The History of Florence—Book II

Chapter VI

About the same time, Uguccione lost the sovereignty of Lucca and of Pisa, and Castruccio Castracani, a citizen of Lucca, became lord of them, who, being a young man, bold and fierce, and fortunate in his enterprises, in a short time became the head of the Ghibellines in Tuscany. On this account the discords among the Florentines were laid aside for some years, at first to abate the increasing power of Castruccio, and afterward to unite their means for mutual defence against him. And in order to give increased strength and efficacy to their counsels, the Signory appointed twelve citizens whom they called Buonomini, or good men, without whose advice and consent, nothing of any importance could be carried into effect. The conclusion of the sovereignty of King Robert being come, the citizens took the government in their own hands, reappointed the usual rectors and magistracies, and were kept united by the dread of Castruccio, who, after many efforts against the Lords of Lunigiano, attacked Prato, to the relief of which the Florentines having resolved to go, shut up their shops and houses, and proceeded thither in a body, amounting to 20,000 foot and 1,500 horse. And in order to reduce the number of Castruccio's friends and augment their own, the Signory declared that every rebel of the Guelfic party who should come to the relief of Prato would be restored to his country: they thus increased their army with an addition of 4,000 men. This great force being quickly brought to Prato, alarmed Castruccio so much that without trying the fortune of battle, he retired toward Lucca. Upon this, disturbances arose in the Florentine camp between the nobility and the people, the latter of whom wished to pursue the foe and destroy him; the former were for returning home, saying they had done enough for Prato in hazarding the safety of Florence on its account, which they did not regret under the necessity of the circumstances, but now, that necessity no longer existing, the propriety of further risk ceased also; as there was little to be gained and much to lose. Not being able to agree, the question was referred to the Signory, among whom the difference of opinion was equally great; and as the matter spread throughout the city, the people drew together, and used such threatening language against the nobility that they, being apprehensive for their safety, yielded; but the resolution being adopted too late, and by many unwillingly, gave the enemy time to withdraw in safety to Lucca.

This unfortunate circumstance made the people so indignant against the great that the Signory refused to perform the promise made to the exiles, and the latter, anticipating the fact, determined to be beforehand, and were at the gates of Florence to gain admittance into the city, before the rest of the forces; but their design did not take effect, for their purpose being foreseen, they were repulsed by those who had remained at home. Then they endeavored to acquire by entreaty what they had failed to obtain by force; and sent eight men as ambassadors to the Signory, to remind them of the promise given, and of the dangers they had undergone, in hope of the reward which had been held out to them. And although the nobility, who felt the obligation on account of their having particularly undertaken to fulfil the promise for which the Signory had bound themselves, used their utmost exertion in favor of the exiles, so great was the anger of the multitude on account of their only partial success against Castruccio, that they could not obtain their admission. This occasioned cost and dishonor to the city; for many of the nobility, taking offence at this proceeding, endeavored to obtain by arms that which had been refused to their prayers, and agreed with the exiles that they should come armed to the city, and that those within would arm themselves in their defence. But the affair was discovered before the appointed day arrived, so that those without found the city in arms, and prepared to resist them. So completely subdued were those within, that none dared to take arms: and thus the undertaking was abandoned, without any advantage having been obtained by the party. After the departure of the exiles it was determined to punish those who had been instrumental in bringing them to the city; but, although every one knew who were the delinquents, none ventured to name and still less to accuse them. It was therefore resolved that in order to come at the truth, every one should write the names of those he believed to be guilty, and present the writing secretly to the Capitano. By this means, Amerigo Donati, Teghiajo, Frescobaldi, and Lotteringo Gherardini were accused; but the judges being more favorably disposed to them than perhaps their misdeeds deserved, each escaped by paying a fine.

The tumults which arose in Florence from the coming of the rebels to the gates, showed that one leader was insufficient for the companies of the people; they therefore determined that in future each should have three or four; and to every Gonfalonier two or three Pennonieri (pennon bearers) were added, so that if the whole body were not drawn out, a part might operate under one of them. And as happens, in republics, after any disturbance, some old laws are annulled and others renewed, so on this occasion, it had been previously customary to appoint the Signory for a time only, the then existing Signors and the colleagues, feeling themselves possessed of sufficient power, assumed the authority to fix upon the Signors that would have to sit during the next forty months, by putting their names into a bag or purse, and drawing them every two months. But, before the expiration of the forty months, many citizens were jealous that their names had not been deposited among the rest, and a new imborsation was made. From this beginning arose the custom of imborsing or enclosing the names of all who should take office in any of the magistracies for a long time to come, as well those whose offices employed them with the city as those abroad, although previously, the councils of the retiring magistracies had elected those who were to succeed them. The imborsations were afterwards called squittini, or pollings—and it was thought that they would prevent much trouble to the city, and remove the cause of those tumults which every three, or at most five, years, took place upon the creation of magistrates, from the number of candidates for office. And not being able to adopt a better expedient, they made use of this, but did not observe the defects which lay concealed under such a trivial accommodation.

