1902 Encyclopedia > Italy > Italian History - Age of the Despots

(Part 35)


Italian History - Age of the Despots

Thus the Italians, during the heat of the civil wars, were ostensibly divided between partisans of the empire and partisans of the church. After the death of Frederick II. their affairs were managed by Manfred and by Charles of Anjou, the supreme captains of the parties, under whose orders acted the captains of the people in each city. The contest being carried on by warfare, it followed that these captains in the burghs were chosen on account of military skill ; and, since the nobles were men of arms by profession, members of ancient houses took the lead again in towns where they had been absorbed into the bourgeoisie. In this way, after the downfall of the Ezzelini of Romano, the Della Scala dynasty arose in Verona, and the Carraresi in Padua. The Estensi made themselves lords of Ferrara ; the Torriani headed the Guelfs of Milan. At Ravenna we find the Polenta family, at Rimini the Malatestas, at Parma the Rossi, at Piacenza the Scotti, at Faenza the Manfredi. There is not a burgh of northern Italy but can trace the rise of a dynastic house to the vicissitudes of this period. In Tuscany, where the Guelf party was very strongly organized, and the commercial constitution of Florence kept the nobility in check, the communes remained as yet free from hereditary masters. Yet generals from time to time arose, the Conte Ugolino della Gheradesca at Pisa, Uguccione della Faggiuola at Lucca, the Conte Guido di Montefeltro at Florence, who threatened the liberties of Tuscan cities with military despotism.

Left to themselves by absentee emperors and exiled popes, the Italians pursued their own course of development unchecked. After the commencement of the 14th century, the civil wars decreased in fury, and at the same time it was perceived that their effect had been to confirm ty rants in their grasp upon free cities. Growing up out of the captain of the people or signore of the commune, the tyrant annihilated both parties for his own profit and for the peace of the state. He used the dictatorial powers with which he was invested, to place himself above the law, resuming in his person the state-machinery which had preceded him. In him, for the first time, the city attained self-consciousness ; the blindly working forces of previous revolutions were combined in the will of a ruler. The tyrant's general policy was to favour the multitude at the expense of his own caste. He won favour by these means, and completed the levelling down of classes, which had been proceeding ever since the emergence of the communes.

In 1309 Robert, grandson of Charles, the first Angevine sovereign, succeeded to the throne of Naples, and became the leader of the Guelfs in Italy. In the next year Henry Yll. of Luxembourg crossed the Alps soon after his election to the empire, and raised the hopes of the Ghibellines. Dante from his mountain solitudes passionately called upon him to play the part of a Messiah. But it was now impossible for any German to control the " Garden of the Empire." Italy had entered on a new phase of her existence, and the great poet's De Monarchia represented a dream of the past which could not be realized. Henry established imperial vicars in the Lombard towns, confirming the tyrants, but gaining nothing for the empire in exchange for the titles he conferred. After receiving the crown in Rome, he died at Buonconvento, a little walled town south of Siena, on his backward journey in 1313. The profits of his inroad were reaped by despots, who used the Ghibelline prestige for the consolidation of their own power. It is from this epoch that the supremacy of the Visconti, hitherto the unsuccessful rivals of the Guelfic Torriani for the signory of Milan, dates. The Scaligers in Verona and the Carraresi in Padua were strengthened; and in Tuscany Castruccio Castracane, Uguccione's successor at Lucca, became formidable. In 1325 he defeated the Florentines at Alto Pascio, and carried home their carroccio as a trophy of his victory over the Guelfs. Louis of Bavaria, the next emperor, made a similar excursion in the year 1327, with even greater loss of imperial prestige. He deposed Galeazzo Visconti on his downward journey, and offered Milan for a sum of money to his son Azzo upon his return. Castruccio Castracane was nominated by him duke of Lucca; and this is the first instance of a dynastic title conferred upon an Italian adventurer by the emperor. Castruccio dominated Tuscany, where the Guelf cause, in the weakness of King Robert, languished. But the adventurer's death in 1328 saved the stronghold of republican institutions, and Florence breathed freely for a while again. Can Grande della Scala's death in the next year inflicted on the Lombard Ghibellines a loss hardly inferior to that of Castruccio's on their Tuscan allies. Equally contemptible in its political results and void of historical interest was the brief visit of John of Bohemia, son of Henry VII., whom the Ghibellines next invited to assume their leadership. He sold a few privileges, conferred a few titles, and recrossed the Alps in 1333. It is clear that at this time the fury of the civil wars was spent. In spite of repeated efforts on the part of the Ghibellines, in spite xyi King Robert's supine incapacity, the imperialists gained no permanent advantage. The Italians were tired of fighting, and the leaders of both factions looked exclusively to their own interests. Each city which had been the cradle of freedom thankfully accepted a master, to quench the conflagration of party strife, encourage trade, and make the handicraftsmen comfortable. Even the Florentines in 1342 submitted for a few months to the despotism of the duke of Athens. They conferred the signory upon him for life ; and, had he not mismanaged matters, he might have held the city in his grasp. Italy was settling down and turning her attention to home comforts, arts, and literature. Boccaccio, the contented bourgeois, succeeded to Dante, the fierce aristocrat.

