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Soldiers of Fortune
The Condottieri

Ain's and the Church were the professions of the Middle Ages. The sprinkling of saints found their vocation in the cloister : men of birth and connection sought luxurious living in episcopal sees and abbeys, richly endowed by piety or superstition and bequests wrung from sinners in the terrors of the death-bed. Sluggish or tranquilly inclined spirits swelled the ranks of the secular and regular clergy. Not unfrequently the professions were confounded. Unfrocked monks became the truculent leaders of robber bands, as nuns, forgetful of their solemn vows, discarded the veil and followed the camp. Alexander de Bourbon, a boy canon of the noblest race, became chief of a swarm of the terrible Ecorcheurs. For war was the profitable and popular trade, a business for which every able-bodied man was adapted. Nor was there ever any lack of occupation. Kings and potentates were always quarrelling or patching up some temporary peace. The formidable feudatories, who recognised a shadowy suzerainty when it served their purposes, were continually breaking out in rebellion and forming leagues against the Crown. Monarchs who could never rely on feudal support enlisted bodies of foreign mercenaries, who paid themselves for the most part by pillage. When disbanded on a truce, they sought service elsewhere, or fought for their own hands like the Smith of the Wynd, and pillaged on their own account. The Peace of Bretigny was a notable case in point : it sent hordes of savage marauders over the length and breadth of the wasted South, called by different names, at different times, and in different languages. Condottieri, Companies, Tardvenus, Ecorcheurs, and Tondeurs who flayed and clipped, were the pestilent scourges of France, Piedmont, and Italy. The wings of the Death-Angel were for ever beating the air, for plague, pestilence, and famine were following in their track. As the seat of the wars was shifted, as when France was swept clean and utterly impoverished, they crossed the Alps or passed by the seaboard into the fertile plains of Italy. Destructive as locusts, they rode through the orange groves of Provence, and the cliffs on the Corniche rung to the hoofs of the war-steeds of the mailed squadrons.

France was for centuries at the point of exhaustion, though then, as now, it showed marvellous recuperative power. Italy, with wealth apparently inexhaustible, became the grand magnet of attraction. There were all the favourable conditions of perpetual strife, and it is amazing how it continued to pay its way and tempt the Free Companies, either by hiring them or raising itself from their ruthless exertions. The Pope, who should have been the Prince of Peace, was continually in the hottest of hot water, the centre of intrigue and the soul of some league of defence or aggression. The land was split up into petty principalities or more or less flourishing republics, and from the Alps to the Adriatic it was divided against itself. Scarcely a city but had its embittered factions, alternately pro-scribed, exiled, and recalled, or the citizens were in revolt against the aristocracy, when all were having recourse to the inevitable mercenary, who dictated his terms and rigorously exacted them.

It was towards the middle of the thirteenth century that the Condotticri began to organise themselves. Their precursor was a famous or infamous soldier of fortune, who can scarcely be strictly classed among their leaders. Walter de Brienne, titular Duke of Athens, had centred energies and ambitions on the mastership of Florence. His first appearance on the scene was as lieutenant of the Duke of Calabria, the son of the King of Naples. Born in Greece, he was descended from the high-born Crusaders who had carved themselves out principalities in the East. Penniless as his namesake, who had headed the unfortunate rabble of the First Crusade, he was the banished heir of a father who had lost the duchy of Athens to the Catalonians. Neither in looks nor character had he anything to recommend him. He was slight of frame and repulsive in features, but to more than Italian craft he united indomitable courage : he had no ordinary talent for war, and grasping avarice stimulated daring ambition. Scruples he had none, and to avarice and ambition he sacrificed his allies as lightly as his enemies. His second appearance on the stage of history was in 1340, when the Florentines and Pisans were at deadly feud. By dash, daring, and intrigue he undermined and superseded Malatesta, a veteran leader, come of a fighting-family, who was then in command of the Florentine army. The Florentines thought they had found a man at last, and made him Chief Justiciary and Captain of the people. Like Tarquin with the poppies, he abused the double offices to strike off the noblest heads, and the reign of terror recommended him to the populace rather than otherwise. He secured the Lordship at which he had aimed, though Florence had never before conferred it on a foreigner, and, had he exercised his authority with moderation, might have sat securely in his seat. But exactions, atrocities, and unbridled libertinage hatched a succession of formidable conspiracies, making the armed populace ready for an entente. The Podesta was blockaded in his palace, which he held with 400 Burgundian soldiers, till he came to terms with the town. He was suffered to go free, taking his treasure with him, characteristically robbing of their pay the gallant warriors who had stood so staunchly by his cause. But his brief tyranny had drained Florence of her accumulated wealth, and his fall had cost her all her recent conquests.

The result was the rise of the roving companies. To him succeeded Werner — Italianised into Guarinci — a German adventurer. The Pisans, relieved of their fear of Florence, had disbanded the German lances who had been their salvation. Guarinci conceived the brilliant idea of keeping them together as an independent force of brigands. He assured them the regular pay he pledged himself to provide. It was to be raised by terrorising and levying contributions. The divisions of petty princes and hostile republics were his opportunities. In audacious blasphemy he displayed on his breast a placard, declaring him the enemy of God, of pity, and of mercy; and as to that he kept his promises honourably. He began with Sienna, a comparatively powerful state, and from Sienna he accepted a comparatively moderate ransom, to serve as an advertisement and warning. Weaker principalities succumbed at the first summons. He ravaged Perugia, Romagna, and the Patrimony of St. Peter. Princes and nobles paid him off to attack their feudal enemies, though only gaining some short reprieve till he turned his arms against themselves.

