bohemia. The expedition of Charles IV. into Italy destroyed what shreds still remained of respect for the authority of the empire, and with the extinction of Ghibellinism Guelfism perished also; yet we find the name of Guelf appearing in Milan in 1404, after the death of Gian Galeazzo Visconti, and also in 1447, in the struggle between Ludovico Sforza and the Duchess Bona of Savoy. In the conquest of Milan by Loui-J XII., in the beginning of the 16th century, we find tie sup-porters of the emperor and Sforza called Ghibellins by Roman writers, and the French party called Guelf.

Of the literary supporters of either cause we can only mention a few. Brunetto Latini, the master of Dante, was a Guelf. Dante himself, as we have seen above, was a Ghibellin; so was his friend Guido Cavalcanti. Petrarch was a Guelf; the three historians Villaniare singularly impartial. For further information, see Wachsmuth, Ge- schichte der Politischen Parteiungen, vol. ii. (o. B.)

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