The most marked proof of the change which came over Italy towards the middle of the 14th century is furnished by the companies of adventure. It was with their own militia that the burghers won freedom in the war of independence, subdued the nobles, and fought the battles of the parties. But from this time forward they laid down their arms, and played the game of warfare by the aid of mercenaries. Ecclesiastical overlords, interfering from a distance in Italian politics; prosperous republics, with plenty of money to spend but no leisure or inclination for camp-life; cautious tyrants, glad of every pretext to emasculate their subjects, and courting popularity by exchanging conscription for taxation,—all combined to favour the new system. Mercenary troops are said to have been first levied from disbanded Germans, together with Breton and English adventurers, whom the Visconti and Castruccio took into their pay. They soon appeared under their own captains, who hired them out to the highest bidder, or marched them on marauding expeditions up and down the less protected districts. The names of some of these earliest captains of adventure, Fra Moriale, Count Lando, and Duke Werner, who styled himself the " Enemy of God and Mercy," have been preserved to us. As the companies grew in size and improved their discipline, it was seen by the Italian nobles that this kind of service offered a good career for men of spirit, who had learned the use of arms. To leave so powerful and profitable a calling in the hands of foreigners seemed both dangerous and uneconomical. Therefore, after the middle of the century, this profession fell into the hands of natives. The first Italian who formed an exclusively Italian company was Alberico da Barbiano, a nobleman of Romagna, and founder of the Milanese house of Belgiojoso. In his school the great condottieri Braccio da Montone and Sforza Attendolo were formed; and henceforth the battles of Italy were fought by Italian generals commanding native troops. This was better in some respects than if the mercenaries had been foreigners. Yet it must not be forgotten that the new companies of adventure, who decided Italian affairs for the next century, were in no sense patriotic. They sold themselves for money, irrespective of the cause which they upheld; and, while changing masters, they had no care for any interests but their own. The name condottiero, derived from condotta, a paid contract to supply so many fighting men in serviceable order, sufficiently indicates the nature of the business. In the hands of able captains, like Francesco Sforza or Piccinino, these mercenary troops became moving despotisms, draining the country of its wealth, and always eager to fasten and found tyrannies upon the provinces they had been summoned to defend. Their generals substituted heavy-armed cavalry for the old militia, and introduced systems of campaigning which reduced the art of war to a game of skill. Battles became all but bloodless; diplomacy and tactics superseded feats of arms and hard blows in pitched fields. In this way the Italians lost their military vigour, and wars were waged by despots from their cabinets, who pulled the strings of puppet captains in their pay. Nor were the people only enfeebled for resistance to a real foe; the whole political spirit of the race was demoralized. The purely selfish bond between condottieri and their employers, whether princes or republics, involved intrigues and treachery, checks and counterchecks, secret terror on the one hand and treasonable practice on the other, which ended by making statecraft in Italy synonymous with perfidy.

