Showing posts with label Italian Wars. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Italian Wars. Show all posts

10 June 2024

Mercurino Arborio di Gattinara – politician and cardinal

Lawyer and strategist dreamt of a united Europe ruled by the Emperor

As adviser to Emperor Charles V, Gattinara wielded huge influence
As adviser to future Emperor Charles V,
Gattinara wielded huge influence
Influential statesman and political adviser Mercurino Arborio di Gattinara was born on this day in 1465 in Gattinara in Piedmont.

Gattinara became Grand Chancellor to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and, despite being a layman who had never been ordained as a priest, he was created a cardinal.

He was one of the most important men active in politics of his time and he set out to centralise power in Germany and make the Holy Roman Empire a moral and political arbiter for all the kingdoms and principalities in Europe.

Born in his family’s home in Gattinara, he was the eldest son of Paolo Arborio di Gattinara and Felicità Ranzo, who was from an important family in Vercelli.

After his father’s death, Gattinara had to interrupt his studies for financial reasons and went to Vercelli to practise with his father’s cousin, who was a notary.

He was able to resume his law studies at the University of Turin after marrying Andreetta Avogadro and using her dowry to pay for his studies. After obtaining his doctorate, he practised law in Turin.

In 1501, he became adviser to Duchess Margherita of Hapsburg, the daughter of Emperor Maximilian 1 of Hapsburg. Margherita was married to Duke Philibert II of Savoy and the work he did for her enabled her to obtain for the rest of her life the administration of Romont, Villars and Bresse. The Duchess appointed Gattinara as tax lawyer and president of Bresse.

Charles V was crowned Emperor in 1530
Charles V was crowned
Emperor in 1530
When King Philip of Castile died, he left six young children, among whom was the future Emperor Charles V. Margherita, who was their aunt, asked Gattinara to organise their education on behalf of their grandfather, the Emperor Maximilian. 

Margherita was also given the task of governing Burgundy by Emperor Maximilian and on her behalf, Gattinara began negotiations that would lead to the formation of the League of Cambrai.

He also wrote an operetta dedicated to the young Charles, in which he presented his theories on universal monarchy.

After Charles became King of Castile and Aragon, he appointed Gattinara as his adviser. When the Emperor Maximilian I died, Gattinara ensured Charles had support from the prince electors for his accession to the imperial throne.

Gattinara was the adviser to Charles V during the Italian Wars between 1521 and 1526 and he reorganised the imperial army and its finances. He wrote a treatise on good government and was created a cardinal in 1529, despite having no background in the church. 

After Charles V was crowned emperor in the Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna in 1530, Gattinara left Italy to attend the Diet of Augsburg, which was convened on the emperor’s behalf to quell growing religious tensions in Europe.

Gattinara died in Innsbruck while he was on the way to Augsburg on June 5, 1530.  His remains were taken to Gattinara and buried in the parish church of San Pietro.

He had worked up to 18 hours a day to fulfil his vision of a united Europe and he could express himself in Italian, Spanish, French, German and Dutch, skills which were particularly appreciated at the court of the Emperor Charles V. 

The Torre delle Castelle overlooks Gattinara
The Torre delle Castelle
overlooks Gattinara
Travel tip:

Gattinara is a small town in the province of Vercelli in Piedmont, about 35km (22 miles) northwest of the city of Novara, whose province it borders. Situated in the lower part of the picturesque Valsesia, it has an historic centre where the Church of San Pietro, the last resting place of Mercurino di Gattinara, is situated. The church dates back to 1147. The town is known for its prestigious red wine, Gattinara, which has been given the status of DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita). The town is overlooked by the massive Torre delle Castelle, all that remains of an ancient mediaeval fortified complex built around the 11th century, which tops a hill to the northwest of the town. The tower has become a symbol of the town.

