THE AGE OF THE DESPOTS.
The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries may be called the Age of the Despots in Italian history, as the twelfth and thirteenth are the Age of the Free Burghs, and as the sixteenth and seventeenth are the Age of Foreign Enslavement. It was during the age of the Despots that the conditions of the Renaissance were evolved, and that the Renaissance itself assumed a definite character in Italy. Under tyrannies, in the midst of intrigues, wars, and revolutions, the peculiar individuality of the Italians obtained its ultimate development. This individuality, as remarkable for salient genius and diffused talent as for self-conscious and deliberate vice, determined the qualities of the Renaissance and affected by example the whole of Europe. Italy led the way in the education of the Western races, and was the first to realize the type of modern as distinguished from classical and mediæval life.
During this age of the despots, Italy presents the spectacle of a nation devoid of central government and comparatively uninfluenced by feudalism. The right of the Emperor had become nominal, and served as a pretext for usurpers rather than as a source of order. The visits, for instance, of Charles IV. and Frederick III. were either begging expeditions or holiday excursions, in the course of which ambitious adventurers bought titles to the government of towns, and meaningless honors were showered upon vain courtiers. It was not till the reign of Maximilian that Germany adopted a more serious policy with regard to Italy, which by that time had become the central point of European intrigue. Charles V. afterwards used force to reassert imperial rights over the Italian cities, acting not so much in the interest of the Empire as for the aggrandizement of the Spanish monarchy. At the same time the Papacy, which had done so much to undermine the authority of the Empire, exercised a power at once anomalous and ill-recognized except in the immediate States of the Church. By the extinction of the House of Hohenstauffen and by the assumed right to grant the investiture of the kingdom of Naples to foreigners, the Popes not only struck a death-blow at imperial influence, but also prepared the way for their own exile to Avignon. This involved the loss of the second great authority to which Italy had been accustomed to look for the maintenance of some sort of national coherence. Moreover, the Church, though impotent to unite all Italy beneath her own sway, had power enough to prevent the formation either by Milan or Venice or Naples of a substantial kingdom. The result was a perpetually recurring process of composition, dismemberment, and recomposition, under different forms, of the scattered elements of Italian life. The Guelf and Ghibelline parties, inherited from the wars of the thirteenth century, survived the political interests which had given them birth, and proved an insurmountable obstacle, long after they had ceased to have any real significance, to the pacification of the country. The only important state which maintained an unbroken dynastic succession of however disputed a nature at this period was the kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The only great republics were Venice, Genoa, and Florence. Of these, Genoa, after being reduced in power and prosperity by Venice, was overshadowed by the successive lords of Milan; while Florence was destined at the end of a long struggle to fall beneath a family of despots. All the rest of Italy, especially to the north of the Apennines, was the battle-field of tyrants, whose title was illegitimate—based, that is to say, on no feudal principle, derived in no regular manner from the Empire, but generally held as a gift or extorted as a prize from the predominant parties in the great towns.
If we examine the constitution of these tyrannies, we find abundant proofs of their despotic nature. The succession from father to son was always uncertain. Legitimacy of birth was hardly respected. The last La Scalas were bastards. The house of Aragon in Naples descended from a bastard. Gabriello Visconti shared with his half-brothers the heritage of Gian Galeazzo. The line of the Medici was continued by princes of more than doubtful origin. Suspicion rested on the birth of Frederick of Urbino. The houses of Este and Malatesta honored their bastards in the same degree as their lawful progeny. The great family of the Bentivogli at Bologna owed their importance at the end of the fifteenth century to an obscure and probably spurious pretender, dragged from the wool-factories of Florence by the policy of Cosimo de' Medici. The sons of popes ranked with the proudest of aristocratic families. Nobility was less regarded in the choice of a ruler than personal ability. Power once acquired was maintained by force, and the history of the ruling families is one long catalogue of crimes. Yet the cities thus governed were orderly and prosperous. Police regulations were carefully established and maintained by governors whose interest it was to rule a quiet state. Culture was widely diffused without regard to rank or wealth. Public edifices of colossal grandeur were multiplied. Meanwhile the people at large were being fashioned to that self-conscious and intelligent activity which is fostered by the modes of life peculiar to political and social centers in a condition of continued rivalry and change.
Under the Italian despotisms we observe nearly the opposite of all the influences brought to bear in the same period upon the nations of the North. There is no gradual absorption of the great vassals in monarchies, no fixed allegiance to a reigning dynasty, no feudal aid or military service attached to the tenure of the land, no tendency to centralize the whole intellectual activity of the race in any capital, no suppression of individual character by strongly biased public feeling, by immutable law, or by the superincumbent weight of a social hierarchy. Everything, on the contrary, tends to the free emergence of personal passions and personal aims. Though the vassals of the despot are neither his soldiers nor his loyal lieges, but his courtiers and taxpayers, the continual object of his cruelty and fear, yet each subject has the chance of becoming a prince like Sforza or a companion of princes like Petrarch. Equality of servitude goes far to democratize a nation, and common hatred of the tyrant leads to the combination of all classes against him. Thence follows the fermentation of arrogant and self-reliant passions in the breasts of the lowest as well as the highest. The rapid mutations of government teach men to care for themselves and to depend upon themselves alone in the battle of the world; while the necessity of craft and policy in the conduct of complicated affairs sharpens intelligence. The sanction of all means that may secure an end under conditions of social violence encourages versatility unprejudiced by moral considerations. At the same time the freely indulged vices of the sovereign are an example of self-indulgence to the subject, and his need of lawless instruments is a practical sanction of force in all its forms. Thus to the play of personality, whether in combat with society and rivals, or in the gratification of individual caprice, every liberty is allowed. Might is substituted for right, and the sense of law is supplanted by a mere dread of coercion. What is the wonder if a Benvenuto Cellini should be the outcome of the same society as that which formed a Cesare Borgia? What is the miracle if Italy under these circumstances produced original characters and many-sided intellects in greater profusion than any other nation at any other period, with the single exception of Greece on her emergence from the age of her despots? It was the misfortune of Italy that the age of the despots was succeeded not by an age of free political existence, but by one of foreign servitude.
Frederick II was at the same time the last emperor who maintained imperial sway in Italy in person, and also the beginner of a new system of government which the despots afterwards pursued. His establishment of the Saracen colony at Nocera, as the nucleus of an army ready to fulfill his orders with scrupulous disregard for Italian sympathies and customs, taught all future rulers to reduce their subjects to a state of unarmed passivity, and to carry on their wars by the aid of German, English, Swiss, Gascon, Breton, or Hungarian mercenaries, as the case might be. Frederick, again, derived from his Mussulman predecessors in Sicily the arts of taxation to the utmost limits of the national capacity, and founded a precedent for the levying of tolls by a Catasto or schedule of the properties attributed to each individual in the state. He also destroyed the self-government of burghs and districts, by retaining for himself the right to nominate officers, and by establishing a system of judicial jurisdiction which derived authority from the throne. Again, he introduced the example of a prince making profit out of the industries of his subjects by monopolies and protective duties. In this path he was followed by illustrious successors—especially by Sixtus IV and Alfonso II of Aragon, who enriched themselves by trafficking in the corn and olive-oil of their famished provinces. Lastly, Frederick established the precedent of a court formed upon the model of that of Oriental Sultans, in which chamberlains and secretaries took the rank of hereditary nobles, and functions of state were confided to the body-servants of the monarch. This court gave currency to those habits of polite culture, magnificent living, and personal luxury which played so prominent a part in all subsequent Italian despotism. It is tempting to overstrain a point in estimating the direct influence of Frederick's example. In many respects doubtless he was merely somewhat in advance of his age; and what we may be inclined to ascribe to him personally, would have followed in the natural evolution of events. Yet it remains a fact that he first realized the type of cultivated despotism which prevailed throughout Italy in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Italian literature began in his court, and many Saracenic customs of statecraft were transmitted through him from Palermo to Lombardy.
While Frederick foreshadowed the comparatively modern tyrants of the coming age, his Vicar in the North of Italy, Ezzelino da Romano, represented the atrocities towards which they always tended to degenerate. Regarding himself with a sort of awful veneration as the divinely appointed scourge of humanity, this monster in his lifetime was execrated as an aberration from 'the kindly race of men,' and after his death he became the hero of a fiendish mythus. But in the succeeding centuries of Italian history his kind was only too common; the immorality with which he worked out his selfish aims was systematically adopted by princes like the Visconti, and reduced to rule by theorists like Machiavelli. Ezzelino, a small, pale, wiry man, with terror in his face and enthusiasm for evil in his heart, lived a foe to luxury, cold to the pathos of children, dead to the enchantment of women. His one passion was the greed of power, heightened by the lust for blood. Originally a noble of the Veronese Marches, he founded his illegal authority upon the captaincy of the Imperial party delegated to him by Frederick. Verona, Vicenza, Padua, Feltre, and Belluno made him their captain in the Ghibelline interest, conferring on him judicial as well as military supremacy. How he fearfully abused his power, how a crusade was preached against him,and how he died in silence, like a boar at bay, rending from his wounds the dressings that his foes had placed to keep him alive, are notorious matters of history. At Padua alone he erected eight prisons, two of which contained as many as three hundred captives each; and though the executioner never ceased to ply his trade there, they were always full. These dungeons were designed to torture by their noisomeness, their want of air and light and space. Ezzelino made himself terrible not merely by executions and imprisonments but also by mutilations and torments. When he captured Friola he caused the population, of all ages, sexes, occupations, to be deprived of their eyes, noses, and legs, and to be cast forth to the mercy of the elements. On another occasion he walled up a family of princes in a castle and left them to die of famine. Wealth, eminence, and beauty attracted his displeasure no less than insubordination or disobedience. Nor was he less crafty than cruel. Sons betrayed their fathers, friends their comrades, under the fallacious safeguard of his promises. A gigantic instance of his scheming was the coup-de-main by which he succeeded in entrapping 11,000 Paduan soldiers, only 200 of whom escaped the miseries of his prisons. Thus by his absolute contempt of law, his inordinate cruelty, his prolonged massacres, and his infliction of plagues upon whole peoples, Ezzelino established the ideal in Italy of a tyrant marching to his end by any means whatever. In vain was the humanity of the race revolted by the hideous spectacle. Vainly did the monks assemble pity-stricken multitudes upon the plain of Paquara to atone with tears and penitence for the insults offered to the saints in heaven by Ezzelino's fury. It laid a deep hold upon the Italian imagination, and, by the glamor of loathing that has strength to fascinate, proved in the end contagious. We are apt to ask ourselves whether such men are mad—whether in the case of a Nero or a Maréchal de Retz or an Ezzelino the love of evil and the thirst for blood are not a monomaniacal perversion of barbarous passions which even in a cannibal are morbid. Is there in fact such a thing as Hæmatomania, Bloodmadness? But if we answer this question in the affirmative, we shall have to place how many Visconti, Sforzeschi, Malatesti, Borgias, Farnesi, and princes of the houses of Anjou and Aragon in the list of these maniacs? Ezzelino was indeed only the first of a long and horrible procession, the most terror-striking because the earliest, prefiguring all the rest.
Ezzelino's cruelty was no mere Berserkir fury or Lycanthropia coming over him in gusts and leaving him exhausted. It was steady and continuous. In his madness, if such we may call this inhumanity, there was method; he used it to the end of the consolidation of his tyranny. Yet, inasmuch as it passed all limits and prepared his downfall, it may be said to have obtained over his nature the mastery of an insane appetite. While applying the nomenclature of disease to these exceptional monsters, we need not allow that their atrocities were, at first at any rate, beyond their control. Moral insanity is often nothing more than the hypertrophy of some vulgar passion—lust, violence, cruelty, jealousy, and the like. The tyrant, placed above law and less influenced by public opinion than a private person, may easily allow a greed for pleasure or a love of bloodshed to acquire morbid proportions in his nature. He then is not unjustly termed a monomaniac. Within the circle of his vitiated appetite he proves himself irrational. He becomes the puppet of passions which the sane man cannot so much as picture to his fancy, the victim of desire, ever recurring and ever destined to remain unsatisfied; nor is any hallucination more akin to lunacy than the mirage of a joy that leaves the soul thirstier than it was before, the paroxysm of unnatural pleasure which wearies the nerves that crave for it.
In Frederick, the modern autocrat, and Ezzelino, the legendary tyrant, we obtain the earliest specimens of two types of despotism in Italy. Their fame long after their death powerfully affected the fancy of the people, worked itself into the literature of the Italians, and created a consciousness of tyranny in the minds of irresponsible rulers.
