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The death of Ladislas of Naples (6 August 1414), wrote a contemporary Florentine, “brought release from fear and suspicion to Florence and all other free cities of Italy.” For the remainder of the century the unification of Italy under one ruler lay outside the range of practical politics. The treaties by which Filippo Maria Visconti, in the early years of his rule in Milan, recognised the rights of Venice over Verona and Vicenza, and fixed the rivers Magra and Panaro as the boundaries between “Lombard power and Tuscan liberty,” are typical of the spirit which inspired the relations between the Italian States for the next eighty years. Florence, Milan, and Venice each pursued a policy of expansion and consolidation within their respective spheres of influence, strong enough to check attempts at hegemony on the part of any single power, and at the same time forced to take account of the clearly defined interests of their neighbours.

Florence at this time was from many points of view at the zenith of her power and well-being. Her banking activities permeated the civilised world; the quantity and quality of her cloth ensured her supremacy in the wool-trade; the acquisition of Pisa (1406) and Leghorn (1421) opened out to her new opportunities for maritime commerce; Ghiberti was at work on his first set of bronze doors for the Baptistery, and Brunelleschi’s dome was rising over the Cathedral. Confidence in the regime which had made Florence great, and faith in its capacity to endure, inspired the revision of the statutes which was carried out in 1415. Nothing in the pages of this document suggests that the foundations of the republic were, in fact, already undermined, in that the solidarity of the patrician class, and with it the motive force in the working of the commune, had vanished from the life of the city. For purposes of government Florence was divided into Quartieri, which in 1343 had replaced the earlier Sesti and each Quartiere was further subdivided into four Gonfaloni; the representation of these fractions of the commune in equal numbers formed an essential element in the composition of all councils. The monopoly of political power lay with twenty-one trade-gilds, the fourteen Arti Minori and the seven Arti Maggiori being represented on the chief magistracies, from 1387 onwards, in the proportion of one to four. This further reduction of the power of the lesser gilds, after the settlement of 1882, is one among several instances of a tendency to narrow the basis of government, bred of the fear and suspicions of the leading citizens in whose hands for good or for ill the destinies of Florence lay. The Signoria, composed of the Gonfaloniere di Giustizia and eight Priori, were elected by lot from bags (borse) filled from time to time with sets of names of those qualified for office and representing Quartieri and Arti in their due proportions. Save for the check placed upon it by two advisory bodies, the Collegia the authority of the Signoria during its two-months’ tenure of office was practically unlimited, and embraced every sphere of government. When serious questions were at issue, it was customary to summon the leading citizens to a pratica, the debates which took place at these informal gatherings shew that, whoever might hold office at the moment, the right of a recognised group of ottimati to be consulted on the policy of the republic was undisputed. The two principal legislative councils were the Consiglio del Popolo and the Consiglio del Comune, this last alone among the constitutional bodies not being confined to members of the gilds; their functions were limited to voting without discussion upon the proposals laid before them by the Signoria. On rare occasions a Parlamento of all the citizens was summoned to the Piazza by the ringing of the great bell, but the symbol of democracy had become the means by which the party in power obtained authority to impose its will upon the community. The consent of the Parlamento was sought for the erection of a balía , or commission of reform, and for the delegation to it, for a limited period, of the full powers inherent in the commune. During the lifetime of the balía the ordinary constitution was suspended; it legislated without recourse to the Councils, and appointed Accoppiatori, who refilled the election bags and usually received authority to nominate the Signoria and other magistracies a mano (i.e. not by lot), for a fixed term of years. Outside the main framework of the constitution lay numerous committees appointed, for the most part, by the Signoria. Of these the most important were the Otto della guardia, a committee of public safety, the Sei della Mercantanzia, a board of trade and court for commercial cases with wide international functions, and the Dieci di Guerra e Pace, a temporary committee the appointment of which was tantamount to a declaration of war.

The constitution of Florence as defined by law was a not unworthy embodiment of the ideal of liberty and concord and justice which inspired her citizens. Its most obvious defect, its complication, sprang from an honest attempt to give due recognition to all classes and interests, and, so long as the patrician class remained united, its will prevailed amid changing committees, while short tenure of office enabled each individual popolano to contribute his share to the work of government. But Florence, in words which Machiavelli places in the mouth of Rinaldo d’Albizzi, was “a city in which laws are less regarded than persons.” Despite much lip-service rendered to public spirit, capitalism was destroying the gild organisation, and rival merchant groups sought to capture the machinery of government in their own interests. The ottimati were divided among themselves, and the preservation of unity depended in practice upon the ability of an individual to substitute the authority of a single will for that of the citizen class as a whole.

So long as Maso d’Albizzi lived, the quarrels within the circle of the ottimati were not allowed to come to the surface. Rich, able, and attractive, and endowed with the spirit of civiltà which enabled him to cloak the substance of power under the manners of a citizen, he ruled Florence in the interests of his family and of the Arte della Lana, with which its fortunes were associated. Yet his supremacy was not maintained without drastic purging of the election bags and prolonged persecution of his opponents, the Alberti. With his death in 1417, and that of Gino Capponi four years later, the divisions within the ruling circle became formidable. Niccoló da Uzzano possessed unrivalled authority in the councils and a true patriotism; yet he was growing old, and the only method which he advocated for holding the oligarchy together was to narrow it still further. Of the younger generation, Rinaldo d’Albizzi was a man of high character and conspicuous talent, but he lacked the gifts which had enabled his father to control the city without seeming to do so; an idealist rather than a politician, he disdained to court popularity or to manipulate the constitutional machinery in order to establish his authority, and dreamed of a Florence in which all citizens were equal and offices were awarded according to merit alone. At once touchy and over­bearing, he was inevitably a fomenter of discord, and the friction between himself and Neri Capponi brought strife into the inmost centre of the oligarchy. In 1423 the outbreak of war with Milan made plain the weaknesses of the government, its ineffective diplomacy, its failure to provide a revenue commensurate with its expenses or to convince the majority of citizens that its members were not deriving personal profit from the war. The institution of the Catasto in 1427 was an important step towards the regularisation of taxation and its removal from the sphere of party politics. Every citizen was called upon to make a return of his property, movable and immovable, income being reckoned as seven per cent, of capital; after an allowance of two hundred florins for each member of the household and other recognised charges had been deducted, a tax of one half per cent, was imposed on the capital thus assessed. For all its merits, the new system became a source of digcord. An attempt to impose it upon the subject cities produced rebellion in Volterra, and, within Florence, the rich were aggrieved by the heavy burden laid upon them while the poor were enraged at the realisation of how lightly wealth had escaped hitherto. During these years the problem of civic unity was prominent in the deliberations of responsible citizens. Gino Capponi was not alone in deploring the practice of carrying on the work of government outside the Palazzo Vecchio, in the business-houses and at the supper tables of influential men, as derogatory to the Signoria and an incentive to faction. Groups of citizens were summoned to the Palazzo to swear on the Gospels that they would lay aside enmity and think only of the honour of the republic, and it became necessary to suppress the religious confraternities as centres of political agitation. Eventually the Lex contra scandalosos (1429) provided for a special committee to undertake a biennial denunciation of factious citizens, with power, in conjunction with the Signoria, to impose sentences of exile or disqualification for office. Such a remedy was worse than the disease; as Giuliano Davanzati truly said, in one of the numerous pratiche held on the subject, “the root of this evil which torments us is in our hearts”.

The war with Lucca (1429-33) sealed the fate of the oligarchy. It began as a military adventure of doubtful honesty in which the voices of those who would have opposed it were drowned amid the popular clamour for conquest. It ended in disaster for the Florentine arms, the day of the final battle being kept by Lucca as the festival of her vindicated liberty so long as the republic lasted. Rinaldo d’Albizzi had been among the most ardent promoters of war, and for three months he was actively engaged in the fighting as one of the Florentine Commissaries. After days spent up to his waist in mud, the miseries of sleepless nights enhanced by accusing letters addressed to him by the Died, he returned to Florence to find a scapegoat for his misfortunes in the person of Cosimo de’ Medici. The precise part played by Giovanni de’ Medici and his son Cosimo in the years which preceded the Medicean supremacy cannot easily be determined. It is clear that they were influential, but owing to their deliberate abstention from politics the direction in which their influence was exercised is difficult to trace. The democratic tradi­tions of his family and his own great wealth rendered Giovanni suspect to the oligarchy, yet they found no cause to attack him; indeed their efforts were chiefly directed towards securing his co-operation. His attitude towards the Catasto showed unwillingness to oppose a measure which was popular with those less wealthy citizens who looked on him as their friend, mingled with a natural absence of enthusiasm for an imposition which, with a single exception, fell more heavily on himself than on any other citizen. Before his death (1429) he had won for himself a reputation for wisdom, benevolence, and public spirit, and by strict attention to business he had laid the economic foundations of Medicean greatness. In the course of the war with Lucca the prestige which Cosimo enjoyed in the city became more apparent. His cousin Averardo was a prominent member of the war party, but Cosimo, on his own showing, only supported it because he considered that the honour of Florence had become involved. He won the gratitude of the hard-pressed government by his loans and, as a member of the Died and of the embassy which negotiated peace, he increased his reputation for statesmanship. To Rinaldo, eager to be first in Florence, Cosimo’s seeming indifference to power and popularity, and the ease with which they came to him, could not fail to be a source of bitterness. After Uzzano’s death the two stood out as rivals for supremacy, and in September 1433 Rinaldo launched his attack upon Cosimo in the Signoria. He was accused of being one of the principal authors of the war, and of endeavouring, as his family had endeavoured from 1378 onwards, to bring the city under the Medici yoke, “desiring rather to live according to their own perverse will” than to bow to the laws of the republic. Cosimo returned to Florence from his estates in the Mugello on the summons of the Signoria, and on 7 September he found himself a prisoner in the Palazzo Vecchio. His enemies had the situation in their hands, but they failed to make use of it. A month of delay and discussion followed, in which it was hoped that Cosimo’s business would be ruined by his enforced absence, but which he used to buy himself support. When he exchanged his prison for exile in Venice, the prompt intercession of the Venetian republic on his behalf was not without its effect in Florence. Rinaldo took no steps to extend the power of the balia which had secured his victory, and on its expiry a Signoria favourable to the Medici was elected. At the eleventh hour Rinaldo attempted to secure himself by means of a coup d’ètat, but Pope Eugenius IV, who was resident in Florence at the time, persuaded him to disband his forces. Meanwhile a Parlamento was summoned and a new balía received authority to undo the work of its predecessor. The ban on the Medici was removed, Rinaldo and his sons went into exile, and, on 5 October 1434, Cosimo returned to Florence amid the acclamations of his fellow-citizens.