In 1347 Guarinci was so strong that he led Queen Jane of Naples back in triumph to her rebellious capital. Taken prisoner by the changing fortunes of the war, he passed into the service of the King of 'Hungary. He lost nothing by changing sides, for Louis of Tarento had withdrawn in despair, and his armies had free license to pillage everywhere. The papal legate had bought the Company off, paying a heavy ransom for a brief reprieve. Guarinci's mercenaries clamoured for a division of the spoil. As Sismondi says, by the torture of prisoners they had brought almost all hidden treasures to light. After the waste of their merciless war they divided a great sum. Having stripped the unhappy Neapolitans to the skin, the duke marched for Northern Italy. But, characteristically, his brigands, gorged with spoil, broke up and dispersed to squander it, and Guarinci, satiated himself, with a following reduced to a few hundred horse, seems to have recrossed the Alps and gone into retreat and obscurity.

The scattered forces of the Company, impoverished by debauch and impotent for harm, were not left long without a leader. Guarinci was succeeded by Walter de Montreal, of a more chivalrous spirit, but as celebrated for his cruelty

as his courage. De Montreal, known far and near to the Italians as the terrible Fra Moriale, was a knight of Provence who wore the cross of St. John of Jerusalem. The Hospitaller was as little scrupulous as his predecessor. But he had far-reaching ambition, with something of the craft of a Machiavelli, and he dreamed of shaping himself out such a kingdom as the equally formidable Hawkwood himself declined. Hawkwood fought for lands and riches : De Montreal only valued wealth as the stepping-stone to high place and power. In his methods he anticipated the Constable de Bourbon and Wallenstein. He had made himself a name in the wars of Naples, and had brought the soldiery under his orders into some kind of discipline, on the understanding that out of the ranks they might indulge in every sort of license. He sent out a summons that resounded beyond the Alps, generous in promises of pay and pillage. Very soon he had gathered a following so formidable that no strength of the North dared to resist him. He raided the Marches and the Romagna : he made the futile leagues formed against him pay heavy ransom for their audacity : now he laid a wealthy republic under contribution, and again he sacked a flourishing city which had hesitated to come to terms. At one time he had 7000 men-at-arms with him, and his light infantry were a body of elite. There was a crowd of camp followers who carried weapons, with traders, and troops of courtesans ; it was said that in all they numbered 20,000 SOWS; and all these had to be indulged in license and encouraged to pillage for the camp. Malatesta, of the Malatesti of Rimini, another leader of Free Companies, had once beaten and humiliated him, but now Malatesta was compelled to succumb. In vain he sought allies or begged for subsidies : neither prince nor republic dared come to his assistance, and what was mainly an Italian army melted away. The deserters poured over to the camp of De Montreal, noble adventurers flocked to him from France and Germany, and the Grand Company, become absolutely irresistible, hung like a thunder-cloud over Rome, which had temporarily regained its liberties under Rienzi.

Then De Montreal's subtlety failed him, and his ambition overreached itself. He had gone to Rome incognito and as a conspirator, to pave the way for the advent of his Company. He counted without the Tribune, or rather he underrated the determination and the patriotic disinterestedness of that remarkable man. He trusted, besides, in the protection of his brothers, who had sold themselves and their mercenaries to Rienzi. Rienzi was informed of the presence of De Montreal ; leaving the German men- at-arms at Palestrina, he hastened back to the capital, seized the chief of the Company at a midnight meeting, and refused to let him purchase his life on any terms. De Montreal's head fell on the scaffold, and it needed but little of a prophetic spirit, when he predicted a similar fate for the Tribune, whose authority rested on the favour of the fickle Roman mob.

With the death of De Montreal vanished his political ambitions. The Grand Company remained, but solely as an association of brigands, and the republics and petty tyrants of Italy were relieved from the fear of subjugation under the military dictatorship of a foreign Podesta. De Montreal's lieutenant, Count Lando, succeeded to the command, put himself up to auction, and was promptly hired by Venice in its league against the Visconti. Charged with the ravage of the state of Vianna, it was preparing to invade Naples, when for once it had a generous impulse, and undertook to right a wrong, and that was done in its usual thorough-going fashion. The bloody romance of Ravenna is a notable chapter in its history. A noble of the country had offered violence to a beautiful German countess going on pilgrimage to Rome. Her brothers carried the news to the camp of the freebooters, whose patriotism was fired by the outrage on their country-woman. Ravenna answered for the crime of a petty baron, and was desolated by fire and sword. That business being profitably settled, they swept round the boot of Italy by Tarento, coming north again to the very gates of Naples. Everything and everybody were so helplessly at their mercy that the captains laid aside their armour, and went into quarters in the Neapolitan chateaux, varying less innocent recreations with the pleasures of the chase. Northern Italy had had a brief reprieve, and now, when money and supplies were running short, they turned back to it, tardily to fulfil their engagements against the Visconti. The army of Milan was strong as their own, but then occurred one of the incidents which made the freebooters almost irresistible. Wolf would not worry wolf, and the Visconti's Germans deserted to the opposite camp. To all seeming more masterful than before, they were nevertheless on the brink of a catastrophe. A mere handful of bold mountaineers accomplished, for a time, what martial republics like Florence and Venice had been unable to effect. The Company demanded free passage from the Florentines, from Lombardy to Perugia. The Florentines stipulated that they should avoid the plains, and take a circuitous route through the passes of the Apennines. The Company agreed, exacting hostages for its safety, and selecting the most illustrious citizens of Florence. Had it been able to control its marauding propensities, the bargain might have been fairly fulfilled. But the mountain villages were sacked and the women violated as usual. The peasants, a half-savage race, and strong in the consciousness of their mountain strongholds, planned such a revenge as overtook the French in their invasion of Free Tyrol. The circumstances were almost identical. Lando led his army into a gorge in three divisions, placing the hostages in the advance. Fortunately for him, it passed safely, for the saving of the envoys was his partial salvation. It was very different with the centre of his battle. Where frowning cliffs overhung the abyss, the march was stayed by some eighty peasants. A weaker force might have held the narrow passage. At a signal like that of the Tyrolese—"Cut all loose"—rocks were hailed down on the Company, hustled together by the panic- stricken files—a helpless mob. Lando's lieutenant was crushed with his charger. The leader himself was wounded and taken, though released, and for once a captain of Condottieri was put to ransom. The hostages, trembling for themselves, treated with De Cavalette, who had escaped with the vanguard, and the wrecks of the Grand Company were secured, by the orders sent by their prisoners to the troops of the Signoria.

