Idhrendur

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Even when updates take a while, they are appreciated! And it's good that Tuscany came out of that war without being forced to give reparations.
 

JerseyGiants88

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Historical Vignette 15: Desolation Road, 25-29 November 1575

Carlo Cercignani spotted the solitary man leading his horse along the river road from a good distance away.

“Well go see who it is,” said Gianfrancesco Lori, head of the Tuscan delegation, in annoyance at the mention, “you’re the solider here, not me.” Lori reached to his saddle pouch and pulled out a skin of wine, uncorked it, and took a drink. “While I await your reconnaissance young captain,” he said, “I will sit here and sip this awful German wine.”

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Gianfrancesco Lori, foreign minister of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and head of the Tuscan delegation to Regensburg

“The Bavarians are known for their beer,” replied Cercignani coolly as he rode off toward the figure on the riverbank. Behind him he heard the horse of his young lieutenant, Bernardo Strozzi, struggling to keep up with his own palfrey. Strozzi was seventeen years old, and, like Cercignani, a member of one of Florence’s wealthiest and most powerful dynasties. Unlike Cercignani, eldest son and heir to his family’s fortune, however, Strozzi was a third son of a lesser branch of the family. He had the right name, but the wrong birth position. He was loyal and dutiful but also a bit dull, a fact the older officer was reminded of when he heard the younger drawing his sword as they closed in on their subject of interest.

“Put that thing away,” shouted Cercignani over his shoulder, “can’t you see this man is likely a starving beggar.” Strozzi, looking embarrassed, sheathed his sword. Indeed, the man they were approaching looked rather bedraggled. It was not, it turned out, a horse that he was watering, but rather a very skinny donkey. The creature was weighed down with sacks and baggage. It was a wonder it could even stand, as skinny as it was. The man’s other travel companion was nearly as big as the donkey and ten times as fierce looking. As the two Florentine men rode up to the man, the shaggy and massive black dog rose from the ground and began barking aggressively at them, the hair on its back standing on end. Then, with a short and sharp whistle from the man, the beast instantly quieted down and returned to its seated position.

“Greetings gentlemen,” said the man in a kind voice, “it is always a fine thing to encounter friends on the roads these days.”

The man they were looking at was old and thin with kind gray eyes and patchy white whiskers on his face. He was as non-threatening as could be. Still, Cercignani, with the veteran soldier’s paranoia, scanned his surroundings looking for an ambush. He failed to identify any potential threats and turned back to the man.

“My name is Carlo Cercignani,” he said giving the traveler a smile, “and this here is my lieutenant and assistant, Bernardo Strozzi.”

“Strozzi and Cercignani,” replied the old man grinning widely, “Italians!”

“Yes,” replied Cercignani, laughing himself at the old man’s enthusiasm, “we are on our way to Regensburg, perhaps you can point us in the direction of a good inn.”

“Ah yes, I have made the trip from Italy to Bavaria several times before,” said the old man, “until the outbreak of the war I could have recommended half a dozen inns within several hours’ ride from here. I knew the names of the innkeeps, what dishes they made best, who had the best beer and the cleanest beds. No, alas, they are all dead or fled.”

“What business did you have in Italy?” asked Cercignai, intrigued that a Bavarian peasant would have made such a trip, and more than once to boot.

“Ah, well you see young man,” he said, “I am a priest. I humbly apologize as I failed to introduce myself, I am Father Gebhard Müller of the Society of Jesus, originally of Erding. You may call me Father Gebhard. Gebhard, I say with a bit of unearned pride, was the birth name of the last Holy Father to hail from Bavaria, Pope Victor II.”

“Well I guess I should thank you for that bit of knowledge Father, I must admit that as a child I was awful at remembering Popes’ names,” said Cercignani. “Perhaps if you are travelling in our direction we can offer you a horse. There are only six of us in our party and we have several spare creatures. Your donkey looks like he can use some rest.”

“We all could my son,” replied the priest, “but I must humbly decline your offer. Old Ludwig here has been my faithful steed for many years. He would be offended if I abandoned him for a younger, more energetic mount. However, if you are heading north along the river, I would be honored to travel with you. I know these river lands like the back of my hand and have traveled them for years. Perhaps I can be of assistance and in exchange I can have some rare company.”

“I will check with the head of our delegation, Signor Lori, but I would be happy to have you along. If you insist on riding the donkey, we could at least ease the beast’s burden by putting your baggage in our wagon.” The priest did at least accept that offer. Cercignani looked at the fearsome black dog sitting to the right of the priest. “Your donkey has a name, does your dog have a name as well?”

“He must,” replied Father Gebhard, “but he is not my dog. Not him.” The dog barked and wagged his tail.

“Who does he belong to?” asked Strozzi curiously.

“Why, to himself, and to God. As to his name, he has not told me what it is. I call him Dog.”

“Oh.” Strozzi did not know what to make of a dog named Dog, plainly. The boy chewed on that a while, then said, “I used to have a dog when I was little back in Florence. I called him Hero.”

“Was he?” asked the priest.

“Was he what?”

“A hero.”

“No. He was a good dog, though. He died.”

“Dog keeps me safe upon the roads, even in such trying times as these,” said Father Gebhard, “neither wolf nor man dare molest me when Dog is at my side.”

By that point the rest of the party reached them, the wagon trundling along in the rear.

“Have you made a friend Cercignani?” asked Gianfrancesco Lori casting a concerned glance at Dog as he and the others rode up. The canine started barking and growling aggressively when they neared. It took another whistle from the Bavarian Jesuit to quiet him again.

“Yes sir,” replied the army officer, “this is Father Gebhard Müller. I have offered to let him ride with us as long as he pleases. He says he has knowledge of the river lands and can be helpful. He asks only our friendship in return.”

Lori said nothing, but studied the priest. After a long silence, he said, “very well, Lord knows we can use a man of God to guide us after what I’ve seen in these lands. Father, you are welcome to ride with us so long as you keep your stories as free of theology as you can. Some of the men in this party might consider themselves devout, but I count myself as a skeptic.”

The soldiers in the party, Cercignani, Strozzi, and two enlisted men named Massimo and Luca, helped the priest transfer his goods from the donkey to their wagon. The animal looked visibly relieved to get a break from carrying the heavy sacks. “Filled with food for the starving,” said the Jesuit, “and of course wine for mass and to ease the pain and suffering.” Dog jumped into the wagon as well. It would take Luca, who was driving it, a long while to stop looking nervously over his shoulder and keeping his hand close to his knife. With Father Gebhard as part of their group, the Tuscans did a bit better as far as foraging and finding friendly and, more importantly, live locals with whom to trade and barter. Having the old Bavarian priest with them appeared to magically unearth groups of people who otherwise would have remained in hiding.

“The armies that criss-crossed these lands had their way with the locals,” Father Müller explained. “They don’t trust foreigners, but they know me. And they know that if you are friends of mine they need not fear you.”

For Cercignani personally, Father Gebhard was a godsend. The further north the group travelled along the River Lech, the worse the devastation and desolation became and the worse the officer’s nightmares tormented him. Almost every night visions of the war haunted him. The worst were the memories of Mainz. The recollections of battles where he’d lost comrades and seen thousands die were bad enough. But thoughts of Mainz and the Rhenish campaign and that evil winter of ’73 were the worst. He, Carlo Cercignani, was the monster in those. His idea had sparked the campaign. He’d killed and pillaged just like every other man in the army as it went along. In his dreams, his hands morphed into claws, and he felt the urge to not only kill but also devour the flesh of the peasants and burghers before him. Every morning he awoke drenched in cold sweat. He’d never confessed his sins before and he never formally confessed to Father Gebhard either, but their long talks at the back of the group had a therapeutic effect. He knew he’d never be rid of the nightmares, but the priest helped him cope with his guilt.

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Carlo Cercignani, Commander of the First Battalion of the Reggimento Grimaldi

Cercignani, in exchange, got the old man caught up on the story of the delegation’s travels. Their route had taken them north from Florence over the Apennines to Bologna and then across the Val Padana through Modena, Parma, Cremona, and Bergamo up to Lake Como. They went around the lake along its western shore and up into the breathtaking Valtellina and into Switzerland. After resting in St. Moritz for two days they continued on to finish their crossing of the Alps through Austria. The party arrived at the Lech near the town of Prem. The plan was to hire a river boat and be ferried north to the Danube and then on to Regensburg, thus shortening the time it would take and avoiding the roving bandits and desperate men that inhabited the devastated countryside of southern Germany. However, no transport was available so the beleaguered party set out for the long overland journey to Regensburg along the eastern bank of the Lech and up to the Danube, a journey of over 250 kilometers through the desolated lands of the Empire. The Lech Valley south of Augsburg had largely avoided the worst of the war. As a Free Imperial City that remained neutral in the conflict, Augsburg was spared the depredations visited upon most of the rest of Germany. Inns were plentiful and still provided good food and drink. The party spent a pleasant three days in Augsburg proper, where they were greeted warmly by Duke Johann Friedrich II von Grenchen. The 72-year-old ruler of the city was a Calvinist and had little faith in the goodwill of Lutherans. Thus, he worked to strike a balance between them and the Catholics. While in the city, Cercignani even had the chance to dine with the great fencing master Paulus Hector Mair. After Augbsurg however, the countryside changed. North of the great city the war had hit hard. These lands were currently under the rule of Prince-Elector Moritz I of Saxony, who had won them in war with Bavaria some years earlier. Nevetheless, the population was still largely Catholic, at least what remained of it, so the Elector was always eager to place the burdens of supporting his armies on them. North of Augsburg the signs of war could be seen on every hand. Weeds and thorns and brushy trees grew high as a horse’s head in fields where autumn wheat should be ripening. The roads were bereft of travelers. Wolves ruled from dusk til dawn. It was in this desolation, just past the abandoned village of Rehling, that they ran into Father Gebhard. Even the weather got worse. They’d hardly glimpsed the sun from the day they left Augsburg, and endured rain at least half the days.

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The marketplace in Augsburg

The priest, for his part, had once taken almost the same route out of Italy and back to Germany, although that was in better times. As a young priest he had studied in Rome and had great ambitions to rise in the Church hierarchy. However, some “unfortunate incident,” which he would describe in no further detail, caused him to become disillusioned with the temporal functioning of the Holy See and so he returned to Germany to be a parish priest. He returned to Italy a number of years later on a pilgrimage to Assisi and the Basilica of St. Francis. On that second trip he made a point of avoiding Rome altogether.

Two days after meeting Father Gebhard, they reached the point where the Lech meets the might Danube. There, the party turned eastward where they would follow the large river all the way to Regensburg. Father Gebhard told them that they were unlikely to find many places to stay between the Lech and the town of Ingolstadt. Most of the villages in the area had been burned and the population fled. They made camp under a grove of trees that night and Cercignani and the three other soldiers set up a rotating watch in case any bandits should come their way.

The Danube was the easiest way to move goods or men across southern Germany. In times of peace, they would have encountered fishermen in their skiffs, grain barges being poled downstream, merchants selling their wares from floating shops, and perhaps even a brightly painted mummer’s boat ferrying its merry passengers from village to village.

The war, however, had taken its toll. They passed villages but saw no villagers. Torn and slahed nets washed up on the river banks were the only sign that fishermen had once inhabited these parts. Two young girls watering their donkeys jumped on the backs of their ragged creatures and rode off as soon as they glimpsed the party’s approach. Later they passed a field where a dozen peasants were digging beneath the shell of a burnt tower. The men gazed at them with dull eyes, and went back to their work once they decided that the small group of finely dressed men were not a threat.

That night, thanks to Father Gebhard’s knowledge of the small hamlet they passed through, the group managed to secure lodging in a peasant’s barn. The priest, Cercignani, Strozzi, Massimo, and Luca were used to sleeping in wretched conditions due to the sacrifices demanded of them from their respective professions. Signor Lori and Fernando Varchi on the other hand, never went to bed without at least some grumbling about the poor state of German hospitality. Varchi was the other diplomat who was part of the delegation. He spoke excellent German and had served as ambassador in Munich. This fact only served to further annoy Cercignani that the man had zero knowledge of the south German countryside.

The following day Bernardo Strozzi spotted a group of men walking in the distance ahead of the party. “Sir, sir, do you see those men?” Strozzi asked Cercignani excitedly.

The older officer squinted into the distance. He could make out at least two long pikes and it looked as if two or three of the men had arquebuses slung across their backs. “I do see them,” replied Cercignani, “good job young lieutenant.”

Cercignani spun his horse around and went to inform Signor Lori.

“Well, that’s why I brought you and your men along,” he replied matter-of factly, “if they give us any trouble you will deal with them. Surely four strapping young soldiers of the Tuscan army can make short work of some bedraggled deserters.”

“If it is acceptable to you sir,” said Father Gebhard quietly to Lori, “I ask that you let me deal with these men should they accost us.”

“You?” asked Lori curiously, “do not tell me you are some warrior monk as well.”

“Nothing of the sort sir,” replied the priest seriously, “but these men are likely starving. There is food in these lands still, but only for those with eyes to find it as you may have noticed.” Father Gebhard was right, thought Cercignani, without his help making contacts with what few peasants remained and trading for food these last several days, they would have likely been forced to use up the last of the provisions in their wagon. “These men are likely strangers here,” continued the priest, “survivors from some battle. If they approach, I beg you, leave them to me.”

“What will you do with them?” asked Varchi.

“Feed them, ask them to confess their sins, so that God may forgive them. Invite them to come with us to Regensburg.”

“Might as well invite those outlaws to cut our throats in the night then,” scoffed Varchi.

“There are many sorts of outlaws, just as there are many sorts of birds,” replied Father Gebhard patiently, “some are evil men, driven by greed, soured by malice, despising God and caring only for themselves. Others are simply broken men, deserving of our pity. Make no mistake, in certain circumstances they can be just as dangerous. Most are peasant-born, simple folk who had never been more than a mile from the house where they were born until one day some army officer like our friend Carlo here comes and rounds them up to take them off to war.” The priest’s words caused Cercignani to reflect back on the hundreds of men he’d recruited into the ranks of the Reggimento Grimaldi over the years. Most started out, undoubtedly, just like the so-called “broken men” Father Gebhard was describing. “Poorly shod and poorly clad, they march away beneath this or that banner, oftentimes with no better arms than a sickle or sharpened hoe, or a maul they made themselves by lashing together stones and sticks,” continued the Jesuit, “brothers march with brothers, sons with fathers, friends with friends. They’ve heard the songs and stories, so they go off with eager hearts, dreaming of the wonders they will see, of the wealth and glory they will win. War seems a fine adventure, the greatest most of them will ever know.