When the miserable reign of Giovanni Maria Visconti in Milan (1402- 12) was cut short by his assassination, the great duchy ruled over by his father was in fragments. The chief cities had set up despots from among their own nobility, or had been seized by mercenary captains. Giovanni Vignati was lord of Lodi and Piacenza, Cabrino Fondulo ruled in Cremona, Benzoni in Crema, Rusca in Como; one of the late duke’s condottieri, Pandolfo Malatesta, was in possession of Brescia and Bergamo, while Facino Cane, the captain-general of the Milanese forces, not only held Alessandria, Tortona, and Novara, but had made himself arbiter of Milan and its duke. The lack of organic unity in what had appeared, ten years earlier, to be the most highly centralised state in Italy received spectacular demonstration. Meanwhile, internal anarchy was fomented by external enemies who sought to make profit out of the misfortunes of Milan. The Swiss descended upon the Vai d’Ossola and the Vai Levantina; the Marquess of Montferrat made himself master of Vercelli, and the Marquess of Este of Parma and Reggio. Sigismund, King of the Romans, cherished designs for a revival of imperial power in Lombardy, and as a means to this end took under his protection the descendants of BemabòVisconti and other rivals to the authority of the new duke. On his brother’s death, Filippo Maria Visconti was virtually a prisoner in his castle at Pavia, while the leading Ghibelline family, the Beccaria, controlled the city in co-operation with Facino Cane. He was not yet twenty, feeble in health and highly nervous in temperament; yet this morbid recluse, who was reduced to a state of panic by a thunderstorm and shunned contact with his fellows, was endowed with strength of purpose and brain-power which enabled him to perform a feat of statesmanship of the highest order. Beginning with Pavia and Milan, he extended his authority over the cities of the duchy one by one, until his dominions stretched from the Sesia on the west to the Mincio on the east; the recovery of Parma and Piacenza brought Visconti power south of thePo; on the north the Swiss were forced to yield up their conquests, and the keys to the Simplon and the St Gotthard passes were once more in Milanese hands. The conquest of Genoa crowned a decade of achievement and, in 1426, Sigismund set the seal of imperial approval on what had been accomplished when he invested Filippo with the duchy of Milan, renewing the privileges which had been enjoyed by his father.

Ability and good luck, force and diplomacy, fraud and legality, all played their part in the work of reconstruction. Facino Cane’s death, coincident with that of Duke Giovanni, was a stroke of fortune of which Filippo made full use by marrying his widow, and succeeding through her influence to the control of her late husband’s cities. The military successes of these years were largely the work of Carmagnola, whose association with Filippo had begun in Pavia when the former was one of Facino Cane’s captains. Carmagnola’s part, however, consisted mainly in reaping the fruit of his master’s diplomacy. The ducal registers of the period show the thoroughness and variety of Visconti’s diplomatic methods; he treated alternately with the victim of the moment and with his chief enemies, playing on their fears and ambitions and luring each in turn into his net. He was never so dangerous,  as when he appeared to be conciliatory, and both Giovanni Vignati and Cabrino Fondulo learned that investiture, with the title of count, with the city which owned them as lord was the first step towards the forfeiture not only of their city but of their life. When a city was taken over, procurators were at once sent to receive oaths of fealty from representatives of the commune, and from the leading citizens, while the forces of a strong central organisation were directed towards the conquest of particularism. Communal liberties and individual rights were over-ridden, but Filippo was wise enough not to think himself to be infallible, and to take advice on local questions from those better informed than himself. Although the extent of his dominions made it imperative to delegate power to local officers, trusted servants of the duke watched over their proceedings and checked their extortions. The rural population was protected against the oppressions of cities and feudatories and, if need be, Filippo found favour with his subjects by associating himself with their grievances against his own officials. The party rivalries which were still acute in the majority of Lombard cities often afforded a means for the establishment of ducal authority. When this was accomplished, the central government became a mediator between factions, encouraging marriages between rival families, and providing for the election of an equal number of Guelfs and Ghibellines to the city Councils. In 1440, however, mediation gave place to suppression, and a general decree was issued forbidding the use of party names and ordering elections to be made on considerations of merit alone. Intimate as was his association with the dominion, the duke’s first care was for his capital. Under his rule Milan increased in wealth, population, and industry until she became one of the leading cities of Italy. Above all he was an excellent financier, and one of his most conspicuous merits was that of prompt payment for work done. He introduced salutary reforms in taxation, superseding the capricious and interested valuations of special commissions and doing much to mitigate the burden which heavy expenditure and the numerous exemptions, which he found it necessary to grant, undoubtedly imposed upon his subjects. When the Venetians invaded the Milanese, in 1446-47, they were struck with the signs of prosperity which greeted them. Corn, wine, and oil abounded, the people possessed silk and silver, they fared sumptuously and did not know what war was. The testimony of his enemies confirms the general impression derived from internal sources of the beneficence of the rule of the last Visconti.

Amicable relations between Milan and Florence did not long survive Visconti’s acquisition of Genoa. His ambitions in Liguria ran counter to the maritime interests of Pisa, and, by an invasion of Romagna, he entered a sphere which was as vital as the western sea-board to Florentine commerce. In 1423 Florence declared war, and from that time fighting was almost continuous up to the peace of Lodi in 1454. These years constitute the heroic age of the Italian condottiere. From the victory of Alberico da Barbiano and his Compagnia di San Giorgio over the French forces which were threatening Rome in 1379, native Italian companies rapidly established their ascendancy. Alberico’s camp became the cradle of the condottiere system; here Braccio da Montone and Muzio Attendolo—nicknamed Sforza—received their military training and formed one of those soldier friendships which persisted through lifelong rivalry in the field; from thence they went out to found the two most famous among Italian schools of soldiery, and to bequeath to future generations of Bracceschi and Sforzeschi their peculiar loyalties, traditions, and methods. As the native profession of arms developed, all classes and all parts of Italy contributed to its ranks. Members of the lesser feudal nobility and younger sons of great houses made up the larger proportion of the condottieri, but among them were peasants such as Carmagnola, lords of cities such as Gonzaga of Mantua and Malatesta of Rimini, and ecclesiastics, among whom Cardinal Giovanni Vitelleschi is an outstanding example. Umbria produced Braccio, the Piccinini, and Gattamelata; from Romagna came Sforza, Niccolo da Tolentino, and Agnolo della Pergola, and as the century advanced there was hardly a Romagnol lord who did not hold a condotta from one of the larger States. Pacino Cane was a Piedmontese, dal Verme and Colleone were Lombards; scions of great Roman and Neapolitan families—Orsini, Colonna, Sanseverini— fought as mercenary captains in North Italy while retaining their character as southern feudatories. Of recent years condottiere warfare has been rescued from some of the contempt which tradition has cast upon it. There is abundant proof that the Italian soldier of fortune brought to his profession scientific study of the art of war, technical skill of a high order, and boundless enthusiasm. Among the battles of the period remarkable both for fierceness and heavy casualties is the contest between Carmagnola and the Swiss at Arbedo (June 1422), which demonstrated the superiority of Italian arms over a power whose military reputation stood high. Pusillanimous captains, campaigns fought only in summer, bloodless battles are recognised to be the legendary offspring of Machiavelli’s invective rather than the products of history. Nevertheless the system could not fail to be expensive and politically unsound. Forces were multiplied for no other reason than that a ruler could not afford to leave efficient captains free to be bought up by his enemies, and the payment of condotte taxed the resources of even the wealthiest of States. Provision of quarters, in the intervals of campaigns, was a serious problem fox’ prince and captain alike. Filippo Maria Visconti, who understood the art of shifting the responsibility for evils which could not be avoided on to the shoulders of others, ordered that troops should as far as possible be assigned quarters in the fiefs of the condottieri, in order that they, and not the ducal officers, should have to deal with the complaints of the inhabitants against the depredations of the soldiery. When a condottiere acquired a State of his own the problem of quarters found a permanent solution, but from henceforth he had the interests of two States to serve, and, when these clashed, his first concern wtis not for his employer but for himself. Apart from political considerations, moreover, the system had inherent weaknesses which made its disappearance only a question of time. From the condottiere standpoint war was a fine art, an opportunity for the exercise of individual virtù; the heavy cavalryman was of its essence and, until late in the century, the use of fire-arms, save in siege warfare, was looked upon with something of the disfavour accorded to shooting foxes in a hunting neighbourhood. Thus the develop- -ment of artillery and the increasing importance of infantry created a revolution in the art of war to which the system was incapable of adapting itself. It collapsed with the French and Spanish invasions, in common with much else that gave character and distinction to Italian life.