Had it held no hostages, it must have been exterminated. But with a space of breathing-time, it was soon as strong as ever. German mercenaries all over Italy, burning with desire for revenge, flocked to the standard of Lando, who had recovered from his wounds, and the Pope, preaching a crusade against the spoilers of his dominions, did him the honour of solemnly excommunicating him. The papal thunders fell harmless, and Lando went on pillaging as before, the Pope being the chief sufferer. The upshot was, that the Cardinal Albornoz condescended to a formal treaty with the marauders, to the disgust of his Florentine allies, for whom he stipulated without any warrant. Florence single-handed made a gallant stand, when the petty tyrants of many a little town rallied for once to the aid of a free republic. The Florentine army was led by Pandolfo Malatesta of Rimini, who subsequently sold them and played them false, as was the fashion of the times.

After marching and counter-marching in a blood-less campaign, there was a dramatic episode, characteristic of the period. One day an envoy of the Company arrived in the Florentine camp, to the blare of trumpets and the waving of flags. He threw down a branch of thorn and a blood-stained glove, with a letter to the Florentine general, challenging him to the ordeal of battle. Malatesta took the matter as a joke: laughing, he rode out to pick up the glove, declaring his acceptance, and dismissing the herald with a generous largesse. Naturally nothing came of it; Malatesta could not be forced to a pitched battle. Operations dragged as before, but the upshot was eventful. For once the Company was cowed by the firmness of the resistance and by the general revolt against their ruthless exactions. Many of them dispersed, and Lando with the rest withdrew to engage themselves to the Marquis of Montserrat, and to abandon him soon after for the pay of the Visconti.

Italy breathed more freely when the Company was gone, but the reprieve was short. Distracted France had suffered even worse things. In the eternal wars between English and French, the whole country, but especially the South, had been given over to the brigand adventurers. The most famous of them, such as Calverley and Gournay, were in high honour at the martial court of the Black Prince. In Guienne, Auvergne, and Languedoc, each petty noble changed sides as suited him. Bastards of great houses and younger sons assembled bands of lawless ruffians, and strengthened themselves in one of the almost impregnable rock-fortresses, whence they raided and ravaged at their pleasure. But this game had become hardly worth the candle. The means of debauchery failed them, for the country had been swept clean: the peasants, starving and desperate, rose in a acquerie, retaliating on detached parties with frightful atrocities. There was even a more terrible enemy in the plague, which had followed in the train of the famine. The regularly organised Companies (and there were three of them) decided to shift their quarters eastward to Provence, still comparatively unscathed, and to Avignon, where lingering superstition had still secured relative immunity for the wealthy papal court. And Provence and the papal enclave were on the road to Italy.

The most formidable of these three Companies was the White, composed almost entirely of English. It was the first to number its strength by lances, which meant a mounted cavalier with two attendants. In reality, for the most part, even the lances fought on foot, and merely used their horses to carry them with their heavy armour. They wore weighty coats of mail, with arm and thigh pieces, and two of them handled each ponderous lance. When they fought on horseback and went down in a melee, there was small chance of their regaining their feet. But serried in their close files, they were an impenetrable phalanx. Hardened to cold, they seldom sheltered in winter quarters. They had a habit of making forced nocturnal marches, fruitful of terrible surprises. But as it was their business to get their gains in the cheapest market, they never wasted lives. As they had none of the newly invented cannon, they seldom attacked a strong fortress or a well-walled town. Indeed, the terror of them was generally enough to bring the place they threatened to a composition.