It must further be noticed that the rise of mercenaries was synchronous with a change in the nature of Italian despotism. The tyrants, as we have already seen, established themselves as captains of the people, vicars of the empire, vicars for the church, leaders of the Guelf and Ghibelline parties. They were accepted by a population eager for repose, who had merged old class distinctions in the conflicts of preceding centuries. They rested in large measure on the favour of the multitude, and pursued a policy of sacrificing to their interests the nobles. It was natural that these self-made princes should seek to secure the peace which they had promised in their cities, by freeing the people from military service and disarming the aristocracy. As their tenure of power grew, firmer, they advanced dynastic claims, assumed titles, and took the style of petty sovereigns, Their government became paternal; and, though there was no limit to their cruelty when stung by terror, they used the purse rather than the sword, bribery at home and treasonable intrigue abroad in preference to coercive measures or open war. Thus was elaborated the type of despot which attained completeness in Gian Galeazzo Visconti and Lorenzo de' Medici. No longer a tyrant of Ezzelino's stamp, he reigned by intelligence and terrorism masked beneath a smile. He substituted cunning and corruption for violence. The lesser people tolerated him because he extended the power of their city and made it beautiful with public buildings. The bourgeoisie, protected in their trade, found it convenient to support him. The nobles, turned into courtiers, placemen, diplomatists, and men of affairs, ended by preferring his authority to the alternative of democratic institutions. A lethargy of well-being, broken only by the pinch of taxation for war-costs, or by outbursts of frantic ferocity and lust in the less calculating tyrants, descended on the population of cities which had boasted of their freedom. Only Florence and Venice, at the close of the period upon which we are now entering, maintained their republican independence. And Venice was ruled by a close oligarchy ; Florence was passing from the hands of her oligarchs into the power of the Medicean merchants.

Between the year 1305, when Clement V. settled at Avignon, and the year 1447, when Nicholas V. re-established the papacy upon a solid basis at Rome, the Italians approximated more nearly to self-government than at any other epoch of their history. The conditions which have been described, of despotism, mercenary warfare, and bourgeois prosperity, determined the character of this epoch, which was also the period when the great achievements of the Renaissance were prepared. At the end of this century and a half, five principal powers divided the peninsula ; and their confederated action during the next forty-five years (1447-1492) secured for Italy a season of peace and brilliant prosperity. These five powers were the kingdom of Naples, the duchy of Milan, the republic of Florence, the republic of Venice, and the papacy. The subsequent events of Italian history will be rendered most intelligible if at this point we trace the development of these five constituents of Italian greatness separately.

When Robert of Anjou died in 1343, he was succeeded by his grand-daughter Joan, the childless wife of four successive husbands, Andrew of Hungary, Louis of Taranto, James of Aragon, and Otto of Brunswick. Charles of Durazzo, the last male scion of the Angevine house in Lower Italy, murdered Joan in 1382, and held the kingdom for five years. Dying in 1387, he transmitted Naples to his son Ladislaus, who had no children, and was followed in 1414 by his sister Joan II. She too, though twice married, died without issue, having at one time adopted Louis III. of Provence and his brother Rene\ at another Alfonso V. of Aragon, who inherited the crown of Sicily.

After her death in February 1435, the kingdom was fought for between René of Anjou and Alfonso, surnamed the Magnanimous. René found supporters among the Italian princes, especially the Milanese Visconti, who helped him to assert his claims with arms. During the war of succession which ensued, Alfonso was taken prisoner by the Genoese fleet in August 1435, and was sent a prisoner to Filippo Maria at Milan. Here he pleaded his own cause so powerfully, and proved so incontestably the advantage which might ensue to the Visconti from his , alliance, if he held the regno, that he obtained his release and recognition as king. From the end of the year 1435 Alfonso reigned alone and undisturbed in Lower Italy, combining for the first time since the year 1282 the crowns of Sicily and Naples. The former he held by inheritance, together with that of Aragon. The latter he considered to be his by conquest. Therefore, when he died in 1458, he bequeathed Naples to his natural son Ferdinand, while Sicily and Aragon passed together to his brother John, and so on to Ferdinand the Catholic. The twenty-three years of Alfonso's reign were the most prosperous and splendid period of South Italian history. He became an Italian in taste and sympathy, entering with enthusiasm into the humanistic ardour of the earlier Renaissance, encouraging men of letters at his court, administering his kingdom on the principles of an enlightened despotism, and lending his authority to establish that equilibrium in the peninsula upon which the politicians of his age believed, not without reason, that Italian independence might be secured.

