The History of Florence—Book VI

Chapter V

The ambassadors were at Reggio when they heard that the count had become Lord of Milan; for as soon as the truce had expired, he approached the city with his forces, hoping quickly to get possession of it in spite of the Venetians, who could bring no relief except from the side of the Adda, which route he could easily obstruct, and therefore had no apprehension (being then winter) of their arrival, and he trusted that, before the return of spring, he would be victorious, particularly, as by the death of Francesco Piccinino, there remained only Jacopo, his brother, to command the Milanese. The Venetians had sent an ambassador to Milan to confirm the citizens in their resolution of defence, promising them powerful and immediate aid. During the winter a few slight skirmishes had taken place between the count and the Venetians; but on the approach of milder weather, the latter, under Pandolfo Malatesta, halted with their army upon the Adda, and considering whether, in order to succor the Milanese, they ought to risk a battle, Pandolfo, their general, aware of the count's abilities, and the courage of his army, said it would be unadvisable to do so, and that, under the circumstances, it was needless, for the count, being in great want of forage, could not keep the field, and must soon retire. He therefore advised them to remain encamped, to keep the Milanese in hope, and prevent them from surrendering. This advice was approved by the Venetians, both as being safe, and because, by keeping the Milanese in this necessity, they might be the sooner compelled to submit to their dominion; for they felt quite sure that the injuries they had received would always prevent their submission to the count.

In the meantime, the Milanese were reduced to the utmost misery; and as the city usually abounded with poor, many died of hunger in the streets; hence arose complaints and disturbances in several parts, which alarmed the magistrates, and compelled them to use their utmost exertions to prevent popular meetings. The multitude are always slow to resolve on commotion; but, the resolution once formed, any trivial circumstance excites it to action. Two men in humble life, talking together near the Porta Nuova of the calamities of the city, their own misery, and the means that might be adopted for their relief, others beginning to congregate, there was soon collected a large crowd; in consequence of it a report was spread that the neighborhood of Porta Nuova had risen against the government. Upon this, all the lower orders, who only waited for an example, assembled in arms, and chose Gasparre da Vicomercato to be their leader. They then proceeded to the place where the magistrates were assembled, and attacked them so impetuously that all who did not escape by flight were slain: among the number, as being considered a principal cause of the famine, and gratified at their distress, fell Lionardo Veniero, the Venetian ambassador. Having thus almost become masters of the city, they considered what course was next to be adoptcd to escape from the horrors surrounding them, and to procure peace. A feeling universally prevailed, that as they could not preserve their own liberty, they ought to submit to a prince who could defend them. Some proposed King Alfonso, some the Duke of Savoy, and others the King of France, but none mentioned the count, so great was the general indignation against him. However, disagreeing with the rest, Gasparre da Vicomercato proposed him, and explained in detail that if they desired relief from war, no other plan was open, since the people of Milan required a certain and immediate peace, and not a distant hope of succor. He apologized for the count's proceedings, accused the Venetians, and all the powers of Italy, of which some from ambition and others from avarice were averse to their possessing freedom. Having to dispose of their liberty, it would be preferable, he said, to obey one who knew and could defend them; so that, by their servitude they might obtain peace, and not bring upon themselves greater evils and more dangerous wars. He was listened to with the most profound attention; and, having concluded his harangue, it was unanimously resolved by the assembly, that the count should be called in, and Gasparre was appointed to wait upon him and signify their desire. By the people's command he conveyed the pleasing and happy intelligence to the count, who heard it with the utmost satisfaction, and entered Milan as prince on the twenty-sixth of February, 1450, where he was received with the greatest possible joy by those who, only a short time previously, had heaped on him all the slanders that hatred could inspire.

The news of this event reaching Florence, orders were immediately sent to the envoys who were upon the way to Milan, that instead of treating for his alliance with the count, they should congratulate the duke upon his victory; they, arranging accordingly, had a most honorable reception, and were treated with all possible respect; for the duke well knew that in all Italy he could not find braver or more faithful friends, to defend him against the power of the Venetians, than the Florentines, who, being no longer in fear of the house of Visconti, found themselves opposed by the Arragonese and Venetians; for the Arragonese princes of Naples were jealous of the friendship which the Florentines had always evinced for the family of France; and the Venetians seeing the ancient enmity of the Florentines against the Visconti transferred to themselves, resolved to injure them as much as possible; for they knew how pertinaciously and invariably they had persecuted the Lombard princes. These considerations caused the new duke willingly to join the Florentines, and united the Venetians and King Alfonso against their common enemies; impelling them at the same time to hostilities, the King against the Florentines, and the Venetians against the duke, who, being fresh in the government, would, they imagined, be unable to resist them, even with all the aid he could obtain.

