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The History Of Italy
Author: Hallam, Henry
 

 

Part IV



A new generation had risen up in Lombardy since the peace of Constance,
and the prerogatives reserved by that treaty to the empire were so seldom
called into action, that few cities were disposed to recollect their
existence. They denominated themselves Guelfs or Ghibelins, according to
habit, and out of their mutual opposition, but without much reference to the
empire. Those however of the former party, and especially Milan, retained
their antipathy to the house of Suabia. Though Frederic II. was entitled, as
far as established usage can create a right, to the sovereignty of Italy, the
Milanese would never acknowledge him, nor permit his coronation at Monza,
according to ancient ceremony, with the iron crown of the Lombard kings. The
pope fomented, to the utmost of his power, this disaffected spirit, and
encouraged the Lombard cities to renew their former league. This, although
conformable to a provision in the treaty of Constance, was manifestly hostile
to Frederic, and may be considered as the commencement of a second contest
between the republican cities of Lombardy and the empire. But there was a
striking difference between this and the former confederacy against Frederic
Barbarossa. In the league of 1167, almost every city, forgetting all smaller
animosities in the great cause of defending the national privileges,
contributed its share of exertion to sustain that perilous conflict; and this
transient unanimity in a people so distracted by internal faction as the
Lombards is the surest witness to the justice of their undertaking. Sixty
years afterwards, their war against the second Frederic had less of
provocation and less of public spirit. It was in fact a party struggle of
Guelf and Ghibelin cities, to which the names of the church and the empire
gave more of dignity and consistence.

The republics of Italy in the thirteenth century were so numerous and
independent, and their revolutions so frequent, that it is a difficult matter
to avoid confusion in following their history. It will give more arrangement
to our ideas, and at the same time illustrate the changes that took place in
these little states, if we consider them as divided into four clusters or
constellations, not indeed unconnected one with another, yet each having its
own centre of motion and its own boundaries. The first of these we may
suppose formed of the cities in central Lombardy, between the Sessia and the
Adige, the Alps and the Ligurian mountains; it comprehends Milan, Cremona,
Pavia, Brescia, Bergamo, Parma, Piacenza, Mantua, Lodi, Alessandria, and
several others less distinguished. These were the original seats of Italian
liberty, the great movers in the wars of the elder Frederic. Milan was at the
head of this cluster of cities, and her influence gave an ascendency to the
Guelf party; she had, since the treaty of Constance, rendered Lodi and Pavia
almost her subjects, and was in strict union with Brescia and Piacenza.
Parma, however, and Cremona, were unshaken defenders of the empire. In the
second class we may place the cities of the march of Verona, between the Adige
and the frontiers of Germany. Of these there were but four worth mentioning:
Verona, Vicenza, Padua, and Treviso. The citizens of all the four were
inclined to the Guelf interests; but a powerful body of rural nobility, who
had never been compelled, like those upon the Upper Po, to quit their
fortresses in the hilly country, or reside within the walls, attached
themselves to the opposite denomination. ^v Some of them obtained very great
authority in the civil feuds of these four republics; and especially two
brothers, Eccelin and Alberic da Romano, of a rich and distinguished family,
known for its devotion to the empire. By extraordinary vigor and decision of
character, by dissimulation and breach of oaths, by the intimidating effects
of almost unparalleled cruelty, Eccelin da Romano became after some years the
absolute master of three cities, Padua, Verona, and Vicenza; and the Guelf
party, in consequence, was entirely subverted beyond the Adige, during the
continuance of his tyranny. ^w Another cluster was composed of the cities in
Romagna; Bologna, Imola, Faenza, Ferrara, and several others. Of these,
Bologna was far the most powerful, and, as no city was more steadily for the
interests of the church, the Guelfs usually predominated in this class; to
which also the influence of the house of Este not a little contributed.
Modena, though not geographically within the limits of this division, may be
classed along with it from her constant wars with Bologna. A fourth class
will comprehend the whole of Tuscany, separated almost entirely from the
politics of Lombardy and Romagna. Florence headed the Guelf cities in this
province, Pisa the Ghibelin. The Tuscan union was formed, as has been said
above, by Innocent III., and was strongly inclined to the popes; but gradually
the Ghibelin party acquired its share of influence; and the cities of Siena,
Arezzo, and Lucca shifted their policy, according to external circumstances or
the fluctuations of their internal factions. The petty cities in the region
of Spoleto and Ancona hardly perhaps deserve the name of republics; and Genoa
does not readily fall into any of our four classes, unless her wars with Pisa
may be thought to connect her with Tuscany. ^x

[Footnote v: Sismondi, t. ii. p. 222.]