The last member of the Visconti family of whom we had occasion to speak was Azzo, who bought the city in 1328 from Louis of Bavaria. His uncle Lucchino succeeded, but was murdered in 1349 by a wife against whose life he had been plotting. Lucchino's brother John, archbishop of Milan, now assumed the lordship of the city, and extended the power of the Visconti over Genoa and the whole of North Italy, with the exception of Piedmont, Verona, Mantua, Ferrara, and Venice. The greatness of the family dates from the reign of this masterful prelate. He died in 1354, and his heritage was divided between three members of his house, Matteo, Bernabò, and Galeazzo. In the next year Matteo, being judged incompetent to rule, was assassinated by order of his brothers, who made an equal partition of their subject cities,—Bernabò residing in Milan, Galeazzo in Pavia. Galeazzo was the wealthiest and most magnificent Italian of his epoch. He married his daughter Violante to our duke of Clarence, and his son Gian Galeazzo to a daughter of King John of France. When he died in 1378, this son resolved to reunite the domains of the Visconti ; and, with this object in view, he plotted and executed the murder of his uncle Bernabò. Gian Galeazzo thus became by one stroke the most formidable of Italian despots. Immured in his castle at Pavia, accumulating wealth by systematic taxation and methodical economy, he organized the mercenary troops who eagerly took service under so good a paymaster; and, by directing their operations from his cabinet, he threatened the whole of Italy with conquest. The last scions of the Della Scala family still reigned in Verona, the last Carraresi in Padua ; the Estensi were powerful in Ferrara, the Gonzaghi in Mantua. Gian Galeazzo, partly by force and partly by intrigue, discredited these minor despots, pushed his dominion to the very verge of Venice, and, having subjected Lombardy to his sway, proceeded to attack Tuscany. Pisa and Perugia were threatened with extinction, and Florence dreaded the advance of the Visconti arms, when the plague suddenly cut short his career of treachery and conquest in the year 1402. Seven years before his death Gian Galeazzo bought the title of duke of Milan and count of Pavia from the emperor Weuceslaus, and there is no doubt that he was aiming at the sovereignty of Italy. But no sooner was he dead than the essential weakness of an artificial state, built up by cunning and perfidious policy, with the aid of bought troops, dignified by no dynastic title, and consolidated by no sense of loyalty, became apparent. Gian Galeazzo's duchy was a masterpiece of mechanical contrivance, the creation of a scheming intellect and lawless will. When the mind which had planned it was withdrawn, it fell to pieces, and the very hands which had been used to build it helped to scatter its fragments. The Visconti's own generals, Facino Cane, Pandolfo Malatesta, Jacopo dal Verme, Gabrino Fondulo, Ottobon Terzo, seized upon the tyranny of several Lombard cities. In others the petty tyrants whom the Visconti had uprooted reappeared. The Estensi recovered their grasp upon Ferrara, and the Gonzaghi upon Mantua. Venice strengthened herself between the Adriatic and the Alps. Florence reassumed her Tuscan hegemony. Other communes which still preserved the shadow of independence, like Perugia and Bologna, began once more to dream of republican freedom under their own leading families. Meanwhile Gian Galeazzo had left two sons, Giovanni Maria and Filippo Maria. Giovanni, a monster of cruelty and lust, was assassinated by some Milanese nobles in 1412 ; and now Filippo set about rebuilding his father's duchy. Herein he was aided by the troops of Facino Cane, who, dying opportunely at this period, left considerable wealth, a well-trained band of mercenaries, and a widow, Beatrice di Tenda. Filippo married and then beheaded Beatrice after a mock trial for adultery, having used her money and her influence in reuniting several subject cities to the crown of Milan. He subsequently spent a long, suspicious, secret, and incomprehensible career in the attempt to piece together Gian Galeazzo's Lombard state, and to carry out his schemes of Italian conquest. In this endeavour he met with vigorous opponents. Venice and Florence, strong in the strength of their resentful oligarchies, offered a determined resistance; nor was Filippo equal in ability to his father. His infernal cunning often defeated its own aims, checkmating him at the point of achievement by suggestions of duplicity or terror. In the course of Filippo's wars with Florence and Venice, the greatest generals of this age were formed—Francesco Carmagnola, who was beheaded between the columns at Venice in 1432 ; Niccolo Piccinino, who died at Milan in 1444; and Francesco Sforza, who survived to seize his master's heritage in 1450. Son of Attendolo Sforza, this Francesco received the hand of Filippo's natural daughter, Bianca, as a reward for past service and a pledge of future support. When the Visconti dynasty ended by the duke's death in 1447, he pretended to espouse the cause of the Milanese republic, which was then reestablished ; but he played his cards so subtly as to make himself, by the help of Cosimo de' Medici in Florence, duke de facto if not de jure. Francesco Sforza was the only condottiero among many aspiring to be tyrants who planted himself firmly on a throne of first-rate importance. Once seated in the duchy of Milan, he displayed rare qualities as a ruler; for he not only entered into the spirit of the age, which required humanity and culture from a despot, but he also knew how to curb his desire for territory. The conception of confederated Italy found in him a vigorous supporter. Thus the limitation of the Milanese duchy under Filippo Maria Visconti, and its consolidation under Francesco Sforza, were equally effectual in preparing the balance of power to which Italian politics now tended.

