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The History Of Italy
Author: Hallam, Henry


Part III


The peace of Constance presented a noble opportunity to the Lombards of
establishing a permanent federal union of small republics; a form of
government congenial from the earliest ages to Italy, and that, perhaps, under
which she is again destined one day to flourish. They were entitled by the
provisions of that treaty to preserve their league, the basis of a more
perfect confederacy, which the course of events would have emancipated from
every kind of subjection to Germany. ^l But dark, long-cherished hatreds, and
that implacable vindictiveness which, at least in former ages, distinguished
the private manners of Italy, deformed her national character, which can only
be the aggregate of individual passions. For revenge she threw away the pearl
of great price, and sacrificed even the recollection of that liberty which had
stalked like a majestic spirit among the ruins of Milan. ^m It passed away,
that high disdain of absolute power, that steadiness of self-devotion, which
raised the half-civilized Lombards of the twelfth century to the level of
those ancient republics from whose history our first notions of freedom and
virtue are derived. The victim by turns of selfish and sanguinary factions,
of petty tyrants, and of foreign invaders, Italy has fallen like a star from
its place in heaven; she has seen her harvests trodden down by the horses of
the stranger, and the blood of her children wasted in quarrels not their own:
Conquering or conquered, in the indignant language of her poet, still alike a
slave, ^n a long retribution for the tyranny of Rome.

[Footnote l: Though there was no permanent diet of the Lombard league, the
consuls and podestas of the respective cities composing it occasionally met in
congress to deliberate upon measures of general safety. Thus assembled, they
were called Rectores Societatis Lombardiae. It is evident that, if Lombardy
had continued in any degree to preserve the spirit of union, this congress
might readily have become a permanent body, like the Helvetic diet, with as
extensive powers as are necessary in a federal constitution. - Muratori,
Antichita Italiane, t. iii. p. 126; Dissert. 50; Sismondi, t. ii. p. 189.]

[Footnote m: Anzi girar la liberta mirai,
E baciar lieta ogni ruina, e dire,
Ruine si, ma servitu non mai.

Gaetana Passerini (ossia piutosto Giovan Battista Pastorini,) in Mathias,
Componimenti Lirici. vol. iii. p. 331.]

[Footnote n: Per servir sempre o vincitrice o vinta. - Filicaja.]

Frederic did not attempt to molest the cities of Lombardy in the
enjoyment of those privileges conceded by the treaty of Constance. His
ambition was diverted to a new scheme for aggrandizing the house of Suabia by
the marriage of his eldest son Henry with Constance, the aunt and heiress of
William II., King of Sicily. That kingdom, which the first monarch Roger had
elevated to a high pitch of renown and power, fell into decay through the
misconduct of his son William, surnamed the Bad, and did not recover much of
its lustre under the second William, though styled the Good. His death
without issue was apparently no remote event; and Constance was the sole
legitimate survivor of the royal family. It is a curious circumstance that no
hereditary kingdom appears absolutely to have excluded females from its
throne, except that which from its magnitude was of all the most secure from
falling into the condition of a province. The Sicilians felt too late the
defect of their constitution, which permitted an independent people to be
transferred, as the dowry of a woman, to a foreign prince, by whose ministers
they might justly expect to be insulted and oppressed. Henry, whose marriage
with Constance took place in 1186, and who succeeded in her right to the
throne of Sicily three years afterwards, was exasperated by a courageous but
unsuccessful effort of the Norman barons to preserve the crown for an
illegitimate branch of the royal family; and his reign is disgraced by a
series of atrocious cruelties. The power of the house of Suabia was now at
its zenith on each side of the Alps; Henry received the imperial crown the
year after his father's death in the third crusade, and even prevailed upon
the princes of Germany to elect his infant son Frederic as his successor. But
his own premature decease clouded the prospects of his family: Constance
survived him but a year; and a child of four years old was left with the
inheritance of a kingdom which his father's severity had rendered disaffected,
and which the leaders of German mercenaries in his service desolated and