[Footnote w: The cruelties of Eccelin excited universal horror in an age when
inhumanity towards enemies was as common as fear and revenge could make it.
It was an usual trick of beggars, all over Italy, to pretend that they had
been deprived of their eyes or limbs by the Veronese tyrant. There is hardly
an instance in European history of so sanguinary a government subsisting for
more than twenty years. The crimes of Eccelin are remarkably well
authenticated by the testimony of several contemporary writers, who enter into
great details. Most of these are found in the seventh volume of Scriptores
Rerum Italicarum. Sismondi, t. iii. pp. 33, III, 203, is more full than any
of the moderns.]

[Footnote x: I have taken no notice of Piedmont in this division. The history
of that country seems to be less elucidated by ancient or modern writers than
that of other parts of Italy. It was at this time divided between the counts
of Savoy and marquises of Montferrat. But Asti, Chieri, and Turin, especially
the two former, appear to have had a republican form of government. They
were, however, not absolutely independent. The only Piedmontese city that can
properly be considered as a separate state, in the thirteenth century, was
Vercelli; and even there the bishop seems to have possessed a sort of temporal
sovereignty. Denina, author of the Rivoluzioni d'Italia, first printed in
1769, lived to publish in his old age a history of western Italy, of Piedmont,
from which I have gleaned a few facts. - Istoria dell' Italia Occidentale,
Torino, 1809, 6 vols., 8vo.]

After several years of transient hostility and precarious truce, the
Guelf cities of Lombardy engaged in a regular and protracted war with Frederic
II., or more properly with their Ghibelin adversaries. Few events of this
contest deserve particular notive. Neither party ever obtained such decisive
advantages as had alternately belonged to Frederic Barbarossa and the Lombard
confederacy, during the war of the preceding century. A defeat of the
Milanese by the emperor, at Corte Nuova, in 1237, was balanced by his
unsuccessful siege at Brescia the next year. The Pisans assisted Frederic to
gain a great naval victory over the Genoese fleet, in 1241; but he was obliged
to rise from the blockade of Parma, which had left the standard of
Ghibelinism, in 1248. Ultimately, however, the strength of the house of
Suabia was exhausted by so tedious a struggle; the Ghibelins of Italy had
their vicissitudes of success; but their country, and even themselves, lost
more and more of the ancient connection with Germany.

In this resistance to Frederic II. the Lombards were much indebted to the
constant support of Gregory IX. and his successor Innocent IV.; and the Guelf,
or the church party, were used as synonymous terms. These pontiffs bore an
unquenchable hatred to the house of Suabia. No concessions mitigated their
animosity; no reconciliation was sincere. Whatever faults may be imputed to
Frederic, it is impossible for anyone, not blindly devoted to the court of
Rome, to deny that he was iniquitously proscribed by her unprincipled
ambition. His real crime was the inheritance of his ancestors, and the name
of the house of Suabia. In 1239 he was excommunicated by Gregory IX. To this
he was tolerably accustomed by former experience; but the sentence was
attended by an absolution of his subjects from their allegiance, and a formal
deposition. These sentences were not very effective upon men of vigorous
minds, or upon those whose passions were engaged in their cause; but they
influenced both those who feared the threatenings of the clergy and those who
wavered already as to their line of political conduct. In the fluctuating
state of Lombardy the excommunication of Frederic undermined his interests
even in cities like Parma, that had been friendly, and seemed to identify the
cause of his enemies with that of religion - a prejudice artfully fomented by
means of calumnies propagated against himself, and which the conduct of such
leading Ghibelins as Eccelin, who lived in an open defiance of God and man,
did not contribute to lessen. In 1240, Gregory proceeded to publish a crusade
against Frederic, as if he had been an open enemy to religion; which he
revenged by putting to death all the prisoners he made who wore the cross.
There was one thing wanting to make the expulsion of the emperor from the
Christian commonwealth more complete. Gregory IX. accordingly projected, and
Innocent IV. carried into effect, the convocation of a general council. This
was held at Lyons, an imperial city, but over which Frederic could no longer
retain his supremacy. [A.D. 1245.] In this assembly, where one hundred and
forty prelates appeared, the question whether Frederic ought to be deposed was
solemnly discussed; he submitted to defend himself by his advocates; and the
pope in the presence, though without formally collecting the suffrages of the
council, pronounced a sentence, by which Frederic's excommunication was
renewed, the empire and all his kingdoms taken away, and his subjects absolved
from their fidelity. This is the most pompous act of usurpation in all the
records of the church of Rome; and the tacit approbation of a general council
seemed to incorporate the pretended right of deposing kings, which might have
passed as a mad vaunt of Gregory VII. and his successors, with the established
faith of Christendom.