In 1325, Castruccio, having taken possession of Pistoia, became so powerful that the Florentines, fearing his greatness, resolved, before he should get himself firmly seated in his new conquest, to attack him and withdraw it from his authority. Of their citizens and friends they mustered an army amounting to 20,000 foot, and 3,000 horse, and with this body encamped before Altopascio, with the intention of taking the place, and thus preventing it from relieving Pistoia. Being successful in the first part of their design, they marched toward Lucca, and laid the country waste in their progress; but from the little prudence and less integrity of their leader, Ramondo di Cardona, they made but small progress; for he, having observed them upon former occasions very prodigal of their liberty, placing it sometimes in the hands of a king, at others in those of a legate, or persons of even inferior quality, thought, if he could bring them into some difficulty, it might easily happen that they would make him their prince. Nor did he fail frequently to mention these matters, and required to have that authority in the city which had been given him over the army, endeavoring to show, that otherwise he could not enforce the obedience requisite to a leader. As the Florentines did not consent to this he wasted time, and allowed Castruccio to obtain the assistance which the Visconti and other tyrants of Lombardy had promised him, and thus become very strong. Ramondo, having wilfully let the opportunity of victory pass away, now found himself unable to escape; for Castruccio coming up with him at Altopascio, a great battle ensued in which many citizens were slain and taken prisoners, and among the former fell Ramondo, who received from fortune that reward of bad faith and mischievous counsels, which he had richly deserved from the Florentines. The injury they suffered from Castruccio, after the battle, in plunder, prisoners, destruction, and burning of property, is quite indescribable; for, without any opposition, during many months, he led his predatory forces wherever he thought proper, and it seemed sufficient to the Florentines if, after such a terrible event, they could have their city.

Still they were not so absolutely cast down as to prevent them from raising great sums of money, hiring troops, and sending to their friends for assistance; but all they could do was insufficient to restrain such a powerful enemy; so that they were obliged to offer the sovereignty to Charles, Duke of Calabria, son of King Robert, if they could induce him to come to their defence; for these princes, being accustomed to rule Florence, preferred her obedience to her friendship. But Charles, being engaged in the wars of Sicily, and therefore unable to undertake the sovereignty of the city, sent in his stead Walter, by birth a Frenchman, and Duke of Athens. He, as viceroy, took possession of the city, and appointed the magistracies according to his own pleasure; but his mode of proceeding was quite correct, and so completely contrary to his real nature, that every one respected him.

The affairs of Sicily being composed, Charles came to Florence with 1,000 horse. He made his entry into the city in July, 1326, and his coming, prevented further pillage of the Florentine territory by Castruccio. However, the influence which they acquired without the city was lost within her walls, and the evils which they did not suffer from their enemies, were brought upon them by their friends; for the Signory could not do anything without the consent of the Duke of Calabria, who, in the course of one year, drew from the people 400,000 florins, although by the agreement entered into with him, the sum was not to exceed 200,00 florins; so great were the burdens with which either himself or his father constantly oppressed them.

To these troubles were added new jealousies and new enemies; for the Ghibellines of Lombardy became so alarmed upon the arrival of Charles in Tuscany, that Galeazzo Visconti and the other Lombard tyrants, by money and promises, induced Louis of Bavaria, who had lately been elected emperor contrary to the wish of the Pope, to come into Italy. After passing through Lombardy he entered Tuscany, and with the assistance of Castruccio, made himself master of Pisa, from whence, having been pacified with sums of money, he directed his course toward Rome. This caused the Duke of Calabria to be apprehensive for the safety of Naples; he therefore left Florence, and appointed as his viceroy, Filippo de Saggineto.

After the departure of the Emperor, Castruccio made himself master of Pisa, but the Florentines, by a treaty with Pistoia, withdrew her from obedience to him. Castruccio then besieged Pistoia, and persevered with so much vigor and resolution, that although the Florentines often attempted to relieve her, by attacking first his army and then his country, they were unable either by force or policy to remove him; so anxious was he to punish the Pistolesi and subdue the Florentines. At length the people of Pistoia were compelled to receive him for their sovereign; but this event, although greatly to his glory, proved but little to his advantage, for, upon his return to Lucca, he died. And as one event either of good or evil seldom comes alone, at Naples also died Charles, Duke of Calabria and Lord of Florence, so that in a short time, beyond the expectation of their most sanguine hopes, the Florentines found themselves delivered from the domination of the one and the fear of the other. Being again free, they set about the reformation of the city, annulled all the old councils, and created two new ones, the one composed of 300 citizens from the class of the people, and the other of 250 from the nobility and the people.

The first was called the "Council of the People," the other was called "Council of the Commune."