“Then they get a taste of battle. For some that one taste is enough to break them. Others go on for years, until they lose count of all the battles they have fought in, but even a man who has survived a hundred fights can break in his hundred-and-first.” The priest cast his glance at Cercignani, then at Massimo and Luca.

The Tuscan men remained quiet so Father Gebhard continued. “They see their friends trying to hold their entrails in after they’ve been gutted by a sword or ripped open by shot or run through with a pike. They see the high-born officers who led them cut down and replaced by others. They take wounds, and before they are even half healed they take another. There is never enough to eat, their shoes fall apart from all the marching, their clothes are torn and rotting and infested with lice, and half of them shit themselves from drinking bad water.

“If they want new clothes or shoes, or better weapons and armor, they have to take them from corpses. Soon they are robbing from the living too, from the peasants whose lands they are fighting in, men very like the men they used to be. They slaughter their sheep and steal their chickens and from there it is just a short step to carrying off their daughters too. And one day they look around and realize all their friends and kin are gone, that they are fighting beside strangers beneath a banner they hardly recognize. They don’t know where they are or how to get back home and their officers do not know their names yet here they come, shouting for them to form up, to make a line, to stand their ground. And then the cavalry comes thundering down on them, or the artillery rips shots through their ranks, or a fresher and better equipped infantry force cuts them to pieces.

“And then the man breaks. He turns and runs, or crawls off afterward over the corpses of the slain, or steals away in the black of night, and he finds someplace to hide. All thought of home is gone by then, and kings and lords and God mean less to them than a haunch of spoiled meat that will let him live another day, a skin of bad wine that might drown his fear for a few hours. The broken man lives day to day, meal to meal, more beast than man. In times like these, the traveler must beware of broken men, and fear them, but he should pity them as well.”

Father Gebhard stared ahead into the distance. Cercignani and his fellow soldiers used the silence to reflect on their own memories and experiences with such men. How many broken men am I responsible for? Cercignani thought to himself. How many men, absorbed from other regiments and battalions, whose names I did not know, have fought under my command?

Nobody spoke much for the rest of the day. That evening, as they were preparing tomake camp, Massimo spotted the light of a camp fire further ahead. “It could be the men we spotted earlier,” warned Luca, “we ought to approach with caution.”

“Aye,” said Cercignani. He turned to Strozzi, “you and Luca ride off to the right through the trees. Get close to the fire but do not approach it. Massimo and I will go first, if you hear any fighting, come and help us, if not, stay hidden until I call you out.”

“Aye, aye sir,” replied his lieutenant and the two men rode off.

“Allow me to accompany you, sir,” asked Father Gebhard, “I may be of use translating or talking to these men.” Cercignani agreed and the thre of them rode out ahead of the group and soon were within sight of the camp fire in a clearing amongst some trees. Eight men sat or laid down around the fire, talking quietly. They were clearly soldiers, or at least former soldiers, of some kind, but their disposition was not threatening.

“Good evening,” said Cercignani in his poor German as he and Massimo rode up. He’d learned a bit of the language from his Alsatian wife who spoke it fluently, but not much had stuck. He greeted the men with a smile but kept a hand on the hilt of his sword.

“Evening sir,” said one of the men, slowly getting to his feet and doffing his cap, “we spied you earlier on the road. Thought you was one of Moritz’s hangmen, then we saw the banner you carried.” He pointed to one of the men sitting down, “Paulus here said he recognized it, it was a banner from Florence, and that you was Catholics like us.”

“That would be correct,” replied Cercignani, “and who do we have the pleasure of speaking with?”

The man who had stood up introduced himself as Hans of Glaubendorf, son of the town butcher. Then the other men went around the circle introducing themselves and then Cercignani called Strozzi and Luca out of the woods. They were all Austrians and most had been in the Habsburg army from the start of the war. They were trying to follow the Danube east to get back to their home land. Signor Lori and the rest of the party soon caught up to them. The head of the delegation was initially opposed to spending the evening with the Austrians but Cercignani convinced him otherwise. Father Gebhard said mass and passed out food from his own provisions to the men.

The Tuscan soldiers and their newfound comrades stayed up late into the night swapping old stories from campaigns and talking of their home towns. The Austrians even told them that a group of Frenchmen had passed not two days earlier, though they’d kept their distance. This piqued the interest of Gianfrancesco Lori when Strozzi reported it to him the next day.

“If we can catch up to de Beauharnais before he reaches Regensburg,” exclaimed Lori, “we can claim an advantage in the negotiations.” He and Varchi ordered everyone to saddle up and move out. They wanted to reach Ingolstadt as soon as possible.

That afternoon, the skies cleared up and the men got to enjoy their first bit of sunshine in over a week. “I don’t believe in omens,” said Lori to Cercignani, “but this is as close as it gets. Perhaps you were right to bring that priest along. And to take up those deserters too,” he added, “perhaps the good deeds brought us good fortune.” Just before sunset Luca spotted the spires of Ingolstadt in the distance. They could see banners flying but it was too dark to make out who they were for. The Tuscans and Austrians spent the night in an open field bunched around a lone tree. This close to a provincial capital there was not much to fear. Still, the party decided to have a rotating watch through the night, once again with one Tuscan and one Austrian per watch. The night was surprisingly mild for late November, and the stars shone down brightly.

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“We ought to not come along,” Hans said to Cercignani in a worried tone as they all sat around a fire. In the distance they could see the lights of Ingolstadt. “If Moritz’s men are in the city they’ll have us arrested and hanged as robbers and rapers.”

“No they will not,” replied Cercignani resolutely, “you and your comrades are now in the employ of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and we travel under a peace banner on a diplomatic mission. They can do nothing to you.”

That seemed to ease Hans’s mind and he passed the news along to his men. The next morning the party awoke to another clear day. Cercignani tried to make out the banners flying from the towers but before he could, Strozzi was ready with a report. “Sir,” he said proudly, “there are several banners bearing the coat of arms of the Electorate of Saxony: a nine fold partitioned field of black and gold stripes charged with a green crancelin. I also made out the banner of the Swiss Confederation, with its white equilateral cross on a red field. Finally, atop the highest tower, I spotted the arms of France, three fleurs-de-lis in gold on a blue field.”

Cercignani clapped him on the back, “well done lieutenant, we might just make a good officer of you yet. Now go and inform Signor Lori that the French are in Ingolstadt.”

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Bernardo Strozzi

“Aye, aye sir,” said the youth excitedly as he turned and rode off.

“Brilliant, brilliant,” said Lori when he heard the report, “I thought my French friend would tarry here. This is excellent news. Not least because it also means the town is well provisioned. De Beauharnais is a bon vivant who would never stay somewhere in which he would be deprived of his worldly pleasures.”

As the group approached Ingolstadt’s western gate, the Kreuztor, Lori and Cercignani rode ahead to present their credentials to the guards. “Your papers state that you are traveling only with four soldiers,” commented the captain of the city watch, “yet now you tell me that you have twelve total in addition to the diplomats plus one priest. Why should I let these extra men in?”

“First of all because we are a diplomatic delegation traveling under a peace banner,” replied Lori angrily. “We had to hire these men to travel with us. Perhaps if your esteemed Prince-Elector Moritz deigned it worth his while to patrol his own countryside so that travelers may move about unmolested there would be no need for extra escorts.” The captain was taken aback by the Tuscan’s fury. “I am a frugal man,” continued Lori on his tirade, “the last thing I want to do is pay and feed more men than I need to. What you should be doing is thanking me for doing it for free and not demanding reimbursement from the Prince-Elector. I guarantee that any Saxon delegation travelling in the lands of Grand Duke Filippo I would need no large armed escort.”

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The Kreuztor Gate, the western entrance into Ingolstadt

The captain of the guard quickly relented and apologized to Lori. “Very well sir, you may tell all your men to enter.”

Once the two Tuscans turned to ride away and back to their group, Lori turned to Cercignani and smirked. “I hope you enjoyed my performance back there,” he said.

“I did sir,” replied Cercignani, “I thank you for providing for these men, and for Father Gebhard.”

The diplomat sighed. “I try to be stern and professional, but alas I have a weak heart. I do not have it in me to leave men starving out in the wilderness, be they soldiers or men of God. Just pray that I can be more forceful with the delegation from Nassau and the rest of the heretic hagglers.”

Once the party entered Ingolstaad the soldiers, both Tuscan and Austrian, found the first well stocked tavern they could and proceeded to drink and feast to their hearts’ content. Meanwhile, Lori and Varchi sought out the French envoy Francois de Paula de Beauharnais. Father Gebhard and Dog went to find the local parish priest ti inquire on the welfare of his flock.

Cercignani spoke to the tavern owner and asked the condition of the road from Ingolstadt to Regensburg.

“Much better than the way you came,” the man told him, “but why take the road? You look like a man of means, you should take the river boat.”

“I did not know there were any,” asked Cercignani, pleasantly surprised.

“Oh yes, there are two boats making the trip from Ingolstadt to Regensburg. If you take the Danube’s Wench, tell the you know me. He is my cousin and will give you the regular rate and not the ‘special’ rate.”

Cercignani thanked the man and returned to the table to sit with the other men. By that time a group of French and Swiss soldiers had come in and all were mingling together. Cercignani sat and watched. A little alcohol and camaraderie could put any man’s mind at ease, at least for a time. He took a sip from his beer stein as he reflected upon their journey to that point. These lands need a long peace, he thought to himself. We all need a long peace.
 

JerseyGiants88

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Haha that ASoIaF reference was nice, and very fitting to the situation I should say.

Yeah, glad you noticed. I have to give a lot of credit to George RR Martin for that last update as the whole middle portion was ripped from A Feast for Crows. I actually didn't start reading the ASoIaF series until last May when my wife sent me a box set of the books as a birthday gift when I was overseas. I'm through most of, with about half of A Dance with Dragons left to go. Anyway, I thought his description of the post-war Riverlands in A Feast for Crows was excellent and felt it was totally appropriate to describe southern Germany.

On another note, I've already gotten started on the next couple of chapters and am hoping to have them up soon. I am shooting to have the next update in by next Tuesday or Wednesday.
 

Casko

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Awesome update. and gotta say you did well describing the destruction caused by 30 years war (or religious war in this case) and the priest's talk of the human suffering and how the peasant soldiers fought and died for a banner they hardly knew was simply wonderfully morbid to read.
 

JerseyGiants88

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Awesome update. and gotta say you did well describing the destruction caused by 30 years war (or religious war in this case) and the priest's talk of the human suffering and how the peasant soldiers fought and died for a banner they hardly knew was simply wonderfully morbid to read.

I appreciate the compliment but as I mentioned before most of the credit for the "priest's talk" goes to George R R Martin since I ripped that portion of this update from one of his books. That passage from A Feast for Crows is in my opinion one of the best parts of the whole series (in a tragic, morbid sense) and I really wanted to include it here as an homage. I did modify it just a bit to make it fit more with the times of the AAR and the story line.
 

JerseyGiants88

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Chapter 36: An Uneasy Peace, 1576-1580

The end of the War of the Religious Leagues ushered in a new era in Europe and Italy was no exception. Grand Duke Filippo I spent the better part of five years focused on events occurring outside the peninsula, and now had the opportunity to refocus on his homeland.

Even though the war of the religious leagues only marginally touched Italy, the number of men who went off to war and did not return took a toll. The court in Florence was filled with widows, mothers, and other family members of the dead begging for relief. Many peasants lived meager existences, barely scraping by, and the loss of one man, particularly in the prime of his life, was devastating. Furthermore, those petitions for relief came only from families close enough to make their way to the capital. Those in the Emilia-Romagna, the Veneto, Umbria, and the south were suffering in silence. Those who did voice their grievances were likely to be rebuked by some overlord or other. Accordingly, Grand Duke Filippo I proclaimed that the family of any man killed or incapacitated in the war would be exempt from paying taxes and tithes for three years. This tax reprieve was based on a similar provision enacted by Filippo’s great-grandfather, Grand Duke Girolamo I, in 1530. The Tax Act of 1576 won the Medici a great deal of support among the peasantry and the poor of the cities, but it also reopened a running conflict with the aristocracy.

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Easing the tax burden on the families of men killed in the war won the Medici many supporters among the lower classes

Historically, the Medici had gained and maintained their power by giving enough rights and benefits to the commons to win them over to their side. The Tax Act of 1576 was yet another example of this skill. However, unlike in 1530, when Girolamo I was at the height of his power, Filippo soon found himself faced with significant pushback from the nobility of Tuscany. Since the creation of the Grand Duchy, each Medici Grand Duke had worked to centralize power in their court in Florence. This meant taking away some of the privileges enjoyed by the landed nobility in the countryside. More accurately, it meant extending the crown’s control while providing greater rights to the peasants and other commoners. In Tuscany proper, this process began even earlier. Under the old Florentine Republic, the nobility had learned to adapt and even prosper despite the increase of rights to the peasantry. Even in the Val Padana, much of the smaller nobility had been brought to heel, either through coercive measures or through marriage and economic alliances with the Medici. In this region the so-called great families ruled for the Medici. The Farnese in Parma, the Bentivoglio in Bologna, the Spadolini in Mantua, the Malatesta in Rimini, and the Este in Ferrara were all tied to the Medici and kept the lower nobles in line. Furthermore, the ongoing cold war between Catholic and Protestants all along the Po River Valley meant that each side worked hard to win the favor of Florence and kept their rebelliousness to a minimum. However, in the region of Veneto in the north, and, particularly, in the Mezzogiorno, the nobility had experienced little centralization.

In Veneto, only annexed from the Republic of Venice in 1555. In the crown-appointed provincial governors of Verona and Treviso had done little to move against the landed aristocracy. The Venetians had left their mainland Italian territories largely to their own devices and delegated a great deal of power to the lower levels in exchange for their contribution of men and money to the republic’s cause. The Medici, fearing rebellion in a borderland region largely looked the other way.

In the south it was a different story. In the decade since Tuscany annexed the Mezzogiorno, Viceroy Pietro Pierallini and his governors had failed to extract many concessions from the landowners. The provincial councils in each province’s major city were controlled by artisans, merchants, and small landowners, however, the weakness of these bodies prevented them from having any real effect. They pushed most of the provincial governors to take steps to curb the landowners’ powers and to modernize southern Italy but, with a few exceptions, little was done. Pierallini was a capable administrator but the task he was handed proved too much for him. Between 1566 and the outbreak of the War of the Religious Leagues in 1571, he used the army to enforce some of the policies that he and his provincial governors enacted. This included the arrest of several landowners who egregiously abused their serfs in violation of the rights extended to them by Filippo I.