Two campaigns in the Romagna brought disaster to the Florentine forces. Thereupon embassies were sent to Venice to plead that her interests, no less than those of Florence, demanded that the course of the Visconti viper should be checked. Their arguments were reinforced by those of Carmagnola, who had quarrelled with Visconti, chiefly owing to the determination of the latter that he would not be saddled with a second Facino Cane. In the spring of 1425 he came to Venice, there to play what was, in his own opinion, the determining part in her decision to declare war. The hour had struck, however, when Venice could no longer ignore the menace to her mainland dominion created by the growing power of Milan. From the death of Gian Galeazzo Visconti she had been free to conquer and consolidate her territory east of the Mincio without hindrance from her western neighbour. But, although advocates of peace might declare that the hills of the Veronese were the natural frontiers of Venice, it was unlikely that Visconti, who had not hesitated to break the terms of his agreement with Florence when it suited him, would acquiesce in this opinion indefinitely. Thus an extension of Visconti power to the Adriatic came once more within the bounds of possibility, and this for Venice, with a nobility which had invested largely in estates round Padua, a commercial system demanding free access to the Alpine passes, and a population drawing its chief supplies of corn, wine, wood, and fresh water from the mainland, could only mean disaster. Moreover, the subjugation of Genoa had brought Visconti into conflict with Venice in the Levant, where he was active in the promotion of Genoese com­mercial interests, in alliance with the Turk, to the detriment of the Venetians. Under these circumstances the dangers of peace were at least as great as those of war. The words of the Doge Francesco Foscari turned the scale against the peace party in the Venetian Senate, and on 3 December 1425 an offensive league with Florence was signed.

The two first campaigns of the war resulted in important territorial acquisitions for Venice. In 1426 she won Brescia, and in October 1427 Carmagnola’s victory a Maclodio secured for her Bergamo and a frontier which touched the upper waters of the Adda. At this point her advance was checked by Carmagnola’s failure to take Cremona, and the conquest of the whole line of the Adda to its conjunction with the Po remained an unrealised ambition for another seventy years. During these campaigns, Niccold Piccinino, the recognised leader of the Bracceschi, and Francesco Sforza, who had succeeded his father as head of the rival school, fought side by side in the Milanese forces. At their close, Francesco Sforza spent two years in a Milanese prison, while Carmagnola was summoned to Venice for trial and execution as a traitor. The dispassionate progress of Venetian justice, with its sifting of evidence and its ruthless judgment, contrasts with the caprice of the despot who threw Sforza into prison on suspicion, and released him in order to betroth him to his daughter. In 1438, war be­tween Milan and Venice blazed up again with peculiar fierceness. Piccinino led the Milanese, Gattamelata and Colleone fought for Venice, and in 1439 Sforza, twice disappointed of his bride, became captain-general of the Venetian armies. Visconti had at last succeeded in winning over the Marquess of Mantua, and hoped, with his aid, to drive the Venetians from their conquests west of the Mincio. The centre of the fighting was Lago di Garda, a triangle enclosed on two sides by hills and guarded at its southern base by the Mantuan fortress of Peschiera. With the southern route barred to them, the Venetians could only retain contact with Brescia and Bergamo by crossing the lake or by circuitous marches through the northern hills. Their exploits and those of their opponents form the sagas of condottiere biographers, which they tell with a wealth of classical allusion and infectious enthusiasm. Both sides launched a fleet on the lake, the Venetian ships being transported on rollers over the hills from the Adige in mid-winter, a remarkable feat of engineering for which a Venetian naval officer—Niccolò Sorbolò—was responsible. Piccinino succeeded in destroying the enemy fleet, and then sailed up the lake to find himself surrounded by Sforza’s army near Riva. Thereupon he made his escape through the enemy lines, tied up in a sack on the shoulders of a stalwart German, and carried out a surprise attack on Verona. Sforza followed in hot pursuit and retook Verona three days after its fall.

In the following year, the Venetian fleet established its supremacy on the lake, Peschiera fell, and Brescia and Bergamo were relieved. Meanwhile Piccinino made a diversion on Tuscany in conjunction with the Florentine exiles, to be defeated by a Florentine-Papal army at Anghiari (29 June 1440). Some sixty years later Leonardo’s art was engaged to celebrate this victory, which secured Cosimo de’ Medici’s ascendancy in Florence and led to the incorporation of Borgo San Sepolcro and the Casentino in the Florentine dominion. Piccinino’s purpose had been to draw Sforza away from Lombardy, and when this failed he returned to attack him near the Adda. If he had given himself whole-heartedly to fighting, his victory might have been decisive; but his chief concern was to force the Duke of Milan to give him Piacenza, as “a place of his own” in which he might spend his declining years. Other captains made similar requests until Filippo, in disgust, turned to Sforza, offering him the hand of Bianca Maria Visconti with Cremona and Pontremoli as dowry towns, if he would mediate between Milan and Venice. So the long-deferred marriage took place, and the peace of Cavriana was published (10 December 1441). It lasted only until Filippo repented of his action and tried to rob Sforza of the towns which he had recently bestowed upon him. The Venetians rallied in Sforza’s defence, and in 1446 they crossed the Adda and came within sight of Milan. Old and ill, with his finances embarrassed, Filippo pleaded for peace; when this was refused, he sought aid of Alfonso of Aragon and Charles VII of France in turn, and finally threw himself on the mercy of his son-in-law. Despite the quarrels and betrayals of twenty years, both Filippo and Francesco realised that in the last resort their interests were identical. The security and integrity of the Milanese State was vital to both, and neither would allow the other to be ruined. So Francesco gave secret orders that no Venetian soldier was to be allowed inside Cremona, and left his own vanishing dominion in the March of Ancona to come to his father-in-law’s aid; on his way he heard that Filippo Maria Visconti was dead (13 August 1447).

The fate of Milan now lay on the knees of the gods. Frederick III claimed the duchy as a lapsed imperial fief. Aragonese troops were in possession of the Castello, armed with a document in which Filippo named Alfonso of Aragon as his successor. Charles VII, eager for Italian adventure, had responded to Filippo’s appeal for aid by sending troops to occupy Asti; these proclaimed Charles of Orleans, the son of Valentina Visconti, as the rightful heir. The hopes of all aspirants to the throne were, however, frustrated by the proclamation of the Ambrosian Republic. A committee of twenty-four Captains and Defenders of Liberty were chosen from among the leading families to rule the city, the ancient Council of Nine Hundred confirming the election. Within Milan the republic carried all before it. Visconti’s captains threw in their lot with the citizens and drove the Aragonese from the Castello, which was itself destroyed together with many of the ducal registers and tax-books. But the subject cities shewed no inclination to support the new regime, and Venice belied the professions of friendship which she made to the sister republic by occupying Piacenza and Lodi. Faced by the necessity of continuing the war, the Defenders of Liberty invited Francesco Sforza to take service with them. Sforza was naturally ill-pleased with the turn of events in Milan, but his power to take life as it comes stood him in good stead now, as at other crises in his career. He entered the service of the city which he had hoped would receive him as duke, and for the next fourteen months fought with conspicuous success against Venice. When the Defenders of Liberty were about to make peace behind his back, he forestalled them by himself changing sides. Not quite a year later (September 1449), Venice and Milan combined against Sforza in the belief that they would thereby force him to accept their terms, but he defied their expectations and carried on the war single-handed. At this supreme moment of his career he gambled with fortune. He knew that he could not fight Milan and Venice together for long, but he also knew that the Ambrosian Republic was tottering towards its fall. He played high, but he played with judgment and his good luck did not desert him. The Ambrosian Republic failed in respect of two problems of outstanding importance, the maintenance of order and unity within the city and the conduct of the war. A shrunken dominion and a too hasty abolition of taxes rendered the financial problem acute, and the necessity of improvising organs of government, in the place of the ducal council, led to a multiplication of committees which stood in the way of efficiency. Operations in the field were hampered by the mistrust with which the republic quite reasonably regarded its captain-general, yet the reverses which befell Milan after Sforza’s desertion shewed that it could not do without him. Within Milan, the root cause of difficulty lay in the lack of cohesion among the citizens. Party feuds divided the nobility; the people were only united in their opposition to the nobles; although individuals had risen to wealth and eminence in commerce, there was no dominant merchant aristocracy or any one group strong and united enough to rule the city. When the tale of misgovernment was at its height, and Sforza’s besieging army had reduced the city to the last extremities of want, the mob attacked the Court of Arengo, where the Defenders of Liberty were in session, and drove them from office. On 25 February 1450 the assembled citizens agreed to invite Sforza to enter the city as its lord. Thereupon he loaded his soldiers with bread to distribute to the starving people and rode in at the Porta Nuova to be acclaimed as the successor of the Visconti.