Upon the death of Frederic II. in 1250, he left to his son Conrad a
contest to maintain for every part of his inheritance, as well as for the
imperial crown. But the vigor of the house of Suabia was gone; Conrad was
reduced to fight for the kingdom of Naples, the only succession which he could
hope to secure against the troops of Innocent IV., who still pursued his
family with implacable hatred, and claimed that kingdom as forfeited to its
feudal superior, the Holy See. After Conrad's premature death, which happened
in 1254, the throne was filled by his illegitimate brother Manfred, who
retained it by his bravery and address, in despite of the popes, till they
were compelled to call in the assistance of a more powerful arm.

The death of Conrad brings to a termination that period in Italian
history which we have described as nearly coextensive with the greatness of
the house of Suabia. It is perhaps upon the whole the most honorable to
Italy: that in which she displayed the most of national energy and patriotism.
A Florentine or Venetian may dwell with pleasure upon later times, but a
Lombard will cast back his eye across the desert of centuries, till it reposes
on the field of Legnano. Great changes followed in the foreign and internal
policy, in the moral and military character of Italy. But before we descend to
the next period, it will be necessary to remark some material circumstances in
that which has just passed under our review.

The successful resistance of the Lombard cities to such princes as both
the Frederics must astonish a reader who brings to the story of these middle
ages notions derived from modern times. But when we consider not only the
ineffectual control which could be exerted over a feudal army, bound only to a
short term of service, and reluctantly kept in the field at its own cost, but
the peculiar distrust and disaffection with which many German princes regarded
the house of Suabia, less reason will appear for surprise. Nor did the
kingdom of Naples, almost always in agitation, yield any material aid to the
second Frederic. The main cause, however, of that triumph which attended
Lombardy was the intrinsic energy of a free government. From the eleventh
century, when the cities became virtually republican, they put out those
vigorous shoots which are the growth of freedom alone. Their domestic feuds,
their mutual wars, the fierce assaults of their national enemies, checked not
their strength, their wealth, or their population; but rather as the limbs are
nerved by labor and hardship, the republics of Italy grew in vigor and courage
through the conflicts they sustained. If we but remember what savage license
prevailed during the ages that preceded their rise, the rapine of public
robbers, or of feudal nobles little differing from robbers, the contempt of
industrious arts, the inadequacy of penal laws and the impossibility of
carrying them into effect, we shall form some notion of the change which was
wrought in the condition of Italy by the growth of its cities. In comparison
with the blessings of industry protected, injustice controlled, emulation
awakened, the disorders which ruffled their surface appear slight and
momentary. I speak only of this first stage of their independence, and
chiefly of the twelfth century, before those civil dissensions had reached
their height by which the glory and prosperity of Lombardy was soon to be
subverted.

We have few authentic testimonies as to the domestic improvement of the
free Italian cities, while they still deserve the name. But we may perceive
by history that their power and population, according to their extent of
territory, were almost incredible. In Galvaneus Flamma, a Milanese writer, we
find a curious statistical account of that city in 1288, which, though of a
date about thirty years after its liberties had been overthrown by usurpation,
must be considered as implying a high degree of previous advancement, even if
we make allowance, as probably we should, for some exaggeration. The
inhabitants are reckoned at 200,000; the private houses 13,000; the nobility
alone dwelt in sixty streets; 8,000 gentlemen or heavy cavalry (milites) might
be mustered from the city and its district, and 240,000 men capable of arms: a
force sufficient, the writer observes, to crush all the Saracens. There were
in Milan six hundred notaries, two hundred physicians, eighty schoolmasters,
and fifty transcribers of manuscripts. In the district were one hundred and
fifty castles with adjoining villages. Such was the state of Milan, Flamma
concludes, in 1288; it is not for me to say whether it has gained or lost
ground since that time. ^y At this period the territory of Milan was not
perhaps more extensive than the county of Surrey; ^* it was bounded at a
little distance, on almost every side, by Lodi, or Pavia, or Bergamo, or Como.
It is possible, however, that Flamma may have meant to include some of these
as dependencies of Milan, though not strictly united with it. How flourishing
must the state of cultivation have been in such a country, which not only drew
no supplies from any foreign land, but exported part of their own produce! It
was in the best age of their liberties, immediately after the battle of
Legnano, that the Milanese commenced the great canal which conducts the waters
of the Tesino to their capital, a work very extraordinary for that time.
During the same period the cities gave proofs of internal prosperity that in
many instances have descended to our own observation in the solidity and
magnificence of their architecture. Ecclesiastical structures were perhaps
more splendid in France and England; but neither country could pretend to
match the palaces and public buildings, the streets flagged with stone, the
bridges of the same material, or the commodious private houses of Italy. ^z

[Footnote y: Muratori, Script. Rerum Italic. t. xi. This expression of
Flamma may seem to intimate that Milan had declined in his time, which was
about 1340. Yet as she had been continually advancing in power, and had not
yet experienced any tyrannical government, I cannot imagine this to have been
the case; and the same Flamma, who is a great flatterer of the Visconti, and
has dedicated a particular work to the praises of Azzo, asserts therein that
he had greatly improved the beauty and convenience of the city, though
Brescia, Cremona, and other places had declined. Azarius, too, a writer of
the same age, makes a similar representation. Script. Rer. Ital. t. xvi. pp.
314, 317. Of Luchino Visconti he says Statum Madiolani reintegravit in
tantum, quod non civitas, sed provincia videbatur.]