However, once the Tuscan army in the south marched north to defend the frontiers, the nobility quickly rolled back the gains. In 1572, large aristocratic-led revolts in the Abruzzi and Salerno threatened to overthrow Medici power and only the arrival of a large Tuscan army under the command of Prince Francesco dé Medici to crush the uprisings saved the day. From that point forward, Pierallini became much more cautious. Enforcement of the rights of the peasantry and the payment of taxes by the nobility became almost non-existent. It did not help Pierallini’s cause that Filippo I was focused on the wider war in Europe and not on his role as King of Naples. This all changed in 1576 with the Peace of Regensburg. In the Spring of 1577, Filippo I ordered an army under General Giuseppe Terreni, made up of loyal veteran northern Italian units, south to add some muscle to Pierallini’s reform efforts. Filippo himself went south and took up residence in Naples’s Castel Nuovo for six months from September 1577 to March of 1578. It was the first time he went to the capital of his second kingdom since helping lead the capture of the city back in 1565.

This move, in turn, angered Alfonso I, Duke of Caserta, who considered himself the rightful King of Naples and ruler of the whole of southern Italy. Alfonso became Duke at the age of twenty on 29 May 1578 upon the death of his father, Leandro I. Following his defeat at the hands of Tuscany in 1566, Leandro I had abandoned his ambitions to reconquer the south and retreated to a life of quiet study. His main goal was to simply preserve the small duchy he still had and even sought to mend relations with the Medici. His son, on the other hand, burned with a passion for vengeance. When he came to the throne in Caserta, he made it his mission to restore the old lands of his house, the Boncompagni. He sought out alliances with other states that hated the Medici. He found friends in Genoa and Madrid and sought to do everything in his power to foil the Grand Duchy’s plans for the south. The Duke was open to any possibility of trying to retake the Mezzogiorno and had numerous contacts among the nobility of the south. In any way he could, Duke Alfonso contributed to disrupting Florence’s efforts to centralize power in the south under the Medici.

While Tuscany and Naples were de jure unified, they were still de facto separated, with different administrations, legal systems, and currencies. The precarious nature of the south was dangerous not only because of the machinations of the Duke of Caserta, but also because the Crown of Spain had never quite abandoned its own hopes of retaking the Mezzogiorno. The Spaniards ruled the island of Sicily, just across the Straits of Messina from the mainland, and represented a constant threat to Medici hold of the south. The issue of the Mezzogiornowas to remain a thorn in the side of Grand Duke Filippo I going forward. It would not be effectively resolved until another war was won.
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The struggle for political power between the southern nobility and the crown was a defining feature of the late 1570s in Italy

While much of the focus of the Medici remained on the Mezzogiorno, there were new horizons to look at as well. These were brought into focus by one man: Federigo Soderini. Soderini had travelled to the New World in the years 1568-1570 and returned there following his years serving in the Tuscan army during the War of the Religious Leagues. From 1576 to 1578 he visited the Norwegian island of Bermuda, the colony of Mayaimi in Scottish Florida, and the city of Tamaulipas, capital of French Mexico. When he returned to Florence he proposed an ambitious idea to Grand Duke Filippo I. Soderini wanted Tuscany to establish its own New World colonies. There were numerous Caribbean islands that remained unclaimed and the mainland of the New World north of Scottish Florida was untouched by Europeans. The young adventurer spoke of untold riches and economic opportunities. In addition to lobbying the Medici court, he also gathered support among his merchant friends in the large trading companies.

Soderini’s proposal piqued the interest of a few of the Grand Duke’s advisors, particularly his brother, Prince Francesco dé Medici, but gained little traction with the sovereign himself. Filippo provided Soderini with a nominal budget to explore colonization but little would come of it for a number of years. Still, the proposal awakened in the Italian merchants dreams of the New World which, to that point, had lain dormant. However, it would take the rise of a new Grand Duke to make them a reality.

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Federigo Soderini

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Federigo Soderini had an ambitious plan to develop Tuscan colonies in the New World

Closer to home, Filippo did indulge other mercantile interests. The Medici had a longstanding tradition of using the power of the mercantile classes and the guilds against the nobility. With the Mezzogiorno in turmoil, Filippo sought to gain the financial and political support of the merchants to curb the power of the southern aristocracy.

Filippo, under the guidance of Azzeglio di Vicini, chief executive of the Compagnia San Pietro, the Grand Duchy’s largest trading company, established a new practice for charter companies. Though Filippo did not know it, di Vicini and Soderini were associates and the charter company program would become a precursor to the economic exploitation of New World colonies. In the late 1570s however, it still remained a Europe-only provision. What the creation of charter companies did is allow the crown to exchange exclusive trading rights in specific areas to particularly helpful and loyal merchants. The Grand Duchy declared particular states and regions as “exclusive trade areas” and only companies with charters would be allowed to trade there with the sanction of the state. For instance, the Compagnia San Pietro was given the exclusive rights to conduct all Tuscan trade with the Hanseatic League and in Germany more broadly. The Compagnia San Pietro’s hated rival, the Compagnia dell’Elba, received exclusive rights to conduct trade with the Sultanate of Tunis. The Caribbean trade was awarded, after much bickering, to the Compagnia Adriatica, of which Soderini was a partner.

This did not mean smaller trading companies were put out of business entirely. They could still trade in the charter companies’ exclusive areas but had to pay royalty fees to do so. The charters had to be renewed every two years so if a company could convincingly argue that it could bring in greater profits than the existing charter holder, or if the charter holder fell out of favor with the crown, the exclusive rights could be revoked and handed to a competitor.

The Charter Companies initiative mimicked the way the Medici exerted control over the Emilia-Romagna. They empowered a small group of large trading companies to police the activities of the smaller ones, all the while guaranteeing the latter’s rights. It represented yet one more front in the war to centralize control in Florence. In exchange for the new privileges, trade companies both great and small backed the Medici bid for a southern crackdown. They refused to deal with obstinate nobles and helped fund the army’s presence in the south. The Compagnia San Pietro and the Compagnia dell’Elba, historical enemies, even managed to collaborate to fund a large new fortress in Calabria.

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The creation of chartered companies backed by the crown helped increase Tuscan mercantile power


Foreign Minister Gianfrancesco Lori emerged from the Peace of Regensburg as a celebrated figure. Many in Florence and throughout the Grand Duchy were calling him the greatest Italian diplomat since Machiavelli. He managed to achieve every diplomatic goal Tuscany had going into the peace congress and had reestablished the age-old balance of alliance between the Valois and the Habsburgs. Like the other great diplomats before him, Lori sought to cement his legacy by improving on the institution of the diplomatic corps.

The professionalization of the Tuscan diplomats, begun by his predecessors, increased under Lori. He tightened the requirements to join the profession and required all of his envoys and ambassadors to write detailed reports back to Florence in order to both gather information on friends and foes alike, as well as to gauge the quality of his own employees. As a result of his efforts, Tuscany’s diplomatic reach increased substantially under his watch.

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The diplomatic corps thrived and expanded under the leadership of Gianfrancesco Lori

Two currents conspired to bring war back to the Italian Peninsula. The first was the empowered and emboldened Tuscan merchants. After siding successfully with the Grand Duke against the nobility in the north, they wanted to use their influence to crush their ancient rivals, the Genovese and to push their way into dominance over the south of Italy. The second current was instability in the Mezzogiorno. Though the revolt of 1572 had been successfully put down by the Medici, the lenient terms offered to the rebellious lords and their supporters emboldened them to make another effort in the future. Furthermore, the continued existence of the independent Duchy of Caserta, which maintained de facto control over Naples itself, remained a threat to Medici hegemony over the south. The tense peace that prevailed was held together only be the old and ailing Pietro Pierallini. When Filippo I’s Viceroy did finally die on 1 April 1580, the tension simmering in the Mezzogiorno was about to boil over.
 

Nikolai

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So there might soon be an Italian based New World colony. I applaud this.:)
 

Casko

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Italy can into Colonialism? I wonder if you'll aim for Tunisia as well in the near Future even with the Coring cost...
after all it'd take care (part) of your Berber pirate problem as well as give you more legitimacy in the eye of the Pope for reclaiming the Seat of Bishop of Carthago/Tunis once more.

Can't wait for more, keep up the good work as always.
 

JerseyGiants88

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Chapter 37: Fire in the South, 1580-1584

On 1 April 1580, Pietro Pierallini, Grand Duke Filippo I’s Viceroy in the Kingdom of Naples died of a fever. His passing, and the loss of his capable, evenhanded leadership, left the Mezzogiorno in a state of turmoil. His replacement, the hardline Archbishop of Cosenza, Alfonso di Farnese, only exacerbated the already tense situation.
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The death of Viceroy Pietro Pierallini led to the breakdown of peace in the Mezzogiorno

A younger brother of the powerful Duke of Parma, Alessandro di Farnese, Alfonso was a staunch Catholic who wanted to roll back the Calvinist presence in the northern Mezzogiorno. The Reformed faith was particularly strong in the rugged and mountainous province of Abruzzi. He had opposed Pierallini’s policy of religious toleration and, now that he was ruling in Grand Duke Filippo’s name, had a free hand to pursue his own religious ambitions. Adding to the list of problems was the fact that Florence’s policy in the south remained subordinate to northern Italian political considerations. Alfonso’s appointment as Viceroy was part of the Medici’s continuing efforts to maintain peace in the north between the armed religious camps in the Val Padana. The Catholic and Protestant factions, led by the Farnese and Este respectively, were never far from open conflict and the Medici relied upon the two powerful families to keep the peace. That rich and productive region, watered by the Po River, was the breadbasket of Italy, and the maintencance of tranquility and stability there remained a paramount concern. In the case of Alfonso Farnese, the appointment was seen in Florence as merely a way to appease his family’s anger at the marriage of a Medici cousin into the rival House of Este.

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Cardinal Alfonso di Farnese, Archbishop of Cosenza and Viceroy of the Kingdom of Naples

While his appointment may have been an afterthought at the Palazzo Medici, Cardinal Farnese did not see it that way. He viewed the Viceroyalty as a mandate to restore Catholicism to the Mezzogiorno. He found a willing military partner in General Giuseppe Terreni. The commander of the Reggio Calabria-based Armata Meridionale, or Army of the South, was not only an accomplished and celebrated military leader, but also a staunch Catholic. Upon taking office, the Cardinal immediately sent a regiment into the Abruzzi to harass Calvinist aristocrats and extract religious taxes from recalcitrant Reformed cities.

On the other side of the divide, were the Calvinist aristocrats still loyal to the House of Boncompagni. Their leader, Pietro Malaspina, was the brother of Martino Malaspina, head of the last southern rebellion in 1572. After the rebellion was crushed by a Tuscan army, Martino and the other rebel leaders were burned at the stake on the order of Prince Francesco dé Medici.

In what would come to be known as the “Southern Conspiracy”, many of the landed families of the Mezzogiorno joined with the Boncompagni and the Republic of Genoa to resist Cardinal Farnese and overthrow Medici power in the south. Duke Alfonso I arrived in Genoa on 13 June 1580, a little over two months after the death of Pierallini. Joining him there were Pietro Malaspina, Salvatore Pieroni and Adriano Benciveni. They met with Doge Vitale della Torre, leader of the Republic of Genoa. Della Torre was ambitious and, in the seven years since being elected in 1573, had managed to eliminate all his domestic political rivals. His view was that the Medici had to be contained if Genoa was to avoid the fate of its old rival, the Republic of Venice. The Venetians had been cut down from a mighty maritime empire and now barely clung to their home islands in the Venetian lagoon and the port of Trieste. Furthermore, Calvinism had spread and taken root in the Liguria region of Italy. Their shared faith with the Boncompagni regime in the south made the formation of acommon cause easy. Many of della Torre’s strongest political supporters were hardline Calvinists who still clung to the dream of converting Italy to their faith. Genoa still possessed a mighty fleet and a great deal of wealth, but the more time passed, the more the Tuscans gained the advantage. In the mind of della Torre and his supporters, there was no choice but to strike soon.

Also present was the Spanish ambassador to Genoa, Hernando de Ruiz. The ruling Trastamara of Spain still held ambitions of recapturing southern Italy and viewed the breaking of the Medici hold over that region as the first step to reestablishing their rule. Accordingly, they agreed to become background supporters of the Southern Conspiracy and give financial backing to the Boncompagni and the Genovese. The Spanish were adamant, however, that they would not intervene militarily under any circumstance.

Even though Tuscany and Spain had fought on the same side in the War of the Religious Leagues, they remained rivals and deeply suspicious of each other. The Medici maintained an extensive spy network in the Iberian Pensinula that would soon pay off. One of their agents, Maria Grazia della Cicogna, was posing as a nun and had secured work in the Catedral de Santa María de la Sede in Seville. When de Ruiz returned to the city to report to Conde-Duque Olivares, Foreign Minister to King Fernando VI, Cicogna was perfectly placed to spy on the conversation. The two men met beneath the famous tower of La Giralda off the Calle de Placentines. Cicogna managed to place herself where she could overhear the conversation. De Ruiz informed Olivares of the conspiracy and the secret preparations for war. The next day, Cicogna boarded a ship that took her down the Guadalquivir to Cádiz and from there to Livorno. When she arrived in Florence and reported what she had heard to Gianfrancesco Lori, the stage was set for war.
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Maria Grazai Cicogna’s spying led to the uncovering of the “Southern Conspiracy”

Grand Duke Filippo was shocked. That the Republic of Genoa and the Duchy of Caserta were hostile to the Medici was a given. What took him by surprise was the depth of disloyalty throughout the rest of the south. In particular, the provinces around Naples were the most filled with unhappy nobles. The provinces to the far south, Calabaria, Salento, and Cosenza were solidly Catholic and loyal to the Medici. During Pierallini’s tenure, they had also been the provinces to wrest the greatest amount of control from the landowners.

Hoping to salvage peace through diplomacy, Filippo I dispatched emissaries to Duke Alfonso I and Doge della Torre. However, word of the conspiracy had also reached Cosenza and Cardinal Farnese. This gave him the room he needed to put his plans into action. He met with General Terreni in Reggio Calabria and the two men drew up plans to pacify the northern Mezzogiorno and to crush the Duke of Caserta’s army.