Sir John Hawkwood was by far the most famous of their captains. He was not with them when they crossed the Cenis after their failure to capture Marseilles, for he had fought at Brignais under Jacques de Bourbon, but he must have rejoined them shortly afterwards. The son of an Essex tanner, he had taken early to arms, and served with distinction in Edward's French wars. The date of his birth is uncertain, but he must have been a soldier of experience and repute when the White Company descended on Italy. As England gave a single Pope to Rome, so it sent but a single notable Condottiere to Italy. Hawkwood was an extraordinary man : he had the talent if not the genius of war : he was clever in strategy, fertile in resources, and shrewd in financial diplomacy (backed up by the fear of the Company) as the most subtle of Italians. His was a thoroughly practical mind. Had he had the far-reaching ambition of a De Montreal, he had better opportunities of carving out a principality, and he might have reigned in the Romagna as Francesco Sforza in Milan. But he knew too much of the instability of the dynasties he had upset, nor had he an heir to succeed him. He was content to live in luxury from day to day, though economising in place of squandering like his colleagues. While annexing lordships and amassing gold, he had some experience of the cares of his scattered riches, for in the vicissitudes of a chequered career, they were often making themselves wings. His character is well indicated by an anecdote told in the novels of Sacchetti, and by a repartee much to the point. The monks of a convent received their unwelcome visitor with the stereotyped salutation of "Peace." Hawkwood made rough and ready answer, "I live by war, and peace would be my ruin." As for clemency or consideration for the weak or helpless, there was little to choose between him and the worst of his predecessors. The Condotticre, who gave his men no regular pay, was constrained to indulge them in all manner of license. The White Company robbed, slaughtered, violated and tortured like the rest, but is said to have drawn the line at cold- blooded mutilation. In any case, with their formidable fighting qualities, their terror preceded them, and they arbitrarily dictated the terms of submission.

For thirty years, with brief interludes, Hawkwood was in supreme command, and it would be endless to follow him in his petty wars and the grasping bargaining which filled his coffers to overflowing, as it supplied the lavish waste of the Free Companies, who revelled in profligacy or starved by turns. An episode or two, taken at random, may suffice. Hawkwood had his vicissitudes, though almost invariably favoured by fortune. Once it was his fate to be taken prisoner by the allied forces of the Pope and Arezzo. But with ample means for paying a ransom, he was free again within the year. His captors would have done better had they dealt with him as summarily as Rienzi disposed of De Montreal. In 1375 the Company was provided with bombards and heavy artillery, which strengthened its peremptory fashions of diplomacy in treating with walled cities. In a single year Florence paid 130,000 florins, and Pisa, Lucca, and Arezzo were mulcted in half as much again—enormous sums ,for the time, showing the riches of the free republics, which could flourish in spite of that eternal squeezing. The Captain, or Grand Marshal as he was sometimes called, invested largely in land : he purchased the lordships of Bagnacavallo and Cotignola in the Romagna, each secured by a castle, strongly fortified and garrisoned. Lustful of money as he was, he was seldom needlessly cruel, but in 1377 he damned himself to infamy by his share in the ruthless massacres of Cesena. It is said that he remonstrated, but as matter of fact the unhappy town was abandoned to his English and the half-barbarous Bretons then acting in concert with them. For three days and nights it was the scene of ceaseless bloodshed and unspeakable atrocities; yet after all, and age for age, there was little to choose between the fate of Cesena and the storm of Badajoz or San Sebastian.

By way of interlude, or to strengthen his position, the Condottiere married the natural daughter of Bernabo Visconti of Milan. This connection and lucrative offers from the Florentines centred his interests in Northern Italy. Finding his southern lordships difficult to defend against the enemies who sprung up everywhere when his back was turned, he sold them for a satisfactory price to the d'Estcs. In the contracts still existing there are minute details as to the terms of a virtual sale which was plausibly disguised as a mortgage. But though the Company had shifted its headquarters, it was still and for ever on the move. The Pope, though pleased to get rid of a formidable feudatory and turbulent neighbour, engaged Hawkwood for an invasion of Naples. Papal thunders had more than once excommunicated the Companies. Now Urban VI., in signing his commission, addressed the outlaw as his be-loved son, giving him carte blanche in effect to ravage Campania. Soon the scene shifts again to the North. There was a revolution at Milan. With the habitual disregard of the Viscontis for family ties, Bernabo Visconti had been dethroned by his nephew. It might have been expected that Hawkwood would have stood by his father-in-law, with whom, moreover, he was in close alliance, the rather that Bernabo's sons, knowing his cupidity, offered him handsome pay to come to their help. But Hawkwood had his own game to play, and he made his bargain with the usurper. There must have been hidden motives, for the mystery is that the price of his shameful perfidy was a comparative bagatelle.

With consent of the Florentines, with whom thence-forth he had a sort of engagement, akin to that of a standing counsel, he espoused the cause of da Carrara, Lord of Padua. Before the battle of Castagnaro an incident occurs which shows that he had something of the subtlety of the serpent. He was not precisely pious, but the Paduans were superstitious, so before going into action he solemnly invoked the aid of their four patron saints, and his prayers were answered. Returning in triumph to the Florentines, who, as he well knew, were best able to reward useful service, the Condottiere (and for the first time, in the case of a foreigner) had the distinguished honour of being gazetted Captain-General of their armies. He was nowise particular as to giving promises, which the leader of mercenaries, with the best intentions, was quite unable to keep. He had pledged himself to the Signoria to respect their allies, and forthwith he exacted 4000 florins from the friendly Siennese. Nor was he more conformable to the wishes of his paymasters when they would have recalled him from a fruitless campaign in Naples.

He would have his way, but on the whole he was faithful, and neither he nor they could afford to quarrel. He had daughters of fourteen and fifteen who were marriageable, and he desired to see them settled in life. The Signoria dowered them handsomely, and even paid for their trousseaux when the Condottiere drew his purse- strings and declined. Nothing shows more strikingly the esteem or terror in which he was held than the fact that the great Signorias of Florence and Bologna acted as arbiters in settling the terms of the marriage contracts. He had spent much and probably had saved little, and the Signoria was not ungrateful for what on the whole had been good service. As Captain-General he had handsome pay and appointments, and even when half-superannuated, they continued to him liberal allowances. What is more, when his health was failing, they voted him a magnificent tomb in the greatest of their churches, which must have been inexpressibly cheering to a man who had lived for this world more than the other. As death took him by surprise, the tomb was never erected. In 1394 he had arranged to return to his native England, when a stroke of apoplexy carried him off. Florence gave him a public funeral with military honours, but his remains were not to rest in the Duomo, though a frescoed portrait with a noble equestrian figure was to keep his memory green. King Richard II. begged the body, and the Florentines courteously acceded to the request. Hawkwood's remains are believed to rest in the church of his native parish of Sible Hedingham. He is said to have fought twenty- three battles—such as these mediaeval battles were—and to have been only vanquished in one of them.