During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries we find, roughly speaking, six sorts of despots in Italian cities. Of these the first class, which is a very small one, had a dynastic or hereditary right accruing from long seignioral possession of their several districts. The most eminent are the houses of Montferrat and Savoy, the Marquises of Ferrara, the Princes of Urbino. At the same time it is difficult to know where to draw the line between such hereditary lordship as that of the Este family, and tyranny based on popular favor. The Malatesti of Rimini, Polentani of Ravenna, Manfredi of Faenza, Ordelaffi of Forli, Chiavelli of Fabriano, Varani of Camerino, and others, might claim to rank among the former, since their cities submitted to them without a long period of republican independence like that which preceded despotism in the cases to be next mentioned. Yet these families styled themselves Captains of the burghs they ruled; and in many instances they obtained the additional title of Vicars of the Church. Even the Estensi were made hereditary captains of Ferrara at the end of the thirteenth century, while they also acknowledged the supremacy of the Papacy. There was in fact no right outside the Empire in Italy; and despots of whatever origin or complexion gladly accepted the support which a title derived from the Empire, the Church, or the People might give. Brought to the front amid the tumults of the civil wars, and accepted as pacificators of the factions by the multitude, they gained the confirmation of their anomalous authority by representing themselves to be lieutenants or vicegerents of the three great powers. The second class comprise those nobles who obtained the title of Vicars of the Empire, and built an illegal power upon the basis of imperial right in Lombardy. Of these, the Della Scala and Visconti families are illustrious instances. Finding in their official capacity a ready-made foundation, they extended it beyond its just limits, and in defiance of the Empire constituted dynasties. The third class is important. Nobles charged with military or judicial power, as Capitani or Podestàs, by the free burghs, used their authority to enslave the cities they were chosen to administer. It was thus that almost all the numerous tyrants of Lombardy, Carraresi at Padua, Gonzaghi at Mantua, Rossi and Correggi at Parma, Torrensi and Visconti at Milan, Scotti at Piacenza, and so forth, first erected their despotic dynasties. This fact in the history of Italian tyranny is noticeable. The font of honor, so to speak, was in the citizens of these great burghs. Therefore, when the limits of authority delegated to their captains by the people were overstepped, the sway of the princes became confessedly illegal. Illegality carried with it all the consequences of an evil conscience, all the insecurities of usurped dominion all the danger from without and from within to which an arbitrary governor is exposed. In the fourth class we find the principle of force still more openly at work. To it may be assigned those Condottieri who made a prey of cities at their pleasure. The illustrious Uguccione della Faggiuola, who neglected to follow up his victory over the Guelfs at Monte Catini, in order that he might cement his power in Lucca and Pisa, is an early instance of this kind of tyrant. His successor, Castruccio Castracane, the hero of Machiavelli's romance, is another. But it was not until the first half of the fifteenth century that professional Condottieri became powerful enough to found such kingdoms as that, for example, of Francesco Sforza at Milan. The fifth class includes the nephews or sons of Popes. The Riario principality of Forli, the Della Rovere of Urbino, the Borgia of Romagna, the Farnese of Parma, form a distinct species of despotisms; but all these are of a comparatively late origin. Until the Papacies of Sixtus IV and Innocent VIII the Popes had not bethought them of providing in this way for their relatives. Also, it may be remarked, there was an essential weakness in these tyrannies. Since they had to be carved out of the States of the Church, the Pope who had established his son, say in Romagna, died before he could see him well confirmed in a province which the next Pope sought to wrest from his hands, in order to bestow it on his own favorite. The fabric of the Church could not long have stood this disgraceful wrangling between Papal families for the dynastic possession of Church property. Luckily for the continuance of the Papacy, the tide of counter-reformation which set in after the sack of Rome and the great Northern Schism, put a stop to nepotism in its most barefaced form.
There remains the sixth and last class of despots to be mentioned. This again is large and of the first importance. Citizens of eminence, like the Medici at Florence, the Bentivogli at Bologna, the Baglioni of Perugia, the Vitelli of Città di Castello, the Gambacorti of Pisa, like Pandolfo Petrucci in Siena (1502), Roméo Pepoli, the usurer of Bologna (1323), the plebeian, Alticlinio, and Agolanti of Padua (1313), Giovanni Vignate, the millionaire of Lodi (1402), acquired more than their due weight in the conduct of affairs, and gradually tended to tyranny. In most of these cases great wealth was the original source of despotic ascendency. It was not uncommon to buy cities together with their Signory. Thus the Rossi bought Parma for 35,000 florins in 1333; the Appiani sold Pisa; Astorre Manfredi sold Faenza and Imola in 1377. In 1444 Galeazzo Malatesta sold Pesaro to Alessandro Sforza, and Fossombrone to Urbino; in 1461 Cervia was sold to Venice by the same family. Franceschetto Cibo purchased the County of Anguillara. Towns at last came to have their market value. It was known that Bologna was worth 200,000 florins, Parma 60,000, Arezzo 40,000 Lucca 30,000, and so forth. But personal qualities and nobility of blood might also produce despots of the sixth class. Thus the Bentivogli claimed descent from a bastard of King Enzo, son of Frederick II., who was for a long time an honorable prisoner in Bologna. The Baglioni, after a protracted struggle with the rival family of Oddi, owed their supremacy to ability and vigor in the last years of the fifteenth century. But the neighborhood of the Papal power, and their own internal dissensions, rendered the hold of this family upon Perugia precarious. As in the case of the Medici and the Bentivogli, many generations might elapse before such burgher families assumed dynastic authority. But to this end they were always advancing.
The history of the bourgeois despots proves that Italy in the fifteenth century was undergoing a natural process of determination toward tyranny. Sismondi may attempt to demonstrate that Italy was 'not answerable for the crimes with which she was sullied by her tyrants.' But the facts show that she was answerable for choosing despots instead of remaining free, or rather that she instinctively obeyed a law of social evolution by which princes had to be substituted for municipalities at the end of those fierce internal conflicts and exhausting wars of jealousy which closed the Middle Ages. Machiavelli, with all his love of liberty, is forced to admit that in his day the most powerful provinces of Italy had become incapable of freedom. 'No accident, however weighty and violent, could ever restore Milan or Naples to liberty, owing to their utter corruption. This is clear from the fact that after the death of Filippo Visconti, when Milan tried to regain freedom, she was unable to preserve it.'Whether Machiavelli is right in referring this incapacity for self-government to the corruption of morals and religion may be questioned. But it is certain that throughout the states of Italy, with the one exception of Venice, causes were at work inimical to republics and favorable to despotisms.
It will be observed in this classification of Italian tyrants that the tenure of their power was almost uniformly forcible. They generally acquired it through the people in the first instance, and maintained it by the exercise of violence. Rank had nothing to do with their claims. The bastards of Popes, who like Sixtus IV. had no pedigree, merchants like the Medici, the son of a peasant like Francesco Sforza, a rich usurer like Pepoli, had almost equal chances with nobles of the ancient houses of Este, Visconti, or Malatesta. The chief point in favor of the latter was the familiarity which through long years of authority had accustomed the people to their rule. When exiled, they had a better chance of return to power than parvenus, whose party-cry and ensigns were comparatively fresh and stirred no sentiment of loyalty—if indeed the word loyalty can be applied to that preference for the established and the customary which made the mob, distracted by the wrangling of doctrinaires and intriguers, welcome back a Bentivoglio or a Malatesta. Despotism in Italy as in ancient Greece was democratic. It recruited its ranks from all classes and erected its thrones upon the sovereignty of the peoples it oppressed. The impulse to the free play of ambitious individuality which this state of things communicated was enormous. Capacity might raise the meanest monk to the chair of S. Peter's, the meanest soldier to the duchy of Milan. Audacity, vigor, unscrupulous crime were the chief requisites for success. It was not till Cesare Borgia displayed his magnificence at the French Court, till the Italian adventurer matched himself with royalty in its legitimate splendor, that the lowness of his origin and the frivolity of his pretensions appeared in any glaring light. In Italy itself, where there existed no time-honored hierarchy of classes and no fountain of nobility in the person of a sovereign, one man was a match for another, provided he knew how to assert himself. To the conditions of a society based on these principles we may ascribe the unrivaled emergence of great personalities among the tyrants, as well as the extraordinary tenacity and vigor of such races as the Visconti. In the contest for power, and in the maintenance of an illegal authority, the picked athletes came to the front. The struggle by which they established their tyranny, the efforts by which they defended it against foreign foes and domestic adversaries, trained them to endurance and to daring. They lived habitually in an atmosphere of peril which taxed all their energies. Their activity was extreme, and their passions corresponded to their vehement vitality. About such men there could be nothing on a small or mediocre scale. When a weakling was born in a despotic family, his brothers murdered him, or he was deposed by a watchful rival. Thus only gladiators of tried capacity and iron nerve, superior to religious and moral scruples, dead to national affection, perfected in perfidy, scientific in the use of cruelty and terror, employing first-rate faculties of brain and will and bodily powers in the service of transcendent egotism, only the virtuosi of political craft as theorized by Machiavelli, could survive and hold their own upon this perilous arena.
The life of the despot was usually one of prolonged terror. Immured in strong places on high rocks, or confined to gloomy fortresses like the Milanese Castello, he surrounded his person with foreign troops, protected his bedchamber with a picked guard, and watched his meat and drink lest they should be poisoned. His chief associates were artists, men of letters, astrologers, buffoons, and exiles. He had no real friends or equals, and against his own family he adopted an attitude of fierce suspicion, justified by the frequent intrigues to which he was exposed. His timidity verged on monomania. Like Alfonso II. of Naples, he was tortured with the ghosts of starved or strangled victims; like Ezzelino, he felt the mysterious fascination of astrology; like Filippo Maria Visconti, he trembled at the sound of thunder, and set one band of body-guards to watch another next his person. He dared not hope for a quiet end. No one believed in the natural death of a prince: princes must be poisoned or poignarded. Out of thirteen of the Carrara family, in little more than a century (1318-1435), three were deposed or murdered by near relatives, one was expelled by a rival from his state, four were executed by the Venetians. Out of five of the La Scala family, three were killed by their brothers, and a fourth was poisoned in exile.
Instances of domestic crime might be multiplied by the hundred. Besides those which will follow in these pages, it is enough to notice the murder of Giovanni Francesco Pico, by his nephew, at Mirandola (1533); the murder of his uncle by Oliverotto da Fermo; the assassination of Giovanni Varano by his brothers at Camerino (1434); Ostasio da Polenta's fratricide (1322); Obizzo da Polenta's fratricide in the next generation, and the murder of Ugolino Gonzaga by his brothers; Gian Francesco Gonzaga's murder of his wife; the poisoning of Francesco Sforza's first wife, Polissena, Countess of Montalto, with her little girl, by her aunt; and the murder of Galeotto Manfredi, by his wife, at Faenza (1488).