But as the league between the Florentines and the Venetians still continued, and as the King, after the war of Piombino, had made peace with the former, it seemed indecent to commence an open rupture until some plausible reason could be assigned in justification of offensive measures. On this account each sent ambassadors to Florence, who, on the part of their sovereigns, signified that the league formed between them was made not for injury to any, but solely for the mutual defence of their states. The Venetian ambassador then complained, that the Florentines had allowed Alessandro, the duke's brother, to pass into Lombardy with his forces; and besides this, had assisted and advised in the treaty made between the Duke and the Marquis of Mantua; matters which he declared to be injurious to the Venetians, and inconsistent with the friendship hitherto subsisting between the two governments; amicably reminding them, that one who inflicts unmerited injury, gives others just ground of hostility, and that those who break a peace may expect war. The Signory appointed Cosmo de' Medici to reply to what had been said by the Venetian ambassador, and in a long and excellent speech he recounted the numerous advantages conferred by the city on the Venetian republic; showed what an extent of dominion they had acquired by the money, forces, and counsel of the Florentines, and reminded him that, although the friendship had originated with the Florentines, they had never given occasion of enmity; and as they desired peace, they greatly rejoiced that the treaty was made, if it had been entered into for the sake of peace, and not of war. True it was, he wondered much at the remarks which had been made, seeing that such light and trivial matters could give offence to so great a republic; but if they were worthy of notice he must have it universally understood, that the Florentines wished their country to be free and open to all; and that the duke's character was such, that if he desired the friendship of the Marquis of Mantua, he had no need of anyone's favor or advice. He therefore feared that these cavils were produced by some latent motive, which it was not thought proper to disclose. Be this as it might, they would freely declare to all, that in the same proportion as the friendship of the Florentines was beneficial their enmity could be destructive.

The matter was hushed up; and the ambassadors, on their departure, appeared perfectly satisfied. But the league between the King and the Venetians made the Florentines and the duke rather apprehend war than hope for a long continuance of peace. They therefore entered into an alliance, and at the same time the enmity of the Venetians transpired by a treaty with the Siennese, and the expulsion of all Florentine subjects from their city and territories. Shortly after this, Alfonso did the same, without any consideration of the peace made the year previously, and not having even the shadow of an excuse. The Venetians attempted to take Bologna, and having armed the emigrants, and united to them a considerable force, introduced them into the city by night through one of the common sewers. No sooner had they entered, than they raised a cry, by which Santi Bentivogli, being awakened, was told that the whole city was in possession of the rebels. But though many advised him to escape, saying that he could not save the city by his stay, he determined to confront the danger, and taking arms encouraged his followers, assembled a few friends, attacked and routed part of the rebels, slew many more, and drove the remainder out of the city. By this act of bravery all agreed he had fully proved himself a genuine scion of the house of the Bentivogli.

These events and demonstrations gave the Florentines an earnest of approaching war; they consequently followed their usual practice on similar occasions, and created the Council of Ten. They engaged new condottieri, sent ambassadors to Rome, Naples, Venice, Milan, and Sienna, to demand assistance from their friends, gain information about those they suspected, decide such as were wavering, and discover the designs of the foe. From the Pope they obtained only general expressions of an amicable disposition and admonitions to peace; from the K ing, empty excuses for having expelled the Florentines, and offers of safe conduct for whoever should demand it; and although he endeavored, as much as possible, to conceal every indication of his hostile designs, the ambassadors felt convinced of his unfriendly disposition, and observed many preparations tending to the injury of the republic. The league with the duke was strengthened by mutual obligations, and through his means they became friends with the Genoese, the old differences with them respecting reprisals, and other small matters of dispute, being composed, although the Venetians used every possible means to prevent it, and entreated the Emperor of Constantinople to expel all Florentines from his dominions; so fierce was the animosity with which they entered on this war, and so powerful their lust of dominion, that without the least hesitation they sought the destruction of those who had been the occasion of their own power.

