The History of Florence—Book VI

Chapter III

Pope Eugenius, being dead, was succeeded by Nicholas V. The count had his whole army at Cotignola, ready to pass into Lombardy, when intelligence was brought him of the death of Filippo, which happened on the last day of August, 1447. This event greatly afflicted him, for he doubted whether his troops were in readiness, on account of their arrears of pay; he feared the Venetians, who were his armed enemies, he having recently forsaken them and taken part with the duke; he was in apprehension from Alfonso, his inveterate foe; he had no hope from the pontiff or the Florentines; for the latter were allies of the Venetians, and he had seized the territories of the former. However, he resolved to face his fortune and be guided by circumstances; for it often happens, that when engaged in business valuable ideas are suggested, which in a state of inaction would never have occurred. He had great hopes, that if the Milanese were disposed to defend themselves against the ambition of the Venetians, they could make use of no other power but his. Therefore, he proceeded confidently into the Bolognese territory, thence to Modena and Reggio, halted with his forces upon the Lenza, and sent to offer his services at Milan. On the death of the duke, part of the Milanese were inclined to establish a republic; others wished to choose a prince, and of these, one part favored the count, and another Alfonso. However, the majority being in favor of freedom, they prevailed over the rest, and organized a republic, to which many cities of the duchy refused obedience; for they, too, desired to live in the enjoyment of their liberty, and even those who did not embrace such views, refused to submit to the sovereignty of the Milanese. Lodi and Piacenza surrendered themselves to the Venetians; Pavia and Parma became free. This confused state of things being known to the count, he proceeded to Cremona, where his ambassadors and those of the Milanese arranged for him to command the forces of the new republic, with the same remuneration he had received from the duke at the time of his decease. To this they added the possession of Brescia, until Verona was recovered, when he should have that city and restore Brescia to the Milanese.

Before the duke's death, Pope Nicholas, after his assumption of the pontificate, sought to restore peace among the princes of Italy, and with this object, endeavored, in conjunction with the ambassadors sent by the Florentines to congratulate him upon his accession, to appoint a diet at Ferrara, to attempt either the arrangement of a long truce, or the establishment of peace. A congress was accordingly held in that city, of the Pope's legate and the Venetian, ducal, and Florentine representatives. King Alfonso had no envoy there. He was at Tivoli with a great body of horse and foot, and favorable to the duke; both having resolved, that having gained the count over to their side, they would openly attack the Florentines and Venetians, and, till the arrival of the count in Lombardy, take part in the treaty for peace at Ferrara, at which, though the King did not appear, he engaged to concur in whatever course the duke should adopt. The conference lasted several days, and after many debates, resolved on either a truce for five years, or a permanent peace, whichever the duke should approve; and the ducal ambassadors having returned to Milan to learn his decision, found him dead. Notwithstanding this, the Milanese were disposed to adopt the resolutions of the assembly, but the Venetians refused, indulging great hopes of becoming masters of Lombardy, particularly as Lodi and Piacenza, immediately after the duke's death, had submitted to them. They trusted that either by force or by treaty they could strip Milan of her power; and then so press her, as to compel her also to surrender before any assistance could arrive; and they were the more confident of this from seeing the Florentines involved in war with King Alfonso.

The King being at Tivoli, and designing to pursue his enterprise against Tuscany, as had been arranged between himself and Filippo, judging that the war now commenced in Lombardy would give him both time and opportunity, and wishing to have a footing in the Florentine state before he openly commenced hostilities, opened a secret understanding with the fortress of Cennina, in the Val d' Arno Superiore, and took possession of it. The Florentines, surprised with this unexpected event, perceiving the King already in action, and resolved to do them all the injury in his power, hired forces, created a Council of Ten for management of the war, and prepared for the conflict in their usual manner. The King was already in the territories of the Siennese, and used his utmost endeavors to reduce the city; but the inhabitants of Sienna were firm in their attachment to the Florentines, and refused to receive him within their walls or into any of their territories. They furnished him with provisions, alleging in excuse, the enemy's power and their inability to resist. The King, finding he could not enter by the Val d' Arno, as he had first intended, both because Cennina had been already retaken, and because the Florentines were now in some measure prepared for their defence, turned toward Volterra, and occupied many fortresses in that territory. Thence he proceeded toward Pisa, and with the assistance of Fazio and Arrigo de' Conti, of the Gherardesca, took some castles, and issuing from them, assailed Campiglia, but could not take it, the place being defended by the Florentines, and it being now in the depth of winter. Upon this the King, leaving garrisons in the places he had taken to harass the surrounding country, withdrew with the remainder of his army to quarters in the Siennese. The Florentines, aided by the season, used the most active exertions to provide themselves troops, whose captains were Federigo, Lord of Urbino, and Gismondo Malatesti da Rimino, who, though mutual foes, were kept so united by the prudence of the commissaries, Neri di Gino and Bernardetto de' Medici, that they broke up their quarters while the weather was still very severe, and recovered not only the places that had been taken in the territory of Pisa, but also the Pomerance in the neighborhood of Volterra, and so checked the King's troops, who at first had overrun the Maremma, that they could scarcely retain the places they had been left to garrison.