At the same time, the Genovese, whose own spies in Florence knew the Medici had learned of the conspiracy, wanted to gain the advantage. They invaded the Val Padana and began laying siege to Parma, lynchpin of the Medici’s northern defenses and the hometown of the hated Cardinal Farnese. The Genovese commander, Isnardo Negrone, wanted to take the powerful fortress and then raid into the fertile lands to the east. However, the garrison at the city held behind the imposing walls and the Genovese could do little but plunder the surrounding countryside and take futile shots with their artillery.

In Spain, King Fernando and his advisors in Madrid rethought their involvement as well. Though they did not know it, their own intelligence leaks had brought on the war before their allies were ready. Still, the fact that the Medici had forced the issue before both Genoa and Caserta were prepared meant that he prospects for a successful Spanish intervention were dim. It was unlikely they could send an army to Italy quick enough to stave off the destruction of Duke Alfonso’s force as well as that of the Genovese. While they had the option of entering the war and engaging in a protracted conflict in Italy, the continuing tensions with France made the dispatch of an expedition to the Mezzogiorno a risk too great to take.

Meanwhile, as General Terreni marched his army north from Calabria, the rebel conspirators got cold feet and none of the hoped for uprisings occurred. Despite the Medici’s tenuous political hold on southern Italy, the presence of a large field army was enough, in this case, to keep the peace and secure the loyalty of most of the would-be rebellious aristocrats. Furthermore, the Boncompagnis’ political legitimacy suffered a blow each time jubilant peasants greeted Terreni and his men who were well provisioned and made it a point to distribute food and goods to the populace wherever they went. With no rebels to slow them down, the Armata Meridionale moved swiftly from Calabria to Naples.

Meanwhile, Prince Franceso and the Armata del Nord marched to lift the siege of Parma. They reached the outskirts of the city on 14 November and made camp to the southeast of the city near the town of Porporano on the east bank of the Parma Stream. Inexplicably, General Negrone did not change his troops’ disposition and maintained their siege lines. The following morning, the Tuscans took full advantage of Genoa’s numerical disadvantage and their slowness to deploy. When the prince ordered his guns to open up, a large portion of the already outnumbered Genovese army was still on the west side of the city. Seeing their comrades bombarded by artillery and set upon by the Tuscan cavalry, they began to retreat before firing a shot. General Negrone managed to salvage his army but not without suffering heavy casualties. They began the long march back to Genoa, never to set foot on Tuscan soil again. Prince Francesco, understanding the decisive advantage he enjoyed, allowed his men two days’ rest in the jubilant city they had just relieved. Then, on 18 November, they began a slow, methodical march west to the enemy’s capital.
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The Tuscan victory at Parma stole the initiative from the Genovese

In the south, General Terreni’s Armata Meridionale finally made contact with Duke Alfonso’s force in the Abruzzi on 1 December 1580. The duke had hoped to winter with his men in the rugged Apennines, avoid engaging the larger Tuscan army until he could rally more nobles to his cause, and bring Spain or some other power into the conflict on his side. On all counts, he failed. Despite the hostility toward the Medici that existed in the Abruzzi, neither Calvinist zeal nor loyalty to the House of Boncompagni was able to rouse the aristocracy to action. In Terreni, Alfonso found a dogged adversary willing to push his men to the point of exhaustion to secure victory and destroy his enemy. Alfonso’s military commander, Nestore d’Appiani d’Aragona, recommended retreating back toward Caserta and to abandon the Abruzzi. The region was the Calvinist heartland and where Alfonso had the strongest political support but their small army of 7,000 men was facing a force nearly three times their size that was better trained, batter equipped, and better led. Reluctantly, Alfonso accepted his general’s recommendation.

In truth, the Duke’s army was already doomed. The tough terrain and late autumn rains made the going sluggish and slow. Two days later, on 3 December, as Alfonso’s army was attempting to withdraw southwest toward Naples, Terreni and his troops caught them as they tried to cross the swollen Sangro River near the town of Villa Santa Maria. In less than an hour, Alfonso’s army was destroyed, with the duke himself barely escaping capture. General d’Aragona was killed in the fighting and the survivors surrendered or were put to flight. The road to Caserta was open. Less than four months into the war and the situation was decisively to Tuscany’s advantage.
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Duke Alfonso’s army was destroyed at the Battle of the Sangro by General Terreni and the Armata Meridionale

The early months of 1581 would all but assure victory for the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. By the start of 1582, both Naples and Genoa were under siege. On 9 February, Naples surrendered and Duke Alfonso I became a prisoner of Tuscany. Genoa, with its sturdy walls and plentiful provisions appeared ready to hold out indefinitely. However, Doge della Torre and most of the government slipped out of the city in early April of 1582, headed for the Genovese strongholds in Crimea, hoping to continue the war from there. While they got away successfully and began regrouping in the east, the resolve of the city crumbled. The garrison, feeling abandoned, agreed to the lenient terms offered by Prince Francesco, and the Armata del Nord entered the great port city triumphantly on 19 April.
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The surrender of Genoa on 19 April 1582

With the fall of Genoa, the conflict ended on the Italian Peninsula, but the war was not over. The Genovese government fled to Corsica and vowed to continue the fight, still hoping for foreign intervention against Florence. Additionally, the Tuscan merchants, hoping for access to new markets, wanted to take Genoa’s lands and ports on the Black Sea. Grand Duke Filippo’s military and diplomatic advisors opposed expanding the war to Crimea, but did support taking Corsica. Filippo in the end decided to continue the war but did not commit to any annexation beyond Liguria.

The Grand Duke dispatched his brother, Prince Francesco, and part of the Armata del Nord to Corsica and sent General Terreni and the Armata Meridionale to the east. The plan represented Florence’s most ambitious military campaign ever in terms of distance and scope. The Grand Duchy would have to support two large expeditionary forces simultaneously while still maintaining a large enough army in Italy to protect against possible unrest in the south as well as a potential surprise attack by the Spanish, should Madrid decide to become involved in the war.

The Tuscan fleet under Admiral Tempesta was going to push the limits of its capabilities. Tempesta arranged to first transport Terreni and his army to Crimea. The Genvoese were regrouping their forces in the east and the Tuscans did not want to give them the chance to strike back and regain their strength. The ships sailed from Naples with the Armata Meridionale aboard, made the journey around Italy, traversed the eastern Mediterranean, passed through the Dardanelles and the Bosporus, and crossed the Black Sea, landing south of Caffa, near the fishing village of Koktebel on 27 June 1581. Tempesta then split his fleet. He sent half the ships back to Italy to transport the Armata del Nord to Corsica while the other half stayed in the Black Sea to disrupt Genovese shipping and enforce the blockade of the enemy’s ports. When the Mediterranean squadron returned to Italy, they picked up the prince and his men and ferried them across the Tyreniean Sea, landing on the coastal plains north of Porto Vecchio on 27 October 1581.

The Genovese sent a fleet under the command of Admiral Antonio Gentile to try and break the blockade. They two sides met off the coast of eastern Crimea on 7 November 1581. Despite being outnumbered, the Tuscan force, led by Tempesta’s flagship, the Tempesta Ridente, or “Laughing Storm”, crushed their foes, sinking six enemy ships and capturing another, at the loss of only two of their galleys. With the victory, Tuscan control of the Black Sea was assured and the blockade of the Genovese ports remained intact.

Terreni’s army lay siege to the Genovese fortress at Kerch. Despite the frigid winter conditions, they persevered and forced a surrender on 8 February 1582. From there, they crossed the Straits of Kerch and moved against the last Genovese army in the east. In a sharp battle, the Tuscans defeated the Genovese but were unable to trap and destroy them. The Genovese retreated in good order. Nevertheless, the victory assured Tuscan victory in the east. A week after the battle, Tuscan officers made contact with envoys from Khan Kuchuk II of Nogai. Leading the delegation from Nogai were the philosopher Dinbay Qorchigene and the statesman Edigu Koke Erdene. The two sides negotiated a framework for a trade deal and signed a pact of friendship.
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The Tuscan siege lines outside the fortress of Kerch


On Corsica, Prince Francesco’s expedition was meeting with similar success. By late February of 1582, the island was largely pacified and in firm Tuscan control. The last Genovese garrison, holding out in the south of the island surrendered on 25 February. With the conquest of Corsica complete and the Genovese defeated in the east, Grand Duke Filippo I initiated peace negotiations. Doge della Torre of Genoa, who was with the Genovese army in the east, refused to return to Italy. As a compromise, Filippo agreed to hold the talks on neutral ground. The two sides chose to meet at Candia on the island of Crete, with Giacomo I Ptochos, Prince of Crete, guaranteeing safety for both sides. The Spaniards requested and were granted their own representation at the Candia peace summit. Hernando de Ruiz, ambassador to Genoa, represented King Fernando VI.

In the Mezzogiorno, Boncompagni supporters made one final, desperate bid to save Naples from Medici control. Many of the nobles who had initiated the “Southern Conspiracy” finally rose. With the bulk of their armies overseas in Corsica and Crimea, only a small Tuscan force remained in Italy. The rebels were led by Pietro Malaspina and hoped to free Naples, defeat the remaining Tuscan army in Italy, and then force a peace settlement that would at least preserve the status quo ante bellum. On 12 April 1582, they raised their banners and marched on their old capital. The garrison left by General Terreni shut the gates and prepared to defend against the siege.
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The Neapolitan Revolt represented the last gasp of resistance to rule from the north

The rebel army numbered nearly 40,000 men, though most were peasants forced into service by their overlords. Against them, was a Tuscan army under the command of Marco Orsini, only about 12,000 strong. Still, they were well trained, battle hardened, and led by a highly capable commander. Orsini knew the odds were against him but he compensated for his lack of numbers with excellent planning. Orsini marched his army around the city and assembled his men on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius. Malaspina, knowing he had the numbers, moved to attack them. However, with the high ground, the Tuscans were able to rain down well aimed artillery fire against their foes. This was followed by a bold cavalry charge against the rebel left flank, held by poorly armed and disorganized infantry. The Tuscan horse smashed through the hastily assembled line of pikes and turned the rebel line. Lacking the training and leadership to weather such an attack, the rebel army crumbled and the battle turned into a rout. Malaspina was killed and, without their commander, the rebels lost all semblance of organization. Wisely, Orsini ordered a halt to the pursuit so as to not overextend his lines and maintain the high ground on Vesuvius. The rebels never threatened Naples again.
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The Battle of Mount Vesuvius was a smashing victory for Tuscany against the Neapolitan rebels

With the rebellion crushed, the peace talks at Candia could continue. Despite Spanish diplomatic support, neither Alfonso I nor the Genovese were going to get off easily. For the former, the defeat in the war meant the end of his family’s time in power and the abolition of the Duchy of Caserta. All remaining lands held by the Boncompagni were annexed the Medici, leaving Filippo I to rule over all of southern Italy as the undisputed King of Naples. Furthermore, Alfonso and all remaining male members of the Houses of Boncompagni and Malaspina were banished from Italy. Alfonso offered to go into exile in Spain, a proposition de Ruiz supported, but Gianfrancesco Lori refused to accept that. He was concerned that a potential pretender to the Neapolitan throne living under a monarchy that had its pretensions to the Mezzogiorno represented too great a threat. Instead, he offered to agree for Alfonso to remain in Crete as a guest of Prince Giacomo, or else to France under the protection of King Louis XVI. Alfonso and most of his relatives chose France, though some elected to remain in Crete as well. The one exception was the eight-year-old, Federico Boncompagni, Alfonso’s youngest brother. He was to remain in Italy and become a ward of the Medici family to guarantee the deposed duke’s good behavior.

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Federico Boncompagni’s fate would not be a bad one. He was taken in by Prince Francesco dé Medici and joined a household full of children. The prince, of course, had his own offspring: eleven-year-old Alberto, eight-year-old Giulio, six-year-old Teodora, and four-year-old Gabriella. In addition, he was also raising his brother’s illegitimate son, nine-year-old Alessandro, as well as Pantaleone and Martina Gattilusio, the children of his friend and fellow army officer, Guglielmo Gattilusio, killed at the Battle of Parma. The Gattilusio children were nine and six respectively. Together, this precocious group of children would have an immense impact on the future of Italy.

For Genoa, the war did not end its existence, but it the republic’s presence on the Italian mainland. All of Liguria, including the great city of Genoa itself, went to Tuscany. The Genovese were allowed to keep Corsica, thanks largely to the vigorous lobbying of de Ruiz and the Spanish Crown, as well as its eastern possessions. These developments caused an existential and political crisis within the republic just as Doge della Torre thought he had established stability. Two factions emerged, one focused on Corsica and maintaining power in Europe, and another focused on Crimea and the east. The Crimean faction would eventually become dominant, shifting the republic’s economic and military resources eastward and leaving Corsica vulnerable. When the Medici conquered Corsica for good years later, Genoa’s departure from Europe would finally be complete.

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For the Medici, the quick and easy victory in the war was a huge boon. The elimination of the Boncompagni as a political force pacified many of the restless nobles, who resigned themselves to accepting the rule of Florence. In the aftermath of the war and the Neapolitan rebellion, Filippo took a softer approach. He replaced Cardinal Alfonso di Farnese with the famous and well-respected Dominican friar and theologian Cosimo Grimaldi. Grimaldi came from a prominent Florentine family and was a descendant of the legendary soldier and Gonfaloniere Antonio Grimaldi. He preached a policy of toleration toward Calvinists and Lutherans and considered them “lambs that strayed from the flock of the Church” rather than dangerous heretics. Filippo also removed General Terreni, another Catholic hardliner, from command of the Armata Meridionale and gave him command of the Armata del Nord instead. He gave command in the south to the more moderate Marco Orsini.


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Cosimo Grimaldi reversed the disastrous policies of Cardinal Farnese and brought peace to the Mezzogiorno

Together, Grimaldi and Orsini worked tirelessly to enact the centralizing reforms begun by Pietro Pierallini while also reaching out to the Calvinist minority. Within two years of the Peace of Candia, subversive activity in the Mezzogiorno had all but ceased. The two sides reached an understanding with each other to the point where southern Italy was a full and equal member of the Medici realm.
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Cosimo Grimaldi’s policy of tolerance and reform brought peace to the south

With the capture of Genoa, Tuscany now controlled the second most important port in Italy after Venice. This only increased their mercantile power and bound the powerful trading houses even more firmly to the Medici regime. Tuscany’s ambitions to become the greatest mercantile power in the world were one step closer to become a reality. The Peace of Candia finally settled the southern question and ushered in over a decade of peace for the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.