During the minority of Frederic II., from 1198 to 1216, the papal chair
was filled by Innocent III., a name second only, and hardly second, to that of
Gregory VII. Young, noble, and intrepid, he united with the accustomed spirit
of ecclesiastical usurpation, which no one had ever carried to so high a
point, the more worldly ambition of consolidating a separate principality for
the Holy See in the centre of Italy. The real or spurious donations of
Constantine, Pepin, Charlemagne, and Louis, had given rise to a perpetual
claim, on the part of the popes, to very extensive dominions; but little of
this had been effectuated, and in Rome itself they were thwarted by the
prefect, an officer who swore fidelity to the emperor, and by the
insubordinate spirit of the people. In the very neighborhood the small cities
owned no subjection to the capital, and were probably as much self-governed as
those of Lombardy. One is transported back to the earliest times of the
republic in reading of the desperate wars between Rome and Tibur or Tusculum;
neither of which was subjugated till the latter part of the twelfth century.
At a further distance were the duchy of Spoleto, the march of Ancona, and what
had been the exarchate of Ravenna, to all of which the popes had more or less
grounded pretensions. Early in the last-mentioned age the famous Countess
Matilda, to whose zealous protection Gregory VII. had been eminently indebted
during his long dispute with the emperor, granted the reversion of all her
possessions to the Holy See, first in the lifetime of Gregory, and again under
the pontificate of Paschal III. These were very extensive, and held by
different titles. Of her vast imperial fiefs, Mantua, Modena, and Tuscany,
she certainly could not dispose. The duchy of Spoleto and march of Ancona
were supposed to rest upon a different footing. I confess myself not
distinctly to comprehend the nature of this part of her succession. These had
been formerly among the great fiefs of the kingdom of Italy. But if I
understand it rightly, they had tacitly ceased to be subject to the emperors
some years before they were seized by Godfrey of Lorraine, father-in-law and
stepfather of Matilda. To his son, her husband, she succeeded in the
possession of those countries. They are commonly considered as her allodial
or patrimonial property; yet it is not easy to see how, being herself a
subject of the empire, she could transfer even her allodial estates from its
sovereignty. Nor on the other hand can it apparently be maintained that she
was lawful sovereign of countries which had not long since been imperial
fiefs, and the suzerainty over which had never been renounced. The original
title of the Holy See, therefore, does not seem incontestable even as to this
part of Matilda's donation. But I state with hesitation a difficulty to which
the authors I have consulted do not advert. ^o It is certain, however, that
the emperors kept possession of the whole during the twelfth century, and
treated both Spoleto and Ancona as parts of the empire, notwithstanding
continual remonstrances from the Roman pontiffs. Frederic Barbarossa, at the
negotiations of Venice in 1177, promised to restore the patrimony of Matilda
in fifteen years; but at the close of that period Henry VI. was not disposed
to execute this arrangement, and granted the country in fief to some of his
German followers. Upon his death the circumstances were favorable to Innocent
III. The infant King of Sicily had been intrusted by Constance to his
guardianship. A double election of Philip, brother of Henry VI., and of Otho
Duke of Brunswick, engaged the princes of Germany, who had entirely overlooked
the claims of young Frederic, in a doubtful civil war. Neither party was in a
condition to enter Italy; and the imperial dignity was vacant for several
years, till, the death of Philip removing one competitor, Otho IV., whom the
pope had constantly favored, was crowned emperor. During this interval the
Italians had no superior; and Innocent availed himself of it to maintain the
pretensions of the see. These he backed by the production of rather a
questionable document, the will of Henry VI., said to have been found among
the baggage of Marquard, one of the German soldiers who had been invested with
fiefs by the late emperor. The cities of what was latter called the
ecclesiastical state had in the twelfth century their own municipal government
like those of Lombardy; but they were far less able to assert a complete
independence. They gladly, therefore, put themselves under the protection of
the Holy See, which held out some prospect of securing them from Marquard and
other rapacious partisans, without disturbing their internal regulations.
Thus the duchy of Spoleto and march of Ancona submitted to Innocent III.; but
he was not strong enough to keep constant possession of such extensive
territories, and some years afterwards adopted the prudent course of granting
Ancona in fief to the Marquis of Este. He did not, as may be supposed,
neglect his authority at home; the prefect of Rome was now compelled to swear
allegiance to the pope, which put an end to the regular imperial supremacy
over that city, and the privileges of the citizens were abridged. This is the
proper era of that temporal sovereignty which the bishops of Rome possess over
their own city, though still prevented by various causes, for nearly three
centuries, from becoming unquestioned and unlimited.