Francesco Sforza’s establishment of his authority within the duchy followed naturally and without any real difficulty upon his reception in Milan; the more urgent problem was to secure peace with his enemies and recognition by the Italian powers. His accession was the signal for an offensive alliance between Venice and Alfonso of Aragon, who both saw their ambitions with regard to Milan vanish with Sforza’s success. Against this he could set the personal support and friendship of Cosimo de’ Medici. Although a considerable section of Florentine opinion would have remained faithful to the Venetian alliance, others, and Cosimo among them, held that during the recent wars Tuscan interests had been unfairly subordinated to those of Lombardy, and that Florentine money had been expended in adding to Venetian territory when the prosperity and security of Florence demanded that the power of Venice should be checked. Even before Visconti’s death Cosimo had made up his mind that a strong Milan was the surest guarantee against Venetian domination, and that Sforza possessed the ability to hold the duchy together; so he secretly advised him to come to terms with his father-in-law and gave him financial and diplomatic support throughout his struggle for the throne. The desertion of Venice, to whom Cosimo’s personal debt was great, exposed him to the vengeance of his late ally and to the criticism of his fellow-citizens. Yet, in his opinion, the expulsion of Florentine merchants from Venetian and Neapolitan territory, and the heavy expenditure incurred on Sforza’s behalf, were not too large a price to pay for the maintenance of a balance of power in North Italy, and Cosimo’s opinion was the determining factor in Florentine policy. Owing to Cosimo’s mediation, an alliance was effected between Sforza and Charles VII of France, who was persuaded to make the Angevin claims on Naples, rather than those of Orleans on Milan, the object of French enterprise, and sent Rene of Anjou to Sforza’s aid. Francesco’s need was too great, at the moment, for him to be able to choose his allies, but he was opposed on principle to the encouragement of French intervention. Milan, as he himself said, was destined to serve both as the gateway of foreign princes into Italy and the barrier which lay across their path. After the removal of Rene’s disturbing presence he was determined that the gateway should remain closed. Thus Cosimo and Francesco each made their individual contribution towards the new orientation of Italian policy which was effected during these years. Cosimo’s resolve to stand behind Milan was proof against the war-weariness of Florence and the attempts of Venice to draw him into a separate peace. Francesco, while at one with Cosimo in his determination to maintain friendship with France, was primarily responsible for overcoming the traditional tendency of Florence to combat her Italian rivals by bringing French princes into the field against them. By loyalty to one another, and a readiness to be guided by each other’s judgment, they furthered the propagation of a new ideal of national peace and unity in the face of foreign enemies, of which the firstfruits were seen in the proclamation of a general league between the Italian powers in February 1455.

The peace congress which met in Rome during the winter of 1453-4 failed to reach a conclusion, but Venice, to whom freedom to concentrate her whole strength on the Turkish problem was of vital importance, found, meanwhile, a more effective means of settling her differences with Milan. It was apparently at the suggestion of Paolo Morosini, a Venetian Savio di Terraferma, that Fra Simone da Camerino, Prior of the Augustinians at Padua, was sent privately to Francesco Sforza to treat of peace. Fra Simone was an enthusiast in his cause and, as a Venetian subject and the confessor of the Duke and Duchess of Milan, he was specially qualified for his task. As a result of three separate visits which he paid to Milan, the vexed question of frontiers was decided by the cession of Crema to Venice, the only substantial addition to her territories after over seven years of fighting. These terms were embodied in the Peace of Lodi (9 April 1454), and in August of the same year a defensive league between Milan, Florence, and Venice was concluded. On its ratification, repre­sentatives of the three allied powers journeyed south to carry through the last stage of the negotiations by securing the inclusion of the Papacy and Naples in the league. Alfonso of Aragon proved the most serious obstacle to union. His alliance with Visconti in 1435, when a Genoese naval victory brought him a prisoner to Milan, had been the signal for the revolt of Genoa from Milanese rule, and from that time he had sought to use north Italian dissensions for his own advancement. The solidarity of the northern powers destroyed his hope of becoming in fact what the Milanese ambassador named him—the cock of Italy; only after repeated efforts on his part to divide them did he consent to declare his adherence to the league. The treaty, in the final form in which it was ratified by Nicholas V, bound the five chief States together for twenty-five years against any power, whether Italian or foreign, which might attack them. Each was pledged to contribute specified military forces for mutual de­fence, and, in case of naval warfare, financial aid was guaranteed to Venice by her colleagues. The allies each named their adherents, with the result that, but for Alfonso’s ill-advised refusal to include Genoa and Sigismondo Malatesta of Rimini, the league would have embraced every power in Italy. Questions had arisen with regard to the position of the Emperor, and as to the inclusion of foreign powers, such as France, Burgundy, and the Spanish princes but in the end the league was expressly limited to Italian rulers and Italian territory, a provision which adds some interest to the inclusion of the Swiss Confederation and various Trentino lords among the adherents. A special machinery was set up for dealing with quarrels within the league, each of the five principals appointing representatives to act as conservators of the peace, with power to arbitrate between disputants and to determine the nature of the help to be given to an offended member, if recourse to arms could not be avoided. Both as a genuine effort after peace and in view of its definitely national character the treaty is of considerable significance. If the system which it elaborated only existed on paper, and the peace which it secured was neither absolute nor of long duration, it set up a standard which influenced Italian diplomacy during the next forty years. It bears witness to a factor in the politics of the century which persisted amid deep-seated rivalries, territorial and commercial, to a sense of nationality striving to express itself, and a recognition of common ideals and common dangers tran­scending the particularist interests of the several States.

Alfonso of Aragon followed up his insistence upon the exclusion of Genoa from the league by a declaration of war which had the effect of throwing his enemy into the arms of France. In spite of Sforza’s efforts to preserve her independence, Genoa once more recognised French suzerainty and welcomed John of Anjou as her governor, just a month before the death of Alfonso raised anew the Neapolitan succession question. With Genoa in his hands, Charles VII conceived of conquests which should in­clude the establishment of the Angevin in Naples and the substitution of Orleans for Sforza in Milan. The failure of his schemes is due in large measure to the adherence of the chief Italian powers to the principles of the league. Florence cited her obligations to it, and the fact that her colleagues were pledged to make war on her should she break them, as the reason of her refusal to send help to Anjou; Venice turned a deaf ear to French requests for her support, saying that she wished to be at peace with all the world. Sforza sent his brother to aid Ferrante of Aragon, and himself lent a hand in the overthrow of French rule in Genoa. Faced by this solidarity among the Italian powers, Louis XI decided, soon after his accession, that his path to ascendancy in Italy lay in the conquest not of territory but of men. Already personally friends with Sforza, he determined to attach him to France by investing him with Genoa andSavona. In 1464, Sforza, true to Pius II's conception of him as one who always got what he coveted most, crowned his victorious career by entering Genoa as lord.

Cosimo de’ Medici died in August 1464, and Francesco Sforza in March 1466; the disappearance of these two protagonists of Italian peace and unity could hardly fail to create an atmosphere of unrest, especially as the latter was succeeded by a self-willed young man with little of his father's perspicacity and the former by an invalid. The Pope took Galeazzo Maria Sforza under his protection, but Venice, when challenged on her unfriendly attitude towards Milan, replied that the Italian league no longer existed—Sforza had broken it by accepting the lordship of Genoa. In Florence, the question of the renewal of the Milanese alliance was at issue between Piero de’ Medici and his opponents, and when Piero vindicated his determination to abide by his father's policy, the exiles fled to Venice to throw their weight into the opposite scale. Some ten years earlier Jacopo Piccinino’s attack upon Siena had shewn the power of the unemployed condottiere to act as a destroyer of the peace, and the present situation tempted Bartolomeo Colleone to seek a territory at the expense of Milan and Florence. He was officially dismissed from the service of Venice in order that he might serve her the better, while Federigo of Urbino was sent to oppose him in the name of the league. A spectacular but indecisive contest took place at La Molinella on 25 July 1467, when after ten hours' fighting the two commanders shook hands and congratulated each other on coming unhurt out of the conflict. Colleone's ambitions were, however, foiled by his failure to secure a victory in the field, and the general peace which followed marked a further success for the policy of the league. Thereupon Colleone withdrew to his castle of Malpaga to spend the last years of his life in cultivated splendour.

