OREALD.COM - An Old Electronic Library
eng: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Germany and Italy. page 2

Pages: 1 <2>

The Italian cities were thus divided by the feuds of Guelfs and Ghibellines, both parties having the same object, that of predominance in the communes or municipalities. Neither wished to be ruled by Emperor or Pope, but each looked for help to one or other of those great rivals, in order to attain its own ends. No principle was really involved in these feuds, and in some cities the imperial party was predominant simply from hatred of a petty neighbouring state which espoused the cause of the Church. In northern Italy the cities were divided between the two parties - Florence, Milan, Bologna, Piacenza, Modena, and others being generally more Guelphic, while Pisa, Lucca, and others were Ghibelline. Important cities, however, as well as great Italian families, swayed from side to side according to successive political exigencies and private interests. When the influence of the German emperors in Italy became lessened, and at last almost extinct, the ancient names involved no longer any show of principle, but simply represented traditional or hereditary prejudice. With these circumstances attaching to the contests of Guelfs and Ghibellines, it is obvious that they can have no more interest or importance for modern readers than, as Milton wrote of the struggles between the early English kingdoms, "the strife of kites and crows." Nothing, in truth, can be more wearisome, as already stated, than Italian medieval history in its details, and we shall notice only the names of a few great families and leaders, with some special circumstances of the strife between parties and cities, except as regards the important and most interesting commercial and artistic development of the Tuscan Republics and of Venice.

There were also in Italy many strong independent nobles in their castles. Some weaker nobles were admitted to various little states as citizens, and then they built fortresses in the cities, enabling them to defy the civil power, and the public peace was constantly disturbed by their quarrels. In order to check these disorders, a magistrate called Podesta (from the Latin potestas, meaning "official power") was appointed in many places, being a man of good birth from some other city, and thus unbiassed in local feuds. Chosen by the chief council, he held office for a year, and had to give account of his administration to certain magistrates at the close of his term. Another feature of this period in Italy was the rise and sway of tyrants in some of the cities. We have an example in Eccelino, who by help of the emperor Frederick II., whom he aided in turn, became master of Padua, Vicenza, and Verona, and ruled in the north-east as a rival of the Lombard League. He used great oppression, forcing the citizens to serve in his army, and arousing general hatred by his cruelty. Milan was ruled by the powerful Ghibelline Matteo Visconti, in part of the 14th century, and he also became master of Pavia, Alessandria, and other cities. In Verona the family of Scala held sway, and Ferrara and Modena were subject to nobles of the House of Este.

In Rome the great Colonna family, named from a village among the Alban Hills, and possessed of numerous castles, vast estates, and thousands of dependents, had much influence from the 11th to the 16th century. During the period called "the Babylonish Captivity," because the Popes, from 1305 to 1377, dwelt almost entirely at Avignon, in Provence, great disorder arose from the quarrels of the Colonna and Orsini families. It was during this time that, in 1347, the famous Niccola de Rienzi, a young man of low birth and good abilities, was chosen "Tribune" by the people, and reduced the nobles to order. His head was turned by success, and after one expulsion and return he was killed during a tumult in 1354.

In the latter part of the 14th century the Visconti family of Milan, one of whom is noticed above, became very powerful, ruling more than 20 cities, and being masters at last of most of Lombardy-They had a large trained army, including the famous English "Free Company" of mercenaries under Sir John Hawkwood, one of the most skilful generals of the age, and in 1369 the head of the Viscontis made war on Florence. That state was at last successful through hiring Hawkwood and his men. At the end of the 14th century, another Visconti became "duke of Milan," with a great territory, and the family was thus established with hereditary rule, governing Pisa, Lucca, Perugia, and Siena, and cutting off Florence from the sea. Her trade and even her freedom were thus imperilled, but an outbreak of the Oriental plague cut off the duke in 1402, at the height of his power. The duchy of Milan was then divided among a number of petty tyrants, whose courts were usually scenes of the foulest vice, as the rulers made humanity, decency, and natural affection yield to the gratification of their own desires. The example spread among private citizens, and the moral condition of affairs was to the last degree disgraceful. In 1447 Francesco Sforza, one of the ablest of all Italian commanders in mediaeval times, a man who had risen from the position of a peasant to that of leader of the Neapolitan army, entered the service of the Milanese, and gained a victory for them in a war against Venice. In 1450 he compelled the people of Milan to accept him as duke.