The Mole Antonelliana is an unmissable feature of the skyline of Piedmont's capital, Turin
The Mole Antonelliana is an unmissable feature
of the skyline of Piedmont's capital, Turin
Travel tip:

The University of Turin, where Mercurino di Gattinara studied for his degree, is one of the oldest universities in Europe, founded in 1406 by Prince Ludovico di Savoia. The main university buildings are in Via Giuseppe Verdi, close to Turin’s famous Mole Antonelliana, an architectural landmark first conceived as a synagogue, before being bought by the city and declared a monument to national unity. Designed and started by architect Alessandro Antonelli in 1863, but not completed until 1889, it rises to a height of 167.5m (550ft). A lift, which was originally installed in 1961 during celebrations to mark the centenary of the Italian Unification and renovated in 1999, allows visitors to reach a panoramic terrace 85m (279ft) above the ground to take in extraordinary views of the city and the surrounding Alps.

Also on this day: 

1918: The death of writer and composer Arrigo Boito

1940: Italy enters World War Two

1959: The birth of football coach Carlo Ancelotti



11 April 2018

Battle of Ravenna

Thousands die in pointless conflict of the Italian Wars

The chaos of the Battle of Ravenna depicted in a  15th century woodcut
The chaos of the Battle of Ravenna depicted in a
15th century woodcut
French forces inflicted appalling casualties upon a largely Spanish Holy League army on this day in 1512 at Molinaccio just outside Ravenna.

The French, under the command of their brilliant 21-year-old leader Gaston de Foix, had taken Brescia in Lombardy by storm in February and then marched on Ravenna intending to provoke the papal Holy League army into battle. They also had an Italian contingent of soldiers with them under the command of Alfonso I d’Este, Duke of Ferrara.

Ramon de Cardona, Spanish viceroy of Naples and commander of the Holy League forces, led an army through the papal states of the Romagna to relieve Ravenna, passing Forlì and advancing north along the Ronco River.

Both sides had learned the new rules of warfare in the gunpowder age and were reluctant to assault well defended earthworks with cavalry or infantry.

They indulged in an artillery duel and had to manoeuvre unwieldy cannons to find effective lines of fire.

But after two hours they changed tactics and both cavalry and infantry threw themselves forward in assaults. The casualties were heavy as horsemen clashed in swirling melees and infantry swarmed over ramparts and ditches.

Alfonso I d'Este, who led a contingent of  Italian soldiers in the battle
Alfonso I d'Este, who led a contingent of
Italian soldiers in the battle
The issue was decided when the French cavalry, having driven the opposing horsemen from the field, returned to attack the Spanish infantry.

While many of his soldiers were slaughtered, Cardona was taken prisoner.

Then, when the battle was effectively over, the French commander De Foix was killed during a pointless skirmish with the retreating Spanish infantry.

It was estimated that the French lost 4,500 men and the Holy League 9,000 in this battle, part of the War of the League of Cambrai, which took place during the long period of the Italian Wars.

The victory failed to help the French secure northern Italy and they were forced to withdraw from the region entirely by August of the same year.

Travel tip:

The Romagna, controlled by the Pope in the 16th century, was a region of Italy that approximately corresponds to the south eastern part of the present day region of Emilia-Romagna. It included the cities of Cesena, Faenza, Forlì, Imola, Ravenna and Rimini, where the Romagnola dialect is still spoken today.

The Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna
The Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna
Travel tip:

Ravenna, in Emilia-Romagna, was the capital city of the western Roman empire in the fifth century. It is known for its well preserved late Roman and Byzantine architecture and has eight UNESCO world heritage sites. The Basilica of San Vitale is one of the most important examples of early Christian Byzantine art and architecture in Europe.

More reading:

How the Treaty of Lodi brought peace to northern Italy

Ravenna, the Ostrogoths and the Sack of Rome

The murder of papal military leader Girolamo Riario


9 April 2018

Treaty of Lodi

When the battles stopped (briefly) in northern Italy

The Peace of Lodi required the map of 15th century Italy to be redrawn
The Peace of Lodi required the map of
15th century Italy to be redrawn
The Treaty of Lodi, which brought peace between rival states in the north of Italy for 40 years, was signed on this day in 1454 at Lodi in Lombardy.

Also known as the Peace of Lodi, it established a balance of power among Venice, Milan, Naples, Florence and the Papal States.