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Italy in 1584
 

Nikolai

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That is indeed a great victory! You are more or less de facto Italy by now.
 

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JerseyGiants88

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Thank you @Nikolai for nominating me and thanks to everyone who has been reading. I know I've been very sporadic with the updates but I do have some character-centric updates coming up soon once I get back to somewhere that gives my wifi access for my computer (I'm writing this from my phone).

They're going to follow the kids I mentioned towards the end of Chapter 37. They will be major characters for a long time and I plan on developing them both through the chapters and through the historical vignettes.
 

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Historical Vignette 16: Welcome to the Family, 8 August, 1582

Federico Boncompagni held tightly onto the reins of his horse. He was nervous as the group thundered toward the imposing Villa del Trebbio in the Apennine foothills of Tuscany. From what Federico knew of history, this is the region where the powerful Medici dynasty had originated, and this was one of their oldest holdings. When he’d first learned of his coming captivity to the Tuscan rulers, Federico assumed his new home would be in Florence. That’s also what the captain of his escort, Captain Fabio Valori, told him. It was only when Federico and his escort crossed to the north bank of the Arno at the village of Pontassieve and began ascending into the hills that he knew his destination was different.

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The Villa del Trebbio, one of the oldest and grandest Medici villas in the Tuscan countryside, viewed from a distance

Federico hadn’t bothered to protest. He was the rightful Prince of Apulia and princes didn’t complain. It was of no matter that that region was lost to his family before Federico was even born. Plus, what was the point? He’d resigned himself to his fate weeks earlier, when his older brother Alfonso, Duke of Caserta and rightful King of Naples, came back from Crete and informed Federico that while the rest of the Boncompagni family was banned forever more from Italy and headed for exile in France, he was to become a hostage of the Medici. The boy wasn’t sure which was the worse fate. His probably, he thought bitterly. Sure, Alfonso and his other siblings would have to go to France, but they got to stay together. Though Federico had the “luck”, as his brother put it, to stay in Italy, Tuscany might as well have been the New World. It was the emerald green hills, golden fields, and the jade-colored sea of his native Campania that he loved. In his mind, Tuscany was basically Germany.

Federico wore the coat of arms of the House of Boncompagni, a golden dragon on a red field, embroidered on his chest. It was the one bit of resistance he held on to. When Captain Valori had first laid eyes upon it, he studied the boy quietly, as if deciding if this represented some unacceptable sign of disloyalty. After a few long moments, the officer simply turned away quietly. Wearing the arms of his family made Federico feel the defiant prince though he knew, deep down, if Valori or one of the other soldiers had demanded its removal, he would have capitulated rather quickly. Despite his dreams of battlefield glory and assumed bravado, the Prince of Caserta was still just a boy of eight. Still, Valori and his men had treated Federico kindly, if coolly, throughout the long journey north from the Mezzogiorno. The prince wondered if he’d miss them.



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The coat of arms of the House of Boncompagni

Federico and his escort reached the gates of the villa and stopped. Captain Valori addressed the guards who opened the gate for them. The four sentries were wearing matching uniforms bearing the coat of arms of the Medici, six balls on a golden field, five of them red with the chief one being blue emblazoned with the arms of France. The group entered a large courtyard after passing through the gates in front of the villa’s imposing façade. It was more of a castle than a country home. Inside the courtyard, seven little girls, all dressed in white, and roughly aged between five and ten years old, sat listening to a nun giving a lesson. As the mounted party entered, bringing dust and the whinnying of horses with them, they all turned to look.

Captain Valori ordered a halt, dismounted, and removed his helmet. He pointed to Federico and indicated that he boy should do the same. The hot, still summer air lingered over the yard as the midday sun beat down on it, the sound of cicadas ringing in his ears. Federico climbed down off his silver stallion, a parting gift from his brother Alfonso. It had been the former Duke of Caserta’s own horse, and one of the finest in the Boncompagni stables. “It’s a long ride to Florence,” Alfonso told Federico, “I want you to have the best horse for the journey.” Federico had noticed at that moment that his brother was crying, and the boy broke down in tears himself. He wondered if he’d ever see Alfonso again.

“Come boy,” said Valori once Federico had both feet on the ground. The pair walked over to the nun, who stood slowly as they approached. The young captain bowed his head in greeting. “Good afternoon sister,” he said in a respectful tone, “I am sorry we have disturbed your lesson, but I have orders to deliver this boy into the custody of His Highness Prince Francesco.”

“His Highness is out on the hunt,” replied the nun matter-of-factly. She was an old, wizened woman, small and stooped but nevertheless with an air of elegance about her. Her bright green eyes enlivened her wrinkled face, made all the brighter in contrast with her black habit.

“Then who may I turn the boy over to?” asked Valori.

“Leave him here,” she croaked in reply, “I will go and fetch Signor Tabasco, the house steward.”

“With all due respect sister, I have express orders that I am only to turn the boy over to the Prince or else to a—”

“I will take charge of him,” came a woman’s voice from the terrace above them. Federico turned to look who it was. The voice belonged to a dark-haired woman of middle age, still beautiful despite her years. She had a Grecian look, like many women of the Mezzogiorno. Captain Valori bowed deeply. His hand rose quickly and smacked Federico on the back of the head. “Bow boy!” snarled the officer. Federico did as he was told.

“Rise captain,” said the woman, “is this our long awaited guest?”

“This is Federico Boncompagni, your Highness,” replied Valori, “he is to be a ward of his Highness the Prince Francesco.”

“I am aware of my household affairs captain,” she said with calm amusement, leaning forward on the marble bannister of the balcony.

“My apologies your Highness,” replied Valori quickly.

“There is no need for apologies my young sir,” she responded, “I thank you for delivering Federico to us safely. You may leave him with sister Agatha in the courtyard.” The woman smiled down at Federico. “Captain,” she continued, “if you exit the courtyard through the gate and head straight across the field without, you will find a large farm house with a stable behind it. Go there and speak to Ruggiero. He will see that you and your men are given food and water and that your horses are attended to as well.”

“Thank you,” replied Valori, bowing again, “your Highness’s beauty, grace, and kindness have exceeded even the stories I have heard.”

The woman smiled and turned from the balcony. Valori looked wistfully at her back until she disappeared. “Well Boncompagni,” he said finally, turning to Federico, “best of luck to you boy. I hope your brother behaves himself in France so they won’t have to take your head.” The officer rustled Federico’s hair, turned and strode off toward his men waiting near the gate.

“Captain,” a girl’s voice broke in. Valori stopped, turned back around and studied the girl. She was blonde, dressed in white, and held a small basket of fruit and flowers.

“Marietta!” the nun shouted, “get back over here! We have not finished our lesson!” The girl ignored her.

Captain Valori smiled at her and dropped to one knee. “And how may I be of service to you, young lady?”

“Would you honor me by taking this favor?” she asked sweetly, holding out a dark red flower.

Valori grinned and bowed, “well of course, you do me the honor.” He took the flower and tucked it into the clasp that held his tunic over his breastplate. Valori stood, bowed, took three steps back then turned and strode off toward his men.

“He is so chivalrous,” said a second girl dreamily, watching Valori walk away. She looked to be a year or two younger than the one called Marietta. Federico had not noticed her walk up.

“Do I get a favor?” Federico asked them hopefully, though he tried to mask it as a jest.

The older girl looked at him as if we were a particularly ugly bug. “A lady’s favors are for knights, not smelly little boys,” she said wrinkling her nose in disgust.

“Well you’re no lady!” replied Federico, hurt by the viciousness of her reply, “you’re just a stupid little girl.” She scoffed at him, which only enraged Federico further, though he had to admit to himself that he thought she was pretty.

“You should be more respectful,” she replied haughtily, “I am Marietta d’Este, only daughter of Camillo I, Duke of Ferrara. If you ever call me stupid again I will have you whipped for insolence.”

“You—I’m—you,” stammered Federico, turning red. “I’m a prince,” he finally managed. He noticed the younger girl giggling.

“Were a prince,” replied Marietta lazily as she feigned a yawn.

“Marietta! Teodora!” shrieked the old nun, “return this instant or the Lady Ariadne will hear of this disobedience.”

“Come Teodora,” said the older girl to the younger, “no need to waste our time with this one.”

Marietta gave Federico one more disgusted look then ran off toward the nun.

Federico stood there looking hurt. The younger girl, the one named Teodora, tugged his sleeve. “Don’t worry,” she whispered, “if Marietta is mean to you it just means she likes you.” She gave a giggle then turned and ran off toward the nun as well.


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Marietta d’Este as a girl

Federico, his confidence slightly repaired after that comment, looked wistfully at Marietta, now sitting quietly in a circle around the nun with the other girls. She spotted him looking at her, made a face, and stuck out her tongue. Federico was about to reply, when a man’s voice interrupted his thoughts.

“Boncompagni,” said a gruff older man, “this way.” Federico turned to look. The man whose voice it was looked to be of an age with the nun. His back was stooped, face weather beaten, and head completely bald but for a few thin wisps of hair around the sides of his skull. Federico just stood there studying him until the old man grew impatient. “Well?” he asked in annoyance, “I’m old and my remaining time is precious to me, I don’t want to spend it waiting on impertinent little lordlings.”

Federico followed the old man as he shuffled his way into the Villa del Trebbio. As they travelled through the halls Federico eyed several portraits of what he assumed were Medici ancestors. The old man, who had to be this Signor Tabasco the nun had mentioned, stopped in front of a heavy oaken door.

“This is your room,” the old man growled as he fumbled with an enormous key ring. He found the right one and opened the door. “You are expected to keep it clean. You may not leave the castle without permission. The Lady Ariadne is a noble and kindhearted women and said you are to be allowed books and writing materials and to roam the halls and grounds of the villa freely. I counseled against it, but as I said, the Lady is a kind soul and it is no business of mine to question her decisions.” He looked at Federico as one would examine a particularly useless piece of machinery. “Don’t know what you need books and pens for,” he added, “I never learned to read or write and it’s never been a problem.” With that he stepped through the door and slammed it behind him.

The feather bed in the corner of the room looked comfortable and inviting. He collapsed down onto it, staring up at the dark wooden beams on the ceiling. Before he knew it, the exhaustion of the trip caught up and the former Prince of Apulia dozed off to sleep.

Federico awoke several hours later to the song of clashing wooden swords outside his window. Back home in Caserta, he’d been a good swordsman for his age, often besting the other boys in their mock duels. He shook his head in an effort to banish the grogginess and stood up. The prospect of practicing his swordsmanship and challenging some of these haughty northern boys was a draw too strong to keep down. He went to the window and threw it open.

Below him was a stone courtyard with arcades running lengthwise on either side and large wooden doors at both ends. There was a marble well in the center surrounded by small flowering plants in pots. There were other plants around the courtyard as well, giving it a lively, relaxing aura. Nevertheless, there was nothing relaxing about what was going on in the center at that moment. Two boys with wooden swords were having at each other. The one on the right side, as Federico was facing them, wore a loose fitting white linen shirt covered in blue designs that looked like rounded hills. He had long limbs and his movements were quick and graceful but he was being driven back. The boy’s foe was shorter but strongly built. He wore all black and his boots were polished to a high sheen. His skin was dark, almost like a Moor’s, and his black hair grew in tight curls atop his head. The dark skinned boy’s movements were less precise, but they were strong and forced the other back onto his heels.


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An inner courtyard of the Villa del Trebbio

“Hold your ground Leo!” shouted a man seated in a corner of the courtyard. He jumped to his feet. “Come on! Come on!” He appeared to be urging on the boy with the blue hills on his shirt.

On the opposite side of the courtyard another man was shouting, apparently at the dark skinned boy. “Control it! Control it!” he bellowed, “you’re practicing to be a swordsman not some tourney bull!”

The boy in black seemed to ignore him, hacking and slashing violently. Finally, the boy with the red crosses stumbled as he retreated, and his foe seized the moment. He delivered a strong horizontal slash to the white-shirted boy’s ribs. The latter gasped, dropped his sword, grabbed his ribs, and crumpled to the ground. At that moment, Federico realized that there were other boys in the courtyard as they began cheering and jeering wildly. From his window, Federico counted six of them, including the two dueling, and two men. The two adults ran over to where the boy with the red-crossed shirt lay on the ground. The boy in black stood quietly, studying the scene. Suddenly, he looked up and his eyes locked onto Federico’s.

"Who are you?” he demanded imperiously pointing with his wooden sword. Several of the other boys looked up now as well.

“Me?” asked Federico taken aback.

“No, the little girl behind you,” the dark-skinned boy shot back, “yes, of course you.”

“I—I am Federico Boncompagni,” he replied with all the confidence he could muster.

“Ha! Our hostage,” said the boy arrogantly. Some of his comrades sniggered. “You should come down here, we can reenact the Battle of the Sangro.” Federico understood the barb. The Sangro River was where the Tuscan army had caught up with Federico’s brother and his men and cut them to pieces. Still, it also meant Federico was being offered the chance for vengeance, however slight.

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Alessandro "il Moro" as a youth

“I will be down in a moment,” he yelled.

Federico quickly changed out of his riding clothes and into something better suited for dueling. He put on black boots, white breeches, and a linen shirt checked in blue and red, the colors of his house. As soon as he finished lacing up his boots he ran downstairs. After two or three wrong turns, he finally found his way to the courtyard. A new fight was already underway. The dark-skinned boy was fighting again, but this time against a different opponent. The new boy was wearing a light blue shirt with a white eagle emblazoned in the center. Federico recognized the symbol: the arms of the venerable House of Este. This one was likely a cousin or brother of the mean but pretty Marietta girl he’d met earlier. This Este boy looked older and was both taller and thicker than the boy in black. Still, he was less skilled technically than the boy with the red crosses, and was trying to match the boy in black power for power.

“Somebody use technique!” yelled one of the men.

“Next time we’ll just tie you two to the wall and beat you with sticks!” shouted the other, “that seems to be all you like anyway!”

The Este boy launched a wild vertical slash. The boy in black sidestepped it and came back with a horizontal slash to the back of his opponent’s knee. The other boys erupted in cheers. The Este boy went down. He tried to get up but the dark-skinned boy was too quick. In an instant, he was behind him and landed a savage blow between the shoulder blades of his downed opponent.

“Enough!” shouted one of the men.

“Alessandro, you fight like a savage,” said the other man to the dark-skinned boy, “I like it. What you lack in technique you make up in fury and boldness. Surely that will get you killed some day, but you can go far with just fury and boldness.”

