At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Francesco Bussone da Carmagnola – Condottiero

Adventurous soldier lived on in literature


Bussone was beheaded for alleged treason against the Republic of Venice
Bussone was beheaded for alleged treason aginst
the Republic of Venice
The soldier of fortune, Francesco Bussone da Carmagnola, who has been featured in poetry, books and an opera, was executed on this day in 1432 in Venice.

The military leader had been seized, imprisoned and brought to trial for treason against La Serenissima, the Most Serene Republic of Venice, and was beheaded between the columns of San Marco and San Todaro at the entrance to the Piazzetta.

Francesco Bussone had been born at Carmagnola near Turin into a peasant family. He began his military career at the age of 12, serving under the condottiero, Facino Cane, who was in the service of the Marquess of Monferrat at the time, but later fought for Gian Galeazzo Visconti, Duke of Milan.

After the death of Gian Galeazzo, the duchy was divided up, but his son Filippo Maria was determined to reconquer it by force. He gave command of the army to Bussone da Carmagnola, who had taken over Cane’s role after his death.

Carmagnola subdued Bergamo, Brescia, Parma, Genoa and many smaller towns until the whole duchy was under Filippo Maria’s control.

The landmark columns of San Marco and San Todaro at the entrance to the Piazzetta, just off St Mark's Square in Venice
The landmark columns of San Marco and San Todaro at the
entrance to the Piazzetta, just off St Mark's Square in Venice
Filippo Maria rewarded Carmagnola financially, but fearing he might become a danger, did not give him further military commands. He made him governor of Genoa instead, but an aggrieved Carmagnola offered his services to the Venetians in 1425.

The Doge of Venice, Francesco Foscari, was anxious to go to war with Milan and accepted Carmagnola’s word that it was an opportune moment.

Venice wanted a quick and decisive operation but, as a soldier of fortune, it was in Carmagnola’s interest to make the operation last as long as possible, so some battles were won and others lost, with no definite result achieved.

His most decisive victory was the Battle of Maclodio in 1427 when his Venetian forces triumphed over the Milanese near Brescia. Carmagnola was given a palace at San Stae, property in Brescia and a letter of appreciation from the Doge.

But he decided not to advance on Cremona, to release all his prisoners and to retire his army for the winter. The Venetians lost patience with him and the Council of Ten decided to bring him to justice.

The cover of an early edition  of Manzoni's drama
The cover of an early edition
of Manzoni's drama
When summoned to Venice to discuss future operations, he arrived in 1432 without any suspicion of what lay ahead of him. He found it was too late in the day to meet the Doge, but as he turned to get back into his gondola, one of the men sent to meet him directed him to the Pozzi prison instead. He was sentenced to death after a trial and beheaded as a traitor.

Alessandro Manzoni made Francesco Bussone the subject of a poetical drama, Il Conte di Carmagnola, in 1820.

More recently, a drama-documentary about Bussone's life was released on a DVD, directed by Claudio Uberti and starring Omar Pedrini.

The opera, Le Comte de Carmagnola, with music by Ambroise Thomas, was produced at the Paris Opera in 1841. The French soprano, Elizabeth Vidal, has recorded one of the main arias from the opera.

Carmagnola was also one of the characters portrayed in Rafael Sabatini’s historical novel, Bellarion, published in English in 1926.

In Milan, there is a plaque on a wall in Via Rovello, not far from the Sforza Castle, marking the house in which Bussone lived when he was in the service of Gian Galeazzo Visconti.


Piazza Sant'Agostino in Carmagnola. The town's war memorial is in the foreground
Piazza Sant'Agostino in Carmagnola. The town's war
memorial is in the foreground
Travel tip:

Carmagnola, where Francesco Bussone was born, is a town 29km (18 miles) south of Turin. In the oldest part of town, the Church of Sant’Agostino, in Piazza Sant’Agostino, dates back to 1406. A gastronomic fair, la Sagra del Peperone, is held between the last week of August and the first week of September. During the Sagra of 2010, Carmagnola was entered into the Guinness Book of Records for producing the biggest ever peperonata, a sauce made with peppers, weighing in at 1,190 kg.

The remains of the Trezzo Bridge, which provided access to the Visconti castle, on the left, across the Adda
The remains of the Trezzo Bridge, which provided access to
the Visconti castle, on the left, across the Adda
Travel tip:

During a siege in 1416, Bussone da Carmagnola ordered the destruction of the Trezzo Bridge, the largest existing medieval single arch bridge, for military reasons. The bridge, at Trezzo sull’Adda in Lombardy was completed in 1377 and held the record for the largest span for hundreds of years. It was not until early in the 20th century that masonry bridges with larger openings were constructed. The Trezzo bridge provided access to a Visconti castle high above the Adda, but Carmagnola deliberately caused it to collapse by weakening one of its supports, robbing the world of an architectural marvel.

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