This balance could not have been established without the concurrent aid of Florence. After the expulsion of the duke of Athens in 1343, and the great plague of 1348, the Florentine proletariate rose up against the merchant princes. This insurgence of the artisans, in a republic which had been remodelled upon economical principles by Giano della Bella's constitution of 1292, reached a climax in 1378, when the Ciompi rebellion placed the city for a few years in the hands of the Lesser Arts. The revolution was but temporary, and was rather a symptom of democratic tendencies in the state than the sign of any capacity for government on the part of the working classes. The necessities of war and foreign affairs soon placed Florence in the power of an oligarchy headed by the great Albizzi family. They fought the battles of the republic with success against the Visconti, and widely extended the Florentine domain over the Tuscan cities. During their season of ascendency Pisa was enslaved, and Florence gained the access to the sea. But throughout this period a powerful opposition was gathering strength. It was led by the Medici, who sided with the common people, and increased their political importance by the accumulation and wise employment of vast commercial wealth. In 1433 the Albizzi and the Medici came to open strife. Cosimo de' Medici, the chief of the opposition, was exiled to Venice. In the next year he returned, assumed the presidency of the democratic party, and by a system of corruption and popularity-hunting, combined with the patronage of arts and letters, established himself as the real but unacknowledged dictator of the commonwealth. Cosimo abandoned the policy of his predecessors. Instead of. opposing Francesco Sforza in Milan, he lent him his prestige and influence, foreseeing that the dynastic future of his own family and the pacification of Italy might be secured by a balance of power in which Florence should rank on equal terms with Milan and Naples.