The dark-skinned boy smiled and turned to his vanquished foe, still struggling to get up. “Two years older than me and you still can’t beat me,” he mocked, “but then again why would I expect better from a Protestant?” Some of the other boys laughed.

One of the men, now assured the injuries to the Este boy were not too bad, walked over to Federico. “Signor Boncompagni,” he said jovially, “I am Tiberio Moltisanti, one of the instructors for this high-born rabble. My friend Carlino over there is my partner as we try to tame these wildlings and turn them into skilled and capable swordsmen. We train almost every day, should we expect to see much of you going forward?”

“Yes of course,” replied Federico excitedly, “I used to train daily as well back home in Naples.”

He heard a laugh. “This isn’t Naples kid,” said the dark-skinned boy, “we know how to wield swords here in Tuscany.”

“Don’t mind him,” said Tiberio, “our little Alessandro remembers he’s the son of the Grand Duke but forgets the part about him being a bastard.” Alessandro fixed an icy glare at Tiberio’s back before turning away. “Who else do we have here?” asked Tiberio to himself. He pointed to a small boy, clearly several years younger than the rest. “That there is Massimo del Rosso, he’s still too young to participate in our little scraps but he’s observant, not to mention descended from a long line of great soldiers. It’s a good start, right Massimino?”

The little boy nodded and smiled happily then darted off, slashing at the air with an invisible sword.

“This here is Pantaleone Gattilusio, or Leo as we call him,” said Tiberio pointing to the boy with the red-crossed shirt, still nursing his hand. “That over there is Ricardo d’Este,” he said indicating the boy with the blue shirt, who was being helped to his feet by Carlino. “And finally we have Giulio dé Medici, His Highness Prince Francesco’s second son, and his cousin Piero dé Medici.” The two nodded coolly in Federico’s direction.

Meanwhile, Alessandro had retaken his position in the center of the courtyard. “Well, who’s next?” he demanded.

“Sit down Ale,” shouted Carlino, “two new fighters.”

“I’m fine,” Alessandro persisted stubbornly. “‘The devil is tireless,’ just ask Riccardo,” he went on, quoting he Este family motto.

“Sit down,” reiterated Tiberio firmly. Alessandro rolled his eyes and finally relented.

“We’ll go,” said Giulio dé Medici from the corner. He and his cousin Piero got up, picked up their wood swords, and squared off in the center. Giulio wore a gold shirt with red dots while his cousin had on the reverse: a red shirt with gold dots.

“Let’s see some technique this time,” said Carlino, “fight!”

The two Medici boys went at each other circling and slashing and parrying. The two were a rather even match as far as technique but Piero looked to be a bit older and stronger. Their duel went on for a long time, but after a while, Giulio started to wear down. He lunged forward, trying to deliver a straight thrust to his cousin’s chest. The older boy swatted the wood sword away, spun, and stopped just short of Giulio’s neck. The younger boy smiled, dropped his sword, and said, “I guess you win this round cousin.”

“Well fought boys,” said Tiberio. He turned to Alessandro, who was leaning against one of the columns, “why can’t you learn from your cousins? That right there was sportsmanship.” Tiberio then looked up at the sky thoughtfully. “Come, we have time for one more fight,” he finally said.

“Yes, signor Moltisanti,” replied Alessandro picking up his wooden sword. “Come cousin,” he said to Piero, “I’ll take a turn with you.”

“I’ll fight,” said Federico suddenly. He didn’t know where the words had come from and he instantly wished he could swallow them back down. He was new and was sure to be judged. The last thing he wanted to do was stand in front of everyone here.

Tiberio Molitsanti looked at him. “Very well,” he said, “you look to be of a height with Giulio. Giulio, lend him your sword.” Giulio dé Medici walked over and handed his sword to Federico. “Don’t let him win,” he whispered, “or we’ll never hear the end of it at dinner tonight.”

Federico gripped the wooden sword and walked nervously to the center of the courtyard. Alessandro fixed him with his dark eyes. “The third son of a disgraced southern house,” he said, “this should be easy.”

“Don’t be too sure, bastard,” Federico shot back. He heard several of the other boys laugh but a look of cold hatred crossed Alessandro’s face.

“Fight!” came the command from Carlino. Federico took his stance as Alessandro came onto him quickly. Federico’s opponent attacked with a violent overhead slash which caught the southern boy off guard. He managed to deflect it in the nick of time and spin away, nearly falling.

“Never call me bastard,” said Alessandro angrily as he came in for another strike. This time the blow was a horizontal slash. Federico met it but his foe’s strength sent a shot of pain through his sword arm. Then came another and another. Federico backed off, his arm feeling almost numb. Alessandro brought another heavy strike from high to the right down across Federico’s body. The southerner managed to parry it but fell to one knee. He quickly recovered, just in time to deflect another attack.

“Keep after him,” yelled Carlino to Alessandro.

“Get the fight under control,” Tiberio shouted to Federico.

Federico quickly backed off, regaining his stance and position. This time when Alessandro moved in to strike, Federico was ready. Instead of parrying he ducked the slash, whirled around, and caught his enemy with a backhand strike. He heard the other boy grunt.

“That’s a wound but a glancing blow,” shouted Tiberio, “keep fighting.”

Alessandro was on him again quickly, hacking slashing. Federico parried the first blow, then the second. After that, he tried to spin away but their swords became tangled. Alessandro tried to rip himself away and both wooden swords fell to the ground, clanging. For a moment the two boys stood there, glaring at each other. One of the swords had slid across the courtyard and come to rest next to the well, but the other was within Federico’s reach. He tried to go for it quickly. However, before he could grasp it, the ground came up and smacked him on his right side. Alessandro was suddenly on top of him. Federico rolled and the two wrestled, a mass of punching arms and kicking legs. Several sets of hands reached in and began pulling. Federico swung and felt his fist hit something soft and heard a grunt. Then he was free.

JjEJMv5.jpg

The Villa del Trebbio as depicted by the Flemish master, Giusto Utens


“That’s enough,” yelled a man’s gruff voice. Federico did not recognize the sound of it. He tasted blood in his mouth and pain shot through his right hand. Somebody was holding him tight and in front of him a bloody-faced Alessandro glowered at him. A man stepped between them.

“I like the aggression but a true warrior can control his emotions as well,” said the man, “I know Tiberio and Carlino have taught you that, Ale.”

“Yes uncle,” replied Alessandro quietly, his expression changing from one of anger to contrition.

“You,” said the man turning to Federico, “you are my new ward I assume.”

Federico just stood there, unsure of what to say.

“My name is Francesco dé Medici,” said the man, studying his new guest. “I reckon I should have introduced myself.”

Federico, remembering himself, dropped quickly to one knee. “Your Highness,” he said, head bowed, “I am Federico Boncompagni, at your service.”

“Rise Federico Boncompagni,” said the Prince, “you fight well. If we can learn to harness your aggression, we can turn you into a true swordsman.” He looked back and forth between Federico and Alessandro. “Shake hands you two, one day you may find yourselves on the same side in a fight. And then you will need to know that you can trust each other.”

Alessandro looked at Federico then extended his hand. Federico shook it. “I’m sorry I called you a bastard,” he said.

The dark-skinned boy smiled. It was a friendly smile this time. “It’s okay,” he replied, “everyone calls me that. But one day they won’t anymore.”

“Alright then, all of you go get cleaned up,” said the Prince, “our hunt was very fruitful, and the cooks are roasting boar and deer as we speak. Tonight we feast!”

As Federico headed back to his room, a voice called out to him. “Federico Boncompagni,” it said. He turned around. A tall but frail looking boy was walking toward him slowly. It looked like he had a very slight limp.

“Yes,” replied Federico unsure of himself.

“My name is Alberto dé Medici,” said the boy, extending his hand.

Federico bowed his head, he knew this was Prince Francesco’s oldest son and heir. “Your Grace,” he said quietly.

“Don’t worry about ‘Your Grace’ and such things,” replied Alberto, “I am excited you are here.”

Federico looked at him curiously. When he didn’t reply, Alberto continued, “I have been reading a great deal about the south, and when I learned you were coming to live with us, I hoped that you would share your knowledge of your home with me.”

“Oh, uhm, yes sure,” replied Federico slightly taken aback.

“Great,” said Alberto, “tonight at dinner you can sit next to me, I want to know everything you can tell me about Naples, Caserta, everything.”

“Well of course,” said Federico happily. “I didn’t see you in the courtyard today. Do you ever train with the others at swords?” he asked.

“From time to time, but not often,” replied the other, “it is not my strength.”

“How come?” Federico inquired curiously.

Alberto took a deep breath, as if this was a question he’d had to answer many times. “I was often sick as a boy,” he said, “the doctors said it was a miracle I lived past my fifth birthday. Being bed ridden does not make one skilled at arms.”

“It isn’t too late to start,” said Federico encouragingly.

“No, Tiberio says based on what he’s seen of me I can still become a middling swordsman.”

“Well,” shrugged the southern boy, “better to be a middling swordsman than no swordsman at all.”

“No, it’s better to be no swordsman at all,” replied Alberto thoughtfully, “the graveyards are full of middling swordsmen. My mind is my sword, and books my training grounds. When my uncle the Grand Duke Filippo has a son who inherits the realm, I will be his advisor. My brother and my cousins can be his swords, he will have need of administrators as well.”

CgNykSK.png

Prince Alberto de Medici

Federico thought this over. The boy had a point, and he seemed pleasant enough. “I will be honored to sit with you this evening and tell you of my home.”

Alberto smiled, “very well Federico, I look forward to it. Welcome to the family, I will see you tonight.” With that he turned and walked off with that limp of his.

Federico turned the other way and headed for his room. The day could have gone much worse considering he was a hostage. Perhaps he could still make something of himself one day. He heard his stomach growl and remembered that he had not eaten since dawn. Boar and venison sounded excellent.
 
Last edited:

Bullfilter

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More great writing and beautiful presentation. A pleasure to read and a seamless blend of alternate history and historical plausibility.
 

Nikolai

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That chapter was just perfect. So well written and one could feel the persons. They felt real.:)
 

JerseyGiants88

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Chapter 38: Festina lente, 1584-1590

Tuscany’s victory against Genoa and Caserta did not come without a cost. Pope Innocent XI Excommunicated the Grand Duchy in 1582 in retaliation for its expansion in Italy. The Medici considered this especially galling since Pope Innocent IX had announced his support for their southern ambitions back in 1567 as a way to fight back against Calvinist encroachment into Italy. Florence viewed the war just past as a simple continuation of that same mission.
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The Medici were excommunicated by Pope Innocent XI in 1582

Regardless, the excommunication would prove short-lived, thanks in large part to the ambitions of a European power in the east. At the onset of the War of the Religious leagues, King August II Poniatowski of Poland positioned himself to make a run at becoming Holy Roman Emperor. However, his death outside Moscow in 1572 put an end to those hopes. Still, this did not extinguish Poland’s dreams of becoming an influential power throughout Europe. The defeat of the Catholic League and the capture of the Holy Roman Empire by the King of Bohemia and his Protestants supporters only caused them to move in a different direction. August’s son, Stanislaw II, was too young at the time of the War of the Religious Leagues to have been involved in politics. Nevertheless, as a devout Catholic and student of history and he came to regret that his father had put the ambitions of their house over Catholic unity. The new king sought to correct that.

Beginning with his coronation when he turned fifteen in 1576, Stanislaw II took Poland on a more strongly pro-Catholic course. The main thrust of this effort was a diplomatic offensive in Italy and Austria. He dreamed of creating an alliance with both the Habsburgs and the Medici. Furthermore, he wanted a Polish Pope elected.

Accordingly, Stanislaw began investing heavily in securing support among members of the Curia of Rome toward electing his favored candidate, Cardinal Franciszek Krasiński. Born in Krakow in 1524, Krasiński was the second son of a prominent Polish aristocratic family and rose rapidly through the ranks of the Church. He went to Rome in 1571 at the age of forty-seven in the early years of the War of the Religious Leagues. He gained notoriety by siding with the hardline anti-Protestant faction of the curia and openly speaking out against the decisions of his old sovereign, August II. While this led to a falling out between the cardinal and the King of Poland, his popularity in his homeland rose again with Stanislaw II on the throne. Krasiński’s political influence and reputation for integrity and strong pro-Inquisition policies made him a frontrunner to replace Pope Innocent XI. He was aided in these pursuits by the support of the Medici and their most staunch Catholic allies, the House of Farnese. Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma, was the leader of the Catholic faction at court in Florence. There was also a branch of the Farnese family in Rome who wielded a great deal of influence among the curia and the other patrician families of the Eternal City. In particular, Cardinal Alfonso di Farnese, former Viceroy for Filippo I in the Kingdom of Naples, sought to regain favor with the Medici following his spectacular failure ruling the south. Helping elect their favored candidate to the papacy was the best way to do that. When the sitting Pope died on 22 May 1582, the curia met at the Vatican for the papal conclave. In a long and contentious election, Krasiński was eventually elected Pope, taking the name Pius II.
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Cardinal Alfonso di Farnese sought to re-establish his influence in Florence by offering contacts in Rome

The political victory at the conclave only served to increase Stanislaw and the Polish ruling class’s Italian ambitions. The cooperation with the Medici to have Pius elected immediately paid dividends for both sides. The King of Poland now had a loyal ally in Rome and a working relationship with the most powerful family in Italy. One of Pius’s first orders of business was to lift the excommunication of the Medici. He had long argued that the excommunication was unjustified and due to Innocent XI’s temporal ambitions. After all, Tuscany’s wars against the Boncompagni and the Republic of Genoa were waged against Calvinists and, so said Pius, their territorial acquisitions were important steps in curbing heresy within Italy. Furthermore, the Medici had fought on the side of the Catholic League and the Habsburgs in their losing struggle against the Evangelical Union for control of the Empire. Now that he was Pope, Pius used his powers to lift the excommunication in June of 1584.


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The “Polish Pope”, Pius II, lifted the Excommunication of the Medici


In the long term, having an ally in the papacy opened other opportunities for the Medici. The Polish-Tuscan partnership soon led to one of the more imaginative business and foreign policy creations of the era: the Medici Oriental Press. The Catholic Church had long sought to print the Bible and other Christian texts in foreign languages spoken by non-Christians so that their missionaries would be better able to convert their target audiences. However, there was the thorny matter of the Church insisting that all religious texts be printed in Latin. It would take a combination of Pius II’s ambition, Medici business skills, and a rogue Greek Orthodox Patriarch to make this idea a reality. That patriarch was Ignatius Nemet Aloho, or Nehemias as he came to be known in the West.

