1902 Encyclopedia > Italy > Italian History - Spanish-Austrian Ascendency

(Part 37)


Italian History - Spanish-Austrian Ascendency

It was high time, after the sack of Rome in 1527, that ment of Charles V. should undertake Italian affairs. The country Italy by was exposed to anarchy, of which this had been the last and most disgraceful example. The Turks were threatening Western Europe, and Luther was inflaming Germany. By the treaty of Barcelona in 1529 the pope and emperor made terms. By that of Cambray in the same year France relinquished Italy to Spain. Charles then entered the port of Genoa, and on the 5th of November met Clement VII. at Bologna. He there received the imperial crown, and summoned the Italian princes for a settlement of all disputed claims. Francesco Sforza, the last and childless heir of the ducal house, was left in Milan till his death, which happened in 1535. The republic of Venice was respected in her liberties and Lombard territories. The Este family received a confirmation of their duchy of Modena and Reggio, and were invested in their fief of Ferrara by the pope. The marquisate of Mantua was made a duchy; and Florence was secured, as we have seen, to the Medici. The great gainer by this settlement was the papacy, which held the most substantial Italian province, together with a prestige that raised it far above all rivalry. The rest of Italy, however parcelled, henceforth became but a dependence upon Spain. Charles V, it must be remembered, achieved his conquest and confirmed his authority far less as emperor than as the heir of Castile and Aragón. A Spanish viceroy in Milan and another in Naples, supported by Rome and by the minor princes who followed the policy dictated to them from Madrid, were sufficient to preserve the whole peninsula in a state of somnolent inglorious servitude.

From 1530 until 1796, that is, for a period of nearly three centuries, the Italians had no history of their own. Their annals are filled with records of dynastic changes and redistributions of territory, consequent upon treaties signed by foreign powers, in the settlement of quarrels which no wise concerned the people. Italy only too often became the theatre of desolating and distracting wars. But these wars were fought for the most part by alien armies; the points at issue were decided beyond the Alps; the gains accrued to royal families whose names were unpronounceable by southern tongues. The affairs of Europe during the years when Hapsburg and Bourbon fought their domestic battles with the blood of noble races may teach grave lessons to all thoughtful men of our days, but none bitterer, none fraught with more insulting recollections, than to the Italian people, who were haggled over like dumb driven cattle in the mart of chaffering kings. We cannot wholly acquit the Italians of their share of blame. When they might have won national independence, after their warfare with the Swabian emperors, they let the golden opportunity slip. Pampered with commercial prosperity, eaten to the core with inter-urban rivalries, they submitted to despots, renounced the use of arms, and offered themselves, in the hour of need, defenceless and disunited to the shock of puissant nations. That they had created modern civilization for Europe availed them nothing. Italy, intellectually first among the peoples, was now politically and practically last; and nothing to her historian is more heart-rending than to watch the gradual extinction of her spirit in this age of slavery.

In 1534 Alessandro Farnese, who owed his elevation to his sister Giulia, one of Alexander VI.'s mistresses, took the tiara with the title of Paul III. It was his ambition to create a duchy for his family; and with this object he gave Parma and Piacenza to his son Pier Luigi. After much wrangling between the French and Spanish parties, the duchy was confirmed in 1586 to Ottaviano Farnese and his son Alessandro, better known as Philip II.'s general, the prince of Parma. Alessandro's descendants reigned in Parma and Piacenza till the year 1731. Paul IIL's pontificate was further marked by important changes in the church, all of which confirmed the spiritual autocracy of Borne. In 1540 this pope approved of Loyola's foundation, and secured the powerful militia of the Jesuit order. The Inquisition was established with almost unlimited powers in Italy, and the press was placed under its jurisdiction. Thus free thought received a check, by which not only ecclesiastical but political tyrants knew how to profit. Henceforth it was impossible to publish or to utter a word which might offend the despots of church or state; and the Italians had to amuse their leisure with the polite triflings of academics. In 1545 a council was opened at Trent for the reformation of church discipline and the promulgation of orthodox doctrine. The decrees of this council defined Roman Catholicism against the Reformation; and, while failing to regenerate morality, they enforced a hypocritical observance of public decency. Italy to outer view put forth blossoms of hectic and hysterical piety, though at the core her clergy and her aristocracy were more corrupt than ever.