To enumerate all the catastrophes of reigning families, occurring in the fifteenth century alone, would be quite impossible within the limits of this chapter. Yet it is only by dwelling on the more important that any adequate notion of the perils of Italian despotism can be formed. Thus Girolamo Riario was murdered by his subjects at Forli (1488), and Francesco Vico dei Prefetti in the Church of S. Sisto at Viterbo (1387). At Lodi in 1402 Antonio Fisiraga burned the chief members of the ruling house of Vistarini on the public square, and died himself of poison after a few months. His successor in the tyranny, Giovanni Vignate, was imprisoned by Filippo Maria Visconti in a wooden cage at Pavia, and beat his brains out in despair against its bars. At the same epoch Gabrino Fondulo slaughtered seventy of the Cavalcabò family together in his castle of Macastormo, with the purpose of acquiring their tyranny over Cremona. He was afterwards beheaded as a traitor at Milan (1425). Ottobon Terzi was assassinated at Parma (1408), Nicola Borghese at Siena (1499). Altobello Dattiri at Todi (about 1500), Raimondo and Pandolfo Malatesta at Rimini, and Oddo Antonio di Montefeltro at Urbino (1444). The Varani were massacred to a man in the Church of S. Dominic at Camerino (1434), the Trinci at Foligno (1434), and the Chiavelli of Fabriano in church upon Ascension Day (1435). This wholesale extirpation of three reigning families introduces one of the most romantic episodes in the history of Italian despotism. From the slaughter of the Varani one only child, Giulio Cesare, a boy of two years old, was saved by his aunt Tora. She concealed him in a truss of hay and carried him to the Trinci at Foligno. Hardly had she gained this refuge, when the Trinci were destroyed, and she had to fly with her burden to the Chiavelli at Fabriano. There the same scenes of bloodshed awaited her. A third time she took to flight, and now concealed her precious charge in a nunnery. The boy was afterwards stolen from the town on horseback by a soldier of adventure. After surviving three massacres of kith and kin, he returned as despot at the age of twelve to Camerino, and became a general of distinction. But he was not destined to end his life in peace. Cesare Borgia finally murdered him, together with three of his sons, when he had reached the age of sixty. Less romantic but not less significant in the annals of tyranny is the story of the Trinci. A rival noble of Foligno, Pietro Rasiglia, had been injured in his honor by the chief of the ruling house. He contrived to assassinate two brothers, Nicolà and Bartolommeo, in his castle of Nocera; but the third, Corrado Trinci, escaped, and took a fearful vengeance on his enemy. By the help of Braccio da Montone he possessed himself of Nocera and all its inhabitants, with the exception of Pietro Rasiglia's wife, whom her husband flung from the battlements. Corrado then butchered the men, women, and children of the Rasiglia clan, to the number of three hundred persons, accomplishing his vengeance with details of atrocity too infernal to be dwelt on in these pages. It is recorded that thirty-six asses laden with their mangled limbs paraded the streets of Foligno as a terror-striking spectacle for the inhabitants. He then ruled the city by violence, until the warlike Cardinal dei Vitelleschi avenged society of so much mischief by destroying the tyrant and five of his sons, in the same year. Equally fantastic are the annals of the great house of the Baglioni at Perugia. Raised in 1389 upon the ruins of the bourgeois faction called Raspanti, they founded their tyranny in the person of Pandolfo Baglioni, who was murdered together with sixty of his clan and followers by the party they had dispossessed. The new despot, Biordo Michelotti, was stabbed in the shoulders with a poisoned dagger by his relative, the abbot of S. Pietro. Then the city, in 1416, submitted to Braccio da Montone, who raised it to unprecedented power and glory. On his death it fell back into new discords, from which it was rescued again by the Baglioni in 1466, now finally successful in their prolonged warfare with the rival family of Oddi. But they did not hold their despotism in tranquillity. In 1500 one of the members of the house, Grifonetto degli Baglioni, conspired against his kinsmen and slew them in their palaces at night. As told by Matarazzo, this tragedy offers an epitome of all that is most, brilliant and terrible in the domestic feuds of the Italian tyrants. The vicissitudes of the Bentivogli at Bologna present another series of catastrophes, due less to their personal crimes than to the fury of the civil strife that raged around them. Giovanni Bentivoglio began the dynasty in 1400. The next year he was stabbed to death and pounded in a wine-vat by the infuriated populace, who thought he had betrayed their interests in battle. His son, Antonio, was beheaded by a Papal Legate, and numerous members of the family on their return from exile suffered the same fate. In course of time the Bentivogli made themselves adored by the people; and when Piccinino imprisoned the heir of their house, Annibale, in the castle of Varano, four youths of the Marescotti family undertook his rescue at the peril of their lives, and raised him to the Signory of Bologna. In 1445 the Canetoli, powerful nobles, who hated the popular dynasty, invited Annibale and all his clan to a christening feast, where they exterminated every member of the reigning house. Not one Bentivoglio was left alive. In revenge for this massacre, the Marescotti, aided by the populace, hunted down the Canetoli for three whole days in Bologna, and nailed their smoking hearts to the doors of the Bentivoglio palace. They then drew from his obscurity in Florence the bastard Santi Bentivoglio, who found himself suddenly lifted from a wool-factory to a throne. Whether he was a genuine Bentivoglio or not, mattered little. The house had become necessary to Bologna, and its popularity had been baptized in the bloodshed of four massacres. What remains of its story can be briefly told. When Cesare Borgia besieged Bologna, the Marescotti intrigued with him, and eight of their number were sacrificed by the Bentivogli in spite of their old services to the dynasty. The survivors, by the help of Julius II., returned from exile in 1536, to witness the final banishment of the Bentivogli and to take part in the destruction of the palace, where their ancestors had nailed the hearts of the Canetoli upon the walls.
To multiply the records of crime revenged by crime, of force repelled by violence, of treason heaped on treachery, of insult repaid by fraud, would be easy enough. Indeed, a huge book might be compiled containing nothing but the episodes in this grim history of despotism, now tragic and pathetic, now terror-moving in sublimity of passion, now despicable by the baseness of the motives brought to light, at one time revolting through excess of physical horrors, at another fascinating by the spectacle of heroic courage, intelligence, and resolution. Enough however, has been said to describe the atmosphere of danger in which the tyrants breathed and moved, and from which not one of them was ever capable of finding freedom. Even a princely house so well based in its dynasty and so splendid in its parade of culture as that of the Estensi offers a long list of terrific tragedies. One princess is executed for adultery with her stepson (1425); a bastard's bastard tries to seize the throne, and is put to death with all his kin (1493); a wife is poisoned by her husband to prevent her poisoning him (1493); two brothers cabal against the legitimate heads of the house, and are imprisoned for life (1506). Such was the labyrinth of plot and counterplot, of force repelled by violence, in which the princes praised by Ariosto and by Tasso lived.
Isolated, crime-haunted, and remorseless, at the same time fierce and timorous, the despot not unfrequently made of vice a fine art for his amusement, and openly defied humanity. His pleasures tended to extravagance. Inordinate lust and refined cruelty sated his irritable and jaded appetites. He destroyed pity in his soul, and fed his dogs with living men, or spent his brains upon the invention of new tortures. From the game of politics again he won a feverish pleasure, playing for states and cities as a man plays chess, and endeavoring to extract the utmost excitement from the varying turns of skill and chance. It would be an exaggeration to assert that all the princes of Italy were of this sort. The saner, better, and nobler among them—men of the stamp of Gian Galeazzo Visconti, Can Grande della Scala, Francesco and Lodovico Sforza, found a more humane enjoyment in the consolidation of their empire, the cementing of their alliances, the society of learned men, the friendship of great artists, the foundation of libraries, the building of palaces and churches, the execution of vast schemes of conquest. Others, like Galeazzo Visconti, indulged a comparatively innocent taste for magnificence. Some, like Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, combined the vices of a barbarian with the enthusiasm of a scholar. Others again, like Lorenzo de' Medici and Frederick of Urbino, exhibited the model of moderation in statecraft and a noble width of culture. But the tendency to degenerate was fatal in all the despotic houses. The strain of tyranny proved too strong. Crime, illegality, and the sense of peril, descending from father to son, produced monsters in the shape of men. The last Visconti, the last La Scalas, the last Sforzas, the last Malatestas, the last Farnesi, the last Medici are among the worst specimens of human nature.
Macaulay's brilliant description of the Italian tyrant in his essay on Machiavelli deserves careful study. It may, however, be remarked that the picture is too favorable. Macaulay omits the darker crimes of the despots, and draws his portrait almost exclusively from such men as Gian Galeazzo Visconti, Francesco and Lodovico Sforza, Frederick of Urbino, and Lorenzo de' Medici. The point he is seeking to establish—that political immorality in Italy was the national correlative to Northern brutality—leads him to idealize the polite refinement, the disciplined passions, the firm and astute policy, the power over men, and the excellent government which distinguished the noblest Italian princes. When he says 'Wanton cruelty was not in his nature: on the contrary, where no political object was at stake, his disposition was soft and humane'; he seems to have forgotten Gian Maria Visconti, Corrado Trinci, Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, and Cesare Borgia. When he writes, 'His passions, like well-trained troops, are impetuous by rule, and in their most headstrong fury never forget the discipline to which they have been accustomed,' he leaves Francesco Maria della Rovere, Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Pier Luigi Farnese, Alexander VI, out of the reckoning. If all the despots had been what Macaulay describes, the revolutions and conspiracies of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries would not have taken place. It is, however, to be remarked that in the sixteenth century the conduct of the tyrant toward his subjects assumed an external form of mildness. As Italy mixed with the European nations, and as tyranny came to be legalized in the Italian states, the despots developed a policy not of terrorism but of enervation (Lorenzo de' Medici is the great example), and aspired to be paternal governors.
What I have said about Italian despotism is no mere fancy picture. The actual details of Milanese history, the innumerable tragedies of Lombardy, Romagna, and the Marches of Ancona, during the ascendency of despotic families, are far more terrible than any fiction; nor would it be easy for the imagination to invent so perplexing a mixture of savage barbarism with modern refinement. Savonarola's denunciations and Villani's descriptions of a despot read like passages from Plato's Republic, like the most pregnant of Aristotle's criticisms upon tyranny. The prologue to the sixth book of Matteo Villani's Chronicle may be cited as a fair specimen of the judgment passed by contemporary Italian thinkers upon their princes (Libro Sesto, cap. i.): 'The crimes of despots always hinder and often neutralize the virtues of good men. Their pleasures are at variance with morality. By them the riches of their subjects are swallowed up. They are foes to men who grow in wisdom and in greatness of soul in their dominions. They diminish by their imposts the wealth of the peoples ruled by them. Their unbridled lust is never satiated, but their subjects have to suffer such outrages and insults as their fancy may from time to time suggest. But inasmuch as the violence of tyranny is manifested to all eyes by these and many other atrocities, we need not enumerate them afresh. It is enough to select one feature, strange in appearance but familiar in fact; for what can be more extraordinary than to see princes of ancient and illustrious lineage bowing to the service of despots, men of high descent and time-honored nobility frequenting their tables and accepting their bounties? Yet if we consider the end of all this, the glory of tyrants often turns to misery and ruin. Who can exaggerate their wretchedness? They know not where to place their confidence; and their courtiers are always on the lookout for the despot's fall, gladly lending their influence and best endeavors to undo him in spite of previous servility. This does not happen to hereditary kings, because their conduct toward their subjects, as well as their good qualities and all their circumstances, are of a nature contrary to that of tyrants. Therefore the very causes which produce and fortify and augment tyrannies, conceal and nourish in themselves the sources of their overthrow and ruin. This indeed is the greatest wretchedness of tyrants.'
It may be objected that this sweeping criticism, from the pen of a Florentine citizen at war with Milan, partakes of the nature of an invective. Yet abundant proofs can be furnished from the chronicles of burghs which owed material splendor to their despots, confirming the censure of Villani. Matarazzo, for example, whose sympathy with the house of Baglioni is so striking, and who exults in the distinction they conferred upon Perugia, writes no less bitterly concerning the pernicious effects of their misgovernment. It is to be noticed that Villani and Matarazzo agree about the special evils brought upon the populations by their tyrants. Lust and violence take the first place. Next comes extortion; then the protection of the lawless and the criminal against the better sort of citizens. But the Florentine, with intellectual acumen, lays his finger on one of the chief vices of their rule. They retard the development of mental greatness in their states, and check the growth of men of genius. Ariosto, in the comparative calm of the sixteenth century, when tyrannies had yielded to the protectorate of Spain, sums up the records of the past in the following memorable passage: 'Happy the kingdoms where an open-hearted and blameless man gives law! Wretched indeed and pitiable are those where injustice and cruelty hold sway, where burdens ever greater and more grievous are laid upon the people by tyrants like those who now abound in Italy, whose infamy will be recorded through years to come as no less black than Caligula's or Nero's.' Guicciardini, with pregnant brevity, observes: 'The mortar with which the states of the tyrants are cemented is the blood of the citizens.'
In the history of Italian despotism two points of first-rate importance will demand attention. The first is the process by which the greater tyrannies absorbed the smaller during the fourteenth century. The second is the relation of the chief Condottieri to the tyrants of the fifteenth century. The evolution of these two phenomena cannot be traced more clearly than by a study of the history of Milan, which at the same time presents a detailed picture of the policy and character of the Italian despot during this period. The dynasties of Visconti and Sforza from 1300 to 1500 bridged over the years that intervened between the Middle Age and the Renaissance, between the period of the free burghs and the period during which Italy was destined to become the theater of the action of more powerful nations. Their alliances and diplomatic relations prepared the way for the interference of foreigners in Italian affairs. Their pedigree illustrates the power acquired by military adventurers in the peninsula. The magnitude of their political schemes displays the most soaring ambition which it was ever granted to Italian princes to indulge. The splendor of their court and the intelligence of their culture bear witness to the high state of civilization which the Italians had reached.