[Footnote o: It is almost hopeless to look for explicit information upon the
rights and pretensions of the Roman see in Italian writers even of the
eighteenth century. Muratori, the most learned, and upon the whole, the
fairest of them all, moves cautiously over this ground; except when the claims
of Rome happen to clash with those of the house of Este. But I have not been
able to satisfy myself by the perusal of some dry and tedious dissertations in
St. Marc (Abrege Chronologique de l'Hist. de l'Italie, t. iv.), who, with
learning scarcely inferior to that of Muratori, possessed more opportunity and
inclination to speak out.]

The policy of Rome was now more clearly defined than ever. In order to
preserve what she had thus suddenly gained rather by opportunity than
strength, it was her interest to enfeeble the imperial power, and consequently
to maintain the freedom of the Italian republics. Tuscany had hitherto been
ruled by a marquis of the emperor's appointment, though her cities were
flourishing, and, within themselves, independent. In imitation of the Lombard
confederacy, and impelled by Innocent III., they now (with the exception of
Pisa, which was always strongly attached to the empire) formed a similar
league for the preservation of their rights. In this league the influence of
the pope was far more strongly manifested than in that of Lombardy. Although
the latter had been in alliance with Alexander III., and was formed during the
height of his dispute with Frederic, this ecclesiastical quarrel mingled so
little in their struggle for liberty that no allusion to it is found in the
act of their confederacy. But the Tuscan union was expressly established "for
the honor and aggrandizement of the apostolic see." The members bound
themselves to defend the possessions and rights of the church, and not to
acknowledge any king or emperor without the approbation of the supreme
pontiff. ^p The Tuscans accordingly were more thoroughly attached to the
church party than the Lombards, whose principle was animosity towards the
house of Suabia. Hence, when Innocent III., some time after, supported
Frederic II. against the Emperor Otho IV., the Milanese and their allies were
arranged on the imperial side; but the Tuscans continued to adhere to the

[Footnote p: Quod possessiones et jura sacrosanctae ecclesiae bona fide
defenderent; et quod nullum in regem aut imperatorem reciperent, nisi quem
Romanus pontifex approbaret. Muratori, Dissert. 48. (Latin, t. iv. p. 320;
Italian, t. iii. p. 112.)]

In the wars of Frederic Barbarossa against Milan and its allies, we have
seen the cities of Lombardy divided, and a considerable number of them firmly
attached to the imperial interest. It does not appear, I believe, from
history, though it is by no means improbable, that the citizens were at so
early a time divided among themselves, as to their line of public policy, or
to the Lombard league, was only, as proved afterwards the case, that one
faction or another acquired an ascendency in its councils. But jealousies
long existing between the different classes, and only suspended by the
national struggle which terminated at Constance, gave rise to new
modifications of interests, and new relations towards the empire. About the
year 1200, or perhaps a little later, the two leading parties which divided
the cities of Lombardy, and whose mutual animosity, having no general subject
of contention, required the association of a name to direct as well as
invigorate its prejudices, became distinguished by the celebrated appellations
of Guelfs and Ghibelins; the former adhering to the papal side, the latter to
that of the emperor. These names were derived from Germany, and had been the
rallying word of faction for more than half a century in that country before
they were transported to a still more favorable soil. The Guelfs took their
name from a very illustrious family, several of whom had successively been
dukes of Bavaria in the tenth and eleventh centuries. The heiress of the last
of these intermarried with a younger son of the house of Este, a noble family
settled near Padua, and possessed of great estates on each bank of the lower
Po. They gave birth to a second line of Guelfs, from whom the royal house of
Brunswick is descended. The name of Ghibelin is derived from a village in
Franconia, whence Conrad the Salic came, the progenitor, through females, of
the Suabian emperors. At the election of Lothaire in 1125, the Suabian family
were disappointed of what they considered almost an hereditary possession; and
at this time an hostility appears to have commenced between them and the house
of Guelf, who were nearly related to Lothaire. Henry the Proud, and his son
Henry the Lion, representatives of the latter family, were frequently
persecuted by the Suabian emperors; but their fortunes belong to the history
of Germany. ^q Meanwhile the elder branch, though not reserved for such
glorious destinies as the Guelfs, continued to flourish in Italy; the
marquises of Este were by far the most powerful nobles in eastern Lombardy,
and about the end of the twelfth century began to be considered as the heads
of the church party in their neighborhood. They were frequently chosen to the
office of podesta, or chief magistrate, by the cities of Romagna; and in 1208
the people of Ferrara set the fatal example of sacrificing their freedom for
tranquility, by electing Azzo VII., Marquis of Este, as their lord or
sovereign. ^r

[Footnote q: The German origin of these celebrated factions is clearly proved
by a passage in Otho of Frisingen, who lived half a century before we find the
denomination transferred to Italy. Struvius Corpus Hist. German. p. 378, and
Muratori, A.D. 1152.]