At Florence one family, that of the Medici, was dominant. The famous Cosimo (Cosmo) de' Medici was son of a man who had become very rich by commerce. He carried on the business inherited from his father, lived in great style, and became a Mse-cenas of mediaeval days in his.liberal patronage of literary men. His popularity was very great, and after banishment for a year through the influence of jealous rivals, he returned in triumph, in 1434, hailed as "Father of his Country," and the Medici family was finally established in Florence. On the death of Cosmo in 1464, after a moderate and splendid use of almost absolute power, the city had been adorned by the cathedral church, with the beautiful dome, due to the skill of the architect Brunelleschi; and Cosmo's enlightened use of wealth had enriched his library, called the "Medicean," with the manuscripts of classical authors discovered by Bracciolini and other scholars who made researches in the monastic collections of western Europe and the Greek Empire. He was succeeded in power by his son, and, after a brief interval, his grandsons Lorenzo and Giuliano inherited the family sway.

There were many conspiracies against the tyrants of Italian cities, men encouraged by the success of Sforza in becoming duke of Milan. People who had been studying the classical writers adopted the short and sharp way of dealing with cruel despots. Galeazzo, duke of Milan, was stabbed to death in 1476. At Florence the great Pazzi plot, so called from a leading family who took part in it, was favoured by Pope Sixtus IV. and by some great ecclesiastics. The conspiracy was formed against the two young Medici, Lorenzo and Giuliano, then holding sway in Florence, but assuredly not deserving the fate of Galeazzo. The Popes were at this time, towards the close of the isth century, striving to obtain more temporal power, not merely for the Church, but for their own families, by making Italian princes out of their nephews and illegitimate sons. The Pazzi plot aimed at the assassination of the two Medici, who had baffled some of the schemes of Pope Sixtus, at a feast to be given on Sunday, April 26th, 1478. The scheme failed as regarded the dinner, and then it was arranged that they should be slain in the cathedral by two priests. At the moment when the little bell sounded at the altar and the "Host" was uplifted Giuliano de' Medici was stabbed to the heart by one of the conspirators, but the two priests failed in attempting to kill Lorenzo, who was only slightly wounded. They fled, but were promptly caught and slain. The people would not rise against the favourite family, and the archbishop of Pisa, who had taken an active part in the atrocious scheme, was hanged in his official robes from the windows of the palace, along with Francesco de' Pazzi. The whole transaction throws a lurid light upon the morals of ecclesiastics of the highest rank at this period, and makes men cease to wonder at the event known as the Reformation. The power of Lorenzo de' Medici was naturally confirmed by the failure of the Pazzi plot. He earned his title of "the Magnificent" by a lavish use, not of his own, but of the public funds, in paying men of letters to support his cause.

For 12 years, from 1480 to 1492, Italy was in a state of peace, apart from some wars of trifling account. King Ferdinand of Naples, Ludovico Sforza of Milan, and Lorenzo de' Medici of Florence, were anxious to keep matters quiet, in order to be prepared, in case of need, to act together against Venice, whose power far exceeded that of any single state in Italy. During this period, the people at large enjoyed a prosperity and comfort exceeding those of any other nation. Fresh land was tilled, and the peasant had his due share of the produce from the landowner. The cities were flourishing from their manufactures of wool and silk, and from the banking-business enormous profits were made. The character of the Italians was, however, degenerating, and an idle, dissolute life was replacing the activity of the period of self-rule in the various states. It was at this time that the Dominican friar Savonarola began, in 1489, to earn his martyrdom by denouncing in Florence the social vices and the worldliness of the Church.

<<< Previous page <<<
Pages: 1 <2>

Pictures for Germany and Italy. page 2

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About