The power of the Visconti in Milan was founded upon that of the Della Torre family, who preceded them as Captains General of the people at the end of the thirteenth century. Otho, Archbishop of Milan, first laid a substantial basis for the dominion of his house by imprisoning Napoleone Della Torre and five of his relatives in three iron cages in 1277, and by causing his nephew Matteo Visconti to be nominated both by the Emperor and by the people of Milan as imperial Vicar. Matteo, who headed the Ghibelline party in Lombardy, was the model of a prudent Italian despot. From the date 1311, when he finally succeeded in his attempts upon the sovereignty of Milan, to 1322, when he abdicated in favor of his son Galeazzo, he ruled his states by force of character, craft, and insight, more than by violence or cruelty. Excellent as a general, he was still better as a diplomatist, winning more cities by money than by the sword. All through his life, as became a Ghibelline chief at that time, he persisted in fierce enmity against the Church. But just before his death a change came over him. He showed signs of superstitious terror, and began to fear the ban of excommunication which lay upon him. This weakness alarmed the suspicions of his sons, terrible and wolf-like men, whom Matteo had hitherto controlled with bit and bridle. They therefore induced him to abdicate in 1322, and when in the same year he died, they buried his body in a secret place, lest it should be exhumed, and scattered to the winds in accordance with the Papal edict against him. Galeazzo, his son, was less fortunate than Matteo, surnamed Il Grande by the Lombards. The Emperor Louis of Bavaria threw him into prison on the occasion of his visit to Milan in 1327, and only released him at the intercession of his friend Castruccio Castracane. To such an extent was the growing tyranny of the Visconti still dependent upon their office delegated from the Empire. This Galeazzo married Beatrice d' Este, the widow of Nino di Gallura, of whom Dante speaks in the eighth canto of the Purgatory, and had by her a son named Azzo. Azzo bought the city, together with the title of Imperial Vicar, from the same Louis who had imprisoned his father. When he was thus seated in the tyranny of his grandfather, he proceeded to fortify it further by the addition of ten Lombard towns, which he reduced beneath the supremacy of Milan. At the same time he consolidated his own power by the murder of his uncle Marco in 1329, who had grown too mighty as a general. Giovio describes him as fair of complexion, blue-eyed, curly-haired, and subject to the hereditary disease of gout. Azzo died in 1339, and was succeeded by his uncle Lucchino. In Lucchino the darker side of the Visconti character appears for the first time. Cruel, moody, and jealous, he passed his life in perpetual terror. His nephews, Galeazzo and Barnabas, conspired against him, and were exiled to Flanders. His wife, Isabella Fieschi, intrigued with Galeazzo and disgraced him by her amours with Ugolino Gonzaga and Dandolo the Doge of Venice. Finally suspicion rose to such a pitch between this ill-assorted couple, that, while Lucchino was plotting how to murder Isabella, she succeeded in poisoning him in 1349. In spite of these domestic calamities, Lucchino was potent as a general and governor. He bought Parma from Obizzo d' Este, and made the town of Pisa dependent upon Milan. Already in his policy we can trace the encroachment which characterized the schemes of the Milanese despots, who were always plotting to advance their foot beyond the Apennines as a prelude to the complete subjugation of Italy. Lucchino left sons, but none of proved legitimacy. Consequently he was succeeded by his brother Giovanni, son of old Matteo il Grande, and Archbishop of Milan. This man, the friend of Petrarch, was one of the most notable characters of the fourteenth century. Finding himself at the head of sixteen cities, he added Bologna to the tyranny of the Visconti in 1350, and made himself strong enough to defy the Pope. Clement VI., resenting his encroachments on Papal territory, summoned him to Avignon. Giovanni Visconti replied that he would march thither at the head of 12,000 cavalry and 6,000 infantry. In the Duomo of Milan he ascended his throne with the crosier in his left hand and a drawn sword in his right; and thus he is always represented in pictures. The story of Giovanni's answer to the Papal Legate is well told by Corio:'After Mass in the Cathedral the great-hearted Archbishop unsheathed a flashing sword, which he had girded on his thigh, and with his left hand seized the cross, saying, "This is my spiritual scepter, and I will wield the sword as my temporal, in defense of all my empire."' Afterwards he sent couriers to engage lodgings for his soldiers and his train for six months. Visitors to Avignon found no room in the city, and the Pope was fain to decline so terrible a guest. In 1353 Giovanni annexed Genoa to the Milanese principality, and died in 1354, having established the rule of the Visconti over the whole of the North of Italy, with the exception of Piedmont, Verona, Mantua, Ferrara and Venice.
The reign of the archbishop Giovanni marks a new epoch in the despotism of the Visconti. They are now no longer the successful rivals of the Della Torre family or dependents on imperial caprice, but self-made sovereigns, with a well-established power in Milan and a wide extent of subject territory. Their dynasty, though based on force and maintained by violence, has come to be acknowledged; and we shall soon see them allying themselves with the royal houses of Europe. After the death of Giovanni, Matteo's sons were extinct. But Stefano, the last of his family, had left three children, who now succeeded to the lands and cities of the house. They were named Matteo, Bernabo, and Galeazzo. Between these three princes a partition of the heritage of Giovanni Visconti was effected. Matteo took Bologna, Lodi, Piacenza, Parma, Bobbio, and some other towns of less importance. Bernabo received Cremona, Crema, Brescia, and Bergamo. Galeazzo held Como, Novara, Vercelli, Asti, Tortona, and Alessandria. Milan and Genoa were to be ruled by the three in common. It may here be noticed that the dismemberment of Italian despotisms among joint-heirs was a not unfrequent source of disturbance and a cause of weakness to their dynasties. At the same time the practice followed naturally upon the illegal nature of the tyrant's title. He dealt with his cities as so many pieces of personal property, which he could distribute as he chose, not as a coherent whole to be bequeathed to one ruler for the common benefit of all his subjects. In consequence of such partition, it became the interest of brother to murder brother, so as to effect a reconsolidation of the family estates. Something of the sort happened on this occasion. Matteo abandoned himself to bestial sensuality; and his two brothers, finding him both feeble and likely to bring discredit on their rule, caused him to be assassinated in 1355. They then jointly swayed the Milanese, with unanimity remarkable in despots. Galeazzo was distinguished as the handsomest man of his age. He was tall and graceful, with golden hair, which he wore in long plaits, or tied up in a net, or else loose and crowned with flowers. Fond of display and magnificence, he spent much of his vast wealth in shows and festivals, and in the building of palaces and churches. The same taste for splendor led him to seek royal marriages for his children. His daughter Violante was wedded to the Duke of Clarence, son of Edward III. of England, who received with her for dowry the sum of 200,000 golden florins, as well as five cities bordering on Piedmont. It must have been a strange experience for this brother of the Black Prince, leaving London, where the streets were still unpaved, the houses thatched, the beds laid on straw, and where wine was sold as medicine, to pass into the luxurious palaces of Lombardy, walled with marble, and raised high above smooth streets of stone. Of his marriage with Violante Giovio gives some curious details. He says that Galeazzo on this occasion made splendid presents to more than 200 Englishmen, so that he was reckoned to have outdone the greatest kings in generosity. At the banquet Gian Galeazzo, the bride's brother, leading a choice company of well-born youths, brought to the table with each course fresh gifts.'At one time it was a matter of sixty most beautiful horses with trappings of silk and silver; at another, plate, hawks, hounds, horse-gear, fine cuirasses, suits of armor fashioned of wrought steel, helmets adorned with crests, surcoats embroidered with pearls, belts, precious jewels set in gold, and great quantities of cloth of gold and crimson stuff for making raiment. Such was the profusion of this banquet that the remnants taken from the table were enough and to spare for 10,000 men.' Petrarch, we may remember, assisted at this festival and sat among the princes. It was thus that Galeazzo displayed his wealth before the feudal nobles of the North, and at the same time stretched the hand of friendly patronage to the greatest literary man of Europe. Meanwhile he also married his son Gian Galeazzo to Isabella, daughter of King John of France, spending on this occasion, it is said, a similar sum of money for the honor of a royal alliance.
Galeazzo held his court at Pavia. His brother reigned at Milan. Bernabo displayed all the worst vices of the Visconti. His system of taxation was most oppressive, and at the same time so lucrative that he was able, according to Giovio's estimate, to settle nine of his daughters at an expense of something like two millions of gold pieces. A curious instance of his tyranny relates to his hunting establishment. Having saddled his subjects with the keep of 5,000 boar-hounds, he appointed officers to go round and see whether these brutes were either too lean or too well-fed to be in good condition for the chase. If anything appeared defective in their management, the peasants on whom they were quartered had to suffer in their persons and their property. This Bernabo was also remarkable for his cold-blooded cruelty. Together with his brother, he devised and caused to be publicly announced by edict that State criminals would be subjected to a series of tortures extending over the space of forty days. In this infernal programme every variety of torment found a place, and days of respite were so calculated as to prolong the lives of the victims for further suffering, till at last there was little left of them that had not been hacked and hewed and flayed away. To such extremities of terrorism were the despots driven in the maintenance of their illegal power.
Galeazzo died in 1378, and was succeeded in his own portion of the Visconti domain by his son Gian Galleazzo. Now began one of those long, slow, internecine struggles which were so common between the members of the ruling families in Italy. Bernabo and his sons schemed to get possession of the young prince's estate. He, on the other hand, determined to supplant his uncle, and to reunite the whole Visconti principality beneath his own sway. Craft was the weapon which he chose in this encounter. Shutting himself up in Pavia, he made no disguise of his physical cowardice, which was real, while he simulated a timidity of spirit wholly alien to his temperament. He pretended to be absorbed in religious observances, and gradually induced his uncle and cousins to despise him as a poor creature whom they could make short work of when occasion served. In 1385, having thus prepared the way for treason, he avowed his intention of proceeding on a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Varese. Starting from Pavia with a body guard of Germans, he passed near Milan, where his uncle and cousins came forth to meet him. Gian Galeazzo feigned a courteous greeting; but when he saw his relatives within his grasp, he gave a watchword in German to his troops, who surrounded Bernabo and took him prisoner with his sons. Gian Galeazzo marched immediately into Milan, poisoned his uncle in a dungeon, and proclaimed himself sole lord of the Visconti heirship.
The reign of Gian Galeazzo, which began with this coup-de-main (1385-1402), forms a very important chapter in Italian history. We may first see what sort of man he was, and then proceed to trace his aims and achievements. Giovio describes him as having been a remarkably sedate and thoughtful boy, so wise beyond his years that his friends feared he would not grow to man's estate. No pleasures in after-life drew him away from business. Hunting, hawking, women, had alike no charms for him. He took moderate exercise for the preservation of his health, read and meditated much, and relaxed himself in conversation with men of letters. Pure intellect, in fact, had reached to perfect independence in this prince, who was far above the boisterous pleasures and violent activities of the age in which he lived. In the erection of public buildings he was magnificent. The Certosa of Pavia and the Duomo of Milan owed their foundation to his sense of splendor. At the same time he completed the palace of Pavia, which his father had begun, and which he made the noblest dwelling-house in Europe. The University of Pavia was raised by him from a state of decadence to one of great prosperity, partly by munificent endowments and partly by a wise choice of professors. In his military undertakings he displayed a kindred taste for vast engineering projects. He contemplated and partly carried out a scheme for turning the Mincio and the Brenta from their channels, and for drying up the lagoons of Venice. In this way he purposed to attack his last great enemy, the Republic of S. Mark, upon her strongest point. Yet in the midst of these huge designs he was able to attend to the most trifling details of economy. His love of order was so precise that he may be said to have applied the method of a banker's office to the conduct of a state. It was he who invented Bureaucracy by creating a special class of paid clerks and secretaries of departments. Their duty consisted in committing to books and ledgers the minutest items of his private expenditure and the outgoings of his public purse; in noting the details of the several taxes, so as to be able to present a survey of the whole state revenue; and in recording the names and qualities and claims of his generals, captains, and officials. A separate office was devoted to his correspondence, of all of which he kept accurate copies. By applying this mercantile machinery to the management of his vast dominions, at a time when public economy was but little understood in Europe, Gian Galeazzo raised his wealth enormously above that of his neighbors. His income in a single year is said to have amounted to 1,200,000 golden florins, with the addition of 800,000 golden florins levied by extraordinary calls. The personal timidity of this formidable prince prevented him from leading his armies in the field. He therefore found it necessary to employ paid generals, and took into his service all the chief Condottieri of the day, thus giving an impulse to the custom which was destined to corrupt the whole military system of Italy. Of these men, whom he well knew how to choose, he was himself the brain and moving principle. He might have boasted that he never took a step without calculating the cost, carefully considering the object, and proportioning the means to his end. How mad to such a man must have seemed the Crusaders of previous centuries, or the chivalrous Princes of Northern Germany and Burgundy, who expended their force upon such unprofitable and impossible undertakings as the subjugation, for instance, of Switzerland! Not a single trait in his character reminds us of the Middle Ages, unless it be that he was said to care for reliques with a superstitious passion worthy of Louis XI. Sismondi sums up the description of this extraordinary despot in the following sentences, which may be quoted for their graphic brevity: 'False and pitiless, he joined to immeasurable ambition a genius for enterprise, and to immovable constancy a personal timidity which he did not endeavor to conceal. The least unexpected motion near him threw him into a paroxysm of nervous terror. No prince employed so many soldiers to guard his palace, or took such multiplied precautions of distrust. He seemed to acknowledge himself the enemy of the whole world. But the vices of tyranny had not weakened his ability. He employed his immense wealth without prodigality; his finances were always flourishing; his cities well garrisoned and victualed; his army well paid; all the captains of adventure scattered throughout Italy received pensions from him, and were ready to return to his service whenever called upon. He encouraged the warriors of the new Italian school; he knew well how to distinguish, reward, and win their attachment.' Such was the tyrant who aimed at nothing less than the reduction of the whole of Italy beneath the sway of the Visconti, and who might have achieved his purpose had not his career of conquest been checked by the Republic of Florence, and afterwards cut short by a premature death.