Venice had been faced with a threat to its commercial empire from the Ottoman Turks and was eager for peace and Francesco Sforza, who had been proclaimed Duke by the people of Milan, was also keen for an end to the costly battles.

By the terms of the peace, Sforza was recognised as ruler of Milan and Venice regained its territory in northern Italy, including Bergamo and Brescia in Lombardy.

The treaty was signed at the Convent of San Domenico in Via Tito Fanfulla in Lodi, where a plaque today marks the building, no longer a convent.

Milan’s allies, Florence, Mantua and Genoa, and Venice’s allies, Naples, Savoy and Montferrat, had no choice but to agree.

A plaque marks the building in Lodi where the treaty was signed
A 25-year mutual defensive pact was agreed to maintain existing boundaries and an Italian league, Lega Italica, was set up.

The states promised to defend one another in the event of an attack and to support a contingent of soldiers to provide military aid. The league was soon accepted by almost all the Italian states.

It was not entirely effective and individual states continued to pursue their own interests against others, but the peace lasted until the French invaded the Italian peninsula in 1494, initiating the Italian Wars.

Lodi's main square, Piazza della Vittoria
Lodi's main square, Piazza della Vittoria
Travel tip:

Lodi, where the treaty was signed, is a city in Lombardy, to the south of Milan and on the right bank of the River Adda. The main square, Piazza della Vittoria, has been listed by the Touring Club of Italy as among the most beautiful squares in Italy with its porticoes on all four sides. Nearby Piazza Broletto has a 14th century marble baptismal font from Verona.

The imposing walls of Bergamo's Citta Alta are a legacy of  the city's time under Venetian rule
The imposing walls of Bergamo's Citta Alta are a
legacy of  the city's time under Venetian rule 
Travel tip:

Bergamo in Lombardy, which was handed over to Venice under the terms of the Treaty of Lodi, is a fascinating, historic city with two distinct centres. The Città Alta (upper town) is a beautiful walled city with buildings that date back to medieval times. The elegant Città Bassa (lower town) still has some buildings that date back to the 15th century, but more imposing and elaborate architecture was added in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Città Alta’s magnificent walls were built by the Venetians between 1561 and 1588 to make it a fortified city and to protect their trade routes. Bergamo continued to be ruled by the Venetians until the 18th century when the French took over after the Napoleonic Wars.

More reading:

The devastating 1527 Sack of Rome in the Italian Wars

The end of the Venetian republic

How Lorenzo the Magnificent helped preserve the Peace of Lodi

Also on this day:

1933: The birth of Gian Maria Volonté

1948: The birth of '60s pop star Patty Pravo


6 May 2017

The Sack of Rome

Mutinous army of Holy Roman Empire laid waste to city

Imperial forces attack Rome
Imperial forces attack Rome
An army loyal to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, laid siege to the city of Rome on this day in 1527, at the start of the Sack of Rome, a significant event in the conflict between Charles and the so-called League of Cognac that had profound implications for Rome’s wealth and power.

Rome at the time was part of the Papal States, who at the behest of Pope Clement VII had joined the League of Cognac – an alliance that included France, Milan, Florence and Venice – in an effort to stop the advance of the Empire, which had its centre of power in the Kingdom of Germany, into the Italian peninsula.

After the Imperial Army had defeated the French at Pavia in the Italian War of 1521-26, it would have been a logical step for Charles to march on Rome but the attack is said to have come about not through any planned strategy but after a mutiny among his troops, many of whom were hired mercenaries, after it became clear there were insufficient funds available to pay them.

Pope Clement VII, depicted by Sebastiano del Piombo in 1531
Pope Clement VII, depicted by Sebastiano
del Piombo in 1531
Aware of the rich treasures they could seize if they stormed Rome and overthrew Clement VII, 34,000 Imperial troops, an army made up of Germans, Spaniards and Italians, demanded that their commander, Charles III, Duke of Bourbon, led them towards Rome.

They left Arezzo in Tuscany on April 20 and, with the army of Florence distracted by an uprising against the Medici, proceeded without too much resistance to the walls of Rome.

The walls were substantial physically but poorly defended. Under the command of Francesco Guicciardini, the city’s garrison numbered only 8,000 men, including the 2,000-strong Swiss Guard.