When, in December 1469, Lorenzo de’ Medici, Piero’s son, assumed the direction of Florentine politics, he found Italy wrapped in profound peace to which the underlying hostility between Milan and Venice seemed to be the only serious menace. In the circumstances, wisdom dictated the cultiva­tion of friendly relations with the latter power, and in 1474 Lorenzo’s efforts resulted in a league between Milan, Florence, and Venice, which the Papacy and Naples were invited to enter. But the precedent of twenty years before was not earned to its conclusion: instead of a general league, there followed an alliance between Ferrante and Sixtus IV; Italy was divided into two camps each viewing the other with suspicion, if not with hostility. It is not easy to account for this change of atmosphere nor for the fact that, four years later, a personal quarrel between Sixtus IV and the Medici set all Italy ablaze. Perhaps the most serious cause of tension was the constant activities of France in Italian politics. Louis XI was prompt either to sow discord between the Italian powers or to act as arbiter in their quarrels, if his influence could thereby be increased or the circle of his adherents enlarged; thus the temptation to use France as a weapon against enemies at home was irresistible, and the knowledge that her power lay behind some transitory combination of Italian rulers gave it an importance which it would not otherwise have possessed. During these years Louis XI’s relations with Florence, Milan, and Venice were peculiarly close; this alone was enough to arouse the fears of Naples, and to incline Ferrante, who had his own rivalries with Venice in the Mediterranean, to make common cause with the Papacy. For some time past Sixtus IV’s activities in the Papal States had run counter to Florentine interests, and in particular the establishment of Girolamo Riario as lord of Imola had been effected against Lorenzos wishes in a sphere of influence which he looked upon as peculiarly his own. His retaliation took the form of measures calculated to ruin the Pazzi bankers, who had financed the sale of Imola, and when to their grievances were added those of Francesco Salviati, the papal nominee to the archbishopric of Pisa, whom Lorenzo had prevented from taking possession of his see, the material for the Pazzi conspiracy was to hand. On Easter Day 1478, in the cathedral of Florence, Giuliano de’ Medici fell a victim to the conspirators, but Lorenzo added to his offences against Sixtus IV the crime of not being murdered, and the hanging of Archbishop Salviati by the infuriated mob furnished a pretext for ecclesiastical censures against Florence and eventually for a declaration of war. Although practically every Italian State was involved and every soldier of repute had a share in the fighting, the real issues were decided by the diplomats rather than by the soldiers. Ferrante helped to bring about a change of government in Milan, whereby Ludovico Sforza, the friend of Naples, supplanted Bona of Savoy and Simonetta as regent for Duke Gian Galeazzo. Ludovico’s rise to power was hailed by Lorenzo de’ Medici as a stepping-stone towards the reconciliation with Naples which he had come to regard as the salvation of Florence. Louis XPs diplomacy had been active throughout in support of his allies, and in November 1479 his agent in Naples reported that the king was disposed to yield to his plea for peace. Thus Lorenzo made his famous journey to Naples when the ground was already prepared, and his persuasive charm, coupled with the logic of the situation, turned Ferrante from an enemy into a friend. Sixtus IV could not fight on alone, and in 1480 peace was restored, only to be broken two years later by the com­bined attack of the Papacy and Venice on Ferrara. Once more foreign intervention exercised a predominating influence on the course of the war. The Spanish monarchs entered the fray as the allies of their Neapolitan cousins, who together with Milan and Florence took arms in defence of Ferrara, and their activities were in part responsible for Sixtus IV’s change of sides. Finding herself isolated, Venice, who had already taken the Duke of Lorraine into her service, issued a double invitation to France: Louis of Orleans was sounded on his intentions with regard to Milan, and the French Crown was urged to undertake an expedition in support of its claims to Naples. This manoeuvre had its desired effect. On 7 August 1484 peace was signed at Bagnolo, and the fertile district of the Polesina passed from Ferrara to Venice.

During the years which followed, the tension between the Italian powers was seldom if ever relaxed. All were aware that the only means of averting foreign intervention lay in ceasing to quarrel among themselves, yet each looked with suspicion on his neighbours and courted opportunities of advancement afforded by another’s weakness. The strongest influence on the side of peace was undoubtedly that of Lorenzo de’ Medici. When the allied powers met at Cremona in 1483, to lay their plans against Venice, his sound judgment and conciliatory temper won for him golden opinions. Florence, from her character as a small non-military State dependent on her commerce, had most to gain from peace, and to the task of smoothing over quarrels, and isolating them when they could not be prevented, Lorenzo devoted his skill and energy during the years of life that remained to him. But for him the Barons’ war in Naples might easily have led to a general conflagration. In 1488, a year of assassinations in Romagna, he constituted himself the champion of the despots—Caterina SforzaRiario, Astorre Manfredi, Giovanni Bentivoglio—determined that rebellion in their cities should not give occasion for the increase of papal or Venetian power. He established complete ascendancy over the mind of Innocent VIII, and did his utmost to restrain Ludovico Sforza, restless and untrustworthy, prone both to give and to take offence. Everywhere and at all times he proved himself the pivot of the Italian State system. Nevertheless, it is doubtful whether, had he lived, he could have saved Italy from catastrophe. The divergence of interests between the chief States was too fundamental to be remedied by diplomacy or to render the balance of power anything but a transitory substitute for political unity. Lorenzo himself did not hesitate to excite the anger of Milan by taking possession of Pietrasanta and Sarzana in the midst of his work for peace. Only deliberate avoidance of armed intervention on the part of Louis XI and Anne of Beaujeu had prevented any one of the quarrels of the last twenty years from culminating in a French invasion, and the breach between Milan and Naples proved fatal, not because it afforded a unique opportunity for intervention, but because Charles VIII was now determined to make use of it. In April 1492, the Florentine agents in Paris and Lyons sent alarming accounts of Charles VIII’s hostile intentions with regard to Naples and of his secret understanding with the envoys of Milan. This was a situation with which Lorenzo’s foreign policy was not framed to deal; a breach with France would defy the tradition of centuries and deprive the declining Florentine wool-trade of its best market, yet to aid France in an attack on Naples would be to destroy the unity among Italian powers which Lorenzo had devoted his best energies to maintaining. Perhaps fortunately for his reputation as a diplomatist he died a few days before the letters reached Florence.


With the return of Cosimo de’ Medici to Florence in 1434 the republic was destroyed as surely as when in some north Italian commune the citizens, with a semblance of legality, conferred supreme power upon a despot. Here no official delegation of authority took place, and Cosimo, his son, and grandson, while they held Florence in the hollow of their hands, lived and died as private citizens. The task to which they devoted themselves with consummate success was, on the one hand, the evolution of constitutional forms more nearly corresponding with the conditions which in fact prevailed, and on the other, the rendering of their rule acceptable to citizens who gloried in the name of liberty and hankered after their vanished powers of self-government even while they consented to their loss. Cosimo’s first care was to break up the oligarchy, and to create in its place a new governing group composed of no one class or interest but of his personal adherents. For the next sixty years the ruling faction in Florence were neither magnati nor popolani Neri nor Bianchi, but Palleschi who made the Medici balls their rallying cry and, unlike the factions of an earlier age, had little to fear from any opposing group. The listof proscriptions which followed Cosimo’s return included the leading families in Florence. Rinaldo d’Albizzi and his sons died in exile, as did Palla Strozzi who, although a member of the balia which recalled Cosimo, was banished as a potential rival. Prominent patrician families were penalised by being made grandi and others of the grandi were granted rights of citizenship. Neri Capponi, who according to Cosimo possessed the best brain in Florence, remained powerful and independent until his death; but the murder of his friend Baldaccio d’Anghiari, a captain of infantry, who was thrown from the window of the Palazzo Vecchio when Neri was enjoying the full flood of his popularity as conqueror of the Casentino, was perhaps intended as a warning that he too was dependent upon Cosimo’s goodwill. Later events added to the number of the exiles who went to seek new homes and fresh commercial openings in Italy and abroad, cherishing their hostility to the Medicean regime but impotent to injure it.

Meanwhile, for those who remained in Florence, support of the Medici brought opportunities for money-making, a system of taxation capable of adjustment to their interests, and a virtual monopoly of political power. An increasing number of citizens enlisted whole-heartedly under a leadership which promised fulfilment of the two ends which lay nearest their hearts, the exaltation of their family and of their city. Until 1480, the control of the Medici over the organs of government was main­tained through the prolongation, on one pretext or another, of successive balfe, which provided for the nomination of the Signoria and other magis­tracies by a committee. These, however, were emergency measures of limited duration, and the demand for a return to the time-honoured system of election by lot was too insistent to be disregarded. When election by lot was revived, it produced results unfavourable to the dominant party; names of friends of the exiles and lukewarm supporters of the Medici were drawn from the election bags, and proposals were brought forward which hampered despotic control. An attempt to revert to normal methods, after the Italian league of 1455, culminated in the chief constitutional crisis of Cosimo’s rule. In 1458 the champions of liberty secured a renewal of the Catasto, and a proposal sent to the Councils for the creation of a new balia was thrown out. The movement was supported by St Antonino, Archbishop of Florence, who wrote a letter in his own hand, which he caused to be affixed to the door of the cathedral, urging the citizens to cling to their right of voting in secret. A gathering of leading citizens thereupon passed a vote of censure on the archbishop and decided to force through the government proposals. Cosimo, however, contrived to remain in the background and to leave to Luca Pitti the championship of an unpopular cause. A balía having been secured by recourse to the Parlamento, it proceeded to appoint Accoppiatori with the duty of nominating to the chief magistracies for seven years, and to institute a new Council of a Hundred, chosen from the supporters of the Medici, to advise on all matters of State with special responsibility with regard to finance. This victory for the dominant faction was marked by an attempt to add to the dignity of the Signoria; the Priori delle arti became Priori di libertà when one more stage had been reached in the destruction of Florentine liberty. Lorenzo had to await the reaction which followed the Pazzi conspiracy for his first real opportunity of modifying the constitu­tion in the direction which he desired. The reforms of 1480 set up a permanent Consiglio di Settanta, consisting of thirty members chosen by the Signoria of the day and forty others chosen by the original thirty; membership was for life and vacancies were filled by co-optation. Two important committees, the Otto di Pratica which conducted foreign affairs and supervised the military forces, and the Dodici Procurators which regulated finance and commerce, were appointed by the Settanta from their own number, as were the Accoppiatori who selected the Signoria. These changes, says Rinuccini, himself a member of the balta which effected them, “contained much that was contrary to the practice of self-government and to the liberty of the people.” Although respect for republican principles is reflected in the provision that the powers of the Settanta must be renewed every five years, its institution marks the final victory of the new oligarchy; the Signoria itself ceased henceforth to be the most coveted office in the republic, and served rather as a training school for the Settanta, which was the sole fount of administrative authority. It remained now for Lorenzo to emancipate himself from the control of his own supporters by a further concentration of power. In 1490 the nomi­nation of the Signoria was entrusted to a committee of seventeen of which Lorenzo was a member, and which received wide powers to act in the interests of the State. Rumour was persistent that Lorenzo only awaited his forty-fifth birthday in order to have himself made Gonfialoniere di Giustizia for life; this would have placed the coping-stone upon the des­potism which had been in process of evolution since 1434, but he died when he was still within a few months of becoming eligible for the official headship of the republic.