Born Nemet Aloho in the city of Mardin, Ignatius became a monk in 1535 at a young age and began studying Syriac literature and church sciences before becoming a priest. He also studied history, logic, astronomy, geodesy, medicine and the art of drawing. He was consecrated patriarch in 1557, upon which he took the name Ignatius. In 1562 Nemet went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and ordained nineteen metropolitans and bishops as patriarch. He sought to bring the Syriac Orthodox Church into closer communion with Rome, and exchanged extensive correspondence with Pope Innocent XI.

However, Nemet's reign as patriarch was troubled by doubts within his church of the contacts with the Papacy that he had established as well as by accusations of atheism from Muslim clerics. Local Ottoman officials had good reason to discredit Ignatius’s efforts. A Syriac church in communion with Rome invited the interest in meddling of European powers to a much larger degree. Therefore, in March 1583, at the instigation of the Ottoman governor of the province, Nemet was forced to make a Muslim profession of faith and resign as patriarch. He left the patriarchal seat to his brother David and fled to Florence via Rhodes, arriving in October 1584.

Welcomed at the Florentine court, he found a friend and supporter in the Greek-speaking wife of Prince Francesco dé Medici, Ariadne Ptochos. Ariadne's son, the teenaged Prince Alberto, was both a devout Catholic and a budding Orientalist who was fascinated by the newly arrived Ignatius. The deposed patriarch had brought along with him numerous books and manuscripts, including both religious texts and scientific treatises written by Arab and Turkish scientists.

Alberto's uncle, Ferdinando dé Medici was the one who got the idea of printing copies of documents as well as publishing new translations when he came across his nephew poring over them in the Palazzo Medici one day. Ferdinando was a cousin to Grand Duke Filippo I and Prince Francesco and he was the man in charge of managing the business side of the Medici dynasty. He thought the idea of creating a press to print Christian religious texts in Arabic and other Eastern languages could be both lucrative and pleasing to the Church. Accordingly, Ferdinando accompanied the elderly Ignatius Nemet Aloho to Rome. He also assigned his young nephew Alberto the task of finding men capable of translating Latin to Arabic and vice versa, not a particularly common skill in late Sixteenth Century Italy. The Medici paid all expenses for the trip to Rome and arranged a meeting between the former Patriarch of Antioch and Pope Pius II. The trio got along excellently and Ferdinando departed the Vatican two weeks later with a Papal decree granting him the exclusive right to print books in "foreign languages". That term was restricted to "languages of the non-believers" since the Church still largely prohibited the publication of religious texts into the various European languages. What Ferdinando left unsaid, was that the same presses and the same translators would be used to publish Arabic scientific works into Latin and Italian, a fact that may have made the Holy Father uncomfortable to say the least.


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The Medici Oriental Press printed Bibles and other religious texts in Arabic

Despite his age, over the next several years, Ignatius Nemet Aloho made regular trips back and forth between Rome and Florence. He loved Rome and when negotiations to allow his return to Antioch failed in 1586, he decided to settle there permanently. However, he also had a passion for the Medici Oriental Press and took the job of reviewing and editing translations seriously. He also used his contacts in Antioch and elsewhere in the Near East, such as Alexandria, Jerusalem, and Constantinople to help secretly spirit shiploads of books into their ports. Alberto meanwhile had reached out to Rome and the numerous monasteries around Italy to recruit ecclesiastical scholars to do the job.

In 1588 and 1589 the Tipografia Medicea Orientale (Medici Oriental Press) published its two much-advertised illustrated versions of the Gospels in Arabic. The first edition of the Evangelium sanctum Domini nostri Iesu Christi conscriptum a quatuor Evangelistis Sanctis, idest, Matthaeo, Marco, Luca, et Iohannewas printed in Arabic only. Subsequent editions were in Arabic with corresponding Latin text between every line. Sixty-seven woodblock prints of the Gospel scenes appeared in these luxurious books, illustrating the Life of Christ as told by the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Many of the blocks appear multiple times in each book, illustrating the same story as told by the different evangelists. The registering of identical illustrations to these slightly different narratives reinforced the documentary plausibility of the material. The pictures also helped readers who knew the stories, but were unfamiliar with the languages, navigate the Gospels.
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An example of the “Arabic Gospels” with alternating Arabic and Latin text

The Arabic Gospels were designed to carry out the evangelical mission at the heart of the press. Giovanni Battista Raimondi, one of the century’s most erudite Arabists, was brought in as director. Raimondi moved to Florence where his presence helped improve the press’s day to day operations, especially as Ignatius Nemet Aloho’s age and health made his visits from Rome less frequent. On the occasion of the first printing of the Arabic gospels, Raimondi wrote a letter to Louis XVII of France about the power of the printed books and papal ambitions for them, in what would turn out to be a fruitless effort to encourage the king to find his own press in Paris.

The first edition of the Arabic gospels shipped out of Livorno to Alexandria in Egypt, where they were handed over to Coptic Christians for further distribution. Ferdinando dé Medici gave the task of escorting this first batch to his fifteen-year-old nephew Alessandro, Filippo I’s illegitimate son. Alessandro’s mother, who died shortly after he was born, was of East African origin and the boy had long shown interest in visiting the continent. Ferdinando told Alessandro that if he saw the gospels successfully to Alexandria, he would fund the teenager’s African excursion himself. He did add one caveat: to make the trip more official, Alessandro had to make contact with the leadership of the Christian Kingdom of Alodia.

Alessandro departed the port of Livorno in April of 1588 aboard one of the two ships transporting the translated gospels. They reached Alexandria with no incident, though they did have to enter at night in order to bypass the Ottoman blockade of the city. The Mamluk Empire was at war with the Ottomans at the time and Alexandria remained one of the last unconquered Mamluk cities. After delivering the gospels, Alessandro met with Pope Gabriel VIII of Alexandria, the Coptic Patriarch, before boarding a river boat to take him south along the Nile River. He reached Turkish-occupied Cairo sometime in July and spent two weeks there. He wrote in his travel log that he managed to see the Great Pyramids of Giza. From Cairo, he took another boat south further down the Nile to Aswan, where he had to transfer to a smaller skiff as the Nile’s navigability decreases significantly south of that point.

In the autumn of 1588, he reached Soba, capital of the Kingdom of Alodia just south of the confluence of the Blue Nile and the White Nile. At Soba, Alessandro presented himself at the royal court of Queen Neuesi I of the Hedareb dynasty, a cadet branch of the ancient Solomonids and the last remaining Christian dynasty in East Africa. The Alodians, surprised to find a European visitor in their midst, gave full honors to their guest. Alessandro presented Queen Neuesi with a jewel-encrusted crucifix that Ferdinando had given specifically as a gift for the Alodian sovereign. Alessandro would remain at Soba through the winter of 1588-89 as a guest of the queen. During this time, he made several excursions throughout the kingdom. He also met and befriended the Alodian general Mena Fung, who desired to reform and modernize the kingdom’s army. The two men discussed European tactics, weapons, and training methods. It is not clear how helpful Alessandro could have been, since at this point he had scant military experience aside from individual training. Prior to departing back up the Nile, Alessandro drafted and signed, along with Queen Neuesi, a treaty affirming the “bonds of Christian brotherhood and friendship” between Tuscany and Alodia. Notably, he signed it “Prince Alessandro dé Medici of Tuscany,” the first time he is known to have used the title of Prince or the name Medici in any official capacity. Mena Fung also gifted Alessandro with a gold Abyssinian shotel with an ebony hilt. The shotel is similar in design to a scimitar of the Near East, but with a nearly semi-circular curve to the blade. He also sent two of his most capable young officers back to Italy with Alessandro to learn the tactics and training of European armies. Alessandro and his two new companions departed Alodia in March of 1589, returning north along the Nile to Alexandria, which at this point had fallen to the Ottomans. They took ship there for Cyprus, then Crete before returning to Italy, arriving at Rimini in December of 1589.

Between Pius’s election to the papacy and the apparent success of the Medici Oriental Press, the next natural step appeared to be a Polish-Tuscan alliance. However, by the late 1580s, Grand Duke Filippo I was beginning to show serious signs of mental illness. It began when he fell ill with a serious fever in 1582 and never quite recovered. He grew more and more melancholy and withdrawn, leaving his wife, Grand Duchess Isabella, and his brother, Prince Francesco, to pull the strings of government. To say the pair did not see eye to eye on many subjects is an understatement. The rivalry between the two, and their respective packs of supporters, would soon drive Tuscany into a bitter period of division and political squabble.

The situation soon led to a succession crisis in the Grand Duchy. The Grand Duke had one illegitimate son, Alessandro, and two daughters with his wife, Isabella di Morra of Montferrat. The rules of succession were unclear and Filippo’s deteriorated mental state meant that he could not competently name his own successor. There was one near precedent for a disputed succession for the first Gran Duke, Girolamo I. His son, Cesare, died with only two living daughters. This brought up the possibility that there would be no direct male successor. However, luckily for the Grand Duchy, Cesare’s wife, Caterina da Montefeltro, became pregnant prior to his death and gave birth to a son, the future Grand Duke Francesco Stefano, thereby averting a dispute. The drawback to this lucky birth was that the matter of succession rules were never resolved.

Grand Duchess Isabella desired to be named regent but she was not considered trustworthy by the powerful pro-Catholic faction at court. Montferrat and the di Morra’s were vassals of the Kingdom of France who, despite being an ally, was not considered to be firmly in the Catholic camp. They had fought on the side of the Evangelical Union and played a decisive part in delivering the Empire to the Protestants. Furthermore, while Isabella was a Catholic herself, large parts of her family were Calvinists and aligned with the Huguenot party in France. She was backed by the Protestant lords in the Val Padana, most prominently Duke Camillo d’Este of Ferrara.
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Filippo I’s illness caused a succession dispute

However, two political failures would soon reveal that Grand Duchess Isabella lacked the political skills required. The first was a diplomatic disaster. She had maneuvered to have her younger brother, Ludovico di Morra, sent to Vienna as ambassador in February of 1586. However, just six months into his charge, Ludovico made a blunder that almost caused a break in the Tuscan-Austrian alliance. The di Morras, as Dukes of Montferrat, were French vassals and despite both being allied with the Medici, the Valois and the Habsburgs remained bitter rivals. Therefore, King Louis XVII of France used the opportunity of having one of his vassals appointed Tuscan ambassador to the Hofburg Palace to try and gather intelligence. This backfired spectacularly when Ludovico misplaced a letter he had drafted for King Louis’s foreign minister, Philippe de Galard, with numerous court secrets. This document was discovered on 3 August 1586 and Ludovico was hauled before the Austrian regency council and threatened until he admitted to spying for the French. He was immediately dismissed from Vienna and ordered never to set foot in any Habsburg lands under penalty of death. When word reached the Austrian ambassador in Florence, he angrily stormed into the Palazzo Medici and demanded immediate compensation for the blunder. Prince Francesco took charge of the situation, apologized to the ambassador, drafted a letter in the Grand Duke’s name apologizing for the breach of trust, and then he promised to travel to Vienna to personally ask the forgiveness of the young Archduchess Maria Theresa. The Catholic faction in Tuscany immediately seized on the diplomatic fiasco and painted it as a deliberate effort by the Grand Duchess and her Protestant allies to tear apart the alliances between Catholic powers to make it easier for a continent-wide Protestant conspiracy to triumph. While there is no evidence for this conspiracy, the largely Catholic population of Italy was ready to believe it, and popular opinion among all classes turned against the Grand Duchess.
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The blundering of Ludovico di Morra at Vienna nearly led to the dissolution of the Austro-Tuscan alliance

The second crisis involved the growth of corruption in the realm. While it would be wrong to attribute this to Grand Duchess Isabella directly, it is true that she turned a blind eye to it. The loss of centralized power due to the illness of the Grand Duke and the intrafamilial squabbling of the Medici meant greater leeway for the local nobility and aristocracy to exact fees and taxes. The peasantry paid the highest price for this, and many of the rights they had gained under Filippo and his predecessors went ignored. However, it was when the mercantile class began to suffer that the true political backlash occurred. Overland shipping fell prey to the whims of the local landowners who assessed steep charges for use of roads or simply confiscated goods at will. Some of the wealthier merchants simply began bribing the local authorities ahead of time to save themselves the trouble later on.
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The uncertain political situation following Filippo’s incapacitation, led to an increase in corruption

The political pushback began in Florence itself. On 12 March 1587, the Assembly of the Florentine Republic, which usually served only as a legislative body for local affairs took an unprecedented step. That morning, Giacomo Barberini, one of the leading members of the Assembly, moved to hold an election for the position of Gonfaloniere. In the days of the republic, the Gonfaloniere was the executive and was voted on by the landed citizenry once every four years. However, since the establishment of the Grand Duchy, the Assembly traditionally voted the sitting Grand Duke as Gonfaloniere. The titles were de facto interchangeable. That was about to change. After Barberini’s motion, Cosimo degli Albizzi rose and delivered a speech supporting Francesco dé Medici for the post of Gonfaloniere. With its two leaders initiating the move, the United Guelph Party, which had exercised a near monopoly on local Florentine politics since the return of the Medici to the city following the Savonarola Crisis, voted overwhelmingly in favor of Francesco, drowning out all opposition. When the prince arrived at the Palazzo Vecchio three days later on 15 March, he joked with the gathered Florentine notables, “given the date, I thought I was coming here to be murdered, little did I know you were presenting me with a great honor.”

The news of the election in Florence soon reached the other Tuscan republics. On 6 April the signoria of Lucca voted Francesco Podestà and then a week later the Council of the Priori of Siena elected him Capitano del Popolo (Captain of the People). Though largely symbolic, the elections in the three Tuscan republics showed that the region was solidly in lock step behind Francesco.

In the Val Padana, on the other hand, the region was split largely along religious lines. The Catholic provinces of Parma, Verona, Mantua, and the Romagna favored Francesco while the Protestant Ferrara, Modena, and Cremona backed Isabella. The wealthy and influential Montefeltros of Urbino also backed Francesco, though they hedged their bets, stopping short by supporting him to be regent but remaining non-comital on the succession itself.
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The religious situation in northern Italy in 1590

With Filippo’s health continuing to deteriorate and with the majority of political support, Prince Francesco and his backers finally made a move. The Duke of Parma proposed to call a council to decide the matter of the succession as well as to determine if a regent was needed. Isabella and her supporters were cornered. If they refused a council, they would be seen as obstructionists and lose power at court. If they agreed to the council, not only were they sure to see Francesco named regent, but it was possible that Margherita would be jumped in the line of succession. Instead, they made a tactical withdrawal. Isabella and her supporters would agree to have Francesco named regent while the matter of the succession itself would be left open in case the Grand Duke recovered from his ailments. If that did not occur, then the matter would be settled at a council after his death. This gave both sides what they wanted in the short term. The Catholics got the regency for their preferred candidate and the Protestants won time to regroup and gather support for Margherita.