In 1556 Philip II., by the abdication of his father Charles V, became king of Spain. He already wore the crown of the Two Sicilies, and ruled the duchy of Milan. In the next year Ferdinand, brother of Charles, was elected emperor. The French, meanwhile, had not entirely abandoned their claims on Italy. Gian Pietro Carafia, who was made pope in 1555 with the name of Paul IV, endeavoured to revive the ancient papal policy of leaning upon France. He encouraged the duke of Guise to undertake the conquest of Naples, as Charles of Anjou had been summoned by his predecessors. But such schemes were now obsolete and anachronistic. They led to a languid lingering Italian campaign, which was settled far beyond the Alps by Philip's victories over the French at St Quentin and Gravelines. The peace of Câteau Cambresis, signed in 1559, left the Spanish monarch undisputed lord of Italy. Of free commonwealths there now survived only Venice, which, together with Spain, achieved for Europe the victory of Lepanto in 1573; Genoa, which, after the ineffectual Fieschi revolution in 1547, abode beneath the rule of the great Doria family, and held a feeble sway in Corsica ; and the two insignificant republics of Lucca and San Marino.

The future hope of Italy, however, was growing in a remote and hitherto neglected corner. A clause in the treaty of Câteau Cambresis recognized the right of Emmanuele Filiberto, duke of Savoy, to Piedmont. He owed this recognition, as Alessandro owed his duchy of Parma, to the fact that he was one of Philip's bravest generals. Yet Emmanuele Filiberto represented the oldest and not the least illustrious reigning house in Europe, and his descendants were destined to achieve for Italy the independence which no other power or prince had given her since the fall of ancient Rome. It is therefore needful at this point to trace the history of the counts of Savoy from the date of their first emergence on the stage of Italian politics.

In the 10th century the founders of the house of Savoy were masters over Burgundy and Western Lombardy. Their provinces stretched beyond what is now called Savoy on the west and north, and southward touched the Mediterranean at Savona. In the course of the next two centuries the family divided. Its elder branch ruled Savoy and the northern shores of Lake Geneva. The younger line held Piedmont with the city of Turin for capital. The former were frequently at war with the dauphins of Vienne and the house of Hapsburg, seeking to extend their domains in the direction of Switzerland and Provence. The latter proved but ill neighbours to the marquises of Montferrat and Saluzzo. When the first league of the Swiss was formed, the counts of Savoy were vigorously driven back within their northern borders. At the same time the powers of France repelled them from Provence. Entrenched within their mountains, they now looked towards Italy for expansion. This southward growth of a state which had hitherto been undefined between its cisalpine and transalpine provinces was further determined by the union of the two branches of the family in the person of Amadeus VIII. Succeeding to the honours of the elder line in 1391, he joined Piedmont to Savoy in 1418, and received the title of duke from the emperor Sigismund. During his lifetime he annexed Saluzzo, took Chivasso from Montferrat, and received Vercelli from Filippo Maria Visconti. Nice had already joined itself to Savoy in 1388. The duchy of Savoy, checked in its development upon the further side of the Alpine barrier, gained in solidity and extent upon the south, and took rank definitely from this time forward as a considerable Italian power. Amadeus was one of the most remarkable personages of his day. Having built up the fortunes of his house by diplomatic ability in an age of policy and intrigue, he abdicated in 1434, and went into cloistral retirement at Ripaille. Hence he emerged in 1440 to receive the papal tiara from the council of Basel. He took the name of Felix V, but resigned in 1449, leaving Nicholas V. sole pope. When he died in 1451, he had reigned for sixty-one years as count, duke, prior of a hermit convent, anti-pope, and dean of the Holy College. The immediate successors of Amadeus VIII. undid a great deal of his work. They entered into unprofitable warfare with Geneva, Freiburg, Bern, and Vaud, and were still further shorn of territory and prestige upon the side of Switzerland. The French invaded Savoy, and their Lombard domains became the theatre of the Franco-Spanish wars. When Emmanuele Filiberto succeeded to his father Charles III. in 1553, he was a duke without a duchy. But the princes of the house of Savoy were a race of warriors ; and what Emmanuele Filiberto lost as sovereign he regained as captain of adventure in the service of his cousin Philip II. The treaty of Cateau Cambresis in 1559, and the evacuation of the Piedmontese cities held by French and Spanish troops in 1574, restored his state. By removing the capital from Chambery to Turin, he completed the transformation of the dukes of Savoy from Burgundian into Italian sovereigns. They still owned Savoy beyond the Alps, the plains of Bresse, and the maritime province of Nice.