They had the advantage of artillery around the perimeter of the city but though the Duke of Bourbon was himself shot dead - legend has it by the sculptor Benvenuto Cellini - the ferocity of the Imperial soldiers overwhelmed the defending army, which crumbled rapidly. The invaders swept into the city, killing almost everyone they encountered, armed or otherwise. By sunset, Rome was under their control.

The Pope’s personal protection amounted to 189 of the Swiss Guard, who fought bravely on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica. All but 42 were killed but they created enough delay to allow Clement VII to escape along a tunnel, the Passetto di Borgo, into the fortress of Castel Sant’Angelo.

There he was besieged as the pillage of the city began. The Protestant Landsknecht – the 14,000 strong German core of the Imperial troops – are said to have harboured a particular hatred for Catholic Rome and its Renaissance treasures. Churches and monasteries, as well as the palaces of prelates and cardinals, were looted and destroyed. The rampaging soldiers would spare lives and properties only in return for ransom payments.

Clement VII escaped to Castel Sant'Angelo along a secret passage while the Swiss Guard fought on the steps of St Peter's
Clement VII escaped to Castel Sant'Angelo along a secret
passage while the Swiss Guard fought on the steps of St Peter's
Meanwhile, on May 8, Cardinal Pompeo Colonna, a personal enemy of Clement VII, entered the city, accompanied by peasants seeking to avenge the devastation to their land by Papal armies.

Clement surrendered in June, agreeing to pay a huge ransom and hand over substantial territory to Charles V, who was said to be shocked by the brutal conduct of his troops but happily accept the advantage he had gained.

The defeat effectively marked the end of the Roman Renaissance, damaging the papacy's prestige.  An estimated 6,000 to 12,000 people were murdered and the population of Rome declined in the years following from 55,000 to 10,000.

The pillaging lasted nine months, ending when there was no one left to ransom and food supplies ran out.  Ironically, many Imperial soldiers themselves died from from diseases caused by the large number of unburied bodies in the city.

Today, in commemoration of the Sack and of the Swiss Guard's bravery in protecting Clement VII, May 6 is the designated day each year for new recruits to the Swiss Guard to be sworn in.

The view across Rome from the Gianicolo hill
The view across Rome from the Gianicolo hill
Travel tip:

The Gianicolo – or Janiculum – is one of the hills outside the walls of ancient Rome from which the 1527 attack was launched. Today it provides one of the best locations to enjoy a scenic view of the centre of the city and its domes and bell towers. The Gianicolo itself is the home of the church of San Pietro in Montorio, built on what was once thought to be the site of St Peter's crucifixion. A small shrine, the Tempietto, designed by Donato Bramante, marks the supposed site of Peter's death. The hill is also the location of The American University of Rome, Pontifical Urban University, and Pontifical North American College. Other notable buildings include the Palazzo Montorio, residence of the Ambassadors of Spain, and the Villa Lante al Gianicolo, designed in 1520 by the Mannerist painter and architect Giulio Romano.

The swearing-in ceremony for the papal Swiss Guard takes place in the courtyard of San Damaso on May 6
The swearing-in ceremony for the papal Swiss Guard
takes place in the courtyard of San Damaso on May 6
Travel tip:

The protection provided to the pope by the Swiss Guard goes back to a 15th century alliance between Pope Sixtus IV and the Swiss Confederacy, which in turn resulted in the Swiss supplying a contingent of 200 mercenaries to be based permanently at the Vatican at the request of  PopeJulius II. The defence of the pontiff in 1527 remains their most significant military action. The loss of the 147 guards killed on the steps of St Peter’s is marked each year with a ceremony in the San Damaso courtyard inside the Apostolic Palace, open to members of the public, at which the year’s input of new recruits to the Guard are sworn in.