The financial administration of the Medici was the aspect of their rule which found least favour with their fellow-citizens. Cosimo’s progressive income-tax was arranged with great technical skill, and with respect for small incomes, but the use which he made of it to despoil his enemies overshadowed its merits. Lorenzo, on the testimony of his great-nephew, “was not very good at business”; neither the affairs of his own bank nor public finance held the first place in his interest. His raids upon the state dowry fund earned for him severe condemnation, and his tampering with the coinage, on the introduction of white guattrw in 1490, was perhaps the most unpopular act of his government. The financial problem was, however, aggravated by declining prosperity. Florentine pre-eminence in the woollen industry was no longer assured; competition was robbing her of the monopoly of her technical processes, and new in­dustrial centres rivalled her in commercial enterprise. The export of cloth fell considerably during the course of the century, and the Arte della Lana employed less labour. A tendency to play for safety and invest in land made capital difficult to obtain for business purposes; trade depression made itself felt in all classes. The acquisition of Pisa and Leghorn did indeed enable Florence to develop her own mercantile marine. Harbour works were carried out and galleys equipped, under the auspices of the consoles maris, and Florentine ships made successful voyages to England and the Levant. But the opportunity for maritime enterprise in the Mediterranean came too late to be used with real profit, and foreign trade was hampered by restrictions on shipping in the interests of Florentine vessels. In these circumstances, and when the activity of Florence in Italian politics added daily to the expenses of government, it is not surprising that taxation was both heavy and insufficient for the re­quirements of State. The money spent by private citizens on building and the arts suggests indeed that the burden imposed was not crushing.

The rule of the Medici not only added to the Florentine dominion, but did much to weld the territory together. Pisa was wooed from the contemplation of her economic subjection to Florence by the prospect of winning fresh laurels as the intellectual centre of the Florentine State and the official seat of the university. Lorenzo was himself a member of the governing body of the university and spared neither money nor trouble upon its development. When a dispute over the ownership of an alum mine goaded Volterra to revolt, it was Lorenzo’s initiative which seized the opportunity to reduce the city by force of arms and rob her of the last remnants of communal autonomy. The sack which followed was a misfortune which his wisdom could only deplore; more characteristic of his methods of reducing a subject city to obedience are his purchases of estates in the neighbourhood and the acquisition of a Volterran abbey for his son Giovanni. Giovanni’s benefices, scattered at strategic points over the territory, were regarded as a means of accumulating landed property for the maintenance of the family fortunes, and of creating centres of Medici influence where they were most needed. His elevation to the cardinalate, at the age of thirteen, is the crowning instance of the exploitation of his calling in the interests of State. When the young cardinal took up his residence in Rome in 1492, the Medici, like the Sforza and the Gonzaga, had their own representative at the Curia, ex­horted by his father to serve as a chain binding the Papacy to Florence, and to use every opportunity of benefiting his city and his house. The inclusion of natives of the subject cities among their personal adherents served a double purpose with regard to the consolidation of Medici power. Devoted servants, like the Dovizi of Bibbiena, created a focus of loyalty to the Medici in their own homes, while they strengthened their control over the governing circle in Florence. The tale of rebellion and loss of territory which followed the fall of the Medici shews the value of the personal link which they created in holding the component parts of the dominion together; at the same time it marks the failure of their efforts to transform it into a single State.

The prestige enjoyed by the Medici, and their friendly relations with the princely families of Italy, contributed alike to the pride and the pleasure of the Florentines. From 1439, when Cosimo as Gonfaloniere di Giustizia welcomed Pope, Patriarch, and Eastern Emperor to Florence for the Council, a stream of great people flowed through the city, to lodge for the most part at the Medici palace and to provide occasions for feasting and pageantry in which all had their share. The May revels of 1459, when Pius II stayed in Florence on his way to the Congress of Mantua—the festivities included a tournament, a wild beast show, and a ball, at which sixty young couples chosen from the best dancers in Florence disported themselves in the Mercato Nuovo—helped to dissipate the ill-feeling aroused during the crisis of the previous year. The tournament which celebrated Lorenzo’s engagement to Clarice Orsini, and the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Milan to Florence in 1471, which sur­passed all previous efforts in magnificence, stand out among a succession of splendid merry-makings. Yet, while they entertained and were entertained as princes, the daily life of the Medici was true to the spirit of civiltà. Franceschetto Cybò was struck with the contrast between the banquets which he had enjoyed as a guest and the homely fare which he shared with the family as a son-in-law. The Medici palace in the Via Larga, although already in Lorenzo’s day a treasure-house which strangers in Florence sought permission to visit, was not the seat of the government, nor was it a court where men of genius were brought together at the will of a prince. It was one of several no less sumptuous homes of citizen families, in which a group of like-minded friends were given wider opportunities for cultivating the gifts and pursuing the interests which were common to hosts and guests alike. Niccolo Niccoli, Marsilio Ficino, Michelozzo, Donatello, and Fra Angelico were Florentine citizens and Cosimo’s personal friends, and it was with and through them that he rendered his chief services to the Renaissance. He chose out Marsilio, the son of his doctor, and provided for his training as the high-priest of Florentine Platonism; he supplied Donatello with models from the antique which inspired his sculpture; Michelozzo was the chief agent for the satis­faction of his passion for building; Niccoli and Fra Angelico represented the scholarship and the mysticism which made their twin appeal to his mind. The work which Michelozzo executed at San Marco includes under one roof the library in which Niccoli’s books were available for public use, and the cell to which Cosimo was wont to withdraw from the world and where Fra Angelico has painted the figure of St Cosmas kneeling at the foot of the cross: it is a witness to Cosimo's identification with the fulness of life in the Florence of his day.

Lorenzo grew up in the atmosphere which his grandfather had helped to create; he was the pupil of the scholars and philosophers whom Cosimo delighted to honour. To the men of the Laurentian age, Poliziano, Botticelli, and their fellows, he was less a patron than one of themselves, inspired by a common vision and striving to give in­dividual expression to it in his art. His power lay in the spontaneity and absorption with which he threw himself into every kind of human activity; his poetry has won for him a place among the great names of Italian literature; he was foremost alike in a carnival riot or in a Platonic disputation, a master in the world of imagination no less than in the world of politics. Moreover, his affections spread beyond the walls of Florence to the life lived in the Medici villas dispersed over the Tuscan countryside, where he had his hawks and his horses, where the Medici ladies saw to the oil and the cheeses, and Cosimo talked of farming as if he never did anything else but farm. Steeped in the traditions and prejudices of their fellow-citizens, and sharing their experiences, it was possible for the Medici to direct the government of Florence with the slightest appearance of despotic authority; but unfailing tact and cease­less attention to detail were necessary in order to keep the balance true. Cosimo must take care that his dearest schemes were put forward in another’s name; Lorenzo must receive instructions from the Otto when he set out on a diplomatic mission, and address the Signoria in language appropriate from a servant of the State to its official head; Piero’s tactlessness and lack of geniality imperilled his position during the five years of his ascendancy. In Italy as a whole, Medicean diplomacy was able, for a time and in a measure, to satisfy the desire for unity without running counter to separatist instinct. Within Florence, Medicean personality made possible the rule of an individual under the forms of a republic. Such a system had in it all the elements of impermanence and compromise. Its achievement was to give, to Florence and to Italy, an interlude of peace in which the spirit of man was set free to create for itself a wonder­land of beauty, more enduring than the political framework from which it sprang.