Emmanuele Filiberto was succeeded by his son Carlo Emmanuele I., who married Catherine, a daughter of Philip II. He seized the first opportunity of annexing Saluzzo, which had been lost to Savoy in the last two reigns, and renewed the disastrous policy of his grandfather Charles III. by invading Geneva and threatening Provence. Henry IV. of France forced him in 1601 to relinquish Bresse and his Burgundian possessions. In return he was allowed to keep Saluzzo. All hopes of conquest on the transalpine side were now quenched ; but the keys of Italy had been given to the dukes of Savoy ; and their attention was still further concentrated upon Lombard conquests. Carlo Emmanuele now attempted the acquisition of Montferrat, which was soon to become vacant by the death of Francesco Gonzaga, who held it together with Mantua. In order to secure this territory, he went to war with Philip III. of Spain, and allied himself with Venice and the Grisons to expel the Spaniards from the Valtelline. When the male line of the Gonzaga family expired in 1627, Charles, duke of Nevers, claimed Mantua and Montferrat in right of his wife, the only daughter of the last duke. Carlo Emmanuele was now checkmated by France, as he had formerly been by Spain. The total gains of all his strenuous endeavours amounted to the acquisition of a few places on the borders of Montferrat.

Not only the Gonzagas, but several other ancient ducal amilies, died out about the date which we have reached. The legitimate line of the Estensi ended in 1597 by the death of Alfonso II., the last duke of Ferrara. He left his domains to a natural relative, Cesare d'Este, who would in earlier days have inherited without dispute, for bastardy had been no bar on more than one occasion in the Este pedigree. Urban VIII., however, put in a claim to Ferrara, which, it will be remembered, had been recognized a papal fief in 1530. Cesare d'Este had to content himself with Modena and Reggio, where his descendants reigned as dukes till 1794. Under the same pontiff, the Holy See absorbed the duchy of Urbino on the death of Francesco Maria II., the last representative of Montefeltro and Delia Rovere. The popes were now masters of a fine and compact territory, embracing no inconsiderable portion of Countess Matilda's legacy, in addition to Pippin's donation and the patrimony of St Peter. Meanwhile Spanish fanaticism, the suppression of the Huguenots in France, and the Catholic policy of Austria combined to strengthen their authority as pontiffs. Urban's predecessor, Paul V., advanced so far as to extend his spiritual jurisdiction over Venice, which, up to the date of his election (1605), had resisted all encroachments of the Holy See. Venice offered the single instance in Italy of a national church. The republic managed the tithes, and the clergy acknowledged no chief above their own patriarch. Paul V. now forced the Venetians to admit his ecclesiastical supremacy; but they refused to readmit the Jesuits, who had been expelled in 1606. This, if we do not count the proclamation of James I. of England (1604;, was tie earliest instance of the order's banishment from a state where it had proved' disloyal to the commonwealth.