At the time of his accession the Visconti had already rooted out the Correggi and Rossi of Parma, the Scotti of Piacenza, the Pelavicini of San Donnino, the Tornielli of Novara, the Ponzoni and Cavalcabò of Cremona, the Beccaria and Languschi of Pavia, the Fisiraghi of Lodi, the Brusati of Brescia. Their viper had swallowed all these lesser snakes. But the Carrara family still ruled at Padua, the Gonzaga at Mantua, the Este at Ferrara, while the great house of Scala was in possession of Verona. Gian Galeazzo's schemes were first directed against the Scala dynasty. Founded, like that of the Visconti, upon the imperial authority, it rose to its greatest height under the Ghibelline general Can Grande and his nephew Mastino, in the first half of the fourteenth century (1312-51). Mastino had himself cherished the project of an Italian Kingdom; but he died before approaching its accomplishment. The degeneracy of his house began with his three sons. The two younger killed the eldest; of the survivors the stronger slew the weaker and then died in 1374, leaving his domains to two of his bastards. One of these, named Antonio, killed the other in 1381, and afterwards fell a prey to the Visconti in 1387. In his subjugation of Verona Gian Galeazzo contrived to make use of the Carrara family, although these princes were allied by marriage to the Scaligers, and had everything to lose by their downfall. He next proceeded to attack Padua, and gained the co-operation of Venice. In 1388 Francesco da Carrara had to cede his territory to Visconti's generals, who in the same year possessed themselves for him of the Trevisan Marches. It was then that the Venetians saw too late the error they had committed in suffering Verona and Padua to be annexed by the Visconti, when they ought to have been fortified as defenses interposed between his growing power and themselves. Having now made himself master of the North of Italy,with the exception of Mantua, Ferrara, and Bologna, Gian Galeazzo turned his attention to these cities. Alberto d' Este was ruling in Ferrara; Francesco da Gonzaga in Mantua. It was the Visconti's policy to enfeeble these two princes by causing them to appear odious in the eyes of their subjects.Accordingly he roused the jealousy of the Marquis of Ferrara against his nephew Obizzo to such a pitch that Alberto beheaded him together with his mother, burned his wife, and hung a third member of his family, besides torturing to death all the supposed accomplices of the unfortunate young man. Against the Marquis of Mantua Gian Galeazzo devised a still more diabolical plot. By forged letters and subtly contrived incidents he caused Francesco da Gonzaga to suspect his wife of infidelity with his secretary. In a fit of jealous fury Francesco ordered the execution of his wife, the mother of several of his children, together with the secretary. Then he discovered the Visconti's treason. But it was too late for anything but impotent hatred. The infernal device had been successful; the Marquis of Mantua was no less discredited than the Marquis of Ferrara by his crime. It would seem that these men were not of the stamp and caliber to be successful villans, and that Gian Galeazzo had reckoned upon this defect in their character. Their violence caused them to be rather loathed than feared. The whole of Lombardy was now prostrate before the Milanese tyrant. His next move was to set foot in Tuscany. For this purpose Pisa had to be acquired; and here again he resorted to his devilish policy of inciting other men to crimes by which he alone would profit in the long-run. Pisa was ruled at that time by the Gambacorta family, with an old merchant named Pietro at their head. This man had a friend and secretary called Jacopo Appiano, whom the Visconti persuaded to turn Judas, and to entrap and murder his benefactor and his children. The assassination took place in 1392. In 1399 Gherardo, son of Jacopo Appiano, who held Pisa at the disposal of Gian Galeazzo, sold him this city for 200,000 florins. Perugia was next attacked. Here Pandolfo, chief of the Baglioni family, held a semi-constitutional authority, which the Visconti first helped him to transmute into a tyranny, and then, upon Pandolfo's assassination, seized as his own. All Italy and even Germany had now begun to regard the usurpations of the Milanese despot with alarm. But the sluggish Emperor Wenceslaus refused to take action against him; nay, in 1395 he granted to the Visconti the investiture of the Duchy of Milan for 100,000 florins, reserving only Pavia for himself. In 1399 the Duke laid hands on Siena; and in the next two years the plague came to his assistance by enfeebling the ruling families of Lucca and Bologna, the Guinizzi and the Bentivogli, so that he was now able to take possession of those cities.
There remained no power in Italy, except the Republic of Florence and the exiled but invincible Francesco da Carrara, to withstand his further progress. Florence delayed his conquests in Tuscany. Francesco managed to return to Padua. Still the peril which threatened the whole of Italy was imminent. The Duke of Milan was in the plenitude of manhood—rich, prosperous, and full of mental force. His acquisitions were well cemented; his armies in good condition; his treasury brim full; his generals highly paid. All his lieutenants in city and in camp respected the iron will and the deep policy of the despot who swayed their action from his arm-chair in Milan. He alone knew how to use the brains and hands that did him service, to keep them mutually in check, and by their regulated action to make himself not one but a score of men. At last, when all other hope of independence for Italy had failed, the plague broke out with fury in Lombardy. Gian Galeazzo retired to his isolated fortress of Marignano in order to escape infection. Yet there in 1402 he sickened. A comet appeared in the sky, to which he pointed as a sign of his approaching death—'God could not but signalize the end of so supreme a ruler,' he told his attendants. He died aged 55. Italy drew a deep breath. The danger was passed.
The systematic plan conceived by Gian Galeazzo for the enslavement of Italy, the ability and force of intellect which sustained him in its execution, and the power with which he bent men to his will, are scarcely more extraordinary than the sudden dissolution of his dukedom at his death. Too timid to take the field himself, he had trained in his service a band of great commanders, among whom Alberico da Barbino, Facino Cane, Pandolfo Malatesta, Jacopo dal Verme, Gabrino Fondulo, and Ottobon Terzo were the most distinguished. As long as he lived and held them in leading strings, all went well. But at his death his two sons were still mere boys. He had to intrust their persons, together with the conduct of his hardly won dominions, to these captains in conjunction with the Duchess Catherine and a certain Francesco Barbavara. This man had been the Duke's body-servant, and was now the paramour of the Duchess. The generals refused to act with them; and each seized upon such portions of the Visconti inheritance as he could most easily acquire. The vast tyranny of the first Duke of Milan fell to pieces in a day. The whole being based on no legal right, but held together artificially by force and skill, its constituent parts either reasserted their independence or became the prey of adventurers. Many scions of the old ejected families recovered their authority in the subject towns. We hear again of the Scotti at Piacenza, the Rossi and Correggi at Parma, the Benzoni at Crema, the Rusconi at Como, the Soardi and Colleoni at Bergamo, the Landi at Bobbio, the Cavalcabò at Cremona. Facino Cane appropriated Alessandria; Pandolfo Malatesta seized Brescia; Ottonbon Terzo established himself in Parma. Meanwhile Giovanni Maria Visconti was proclaimed Duke of Milan, and his brother Filippo Maria occupied Pavia. Gabriello, a bastard son of the first duke, fortified himself in Crema.
In the despotic families of Italy, as already hinted, there was a progressive tendency to degeneration. The strain of tyranny sustained by force and craft for generations, the abuse of power and pleasure, the isolation and the dread in which the despots lived habitually, bred a kind of hereditary madness. In the case of Giovanni Maria and Filippo Maria Visconti these predisposing causes of insanity were probably intensified by the fact that their father and mother were first cousins, the grandchildren of Stefano, son of Matteo il Grande. Be this as it may, the constitutional ferocity of the race appeared as monomania in Giovanni, and its constitutional timidity as something akin to madness in his brother. Gian Maria, Duke of Milan in nothing but in name, distinguished himself by cruelty and lust. He used the hounds of his ancestors no longer in the chase of boars, but of living men. All the criminals of Milan, and all whom he could get denounced as criminals, even the participators in his own enormities, were given up to his infernal sport. His huntsman, Squarcia Giramo, trained the dogs to their duty by feeding them on human flesh, and the duke watched them tear his victims in pieces with the avidity of a lunatic. In 1412 some Milanese nobles succeeded in murdering him, and threw his mangled corpse into the street. A prostitute is said to have covered it with roses. Filippo Maria meanwhile had married the widow of Facino Cane, who brought him nearly half a million of florins for dowry, together with her husband's soldiers and the cities he had seized after Gian Galeazzo's death. By the help of this alliance Filippo was now gradually recovering the Lombard portion of his father's dukedom. The minor cities, purged by murder of their usurpers, once more fell into the grasp of the Milanese despot, after a series of domestic and political tragedies that drenched their streets with blood. Piacenza was utterly depopulated. It is recorded that for the space of a year only three of its inhabitants remained within the walls.
Filippo, the last of the Visconti tyrants, was extremely ugly, and so sensitive about his ill-formed person that he scarcely dared to show himself abroad. He habitually lived in secret chambers, changed frequently from room to room, and when he issued from his palace refused salutations in the streets. As an instance of his nervousness, the chroniclers report that he could not endure to hear the noise of thunder. At the same time he inherited much of his father's insight into character, and his power of controlling men more bold and active than himself. But he lacked the keen decision and broad views of Gian Galeazzo. He vacillated in policy and kept planning plots which seemed to have no object but his own disadvantage. Excess of caution made him surround the captains of his troops with spies, and check them at the moment when he feared they might become too powerful. This want of confidence neutralized the advantage which he might have gained by his choice of fitting instruments. Thus his selection of Francesco Sforza for his general against the Venetians in 1431 was a wise one. But he could not attach the great soldier of fortune to himself. Sforza took the pay of Florence against his old patron, and in 1441 forced him to a ruinous peace; one of the conditions of which was the marriage of the Duke of Milan's only daughter, Bianca, to the son of the peasant of Cotignola. Bianca was illegitimate, and Filippo Maria had no male heir. The great family of the Visconti had dwindled away. Consequently, after the duke's death in 1447, Sforza found his way open to the Duchy of Milan, which he first secured by force and then claimed in right of his wife. An adverse claim was set up by the House of Orleans, Louis of Orleans having married Valentina, the legitimate daughter of Gian Galeazzo. But both of these claims were invalid, since the investiture granted by Wenceslaus to the first duke excluded females. So Milan was once again thrown open to the competition of usurpers.
The inextinguishable desire for liberty in Milan blazed forth upon the death of the last duke. In spite of so many generations of despots, the people still regarded themselves as sovereign, and established a republic. But a state which had served the Visconti for nearly two centuries, could not in a moment shake off its weakness and rely upon itself alone. The republic, feeling the necessity of mercenary aid, was short-sighted enough to engage Francesco Sforza as commander-in-chief against the Venetians, who had availed themselves of the anarchy in Lombardy to push their power west of the Adda.
Sforza, though the ablest general of the day, was precisely the man whom common prudence should have prompted the burghers to mistrust. In one brilliant campaign he drove the Venetians back beyond the Adda, burned their fleet at Casal Maggiore on the Po, and utterly defeated their army at Caravaggio. Then he returned as conqueror to Milan, reduced the surrounding cities, blockaded the Milanese in their capital, and forced them to receive him as their Duke in 1450. Italy had lost a noble opportunity. If Florence and Venice had but taken part with Milan, and had stimulated the flagging energies of Genoa, four powerful republics in federation might have maintained the freedom of the whole peninsula and have resisted foreign interference. But Cosimo de' Medici, who was silently founding the despotism of his own family in Florence, preferred to see a duke in Milan; and Venice, guided by the Doge Francesco Foscari, thought only of territorial aggrandizement. The chance was lost. The liberties of Milan were extinguished. A new dynasty was established in the duchy, grounded on a false hereditary claim, which, as long as it continued, gave a sort of color to the superior but still illegal pretensions of the house of Orleans. It is impossible at this point in the history of Italy to refrain from judging that the Italians had become incapable of local self-government, and that the prevailing tendency to despotism was not the results of accidents in any combination, but of internal and inevitable laws of evolution.
It was at this period that the old despotisms founded by Imperial Vicars and Captains of the People came to be supplanted or crossed by those of military adventurers, just as at a somewhat later time the Condottiere and the Pope's nominee were blent in Cesare Borgia. This is therefore the proper moment for glancing at the rise and influence of mercenary generals in Italy, before proceeding to sketch the history of the Sforza family.