Carmagnola took what was literally a nom de guerre from the town of his birth ; he was born a Bussone and baptized Francesco. Few military adventurers were more fortunate in their start ; with none was the lustre of a brief and brilliant career more suddenly eclipsed in a tragical denouement. Philippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan, had succeeded his father, the famous Gian Galeazzo, after a long minority. Galeazzo was no soldier, but at least he had courage. His son inherited his ambition and subtlety without the courage, but he had the same happy gift of choosing his generals well, and when he trusted, he gave them his entire confidence. At once he had plunged into war to recover the country which in his minority had revolted from his rule. Looking on at the siege of Monza, a young soldier had attracted his notice by a deed of singular daring. Following up a kinsman but a bitter enemy, he had only failed to capture him by the fall of his horse. Carmagnola, for it was he, had something like Oriental promotion. Advanced at once to responsible command, soon afterwards he was at the head of the Milanese armies. His successes were as swift as they were sure. He overran the revolted country to the north of Milan, starving the castles and seizing the cities. His triumphant progress alarmed the Lombard lords to the eastward ; there was a formidable league, headed by Arcelli of Plasencia, reputed one of the most able warriors of the time. The leaders were well matched, but the victory rested with Carmagnola.

Nor was he less successful against the Genoese, though Genoa, the commercial rival of Venice, was then at the height of its power and prosperity. But it was troubled with the invariable dissensions and conspiracies, when some noble refugees sought the protection of the Visconti, who gladly seized the occasion to go to war. Carmagnola struck sharp and quick, overrunning all the Genoese territory on the northern slopes of the mountains. Year after year he was a thorn in their sides, making inroads on the seaboard and threatening their capital. Attacked simultaneously by Alfonso of Aragon and reduced to financial extremity, they sold Leghorn to the Florentines for a great sum. Assailed by sea as well as by land, they felt the war must be ended on any terms. They detested the Aragonese, whose navy had brought them to grief, but seem to have borne no malice to Carmagnola, who only fought them in the way of business. The Doge resigned his office, signing a treaty of peace with Milan, and, by one of the strangest vicissitudes of mediaeval Italian warfare, Carmagnola, the captain of the Visconti's army, became virtually Doge of Genoa as the Visconti's lieutenant.

Venice, always cautious and time-serving, thought it wise to come to terms with the Visconti, and, in the fashion of those Italian states, shamelessly abandoned its allies. He consented to a ten years' peace, and Pandolfo Malatesta, then Lord of Brescia and Bergamo, was the immediate victim. Carmagnola, with his accustomed impetuosity, rushed his cities and seized his territory. Thanks to that terrible captain, Philippo Maria had then recovered all the dominions the regents of his minority had lost. Then Carmagnola pushed his victories beyond the northern boundaries of Lombardy. Storming Como; he occupied the entrances to the passes of the Simplon and St. Gothard. The Swiss took alarm, and the southern cantons hurried to the rescue, sending an urgent summons to their confederates for support. Though comparatively few in numbers, with characteristic courage and foolhardiness they did not scout in advance, or wait to count their enemies. They were really opposed to an army in overwhelming strength, headed by Carmagnola and Angelo de la Pergola, the two most redoubtable Condottieri of the day. Out-numbered as they were, they maintained the reputation of their impregnable phalanx of pikemen, and of the ponderous two-handed swords, which had won Morgarten and were to win Grandson against mailed chivalry and formidable odds. The battle was long and bloody, and would have been lost to the Milanese, had not an inspiration of Carinagnola's in the crisis dismounted his horsemen, and, adopting the Swiss tactics, formed them up on foot. As it was, the battle was drawn and honours were divided ; but Carmagnola retained his grasp on the passes.

Then, when his reputation should have stood highest at the Court, events occurred which changed his destiny. The Duke, constitutionally sage, blind for once to his own interests, committed an act of folly. It was wise enough to make alliance with the Queen of Naples and the Pope against the Aragonese, who menaced all three. Through the influence of Carmagnola, the virtual Doge, he easily enlisted the assistance of the Genoese, who detested the Catalans, their commercial rivals. Genoa launched a powerful fleet, to be sent to Neapolitan waters. Carmagnola fully expected the command, but to his disgust, and for some inexplicable reason, it was given to Torallo, a new favourite. Torallo was no bad choice, but the supersession of Carmagnola had far-reaching consequences.