The Emperor, however, refused to listen to them. The Venetian Senate forbade the Florentine ambassadors to enter their territories, alleging, that being in league with the King, they could not entertain them without his concurrence. The Siennese received the ambassadors with fair words, fearing their own ruin before the league could assist them, and therefore endeavored to appease the powers whose attack they were unable to resist. The Venetians and the King (as was then conjectured) were disposed to send ambassadors to Florence to justify the war. But the Venetian envoy was not allowed to enter the Florentine dominions, and the King's ambassador, being unwilling to perform his office alone, the embassy was not completed; and thus the Venetians learned, that however little they might esteem the Florentines, the latter had still less respect for them.

In the midst of these fears, Emperor Frederick III came into Italy to be crowned. On the thirtieth of January, 1451, he entered Florence with 1,500 horse, and was most honorably received by the Signory. He remained in the city till the sixth of February, and then proceeded to Rome for his coronation, where, having been solemnly consecrated, and his marriage celebrated with the Empress, who had come to Rome by sea, he returned to Germany, and again passed through Florence in May, with the same honors as upon his arrival. On his return, having derived some benefits from the Marquis of Mantua, he conceded to him Modena and Reggio. In the meantime, the Florentines did not fail to prepare themselves for immediate war; and to augment their influence, and strike the enemy with terror, they, in conjunction with the duke, entered into alliance with the King of France for the mutual defence of their states. This treaty was published with great pomp throughout all Italy.

The month of May, 1452, having arrived, the Venetians thought it not desirable to defer any longer their attack upon the duke, and with 16,000 horse and 6,000 foot assailed his territories in the direction of Lodi, while the Marquis of Montferrat, instigated either by his own ambition or the entreaties of the Venetians, did the same on the side of Alexandria. The duke assembled a force of 18,000 cavalry and 3,000 infantry, garrisoned Alexandria and Lodi, and all the other places where the enemy might annoy them. He then attacked the Brescian territory, and greatly harassed the Venetians; while both parties alike plundered the country and ravaged the smaller towns. Having defeated the Marquis of Montferrat at Alexandria, the duke was able to unite his whole force against the Venetians and invade their territory.

While the war in Lombardy proceeded thus, giving rise to various trifling incidents unworthy of recital, King Alfonso and the Florentines carried on hostilities in Tuscany, but in a similarly inefficient manner, evincing no greater talent, and incurring no greater danger. Ferrando, the illegitimate son of Alfonso, entered the country with 12,000 troops, under the command of Federigo, Lord of Urbino. Their first attempt was to attack Fojano, in the Val di Chiane; for, having the Siennese in their favor, they entered the Florentine territory in that direction. The walls of the castle were weak, and it was small, and consequently poorly manned, but the garrison were, among the soldiers of that period, considered brave and faithful. Two hundred infantry were also sent by the Signory for its defence. Before this castle, thus provided, Ferrando sat down, and either from the valor of its defenders or his own deficiencies, thirty-six days elapsed before he took it. This interval enabled the city to make better provision for places of greater importance, to collect forces and conclude more effective arrangements than had hitherto been made. The enemy next proceeded into the district of Chiane, where they attacked two small towns, the property of private citizens, but could not capture them. They then encamped before the Castellina, a fortress upon the borders of the Chianti, within ten miles of Sienna, weak from its defective construction, and still more so by its situation; but, notwithstanding these defects, the assailants were compelled to retire in disgrace, after having lain before it forty-four days. So formidable were those armies, and so perilous those wars, that places now abandoned as untenable were then defended as impregnable.

While Ferrando was encamped in the Chianti he made many incursions, and took considerable booty from the Florentine territories, extending his depredations within six miles of the city, to the great alarm and injury of the people, who at this time having sent their forces to the number of 8,000 soldiers under Astorre da Faenza and Gismondo Malatesti toward Castel di Colle, kept them at a distance from the enemy, lest they should be compelled to an engagement; for they considered that so long as they were not beaten in a pitched battle, they could not be vanquished in the war generally; for small castles, when lost, were recovered at the peace, and larger places were in no danger, because the enemy would not venture to attack them. The King had also a fleet of about twenty vessels, comprising galleys and smaller craft, which lay off Pisa: and during the siege of Castellina were moored near the Rocca di Vada, which, from the negligence of the governor, he took, and then harassed the surrounding country. However, this annoyance was easily removed by a few soldiers sent by the Florentines to Campiglia, and who confined the enemy to the coast.