[Footnote *: Surrey County has an area of 758 sq. m.]

[Footnote z: Sismondi, t. iv. p. 176; Tiraboschi, t. iv. p. 426. See also the
observations of Denina on the population and agriculture of Italy, 1. xiv. c.
9, 10, chiefly, indeed, applicable to a period rather later than that of her
free republics.]

The courage of these cities was wrought sometimes to a tone of insolent
defiance through the security inspired by their means of defence. From the
time of the Romans to that when the use of gunpowder came to prevail, little
change was made, or perhaps could be made, in that part of military science
which relates to the attack and defence of fortified places. We find
precisely the same engines of offence; the cumbrous towers, from which arrows
were shot at the besieged, the machines from which stones were discharged, the
battering-rams which assailed the walls, and the basket-work covering (the
vinea or testudo of the ancients, and the gattus or chat-chateil of the middle
ages) under which those who pushed the battering engines were protected from
the enemy. On the other hand, a city was fortified with a strong wall of
brick or marble, with towers raised upon it at intervals, and a deep moat in
front. Sometimes the antemural or barbacan was added; a rampart of less
height, which impeded the approach of the hostile engines. The gates were
guarded with a portcullis; an invention which, as well as the barbacan, was
borrowed from the Saracens. ^a With such advantages for defence, a numerous
and intrepid body of burghers might not unreasonably stand at bay against a
powerful army; and as the consequences of capture were most terrible, while
resistance was seldom hopeless, we cannot wonder at the desperate bravery of
so many besieged towns. Indeed it seldom happened that one of considerable
size was taken, except by famine or treachery. Tortona did not submit to
Frederic Barbarossa till the besiegers had corrupted with sulphur the only
fountain that supplied the citizens; nor Crema till her walls were overtopped
by the battering engines. Ancona held out a noble example of sustaining the
pressure of extreme famine. Brescia tried all the resources of a skilful
engineer against the second Frederic; and swerved not from her steadiness,
when that prince, imitating an atrocious precedent of his grandfather at the
siege of Crema, exposed his prisoners upon his battering engines to the stones
that were hurled by their fellow-citizens upon the walls. ^b

[Footnote a: Muratori, Antiquit. Ital. Dissert. 26.]

[Footnote b: See these sieges in the second and third volumes of Sismondi.
That of Ancona, t. ii. pp. 145-206, is told with remarkable elegance, and
several interesting circumstances.]

Of the government which existed in the republics of Italy during the
twelfth and thirteenth centuries, no definite sketch can be traced. The
chroniclers of those times are few and jejune; and, as is usual with
contemporaries, rather intimate than describe the civil polity of their
respective countries. It would indeed be a weary task, if it were even
possible, to delineate the constitutions of thirty or forty little states
which were in perpetual fluctuation. The magistrates elected in almost all of
them, when they first began to shake off the jurisdiction of their count or
bishop, were styled consuls; a word very expressive to an Italian ear, since,
in the darkest ages, tradition must have preserved some acquaintance with the
republican government of Rome. ^c The consuls were always annual; and their
office comprehended the command of the national militia in war, as well as the
administration of justice and preservation of public order; but their number
was various; two, four, six, or even twelve. In their legislative and
deliberative councils the Lombards still copied the Roman constitution, or
perhaps fell naturally into the form most calculated to unite sound discretion
with the exercise of popular sovereignty. A council of trust and secrecy
(della credenza) was composed of a small number of persons, who took the
management of public affairs, and may be called the ministers of the state.
But the decision upon matters of general importance, treaties of alliance or
declarations of war, the choice of consuls or ambassadors, belonged to the
general council. This appears not to have been uniformly constituted in every
city; and according to its composition the government was more or less
democratical. An ultimate sovereignty, however, was reserved to the mass of
the people; and a parliament or general assembly was held to deliberate on any
change in the form of constitution. ^d

[Footnote c: Landulf, the younger, whose history of Milan extends from 1094 to
1133, calls himself publicorum officiorum particeps et consulum epistolarum
dictator. Script. Rer. Ital. t. v. p. 486. This is, I believe the earliest
mention of those magistrates. Muratori, Annali d' Italia, A.D. 1107.]

[Footnote d: Muratori, Dissert. 46 and 52. Sismondi, t. i. p. 385.]

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