The free republic of Florence, dreading the masterful Visconti and his allies, leagued itself with the Aragonese, and with many a minor tyrant who feared the Duke and his formidable general. In its alarm it appealed to the Emperor, but Sigismund was occupied elsewhere ; and to the Pope, but he held to the coalition and turned a deaf ear. With Venice it was more successful, and Venice was shaken, for though the treaty with Milan had still half its term to run, it knew that the Duke was not to be trusted. The wavering policy of the Council of Ten was decided by a most unlooked-for arrival. Of all refugees, the one they least expected to see was Carmagnola, the right hand of the tyrant of Lombardy, and the leader of the Condottieri who had indirectly done them infinite injury. He explained his arrival to mistrustful ears. The Duke had envied him the wealth he had amassed and his credit with the soldiers he had so often led to victory, as his services had been too great to be easily forgiven. As a matter of fact, the disgrace was real, and Carmagnola had been subjected to insults which would have been intolerable to a less haughty spirit. His wife and children had been thrown into prison, and he had escaped at the head of a troop of horse, making his way to Venice by Savoy and Switzerland. Nevertheless the suspicious Senate was not convinced that he was not playing a part in concert with his late master, till the Duke was guilty of a crime and another blunder. He attempted to have Carmagnola poisoned: the attempt failed and was traced to its author.

Once Venice was assured of Carmagnola's good faith, the Florentine envoys found a weighty advocate. They had urged that, if Florence were crushed, the fall of Venice would follow, and that the Duke of Milan would be the tyrant of Italy. Carmagnola argued that the Duke was less formidable than appeared. He painted him as a faineant, devoted to pleasure, guided by unpopular ministers, and deaf to popular complaints. He disclosed his most secret intrigues and plots. For himself, he said, he had sought and found a new country, and he wound up with an eloquent and practical peroration. "I bring you my profession, which is war. Give me arms, as he gave who has driven me to this hard necessity, and you shall see if I cannot defend you and avenge myself." The appeal was irresistible; the treaty with Florence was signed, and Carmagnola was the captain of the Venetian army.

The campaign began with the capture of Brescia, though he was confronted by his old comrades of the Condottieri, and in greatly superior strength. The effects of its fall on the Duke were out of proportion to the actual loss, and he repented too late his quarrel with Carmagnola. He was partially reassured by a reverse of the enemy, which temporarily changed the course of the war. Carmagnola, who had hitherto always combined caution with daring, let himself be surprised, and suffered severely. But to the last he was ever ready to learn, and thenceforth the camps he was perpetually shifting were always entrenched and guarded by patrols. For his movements were as swift as secret; the surprises were for the most part on his side, and his orders commanded unquestioning obedience.

He brought things to a crisis in a pitched battle which was a crushing defeat for Milan and pregnant of consequences for himself. With trifling losses he took 8000 prisoners, who immediately fraternised with his troops, their frequent brothers-in-arms. Hospitably entertained, they were dismissed without ransom, to the natural disgust of the mercantile Venetians. As naturally, Carmagnola became again suspect, and suspicions were confirmed when, contrary to peremptory orders, he set at liberty the handful of captives who remained. Suspicions may have seemed certainties with the ever-distrustful Council of Ten, when he insisted on stipulations of his own in a new treaty with the Milanese. The Duke undertook to restore the wealth he had confiscated, his lands, and his captive wife and daughters. A peace had been concluded of which Carmagnola had virtually dictated the terms, but it was soon again to be broken. Successful land-wars, from which Venice had hitherto invariably refrained, had awakened new ambitions. There were proffers of alliance from the petty princes whom the Duke had subjugated; Florence, above all, had been urgent in her advances, and Car-magnola was again in the field. It was his last campaign, and unfortunate in every way. Trusting to his old ascendency over the Milanese, he attempted corruption, as he had done before, and when he tried corruption he was always betrayed. Twice he was lured into fatal ambuscades. Yet these were merely side issues, and at the head of such a numerous army as he had never commanded before, he should have carried all before him. But now he was strangely and suspiciously supine. Keeping pace with a powerful fleet ascending the Po, he may be said to have looked on while the Venetian admiral, after a battle that maintained the fame of the Venetian fleets, sustained a disastrous defeat. He made more or less plausible excuses as to the flooding of the country, and an epidemic among the horses which had dismounted his men-at-arms. The Council professed a belief in them, which assuredly they did not feel. They acted with their habitual cold- blooded craft, and the illustrious victim was doomed in advance. He was invited to Venice to consult as to conditions of renewing the peace. He was received with every honour, welcomed by the most distinguished senators, and amidst the acclamations of the crowd, the popular hero passed along the Grand Canal in a state gondola to the ducal palace. The consultations of the assembled Senate lasted till late into the night, and then they courteously asked Carmagnola to dismiss his wearied suite. As one door closed on his attendants, the Doge's guards entered by another. The great captain was loaded with fetters, and consigned to the dungeon, where next day, with an unhealed wound received in the service of the Republic, he was subjected to the torture. It was said he made confession of his guilt, but we have only his executioners' word for that. The day after that, with a gag in his mouth, he passed from the prison to' the Piazza of St. Mark, where his head fell on the block. Criminal he may possibly have been, for we know the laxity of the Condottieri on the point of honour when their interests were involved. But that he was never publicly put on his defence is a strong presumption in favour of his innocence. He had gone the way so many went before, when malice had dropped anonymous and slanderous accusation in the Lion's Mouth.

" Thro' that door,
So soon to cry, smiting his brow,
I'm lost!' Was with all courtesy, all honour, shown
The great and noble Captain, Carmagnola."