Venice rapidly declined throughout the 17th century. The loss of trade consequent upon the closing of Egypt and the Levant, together with the discovery of America and the sea-route to the Indies, had dried up her chief source of wealth. Prolonged warfare with the Ottomans, who forced her to abandon Candia in 1669, as they had robbed her of Cyprus in 1570, still further crippled her resources. Yet she kept the Adriatic free of pirates, notably by suppressing the sea-robbers called Uscocchi (1601-1617), maintained herself in the Ionian Islands, and in 1684 added one more to the series of victorious episodes which render her annals so romantic. In that year Francesco Morosini, upon whose tomb we still may read the title Peloponnesiacus, wrested the whole of the Morea from the Turks. But after his death in 1715 the republic relaxed her hold upon his conquests. The Venetian nobles abandoned themselves to indolence and vice. Many of them fell into the slough of pauperism, and were saved from starvation by public doles. Though the signory still made a brave show upon occasions of parade, it was clear that the state was rotten to the core, and sinking into the decrepitude of dotage. The Spanish monarchy at the same epoch dwindled with apparently less reason. Philip's Austrian successors reduced it to the rank of a secondary European power. This decline of vigour was felt, with the customary effects of discord and bad government, in Lower Italy. The revolt of Masaniello in Naples (1647), followed by rebellions at Palermo and Messina, which placed Sicily for a while in the hands of Louis XIV. (1676-1678), were symptoms of progressive anarchy. The population, ground down by preposterous taxes, ill-used as only the subjects of Spaniards, Turks, or Bourbons are handled, rose in blind exasperation against their oppressors. It is impossible to attach political importance to these revolutions; nor did they bring the people any appreciable good. The destinies of Italy were decided in the cabinets and on the battlefields of Northern Europe. A Bourbon at Versailles, a Hapsburg at Vienna, or a thick-lipped Lorrainer, with a stroke of his pen, wrote off province against province, regarding not the populations who had bled for him or thrown themselves upon his mercy.

This inglorious and passive chapter of Italian history is continued to the date of the French Revolution with the records of three dynastic wars, the war of the Spanish succession, the war of the Polish succession, the war of the Austrian succession, followed by three European treaties, which brought them respectively to diplomatic terminations. Italy, handled and rehandled, settled and resettled, upon each of these occasions, changed masters without caring or knowing what befel the principals in any one of the disputes. Humiliating to human nature in general as are the annals of the 18th century campaigns in Europe, there is no point of view from which they appear in a light so tragicomic as from that afforded by Italian history. The system of setting nations by the ears with the view of settling the quarrels of a few reigning houses was reduced to absurdity when the people, as in these cases, came to be partitioned and exchanged without the assertion or negation of a single principle affecting their interests or rousing their emotions.

In 1700 Charles II. died, and with him ended the Austrian family in Spain. Louis XIV. claimed the throne for Philip, duke of Anjou. Charles, archduke of Austria, opposed him. The dispute was fought out in Flanders ; but Lombardy felt the shock, as usual, of the French and Austrian dynasties. The French armies were more than once defeated by Prince Eugene of Savoy, who drove them out of Italy in 1707. Therefore, in the peace of Utrecht (1713), the services of the house of Savoy had to be duly recognized. Vittorio Amedeo II. received Sicily with the title of king. Montferrat and Alessandria were added to his northern provinces, and his state was recognized as independent. Charles of Austria, now emperor, took Milan, Mantua, Naples, and Sardinia for his portion of the Italian spoil. Philip founded the Bourbon line of Spanish kings, renouncing in Italy all that his Hapsburg predecessors had gained. Discontented with this diminution of the Spanish heritage, Philip V. married Elisabetta Farnese, heiress to the last duke of Parma, in 1714. He hoped to secure this duchy for his son, Don Carlos ; and Elisabetta further brought with her a claim to the grand-duchy of Tuscany, which would soon become vacant by the death of Gian Gastone de' Medici. After this marriage Philip broke the peace of Europe by invading Sardinia. The Quadruple Alliance was formed, and the new king of Sicily was punished for his supposed adherence to Philip V. by the forced exchange of Sicily for the island of Sardinia. It was thus that in 1720 the house of Savoy assumed the regal title which it bore until the declaration of the Italian kingdom in this century. Vittorio Amedeo II.'s reign was of great importance in the history of his state. Though a despot, as all monarchs were obliged to be at that date, he reigned with prudence, probity, and zeal for the welfare of his subjects. He took public education out of the hands of the Jesuits, which, for the future development of manliness in his dominions, was a measure of incalculable value. The duchy of Savoy in his days became a kingdom, and Sardinia, though it seemed a poor exchange for Sicily, was a far less perilous possession than the larger and wealthier island would have been. In 1730 Vittorio Amedeo abdicated in favour of his son Carlo Emmanuele III. Repenting of this step, he subsequently attempted to regain Turin, but was imprisoned in the castle of Rivoli, where he ended his days in 1732.