After the wars in Sicily, carried on by the Angevine princes, had ceased (1302), a body of disbanded soldiers, chiefly foreigners, was formed under Fra Ruggieri, a Templar, and swept the South of Italy. Giovanni Villani marks this as the first sign of the scourge which was destined to prove so fatal to the peace of Italy. But it was not any merely accidental outbreak of Banditti, such as this, which established the Condottiere system. The causes were far more deeply seated, in the nature of Italian despotism and in the peculiar requirements of the republics. We have already seen how Frederick II. found it convenient to employ Saracens in his warfare with the Holy See. The same desire to procure troops incapable of sympathizing with the native population induced the Scala and Visconti tyrants to hire German, Breton, Swiss, English, and even Hungarian guards. These foreign troops remained at the disposal of the tyrants and superseded the national militia. The people of Italy were reserved for taxation; the foreigners carried on the wars of the princes. Nor was this policy otherwise than popular. It relieved all classes from the conscription, leaving the burgher free to ply his trade, the peasant to till his fields, and disarming the nobles who were still rebellious and turbulent within the city walls. The same custom gained ground among the Republics. Rich Florentine citizens preferred to stay at home at ease, or to travel abroad for commerce, while they intrusted their military operations to paid generals. Venice, jealous of her own citizens, raised no levies in her immediate territory, and made a rule of never confiding her armies to Venetians. Her admirals, indeed, were selected from the great families of the Lagoons. But her troops were placed beneath the discipline of foreigners. The warfare of the Church, again, had of necessity to be conducted on the same principles; for it did not often happen that a Pope arose like Julius II., rejoicing in the sound of cannon and the life of camps. In this way principalities and republics gradually denationalized their armies, and came to carrying on campaigns by the aid of foreign mercenaries under paid commanders. The generals, wishing as far as possible to render their troops movable and compact, suppressed the infantry, and confined their attention to perfecting the cavalry. Heavy-armed cavaliers, officered by professional captains, fought the battles of Italy; while despots and republics schemed in their castles, or debated in their council-chambers, concerning objects of warfare about which the soldiers of fortune were indifferent. The pay received by men-at-arms was more considerable than that of the most skilled laborers in any peaceful trade. The perils of military service in Italy, conducted on the most artificial principles, were but slight; while the opportunities of self-indulgence—of pillage during war and of pleasure in the brief intervals of peace—attracted all the hot blood of the country to this service. Therefore, in course of time, the profession of Condottiere fascinated the needier nobility of Italy, and the ranks of their men-at-arms were recruited by townsfolk and peasants, who deliberately chose a life of adventure.
At first the foreign troops of the despots were engaged as body-guards, and were controlled by the authority of their employers. But the captains soon rendered themselves independent, and entered into military contracts on their own account. The first notable example of a roving troop existing for the sake of pillage, and selling its services to any bidder, was the so-called Great Company (1343), commanded by the German Guarnieri, or Duke Werner who wrote upon his corselet: 'Enemy of God, of Pity and of Mercy.' This band was employed in 1348 by the league of the Montferrat, La Scala, Carrara, Este, and Gonzaga houses, formed to check the Visconti.
'In the middle of the fourteenth century,' writes Sismondi, 'all the soldiers who served in Italy were foreigners: at the end of the same century they were all, or nearly all, Italian.' This sentence indicates a most important change in the Condottiere system, which took place during the lifetime of Gian Galeazzo Visconti. Alberico da Barbiano, a noble of Romagna, and the ancestor of the Milanese house of Belgiojoso, adopted the career of Condottiere, and formed a Company, called the Company of S. George, into which he admitted none but Italians. The consequence of this rule was that he Italianized the profession of mercenary arms for the future. All the great captains of the period were formed in his ranks, during the course of those wars which he conducted for the Duke of Milan. Two rose to paramount importance—Braccio da Montone, who varied his master's system by substituting the tactics of detached bodies of cavalry for the solid phalanx in which Barbiano had moved his troops; and Sforza Attendolo, who adhered to the old method. Sforza got his name from his great physical strength. He was a peasant of the village of Cotignola, who, being invited to quit the mattock for a sword, threw his pickax into an oak, and cried, 'If it stays there, it is a sign that I shall make my fortune.' The ax stuck in the tree, and Sforza went forth to found a line of dukes. After the death of Barbiano in 1409, Sforza and Braccio separated and formed two distinct companies, known as the Sforzeschi and Bracceschi, who carried on between them, sometimes in combination, but usually in opposition, all the wars of Italy for the next twenty years. These old comrades, who had parted in pursuit of their several advantage, found that they had more to lose than to gain by defeating each other in any bloody or inconveniently decisive engagement. Therefore they adopted systems of campaigning which should cost them as little as possible, but which enabled them to exhibit a chess-player's capacity for designing clever checkmates. Both Braccio and Sforza died in 1424, and were succeeded respectively by Nicolo Piccinino and Francesco Sforza. These two men became in their turn the chief champions of Italy. At the same time other Condottieri rose into notice. The Malatesta family at Rimini, the ducal house of Urbino, the Orsini and the Vitelli of the Roman States, the Varani of Camerino, the Baglioni of Perugia, and the younger Gonzaghi furnished republics and princes with professional leaders of tried skill and independent resources. The vassals of these noble houses were turned into men-at-arms, and the chiefs acquired more importance in their roving military life than they could have gained within the narrow circuit of their little states.
The biography of one of these Condottieri deserves special notice, since it illustrates the vicissitudes of fortune to which such men were exposed, as well as their relations to their patrons. Francesco Carmagnuola was a Piedmontese. He first rose into notice at the battle of Monza in 1412, when Filippo Maria Visconti observed his capacity and bravery, and afterwards advanced him to the captaincy of a troop. Having helped to reduce the Visconti duchy to order, Carmagnuola found himself disgraced and suspected without good reason by the Duke of Milan; and in 1426 he took the pay of the Venetians against his old master. During the next year he showed the eminence of his abilities as a general; for he defeated the combined forces of Piccinino, Sforza, and other captains of the Visconti, and took them prisoners at Macalo. Carmagnuola neither imprisoned nor murdered his foes. He gave them their liberty, and four years later had to sustain a defeat from Sforza at Soncino. Other reverses of fortune followed, which brought upon him the suspicion of bad faith or incapacity. When he returned to Venice, the state received their captain with all honors, and displayed unusual pomp in his admission to the audience of the Council. But no sooner had their velvet clutches closed upon him, than they threw him into prison, instituted a secret impeachment of his conduct, and on May 5, 1432, led him out with his mouth gagged, to execution on the Piazza. No reason was assigned for this judicial murder. Had Carmagnuola been convicted of treason? Was he being punished for his ill success in the campaign of the preceding years? The Republic of Venice, by the secrecy in which she enveloped this dark act of vengeance, sought to inspire the whole body of her officials with vague alarm.
But to return to the Duchy of Milan. Francesco Sforza entered the capital as conqueror in 1450, and was proclaimed Duke. He never obtained the sanction of the Empire to his title, though Frederick III. was proverbially lavish of such honors. But the great Condottiere, possessing the substance, did not care for the external show of monarchy. He ruled firmly, wisely, and for those times well, attending to the prosperity of his states, maintaining good discipline in his cities, and losing no ground by foolish or ambitious schemes. Louis XI. of France is said to have professed himself Sforza's pupil in statecraft, than which no greater tribute could be paid to his political sagacity. In 1466 he died, leaving three sons, Galeazzo, Duke of Milan, the Cardinal Ascanio, and Lodovico, surnamed Il Moro.
'Francesco's crown,' says Ripamonti, 'was destined to pass to more than six inheritors, and these five successions were accomplished by a series of tragic events in his family. Galeazzo, his son, was murdered because of his abominable crimes, in the presence of his people, before the altar, in the middle of the sacred rites. Giovanni Galeazzo, who followed him, was poisoned by his uncle Lodovico. Lodovico was imprisoned by the French, and died of grief in a dungeon. One of his sons perished in the same way; the other, after years of misery and exile, was restored in his childless old age to a throne which had been undermined, and when he died, his dynasty was extinct. This was the recompense for the treason of Francesco to the State of Milan. It was for such successes that he passed his life in perfidy, privation, and danger.' In these rapid successions we trace, besides the demoralization of the Sforza family, the action of new forces from without. France, Germany, and Spain appeared upon the stage; and against these great powers the policy of Italian despotism was helpless.
We have now reached the threshold of the true Renaissance, and a new period is being opened for Italian politics. The despots are about to measure their strength with the nations of the North. It was Lodovico Sforza who, by his invitation of Charles VIII. into Italy, inaugurated the age of Foreign Enslavement. His biography belongs, therefore, to another chapter. But the life of Galeazzo Maria, husband of Bona of Savoy, and uncle by marriage to Charles VIII. of France, forms an integral part of that history of the Milanese despots which we have hitherto been tracing. In him the passions of Gian Maria Visconti were repeated with the addition of extravagant vanity. We may notice in particular his parade-expedition in 1471 to Florence, when he flaunted the wealth extorted from his Milanese subjects before the soberminded citizens of a still free city. Fifty palfreys for the Duchess, fifty chargers for the Duke, trapped in cloth of gold; a hundred men-at-arms and five hundred foot soldiers for a body-guard; five hundred couples of hounds and a multitude of hawks; preceded him. His suite of courtiers numbered two thousand on horseback: 200,000 golden florins were expended on this pomp. Machiavelli (1st. Fior. lib. 7) marks this visit of the Duke of Milan as a turning-point from austere simplicity to luxury and license in the manners of the Florentines, whom Lorenzo de' Medici was already bending to his yoke. The most extravagant lust, the meanest and the vilest cruelty, supplied Galeazzo Maria with daily recreation. He it was who used to feed his victims on abominations or to bury them alive, and who found a pleasure in wounding or degrading those whom he had made his confidants and friends. The details of his assassination, in 1476, though well known, are so interesting that I may be excused for pausing to repeat them here; especially as they illustrate a moral characteristic of this period which is intimately connected with the despotism. Three young nobles of Milan, educated in the classic literature by Montano, a distinguished Bolognese scholar, had imbibed from their studies of Greek and Latin history an ardent thirst for liberty and a deadly hatred of tyrants. Their names were Carlo Visconti, Girolamo Olgiati, and Giannandrea Lampugnani. Galeazzo Sforza had wounded the two latter in the points which men hold dearest—their honor and their property—by outraging the sister of Olgiati and by depriving Lampugnani of the patronage of the Abbey of Miramondo. The spirit of Harmodius and Virginius was kindled in the friends, and they determined to rid Milan of her despot. After some meetings in the garden of S. Ambrogio, where they matured their plans, they laid their project of tyrannicide as a holy offering before the patron saint of Milan. Then having spent a few days in poignard exercise for the sake of training, they took their place within the precincts of S. Stephen's Church. There they received the sacrament and addressed themselves in prayer to the Protomartyr, whose fane was about to be hallowed by the murder of a monster odious to God and man. It was on the morning of December 26, 1476, that the duke entered San Stefano. At one and the same moment the daggers of the three conspirators struck him—Olgiati's in the breast, Visconti's in the back, Lampugnani's in the belly. He cried 'Ah, Dio!' and fell dead upon the pavement. The friends were unable to make their escape; Visconti and Lampugnani were killed on the spot; Olgiati was seized, tortured, and torn to death.
In the interval which elapsed between the rack and the pincers, Olgiati had time to address this memorable speech to the priest who urged him to repent: 'As for the noble action for which I am about to die, it is this which gives my conscience peace; to this I trust for pardon from the Judge of all. Far from repenting, if I had to come ten times to life in order ten times to die by these same torments, I should not hesitate to dedicate my blood and all my powers to an object so sublime.' When the hangman stood above him, ready to begin the work of mutilation, he is said to have exclaimed: Mors acerba, fama perpetua, stabit vetus memora facti—my death is untimely, my fame eternal, the memory of the deed will last for aye.' He was only twenty-two years of age. There is an antique grandeur about the outlines of this story, strangely mingled with medieval Catholicism in the details, which makes it typical of the Renaissance. Conspiracies against rulers were common at the time in Italy; but none were so pure and honorable as this. Of the Pazzi Conjuration (1478) which Sixtus IV. directed to his everlasting infamy against the Medici, I shall have to speak in another place. It is enough to mention here in passing the patriotic attempt of Girolamo Gentile against Galeazzo Sforza at Genoa in 1476, and the more selfish plot of Nicolo d' Este, in the same year, against his uncle Ercole, who held the Marquisate of Ferrara to the prejudice of his own claim. The latter tragedy was rendered memorable by the vengeance taken by Ercole. He beheaded Nicolo and his cousin Azzo together with twenty-five of his comrades, effectually preventing by this bloodshed any future attempt to set aside his title. Falling as these four conspiracies do within the space of two years, and displaying varied features of antique heroism, simple patriotism, dynastic dissension, and ecclesiastical perfidy, they present examples of the different forms and causes of political tragedies with a noteworthy and significant conciseness.