[Footnote r: Sismondi, t. ii. p. 329.]

Otho IV. was son of Henry the Lion, and consequently head of the Guelfs.
On his obtaining the imperial crown, the prejudices of Italian factions were
diverted out of their usual channel. He was soon engaged in a quarrel with
the pope, whose hostility to the empire was certain, into whatever hands it
might fall. In Milan, however, and generally in the cities which had belonged
to the Lombard league against Frederic I., hatred of the house of Suabia
prevailed more than jealousy of the imperial prerogatives; they adhered to
names rather than to principles, and supported a Guelf emperor even against
the pope. Terms of this description, having no definite relation to
principles which it might be troublesome to learn and defend, are always
acceptable to mankind, and have the peculiar advantage of precluding
altogether that spirit of compromise and accommodation, by which it is
sometimes endeavored to obstruct their tendency to hate and injure each other.
From this time, every city, and almost every citizen, gloried in one of these
barbarous denominations. In several cities the imperial party predominated
through hatred of their neighbors, who espoused that of the church. Thus the
inveterate feuds between Pisa and Florence, Modena and Bologna, Cremona and
Milan, threw them into opposite factions. But there was in every one of these
a strong party against that which prevailed, and consequently a Guelf city
frequently became Ghibelin, or conversely, according to the fluctuations of
the time. ^s

[Footnote s: For the Guelf and Ghibelin factions, besides the historians, the
51st dissertation of Muratori should be read. There is some degree of
inaccuracy in his language, where he speaks of these distractions expiring at
the beginning of the fifteenth century. Quel secolo, e vero, abbondo anch'
esso di molte guerre, ma nulla si opero sotto nome o pretesto delle fazioni
suddette. Solamente ritennero esse piede in alcume private famiglie.
Antichita Italiane, t. iii. p. 148. But certainly the names of Guelf and
Ghibelin, as party distinctions, may be traced all through the fifteenth
century. The former faction showed itself distinctly in the insurrection of
the cities subject to Milan, upon the death of Gian Galeazzo Visconti in 1404.
It appeared again in the attempt of the Milanese to reestablish their republic
in 1447. Sismondi, t. ix. p. 334. So in 1477, Ludovico Sforza made use of
Ghibelin prejudices to exclude the regent Bonne of Savoy as a Guelf.
Sismondi, t. xi. p. 79. In the ecclesiastical state the same distinctions
appear to have been preserved still later. Stefano Infessura, in 1487, speaks
familiarly of them. Script. Rer. Ital. t. iii. p. 1221. And even in the
conquest of Milan by Louis XII. in 1500, the Guelfs of that city are
represented as attached to the French party, while the Ghibelins abetted
Ludovico Sforza and Maximilian. Guicciardini, p. 399. Other passages in the
same historian show these factions to have been alive in various parts of

The change to which we have adverted in the politics of the Guelf party
lasted only during the reign of Otho IV. When the heir of the house of Suabia
grew up to manhood, Innocent, who, though his guardian, had taken little care
of his interests, as long as he flattered himself with the hope of finding a
Guelf emperor obedient, placed the young Frederic at the head of an
opposition, composed of cities always attached to his family, and of such as
implicitly followed the see of Rome. He met with considerable success both in
Italy and Germany, and after the death of Otho, received the imperial crown.
But he had no longer to expect any assistance from the pope who conferred it.
Innocent was dead, and Honorius III., his successor, could not behold without
apprehension the vast power of Frederic, supported in Lombardy by a faction
which balanced that of the church, and menacing the ecclesiastical territories
on the other side, by the possession of Naples and Sicily. This kingdom,
feudatory to Rome, and long her firmest ally, was now, by a fatal connection
which she had not been able to prevent, thrown into the scale of her most
dangerous enemy. Hence the temporal dominion which Innocent III. had taken so
much pains to establish became a very precarious possession, exposed on each
side to the attacks of a power that had legitimate pretensions to almost every
province composing it. The life of Frederic II. was wasted in an unceasing
contention with the church, and with his Italian subjects, whom she excited to
rebellions against him. Without inveighing, like the popish writers, against
this prince, certainly an encourager of letters, and endowed with many eminent
qualities, we may lay to his charge a good deal of dissimulation; I will not
add ambition, because I am not aware of any period in the reign of Frederic,
when he was not obliged to act on his defence against the aggression of
others. But if he had been a model of virtues, such men as Honorius III.,
Gregory IX., and Innocent IV., the popes with whom he had successively to
contend, would not have given him respite, while he remained master of Naples,
as well as the empire. ^t