The war of the Polish succession which now disturbed Europe is only important in Italian history because the treaty of Vienna in 1738 settled the disputed affairs of the duchies of Parma and Tuscany. The duke Antonio Farnese died in 1731; the grand-duke Gian Gastone de' Medici died in 1737. In the duchy of Parma Don Carlos had already been proclaimed. But he was now transferred to the Two Sicilies, while Francis of Lorraine, the husband of Maria Theresa, took Tuscany and Parma. Milan and Mantua remained in the hands of the Austrians. On this occasion Carlo Emmanuele acquired Tortona and Novara.

Worse complications ensued for the Italians when the emperor Charles VI., father of Maria Theresa, died in 1740. The three branches of the Bourbon house, rulingin France, Spain, and the Sicilies, joined with Prussia, Bavaria, and the kingdom of Sardinia to despoil Maria Theresa of her heritage. Lombardy was made the seat of war; and here the king of Sardinia acted as in some sense the arbiter of the situation. After war broke out, he changed sides and supported the Hapsburg-Lorraine party. At first, in 1745, the Sardinians were defeated by the French and Spanish troops. But Francis of Lorraine, elected emperor in that year, sent an army to the king's support, which in 1746 obtained a signal victory over the Bourbons at Piacenza. Carlo Emmanuele now threatened Genoa. The Austrian soldiers already held the town. But the citizens expelled them, and the republic kept her independence. In 1748 the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which put an end to the war of the Austrian succession, once more redivided Italy. Parma, Piacenza, and Guastalla were formed into a duchy for Don Philip, brother of Charles III. of the Two Sicilies, and son of Philip V. of Spain. Charles III. was confirmed in his kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The Austrians kept Milan and Tuscany. The duchy of Modena was placed under the protection of the French. So was Genoa, which in 1755, after Paoli's insurrection against the misgovernment of the republic, ceded her old domain of Corsica to France.

From the date of this settlement until 1792, Italy enjoyed a period of repose and internal amelioration under her numerous paternal despots. It became the fashion during these forty-four years of peace to encourage the industrial population and to experimentalize in economical reforms. The emperor Francis I. ruled the grand-duchy of Tuscany by lieutenants until his death in 1765, when it was given, as an independent state, to his third son, Peter Leopold. The reign of this duke was long remembered as a period of internal prosperity, wise legislation, and important public enterprise. Leopold, among other useful works, drained the Val di Chiana, and restored those fertile upland plains to agriculture. In 1790 he succeeded to the empire, and left Tuscany to his son Ferdinand. The kingdom of Sardinia was administered upon similar principles, but with less of geniality. Carlo Emmanuele made his will law, and erased the remnants of free institutions from his state. At the same time he wisely followed his father's policy with regard to education and the church. This is perhaps the best that can be said of a king who incarnated the stolid absolutism of the period. From this date, however, we are able to trace the revival of independent thought among the Italians. The European ferment of ideas which preceded the French Revolution expressed itself in men like Alfieri, the fierce denouncer of tyrants, Beccaria, the philosopher of criminal jurisprudence, Volta, the physicist, and numerous political economists of Tuscany. Moved partly by external influences and partly by a slow? internal reawakening, the people was preparing for the efforts of the present century. The papacy, during this period, had to reconsider the question of the Jesuits, who made themselves universally odious, not only in Italy, but also in France and Spain. In the pontificate of Clement XIII. they ruled the Vatican, and almost succeeded in embroiling the pope with the concerted Bourbon potentates of Europe. His successor", Clement XIV., suppressed the order altogether by a brief of 1773. For the divisions of Italy at this time see Plate VI.

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