Such was the actual condition of Italy at the end of the fifteenth century. Neither public nor private morality in our sense of the word existed. The crimes of the tyrants against their subjects and the members of their own families had produced a correlative order of crime in the people over whom they tyrannized. Cruelty was met by conspiracy. Tyrannicide became honorable; and the proverb, 'He who gives his own life can take a tyrant's,' had worked itself into popular language. At this point it may be well to glance at the opinions concerning public murder which prevailed in Italy. Machiavelli, in the Discorsi iii. 6, discusses the whole subject with his usual frigid and exhaustive analysis. It is no part of his critical method to consider the morality of the matter. He deals with the facts of history scientifically. The esteem in which tyrannicide was held at Florence is proved by the erection of Donatello's Judith in 1495, at the gate of the Palazzo Pubblico, with this inscription, exemplum salutis publicæ cives posuere. All the political theorists agree that to rid a state of its despot is a virtuous act. They only differ about its motives and its utility. In Guicciardini's Reggimento di Firenze (Op. Ined. vol. ii. pp. 53, 54, 114) the various motives of tyrannicide are discussed, and it is concluded that pochissimi sono stati quelli che si siano mossi meramente per amore della libertà della sua patria, a' quali si conviene suprema laude. Donato Giannotti (Opere, vol. i. p. 341) bids the conspirator consider whether the mere destruction of the despot will suffice to restore his city to true liberty and good government—a caution by which Lorenzino de' Medici in his assassination of Duke Alessandro might have profited; for he killed one tyrant in order only to make room for another. Lorenzino's own Apology (Varchi, vol. iii. pp. 283-295) is an important document, as showing that the murderer of a despot counted on the sympathy of honorable men. So, too, is the verdict of Boscolo's confessor (Arch. Stor. vol. i. p. 309), who pronounced that conspiracy against a tyrant was no crime. Nor did the demoralization of the age stop here. Force, which had been substituted for Law in government, became, as it were, the mainspring of society. Murders, poisoning, rapes, and treasons were common incidents of private as of public life. In cities like Naples bloodguilt could be atoned at an inconceivably low rate. A man's life was worth scarcely more than that of a horse. The palaces of the nobles swarmed with professional cut-throats, and the great ecclesiastics claimed for their abodes the right of sanctuary. Popes sold absolution for the most horrible excesses, and granted indulgences beforehand for the commission of crimes of lust and violence. Success was the standard by which acts were judged; and the man who could help his friends intimidate his enemies, and carve a way to fortune for himself by any means he chose, was regarded as a hero. Machiavelli's use of the word virtù is in this relation most instructive. It has altogether lost the Christian sense of virtue, and retains only so much of the Roman virtus as is applicable to the courage, intellectual ability, and personal prowess of one who has achieved his purpose, be that what it may. The upshot of this state of things was that individuality of character and genius obtained a freer scope at this time in Italy than during any other period of modern history.
At the same time it must not be forgotten that during this period the art and culture of the Renaissance were culminating. Filelfo was receiving the gold of Filippo Maria Visconti. Guarino of Verona was instructing the heir of Ferrara, and Vittorino da Feltre was educating the children of the Marquis of Mantua. Lionardo was delighting Milan with his music and his magic world of painting. Poliziano was pouring forth honeyed eloquence at Florence. Ficino was expounding Plato. Boiardo was singing the prelude to Ariosto's melodies at Ferrara. Pico della Mirandola was dreaming of a reconciliation of the Hebrew, Pagan, and Christian traditions. It is necessary to note these facts in passing; just as when we are surveying the history of letters and the arts, it becomes us to remember the crimes and the madness of the despots who patronized them. This was an age in which even the wildest and most perfidious of tyrants felt the ennobling influences and the sacred thirst of knowledge. Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, the Lord of Rimini, might be selected as a true type of the princes who united a romantic zeal for culture with the vices of barbarians. The coins which bear the portraits of this man, together with the medallions carved in red Verona marble on his church at Rimini, show a narrow forehead, protuberant above bushy eyebrows, a long hooked nose, hollow cheeks, and petulant, passionate, compressed lips. The whole face seems ready to flash with sudden violence, to merge its self-control in a spasm of fury. Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta killed three wives in succession, violated his daughter, and attempted the chastity of his own son. So much of him belongs to the mere savage. He caused the magnificent church of S. Francesco at Rimini to be raised by Leo Alberti in a manner more worthy of a Pagan Pantheon than of a Christian temple. He incrusted it with exquisite bas-reliefs in marble, the triumphs of the earliest Renaissance style, carved his own name and ensigns upon every scroll and frieze and point of vantage in the building, and dedicated a shrine there to his concubine—Divæ Isottæ Sacrum. So much of him belongs to the Neo-Pagan of the fifteenth century. He brought back from Greece the mortal remains of the philosopher Gemistos Plethon, buried them in a sarcophagus outside his church, and wrote upon the tomb this epigraph: 'These remains of Gemistus of Byzantium, chief of the sages of his day, Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, son of Pandolfo, commander in the war against the king of the Turks in the Morea, induced by the mighty love with which he burns for men of learning, brought hither and placed within this chest. 1466.' He, the most fretful and turbulent of men, read books with patient care, and bore the contradictions of pedants in the course of long discussions on philosophy and arts and letters. So much of him belonged to the new spirit of the coming age, in which the zeal for erudition was a passion, and the spell of science was stronger than the charms of love. At the same time, as Condottiere, he displayed all the treasons, duplicities, cruelties, sacrileges, and tortuous policies to which the most accomplished villain of the age could have aspired.
It would be easy, following in the steps of Tiraboschi, to describe the patronage awarded in the fifteenth century to men of letters by princes—the protection extended by Nicholas III. of Ferrara to Guarino and Aurispa—the brilliant promise of his son Leonello, who corresponded with Poggio, Filelfo, Guarino, Francesco Barbaro, and other scholars—the liberality of Duke Borso, whose purse was open to poor students. Or we might review the splendid culture of the court of Naples, where Alfonso committed the education of his terrible son Ferdinand to the care of Lorenzo Valla and Antonio Beccadelli. More insight, however, into the nature of Italian despotism in all its phases may be gained by turning from Milan to Urbino, and by sketching a portrait of the good Duke Frederick. The life of Frederick, Count of Montefeltro, created Duke of Urbino in 1474 by Pope Sixtus IV., covers the better part of the fifteenth century (b. 1422, d. 1482). A little corner of old Umbria lying between the Apennines and the Adriatic, Rimini and Ancona, formed his patrimony. Speaking roughly, the whole duchy was but forty miles square, and the larger portion consisted of bare hillsides and ruinous ravines. Yet this poor territory became the center of a splendid court. 'Federigo,' says his biographer, Muzio, 'maintained a suite so numerous and distinguished as to rival any royal household.' The chivalry of Italy flocked to Urbino in order to learn manners and the art of war from the most noble general of his day. 'His household,' we hear from Vespasiano, 'which consisted of 500 mouths entertained at his own cost, was governed less like a company of soldiers than a strict religious community. There was no gaming nor swearing, but the men conversed with the utmost sobriety.' In a list of the court officers we find forty-five counts of the duchy and of other states, seventeen gentlemen, five secretaries, four teachers of grammar, logic, and philosophy, fourteen clerks in public offices, five architects and engineers, five readers during meals, four transcribers of MSS. The library, collected by Vespasiano during fourteen years of assiduous labor, contained copies of all the Greek and Latin authors then discovered, the principal treatises on theology and church history, a complete series of Italian poets, historiographers, and commentators, various medical, mathematical, and legal works, essays on music, military tactics and the arts, together with such Hebrew books as were accessible to copyists. Every volume was bound in crimson and silver, and the whole collection cost upwards of 30,000 ducats. For the expenses of so large a household, and the maintenance of this fine library, not to mention a palace that was being built and churches that required adornment, the mere revenues of the duchy could not have sufficed. Federigo owed his wealth to his engagements as a general. Military service formed his trade. 'In 1453,' says Dennistoun, 'his war-pay from Alfonso of Naples exceeded 8,000 ducats a month, and for many years he had from him and his son an annual peace-pension of 6,000 in name of past services. At the close of his life, when captain-general of the Italian league, he drew in war 165,000 ducats of annual stipend, 45,000 being his own share; in peace, 65,000 in all.' As a Condottiere, Federigo was famous in this age of broken faith for his plain dealing and sincerity. Only one piece of questionable practice—the capture of Verucchio in 1462 by a forged letter pretending to come from Sigismondo Malatesta—stained his character for honesty. To his soldiers in the field he was considerate and generous; to his enemies compassionate and merciful. 'In military science,' says Vespasiano, 'he was excelled by no commander of his time; uniting energy with judgment, he conquered by prudence as much as by force. The like wariness was observed in all his affairs; and in none of his many battles was he worsted. Nor may I omit the strict observance of good faith, wherein he never failed. All to whom he once gave his word, might testify to his inviolate performance of it.' The same biographer adds that 'he was singularly religious, and most observant of the Divine commands. No morning passed without his hearing mass upon his knees.'
While a boy, Federigo had been educated in the school of Vittorino da Feltre at Mantua. Gian Francesco Gonzaga invited that eminent scholar to his court in 1425 for the education of his sons and daughter, assembling round him subordinate teachers in grammar, mathematics, music, painting, dancing, riding, and all noble exercises. The system supervised by Vittorino included not only the acquisition of scholarship, but also training in manly sports and the cultivation of the moral character. Many of the noblest Italians were his pupils. Ghiberto da Correggio, Battista Pallavicíni, Taddeo Manfredi of Faenza, Gabbriello da Cremona, Francesco da Castiglione, Niccolo Perrotti, together with the Count of Montefeltro, lived in Vittorino's house, associating with the poorer students whom the benevolent philosopher instructed for the love of learning. Ambrogio Camaldolese in a letter to Niccolo Niccoli gives this animated picture of the Mantuan school: 'I went again to visit Vittorino and to see his Greek books. He came to meet me with the children of the prince, two sons and a daughter of seven years. The eldest boy is eleven, the younger five. There are also other children of about ten, sons of nobles, as well as other pupils. He teaches them Greek, and they can write that language well. I saw a translation from Saint Chrysostom made by one of them which pleased me much.' And again a few years later: 'He brought me Giovanni Lucido, son of the Marquis, a boy of about fourteen, whom he has educated, and who then recited two hundred lines composed by him upon the shows with which the Emperor was received in Mantua. The verses were most beautiful, but the sweetness and elegance of his recitation made them still more graceful. He also showed me two propositions added by him to Euclid, which prove how eminent he promises to be in mathematical studies. There was also a little daughter of the Marquis, of about ten, who writes Greek beautifully; and many other pupils, some of noble birth, attended them.' The medal struck by Pisanello in honor of Vittorino da Feltre bears the ensign of a pelican feeding her young from a wound in her own breast—a symbol of the master's self-sacrifice. I hope to return in the second volume of this work to Vittorino. It is enough here to remark that in this good school the Duke of Urbino acquired that solid culture which distinguished him through life. In after years, when the cares of his numerous engagements fell thick upon him, we hear from Vespasiano that he still prosecuted his studies, reading Aristotle's Ethics, Politics, and Physics, listening to the works of S. Thomas Aquinas and Scotus read aloud, perusing at one time the Greek fathers and at another the Latin historians. How profitably he spent his day at Urbino may be gathered from this account of his biographer: 'He was on horseback at daybreak with four or six mounted attendants and not more, and with one or two foot servants unarmed. He would ride out three or four miles, and be back again when the rest of his court rose from bed. After dismounting, he heard mass. Then he went into a garden open at all sides, and gave audience to those who listed until dinner-time. At table, all the doors were open; any man could enter where his lordship was; for he never ate except with a full hall. According to the season he had books read out as follows—in Lent, spiritual works; at other times, the history of Livy; all in Latin. His food was plain; he took no comfits, and drank no wine, except drinks of pomegranate, cherry, or apples.' After dinner he heard causes, and gave sentence in the Latin tongue. Then he would visit the nuns of Santa Chiara or watch the young men of Urbino at their games, using the courtesy of perfect freedom with his subjects. His reputation as a patron of the arts and of learning was widely spread. 'To hear him converse with a sculptor,' says Vespasiano, 'you would have thought he was a master of the craft. In painting, too, he displayed the most acute judgment; and as he could not find among the Italians worthy masters of oil colors, he sent to Flanders for one, who painted for him the philosophers and poets and doctors of the Church. He also brought from Flanders masters in the art of tapestry.' Pontano, Ficino, and Poggio dedicated works of importance to his name; and Pirro Perrotti, in the preface to his uncle's 'Cornucopia,' draws a quaint picture of the reception which so learned a book was sure to meet with at Urbino.But Frederick was not merely an accomplished prince. Concurrent testimony proves that he remained a good husband and a constant friend throughout his life, that he controlled his natural quickness of temper, and subdued the sensual appetites which in that age of lax morality he might have indulged without reproach. In his relations to his subjects he showed what a paternal monarch should be, conversing familiarly with the citizens of Urbino, accosting them with head uncovered, inquiring into the necessities of the poorer artisans, relieving the destitute, dowering orphan girls, and helping distressed shopkeepers with loans. Numerous anecdotes are told which illustrate his consideration for his old servants, and his anxiety for the welfare and good order of his state. At a time when the Pope and the King of Naples were making money by monopolies of corn, the Duke of Urbino filled his granaries from Apulia, and sold bread during a year of scarcity at a cheap rate to his poor subjects. Nor would he allow his officers to prosecute the indigent for debts incurred by such purchases. He used to say: 'I am not a merchant; it is enough to have saved my people from hunger.' We must remember that this excellent prince had a direct interest in maintaining the prosperity and good-will of his duchy. His profession was warfare, and the district of Urbino supplied him with his best troops. Yet this should not diminish the respect due to the foresight and benevolence of a Condottiere who knew how to carry on his calling with humanity and generosity. Federigo wore the Order of the Garter, which Henry VII. conferred on him, the Neapolitan Order of the Ermine, and the Papal decorations of the Rose, the Hat, the Sword. He served three pontiffs, two kings of Naples, and two dukes of Milan. The Republic of Florence and more than one Italian League appointed him their general in the field. If his military career was less brilliant than that of the two Sforzas, Piccinino, or Carmagnuola, he avoided the crimes to which ambition led some of these men and the rocks on which they struck. At his death he transmitted a flourishing duchy, a cultivated court, a renowned name, and the leadership of the Italian League to his son Guidobaldo.
