The History of Florence—Book VI

Chapter VII

The Pope, though anxious to restrain Jacopo Piccinino, did not neglect to make provision for the defence of Christendom, which seemed in danger from the Turks. He sent ambassadors and preachers into every Christian country, to exhort princes and people to arm in defence of their religion, and with their persons and property to contribute to the enterprise against the common enemy. In Florence, large sums were raised, and many citizens bore the mark of a red cross upon their dress to intimate their readiness to become soldiers of the faith. Solemn processions were made, and nothing was neglected either in public or private, to show their willingness to be among the most forward to assist the enterprise witti money, counsel, or men. But the eagerness for this crusade was somewhat abated, by learning that the Turkish army, being at the siege of Belgrade, a strong city and fortress in Hungary, upon the banks of the Danube, had been routed and the great Turk wounded; so that the alarm felt by the Pope and all Christendom, on the loss of Constantinople, having ceased to operate, they proceeded more deliberately with their preparations for war; and in Hungary their zeal was cooled through the death of Giovanni Corvino the Waiwode, who commanded the Hungarian forces on that memorable occasion, and fell in the battle.

To return to the affairs of Italy, in the year 1456, the disturbances occasioned by Jacopo Piccinino having subsided, and human weapons laid aside, the heavens seemed to make war against the earth; dreadful tempestuous winds then occurring, which produced effects unprecedented in Tuscany, and which to posterity will appear marvellous and unaccountable. On August 24th, about an hour before daybreak, there arose from the Adriatic near Ancona, a whirlwind, which crossing Italy from east to west, again reached the sea near Pisa, accompanied by thick clouds, and the most intense and impenetrable darkness, covering a breadth of about two miles in the direction of its course. Under some natural or supernatural influence, this vast and overcharged volume of condenscd vapor burst; its fragments contended with indescribable fury, and huge bodies sometimes ascending toward heaven, and sometimes precipitated upon the earth, struggled, as it were, in mutual conflict, whirling in circles with intense velocity, and accompanied by winds, impetuous beyond all conception; while flashes of awful brilliancy, and murky, lurid flames incessantly broke forth. From these confused clouds, furious winds, and momentary fires, sounds issued, of which no earthquake or thunder ever heard could afford the least idea; striking such awe into all, that it was thought the end of the world had arrived, that the earth, waters, heavens, and entire universe, mingling together, were being resolved into their ancient chaos.

Wherever this awful tempest passed, it produced unprecedented and marvellous effects; but these were more especially experienced near the castle of St. Casciano, about eight miles from Florence, upon the hill which separates the valleys of Pisa and Grieve. Between this castle and the Borgo St. Andrea, upon the same hill, the tempest passed without touching the latter, and in the former, only threw down some of the battlements and the chimneys of a few houses; but in the space between them, it levelled many buildings quite to the ground. The roofs of the churches of St. Martin, at Bagnolo, and Santa Maria della Pace, were carried more than a mile, unbroken as when upon their respective edifices. A muleteer and his beasts were driven from the road into the adjoining valley, and found dead. All the large oaks and lofty trees which could not bend beneath its influence, were not only stripped of their branches but borne to a great distance from the places where they grew, and when the tempest had passed over and daylight made the desolation visible, the inhabitants were transfixed with dismay. The country had lost all its habitable character; churches and dwellings were laid in heaps; nothing was heard but the lamentations of those whose possessions had perished, or whose cattle or friends were buried beneath the ruins; and all who witnessed the scene were filled with anguish or compassion. It was doubtless the design of the Omnipotent, rather to threaten Tuscany than to chastise her; for had the tempest been directed over the city, filled with houses and inhabitants, instead of proceeding among oaks and elms, or small and thinly scattered dwellings, it would have been such a scourge as the mind, with all its ideas of horror, could not have conceived. But the Almighty desired that this slight example should suffice to recall the minds of men to a knowledge of himself and of his power.