Upon the return of the spring, the commissaries halted with their whole force, consisting of 5,000 horse and 2,000 foot, at the Spedaletto. The King approached with his army, amounting to 15,000 men, within three miles of Campiglia, but when it was expected he would attack the place he fell upon Piombino, hoping, as it was insufficiently provided, to take it with very little trouble, and thus acquire a very important position, the loss of which would be severely felt by the Florentines; for from it he would be able to exhaust them with a long war, obtain his own provision by sea, and harass the whole territory of Pisa. They were greatly alarmed at this attack, and, considering what was the most advisable course, concluded that if they could remain with their army among the woods of Campiglia, the King would be compelled to retire either in defeat or disgrace. With this view they equipped four galleys at Livorno, and having succeeded in throwing 300 infantry into Piombino, took up their own position at the Caldane, a place where it would be difficult to attack them; and they thought it would be dangerous to encamp among the thickets of the plain.

The Florentine army depended for provisions on the surrounding places, which, being poor and thinly inhabited, had difficulty in supplying them. Consequently the troops suffered, particularly from want of wine, for none being produced in that vicinity, and unable to procure it from more distant places, it was impossible to obtain a sufficient quantity. But the King, though closely pressed by the Florentines, was well provided except in forage, for he obtained everything else by sea. The Florentines, desirous to supply themselves in the same manner, loaded four vessels with provisions, but, upon their approach, they were attacked by seven of the King's galleys, which took two of them and put the rest to flight. This disaster made them despair of procuring provisions, so that 200 men of a foraging party, principally for want of wine, deserted to the King, and the rest complained that they could not live without it, in a situation where the heat was so excessive and the water bad. The commissaries therefore determined to quit the place, and endeavor to recover those castles which still remained in the enemy's power; who, on his part, though not suffering from want of provisions, and greatly superior in numbers, found his enterprise a failure, from the ravages made in his army by those diseases which the hot season produces in marshy localities; and which prevailed to such an extent that many died daily, and nearly all were affected. These circumstances occasioned overtures of peace. The King demanded 50,000 florins, and the possession of Piombino. When the terms were under consideration, many citizens, desirous of peace, would have accepted them, declaring there was no hope of bringing to a favorable conclusion a war which required so much money to carry it on.

But Neri Capponi, going to Florence, placed the matter in a more correct light, and it was then unanimously determined to reject the proposal, and take the Lord of Piombino under their protection, with an alliance offensive and defensive, provided he did not abandon them, but assist in their defence as hitherto. The King being informed of this resolution, saw that, with his reduced army, he could not gain the place, and withdrew in the same condition as if completely routed, leaving behind him 2,000 dead. With the remainder of his sick troops he retired to the Siennese territory, and thence to his kingdom, incensed against the Florentines, and threatening them with new wars upon the return of spring.

While these events were proceeding in Tuscany the Count Sforza, having become leader of the Milanese forces, strenuously endeavored to secure the friendship of Francesco Piccinino, who was also in their service, that he might support him in his enterprises, or be less disposed to do him injury. He then took the field with his army, upon which the people of Pavia, conscious of their inability to resist him, and unwilling to obey the Milanese, offered to submit themselves to his authority, on condition that he should not subject them to the power of Milan. The count desired the possession of Pavia, and considered the circumstance a happy omen, as it would enable him to give a color to his designs. He was not restrained from treachery either by fear or shame; for great men consider failure disgraceful—a fraudulent success the contrary. But he was apprehensive that his possession of the city would excite the animosity of the Milanese, and perhaps induce them to throw themselves under the power of the Venetians. If he refused to accept the offer, he would have occasion to fear the Duke of Savoy, to whom many citizens were inclined to submit themselves; and either alternative would deprive him of the sovereignty of Lombardy.