The young Duke, whose court, described by Castiglione, may be said to have set the model of good breeding to all Europe, began life under the happiest auspices. From his tutor Odasio of Padua we hear that even in boyhood he cared only for study and for manly sports. His memory was so retentive that he could repeat whole treatises by heart after the lapse of ten or fifteen years, nor did he ever forget what he had resolved to retain. In the Latin and Greek languages he became an accomplished scholar, and while he appreciated the poets, he showed peculiar aptitude for philosophy and history. But his development was precocious. His zeal for learning and the excessive ardor with which he devoted himself to physical exercises undermined his constitution. He became an invalid and died childless, after exhibiting to his court for many years an example of patience in sickness and of dignified cheerfulness under the restraints of enforced inaction. His wife, Elizabetta Gonzaga, one of the most famous women of her age, was no less a pattern of noble conduct and serene contentment.
Such were the two last princes of the Montefeltro dynasty. It is necessary to bear their virtues in mind while dwelling on the characteristics of Italian despotism in the fifteenth century. The Duchy of Urbino, both as an established dynasty not founded upon violence, and also as a center of really humane culture, formed, it is true, an exception to the rule of Italian tyrannies: yet, if we omitted this state from our calculation, confining our attention to the extravagant iniquities of the Borgia family, or to the eccentricities of the Visconti, or to the dark crimes of the court of Naples, we should gain a false notion of the many-sided character of Italy, in which at that time vices and virtues were so strangely blended. We must never forget that the same society which produced a Filippo Maria Visconti, a Galeazzo Maria Sforza, a Sigismondo Malatesta, a Ferdinand of Aragon, gave birth also to a Lorenzo de' Medici and a Federigo da Montefeltro. It is only by studying the lives of all these men in combination that we can obtain a correct conception of the manifold personality, the mingled polish and barbarism, of the Italian Renaissance.
Some more detailed account of Baldassare Castiglione's treatise Il Cortegiano will form a fitting conclusion to this Chapter on the Despots. It is true that his book was written later than the period we have been considering, and he describes court life in its most graceful aspect. Yet all the antecedent history of the past two centuries had been gradually producing the conditions under which his courtier flourished; and the Italian of the Renaissance, as he appeared to the rest of Europe, was such a gentleman as he depicts. For the historian his book is of equal value in its own department with the Principe of Machiavelli, the Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, and the Diary of Burchard.
In the opening of his 'Cortegiano' Castiglione introduces us to the court of Urbino—refined, chivalrous, witty, cultivated, gentle—confessedly the purest and most elevated court in Italy. He brings together the Duchess Elizabetta Gonzaga; Emilia Pia, wife of Antonio da Montefeltro, whose wit is as keen and active as that of Shakespeare's Beatrice; Pietro Bembo, the Ciceronian dictator of letters in the sixteenth century; Bernardo Bibbiena, Berni's patron, the author of 'Calandra,' whose portrait by Raphael in the Pitti enables us to estimate his innate love of humor; Giuliano de' Medici, Duke of Nemours, of whom the marble effigy by Michael Angelo still guards the tomb in San Lorenzo; together with other knights and gentlemen less known to fame—two Genoese Fregosi, Gasparo Pallavicini, Lodovico, Count of Canossa, Cesare Gonzaga, l' Unico Aretino, and Fra Serafino the humorist. These ladies and gentlemen hold discourse together, as was the custom of Urbino, in the drawing-room of the duchess during four consecutive evenings. The theme of their conversation is the Perfect Courtier. What must that man be who deserves the name of Cortegiano, and how must he conduct himself? The subject of discussion carries us at once into a bygone age. No one asks now what makes the perfect courtier; but in Italy of the Renaissance, owing to the changes from republican to despotic forms of government which we have traced in the foregoing pages, the question was one of the most serious importance. Culture and good breeding, the amenities of intercourse, the pleasures of the intellect, scarcely existed outside the sphere of courts; for one effect of the Revival of Learning had been to make the acquisition of polite knowledge difficult, and the proletariat was less cultivated then than in the age of Dante. Men of ambition who desired to acquire a reputation whether as soldiers or as poets, as politicians or as orators, came to court and served their chosen prince in war or at the council-table, or even in humbler offices of state. To be able, therefore, to conduct himself with dignity, to know how to win the favor of his master and to secure the good-will of his peers, to retain his personal honor and to make himself respected without being hated, to inspire admiration and to avoid envy, to outshine all honorable rivals in physical exercises and the craft of arms, to maintain a credable equipage and retinue, to be instructed in the arts of polite intercourse, to converse with ease and wit, to be at home alike in the tilting-yard, the banquet-hall, the boudoir, and the council-chamber, to understand diplomacy, to live before the world and yet to keep a fitting privacy and distance,—these and a hundred other matters were the climax and perfection of the culture of a gentleman. Courts being now the only centers in which it was possible for a man of birth and talents to shine, it followed that the perfect courtier and the perfect gentleman were synonymous terms. Castiglione's treatise may therefore be called an essay on the character of the true gentleman as he appeared in Italy. Eliminating all qualities that are special to any art or calling, he defines those essential characteristics which were requisite for social excellence in the sixteenth century. It is curious to observe how unchangeable are the laws of real politeness and refinement. Castiglione's courtier is, with one or two points of immaterial difference, a modern gentleman, such as all men of education at the present day would wish to be.
The first requisite in the ideal courtier is that he must be noble. The Count of Canossa, who proposed the subject of debate, lays down this as an axiom. Gaspar Pallavicino denies the necessity. But after a lively discussion, his opinion is overruled, on the ground that, although the gentle virtues may be found among people of obscure origin, yet a man who intends to be a courtier must start with the prestige of noble birth. Next he must be skillful in the use of weapons and courageous in the battle-field. He is not, however, bound to have the special science of a general, nor must he in times of peace profess unique devotion to the art of war: that would argue a coarseness of nature or vainglory. Again, he must excel in all manly sports and exercises, so as, if possible, to beat the actual professors of each game, or feat of skill on their own ground. Yet here also he should avoid mere habits of display, which are unworthy of a man who aspires to be a gentleman and not an athlete. Another indispensable quality is gracefulness in all he does and says. In order to secure this elegance, he must beware of every form of affectation: 'Let him shun affectation, as though it were a most perilous rock; and let him seek in everything a certain carelessness, to hide his art, and show that what he says or does comes from him without effort or deliberation.' This vice of affectation in all its kinds, and the ways of avoiding it, are discussed with a delicacy of insight which would do credit to a Chesterfield of the present century, sending forth his son into society for the first time. Castiglione goes so far as to condemn the pedantry of far-fetched words and the coxcombry of elaborate costumes, as dangerous forms of affectation. His courtier must speak and write with force and freedom. He need not be a purist in his use of language, but may use such foreign phrases and modern idioms as are current in good society, aiming only at simplicity and clearness. He must add to excellence in arms polite culture in letters and sound scholarship, avoiding that barbarism of the French, who think it impossible to be a good soldier and an accomplished student at the same time. Yet his learning should be always held in reserve, to give brilliancy and flavor to his wit, and not brought forth for merely erudite parade. He must have a practical acquaintance with music and dancing; it would be well for him to sing and touch various stringed and keyed instruments, so as to relax his own spirits and to make himself agreeable to ladies. If he can compose verses and sing them to his own accompaniment, so much the better. Finally, he ought to understand the arts of painting and sculpture; for criticism, even though a man be neither poet nor artist, is an elegant accomplishment. Such are the principal qualities of the Cortegiano.
The precepts which are laid down for the use of his acquirements and his general conduct, resolve themselves into a strong recommendation of tact and caution. The courtier must study the nature of his prince, and show the greatest delicacy in approaching him, so as to secure his favor, and to avoid wearying him with importunities. In tendering his advice he must be modest; but he should make a point of never sacrificing his own liberty of judgment. To obey his master in dishonorable things would be a derogation from his dignity; and if he discovers any meanness in the character of the prince, it is better to quit his service. A courtier must be careful to create beforehand a favorable opinion of himself in places he intends to visit. Much stress is laid upon his choice of clothes and the equipment of his servants. In these respects he should aim at combining individuality with simplicity, so as to produce an impression of novelty without extravagance or eccentricity. He must be very cautious in his friendships, selecting his associates with care, and admitting only one or two to intimacy.
In connection with the general subject of tact and taste, the Cardinal Bibbiena introduces an elaborate discussion of the different sorts of jokes, which proves the high value attached in Italy to all displays of wit. It appears that even practical jokes were not considered in bad taste, but that irreverence and grossness were tabooed as boorish. Mere obscenity is especially condemned, though it must be admitted that many jests approved of at that time would now appear intolerable. But the essential point to be aimed at then, as now, was the promotion of mirth by cleverness, and not by mere tricks and clumsy inventions.
In bringing this chapter on Italian Despotism in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries to a conclusion, it will be well to cast a backward glance over the ground which has been traversed. A great internal change took place and was accomplished during this period. The free burghs which flourished in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, gave place to tyrannies, illegal for the most part in their origin, and maintained by force. In the absence of dynastic right, violence and craft were instruments by means of which the despots founded and preserved their power. Yet the sentiments of the Italians at large were not unfavorable to the growth of principalities. On the contrary, the forces which move society, the inner instinct of the nation, and the laws of progress and development, tended year by year more surely to the consolidation of despotisms. City after city lost its faculty for self-government, until at last Florence, so long the center of political freedom, fell beneath the yoke of her merchant princes. It is difficult for the historian not to feel either a monarchical or a republican bias. Yet this internal and gradual revolution in the states of Italy may be regarded neither as a matter for exultation in the cause of sovereignty, nor for lamentation over the decay of liberty. It was but part of an inevitable process which the Italians shared, according to the peculiarities of their condition, in common with the rest of Europe.
In tracing the history of the Visconti and the Sforzas our attention has been naturally directed to the private and political vices of the despot. As a contrast to so much violence and treachery, we have studied the character of one of the best princes produced in this period. Yet it must be borne in mind that the Duke of Urbino was far less representative of his class than Francesco Sforza, and that the aims and notions of Gian Galeazzo Visconti formed the ideal to which an Italian prince of spirit, if he had the opportunity, aspired. The history of art and literature in this period belongs to another branch of the inquiry; and a separate chapter must be devoted to the consideration of political morality as theorized by the Italians at the end of these two centuries of intrigue. But having insisted on the violence and vices of the tyrants, it seemed necessary to close the review of their age by describing the Italian nobleman as court-life made him. Castiglione shows him at the very best: the darker shadows of the picture are omitted; the requirements of the most finished culture and the tone of the purest society in Italy are depicted with the elegance of a scholar and the taste of a true gentleman. The fact remains that the various influences at work in Italy during the age of the despots had rendered the conception of this ideal possible. Nowhere else in Europe could a portrait of so much dignity and sweetness, combining the courage of a soldier with the learning of a student and the accomplishments of an artist, the liberality of freedom with the courtesies of service, have been painted from the life and been recognized as the model which all members of polite society should imitate. Nobler characters and more heroic virtues might have been produced by the Italian commonwealths if they had continued to enjoy their ancient freedom of self-government. Meanwhile we must render this justice to Italian despotism, that beneath its shadow was developed the type of the modern gentleman.