Francesco Sforza and his successors claimed to rule Milan in virtue of powers conferred on them by the people. At the opening of his reign, a generalassembly of citizens, composed of one member from each household, invested Sforza with the duchy, and confirmed the capitulations to which he had previously pledged himself. Although the right of the commune to delegate its authority to an individual or group, by the grant of a balía, for a limited time and purpose, was universally recognised in Italian law, it is doubtful whether Milan, or any other city, was legally entitled to commit suicide by a permanent surrender of its functions. Consciousness of a defective title explains Francesco’s efforts to obtain a renewal of imperial investiture and, when these failed, his suggestion that the Pope should confirm him in his possession of Milan, negligente imperatore. His internal government rested upon a system of monarchical centralisation tending towards the destruction of the communal institutions which were in theory the source of his authority. On his accession the two branches of the ducal Council, the Consiglio di giustizia and the Consiglio secreto, were revived, as were Visconti’s two finance committees. For the conduct of foreign affairs, he relied chiefly upon Cecco Simonetta, who had been his secretary during his condottiere days; the confidence enjoyed by this upstart Calabrian in matters of State was a constant source of grievance to the Milanese nobility. Francesco was more uncompromising even than the majority of his contemporaries in his vindication of the sovereignty of the State. The capitulations of 1450 provided for the suppression of private jurisdictions and immunities within the duchy, and forbade subjects to accept titles or privileges from Pope or Emperor without the duke’s consent. With regard to the Church, he did not hesitate to plead necessities of State as an excuse for helping himself to the revenues of vacant benefices, and he obtained from successive Popes the right of nominating to bishoprics and abbeys within his dominions. In 1460, Pius II consented to the establishment of an office, with its own register and in charge of a bishop devoted to Sforza’s interests, to examine applications for Milanese benefices and ensure that the successful candidates were acceptable to the secular power. In Milan itself and in Pavia and Cremona, cities with which Francesco’s personal connexion was close, his rule was popular. Benefactions such as the Ospedale Maggiore and the Martesana canal, together with the simple family life lived in the midst of their subjects by the duke and duchess and their eight children, mitigated the discontent caused by high taxation and the building of the Castello Sforzesco. In the outlying cities of the dominion, however, disaffection was rife. An inquiry into the state of the duchy made in 1461 shewed that in the majority of the subject cities the local nobility was definitely hostile, and that ambitious neighbours, such as Borso d’Este and the Marquess of Montferrat, were prompt to encourage the malcontents. The fact that Francesco and his son thought it necessary to maintain an organised system of espionage upon the daily doings of Bartolomeo Colleone indicates their consciousness of the instability of their rule. The accession of Galeazzo Maria and his marriage to Bona of Savoy brought an increase of magnificence to the ducal household, especially after its migration to the newly built Castello. Galeazzo was a villain, but he was by no means an inefficient ruler; he spent freely, but he balanced his budget, and his murder during the Christmas festival of 1476 was prompted by purely private discontents. The vengeance taken by the citizens upon his murderers suggests that Milan as a whole had no serious objection to his rule. His seventy ear-old son was recognised as duke under the guardianship of his mother, while Simonetta carried on the real work of government. Simonetta’s tendency to lean on the Guelfs produced a revival of faction within Milan. The Ghibellines revolted and were supported by the duke’s uncles; from their exile they intrigued against the government, until Ludovico profited by a quarrel between Bona and Simonetta to win admission to the Castello and to become henceforth the arbiter of the duchy (7 September 1479).

The ascendancy of Ludovico il Moro saw the complete development of princely rule. Within a year of his return, Simonetta was brought to the scaffold, and his fall cleared Ludovico’s path for the overthrow of the instruments of his own rise. Prominent Milanese nobles were deprived of their seats on the ducal council; Bona went into forced retirement; even Roberto Sanseverino, the companion of Ludovico’s exile, was not permitted to enjoy the fruits of the victory which he had helped to win. The Consiglio secreto, which had been active under Simonetta, ceased to be the chief organ of administration. Its members, while holding office at the pleasure of the duke, were drawn chiefly from the native aristocracy and possessed some degree of independence. Their place was taken by secretaries, dependent upon Ludovico alone, each of whom had charge of one of the various departments of government—justice, finance, foreign affairs, and the Church. The Council of Nine Hundred met twice under Galeazzo Maria, and confirmed him in possession of the duchy, but it had no place in Ludovico’s system. In 1494, when the death of his nephew from natural causes apparently saved him from the trouble of murdering him, he produced the diploma of investiture which he had bought from Maximilian and ascended the throne as a vassal of the Empire. The development of the duchy during the splendid years of his domination is the measure of the power of a single will to transform the State. His unfettered authority enabled him to gather round him the most distinguished of Renaissance courts, and to stamp every side of life and every corner of his dominion with the impress of his personality. Repossessed in full measure two of the most outstanding qualities of the Renaissance, the spirit of scientific enquiry and sureness of artistic judgment. His peculiar genius is seen in town-planning and irrigation works, in efforts to stamp out the plague, and in improved methods for the cultivation ot the vine and the mulberry. It inspired the promotion of mathematical studies which brought Luca Pacioli of Borgo San Sepolcro to his court. It guided the choice which he made of Bramante of Urbino and Leonardo the Florentine to be his friends and fellow-workers.

Under II Moro’s auspices, Milan reaped in full measure the harvest of her natural resourcesand of the strong government bequeathed toher by the Visconti. Until the Arte della Seta received its statutes from Duke Filippo,the silk industry had been carried on by individuals in their own homes, with a limited output of inferior quality; now it employed 20,000 operatives and formed one of the main sources of revenue. The Milanese armourers, at the height of their fame and prosperity, celebrated II Moro’s marriage by lining the principal street of their quarter with a double row of lay figures clad in specimens of their craft. International commerce was facilitated by the maintenance of consuls at the chief European centres; numerous German merchants had establishments in Milan, and Milanese houses were represented in German cities as well as in London and Bruges. The peculiar contribution made by Milan to Renaissance art is due in large measure to the patronage of the Sforza dukes. From 1450, the two great Visconti foundations of the Cathedral of Milan and the Certosa of Pavia, no less than the Castello Sforzesco, became schools of architecture and sculpture, where native craftsmen gained fresh inspiration from the Florentines introduced by Francesco. Ludovico employed Bramante not only in the capital but throughout the dominion, and in close association with. Lombard masters whose tradition he absorbed and transformed. Francesco brought Foppa of Brescia to Milan to become the dominant influence in painting until the advent of Leonardo. Native artists may have suffered from the overmastering effects of Leonardo’s genius, but he found here opportunity for the exercise of his manifold gifts, together with an atmosphere of understanding criticism which enabled him to work at his ease. The chief glory of II Moro’s court is that it provided the setting in which Leonardo’s art was brought to perfection. The marriage of Gian Galeazzo to Isabella of Aragon in 1489, and that of Ludovico to Beatrice d’Este two years later, while adding to the gaiety and brilliance of the court, introduced into it a spirit of faction which was to prove the source of its destruction. The two women were first cousins and alike clever and self-assertive, yet Isabella’s primacy as duchess was wrested from her by Beatrice. Gian Galeazzo acquiesced readily in his uncle’s domination, apparently preferring it to that of his wife, but she, consumed with the desire to rule, filled the Castello with her lamentations and urged her relatives in Naples to come to her aid. Meanwhile the Guelf nobility and all other elements of opposition to Ludovico’s rule found in championship of the rightful duke the rallying point of their discontents. Gian Giacopo Trivulzio, a prominent Guelf, had already left Milan for Naples, and his presence enabled foreign foes to join hands with rebels at home. Conscious of his vulnerability to attack, Ludovico turned to France, hoping no doubt that a threat of French intervention would serve, as it had done in the past, to avert a crisis. In so doing, he destroyed the foundations upon which, from the days of the last Visconti, the power of Milan had been built. Milan as a barrier against French invaders was the surest guarantee of Italian liberty. Milan as the ally of Charles VIII opened the flood-gates to foreign domination.