To return to our history, King Alfonso was dissatisfied with the peace, and as the war which he had unnecessarily caused Jacopo Piccinino to make against the Siennese, had produced no important result, he resolved to try what could be done against those whom the conditions of the league permitted him to attack. He therefore, in the year 1456, assailed the Genoese, both by sea and by land, designing to deprive the Fregosi of the government and restore the Adorni. At the same time, he ordered Jacopo Piccinino to cross the Tronto, and attack Gismondo Malatesti, who, having fortified his territories, did not concern himself, and this part of the King's enterprise produced no effect; but his proceedings against Genoa occasioned more wars against himself and his kingdom than he could have wished. Piero Fregoso was then Doge of Genoa, and doubting his ability to sustain the attack of the King, he determined to give what he could not hold, to someone who might defend it against his enemies, in hope, that at a future period, he should obtain a return for the benefit conferred. He therefore sent ambassadors to Charles VII, of France, and offered him the government of Genoa. Charles accepted the offer, and sent John of Anjou, the son of King RenÚ, who had a short time previously left Florence and returned to France, to take possession, with the idea, that he, having learned the manners and customs of Italy, would be able to govern the city; and also that this might give him an opportunity of undertaking the conquest of Naples, of which RenÚ, John's father, had been deprived by Alfonso. John, therefore, proceeded to Genoa, where he was received as prince, and the fortresses, both of the city and the government, given up to him. This annoyed Alfonso, with the fear that he had brought upon himself too powerful an enemy. He was not, however, dismayed; but pursued his enterprise vigorously, and had led his fleet to Porto, below Villamarina, when he died after a sudden illness, and thus John and the Genoese were relieved from the war.

Ferrando, who succeeded to the kingdom of his father Alfonso, became alarmed at having so powerful an enemy in Italy, and was doubtful of the disposition of many of his barons, who being desirous of change, he feared would take part with the French. He was also apprehensive of the Pope, whose ambition he well knew, and who, seeing him new in the government, might design to take it from him. He had no hope except from the Duke of Milan, who entertained no less anxiety concerning the affairs of the kingdom than Ferrando; for he feared that if the French were to obtain it, they would endeavor to annex his own dominions; which he knew they considered to be rightfully their own. He, therefore, soon after the death of Alfonso, sent letters and forces to Ferrando; the latter to give him aid and influence, the former to encourage him with an intimation, that he would not, under any circumstances, forsake him. The pontiff intended, after the death of Alfonso, to give the Kingdom of Naples to his nephew Piero Lodovico Borgia, and, to furnish a decent pretext for his design and obtain the concurrence of the powers of Italy in its favor, he signified a wish to restore that realm to the dominion of the Church of Rome; and therefore persuaded the duke not to assist Ferrando. But in the midst of these views and opening enterprises, Pope Calixtus died, and Pius II of Siennese origin, of the family of the Piccolomini, and by name AEneas, succeeded to the pontificate. This pontiff, free from the ties of private interest, having no object but to benefit Christendom and honor the Church, at the duke's entreaty crowned Ferrando King of Naples; judging it easier to establish peace if the kingdom remained in the hands which at present held it, than if he were to favor the views of the French, or, as Calixtus purposed, take it for himself. Ferrando, in acknowledgment of the benefit, created Antonio, one of the Pope's nephews, Prince of Malfi, gave him an illegitimate daughter of his own in marriage, and restored Benevento and Terracina to the Church.

It thus appeared that the internal dissensions of Italy might be quelled, and the pontiff prepared to induce the powers of Christendom to unite in an enterprise against the Turks, as Calixtus had previously designed, when differences arose between the Fregosi and John of Anjou, the Lord of Genoa, which occasioned greater and more important wars than those recently concluded. Pietrino Fregoso was at his castle of Riviera, and thought he had not been rewarded by John in proportion to his family's merits; for it was by their means the latter had become prince of the city. This impression drove the parties into open enmity; a circumstance gratifying to Ferrando, who saw in it relief from his troubles, and the sole means of procuring his safety: he therefore assisted Pietrino with money and men, trusting to drive John out of the Genoese territory. The latter being aware of his design, sent for aid to France, and, on obtaining it, attacked Pietrino, who through his numerous friends entertained the strongest assurance of success; so that John was compelled to keep within the city, into which Pietrino having entered by night, took possession of some parts of it; but upon the return of day, his people were all either slain or made prisoners by John's troops, and he himself was found among the dead.