Carmagnola came to a tragic end. Francesco.,Sforza, who had often faced him in the field, died in the seat of Galeazzo Visconti, the Duke of Milan. Carmagnola began as a private soldier ; Francesco Sforza started with opportunities which he improved to the uttermost. He inherited the wealth, the fame, and the following of Sforza Attendolo, the man of the legend of the axe. The elder Sforza, baptized Muzio Attendolo, is said to have got his prenomen from Bartiano, his master in war, another redoubtable Condottiere. It is said to have been given for his great bodily strength, backed by a fiery violence of character. His son, as he was bred in the camp, was trained up in the saddle. Ere the age of fifteen he was a boy of mark, and had a piece of miraculous good fortune. A handsome lad, he had taken the fancy of Ladislaus of Naples, and, with the title and fief of a viscount, was sent to Calabria as viceroy of the sovereign. Boy as he was, he justified the choice, and already showed the talent of a formidable leader. An excellent match, his father wedded him to Polyxena Ruffi, a beautiful girl of high birth and large possessions. The old Condottiere gave the young bridegroom excellent advice, inculcating a wise leniency in rule and the strict observance of justice. Perhaps the most suggestive warning was, that if he was ever betrayed into striking one of his guards he should immediately get rid of the man. The elder Sforza was then at the height of his power. With consent of the Queen of Naples he had entered the service of Pope Martin V., with the title of Gonfaloniere of the Church. Martin had engaged Sforza by large pay and liberal promises as the warrior best fitted to cope with Braccio da Mortare, the Lord of Perugia. The campaign opened disastrously for Sforza ; he was out-numbered, out-manoeuvred, and beaten. In his distress he summoned Francesco to his aid, showing the faith he had in the boy's ability. The war dragged on with changing fortunes, when a timely incident in the year of his father's death showed to all men how well his son was fitted to succeed him in command. The younger Sforza had been called back to Calabria to repel an invasion, when he was threatened by a mutiny of his captains, who had probably been bribed by the gold of Aragon. With the courtesy of Condottieri playing the game honourably, they formally announced their purpose of abandoning him. Francesco made no objections ; he merely asked them to save his reputation by remaining till he could withdraw creditably from before the enemy. Without loss of a moment messengers were sent to his father and to another of his father's captains, demanding immediate succour. Supports came up, when forthwith he attacked and captured the traitors. An ordinary leader would have given them short shrift, and indeed there came peremptory letters from the elder Sforza ordering their immediate despatch. But Francesco understood the weaknesses of venal mercenaries whom he hoped to use on future occasions. He called the prisoners to his tent, gave them free pardon, and told them they might go or stay as they pleased. If it pleased them to stay, their offence should be forgotten. They remained to a man, and perhaps that calculated generosity was the turning-point of his career.

For a few months later found him in a still more critical predicament. His father, who had come unscathed through many a combat, met a dramatic death in the flooded Pescara. Face to face with Braccio on the further bank, lie would insist on fording it where the flow of the tide had met the rush of the river. He had crossed in safety when he returned to bring up the hesitating loiterers. The second passage was fatal. He had stooped to lend a hand to a drowning soldier, when his horse lost its footing. The last that was seen of the mail-clad rider was his gauntleted hands clasped in prayer above the stream. His son was already far ahead, pursuing the enemy he had driven out of their entrenchments. The tidings, when they reached him, struck a double blow, for he seems to have been sincerely attached to his father, and he knew, besides, how his forces might scatter on his death. But he never lost sight of his ambitions, and the youth of twenty-three was equal to the occasion. His trumpets sounded the retreat, and he fell back on the river. He had nearly shared his father's fate when, throwing himself into a leaky boat, he launched out with a single oar to the aid of some of his sinking followers. The gallant rescue was witnessed by all, and when he landed he called a meeting of his captains. Then he made them an eloquent address, appealing alike to their cupidity and to their loyalty to their lost brother-in-arms. The appeal was answered with acclamations, and all swore fidelity. He lost no time in putting them to the test, marching in succession to take possession of all the fiefs which acknowledged his father's sovereignty.

His was the only Company in the South which could make head against the strength of Braccio, and already his reputation was almost equal to that of the veteran. The most seductive offers were made to him, and he was invited to choose between Florence and Milan. As his fixed ambition was to reign, he decided with good reason for the latter alliance. The factious Florentines, with their inveterate love of freedom, offered no safe seat to a military despot. The distracted Milanese, on the contrary, largely made up of recent conquests, had already passed under the rule of military adventurers, and offered a hopeful prospect of being consolidated under a strong dynasty. There were possibilities and opportunities. Accordingly to Milan he marched, to place himself at the Duke's disposal, and the event was to prove the sagacity of the decision. The Duke took a fancy to him from the first, as the man who might fill the place of Carmagnola.

But the youth was not placed in supreme command, and his beginnings were not fortunate. The dissensions and jealousies which gave Carmagnola his triumph, baulked his plans for the relief of Brescia. Philippo Maria for once was indiscreet in his selection of generals when he preferred Malatesta, who was no match for Carmagnola either in skill or craft. More than once disaster might have been avoided, had the Duke listened to Sforza's warnings. Possibly Sforza resented the preference of Malatesta and the neglect of his own advice. Certain it is, that lie was strongly suspected of treachery when he failed in an expedition, under his independent command, for the relief of Genoa, then closely beleaguered. Yet it is unlikely that, with his far-reaching views, he would have compromised his reputation for a revenge which must recoil on himself. Be that as it may, for two years he was out of favour, if not in absolute disgrace. It was not long before the roles were reversed, and the Condottiere was courted by the Duke.

Still nominally in the Duke's service, he had with-drawn into winter quarters, and though no pay was forth-coming, it is remarkable that none of his mercenaries deserted. His forces were undiminished when the Duke made the first overtures, and prompted him to invade Tuscany, nominally on his own account. The Florentines bought him off, but he declined to enter their service. His settled aspirations kept him steady to his purposes. Again he was more in favour than ever with the Duke, either from genuine liking or the sense of self-interest. At any rate he had a splendid retaining fee in the promise of the hand of the Duke's natural daughter and presumptive heiress. His next exploit was invading Montserrat and driving the Marquis out of all his dominions. He returned to Milan in triumph, to be betrothed to the Princess Bianca Maria, who was scarcely out of the nursery.