Concluding there was less danger in taking possession of the city than in allowing another to have it, he determined to accept the proposal of the people of Pavia, trusting he would be able to satisfy the Milanese, to whom he pointed out the danger they must have incurred had he not complied with it; for her citizens would have surrendered themselves to the Venetians or to the Duke of Savoy; so that in either case they would have been deprived of the government, and therefore they ought to be more willing to have himself as their neighbor and friend, than a hostile power such as either of the others, and their enemy. The Milanese were upon this occasion greatly perplexed, imagining they had discovered the count's ambition, and the end he had in view; but they thought it desirable to conceal their fears, for they did not know, if the count were to desert them, to whom they could have recourse except the Venetians, whose pride and tyranny they naturally dreaded. They therefore resolved not to break with the count, but by his assistance remedy the evils with which they were threatened, hoping that, when freed from them they might rescue themselves from him also; for at that time they were assailed not only by the Venetians but by the Genoese and the Duke of Savoy, in the name of Charles of Orleans, the son of a sister of Filippo, but whom the count easily vanquished. Thus their only remaining enemies were the Venetians, who, with a powerful army, determined to occupy their territories, and had already taken possession of Lodi and Piacenza, before which latter place the count encamped; and, after a long siege, took and pillaged the city. Winter being set in, he led his forces into quarters, and then withdrew to Cremona, where, during the cold season, he remained in repose with his wife.

In the spring, the Venetian and Milanese armies again took the field. It was the design of the Milanese, first to recover Lodi and then to come to terms with the Venetians; for the expenses of the war had become very great, and they were doubtful of their general's sincerity, so that they were anxious alike for the repose of peace, and for security against the count. They therefore resolved that the army should march to the siege of Caravaggio, hoping that Lodi would surrender, on that fortress being wrested from the enemy's hands. The count obeyed, though he would have preferred crossing the Adda and attacking the Brescian territory. Having encamped before Caravaggio, he so strongly entrenched himself, that if the enemy attempted to relieve the place, they would have to attack him at great disadvantage. The Venetian army, led by Micheletto, approached within two bow-shots of the count's camp, and many skirmishes ensued. The count continued to press the fortress, and reduced it to the very last extremity, which greatly distressed the Venetians, since they knew the loss of it would involve the total failure of their expedition. Very different views were entertained by their military officers respecting the best mode of relieving the place, but they saw no course open except to attack the enemy in his trenches, in spite of all obstacles. The castle was, however, considered of such paramount importance, that the Venetian Senate, though naturally timid, and averse to all hazardous undertakings, chose rather to risk everything than allow it to fall into the hands of the enemy.

They therefore resolved to attack the count at all events, and early the next morning commenced their assault upon a point which was least defended. At the first charge, as commonly happens in a surprise, Francesco's whole army was thrown into dismay. Order, however, was soon so completely restored by the count, that the enemy, after various efforts to gain the outworks, were repulsed and put to flight; and so entirely routed, that of 12,000 horse only 1,000 escaped the hands of the Milanese, who took possession of all the carriages and military stores; nor had the Venetians ever before suffered such a thorough rout and overthrow. Among the plunder and prisoners, crouching down, as if to escape observation, was found a Venetian commissary, who, in the course of the war and before the fight, had spoken contemptuously of the count, calling him "bastard," and "base-born." Being made prisoner, he remembered his faults, and fearing punishment, being taken before the count, was agonized with terror; and, as is usual with mean minds (in prosperity insolent, in adversity abject and cringing), prostrated himself, weeping and begging pardon for the offences he had committed. The count, taking him by the arm, raised him up, and encouraged him to hope for the best. He then said he wondered how a man so prudent and respectable as himself, could so far err as to speak disparagingly of those who did not merit it; and as regarded the insinuations which he had made against him, he really did not know how Sforza his father, and Madonna Lucia his mother, had proceeded together, not having been there, and having no opportunity of interfering in the matter, so that he was not liable either to blame or praise. However, he knew very well, that in regard to his own actions he had conducted himself so that no one could blame him; and in proof of it he would refer both the Venetian Senate and himself to what had happened that day. He then advised him in future to be more respectful in speaking of others, and more cautious in regard to his own proceedings.