This victory gave John hopes of recovering the kingdom; and in October, 1459, he sailed thither from Genoa, with a powerful fleet, and landed at Baia; whence he proceeded to Sessa, by the duke of which place he was favorably received. The Prince of Taranto, the Aquilani, with several cities and other princes, also joined him; so that a great part of the kingdom fell into his hands. On this, Ferrando applied for assistance to the Pope and the Duke of Milan; and, to diminish the number of his enemies, made peace with Gismondo Malatesta, which gave so much offence to Jacopo Piccinino, the hereditary enemy of Gismondo, that he resigned his command under Ferrando, and joined his rival. Ferrando also sent money to Federigo, Lord of Urbino, and collected with all possible speed what was in those times considered a tolerable army; which, meeting the enemy upon the banks of the river Sarni, an engagement ensned in which Ferrando was routed, and many of his principal officers taken. After this defeat the city of Naples alone, with a few smaller places and princes of inferior note, adhered to Ferrando, the greater part having submitted to John. Jacopo Piccinino, after the victory, advised an immediate march upon Naples; but John declined this, saying, he would first reduce the remainder of the kingdom, and then attack the seat of government. This resolution occasioned the failure of his enterprise; for he did not consider how much more easily the members follow the head than the head the members.

After his defeat, Ferrando took refuge in Naples, whither the scattered remnants of his people followed him; and by soliciting his friends, he obtained money and a small force. He sent again for assistance to the Pope and the duke, by both of whom he was supplied more liberally and speedily than before; for they began to entertain most serious apprehensions of his losing the kingdom. His hopes were thus revived; and, marching from Naples, he regained his reputation in his dominions, and soon obtained the places of which he had been deprived. While the war was proceeding in the kingdom, a circumstance occurred by which John of Anjou lost his influence, and all chance of success in the enterprise. The Genoese had become so weary of the haughty and avaricious dominion of the French, that they took arms against the viceroy, and compelled him to seek refuge in the castelletto; the Fregosi and the Adorni united in the enterprise against him, and were assisted with money and troops by the Duke of Milan, both for the recovery and preservation of the government. At the same time, King RenÚ coming with a fleet to the assistance of his son, and hoping to recover Genoa by means of the castelletto, upon landing his forces was so completely routed, that he was compelled to return in disgrace to Provenše. When the news of his father's defeat reached Naples, John was greatly alarmed, but continued the war for a time by the assistance of those barons who, being rebels, knew they would obtain no terms from Ferrando. At length, after various trifling occurrences, the two royal armies came to an engagement, in which John was routed near Troia, in the year 1463. He was, however, less injured by his defeat than by the desertion of Jacopo Piccinino, who joined Ferrando; and, being abandoned by his troops, he was compelled to take refuge in Istria, and thence withdrew to France. This war continued four years. John's failure was attributable to negligence; for victory was often within his grasp, but he did not take proper means to secure it. The Florentines took no decisive part in this war. John, King of Arragon, who succeeded upon the death of Alfonso, sent ambassadors to request their assistance for his nephew Ferrando, in compliance with the terms of the treaty recently made with his father Alfonso. The Florentines replied, that they were under no obligation; that they did not think proper to assist the son in a war commenced by the father with his own forces; and that as it was begun without either their counsel or knowledge, it must be continued and concluded without their help. The ambassadors affirmed the engagement to be binding on the Florentines, and themselves to be answerable for the event of the war; and then in great anger left the city.

Thus with regard of external affairs, the Florentines continued tranquil during this war; but the case was otherwise with their domestic concerns, as will be particularly shown in the following book.