With that betrothal, and after the brilliant campaign of 1432, his future was assured. The wars he waged for Pope Eugenius in the Papal States enabled the Papal Gonfalonierc to add other lands and townships to his broad southern fiefs. Great as were his military talents, he had to face such dangerous opponents as the famous Piccinino; but though he met with the ordinary vicissitudes of war, he always rallied after misfortune, and like Antaeus, arose the stronger for a fall. Finding that his old master at Milan needed him more than he needed the Duke, and seeing that the Duke was bound to him by the solemn betrothal, he indulged in the liberty and even the license of policy and intrigue. Though it is said that no man can serve two masters, he played fast and loose successfully with both Pope and Duke, though he bore the standard of the one and drew pay from the other. Ancona was claimed by his Holiness and coveted by the Duke. In defiance of both, the Gonfaloniere made himself a principality there, adding largely to his former possessions. In less than twenty years the son of the woodman turned freebooter had far outstripped all his veteran competitors. He held in his hand the issues of war or peace between Venice and Florence, the Visconti and the Pope : as he leant to one or the other, so the balance inclined. Still Condottiere at heart, he went on the wise principle of always leaving everywhere the seeds of future broils. In the full course of victory he stopped short of giving any side a decisive advantage. The Duke was jealous of the man he had raised to become virtual arbitrator of the factions of Italy. But he could not afford to break with his future son-in-law, who always dealt kindly with him in a view to the succession. And the Pope was in similar case ; he dared not offend his Gonfaloniere. So, as Bianca Maria was now marriageable, the wedding was celebrated at Ancona—Sforza had just captured it—with magnificent ceremony and much martial pomp. The pair had the papal benediction, and the bridegroom the reversion of the rich Milanese.

The succession opened with the death of his father- in-law, shortly afterwards, in the summer of 1447, but it cost him an arduous struggle, and taxed his astuteness to the utmost. There were factions in Milan ; his was in the majority, but there was a minority that desired the freedom of a republic. Sforza was still the leader of their armies, and, guarding the passages of the Po against Venice, he distinguished himself by the brilliant capture of Piacenza, disgracing himself for once by his merciless abuse of his victory. For forty days the unhappy town was given over to pillage and all manner of outrages. The cruelty recoiled on himself ; the Milanese went in terror of their formidable general, and hesitated more than before to give themselves to such a master. But when Sforza found his future subjects troublesome, he invariably achieved some exploit to make them feel him indispensable. The sequel to the ruthless sack of Piacenza was the great victory of Caravaggio, when the Venetians were put to hopeless rout. Orders were regularly sent him from the Council of Milan, which he obeyed, ignored, or eluded, as suited his policy. When it served his purposes he carried them out with infinite promptitude and resolution. Friends and enemies in the capital were always asking alike whether their general was false or faithful. So, in the excitement over that crushing blow he had struck at Caravaggio, when he made his triumphant entry into Milan the victory was acclaimed by enthusiastic crowds. The frenzy of jubilation was followed by reaction. Then, persuaded that the duchy was not to be won by fair means, he decided to take it by force. He changed front of a sudden, and had recourse to a stroke of policy—policy singularly audacious even for those times, for which Sismondi suggests, apparently with insufficient reason, that he had been preparing since he first engaged himself to the Visconti;—insufficient, because the shrewdest man could not have foreseen the incalculable changes of the Italian kaleidoscope. On his own account he made peace with Venice, admitting the Florentines as a third party, for at Florence Cosmo de Medici was his firm friend. His stipulation was that the allies should assure him his wife's inheritance and make him the sovereign ruler of Milan. Whether it was an act of treachery or of legitimate self-defence, lie was only intriguing among intriguers with superior astuteness.

Soon the Milanese had reason to regret his desertion and repent their quarrels with him. He overran the districts around the city, blocked their access to markets, and cut off their water. Reduced to straits which resulted in discord and riots, they were encouraged again when Venice, always vacillating, abandoned the traitor and actually took the field against him. The Florentines now stood aloof from both, and he had only underhand subsidies from his friend Cosmo. They had all mistaken the genius of Sforza, if they thought he would not rise to the occasion. On the one hand he held the Venetians at bay, on the other he strengthened the blockade of Milan. Tantalised by hopes of effective success which were as often disappointed, at last the famishing city surrendered. Sforza rode in at the head of his men-at-arms, when the fickle demos welcomed, with what seemed unfeigned rejoicing, the man who had starved them for more than a year, and the mere mention of whose name had been prohibited a few weeks before under heavy penalties. To be sure, the famishing populace knew they were to be fed. Simultaneously with the disarmament which was systematically carried out, provision trains streamed into the place ; and as the wine-casks were broached, all was drunken jubilation. So safe did the new tyrant of Milan feel, that he rode out within a few hours after having ridden in, and returned to see to the safety of his camp. But he knew the value of martial pomp and lavish display in dazzling and intimidating the Italian mob. He fixed a day for the formal assumption of the dukedom, and for the public coronation of himself and the bride through whom he claimed the heritage of the Visconti. The goal of his ambition had been reached at last: the Condottiere had changed his skin, to become the most powerful and honoured of the Italian sovereigns.

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