With Francesco established definitively as Regent for his brother, he could focus again on foreign policy. Following Ludovico di Morra’s debacle in Vienna, Prince Francesco appointed Sergio Chiastavelli to the post of foreign minister. That position had remained unfilled since the death of Gianfrancesco Lori and the prince felt that someone was needed to guide the Grand Duchy’s foreign policy in a more coherent direction. Chiastavelli entered the diplomatic service of the Medici at age 20 in 1565. The son of a wealthy merchant family from Livorno, he cut his diplomatic teeth with missions to the Hanseatic League. He served as an envoy to Muenster, Oldenburg, and Hamburg. He was in northern Germany at the outbreak of the War of the Religious Leagues and ended up in Cologne. He was present for, and survived, the brutal sack of that city by the Evangelical Union’s armies in September of 1573. From Cologne, he fled south along the Rhine, through the Principality of Nassau and the devastation left behind by his countrymen’s campaign the previous winter, and on to Strasbourg, where he remained for the rest of the war. After the Peace of Regensburg Chiastavelli returned to Italy a changed man. An agnostic bon vivant prior to the war, he became devoutly Catholic, austere in his lifestyle, and convinced that the Protestants were dangerous and warlike and could only be kept contained by a strong network of Catholic alliances. Chiastavelli spent a brief period at the Polish court in 1577-78, though it is unknown how much contact he had with the then-sixteen-year-old Stanislaw II. He then served in Vienna and befriended Archduke Ludwig I, who was eager to regain his family’s lost prestige and believed in the need for a strong network of Catholic alliances. However, his death in 1580 put an end to their relationship. Chiastavelli was back in Italy in the spring of 1582 when the great statesman Gianfrancesco Lori, foreign minister and advisor to Grand Duke Filippo died. Chiastavelli was not well known in Florence but highly respected among the Grand Duchy’s diplomats. Thus, he was brought in as the new foreign minister.


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Sergio Chiastavelli took over for Gianfrancesco Lori as foreign minister; he strongly favored an alliance with Poland

Upon taking his post, Chiastavelli wasted no time in cultivating a Polish alliance. He began an extensive correspondence with his counterpart at Warsaw, Stanislaw Wierzbowski. Chiastavelli took it upon himself to initiate a meeting between the two foreign ministers. However, in the short term, his hopes would be tempered by the eruption of the first crisis of government resulting from Filippo’s ailments.

He gave Sergio Chiastavelli full authority to negotiate a deal. The negotiations for the alliance took place in Vienna, with each side sending a delegation. Johann Leopold von Habsburg, Duke of Styria and the head of Archduchess Maria Theresa’s regency council, served as host, arbitrator, and mediator. He had a vested interest in the negotiations succeeding. The common enemy of all three was the Empire and a partnership between Medici, Habsburg, and Poniatowski would encircle it on its southern and eastern flanks.

Wierzbowski insisted, at the behest of Stanislaw II, that the Tuscan-Polish alliance was incomplete without a royal marriage binding the Medici and the Poniatowski together. This caused a stall in the negotiations as Chiastavelli had to correspond back with Florence to reach a decision on the matter. When word reached the capital, Francesco initially wanted to offer a betrothal of Grand Duke Filippo’s younger daughter, the six-year-old Benedetta, to Stanislaw’s eldest son, the nine-year-old Prince Wladyslaw. Francesco intended it as an olive branch to the Grand Duchess that would allow her younger daughter the chance to become Queen Consort of Poland. However, Isabella angrily rebuffed the offer claiming Francesco wanted to “ship Benedetta off to Poland out of spite so that he may break my heart.” Francesco’s older niece, the nine-year-old Margherita, was out of the question. It would look like he was trying to ship his main rival off to a foreign land. Instead, Francesco offered to marry his son, eighteen-year-old Alberto, to Stanislaw’s younger sister, the seventeen-year-old Princess Michalina.

When the riders bearing the message reached Vienna, Chiastavelli immediately went to the house where Wierzbowski was staying. The Polish diplomat was hosting a dinner party as the stoic Italian barged in. Wierzbowski attempted to have Chiastavelli sit down and join in the eating and drinking but the latter refused to do so until they reached an agreement on the alliance. The Pole accepted the offer of a marriage between Prince Alberto and Princess Michalina and the pact was signed by both parties. All that was needed now was the signature of King Stanislaw II of Poland and Prince Regent Francesco of Tuscany in the name of his brother, Grand Duke Filippo I.
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The alliance with Poland represented a great diplomatic coup by the Grand Duchy

News of the coming wedding was greeted with joy by the Catholic faction at the Florentine court and with dejection by the Protestant side. Their political, financial, and military disadvantage, made worse by Isabella’s political ineptitude, was dooming the cause of an ecumenical realm as the hardline Catholics gained more power. Furthermore, the new Emperor, Vladimir I, and the Protestant princes of the Empire lost faith in the value of the Estes and the hopes of the Italian Protestants. They had been counting on their Italian coreligionists to stop the Catholic faction from bringing Poland into the Catholic fold. Now, the Empire was faced with a triple alliance of Catholic powers that threatened them from the south and east. This put even greater pressure on them to create some tangible result.

The matter all came to a head at the city of Bologna in May of 1590. The elderly Cornelio Bentivoglio, Lord of Bologna and Warden of the Romagna, hosted a great festival that included jousting, horse racing, wrestling, Florentine football, and numerous feasts, and balls. The festivities were to last four days and conclude with the wedding of his eldest grandson and heir, Gastone, to Vittoria Farnese, daughter of the Duke of Parma. The wedding represented the union of the two most powerful Catholic families in the Val Padana and was meant to show off the two dynasties’ combined wealth and power. Still, in a gesture of reconciliation, they also invited the region’s Protestant houses as well.

In the early morning hours of the final day of festivities, Sunday 17 May 1590, a group of soldiers from Ferrara, led by their duke’s eldest son and heir, Martino d’Este, entered the Pepoli Palace on Bologna’s Via Castiglione with the intent of taking Princess Margherita into their custody and then spiriting her away to Ferrara. From there Duke Camillo planned to press her claim to her father’s crown with the support of the other Protestant lords of the realm and, possibly, both the King of France and Holy Roman Emperor. No concrete evidence linking Louis XVII and Vladimir I to the plot, but both had their reasons for supporting Margherita’s claim over that of her uncle. For the French, having the daughter of Isabella di Morra on the throne meant they had better access and support as compared to the more pro-Habsburg leaning Francesco. For Emperor Vladimir, a Grand Duchess who owed her crown to the actions of her country’s Protestant faction likely meant a more pro-Protestant Tuscany. The owner of the palace, Lord Giovanni Pepoli definitely was involved with the conspiracy as well, giving the Este men access to his palace and informing on Princess Margherita’s whereabouts. The Pepoli had once ruled Bologna until they were deposed by a popular uprising in 1347. Since then, the family had sought to regain their status but were eclipsed by the Bentivoglio. For the Duke of Ferrara and the other members of the Protestant faction, placing Margherita on the throne was their last chance to preserve a religiously tolerant Grand Duchy and maintain their hold on power. It was well known that Prince Francesco favored a harsher line against Italy’s Protestants and wanted to give a freer hand to the Inquisition.

Regardless of reasons, the plot failed. Unbeknownst to Martino d’Este and his men, Princess Margherita’s half-brother, Alessandro, and two of his friends, were present in the Palazzo Pepoli as well, capping off a late night of drinking and carousing. When the Este men burst into the princess’s chambers, Alessandro and his friends confronted them. Martino d’Este, who also happened to be first cousin to both Alessandro and Margherita, demanded the girl go with him. When she refused, a fight broke out and Alessandro and his friends, with the princess in tow, escaped the palace. They avoided another group of Este men standing guard outside and made their way east down a side alley and into Piazza Santo Stefano. There, groups of people were still up and about, drinking and eating, and Alessandro entered the square shouting that there was a plot to kidnap the princess. A group of Medici supporting army officers were drinking at a tavern on the piazza and took up arms to defend the princess. When Martino and his men found their way into Piazza Santo Stefano, they found numerous armed men ready to confront them. Realizing his cause was lost, the heir to the Duchy of Ferrara ordered his men to scatter and they fled into the darkened streets of Bologna.

The night did not end there however. Alessandro and the other man immediately took Princess Margherita to the Palazzo dei Banchi on Bologna’s central Piazza Maggiore. They left her there with Prince Francesco and a strong guard, gathered up more men, and headed for the Palazzo Felicini on Via Galliera, where Duke Camillo and his family were staying. Alessandro and his men surrounded the palace and ordered the duke and all his sons to come out. Duke Camillo, with no other option surrendered. In all, nearly ninety men were taken into custody, including the Duke of Ferrara and his sons Davide and Riccardo; Lord Pepoli, his eldest son, and several members of their household; Taddeo Pico, Lord of Mirandola and his sons; Galeazzo Spadolini, Duke of Mantua; and numerous others. Practically all of the powerful Protestant nobles in the Val Padana were in the custody of Prince Francesco and his men. Princess Margherita was kept under a tight guard in case any other attempts were made to take her. Martino d’Este successfully escaped Bologna and rode for Ferrara where he swore to continue resisting.

Despite the tumult of the early morning, the festivities went on as planned and Gastone Bentivolgio and Vittoria Farnese were indeed married. The day after the wedding the royal court departed Bologna to return to Florence, with all of their prisoners in tow. When they arrived safely back in the capital, Prince Francesco called a special court to determine the fates of the plotters. Most of the men were completely acquitted, including the Duke of Mantua and most of the other Protestant nobles. Giovanni Pepoli was stripped of his lands around Bologna and forced to hand over his prized Pepoli Palace to his hated rival, Cornelio Bentivoglio. The harshest punishment was saved for the Este. Execution was ruled out since Duke Camillo was Prince Francesco’s brother-in-law. Still, he was forced to abdicate and his two eldest sons had to renounce all their claims to the duchy. Camillo’s third son, Riccardo, who did not know of the plot, was allowed to inherit and named Duke of Ferrara. However, as a punishment, the Este were forced to hand over control of their city’s vaunted fortress to the crown, and the castle was slated for demolition. As a reward for his actions in foiling the plot, Alessandro was legitimized by royal order and allowed to use the name Medici from that point on, though he was excluded from the line of succession. Several of the other men involved with the response against the plot were also given handsome rewards. Giorgio Gonzaga, the senior officer among the group that Alessandro and his friends found in Piazza Santo Stefano was granted lordship of Poggio Rusco, astride the Mantua-Ferrara road. This represented one further step in his family’s long quest to regain its influence and power since being deposed by the Medici as Dukes of Mantua in 1531. Gonzaga was immediately given 5,000 men by Prince Francesco and ordered to go east and demand the surrender of Martino d’Este and the fortress at Ferrara.

Amid this tension, the great Tuscan general, Giuseppe Terreni, died on 7 July 1590 at eighty-one years of age. His death removed one of the most solid backers of Francesco’s claim to the throne, but it did serve to bring the Catholic faction to a slightly more moderate position. Terreni had always been a staunch and unswerving Catholic, both during war and during peace. His passing, while affecting Prince Francesco both personally and politically, removed one of the most stubborn Catholic hardliners from the picture. Despite his political rigidity, Terreni left behind one of the richest and most successful military legacies in Italian history. He joined the army in 1525 when he was just sixteen and first saw combat at the Battle of Lucca in April of 1526, when the Florentine army under the command of Carlo Ulivelli annihilated their Savoyard foes beneath the walls of the city. From that day on, Ulivelli became Terreni’s role model and he would seek to emulate that other great general’s leadership for the rest of his time under arms. As a junior officer, he also fought the Ottomans in the Balkans, took part in the capture of Venice in 1554, among other engagements. He became the highest ranking general in the army in 1562, a position he would hold for the next twenty-eight years until his death. Under Terreni’s leadership, the Tuscan army would continue the tradition of creative tactics, rigorous training, and technological innovation begun by his predecessors. Even in his last years, Terreni pushed to standardize the caliber of the Tuscan artillery so that parts and ammunition could be interchanged between different guns and units. He also had his officers oversee a reform of the army’s administration, streamlining the provision of supplies and the management of manpower thereby reducing the cost of maintaining a standing force. Whatever his faults, Terreni would justifiably go down in history as one of the Grand Duchy’s greatest commanders.
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General Giuseppe Terreni died on 7 July 1590, leaving behind a brilliant legacy of victory and innovation

Only three weeks later, Tuscany was rocked by an even more consequential death. On 24 July 1590, Filippo I, Grand Duke of Tuscany and King of Naples, died quietly after a years’ long struggle with multiple afflictions, both mental and physical. Thankfully, though not easily, the controversy surrounding his succession had largely been sorted out during the years leading up to his death, thereby securing the passage of the crown from Filippo to his brother, Francesco. Grand Duchess Isabella and her supporters in the Protestant faction boycotted Francesco’s coronation, but there was little else they could do. The new Grand Duke enjoyed the support of the merchant class, the army, all the Tuscan republics and most of the Val Padana. The Mezzogiorno, finally enjoying a long period of peace and stability, had no interest in getting involved in what was still viewed largely as the politics of the north.

As for Filippo, his reign would largely be overshadowed by that of his father before him and those of his brother and nephew after him. Surely, he had mixed results, though overall it would be difficult to call him a bad ruler. He initially overlooked and mismanaged the south, but learned from his errors and brought peace to that part of Italy. Some of the more hardline Catholics faulted him for not doing more to help the Catholic League’s cause in the War of the Religious Leagues. While perhaps Tuscany could have done more, there is no reason to believe that a greater effort, or the deaths of larger numbers of her troops could have stemmed the Protestant tide. It is to Filippo’s credit that despite being on the losing side of the war, his realm suffered little throughout the entirety of the conflict, and each time foreign armies tried to invade, they were thrown back almost immediately. While Filippo may have lacked the spark of greatness that would characterize the reigns of his successors, he nevertheless guided Tuscany well during his time in power. Now, it was his brother’s turn to take the helm.

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Nikolai

Basileus Romaion
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A lucky break for the new king there, and good on Allessandro! :)