The republic of Venice differed essentially from any other state in Italy; and her history was so separate that, up to this point, it would have been needless to interrupt the narrative by tracing it. Venice, however, in the 14th century took her place at last as an Italian power on an equality at least with the very greatest. The constitution of the commonwealth had slowly matured itself through a series of revolutions, which confirmed and defined a type of singular stability. During the earlier days of the republic the doge had been a prince elected by the people, and answerable only to the popular assemblies. In 1032 he was obliged to act in concert with a senate, called pregadi; and in 1172 the grand council, which became the real sovereign of the state, was formed. The several steps whereby the members of the grand council succeeded in eliminating the people from a share in the government, and reducing the doge to the position of their ornamental representative, cannot here be described. It must suffice to say that these changes culminated in 1297, when an act was passed for closing the grand council, or in other words for confining it to a fixed number of privileged families, in whom the government was henceforth vested by hereditary right. This ratification of the oligarchical principle, together with the establishment in 1311 of the Council of Ten, completed that famous constitution which endured till the extinction of the republic in 1797. Meanwhile, throughout the Middle Ages, it had been the policy of Venice to refrain from conquests on the Italian mainland, and to confine her energies to commerce in the East. The first entry of any moment made by the Venetians into strictly Italian affairs was in 1336, when the republics of Florence and St Mark allied themselves against Mastino della Scala, and the latter took possession of Treviso. After this, for thirty years, between 1352 and 1381, Venice and Genoa contested the supremacy of the Mediterranean. Pisa's maritime power having been extinguished in the battle of Meloria (1284), the two surviving republics had no rivals. They fought their duel out upon the Bosphorus, off Sardinia, and in the Morea, " with various success. From the first great encounter, in 1355, Venice retired well-nigh exhausted, and Genoa was so crippled that she placed herself under the protection of the Visconti. The second and decisive battle was fought upon the Adriatic. The Genoese fleet under Luciano Doria defeated the Venetians off Pola in 1379, and sailed without opposition to Chioggia, which was stormed and taken. Thus the Venetians found themselves blockaded in their own lagoons. Meanwhile a fleet was raised for their relief by Carlo Zeno in the Levant, and the admiral Vittore Pisani, who had been imprisoned after the defeat at Pola, was released to lead their forlorn hope from the city side, The Genoese in their turn were now blockaded in Chioggia, and forced by famine to surrender. The losses of men and money which the war of Chioggia, as it was called, entailed, though they did not immediately depress the spirit of the Genoese republic, signed her naval ruin. During this second struggle to the death with Genoa, the Venetians had been also at strife with the Carraresi of Padua and the Scaligers of Verona. In 1406, after the extinction of these princely houses they added Verona, Vicenza, and Padua to the territories they claimed on terra firma. Their career of conquest, and their new policy of forming Italian alliances and entering into the management of Italian affairs, were confirmed by the long dogeship of Francesco Foscari (1423-1457), who must rank with Alfonso, Cosimo de' Medici, Francesco Sforza, and Nicholas V., as a joint-founder of confederated Italy. When Constantinople fell in 1453, the old ties between Venice and the Eastern empire were broken, and she now entered on a wholly new phase of her history. Banking as one of the five Italian powers, she was also destined to defend Western Christendom against the encroachments of the Turk in Europe.