More reading:

Francesco Guicciardini - statesman, military leader, historian

How Rome was founded

Preacher Girolamo Savonarola's 'war' on the Renaissance

Also on this day:

1895: The birth of silent movie star Rudolph Valentino

17 October 2016

The end of the Venetian Republic

Peace treaty saw Venice given away to Austria

Venice in the days of Austrian rule, as depicted by the  18th century artist Canaletto
Venice in the days of Austrian rule, as depicted by the
18th century artist Canaletto
A peace settlement signed in a small town in north-east Italy on this day in 1797 heralded a dark day for Venice as the Most Serene Republic officially lost its independence after 1,100 years.

The Treaty of Campo Formio, drawn up after the Austrians had sought an armistice when faced with Napoleon Bonaparte's advance on Vienna, included an exchange of territory that saw Napoleon hand Venice to Austria.

It marked the end of the First Coalition of countries allied against the French, although it was a short-lived peace.  A Second Coalition was formed the following year.

The Venetian Republic, still a playground for the rich but in decline for several centuries in terms of real power, had proclaimed itself neutral during the Napoleonic Wars, wary that it could not afford to sustain any kind of conflict.

But Napoleon wanted to acquire the city nonetheless, seeing it as a potential bargaining chip in his empire-building plans and had his eye on its vast art treasures.  In May 1797 he provoked the Venetians into attacking a French ship and used this as an excuse to declare war.

The reaction of the Venetian Grand Council and the last of its Doges, Ludovico Manin, was to vote the Republic out of existence and surrender, which put the city under French rule.  When the city and the nearby islands had been secured, 4,000 soldiers of Napoleon's army staged a parade in Piazza San Marco (St Mark's Square). It was a humiliation for Venice, the first time that foreign troops had set foot in the city.

Ludovico Manin, the last Doge of Venice, in a portrait by Barnardino Castelli
Ludovico Manin, the last Doge of Venice, in
a portrait by Barnardino Castelli
Systematically, the French began a programme of asset stripping, their plunder including the bronze Lion of Venice in St Mark's Square.

Within six months, however, the peace accord with the Austrians gave Napoleon the chance to use Venice as part of the settlement, taking Lombardy and the area of Belgium then known as the  Austrian Netherlands in return.

The city became part of Napoleon's newly formed Kingdom of Italy in 1805 but the Austrians seized control again when Napoleon was defeated in 1814.

Venice's resentment of the French was matched by their dislike for the Austrians, even though the city's new rulers were instrumental in building the railway that connected them to the mainland, opening the way for a new era of prosperity.

The Venetians rose up in rebellion in 1848, staging a general strike and recruiting a militia of 4,000 men, briefly driving the Austrians out. The new Republic of San Marco declared independence in March 1848 and a year passed before the Austrians reclaimed the city, its navy sailing into the lagoon and laying siege until, starving and fighting a cholera epidemic, Venice surrendered.

The Austrians were finally driven out by Victor Emanuele II's army during the wars of Italian unification, at which point Venice became part of the Kingdom of Italy via the Treaty of Vienna. 

Travel tip:

The town known as Campo Formio at the time of the Treaty subsequently changed its name to Campoformido.  Situated just to the south-west of Udine, the capital of the Friuli Venezia Giulia region, the town is also historically important as the seat from the 12th century onwards of the Parliament of Friuli, one of the oldest parliaments in the world.  The Treaty was signed at the Villa Manin, the country home of Ludovico Manin, the last Doge of the Venetian Republic.

The Lion of Venice sits atop one of two columns at the end of the Piazzetta of St Mark's
The Lion of Venice sits atop one of two columns
at the end of the Piazzetta of St Mark's
Travel tip:

The Lion of Venice, which sits atop one of two granite columns, standing guard at the lagoon end of the Piazzetta adjoining St Mark's Square, was lifted down and taken to France in 1797, where it remained until being repatriated in 1815 with the fall of Napoleon.  It was badly damaged on both legs of the journey, losing its griffin-like wings, its tail, its front paws and the gospel book upon which they rested on the outward journey.  Restored and mounted in the Place des Invalides in Paris, it was dropped as workmen lifted it down for the return to Venice, where it arrived in 20 pieces.  The fragments were pieced together by the sculptor Bartolomeo Ferrari.

More reading:

Napoleon crowns himself King of Italy

Austrians driven out in Battle of Marengo

Battle of Solferino and the birth of the Red Cross