The development of princely rule in Florence and Milan had its counter­part in the smaller Italian States. During the course of the century, Este in Ferrara, Gonzaga in Mantua, Bentivoglio in Bologna, Montefeltro in Urbino, and other lesser lords of cities, modified their constitutional position in a monarchical direction, won for themselves a place in the world of Italian politics by marriage alliances and attention to diplomacy, and vied with each other in the transformation of their courts into splendid homes of the Renaissance. Among these the Este lords of Ferrara occupied the first place. A strategic position, long standing as rulers, and conspicuous ability, gave them an importance in fifteenth-century politics out of proportion to the extent of their dominions. Leonello,the pupil of Guarino and the friend of Pisanello and Leon Battista Alberti, made Ferrara famous in the history of learning and the arts. Borso obtained investiture of his fiefs of Modena and Reggio from the Emperor, and in 1471 was made Duke of Ferrara by Paul II. At home he proved himself a master in the art of government, and won for himself a reputation for justice and benevolence which enabled him to concentrate power in his own person amid the enthusiasm of his subjects. Ercole, through his marriage with Leonora of Aragon and other family connexions, and the resident envoys whom he kept at the chief courts, wielded no little influence over the politics of his day. His daughter Isabella, who went to Mantua as a bride in 1490, was heir to his tradition; there, from her cabinet filled with the artistic treasures of her choice, she manipulated the threads of Italian diplomacy and steered her relatives through the troubled waters of the foreign invasions. The position of the Este was perhaps more stable than that of other Italian rulers, but their hold upon Ferrara was menaced by the pretensions of Venice and the Papacy and by rivals within their own family. Ercole was not sure of his throne until he had sent Leonello’s son to the scaffold and made the streets of Ferrara run with blood. When the Castello of Ferrara was at its gayest and most hospitable, the morrow held no certainty for the best loved among Italian princes. In comparison with Ferrara, both Mantua and Urbino were small and poor States; their rulers were soldiers by profession, dependent both tor their revenues and their political importance upon the power to sell their arms to others. It is significant of the opportunities for ad­vancement which the profession of arms afforded that the Gonzaga palace at Mantua, enlarged and beautified out of all recognition by its fifteenth­century owners, and the palace built by Federigo of Montefeltro at Urbino were among the most stately dwelling-houses of the age. Imperial investiture as Marquesses of Mantua and marriages with German princesses gave to the Gonzaga lords of the period a close connexion with the Empire, which they used to augment their authority and influence. Their association with Urbino began when Federigo was a fellow-pupil with Ludovico Gonzaga and his brothers and sisters in Vittorino da Feltre s school, and was strengthened by matrimonial ties and common tastes and interests. Federigo’s high character and gifted personality, together with the charm of his mountain home, make him the most perfect representative of the Italian profession of arms; his death during the war of Ferrara marks the close of condottiere warfare in its most characteristic phase. The rule of the Bentivoglio in Bologna represented a despotism of a different kind. Giovanni I was recognised as fymiwus when he seized supreme power in 1401, but his successors were only the leading members of a city magistracy; Nicholas V’s capitulations (1447) con­ferred sovereign powers upon legate and commune acting jointly. Nevertheless, Sante and Giovanni II exercised an authority which differed little in practice from that of their neighbours; they carried on an independent foreign policy, often in direct opposition to the Papacy, and within Bologna the position of the legate is summed up in Pius II’s aphorism, “legatus qui verius ligatus appellari potuit

Interchange of visits and a steady flow of correspondence kept the ruling families of Italy in close touch with one another, and they acted as a unifying force in politics, which served the interests of the individual citizen. Offices of every kind, from a professorial chair or a post podesta to a bank-clerkship, favours such as facilities for collecting debts or release from imprisonment, were solicited by one lord from another on behalf of his subjects with unremitting energy and eloquence. Although these requests were as often refused as granted, the citizen who had no lord to plead his cause must have suffered under grave disabilities in his dealings with other States. The despot, in short, was an antidote to local exclusiveness, and his activities fostered a belief in his own existence as necessary to the well-being of the community. To this belief the tenets of humanism lent their support. In its reverence for the past and in the homage which it paid to the authority of the expert, it stood for the principles of discipline rather than for those of freedom. The pursuit of learning and the arts offered a means whereby men might be turned from thoughts of self-government, and find fresh forms of self-expression in place of their stifled political activities. Princely rule was exalted as the sphere in which man’s manifold powers could alone find complete develop­ment. Thus the teaching of current philosophy, no less than the trivial incidents of daily life, enabled despotism to strike fresh roots and to undermine the traditions of liberty. At the same time, the tendency on the part of the despots to seek investiture from Pope or Emperor preserved the conception of the medieval Empire, and threw the aegis of feudal tradition over the evolution of the modem State.


When despotism prevailed throughout Italy, and even the republics of Siena and Perugia fell beneath the control of a single citizen before the close of the century, Venice alone remained a strong and well-ordered republic. Her position at the beginning of the century and her history during its course have been authoritatively treated by Dr Horatio Browne. It must suffice here to indicate the characteristics which separate her from the general trend of Italian political development. Amid the failure of communal institutions to meet the requirements which circumstances demanded of them, the Venetian constitution stands out as an example of efficiency and adaptability which responded to every need as it arose, and allowed no power outside itself to supplement its shortcomings. The Maggior Consiglio, since the famous serrata of 1297, was limited to the Venetian patriciate, numbering at this time some fifteen hundred members; yet no antagonism existed between its members and those of the plebeian classes, who found adequate scope'for their political activities in the civil service, and honoured a government which was earned on in their interests. The Maggior Consiglio was the source of all authority in the State, but it understood the art of delegating its powers, and was content to concentrate upon its elective functions, leaving the work of legislation to the Pregadi or Senate. The Collegio was the executive and initiative body, consisting of the heads of government deparments (Savii di Terra Ferma, Savii da Mar) and of six Savii Grandi, one of whom performed what were practically the functions of prime minister for a week at a time. Council, Senate, and College were presided over by the Doge and his six Councillors. The Doge could not act apart from his Councillors, but he alone among Venetian statesmen held office for life; thus the advice which he tendered was formed by ripe experience and his position as visible head of the State ensured him a respectful hearing. In 1310 the Consiglio di Died was instituted “to preserve the liberty and peace of the subjects of the republic and protect them from the abuses of personal power.” For all its wide discretionary authority, it did not supersede the constitution as the creation of a balta superseded it; elected in the Grand Council for six months at a time, it formed part of the ordinary machinery of government and was subject to constitutional control. Admirable as were the constitutional forms of the republic, it was not these which differentiated her most sharply from her neighbours, but rather the spirit which animated her political life. When Savonarola instructed the citizens of Florence on the manner in which they could contribute to the perfecting of popular government, he bade those called to any magistracy or office “love the common good of the city, and laying aside all individual and private interests have an eye to this alone.” It was the glory of Venice that she trained her sons to obey this precept and that the whole-hearted devotion of every Venetian to the service of the republic was expected and rendered. The oligarchy was animated by a common will and purpose, and any signs of independence on the part of an individual or group were ruthlessly suppressed. Moreover, the peculiar history and position of Venice contributed to the maintenance of unity between all classes. Isolation from the main current of Italian politics saved her from their devastating factions. The temperament of the people, bred of the soft air of the lagoons and a seafaring life, rendered them amenable to discipline, and turned their skill and energies towards the practical and the technical rather than towards agitating problems of politics and philosophy. The Church was never allowed to become a rival to the authority of the State. The economic interests of patrician and plebeian were centred in a single commercial system which it was the chief concern of the government to foster. Thus the republic drew its strength from the combined energy of its citizens, which constituted a reserve force from which it could meet the heavy demands made upon its endurance.

At the opening of the fifteenth century Venice had reached the full measure of her powers; her constitution was fixed and her commercial and colonial system was elaborated. A period of almost uninterrupted warfare, with the new responsibilities which her conquests brought, formed the supreme test of Venetian greatness, and of the principles upon which the republic was founded. In 1484, the mainland dominion of Venice stretched from the Isonzo and the Adriatic to the Adda, and from the Alps to the Po. The system of government established in the subject territory strove to preserve local autonomy and at the same time to bind the cities to Venice by the benefits which her rule conferred. Each city retained its own constitution, its council being presided over by the Venetian rettore or podesta who, together with a military officer, acted as representatives of the republic. In Vicenza, where the tradition of liberty was strong, anziani^ elected by the citizens, had the duty of watching the rettore in order to prevent breaches of Vicentine laws and custom. Commissions were sent from time to time to all subject cities in order to enquire into the conduct of the rettore and hear complaints. Taxation was light and mainly indirect, and Venice won general respect from what Harrington has termed “her exquisite justice.” If the local nobility chafed under her control, and the neighbours who were stripped of their territories thirsted for vengeance, the lower classes were unwavering in their allegiance. The strongest vindication of Venetian rule is that, with a few exceptions and save for a brief interval, the cities which fell to her during the fifteenth century remained under her in peace, prosperity, and contentment for three hundred years. In addition to her pre-occupation with the mainland, Venice was engaged in a losing battle for the maintenance of her supremacy in the Levant. Although her successes in naval warfare against the Turk during the early years of the century enabled her to secure a respite from hostilities and free trade and navigation in Turkish dominions, the fall of Constantinople entailed heavy loss of property and the disappearance of the supremacy which she had hitherto enjoyed in the Black Sea. From 1463-79 she fought the Turk single-handed with a courage which refused to be daunted by reverses. She emerged from the struggle with depleted revenues, and losses of territory for which the acquisition of Cyprus afforded only partial compensation. Despite the prolonged strain to which she was subjected, however, Venice had energy to spare for all that promoted the prestige of the city and the wellbeing of its citizens. She secured the removal of the seat of the Patriarch from Grado to the capital, and further strengthened the control of the republic in matters of ecclesiastical jurisdiction and appointment to benefices. Various im­provements were introduced into the judicial system, and a permanent commission was set up to visit the prisons and ameliorate the lot of the prisoners; a ministry of public health was instituted; the arsenal was enlarged. The Venice which Philippe de Commynes visited in 1494 amazed him by its magnificence. Churches, monasteries, gardens, set in the midst of the waters, palaces faced with white marble from Istria, gilded ceilings, carved mantelpieces, gondolas made gay with tapestries, claimed his admiring attention. “C’est la plus triomphante cité que j'aye jamais vue, et qui fait plus d’honneurs à ambassadeurs et estrangers, et qui plus sagement se gouverne, et ou le service de Dieu est le plus solemnellement fait.” His words bear witness to the worth of Venetian achievement, and to the power of the spirit of the commune which had not ceased to animate the life of the city.