[Footnote t: The rancor of bigoted Catholics against Frederic has hardly
subsided at the present day. A very moderate commendation of him in
Tiraboschi, vol. iv. t. 7, was not suffered to pass uncontradicted by the
Roman editor. And though Muratori shows quite enough prejudice against that
emperor's character, a fierce Roman bigot, whose animadversions are printed in
the 17th volume of his Annals (8vo. edition), flies into paroxysms of fury at
every syllable that looks like moderation. It is well known that, although
the public policy of Rome has long displayed the pacific temper of weakness,
the thermometer of ecclesiastical sentiment in that city stands very nearly as
high as in the thirteenth century. [1810.] Giannone, who suffered for his
boldness, has drawn Frederic II. very favorably, perhaps too favorably, in the
16th and 17th books of the Istoria Civile di Napoli.]

It was the custom of every pope to urge princes into a crusade, which the
condition of Palestine rendered indispensable, or, more properly, desperate.
But this great piece of supererogatory devotion had never yet been raised into
an absolute duty of their station, nor had even private persons been ever
required to take up the cross by compulsion. Honorius III., however, exacted
a vow from Frederic, before he conferred upon him the imperial crown, that he
would undertake a crusade for the deliverance of Jerusalem. Frederic
submitted to this engagement, which perhaps he never designed to keep, and
certainly endeavored afterwards to evade. Though he became by marriage nominal
King of Jerusalem, ^u his excellent understanding was not captivated with so
barren a prospect, and at length his delays in the performance of his vow
provoked Gregory IX. to issue against him a sentence of excommunication. Such
a thunderbolt was not to be lightly regarded; and Frederic sailed, the next
year, for Palestine. But having disdained to solicit absolution for what he
considered as no crime, the court of Rome was excited to still fiercer
indignation against this profanation of a crusade by an excommunicated
sovereign. Upon his arrival in Palestine, he received intelligence that the
papal troops had broken into the kingdom of Naples. No one could rationally
have blamed Frederic, if he had quitted the Holy Land as he found it; but he
made a treaty with the Saracens, which, though by no means so disadvantageous
as under all the circumstances might have been expected, served as a pretext
for new calumnies against him in Europe. The charge of irreligion, eagerly
and successfully propagated, he repelled by persecuting edicts against heresy
that do no great honor to his memory, and availed him little at the time.
Over his Neapolitan dominions he exercised a rigorous government, rendered
perhaps necessary by the levity and insubordination characteristic of the
inhabitants, but which tended, through the artful representations of Honorius
and Gregory, to alarm and alienate the Italian republics.

[Footnote u: The second wife of Frederic was Iolante, or Violante, daughter of
John, count of Brienne, by Maria, eldest daughter and heiress of Isabella,
wife of Conrad, marquis of Montferrat. This Isabella was the youngest
daughter of Almaric or Amaury, king of Jerusalem, and by the deaths of her
brother Baldwin IV., of her eldest sister Sibilla, wife of Guy de Lusignan,
and that sister's child Baldwin V., succeeded to a claim upon Jerusalem,
which, since the victories of Saladin, was not very profitable. It is said
that the kings of Naples deduce their title to that sounding inheritance from
this marriage of Frederic (Giannone, 1. xvi. c. 2); but the extinction of
Frederic's posterity must have, strictly speaking, put an end to any right
derived from him; and Giannone himself indicates a better title by the cession
of Maria, a princess of Antioch, and legitimate heiress of Jerusalem, to
Charles of Anjou in 1272. How far, indeed, this may have been regularly
transmitted to the present King of Naples, I do not know, and am sure that it
is not worth while to inquire.]


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