By their settlement in Avignon, the popes relinquished their protectorate of Italian liberties, and lost their position as Italian potentates. Bienzi's revolution in Rome (1347-1354), and his establishment of a republic upon a fantastic basis, half classical half feudal, proved the temper of the times; while the rise of dynastic families in the cities of the church, claiming the title of papal vicars, but acting in their own interests, weakened the authority of the Holy See. The predatory expeditions of Bertrand du Poiet and Robert of Geneva were as ineffective as the descents of the emperors; and, though the cardinal Albornoz conquered Romagna and the March in 1364, the legates who resided in those districts were not long able to hold them against their despots. At last Gregory XI. returned to Rome; and Urban VI., elected in 1378, put a final end to the Avignonian exile. Still the Great Schism, which now distracted Western Christendom, so enfeebled the papacy, and kept the Roman pontiffs so engaged in ecclesiastical disputes, that they had neither power nor leisure to occupy themselves seriously with their temporal affairs. The threatening presence of the two princely houses of Orsini and Colonna, alike dangerous as friends or foes, rendered Rome an unsafe residence. Even when the schism was nominally terminated in 1415 ths council of Constance, the next two popes held but a precarious grasp upon their Italian domains. Martin V. (1417-1431) resided principally at Florence. Eugenius IV (1431-1447) followed his example. And what Martin managed to regain Eugenius lost. At the same time, the change which had now come over Italian politics, the desire on all sides for a settlement, and the growing conviction that a federation was necessary, proved advantageous to the popes as sovereigns. They gradually entered into the spirit of their age, assumed the style of despots, and made use of the humanistic movement, then at its height, to place themselves in a new relation to Italy. The election of Nicholas V. in 1447 determined this revolution in the papacy, and opened a period of temporal splendour, which ended with the establishment of the popes as sovereigns. Thomas of Sarzana was a distinguished humanist. Humbly born,he had been tutor in the house of the Albizzi, and afterwards librarian of the Medici at Florence, where he imbibed the politics together with the culture of the Renaissance. Soon after assuming the tiara, he found himself without a rival in the church ; for the schism ended by Felix V.'s resignation in 1449. Nicholas fixed his residence in Rome, which he began to rebuild and to fortify, determining to render the Eternal City once more a capital worthy of its high place in Europe. The Romans were flattered ; and, though his reign was disturbed by republican conspiracy, Nicholas V. was able before his death in 1455 to secure the modern status of the pontiff as a splendid patron and a wealthy temporal potentate.

Italy was now for a brief space independent. The humanistic movement had created a common culture, a common language, and sense of common nationality. The five great powers, with their satellites—dukes of Savoy and Urbino, marquises of Ferrara and Mantua, republics of Bologna, Perugia, Siena—were constituted. All political institutions tended toward despotism. The Medici became yearly more indispensable to Florence, the Bentivogli more autocratic in Bologna, the Baglioni in Perugia ; and even Siena was ruled by the Petrucci. But this despotism was of a mild type. The princes were Italians ; they shared the common enthusiasms of the nation for art, learning, literature, and science ; they studied how to mask their tyranny with arts agreeable to the multitude. When Italy had reached this point, Constantinople was taken by the Turks. On all sides it was felt that the Italian alliance must be tightened; and one of the last, best acts of Nicholas V!s pontificate was the appeal in 1453 to the five great powers in federation. As regards their common opposition to the Turk, this appeal led to nothing ; but it marked the growth of a new Italian consciousness.

Between 1453 and 1492 Italy continued to be prosperous and tranquil. Nearly all wars during this period were undertaken either to check the growing power of Venice or to further the ambition of the papacy. Having become despots, the popes sought to establish their relatives in principalities. The word nepotism acquired new significance in the reigns of Sixtus IV. and Innocent VIII. Though the country was convulsed by no great struggle, these forty years witnessed a truly appalling increase of political crime. To be a prince was tantamount to being the mark of secret conspiracy and assassination. Among the most noteworthy examples of such attempts may be mentioned the revolt of the barons against Ferdinand I. of Naples (1464), the murder of Galeazzo Maria Sforza at Milan (1476), and the plot of the Pazzi to destroy the Medici (1478). After Cosimo de' Medici's death in 1464, the presidency of the Florentine republic passed to his son Piero, who left it in 1469 to his sons Lorenzo and Giuliano. These youths assumed the style of princes, and it was against their lives that the Pazzi, with the sanction of Sixtus IV, aimed their blow. Giuliano was murdered. Lorenzo escaped, to tighten his grasp upon the city, which now loved him and was proud of him. During the following fourteen years of his brilliant career, he made himself absolute master of Florence, and so modified her institutions that the Medici were henceforth necessary to the state. Apprehending the importance of Italian federation, Lorenzo, by his personal tact and prudent leadership of the republic, secured peace and a common intelligence between the five powers. His own family was fortified by the marriage of his daughter to a son of Innocent VIII., which procured his son Giovanni's elevation to the cardinalate, and involved two Medicean papacies and the future dependence of Florence upon Rome.

Read the rest of this article:
Italy - Table of Contents

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-21 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries